Sunday, August 31, 2008

Rioting in thailand

recently there have been a lot of news articles about the protests in Thailand.
It seems to me that this has exposed a typical weakness in the western media. the stories about the protests have been fairly neutral as to their root causes, and not hugely informative. the main point they have covered is that there are protests. the image this gives is that there is some sort of popular uprising against the "corrupt government". Well that is partly true, but it's not the main story.

To get that we need to go back a few years and sell you a little story that is told about recent thai politics.

Some time ago there was a rich man very influential in the media industry. He ran into a little trouble and needed a bailout, so he asked his 'friend' Thaksin. Thaksin told him it wasn't going to happen. Now Thaksin acquired a fairly influential enemy. In the following years he spend a lot of time trying to get back at Thaksin - and for that matter get the other party into power for his own financial benefit.

Thaksin is helped in this regard by the fact that Thaksin's party appeals to the poor people. they arrange subsidies to the chicken farmers and otherwise developed the rural areas. The other party, on the other hand, has networks within Bangkok so is much more able to get together city based protests.

Now the next importnat thing to realise is that while Thaksin was deposed in the coup but the new leader of Thailand is his puppet. Not nearly as competent - but just as unacceptable as a leader to the Bangkok brigade.

Now thaksin has the suport of the poor peopel in the north - so much so that his allies will absolutly win an election. they can have a coup every year and his allies will win the subsequent election every time. As a result any question of overthrowing his government is fundimentally undemocratic. Many of the protesters against Thaksin are openly hostile towards democracy - and talk about how Thailand isn't ready for democracy. I guess they want to sound like the Chinese.

the silly thing is that thaksin presided over good times for Thailand - corrupt as he may have been he was the equivilent of the Chinese government - stamping out drug dealers and growing thailands economy, while the opposition are not percieved as being very competent, except by their own propaganda. It is sad that they call themselves the People's Alliance for Democracy. Its like the democratic republic of Congo or the DPRK.

the one thing the PAD has on it's side is the sympathy of the king - but this is an issue he would be wise to tread very carefully on.

Networked Dmocracy on the gymnast scandal

“She actually put her age as younger to compete in a previous event.”

I love this one. The TimesOnline reports a Chinese sportsman as saying

in his youth he had once changed his age to participate in competition with younger players. “It used to be very common, but it is getting less and less so,” he said.

So…you admit you lied before…so we’re supposed to believe you now?

Aka alias on the gymnast scandal

Aka alias on the gymnast scandal

Do the math, Cui Dalin, if you're capable. After you finish working with your calculator, maybe you could also explain why a government that has naught to hide would take the step of blocking access to many of the registries since the first report surfaced last month accusing the Chinese of having played loose with the facts.
What happened to the ruling that says Olympians must be 16 in the year of the games in which they compete? One has to ask, if that rule can so obviously be sidestepped, then why couldn't other rules be bent to benefit athletes who are not Chinese? In the men's 200, Wallace Spearmon was first placed as the winner of the bronze, and Churandy Martina as the silver medallist, but then both were disqualified for having stepped outside their lanes. Really, what could possibly be so bad about stepping outside their lanes while they ran, when He Kexin was taking medals even though she was outside her lane too, so to speak?

why am i continuing to post on this issue after the olympics? well I just noticed not many others are doing it - and yet the evidence is piling up...

underage olympics competitors?

the media attention in this has died down.
But people Like Stryde Hax are still gathering more and more information that the gymnasts were underage - and countering the arguments made by the Chinese sports authorities.

Cui Dalin, the vice minister of the General Administration of Sport of China, said He Kexin, the uneven bars Olympic champion, had moved from one team to another last year, and a wrong birth date was written on the registration forms for the new team.
“During the registration, there were some discrepancies in the age of the athlete, therefore that mistake has led to a series of misunderstandings afterward,”


Last year was 2007, and as alert readers of this blog will recall, the Internet Archive has kept two copies of a document published to which establishes Kexin's birthday as 1-1-1994. The problem here is that the Internet Archive saved one of these copies in June of 2006, two years ago. Additionally, when the document was stored in the Internet Archive, the document contained a publication date of January 27, 2006. Neither of these dates is in the least bit consistent with Cui's statement.

The most important document, however, is 05ticao.xls, still saved in the Baidu cache at the time of this writing. Turns out "ticao" is the Pinyin for "gymnastics", so this document is basically "05gymnastics.xls". It predates the team transfer that Cui is speaking to. And all four documents show He Kexin's birthday as Jan 1 1994. How can a mistake a "year" ago made during a team transfer have affected He Kexin's records well before the team transfer, in 2005? Here's a link to Baidu cache of 05ticao.xls

this year was not an exchange year for He Kexin. This was He Kexin's first registration year, see row 799:
799, He Kexin, F, 1994.1.01, Beijing, Beijing,
Beijing Municipal Sports Bureau, First Time Registration

Now that Chinese officials have broken their silence on the inconsistencies that are surfacing, I'm hoping we can all expect a statement soon on the case of Jiang Yuyuan, whose name and government ID number appear in a government-hosted spreadsheet I linked to earlier this evening. Alert readers will of course realize that Chinese government ID numbers embed the birth date, hence the string "19931001" inside this government ID number should be addressed in any future clarifications.

In conclusion, here are links to the Internet Archive's 2006 copies of the athlete exchange agreement hosted on, Ciu Dalin's General Administration of Sport China.

Internet Archive history of document
Translated version of 2006 copy

Interesting indeed

Saturday, August 30, 2008

summary of secular philosophy debate

Secular philosophy summary

Massimo writes the main post - in it he claims that he can conceive is squared circles. Robert Newsome also asserts he can conceive of such a scenario and Jay insists that no one can.

To explain this I indicate that there are two types of conceivability - one is a matter of fact about the brain of the person conceiving. that is that they have placed a certain concept in two bins in this case squares and circles. Surely this is undeniable. This I contend is is doing all the work when Jay "i can conceive of a zombie". that is the main reason why the 3 of us contend that it proves nothing that zombies are conceivable (in the simple sense). Ie it is very obviously a cheap sense of conceivability. Jay seems to accept that theologians have used this sort of cheap sense of conceivability of a rock so heavy god couldn't lift it.

The second type of conceivability is ideal conceivability something I suggest neither square circles or zombies have. Now Zombies MIGHT have it since I cant positively disprove that but I expect they don't

Jay argues that "the *logical* possibility of zombies seems to illustrate nicely the hardness of the hard problem. "

My problem with this is that from the argument above I believe you can create a scenario that LOOKS possible but isn't - so the fact that Chalmers may have found one of those is completely consistent with expectation - and no need to revise ones world view.

Jay asks "Which molecule is the one which guarantees experience? "

well simple - all of them together even if you are then going to say that all of them together evoke qualia or a spirit you still need the first step.

Karl indicates that Chalmers believes that matter might have an inherent conscious aspect to it. I extend on this by suggesting that this inherit consciousness is what I call ATE "ability to run an equation" and that this is just a fundamental part of physics - and needs no re-explaining. as per steele man's request I give a formula for conciousness

Me = Brain (including ATE)
Bottle of water = ATE
Zombie = brain - ATE

wherein Brain contains all that information about processing power that would give you IQ and so forth. In case you are in doubt - the IQ of a bottle of water is of course 0.

Jay asks for a reason why the hard problem is not a hard problem. my problem here is that he seems to want a disproof of dualism. I don't propose to have that - I just mean duelists haven't established there is a problem so it doesn't even make it onto the table.

"had not realized that we had pin-pointed why or how the arrangement and activity between these molecules fully explained consciousness."

depends on what you demand from a ful explanation. Sure you might not know exactly how fast a rock will fall if I drop it through the branches of a tree - but I understand it.

Jay continues to assert/dispute

"Ideally" conceivable is not a helpfully distinct from any other modest type of conceivability.
The impossibility of your 100 mile high unicycle is quite a contingent fact, but something is not conceivable if it is not possible by definition, which is the category square circles fall into... you still have not demonstrated that you understand this distinction.
The oddity of zombies is quite irrelevant (to the ability of us to conceive of them usefully)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sara Palin

Sara Palin is the republican candidate for VP - a woman! ok Im being sucked in here - shes an anti abortion conservative but not part of the old boys club. Not a bad choice I think from a strategic perspective.

Zombie philosophy

Interesting debate here
The zombification of philosophy (of mind)

the bad news is that Jay seemed to want me to do
the hard
I.e. to give him a problem where he cant concieve it is possible and then to show him it is impossible

and worse yet
the contradictory
I.e. to explain why square circles are impossible for different reasons than a physically impossible structure (which was exactly my point - they aren't)
and to show that bottles ae diferent from humans for reasons other than that humans are physically humans (but the latter was my point and a fundamental part of physicalism)

Oh well I knew that debate probably would end up in that sort of frustration.

Epphenmominalism and knowledge

Lets say you are a epiphenominalist. Is the knowledge argument available to you?

here is the knowledge argument again

Mary is kept in a box and taught all the physical facts but no qualitative facts
she is then allowed out of her box and shown the colour RED

(1) If qualitative facts are reducible to, or deducible from, physical facts then May shouldn’t learn anything new
(2) Mary learns something new
(C) Therefore qualitative facts are not reducible to, or deducible from, physical facts

Now if you are an epiphenomenalist you have to explain why qualia match brain states. The normal method would be to stipulate that that is a fact of this universe that brain state X (a result of evolution etc) causes qualia Y. that means that in THIS universe (2) is impossible because one of the physical facts is entailed by that brain state.*

Now it might be possible in a hypothetical other world, but that isn't stipulated in the hypothetical.

*maybe they can argue that the brain state caused by red isn't a physical fact relating to red?? seem silly

The Anti knowledge argument

Richard Brown presents the knowledge argument

Mary is kept in a box and taught all the physical facts but no qualitative facts
she is then allowed out of her box and shown the colour RED

(1) If qualitative facts are reducible to, or deducible from, physical facts then May shouldn’t learn anything new
(2) Mary learns something new
(C) Therefore qualitative facts are not reducible to, or deducible from, physical facts

and the anti knowledge argument

Now Maria knows all of the qualitative facts about red she knows none of the phsyical facts she is then exposed to those facts

(1r) If qualitative facts are not reducible to, or deducible from, physical facts Maria should not learn anything new
(2r) Maria learns something new
(Cr) Qualitative facts are reducible to, or deducible from, physical facts

Interesting although I'm still thinking about it. However that make me think of a thought experiment of my own.

Lets say I take Maria before she has seen green and ask her what green is. Answer is "I have no idea"
Now lets say I show Maria green - now she says "yes I know green"
Now I use my high technology to recreate a duplicate of her by carrying over all her physical data but not any historic qualia (whatever that is?). I plonk all this info in a biological computer. I now ask it what green is - does it know? Well it tells me it does. Also because it is a biological computer - it is alive - it isn't a zombie.

and yet I only transfered physical data.

the main defense seems to be that colour qualia have some special properties - for example that they are associated with a person if and only if they have the physical data for that colour but if that is the case the original knowledge argument fails - i.e. if you tell maria those attacked physical facts about green then she knows green.

Positive influence and Winston Peters

No those two topics are separate parts of this post.

Genius deferred writes a post on internet encouragement. Its about me - I think :) It is good to know I am having a positive influence on people in the blogosphere.

And for any international visitors the last post relates to a NZ politician called Winston Peters who is being investigated for serious fraud (something to do with corruption and potentially 'cheating' in our elections) so I did a parody.

I'm not asserting I know he broke the law - please don't sue me Winston!! (because you know thats exactly the sort of thing he does - very litigious our friend Winston) But lets just say about 90% of NZ thinks he did.

Winston (Shaggy- it wasn't me)

here are some possible lyrics

Winston: yo man
Winston's Lawyer: yo
Winston: open up man
Winston's Lawyer: what do you want man?
Winston: The Hellen and the SFO just caught me
Winston's Lawyer: you let them catch you?
Winston: I don't know how I let this happen
Winston's Lawyer: with who?
Winston: damn near everybody, you know?
Winston's Lawyer: man...
Winston: I don't know what to do
Winston's Lawyer: say it wasn't you
Winston: alright...

chorus 1 (Winston)
Hellen came in and she caught me red-handed
in potentially serious and complex fraud
picture this Bob Jones donated me money
and I didn't declare it at all

how could I forget that I had given the money to NZ First
all this time they were donating money they never said a word to me

(Winston's Lawyer)
how you can grant them access to your accounts
trespasser and a witness while you cling on your money
you bettah watch your back before they turn into killahs
best for you and the situation not to admit a thing
to be a true player you have to know how to play
if she say you're not, convince her, say it's just not your day
never admit to a word when she say
makes a claim and you tell her baby no way

chorus 2
Winston: but she caught me with money from he Vela's
Winston's Lawyer: it wasn't me
Winston: saw me spending money from Glen,
Winston's Lawyer: it wasn't me
Winston: I even spent it on my legal fees
Winston's Lawyer: it wasn't me
RikRok: they even caught me on camera
Winston's Lawyer: it wasn't me
RikRok: she hear about Simunovich fisheries
Winston's Lawyer: it wasn't me
RikRok: heard the about a bribe, Rodney told her
Winston's Lawyer: it wasn't me
RikRok: heard the screams getting louder
Winston's Lawyer: it wasn't me
RikRok: she stayed until it was over

(chorus 1)

I had tried to keep her from what she was about to see
why should she believe me when I told her it wasn't me

(Winston's Lawyer)
make sure she knows it's not you and lead her on da right prefix
whenever you should see her make da giggolo flex
as funny as it be by you, it not that complex
seein is believin so you better change your specs
you know she not gonna be worrying bout getting elected
hardly recollecting and then she'll go to parliment mass
boy your answer: go over there
but if she's readyto sack you, you know you better run fast

(chorus 2)
(chorus 1)

I'm not gonna tell the country that I'm sorry for the pain that I've caused
I've been listenin' to your reasonin' it makes... complete sense
we shouldn't tell them that I'm sorry for the pain that I've caused
they may think that they are players but they are completely lost

(chorus 1)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Housing prices in NZ

Friday, August 22, 2008

Complicating the Zombie dualist argument

Zombie philosophy is one of hte most interesting parts of philosophy to me. why? well it seems that there has been a lot of debate that has resulted in a sort of cold war, but in spite of that there are a number of lights at the end of the tunnel that threaten to do some serious harm to the dualist argument. The other key factor is the religious like confidence of both sides as they present their often dubious arguments - "something is very wrong on the internet".

Richard Brown presents us with, three thought experiments

First the players

Zombies are creatures that are identical to us in every physical respect but which lacks qualitative consciousness.
A Zoombie are creatures that is identical to us in every non-physical respect but which lacks qualitative consciousness.
Shombies are completely physical creatures who are identical to their real world twins in every mico-physical way. The difference between zombies and shombies is that shombies have qualitative consciousness.

now lets assume being able to concieve of something means it is possible.

now we can 'conceive' of a zombie so that seems to imply that consciousness is non physical - but we can also 'conceive' of a Zoombie - which implies conciousness is not non physical - or at least it cant be reduced to non physical facts that dont explicitly reference them. And now we can also 'conceive' of a Shombie - which means conciousness must be physical (because it is physical for a shombie).

anyway here is keith frankish on Erics blog - arguing for anti zombies

The point can be made independently by considering the unique world that is a physical duplicate of ours and where no further, non-physical properties are instantiated. This should be a zombie world, if any is. But it's also the only candidate for an anti-zombie world. Thus, the possibility of zombies is incompatible with that of anti-zombies. And if conceivability entails possibility, then the conceivability of zombies is incompatible with that of anti-zombies. So defenders of the zombie argument must deny that anti-zombies are conceivable.

Now of course physicalism is the view that we are anti-zombies, so if anti-zombies aren't conceivable then physicalism isn't conceivable either. In short, if you want to endorse the zombie argument, then you have to maintain that physicalism is inconceivable.

keith also puts forward another version

Incidentally, it is possible to run a metamodal version of the AZ argument, which by-passes the step just mentioned. It goes like this. Let P be the actual physical facts and Q the phenomenal ones. Then it is conceivable that P -> Q is necessary. If it is conceivable that P -> Q is necessary, then (by the CP thesis) it is possible that P -> Q is necessary. If it is possible that P -> Q is necessary, then P -> Q is necessary (S5 principle MLp -> Lp). If P -> Q is necessary, then consciousness is physical. Hence consciousness is physical. Peter Marton's version of the argument was along those lines.

In the comments interestingly
gualtiero said...

I gave an argument similar to the anti-zombie argument in a paper presented at Tucson VII - Toward a Science of Consciousness 2006. One of my conclusions was, as you say, that a zombie-file must hold that physicalism is inconceivable. I had a conversation with Chalmers about it, and he confirmed that that's precisely his view.

So there is the dualist defense - the zombie argument fundamentally assumes physicalism is inconceivable?

Usain Bolt

Some are questioning if Usain Bolt is on drugs,
well to me the fact that Bolt won by so much and looks so different from the other competitors like with Phelps (with his long arms) makes me think they are both just "freaks of nature". I suspect if they are on anything it's the same thing all the pother competitors are on.

But the real evidence is that he was the best age-group athlete in the world while he was in high school. Breaking the world junior 200m mark when he was only 15. If he has been on drugs he has been on them for a long time.

But maybe I'm just likeSimon Barnes thinking romantically about it

It’s not merely that I don’t believe Bolt is a drugs cheat: even more, it’s that I don’t want to believe it. I want Bolt to be real. It’s more fun that way: more meaningful.

And I think much of the world is in the same position: the imagination utterly caught by the impossibly languid nature of the fastest man in the world, revelling in the sight, the memory, the story. A failed test would rob us of all that: and more. Trust in athletics might be terminally affected if Bolt failed a test. He has lifted us so high, it’s far too far to fall.

Why is this so different from the gymnast? Well I guess i care about sprinting - it is a nice clean sport with clear winners based on a simple ideal like speed. I am also sympathetic towards a small country like Jamaica and it's pride in winning a few medals.

But regardless truth is what matters so both should be fully investigated.

Chinese Gymnast underage?

OK here is the evidence
first Billy Pan says probably*. So too does the blogger stryde hax who alerted the media**.
牛博 counters with the alternate possibility - translated here that the local authorities have been falsifying her age to make her look younger. Why? Well the documents the blogger found were related to competitions that were a proving ground for the 2012 Olympics, that mean that she needed to be 13-15. for the purposes of trading her skills between various interest groups it was more valuable for her to be 13 (which would make her 14 now). Then as suggested here the chinese media is collectively guilty of poor reporting and exaggerating her youth.

So where does the balance of the evidence lie?
First, obviously someone is lying and doing it on purpose. Either it is the government with their passports or the Chinese sports association on their files. The latter is a more simple theory so has the advantage on those grounds - however the girl does indeed look young (and I mean looks young to experts).

I wonder if there is a reason why her birth day (as opposed to year) doesn't also vary on these documents - I think 31/12/92 is the perfect age for her to compete and still be as young as possible and any day around there might have made sense as a potential fake date - then again its likely her family and other corrupt people would not have fully understood that.

But in the Sydney Olympics Yang's passport said she was born on December 24, 1984 and turning 16 in the year of the Games, making her eligible but she later confessed in a television interview that she was only 14 at the time of the competition and that she and her coaches had lied about her age. Also as Huffington post shows, there has been some sort of effort to "correct" the ages on online articles - smelling rather like a cover-up.

In the end I'm not sure - I think I'm leaning on the side that she is 14, but regardless it deserve some serious investigation. The bottom line is that if the Olympics are going to have rules they need to be enforced, otherwise you just penalize those that obey the rules.***

* in Chinese but the pictures say everything
** well OK the NYT already knew - but they obviously didn't think it was a interesting story
** being younger is an advantage - Nadia Comăneci, the girl who got perfect score in the Montreal Olympics, was 14. She would not have been able to compete under current rules and someone with a much lower score would have won. It is to do with your size and the obvious damage puberty does to womens ability to do gymnastics

Saturday, August 16, 2008

forcing men to have babies

From discussions with a lot of the girls I know it seems that many - quite possibly most women in NZ at some stage in their life attempt to have a baby with a man against their will.

Usually the man is saying something like "i don't want to have kids right now - just want to wait until we are married."
the woman in the other hand is thinking "I'm getting a bit older now and it may be hard to have a child soon."

The man is probably following the strategy of using condoms to prevent pregnancy. Anyway the usual method seems to be to pierce the condom with a needle.

First my friends need to realize that most condoms have spermicide on them - piercing the condom with a needle will cripple their ability to stop STDs but causing pregnancy - I think that is pretty unlikely.

But lets assume that this strategy was a very effective one - how moral is the strategy? I presume we can say it is somewhat immoral but immoral like a simple lie or is it a deeply immoral thing? Should such an activity (if it can be proven) have legal implications regarding child care or justification for divorce or anything along those lines? Does it's apparent commonness mitigate that?

Friday, August 15, 2008


Brian Weatherson argues that intuitions are generally reliable. He does this by showing that intuitions are right about things like "steak eating is bad for your waistline".

Well yes indeed that is correct. In fact intuitions almost certainly beat random guesses, in familiar situations they beat random guesses by a very wide margin. the problem then is not the use of intuitions - in many contexts they do provide some sort of evidence - it is instead what weight we place on that evidence and whether we are indeed using it in a context in which it is relevant.

Now first the reason why we can guess that steak eating is bad for your waistline is because we have been told that by doctors - and even if we had not we have been told by doctors similar things (like eating fat will make you fat and fat is found in meat). this brings us to the first point - are philosophers using intuition to solve problems that are very similar (in the relevant sense) to problems we have correctly solved and verified before?

the second issue is related to what we do once we have come to a conclusion. I expect that eating steak will make people fat - interestingly I eat lots of steak and it hasn't made me fat at all in fact if anything I'm unnaturally skinny. I could base my philosophy of dieting on the fact that steak is bad for my waistline but obviously it's not a hard and fast rule. this however is the sort of vague rule that intuition tends to produce.

Monday, August 04, 2008

On moral experts

Jen Wright writes

In the empirical literature, they make a distinction between performative and epistemic expertise, which I think is applicable here.

To the extent that moral philosophers are experts at all, they are epistemic experts -- that is, they have expertise about the domain. But, there is no reason to suppose that this gives them performative expertise, which is what we are looking for when we talk about moral excellence (as expressed in virtuous actions).

The development of performative expertise is an entirely different animal than the development of epistemic expertise. Performative expertise, regardless of the domain, involves the development of trained perception (which, in the moral domain, would involve the ability to recognize the morally relevant features of a situation as morally relevant) and automatic responsiveness -- i.e. the linking of perception and action in such a way as to 1) make deliberation often unnecessary and 2) make appropriate/successful action highly likely.

This is actually a topic of great interest to me, which I've been writing on quite a bit lately. I think that moral excellence is not only quite different from the skills one develops as a moral philosopher, but also that we shouldn't expect moral philosophy (at least, as we do it) to result in moral excellence. Indeed, it seems to me that moral philosophers, insofar as they emphasize rational deliberation and conformity with moral principles as the ultimate moral achievement, do a poor job of understanding and instructing others how achieve moral excellence.

Good stuff and apparently from a bit of an expert.
caplan notes

Recently Tyler Cowen publicized one of his periodic challenges to me:

I often joke with Bryan that the time has come for him to accept the consensus of what the experts in moral philosophy (or atonal music) tell us (him) to do.
One of the perks of attending the Social Philosophy and Policy conference was that I was able to ask philosophers the critical question: "You philosophers are definitely experts at something. But what is that something?"

Profs and grad students alike largely seemed to accept the following list of topics where members of their occupation actually have expertise:

  • Accurately describing the views of other philosophers, living and dead.
  • Checking arguments for logical validity/internal consistency.
No one claimed that the philosophy profession was good at figuring out true answers to philosophical questions. One even claimed the the primary product of philosophy is "broken arguments." Furthermore, no philosopher made an argument analogous to one economists often make: "Outsiders underestimate the degree of consensus because our debates focus on marginal controversies."

david brin on epublicans

david brin as usual is having a rant about republicans in the last few threads.
He has a point in that bush's presidency is a disaster. I measure that in terms of the same sorts of things david mentions such as
- national debt,
- military readiness
- international respect (ie good will credit with other countries)
and so forth

But first I don't see republicans as evil (potentially wrong, but not evil) and I disagree somewhat with regard to how he views the Democracts. Clinton did an OK job for a US president - but for a long time the US has run poor strategic policy. It has build up trade deficits , funded things through printing money, set up greater fool tricks in their market in debt securities and shares, allowed crime and prison populations to get out of control and otherwise mismanaged almost everything that requires large scale planning. I'm tempted to blame it on either their excessive belief in individualism, private enterprise or lack of systems to prevent corruption... But really I don't know.

Still it has been like watching a train hurtle towards a mountain with no tunnel. What is happening now is just the very beginning of the inevitable result. I had that impression when Clinton was in just as much as now - although I think Clinton did a better job he didnt get anywhere near stopping the train.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Who's to Say What's Right or Wrong?

this article on philosophers telling us what is right or wrong is quite interesting. Not so much for the actual point but for the methodology and hidden assumptions going on there.

first is the linguistic nitpicking.
he has a list of things that philosophers know including gems like "there is no right to life" he argues that for example you have no right to take another persons kidney in order to preserve your life - therefore no right to life.

fair enough but if he is going to nit pick lets take one of his statements
I have a right to free speech and publication I have no right of publication

you don't have a right to free speech - what if you freely said fire in a theater - or freely said it through a loudspeaker next to a guys head and killed him? Either you discount such things as obvious exceptions or you cant say much at all about rights. Non philosophers (for example politicians and lawyers) are not unaware of those issues.

the second is it seems to assume a reasonably right leaning perspective

For similar reasons, (F8) Article 25 of the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which says that everyone has a right to food, clothing, and housing, is simply false.
If this were true, then a state that failed to furnish such things to someone would be violating his rights.

Is that supposed to be a disproof? all it means is that most states are breaching the rights of their citizens - well this is in the journal of libertarian studies - do any libertarians doubt that the state is breaching citizens rights?
he also uses the starving African example to argue that we don't have an obligation to prevent harm - but now its the non libertarian philosophers who could be looking at him a bit strangely.

Funny he also devotes a large section to a ridiculous unfounded critique of deference to authority.

A brighter hope is that a superior species will evolve that lacks this perverted tendency to worship authority, and that it will wipe out homo sapiens

the problem with this (besides him wanting to wipe us out) is that he assumed bad authority that wants to hurt people - in reality the law is generally better than anarchy and for example if we fully privatized all nuclear weapons the world would probably not be a safer place.

After all this drivel he goes on to conclude that we should defer to philosophers just like we might defer to doctors or engineers. Well to actually put a libiterian hat on - the reason why we can be confident a doctor will give good advice is because his job and financial wellbeing depends on it and the medical associations reputation depends on it too so they will ensure he is trained in such a way as to 'do no harm'. Similarly with engineers. Philosophers - not so much.

A famous philosopher is a person who is able to explain his positions well in the form of publishable articles. He is probably very smart but if he gives you bad advice you probably can't tell and no one else will care because thats not the standard he is assessed on.

They also are not much use for public policy either becuase public policy is about two things pragmatically trying to achieve simple goals (like GDP, life expectancy etc) or getting reelected. the politicians dont need philosophers to tell them what GDP is nor do they need philosophers to tell them how to get relelected, the philosopher can only tell them what they "should" do. Which at it's best seems like an inferior way to target the first issue (or in as far as its based on intuitions and inferior way to achieve the second).

Pascal's wager

Utilitarian provides an interesting post on Where Does Pascal's Wager Fail? And seems to find that it doesn't - well not completely anyway. the reference to Solomonoff-induction etc provides a bit more mathematical approach than my old posts.


Norightturn Looks at the tui billboard jokes about Winston peters and notes that probably it is not a breach of the electoral finance act. I agree it probably isn't, but he seems to have missed the point.
What a law technically says is irrelevant - what matters is what its results are in practice.

In practice people and companies are significantly dissuaded from taking acts when the official body sends them correspondance saying that they may be in breach of the law even more so for those who don't have access to huge legal departments. In the vast majority of such situations it will never get to being tested in court.

For the sake of a joke I sure don't want to risk going up against the full force of the law.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Dualism with Alrenous

I had an interesting discussion with Alrenous regarding dualism. Alrenous's quest is to explain consciousness and he seems to take a mathematical approach to building a model of consciousness out of the physical laws of the universe. He then declares this to be a 'different substance' - i.e. consciousness. fair enough - I like the approach because when you have numbers involved you can potentially remove much of the vague nature of philosophy.

the key places where I seem to differ in opinion however is that I don't think consciousness needs dualism.

First let me split consciousness into two parts.
the first is all the calculations and reactions that amount to thought. What this tells us is that humans are more conscious than dogs and dogs are more conscious than ants. I don't need any more complex theory to justify that because the brain structure of an ant is just not complex enough to support a humans consciousness. By this scale everything has calculations - just those of a brain are far more interesting and complex than those of, lets say, a fuse.

the second i call perspective
that is the wider question of why is there a first person perspective for a human a dog or debatably an ant. My answer here is that everything has perspective.

why? well
1) take relativity - the laws of the universe are invariant regardless of frame of reference.
2) I know I have a perspective and I presume you do, I then infer dogs do too - do i have a non arbitrary reason to stop in this chain of logic? I think not.
3) I have no reason to think third person has a special status if anything I have reason to think first person has that status.

Alrenous seems to have had the same sorts of thoughts saying "Electrons are conscious but they are all exactly the same consciousness making exactly the same decision over and over and over, and while this is minimally conscious, it is indistinguishable in this form from regular stochasticity."

But I don't think that that consciousness needs explaining because I believe I've found it as a fundamental aspect of the universe, probably necessary and inseparable from being. So through the thread he is left trying to tie together evolution and his theory etc while for mine there are no loose ends. to ask me why somthing has a first person is like asking me why a person has a location.


Anyway for those who have read Alrenous's stuff I don't have an issue with the spiffy vs nifty stuff. although I don't see how spiffy stuff could acquire a totally different status (although a somewhat different status is understandable) and i don't see how there could be a 100% differentiation between the two (ie a clear cut dividing line) although maybe that isn't being claimed.

Its quite possible that for all intensive purposes the switching on of a mind note is what makes a person conscious thus addressing all sorts of moral questions. Still if the brain uses hundred of billions of mind nodes (as he states) having one mind node is a pretty cheap form of consciousness.