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political cartoon

French guy says to US: what do you mean you can't hand over power in iraq within 30 days? we handed power over to the nazis faster than that.


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Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Conversation On Israel

I wrote this conversation to show what it's like talking to a certain type of person. I won't label that type of person, but I hope this piece should make it clear.

(One thing I changed is: I made Isyn speak very clearly. Do not expect this in real life. Rather, expect to decode cryptic, confusing, contradictory claims heavy on noise.)

Isyn: Down with Israel! Oppression is wrong!
curi: erm
Isyn: Bush lied, people died!
curi: What's wrong with Israel again?
Isyn: Just because the Palestinians are defenseless doesn't make it alright to kill them.
curi: You'd kill me if I dropped my guard.
Isyn: That's different. You were, ummm, eyeing my woman.
curi: Well, Israel doesn't murder Palestinians.
Isyn: Look here, at this news article. Israeli Defense Forces troops fired guns and Palestinians died. QED.
curi: Those were terrorists.
Isyn: Not all. Some were just standing near the terrorists throwing rocks. Is throwing rocks a crime? Maybe. But what kind of evil country punishes it by death? And even the terrorists should have been arrested not murdered. Sure terrorism is wrong, but that doesn't justify murder.
curi: Israel is a democracy and the Arab states around it are tyrannies that want to destroy Israel. Israel has repeatedly offered peace to the nations around it and to the Palestinian terrorists (who have deliberately broken the peace agreements every single time). Israel wants a Palestinian state, and the Palestinian terrorists want the Israelis dead.
Isyn: How is that supposed to justify murder? And besides that's only what neo-con historians write. If you read more accurate sources, you'll see that's not the whole story.
curi: Are you aware of even one of the wars in which the Arab nations around Israel tried to destroy Israel?
Isyn: It wasn't quite like that. You can't prove that happened.
curi: So whatever I say about the facts of the matter, you will dismiss, even if I cite a half dozen sources for each claim? On the basis that my sources are all biased or imperfect.
Isyn: Right.
curi: Argh! Fine then, new approach. Do you agree with self-defense?
Isyn: How is murdering people self-defense?
curi: Well, if someone tries to kill you, and you kill him first to save your own life, that's self-defense. This is right, whereas the alternative of dying would just plain suck.
Isyn: He started it, she started it. It's easy to point fingers. But we won't make any progress until both sides admit what they did wrong. Sometimes the Palestinians start it; sometimes the IDF does. And sometimes some innocents Palestinians die in the crossfire to IDF bullets.
curi: What if, hypothetically, we imagined a conflict where one side was wrong and one side was right. Can you imagine that?
Isyn: I guess, in the abstract, I could imagine a black and white picture, but the world is full not only of shades of grey, but of colours too. So it's more complicated than that.
curi: In this hypothetical black and white picture, lets say the whites were good and the blacks were evil, and in every fight the blacks were at fault. With me so far?
Isyn: So far I can see that you're a racist. Blacks are full people.
curi: Argh! Okay, lets rename them. We'll have the elves are good and the orcs are bad. And every conflict the orcs are at fault. With me so far?
Isyn: I don't think the Lord of the Rings was such a simple matter of good versus evil. The elves had faults, and the orcs had bad situations to cope with.
curi: Yeah, but, I'm not talking about the Lord of the Rings. This is a hypothetical about two abstract groups of people, only named elves and orcs. So, can you imagine them with me, please?
Isyn: Okay, what's next?
curi: Great. So, the orcs start a lot of fights with the elves, trying to steal their stuff, and kill them. The elves are good with bows, but not perfect. So when orc raiders come a bunch of elves will go up on the roofs and shoot at orcs. Some of the elves stay on the ground and have the dangerous job of facing the orcs directly. Sometimes, by accident, a stray arrow that was aimed at an orc, misses and hits an elven defender. Also, sometimes some orcs will chase some elven civilians, and the archers shooting at them might miss and accidentally hit a civilian. With me?
Isyn: I see a great battle.
curi: And the orcs are trying to rape and pillage and murder the elves.
Isyn: Right. And the elves are trying to kill the orcs too.
curi: Because the orcs attacked them. It's in self-defense.
Isyn: If the elves aren't bloodthirsty, why do they shoot their own?
curi: They are shooting at orcs but don't have perfect aim.
Isyn: Well if they can't hit what they aim at, maybe they should stop firing. They're just killing indiscriminately.
curi: No, they have really good aim, and almost always hit their mark, and if they stopped firing they would all be massacred, but sometimes, now and then, they do miss.
Isyn: Well they should practice more.
curi: They already practice as much as they possibly can.
Isyn: Do they ever read books?
curi: Yes.
Isyn: Well they could stop reading books to practice more to save lives. Reading books, in this case, proves the elves' murderous intentions. They don't mind causing collateral damage.
curi: Yes they do mind. But you can't ask them to spend their entire lives practicing with bow. They have other important things to do. They must balance their time reasonably.
Isyn: How is not killing their own unworthy of more time?
curi: Well they need to grow food. And build houses. And raise their children. And spend time thinking to make sure they fight for truly good causes. That's all necessary.
Isyn: Maybe they could save time by not having children.
curi: You want to see the elves die out?
Isyn: I don't like to see elves murder elves and anyway if there were no elves there would be no war either. Don't you care about World Peace?
curi: Argh! You hate the elves more than the orcs.
Isyn: I just think you should stop pretending the elves are flawless.
curi: They are very good by definition. That was a premise.
Isyn: Then why do they murder each other?
curi: I heard in World War II 10% of casualties were friendly fire.
Isyn: What an indiscriminate blood bath!
curi: Argh! You twist everything. You'll probably deny my door exists next.
Isyn: How do you know you have a door?
curi: It's that thing I open to get into my room.
Isyn: Your senses, like the elves' bows, aren't perfect. Maybe you're wrong. Aren't you a fallibilist?
curi: Fallibility does not preclude tentatively holding theories to be objectively true.
Isyn: Prove it.
curi: Of course I can't. No certain proofs exist. Aren't you a fallibilist?
Isyn: You can't prove I'm not. And about the door, you might be lying or trying to trick me. I haven't even seen your supposed door myself.
curi: Your life sounds lonely.
Isyn: What?
curi: Well, you spend all your time making up criticism of good ideas (there are an infinity of false criticisms for every truth). But do you ever take a chance and conjecture that something might be true or good? Do you ever have trust in anyone or anything? Do you value anything?
Isyn: Stop changing the subject. That's an ad hominem argument.
curi: I'm not arguing anymore. I tired of it. I concede that you really can avoid listening as long as you want (though that does not make you right).
Isyn: If you're not arguing, what are you doing?
curi: Trying to help you?
Isyn: I'm not interested in help from someone who condones murder. I think you need help.
curi: Do you recall the first thing you said today?
Isyn: Remind me.
curi: "Down with Israel!" If Israel fell, what do you think would happen? Didn't you condone murder?
Isyn: Death, but only of murderers. Don't you agree that killing murderers isn't murder?
curi: So, to be clear, in your view: if Israelis kill Palestinians, that's murder, because the Israelis are in the wrong. But if Palestinians kill Israelis, that's not murder, because the Palestinians are in the right.

----- Ending One: Sad But True -----
Isyn: No, that's not what I said. Stop accusing me of taking sides. I'm not like you. curi: Ummm, yeah, whatever, bye. *wanders off*
----- Ending Two: Wishful Thinking -----
Isyn: Yeah, I guess you got it. You cornered me. That's my view. I wasn't so sure at first, but this discussion helped me see it more clearly. curi: And, the arguments you use -- the style and content both -- the whole approach to the issue really: would you say other people using them have the same view as you? Isyn: They better. The arguments prove my view. Anyone using them who didn't take my view would be inconsistent. And probably a liar. Anyone who understood the arguments would take my view. But lying would be understandable, because people who speak the truth as I do are persecuted by the neo-cons like you. curi: And your view, again, is that the Israelis are murderers, correct? Isyn: Yeah. Well, it's the Jews really. There are some Arab Israelis who are innocent. curi: Point noted.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (5)

thinking

" I don't know how Socrates did it. Having these discussions day in, day out." (link)

this after like 5 posts by him.

me: 11 emails/day average for over a year, plus forum posts and blog commenting, plus realtime chat (irc, aim). lots of realtime. more time on that than email including reading email (read maybe 5-10 emails for every post, hard to say exactly, and i would read pretty much everything very thoroughly at the time, too). this was b4 my blog. it only stopped cause i couldn't find enough new people worth talking to, and got bored of most of the old ones.

i changed my views too often to count. i don't anymore. because new arguments i haven't heard a dozen times are harder and harder to come by.

it used to be people complained that one day we'd argue, then by the next time we ran into each other to speak again, they would have come up with a new reason my view was wrong ... but i would have already changed it before they could use their argument. some people thought i didn't take my current views seriously enough, and were annoyed they couldn't seem to prove me wrong because i'd always switch views first.

now the consensus (same people, mostly, mind you) is that i'm arrogant and never consider that i could be wrong. "when was the last time you backed down in an argument?" they say. "when was the last time i heard a new one in public?" i retort. but they shrug and hate me. and if i mention that when talking to cool people (in private nearly always) i do change my views reasonably often, even today, they just take me for delusional if not a liar.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (7)

Praising Jews

I wanted to ask all my readers who have blogs to write an entry praising Jews. The goal here is not to put forward arguments againt anti-semitism, nor to denying hating Jews. It is simply to show moral clarity on the issue of praising Jews.

It is commonplace to say things like, "That movie rocked." But most people will refuse to say "Jews rock." I think this is perverse, and we should stand up for our values.

Leave a comment or email me if you do it, and I'll keep a list.

PS Jews rock.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (24)

jew praise

there's a lot of incoherent hatred of jews out there. i decided to conjecture that maybe they know something i don't -- maybe somehow being kinda incoherent gets followers.

so i wanted to give map props to all the jews out there for making the world a better place. i especially appreciate how they want to live in peace with non-jews. i don't go to sleep at night wondering if a jew will kill me before i wake up. and not being terrorists, man that's really good of you. and killing terrorists for me, that's cool too. i'm just no soldier. man, if it weren't for the jews, there would be lots more evil for'ners still alive who wanted to kill me. and i don't even own a big gun. so all the jews shooting guns for me, thanks a lot.

also, i wish i was a jew. then i'd be rich, i think. jews are so good at making the economy better. well, at least i'm richer thanks to them, even if i'm not jewish enough to be rich. one day if i'm really lucky maybe there will be so many jews that even I can be super rich. i'd like to be rich. and it'd all be thanks to the jews, who work so hard to make our economy so strong.

the jews have contributed so much to science it really blows the mind. do you know how many great scientists were jews? lots of them! man, even David Deutsch is a jew. what if some stupid terrorist had killed him? man, my life would be so much worse. it's a good thing the jews killed so many terrorists that that didn't happen.

you know who i really hate? the nazis. know why? they killed jews. man, if they hadn't done that, maybe europe wouldn't suck ass. i mean, if you kill everyone cool, you end up with a bunch of dorks. it's just logic. i wish the jews had killed all the nazis. that would have been super sweet. i can just imagine a big jew with a pair of axes going around hacking nazis down left and right. and then when he was done he'd probably sell the axes like a good capitalist. i bet he would. then someone else could use them, and we'd all be richer.

so, yeah, mad props to the jews. thanks for keeping it real and stuff. ^_^


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Alice the censorship queen

Alice deleted 2 posts (reposted right below this entry here) of mine from TCS blog because she was offended. she says she isn't a libertarian on that issue. *ahem*

notably, my convo was wrong. what really happened is she told me it was a personal attack, i asked hadn't i refuted that, and then gave a more complete version of the argument, and she said that probably it was a personal attack but i just didn't know, and wouldn't argue the subject. lovely.

also note she didn't save copies when deleting them, despite the fact I would have had no reason to have saved a copy. (fortunately i left a browser window open, and checked AIM before i hit refresh, which would have lost them, but that's only blind luck)

more later, leaving though

update: more here


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (6)

Repost from tcsblog 2

What Alice should have written, if she valued moral clarity more, was something like, "I object to the title "Fuck Dan in the ass" written by Elliot, because it's a personal attack. I consider that immoral.

Then I imagine a conversation something like this:

Elliot: Would you consider "fuck Michael Moore in the ass" a personal attack?
Alice: huh?
Elliot: well it's nothing personal, i just think his worldview is evil, right?
Alice: ok, not a personal attack
Elliot: so the title about Dan wasn't a "personal attack" either
Alice: huh?
Elliot: cause i just think Dan's worldview, like Michael Moore's, is immoral. i'm condemning a worldview. that's a perfectly legitimate thing to do.
Alice: ok, it's not a "personal" attack but it's still wrong?
Elliot: Why?

Alice would then give ad hoc (made up on the spot) reasons to object. No one would be surprised when they were bad and easily refuted. Alice would then not acknowledge this, and insist the title was immoral, because her feelings tell her so. When accused of not acting rationally she would deny it.

Notably I am aware of other reasons to object to the title. It's even fairly likely Alice would try some of those too before resorting to ad hoc arguments. But besides knowing them, I've worked out answers to them (in advance, mind you).

I'll go through one example. Some might say the title will offend readers and thus reduce readership (some will leave angrily) and thus inhibit the spread of TCS and thus make the world worse. They might suggest the solution is to refrain from writing stuff that might offend people (perhaps, "unless it was really important, but that title wasn't important"). The problem here though, is that we should stand up for our values, which allow for profanity and condemnation of bad people (at least I hope those are our values). Compromising our values to get more readers compromises our message. I mean, if we really wanted more readers, and to avoid offending people, we should probably be recommending "friendly punishments" of children or something. Of course that is a bad road to go down. We must stand firm in our beliefs, and if people don't like them, that doesn't mean we should back down or compromise in search of friends.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (13)

repost from tcsblog 1

Alice comments:

For some sensible discussion of the issues, rather than just Dan and Elliot fighting with each other, see the TCS list

Excuse me, but that's extremely insulting. If you disagree with me, argue it. If you agree, then acknowledge I'm making important points relevant to growing TCS (if I'm right, then what I'm saying is important), rather than belittling my ideas.

The tendency to see a disagreement and then declare that both sides are wrong because they are fighting, is perverse. The most well known example is WRT Israel and terrorists. People decide both sides *must* have done lots wrong, and must both be guilty, simply because there is a large-scale disagreement and there are arguments put forward on either side of the issue (not necessarily true, but just attempts). Nevermind that one side could be right, and the arguments against it wrong. Nevermind that condemning the right side would be a great moral failure.

Here, too, Alice sees a disagreement, labels it a "fight", then refuses to pay attention to who's right, and just takes the stance, in effect, that all fighting is bad therefore we're both wrong. Hello? That's moral relativism. (Incidentally, moral relativism is one of Dan's qualities that I don't hold with.)


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (6)

In-The-Limit Worldview Theory

If we start with some worldview, it will have inconsistencies (internal contradictions) and it will not be aware of all facts and won't have stances on everything. However, over time, we can make it more consistent, and take stances on more issues (make it more complete), then in the limit, it would be perfectly consistent and have stances on all possible issues. Such that no matter what someone told you, you'd never need to change your worldview anymore.

In the limit means in the extreme case. Like if you kept making your worldview more complete and more consistent until you couldn't anymore that'd be the limit

I posit there are three different perfectly consistent complete worldviews that you could have reached. One is commonly called true. But there's actually 2 others that are consistent and complete.

One is empty or null. When asked questions it .... doesn't answer. On the way there I suppose adherents would deny stuff matters. But in the limit, I don't think they could speak or move. They'd be dead. They would have no theories and not be able to learn or get new ones.

And the last is the inverse/false/evil/opposite/bad whatever view. None of the three worldviews share any common points of agreement. But unlike the null view, this one does say stuff about the world ... but none of it true. It has some sort of twisted logic whereby false statements are made to all come out consistent. I don't know the details of it. But I think it is possible to be consistent about opposing truth/goodness.

One consequence of this is: people complain that logic alone can't tell us about morality. It can tell us what contradicts what, but how's it to say what is good? Well, if we accept these three in-the-limit views, we can speak about statements approaching one of them, or being a member of one of them. Now logic can do everything but one single value judgment of comparing the three WVs. And I believe the value judgment is pretty easy. One view says life doesn't matter. One says life is bad. One says life is good...

You may object that logic alone can't tell us everything, because, for example, physics isn't determined by logic. Nor is which house my friend lives in. Well, of course contingent questions depend on contingent details (contingent means not necessary means not implied by logic). But that's not the point. I'm not saying we should figure everything out by pure logic. As stated, first we would need to know everything (have all three views laid out) and then we could answer all moral questions with logic (well actually we could say which of the three worldviews various ideas were part of). (Actually some statements aren't part of any. We'd identify those separately as simply inconsistent ideas.)

The point was simply that this is theoretically possible (well not with perfection, but with arbitrarily high accuracy). Which means if someone says "morality is a matter of taste" ... Well, logically, the matter of taste is between three choices, one of which says life is bad and one says life doesn't matter.... This retort is useful and important.

The three worldviews share no common points of agreement. So if we determine a proposition is in one (say: Jews shouldn't die is in the good one), then contradictory theories (Jews should die) are not in the good one.

We do need independent (from what I've said here) arguments about which propositions go in which worldview. But if you can argue that a proposition is in one of the worldviews, then you can refer to the in the limit consequences it, and of its rivals, which is powerful.

PS This is my entirely original theory. Just saying. :-)


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (12)

email is fun

On Sunday, November 23, 2003, at 08:37 AM, A Poster wrote:

Subject Line: shouldn't TCS be questioned?

Yes, of course. It even says so, does it not? Now, some people seem to have the idea that TCS holds itself up infallible, but reality seems to be against them. For example, I no longer use the "official" TCS definition of coercion.

(Of course, one should not make such a change haphazardly, or on a whim, but rather after deep understanding of the official definition, and its strengths. And one should be careful the new version really is an improvement. etc)

What happens to all those families out there who find that, according to their own lights, TCS seems like a really bad, dangerous idea?

Well, until they give some good reason (an argument), I will consider their lights wrong. But I won't hunt them down; all that *happens* (in my view) is they have worse lives than they might.

Even if some of it has changed their lives for the better? But that certain aspects of - say - hardcore rationalism, dogged belief in the TCS 'way', an abiding faith in the TV as a *good thing*, ditto eating what you feel like....all have and continue to.... feel a bit unnatural?

well i think you've misunderstood TCS here. while i will insist that TV shows are, in principle, great things, just like books, I will also concede that there are both many bad books and many bad TV shows. Personally I don't watch tons of TV. mostly japanese anime and movies and southpark oh and The OC. lots of other stuff is great if you have the right problem situation for it, and many people are too negative about TV, but for some problem situations not watching a whole lot of TV would make sense.

as to eating, well we should eat what we want, and we should want to eat the right things to eat. true and changeable. favorite and changeable. you need *both* sides of that coin. the solution to bad eating habits is not to eat what you don't want to. that's just hurting yourself. the solution is to find some good arguments about what is right to eat, and then want to eat that way because you really do believe it's right.

personally, i eat almost no candy and desert fairly rarely, and have a general distaste for too much sugar. i think i'm weird about that, but *shrug*. i *also* don't like salad much.

What if believing in these things starts to make parent feel totally duped and like he doesn't have enough faith in his own good ideas?

You should not hold ideas true because someone said so, not even Elliot Temple nor David Deutsch. You've got to act on your best theories, which means only arguments that you find make sense. Even if some theory is true, if you don't understand it, it's no good to you (though maybe it will be later). And if you do this, faith in your own ideas should not be an issue, because you would know of none you consider better.

Isn't this TCS working against itself? That would be a good thing, right? But then if the TCS parent turns off the TV because he wants to, and does the things he wants to do, because he strongly believes those things to be better for his children - and,yeah, he 'could be wrong, but so what? - he would be said to be reacting to his coerced and unhappy former way of life (and was possibly evil according to some of the TCS inner circle)?

Well, as to making choices for your children, it's not just that you could be wrong, but also that it isn't your choice to make. Children are people with their own lives. You should decide if you want to watch TV, and if someone says you should, you can decline their advice and not watch. And if your children want to watch, and you advise against it, it's still their call.

Just as TCSers will not rule any parent's life by force, parents should not rule their children's lives by force.

Isn't all this a bit fucked up? Maybe the parent should just go and get a life, take his children seriously the way it makes sense to him, be willing to question himself constantly, be aware of his fallibility, but forget all about the harm done to his home by the less desirable aspects of TCS

I want to point out that your understanding of TCS is fallible, so even if hypothetically TCS was perfect, sometimes your understanding of TCS would be wrong, and you would be right to act contrary to it when you thought you knew better. This is manifest in the way most of what you think TCS is wrong about, I think you've simply misunderstood.

Don't let "I think TCS says X" pressure you into doing X. Maybe it doesn't even.

Sometimes he can't work out which is worse, but maybe it doesn't matter,

Well, I can tell you that how you parent *does* matter to your children. So this stuff is important.

-- Elliot Temple
http://www.curi.us/


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

i've got issues

Scrappleface thinks that birth control is evil. his reasoning is that it lets young girls have sex without horrid consequences. and we can't have that!

I replied: cause actually sex is evil, unless you get a wizard to perform a "marriage ritual" spell, which makes it ok.


thus far all I got back was someone replying that I have issues. good argument! ho hum.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)

I Hate Jew Hatred

Frank J (a Catholic) got anti-semitic hatemail. Emperor Misha commented:

We're ALL Jews now.

I agree. (Misha also says more here.)

I very much like the sentiments that if people are going to target Jews, we should stand up with the Jews. Neutrality is useful if you see two gangs of barbarians fighting; there is no point in getting yourself killed over that. Who cares who wins? But when two groups clash, and one is good, and one is bad, neutrality just won't cut it. What truly good person could abandon the side of good?

But there's more to it than just that we should stand with the Jews. Why do they confuse us with Jews? Well, we agree with Jews a lot. We think Israel should exist (more than that: that it is one of the most moral countries on the planet). We oppose Arab terrorism. No excuses. It's wrong, horrid, and evil. And we use Jew logic. Which says things like you don't win discussions by authority; rather we should look for good arguments. And that we should hold our ideas true and mutable (tentatively true, if you prefer). And, heh, that 2+2 is 4. The Jews in America are not outsiders. Or more like, it's easy to confuse Americans with Jews. It's not just that we stand with Jews (far less than we should), it's that through the eyes of The Enemy, we look and act as if we are Jews.

And if you think talking about good and evil is too simplistic and therefore false, I pray you spend a lot of time around fire and brimstone. And, yes, I am an avowed atheist. But that won't save you from hell >:-D

PS In general when I write 'we' I am including Jews, but not in this piece.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (10)

Structural Epistemology Introduction Part 2

Part 1

Last time I alluded to the most important aspect of knowledge structure: some structures are more or less resistant to being changed to have some other function (denotation). Additionally, whether a structure is easy to change to some new problem is not simply a matter of luck. Rather, some structures are better than others, because they contain more knowledge. Now I will give some illustrations.

First, let's reexamine the multiply function. What if the situation changed and we suddenly had to rewrite our multiply function with a special constraint? Such as, what if the built-in multiplication function in our programming language was no longer available? Or what if user-defined function calls suddenly became very slow and expensive? Or what if there was a problem with assignment, and we couldn't use that (basically, no equal sign allowed).

It turns out each of these problems would break one of the multiply functions so badly we would be better off starting over from scratch than trying to salvage it, and the other two wouldn't need even a single change. (If you're wondering, no built-in multiplication ruins the third multiply; no assignment ruins the iterative version; and user-defined function calls being expensive ruins the recursive version.) This demonstrates that structure makes a difference. But so far none are obviously better than others.

Next, lets imagine we were writing a program that played some game, and a few dozen times in the program we needed to refer to the number of actions each player gets per turn. And lets suppose it's 8 now, but possible this may change in future versions of the game. One thing we could do is everywhere we need to refer to the number of actions per turn, put an 8. The program will run just fine. But if we have to change the number of actions per turn later (or perhaps we'd just like to try out a different number to see how it works, to see if changing it might be a good idea at all), then we will have to go through our whole program and alter a few dozen lines of code! That's a pain, and there's a better way.

What we should do is define a constant variable, int ACTIONS_PER_TURN = 8, and then write ACTIONS_PER_TURN instead of 8 throughout our program. Then, we could very easily change the number of actions per turn by altering a single line of code. This new program using a constant variable has exactly the same denotation as the original one with 8 everywhere -- someone playing the game will never know the difference. But not only is the structure different using a constant variable, it's better because it allows significant advantages in ways it can be changed, with no disadvantage at all(1). One way to put the difference is it contains the knowledge that each of the dozens of 8's in the program is really the same thing, thus allowing them to be changed as a group.

Another example of trying to change a program, is if we had our multiply programs and wanted to do exponentiation (assume there is no built-in function for that). In that case, the program that relied on built-in multiplication is absolutely useless. Just as it would be useless to change to anything at all that wasn't built in. This reveals its structure has very little knowledge in it. On the other hand, the recursive and iterative multiply programs could both be changed to do exponentiation fairly easily. They could also be altered to do a host of other things, because each has a knowledge-laden structure. In effect, they are both set up to do work (in a certain way), and only need to be told what type. (It's not clear which one has more structural knowledge. I believe the recursive one does, but they are useful in different ways.)

So, to sum up, if we wish to change a program to do something else, depending on its structure, we may have an easy time of it, or may be totally out of luck. And furthermore, some structures are better than others, because they contain more knowledge.


(1) It will run negligibly slower, or compile negligibly slower in a compiled language. And I mean negligibly.

PS I understand that if you knew that, for what you were doing, certain structural knowledge was entirely unnecessary, and never would be useful, you might intentionally leave it out, and say this was a better design. However this is very rare on anything but the most trivial project, and does not ruin the idea of better structures. It's just like, if I was trying to learn physics, I might not need an economics lecture. But we can still say economics has useful, true knowledge, and that there is better and worse economic knowledge.

To be clearer, the objection I fear goes, "Constants are nice, if you're going to change them, but if you aren't, using them is a waste of time, therefore which structure is better depends entirely on the problem at hand, and thus better is only a relative term for knowledge structures." This is wrong. It is equivalent to saying, "The laws of supply and demand are nice, if you're learning about economics, but if you aren't, learning them is a waste of time, therefore whether hearing the laws of supply and demanding or nothing is better depends entirely on the problem at hand, and thus better is only a relative term for economic theories." In both cases the 'and thus' clause simply does not follow. Just because we might not want a bit of knowledge this instant does not make it equivalent to no knowledge, or make its value relative.

PPS Mad props to David Deutsch, 'cause he's cool.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)