Tag Archives: philosophy

63rd Philosophers’ Carnival’s a Laugh

Welcome to the 63rd Philosophers’ Carnival. The subject was Comedy and there are three sections: the first is about theories of comedy and philosophy, and second is a roundup of recently funny things with a philosophical bent. At the end I put submissions of non-comedic philosophical musings.

Part 1: Comedic Theory

Did you hear the one about the philosopher writing a book on humour? via Continental Philosophy

Philosophy Through Humor on ‘Philosophy Talk’ radio program. Listen by clicking the Listen Online link on the page (they will ask for a fee if you try to download the file):

“Why did Nietzsche cross the road? To get beyond good and evil! How is a good joke like a good philosophical argument? Are philosophical tenets at the core of much of humor? To find out, join the philosophers and their guests, Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, authors of Plato and A Platypus Walk Into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes.”

A post called Not Pure Drivel discusses comedians with comic and philosophical insight at Ideas of Imperfection. Kieran also has this post on philosophical humor. It’s old but good.

My inspiration for this Carnival: The Birth of Comedy out of the Suicide of Tragedy. It’s a theory of comedy from Nietzsche that I found picking through The Birth of Tragedy, with modern examples from Leno and Letterman.


Part 2: Comedic Practice

New Philo-Gangsta Rap on Descartes from Philosophy Sucks! (There’s some mild cussing- nothing a ten year old wouldn’t know, but I figured I ought warn you.)

Harry Frankfurt (of On Bullshit fame) on The Daily Show via Leiter Reports. Make sure you get to part 2 of the clip.

Philosophy teams on fragments of consciousness. Maybe someone can start a running battle à la The Superest.

How to tell if you suck at telling philosophical jokes at A brood comb. Check out this (submitted to carnival but not funny) post while you are there.

Kant Attack Ad on Youtube. Check out the response: Nietzsche Attack Ad.

Something for the philosopher of mathematics to ponder: Mobius Battle on xkcd. I personally wonder about the haecceity of stick figures…

The Unprovability of False Hope. Another cartoon that made me smile at ThadGuy.com

Seize this Honkus! on the Philosophy Blog. You have likely seen it a long time ago, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome.

A Philosophy Job Market Blog‘s motto is, “It’d be funny if it were happening to someone else.” Funny sad, not funny ha-ha, but funny nonetheless about the trials and tribulations finding work in philosophy. I linked the whole blog (not only a single post) to show moral support.

And lastly, classic Bugs, Daffy and Elmer Fudd Loony Toons episodes are now up on Youtube. If Wittgenstein had only lived three more weeks he would have had a good laugh at the duck-rabbit confusion (My thanks to Opiniatrety for connecting Bugs-Daffy to Wittgenstein). Rabbit Fire (19 May 1951), Rabbit Seasoning (1952) and Duck Rabbit Duck (1953). It’s gold for philosophy of language and laughs.



Part 3: The Rest

Just a few of the other submitted posts… if you aren’t here, resubmit!

Stop changing your mind!: Spinoza and Buffalo.

Gordon Baker and Wittgenstein’s Method

There are just as many F’s as G’s: Included for using the word ‘equinumerosity.’

How to find work in the United Kingdom: Thom Brooks, yay!

Hempelian Deductive and Probablity Laws

Posted in fun, philosophy. Tagged with , , , .

Intentionality is Dead

After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave–a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead: but given the way of men there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown.–And we–we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.
~F. N.

If want to study the mind, we believed that we needed to understand intentionality:

Intentionality is the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs. —SEP

However intentionality is nowhere to be found. Intentionality is supposed to give us everything, it is the power of the mind, but in giving us everything, it itself is nothing.

These are the cases:

  1. Intentionality is the mark of all mental states.
  2. Intentionality is the mark of some mental states.

If intentionality exists in every mental activities, it’s then on par with ‘It’s raining or it’s not raining,’ and just as vacuous: any and every mental activity would be intentional implying that ‘mental activity’ = ‘intentional activity’. It is a distinction without a difference.

On the other hand allow for some mental things being intentional and other mental things not being intentional, i.e. the intentional is a subset of some greater mental activity. Then we’ve conceded that we aren’t asking about what we are or how we do what we do, but labeling a subset. I’m all for getting things labeled correctly, but we’ve thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

Intentionality is dead. Whatever use we have gotten out of it in the past we should be thankful for but it is time to move on.

Long live Commitment

I stated in my metaphysics that conscious things make commitments. We are committed to doing certain things at certain times and other things at other time because of other commitments we have made. If we are committed to remembering someone’s birthday, then we take steps to ensure that we know what time of year that person was born. If these steps include some power of the mind ‘to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs,’ so be it, but all these things are secondary to the commitment initially made.

Some may call foul at this point: The objection to intentionality above applies to commitment and hence I am not practicing what I preach. If everything is a commitment then commitment is just as vacuous a concept as intentionality was accused of being.

Yes commitment is fundamental and hence may appear vacuous to some, but commitment comes with an internal structure that intentionality lacks. Intentionality is a power of the mind. Powers lack any internal structure: they act without having a more fundamental thing causing them to act, else that thing would be the power.

Say I am committed to my friends’ happiness and because of this commitment I send them cards on holidays. Commitments allow for structured derivative commitments, e.g. being committed to my friends’ happiness means I am committed to sending out letters and a commitment to sending out letters means a commitment to remembering and recording addresses. This food chain of commitments that is created, where the smaller commitments become part of bigger commitments which are part of even bigger commitments (with all sorts of interrelations between chains), gives us plenty of relations to investigate. Therefore it is true that analyzing a single commitment alone will get you no nowhere (e.g. analyzing a commitment to recording addresses) but analyzing groups of commitments will be far from vacuous.

Understanding ourselves and how we do what we do requires us to have a perspective on commitment, which I’ve discussed in briefly in my metaphysics. As meager an analysis as I am currently able to provide, it is still more than I felt we had before. Commitments determine our perspectives on certain situations and our perspectives likewise determine our commitments. Through analysis of our commitments and our perspective on things, we can understand how and why we do what we do. I don’t mean this to be a merely theoretical point but a practical one as well: we try to accomplish different things for specific reasons and when asked, we are able to give those reasons. Sometimes we have to preface our explanations with a description of how we perceived the situation to justify actions that seem unreasonable in hindsight, but this is all part of how we actually do and explain things.

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

Paradox Analysis

Apropos my earlier rant on people who think that paradoxes are meaningless, I figured I ought to take a stab at giving some meaning to paradox. To this end I reformulated a paradox in my terms. I suppose I should called it the Mirror Paradox, though ‘Looking-Glass Paradox’ seems more lyrical and has an historical nod. My apologies to whoever actually came up with this first, though I am sure I haven’t heard it before…

In my room I have a full length mirror. If I look at the man in the mirror and point to him saying, “There I am!” then where am I? If I am the man on the other side of the mirror, then I am not sitting on this side of the mirror. However, the man on the other side of the mirror has just pointed at me and said that he is not on his side of the mirror, but on mine. So I am not on my side, nor is he on his side. But then neither of us are on our side or on our mirror self side.

Now with semantic paradoxes and the like, we don’t have an agreed upon framework for analyzing what is going on in a paradox. Many times it is a paradox that signals that some such theory is unsatisfactory. However, this paradox deals with locations of people, namely me and mirror me, and we do have a general consensus on judging objects’ locations: in physics we determine some object’s location with reference to some previously agreed upon location.

Let us ignore for the moment that mirrors do not actually open up into other dimensions that you could enter if only your reflection didn’t get in the way. All that is important is that we have an exact double of yourself that at the instant you declare that you are where he or she is, that person does the exact same thing.

Declaring your location relative to your reflection is no different than declaring your location relative to anything else. Your reflection simultaneously declaring its location relative you is likewise unproblematic on its own. However, since the two non-identical perspectives are associated with only one person, we have a disconnect between perspectives and the person who holds the perspectives.

This problem of perspective is most telling. In Russell’s Paradox, there is no problem, no obvious contradiction that is, until the question “Is this set self-membered?” has been asked and answered twice. The first time through is arbitrary, let us assume no: Russell’s set is not part of itself. Now we ask, “If it is not self-membered, then is this set not self-membered?” Now we answer yes and have arrived at a contradiction. There is no problem yet, we merely have to revise our assumption: let us assume that Russell’s set is included in itself. Of course, then we ask, “If it is self-memberd, then is this set not self-membered?” and our answer is no: contradiction. At this point the paradox exists, but not before. It required us to look at the one set from two perspectives, one in which it is self-membered and one in which it is not.

The comparison of assumptions and perspectives that is drawn here is a good one. Our perspective, in a different sense, is our background assumptions. When we have contradictory perspectives on a subject we have incompatible background assumptions. The Mirror Paradox pulls our background assumption of location out of the background. We all assume that one perspective is associated with one location, but when you declare that you are someplace else and your reflection does the same, then you end up with two perspectives.

We can’t tell before hand whether we can have more than one perspective or a set that is defined by non-self-membership. Therefore, since the problem occurs with the selection of assumptions or perspective, the meaning of paradoxes, semantic or otherwise, is that your fundamental background assumptions are problematic. Sure, each paradox will only pertain to that particular system that it exists in, but for that system it will signal the most important and deep underlying problems.

A side note: I thought of this while in bed last night and didn’t look at a mirror until this afternoon, even though I do have that full length mirror. Then I actually did point and say “There I am!” It was a bit of a strange experience because for some fraction of time I felt like me and my mirror self were in some sort of vortex with the rest of the world frozen outside. Almost needless to say I was a bit surprised if not shocked- I wasn’t expecting a reaction. When philosophy grabs you, even for an instant, it is spooky. I suggest you try this and see if you have the same reaction if only because I don’t think there are other paradoxes to actually participate in, save becoming a very methodological barber. How often do you get to participate in an experiment that isn’t prefaced by ‘thought’? Between the small mirror in my bathroom and my full length mirror, the full length elicited a better reaction, so use a full length one if you can.

Posted in logic, philosophy, Relativity. Tagged with , , , , , , .

Are Paradoxes Meaningless?

Aaron Cotnoir has suggested that people think that paradoxes are meaningless.  I think they are lucky that they hadn’t suggested that to me unless they wanted to see me freak out.

It was my good fortune to have my first real exposure to the work of Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein be from Thomas Ricketts.  I can’t remember verbatim what he said, but this is close:

No one knows how long it took Frege to understand what Russell had written in his letter (Russell’s Paradox), be it a few seconds, a minute, ten minutes or a few hours.  But we do know that at that moment his entire universe collapsed.

Only out of gross ignorance of history can anyone believe that paradoxes are meaningless.  Frege’s project up until Russell came along and spoiled everything was, at least in part, to give a firm foundation for mathematics based solely upon logic.  With just a few laws coupled with his newfound quantification he was able to provide a seemingly consistent theory and then also provide sophisticated philosophy of language to bolster his views.

There was probably a moment when Frege allowed himself to dare to think he’d solved one of the greatest mysteries of the universe.  Not only had he legitimately and demonstrably changed mathematics forever, but the ramifications of his theory were obviously far-reaching into philosophy and science.  Then Russell sent him that letter that struck at the very axioms of his theory.  It was a jugular shot and I can’t see Frege feeling other than like all the blood had been drained from his body.  Everything he had worked for was put in jeopardy.

So if anyone believes that paradoxes are meaningless, I suggest to go read some history.  Paradoxes can destroy. Any theory that comes along and says paradoxes are meaningless, is garbage.

Posted in logic, metaphysics, mind, philosophy. Tagged with , , , , , , , .

Philosophers’ Carnival: Call for Submissions

I’m pleased to announce that this blog will be hosting the 63rd Philosophers’ Carnival. Submissions can be made by clicking on this link.

Though I’ve written better papers, one of the few I think about regularly has to do with a philosophical theory of comedy. Since I believe we could all use a laugh, funny posts and posts having to do with comedy will take precedence.

Still, if you know of a post that is good (even if it is as dry as we all know philosophy can get) please submit it. Don’t let good philosophy go to waste.

Posted in philosophy. Tagged with , , , .

On The Scientific View of the World

Many people have a “scientific” view of the world. This means that the world operates according to the laws of science, i.e., there are no mysterious forces that cannot be explained by some combination of physics, biology, psychology, economics etc. It is a mistaken view.

The scientific view of the world can be summarized by this formulation:

S) The world is governed by science if and only if, given a specified way things are at a specific time, the way things go thereafter is fixed as a matter of natural law.

If you believe the scientific view then, insofar as it is about the world, the scientific view itself must be a scientific fact.

There two cases:

  1. The scientific view was discovered.
  2. The scientific view was derived from some previously proven scientific statement(s).

Considering the first case we must ask if we have discovered the scientific view. Unfortunately no one has yet found a theory of everything and therefore it hasn’t been discovered.

This leaves discovering the scientific view by taking our individual scientific theories and generalizing them to include everything. The argument is that we have many theories that predict many things and if we only had enough, everything would be determined.

However, our individual scientific theories merely predict what will happen. No individual theory makes the claim that it governs nature, only the statement of the scientific view above makes that claim. For instance take gravity: it says that matter is attracted to itself with a certain amount of force. Nothing about the theory of gravity limits nature to following the theory of gravity. It is likewise for every other theory: each makes a specific prediction but is agnostic on how to interpret this prediction. Science cannot tell us that it is fundamentally controlled by laws.

What is left, the correct interpretation of science, is that science is a method for making continually better predictions about what will happen. As soon as the jump is made to believing that nature is controlled by our predictions, then science has been left behind and the murky philosophical world has been entered. This is not to say that there are mysterious forces that cannot be explained by some combination of physics, biology, psychology, economics etc. (though there are and always will be) but that this belief is not scientific.

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

Consciousness Dilemma

I watched Dan Dennett’s Ted Talk “Can We Know Our Own Minds” yesterday and it reminded me of a problem I had with the study of consciousness. I am convinced a solution cannot be written down or said.

  1. Assume someone knows what consciousness/mind/divine spark/what-you-will is.
  2. If someone knows something, then it is part of their consciousness.
  3. If someone knows what consciousness is, then the 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. 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.

We can’t write down or say something that contains a self referential infinite regress (without some form of hand-waving) and hence we will never have a solution.

I’d really like someone to come up with a solution to this problem. Or not. It is perfectly acceptable to me (if not better) that we will always have more to learn about ourselves. The issue then becomes to properly understand exactly what we are studying and accomplishing in philosophy of mind/consciousness/etc. or in neuroscience.


in b4:

  1. The use of ‘know’ above is illegitimate: we can know what a car is without knowing all the parts and so the above argument is wrong for assuming that knowing implies complete understanding of all parts.
    • In the case of consciousness if we do not know how all the parts work, i.e. there is a black box somewhere that we do not understand, then we can’t say we understand consciousness. The mystery of the whole thing is that we always seem to make progress but the end is never in sight.
  2. It makes no sense to say that when we know something that it is therefore ‘part’ of our consciousness. I may know the average sale price in Amazon.com but that doesn’t mean it is a proper part of my consciousness.
    • The only alternative to saying ‘something is part of your consciousness if you know it’ is to say that things aren’t part of you consciousness when you know them. If you can explain how you know things while keeping those things separate from the consciousness, then more power to you. I don’t buy it.
  3. Perhaps we can’t know our own consciousness but we could know someone else’s, avoiding the regress.
    • If the person whose consciousness you know knew your consciousness, then this would return to the regress. If you disallow a person to learn anyone’s consciousness of anyone who previously learned their consciousness (or anyone in the chain of people who learned their consciousness), besides being ad hoc, it’s ridiculous that you learning something about someone else would prevent that person from learning something.
  4. Hand-waving is a legitimate kind of communication.
    • No.
Posted in mind, philosophy, science. Tagged with , , , .

Philosopher’s Carnival to be hosted here!

I’ve agreed to host the Philosopher’s Carnival here on February 18.  So if you think you got what it takes, tough guy/gal, submit a post and I’ll tell you whether you’re up to snuff.

Posted in internet, philosophy. Tagged with , , .

Positive and Negative Biological Time

In my biorelativity series I used mutations per generation as a measurement of distance. However, with my recent historical/generative musings, specifically the post on the logical foundations of biorelativity (the logic of which is at the foundation of how I arrived at biorelativity), I fear I may have ignored the distinction between a mutation and an adaptation.

Consider an organism with some feature. The feature can be considered both a mutation or an adaptation depending on what the organism is being compared to. If the organism is being compared to another organism, then the feature is likely to be called a mutation. If the organism is being discussed in reference to the ecosystem, then the feature will be referred to as an adaptation.

Now I am sure that there may be some technical properties/definitions having to do with genetics or whatnot that distinguish mutation and adaptation. This is not my concern, though, because in my arguments the two can be used interchangeably.

What does concern me is that there are different sets of related concepts associated with the two words. An adaptation is, to my ear, always a positive thing. A mutation can be good or bad, e.g. mutant freak. By this line of thought adaptations are useful mutations, a subset.

Since mutation is the measurement of time and adaptation is only those mutations which are useful, then we can use adaptation to signify the forward motion of biological time (and forward change of a species as adaptations per generation) which will almost always be what people are discussing (“as time marches on, as things adapt…”). Conversely, to describe biological time going backwards, we could say something like ‘unmutating’.


On a slightly different note it is interesting that that there is no word for adapting in the opposite direction: it’s a significant gap. Unadapting? This could imply mere stagnation; the idea here is to think of what it would mean to be adapting in a way to specifically undo previous adaptations. I think a word like this does not nor cannot meaningfully exist: the logical/grammatical structure of adaptation presupposes forward progress.

Consider, “If there were a verb meaning ‘to believe falsely’, it would not have any significant first person present indicative.” (Philosophical Investigations Part II Section x)

“The species is currently *counteradapting*” — It just makes no sense.

Posted in biology, evolution, logic, measurement, philosophy, science, time, wittgenstein. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , .

The Logic of Biological Relativity [draft]

How can we represent biological relativity in logical notation?

Organism a is adapting relative to organism b


Organism b is adapting relative to a


Organisms a and b are adapting relative to each other

Aab & Aba

This schema is unsatisfactory because it describes the situation from an indeterminate outside perspective: a and b are said to be adapting relative to each other without regard to the observer describing the situation. Relativity applies to all the perspectives in question (with special focus on any observer perspective) and hence we need a way to include the observer perspective. This means we need to take into account how the observer is adapted such that the observer(s) can be compared to the organisms in question.

To remedy this problem let quantifiers range over organisms and include witnesses to identify the specific organisms in question:

For any organism x, for any organism y, there exists an organism z and there exists an organism u such that x is adapted relative to y according to organism z, and y is adapted relative to x according to organism u.


Unfortunately this formulation is insufficient because witness z is logically dependent upon both x and y (as is u as well) and we want z to only witness x and u to only witness y: as both z and u are dependent upon both x and y, both x and y must be chosen before selecting z and u. This means that organisms x and y are selected (logically) independent of the witness organisms defeating the purpose of having those witnesses.

Getting around this difficulty is not trivial in first order logic. There is no way in first order logic to linearly order the four quantifiers such that z only depends on x and u only depends on y (Kolak & Symons p.249 [p.40 of the pdf]). Independence Friendly logic suffices though :


This statement says that for any organism x, for any organism y, there exists an organism z that does not depend on y and an organism u that does not depend on x, such that organism x as witnessed by z, and organism y as witnessed by u, are adapted relative to each other.

However, though this statement gets very close to describing biological relativity, if we consider how the witnesses witness the organisms, i.e. how z witnesses the organism x, there is a problem. By stating that z witnesses x and that z is independent of y, the statement ‘x is adapted relative to y as witnessed by z’ is nonsense: since z is independent of y it could not be a witness to ‘x adapting relative to y.’ Likewise for u.

The solution is simple enough though:

(∀x)(∀y)(∃z/∀x)(∃u/∀y)((x=z) & (y=u) & A[x,y])

By letting x=z, making z independent of x and dependent on y, z witnesses y from the perspective of x without requiring x to be chosen before z. Likewise for u: if y=u, u is logically independent of y and u is dependent on x, then u may be chosen before y, u is dependent as a witness to the choice of x and witnesses x from the perspective of y. Perhaps more prosaically: x and y are adapting relative to each other, as witnessed by organisms z and u (who have the equivalent adaptations respectively to x and y), and it is not necessary to predetermine what those adaptations are.

Posted in biology, evolution, fitness, game theory, independence friendly logic, logic, measurement, Relativity, science. Tagged with , , , , , , .