Monday, February 28, 2011

L∅γι⊂αl ∫ϒmβ∅l∫...

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Finally found the kind of guide I was looking for!

{p : p it is raining}
{q : q the ground is wet}
p ⊃ q, p ∴ q

p ∴ p

"The ground is wet." =
{Wx : x is wet}
{Gx : x is the ground}
(∃x)(Wx ∧ Gx)

"The ground is not wet." =
{Wx : x is wet}
{Gx : x is the ground}
(∃x)(~Wx ∧ Gx)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Well, no, you can't get there from *here*, but…

4 comment(s)
Dennett starts from cognitivism and thereby disproves introspective rationalism (á la the beer taster scenario, or my own recent "how heavy is this dumbbell now versus last time" scenario). This is like a man starting from a store-bought roadmap and 'thereby' disproving that you can reach San Francisco in seven inches.

+ + +

"I have heard when my gay friends first had consciousness of their gay attractions, and it was pretty young, as young as my consciousness of heterosexual attractions, therefore it is morally acceptable."

"I have heard when my audited friends first had consciousness of their attractions to laundering, and it was pretty young, as young as my consciousness of the obligation not to steal, therefore it is morally acceptable."

+ + +

We all know drunk guys fight the best and have the most power on tap, therefore, train drunk and you will be immune to the pains that prevent you from breaking through into the powers of Drunkdom.

+ + +

I am a philosopher by trade. You are a not-philosopher by trade. I make X dollars per year. You invariably make X+ dollars per year. Yet, I surpass you existentially since my occupation is to dwell on what you dwell upon during your drive home and those moments when you wife and children and boss are not commmandeeeeering your cognitive capacities. I lose, yet I I win. That's philosophical alchemy for you.

And you may find yourself...

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"…you will encounter words like 'encairned', 'decensive', 'quotha', 'perforce', 'wroth', 'guerdon', and 'aye '(used like pepper throughout the text), all of which may be summed up in Haines' funniest quote, 'Man, what art thou at?'"
-- from a review of Aurelius' Meditations at

It reminded me of this song, though I don't know why:

Which song reminded me of these fellows, though I have a slightly clearer reason why:

In other news, tonight as I ate my dinner I realized arguments/writings for free will before the advent of quantum indeterminacy and stochastic processes would be much more entertaining. The recent deluge of evidence for indeterminism has made things almost too easy, don't you think? Granted, elite indeterminists like Peter Van Inwagen and Robert Kane, et al.,––did Van Inwagen really coin "indeterminism"?––avoid relying on quantum indeterminacy for their accounts of freewill, which is why I respect them so much. Someone like Stanley Jaki, by contrast, entirely rejects the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics and yet still defends freewill in a deterministic universe. That's my mentor, them's balls! (For the record, Jaki and I both did crew in high school.)

Determinism is held, despite the evidence, based only on the cognitive limits of our current understanding of science. "Even though a coin toss is spoken of as proabiistic, in fact, each specific coin toss has a deterministic outcome. If only we could know enough about its initial conditions, we could know its outcome exactly. We're just waiting for science to catch up with man's deepest, deterministic intuitions." The problem is that, even aside from the quantum indeterminacy we would face at the (…admittedly only currently…) lowest level of analysis, this Laplacian insight would still be subject to human finitude, since a skeptic could just as reasonably argue, "Even though a coin toss is spoken of as deterministic, in fact, each specific coin toss has a stochastic outcome. If only we could know enough about its initial conditions, we could know its outcome is probabilistic, like all of physical nature. We're just waiting for science to catch up with man's deepest, indeterministic intuitions."

Thursday, February 24, 2011


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Show that (1) human nature is not reducible to its natural components, then show (2) how human agency flows from human nature. (3) Call the view "natural freedom" or "substance compatibilism". This would be slightly different from mere agent-causation, since a great deal of natural freedom occurs subconsciously, but does not, from (1), thereby reduce to irrational mechanism. Free will is not about doing, or being able to do, whatever is imaginable, but about the grounds for action which accords with a nature that is suffused with rational entelechies.

The fourth step, which could be mounted before (1), actually, or anywhere after it, is to show that (4) determinism is false as such. It's simply not true. Where we go from there depends on whether we have a viable theory of nature and causation, which is where (1)–(3) come in. What an agent is, is not reducible to its material genesis, even if such materiality were deterministic and, in turn, what an agent does can only be explained by what it is. So, if an appropriate agent is substantially rational––i.e. his rational teleology informs his material existence even apart from concrete acts of conscious reason––, then his action is substantially free.

For the record…

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This post is a promissory placeholder.

For some time, I have harbored the intuition that semiotics contains great potential both for defeating physicalism, and, with some work, for clarifying the potency of truly rational agency (i.e. "free will").

Here is my intuition:

Because semiotic fecundity is in principle not reducible to its material base, and since humans are endlessly semiotic agents, therefore human agency is not reducible to the material web of signs, including every discernible sign in the human organism. In other words, since the significatum is never purely identical to the signans [LINK], and since humans constantly trade in significata by essentially indeterminate signans, therefore humans' rational discourse is in principle not reducible to its material instantiation(s). The energy extractable from the intrinsically possible significance of any signum is intrinsically irreducible to the extractable physical energy of the signum, and a fortiori of the entire web of signs. As such, physicalism is false and humans are semiotically free. This freedom is not utterly separable from the science of semiotics, though it is in principle irreducible to it, which means human freedom is reducible to matter in way that satisfies the possible extremes of exact physical science (EPS) but does not collapse into materialism, much less physicalism.

I think a similar point is made in chapter X of this recent book.

Anyone want to buy me that book so I can know more? heheh

When the Codgitator dares address current events…

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"The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry. Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.

"All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. …

"Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that "under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government."

–– President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, letter to Luther C. Steward, President of the National Federation of Federal Employees, of August 16, 1937. [LINK]

In other news, the Good Guys are on the lam from the Bad Guys somewhere in North America.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Only one possible…

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…necessary contingency?

Read the words again: "only one possible [X]" means necessarily one X.

Let us define determinism (D) as the doctrine that
at time t there is only one possible configuration of the world (C:W) after t (C:Wt+). Everything at time tC:W is a direct and necessary result of the C:W at t.

Tonight I smelled a difficulty in this notion, which I want to address briefly. I need more time to ponder it in depth.

If we accept D, as defined above, we deny it is possible for C:W at t to result in anything other than C:Wt+. The problem I detect is twofold, however.

First, if D is true, then necessitarianism is true, and necessity exhausts modality, which makes possibility a vacuous notion (and an unreality). As such, D should be restated as D*, namely,
at time t there is only one configuration of the world (C:W) at any time other than t (C:Wt*).

Notice the absence of both the word "possible" and the removal of any sense of futurity.

Second, what is the ontological status of the future in D? If C:Wt+ is not yet actual, then D* entails that C:W necessarily results in a non-actual (i.e. merely potential) state of affairs (SOA). As such, C:W necessarily entails complete potentiality, in which case D is false. The future does not yet exist, and therefore does not really exist, which means D can only posit a world that engenders nonexistent SOAs, if it engenders anything at all.

Now, if the reply is to grant the existence of the future as an eternal dimension of the 4D spacetime manifold (á la Minkowski space), then we raise enormous questions about how valid it is to say geometric models literally embody the world. "The map is not the territory," as Korzybski would have it. Geometry may be useful for making sense of broad swaths of data, but that does not mean the geometry is really "the way the world is." After all, Euclidean geometry and Newtonian mechanics are still valid in most contexts, but that does not mean we (should) believe they truly, literally, indexically manifest "the way the world is." So it is with Minkowskian geometry: useful in practice, provisional in reality.

Thus, once again we are thrown back to the radical freedom of the explorer, even in his acts of "scientifically demonstrating" the truth of D. It is up to him (!) which 'dialect' of geometry he will use, what standards of rational warrant to which he will hold himself, which data he will favor or ignore, and so on. If such exploration is not really up to him, but is instead a blind clutching at the only paths he can cognitively tread, then either his (scientific) rationality is a sham (cf. e.g. this abstract) or it is but a tiny rivulet of the cosmos' total active consciousness, both conclusions which seriously undermine materialist scientism.

+ + +

On a different front, I realized today I want to make it a habit to use the following expression, "Ours is a world which is currently described by most scientists as x, y, and z." A mouthful I know, but the more compact, more 'obvious' locution is just a bumper sticker for scientism: "Science proves the world is x, y, and z."

+ + +

Another thought I had, modus tollens: if humans are determined by what they perceive, but if perception is indeterminate, then humans are not psychologically determined.

I ask you to give me the value of √-2. You say…?

I ask you to describe the angles and dimensions of a Necker cube.

You tell me…?

I ask you to identify the highest staircase in an Escher house.

You tell me…?

In each case, what you sense does not, in principle, determine how you perceive it. Indeed, all perception is transcendentally rational. Therefore, perception––stimuli––cannot simply determine your behavior. You are a generative locus of perceptual uniqueness. You are free.

+ + +

Have been brainstorming about my lecture this Sunday. I have been asked to answer the question, "Do humans have freewill?"

There are two ways to answer this question (in the affirmative).

First, assuming that freewill is incompatible with determinism, show that determinism is false and therefore freewill abides by default. In other words, if determinism were true, our experience could not be what it is, but our experience is manifestly what it is, therefore determinism is false. This is, I gather, Van Inwagen's approach in An Essay on Free Will, a copy of which I hope to have by next week.

Second, take stock of broad, consistent features of human behavior and then see if they are coherent without freewill. If not, then freewill follows as manifestly as the features of human consciousness by which it functions. Determinism would be a function of freewill, as the proof for determinism would be among the other dimensions, or fruits, of free human consciousness.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Well, if they gots it...

7 comment(s)
...I know I gots it!

Old news for the doggedly intellectual but still interesting.

Defending free will: A fruit fly makes choices (Reuters, By Julie Steenhuysen, CHICAGO | Wed May 16, 2007)

Lacking external input, Brembs said he had expected a pattern of entirely random movement or noise -- akin to static on a radio that is tuned between stations. Instead, the flies showed a pattern of flight that was generated spontaneously by the brain and could not have been random.

"The decision for the fly to turn left or turn right, which it changes all the time, has to come from the design of the brain," Brembs said. ...

George Sugihara, a mathematical biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego..., said the pattern of variability shown by the fly's choices revealed a non-linear signature -- something typical of many biological processes.

"We show free will 'can' exist, but we do not 'prove' it does," Sugihara said.

"Our results eliminate two alternative explanations of this spontaneous turning behavior that would run counter to free will, namely randomness and pure determinism," he said in an e-mail.

He said the results address the middle ground between simple determinism -- the brain as an input-output machine -- and utterly random behavior.

"We speculate that if free will exists, it is in this middle ground," he said.

On the other hand, if I think I don't gots it, you better watch your wallet, or I'll gets it!

Scientists say free will probably doesn't exist, but urge: "Don't stop believing!" (Scientific American, Jesse Bering | Apr 6, 2010)

One of the most striking findings to emerge recently in the science of free will is that when people believe—or are led to believe—that free will is just an illusion, they tend to become more antisocial. ...

Vohs and Schooler’s findings reveal a rather strange dilemma facing social scientists: if a deterministic understanding of human behavior encourages antisocial behavior, how can we scientists justify communicating our deterministic research findings? In fact, there’s a rather shocking line in this Psychological Science article, one that I nearly overlooked on my first pass. Vohs and Schooler write that:

If exposure to deterministic messages increases the likelihood of unethical actions, then identifying approaches for insulating the public against this danger becomes imperative.

Perhaps you missed it on your first reading too, but the authors are making an extraordinary suggestion. They seem to be claiming that the public “can’t handle the truth,” and that we should somehow be protecting them (lying to them?) about the true causes of human social behaviors. ...

If [a] deterministic understanding of [a licentious] man’s behaviors leads you to feel even a smidgeon more sympathy for him than you otherwise might have had, that reaction is precisely what Vohs and Schooler are warning us about. How can we fault this “pack of neurons”—let alone punish him—for acting as his nature dictates, even if our own nature would have steered us otherwise? What’s more, shouldn’t we be more sympathetic of our own moral shortcomings? After all, we can’t help who we are either. Right?

In fact, a study published last year in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by Roy Baumeister and his colleagues found that simply by exposing people to deterministic statements such as, “Like everything else in the universe, all human actions follow from prior events and ultimately can be understood in terms of the movement of molecules” made them act more aggressively and selfishly compared to those who read statements endorsing the idea of free will....

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dream job?

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A couple weeks ago my girlfriend (yes, I have a girlfriend, it's not a secret, nor is it a subtle metaphor) notified me of an ad at an online classified website seeking... wait for it... a tutor in philosophy with... wait for it... both a focus on Kant's thought and... wait for it... the freedom-determinism debate! And the pay is more than adequate. I thought it was a prank. How much more fitting could it be? "Must speak good Chinese and excellent English... a background in humanities or philosophy or law... Etc." Long story short, after some flirting about an answer and providing samples of my writing, I and the contact arranged a meeting this morning. Well, sort of a meeting. (Who is Keyser Söze?)

Good news: I got the gig!

It's a week(end)ly 2.5-hour lecture-seminar that will be held at the man's house, with his daughter and her boyfriend, and perhaps the mother, in attendance. After the "heavy vetting session" this morning--during which I did not meet the man himself, but only his daughter and her boyfriend, and during which we spoke for over two hours on the fly without a single text--, I headed to a bookstore to get a few resources. I ended up getting a small book in Chinese on Kant (since I want to be clear on his terminology in Chinese), Pockett, et al. (eds.) Does Consciousness Cause Behavior?, and Mele (ed.) The Philosophy of Action. Needless to say (...), I have numerous other texts on my bookshelves and in my hard drive which I shall study and use for the seminars.

They mentioned that Powerpoint-style lectures would be nice (that's Asian politeness for "Use Powerpoint or die," I believe). Tonight I was also told I am to lecture in Chinese, though I know their English is good enough to read and understand my notes or desperate forays into English as I try to explain things I already barely grasp in a foreign language. I realized how worthwhile it will be to start assembling such lecture materials now, which I am sure I can use in the future, during grad school and beyond. Meanwhile, these seminars will sharpen my dialectical skills, give me constant material for my book(s) on these topics, and improve my Chinese by having to lecture and debate in that tongue, albeit with those occasional desperate trench-dives into English. So? I'm basically the research assistant for a seemingly very well-off retired man with a tickle, I suspect, to be convinced that determinism is wrong. Next week's topic is twofold: 1) Do humans have free will? 2) What have scientists (esp. in the past 100 years or so) said about determinism?

I now want to record a few notes from this morning's discussion (the conversation more or less followed the order below, though I have streamlined it to cut out the usual back and forth recursion of such conversations):
  • The fourfold nature of the debate [not that this begins to capture all the nuances!]: 1. incompatibilist determinism (ID), 2. incompatibilist indeterminism (II), 3. compatibilist determinism (CD), 4. compatibilist indeterminism (CI). (I think I invented the fourth category rather on the spot.) If these views could talk, they would say:

  1. ID: All things in our world, including humans, happen by necessity from antecedent causes, therefore human action happens by necessity from antecedent causes and free will is at best an illusion.
  2. II: While it may be true that all things in our world happen by necessity from antecedent causes, certain dimensions of human action are exempt from this principle, therefore free human action does not happen by necessity from antecedent causes.
  3. CD: While all things in our world, including human actions, happen by necessity from antecedent causes, human action is still "free" in the sense that if and when it emerges from humans as genuine members of the causal matrix.
  4. CI: The world is not determinist in the way ID, II, and CD suppose, but human action is not therefore free: things just happen.

  • If determinism (D) is the doctrine that all states of affairs (SOA) necessarily result from antecedent causes, then from what SOA did the initial conditions of the whole world (Ci:W) result? If Ci:W is supposed simply to exist from all time, then D is not true for all SOA. If Ci:W simply comes to be for reasons we do not know, and which perhaps we cannot in principle articulate, then why can't other SOA (such as my own actions) result in the same way?

  • The IDist wants to corner me between two articles of faith: first, that all my actions happen for compelling psychological reasons which "overrun" my rational free will, and, second, even if we don't know what such causes are for any case, they still exert their power on my will by 'occult' means. Imagine my consciousness as the hub of a cartwheel: it is frozen in place by the n psychological factors impinging on my power to act. For some reason, though, some spokes are "thicker" (i.e. stronger) than others, and therefore induce my will to move in line with their perceived vector. The problem, however, is that we must now ask what factor accounts for the greater thickness of some spokes (call them ego-spokes) versus others. So... we posit more occult spokes (them id-spokes or meta-spokes) around the dominant ego-spoke supposedly manifested in my action. But, then... what induced those id- or meta-spokes to influence the dominant ego-spokes? And so on, ad infinitum. Eventually the IDist will just say, "It's the universe, stupid," in other words, it's the entire SOA of the whole world which caused my action. This, unfortunately, is no more illuminating than saying, "You chose what you chose because you are the kind of person who chooses such things, and you live in a world which generates people like you." Oh. I see.

  • Add to this the problem that, every time you nudge me to explain how my decision is determined by psychological factors beyond my control, you thereby expand my self-awareness and sharpen my rational agency by allowing me to be even more keenly, and thus freely, introspective, about my motives. If by such means I asymptotically reach a reflective equilibrium, which includes a humble awareness of my savory and less-than-savory inclinations, and make a full self-aware decision F, and yet you still insist I did F for some motive that's not even possible for me to be aware of... well, this begs the question: Are motives which are not consciously felt and not even unconsciously detectable really "motives" at all? If I act based on occult factors which plague me despite my best rational efforts, you might as well say I have demons. Actually, being told I have demons would be better, since at least then I'd have even more radically expanded self-awareness and publicly rational means for exorcising them and augmenting my freedom. If D can be true based on a promissory complete science which we only asymptotically achieve, then by the same token, ID can be true as a promissory, asymptotic victory. If it's only rational to accept beliefs based on adequate, if not compelling, empirical evidence, could it ever in principle be rational to espouse D (especially considering free will informs not only the myriad of normal human encounters, but also pervades our self-consciousness as agents)?

  • Gödel. Say I devise a system S of five axioms: 1. A = A. 2. A ≠ B. 3. B = B. 4. A = D. 5. A = D. Fine. But then for S to be consistent, I need to add an axiom that no other axioms can be added which might compromise my axioms under different conditions. So then I have axiom 6: This is the last axiom of S. How would I secure this finality without a seventh axiom, though? On the completeness side of things, notice that I did not give an axiom for the sequence of 1-->5, nor that D in axiom 4 is the same D as in axiom 5 (or that A in axiom 1 is the same as A in axiom 5). I need more axioms, ad infinitum... or not, since it's up to me to decide when and where S "ends." So it is with every system of deduction: we decide its limits. As the boyfriend put it, "We are not limited by the tool if we don't want to use it." If human action supposedly falls out from deduction from its own assumptions, then there's good reason to think such deduction is actually subject to the agent's usage of them, not vice versa.

  • Who says multiple layers of explanation are incompatible? I may say my nephew is being cranky because "his atoms are out of whack," my friend may say it's "because of a chemical imbalance," my neighbor may say it's "because society warps kids with TV," while his mom may just say it's "because he's hungry." They're all true, but only the latter account "maximizes intelligibility" (as Kant likes to put it in reference to natural teleology) and provides us with an efficient, rational course of action: put a sandwich in his mouth.

  • Here's another tenet of ID: Science resorts to probability due to ignorance, not due to an actual indeterminacy in an event E's microconstituents. Imagine E is the flipping of a coin on a cool spring morning. Even though we say there is a "fifty-fifty" chance of the coin landing heads or tails, in fact, unseen by our pinhole eyes, there is strictly only one possible outcome for the coin. If we could implant a supremely cognizant observer (SCO) at the time of the coin toss, he could predict with total certainty how the coin would land. Unfortunately, however, his presence would alter the initial conditions of E (Ci:E), which would render invalid his prediction of E. We would then need a higher observer (SCO') to account for the influence of the SCO on Ci:E. But then we'd need an observer (SCO'') for CSCO:E, and so on ad infinitum. It turns out then that D is only coherently possible if we grant there is an omniscient, immaterial agent who puts total attention on our world. In other words, D is just Calvinism with some serious Father Issues.

  • Certainly we can retrospectively reconstruct the causal chain of events that led to an event G--say, a man finding a winning lotto ticket in the gutter after he storms out of an unforeseen feud with his girlfriend--, but this is not logically equivalent to saying that before G, there was only one possible chain of events which could lead to that SOA. The problem for the scientifically inclined IDist is that, while he wants to defend ID based on the elegant rigor with which science constructs causal accounts of events like G, he also must admit that our science is riddled with uncertainty--recall that it is only "human" weakness/ignorance which generates probability. The tools of science, which include probability, are supposed to vindicate determinism, which excludes probability, by providing an absolute, logically incontestable explanation for G. Here we see, though, how D is more of a theological superstition, a dogma, than a logical deduction. If the IDist says my defense of freedom is a "will of the gaps," then I can just as easily say his defense of D is based on a "determinism of the gaps." For imagine if one day science discovered a randomizer--a genuine cosmic gizmo that randomly altered the micro-principles of natural law--, science would prove not-D. This eventuality aside, the key point is that the 'deterministic' rigor of our scientific reconstructions of causal chains is a function of the exactitude of our science(s), and insofar as empirical science is always revisable, always provisional, always falsifiable (or so they say), always statistical, etc., so too are "deterministic" reconstructions revisable and probable (viz. not deterministic).

  • On a camping trip. My friend is across the lake using his flash light to tell me, in Morse code, "Hurry, fire, help." I go there and help him. That night we are drifting off to sleep in our only slightly singed tents when it starts to rain. I hear a pattern of raindrops on the canvas which sounds exactly like "Hurry, fire, help." Why don't I get up to rescue the sky? Well, we "know" that my is rational and "know" the rain is not. How do we know this, though? Presumably, because we have "access to" a level of cognition which includes both people and raindrops and Morse code and our own appropriate action. It is this "higher level" of cognition, however, which is at the heart of rational freedom. Human freedom means that we can "take a step back from" our options and rationally deliberate about a course of action. Moreover, we can take another step back from this primary mode of deliberation (d:d1) to deliberate about the worth of deliberation (in d:d2). We can even "take a step forward," so to speak, and choose to "deactivate" our rational deliberation (in d:d0), such as in the movie Yes Man.

  • In any event, a retort I've heard before about the raindrops/Morse code scenario is that a human is more complex than a series of raindrops, and therefore rightly amenable to a rational interpretation. By this logic, rationality is a function of complexity. (As one of my philosophy professors put it when challenged by the incredible complexity and spontaneity of human behavior, "Yeah, well, lots of weird stuff happens when billions of atoms jiggle together.") If this were true, I should credit more rationality to more complex things. (I should also view Rube-Goldberg machines as monuments of reason... but I will leave it to you to ponder why that's crucially absurd.) By all accounts, a weather system, such as the one raining on my smoky tent by the lake, is at least as complex, if not much more complex than, the system of a man's thumb on a flashlight and some photons hitting my eye. At the extreme we'd have to say that the entire universe is the most rational thing in..., well, in the world. But then "stoically reductive hard science" just gets us pantheism and gross anthropomorphism. Add to this the scenario that, when I was a small child, my big brother trained me in Morse code precisely by training on the pitter-patter of raindrops (like a music buff who challenges his friends to "name that clip" before he can). Despite my years of education, I never really shook the profoundly beautiful idea that, when it rains, "the world is talking to me." And so I listen when it rains. You never know what the world might reveal. Fortunately, I've learned to block out most of what people say, since we all know everything people say is just neurologically determined sea spray from the waves of their genetic rise and fall in spacetime. Oh. Wait....

  • The bottom line is that, if I and the rain and the coin to be tossed are in principle equally subject to the same single set of causal constraints (i.e. if ID is true), then I either have just as much reason to treat rain and "triple rainbows" as complex rational agents as I treat my friends and family, or I have just as little reason to treat my friends and family with rational deliberation as I have to respect the rational interests of rain and black holes. If I can always in principle reduce anyone's decisions to the occult ramifications of their psyche and cognitive defects, then I not only have no obligation to listen to others as genuinely rational coins, I mean, people, but also have no grounds for faulting anyone for rejecting D. If it is irrational to base one's career choice on a coin toss--and, indeed, sadistically irrational to decide the fate of another person on coin tosses, as seen in Dark Knight and No Country for Old Men--, and if people are just as mechanistically determined as those coins, then it is irrational to base one's actions on the behavior of those pathetic bundles of tossed coins, those paragons of Kludgedom, known as human beings.
Above I linked to Bob "The Information Philosopher" Doyle's website about the nuances of this debate and I happened to discover his excellent Flash tutorial for his own thesis.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Joked, joking, will joke...

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  • A priest, a rabbi, and a nun will walk into a bar, the bartender will look at them and say, "Is this a joke?"

  • A hiker will be walking through the Irish countryside but will not be able to find his way by the map. So he will ask a local cobbler he meets, "How can I get to Glendale from here?" And the cobbler will say, "Well, I certainly wouldn't start from here!"

  • What will be black and white and red all over? A penguin in a blender.

  • What will go up and down but will not move? Stairs.

I present these futurised jokes based on comments I just read in Michael Frayn's The Human Touch (ca. p. 270). Why are jokes only told in the present and past tenses? Why does telling jokes about the future seem to deflate their comedic value? I suspect it has to do with the indeterminacy we associate with the future, which makes all the punchlines merely tentative. They are not punchlines: they are ideas which we must be prepared to laugh at if they are imagined really to have happened. Hmm...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"A sailor went to sea sea sea…

1 comment(s)
…to see what he could see see see
But all that he could see see see
Was the bottom of the deep blue sea sea sea"

One of the most famous arguments in Aristotle's corpus is found in De Interpretatione 9, and it concerns the logical status of future contingents (C•f) and fatalism in general. Fatalism is the doctrine that whatever happens, happens necessarily (not, mind you, the more bland idea that whatever happens necessarily happens). Aristotle draws upon the Greek-Persian battle of Salamis (20 September 480 BC) to mount his discussion of fatalism.

A month or so ago I read Richard Sorabji's rich book, Necessity, Cause and Blame, which refreshed my engagement with the famous "sea-battle" discussion (SBD). Today I was reading Robert Nozick's Invariances and he also discusses the SBD, though only in passing. Meanwhile, of course, for the past month or so, I have been worrying the freewill and determinism debate (FDD) more than usual. This afternoon a few ideas came together.

Prior to the sea-battle, on 19 September, say, as the Persian ships converge and the Greek ships secure defensive positions, two citizens of Salamis make a bet. X says that B* the battle might not happen (due to contrary winds, acts of the gods, a change of the Persian heart, etc.), while Z says that B the battle will take place. Night falls and the next day the battle does take place. Z collects his winnings.

Aristotle's question is, "Since B is true, and since truth is by definition incorrigible (i.e. unchangeable), was it necessary that Z would win? Was it even possible for X to win?" For, if B is unconditionally true, then B* is unconditionally false, viz., ⊃ ⊤B ∴ ⊥B*. The opposite logical content of B and B* entail that their truth values entail the necessary falsity of each other.

This was troublesome to Aristotle, since he realized that if all C•f are necessarily true, even before they happen, then everything necessarily happens. Aristotle challenges this fatalist logic by denying all C•f have truth value at all. It was, therefore, possible for B* to be true prior to the battle, even though it is necessarily false once the battle takes place. Since B, prior to SB, had no truth value at all, its truth could not be used to defeat the possible truth of B*. There is no shortage of discussion of this topic, so I will limit myself to remarks about how this scenario relates to the FDD and, as you might have guessed, how Aristotle's point undermines determinism.

The crux of the matter is this: what about the world in which B was true made it the case that B was in fact true? What were the grounding conditions (C•g) for the truth of B (B•T)? On the day of SB and afterward, the C•g for B•T were simply the fact that the battle took place. B could not possibly be false in correspondence with a world in which SB actually happened. At time tSB, and at all times tSB+, therefore, ⊤B. Aristotle grants all this.

But what about at a time prior to SB (tSB-)? What about or in the world made it the case that ⊤B? Here is where determinism comes into the picture, even if the determinist were willing to jettison fatalism. For the determinist might grant that SB did not have to happen unconditionally (i.e. he might grant ~⊤B). There is nothing unconditionally necessary about B, rather, for the determinist, B is only conditionally necessarily true. The conditions for the truth of B (i.e. C•(B•T)) are simply the prior causal factors that led to SB (i.e. C•SB-). Presumably those C•SB- need not have happened unconditionally; after all, suppose the universe had never existed, or had existed with very different physical laws.

Hence, the determinist can agree with Aristotle that fatalism is false by granting that ◊~⊤B ∴ ~⊤B (i.e. since B is possibly only conditionally true, B is not unconditionally true). Instead, argues the determinist, ◊~⊤B ∧ ◊□​B ∴ □B (i.e. since B is not unconditionally true but is contingently necessary, therefore B is conditionally necessarily true). Further, since C•SB- grounds B•T, then, given ◊C•SB-, □B•T ∴ □B (i.e. the absolute contingency of C•SB- still entails the necessity of B•T, the latter which entails that B is true). If (…yes, if only…) we had adequate knowledge of C•SB-, asserts (…asserts…) the determinist, we could have predicted B––nay, we could have seen its truth as a necessary consequence of C•SB-.

Here's the problem, though: if the C•g for B just are C•SB-, then C•SB- just is the complete description of SB (i.e., C•SB-C•T). This is absurd, however, since numerous other C•g are required for B•T, namely, the fact that the battle and the events in the battle actually take place! C•SB- may be the case, but they do not of themselves entail B•T, since B cannot be true if not a single arrow were fired, if not a single sword was swung, if not a single command was given, if not a drop of blood was spilt on 20 September 480 BC. So, while C•SB- grounds (B ∨ B*)•T (i.e. the truth of the disjunctive between B and B* prior to SB), it is only SB which grounds B•T.

A truly complete account of the C•g for SB will necessarily include the things in which a battle actually consists, things, crucially, which could not possibly fall under C•SB-. The problem for the determinist is that he believes C•SB- is 'already' an adequate account of C•g for B (i.e. C•SB-B•T). If determinism is true, there can be nothing which adds to the causal efficacy of C•SB- to bring about SB. For if any other causal factors were needed for C•SB- to entail SB, then C•SB– are not of themselves C•(B•T), and SB does not necessarily and wholly follow from C•SB-, which means that determinism is false.

I tried to make a similar point a couple years ago in my postling about "the steps taking you", but I have been horribly remiss in not expanding that post to make the full anti-determinist point. This post is meant to redress my negligence, though that other post intends to discuss the problems determinism creates for scientific explanation. In a nutshell, if it is a necessary result of the physical features of, say, your left foot at time-place t•plf that you end up at, say, Marston's Deli, then a proper scientific account of the physical features of your foot would have to include reference to Marston's Deli. The same theoretic gerrymandering effect would apply to all objects of scientific study and scientists would not be able to do that most essential operation for formulating scientific laws, namely, abstracting the ideal ratio from particular deviations and data. To say more, I shall have to live to codgitate another day.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The mind, the body, the balls…

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Let's assume, as many do, that the mind––the mental, the affective 'self'––is wholly a function of the somatic operations. This means, in part, that mental 'drives' or urges are no more or less semiosically relevant than other somatic components. For example, as evolutionary psychologists would have it, our incessant psychic urge to have sex is but a function of the evolutionary encoding in our bodies, based on the reproductive success of such urges over numerous prior generations. Likewise, as biologists recognize, the design of the human hand is but a function of similar prior selection pressure on our somatic makeup. We know the function of our hands by recognizing how we can use them now as well as understanding how their evolution brought our species this far. Our entire 'psychosomatic' makeup is a sign of our species' natural ends, as they are progressively sculpted and optimized by natural selection.

The problem is that the same evolutionary thinking is typically used to cut back against finality per se, by saying there is no 'intrinsic' functional (semiosic) link between our somatic makeup and our ethical choices. To wit, just because a man has a penis and semen and a woman has a vagina and ova, does not mean this is an intrinsic 'sign' of some 'higher' natural order.

And yet…

Yet, note the perilous tension in this argumentation. The ethical defense of, say, homosexual behavior is that it's "natural" for homosexuals to feel and act as they do. It is, in other words, what everything in their psychic makeup points to, the contradictory indications of their gentilia be damned. Yet we had already agreed that even the psyche is but a dimension of somatic semiosis. So we face a dilemma. If homosexual urges are intrinsically signs of a homosexual's natural dispositions, which must be defended precisely because they are his proper nature, then we concede that there are genuinely proper ends of human nature. On the other hand, if we deny that homosexual urges are intrinsic signs of human nature, then we force a cleft between the psyche and the body's construction, a cleft which secularism cannot abide. If they are metaphysically unified, identical, no less, then by what criteria do we trump the semiosis of the body with the semiosis of the psyche? Is this trumping not an argument for the radical freedom of the 'self' from any and all antecedent causal constraints which simply happen to be encoded in the body?

A stab at determinism…

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[UPDATED 12 Feb 2011]

Here's a stab at a definition of determinism (D), and a subsequent takedown:

D is the claim that all states of affairs (SOA) at any time t+ in a closed system (S•c) are necessarily the result of a prior SOA at time t. No SOA at t+ can fail to result from the SOA at t. There is not––and, on D, cannot be––any causal 'slack' between any SOA and the initial SOA of the universe as a whole (S|U). If D means that 1) all effects 2) necessarily follow from antecedent follow from antecedent SOA (SOA(t)) 3) in S•c, the either nothing accounts for for the initial conditions of S|U and D is false (cf. 1) & 2)), or S|U is not a closed system and again D is false (cf. 3)). Therefore, D is false.

Now, if the claim is that the SOA for S|U is simply 'autonomous', in need of no prior causal determination, then D is false at least for S|U. S|U may "simply be from all time", but, if D is consistent, what determines this is the case? Once we grant that at some kind of SOA can possess causal powers not wholly determined by some antecedent SOA, then we can only ask how far D applies to all SOA's, not claim that it in fact does apply universally. Only if we grant that there is a cause for S|U which is not determined by anything, and is thus radically free, can we account for S|U as a S•c.

This does not mean D is false per se, only that it is possibly true only if theism is true. Without a Creator, nothing can account for the SOA in S|U, which means at least one SOA violates D. Then again, if something can antecedently account for the SOA of S|U, then S|U is open to a causal power exempt from the constraints of that very SOA, in which case, again, D is false.


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No means no, no?