Thursday, October 30, 2008

Waking a Mind Node

Includes small remark on reality-simulation.

I had an intuition that a mind node would need to be run for a while to 'wake up' and become not simply non-deterministic, but actually conscious.

And here's why it's true.

The point of a mind node is to violate physics, specifically physical causality, so that I can invoke my proof that consciousness is not physical and propose that a non-physical 'spiffy' stuff closes this causal hole. To do this properly, the probability of a mind node must, unlike every other physical situation, diverge. Now, mathematically we can see immediately that the probability of any particular state rapidly approaches zero, and similarly that if we had a non-deterministic or spontaneous event it would look exactly like a mind node, but this isn't really good enough. We are not building a mind node out of math, but rather out of physics, and it needs a good physical mechanism whereby it can know its supposed to be a mind node in the present, without having to be able to see the future or the past.

This mechanism is by violating the No Infinities Principle. Specifically, in a present moment, when you run a mind node, it cannot tell whether it has been run for 'long enough' to sufficiently diverge, or if it was in fact just built directly into the state its in. (This is the generalized relativity principle.) Except.

Probability is conserved, like energy. It is a real physical quantity. Ergo, it must follow the NIP, as statements like "Q= 64% - lim x->∞ (1/x)" are not physically meaningful. Q=64% but by assumption some physical process subtracted an infinitesimal amount from Q, and because probability is conserved, it added an infinitesimal amount somewhere else. If this somewhere else starts at zero, the infinitesimal doesn't collapse and thus the total probability will not add up to 100%. Instead it's (64+36+1/∞) which using physics-math collapses, but we can't collapse it because we'd immediately have to add back the 1/∞ because that process still exists, but then it collapses....and there's a barber I'd like you to meet.

(Thinking about it, this is yet another proof of the NIP: allowing infinitesimals means we end up adding an infinite number of infinitesimals, which will add up to a finite number, which really badly violates conservation, plus usually the finite number it adds up to is poorly-defined.)

This specific singularity is shielded by the uncertainty principle. Probabilities only add up to 100% on average, actually, not in any particular moment. This unavoidable, fundamental stochastic physics swallows changes below a specific threshold, of which there is a formula to determine. We can consider any probability to be higher than this threshold* or else zero.

*(And probably a quantum multiple. Because probabilities vanish below a threshold, continuous calculation of the probability of a free electron would not add up to 100% - the line simply ends after a certain distance and you can no longer integrate over infinity. You can fix this by quantizing probability, and thus the line flatlines long before it ends, restoring the integral's integrity. Probably - if you have the necessary math you should try it.)

However, a mind node breaks this. After having run for a while, it is in a state that had a lower-than-threshold probabality in its initial condition. This happens because the mind node is continuously diverging states - at some point there are more states than the maximum number of probabilities, (100%/[quantum of probability]) Again, by generalized relativity, physics won't be able to pick which states are 'special' so as to discard them, and all states drop to zero probability. In other words, it becomes something that had a zero probability of existing. Thus, the mind node can't at any moment tell if its been running for some time or if it was just built, except when it becomes an impossible object. (You're awake because you got Echer-ized!) It is at this point the mind node wakes up and must resort to consciousness to continue existing at all. (Or to stop exploding the universe, like the LHC.)

(This may be solved by our future understanding of time relative to probability. It seems possible that this kind of treatment may resolve the arrow-of-time question, but such a solution would bork the above proof.)

This may explain why dreams are hazy - when the mind node first wakes up, it doesn't produce very high-quality consciousness, and thus dreams. It may also be during this time that the brain entangles the state of the interpreter to the state of its sensory organs.

Note that this means the universe as a whole has a zero probability of existing, because it includes mind nodes. This may have some very interesting ramifications. I suggest starting with the fact that before the first instant, there must have been nothing, and therefore, I think, a similarly zero chance of anything existing.

Two incidental remarks; this is a reason to think we're not living in a simulation - the first mind node would have crashed the thing;* and it may very well be that physics is organic and only solves problems when it encounters them, forming new physics on the fly, and thus consciousness and spiffy stuff did not exist before the first mind node broke existing physics. (This idea comes from the same kind of intuition that thought mind nodes must have to 'wake up.')

*(If true, this means the simulation idea is not metaphysics.)

Remember that relativity still plays a role, though, in that in any moment, the pentagon has only five possible states, and thus the mind node has only five possible next steps. (Non-abstract pentagon can have more states, which exponentially acclerates the waking process.) This tension between possible and impossible is what allows the mind node to work as a transphysical process - it mathematically violates physical laws but in any particular quantum of time, follow exactly physical laws. It is non-determinism implemented deterministically. It is consciousness that is physical. It is both, and probably violates the laws of either alone.

Any proposed solution to consciousness must have this same property - it has to be causally connected to physics and consciousness, to nifty stuff and spiffy stuff, and have some reason it can't simply collapse to one or the other, so that we can tell, on this side, whether a thing is conscious or not. There has to be that interaction we can observe.

Even if it turns out that someone does to me what I've done to the physicalists,* and we restore monism, consciousness still has to have this property of causal linkage. There has to be that interaction we can observe, or else it doesn't exist. (The most obvious problem is that epiphenomenalism violates Newton's Third Law.)

*(Which specifically is that I saw a solution to the problem that was completely outside their box.)

I would also like to clarify my remarks about the hole in my proof. Specifically, you can violate relativity and assume an underlying absolute coordinate-type reference system under math itself, and simply declare certain equations 'conscious' by fiat. This works, but it is extremely inelegant and forms a solid brick wall to progress - study of consciousness gets folded into the mathematical study of those equations declared conscious, and the mystery becomes permanent. Stuff is conscious just because it does.

Finally, because I forgot to specifically mention it in the original article, the mind node has the advantage of maintaining relativity - anything which acts conscious can be conscious, regardless of what it is made of, just the way life does not necessarily have to be squishy, cellular, or carbon-based. (The reason life is easy and consciousness isn't is because life's definition is arbitrary because it is not fundamental, while consciousness is very much real, objective, and fundamental.) This fact is contained in my remark that using this theory we can build consciousnesses, if I haven't made a mistake, but I wanted to say it explicitly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


The last comment;
"If each person only knows to a reliable degree what is good for that person (which is already an implausible premise)"
Oh dear. Who does he get to buy groceries for him? Who chose his job?

Also, how does this work in general? Do I know what's good for Niven, and he knows what's good for me, even though Niven has more information about himself than I do?

On whom did/will he depend on to choose his spouse for him?

Since it's implausible that he himself knows the right choice for these, wouldn't it be best not to choose at all? Oh, he didn't mean personally he meant politically? So there's some non-arbitrary difference between personal knowledge and political knowledge?

So, uh, who gets to decide who he will vote for?

Heh. When I first read that "(3)* is just insane, and if I have to defend why it's insane, I don't know that I'll be able to do it respectfully." I immediately wanted to ask, "Okay, then do it disrespectfully, as I'm curious." I'll remember that in future, I should definitely do so.

*(The numbers refer to a comment shortly previous.)

That's the most serious flaw, but I'll do the rest while I'm here.

"It would be a massive tragedy to forgo that in favor of voting strictly for one's own interests."

Actually, it would be ideal. It would ensure good for the greatest number. That's like, the whole point of democracy, isn't it? That we do the thing that benefits the most people? If only there was a way to somehow show when your interest was stronger, so that many half-assed votes didn't overwhelm your one fervent vote...

Like prices, for instance, where if you want it more, you can 'vote' with more dollars. Of course, given equal opportunity, people will end up with unequal resources, and we may want to do something about that. However, the basic reason is that the people with more resources, given effective law enforcement, are the people who got 'voted' for the most.

"And note, please, that it's badly insufficient to talk about "the majority's self-interest" - if 6 out of 10 people desperately want the other 4 to be tortured and killed, that should by no means justify it happening"

Indeed. It's almost as if voting isn't moral in any sense.

But actually, it would appear that this is the whole point of a state, especially a democratic one. If the 6 want something badly that the 4 can provide, the 'greatest good' principle comes in, and the state forces them to provide it.

In reality, having millions of amateurs decide complicated technical issues is just a bad idea, especially when the information organs are entirely controlled by the people they're supposed to be able to vote out.

I would really like to know what Niven uses as his super-democracy principle. Is it morals? If so, how does he justify them?

The main problem with democracy is this whole amateur thing. Indeed there are problems that democracy can kinda-sorta solve, but even a barest reconsideration of the facts throws up that it can hardly be the only solution, and because there are many others, it's almost certain that some of them are better.

Basically, give me any problem that is solved, for you, by democracy, and I'll give you three solutions, of which two are better, statistically speaking.
"(similarly, if 75 million voters want to inflate their own already-significant wealth at the direct cost of 74 million voters, that doesn't mean that they'd be justified in voting that way)"
I'm going to assume 'significant' means 'they're already the rich' as otherwise it's arbitrary. I find it amusing otherwise to simply define 'significant' as 'more than the average African' and then suppose that the 74 are the rich, in which case this would be a statement Niven would agree with.

Rather, stealing is immoral no matter who does it. Basically, someone voted for that person already; who are you to change their vote? Why are ballot-votes so much more special than dollar-votes?

(Real reason: ballots represent guns, as an election is a symbolic battle. Obviously guns get to redistribute dollars when they so choose.)
"The question still reduces to (2): which candidate would it be better to elect?"
First, actually, (2):"Which candidate would be better for the country?" We can see some basic equivocation here. Standard demotist stuff; better is redefined to be absolute instead of relative to some values, and then it is shown that only democracy can achieve 'better.'

Second, people don't know what's good for themselves, but they do know what's good for a country? Thats...interesting. As per Mencius, we can easily see the descendant of the "Inner Light" at work.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Metaphysics, Simulated or Designed Worlds

Also, what is 'explain'?

Normally here I'd offer some of my general opinions and conclusions about this, but in light of some of my previous comments there's a conflict of interest here; I sincerely doubt I can bypass my biases. Instead, I'm using this as proof that the computer simulation idea is current and relevant, and thus worth dismissing.
"As for intelligent design, I'm on the record as saying that I can't rule out the hypothesis that we're living in a computer simulation, so I suppose that it follows that I can't rule out the hypothesis that our world is designed."
You can't in general* rule out metaphysical claims. However, metaphysical claims have a particular set of properties; for instance, because you can't rule them out, all mutually exclusive metaphysical claims are equivalent. Said again, the difference between the world being real and the world being a simulation is no difference, or you would be able to rule one of them out. The claim that the world is designed, to my limited knowledge, is exactly the same.

*(I'm using the term mathematically.)

I want to say there's no 'practical' difference, but it isn't strictly true. While there is no metaphysical claim that directly affects engineering concerns, they do affect how people - subjects - feel about the world, which could conceivably cause different behaviour.

I think this is why philosophy is often seen as dealing primarily with metaphysical claims. The only way they can affect the world is because they have meaning to subjects.

However I personally think that, because they only affect your life through your personal interpretation of them, you should seize this power, this freedom, and pick the one you like best. (With reference to our culture's overriding concerns, it's not like anyone can prove you wrong.)

I want to clarify my position that creationism's intelligent design is a metaphysical claim. Like the dualism claim, scientists could adopt this idea, but they'll immediately find that the creator designed Earth organisms to evolve, which seems to me to have the exact same engineering consequences as our current ideas.

Also, it is this view of metaphysical claims that makes me a strict agnostic. God* cannot be proved or disproved, and thus you can pick the one you like best.

*(Note that either Christianity has appropriated the general word for deity, or this word refers specifically to the Christian deity. Either way it distorts discussion if you forget this.)

While I'm on the subject...
"The easy problems of consciousness are those that seem directly susceptible to the standard methods of cognitive science, whereby a phenomenon is explained in terms of computational or neural mechanisms."
By 'explain' he means 'describe.' Has anyone explicitly stated why we are explaining these things? If so, can I read it? From the point of view of 'explanation' all these do is replace one mystery with another, though eventually they'll all boil down into one mystery: the mystery of existence.

To start, though, it's faster to work it out on my own explanation of explanation; scientific explanations are technology. You construct them, and then they're tools to help you construct or do things you couldn't do before. But ultimately this doesn't explain what an explanation is. It doesn't describe the actual transformation that happens when something becomes explained.

I raise this because I think a thorough explanation of explanation could help us pin down what, exactly, we're supposed to be doing with regards to consciousness.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thought Provoking, the 'Harder Problem'

Ideally, you would read this article (also HTML) and simply relay to me* all the questions it raises for you, and I would answer most of them, and then you would argue with me about how my responses don't make any sense. This method would, I think, be much more useful to you, and also allow the debate to stay on track, since there would be this shining goal of a question you wanted answered.

*(Even more ideally, I would be but one choice of many philosophers you might choose.)

I didn't feel like commenting on the earlier parts of the paper, so I didn't. However, if you are interested, I can do.

Instead, the below.

"If we reject property dualism, then the issue of whether Commander Data is conscious depends on extrapolating a concept of consciousness grounded in our physical constitution"
Don't reject property dualism. In either case, begin with a physical account of consciousness. However, if you do not reject dualism, you may find that you have accounted for all observed properties of consciousness without actually reaching the second property, in which case you've finished and can abandon dualism. Conversely, in a dualist world, the physicalist repeatedly rejects evidence for dualism, seeking alternate solutions. As such, dualism is the right mistake to make, not simply the intuitive position.

First let me summarize the below. Subjective intensities relate to objective intensities by simple power laws, a fact which applies to all tested subjective experiences.

"An example will be useful to clarify this point. All human sensory systems obey a power function, an exponential function relating stimulus intensity to subjective intensity as judged by subjects’ reports. That is, subjective intensity = stimulus intensity raised to a certain exponent, a different exponent for different modalities. For example, perceived brightness is proportional to energy output in the visible spectrum raised to a certain exponent. This applies even to outrĂ© parameters of subjective judgments such as how full the mouth feels as a function of volume of wadges of paper stuck in the mouth or labor pains as a function of size of contractions. Should we see the question of whether Commander Data’s sensations follow the power law as a litmus test for whether Commander Data has conscious experiences? No doubt the power law taps some neural feature. Is that neural feature essential or accidental to the nature of consciousness?"

Accidental. Take the mind node not as true but as a metaphor. Given a mind node, the input can be varied along the power axis arbitrarily. In a real brain, different stimuli have different powers,* and also (probably) that different individual have different power distributions. Thus, the power is arbitrary, and thus accidental.

*(Otherwise it would not be a power law, but a simple power, and Block would have listed the approximate power.)

"Chalmers (op. cit., p. xvii) recommends this orientation, saying “I find that discussions framed in terms of identity generally throw more confusion than light onto the key issues, and often allow the central difficulties to be evaded. By contrast, supervenience seems to provide an ideal framework within which key issues can be addressed.”"

The properties of bulk water supervene on microphysical properties of water molecules, which supervene on the properties of the arrangement of subatomic particles in water, and so on... But, as stated earlier in his piece, water=H2O, as in, not water supervenes on H2O. All superveniences can be re-stated as identities. The only convenience in supervenience is that unlike identities, the properties do not quite have to match up 1:1, or put another way, the definitions can be a little sloppy around the edges, as long as any change in the properties of one definition entails a change in the other. For instance, once the power law is established, the subjective sensation supervenes on the objective signals being sent. This is slightly easier than having to say that a power of the objective signal is identical to the subjective signal. But, in my opinion, you should just state the identity or at least the causality, and be not-sloppy.

In short I'm saying I don't understand how this concept is supposed to be useful. (My understanding of supervenience supervenes on my conception of how useful it is.)

"But the Harder Problem depends on the puzzling nature of multiple physical constitution of consciousness"
When I got to this part, I finally figured out what "The Harder Problem" is supposed to be. Incidentally I've already solved it. The fact is that consciousness arises due to an abstract mathematical property, and thus multiple physical instantiations can easily give rise to the same or very similar properties. Further, since consciousness primarily operates non-physically, the physical differences are of only ancillary relevance.

But yes, in a physicalist or materialist worldview, it would be very puzzling.

On second though, no it wouldn't. It was puzzling before I thought about it. Now I know that the only respectable way to formalize consciousness monally is through panpsychicism, and so we could naturally assume that not only Data is conscious, but that my soup bowl is conscious.

"Even the epistemic difficulty may be temporary, unlike the epistemic difficulty of the concept of the gold mountain that no one will ever have evidence of."
I actually don't know what Block's trying to say here, so I'm going to reiterate my ideas on existence with reference to the gold mountain.

Think about what 'to have evidence of' means. It means that this entity, this gold mountain, acted upon you. Further, because of Newton's Third, you acted upon it. And thus, this assumption that nobody will ever have evidence of it means that nobody will ever interact with it, which is precisely equivalent to saying it doesn't exist. The primary property of things which exist is that I can potentially interact with them. (Further, their specific properties define how I can interact with it - a property which I can't interact with is a property that doesn't exist.) To admit that this mountain exists in some Platonic sense is to admit to existence everything I can't interact with.

Intriguingly, it doesn't matter whether the gold mountain 'actually' doesn't exist, or if it 'exists' on some planet that nobody will ever see or visit. (Slightly broken because, for instance gravity, has potentially infinite range.)

"Perhaps we will come to understand the nature of human consciousness, and in so doing, develop an objective theory of consciousness that applies to all creatures, independently of physical constitution."
Oh really? Yeah, just perhaps.

"The Naturalist will want to reject Dualism, but it is cold comfort to be told that the only alternatives are doctrines that are epistemically inaccessible."
I only found alternatives of colder comfort than his alternatives. ("a choice of Superficialism, Disjunctivism and Dualism." The first is that we can only correlate consciousness on purely superficial processes, the second that the definition of consciousness is discontinuous; it has the form 'this is consciousness, and also this apparently unrelated thing.' I find neither coherent.)

"One way to restrict phenomenal realism is to adopt what Shoemaker (op.cit) calls the “Frege-Schlick” view, that comparisons of phenomenal character are only meaningful within the stages of a single person and not between individuals."
This would literally mean that we're all our own little incommensurate worlds.

"That is, Commander Data either has no consciousness or there is no matter of fact about his consciousness."
If there's no matter of fact about Data, there would be no matter of fact about my consciousness either. (Relativity; no special reference frames.) Since there is such a matter about me, there exists such about Data. (No-ish: he doens't actually have properties, since he doesn't actually exist.)

If you decide to read the rest, you can ignore all the technical isms; ("I apologize for all the “isms” [deflationism, phenomenal realism and one more to come]") Block does eventually stop fishing for marks and gets his point across without using them. Still, there's an incredible number of wasted words; it's almost like he was educated at some kind of government institution. Block clearly demonstrates either deliberate padding or else padding by habit.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Essential Difference of Consciousness

Reading this. Have to just say something...

Look, the difference between everything that science has been so successful at explaining, and consciousness, is that we know all of science indirectly whereas consciousness is the one thing we know directly. While many properties and processes of consciousness are indeed mostly physical, the fact itself is a different kind of fact than any other fact of which we are aware.

I suppose it may turn out that directness is an irrelevant property, epistemologically. It seems unlikely. It seems rather more likely that the tools that are useful for studying indirectly are completely pointless when trying to study directness, as such tools are themselves a form of indirectness.

This is the distinction the whole zombie debacle is trying to get at.

Richard Brown, Chocobos, Word Definition, Kripke

Philosophy, using Final Fantasy as fodder. Because, you know, it's a good series.

The later parts are essential to fully explore this following wall of text. If I'm missing something, do look for it further down.

A chocobo is a set of interactions with us. We can ride them, they appear yellow, they emit noises that we interpret as 'Wark!' and, among other traits, they develop a bizarre deformity when severely inbred; they turn blue and, more bizarrely, get faster. This deformity also disables their hydrophobia, allowing them to traverse lakes and streams. Were we to explore a new place and find an entity with this exact set of interactions, it would not only be possible, but practically necessary to call these entities 'chocobo.' Further, even a subset of these interactions would make it desirable - for instance, the blue deformity would require a concurrent discovery of magic - so perhaps this chocobo would have a different wing-to-leg proportion, or have the wrong number of toes, but in general be very like the pre-existing definition of chocobo. This is supported by the inconsistent representation of the chocobo's property/interactions in the source material. The most important trait is simply the subjection impression of chocobo-ness.

Still, at some point, we have something that merely reminds us of a chocobo. Perhaps it is far too small to ride, has somewhat the wrong proportions, the beak is a muddy ivory instead of brilliant yellow, and behaves aggressively toward humanoids. But this is a continuous process; as elements of the originial chocobo are taken away, it simply reminds us less and less of a chocobo. There is no non-arbitrary cutoff where we can say that anything that reminds us of a chocobo less than this is not a true chocobo, and anything more is, as exemplified in the recognition of the no true scotsman fallacy. This is essentially why the impression of chocobo-ness is most important; seeing as there is no ought from is, we cannot say we ought to give the mantle of chocobo to anything in particular from any fact but the fact that we want to. And I can easily show the problems with trying to do it objectively. If we declare any reminder of a chocobo to be a chocobo, we catch anything with beaks, but even within Final Fantasy a strict definition would work for only one game, and we would have a plethora of different things all called 'chocobo.' The point of logical definition is to detail an intuition, not to break it, and both cases violate this purpose.

At best, I can propose a rule; anything in reality that reminds us of a chocobo more than any other candidate should be called 'chocobo.' I could show the unfortunate consequences of not following this rule in the appropriation of other mythological names, but unfortunately I can't recall any specific details right now. So, I'll make one up. 'Soul' has been discredited as a non-fictional construct,* and as such is applied as a word for psychological make-up. But it could also be applied to a putative energy life-form, which seems even more soul-like to us. However, as 'soul' would have already been co-opted for personality, it could not be now used for these energy beings; calling them 'souls' would be equivalent to calling them 'people;' it is now a part of them, rather than the whole.

*(Note that this is not equivalent to not true, but is merely incredible.)

From something else entirely,
"Similarly, in extending the concept ‘wood’ to an alien form of life, we might find that it resembles what we have already called ‘wood’ in certain ways but not others and a decision will have to be made."
Basically, if it has all the familiar properties of wood without necessarily replicating the processes by which wood obtains those properties, we can simply term it as a special alien kind of wood. Otherwise, again, it simply reminds us strongly of wood, and should perhaps just be known as 'like wood, but from Alpha Centauri,' a bit similar to calling a twinkie 'food.' It's certainly not food in the sense that our ancestors used 'food' - it will not sustain you, basically. In fact, a twinkie is rather closer to a poison in its interactions - trying to live off bread alone is possible for quite a long time, while trying to live off twinkies will make you ill. Alpha Centauri 'wood' may also not be useful as wood for certain contexts, in which case using the moniker 'wood' is only misleading, as is calling a twinkie 'food.' Perhaps 'wood' works fine for building, and appears rather wood-like, but cannot be used to make paper.

"He is widely hailed as perhaps the greatest living philosopher and yet the highest degree he holds is a B.A. in philosophy from Harvard. While he was getting his B. A. from Harvard he was asked to teach a graduate seminar at M.I.T. on the logic of necessity and possibility (called ‘modal logic’) which made finishing his B.A. a rather moot point! He was writing papers solving problems in modal logic at a very tender age.
At any rate, the attack on description theories changed the face of analytic philosophy dramatically."

And we're showing red to the bull here. This is the set of interactions that I happen to label a 'challenge.'

The idea is somewhat fragmented in the original text, so I will paraphrase rather than quote.* Essentially, what you describe may not be what you are referring to, and yet this doesn't prevent you from referring to it. Further, since descriptions

*(Still think the original is worth reading.)

It can work if you really want it to, but it's an awfully torturous way to go about things. A better basic conclusion is that either the label or the description may be wrong.

The first thing to realize is that most people don't have strict logical reasons for labelling things 'chocobo' or 'tiger.' It's just, as I said above, the pure sensation of tigerness that makes people think of tigers, regardless of whether their logical description of tigers is accurate or not.

That is, this isnt' a logical process. It's a physical or phenomenal process, and strictly arational. It happens, it is not thought out.

These filters are Bayesian. A person builds up an abstract of 'tiger' from all instances of 'tiger' they've ever seen. (Also similar to Restricted Boltzmann Network training.) Then their brain simply associates the label 'tiger' with this abstract, and so when something matches the abstract to a high probability, they exclaim 'tiger!' as contrasted to 'moose' or any other possible label. You can see that you have access to the calculated probabiliy as well, as there is a 'perfect or stereotypical example of a tiger,' and less perfect examples, and finally things like housecats which are only vaguely tiger-like, and the sheer sensation of tigerness decreases continuously as you go farther from that perfect specimen. The cutoff between 'tiger' and 'not-tiger' is arbitrary, not strict.

This interpretation can, as far as I know, fully contain the one described in the paper. They explain the same data.

Similarly, there seems to be a tortuous interpretation of language. The point of language is shared symbology. So, I have a thought, and I convert it into as symbol which I can send to you. If we use the same language, this symbol will have the same meaning to you as it does to me, and I'll succeed in communicating or sharing my thought.
"So, take words like ‘tiger’. The meaning of this word cannot simply be some description like ‘yellow stripped carnivorous mammal’ for the same reasons as given against such a theory for the meaning of names."
Those reasons being that your description may be mistaken. However, either the label or the description can be mistaken. The label is decided on the basis of language - that is, there's no point in defining it in such a way that you no longer think of the same thing as I do for the same symbol, as that contravenes the communication purpose of language. That is, these things are best defined socially, as this maximized the number of people who you can effectively communicate with.

This means I've logically reconstructed what people normally do anyway. If you have a mismatch between description and label, then someone will correct you by changing the label of the description to the correct symbol, and letting you know which description is supposed to go with your previous label.

So, when you say Einstein invented the atomic bomb, are you really referring to Einstein? It depends. Did you want the correct description for the label 'Einstein' or did you want to refer to the correct label for the decription 'inventor of atomic bomb?' Which did you intend to communicate? Once again, it all comes down to what the subject wanted to do, because there is no ought from is, except the 'is' that you ought to do what you want to do.

Because I can see how this would be unclear, I'll repeat, in the hopes that I stumble on the right words. So, you can be mistaken that Einstein invented the atomic bomb, or you can be mistaken that the inventor of the atomic bomb was Einstein. If you try to communicate with the symbol 'Einstein,' somebody who knows better will notice the contradiction, and attempt to come to agreement with you on what descriptions go with what symbols.

It's worth noting, I think, that the symbols are arbitrary, they just have to be consistent across subjects.

So, Twin Earth's water-like substance, chemical composition XYZ, which they call water? There are two possibilities.

The simplest is that Twin Earthlings speak a language that sounds like English but 'water' doesn't refer to H20, precisely. It's a slightly different language. Twin Earthlings would call our water 'Other-Earth water' and we would call theirs 'Twin-Earth water.'

There is a problem, however, in that XYZ, while having a slightly different X-ray diffraction pattern than H20, is identical in the description. Twin Earthlings can slake their thirst on our water and vice-versa. Theirs expands when it freezes, the heavy version can be used in nuclear reactors, and so on. In other words, except for any test that tests directly for chemical formula, Twin Earth water is physically identical to our water. (Notice I'm having no trouble distinguishing their water from ours. This referral problem is a non-problem.)

It's not really a different substance.

(Well I suppose it uses magic, since chemical structures determines chemical properties, and so it is not otherwise logically possible for a different chemical to act like water without just being water.)

Putting aside the magic chemical structure, if it quacks like a duck, smells like a is a duck. Twin Earth water is identical to our water. It is our water, regardless of assumptions otherwise. Its interactions are all identical.

Unless, of course, it isn't identical, but if we have one word and two different objects, then the problem is entirely different. The description of it being identical can be thrown out entirely.

Imagine instead of the property that's different being a magical chemical structure, the different property is that it's magma, they just drink it and call it water anyway. (As long as there is some difference, it doesn't matter how small or big it is.) Suddenly the mystery disappears. Of course it's not water, regardless of what Twin Earthlings call it! Again, they speak something that sounds like English, but their symbol 'water' corresponds to the same concept as our symbol 'magma,' and it is not the same language by the fact that it fails to communicate.

This technique comes from physics. The easiest way to understand what's going on is simply to describe the chain of events, the things that are happening. Ask, what are the objects? (Words, which are symbols) What are their properties? (They symbolize a concept.) What are their interactions? (They are used for communication.) Often, you're done at this point. (Ah. When you have one word symbolizing two concepts, it won't work for communication.)

So either it's identical, and there's no problem, or it's not and there's no mystery. By the law of excluded middle, there is no third option. Kripke and Putnam have tied themselves in knots to no purpose, because they refused to look at the tree of possibilities, because they haven't taken enough physics.
"That is, we can imagine that there are some animals that look very different from the way that tigers around here look. But we could, after looking at their DNA, discover that they really were tigers."
So let's apply my little theory. There's two things going on here; 'tiger' as the label that matches the description 'yellow stripped carnivorous mammal' and 'tiger' that matches the decription 'An organism organized by a particular chain of nucleotides.' Either can be valid, but not both at once. Essentially this is equivocation. To see this, let the first 'tiger' be simply "Ex" and the second 'tiger' "Wye." (Taking math is also helpful for philosophy.)

"That is, we can imagine that there are some animals that look very different from the way that Exs around here look. But we could, after looking at their DNA, discover they really were Wye."

In short, if this statement were made in Lojban, it would have been obviously incoherent. If they are truly identical, there is no problem. If they are not identical, there is no mystery.

That was fun. Let's do it again.

"In support of Kripke’s claim about the meaning of natural kind terms like ‘tiger’ not simply being a description, Putnam asks us to imagine that we found out that the things that we call ‘cats’ were really Martian robots sent to spy on us before the big invasion. If this were true, Putnam argued, ‘cat’ would not pick out a class of mammals but would instead pick out a class of Martian robots but it would be the same class of things that it picked out before we found out that they were Martian robots."

Or the label 'cat' has been mistakenly applied to Martian robots, when we intended for it to describe small furry mammals.

Even in this example, it is clear that after we discover the error, unless our name is Putnam, we're going to say 'Those aren't cats! They're Martian robots!" We would not say, "Martian robots are really cats!" as would be completely valid under this interpretation. We would suddenly learn that what we thought of as 'cats' were really mythological instead of common. Simply put, Putnam is mistaken about how people use language. Of course he's allowed to redefine 'refer' to this new meaning, but that will simply mean his symbol 'refer' will not correspond to most people's symbol, and he will be unable to effectively communicate.

"So ‘being a mammal’, or ‘being carnivorous’, cannot be part of the definition of ‘cat’. The same argument can be given for any proposed description. Given these arguments there seems to be a close affinity between natural kind terms and names with respect to rigid designation."

Oh dear. I didn't realize this, but Kripke's idea does lead to it, doesn't it?

This is preposterous. Kripke would fail immediately if he tried to do math. When you find that your definition doesn't match the thing you were applying your label to - if you find that the equation you're looking for isn't the equation of a line after all - you don't get to change the definition. You have to find a new definition that does match what you're looking at. Just as most people would say, "Cats aren't really cats! They're Martian robots!" not, "Cats aren't actually cute and fuzzy. They're Martian robots!" Actually that doesn't work either, but it's the closest I can come. What would people say if they found out that 'cat' actually refers to Martian robots? "Cat doesn't mean fuzzy thing! It means Martian robot!" Well, that's factually untrue. If I share the symbol 'cat' with you, you think of a fuzzy thing, not a sinister robot planning domination.

'Refer' simply means 'represent.' What does 'cat' represent? Well, it's arbitrary, but since we're trying to use it to communicate, we have to agree on something. Since it's been agreed, the matter is settled.

("All the things we thought were cats are actually Martian robots!""When you say cat, you mean Martian robot!" Yeah, I don't know. Help me out here.)

Isn't this supposed to be analytic philosophy? The one that's analogous to the term in math that's used like, "This equation can be solved analytically."
"There are no actual chocobos. This fictional animal was invented by a designer (Koichi Ishii) and so the word traces back to a creative act of an individual. This means that chocobos are essentially fictional."
That chocobos do not exist as physical cellular organisms - that they're fictional - has no bearing on what we would mean if we saw a physical cellular organism and exclaimed, "That's a chocobo!" Is it really a chocobo? The set of interactions that describe a chocobo may come from fiction, but that doesn't mean that this set of interactions doesn't describe a chocobo.

What people would say if they were precise is, "The properties that describe a chocobo are, right now, only found in fiction, but if we were to breed one, it would be found in reality as well."
"Suppose that we discovered an animal that matched the description of chocobos perfectly. We can even imagine that they come in different colors and that they behave in exactly the way that they are described in Final Fantasy."
So, as I described at the start.
"Kripke argues that this is not evidence that chocobos are real. Fool’s Gold perfectly resembles real gold but isn’t."
It's so tempting to use 'wow' at this point. I will resist, however. First of all this is factually untrue. I have a chunk of Fool's gold on a stand behind me, and it most certainly doesn't resemble gold perfectly. For one, it's crystalline, and real gold is found as amorphous nuggets.

Again, if it perfectly resembled real gold, it would just be real gold and we would not have a separate word for it.

If the cellular chocobo perfectly resembles Final Fantasy chocobos, it just is a chocobo, as defined by a set of interactions with us.

Again, look to what people would say. "So, are you talking about a chocobo in Final Fantasy or one of them real chocobos?" Just as they might refer to, "The horse in Pocahontas" and distinguish it from real horses. Perhaps, "Suprisingly, the horse in Pocahontas behaves exactly like a real horse." So, even though it has a full sense of horse-ness, people still distinguish graphical horses from cellular horses.

Consider the opposite situation, where we have something that extremely closely resembles a chocobo, but because of Kripke and Brown, isn't called a chocobo. Instead, I'll call it "Zed."

Whenever someone familiar with Final Fantasy saw Zed, they would be struck by how chocobo-like it is. Every time. If Kripke came and carefully explained that Zed isn't a chocobo because you can't properly reference a chocobo, they would still go, "But dang, it shore look like a chocobo." They would most likely, if they forgot the name, call it "Kripke's chocobo-thing that's not 'actually' a chocobo."

So let me repair the argument again.

'Imagine someone built a chocobo, so that it had a superficial resemblance to FF chocobos, like Fool's Gold shares a superficial yellowness with real gold. This would not be a chocobo."

Let's ask the crowd;

"This is a chocobo robot, not a real chocobo."

Come to think, given a real chocobo, lets ask them about the FF chocobo.

"This is a work of fiction that depicts a chocobo, not a real chocobo."

Right then.

Brown does have something else going on, though. He asserts that we don't know enough about chocobos to determine if cellular chocobos share the proper essence of chocoboness.
"Fool’s Gold perfectly resembles real gold but isn’t. We know this because we know what is essential for something to be gold (having a certain atomic number)."
"There is no way for us to tell what the internal makeup of chocobos is or whether moogles are reptiles or mammals unless it is explicitly built into the fictional story. So we may be imagining “Fool’s moogles”; things which look like moogles are described but that do not have the same essential trait."
Again, this runs afoul of the fact that labels can also be mistaken, not just descriptions. By 'gold' we happen to mean a particular element, but we could also have meant a metallic yellow thing, in which case there would be two kinds of gold; the valuable kind with chemical symbol Au, and the less valuable kind with is an iron sulfide. The 'essence' is arbitrary.

In this case, we don't mean an organism organized by a particular string of nucleotides. We're talking Exs here, not Wyes. I suspect the essence of Wye is the only essence Brown would accept, which is why he came to the conclusion that chocobos lack an essence.

"The same is true for fictional names. Since ‘Sephiroth’ is grounded in a creative act of Tetsuya Nomura Sephiroth is essentially fictional. But if it turns out that Sephiroth was not based on a purely creative act of Tetsuya Nomura but was, let’s say, the real name of a real mythic person (from before Time began) and that Tetsuya had discovered some ancient documents detailing the adventures of Sephiroth and Cloud Strife then those names would refer to those actual people. So whether or not chocobos are real or Sephiroth exists depend on where the causal chain ends. "

The second part is right but the first part is wrong. Yes, it matters where the causal chain ends.

This is another case where we have two concepts - graphical Sephiroth, cellular Sephiroth - but one symbol; Sephiroth. So, equivocation again.

Sephiroth is still a creative act. Tetsuya intended for it to refer to his fictional, graphical Sephiroth.

Even if he found out that he had coincidentally described, exactly, a cellular Sephiroth, this doesn't turn his act into a non-creative one. It was still created, not copied. It doesn't mean he actually intended to refer to cellular Sephiroth when he made graphical Sephiroth. Technically speaking you can't even say graphical Sephiroth represents real Sephiroth, because this could only have been true after all the work had been done, and Tetsuya finds out about real Sephiroth. I can show this by contradiction, and that's fun, so I will. I'm going to shorten it to graphic S and real S.

  • Assume Graphic S represents real S.
  • Graphic S was created without any reference to real S. That is, the concepts in Tetsuya's mind which he symbolized by Graphic S did not refer in any way to real S. (Go ahead, try to refer to something you haven't conceived of.)
  • Graphic S did not refer to real S at the time of creation.
  • Graphic S represented real S but did not refer to real S.
  • Refer and represent are synonyms.
  • Thus my assumption must be false.

You can only say he correlates to real Sephiroth. Othewise we have some Platonic form of truth where you can refer to things you don't know you're referring to. Like bloargihorble. In some alternate universe which we can never touch, perhaps bloargihorble is some very profound truth which I could use. According to the theory I'm analysing, I'm referring to it, despite the fact that to me, you, and anyone who could ever possibly read this, bloargihorble is meaningless nonsense.

(Later I read that this isn't true, that the way Kripke uses the chain of events prevents bloargihorble. However, the way he thinks of the chain of events simply contradicts his theory, isntead of repairing this issue.)

"Kripke notes that when we use a name we have to intend to use it in the same way as the link in the chain from which we get the name used it. So, take the example of Santa Claus. Though there may be an actual historical person that ‘Santa Claus’ grounds out in it is unlikely that we are referring to that person when we use the name since we no longer intend to be referring to that person. "

In other words Kripke and Brown accept the ideas about intent that I'm using, but apparently haven't realized that this contradicts everything else they're saying.
"Kripke on Fiction"

"Kripke makes several claims about fiction that are interesting but hard to interpret."
I'll say. Again, it seems he could benefit greatly from a physical description of fictional objects.

Sephiroth is a flat pattern of lights that appear on monitors, which cause particular chains of events in the eyes, which cause the owner of those eyes to interpret it as the representation of a person.

So talking about 'Sephiroth' per se is ambigous. We can talk about the representation of Sephiroth - the pattern of lights - or we can talk about what Sephiroth represents - a magical swordsman with very destructive tendencies.

We can even say the thing which is represented exists, because the pattern of concepts which make up Sephiroth exists. However, what we normally mean by 'exists' is more vague, usually referring to physical realization with cells and all that.

And, so now we have a physical description of events. Now, any question about existence, interaction, and referral is pretty easy to answer. When we ask questions about Sephiroth, we can specify whether we mean his graphics or the idea of him, as the two objects have different properties. However, they have very definite properties, and so the truth value of any statement about him is straightforward to determine. Now we can be precise.

The representation of Sephiroth exists as long as something is representing him, and the thing represented exists as long as someone has conceptualized him.

I think it's worth noting that what I'm saying here about language is empirically falsifiable. Language is symbols used for communication, and as such 'what we normally mean' is a testable hypothesis. We can ask people about the properties of the concepts that are symbolized by 'Sephiroth.' They should accord with what I'm saying.
"But not every question must have an answer according to Kripke. Some questions are indeterminate and Kripke thinks this means that some abstract objects are indeterminate."
So lets take this description on a test run.

"If some fictional account leaves some fact indeterminate, then it really is indeterminate. So, for example, if it is indeterminate in the story of Final Fantasy VII whether or not Cloud Strife really is Sephiroth then Cloud Strife does not have clearly defined identity conditions and so is indeterminately identical or distinct from Sephiroth."

"Chocobos have indeterminate identity conditions since all we know about them are accidental features (how they look to us)."
No. Chocobos have vague or non-unique identity, as the representation leaves several things up to our imagination. However, the concept of chocobos clearly have properties which aren't up to our imagination.

Again, apparently Brown means 'chocobos don't have genes, which is my standard for the essence of cellular creatures.' Brown uses Wye, but you don't have to; you can use Ex if you want to. But, like I said before, it makes communication difficult if chocobo symbolizes a string of nucleotides to Brown and he tries to talk to the rest of us, for which chocobo symbolizes the appearance of a giant yellow ostritch.

Similarly, even if we all adopt the Wye interpretation, then we have to start saying things like, "This extremely chocobo-like object's genome is highly unique due to its source in genetic engineering..." The concepts involved don't change, but the labels become more cumbersome.

"We are not always imagining what we think we are. [...] We may think that we are imagining a counter-factual situation where chocobos exist but we are really imagining a situation where there are things that look like chocobos are said to look but aren’t really chocobos (since we are imagining that they are real and not fictional)"

I'd rather say that we do exactly imagine what we think we're imagining, but it doesn't necessarily make any kind of sense.

I'm wrong, though. Imagine, for a moment, a world where A=A or A!=~A is false.

Sorry, you didn't. You can't. Whatever you imagined, it had identity, and thus A=A was true. If it had any kind of identity, that is, properties, it was distinguished from other things and non-contradiction was true. The properties of what you imagined did not correspond to the labels you applied to it.

And finally, this example from a section on an almost equally tortured theory.




1. Heads


2. Heads


3. Tails


4. Tails


Are there four possible outcomes or three? The answer depends on whether you think that state2 is a different state than state 3 and that will depend on whether you think that Kripke is right about rigid designation. On Kripke’s way of doing things we have two distinct objects, the coins Land R, and state 2 is a different state than state 3 because the two (distinct) objects are arranged differently."

Again, just make a physical description of events.

So we're flipping two coins. In the table there are four possible outcomes. The question is whether 2 and 3 are really identical, since they have this identical property; one coin is heads, one coin is tails.

So, first question. Are the coins perfectly identical? If not, then the mystery dissolves immediately, so I'll assume they are.

We're already on the home stretch. To flip a coin requires space. The two coins will be in different spatial coordinates; will have followed different trajectories. So while in the moment they are identical, and can be swapped, if you follow their past or future, they are not identical. You can distinguish them by 'the coin at (o,3) is R and the coin at (6,2) is L.' In the future, we simply refer to the position in the past tense, referring to a specific time. It will always be true that one coin was at (6,2) at time (40), and we put the label 'L' on that coin.

This is one of the issues of using physics to try to do philosophy. Physics tends to answer the question for you, but not in a way that addresses the problem you're trying to raise. The answer does not depend on whether you agree with Kripke, because the objects are not truly identical.

You could conceive of the coins being in the exact same place, but this raises a different issue. If you try to use physics to do philosophy, but don't even respect physics, you'll end up with nonsense, even if it isn't immediately obvious.

Instead, imagine two identical universes with identical coin-flipping apparati. There is no fact of the matter about the relation between these universes; you cannot say 'the one on the left.'

This scenario does depend on whether you agree with Kripke. Since there is no way to tell the universes apart, by assumption, they really are identical. The situation where one flips heads and the other tails is indistinguishable from the situation where the other flips heads and one flips tails. (If it is distinguishable, you should be able to do a substitution similar to 'Ex' and 'Wye.') The designation of each universe is arbitrary. I consider this to be a two-paragraph refutation of Kripke's theory of reference.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ribbonfarm on Framing Consciousness

There exists an excellent article on the problem of consciousness, which you can compare to my own ideas to verify that I do in fact know what I'm talking about.

I like repeatedly verifying my ability as a philosopher. This is a hallmark of the insecure. Am I insecure? Essentially, yes. I can make up all sorts of rationalizations:

I want to find out if people who think I'm a hack can be convinced, or if they are immune to evidence.

I honestly believe that there's no reason to assume I do know what I'm talking about.

I do make mistakes, and this kind of activity helps others to audit.

I need to know whether the things that are obvious to me are obvious to many people, or if I possess specialized skills.

And so on, but ultimately it's true that I'm insecure, despite my ability to come up with good alternative reasons. Lacking any serious verification process, I can never be entirely sure that my ideas don't simply exist to prop up my cognitive biases. Indeed, that's what I see all day - biases comprehensively blocking communication and understanding. It would be an act of supreme hubris to assume I am immune.

Of course, some of the people that are obviously blocked by bias is the population of credentialed philosophers. Simply put, they are far too confident in their conclusions, which would be fine if they did not entangle responsiveness to evidence with their feeling of confidence.

Here is Venkatesh Rao, who bridges the gap. He is respectful of credentials, yet also does not make any serious mistakes that are obvious to me.

"Surprisingly little has been said on the subject that is relevant in a non-negative-definition sense."
Which is why I start by declaring that consciousness isn't physical.
"But you have to clear the clutter, and there the literature helps."
This is exactly why I want heavy critique of the mind node. It goes above and beyond the call in this field, and even if it's only slightly right I've done something extraordinary. Also, as I'll go into below, here's his respect for authority versus my disdain. I really don't see the point of most of the literature; I've almost never read Chalmers directly, although I did read about the hard problem.

"I’ll studiously ignore 101 level questions or at best say “read Chalmers” or something along those lines. This is not because I am snotty about my extensive reading in this area. It is because even for the talented thinkers in this field, who I frequently cite, providing a careful account of even the most trivial-sounding question, like whether we all experience ‘blue’ the same way, can take entire chapters. And still achieve no progress besides eliminating the sillier wrong answers."

This is actually a good example of an is-ought problem. Careful thinkers spend a lot of words just to refute basic confusions, and therefore he won't answer 101-level questions? There's no connection here; you must go to the subjective level. "I don't want to write that much in comments." "I don't feel I'm qualified, and thus I feel I would do more bad than good." You have to give a reason. Or at least, I have to give a reason.
  1. Do you or do you not believe that subjective consciousness is a real , as yet-unexplained, mystery? (Chalmers estimates that about two thirds of academics engaged in the question believe it is. Daniel Dennett wrote a book titled “Consciousness Explained” that represents the other third who think it has been explained. That’s the schism. Live with it.)
  2. If you answered ‘yes’ to Question 1, which sub-category of stances do you adopt (the main current candidates being a) that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe like mass/time, b) that it is a an epiphenomenon of brains only, or c) it has something to do with quantum mechanics that manifests itself due to the peculiar structure of the brain). There are about half a dozen other views which I don’t view as even being contenders.
  3. What elements of the consciousness debates do you consider relevant, marginally relevant and irrelevant respectively? There is a laundry list of things you need to make up your mind about, which I’ll provide in a minute.

"That’s it. That’s the framing problem. My own commitments have been made: yes to 1, choice a) for 2, and the rest of this post for 3."

1. Yes.

2. A and C, though mostly likely only because B is self-contradictory. Some of the inevitable consequences of the definition conflict with other consequences. Otherwise, I'm a big fan of synthesis.

3. I can't say on the spot. Show me a detail and I'll generate an answer for it.

"Each side has significant internal work to get done first."
I want to know what he means by this. Certainly I can think of many ways he could be right. But it seems to me that what he's saying is that, essentially, both sides are wrong. That is, they are extremely crude approximations of reality, where the patches that match well are small and far apart.

I would disagree with this. (As you would expect, and for the exact reason you would expect.) I suspect he actually knows a lot more on the subject than I do, however, every time I've attempted to draw out this kind of knowledge from people I've failed.

"Question 2 is tougher if you don’t know about some of the frames in play,"
I don't know about this either way. I suspect it's safe to trust him. As such, the method I used to learn philosophy continually surprises me - if I had been doing it on purpose, I would not have been able to reasonably expect success. My bookshelf never groans, and certainly not under the weight of non-fiction texts. I learned it just by being alive - by encountering people and by reading stuff. Making and testing predictions was also key. But this I did just in the course of daily life, rather than ever specifically seeking out philosophers until very late in the process, and even then I was just looking for things I found interesting, not philosophy per se.

As example;
"To form a substantial opinion and avoid getting trapped into unnecessary trails of thought that others have mapped and dismissed credibly, you need to do some reading."
No, I don't have to do some reading. Yet, I will generally avoid wandering into already-refuted territory, because I'm aware of the refutations, at least to a reasonable degree.

Ironically, he falls into exactly this trap.
"Unsolved fundamental physics problems (primarily, but not only, quantum indeterminacy)"
The problem is not unsolved. If physicists were good at thinking in straight lines, nearly any one would be able to tell you the solution. First, 'indeterminacy' is not thought of the way he does. It's better termed 'non-determinacy' which doesn't imply that we could somehow 'solve' the issue by figuring out what determines it. The 'problem' is already solved - nothing determines it, at least, nothing physical. For something to determine it would require a vastly different physical system than the one we have observed.

"For instance, does the brain construct reality or perceive it? The data is in. It constructs reality."
The brain interacts with the world which strongly influences certain internal processes which communicate something to the consciousness, whatever it is. (This is me generating a stance on a detail.) Is this construct, or perceive, according to Rao? If he means the brain must use some mechanism to entrain consciousness and reality, rather than simply psychically intuiting it, then yes of course. This conclusion doesn't even require data at this point. You can use Newton's Third to conclude this. But a naive reading makes it sound likes the options are psychic reading and hallucination.

Also, someone needs to decide the 'data is in' versus 'data are in' issue.

"Mass, space and time are fundamentally just as confusing as the fact that there happens to be an ‘I’ sitting inside your head (just behind your eyes, apparently)."
Mostly true, although it's obvious that the spatial assocation of qualia is independent of the actual sensory input, as qualia don't inherently have position; it is arbitrary. (Perhaps this is what Rao means by 'construct'.) As such, the qualia corresponding to the sensation of I-ness being located behind the eyes was mostly arbitrary, though it's interesting that it corresponds closely to where most of the personality and sensations are generated.

(It's almost certain that a tiny fraction of sensations and thinking are generated elsewhere, considering the distribution of neurons and the fact that we must consider the brain not-special until proven otherwise.)
"Chalmers dismisses this as not relevant, and that’s an area where I break from his views. I don’t agree or disagre; I just think the jury is still out, and that fundamental physics is at least as mysterious as consciousness itself."
When I spoke to my local university, this is exactly where we reached an impassable disagreement, so it's nice that he's on my side. I should really get around to doing a few posts about university...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hume's Ought: The Ironic Solution

I'm certainly not the first person to claim to have solved Hume's ought. In fact, I tried to come up with a format for this article that wouldn't even mention Hume, so as to avoid unnecessary name-dropping. The idea is the idea, regardless of the fame and prestige of the people associated with it. Nevertheless, given that I've been interested in philosophy my entire life, which means I have been paying attention but haven't seen this solution, plus the fact that I am actually building on Hume's ought instead of trying to replace it, suggests that my solution is qualitatively different.

I suspect that many people are capable of intuiting what I'm about to put forward, but incapable of truly manifesting it in words so as to write it down properly. Essentially they can't understand their own genius. This is why, I think, that so many people try to disprove Hume's ought.

Essentially, I have credit Ze Frank for this idea. The Show is supposed to be mainly comedy, but its treatment of the concept of personal values is by far the best I've ever seen.

Let's start. There is no ought from is. No matter what facts you have, what data about the world, you cannot construct a logical chain to prove that we ought to do something. In fact, we could all walk into the ocean tomorrow and drown. But that would be bad, right? We ought not to? Yeah, but bad according to whom? From the perspective a contemptuous alien race, that might be good; they get a nice cushy planet. And thus the quandry; there is no objective means to distinguish between the alien's viewpoint and ours. You certainly don't have to do anything, which is the usual language used to express 'ought,' and every justification you might put forward to 'prove' that we 'shouldn't' all suicide can be answered, 'So what?'

"But people don't want to die!"

"People want to get stuff for free instead of paying for it, too. That is not a reason. So what?"

"But it will waste all our effort and striving and progress!"

"So what? We'll all be dead. Nobody will mind - nobody will be left."

This analysis, as proven by Hume, applies to every possible conflict of values. There is no is that can distinguish between opposing oughts.

Ironically, because of this very truth, we can indeed get ought from is. Specifically, it is a fact that I want some ice cream. Therefore, I ought to go get ice cream. To make this clear, let me unpack it.

In fact, I do not want to pay for it. I want free ice cream. It is a fact, however, that there is no free ice cream. And while I want to keep my money, I want the equivalent amount of ice cream more. Similarly, I want lots of things that aren't ice cream, such as to stay at home lazing about, but I want ice cream the most. And, it is a fact that there is no objective ought, which means that these facts - that 'I want ice cream' inevitably implies* that I want it more than anything else available at the moment - can produce an ought.

*(Or at least should so imply. Many people are fond of saying 'But I want X, which conflicts with your plan!' but fail to note that they don't want it very much. For instance, most people want the disadvantaged to be taken care of, but don't want to pay for it themselves. However, since not paying for it should mean that it simply isn't done, of the real alternatives people do want to pay for it. This is yet another example of the generalized broken-window fallacy.)

I ought to go get ice cream, because there is no objective way to prove that I shouldn't. And thus the irony forces me to equivocate on 'objective' to get my point across.

Subjective values can never be trumped by objective facts. Therefore, the facts about your subjective values uniquely determine what you ought to do.

My first solution to objective ethics is essentially a detail along this vein. Surely, you should not do anything you yourself think is wrong - in other words, there is no time and no place where a hypocrite is anything but wrong. Again, this only works, ironically, because there is no objective standard of right and wrong, as otherwise you could value wrong but be doing right.

Taken together, this forms a simple algorithm for forming oughts, both positive and negative, that generates an intricate and complex code of conduct, and moreover each code of conduct is tailor-made to the individual without stepping beyond the logically consistent bounds of each person's rights. The downside being that you have to personally run the generating function, which isn't trivial. Nobody can do it for you - in practise it is impossible to communicate your values in the necessary detail.

Basically, whatever you want to do, you ought to do, unless it is hypocritical, and then you yourself think it is something you ought not to do. As it turns out, given the facts of human biology, this replicates all the essential parts of today's legal system. By my evaluation, the parts that are left off are indeed all flaws, not only in reference to this theory of ought, but flawed in reference to most people's subjective opinions, and finally contradictory to the purpose or manifestation of the rest of today's law.

But yes, I would have preferred to explain this idea with no reference to Hume's ought, basically because I've come to understand that name dropping Einstein derails explanations, and is done to associate with the greats rather than to demonstrate anything meaningful. (This does not apply to actual discussions of relativity.) First of all, it's boring. There are lots of people who say the same things Einstein did, but everyone references him. Second, it's the fallacy of authority. The fact is right or wrong, regardless of associations to famous people. Unless you personally check it, you don't know if Einstein is right or wrong on any particular issue - but if you've personally done the work, it doesn't matter what Einstein though. These issues don't appear to me to be limited to Einstein.

So, ought from subjective is. Think about it. Also, I have a feeling I've missed something or been unclear. Kindly help me find it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Personalities versus Trees

Also my tendency to make predictions based on flimsy knowledge, and my perception of accuracy.

Scientists have discovered that crabs have personalities. Specifically, some crabs are bolder than others and take more risks.

"Crabs apparently can have different personalities from one another, the first discovery of personality in crustaceans."

They talk as if this is unprecedented. (Read more of the article to confirm this.) Instead, I could have told them that. Actually, even trees behave this way. Right now, it's fall in Canada. If I look outside, most trees are just turning. However, some aren't turned at all, and others have dumped their leaves entirely. The same analysis applies; if there's no early frost, then the bold trees will have more energy to grow. If there exists an early frost, the timid trees will suffer less damage and will get an advantage next spring. Trees don't have anything analogous to a brain so they don't really have personalities, just personality analogues.

In other words, scientist fail at thinking. Again. Admittedly, this is the exact reason scientists rant on and on about the importance of definition, something I wholeheartedly endorse. It's an easy mistake to make.
"He added that personalities might perhaps be found even in organisms with very simple nervous systems. "Maybe vertebrates or even humans aren't as special in this respect as people often assume," Briffa said."
Since personality can be found in trees, I bet that's a safe assumption. A rather bolder claim would be that everything with a genome displays personality. This is because behaviour is affected by genome, and genome varies slightly even between organisms of the same species. Even viruses come in risk-tolerant (virulent and deadly) and risk-averse (cold viruses) types; the first risks killing the host before a new one can be found.

This idea even has a practical application. If you're worried about a branch falling on your house, first check whether the tree is bold or timid. If it's timid, you're safe barring lightning. (My neighbour in my hometown was concerned about one of our trees. Of course, they also thought having their kids walk from our place to their during a rainstorm significantly risked getting them struck by lightning.) If the tree is bold...then you probably have cause to worry. The early frosts probably won't destroy a branch outright, but repeated frosts against leaves could stress and weaken a branch, leaving it vulnerable to high winds.

I'm making this prediction based on no information at all, other than basic physics. I should be right no more often than chance. I do this often; I find this is not the case. Generally I'm either right or simulating right - my wrong conclusion leads to the right predictions. When I'm wrong it's usually because there's a very good reason I wouldn't be able to guess, like suddenly finding out that trees are secretly reinforced with iron. Still, grain of salt on this one.

Further reading at a surprisingly not-bad MSNBC article.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Planetariums Versus Their Supporters

First of all I have to say I like planetariums too, and I think they should be built. Since taxation is violence, I prefer a different method for funding them, but...

David Hume would be appalled.

"I think planetariums are awesome and therefore McCain is anti-science!" So the best reason you can think of to support planetariums is that you like them? Seriously? These people are supposed to be scientists. This is even worse than ought-from-is.* This commits is-from-ought. McCain ought to like planetariums and therefore he is anti-science.

*(It's totally worth reading Hume's original words on the subject. Summary: imperceptible change between talking about what is to talking about what ought to be in many of his contemporary's writings. No justification given during the transition.)

From the article:
"The science community is notoriously tight-knit, especially when rallying to a cause,"
Notoriously if they have some coordination if dissent is not allowed, even outside the group. As if they have a creed, or something.

In individuals, this kind of behaviour smacks of insecurity. When you must attack anyone who disagrees with you, it usually means you fear something - being wrong, being ignored, or something like that. I seriously doubt this dynamic changes at the group level.

This is also an effective game of 'attack the outsider,' usually used to build insider cred. (Jump down to the part about "If it's any consolation to the nerds, it's nothing personal.")
"Planetariums are Bridges to the Future"
You can't learn a significant amount of astronomy at a planetarium. It's essentially an entertainment venue, as indeed is reflected in the article's comments; they all talk about enjoying the planetarium, and the article specifically says it's an "engrossing" and "gorgeous...visual." You'll note they carefully don't say 'educational,' or indeed try to link it back to research in any way. (This tactic hopes you will commit the generalized broken-window fallacy, get distracted by what they say and fail to notice what they don't say.)

Again. I like planetariums, and I wish there were more around. However, what's happening here is just that a modern church is being attacked, and the faith's adherent are rallying.

I also like this one. Someone unconsciously knows the implications! To test this idea, try to find one person in that thread that supports McCain, or indeed realized that liking planetariums is not a good reason to get tax money, even if you support the violence. Even if you find them, you'll see my point.