The parable of the Antheap and the Anteater

escher In Godel Escher Bach there is a story about an Ant Heap. I think it's a conversation between Achilles and the Anteater, but I could be misremembering. Anyway, the Anteater tells Achilles about his friend the Antheap, called - if I recall correctly - Hillary3. And explains that whilst ants are individually stupid, as a hive entity they are collectively worth talking to. And, in response to Achilles being surprised that the Antheap wasn't afraid of him, an anteater, he notes that Hillary would often offer him juicy ants to eat. The death of a few ants was of no consequence to Hillary, who was the heap, not the individual ants.

But alas one day a disaster occurred: a rainstorm washed the heap away, destroying all the order. Not a single ant died, but the Heap aka Hillary was no more.

In GEB the analogy is to processes of conciousness. But I think it works as a loose analogy between individual human beings and cultures1. We might save all the individual people from a given culture - for example, by moving them, or allowing them to move, from a war zone to some place of safety; but in the process so dilute them amongst others that their culture is lost. Or we might kill any number of people, whilst preserving the overall culture2. And so attached to their culture - mistakenly, in my opinion - are some people that they might even prefer the latter option. In our liberal-democratic way we'd like to pick both options, and save all the culture and all the people; but we've not very good when both aren't possible. In theory, I think, we would and should prioritise the individuals, preferring to treat people as individuals rather than members of tribes. But of course, what do I mean "we", White Man?


1. Spare me the tedious outrage of comparing people to ants. No, I'm not.

2. In fact this option is illusory; culture is not preserved in this circumstance, only tatters of it.

3. Actually, Aunt Hillary. Geddit?


Torture and Terrorism (2006).

Ban it harder! An unwelcome new trend in British politics - Economist.

The Welfare State as Extended Warranty - Bryan Caplan.

Linda the Bank Teller Versus Freedom - Bryan again.

* The New Hereditarian Man: You Cannot Eliminate Envy by Brian Chau. 

The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire.


AMOC tipping points of no return

DJI_0112 I remember - vaguely - the good ol' dayes when I used to talk about climate. So let's consider The Conversation's Atlantic Ocean is headed for a tipping point − once melting glaciers shut down the Gulf Stream, we would see extreme climate change within decades, study shows. Not all of it of course, and don't let me fool you into thinking that I've read it. And, as ever, you should prefer RealClimate's take.

Briefly, while this is a time-dependent (~300 year) simulation, the time is not intended to represent any real set of calendar years; instead we start from pre-industrial and increment freshwater, until it "tips" at ~0.6 Sv. The main novelty then is the slow-running time; previous goes at this have tended to dump in the freshwater rather more suddenly, which may have its own effects.

But what's not at all clear from The Conversation, and which only appears rather belatedly in the RC piece, is from the discussion in the paper itself: "In the CESM simulation here, AMOC tipping occurs at relatively large values of the freshwater forcing. This is due to biases in precipitation elsewhere in the models and mainly over the Indian Ocean (37). Hence, we needed to integrate the CESM to rather large values of the freshwater forcing [∼0.6 Sv, about a factor 80 times larger than the present-day melt rate of the Greenland Ice Sheet (55)] to find the AMOC tipping event" to which SR is obliged to reply "in this model, like in most models, you need to add an unrealistic amount of freshwater, because they are in the wrong part of the stability diagram compared to what observational data imply". That doesn't fill me with confidence. What, you wanted more analysis?


Hothouse tipping elements of no return.

* Nurture: Climatologist Michael Mann wins defamation case: what it means for scientists. But "Jury awards Mann more than US$1 million — raising hopes for scientists who are attacked politically because of their work" is optimistic: the bar, at least in the States, is very high for defamation.

Tipping Is Optional - arch of WUWT post by WE

* Eating Animals and the Virtues of Honesty - Lab-grown meat as a way out of our greatest ethical dilemma - RH


History is bunk

PXL_20240210_121912854 Or so said Ford. Or somewhat more exactly, "History is more or less bunk. It is tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we make today. That’s the trouble with the world. We’re living in books and history and tradition. We want to get away from that and take care of today. We’ve done too much looking back. What we want to do and do it quick is to make just history right now". One wouldn't want to push that interpretation too hard; some of my best friends are historians; there is nothing wrong with knowing history. But there is a lot wrong with obsessing over it; gathering round the fire and beating stones together and beating antique grievances into your children's heads.

And so on to Putin, who apparently - I haven't read it - answered "why did you invade Ukraine" with a half hour history essay. The usual silly people have done the usual silly things - fact checking it - which is to miss the point: that simply thinking this way is wrong. It is the sort of thinking that leads to The Troubles; or the wars in the Balkans - take your pick as to exactly which ones - or the Palestinians deciding it would be an excellent idea to kill as many Israelis as they could. This is no great original insight; others have said much the same.