Category Archives: news

Job

Dear readers, I’ve decided to try to get myself paid for my efforts.  If you know of people or programs (graduate or otherwise) that would want someone like me, please let me know.

What I want to do is write up my theories about the causal structure in evolution;  it will get done regardless, but it will get done faster and better if I have help.  So I am looking for a place that does philosophy of science, biology and physics, but anywhere willing to fund my writing about these topics will be considered.

Any and all information, thoughts, wishes, questions, condemnations, etc., are encouraged.  Leave a comment below or send me an email at noahgreenstein@noahgreenstein.com.

Posted in news, philosophy, random idiocy. Tagged with .

RIP Satoshi Kon

NY Times Obit

Last Words

WTF.  satoshi kon falls to cancer.  dammit.

.

Go watch Paranoia Agent.  i used to have the picture of maromi as my desktop background.


Watch Paranoia Agent 01 in Animation |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com
Posted in art, news. Tagged with , .

$1000 Philosophy Blogging Prize

3 Quarks Daily is putting up a grand for the best philosophy blog post of the last year; $300 and $200 for 2nd and 3rd places respectively.  If any of you out there have written something good, or there is something you read that you really like, nominate it! [philosophy of science needs a better representation people]

3 Quarks Daily Prize

Posted in internet, news, philosophy. Tagged with , , .

Aesthetic Highs of Soccer

I love soccer as a sport.   I played it growing up and only quit when it started getting serious (too many elbows to the head in one game and I figured it just wasn’t what I was looking for any more – it gets nasty in the box).  So it concerns me that here in the good ol’ US of A many people do not seem to appreciate it.

What I started thinking about was that each goal in soccer is something very special, more special than any single thing to any other game in another sport.

As I thought about this over the last few days the NBA finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics have been going on.  [Full discloser: I don’t love basketball, though this may have something to do with the Knicks being horrible.]  However, I only watch the last quarter of those games.  Sure great plays happen all game, but it always seems to come down to who can make the biggest plays at the end.  There is a great quote by Jordan which is something like, “It is not enough to play well, you have to have something left to finish with.”  The game goes to whichever player or whichever team makes the plays at the end; the first three quarters are just a preamble.

Putting this all together, watching soccer is like watching the last 10 minutes of a basketball game, but for the full 90+ minutes.  The individual or team plays that lead to a goal are like the critical brilliant plays that Bryant makes at the end to edge out the other team.  It is this brilliance that can happen at any moment which makes soccer so exciting.

Posted in art, news, philosophy. Tagged with , , , .

RIP Guru

rest in peace guru.

Posted in art, news, NYC. Tagged with , .

On Block and Kitcher on Fodor

Ned Block and Philip Kitcher have posted a review of Fodor/Piatelli-Palmarini’s “What Darwin Got Wrong” (via Leiter).

It is a well executed, though flawed, counter to Fodor’s arguments.  First they give a nice rundown of the underdetermination issue I posted about here.

Then they discuss the “intensional fallacy”.  They argue that the crux of F & P’s argument can be seen as trying to split up the causal efficacious trait and the selected-for trait.  This means that F & P believe that there is no way to connect the evolutionary reason – the trait that increased an organism’s fitness – with our explanation of the trait that was selected-for.  Block & Kitcher argue that it is trivial to match the two up because

selection-for is a causal notion, and, since causation is extensional, so is selection-for.

Insofar as we believe that our explanation of the selected-for trait is extensional, i.e. truth-preserving when switching between different names of the same thing, we can say that we do pick out the causally efficacious trait.

Unfortunately Block and Kitcher sacrificed our normal concept of explanation to make this counter-argument.  They note that explanations are never normally extensional, but that we are making an exception in this case.  This is ok to do because

we thinking beings can give (intensional) explanations in terms of [one trait] rather than the other properties. In giving the explanation, we (thinking beings) describe the property in our preferred way.

I do not understand what is going on here.  Basically it looks as if “preferred way” is just a fancy way to say “own words”, but describing something in our own words doesn’t make it right.  Nor is it a reason to change what should count as an explanation.

Unless Block and Kitcher are prepared to give further justification as to why we should disregard our normal understanding of explanation, it looks as if their solution to Fodor’s argument is ad hoc.  They are using explanation* — which is a special kind of explanation that can be extensional — but they have not given a reason why explanation* should be preferred over of regular explanation (outside of causing Fodor trouble).  Without this reason, the use of explanation* is ad hoc, and hence the argument fails because it turns on an ad hoc premise: the assumption that explanation* can be substituted for explanation.

However, I did say above that Block and Kitcher’s argument is well executed:  My argument against using an ad hoc term-term* distinction is obscure compared to their argument and so, for the vast majority of people, it will appear that their argument is effective.  Overall this is a good thing: less nonsense needs to surround evolution (though I’ll be a little sad to see it go: I’m #1 in a Google search for “fodor what darwin got wrong“).

[EDIT:  I’ve put up a new analysis (24 March 2010) of Fodor’s argument here: Hypotheses Natura Non Fingo.  It also includes a review of the responses of Block, Kitcher and Sober ]

For my take on what Fodor got wrong, see my post What Fodor Got Wrong, and the follow up Dismantling Fodor’s Argument (also linked above in reference to underdetermination).  I’ll post something soon specifically addressing the intensionality issue:  Fodor’s Intensional Criticism of Evolution.

Posted in argumentation, biology, evolution, fitness, news, philosophy, science. Tagged with , , , , , .

My Visit to the First Public Toilet in New York City

Yesterday I visited the first public toilet in New York City. It is much lauded. Here is my take:

The toilet it located near the southeast corner of Madison Square Park. It has the oh-so-typical whitish glass and brushed steel look. I am not criticizing the toilet specifically, it is a clean look for a restroom to have, but I’m getting a bit tired of this design scheme in general.

The Pubilc Toilet in Madison Square Park

I had to wait a few minutes because the toilet was in use when I arrived. You can see the red occupied light next to the door. This gave me an opportunity to overhear a discussion going on behind me. A man who described himself as the Potty Patrol was chatting to a lady waiting for the gentleman occupying the commode. He told me he was there to make sure everything was going OK.

The Pubilc Toilet in Madison Square Park, front

Then the gentleman exited. The door slides to the left smoothly and slowly and closes to the right in the same way to start the cleaning process. I nearly entered before the cleaning process, but saw that the red occupied light was still lit. Cleaning took about a minute, probably shorter, but when you are waiting for a bathroom, it always seems longer.

I didn’t have a quarter, so I put in two dimes and a nickel. I noticed that one of the dimes didn’t make the right sound upon entering the machine. Nothing happened. I went over and told the Potty Patrolman that everything was not OK. The machine ate my dime. I looked in the coin return and could see that there was a quarter caught in it. I put in another dime and this time the door opened with its satisfying measured motion.

Upon entering everything is wet. Very wet. Thankfully there were hooks on the wall for me to place my backpack: you wouldn’t want to put anything on that soaking floor, even if it supposedly soaking with ‘cleaning fluid.’ There are indicator lights and large buttons on the wall by the door and near the stainless steel toilet of the kind I’ve seen on prison shows to keep you from killing yourself in.

By the door at medium height there are three buttons, one light and a speaker/microphone: Emergency Phone (red), Assistance Phone (yellow), Touch To Open Door (big and green), and When Light is On, 3 Min. to Open Door (orange). There is a fifteen minute time limit before all hell breaks loose and NYPD SWAT breaks down the door. I think you should be able to add time from inside.

By the ground there is a trash flap and another emergency touch to call button, still red but this time big.

The sink is likewise stainless and is labeled Soap Water and Dryer. You place your hands under each of the signs to get not soap but soapy water, water and hot air. The mirror is not glass but more stainless steel.

Though I did not need to use toilet paper, I still wanted to see what the procedure was insofar as it could not be exposed during the cleaning process. There is a button next to the toilet which dispenses soft double ply toilet paper. That is a nice feature, though I suspect if there are toilets placed in less corporate areas, we’ll be seeing single ply. (I did not investigate the toilet seat covers, which, if you look at the video look wet and practically unusable. Also it provides an open box that could potentially be used for creative New Yorkers to fill with things other than seat covers.)

When I left, I started to walk off pleased with the toilet. The P-Patrolman called after me. He insisted on refunding me my lost dime. This was a nice gesture, but considering a service is only as good as its weakest feature, this substandard money box is a significant problem. If I really had to go and only had 25 cents, it would have been a serious issue: the entire toilet would have failed because I couldn’t get through the door.

All in all the toilet is a nice and necessary addition to the landscape. New York can always use another clean bathroom. The BILLION dollars in advertising revenue that these toilets will bring the city will hopefully be put to good use. The current poster sized advertisement is not obnoxious enough to blight the general area (though I am sure they are going to the wrap the whole thing in advertising as soon as they think they can get away with it).

Some more pics:

The Pubilc Toilet in Madison Square Park, Facing North, far view
The Pubilc Toilet in Madison Square Park, Facing South, Close
The Pubilc Toilet in Madison Square Park, Facing North, Close
The Pubilc Toilet in Madison Square Park Poster
The Dime I was refunded by the city for their busted facility

The Dime I was refunded by the city for their busted facility.

Posted in marketing, news, NYC. Tagged with , , , .

Evolution and Political Theory

Today my dad showed me a review of a book in the New York Times. The book is something about natural selection and how it supports/underpins capitalism and those who were capitalist first. This reminded me about an old objection to evolution: at the time Darwin wrote the “On the Origin of Species” the idea of capitalism was en vogue and therefore ‘struggle for survival’ was taken to be just a metaphor for capitalist society. Darwin’s theory of evolution was supposedly reduced to capitalism with window dressing. (ah how fortunes are reversed)

Thankfully I remembered my old response to this objection: evolution works just as well under socialism. The ‘metaphor’ that you use to describe the process of evolution is independent of evolution itself: we can use both a capitalistic ‘survival of the fittest’ and/or a socialistic ‘survival of communal’ to describe the process of evolution. This means that instead of focusing upon the struggle for survival, we focus upon organisms ability to best work within their community/environment. The organisms that work best within their respective environment will be the fittest.

Since evolution works with socialist metaphors, it is not dependent upon capitalism and I can’t see any reason for using evolution as support for capitalism, or vice versa.

Posted in biology, evolution, news, politics, science. Tagged with , , , .

Why Evolutionary Principles Cannot be Used to Support Racial Prejudices DRAFT

Evolutionary principles are sometimes used to justify racial prejudices. While no rigorous scientific study has yet proven one race to be inferior to any others it should be recognized that it is in principle impossible to prove racial superiority/inferiority and hence no study ever will.

Firstly a note on the meaning of ‘more evolved’ and ‘less evolved’. Every species on the face of the earth today has been evolving for the exact same amount of time. We all started at the same time. However you believe that life started, either as a single celled organism in the ancient seas of earth or by some intervention, if you believe in evolution then everything started roughly at that one point and proceeded from there. Hence we are all equally evolved, from humans to gnats. The only things that may be considered less evolved are things that are no longer around to complain about it.

Secondly, if the claim of racial superiority/inferiority is not one of being ‘more evolved’, then it is a claim about being differently evolved to have some properties that other races do not have. This roughly means that one race has some qualities that make them more fit, or, conversely, one race lacks some features that the rest of us have (even if they have made it this far) that makes them less fit. Either way the claim boils down to either having or lacking a certain characteristic or characteristics. These characteristics, by definition, were passed down through the successive generations eventually proliferating throughout a family, later a population and thence to the entire race some time later.

In order to objectively measure the fitness of an organism or species we need to be able to replicate a controlled environment and a control group. Regardless of the implications of cloning people for a control group, the concept of a controlled human environment will present us with insurmountable theoretical problems.

The environment that we place organisms in is the ‘test’ that we are judging them on. Specifically, if we want to see which of two species flourishes in a particular environment we would place both in the same environment and see what happens. However, not only is it impossible for us to replicate an environment to test people in, none of us know what the future will hold for our species. Hence, without foresight into the future, it is impossible for us to have an environment that could be used as an objective test environment.

In lieu of this impossible situation, approximations are the only possibility. To approximate requires making decisions about what will be included and what will be excluded. The decisions made will influence the results making them a function of the decisions made. Hence it is impossible to approximate without biasing the results, rendering the study useless for the purpose of establishing superiority.

Since we are all here now and none of us knows the future, there will be no study that can prove the superiority or inferiority of any race. Anyone who claims otherwise is claiming they can predict the future perfectly, is racist or both.

——-

If there are any argument structure fans (such as myself woohoo!) this argument’s in a mathematical induction style. The first paragraph argues against a base case (of a race being no more fit than any other) and then the subsequent paragraphs argue against any possible way to argue that the property (of being no more fit) could be used as an inductive hypothesis: Base case is day zero for our species, in which we are all obviously equally fit, and then the induction is on day n (today) and n+1 (tomorrow). Since we are all here now and none of us know what tomorrow holds (by way of Relativity in Evolutionary Biology we have no way objectively view the trajectory of our species), we can move from n to n+1 and the inductive step is made. Hence it is impossible to prove future fitness in our species.

If anyone cares to give me some feedback, I’d like to know if you think it is worthwhile to include some of this argument structure stuff into the body of the paper. I’ve had experiences where I’ve written arguments but people have completely missed them because they were not as familiar with argument forms.

Also would it be worth it to have some commentary on recent developments such as Watson’s gaff or the recent NYTimes article about genetics and race?

Posted in biology, evolution, fitness, measurement, news, philosophy, science. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , .

GroundReport: Citizen Journalism (and some Rogue Philosophy)

GroundReport.com is a website dedicated to citizen journalism that I have co-opted. But this is not something you should hold against GroundReport. Its mission is to provide ordinary people an opportunity to report on news that the mainstream media does not pick up on. For instance you can find people reporting on the major news stories of the day, local news from just about anywhere in the world, and every so often a scoop that some ordinary chap happened to get. And they split the advertising revenue 50-50 with the reporter based on page-views. All very good bringing power to the people.

So after hearing about the site back in the days before this blog (from the founder’s proud papa: I went to high school with the founder Rachel Sterne and I ran into her father while at home) I figured it wouldn’t be too off topic of me to post some of my writing and gain some notoriety (and some cents). Long story short take a look at this:

Report Name Report Views
Consequences of Relativity in Evolutionary Biology 200
Special Relativity in Evolutionary Biology 87
Relativity in Evolutionary Biology 88
On Absolute Certainty 107
On The Scientific View of the World 104
Total: 586

These are unique page views too.

With the 200th hit to ‘Consequences’ I figured I ought to give some credit where it’s due. You can check out my ‘Reporter Page‘, but I suggest just going to the homepage and poking around. You might even get inspired to report on something. See Paul Sterne‘s “GroundReport’s Ten Commandments” for a good primer on how to get started (and forgive his GroundReport fanboy rhetoric: he’s the proud papa).

Posted in internet, news, philosophy. Tagged with , , , .