Archive | October, 2014

Evidence and Ideology

30 Oct

Pop-science seems to have helped make it taboo to think a person can know something on his own.  This is nonsensical, since science has empiricism at its core.  Look up the etymology of that word.

One subtle implication of this trend is that a person is not allowed to know on her own that she exists — at least that something vaguely coherent exists.  Claiming anything transcendent is, of course, completely banned.  We don’t know why anything exists, much less why there would be something as striking as pain and pleasure in this world, but don’t you dare venture the transcendent!  Many materialists confuse their arrows with what the arrows point at.  I’ve tried to explain this.

What if I prefer Debussy to Mozart?  Under this view, it’s either meaningless babbling epiphenomenon or scientifically invalid, right? (I’m being sarcastic.  Extreme materialists will probably fail to detect the sarcasm.)

If this goes far enough, it will eventually become permissible to violate a person’s dignity on the grounds that only some inaccessible authority is qualified to judge such things.  The new model: people can’t decide for themselves.  You can’t own yourself, because “you” are a specter.  If so and so pinches you and says it doesn’t hurt, then it doesn’t hurt.  Try to pay attention;  dignity is inconvenient.  Never mind that it’s necessary for genius and sustainable civilization and all that.

This does not mean that people make perfect decisions, are never self-destructive, have ideal Platonic souls, etc.  It just implies that such a thing as private truth does exist.  It does not mean that private truth can, by fiat, displace scientific truth.  It just means it’s there as a logically additive aspect of the situation.

Four lights.

How long will it be until seriously talking about even a scientifically compatible transcendent is banned?

“One of the greatest superstitions of our time is the belief that it has none.”

-Celia Green

Consciousness, Qualia, Freedom, etc…

23 Oct

Dude: Isn’t consciousness just a physical thing?

A:  No, but our meaningful and coherent experiences are inextricably bound with physical and formal constraints inherent to our brains and, by hierarchical extension, to our Universe.  Consciousness is not merely physical, but it would be meaningless without these constraints, mediations, and ordered transactions.  It’s kind of a trick question.

Dude:  What about it isn’t strictly physical or broadly tangible?  Are you a mystical fairy boy?

Sidenote: This topic has repeatedly produced polemical debates to nowhere which have convinced me that neural differences between individuals come into play on the question. Some people are trying to look good for specific audiences, others are trying to introspect.  Some people seem to have very strong top-down/gestalt inhibition and structuring of their awareness, while others have more access to less processed components.  Some like to confuse absurd feelings for “illusions”.  And so on.


A:  Qualia.  Explaining this away as “information” is inadequate.  It’s a start of a start — that’s all.  We have subjective experiences which are logically additive to the merely physical and/or informational.  Many typical people agree with this, and I think some very smart people like Ed Witten and Saul Kripke are also likely to agree.  Philosophy is very difficult, and we won’t have metaphysically comprehensive answers to such questions for a very long time — if ever.  Roughly speaking, I like to think of it this way;  human being : reality as bureaucrat : genius.  I’m no poet, but I think you get the gist.  The crude idea is that we are basically piloting vehicles of necessary conditions which are satisfied for us in ways we neither understand nor care much about(compare this situation to the way farmers work their animals for their purposes in spite of mostly just knowing how to breed and feed ’em).  The bird hatches at height.

We don’t care about every little detail and trail of history because we can’t afford to in the unrelenting race of life(see: James’ Will to Believe and all that…).  Life’s a rush on the tips of history.  These pre-processed items get pooled into consoles which end up forming the visible(explicit!) terminals of our explanations. This is why so many people are satisfied by hand-waving.  All of our explanations eventually come down to hand-waving, but the explanations we celebrate are the ones which are continually reinforced by pragmatic triumph.  Descartes might be a bit of an exception in that he tapped something more innate and partly implicit, but even he would have done well to elaborate the implied formalism of his cogito ergo sum.   We point at various laws and correlations, but at some level we are probably trapped in an absurd user-view of stuff like qualia.

Dude:  What about freedom?  Isn’t it an antiquated term for mush-minded wimps?

A:  Yes and no.  The more reputable modern notion of freedom is not that we’re all special snowflakes with infinite prerogative, but is instead premised on the idea that we need sophisticated diversity in order to give us more perspective on our institutions and grand assumptions.  Part of it is a search space function, but part of it is even simple definition!  Healthy diversity also promotes greater resilience and flexibility.  There is more potential for recombination of various ideas, methods, and such.  Think of this diversity as providing a special kind of light which we can’t get from our crappy old light bulbs.  However, it must be sophisticated and serious diversity.  Not random sentimental crap.  There is a sense in which human beings must deal with a perpetual inadequacy of our explicit attainments.  One way to do this is by broadening the explication.  Lots of old-fashioned guys would announce various concepts from the mount as if the things stood alone in their own special private reality which sometimes condescended to mingle with the broader reality.  That’s poor form.  It’s better to explore the grounded contexts of such things.

Also, the human brain is partially capable of questioning its own assumptions.  It can sometimes objectify its gods.  That’s a remarkable ability.  It gives no appearance of being magical, but it’s certainly interesting and relevant.  Furthermore, information has a certain chemistry to it.  Different bits become member to different properties in different contexts.  My understanding of these processes is primitive, but I’m trying.  Think for yourself and follow the empirical results.  It’ll take time, but many good scientists are working on it.  In the meantime, oversimplifications are sure to proliferate.

Dude:  Wasn’t Hayek way over the top with his skepticism of explicit intervention?

A:  To an extent, but I think Hayek’s deep insight was that we don’t understand ourselves or our culture nearly as well as we like to believe we do.  There is a danger in being seduced by one’s own explicit symbolic productions to the exclusion of the underlying implicit supporting elements(recall the above analogy regarding human beings and reality).  Symbolic crispness, provincial successes, bros, and echo chambers are a dangerous combination.  People are quite dumb about this.  Hardly anyone realizes how amazing it is that we even care about what happens to ourselves a week from the present(more compelling philosophical diversity might help…).

It’s an incredible product of evolution, but common sense hides this wonder of nature safely in plain view as though it were some default aspect of reality!  As such, one can imagine why I think Hayek is worth more than a glib footnote.  This is basic stuff, and humans are really, really bad at introspecting it.  Imagine what else we must be glossing over(recall, for example, the early optimistic predictions about AI from very clever people…that never would have happened if they had excellent ability to introspect)!  I also have serious concerns about human cognitive limitations in comprehending many simultaneously interacting scales of selection and conditioning.  This sort of thing gives Hayek a lot of cred in my book.  Does Hayek provide realistic comprehensive solutions?  No way, but he had some good insights.  It’s the same with pretty much all authors who write about complex topics.  Different parts of the elephant are analyzed by specialists, and it’s hoped that the results can be pieced together well enough to draw some useful global conclusions.




14 Oct

I have some interesting ideas for sci-fi writing.  I’ve thought of most of it as a product of sheer curiosity about philosophy and futurism.  After the fact, some concepts happen to look ripe for narrative elaboration.  Most intriguingly, some of it is wild stuff which may actually happen.

Many of the perennial issues in human living are sure to evolve in exotic ways in the future, and this provides ample opportunity for an interesting sort of historical continuity and reference.  That’s standard fare, but what if new philosophy and practice actually changes man’s relation to his situation and even his relation to his past?  There are lots of possibilities.  At the same time, I always place a premium on compelling originality and striking jaunts of the imagination.  What’s more, I expect the future to be very weird — much weirder than the already zany present.  I don’t know how exciting weirdness can be, but it can definitely be memorable.

It’d be interesting to juxtapose very subjective and freakishly impersonal views of the future.  That chasm could open up all sorts of avenues for exploring games egos play and what it actually amounts to versus what people believe they’re accomplishing.

AI holds a lot of promise for sci-fi.  While much sci-fi has involved AI, I think the very act of building an AI will be far more dramatic and transformative than many folks realize.  It’s not just another engineering project.  It’s much more, and there’s a story to tell there.  The challenge is that whoever tells the story might have to know quite a lot about how to actually build an AI.

It’s an exciting prospect!


I’m not interested in writing space opera type stuff.  I don’t think the most interesting part of the future is in space exploration or in fighting cardboard cutout bad guys.  There is certainly much room to explore the ongoing development of present tensions between science, religion, and philosophy as they relate to personal identity, purpose, politics, AI, lifestyles, and so on.  What excites me most about the future is how humans and/or posthumans/thingybobs will field a sense of purpose and a very enhanced self-awareness in a decisively scientific and technical age.  Purpose has always been an esoteric thing, but it usually finds ways to pose as exoteric.

While purpose is a perennial topic, the future promises its own unique and very dramatic variations on this age-old matter.