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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Progress

Thought for the day

We often hear that the rate of progress is accelerating. Change is coming faster and faster. Things that were once pooh-poohed as "slippery slope fallacies" only a few years ago are now spoken of as inevitable and well-established. We are building something new, we are told.

Yet a building being constructed does not move faster and faster. A building collapsing does, as it accelerated under the force of gravity.

21 comments:

  1. *trying to be positive* Sometimes it sure looks like it's a lot of change all at once, though-- laying the foundation, putting in plumbing and putting up studs doesn't look like much, but putting on the walls? THAT looks like a lot.

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    1. The appearance of progress.... A useful extension of the metaphor.

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  2. relevant

    https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-history/dawn-of-electronics/the-miraculous-1880s

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    1. In The Passing of the Modern Age, pp. 73-74, published in 1980, John Lukacs comments that "between 1870 and 1920, the daily lives of people in the cities of the Western world changed more than they ever had before -- or after." To our grandfathers (he wrote then, which would be my great grandfather) the railroad, the steamship, the automobile, the telephone, the phonograph were old hat. Airplanes, airships, radio had been invented. Coanda flew a jet airplane in 1910, the same year the hologram was parented. By 1920, their lives would have been nearly unrecognizable to people of the 1860s. whereas to a man of 1920, the world of 1970 would have seemed only faster, smaller and more elaborate than his own. Airplanes no longer had propellers; radios had pictures. Most strikingly, the Hollerith card and tabulating machine, in use by 1880, had grown faster and more elaborate and electronic.

      When TOF's grandfather was three years old, man flew at Kitty Hawk; when he was 69, he watched man walk -- on the moon, on his television, in his living room. In all likelihood, no generation will ever have seen qualitative changes of that magnitude.

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    2. Bob - Thanks for the link. Heck, my grandfather was born in 1886. Now I'm going to start looking for landmark inventions from the 1880s.

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  3. Especially since a whole lot of really stupid stuff tends to happen right then, that you have to fix later.....

    *currently running around the house doing things like "insulate the EIGHT FOOT GAP they somehow didn't touch" and "cover the hot water pipes so they're not exposed to the outside air for 30 feet."*

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  4. Good image. Also, from working in the software industry: progress almost never means coding, or more generally, the stuff you can see happens as a result of the real progress, but is not progress in itself. Almost all the progress happens before there's anything to show for it.

    Two wildly different examples: in my industry, meaningful progress happens during the 'thought-smithing' stage, where sharp people figure out what's really going on, what's really necessary. Ideas and processes crystalize. THEN, if you're lucky and did a good job, coders code, and there's software to look at. But coders code and produce stuff to look at all the time - it's called 'shelfware', beautiful software nobody wants, so it sits on a shelf. Conclusion: the software itself isn't where things got made better.

    Second, in honor of the upcoming feast of St. Scholastica, a lot of real progress was made more or less unintentionally when the great Benedictine monasteries were built. The Rule of St. Benedict and the motto Ora et Labora ARE the progress - they ALLOWED the monasteries to spread, thrive, and change the world through being consistent pillars and sources of stability, civilization and technological development. It was almost like having a cultural mom and dad, who, just by being there and not budging, allowed the kids to grow up more confident and optimistic.

    Corollary I: few people ever see where the real progress is made, they only see the results of real progress and imagine those results are causes rather than effects.

    Corollary II: What people most tout as progress probably isn't - which I suppose it is your point.

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    1. In 1985, Lehman and Belady distinguished between "progressive" and "antiregressive" work done on software.

      Progressive work adds new function or fixes bugs. Alas, progressive work also increase the level of chaos, often inserting new bugs.

      Antiregressive work reduces the level of chaos without improving function, for example by refactoring to make the structure of the software easier to understand.

      All programmers love to do progressive work. Few enjoy antiregressive work.

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  5. TOF, question for you: have you written about race and ethnonationalism? I am studying up on the question so that I can engage the alt-right.

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    1. Not particularly. I note that Europe endured hundreds of years of increasingly brutal warfare in the effort to make the boundaries of the Nation and the State coincide, and it really doesn't work so long as people are free. There are still parts of France where German is spoken, not to mention Breton. And despite the ethnic cleansing that took place after WW2, there are still Silesian Germans in Poland -- except they speak Polish now. Outside Western Europe, where Nations did live in large blocs, it is hopeless. There are Magyars, Slavs, and others scattered across the Balkans far too intermingled to impose the Western-European model of the Nation-State.

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    2. Hmm. If you happen to know of any relevant sources for me to read, I would appreciate it if you let me know. Thanks!

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    3. There's an online quasi-book called "Resurrecting Racism" that discusses things like how IQ tests weren't even really INTENDED to be used for different socioeconomic groups of the culture they were originally written for, let alone other cultures. And how the "blacks are athletic" or even "Kenyans are great runners" generalizations really only hold for a few specific regions (counties, maybe, if even that big?) within Kenya, let alone all of Africa.

      The thing to keep in mind is that "race" is an example of being misled by your senses, like "the Earth is flat". Genetically, there are as big or bigger differences within "races" as there are between them. If two "black" groups didn't share territory, they may well share no more genes than they do with Swedes. The dark-skinned curly-haired people of India and Australia are MUCH closer, genetically, to other southern Asians and Oceanians, even those with lighter skin and straight hair, than to dark-skinned curly-haired Africans. "Races" as our naïve senses perceive them are very superficial "ecotypes".

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    4. While it's commendable to be anti-racist, I'm not certain that the man in question is the best advocate. I'm hearing strange accusations about conspiracy theories - though admittedly, these are coming from RationalWiki, which is hardly an unbiased source itself.

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    5. Well what he says about the history of IQ tests is independently verifiable, and the thing about genetics isn't even from him. "Black people" or "white people" don't actually exist. The fundamental flaw in the idea of "race" as popularly understood and politically significant, is it lumps together nearly unrelated groups based on superficialities like skin color and hair texture. Even the 19th century "Nordic, Alpine, Mediterranean" classifications were more scientific than that.

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    6. The old stuff about "the English race" would be more accurate, too; more shared ancestry makes for a better predictive outcome.

      As it is... we had a pair of kids at school, siblings. Father was from somewhere in the Caribbean and "looked black," mother was pretty average looking maybe-Germanic looking American.

      Of their kids, the one that inherited mom's family's build would pass himself off as "black" (successfully), while his sister that got their father's build would just say "mixed" and was usually identified as some variation of Hispanic.

      There are also news stories about identical twins that are of "different races." With photographs, from places like the UK.

      *****

      It's pretty good for something like describing how to identify a person-- sort of like "looks Irish" might work to mean pale skin, pale eyes with red hair, no matter that most Irish don't have red hair and there's an entire group that's more olive colored for skin-- but as an actual scientific classification, it's silly.

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    7. Oooh! That family that had a total of four twins, and each set is "half white" and "half black," might be a good way to show it's BS.
      If I remember right, their mom is a red-blonde lady and dad is from Jamaica or something.... I 'll see if I can find the news story.

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    8. Two sets of twins story:
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1103391/Mixed-race-couple-birth-black-white-twins--second-time.html

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    9. Red head and "black" twin sisters:
      https://nypost.com/2015/03/02/meet-the-bi-racial-twins-no-one-believes-are-sisters/

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    10. And the identical twins:
      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/12172157/Britains-first-black-and-white-twins-born-from-same-egg.html

      (yes, the facts end up disagreeing with the first news story I shared which claimed it was impossible for identical twins. 's why I don't totally trust news stories for my science!)

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    11. Sorry for the spamming, I've been fascinated with the subject since a neighbor delicately asked how much we knew about our family tree when I was pregnant-- she's a councilor for pregnancy centers and there had been some very ugly cases where both parents are "white" and the baby is "black," even though it was demonstrably his kid-- just funky genetic luck. Sort of like the more famous "kid with the first red hair in generations" thing.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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