Science and Sanity

Chaos Manor View, Wednesday, September 02, 2015

After this great glaciation, a succession of smaller glaciations has followed, each separated by about 100,000 years from its predecessor, according to changes in the eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit (a fact first discovered by the astronomer Johannes Kepler, 1571-1630). These periods of time when large areas of the Earth are covered by ice sheets are called “ice ages.” The last of the ice ages in human experience (often referred to as the Ice Age) reached its maximum roughly 20,000 years ago, and then gave way to warming. Sea level rose in two major steps, one centered near 14,000 years and the other near 11,500 years. However, between these two periods of rapid melting there was a pause in melting and sea level rise, known as the “Younger Dryas” period. During the Younger Dryas the climate system went back into almost fully glacial conditions, after having offered balmy conditions for more than 1000 years. The reasons for these large swings in climate change are not yet well understood.


I keep putting this quote and its source up for a reason: although the author was polite in saying “not well understood” he would have been correct in making a much stronger statement. Our models have not any understanding of this at all, and when there are data to contradict the increasingly expensive models, the usual practice is to “adjust” the data, or otherwise manipulate it; there is never much temptation to modify the expensive model. The map has become the territory, and observations at odds with the map are “adjusted”. New climate models are “validated” by how well they conform to the predictions of the existing models. The map has become the territory.

Hail Jerry Small

If I am ever proclaimed Emperor, one my first decrees is that everyone who proposes himself a credentialed climate scientist or commentator on climate science be required – as a condition of claiming credentials – be required to read, and demonstrate that he has read, Korzybski’s book Science and Sanity. All 900 or so pages of the blue peril, one of the hardest to read – sometimes painfully dull – books I have ever struggled through. That will accomplish several goals. First, it is very difficult – I would say impossible – to read all of Korzybski and remain unchanged.

Second, they will have demonstrated admirable stamina. It is not an easy book.

The book will, willy-nilly, change your way of thinking about language and science, and require you to practice a new way of looking at things. It will not do so by presenting anything startlingly new. Many know the principles of General Semantics although they may never have heard of the phrase. Alas, knowing the principles is not the same as applying them in daily life or in thinking about science. Most do not do that; it’s hard work, and takes a lot of rather dull practicing; rather like calculus, which is easy to learn in the sense that you understand its principles, but hard to know in the sense that you can apply the math to something practical like preliminary design of a lunar centrifugal orbital launcher – can it be built of known materials? How long must the arm be? At what speed must it rotate? A rather easy integral if you are used to doing that sort of thing, but if you didn’t do the problems assigned and the examples in the book, and get in the habit of doing integrations, it can be confusing.

Same with Korzybski. Most of what he says, at interminable length, isn’t going to astonish you although you will sometimes find yourself say ‘I never thought about it that way before’ the first time he says something. You won’t think that the twentieth time. You will think, why couldn’t I have skipped most of that? But, if you are fair, you will understand: practice is needed. Korzybski is changing the way you look at the situation by changing your thinking habits; or at least that is what you will do if he is successful.

Enough. I warn you, Science and Sanity is not an entertaining book. I will also say that for those who get it, it will change your life.


I haven’t checked this against my copy of the fourth edition, but an online, free, PDF of _Science and Sanity_ is at

Bud Couch

The web site says of this copy:

Permission is hereby granted to share electronic and hard copy versions of this text with individuals under circumstances in which no direct payment is made by those to whom the text is given for the text itself, the volume or other medium or online service in which it is included, tuition or other payment for the course or seminar, and so forth. This notice must remain a part of the text. Any other use is reserved to the European Society for General Semantics and requires prior permission. For further information, e-mail the ESGS.

From my cursory examination, this is a full and true electronically readable copy of the blue peril. It contains numerous prefaces which are worth your attention although that can be cursory. It contains the innumerable quotes from people most of whom you will know of as the introductory epigrams for each major section, and those are worth a bit more attention. And it contains the long and somewhat repetitious exposition, which is worth your full attention as it is training exercise; fortunately you will not have to encounter it again, but it is a form of training and I found it effective.

Many of you will find this pretentious, and for some who have sane thinking habits it may well be. Martin Gardiner made fun of it, but it is pretty clear he had only read about it, likely from tertiary sources.  I can only say that I read this book as an undergraduate, and it changed my life. I cannot guarantee it will have that effect on you.



Note that Korzybski wrote his treatise before Sir Karl Popper became prominent, and does not mention Popper in his bibliography. The Wikipedia article on Korzybski and a general search on “Korzybski and Popper” leads to more reading than I care to do.

I studied general semantics under Wendell Johnson at the University of Iowa as an undergraduate, and I found his book, People in Quandaries, very sensible. Neal Postman, who studied under Popper, says of People in Quandaries “I am tempted to say that there are two kinds of people in the world — those who will learn something from this book (People in Quandaries) and those who will not. The best blessing I can give you is to wish that as you go through life you will be surrounded by the former and neglected by the latter.”

That led me to Science and Sanity, the big blue 1948 fourth edition.

My copy is upstairs, and this is a picture of the fifth edition.



Unexpected Problems: Automated Cars

So, it seems automated cars and human drivers on the road don’t really mix. I had to chuckle at this one:


One Google car, in a test in 2009, couldn’t get through a four-way stop because its sensors kept waiting for other (human) drivers to stop completely and let it go. The human drivers kept inching forward, looking for the advantage — paralyzing Google’s robot </>

That reminds me of how I used to drive when I started. I was paranoid that I’d cause an accident and not be able to keep working toward my license. Then I remembered how the “right of way” laws worked.

I think these robots have much to learn. Give them a few years in California traffic to update their algorithms and I think they could be fine.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo



Not what Brecht had in mind
The Solution wasn’t supposed to be an instruction manual…

Americans pride ourselves on being people who have a government. But these days, it more often seems as if we’ve got a government that has people.

And that government is even selecting who its people will be, having–within a generation–essentially imported a state’s worth of new people through immigration.

Since 1970, the number of “Hispanics of Mexican origin” in the U.S. has jumped from fewer than 1 million to more than 33 million. If all these Mexicans were a state, it would be the second largest in population in the country, trailing only California.

Did you vote to approve that immigration policy? Did anyone? In fact, the federal government allowed it to happen without any voter input. That’s by design.


The Solution
After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
Bertolt Brecht




Did Dog-Human Alliance Drive Out the Neanderthals?

“Neanderthals seem to have specialized in stabbing an animal at close quarters with handheld weapons and wrestling it down. We had weapons we could launch from a distance, which is a very big advantage. There’s a lot less risk of personal injury.
Add into that mix the doggy traits of being able to run for hours much faster than we can, track an animal by its scent, then with a group of other wolf dogs surround the animal and hold it in place while you tire it out. The advantage for wolf dogs is that humans can come in and kill from a distance. The wolf dogs don’t have to go and kill this thing with their teeth, thereby lowering the risk of injury and death from very large animals like mammoths. For humans, it meant you could find the animals a lot quicker and kill them more efficiently. More food, less risk, faster.”

Sounds awfully familiar to me.


Thanks.  I have long had the theory that dogs and humans are co-evolutionary partners…but I guess you all know that.





Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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