On Distributions of Measurable Human Attributes (A Prologue)

8 July 2024

Often, when talking about the distribution of measurable human attributes, people refer to the bell curve, which is to say to a Gaussian distribution, more commonly known as a normal distribution.

One immediate difficulty is that the Gaussian distribution extends symmetrically without lower limit to measurements with positive probability, whereas the natural measures of most of the attributes that will interest us have lower limits of possibility (typically at or above zero). For example, no one has negative weight or negative height. Simply truncating the lower bound of a Gaussian distribution usually doesn't make a great deal of sense, because few people will even be near the lower bound, rather than a fair number at it or just barely above it.

Instead, the distribution will more typically look something like this:

Mind you that measures can always be transformed, and a measure that has a lower bound of b can be transformed into a measure without lower bound simply by the device of subtracting the bound and then taking a logarithm: measure1(x) = loge[measure0(x) - b] Some set of transformations can surely be used to arrive at one with a distribution that is well approximated by a Gaussian distribution. But, for the most part, I'd rather use natural or familiar measures than manipulate the data to arrive at a Gaussian distribution, especially as one otherwise typically needs to invert the transformations at the end of the analysis, to make sense of things.

In the near future, I plan to post an entry about misreading the consequences of different variances in different human populations. What I have to say could all be expressed in terms of Gaussian distributions, but I don't want to do so, nor did I want that future entry to begin with a discussion such as that here.

It's a Bit Late

16 June 2024

The immoderate political left began speaking and writing of late[-stage] capitalism with the end of the First World War.

The idea has been that the industrialized world has entered the final stage of something called capitalism, with a revolutionary change to some form of socialism just around the corner

…for more than a century now.

(Actually what we've seen is a slow, grinding transformation away from the use of genuine markets to an administrated order, which in more recent years has threatened to become a neo-feudalism. The transformation began well before the First World War, as technocratic thinking began displacing liberalism.)

Certainly Unprofessional

15 June 2024

To-day, I updated some software on a Samsung electronic tablet. The latest version comes with an ability to suggest changes on-the-fly to what I've written. These changes include to wording that Samsung calls Professional, to what they call Casual, or to what they call Social. What they call Social seems to be what they call Casual, with the addition of hashtags. What they call Professional certainly isn't very professional.

The software may already have been patched to address this specific error, but I'm sure that many other errors remain, and they will propagate. For decades now, a great many people, even people who imagine themselves as native speakers of the English language, have been uncritically accepting what software has told them about the language.

I will sometimes use software to check my spelling, but I don't simply make every change that it suggests. I find that, in analyzing my writing, grammar-checkers so often flag constructions that are actually correct and so seldom find real errors that these checkers are not worth running. And a person who relies upon software for tone is falsifying his or her relationships.

A Minor Up-Date

14 June 2024

I still await a first decision from the journal to which on 24 February I submitted my paper on Sraffa. On 27 May, I queried the editor about when I might expect a decision. My query was really to ensure that the paper weren't mislaid; I've more than one unfortunate experience of such a thing. On 29 May, I received a reasonable and polite response that he hoped to have a report from the reviewer within a month.

The mission statement of the journal from which I yanked that paper on 21 February declares

Our goal is to provide a definitive answer within one month of submission.

I yanked the paper, submitted on 23 January, after it had idled for four weeks without being sent to the editor-in-chief. On 28 March they none-the-less reported it as placed in the hands of the editor-in-chief.

When I'd yanked the paper, when I received this notice, and when I received an apology and plea for patience, I sent copies of my replies (declaring and reïterating that the paper were no longer on-offer to them) to that editor-in-chief. None-the-less, on 07 June — more than four months after my submission — the editor sent a rejection on the grounds that the work were primarily exegetic. I think that the behavior of the editor and of the administrative staff betrays a gross disorganization that makes a mockery of the supposèd goal of reaching a decision within a month.

There Is No Pie

26 May 2024

Imagining all of a society's various generation and allocation of goods and services as if the creation and distribution of one big pie is very much analogous to imagining all of the sexual interactions of that society as one enormous orgy.


13 April 2024

I have not voted for any Presidential candidate since the 1988 General Election, and I will not be voting for any Presidential candidate in the 2024 General Election.

As I and very many people before me have noted, my vote or non-vote in any present election of significance has no effect on the outcome that election. The margin by which any candidate in such an election wins or loses is always in the thousands of vote, so that an individual vote could be given to a different candidate or simply not cast, without a different winner resulting. But, as I have also noted, a vote cast or withheld in a present election has some effect, albeït usually very small, on the subsequent behavior of those active in the political process, as they have a sense of what they can't, can, or must do to win the next election, based upon the margins of victory and votes altogether withheld.

The least effective thing that a potential voter can do is to vote for a candidate whom he or she dislikes.


The most effective thing that a potential voter as such can do is to vote for a candidate of whom that voter approves, even if that candidate has no chance of winning, or to submit a ballot from which no candidate receives a vote.

I endorse submitting a ballot in which no Presidential candidate is selected. Where not given a better option to reject all candidates explicitly, a voter should enter something such as [ALL CANDIDATES REJECTED!] as-if a write-in vote, to prevent a poll-worker or election official otherwise taking advantage of the opportunity to check a box for his or her preferred candidate.

In the General Elections after 1988 and through 2020, I considered the Presidential nominees of the Libertarian Party, but rejected each. When, in 2020, Jo Jorgensen joined the pile on top of those who lost their jobs for saying all lives matter, I decided that I would not vote for any subsequent Presidential nominee of that party unless he or she unequivocally denounced Jorgensen and this later nominee's campaign acted to make Jorgensen's victims whole. Of course, I considered the chances of a nominee's taking such responsibility to be negligible.

Then, in August of 2021, Rebecca Lau, Chairman of the Manhattan Libertarian Party from 18 June 2021 to 10 October 2023, wrote My opinion is that the unvaccinated should die. This declaration began a cascade of fifteen-minute problems, with the Manhattan Libertarian Party, then the New York Libertarian Party, then the Libertarian Party National Committee, and finally all the remaining parties affilitated with the LPNC not effecting solutions. I consequently vowed never again to vote for any candidate of these parties for any office.

Conspiracies — Termite and Otherwise

29 March 2024

In the most general of the still living senses of the word conspire, it means

Combine in action or aim (with); cooperate by or as by intention (to do).
Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
to act in harmony toward a common end

The two dictionaries that I just cited also offer definitions that include aspects of secrecy or lack of acknowledgement and of wickedness,

Combine secretly (with) for an unlawful or reprehensible purpose, esp. treason, murder, or sedition; agree secretly. (Foll. by against, to do.)
Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or an act which becomes unlawful as a result of the secret agreement

which aspects indeed most people usually associate with conspiracy, but these dictionaries are silent about a third aspect that most people usually imagine, central coördination. Centralization is not part of the definition. A conspiracy could be highly centralized, largely decentralized, or have no center at all.[1]

Decentralized processes of people working in harmony for a shared and unacknowledged purpose — and even more specifically for a shared, unacknowledged, and nefarious purpose — are abundant. Nearly every adult American is familiar with my favorite examples of decentralized conspiracies. Most American journalists fall into two camps, one camp favoring one of America's two largest political parties, and the other camp favoring the other party. Very often in each camp, when some news story is about criminality or other widely despised action by an official or political figure from the favored party, the story will not mention that person's political affiliation until well into the article, if at all; but, if a news story is about such action by a person associated with the disfavored party, then the affiliation is swiftly and prominently mentioned, perhaps even in the headline.[2] No one had to tell journalists to behave in this manner for them to have done so. They merely observed other journalists, and joined one conspiracy or the other upon recognizing how readers' impressions of the favored and disfavored parties would be affected.

When referring to a process of people working with little or no central coördination but in harmony for a shared, unacknowledged, and reprehensible purpose, I call it a termite conspiracy, by analogy with behavior of termites that has been widely mistaken as requiring a high degree of central administration. Termites are not the only beasts that furnish examples; flocks of birds come immediately to mind. At one time, a great many educated people accepted or arrived at theories of telepathic hive-minds. But, as it turns-out, under examination and careful consideration, these behaviors can be explained without such centralization. And part of what led me to apply termite conspiracy to human beings was my having read The Human Termites, a classic science-fiction story by neuropsychiatrist David H[enry] Keller in Science Wonder Stories volume 1 #4, #5, and #6, in which story Keller proposed that human behavior like that of termites were under direction of hive-minds.[3] In fact, human behavior like that of termites needs no such thing to effect a shared purpose. I could use the term termite conspiracy more generally to include benign cases of people working without central coördination but in harmony for a shared purpose, but I haven't had much occasion to do so.

As a social scientist, I find termite conspiracies more interesting in the abstract than I find centralized conspiracies. And, because the plausibility of a datum remaining more generally secret decreases with each added person coming into possession of that secret, I tend to be rather doubtful of claims of large-scale, centralized, unacknowledged conspiracies. But such conspiracies are more prevalent than I once believed. In the case of UAPs, the choice is now between belief in a previous large-scale, centralized conspiracy by agents of the state to hide the truth, or belief that the present admission to past deceit is a product of large-scale, centralized conspiracy. (I very much incline to the latter belief.) Meanwhile, the only plausible reason that documents are still being withheld concerning the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy — more than sixty years ago — is that still-existing institutions would lose credibility if the truth were widely known.

Still, people with predisposition to believe in centralized and unacknowledged conspiracies need to give more thought and discussion to termite conspiracies. On the one hand, a termite conspiracy is even more readily mistaken for a centralized conspiracy than is an invisible-hand process. On the other hand, a conspiracy theorist can present a more persuasive case, by discussing the range of possibilities, running from conspiracies in the most general sense, through termite conspiracies (with which, again, nearly everyone is familiar), to increasingly centralized conspiracies. An audience compelled to see that explanation is in terms of something familiar, except perhaps in degree of centralization, is an audience more inclined to attend.

Certainly, people have been strong conditioned not to attend rationally to discussions of conspiracy. Dictionaries not-withstanding, within my lifetime, the terms conspiracy and especially conspiracy theory and conspiracy theorist have come to be associated with irrational theorizing. The mere act of labelling a proposition with conspiracy theory is treated as-if a perfect refutation; indeed, the mindlessness here has grown so terrible that I have seen journalists using the label conspiracy as if it is synonymous with conspiracy theory, and labelling propositions conspiracy, as if this labelling falsifies these propositions. Journalists and other shapers of opinion must now avoid using conspiracy theory to refer to their own assertions that this or that group has secretly coöperated in some centrally coördinated, unacknowledged, wicked scheme. Notice how, for example, the mainstream of the media and Wikipedia do not used conspiracy theory or conspiracy theorist in reference to the Russiagate Narrative and to those who participated in its narration, though the mainstream of the media and Wikipedia freely apply these labels to various claims and to various persons in conflict with the mainstream narrative. I have even encountered journalists offering theories of conspiracies and insisting that these theories were not a conspiracy theory.

[1] A conspiracy is characterized by shared purpose, whereäs the results of an invisible hand process are not sought by participants from that process, and may not be purposes at all, let alone shared purposes. When a conspiracy, with or without centralized coördination, is somehow also an invisible hand process, the purposes behind the former are different from the results that make it the latter.

[2] In the days before wide access to the Internet, this pair of journalistic practices was even more pronounced; but when news sites sought to foster a sense of engagement amongst their readers, by providing fora in which readers could comment, many readers began highlighting instances of the first practice, and continue to highlight it.

[3] The theory in Keller's story entailed apparent invisible-hand processes as actually having intended results.

Paper Woes

28 March 2024
The journal from which I yanked my paper on Sraffa on 21 February has yet to remove the listing from Editorial Manager. Worse, on 28 March, I received a couple of notices that the paper was now assigned to an editor. What makes these notices doubly offensive is that the journal claims to attempt to reach a first decision within a month; I submitted the paper to them on 23 January. (Indeed, I began the process some days earlier, but Editorial Manager would not allow me to upload some of the files.) In any case, I responded to the notices:
You were informed on 20 February that this article was no longer available for your acceptance or rejection.

Stop this nonsense immediately.

(Yup, I had misremembered the date on which I yanked the paper.) I again sent a CC of my e.mail to the Editor in Chief, and as it happens one of the notices said that she would handle the paper. I've yet to receive a response; I never received a response to my message in which I withdrew the paper from consideration.

[Up-Date (2024:02/30): On 29 March, just before mid-night PDT, I received a reply from the publisher, apologizing for the inconvenience and thanking me for my patience as the editor considered my manuscript. I responded

Stop. As I have said twice previously, RiE is no longer entitled to accept or reject this paper. You lost those options on 21 February.

The Editor-in-Chief received CCs from the agent and from me.]

A few days ago, I received a desk-rejection of the brief paper on the modality of qualitative probability, which paper I had thought might be too trivial to warrant publication. The editor did not give me a clear understanding of why he rejected the paper, but he probably thought it too trivial to warrant publication.

Philosophic Manga

23 March 2024

For many years, every manga that I had ever encountered was simply lousy. I came to have little expectation that any were not, but I was aware of Sturgeon's Revelation,[1] and so I would still occasionally look at manga. Eventually, I found some that were quite good, and even a few that were brilliant. I'd like to mention two that I find very interesting as works of philosophy.

Philosophy in general is sometimes characterized as consideration of the True, of the Good, and of the Beautiful. I don't know of a manga to which I'd point as a worthwhile meditation on the Beautiful, but I can point to one manga that has interesting ideas about the True, and another that is a wonderful meditation on the Good.

The official English-language title of the light novel 紫色のクオリア [Murasakiiro no Qualia], by Ueo Hisamitsu, and of its manga adaptation (by Ueo with illustrations by Tsunashima Shirou) is Qualia the Purple, but a better rendering would be Purple's Qualia or The Qualia of Purple. The story is marketted as yuri (work with a theme of romantic love or sexual attraction between females), and it has some elements of that theme, but most readers primarily seeking that theme are going to be generally frustrated.

The actual primary theme of the story is the uniqueness of the epistemics of each person. In response to the same stimuli, we have different sensations, and construct models that are very different not only in these building blocks but in subsequent structure. In the best cases, our models of the external world correspond very well to reality, and thus indirectly the models of one person correspond well to the models of another. But the maps are not the territories, and my maps are not your maps.

In Murasakiiro no Qualia, the character Yukari does not model animals and machines as fundamentally different. However, unlike a couple of other characters, Yukari does not think any less of living creatures for being machines; she treats machines with genuine affection and sometimes love. Moreover, within the framework of the story, Yukari's model works. (I deliberately refrain here from providing examples.) Another character, Alice Foyle, produces what appear to be child-like drawings but contain solutions to challenging mathematic problems.

Ueo doesn't simply write of characters with special abilities flowing from looking at the world differently. Ueo proposes the idea that personal identity itself is located exactly in our respective internal differences of sensation and of all that we build from sensation.

The story also involves elements of speculative science fiction, to which I impute no value except as plot devices. I'm rather more interested in how the protagonist, Gakku, obsessively fights Fate, much as does Homura in Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magika.

The official English-language title of 葬送のフリーレン [Sousou no Frieren], by Yamada Kanehito with excellent illustrations by Abe Tsukasa, is Frieren: Beyond Journey's End, though the pirate translations began with the closer translation Frieren at the Funeral; either of these titles is appropriate. (A more literal translation would be Frieren of the Funeral.) This series has become a huge critical and commercial success, and its anime adaptation has likewise become a huge critical and commercial success. (At this time, I've watched only clips of the anime.) Frieren begins with the return of a party of four adventurers after they have saved the world from a Demon King, a quest that they accepted a decade earlier.

The eponymous Frieren is an Elven maga, who had lived a quiet, meandering life for more than a millennium before joining the party, and who can expect to live many millennia more. During the celebration, Frieren casually makes plans to meet the other members of the party, in another fifty years. The significance to human beings of half a century does not begin to register with her until she returns, and finds Himmel, the once youthful leader of the party, to be an old man. And, when not much later Himmel dies, Frieren struggles to understand both how someone with whom she had spent only ten years could have come to mean so much to her, and how she could have failed to recognize that she had only another fifty or so years which she could have spent with him and did not.

Thereafter, Frieren is the story of the further adventures of this Elf, with occasional flashbacks to her time with the party who defeated the Demon King. What's really being delivered is both a bitter-sweet love story — as Frieren comes over decades to recognize that Himmel was the great love of her life — and an extended meditation on the importance of relationships, on the meaning of life, and on the nature of ethics. (The other commentary that I've encountered has missed both the point that Frieren loved and loves Himmel, and the consideration of ethics.)

As to ethics, I'll note that Himmel implicitly rejected the Utilitarian calculus and anything like it, and within the story the ethics that he instead embodied have, since the time of the quest, been propagating. Humans and Dwarves explain their acts of local goodness by saying That's what Himmel would have done. The world of Frieren continues to grow more humane, because of Himmel, long after his death.

Sousou no Frieren is a story that has more than once made me laugh aloud, not because of any jest, but because the author has made some excellent choice, often in having a character do something very right, but sometimes the author's choice involves other things. At least twice, his choice has concerned the rôle of Fate — once to challenge a character, and at another time to treat two of the characters with love.

[1] Ninety percent of everything is crud. Sturgeon did not claim that 10% of everything is not crud; the ninety percent is merely a lower bound. (And a metaphoric one at that, though I encountered one fool who tried to argue as if the legitimacy of Sturgeon's Revelation hung upon a literal interpretation of ninety percent.)

Long COVID as a Description and as a Name

15 March 2024

In the case of what has been called long COVID, two opposing camps are lost in a confusion of name with description.

The idea that SarsCoV-2 would have peculiar long-term effects upon health was immediately popular in some circles for appalling reasons, and thus viewed in other circles with strong inclination to disbelief.

Eventually, a cluster of persistent symptoms came to be widely associated with SarsCoV-2. Some of these symptoms are clearly present in some people, and not psychosomatic. But a very reasonable question is that of whether these symptoms are actually caused by SarsCoV-2, or have some other cause or causes. For some months now, the evidence has strongly indicated that, no, these are, variously, not effects of SarsCoV-2, or are common to respiratory or viral illness more generally. As a description, long COVID has been falsified, but it has lingered as a name.

I continue to encounter recent articles in prestigious, allegedly scientific journals that simply treat as given that these symptoms are caused by SarsCoV-2. An established name is treated as if it were a description. Now some institutions are beginning to insist reasonably that the name long COVID be abandoned, as inapt. But I'm encountering journalists and pundits who thence infer and claim that long COVID does not exists.

That inference doesn't follow if by long COVID is meant a cluster of symptoms, which symptoms are exactly what have been investigated under the name. Only if long COVID is taken to be defined as these symptoms resulting from SarsCoV-2 could we say that nothing fits the concept corresponding to the name.

I doubt that any Briton defined the French disease as especially French. In any case, telling a typical Briton that what he called the French disease did not exist would be tantamount to telling him that syphilis did not exist. What he should instead have been told was that syphilis were not particularly French, and ought to be called something else.

Likewise, the declarations should not be that long COVID does not exist.