Sociobiology is a very popular theory. It claims that genes (at least partially) control human behavior.

Now, in the general case, if we want to explain behavior, and we just attribute it to something random, like where the stars in the sky are, we will be laughed at. There is no explanation of how stars control behavior.

How's sociobiology different? It's not! There are studies that show correlations, but none that demonstrate causation. And there is no explanation of how genes cause the behavior, no more than there is of how stars do it. And there's a very compelling alternative explanation, that does include a mechanism: we act on our theories (worldview).

Now, you may know that animal behavior is determined by genes. And you may know that aspects of human bodies like eye colour and brain structure are (at least partially) controlled by genes. How can brain structure not (partially) determine behavior? Because the laws of computation state that universal computation is hardware independent.

In other words, universal computers -- ones that can do any calculation possible for computers -- all compute the same, no matter how you build them. Whatever the structure, if it's a universal computer, it won't give different results for the same input. It may have more or less storage space, and process slower, but, given adequate time and disks with extra memory, the results of all possible computations will come out the same.

So too with human brains. Any brain with the same input problem set, will give the same answer, because brains are universal computers. (Note that the input problem set includes all the theories [including memories] of the person).

Why is this different than with animals? Because animal brains are not universal computers. They cannot do all possible computations.

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Epistemology

True and mutable is one of the wisest phrases I know. It means we should hold our best explanations true and act on them, not give in to relativism. Just because we may be wrong, does not mean any particular idea we have is wrong, or that we should not hold our ideas true. It also means that our ideas must be mutable -- they must be open to criticism and change and improvement. And being mutable does not make them less true.

When someone says something is true, s/he does not mean s/he's certain it is true. That, of course, would be absurd. So what does it mean to assert something is true? Simply that it is the best explanation.

There is a common fallacy that says fallibilism implies mistakes. The logic is that because we can't be certain, we are bound to make mistakes. The refutation is to look at a particular action or theory, and point out that, while it may be a mistake, fallibilism does not state it is, and all we can do is use our best explanations. So, fallibilism is not an argument against this specific thing. Then, we examine another action/theory. Then another. The point is, fallibilism does not imply any particular mistake, and cannot be used as an argument against the truth of any particular proposition.

Credit for the phrase true and mutable goes to Yehudit's LGF comment here.

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Parenting

Here are two generalisations (if you haven't already, read previous entry first):

Left-wing folk object to TCS because they view all sorts of things as coercive, and see parental coercion as miniscule in comparison, and a defense of children. For example, some lady got the word "gun" removed from her daughter's spelling test. One can imagine the reaction if her daughter wanted to get a gun, and write gun a bunch, and draw gun pictures. The justification? In essence "guns are coercive/bad". Another common one is "TVs are coercive/bad" and therefore must be kept from children to protect them. Also, not having a college education is coercive, and so are fatty foods, which justifies... Also coercive is capitalism, which justifies not letting children buy things (they'll be tricked into wanting more and being materialists).

Right-wing folk object to TCS because they don't understand causality in human behavior. Mindless causes are ok, but not rationally discussable ones. Hence, children have bad theories because kids are dumb, not because their parents mistreat them. And TCS is a waste of time, because children won't understand anyway. Children are dumb, you can see it if you just look around and watch some kids mess up. The solution is to discipline/spank them (notice this is a method that can be applied, unthinking, to any problem). Also, as behavior isn't caused in any rationally discussable way, people who say treating children as inferior messes up their theories can be ignored. Besides, do children even have any theories besides the ones we teach them..? And also, genes cause behavior and being naughty is human nature (but beatings can overcome human nature).

Thanks to Rachel Lucas for the gun link.

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Parenting

TCS is the true parenting theory. The primary ideas are:

- Fallibility (certain knowledge is impossible; people can be wrong)

- No Authorities (ideas must be judged on their merit, the source is irrelevant to truth content -- therefore children can be right and can't be dismissed)

- A state of coercion is one in which a person has two active theories that conflict, and is being forced to enact one prior to resolving the conflict.

- Coercion is bad for knowledge growth (I will write an entry giving the epistemic reasons for this in the future)

- Common Preferences, coercion-free solutions to problems, are always possible

- This means children don't do anything they don't want to

- What people want is subject to morality, and thus children won't want horrible things, as long as parents offer good moral theories

- Good ideas beat out bad ones in argument (and thus if parent's moral theories really are better than some alternative, parent won't lose argument)

- If your ideas are so great, have some faith in them to stand up to criticism

- Criticism Good

- Abandonment Parenting is morally wrong (parents have an obligation to help their children)

- Advice Advice Advice (parents should give children lots of advice, but children should be free to disagree)

- Don't Hurt Children (I can't say this enough)

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Here's two generalisations:

Right wing folk deny explicable, rationally discussable causes for human behavior.

Left wing folk do not value anything.

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I've written comments about government in this Samizdata thread.

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Morality

I just read this USS Clueless piece and wanted to comment on a few bits. Quotes in italics.

I simply don't believe that Germany and France would be willing to sustain, let alone cause, the kind of damage they have just for the sake of moral inhibitions.

and later

And they have now reached the point where they are seriously imperiling the process of creation of the European Union. I do not believe that they would have gone this far if their primary motivation was moral inhibition.

I agree they wouldn't do all this just to hold to pacifism. But pacifism is an absurd moral stance, that very few people take seriously. Perhaps it's really about some other moral stance, like anti-Americanism.

And Rumsfeld refers to their behavior as "beyond comprehension".

I don't like to believe that this may be the reason, but I can't think of any other explanation that makes any sense.


Let's examine the roots of anti-Americanism, and it's close relatives like Jew Hatred. As I'm not much on history, I'll do this in abstract:

Long ago, no one knew about morality, and success was mostly random. All cultures had some people who were good at things, and some who were not. But over time, one culture evolved some moral knowledge. It's members led better lives, and were more successful. And it wasn't just luck, they did this consistently.

The other people knew of no way to be consistently successful. They watched the moral culture, and could not figure out what the important differences were. As the moral knowledge was evolved, it couldn't simply be copied. So, they were faced with a few possible explanations. They could, while having almost no clue what morality even is, decide they were bad people. Of course, they did not. Alternatively, they could decide the successful culture was somehow cheating, and hate its members.

In a perverse way it makes sense: if we are fundamentally the same, with the same chances to excel at any given thing, and I always beat you, I must be cheating somehow. And that you do not know how, must make it even more infuriating.

So, over time, the immoral cultures evolve their own traditions. They learn to hate the successful, moral culture. Partly, they want to destroy it, because it is living proof of their own immorality. Partly, they want to bury their heads in the sand, and get on with life as it was before there were any moral people. Partly, they want to be successful, and are unable. And, above all, the very premise of the moral stance of the immoral cultures, is a denial that they are bad.

So, I feel the explanation that France and Germany are in the grips of an anti-American morality explains why they will go to such great lengths to oppose the US.

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Try to type to A Place For My Head by Linkin Park. I dare you.

Epistemology

Some people 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 the taxes pay for, and consider that QED.

Some of these people support the war on terrorism. They realise that terrorism is a large threat, and want it to be 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 of these people, 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 even within the pickpocket metaphor, as it means foregoing protection.

But there's more than that. The government does various things, some important. And it's not as if the spontaneous order of an anarcho-capitalist society will simply come into being. AnCap is not the natural state of affairs that once existed until it was destroyed when a bunch 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 over night, but slowly be replaced by private institutions that function better. We need good traditions, not a revolution.

What's good about government?

Governments create consent. Let us imagine a bunch 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 taken over 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, and small-scale defense against criminals. The small-scale defense may use a different system, or the two may be joined. Now, the people will need some system of deciding who is and is not a criminal. And 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 level 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 might form.

And, if this society uses a completely voluntary army, that will be an amazing advance. And if it has elected leaders who consent to 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, and a system of consensual trade, that will be an amazing advance.

When we know how to do better than using government, we will. But we do not. And the path to better is not to rail against the government, but rather to acknowledge it for what it is -- an imperfect, evolving tradition. The path also involves raising the general level of morality of the world.

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Personal Information

Sex: What are you, sexist?
Age: What are you, ageist?
Race: What are you, racist?
Sexual Orientation: You like me that much?
Location: Earth
Specific Location: What are you, a hitman?
Culture: When I say We will win the war on terror! I don't mean the terrorists will win.
Political Affiliation: Read my blog and find out.
Occupation: Secret Agent
Cover Occupation: Blog Writer
Blog Writing Pay: Zero
How Can A Cover That Doesn't Make Money Fool Anyone? You know too much and must die

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I learned a new HTML tag today.

Make that two.

Morality

There is a new yahoogroup called You Poor Dear. The purpose is comfort and support without problem solving, debate, or criticism. How will that work? Approximately like this:

You, my dear reader, are a brilliant person. You're good at everything you try, and always persevere through misfortune. You're witty and fun, and a pleasure to be around. If you have any problems right now, which seems unlikely, I'm sure they are nothing for one such as you. If you are in school, you have my sympathy.

Best Wishes,
Elliot Temple

If you're objecting that the above is rather meaningless, you're right. I don't have a clue who you are, I just made it all up. How will the list avoid this? Easy. The participants will give out personal information to a public internet forum. This is a safe way to meet people and make friends, and I highly recommend it extremely dangerous. The more personal information one gives out, the easier it is for the other posters to hurt her/him. (To hurt someone with words, one must know enough about the person to know which words will hurt. Also, giving out personal information tends to lead to being hurt accidentally, if people talk about what one does give out without knowing everything else, like one's sensitivities.)

Anyway, the group doesn't allow saying mean things anyway, only nice ones. So when people post support it will be genuine totally meaningless, because it was the only type of reply possible.

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Inverse Theory

One may wonder what view based on the theory "No other theories are true" approaches as it becomes a complete worldview. Prima facie, it cannot quite get to the empty view, because it, itself, will always remain. However, with no other supporting theories, it will be completely meaningless gibberish, because the person will not be able to understand it any longer. And so s/he will reach the empty view.

What about "No other theories but this one, and the ones necessary to understand this one, are true" (will refer to this as the flagship theory of a view)? This will include knowledge about not accepting false theories, and knowledge that truth exists, so it cannot go to the inverse or empty views. Can it go to the good view?

You may think it is not compatible with the good view, because the theory that the War on Terror is right isn't necessary to understand the flagship theory, only to avoid contradictions. Well ... knowledge is interrelated, so I'm going to take the position one couldn't claim full understanding without the complete good view.

Oh, also, for those people who like foundations: in physics we determine the truth of theories by how they conform to physical reality. In morality, we can now determine it by how they conform to the good moral worldview.

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Morality

Reviled in Many Places Around the World, Americans Are Adored in Kosovo

"Two years ago, after a U.S. soldier's weapon accidentally killed a 6-year-old boy, the grieving father publicly forgave the soldier and said he considered him part of his family."


The father is a Muslim living in Kosovo. Although the accident is sad, it is very nice to see such reasonableness over a collateral damage issue, by the victim. And doubly nice to see a demonstration that Islam is perfectly compatible with morality.

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Morality

I hear there is a biology professor who won't write recommendations for creationist students. I wanted to comment in general:

If I ask Joe Dirt to write a recommendation letter for me, he is perfectly right to refuse. People needn't write letters for anyone they don't want to.

However, in a school setting, students are required to have these letters. And professors are expected to write them. Refusing to write students a letter hurts them. And such a blanket refusal is morally wrong.

Refusing letters over a student holding some theory, only makes sense if the theory directly interferes with the student's studies, and makes her/him significantly (meaning "enough to matter" not "lots") worse at them. This basically means refusing letters for incompetence (math major who thinks 2+2=5; politics major who thinks "democrat" is a type of fish).

So what about biology and creationism? Well, if you want to be a doctor, you learn how human beings are, and about medicine, and it doesn't matter. If you want to be a vet, and you disagree about why vestigial organs exist, but know the same facts about them, it again doesn't really matter. If you want to be a zoologist, and study the evolution of animals, it does matter.

So my view is, to be moral, the biology professor must refuse recommendations on a case by case basis, and only in very specific circumstances will refusal for belief in creationism be acceptable.

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Math

In base 2, 19 is 10011. In base 1/2, 19 is 1.1001

In base 10, 19 is 19. In base 1/10, 19 is 9.1

The trick is to write the number in reverse, and in the fractional version, put a decimal point after the ones column. This is because decimals have negative exponents, so the fraction gets flipped.

Fractional bases that aren't 1/something seem like a real mess to use.

Also, I wanted to count in balanced base 3. I will use -, 0, and + for my digits.

+ +- +0 ++ +-- +-0 +-+ +0- +00 +0+

You'll notice that you *can* count be incrementing the one's column repeatedly. You just have to remember to reset things to - not 0, after they overflow.

Will count from -1 to -5 now:

- -+ -0 -- -++

Notice it's the same as positive, with the -'s and +'s reversed, and 0's untouched. And you can count by decrementing the one's column, and when it overflows, decrement the next column and reset things to a +. I guess I should point out that you can add as many leading zeroes as you want, which is how decrementing a column that doesn't exist works.

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