Tag Archives: philosophy

Game Over

Yesterday was very strange.

Last Friday I finished up my metaphysics and promptly went on a short vacation to see some friends. I got home Tuesday night.

Then came yesterday. It was the first whole day in which I had to really spend time worrying about what to do now that I have written everything I ever wanted to.

The proper term for what happened was I flipped out.

Posted in philosophy, random idiocy. Tagged with , .

A note on ethics: Mutual Enrichment

Our ethical responsibility is to do our best to enrich the lives of others and to give others the opportunity to enrich us.

Everyone understands what it is to have an enriched life: everyone has had a friend, learned something of worth, or made the world a better place at some point (even by accident).  Moreover, once you understand how your life has been enriched, then you understand how you could act in a similar manner for someone who is now in the position that you were in.


Since I doubt anyone will read the few sentences above and simply agree that I have a good theory, I suppose some benefits of this theory should be mentioned*:

  1. Like deontology and unlike consequentialism, mutual enrichment only governs a limited number of actions: when you have an opportunity to enrich a life then you should, but if not, no big deal.  Consequentialism can be a bit overbearing in the sense that it can place ethical value on every single act as part of some great equation to increase happiness; deontology and mutual enrichment can find some acts meritorious/immoral and others as ethically neutral, which is less stressful.
  2. Like deontology and consequentialism, but unlike virtue ethics, mutual enrichment gives you a better strategy for making decisions: you consider what has enriched your life or you believe will enrich someone’s life, and then attempt to act in such a way to provide enrichment.  By appealing to experience and knowledge that a person already has, there is no need to worry about what a virtuous person would do, or what exactly counts as virtuous.
  3. Like virtue ethics and unlike deontology or consequentialism, mutual enrichment focuses on moral development, friendship, culture and moral wisdom.  I believe this to be a benefit because it is a more personal relationship to ethics than the ‘formulaic’ theories, which I find a bit detached.  Even more than virtue ethics, mutual enrichment focuses on personal relationships and may then have more resources to give guidance in such situations, and also on culture as a major factor in enrichment.  Insofar as culture and tradition are enriching, these things may be appealed to in decision making.
  4. Unlike all the other theories handling of contrary intuitions, i.e. conflicting deontological commitments, deciding which consequences are the best consequences or deciding which virtue takes priority in a particular situation, mutual enrichment uses personal experience as a guide so there is less conflict.  You do what you know.  In the instance of no personal experience, then the person’s best judgment based upon his or her knowledge and tradition may be appealed to.  However, if the person has no experience in a particular situation, then he or she cannot be blamed for inaction, but should be praised for rising to such an occasion if he or she were to do so.

A few important distinctions: Mutual enrichment is not simply nourishment or pleasure.  We are not enriched by merely eating; having a good meal with family can be enriching, but it is not the consumption of food alone that does this.  Nor is mutual enrichment simply pleasure.  Getting stoned may be fun, but everyone recognizes that, fun as it may be, it is not considered enriching.

If anyone can think of any problems please do tell.  Until something better comes along or someone skewers it, this is my working ethical theory.


* Much thanks to Dr. Richard Brown for inspiring me to write anything.  You can have my steak when you pry it from my cold dead hands.

Posted in ethics, philosophy. Tagged with , .

K*nt F*cker

I was at a bar on Friday.  One of my friends says, “Hey Noah, there’s another philosopher here, come talk.”  So I go and chat.

She wrote a MA thesis on Levinas.  But somehow we got to ethics.  I started making fun of virtue ethics, which she believed in.  Something about me saying she had tomatoes being cultivated in her head got her riled up.  Since I had said I was unimpressed with Singer earlier, she figured me for a deontologist.

“You love rules.  You love following rules.. You looove Kant.  You want to fuck Kant.  You want to fuck Kant!”

This was said in a progressively louder voice, with the last sentence being heard by everyone.  For some reason it turned heads and made her friend think it was time to leave.

But not before I got her number.

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

One way

I took a sculpture class as an undergrad (somehow I fit it in between the 18 philosophy courses, not counting the 3 I sat in on and never missed a day).

My professor said that one of his contemporaries had bragged that he had found five ways to represent drapery.  This is no mean task, and my professor said he hadn’t a clue about how to go about representing drapery, let alone know five ways.  But he said, after a while, he found one way to do it.  And one way is all that he really needed.

In philosophy there are untold numbers of bad arguments and reasons why those arguments are bad.  None of them matter, though, if you know one way to argue well.

Posted in philosophy. Tagged with , .

What are Quantifiers?

What are quantifiers?  Quantifiers have been thought of things that ‘range over’ a set of objects.  For example, if I say

There are people with blue eyes

this statement can be represented as (with the domain restricted to people):


This statement says that there is at least one person with property B, blue eyes. So the ‘Ex’ is doing the work of looking at the people in the domain (all people) and picking out one with blue eyes.  Without this ‘∃x’ we would just have Bx, or x has blue eyes.

This concept of ‘ranging over’ and selecting an individual with a specific property out of the whole group works in the vast majority of applications.  However, I’ve pointed out a few instances in which it makes no sense to think of the domain as a predetermined group of objects, such as in natural language and relativistic situations.  In these cases the domain cannot be defined until something about the people involved are known, if at all; people may have a stock set of responses to questions but can also make new ones up.

So, since the problem resides with a static domain being linked to specific people, I suggest that we find a way to link quantifiers to those people.  This means that if two people are playing a logic game, each person will have their own quantifiers linked to their own domain.  The domains will be associated with the knowledge (or other relevant property) of the people playing the game.

We could index individual quantifiers to show which domain they belong to, but game theory has a mechanism for showing which player is making a move by using negation.  When a negation is reached in a logic game, it signals that it is the other player’s turn to make a move.  I suggest negation should also signal a change in domains, as to mirror the other player’s knowledge.

Using negation to switch the domain that the quantifiers reference is more realistic/ natural treatment of logic: when two people are playing a game, one may know certain things to exist that the other does not.  So using one domain is an unrealistic view of the world because it is only in special instances that two people believe the exact same objects to exist in the world.  Of course there needs to be much overlap for two people to be playing the same game, but having individual domains to represent individual intelligences makes for a more realistic model of reality.

Now that each player in a game has his or her own domain, what is the activity of the quantifier?  It still seems to be ranging over a domain, even if the domain is separate, so the problem raised above has not yet been dealt with.

Besides knowing different things, people think differently too.  The different ways people deal with situations can be described as unique strategies.  Between the strategies people have and their knowledge we have an approximate representation of a person playing a logic game.

If we now consider how quantifiers are used in logic games, whenever we encounter one we have to choose an element of the domain according to a strategy.  This strategy is a set of instructions that will yield a specified result and are separate from the domain. So quantifiers are calls to use a strategy as informed by your domain, your knowledge.  They do not ‘range over’ the domain; it is the strategies a person uses that take the domain and game (perhaps “game-state” is more accurate at this point) as inputs and returns an individual.

The main problem mentioned above can now be addressed: Instead of predetermining sets objects in domains, what we need to predetermine are the players in the game. The players may be defined by a domain of objects and strategies that will be used to play the game, but this only becomes relevant when a quantifier is reached in the game.  Specifying the players is sufficient because each brings his or her own domain and strategies to the game, so nothing is lost, and the domain and strategies do no have to be predefined because they are initially called upon within the game, not before.

I don’t expect this discussion to cause major revisions to the way people go about practicing logic, but I do hope that it provides a more natural way to think about what is going on when dealing with quantifiers and domains, especially when dealing with relativistic or natural language situations.

Posted in epistemology, game theory, logic, philosophy. Tagged with , , , , , , .

Consciousness Dilemma, take 2

Back in January I wrote up a post on what I believe to be a major problem in the study of consciousness. Now, with the introduction of Consciousness Online (started by the estimable R. Brown), I feel my dilemma should get some renewed attention.

Here’s the argument:

  1. Assume someone knows what consciousness/mind is.
  2. If someone knows something, then it is part of his or her consciousness.
  3. If someone knows what consciousness is, then his or her consciousness has a part that contains consciousness.
  4. Therefore someone has a consciousness that contains consciousness.

Up until this point I am willing to grant that all this is possible. Our consciousness may be able to contain itself within itself. But could we write it down?

  1. We can only write or say finite things.
  2. If someone’s consciousness contains consciousness, then their contained consciousness contains consciousness itself and so on ad infinitum; this person’s consciousness has a self referential infinite regression.
  3. Writing down what consciousness is would require us to write something infinite.
  4. Therefore we cannot write down/ say what the consciousness is.

One might think that we would still be able to figure out pieces and put them together to get the full picture, and use terms like ad infinitum to represent some infinite, but comprehensible, process. However this would require us to know that the picture that we were putting together was an accurate one.  The only way to know that we were putting together an accurate picture would be to already have an overall theory of consciousness that we knew to be correct. Hence the piecemeal approach begs the question.

With no bottom up method possible, nor any top down method available, even if someone were to discover what consciousness is, she wouldn’t be able to tell anyone.  Therefore we will never have a full understanding of our consciousness.

So the dilemma is to come up with a story about philosophy of mind (and associated disciplines) while necessarily lacking a story about consciousness. Anyone have anything to say?

Posted in mind, philosophy, science. Tagged with , , , .

Where Does Probability Come From? (and randomness to boot)

I just returned from a cruise to Alaska. It is a wonderful, beautiful place. I zip-lined in a rain forest canopy, hiked above a glacier, kayaked coastal Canada and was pulled by sled-dogs. Anywho, as on many cruises, there was a casino, which is an excellent excuse for me to discuss probability.

What is probability and where does it come from? Definitions are easy enough to find. Google returns:

a measure of how likely it is that some event will occur; a number expressing the ratio of favorable cases to the whole number of cases possible …

So it’s a measure of likelihood. What’s likelihood? Google returns:

The probability of a specified outcome.

Awesome. So ‘probability as likelihood’ is non-explanatory. What about this ‘ratio of favorable cases to the whole number of cases possible’? I’m pretty wary about the word favorable. Let’s modify this definition to read:

a number expressing the ratio of certain cases to the whole number of cases possible.

Nor do I like ‘a number expressing…’ This refers to a particular probability, not probability at large, so let’s go back to using ‘measure’:

a measure of certain cases to the whole number of cases possible.

We need to be a bit more explicit about what we are measuring:

a measure of the frequency of certain cases to the whole number of cases possible.

OK. I think this isn’t that bad. When we flip a fair coin the probability is the frequency of landing on heads compared to the total cases possible, heads + tails, so 1 out of 2. Pretty good.

But notice the addition of the word fair. Where did it come from, what’s it doing there? Something is said to be fair if that thing shows no favoritism to any person or process. In terms of things that act randomly, this means that the thing acts in a consistently random way. Being consistently random means it is always random, not sometimes random and other times not random. This means that fairness has to do with the distribution of the instances of the cases we are studying. What governs this distribution?

In the case of of a coin, the shape of the coin and the conditions under which it is measured make all the difference in the distribution of heads and tails. The two sides, heads and tails, must be distinguishable, but the coin must be flipped in a way such that no one can know which side will land facing up. The shape of the coin, even with uniform mass distribution, cannot preclude this previous condition. Therefore the source of probability is the interdependence of physical conditions (shape and motion of the coin) and an epistemic notion (independence of knowledge of which side will land up). When the physical conditions and our knowledge of the conditions are dependent upon each other then the situation becomes probabilistic because the conditions preclude our knowing the exact outcome of the situation.

It is now time to recall that people cheat at gambling all the time. A trio of people in March 2004 used a computer and lasers to successfully predict the decaying orbit of a ball spinning on a roulette wheel (and walked out with £1.3 million). This indicates that after a certain point it is possible to predict the outcome of a coin flipping or a roulette ball spinning, so the dependence mentioned above is eventually broken. However this is only possible once the coin is flipping or the roulette ball is rolling, not before the person releases the roulette ball or flips the coin.

With the suggestion that it is the person that determines the outcome we can expand the physical-epistemic dependence to an physical-epistemic-performative one. If I know that I, nor anyone else, can predict the outcome until after I perform a task, then the knowledge of the outcome is dependent upon how I perform that task.

This makes sense because magicians and scam artists train themselves to be able to perform tasks like shuffling and dealing cards in ways that most of us think is random but are not. The rest of us believe that there is a dependence between the physical setup and the outcome that precludes knowing the results, but this is merely an illusion that is exploited.

What about instances in which special training or equipment is unavailable; can we guarantee everyone’s ability to measure the thing in question to be equal? We can: light. Anyone who can see at all sees light that is indistinguishable from the light everyone else sees: it has no haecceity.

This lack of distinguishability, lack of haecceity (thisness), is not merely a property of the photon but a physical characteristic of humans. We have no biology that can distinguish one photon from another of equivalent wavelength. To distinguish something we have to use a smaller feature of the thing to tell it apart from its compatriots. Since we cannot see anything smaller, this is impossible. Nor is there a technology that we could use to augment our abilities: for us to have a technology that would see something smaller than a photon would require us to know that the technology interacted at a deeper level with reality than photons do. But we cannot know that because we are physically limited to using the photon as our minimal measurement device. The act of sight is foundational: we cannot see anything smaller than a photon nor can anything smaller exist in our world.

The way we perceive photons will always be inherently distributed because of this too. We cannot uniquely identify a single photon, and hence we can’t come back and measure the properties of a photon we have previously studied. Therefore the best we will be able to accomplish when studying photons is to measure a group of photons and use a distribution of their properties, making photons inherently probabilistic. Since the act of seeing light is a biological feature of humans, we all have equal epistemological footing in this instance. This means that the epistemic dependence mentioned above can be ignored because it adds nothing to the current discussion. Therefore we can eliminate the epistemic notion from our above dependence, reducing it to a physical-performative interdependence.

Since it is a historical/ evolutionary accident that the photon is the smallest object we can perceive, the photon really is not fundamental to this discussion. Therefore, the interdependence of the physical properties of the smallest things we can perceive and our inherent inability to tell them apart is a source of probability in nature.

This is a source of natural randomness as well: once we know the probability of some property that we cannot measure directly, the lack of haecceity means that we will not be able to predict when we will measure an individual with said property. Therefore the order in which we measure the property will inherently be random. [Assume the contradiction: the order in which we measure the property is not random, but follows some pattern. Then there exists some underlying structure that governs the appearance of the property. However, since we are already at the limit of what can be measured, no such thing can exist. Hence the order in which we measure the property is random.]


If I were Wittgenstein I might have said:

Consider a situation in which someone asks, “How much light could you see?” Perhaps a detective is asking a hostage about where he was held. But then the answer is, “I didn’t look.” —— And this would make no sense.

hmmmm…. I did really mean to get back to gambling.

Posted in biology, epistemology, evolution, fitness, independence friendly logic, logic, measurement, mind, philosophy, physics, Relativity, science, Special Relativity, technology. Tagged with , , , , .

Relativity as Informational Interdependence

Ever have the experience of sitting in traffic and believe that you are moving in reverse, only to realize a second later that you were fooled by the vehicle next to you moving forward? You were sitting still, but because you saw something moving away, you mistakenly thought you started to move in the opposite direction.

Two different senses may be at work here: your sight and your balance. Lets assume that your balance did not play any role in this little experiment (you would have been moving too slowly to feel a jolt). Your sight told you that you were moving in a certain direction (backwards) because of something you saw, say a bus pulling forward. Then you saw something other than the bus, say the ground, and you realized that your initial appraisal of the situation was incorrect.

At the point when you look away from the bus, you believe that you are moving backwards. Then when you see the ground, you believe that you are not moving backwards. You reconcile these two contradictory beliefs by deciding that it was not you who were moving backwards but the bus that was moving forwards.

What this illustrates is that objects require something other than themselves to be considered in motion. Without the ability to reference a ‘stationary’ system (the ground), it is impossible to make a determination who is moving and who is staying still.

Now imagine this situation was taking place in a very gray place. The only things visible are yourself and the bus on a gray background. Then you notice that the bus is getting smaller. There is nothing for you to use as a reference (no stars, no ground, no nothing) to decide if it is you who is moving away from the bus or if it is the bus moving away from you, or both*. The only thing you have is the information that you and the bus are moving away from each other.

I refer to the statement that you and the bus are moving away from each other as information and not a belief because it is much more certain than what I called beliefs above, namely that you were in a certain kind of motion, which quickly turned out to be questionable.

The information that you and the bus are moving away from each other is not your everyday sort of information. It would be inaccurate to reduce this statement to a conjunction (you and the bus are moving), which is incorrect, or a disjunction (you or the bus is moving) because you are only moving with regard to the bus. By claiming that either you or the bus is moving, it makes it seem that the motion of one has nothing to do with the other. The motion of you and the bus need to be mutually dependent upon each other, and a mutual interdependence is not reducible.

If we return to the everyday, we can say that you have the information that you and the bus are moving away from each other and you and the bit of ground you are on are not moving away from each other. Since the bit of ground we initially selected was arbitrary (we could have chosen anything, like another bus) it is subject to the same issues as the bus; we merely take the ground to be stationary for most purposes, but this is a pragmatic concern. Hence all determinations of motion (or non-motion) are instances of informational interdependence.

The result that relativity is part of a larger class of mutually interdependent structures is non-trivial. Minimally this formalism will allow us to specify exactly when the use of relativity is warranted, but more importantly it will allow us to identify and provide insight into other situations of informational interdependence. Cases of mutual interdependence are relatively rare as far instances of logic go (they can’t even be described in first order logic) and having such a well studied example gives us a head start on this phenomenon.

* or if the bus is shrinking, or you are growing, or all of the above, but lets assume no Alice in Wonderland scenarios.

Posted in independence friendly logic, logic, measurement, philosophy, physics, Relativity, science. Tagged with , , , .

Getting Around Gettier

The Gettier argument (and its descendants) run thusly

Someone thinks they know x.

However, due to factor y, they do not know x.

These sorts of thought experiments are used regularly to undermine different accounts of knowledge. Generally I think they are effective but there is one gray area that is under-appreciated.

When the thought experiment is introduced, it is generally assumed to be unproblematic: whoever is setting up the thought experiment is defining the situation and generally is allowed to do so as he or she pleases. However, in setting up a thought experiment that has to do with knowledge, we are inherently assuming an ability to create thought experiments. This means we are presupposing knowing how to do something order to analyze knowledge in general.

In this instance, due to the self reflexive nature of epistemological research, we are forced to accept a presupposition of knowledge of thought experiments when trying to explain knowledge. Therefore Gettier-style thought experiments beg the question by analyzing Knowledge while making you implicitly presuppose a form of knowledge.

Unless you are a skeptic, you are probably thinking that no one is denying that we have knowledge; we just can’t explain it yet. Gettier merely was pointing this out. Therefore it is fine that we have the knowledge of how to have thought experiments and the Gettier-style thought experiments stand as testament to the failure of the Justified-True-Belief account of knowledge.

As I said above, for the most part I agree. I say ‘for the most part’ because just about all the theories of knowledge I have seen don’t take presupposed knowledge as a problem that has to be dealt with, just explained. Hence the big upshot is: If an epistemology came along that started off by explaining thought experiments (and presupposed knowledge in general), then that theory would be a step ahead of Gettier. With a theory of presupposed knowledge you would have the opportunity to prevent Gettier-style thought experiments from becoming problematic. (Those theories would be able to have a retroactive thought-experiment abortion, a la The Terminator.)

Personally I default to my stated epistemological position. Still, for those who disagree with me (and as far as I can tell that is everyone but, like, 3, if I am lucky and it’s a good day), I offer this argument/ suggestion in hopes that it is useful.

Posted in epistemology, philosophy. Tagged with , .

It was just a matter of time…


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