Monday, June 20, 2016

Answers to the Five Most Intractable Problems

Problems judged by Julian Baggini.

1. How does science work?

Identical things are identical, logic implies things, and observation is possible. Similar things are similar, implying the possibility of being similar but not identical.

If we see a blue cube, and note it has certain properties such as having sharp edges, then we can safely infer that the next cobalt hexahedron we see will have the same properties, because e.g. the sharp edges are implied by the cubishness. Or, if similar, will have similar properties.

2. Why should we be moral?

First point: moral nihilism is true. The correct question is, why should we cooperate?

Cooperation is positive sum. Defection is negative sum. As a result, cooperation is always more profitable overall considered in a wide enough scope. It is further analytically provable that cooperation is always possible.

Incidentally, cooperation's profitability + the fact of self-defence implies don't steal, don't murder, etc.

3. How do people of different values live together?

By using the correct transformations. In general, people with different values should ostracize each other, except where boundary-specific rules can be negotiated. Though in practice, non-ostracism boundary-specific rules are almost always negotiable.

Cooperation implies property rights. What you value goes, for your property. Thus, don't eat meat at a vegan's house, and similarly the vegan cannot object to meat eaten at your house. If one of these is not acceptable, then the vegan's only valid recourse is ostracism, as anything more proactive is defection. Defection implies the meat-eater should, rationally, neutralize the vegan before they act.

4. How is consciousness possible?

The correct question is 'how is physics possible?' The Cogito generalizes: consciousness is undoubtable, because identical things are identical.

If they mean how Descartes' metaphorical pineal gland possibly works, it works because parts of physics are undecidable purely by the physical laws, but still observably have outcomes. The outcomes are possibly due to consciousness deciding the outcome, meaning the entities partake of both substances. Presumably a symmetric undecidability exists on the consciousness side, allowing the chain of causality to be properly linked both ways, obeying Newton's third law.

5. Do we have free will, and if so, what is it?

That's backwards. We must figure out what it is before we figure if we have it.

Given that identical things are identical, if we reach a crossroads we've seen before, then we can recognize and predict the outcome, and take the other fork. Out of curiosity, or out of disliking the previous result, or whatever. A counterfactual past can be brought into existence in the future. (Credit to Baggini for this wording.)

Pragmatically, free will is being able to take the same fork as last time, or not. It is perhaps better to call this property agency. Yes, we have it. If you did not have this free will, it would be immediately apparent, because your body would contravene your decisions. You would decide to turn left and would instead go right. Pragmatically, you want things, and you can always decide to pursue those things.

Alternatively, you think free will is something else. We may or may not have that.

Solutions to Common Objections / Commentary

You can observe wrong, this doesn't mean identical things aren't identical, it means you mistakenly thought an identical thing was dissimilar or vice-versa.
Observation has to be possible, as part of the generalization of the Cogito.

Black swans are an invalid critique of the essential method. The error is mainly in group handling. If we call all members of the 'swan' group white, then rather than telling us anything about swans, it only tells us about our grouping. Grouping like this is only useful if the property in question is logically implied by a membership requirement of the group. All fire is hot, for example, because fire is necessarily an exothermic reaction. If you found a cold or cooling flame, you'll find it's not an oxidation reaction, or it's not self-sustaining, etc. 

Cubes inherently have edges, so by seeing a cube shape I can infer I will feel a sharp edge. Swans do not inherently have any colour. Indeed the swan = white thing is a back-definition. It defines membership of the group 'swans' as 'white swan-shaped birds,' meaning a black swan-shape isn't a swan. At best we end up with white swan_1 and not-white swan_2. And indeed, the black swan is not the same species as the white. (Unlike black leopards or jaguars.)

Cooperation is ethitropism. Oversimply, it is not imposing your values on someone else.

In mathematics, any two maps can be defined in terms of their transformations to each other. So, three objects: the maps and the transformation. Values work like maps. Getting them to work together is the transformation - how the boundary rules are best arranged is determined by the shape of the transformation going from one map to the other.

Values that inherently involve anethitropism are not valid values. The rational response is roughly to request, then if necessary cajole, then if necessary neutralize the anethitropes. Anethitropes, like polar bears, just aren't compatible with modern urban living.

If you find the existence of consciousness mysterious, you should find the existence of matter equally mysterious. Existence is kinda mysterious, you guys. Existence is a far more intractable problem than these five.

It's more that I can find the answer this one, rather than I have answered it. There are therefore many possible objections.

I will note being free is not being random. 

Most likely the desire to claim to have free will has to do more with evolution than with philosophy. It's about not being chained up with physical chains, rather than chains of logic. In the purely objective universe, free will and determinism are indistinguishable, so the emotional attachment to freedom can't possibly have anything to do with this question. E.g, whether you're 'responsible' for your decisions or not has nothing to do with how anyone else should react. (Do we jail someone because this will cause other criminals to not commit, or because it will deter other criminals from committing? In either case, bars are involved.)

A free will you cannot detect the lack of is almost certainly a difference of no difference

Experimental subjects who behave worse if they believe in determinism are being irrational. Their conclusion doesn't genuinely follow from their premises.

Quick refresher: it's you if, when it's cut, you feel bleeding. Perhaps you want to say free will is you being in charge of your decisions. Well, duh, of course - look at the wording, you = your. If you weren't in charge of it, it's not your decision, by definition.

The question of determinism is often phrased as, 'you could have decided differently.' Then you can get compatibilism - being as you had some definite series of properties at the time of the decision, the decision itself was, in principle, predictable. You forced yourself to make the decision you made. (Well, yes? Of course?)

Being predictable is considered an insult. However, compatibilism isn't being pragmatically predictable. The mind is a closed system, so the only entity with the necessary information to predict the decisions is the thing making the decision. Only predictable by itself - and prediction requires overhead, so that's pointless inefficiency.

If you really could have decided differently, then there is no fact of the matter about how you will decide. This could even be not-random by having no fact of the matter about the distribution either. However, it is hard to see how such a fact gets created. It's not a coincidence that this is only possible in a situation that's called, in logic, undecidability. This is the difference between pragmatic unpredictability and in-principle unpredictability. (Incidentally physics as a whole is pragmatically unpredictable.)

There's also a small galaxy of uncommon but reasonable-ish objections which I won't go into here.

1 comment:

Gman said...

{ Ostracism (Greek: ὀστρακισμός, ostrakismos) was a procedure under the Athenian democracy in which any citizen could be expelled from the city-state of Athens for ten years. While some instances clearly expressed popular anger at the citizen, ostracism was often used preemptively. It was used as a way of neutralizing someone thought to be a threat to the state or potential tyrant. It has been called an "honourable exile" }