What's it all about?

published 01 May 2013
William Hederman

At the end of 1994 a couple of things happened to me that have managed to keep me pretty busy since.

In October 1994 I started studying Computer Science at Trinity College Dublin. For the last 18 years, computer science has been a large part of my life. Today I'm back in Trinity working as a research computer scientist. In between times I've worked all over the world on some of the most interesting problems that I can think of: natural language comprehension, artificial intelligence, semantic modelling, complex systems analysis and on and on.

A few months later, in January 1995, I saw a documentary about Noam Chomsky in which he described himself as an anarchist. I decided that's what I was and that I was going to do something about it. I spent the next 15 years immersed in the world of leftist politics through the rise and fall of the anti-globalisation movement and the sub-culture that grew around it. This brought me into contact with some interesting and unusual ideas, movements, places, people, and situations.

What interests me, above all, is trying to understand how the complex systems around us work. The better we understand how things like brains and societies work as systems, the more likely we are to be able to affect those systems for the better. And human brains and societies are really, really complex systems - as complex as anything in the known universe. However, they are not beyond comprehension - they exhibit definite patterns of behaviour and while they are chaotic, they still have basically deterministic dynamics. The two strands of thought that have defined my adult life - computer science and leftist politics - have both provided me with analytic methods and practical experience that I have found very useful in building an understanding of how the world works and why human societies behave the way they do.

Over the last 20 years, I changed my mind many times about many things. Some of these changes of opinion had far-reaching consequences as to how I lived my life. Mostly they were gradual shifts in thinking but consistent incremental changes eventually turn into grand philosophical realignments. On occasion my evolving political theory simply ran into reality-sized walls and I had to conclude that certain of my ideas and theories were simply wrong. I have indeed been wrong many times about many things. But, I keep trying - to improve my ideas, to build better theories, to understand the world better. My accumulated lessons have, I hope, at least made me less wrong as time has gone on.

"it is easy to believe what we would like to be true - it is much harder when reality contradicts our hopes"

At this stage, my worldview and basic understanding of how human societies function is, I think, relatively robust and likely to remain fairly stable into the future. This stability stems from a painful process of questioning many of my basic assumptions to identify and eliminate those where I found myself guilty of wishful thinking. It is easy to believe what we would like to be true - it is much harder to accept when reality contradicts our hopes.

Back in 2009, I withdrew from active politics and resolved to write down the lessons that I had learned. My original intention was to simply write my conclusions down as a great big book of political theory. However, by themselves, political theories aren't worth much - it's easy to formulate abstract theories that sound plausible. It's even easy to cherry-pick facts that purport to demonstrate the theory's correctness and it is generally difficult and laborious to evaluate its worth in practice. In assessing a political theory, the journey is at least as important as the destination: the events, experiences, influences and observations that cause beliefs to be adopted and later adapted or rejected. In my case, it is also simply more honest to present my story as an experimental process full of mistakes rather than a set of definite and correct conclusions presented by an authoritative voice.

Thus, on this website, over the course of the next year, I'm going to tell my story, warts and all. I'm going to try to describe, as accurately as I can, not just what I did, but why I did it and the theoretical thoughts behind it. This is not a work of political propaganda. I am not a member of any political organisation and have significant differences with all the strands of political thought that I know of.

This website is an experiment. One of the golden rules of the Internet is that "if nobody else is doing it, it's probably a bad idea" and I'm not familiar with any successful similar efforts. Perhaps it will turn into a spectacular car-crash and all the good reasons why people tend not to expose their life stories to the Internet will come home to me with a bang. Equally possible is failure with a whimper - if I discover that the web doesn't find me all that interesting and my resolve to publish withers under the resolute indifference of the world. However, I have thought about the various problems involved in publishing such a story at some length and I have come up with a plan that has, I think, at least some chance of being successful. In my next post, tomorrow, I'll explain that plan and my basic publishing schedule for the next year.

Comments (40)

chekov's picture

I hope that you'll find it an interesting place.


I'm intrigued and looking forward to what lies ahead. So far it looks great...


Looks great. Lets see what comes next.


Looking forwarding to reading more..


Great stuff Chex, best of luck with it! C.

Felix Leipziger

You have my attention . . .


look forward to reading more!


good man Cheks, looking forward to the trip


looks interesting Chex, nice photo too!

Ciaran O'Doherty

I like the sound of it!


Cool, can I get the last chapter first...just so I know how it turns out?

chekov's picture

Thanks for the kind words. Hopefully, I'll be able to retain the positive feelings once I start putting up more material.

And, I'm afraid that I can't let the last chapter out of the hat yet - suffice to say that I don't find religion.


Cliodynamics isn't a religion then?

chekov's picture

Just because you're my brother doesn't mean I won't ban you for trouble-making. I take a dim view of post-modernist psychiatrists around my way ;-)

On the other hand, "the church of crude empiricism" does have a certain ring to it.

Ryan O'Sullivan

Forgot to sign last post...we...I'm not Anonymous, if the authoritarians ask :-X


You write so well, I'll be back for more.

Eoghan Ryan

looking forward to it!

David S.

And, very pretty you remain, Chekov.


Congrats Chex. Looking forward to your insights..

Lisa Griffin

just saw this in Facebook . Looks interesting . I will be tuning in ......


Don't go on Facebook much, but very glad I did this evening ! Well done so far :-)


will follow with interest


Looking forward to reading more - have you ever considered psychoanalytic perspectives?


Will tune in tomorrow for more

Juan Carlos Cordovez

Actually, "if nobody else is doing it, ..." and you can monetize it, you can become a millionaire :-)

You should make comments by subscription only. You are going to get flooded with spam comments. An email field would also allow for our Gravatars to appear.

But will be following with interest.


So are you running adsense then?


Great to see you or it? Up and running. Now to hold on tight and remember to breathe. Excited and curious.


I feel I could learn a lot here..


Sounds fascinating can't wait to find out more...


Congratulations Chekov really looking forward to reading more


great cliff hanger cheks. Keep it comin...


Hey, it would be handy to have an atom or rss feed and not only corporate means of tracking changes on the site ;]


also; props for using drupal :]


i'd second that


will be back for more...


Congrats Chekov- website looks great! Intrigued to


best cure on a fractured rib


so far ...wonderful.

Thich Maslow

Look what a little inspired ADD web searching can find ya, happy to stumble across

Viola Wilkins

Hi I can still remember you losing your keys at the beach at Wonthaggi and returning at night and finding them !
Also you travelled north to Nimbin and our daughter got your then car.
Hope you are still travelling well.