Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Quote of the Week, 2014-10-22

I do not see any reason to to suppose that the points and instants which mathematicians introduce in dealing with space and time are actual physically existing entities, but I do see reasons to suppose that the continuity of of actual space and time may be more or less analogous to the mathematical continuity. The theory of mathematical continuity is an abstract logical theory, not dependent for its validity upon any properties of actual space and time.

Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World, Lecture 5


Can you tell what I have been reading lately?

Russell regularly regales against philosophers who put their metaphysics as being, and here he sets his own standard for himself; the best he does is work with something somewhat analogous. I've been talking about philosophy as constructing models for reality since the very first of this blog. We never can know if we have a perfect model of reality, only if we have one that's working for our needs.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Quote of the Week, 2014-10-15

There is not any superfine brand of knowledge, obtainable by the philosopher, which can give us a standpoint from which to from which to criticize the whole of daily life. The most that can be done is to examine and purify our common knowledge by an internal scrutiny, assuming the canons by which it has been obtained, and applying them with more care and precision. Philosophy cannot boast of having achieved such a degree of certainty that it can have authority to condemn the facts of experience and the laws of science.

Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World, Lecture 3


Russell was a logical realist, in that he believed the principals of logic were basic facts; I am closer to being a fictionalist, in that I believe they are constructed by humans, for humans, and have been used to create a useful model that is simple enough to be understood and flexible enough to handle many things. So, I would agree with this quote from Russsell even more strongly than, perhaps, he would.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Quote of the week, 2014-10-08

But if human conceit was staggered for a moment by its kinship with the ape, it soon found a way to reassert itself, and that way is the "philosophy" of evolution. A process which led from the amoeba to man appeared to the philosophers to be obviously a progress--though whether the amoeba would agree with this opinion is not known.

Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World, Lecture 1

Of course, we know that evolution does not teach there is a process from amoeba to men, but rather, that amoebas and men have a common ancestry of a population of single-celled animals that we might call (for the purposes of this discussion) early eukaryotes. I don't know if Russell was aware of this inaccuracy or not; he makes this sentence in the process of describing philosophical positions, not biology, and so moves on quickly to philosophies that supposedly use evolution as a basis (of which he is not fond).

Still, I agree that the early eukaryotes may not consider either lines of their descendants to have progressed.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Quote of the week, 2014-10-01

Everyone knows that to read an author simply in order to refute him is not the way to understand him; and to read the book of Nature with a conviction that it is all an illusion is just as unlikely to lead to understanding.

Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World, Lecture 2

I am far overdue to respond to some posts by TheOFloinn. I will try to keep this in mind in my responses.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Suggested Kickstarter: Augie and the Green Knight

There's another interesting children's book on Kickstarter, Augie and the Green Knight: A Children's Adventure Book.



This one is already funded. An magical adventure about a skeptical, science-minded girl in a world of fantasy. What's not to love?

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Suggested Kickstarter: The Freethinker's Book of Fables

There's 17 days left in this Kickstarter.

The Freethinker's Book of Fables

I'll be contributing.

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Knowledge, but little mastery

I've been doing a lot of reading of others, but haven't had much to say in a blog post lately. One of the things I've realized is that every blogger engages in a lot of repetition, making the same points over and over in response to new circumstances. So far, I haven't been motivated to do that. So, that's why I have not said much lately. However, I'm thinking about starting up again. I do have a point of view that I don't see expressed often, i.e., that formal knowledge (the understanding of the creation of argumentation forms and their use) is a distinct type of knowledge from either empirical knowledge (gained from experimentation and exploration in the natural world) or first principles (basic values and understandings that we hold without evidence).

While I'm still mulling that over, today's comic from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal hit another dimension of some things I've read.

One of the notions I've read is that science changed from understanding the natural, in an appreciation of Aristotle's four causes and an attempt to encourage them, to an attempt at mastery. In particular, that science has abandoned the notion of form (the proper shape of something, that the something always seeks to emulate) and purpose (the reason for something to exist, with a thing's goodness being tied up in how well exhibits/accomplishes this reason). Supposedly, this freed up science to be about mastery of the world and shaping it into want men wished it to be, as opposed to what it was supposed to be.

The problems with this view are numerous, and I have discussed some of them before. However, one I don't recall mentioning is that it diminishes the sense of wonder, awe, and helplessness we feel at our inability to master nature. We had to give up respecting made-up natures to appreciate actual nature. It was a good trade.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gaming review, 11/23

Four games this week, which wasn't bad for the day after the holiday.

We started off with 7 Wonders, no expansions.  I don't usually go the military route, but I was dealt Rhodes, so I played to my strength.  It was a five-player game, but two of the players had a total of one game of prior experience.  The five-player games seems to have a lot of resources compared to the one for four and three players.  I came in first.

Next up was Cloud 9, light filler while the other group was finishing up their game.  Again with five players, I guessed poorly, and came in fourth.

Third was the only new (to me) game of the evening,
Beowolf:  The Legend
.  You start off with a hand that has some of five types of resources, and use those resources in two different types of bidding.  There is blind bidding, where everyone bids once by laying cards face-down, and round-robin bidding, where you have to beat the previous bidder to stay in the round.  Every player gets to choose a prize after each type of bidding (sometimes the last couple of choices are actually penalties). There are also opportunities to improve your hand or score in between bidding rounds.  The group travels the board with Beowolf together, the only random aspect is the drawing of cards.  I had a nice time with it.

I ended the evening with Alien Frontiers.  We had to play a shortened game because the venue was closing, with three players.  The winner had seven points, the other two had six.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Gaming review, 10/26

Only two games this time.

I started with a 4-player game of Seasons. The person teaching it had only played 2-player games before, and said 4-player was much more chaotic. Some of the cards had the opposite impact of what I expected (making things easier instead of harder for the opponents, for example). We ran out of power cards, and had to decide on-the-spot to reshuffle the deck (a gap in the rules). There is, apparently, a more difficult level with trickier power cards. I came in second. I would try it again, but I don't think I'll be calling for it.

The second game was Dominion, a game that uses a different set of ten types of cards from a huge selection (I think there are well over 100+ card types) to go with standard sets of money and victory point cards. It plays differently every time. This time, I completely misread the card Fool's Gold. In a three-player game, I came in second (and third was right behind me), but with less than half the points of the victor. I think this was my fifth game. I just might be getting the hang of it.

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gaming Reveiw, 9/29

I'm part of a monthly gaming group, and I've decided to use this blog to keep track of what I have played there.  I'll also be returning to other topics soon.  The games we played last night are below the fold.

We strted with an 8-player game of Tsuro of the Seas, which I had not played before.  I had only played the original Tsuro once, but I prefer it.  The addition of daikaiju (sea monsters) and the larger board seemed to prolong the game while reducing the strategy.  I came in fifth.

Next was Cartegena, which uses a pirate theme behind a modular board and a game based on jumping symbols.  The strategy was deeper than I thought it would be from the description, even though we were playing with hidden cards.  There are some very difficult decisions because if you jump to a lead, your opponents can use your piece to jump even further.  I took an early lead against four other players and managed to keep it.

Third was Cloud 9, a nice, light filler.  I guessed badly  on a couple of turns, and took fifth place out of five.

We finished with Zooleretto, which had an interesting combination of luck in drawing tiles and skill in trying to get the tiles you want and avoid the ones you do not want.  I mis-guessed what a couple of my opponents would do, and came in second out of four, but not a close second.

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Review of DieCon 12

Last weekend was DieCon.  It's a game convention in Collinsville, IL.  I haven't been to a convention in 25 years, so I was nervous, but really excited as well.  I had a great time, and saw many of the regulars I see from the St. Louis Board Games group at Meetup.com (I'm in the meet-up on the last Friday of the month, Metro East).  I had a great time, and plan to go back next year.  The facilities were spacious and comfortable, and everyone was pleasant.  Below the fold I will discuss all the game I played and my reaction to them.

My first session was Friday, 7pm, for Morris Cubed.  This was a three-dimensional version of Nine Men's Morris.  It was the work a a nice gentleman named Alan, who has apparently sold one set to far.  The third dimension made the game interesting, but I think it created a sort of leader effect, although perhaps no more than in the regular game.  In each game, the winner was able to create a very stable structure in two of the three dimensions, one that was difficult to attack.  We split two games.

Friday at 9 was Dominion, the only game at the convention that I had played before last weekend. This was my third time playing, and I started to understand some of the ideas behind reducing your deck. I played two five-player games, coming in second and fifth.

Saturday at 9am was Quicksilver, a game about racing airships across a terrain.  It was a basically-finished, unprinted game (the link is to the Kickstarter).  There were some important choices, but not really difficult choices, and there was a small amount of player interaction, but it was basically a racing game.  The person running the game arrived late, and I left shortly before the game ended to get to the next game on time, but was on track to finis 3rd or 4th, I think.

The following game, Puerto Rico, is one of the classic in the modern game era. I started with a corn farm under the standard rules (and so a slight advantage, it seems), and I was pleased with my game, except I made a big mistake on the final turn, and wound up not scoring points that turn. I was 5th in a 5-player game, I think, but could have been third.

After a break, at 2 pm I was scheduled to play Ninja, but the person who was scheduled to run the game never showed up.  For a short while, I played Abalone with someone who had just showed his niece how to play. It was a lot of fun, and winning certainly enhanced the experience. Then, someone else came by who happened to know Ninja, so we started that game. It's a game with one side having hidden movement while the other side is trying to catch them, and I did not really enjoy it much.

Next up at 4pm was a play test of the very raw Minimum Wage Gorilla, by Split Second Games, who also are doing Quicksilver. Minimum Wage Gorilla is a blind bidding game with a cute theme. I think the game was slightly too long, long enough that I made it a point to increase my bidding force by "hiring" more gorillas in three of the first six rounds (since only one person can hire at a time, this was a commitment of resources). It gave me a large advantage for later rounds, and I won fairly easily.

I ended the evening with the only four-hour game I selected, Le Havre. I was in a five-player game. There were an increasing number of choices as the game went on. I think I made some short-term decisions that were inferior to some 4-5 turn plans. Since with 5 players it is a 28-turn game per player, planning ahead 4-5 turns can pay off well. I came in third, though, and I had a good time doing it.

Sunday morning, 9am, I went off to Hawaii, at least in the imagination. There were only three of us. I think I was lucky on the initial turn, in that there was an option available that mean I would have as many movement points as I needed for the rest of the game. I fell behind early, but made up for it in the final scoring and eked out a one-point win.

Next on the itinerary was London, and again there were only three of us. I think I got lucky in the early going, and was able to choose a couple of high-cash options the first time I collected for my layout. Even so, I found myself doing some intense calculations trying to get my cards to come out with the proper count. I managed to pull out a win here, as well.

My final game was another gem by Alan, called Brigade.  We each started with 18 brigades, which we cold group into divisions and corps (but not armies). Grouping carried power advantages, but disadvantages in mobility. I played with a pleasant young man, Alan watching on, and again split two games. I really enjoyed this game.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My take on the shooting of Trayvon Martin

 There's an aspect of the Trayvon Martin shooting I have not seen discussed much. It's probably due to the limited circle that I read. Most people seem eager to justify Zimmerman's actions, such as The Wagist. He has a theory that Martin actually initiated a first confrontation with Zimmerman, and then attacked Zimmerman when Zimmerman initiated the second. Even if you grant all this, and everything else he proposes, giving Zimmerman every reasonable consideration that is available, it does not change that Zimmerman is a murderer, at least ethically and morally (legally, I'll leave up to the justice system). I'll discuss more below the fold.

First, though, let's be clear: to the degree that race exists at all, Zimmerman is white. Any of his features will be found in people of European ancestry. Hispanic is a cultural background, not a race. He looks white, and gets treated as if he is white by strangers. He’s white in every effective way.

So, Martin was a young black man in an unfamiliar neighborhood in the South being followed by a white man. Martin was alone and unarmed; for all he knew there may have been many people in the car. The first thing that would have come to my mind was being killed (maybe lynched, maybe dragged behind the car, maybe just being beaten). It's not a huge likelihood, but it's a notion you can't get out of your head, either. Martin visibly reacts to the potential threat by pulling up his hood and walking faster. This reaction is visible to Zimmerman.

At this point, Zimmerman knows that Martin is aware of being followed. Zimmerman has deterred the potential (in Zimmerman's eyes) crime, just by making the potential (in Zimmerman's eyes) criminal aware there is a someone watching. Further, a burglar had just been arrested, lowering the chance of Martin being a burglar. Zimmerman has done his duty in the neighborhood watch; there is no reason for him to keep following Martin. Yet, he does keep following Martin.

According to the theory at The Wagist, at some point Martin knocks on the window of Zimmerman’s car and asks Zimmerman why Zimmerman is following Martin. At this point, Zimmerman could say he’s keeping watch, and has called the police. Instead, Zimmerman lies about following Martin. As Martin walks off, Zimmerman then has the choice to stop following Martin at this point. Instead, he follows Martin again. So, if this theory is true, Martin is now being followed by a strange man who has lied to Martin about following Martin. That raises the danger level even more in Martin’s eyes.

Whether the theory is accurate or not, Martin starts running. So, now Zimmerman has actually chased off the (to Zimmerman) potential burglar. Even though he has not seen a crime, he has scared the kid/young man away. In terms of protecting the neighborhood, there is nothing to be gained from further pursuit, because Zimmerman hasn’t seen anything illegal. He’s only seen a kid/young man walking along, and maybe had a short conversation where Zimmerman lied about what he was doing. When you run someone off, you don’t pursue them if you are just trying to protect your turf. You pursue them if you are looking to confront them (at least, where I grew up). Zimmerman pursues. Even if Zimmerman is not intending to confront Martin, Zimmerman is creating a situation where it looks like Zimmerman’s intention is to confront Martin.

Martin has now done everything that can be expected of him to avoid a confrontation. He walked faster, possibly confronted Zimmerman for an explanation, and then ran off. Zimmerman has pursued Martin throughout, never identifying himself as part of the neighborhood watch or anything other than a white man following a black man in the South. So, when Martin sees Zimmerman again, after running off, he has two choices: lead this stranger to his father’s house (assuming he hasn’t got confused in the dark, unfamiliar neighborhood and even knows where it is in his excited state), or confront him directly. We know from the girlfriend’s testimony that Martin yells at Zimmerman a request for why Zimmerman is following him (possibly for the second time). Zimmerman refuses to answer the question (possibly for the second time), and instead demands that Martin has to explain his presence. Maybe Zimmerman didn’t intend that to be a threat, but I would have heard a threat behind it (black men considered to be in places they don’t belong are regularly reminded of such with beatings, and worse). Martin quite possibly responds to the perceived threat by attacking Zimmerman. A fight ensues; the gun Zimmerman brought to the confrontation Zimmerman initiated goes off; Martin is dead.

Of course, if someone feels I’ve overlooked something that would cast things more favorably on Zimmerman, feel free to let me know, and I will amend this post if it is reasonable. However, this description is as much in Zimmerman’s favor as I can reasonably skew this. The end result is that Zimmerman brought the gun and initiated the confrontation; he’s ethically responsible for Martin’s death. Zimmerman hid what he was doing at least once; he’s morally responsible for Martin’s death. As I said, I’ll leave legally for the upcoming trial.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

On the limits of formal systems

You can do some very interesting things with formal systems, such as chess, philosophy, or mathematics. You can create true beauty that has the advantage of being eminently useful or making a personal profit. You can make predictions from baseline assumptions and expose inconsistencies. However, there are many things you can’t do, and one of the easiest ones to forget is one of the most important: you can’t prove something using formal logic that exceeds your assumptions. I discuss this further below the fold.

I will start with one of the illustrations that we use for implications, a Venn diagram.


The basic idea of any implication is a subset. The conditions that create the hypothesis (what you assume to be true) are a subset of the conditions that create the conclusion (what you are demonstrating to be true). Since the entire calculus of classical log can be expressed using implications and the word “not”, that means that all of classical logic is basically a verbose form of set theory.

One aspect of this notion is that all implications are downhill, or at best level, in the restrictions imposed upon the model by the statements involved. You reason from the more restrictive, harder to match, less flexible model to the less restrictive, easier to match, more flexible model. This is the only way implications can work, therefore the only way classical logic can work.

Of course, sometimes the implication is just not there. You find yourself with a hypothesis that covers too much ground, and has too much flexibility to support the conclusion.


You can make a couple of choices at this point. One of the most common ones is to increase the number of hypotheses. When you require that all the various hypotheses are true, you are restricting your model even more. You wind up with a much smaller model, as you can see by the blue region.


Now, if we combine the previous two diagrams, we can see that adding additional hypotheses has allowed us to restrict our starting model to the point where we can prove the conclusion.


Of course, most philosophy, and for that matter most mathematics, is done with commonly spoken language as opposed to a formal language. This makes it easy for people to sneak in hypotheses, often without even being aware that is what they are doing. This is even truer when the proof is particularly important to them, such as when it is being used to support a religious position. For example, if someone tells you about a proof that the existence of change (an unrestrictive, easily matched, flexible starting point) can be used to prove the existence of God (a moderately restrictive, not as easily matched, less flexible conclusion), you know that something will be incorrect even before you dig into the proof. Using logic and metaphysics, you can’t prove the existence of God unless you assume such strong hypotheses that, by comparison, God’s existence is less restrictive option. Logic just does not work that way.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Geometry proofs are backwards

While I have not been technically on hiatus, I have been playing a lot of Civilization IV lately, rather than blogging. Yes, I realize the latest release is Civilization V. However, by staying one step behind the curve, I get several benefits. I can buy a complete set at a single time, instead of buying all the expansions separately, and the price is much reduced that way.

Meanwhile, I'm still teaching Elementary Geometry on Saturday mornings. One of the most important aspects of the course is teaching proofs. While there is a subset that will use the geometry itself, there is a larger group that will require training in the type of thinking that these proofs use. Anyone working in the legal field, for example, will need to know how to put together a proof. Yet, the traditional way of writing proofs seems backwards to me.

This is how I typically present on proof on a test:












Notice that the statements are on the left, while the reasons for those statements is on the right. That is backwards to me. Americans read left-to-right, and that puts the statements as something that comes before the reasons when you read a proof. However, the reasons are the connections between that line of the proof and the lines that precede it. Formally, you take the prior information and the reason, put them together using a law of logic or two, and produce the statement.

Of course, the design is traditional. One of my retirement plans is to write a good textbook for teaching Geometry at community colleges (they have good texts for Pre-algebra, Algebra I, and Algebra, but Geometry seems to be confined to high-school texts. In today's world, that would mean creating video segments and an on-line interactive homework system (our college uses MathXL, but they have no Geometry test listed) as well as writing the book with a little less flash and a fewer pictures of kids. When I do, I think I will write the proofs with reasons on the left, and maybe moved up a half-line.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Evolution without teleology

The OFloinn recently posted on the existence of teleological principles in evolutionary theory over on his blog. TheOFloinn is certainly a better writer than I am. He writes with style, but that doesn't really make up for the lack of understanding regarding the material, or the lack of imagination being applied, which I'll discuss below the fold. I won't cover everything I dislike in his post, but hit a few items of interest. Overall, his point is to support the notion of importing formal and final causes back into science, which Artistotelians always seem to find lacking in scientific theories.

One of the early footnotes set an interesting tone.
Oddly, Mendel's work and the support from his Order are seldom mentioned during debates about church-science relationships.
The odd part is why a priest doing science, as ascientist, or a church sponsoring research into an area they do not find objectionable, would be relevant to the church-science debate. I don't think anyone objects to religious people doing science, or even science being funded by religious organizations. The issue with church-science relationships come from churches discarding, adjusting, altering, ignoring, and/or contradicting the results of science in order to preserve their preferred notion of reality. For example, when abstinence-only education classes (or people working in AIDS ministries) teach that condoms don't protect against HIV because viruses are smaller than the natural holes in latex, or when scientific funding is cut from research because a legal procedure is not supposed to be encouraged, or when children go unvaccinated because some people don't believe in puncturing the skin, the actions of the church affect everyone, even non-church members. I could only wish that sponsoring a few experiments was the extent of church-science relationships.

Later, after a recap of the well-known problem of defining a species, a solution is offered:
Darwin's problem with "species" was due to his dislike of and lack of background in philosophy; for "species" is first of all a philosophical term. It is in fact an example of formal causation, which Darwin and other Moderns are taught to deny. The form is that in virtue of which a thing is what it is.
Whatever else a species is, within biology it is not in any way a philosophical term, but one of mating potential. The fuzziness of the boundary for species does not make the idea philosophical; it means you can not quantize the concept in simple steps, but must treat it as a continuum. The putative use of form would not improve our ability to determine a species. My form is different from my third son's form (for example, we have different eye colors resulting from different eye coloration processes), even though due to the commonality within our forms, we are both of the human species. Trying to redefine species as a concept of forms adds no clarity at all to the species problem, and in particular does not alter the continuum to a simple categorization. This is an example of using a "problem" (which is not really a problem, except to people who like simple categories) to promote a position, when the position acutally does nothing to solve the "problem". TheOFloinn presents a type of thinking where the usefulness of forms is presumed, therefore forms are declared useful; that type of thinking offers no genuine insight.

Things get even more amusing when discussing the notion of finality in physical systems. We see a two-part attempt at evidence for them, which I'll address separately.
There is telos in physical systems.
1. Systems move toward attractor basins, toward equilibrium manifolds; chemical reactions run to completion, then stop. The equilibrium state may be an orbit or a resonating reaction, but this is still a "finality" to the physical process. An inanimate system tends to minimize its potential function, even if it does not intend to do so.
There is a confusion here between the achieving of a final state and the entry into stochastically equivalent interactions. Really, the only true final state of matter is complete entropy, the primary form of which is the lack of a structured form, the lack of telos. Chemical reactions run to increased entropy, stopping when the entropy is maximized, the form is least effective, and any interpretation of final cause has little play. You might say the 'final cause' of matter is to shed anything that looks lie final cause.
2. The evolution of species is more teleological than a river "seeking" the lowest attainable gravitational potential. Living beings have an integrated wholeness and possess inner principles that inanimate bodies do not. A petunia is a bag of chemicals; but it is not only a bag of chemicals. For so long as it is alive, it does things that a bag of chemicals cannot do. This is why biology at one and the same time "is not a hard science" like physics and chemistry, and also "a much harder science" than physics and chemistry.
This is an attempt to appeal to our sense that living things are in some sense superior, but it fails upon close examination. A non-living bag of chemicals identical in composition to a petunia will be undergoing processes that no petunia undergoes, just as the reverse is true. Further, I'm not convinced that biology is any less a hard science, or harder, that the more esoteric branches of physics and chemistry. Since the rvery basics reactions of biology are just physics and chemistry, it's really a matter of direction, not difference in hardness.

TheOFloinn also seems to easily confuse metaphor with meaning.
The very terms of evolution are redolent with telos.

Natural selection.
Adaptation.
Struggle for existence.
Striving to reproduce.
Even when we dive down deep into the gene, we find teleological terms like "information" and genetic "code."
Natrual selection is ultimately a probabalistic term, referring to long-term tendencies to survive, not any sort of true selection process. Adaptation is the outcome of the long-term survival tendency within a changing environment. The struggle for existence and the striving to reproduce are also fundamentally stochastic events. Information, when stored in a linear medium such as a gene, is maximized by randomness. The genetic code is really just the chemical process where amino acids are inserted based on a particular sequence. There is no need to telos in interpreting these concepts, and no advantage offered by so doing.

It is often said that these terms are just metaphors; but metaphor is the business of literature, not of science. No one has yet successfully "cashed out" terms like adaptation for non-teleological expressions.
Actually, metaphor is a mental shorcut, whether in literature or in science. Scientists use them to abbreviate, illustrate, and categorize. TheOFloinn is kidding himself about there being no translation of the metaphors into non-teleological language; the translations are easily available on-line. They're also longer and more cumbersome to a mammal brain with an inherent bias to look for purpose.

The essence of the Scientific Revolution was a shift in scientific focus from the contemplation of the beauty of nature to the enslavement of nature to man's dominion over the universe. ... Insight into nature is seldom touted; only its practical spin-off.
He must read other scientists than I. There's no shortage of eloquence on the beauty in the study of stars, zebraish, or rock formations from the same blogger that dismiss final causes as irrelevant and unnecessary.

Edward Blyth, who described natural selection twenty years before Wallace and Darwin (but who did not call it by that name), proposed it as the engine that maintained the species type by de-selecting variants that were not up to snuff. ... Now it is easy to see that Blyth was correct.
Both correct and incorrect. Natural selection does not tend to maintain the species type nor to alter it. To the extent that is metaphorically does anything, it increases the percentage of the population that can take better advantage of the environment. This increase may narrow or broaden the differences in a population over generations.

In an article that I have long lost, these factors were summarized as follows:

The genetic factor: the tendency to variation resulting from constant small random mutations in the genetic code; i. e., a variety of differing individuals within a species capable of transmitting their differences
The epigenetic factor: the tendency of interbreeding population to reproduce itself in a stable manner and increase in numbers; i. e., the maintenance of type
The selective factor: natural selection by the environment which eliminates those variants which are less effective in reproducing their kind; i. e., the agent determining in which direction species-change will take place
The exploitative factor: the flexibility of living things by which they are able to occupy new niches in the changing environment; i. e., a feed-back mechanism which guides the selective process toward a new type which can exploit new environmental possibilities
Which the Aristotelians among you may recognize as

Material cause
Formal cause
Efficient cause
Final cause

Naturally, we see near the end plea to the four causes of Aristotle. As usual, in evolutionary terms, it turns out that the appeals to formal and final causes are not actual causes at all. There is no tendency to reproduce in a stable manner (unstable reproduction occurs regularly), rather the actions of chemicals. I actually have no problem with the idea of form as a description of the processes undergone, but it does not act beyond the inertia supplied by the underlying physics, and the physics is neutral on the maintenance of some "type". There is no guidance of the selective process, merely a stochastic effect that increases certain traits among members of populations, and a primate species that found the shortcut of interpreting events as if they had a purpose to be a handy survival technique, even when the purpose was non-existant.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On the intellectual honesty of atheism

Ilion, whose handle is inseparable from the phrase "intellectually dishonest", recently linked to a post he claims present the proof that atheists are indeed intellectually dishonest. The proof itself is somewhat out-of-order. Below the fold, I'll try putting it together in a more traditional fashion as well as looking at the various axioms, to judge the soundness of the proof. Those who wish to see the original form can use the link.

Everything in the indented section, except for the outline numbers, is a direct quote from Ilion's post. I am trying to sort out axioms (A) from logically proven propositions based on those axioms (P). When statements are basically repetitions of other statements, they may be given the same outline number, or deleted.
A1) When an entity reasons, it chooses to move from one thought or concept to another based on (its understanding of) the content of the concepts and of the logical relationship between them.

A2) GIVEN the reality of the natural/physical/material world, IF atheism were indeed the truth about the nature of reality, THEN everything which exists and/or transpires must be wholly reducible, without remainder, to purely physical/material states and causes.

A3) This "everything" (which exists and must be wholly

P1) IF atheism were indeed the truth about the nature of reality, THEN this movement from (what we call) thought to though (which activity or change-of-mental-state we call 'reasoning') *has* to be caused by, and must be wholly explicable in terms of, state-changes of matter. That is, it is not the content of, and logical relationship between, two thoughts which prompts a reasoning entity to move from the one thought to the other, but rather it is some change-of-state of some matter which determines that an entity "thinks" any particular "thought" when it does.

P2) ... there exist entities and events in the world which are not wholly reducible, without remainder, to purely physical/material states and causes,

P3) ... the denial that 'God is' is a false proposition.

Well, this is somewhat incomplete, but the completion seems straightforward. Let's put this in a prepositional calculus form. First, I'll lay out the bare argument.

Z = "atheism is true"
C(x) = "x changes based on the content of concepts and logical relationships"
R(x) = "x reasons"
F(x) = "x exists or changes solely on the basis of material causes"
T(x) = "x is a mind"
E(x) = "x exists"

Then, I'll rewrite Ilion's statements above.
A1) R(x) ⇒ C(x)
A2) Z ⇒ ∀x(E(x)⇒F(x))
A3) T(x) ⇒ E(x)
P1) Z ⇒ ∀x(R(x)⇒F(x))
P2) ~∀xF(x)
P3) ~Z

Let's add a couple of axioms needed to fill this out, which I suspect were meant to be implied.
B1) ∃x(T(x) & R(x))
B2) C(x) ⇒ ~F(x)

The (shortened) proof is in the table below. Note that this proof does not work without B1 and B2.
1ZAssumed for contradiction
2∀x(E(x)⇒F(x))1, A2
3T(c) & R(c)B1
4T(c)B1
5E(c)B1, A3
6F(c)1, B1, A2, A3
7R(c)B1
8C(c)B1, A1
9~F(c)B1, A1, B2
10F(c) & ~F(c)1, A1, A2, A3, B1, B2
11~ZA1, A2, A3, B1, B2

This proof is valid. The soundness of this proof is questionable on more than one front (Elizabeth Liddle questioned a different axiom); I want to look at B2. If a change is based in part on concepts and/or logical relationships (CLR, for short), does that imply it is not based solely on material causes? I disagree. I would say that changes based on CLR are actually based solely on material causes.

My position is that CLR are patterned-yet-material reactions in the brain to material stimuli. We react with the same pattern of brain reactions to similar stimuli, and name these reactions the process of reasoning. Different people will likely store different physical patterns, but they will create the same behavior when reasoning.

So, as opposed to C(x) ⇒ ~F(x), I would say C(x) ⇒ F(x), rendering the proof unworkable. Naturally, should Ilion offer alternative versions of B1/B2, I'll take another look.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Response to a post by The OFloinn

The OFloinn's blog doesn't allow me to comment, and he had a post, pointed out to me by another commentator, that I wanted to offer a couple of small comments on, below the fold. As Thomastic writers go, he's got a light-hearted style that makes him an easy read. I give him credit for that. Since this is a Thomasian poster/blog/argument, I'll be trying to frame this in Thomasian terms, to the best of my limited ability.

Now modern genetics does not falsify the Adam and Eve tale for the excellent reason that it does not address the same matter as the Adam and Eve tale. One is about the origin of species; the other is about the origin of sin. One may as well say that a painting of a meal falsifies haute cuisine.

I agree modern genetics doesn’t say much about the Fall, but it has a much harder time filling in with modern anthropology. For the Fall to be true, it requires that Adam and Eve live far enough back that they can be ancestors of all humans, possess sufficient Intellect to understand and communicate concerning the concepts required of them, and possess sufficient Will to deliberately reject those concepts. So, we have people with an operative language. However, the archeological record shows that humans were using writing technology to track numbers abstractly some 24,000 years before they used similar technology to track verbal concepts abstractly. That's a long time to wait to apply an existing technology in a new way.

Evolution points to the answer. Darwin tells us that at some point an ape that was not quite a man gave birth to a man that was no longer quite an ape.

First, note the inherent sexism. It's a man that gets the ability first, according to the narrative.

Second, even more surely than you can count on scientists to make bad philosophical statements, you can count on philosophers to make bad scientific statements. Evolution tells us that humans are apes. There is no sensible evolutionary organization of apes that excludes humans. You can separate humans from a group containing chimpanzees and bonobos, or from gorillas, evolutionarily. If you want to put chimpanzees and gorillas (or chimpanzees and any other species besides the bonobos) into the same evolutionary grouping, humans will belong there.

Further, this is even true in Thomasian terms. My understanding is that one school thinks that living things can participate in many forms, in which case humans participate in the form of Ape. Another school would say each thing has its own form, and that terms like "ape" are categories of forms. Again, by any reasonable definition (that is, one not specifically designed to exclude humans) of this collection, humans will be categorized as apes.

Yet when the Coynes of the world want to tell us 'what Christians believe,' they agitate over the idiosyncratic beliefs of Bill and Ted's Excellent Bible Shack, whose teachings go back to last Tuesday. Go figure.

People respond to the religions of their culture, and the US is dominated by those last Tuesdayers.

There is an argument similar to Zeno's Paradox of Dichotomy that holds that sapient man arose by slow, gradual increments. That is, arguing from the continuum rather than from the quanta.

This completely overlooks the argument from the plane, or n-space. Pregnancy entails separate steps (for example, arrival in the uterus and fertilization of the ovum). Sapience consists of different aspects (generalization, separation of immediate stimulus from remembered stimulus, separation of pattern from individual instances), all of which are possessed by mammals in differing degrees.

Now, "a little bit sapient" is like "a little bit pregnant." It may be only a little, but it is a lot more than not sapient at all. There is, after all, no first number after zero, and however small the sapience, one can always cut it in half and claim that that much less sapience preceded it. But however long and gradual is the screwing-in of the light bulb, the light is either on or off.

There is no good reason to think positive numbers or light bulbs represent good models of sapience.

It is not clear how Dr. Coyne envisions the same sapient mutation arising simultaneously in 10,000 ape-men.

There is no reason to think the physical mutations that allowed sapience where followed by immediate sapience, either. Sapience comes at least in part from a learning the process of being sapient. The physical tools for sapience could have been present for a million years or more before the cultural tools for sapience began to develop. It that happened, even under the on/off model of sapience offered, sapience would have spread inside of a population of 10,000 with a couple of generations, with kids learning it from adults who were not their parents or from the other kids they played with.

Except, The OFloinn allows his metaphysics, founded in religious beliefs, to prevent him from considering this possibility. Original can't be passed from playmate to playmate, it must pass parent-to-child. Therefore sapience must pass the same way.

The anathemas of the Council of Trent mention only Adam.

It's not Eve's fault, she was just a woman.

And so we might imagine Adam sitting around the campfire after an exciting hunt and remembering the bison they had chased and the moment of truth and he suddenly utters the hunting cry that signifies "bison here!" A cry that is in principle no different from those made by other animals, and possibly his fire-mates look about in alarm for the bison the cry signifies.

We might imagine a bee, looking for a new location for a hive, see the location for it, and then returning to the hive and doing a special dance that all the other bees interpret as telling them about the new hive. Except, we have actually observed it, as well.

But in all likelihood, his ability to speak in abstractions -- to speak of 'bison' rather than any particular bison -- is coterminous with his sapience.

So, will the OFloinn venture that bees are sapient? I find it unlikely.

But Adam is different. Having a rational human form in addition to his sensitive animal form, he is capable of knowing the good.

Sure, he just has three words, but he knows what it means to be good.

But for Adam to know the good means that Adam is now capable of turning away from the good.

Notice that "capable of knowing the good" has transformed into "know the good" in the blink of an eye. I wonder if Adam had time to draw a breath in between?

Well, that's enough for one post. The rest is not much different.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

I'll be wearing black

My employers (both the day and the teaching job) are commemorating the Twin Towers Tragedy tomorrow by encouraging people to wear red, white and blue. I'll be wearing black. I don't judge anyone else for the colors they choose to wear. However, for me wearing the flag colors is for celebrating. It's for days like Flag Day or Independence Day. I don't see anything celebratory for the Twin Towers Tragedy. I mourn for the victims, respect the heroes (such as the first-responders), and denigrate the attackers. I don't associate respect or denigration with any particular color, but black is the color of mourning for me, and thus it will be the color I wear.

If politicians really want to commemorate the occasion, do it by covering the costs of cancer among the first responders. Maybe we can't show any individual cancer is connected to the response effort, but we know they are, as a group, victims to an elevated rate of cancer to a degree that is statistically significant. The worst that happens is we spend a little extra money treating cancer in heroes when they did not receive that cancer directly linked to that particular day of heroism. I can't affect the passage of those laws, but I can and will wear black for those heroes, as well.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Biology, forms, and natural law

I've been reading up on Aristotelian forms, and I think I now understand them much better than before. In brief, forms are the processes that a thing undergoes as a part of being what that thing is. This has some interesting consequences for Aristotelian metaphysics, from what I can tell. For one thing, it pretty much ends the notion of natural law, because there is no sort of being to which a natural law could apply, and even if there were, there is no overall good to which natural law can appeal. More details below the fold.

The first point, that there is no being to which natural law could apply, is based in this notion:
No thing can be a mereological sum of other things. A heap of sand, then, is not a thing, for it is nothing but the mereological sum of the grains of sand. Whether the grains of sand are things or not is a more difficult question.
It’s actually not a difficult question. The grains themselves are composed of molecules, and the molecules are composed of physically separated items like electrons and protons, each acting according to its own form. However, there is no question of an electron behaving morally. Under Aristotelianism, every electron behaves according to its own form perfectly. There are no imperfect electrons. Since any larger object is the mereological sum of the various subatomic particles, with the apparent unity being the sum of the behaviors of the individual particles, every larger object will act according to the sum of the respective forms. Thus every action is in concord with the mereological sum of the forms, and there is no non-good action. That means all actions are in accord with natural law, rendering it moot.

As for the second point, let's say for the moment biological organisms actually were things, because we allowed certain sums of subatomic things to be things in their own right, and these included biological organisms. Then, it turns out every biological organism is a thing with its own unique form. For example, my form is certainly different than my mother's, since my natural processes have made me male and she was female. My form is also different from my father's since his natural processes made his hair red, and then (opaque) white, while mine has been brown, and is slowly going translucent. So, when people talk about the form of a dog in the general, it turns out there is no such thing. Every dog has its own form, and every person has their own form. Rather, we can talk about common characteristics of dogs, or humans, but no some or subset of these characteristics is the form of a dog, or a human. Natural law claims depend upon the use of something being consistent with its purpose, which purpose is deduced from its form, but since every form is different, there is no barrier for the proper use of the penis on one man being different from the proper use of the penis in another man. Hence, the use of the penis in a homosexual relationship by homosexuals is in fact moral. Actually, since the form changes from person to person, and every person acts according to the processes that make up that person, even child molesters are following the dictates of their forms. Natural law is reduced to acknowledging every action as moral.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Finding the delay of a clock without using the Lorentz transformations, part 2

In my previous post, I discussed how Jill would measure the time delay of a clock she was approaching at .6c without using the Lorentz transformations. I don't know if this has been done, but experiments like this could certainly serve as another validation of SR. However, in particular I'm trying to point out that Jill, regardless of whether she is moving, does not measure Jack's clock to be going faster.

I just edited the previous post to add some more information, including about how Jack can use the same reasoning to show the time delay in Jill clock is by a factor of .8, without using the Lorentz transform. This post will be about how Jill can make the same observation for clock1 (although the calculation is different), and an observer at clock1 would be able to make the reciprocal observation about Jill. Details are below the fold.

Since Jill and clock1 are moving away from each other, rather than toward each other, the diagram is different (and actually simpler). Jill still sees her clock move from 0 to 8 on her journey from clock1 to Jack, however, at the end of the trip cloc1 is read 4. That means Jill sees two of her own seconds to pass for every second that passes on clock1, or that the images of consecutive seconds on clock1 are two light-seconds apart for Jill.



So, if clock1 waits for t seconds between sending the image of 0 and sending the image of 1, the separation distance between the image of 0 and the image of 1 will be 1.6ct. Since 1.6ct = 2 ls, we get t=1.25 seconds. Thus, the fraction of seconds as measured by clock1 to seconds Jill measures for clock is 1/1.25, which is again .8. This means Jill measures clock1 to tick off 6.4 seconds on her trip between clock1 and Jack, the same as she measured for Jack.

In the reciprocal, when an observer (Jerry) at clock1 sees Jill pass Jack, Jerry has seen 8 seconds pass on Jill's clock, but 16 seconds pass on clock1 (the ten for the trip itself plus another 6 to see the image). So Jerry sees Jill's clock move at half the rate his clock does. Jerry can make the same calculations Jill does to measure Jill's clock ticking off .8 seconds for each of his.

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