*Wanders around room full of people dressed far too nicely, clearly looking for someone, spots him and approaches*

curi: So why do you want to see all the Jews die?
RD: Pardon?
curi: So why do you want to see all the Jews die?
RD: I don't want that.
curi: Oh, sorry, I must have mixed that up. So you want all the Jews to live then?
RD: Yes, of course.
curi: So you'd support helping them live, right?
RD: Yes.
curi: Like giving them money and defensive weapons?
RD: There's no such thing as a defensive weapon!
curi: What if you came at me with a knife and I shot you?
RD: Are you threatening me?
curi: Is it 'cause I'm Jewish?
RD: What?
curi: Do you attack all Jewish people with knives?
RD: No, I don't attack anyone with knives.
curi: So your knives are purely defensive?
RD: No, they aren't weapons.
curi: So if I only shoot a gun at targets, would that not be a weapon?
RD: I guess you could classify it as sports equipment if it was only for target shooting.
curi: So can we send Israel some of those?
RD: No, I think they consider Palestinians 'targets' over there. *laughs to self*
curi: Yeah, I know. It's crazy. They just keep running at you, trying to get to the next cafeteria or pizzaria or whatever, and you have to take out each wave. If you miss even one you lose!
RD: Only because they're opressed. They live in the most horrible conditions.
curi: Oh totally, I wouldn't want to live somewhere with no cafes or pizza joints either. But then why do they blow them up?
RD: No, they don't blow up their own cafes, only the Jewish ones.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
Imagine you are a child, interacting with your mother. Your mother is doing things to hurt you. And you say, "Mommy, stop hurting me! You can be my mommy without hurting me." And just imagine if your mother said "no".

Your claim, notably, is the same claim as TCS makes -- that it is possible and desirable to parent without hurting our children. And the mother's "no" is any position that contradicts the TCS claim.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
Take two abstract countries, and take it for granted each wants to destroy and dominate the other. They're at war. Ignore concerns like other pro-peace countries putting pressure for a truce. Now, for the goal of winning the war, why might these two countries take a truce? Well, they must think a temporary reprieve will help them more than their enemy. But if they both think that, one of them is wrong, and should have declined the truce and continued the war. And thus, with sufficiently good intelligence info, there would never be any truces.

Optionally, some people might think a truce is good for the world, because it will be better for the world if both countries have some time to prosper and create without constantly destroying stuff. But in any truce for that reason, one country is sacrificing its own war aims, and hurting its chance of winning, for the good of the world. And if that country thinks its winning the war is very important to the fate of the world, because its values are good, and the rival countries values are bad, then this kind of truce is incoherent. Sure, you get to prosper, but so too does the enemy grow stronger.

And countries are analogous to rival worldviews. Oh! And this only applies in the limit of taking your own side seriously.

Another point is, if it's say capitalists and commies, truces help capitalists, cause they have a better economy and stuff -- in peace they prosper a lot, and commies don't. Hence consistent commies should not accept peace. Nor should consistent Islamofacists. They'll only accept peace if they're confused enough to think they're the ones with the dynamic, productive society, and the capitalists are the ones on the verge of collapse, or something like that.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
ok so me and toad would go to the park to play frisbee. and come from a certain side, cause that's where the water fountain is. and man, water rocks when you just biked a few miles and ur about to play frisbee, and you know the bottles of water you carried will run out and you'll have to make trips back to the water fountain, and yeah....

ok, but anyway, when ur both hella thirsty, it takes a while to drink enough water. and also, it's good to like drink a bunch, wait a few seconds, and drink more. so what you do is one person drinks some, then takes a break, and you take multiple turns on one visit. ok, still so far, so good.

now, one day we made a discovery. there's *two* water fountains! joy of joys! when we arrive there's like a closer one. now we can drink water sooner! w00t!

but not only that, we do it like this: first person drinks from first water fountain while other waits. then bikes to the second water fountain while second person drinks from first fountain. then second person follows and arrives at the second fountain as the first person is finishing up there. and, boom, less waiting, more drinking, and some waiting becomes biking to the next fountain, which is like on the way. w00t! we're all efficient.

but the thing is. say i wasn't with toad. someone else. pretty much anyone else. if they're fairly good, we'll probably alternate drinking in a single visit instead of just waiting for the other to completely finish. but if i tried to bike off to the second fountain? they'd be like "hey, why are you ditching me?" and I'd be like "d00d, I'm going to the other fountain" and they'd be like "Why? There's water right here!" and I'd be like "umm, yeah, but you're using it" and they'd be like "umm, so are you coming back after? isn't that kinda far to go? just wait!" and I'd be like "no, look, you follow me after you're done drinking here, and it's more efficient" and they'll be like "umm, this is sure a lot of work for such a tiny improvement. almost seems *inefficient* to me!" and I'll just get bored and wander off to the next fountain, and yeah......

ok, so why does it matter that the organisational costs would be way higher with most people? and why does it matter that most people would resist such a small improvement? isn't it negligible?

Well, the thing is, the way we improve stuff is piecemeal. Bit by bit. We don't improve our lives by making one giant step forward every couple months. No no. We inch forward day by day. It's small, gradual improvement over time that gets somewhere. Improvement is not negligible. It's improvement. It's better. resisting small improvements is exactly the wrong thing to do.

and there's more. having a worldview where the cost of implementing a small improvement is high, is a very very bad thing. having one where the cost is small, is a very very good thing. if someone says "eh, we shouldn't bother with that, cause it's too much work for the benefit," even if they're right, well why's it so damn much work to *improve* things? only cause people have perverse WVs in the first place!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
wow a whole post, go me!

curi42 (6:42:25 PM): hmm i think there is an attitude where people make some choices, in effect about what values to have and about vast swathes of future choices. (and make most of these choices based on what they're supposed to do, etc)
curi42 (6:42:58 PM): then sort of coast along, being little more than a robot enacting these pre-decided things, and making trivial choices (what should i eat today?)
curi42 (6:43:13 PM): ok, technically, they still keep making big choices all the time, but it's so ingrained to make them one way, they never even notice
curi42 (6:43:42 PM): 2 points: A) telling them they must stop and think, could be rather disturbing
curi42 (6:44:04 PM): B) our view, where we are constantly making choices, could be rather foreign and not understandable
curi42 (6:44:05 PM): like
curi42 (6:44:50 PM): in relationships, ppl seem to think 'ok, i'm jack's gf now, so i'll do that' and the only real choices are 'keep going' and 'quit'. as long as it's keep-going mode they just coast coast coast.
curi42 (6:45:09 PM): whereas, a better view is, every day.....every hour, we must keep deciding what we want to do next, and next, and next. the future isn't set
curi42 (6:45:24 PM): under the second view, multiple friends becomes a non-issue
curi42 (6:45:51 PM): that sound good? should i change much b4 posting?
curi42 (6:46:17 PM): [mwahahaha, you can't read what I said here]
Other_Person (6:48:06 PM): seems ok, though it is perhaps too harsh a judgement on people
curi42 (6:48:25 PM): on ppl in general?
Other_Person (6:48:31 PM): yes
curi42 (6:48:39 PM): they don't do it WRT all things
Other_Person (6:49:00 PM): being conservative is a good policy in general, since the world is very complex and innovation is risky
Other_Person (6:49:24 PM): coasting = pejorative word for 'being conservative'
curi42 (6:49:43 PM): no
curi42 (6:49:53 PM): it's a perjorative word for not noticing ur making choices
curi42 (6:49:59 PM): being conservative *on purpose* is one thing
Other_Person (6:52:28 PM): ok
Other_Person (6:52:32 PM): well, say that too
curi42 (6:52:37 PM): k

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (9)
"Coercion is the state of two or more personality strands being expressed in different options of a single choice so that one cannot see a way to choose without forsaking some part of his personality."

Coercion --> Immorality
personality strands --> intentions
personality --> set of intentions

"Immorality is the state of two or more intentions being expressed in different options of a single choice so that one cannot see a way to choose without forsaking some part of his set of intentions."

Discuss.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (12)

Government Is Good (Despite What Some Libertarians Say)

One Perspective On Government

Some libertarians oppose governments on the principle that they are organised gangs of thugs. They consider the defining characteristic of governments to be that governments claim the right to initiate force ... and people listen (whereas most thieves don't pretend to be legitimate and aren't considered as such). They point out that they never agreed to pay taxes, and don't want to, and don't like most of the stuff that taxes pay for, and consider that conclusive.

Some of these libertarians support the war on terrorism. They realise that terrorism is a great threat, and to wish see it fought against. Terrorism is so bad that anyone at all fighting it is good. I suppose they must see the matter as a powerful pickpocket guild beating up a renegade gang of murderers. A "lesser of two evils" situation.

(Some libertarians would oppose the war on terror, either because they figure "If we leave them alone, they'll leave us alone, and nevermind Israel," or "No collateral damage is ever acceptable, under any circumstances, for any purpose, even if it is only caused because the enemy is using human shields." But I won't go into how silly I think those approaches are right now.)

Some of these libertarians, if given the option, would be happy to see the US government disappear tomorrow. The institution, the knowledge of how to run it, the taxes, the laws, etc... This is absurd, notably, even within the pickpocket metaphor, as it means foregoing protection.

But there's more than that; there are good reasons to like our government and support it besides self-defense. Our government does various things, some important. Now, the libertarians will insist that all these functions could, in theory, be done by private companies. Well, yes, I agree. But so what? I don't see these companies. They don't exist (yet).

It's not as if an anarcho-capitalist society (in short: free market capitalism with all government functions replaced by private companies and taxes replaced by user fees for people who want the services) would simply come into being without our government. Anarcho-capitalism is not the natural state of affairs that once existed until it was destroyed when a group of evil thugs invented government and took over. It is, rather, a very advanced notion that requires lots of knowledge to implement. This knowledge must be created gradually, through the improvement of existing institutions. Government functions must not disappear overnight, but instead slowly be replaced by private institutions that function better. We need good traditions, not a revolution.

Why Government Is Good

Governments create consent. That's the reason in a nutshell, but of course it needs an explanation.

Let's imagine a group of people living somewhere with no government, and little knowledge. Some will be bad, and will want to dominate over the others. So most people will form mutual defense pacts. And somewhere not too far off, some bad person will have conquered an empire, and formed an army, and thus our people will want to form one big defensive pact, instead of lots of scattered ones, so that they can fend off the entire army if need be. So they will form institutions to cooperate in regional defense. When an invasion looms, there may be disagreements about how many soldiers are needed to fight it off, and who must become a soldier, and where their equipment will come from. Thus, a system to resolve these issues is needed.

And these people will also set up institutions for small-scale defense against criminals. And they will need some system of deciding who is and is not a criminal. The answer to this is not self-evident despite what some libertarians seem to think. There will be disagreements, and thus some way to resolve them will be needed.

One day, Joe's crop goes bad. He asks others for help. They form some food-sharing institutions. They create rules to govern these. The people all value security, and thus put in provisions to help anyone who does not have enough.

One day they invent medicine. They realise that if they only pay the doctor when they are sick, he will starve in the mean time. And also that he will have no motivation to help prevent people from becoming sick. So everyone pays a low price all the time, and the doctor helps whoever needs help at recovery and prevention both. Some people disagree about who the doctor should be helping, saying he favours his friends, and they create institutions to resolve disputes of that nature.

What will all these institutions look like? Well, at first they will be very crude. The defensive agreement might simply state that all able-bodied men must fight when there is a war, or be put to death. The food agreement might allow anyone who is starving to take food from his neighbor, "as long as he made a genuine effort to create his own food." And the system of resolving disputes might be to ask the town elder.

And, over time, people will come up with better ideas. And after a while, and a lot of progress, something like our current government and courts might form.

If this society (that we've imagined) progresses to use a completely voluntary army, that will be an amazing advance. And if it has elected leaders who consent to voluntarily step down when their term ends, that will be an amazing advance. And if criminals are presumed innocent until evidence is presented against them, that will be an amazing advance. And if there are property rights defended by law, and a system of consensual trade, that will be an amazing advance.

When we know how to do better than using government for these things, we will. But we do not. The path to a better society is not to rail against our government, but rather to acknowledge it for what it is: an imperfect, evolving tradition and a great force for good.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (31)

Bad/Evil

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?


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

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

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (7)