Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Philosophical Question For You

I've begun to notice that a person's philosophy is almost entirely determined by their feelings. Feelings which rarely or never change after early childhood. (Concept used mathematically; we don't know what happens in early childhood.)

It would appear that a person adopts the philosophy that most closely matches these feelings.

It could also be closely matching to some other internal, non-logical criteria.

In either case, it would appear that logic is better used to expand the person's existing philosophy, rather than attempting to replace it.

So I would like to do an experiment. Tell me a little bit about your philosophy, and about a problem it has. I will attempt to find a solution to that problem that is acceptable to you.

I believe this is a win-win proposition for you - if I fail, you will at least understand your problem better, while if I succeed, you will have a solution.

Still, this is a brand new technique. It will most likely have problems and I won't succeed on the first try. For example, I may simply try to adapt my philosophy to your problem, which would defeat the purpose.

Of course I'm going to do this anyway, and tell you about it. You should know what I think of a problem, so that you can put what I eventually find for you in context.

I will not attempt to convince you either way. I will only construct a solution, which you may accept or reject on the merits you ascribe to it. Counter-points will be taken as a request for refinement.

Like all technology, philosophy is a tool that should serve the user, not the other way around.

Ask not what you can do for philosophy; ask what philosophy can do for you.

Boston, Cagematch vs Lite-brite-wielding Terrorist

Having thought for some time about the bomb scare that shut down Boston, I realized that they are only playing into the hands of any real terrorist.

In fact, they only showed that any Boston-area terrorist can slash its budget. Instead of actually building bombs and risking bomb-searches in their homes or workshop turning up incriminating evidence, they can just build a few light shows and stick them up around town!

Paralyze a major metropolis for pennies a day! No EMP necessary!

Imagine what would happen if 1: They actually looked like they could hold explosive charges. 2: A large group of people start insisting on taking their water bottles into the airports. 3: An actual threat was issued.

All this would cost, what, a thousand dollars? Have a tiny fraction of the coordination necessary for the 9/11 attack? Have almost no chance of any legal repercussions? (The lite-brite wielders aren't going to turn themselves in like ad people must.)

Yes, in this as in many other areas, freedom is security. Boston is only trying to repress its population, apparently for shits and giggles.

America, for the love of whatever you hold dear, drop this ridiculous act. The terrorists have won - everyone is terrified. And how hard is it to stop? It would actually cost negative dollars - have police respond to crimes, not pranks. Abolish the TSA. Billions of dollars otherwise essentially aiding and abetting terrorism go back into the treasury, or even, cross fingers, into the pockets of taxpayers.

On the other hand, because the government is enabling terrorism to proficiently, we know for a fact that there are almost certainly no terrorists at all in America. Such a target is nearly irresistible to an irreverent teenager, let alone an actual terrorist. In fact the only reason it hasn't been copycat yet is probably because teenagers are too lazy to learn the necessary electronics.

""It had a very sinister appearance," Coakley told reporters. "It had a battery behind it, and wires."

Imagine if it had two batteries, connected by wires!

Consciousness; New Scientist Reports Grand Theory

Feature article of New Scientist, May 31 2008.

As a professional point, I had to spend the five bucks to get that issue, because the article is titled, Grand Theory of the Brain.

Ultimately, though, it only serves as a decent primer to the things I'm trying to say.

The brain is a computer. It should be cheaper to run an unconscious computer than a conscious one, but it isn't. Therefore, the brain is doing something nonphysical.

Not that I'm knocking his theory per se. It seems like an impressive bit of cross-disciplinary thought; the brain tries to minimize a quantity, roughly equivalent to uncertainty, the way physical systems minimize free energy. Much like I can observe Bayesian filtering in my own brain, I can see plausible effects of this minimizing strategy, like his example of turning your head to focus on something noticed out of the corner of your eye. Also, the feeling of doubt seems to be a direct sense of this quantity.

Nevertheless, this idea only enhances the procedural and deterministic mathematics we've been using to describe physics, a paradigm that not only seems unsuited to describing consciousness, but is demonstrable incapable.

Also in New Scientist, but available without subscription, is another excellent example of the generally piss-poor thought relative to the mind.

Yes, technically, human memory could be organized like computer memory. It would be more efficient for our current needs. But can't you think of anything our associate-memory might be better for? Perhaps like recalling exactly what's necessary given a present emergency, and not having to search through your entire memory bank each time?

Not that I'll refute the central point; yes, the human body abounds with kludges, including the human brain. However, it seems that there's only two schools of thought on the human body; either it's perfectly transcendently wonderful, or it's a load of crappy, crappy, crap, incapable of even fending off other primates with our bare hands, and ritually outperformed by even primitive computer technology. The fact, as always on such issues, almost has to lie somewhere in between.

Our desire for fats and sugar isn't what makes us fat. Otherwise, everyone physically capable of laying down fat would be prodigiously fat, without equally prodigious helpings of willpower. Obesity is almost certainly a psychological disease.
"Economists make that mistake. They assume that humans are rational, but they aren't necessarily. And I think that people almost always overestimate their own abilities."
The problem is that, rational or not, the individual always makes what they believe are the best choices for themselves. If people in general overestimate their abilities, then the advisers, presumably including Gary Marcus here, also overestimate their abilities. Again it's best left to the individual, because at least they'll learn from their mistakes.

In other words, even if the economists are wrong, the result is the same.

Notably, Marcus also doesn't realize that the main reason for ability overestimation is that the skills for competence are also the skills for recognizing competence. The incompetent are also incompetent at recognizing their incompetence. Given a random person, they will be incompetent at recognizing competence in nearly every field of human endeavor, and so Marcus can make observations like this without appearing retarded.
"But if you take the perspective that I'm presenting about kluges and tinkering and so on, then language can't be as separate from the rest of thought as people used to think."
Nevertheless, he succeeds in looking retarded here. What exactly are the properties of kludges that unify the mind or prohibit modules? Don't we have a hearing centre and a visual cortex? Why can't we have a language cortex?

Notably, there's more here about how consciousness must be an old evolutionary adaptation, which means it's specifically selected for.
"There's no type of neuron that you only find in the human brain, and there's no brain area that doesn't have a counterpart in the chimpanzee."
There's a link to the source article, but it also requires subscription.
"There's a real mystery about how mostly spare parts got reconfigured to make something so unique."
Hint: It's not unique. I suspect we simply have a much more powerful 'muscle' for consciousness than a chimp does. Much like consciousness appears to be nonphysical, and turns out to be nonphysical, it appears we are much more aware than a chimp is, and that's probably for the simple reason that we are.

Even the so called 'cell that makes us human,' the spindle cell, has been found in sea mammals as well as great apes.

The article that I found these additional tidbits in has another neat bit - about brain exercise. (Additional links in article.) So, want to make yourself think as well as I do? (Pff, like that happens.) It's simple - train. If your IQ is over 130, you should eventually become better than I am.
"Though we have discovered an enormous amount about the brain, huge and crucial mysteries remain. One of the most important is how does the brain produces our conscious experiences?"
Conscious experiences, eh. I'd call them right now but I have no way to prove I'm not just a web crank...aside from logic, that is. And, dear reader, I can assure you that is only the flimsiest of techniques.

Incidentally, most of the data necessary for my theories can be found in the pages of New Scientist. If you have a subscription, you can review all my crucial data points yourself, conveniently linked at the bottom of this third article.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Death of A Soldier; Everyone's Anarchist; The Art of Human Life

Earlier today I established that I'm a dick. So it comes as no surprise that the summary of my response to this self-eulogy is 'bullshit!'

Many people are sad about it, and so am I. I'm sad because what this man entrusted to us in the event of his death shows so elegantly how deluded and screwed up he was, and despite his protestations to the contrary, it ruined his life. The reaction, totally unfeigned, only shows me, yet again, how widespread such delusions are.

As I'm coming to find I have to say a lot, I don't care what dead people think. However, rebutting this corpse's final post isn't about what it thought; it's about what you think. Or, if not you, then inevitably someone you know. These are pandemic.

And they are Sad. They are every synonym of sad all rolled up into a huge ball of grief and loss. But not because he died. Because his beliefs live on.

And I'll show you why.

First, a seemingly tiny part of his message.
"It's not easy asking anyone to do something for you in the event of your death, and it is a testament to her quality that she didn't hesitate to accept the charge."
It's not? I'm going to have to ask my friends about that, because to me it seems like a very simple request. That's not the point though.

The point is his philosophy says to him that he's allowed to leave something undone not just until the last minute but actually after he's gone.

Why the hell didn't he talk like this before he's dead? This is some of the clearest, deeply thought, deeply felt, and most sincere writing I've read in years. It's been said by many before, why the blasted hell does everyone wait until it's too late to decide to be themselves?

So, what do I do about this issue? There's a post on this site, about consciousness. Why is it there? Because I was thinking one day, and I realized that I wanted it out there. I think it's important. What would happen in the unlikely event that I'm hit by an exploding chicken tomorrow? Without this blog, that idea would evaporate with my life. If I want it out there, if I want it recorded somewhere outside my head, I have to do it now. So I did.
"Believe it or not, one of the things I will miss most is not being able to blog any longer."
No, you're dead. You're not missing anything, because the structure that enabled you to feel the feeling 'miss' is now merrily feeding microorganisms. If indeed your consciousness survived somehow, blogging probably doesn't even make sense to you. You've become a completely different being. (Possibly the type of being known as 'nonexistent,' as you acknowledge later.)
"Bottom line: if I got the chance to meet you through blogging, I enjoyed it. I'm only sorry I couldn't meet more of you."
Sure buddy. You'd have just loved my blog if you'd found it. If your new body is capable of perceiving my blog, I bet you're just loving the crap out of this piece. What a load.
"I died doing a job I loved."
His job was killing people. He loved killing people.

Let me emphasize that.

He loved killing people.
"When your time comes, I hope you are as fortunate as I was."
Murder: a job description we all aspire to!
"Those who know me through my writings on the Internet over the past five-plus years probably have wondered at times about my chosen profession. While I am not a Libertarian, I certainly hold strongly individualistic beliefs. Yet I have spent my life in a profession that is not generally known for rugged individualism. Worse, I volunteered to return to active duty knowing that the choice would almost certainly lead me to Iraq."
Important, so I've quoted it here in case you, dear reader, don't want to read the whole thing. He continues in this vein for a bit until the following.
"As passionate as I am about personal freedom, I don't buy the claims of anarchists that humanity would be just fine without any government at all. There are too many people in the world who believe that they know best how people should live their lives, and many of them are more than willing to use force to impose those beliefs on others."
So, he wants to be an anarchist, but assiduously avoids the idea that there might, just might, be a non-government solution to these people "who believe that they know best how people should live their lives, and many of them are more than willing to use force to impose those beliefs on others." On the contrary, that is one of the most succinct descriptions of government itself I've ever seen.

Why would he argue against this specifically? There are lots of unpopular theories of government. Considering his audience, it's like arguing that he had hair - not exactly going to raise debate. Instead it's like a couple of jocks poking fun at the fat guy - it's a game of "Team up on the outsider."

Or is it? Why team up on this outsider specifically, except that he's afraid that's it's true? That he's afraid people will actually believe it?
"A world without government simply wouldn't last very long; as soon as it was established, strongmen would immediately spring up to establish their fiefdoms."
So it's overwhelming likely, according to this dead soldier, that government is exactly one of these strongmen, these gussied-up thugs, who "believe that they know best...and are will to use force."

Everyone wants to be an anarchist. Everyone wants to be left alone, to make their own decisions about their life, to do what they want, say what they want, work where they want, or indeed not work at all if they want.

If I had a business, and I was selling something that guaranteed that you'd have full control of your own life from here on out, that the people you talked to were all chosen by you, that what you ate was chosen by you, that you made all your own decisions in finance and business and pleasure and in love, what would people say?

"Sounds too good. What's the catch?"

"The catch is that you don't have to pay taxes." Ironically, that is indeed the catch - people want anarchism, but they don't like what it would mean in their lives - today, right now - if they admitted it.

And that's Sad. Steve Pavlina talks about fear holding us back. I sometimes might say that we don't like the logical consequences of accepting that the government needs to be gone. Molyneux would talk about how you were mistreated as a child. I don't actually believe its anything like as simple as any of this. I think it's a huge, messy, seemingly self-contradictory snarl of problems and counter-problems and hidden problems. It's real, like life.

But it's true that nearly everyone avoids simply going after what they want. Our world would be so much better if we did. Sure, some people are going to just admit that they want power, or crime, or other unsavory things. They are going to lie, cheat, and steal to get it. But that's no different than what's happening now - it's only that if everyone just went for what they want, the rest of us would end up honestly pursuing our goals, directly and without compromise. We would, for the most part, just admit our true desires and do everything possible to achieve them.

Without doing so, how would you ever know? Sure, you might fail. We might decide that we all want anarchism, but when we just go for it, it doesn't work. We fail. But you know what? At least then, and only then, we know for sure we can't have it. Then, and only then, we know it's time to pursue something else, something we didn't necessarily want as much. And we have no regrets.

Going for what you want and only what you want at the very least leads to half of inner peace - you aren't fighting yourself, nor are in conflict about what you're doing. You're just trying your darnedest to do it, and damn everyone who tries to stop you.

Either we're good people, or we're not. If we are, we have nothing to fear by pursuing our true desires. If we're not, then who the hell are we fooling? Bad people don't worry about being selfish. Bad people don't worry about looking themselves in the mirror. Only good people do these things. Only a good person could be persuaded to give up their goals for the sake of morals

Don't you understand? Only the good people are harmed by thinking they're bad people. Bad people don't worry about it.

That's why is Sad.

And here's another thing. What if I'm wrong, and not everyone truly wants anarchism? The fact is, we don't have to hang around those people. They don't much like us either, and it would be better for both sides if we just decided to live apart.

If someone really wants to be ordered about, or simply can't live without ordering other people around, let them. Just don't let them do it around you.

But I don't believe anyone really wants to be told what to do. If you don't believe me, then let's try it; contact me and I'll tell you what to do. How long will it be before you start arguing with me? Ten seconds? Five?

No one wants to be told what to do. Sometimes, though, even you don't know what to do. This is the time for someone like a grandfather. They're similar to you genetically, and so too will be their style of living. You spend a lot of time with your family; they know you well. So too do they know, through their long experience, life itself. So you ask your grandfather, what do I do? And a wise grandfather doesn't tell you one thing about what they would do. They ask questions, they help you live your life as you, instead of trying to graft on bits of other people. Ideally, it seems as if they know you better than they know yourself. They help you remember who you are, instead of trying to make you into who they think you should be.

Just like you don't hang around people who think they know your life better than you, if you really don't like your boss that much, you can quit. And guess what else? If you hate your family, you don't have to hang around them. "But they're your family!" isn't an argument. "But you owe them!" for whatever reason, isn't an argument either, especially if they're insulting or abusive. If you hate or fear your family members, if going to a Christmas gathering with people you supposedly love fills you with not joy but terror, don't fucking go. Sure, they'll say mean things about you. But you hate them, what do you care? Just do what you want.

Just do what you want. Or don't ever, ever complain if you don't get what you want, because it's nobody's fault but your own.

There's an art to human life. It's not just go to work, pay off your family with calls and visits, spend time raising your kids, then snatch a few minutes for the things you really enjoy before going to bed and starting the whole thing over again. It's not just bits of physics grinding up against other physics. It's an art.

Music? Movies? Poetry? Painting? These are but tiny sub-arts to the great dance that is a human life. But interesting blips compared to the true swelling orchestral beauty of a well-lived life.

And it's your art. Not your mother's, not your god's, not your spouse's or your children's or the poor and needy's or your government's or any of the thousand other people that will try to lay claim to it.

Yours. Yours and yours alone.

It cannot be any other way. Your mind is your own and no one can take it from you unless you let them.

The people who claim that they can paint your life better than you? They can't. They don't know you, they can never know you well enough, and they're just trying to supplement their own failure to live up to themselves by taking your talent.

The best advice I've ever heard was, "Don't take advice."

It's an art. It's poetry and symmetry and contrast, light, colour, arpeggio, forte and pianissimo. It's the way the clutter of your house - or lack thereof - reflects your inner life. It's the people you choose, the foods you choose, how you divide your day. It's the way you try to integrate the things you can't control into the things you can. It's the details and the wholes they make up. It's whether you choose to do things exactly right, or if good enough is good enough.

It's the integrity of the thing, the way it all fits together. It's what people are talking about when they say self-expression. It's not what these things are, but how they fit together and what they mean. It all combines and expands and becomes more than even you meant it to.

It's an art. It's a dance through existence and it's always your move.

Ah, you may ask, but what is art? One of the points of art is to show things that otherwise can't be shown - to play with the senses.

You can paint a landscape. But why? You could also just visit the landscape, and see it in its full interactive glory. You paint the landscape to show things the landscape itself can't. To emphasize to the eye details that are never emphasized, to add colour where there is none or take it away from where it is.

This is why I loved Escher so much at first. He takes the paintbrush and plays with the rules of the eye, showing us things we never thought we could see. He explores our reality on our behalf and lets us learn new things about ourselves.

All art should do this. Fiction displays events that could never happen, so we can feel thing we'd never otherwise feel. Music are sounds beyond that we can find in nature, giving us moods previously impossible. Poetry is a game of the mind and language, evoking unheard-of connections. This is also why photography seems so silly to me as an art - it's just a natural scene, and yes there's a certain craft to portraying it accurately, but it's inevitably less than the actual thing itself. For the most part, it's better to just go yourself to wherever the photograph was taken. By contrast, photoshop reawakens the playful and exploratory, taking the natural scene and cranking the contrast or inserting illusions or combining two things we'd never otherwise see together, and ultimately making it mean something, about you.

In a human life it's all this and yet more. The harmony and disposition of your choices is the most subtle, yet intense, everyday, yet sublime art there is. Through nothing else can the real purpose of life be seen but by living it, by appreciating the greatest work you'll ever see: your own life. Though this art there are an infinity of things you never thought you could experience.

"What's the catch?"

"You have to do what you want."

I'm Such a Dick

For context.

So, I thought about what he'd said for a while. I tried to come up with the essential flaw in his argument. Just now, I sent a message approximated here:

Subject: Laws of Logic
Since you've apparently figured out how to reason about the absence of logic, I have a few questions for you.


A is either true or false. (Logic is binary)

A != !A (Noncontradiction.)

What would a universe where A!=A or A=!A look like?

What would trinary (or continuous!) logic look like?
I have no faith that he will even attempt to answer these questions. So, I'm a dick. Nevertheless, if you, dear reader, can answer them, I would greatly appreciate it. I strongly suspect that our brains will find it literally impossible to property conceive of such situations, but a counterexample would quickly disprove me.

Update: Yup. Got a link to ternary logic. You'll notice that the third value is 'unknown' which is impossible with respect to physics. I responded by outlining why I don't accept this, and mentioning that it was flippant at best, but probably an insult. Again, unfortunately, this simply proves that I'm a dick.

2nd Update: " purposes." Yup, definitely an insult. Does this actually mean anything? Can it mean anything?

A Long Definition of Property, and Ownership

Apparently, the concept of ownership isn't clear, so I'm going to lay it out again.

I'm not surprised it's not clear - there are many incentives to deliberately confuse yourself about property rights. Anything less than a full and ironclad definition will be challenged. Indeed even the ironclad definition will be challenged, but not coherently.

Let's begin.

You control yourself. Actually, whatever controls your body is you.

It works like this. Your arms can wave about. Something controls that waving. That thing also controls your mind and vocal cords, which means that the only thing we can interact with (at least with current tech) is your body's controller.

This is typically what we mean when we say 'you' - it is the thing that controls your body. So, you control yourself, and this is incontrovertible.

There are two parts to the next argument. First, that property rights are inevitable. Second, once they exist, property rights can't be contravened by anyone without logical contradiction. My apologies for the clunky wording. The underlying concepts are much more elegant; I simply haven't found the good, simple, straightforward way to express them.

Aliens will have property rights. All finite living beings (all life has goals, all things that can be assigned goals are living) need to control their environment, or they perish. They need to be able to achieve their goals, or they become non-living. This control is an extension of self-control.

As a result, all life will expect to be able to control their environment. If they did not, they would not waste the energy to try - and they would perish, unable to reach or even strive for goals. Conversely, if they did try but could not expect to control their environment, they would run out of energy and perish. This expectation of control is inevitable for anything that lives.

Because I am a living thing I expect that I can control my environment.

Because you are also a living thing, the situation is symmetrical. Especially since we are, for all intents and purposes, the identical type of thing - human. (Some tiny differences with gender or birth defects I am ignoring for the moment.)

We call this fact ownership - the control of something leads directly from the expectation of control, which is ownership, and vice-versa; ownership leads from control. We cannot both reasonably expect to control a single thing at the same time. (Without fusing our mind/controller so that we are a single entity.)

Since control inevitably implies ownership, I have ownership of my body. I can claim ownership of the environment by exerting my bodily control to control my environment. Having done so, if a person attempts violence, such as theft, upon my property, they also expect to own this part of the environment. However, logically, this is impossible.

I own, for instance, my wallet because I reasonably expect to control it. If a thief also reasonably expects to control it, the thief also owns it. (Assume the theft will be successful, as the thief must, or they would not attempt the theft.) We both own the wallet. This is immediately contradictory; but we cannot both control the wallet, and we cannot both reasonably expect to control the wallet. As a result, if the thief can reasonably expect to control the wallet, nobody owns the wallet. Which means the thief doesn't own the wallet. Which means they don't expect to own it. Which means they're not going to be a thief, and we see the contradiction again; to violate property rights leads to logical contradictions. To attempt theft is to violate the very reasons you are attempting theft. Theft is inherently hypocritical.

Again, if we did not expect to control something - if ownership or property does not exist - then we would not try to control it at all.

Indeed, all immoral behavior is, as I can verify, hypocritical. All evil is hypocritical; hypocrisy is the only evil. I can verify it not just logically, but empirically; nearly everything called immoral is hypocritical in this way.

  1. You must be able to reasonably expect to control your environment (as all living things must, but this is irrelevant - you must, this is a fact.)
  2. Two agents cannot both control one object at a single time.
  3. Only one agent can reasonably expect to control one object at a single time.
  4. We call this ownership.
  5. If a second agent attempts to violate (they must use violence) the ownership of a first agent, the second agent must reasonably expect to control the object.
  6. Theft (less obviously, all violence) requires that two entities own an object at one time.
  7. Theft is logically contradictory, by (2.)
  8. You cannot commit theft without hypocrisy - without contradicting a concept you are using in your reasons for theft.
And we can see this easily, once we realize that ownership is reasonable expectation of control. As soon as a thief decides that they are stealing my wallet, the ownership of the wallet would have to change. But, if ownership is to be meaningful, I would have to somehow be able to test for this change in ownership so that I would stop reasonably expecting to control it, which I cannot do.

So, as I've heard before, someone will say, though with less sophistication and clarity, "But that only means that ownership is simply an invalid concept!" This cannot be the case; a reasonable expectation of control is necessary for you to even to type out the objection. You must own your body, your keyboard, and rent the internet, at least long enough for it to get to me.

Again, if you did not reasonably expect to control your keyboard (you didn't own it) you wouldn't try to type, and I would never get your message.

(Renting: A time-delimited agreement of reasonable expectation of control, usually with physical limitations placed by the previous/subsequent owner, also usually with various clauses that immediately transfer back the reasonable expectation of control if the physical limitations are violated. Essentially borrowing for money - the real owner agrees to exerts their right to not control the borrowed object as long as you keep exerting your right to hand over the cash.)

There was at least one benefit to me from being challenged. I thought that ownership inevitably implied control, which is only almost true. Indeed, if you are not mistaken, ownership and control are always the same. However, because ownership is only a subjective expectation of control, not actual control itself, in physical terms they don't always coincide. Also, typing that last sentence inspired a whole new post on subjectivity, which I'll complete in the hazy future.

To conclude, we see again that there is but a short hop from property rights to universal ethics.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An Excellent Example of Professional Tunnelvision, Segue Into Healthy Debates

I've often noticed that outside their area of expertise, scientists and professors are often as incompetent as layman. This is actually true in general for professionals. They do not apply the principles they learn in their profession to life outside the profession.

Unfortunately, this is even true of logicians. I have an excellent example. Specifically, the phrase 'counter-example.' (Hello, irony. Fine day, isn't it?)

You would expect, from the normal definition of 'counter' for a counter-example to be in some sense opposite to an example. If you're a logician, however, this apparently escapes you.

It took me a good half-hour to come up with a coherent theory of what they meant by counter-example. In this case, 'counter' means 'exactly the same as the regular example, but more obviously false.' The argument structure is exactly the same, and this is how I can tell they are good logicians; they rarely screw up when identifying the argument type.

Unfortunately, their skills apparently end there. For example,
"Every event must have a cause, that is, every event bears the effect relation to some other event, which is its cause.
Therefore, there must be a cause of every event, that is, some event bears the inverse of the effect relation—which is the cause relation—to every other event. This first cause is what we call "God"."
They fucked up the argument. What they're actually arguing is not that God is a first cause, but that God is every cause, which indeed seems like a fallacy. The actual argument goes like this;
"Every event must have a cause, that is, every event bears the effect relation to some other event, which is its cause.
Therefore, there must be a cause of every event, that is, for each event, there exists a second (in logic, not in time) event that bears the inverse of the effect relation—which is the cause relation—to the first event. Events are ordered in time and time is finite. Therefore, there must have been a first event, which means there must have been a first cause. This first cause is what we call "God"."
(Notably, I also fucked up the argument - twice, in separate ways - but I corrected myself before publishing it.) As we can see, this makes a great deal more sense, and must be refuted by actual sophisticated argument, something the Dawkins-esque atheist apparently cannot believe is required when arguing with theists. For instance, you have to note that for this to work, God cannot himself be an event, or he would require a cause, thus proving that his cause is God, not God himself, and so on forever. But this means that not every cause is an event, contradicting a premise. There are probably similarly sophisticated rebuttals to my rebuttals. (Reasoning out consequences is a technique that can replace knowledge of literally all specific logical fallacies, though in both cases your opponents must consent to lay out their premises clearly.)

Similarly, when attempting to form my theory of what they meant, I did, sadly, check their glossary, but of course I still expected a logician to actually mean something related to 'counter' when they say 'counter.' How foolish of me. I thought the counter for an example of a fallacy would in some way be a non-fallacy example, or perhaps vice-versa. Or perhaps the counter-example was an example of where the fallacy existed but the conclusion was still true, showing how people might come to believe in fallacies, while at the same time demonstrating, through the regular example, how the reasoning is false. But no, my hopes were, as usual, far more sophisticated, more insightful, more consistent, and more useful than the reality. (At least I come up with good ideas.)

If you (also) check the glossary, the flaw is even more egregious, because they also list the standard definition of counter-example; an example that counters an argument.
  1. Lying is an effective tactic for lawyers/politicians
  2. A lying lawyer/politician will defeat an honest one in an otherwise fair contest.
  3. All successful lawyers/politicians are liars.
You know, the type of counter-example that would disprove categorical arguments like this; a single successful, honest, lawyer. (Note that I don't have to find out if the argument is invalid or if one of the premises is just untrue; the counter-example does all the work for me.)

Another way you can test yourself (the previous note being there to ensure you know how to use counter-examples, a service I wish more people would provide - again with my ideas vs reality.) is that I had an implicit premise.

Implicit premise: most contests are fair, or the unfairness is evenly distributed between most contestants. It seems unlikely that scrupulous lawyers would somehow have an unfair advantage, though yet again, my ideas are far more sophisticated, consistent, and useful than the reality - we should totally implement unfair advantages for honesty, perhaps with something akin to bounties for scrupulous behavior. Obviously, if everyone is honest the advantage disappears, while if most people are dishonest, we end up designing a system where the resources attending scruples can defeat the advantages attending dishonesty.

I have learned something by studying this data in perspective with other recent data, specifically by comparing the God-debate with the debates I'm currently engaging in. If indeed your opponents in a debate with submit their premises for review, it becomes easy to point out logical fallacies - which supplies the motive for not doing so. Having pointed them out, a debate can continue by having the rebuttee repair their argument and submit it again, either until the argument is sound, they cannot repair it, or the debaters disagree on whether a particular premise is true or false. This last would mean that the data sets of the debaters is incongruent, and must be fixed, usually by science. Naturally, even debaters with the same axioms but different data sets (both being imperfect, of course) can validly come to different conclusions.

This is what a healthy debate is like. Does your debate look like this? If not, how do you repair it?

Conversely, one of the debaters may eventually come to an argument that is sound, yet which their opponent believes is untrue. That is, the opponent cannot find a flaw in the premises or logic, but still objects to the conclusion.

Alternatively, they may object to the logic itself - there may be a step that one debator finds inevitable while the other finds objectionable. This is actually the basis of real irrationality

This is why I attempt to lay out my arguments, especially my argument about consciousness, as formally as possible, and welcome all attempts to correct the logical presentation.

If indeed there is irrationality in the debate, it's the only way to definitively find out.

Ongoing Criticism of Philosophers: Steve Pavlina

In contrast to many of my posts, this time Steve's done something pretty admirable.

He's taken a real, most likely irrevocable risk for what he believes in.

He's written a concise, clear and blunt critique of a very common mental trope. By criticizing religion, especially in general, and double especially with the actual heart of the problems of religion, he risks alienating not only some of his traffic, but society at large. He's brought out the moral dimension, and he's not pulling punches. If you read this, there's no honorable way to retreat, extemporize or ignore. It is not polite, it is not socially accepted, even as an eccentricity.

Yet, it is something that many, many people need to think about. Steve's using his A-list traffic as a weapon against dishonesty and corruption, and he's not being shy about it.

Though unfortunately somewhat lacking in actual supporting evidence, the missing evidence is common enough that you can supply your own.

Note also that his core argument isn't actually moral. It's functional; if you want to be highly conscious, you can't hang around self-contradictory frauds. "Those who try to mentally process such glaring contradictions as coherent truth invariably suffer for it."

Steve somewhat manages to hold himself back pure insults, at least at first. "Seriously, if you have insomnia, try reading religious texts before bedtime." It's a shame that the second half of the article doesn't live up to the promise of the first. Steve gets bogged down somewhat in common complaints, like the well-known Church pedophiles. I don't really care about that; I want to hear him talk about how religions inherently interfere with conscious living. The Church could just be having a bad time, which would be a strictly engineering complaint. I can imagine a Church that prevented such things, the fact that it apparently isn't is probably due to general malaise rather than the Church specifically.

If you're going to write a polemic, you need to use polemic arguments, and stay on topic. Anything else is a weakness to be exploited. Don't insult unless you really can't help yourself; it makes you look weak as well. If your arguments stand on their own, why attack your opponents emotionally? Hate is an emotion, not an argument. I'm actually wondering if Steve has had a really off day, considering how long he usually goes on about love and understanding, as indeed he does again later in the article.

It's nice to know that he's apparently aware of the actual consequences of his subjectivity-first doctrine. "First, there’s the idiocy option. You can willingly swallow all of the contrived, man-made drivel that’s fed to you. Accept that the earth is only 10,000 years old. Believe stories about dead bodies coming back to life. Learn about various deities and such. Put your trust in someone who thinks they know what they’re talking about."

Clearly, just because reality can be construed as subjective, it doesn't mean outright contradictions can exist. Good job Steve! (No, you can't intention-manifest flight.)

I would really like to put Pavlina and Molyneux in a room and watch them have it out. I think their thrashings would be extremely instructive - I would learn a great deal about both of them.

Finally, "God isn’t going to smite you for not formally worshipping him. If he didn’t smite me by now, it’s a safe bet you’ll slide beneath the radar as well." So there's half a point to insulting everyone who the article is aimed at. It isn't an excuse, however.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Thoughts On a Tenured Philosopher, Segue Into What Philosophy Is

I have come into possession of an essay by a tenured philosopher. Since I take issue with all of his conclusions, and he's much older, more experienced, and presumably has more effective critics, I've decided I have to be quite thorough in describing how he is wrong. It was terrifyingly easy.

Like Mencius says, it's like beating up an old man. Yet, I find myself compelled to do so. (Philosophy in everything; what does this mean for free will?) That might make me a sadist, if I thought he might ever actually read this.

The fact that this man receives tenure, that his thoughts are considered anything but babbled garbage, is extremely worrying. It is my hope that this essay will help me understand how anyone can dodge the ten seconds of thought it takes to destroy his arguments.

Despite this, he starts off with a strong statement,
"I'm going to come right out and say it: after all this time as a student, and then as a graduate student, and then as a professor of philosophy, I still have absolutely no idea what philosophy is, and therefore what it is I am supposed to be doing."
This is a statement of fact, it's true, (indeed he'd be hard pressed to mistake it) and definitely interesting and relevant. Let's see what he makes of it.
"But it is that thing that I can do because I am a philosopher that a surgeon, or an archeologist, or a thoughtful sales clerk cannot do, because they are not philosophers, that remains elusive."
First, I'd have to say that a thoughtful sales clerk is a philosopher. To be otherwise is to say that philosophy is irrelevant to sales clerks, much as astronomy is irrelevant to sales clerks. This seems to grate on our intuitive definition of philosophy, and indeed I can't see Dr. Smith agreeing with it. But indeed it's a question that needs answering; what is the difference between a sales clerk, and a philosophical sales clerk?
"Well, one might reply, there's "critical thinking." But this is something that, in the ideal situation, any active participant in the civic life of a free society would be able to employ in reading the newpaper, listening to the speeches of politicians, etc."
Assuming that critical thinking is indeed a necessary part of a philosopher, all he's argued is that philosophical skill is relevant to everyone. Again, I'm not sure why he'd argue the opposite - that philosophy is less important or relevant than everyone thinks it is.

By contrast, for me to prove that critical thinking isn't philosophical, I'd first have to know what philosophy is. Yet, the whole point of philosophy is for it to be important, which means any definition of philosophy can be held to this property, and discarded if it doesn't meet it. If we empirically find that philosophers aren't doing important things, then we've found that philosophers haven't been doing philosophy.
"Finally, of course, there's the stuff about God and the soul, which used to be the stock-in-trade of philosophy and which philosophy still can't really dispense with, in spite of its general awkwardness around the topics. There I am certainly as ignorant as every other human being is and always has been."
For the first sentence, I'm first going to talk about metaphysics.

There's two perspectives on metaphysics. First, it's simply the stuff that's beyond physics - things that exist and are important to us, but aren't strictly physical.

Second, it's the stuff that's strictly beyond physics - things that are irrelevant to physics, and which physics is irrelevant to.

The problem is that modern science has, in the form of physicalism, completely tamed the first definition and completely annihilated the second. Everything that interact with physics must share the rules that physical things follow, (otherwise the interaction would be inconsistent between the sides) and if they share the rules they must be physical. (Actually, they simply must be consistent with physics, which doesn't necessarily mean they must be physical, but it does mean they can be interacted with and somehow studied.)

Since our bodies are physical, everything we interact with must somehow come through physics. The first definition collapses to just 'physics' and the second is ruled out entirely.

In short, yes we can dispense with this God stuff if we want, and the only reason for the awkwardness is the fact that you refuse to admit this. Or, we can not dispense with it, and use the lessons of physicalism to deal with the awkwardness. It's all the same to me.

For the second sentence, every human being? Always? Those are some pretty categorical and important conclusions. Can Dr. Smith back those up? At all? Surely, for something so certain, there's a rigorous logical reason for it, which means it's not just some accident. (Oh wait, as we'll see below, logic is childish. Hmm.)
"Now I've read countless books filed under "philosophy." I've thought about what these books have to say, and I've written as much as I've been able in response. But I don't remember ever having "done" philosophy. I don't think I belong to the same world as one capable of saying that."
So, despite the fact that Dr. Smith can't define philosophy, or indeed mentioned any of the necessary traits, or even any of the necessary exclusions (what philosophy definitely can't be defined as) he knows that he's never 'done' philosophy. Either this means his completely subjective impression of philosophy is accurate, or it means he's got a hidden definition of 'doing' philosophy.
"I am about as interested in it as I am in organic chemistry, and rather less than I am in neolithic burial mounds. And, well, vita brevis ..."
That may just mean, Dr. Smith, that you're not actually interested in philosophy. It's far from a given that you are, in fact, a philosopher, especially as you cannot define your job. Despite this fact,
"So then why not just say that having expert knowledge in philosophy of mind is a sufficient but not necessary condition for being a philosopher, and that there is a cluster of such bodies of expert knowledge, with family resemblances between them, and that is what makes up philosophy?"
is obviously true. Philosophy of mind is most likely a sub-discipline. (If you haven't read the article, the sentences after this one are quite relevant but I have no specific response; they stand on their own.)

They can be mostly summarized by this out of order quote;
"Richard Rorty is at least right to say that what philosophy departments offer fails largely to live up to the sense that newcomers have that the discipline ought to be doing something rather more, well, important."
Which sets the stage for this gem:
"I am not saying that curriculum decisions should be turned over to the students. That would be a disaster."
Let me rephrase; "I am not saying that we should let the student choose what they learn. That would be a disaster." No, the only disaster here is that someone actually thinks this man isn't criminally insane.

Let me rephrase again: "Curiosity is a very bad thing to follow, especially in a university, double especially in philosophy. We should do everything we can to stamp it out."

Again: "The students are stupid, ignorant, and will only damage themselves if we let them decide for themselves. We are special, enlightened, and godlike, and the only way for the poor students to end up with a semblance of rationality."

Do these rephrasings make sense? The first must, but what about the other two? Well, look at the public schools. If you can find any contradiction, any at all, praise it to the skies because it's quite the rare bird.

Much as the issues with *'academic integrity' and cheating*(stars to remind me to link to an upcoming post) are actually about authority, this is also just about authority. The problem is that if the students don't feel like they're learning philosophy, the department's authority is threatened. That is the only real issue for them.

His cracks about not knowing what philosophy is, even after all this time being taught by enlightened beings such as he himself now is, puts the lie to this philosophy. The worshipped experts, given free reign, are either incapable of, or refrain from, answering basic questions their students ask about the field.

Similarly, if we aren't to let students choose what they learn in a field, why let them choose a field at all? This kind of contradiction is what makes this poor soul say things like,
"There's formal logic, but if I agree with Heidegger on anything it is that logic, like shortpants, is for schoolboys."
Which is preposterous. Critical thinking without logic is like a beach without water; the definition is incoherent.

Similarly, if logic is useless, we need to replace it with something, and rather badly. We seem to be using it all over the place. I bet Heidegger didn't simply state his proposition, but attempted to support it. How did he do so without logic?

Yes, I do know his argument is about 'formal logic' not just 'logic.' This is also incoherent. Formal logic is not somehow ineffably different from regular logic. Either the conclusions follow from the premises, or they don't.

Interestingly, while he can't think worth a damn, he is capable of gathering good evidence. He says,
"Again, the only common threads seem to be sociological, rather than doctrinal. We recognize each other by our ability to rattle off the names of philosophy professors who have become major public personalities; to note "where they're at" now, Harvard, Oxford, etc.; perhaps to mention that we've heard how much they get paid."
"There is also professional humor, of course...
It is palliative, occupational humor, like Dilbert, or like a bumpersticker on a union van that reads "Electricians Conduit Better": a futile effort to overcome the poverty of a life that has been reduced to and identified with the career that sustains it."
"What used to be called "natural philosophy" and has since been parted out into the various science departments is, in general, fascinating. It asks whether frogs emerge de novo from slime, and whether astral influx is responsible for the growth of crystals. I know in advance the answer to both of these questions, but I can't shake the feeling that reading these texts, and witnessing their authors struggling with these questions, is more edifying, and more important, than seeking to solve the problems that happen to be on the current disciplinary agenda."
The miracle is that he recognizes that these are actually significant. Yes, it is more important. Why the hell can't a tenured philosopher actually go the next step and tell us why?

I can. That's why I'll never achieve tenure, and know better than to try.

Can someone please explain to me what the following is supposed to mean? I would like to critique it, as I suspect there's nonsense in there, but I can't work out a coherent theory of what he's trying to say.
"Of course, as Steven Shapin -- that truly brilliant outside observer of philosophy's "doings" -- has said, anti-philosophy, like philosophy, is the business of the philosophers. Periodically, after a long spell of failed system-building and bottom-heavy foundationalism, some guy comes along with a Ph.D. in philosophy and says: Philosophy! Who needs it! Rorty is a good recent example, though certainly just the latest in a long line. Diogenes of Sinope, in his own way, eating garbage and pleasuring himself in the agora, was out to show what a waste of time it is to theorize instead of simply to live, to live! There are plenty of people who go much further, such as those who drop out of grad school after one semester because they got a B+ they didn't like, and go into investment banking and spend their lives berating those who waste theirs in the Ivory Tower. Now that is anti-philosophy. Rorty and Diogenes, on the other hand, remain susceptible to Shapin's jab. They are insiders, and their denunciations only work because their social identities were already secured through a demonstration of concern for and interest in philosophy."
There's definitely something rotten in the state of Denmark. It's been mentioned and noticed before, and even partially examined. So, it is clearly necessary for someone to define philosophy. Since no one else seems to be doing it, it will have to be me.

Philosophy is the study of meaning. By contrast to all the sciences, which attempt only to describe what happens, philosophy attempts to coherently derive meaning and value, and apply it consistently to new situations. Both the practical sense, in that "The fact that we can detect decision seven seconds before you can means that free will doesn't exist," and the more transcendent meaning, "Having no free will is meaningless. It should not make you happy, or sad, because the situation before and after you found this out is the same. Whatever you felt before was accurate, and it is still accurate." The essential question, "What is the meaning of life?" though vague, tells us that the thing philosophers are looked to for is meaning. That is our purpose.

The reason a philosopher needs logic and critical thinking is simply that meaning cannot be objectively measured or verified; as a result, all the failings of human thought that science is supposed to remedy are unavoidably relevant. Riven of proper experiment, the only remaining method is incredible heights of logical rigor and ability.

Does this definition make sense? When people say, "My philosophy is..." does replacing philosophy with system of meaning leave the sentence sensible? Can the saying, "Be philosophical about it," sensibly be replaced by, "There's a different meaning you can assign to these events,"?

As a result of this necessarily exceptional logical aptitude, a philosopher is often capable of criticizing a wide range of topics and fields, simply on their internal consistency. This ability is what leads us to confusion as to the domain of philosophy. When Dr. Smith talks about how everyone should be able to think critically, this is because a skilled philosopher is useful to every field, not just on the results of philosophy, but because the essential skillset is relevant to everyone.

That's what being a philosopher means.

Some other definitions, and why they don't work.

"Physicalism is a philosophical position..." Physicalism isn't a philosophical position. What they're saying is that it's an arguable consequence of physics being math-based. This is a direct and objective consequence; either it's true, or it isn't, and it can in principle be tested.

Specifically it's the statement that to interact with physics is to make a thing physical, because the rules of interaction have to be common, as contradictions don't exist, and the rules of interaction with physical things are all physical.

Physicalism is something that can, and should be, tested, not argued. Even though it is arguable, at some point it will not be. The thing about meaning is that it depends entirely on the mind; meaning does not exist without minds to comprehend it; and only things internal to the mind can be used to investigate it. As a non-obvious result, meaning can always be argued, though it can be difficult to argue coherently against a good philosopher. If nothing else, things can mean different things to different people, for example a dollar's meaning to the poor versus to the rich, or what pregnancy means for the mother as compared to the father, even though the physical result of the fact of pregnancy are the same for each. The consequences of physicalism, by contrast, are exactly the same for everyone.

From Graham; "Aristotle's goal was to find the most general of general principles. The examples he gives are convincing: an ordinary worker builds things a certain way out of habit; a master craftsman can do more because he grasps the underlying principles. The trend is clear: the more general the knowledge, the more admirable it is. But then he makes a mistake—possibly the most important mistake in the history of philosophy. He has noticed that theoretical knowledge is often acquired for its own sake, out of curiosity, rather than for any practical need. So he proposes there are two kinds of theoretical knowledge: some that's useful in practical matters and some that isn't. Since people interested in the latter are interested in it for its own sake, it must be more noble. So he sets as his goal in the Metaphysics the exploration of knowledge that has no practical use."

This is, as I mentioned earlier, the discredited version of metaphysics. If the thing is useless, as we understand from studying physicalism, then the thing does not exist. If it has no interactions with us, it cannot be studied, and there's no point in trying to investigate it seriously, because it will never interact with us.

It can be a good game for philosophers, to try to come up with a consistent set of consequences for particular assumptions. "Assume the universe is watched, in violation of Newton's Third Law. What are the consequences for this watching universe?" "Is logic universal or trans-universal? Does every possible reality have to obey logic, and what would a reality that doesn't obey logic look like?" By assumption, the answers to all these questions are meaningless to us; there is no possible interaction. It is metaphysics. To investigate this is a game, and nothing more.

It is also a delicate point. Consider;

"Assume there are not four, but six forces in the universe. The other two have always perfectly cancelled each other out, which is why we haven't discovered them. What does that mean?"

There are, in fact, useful reasons to consider this. For one, perhaps there is an interaction, that doesn't naturally occur, that would unbalance these forces. Also, if it's meaningful to talk about these forces, as it is by assumption, then there are several consequences. For instance, there would be other universes where these forces don't cancel out, which means there are other universes, which we may be able to reach, as their forces and ours are similar, which means that a coherent and symmetric transformation between the systems may be possible.

It's similar to asking what the universe would be like if it had no edge. It helps us understand what exactly our particular situation actually means.

I didn't get to mention that I'm thinking of this guy like a product of Orthanc; twisted and grotesque. This is because of the unholy alliance between intellectuals and the state, which has persisted for millennia. You can see this corruption operating right now, on physics.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Consciousness is Not Physical; Glandular Dependency

Consciousness is deliberately suppressed in young humans.(Yes, I know you don't think that's true, but my personal memories falsify all other theories. Yes, they could be false memories. If so, they are the only false memories I have that aren't specifically labelled as such. Also, past memories of remembering these memories, such as when I was eight, are consistent with present recollections of the memory. Also, they are precisely following exponential decay.)

Consciousness exists at least in the species that pass the mirror test.

Emotion and choice and thus consciousness can be inferred in very low life forms, such as fruit flies and house flies.

Consciousness is therefore not only a very useful adaptation, having been conserved across nearly every neuron-using organism, but can be deliberately affected by changes in genetic expression over an organisms lifecycle. Put another way, a gland that specifically enables consciousness is plausible, much like the pituitary gland enables puberty.

In other words, it's not an essential epiphenomenon of the computation of the brain.

I just realized this.

This means I got a theory, and now I'm accidentally stumbling across supporting evidence.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Physics: Probability May Produce the Arrow of Time

Probability must be quantized, as everything in a finite universe must be quantized.

(And the universe must be finite or the finite elements would be meaningless.)

The probability of past events has been set at 100% - they were 100% at some present time, and cannot later be affected.

The probability of future events is always less, and considering the extreme complexity of the universe, the probability of any future state of the universe must be extremely small. With something like 1080 atoms in the universe, the chance of any particular state is essentially infinitesimal.

Because of the NIP, that means the probability of any universe state for any point in time more than epsilon (probably a Planck Time or thereabouts) in the future is exactly zero.

As a result, the past and future have a basic asymmetry - the past can be physical, but cannot be affected, (the probability of alternatives is fixed at 0%) while the probability of anything beyond the very near future is also 0%, but can increase. It is only the very next moment - with finite non-unity probabilities - that is, that can be, physically relevant.

Perhaps, then, the present is actually a part of the past, and the future is divided into two types.

I can see how this would be confusing. How is it that I'm not simply restating the existence of the arrow of time?

Alternatively, time could not be the independent variable, and instead could be basically a special type (it's an imaginary number in GR) of dimension. As a result, the probabilities would be 100% in both directions. If the arrow of time was truly arbitrary, or decided by the direction of increasing entropy then the probability asymmetry would not exist. (Or perhaps does not exist!)


My detractors seem to delight in pointing out that my theory of consciousness isn't empirically falsifiable.

You know, that while they can't think of anything that consciousness is necessary to explain, or that they can't figure out how to put the 'consciousness factor' into an equation. (The opposite of being Freudian, logically unfalsifiable.)

Oh no! Not that! It's terrible to have a consistent theory that explains many mysteries and has no anomalies.

Does Consciousness Exist?

(Now with Part 2.)

Life, for instance, does not exist. I can define it; everything that lives can be assigned a goal. At the very least, it strives to stay alive.

Nevertheless, it does not really exist. There's no physical difference between 'living' matter and 'dead' matter, aside from this abstract, 'goals.'

Apparently, these logical abstracts are somehow separate from physics, which is something interesting I have to think about. They are completely consistent with physics, and objective - aliens can easily come up with the same concepts, life and goal, and discover the logical relationship between them. But, they are clearly separate from physics.

Anyway, I similarly seem to have bowls, one of which I'm currently eating out of. But a bowl is an arbitrary designation - it's really just an arrangement of leptons and quarks. The attachment between 'bowl' particles just happens to be much stronger than with 'non-bowl' particles. If I routinely applied bullet like pressures, I would not consider my bowl to be solid. It's a quantitative difference, not a qualitative one - I cannot test a sample and decide it came from a bowl, except by first making an arbitrary definition of bowl. By contrast, I can always tell if something is hot or cold, what kind of atoms it's made of, what the forces between them are, and so on. Aliens cannot rationally disagree with me, while there are many situations under which they would disagree about the bowl-ness of my bowl.

The same thing happens temporally - if a moment to me were millions of years, I would see the bowl decaying rapidly.

In other words, the designation 'solid bowl' happens to work on this particular object due to the myriad details of the particular situation - it is emergent.

On the opposite end, I might be very small, light, and fast. Liquid surfaces would seem very solid to me, and I would be able to shape them like (very hard) snow, because they wouldn't fall fast enough for me to care.

Most educated people believe that consciousness is the same way - it doesn't actually exist, as such. It is 'emergent' just like living things and solid bowls.

This would mean that, for instance, suffering is arbitrary, just like the bowl is. It would be an accident of details.

This view is the only known fatal attack on my theory of consciousness. If indeed consciousness were not real, its existence hardly needs to be explained. Alternatively, you could say that since it doesn't exist, the question of causality and physics is quite irrelevant.

However. The idea that consciousness isn't real is clearly incoherent, though I cannot yet say why. Aliens cannot refute the idea that you suffer. There's no internal structure to reduce suffering to, like there is with life and bowls. Suffering exists by the simple fact that we suffer.

I simply cannot yet prove this.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Found out something about myself

I read this and discovered that my understanding of the universe has vastly outstripped my linguistic expertise.

For instance, I have no idea what Functionalism is, though I would recognize it if you described it to me.

On the other hand, the alternative, illuminated by the article, seems to be not understanding the universe as well as I do, which seems like a poor trade-off.

Consciousness is Not Physical: Application

Wherein I slaughter the so called 'thoughts' of one of my betters. Wherein, copyright law is followed in spirit but shattered in letter. Here's a link to the original article. I have simply copied the whole thing here, because I'm responding to each paragraph.

Notably, I have proven that the brain is physically acausal, however this paper predates that proof by several years. I will mostly analyze it on the basis of knowledge known at the time. I will use it to demonstrate the explicative power of my theory.

Let us not mince words. The difference between something that is and is not conscious is that something's home in something that's conscious, something experiencing experiences, feeling feelings, perhaps even, though not necessarily, thinking thoughts. Don't be lured into details about "self-awareness" and "intentionality." If there's something home in there, something hurting when pinched, then that's a mind and we are faced squarely with two age-old philosophical problems:
There are two hallmarks of consciousness, feelings (or qualia) and decision. Without feelings there is no consciousness, and without decisions feelings have no function. (I cannot actually prove the second part.) In this context, I sometimes call feelings 'sensation,' 'emotion,' 'experience,' and the like, as each implies the rest.

It seems obvious that neither of these things are physical, but it also once seemed obvious that life couldn't be explained without some life-specific force. Nevertheless, this is as good a definition as any. (Consciousness isn't physical, and so the language we usually use, based on physical things, is almost certainly inadequate to precisely define it.)

The first is: How can we know whether or not something's home in there? We aren't mind-readers. Not even a brain surgeon can guarantee that a patient is conscious. This is called the "other-minds" problem, and it's important to note that it is unlike any other problem in science having to do with the existence or reality of something that is unobservable. Quarks, like consciousness, cannot be observed directly, but there are many things that follow from quarks' existing or not existing, and those things can be observed. Does anything follow from the existence of consciousness, that would not follow just as readily if we were all Zombies who merely acted exactly as if they were conscious?

Either consciousness has causes, or not. Either consciousness has effects, or it does not. If it has no cause, then we have a problem. If it has no effects, then we have a different and somewhat less serious problem. With no effects, we have to explain why evolution hasn't culled away the structures that support consciousness - its causes. (The brain in general, of course, though we know which signals actually lead to consciousness. We've found the specific neural modules which, if not stimulated, do not produce sensation.)

Though, if there are no effects, at least we can say for certain that philosophical Zombies are logically coherent. They may not be.

If consciousness does have effects, then we can test for them, we simply need to figure out what they are. Although if certain physical effects were synonymous with consciousness, then they would have to be qualitatively different from anything else we can physically describe, (like being acausal) for the simple reason that everything that we can describe so far is, definitely, not conscious.

Think about it: Zombies who acted exactly as if they were conscious: Acted for how long? Well, for a lifetime obviously. And what does "exactly" mean? It means that there is no way to tell them apart from one of us based on anything they do. Zombies are functionally equivalent to and functionally indistinguishable from ourselves.

As I mentioned, Zombies are not necessarily coherent, logically. It may be that the effects of consciousness are indistinguishable from consciousness itself, as indeed would be the case if consciousness were physical, as all of physics is defined by interactions. Zombies would be of necessity incapable of the interactions labelled 'consciousness.'

So cut them apart," you say, "and check what's inside. If it's different from what's in us, that's still an observable difference, and we could conclude from that that they were just unconscious Zombies." But could we really draw that conclusion if they were made of different stuff? What if they came from another planet: Would the fact that their innards were different be enough to convince you that they didn't feel pain when they were pinched and screamed? Would you yourself like to submit to such a verdict on another planet?
Never use emotional arguments like this. It's inherently dishonest. No, of course I wouldn't want to submit to such a test. So what? If this argument is actually valid, but in disguise, then he should explicitly lay out how it's valid.

In this case, his argument is that, given test such as this one, (a causal, structural test like the litmus test) the only way to verify that it tests for consciousness is to...test for consciousness.

This, I just realized, generalizes to all tests. There's exactly one known test, and it's in the form of a question. "Are you conscious?" Technically, the screaming test is simply a form of this question. Any objective test can only be verified in reference to this test. This means that without knowing what conscious actually is, something even I don't know, there's no way to test for it.

To put it another way; the problem is that it's obvious that you can script a robot to do anything a human can do, which means that there's no test that can distinguish a human's consciousness from that of a rock. (Aside from acausality.)
Or would you feel more comfortable pronouncing such a verdict if they didn't come from another planet, but were built in a lab here on earth? Is there something about that that guarantees that their screams are not genuine? If you feel there is, then you must feel that you know something about the solution to the second philosophical problem, the mind/body problem:
Again, this is not a valid tactic. A question proves nothing. Indeed, there appears to be no answer, but this is infinitely far from there actually being no answer.

What is consciousness? Let us assume that, whatever it is, it isn't an extra "force" in nature, on a par with electricity or gravity, for otherwise all our thoughts would be telekinetic, mind moving matter, and high energy psychic forces would be duelling with their "duals," high energy physics forces, not only in the world as a whole, but in the Academy in particular, with the prize being the truth or falsity of the laws of energy conservation and perhaps even causality itself.

If consciousness were an extra force, then it's physical, and defined by equations of the like we've seen before. There's no duelling going on. There would simply be a previously undetected force-carrier particle and associated charge that for some reason is only present or relevant to particles in brains. Again, while we can think of no reason for our brains to be special like this, (except acausality) this doesn't mean there cannot in principle be such an answer.

It's amusing that he's getting an inkling that consciousness violates physical causality. He sees the proof that I denoted, but only vaguely.

Notably, the law of energy conservation cannot be broken without breaking causality, nor vice-versa.

So we will assume, instead, that consciousness is not an autonomous force, but some property or aspect of the ordinary physical forces we already know. If so, then it is incumbent on anyone who thinks he can tell the Zombie from the real thing that he be able to say what this property is. This is a notoriously difficult thing to do; in fact, I'm willing to bet it's impossible, and will even say why:

Pick a property. Any property. It can be anatomical, physiological, chemical or even "functional." Suppose that that property is what determines whether or not something is conscious. Now answer the following two questions:

(1) How could you ever determine whether that supposition -- that that's the property that distinguishes conscious things from unconscious ones -- was correct? That's the other-minds problem again.

Hey! That's what I said. If he knew, why didn't he show knowledge of it above? Also, since I read this article beforehand, I can say for certain that this sentence does not adequately convey the underlying concept - that any normal test for consciousness can only be calibrated by our existing, inadequate test.

"Functional" properties are sometimes called "processes" or "emergent properties." Anatomical/physiological and chemical tests are all emergent, as is a lot of physics.

But now let's suppose that the supposition -- that that's the property that distinguishes conscious things from unconscious ones -- was, miraculously, true, even though there was no way we could know it was true:

Again, by taking a qualitatively different property (acausality) we could, conceivably, know it was true without specifically referencing our known test. (Physical acausality, especially the actual implementation, neatly explains many puzzling features of consciousness, including why it's so hard to come up with an objective test for consciousness.) (It's conceivable that there are other qualitatively different yet physical solutions to the consciousness problem, which would mean that I've made a mistake.)

(2) In what, specifically, would its truth consist? What is it that something would lack if it lacked consciousness yet had the property you picked out? For if you pick anything other than consciousness itself as the thing it would lack if it lacked that property that was supposed to be the determinant of consciousness (which would be a bit circular), then one can always say: why can't it have that property without the consciousness? And no one has even the faintest inkling of what could count as a satisfactory answer to that question.

Which, again, does not prove that no one will ever think of such an answer. This smacks of defeatism; we haven't yet, therefore, we can't. (Indeed there isn't anything physical that unconscious things lack, but they indeed lack something non-physical.)

Console yourself with the fact that you are not alone, in facing this problem. It's not just centuries of philosophers who have wrestled with it in vain (and don't let anyone tell you the problem's only as old as Descartes, or that it's Descartes' fault, or anything like that: the problem of mind is as old as philosophy and it besets anyone who reflects on the nature of the mind): In particular, it is not only neurosurgeons, experimental psychologists, and ordinary people who are not mind-readers: The Blind Watchmaker (Who designed us though trial and error based on random mutations and their consequences for survival and reproduction) is no mind-reader either. He could not have let the conscious ones through and exclude the Zombies, because the two are functionally equivalent and functionally indistinguishable, and survival and reproduction are purely functional matters!

I knew it didn't start with Descartes! Ha! Score one for instincts! This problem is as old as thinking, actually. The original spirits and gods were plausible for the simple reason that consciousness is so obviously not physical. Inevitably this means that it's plausible that non-brains also have spirits. (Is it plausible today? Check; do they have a mind node?)

And indeed, what possible purpose can consciousness serve to the Blind Watchmaker? Doesn't matter, actually, just that it has to serve some kind of purpose.

So what's a scientist to do, if he makes the mistake of staking out the mind as his terrain of inquiry? If the other-minds and mind/body problem are insoluble, does that mean that the mind is not scientifically investigable?

Only that it cannot be investigated directly, the way most things are investigated. It can be investigated indirectly, however, and perhaps eventually cornered by a series of approximations. Consider that we have been pretty cavalier about the problem of designing a Zombie: Doing it is not as easy as imagining it. There are plenty of formidable scientific problems to solve before we need to begin worrying about whether or not the functionally equivalent Zombies we've designed are conscious: We first have to generate their functional capacities.

It's strange that he's so bad above and yet so good right here. If we take 'direct' to mean 'objective experimentation' and 'indirect' to mean 'logic and subjective experimentation' then he's dead on.

Why a philosopher cares about engineering a Zombie I'm not entirely sure. The problem is whether Zombies are logically possible, not the specific inventions necessary to create one, although such inventions would be very helpful in narrowing the search.

Actually, I think scientific mind-theory is better described as reverse bioengineering: Ordinary engineering applies basic physics and engineering principles to the design of systems with certain functional capacities that are useful to us [bridges, ovens, planes, computers], whereas a scientific theory of mind would first have to successful second-guess what gives creatures like us, already ready-made by the Blind Watchmaker, our functional capacities.

Quite. Although, having reverse engineered ourselves, we would then be able to test other entities for consciousness (important for avoiding cruelty) and also in designing new consciousnesses or altering our own existing consciousness.

Further, we would be able to say for certain whether emotions are morally relevant or if they are simply an obstacle to be overcome. In other words, when we suffer, (in particular, not in general) does it mean that what happened to us was wrong? Should we work to overcome the suffering itself or simply its causes?

Right now, we have only non-credible (used to be incredible) ways to reduce suffering itself. In most cases, we wish to avoid the sources of suffering, which means we are validated in defending ourselves from aggressors, and usually correct in identifying such aggressors.

Why none of this is apparent to the good Stevan Harnad, I don't know.

So the road ahead of us is pretty clear for the time being, even though we have reason to believe there is a cloud at the end of it. For now, we need to devote our time and ingenuity to second-guessing those functional capacities until we manage to scale up to a Zombie. It should be some consolation that the usual rules of scientific inquiry are in effect for the functional part of our quest. It's easy to reverse-engineer a few isolated pieces of our functional capacity, and there are many different ways to do it, but as the functional chunk we take on gets bigger and bigger, the number of different ways it can be successfully generated gets smaller and smaller.

Weak. I respond with one of my favorite articles, specifically calling out the hard problem, which Stevan just spent several thousands words describing.

(Also, since I clearly took a very different tack in solving the problem, the dude is clearly wrong. I'm not sure why he has such a problem distinguishing practical and conceivable.)

This is ordinary scientific underdetermination: You can always predict and explain a small body of data in lots of ways, most or all of which have nothing to do with reality. But as you predict and explain more and more data, your degrees of freedom shrink and your theory gets more powerful and general. The hope, in all areas of science, is that when it is complete, and predicts and explains all observable data, then your theory will have converged on reality; it will be the true theory of the way things are. It might not be. Perhaps there will be another theory that explains it all too, and there won't be any way to know which one's true. (Even picking the simpler theory, if one of them is simpler than the other, may not be the right choice, because the world may simply not happen to be the simplest one it might have been, while still preserving all appearances.)

All of which have nothing to do with reality? How much science do you know that describes nothing real? (I ask because you might be able to answer.) Where I come from, science that describes non-real things is called fantasy. Entertaining, but not science.

Still, nice job in calling out physical equivalence. If two theories make the same predictions, it's impossible to determine between them. For instance, determinism vs free will. At this point they make the exact same predictions; they are the same theory; pick whichever one you like best.

Still, in the case of physics, the theory is getting so complicated and precise that equivalent theories are getting very, very hard to come by. It's likely to converge on a single theory at some point. I often wonder what will happen if physics actually ends. All I can say is that I hope the government isn't still paying for it, because it's not likely to stop just because physicists have nothing left to do. Destroying wealth like that is the government's job, after all.

Hey...isn't Stevan Harmad taking government money?

This is very much the way I think it will be at the end of the day (or at the end of the road, rather, if we stick to our previous metaphor), when we have reverse-engineered a complete Zombie, functionally equivalent to and functionally indistinguishable from us in any way. There is of course the possibility that there will be several, radically different, but equally successful Zombie designs. Cutting them (and ourselves) up, at that point, may be the only remaining way to narrow down the differences. We could insist that in the case of the reverse engineering of the mind, "all the observable data" means not only all the behavioral data, but all the neural data too, and we may want to put our money only on the Zombie that is indistinguishable from us in both respects.

Again, Stevan has a problem with conceivable and practical. Obviously, in principle, a Zombie's brain has to look pretty much indistinguishable from a human's brain as well. Cutting them up is not a worthwhile endeavor. This is the reason we know that Zombies are only possible if consciousness doesn't actually do anything.

In other words, the last half of that paragraph logically eliminates the need for the first half. We'll call the first half the government half. This, unfortunately, is almost certainly an apt name.

I somehow doubt that will be necessary though. I really think that the task of generating our full Zombie capacity probably already narrows the degrees of freedom enough to exclude all nonconscious candidates. I draw some solace, for example, from the fact to which I have already drawn attention, namely, that the "forward engineer" (the Blind Watchmaker) whose work we are reverse engineering had nothing stronger to go by either. But does this mean that the mind/body problem is really just another example of scientific underdermination that will be settled by whatever candidate makes it to the home stretch at the end of the day?

I feel no embarrassment when I admit that I have no idea what the above paragraph is supposed to mean. With reference to my proof it might mean something, but without such, it's probably insane.

Not quite. For that would be all there was to it if consciousness were like quarks, that other example of an unobservable that I mentioned earlier. One can, without too much loss of sleep, accept that if the winning theory says there are quarks -- because with quarks it can predict and explain all the observable data, whereas without them it can't -- then it's safe to accept that there are indeed quarks.

But I have to remind you that our complete reverse engineering theory, the one that generates our full Zombie capacity, will be entirely mute about consciousness, and will be just as capable of predicting and explaining all the observable data with or without the supposition that the Zombie is conscious.

Perhaps another way of putting it is that the complete Zombie theory will explain all the data except one: The fact of the existence of consciousness itself. This fact is at the heart (or rather the mind) of the very idea of "observation," and it's a fact that each of us can "observe" to be true in his own particular case.

Again, hard problem of consciousness vs. the easy problem. Yeah, we know. What we want to know is the actual logical relationship between the concept Zombie and the concept consciousness, and to know if such assertions are bold, or merely illogical.

Good job in pointing out how we know quarks exist, and why it has no particular ramifications that we didn't already know. Yes, we can't observe them directly. No, that doesn't mean all those other things we can't observe directly are any more plausible.

Also, good job pointing out that objectivity is only experienced through subjectivity. In other words, consciousness exists even if nothing else does. (Other things exist, I'm just saying.) However, the only people who I've seen run through the ramifications of this got it completely wrong. Still, Stevan doesn't do so either.

So clearly the Zombie theory has left something out. Hence there is still something different here, something special about the mind/body problem, and something that eludes a scientific theory of mind unlike anything analogous in a scientific theory of matter. Maybe it's safe to assume that consciousness will somehow piggyback on Zombie capacity; maybe not. It might be some consolation that if it doesn't, we can never hope to be the wiser. But I think it's nothing to lose sleep about, at least not for a long time to come.

Long time to come, eh? Ha! Eat it, Stevan Harnad of 1995.