Me for a Campbell Award? Huh?

It has come to my attention that the Evil League of Evil is attempting to get me shortlisted for the John W. Campbell award.

For those of you not in the know, this is an annual award intended to go to the most promising new writer in SF. It is taken pretty seriously. And my reaction to hearing that I’m being promoted for this is…consternation.

OK, I will stipulate that I think my one published work of SF, the short story Sucker Punch, isn’t bad. If it were someone else’s and I was wearing my reviewer hat, I’d probably say something encouraging about it being a solid, craftsmanlike first effort that delivers what its opening promises and suggests the author might be able to deliver quality work in the future.

But, Campbell Award material? A brilliant comet in the SF firmament I am not. I don’t really feel like I belong on that shortlist – and if I’m wrong and I actually do, I fear for the health of the field.

What bothers me more is the suspicion that my name has been put forward for what amount to political reasons. So here’s what I have to say about that

I’m not going to object to anyone voting for me. But by the Great God Ghu and the shade of Robert Heinlein, please don’t do it because you think I have the right politics, or to get up the nose of people you think have the wrong politics. Vote for me only if you think the actual work merits it.

It’s not that I necessarily object to politically-focused awards in principle. If I were to write an excellent libertarian SF novel and get nominated for a Prometheus partly because libertarians liked the politics, that would be OK. It won’t happen, because I’m one of the judges for that award, but in an alternate universe I wouldn’t mind.

But I didn’t write Sucker Punch as a political argument. I wrote it as a way of beginning to give something back to the SF field for all it has given me, and I want it to be judged on its merits as part of that tradition, not as a counter in a tribal political scrum.

To push the point further…I have, as it happens, an unfinished SF novel set in a libertarian future in my trunk. But, supposing I finish and publish Shadows and Stars, I won’t want to have it judged more by its politics than by its quality as a work of SF in the classic style. S&S isn’t a political argument, and I would therefore be disappointed if it were received as one.

If you vote for a Campbell award nominee, or a Hugo, or any other award, this is my plea: screw the partisanship. Vote on merit. And if I get any votes I promise to be pleasantly shocked.

614 thoughts on “Me for a Campbell Award? Huh?

  1. Eric, I assure you that most of us considering voting for you – at least the ones I’ve talked to – are doing it because your story impressed us.

    It certainly stuck with me.

    if I end up voting for it, it will be that, and not politics.

  2. Speaking personally, were I you, I would flatly and publicly refuse the nomination.

    This is the Evil League of Evil attempting to use your name and reputation for their own purposes, and make you a card they are playing in their game. You do not need this. You want to be nominated for the quality of your work, not the recognition of your name and the baggage that comes with it.

    The Campbell Award is for best new writer, but every nominee and winner I can think of offhand has a larger body of work than a single short story going in. Should the unfinished novel you have sitting around see the light of day as a professional publication, it will be a different matter.

    Speaking of which:

    “S&S isn’t a political argument, and I would therefore be disappointed if it were received as one.”

    Prepare to be disappointed. Because of who you are and your stated political opinions, it *will* be perceived as one should it get published. Writing is a dialog, not a monologue, and the book will be informed by what the reader brings to it as much as or more than what the writer put in. How many times have you read a review of a book you read and you wondered whether the reviewer had actually read the same book you did? (Arguably, they didn’t, because their perspective was so different from yours.)

    You are a self-identified Libertarian, and a source of controversy in consequence. Your politics will dominate literary merit in the eyes of many readers, and anything you write will be seen as a Libertarian screed and a political argument by those who disagree with you. (And likely by a fair number who agree, as well.) It goes with the territory you’re in.
    ______
    Dennis

  3. This is for the nominations, not the final vote. If “Dinosaur” can *win* the Nebula, you’re certainly worth a nomination. I enjoyed your story more than that one by a long shot.

  4. Sorry, Eric, but whatever the Campbell Award was meant to be, what it seems to have become is a political game, in which it matters much more whom someone knows than how good their writing is. Lots of fans vote on the Campbell without having read much or any of the candidates’ work. So I think voting for you “to get up the nose of people you think have the wrong politics” is a valid response. Certainly nominating you for such a reason is valid, and that’s really what Correia’s Sad Puppies project is about — getting works on the ballot that would never be there if only the Wiscon set send in their nominations, and then letting those works compete on their merits. Last year Correia wrote very clearly that once the nominations were on the ballot, people should read them and make up their own minds, and vote for what they like.

    Personally, I like a lot of the lefty stuff that wins nowadays; I liked Ancillary Justice (though not enough to vote for it), I like Scalzi’s and Jo Walton’s stuff, I may well like whatever the lefties push this year. But we should have a choice, and the nomination process is how we get it, so I’m all for making some puppies sad.

  5. “the book will be informed by”

    Am I the only one whose teeth this usage sets on edge? Being informed is a quality of sentient beings, not inanimate objects. People are informed, not books.

    Anyway, Eric… I don’t read as much SF as you do. (My library doesn’t take up a thousand-square-foot basement!) How much of a body of work does the average first-year author have? Put another way, judged by the standards of Campbell nominees, are you really that far out of line? Sucker Punch certainly failed to suck! Of how many Campbell nominees, especially in their first year of eligibility, can that be said?

    Pissing off the usual SJW culprits is just a bonus.

  6. Jay, a definition of inform is “3. to give evident substance, character, or distinction to; pervade or permeate with manifest effect: A love of nature informed his writing. Also, “4. to animate or inspire.”

  7. The solution to not have your politics associated with your literary work is to use a non-de-plume. Have you considered that option?

    • >The solution to not have your politics associated with your literary work is to use a non-de-plume. Have you considered that option?

      No. And now that I have…I’ll pass. My pre-existing fame will be a good way to get over the “why should I bother looking at this?” hump for a significant cohort of SF fans; if I want my stuff to be read and enjoyed this is an advantage not to be lightly sacrificed.

  8. Milhouse: that’s a neologism, and an odious one. It wasn’t used that way till just a few years ago.

  9. Jay, that’s bulldust. Check any dictionary you like, from as long ago as you like, and you’ll find it there.

    Meanwhile, online we find:
    M-W has:
    2 a : to give character or essence to the principles which inform modern teaching
    b : to be the characteristic quality of : animate the compassion that informs her work

    Collins has:
    5. to impart some essential or formative characteristic to
    6. (transitive) to animate or inspire
    or, if you prefer:
    1. a. (obsolete) to give form to
    b. to give character to; be the formative principle of
    c. to give or inspire with some specific quality or character

    Macquarie (30-day trial available to get past the paywall) has:
    3. to give character to; pervade (the mind, character, etc.) with determining effect.
    4. to give rise to or inspire.

    • >PS: I plan to nominate A Darkling Sea by James Cambias, which I read on ESR’s recommendation.

      Ahhh. Now that is Campbell-award quality from a new writer.

  10. Milhouse: that’s a neologism, and an odious one. It wasn’t used that way till just a few years ago

    That formulation has been in academia for eons. It was certainly well entrenched a good 8 to 10 years ago.

  11. It’s an award for *new* authors, thus, you qualify for nomination. Then, let the voting begin, and note that Larry Correia has stated numerous times that the voting should be based on what story you liked/thought was worthy. *Not* the politics of the writer (or for that matter, the story)

    Voting on the politics is what the SJW do, not what thinking people do.

  12. I am seconding DMcCunney here. Becoming VD’s political figurehead is highly problematic, primarily not because of the content of his ideas (although, evolution denial WTF) but because of the horribly ungentlemanly style in which they are expressed on his blog. VD’s blog treatment of SJWs forgets the basic rule to never wrestle with pigs in the mud because they will enjoy it and you will get dirty. I think he got too dirty. I don’t really think you really want to mix your reputation with that kind of one. As far as I know your reputation is spotless as far as engaging in debates with good polite manners goes, and this is a great asset to keep, and keep clean even from dirt by association. IMHO.

  13. On a more objective note, if you want to vote for the most promising SF writer, you need to define what is SF and what is not SF. Laugh at me if you want to, but to me Sucker Punch and in fact most essays in Riding The Red Horse did not come accross as SF because they were not cast into the far future with spaceships and lasers, but in the present or near future. I understand that the principles of SF (future prediction based on a good understanding of science and technology and similar stuff) are better fulfilled by these works than by space opera fantasies with hyperspace ships and lightsabres, still, it comes accross as unusual.

    Especially weird: Riding The Red Horse has a cover depicting a quite futuristic soldier, actually more space-fantasy than sci-fi (there is no real scientific reason behind glowing red helmet visors and eery blue lights on the ship) while inside Chris Kennedy’s Thieves In The Night is a good here-and-now military story, something that could be in the news tomorrow, not something futuristic and thus most likely not sci-fi.

    I think while fantastic futurism is not the essence of the Campbellian tradition, it is still a fairly traditional part of it. After all Cambell edited a magazine where the stories were supposed to be Astounding, not ordinary here-and-now ones.

    I wonder how present-time and “ordinary” story is allowed to be to be still called sci-fi. I was born a year after Star Wars was released, so for me sci-fi started from a fairly high “astoundingness” level. Pournelle CoDominium saga lowered the bar for me – got spaceships all right, but very ordinary rifles and artillery, no laser guns… very regular present-time sounding military stories placed into the future. After reading Riding The Red Horse, I know hardly see a clear barrier between here-and-now stories and SF.

    (OTOH most of VD’s own works like A Throne Of Bones are fantasy, which genre has always been a cousin of SF but nobody can really tell how closely related. After all the primary idea of researching science and technology and figuring out how it could work out in the future is not there.)

  14. You should write a work from a highly liberal perspective and watch everyone go WTF? (would also help with ideological turing test)

  15. “Laugh at me if you want to, but to me Sucker Punch and in fact most essays in Riding The Red Horse did not come accross as SF because they were not cast into the far future with spaceships and lasers, but in the present or near future. ”

    Go read ” If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” and get back to us.

    “I think while fantastic futurism is not the essence of the Campbellian tradition, it is still a fairly traditional part of it.”

    Have you actually read any of the recent Campbell Award winners? Let’s just say that I’m skeptical that most of them would have prompted ol’ John W. to cut the author a check.

  16. @SBP

    >Go read ” If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” and get back to us.

    Found it online. I find it bad, somewhat deranged/unhinged, and uncomfortably personal, as if the author jumping her personal grieving (and revenge fantasies) on the unsuspecting reader from a dark corner. Instead of the author entertaining the readers, it reads more like the readers invited to feel pity for the author. That comes across as too ego-centric for me – it is writing with the focus not being on the story, not on the the readers, but it is all about the author, the egotistical “self-expression” crap I always loathed. In other words, it reads like the school essay of a 13 year old who has not grown yet beyond the adolescent egocentrism phase, although with way better vocabulary. How is it relevant to the present/future issue I brought up, aside from being a textbook example of how NOT to write?

  17. “How is it relevant to the present/future issue I brought up, aside from being a textbook example of how NOT to write?”

    It won the Nebula and was nominated for the Hugo.

  18. Eric, your attitude does you credit.

    I’ve read about half of Red Horse, and I was disappointed at the lack of what I think of as science fiction– the opening essay was about advances in science which would affect war, but I wasn’t seeing much of that in the stories. Even assuming no big breakthroughs, there should be a lot of incremental improvements in material science, medicine, and computing.

    Playing “you’re another” with the recent award-winning science fiction that’s lacked speculative content isn’t what I’d call a solution. Are there any new science fiction authors who’ve been standing out lately?

  19. >It won the Nebula and was nominated for the Hugo.

    Shudder. Okay. I now have a better appreciation why to fight tooth and nail against the SJWification of the SF genre. It is inverting the usual relationship, it is not the author serving readers but readers are invited to extend sympathy to the author, and that comes accross as incredibly narcissistic. But it is STILL not relevant to the far future vs. present-time issue!

  20. Jay, you’ve found a problem, but misdiagnosed it.

    There is usage going back to the 14th century where inanimate objects are being informed, and similarly old uses of the word in (approximately) the meanings given as #3 and #4 above, at least if we are to trust the Oxford English Dictionary and its citations. And if we do not trust the OED, what hope have we?

    On the other hand, there’s a specific usage mostly confined (thankfully) to academic jargon which rejects objective reality.

    Which is to say, in English as it’s been spoken for the last six hundred years, a book can be “informed” by something – if something influenced how the book was created (formed, see?), it is perfectly fair to say the book was indeed informed by that. So saying a book was informed by something is perfectly fine English.

    The problem is what’s being communicated by the English in this case. A reader’s beliefs and experiences cannot inform an existing book, as it cannot be part of the causal process that put words on the page; these beliefs and experiences can only inform the reader’s mental model of the book.

    Conflating the book and the reader’s mental model of the book is either a failure to distinguish between map and territory, or a deliberate rejection of it (and so objective reality itself – as in postmodernism, which is rife in academia). It’s not a mere English mis-usage that can be ratified by time and popular use, but a case of a failure of rational thought, which stands as an anathema no matter how long or popularly repeated.

  21. Mind you, ESR was nominated on the “Sad Puppies” slate, run by Brad Torgersen, BEFORE Vox’s “Rabid Puppies” slate came out.

    I thought it was an excellent debut, and worthy of nomination. As for the actual award. . . let’s see who gets the nominations, first.

    THEN, it will be time to decide, on the merits of the writing of each of the final nominees. . .

    Admission: I **am** a minion of the Evil League of Evil. I’ve known Larry and Sarah for years, and have recently started reading both John C. Wright (who I thoroughly recommend for some truly mind-blowing stuff) and Vox (who writes some damned good stories). . .

  22. This would make a great subject for a Downfall parody: Hitler gets angry when told about this nomination, and goes on to rant about the politicization of SF awards.

  23. Not sure that would work as a litmus test.

    Let’s face it, many people following Correaia’s lead (and it was Correaia who did Sad Puppies one and two) wouldn’t WANT to read an SJW story – and we’re already perfectly happy to go back and re-read out copies of 1632/etc.

    So yeah, we’re already perfectly happy to read stuff by liberals, communists even.

  24. @Steven, @Jay
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_history#History_of_the_word_and_concept_.22information.22

    I am especially amused that originally “to inform” meant “giving a substantial form to matter”. We may not be Aristoteleans anymore, but there are wonderful Aristotelean traps lurking in every language that was sufficiently influenced by Medieval Latin.

    Challenge: write a short sci-fi/fantasy novel set in a universe where Aristotelean causation is true. Not Aristotelean physics, just causation (hylomorphic dualism). Note: it cannot be that hard, given that most medieval Thomist texts were set in that universe :-)

  25. Let’s face it, many people following Correaia’s lead (and it was Correaia who did Sad Puppies one and two) wouldn’t WANT to read an SJW story – and we’re already perfectly happy to go back and re-read out copies of 1632/etc.

    So yeah, we’re already perfectly happy to read stuff by liberals, communists even.

    I’ll happily give Eric Flint the benefit of the doubt. The only thing I’ll give a new John Scalzi book is a free trip by air to the recycle bin. The difference is that Flint knows how to tell a story without letting his politics get in the way; Scalzi’s succumbed to the SJW idea that art should serve the ends of the radicals.

  26. @Dgarsys

    IMHO every half-decent communist sci-fi simply assumes that the utopia has already happened and now there is something else interesting going on. It is a largely a tool for making the social background simple and uninteresting, in order to make a setting for something interesting happening somewhere else, without background complications. Star Trek and Culture as the obvious examples. TL;DR everything fine at home, the trouble is with the aliens. It’s okay, ish, not everybody likes this kind of thing but it in and of itself does not tend to cause a lot of ire.

  27. Sucker Punch—that’s the story chosen to start Riding the Red Horse, right? It was put there because the editors thought it was a really good story; and it’s being suggested for a Campbell nomination for the same reason.

    (Libertarian, huh? I have it on excellent authority that all those put forward by Sad Puppies are fascists. You must be one of those libertarian fascists who intend to ruthlessly not take anything over or tell anyone what to do. ;) )

  28. If I were to nominate your story for anything, it would be best short story. I’m not that familiar with the Campbell, but I get the impression that you would be a sporadic author, which doesn’t seem in the spirit of the award (I would probably want to base the award on more than a short story as well as a notion that the author will be publishing much more in the future). I would love to read more of your fiction, but it seems like this would be a secondary priority (at best) for you.

    Cambias will definitely make my slate (he also had a great short story in Hieroglyph).

    I think the puppy slates will be significantly less successful this year, if only because they include so many stories. Last year, votes concentrated around a handful of recommendations. This year, they’ll spread out amongst much more numerous recommendations. Doesn’t matter much to me in any case, I have a decent idea of what I’ll nominate and a few things I want to catch up with.

  29. Sucker punch wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Campbell Analog issue. He might have insisted on a bit more detail about how the lasers were killing the planes, but the overall story would have fit pretty well.

    Jim

  30. I understand the hesitancy of being anyone’s “political bludgeon.”

    As this is the “make sure these titles get on the WorldCon ballot” phase, the odds of you getting a Campbell, or me getting a Hugo for “The Hot Equations” is slim. I doubt that anyone can read much of a political context into Hot Equations; if anything you can argue that it’s a fairly thorough evisceration and deconstruction of some SFnal tropes.

    This seems to be the “in thing” in some circles, though it doesn’t delve into the tone-poems of existential angst informing the reader of the hopeless oppression of nonseptunary polyphase-fluidic gendered androids. And their love of dinosaurs. (You only recognize four genders? You sexist fascist, you.)

  31. The Campbell Award has acquired a reputation as the “kiss of death” for aspiring writers. People win it and then are never heard of again. (Not entirely true, but true enough for some nervous joking about it.) Maybe your fans should do you the favor of not voting for you . . .

    • >People win it and then are never heard of again.

      James, I would be nothing less than delighted if you won it and then issued work of similar quality for the next 50 years.

  32. This is the Evil League of Evil attempting to use your name and reputation for their own purposes, and make you a card they are playing in their game. You do not need this. You want to be nominated for the quality of your work, not the recognition of your name and the baggage that comes with it.

    As Supreme Dark Lord of the Evil Legion of Evil, I can assure you that we are not. We have absolutely no need of ESR’s name recognition. I invite you to go to my blog and see what Castalia’s newest SF series will be, and who is editing it, before you conclude that we are attempting to use ESR in the way you are suggesting.

    ESR and I disagree on many things. But I like him, I respect him, and as the Lead Editor of Castalia House, I correctly ascertained that he had a talent for writing SF. We chose his story to lead the anthology because it was the second-best one in the lot; we closed it with the best one, Steve Rzasa’s “Turncoat”. Both stories were a genuine surprise to Tom Kratman and me, and it took us about thirty seconds to decide on them.

    Eric was actually my second choice for the Campbell after Tom Mays, whose very good A Sword into Darkness has sold extraordinarily well. But since Commander Mays has a single sale in 2009, he is not eligible. In my opinion, Eric has shown that he merits a nomination by writing a better story than a dozen more experienced writers, including me, although we shall have to see who else is out there before I can say definitively that he merits the award.

    Furthermore, since he has professionally published “Sucker Punch”, this will be his only opportunity to be nominated. And I’d bet on ESR becoming an SF author of note over every Campbell winner since 2008, with the exception of Lev Grossman.

    • >But since Commander Mays has a single sale in 2009, he is not eligible.

      That’s a shame. A Sword into Darkness would be as worthy a nomination as Cambias’s A Darkling Sea; I’d vote for either in a heartbeat.

  33. >The Campbell Award has acquired a reputation as the “kiss of death” for aspiring writers. People win it and then are never heard of again. (Not entirely true, but true enough for some nervous joking about it.) Maybe your fans should do you the favor of not voting for you . . .

    Is that related to the Campbell’s Chunky Soup Curse?

  34. Milhouse, I’m recommending against doing anything that has annoying the other side as a major motivation. I think the short term rewards (even if you aren’t actually all that annoying, you start with imagining annoying the other side) are so strong they’re a distraction from truth and effectiveness.

  35. @Greg:

    The notion of anyone actually oppressing Vikings is…amusing. There just isn’t enough popcorn in the world.

    OTOH the notion of some lard ass “neo-pagan” whining about oppression? Yeah, well, unless they’re doing it from a jail cell or can point to a beheading in the last 20 years, piss off.

  36. >The notion of anyone actually oppressing Vikings is…amusing. There just isn’t enough popcorn in the world.

    There was no shortage of violence involved in the Christianization of Scandinavia. Vikings didn’t always win, and intramural fights were not rare. (Nobody oppresses Vikings like Vikings….) Oh and course there was always non-violent cultural interchange involved when Norse actually settled elsewhere

    But the song was simply, to me, a very amusing counterpoint to the ridiculous New Age-y (perhaps I got the wrong impression?) Norse-flavored neo-Paganism that was linked.

    • >But the song was simply, to me, a very amusing counterpoint to the ridiculous New Age-y (perhaps I got the wrong impression?) Norse-flavored neo-Paganism that was linked.

      I doubt you think of me as “New-Agey”, but I’ve participated in Asatru rituals and have little doubt that the style of the new temple’s observances would be very familiar to me. Heck, with a little coaching I could probably officiate at one competently (as in, assist the participants in achieving the desired altered states).

      By the same token, you’re on to something when you say “Norse-flavored neo-paganism” as opposed to some kind of native Norse reconstructionism uninfluenced by Wicca and other modern paganisms. The clue to that is that they make such a point of not being supernaturalists that the reporter picked it up. That’s good: it’s how I know that (a) they’re not foaming loons, and (b) they participate in pretty much the same meta-theology I do.

      Odds are good, actually, that their ritual forms are basically generic Wicca with lingonberry flavoring and the barbarous names in Old Norse. Those of little understanding will sneer at this; those with more will shrug and observe “That’s good, field-tested technique. Why not adapt it?” We’re all programming the same wetware; therefore living ritual induction methods all look much alike. Besides, we have basically zero information on Norse paleo-pagan ritual.

  37. >OTOH the notion of some lard ass “neo-pagan” whining about oppression? Yeah, well, unless they’re doing it from a jail cell or can point to a beheading in the last 20 years, piss off.

    Actually, you should talk to a Scandinavian who is genuinely skeptical of the ruling Socialist orthodoxy.

  38. > PS: I plan to nominate “A Darkling Sea” by James Cambias, which I read on ESR’s recommendation.

    OT: @ESR, do you plan on continuing reviewing SF and military stories? There was very nice and quite long series of reviews… then silence on this front.

    • >OT: @ESR, do you plan on continuing reviewing SF and military stories? There was very nice and quite long series of reviews… then silence on this front.

      I do, but I’ve been swamped with work lately.

  39. The Campbell Award has acquired a reputation as the “kiss of death” for aspiring writers. People win it and then are never heard of again. (Not entirely true, but true enough for some nervous joking about it.)

    Counterexample: Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant, a damn fine writer who deserved the Campbell, and has gone on to win greater awards.

  40. > Challenge: write a short sci-fi/fantasy novel set in a universe where Aristotelean causation is true. Not Aristotelean physics, just causation (hylomorphic dualism). Note: it cannot be that hard, given that most medieval Thomist texts were set in that universe :-)

    Heh, there is actually a novel by Polish SF author Jacek Dukaj, namely “Inne piesni” (the title can be translated as “Different Chants” or “Other Songs”), which uses Aristotelean physics for worldbuilding. Unfortunately there is, as far as I know, no English translation of this novel, so you are probably out of luck… :-(

    The novel received the prime Polish award for sci-fi literature, Janusz A. Zajdel Award.

  41. >PS: I plan to nominate A Darkling Sea by James Cambias,
    > which I read on ESR’s recommendation.

    Ahhh. Now that is Campbell-award quality from a new writer.

    Not new, and thus not eligible. He was nominated for the Campbell in 2001.

  42. @Greg there was no shortage of violence in the Christianization of anything, in fact, there was no shortage of violance in the Anythingization of anything. Humans gonna human.

    Spreading any idea into near-total acceptance in a larger swath of land without a heavy dose of violence are welcome and inspiring exceptions, but exceptions nevertheless. The trick part is, of course, the “near total acceptance”, e.g. Buddhism has a better track record (with some ugly cases of its own, like the yellow-hats crushing the red-hats with Mongol help in Tibet), but largely because in most of the places it spread, it didn’t really get close to near-total acceptance.

    It’s like the opposite of wealth. Once upon a time a rich guy said: don’t ask me about the first million dollars, I can account for the rest. Ideas and religions and suchlike are more like: don’t ask me about the last one million of people in a given place who really did not want to accept it, I can account for the rest.

    >Actually, you should talk to a Scandinavian who is genuinely skeptical of the ruling Socialist orthodoxy.

    Actually, Carl Bildt was praised by Thatcher as a perfect Thatcherite and his political career is still not over like 20 years later. In fact, much of his reforms were kept and even continued, like voucher schools. Let’s not oversimplify them, they are less stupid and more flexible than they are made out to be by people who want to force them into the two-dimensional cardboard-cutout role of Best/Worst Examples Of My Favorite/Hated Idelogy.

    • >@ESR isn’t Ásatru something sort of an ultra-masculine-warrior reaction to largely-feminine Wicca, coupled with fairly strong ethnic overtones and association with death metal, that kind of stuff?

      I’ve heard rumors of that kind of Asatru, but it’s not the kind I’ve encountered myself.

      I think you may be right about identifying as “heathen” rather than “pagan” being a differentiating signal.

      I think it is likely the Wolves would recognize me as a mystic of an allied tradition; I know enough Norse mythology, and can improvise poetry from it in a heroic mode they would certainly recognize. What I wonder is if I’d have anything to teach them about hand-to-hand fighting.

      • I wrote:
        >I’ve heard rumors of that kind of Asatru, but it’s not the kind I’ve encountered myself.

        I should add that I have also heard rumors of “folkish” Norse pagans that were outright racist, allied with neo-Nazis. I haven’t encountered those either. I’ve seen some history indicating that the Asatru Free Assembly (a now defunct umbrella organization for Norse revivalists in the U.S.) had to purge white supremacists out of its ranks at one point.

  43. I forgot to add that the keyword is using “heathen” instead of “pagan”. That kind of self-identification overlaps a lot with what I wrote. This also overlaps a lot with Ásatru but I am less sure about this.

  44. @Nancy

    I think I agree with you, but let’s see if I get you right. The core issue is the misunderstanding of the word “fighting”. It should be defined as willing to dish out and take real damage, often with the connotation that the loser of it will have to give up something dear and important, this we may call “the loot” or “the military objectives” or something along those lines. Online nicknames or even with IRL names hurling insults at each other does not constitute as fighting, because there is no real damage dished out, and nothing to really conquer or loot. It just gives the participants an illusion of fighting and an illusion of bravery while risking nothing. Sometimes, some folks get intimidated or their employers get to be, and this has real world consequences, but this is ultimately still just illusions that happen to be working, it is just people getting scared of being hit wit nerf swords. This is no real fight and largely it exists to serve the narcissists who want a low-risk simulation of bravery. Verbal paintball.

  45. @ ESR: I admire your no-bullshit approach to Neopaganism, as explained in your Neopaganism FAQ and in “Dancing with the Gods” (even though I won’t abandon my comfortable run-of-the-mill atheism for the foreseeable future); but there’s something that bugs me about the latter: how could the leaves possibly be following you? There must be some non-mystical explanation, right? (Maybe the girl had been on drugs after all? :P)

  46. All manifestations of religious practice started out as social mutations. Some died out rather quickly (did not confer an evolutionary advantage) and others took root because the memes proved advantageous enough to persist. Of the ones that have persisted over time, competition has played out in Darwinian fashion and the strongest have thrived. It’s interesting to study the underlying traits of a religion and explore what parts may have conferred advantage. At the very least, they have to be a mechanism for passing wisdom onto future generations.

  47. Shenpen, thank you for checking in, and I’m fascinated that you came up with something that’s the opposite of what I had in mind.

    From my point of view, all interactions that happen between people, including what’s online, are real because they affect people emotionally. I realize there’s a theory that people should be tougher and not affected, but that’s about as silly as wishing that iron to not be heavy and gold to not be soft. People can get something resembling PTSD from sufficiently thorough online attacks.

    What does this have to do with not teasing the opposition? I believe that if you permit yourself much of that sort of fun, you weaken your ability to see what they might be right about, and increase the odds that you’ll talk nonsense just because it will anger people you don’t like.

    Also, emphasizing divisions makes useful coalitions more difficult.

  48. “Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant, a damn fine writer who deserved the Campbell, and has gone on to win greater awards.”

    The “damn fine writer” part may or may not be true (winning major awards is a negative signal to me, if anything). I’ll never know.

    There is no shortage of excellent writers, especially now that they don’t have to pass a political litmus test to make it out of the slush pile. My money will go to those who don’t actively hate me or, if they do, at least have the common courtesy to conceal it in social situations, particularly when I am the customer for something they’re selling.

    Hell, if we met in person she might call me an old white guy and hurt my feelings. That I am actually a (sort of) old (sort of) white guy doesn’t enter into it, any more than the fact that McGuire is apparently fat enters into it.

    If potential (not even actual, but *potential*) hurt feelings are cause to boot Jonathan Ross out of the Hugo gig, they’re cause to never spend any money on McGuire’s books. Welcome to the world you made, Seanan.

  49. The fact that the Asatru Association is taking an eyes-open, neopagan, “wetware-hacking” approach is precisely why I thought that link would be of interest here. Had they been typical new-age fluffbunnies or tried to revive literal belief in the Norse pantheon, I wouldn’t have said anything.

    As for that metal song… Lol. Masturbation material for teenage proto-white-nationalists — tomorrow’s Andrew Auernheimers.

  50. My money will go to those who don’t actively hate me or, if they do, at least have the common courtesy to conceal it in social situations […] Hell, if we met in person she might call me an old white guy and hurt my feelings […]. Welcome to the world you made, Seanan.

    I’ll admit I’ve never discussed politics with her, so I can’t dispute your characterisation, except to say that she has always struck me as a really nice person, so I find it hard to believe she would be that mean to anyone. Do you have positive information indicating otherwise, and if so can you please give me a link to it?

  51. “Do you have positive information indicating otherwise, and if so can you please give me a link to it?”

    Here’s her meltdown over Ross:

    https://storify.com/tinytempest/seanan-mcguire-on-why-jonathan-ross-should-not-hos

    Note the multiple digs against “White Dudes”.

    Googling “Seanan McGuire” “white dudes” (using the quoted phrases) will turn up many more.

    And yes, I’ve seen the attempted excuse that Ross had already resigned from the con by the time she went off on him. That’s like saying that it’s okay to yell “Burn the witch/Throw the Jew down the well/lynch the N____r” as long as the victim has already been burned/precipitated/lynched.

    She thinks people should lose paid gigs because they might insult her. As I said before: welcome to the world you made, Seanan.

  52. >how could the leaves possibly be following you?

    Walking in tailwind? People in a relaxed meditative state may feel like walking in the direction the wind is pushing them.

  53. @Nancy

    I see :) Actually, if you want to find out what could people you dislike be right about, and those people are generally upset and their argumentation is emotional, you have largely three choices.

    Either try to calm them down and invite them into objective discussion. This does not sound very possible in this type of thing. While humans are in general more rationalizing animals than rational animals, this is not really something like global warming that can be discussed with facts and figures, it is more like feeling upset because they feel they are treated badly. In that kind of stuff everything objective sounding is a rationalization. Because the basic fact is the emotional fact itself that they feel upset and hurt.

    Or you try to figure out where do their strong feelings, strong emotions come from. There are two, opposite ways to that.

    Either be super nice and act like a psychotherapist and gently and nicely you can coach out stuff like traumatic childhood experiences.

    Or you can antagonize them until they lose frame and blurt out something. This is actually also used by psychiatrists although probably not in the US, I suppose it would not be allowed there. We have a TV show over here about a psychiatrist who confronts people about their drug addictions in an aggressive, antagonizing, asshole way, and the interesting thing is that it seems to be working. Plows through rationalizations and excuses, and people blurt out the real issues. Quite ugly actually but apparently efficient.

  54. @SBP

    Hm, the second fat female writer in the thread. I wonder if I see a trend here.

    Interesting how SJWhood is more a type of person, rather than a position. Fat woman tweeting “what the fucking fuck” instead of actual arguments, this fits into the SJW personality stereotype so well, that you could as well predict her positions on a lot of stuff just about that.

    I think tweeting obscenities fits into my model of being self-adsorbed and narcissistic: actual arguments are focused on the other person, the reader, attempts to change the readers mind which also means a certain empathy exercise, trying to find out how the other person thinks. Tweeting obscenities is or more of a way to express and vent personal feelings, here the reader, the other person is merely a prop, the focus and attention is on the self.

    This is why I think tweeting obscenities is a good SJW predictor, because it is a predictor of narcissism. It is the kind of thing people do who don’t stop an think “what am I actually giving or offering my audience here?”

    How does obesity play into the picture? It’s complicated. Interestingly obesity seems to work differently in men and women. Perhaps because women are more judged by looks, I don’t know why, but you usually see more attempts to convince other people / herself that it is OK, and other people making fun of it is the only thing not OK. At any rate, obesity in women tends to work as a predictor of psychological issues, although a fairly weak predictor (Maybe, 20-30% of the cases? But boy, those cases are LOUD.) Less so in men, it is usually just a predictor of really like beer and TV and not giving much of a shit about health but usually not really trying to rationalize it away.

    When my wife was pregnant she told me it is really weird that eating does not really feel like her own choice anymore but a duty, a service she owes to the baby growing in her. It is a quite unusual idea to see something as personal as eating to be a service done for the sake of another, but true for pregnancy.

    Weird idea, but is it then possible that female over-eating and obesity is a form of _simulated motherhood_ ? If eating, feeding that baby through the placenta is a core aspect of what is the biologically-traditionally most feminine job, it suggests that eating could boost the self-esteem of women who have issues with that, because it sounds like doing one aspect of a core job right. Sort of how things like simulated combat like punching a sandbag may boost the self-esteem of men (at least for me boxing training works better than weight lifting: lifting makes me feel fake: looking like a warrior but not actually being a warrior).

    If there is something in this hypothesis, it would fit female obesity into the narcissism and self-esteem issues psychological profile of SJWhood. (For male SJWs, my first guess would be the association with the absolute lack of any kind of fighting ability.)

  55. >The fact that the Asatru Association is taking an eyes-open, neopagan, “wetware-hacking” approach is precisely why I thought that link would be of interest here. Had they been typical new-age fluffbunnies or tried to revive literal belief in the Norse pantheon, I wouldn’t have said anything.

    Not the impression I got, sorry.

    >As for that metal song… Lol. Masturbation material for teenage proto-white-nationalists — tomorrow’s Andrew Auernheimers.

    To a certain extent it really yes, it really is. (Pandora often suggests things that aren’t exactly my cup of tea.) But there wouldn’t be much appeal if those dreaded ‘white people’ weren’t actively being marginalized in their own country. Interesting and odd and a little scary that people are so desperately looking for…. something, that neopaganism (of some stripe) or Amon Amarth music are conjured to satisfy the craving.

  56. Similarly, there seems to be some pent-up demand for new SF/F voices who aren’t literary or SJW types. After all, there is exactly one remaining traditional publishing house dealing with the SF/F market that hasn’t been successfully infiltrated by SJW’s. But we’ve been over this.

    Anyway, how else to explain the excitement over a single short story from a part-time (at best) writer?

  57. I just finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir. WOW. I couldn’t put it down, and read it practically nonstop until complete. I want to see more from Weir!

    It is classic Campbell. The enemy is the Universe, the weapons are human technology and ingenuity, and the characters (though amusing) are cardboard. Having them be more than cardboard would just have gotten in the way of the problem-solving at the center of this first novel.

    If you read the reviews on Amazon, they are very polarized. Most loved it. Those who didn’t come across as Rabbits whining about the characters, wanted the story to follow the engineers home into their personal lives, and therefore missed the point.

    If you’ve read Zubrin’s victim First Landing, you are familiar with this kind of story. I could sum it up as “Macgyver is abandoned on Mars and must survive.”

    Re: Sucker Punch, I liked it and thought it was very well written. Liked it, not loved it, and don’t think it’s award-worthy. What it does do is make me want to read future novels written by ESR.

  58. Thanks for everyone’s kind words, but I am definitely NOT eligible for a Campbell Award. I got nominated back in 2001 for some of my short fiction.

    However, I’m pretty sure Andy (“The Martian”) Weir is eligible this year.

  59. @Greg the 1 star reviews of The Martian on Amazon are super funny, they are like “What! Fiction written for nerds!”, I don’t really know what really the term “rabbits” mean or whether it is typical for them, but it is about as hilarious as “I bought this porn movie. It is horrible! It’s got genitals in it! And not much deep character acting!” :DDD

  60. @ Cathy re: The Martian by Andy Weir

    I read it last year and also loved it. Same experience, couldn’t put it down. I understand that a movie version is also in the works.

    The Mars locale and NASA technology are a fun backdrop, but the story is really about problem solving and persistence. These are two core traits that epitomize our species’ primary strength in the face of hardships and unknowns. This is SF at it’s best; pointing the way toward evolutionary advancement in the real world as opposed to the PC/SJW world of contrived hardship and oppression.

    The litmus test of like/dislike is perhaps a good proxy for productive versus parasitic bias. The hero of The Martian takes personal responsibility for his fate and perseveres; whereas the PC SJWs are always looking to blame someone else for their fate in life. The former is evolutionary and the latter is anti-evolutionary.

  61. Interesting how SJWhood is more a type of person, rather than a position. Fat woman tweeting “what the fucking fuck” instead of actual arguments, this fits into the SJW personality stereotype so well, that you could as well predict her positions on a lot of stuff just about that.

    Actually SJWism is being increasingly taken up by thin good-looking women; Anita Sarkeesian and Shanley Kane come to mind. It’s a posture of mind. In fact, attractive women have considerable skin in the game: part of feminism is about raising awareness about rape and sexual assault, to which more attractive women are more vulnerable.

    That said, I took one look at Seanan MacGuire and thought “she looks just like Sonicrocksmysocks”. (Don’t look that name up unless you are prepared for epic levels of crazy.) Replete with fan art depicting her as thinner and prettier than she really is.

  62. Actually SJWism is being increasingly taken up by thin good-looking women; Anita Sarkeesian

    Highly questionable whether Sarkeesian “taken it up” by any particular definition. She appears to be a mouthpiece for hire.

    rape and sexual assault, to which more attractive women are more vulnerable

    But of course they’re not about sex.

  63. I have read “The Martian” in Polish translation… and liked it. I’m not sure if it were translation at fault, or in some places tropperific plot, which prevented me from loving it.

  64. >I doubt you think of me as “New-Agey”, but I’ve participated in Asatru rituals and have little doubt that the style of the new temple’s observances would be very familiar to me. Heck, with a little coaching I could probably officiate at one competently (as in, assist the participants in achieving the desired altered states).

    No, I don’t. But I do think of you as highly anomalous. I must admit, when I read through accounts of your ritual experiments/experiences, I was *extremely* skeptical. But with careful consideration, I’m convinced that you approach it all in a very hard-headed manner with deep understanding of the scientific method. I’m not so sure about anyone else.

  65. As the founding member of the Evil League of Evil, and the one who coined the term, I can speak with authority: we stand for the principle that readers should vote for you if and only if they think the actual work merits it.

    We are not political; we are openly, obviously, obnoxiously, vocally, outrageously, screamingly non-political.

    Our battlecry is that science fiction should be about science fiction and not about political correctness.

    We are sick and tired of science fiction awards being given to politically correct mascots for politically correct reasons and not based on the merit of the work.

    We are sick and tired of buying award winning books, thinking we will get a science fiction story, and get a moping lecture on social awareness instead. It is like promising a child a slice of cake and giving him boiled cabbage instead.

    The people who are telling you publicly to repudiate the nominations are the only ones here being political or trying to politicize the Hugo.

    We are trying to depoliticize the Hugo. That is the goal; that has been the effort from the first; that was the theme of the very first essay by Larry Correia which started this whole thing. (http://monsterhunternation.com/2014/01/28/ending-binary-gender-in-fiction-or-how-to-murder-your-writing-career/) For those of you lacking the time to click through the link, the point of this particular column is that story should come first, and message is optional.

    The point was not to put in conservative messages to argue against leftwing messages. The point was to tell a story, to get back to story telling.

    We are ‘political’ in the exact same way atheism is a church.

  66. @Jeff Read
    ” part of feminism is about raising awareness about rape and sexual assault, to which more attractive women are more vulnerable.”

    I doubt that. The statistics as they are available tend to point to a risk that correlates with the (in-)ability to protect one self.

    For instance, women who are (mentally) handicapped or otherwise dependent are more at risk. The old joke about some rural areas is “A virgin is a woman who can run faster than her [pick male relatives of choice]”.

    I do not see any relation with “looks”, only with “availability” (can the man get away with it).

  67. Hm. Eric, is it possible you’re suffering from Dunning-Krueger under-confidence, and that your story is seriously that good?

  68. @TomA

    >The litmus test of like/dislike is perhaps a good proxy for productive versus parasitic bias. The hero of The Martian takes personal responsibility for his fate and perseveres; whereas the PC SJWs are always looking to blame someone else for their fate in life. The former is evolutionary and the latter is anti-evolutionary.

    And obviously if you raised this to them, 99% would scream but 1% would make the interesting argument that you are using the Just World Fallacy, because only in a just world have people only to blame themselves for their fate. And of course you could counter that they have Unjust World Fallacy – this is not really a thing yet, but should be, it is basically the illusion that people are agency-less non-actors, pawns in the hands of Fate (Fate=society in this regard, but it does overlap with some aspects of “oriental” fatalism.)

    Which brings us back to what I raised before, namely that instead of everybody just pushing their own opinion regarding this, it would be useful to try to find heuristics to measure how just or how unjust are settings in a given circumstance.

    It would be also interesting to figure out the cost, the opportunity cost of error both ways, over-and underestimating the justness of the world.

    I think a man believing in a just world but living in an unjust one would make a too good slave. The opportunity cost is failing to overthrow the tyrant. If everybody was like that, it would be a rich world, everybody working their ass off, but maybe some necessary social changes not made. Maybe, still absolute kings and serfs.

    The man believing in an unjust world but living in a just world would largely screw up his own life. Not putting in the effort, thinking it does not worth it. If everybody was like that, basically productivity would drop like a stone and would be replaced with endless political argument.

    Finally, it just occured to me that fatalism is not only an oriental thing, but Fate was actually prominent in Ancient Greek culture was well, which created the West. However, the idea was that while your future is determined by Fate, you still work and fight hard, basically just because of pride. Go down if Fate says so, but go down fighting. I wonder if this is actually a useful way to handle it: assume unjust outcomes, then ignore it and work as hard as you can anyway.

  69. You were asked to review “Awake in the Night Lands”, and said you were waiting until you could read the original books, but I’m not sure it is necessary. It is apparently a benchmark work of your publisher, so I think reading it and reviewing it might be helpful.

    Personally I enjoyed your story more than anything else in the anthology, and may have been the only reason I got the book (your nonfiction would be the second best – but I think I already have a countermeasure on my desk since I’ve been playing for a while, see http://www.dragonlasers.com/), you write well – and being concise and consistent and getting the right level of detail are virtues even in fiction. Most of other works were either republished or were contemporary instead of futuristic, and the aspect of wonder in SF is missing.

  70. VD’s own works like A Throne Of Bones are fantasy

    Most Science Fiction is fantasy, especially the galaxy spanning space opera stuff where ships magically go from star to star “instantaneously”. As if “instantaneous” actually meant something without specifying the reference frame. Not to mention plain old physics and the energy levels needed to reach the relevant speeds being pretty much swept under the rug.

    OTOH, I’ll admit that the writing style and central focus tends to differ between the two genres. When the aliens are elves, orcs, and dwarves, the science amounts to incantations and the waving of wands, and the MacGuffin is some object of power, then it is probably traditional fantasy.

  71. Jeff Read: “Actually SJWism is being increasingly taken up by thin good-looking women”

    Well, they’re thin. I don’t find glassy fanatic eyes attractive, personally (or excessive thinness either, when it comes to that).

    Shenpen: “I wonder if this is actually a useful way to handle it: assume unjust outcomes, then ignore it and work as hard as you can anyway.”

    That’s likely the optimal strategy, from a purely pragmatic point of view.

    • >Shenpen: “I wonder if this is actually a useful way to handle it: assume unjust outcomes, then ignore it and work as hard as you can anyway.”

      Here’s where we unify with the other thread: this sounds very Norse.

      You know how the world will end – the Fimbulwinter, the Raganarok. There is no justice, only the certainty of doom. For yourself, you believe no man can escape his wyrd. What matters is the courage and cunning with which you meet the struggle. The Havamal: Cattle die, kindred die / Every man is mortal / But the good name never dies / Of one who has done well.

      That basic toughness of spirit survived Christianization and became an essential part of the cultural DNA of the modern West. Six hundred years after the Codex Regius committed the Havamal to parchment, Henley’s “Invictus”:

      Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
      I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

      In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
      Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

      Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
      And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

      It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
      I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

      Connected to Greco-Roman stoicism, yes, but the tone – it is very Viking.

  72. Shenpen: “I wonder if this is actually a useful way to handle it: assume unjust outcomes, then ignore it and work as hard as you can anyway.”

    Now that I’ve thought about it a bit more, maybe “ignoring it” isn’t quite right. You should still always count your change. “Accept that it might happen” would be better phrasing.

  73. @ Shenpen

    I very much enjoy your inquisitiveness and creative insight into our species’ underlying motivations and interactions. And there is scientific research going on to help explore this in an objective and mathematical fashion. However, a key problem is that laymen (with unsavory agendas) love to grab onto preliminary findings and then us them as cudgels to bludgeon others into submission with memetic brainwashing. This a problem that is generally unique to the investigation of social evolutionary theory. No one has yet decided to start a political movement based upon the discovery of the Higgs particle; but who knows, maybe the SJWs will soon latch onto that idea and find hidden oppression in the Higgs Field.

    The Earth is a crucible of energy that is continually in conversion and exchange. Within human affairs, this dynamism results in endless challenges to our species’ viability. Some may perceive this hardship as unjust (a human mental construct), but nature cares not for our opinion of it.

  74. @ESR > What I wonder is if I’d have anything to teach them about hand-to-hand fighting.

    Unless you’ve actually applied the martial arts you’ve practiced against non practitioners in fully live sparring or competition, probably not. Outside of that, martial arts are good mental and physical exercise, but of minimal application to the battleground. The Vikings practiced live often in deadly situations.

  75. ” maybe the SJWs will soon latch onto that idea and find hidden oppression in the Higgs Field”

    Well, given that they’ve managed to find sexism and oppression in classical mechanics (one of them refers to the Principia as “Newton’s rape manual”, I believe) it’s only a matter of time until quantum physics takes its turn in the barrel, if it hasn’t already.

  76. @Jeff Read

    Actually SJWism is being increasingly taken up by thin good-looking women; Anita Sarkeesian and Shanley Kane come to mind. It’s a posture of mind. In fact, attractive women have considerable skin in the game: part of feminism is about raising awareness about rape and sexual assault, to which more attractive women are more vulnerable.

    This is exactly how slave morality works.. poison the strong individual against itself.

  77. ” I wonder if this is actually a useful way to handle it: assume unjust outcomes, then ignore it and work as hard as you can anyway.”

    Not a bad way to handle it surely. See e.g. Mr. Heinlein: “Certainly the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you; if you don’t bet, you can’t win. ”

    There is a certain body of research that suggests pessimists are in general more often right than optimists but also that every once in a while an optimist pulls it off when a pessimist would have failed.

    For myself I have no useful definition for just and unjust – “though I tremble for my country when I reflect that G-d is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” Nor do I believe in any arc of history.

    My own null hypothesis which I cannot refute is that life be neither just nor unjust but haphazard. That a person can by effort join a pool of eligibles to be rewarded or punished haphazardly and that surely the road ad astra goes per aspera.

    I’m recommending against doing anything that has annoying the other side as a major motivation. I think the short term rewards (even if you aren’t actually all that annoying, you start with imagining annoying the other side) are so strong they’re a distraction from truth and effectiveness.

    Starting with the but in the yes but, but I think the major motivation is an appeal to the lurkers – cue: the lurkers support me (on RecArtsSFW) – but preaching to the remnant can be effectively indistinguishable from mocking the opposition. Preaching to the opposition I see as somewhere between lacking amusement value for anybody and a total waste of time. Some of the Baen crowd do have an internalized mechanism for crying slash and awarding points that exceeds my understanding.

  78. @Shenpen
    “…because only in a just world have people only to blame themselves for their fate.”

    Did you read Candide, ou l’optimisme by Voltaire?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candide

    In the 18th century the vogue was that we live in the “best of all possible worlds” (Leibniz) and Voltaire was ridiculing this philosophy. It often seems to me that the message of Candide has been taken to literally and that people now believe we live in the “worst of all possible worlds”.

  79. If I voted on these awards, which I don’t, I wouldn’t vote for ESR for the Campbell, because I don’t see any promise of him becoming more than a very occasional writer of SF for a relatively short time.

    He doesn’t have a lot of interest in writing and publishing SF, compared to the field which is his chief vocation. And he’s already pretty old (58 this year). That also limits his as an SF writer.

    The chance of his producing a substantial body of high-quality work is IMHO small.

    • >The chance of his producing a substantial body of high-quality work is IMHO small.

      Clever person, taunting me like that. Way to increase the odds!

  80. Just thinking it further: isn’t there a significant overlap between being thrown in a just world an being a succesful, efficient self-made entrepreneur (or anything really), and being thrown into an unjust world and being a succesful, efficient revolutionary? “stop whining, start working hard” would be an entirely valid thing to say in a perfectly unjust world, except that in that case “working hard” would mean “working hard on organizing a revolution”.

    In other words, Just World Fallacy accusations could be demonstrated to be empty, but I don’t know how to formulate that in a good way. Something along the lines not working very hard on overthrowing things means either you are indeed lazy or your world is not actually very unjust.

    Having said that… if I was organizing a revolution, the whiners would be useful, but not in the leader circle, not even as foot soldiers, but as donation magnets. Don’t write them off entirely. It is quite possible that SJWs are used by way smarter and more dedicated people, use them as the outer circle of a prospiracy.

  81. @Winter we took that at school, and I could not make head or tails of it… didn’t get what possible means in this context, whether just logically non-contradictory, or under the known laws of nature, or what… and Voltaire was something sort of a witty troll anyway, not sure if the whole thing is even meant entirely seriously.

  82. >It is quite possible that SJWs are used by way smarter and more dedicated people, use them as the outer circle of a prospiracy.

    It’s well beyond ‘possible’. SJW’s are Ghazis.

  83. >>And he’s already pretty old (58 this year). That also limits his as an SF writer

    Note that Rex Stout what 48 when he wrote the first Nero Wolfe story, and turned out about one a year for the next 41 years. I think the eric has time to write a bit yet.

    Jim

  84. Winter on 2015-02-05 at 01:53:26 said:
    > Did you read Candide, ou l’optimisme by Voltaire?

    I have.

    In the 18th century the vogue was that we live in the “best of all possible worlds” (Leibniz) and Voltaire was ridiculing this philosophy. It often seems to me that the message of Candide has been taken to literally and that people now believe we live in the “worst of all possible worlds”.

    Otto West: Apes don’t read philosophy.

    Wanda: Yes they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it. Now let me correct you on a couple of things, OK? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not “Every man for himself.” And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up.

  85. >Funny way to spell Chump.

    Who’s to say? The SJW’s seem to manage to carve out livings for themselves, where one would think they were otherwise unemployable.

    Of course what they mainly do is create a path of destruction into what used to be productive-but-enemy-held territory. And live off the plunder.

    That they won’t be the ones deriving the real benefits, once that territory is finally pacified and brought into the Dar al-Sinister seems to be a bargain they’re willing to make. Because for the most part wrecking shit is all they’re good at, and there’s always someplace new for them to move on to and wreck.

  86. Of course Ghazis and SJW’s are both a product of systems that create more hungry parasites than wealth. And if they didn’t turn to doing what they do, they’d starve.

    You don’t want to allow either to set up shop anywhere near you.

  87. The purpose of the Sad Puppies campaign is not to push a political agenda. Its original intent, when Correia started it, was to call out certain persons who were pushing a political agenda, and he got exactly what he wanted: when he produced the first Sad Puppies slate, certain authors, bloggers, and publishers went ballistic and insisted his suggestions should be excluded for reasons of politics rather than quality.

    Since then, Sad Puppies has morphed into an attempt to reclaim the Hugo and make it a serious award again rather than a way for the in-group to hand out prizes to those who think as they do.

    In other words, the Sad Puppies slate is about the quality of the work rather than the politics of the writers. Those involved in the campaign, of course, are not monolithic. I’ve of course seen a few commenters here and there who’ve suggested works on account of conservative message, but that is not the core intent of the campaign.

  88. @Lambert
    “http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/04/11/read-history-of-philosophy-backwards/”
    Read history backwards.

    Indeed, what is important to philosophy are not the answers, but the questions. Deep down, philosophy is a technology of thinking. This is not about the thoughts, but about the gears that make the thoughts possible.

    For example, “The Republic” of Plato contains completely outdated answers to the question who should rule and how they should do it. However, the question itself, “Who should rule and how should they do it?” is still at the center of our attention, e.g., this blog (“No one”, and “Whomever, as long as we can get rid of them when we want to” are just two answers).

  89. Philosophy is just a generic category to put all the things into that haven’t been worked out properly yet. I don’t mean it in a bad way – it is a very exciting bucket, you can fish out half-done ideas and mold them and make a significant contribution and change some minds there, it is much more exciting than a field where everything is nailed down with a million evidence and proof.

    Once things are better worked out, they get a differetn name, for example parts of political philosophy that are worked out became legal theory. Or the philosophy of music evolved into music theory. Although I don’t like it much, still, much of Foucault’s stuff graduated from being philosophy to part of the toolkit of historians. (For example, a recent and popular book, The Making of a Roman India, focuses not so much on how India really was but how Romans saw them. Because, ultimately, that is what Latin sources will reveal.)

    But perhaps the best example is economics. In fact, it is still in the limbo. The mainstream became an empirical science, but for example the Misesian stuff stayed quite close to being a philosophy. And of course their arch-enemy, the Marxian school too.

    Plato’s answers to rulership are not completely outdated IMHO because it is a good example of something that has not been worked out yet. This is actually one of the few books that age very well. The criticism of democracy in The Republic, namely that it largely results in rule by unreliable emotions and not careful analysis, is something we see every day, it held up well. Plato’s criticism of tyranny predicted the ego-trips of modern dictators very well. The idea that the lack of moderation in democracies tends to create tyrannies was one of the best predictions, most dictators from Caesar to Hitler wore the “man of the people, against the elites” mantle. As for the constructive ideas, the philosopher-kings stuff was never a plan, just a thought experiment, if you read it it full it is in the later chapters dismissed. The later chapters basically invent the idea of liberalism, namely, given that good philosopher-kings are impossible to find, the best thing is if everybody cares about their own business and does not involve himself in the business of others ( 4.433a). This does not come accross as dated at all. The precise reason it is not dated is that these things have not been worked out much better yet.

    • >Philosophy is just a generic category to put all the things into that haven’t been worked out properly yet.

      This is a popular position, and one with considerable historical support. Certainly many things which used to be considered philosophy are no longer, and there are areas now considered philosophy which may not long remain in it. Much of what is now philosophy of mind, for example, seems to me about to be drawn into the domain of empirical science by neuroscience and AI research.

      But I disagree; I think philosophy has a proper domain of its own, and that is the theory of theory-building. Epistemology, ontology, language analysis, confirmation theory.

  90. Quoting myself from an old Less Wrong thread:

    There are no specifically philosophical truths, only specifically philosophical questions. Philosophy is the precursor to science; its job is to help us state our hypotheses clearly enough that we can test them scientifically. If you want to determine how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, it’s philosophy’s job to either clarify or reject as nonsensical the concept of an angel, and then in the former case to hand off to science the problem of tracking down some angels to participate in a pin-dancing study.

    • >If you want to determine how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, it’s philosophy’s job to either clarify or reject as nonsensical the concept of an angel, and then in the former case to hand off to science the problem of tracking down some angels to participate in a pin-dancing study.

      I think this is essentially my position stated in a less formal and more concrete way. Do you agree?

  91. For a billion years, life on Earth evolved based upon natural phenomena and mechanisms. Then along came homo sapiens, sentience, cognition, complex language, intelligence, and memetics. And for the last few thousands years, our evolutionary path has been dramatically influenced by idea mutation, reasoned analysis, social affairs experimentation, and Darwinian feedback.

    In part, philosophy is man’s organized pursuit of an ideal form of knowledge and models that are aimed at (and expected to) enhance our species. However, this pursuit is not like particle physics where we can bash inanimate bosons together in sealed particle accelerator. The social laboratory is a dynamic open space of living beings that interact in a myriad of ways. Writing about philosophy is a non-destructive form of testing. Politics is often times the destructive form.

  92. I think we agree, but I’m currently debating with myself whether ethics, or at least meta-ethics, ought to be included in the list of central topics. As a non-cognitivist, I don’t think there’s any content there that can’t eventually be reduced to problems in ontology or language analysis. However, this position requires considerable philosophical argumentation to defend, and I don’t see it becoming an academic consensus any time in the foreseeable future. So perhaps it deserves to stand as a field in its own right.

  93. As others have reiterated, Sad Puppies is about NOT having politics inserted into the awards, and rather, judging stories on their merit as SF/F. Frankly IMO Sucker Punch was the standout in ‘Riding’ and I will be voting accordingly. Also, please write more of it. ;-)

  94. >>Sad Puppies is about NOT having politics inserted into the awards,

    Which is politics from a different angle. Unfortunately, like the turtles, it’s politics all the way down.

    Not that I disagree with their stance in any way, it should be all about the story, not the author.

    Jim

  95. I’m currently debating with myself whether ethics, or at least meta-ethics, ought to be included in the list of central topics.

    On further consideration, no, it shouldn’t. Questions about ethics should be preprocessed using the same ontology and language analysis toolkit as any others, and then resolved by applying some combination of psychology, sociology, and economics. I think this continues to hold up even if you believe in some flavor of moral realism.

  96. @Jim Hurlburt If you’d have read the entire sentence you’ll see that’s exactly what I wrote the point was: judge stories on their merit, not on the politics of the writer, which is explicitly apolitical, unlike the current situation.

  97. @esr
    I always thought the angels on a pin quesrion was from theology. But as the final answer was infinite (angels are not made of matter), it could have been philosophy too.

    I think the important point was to clarify whether angels are part of our world and subject to its rules. Which sounds to me a question of theology.

  98. @cyr

    I probably wasn’t clear enough.
    What I said is —
    The attempt to divorce the Campbell award from the political correctness score of the author.
    Or the political correctness score of the story

    Instead —
    award it on the merits of the story (as a story, not the issues)

  99. @cyr
    Damn lack of prevew. I wasn’t ready to post the above yet.

    Instead —
    The campbell award should be awarded on the merits of the story as a story

    The above is still politics. Politics that I approve of, but political maneuvering to get the focus back on the story instead on the political suitability of the (gender, color, age, … of the author)

    It’s still politics. And if you wish to claim that all politics are evil, you may. I merely claim that politics are inevitable and that you *will* have to play the politic game if you are going to play at all.

    That the evil lord of evil is playing politics is a given. It appears to me as if he is attempting to play a cleaner game, and is pushing in a direction that I prefer is (for me) a good thing. Just don’t try to pretend that you can play the game at all and totally avoid politics. Kind of like perpetual motion, it just ain’t gonna work.

    Sorry,
    Jim

  100. > But I disagree; I think philosophy has a proper domain of its own, and that is the theory of theory-building. Epistemology, ontology, language analysis, confirmation theory.

    Once upon a time, formal logic was considered to be in that domain, then it was taken by mathematics and further refined into category theory. You don’t think the others might follow?

  101. Category theory isn’t a logic. It was originally formulated as an ordinary mathematical theory, i.e. within set theory, and that’s still how its usually studied. Topos theorists later went on to give it an axiomitization independent of set theory so that it could be used for metamathematical study, but the axioms continue to be stated in terms of conventional logic.

    I don’t think logic is any more or less a part of philosophy today than it was before analytic philosophy came along. Study of the philosophy of mathematics, and specifically the role and metaphysical status of formal logic, continues to belong to ontology.

  102. No! This is all fucking nonsense! Philosophy is not a “branch”, it covers EVERYTHING. All the stuff Eric is talking about is logic and/or linguistics! Wittgenstein, Quine etc are not philosophers!! Daniel Franke is also wrong – questions start in philosophy not because it is a “precursor”, but because it consists in the GENERAL, and as questions – and answers – become more specific and specialized they are refined into sub-branches.

  103. @Winter

    Indeed, what is important to philosophy are not the answers, but the questions. Deep down, philosophy is a technology of thinking. This is not about the thoughts, but about the gears that make the thoughts possible.

    This is some of the most blockheaded shit you have come up with yet. First, knowing which questions to ask is itself an answer. Second, anything you know about the gears that make the thoughts possible is itself a thought. Perhaps you are one of these people who is incapable of mentally coping with circularity. You’re right about one thing: the “gears that make the thoughts possible” (a stupid way of saying “psychology”) is KEY to philosophy.

    For example, “The Republic” of Plato contains completely outdated answers to the question who should rule and how they should do it. However, the question itself, “Who should rule and how should they do it?” is still at the center of our attention, e.g., this blog (“No one”, and “Whomever, as long as we can get rid of them when we want to” are just two answers).

    At NO POINT have the questions you answered not been under heavy dispute. The ENTIRE STAGE OF HISTORY consists of men trying to settle this question. You’re essentially pissing into Plato’s dead mouth by implying that his work is totally unnecessary.

  104. In the most general sense, philosophy is the study of the fundamental nature of existence, reality, and knowledge. There is ample reason to believe that the universe existed before homo sapiens evolved (and therefore is not dream fantasy of some unspecified entity). And apprehension and interaction with reality is both ubiquitous and a necessary feature of staying alive so I suspect that our species would have become extinct long ago had not that skill set evolved. The fundamentals of knowledge is the playground that most philosophers play in, and there is no shortage of analysis on that topic. Most of the controversy in philosophy occurs when someone claims the high ground of superiority based upon some preferred criteria. My dog is better than your dog.

  105. @ ESR
    >>Wittgenstein, Quine etc are not philosophers!!
    >Eh? I think you need to adjust your meds, Roger.

    Which provides an opportunity to ask: what’s your take on those two thinkers? I’ve searched A&D for your comments on them, but found only tangential mentions.

    • >Which provides an opportunity to ask: what’s your take on those two thinkers?

      I view them both as significant contributors with whom, if they were still alive, I could have interesting technical arguments. I would probably be more impressed with them if so many of their well-known contributions had not been reached sooner (or at least implied) by Alfred Korzybski and C.S. Peirce.

  106. @Roger
    “First, knowing which questions to ask is itself an answer. Second, anything you know about the gears that make the thoughts possible is itself a thought. ….. You’re right about one thing: the “gears that make the thoughts possible” (a stupid way of saying “psychology”) is KEY to philosophy.”

    I fear to write it. But it seems you misinterpreted my remarks. I think we actually agree in this point.

    (Unless I again did not understand this remark of you)

  107. @Roger&Jorge
    I am too curious. I m no fan of Witgenstein, but he is generally considered to be a philosopher. What disqualifies his works?

  108. Challenge: write a short sci-fi/fantasy novel set in a universe where Aristotelean causation is true. Not Aristotelean physics, just causation (hylomorphic dualism).

    I don’t think any two people agree on what hylomorphic dualism is.

    I rather think that hylomorphic dualism was pre alchemy, as alchemy was pre chemistry, but clearly other people mean something completely different.

    Aristotlean causation is teleological. Teleology makes sense in the Darwinian worldview, in that the telos of the heart is to pump blood, the telos of the sexual act in most mammals is primarily conception, the telos of the sexual act in humans is not merely the sexual act, but the uniting of a man and a woman to form a family whereby children may not only be conceived, but successfully raised, and so on and so forth.

  109. >Wittgenstein, Quine etc are not philosophers!!

    Eh? I think you need to adjust your meds, Roger.

    I think I know where he’s coming from on this one: he’s applying a weird notion, no doubt influenced by Nietzche and maybe others of the continental school, of which questions are sufficiently significant to the human condition to be worthy of the crown of Philosophy. Political philosophy makes the cut but philosophy of language doesn’t. Roger doesn’t need to adjust his meds; he just needs to set his avatar to Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty.

  110. The most abstract (and non falsifiable) conceptions in philosophy are tedious and ultimately time wasting; e.g. is the universe and our awareness of it just a dream state of some unknowable consciousness floating around somewhere? If so, then anything is possible and thought is just mental masturbation. I regard this type of outlier branch of philosophy as unintelligent and not worthy of extensive investigation.

    A better application of philosophy IMHO is as a potential tool for advancement of the species. Through a fuller and more accurate understanding of the fundamentals of thought and knowledge, we should be able to enhance our ability to survive, thrive, and persist. My guess is that this process has been ongoing anyway throughout our evolution, but we now have formalized the pursuit.

  111. questions start in philosophy not because it is a “precursor”, but because it consists in the GENERAL, and as questions – and answers – become more specific and specialized they are refined into sub-branches.

    You are correct, as soon as something becomes useful it is no longer called philosophy.

    /me ducks

  112. @ Winter
    >I am too curious. I m no fan of Witgenstein, but he is generally considered to be a philosopher. What disqualifies his works?

    I didn’t say that. I merely seized a perceived opportunity to find out ESR’s opinions about him and Quine.

  113. Thanks for your reply. :)

    >I would probably be more impressed with them if so many of their well-known contributions had not been reached sooner (or at least implied) by Alfred Korzybski and C.S. Peirce.

    My father told me that, in “On What There Is”, Quine objects to the verb “to be”. That would be an example of the unoriginality you mention, eh? ;)
    In the past, you’ve also observed that some of Popper’s ideas had been foreshadowed by Peirce. Which leads me to my final question for this thread: Popper’s notion of the three worlds, AFAICT, is original; do you see any value, predictive or otherwise, in it?

    • >My father told me that, in “On What There Is”, Quine objects to the verb “to be”. That would be an example of the unoriginality you mention, eh? ;)

      Quite. Quine was generally a sound thinker but not a very groundbreaking one. Most of his work seems to me to have only added a bit more rigor and academic polish to ideas that predated him. Like many academic philosophers he had a tendency to get overexcited about trivial questions; the one I’m thinking of in his case is the ontological status of nonexistent objects like pegasi.

      >Popper’s notion of the three worlds, AFAICT, is original; do you see any value, predictive or otherwise, in it?

      I think it’s best understood as a pedagogical device. It doesn’t add much if anything to our understanding of ontology, but is useful for dispelling certain kinds of elementary confusion.

  114. Thanks again. Your philosophical insights are always a pleasure, and I appreciate your willingness to engage in philosophical discussions with a newbie like me. I wish I could repay your kindness and patience; but since I can’t, I’ll strive to at least honor you and your teachings, possibly by learning Python (which I’ve been unduly postponing)… in addition to reading works of analytic philosophy, of course. ;)

    • >in addition to reading works of analytic philosophy, of course. ;)

      Before reading analytic philosophy, I advise reading at least one introductory test on General Semantics. Language in Thought and Action, The Tyranny of Words, or People In Quandaries would do nicely.

  115. Jim Hurlburt on 2015-02-05 at 11:20:12 said:

    >>And he’s already pretty old (58 this year). That also limits his [future] as an SF writer.
    >Note that Rex Stout what 48 when he wrote the first Nero Wolfe story, and turned out
    >about one a year for the next 41 years. I think the eric has time to write a bit yet.

    58 is a lot older than 48. And Wolfe had been a professional writer for over 15 years at that time, a full-time writer for seven years.

    I’m not saying ESR cannot possibly produce a substantial body of high-quality work. I only say that it is unlikely, and that for that reason I don’t think he can be considered particularly promising, the Campbell Award’s criterion of merit.

    Also, of course, the fact that he has already found a very demanding vocation, which means he is unlikely to devote lots of time to fiction-writing instead of FOSS development. People of his age (and mine) rarely make radical changes in the focus of their lives.

    Maybe he’ll prove me wrong.

    • >I’m not saying ESR cannot possibly produce a substantial body of high-quality work. I only say that it is unlikely, and that for that reason I don’t think he can be considered particularly promising, the Campbell Award’s criterion of merit.

      For whatever it’s worth, I admit that the odds favor your skepticism.

      The fulfillment of my highest ambition as a writer would be to produce a major work of hard SF at the level of Neil Stephenson’s Anathem or Greg Egan’s Diaspora. If were to drop everything else I was doing with my life and concentrate on this goal, I would like my odds of actually achieving this.

      The reason for my optimism is that I already have the most difficult prerequisite – the ability to do high-quality SFnal worldbuiding from a very broad base of scientific, historical, and general knowledge – in my pocket. I am deeply, intimately familiar with the SF genre’s history and idioms. I am an accomplished prose stylist with a demonstrated ability to write in a way that engages people and sells. By comparison to these already-achieved qualifications, developing the specific skill of writing salable fiction does not seem at all insuperable, especially given that I have now accomplished it once.

      The thing is, this is not anything likely to happen overnight. To get to where I want to be I’d almost certainly need to learn by doing – several novels and a bushel of short stories. That’s a lot of time investment in a life that is already busy and oversubscribed doing things that are pretty important. Your doubt that I will ever be able to stump up that investment is perfectly reasonable; I’m in doubt of it myself.

      Still…stranger things have happened. If I were to get seized by the right premise tomorrow and spend three weeks writing in a white heat of creativity I don’t think the idea that I could produce Hugo-quality work is in any way crazy. Unlikely, yes; crazy, no. It only took me six hours from a standing start to write Sucker Punch, after all.

  116. @Winter

    I fear to write it. But it seems you misinterpreted my remarks. I think we actually agree in this point.

    I didn’t misinterpret you.. I lambasted your wording for containing a bunch of confusions. Like “it’s not the answers that matter, it’s the questions”, which is plainly contradictory.

    I am too curious. I m no fan of Witgenstein, but he is generally considered to be a philosopher. What disqualifies his works?

    Because he dealt with a specialized sub-field (logic), not philosophy. So he was a “mini-philosopher”, i.e. a specialist, not a philosopher. He’s considered a philosopher because the scholars who formulate the curriculums etc don’t understand this distinction, precisely for resentment reasons (the scholar is a “tool” in the hands of the philosopher).

    @Foo Quuxman

    You are correct, as soon as something becomes useful it is no longer called philosophy.

    /me ducks

    lol.. well there is a lot of truth in this statement, possibly unintended. Philosophy is useful only to the greatest people, precisely because it subsumes all the lesser fields – and only the greatest people have any use for this. So yes, it is useless to 95% of people on the planet (maybe more), and it’s only once thought becomes crudified down to the level of mathematics, science, engineering… that there’s any significant audience. And even that’s a minority.

    @Daniel Franke

    I think I know where he’s coming from on this one: he’s applying a weird notion, no doubt influenced by Nietzche and maybe others of the continental school, of which questions are sufficiently significant to the human condition to be worthy of the crown of Philosophy. Political philosophy makes the cut but philosophy of language doesn’t. Roger doesn’t need to adjust his meds; he just needs to set his avatar to Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty.

    Philosophy is THOUGHT. Everything else is subcategories within that. So yes, Quine and Wittgenstein are “philosophers”, in the smallest, crudest sense. I’m sure the man who packs your groceries has his own little “philosophy of grocery packing” too. Naturally, we don’t call this a “philosophy” , or “science” or even a real “trade”! In other words, this is not a “weird” notion but exactly how categories of knowledge work everywhere else. It’s just that philosophy is so high up in the sky that the vast majority of brains have no idea of its shape, size, what is contained within it, etc.

  117. There is a certain body of research that suggests pessimists are in general more often right than optimists but also that every once in a while an optimist pulls it off when a pessimist would have failed.

    Christopher Columbus. The luckiest crackpot in history.

  118. Googling “Seanan McGuire” “white dudes” (using the quoted phrases) will turn up many more.

    Wow. I just did, and I had no idea. I assure you, she’s a perfectly nice person, and her storytelling is wonderful too, but we’ve never talked politics and I had no idea she was that rabid on the subject.

    I have talked politics with Jo Walton, and I know we agree on almost nothing there, but she’s still a nice person and we stay friends. But I guess that makes her not a SJW, since the definition seems to be someone who thinks that not agreeing with the “social justice” agenda (let alone not believing there’s such a thing as “social justice”) makes one a bad person.

  119. @Roger Philips
    “I lambasted your wording for containing a bunch of confusions.”

    No, you were obliging me when I tested what excuse you would find to insult me. But I must say, this excuse was rather weak. I have seen better.

    • >Was Anathem really that good?

      Oh hell yes. The reason this is not more widely understood is that the breadth of knowledge base required to fully appreciate it is rare. You need to be fluent in foundational mathematics, philosophy and its history, physics, and general history at minimum. It includes jokes that you have to know philosophy of mathematics to grasp!

  120. >No, you were obliging me when I tested what excuse you would find to insult me. But I must say, this excuse was rather weak. I have seen better.

    sigh

    I believe we’ve already established that Roger, his virtues that I guess I haven’t been around long enough to have seen aside, has issues that render him not fit for polite company.

    Trolling him to get him to put extra stamps on your victim card is, at this point, a questionable activity. At best it’s useless. Just tell him to fuck off like a man, and then don’t engage.

  121. I’d argue YES on Anathem.

    I’ve already re-read it twice for the sheer enjoyment of it, keep finding new things in it, and would put it up there with Mote in Gods Eye

  122. Anathem is one of those books where at about page 150 you realise that you have completely misunderstood what the book is about. Then at about page 300 you realise the same thing, and again at about page 450, etc. It starts out on a very small and local scale, and ends up very much not so.

    • >Anathem was a very Neal Stephenson novel in style and substance. Everything but the actual plot is foreshadowed in his previous works

      The style of conceptual play, yes. But the play reaches an intellectual level well above Cryptonomicon or the Baroque Cycle, comparable at times to Greg Egan.

  123. >Before reading analytic philosophy, I advise reading at least one introductory test on General Semantics. Language in Thought and Action, The Tyranny of Words, or People In Quandaries would do nicely.

    I recently read the first chapter of People in Quandaries, since it’s available online. I found it promising. Alas, it appears that all three books are unattainable over here (except for a copy of Hayakawa’s book I saw at an online marketplace, but it’s too expensive for me). If nothing else, I could read Korzybski’s own Science and Sanity, which–fortunately–is available online (as a series of PDFs).

  124. Jeff Read on 2015-02-08 at 10:36:52 said:
    > > Was Anathem really that good?
    > I liked it myself, but it pissed a lot of people off.

    Damn, two things I agree with Jeff on.

  125. > No! This is all fucking nonsense! Philosophy is not a “branch”, it covers EVERYTHING.

    I think most people think of philosophy as standing apart from science, and only covering disciplines that have not yet been sufficiently formalized or are otherwise insufficiently mature to be considered scientific. This has support in the number of things that were once e.g. “natural philosophy” and that no-one considers their modern descendants to be philosophy.

  126. @Random832

    I think most people think of philosophy as standing apart from science, and only covering disciplines that have not yet been sufficiently formalized or are otherwise insufficiently mature to be considered scientific. This has support in the number of things that were once e.g. “natural philosophy” and that no-one considers their modern descendants to be philosophy.

    I think most people think all sorts of stupid things (mostly, whatever is fashionable in their corner of the world). And you can of course stick the label “philosophy” on all sorts of dumb shit if you really want to. None of this has any bearing on this thing Heraclitus, Plato, Schopenhauer etc were banging on about. “Philosophy” as “shitty science” is popular precisely because actual philosophy is so far out of reach for “most people”.

    Consider it this way: as you go up into the higher reaches of knowledge, there is always LESS room for disagreement – among people who are capable of ascending to that level. Because “higher” really means “bigger”, and naturally the more of the universe your knowledge covers, the less room there is for fighting. This is why there can be tremendous disagreement on all sorts of petty personal matters, or politics, but much less room for disagreement on physics, and even less in mathematics (which is higher up). And there is NO room for disagreement in philosophy, because it contains the entire universe. There is simply no room for competing philosophies.

    But by the same token, the higher the subject, the MORE disagreement there is among LOW/SMALL creatures, because they are so small, so low down that they can barely see the fucking thing. So what some African thinks about basic “physical laws” may indeed deviate wildly from what the higher European man thinks about the same topic. Nonetheless, his views have nothing to do with the FUTURE, which is created by the higher men. Likewise, there is the appearance of “huge variance” in opinion in philosophy from the point of view of Englishmen and Americans, because the ceiling of their understanding lies below philosophy.

    I’ve spoken on this blog about Americans before. The comments apply to Eric as much as anybody, but he is a highly advanced American. So, for example, rather than just inventing some bullshit based on television sitcoms, he reads history. But it is the same fundamental “DIY” attitude, just done at thousands of times the intensity with a lot more raw data. And when he does bother to look for a general theory, it’s highly specific, “mechanistic” stuff of the kind produced by logicians and linguists. For regurgitates values with new labels on them, precisely because the generation of values, ends, GOALS, is higher than logic, and out of reach for his type. So they wallow around MINDLESSLY in the outermost layer of thought, because they are INCAPABLE of dealing with this layer consciously.

    Further, the problem has already been solved. Heaven was the old goal – God considered as something that was found man and told him what to do. The modern Englishman or American lives in the wretched zone that is next along, where God is considered nonexistent, and worse, a MISTAKE. What Nietzsche did is prove that God could be CREATED (i.e. the overman), and that this was the best goal for humanity’s future.

  127. @Roger
    “Consider it this way: as you go up into the higher reaches of knowledge, there is always LESS room for disagreement – among people who are capable of ascending to that level. Because “higher” really means “bigger”, and naturally the more of the universe your knowledge covers, the less room there is for fighting.”

    Empirically, I would say the amount of fighting among all branches of human endeavors is constant and mainly determined by the personalities of the participants.

  128. Roger, you go right ahead and feel superior to the rest of us who think philosophy is merely formalized mental masturbation. We’re going to go ahead and keep getting shit done.

    • >Roger, you go right ahead and feel superior to the rest of us who think philosophy is merely formalized mental masturbation.

      Jay, that supposed “rest of us” does not include me. Sound philosophy, applied properly, is a means of dispelling confusion and bullshit. I’ve extracted a great deal of value out of it.

      Of course, there’s a lot of unsound philosophy out there…

  129. @ESR

    >What I wonder is if I’d have anything to teach them about hand-to-hand fighting.

    I recently started boxing and it is my first martial art, and it was pounded into me that footwork is everything. I love this vid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PamtxhzwVM (this guy seems to know everything my trainer doesn’t, his channel and blog is highly recommended for other beginner boxers)

    Now what little I know about you suggests footwork is probably not one of your strengths – sorry if it is a misunderstanding. From that on I simply have no idea what else you are doing: my experience is still too limited to figure out how other, not-footwork-based fighting styles could function. To me the whole thing is an essentially solving as set of 3D geometry problems visually, and I have no idea what would I get if I would take this kind of footwork out of the equation.

  130. @Winter

    Empirically, I would say the amount of fighting among all branches of human endeavors is constant and mainly determined by the personalities of the participants.

    Empirically, I would say you are incapable of accurately assessing reality. You think mathematicians disagree no less than politicians? lol! One day, I will finish unraveling the psychological problems that lead you to constantly post inane dogshit on this forum.

    @Jay Maynard

    Roger, you go right ahead and feel superior to the rest of us who think philosophy is merely formalized mental masturbation. We’re going to go ahead and keep getting shit done.

    The fact that you think these two goals are in conflict is exactly your problem. As if, in order to “get shit done” you have to be willfully ignorant. Of course, in your case you DO, because if you ever tried to think about the biggest problems you would be so bewildered that you indeed would not be able to get anything done. Just as if you are a NASCAR-loving tradesman you probably shouldn’t spend your nights studying advanced mathematics.

  131. What’s quaint about Jay’s comment is that he doesn’t consider creating the next evolutionary step that will look back on man as man looks at the other apes as “getting shit done”. Essentially, if you’re not unclogging the turds in some dude’s toilet or packing someone’s groceries, or doing something that directly makes those things easier with technology, Jay will not recognise it as “getting shit done”.

  132. @Roger
    “One day, I will finish unraveling the psychological problems that lead you to constantly post inane dogshit on this forum.”

    Oh, that is easy. Just a sense for conversations and a feeling for Socratic inquiry. Did you know that many people, experts included, will correct you free of charge when you tell them any of your false believes? Of course, only if they feel you are making a real effort.

    Come to think of it, Socrates is famed for putting up with interacting with lesser minds and trying to improve their thinking. He was even officially condemned to death for it (in reality, that was a pretext, but never mind).

    But you have made it perfectly clear you would never stoop down to as low a level as Socrates did.

    And to end with some more Classical Greek:
    ????? ???????

  133. Eric, how are the rest of us who don’t have time to spend surveying the large, amorphous field of philosophy through the ages supposed to separate the sound philosophy from the navel-gazing bullshit, when it all looks like navel-gazing bullshit? How do we avoid falling down Roger’s Nietzschean rabbit hole, for example?

    • >Eric, how are the rest of us who don’t have time to spend surveying the large, amorphous field of philosophy through the ages supposed to separate the sound philosophy from the navel-gazing bullshit, when it all looks like navel-gazing bullshit? How do we avoid falling down Roger’s Nietzschean rabbit hole, for example?

      There may be other ways to do it. I can only tell you what worked for me.

      First, study General Semantics. While this is generally extremely useful, the specific skill you want to acquire for reading philosophy is the ability to tell when (a) the parties in a philosophical argument are victims of map-territory confusion, and (b) when the terms in the argument are ungrounded abstractions – that is, cannot be eventually referred to predictions about sense data.

      Then read a decent synoptic history of the field. Mine was Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. That is at least fifty years old now and may be dated, but I don’t know of a better one.

      Now check your comprehension by reading Ayn Rand’s attempt to construct an Objectivist epistemology. If you can spot at least three major errors, you have learned enough to do effective critiques of bad philosophy.

  134. >Eric, how are the rest of us who don’t have time to spend surveying the large, amorphous field of philosophy through the ages supposed to separate the sound philosophy from the navel-gazing bullshit, when it all looks like navel-gazing bullshit? How do we avoid falling down Roger’s Nietzschean rabbit hole, for example?

    Did anyone else notice the truly epic No True Scotsman he just set up?

    But yes, some general guides along these lines would probably be worthwhile.

  135. @Jay
    “>Eric, how are the rest of us who don’t have time to spend surveying the large, amorphous field of philosophy through the ages supposed to separate the sound philosophy from the navel-gazing bullshit, when it all looks like navel-gazing bullshit? How do we avoid falling down Roger’s Nietzschean rabbit hole, for example?”

    First, about finding the time. It helps if you stop watching TV (and movies), or at least be very picky about what you watch. Remember, when it is at all worth watching, the book is better. ;-)

    Betrand Russel is always good. Also, look at the Problems of Philosophy
    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/355

    If you want to learn more about Russel (and logic and Witgenstein), the graphic novel Logicomix is a fun way to start (I enjoyed it tremendously):
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logicomix

  136. I don’t watch TV or movies. We haven’t had a usable TV signal at the house since 2009, and we dropped cable because we weren’t watching it to begin with. (We live in a place where there is exactly one TV station that supposedly covers the area, and that claim is theoretical; the coverage maps say we can get a usable signal with rabbit ears inside, but the actual facts say we can’t.) The last movie I sat down to watch was TRON: Legacy.

  137. First, study General Semantics. While this is generally extremely useful, the specific skill you want to acquire for reading philosophy is the ability to tell when (a) the parties in a philosophical argument are victims of map-territory confusion, and (b) when the terms in the argument are ungrounded abstractions – that is, cannot be eventually referred to predictions about sense data.

    I haven’t studied General Semantics, but I have picked up the thought process of it from your writings (and a smattering of LessWrong). However, even with the little I have picked up reading “great” philosophy is painful from the incessantly flagrant map/territory confusion.

    How do people not see this crap for what it is?

    • >However, even with the little I have picked up reading “great” philosophy is painful from the incessantly flagrant map/territory confusion.

      Can’t say you’re wrong about that!

  138. @Foo Quuxman
    “How do people not see this crap for what it is?”

    Because they see it isn’t?

    When you read the early works of Plato, you can feel their struggle to get it right. Also, they can be read as a sort of novels set in classical Athens. I found them quite entertaining (look for good translations that also give you the background stories). The same for Seneca and Cicero in Rome.

    And, seriously, you can hardly claim people like Russel and Hobbes were writing “crap”.
    (now, if you would mention Hegel or Heidegger, we could argue ;-) )

    Look in the Gutenberg project. They have lots of these books.

  139. Would “And Then There Were None” by Eric Frank Russell be the first Libertarian science fiction short story?

  140. Consider it this way: as you go up into the higher reaches of knowledge, there is always LESS room for disagreement – among people who are capable of ascending to that level. Because “higher” really means “bigger”, and naturally the more of the universe your knowledge covers, the less room there is for fighting. This is why there can be tremendous disagreement on all sorts of petty personal matters, or politics, but much less room for disagreement on physics, and even less in mathematics (which is higher up). And there is NO room for disagreement in philosophy, because it contains the entire universe. There is simply no room for competing philosophies.

    You really need to read Anathem

  141. “And there is NO room for disagreement in philosophy, because it contains the entire universe. There is simply no room for competing philosophies.”

    I missed this the first time through.

    Roger, if there is simply no room for competing philosophies, how come there are plenty of philosophers who disagree with each other?

    This is the most arrogant sentence I have ever read. In one swift stroke of the pen, you dismiss everyone who disagrees with your particular philosophy, as well as those of us who don’t bother with it at all, as subhuman idiots who can’t think their way out of a paper bag.

    Arrogant assholes like you give philosophy a bad name. If learning about philosophy turns people into rabid, raving lunatics like you, then I want no part of it.

  142. >I missed this the first time through.

    I certainly didn’t. I have a comment stuck in moderation describing it.

    >Roger, if there is simply no room for competing philosophies, how come there are plenty of philosophers who disagree with each other?

    Because none of them have reached the very *highest* level, of the One True Philosophy. There’s room for disagreement on the lower levels. Therefore the existence of disagreement means those who disagree are on a lower level. Naturally. Lovely, self-contained.

    Of course it makes one question what ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ level refer to, exactly. Exactly how high a level of abstraction you have to attain before you are vague to the point of meaninglessness is one that an American such as myself is likely to never know.

    >This is the most arrogant sentence I have ever read. In one swift stroke of the pen, you dismiss everyone who disagrees with your particular philosophy, as well as those of us who don’t bother with it at all, as subhuman idiots who can’t think their way out of a paper bag.

    Perhaps this variation should be called the ‘No True Philosopher’.

  143. I wrote:
    However, even with the little I have picked up reading “great” philosophy is painful from the incessantly flagrant map/territory confusion.

    Demonstrative: The confusion is so bad that I can extract more useful philosophy from the frikin’ Star Wars EU than the average philosopher.

    I guess that is yet more proof that I am an ingnurnt ‘murcin……

  144. Philosophy tends to be inaccessible without a large investment of time and effort (reading, cogitating, and discussion with other minds); hence it is of little use to most people with real world demands on their time. However, it can be a good vehicle for mental exercise and general improvement in reasoning power. This benefit is independent of the higher calling that some people regard as the primary purpose of philosophy. Of those that pursue this latter path, the end of the road is typically a huge ego and sense of superiority; e.g Roger Philips as archetype.

  145. “The confusion is so bad that I can extract more useful philosophy from the frikin’ Star Wars EU than the average philosopher.”

    While this sentence is ambiguous, the ambiguity does not impact its truth value.

  146. @TomA
    Alas, philosophy has a thing in common with swimming, martial arts and bicycle riding: You cannot really lesrn it out of a book.

    You would best start to discuss things with other people. Say, on a blog that discusses matters of interest, eg, philosophy ;-).

    Just like Socrates did, btw. But he did it in the market place. There is a nice little argument in Plato that shows that you would need philosophy to show that philosophy is useless.

  147. @Jay
    “The confusion is so bad that I can extract more useful philosophy from the frikin’ Star Wars EU than the average philosopher.”

    Why not, you have to start somewhere. But as always, you can better read the master in the original.

  148. I think folks here could have a good bit of fun with Jo Walton’s The Just City— Athena and Apollo (mostly Athena) attempt to create a real-world version of Plato’s republic. First of a trilogy.

  149. >First, study General Semantics. While this is generally extremely useful, the specific skill you want to acquire for reading philosophy is the ability to tell when (a) the parties in a philosophical argument are victims of map-territory confusion, and (b) when the terms in the argument are ungrounded abstractions – that is, cannot be eventually referred to predictions about sense data.

    I started reading Science and Sanity this morning. I’ve heard GS referred to enough times. So far it seems, aside from some obtuse vocabulary, fairly intuitive. (In art history class in HS, Magritte’s ‘Treachery of Images’ seemed to cause people – and this was at a school for the gifted, mind you – to act like they’d just had a religious experience, where I was just “yeah so? that’s trivially obvious”.)

    Is there going to be a problem from the fact that Korzybski seems to be a Marxist? As early as Chapter 2 he’s got things like:

    However, there is an important difference. The newer systems, as, for instance, the E, N, and the present corresponding ^-system, are more general: which means that the newer systems include the older as particular cases, so that the younger generation has s.r which are more flexible, more conditional, with a broader outlook., semantic conditions absent in the older systems.

    And I start thinking ‘marching forward into the glorious future, Comrade’.

    • >Is there going to be a problem from the fact that Korzybski seems to be a Marxist?

      Korzybski never to my knowledge identified as a Marxist. His early work (notably The Manhood of Humanity) occasionally exhibited vaguely socialist political ideas of a Wellsian/utopian kind, but these vanished from view later on – they don’t appear in Science & Sanity.

  150. @ESR

    >First, study General Semantics

    More generalized: first, study some anti-philosophy. GS did it for you, Nagarjuna did it for me, that branch of Buddhist philosophy is openly aimed at being an anti-philosophy, destroying any notions of reifing concepts or terrainifying maps, showing how ideas are “empty”.

    In fact, for an empiricist like yourself, it may err towards the other extreme and may be bordering on nihilism although of course it is too smart to ever really get there! “Emptiness” here is not nihilism but the idea to look for utility in ideas, not inherent truth – utility precisely like truth as prediction. This is commonly understood as absolute truth (which does not exist) and relative truth (which is understood as utility, like prediction or other ones).

    This anti-philosophical essay published on the web 21 years ago had a profound impact on me, I dare to say this is an online “classic”: http://bahai-library.com/winters_nagarjuna

    My next stage was getting acquianted with the classics. And here – I had a profound shock. I have read Plato’s Republic, largely expecting to find bullshit. And I a found a treasure. Namely, the idea that value judgements are not entirely arbitrary because the very term “good” means “suitability for a purpose” also a good knife means a knife that cuts well.

    I cannot over-emphasize what an effect it had on me. Plato (or maybe Aristotle?) made me a sudden _armor against idle intellectualism_ . Anyone could ask “is X good?” and I could ask back “what is the purpose of X? what purpose you want to make X suitable for?”

    Often people would be upset and say with Nietzsche that utility is a lower level of goodness. But since I had Plato and Aristotle, the most respect old guys on my side, who said a good knife is one that cuts well, I could resist.

    And this was really shocking. This “practical” outlook has always been a part of Anglo-American cultures but here in Eastern Europe not, we always had ideas like “the spiritual is superior, better than the bodily” without really defining any purpose, any goal, simply thinking things are higher and lower, but without any sense of purpose. Western Europe too was traditionally similar (see Julius Evola, Titus Burckhardt etc.) we did not have this get-things-done, get-problems-solved view! This practical view was English and later American. But they inherited it from Ancient Greece. We somehow missed it. And it shocked me a profound way to discover it.

    It is at some level social. You may accept an idea because it gets things done for your or because a higher authiority revealed it as a secret revelation. I was simply used to the latter. Greek philosophy fixed it for me.

    • >More generalized: first, study some anti-philosophy. GS did it for you, Nagarjuna did it for me, that branch of Buddhist philosophy is openly aimed at being an anti-philosophy, destroying any notions of reifing concepts or terrainifying maps, showing how ideas are “empty”.

      As a long-time student of both GS and Zen, I say the similarities between them are way, way more than coincidental. Well, they’d almost have to be, wouldn’t they? Hacking the same wetware and all that…

      Korzybski himself seems to have been aware of this. He was writing during the first wave of the discovery of Buddhism by Western intellectuals. His formulation of of “silence on the objective level” seems like a deliberate nod in the direction of meditation practice, though the emphasis and concerns are somewhat different.

      When this comes up I’m fond of telling people that the kernel of both Zen and General Semantics is implied by the following koan:

      The mind is like a dog;
      his master points at the moon, but he barks at the hand
      

      Occasionally I think about writing an introduction to GS for 21st-century readers. If I do so, the chapter-head quotes will all be Zen koans.

  151. @Jay

    >We haven’t had a usable TV signal at the house since 2009

    Without trying to be nosy about your privacy, are you living in those parts of America we high-population density country people tend to fantasize about? Where land to build a barn on is somewhere between extremely cheap and free, there is no excuse for not putting your car into a garage because the land for the garage and wooden building materials are really cheap so only laziness can stand in your way of building one with your two hands, and you get to see wild animals like foxes and rabbits taking a couple of miles of walking from your house? This, low-density living, has always been something fascinatingly alien and very romantic to me. Where your quality of living would have a more DIY character and less dependent on playing the social and career status signaling game… it certainly has an appeal for introverts.

  152. @Jay Maynard

    Roger, if there is simply no room for competing philosophies, how come there are plenty of philosophers who disagree with each other?

    Because most “philosophers” are FRAUDS.

    This is the most arrogant sentence I have ever read. In one swift stroke of the pen, you dismiss everyone who disagrees with your particular philosophy, as well as those of us who don’t bother with it at all, as subhuman idiots who can’t think their way out of a paper bag.

    First of all, I thought I’d gone out of my way to paint you as a subhuman idiot who can’t think well before this particular sentence. LOL, I guess chemists are “arrogant” for forwarding “their particular” theories over alchemy. Meanwhile, your own total dismissal of THE GREATEST THINKERS IN HISTORY isn’t arrogant at all, is it? LOL. Further, I don’t really “dismiss” you at all, I just classify you appropriately as someone who is better off watching NASCAR than trying to study history’s greatest problems.

    Arrogant assholes like you give philosophy a bad name. If learning about philosophy turns people into rabid, raving lunatics like you, then I want no part of it.

    Good! Then we’re agreed! You will have no part of philosophy. I trust this will entail you not attempting to cast judgment on it.

    @Greg

    Perhaps this variation should be called the ‘No True Philosopher’.

    Ugh.. don’t talk about philosophy if you can’t even get basic fallacies correct. The “No True Scotsman” refers to using an ad hoc alteration of your argument to continually avoid admitting error. But I made no such error, nor did I alter my argument – I simply clarified my meaning. Further, what exactly my philosophy constitutes is not “slippery” in the same way as in the NTS fallacy, so your “variation” is completely bogus. Sorry, but you don’t have the brain for this. That’s okay – just stop talking.

    @TomA

    This benefit is independent of the higher calling that some people regard as the primary purpose of philosophy. Of those that pursue this latter path, the end of the road is typically a huge ego and sense of superiority; e.g Roger Philips as archetype.

    lol.. the “end of the road”? I think the Jews and the kulaks would disagree that the “end of the road” of philosophy is the “huge ego” and “sense of superiority” of the reader. In fact.. it BEGINS with a huge ego and a sense of superiority, since you need to be intellectually audacious to even STUDY this stuff, whereas with your kind the journey ENDS with a tiny ego and a massive sense of inferiority, with stupid and completely untenable “egalitarian” ideas, because you are so insecure you can’t talk about anything without mountains of moral veneer.

  153. “I think folks here could have a good bit of fun with Jo Walton’s The Just City– ”

    Here, there and everywhere.

    As Dr. Pournelle says fair disclosure I first read an early version – may fairly be taken as bragging. An example of dealing with eternal, for some values of eternal, questions in an SF framework. A story well told with an Overton Window that’s wide enough to see much of the universe of discourse.

  154. @esr:

    Is “a positively-charged conducting sphere suspended in a magnetic field” an ungrounded abstraction?

    • >Is “a positively-charged conducting sphere suspended in a magnetic field” an ungrounded abstraction?

      Consider yourself slapped with a large mackerel.

  155. Roger: “Meanwhile, your own total dismissal of THE GREATEST THINKERS IN HISTORY isn’t arrogant at all, is it?”

    And what makes philosophers the greatest thinkers in history? Aside from your own arrogance in declaring them so, that is. (Do philosophers think of themselves as the greatest thinkers in history?)

    “I just classify you appropriately as someone who is better off watching NASCAR than trying to study history’s greatest problems.”

    I have no interest in watching NASCAR. I believe that auto racing, like sex, is much better in the first person than the third. I do have far better things to do than engage in navel-gazing.

    “You will have no part of philosophy. I trust this will entail you not attempting to cast judgment on it.”

    I will have no part of philosophy precisely because of the judgment I have cast upon it: that it’s an inherently useless waste of brain power that soaks up resources, both human and material, that could be put to better use solving problems in the real world than discussing what the meaning of “is” is. (Bill Clinton, philosopher?)

    “Sorry, but you don’t have the brain for this. That’s okay – just stop talking.”

    It must be lonely as hell on that rarefied plateau that no living human is fit to share with you…

    Save yourself, and us, all some angst. Just fuck off.

  156. @Jay Maynard

    And what makes philosophers the greatest thinkers in history? Aside from your own arrogance in declaring them so, that is. (Do philosophers think of themselves as the greatest thinkers in history?)

    The fact that they tackle the grandest, hardest problems. And yes, good philosophers have huge egos.

    I have no interest in watching NASCAR. I believe that auto racing, like sex, is much better in the first person than the third. I do have far better things to do than engage in navel-gazing.

    I guess that’s why you spend so much time on the Internet arguing about things you say are useless. lol. You are such a transparent twonk. You RESENT philosophy for being beyond your grasp. It’s as simple as that.

    I will have no part of philosophy precisely because of the judgment I have cast upon it: that it’s an inherently useless waste of brain power that soaks up resources, both human and material, that could be put to better use solving problems in the real world than discussing what the meaning of “is” is. (Bill Clinton, philosopher?)

    PURE ignorance. Like Nietzsche wasn’t solving problems “in the real world”. It’s AMAZING that you can cast judgment on something you don’t have even the slightest grasp of. Well, not really – this is exactly how resentful people react to smart people and their fancy book learnin.

    It must be lonely as hell on that rarefied plateau that no living human is fit to share with you…

    To the contrary, I feel the same way about you as I do about animals. You’re like a cute but imbecilic little pet. You even have a cute little costume you wear to amuse people. I feel the same way toward you as I do about old people, children etc – I love you but it’s impossible to take you seriously.

    Save yourself, and us, all some angst. Just fuck off.

    The only one with angst here is you – angst over the existence of something so HUGE that you sense that it might very well crush you.

  157. Without trying to be nosy about your privacy, are you living in those parts of America we high-population density country people tend to fantasize about?

    I think I understand better why British musicians tend to romanticize the American south unto near Middle-earth status…

  158. Shenpen, there’s no place in the US that I know of where farmland is free or very cheap. Aside from that, while I don’t live out in the country, I’m not that far from it, either. Fairmont, Minnesota is a town of just over 11000 people in rural southern Minnesota, about 10 miles north of the Iowa border. It’s the largest town for 50 miles in any direction. I have a more-or-less normal (for most of the US) single-family house, 1450 square feet of living area not counting the half-finished/half-unfinished basement, two stories, three bedrooms, 1-1/2 baths, 2-car garage on a corner lot. (Though I wish it was a 3-car garage, now, or at least had more than 9 feet of driveway…have my third car in storage over the winter because I have no other place to put it but parking on the street, and that would be a Bad Idea.)

    The next larger town is Mankato/North Mankato, about 60K people worth of college town. (The Geek Code was originated and originally hosted at Minnesota State University-Mankato.) The one TV station serves that market from a transmitter about 20 miles to its southwest, in the general direction of Fairmont (but shielded from us by a ridge just large enough to get in the way). The Twin Cities and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, are both two hours’ drive away, and Des Moines is three hours.

    So no, not exactly what you had in mind, but not the big city, either.

  159. Reading the Institute of General Semantics FAQ, I was struck by their claim that GS was a significant influence in the writings of Heinlein and van Vogt. Really?

    • >Reading the Institute of General Semantics FAQ, I was struck by their claim that GS was a significant influence in the writings of Heinlein and van Vogt. Really?

      Absolutely positively true. Not a small influence, either. Van Vogt wasn’t much of a thinker and only played with GS in a relatively superficial, showy way. In Heinlein it’s less obvious but pervasive, important, and well integrated with the rest of his thinking.

      I could write an essay on this. Maybe I will.

  160. @Shenpen

    Often people would be upset and say with Nietzsche that utility is a lower level of goodness. But since I had Plato and Aristotle, the most respect old guys on my side, who said a good knife is one that cuts well, I could resist.

    It’s not that “utility” is lower, it’s that NARROW utility is lower – which is a boring tautology, since narrow = LOWER. Nietzsche has never set himself against “utility” in the general sense. It’s only “the greatest good to the greatest number” that he is against. If that’s our goal we should just turn into cockroaches and bacteria, since they already do this vastly better than us. He is also against utilitarianism in _moral analysis_, i.e. the view that morality and utility were originally identical. Utility is a function of RANK.

  161. @ ESR
    >As a long-time student of both GS and Zen…

    I understand Nagarjuna belongs to the Madhyamaka school, rather that Zen. But you know Buddhism much better than I do, so I assume you know that and are implying Madhyamaka influenced Zen.

    >Occasionally I think about writing an introduction to GS for 21st-century readers. If I do so, the chapter-head quotes will all be Zen koans.

    That would be awesome. ^_^

    • >I understand Nagarjuna belongs to the Madhyamaka school, rather that Zen. But you know Buddhism much better than I do, so I assume you know that and are implying Madhyamaka influenced Zen.

      Madhyamaka influenced a lot of later variants of Buddhism. Nagarjuna tends to be taken most seriously by variants that exhibit what scholars of Buddhism call “ultimatist” tendencies, of which the Dhyana/Ch’an/Zen line is an important example. These correspond to what in a Christian context would be called fundamentalists, except that in a Buddhist context the fundamentalists are the sane people…

  162. >Madhyamaka influenced a lot of later variants of Buddhism.

    I see. I might read more about it, then–probably the essay Shenpen linked to.

    Say, I just recalled something I’d read at Wikipedia regarding the link between Zen and General Semantics. From the article on Alan Watts:

    In 1957 Watts, then 42, published one of his best known books, The Way of Zen, which focused on philosophical explication and history. Besides drawing on the lifestyle and philosophical background of Zen, in India and China, Watts introduced ideas drawn from general semantics (directly from the writings of Alfred Korzybski) and also from Norbert Wiener’s early work on cybernetics, which had recently been published. Watts offered analogies from cybernetic principles possibly applicable to the Zen life. The book sold well, eventually becoming a modern classic, and helped widen his lecture circuit.

    It’s interesting how he noticed the GS-Zen connection, but I’m skeptical about the alleged parallel with cybernetics; after all, Watts’ later work appears to be New Age nonsense. Not exactly what I’d call trustworthy! ¬_¬

  163. Reading the Institute of General Semantics FAQ, I was struck by their claim that GS was a significant influence in the writings of Heinlein and van Vogt. Really?

    Heinlein certainly referred to it often enough.

    • >…there are insane Buddhists?

      Yes. Occasionally there even have been religiously murderous ones. It’s very rare compared to the analogues in other world religions, but it does happen. Pure Land Buddhism in Japan is the most notorious for it.

      I should have clarified that I was using the term “sane” in the technical way GS people often do, what I have called on this blog “epistemic sanity”.

    • >…religiously murderous Buddhists. *boggle*

      As I said, it happens rarely but it does happen. There’s some nasty sectarianism going on in Burma right now against a Muslim minority called the Rohingya that might qualify. One of the major agitators on the majority-Burmese side represents himself as a monk and religious leader. The Burmese Buddhist establishment has, quite properly, disavowed him.

  164. @ Winter – “Alas, philosophy has a thing in common with swimming, martial arts and bicycle riding: You cannot really learn it out of a book.”

    The history of philosophy is the book part. Lots of ground has been covered by other thinkers over the years. No sense in reinventing the wheel.

    Navel gazing and bull sessions are often times the active part of philosophical investigation and analysis. I find mountainbiking to be more rewarding as exercise (both physical and mental).

    In my experience, most people use their pet philosophy as an intellectual cudgel with which to beat others over the head and establish an alpha-male superiority. That may be feasible as an internet exercise. Come to Colorado and try it in person.

  165. @TomA
    “The history of philosophy is the book part. Lots of ground has been covered by other thinkers over the years. No sense in reinventing the wheel.”

    No, but a little conversation with another reader will show you that the “meaning” of a text is never unambiguous nor complete. Plato lamented that you cannot interrogate a text. He was wrong.

    Philosophy is a social activity, just like science.

  166. What I find borderline embarrassing is the term “Continental Philosophy”. It suggests that it is something everybody from Europe is interested in. In fact I know nobody who cares about Deleuze or Derrida. They were popular only certain radical circles in the seventies, and their popularity waned after 1990 even there. Today they feel like a very 20th century fashion that simply wasn’t good enough to survive being more than a fashion. Like the neon-orange and UV-glowing “raver” clothes of the 1990’s or the Neuromancer type silly cyberpunk stuff. Done, forgotten. Slavoj Zizek comes accross as very dated too, his Lacanism is thinly veiled Freudism, very old, dusty feeling stuff.

    Generally the most interesting European deep-thinkers of the 20th century were the ones who brought experiences from some other field into philosophy. Konrad Lorenz brought ethology, Mircea Eliade brought comparative religion, Johan Huizinga brought history. Eliade is well-known enough in the English-speaking world, Huizinga used to be but went out of fashion (sadly, The Autumn Of The Middle Ages is an excellent description of what modernity came from), Lorenz not yet, IMHO should be. I really liked Lorenz’s critique of nothing-buttery, namely that claims lke man is nothing but an animal or life is nothing but chemical processes ignores the whole point that man is a special kind of animal different from most others, life is a special kind of chemical process different from most others, nothing-buttery dismisses precisely those distinctive, unique features that are the most interesting to study and analyze. Lorenz didn’t mention it, but it made me suspicious about “consciousness is nothing but computation” – perhaps it is is computation, but surely a very special and distinctive one!

  167. @Shenpen
    “What I find borderline embarrassing is the term “Continental Philosophy”. ”

    It is an Anglosaxon term (British, acutally) as in: Fog in Channel: Continent cut off.
    https://freeglot.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/fog-in-channel-continent-cut-off/

    The term is only used to contrast with Anglosaxon philosophy. Just like Lorenz was a founder of Ethology in contrast to the US/Anglosaxon Behaviorism. To us “continentals”, Derrida is more a French philosopher.

    • >The term [“continental”] is only used to contrast with Anglosaxon philosophy.

      Not quite. The Vienna Circle and other empiricists like Hans Reichenbach associated with philosophy of science are often excluded from “continental” by English-speaking writers, so the term really means something more like “non-analytic”. Alfred Korzybski wouldn’t be called “continental” either, if academic philosophers deigned to notice him.

  168. @ Winter – “a little conversation with another reader will show you that the “meaning” of a text is never unambiguous nor complete. . . Philosophy is a social activity, just like science.”

    These comments beautifully encapsulate my main objections to the arrogance of philosophical elitism. As practiced by many dilettantes, philosophical learning is a debating society without end; a place for venting, and indoctrination, and group metamorphosis. A form of getting high on thought, as if any sufficiently obtuse thought was a step on the path to on-high and elite status.

    For these people, the philosophical Olympus is not supreme intelligence, but supreme vanity.

  169. @TomA
    “As practiced by many dilettantes, philosophical learning is a debating society without end; a place for venting, and indoctrination, and group metamorphosis.”

    I am not sure what you mean here (no pun intended).

    Indeed, philosophy is a lot of debating. It also never ends. But so are mathematics and science. There is “progress” in philosophy, as there is in mathematics. This has very little to do with “indoctrination” etc.

    I do not see why this is something “negative”? It also has little to do with elitism. Plato might have been an elitist, but that was his political conviction. But you can hardly say that of Socrates. The same for every other philosopher. E.g., Foucault (a “Continental” philosopher?) might have be a little opaque, but he was no elitists.

  170. @ Winter – “I am not sure what you mean”

    Had not the species homo sapiens evolved, there would be no philosophy. Conversely, the universe and it’s laws of nature would still be operative regardless of whether a sentient species came into existence and correctly understood these phenomena. The former is solely a construct of the human mind (and it’s limitations). Whereas the latter is an endemic feature of the universe.

    Mathematics can have proofs as the Holy Grail of understanding abstractions, and science is essentially about hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, analysis and the resultant improved understanding of reality. Philosophy aspires to be irreducibly fundamental and therefore de facto unfalsifiable. Good for mental exercise, misleading as a pursuit-of-truth mechanism.

  171. @TomA
    “Philosophy aspires to be irreducibly fundamental and therefore de facto unfalsifiable. Good for mental exercise, misleading as a pursuit-of-truth mechanism.”

    Sorry, but I think your ideas about philosophy are wrong. I will gloss over the fact that your statement is “philosophical” and that it contains errors.

    I am not a philosopher, just a newby amateur. However, I think you are confusing the map with the terrain. Philosophy is not (anymore) about the eternal truth, but about mental hygiene.

    I think logic is a good example. It still is in philosophy (as in mathematics). Logic is not about truth-about-the-world, but about how to combine statements we know for some reason to be true in such a way that we can obtain new statements that are still true. Without logic, a lot of our decision making becomes haphazard.

    In many other areas, philosophers are doing the same thing, creating clean ways to think about the world. Be it Grice about meaning, Foucault about the history of ideas, or Popper about science, they all advanced our understanding of ourselves. Recognizing the reification fallacy and the fact that you cannot prove a negative are all the result of philosophical thinking.

    Rejecting everything because there are some philosophers you do not like is rather shortsighted.

  172. > Mathematics can have proofs as the Holy Grail of understanding abstractions, and science is essentially about hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, analysis and the resultant improved understanding of reality. Philosophy aspires to be irreducibly fundamental and therefore de facto unfalsifiable. Good for mental exercise, misleading as a pursuit-of-truth mechanism.

    I’m not clear on what you mean by this paragraph and thus not clear on whether I agree. My view: in order for a statement to have a logical truth value, it has to be something you can test empirically. Philosophy consists of the work that has to be done before you can ever get around to making an empirically-testable statement. Purely philosophical claims, therefore, do not have truth values. They should be judged not as “true” or “false”, but as “clarifying” or “confusing”.

  173. @Roger @Jay

    >As if, in order to “get shit done” you have to be willfully ignorant. Of course, in your case you DO, because if you ever tried to think about the biggest problems you would be so bewildered that you indeed would not be able to get anything done.

    Right, I know “this must be a parody” is a fairly inane response to opinion published online, but in this case my parody-spidey-sense is seriously tingling.

    Roger, are you at least aware that to people like me your comments come accross as parody? If you are aware of it and chalk it up to lesser minds not understanding superior ones, you are still full of it but at least you are fundamentally sane. Not even being aware of it would mean being really far down the autism spectrum, lacking the ability to predict reactions.

    If you are aware of it, then the second consideration would be what kind of utility you derive from entertaining “lesser minds” by what comes accross as as making a clown of yourself. I personally would not write for people whom I feel have nothing to teach me. Would be a waste of time. I don’t trade information, not even half-informed opinon for nothing. Any audience who could not intelligently reflect on my views would be incapable of using them so this is a mutually beneficial filter. But I think your attitude predicts you don’t really expect to learn anything here. So what do you gain, in your eyes? Narcissistic gains from having an audience? Or the equivalent to a visit to the zoo? (that would be a fair mutual trade, to me you too are an interestingly unusual member of the human species to watch)

  174. @ Daniel Franke

    Perhaps this will help.

    The history of philosophy is rife with ideas, principles, axioms, thought experiments, inductions/deductions, etc. Even larger than this diversity of ideas is the endless dispute over which philosophical archetype is better/best by some standard of measure. And that’s the rub.

    In the beginning, pursuit of truth was considered to be the measuring stick. Winter says that contemporary philosophy is directed at enhancing mental hygiene in our species. Roger Philips would have you believe that it is proof of the existence of the “overman.” And you seem to see it primarily as a efficiency precursor to scientific inquiry.

    As time goes on, philosophical argument has expanded and confusion/clarity is often an eye-of-the-beholder perspective. What will be the objective measuring stick that validates one philosophical idea vis-a-vis all the others?

  175. @Daniel

    >My view: in order for a statement to have a logical truth value, it has to be something you can test empirically.

    I think you mixed up something here. It is not logical truth value. The Pythagoras Theorem has logical truth value without empirical testing. I think you are looking for pragmatic utility, not logical truth. PT can be logically true and practically useless if you are not working in Euclidian planes. In that case, “true, just not for my universe” is a valid response.

    That is my issue with Austrian Economics, I know it is true, just I don’t know in which universe, not sure at all if it is ours :)

    OK it is not actually universes, but subsets of them. Still.

  176. I think you mixed up something here. It is not logical truth value. The Pythagoras Theorem has logical truth value without empirical testing. I think you are looking for pragmatic utility, not logical truth.

    I’m not mixing anything up. The view you’re asserting is essentially a Platonist one, and I don’t buy it. Mathematical truths are empirical truths, albeit of a queer sort. They have two distinguishing characteristics:

    1. They’re stated in a particular jargon which is far simpler, more precise, and easier to teach to a computer than the language that we use to express most other truths.

    2. “Experiments” consist of presenting an argument to a group of experts and testing whether they find it persuasive. Sometimes some of the “experts” are the verification kernel of a computer proof assistant.

    PT can be logically true and practically useless if you are not working in Euclidian planes. In that case, “true, just not for my universe” is a valid response.

    The Pythagorean theorem is “true” despite our living in a non-Euclidean universe, because you can still convince a mathematician or a verification kernel that it is a consequence of the axioms of Euclidean geometry. This is unrelated to whether or not Euclidean geometry is an accurate model for making predictions about the outcome of physical experiments.

  177. To clarify that last sentence: this is unrelated to whether or not Euclidean geometry, taken as a model of physics, will enable you to make accurate predictions about the outcome of an experiment which measures the side-lengths of a triangular object.

  178. You are all utterly incoherent, including Daniel Franke, who is worse because he knows just enough jargon to confuse everybody. “Logical truth value” is a MATHEMATICAL TERM. Verbal statements don’t have “truth values”. Scientific propositions don’t have “truth values”. Only LOGICAL SENTENCES have truth values, and some logical sentences have other kinds of values, e.g. PROOF values. To state otherwise is a gross abuse of terminology, an idiotic coining of new and entirely useless MONKEY SOUNDS. “Logical truth” exactly ZERO to do with “empirical testing”. What about true sentences that are constructed rather than tested? Do these not have “truth values”? lol! Formulated in this general way, a statement being “empirical” need nothing more than to be a valid input to some yes/no process. And then what about stupid or vacuous processes? What if my yes/no process is “does this statement exist in the text of the Bible?” FUCKING STUPID.

    Mathematics is intended to be “HOMOMORPHIC” to other parts of the universe. That is the only “truth” in mathematics, just as it is EVERYWHERE ELSE. In other words, to what extent does one part of the universe mimic the structure of another part? Since you are all blithering monkey idiots, you think of “truth” is being this thing that fucking floats around transcendentally describing the “real world”. WRONG. “Truth” is a RELATIONSHIP between different areas of the universe (and that relationship itself exists in the universe). That is how it is possible for the contents of the Bible to contain ‘truth”: because it is homomorphic with the minds of religious people. That is does so in large part by DETERMINING the contents of their brains is irrelevant.

    The only question is: how HIGH is the truth? In other words, how BIG? That’s why we laugh at the beliefs of old-timey religions – because our truth CONTAINS their truth. In other words, my structure contains a substructure that is homomorphic to theirs. See how that works? And likewise, my beliefs CONTAIN the idiotic beliefs of people like Daniel Franke and Winter. This is why Winter never understands me – not because he’s “wrong”, but because his mind is very SMALL.

  179. @Daniel Franke

    The Pythagorean theorem is “true” despite our living in a non-Euclidean universe, because you can still convince a mathematician or a verification kernel that it is a consequence of the axioms of Euclidean geometry. This is unrelated to whether or not Euclidean geometry is an accurate model for making predictions about the outcome of physical experiments.

    This is the SOLE intelligent thing you have said in this thread. Which is why, if you ignore the rest of your stupid shit, you can interpret it to mean exactly what I just said in my previous post.

  180. Roger, what, exactly, are you hoping to accomplish by wasting time on us small people? Or are you just engaging in an intellectual dick-size war?

  181. I’ll continue to ignore Roger’s abuse and just address his latest Humpty-Dumptyisms:

    “Logical truth value” is a MATHEMATICAL TERM. Verbal statements don’t have “truth values”. Scientific propositions don’t have “truth values”. Only LOGICAL SENTENCES have truth values, and some logical sentences have other kinds of values, e.g. PROOF values.

    My use of the word “truth” so far in this thread is defensible according to pretty much any correspondence theory of truth, as advocated by a bare majority and substantial plurality of philosophers who replied to the PhilPapers Survey. So I think I’m solid ground here and not “coining new and entirely useless MONKEY SOUNDS”.

    The less popular view that I’m advocating (with influence from Imra Lakatos) is my interpretation of the formalist notion of mathematical truth in terms of the observable behavior of people or computers presented with a mathematical argument. This view completely rejects Platonist attempts to handwave a metaphysical idealization of mathematics into existence, and subsumes mathematical truth into empirical truth regardless of whether the mathematical formalism at hand is motivated by the desire to model real-world phenomena. The reason I emphasize this last bit is that it tends to be an Achilles heel for attempts to construct empiricist philosophies of mathematics. John Stuart Mill is its most famous victim.

    • >My use of the word “truth” so far in this thread is defensible according to pretty much any correspondence theory of truth

      This is a good reply when arguing about commonly accepted definitions of “truth”, because if you do Socratic dialogue with any reasonably intelligent philosophical illiterate you will usually find they have a poorly-realized correspondence theory of truth.

      However, as I have explained at least twice before on this blog, the “correspondence” theory of truth has fatal technical flaws. Examined too closely, it lands you in an ontological quagmire about the nature of the “what is” that your truth claims are supposed to correspond to. This is, broadly speaking, the mistake that sank the Vienna Circle’s program.

      Straight-up predictivism a la Peirce works better because you get to do ontology later in the game – you build your ontology as a set of persistent terms in your predictive theories and don’t fall into circularity about what terms are “real”.

      I’m a little amazed any serious philosopher still takes “correspondence” theory seriously; its flaws were already apparent seventy years ago. I think a lot of otherwise intelligent non-philosophers are unable to get past it because it appeals to both natural-language-driven prejudices and instinctive realism.

  182. @ Daniel Franke

    Theoretical mathematics falls within the domain of the theory of coherent truth, and applied mathematics derives it’s form of truth from correspondence to reality. The former is refereed by human peer review (or coherence demonstration by computer). The latter is empirical.

    The above is relatively straightforward; however, put three philosophers in a room and you will get erudite confusion as explanation.

  183. > [theories of truth]

    Correspondence theories of truth are bubble sorts; simple and obvious methods that work well enough for small cases so that it is easy to not notice the problems, but woe be to he who uses it on a Large Problem.

    Religious theories of truth (What God sayth be what is true) are the bogo-sort; theoretically perfect if they work, worse than useless if they don’t.

  184. However, as I have explained at least twice before on this blog, the “correspondence” theory of truth has fatal technical flaws. Examined too closely, it lands you in an ontological quagmire about the nature of the “what is” that your truth claims are supposed to correspond to. This is, broadly speaking, the mistake that sank the Vienna Circle’s program.

    Straight-up predictivism a la Peirce works better because you get to do ontology later in the game – you build your ontology as a set of persistent terms in your predictive theories and don’t fall into circularity about what terms are “real”.

    I don’t disagree with you per se, but I think you’re arguing a minor pedantic point rather than dealing a knock-down to correspondence theory. You’re right that you end up falling into circularity if you try to treat truth as a foundational concept. But when you start from predictivism and use your observations to build theories and ontologies, correspondence theory ought to pop out early on. The only prerequisite for correspondence theory to make sense is noticing that all your successful theories include an assumption that there’s a physical universe which determines your sensory inputs and with which you can interact; thus you cast solipsism into the same rubbish bin as claims that God created dinosaur fossils as a test of faith.

    • >But when you start from predictivism and use your observations to build theories and ontologies, correspondence theory ought to pop out early on.

      I agree, that is true. If you do it right, you do get to a realist ontology relatively early, and can thereafter use naive correspondence theory as an approximation.

      But I disagree that this is a minor pedantic point, because if you habitually think in correspondence terms rather than predictivist ones there are edge cases you will not handle well. Better, I think, to stick with predictivism entire than to get caught hopping.

      Besides, straight predictivism is simpler and more elegant. Occam’s razor…

  185. @ ESR – “Having this as an early premise lands you in trouble.”

    Yes, there is the unusual case where a non-coherent mathematical theory just happens to be predictive of a real phenomenon, and would consequently violate the “truth” criteria. However, this is an outlier case and such exceptions have no lasting impact on the evolutionary progress of intelligence in our species. Pursuit of philosophical purity is edifying to the (human) egotist, but irrelevant to nature.

  186. Philosophy aspires to be irreducibly fundamental and therefore de facto unfalsifiable. Good for mental exercise, misleading as a pursuit-of-truth mechanism.

    We know a lot of things that we cannot explain or justify, for example we know that a table is a table, and we know good from evil, and we can tell a rabbit from a fox.

    Bad philosophy says that if we cannot explain how we know something, it is invalid, we do not really know it. Hume after explaining that we could not know good from evil, found himself explaining that we could not know that fire burns. That is bad philosophy.

    Good philosophy explains how we know what we know.

    Epistemology is philosophy, because it is a hard problem with lots of bad answers and few known good answers.

  187. >Also see my essay The Utility of Mathematics

    I recently read that one. Can’t say I understood everything, but I sure as hell enjoyed it. :-) Maybe someday I’ll be able to grasp it in full; I trust Gödel, Escher, Bach, which is next in my reading queue, will put me on the right path.

  188. Those who tell us that the only truths worth persuing are those that have empirical/predictive correspondences with observable reality should not denounce philosophers. Because that idea was itself the result of millenia of strugles between philosophers and “common sense”.

    @JAD
    “Hume after explaining that we could not know good from evil, found himself explaining that we could not know that fire burns. That is bad philosophy.”

    This is the kind of common sense philosophy has to fight against.

    To clarify, Hume did not say we cannot learn from observation. He just pointed out that you need (much) more than a blank slate that you fill with observation like a camera with picture.

    That is easy to us, we know you need a theory to make sense of observations. But the original empiricists thought you could do with only observations.

  189. @Shenpen I don’t write _for_ anyone on this forum. It’s not even writing, more like wanton cruelty, watching the imbeciles fumbling 400 pound concepts with their noodle brains.

    @Daniel Franke

    My use of the word “truth” so far in this thread is defensible according to pretty much any correspondence theory of truth, as advocated by a bare majority and substantial plurality of philosophers who replied to the PhilPapers Survey. So I think I’m solid ground here and not “coining new and entirely useless MONKEY SOUNDS”.

    So I can see this is going to go the same way conversations with Winter go: I quote “logical truth value”, you quote “truth”, in either an attempt to misrepresent me or just plain mental fucking sloppiness. So please, do try to REREAD the fucking thing without TOTALLY CHANGING THE WORDING IN YOUR OWN DERANGED LITTLE HEAD. Your approach of collecting lots of terminology you barely understand and blurting them out on the Internet half-randomly meets my criteria for “monkey sounds”.

    The less popular view that I’m advocating (with influence from Imra Lakatos) is my interpretation of the formalist notion of mathematical truth in terms of the observable behavior of people or computers presented with a mathematical argument. This view completely rejects Platonist attempts to handwave a metaphysical idealization of mathematics into existence, and subsumes mathematical truth into empirical truth regardless of whether the mathematical formalism at hand is motivated by the desire to model real-world phenomena. The reason I emphasize this last bit is that it tends to be an Achilles heel for attempts to construct empiricist philosophies of mathematics. John Stuart Mill is its most famous victim.

    This paragraph appears in a way that suggests that I disagreed with this part of your post. And yet, this part of the post is exactly the part I expressed agreement with! Can you even sort out which things I’m responding to? You’d think my precise and deliberate quoting of words would be clear enough, but as we’ve seen just now you’ll flub even this basic exercise in comprehension. Actually, I _wouldn’t_ think that, because I know full well the way animals such as yourself respond to written text is to read every fifth word and then make up some bullshit to fill in the gaps. But it’s fun to PRETEND that you’re capable of human-level communication and then feel the aggravation when you inevitably get everything totally wrong.

    Now that you’ve provided more detail it’s obvious that your ideas on mathematical truth are COMPLETELY RETARDED. Mathematics is not the study of what people who happen to call themselves mathematicians think. That is simply how the LAYMAN thinks about mathematics. “Logical truth value” is a technical term that is defined within mathematics that has no direct connection to “truth” in the general sense.

    And @Eric’s “ontological” objections are all stupid. Believing that ontological problems are in any way important is the sign of a horribly defective “verbalistic” brain type, and is the EPITOME of language-motivated, language-confused idiocy. The whole idea of ontologies comes STRAIGHT OUT OF LANGUAGE. It is precisely the verbal thinkers who can’t grasp Heraclitus’ FLUX, or the concept of EVERYTHING (a true “universe”). Plato flubbed the shit out of this, so don’t feel too bad. It’s not clear whether you (Eric) are referring to me with “correspondence theory”; an intelligent reader would recognise that what I’ve said has absolutely nothing to do with it.

    • >And @Eric’s “ontological” objections are all stupid. Believing that ontological problems are in any way important is the sign of a horribly defective “verbalistic” brain type, and is the EPITOME of language-motivated, language-confused idiocy.

      This is one of the few things you’ve said that I more or less agree with (as would Alfred Korzybski) though both he and I tend to put it a little more gently because we’ve found that people are more likely to come to this understanding if we don’t CLUB THEM OVER THE HEAD WITH IT. It goes over better if you use phrases like “premature reification” rather than grumbling, as I used to do in my stroppier moods, that ontology is all bullshit.

      >It’s not clear whether you (Eric) are referring to me with “correspondence theory”; an intelligent reader would recognise that what I’ve said has absolutely nothing to do with it.

      I agree that is one error you have avoided.

      You are, however, deeply wrong about the confirmation status of mathematics. I was in training to be a foundational mathematician at one point and retain some specialist knowledge of these issues. Daniel Franke has it about right there.

  190. @Winter

    That is easy to us, we know you need a theory to make sense of observations. But the original empiricists thought you could do with only observations.

    Wrong. The “theory laden” view is completely stupid. I can form a belief simply by evolving to believe it. The organisms that don’t think a certain way are simply eliminated from the environment. So much for that stupid bullshit.

  191. @Winter To wit, “observation” or even “making sense of observations” doesn’t have any necessary connection to thought. Our distant ancestors observed many things, which they eventually made sense of by evolving into us. It is entirely the other way round – that once you are capable of forming theories, you can’t stop theorizing about everything you see.

  192. @esr

    You are, however, deeply wrong about the confirmation status of mathematics. I was in training to be a foundational mathematician at one point and retain some specialist knowledge of these issues. Daniel Franke has it about right there.

    What on Earth is the “confirmation status” of mathematics, and what does it have to do with our conversation? A “logical truth value” means something very specific, and Daniel Franke is either abusing terminology or flat out wrong. No “empirical testing” is required to construct true logical statements. The fact that it’s subject to empirical study, or that it happens that you can feed it into a yes/no process is totally irrelevant.

    Further, his idea that “jazz is what people who call themselves jazz musicians play” is both correct and COMPLETELY STUPID as a theory of jazz, because jazz is just a word, used because the actual thing the listeners are interested in is so complex that it can’t be repeated faithfully every single time they speak. All you and I need is a shared interest (read: a homomorphism between our minds) in the same complex thing; no transcendental “metajazz” is necessary, and neither of us need care what anybody else calls “jazz”. The fact that there’s a developed jazz tradition, and that, in the end, the LABEL “jazz” belongs to them, is no cause for us to wed the focus of our interest to it.

    • >No “empirical testing” is required to construct true logical statements.

      Would that it were so. To understand why it isn’t, it helps to think hard about the confirmation status of very large, complex proofs like the classification theorem for finite groups or the proof of the Four-Color theorem. These are so complex that no single mathematician understands them as a whole, or include complex case reductions made by computers, or both.

      When proofs were small compared to the complexity-handling capacity of an individual human brain – and thus relatively easily and repeatably checked – we could maintain the belief that formal mathematics was the sort of system in which “logical truth value” is a timeless perfect abstraction and all proved theorems follow from axioms in a way that has no empirical contingency.

      But…what if Appel and Haken’s computer program for the Four Color Theorem case reduction was subtly buggy? How do we know it was not buggy? Proving the correctness of computer programs is very hard. Similarly, we have what one might call ‘classical’ proof confidence in the individual pieces of the finite-group classification theorem, but there is a kind of non-classical uncertainty about the whole because no individual human mind can check that whole. There might be an error at the joins that is not detectable.

      It is conceivable that we could build an automated theorem-prover more powerful than a human mathematician, powerful enough to check these proofs in their entirety, but then we would face the question of how we know that prover never performs mistaken inferences.

      You may be asking, then, why we don’t apply this kind of skepticism to proofs generated by human brains. The answer is that by having a proof repeatedly checked by different human brains we can reduce the probability of joint error to as low as we like. With super-large proofs this is no longer possible; empirical contingency blows up on us, no longer a dismissable problem at the margins.

      You might retort, if you’re a Platonist or some such, that I’m describing a defective approximation of “real” mathematics, in which “logical truth value” is a non-contingent property preserved by correct transformations from axioms to theorems. The problem is that the defective approximation is the only mathematics we have access to with actual brains and actual computers.

      None of this means we believe that (say) the Central Limit Theorem is going to stop being true tomorrow. Applied mathematics has not, so far, relied on super-large proofs. But an honest philosophy of mathematics has to grapple with their implications nevertheless.

  193. This is the kind of common sense philosophy has to fight against.

    To clarify, Hume did not say we cannot learn from observation. He just pointed out that you need (much) more than a blank slate that you fill with observation like a camera with picture.

    Hume argues by flattery. Instead of giving you sound reasons to believe in X and disbelieve in Y, he assures you that believing in X and disbelieving in Y makes you so much smarter than the ignorant and vulgar hoi polloi

    Thus, when Hume says something exceptionally stupid, his readers try to force an intelligent meaning on it, so that they can be smart by agreeing with Hume.

  194. @Roger
    “I can form a belief simply by evolving to believe it. The organisms that don’t think a certain way are simply eliminated from the environment. So much for that stupid bullshit.”

    Yes you can. And the only way you can have any “confidence” that you know the “truth” (whatever you want to call it) is that in the distant past, there was a correspondence between that believe and fitness. It was widely known that bad air lead to malaria. Observation confirmed this believe time and again. This believe increased your fitness, as staying away from bad air protected you from malaria. QED.

    As Hume explained so nicely, what was true in the past does not have to be true now or in the future. In the past, all swans were white. A truth as unshakable as the law of gravity. But now we know that there are also black swans.

    If you really believe in theory free facts, you still have a lot of learning to do.

  195. @JAD
    “Hume argues by flattery. ”

    And you argue by innuendo.

    When Hume used a very stupid example, “The sun might not rise tomorrow”, he used a rhetorical device to show his readers that they have no way of disproving what he wrote. Just to point out that the conventional interpretation of “empiricism” was build on sand. Hume is the reason we have a better concept of empirical proof.

    If you really think he did not know the sun would rise tomorrow or believed he could get his readers to think so, you have not understood a word he has written.

  196. Excuse me, but didn’t Quine killed correspondence theory in Two Dogmas and more or less demonstrated that coherentism is right i.e. you can only empirically test the whole set of science, but not a given statement, and your best bet of checking if a statement is true is whether it is coherent with everything else we consider true, which comes from both empirical observations and accepted theories?

    @ESR I think I have seen you using coherence-theory for dismissing the least likely hypotheses for explaining something, and this what we all do intuitively when we dismiss reports of supernatural events that seem to transcend the laws of physics: they are not fully impossible, but being incoherent with the rest of sciene gives them a very low Bayesian prior, which means only extraordinarily strong evidence would elevate them into anything remotely likely.

    Quick Quine summary for those who unfamiliar with the argument: if you want to test a statement, you need to match experiences with definitions. You can’t. You cannot really strip down a sentence to the level where it can have its 100% own, isolated, single-parameter, confounding-free observational consequence, because terms, definitions in it rest on other parts of the language or theory-set.

    One consequence of Quine’s coherentism is that the broader is an idea (and thus the more vague), the more empirical it gets. Broader areas of science like evolution or relativity are much more empirical than individual statements in them, because these broader areas have much more isolated observational consequences and less resting on definitions outside from themselves. Individual statements in them are largely true in a coherentist way only, because the definitions in them rest too closely on other statements inside the field of study, so we hardly ever get to test the isolated observational consequence of a single statement.

    Quine is not exactly famous for being easy to understand. The general idea in more relatable terms is “how broad a set of statements you need so that its total set of observational consequences are isolated enough and do not rest much on definitions imported from elsewhere?”

    • >Excuse me, but didn’t Quine killed correspondence theory in Two Dogmas and more or less demonstrated that coherentism is right i.e. you can only empirically test the whole set of science, but not a given statement, and your best bet of checking if a statement is true is whether it is coherent with everything else we consider true, which comes from both empirical observations and accepted theories?

      I read Quine’s coherentism as a heuristic for winnowing out bad theories (as you would say, adjusting Bayesian priors) rather than as a hard rule about confirmation of individual claims. But you are right when you say Quine is difficult to read on these matters; he might have meant it as you suppose.

  197. @Shenpen
    “You cannot really strip down a sentence to the level where it can have its 100% own, isolated, single-parameter, confounding-free observational consequence, because terms, definitions in it rest on other parts of the language or theory-set.”

    If I understand this well, this is what is done in science.

    Say, relativity. You generate a statement that is fully coherent within the theory. That is, if the theory in its current formulation is a valid description of reality, then this single statement must be true, or rather, the prediction must match new observations. Then, if the statement is falsified by observation, not just this statement, but the whole theory must be reconsidered.

    The difficulty is that in most cases it is not clear cut, there are many other parts, statements, and observations to be reconsidered. For instance, “Evolution” is to a large extend a science of the history of life on earth. And history is more holes than cheese. It is therefore difficult to say with specificity why a certain species evolved the way it did.

  198. In the past, all swans were white. A truth as unshakable as the law of gravity

    In the past, all swans in the known world were white. But people knew that when the known world expanded, they might well see dragons, or black swans.

  199. @JAD
    “In the past, all swans in the known world were white. But people knew that when the known world expanded, they might well see dragons, or black swans.”

    Yeah, exactly as Hume told them: Past empirical evidence is no guarantee for the future.

  200. @esr

    Would that it were so. To understand why it isn’t, it helps to think hard about the confirmation status of very large, complex proofs like the classification theorem for finite groups or the proof of the Four-Color theorem. These are so complex that no single mathematician understands them as a whole, or include complex case reductions made by computers, or both.

    No it doesn’t, because we weren’t talking about the “confirmation status” of anything. We were talking about “logical truth values”, a technical term that instantly draws you into the rules of mathematics.

    When proofs were small compared to the complexity-handling capacity of an individual human brain – and thus relatively easily and repeatably checked – we could maintain the belief that formal mathematics was the sort of system in which “logical truth value” is a timeless perfect abstraction and all proved theorems follow from axioms in a way that has no empirical contingency.

    The conversation you’re intervening in has nothing to do with any of this. The original claim by Daniel Franke was that a statement can’t have a “logical truth value” independently of empirical testing. The counter-claim is that there exist statements to which a logical truth value can be assigned without empirical testing. Shenpen was correct. E.g. any idiot can write a program to piss out millions of true logical sentences. This goofy excursion of yours about mathematics being generally “empirical” has nothing to do with that.

    But…what if Appel and Haken’s computer program for the Four Color Theorem case reduction was subtly buggy? How do we know it was not buggy? Proving the correctness of computer programs is very hard.

    This is an “if my mother walks out of the room, does she still exist?” type waste of time. Like it or not, true/false only is how this particular structure is formed in the mind. That you have some extra structure in your mind addressing this existing structure empirically is irrelevant, because we’re talking about truth-valued logic, not some random bullshit that happens to be nearby. Your objection over possible mistakes in proof checking relates to this outer structure, which is not what we are talking about w.r.t. “logical truth values”.

    It is conceivable that we could build an automated theorem-prover more powerful than a human mathematician, powerful enough to check these proofs in their entirety, but then we would face the question of how we know that prover never performs mistaken inferences.

    What on Earth are you on about? A prover and a checker are two different things. It’s the strength of the prover that is related to size and complexity of the proof, not the checker. The checker doesn’t trust the prover in any way, so bugs in the prover are irrelevant. And we check the work of the checker in any number of ways, just as we check human work.

    You might retort, if you’re a Platonist or some such, that I’m describing a defective approximation of “real” mathematics, in which “logical truth value” is a non-contingent property preserved by correct transformations from axioms to theorems. The problem is that the defective approximation is the only mathematics we have access to with actual brains and actual computers.

    Using the word real in quotation marks. ONTOLOGY – ugh. What SHOULD be taken for granted here is that there is this thing in your mind called truth-valued logic which follows non-contingent rules. If you can’t agree on that, well then you don’t have the right structure in your mind and nobody cares what you think about truth-valued logic, since you are clearly talking about something completely different. It is perfectly “real”, as you put it, because it (or the idea of it or however else you want to muddle it) exists in our minds. There’s nothing Platonistic or transcendental or meta about it at all. If you wanted to be really pedantic, you’d say no person holds the entirety of the logic in his mind, which is true. But there’s more than there enough to settle this idiotic business of the “logical truth-value”. The fact that you want to analyze the structure in an extra-logical empirical framework (and this is in fact the way it is usually grown!) is irrelevant.

    None of this means we believe that (say) the Central Limit Theorem is going to stop being true tomorrow. Applied mathematics has not, so far, relied on super-large proofs. But an honest philosophy of mathematics has to grapple with their implications nevertheless.

    No it doesn’t, because everyone already knows proofs need extensive checking, and consequently proof checking techniques are extremely reliable. The idea that mathematics requires experimentation and testing against evidence is in no way controversial. This also has exactly nothing to do with “logical proof values”, which are a distinct concept of their own.

    What Daniel Franke is suggesting is that what matters is being able to get some mathematicians or computers to sign off on some theorem. This is simply LAUGHABLE, like we were under the thrall of proof checking devices. Mathematics IS empirical, but the observations are made on the structures built inside OUR brain and the rest of the universe. Only as a SHORTCUT, because we don’t all have time to be specialists in everything, do we treat the mathematician himself, or the proof checker itself as the object of our “empiricism”. If you’d bothered to read my post you’d have seen that I wasn’t railing against empiricism of mathematics at all, but rather explicitly arguing FOR it, but AGAINST Daniel Franke’s layman’s approach.

    Further, your way of thinking is depressing, because you’re eager to eliminate “limits” and “ideals” from the mind. Yes, it is equally depressing to see people treat Platonism as “true ontology” or whatever (the only true ontology: FLUX), but the concept of an ideal – which is a natural consequence of the idea that the mind is going in a particular direction, is EXTREMELY useful. I believe in the “ideal” mathematics as much as anybody, but I also don’t believe in it. Just as I don’t believe objects exist, but I also believe they exist. The trick is to never believe both simultaneously. Anything less leads to retardation.

    • >The original claim by Daniel Franke was that a statement can’t have a “logical truth value” independently of empirical testing.

      I wish Daniel were wrong about this, but he isn’t. Mathematical proof is an empirical procedure – you shuffle marks on paper according to given proof rules to see if you can get from premises to theorem.

      For small proofs we can generally agree to ignore the empirical contingency of the process and pretend that the marks on paper and the shuffling faithfully and necessarily track some kind of numinous abstract perfection, and thus speak of absolute logical truth value. We can continue to be gut Platonists even if a little voice whispers “Maybe I screwed up…” But sufficiently large proofs lay bare the contingency of the process.

      When you speak of “outer structure”, I can only read this as an attempt to smuggle a special ontological status for mathematical truth back into the conversation. That won’t work; it’s the last gasp of gut Platonism.

      >What Daniel Franke is suggesting is that what matters is being able to get some mathematicians or computers to sign off on some theorem. This is simply LAUGHABLE, like we were under the thrall of proof checking devices.

      But he’s right. We are under such thrall. Normally we get to elide that fact because the proof checkers are our own brains. (This is very old ground; have you not studied the 19th-century debates around the axiomatization of mathematics?)

      I fully realize this way of thinking is depressing. I was training to be a theoretical mathematician; you don’t do that without having a hell of an emotional attraction to timeless eternal mathematical super-reality. I am far from the first person to observe that mathematicians have Formalist thoughts but Platonist feelings.

      Having to abandon gut Platonism probably depressed me rather more than it would affect you. But it is not the purpose of philosophical inquiry to make us comfortable.

  201. @Winter

    Yes you can. And the only way you can have any “confidence” that you know the “truth” (whatever you want to call it) is that in the distant past, there was a correspondence between that believe and fitness. It was widely known that bad air lead to malaria. Observation confirmed this believe time and again. This believe increased your fitness, as staying away from bad air protected you from malaria. QED.

    You suffer from the problem mentioned in my previous post (currently in the mod queue): not being able to hold contradictory ideas in your head. So you think there’s such a thing as “THE truth”. Technically speaking I don’t even really believe in falsehoods, only SMALL truths and BIG truths.

    As Hume explained so nicely, what was true in the past does not have to be true now or in the future. In the past, all swans were white. A truth as unshakable as the law of gravity. But now we know that there are also black swans.

    This has exactly nothing to do with what I said. lol

    If you really believe in theory free facts, you still have a lot of learning to do.

    Says the person who slowly emulates me more and more as time goes on. Which came first, the chicken or the theory laden fact?

  202. @Roger”
    “Says the person who slowly emulates me more and more as time goes on. Which came first, the chicken or the theory laden fact?”

    Big EGO?

  203. @JAD
    > > “In the past, all swans in the known world were white. But people knew that when the known world expanded, they might well see dragons, or black swans.”

    Winter:
    > Yeah, exactly as Hume told them: Past empirical evidence is no guarantee for the future.

    But Hume was wrong, indeed stupid. All swans in that part of the world were white, and continued to be white.

    Just as Newtonian physics remains a very accurate account of bodies moving slowly compared to light, Aristotlean physics remains a reasonably accurate account of Greek oxcarts moving along Greek dirt roads, and Aristotlean causality continues to give a good account of causation in living creatures.

  204. Hume’s argument was the classical nihilistic all purpose philosopher’s argument: We cannot know everything with complete certainty, therefore, cannot know anything at all.

    • >All facts are theory laden – yet a fox manages to know many true things without being aware he has any theories at all.

      A theory is a prediction generator. The fox has lots of theories. The difference from a human is that the fox’s theories are mostly encoded in his DNA rather than learned – the fox is not good at updating them.

      A human has lots of theories that are wired in as well. Ordinary perception depends on them. Optical illusions show the limitations of one kind of theory we have wired into our retinas and visual cortices.

      One task of philosophy is to show us how our wired-in theories are less than optimal.

  205. @Hume
    “But Hume was wrong, indeed stupid. All swans in that part of the world were white, and continued to be white.”

    Which again shows you have no idea what Hume was saying. You are using a modern view of the empirical sciences which was build by, among others, Hume himself. You seem to have no idea how people at the time were using empirical evidence. Because, at the time there was no “relative” notion to the concept of “truth”.

    @JAD
    “yet a fox manages to know many true things without being aware he has any theories at all.”

    That is because a fox does not deal with facts, just with “correspondences” (or correlations). By its very nation, a fact is a thing that can be communicated in symbolic form. Foxes do not communicate using symbols. There are many “true things”, but “facts” are just a very small subset of these (if they are even true).

  206. Winter: “Big EGO?”

    No, big intellectual dick which Roger insists on waving in all of our faces.

  207. @Jay
    “No, big intellectual dick which Roger insists on waving in all of our faces.”

    I am not sure I understand all the ramifications of that expression, but I think I can agree with the gist of it.

  208. @Winter

    Yes, I think it roughly means that.

    Thanks for the notion that philosophy is about the mind, not about the world. This helps me put my former statement namely that it is the set of things not sufficiently worked out yet in a clearer way. Basically, our understanding of the world and our understanding of the mind are quite entangled. We don’t know on one hand how a truly neutral observer would see the world, on the other hand, other people’s minds are part of our world. This entanglement one may called the experienced and interpreted world, or life-world, the kind of world we live and interpret and interact with, not just observe from afar. And back in the age of classical philosophy this was pretty entangled, it was a reflection on the life-world.

    Later on we got a clarification process, a process of trying to disentangle the life-world to studying the world and studying the mind. Natural philosophy and later on natural science was gradually disentangled as a way to study the world, not the mind, and ignore as much as possible all the confounding factors coming from the mind i.e. trying to act as much as possible neutral. We may think Descartes’ ghost in the machine was ducking fumb, but one way to see it is to really wall off the mind from the world, so that we can study the world via science as much as possible.

    What remains in philosophy is both more or less pure studies of the mind, and those aspects of the life-world where our understanding of the world and of the mind are still really entangled.

    For example, the classical question “what is justice”. A scientific approach would be simply surveying and recording what different people in different ages thought about justice, and from this generate hypotheses about how the mind i.e. moral sentiments work, and how social relations work in generating opinions of justice. This would be a very valid thing to do, but it would ignore that there is a normative aspect of the original question as well: it ask how _should_ we think about justice, or why are some ways of thinking about it wrong. Not factually wrong, since it is not about empirical facts, but still a wrong way. Of course this normativity in turn requires that we learn something else about the world, since almost every norm about how to think about a thing requires that, but it also requires a certain introspection into how our own mind creates ideas and interprets the world. This introspective way of understanding the mind is philosophy + every aspect of understanding the world that is not sufficiently walled off from it.

    So, when I said when you work out your legal theory or music theory or economic theory it stops being philosophy, I basically meant when you manage to disentangle the world and the mind with regard to a certain topic and arrive to a world-only model. That is called working it out.

  209. @Roger:

    Philosophy is not a “branch”, it covers EVERYTHING.

    I’m attempting to understand your position, and I’m finding an enormous blank area in my model. Especially in light of the arguments regarding “truth”, I wonder if your definition of philosophy also includes all unfalsifiable and “semantically null” nonsensical statements (such as Chomsky’s famous “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously”). In your definition, does philosophy include when I frumptiously gorshap cromulent ankwot? If not, what is the proper boundary of “everything” (and thus philosophy)?

    Finally, because you seem to demand respect from others on this blog, let me show you the highest respect I know: the only acceptable—which is to say, “accurate” and “complete”—answers are ones which allow independent construction of the same generative theory in light of all of your previous posts.

  210. @ESR

    > The difference from a human is that the fox’s theories are mostly encoded in his DNA rather than learned – the fpx is not good at updating them.

    When you spent decades programming and come up with a model of animal cognition that maps _perfectly_ to the hardware vs. software divide, you should be suspicious about your intuitions. This is just too convenient, right? And I see this approach being already too widespread, pop evo-psy talks about “hardwired” instincts all the time vs. learned behaviors, using basically the hardware-software metaphor, I always find it suspiciously too convenient for people who use hardware and software all the time. This is very much likely just a stage in the progress of technology, maybe 100 years later this will be very outdated, which also means the metaphor will not be used to describe animal life.

    Of course it is also possible that the hardware-software divide is here to stay and is a useful metaphor for understanding animal cognition because it is an efficient way of dealing with resources or somehow follows from the laws of nature. But I have not seen any arguments for this yet.

    If I had sufficient resoures to design systems, I would often keep my hardware soft and my software hard. I.e. I would try to make things so that nothing is hardcoded that it is too costly to change it when the need arises. I would also find ways to cast software is stone, such as generally accepted standards and interface definitions, so that it does not mutate so much as to cause coordination problems.

    I am just not convinced if nature deals in really hardwired hardware and really easily rewritable software. I am just suspicious about the convenience of these metaphors. Maybe our learned behavior is more hardwired than we think it is, or maybe animal behavior is more trainable than we think it is. Maybe we should forget nature vs. nurture as a model.

  211. Coherence Theory is essentially about creating a game, codifying rules, and then playing by those rules. Deviation from the rules is error. To the extent that Coherence Theory is helpful in understanding the Universe, then it is a useful driver in the evolution of our species’ intelligence. Coherence Theory can also be abstract and need not have any additional application.

    Correspondence Theory is at the heart of our evolutionary success as a species, and we would not be here to think of it otherwise. We innately absorb information about the world around us (including interaction causation/effect), make predictions based upon this (however imperfect) knowledge, and then either live to reproduce or become extinct.

    That we are still here is evidence that something is working pretty well. Life is robust.

  212. @esr
    “The difference from a human is that the fox’s theories are mostly encoded in his DNA rather than learned – the fpx is not good at updating them.”

    I would not state that with too much confidence. “Higher” animals are very good at learning. And even the “lower” animals can amaze. There have been done experiments with ants that are pure SF:
    http://www.reznikova.net/Publications.html

    Go to the paper Ants and Bits. Plenary talk presented at the 2011 IEEE International Symposium of Information Theory. (with videos) and the papers written together with Boris Ryabko.

    I am still not sure whether I can believe these.

  213. Shenpen:

    are really cheap so only laziness can stand in your way of building one with your two hands, and you get to see wild animals like foxes and rabbits taking a couple of miles of walking from your house?

    I live in Aurora, CO not at the edge of Civilization, and the only reason we can’t put our cars in the garage is we have too much stuff (well, and the land cruiser is too tall with the rack on the roof).

    I routinely see animals like fox, geese, rabbits (sometimes in the back yard), ground hogs and the (very occasional) deer *within walking distance*. I look out the window in my office and see one of Colorado’s 14s close enough that I can drive there in the morning, hike from 11k feet to 14k feet, and be home for dinner. Well, not this time of year because snow.

    And if you’re of the mind you can move up in those hills, sometimes at a high price, and sometimes not so high:

    http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/3460-Welch-Ave-Kittredge-CO/13759194_zpid/

  214. J. Read:

    I think I understand better why British musicians tend to romanticize the American south unto near Middle-earth status…

    Huh? The “American South” is crowded and close compared with things out west (except coastal CA, Portland OR and Seattle, WA).

    You want open, get west and north of Denver.

    I was driving through Nevada once and we’d see another car every 30 minutes or so.

    Of course, when driving through NT, AU we’d see one every hour or so during the day. Wasn’t safe to drive at night. THAT was some empty sh*t.

  215. Jay Maynard on 2015-02-09 at 19:06:21 said:
    > Shenpen, there’s no place in the US that I know of where farmland is free or very cheap.

    Western Nebraska & Kansas, eastern Colorado. Not really farmland, but there are smaller towns practically begging for people to move there. You won’t generally find it on Zillow, but here’s one place that isn’t farmland, but crissakes it’s cheap. Of course you better be able to telecommute because there ain’t no work there:

    http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/603-N-Carrie-Ave-Sharon-Springs-KS-67758/91301600_zpid/

  216. @Jay Maynard on 2015-02-09 at 20:57:59 said:
    > …religiously murderous Buddhists. *boggle*

    From Air America:

    Buddha says… Stop it!
    A real Buddhist wouldn’t be running guns.
    You’re a hustler. Call it Religion, but you’re a hustler.

    I never said I was a good Buddhist.

  217. Depends on what cheap means to you, of course. You can find very good farm land within 3 hours of Washington, D.C. for under $3K per acre. There’s good deals to be found most everywhere if you know how and where to look.

  218. > I wish Daniel were wrong about this, but he isn’t. Mathematical proof is an empirical procedure – you shuffle marks on paper according to given proof rules to see if you can get from premises to theorem.
    >
    > For small proofs we can generally agree to ignore the empirical contingency of the process and pretend that the marks on paper and the shuffling faithfully and necessarily track some kind of numinous abstract perfection, and thus speak of absolute logical truth value. We can continue to be gut Platonists even if a little voice whispers “Maybe I screwed up…”

    But if you screwed up, then you haven’t actually been “shuffle marks on paper according to given proof rules” since your shuffling deviated from the rules.

    • >But if you screwed up, then you haven’t actually been “shuffle marks on paper according to given proof rules” since your shuffling deviated from the rules.

      Yes? So what?

      The point I’m driving at here is that provers are fallible, and that matters a lot. Philosophically, a human misapplying the proof rules is no different in its implications than an automated theorem prover emitting a bad result because RAM flipped a bit.

  219. Daniel Franke’s position doesn’t make mathematics empirical; instead it reduces mathematics to social convention. “A mathematical proof is valid only because the society of practicing mathematicians believes it to be valid” is analogous to “a sequence of sounds/letters forms a sentence of English only because societies of English speakers all understand it the same way”.

    This is a problem, because it doesn’t exclude coherent nonsense from the class of truths. To take an example unlikely to offend anyone here, as long as there is still a community of convinced Marxists who study and believe the economic and political theories of Marx and Engels, Marxism could not be considered false. Marxism certainly passes the test of internal coherence; Marxist arguments can be constructed and presented to the community of Marxists, to be accepted or rejected. Yet Marxism is certainly false, and any theory of truth which leaves that open to doubt must be defective.

    • >Daniel Franke’s position doesn’t make mathematics empirical; instead it reduces mathematics to social convention.

      Only in the same trivial and uninteresting sense that it reduces any empirical science to “social convention”. Experiments have to be performed by human beings, too, but this does not cause us to doubt (say) that planets have elliptical orbits. With enough replications we trust – and what I am saying is that this is also the case with mathematical demonstrations.

      >This is a problem, because it doesn’t exclude coherent nonsense from the class of truths.

      As with empirical science, we have to consider “truth” over a sufficiently long timescale of repeated confirmations. You understand Bayesian reasoning; that kind of decision theory applies here as well.

  220. And about formalism in mathematics. Nearly all the key theorems of calculus, and analysis generally, were first stated and proven with unsound methods. Reasoning about infinitesimals in the 17th and 18th centuries was quite sloppy and rife with paradox, and 19th century mathematicians spent much time and labor reworking the foundations of their subject. If formalism is true, how did the mathematicians between Newton and Weierstrass discover theorems of analysis which we still recognize as true today?

    • >If formalism is true, how did the mathematicians between Newton and Weierstrass discover theorems of analysis which we still recognize as true today?

      See my essay “The Utility of Mathematics”, cited upthread, for what I think the crucial clue for this question is.

  221. @JAD
    > > “yet a fox manages to know many true things without being aware he has any theories at all.”

    Winter:
    > That is because a fox does not deal with facts, just with “correspondences” (or correlations).

    In order to know that a rabbit is good to eat, and a hunter is dangerous, the fox has to know that the rabbit is a rabbit, and the hunter is a hunter.

    Hume persuades himself and his readers that he is very smart to know nothing, but the fox knows many things, even though he cannot explain how he knows them.

  222. >>Daniel Franke’s position doesn’t make mathematics empirical; instead it reduces mathematics to social convention.

    >Only in the same trivial and uninteresting sense that it reduces any empirical science to “social convention”.

    No, not quite. Empirical sciences make assertions of the form “if you do A, you will observe B”. Such assertions can be checked independently of any community of human beings; all that’s needed is to do A and observe either B or the absence of B. If you have to ask a lot of other people whether they agree with an assertion to know if it’s true, it can’t be empirical.

    >See my essay “The Utility of Mathematics”, cited upthread, for what I think the crucial clue for this question is.

    I’ve just read it. While it’s a valid observation, it’s off the point I was making – it’s addressed to the different question “why is mathematics useful in the study of nature”. My question stayed within mathematics, without regard to its applications in empirical study.

    To restate: if the formalists are correct about what mathematics is, how did mathematicians in the 17th and 18th centuries discover and prove theorems in analysis which are both true and important, when their methods of proof were unsound, and even admitted at the time to be unsound? That is, since the “shufflings of marks on paper” during that period was done wrongly, and according to formalism that’s all there is to mathematics, why do we say the mathematics of that period is mathematics? If those mathematicians weren’t trying to understand pure abstractions that existed before them, and did not depend on them or on anything physical … how did they get so many things right?

    • >No, not quite. Empirical sciences make assertions of the form “if you do A, you will observe B”. Such assertions can be checked independently of any community of human beings; all that’s needed is to do A and observe either B or the absence of B. If you have to ask a lot of other people whether they agree with an assertion to know if it’s true, it can’t be empirical.

      The distinction you’re presuming is illusory. Who is going to “do A and observe either B or the absence of B” but another human? How are you going to get that report of confirmation or disconfirmation except from another human?

      Unless you can perform the experiment yourself – and we started out by discussing superlarge proofs that no individual can do – you can only get your confirmation by querying the belief states of other humans.

      I’m not advocating social construction or subjectivism here, I’m just pointing out that at scale all scientific confirmation is “social” in exactly the way you think mathematics shouldn’t be. Trust one process, trust the other. Distrust one, distrust the other. The difference isn’t in the processes, it’s in your presuppositions about mathematics.

      >If those mathematicians weren’t trying to understand pure abstractions that existed before them, and did not depend on them or on anything physical … how did they get so many things right?

      Human intuition approximates formalist results because human intuition is not arbitrary – it’s an evolved facility selected under pressure to make snap judgments about the phenomenal world. Formalism, where it isn’t constructed with the exact aim of reflecting and improving human intuitions (which makes your mysterious correspondence easy), also launches from models grounded in phenomenal experience.

      (At this point you should be starting to recognize some of the arrows in the diagram included with my essay.)

  223. @Alex K

    I’m attempting to understand your position, and I’m finding an enormous blank area in my model. Especially in light of the arguments regarding “truth”, I wonder if your definition of philosophy also includes all unfalsifiable and “semantically null” nonsensical statements (such as Chomsky’s famous “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously”). In your definition, does philosophy include when I frumptiously gorshap cromulent ankwot? If not, what is the proper boundary of “everything” (and thus philosophy)?

    Yes, philosophy includes nonsense – but it doesn’t rank nonsense on the same level as everything else. “Everything” has no boundary, that makes no sense.

    When you speak of “outer structure”, I can only read this as an attempt to smuggle a special ontological status for mathematical truth back into the conversation. That won’t work; it’s the last gasp of gut Platonism.

    lol, this is blockheaded nonsense. It’s obvious to me now that you have a serious mental defect – namely that you’re not capable of holding complex, contradictory structures in your brain. I don’t give a shit about ontology, it is a (USEFUL) error inherited from language. Again, you reveal yourself to be an extremely shallow, VERBAL thinker. lol “PLATONISM PLATONISM” is the best you can do, which reveals that you haven’t understood a fucking thing I’ve said. This is an incredibly disappointing, shallow response. After claiming to be above ontological bullshit, you spout endless ontological bullshit. Talk to me about FLUX.

    But he’s right. We are under such thrall. Normally we get to elide that fact because the proof checkers are our own brains. (This is very old ground; have you not studied the 19th-century debates around the axiomatization of mathematics?)

    lol don’t patronize me – you don’t know the FIRST THING about how proofs work, and that is abundantly clear from reading your comprehensively flubbed attempts to talk about it. And you’re so bamboozled with all this ontological bullshit about Platonism etc that you can’t even absorb my viewpoint. Interesting that you should elide most of what I wrote when it exposes you as someone who in fact knows nothing about proofs either on a practical or a theoretical level.

    I fully realize this way of thinking is depressing. I was training to be a theoretical mathematician; you don’t do that without having a hell of an emotional attraction to timeless eternal mathematical super-reality. I am far from the first person to observe that mathematicians have Formalist thoughts but Platonist feelings.

    Again, you haven’t not understood what I’ve said at all. I don’t “believe” in Platonism, nor have I ever “believed” in it. Discovering that Platonism is bogus isn’t depressing to me at all – I didn’t need to open a SINGLE BOOK, or read ANYTHING to know this. But I CAN believe in it WHEN I WANT TO. This is a completely flubbed attempt to read me.

    It’s noted that you haven’t responded to any of the actual substance of what I said. That you didn’t comprehend anything that was written. You don’t know anything about the topic you’re speaking about, just trying to fit what little tidbits you do understand to your preferred reality, while pretending to do the opposite. Please, do me a kindness and go back to not replying to me – I prefer the illusion that you’re better than Winter etc.

    • >It’s noted that you haven’t responded to any of the actual substance of what I said. That you didn’t comprehend anything that was written. You don’t know anything about the topic you’re speaking about, just trying to fit what little tidbits you do understand to your preferred reality, while pretending to do the opposite.

      I’m beginning to recognize this as the standard Roger response meaning “I don’t have a counterargument”. Disappointing.

      I’m content for you to go right on believing I know nothing about proof or axiomatic systems, because I find the value of your opinions of anything to be rapidly decreasing. Which is a damn shame. You taught me a few things in the past, when you wrote less like a mental patient who’s skipped a dose of Haldol. That’s bought you a lot of slack. It’s running out now.

  224. “Please, do me a kindness and go back to not replying to me – I prefer the illusion that you’re better than Winter etc.”

    So, who’s left that you will deign to talk with? And are any of us worthy of other than contemptuous sneering?

    If not, then why the hell are you here other than your intellectual dick-waving?

  225. @ Michael Brazier

    As mentioned previously, theoretical mathematics falls within the domain of Coherence Theory. It is a formalized system with rules, and all players are expected to follow the rules, and all players are expected to enforce the requirement of rule compliance. It’s not so much a social convention (not everyone is a player) as it is a self-selected society. Furthermore, the game is not static; it evolves as necessary in order to accommodate new information and processes that improve fidelity to the fundamental ideals of the game. As yes, this evolution is substantially Darwinian.

    None of the above invalidates the usefulness of mathematics, which is ultimately measured by results (which amounts to consistency and repeatability in the realm of abstractions).

    I think that you may be trying to suggest that since mathematics is a human invention, and because humans can be imperfect thinkers, them mathematics may also be imperfect. Welcome to the world as it exists, not as we idealize it.

  226. >Unless you can perform the experiment yourself – and we started out by discussing superlarge proofs that no individual can do – you can only get your confirmation by querying the belief states of other humans.

    The distinction between a social convention and an empirical science is that, with the former, there is no possible experiment to perform; a convention just is an aggregate of beliefs of other humans. That in practice scientific enquiry is a social process similar to the development of languages or cultures doesn’t change the fact that unlike many social processes, science is aimed at something outside of human belief states, namely the physical world.

    The formalist/Platonist debate is about whether mathematics is aimed at something outside human mental states. Contrary to certain remarks in “The Utility of Mathematics” the Platonist side doesn’t have to maintain that mathematical concepts are fundamental to the physical world; only that mathematical concepts exist independently of the physical world and of human beliefs.

    >Formalism, where it isn’t constructed with the exact aim of reflecting and improving human intuitions (which makes your mysterious correspondence easy), also launches from models grounded in phenomenal experience.

    So your answer is that early calculus was kept on the path of truth by being applied to physics problems?

    Then on which side of your dichotomy do mathematical innovations of the 20th century fall? Cantor’s transfinite numbers? The classification of finite simple groups? It’s hard to see how those could be inspired by phenomenal experience, or by reflecting on and improving intuitions.

    • >The distinction between a social convention and an empirical science is that, with the former, there is no possible experiment to perform; a convention just is an aggregate of beliefs of other humans.

      Right. I’m OK with you making that distinction as long as you recognize that mathematical demonstrations belong in the “possible experiment” category, where we – in effect – experiment with the results of formal production systems. That is the position I understood Daniel Franke to be arguing and which I am supporting.

      >So your answer is that early calculus was kept on the path of truth by being applied to physics problems

      Yes. And this generalizes. It is worth remembering that until the early 20th century it “pure” mathematics barely existed; mathematicians were also normally scientists or “natural philosophers”. Calculus itself was invented so Newton could do what is now called ballistics or orbital mechanics.

      >Then on which side of your dichotomy do mathematical innovations of the 20th century fall? Cantor’s transfinite numbers? The classification of finite simple groups? It’s hard to see how those could be inspired by phenomenal experience, or by reflecting on and improving intuitions.

      Actually, finite simple groups are a very thin formalization, quite close to phenomenal experience; you can get there easily from several kinds of science, and even art (there’s even a semi-famous story about a bright mathematical illiterate who reinvented finite Galois groups while doing cryptography on rotor-wheel encryption devices).

      Transfinite arithmetic raises any question you might be trying to ask about metamathematics in a much more interesting way. But I can’t address yours until you remind me what dichotomy you think is involved here; sorry, I’ve lost track.

  227. > The point I’m driving at here is that provers are fallible, and that matters a lot. Philosophically, a human misapplying the proof rules is no different in its implications than an automated theorem prover emitting a bad result because RAM flipped a bit.

    I don’t understand why either of those has any implications for whether a theorem can be considered to be objectively true.

    • >I don’t understand why either of those has any implications for whether a theorem can be considered to be objectively true.

      I think I need to understand what you think you mean by “objective truth” before I can answer that.

  228. @esr

    I’m beginning to recognize this as the standard Roger response maning “I don’t have a counterargument”. Disappointing.

    I ALREADY GAVE MY COUNTER-ARGUMENT AND YOU FUCKING WELL IGNORED IT. The INSOLENCE here is astounding. A stupid MONG who doesn’t understand the difference between proof construction and proof checking, whose argument was SHOT TO FUCKING PIECES, BLATANTLY FUCKING IGNORES EVERYTHING I SAY, THEN EXPECTS ME TO REPLY TO A USELESS, IRRELEVANT STRAWMAN. FUCKING KILL YOURSELF YOU DERANGED IDIOT

  229. >I think that you may be trying to suggest that since mathematics is a human invention, and because humans can be imperfect thinkers, them mathematics may also be imperfect.

    No, not at all. Quite the opposite; if anything, I’m trying to suggest that mathematics is not a human invention but a discovery.

    Continuing with the history of calculus as an example, riddle me this: since Cauchy and Weierstrass used formal methods unknown to Newton or Leibniz, in what sense is it true that all four mathematicians were writing about the same subject? Is it merely that all four were part of the same self-selected society, or is there something more? For that matter, in what sense is it true that Newton’s “fluxions” and Leibniz’s “calculus” were equivalent?

    • >Continuing with the history of calculus as an example, riddle me this: since Cauchy and Weierstrass used formal methods unknown to Newton or Leibniz, in what sense is it true that all four mathematicians were writing about the same subject?

      Any metamathematician knows the answer to that. They used different formal foundations but could prove mostly the same theorems, for any reasonable predication of “same”.

  230. @ Michael Brazier – “I’m trying to suggest that mathematics is not a human invention but a discovery.”

    An abstraction cannot be discovered. It’s creation first requires the existence of a sentient reasoning entity that possesses the facility of thought and abstract thinking.

    As to the history of the evolution of calculus (a mathematical tool), such messiness is quite common. I imagine that the first wheel was also crudely and somewhat serendipitously invented.

    Now I think that you are trying to pigeonhole mathematics into an ideal realm of absolute and eternal “truth”; but in the context of Coherence Theory, truth means fidelity to the rules, and the rules will change if the math does work.

  231. Sorry for the late edit. Last sentence should read . . .

    Now I think that you are trying to pigeonhole mathematics into an ideal realm of absolute and eternal “truth”; but in the context of Coherence Theory, truth means fidelity to the rules, and the rules will change if the math does not work.

    • >but in the context of Coherence Theory, truth means fidelity to the rules, and the rules will change if the math does not work

      Do you understand that that last word “work” contradicts your stated coherentist position? It refers to some validation criterion outside the “game”, probably an empirical one.

      Pure coherentism is ultimately circular for exactly the same reasons the correspondence theory of truth, and in exactly the same way. Both are at best heuristic approximations to predictivism.

  232. “FUCKING KILL YOURSELF YOU DERANGED IDIOT”

    …as we watch the slack-o-meter drop to zero faster than the gas gauge in a 1973 Cadillac Fleetwood limousine on a NASCAR track…

    • >…as we watch the slack-o-meter drop to zero faster than the gas gauge in a 1973 Cadillac Fleetwood limousine on a NASCAR track…

      Sigh. It’s like Roger wanted to be banned.

      It’s done. He can’t say he didn’t get plenty of warning and chances to straighten out.

      Poor bastard. I think he needs psychological help. I hope he gets it.

      I’m actually going to miss him a little.

  233. Re: Roger’s exit

    In tribute to Jay Maynard’s characterization, we should all take out our dicks and wave goodby to Roger and his psychosis (ladies excluded of course).

  234. @ ESR – “Do you understand that that last word “work” contradicts your stated coherentist position?”

    You are correct. I meant work in the sense of “the math cannot be made to comport with the existing rules, so either the math is flawed or the rules need to change.”

  235. esr:
    > The point I’m driving at here is that provers are fallible, and that matters a lot. Philosophically, a human misapplying the proof rules is no different in its implications than an automated theorem prover emitting a bad result because RAM flipped a bit.

    But the eighteenth and seventeenth century mathematicians got the right results, not the wrong results.

    If formalism is all there is to maths, how could they get the right results? Your theorem prover that flips a bit is going to get the wrong results.

    • >But the eighteenth and seventeenth century mathematicians got the right results, not the wrong results.

      Of course they did. They were using flawed proof methods to justify mathematicizing their intuitions about the phenomenal world. This had exactly the results you would expect if their intuitions were sound but their proof methods not. What’s the mystery here?

  236. I’m not advocating social construction or subjectivism here, I’m just pointing out that at scale all scientific confirmation is “social” in exactly the way you think mathematics shouldn’t be.

    No it is not. Part of my education was that I personally did all the necessary physical experiments necessary to deduce modern macroscopic physics up to and including special relativity. I did not do all the experiments necessary to derive quantum physics, but I did what was necessary to indicate that stuff is quantized and that quantum mechanics is seriously weird.

    In first year at university, my special relativity class consisted of working through “On the electrodynamics of moving bodies” to deduce special relativity from the same evidence that Einstein did.

  237. >Right. I’m OK with you making that distinction as long as you recognize that mathematical demonstrations belong in the “possible experiment” category, where we – in effect – experiment with the results of formal production systems. That is the position I understood Daniel Franke to be arguing and which I am supporting.

    I don’t think that’s what Franke said, but never mind that; I’ve a quarrel with this position too. As I see it, it takes the axioms and inference rules of a formal system as the basic objects of mathematics, and the things they refer to or model as derived from them. Euclid’s postulates are more fundamental than Euclidean space; Peano’s axioms are logically prior to the natural numbers. And this is backwards – in the vast majority of cases the concept comes first, and the formal system is codified to describe it and help one reason about it. Moreover, the concept is logically prior to all axiomatizations of it. Anyone who doesn’t know about the natural numbers won’t see the point of Peano’s axioms, or learn what the numbers are from them.

    A parallel mistake (which you are, naturally, not guilty of) is to speak of theories of physics as more fundamental than the actual events they describe, and even to assign causal force to a set of differential equations. (I seem to recall some physicists claiming that the laws of physics explained why the universe exists – they were making just this mistake.)

    >They used different formal foundations but could prove mostly the same theorems, for any reasonable predication of “same”.

    What a reasonable predication of “same” might be for a formalist is what I was asking for. What makes theorems generated from different formal systems “the same”? Two physical objects made in different ways out of different materials aren’t the same …

    >Transfinite arithmetic raises any question you might be trying to ask about metamathematics in a much more interesting way. But I can’t address yours until you remind me what dichotomy you think is involved here; sorry, I’ve lost track.

    I meant the specific sentence I quoted; paraphrasing, that formal systems are created with the intent either of refining intuitions, or of building models for some part of the physical world.

    • >As I see it, it takes the axioms and inference rules of a formal system as the basic objects of mathematics, and the things they refer to or model as derived from them.

      Doesn’t seem that way to me. Or possibly I misunderstand what you mean by “basic” and “derived”.

      A lot of mathematics is motivated by intuitions about phenomenal models, then axiomatized, then the axiomatized and more rigorous form is productive of insights which may be useful for modeling phenomena, which then feeds back into new mathematics, and away we go again. (See again the diagram in my essay.) The continuing dialogue between calculus/analysis and physics is the most obvious example but not the only one at all.

      Does it make any sense to pick one point in that cycle, freeze it, and claim that either the formalization is prior to the model-driven thinking or vice-versa? I don’t think it does.

      >What a reasonable predication of “same” might be for a formalist is what I was asking for. What makes theorems generated from different formal systems “the same”?

      Extended answer begins here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Model_theory

      >I meant the specific sentence I quoted; paraphrasing, that formal systems are created with the intent either of refining intuitions, or of building models for some part of the physical world.

      I judge transfinite arithmetic is mostly the former and finite-group theory mostly the latter, but would listen respectfully to a person arguing for a different classification.

  238. Right. I’m OK with you making that distinction as long as you recognize that mathematical demonstrations belong in the “possible experiment” category, where we – in effect – experiment with the results of formal production systems. That is the position I understood Daniel Franke to be arguing and which I am supporting.

    I don’t think that’s what Franke said, but never mind that; I’ve a quarrel with this position too.

    It’s close enough that I have no objection to it.

  239. @JAD
    “In order to know that a rabbit is good to eat, and a hunter is dangerous, the fox has to know that the rabbit is a rabbit, and the hunter is a hunter.”

    In your criticism of Hume (what did he say that you hate him so much?) you are playing with words. Hume did not use the words “know” and “theory” in a way that applies to animals like you apply them. (btw, the correct words here are “recognize” and “associate”)

    To get back to humans. All native speakers of English can easily distinguish the words bad, bat, bet, and bed in running speech and they can pronounce them unambiguously. Non native speakers have big troubles doing so (I am a case in point).

    So, in your parlance, native speakers of English “know” the distinctions and they have a “theory” how to make it. Still, until the 1970s, not a single speaker of English could save his life explaining how s/he did it. They did not know what constitutes the difference nor how they do it. Even now, the people who investigate this will tell you that there are many unknowns on how this ability works and develops.

    Now I am in the curious position that I know (and can explain) how the distinction between these four words are made, but I cannot apply it to my own language use.

    Trying to pin down Hume on this metaphorical use of words that was unheard of in his days is, dubious, to say the least. It does show you still have to learn a lot on philosophy. Maybe less in rhetoric (in a bad way).

  240. > In your criticism of Hume (what did he say that you hate him so much?)

    Told you already: Instead of providing evidence and argument that X is true and Y is not true, he tells us that believing that X is true and Y is not true makes you a terribly smart person, much superior to the ordinary hoi polloi.

    you are playing with words. Hume did not use the words “know” and “theory” in a way that applies to animals like you apply them. (btw, the correct words here are “recognize” and “associate”)

    Everyone, most of the time, and most people, all of the time, know things the way a fox knows things. Every time a philosopher sits down on a chair or puts on his shoe, he knows that the shoe is a shoe, and the chair will hold him up, the way any creature knows this sort of thing.

    As I said earlier, it is hard to explain how we know things, how we can know things. The correct response is to struggle to explain how we can know things, rather than to conclude that we do not know things.

  241. Shenpen on 2015-02-09 at 15:06:13 said: Without trying to be nosy about your privacy, are you living in those parts of America we high-population density country people tend to fantasize about? Where land to build a barn on is somewhere between extremely cheap and free… and you get to see wild animals like foxes and rabbits taking a couple of miles of walking from your house?

    This suggests that even relatively high-density areas of the U.S. are still very different from Europe.

    I live in a fairly dense area of Chicago (~8,000/sq km), but there is visible wildlife literally outside the window. Rabbits, at least. I see them frequently, and when a thaw melted snow of a few weeks age, I found piles of rabbit pellets in the small lawns around my building. I’ve encountered skunks and raccoons within 100 meters of my doorstep. I’ve encountered white-tailed deer inside the city limits, and they are common around my mother’s house, five km away. I’ve never seen foxes, but coyotes are known in parts of the city.

  242. @JAD
    “As I said earlier, it is hard to explain how we know things, how we can know things.”

    Remains the fact that there is a difference between “scientific” knowledge, which is what philosophers in Hume era were writing about, and being able to perform a task correctly without knowing how you do it. The latter was most definitely not what Hume and his contemporaries were talking about. And you know that.

    It is customary to try to interpret a writer using the language that was used by his/her audience. The fact that you refuse to interpret Hume’s writings using the language of his readers tells me you are playing games with us.

  243. @Rich

    Yes, it is quite different. Nature in the old world was too abused for a too long time and basically hanging on with teeth and nail. It is not even the industrial age, cutting down the forests began in the Roman period. I live in Vienna and it is probably better than most, many national parks, circled by a forest called the Wienerwald, yet even that is largely devoid of larger mammals, don’t really see tracks or anything, which is not surprising, there are so many people picknicking etc. the noise chases them away. I have a book that describes the 30-something taverns in that forest near the city, which is too much noise for animals.

    Not trying to get too political here, but that is the major reason for socialistic policies in Europe, it is the overcrowded rat cage feeling, every square meter used by someone for something and there is just no room to do your own thing. The wineyards in the Grinzing have plaques boasting hundreds of years of history, read, the good land for wineyards was taken hundreds of years ago, so being a wine-maker is not a career or business you choose to start: it is something to inherit or not. Quite literally a privilege. With this level of crowding everything becomes a privilege and not merit, it is very hard to keep an individualist mindset in such circumstances. I think that was part of what used to drive colonialism back them. Breathing room! The idea back that if you are unsuccesful at home, it does not necessarily mean you suck, it can be just the circumstances and quite possible that if you move out to a colony and become a sheep farmer or make kangaroo leather wallets or whatever the heck, you can be quite succesful. I think that is why these socialistic stuff was not too popular back then. It wasn’t like you live in this city or that and just take the jobs other people offer or not, there was more choice, more room to make something of your own initative.

    I certainly intend to escape it at one point, before my mindset settles too much into ant-hill mode. I just need to wait a bit for telecommuting becoming more accepted and none of this “I as a boss believe in the power of face to face interaction” and we can go live somewhere rural.

    But I guess it would mean 30 min drive to get the kids to school, 40 to dentist, 50 to a hospital… so it would have its own drawbacks. When you cannot even drink a few beers in the evening because your child feels a bit unwell and perhaps you are driving her to a doctor at midnight.

  244. @ESR

    > experiment with the results of formal production systems

    To examine something empirically, that thing should exist. It should be part of reality. I can’t just be something I made up. Reformulating your debate into Penrose’s terminology, are these formal systems discovered or invented? Do this formal systems exist solely in the minds that generate them from nothing, or existed before in some magic dimension and were just discovered? If they are invented, how it is possible that e.g. Mandelbrot and Julia found (discovered) entirely new features of complex numbers centuries after they were invented, made as a mere tool for solving cubic equations? If they are discovered, just where were they before?

    Your solution is an intermediate one, one between invention and discovery. First we take the phenomenal world, then we extract a sloppy verbal model from it, then we extract a formal model from that. We don’t really invent it out of nothing: it is taken out from phenomenal reality, however it is turned into a different form phenomenal reality contains it in. A good metaphor of your model and basically your answer to Penrose (TENM) would be that these formal systems are like extracting juice from oranges, we don’t discover the juice the same way we can discover, find the oranges on a tree, and we don’t invent it entirely out of nothing, but we extract it from the discovered thing, we work the discovered thing into a different shape or form.

    If I got you right, your intermediate solution is very close to hylomorphic dualism, you practically a Thomist :) Because if math can be extracted out of the phenomenal reality, it is not far to say things consist of matter and information. And we extract the information via math.

    I don’t really know what else could you say. The last part of the essay seems to reject this juice extraction and go back to considering math an invention: we just make a lot of models and some just happen to have predictive power. But this contradicts that new and new features of these tools are discovered, such as the case with complex numbers. If you make something ex nihilo, if you literally just make it up, you cannot discover more features of that thing, centuries later, by a different person, that just does not work that way. It must be in some way rooted in reality, not just _modelling_ reality by happenstance, but somehow _being_ part of it.

    Thus if you don’t want to go Plato, you don’t have much other choice than to go Aristotle and Thomas: information has real existence, but not in a shiny higher realm of pureness, but here in the muddy world, mixed with matter, in every phenomenal thing. A juice press can extract the juice from oranges, a mathemathical mind can extract the information from them.

    • >Thus if you don’t want to go Plato, you don’t have much other choice than to go Aristotle and Thomas: information has real existence, but not in a shiny higher realm of pureness, but here in the muddy world, mixed with matter, in every phenomenal thing.

      I think you’re getting way too hung up on words here, and reifying “information” in a way that just mires you in a lot of unnecessary confusion. The “contradiction” you think you see is nothing of the sort. You say:

      But this contradicts that new and new features of these tools are discovered, such as the case with complex numbers. If you make something ex nihilo, if you literally just make it up, you cannot discover more features of that thing, centuries later, by a different person, that just does not work that way.

      but this is obviously false. As an easily accessible counterexample, consider the study of the game of chess.

  245. winter:
    > Remains the fact that there is a difference between “scientific” knowledge, which is what philosophers in Hume era were writing about, and being able to perform a task correctly without knowing how you do it.

    Hume does not know the scientific method from a can of beans.

    If you want to know the scientific method, read Feynman, Galileo, and Roger Bacon.

    The essence of the Scientific Method is summarized by the slogan “Nullius in Verba”, which is that we should avoid the fallacy of scientific consensus. Equivalently, Feynman: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

    See also my own post http://blog.jim.com/economics/stultum-facit-fortuna/

  246. @James A. Donald

    Galileo? Read The Sleepwalkers from Arthur Koestler. He used so many knowingly dishonest arguments, it is not even funny. The proper hero of that age was Newton, the rest largely buffoons who accidentally found some half-truths while furiously wanking about Neo-Platonic symmetry in the heavens.

  247. > Galileo? Read The Sleepwalkers from Arthur Koestler. He used so many knowingly dishonest arguments,

    When non scientists discuss how science works, as Arther Koestler did in “the sleepwalkers”, they are, unsurprisingly, usually full of shit.

  248. @JAD
    “Hume does not know the scientific method from a can of beans.”

    Still, Hume was right about the limitations of the empiricists of his time. Which is the point here.

    And you do not clear this up by using 20th century metaphorical language to misinterpret the writings of an 18th century philosopher. It is very clear what type of knowledge Hume is writing about. And there he was perfectly on target.

  249. >>Without trying to be nosy about your privacy, are you living in those parts of America we high-population density >>country people tend to fantasize about? Where land to build a barn on is somewhere between extremely cheap and free, >>there is no excuse for not putting your car into a garage because the land for the garage and wooden building >>materials are really cheap so only laziness can stand in your way of building one with your two hands, and you get >>to see wild animals like foxes and rabbits taking a couple of miles of walking from your house? This, low-density >>living, has always been something fascinatingly alien and very romantic to me. Where your quality of living would >>have a more DIY character and less dependent on playing the social and career status signaling game… it certainly >>has an appeal for introverts.

    It has an appeal for more than just introverts. Though maybe the appeal is a little stronger for introverts. ;)

    >I routinely see animals like fox, geese, rabbits (sometimes in the back yard), ground hogs and the (very occasional) >deer *within walking distance*. I look out the window in my office and see one of Colorado’s 14s close enough that I >can drive there in the morning, hike from 11k feet to 14k feet, and be home for dinner. Well, not this time of year >because snow.

    FYI, in the US you more or less just need to get out of a city to experience stuff like this. I live in a suburb, and not a particularly distant outer one, of NYC, that is in the most densely populated state in the US. And my town would, to you no doubt, be a nature paradise. From my living room window I can regularly watch deer, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, the occasional groundhog (the geography of my immediate area doesn’t favor them), wild turkeys…

    On the roads of my town, I have had to stop my car to avoid the following animals:

    squirrels
    chipmunks
    foxes
    geese
    deer
    raccoons
    skunks
    black bears
    wild turkeys
    groundhogs
    (the rabbits stay off the road, in my experience)

    This has been a bad winter and the deer are hungry. They regularly come to eat the bushes next to my front door, and once I opened the door and startled a deer that was close enough for us to each kick the other. (Noone was harmed.)

    Having a little *space* really does make room for more freedom. There’s a reason our suburbs are so popular, and why they are also so hated (by the kind of person who wants to control others, of course).

  250. Oh, and right now the skunk and raccoon populations are in the collapsed stage. Rabies is endemic, and population of certain animals peaks and then, thanks to rabies, collapses.

    In the building containing our town offices, there’s a wall with a big map that has pushpins in it representing confirmed cases of rabid animals.

    It’s things like that (and there are many other examples) that keep anyone who pays attention from developing many of the delusions wrt nature common in city dwellers.

  251. @ESR but they did not discover new features of chess if you mean discovering tactics like Sicilian Defense, the it was perfectly clear from the beginning that the game allows gigantic number of moves and combinations, and some of them will be more useful for a black opening than some others. It was just sorting through them until it was found. It is something a powerful computer could brute-force rather simply. Chess, as such, stayed the same since the stopped changing the rules, what changed is what legal moves are used more often in given situations. Even when Sicilian Defence did not have a name, sometimes black still opened with e4 c5.

    In other words, chess “discoveries” are parallels to _applied_ math. To using a well know formula to solve a new construction problem. They are new, creative applications, not discoveries.

    @James A. Donald

    Don’t judge so fast. Koestler studied the matter so seriously that some of letters G. wrote were translated the first time by him. And pulling stuff like “I don’t need to prove the Copernican hypothesis, those who disagree with it should disprove it because it is always easier to disprove than to prove.” is precisely not how science works, Koestler was right to call these moves out.

    • It is perfectly clear from the beginning of any mathematical axiomatic system that the game allows gigantic numbers of moves and combinations, and some of them will yield more interesting theorems than others.

      Indeed, “interesting” may be because the theorem has an application in modeling phenomena. But your notion that this equates chess tactics to applied mathematics is mistaken. Because…

      It might be because the theorem is productive of insight about the system itself, or about some rather distant mathematical object provably related to the system (for example, the Riemann conjecture about the zeros of the zeta function having implications for the distribution of primes). The second and third possibilities exist only weakly if at all in chess.

      Sorry, but your notion that you cannot have interesting discoveries spread over centuries in a formal system that was “just made up” is plain silly. If the formal system has sufficient internal complexity it will have more interesting features and productive mappings to other formal systems than a single human brain can explore in a lifetime.

  252. >A lot of mathematics is motivated by intuitions about phenomenal models, then axiomatized, then the axiomatized and more rigorous form is productive of insights which may be useful for modeling phenomena, which then feeds back into new mathematics, and away we go again. […] Does it make any sense to pick one point in that cycle, freeze it, and claim that either the formalization is prior to the model-driven thinking or vice-versa? I don’t think it does.

    The cycle can’t run forever into the past, if only because mathematicians haven’t been around forever. (Unless you are willing to entertain the suggestion that the first mathematician had a revelation from God? that’s a joke) So yes, it must be possible to pick one end or the other as coming first – the first of all mathematicians must have had either a formal system without a concept of what its theories were about, or else a concept of an abstract entity without the formal tools to reason about its properties. I think it’s obvious that the former is impossible.

    On the history of calculus: I’m afraid that model theory doesn’t answer the question I asked. To use the terms of that subject, the theories in analysis before the late 19th century were not consistent, and an inconsistent theory has no model. It’s all well and good to call two theories “the same” if they have the same set of models; but analysis after Weierstrass has a model and analysis before him didn’t, so they aren’t “the same” in that sense. And formalism admits no other way to define equivalence of theories.

    For the Platonist this is no problem – models are real entities, theories are statements about those entities, and inconsistent theories simply include false statements about the model.

    On transfinite numbers: I fail to see how transfinite arithmetic was aimed at “reflecting and improving human intuition”. Transfinite ordinals, especially, are so remote from the ordinary process of human reasoning that it’s astonishing Cantor ever thought of them.

    • >So yes, it must be possible to pick one end or the other as coming first

      Historically, yes. I wasn’t clear if you were speaking of “basic” and “derived” in a historical sense or in some analysis of how we do think or should think about the kinds of things there are in the philosophy of mathematics.

      >For the Platonist this is no problem – models are real entities, theories are statements about those entities, and inconsistent theories simply include false statements about the model.

      This is also no problem for a Formalist who considers the modeling of phenomenal systems a motive for mathematics to be philosophically important as well as pragmatically useful. It seems to me to be perfectly reasonable to say that a poorly axiomatized, formally inconsistent calculus and a well-axiomatized calculus are talking about the same thing if they’re both motivated by the same phenomenal problems and express many of the same theorems in the same notation.

      >On transfinite numbers: I fail to see how transfinite arithmetic was aimed at “reflecting and improving human intuition”. Transfinite ordinals, especially, are so remote from the ordinary process of human reasoning that it’s astonishing Cantor ever thought of them.

      But the whole enterprise was motivated by human intuitions about cardinality and ordinality derived from finite sets. When it became clear these at least partly broke down on infinite sets, Cantor quite reasonably wanted to know why and whether he could develop a theory that was productive of intuitions about infinite sets.

  253. @ Shenpen

    Eric is right. Much of the confusion in philosophy derives from the incessant reductionism that is it’s mandate. In any debate, you eventually bog down in semantics, nature of thought, and ontology.

    What is the meaning of creation versus discovery? Does thought have an antecedent in reality? What if we imagine a world with different physical laws, is that just as “real” as the Universe we live in?

    In an ideal conception of the world, answers to the above may be made hard and fast (as in agreed-upon rules). In the world as we experience it, there is endless messiness. Definitions are often soft (and misunderstanding is common). Thoughts are often erroneous and certainly pliable. Imagination is a valuable mental tool, but the Universe does not bend to it.

    Just to clarify (to Winter), I am not against philosophy, nor disparage it’s practice. But it’s like owing a handgun, you should handle it carefully and know what your doing.

  254. >To get back to humans. All native speakers of English can easily distinguish the words bad, bat, bet, and bed in running speech and they can pronounce them unambiguously. Non native speakers have big troubles doing so (I am a case in point).

    What is your native language? I thought all the Indo-European languages had /t/ and /d/ as separate phonemes.

  255. @Michael Brazier
    My native language is Dutch, which has word (syllable) final devoicing which erases this specific d/t contrast.

    The /ae/ /E/ contrast in these words mixes with a long/short vowel contrast in the same vowels. In between, there is the way English encodes voice in the length of the preceding vowel.

    But I vaguely remember some regions in the US are losing some of these contrasts. And it will be different for Scottish ;-)

    It makes for facinating experiments.

  256. >Historically, yes. I wasn’t clear if you were speaking of “basic” and “derived” in a historical sense or in some analysis of how we do think or should think about the kinds of things there are in the philosophy of mathematics.

    Not just historical. Going back to the first mathematician just makes the point obvious, because he (whoever he was) couldn’t learn either a formal system or a concept from any other human. Even today, no sensible person would teach a child arithmetic by telling them Peano’s axioms; the proper way is to get the concepts of “number”, “plus” and “times” across, usually with the help of a handful of pebbles.

    >It seems to me to be perfectly reasonable to say that a poorly axiomatized, formally inconsistent calculus and a well-axiomatized calculus are talking about the same thing if they’re both motivated by the same phenomenal problems and express many of the same theorems in the same notation.

    Reasonable? Certainly, on any common-sense view. But does formalism, as a philosophy of mathematics, allow common sense to have authority?

    The main thesis in your “The Utility of Mathematics” could be rephrased as a claim that we can only discover abstract entities which are instantiated within the things our senses can perceive … which is not, after all, very surprising. There is just one small difficulty: you need an ontology in which abstract entities can be instantiated within physical objects, or the claim becomes vacuous.

    • >But does formalism, as a philosophy of mathematics, allow common sense to have authority?

      Show me a Formalist who denies that calculus describes lots of important phenomena and I’ll show you one who thinks empirical phenomena have no bearing on the meaning and justification of mathematical discovery. Good luck finding such a rarefied creature; I’ve certainly never met one.

      >The main thesis in your “The Utility of Mathematics”could be rephrased as a claim that we can only discover abstract entities which are instantiated within the things our senses can perceive

      What? No, that’s not just a misreading, it’s a completely silly one. For starters, nothing infinite is instantiated in our perceptions. Infinite entities like the natural numbers appear as terms in our theories because simple rules including them have predictive value, but that’s not at all the same thing as claiming they’re lurking inside what we perceive.

      What could it even mean to claim that an abstract entity is “instantiated within a physical object”? I realize this kind of nonsensical talk (cue Shenpen and his hylomorphic dualism) has a long history, but it’s still nonsense.

    • >Certainly, on any common-sense view. But does formalism, as a philosophy of mathematics, allow common sense to have authority?

      On further reflection, I have realized this is a more interesting question than I first realized.

      On the one hand, you have the likes of David Hilbert saying things like “Mathematics is a game played according to certain simple rules with meaningless marks on paper.”, which pretty much everybody takes as the classic statement of Formalism.

      On the other hand, no Formalist ever behaves as though he actually believes this. All mathematics, without exception, is motivated by semantic attachments that the mathematician ascribes to the “meaningless” symbols.

      I suppose the lesson is that we need to treat Hilbert’s dictum as a kind of naive rhetorical excess rather than a description of what Formalists actually do.

  257. >On the other hand, no Formalist ever behaves as though he actually believes this. All mathematics, without exception, is motivated by semantic attachments that the mathematician ascribes to the “meaningless” symbols.

    That is one of the things I wanted to say, yes.

    >I suppose the lesson is that we need to treat Hilbert’s dictum as a kind of naive rhetorical excess rather than a description of what Formalists actually do.

    Except that there isn’t any Formalist position short of that “rhetorical excess” which differs in any interesting way from the moderate versions of Platonism …

    >What? No, that’s not just a misreading, it’s a completely silly one. For starters, nothing infinite is instantiated in our perceptions. Infinite entities like the natural numbers appear as terms in our theories because simple rules including them have predictive value, but that’s not at all the same thing as claiming they’re lurking inside what we perceive.

    That was a slight misstatement on my part – I should have said “at least partly instantiated”. The set of natural numbers can’t exist in physical reality, but members of that set can and do – count the things in the room you’re sitting in. We extrapolate the existence of the natural numbers that we haven’t observed from those we do observe, after we have understood the concept of addition.

    >What could it even mean to claim that an abstract entity is “instantiated within a physical object”? I realize this kind of nonsensical talk (cue Shenpen and his hylomorphic dualism) has a long history, but it’s still nonsense.

    But every theory of the natural sciences actually makes such claims – not for specific objects, perhaps, but certainly for reality as a whole, and for processes within it. What else is meant by the expression “laws of physics”, if not the claim that a specific pattern of events must exist? And what is a pattern of events, if not an abstraction?

    • >Except that there isn’t any Formalist position short of that “rhetorical excess” which differs in any interesting way from the moderate versions of Platonism …

      Er…I consider myself a non-extreme Formalist (albeit with strong New Empiricist leanings) and I uncategorically deny that my position has any Platonism at all in it – the reason being that I will have no truck with “ideal forms”. They are, as the departed Roger would have said, ontological bullshit.

      It is also possible (even probable) that what you take for a mild Formalist position is actually what a mathematical philosopher would call Psychologism or Structuralism (too complicated to explain here). Those are readily distinguishable from even mild Platonism.

      >We extrapolate the existence of the natural numbers that we haven’t observed from those we do observe, after we have understood the concept of addition.

      Right. And then in order to lower the Kolmgorov complexity of our theories we include unobservable infinities.

      >But every theory of the natural sciences actually makes such claims – not for specific objects, perhaps, but certainly for reality as a whole, and for processes within it. What else is meant by the expression “laws of physics”, if not the claim that a specific pattern of events must exist? And what is a pattern of events, if not an abstraction?

      A pattern of events is an abstraction, but it’s a serious mistake – a kind of language-driven essentialism that will make you very stupid if you let it – to think that abstraction is a kind of substance that can underly or be prior to the reality you observe. You pointed out this earlier yourself, and it’s not a mistake I needed any warning against.

  258. @esr
    “Mathematics is a game played according to certain simple rules with meaningless marks on paper.”,

    I think 19th century number theory comes close to your description of Hilbert’s program of meaningless marks on paper. IIRC Euler was mightily proud of the fact that it was complete devoid of any taint of usefulness.

  259. On the other hand, no Formalist ever behaves as though he actually believes this. All mathematics, without exception, is motivated by semantic attachments that the mathematician ascribes to the “meaningless” symbols.

    This feels like an oddly quasi-Kafkatrappy thing to assert about Formalists. Which is to say, any Formalist who attempted to prove the existence of attachment-free mathematical analysis would necessarily be doing so because of a semantic attachment to the existence of such analysis.

    (Heh heh heh.)

  260. Simple math can be (and often is) done in your head, and if you don’t tell anyone about it, no one will know that it happened (e.g. checking out the amount of change received at the store). This is a mental exercise in abstraction space.

    As problems get bigger and harder, you might grab a pencil and paper and write out the symbology in long form in order to stay organized and decrease the likelihood of errors. This is demonstrative formalism learned in the Third Grade.

    In theory, some formalist exercises in mathematics can be purely abstract and have no intended purpose other than “look what I can do.”

    In practice, all forms of mathematics have advanced our species intelligence and knowledge evolution. It exists because it makes us more robust.

  261. In theory, some formalist exercises in mathematics can be purely abstract and have no intended purpose other than “look what I can do.”

    In practice, all forms of mathematics have advanced our species intelligence and knowledge evolution. It exists because it makes us more robust.

    Some of the “look what I can do” mathematics is found lying around and put to use when a new application warrants it. For example, the use of complex numbers in AC circuit analysis.

  262. >I uncategorically deny that my position has any Platonism at all in it

    I realize this is nitpicking, and that I’m hardly an authority on the English language, but… isn’t “uncategorically” a malapropism?

    • >I realize this is nitpicking, and that I’m hardly an authority on the English language, but… isn’t “uncategorically” a malapropism?

      No. It means “unconditionally”, pretty much. The opposite is a “categorical denial”, which is qualified in some way, but that term is often misused by people who think it means “uncategorical” :-(.

  263. > Er…I consider myself a Formalist (albeit with strong New Empiricist leanings) and I uncategorically deny that my position has any Platonism at all in it – the reason being that I will have no truck with “ideal forms”.

    You would agree that Euclid’s lines are based on actual physical lines of sight, and euclid’s angles are based on the apparent distance between two lines of sight, are based on real things, that every mathematician drawing a diagram to prove a theorem of Euclid thinks of the lines as depictions of real things, even if he denies that they are depictions of real things.

    And is not a euclidean line the ideal form of a line of sight?

    • >And is not a euclidean line the ideal form of a line of sight?

      Without getting into the 40 jillion kinds of non-Platonist interpretation of “ideal”, the Platonist position is that there is a pure noumenal form of Lineness that exists as a thing that is more real than any of the imperfect reflections of it that we see in the phenomenal world as lines. I utterly reject this position.

  264. My own position is moderate realism: That color red exists, but only in that the characteristic that all particular red objects have in common exists, that the number three similarly exists in what all collections of three objects have in common, and that a Euclidean line exists, but only in what all good real world approximations to a Euclidean line, such as a line of sight, have in common.

  265. If you say the color red does not exist, I show you an apple.

    To which you reply “That is not the color red, that is an apple”

    To which I reply, “it is an apple, and also a particular example, one of a great many, of the color red.”

  266. >A pattern of events is an abstraction, but it’s a serious mistake – a kind of language-driven essentialism that will make you very stupid if you let it – to think that abstraction is a kind of substance that can underly or be prior to the reality you observe. You pointed out this earlier yourself

    So I did. But denying that abstractions are more real than the physical entities instantiating them is not the same thing as denying that abstractions exist in physical entities. The second denial – the position that concepts exist only in human minds – generates insuperable paradoxes that are quite as bad as, or worse than, what Plato’s theory of the Forms led to.

    Just in passing, since you hold C. S. Pierce in high regard, it’s worth mentioning that he firmly believed in the reality of abstractions, though not in their supremacy over the concrete.

    >I consider myself a non-extreme Formalist (albeit with strong New Empiricist leanings) and I uncategorically deny that my position has any Platonism at all in it – the reason being that I will have no truck with “ideal forms”.

    Remember upthread when Shenpen said your position on mathematical theories is Aristotelian? He wasn’t wrong about that. I have seen very similar statements to “The Utility of Mathematics” written by a practicing Thomist philosopher.

    • >The second denial – the position that concepts exist only in human minds – generates insuperable paradoxes that are quite as bad as, or worse than, what Plato’s theory of the Forms led to.

      I have not encountered any such difficulty. Can you exhibit such a paradox?

  267. > >The second denial – the position that concepts exist only in human minds – generates insuperable paradoxes that are quite as bad as, or worse than, what Plato’s theory of the Forms led to.

    > I have not encountered any such difficulty. Can you exhibit such a paradox?

    Moss and lichen are different kinds. Were they any the less different kinds before thinking creatures arose to notice that they are different kinds?

    • >Moss and lichen are different kinds. Were they any the less different kinds before thinking creatures arose to notice that they are different kinds?

      The question supposes an impossibility. Without a thinking creature to observe, there are no “kinds”. Kinds are not a feature of the universe but of cognition, of the observing mind’s requirement to chunk information so that it can make predictive generalizations.

      You can ask, slightly more sensibly, this question: suppose we knew of a date before which no thinking creatures existed. Then we sent a thinking creature through a Tipler machine to before that date. Then, moss and lichen might have different kinds because the thinking creature took his kind-making apparatus with him.

      (The above analysis is basic General Semantics, though expressed in the jargon of academic philosophy rather than GS itself.)

      Another way to answer this question is to ask a counter-question: what are the consequences of supposing moss and lichen to be of different kinds if no entity can observe a consequence of the distinction?

  268. James A. Donald:
    > > Moss and lichen are different kinds. Were they any the less different kinds before thinking creatures arose to notice that they are different kinds?

    esr
    > The question supposes an impossibility. Without a thinking creature to observe, there are no “kinds”

    That is silly.

    For example, if there are no kinds, what stops lichen from crossbreeding with moss?

    • >For example, if there are no kinds, what stops lichen from crossbreeding with moss?

      They don’t have compatible DNA, of course. But being different in consequential ways is different from being a “kind”. Two random organisms that you would classify as “both moss” or “both lichen” might be unable to breed because one or both got a little too much UV.

      Whenever you speak of “kind”, you are smuggling in a hypothetical observer who you suppose would make the kind of distinctions you would make.

  269. Reading this discussion, it looks like there’s nothing here but rabbit holes down which it’s entirely possible to lose oneself forever while contemplating the meaning of what “is” is. Enjoyable intellectual exercises, perhaps, but with what applicability to the real world?

  270. @Jay Maynard
    “Enjoyable intellectual exercises, perhaps, but with what applicability to the real world?”

    Then I will give you something that might be applicable to the real world:
    When can we say that the statement “Lichens cannot interbreed with mosses” is True, and when that is it False?

    There are many levels. One is, when is a statement considered True and when False? What are the “intuitive” meanings of these words, and when does intuition fails you?

    How do we identify a lichen and moss, and how are these distinct?

    Combine these, and investigate a statement whether Lichens can interbreed with Mosses.

    At each level, there are hard won answers to these philosophical questions and together we got something like the “Scientific Method”, which was very successful in the real world.

    Obviously, you can change the type of creatures and the type of actions at will.

  271. Jay, I would put it a bit differently.

    Science is about how to find answers. Philosophy is about how to find good questions. Like science, philosophy has many fuzzy edges and blind rabbit holes. But I agree with Winter on this one, some of those rabbit holes have yielded useful tools for posing questions that have the potential to yield interesting answers.

    And, yes, there is a *lot* of noise and nonsense out there — but this is true out on the bleeding fuzzy edges of science as well.

    Jim

  272. @ Winter

    The march of intelligence evolution in our species has been aided by many things, and I would agree that both philosophy and mathematics have been big accelerators (especially as they have fostered and improved the scientific method). This benefit exists regardless of the arcane arguments over idea supremacy that have played out over time. In an odd sense, these endless battles have perpetuated a Darwinian intellectual warfare in which we continue to struggle. As a species, we can get stronger because the battle is never over.

    In the social realm, our affluence has reduced the Darwinian battlefield to argumentation over petty verbal offenses and artificially-perceived oppression. We grow fat and lazy and whiny.

    Which is the bigger problem for us?

  273. [Moss and lichen don’t interbreed because] they don’t have compatible DNA, of course. But being different in consequential ways is different from being a “kind”. Two random organisms that you would classify as “both moss” or “both lichen” might be unable to breed because one or both got a little too much UV.

    The way that conversation was going, I expected the response to be “what is this ‘interbreed’ notion you speak of?”. Actions are themselves classified into “kinds” – we call this action “running”, that one “investing”, and so on. “Interbreeding” is a kind of action that evokes a certain set of exemplars in our minds, with a set of expected results – two organisms enter, three (or more) leave, etc. We know what we mean by it.

    Torture the concept(!) of that action kind enough, though, and you get weird corner cases. Two people walk into a room, have a little fun, walk out; they do this several times. No baby. Were they interbreeding? Two ladies walk in, have a little fun, they walk out nine months later with a newborn. Were they interbreeding? A man and a woman walk into a machine shop, you hear a lot of drilling and boring and welding for nine months (they “had a little fun”), they come out with something that looks and acts like a human, about 18 inches tall. Were they interbreeding?

    Meanwhile, you ask (in the metaphorical sense – you do this by performing more experiments) the universe what it’s doing in these cases, and you’ll get a strong indication that the universe doesn’t give a whit what you call any of this, it’s just letting mesons, baryons, and leptons do their thing.

    For all we know, the universe might not even care about these notions of “meson” and “baryon” and “lepton” either. And I’m not saying that it doesn’t care that we called them that; I’m saying that it might not even have these three notions plus something we call a “strong force” and a “weak force”, each of which influences only some of them, and not the others. We don’t know; this is just what we observe; we agreed to make up labels for them so we could talk about how to “ask” the universe further.

    In other words, I think I understand what Eric is getting at with this “concepts are all in our minds” notion. And at the same time, I think it makes Jay’s question perfectly valid…

    • > We don’t know; this is just what we observe; we agreed to make up labels for them so we could talk about how to “ask” the universe further.

      Exactly. Bingo. You’ve got it. Eliezer Yudkowsky covered this angle on the question in Disguised Queries

      People who persist in thinking that “Were moss and lichen different kinds before thinking creatures arose?” is a sensible question might be enlightened as to why it is not if they considered instead “Were bleggs and rubes different kinds before thinking creatures arose?” in the terms of Eliezer’s parable.

      Which I read, and thought: some progress does get made. Alfred Korzybski got there first, but Eliezer is a much better explainer.

  274. >Reading this discussion, it looks like there’s nothing here but rabbit holes down which it’s entirely possible to lose oneself forever while contemplating the meaning of what “is” is. Enjoyable intellectual exercises, perhaps, but with what applicability to the real world?

    To help you not be baffled by bullshit. Including, in extreme cases, bullshit created exclusively by the chaos of one’s own disordered thought processes.

    • >[The function of philosophy is to help] you not be baffled by bullshit. Including, in extreme cases, bullshit created exclusively by the chaos of one’s own disordered thought processes.

      Exactly. One of the reason General Semantics is excellent is that it makes this goal explicit, describing itself as a system of mental hygiene rather than a philosophical school.

  275. @Shenpen: “and some of them will be more useful for a black opening than some others”

    I don’t know much about chess, but is this objectively (as much as such a thing can be objective) true, or does it depend very much on what kind of moves the white player can be expected to make? In some games (I think the term was invented for Magic: the Gathering), there is something called “the metagame”, where you have to design your plans around what sort of tactics you can expect to be commonly used by your opponents, which is something that evolves over time.

  276. …to refresh (myself and others), I mean Jay’s question about what applicability to the real world exists by thinking about where concepts come from (along with kinds, actions, properties, relationships, and the rest).

    For me, the reason to know where anything comes from is to know its criteria, in order to know what else I can deduce about it, including where it will go next. If I know what makes a molecule of sodium bicarbonate, for example, then I know what reactions it can take part in. If I know what makes a Green Party candidate, then I know about what positions that person is likely to take. If I know what makes a cat, then I know… okay, bad example. But hopefully you get the idea.

    So, if I know whether a concept comes from the universe itself, or just out of our heads, that will tell me what the rules are for how that concept will apply to new entities. It will tell me whether I can say this new thing is an instance of “sodium bicarbonate molecule”, or “hadron”, or “person”, or “interbreeding”, or “torture”, or anything else.

    If concepts come from us, then I know they’re true by definition. I can say a hadron is a hadron because that’s what we call it, and I don’t have to get hung up on whether it was contingent on something else. Then, if someone wants to say something is true of hadrons that wasn’t in the original arbitrary definition, I now know that I need to ask them whether they intend to change the arbitrary definition into a more formal set of contingencies (e.g. a particle is a hadron only if this thing we call the strong force acts on it). Also, we would then have a sense of what particles we expect to be hadrons, and so if the universe tosses something our way we didn’t expect, we now know whether we need to add more contingencies to the list for something to qualify to be a hadron, or if it’s the case that our original list is fine, and what we’re really after is a split within our arbitrary hadron category, and – and this is the big money question – what that implies for all the previous things we claimed were true about hadrons.

    That make sense, Jay?

    This inquiry into concepts and their identity criteria is something I think people don’t do nearly enough. I’m actually sure particle physicists do it for things like hadrons all the time – no one’s religiously committed to one sense of hadron or another – but people in general don’t do enough of this for more mundane concepts like “torture” or “person” or “right”. They go to the dictionary for these definitions. (To paraphrase Ann Althouse: dictionary writers don’t even go to the dictionary to write the next version.) Those definitions are arbitrary for all but the driest, technical terms. They don’t easily lend themselves to further deduction.

    (I sure hope Roger isn’t reading all this and suffering a stroke…)

    • >For me, the reason to know where anything comes from is to know its criteria, in order to know what else I can deduce about it, including where it will go next.

      That’s right. Eliezer says every descriptive predicate is a disguised query, but he doesn’t go quite far enough. Every descriptive predicate is a disguised bundle of predictions. This was Charles Sanders Peirce’s big insight.

  277. (I really should have used “criterion” everywhere I used “contingency” above, to minimize confusion. Apologies.)

  278. esr
    > But being different in consequential ways is different from being a “kind”.

    That an entire set of particular things differ in consequential ways from other entire sets of particular things is exactly what being a kind is.

    No human observer is required. And human observers exist, and have a social consensus, and if the social consensus gets it wrong, so much the worse for social consensus.

    If you claim that observers must exist for a kind to exist, you come to the conclusion that consensus about kinds cannot be wrong, which is silly.

    • >If you claim that observers must exist for a kind to exist, you come to the conclusion that consensus about kinds cannot be wrong, which is silly.

      You missed the part where every predication is a prediction. That’s what makes semantic sanity different from consensus.

      Now go read “Disguised Queries”.

  279. Speaking of rabbit holes:

    In Yudkowsky’s defense, I think he chose to spend his essay driving the first point (descriptive predicates are queries in disguise) to make sure it took root in the reader’s mind. It’s distinct corollary about predictions requires an extra step, and therefore another essay. I don’t know whether he wrote such an essay (I’ve read some of LW, but not all). I highly suspect he was quite aware of it, given that it occurred naturally enough to me. So now I wonder if he did, and if he didn’t, why he didn’t think to do it.

    And now I’m wondering what other philosophically profound truths I may have stumbled upon in the shower or on the farm that I need only to write about in order to generate both Pierce’s renown and perhaps his salary(!), and consequently, what the identity criteria for those suckers would be.

  280. Perception is primarily the first act of brain activity upon receiving input via the body’s senses. Conception is generally a volitional secondary act of brain activity that may incorporate sensory input, memory, and some marginally-understood processes known as cognition and imagination. Reasoning is a potential tertiary act in which an overlay of rationality is applied in the expectation that subsequent decisions and actions will enhance survival, fitness, reproduction, and persistence. Evolution did this to us because it worked.

  281. > Enjoyable intellectual exercises, perhaps, but with what applicability to the real world?

    We are arguing various kinds of realism versus nominalism. Esr seems to be a nominalist, though since nominalism these days has a reputation for villainy similar to that of Nazism and Stalinism, would probably deny it.

    Nominalism winds up saying that people, in some sense, create reality. Whereupon it becomes important to create a nice reality that makes people feel good, so you wind up hanging people who create a bad reality with piano wire.

    Nominalists tend to pretty rapidly go all the way to piano wire, so there are lots of “I am not a nominalist but …” people who want to go most of the way with nominalism, but stop short before the piano wire, people who agree with everything other nominalists say, except whatever it is that makes people hate those other nominalists.

    Much as there are lots of leftists who are in favor of driving over the cliff and not coming to a sudden stop at the bottom.

    • >Nominalism winds up saying that people, in some sense, create reality.

      Any nominalism of which that is true is bullshit. But that is not how I understand the term.

      People create concepts. Concepts are not reality. That’s the point.

  282. (I should really have read more about Peirce the person before expressing a hankering for his salary. That said, my affinity for his renown still stands.)

  283. > what applicability to the real world?

    Whenever someone says “races do not exist, therefore profiling is wrong, but affirmative action is right, and also affirmative action does not exist”, that contortion is made possible by nominalism.

    And I have had arguments with esr where he denied that races exist, though not in a manner quite as blatantly self refuting and nonsensical as the leftist I just parodied.

    • >And I have had arguments with esr where he denied that races exist

      You’re confusing me with someone else. I affirm that races exist. I make you unhappy by denying that the mass is the individual.

  284. > what applicability to the real world?

    If nominalism true, then humans, to some extent, create reality. Whereupon certain observations of reality are deemed evil, since the nominalist would prefer a different reality to be created.

    And esr has in fact demonized me and demonized the people of the past for reporting observations about the real world.

    • >And esr has in fact demonized me and demonized the people of the past for reporting observations about the real world.

      I will not permit you to hijack this thread into being about your diseased racist fantasies. If you comment in that vein, I will delete it. Stick to epistemology and everyone will be happier.

  285. Whether numbers are a social construct, or a real property of any collection, or a real thing in an abstract realm accessible to reason, has few practical consequences.

    When, however, we start talking about kinds of people, people suddenly care a great deal whether kinds exist in the real world independently of human knowledge and belief, or kinds are merely a social construct.

  286. @JAD

    You do not have to make the claim that “people create reality” to say that categories are sophont made. But to deny that they are the product of mind is to claim that they are fundamental elements of the universe. Oh hello Mr. Plato, do you never stop showing up at these things?

    To put it another way: the universe doesn’t give a shit what your intended purpose for that exothermic chemical reaction was, it followed the rules of the universe period. You on the other hand can categorize it as a failure that the engine blew up instead of running smoothly.

    @ESR
    His electron identity example using Gliders was similarly enlightening.

    • >To put it another way: the universe doesn’t give a shit what your intended purpose for that exothermic chemical reaction was, it followed the rules of the universe period. You on the other hand can categorize it as a failure that the engine blew up instead of running smoothly.

      Thinking about Korzybski has put me in a mood to coin pithy aphorisms. To “The map is not the territory; the word is not the thing defined.” I now add add “No kinds without minds; no predication without prediction.”

      JAD’s belief that nominalism implies “human create reality” is map-territory confusion.

  287. Nominalist to realist: “If you believe that kinds are real, you are going to gas the Jews”

    Realist to nominalist: “If you doubt that kinds are real, you are going to hang the dissenters”.

  288. >>The second denial – the position that concepts exist only in human minds – generates insuperable paradoxes that are quite as bad as, or worse than, what Plato’s theory of the Forms led to.

    >I have not encountered any such difficulty. Can you exhibit such a paradox?

    The problem of personal identity – or, more generally, the persistence of living things. The process of digestion and excretion exchanges some of the atoms that make up a living being with atoms in its environment. (I understand that with humans, this continual exchange replaces every atom in the body after seven years.) Thus a living being cannot be considered “the same” over time because it’s made of the same materials. What makes the acorn the same thing as the oak, the puppy the same as the grown dog, the child the same as the man, is an abstraction. Denying that abstractions exist in the world, if done consistently, makes biology incoherent.

    These are not new issues – you’ll find them discussed in any commentary on Locke. Indeed, Locke’s attack on natural kinds, and his attempts to find a replacement for them, are the starting point of the school of thought you subscribe to.

    • >Indeed, Locke’s attack on natural kinds, and his attempts to find a replacement for them, are the starting point of the school of thought you subscribe to.

      Oh, hell no. Some unusually intelligent mystics had already gotten almost to where I am two thousand years ago. Alas, they didn’t have all the tools they needed. Nor did Locke. This is nobody’s fault.

      I agree completely with Paul Brinkley’s reply to you on this. You think there is a “problem of identity” only because you have a language-driven confusion about “identity”.

      Shuzan should whack you a good one with his shippe.

  289. If nominalism [is] true, then humans, to some extent, create reality.

    This is only true (in the manner in which I think you claim) if kinds dictate reality. Eric is evidently claiming that kinds do not dictate reality. (I can’t point to where he’s said this explicitly, but I think my mental model of his mind is accurate enough for me to claim this.)

    Corollaries:
    – kinds may be incorrect
    – James has a notion of “kind” that is not the same as Eric’s notion of “kind”
    – James’ “kind” is something that exists independently of people’s cognitive tools for accessing them
    – “kinds may be incorrect” should be clarified to mean “instances of Eric’s ‘kind’ may bear a failure to correspond to reality”
    – Eric has been aware of James’ “kind” for a while (humor not intended)
    – Eric would claim that James’ sense of “kind” may exist or not, but may as well not, given that the only access people have to it is through Eric’s sense of “kind”
    – Eric’s sense of “kind” succeeds in explaining all of the concerns James has voiced here, such as unjustified claims of evil observations, unjustified legitimization of profiling, Eric’s claim that races do not exist (did this happen?), and unjustified legitimization of affirmative action.

    I think I got most of the latest stuff correct here.

      • >– Eric would claim that James’ sense of “kind” may exist or not, but may as well not, given that the only access people have to it is through Eric’s sense of “kind”

        That is also correct.

  290. >Kinds only exist in the map, not the territory.

    You’re hinting at the essence of Discordianism, right? From what I’ve read at Wikipedia, Discordians claim external reality is basically messy, a realm of pure chaos; and they use the word “grid” for what Korzybski called “map”.

    I’ll read the online version of the Principia Discordia today. It’s long overdue.

    • >You’re hinting at the essence of Discordianism, right?

      Only incidentally. The essence of Discordianism is the essence of General Semantics is the essence of Zen: “The mind is like a dog; his master points at the moon, but he barks at the hand.”

  291. The problem of personal identity – or, more generally, the persistence of living things. The process of digestion and excretion exchanges some of the atoms that make up a living being with atoms in its environment. (I understand that with humans, this continual exchange replaces every atom in the body after seven years.) Thus a living being cannot be considered “the same” over time because it’s made of the same materials. What makes the acorn the same thing as the oak, the puppy the same as the grown dog, the child the same as the man, is an abstraction. Denying that abstractions exist in the world, if done consistently, makes biology incoherent.

    I’ve seen this description numerous times – it’s an instance of the Ship of Theseus Problem.

    Michael, I take your paradox to boil down as follows: biology is coherent; for it to be so, abstractions must exist in the world; for that to be so, abstractions cannot exist solely within the mind.

    But this Ship of Theseus problem was long known to be addressable by pointing out a confusion in the definition of “same”. An organism does not have to be defined in some set-theoretic notion of the atoms it contains inside its boundary (the boundary itself is a conceptual notion). Indeed, no biologist would claim this. So, “same organism” is not the same as “same bits of matter”.

    And yet, biologists are able to present testable predictions involving things they all call “organism”. The existence of these predictions justifies the notion of “organism”. This justification is in line with Eric’s claim that concepts are all in the mind.

    In fact, to me, it appears to affirm that kinds are all in the mind. Namely: if “organism” is defined in terms of the matter, its definition becomes inconsistent with the claims biologists wish to make about organisms.

    If this “organism kind” is understood as existing in the universe, then the universe itself is incoherent.

    If, on the other hand, this “organism kind” is understood as having been defined and agreed upon by biologists in order to try to construct subsequent predictions, then the only incoherence is in the definition, which simply needs to be altered, and all previous deductions now need to be revisited. A great deal of work, to be sure, but it at least still permits us to work as if the universe is coherent… and it still permits biology to sail forward as an endeavor.

    • >But this Ship of Theseus problem was long known to be addressable by pointing out a confusion in the definition of “same”. An organism does not have to be defined in some set-theoretic notion of the atoms it contains inside its boundary (the boundary itself is a conceptual notion). Indeed, no biologist would claim this. So, “same organism” is not the same as “same bits of matter”.

      Right. To a General Semanticist, or a Zen Buddhist, none of this is perplexing. There are no “things”, only processes. Nagarjuna called it “dependent arising”. When we insist on creating static noun-like categories, we do it for our short-term convenience, not because the universe is really like that.

    • >In fact, to me, it appears to affirm that kinds are all in the mind. Namely: if “organism” is defined in terms of the matter, its definition becomes inconsistent with the claims biologists wish to make about organism.

      That’s exactly right, and is an instance of “No kinds without mind; no predication without prediction.”

  292. I have found it useful to model the universe as a simulation despite not believing that it is: it clears away a large swath of common errors that have been on virulent display in this thread. Related to that and things that ESR has said:

    You can never be quite certain that the top really fell over and wasn’t just part of the sim, the demon will always have the last laugh. So ignore him.

  293. So here’s a thing.

    All this while, Eric has been making claims about the nature of kinds, and claiming that those claims are objective truth. After a while, I start thinking, well, that’s a lot of what James McDonald was doing, too. So why are they at odds?

    Eric’s claims about kinds presuppose an existence of kinds. However, by the claims themselves, they don’t exist in the universe, outside of minds. Furthermore, this implies that the minds’ shared claims about kinds might be mistaken – that is, there might be a failure of some proposed claim about kinds to correspond to reality. But in this case, reality would be the set of shared claims about kinds. In other words, one of those claims could fail to correspond with the others.

    That’s not hard to imagine in itself. (I swear, I can feel Roger breathing down my neck…) But what *is* troubling is that there’s no criterion I’ve put forth here that distinguishes any of those claims from the one Eric made.

    To put it another way: imagine there are two buckets, “true” and “false”, and a big pile of claims that start out on the floor, and our self-imposed job is to sort claims into the true and false buckets, and the more we’ve sorted, the more we’ve succeeded. We’re all scrupulously honest and loyal to straight up logic, no chaser, and so, many of the claims we pick up off the floor go right back down on the floor because we can’t tell whether they go in one bucket or the other. After a while, though, we naturally notice that certain claims fit together – if one of them goes into one bucket, then the other has to go there, too. And some are “anti-fit” – if one of the goes in one bucket, the other has to go into the opposite bucket.

    And certain claims have this queer feature in that they’re about what we claim sorters believe. If we believe them, they go in the true bucket; if not, the false bucket; we just have to decide. The only catch is that some of them are fitted and anti-fitted with other claims. If we’re lucky, some of them fit or anti-fit with the rules of straight-up logic no chaser, and so we don’t have to choose.

    I can’t find the fit or anti-fit between “no kinds without minds” and anything in straight-up logic no chaser.

    However, I think I sort of stumbled on a fit between NoKWoM and “the universe is knowable”, earlier. So there’s something.

    Meanwhile, I can’t help but notice all this reference of mine to straight up logic no chaser presupposes certain kinds of things – namely, claims, and logical equivalence. And correspondence to observation, I guess.

    But if we take NoKWoM as necessarily being in the true bucket (if for no other reason than so we can keep “knowable universe” there too and avoid having the buckets disappear), then what happens to the legitimacy of the kind of all claims? And the kind of all logical equivalence relations?

    Maybe these two kinds (and perhaps a couple others) are the magical ideal kinds James was getting at. I’m not sure at this point. (If they are, it sure woulda been better for James to have brought these up, rather than the race stuff.)

    • >But in this case, reality would be the set of shared claims about kinds. In other words, one of those claims could fail to correspond with the others.

      Right. This is where W.V.O. Quine landed; it’s why “coherentism” almost works. The way I’d put it is that “reality” is the set of terms that persistently show up in the theories with the best predictive bang for the presuppositional buck.

      >But if we take NoKWoM as necessarily being in the true bucket (if for no other reason than so we can keep “knowable universe” there too and avoid having the buckets disappear), then what happens to the legitimacy of the kind of all claims? And the kind of all logical equivalence relations?

      I don’t see a particular problem with either of these. You may not be able to enumerate all instances of these kinds, but do you have recognition rules for them. What do you want to use them for?

  294. Paul Brinkley wrote: “…the only incoherence is in the definition, which simply needs to be altered…”. And you, ESR, mentioned a “language-driven confusion about ‘identity'”.
    So we’re dealing with philosophical problems that stem from misuse of language; it follows that a proper use of language will make those problems vanish.
    (From your account, Korzybski endeavored to expose that confusion; so did Carnap [Pseudoproblems in Philosophy] and possibly others, and so does Yudkowsky nowadays.)
    Now, you once talked about making seemingly-intractable philosophical problems vanish by acknowledging the insights of evolutionary psychology (“What Do You Believe That You Cannot Prove?”), which suggests you endorse some version of naturalized epistemology.
    So, unless I’m misconstruing your position, you believe the combination of Korzybskian/Wittgensteinian language analysis and evolutionary psychology would amount to a fundamental reformulation of philosophy, an unprecedented paradigm shift (not that I’m fond of Kuhn, mind you =P). Am I going too far, or is there really a useful compatibility between those two fields?

    (BTW, thanks for correcting my previous comment. You saved me some embarrassment, to say the least! ;-))

    • >(From your account, Korzybski endeavored to expose that confusion; so did Carnap [Pseudoproblems in Philosophy] and possibly others, and so does Yudkowsky nowadays.)

      Yes. Carnap, alas, wasn’t very good at the job; Korzybski was better, and Yudkowsky built on Korzybski and explains him very well (though it is often not obvious that this is what he is doing).

      >Now, you once talked about making seemingly-intractable philosophical problems vanish by acknowledging the insights of evolutionary psychology (“What Do You Believe That You Cannot Prove?”), which suggests you endorse some version of naturalized epistemology.

      I’ve never encountered the term before (or possibly it was long enough ago that I’ve forgotten) but yes, I think I fall within the intended scope.

      >So, unless I’m misconstruing your position, you believe the combination of Korzybskian/Wittgensteinian language analysis and evolutionary psychology would amount to a fundamental reformulation of philosophy, an unprecedented paradigm shift

      Yes, I do believe roughly that, and have said so. If I live long enough to have the time I am likely to write a book about this.

      I would not quite say “unprecedented”; you can find precedents for it in C.S. Peirce and some exceptional forms of introspective mysticism. And Heidegger’s notion of “thrownness” needs to be in the mix, too.

  295. >And yet, biologists are able to present testable predictions involving things they all call “organism”. The existence of these predictions justifies the notion of “organism”. This justification is in line with Eric’s claim that concepts are all in the mind.

    A more perfect example of fallacy arising from verbal confusion could not be found anywhere. It cannot be the mere existence of predictions that justifies a scientific theory – if it were psuedosciences would be justified. (Phrenologists made testable predictions of human behavior from the shapes of their skulls; was phrenology valid just because they did so?) It’s confirmation of testable predictions that justifies a scientific theory as an account of reality; but confirming a prediction necessarily involves entities which are not in the mind, but part of the world.

    The point is a simple one: all successful scientific theories do in fact assert the existence of abstract entities (e.g. “laws of physics”, “organisms”, “species”) in the world. If abstractions cannot exist in the world, only in the mind, scientific theories are simply false and all the scientists are deluding themselves.

    >In fact, to me, it appears to affirm that kinds are all in the mind. Namely: if “organism” is defined in terms of the matter, its definition becomes inconsistent with the claims biologists wish to make about organisms. If this “organism kind” is understood as existing in the universe, then the universe itself is incoherent. If, on the other hand, this “organism kind” is understood as having been defined and agreed upon by biologists in order to try to construct subsequent predictions, then the only incoherence is in the definition, which simply needs to be altered, and all previous deductions now need to be revisited.

    This is equally confused. You are saying, in effect, that because it can be shown that one specific abstract entity does not exist in the world (“organism” conceived as a bundle of atoms) therefore no abstract entity can exist there. Which is much like saying that, because a specific map of New York City was drawn by an incompetent cartographer and is full of mistakes, therefore no map of New York can be accurate even in parts.

    And none of this addresses what the “ship of Theseus” problem is really about: that what persists in the ship, the reason why it’s still the same ship after every piece has been replaced, is a pure abstraction. I didn’t cite the ship because ships are human-made artifacts and Theseus’ desire for a ship is the only reason it exists at all – the ship can be seen as a mental construct projected into reality without patent absurdity. That can’t be said for living things, since those exist and reproduce themselves with no help from any human.

    • >It cannot be the mere existence of predictions that justifies a scientific theory – if it were psuedosciences would be justified.

      Of course not, But it’s a bit tendentious to read Paul that way; I’m sure he meant confirmed predictions.

      >The point is a simple one: all successful scientific theories do in fact assert the existence of abstract entities (e.g. “laws of physics”, “organisms”, “species”) in the world. If abstractions cannot exist in the world, only in the mind, scientific theories are simply false and all the scientists are deluding themselves.

      Doesn’t follow. You’re confusing “asserting existence” in some substantive quasi-Platonic sense with “using as a term in a predictive theory”. In fact, science does not rely on the claim that (say) “electron” as an abstraction exists, at all. What it says is “there’s this bundle of implications and predictions in our minds we tag as an electron, and if we predict using it we can do cool things like making a computer boot up”.

      And here is where your position reaches absurdity: by your logic, “luminiferous ether” used to exist, but stopped existing when atomic physics became a better predictive theory, at which point “electron” popped into existence. You’re making exactly the mistake JAD accused me of!

  296. @ Michael Brazier:
    Scientific theories need n.t contain abstraction. A law need only predict what measurements will be made in which setup. (ie, you could formulate it as a big lookup table of all setups and results.

    @esr:
    At the risk of starting a shit tempest, what are your thoughts on SSC’s ‘The Categories were made for Man not Man for the Categories’? ( ttp://slatestarcodex.com/2014/11/21/the-categories-were-made-for-man-not-man-for-the-categories/)

    • >At the risk of starting a shit tempest, what are your thoughts on SSC’s ‘The Categories were made for Man not Man for the Categories’?

      An excellent essay which, indirectly, makes my point about concepts being terms in predictive theories and having no use or meaning otherwise.

  297. >However, I think I sort of stumbled on a fit between NoKWoM and “the universe is knowable”, earlier. So there’s something.

    No, you didn’t. Those two notions are an anti-fit. “No kinds without minds” actually leads to Kant-style idealism, with the Categories of Thought constraining and distorting apprehension of the true, ineffable, indivisible, ultimate reality that lies above and beyond all concepts. In all such philosophies the truth of the universe is known only through revelation or mystical contemplation; trying to study reality through perceptual experience is futile. That’s a flat rejection of anything like the scientific method.

    I repeat that Charles Pierce, on whose philosophy of science you all think you are relying, emphatically rejected the position you espouse, and maintained the reality of “natural kinds” or abstract entities in the world of experience. This was not an accident or an aberration; it was the inevitable result of taking the scientific method seriously.

    • >No, you didn’t. Those two notions are an anti-fit. “No kinds without minds” actually leads to Kant-style idealism, with the Categories of Thought constraining and distorting apprehension of the true, ineffable, indivisible, ultimate reality that lies above and beyond all concepts.

      Huh?

      You appear to have been listening to some very confused people.

      Let’s try to make this simpler.

      We have two competing hypotheses about kinds. One is “no kinds without minds”, in which abstractions like “electron” exist only withing the minds of scientists as persistent terms in predictive theories. These abstractions have referents in observed phenomena, but are not themselves phenomena.

      The other is that abstractions like ‘electron’ exist in some way outside minds. They’re, I don’t know, Platonic noumena or ripples in the noosphere or something. You’ll have to explain it to me.

      Show me a consequence of abstractions like ‘electron’, or the number 3, existing outside minds. What observable consequence should I expect this ‘existence’ to have? What experiment can I perform?

      And what about the concept ‘luminiferous ether’? Does it exist, in any sense, outside the minds of scientists?

      • > I’m only committed to saying that something like the luminiferous ether is a real feature of the physical world – similar in the sense that said real feature supports the predictions made from Maxwell’s equations at least as well as the luminiferous ether would, if it actually existed.

        I missed this the first time through. Having read it, I believe I understand more exactly both where your metaphysics has gone off the trolley and how it can be fixed without violating your causal intuitions.

        I’m going to avoid talking about the luminiferous ether because it introduces some unneeded confusion by being a term in a falsified theory. Instead I’m going to attribute to you the following position, which I will call proposition A:

        “I’m only committed to saying that something like the electron is a real feature of the physical world – similar in the sense that said real feature supports the predictions made by electrodynamics and quantum theory.”

        Fair enough?

        Now I’ll show you the strictly analogous position a General Semanticist would take within a “no kinds without minds” account. This proposition B looks like this:

        “I’m only committed to saying that the concept ‘electron’ has referents which are real features of the physical world, where ‘reference’ implies that those features (which we name as electrons) behave consistently with the predictions of electrodynamics and quantum theory.”

        I’d like you to think carefully about the difference between proposition A and proposition B before you respond.

  298. >The point is a simple one: all successful scientific theories do in fact assert the existence of abstract entities (e.g. “laws of physics”, “organisms”, “species”) in the world. If abstractions cannot exist in the world, only in the mind, scientific theories are simply false and all the scientists are deluding themselves.

    This seems to be going a little overboard with the reification.

  299. >Of course not, But it’s a bit tendentious to read Paul that way; I’m sure he meant confirmed predictions.

    Perhaps, but if he did his conclusion is a non sequitur. You can get from “predictions justify concepts” to “concepts are purely mental” only by forgetting that confirming a prediction isn’t purely mental – by, that is, equivocating on the word “prediction”. And if equivocation isn’t a language-driven fallacy, I’d like to know what “language-driven essentialism” could possibly mean, beyond a mere term of abuse.

    >by your logic, “luminiferous ether” used to exist, but stopped existing when atomic physics became a better predictive theory, at which point “electron” popped into existence.

    Not at all. I’m only committed to saying that something like the luminiferous ether is a real feature of the physical world – similar in the sense that said real feature supports the predictions made from Maxwell’s equations at least as well as the luminiferous ether would, if it actually existed. And in point of fact there is such a thing; in quantum field theory virtual particles serve exactly the same function that the ether did for Maxwell, namely the medium in which the electromagnetic force travels.

    I’m sure it sounds odd to say that Maxwell’s equations describe the behavior of virtual photons, or that Newton’s equations describe the curvature of space – but people do still use classical physics to make predictions, so on the pragmatic account those statements are perfectly true.

  300. An abstraction is a thought. Any number of people can think a similar thought and discuss an abstraction as if it was common ground. In this way, common ground abstractions can be very similar and allow for effective communication. Or, there can be some amount of misunderstanding in which each person’s thought is slightly different. As such, the abstraction is not an objective thing outside the process of sharing thoughts. It is also ephemeral because it is a thought, but can reemerge whenever summoned by the mind.

  301. Paul: But if we take NoKWoM as necessarily being in the true bucket (if for no other reason than so we can keep “knowable universe” there too and avoid having the *buckets* disappear), then what happens to the legitimacy of the kind of all claims? And the kind of all logical equivalence relations?

    Eric: I don’t see a particular problem with either of these. You may not be able to enumerate all instances of these kinds, but do you have recognition rules for them. What do you want to use them for?

    So: I *do* have recognition rules – that is, rules that I consider sufficient to qualify entities for the label “claim” and the label “logically equivalent”. And this in turn presupposes that I have rules for “recognition rule”. And so on, if I care to go down that regress. (I think it’s actually not infinite. At least, not for the purposes I have in mind. I’m not intent on sorting every possible thing that looks like a claim, so that should keep Godel from complaining too loudly.)

    So if I consider this pile of things I call rules for qualifying certain things as claims, and as logical equivalences (and as rules), I make what I call a claim about the behavior of these claims and rules and logical equivalences, and… everything appears to hang together, I suppose.

    At this point, I’m led to wonder if this is the only way I could have organized things. For example, I could have set forth a different system populated by things other than claims and rules and equivalences, and also replace the true and false buckets, and my self-imposed mission as well – and I find that it would take me more time and effort to contemplate the existence of alternatives to “rules” than I’m willing to expend here right now. But at the same time, I can’t prove that that wouldn’t be time well spent. Indeed, I wouldn’t be able to prove anything at all, since I’ve just cast aside logic as well.

    But then all this means back on the ol’ farm is that the system of claims and rules is all in my head, sure, but it still lets me create the things I call claims that permit me to… keep making more of those claims. Or in more mundane terms, I’m doing logic, because logic puts enough food on my table to let me keep doing it. But it’s not the only thing that would put food on my table. Lizards don’t have logic, but they’re doing fine. Except that they don’t have tables.

    I keep coming back to this. Logic, claims, rules, kinds… we construct these things, because they give us tables and other pleasant things, and that’s all there is to it. If we hadn’t constructed them, we wouldn’t have pleasure. But it’s not yet proven, given all this, that there exists no alternative system, by which we might have even *more* pleasure. However, we can’t demonstrate either such an alternative or its non-existence, without presupposing the current system for which the alternative could be an alternative.

    All of which says to me that these “ideal kinds” – claims, rules, and logical equivalences – don’t have to be ideal to still be all we have access to. The only other known alternative is a lizard’s existence. There may be a better existence out there, but we cannot grasp it, except in terms of claims and rules, and in that case, it would be part of our existence anyway.

    Metaphorically speaking: the lizard deals in positive integers; we not only access them as well, but have constructed the notion of there being a kind which includes them, and therefore led ourselves to the kinds for negative integers, rationals, reals, surreals, complex numbers, quaternions, octinions, and ordinals, and jumped even further and noticed that if we can’t construct it, we can’t experience it, but that’s okay, because we can construct a kind for anything we can observe. Everything else cannot affect us by definition.

  302. >Perhaps, but if he did his conclusion is a non sequitur. You can get from “predictions justify concepts” to “concepts are purely mental” only by forgetting that confirming a prediction isn’t purely mental – by, that is, equivocating on the word “prediction”. And if equivocation isn’t a language-driven fallacy, I’d like to know what “language-driven essentialism” could possibly mean, beyond a mere term of abuse.

    The confirmation is not the prediction is not the concept.

  303. Addendum: my point in speaking in terms of positive integers is that we could speak in terms of our having mapped our civilization and quality of life to one of them, such that tomorrow it’ll map to a bigger one, and perhaps years later, a smaller one, but we can still contemplate civilization at one of the very large ones without yet experiencing them. And we could even jump the track into civilizations that map to complex numbers or ordinals, but if so, we’d still be using logic to make that jump.

    Logic, in this sense, to me, is the map we can’t get away from, no matter how hard we try to focus on the territory. Which suggests it’s neither map nor territory.

  304. > Eliezer Yudkowsky covered this angle on the question in Disguised Queries

    > People who persist in thinking that “Were moss and lichen different kinds before thinking creatures arose?” is a sensible question might be enlightened as to why it is not if they considered instead “Were bleggs and rubes different kinds before thinking creatures arose?”