Epistemology

There is a very pernicious idea in epistemology, called induction. It's an imaginary, physically impossible process through which, supposedly, justified general theories are created from observations. It's still popular with some philosophers. Others realise it does not work (it was refuted by Hume hundreds of years ago), then wonder how we can know anything, and get stuck on the Problem of Induction (solved by Karl Popper, who should be super famous, but isn't). And, normal people hold many inductive ideas as common sense, too.

The primary claim of induction is that a finite set of observations can be generalised into a true predictive theory. However, any finite set of observations is compatible with an infinite number of predictive theories.

To see this, just imagine a paper with dots (observations) on it. We're going to draw a line from left to right (with the flow of time), and it has to connect the dots. The line is a predictive function, that gives values at all the points, not just the dots. So, how many ways could we draw this line? Infinitely many (go way up or down or zigzag between points). What inductivists do is pick one (whichever one feels intuitively right to them), and declare it is what will happen next. And people with similar intuitions often listen...

If you want a real-world example, think about the sun. We know it will rise tomorrow because it is a good explanation of reality (via our physics). Not because we saw it rise yesterday (and the day before).

I tried to write an entry that would be more helpful to people who don't understand, and it didn't go well. I have doubts about how helpful this will be to most people. I can answer stuff in the comments section.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)
Movies:
Cruel Intentions
The Princess Bride
American Beauty
South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut

Nonfiction Books:
The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes-And Its Implications
The Selfish Gene
The Machinery of Freedom: A Guide to Radical Capitalism

Fiction Books:
1984
The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time, Book 1)
A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Trilogy, Book 1)
Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragonlance Chronicles, Book 1)
Time of the Twins (Dragonlance Legends, Book 1)
Scientific Progress Goes 'Boink'

Songs (this list is a bit random):
Around the World -- A Touch of Class
Moonlight Shadow -- Mike Oldfield
Semi-Charmed Life -- Third Eye Blind
Flavor Of The Week -- American Hi-Fi
Inside Out -- Eve 6
She's So High -- Tal Bachman

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)
I noticed a parallel.

Taking a reductionist view is useful in Physics when people make things up. It is easy to characterise made-up things on a human level (like describing what elves look like), but not easy to give a description in terms of atoms (without making the elves easy to refute via observation).

Taking a reductionist view is useful in Relationship Theory when people make things up. It is easy to characterise made-up things on a human level (like describing the effects of a supposed obligation), but not easy to explain what specific event created the made-up obligation.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)
Physics

Does God exist? Are there faeries? We cannot have certainty in the matter, so we will evaluate postulating such entities as a good or bad explanation.

There are two important varieties of claims. One postulates an entity that does something. Santa is actually supposed to deliver presents, and to visit every house. These claims are uncommon because they can be falsified by observation (like watching bad parents fake Santa's visit). Some of these claims, like the tooth fairy, fail because they are refuted by observation. But some do not. One might see a burning Bush, and say that it is God's work. Upon observation, the bush behaves just as the believer has said it will. The problem here, is that the "God" being observed hasn't got any properties other than those observed ... He's acts just like a bit of fire on a bush. Or, the believer might say He's up in heaven, but the bush acts as if He were simply a bit of fire, and this brings us to the second variety of claim.

The second variety of claim involves attributing something to an entity that functions exactly as if the entity did not exist. This approach fails because it adds a complication (the entity) to our explanatory framework, without explaining this complication. For example, we might wonder where the universe came from. And we might want something better than is offered by modern physics. So, we might postulate that God made the world, because this seems to answer the question. However, all it does is deflect the question. Now we wonder where God came from. And if God is a complex enough entity to create the entire universe, then this question is even worse than the previous one (that we had before we postulated God), because we now have even more complexity to explain than before. It also violates the Unexplained Complication rule -- why should there be a God rather than not? This is unexplained.

One strategy that can be useful is to ask someone postulating such an entity, "How can I differentiate you from someone who made up an entity?" All the believer can really do is tell you to have faith, which is not a valid reason to think something true.

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Warcraft 3 r0xx0r3z

Epistemology

We reject theories for being bad explanations (of reality), and accept theories for being good ones. How do we know which are which?

The following properties make theories better:
- says more (deeper)
- simpler
- explains what it purports to
- bold (exposes itself to refutation by all sorts of observations)
- supported by good arguments

The following properties make theories worse:
- contains unexplained complications
- is not consistent with some observation
- criticised by good arguments

Note the use of comparative words. There is no way to measure how good a theory is in absolute terms, only compared to its rivals.

I probably left out some important things, because I tend to do this very intuitively. Please comment on any glaring omission. (And yes I'm aware some items are a bit redundant -- redundancy doesn't hurt anything and can help.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)
Relationship Theory

Parents often make their children say 'please' and 'thank you' and send thank-you cards. In effect, they make their children apply compliments mechanically. Certain politenesses are appropriate in certain situations, period. The merit of the people involved is irrelevant.

The same thing can be observed, say, on sports teams where players are told to cheer on their companions, and chastised if they do not, even if they didn't feel like it or considered the event unworthy.

Some people realise this mechanical approach is silly, and then reject compliments and saying nice things altogether. It's difficult to accuse such people of wrongdoing. They aren't hurting anyone. All they are doing is failing to take action to, possibly, help others in a somewhat minor way.

However, even if there is no burden on people to say nice things, they still should do it. It must be merit-based and applied when felt, to have meaning. But fanmail (even very short ala "nice post"), comments on blogs that say "keep up the good work" (hint hint), or telling a friend "I'm having fun," when deserved and true, is valuable. It is encouraging, and we should like to make our friends feel good.

One might not see why this is particularly important. However, one reason it comes up is that I am generally against, say, telling one's friend "I like you" (see previous post). So, in the absence of normal things like "you're my friend" and whatnot, it is especially important to be active in expressing genuine, useful information like "I'm glad we did X today" or "that thing you said was brilliant" or "you look beautiful today".

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)
Relationship Theory

Setting The Stage: Jack and Jill see each other every few days, online if not IRL. They often chat, when something interests them both, and usually something does come up. They invite each other to do activities sometimes, and usually accept the offers, when they want to.

Thesis: Jack should not ask himself Do I like Jill? or Is Jill my girlfriend? and should not ask Jill Do you like me? or Why do you like me?.

Suppose Jack decides he does like Jill (romantically) -- what then? Won't he continue to do exactly what he had been doing before? And suppose he does not -- what then? Won't he continue to do exactly what he had been doing before? The same applies to girlfriend status.

Asking Why do you like me? has a bit of a different problem. Besides being useless, it forces Jill (if she answers -- she should refuse) to take a stance on what is good about Jack. Doing so can cause various problems. For example, if Jill gives reasons A, B, and C, Jack may become afraid to criticise those things about himself. Or Jack may be tempted to try and emphasise those aspects of his personality. Or Jack may become self-conscious about them. Or Jack may worry that they aren't all that good, and thus that Jill must not like him very much.

Before I close, I want to acknowledge that this isn't all completely true. Answering some of these questions can be useful for making (imprecise) long-term judgments for which the kind of approach I tend to recommend in the short-term is infeasible.

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David Deutsch

Posted to the TCSsociety email list, reproduced with permission.

1: "It is better that 100 murderers go free than that one innocent person is convicted."

2: "It is better that 100 tyrannical, bloodthirsty and aggressive states manufacture weapons of mass destruction than that one tyrannical, bloodthirsty and aggressive state without weapons of mass destruction is liberated."

Spot the difference.

-- David Deutsch
http://www.qubit.org/people/david/David.html

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)
I was tired yesterday and my last post had no thesis. I have two Relationship Theory posts I intend to write today.

Physics

Everyone knows that if you hit someone on the head, s/he won't turn into a democrat (assume s/he wasn't one). The chances of causing just the right brain damage to do that are on par with the chances of making her/him think s/he's a cow. This is because political affiliations are the result of many complex theories, and to affect them in just the right way to become a democrat would require an extraordinary ammount of information (or luck).

So why is it that people expect that some other physical effect, like faulty neurotransmitters or chemical imbalances, would be able to turn a happy person into a sad person? (Cause depression). How one is feeling is governed, just like political affilliation, by a large set of complex theories.

Or why do people think alcohol, which does not contain very much information, can change someone's personality?

The truth is that alcohol changes someone's environment (s/he gets different sense data while using it). Then, s/he reacts to this new environment according to her/his theories. And a lot of people have weird theories about how to act in alcohol-type environments. Depression works much the same.

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Inu Yasha is a really good anime series. *ahem* anywayz,

Relationship Theory

The word relationship is used to mean a number of different things. It can refer to the interactions between two people (I will use Jack and Jill). It can refer to said interactions, and the emergent properties of those interactions. It can refer to only the emergent properties. It can refer to an actual thing, that supposedly exists, and has consequences (I hold this view is false). If I say "relationships aren't things" or "relationships don't exist" that's what I'm referring to, though I try to be more clear than that.

Or sometimes people say "you should stick together, for the sake of the relationship." In this case, relationship is shorthand for the valuable knowledge of each other, convergence, incomplete joint-projects, and such that the people have.

Reductionist relationship is a good term for just the interactions. This would include physical specifications on body positions for the time Jack and Jill went to ... not "the pizza parlor" but some set of lattitude and longitude coordinates. And for everywhere else they had gone they met some specifications about proximity or sounds directed at each other or something. It would include what sounds they made, but not what the words meant.

Emergent relationship is a good term for talking about emergent properties of the reductionist relationship, without bringing up anything of the information in the reductionist description. This would include how Jack and Jill feel about each other, what they mean to each other, and Jack's obligation to show up at Jill's house at 8pm on Tuesday (because he said he would).

I consider "relationship" to mean both of these. Anyway, you will notice that all the emergent properties are direct results of various interactions between Jack and Jill. The term "relationship" simply refers to multiple things at once. It is not itself a thing, with properties. Why does this matter?

Some people claim that relationships bring about obligations or various other consequences, in and of themselves. Example obligations are: to stay together, to not fuck other people, to be nice, to be supportive, to not leave abruptly, or to take care of one's partner in times of need. This is false and harmful. (Or, one could make the case it's misleading, harmful, semi-true shorthand). [Some or all of the things mentioned may be implied by the morality of the situation in some relationships]

The reductionist view of relationships as various interactions and their emergent properties is valid, and I think useful for seeing certain things, but for many things is a bad idea. It makes a lot of calculations (like predicting whether there will be a breakup in the next 2 years) totally infeasible, and it can often obscure the morality of a situation. So, while I often use it to answer theory questions, it's not that useful for many real-life things.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)
Moonlight Shadow Moonlight Shadow Moonlight Shadow Moonlight Shadow Moonlight Shadow Moonlight Shadow *ahem* anywayz

Anti Theory
(Perhaps this is more Inverse Theory, but I associate the two)

There are three stable, complete moral views: the true one, the inverse of the true one, and the empty one. (If stable is confusing, think logically consistent).

Suppose one chooses a single theory, and holds it sacred; whenever it conflicts with another theory, it considered better. What will happen, in the limit, as this person acquires a complete view of morality? For a few cases like "nothing else is true" or "only 5 things are true", we get a mess. But for most statements, like "my bed is on the floor", the person will approach either the true or inverse view. (Not exactly, there are issues like how s/he will react to moral questions about holding views sacred).

The point is, if one is very very attached to a theory, and it is false, then, the more one bases her or his view around the theory, the more her or his view will approach the inverse view. And thus holding any theory dogmatically is very, very dangerous and wrong.

Bits of this can be observed in the world. Like the way people who deny that my door exists, virtually always hate Jews.

And suppose we do not hold a theory sacred, and do have a predominantly good view. Then, barring misfortune, we should expect our view to generally improve. And if our view is predominently bad, without help, .... I suppose it depends on specifics of how brains and creativity work, but I was going to say to expect it to get worse.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)
curi: You should write a split personality post.
Elliot: No, that'd scare the readers.
curi: So?
Elliot: I like having readers.
curi: Maybe they like to be scared. Like a roller-coaster.
Isyn: Do you think I should sabatoge a roller-coaster, so the fear would be justified?
Everyone: NOOOOO!
Isyn: hmpf
Elliot: Go away guys, I need to write something serious. My blog is going to have real content.
curi: yeah, every 5th post.
Elliot: *jumps at curi*
curi: feh, you're a freaking human, you think you can catch me?
curi: *blinks out*
Ellliot: *crashes into the floor where curi had been sitting*
curi: *blinks in, relaxing on a sofa*
Elliot: grrrr
curi: Hahaha, now you look like a fool.
Elliot: I do not. It's no fair that you have magic powers! *whines*
curi: *giggles*
Isyn (soothing, enticing voice): Ya'know, Elliot, we could do something about that.
Elliot (angrily): NO DARK PACTS!!
Isyn: sheesh, I was just trying to help.
Lia (sweet voice): Isyn, there are other ways to help.
Isyn: But it's so much harder to do things the good way.
Lia: Righteousness is its own reward.
Isyn: *grumble, grumble*
curi: *still laughing*
Elliot: Shut up, curi, and you're coming off a total goof anyway
curi: As if I care.
Elliot: I know you like attention.
curi: yeah
Elliot: And I did name my blog for you.
curi: yeah
Elliot: So the more readers, the more attention you get
curi: hmmm, that's a good point
Elliot: hah!
curi: But wait! How do you know the readers want a serious blog?
Elliot: Content has value.
curi: So does fun.
Elliot: Are you contradicting me?
curi: Yes.
Elliot: I'd kick your ass, but, ummm, I can't.
curi: heheh
Elliot: *throws a fish at curi*
curi: *snaps fingers*
fish: *turns into sushi plate*
curi: *catches plate and starts eating*
Elliot: ohhhh! sushi! gimme some!
curi: What's the magic word?
Elliot: Bitch!
curi: bzzt
Elliot: Please please please!
curi: Well...
Elliot (slowly, despairingly): suuushiii....
curi: ok ok, you can have some.
curi: *snaps fingers*
giant plate full of sushi: *appears*
Elliot: mmmmmm *starts stuffing face*
Isyn: Why'd you make the sushi for him?
curi: He wanted it.
Isyn: So?
curi: It wasn't very hard...
Isyn: But why did you help him?
curi: *poses for the camera* I'm a good person.
Bribe Money: appears in reporter's pocket, with note to publicise this
Isyn: But why does helping others make you good? What use is being good?
curi: d00d, are you amoral or something?
Isyn: Oh, that's helpful...
Elliot: *still eating sushi*
Lia: *gives curi a look telling him to be serious*
curi: Morality is part of our explanatory framework.
Isyn: How do you know what it says?
curi: Start with some conjectures, criticise them, end up with tentative knowledge. Like other spheres.
Isyn: Well, why should helping be right? Why not hurting?
curi: Will you agree that views in beteween are inconsistent?
Isyn: Yes.
curi: So, you can choose between the pure-good .... I mean purely-helpful morality, or the purely hurtful one. I trust you'll do the right thing.
Isyn: Why should I?
curi: erm, well
Lia: Isyn, do you want to hurt me?
Isyn: err, no.
Lia: Well, then, it seems you've chosen. :-)
curi: Hey, that was brilliant, Lia.
Lia: It wouldn't have worked for you, anyway.
curi: pfft
Elliot: *finishes all the sushi*
Elliot: Hey, that was good. Thank you!
curi: See, he's happy. How cool is that?
Isyn: feh
Elliot: feh...that reminds me....I think I'm gonna watch Inu Yasha now.
curi: I thought you were writing a post.
Elliot: Some other time.
curi: Err, well, I may have saved you some trouble.
Elliot: What do you mean?
curi: See that camera?
Elliot: Yes
curi: Look closer
Camera View: Elliot lunges, reaches out, and things go black

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (7)
I wanted to put up more content yesterday, but I wrote 76 emails and got a bit burnt out. Today I'll probably mostly just watch anime, and write simple things, and answer comments.

I'm finding it a bit disturbing to learn how epistemologically unsophisticated most people are. Few seem to have any notion of what "objective" means, nor of how reality or morality could be objective. Most want to start discussion with definitions. Few understand evolution in its general form. I keep getting asked what perspective my statements are meant to be true from, and also getting laughed at, and also getting confronted with appeals to authority. It's a bit crazy-making.

*ahem* anyway, I'm now going to write something constructive:

"Moonlight Shadow" is a nice piece of music.

Sorry, here's something more useful:

The statement that "morality is relative" is a contradiction, because it says something about the objective nature of morality. The statement "morality is relative for me" similarly fails, because it implies that my morality is also relative, and that everyone's morality is relative, and is again a statement about the objective nature of morality for everyone.

Objective morality is also necessary to explain moral progress, which is a strikingly important part of history, without which most history is incomprehensible.

It is important that we can create true knowledge without certain or even true foundations. For example, even if I don't know what right and wrong mean, precisely, I can still correctly assess some things as right or wrong. If this was not true, there would never be any progress at all.

Here's my favorite Bush quote:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/06/20020601-3.html

Some worry that it is somehow undiplomatic or impolite to speak the language of right and wrong. I disagree. Different circumstances require different methods, but not different moralities. Moral truth is the same in every culture, in every time, and in every place. Targeting innocent civilians for murder is always and everywhere wrong. Brutality against women is always and everywhere wrong. There can be no neutrality between justice and cruelty, between the innocent and the guilty. We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name. By confronting evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem, we reveal a problem. And we will lead the world in opposing it.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)
I watched some episodes of Everwood. [This line altered for, ummm, reasons]

Anyway, I wrote this really good and long blog entry on what I noticed in the show, and then my computer crashed, so ... *sigh*. All you poor readers are gonna miss out v_v

However, I'll redo 2 things:

It's amazing how many bad memes and stereotypes, especially parenting ones and school/teaching ones, can be crammed into 45 minutes.

This girl (Amy) told how she got her first crush (on Colin). Colin stole Amy's doll, and said she had to kiss him to get it back. She kicked him in the nuts. He screamed. Parents came. He blamed the doll for his pain and she didn't get in trouble. So she got a crush b/c he protected her from the parents (who would have wrongly punished her for her morally right self defense). This overlooks the way Colin had badly mistreated her seconds before, and the way Colin should have been the one getting in trouble. And so, I have to scream. (Nice-ish girls hooking up with jerks annoys me).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)
I just read an article I found on LGF. It discusses the accidental Israeli attack on a US ship during the six day war in 1967. Basically, there was bad luck and mistakes on both sides, and some miscommunication; Israel thought it was an enemy ship, and attacked (and figured out its mistake and offered assistance without even sinking the ship). Bad stuff happens in war. Oh well v_v (sad face, like ^_^ but reversed).

Except, that's not the end of the story. Apparently, there are a lot of conspiracy theory loonies out there, including US government officials, who think Israel intentionally attacked the US ship. How absurd! Said loonies piss me off.

If anyone disagrees, please write a comment.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)