Blog Archive

Friday, February 24, 2012

Intuition and its limits

In regard to a conversation I had about my objective morality post:

We may have in our selves certain moral ( and psychological and physical) instincts. I would like to break these down into two sets the evolutionary intuition and the cultural intuition. The difference should be simple to explain yet examples will be much more complicated to discover. We might want to call the evolutionary "universal" but I am avoiding this for two reasons: these ideas may only apply to us, and we may find cultural ideas that have spread everywhere that are not necessarily evolutionary.

The definitions are as follow; evolutionary intuition is that which rises from the nature of our animal selves the ability to love and recognize distress in the faces of others, the ability to know about how far you can jump etc.

The cultural intuitions are things you are taught either implicitly or explicitly by the groups you are in while growing (and to a lesser extent while grown) The best example I have of this is the reaction we share to power outlets.

Sometimes the cultural can override the evolutionary and sometimes it can't
These limits to our evolutionary psychology can de described. We have a sort of "Paredolia of action". If we are running a trail in the woods and a tree root trips us there is some degree of wanting to ask the tree why it tripped us. When really we just didn't notice the root. We also tend to ascribe complex intensional agency on other inanimate objects or simple animals. We also reserve certain traits as distinctly human when they may be apparent in other creatures.

Our evolutionary physics serves us well for playing baseball but does not help us when discussing quantum mechanics or relativistic ideas. It also would need to be retrained for living on a space station. Playing catch in a rotating reference frame and remembering we have our mass even without our weight.
Our evolutionary morals will likely have similar defects when dealing with a world different than that from which they were derived. Some carryovers may be of a benefit others of a detriment but most will likely carry a mixed bag of behaviors into our current and future culture.

Still there may be realms of inquest for which our current intuitions are not equipped or non existent. Probability and statistics do not seem to have an evolutionary correlate nor do they seem to be well represented culturally. Naturally then we must create a form of them that can be taught to children and teach this to voters.

This begins to lead us to the ideas of literacy in a subject. I will deal with that idea in another post or this won't ever be published.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lying and Truth

Lying vs Honesty vs facts:

Lying is intent to convey falsehood whether through action or inaction

Honesty is an intent to convey facts through action.

These are both irrespective of the actual facts.  Someone could lie and convey factual information if they are misinformed. and the reverse is also true.  Propagating a falsehood is the putting forward of false information, whether or not you know it's actual truth value. 

There are four states: 

You are conveying True information and believe that you are conveying True information This is Honesty (and  being correct)

You are conveying True information and believe you are conveying False information This is Lying and being misinformed (and unlikely)

You are conveying False information and believe that you are conveying False information This is lying (and being correct)

You are conveying False information and believe that you are conveying True information This is Honesty and being misinformed

       Note that these states really have two features. One refers to the state of reality the other to the state of someones belief about the nature of reality. I don't want* to get into a long diatribe about the values and reasons for considering an objective reality to be true.  So basically something can either be true or false, but you can also believe it to be true or false** And it is how we act on our beliefs that reflect whether we are lying or not lying, but it is how what we say reflects reality that determines if we are telling the truth or not. (not lying or ~lying)   

      Now there are ways of telling if someone is lying, that have various degrees of reliability from some to none.  But there are certain techniques for getting at the truth that are very thorough. And while it is a good idea to know something about the art and science of deception. It is a simpler and worthier practice to learn how to find the truth regardless of the opinions of others.  These methods are the various types of formal and informal reasoning of which logic is the main branch.  Logic itself can only deal with the way ideas are structured and requires information and knowledge to be used well.  Further discussion of these ideas is beyond the scope of this essay and will be covered elsewhere.


*Well, I want to but I wont here.

** You can also hold the following beliefs, although they are very difficult to do and we typically have an opinion even if we don't admit it.  that something is unknown*** (insufficient data)  , that something is unknowable (called agnosticism) or Fuck All, Who cares, let's go to the pub (known as indifference).

*** There is of course that famous Rumsfeld quote that sums up the various states of knowledge; Which for some reason people find amusing when it is actually quite astute:      "Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Source and the acquisition of knowledge

Being trained to recognize and create good argument, and to recognize and critique the bad is only the first step in being a participant.  Having a wide berth of knowledge and the skills to again more is particularly important for evaluation of premises. This is the only way to determine valid false statements from valid true ones.

What then can be said of knowing and it's methods? We cannot ground the experience of knowing on some abstract idea; it is an intrinsic part of our development and must be dealt with As part of the knowing whole. Knowing is part of the function of brains (minds). We can store information in a book but the book does not know anything about its contents. This is what I referred to earlier as a self referential learning system. Knowledge in its simplest sense is a form of Pavlovian conditioning (however abstracted it may be from simple impulses)
This does not tell us how to know or solve he issues of epistemological concern. I merely want to suggest that knowledge must be in reference to a knower. There are certain things that may exist in a world with no animus but knowledge is not one of them.

"Argument: A Field Guide in Six Parts" via Derren Brown

Derren Brown is a fantastic Magician.  He is following int he tradition of Houdini and Randi by providing tools to better evaluate claims.   These videos are available on his site.  You should check it out.

Great short video series on critical thinking: "Argument: A Field Guide in Six Parts"

Monday, February 20, 2012

Robo Avians

Originally I was going to write about the use of drones and the interesting legislation happening about their civil use here in the US.  But then I saw the Ostrich design and my love of birds (and robots) outweighed the effort I would expend to type up something of actual substance.   Enjoy the below knowing that the other article is on it's way.




Thursday, February 16, 2012

Reduction and Granularity

At what point does it make sense to model the activity? Certain molecular properties will effect the behavior of a system in ways a different elemental combination would not.

The question, for example; 'does morality come from the benzine molecule?' is a failure in this type of analysis.  The description of fluid dynamics vis-a-vis the propagation of wavefronts in a large body of water will likely only gain small benefit from discussions of hydrogen and oxygen reactions (at best). Instead things that require a statistical description will after a certain threshold only be burdened by details.
The question then becomes one of picking the right degree of reduction. Below which the information is lost to granularity and above which the involved factors become either irreconcilably large or in other ways of retraction to the system.
This will require a degree of sensitivity to the data set as well as the goal of the inquiry; lacking this information only the grossest of descriptions will be made available.
Again it becomes one of defining a question, allowing for a recursive development to treat the data set will at some point lead to diminishing returns. But should always be considered if there is time and processing power to spare. Otherwise it may be more useful to open multiple conflicting models and look for best fits within each constraint base.
If data is ill-defined, then some form of self referential learning system will be required.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pragmatic Empiricism

Incompleteness tells us that we can't have a self describing system that is internally consistent. This means that any claim must be grounded ultimately in some other idea. Often people chose some fallacy (appeal to authority) for this. My personal preference is for one of building on the facts at hand and using the results to build better definitions. This starts with statements such as "I am here and it is now" After which it is a question of methods.

Why do I think a Starting point such as this is a good one?

 It seems impossible for a thinking being to not posses that statement in some form. It is nearly tautological in its description.

Why then do I choose to say pragmatic empiricism?
This is the resultant idea of a best guess given the available evidence.

The next question is one of methodology and construction; What can we say of the ways in which we make our. Choices? What means suit the situation? What is the most appropriate way to deal with the given information set?
The methods of knowing are laid out in other of the available essays and should be referenced as need be.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Objective values

Really enjoying writing on the train.  Here is this mornings commute notes.

Morality is often referenced in objective terms (I think this is good for psychological reasons) with the idea of a godless world being said to lack any place for this notion.

The failure of he imagination here is one of treating morals as an abstract notion rather than a practical one. If we are to assume that the existence of morals is a result of our evolutionary and cultural development, then we should treat it as a biological fact.

Another example of a biological fact about humans is the existence of opposable thumbs. You can metaphorically substitute the existence of thumbs for any inference about the development,or platonic nature, of morality.

Do animals have thumbs?
Well some do and some don't it depends on their evolutionary heritage. More over we can see that there are different variations and levels of sophistication to thumbs.

What do we do with people who have no thumbs or under-developed thumbs?
We try to give them assistance.

Would intelligent extra terrestrial entities have thumbs?
We imagine so, but they may have developed a different method of gripping things.

 The focus becomes different here, more general. This may be a great topic to explore in more detail.

We are then left the question of whether certain types of things are inherent in their materials or if they are one of a possible group of strategies that might be deployed.

The two types of objective ideas are the Platonic ideal and the developmental solution. These may be in full philosophical conflict or may exist in some synergistic form. With certain ideas being inherent and discoverable while others built from reaction to constraints of the past.

We can also see that when applied to mathematics we have systems that might be inherent in the definitions of things while other ideas are tools developed to deal with a limited realm of information.

We see that systems are to some extent a simplification of something greater. We have from incompleteness the understanding that any single system we create will fail to describe itself and be self consistent. This is overcome to some degree by overlapping separate exclusionary systems. And may be the result of trying to describe the universe in terms simpler than itself. We have then (if true) reached then limit of the "thing in and of itself"

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Unstated premises

Trains of thought number two.  Where I see how much use and sense my free form notes written on a train ride make.

In most statements there are supporting ideas that are never directly addressed. These are called unstated premises. When we evaluate truth. Maims we should be aware that there may be certain intermediary steps or fundamental ideas that are not explicit in the argument. It is a good exercise to determine what these are, or might be. If an unstated premise conflicts with any of the stated premises it should be used as a consistency test and if found to not be a necessary condition ignored. If the premises as stated are insufficient the arguer must either state additional premises, restructure the argument, or abandon their rational claim. Premises that are left unstated should only be done so in a formal situation if the argument would be needlessly cluttered by them, or If they are not required for a particular section of the argument ( and will be stated later). In informal argument premises may be left unstated if they are thought to be implicit, for elegance, brevity, or simplicity. If an argument is. Challenged on grounds of insufficient evidence, then unstated premises may be brought to bear.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Necessary and sufficient. With and without the Oxford comma.

Notes from my evening commute.

 We must understand that for a proposition to be true there are certain minimum requirements that must be met. These must be true in ALL Cases and we call them necessary conditions. When you are making or investigating a truth claim it may be helpful to determine what these are. If any of these fail to be true you may dismiss the claim as having false premises or conclusions (deductive).  If the necessary conditions are met, we then may ask if there are sufficient conditions. These differ in that a failure of necessary conditions negates a claim but does not support it, while sufficient conditions suggest that it may be true. To rephrase we may see that falsification may be deductive while truth is inductive at best.  Holding a position based on the necessary alone is week for positive. Claims. While meeting the minimum requirements it is not a guarantee. Sufficient reasons are selected after the necessary, we can use such tools as elegance and simplicity as well as best explanation.
To suggest a belief is rational is to say that it has covered both the necessary AND sufficient conditions of that conclusion. If sufficient conditions are not met you have at best an appeal to pragmatism or some other form of wish thinking. Agnostics can be separated into two claims; that a thing cannot be known in principle or that a thing is unknown given the current information ( but is knowable). I suppose we could be agnostic about agnosticism but that road seems short and while diverting it is beyond the scope of this essay.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Is it Reasonable?

Some of my friends have been claiming things.  I made this website for them really.  These claims range from the supernatural to the extraterrestrial, they include government conspiracies, diet, and medicinal advice. They include positions on politics, and science; on which news sources are best, and which can't be trusted.  These are people I like and care for.  They believe these things, and want me to believe them too.

I think they are wrong.  Not just a little bit, but as wrong as you can be.  Could they be right?  Sure. Are they?  Nope. Pretty sure they aren't.  It may seem confrontational to say that, which is what I want. I want to confront the beliefs my friends hold that I disagree with.  They think they're right and I think that I'm right, so where does that leave us?

The most important thing about my view point is that it is evidence based.  And with that comes the responsibility of changing beliefs to match the evidence.    I tried to sum this up into the following statement:

If you don't know what it would take to change your mind; then you don't know why you believe it.  If you don't know why you believe it, then you have abandoned the rational.  To quote Plato quoting Socrates (probably)  "The unexamined life is not worth living"

With that in mind I will now take to examining the beliefs put toward me by my friends and what it would take for me to accept those things.   I will then examine their evidence and adjust my beliefs accordingly.   I will ask them to do the same, if I find their worldview lacking and present a deconstruction or alternative.

I have already begun the work here in my series On the Nature of Discourse and Argument.  And I would like to think of that as supplemental to the conversations I wish to have, they are the tools that I will use to support my specific ideas.

The importance of specifics cannot be stressed enough.  Too often I have found myself in conversation where when I challenge any single idea or single part of an idea, I am told that that part doesn't matter or they personally don't believe that part.  I will do my best to break ideas down into the premises which are necessary and the conclusions that are deductive or highly likely if inductive.  This is where I start.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Re: Arguments for the existance of god

Here is a collection and my responses to various arguments for deism or theism.  Often we are asked to not only disprove or refute the ideas being presented but are held to the requirement of offering some replacement explanation.  While I enjoy the challenge of coming up with a rational consistent worldview based on the facts at hand, this simply misses the point.  Atheism is by definition a null hypothesis, this means it is the assertion that the idea put forward is not true.  It need only demonstrate that sufficient evidence has not been presented to accept the arguments and their conclusions or that the arguments are fallacies.  That is what I seek to do here.  My own ideas about origin and purpose will have to wait, though they will likely be touched upon.

The Main Premises:

None of the claims are very good.  You cannot move from one claim to another via deduction or induction.  The claims are both independent (they do not reference each other) yet interdependent in the way they are thought to provide proof.  The claims all assume a definition (or definitions) of god without giving reasons for those definitions or explicitly stating them.

The Specific Arguments:

Please note that I am ignoring and young earth anti evolution arguments; they are not the point of this post nor as interesting philosophically as the ones I am choosing to discuss.  I would happily cover that subject in another post at some point, or possibly just direct people to other sources (more likely).

Cosmological- The Prime Mover

What happened before time?  Where was space before the big bang?  These questions and those like them cannot be answered with our current understanding of physics.  They may not have a sensible answer.  There is a point before which we can say or see nothing. I think it is safe to say "we don't know" and if you want to say "ah well I know..." and wink knowingly at Jesus or Thor, over the shoulders of ALL OF PHYSICS, then you are going to have to show your work.   The main argument is There is no thing which is un-caused, this assertion seems to make sense until you realize that it A) begs the question and B) relates to things in time and space rather than time and space itself.  Can the term "cause" have any meaning outside of the idea of time?

Teleological- the argument from design. Paley's watch.   Darwin starts our path here, after that we can begin to view another method.  I wont bother referencing poor design, or cruel or petty (there might be gods that fit that)   IMPORTANT  an over-arching order is not the same as god.

The second part  is the anthropic principle in reverse; Here is often employed even more physics references and a misunderstanding of certain probabilities. Of course the anthropic principle suggests the first proper answer to this idea.  If you want to talk about probabilities I will need you to show the numbers you are using as well as how you came by them and the equations.

Ontological - (not ornithological but there is a joke there somehow I'm sure)  Anslem's conception as I have heard it stated is a non sequitur.  "Imagine the most perfect being. It would be more perfect if it existed. Therefore it exists"

There also seems to be an inherent Platonism, with god as the ideal ideal,  which I question on more basic grounds.  This is often tied to an assertion that Math and Logic exceed the physical universe (and therefore precede it?) to which; for now one can only say "incompleteness theorem"

From Morality -  This is typically stated that without god there is no basis for morality.  The emphasis is on god as an idea and not a specific deity.   This argument is fallacious for a few reasons.  1 it is an Appeal to Authority  2 it posits that god is the source of morality which is part of the definition given (circular reasoning) 3 Basically the argument from evil in reverse without specific conception of god. (the argument from evil is only to rule out a specific type of god -loving, all knowing and all powerful)

From Faith - not really a relevant argument from evidence please stop it.

From Scripture - (revelation) Well this is the leap from theism to religion.It relies on specific texts to be true.  These are not as spurious as the from faith argument but are beyond the scope of this essay and will be addressed separately.

From History - This is always a specific idea to support a specific religion.  I plan to look specifically at the resurrection claims about Jesus as most of my sources are Christian apologists.  Any links to other historical claims are welcome)

My sources for the original pro arguments against which I argue.

Hitchens Vs Craig

Hitches Vs Turek

Hitchens Vs Boteach  (actually doesn't believe in evolution)  Mainly failing at the math and argument from incredulity.

Hitchens Vs Mcgrath

Hitchens Vs D'Souza (some interesting ideas couched in logical fallacies)

Additional Sources

Mentions Historical Resurrection (does not give actual sources they must be acquired)