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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