ROCKMAKERS: Professors engaged in the making of rocks!


Part 5—Potent heuristic holds:
A growing consensus has been reinforced in today's Washington Post.

The growing consensus concerns Bally's 1967 pinball machine, RockMakers, which has sometimes been described as "Wittgenstein's pinball machine."

The iconography of the machine portrayed a group of primitive humanoids whose lives were wholly devoted to the making of rocks. The later Wittgenstein began his puzzling magnum opus, Philosophical Investigations, with an otherwise puzzling passage which is now widely believed to have served as a prediction that Bally would produce some such machine:
WITTGENSTEIN (1953): Let us imagine a language for which the description given by Augustine is right. The language is meant to serve for communication between a builder A and an assistant B. A is building with building-stones: there are blocks, pillars, slabs and beams. B has to pass the stones, and that in the order in which A needs them. For this purpose they use a language consisting of the words "block", "pillar","slab", "beam". A calls them out;—B brings the stone which he has learnt to bring at such-and-such a call.——Conceive this as a complete primitive language.
Conceive this as a complete primitive language? Or should we conceive it as a harbinger of an instructive pinball machine?

"It's fairly clear what Wittgenstein was imaginably predicting," one unnamed international expert has recently thoughtfully said. According to a growing consensus to which the international expert referred, Bally produced its RockMakers machine in an attempt to advance the ideas which comprise the "Harari heuristic," a powerful portrait of "human" nature which has emerged from Professor Harari's 2011 best-seller, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

The heuristic is now widely seen as an attack on the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who is widely said to have said that humans are "the rational animal." Aristotle also claimed that all matter was made of five elements, including "the heavenly aether."

The latter claim has been widely disputed in high school chemistry classes. But so what? Aristotle's reputation just keeps rolling along!

According to the growing consensus, the Harari heuristic upends the paradigmatic view according to which we humans keep viewing and describing ourselves as fundamentally "rational."

Instead, Professor Harari has said, our species came to dominated the globe due to chance mutations which gave us two new abilities: the ability to "gossip," and the ability to invent and affirm sweeping, absurd group "fictions." Harari's attack on the primacy of rationality has been powerfully reinforced in this morning's Post.

The report in question was written by science reporter Carolyn Y. Johnson. In hard copy, it appears beneath an innocuous headline—an innocuous headline which disguises its true intention and import, according to several observers:
Study: Children can be swayed by robot peer pressure
Children can be swayed by robots? Hold on there! Not so fast!

On its face, Johnson's report concerns a study which holds that children will follow the advice of robots even when the robots are giving absurdly bad advice. The headline, and the accompanying photo, give the impression that Johnson is challenging the rational skills of the young.

Soon, though, the clever reporter switches her field of view. She does so with this naked rejection of everything the masterful Aristotle has ever been said to have said:
JOHNSON (8/17/18): “Children are known to suspend disbelief,” said Anna-Lisa Vollmer, a researcher at Bielefeld University in Germany, who led the study. “Rather than seeing a robot as a machine consisting of electronics and plastic, they see a social character. This might explain why they succumb to peer pressure by the robots.”

But that doesn't mean adults aren't susceptible to robot groupthink. Joanna Bryson, a computer scientist at the University of Bath, said she'd like to see the experiment repeated with a set of taller, more adultlike robots to assess whether adults were still able to withstand the social pressure from robots that looked more like peers. She also argued that while adults may not be tricked by the explicit answers of a robot, they might be more influenced by the robots' actions.

“Implicitly, if the robots all started going toward the exit in the theater, a bunch of humans would follow them without thinking about it,” Bryson said.
In that clever transition passage, Johnson switches her attention from the young and toward their equally pitiful elders. "To get such controversial material published, you pretty much have to play it that way," one leading scholar in the field of journalistic switchery said.

We adults are susceptible to robot groupthink too? Having skillfully floated that supposition, Johnson moves in for a deeply embarrassing kill. Prepare to wake from our tribal dream, to see idols turn to clay:
JOHNSON (continuing directly): Wagner's previous research suggests that's true—even if the robots are demonstrably incompetent. In an experiment testing robots in emergency evacuation scenarios, people were guided to a room by a robot that half the time bungled its navigation, getting lost on the way there. As the people completed a survey in the room, smoke filled the hallway outside and a smoke detector went off. The study subjects left the room and had to decide whether to follow the exit sign back the way they entered the building—or follow the robot.

The researchers were surprised to find that the people universally followed the robot, even if it had initially brought them to the wrong room and spun in circles.

In follow-up experiments, researchers went so far as to tell the participants that the robot was broken or program it to behave in ways that appeared to be clearly malfunctioning. Most participants still followed it in an emergency. In one trial, they even had the broken robot suggest that people evacuate by entering a dark room blocked by a piece of furniture, with no visible sign of an exit. Most stuck with the robot instead of following the exit signs to leave the way they entered.
Even if it spun in circles! How dumb do those kids look now?

At any rate, experts in journalistic code switching largely agree about Johnson's intention in conveying these awkward facts. According to these authority figures, Johnson's examples are actually meant to describe the way the modern liberal swallows the guff of propagandistic hosts on such corporate "cable news" channels as MSNBC and CNN.

("Did you watch the start of Rachel's program last night?" one weary scholar asked us this morning. "Did you catch the mugging and clowning about the haircuts last week?")

At any rate:

Through the use of Harari's heuristic, a growing number of scholars are asking American citizens to rethink the basic nature of our floundering nation's failing public discourse. But due to the angry reactions of gossip- and fiction-driven subscribers, they must perform their analyses samizdat-style, as Johnson has done today.

Meanwhile, how sub-rational are liberal and progressive elites at this point in time? "Force yourself to watch the professors!" one weary dissenter cried.

Reporting from deep inside a dank, moldy cave where she hides from true believers, this former professor called attention to this front-page news report from Tuesday's New York Times.

"Ignore the apparent ludicrous conduct of Professor Ronell," this scholar advised, her body language suggesting early-onset catatonia. "Focus instead on the behavior of the progressive professors who rushed to say that the rules don't count when it comes to one of Our Own."

Our correspondent compared this conduct to that which occurred in the recent flap about Sarah Jeong's three million tweets, which liberals instantly learned to describe as "satirical," "humorous," "parodic" and "plainly The Other Guy's fault."

Our correspondent stressed the fact that she wasn't criticizing Jeong herself, who was very young at the time and seemed to have been suffering from the stress which can be created by modern pseudo-progressive dogmatics. Instead, she pointed to the instant reactions of other liberals and progressives, in which the liberal/progressive tribe invented an instant group narrative according to which unfortunate conduct can only be attributed to Them, never to Us.

That was the Harari heuristic in action, this former professor alleged. The modern liberal is expert at pinning yellow stars on the blouses of Others while reflexively conferring glory on Us.

As a general matter, how well do modern progressive professors function? This correspondent suggested that we consider the recent case which produced this pair of headlines at New York magazine's Daily Intelligencer blog:
A Study Says That 24 Million Americans Have Alt-Right Beliefs. What Does that Number Mean?
A new study suggests that 12 percent of white Americans pass a test for adherence to white identity politics. That’s a lot of people.
The piece appeared last Friday afternoon. One week later, that headline remains, this scholar said, even though it was blatantly wrong even when it was posted, thanks to a correction by the author of the study.

We asked this scholar to flesh out her claims about the bungled study in question, and about the bungled way it was reported, first at Vox, then at New York magazine.

The matter involves a comedy of errors so lengthy that we've decided largely to skip it. It also involves a portrait of a deep desire within our endlessly war-like species—the endless desire to loathe The Others, to pin yellow stars on their shirts.

Professor Hawley, who's very young, made a large computational error in the course of producing his study. (Oof. Click here, see Editor's Note.) That said, before Hawley made his very large error, he'd designed a study which goes to the heart of the endless desire to stereotype and to loathe.

After Hawley's study appeared, a reporter at Vox made a large conceptual error in the course of reporting its findings. A reporter at New York noted Vox's conceptual error, but so what? He went ahead with Hawley's and Vox's bungled numbers, which remain uncorrected, for all to see, at New York's site today.

This is the way progressive professors and journalists play the game, our international expert said. All praise to the people at Bally, she said. They understood that we need a new way to understand who and what we rock-makers actually are.

Again, the basic chronology:

Hawley's study was crap from Day One. But thanks to an embarrassing mathematical error, he produced a thoroughly bogus number: 12 percent of non-Hispanic whites would soon be joining the Klan.

At Vox, they proceeded to make a second, conceptual error. This let them invent another bogus number: 24 million people ought to wear yellow stars!

That triply-bogus number survives today at New York. It's the product of two different mistakes, applied to a study which was conceptual crap from the start.

That bogus number—24 million people!—had been corrected at Vox before it ever appeared at New York. (Vox bumped it down to a still-bogus 11 million.) That said, no one actually cares about matters like this. For that reason, that triply-bogus number remains on-line at New York.

No one cares about matters like this! As the Harari heuristic helps us see, it's group "fictions" all the way down, thanks to some ancient chance mutations which didn't make us smarter or wiser.

Thanks to our species' investment in fictions, we liberals cling to our guns and our religion—our deeply held religious beliefs concerning Them, never Us.

Final point: Would Americans adults really defer to a malfunctioning robot?

We'll answer your question with one of our own: Did you catch Rachel last night?

Tomorrow: Rachel's "open"


  1. Rachel weaves a story every day in that first 20 minutes of the show that connects dots, pulls things together, pulls historical references that really is just an amazing piece of work.

    And you come out of it smarter. It's as simple as that.

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  2. Somerby thinks it is "pinning a yellow star on The Other" to identify a person (by his beliefs) as alt-right? How offensive is it to use the imagery of the Holocaust to draw an equivalence between the way Jews were treated in Nazi Germany and the identification of today's Jew-haters in the USA, for no other reason than to measure their political belief?

    This would be like someone in Germany pointing out that those Nazi's have gained power, as a warning of things to come, and equating that with identifying Jews in order to persecute them (up to and including death).

    Nor does Somerby care about the feelings of Jewish people who were themselves in the camps or who lost family and friends to that persecution, termed "Survivors" not to Other them but as a mark of respect and so that we will never forget what was done. These Survivors visit school classrooms to tell children what happened, to show them pictures of lost parents and siblings, so that the memory of Nazi persecution will be real to them, as it clearly is not to Somerby. He doesn't care what he tramples with today's post.

    Is Somerby actually arguing that it is wrong to marginalize alt-Right (neo-Nazis and white supremacists) because their views are abhorrent? Is he claiming that some of these people are good people, that there are fine people on both sides, as Trump stated? Is he saying that we should have one ounce of tolerance for the hate that put human beings in camps, AND IS STILL PUTTING THEM IN CAMPS TODAY, and doing unspeakable things to children, such as tying them to chairs, leaving them without food or changes of diapers, drugging them to keep them compliant, and now we hear that some detained immigrants are being forced to work for $1 per day while in detention. Forced labor was Hitler's MO, cheered on by the alt-right, implemented by our hideous President, and now we cannot identify and complain about this stuff with othering them?

    And once again, Somerby is an apologist for the right. This man is not a liberal. I spit on his use of that word. Today, he has lost any moral standing to preach to the rest of us about anything. He has shown the emptiness of whatever passes for a soul in his body.

  3. If Wittgenstein ever suggested that nouns make up a language, he was very wrong. Language requires grammar and rules for combining words. It doesn't consist of just a set of symbols corresponding to physical objects. And why did Somerby bother with this excerpt? It has nothing to do with the rest of his essay?

  4. I recommend David Neiwert's book Alt-America to anyone interested in the alt-Right:

    His site has been relatively inactive lately, but he is an expert on the alt-Right and has been tracking their activities for decades. If you read his book, all the pieces that don't make sense outside the context of the alt-Right will become evidence (e.g., you'll recognize the dog whistles) and see the connection between the treatment of women, domestic violence, the rise of right-wing terrorism in the USA, and the participation in such things by our President. Abetted by Somerby.

    Showing that he can copy a paragraph out of an old Wittgenstein textbook doesn't demonstrate that Somerby knows the first thing about anything else (or even Wittgenstein).

    Why do people follow robots? Why did they follow Milgram's instructions to give maximum shocks to fellow subjects? Why did they follow Hitler in Nazi Germany?

    But we should be asking other questions, such as "did everyone follow the robot?" What happened if one person went toward the exit? What happened when people stood up to Milgram's experimenters? Was there truly no resistance to Hitler (aside from the Allies)?

    Is there no resistance now and if there is one, why isn't Somerby part of it?

  5. "...who was very young at the time and seemed to have been suffering from the stress which can be created by modern pseudo-progressive dogmatics"

    Jeez, Bob, why waste so many words do describe lib-zombie vulgaris?


  6. Smoke'm if you got'm


    Around the 8 minute mark, George Carlin says he is (was) an artist.

    1. The dictionary definitions show three meanings for the word artist. Somerby doesn't get to choose the most restrictive one and then say the other meanings don't apply. No one has appointed him the language czar.

  8. It is not a good idea to extrapolate from findings of studies involving children to adult behavior. Ceci & Bruck (Jeopardy in the Courtroom) examine a series of studies demonstrating that children are more suggestible and susceptible to leading questions than adults, with suggestibility increasing the younger the child. We can see this in our own lives -- most children become less compliant and better able to question or resist authority, more equipped to behave independently from peers, as they get older.

  9. In contrast to children (from the Post article):

    "In a hopeful sign, adults were able to resist the social pressure from the robots in a parallel set of experiments, even though they caved to peer pressure when it was other adults in the room giving the wrong answer."

    The study that Somerby quotes was about adults in an emergency situation, where people tend to panic. Also, the robot was clearly a robot and had no human features. The adults, under the circumstances, cannot be said to have acted irrationally, since, believing themselves to be in an emergency, not knowing the source of the "fire", and seeing a robot pointing in a particular direction, the decision to follow the robot was a rational calculation.

    1. “…the decision to follow the robot was a rational calculation.”

      He heh.


    2. There are several possible decisions available to the participants. They might have concluded the whole thing was a ruse, but barring that, if they believed their lives might have been in danger, they could have ignored the robot and tried to find their own way out, or, as part of a quick ratiocination, postulate that the robot was a good faith indicator put there by the experimenters to aid the participants. Why should they assume a game or bad faith? None of these are irrational thought processes. Heh heh. Perhaps you wouldn't have fallen for the joke. Good for you.

    3. "There are several possible decisions available to the participants.They might have concluded the whole thing was a ruse..."

      But they didn't.

      “…if they believed their lives might have been in danger, they could have ignored the robot and tried to find their own way out…”

      But they didn’t.

      This ain’t no joke: Next time you have to follow a robot to survive, DON’T DO IT.

      I do appreciate your six-syllable word, but I question your ability to actually rationate. He heh.


    4. It doesn't matter which decision they made. Making a wrong decision does not indicate irrational behavior. Remember, the participants felt their lives were in danger and had to make a quick decision. Irrational behavior would be freezing in ones chair and screaming ones head off, for example. Following the robot was a decision that was arrived at through a rational process. Did you read the study? The link was embedded in the Post story. Did every participant choose the same thing? Was there a follow up experiment?

      Is your attitude logical: never follow a robot?

    5. “Following the robot was a decision that was arrived at through a rational process.”

      No, it was an instinctual process. I’m at #23 now.


  10. The greatest march:

    The most beautiful national anthem:

  11. Don't call this racism. Nope. Racism ended in 1955, remember? It's just a bunch of well-meaning 'Others':

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Somerby has nothing to say to anyone after he had the nerve to compare Holocaust Jews (who were innocent victims) to alt-Right garbage (who are perpetrators of the increased terrorism in our country).

      What can anyone say to Somerby, someone who can say the awful things he has said today without realizing how his words will affect readers?

      I cannot imagine reading this blog ever again, but I also cannot imagine letting his awful words go unchallenged. This man is despicable.

    2. Had to edit one word. It was so wrong, it effed up the whole thing. What I meant to write was:

      A lot to unpack here, for my ignorant ass anyway. Just for instance, if we slavishly post opprobrium against the proprietor of this blog every single day, does that make us a robot? Do others in the milieu follow the robot, even when the robot has been given new instructions to rearrange its circuitry, but cannot absorb the new, superior program, so continues on its pre-programmed course?

      Perhaps Bob is the master robot, inspiring people to write, even if they appear to have a circuit that seems stuck in a loop, as Bob often appears to have.

      Bob’s loop occasionally refreshes itself, in that it provides new evidence that the MSM (owned by huge conglomerates, and whose bottom line is profit) is, strangely enough, the enemy of the people, a fact well-documented by Chomsky, and which Bob has continuously documented.

      That opens up the question of whether or not we have free will. Is it possible that we respond in a certain way because we have no other choice? When it comes to instinct – sucking a nipple at birth, fight-or-flight instinct, the involuntary reaction to sudden loud sounds, just to name a very few, – clearly, the answer is yes. Those reactions are deeply encoded in our genes.

      But what of the higher functions? Perhaps a robot is “programmed” over the course of its own singular existence by other exterior forces. So as we ignore our socialist instinct, which is perhaps the backbone of our success as a species thus far, those in power embrace the opposite. And by-and-large they own the media. What is a consumer robot to do, except defend the status quo?

      Betty sends her best, I saw her in Heaven when I was having DT’s. She made me promise never to use swear words again, and I keep my promises. I’m on #22 since recovery, a ways to go, but at least, it’s an even number.


    3. "... Bob's loop ...."

    4. Tom, that was hilarious, When Cleese said "newt," it reminded me of this.


  13. Bob's retreat from actually writing much about the press corps and news coverage, that would mean, at some level, writing about Trump. He gave blaming the emergence of Trump on the left the old college try, but it wasn't really in him. No doubt, he took a crack at that Mueller hit piece he once promised but it was too much, even for Bob.
    So, this survey about the alt right is suspect (in the way all such statisitcal musing tends to be)? Hmm.... is it, COULD it be any more suspect than the dominating the planet through gossip theory?
    The Weavers through Thomas Paine observed that these are the times that try mens souls. On an almost daily basis, Bob seems to set out to prove he has nothing to try.

  14. It doesn't occur to Somerby that the rockmakers might be knapping flint to create sharp-edged tools, or rounding the edges off round stones to make the wheel? They are not just making rocks -- we know that because our civilization emerged from those Somerby mocks. Personally, I think our civilization has more to say for itself, than Somerby does.

  15. Another thing that piqued my interest was Bob’s rock-maker analogy, incorporating Wittgenstein’s conception of a primitive language. Before reading this blog, Wittgenstein was unknown to me. Seems he was a pretty smart guy.

    Though the quote Bob posted was brief, it seems Wittgenstein was probing the field of linguistics. Bob’s Rockmaker comparison, though his segue into media criticism seemed rather clumsy, has merit.

    But it was Chomsky of whom I was reminded, when he talked about capitalism v. democracy. In this bit, amongst other things, he talked about Adam Smith and his “invisible hand” concept.


    What I found interesting was Smith’s conception of the division of labor, which Chomsky paraphrases: “If you pursue the division of labor, people will be directed to actions in which they’ll just repeat the same mechanical operations over and over….” Smith saw this, according to Chomsky, as something repellant. Somehow, society has evolved to the point where Smith’s prescience has come to be reality, in thrall to capitalism as we are in these times.

    So thanks Bob, for another thought-provoking post. There’s more to examine. I’m only on #3 right now, but it will even out, I’m certain.


    1. Leroy - most are not but it sounds like you are ready for Guy Debord and then Industrial Society and Its Future. Go for it.

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

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