Friday, March 18, 2011

Bryan Magee interviews Geoffrey Warnock. Subject: Immanuel Kant









Blog Post Titles I wish I thought of first...

Climate High Sticking (It's only a two minute minor, right?)

And the key bit, along with key video:

I first took note of this Technology Review article in 2003, in which Muller expressed skepticism of the "hockey stick," though in measured tones:

When I first read the Mann papers in 1998, I was disappointed that they did not discuss such systematic biases in much detail, particularly since their conclusions repealed the medieval warm period. In most fields of science, researchers who express the most self-doubt and who understate their conclusions are the ones that are most respected. Scientists regard with disdain those who play their conclusions to the press. I was worried about the hockey stick from the beginning. When I wrote my book on paleoclimate (published in 2000), I initially included the hockey stick graph in the introductory chapter. In the second draft, I cut the figure, although I left a reference. I didn't trust it enough.

But in the aftermath of Climategate, Muller is "going big" you might say. Watch this and you'll see what I mean, especially his summary phrase, "You're not allowed to do this in science." Muller is not just tenured, but is late in his career, so feels free to speak out, unlike younger academics who don't dare cross the Climate McCarthyism of the universities. More importantly, Muller is heading up the new Berkeley Earth Temperature Study, which will review and analyze all of the data on this subject starting from scratch. Unlike the Climategate cabal in Britain and in our NASA, the Berkeley group will share its data with all comers. Keep your eye on this; it will take time--years more than months probably--but may prove to be the thread that unravels the main prop of the climate campaign.




And this guy ain't one o' dem anti-science-flat-Earth-fundie-boughtandpaidfor-by-big oil-'skeptics' by the by.

Nope. He ain't. He's one of them highly educated fellers. Richard Muller, Professor, Dept. of Physics, UC Berkeley. From the brief bio on the YouTube page:

Richard A. Muller began his career as a graduate student under Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez doing particle
physics experiments and working with bubble chambers. His work has included attempting to understand the ice ages, dynamics at the core-mantle boundary, patterns of extinction and biodiversity through time, and the processes associated with impact cratering. "His "Physics for Future Presidents" series of lectures, in which Muller teaches a synopsis of modern qualitative (i.e. without resorting to complicated math) physics, has been published in book form.


This'll leave a mark. Hanson and Mann should just give it up, and crawl back under their rocks.

And, Dr. Muller's whole presentation:

Hoa Lo Prison and the Stanford Prison Experiment – Thoughts on Morality, Institutional Life, the Hermetic Experience and Human Nature

Part the second, wherein trivialities and statements of the obvious abound:

Institutional life- humanity’s accomplishment.


First, a brief sketch of institutions, a ubiquitous feature of human life: They are our creations. They are all around us, and contain us. Some are large, others local. They are nested, some containing others. All institutions have ends for which they exist. What is more, in some cases, there are certain broad purposes or institutional goals for which individual institutions serve as intermediate means. Trivial examples: A psychology laboratory exists to generate psychological research. That serves the broader goal of furthering scientific knowledge, adding to the objective body of knowledge that is the institution of science. The institution of marriage serves, among other things, the goal of societal perpetuation, by way of allowing for procreation in a generally favorable environment for child development. Marriage practices serve their containing cultures in this way and others.

Institutions enjoy an ontological status that is an interesting mix of the objective and subjective.(For an interesting subtle and extended discussion of institutions, see John Searle's Constructing Social Reality and Making the Social World: the Structure of Human Civilization. I rely heavily on his work.)



Institutions are a like cities, in that they predate many if not all of the human beings who live within them. Also, like cities, they contain parts that are older, others more recent, and adapt themselves to changing environmental factors or technologies. We are born into most of them. We inherit them from our parents and more distant ancestors.




Institutions leave behind vast amounts of objects that record and perpetuate their existence. Documents and other physical objects constitute their continued existence. The objectivity of institutional life (examples of what Karl Popper calls "world 3 objects") can be attributed to the objectivity of these. Institutions survive because we create physical objects that record the bodies of laws, rules, regulations, standard operating procedures and other ‘facts’ of our various institutions. The ‘objective’ life of institutions is also perpetuated by use of non-linguistic symbols, and clothing. In the SEP, for instance, uniforms and glasses were recognized symbols of the authority of law enforcement officials.


Yet, this objective status enjoyed by institutions, and the objects that help constitute institutional objectivity and history are dependent, for their status as institutional object, upon ‘subjective’ factors and behaviors such as beliefs, language use, communications, general acceptance, acquiescence and something like mutual ongoing ‘promising,’ or expectation, or collective presupposition of certain reciprocal forms of behaviors. Without all this, institutions would fail to exist. Only their physical manifestations would survive. This all reflects the fact that we are beings of fairly complex psychology. It is also safe to say that, of all the creatures on planet Earth, we are unique in being an institutional animal.



It is trivially true that institutions would cease to exist if human beings ceased to exist. What would be left over would be physical objects, such as books buildings and articles of clothing, but the institutions would have perished. Institutions can also cease to exist if human beings cease to take them seriously, or if they can no longer ‘read’ or understand the objective instantiations of the institutional life as having the status intended. Mayan civilization is no more, even though its artifacts survive. The institution of phrenology no longer exists, because no one takes it seriously. (At least I think so. This claim will probably be falsified by someone pointing out that somewhere there is a small but determined band of phrenologists doggedly preserving their ‘discipline.’)

By taking part in institutions, human beings participate in, contribute to or become recorded in the objective aspects of institutional life. When we marry, this is recorded publically by documents. When researchers conduct experiments, these not only follow established guidelines of research methodology, but the results become part of the objective ‘world’ of science. Indeed, language, itself an institution, makes much if not all of this ‘living for posterity’ possible. Language makes institutions possible. This gives participation in institutional life allure because we are aware of our own mortality and would naturally like to overcome it. By way of the undeniable fact that they are ubiquitous, institutions can exert tremendous influence on our behavior. In many ways we live in and through institutions. They provide meaning and purpose for much of what we do. (For an interesting poetic, if somewhat obscure reflection on the effects of our species' unique awareness of mortality on the course of individual human lives; consider Heidegger’s discussion of “being-toward-death” in his Being and Time.)

Institutions also make possible states of affairs, powers or accomplishments that would not otherwise be likely to occur. For instance, governments make possible roads, which make possible trans-continental travel in relatively short periods of time. The institutionalized system of incentivizing that is a monetary system makes possible, among other things, long term complex and unplanned cooperation in technological innovation. Institutions provide the automobiles as well as the roads.

A last obvious point and reminder; Institutions come into conflict with one another when their aims are incompatible, or when the values they embody are incompatible. It is also true that individuals and institutions can come into conflict.

Institutional ends and the power of “ideology”.

In his writings concerning the Stanford Prison Experiment, Dr. Zimbardo, with enviable objectivity concerning his own behavior, argues that an overarching or driving ‘ideology’ purpose or end toward which an institution is oriented can exert a strong damping influence on the moral awareness of people within the institution.

(It’s important to note here that Zimbardo uses the word “ideology” quite loosely here. Where we would be inclined to reserve use of that word for very general political or moral values or principles, he uses it indiscriminately to refer to these as well as very specific purposes for which institutions may be created, such as generating scientific discovery, or preventing a specific sort of harm.)

Often people believe that through their participation in an institution, they can bring about significant benefits for their local society, or perhaps for mankind, benefits the value of which it may be arguable, allow for behaviors not normally tolerated. This drive to create benefits for mankind is among the motivations for scientific research. We see, in the SPE, evidence that this motivation existed, not only for the scientist, Zimbardo, but for the guards, indeed for prisoners as well. There are several times when interviewed participants reported ‘pressing on’ in the interests of science.

In fact, this is one telling area of disanalogy between our two cases. All of the people involved in the SEP; investigator, guards, and prisoners knew they were taking part in a scientific experiment, something the results of which we can surmise they believed may prove to be important for science as an institution, and society more generally. It appears to be the case that recognition of this fact, on the one hand, inhibited prisoners from rebelling as soon as they would have if they were not involved in a scientific experiment, and on the other hand, encouraged guards to persist in objectively abusive behavior longer than they would have in a non-experimental setting. What is more, Zimbardo admits that recognition of the scientific intent of his work shaped his own behavior, leading him to persist longer than he normally would have in allowing the abuse that grew up in the Stanford basement. He was made aware of this by a reminder from a colleague (later to become his wife), who had not been involved in the day to day running of the experiment, but who had visited during a ‘bathroom run.’ He tells us that he slid into his role of superintendent, unawares, and, in hindsight, surmises that he did so primarily in the interests of pursuing the science, and lost his moral bearings in the process. He is an example of the ‘damping’ influence of institutional life on moral awareness.

Contrast this with the situation at Hoa Lo: There was no overarching single ideology or end that the North Vietnamese and the American POWs were both involved in bringing to fruition. The North Vietnamese, steeped in Communist ideology, felt that the American POWs were an arm of a reactionary force of international capitalism, and consequently either in the grips of false consciousness, or deliberately working against the inevitable coming of the proletarian revolution and the eventual liberation of mankind from class conflicts, an event the North Vietnamese believed would usher in a new golden age. In either case, they felt justified in using torture and other methods to break false consciousness or punish willing criminals, and extract propaganda cooperation. Utilizing what is in essence a utilitarian calculus, they rationalized their actions as ‘breaking a few eggs to make omelets.” (Attributed to New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty during the Stalin era.) The hastening of the world revolution morally justified their actions.

The American POWs did not share this world view, and most saw in Communism a grave threat to human well-being, a totalitarian system that lent itself all too easily to barbarism, a system and ideology that needed to be contained. In addition, they saw themselves as preserving an island of their own American culture, and its ideology, to put it somewhat paradoxically, an island of freedom in a setting of coercion.

Zimbardo sees the “ideological” influence in his case, and has spent the better part of his career studying the morally dissociative effects of systems or institutions built to serve ideologies. His focus is on the damping effects of what he terms ‘the System’ upon the ‘cogs’ of such institutions, that is, individuals wielding power over others in situations like his prison. Yet, his primary focus has been on those ‘cogs’, and on the architecture of institutions in relative power. Less attention has been focused on the prisoners or those with little or no power.

From within this theoretical stance he goes to great pains to draw parallels of varying levels of plausibility between his prison, 20th Century totalitarian regimes, events during the Vietnam era, and more recently events in “the so called war on terror” .(Zimbardo’s use of scare quotes. He considers the war on terror to be largely overblown “fear mongering”, thus the scare quotes. This writer does not concur. The threat of Islamism is real, and needs to be soberly dealt with.) This is done in service of fashioning cautionary lessons for those in power; leaders and creators of criminal justice and national security related institutions. Indeed, he crafts ‘indictments’ of national leadership during the Bush administration, once again, of varying levels of plausibility, based upon his findings.

In short the indictments run that under the pressure of the threat of further terror attacks, post 9-11, the Bush administration created institutions or interrogation practices that in some way were ultimately responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. Without arguing the merits of that indictment, we can nevertheless glean that Zimbardo counts prevention of significant harm as an overarching “ideology” or purpose of some governmental institutions. The lesson, indeed a valuable lesson we can take away from Zimbardo’s lifetime of ruminations on the Stanford experiment, is that such overarching purposes can, once adopted, and absent effective engaged leadership, exert a damping effect on our moral awareness. This is surely worth keeping in mind.

To sum up this section on ideology, we see, in the case of his experiment, a situation where the overarching ideology or purpose of the consensually created institution seems to have led all parties to lose sight of the reality of the situation, and the moral status of their actions. Where Zimbardo may go too far is in his sometime seeming to claim that people embedded in such “systems” lose significant levels of moral responsibility concomitant to losing significant levels of freedom, being buffeted about by third person forces, in the guise of ‘the system.’ In fact, his own book militates against this semi-deterministic view, in his account of heroism which appears in the later chapters. Each case he sites is a person embedded in the same offending system as the supposed lost ones. These heroic individuals, apparently quite ‘ordinary’ people like Hugh Thompson, were able to exercise freedom, and take responsibility to change the system or circumvent its actions. The later chapters of Zimbardo’s book are devoted to such folks, and in particular, Army reservist Joe Darby, who blew the whistle on abuses at Abu Ghraib. It would seem cases like this show that ‘systems’ need not be as smothering as Zimbardo sometimes tends to paint them. Additionally, he seems very willing to absolve cogs of moral responsibility, due to the damping effects of the pressures of being contained in ‘systems,’ yet seems to accord to those higher up, those that create or head systems, greater levels of autonomy and moral responsibility, despite the fact that they too are subject to pressures, pressures that theoretically at least, could also be used to absolve them of significant blame when things go wrong. While it may be said in response to this that we cannot afford to allow those with such power too much laxity, due to the likely widespread consequence that such laxity would be taken as precedent and taken advantage of by future policy makers, this does not directly address this theoretical objection. For if 'pressure' 'blinds' and excuses, and policy makers are subject to pressure, then they too are excusably blinded. Lastly, even if we are to accept this deterrence based ‘bad precedent’ argument against laxity when it comes to holding policy level folks morally and legally responsible, it seems then, that we should apply it also to those cogs Zimbardo seems more willing to excuse, for that exact same reason; deterrence. For if future cogs are aware of earlier cogs having been let off due to the extenuating circumstance of having been perceived or described as helpless cogs in a ‘system’ that in a quasi deterministic fashion damped moral responsibility, then, that perception too would seem to be encouraging of future bad behavior by those future cogs.

The power of tradition

As stated before, it is a truism that institutions outlast the lives of those individuals that inhabit them at any given time. Institutions, like human beings, have lives and histories. Institutions have records of accomplishment, and failure. Institutions are more or less rationally constructed and maintained. Institutions are long-lived things temporarily guided by those now residing within them. We have a concern to pass them to posterity undamaged and improved.

All of this does work toward giving institutions not only a certain value for human societies, but a certain allure. They have value because they convey benefits. They convey status because they persist, and allow one to become a part of that persisting structure, a part of institutional history, an agent of their benefits. They allow one to outlive biological necessity, in a way.

In the case of academic and scientific institutions, there is a status conferred by way of earning a Ph.D. This status allows one to enter a select society, and contribute to its growth of objective knowledge. One can benefit society, and be remembered for it. Similarly, to become an officer in the Navy is to have met some rigorous standards of training and education. It allows one to enter into a select group, and wield very important powers in the service of the greater institution of one’s nation, and humanity. Once again, posterity will record and remember.

When one enters an institution, one is given access to elements of its structure; one is allowed to add to it. One can ‘give back’ by taking part. One is also allowed to benefit from membership. This engenders a sense of obligation or loyalty to that institution. This is a double edged sword. It leads to many positive things. But, Zimbardo argues, on the basis of a reflection on his own case, that this sense of obligation and loyalty toward an institution can lead to the sort of lapses we see in the SPE. Subscription to the ends or ideology that buttress an institution, giving it its raison d'etre, can induce lapses into what would otherwise be considered unethical behavior. Subscription to the communist ideology played such a role in the North Vietnamese POW prison systems. Zimbardo self reports similar tendencies, as a committed member of the scientific community.

Yet, as we focus on the inmate populations, we see that a lack of tradition on the one hand and a full and healthy tradition on the other hand, may help account for the quite different results in our two inmate populations, and, most encouragingly, may also account for the heightened moral awareness evidenced at Hoa Lo. The prisoners in Stanford did not come into the situation with anything like the personal status, institutional framework, loyalty, sense of obligation or impetus to contribute that even Dr. Zimbardo came to his experiment with. They were not scientist, nor were they trying to add to the edifice of world 3 knowledge maintained by the scientific community.

They were all simply twenty-something college boys, leading their separate lives, pursing differing degrees, no doubt with varying degrees of seriousness. There was no strong drive to contribute bricks to the edifice of objective knowledge. There was an awareness that results might add to the edifice, but no strong loyalty to the institution, to science, to psychology.



Contrast that with the inmates at Hoa Lo. They were, by and large U.S. military officers, graduates of USNA, and naval aviators. As such, they had high degrees of loyalty not only to the United States, its constitution, and the U.S. Navy and Air Force, but to the culture that gave rise to them. An essential core of the ethos of the U.S. military is to put the welfare of the institutions of the United States before concern for self. Indeed, for Stockdale and his men, concern for welfare of fellow inmates became the local embodiment of the sort of concern and service for the welfare of the nation that the U.S. military oath expects. These men fell quite naturally into the habit of putting the welfare of their comrades above their own individual well being. This is assuredly at least partially attributable the force of this noble tradition. But, as we will see, it was also, ironically, a result of intensive efforts, on the part of the North Vietnamese, toward utter isolation of the prisoners from one another. That very pressure elicited the outreach, the desire to communicate, and the altruism, even though it was designed to cause them to fall back into narrow self-interested behavior patterns. (Evidently, such pressure had worked, in at least some cases during the Korean War. In response, the six article Code of Conduct was created. The necessity for such a code became apparent in light of disturbing reports of American POWs cooperating with the enemy, turning on each other, fighting for food, and leaving comrades exposed to the elements at North Korean prison camps.)

So, while Admiral Stockdale describes his efforts, and those of the other senior leadership in Hoa Lo as building a civilization from the base, it is more accurate to say, as he also does, that it was an attempt to transplant a previously existing ‘civilization’ or institution into hostile territory, create and maintain a colony, a lonely outpost of American civilization in the midst of an avowedly hostile and powerful ideologically contrary civilization. Tellingly, he describes the code of conduct as codifying for POWs an interpretation of their situation according to which they had not been removed and isolated from the war, but indeed were still firmly in the teeth of the war effort, fighting behind enemy lines. This code allowed them to see the machinations of the North Vietnamese for what they were, attempts to use the men as propaganda weapons aimed squarely at the home front, and U.S. media. The officers at Hoa Lo saw themselves as an integral part of the ongoing efforts of their nation and their military service institutions. This gave them much needed psychological purchase in the face of barbarity, and prevented the sort of moral fall that occurred in Korean prisons.

Yet, we see too, in the common tradition of ‘service to country’ shared by the North Vietnamese and American officers, grounds for a sort of mutual respect or understanding. Both sets of officers were cognizant of what the others consider to be their duties. They recognized the obvious conflicts of ends, and that duty required that attempts must be made to thwart their conflicting ends. This was something both sides respected.

In short, the power of tradition, in the case of the prisoners at Hoa Lo was a determinative factor in their success in resisting the wiles of the North Vietnamese over the course of 7 to 8 years. What is more, we see an uneasy tension in our two cases. On the one hand a reverence and loyalty to scientific tradition led to moral blindness. On the other hand, reverence for tradition and loyalty led to moral excellence. (Just as obviously, a reverence for tradition led the North Vietnamese to atrocity.) We have to ask why there is a moral difference.

In short, we will see that it is the architecture of the institutions and quality of leadership that count. The scope and reach of the rules that dictate roles is vital. This in turn, is dependent upon those that create that architecture, and interpret it, the leaders of the institution. In the one case, there was little architecture, in the pursuit of the institutional or traditional end, while in the other, a very carefully crafted blueprint, served as a moral bearing for those within the institution as they pursued its end. For lack of this sort of guidance, literally lived ‘from the front’ by those that lead, and thus impose it, institutions run the risk of leading those within them into moral failure. Engaged leadership, and clear direction via rules governing roles within the institution can preserve moral and psychological integrity.

[Next up: the role of institutional leadership]