Recently in Blather Category

Baby tips

I'm no expert on babies. But here is what I think I know.

As the due date approaches, prepare a few extra meals and freeze them. The extra stock of quick meals will be useful when things are a bit hectic.

Water birth appeared to be much more comfortable.

Midwives can be pushy, some can be stupid, some can be brilliant. Most are trying to do their job. Bear in mind that being pregnant isn't an illness and their word isn't law, and it gets a bit less stressful. Also the word "no" helps occasionally.

Breastfeeding is normal, and if it hurts at all or there are any problems then help is available and should be sought immediately (though you may have to really push to get competent help).

Carrying with a proper sling is both good for the baby and convenient, and isn't hard to learn. A proper sling is one which supports a baby's weight correctly. I'm told that is a good site.

Instead of battling to put the baby down during frequent naps, let them sleep in your arms (both of you). So find plenty of books to read. Don't fall asleep on the couch with the baby on you, this is very unsafe - hence the books, to keep you awake. Or TV, but a slightly older baby will be woken by voices and so on. When reading books, a Kindle is handy since you don't need to hold the pages open - no hands required.

At night, co-sleeping is best. My own terrible track record for sleep is utterly unrelated.

Minor axe to grind: A baby is not an object to be controlled or put in a corner out of the way while you get on with your life. So "crying it out" and all that BS that revolves around scheduling a baby like it's a bus is a load of horse crap. A baby is a person. A trainee human. They rapidly develop their own personality, drive, preferences, thoughts. They can't communicate yet but if you watch them very closely you can try to follow what they are doing and try to help accordingly. They tend to, but don't always, want frequent close contact - from both parents. That means you have to pay attention to them. A lot. Your life will change. It's not bad.

A tip heard third hand: If someone offers to help, accept but be specific. For instance if you are holding a baby and your mother-in-law asks if they can help, say something like "yes please get me a glass of water" or some other specific task, and say exactly how you want it done. Otherwise you're going to get help that doesn't help, like putting extra laundry on when not asked (shrinking clothes or whatever).

Another tip heard about: If someone offers to buy stuff, ask them to put the money aside so you can use it when you have worked out what you need. Otherwise you'll end up with 20 outfits that fit for 5 minutes. And a good car seat is expensive.

Get second opinions for anything a health visitor says. They aren't very good at reading graphs.

As the baby gets older, start introducing simple signs (e.g. milk, eat, more, all gone) while speaking - one sign per sentence or fewer. This allows the baby to communicate a little before speech is available, and seems to reduce frustration. It also seems to help speech development. Obviously I'm biased, but it has been very useful.

Baby-lead weaning is brilliant. No messing about with purees and all that. I'm told that the book should be consulted as there is a lot of misinformation on the Internet.

Anyway, that's all I have at the minute.


I was recently sent a link to "focus: a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction", and read through the free HTML version (the one linked via the table of contents).

The ideas of focus, reducing distraction, and prioritisation are very important, and it was good to see a clear and coherent description of why they are necessary and pointers to ways of thinking to achieve them. Ignore the parts which stress how terribly middle-class and privileged the writer is.

At work I occasionally just turn off email and get my head down on a single task for a set time, and keep my inbox clear by importing nearly everything into Request Tracker and use that to prioritise jobs. Without doing that, my stress levels rise and I start forgetting to do things, which leads to more stress, and so on. Here is the tool I wrote to import email: "RT Email Import".

So far so good. It's all very well reducing distractions and prioritising, as that reduces stress and results in Things Getting Done. But when it comes to deciding what Things should be Done - working out long term goals - the whole "what do you want" question stalls me completely.

Doing things I "like" seems rather pointless and self indulgent and so it's hard to focus on those without feeling like I'm wasting my time. Art is ultimately functionless (especially if it's crap) and so squeezing something out of my artistic sphincter also feels like a waste of time. I'm not enough of a nut to think that I'm a special and unique snowflake with any higher purpose. The only meaningful things to work towards are those which provide a positive benefit to at least one other person.

What the "focus manifesto", Aleister Crowley's law of Thelema, and many many other things have in common is the idea of someone having an ultimate purpose in their life. The Great Work is to find it. I guess the problem I have with that idea is it's a load of navel-gazing bollocks. Focus on what's good and useful for yourself and others, and anything else is fluff.

The map is not the territory

The difference between the map and the territory it represents - or at least, the underlying concept behind that difference - seems to be a problem whose impact vastly outweighs its basic importance. I argue that this concept raises difficulties because of a tendency to over-analyse without relating back to the original overall whole being considered, and tends to get in the way of the purpose of making the map in the first place.

Simply put, the concept is that an abstraction, a reaction, a representation of a thing is not the same as the thing itself. The volume of a jug of water is not the water; the pain caused by kicking a rock is not the rock itself; a map is not the same as the territory it is a map of. Changing the units of measurement doesn't make the jug physically smaller, bandaging the foot doesn't destroy the rock, erasing the map doesn't erase the world.

This is self-evident enough, and easily tested experimentally.

It all seems to go wrong in three ways, all of which are twisty little passages of irrational rationalism - that is, over-thinking.

The first is the over-thinking of the concept itself, as in the Relationship section of the Wikipedia article on it. As with seemingly any part of philosophy, the idea is chased down so many tortuous routes that the end result is meaningless and, for the most part, useless - untestable in terms of physical relationships with the world being modeled. It can even be dangerous, in that fragments of conclusions end up being condensed into statements that are simply wrong: for instance
"a culture that believes that common colds are transmitted by evil spirits, that those spirits fly out of you when you sneeze, can pass from one person to another when they are inhaled or when both handle the same objects, etc., could have just as effective a "map" for public health as one that substituted microbes for spirits" (my emphasis)

very easily becomes
"the belief that common colds are transmitted by evil spirits is just as valid and useful as the belief that they are transmitted by microbes"

with a simple skim read - taking single instance of a partial model leading to correct results as a general rule and coming up with a provably false model. (c.f. Straw Vulcan)

The second is to get so hung up on the notion that the map is directly knowable whereas the territory is not - that is, that all we can ever perceive are representations of the underlying reality rather than the reality itself - that the notion of absolute reality is discarded entirely and qualia are the only thing regarded as real. This leads to variants of solipsism, none of which are particularly useful in building useful models of the world because they are all physically untestable in any meaningful way - that is, they do not relate back to the real world being mapped.

The third is to fail, and to confuse the map with the territory. The map may appear so tantalising through its perceived accuracy or perfection that somewhere in the chain of logic there is a slip of reasoning and the map's qualities are assumed to be those of the territory itself. The rock in this case is thought to feel the pain of the foot. The qualia are thought to exist outside the observer. The world being observed is thought to have a consciousness of its own with which to perceive the observer. This again is not useful in building a useful model of the world, as it adds nothing testable to the model while complicating it enormously with endless (similarly untestable) philosophical problems.

All of these problems with the concept of the map not being the territory boil down to making the map needlessly complicated while adding no extra information.

In making working models of the world to understand it (i.e. science), different models must be made for different circumstances, just as for maps to be useful they must be produced at many different scales. Newton's laws of motion - and "common sense" reasoning - are a town-scale map; they are useful to describe everyday objects at everyday speeds, but perform poorly at massive speeds or extremes of scale. Relativistic motion is a world map; harder to calculate but works at both everyday and massive speeds and scales. Quantum mechanics is a map of a flea's digestive system; infeasible to calculate for large objects but it describes the incredibly small very well.

Despite the differences between the models, they must also mesh: The upper boundaries of the QM world must fit the lower boundaries of the Newtonian world to a reasonable approximation, while the lower limits of relativistic motion must match the upper limits of Newtonian mechanics to an acceptable degree of error. The map of the flea should fit somewhere in the town map and the town map should fit into the world map.

Without thought for the reason why the map is being made, over-analysis of the map and its creation process renders it useless. A useful map describes the territory in a way that can be understood and which allows the territory to be navigated; a useful model describes the world in a way which lends itself to exploring that world and understanding it more.

Therefore, maps should be tested by exploring the territory and where map is found to be wrong, the map should be changed and the map-making process refined - or a more detailed map of that area created. Models should be tested by matching prediction to observation and where the model is wrong, the model should be modified or a more detailed model of those circumstances should be created. A map containing elements which do not correspond to the territory, or a model containing elements which are not empirically testable, would be much less useful than an accurate map or a fully testable model.

Bill Ockham's razor burn

First assuming wave function collapse is not only an epiphenomenon of quantum decoherence and that the superposition of eigenstates really does in some sense reduce to a single state upon interaction with the external world (i.e. on observation) because observation places the observer into one of all possible worlds, that some variant of the many-minds interpretation holds true, and finally that due to those last two we've thrown Occam's Razor in the bin because it was a bit rusty, then this leads to quantum immortality.

Since every possible "choice" is played out in an infinite number of universes, if you point a gun at your head and pull the trigger with a 50% chance of a bullet being chambered, then for you there will be two possible worlds: in one you will live, in the other, you will die. In the one in which you die, you're not conscious any more, so the only universe in which you are still aware of what's happening is the one where you weren't shot. If you pull the trigger again, the same happens, and so on, forever; from your own perspective, you will never die. This of course ignores all the possible worlds where you are horrifically injured but survive instead of dying. It also ignores a corollary, which is that although you will never experience your own death, eventually everyone else you know will die. But let's ignore those.

Coupling this with the assumption that mind and body are separate takes things further. With only a tenuous connection to the physical world the mind has its own trans-temporal identity and your perception of the uniqueness of your consciousness is correct: there is only one "you". There is only one observer for your life, in all the possible universes. You don't perceive any of the other universes because you are not in them; therefore, in all other possible universes, there is no seat of consciousness in your brain, no driver at the wheel, no ghost in the machine. Your unique and precious soul inhabits only the corporeal shell of this world, and no others.

There are an almost infinite number of possible universes. For each person, there is only one consciousness. Since each person's consciousness follows its own track through the multiplicity of possible worlds, and the finite number of people divided by the almost infinite number of worlds is almost zero, the least likely world is one containing everyone's consciousness at once, and the most likely world is one containing no consciousnesses at all. Since the only world you can experience is one in which your consciousness is present, the most likely world for you to experience is one in which there is exactly one consciousness present: your own.

Rather than taking the solipsist view that the external universe is unreal, instead we infer that although the external universe is real, external consciousnesses are fleeting and transitory, where present at all. Although all the people you see and touch and communicate with appear normal, for the most part they are rudderless ships, empty shells, devoid of breath and spirit - much as you are if ever you experience the common psychological symptom of depersonalization (which could be seen as a transition period between possible worlds). The symptom of derealization could be seen as a similar disconnect between where your consciousness is and where it "ought" to be, or simply as a brief realisation that the world is filled with talking meat that only briefly contains life as another soul's path through the multiverse intersects with your own.

A cheery thought to take with you on your next psychedelic journey. Look into the eyes of anyone else and see a single spark infinitesimally divided, a flickering light with a probability of next to nothing.

Alternatively, reject dualism and solipsism, take Occam's Razor out of the bin, and embrace quantum decoherence to save everybody else's soul.

There was to be a comedy explanation chart and all that sort of thing but I lost the funny. So you'll just have to take this insane ramble without pictures.