09 May 2020 ~ 27 Comentarios

Donald Trump and Herbert Hoover

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

November is just around the corner. Who will “pay” in the electoral field for the projected 130,000 deaths, for the millions of unemployed and for the closure of thousands of companies caused by the “Covid-19”? I think President Donald Trump. He will be blamed, even if he is not responsible for the damn “Chinese virus.” It is known that voters, roughly speaking, vote with the memory of the previous period.

Let’s see.

March 4, 1929 was a bright day. Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge’s Secretary of Commerce, assumed the presidency of the United States in the already first nation of the planet. He had defeated Democrat Al Smith, Governor of New York, by a landslide. He won 58% of the popular vote compared to 40% of the Democrats, and he won in 40 of the 48 states that the nation had back then. In his acceptance speech, he said that in the near future poverty would be abolished in the United States.

He had reasons to think so. Those years were the roaring twenties. A time of experimentation and debauchery. In the case of Hoover, as they usually say in Spain, “the State fitted in his head.” He knew what to do and how to do it. He was a geological engineer graduated in Stanford, endowed with the reformist instincts of the great bureaucrats. He even knew Chinese (Mandarin), a language he learned in the late nineteenth century as an adviser to the Asian emperor on mining issues. The nation had nearly a decade of sustained growth as a result of the post-war period, and he was a tireless organizer and an honest man.

But he couldn’t succeed. None of that worked for him. The country fell apart six months after taking office. In October 1929 the stock market crash occurred. That was the starting point of the Great Depression. There are a hundred explanations for that terrible episode. A bank run followed. Thousands of companies went bankrupt and unemployment gradually multiplied until it reached 25% of the workforce.

From that moment on, he did not know what to do. He tried Keynesian remedies, increasing public spending to increase demand. He was not successful. He also experimented with the formulas of economic protectionism. In 1930, he signed the Smoot-Hawley Act, which imposed high taxes on imports of foreign agricultural products and manufactures. Nor did it work. It was counterproductive. It started an international tariff war. It was the cycle of the “skinny cows”, as the Bible says, and it is not easy at all to face these periods.

He was defeated in the 1932 elections. F.D. Roosevelt beat him by a “landslide.” There was an avalanche of votes in favor of the Democrats. The results of four years earlier were reversed. Democrats triumphed in 42 of the 48 states. They seized the House and the Senate. For twenty years they were in the presidency until, in 1952, Dwight Eisenhower, a competent and icy cabinet general who had been at the head of the American armies during World War II, won the election.

The two big parties tried to recruit him. The Republicans managed to seduce him. The message was simple: “Make peace in Korea. No bombing China, as General Douglas MacArthur had recommended. No more wars. Covert interventions in other countries, yes. But that’s what the CIA was created for.” Americans were mostly isolationists. Especially Republicans.

Even though elections are just around the corner, Joe Biden is 77 years old and should not be completely sure that Americans will inevitably vote against Trump. He is a formidable competitor who will do, say and “tweet” whatever it takes to get reelected. To some extent, it will depend on the vice president chosen by Biden. (He already promised it will be a woman). It will have to be someone who is ready to be president if Biden becomes disabled, dies in the White House, or does not aspire to a second term.

Fortunately, he can count on three exceptional women: Stacey Abrams, a Yale-graduated attorney, and successful novelist, who nearly won the governorship in Georgia, and Senators Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota) and Kamala Harris (California), both also brilliant attorneys, and graduates of magnificent universities in Chicago and California. Stacey is black. Kamala is mixed. Amy is white. Biden has great options to choose from.

27 Responses to “Donald Trump and Herbert Hoover”

  1. Víctor López 9 May 2020 at 3:30 pm Permalink

    Qué maravilla!

    Parece que eso de las etnias no existe, pero pesa en política (?). Stancey no es negra, es mulata. La señora Kamala tampoco es mestiza, al menos no lo es en términos hispanos, es “cuarterona” de tamil, pero para política da lo mismo Chana que Juana.

    …y la Amy (convidada de piedra) viene sobrando por los “derechos sociales” que reclama Héctor. Saludos.

  2. Manuel 9 May 2020 at 3:52 pm Permalink

    Summer isn’t likely to “save us from the coronavirus,” said German Lopez. Americans are hoping for a “natural reprieve” as the season changes, and as with other viruses like the flu, there’s evidence that summer weather “could hurt the coronavirus.” Higher temperatures can weaken viral particles’ lipid shell, ultraviolet light from the sun can kill it, and humidity can shorten the distance virus-laden droplets travel through the air. Lab tests suggest that all these factors may make it relatively safe to engage in outdoor activities as the weather warms. But the real world is “a lot messier than a laboratory setting,” and the evidence there isn’t encouraging. Singapore, Louisiana, and especially Ecuador have all seen big Covid-19 spikes despite 80-plus-degree temperatures and high humidity. While weather acts to slow the spread, other factors “seem to play a much bigger role.” Chief among them is that human beings have never been exposed to this highly infectious virus (as they have to the flu), and so have no natural immunity. If you get close to an infected person outdoors, you may be infected. Social distancing, masking, and testing are still needed “regardless of how warm, sunny, and humid it is outside.”

  3. Manuel 10 May 2020 at 2:41 pm Permalink

    May be in 4 months!

    At least 89 coronavirus vaccines are under development around the world—with seven now in early human trials. Pfizer says that if its vaccine proves safe and effective, it might be available on a limited basis as early as September. The most quickly developed viral vaccine to date was the one for mumps, licensed in 1967 after four years’ research.
    International Business Times

  4. Manuel 10 May 2020 at 3:24 pm Permalink

    “A difference of taste in jokes is a great strain on the affections.”
    George Eliot, quoted in Lapham’s Quarterly

    “Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”
    Roman poet Ovid, quoted in the Carroll County, Md., Times

  5. Manuel 10 May 2020 at 4:37 pm Permalink

    ¿Qué tienen en común líderes como Bill Gates, Elon Musk y Warren Buffett? Además de ser multimillonarios, expertos de los medios y extremadamente ambiciosos a su manera, los tres son introvertidos autoproclamados.

    Musk ha dicho en el pasado que se inspiró para comenzar su propia empresa en parte porque estaba demasiado nervioso para hablar con alguien cuando estaba buscando su primer trabajo en el mundo de la tecnología.

    Angie Hicks, la fundadora de la plataforma de servicios para emprendedores Angie’s List, le dijo a Entrepreneur que, durante mucho tiempo, debido a su timidez nata, no se consideraba a sí misma una emprendedora.

    • Manuel 10 May 2020 at 4:39 pm Permalink

      Los intro:

      Son buenos solucionadores de problemas

      Durante una sesión de preguntas y respuestas en 2013 en la Universidad de Nueva Gales del Sur de Australia, Gates explicó por qué creía que los introvertidos pueden tener una ventaja cuando se trata de superar obstáculos. “Si eres inteligente, puedes aprender a sacar provecho de ser un introvertido. Por ejemplo, estar dispuesto a alejarte por unos días y pensar en un problema difícil, leer todo lo que puedas y esforzarte mucho para encontrarle solución en la comodidad de tu propio espacio”, dijo Gates. Luego explicó que para que una empresa prospere, los equipos deben poder aprovechar las fortalezas tanto de los extrovertidos como de los introvertidos.

      Construyen relaciones uno-a-uno profundas

      Hicks dice que a medida que ha ido creciendo su compañía, ha tenido que poner especial atención a las interacciones significativas que tiene con sus empleados. “Dedico tiempo cada semana y tengo sesiones de 15 minutos. Cualquiera en la compañía puede acercárseme para hablar sobre cualquier tema”, dijo Hicks a Entrepreneur. “Aprovecho tanto como puedo para aprender de ellos y eso realmente me ha permitido desarrollar relaciones con personas con las que quizás nunca tuve la oportunidad de coincidir”.

      La comunicación y la conexión con las personas es importante para ellos

      En una conversación de 2013 con Levo League, un sitio web de carrera para mujeres jóvenes, Warren Buffett compartió por qué era tan importante sentirse cómodo hablando en público al principio de su carrera. “Si no puedes comunicarte y hablar con otras personas, estás renunciando a tu potencial”. El inversionista señaló que “no importa si tienes miedo de relacionarte con otras personas, tienes que salir y hacerlo. Cuando era joven tomé un curso para hablar en público. A veces tienes que obligarte a hacer algunas cosas difíciles”.

      • Julian Perez 10 May 2020 at 5:35 pm Permalink

        Manuel, voy a agregar una.

        Gates y Buffett son amantes del bridge y suelen jugar en pareja 🙂 Y han invertido mucho dinero en fomentar el juego entre los jóvenes. Creo que la BBO (Bridge Base Online), en la que suelo jugar mucho más ahora, que los clubs están cerrados, pertenece a Gates.

        Gates no es santo de mi devoción ultimamente por su relación con la actual locura, pero le concedo sus luces y sus sombras. No es como George Soros, al que no consigo encontrarle ningún paliativo.

        Y no, mis diferencias ideológicas con Guillermito Puertas no van a hacer que me pase de Windows a Mac. Apple y yo no nos llevamos bien 🙂

      • Manuel 10 May 2020 at 7:04 pm Permalink

        I’m also a PC guy

      • Manuel 10 May 2020 at 7:07 pm Permalink

        but estevan trabajos have greats apps, tablets and phones:
        We in the family all go with him on those other gadgets

        • Julian Perez 10 May 2020 at 7:43 pm Permalink

          Si, pero son muy caros. Mi hija se da el lujo de tener un iPhone porque es para su trabajo de venta de equipos médicos y se lo dio su empresa. Mi esposa y yo tenemos humildes Samsungs con Android 🙂

      • Manuel 10 May 2020 at 7:13 pm Permalink

        but estevan trabajos’s world has great apps, tablets and phones:
        We in the family all go with him on those other gadgets.

        He said “innovation distinguishes between leaders and followers”

        He was mixed, he was nor intro nor extro

      • Manuel 10 May 2020 at 7:14 pm Permalink

        He was mixed, he was Not intro nor extro, he was something else

  6. Manuel 10 May 2020 at 10:12 pm Permalink

    Steve Jobs, once said: “My model of business is the Beatles. They were four very talented guys who kept each other’s … negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other. And … the total was greater than the sum of the parts.”

  7. Manuel 10 May 2020 at 10:20 pm Permalink

    To reduce the spread of the virus, many researchers think countries need to move to testing those without any signs of disease instead of focusing on those with symptoms.

    “A good strategy would be to devote part of the resources for identifying asymptomatic infected too, starting with random testing in the population,” says Giulia Giordano at the University of Trento in Italy. People with mild symptoms can be isolated without wasting a test that could be instead used for identifying hidden outbreaks, she says.

    • Manuel 10 May 2020 at 10:21 pm Permalink

      only a few countries such as South Korea managed to scale up this approach fast enough to keep pace with the outbreak (see graph, right). It works: on 30 April, South Korea reported no new infections within the country.
      Many other countries, including the US and UK, failed to keep up with testing and contact tracing as their national outbreaks took off. Testing has instead been mainly restricted to use in hospitals to confirm that seriously ill patients have covid-19.
      The UK government decided to limit testing to hospitals early in March. Critics denounced this as a blunder, arguing that more widespread testing was essential to being able to ease lockdown restrictions. The UK has since begun increasing testing and has announced plans to resume contact tracing.
      “All the countries are stepping up their capacities to test,” says Francesca Colombo at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and one of the authors of a report published last month on how testing can help lift restrictions. “Testing is going to be a key intervention as part of an exit strategy,” she says. “It is one element but a very important one.” Other elements include contact tracing and some continued social distancing measures to limit spread.
      In countries with large outbreaks and limited testing capacity, the OECD report calls for testing to be extended to healthcare workers before being used as part of contact tracing.
      Where little contact tracing is being done, testing could instead be extended to key workers who come into contact with lots of people, such as those working in supermarkets, public transport and in delivery services.
      Weekly tests
      The UK is now offering testing to healthcare workers, care home staff and residents, plus people who are over 65 or who have to leave home to work, and those they live with. But rather than offering testing to key workers who want it, the OECD recommends a strategy of regular testing of people in these groups, regardless of whether they have symptoms.
      This is because people who think they may be infected should already be isolating themselves at home anyway. Testing such people would only help reduce the virus’s spread if it were followed up by tracing and informing anyone they had been in contact with, something that many countries, including the UK, haven’t yet resumed.
      However, testing regardless of symptoms can identify people who don’t realise they are infected because they don’t have obvious symptoms or have only just been infected. Immediately isolating these people can then prevent further infections.
      The issue is that people can be infectious for several days before showing symptoms, says Martin Hibberd at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “Getting tested once a week would be a good strategy,” he says.
      Modelling by Nicholas Grassly at Imperial College London and his colleagues backs the idea of weekly screening of healthcare workers irrespective of symptoms. If the weekly test were done at the end of a shift and people told if they need to self-isolate before the start of their next shift, the analysis suggests that this could reduce the risk of them spreading the coronavirus by up to 33 per cent.
      Weekly testing of the 35,000 people working in intensive care in the UK would require just 5000 tests a day. However, regular screening of all healthcare workers would require about 170,000 tests per day. On 3 May, 62,956 people in the UK were tested. Ideally, all those working in care homes or who care for vulnerable people should be screened weekly too.
      For some, the idea of gradually extending weekly screening to healthcare workers and then to other essential workers isn’t radical enough. To end the lockdowns quickly, the aim should be to test every single person once a week, says Julian Peto at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
      “It’s certainly feasible,” he says. “Everybody just takes it for granted that this is impossible.”
      In a 17 April letter to The Lancet, Peto and others called for universal weekly screening to be trialled in a small town.
      Daily covid-19 tests per thousand, rolling three-day average
      By increasing testing in late February and early March, South Korea was able to keep control of its outbreak. The UK has subsequently had many more cases than South Korea but has increased testing capacity in recent weeks
      Source: Official data collated by Our World in Data
      OurWorldInData.org/coronavirus • CC BY
      Note: For testing figures, there are substantial differences across countries in terms of the units, whether or not all labs are included, the extent to which negative and pending tests are included and other aspects. Details for each country can be found at the linked page. ■

    • Manuel 10 May 2020 at 10:46 pm Permalink

      The hope is that we’ll be able to restart the economy by tracing those who have been exposed to the virus. In California, the state is hiring 10,000 people to track and notify everyone who has been in contact with an infected person. Apple and Google are developing an app that will use your phone to note who has been near you – and if one of them reports they’re infected, you will get an alert.
      Contact tracing promises to transform our experience of the outside world as much as the internet changed our experience of staying inside. Though Google and Apple are promising privacy protections, the companies are still amassing a lot of sensitive data. We knew that our phones could be used as tracking devices. Now that fact will be unavoidable. It might even be desirable.

      The internet is going outside. The data streams that once followed us from website to website will now follow us from park bench to kitchen table. There’s no legislating this away, or hoping that the public will wake up to the dangers of surveillance. Because now we need that surveillance in order to be safe.
      So what will emerge from this period in history? Probably some terrifying new ways for governments to hunt down outcasts and undesirables. And some brilliant methods for resisting, by obscuring our data signatures at a political protest. It won’t all be cloak and dagger, though. There may be more phone-based geolocation games like Pokemon Go, which require people to move around outdoors to find virtual stuff and level up.
      All of us who have been cooped up for weeks or months are going to crave the idea of leaving the house, maybe in a way that means we don’t run into anyone who is infected. But now, more than ever, we are tied into our technology and cannot let it go.

  8. Manuel 10 May 2020 at 10:38 pm Permalink

    Many factors can be linked without one causing the other. In observational studies, factors such as age, wealth or sex may also have an effect on the issue in question. Even when studies say they have accounted for such confounding factors, it is possible that their effects haven’t been completely removed from the analysis. ■

  9. Manuel 11 May 2020 at 11:59 am Permalink

    as organisations evolve, US gov for instance, they risk deviating from their original goals. This drift can occur in the mission and values because of their abstract or ‘fuzzy’ nature. Values are not entirely fixed, even though organisations may articulate their core values clearly. Actors engage in a dynamic interplay of values and tend to employ new interpretations. The same values can refer to different ideas for different people and encapsulate various meanings, signalling fluidity.

  10. Manuel 12 May 2020 at 8:33 am Permalink

    A triple-antiviral therapy regimen of interferon-beta1, lopinavir/ritonavir, and ribavirin shortened median time to COVID-19 viral negativity by 5 days in a small trial from Hong Kong

  11. Julian Perez 12 May 2020 at 8:36 am Permalink

    Continúa la rebelión: Elon Musk sigue el ejemplo de Shelley Luther y abre sus fábricas de autos desobedeciendo la orden del gobernador de California.


  12. Manuel 12 May 2020 at 10:44 am Permalink

    There is widespread consensus outside of China that whatever the actual tally of coronavirus deaths in that country was, the sum was significantly higher than the officially released numbers. The Washington Post felt sufficient confidence to write on April 3 that evidence such as the number of hours that crematoriums were working and the number of urns returned by funeral homes added up to a death toll around 42,000 to 47,000.

    Back in mid-April, Wuhan health officials revised their local death toll from 2,579 to 3,869. One-half of the previous total is 1,289.5; the increase was 1,290 — almost as if someone arbitrarily decided to raise the existing death toll by fifty percent.

  13. Manuel 12 May 2020 at 3:54 pm Permalink

    EL DESCARAO obama QUE NO HIZO UNA MIERDA POR LA MEDICINA PREVENTIVA en sus 8 anos tiene la cabrona cara de salir a criticar a trump frente al CORONA

  14. Manuel 15 May 2020 at 4:44 pm Permalink

    A 2019 study of captive zebras and horses in the UK revealed that fewer horseflies landed on zebras compared with horses. Horses that were dressed like zebras – wearing black and white striped cloth coats – also had fewer horseflies land on them, compared with horses wearing either black or white coats.
    Why the stripes make it less likely that the flies will land isn’t yet clear. Still, fake zebra stripes seem to protect other animals too. When Japanese black cows were painted with zebra-like stripes they were also less susceptible to biting flies. The authors of this study suggest that painting black-and-white stripes on livestock could be an alternative method of pest control.
    This raises the question of why other animals didn’t evolve stripes to ward off flies, too. It may be that selection pressures for avoiding biting flies were higher for zebras because in the region of Africa where they live, biting flies can transmit deadly disease-causing parasites.

  15. Manuel 15 May 2020 at 5:17 pm Permalink

    THEY call it the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics”. Physicist Eugene Wigner coined the phrase in the 1960s to encapsulate the curious fact that merely by manipulating numbers we can describe and predict all manner of natural phenomena with astonishing clarity, from the movements of planets and the strange behaviour of fundamental particles to the consequences of a collision between two black holes billions of light years away. Now, some are wondering if maths can succeed where all else has failed, unravelling whatever it is that allows us to contemplate the laws of nature in the first place.

    • Manuel 15 May 2020 at 5:19 pm Permalink

      the first fleshed-out mathematical model of consciousness has generated huge debate about whether it can tell us anything sensible. But as mathematicians work to hone and extend their tools for peering deep inside ourselves, they are confronting some eye-popping conclusions.
      Not least, what they are uncovering seems to suggest that if we are to achieve a precise description of consciousness, we may have to ditch our intuitions and accept that all kinds of inanimate matter could be conscious – maybe even the universe as a whole. “This could be the beginning of a scientific revolution,” says Johannes Kleiner, a mathematician at the Munich Centre for Mathematical Philosophy in Germany.
      If so, it has been a long time coming. Philosophers have pondered the nature of consciousness for a couple of thousand years, largely to no avail. Then, half a century ago, biologists got involved. They have discovered correlations between the activity of brain cells and individual instances of experience, known as qualia. But the harsh truth is that neuroscience has brought us no closer to answering the question of how neurons give rise to joy or anger, or to the smell of coffee.
      This is what philosopher David Chalmers termed the “hard problem” of consciousness. Its unique difficulty stems from the inherently subjective nature of felt experience. Whatever it is, it isn’t something you can prod and measure. One philosopher called consciousness the “ghost in the machine”, and some people think we may never exorcise it.
      But, as Wigner pointed out, maths has a track record with hard problems. That is down to its ability to translate concepts into formal, logical statements that can draw out insights that wouldn’t be exposed from just talking about things in messy human language. “This might help us to quantify experiences like the smell of coffee in ways that we can’t if we rely on plain English,” says Kleiner.
      This is why he and Sean Tull, a mathematician at the University of Oxford, have begun formalising the mathematics behind the first and arguably only theory of consciousness with a halfway-thought-through mathematical underpinning (see “Models of experience”, page 44). Integrated information theory, or IIT, was conceived more than a decade ago by Giulio Tononi, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin. His basic idea was that a system’s consciousness arises from the way information moves between its subsystems.
      One way to think of these subsystems is as islands, each with their own population of neurons. The islands are connected by traffic flows of information. For consciousness to appear, Tononi argued, this information flow must be complex enough to make the islands interdependent. Changing the flow of information from one island should affect the state and output of another. In principle, this lets you put a number on the degree of consciousness: you could quantify it by measuring how much an island’s output relies on information flowing from other islands. This gives a sense of how well a system integrates information, a value called “phi”.
      If there is no dependence on a traffic flow between the islands, phi is zero and there is no consciousness. But if strangling or cutting off the connection makes a difference to the amount of information it integrates and outputs, then the phi of that group is above zero. The higher the phi, the more consciousness a system will display.
      Another key feature of IIT, known as the exclusion postulate, says that a group will explicitly display consciousness only when its phi is “maximal”. That is to say, its own degree of consciousness has to be bigger than the degree of consciousness you can ascribe to any of its individual parts, and simultaneously bigger than the degree of consciousness of any system of which it is a part. Any and all parts of the human brain might have a micro-consciousness, for example. But when one part has an increase in consciousness, such as when a person is brought out of anaesthesia, the micro-consciousnesses are lost. In IIT, only the system with the largest phi displays the consciousness we register as experience.
      The idea has won adherents since Tononi first proposed it. “Theoretically, it’s quite appealing,” says Daniel Bor at the University of Cambridge. “We have this association between consciousness and intelligence: creatures able to recognise themselves in the mirror also seem to be the most intelligent. So some connection between consciousness and intelligence seems reasonable.” And intelligence has a link to gathering and processing information. “That means you may as well make the related connection that in some way consciousness is related to information processing and integration,” Bor says.
      “In principle, this mathematical approach lets you put a number on a system’s degree of consciousness”
      It also seems to make sense given some of what we know about consciousness in the human brain. It is compromised, for example, if there is damage to the cerebral cortex. This region has a relatively small number of highly interconnected neurons, and would have a large phi in IIT. The cerebellum, on the other hand, has a much higher number of neurons, but they are relatively unconnected. IIT would predict that damage to the cerebellum might have little effect on conscious experience, which is exactly what studies show.
      IIT is less convincing when it comes to some details, though. Phi should decrease when you go to sleep or are sedated via a general anaesthetic, for instance, but work in Bor’s lab has shown that it doesn’t. “It either goes up or stays the same,” he says. And explaining why information flow gives rise to an experience such as the smell of coffee is problematic. IIT frames conscious experience as the result of “conceptual structures” that are shaped by the arrangement of parts of the relevant network, but many find the explanation convoluted and unsatisfying.
      Philosopher John Searle is one of IIT’s detractors. He has argued that it ignores the question of why and how consciousness arises in favour of making the questionable assumption that it is simply a by-product of the existence of information. For that reason, he says, IIT “does not seem to be a serious scientific proposal”.
      Perhaps the most troubling critiques of IIT as a mathematical theory concern a lack of clarity about the underlying numbers. When it comes to actually calculating a value for phi for the entirety of a system as complex as a brain, IIT gives a recipe that is almost impossible to follow – something even Tononi admits.
      “As it’s currently given, phi is very difficult to calculate for a whole brain,” Tull says. That might be a bit of an understatement. Researchers have worked out that using the current method, calculating phi for the 86 billion neurons of the human brain would take longer than the age of the universe. Bor has worked out that just calculating it for the 302-neuron brain of a nematode worm would take 5 × 1079 years on a standard PC.
      And when you calculate phi for things you wouldn’t expect to be conscious, you get all sorts of strange results. Scott Aaronson, a theoretical physicist at the University of Texas at Austin, for example, was initially excited by the theory, which he describes as “a serious, honourable attempt” to figure out how to get common sense answers to the question of which physical systems are conscious. But then he set to testing it.
      Aaronson took the principles of IIT and used them to compute phi for a mathematical object called a Vandermonde matrix. This is a grid of numbers whose values are interrelated, and can be used to build a grid-like circuit, known as a Reed-Solomon decoding circuit, to correct errors in the information that is read off CDs and DVDs. What he found was that a sufficiently large Reed-Solomon circuit would have an enormous phi. Scaled to a large enough size, one of these circuits would end up being far more conscious than a human.
      The same problem exists in other arrangements of information processing routines, Aaronson pointed out: you can have integrated information, with a high phi value, that doesn’t lead to anything we would recognise as consciousness. He concluded that IIT “unavoidably predicts vast amounts of consciousness in physical systems that no sane person would regard as particularly ‘conscious’ at all”.

      Can pure mathematics describe subjective experience? (EDUARD MUZHEVSKYI/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY)
      Aaronson walked away, but not everyone sees highly conscious grid-shaped circuits as a deal-breaker. For Kleiner, it is simply a consequence of the nature of the beast: we lack information because any analysis of consciousness relies on self-reporting and intuition. “We can’t get reports from grids,” he says. “This is the problem.”
      Rather than abandoning a promising model, he thinks we need to clarify and simplify the mathematics underlying it. That is why he and Tull set about trying to identify the necessary mathematical ingredients of IIT, splitting them into three parts. First is the set of physical systems that encode the information. Next is the various manifestations or “spaces” of conscious experience. Finally, there are basic building blocks that relate these two: the “repertoires” of cause and effect.
      “Particles or other basic entities might have simple forms of consciousness that combine to make our own”
      In February, they posted a preprint paper demonstrating how these ingredients can be joined in a way that provides a logically consistent way of applying the IIT algorithm for finding phi. “Now the fundamental idea is well-defined enough to make the technical problems go away,” says Kleiner.
      Their aspiration is that mathematicians will now be able to create improved models of consciousness based on the premises of IIT – or, even better, competitor theories. “We would be glad to contribute to the further development of IIT, but we also hope to help improve and unite various existing models,” Kleiner says. “Eventually, we may come to propose new ones.”
      One consequence of this stimulus might be a reckoning for the notion, raised by IIT’s application to grid-shaped circuits, that inanimate matter can be conscious. Such a claim is typically dismissed out of hand, because it appears to be tantamount to “panpsychism”, a philosophical viewpoint that suggests consciousness is a fundamental property of all matter. But what if there is something in it?
      To be clear, no one is saying that fundamental particles have feelings. But panpsychists do argue that they may have some semblance of consciousness, however fragmentary, that could combine to generate the various levels of consciousness experienced by birds or chimpanzees or us. “Particles or other basic physical entities might have simple forms of consciousness that are fundamental, but complex human and animal consciousness would be constituted by or emergent from this,” says Hedda Hassel Mørch at Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences in Elverum.
      The idea that electrons could have some form of consciousness might be hard to swallow, but panpsychists argue that it provides the only plausible approach to solving the hard problem. They reason that, rather than trying to account for consciousness in terms of non-conscious elements, we should instead ask how rudimentary forms of consciousness might come together to give rise to the complex experiences we have.
      With that in mind, Mørch thinks IIT is at least a good place to start. Its general approach, analysing our first-person perspective in terms of what we perceive when certain brain regions become active and using that to develop constraints on what its physical correlate could be, is “probably correct”, she says. And although IIT as currently formulated doesn’t strictly say everything is conscious – because consciousness arises in networks rather than individual components – it is entirely possible that a refined version could. “I think that the core ideas underlying IIT are fully compatible with panpsychism,” says Kleiner.
      That might also fit in with indications from elsewhere that the relationship between our consciousness and the universe might not be as straightforward as we imagine. Take the quantum measurement problem. Quantum theory, our description of the basic interactions of matter, says that before we measure a quantum object, it can have many different values, encapsulated in a mathematical entity called the wave function. So what collapses the many possibilities into something definite and “real”? One viewpoint is that our consciousness does it, which would mean we live in what physicist John Wheeler called a “participatory universe”.
      “The universe’s consciousness might have been excluded by the evolution of our own”
      There are many problems with this idea, not least the question of what did the collapsing before conscious minds evolved. A viable mathematical model of consciousness that allows for it to be a property of matter would at least provide a solution for that.
      Then there’s University of Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose’s suggestion that our consciousness is actually “the reason the universe is here”. It is based on a hunch about quantum theory’s shortcomings. But if there is any substance to this idea, the framework of IIT – and its exclusion postulate in particular – suggests that information flow between the various scales of the universe’s contents could create different kinds of consciousness that ebb and flow depending on what exists at any particular time. The evolution of our consciousness might have, in IIT’s terms, “excluded” the consciousness of the universe.
      Or perhaps not. There are good reasons to remain sceptical about the power of maths to explain consciousness, never mind the knock-on effects for our understanding of physics. We seem to be dealing with something so involved that calculations may not even be possible, according to Phil Maguire, a computer scientist at Maynooth University in Ireland. “Breaking down cognitive processes is so complex that it is not feasible,” he says.
      Others express related doubts as to whether maths is up to the job, even in principle. “I think mathematics can help us understand the neural basis of consciousness in the brain, and perhaps even machine consciousness, but it will inevitably leave something out: the felt inner quality of experience,” says Susan Schneider, a philosopher and cognitive scientist at the University of Connecticut.
      Philip Goff, a philosopher at Durham University, UK, has a similar view. Consciousness deals with physical phenomena in terms of their perceived qualities, he points out – the smell of coffee or the taste of mint, for example – which aren’t conveyable in a purely quantitative objective framework. “In dealing with consciousness, we need more than the standard scientific tools of public observation and mathematics,” Goff says.
      But Kleiner isn’t put off. He is developing a mathematical model that can incorporate ineffable, private experiences. It is currently undergoing peer review. And even if it doesn’t work, he says, something else will: “I’m fully convinced that in combination with experiments and philosophy, maths can help us proceed much further in uncovering the mystery of consciousness.”

      Michael Brooks is a New Scientist consultant and author of The Quantum Astrologer’s Handbook ■

  16. Manuel 15 May 2020 at 5:34 pm Permalink

    The media shrug at their massive bungling of major stories.
    How lovely it is to have a high-profile job in our major media institutions. Let’s say you completely, hideously muck up a huge story. Let’s say you spend three years wildly misleading the public. Let’s say that, at the outset of the worst public-health crisis in a century, you mock people for being afraid and tell them to go about life as usual. When you’re proven wrong, you get to tell the next chapter of the story anyway. And if you feel like saying, “No fair noticing we were wrong!” you know other members of the mainstream-media cartel will rush to support you.

    • Manuel 15 May 2020 at 5:37 pm Permalink

      In other words, a reporter thinks it is not “useful” to report things that are true if those things happen to reflect badly on reporters? The contrast in coverage of New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Florida governor Ron DeSantis seems to come from some bizarro world where the media considers nine deaths per 100,000 people (Florida) to be more alarming than 142 deaths per 100,000 people (New York). As Caputo and colleague Renuka Rayasam wrote, Cuomo “has something else DeSantis doesn’t: a press that defers to him, one that preferred to cover ‘Florida Morons’ at the beach (where it’s relatively hard to get infected) over New Yorkers riding cramped subway cars (where it’s easy to get infected).”

      The media loves to run with “blood on his hands” stories about nefarious Republicans, but you’ll have a hard time finding even a quiet, pro-forma apology (much less an admission of bloody hands) from the media for their massive bungling of the early stages of the coronavirus story. On January 31, Vox stated, with the customary absolute metaphysical certitude that characterizes its generally undergraduate tone, “Is this going to be a deadly pandemic? No.” Vox later deleted the tweet, but instead of an apology, it said the remark “no longer reflects the current reality of the coronavirus story,” which was obvious if insufficiently humble.

      The following day, the Washington Post ran a story shouting, “Get a grippe, America, the flu is a much bigger threat than coronavirus, for now.” The Post’s medical writer Lenny Bernstein opined, “Clearly, the flu poses the bigger and more pressing peril; a handful of cases of the new respiratory illness have been reported in the United States, none of them fatal or apparently even life-threatening.” The headline of this piece has been widely mocked. But its contents are even more amazing, because none of the experts quoted in it say what Bernstein’s headline says. He appears to have generated the idea himself based entirely on how much damage had been done by the virus to that date, rather than the prospective risk. He features a truncated quotation from Anthony Fauci that leads in the opposite direction from his thesis: Fauci says people ask him why people are more worried about the coronavirus than about seasonal flu and he says seasonal flu is more predictable. Bernstein, a former sportswriter whose only degree listed on his Post biographical page is a B.A. in American culture, has not publicly apologized, as far as I can tell. I’ll be happy to update the record if he does so or has done so.

      The Russia–Trump collusion yarn is perhaps the most-promoted false conspiracy theory in American history: Major figures who advanced the theory have now conceded that they had no evidence for it, and yet leading media personalities who hyped it are expressing no shame or remorse whatsoever. CNN’s Brian Stelter is telling his audience, not, “My God, I have failed you, and I hereby announce my retirement in disgrace from public life” but, “Why are those jerks so obsessed with this Russia story we talked up incessantly for three years?” Working in the major media is a (self) love story: It means never having to say you’re sorry.

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