Standard: The best regional Chinese restaurants in London

BEN NORUM | Thursday 4 February 2016 10:03 BST
1).  Sichuan

 

Aside from the Cantonese style of Chinese food which has long been dominant in the UK, Sichuan has become by far the most popular region for London restaurants. The cuisine’s hallmark flavour is the combination of hot chilli and numbing Sichuan peppercorns, along with a liberal use of garlic. Spicy dan dan noodles and kung pao chicken are among other well-known Sichuan dishes, though the latter will often be made particularly inauthentically.

Sichuan Folk in Spitalfields

and Barshu in Soho

are two of London’s best and best known Sichuan restaurants. The slightly grittier

Chilli Cool near Euston is also popular with expats.

2).  Hunan Province

The food of Hunan has similarities to that of Sichuan, but does not tend use Sichuan peppercorns, instead opting for larger amounts of chilli to create spicier dishes. Stews, dry-wok dishes and a pork belly known as ‘Chairman Mao’s Red-Braised Pork’ are popular menu items.

The best example of Hunan cuisine in London is at

Local Friends in Golders Green (a Bethnal Green sister site has now closed). It is also served at

Yip in in Islington and at

BaShan in Soho, though if you want the authentic spicing you’ll need to specifically ask for it when you order.

3).  Fujian Province

Fujian food is generally lighter and more subtly flavoured than other Chinese cuisines, with a stronger emphasis on letting produce speak for itself. Due to the region being both coastal and mountainous, many less common ingredients from sea and mountains are used — including wild herbs, mushrooms, oysters and crab. Popular dishes include oyster and seafood omelettes and a lot of soups, such as a variation of shark-fin soup known as ‘Buddha Jumps Over The Wall’ made with over 30 ingredients including abalone, dried scallops and pig’s trotters (and not necessarily the offensive fin itself ).

The cuisine is hard to find in London bar a few dishes here and there, but

NewAroma in Chinatown specialises in it.

4).  Shanghainese

In Shanghai city and its surrounding area, cooking involves larger amounts of wine, vinegar, soy and sugar than elsewhere — sweet and sour is a typical example of its flavours. Other characteristics include a lot of seafood, a predominance of rice over noodles and lots of salted meat and preserved vegetables.

Shanghainese food is served at

RedSun in Marylebone.

Ask the staff and they will direct you towards the most traditional dishes.

5).  Shaanxi Province

Dishes in Shaanxi tend to be both spicy and sour, similar to that of Hunan, but seasoning tends to be heavier on salt, garlic and onion. Pork and mutton are the most widely used meats, while steaming is a popular cooking method.

Xi’an Impression in Holloway

serves this cuisine, and takes its name from the province’s capital city of Xi’an. Also look out for streetfood stall

Mama Wang’s Kitchen.

6).  Guizhou Province

Like Shaanxi cuisine, the typical food of the Guizhou Province is reminiscent of that of Hunan, but with more sourness. As a point of difference, Guizhou food is less salty than Shaanxi while many dishes are often cooked to match the flavour of locally-made baijiu liquor, such as Maotai.

London’s best bet for Guizhou cooking is

Maotai Kitchen in Chinatown,

which is named after the popular drink.

7).  Liaoning Province

The food of Liaoning is highly regarded across China and very different to other regional cuisines thanks to a strong influence from cuisines — in particular Japanese, Korean and Russian. It can be characterised by strong flavours, saltiness and oiliness. Popular

TopTaste near Bethnal Green

serves Liaoning dishes as part of its menu.

8).  Xinjiang Province

The Xinjiang province borders Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, and is home to many ethnic groups including ethnic groups including the Uyghur, Han, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Hui, Kyrgyz, and Mongols. As such the cusine includes many different influences.

Typical dishes include kebabs, roasted fish, lengmen noodles topped with stir-fried meat and vegetables and polu, a form of pilaf rice. Mutton is the most-used meat, and because much of the population is Muslim much of the food is halal.

Visit

SilkRoad in Camberwell

for a taste of Xinjiang cooking in London.

9).  Guangzhou

The food from Guangzhou is easiest to find in London as this is from where Cantonese cooking hails. If a restaurant fails to specify what region the food it serves comes from, it’s probably from here. This will also be what is being referred to if something is described as Hong Kong style.

Some of the region’s most common dishes include sweet and sour pork, wonton noodles, chow mein, congee, char siu and roast duck as well as dim sum.

Good places to eat traditional Cantonese food include

Royal China Club on Baker Street,

Phoenix Palace in Marylebone and

DragonCastle in ElephantandCastle.

For roast duck,

GoldMine in Bayswater and

Four Seasons restaurants in Chinatown and Bayswater are especially good.

Of higher-end venues,

Hakkasan serves a modern take on Cantonese, while

Yauatcha specializes in dim sum and tea.

10).  Beijing

Better known as Peking cuisine, the food of Beijing and its surrounding area takes influences from the whole country. By far its most famous dish is peking duck. For the best peking duck in London visit sky-high

MinJiang in Kensington,

or try less pricey RoyalDragon in Chinatown

—where you can also partake in karaoke.

11).  Xizang Province (Tibet)

The Chinese ‘autonomous region’ of Tibet has a cuisine far removed from most of China, though Sichuan food is increasingly popular there. Flatbreads, dumplings, steamed buns and stir-fried meat (usually yak, goat or mutton) are among the staples, with steamed buns called momos among the most famous.

There is only one fully Tibetan restaurant in London —

Kailash Momo in Woolwich.

12).  Taiwan

It might not be part of the People’s Republic of China, but the food of Taiwan — officially titled The Republic of China — is extremely closely linked to that of its neighbour

Steamed buns known as bao are the most popular and best known Taiwanese dish, while noodle soups and pancakes are also prevalent. Another famous export is the drink yung marc, better known as bubble tea.

Leong’s Legends in Chinatown

serves a mix of Taiwanese and Cantonese dishes, while

Bao in Soho

is leading the way in the bun department.

Confusingly,

Hunan in Pimlico

also serves mainly Taiwanese food.

 

The RMT Is Right, Just This Once

I used to be an investment banker.  This apparently makes me a class enemy to some in the Labour movement.  Although I voted Labour throughout the Blair years, I have been told that my vote is not welcome.  This is the kind of debate, I suppose, that will inform the leadership competition.  Electability or purity?  My point here in bringing this up as a preliminary is so that you do not think I am an automatic union partisan.  I think on this occasion — for the first time — the RMT is right, and if I as a generally unsympathetic person think so, perhaps they are.

It is a principle of employment  law that you cannot  arbitrarily make adverse changes to people’s contracts.  In fact, you can’t ever change a contract without the agreement of the other side.  Public sector management seems to act as if in ignorance of this surprisingly often.  When I was in private equity, we would never have done that.  Sure, we would have fired people who were incompetent and made people performing activities that were no longed needed redundant, but no-one gains from having a disgruntled workforce — and what is more likely to make them disgruntled than trying to change their contracts against their will?

Here’s how you handle this TfL situation if you are a competent private sector manager.  You say to the workforce, “guys, we need to run an all-night service.  We need volunteers to work ten weeks of nights a year.  We are offering an uplift of five grand.  Who’s up for it?”.  You then find out if you get enough people who want to do it.  We can assume that the current uplift of two grand is inadequate, both for the reasons that it looks inadequate — an extra 100 quid a month in your pocket after the government has taken its cut does not look like a good deal — and because the RMT have chosen to strike rather than accept it.

One of two things now ensues.  With luck, you get enough volunteers to run your service.  Maybe the younger drivers think they can go to Ibiza a couple of times a year and its worth it to them.  Maybe the older ones value spending time with their families more.  This is fine.  If you don’t get enough volunteers, you either up the offer or recruit.  Maybe you recruit specialist night drivers — there is some evidence that the adverse health effects of shift work are more to do with the disruption of shift changes than the nocturnal activity.  You might have to pay more for these specialist night drivers.  The union should not want to stop you doing this.

This may of course result in your service becoming more expensive.  This has to be paid for.  The obvious thing to do is increase prices to users of the night time service.  Most of us have had one drink too many in Soho and ended up taking a cab which might cost £30.  If the alternative is a tube which is twice the normal tube price, say £8, that’s a good deal, right?

Although I still think that £49,673 is quite a high non-graduate starting salary, I do think it is fair enough for the RMT to say that it is not on to impose night working on their members.  It is a major adverse contractual change and drivers can reasonably insist on the right not to do it; the response is to pay them more until enough of them agree.

“Rape” At The Royal Opera House

There has been a lot of controversy in old and new media over a scene in a new production of Guillaume Tell at the ROH; cf. http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/jun/30/william-tell-nudity-and-scene-greeted-with-boos-at-royal-opera-house

Two preliminaries:.  One: I was there at the first night, in seat W14 at the back of the Orchestra Stalls.  If you weren’t, then you will have to take my word for it in terms of what actually happened.  Two: I am a philosophical psychologist (cf. http://www.psypress.com/authors/i9043-tim-short) so if you would like to respond, do so to exactly what I write below and not to something in the vicinity of what I say which annoys you.  If you want to be formal about it, I suppose the proposition for which I am arguing is “the scene was appropriate.”

I will start by outlining the events I saw and then show that all of the objections aiming to show that the scene was inappropriate fail.

A foreign army is occupying Switzerland.  At the point in the libretto of interest, we are told that some soldiers force the local women to dance with them.  One woman is offered champagne, somewhat against her will.  She acquiesces nervously.  She is then doused in champagne.  The leader of the occupying forces, Gesler, molests her by placing a pistol between her legs at around mid-thigh level.  She moves on to the dining table, upon which is placed a large table-cloth.  She disappears behind a group of perhaps 10-15 soldiers.  Shortly afterwards, she reappears naked.  The duration of the nudity was something like half a second.  She partly wraps the table-cloth around her and moves away from the table.  The hero, Tell, appears and ensures that she is fully covered.

That’s it for the stage action. There ensued enormous amounts of booing which interrupted the action.  One man shouted out “one step too fucking far mate” and another shouted “Holten out”.  (Kaspar Holten is Director of Opera at the ROH.)  There were a number of noisy walkouts.

The objections I have seen are as below.

The scene was too long

I don’t really see how this objection works.  People have spoken of a ” five-minute gang rape”.  I do not think you can get to five minutes even if you include all of the events I outline above in your duration.  I would put it at two minutes; perhaps three at the outside.  In any case, the nudity was momentary.  This means at the outset we have to decide what constitutes a depiction of rape.  That is a difficult question.  Naturally, there was no sex or simulated sex on stage by anyone, so a fortiori there was no sex or simulated sex involving multiple men and the woman. However, it was clearly the intention of the director to depict rape in some sense and that intention we may assume was realized, because of the intense audience reaction.  I think that this intense negative reaction meant that the “rape” that was perceived by the audience was too long simply because any duration was too long to be comfortable.  But if we are purely talking about seconds on the clock, then it could not have been shorter and remained what it was.  (You may wish to challenge me here by noting that the scene has now been cut and shortened.  Is it still what it was?)  You will also need to deal with the question as to how fictional objects get their properties; see my Sherlock piece: http://www.opticon1826.com/articles/10.5334/opt.bs/

The scene was gratuitous

This objection cannot succeed; it gains its initial plausibility by appearing to be the nearby objection “the scene had a negative effect”.  To make out the claim that the scene was gratuitous, you have to show that the scene had no effect.  In other words, the aesthetic impact of the piece would have been identical if the scene had been eliminated.  This is transparently false since the audience reaction to the scene and the reaction of others who were not there was immense.  You may well feel that the aesthetic effect of the scene was undesirable, but that is not consistent with saying that its inclusion was gratuitous.

The scene was unnecessary

I can again respond similarly to what I said to counter the previous objection.  In addition, I can observe that nothing is necessary.  Even claims like “everything is identical to itself” are questionable under certain circumstances.

I do not expect to see that at the opera

Why not?  I will defer to others, notably the Director of Opera, to make a number of valid points in response to this.  The scene is fully justified by the libretto (cf. http://www.roh.org.uk/news/guillaume-tell-a-response-to-recent-debate-and-discussion); perhaps also the purpose of art is to shock, sometimes.  Bear in mind that this is about war, not the marriage of Figaro.  Also, why are we holding opera to a much different standard to those we permit on the theatrical stage, or film (cf. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0290673/reviews), let alone what one can see on the internet.

We need to protect victims of rape from depictions of rape

Was this a depiction of rape?  Do we also need to protect people who have had a family member murdered from depictions of murder?  There were several of those in this piece; they aroused no comment.

The inclusion of the scene condones rape

I don’t understand this objection, so if you share it, you will have to explain it to me.  One question is whether or not it matters that the perpretators of the “rape” were the villains of the piece.  If this is an alleviating factor, then it would have been an aggravating one to have had the hero Tell perpetrate it.  Perhaps that would have been the provocative directorial choice.

The scene was “the last straw”

This is one of the more common objections.  It seems to run approximately as follows: `this was a terrible production full of infantile symbolism, each scene was more offensive and unimaginative than the last, the “rape” scene was one step too far’.  I happened to think that the production was brave and innovative, but that is not actually relevant to the argument.  The problem with this objection is that it seems to entail the following: `this rape scene would have been appropriate in a more traditional production, or a production I liked more.’  That seems unmotivated and hard to argue for.  It seems to be caused by the phenomenon of “moral licensing,” which is not a way to stand up an objection.

Conclusion

I conclude that all of the objections fail and the scene was appropriate.  It is therefore unfortunate that the scene has now been modified by weakening it and shortening it.  We may at least note that the Director of Opera did not insist on this; in fact he apologized for the offense that seemed to have been caused and explicitly did not apologize for the production.  This is right and proper; I do not want what I can see at the Royal Opera House controlled by reactionary prudes who can only stomach totally traditional productions.  The changes were made by the Director; so our regret should be that a courageous and ground-breaking production team have been forced to weaken the impact of their vision.

For me, the most dismaying part of the experience was seeing the change in the countenance of Malin Bystrom, who was superb.  She was quite clearly delighted by the richly deserved approbation she received in her curtain call, but was still there for the booing of the production crew.  This is what I call gratuitous.  In fact, I can’t see any occasion on which booing is appropriate.  Walk out silently if you must, but otherwise why not just stay at home.  The ROH is generally sold out; we can do without your ticket money if you think you are going to decide what is appropriate in a production.

UK Deficit No Longer A Problem

There has been controversy recently over the Conservative claim that the UK deficit has `halved’, based on the observation that £91bn is not half of £153bn:

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jan/02/david-cameron-launch-election-campaign-deficit-claim-conservatives

As the Conservatives correctly argue, the most natural way of considering the deficit is a proportion of the size of the economy.  On this measure, they say it has indeed halved.  I will offer a couple of brief arguments as to why the Conservatives are right to say this.  Then I will suggest they could have gone further and argued that the problem is basically solved.  (They may have chosen not to do this because they consider it will be valuable in the election as a way of harming other more spendthrift parties.)

1).  The deficit as a proportion of GDP is the way the bond markets look at deficits.  This is the correct perspective to take, because it is the bond markets who are funding the deficit.  They look at debt to GDP (%) and the deficit is the rate of change of debt to GDP (also %).  He who pays the piper calls the tune.

2).  Relatedly, looking at the absolute number makes no sense.  If I ask you whether a £5,000 overdraft is a problem, you will ask me what the person who has the overdraft makes in a year.  If they have no income, it’s a big problem.  If they make £80,000 a year, it is no problem at all.

Now I will look at what they could have said.

The UK budget balance as a % of GDP is currently estimated at -4.5% of GDP.  (All of my numbers are going to come from the table on p. 96 of the 13 December 2014 issue of The Economist.  They caveat their number as being either from `The Economist poll or an Economist Intelligence Unit estimate/forecast’.  We do not need to worry about this as the number is about right; they are just allowing for the fact that they are making an estimate for the whole of 2014 slightly before it ends.)

We now need to know where we have come from in order to know how far we have come.  The first benchmark is the Maastricht criterion.  Although the UK is not looking to join the Euro, that is a relevant benchmark of UK peers.  It requires the deficit to be 3% or less of GDP.  (Again, note that the criterion is expressed as a % of GDP because that is the only sensible way of looking at it.)

I saw estimates before the last election that the previous administration was looking to borrow 15% of GDP p.a.  That was terrifying, not least because 1.15^5 = 2.01 i.e. 15% a year doubles debt to GDP in a single parliament.  That is a doubling of the national debt before you get another chance to intervene.

Now, perhaps that 15% was a politically influenced estimate.  More neutrally, all sides agree that the deficit has reduced from around 10%.  Let us take that number.  Now consider this: you can run a deficit at the same level as your nominal GDP growth without changing your debt to GDP number.  Since that is what bond markets care about, it should be what you care about as well.  GDP growth for 2014 is 3.0%.  So imagine we want to get from 10% to 3%, then the distance we want to travel is 7.0%.  We have actually moved from 10% to 4.5% i.e. a distance of 5.5%.  5.5% divided by 7.0% = 79% i.e. we really only have another 20% of the distance to go.

Now I am the first to think we should continue to bear down on the deficit, and in particular it is a really bad idea to fund OpEx with debt rather that Capex — meaning you can borrow to fund actual investments in actual pieces of infrastructure which pay you actual GDP benefits but you cannot sensibly borrow to keep the lights on or to pay benefits — but it still the case that a lot of the work has been done.  I would at this stage like to see the deficit number reduce only slightly but shift spending into sectors which will produce a GDP return.

Two ideas: the Germans lend EUR16bn a year to their famed SME sector.  The Israelis generated a globally successful tech start-up  industry by `pouring money into elite universities and creating a clever system to attract venture capital’ (The Economist again, p. 76).

Peston suggests that it is fashionable in the City to ignore the deficit:

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-30585540

I do not doubt it.  The truth is always in fashion.

Scotland Has no Feasible Currency Options on Independence

Originally written in response to an article by Monbiot here:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/02/scots-independence-england-scotland

One immediate problem is that Monbiot begs the question, in that he assumes the conclusion he is trying to prove as a premise in his argument. This can be seen throughout the first four paragraphs. He aims to conclude that Scotland should be an independent country starting from a set of rhetorical questions premised on Scotland being a country. True but irrelevant, since the question at issue is exactly whether Scotland should be an independent country. To see this more clearly, note that his argument, if valid, goes through for anything you call a country: Wales, London, Pimlico, the local pub. Should Pimlico accept the hegemony of Westminster…?

A more serious problem is that whether or not Monbiot is right that there is a much better possibility in the offing depends on whether there is a feasible path to get there. Otherwise he is arguing that we would all be better off living on the moon in gold houses. True, but irrelevant, because we can’t do it. Here the currency problem comes to the fore. Monbiot concedes that Scotland might have no control over its currency post-independence, and seeks to minimise that difficulty by arguing that this represents no change against the status quo. Maybe, but the problem is much worse than that. Scotland in fact has no viable currency options post-independence.

The possibilities are a) keep the pound or b) join the Euro.

a). in fact splits into two possibilities. a1). is to obtain agreement from Westminster to retain the use of the pound on the same basis as the remaining-UK (RUK). a2), also known as Sterlingisation or the Panama option, is to use the pound without agreement from Westminster.

It is possibility a1). that all Westminster parties have ruled out. The pro-independence camp here argues that the Westminster parties are bluffing here. They are not. RUK cannot afford to bluff here. The pro-independence camp says they will not take on their share of UK debt (£100bn) if Westminster does not let them use the pound. Westminster is in fact going to bite that bullet if need be. RUK is already on the hook for the entire current amount of UK debt. This is because RUK has already been required by international bond markets to state that it will be standing behind all current UK debt because the international bond markets were not prepared to accept the risk that they might end up holding Scottish debt. (There is an interest rate at which they would be prepared to do so, but it is much higher than either the UK or RUK rates, because an independent Scotland would not have a Aaa rating.) So this option will not be available.

Possibility a2) is where the pound is just used to make retail purchases in Scotland. It is true that Westminster cannot stop this and nor need it. It is simply not a problem for RUK, just as it is not a problem for the US that Panama uses the dollar. However, Westminster can and must prevent Scotland from issuing pound-denominated debt. It cannot be allowed since Scotland would be issuing debt for which RUK would be responsible. (This is fact is the other way around. No authority could be given to Scotland to issue debt.) Similarly, the Bank of England will not guarantee Scottish banks because it would not be in a position to regulate them. Since Scotland will continue to be in a financial deficit position after independence, like the UK and RUK, it will need to issue debt. So this option will not be available.

Possibility b). is the Euro. This again splits into two possibilities like the above, but no one has proposed b2) (`Euroisation’) which has the same fatal problems as a2). So b) means EU membership.

The first problem here is that Spain would have to veto membership or risk fission, starting with Catalonia.

The second problem here is that you don’t join on UK conditions. You join on currently available conditions. That means no opt outs and no rebate. The latter in particular is going to be particularly expensive.

Thirdly, today’s letter from the former European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scottish-independence/11070773/Alex-Salmonds-currency-plan-B-incompatible-with-EU.html

is germane here. Key points:

– you can’t join the Euro if you just reneged on your debt as postulated above;

– you can’t join the Euro without a stable central bank (I imagine that means at least three to four years)

– you can’t join the Euro if you have been `sterlingised’ for the candidacy period.

So this option is also impossible.

There are no more options.

Soteriou: The Mind’s Construction Ch1 and Ch2

Introduction

“Not all aspects of mind fill time in the same way. For example, some elements of our mental lives obtain over intervals of time, others unfold over time, some continue to occur” (p. 1)

Aim is to use these as individuation criteria for mental events/states/processes, which means it will be important that they are clearly definable and do not overlap, and then use those distinctions to illuminate `phenomenal consciousness’

Chapter One

(p. 9, p. 23) Distinction between the `manifest image’ of the mind and the `scientific image’ of the mind in Sellars 1962 is a bit like the distinction between folk psychology and scientific psychology. This is unsurprising since Sellars 1956 is credited with opening up the modern ToM debate in some ways. Similar questions arise. Is the former to be superseded by the latter, or is it to provide data for the latter? In other words, is introspection a legitimate means of enquiry?

(p. 9) Soteriou distinguishes between the legitimacy of introspection/phenomenology approaches to theorising about thought and about sensory experience. The idea is that the latter area seems to be more appropriate to the introspective mode of examination, because “conscious sensory experiences” have a “sensuous character” that “is somehow manifest to one”. This seems to approach but not reach a sort of Immunity to Error argument viz. my thinking some conscious states have certain features suffices to make it the case that they do have such features, such as if it seems to me to be raining, then there is something that seems to me to be the case. [Descartes at the root of this, presumably.]

(p. 9) Concession: introspection may not get us anywhere at all with the scientific image; nor will it (p. 11) alone resolve mental ontology

1.1 Introspection, ‘diaphanous’ experience, and the relation of perceptual acquaintance

(p. 12) The step from `you can introspect the sensuous character of a conscious experience’ to `you can introspect the sensuous character of a mental state’ looks innocent but isn’t.

(p. 13) Argument: Moore and diaphaneity. If you try to introspect an experience, you just get straight to the experience: the experience of blue is just the blue not `experience of blue’. Also, experiences of blue are not themselves blue.

(p. 14) A relational model of sensory experience raises more questions than it answers: what are the relata, what is the relation and how do we know introspection is any use for either question, given the Moore problem?

(p. 15) Relational accounts led to sense data theories to account for hallucination/error

1.2 Representational content and the properties of conscious experience

(p. 18) Introspection cuts both ways in the sense data debate. Looks like there is something relational going on; contra that it looks like the relation is between us and objects in the world not internal entities. Fashion dictates the winner; sense data theories not fashionable any more.

COP [Completeness of Physics]: “All physical effects have only physical causes”

P [Physicalism]: “all entities that exist are physical entities”

COP + P look problematic for sense data – are they physical or not?

(p. 18) “thoughts are to be individuated in terms of propositional contents”

(p. 19) “sensory experiences have intentional contents with veridicality conditions” cf. Frege, thoughts. Leads to: illusions are like false beliefs. We don’t think there needs to be anything in the world to correspond to a false belief so the argument from illusion for sense data looks less appealing. [Though of course this is a bit like `the problem is so big that it isn’t a problem anymore.]

(p. 20) Fechner, psychophysics. Wittgenstein!

1.3 The re-emergence of relational views

(p. 25) This new consensus needs a response to questions such as how much of the character of conscious experience is caused by the relatum and how much by the relation [cf. Frege again].

1.4

(p. 26) Preview of next chapter: whether there is a stream of consciousness or not will [as promised in Introduction] throw light on mental ontology and also can be investigated using the Fregean framework under which thoughts are differentiated by propositional content.

Chapter Two

(p. 27) Consider: James `there is a stream of consciousness’ vs. Geach `there is not a stream of consciousness’

(p. 27) Mental states obtain and mental processes occur over time; even if the time taken is the same, these two unfoldings are different

2.1 The temporal profiles of thought and experience

(p. 28) Geach’s argument is basically that the stream of consciousness is seen as illusory on the line that thoughts are individuated by propositional contents, because those propositions then pass through the mind sequentially and separately. [But how do we know that this separation is not an artifact or mere consequence of the individuation criterion? Also, this looks a bit like a contest between competing introspections.]

2.2 Geach on the discontinuous character of thought

(p. 30) Geach’s argument: you can’t half have a thought; it must all be present at once. There are no transitions. Therefore you can’t have two at once — two thoughts cannot overlap. Therefore there is no stream of consciousness. Soteriou aims to look at all these steps.

(p. 31) Non-succession basically flows from the propositional content model. Saying `John is tall’ takes time but thinking it doesn’t because you haven’t thought anything unless you think the whole proposition.

(p. 31) “S can’t simply have a belief that ‘John’ ”. Can’t he, in a way, have that? Could it not be that a belief with the content `John exists’ could have that form? Alternatively, imagine hearing someone unknown come in, and wondering who it is, with John being the most likely option. We might express the content of your mental state as being `John?’. When you see him a second later, you know it is him. The two mental states separated by a second are 1). `John?’ and 2). `John’. Soteriou is again assuming a propositional model of thought content — which may be fine — and also it disallows propositions like `John’. Soteriou can probably say here that the account doesn’t mind what sort of propositions are allowed, as long as they can’t have duration. You still have to think the whole proposition at once if you think it at all.

(p 32) `the pack of cards is on the table’ is not thought in order with some bit of thought corresponding to `of’. [OK, but couldn’t there also be an ordering/division like `that’ `there’? Couldn’t you get half way through thinking the pack of cards is on the table when you realise that the thing on the table is a book and the cards are on the chair…?]

(p. 32) Geach: since there is no temporal order, there are also no transitions — because even if two propositions have a shared element, then they would not share a temporal part. [Can we think more than one proposition at once? Propositions entailed by a proposition thought. Subconscious propositions?]

(p. 34) Soteriou: however, there can be transitions between mental states, which is a problem for Geach. [Soteriou will try to fix the problem and adopt a modified version of Geach’s anti-stream of consciousness line. Is this consistent with Soteriou’s later commitment to a stream of sensory consciousness…?]

2.3 The ontology of the stream of consciousness

(p. 34) O’Shaughnessy: it is the necessity of flux that distinguishes the flow of the stream of consciousness, not just the flux itself, so experiences are not mental states

(p. 35) O’Shaughnessy: a mental state is like knowing that 9 + 5 = 14; it obtains

(p. 37) What distinguishes the cognitive from the sensory is not their properties but how they fill time [So that isn’t a property or reducible to one?]

2.4 Representational content and the ontology of experience

(p. 39) If over “t1–t5 S underwent an experience with the content ‘That F is G’, it would be a mistake to think that from t1 to t2 S underwent a conscious experience with the content that ‘That F’, and over the interval of time t3–t5 S underwent a conscious experience with the content that ‘is G’. This is a restatement of the modified Geach anti-stream of consciousness line espoused by Soteriou. [The claim looks phenomenologically plausible. But does it still work if the t1 to t3 etc time-slices become extremely small, of the order of nanoseconds? Soteriou handles this by saying that even so, the parts of the experience cannot be reduced to parts of the proposition.]

(p. 42) “the representational content of conscious sensory experience type-individuates a perceptual state of the subject”

2.5 Representational content and phenomenal character

[Qualia or what it is like to be a mental state need to be accounted for. Since Soteriou is not going with a stream of consciousness approach, then failure of such an account of qualia to be apt for inclusion in mental flow is no disqualification. Soteriou will now go on in 2.6 to outline the proposal he flagged in the introduction: we can categorise mental ontology by looking at the temporal underpinnings of phenomenal character.]

2.6 An ontological proposal: occurrence, state, and explanatory circularity

This will be Soteriou’s first outing of the major novelty in his approach.

(p. 47) The proposal: “individuate the kind of phenomenally conscious state that obtains in terms of the kind of mental event/process in virtue of whose occurrence the state obtains” — not a supervenience relation.

(p. 48) A circularity deriving from inter-dependence: “ interdependent status of event/process and state introduces a certain kind of explanatory circularity” i.e. each depends on the other. [How vicious is this circle, and circles generally…? Later Soteriou will say that the circularity may be not vicious but perhaps use its difficulty to reinforce its plausibility by suggesting it explains the `explanatory gap’. This is clever, because it suggests that the circularity is there because reality is just like that — and we have to get on with it.]

2.7

[For Soteriou, there is a stream of sensory consciousness but it will not be made up of a stream of propositions.]

[So — a good start. Soteriou has told us what the background is, what he is assuming, and where he wants to get to.]

Sherlock Holmes as Enemy of Confirmation Bias

Further to my recent paper on Sherlock and the ontology of ficta:

http://www.opticon1826.com/article/view/opt.bs/304

– which was kindly tweeted by Dr Watson:

– I was also pointed by Dr Watson towards some very interesting Holmes quotes aimed at showing that he is a fan of data-driven decision making:

That looked like a decent case, but what struck me more about the five well-chosen quotes is that they really show that Holmes is very well aware of the problem of Confirmation Bias. This is prevalent everywhere in everyone and completely bedevils our reasoning abilities. Given that this is very modern psychology, it is remarkable that Holmes was on to it so quickly.

I will proceed as follows. I will give you the quotes; I will tell you what Confirmation Bias is; I will show how the quotes show that Holmes is aware of the problem, and I will close with some brief remarks as to why Confirmation Bias is a problem.

Quotes from Sherlock

Here are the quotes; again courtesy of the Umbel blog.

1. “There is nothing like first-hand evidence.”

2. “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

3. “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

4. “I never guess. It is a shocking habit,—destructive to the logical faculty.”

5. “‘Data! Data! Data!’ he cried impatiently. ‘I can’t make bricks without clay.’”

What is Confirmation Bias?

First cut: Confirmation Bias is the tendency to confirm what you already believe.

This of course is the enemy of good hypothesis formation. You should instead attempt to falsify what you believe. That is the only way of proving anything, because attempting to prove what you already believe just gives you an endless series of facts which are consistent with your hypothesis. You can have an infinite series of consistent observations but that proves nothing; whereas a single disconfirmatory observation disproves the hypothesis!

Given the remarkable asymmetry in power of potential observations, it is remarkable that few people ever look where they ought to. Of course, one reason for that is that if you falsify a hypothesis you already hold, you will have to track through the ramifications of that for your whole belief structure. If for instance, you find out that the man in the hot is not Moriarty, you will have to discard a large number of other beliefs. If you saw the man in the hat at the station, you now have to believe that the man at the station was not Moriarty, and so on, with potentially significant consequences for your picture of the world. This takes time and energy so people don’t want to do it.

Confirmation Bias comes in three main forms: a) not looking for disconfirmatory evidence; b). ignoring disconfirmatory evidence if it is pressed upon one; c) discounting disconfirmatory evidence.

Holmes on the Case

The key is quote 3, which is basically a statement of the problem of Confirmation Bias. The facts you actually see are twisted by what you are expecting to find, and so you will ten inexorably to find what you were expecting. For that reason, guessing is a mistake, as Holmes points out in quote 4. Because a guess does not stand in a vacuum. It is formed from currently existing half-beliefs and things you are prepared/want to believe. SO it is biassed. Worse still, the guess becomes a hypothesis which by the twisted magic of Confirmation Bias will now find ways of becoming your truth. Holmes is right to call this a shocking abuse of logic.

Quote 2 speaks to the problem of ignoring data. Many obvious things are unremarkable merely because we have seen them so often. Take gravity. Why do we stick to the earth? Isn’t that odd? No-one thinks so, but how can it be explained? (Incidentally I object to the latest TV version having Holmes say he doesn’t know that the earth goes around the sun because it changes nothing here. We would, for example, be shocked by his failure to expose as an impostor a scientist who claimed the sun goes round the earth. So Holmes needs an excellent theory of the world in order to have the excellent Theory of Mind that he clearly enjoys.)

Quotes 1 and 5 speak to the primary importance of data, which as I have been saying must be impartially collected and not merely what makes it through after Confirmation Bias.

Why is Confirmation Bias a problem?

Think about just two things: religion and politics. Imagine that you have been trained from a young age to believe a set of random hypothesis and have then had a lifetime exercising Confirmation Bias to back up these hypotheses. Some people move on from religious fairy tales, but many do not. Also, have you noticed that most people vote the way their parents did? They seem to know *without listening* that everything that the other political party says is wrong. This sort of factor gives you the political polarisation currently visible in America and elsewhere.

This is not a good thing and Holmes is right to warn us strongly against it. Beware Confirmation Bias!