Is the future like the past?

Inductivists want to have a premise "the future is like the past". Because if it isn't, then they can't infer from past observations to the future.

Let me state the obvious: sometimes the future is like the past, and sometimes it isn't. The past had a living William Godwin but the future won't. The past had wheat and the future will too. So is the future like the past? It is in some respects, and not in others. It depends.

Insisting that the future is like the past, full stop, is ridiculous.

If the future is sometimes like the past, how are we to know when it will be and when it won't be?

Induction offers no answer to that.

I can offer an answer: some of our explanations apply to the future, and some don't.

Why is it important that induction is false, and explanation-based approaches are better? Because the methods of finding good explanations are different than the methods of induction. So inductivists try to pursue knowledge in the wrong way, and it works badly.

In other words, ideas have consequences for one's life. Deeply false ideas about how to think have especially bad consequences.

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Godwin on Poverty

Godwin said "Poverty is an enormous evil". Does that mean he'd be a socialist sympathizer and a critic of the USA, today?

No.

Here is what Godwin meant by 'poverty':

The Enquirer, part 2, essay 1, page 162:
By poverty I understand the state of a man possessing no permanent property, in a country where wealth and luxury have already gained a secure establishment.
Why did Godwin dislike poverty? Here's two of the reasons he gives (p 164):
Every one can see however, that inordinate labour produces untimely decripitude.
the poor are condemned to a want of that leisure which is necessary for the improvement of the mind. They are the predestinated victims of ignorance and prejudice.
To Godwin, poverty meant you work hard all day, every day, so much that you don't ever have time to read books and think, even if you really want to, and you tire out your body so much that you live substantially fewer years, and for all this work you do not gain enough reward to accumlate any savings.

There is nothing like that in the USA today. The homeless don't work. Minimum wage workers have lots of time to read and think if they make it a priority (over watching TV, hobbies, socializing, etc), don't work all day, don't work every day, and can easily accumulate a savings if they are frugal.

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Modesty or Safety?

http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2009/03/ipod-touch-not-lies-sets-kids-pants-on-fire-parents-sue.ars
At that time, he stood up and noticed that his pants were, in fact, on fire. "Plaintiff A.V. immediately ran to the bathroom and took off his burning pants with the assistance of a friend,"

...

[afterwards he] went directly to the doctor, where he was declared to have received second degree burns to his leg.
So his pants were on fire, and before removing them he went to the bathroom for some privacy. As a result he received second degree burns. That's how much people care about modesty: they will suffer severe injuries in modesty's name.

(Note: It's unclear if he could have escaped the burns by taking his pants off immediately. If not -- if his leg was already burning -- then no doubt he could have received lesser burns by removing the pants immediately.)

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Correspondence Theory of Truth

Here is what i take from _Objective Knowledge_ ch 8 and 9 regarding the correspondence theory of truth.

the correspondence theory of truth says a statement is true if it corresponds to the facts

people have trouble with this. what can that possibly mean? Popper used to have trouble with it, and wonder about that question.

i think it is straightforward. English already handles it very naturally. it means:

The statement 'there is a door there' is true if there is a door there.

well, it turns out that's basically what Tarski figured out. here is Tarski's breakthrough that Popper is impressed by. (I thought of my solution before reading Tarski's.)

Tarski's version is more complicated. he figured out you can do it using multiple languages. you say this:

yo hablo espanol is true if i speak spanish.

the advantage of the foreign language is you don't necessarily have to quote it. and you can give an explanation kinda like this: we use a meta-language which contains both spanish statements, and english facts, so we can talk about statements and facts together in one language, so we can discuss their correspondence.

then he noticed you can do it just as easily in one language using quotes. just say:

'i speak spanish' is true if i speak spanish.

that's the same as my example. English is a powerful language that can already discuss both facts and statements without any outside help.

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Video Removed: Copyright Infringement

I put a 37 second clip from a TV show on youtube. I titled it "Destroying Privacy" and wrote this description, "In this clip, one girl shows signs of wanting privacy, but the other uses common techniques for making it difficult to maintain privacy. This is unscripted." Today, five and a half months later, it was removed for copyright infringment.

I believe posting the clip falls under "fair use", just like quoting a small part of a book. Here are four criteria for fair use. It looks to me like my use does well for for 1, 3, and 4, and is neutral for 2. I added to the work (by adding commentary and a perspective that was lacking in the original presentation). I used a small, insubstantial portion of the show as a whole. It wasn't a key scene for plot purposes, and no one would skip watching or buying the show just because they saw my clip. My use has no negative affect on their market (in fact it's positive because it helps advertise the show).

The youtube informational pages make a strong effort to tell me that if I disagree with the removal of the clip, I may get in legal trouble. Basically, they tell Viacom who I am personally and then the only possible results of a counter-notification are Viacom files a legal motion or the clip goes back up. That's crazy. Why can't we try to talk it out? Just a few brief emails back and forth, and if we don't agree quickly then stop talking. I would like to tell them why I think it's fair use, and hear why they think it isn't. If they have good reasons, I could change my mind about posting the clip. If they have bad reasons, then I'd be less scared of a lawsuit, and I'd have the option to publish their reasons and make fun of them. The people in charge of searching youtube for clips to be taken down might learn something as well.

The description of what to include in the counter-notice and the sample counter-notice do not have any space for explaining why my use was fair use, or giving any reasons or arguments. I just swear, under penalty of perjury, that I didn't infringe on copyright, and get sued if they think I'm wrong, and no one explains themselves until court.

That is too much trouble for too little benefit. Even though I believe I'm right, and I would like to hear why Viacom belives this is not fair use, I am not going to file a counter-notice. I would take a legal risk, and in the best case scenario I still wouldn't hear any reasons from Viacom, the clip would just silently go back up. So it seems to me that Viacom can get whatever they want taken down *risk free*, without ever giving any kind of explanation or reasoning. If they are wrong and challenged, they can just drop it. They never have to justify their original claim.

And by the way, my video had a grand total of 67 views. That's even less than my other video which is 13 seconds of Safari loading an image while I roll my mouse. (I hope Apple doesn't sue me for providing part of the OS X experience for free!)
Dear Member:

This is to notify you that we have removed or disabled access to the following material as a result of a third-party notification by Viacom International Inc. claiming that this material is infringing:

Destroying Privacy: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1u0w07ELJds)
Please Note: Repeat incidents of copyright infringement will result in the deletion of your account and all videos uploaded to that account. In order to prevent this from happening, please delete any videos to which you do not own the rights, and refrain from uploading additional videos that infringe on the copyrights of others. For more information about YouTube's copyright policy, please read the "Copyright Tips" guide: http://www.youtube.com/t/howto_copyright.

If you elect to send us a counter notice, please go to our Help Center to access the instructions:

http://www.google.com/support/youtube/bin/answer.py?answer=59826

Please note that under Section 512(f) of the Copyright Act, any person who knowingly materially misrepresents that material or activity was removed or disabled by mistake or misidentification may be subject to liability.

Sincerely,
YouTube, Inc.

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Burke Quotes

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Edmund_Burke

It says "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." is the most famous Burke quote, but is a misattribution!

Also on the page is this wonderful comment.
It has always been with me, a test of the sense and candour of any one belonging to the opposite party, whether he allowed Burke to be a great man.
William Hazlitt
Hazlitt also had good things to say about Godwin.

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Godwin's Daughter Wanted Her Son To Be Conventional

William Godwin by Elton Edward Smith and Esther Greenwell Smith, p 121
When time came for the widow of Percy Bysshe Shelley to choose a school for their surviving son, someone suggested that he should go to a school where he would be free to think for himself. "To think for himself!" exclaimed the woman who was the daughter of the unique Mary Wollstonecraft and the unique William Godwin, the widow of the unique Percy Shelley, and the author of the unique Frankestein. "Oh my God, teach him to think like other people!" Mary Shelley knew the joys and the perils of independence, and she wanted something different for her boy. Everyone she knew intimately had been an independent thinker, heroic, never ceasing "from mental fight." But for her son she desired the settled calm of an ordinary boyhood and a commonplace life.[1]
[1] The citation is J. Middleton Murry, Heaven--and Earth (London, 1938), p. 254.

This is interesting in several ways. One is as an example of someone renouncing freedom of thought.

It also means that Godwin was right in his dispute with Mary and Shelley about their elopement. It turns out that Mary did not like the results of the lifestyle Godwin warned them against. Earlier in this book, it says most commentators think Shelley was right, and the book itself sides with Shelley. How can it do that when it contains this evidence?

That is not the only oddity of the book. Another is that it openly insults, without argument or substantial comment, three of Godwin's books, including one I've read and enjoyed (Damon and Delia). That is a theme I have observed in most books about Godwin: they are disrespectful towards Godwin.

Another common theme is that books about Godwin usually disagree with and misunderstand some of Godwin's major ideas. Why do people who don't like Godwin write about him, and where are the books by people who do like Godwin?

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Popper Mistaken About Physical Determinism

_Objective Knowledge_ by Karl Popper, p 221
physical determinism implies that every physical event in the distant future (or in the distance past) is predictable (or retrodictable) with any desired degree of precision, provided we have sufficient knowledge about the present state of the world.
This is false. Physical determinism does not imply that we can calculate what the past was like based on the present.

The reason is that some functions are not reversible. Knowing the function used, and the output, does not let you calculate the input.

An example is addition. If you know two numbers were added, and the result was four, you cannot work out what the original numbers were. The output of addition has less information than the input.

To predict the past based on the present, one needs to posit both physical determinism and that all the laws of physics are reversible.

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Popper on Bayesians

_Objective Knowledge_ p 141
Bayesians (as the adherents of the subjective interpretation of the probability calculus now call themselves) ...

This ... I have combated for thirty-three years. Fundamentally, it springs from the same epistemic philosophy which attributes to the statement 'I know that snow is white' a greater epistemic dignity than to the statement 'snow is white'.

I do not see any reason why we should not attribute still greater epistemic dignity to the statement 'In the light of all the evidence available to me I believe that it is rational to believe that snow is white.' The same could be done, of course, with probability statements.

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Social Science Is Unimpressive

http://www.forbes.com/2006/08/23/Marriage-Careers-Divorce_cx_mn_land.html
So why not just stay single? Because, academically speaking, a solid marriage has a host of benefits beyond just individual "happiness." There are broader social and health implications as well. According to a 2004 paper titled "What Do Social Scientists Know About the Benefits of Marriage?," marriage is positively associated with "better outcomes for children under most circumstances" and higher earnings for adult men, and "being married and being in a satisfying marriage are positively associated with health and negatively associated with mortality." In other words, a good marriage is associated with a higher income, a longer, healthier life and better-adjusted kids.

A word of caution, though: As with any social scientific study, it's important not to confuse correlation with causation. In other words, just because married folks are healthier than single people, it doesn't mean that marriage is causing the health gains. It could just be that healthier people are more likely to be married.
In English he just said:

1) I advise you to get married. Studies show it's a good idea.

2) But actually, bear in mind the studies didn't show anything of the sort. They could mean getting married will help, or they could mean it won't help. They are also consistent with it hurting.

Why would he say (1) if he seriously meant (2)?


Social scientists, in a sense, know their studies are mostly worthless, but in another sense refuse to know it and are in denial. Sometimes they use the excuse, "it was the best we could do!" as if that made the results truer.

Imagine a physicist using a grain of sand instead of a single atom and saying, "Sorry, it was the best I had available. My results should still be pretty accurate, right?"

Social scientists know they don't control for a lot of factors in their studies. They know lots of ways their results could be wrong. But because they don't know how to fix it, or can't afford to do things better, they hope and pray that it will be pretty accurate anyway.

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Sad Story

In May 2007, I posted to the TCS list a Sad Story:
Show: Lizzie McGuire

Background: Lizzie is a pretty normal girl, about age 14. Larry
Tudgman is a nerd her age and one episode he asks her out. She feels
bad about rejecting him and decides to go on a date, but then he
tells people at school that they are boyfriend and girlfriend. She
breaks up with him and says they aren't compatible. She expects him
to cry. The conversation continues as follows:

Tudgman: I guess you're right. We're living a lie. I need a
girlfriend who's into astrophysics, amphibian skeletal systems, and
rotisserie baseball.

Lizzie: Yeah. And I need a boyfriend who's into
...
(pause)
...
"stuff". (small laugh)

The show then cuts to Lizzie's thoughts, and she thinks:

"Maybe I should develop some interests."

But then she adds:

"And then I could join a club and meet a boy there."
Someone replied:
I don't think that's necessarily a sad story at all.

Inexplicitly Lizzie is into a lot of things ... like figuring out
relationships, attraction, cultural ideas and expectations for girls.

These things are at least as important as amphibian skeletal systems.
And David Deutsch wrote:
In a way, yes. But in practice that's not really comparing like with like. There's 'figuring out' and there's 'figuring out'.

For instance, if the boy's figuring out leads him to the conclusion that existing ideas about amphibian skeletal systems are fundamentally flawed, and if he's right (or even interestingly wrong), then it will lead him to *gain* exactly what he's looking for: more and more chances of being entertained, respected, mentally enriched -- and indeed paid -- for doing that very kind of thinking, which he is already doing for the intrinsic fun of it even today.

But if Lizzie's figuring out leads her to the conclusion that existing ideas about relationships, attraction, cultural ideas and expectations for girls are fundamentally flawed, then whether she's right or wrong, this will lead her to *lose* all the things she is currently looking for. She will only get those things if her thinking ends up with the same conclusions as most of the other girls who are doing it.

I think the story is indeed sad because of the pause, and her subsequent thoughts, during which she did *not* say that she found those cultural ideas wonderful to think about -- nor anything else, for there was no such thing. It was precisely because Lizzie recognized her own life as being devoid of the kind of interests the boy had, that there was a painful gap. Which she eventually filled by deciding to do *more* of what she's not intrinsically interested in.

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Arguing From Authority

People commonly make appeals to authority in arguments. But how do you know how much authority there is on each side of an issue?

You'll have to think about it. Make conjectures, use criticism, and so on.

If you're going to do that, why not just do it about the issue directly? If it's hard because you don't know about the issue, you aren't going to be much good at judging who the proper authorities are either. You'll just have to go on what people tell you. In other words, find an authority on authority, like a university that grants certificates of authority (degrees).

An authority on authority does not solve the dilemma. How do you know he/it truly has the authority to make the pronouncements he/it does? Better ask an authority on authorities on authority. So you have a turtles all the way down dilemma (infinite regress).

So this appeal to authority approach fails.

But there's more. Isn't this a lot of trouble to avoid thinking and learning about stuff yourself?

It fails in that way, too! Trying to make it work, and defend it, and make judgments about who has authority, is itself a way of approaching issues that takes a lot of thought. So you haven't saved any thinking or effort.

You could always not think and hope that works. But then appeals to authority still make no sense. If you pick who to call an authority thoughtlessly or pick which side has more authority thoughtlessly, you are no better off than if you just directly pick a side of the issue thoughtlessly.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Announcement: New Unmoderated TCS List

The TCS email list has not had much discussion for several years now. I am creating a new list with the goal of more active discussion. This list will not have moderation.

The list is intended for discussion of TCS principles, and for help and advice with parenting problems. Anyone can join, so please don't post private material. List archives are not saved.

Of course I will still be on the old TCS list. There is no problem being on both.

You can sign up at the group website:

http://groups.google.com/group/taking-children-seriously

Or you can subscribe by sending a blank email to:

[email protected]

EDIT: This is superseded by the Fallible Ideas list: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/fallible-ideas/

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Morality, Gorgias, and Open Society

The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl Popper, p 105
Socrates' doctrine, in the Gorgias, that it is worse to do injustice than to suffer it [...] Socrates' teaching that it is better to suffer such acts than do them
'such acts' refers to acts of injustice, and these examples are given
boxing a man's ears, injuring, or killing him
Popper looks upon this theory with favor, and says it is in the spirit of Pericles, and opposed to the spirit of Plato's Republic.

While I happen to agree with Socrates' conclusion, his arguments for it are bad. I don't think Popper should cite conclusions that were badly argued without providing some argument of his own.

Here is a summary (by me) of what Socrates says:
Doing injustice is bad for your soul. Suffering through no fault of your own is not bad for your soul. Therefore doing injustice is worse than suffering it.

Socrates also says that it's better to be punished for doing injustice than to get away with it, because the punishment is just, and therefore improves your soul.
This is nonsense. Socrates never explains how to tell what is good or bad for a soul, other than in terms of what we already think is good or bad. And also, if an action or event is soul-harming, why should it not harm everyone involved equally? Socrates assumes his conclusion to be true when he assumes the doer of injustice suffers more soul harm. That is the 'begging the question' fallacy.

Here is how I would consider this issue. I approach moral questions as an individualist who is interested in *the* moral question: 'how should I live?' We must think about what choices, and general policies for choosing, are best for a person. This way of approaching moral questions is very powerful and can easily settle many confused old debates.

As a quick note, I interpret the question about "better" or "worse" to mean "morally better" and "morally worse". Otherwise it would go more like this: would I rather have a significant force exerted on my ears, or a mild one on my knuckles? (Would I rather box ears, or be boxed.) Put this way, of course the mild force on the knuckles damages my body less and is thus preferable, but this isn't what Socrates meant, nor is it an interesting question.

In the context of a question about morality, it's pretty simple. To intentionally do injustice means to have a way of making choices that is hateful, and it means to adopt some value system compatible with being a thug. The person who's way of making decisions leads him to do injustice is the person who has the wrong way of choosing, by definition of 'injustice'. So he is immoral.

To suffer injustice at the hands of others simply means to fail take enough precautions and defensive measures. This is a mistake that people can make while having a generally good life strategy, and mostly making good choices. (And unfortunately, injustice can even happen to people who make only exceptional choices and no relevant mistakes. But what of it? That is bad luck, and no more. All that is in our power is make good decisions in our life. Bad luck can happen to anyone; the interesting thing is what's in our control: our choices. Do those work to make our life better or worse?)

If we think of morality as being about having a good way of approaching life, then it's obvious that even a good person can be assaulted by thugs in an alley, and that does not make him less moral, but no good person can be one of those thugs.

The question basically amounts to, "If X is a bad way of life, would you rather do X, or rather someone else does?" In other words, "Would you rather be immoral, or not?" It's sad that this has ever confused anyone.

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