What would convince me to NOT vaccinate? (part 3)

Tags: English, politics, opinions, essays, life
Created on Thu, 17 Jun 2021

So, part 1 - Why I got vaccinated and part 2 - What is True are my attempts to figure out how to find truth in this day and age. My conclusion: it's hard.

Today, I play the devil's advocate. My usual conversation when someone presents me with a conspiracy theory is to ask "What would convince you otherwise?". So, let's play this game on me today - what would convince me that the vaccine is NOT safe?

My response is that first, I trust the World Health Organization (WHO), European Medicines Agency (EMA), the US's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the regional Swiss authority for up-to-date information on what regulations I should follow. So naturally if there an announcement about vaccine unsafety, it would go there. I somewhat trust that the news would propagate from these authorities to me as I don't follow these daily. But if a news (or other) article does not source information eventually from one of these (or similarly highly authoritative sources) I would be skeptical to it's validity or as usual - extraordinary claims would require extraordinary proofs.

So let's start from there - is anything alarming on these authorities right now? Most of the side effects are the shoulder swelling or mild flu-like symptoms for a few days. Nothing too scary.

General other rare side effects include anaphylaxis (that's why we stay for a few minutes in the clinic, because it can easily be treated), very rare case thrombosis with J&J which got pulled off in some regions for further evaluation and also not recommended for pregnant women. (CDC, EMA)

Something more scary? Well, recently all of them are investigating "cases of mild myocarditis" (WHO, CDC, EMA, Swissmedic). The jury is still out since most of the data is coming from self-reporting systems and it's a temporal correlation, not necessarily causation and it might be a somewhat increased incidence due to many people vaccinating in a short amount of time or more awareness of systems for self-reporting (i.e. everyone is now super vigilant and on high alert to report anything even slightly suspicious). Or it might be the case that it does actually is caused by the vaccine and the risks should be re-evaluated and eventually pause the massive vaccination.

Why do you trust THEM, sheeple?!

Alright, playing the devil's advocate - is there an argument to lose trust in all of these agencies?

Let's start with the more benign hypothesis - Maybe their assessment of risk is "it's better to kill 10,000 people but save 1,000,000" - but this is hard to communicate since no one wants to be in the 10,000 group of people. And deciding to vaccinate yourself vs. "just living your life" feels a lot more dangerous since it's a decision you take that "powerful people" have made vs. "nature/God running it's course". Although, of course, purely cold risk analysis puts the situations as similar - your decision to stay at home or go out and meet people is a decision that increases or decreases your risk of long-term COVID effects which may kill you - but slowly, each day, one decision at a time. Compare that with the one-time injection - a one-time medium risk vs medium-times small risk - they could both be equal but one feels more decisive.

Or each may trust other colleagues in a "the king is naked" situation - no one individual wants to speak up since their reputation is going to be ruined or marked as a conspiracist. Or they might be afraid that if they blow the whistle now with some uncertaintly, it might push enough people in an already misstrusting societies to not get vaccinated and thus never returning to "normalcy" - so better postpone until a much higher level of signal can be obtained.

BUT, the organizations' might be more devious than that. They might be too slow to approve alternatives or pull out vaccines. They may have some corrupt structure inside that get incentivised by BigPharma, BigTech or BigGovernment(s) to lie, cheat or at least postpone "the truth". They may be censored or cartelled in some way to promote interests worldwide.

It reminds me of the movie "The Big Short" - where there were a few "crazy" people that fore-saw the financial crisis in 2007-8 but were claimed as nut-jobs or conspirators. They looked at the numbers, they assumed all the big banks are blind to the situation and they also had to assume the "government is asleep at the wheel", "the rating agencies were crooked" and so on. Huge leaps of faith that turned out to be true.

This is extremely rare, but it's a proof that it does happen. Sometimes conspiracies are right - as we've seen in the previous posts, the Opioid crisis, the tobacco industry and as The Big Short shows - the financial crisis of 2007-8. But for each conspiracy theory that turns out to be right, there must be thousands or millions that are not. How do you decide? And how strong is the conspiracy - which parts of the theory may be right and which are completely outlandish. You gotta be pretty deep into understanding how things work to be able to draw plausible conclusions of whether the system is crooked or is it the KGB that spreads missinformation and tries to undermine democracies (as I've showed in the last post).

Following each conspiracy theory closely can get you (D)DoS-ed - there might be legitimate ones that should be paid attention to but there will be thousands which will be complete bullshit and are by definition wasting your time trying to get to the "truth" confusing you with false data.

A video example

So, I got across a certain video and in this section I want to show what kind of investigation I want when someone decides to "show me the truth - don't you see!?".

On the short video below these three dudes talk. The whole podcast is three hours and I listened to it (my peertube copy) so I have some thoughts which I will share below.

But let's check at least one of the dudes first. This is how I operate to "fact check" something.

Dr. Robert Malone self-claims on his consulting website that he is the inventor of the mRNA vaccine and is credited as such on the podcast. First, I find it suspicious that there is no wikipedia article for this guy. There is no mention of the guy on the RNA vaccine wiki page however, there is a "semi-protected edit request on 2 March 2021" on the talk page. The user proposing the edit got blocked since "wikipedia police" decided he is spamming advertising and promotion.

Why would I trust the "wiki police"? Well, we can see the history of Glasspool1 contributions - and they are all about DNA and RNA vaccines, therapeutics and we can also see the difference in history edits always trying to push that "DNA vaccine was invented at Vical, Inc in 1988 by Dr. Robert W. Malone" and so on.

Wikipedia is cool - tons of investigative journalism could be done there. And maybe someone does it, but I don't know. Anyway, let's continue.

Could Glasspool1 be right and there is a higher force in wikipedia to "censor the truth"? Okay, so now we must include User:RandomCanadian who warned him of blocking, User:ToBeFree that actually did block him and investigate what would their incentive be to be blocking "the truth teller", what are their contributions and for how long, could they be acting as puppets to someone else telling them to block these "truth seekers" or "conspiracy theorists" and so on. We also need to look at the references of the claim of the edit, what they mean and how all of these are connected.

Could Dr. Malone be censored on purpose? His twitter feed seems to be full of trying to defend his position on the inventor of the mRNA vaccine. Is he fighting the right fight and wants to get acknowledged for his life's work or is he trying to steal the glory of someone else?

And then we also need to check out the other dudes - who are they, what they do, what are their beliefs and claims. The business dude for example seems to have an aligned interest to promote certain medicines for treating COVID instead of vaccinating the world. So how much can we trust his stance?

And the podcast dude can obviously be taking the views from conspiracy theorists, just making the bucks. Or he could be geniunly interested in public safety.

Anyway, that's why we should have investigative journalists that get paid to do all of this work, because it can take days, weeks or even months to untangle all of that just for this one video.

Then, as always, the question becomes how do you trust the investigative journalist? Well, how do you trust me, reading this post?

I presented links to wikipedia that (unless I hacked one of the post popular websites in the world) show progress of events as clues as to what has been going on in recent months. My conclusion (that may differ from yours) is that someone was trying to push the narrative that Robert Malone is the inventor of the RNA vaccine when he might not be or at least it's disputed. Or your conclusion might be a step further - that someone is censoring wikipedia. But then the point is to gather a lot of evidence from both sides of the argument, present them and let the reader eventually come to a conclusion which side has more merits.

As I talked in part 1 and 2 - it's extremely hard to come up with what is True. But I would rather see this kind of investigation than what is currently presented as "news" - clickbaity titles at best, competing for attention, clicks and ad-revenue, or even random 100-something character tweets that in no way can get into any substance or possibility of trying to draw conclusions as to what might really be happening.

Disclosure, as usual

Oh, right, let's move past ad hominem and look at the arguments themselves.

Let's assume the dudes are right - we are in a sort of a Big Short situation and they are the ones seeing the truth. Their basic argument seems to me is that vaccines have more side effects and cause way more deaths than reported, we should be focusing on finding ways to prevent and treat COVID but huge forces such as BigPharma block these attempts. Moreover, the topic of discussing anti-vaccine is taboo and so it's harder to get to the truth.

I need to be careful since obviously I'm a tech dude, not a virologist, epidemiologist, not even any sort of biologist - just have a basic understanding of RNA and viruses (as most people these days on planet Earth). I don't have good historical context or know how the government or the agencies work. Don't know what it means to try to push a drug, publish a paper or run a hospital. Don't know what it means to be a physician and cure people, don't know how to live with assessing risk/benefit and deciding the fate of a single human or a population as a whole.

In other words - I'm just a dude with a blog, trying to make sense of what the video (and the article) says.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The King is Naked and other stories

Could the dudes be somewhat right. Or even if they are wrong but some other dudes in some future time - a week, month, a year - come up and they are right. What would make society believe that something is off and we should stop?

Well, one way is that WHO, CDC, EMA (called TheOrgs from now on) and the rest get convinced or act in a good faith and pull the vaccines off. Another one is what is proposed in the end of the podcast - Elon Musk or someone cult-person like that tweets that we should not get vaccinated.

But would they? As I alluded previously any individual whistle-blower is risking everything in such a polarized society. Moreover - they are most likely to get blocked and banned by BigTech and mainstream media, marked as a conspirator etc. Edward Snowden took huge risk when disclosing the NSA privacy invasions that happen - and that was not such a forbidden topic by the main conversation medium of the day - it was actually interesting. Today - we are much more on social media and isolated at homes for a year and it's not about invasion of privacy - but invasion of our bodies. Literal life or death situation. The wrong message is deadly - the wrong arguments are going to kill people. The false flags of "pull the vaccines" will make people hesitate.

So one must be certain beyond doubt to do certain thing. And then how far away his message will go? Just look at the video above - on YouTube or elsewhere it's still up but don't know for how long. And how many people will watch it. And how much is it going to be pushed by YouTube's algorithm or the author might get demonetized.

How many are possibly blocked right now "telling the truth"? The anti-DDoS measures taken must have false-positive/false-negative rates - and when we don't have transparency or ways to check the quantity of true-positives and true-negatives but just blindly blocking everything then we are blind to potential red flags.

I was initially skeptical of the whole corona-thing way back when I first heard it in January 2020. I thought it was "just the next virus happening somewhere else that the media is overexagerating as they usually do". In just my lifetime, there was swine flu, bird flu, ebola and others that hadn't infected me in the slightest but were huge media news everyday about these.

So I was almost naturally trained to not care about the corona. I thought it's something happening in China, so no trip there - whatever.

Then it got stronger, it got to Italy. There were visuals of people staying at home but still didn't get it - thought it might be an overreaction or something.

Then it started affecting me. Flights, trips and plans canceled. Stay at home. Masks. We all know it.

Then I looked at the numbers. I made this video for exponential growth (in Bulgarian).

So it might be real. But for a few months I was not believing, thinking it's a hoax, it's an overblown flu for some political reasons and so on. I was in the "boy who cried wolf" situation - I had the perception that the media lied to me too many times.

I can see how some people are still doubtful. Numbers are complicated and as I spoke previously - (thank God/Random/etc) it's not The Plague that we see death everywhere. It's just dangerous enough to keep on spreading and with the potential to overwhelm the health system if not contained.

But are the measures still effective? Are masks good? Are lockdowns effective? Or are we in the TSA kind of situation where we introduced a metric like checking you at the airport for dangerous stuff for the "security theater" which makes us believe we are safe and protected and people in power don't dare to pull the measures off so that they don't seem weak or other political stuff.

This erodes trust. Blocking people while necessary to stop spread of missinformation also erodes trust in people having a true-positive story. Journalists wouldn't talk about anti-vaccine effects. See how the theory of the Lab-leak was taboo and then suddenly, when Facebook lift the ban, it became mainstream and normal to talk about again. How is that good if we want to find truth?

How long would it take for WHO and the rest to recognize a true positive of a lot of deaths in the population? After all, if doctors believe that the vaccines are safe, would they ever report a death as a causation of a vaccine or would they always assume it must be something else?

What would get me convinced not to vaccinate?

Honestly, my belief is starting to get shaken up. And of course it will - I've been deliberately going into looking for negative information about the vaccines lately. As a human, I'm also subject to negativity bias so everything that is bad, deadly is gonna be way more intense than the hundreds of millions of people that are fine after >2 BILLION vaccines administered. When you have such big numbers, one in a million events are going to happen 1000s of times!

I shouldn't have to look at rate of background mortality for myocarditis and have the statistical knowledge to decide whether I now have an increased risk after vaccinating or that's just a correlated effect coming from something else - like selection bias and so on. It should be TheOrgs to do that and get a decision quickly, preferably before my second vaccine...

I'm getting obviously selfish here. I wouldn't care much if they come up with a decision after my second vaccine - I'm already in the pot. As I don't care much of long-term effects after my first vaccine that may come up - I've already done it and what happens will happen regardless of how much I worry.

But they may not. Me and millions of people will get vaccinated in the next months and every day that delay will push more and more potential harm. It seems we may truly be in a kind of a guinea-pig situation where the population works as a huge test surface. But I can also see of course the argument that extremely rare events would not manifest until extremely large pool of the population gets exposed (to the vaccine). I can also see the argument of the risk of side effects of the vaccine are smaller than risk of side effects of the virus. My trust lies in TheOrgs to calculate the risks using known background incidence rates and metrics such as Quality-adjusted life year (QALY) to make a decision based on whether certain people should vaccinate or not. And of course, it would make sense for certain cohorts to vaccinate and others - not. Also, as time goes on perhaps the vaccinations of certain individuals can tip the scale as being more dangerous - as COVID is not circulating that aggressively anymore.

That puts these two options as the only ones on the table. What if "the dudes" are right - what if there was the option to spend more time and research money on treatment and prevention instead of the fastest vaccine in the world for the first time with this technology of mRNA? What if we took the time to explore other options for not only staying locked at home but restructure (part of) the education system to allow for more in-nature education?

Are there still options or are we pass this point? What if the next crisis we need to solve is the after effect of a rushed vaccine - treating all those people for whom the solution was worse than the problem?

For sure I'm not even close to the smartest people on the planet working at TheOrgs. I'm not even the only one who is getting a bit scared of all of that. It's a symptom of the loss of trust TheOrgs because of so many issues and true conspiracies previously, incentives which align with the wealthy and powerful so that businesses can reopen quick and the-always-must-be-growing capitalistic economy turns its wheels again.

So officially what would convince me is: a message from TheOrgs that risk profile is changing. I still trust them although I see some arguments not to. One the one side - I don't want to fall into the sunk cost bias - I'm reevaluating my risks these days. The fact that I've done one shot shouldn't make me more likely to get the second one, even if I have an appointment. Things change, risks change and perhaps is better not to. On the other hand - I still want to travel and a single dose gets me no closer to travel than no dose. On the other hand on protection level-argument, I'm about 30% less likely to get COVID and possibly also transmit it to my parents or other people I care about since I got the first jab. So now I must weight the risks of getting the second jab and have a slightly higher risk for a (mostly) treatable inflammation of the heart and unknown side effects from a vaccine vs getting exposed to COVID and getting it with the unknown long-term side effects from COVID. Waiting to see what the stance of TheOrgs is but this kind of time pressure is definitely no good and shows a huge whole in the whole "we should all quickly get vaccinated to return back to normal".

Here is the summary of my concerns:

I'm much much more tolerant to non-vaxxers after this almost a month into the rabbit holes of trying to figure out what is happening. And after this post I'm sure I will get claimed by some to be spreading fear, doubt or be claimed as an anti-vaxxer. Read my other posts. I want the freedom for people to be skeptical and don't want the black/white either you are pro- or anti-. But in the world of echo chambers, fast-food news and mistrust in authorities - that's what we get. 1 or 0.

One more thing. What happens to conspiracists if some of the claims in some currently censored/banned discussion turn out to be true? They will have much more arsenal to say "See, that thing turned out to be true, therefore my other arguments are also true!". Since there are thousands of iterations of conspiracy theories with various level of claims - from Bill Gates injecting a chip, to controlled population and so on - some of them may eventually turn out to be true. Classic survivorship bias. The logical way is: one thing at a time - if one thing gets demonstrated - e.g. lab leak theory turns out to be more likely - it doesn't mean that vaccines are dangerous and vice versa. But conspiracists don't think this way and all humans in general will lose trust, no matter how scientific or logical one claims to be. It will get even more difficult to defend trust and not turn the nice neighbourhood into a gheto

What is true? (part 2)

Tags: English, opinions, essays, life
Created on Sun, 13 Jun 2021

Edit: see part 1 - Why I got vaccinated and part 3 - what would convince me NOT to vaccinate for progress on opinions in this article.

I want to continue talking in this blog about truth, facts, miss- and disinformation, propaganda. Today - a YouTube video from New York Times, talking about "Operation InfeKtion":

... which is NOT about the Corona (video is from 2018). It's rather about an operation back in the 80s sponsored by the Russian KGB aiming to spread a story that the HIV virus was secretly created by the US, starting at a single newspaper story in India.

The video is extremely worth watching in this day and age where misinformation is literally costing lives of people, prolonging the crisis in which we are, partly because of the disbelief in authorities, everyone knowing how to be an expert, because they can google and each looking for alternative news, because the mainstream media is paid by THEM (whoever they are).

In my Last post I talked about how hard it is to get the truth of anything - not even hard sciences like physics would be immune to difficulties in getting to the bottom of something claimed to be a "fact". Experiments can be flawed, scientists have incentives which are not always aligned with pure truth but with money and these money may come from corporate sponsorship.

I also discussed that even the queen of truth - Math - would be vulnerable to truth-seeking in certain scenarios and that Godel's theorem would make it impossible to prove consistency. I also played with some more understandable tricks that may put even the most known facts such as 1+1 to be questionable.

Literally yesterday, the YouTube channel of Sabine Hossenfelder (who has a PhD in physics and is presently a Research Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies) posted this video, talking about a few more ways in which 2+2 is not equal to 4:

Then I finished with an exhausted doom and gloom mood because I just got tired of the impossibility to know what could be true, touching briefly on complicated tools such as DeepFakes.

So let's get started once more...

"I trust alternative sources.."

"...because they would not be paid, they would just like to get the truth out there".

Well, watch the video from NYTimes. Watch the whole thing, because the second part starts talking about more current events like Russian interference in the presidential elections.

Of course, getting the elephant out of the room - NYTimes is almost the definition of mainstream media, a newspaper with 170 years of history and of course - American. Moreover, the video is marked as "Opinion" - so not really a "fact" for whatever that means. Is it possible that this video is itself actually a propaganda by THEM to continue distract you and let you see a reason for injecting yourself with something that can control and manipulate you?

How many layers can you go with this?

Is this video disinformation itself about disinformation from Others (if there is a THEM, is there US?). It is posted on YouTube from all the platforms, and we know YouTube is part of THEM. So can you show this video to your conspiracy friend and let them see the truth?

These will be some of the arguments which you will hear from them. They would trust smaller, independent media but more importantly - media that agrees with their own opinions already. This is the definition of Selection bias.

But selection bias requires these opinions to already be there for the person to look for alternative media. Where is the seed coming from?

The best pandemic

This might be the best pandemic the human population has known. I don't want to diminish in any way the tragic deaths of millions of people, the suffering and long-term effects which are coming out of this terrible, terrible disease. But at the same time, many people may not have even a single person in their circle of friends that have died or have had terrible consequences - this disease mostly happen "to someone else", "some old people that will die anyway soon" and "most young people don't even have symptoms or it's just like a mild flu".

In other words - it's not The Plague. But what if it was? Would the same people claiming that the vaccines are not needed, that they are a way to control the society, making us sterile or whatever other claim there is now - would they get vaccinated if they could see deaths and terrible consequences of an awful disease everywhere?

Maybe.

But it's not The Plague and deaths are not so everywhere than "some mainstream news" try to show us.

The Persona of a non-vaxer

Let's draw a persona of the current non-vaxers. I don't want to conflate it with the different group of previous anti-vaxers, the ones that believed way before the Corona that vaccines cause autism and so on - this seems to be a relatively small group compared to current non-vaxers.

Imagine yourself a non-vaxer. This is not every non-vaxer and this is not to say you are smarter or dumber than average - you may as well be in the top of your professional development. You may fit some of these but not others - you may even be a doctor! You may be in the filter bubble of certain non-vaxers Facebook groups, Telegram or WhatsApp group chats propagating that this is a "Plandemic". They (and you) are sharing documentaries and news articles from various websites that you may not have seen before, but also from websites that you trust - you see Facebook or YouTube at the top - and these are websites you visit daily so you trust the posts there.

You and most of your friends are probably not too scientifically minded and a few people in the world would be able to explain what various statistics mean, what are exponential growth, how viruses work or spread, what is mRNA, what are things like "effectiveness", "true/false positive/negative". Even if you meet those people that could explain you this, you may not be too interested to listen because perhaps you have bad memories with studying maths or sciences in school - maybe you found it too boring or needlessly complicated. In any rate - these scientists sound too arrogant, always knowing the best, the only solution. They have belittled you previously of your personal beliefs or understanding of the wonders of life, they are too sure, maybe even too naive of explanations that the so called "science" provides.

You maybe believe that God sends diseases and this is natural. BigPharma tries to alter the human genome so that we are more dependable and controllable. Maybe it even wants to control population growth. Maybe it wants to make us sterile or be able to track us - you never know what technologies are developed but even if you do - military is probably ahead of what they would show us.

Maybe you have been unlucky in life, you haven't benefited from "The System". You have done your own research and have seen many of the conspiracies that turned out to be true. What about what they told the Jews in Second world war? What about The Opioid crisis? Or the tobacco industry manipulation of the whole scientific community?

You will questions "official statistics" and "official authorities" because they are part of The System that has betrayed you already previously. You are not an expert at these things perhaps, or maybe you are in some of them, you have seen how "the saussage is made" or you know someone working in the pharma industry or a doctor telling you they would never vaccinate themselves.

How would such a person ever get convinced to get vaccinated?

Let's switch back to you being a non-non-vaxer (also known as a "sheeple-person").

If they are all of the above - perhaps they won't. Or it would take an insane amount of specialist convincing so that they do. It's not even about "calmly explaining them what the vaccine is" - they would not be there yet. They would not listen to you, even if you spend hours, days or weeks talking to them, showing them articles, sending them information - they would just counter with "alternative information" endlessly, sending screenshots and articles, finding ways to tell you "here is a scientific report as you wanted" citing some "scientist" and then you would go into dissecting the article piece by piece, carefully fact checking or trying to explain each point.

But they would DDoS you this way. They would send you links of articles of which they read wholly or partially but you would have to spend disproportionate amount of time debunking with unclear status in the end if they heard your counterarguments at all. Because any "fact" you present will be questioned that you naively believe everything.

And because you are a person that likes to check facts and doubts things - you would start doubting of course. You would try to research "why should I trust WHO or any other agency for that matter?", "How do news get produced, what are their sponsors and their incentives?".

You would try to understand a non-vaxer and go into their world, dig into some of these "alternative news". And you will feel that some arguments start making some sense - there are legitimate questions which you haven't asked yourself before.

Maybe you would start questioning the whole nature of Truth and how you would understand anything.

Maybe you even write a blog post or two trying to describe this whole process because you want to flesh it out, questioning your own sanity.

So this won't work.

At some point you call it quits - or at least a time off. You are tired of the (D)DoS attacks and you see that you are getting nowhere. You retreat to think of different strategies or if it is worth it at all to fight this - after all we don't need everybody to vaccinate, we just need herd-immunity, right?

And what if they are right on some level, for some things? What if things start confirming some of their "conspiracy theories" - like the US starting to investigate the question of whether the virus came from a the Wuhan lab? How do you stand in front of them continuing to stand your ground after some of their control hypotheses are given more credibility?

Is it possible for US to ever understand THEM? Get back to that video of NYTimes in the beginning - what if it's true? What if it's false? How many layers of propaganda are there? Isn't this a bit like a version of "The Two Generals Problem" that I tried to describe in my last post? Jumping from one version of the truth to another? What is your ground truth if you can't even trust math or science? Is it that God thing again that you should trust unquestionably? But then can "God lift a stone they can't create?" or does God live even outside the realms of Math and logic and is going to be incomprehensible to our mere mortal understanding of Math? And even if I put God at the center of my belief system - does that help me to decide whether I should vaccinate myself?

People like to feel in control. People like to feel they are intelligent and they understand something more than others. People like to put agency and blame to events that may be random. People like blaming rich and powerful (and sometimes for a good reason). So can we go one step further while keeping these emotions at the person that we are arguing with?

Doing vs Not-doing

It feels one thing to get infected by Corona by going to your day-to-day life and getting nasty side-effects.

It feels different to willingly inject yourself with a vaccine made by humans and getting nasty side-effects.

Even if the two probabilities are different, you have chosen to do the harm yourself if you inject yourself and you are just living your life if it happens to get the Corona.

One feels that you are just following God's path. The other is that you go against it. Even though - God has given you free will. I have no idea how religious people reconcile this - God has a plan that you will follow no matter what but also you have the free will to decide not to? Really, God can only live outside of logic and people following it will never get convinced by arguments like these.

We speak different languages.

So: perhaps try to frame it the same way a propaganda machine would frame it. Just go one step further.

What if THEY want you to believe that BigPharma will do all those terrible things so that you don't vaccinate yourself and kill thousands of people this way?

What if THEY want you to doubt statistics and authority?

Who are THEY? What it it's "The Russians/Chinese/Un-lizard people".

Perhaps frame it that you also used to think that they want to control us. But then you realized that it goes one step further - that they want to spread doubt and misinformation so that they control us.

Maybe the NYTimes video helps some souls out there.

Maybe this blog posts get read by someone struggling with the same questions and helps them.

Why I got vaccinated? (part 1)

Tags: English, opinions, essays, personal, learning, life
Created on Fri, 04 Jun 2021

Edit: see part 2: what is True and part 3 - what would convince me NOT to vaccinate for progress on opinions in this article.

TL;DR: Because I care about myself, my parents and friends and I believe vaccination is the best way to protect myself and them, in order to resume any kind of "normality". I believe the risk of vaccination outweights the risk of not vaccinating, I trust the process of vaccination approval and testing by the various national and supra-national organizations, I trust the scientists and (even though I don't have to) I understood the relative simplicity of the idea of the vaccine and immune response generated by it. I find it unlikely that there is a larger conspiratorial picture for control, even if the vaccine has not naturally occured but it turns out it has been produced artifically on purpose for some geo-game or by accident by leaking/negligence. I find it much more likely that people look for someone to blame, people falling for all sorts of biases and missconceptions, media and government trust being at such low levels that people search for "alternative" explanations, all the while social media making finding agreeing groups much easier than ever with possible state actors trying to subvert trust in the "western" sciences, democracies and the like. Larger picture: because despite everything, we live in the best of times and I trust humanity.

Plus: now I truly have Internet everywhere. My hand has a ringtone, my fingers shoot lasers, my ears are satellites, I see in 5 dimensions and my thoughts have thoughts that manipulate the government.

The Big Bang Theory's Leonard shows a "sarcasm" sign

This post is long. It's messy, touching topics not so much on the vaccine safety, testing and inner workings - this can be found elsewhere. I'm also not trying to convince people to vaccinate because of herd immunity or to get "back to normality faster". It has been plenty covered and I have less to say about this anyway. This post is actually more about how does one find to believe what they believe, how does one find truth and what is truth anyway. It's very philosophical, possible full of errors and biases of my own but are things that I have been researching and interested in lately (and possibly for a long time too).

I will go pretty deep on what "truth" means at all at a semantic, mathematical and physical sense. I am not the first blogger or philosopher or whatever thinking being to think about at all, but I think about it and this is my blog and most of this is probably wrong anyway. Here is my slice of the philosophy that I've been exposed to in my life.

I was doing lot of self- (and through other-people-) reflection these past few days and weeks. For the first time in my life, I am exposing myself heads on, very willingly to opinions and world-views quite different than my own. Of course, I knew I was living in a bubble but I have resisted getting out of that bubble of scientific knowledge and science-minded people.

So I thought (and keep on thinking) about what I hear and try to understand where it's coming from, what should I change in me and what things I should keep.

My shocking conclusion (so far): I trust people.

Would I live any other time?

I got asked the other day "in what time of history would you chose to live?". I don't think I would chose any other time than now, despite the romanticism of some periods and the badness of the now. I enjoy having a nice, clean toilet with running water. I enjoy not having to die of hunger, have a relatively low chance of getting mugged, killed, tortured, getting a decease with absolutely no better resolution than shamans screaming in my face. Since I don't know what the future might be, and despite the global pandemic and relative uncertainty - this might be the best pandemic humanity has "enjoyed" - I chose now. We may be getting out of this badness in the next year or so - a record! And even if "it's not even a pandemic but a blown-out-of-proportion flu" (it's not) - is it possible to think of this 1-2 year period as a training for society in case a really much deadlier pandemic hits us? Learn through a relatively undeadly decease (it's not) so that if a new plague comes over we are much better prepared. It's not the best that we do that of course, but even if this was the case, it would still be extremely valuable.

Think of it: overall humanity has made such progress that we can develop a vaccine in a year! It's not a new method of vaccination - it's something we have been researching for years. Here's how it works, courtesy of the most informative comedian on the web:

xkcd 2425 - mRNA Vaccine

This is the progress of the scientific and engineering world, logistics, advances in medicines, bio-engineering and other fields that I will misname if I keep on going. It wasn't rushed - it was just extremely prioritized. Every single test that we usually do was done. The difference - it was done in parallel whenever possible.

But how could I possibly trust these people, without knowing them or without even knowing the fields they are working in? How could I possibly understand the benefits of mRNA vaccines over... the other kind? How could I possibly trust that all tests are done without even knowing the tests? Effectiveness rates and immune system responses, side effects and risks - even in my scientific minded world it would take days or weeks of research and in the end - I will still have questions and I may misunderstand a lot of the things "they" say, or I will doubt reports and authorities until I get so paranoid as to not dare to breathe. I have not researched other vaccines before - why should that one be any different? In fact, I have not researched so much of things I do everyday which relies on trust of people and groups of people doing their job honestly - why should a vaccine be any different?

How can I truly know there is no global conspiracy of chip manufacturing that is being put in the vaccines to control my mind? Seeing all the inadequacies of governments and corruption which gets exposed daily, seeing all the mindless restrictions, all the failed businesses, all the profiteering companies at the top level compared to that - how could I possibly trust people, science and society?

Here's the thing: Despite a global pandemic, climate change, inequalities, the world is getting a lot better in a lot of metrics that you don't hear too often. Take a look at Hans Rosling's Gapminder foundation to test yourself on how much you think the world is bad vs. how bad it really is (spoiler alert: it's actually quite good!).

It's insane how good we are but we still have long ways to go. We uncover things that we suck at that we would've never discovered if it wasn't for the systematic, methodological way of doing things - sometimes with two steps forward and 1.9 (or 2.1) steps backward. Maybe we overdid the restrictions. Maybe we sacrificed too much. Maybe it's extremely important not to go down the slippery slope of trusting authorities to take our rights of free movement, we shouldn't let governments tell us when to hug each other or when to cover our faces, making it hard to breathe.

I see these points. And we all changed our lives in the past year or so and may never get back to "before". The fact is, there is no promise of progress in humanity - we may have actually slid backwards in some measures of authoritarianism. Perhaps the virus was artificially created for some twisted domination of a random group of people. This will be hard to uncover (if ever) but despite that my conclusions were the same.

Could the vaccine be a sneaky way for some people to control us through chips or 5G? Unlikely. We live in a society the basis of which is that we trust immensely each other. What water should I drink if I don't trust people? What food should I get? Do I go living in the woods by myself? It's an option for many - but it comes with all the negatives of not having anyone else around. Instead of benefiting of all the human experience we have gathered painstakingly over many generations, should I get back to literally "reinvent the wheel"?

On the other side a complete blind trust in authority is also detrimental - we have seen real conspiracies being shown to be true. One can't trust everything because then you become a naive robot, devout of critical and self-thought. But too much self-thought in the wrong areas is also bad - for you become a paranoid, misinformed citizen. Misinformed - although some will claim that they have "the best words/information, because they think for themselves" - because then you are a slave to your own biases and missconceptions which humanity has cleared out for free for you to benefit from.

So where does one draw the line of trust?

Game theory vaccination

If I care about anyone other than myself, my best bet is to get vaccinated.

Game theoretically, my best outcome would probably be to "convince everybody else to get vaccinated but not get vaccinated myself". This way, I personally get all the benefits with none of the associated risks with vaccination or even getting the decease.

Assuming I'm willing to stay at home, not meet people while the pandemic is raging, wait it out and not meet with my parents or any other people that may have hidden condition that may get unlocked by Covid, it would be best to not do anything.

But I don't want to. I want to travel and see and hug my parents again. Not that I haven't during the pandemic but it was a risk. There is always risk - for anything.

There is risk for traveling. There is a risk for staying at home. There is risk for doing something or doing nothing. There is a risk for vaccinating and getting severe side effects, there is a risk for not vaccinating and getting Covid's side effects. There is a risk of the vaccine creating an unpredictable chain of reaction in my body that 10 years down the road kills me. There is a risk of getting Covid with or without symptoms, creating an unpredictable chain of reaction in my body that 10 years down the road kills me.

Here is a (stupid) unit called micromort that provides some estimate of risk of different activities. We, humans, are not good at estimating these numbers - we need historical evidence and statistics. If I try to estimate my risks I will almost certainly be wrong. Why? Remember the proverb - one dead human is a tragedy, a thousand is a statistic. Media and society will pay huge attention to a single gruesome death from a vaccine but not to the millions of protected. Have you ever heard the news "many people didn't die because they put their seatbelts"? Of course not - no one cares if people keep on living, we care when people die. We will even hear as a big news if people have died despite putting seatbelts on - because nothing is secure, things reduce risks but nothing, ever eliminates all risk for anything.

We, humans, get biased by the Internet articles we read, the news on the TV that we hear and we have very bad judgment as to what is really going on. Plane travel is the safest in almost any possible measure. But still we get more scared getting on a tube traveling in the middle of the air as if by magic, no matter the logical reasoning and statistics. We picture the unlikely and overly publicized scenario of a plane crash despite the facts that airtravel has been getting safer year after year. Reasons are many, compared to - let's say - car travel. You have much less control over the pilot. Feeling that makes you out of control is more scary, because you have to trust others. Car crashes and deaths are statistical measures in a country, unless a particularly nasty crash has happened today. But an emergency landing is almost always on the news - even if nothing really happened, no one was hurt and there was just a bad storm or abundance of caution by the pilots.

So there must be some trust, somewhere to get authorities to decide some things for you. And in an age where we trust less and less authorities - we see fake ads, fake promises, fake news - how the hell do we even begin to understand the ground truths?!

Why is it important to "get" science

Science in schools is (mostly) boring.

I believe almost every human is born with natural curiosity about the world around them and schools often manage to kill that. One way to look at science is that it's the structured way of humanity to resolve a lot of the curiosities that we have about the world around us. It doesn't necessarily show us "the truth" as truth is difficult to define. This is more the philosophy of science - what is true, what is real and so on.

However, a more realistic way to look at science is that progress happens when there is a frequently economical need for it to happen. Sometimes we discover things out of curiousity and not knowing what might turn out. Einstein couldn't have predicted GPS satellites would be enabled by his Theories of relativity. He was inspired by solving a much smaller problem - syncronizing clocks in cities. Computers weren't created to play games - it was created to break crypto codes in war times and do faster math in general. The Internet (protocols) were created so that communication can be resilient against nuclear strikes during the Cold war, not to watch funny cat pictures 24/7.

Science follows engineering but also enables new engineering in a loop. Some people working on it are driven by pure curiosities. But that curiousity wouldn't be possible in a modern world where all the low hanging fruits of experiments that you can do at home are taken, without the money enabling you to work in teams and have access to equipment to probe deeper into reality.

An almost universal among the people I talk to is that whether you like science is very much dependent on the teacher (their ability to teach in general and your personal like-ness/relationship) and environment in which you grew up. I have been fighting on-and-off this boring kind of education since high school.

Now, in times of pandemic we see the real world effects of the result of a lot of factors that have detached people from the pursuit of understanding what the world is like. While we try to employ free speech laws and rules to guard the possibility of free expression and prevent fascism, this results in encouraging everyone to come up with their creative narrative of what is really going on. It's still probably better this way.

However, we do see that some of the results is that a lot of conspiracy theories, spread around even more easily than before through the means of social media bubbles. We can't and probably shouldn't tell BigTech what to allow and what not - they are private companies doing their own thing, but the fact that there are billions of people on these platforms puts them in a special position, in some regards more powerful than governments.

The result of these conspiracy theories is real harm, causing people to doubt vaccinations intent, causing real suffering and deaths in the world. While there are some legitimate questions that should be posed for vaccines and how COVID came to be, illiteracy in scientific concepts like what is a virus, what is RNA and even more so - the unwillingness to learn about these real concepts because of bad experience with the scientific method drawn from schools - causes the real world harm that we see today.

So that's why I fight [g/G]od(s). Not the personal belief and comfort that you receive from the protective/parent-like concept of [g/G]od(s). I'm not even against the [g/G]od(s) of the gaps (the idea that what we don't know must be [g/G]od(s)). You can call these concepts whatever you like - prayers, self-motivation, hypotheses or whatever you want. I fight against the [g/G]od(s) of ignorance.

Progress in humanity is not guaranteed - we can slip into the dark ages and some people actually do, believing in [g/G]od(s) and other supernatural explanations where other, hard-earned explanations already exist.

There are real conspiracy theories - Snowden's NSA revelations hit the world particularly hard, at least in my field of expertise. Some conspiracy theories of today may well turn out to be true. A big problem of society today is to find the balance - how can you find out which are these are true and which are complete bollocks.

How do we know what we know?

Anything that "science" has "discovered" (I should stop putting quotes because almost any word or phrase can be vague) is of varying sure-ness level. Some things we know really well (e.g. the Anomalous magnetic moment of the electron is now known to one part in a trillion and recently huge experiments are trying to find new physics in some small differences there), some things we sort of speculate and still need more work (what is exactly the nature of Black holes or what is Dark matter) while others we completely don't even know where to begin with (what is consciousness). We kind of know what we know, we know some of what we don't know but we also don't know what we don't know - but that last one is probably always completely irreconcilable almost by definition.

But everything that we do know is extremely hard to demonstrate and verify. Even the simplest facts like "The Earth is (kind-of) spherical" requires knowledge and understanding of experimental evidence, geometry and math that a monkey would not be able to understand - and we are mostly monkeys individually. Only collectively the humanity is able to make assertions and verify these assertions so naturally that means that to really belief even the simplest scientific truths you need to trust that part of humanity that was able to verify it.

For some things you can come up with your own experiments to verify it for yourself - but with more complicated science you need more people around you to construct and understand each part of the experiment. Humans are "winning" over monkeys because we can communicate on a common natural language but also in more complicated languages like math and logic or even programming languages.

So if you rely on your "own independent research" you are likely to make errors, errors that have been made many, many times before by many different humans. Millions of lifetimes won't be enough for you to read and even less to understand what humanity has come up with. But how do you know who and what to trust?

Hypothesis vs. Theory

Ah, the ever-present semantics of said languages. In everyday talk we use the word "theory" to talk about possibilities. There is this dissonance that in sciences for the same concept we use the word "hypothesis". In most sciences the word "theory" is a stronger version of "hypothesis" - we have made a lot of theoretical and/or experimental probings of a given hypothesis and we call it a theory.

There is no "proof" in science. Scientists have never "proved" anything, despite writings in magazines and newspapers. They have just made better logical conclusions based on rigorous mathematical systems and/or experiments from one or several angles that provide some level of certainty to a hypothesis. After many years, many experiments, many probings (and failures) to disprove a hypothesis, many modifications to the original hypothesis, sometimes a hypothesis can graduate to a theory. But the word "theory" is also a bit of a historical thing - it doesn't really matter what you call a certain proposition in science - it can always get wrong in some circumstances. Even so called "laws" are also just hypothesis that historically have been found out early enough to have the arrogance to call them laws - like "Energy Conservation Law" or "Newton's Second Law of motion". These are also valid hypothesis in certain situations that can be broken (e.g. in open systems or in non-inertial / relativistic frames of reference) or that we have discovered that are coming from a more fundamental principle (e.g. principles of symmetry or quantum fields).

What is "True", "Fact", "Discovery"

Let's get down to truth as much as we can. Most scientists would not even begin to question mathematics - it is a pure conjecture of logic and every single science lies on the truth of mathematics. While experiments can be wrong, while "laws" of nature can be disproven at some point, the one thing that most scientists won't question is the perfectness of maths - it's not about probing reality, it's the fundamental tool to discover reality. So what if even maths may not be true can be faulty?

Let's assume 1+1=2. To know that you need to know what is 1, +, = and 2. These are not real things that you can discover in the Universe in any way. These are not built in structures in our brains when we are born. We learn them and we agree on them. We agree that the symbol 1 represents a singular virtual quantity of something but not something in concrete - something abstract. That's insane amount of assumption and understanding that by itself is almost impossible to grasp when you peer into it. And that true statement on which all further mathematics is built upon - is true by definition.

Anything that you build on have to have something at the bottom that you trust or define to be true. These are called axioms. As far as I know there is no "axiom-less system of knowledge" or some kind of "recursively defined" system that doesn't need ground beliefs. So these abstract definitions like the numbers and what it means to sum up something are axioms. Of course, one can invent other axioms and build the 1+1=2 to be a consequence of these axioms rather than an axiom itself - but nevertheless, you need some unprovable truth at the bottom of it all.

So, what does it mean for something to be true by definition? Well, you could define that 1+1=10. And that is actually true in binary counting. Then 2+2=4 is not true - there is no 2 in binary, there are only 0 and 1s. One could also build some mathematics in which 1+1=3 and then define 3 to be 2 or what-not. Romans had I+I=II which if we represent in our modern arabic digits would look like 1+1=11. So this simple "truth" we defined above is a truth by definition, it's true because we say so, not because it is really a law of the Universe.

But once we accept that and believe in this, let's call it: "God of mathemathics" then following a set of consistent logical structures we are enabled to discover the true laws of the Universe. Math is perfect, there are just a minimum of a few things to trust and once you trust them - the Universe, or even - all the possible Universes that could ever exist (not merely the single one we can probe - that would be Physics) unfolds themselves in all their glory.

Consistent?

... and then of course it all got ruined. A badass named Kurt Gödel figured out in 1931 (when he was just 25 mind you!) that math is not consistent (or if it is, it can't prove that it is). Math is not even complete. Turing further discovered math is not even decidable. And not only our math - any math, any "consistent system of axioms (believes like 1+1=2) is capable of proving all truths about the arithmetic of natural numbers". Meaning there could be true statements in (any sort of) Maths that cannot be proven to be true. This blows out "completeness". He did a figurative 1-2 blow with the second punch being that any "the system cannot demonstrate its own consistency".

A simple example which is usually given is in the sentence "This sentence is false" - a famous paradox that I got to know as early as 10 years old. If the sentence is false, then that means it's true. But if it is true - then it's false. So it's inconsistent ad infinitum. Of course, Gödel stuff are much more complicated but the gist is kind-of the same.

So - if I ever meet (any) God - I will immediately ask him of His resolution to the Omnipotence paradox which is usually stated as "Can You create a stone that you cannot lift?" - assuming of course He knows English, gets meaning and all the other caveats. We as humanity "discovered" maths and also have claims about all sorts of possible maths and that's as far as our slightly-better-than-monkey intellect goes. Maybe there is "something" beyond that, the equivalent of us explaining our simple 1+1=2 rule to a dog and assuming we succeed, asking it to derive Gödel's incompleteness theorems (which by the way, took a surprisingly long time for humanity - we have "discovered" Special and General relativity and most of the postulates of Quantum mechanics was there before we figured out Maths is inconsistent!).

And that's what so much of what we know is build upon? What could we possibly trust?

Communication is impossible

Let's shake of a bit of our existential crisis of knowledge and assume I discover some truth. How do I put it out there at all?

Well, I write a paper and publish it, or to get even simpler - I want to check with my friend that I'm not a looney and send them the paper to review. But then how do I know if they have received it? Well, then they can send me a letter to acknowledge that they have received it. But if I don't get that letter - how do I know if they have received it and sent the letter or if the letter got lost? Well - in that case, once I receive the letter of receipt, I will send them a letter that I have received the receipt. But if they don't receive this second confirmation, how could they know if I have received their confirmation or the first one got lost... They could retransmit but each of the retransmissions could suffer the same problem of unknowability...

This of course is a variant of The Two Generals' Problem - and guess what - there is no solution! The mindful and computey-geeky of my readers would say "Then how does TCP solves it if it's impossible - there is the 3-way handshake thing?" (TCP is on some level how the Internet works btw). Well, TCP doesn't solve it - it provides some guarantees of liveness but it cannot solve it, because it's a paradox that is proven to be unsolvable and you can see the proof in the wiki page above.

But then - imagine we forget about letters and meet on a zoom/jitsi call. Then I can see their expression and know if they have received the information. But then you know what's next - "Hello, do you hear me?" "Yes, I do, do you?" - and this solves it for the previous message, but not for any further - the connection can drop at any moment and each of the one could be speaking to the blank connection - and then we need to reastablish our "hearing each other" again.

OK, screw tech, let's meet face to face (with masks maybe). Then we can surely know that communication happened, right? Well, then the medium is the air between us. And we can assume hearing happens, but the other person can get a stroke at any time, become deaf or just blank out - invisible to us. They can pretend that they listen, but we cannot know if they hear us.

Communication is impossible!

But let's go even further! We don't even want to talk to anybody, just to ourselves. How could we possibly know that we hear our own thoughts and get receipts and confirmations of thoughts. Then the problem is our connectome, our neurons sending these same confirmations of receipts, same two generals' problem but in our own head, happening a billion times a second.

Now if you understood all of that and you are not in an existential crisis, I don't know what could possibly put you in one!

I think therefore... am I?

I'm not the first person, by far, to try to figure out what we know and how could we know it. Rene Descartes's famous "Cogito, ergo sum" is what he describes as ""we cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt" which for my read is his attempt to construct Principia Mathematica in human language - this is what Russel and Whitehead tried to achieve just before Gödel came to the stage to ruin it. They tried to make maths consistent by attempting to remove all possibilities of inconsistence such as "the set of all sets that don't contain themselves". But even though they've written an insane amount of dense pages full of mathematical consistency, Gödel proved that they will fail, even if they succeed writing 100x the text that they began with.

So, no, sorry, Descartes - this won't work even if we wanted to. Even our own thinking may approximate our belief in existence but we will never be able to get a consistent, complete and decidable grasp on reality.

Back to reality - how do we discover things at all?

Okay, forget all this philosophy of impossibles. Let's get a bit closer to our world. Assume we have maths, assume we have communication - what is a "fact" at all?

Let's take our favorite green apple. We point at it and say "this apple is green".

Green apple

This is "a fact". Or is it?

Michael from Vsause

Assume we even know what is "green" and what is "apple" (we will tear apart this argument soon enough, don't worry). Remember the dress?

The Dress

Do you see it "blue and black" or "white and gold"? It seems half of the population sees it one way, the other half - the other. It's an interesting visual perception illusion that divided the Internet back in 2013, defusing a World War III by mere luck. Of course, there are many, many, many more visual illusions that demonstrate we cannot possibly trust our sight in many ways, e.g. - the squares below are the same color:

Chessboard illusion

Sight is not our only sense that can be lied to. So can our hearing.

All right, but that's why we have computers and equipment right? We can probe reality and demonstrate what the "truth" of something is without relying on our imperfect senses.

That helps! Somewhat... And that's how we come up with physics, chemistry, biology and all the in-between natural sciences. Both our senses and engineered technology helps us demonstrate from multiple experiments in multiple ways what is real, measurable (up to some errors and statistical significance analysis which is all a field within itself). It is extremely time consuming process...

Back to trust

...that anyone can also cheat. I can write a paper describing I've done some experiment that I haven't, received some result that I haven't, do a wrong analysis on the numbers to prove my point, gather people to do the same, convincing them that this is the right thing to do and so on. This happens - and more often than you think! Scientists are incentivised to write papers in order to get grants/money.

Then the question is of consensus and trusting. Google ranks the search results that you see based on the same idea that scientists trust each other. How many times a paper is cited is a proxy for how trustworthy the paper is. Google calls it pagerank and is a recursive algorithm that values a certain webpage X higher, the higher ranked webpages (Y,Z,A,B) point to the the X one. It's recursive, because "the higher ranked webpages (Y,Z,A,B)" are also ranked in terms of their links from other "higher ranked webpages". So it's a kind of a network of interconnected pages that rank themselves.

And the same is used for scientific articles that cite others. The higher the authority of an author (which is judged by how often one is cited) the higher the authority of the papers that they cite in their current paper.

Of course, the algorithm is not perfect. Google bombing is an early cheat on the search engine that was able to push false information in a higher ranking. Link farming and Content farm are other problems that Google and other search engines fight daily. There is no perfect mathematical solution to trust (as we have seen previously). There is a constant game of cat and mouse. Rich entities (billionaires, governments, interest groups) can create click/link farms and other forms of manipulation techniques.

True conspiracies

Translated into the scientific world - we know of the tobacco's industry conspiracies in the 70s that turns out to be true. They "coordinated activities to promote the social acceptability of smoking". This was legitimate equivalent of content farming in the world of scientific research - create uncertainty and doubt, apparently ruining the consensus of scientists. Same with the lightbulb conspiracy that today may still be true in planned obsolescence.

(Un)fortunately, there is no real Google for scientific concensus. There is no ranking of which scientific theory is more correct and the fight that Google pulls of for search results is on the scientific community and media to demonstrate validity of true science and invalidity of bad actors.

I said (un)fortunately because even when we do have Google as the authority for the web - why should they be? Google is a private company, with incentives to get more advertising $$$ from other companies, with responsibilities to their shareholders. It's not a non-profit, it's not an all-good/all-knowing entity as much as it tries to be.

There is another problem when as we see recently when we have such an authority for the web...

Google/Facebook/Twitter are banning Free speech!

As I said: Facebook/Twitter (and Google/YouTube) are private companies. The websites that you visit are created by these private companies. These are their properties, albeit virtual. They are the equivalents of houses, offices, private land or other kind of property in the physical world. They allow you to express your opinion there but they can ban you, oust you or if they want - completely shut down their sites tomorrow. Would any private company allow you to write any graffiti on their buildings? This is the equivalent of all of the above companies.

There is no "free speech" there. Of course, free speech itself is a construct with a lot of asterisks and it is very different in each country what you can say and where without reprecautions. We are relatively more free to express our thoughts and opinions without governmental prosecution but that's not even remotely true when you start looking into the details even into "freedom" countries like the US. The a look into the US free speech exceptions, a short list is:

and others. And all of these require interpretation as there is no law in the Universe what is "free speech", any "universal human rights" are vaguely defined based on historical and cultural rules that certain groups of humans has made up, just like how countries and money are made up concepts.

Whose responsibility is it anyway to tell you the truth in a democracy?

Unofficially - the media. It's not the government - they should be kept in check by the people. But what is "the media"? Is it the pagerank-like authority-based trust model? Or is it every single person to make up their own mind?

On the one side societies in which people are considered equal should have the right to make up their own mind. We are, of course, not equal (blasphemy, I know) by whatever definition of equal you want to put. There is no way a 2-day old baby is equal to 32-year old person. There is no way that even the magical 18-year old person is equal to any other 18-year old person - each have their own experience and expertise. Some people understand maths more, some people understand art and history more. Some people have schizophrenia, others have dementia, some have one sort of genitals, others have the other, some have both. So naturally, each trying to discover "the truth" by whatever definition is going to be biased in their own way.

On the other side - trusting the authoritative media - is at an all-time low. Attention span is low so people read the titles of articles, scrolling to the next one on Facebook. So the most bombastic, angrying or annoying article gets attention, gets shared - not necessarily the most true (again - whatever true is). Media gets defunded, noone visits their websites to click on ads, everyone is on Facebook. No one buys newspapers, everything is online. The media is highly concentrated in many countries, some have ties with the government. Freedom of the press tries to measure that.

Then of course, people are unhappy. People are emotional, searching for someone to blame, searching for reason and meaning. They stop trusting big media authorities, because they provide with a scientific, dry, slow arguments - and people want to blame someone or something on their unhapiness. So they turn to "alternative media". Who is to say which one is more correct than the other? Once upon a time you could see "yellow newspapers" full of shit sayings - now these same are a click away, shared on social media, consumed by people who want to be more unique in understanding the world - and the rest are sheep who follow whatever mainstream media and government tells them.

Then there is the Dunning Kruger effect - the less you know, the more likely you are to overestimate your abilities. So if you read something untrue (like that 5G causes covid simptoms), you don't understand even the basics (how electromagnetism works and germ-theory), you look for semantics (theory - meaning it's not proven), adjust to your emotional state (someone is doing this evil on purpose because you need an agent that you can blame, instead of nature being nature) - then you start believing in your own little bubble of understanding and the less you understand, the more likely you are to be firmly entranched in your beliefs - and possibly also spread them.

And then with Facebook/Instagram/Youtube - you find people just like you - so you don't think you are crazy anymore. Other people reached your conclusions, so who is to say what is right? A mental virus in itself.

But which one is more correct? There are true conspiracies that may not be found out immediately by the mainstream. But amongst them there will be a ton of false conspiracies, many, many more and then it's up to each one's filter to figure out which one is true, based on their own psychotic and emotional situation.

Deepfakes propaganda

A picture is worth a thousand words. How about a video then?

There are lies, there are proofs. And today it's easier to find proofs for whatever you want to believe in. Deepfakes allow us to create images and video of people saying things. Alternative media can use this easily, spreading it, playing on people's weaknesses.

The motivations can be propaganda by a state actor or a crazy uncle somewhere. Anyone can create a Facebook page. You don't pay for hosting like websites and with the right message - get a lot of followers. The right message is not necessarily true in any sense - but it can get a lot of attention.

I don't know where this is going

This post is a brain dump of shitty writing that I almost threw out. But I will put it out there just in case someone learns something new.

I don't have anything conclusive or optimistic to say right now. There is no solace in what I have described. We live in a post-truth world and I have no idea how we get out of it. We are all doomed.

Now I really want to install Windows.

Have a nice day!

The Great Asymmetry

Tags: English, life
Created on Tue, 18 May 2021

The Random (or destiny, God, Universe, luck) has crossed my life path these days with an unlikely person that makes me think outside of my box. It is possible of course that I make myself think outside of the box, or the box got smaller, or my thinking larger. It is also possible that I'm reinventing the wheel, getting more bored at work or COVID/knee injury isolation is making me nuts. But it's kind of romantic to think it's a person. And isn't it almost always a certain somebody that makes you think strange things and change your direction in life? Anyways.

I lose some sleep every once in a while thinking about a certain great asymmetry that science around me never seems to talk about (or I am not in those circles at least). Not physics, not biology or chemistry.

Why am I experiencing stuff from this exact brain/body?

Sure, I understand that my brain interprets serotonin, dopamine or oxytocin as pleasure (or I would understand if I actually studied the brain and not just watched educational YouTube videos or read a pop-sci books). In any case, there is some process that is, I believe, fairly well studied and if I asked or dared to learn and get a degree in neurochemistry I would be able to fairly accurately describe the paths, the neurotransmitters and the hormones at play.

The Hard Problem

But what is pleasure? This is part of the hard problem of consciousness. The description of what pleasure is or how pleasure gets delivered or what brain activity is associated with pleasure is the easy problem. The hard problem is more about the experience that I know I have, that you know you have but you don't know whether I have it and I don't know whether you have it. I believe that other humans or living beings experience sadness and pain, pleasure and happiness but I can't know for sure. I can test their brains, I can measure their voltages between certain regions, I can see them light up in one of these big medical machines. But I cannot know whether they really experience it.

In any case - why this exact brain? There are about 7 Billion or so roughly equivalent brains on the planet even if we limit experiences to human. Although - we don't have to. The 1% difference (or whatever - depends how you measure it) in DNA to monkeys can't possibly exclude them from the potential pool of possibilities I (whatever I is) could have "attached" to. I don't have accurate statistics, but isn't it possible that the smartest monkey is smarter than the dumbest human? I'm talking babies or some degenerative/psychiatric human brains compared to the "Einstein" of chimpanzees? Isn't there some overlap? And if we go down the same logic - maybe some dogs, cats or rats, dolphins, magpie (also addorably known as Pica Pica) or cockroaches (there are some insanely smart bunch out there). Why this brain? Why this particular body?

Is it the atoms that make it? Or the cells? If this is not one of these common misconceptions, I'm pretty sure all atoms/cells have been changed one by one since my birth ala the Ship of Theseus. So there is some continuity in my existence even though it may not be material.

So: soul?

But if soul is the answer, based on what we know about the physical world so far - it is a free rider on the physical wave of existence. If soul is somehow non-materialistic (i.e. either not found out by current physics or impossible to find by any scientific method (the later would make it quite philosophical in existence)) then how much can the soul really do? It seems our brain and neuron structure is governed by fairly simple laws of chemistry and biology, creating the illusion that it's magic only because it's so much of it.

I mean, looking at the Internet, it can be kind of magic - there are so many computers, so many cables, each computer - a Universe by itself. And yet, it is governed by a handful of protocols, created and managed by humans. You don't notice the Internet how brilliantly and seamlessly it works. Until, of course, it doesn't work. Then you notice it. Then you call the Internet Service Provider (ISP) or the electricity company. Or the ISP calls their upstream provider's support and so on until they find and fix the problem (sometimes literally by laying down new cable).

But the Internet is not really magic. It's complicated, messy, sort-of evolved by trial and error, not really intended to be what it is today. It is impossible for single human to comprehend it and it's probably impossible to even properly map it out, even with computers. Yet, it works.

And as far as we know, so is our brain. But because we didn't create it and we have "just" started understanding (in the past some-hundreds of years, depending on how you count) we still don't know each cabling where it goes and what it does. But whenever we poked at one specific part of it, we understand it from bottom to top, all the way. We haven't mapped it out yet, but there is no indication that there will be some hidden region in it called "soul". We don't understand it because it's so huge, it's an Internet in our heads evolved for about 4 billion years - cabling has went everywhere. But we will get it. We will explain every part of it eventually - I have no reason to doubt it.

And when we do, we will be able to trace every single decision down to the neuron or neurons that started it. We will have a complete history of what vision or sound created which electrical signal. We will play the favorite game of Robert Sapolsky - get down to the nanosecond before the decision, then play it backward to the last minute, hour, day, month, year, decade all the way to our parents and grand-parents genes, our ancestors way of life and the evolution that made them.

The fact that we can't do it is an engineering problem, not a principal science problem. Then where is the free will? What made me take that decision - there doesn't seem to be space for it, not in our material world.

Types of soul

But if it is the soul - does the soul obey our laws of nature? If it does - then it "rides" on the laws of physics, perhaps giving us a solution to the hard problem - the soul is what experiences the physical world. But it's a "read-only" kind of soul - it can experience but it can't possibly influence decisions. So this kind of soul does not provide space for free will. But maybe it provides this asymmetry that keeps me up at night. Somehow this soul is attached to these ever-changing physical characteristics of my body for some time. It doesn't matter that it chose this brain/body but does every brain/body has some soul like this? Do more "complicated" pieces of matter have more/less soul? Do dogs, cats, ants and cockroaches have some soul that experiences? Do trees, mushrooms, bacteria and viruses have soul? Do rocks? Stars? Galaxies? Atoms? Quarks? Is there a limit, a quantity? Of course, all of these questions assume some eventual discoverability of such a soul - I'm leaving the completely philosophical kind of soul for my third year of quarantine - then I will go completely crazy.

What if it's another kind of soul - a read/write kind of soul? Can it influence the physical world? A common place where people hearing about some effects of the quantum world try to put such kind of soul is the entanglement or in the measurement problem. The randomness of the quantum world.

Quantum magic

Some caveats - these effects are magnitudes smaller than a brain, smaller than neurons, organelles in the cell, or even the DNA. MAGNITUDES. As in 5-6 magnitudes, meaning 1 with 5-6 zeroes, meaning 10,000-100,000; meaning if a quantum effect is a fluctuation happening at the scale of a bean (1 cm), the scale of a neuron will be roughly 1-10 km.

And these are RANDOM - meaning if this was the case that gives us souls, we wouldn't have thoughts - we would start moving a piece of our mouth, then choke, start a letter of a thought, then twitch a finger or stop our heart. Nothing would make sense if, as far as we know, the quantum effects are really random.

But this is the only place where some unpredictability happens. And OK - small effects, "butterfly effect" (doesn't apply here, it's not (necessarily) chaos really), loads and loads of handwaving - I know I'm talking some bollocks in this post, science friends - if you haven't switched off long ago, probably you want to do it now - I know this will be wrong, but enjoy the ride if you decide to. I don't want to feed wrong ideas to the wrong kind of people - I know they are wrong. Please don't cite me. I'm dreaming and exploring here.

Maybe it's not random - we don't have enough data. Maybe it's random just at first sight, but if you take the whole Universe, we will discover the pattern. Or the pattern is something beyond human comprehension... Although it is: all measurements of random seem to be perfectly happy - we can test if something is random and how random it is. For example AAAAAAAAA is much less random than EUXMQPFHN and even this is not a random string of bytes but all capital, printable, ASCII/English characters. In any case, quantum is quite random. But maybe this seemingly random thing is not random and bubbles up 6 magnitudes to create something like a soul.

Then of course the question is, as with every God explanation - what controls the soul? If there is something more complicated outside of our Universe, doesn't it also deserve explanation? If God created the soul, who created God? Are we back to "turtles all the way down"?

Entanglement is cool and all but hard to keep it. The brain is too "hot and wet" for Entanglement to exist for too long time or for too many particles. But some respectable scientists like Penrose seem to be going in this direction, looking at this with some smart anesthesia folks. I don't think he is right, but also I don't want to say a Nobel prize winner is not right, so - keep at it, maybe we find out something new.

The measurement problem is interesting as well - what counts as measurement? What actually disturbs the quantum states? Doesn't the equipment that measures become part of the quantum system? Doesn't the person and brain reading the measurement also then become part of the system? What exactly collapses the wave-function?

There are a few states where this type of soul/consciousness seems buggy - and as the analogy with the flaky Internet goes, and as real scientists, we should poke there. The times of sleep. The time of a coma. The time of a general anesthesia. Drunkenness. Mushrooms. Other forbidden or less forbidden stuff. Yoga. Meditation. These stuff some claim provide different experiences. And some of them I've never experienced, I can't deny that they exist for some people. It's like if I was blind to deny that some people see. Or if I never experienced happiness to deny some people can. It's basic politeness and the whole soul/hard problem depends on politeness - otherwise I can just postulate that everything is a hologram put by the Devil and only I can experience stuff, the whole Universe is a hoax.

As many of the links, videos (and laziness to include all other links) shows - none of this is new or original, of course. But this is my blog. And these are my thoughts these days. Losing sleep. Thinking why am I in this particular brain and not in another. Giving in into the slippery slope of mysticism perhaps? Looking at some of my previous writings and the speed with which I wrote this one, having previously read and thought on a lot of these topics - it's probably not (just) the romantic thing.

But she definitely sparked it (back).

"НЕ" на задълижителното машинно гласуване

Tags: Български, политика, технологии, хакове
Created on Thu, 06 May 2021

В предишния ми пост обясних защо не трябва да позволяваме електронното гласуване. Депутатите миналата седмица, обаче приеха задължителното гласуване с машини в секции над 300 избиратели. Това също е огромен проблем ако искаме доверие в демократичния избор.

Елементарната аналогия

Ето какво правим: връщаме се в дните, когато кутиите за пускането на бюлетините не бяха прозрачни. Преди може би 15 години вече решихме, че така може да се манипулира кутията, като се пуснат гласове предварително или някой да подмени кутията без някой да гледа. Въпреки, че твърдим че минаваме в "дигиталната ера" или се "модернизираме" истината е, че тази стъпка със задължителното машинно гласуване е огромна стъпка назад що се отнася до доверието в изборния процес. Вижте предишния ми пост относно как технологиите ускоряват както добрите, така и лошите неща. В случая в този пост ще защитя идеята, че този вид дигитализация е лоша, тъй като създава много повече проблеми.

Машината за гласуване е черна, тъмна кутия пълна с код, който може (не казвам, че ще се, но е възможно) да се промени от достатъчно малък брой хора, така че да се запази конспирацията в тайна.

Информацията, която следва е от обучителен клип предназначен за Секционните Избирателни Комисии (СИК):

Ако не ви се гледа видеото, следното е важно: разбираме, че има три разпечатки от машината - 1. една в началото която показва нули за всички партии, 2. по една разпечатка след всеки вот и 3. една в края, която показва сумите на всички гласове.

Разпечатка 2. (или отделните вотове) се пускат в тъмна кутия (това го чух, че е тъмна, а не прозрачна, но нямам потвърждение - ако някой знае първоизточник моля да ми изпрати). Тази кутия НЕ се носи в Районните Избирателни Комисии, което на практика изглежда я обезсмисля като верификация. Ако тези листчета всъщност се използват или като верификация на вече разпечатаните гласове от разпечатка 3. или като първоизточник на реалния брой гласове (т.е. се броят както стандартни бюлетини), то това би направило машинното гласуване сравнително еквивалентно на нормалното гласуване с бюлетина. Доколкото ми е известно това не е така.

Така остава, че разчитаме само на изхода от Разпечатка 3. Да видим какво може да се "хакне". Следното са само няколко бегли идеи за това как може да се наруши процеса. Не твърдя, че имам информация, че ще стане, не твърдя, че ще стане и не приканвам никого да прави тези неща - просто изяснявам защо не можем да вярваме на тъмна кутия.

Хакване

Както говорих в миналия пост има три основни парадигми в сферата на сигурността съкратени CIA - confidentiality, integrity, availability (съвпадението със CIA като Central Intelligence Agency на САЩ е полу-случайно). Това на български в превод биха били: поверителност (или запазване тайната на вота), почтеност/непокътнатост (или че вотът, който е даден ще бъде същия като вотът получен като резултат) и наличност (или че машината ще работи независимо от външни обстоятелства).

От тези особено големи проблеми са почтеността и наличността. Поверителността се запазва, тъй като машината няма информация кой сте - картите, които ви се връчват са анонимни и (поне не би трябвало) няма камери или друг начин машината да ви идентифицира - идентификацията става пред комисията.

Следват спекулации. Ако някой има първоизточници - да ми изпрати (не искам пропаганда на определени партии или медии - говоря за официални документи, технически характеристики на машините, обществени поръчки, публикувани в сайтове на министерства и пр.)

Почтеност

Машината се твърди, че не е свързана с Интернет. Да приемем, че това е така, поне не с LAN кабел, тъй като би било твърде очевидно, а и прекалено зависимо от физическа инфраструктура. Разбира се възможно е да бъде модифициран хардуера, да се добави WiFi, Bluetooth или друг радио модул. Атака/хакване на това ниво е малко вероятно да се направи за всички машини без да изтече информация за конспирацията.

Софтуерът, който се инсталира на машините, обаче вярвам че ще бъде един и същ за всички машини. Нямам информация кой прави това. Нямам информация софтуера да е отворен код (open source), а дори и да е - няма верификация, че същия код, който бихме видели като отворен, ще бъде инсталиран на тези машини. Има начини за дигитален подпис на софтуер, но не съм наясно дали такъв съществува на тези машини.

Това накратко означава, че хората, които ще инсталират софтуера могат да променят само числата, които излизат накрая от машината, независимо за кои партии са гласували. Това е един начин да се наруши принципа за почтеност/интегритет на изборния резултат. Разбира се, за да е достоверна лъжата, машината трябва да отчете колко гласа са пуснати общо, а не да има записани стойност от преди това и да преразпредели гласовете процентно. Т.е. ако някой накоди 200 гласа за партия А и 100 за пъртия Б преди машината да се инсталира (приемаме отново че няма достъп до нея от Интернет или някакъв вид локална мрежа) а гласуват само 50 човека, то при сумирането в протокола ще бъде очевиден този вид хак. Но това е тривиален код.

Наличност

Вторият голям проблем, разбира се, е осигуряването на наличността на машината. Както се вижда от видеото машината е снабдена с батерия, която ще я остави включена при временно спиране на тока. По-дълго спиране на тока ще е проблем. Друг проблем е самата машина да не стартира или да спре да работи по средата на гласуването или непосредствено преди последната разпечатка.

Доколкото разбирам депутатите са приели, че в такъв случай се минава на гласуване с нормални бюлетини. Но всяка секция трябва да са снабдена с достатъчен брой бюлетини, тъй като не се знае къде и кога някоя машина може да спре да работи. Ако това не стане изборният процес в тази секция ще бъде нарушен, тъй като няма да има "наличност" на нито един начин за гласуване. Тъй като ще има достатъчно бюлетини така или иначе защо да не се позволи да гласуваш с каквото искаш, а си задължен освен ако няма сериозен проблем? Това го оставям на будния читател да помисли.

Ще могат ли да се осигури необходимия брой машини до 11 юли (доколкото разбирам за сега това е датата) - едва 2 месеца от сега? Става въпрос за машини включително в секции в чужбина, които са над 300. Ще има ли достатъчно време за обучение, тестване и проверка на интегритета на всички тези машини без да настане хаос, който ще намали доверието на изборите?

Ctrl+Z

Има още един проблем, който намерихме с един приятел при гласуване с машина. Той би трябвало да е сравнително рядък, но въпреки това е уникален с машините, но не и при хартиеното гласуване.

При хартиено гласуване ако се объркаш и гласуваш за грешния кандидат или прецакаш бюлетината със знак, можеш да върнеш бюлетината на комисията, тя да бъде унищожена и ще ви се даде нова. Гласът не е пуснат, докато не влезе в кутията, което го прави публичен, но таен вот - тъй като всеки може да види, че гласуваш, но не и за кого.

При машинното гласуване, ако се объркаш нямаш undo. В момента, в който машината изпищи няма как да поискаш да прегласуваш. Ако видите видеото има подробност, че има общо 5 карти - 3, които се сменят за всеки избирател (не може да се гласува с една карта два пъти последователно) и две административни, чрез която да се разпечатат гласовете в началото и в края. Това е сравнително добро ниво на сигурност, тъй като не позволява двоен вот от един избирател. Но това означава и че веднъж натиснат гласът не може да се върне. Комисията не може да ви даде друга карта, тъй като това означава, че ще гласувате два пъти. Доколкото разбирам от видеото административната карта не позволява да се върне вот (и не би и трябвало - това би било еквивалент на комисията да бърка в урната). Така че гласуването в случая отново е тайно и публично, но машината играе ролята едновремено на тъмна стаичка и на урна.

Заключение

Хакове винаги могат да се измислят и при хартиено гласуване. Но имаме хартиено гласуване от много време и сме минали през голяма част от възможните проблеми с решения като прозрачни урни. Не съм против прогреса. Но задължаването за гласуване с машина е грешно, при положение, че не сме изчистили хакове, а напротив - връщаме такива (както казах в началото - машината е тъмна кутия с код). Имам вече няколко приятеля, които казват, че няма да гласуват с машина, защото знаят колко нечестно може да бъде. Не просто нечестно, но нечестно лесно могат да бъдат хакнати. Няма интегритет на кода. Малко хора могат да ги накодят, което маха прозрачността на изборния процес. Това недоверие или проблеми, които се появят по време на изборите може да доведе до касация и нови избори.

Не знам дали има начин това да не стане на 11 юли. Не съм сигурен, че достатъчно хора разбират за проблемите с това решение. Надявам се поне малко да съм ви накарал да се замислите. Ако нещо си заслужава да се излезе на протест, то това е. Но не мисля, че обществото ще има енергия за този конкретен и трудно разбираем проблем.

Дано не съм прав.