Well, That Was Interesting… (And An Apology)

Debi got the point of that previous post, with her comment:

You’re right. I do.

However, the statements are too broad and brief to effectively invite me to debate the detail of any of your positions. So simply; yes, I disagree with a lot of these.

That was exactly the point (or part of it). It’s absolutely amazing to me how people ‘read into’ things, seeing statements that just aren’t there. I’ve deliberately not argued too much with commenters here, but I did to an extent over on Charlotte’s insta-reaction page. Charlotte herself didn’t infer *too* much that wasn’t there in the original post (though she did seem to assume, oddly for someone who knows me, that my disapproval of something equals the wish to ban it) but some of the comments on her blog are arguing about things that bear no relation to my points, such as they are (for example Roger Thornhill somehow jumping from a semantic argument about whether words that don’t have clearly-defined referents can be meaningful to a claim that I view humans as chattel, incapable of informed choice). Richard in the comments section to the post below is still bravely arguing against statements I never made, though as I explain myself little by little in Charlotte’s comments he’s become more understanding.

So in a sense, Charlotte was right about me ‘trolling’ – I wanted to see what posting some genuinely controversial views would do. But I do stand by *the statements I made*, as opposed to *the statements people assumed I was making* – some of them are, to the best of my knowledge, facts. Others are matters of taste. I was just interested in how people who read my blog were interpreting my statements.

Interestingly, the comments from people who are long-term readers of my blog tended to infer something like the intended meanings from the statements, as far as I can tell, while those who’ve come from Charlotte’s link (and Charlotte has been reading this a relatively short time, and most of her readers won’t have read my stuff before as we have very different audiences) misinterpreted a lot of what I said (along with assuming that I am stupid and/or evil).

This suggests to me that the context of my previous posts over a course of months or years allows people to ‘fill in’ somewhat the arguments I would have made had I chosen to. Either that, or people who read my blog agree with me generally ;)

It’s no surprise that Debi, who is both scientifically trained and someone I’ve known for years, was the first person to state that she wasn’t going to debate because there wasn’t actually enough content there to debate with.

If anyone’s genuinely interested in how I can justify those statements, let me know – because I *can* justify them (I only stated things that I genuinely think). I won’t be doing it in comments, however, because each one of them would require a post or several of its own – so also don’t expect the posts immediately…

(Oh, and one more thing – I do find it quite insulting that so many people consider me incapable of thinking of the immediate obvious objections to my statements. Generally when someone makes a ‘controversial’ statement, they’re either ignorant and stupid, or they know more about the subject than most people. I may fit into the former category, but it’s depressing how many people assume I do without checking…)

ETA In response to Debi’s comment that she felt like this was a test of the readers of the post, and she resented being tested, I can only apologise. That wasn’t my intention – I wanted to test how people were reacting to my writing, because I am becoming increasingly unsure of my own ability to communicate effectively. It was me I was testing, not you, and I am very sorry that I’ve actually upset at least one person I like and respect, and possibly other people too.

ETA To clarify the clarification… what I was trying to do was see if, with only minimal statements, people *who normally read my blog* would jump to the correct or incorrect conclusions about what I was actually saying. Mostly they did, with the exception of Debi who made the wider point that I wasn’t saying anything concrete at all. People like Duncan and David seemed to get what I was saying, even though the content was almost non-existent, because they’ve read a lot of my posts. People who don’t regularly read my blog mostly didn’t – but I wasn’t expecting them to read it, pretty much by definition (which is why I commented in far more detail on Charlotte’s blog than on my own). What I certainly wasn’t doing was sitting there saying “Ha ha ha, look at the fools! I have befuddled them with the cunning power of ambiguity and brevity!”

I also think the actual ‘ten things you disagree’ with thing is a genuinely good idea on its own, for a whole variety of reasons.

But that post, more than any other, was intended for my normal audience, It was intended as a bit of fun and a test of my own writing ability, and I was *not* expecting it to be linked by a blog that is far higher-profile and has a very different audience than my own.

The conclusion I came to, for the record, is that the more of my previous writing someone has read, the more they will be on the same wavelength with my other writing. Which suggests that aiming my writing at the people I know already read this could be dangerously counter-productive, as people will take away the opposite meaning from what I intend. As I inadvertantly also proved.

Again, I apologise if anyone was offended, or felt like I was testing them. I wasn’t. Truly. And I had no intention of upsetting anyone. I just wanted to test a hypothesis about my own writing while simultaneously doing something that on its own merits I thought might be quite a fun little ‘meme’. I am absolutely mortified, in particular, that I caused offence to Debi, who I respect greatly and consider a good friend, and Mark, who I don’t know well but whose blog I admire.

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29 Responses to Well, That Was Interesting… (And An Apology)

  1. Andrew says:

    Hey Andrew,

    I’d be interested in reading the paper you wrote on HAM that you mentioned on Charlotte’s blog. Both to see why you think medicine is crap and also as a wider introduction to the subject – I work in the Brain-Machine Interface field so it might be a good thing to read up on. Could you email it to me.



  2. Debi Linton says:

    Actually, I’m not sure I did ‘get’ the point – my comment was meant more than anything else to be taken as a light admonishment for not supplying any meat to your statements, because just stating them isn’t very helpful. I’d like to see a series of posts now actually elaborating on each of your points so I can either understand your position or help you understand mine on any of the ones I actually care-stroke-know about.

    One other thing I disagree with was the post itself – it seems a bit that a test was set, and I’m being given a cookie for passing, when really it’s hard not to resent having been tested at all.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Oh, it wasn’t a test of the people reading here, as much as a test of how my writing goes over – I’ve become increasingly concerned recently that I’m simply not communicating very well, and I was testing some hypotheses about my own writing. Basically I wanted to see if people who were agreeing with what I wrote were actually agreeing *with what I wrote*, if you see what I mean…

      I see what you mean though, and I hadn’t thought of it that way, and can only apologise to you, and to anyone else I made feel like that. It wasn’t my intention and I’m sorry. I should have had more consideration.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      And most of those things are things I do have full posts planned about at some point soonish, and I would absolutely welcome debate on them…

  3. Mark Reckons says:

    I don’t think you are communicating very well with respect to this list of statements seeing as you ask. I still don’t see how statements 5 and 1 can be compatible, despite your attempt on Charlotte’s thread to elaborate.

    It almost seems to me like you are playing semantic games in order to trip people up and them accuse them of misunderstand or misinterpreting you.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      That wasn’t my intention. Rather, I wanted to post something with as little actual *content* in it as possible, and see how/if the reaction differed to the other stuff I post…

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I also, incidentally, think the idea of posting ten things that your readership will disagree with, without further comment, is a genuinely good one in itself. A lot of the time people make implicit assumptions that ‘we all think this’, and I think that just posting things that most people reading will disagree with is an interesting exercise *in itself* as well.

      There were many different reasons for posting it, but one that *wasn’t* there, but unfortunately seems to have been the impression given, was to go “ha! I deliberately misled you and you fell for it, therefore I am better than you!”

      Part of the problem here is that Charlotte made her post, which I wasn’t expecting, and caused a completely different set of reactions to the original post to the ones I would normally get.

    • Prankster says:

      I know Andrew didn’t want to start an epic debate about all this stuff, but I think it’s important to note, as a few have already done, that “conventional medicine” and “science” (in the abstract) are very much not the same thing. Andrew’s criticism of conventional medicine (as I read it) is that it’s sometimes NOT scientific, which jibes perfectly well with his point about teaching the scientific method. Saying “if something works then it’s conventional medicine” is a dodgy statement at best; we’re talking about theory vs. practice here.

      And I don’t think that’s a semantic game at all–it’s addressing something to which a lot of people have attached assumptions and inferences. It’s sort of like saying “Unidentified Flying Objects exist”, which is a self-evidently true statement that nevertheless makes some people go berzerk because of the associations that go with it.

      • Absolutely. A lot of conventional medicine is very unscientific, while at least some alternative medicine has a good bit of scientific evidence behind it…

  4. Edmund says:

    I would be very interested to read a post by you expanding on point 8.

    Thank you for the reference to the Conway paper – I agree it is begging the question (although in the sense that it presupposes causality, and then complains that hidden variable theories are non-local! I mean, we did know that already…). I don’t think it’s thought experiment won’t allow you to distinguish between free-will/determinism, either.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yeah, I didn’t get what Conway thought he was proving there. That said, I’ve posted enough ludicrous wibble about quantumstuff (usually trying to tie it into comics though, where the rules are… different) that I can forgive someone as eminent as Conway for a bit of question-begging and tautology.

  5. Mark Reckons says:

    I feel bad that you feel bad now Andrew and thank you for your nice comment about my blog. As I said on Twitter I was not so much annoyed just a bit perplexed as to what you were trying to say. I think I misunderstood where you were coming from having read your clarifications and fair play to you for trying to push the boundaries a bit. It’s something I intend to do more often myself.

  6. Dan Howells says:

    Now you’ve warmed up with this genuinely thought-provoking pair of posts, there is another – much more trivial – matter I’d ask you to tackle.

    To whit, “Ten Pieces Of My Own Personal Doctor Who Canon” – to whit, ten things that have never been seen on TV Who but which, nonetheless, you believe to be true and correct. Please?

  7. pillock says:

    I thought this was interesting, but didn’t comment…I figured I knew what you were going for. But, I almost made a lengthy comment on #8, because I think people shouldn’t be talking about “free will” in physics at all…this seems a tension more appropriate to theology, and when we thoughtlessly transplant it we just make bad theology of it. So, I thought: hey, very good point.

    Two others attracted me for slightly different reasons, maybe also having something to do with the “typical” rejoinders to them, that I could imagine. The most obvious one is #2, which I think is nearly a tautology: because pure supply and demand doesn’t make an “economy”, only governance can make one. The way supply and demand is leashed, that’s your economy! Every law is a government intervention; every piece of legal tender is one, too.

    And then, in related news, there’s #10…which reminds me that my family members may lend money to one another, but they never do it at interest, and among my friends there’s money-lending going on all the time too, but this isn’t at interest either. So, if charging interest isn’t in some sense immoral, why do we so scrupulously exempt family and friends from having to pay it?

    Now that’s something I wouldn’t mind reading about in a little more depth…

  8. Chad Nevett says:

    I’d love to see a post regarding your third point about art — whenever you find the time/desire to do so, of course.

  9. I want to hear more about 6. I thought we were on the same wavelength about information theory (I got it all from you) but your statement there didn’t make much sense to me. Didn’t Shannon clearly state that information and meaning are different things? Aren’t you getting them mixed up? Or was that a deliberate part of the trick?

    • Meaning and information *are* different things, but poor spelling and grammar can make it impossible to differentiate between different words (for example can’t and cant would be identical if someone doesn’t use apostrophes). Two words which were previously different become identical, and what you have is effectively linguistic entropy. Not explaining myself here very well, but it makes sense in my head…

      • I think I see what you’re getting at now. If someone can’t spell or understand the rules of grammar then they have extra problems before they even get to the slipperiness of meaning. There’ll probably be more to discuss if you do a whole post on it. Just remember that the established rules of grammar are a great place to find Fedex arrows.

        • Oh, I couldn’t agree more – there’s tons of inherent baggage in English, and the ‘rules’ could do with changing – what the rules are matters rather less than that they exist…

          • At least we don’t have grammatical gender. That makes things even worse. Don’t believe anyone who claims that genus and sexus are separate – there’s scientific evidence that they easily get mixed up in people’s minds so that grammatical gender leads to gendered perceptions of inanimate objects. With hilarious consequences…

  10. pillock says:

    I think I’d better update that, given the arguments of James Graham on Charlotte Gore’s page. My position is, I don’t think anyone can make much of a meal of the question of “free will”, if they’re operating from a scientific perspective. Every minute we think, remember, imagine and act — we accomodate our interests and impulsions, or resist them, and it is not mysterious. But is it real, or is it all just an illusion?

    What it is, is something that I don’t see as not a particularly meaningful question for physics, biology, or psychology. The idea that free will is or might be illusory, is to my mind as irrelevant to scientific inquiry as the idea that we’re all just brains in vats having orchestrated delusions about embodiment. It might be so; but that’s a pretty big “might” to still change nothing one way or the other.

    Not a very good clarification on my part, I guess: apologies, I’m a bit sleepy. But I think the contention that free will doesn’t exist is as essentially theological as the contention that it does…even in philsophy, it’s only the consequences of such belief that ever really concern us. But in science, as far as I can see no consequences are produced by the holding of either position.

    Fortunately, I also can’t see what this all has to do with “positions”, anyway. Our experiences are the experiences of human beings; we view life through the lens of our humanity, and think and act according to what we see. Supposing it all to be just programmatic won’t change that.

    Oh God, now I’m even sleepier…

  11. Zom says:

    Interesting stuff.

    Seems to me that your regularly readership are more inclined to see your list in terms of good faith. We know that you’ll have thought about what you’re saying, and we’ll allow you leeway with your definitions (see the brief debate around the use of the word “much”). The upshot of this is that, as a regular reader, your list encouraged me to think – to try and get my head around what your arguments might be, and exactly what *I* think.

    So beneficial and worthwhile from my POV, less so from the POV of a stranger, or someone who isn’t in the mood to give you the benefit of the doubt.

  12. Simon Hacking says:

    I’d like to echo Chad Nevett and ask for more on point 3 (which I’m surprised hasn’t had more attention considering that this is a blog about comics and music as well as politics and science).

    Specifically, do you not agree that Austen’s ideas were novel when her books were published?

  13. Kieran says:

    The most interesting aspect was what you considered controversial, 2 in particular seems like a no-brainer outside of the fringe right, though I guess you don’t define intervention all that clearly. 7 too is only controversial because of the tone, it’s an increasingly common preference in my experience. Any remotely religious person believes 9, and 10 too if the religion is abrahamic, and while I guess that’s less common online 9 is definitely the received opinion, which I assume would make it uncontroversial.

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