Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for February 1st, 2018

Self-Driving Trucks Could Be Good for Truckers

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Alexis Madrigal writes in the Atlantic:

The outlook for trucking jobs has been grim of late. Self-driving trucks, several reports and basic logic have suggested, are going to wipe out truckers. Trucking is going to be the next great automation bloodbath.

But a counter-narrative is emerging: No, skeptics in the industry, government, academia are saying, trucking jobs will not be endangered by autonomous driving, and in the brightest scenarios, as in new research by Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, there may be an increase in trucking jobs as more self-driving vehicles are introduced.

“We’ve been disappointed over the last year to see a lot of stories about how self-driving trucks are going to be this huge problem for truck drivers,” says Alden Woodrow, the product lead for self-driving trucks at Uber. “That’s not at all what we think the outcome is going to be.”

For one, Uber does not believe that self-driving trucks will be doing “dock to dock” runs for a very long time. They see a future in which self-driving trucks drive highway miles between what they call transfer hubs, where human drivers will take over for the last miles through complex urban and industrial terrain.

For that reason, Woodrow says that he saw their version of self-driving trucks as complementing humans, not replacing them. To make their case, Uber created a model of the industry’s labor market based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Then, they created scenarios that looked at a range of self-driving-truck adoption rates and how often those autonomous trucks would be on the road in comparison to human-driven vehicles.

Their numbers for autonomous-truck adoption are intentionally very aggressive, Woodrow says, corresponding to 25, 50, and 70 percent of today’s trucks being self-driven. These do not reflect an Uber prediction that between 500,000 and 1.5 million self-driving trucks will be on the road by 2028, but rather they allow the model to show the dynamics in the labor market that might result from widespread adoption. “Imagine that self-driving trucks are incredibly successful and impactful,” he says. “What would that mean?”

The other set of numbers in the model—the utilization rate of the self-driving trucks—is the component that leads Uber to a different analysis of the effect that these vehicles will have on truckers. Basically, if the self-driving trucks are used far more efficiently, it would drive down the cost of freight, which would stimulate demand, leading to more business. And, if more freight is out on the roads, and humans are required to run it around local areas, then there will be a greater, not lesser, need for truck drivers.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2018 at 6:19 pm

In honor of the upcoming Super Bowl: The film the NFL does not want you to see

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So watch it anyway.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2018 at 2:06 pm

Trump Dept of Labor Hid Report Showing Its Tips Rule Would Likely Cost Workers Billions

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Eric Levitz writes in New York magazine:

The Trump administration says that its new “tip pooling” rule will increase the paychecks of low-wage kitchen workers. Progressives say that it will increase the profits of restaurants, by allowing them to legally steal servers’ tips.

Reason has always favored the latter claim. It is true that the Department of Labor’s proposal, unveiled in December, would allow restaurant owners to transfer servers’ gratuities to cooks and dishwashers (in places where servers make at least the minimum wage). But the proposal would also allow restaurant owners to transfer those tips to their own pockets: While the measure empowers businesses to collect their tipped employees’ gratuities — and encourages them to redistribute that cash back to workers, in a manner that cuts non-tipped workers in on the deal — the rule doesn’t actually require businesses to give the money back.

It is hard to understand why a fervently pro-dishwasher administration would omit such a requirement. After all, there is no cause for thinking that “market forces” (i.e., competition for waitstaff) would be enough to prevent employers from stealing tips — at present, even laws against stealing tips aren’t enough.

And the administration gave skeptics another reason to doubt that its new rule would work as claimed: The Department of Labor (DOL) did not publish any quantitative estimate of how much income the proposal would transfer from workers to employers, even though it was required to do so by law.

Now, we know why the DOL cut that corner. As Bloomberg Lawreports:

Labor Department leadership scrubbed an unfavorable internal analysis from a new tip pooling proposal, shielding the public from estimates that potentially billions of dollars in gratuities could be transferred from workers to their employers, four current and former DOL sources tell Bloomberg Law.

The agency shelved the economic analysis, compiled by DOL staff, from a December proposal to scrap an Obama administration rule. The Obama rule banned certain tip pooling arrangements that involve restaurant servers and other workers who make tips and back-of-the-house workers who don’t. The proposal to reverse the Obama rule sparked outrage from worker advocates who said it would permit management to essentially skim gratuities by participating in the pools themselves.

Senior department political officials, after viewing an annual projection that billions of dollars in tips could transfer to businesses as a result of the proposal, ordered staff to revise the data methodology to lessen the expected impact, several of the sources said. Successive calculations showed progressively reduced values, but Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and his team are said to have still been uncomfortable with including the data in the eventual proposal. The officials disagreed with assumptions in the analysis that employers would retain their employees’ gratuities, rather than redistribute the money to other hourly workers. They wound up receiving approval from the White House to publish a proposal Dec. 5 that removed the economic transfer data altogether, the sources said.

Projecting the precise effects of any policy is an inherently contentious endeavor, as it requires analysts to make a lot of assumptions about how the world works — and, given how complex and chaotic the world is, some of those assumptions are likely to be wrong. This is especially true in the case of the DOL’s tipping rule, since the proposal’s impact would be shaped by the decisions of millions of individual managers and customers.

So: It isn’t necessarily illegitimate for Actosta to question his analysts’ methodology. But it very much is for the Labor secretary to refuse to provide any analysis, at all, because every credible methodology leads to a conclusion that he rejects — or, more precisely, that he claims to reject. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2018 at 12:17 pm

The jaw-dropping fall of an elite Baltimore police unit validates the need for federal oversight

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

Back in the summer of 2016, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division released the report from its investigation of the Baltimore Police Department. I wrote at the time that it was one of the worst such reports I’d ever seen. Still is. It described routine harassment and discrimination, habitual violations of constitutional rights, and little to no oversight, transparency or accountability. The report brought a sense of vindication for residents of Baltimore who have long complained about the city’s policing.

Critics, on the other hand, derided the report as politically motivated and anecdotal. In the New York Post, former NYPD officer Eugene O’Donnell called the report “a clueless hit job.” Conservatives claimed that the BPD couldn’t possibly enforce racist policies, because half the police department is black. (This betrays a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of structural racism.) The Daily Wire absurdly complained — with no evidence, other than a link to a rant by talk radio blusterer Mark Levin — that the report was just another effort by the Obama administration to nationalize the police: “Their real motivation is to expand their power into these local police departments so they can be molded to fit their leftist ideology.” Critic of cop critics Heather Mac Donald wrote that the report “is assiduously blind to, and silent about, the burdens faced by residents of high-crime neighborhoods,” and called it “just one more reckless attack on police legitimacy.”

But city officials appeared to take the report to heart. After Donald Trump was elected, Attorney General Jeff Sessions of course said he’d be rolling back these civil rights investigations of police departments. As a part of that new policy, the Justice Department said it would be reconsidering all of the consent decrees that local police departments had entered into with the Obama administration. But city officials — in Baltimore and elsewhere — then announced that they’d be moving ahead with those reforms anyway, with or without Justice oversight.

So let’s cut back to the present. There’s currently a police corruption trial going on in Baltimore. Ex-cops are testifying at that trial. And man, they’re saying some things:

[Former detective Jemell] Rayam testified about a July 2016 robbery of a married couple who were handcuffed after leaving Home Depot and taken to a police substation nicknamed “The Barn,” even though there was no evidence they had committed any crime. The indictment alleges that Gun Trace Task Force supervisor Sgt. Wayne Jenkins posed as a federal official during their interrogation.

After Ronald Hamilton disclosed he had about $40,000 in cash at the couple’s house outside the city, Gun Trace Task Force detectives drove the handcuffed couple to their Carroll County property, called a relative to pick up their children, and then scoured the house looking for cash, according to Rayam.

Before detaining the couple, Jenkins submitted an affidavit asking for authorization to search the home based on phony surveillance that never took place.

They robbed $20,000 before calling other law enforcement agencies to the couple’s home, Rayam testified, saying he “took the cash and put it in the (police) vehicle we were driving.”

Maryland State Police was called to execute a search warrant because the Baltimore unit was outside the city and therefore this was an out-of-jurisdiction warrant for the detectives.

Prosecutors allege they just wanted to rob the couple based on suspicions they were drug dealers — not actual evidence.

Rayam testified the detectives divvied up the money and went celebrating that night at two casinos.

Another ex-detective testified that members of the same police unit robbed a home safe of $100,000, then staged video footage to make the police break-in appear legitimate.

It gets worse. Here are some other highlights from the trial, as reported by the Baltimore Sun:

• [Former detective Maurice] Ward testified that his squad would prowl the streets for guns and drugs, with his supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, driving fast at groups of people and slamming on the brakes. The officers would pop their doors open to see who ran, then give chase and detain and search them. Ward said this occurred 10 to 20 times on slow nights, and more than 50 times, “easy,” on busier nights.

The officers had no reason to target the crowds other than to provoke someone who might have drugs or a gun into running.

• Ward said Jenkins liked to profile certain vehicles for traffic stops. Honda Accords, Acura TLs, Honda Odysseys were among the “dope boy cars” that they would pull over, claiming the drivers weren’t wearing seat belts or their windows were too heavily tinted. …

• Ward said the officers kept BB guns in their vehicles “in case we accidentally hit somebody or got into a shootout, so we could plant them.” He did not say whether the officers ever planted a BB gun on anyone. …

• Ward testified that he and [Marcus] Taylor once conducted a “trash run” on a home in preparation for obtaining a search warrant. They found marijuana residue in the target’s trash, but realized the trash can belonged to another resident. They proceeded anyway, submitting an affidavit for a search warrant falsely claiming the drugs had been found in the target’s trash can. …

• Rayam said the unit made regular use of illegal GPS trackers to follow suspects.

• Rayam said the officers once recovered a pound and a half of marijuana and a gun in a search conducted before they had secured a warrant. Jenkins told him to “just get rid of it,” and Rayam said he and another officer sold the drugs and gun back onto the street.

Keep in mind, these weren’t inexperience beat cops. This was one of the elite police units in the city. Also keep in mind that the only reason we know about all of this is because of — yes — a federal investigation.

This isn’t even the only BPD scandal to make headlines since the release of the Justice report. Just last week, a Baltimore police officer was indicted on charges of misconduct and fabricating evidence after body camera video showed him placing a soup can in a lot, walking away, and then going back and “discovering” a bag of white capsules in the can. It’s one of three incidents in which a BPD officer, unaware that body cameras begin recording about 30 seconds before they’re turned on, appears to have been caught by his own body camera either planting evidence or at the very least “recreating” how he found evidence so there’s video footage. (The first is obviously worse than the second, though both constitute tampering.) Prosecutors called the other two incidents an “error of judgment.”

In January, the Baltimore Sun reported that a police officer had given false testimony in a trial in December. A police spokesman said BPD learned about his testimony only when the Sun asked the department about it.

And then there’s the death of Baltimore Police Detective Sean Suiter. He was shot — with his own gun — a day before he was to give grand jury testimony as part of the federal investigation into the officers on the Gun Trace Task Force. The murder remains unsolved. The Sun reports, “It is the only line-of-duty killing in the agency’s history that is unsolved, with suspects apprehended on the scene or quickly identified through tips in previous cases.”

Meanwhile, the homicide rate in Baltimore continues to soar. Here’s a possible explanation, for which there seems to be growing evidence: Perhaps Baltimore residents fear their police department more than they fear the criminals. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2018 at 12:09 pm

Susan Blackmore chooses five excellent books on consciousness

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Five Books interviews Susan Blackmore (who wrote The Meme Machine):

The ‘hard problem’ of consciousness – of how the physical matter of the brain produces the psychological phenomenon of consciousness – has dogged psychologists and neuroscientists for decades. But what if we’ve been posing the question incorrectly all this time? The psychologist Susan Blackmore discusses five key texts that tackle this quicksilver concept.

You had an out-of-body experience and that had some influence on your interest in consciousness. Let’s begin by discussing that experience.

It’s the whole story of my life, really. I’ve talked about it such a lot. It was a dramatic two-and-a-half-hour out-of-body experience that I had as a student­­, possibly provoked by a mixture of sleep deprivation and cannabis. Looking back, it’s hard to know what caused it. But it was so vivid and so completely and utterly realistic that everything I saw seemed to be more real than real. I felt more myself and more alive than I’d ever felt before. And, of course, I couldn’t explain it. This happened in 1970, which was my first year as a student of psychology in Oxford. I jumped to all sorts of wild conclusions about the paranormal, probably because the experience seemed so real. I became convinced of telepathy and clairvoyance, precognition and psychokinesis, life after death and souls and spirits and everything. So, I decided I would devote my life to proving all this stuff to the closed-minded scientists out there. That’s why I became a parapsychologist. I did my PhD on telepathy and clairvoyance. I trained as a witch and I got a crystal ball and read the Tarot cards and the I Ching. All of that. But my experimental results got me nowhere. I never found any convincing evidence of paranormal phenomena at all.

Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, there was no way I could understand how an out-of-body experience could be a natural phenomenon. I tried my absolute best and I wrote my first book on the subject called Beyond the Body which came out in 1982. I really tried there with what little psychology we had then – we had no neuroscience to speak of – to try to understand how it could be a natural phenomenon. The book is still read and still considered to be a sceptical classic, but it was very unsatisfactory. By then, I had more or less despaired of finding any paranormal phenomenon. I went on doing parapsychology for some time after that but eventually gave up because it was hopeless. This, to answer your question, is what led to me to think: well, I can’t see any evidence for astral bodies and souls and spirits that actually leave the body and go anywhere, and I can’t find any evidence of paranormal phenomena of any kind, so, what on earth was going on when I had that experience? I realised then that the whole excursion into the paranormal was a red herring and wasn’t helping me understand the experience at all. I began to realise, gradually, that the questions went much deeper than being just about out-of-body experiences. We’re coming on now to the early 1990s when it was finally becoming possible to mention the word ‘consciousness’ in respectable academic circles without being told to shut up.

Was it the influence of behaviourism that made psychologists reluctant to discuss consciousness?

Yes, indeed. When I was an undergraduate in psychology and physiology, from 1970 to 1973, there was no way that you could talk about consciousness to your lecturers. But that was beginning to break down for a variety of reasons. Research on imagery, for example, was a help. And the discoveries of internal things going on in the mind which challenged behaviourism and so on. But then in 1991, Dan Dennett’s book Consciousness Explained came out. And in 1994, the first Tucson conference on consciousness was started in Arizona, and it began to be possible to talk about consciousness. Meanwhile, I took over the socio-ecology course of a biologist friend of mine, John Crook at Bristol University, because he wanted to give up lecturing in order to devote himself to his Zen practice and run more retreats. His course had bits of consciousness in it, and I turned it into a consciousness course. And from then on, I started avidly reading everything on consciousness that I could get hold of.

Can we go back to your experience? When you felt that you were outside of your body, did you actually see your body lying down?

It was late one night and some of us in the student Psychical Research Society had been messing about with an Ouija board. This means you’re holding your arm out for hours on a glass that’s moving around. So, you get to feel a bit disconnected from your arm, and your body image goes a bit wonky. I was very sleep deprived – having such a good time staying up late, whilst getting up for 9am lectures as well. And I’d smoked a little bit of cannabis. I was sitting listening to the music on the floor with my two friends when I started going down a tunnel. It was when my friend Kevin asked me: ‘where are you, Sue?’ that I had to sort of think – yes, where am I? I couldn’t tell him I was in a tunnel. Everything was blurry and I was drifting. Then everything went clear as though I was on the ceiling looking down and I could see him, my other friend and myself sitting there on the floor. It absolutely seemed realistic. Later on, after I’d travelled for an hour and then came back, everything looked weird. My body was brown and didn’t have a head anymore. It had a jagged neck and was hollow.

It became weirder and weirder as it went on. It’s more like an impression. If you’d been able to take a picture of what I saw, I don’t think it would have been realistic. But, to me, it appeared the most vivid and most realistic thing you could imagine. Everything was absolutely bright and sparkly and clear. And from up there I could see the three of us. I could see a silver cord coming from the body down there going into my tummy in my other body up there. Then I went off travelling. And all the time, Kevin was asking me questions which I’m sure is the reason why the experience lasted so long. In these situations people usually get scared and consequently most out-of-body experiences, OBEs, last only a few seconds or a few minutes. Some experts can have long ones but most ordinary spontaneous ones are very short. But I think Kevin asking me questions like ‘what’s going on there?’, and ‘can you fly?’, and ‘have you got wings?’ kept me from being scared, and so I just kept on going.

I should add that the experience ended with a mystical experience of oneness. I had tried to get back into my body for a second time but became too small, so I tried to grow to the right size and instead I just got bigger and bigger, expanding and expanding until I became everything. At that time I knew nothing about mystical experiences, but like so many mystics have said, I felt I was not separate from anything else, there was no distinct ‘me’ and ‘it.’ It was a classic experience of non-duality. This final part of the experience was probably what drove me into trying to understand consciousness, because it provoked that question: who am I? If I can become one with everything, then who am I really? I remember having to tell myself to go back inside my body and look out through the eyes. It was as if I had to re-enact the illusion of self. I was re-enacting or revivifying what I take for granted normally: that I am somehow a conscious being inside my body, looking out.

Can you now give an adequate explanation of what happened?

Adequate, yes, but complete, no. We do understand the tunnel. It’s a common experience in altered states of consciousness and is induced by random activity in the visual system, especially in primary visual cortex due to the way the cells there are organised. That’s been known for a long time, but the mystery of the OBE itself is only now being solved. Indeed OBEs are at last being investigated by serious psychologists and neuroscientists – something I never thought likely to happen!

A critical discovery was made by a Swiss neurosurgeon, Olaf Blanke, when he was stimulating an epileptic woman’s brain with subdural electrodes, trying to find the epileptic focus. To his, and her, surprise, he found that when he stimulated a spot at the right temporoparietal junction with very low intensity stimulation, this produced bodily distortions – a sense of floating, drifting, getting longer or shorter, thinner or fatter. Then when he applied a stronger stimulus, it produced full blown out-of-body experiences. He could even control the experiences. From then on, the new research started, confirming the importance of this part of the brain. What makes this so significant, and really throws out all those old theories of astral projection and departing souls, is the role of this brain area in constructing the sense of self. This is where the brain maintains our ‘body schema’, the constantly updated model of our whole body with its changing position and actions. Without this we could not act or move at all. This is then connected with other brain areas to our memories, sense of agency, decision making and so on. So now things begin to make sense. If this area is disrupted the body schema goes haywire and we are no longer ‘in’ our own body.

I find it rather satisfyingly wonderful to understand that that’s what’s going on and we don’t need to suppose that anything actually leaves the body at all.  It also fits with the old astral projection literature where you find that people like Oliver Fox and Sylvan Muldoon, these famous astral projectors,  also reported bodily distortions and a sense of stretching and pulling and floating before their ‘projections’ took place. They didn’t have the science to understand it, so they invented the seven bodies of man and the different planes and the different spirits that inhabit the different planes, and so on. I can see why they did it. But it’s all tosh. It’s just not true. Some people find this sad and disappointing. To me, thinking of my own experiences and my continuing explorations of states of consciousness, it’s thrilling.

Let’s get to the five books. You’ve chosen some excellent ones. The first is Consciousness Explained (1991) by Daniel Dennett. It’s a bold title because if there’s one thing about consciousness it’s that people are struggling to understand what it is. The title suggests he’s just going to tell you that this is what the answer is.

Yes, he is going to tell you what the answer is to a point. But he’s not going to say ‘this is what consciousness is.’ He says ‘this is what you thought consciousness was, and you were wrong.’ The main point he’s making throughout is that you have to give up your intuitions. He uses wonderful examples that I love to make his points. I should say, though, that some readers don’t love them. If anyone is reading this and they try that book and hate it, then give up. It seems that people go in two directions: they either love the way he writes, or they hate it. I love it, with all his mad examples and neologisms. He’s dismantling a whole lot of illusions and saying that when you dismantle them the ‘hard problem’has disappeared. We still can’t solve all the mysteries about it; there’s still a lot more to understand; but the problem is not what you thought it was. At least, that’s my interpretation of what he meant by Consciousness Explained.

The ‘hard problem’ is how the physical stuff of the brain and the body could give rise to the phenomena of consciousness, the feeling that we are experiencing the world and monitoring it in certain sorts of ways.

And you’ve tied yourself into a problem there, as did David Chalmers who invented the term ‘hard problem’, by saying ‘giving rise.’ As soon as you say ‘you’ve got this matter’ and ‘you’ve got this stuff called consciousness’, and you’ve got consciousness arising from it, then you’ve committed yourself to a kind of dualism. It may not be substance dualism or ontological dualism, but it’s some kind of dualism that you’ve committed yourself to because you’ve still got two things – matter and consciousness.

Many people – myself and Dan Dennett included – would say that this is an ill-posed problem. We can’t actually pose the problem better yet, though we can ask better questions. Where I really agree with Dan Dennett is that this is the job that we need to do first. We need to expose all the illusions and delusions that we have about our own minds before we can even begin to know what the right questions are to ask about experience. What we’re talking about is this: this subjective experience…We’re doing this interview by Skype, and it’s your experience of staring at me on a computer screen, and my experience of staring at you on a screen. That’s what we’re trying to account for.

Dennett is not saying that that experience doesn’t exist. He’s saying it’s not what you thought it was. He begins the book with him sitting in a rocking chair and experiencing the light on the leaves and so on. That’s what he’s talking about. People accuse him of explaining consciousness away, but he’s actually talking about immediate experience and trying to understand it. He’s saying here are all the illusions, let’s get them out of the way first.

What kind of illusions does Dennett want to cure us of?

The main one is the non-existence of what he labels the ‘Cartesian theatre.’ I think his book is an extended riff on rejecting this illusion. The point he makes is this: nearly everyone rejects Cartesian dualism because, for obvious reasons, it doesn’t work. But when they do so, they fail to throw out the idea of the audience who sits in the brain watching a screen, as it were, in the theatre. He calls this the ‘Cartesian theatre’ because it’s a sort of vestige of Cartesian dualistic thinking that remains even if you’ve thrown out the ontological dualism itself. I think he’s right about that. He calls people who think this way ‘Cartesian materialists.’

I write ‘CM’ in every book I’m reading again and again when people say things like ‘and then this entered consciousness’ or ‘this perception became conscious’ or ‘this became part of the contents of consciousness.’ All these are dead giveaways that you are still thinking in terms something like this: there are some processes going on in the brain that are conscious, and there are some that are not consciousness. Therefore, what we have to do is understand the difference between the conscious processes and the unconsciousness processes. That is where the whole hunt for the ‘neural correlates of consciousness’ comes from. But if you take Dennett’s ideas seriously, as I do, then all this is complete nonsense.

In fact, where he ends up – and I end up somewhere similar – is saying that we’re so deluded about what consciousness is that we need to throw out this distinction and start again. In fact, I would argue, consciousness is an attribution we make. We attribute consciousness to certain perceptions that we have and certain actions that we do – usually after the fact or while we’re doing it – and therefore we believe in a continuous stream of consciousness, and we believe in a continuous self, and all of these things which aren’t true. This is how we become deluded. We imagine this stream of consciousness on the screen and we imagine ourselves having those experiences.

In reality, there are just brain processes going on. He develops his multiple drafts theory out of this to say that there are lots and lots of versions of any perceptions going through the brain. The critical point is that it’s not that some are really conscious, and the rest unconscious. That is only an attribution that we put on a perception if we get enough access to it, can speak about it, can act upon it and so on. That’s why he calls it ‘fame in the brain.’ When something spreads enough in the brain, then it can cause you to press a button or talk to someone and say ‘I’m conscious of looking at you now.’ There is nothing more to consciousness than that. That’s what he meant by ‘consciousness explained.’ That book came out in 1991 and has been widely read yet, 26 years on, I would say the majority of researchers in consciousness studies are still what he would call Cartesian materialists.

You’ve chosen William James’s The Principles of Psychology (1890) as your second book. He gives such a rich account of the phenomena of consciousness. I remember the “buzzing, blooming confusion.” . . .

Continue reading.

The other books discussed:

Your third book is The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976) by Julian Jaynes. This is the book that very influentially discusses the idea of separate roles for the two hemispheres of the brain, isn’t it? [This is a favorite book of mine. – LG] . . .

Your fourth choice is The Mind’s I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul (1981). When I was studying philosophy of mind as an undergraduate, I found that book absolutely inspirational. It’s an amazing eclectic collection.  . . .

Your last book is a very recent one. This is Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life (2016) by Peter Godfrey-Smith. Until he wrote this book, he wasn’t known as an expert on octopuses. . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2018 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

Can Magic Mushrooms Fight Authoritarianism?

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Philip Smith writes in Drug War Chronicles:

Psychedelic drugs have been associated with anti-authoritarian counter-cultures since the 1960s, but a new studysuggests using psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms, actually makes people less likely to embrace authoritarian views, PsyPost reports. The study conducted by the Psychedelic Research Group at Imperial College London was published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

While other studies have linked the use of psychedelics to a greater sense of oneness with nature, openness to new experiences and political and social liberalism, this is the first to provide experimental evidence their use can leading to lasting changes in these attitudes.

In the study, researchers gave two oral doses of psilocybin to seven participants suffering from treatment-resistant major depression while a control group of seven healthy subjects did not receive psilocybin. Researchers surveyed participants about their political views and relationship to nature before the sessions, one week after the sessions, and 7-12 months later.

Subjects who received the psilocybin treatment showed a significant decrease in authoritarian attitudes after treatment, and that reduction was sustained over time. They also reported a significant increase in a sense of relatedness to nature.

“Before I enjoyed nature, now I feel part of it. Before I was looking at it as a thing, like TV or a painting… But now I see there’s no separation or distinction — you are it,” one participant told researchers.

Subjects who had not received psilocybin did not exhibit significant changes in attitudes.

“Our findings tentatively raise the possibility that given in this way, psilocybin may produce sustained changes in outlook and political perspective, here in the direction of increased nature relatedness and decreased authoritarianism,” wrote study authors Taylor Lyons and Robin L. Carhart-Harris.

That is a significant advance in the research on the links between . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2018 at 11:10 am

Trump administration strips consumer watchdog office of enforcement powers in lending discrimination cases

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Republicans favor corporate protection, not consumer protection. Renae Merie reports in the Washington Post:

The Trump administration has stripped enforcement powers away from Consumer Financial Protection Bureau office that specializes in pursuing cases against financial firms accused of breaking discrimination laws, according to two people familiar with the matter and emails reviewed by The Washington Post.

The move comes about two months after President Trump installed his budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, at the head of an agency that has long been in the crosshairs of Republicans. The Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity had placed penalties on lenders that it said had systematically imposed interest rates on minorities that were higher than those for whites.

Now that office, which had been part a powerful CFPB division, will move inside the office of director, where staffers will be focused on “advocacy, coordination and education,” according to an email Mulvaney sent them this week. They will no longer have responsibility for enforcement and day-to-day oversight of companies, he said. . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

Beyond moving the Office of Fair Lending, Mulvaney has also dropped lawsuits against payday lenders and said the agency would reconsider aggressive rules the industry complained would cripple it. In a memo to the staff last week, Mulvaney said the CFPB would no longer attempt to “push the envelope” in enforcement cases. “We are government employees,” he said. “We don’t just work for the government, we work for the people: those who use credit cards and those who provide them.”

Critics say these moves collectively could hobble an agency created after the global financial crisis to protect consumers against the financial industry.

“If you remove enforcement power from an office, you are essentially gutting its power,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the civil rights division at the Justice Department during the Obama administration. “What we’re seeing in this move is a push to erode the federal civil rights machinery.”

The Office of Fair Lending has pursued some of the CFPB’s most high-profile cases, including a 2015 settlement against Hudson City Savings Bank, a New Jersey-based bank accused of racially discriminating against minority mortgage borrowers. The bank was required to provide $25 million in loan subsidies in what the CFPB called the country’s largest redlining cases.

“The office has been really important in enforcing the country’s fair-lending laws,” said Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2018 at 11:03 am

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