Monday, July 28, 2008

We need this party

The Economics Party

Scott Adams makes a hell of a lot of sense a lot of the time
In light of that Scott is going to help fix the world by doing a survey of eco9nomists opinions on major policies.
could be interesting.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

KL vs RC

Have a look at
This exchange (scroll to the bottom) between KLdickinson was interesting - I think maybe I can add some understanding to the argument (which has obviously become personal)

Seems to me what KL is saying** is that neuroscience provides evidence from which one could infer the nature of 'qualia'. The primary but not only conclusion one would take from this is physicalism.

For example the arguments I have put forward in previous posts regarding how qualia seem to work is we assume dualism is correct. For example we might answer "what is the fundamental indivisable unit of experience". We could infer things from how our qualia behave in regard to "triggers" and what forms they take. Richard seems to treat the sum of all human experience as a single bite of data from which you can infer nothing except that qualia exist.

Examples like the god helmet experiment raised here are not proof qualia don't exist as much as proof that those that believe they exist must have an ever increasingly gerrymandered concept of them. Epiphenominalaism denies Richard the ability to have a reason why qualia have any sort of understandable relationship to anything - i.e. we could feel happy (or nothing) when we get hurt for all epiphenominalism can tell. that it makes any sense is chance - but evo-psychology and neuro-science tells us it makes quite a lot of sense.

Epiphenominal qualia philosophers almost never take any position on their bridging laws because they realize it would immediately commit them to all sorts of hard to defend positions. I presume KL is just taking that to be a victory while Richard is intentionally keeping that sort of convoluted defense up his sleeve (in the same way that qualia philosophers like to keep all the options on their plate).

In very simple terms "a prior" RC has no reason to think qualia will be like they are (i.e. that the bridging law will not make anything odd happen*), KL on the other hand doesn't expect that variable to have any odd effects because it doesn't exist. If we don't find any odd effects that seems like evidence supporting KL.

anyway apologies to KL if she disagrees with my interpretation of her!

* note that there are many more ways to have an odd result than to have a normal one.
** aside from the obvious occam's razor attack on epiphenominal dualism

Friday, July 25, 2008

the great desecration

PZ meyers has apparently desecrated a cracker, and a couple of pieces of paper.
The significant thing here is the cracker is pone of those catholic flesh of god crackers
and one of the pieces of paper was from the Koran.

So what do I think - well like with the mohammad cartoons I guess i have to defend his 'right' to do it and oppose others right to stop him - and still... it does not seem to be a moral thing to do to intentionally upset people like this even if it is because they have ridiculous beliefs (more so I suppose the cracker than the Koran - but only very marginally more so).

Of course maybe it gets the moonbats out in the open...

yes I'm a bit torn.

Zimbawean 100 billion dollar sold for $80USD

"Zimbawean 100 billion dollar shortages as collectors snap 'em up on eBay for $80 each."

I wanted a 100 billion dollar note - but I can probably get a trillion dollar note if I just wait a few weeks and that would be ten times better...

Another downside is that they look like a photocopy might be indistinguishable -

oh and the little matter of supporting if the Zimbabwae government that buying a note entails.

David Brin on Chomsky

I wis I had thought to put it this way.
david writes about his differences with Chomsky:

Chomsky actually believes all his models ARE the territory, like Marx did. I consider all models (even my own) to be 2D flimsy shadows of an objective reality that I cannot boss around and order what to do. Hence, my dance from one perspective angle to another to another, offering lots of tentative models., none of which is ever more than 90% true.

Like Plato, Chomsky thinks you can if-then yourself from point A all the way to a tendentiously desired Point Z. This is a matter of deep and fundamental underlying worldview and personality, overwhelming objective reality through force of words and will and forcing it to fit his beloved subjective models. I know because I was born a magician, too...

...and I hate it. That way of thinking is exactly the way the priests always oppressed us. It is the enemy, at a far deeper level than all the superficial ways that we agree.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Probability of truth

Following on from the previous post
I think most philosophy is more of the .35/.33/.32 nature - i.e if you take a strong position you have excluded most of the possibilities but you cant have a particularly useful opinion that includes more than half of them.

take for example epiphenominal qualia.
one might argue that one had a .6 confidence in dualism and .4 in physicalism (assuming the two options include everything)
now we assume that we have .6 confidence in epiphenominal qualia vs .4 in non-epiphenominal qualia.
now we actually only have .36 confidence in epiphenominal qualia .4 in physicalism and .24 in non epiphenominal qualia.
now maybe we can in fairness divide the probability of physicalism being true into various forms of physicalism.

the two things we learn here is that to have a position that has much information we need to be willing at least in theory to accept a probability of less than 50% and that if you are focusing on comitting to the most likely option the answer you give may depend on what the question is.

Why Suspend Judgment?

Richard wonders "Why Suspend Judgment?"

First I'll note that in general I don't believe in suspending judgment all the time - If there is a 51 percent chance of something being true it is OK to proceed under that assumption. in fact if there are three options one with .33 chance of being true one with .35 and one with .32 it is OK to proceed as if the .35 option is true - I use that sort of principle all the time when playing poker. However like with poker there is a second thing on the table - that is the benefit of being right/cost of being wrong.

Now in what situations would I suspend doubt?

well first lets consider the costs - taking a position costs in the following ways

1) any conclusions I make as a result of a flawed assumption are flawed, they may be a complete waste of time or only somewhat a waste of time. Now psychology being complex these assumptions will creep into all sorts of vaguely related decisions.

2) to some degree, as a human with normalish psychology, if I take a position I will become in part committed to it - i.e. my subjective creedance will be raised. No issue if it is already the most likely answer - but it is an issue in marginal cases.

An example is a person who was brought up in a very strict Christian upbringing. I
t is highly unlikely that they can purge the principles they were taught from their behavior and their philosophy. they can remove certain ideas, maybe even core ideas, but they will never have time to remove every assumption that was at one stage a conclusion from their Christian principles.

3) I might agree as part of a social contract to present as having exactly as much confidence as I do have in a theory. this allows others to take that level of creedance into account - baysian logic.

4) sometimes we just can't be bothered weighing up all the evidence or acknowledge that our input would be overestimated (eg if it is of negligible value).

On the other hand

A) often we need to come to a conclusion in a fixed length of time, for example I dont want to suspend belief on what I should do over my life time for my whole lifetime - that would defeat the point.


B) having an answer might be more valuable than not having one - as in theBuridan's ass situation

the above provide a reasonably well defined set of criteria against which to decide if one should suspend judgment or not even if in practice one i uncertain about how exactly to weight the considerations.

I expect that Richard ignores 1 and 2 because he doesn't consider psychology to be relevant to philosophical questions. If so what he is saying is "why should idealized being suspend judgement" which seems a pretty boring question (and one that should be spelled out so that others can understand) compared to "why should real people suspend judgement". 3 is not an issue because he isn't much into baysianism (damned if I know why - thats like not being into logic) and 4 because he is visualizing those situations where you really do care and investigate the truth deeply and with expertise. I guess he must also assume A and B are true - ie it is urgent that he knows the answer and better to have a strongly held potentially wrong opinion than no opinion.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Blog watching

and reading some more blogs I liked this article

and on evolutionary psychology

You can fool most of the people most of the time.

You can fool most of the people most of the time.

apparently academics can be terrible crap detectors.

Friday, July 18, 2008

review for meet dave

Some pretty light entertainment. Basically some aliens comes to earth in their spaceship which has been been designed to look like a person.
There is the classic Mork and Mindy sort of "figuring out how the world works" scenes - well that makes up about 2/3 of the movie - and also some cheezy realization that humans love that thats really cool. As a result aliens decide not to destroy the earth. Odd thing is that it doesn't take a super alien genius to realize they didn't have to destroy the earth, they just needed some salt - well we could spare a few billion tonnes of the stuff for them I expect - if sea levels dropped by a meter we'd live with it - small price to pay to save a planet of aliens who know secrets like the unified theory... even if that didn't save their planet we could get them some to tide them over before they found another planet.

but I guess if you turn your brain off its vaguely amusing - I give it one and a half stars.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

comic strip

here is very cool philosophical comic

go here for more

shall we drive men to extinction?

Richard C has a post on a quote from a bioethisist
"I don't think we're seriously looking at a world of only girl children just yet, but I do think that when philosophers start talking about using medical technology to achieve things that aren't about health, so increasing people's IQ or life expectancy for example, you have to ask why we shouldn't all be girls," he said.

which he describes as odd saying
So it's not at all clear to me that being a particular sex is an advantage in the way that increased IQ, life expectancy, etc., are.

Now first I'll note I think I understand the bioethisist here. If you are a technophile and you want to promote genetic engineering you can run into danger with people complaining about vested interests you might have or sexism etc. One tempting way out is to make a statement that is absolutely terrible for your own gender and vested interests. Here he proposes almost the extinction of his gender. I expect while he probably has a strong opinion on genetic engineering his position on wiping out men is probably a very weak one. to me this is a familiar strategy so I don't take him completely seriously.

Still we should deal with his position and not his personal mental state. Obviously the argument is that being females IS related to IQ and life expectancy so to choose a male child (in its simple form) is to choose an expected life span of 3 years lower and a lower expected academic ability. Sure there are costs but the statement isn't odd in as far as those are debateable while the benifits of living longer is pretty much beyond dispute.

as to the social milieu, its often stated but probably true, that a world with only women would probably have a lot less wars - more equality less crime and a whole lot of other good concequences.

OK, it's not a slam dunk, but I don't find it an odd position, it seems pretty defendable.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Gettier problem

this will be a short post. Seems like the easy answer to the Gettier problem is as per wikipedia Richard Kirkham's scepticism.

Pretty much the theory I had when I was in primary school - you cant really "know" anything and any artificial definition you push on knowledge will have a counter example because its an artificial definition. It seems to be primary school logic that Justified True Belief never deserved to get on the table as a fundamental concept.

But that doesn't mean that you cant use JTB as a model - just that you should expect counter examples. It is like a theory that all Americans are richer than all people from Russia. It may be a useful working assumption but it's not a law of nature.

arm chair philosophy

there has been much discussion of the validity of armchair philosophy in the blogosphere lately.

Now it seems to me that without some sort of empirical grounding you cant even have a thought - i.e. for me to say 1+1 = 2 I need some sort of empirical knowledge of what 1 is and that it has relationships like + and = with other things. reality give these concepts to me whether it is via evolution or teaching.

Any process that has empirical roots will have some "information content". For example if the input was rain and the result was a tree even though the tree provides a very complex intermediary step I could still determine information about the rain from its rings, but if that information was false (eg if someone was watering the tree) then I would have no information.

So I am left with the following issues with armchair theorizing is that conclusions are stated with confidence when they haven't plugged all the leaks (so to speak). Leaks are every where where there is not a 100% logical connection between the facts. Intuitions are obvious issues here as are definitions of words that are not shared or are vague.

This means in practice (but not necessarily) armchair philosophers end up discovering things about their own psychology as opposed to about the world. This is an empirical question and is revealed by how one can get different moral intuitions on key moral problems from people from different cultures or even individuals within a culture.

hedonistic utilitarianism

is it a good thing from a utilitarian perspective for a person to change what they want?
An example used is that it seems strange to say that I would benefit if someone used magic to make be a person who loves "grass counting". To me this tweaks a sort of intuition that can be summarized as "odd but not illogical".

this can be contrasted to the intuition I get from the opposite example:
imagine a man who hates black, and loves white he is in a room that is painted black with no lights in a room opposite is an otherwise identical man who hates white and loves black - in a room painted white, the two men are as it stands very depressed and close to suicide. It seems very odd indeed to say that there is not a benefit to swapping them, or the equivalent option of making then like the room they are in. (note the net result would be identical so if we want to say it has some sort of different value we seem to require something rather deontological rather than concequentialist)

So it would seem legitimate to change someones desires except in as far as that is obviously desire thwarting in itself (i.e. given any particular person and any particular desire the person probably doesn't want it changed)

Any person can be viewed as time slices of individual people. Just like with individual people each 'person' has desires about the other people including desires about what they will believe. it is for example perfectly possible that at time A I might desire to be B at time B I might desire to be C and at time C I might desire to be A. It is even possible that such a relationship might be intrinsic (imagine running around a race track).

Note the fact that these desires cancel out doesn't mean that I have no desires or that I would be OK with you thwarting those desires. So it seems that desire maths should work on those time slices and basic desires.

any disagreement?

Richard Chapell argues

The argument can be clarified further if restated in terms of desire: we want our desires to be satisfied, therefore what really matters to us to to achieve desire-satisfactions, and the particular things we now want are merely instrumental to the ultimate end of satisfying our desires in general...

The fallacy here derives from a kind of scopal ambiguity. It's true that we want our desires to be satisfied. That's tautological: we want to get what we want. But that latter 'what we want' should be understood de re rather than de dicto. We want to get those particular objects that we want. We do not merely want to have any old satisfied wants (e.g. induced desires that don't relate to our existing goals or values at all).

But lets say you are in a situation where again you have a desire that has no value to wider society, lets say that you like pink marshmellows and hate white ones but you keep changing your mind (maybe for a logical reason, maybe not). now at some stage in the future you are going to be given a marshmellow do you want a pink one or would you prefer to have the one that you want at the time?
Surely you want the latter?

which seems to answer the question of

"Why think that what matters most is happiness or desire-satisfactions in general?"

It seems to change when we discuss objectively valuable things (such as saving the planet) but that seems to either presuppose that there is a way that things are valuable outside of hedonism, or that you are just counting the hedonistic desires of other people (eg everyone else on earth, or future you) at the wrong place in the utilitarian equation.

It's not what we actually care about, after all. (I'd rather struggle to achieve some of my philosophical and personal goals than be a satisfied grass-blade counter.) Why should our counterfactual concerns outweigh our actual ones?

surely they don't because the counterfactual requires that you change a desire you don't want to change that is a thwarting of your desires in itself. But it seems a very strong position to argue they have no relevance at all.

Richard makes the odd point
And do you really know any parents who would accept a mad scientist's offer to turn their child into a super-satisfied grass-blade-counter?
But the obvious answer to that is WHY don't we well here comes the answer

There is some sense in which we want people (others, as well as ourselves) to get what they want. But it is definitely not in the sense of wanting to maximize the number of desire-satisfactions that occur.

well yes - and there you have it. his argument proves nothing because there is an alternative reason why he would not know any parents who want their children to be satisfied blade counters thats because its just not the sort of job that will get you jellious looks from other parents. Having said that how many parents does richard know/ there are definitely many out there who really don't have thoughts about what their child will do and have nothing against blade counting except in as far as it won't make much money - afterall there are few New Zealand parents who would force their child to be a philosopher even though thats the direction he seems to be heading in.

We do not look kindly on the prospect of artificially induced desires.
what is a 'artificially induced desire' and what is a 'real one' sounds like a vauge definition to me. I suggest there is no dividing line and our desires about artificial or non artificial things are just plain irrational.

Rather, what we want is for the people we care about to do well as assessed against their current goals (suitably idealized, perhaps), and we trust that their future desires will typically be a coherent continuation of these.

a baby's current goal is to suck a bottle and it has nothing to do with speaking or reading. so surely he is missing something here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

RC on what is democracy

Richard C has written a short paper on what is democracy .

here is his conclusion

the key passages seem to be
"[I] understand democracy as a meritocratic form of government which utilizes the rational capacities of everyone (insofar as they are able)"

And in as far as you accept that then you get as he observes, counter intuitive examples of democracies which are lead by few who would consider your opinion if only you were smarter.

His habit here of defining a word and then defending that definition as a fact of language* still bothers me and will surely loose the attention of a lot of readers.
But at least in this paper he has addressed the main objections (although I found the reference to Parfit to be waffle - surely one doesn't need to reinvent the justification for collectivism in this paper. The inclusion of the collectivist perspective makes for a much better paper than his original posts implied, it is as if he took on board some of my comments.

As usual a lot of the work is done by what he assumes are changeable and unchangeable facts. for example the probably reasonable assumption that factions will form, and the probably unreasonable assumption that dogmatism, will to power and transaction costs can be made negligible.

If it was me, I'd stay closer to the topic, reference much more, construct explicitly and defend the model (e.g. the assumptions above), and I'd change the topic to something more like "how should democracy work" or "the rational state". But as I said I like this more than the posts - maybe it will continue to move in that direction and become more robust.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Hancock review

30 mins of great storyline - now this is why I decided to watch this movie
30 mins of confusion and "I hope this is just the wasted space in the middle of a movie with a good beginning and a good end"
30 mins of "someone shoot me please"....
And with a ending that should come with a free barf bag.

Bacteria make major evolutionary shift in the lab

Bacteria make major evolutionary shift in the lab
hat tip KL Dickson

Basically some basic bacteria seem to have evolved the ability to metabolise citrate via, apparently, a series of inconsequential mutations. Evidence for evolution and all that - not that it is really needed to convince anyone other than the crazy the ignorant or the naieve.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

why peopl get fooled