Because I strongly believe people’s words should be judged on the words themselves, I have up till now avoided posting detailed information about where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and what kind of person I am. Such things attract poisonous groupist noise, which is already far too influential. However, some people are merely harmlessly curious, and for them I offer this page, and its sometimes informal style. And then there are others who have not yet learned to judge science by the science itself rather than by their first fleeting impression of the scientist, or by the often irresponsibly biased and ignorant comments of others. For these people I offer an advertisement for product Strangetruther, and because of them, who demand to be impressed, I do warn not to expect false modesty. I do think some of my contributions are significant, and I think truth can be important.
London, 1950s. Schooling: Got a free place at a nice school because my parents were teachers, and could play the education system. Specialised in maths because I knew it would be an essential foundation for any science. (True, but I should have dropped it, kept biology and chemistry along with the physics, and gone for Oxbridge!) Also collected: 3 foreign language ‘O’ levels, violin, piano & theory grade 3, experience in use of various firearms and planting of explosive charges, booby traps etc. Learned to fly a glider, attended military marching and leadership courses, learned programming (…and stats, and Popperism, from John Jaworski), and fencing. Only some of the last few of these, and just possibly a bit of the maths, have been put to good use!
Study and formal research
Chose a psychology first degree because workers can still make significant discoveries in it, and it seemed the main gap in my education. Chose a “scientific” version: Experimental Psychology, and chose Sussex Uni because the campus looked much, much nicer than Aston’s. Lectured and tutored by Steve Izard, Stuart Sutherland, Dr. Muntz, etc.; lectured by John Maynard Smith, Richard Gregory, someone called Professor Andrews who was brilliant on animal physiology, the excellent Keith Oatley, etc. Became fascinated by, and specialised in, artificial intelligence. Wrote, for the prelims, an extended essay on animal flight, considered quite good, and certainly much better than the accompanying, and very late, essay on homeostatis.
Much later, spent an excellent year at The South Bank Polytechnic, learning Prolog programming, the maths of computing, and knowledge engineering, specialising in automated lift design.
Spent a year as “The AI Man” at Universal Machine Intelligence, planning advanced movement strategies for the robot arm RT-X. Developed Prolog programs for general constraint resolution and grip-selection/volume navigation; made first plans for Pandemonium Association Engine, and published “Idea for a mind” on it.
Spent a number of years in two placements at Southampton Uni, learning C, and the basic principles of parallel processing and robot vehicles, and teaching myself genetic algorithms. And above all, never to work in quite the same sort of arrangement again. Also, to manage and personally fund my own research myself, saving huge time and effort on grant applications. I also decided not to indulge the joint monsters of academic publishing and peer review. (You like peer review? Try justifying it in knowledge engineering terms, or indeed on any evidence based grounds!) Instead, to publish own work on the net, and dare people to ignore it. Certain branches of science will then get stuck at certain places where I have made crucial discoveries but people don’t want to go near them; or… they will pretend they have invented the break-throughs themselves, after which I will point out to everyone else that I did it first. This situation is not really that different from what happens if you do publish through the standard smelly methods.
Interspersed with study and formal research, worked as a programmer for about 9 years in total, in permanent employments and as a contract programmer. Work included management services at Whitbread where I eventually rejoiced in the title “Product Consultant”, learned telephone support and the value of the phrase “Have you tried turning it off and turning it on again?”, and served as an occasional beer-taster. Have been paid to program in about 10 languages.
Landlord: small-time. In about 7 properties across 20 years, had well over 100 tenants, sharing a kitchen with most of them. An essential experience, rather interesting, and much less unpleasant than might be imagined. I’ve also done a wide variety of other mundane jobs.
Taught Biological Psychology SD226, a very wide ranging and, according to the students, hard, course, at the Open University for 7 years. Had over 100 students in all. (Also taught sports science, and served on various committees.)
- Pandemonium Association Engine (a Global Workspace Theory).
This work continues; I should really have pressed on with it uninterrupted, but I thought the dinobirds work would be done by others unless I moved quickly in that field. The AI involves a lot of hard work, and eventually management and commercial hassle, and I’ve always expected to be robbed of my product (“We always end up shooting the inventor”) as soon as it is realised. However, the PAE paradigm cannot be bypassed – and it adds some essential nuances to GWT.
Dinobirds:- covered in book: “The Secret Dinobird Story“
- Philosophy of Science:
Science Codification. Designed to radically rationalise scientific discussion.
Debunked the “Just So Story”, “Your theory’s untestable”, “Extraordinary theories require extraordinary evidence”, “Umbrella theories” etc. fallacies.
Floated notion of “Cogniscient Palaeontology”.
Showed that attacking a good theory is far worse than not attacking a bad theory.
Warned against premature defining of extinct groups by relationships, since they will not be known until the work is completed, if ever.
Highlighted problems in use of bootstrapping, stratigraphic consistency index, and of course parsimony.
Identified and investigated two categories of family tree errors: convergence and rooting. Proved why the earliest fossil in a tree will always provide the shortest total lineage (ghost range), in the tree and therefore the best default root, to replace the pseudo-scientific “out group” rooting method.
Invented the Lattice Autostructuring cladogram generating heuristic.
Outlined (end of chapter 5) a general method for discovering parlines and other features, in phylogeny data matrices.
Devised the concept of the Parline – essential for removing confusions in dinobird phylogeny.
- Specific evolutionary puzzles illuminated:
Solved the problem of the design and use of the dromaeosaur tail, and also of the claw, exploding myths about its use and non-use.
Solved the problem of how volant dromaeosaurs’ hind wings were used – and showed they could be flapped.
Solved the problem of the relationships between Archaeopteryx, dromaeosaurs, troodonts, enant. and confu. birds, other bird-like dinosaurs, and modern birds.
Divided “alvarezsaurs” into two unrelated groups.
Exploded the traditional group of short-tailed birds: “pygostylia”.
Explained primitive feathers as the defining characteristic of the earliest archosauromorphs, and why they have pterylae. Resurrected Protoavis; showed how it cannot be a chimera; solved puzzle of Megalancosaurus.
Showed how modern flight feathers cannot evolve from a brush-shaped form.
Explained the evolution of warmbloodedness at the P-T; explained its link to bipedalism, and feathers.
Emphasised idea that both mammals and birds had very few survivors of the K-T;
Suggested both mammals’ and birds’ genetic clocks accelerated hugely in aftermath of K-T.
Suggested the “land birds” clade of modern birds almost certainly descended from a bird of prey.
Suggested bauplan of ancestor of Neoaves.
Explained why Cretaceous birds with uncinate processes came to dominate first the water-bird niche and then survive the K-T.
Showed how the supracoracoideus muscle could be used to raise the wing even before the modern pulley system had evolved.
- Bird Breathing:
Emphasised the link between bipedalism and the evolution of rigid lungs.
Explained why penguin lungs do not collapse at great depth, and why buoyancy is not the worst problem they avoid by lacking pneumatic bones, giving better explanation of the loss of pneumatic bones in birds.
Explained what the neopulmo is for.
Explained why the neopulmo is probably one-way.
Resolved the puzzle of whether bird lungs are counter-current or cross-current, and emphasised that high breathing-rate increases not just through-flow but efficiency.
Explained the two-phases in the evolution from quadrupedalism to brachiation.
Suggested a two-phased evolution of bipedalism, and suggested chimps (but not gorillas) had reached the more advanced stage (before the widely but not yet universally acknowledged drop back to all-fours).
Pinned down the human/chimp split date to 4.15 million years ago.
Offered an effective mnemonic for the subdivisions of the Cretaceous 🙂 .
A venture designed to point out bad practice in science. In fact, if there were a formal Science Police (run by, oh, god knows what – United Nations?!), there would still be denial, resentment, and attempted ignoring of SP judgements.
Both UAU and BUSF UK universities epee champion. Fencing Commonwealth championships epee finalist 1986 (self-appointed to unofficial Jamaican flag). National UK foil and epee squads; foil then epee England team member in quadrangular match; “junior” foil champion 1984; member of national foil, and national medley, champion teams.
Various fencing committees; fencing captain of London in London vs The Rest, and non-fencing captain of British Universities in a now defunct national student competition.
Designed and ran Hampshire club “Snicker Snack” (emphasis on “Snack”, please 🙂 ) with its unique mutual-coaching system, 1992-1996. Introduced 1,000 people to fencing, sometimes at county fairs etc. Youngsters won tons of medals.
You found one. I used to have The Kabinet of Doktor Strangetruther, until Geocities closed in 2009, but it’s still accessible through various archives. I also wrote three or four articles for Nerditorial, which suddenly stopped, flushed most of its content, then started up again (without explanation).
- Bands watched Live:
The Fleetwood Mac, Who, The Led Zeppelin (x2), Jam, The Ultravox, Boomtown Rats, The Bob Dylan and Band, The David Bowie, Stranglers, The Duran Duran, The Bad Company, The Tom Petty and Heartbreakers, The Suzanne Vega, The Ray Davies, The Steve Harley, The Gong, Trogs, The Osibisa…
- Favourite Playwrite of all time:
- Favourite birds:
Divers, Hobby, Swift, Gannet, Frigate Bird, Jacamar.
- Favourite extinct dinobird:
- Favourite plant:
- Favourite Scientists
Modern: Sharov; Farmer; G.S. Paul; Bakker; Stan Franklin; Tony Hoare; Archie Cochran; Terence Deacon; Fernand Gobet
- Favourite blogs:
Thisisn’thappiness; Fretmarks; Daring Fireball; Coding Horror; paulgraham; …