The Mad Postman, The Invisible Schooner, and The Greater Cause, in Meat-based Parallel Processing 4: Anti-cladists

As mentioned in section 1, innovators in science (as everywhere) take most of the risk, but as independent thinkers, they’re at risk of sacrificing the weapon of unity. Yet this isn’t political rocket science. Even those of us who find politics brain-numbing even when it’s important, can’t help but know that unity is essential in any struggle. (Left-wing causes for example, have always been prone to destruction from the inside out; the reason being that they are usually trying to do something new, and they have to invent and decide on it first, whereas their opposition usually just wants to keep the status quo.) Anyway, I’d have thought it was obvious that innovators should try their damnedest to bite the bullet, and square the circle of toning down their differences and identifying what they have in common, so as to co-operate in delivering that – even if it’s just the principle of valid novelty.

But, of course, unity amongst rebels implies herding of cats. Now here’s what really pisses me off about that implication. When you complain to people about this, and they say “Well I’m afraid it’s up to you to gather the troops and work them properly”, I reply that I’m perfectly willing to bend my back to many burdens, even ones totally new to me, as may be necessary. I can do positive reinforcement and negative; I can do what needs to be done through print, or if I have to I can hold a crowd’s fascination for half an hour, if it’s the right crowd and the right subject. Worked OK last time I tried it few months ago. I’ve learned a few useful skills and I can often learn others if I have to. But the point is this: why do I have to become some combination of Machiavelli and Billy Graham, just to get scientists to accept basic science?! Luckily, dealing with cladists is shooting fish in a barrel since, as any true scientist can see, they’re as stupid as they are wrong, and I’m not saying it isn’t great fun, but it sure is one hell of a time-wasting distraction to someone who shouldn’t need to be doing more than just science. Making an effort merely to communicate is just a normal part of being a scientist.

Even if I managed it, why the hell should every scientist with a new idea, always and forever have to be so many things beyond just a scientist?! To solve that problem, it now seems my task involves not just projecting my own insights, but transforming culture permanently. Since that might just turn out to be a lot easier than it sounds, I’ve had a go; Ж-14 was one of the basic building blocks. I have to admit there’s still quite a lot to do, and unfortunately the following is the material I’ve got to deal with:

The enemy proper: those are a simpler problem. But it’s the other people who give me the most problems since they’re supposed to be on my side, though frankly I’ve given up on them.

First there was George Olshevsky. Obsessively unpleasant, and of course uncooperative. A relatively simple case. Then there’s Greg Paul. You’d think you had a chance here: charming, possibly; fairly charismatic, certainly. But instinctively uncooperative – absolutely.

Then we have someone called Pourtless. I pretty well agree with everything he says, and though I might follow a slightly different approach, I feel sure he must agree pretty well with everything I say. However, for some reason or other the guy has manufactured an excuse never to reply to even one of my emails. Does he feel I’m too casually confident? Is it some nuance of style that hints at disrespect, that he feels he can detect in me? (Actually I suspect he sees my claims to philosophical justification as being bogus, since I must be violating or ignoring all sorts of Locke/Kant/Hume stuff that he’s a bit of an expert on. My reply as usual, would be that when he’s designed a program that can think, then he might be my philosophical equal.) Whatever his reason, it can’t possibly be worth his refusal to co-operate. It’s particularly galling that this bloke wears lipstick. I have no problem with men wearing lipstick per se, even in cultures where it’s rare; I don’t myself yet, but hey – there’s time! There’s nothing saying I won’t! It’s not on my bucket list but then I don’t have a bucket list. But surely he should be above getting picky about minor, and in this case, imagined, problems?

Then there’s dear Alan Feduccia. On the surface he appears pleasant. And when you dig down, you realise that he genuinely is a really nice guy. Too nice actually, to have to be dealing with cladists. His writing has an intriguing pleasantness of style I haven’t quite been able to explain yet, and he’s had an uncanny knack of guessing some right answers not just years ahead of everyone else but years ahead of the decisive evidence. And he does know how to co-operate: we’ve all heard of “Martin and Feduccia”. He’s even been known to change his mind significantly when the evidence compels it. We don’t see eye to eye on everything but I had high hopes for him. But there are some things that tell you a relationship is doomed, and that no amount of meaningful co-operation will ever be possible. When his latest book came out, I bought it and read it; I had to since I’d never read any of his books before. I was preparing to give it a three-and-a-half to four star write-up on Amazon, and he explicitly invited me to. Then I discovered he had no intention of ever reading my book.

You know all those cultural and artistic movements that developed in Paris, Vienna, Wiemar, Berlin etc. etc. in the 18th and 19th centuries? I’ve a feeling the people involved in those actually understood that some checking out of each other’s work would be involved somewhere along the line.

So another dud there. Indeed, yet another Mediocre Bloke. As a result I now have to be more honest than I wanted, and say there’s no point in reading any of his books or indeed papers, since everything he got right is in my book, and with much better justification, and there’s one or two things he got ludicrously wrong and still refuses to correct (cold-blooded primitive birds for one).

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