Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

gogo morality

some people wonder something like, "How can anarcho-capitalism work? What if the people running the police/army kinda companies decided to stop playing nice, and take over?"

well, it seems to me this question is absurd. what if President Bush decided to stop playing nice and take over? there aren't even competing armies in the US! what would stop him?

well our society! he would be disobeyed at every level of the chain of command. his generals wouldn't do it. and no common soldiers would either. no one would.

if we evolved to an anarcho-capitalist society, we'd still have a country of good people who wouldn't obey orders to become conquerers.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

gogo thinking

I got positive feedback on this email to the Philosophy Now yahoogroup, so I thought I'd share it more widely:

On Saturday, November 8, 2003, at 01:27 AM, nowhere man wrote:

Can someone please explain to me why these type of discusion groups inevitably end up with people being rude and insulting? I was unaware that in order to make a comment about a subject one had to be pompous and demonstrate the very worse in psuedo-intellectual skills. Hell, I thought these discussions were simply meant to be a bit of fun.
It's not so much inevitable as common.  There are some generally accepted ideas in our society that say things like, "For certain subjects, if you aren't well-read, you can't say anything intelligent, or at least can't come up with any good ideas, or any new ideas."  And for other subjects, you're supposed to need a PhD.  Philosophy is one of the worst in this respect.  Most academic philosophers spend their time worrying about dead people, and seems under the impression that even if you study the dead people extensively, it's still very difficult to come up with an actual new idea.  They're also very good at sounding pompous and being hard to read, and most people seem to have accepted that's what philosophy is *supposed to be like*.  So, then, untrained philosophers tend not to sound like that, and thus get dismissed.  (That style is, in actuality, bad.  And a few notable philosophers did rebel against it.  Like Karl Popper, who was very concerned with writing clearly and understandably, and good at it too.)

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roleplaying is surprisingly fundamental

page 342 of Fabric says Thomas Kuhn thinks we can't comprehend two paradigms (ways of looking at the world) at once (and thus having one blinds us). i wonder what he thinks roleplayers do. ho hum.

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pasting from aim is easy :-)

curi42 (9:25:42 AM): there's 2 main approaches (plus a mixture is possible too): 1) absolutely ignore everything false or stupid the person says, and just write about better ideas and better ways to think and live. hopefully he'll see the good in them, like them, adopt some, and eventually he'll realise he doesn't act on his old, crap theories any longer (or maybe he *won't* ever notice the change, but will act good)
curi42 (9:27:01 AM): 2) criticism! i'm sure we could make a nice list of 50 reasons his ideas don't work. the premises are flawed in lots of ways. even if the premises were true, his conclusions still wouldn't follow. he contradicts hismelf repeatedly. etc etc etc
curi42 (9:27:40 AM): style 2 seems to have bad results with most people (though perhaps something similar to style 2, that somehow takes into account detailed knowledge of the person, would work very well)
curi42 (9:27:59 AM): but style 1 is easy to ignore.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)


on a more interesting note, here's an email i just wrote:

I'm going to layout what I think bad is. I'm aware my answer doesn't tell us everything we'd like to know.

To start, we need to examine what a stable worldview is. A worldview can be said to be stable if new conjectures, new observations, new criticisms and arguments, won't send it off in new directions or otherwise cause it to change. A perfectly stable worldview would have to be entirely consistent, and entirely complete, otherwise it could be changed by new ideas.

Next, we ask what sort of stable worldviews can exist. I propose that there are three. The true, inverse, and null ones (alternatively: good, bad, and empty). The true one is stable because it's right about everything, and understands everything. The inverse one is stable because it's exactly the opposite of the true one, and persistently misinterprets all new ideas in the opposite of the true way, so that they are consistent with the inverse of the truth. The null worldview is stable because not only does it not say anything, but it can't learn anything either. It never hears of a new idea.

None of these perfectly stable worldviews exist (unless you feel like saying rocks qualify for the null view). They aren't real. But they can be approached. In practice, good ideas approach the true view, evil approaches the inverse view, and nihilism and relativism approach the null view.

Anyway, what is bad? Well, the ultimate in bad is the complete inverse worldview. And also, there can be lesser versions (ones with inconsistencies, and ones that don't yet deal with all subjects).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Battle Cry Explained

As no one answered my post about the poem A Little Boy Lost (featured on my sidebar), I've decided to explain my take on it.

In the first two stanzas, the boy questions God and Christianity. In the first, he doesn't see how he could know about or understand God, when all he has to work with are his lesser (compared to God) thoughts. In the second, the boy proposes that he should love all of God's creations equally, which all share the Earth with him. Thus, he cannot love the Priest more than a bird.

In the third stanza, the Priest grabs the boy, angry at his blasphemy. Questioning the faith is not looked upon favorably. But there's something else here too: the observers, the other members of the church, do not see the Priest as attacking the boy, but only as helping him. Even when the Priest uses physical force, nothing seems amiss to the faithful.

The fourth stanza is the money stanza. Here, the Priest declares the boy a fiend, and spells out his offense. His offense was using reason to examine and judge church doctrine. The Priest considers his doctrine a "holy mystery" which is not supposed to be explained or thought about rationally.

The final two stanzas describe the brutal punishment of the boy. It's not clear if he's literally burned to death, or only metaphorically. But it is clear that he is badly hurt, and that the church turns a blind eye to the boy's parents' tears. Also note that Albion is England.

The final line is a very powerful one. Everything up to this point tells a tragic story where the Priest is clearly wrong (I suppose this may not be so clear to everyone; feel free to discuss that in the comments). Phrasing the line as a question is very important. There are no accusations to deny. There are no claims to refute. There's nothing to argue with. There's just a question to ponder. Are such horrid things done in England? Certainly they have been. And certainly some people still trumpet faith over reason. Maybe they don't burn blasphemers any longer, but how different are the suppressions of reason in favour of faith that do take place?

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Structural Epistemology Introduction Part 1

Imagine you are handed a black box. You can't open it, but on one side is an input mechanism, and on the other side is an output mechanism. For example, the input mechanism might be a keyboard, and the output a display screen. The box, somehow (you don't know the inner workings) maps inputs to outputs. That means if you give it an input, it figures out what output to give back, according to its inner workings. And for simplicity, assume the box is in no way random. For a given input, it always gives the same output.

Now, imagine someone gives you a second black box. And you test both out, and discover that for any input, both boxes give the same output. You test every single allowed input, and they always give the same answer. (The word I will use for this is: the two boxes have the same denotation). Now, the question is: do the boxes do the same thing? Do they contain the same knowledge?

Well, of course it's possible that they do. They might be the same inside. But can we be sure? Just because they always answer the same way, can we tell they definitely do the same thing? And either way, can we say they definitely have the same knowledge?

I'd like to apologise to non-programmers now. The following examples will probably look like gibberish to you. But read the English around them, and I think my point should still make sense.

Here are three different ways to do a multiply function. They all accurately multiply any integers. They have the exact same domain (allowed input), the same range (possible outputs), and they map (relate) the same elements of the domain (inputs) to the same elements of the range (outputs).

// iterative multiplication
int multiply(int a, int b)
    int total = 0;
    if (b > 0)
        for(int j=0; j<b; j++)
            total += a;
    if (b < 0)
        for(int j=0; j>b; j--)
            total -= a;
    return total;

// recursive multiplication
int multiply(int a, int b)
    if(b == 0)
        return 0;
    if(b > 0)
        return (a + multiply(a, b-1));
    if(b < 0)
        return ( (0 - a) + multiply(a, b+1));

// multiplication using a built-in function
int multiply(int a, int b)
    return a*b;

As you can see, even if you don't understand the code, all three are written differently. I assure you, however, they do give the same answers. Now, remember the black box I talked about? Well, lets say you have three that all do integer multiplication. The inner workings could be the three functions I just showed.

Do each of the black boxes do the same thing? No. Each uses a different procedure to find its answer. Like if you wanted to get from California to New York, you might go through Canada, through Mexico, or stay in the US the whole way. Each trip would start and end in the same place, but they'd certainly be different trips.

But the key question is whether each black box, or each multiply function, which has the exact same denotation, has the same knowledge.

I propose they do not. While they have the same denotation, I would say they have different knowledge structure. And to see why this matters, and makes a great difference: Alright, the boxes have the same functionality (namely multiplication) now, but what if we want to alter them? If we want to change their denotation, even just a little bit, then knowledge structure makes all the difference.

To be continued...

PS: I'm aware that I'm not using 'denotation' in the standard, dictionary way.

Note: David Deutsch explained much of what I know about structural epistemology to me. Kolya Wolf explained some too, and also Kolya originally thought of the idea.

Part 2

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On Charity

A common point of disagreement in political discussions is about human nature. Some people say that men should make their own choices, and control their own money. And believe that only good will come of freedom. Others would retort that the rich will have more choices, and abuse them to gain more power. Or at least assert that some people will be left behind without help through sheer bad luck (or not having a level playing field). And that generosity is not natural, so the government must step in to help.

Roughly, right wing people take the first view, and favour free markets, small government, and people deciding for themselves how charitable to be. And, roughly, left wing people don't trust humans to be charitable or fair without being controlled by government.

So when a right winger says he isn't against helping people, he just wants to decide how best to do it, and make sure his charity is effective (the government, he will say, is wasteful and spends charity money badly), a left winger will likely scoff. The left winger will think this is just a trick to get out of giving any charity at all. Because the left winger trusts his government to do everything right, he will see any attempt to pay less taxes or avoid forced charity as, clearly, a selfish attempt to get out of paying one's fair share or to get out of helping other people.

So, who's right?

Well, I've got a way to find out. Despite high tax levels (paid by both left and right wing), it is commonplace to give additional money, by choice, to charities. Now, if the left is correct, we should observe that the greedy right wingers donate very little to charity. But if the right is telling the truth that they are happy to give money to charity, as long as they pick which charity, and give money in ways they feel are effective, then we will observe, despite taxes, that right wingers do choose to donate significant amounts of money to charity.

The following table ranks each state by how generous it is. This was determined by taking into account the amount of money donated to charitable organisations, and also how rich the people in that state are. In other words, one gets a high ranking by giving a large portion of what he has. The states are color-coded. Red states voted for Bush in the 2000 election (they're, to decent precision, right wing). Blue states voted for Gore. I believe the table speaks for itself. (Thanks to The Rantblogger for the table.)

  1. Mississippi
  2. Arkansas
  3. South Dakota
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Alabama
  6. Tennessee
  7. Louisiana
  8. Utah
  9. South Carolina
  10. Idaho
  11. North Dakota
  12. Wyoming
  13. Texas
  14. West Virginia
  15. Nebraska
  16. North Carolina
  17. Florida
  18. Kansas
  19. Missouri
  20. Georgia
  21. New Mexico
  22. Montana
  23. Kentucky
  24. Alaska
  25. New York
  1. Indiana
  2. Iowa
  3. Ohio
  4. California
  5. Washington
  6. Maine
  7. Maryland
  8. Hawaii
  9. Delaware
  10. Illinois
  11. Pennsylvania
  12. Connecticut
  13. Vermont
  14. Virginia
  15. Oregon
  16. Colorado
  17. Arizona
  18. Michigan
  19. Nevada
  20. Wisconsin
  21. Minnesota
  22. Massachusetts
  23. New Jersey
  24. Rhode Island
  25. New Hampshire

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (17)