Epistemology

Some people believe that the truth is manifest for all to see, if only they would look. Under this view, anyone who does not see the truth, must be bad. So, if you ever hear someone arguing that their view is self-evident or obvious, be wary -- s/he either thinks you are intentionally bad or s/he is inconsistent.

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Inverse Theory

Evolution requires truth to function. Evolution progresses towards truth. The inverse view may be complete and stable but it is not true by the normal use of the word.

The term inverse theory originally came from the following notion: an idiotarian is a person who needs an anti-idiotarian to tell her/him what white is, so s/he can call it black. I don't think this is the right definition for idiotarian, but I do think it's a useful idea and deserving of a word. Moral inverter is fitting.

(I've been using 'view' and 'moral view' interchangeably. I just used 'moral inverter' for someone who inverted a physical fact. Basically, I don't think there's any particular difference. Because people twist their factual theories according to their moral ones.)

If a moral inverter's view is not true, s/he cannot evolve it. So, to create it, s/he must find a true view to reverse.

But how can we reconcile this with the notion that someone holding on to a part of the inverse view, will, as s/he approaches a complete worldview, approach the inverse? Well, if an inverter has a bunch of inverse theories in a sphere, s/he can compare new ones to the preexisting ones for consistency, and to see how well the theories mesh in terms of explanation. However, when approaching a completely new issue, won't the inverter be at a loss?

In a sphere, to make very much progress, one needs to have some notion of what truth means. It doesn't need to be explicit (in a language with symbols and grammar). Without some notion, how can one evaluate theories? One cannot. Of course, in all objective spheres, every person alive does have such a notion. But sometimes the notion is only marginally better than none at all. I would offer up aesthetics as an example of a sphere where people do not have a good conception of truth. I would offer up science as one where people have a very good conception of truth -- true scientific ideas correspond to physical reality.

If a practitioner of the good view approaches a new sphere, s/he will create some notion of truth, and try to make progress. If a practitioner of the inverse view approaches a new sphere, I do not expect her/him to create an inverted notion of truth -- an inverse-epistemology -- and make progress towards it. This is because no one wants to be bad.

Talk to an inverter. Ask her/him about her/his view in some sphere s/he hasn't thought about much -- try to get her/him to create a view. In my experience, s/he will likely be at a loss. This is because s/he does not have any epistemology to work with in the sphere. However, if I present my view, the inverter will no longer be lost. Her/his worldview is very clear that I must be opposed, and thus s/he will chronically disagree with me, and set about creating the inverse view of mine.

The word 'true' generally refers to the good view. But the inverse view can have its own meaning for truth. But few or no people actually adopt the inverse meaning for truth explicitly. It is very difficult to adopt, because no one wants to be bad.

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Anti Theory

I generally don't like being against things. Here's an example:

Anti-semitism is quite evil. However, I am not anti-anti-semitism. Rather, I am pro-Jewish.

The difference is between fighting a cause, and simply living my life and recognising the value in good things, and supporting those things.

I do not consider incidental "opposition" (opposing things that get in the way of doing something nice) or explaining why something is wrong to try and help someone understand stuffz better to violate this principle.

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Here's a useful risk-minimisation strategy for matching tests:

If you get it down to two things, and you have no idea which answer goes to which question .... write the same answer twice! Then you get half credit.

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Anti Theory

Here's a relation between Anti Theory (about opposing things) and Inverse Theory (about the inverse moral view, the good view, and the empty view).

Inverse theory provides a strong reason that being focussed on anti theories is dangerous. If you're wrong, you approach the inverse view.

But what if you're right? Won't inverse theory predict you approach the good view? Technically, yes, as your worldview becomes complete, it will go to the good one. However, holding a theory sacred has no effect if the theory is never challenged. And it's not as if reasonable people are in danger of approaching the inverse view unless they grab hold of "people who think apples are the spawn of the devil are wrong" for dear life.

Focusing on theories and holding them strongly has the most effect on one's progression to a stable worldview when those theories come up a lot, and say a lot. So, holding some trivial falsehood wrong, won't matter much. But holding something true false, will matter quite a lot. Anytime the subject comes up, it will lead to lots of badness.

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On the ARR email list someone just asked about Viagra. So I thought I'd go over the different ways drugs could help with sex.

It's possible that arousal works like this: we have various theories that trigger various chemical releases, and then other theories about what to do in the sensory environment created by those chemicals. In this case, if the first set of theories (that trigger chemicals) were messed up, we could bypass them with drugs. If the problem was in the second set of theories, about what to do with the chemicals released already, drugs wouldn't help. (You could string in more layers if you liked, like 3 different chemicals triggering in a row, some mechanically, some based on theories)

It's possible that arousal is purely mental without intermediate chemical stuff (or perhaps not according to modern biology, I just mean abstractly conceivable). In this case, drugs wouldn't help, except with physical malfunctions, like messed up blood flow to important bits.

What's not conceivable is to take theories out of it, and declare that "when in a sexual situation" or some such, then chemicals control behavior. For one thing, how do the chemicals know what a sexual situation is? And for another, chemicals controlling behavior is absurd. And for another, people have been known to stop having sex in the middle. (Oh, sorry, the chemicals take *partial* control, which means, ummmm .... nothing coherent).

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Premise: All use of force risks collateral damage
Premise: Self defense requires the use of force
Conclusion: Self defense involves risk of collateral damage

Premise: All use of force risks collateral damage
Premise: Fighting evil requires force
Conclusion: Fighting evil involves risk of collateral damage

Premise: Self defense and fighting evil involve risk of collateral damage
Premise: Some people object to war against Iraq on the basis that collateral damage is morally wrong
Conclusion: These people think that fighting evil and self defense are morally wrong or these people are inconsistent

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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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