Sunday, December 28, 2014

Moral Foundations - "The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt

[From Billlifka, Graphics by Ira. Click HERE for previous Blog postings about Jonathan Haidt's work on moral foundations and how they differ for "liberals" and "conservatives". In his earlier work, Haidt had only five "channels of morality". Here, he has added a sixth: "Loyalty/Subversion". He seems also to have changed "Liberals" to "Progressives." NOTE: When you click, you will see this current posting on top, so please scroll down to the others. They have some sparkling back and forth discussion in the Comments sections. ENJOY! and THANKS Bill! Ira.]

Continuing their attempts to teach an old guy new tricks, a young relative gave me a book by Jonathan Haidt, “The Righteous Mind; Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion" 2012, Pantheon Books.

A few words about the author may encourage Liberals and discourage Conservatives. Such preliminary thoughts should be dispelled as Haidt’s findings are revealed. Haidt’s grandparents were Russian Jews who worked in New York’s garment district sweatshops and were drawn thereby to Socialism, FDR and the Democratic Party. Haidt attended Yale where he became a Liberal and an atheist. The Yale culture convinced him that Liberalism was absolutely ethical and the Republican Party was for war, big business, racism and Evangelical Christianity. Clearly, it was the Party of evil.

His continuing studies at the Universities of Chicago and Pennsylvania only verified this opinion. His specialty is Moral Psychology and it seems most of his associates in this field are of the Progressive and atheistic persuasions. One might ask why he has pursued a life of research and teaching on morals and be surprised that it has led him to conclusions that aren't exactly what one might expect.

His book is a long plod through research projects but the author’s writing style is appealing and he almost convinces readers of the possibility that Progressives and Conservatives could act together in a constructive manner and that atheists and religionists might coexist and even talk to each other civilly. Most of the book is devoted to the evolution of morality. Regardless of the true source of morality or differing moral views from group to group, Haidt concludes there are six foundations (categories) to all moral codes: Care/Harm, Liberty/Oppression, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation.

After reading the definitions, I concluded the divisions were reasonable. The surprising thing was Haidt’s conclusion from his research into how three political beliefs (and believers) rate in each of these moral foundations. The following array illustrates the contrasting moral focuses of Progressives, Conservatives and Libertarians based on Haidt’s research:

Foundation................. Progressive Conservative Libertarian
Care/Harm................. 45% .......... 16.66% .......   5%
Liberty/Oppression..... 25% .......... 16.66% ......... 65%
Fairness/Cheating....... 15% .......... 16.66% ......... 15%
Loyalty/Betrayal.........   5% .......... 16.66% .......... 5%
Authority/Subversion...  5% ...........16.66% .......... 5%
Sanctity/Degradation....  5% .......... 16.66% .......... 5%

The differences in moral focus of the three political groups provide a good explanation for why respective group members fail to reach agreement on national policy. If 45% of Progressive thought is having concern for the downtrodden, they will propose welfare actions much more than Conservatives think is rational. Conservatives aren't heartless; one sixth of their moral code is focused on care or absence of harm to the downtrodden. However, they value other moral aspects equally and fear lesser focus on these will destroy the “Social Capital” of America. If 65% of a Libertarian’s political concern is for individual freedom, he may well appear to be a rabble-rouser to a Conservative, although both may vote as Republicans.

Some of Haidt’s research aimed at finding the extent to which Progressives, Moderates and Conservatives could empathize with members of the other groups. He found that Moderates and Conservatives could imagine themselves inside each other’s head and also within the heads of Progressives. Progressives could not do the same for either Moderates or Conservatives. Haidt didn’t include Libertarians in these particular studies but I believe they, like Progressives, would find it extremely difficult to empathize with the other groups, they’re having such a high focus on one or two moral foundations to the near exclusion of the remainder.

It shouldn't be understood that every Progressive will be 45% focused on Care/Harm nor will every
Conservative be exactly balanced across the moral range. Some Progressives have more equal balance
and some Conservatives will be somewhat unbalanced. (That’s a straight line for the loyal opposition.)

However, Haidt used an averaging of individual scores and I accept his characterization of the groups as a whole. The finding doesn't mean that Progressives are good because they are overly focused on Care/Harm nor does it mean they are bad because they have little focus on three of the six moral categories. It just means that the respective moral codes of different political groups vary and this should be considered in any attempt to attain bipartisan action on policy and process.

In theory, one can visualize how this could be done with numbers. Imagine if Progressives want to push through legislation that is very strong on category one rationale. Conservatives may well be repelled by such a proposal quantitatively, if not qualitatively. One response would be to deny all parts of the Progressive proposal. Lines would be drawn causing much talk and no results except hard feelings.

Another approach might be a compromise proposal by Conservatives to support the Progressive ideas if they accepted Conservative proposals in moral categories four, five and six, each having about one third the impact of the Progressive proposal in category one. If quantified so neatly, the math is obvious but the point is by “horse-trading” on issues not directly opposed, agreement might be reached in a spirit of accommodation.

Some lawmakers and some citizens believe compromising with the opposition is fundamentally wrong. That may be a correct point of view, at times, but such times and issues should be few and far between. If large percentages of the American population are directly opposed on a key issue, the only options are: 1. Reach an accommodation. 2. Avoid going either way. 3. Fight it out; violently, if necessary. A #2 choice may not be possible, given the situation. If #3 is an only resort, American society will have failed. Political implications of differing emphases in moral codes will be continued in future notes and essays.

Grampa Bill

Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Chanukah (and why I transliterate the Hebrew this way)

On 23 December 2014 we light the final Chanukah candles to celebrate a great victory for religious freedom that occurred some 22 centuries ago. As I wish a very Happy Chanukah to all, I beg you to indulge me for a relatively minor complaint, namely, how some people mispronounce the name of our holiday and how it is, IMHO, misspelled by the major media!

Too many people (including some in my Jewish congregation who should know better) say "Hanaka" as if it is "Canada" in disguise, with an "H" for a "C" and a "k" for a "d"!

And, if that isn't bad enough, the media and Wikipedia (and sometimes even the newsletter of my Jewish congregation) spell it with an "H" at the beginning and a double "kk" in the middle, which, if you know anything about the Hebrew spelling, makes no sense at all.

In Hebrew, the name of our holiday is written with vowel points as "חֲנֻכָּה" (or as "חנוכה" without vowel points).

As my graphic above demonstrates, the first letter "חֲ" is the Hebrew Chet, which is a back-of-the-throat guttural sound (like the "ch" in the Scottish "loch") that has no directly equivalent English letter representation. There have been efforts to represent that sound as "Kh" (which I find ugly) or "" (a dot or line under the letter "H"), but, why not stick with what, until the past decade or so, has been traditional, "Ch"? The vowel points under the letter stand for the short "ah" sound.

The second letter "נֻ" is the Hebrew Nun, which sounds like the English "n". The vowel points beneath it are sounded like the English "u" (or the "oo" in "too").

The third letter "כָּ" is the Hebrew Kaf, which sounds like the English "k". (Please note there is only ONE "כָּ", so there is no basis for the double "kk" misused by the media nowadays.)The vowel points under it are sounded like the English long "aw" in the traditional Ashkenazim pronunciation my wife and I learned as children, or "ah" in the Sephardi pronunciation that was adopted by the time our daughters went to Hebrew school.

The final letter "ה" is the Hebrew Hey, which sounds like the English "h".

Put them all together and you get Chanukah!

This past Sunday our Jewish congregation hosted a ceremonial lighting of the large Chanukah Menorah in the Spanish Springs Town Square in The Villages, FL. Despite some scattered showers, we had a huge turnout and a good time was had by all. The Chanukah spelling conflict is nicely illustrated in the songbook we prepared for the occasion, where "Chanukah" appears some 27 times, and the "kk" version appears only 10 times!

Ira Glickstein

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Squat Toilet ("Squatty Potty" on "Shark Tank")

Want to "POOP BETTER"? The squat position helps me get GOing more easily and finish more completely. A recent episode of Shark Tank (ABC TV) featured a squat toilet product you may purchase at the Squatty Potty website - or you may use my alternative solution inspired by that product (see images below).
I got the black folding step-stool at my local Walmart. It is about 12 inches high. They have smaller ones available in different colors. Images above: 1) Folding step-stool in position. 2) Folded and tucked away, only two inches thick. 3) Unfold the stool. 4) Stool in position with one leg lifted, 5) Both legs up and ready to GO (of course, remember to pull your pants down :^).

The images below, from the official Squatty Potty website, illustrate why a squat toilet works so well.
Your dog and all humans -until relatively recently- naturally squat to fully relax their puborectalis muscles and thereby POOP BETTER. It is amazing to me that the modern toilet allows only partial relaxation of the muscle that prevents you from pooping freely. Despite my positive experiences with the squat position while pooping in the woods, and with squat toilets in Egypt and on other foreign travels, I never thought to try to approximate that position at home. Now that I've adopted the squat position, I cannot GO back :^)


Ira Glickstein

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Altered States of Mind

[From David Dingee] This was presented to an interactive audience at the Philosophy Club of The Villages, FL on Nov. 7, 2014. Download the PowerPoint Show by clicking HERE.
This presentation looks at various states of the mind apart from the “norm”. The information about such states as sleeping, dreaming, hypnosis and meditation were selected for the presentation because they have considerable importance in our lives.  However, despite much research and accumulated information these states of the mind still appear to be poorly understood.

The presentation considers a cross-section of the information available to support various hypotheses of how the mind works in each of the selected mind-states.  It appears that the work of Sigmund Freud underpins much of the conjecture using his “iceberg” analogy which sets the conscious mind, the normal cognitive/action state, as the top of the otherwise submerged mass with two levels under water. The first submerged level is depicted as the sub-conscious mind, the active memory bank, and the lower submerged level being the unconscious mind, the “forgotten “or unwelcome  memories.

It is proposed that sleep and dreams provide a means for the individual to access that deep-seated unconscious memory bank to address concerning issues in an acceptable format, thereby relieving potential future stresses. Similarly, some academicians believe hypnosis is also a means to access the unconscious mind for therapeutic hypnosis treatments.

The presentation also addressed meditation as a therapeutic method to relive anxieties and to resolve a number of physical stressors. The method described was “Transcendental Meditation” which was made popular by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi following the apparent beneficial meditation visits by the “Beatles” in the late 1960’s. It is believed to work by the meditator reaching a “dreamless sleep” state of mind wherein the brain releases beneficial hormones which help the body..

Several rarely recognized features of sleep were identified. Some animals can operate with as few as 2 hours of sleep; some can operate with half their brains sleeping while having full cognizance of their environment.  Sleep deprivation by humans from a few days to a month were reported.  The consequences were generally very unhealthy, demonstrating the strong connection between mind and body.

The meeting presentation was followed by questions from, and discussion by, the audience.  A key question was whether hypnosis would be effective in treating Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD).  The answer is that there has been reported success.

David Dingee

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lies, Computer Models, and Government Subsidies

Updating Mark Twain's famous opinion that "Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics" were three types of untruths, with "statistics" being the worst, I presented "Lies, Damned Lies, Computer Models, and Government Subsidies" to an astute audience at the Science-Technology Club at The Villages, FL, today. You may download the Powerpoint Show HERE.


I generally love Computer Models, having produced several useful ones myself *. However, when it comes to the misuse of Climate Models to justify spending hard-earned taxpayer money for unworthy projects, my love has its limits.

I showed the attentive and interactive audience how I was able to model the latest NASA-GISS Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index using two sinusoids and one exponential. (See the graphic, above. The bright red line is the 5-Year Running Mean of the Temperature Anomaly in °C from 1880 through 2014. The blue and red sinusoids, representing natural cycles, have periods of 33- and 70-years, respectively, and the green exponential represents the increasing levels of "greenhouse" gases. Note how the thick black line, which is the sum of the sinusoids and the exponential, fairly closely matches the NASA-GISS Temperature Anomaly.)

Of course, the easy part of computer modeling is retro-dicting the past. As John von Neumann famously told Enrico Fermi, “With four parameters I can fit an ELEPHANT, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.”

The hard part is predicting the future, and I make no claims regarding my simplistic model's ability to do that. However, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and the rest of the Official Cliimate "Team" do take their models seriously. In the latest IPCC Assessment Report, they continue to predict a catastrophic future based on their failed models.

These models failed to predict the current 15- to 18-year "pause" in Global Warming, despite the increasing -even accelerating- levels of Atmospheric CO2. Furthermore, as Dr. Roy Spencer recently showed, only TWO out of 90 CMIP5 Climate Models, used in the latest IPCC Annual Report, agree with the OBSERVED SURFACE and LOWER TROPOSPHERE TEMPERATURE DATA.  Thus, over 95% of the IPCC models AGREE that, in Spencer's satirical words, "the OBSERVATIONS must be wrong" :^)

Climate Alarmists and Warmists have convinced the US, UK, and many other governments to spend tremendous amounts of taxpayer money to study the problem and to impose costly regulations to curtail human production of "greenhouse" gases.

The problem with attempts to model the Climate is that it is a combination of linear and chaotic elements, and the latter makes it virtually impossible to correctly predict the future beyond a relatively short period. See my PowerPoint Show for how I demonstrated that a chaotic model is very sensitive to initial conditions. Indeed, in my chaos model, a change in initial conditions of less than one part in a million, produced very large changes in longer-term results.


My talk concluded with a review of how necessary government spending, such as the vast expenditures on military aircraft during WWII and subsequent conflicts, may benefit industry and consumers, such as the commercial aircraft and airline industries. Similarly, the Space Program and Medical Research expenditures are mostly justified by the benefits they have brought to the taxpayers.

However, there is great danger when the government unnecessarily expends large sums and burdens industry and consumers with un-affordable costs for environmental purposes that are "justified" by failed Computer Climate Models.

For example:

Ethanol: The requirement that up to 15% Ethanol, derived from corn, must be blended with gasoline, despite higher costs and reduced MPG, appears to be a politically-motivated subsidy for the agricultural industry and states where corn is a major crop.

Solar Panels: US taxpayers lost $500M when solar-panel producer Solyndra went bankrupt. It appears that political influence was used in 2009 to push through a loan for them to produce solar panels in the US, despite the fact that their cylindrical technology cost several dollars per watt, as compared to flat panels available at less than a dollar per watt. They went bankrupt in 2011, only two years after the loan, and all employees lost their jobs.

There are many other examples, too numerous to mention!

Ira Glickstein

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Remarkable Howard H. Pattee - Update and Links

Howard Pattee has had a profound effect on the intellectual lives of many of his students. He continues to do so via his latest book, Laws, Language and Life, his online papers, and his postings on blogs, including Biosemiosis and The Virtual Philosophy Club.

He was Chairman of my PhD Committee at Binghamton University (1996) and became an enduring friend, communicating via email and my Blog. His classic 1973 book Hierarchy Theory - The Challenge of Complex Systems is available on E-Bay.


In a recent email, Howard updated his current situation, writing, in part:
We are still functioning well for our age. I just had my 88th birthday celebrated only by the two of us going to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. I can still walk straight on smooth level ground, but I need trekking poles on trails to feel secure. ...

It is good to hear that my brain still interests some of your bloggers. I have been contributing to the Biosemiosis Blog and reading real books, so I haven't followed The Virtual Philosophy Club. ...

For anyone interested further, I think the best summary of my scientific work is the Historical Introduction to my collected papers, Laws, Language, and Life. Springer priced the book out of the market, which is only their problem since most of my papers are available at

I agree that publishing on Internet is now the most effective to promote your ideas. ...

This weekend is maximum Fall color, so Williamstown is full of tour buses. Do you remember freezing weather?

Best wishes to you both.



Postings by Howard: (Click the highlighted links below)

Biosemiotics Ira suggested that I try to summarize the field of BIOSEMIOTICS ― the study of how symbol systems control living organisms and societies. I’ll try to do this in a series of short posts of less than 750 words. Then you can ask questions if I am unclear, make comments or disagree with what I have said. Hopefully, we can clear up the problems, and go on to the next post. ...

Has Language Become Parasitic? I have been reading about recent studies on the origins of language, The First Word by Christine Kenneally. She tells about many empirically undecidable narratives, but there is clearly no consensus. There is not even evidence that the current technically enhanced use of human language has any evolutionary survival value. We use language for fun and profit, but those concepts do not correlate with biological fitness. ...

The TED Talks - "Memes" and "Temes" Why is natural selection inevitable, in spite of brains, language, and technology? Before discussing this topic, listen to Susan Blackmore’s TED talk ...

Authority vs Reason Joel said, "Too often quoting authority leads to questioning credentials (as we have seen) and obscuring the real issues. It's a waste of mental energy. I'd rather deal with arguments themselves." My first instinctive response was to agree wholeheartedly. I associate authority with church dogma, bureaucratic red tape, and conservative principles....

Are We Losing Our Minds? Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel, the world's largest chip maker, recently explained, "As a global employer, I have the luxury of hiring the best engineers anywhere on earth. If I can't get them from MIT, I'll get them from Tsing Hua." In fact, MIT is also getting some good students from Tsing Hua. Americans are not facing the fact that our economic recovery and our military superiority depend on maintaining our scientific and intellectual leadership. Presently, our average students in math and science rank very low compared to most of the developed nations. For years we have tried to cure this problem by imposing standards, testing, eliminating unions, and spending money. So far these attempts have been ineffective. Why is this?...

Howard Pattee on Independent Living Howard Pattee and his wife have about a decade of experience in an Independent Living situation at Sweetwood, Williamstown, MA. Sweetwood is located in a relatively rural area of Massachusetts near Williams College, and has 70 apartments...

Postings About Howard: (Click the highlighted links below)

Dialog with Howard Pattee - Part 1 - His 2008 Paper Howard Pattee's 2008 paper "Physical and functional conditions for symbols, codes, and languages" is available for download here. I recently re-read it in detail and engaged in what was for me an interesting and rewarding email dialog with Howard (who is still paying the price for being Chairman of my PhD committee nearly two decades ago :^). He has given me his permission to share his comments on my email critiques of his 2008 paper, and I plan to do so in subsequent postings in this "Dialog with Howard Pattee" series...

The above link is to the first in a multi-part posting that includes portions of our email dialog.
Click for Part 2 - Determinism vs Probability
Click for Part 3 - QM and Chess Analogy
Click for Part 4 - Property Dualism
Click for Part 5 - Flatland and Higher Dimensions

Postings With Comments Written By Howard: )Click on the highlighted link below)

Howard's Comments on Various Blog Topics


Click HERE for Google search for Biosemiosis Blog plus Howard Pattee 

LINK TO SPECIAL PATTEE ISSUE OF BIOSYSTEMS (Click the highlighted link below)
(Luis Rocha and I were contemporary PhD students of Howard's.)


Read This First ! (Click the highlighted link below)

Historical Introduction to Laws, Language, and Life by Howard Pattee.
Pattee’s classic papers on the physics of symbols, epistemology, quantum measurement, complementarity, hierarchy theory, and artificial life―with contemporary commentaries by Howard Pattee and Joanna Rączaszek-Leonardi.

Introduction―What these papers are about ...

The types of questions I discuss in these papers are entitled to be called classical questions, because in one form or another they have been on philosophers’ minds for well over 2000 years.They arise from the three foundational concepts in the book’s title. The first concept is natural law, by which I mean the inexorable events over which living organisms have no control; or as the physicist Wigner expressed it, a lawful event gives “the impression that it could not be otherwise.” The second concept is life, and its essential characteristic of individual organisms with variable heritable controls allowing them to generate a world of endless novelties where, as the biologist Dobzhansky says, “nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution.” The third concept is language, in which I include all those symbol systems that are necessary for life,evolution, and thought, as well as for control, communication, and models of reality. The genetic language, animal languages, natural human languages, mathematics, formal logic, and computer languages are examples. ... READ MORE

Then Download and Read These Papers (Click the highlighted links below)

Historical introduction to LAWS, LANGUAGE AND LIFE
Always lurking behind our extensive scientific knowledge of laws, language, and life are the classical philosophers’ epistemological questions: By what criteria and actions do the concepts in our individual subjective brains conform to... more
Abstract:Evolution requires the genotype-phenotype distinction, a primeval epistemic cut that separates energy-degenerate, rate-independent genetic symbols from the rate-dependent dynamics of construction that they control. This... more
Research Interests: 
A conversation between Howard Pattee and Kalevi Kull
Biosemiotics distinguishes life from inanimate matter by its dependence on material construction controlled by coded symbolic information. This irreducible primitive distinction between matter and symbol is necessary for open-ended... more
ABSTRACT − Biosemiotics recognizes that life is distinguished from inanimate matter by its dependence on material construction under the control of coded symbolic description. This distinction between matter and symbol extends from the... more
Research Interests: 
Discussion from a Canadian Broadcasting Company program IDEAS, "Physics and Beyond, Conversations in Physics and Biology" conducted by Paul Buckley and David Peat. Other conversations with Bohm, Dirac, Heisenberg, Penrose, Prigogine,... more
Abstract The necessary but not sufficient conditions for biological informational concepts like signs, symbols, memories, instructions, and messages are (1) an object or referent that the information is about, (2) a physical embodiment... more
Abstract The question is posed as to whether the behavior of living matter gives us any reason to reconsider fundamental physical principles. How is the problem of language likely to influence our concepts of physics? The problems of... more
A macroscopic physical system which represents a classification process requires a non-holonomic constraint. . A molecular representation of a non-holonomic constraint requires a specific rate control process or tactic catalysis. It is... more
I would like to try, if not an entirely new path, at least a new detour in approaching the measurement problem in quantum mechanics, as well as the more general problem of how physical description is dependent on the epistemological... more
Abstract Foundational controversies in artificial life and artificial intelligence arise from lack of decidable criteria for defining the epistemic cuts that separate knowledge of reality from reality itself, e.g., description from... more
Abstract A theory of emergent or open-ended evolution that is consistent with the epistemological foundations of physical theory and the logic of self-reference requires complementary descriptions of the material and symbolic aspects of... more
Abstract. I describe the simplest living organism, the cell, as a symbol-matter system―an observable case of how a natural representation using a word processing format constrains the real-time behavior of a material organism. My purpose... more
Abstract ― Physical laws and semiotic controls require complementary modes of conceptualization and description. Laws are global and inexorable. Controls are local and conditional. Life originated with semiotic controls. Semiotic... more
Complementarity is an epistemological principle derived from the subject-object orobserver-system dichotomy, where each side requires a separate mode of description that is formally incompatible with and irreducible to the other, and... more
The general concept of information does not belong in the category of universal and inexorable physical laws but in the category of initial conditions and boundary conditions. Boundaryconditions formed by local structures are often called... more

Ira Glickstein