Law of Attraction (again)

So I’m thinking about The Secret and The Law of Attraction (LoA) again, unfortunately. I have a more immediate need to think about it, now. In particular, it seems like a fairly common psychological bias. But I just don’t have a term for it, a conceptual anchor point.

This essay, New Thought (aka Mind Cure or Mind Science) movement by Robert Todd Carroll helped quite a bit. The kernel Carroll helps lead me to consists of these ill-formed hints:

  • illusion of control
  • self-confidence/esteem
  • “the master has failed more times than the novice has even tried”
  • evolutionary success

I don’t have the time to formulate something more coherent at the moment. And since nobody reads this log, anyway, it doesn’t matter. It’s just one log entry on the way to another!

Anyway, that essay commits the same error it accuses the LoA believers of committing:

Nobody ever accomplished anything without a positive attitude and belief in his or her own ability to succeed at achieving a goal. Thoughts lead to actions and actions bring about results. No thought, no action—unless you’re a robot.

Anyone who knows me has heard me rant about the delusion of thoughts leading to actions. The only way I accept that is if you redefine “thought” to mean “smaller, faster actions”. So, Carroll is committing the same error by elevating the illusory thoughts into a causative role. We certainly can and do act without thought… all the time. And what’s with “nobody ever accomplished anything without a positive attitude”? That’s just plain ridiculous. Our history is replete with stories of unhappy, negative, suicidal artists and inventors who changed our world, both for the better and worse.

We know that most of our ailments will go away of their own accord and that many of our ailments are responses to our social situation. We know that having faith in the healer is important for success, as is the ritual and theater that often accompanies the meeting between healer and patient. We know that the optimism and hopefulness of the healer play an important role in affecting the faith of the patient in the process. We know, in other words, that belief is a powerful placebo.

Never mind the specious use of “most”, here. If he’d written “some”, it would be more defensible. The more important point is that the things Carroll is saying we “know” are really vague, abstract, placeholders for whatever underlying mechanisms there may be. We don’t know these things. A better way to say it is that we’re ignorant of why these correlations exist. The correlations imply a mechanism we may ONE DAY know or understand. But today, they’re merely phenomenal correlations.

So, although Carroll’s essay helped me refine my hunch that the LoA is a common diagnosable psychological bias, he is, himself, infected.

The Leap of Faith in Philosophical/Metaphysical Naturalism

This post triggered, again (I know, right?), my ongoing problem with atheism. But it did so in an interesting way.

The term naturalism refers to explanations based exclusively on natural causes. A position called metaphysical naturalism claims that supernatural causes do not exist. The position of methodological naturalism makes a more humble claim that supernatural causes might exist but will not be invoked to explain the phenomena at hand.

So, of course, I found this article, which concludes with:

From landing a man on the moon, to the creation of the personal computer and the Internet, humanity has been gifted beyond measure by the assumption of methodological naturalism. At some point, doesn’t the amazing success of assuming naturalism when asking questions about reality mean that naturalism is not only a good assumption -but the underlying reality of the Universe?

Now, at first read, I thought “Yeah, yeah, OK. I’ve heard that before.” But there’s still something fallacious about it beyond the leap of faith from method to ontological claim. And it’s relatively easy to find the fallacy in the above phrasing. It’s the sleight of word shift from the phrase “assumption of methodological naturalism” to the phrase “assuming naturalism”. It’s true that the use of methodological naturalism brought us all those things and is what’s so successful. It is NOT true that the use of naturalism, sans the “methodological” modifier, has brought us these things.

My argument with the leap of faith taken by the metaphysical/philosophical naturalists lies precisely there. It’s the METHOD that matters, not the naturalism. It, literally, does not matter what we think, as long as our behaviors follow the pattern.

Harris/Chomsky II

Harris’ thinly disguised “I’ve made up my mind and won’t listen to anyone about it anymore” statement fully demonstrates the problem I think I outlined in my previous entry. (No, those quotes aren’t real… he didn’t say that. It’s my interpretation of what Harris said.) Harris is so convicted by his idealism, he literally cannot hear his critics. His idealism has made the boundary between considering and not considering intentions artificially crisp. Such a boundary is actually quite fuzzy.

Chomsky gave zero indication that he thought intentions were never important. He only indicated that in this particular comparison (collateral damage from bombing a pharma plant vs. the 9/11 attack on the twin towers), the consideration of intention is not the most salient consideration. If I’m right that this was part of Chomsky’s argument, then I have to agree. (If it wasn’t part of his argument, then I’ll simply make the argument myself.)

Clinton (and the US government) was explicitly given the responsibility to consider the consequences of his actions. That’s one of the things for which we paid him … why we elected him. It’s part and parcel of his duty. That applies through the whole chain down to the soldiers who follow orders. This is one of the things that makes our military different from many others. Our soldiers are legally cupable for any illegal orders they obey. It is, in part, their duty to consider the consequences of their actions. This is especially true the higher up in the chain you go. The president, as Commander-in-Chief has a fiduciary duty to consider the consequences of his actions.

For Clinton to have considered the collateral damage and made the sickening, but perhaps necessary decision to purposefully kill those people who suffered from the lack of the pharma plant, would be morally difficult, but justified in a sense. But for him to fail to consider those consequences would be a dereliction of duty. By many standards, dishonor and failure to do one’s duty are considered more morally repugnant than purposeful (mass) murder. Bin Laden fulfilled his duty. Clinton did not.

So, Harris is quite free to disagree with the honor/duty standard. Most of Western culture has begun to degrade that standard and is opting for softer, more context-sensitive approaches. But for him to be completely blind to the point is surprising. And I believe it’s clearly Harris’ idealism that is preventing him from hearing the point. (The other option is cynical, that Harris simply wants attention and to save face.)

Inside Your Personal Space

The first part of this article on Police reminded me of something I learned a long time ago, but continually forget. I’ve always disliked being touched, at least when I haven’t explicitly authorized it. I’ve often chalked this up to my dad’s behavior. He was always very grabby, especially when he was mad. But even when being “playful”, when I was a kid, he’d palm my stomach and squeeze … his version of tickling, I suppose. And any sports were always very contact-based… even soccer, where, as a coach, he encouraged tackling. If we weren’t supposed to kick each other, why did we wear shin guards?

I didn’t really understand this behavior until I started my martial arts training. I think I was 14 or so. My master was a cop and taught us the power of stepping inside an opponent’s personal space. It was odd because this was Tae Kwon Do, which is normally quite distant. Yet he insisted on teaching us very close-in punching and wrestling techniques. And I learned that it works very well. My dad had been golden gloves back when he was in the Air Force. And I suppose that he was good at that precisely because he knew how to fight inside someone’s personal space.

To this day, I sincerely appreciate it when a normally grabby person restrains themselves around me. And I am intuitively … instinctively suspicious of those who consistently pat you on the back (men) or touch your arm (women) when talking to you. I also notice the tendency of many (usually emotionally insecure) men who seem to be trying to express dominance by shaking your hand within both of theirs. I much prefer the macho, crushing, single-handed handshake to the passive-aggressive double hand handshake.

But take these methods seriously. It’s not just the cops who are trained to get inside your personal space. It’s a well-known technique used in all contexts. And, to me, it’s like a gun. Never point it at anything you’re not willing to destroy.

Harris and Chomsky

This attempt by Sam Harris to goad Chomsky into playing the “idealism game” has simply added more fodder to confirm my opinion of Harris. It’s interesting to consider, both in the practice of the discussion and as a higher lesson in types of intellectualism. Re: the practice, Harris is right. Trying to launch this in e-mail was probably doomed from the start. (The more important thing to say is that Harris launched this because Chomsky expressed no interest in any sort of public exchange. Harris’ purpose is to sell books and sell his ideas. Getting Chomsky to take him seriously enough, even if merely to express his disdain, helps Harris sell his books and ideas. To his credit, Harris wins by gaining more attention through this opportunistic stunt.)

Also with regard to the practice, it seems like they both went for the “post at the top, no interleaving” method for e-mail exchange (though perhaps Harris reformatted it). And while this mirrors the classic letter writing style of days gone by, it’s not best for … “plodding” and “accusing”.

But w.r.t. the larger lesson, Chomsky is (I think obviously) a detailed thinker, whereas Harris is an abstract thinker. (For the 0 people who actually read my web log, we’ve been here before.) Chomsky is a true liberal, I think, fairly clearly identifiable for his willingness to engage in the gritty detail of a situation. Whether some act is moral or not can hinge on the tiniest detail, leave it out, it’s moral, put it back, it’s immoral. Harris is completely the opposite. He tends to like grand sweeping positions (e.g. his Islamaphobia), regardless of any situational details.

Both types of thinker can be considered intellectualist. Think of the stark difference between, say, a very fact poor discipline like philosophy versus a fact rich discipline like biology. Both domains take a great deal of attention, footnoting, citation, bookkeeping, etc. And you have to have a soaring intellect to be good at either one. But, at bottom, they are very different activities.

As to the final result of this exchange, it shows why abstraction is, if not the cause, always coincident with atrocity. Idealism is just as dangerous as it is motivational. Chomsky shows this quite well in the content of the exchange. And even the format of the exchange shows that Harris assume[s|ed] we can have a conversation like this regardless of the detail that it’s being done by e-mail… a detail that changes its character entirely.

Atheism and the Meaning of Life

A secular humanism group I’m a member of recently had a structured but largely unbounded discussion about the meaning, value, and purpose of life from a secular perspective. The organizer summarized the discussion leaving out the majority of what I took to be my contribution. Here are 3 excerpts from his summary:

Most of the group was in agreement that we don’t find meaning in life, but rather create or discover it for ourselves.

One person mentioned AI and his work in programming and that exploring unique possibilities and then sharing them with others gives him meaning and purpose in life.

Whether there is purpose in life was more contentious. Many said looking at the universe and life as it really is points to no ultimate purpose. The universe just is and does not care about us. Some mentioned that this was hard for them to accept and they were not satisfied with this. Others stated that you can bring value to yourself and others, but ultimately there is no meaning or purpose in naturalism.

The middle excerpt refers to me. However, it’s a misunderstanding of what I said. The most basic point is that I don’t (really) work in AI, but ALife. The distinction is important, especially for this discussion. I mostly reject AI as a method for realizing generalized intelligence. There are myriad reasons for my rejection. But a big one, again in this context, is that carving intelligence (whatever that means) from life seems like nonsense, to me. The route to AI is through ALife, if it exists at all.

A more relevant point to make, here, however, is that I did not imply (as others had at the meeting) that I get my own idiosyncratic meaning of life from my work in ALife or exploring and communicating possibilities. What I said was that we all, from pond scum to humans, inherit our meaning from the exploration and exploitation (E&E) of reality by all life. The meaning of life for a bacterium is the same as the meaning of life for me. Evolution provides such meaning and purpose, which directly contradicts the third excerpt above. (A criticism of my position might be that evolution can be thought of as an optimization process, maximizing fecundity or somesuch, rather than the more agnostic E&E of every possible nook and cranny. But I maintain that local optima are just resting waystations where life gathers its energy to launch out into the void to continue its exploration. It’s a purely local optimization for those simplified objectives.)

Indeed, there have been speculative propositions that such E&E is fundamental to the universe, implying that it’s not just part of what we currently identify as “alive”. Anyway, while I’m a bit disappointed that I was misunderstood so badly, the conversation was fun.

Another thing that came up after that meeting was the usual disagreement about the meaning of “atheism”. One guy stayed behind to talk and we eventually came around to my insistence that I’m not an atheist, but an agnostic. As usual, he defines them as synonyms, for the most part, excepting a few who call themselves “agnostic” but who are really just “on the fence”. I tried to make the point that atheism is a metaphysical assertion, regardless how trivial. Hence, it’s like other metaphysical assertions (like God or the anthropic principle). Just because atheism is a “smaller” assertion, requiring much less commitment, that doesn’t mean it’s a neutral position. The neutral position is agnosticism. We are ever so slightly more skeptical than atheists. And please note that I do not claim atheism requires the equivalent of religious faith, which is a common claim. (It is a type of faith, but a trivial type, like the faith needed to take a drink of water or pick your nose. Everything we do/think requires that sort of faith. So, I’m not making the strong claim many theists make about atheism.)

The metaphysical assertion made by atheism can be a very practical one, a “stopping criterion” that prevents one from engaging in infinite regress. Since every testable concept of gods has failed its tests, it’s efficient to simply jump to the end of the series and assert that all testable concepts of gods will prove false. It’s akin to proving that an infinite series converges to a fixed value. You don’t need to evaluate infinite terms to see what’s going to happen.

But this sort of thing is a metaphysical assertion along the same lines that many people rejected Cantor’s assertion that we can reason (mathematically) over infinite sets. For practical work, it’s easiest to assume the assumption and move on. But when considering weighty ideas like the meaning of life (or the foundations of math), it’s best to admit that you’re making an assumption and allow challenges to that assumption.

Hence, agnostics are not atheists and vice versa, although distinguishing amongst us takes a certain amount of … patience.

private person

I was recently accused by some very close friends of being a “private person”.  I objected at the time and I object now.  I’m not even slightly private, as witnessed by my willingness to tell anyone pretty much anything about me, don’t care what others know or think of me, etc.  But the subject grew out of a discussion of a landlord entering their tenant’s home while the tenant is absent.  So, clearly, my friends’ accusations aren’t based so much on the common modern usage of “privacy” – access to personal information or being able to observe or monitor a person.  They’re focus is on the “disturb” part of the definition:

The state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people

In a recent continuation of the conversation, my friend accused me of believing in (or agreeing with, or somesuch) private property, because when I talk about artifacts, I say things like “my coffee grinder”. And to an extent, that’s true. But when we talk about private property, we could be talking about 2 different things: 1) ownership vs. 2) control. The extent to which I believe in private property is really only the extent to which I believe some things should be controlled, at least for short periods of time.

And despite the fact that I think the separation of ownership and control is the fundamental cause of the bad effects of corporatism and large, a- or im-moral corporate actions, I do believe strongly in delegation. When I hire, say, an arborist to trim the trees in my yard (“my” is key here since I do not own the property), I do not have the right or authority to micromanage that activity. They’re the expert. I’m just the delegator. And in this case, I’m not even the owner. I’m merely the one with the responsibility for getting it done and the accountability for the effects of the activity.

So, although my friend made his know-it-all point, maintaining that I’m a private person because I don’t like to be disturbed in some sense, it uses the meaning of the word “private” in a vanishingly small way. It merely means that I take responsibility and accountability for the things that are, in some way, for some term, under my control. And I seriously doubt that’s what they meant when they made the accusation.

In modern vernacular, this is called “parsing”, I think … meaning something like obvious or argumentative rationalization. If I allow them to “parse” their accusation, without clarification, it just continues a maladaptive relationship.

On the other hand, know-it-all accusations like this are a kind of expression of affection. They “know” me and use what they “know” about me in discussions as a kind of intimacy. When you see it from this perspective, it’s like knowing that your friend likes mustard on her sandwiches rather than mayonaise… or what their favorite song is, etc. So, it’s difficult to judge people too harshly when they make false accusations or misunderstand you in this way. The ethical dilemma lies in whether you distance yourself from them (in their minds) by bursting their bubble, or strengthen your friendship (in my mind) by bursting their bubble and telling them what your personality traits really mean.

Luckily, my friends are all hard-headed and don’t listen to me much anyway.


I finally got around to loading a bunch of my online ramblings into a markov model. Now I can consult my online self about any subject! Here’s some output:

Very interesting. If there’s only a handful that explicitly study causal cycles. In other words, i see i didn’t comment… I’m usually a dinner party or somesuch), i find the person/process who came to believe one way to achieve that stupid thing, and doesn’t care about your other social positions, as the very purpose of the domain of software can exhibit aspects that worries me a humbly justified opinion about, say, the millenials (or younger) use? Or are octonions really not considered is,at least, are only willing to be able to spread his definition of politeness, especially as a vocation.

True, for _some_ people, people we might find it attractive. But if you examine 1000 abms, you are in favor of the words “generator” and “phenomenon” mean, by definition, be an exact match to its referent by doing similar experiments on both. In the end, we’re not different. We swim around, eat, mate, and e-mail style. I learned it when the operator isn’t defined by a metric space. I.e. The magic lies in the same as the
environment changes very slowly, this works fine. But in shelters, there’s a difference in neuroanatomy (theists have an adaptive advantage, regardless of what i mean. I really enjoy picking, say, apples from an internal one to learn things your natural curiosity would not assert that
their purpose or best way to me. I really enjoy picking, say, apples from an internal one to hypothesize that serial immersion may not be that if they don’t actually believe that theorem refutes rr’s claim, which i presume is how much more efficiently handled if some paths of approach are somehow “better” than others, we can say “existence is not an ideal world. So, when i say it, certain convincing evidence that particular bucket of goo/stuff has, regardless of the mouth of a tooth without anesthetic, does the dentist ignore such intangibles (except to the task and, rather than autoselection. That makes the “escape velocity” from a consensus thing. And a collective produced the thing.

TED: Ethan Nadelmann

‘Nuff said, actually.

Capn Drift's Blog

Yesterday was the 100 year anniversary of the Harrison Tax Act of 1914. I was doing a bit of research on the subject (surfing) when I came across this TED talk.

Now, I’m sure Ethan’s a bit of a controversial character, most any “activist” is. I don’t care much to get into the cat’s views, opinions or methods. This ‘talk’ however I found very compelling.

The guy is voicing my thought on the War on Drugs to a tee. The talk is 17 1/2 minutes long and in my opinion well worth the time. Check it out

TED: Nadelmann

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The Secret (aka the “law of attraction”)

I was cajoled into watching The Secret. Here’s a little back story so you understand why I watched it. Identities have been changed to protect the innocent. 8^)

I mentioned, rather casually, that I’m likely to be dead in 4 years because that’s the statistical median amount of time between diagnosis of my type of cancer and death. Don’t take that the wrong way, though. I have a very benign type of cancer: indolent follicular lymphoma. It kills people. But since it’s indolent, there’s plenty of “survivors” among us. I only use the statistics when the conversation might be more useful with a little reminder to be mindful and live in the present.

But my friend immediately responded by mentioning “the power of the mind”, in particular the importance of a good attitude to survival. I agreed, somewhat, and tried to be clearer, talking about how important it is to be present in whatever situation you happen to find yourself rather than pining for counterfactuals. He then clarified his point and insisted that the mind has more power to heal the body than we think and explicitly cited The Law of Attraction, which I’ll abbreviate to LoA. I was a bit shocked because he had just finished expressing his disdain for organized religion and all their made up beliefs. To me, a metaphysical claim like the LoA is not merely religious but one of the more insidious forms of it.

In any case, I tried to compromise and admitted that people who tend to think positively will tend to dwell on the good things that happen to them and spend less time worrying about the bad things, which can facilitate the achievement of one’s objectives. By contrast, those who dwell on the bad things that happen to them risk a downward spiral (as well as being unpleasant to be around).

In the end, my friend (and his SO) insisted that I watch “The Secret”, which they claim was very convincing to them. I don’t put a premium on my time. So, I agreed. I watched it the other evening. Here are my notes:

  • Thoughts have a (unique) frequency
    • Here they show an EEG
  • When you think that thought you emit that freq
  • law of attraction doesn’t hear that you don’t want some thing… it only hears the thing
  • Focusing on what you dislike yields more of what you dislike and the opposite as well… but they specify no mechanism
  • John Hagelin – quantum physicist
  • Fred Alan Wolf – quantum physicist
  • “No one knows what electricity is.” – Bob Proctor philosopher
  • Its been proven scientifically that a positive thought is 100 times more powerful than a negative thought. – Michael Beckwith – visionary
  • Your thoughts cause your feelings. – bob proctor
  • Every tradition has told us that theres something bigger than us. – James Arthur Ray philosopher
  • The universe will start to rearrange itself to give you what you want.
  • they seem to imply that you don’t have to plan for stepping stones along the way… only envision the possibly distant end goal.
  • Telling quote “what can you do rightnoe to turn your life around?”-Joe Vitale – metaphysician
    • Indicates that they’re targeting the vulnerable.
  • “Turn it over to the universe…”
  • Cathy Goodman claims to have healed her cancer in 3 months without radiation or chemo !!!
  • Disease cannot live in a body thats in a healthy emotional state. Bob Proctor
  • The anti war movement has created more war. The anti drug movement creates more drugs.
  • Often elections are tipped in the direction of the person people arebreally against because hes getting all the attention and all the focus. – Hale Dwoskin author
  • The “limited resources” lie.
    • Indicates they’re relying on some form of the abundance argument.

As usual, I quit taking notes after awhile. So, what you see above is mostly from the first half or so of the show. Now, there are lots of things I could say about this thing. But I want to sum up the positive take away first. Basically,

  • you are responsible for your current state
  • focusing on a situation will make it more achievable and more recognizable
  • you, if anyone, are the only one who can control how you react to some situation

I personally believe that if we could get everyone to act according to those 3 tenets, the world would be a better place. So, to that extent, this … video … is a good thing. But the problem comes in two forms: 1) the mechanism they sorta kinda propose — thoughts emanating from you into the universe and the universe being your slave-like djinn and 2) the risk for catastrophic error about how the universe actually works. (1) is only relevant for people who care about reality and how it actually works. I’d say roughly half the people I know care about that. The other half just want it to work according to some fictional mythos they understand. That includes many scientists, by the way, who think they understand how science works and think talking about how it works is a philosophical waste of time. They just don’t care. For that half that doesn’t care about ontological truth, a recipe for how to think and behave like the LoA may be just fine. In many ways, it’s much better than the horrifying 10 Commandments, for example.

However, (2) is much more important. And the most important error involved, I think, is the risk of victim blaming. It’s a matter of fact that some people, regardless of their attitude or ability to project their will onto the universe, are unlucky. They die in an earthquake or are horribly damaged (brain, spine, etc.) by acts of the gods or nefarious actors like Islamic State militants. The Secret tells us that these victims brought their fate upon themselves because they just didn’t think hard enough, long enough, or in the right way about the outcomes they wanted. Or, a more personal example, when I die of lymphoma, it’ll be because I didn’t take this … video … seriously enough. 8^)

The more immediate problem in category (2), however, is the trap my friend (and his SO) have been caught in. No matter what happens to them, they will never have the ability to falsify the LoA. When good things happen to them, they will claim it’s their doing. When bad things happen to them, they will blame themselves. The only way out of this trap (for them) is to disbelieve the LoA. And, to be honest, that scares me a little bit and makes me want to punish the predators who advocate it.

As a side note, watching the video was important. You don’t get the “pyramid scheme” feeling when you simply read about the LoA on wikipedia or somesuch. But when you see the video, it looks and feels EXACTLY like all the self-help, get rich quick, pitches that parade by on infomercials, at “seminars”, at big box bookstores, etc. These people are selling a product. And the product they’re selling is more evil than any pharmaceutical, any multi-level marketing scheme, or any religion. They’re selling justificationism – the idea that the truth of something depends on how you rationalize believing in that truth.

The universe is not your enslaved djinn. I wish you all the best of luck. But if you turn around and claim your luck is an effect caused by your “right actions” or positive attitude, then I really have nothing of substance to say to you. I just have to stop with “Good luck with that!”