Consolations of philosophy? What a joke!

Bleak street

A while ago I reshared a link on Twitter to an excellent article about free will.

The article stated what I have often felt, "...the free will problem is really depressing if you take it seriously. It hasn't made me happy..."

I have been reading philosophy part-time for about a decade now (see my post about great web resources for starting philosophy). The truth is that many of the most important questions have very bleak answers.

Ummm, nope...

Consider the following topics, where many very smart thinkers have converged on similar answers (with of course, many dissenters and counter-arguments).

  • Free Will: You don't have it. All your actions have "causally sufficient predetermined conditions" as they say in the trade.
  • Consciousness: What is it? Why does it exist? Totally unanswerable as yet.
  • The Self: Sadly, there is no 'you'. 'You' are concatenated experience. Take experience away and—poof!—you're gone.
  • Moral Luck: You're locked in. People do as they do because they do as they do.
  • The External World: Utterly unknowable. (I am a particular fan of Hilary Lawson on this.)

And on it goes...

Philosophical about philosophy?

I reflected on this again yesterday, watching an interview with Maria Balaska on the brilliant Institute of Art and Ideas (IAI) YouTube channel

She described philosophy as both a domain of knowledge and a method of analysis—similar in structure to science.

In philosophy, the starting point of analysis is to abandon what you take for granted. Instead, ask why is it that you think-you-know what you think-you-know, and then keep digging.

Knowledge should follow (hopefully)—though, much of it is unsettling.

Some point to Boethius' "Consolations" as a philosophical salve to suffering in the world. That may be true, but do his consolations apply to the practice and knowledge of philosophy itself!?

The only true consolation is that, like David Hume, we are masters at finding ways to ignore ourselves and simply enjoy the sunshine. At least, that's how I do it!

Children are a reminder of this. In general, I find my nephews are somewhat skeptical when I try to tell them the external world is an illusion! :)

Some interesting observations on children's philosophy in yesterday's video too.

(Image credit: 'Bleak' by Tim Green from Flickr. Image cropped. Creative Commons.)

Zeno's paradox - or why your website will never be right!

Child on a tortoise

Stop worrying. Your website will never be right!

5th century BC Greek philosopher, Zeno of Elea, knew that all along.

The lesson is in his famous paradox of "Achilles and the Tortoise".

The ancient paradox

Achilles is in a footrace with a tortoise.

Being a good sport, Achilles gives the tortoise a head start of 100 metres at point A.

"Go!" shouts Zeno and off dashes Achilles. He soon reaches point A.

But, uh-oh, the tortoise has already moved on to point B. On rushes Achilles.

But again, when he arrives at point B, the tortoise has moved to point C.

When Achilles gets to point C, the tortoise is now at point D.

And on it goes.

Whenever Achilles arrives at a point the tortoise has been, it has already gone.

In short, he never catches up.

(In reality, Achilles would catch the tortoise, but as a thought experiment it is still intriguing and useful.)

The digital paradox

Now, let's update the paradox.

Substitute yourself (as a digital manager) for Achilles.

Substitute your users for the tortoise.

The point is that, no matter how hard you try, you will NEVER catch up with your users.

They will ALWAYS be some distance ahead of you—and probably a lot further than the tortoise from Achilles!

The reason is that every website is really just an educated guess.

You can never know your users' needs with 100% accuracy. There will always be a gap.

You only find out how big the gap is after you launch and begin to track engagement.

Any issues you find then need time to be fixed, which creates a window for user needs to change even further.

So, stop fretting.

Your website will never be right :)

All you can do is narrow the gap as best you can.

The slooooowwwww evolution of digital (and cycling) infrastructure in Ireland

Topics as a standard content set

2 domains.

Both with huge demand for higher standards and meaningful delivery.

Both with long-standing, international examples of how to do things right.

Both hobbled by years of wasteful, half-arsed, non-solutions that were doomed to fail from the beginning.

As a casual cyclist and web professional, the parallels between the achingly slow evolution of cycling and digital services from government in Ireland has long perplexed me.

Consider cycling

For 2+ decades it has been irrefutably and utterly obvious that only by creating good quality cycling infrastructure could our major cities deliver the minimally safe environment that existing bike users need—and also encourage more people to start.

Everyone has been in total agreement on this.

It has been discussed endlessly over and over and over again. For years, the necessary solutions have been completely clear from international experience.

And yet millions of euro have been wasted on expedient non-solutions.

Typically this involved smearing a narrow band of red paint into a pot-holed gutter, calling it a "Cycle Lane" and then being amazed (and somewhat hurt) that cyclists ignored it because it was almost unusable.

Only recently have all these non-solutions finally been exposed as complete failures.

Only now are senior decision-makers recognising what was completely obvious from the very beginning—that they need to invest in dedicated, high-quality infrastructure that is designed, built and maintained by skilled professionals.

And so on to digital...

For 2+ decades it has been irrefutably and utterly obvious...

Do I need to continue?

Sadly, unlike cycling, government in Ireland (with a few honourable exceptions) has still not fully exhausted its inventory of expedient non-solutions for digital.

A review of current delivery and governance quality suggests that at least 1 or 2 more rounds of useless web "redesigns!" are likely to happen before the penny finally drops.

That means several more millions of wasted euros before government finally admits it needs to invest seriously in digital manpower, skills and capability.

It's a shame, but somehow this long journey always seemed inevitable.

Don't agree? Read this.

Analysis spreadsheet for Content Groups from Google Analytics


I bet you want to know what content your website users are most interested in. Right?

Of course, you do. Me too.

If your situation is anything like mine, you likely have very little time to spend on useful things—like making your content easier to find, read and understand. So, when you do get this time, you want to make sure you're prioritising the right content.

Not the stuff no-one really cares about.

Excel icon

Content Groups analysis spreadsheet (XLS 100KB)

Use this spreadsheet to identify the Content Topics that users of your website are most interested in. Watch the video above for set-up and usage instructions.

But, here's the problem.

Not only are you likely to have vast amounts of content on your site to track as it is—I bet more and more is being added all the time.

And more and more.
And more and more and more.
And more and more and more and more.
And more and more and more and more and more.
And more and more and more and more and more and more ... you know what I mean!

So, volumes are unmanageably high and, yes, I mean "unmanageably". There are very few web teams that could—hand on heart—say they are "managing" their content. We're not managing. We're coping!

So, not only that...the basic metric of content engagement—Views per page—is at best highly suspect for tracking user interests across an entire site. At worst it's misleading and often meaningless.

Read the full article "How to analyse data from Content Groups in Google Analytics using Excel".