From the earth to the moon!

Congrats to India on launching the Chandrayaan! Here is an explainer. And an older WSJ piece, India Looks for Its Own Elon Musk to Win the Space Race with China.

It’s a commentary on our times that the 21st-century “space race” is between India and China (and Elon and Jeff). As for me, I’m pretty happy, because no matter who wins the race, the human race will benefit from inspiration, science, and technology.

The only “brown” thing I will note is that Joan D. Vinge’s space opera Summer Queen features a dominant civilization which is obviously based on that of the Indian subcontinent. Brownz in space!!!

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I’m fond of saying “two is the first number”

I was senior analyst in a small and wonderfully eccentric DC Beltway think tank a while back, and my boss kept asking me for what he called “early indicators” of upcoming troubles. The trouble was, I never saw an “indicator” as such — I only ever saw “indicators” plural. It takes two to tango, they say, and from my POV it takes two to make a pattern.

My HipBone Games began as an attempt to make Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game playable, preferably on a paper napkin in a sidewalk cafe, so I began with boards like my WaterBird —

— with ten moves, ten concepts arrayed in such a way that players or later readers could see ten richly interconnected concepts in one place — concepts that might be textual, musical, mathematical, visual, filmic — if we’d known how to convey smells via the internet, I’d have included those, too..

And over time, I discovered the obvious — that the fundamental game move involved two concepts, with one bridging link between them. So that’s the fundamental way to learn to play the HipBone Games. Over time, I’ve come to rely more and more on this simplest of HipBone Games, the DoubleQuote:

— leaving the larger HipBone Gameboards — the 8-move Dart board on up to the 120-odd Said Symphony board, dedicated to, you may have guessed it, Edward Said, and available for possible competition games and solo symphonies.

**

What’s a concept, you might ask — what constitutes a move?

I might use a different definition if I were taking about anything other than the Bead Game, but in this context, a concept is a rich idea — an idea with rich possibilities for association. Let me take a paragraph from a New Yorker piece as an example:

Melissa and Ashley, identical twins from Georgia, shared a bedroom while growing up. They had the same best friend, took classes together in high school, and dreamed of becoming artists in their own collective. “We’re like two different people with one brain,” Melissa liked to say.

The article in question is titled An Underground College for Undocumented Immigrants — so there’s room associations with the underground railroad perhaps, another situation where the official system repressed a minority, and that minority found ways to circumvent the system.

I’ve chosen this example, in fact, because it offers numerous associative possibilities — to other ideas, narratives, or statistical finds about twins, to other New Yorker articles, to underground movie theaters or catacombs, to those who dream of becoming artists — and in particular for my purposes here, because it’s about two people who think, almost as if they are one.

In fact, to emphasis this notion of unity and harmony, I might simply chose this statement for the first position in my DoubleQuote::

We’re like two different people with one brain

**

Let’s use a musical analogy, and say the two of them think in close harmony, or, since there are two of them, that thinking together, they constitute a duet..

The opposite of harmony,in which many notes played simultaneously form a chord, is counterpoint, in which differing melodic lines move between discord and resolution — harmony a “vertical” matter, synchronic, while counterpoint is “horizontal” and diachronic —

— and the opposite of a duet is a duel.

**

The two friends in Don DeLillo’s New Yorker piece, Midnight in Dostoevsky like to keep their minds at opposite poles from each other. As one of the two reports:

He liked to test himself on what he knew. He liked to stop walking to emphasize a point as I walked on. This was my counterpoint, to let him stand there talking to a tree. The shallower our arguments, the more intense we became.

I wanted to keep this one going, to stay in control, to press him hard. Did it matter what I said?

The actual phrase I’d place in juxtaposition to the first paragraph above might come from a discussion of whether the old man walking in front of them that day was wearing an anorak or a parka —

It was our routine; we were ever ready to find a matter to contest.

Again, the context — the article itself — is rich in associative potentials, with parkas, anoraks, Inuits, linguistics, life in the arctic circle, the whole idea of North — on which the pianist Glenn Gould wrote an entire radio opera

— and note that Gould is himself a master of counterpoint, specializing in the work of JS Bach, and called his radio opera technique “contrapuntal radio” —

So:

“This was counterpoint” — the opposite of harmony, and full of both conflict and resolution, with phrases isolated and overlapping, paused and repeated, denial and occasional agreement and renewed denial — a duel, not by any means a duet.

And yet each of our two excerpts describes the conversations of two close friends, the one emphasizing unity, the other diversity. And it is in the similarities and differences between the two conversation — between duel and duet — that the two concepts link to become a single move.

**

Having given that extended example, let me present a few more DoubleQuotes, in their positions on the board — with minimal explanations:

Some of them are made of names or phrases so simple, they fit on a mini-version of the board:

Some bring Shakespeare to bear on current events — in this case, Saudi Crown Prince MBS and the Khashoggi murder:

Some showing similarities in different materials:

Some making historical comparisons — this one’s in an earlier version of the same board —

or opposite opinions and creative practices of two of the world’s most distinguished physicists:

or — and this is my personal favorite, crossing as it does the great disciplinary boundary — between CP Snow’s Two Cultures — between art and science:

**

But either I’ve been very unclear, or you get the idea.

Here’s the blank DoubleQuotes board again, for you to download and drop your own examples into.

At gmail I’m hipbonegamer — feel free to send me your own, with any explanation you feel like making, and in a later post I’ll put them up here.

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Toward a mature conservatism

India scientists dismiss Einstein theories:

In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told medical staff at a Mumbai hospital that the story of the Hindu god Ganesha – whose elephant head is attached to a human body – showed cosmetic surgery existed in ancient India.

I don’t comment much on Indian politics for two reasons. First, I think macroeconomic conditions and trajectories are more important than politics as such for a developing nation like India. Second, the details of the cultural and political dynamics within any given nation are really hard to grok from the outside.

That being said, the widespread percolation of this sort of pseudoscience and pseudohistory on the Indian Right is a problem and has analogs with instances in other nations (e.g., Mike Pence is almost certainly a Creationist). These beliefs are often (though not always) harmless in and of themselves, but they are indicative of deeper maladies in terms of epistemological hygiene.

I have Hindu nationalists who are broadly on the same empirical page as me. We differ on details of values and emphases. And I know they are somewhat embarrassed by these weird ideas about nuclear weapons in ancient India. The key is to keep a lid on it so it doesn’t capture the commanding heights (ergo, why I’m quoting Modi).

Addendum: One issue for me is that I have a hard time taking Indian pseudoscience seriously just as I have a hard time taking Creation Science seriously. Sincere, earnest, and sometimes bright, people taking absurd claims seriously and constructing models out of them strikes me as farcical and funny more than threatening.

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Intellectual Dark Web

I would define the “intellectual dark web” as the confluence and convergence of leaders from classical European enlightenment, hard sciences, technology (including neuroscience, bio-engineering, genetics, artificial intelligence), and east philosophy streams. Among the intellectual dark web’s many members are Dr. Richard Haier, Jordan Peterson, Jonathan Haidt, Ben Shapiro, Weinstein brothers, Sam Harris, Glenn Loury, John McWhorter, Yuval Noah Harari, Thomas Friedman, Maajid Nawaz, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michio Kaku , Dr. VS Ramachandran, Steven Pinker, Armin Navabi, Ali Rizvi, Farhan Qureshi, Peter Beinart, Gad Saad, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Dave Rubin, Joe Rogan, Russell Brand.  If Steve Jobs were still alive, I would include him among them. They defy easy labels and are high on openness. I hesitate to label others without their permission, but our very own Razib Khan strikes me as a potential leader of the “intellectual dark web”; although I will withdraw this nomination if he wishes. 😉

Some see the intellectual dark web as the primary global resistance to post modernism. I don’t agree. Rather I see them as ideation and intuition leaders thinking different:

Continue reading “Intellectual Dark Web”

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Review: Enlightenment Now. Steven Pinker.

I have not so much read the book as scanned it. For most of the book he builds a case for his basic claim that life, for most people, has improved to an amazing extent in the last 200 years and we can thank science, reason and humanism for all this progress.
I assume he has to provide so much data because he knows this is an unfashionable opinion within the postmodern liberal intellectual elite and this bothers him. By listing all these facts and showing us all these graphs, he thinks he can convince even his most skeptical critics that progress is real, and that it is much more widely distributed than most people imagine. Is there something missing from his account of progress? I think there definitely is. I do not disagree with his claim that progress is real. Hunger, disease, violent death, these are not trivial concerns. The tremendous progress in these areas is real, and it is meaningful. Intellectuals who criticize Pinker by pointing to persistent or new forms of ill health, physical suffering or violence should take a break and actually read the book, they will find that he has the data and it is not bad data. Either argue about his data with better data of your own, or argue on some OTHER grounds. On THESE grounds, he is solid. Continue reading “Review: Enlightenment Now. Steven Pinker.”

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Will the US Continue to Attract International Science Talent?

We had a little discussion on Twitter about this topic. It was triggered by this post by Sam Altman @Sama, (about increasing political censorship of heterodox ideas in Silicon valley) but became a more general argument about US competitiveness and ability to attract talent, especially scientific talent. I just wanted to put a few random thoughts and questions out there, in the hope of enlightening feedback.

Clearly the US is still the world’s number one destination for exceptional scientific talent. But this is just year one of the reign of the mad king and already there are many reports of racist and bureaucratic obstruction of visas and suchlike (being both racist and bureaucratic, this process naturally has limited connection to rational priorities). There is also the general decline of US reputation across the globe (whether it reflects the reality of US life and to what extent, these are separate issues; the perception itself would likely influence SOME aspiring migrants). This is one (obvious) side of the story. There is also an attack from the Left flank (see below). Continue reading “Will the US Continue to Attract International Science Talent?”

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Brown in space

Science in India has to some extent a reputation for lassitude. Mind you, not Indian scientists, but institutional Indian scientific culture. So what explain’s the space program? From India, Proof That a Trip to Mars Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank:

While India’s recent launch of a spacecraft to Mars was a remarkable feat in its own right, it is the $75 million mission’s thrifty approach to time, money and materials that is getting attention.

Just days after the launch of India’s Mangalyaan satellite, NASA sent off its own Mars mission, five years in the making, named Maven. Its cost: $671 million. The budget of India’s Mars mission, by contrast, was just three-quarters of the $100 million that Hollywood spent on last year’s space-based hit, “Gravity.”

My explanation is simple: national pride and motivation to do something that matters. Soviet science did great things too, when it could motivate people. The issue in places like Italy and India is to incentivize this sort of productivity in their general scientific cultures.

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