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.
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
5E(c)B1, A3
6F(c)1, B1, A2, A3
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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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Finding the delay of a clock without using the Lorentz transformations

For my readers who are not following the almost 2000-comment thread, aintnuthin and I are discussing Special Relativity. In particular, there is a question about whether a specific number is a prediction of what Jill measures, or a prediction of what Jill predicts Jack will measure.

The basic scenario: clock1 and Jack are at rest, sitting six light-seconds apart, and Jack has a clock (clock2) synchronized to clock1. Jill, holding a clock, passes by clock1 traveling inertially at .6c and synchronizes her clock to clock1 (so they now both read 0), and them passes by Jack. When Jill passes Jack, her clock reads 8 seconds and Jack's clock reads 10 seconds. If you use the Lorentz Transformations (LT) from the view that Jill's inertial state is the rest frame, Jill gets 6.4 seconds for clock2. The disagreement is over whether the 6.4 seconds is supposed to be what jack sees on his clock, as far as I can tell. My answer is below the fold.

My response is that the 6.4 seconds is the time Jill measures for clock2, not the time Jack measures for clock2. You can show it is the former with basic algebra. First, because of light-speed delay, Jill sees jack's clock to read -6 when Jill passes clock1. As Jill passes Jack, her clock has gained 8 seconds while Jack’s has gained 16 seconds. Jill can use that and her relative velocity of .6c to tell how much time passes on Jack's clock for her, without using the LT. I will load a diagram to help illustrate this.

This diagram is based on clock2 sending out an image reading -6 and then an image reading -4, and Jill receiving those images 1 second apart in time. Jill can measure how far apart the images were when they were sent, and therefore how much time passed in Jill's frame between when the first image was sent and when the second image was sent.

In between the times when clock2 reads -6 and clock2 reads -4, the image of clock2 reading -6 travels at c (as measured by Jill), while the clock2 itself travels at .6c. (Edit: adding sentnces) That means the rate of separation between the image of clock1 readin -6 and the actual clock 1 is c-.6c, or .4c. Thus, the ratio of the distance traveled by the image of clock1 reading -6 to the distance traveled by clock1 is c/.4c, or 1/.4 (End of edit). Since the image of clock2 reading -6 and the image of clock2 reading -4 are 1 light-second (ls) apart, the total distance from where clock2 generates the image of -6 and where that image is when clock2 generates the image of -4 is 1/.4 which is 2.5 ls. Since the image of clock2 travels at c, the image takes 2.5 seconds to travel 2.5 ls. So, Jill measures 2.5 seconds to pass while Jack’s clock moves from -6 to -4, or two seconds. 2/2.5 = .8, so for every second Jill observes on her clock, she observes .8 seconds to pass on Jack's clock, the amount predicted by the LT. Over the course of all 8 seconds Jill observes on her clock, this becomes 8 * .8 = 6.4 seconds. Again, this is what she observes to pass on the clocks, not a prediction of what Jack observes.

To forestall an objection, none of this is an explanation for the time delay. It is only a measure of the time delay that Jill can make without using the LT.

(Edit: adding sentnces) I also want to note that Jack can use the exact same process to measure the time delay for Jill, without using the Lorentz equations. Jack does not see the image of Jill passing clock1 until 6 seconds after it happens, when his clock read 6. So, Jack sees the entire trip in 4 seconds. In that time, Jill's clock moves from 0 to 8. Jack can use the same logic as above to measure Jill's clock to tick off .8 seconds for every seconds of his. (End of edit).

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Titan, Acquire, and finding the right way to teach them

On Saturday CharityBrow, Son#1, Son#2, and I all sat down to play Titan. Today, I'm going to teach CharityBrow and Son#2 to play Acquire (Son#1 is not interested in buying stocks, but recruiting monsters to kill each other off is more obviously fun). The Titan game presented a sort of dilemma in trying to teach Son#1. Like any other kid, he doesn't want to be told what to do at every step. So, where do you draw the line when he is missing a basic concept?

I was actually kicked out of the game early. I took a small risk in an attack, but then messed up tactically and lost an angel (one of the most powerful initial creatures) and wound up with a weak Titan stack. Son#2 killed me off exactly like a good son should. It was a problem, because I was still helping the other three find good moves and giving them advice.

A couple of hours later, CharityBrow wore down a little, and asked me take over her stacks. shortly after that, I attacked Son#1's titan stack. I had an advantage already, but then he advanced every creature in his stack their full movement. the problem was that half the stack could move four spaces, and the other half two spaces, and in particular his angel was sitting by itself on a flank. Basically, it hung his army out to dry. This was not the first time he had done this, and I had warned him about it in the past. So, how do you best teach him how vulnerable his movement was?

I took him out. I'm still not sure if it was the right thing, but I surrounded his angel with an angel and 3 other creature, and killed it the first turn. His stack did not last long after that. I felt bad about taking him out of the game, but I think he'll remember better next time why you don't leave creatures alone on the board.

One result in particular that pleased me: he was not overly upset. For some 15 years losing a game meant a tantrum, but we never gave up trying to get him to play. He's finally learned to lose gracefully. I'm very proud.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pascal's Wager as a burden of proof argument

Dr. Vallicella has recently put up a series of posts on the notion of the who had the burden of proof in an argument, and I have some disagreements with the first entry and the most recent entry (which, from the last paragraph, looks to be the last entry).

First, I want to commend Dr. Vallicella overall, for an interesting and well-thought-out series. This is especially true in light of his statement that he had no worked-out position before these posts. I’ll discuss a couple of disagreements with the conclusions, below the fold.

In the first entry, Dr. Vallicella discusses a few different methods of assigning the burden of proof to one side of the other of an argument. They are the notions that burden of proof would rest on someone making a positive claim, an existential claim, counter-empirical claim, an improbable claim, a minority-opinion claim, and an unsafe claim. For example, claiming that there is a Saguaro cactus on a desert hillside in Arizona would be positive, existential, empirical, probable, majority-opinion, and safe. Overall, the burden of proof would be on the person who denies the claim. The assignation of the burden of proof can vary from field to field and situation to situation, though. A man carrying a crate of guns from a factory to a distributor has no burden of proof to show every single gun in the crate is unloaded, while a person handling a gun, even directly from such a crate, does bear this burden.

The difficulty comes in applying these different notions to God. In particular, Dr. Vallicella asserts that the theist accepts a majority-opinion claim, and bears no burden on that regard. I certainly don’t disagree there. He asserts that since some positive, existential claims do not need to be proven, there is no burden of proof attached to the positive claim for the existence of God, which certainly strikes me as fallacious reasoning (some things with A also have B, X has A, therefore X has B). Oddly, I didn’t find a name for that fallacy, although it would be some sort of faulty generalization. Just as badly, he assigns the burden of proof to non-theists on the basis that we would not want to lose our beatitude, which is Pascal’s wager dressed up in fancier language. I don’t feel a need to add to the criticism on the linked page.

In the latest post, Dr. Vallicella discusses the notion of the burden of proof in the competing notions that are or are not miracles. Firstly, I find that tense odd. Wouldn’t it make more sense to discuss if there have or have not been miracles? Is the existence of miracles in the present moment actually relevant to his discussion? However, that’s a minor inaccuracy. More serious is the very careful framing of the question as to the whole general class of miracles, avoiding the focus on individual miracles. Saying that there have been miracles offers no assurance at all about the truth of any individual putative miracle. It only offers emotional comfort in the notion you can’t be defeated on general principles.

Also, the notion that in the science game, the burden of proof will be on those who assert miracles exist, but in the religion game, the burden will be on those who assert they do not exist, is flawed. It confuses the procedural methodology of science with the ontological definition of religion. Science has no opinion on the existence of miracles. Religions do. However, any particular religion denies the existence for more miracles that it accepts.

As to whether the burden of proof lies with those who say morality and its presuppositions are illusory, I’m not sure what such a claim would truly entail in actual philosophical terms, unless you are denying the existence of thought at all, such as in eliminative materialism. Even then, the various collections of neural firings that we associate with morality would still be real, so morality as a behavior would still exist. I’m unsure what position is being assigned the burden of proof, here.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

On Leibniz's Mill

There was a recent post on Dr. Feser's blog reviewing a book on the challenge to materialism presented by Leibniz's Mill, which refers to the illustration Leibniz offers in section 17 on his The Monadology. I haven't read the book, and so offer no opinions there. However, The Monadology and Dr. Feser's post are both items I will to comment upon below the fold.

Starting with The Monadology, the first four parts discuss what these Monads are, and what is means for them to be simple. In particular, Monads are simple, without parts, are not collections of things, can’t be extended, divided, created, nor destroyed through natural means. So, from the start, the grounding of this notion is outdated physics, as monads are created/destroyed by phenomena such as pair production or pair annihilation. Since monads are proposed to have a property that is counter to reality, any discussion of them based on that property will not be descriptive of reality.

The example of Leibniz’s Mill comes in section 17 of The Monadology; the claim is that perception can’t be explained mechanically (if we enlarge the brain to a size where we could walk around in it, we can’t point to any given activity as a perception), and is therefore simple. Leibniz then uses this notion of simplicity to talk about the notion of a soul, how it starts, etc. Since the notion of simplicity itself is not descriptive of reality, there is little point in going into detail about the results from this notion. That’s one of the advantages of arguing in a formal system, a mistake at the beginning invalidates the entire argument.

However, according to Dr. Feser, the book under review uses the other aspect of Leibniz’s Mill (the inability to point to a perception in a physical model) to show that mechanical descriptions of nature can’t account for perceptions, a position Dr. Feser endorses. The basic style is a careful presentation of positions that Dr. Feser feels can be refuted. I don’t find some of the refutations to be particularly convincing.

The first is the notion that since we would not recognize collections of nerve activity as being perceptions on sight, asserting they are is basically doing an end-run around Leibniz’s position. However, this is a play to an argument from our ignorance. The real issue is not a lick of connection between brain activity and mind activity, but the lack of the ability to form sight interpretation. Indeed, given a precise translation table between brain states and thoughts, you would expect even under Dr. Feser’s Scholasticism that observing particular brain states exactly corresponds to particular mind states, and the lack is the ability to make the translation.

I do agree with Dr. Feser that taking the position there are no thoughts (eliminative materialism) concedes that Leibniz is correct you can never see a thought. However, I don’t see where that is a problem for eliminative materialism, any more than conceding you can never see a unicorn would be a problem.

Dr. Feser discusses the idea that this could be compared to a computer, where you could see computation going on but not understand the output of the program (again, unless you had a precise translation table). His response is that there can be no such thing as computation without something that assigns meaning to the processing, just as there is no meaning to a written word except as assigned by the reader. However, there is a fundamental difference between an active collection of objects and a passive collection of markings. The water cycle has many of the properties we assign to algorithms, and we can discuss its effects and consequences without making reference to whether the cycle has been designed. There is far less discussion to be had regarding a small collection of rocks lying on the ground. Saying that mental activity which is not previously programmed does not qualify as computation is a matter of terminology, not effect.

Finally, while I’m agnostic on whether the activity cycles of a computer/brain can be pointed to as a separate level of existence or not, such existence would be a far cry from embracing the entire Scholastic metaphysical system or some sort of mystical existence. Noting that activity patterns have cumulative effects does not require that they point to anything outside themselves (so no final causality) and certainly does not entail an exterior mind to direct them. Thus, there is nothing in the computationalist response that need disturb the materialist in the slightest.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Draw Mohammed Day, 2011

I'm a little late to the party, and I have no drawings to offer, but I have decided to link to the slide-show. I've been torn between freedom of speech issues and respect for other's beliefs issues, but have decided on the side of the former.
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Monday, May 23, 2011

Graduations galore

Son#1 graduated high school this weekend. Daughter#1 is graduating eighth grade on Tuesday. Both of them have faced many challenges on their journey so far, as I have talked about from time to time. Son#1 received Magna Cum Laude, something I never achieved. I couldn't be prouder of him. I think he was the only person who was Magna cum Laude, but not in the National Honor Society. I'll talk al little about what that does and doesn't mean below the fold, as well as what's going on with Daughter#1.

I almost didn't make it to the National Honor Society. In my case, the deficiency was likely character, in particular the showing of respect for my sophomore Geometry teacher. I’m sure the decision was justified; I was often contemptuous toward perceived incompetence as a teenager. I was finally admitted as a senior. By contrast, I hear nothing but positive comments about Son#1’s attitude. By contrast, I can only imagine Son#1 was not considered to show service. He didn’t join any clubs, volunteer to play in any extra bands, etc. He pretty much just went to school and came home, or went to work, after classes were over. I think that’s a part of his condition. Part of the reason to join clubs is to spend time with people who enjoy doing the same things, but Son#1 has very little need to spend time with other people. He likes being helpful and he likes being praised, but he doesn’t really care about social interactions. In some ways, that might make him a permanent outsider.

Daughter#1 has recently (last February) started a medication (Abilify). It has made a huge difference in her attitude and her ability to learn. She is already starting to spend more time in a mainstream classroom (in this case, to pass the Constitution test). You can even tell the days she forgot her pill from the days she has taken it. She’s more alert, more cheerful, calmer, and more responsive to her surroundings. CharityBrow and I couldn’t be happier with the results. We’ll see if it keeps up.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Euology for my mother, 2011-04-17

What I wrote (below the fold) does not match exactly what I said, but it is very close. My thanks for my father, my siblings, and their families for taking on so much of the effort to help memorialize my mother.

My mother is gone, but she is still alive as well. Her dutifulness, her caring, and her kindheartedness are visible in her children and grandchildren. She not only lived these traits in a way we all can remember, she passed them on gifts, offered not only as lessons, but also as examples for us to emulate. She enriched our lives with hers, and even in her passing, we are still the wealthier in spirit for having known her.

I don't ever recall Mom hesitating to make a personal sacrifice for someone else in the family. When money was scarce, she would find another job. When she felt one of Gram was lonely, Mom took her in. She would give money, cars, and furniture. We could always count on Mom to do or give whatever she could.

Mom always took a little time to give each of us some special attention. She played with babies, repeating the same thing over and over. Anytime someone needed advice, or wanted to play something in particular, or just needed a little extra attention, you could count on her for that. I remember one visit to the zoo; she noticed Nathan was getting irritated by the other kids, so she took him off on a trip with just the two of them. She would regularly tell about the games she was playing with her grandkids.

Mom tried to avoid saying a bad thing about anyone, at least in front of us. When people had let her down, or met her disapproval, she held her tongue, sometimes for years. Back when I was dating, she disliked strongly at least of couple the women she met, but I never found that out until long after they were out of my life. Of course, she did have the occasional gesture to let you know she wasn't saying something, a small shared joke and indication of respect for you or the person being discussed. Still, she kept her negative opinions to herself.

Mom always tried to help us find our own ways in the world, even when she didn't like them. She always told us that her parenting method was to "let go", to prepare herself for our growing independence. Each of us did grow, differently, according to who we were.

My mother will be with us all her life, even longer than we remember her, as we pass on the ways she affected us to those we in turn affect. I miss her terribly, even while she is all around me. I can't think of a better measure for a life than that.

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Thursday, March 31, 2011

On the differences between deduction and induction

I’m finally taking the time to comment on a December post from the Maverick Philosopher, this one concerning the nature of deduction and induction. Dr. Vallicella makes some good points, but seems to overlook a key distinction.

Dr. Vallicella begins in a dialectic form, explaining why the usual notions of deductive reasoning moving from the universal to the singular and inductive moving from the singular to the universal are inadequate. I generally agree with his comments on this. However, I would hope in a discussion designed to illustrate reasoning, a better choice would be used for the example of a deductive argument that goes from the singular to the general than the use of a contradiction of singulars to derive a universal general, a usage even Dr. Vallicella acknowledges is artificial. A better choice would have been an argument that is at least hypothetically sound, rather than valid yet vapid. For example, from the singular propositions John is the only chess player born on Feb. 29, 1992 and John is fat, you could come to universal conclusion that every chess player born on Feb. 29, 1992 is fat without having to rely on a contradiction.

However, it is with the last paragraph that I find the thinking clumsy. In saying "To be a bit more precise, a deductive argument is one that embodies the following claim: Necessarily, if all the premises are true, then the conclusion is true", Dr. Vallicella basically removes the meat from the sandwich. A deductive argument is a demonstration of that relationship between the premises and the conclusion by the use the accepted rules of argumentation. That is the separation from the inductive argument, which makes no offer of demonstration except example. In the example of "All As are Bs; All Bs are Cs; ergo, All As are Cs", this is a straight-forward syllogism, and we use the rules of inference to determine it. My example is a little more complex syllogistically, but is straightforward in symbolic logic.

Also, while "the universal to the singular" and "the singular to the universal" are not strictly true, they are simplifications of a more accurate understanding of the scopes of the conclusions. For example, if you interpret propositions as statements about sets, deductive arguments are basically arguments that the set of the conclusion is a subset of the intersection of the sets containing the premises. That is, A∧B ⇒ C is another way of saying C ⊆ A∧B. So, deductive arguments go can decrease their inclusivity from premises to conclusion, but never increase it. Meanwhile, inductive arguments increase inclusivity, by extending membership in a set to something when it was not previously considered a member of that set. So, this is another good way of looking at the difference between deductive and inductive arguments, even if the word choice Dr. Vallicella rejected is inferior.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jerry Sloan -- a fond farewell

I haven't had time to write the post I planned to be next. I'm teaching Calculus for the first time, and I am putting a huge amount of effort into it, compared to previous classes I have taught. It's one of those situations where I'm not sure I can measure up to what the class needs. Still, if they let me, I'll be teaching it again. Mental growth comes from mental struggles.

However, I heard yesterday that Jerry Sloan resigned. From what I can tell, he just doesn’t have the energy it takes to constantly herd young players into trusting in his system anymore, and that's not really anyone's fault. I first started rooting for the Jazz in the mid 90s, so it's been quite a time. I'll briefly ramble on about it below the fold. Next post, I'll get back to the topic of the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning.

Sloan has always had arguments with players, some much more publically, and just as prominent within the franchise, as Williams. Karl Malone certainly comes to mind, although their disagreements were not as well-documented as those with Ostertag. Sloan seems to have always relied on personal drive, energy, and force of will to keep players playing the system. For better or worse, these things fade as you get older.

Great players tend to have big personalities, and Williams is no exception. You can't expect a man like that, at that age, to just take direction. There will be battles of wills, unless the coach has no authority at all, or just lets the players do whatever they want. Ten years ago, Sloan probably would have been more than up for those battles. In that time, he's been widowed, remarried, and has a knee replaced. Rather than just hang on (ala Don Nelson), Sloan has decided that if he can't be the coach he wants to be, he'd rather not coach at all. I respect that.

I will miss Sloan. I'm going to keep watching, though. I was watching last night, when Kirilenko showed just how good he was by getting injured. I don't know if the Millers will let Corbin coach for 20 years, but it wouldn't surprise me. I'm curious to see if Corbin takes up Karl Malone on his offer to be an assistant coach (I'm sure he'd have a thing or two to show Jefferson). I'm still a Jazz fan, just a sadder one, at least for this season.

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Son#1 plays Titan and goes to Disney World

I haven't about Son#1 for a while. Mostly, that's because even compared to a couple of years ago, he has changed so much. For those who weren't here or don't recall, he has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, specifically Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified, or PDD-NOS. He was an unusual baby right from birth, although CharityBrow and I only realized it later. Some of his recent adventures, described below the fold, have brought him further on the path to having a "normal" life, whatever that is supposed to mean.

As I mentioned in a prior post, Son#1 has started working at a local TJ Maxx. The Disney World trip I mentioned occurred over Thanksgiving break. While Son#1 is not in the marching band, proper, he was chosen to help carry the banner before the band in the parade. He even got his picture in a local paper. He had a great time on the trip. Sure, there were some kids in the band who didn't like/understand him,and were afraid, but there were others who he could talk to and room with. He had previously gone on a trip to Kings Island a couple of years ago, and there were no problems then. However, it was nice to see him learn about saving his money for special things, that the hard work of learning the trumpet had benefits, and similar things.

Much more surprising was last weekend, when Son#2 pulled out Titan to play with CharityBrow and me, and Son#1 asked to join the game. Titan is a moderately complex game, certainly more so than the type you'll see at Wal-Mart. Son#1 hasn't played in a year. Yet he was able to figure out the recruiting charts, got the hang of movement on the master board, and even did OK on the battle boards. He handled setbacks well, and didn't crow about victories. CharityBrow and I are hoping to get him to play other games with us.

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