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Philosophy

Maybe Women are Some Good after All?

But really, they should also include K-9 officers and enlisted.

From Clash Daily, via Weaselzippers, who got it from WSJ, where it’s only available to subscribers:

BOOM: Kurds Send All-Female Soldiers To Fight ISIS, The Reason Why is Hilarious

Posted on August 21, 2014

Kurdish women are bad-ass. You’ll never guess why they’re the ones on the frontline’s against ISIS. Check this out…

The Kurds have adopted a rather unique strategy for not only eliminating their targets, but also humiliating them along the way.

According to WZ, Kurds are deploying whole units comprised of female fighters to the front line, which has boosted their recruitment numbers, and given them a psychological edge over ISIS. One female fighter explained why the Kurds have decided to put women in the thick of the battle, and it’s sure to make radical Islamists go crazy.

“The jihadists don’t like fighting women, because if they’re killed by a female, they think they won’t go to heaven.”

Awesome. The Kurds have an understanding of what it will take to stop ISIS, and it isn’t peace talks or goodwill offerings. It’s bombs, bullets, and brute force.

Some observations of foreign types in crowds

There was some strange behaviour outside my hotel this evening, instead of the usual languid European-style pavement restaurant with a few, mainly elderly residents enjoying their café under an iridescent evening sun as a few blonde haired goddesses drift by aimlessly on bicycles, there was a massed throng of unruly teens and drunken men filling the square in front of my hotel.

I presumed that it was some form of political protest as they were uniformly dressed alike, but apparently not, it was in fact an opportunity to get utterly paralytic on Heineken served in plastic cups while watching a giant TV screen erected at the end of the not-so-very-grand place. I initially presumed they were there to watch the local version of “America’s Next One Hit Wonder” or whatever it is called in The Land of Clogs.

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I don’t believe you want to do that Dave…

Well it would appear possibly, arguably, a computer at the Royal Society in London has passed the Turing test.

Read the whole thing. It is interesting. Alas I seem unable to copy and paste from the Guardian otherwise I’d dissect this because I am less than impressed. It would appear they haven’t released the transcripts. And it was impersonating a 13 year old boy. All very fishy. Certainly it ain’t as tough a test as proposed by Kurzweil. This had to be believed by 30% and got 33%. The Kurzweil test is much more rigorous.

Oh and Prof. Kevin Warwick was involved. Hmm…

My fave comment though on the Graun is this (I seem to be able to copy those)…

For a moment, let’s just forget whether and why some computer might pass the test and what that might mean. Suppose instead you wanted to decide whether a human is intelligent… What criteria would you apply? What rigorous and material or empirical definition could you come up with for “intelligent”? Or for “thought”, “objective”, “emotion” or any other noun relating to individuals inner lives for that matter?

Of course there’s no real definition for “intelligent” that doesn’t rely on other abstract nouns, e.g. if you decide it’s “problem solving ability” then you only shift the question along to “what’s a problem, then?”.

But we all agree as a linguistic convention that there is such a thing as intelligence and that humans possess it. But if that’s true and a computer and successfully disguise itself in some open-ended way as a human then we’ve no grounds for denying the title of “intelligent” to the machine.

You may still deny that this has any metaphysical significance. On the other hand, you can’t deny that in that hypothetical the computer has transcended your ability to distinguish it from other entities you agree to be intelligent. That makes the machine categorically distinct from all others in history, at least from your perspective and is surely a significant fact in itself. Without the Turing test, you’d be stuck in a quagmire — what the test does is isolate this significant observation from all metaphysical or linguistic confusion, reducing the matter to observable behaviour.

In the end, it’s a definition of intelligence. Do you have a better one?

No, I don’t but I have never felt sure about the Turing test in general – and yes I have read a lot about it. Does it have agency? Does it have imagination? Can it make mistakes? Mistakes are important for creativity. They seem to me to link tightly with creativity. I have for a long time thought it is probably in principle to compare genuine thought with the perfection of computers in a way almost analogous to quantum complementarity. I have no idea why I feel this except I feel it which perhaps is the point. I also tend to think the Turing test is just too instrumentalist. It in a sense doesn’t get to the heart of consciousness. It’s Searle’s Chinese Room. It is sort of a search for pure empirical proof without theory.

I never trust pure empiricism without theory. I think that might have been Eddington but I can’t track it down and I am writing in a rush. There is a saying (a joke really) in the AI biz about whether you can take it apart with itself? And that is the problem. Can we really understand ourselves properly, scientifically? I feel it is an impossible task and more to the point pointless. Shakespeare couldn’t predict comets arriving but he knew humanity better than any trick-cyclist. Just look at Freud. Or Kinsey or any of those preverts. I’ll believe in the Turing test when it can explain why I love Donne’s 20th elegy but can’t stand Tennyson’s romantic musings. I’ll leave the last word to Albert Einstein…

It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.

This explains a lot

In a comment here Julie near Chicago makes mention of the Drake Equation, an estimate of the number of communicating civilisations in the galaxy at any one time.

This, of course, raises the issue of the Fermi Paradox – where are they?

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Libertarianism and Conservativism – foes or friends?

F.A. Hayek at the end of his “Constitution of Liberty” (1960) wrote “Why I am not a Conservative” – which is odd as Hayek had (perhaps without knowing it) a good grasp of what actually is a positive conception of conservatism, and a poor grasp of libertarianism.

Hayek rejected the word “libertarian” as “artificial” which is just as well as he was not a libertarian – philosophically or politically.

Philosophically Hayek was a determinist (like so many 19th century and early 20th century thinkers, he assumed that “science” mandated determinism). Hayek took David Hume literally (whether Hume should really be taken literally is a hotly contested issue), the “I” (the human person) is an illusion, as is human choice – a thought does NOT mean a thinker (a reasoning “I”) and as there is no agent (no human being – no reasoning “I”) there is no agency (no free will), actions are predetermined by a series of causes and effects that go back to the start of the universe – and humans (who are not beings) can do no other than we do (we could not have done otherwise – as choice is an illusion).

Politically Hayek claimed to an “Old Whig”, but is hard to see how his philosophical views are compatible with the Whig point of view – which was based on the MORAL value of human free will (it is not an accident that David Hume was not a Whig) . The determinist (such as the Thomas Hobbes) holds that “freedom” is just an absence of external restraint – for example when a dam fails the water is “free” to rush out and destroy towns and so on. “Freedom” (in the determinist view) is not a matter of moral choice (remember choice is an “illusion”) so “freedom” is like taking one’s hand off a clockwork mouse and letting this clockwork mouse go around on the floor. It is hard to see how this “freedom” can be of any moral importance at all – if any view of politics can be based upon it would be a politics of tyranny (exactly the politics that Hobbes did base upon it), after all walls of water from broken dams (and so on) does not sound very nice.

Still does Hayek say anything else about his politics? Yes he does – again in the “Constitution of Liberty” we are told that he supports the “limited state” not the “minimal state”, because (according to Hayek) the minimal state can not be defined and the limited state can be defined.

Hayek is just wrong – the minimal state is easy to define (although very hard to achieve or maintain – an anarchist would argue impossible to maintain or achieve). The definition of a minimal state is one that just uses force only against the violation of the non aggression principle (attacks on the bodies or goods of people or groups of people). It is actually the “limited state” that is hard to define. Limited to what?

Hayek does make some vague efforts to define the “limited state” – for example he says that such a state applies “general rules” that apply to everyone.

O.K. then – everyone is to have their head cut off. Is that a good example of a “limited state”?

Hayek also says that a limited state does not seek to have a monopoly of any service.

O.K. then – everyone but the children of Mr Smith of 25 Silver Street to go to a state school?

Unfair example? O.K. – how about the state hands education and healthcare “free” (at the expense of the taxpayers), but you are free to pay twice (i.e. pay again on top of taxation) to go private? Is this the limited state?

How about you can go to any doctor you like and send your children to any school you like, but the state pays the bill (no matter how big it is), is that the limited state?

Such a state (one that seeks to provide or pay for education, healthcare, old age provision and on and on) will end up spending half the entire economy (and still fail). That does not sound very limited or sustainable – and Hayek (in his attack on the Welfare State) shows he understands this. However, his “limited state” is not defined in a way that prevents it.

Oh dear this post seems to have turned into “why Hayek is crap” which is unfair as anyone (even the best of us) looks terrible if one just concentrates on errors and weaknesses. I will leave the above out if I ever give a talk on this subject (because it sounds terribly negative) – but it needed to be put on record.

So why is Hayek (perhaps without knowing it) insightful about Conservatism?

Hayek’s own definition of Conservatism (given in “Why I am Not a Conservative”) is not good. He just defines it as being opposed to change – so (for example) a North Korean conservative now would be a socialist (or that is the system they have) and a British conservative I (say) 1870 would be a free market person – as this was the system of the time.

Whatever Hayek may have believed that is not a serious definition of Conservatism. But Hayek (again perhaps without knowing it) does give a description of Conservatism – in “Constitution of Liberty”, “Law. Legislation and Liberty” (and other works).

Cosmos not Taxis – spontaneous order (evolved over time) not top down planning. What Hayek called the results of “human action not human design” (it would be have been better to say the results of voluntary action not forced action – but Hayek had philosophical problems with even voluntary design).

Or (in the language of the conservative writer M.J. Oakeshott) a Civil Association not Enterprise Association, a Societas not a Universitas.

Institutions and customs that evolve over time often without people knowing the reasons they are useful – till they are broken.

As Tolkien’s (Tolkien being a Catholic Conservative) character “Gandalf” puts it in the “Lord of the Rings” – “he who breaks a thing to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom”.

This is what Conservatism is about – a preference for evolved custom and ways of doing things (ways of living) over imposed “rational” planning by the state.

The state (in the Conservative view) is like the Thrain of the Shire (Tolkien’s) and the Mayor.

The Thrain does nothing in peacetime (in war it is different) – he just farms his estate. And the Mayor is the leading figure at formal dinners (like those of the old Closed Corporations that were the only “urban local government” before the Act of 1835 in England and Wales), he does not order folk about. Families govern their own affairs and do not attack each other (police forces were not compulsory on the counties of England and Wales till 1856). There is plenty of (moral – traditional) authority, but little naked “power”.

I think it is obvious show this view of Conservatism is close to libertarianism (hence “Tory Anarchist”) – a friend not a foe. But is it tied to Hayek and his philosophical opinions?

No it is not – which is why I mentioned Oakeshott and Tolkien (two Conservatives with very different philosophical opinions to Hayek). Both Oakeshott and Tolkien believed in free will (agency – moral responsibility, the ability to choose to do otherwise).

Even in the 18th century Conservatives did not follow the philosophical opinions of David Hume (again IF they were his opinions – I repeat this is hotly contested). Neither the Tory Conservative Dr Johnson or the Old Whig Conservative Edmund Burke (a real Old Whig – unlike Hayek) accepted determinism and the denial of human personhood (moral choice – the ability to choose to do otherwise). Edmund Burke and Dr Johnson (the Whig and the Tory) both believed in free will (agency – moral responsibility, the ability to choose to do otherwise) and were moral universalists (not just Dr Johnson – but Edmund Burke also, for the T. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson view of his is totally wrong, to Burke it did not matter if something happened in the Middle Ages or right now, in India or America – right was right and wrong was wrong).

Is this the only view of Conservatism?

Of course not – there are other views of Conservatism. For example the statism of Disraeli (with his life long commitment to “social reform” – yuk).

However, that is hardly “doing nothing” (against those who do not themselves aggress against others). The Tauist Old King Log sitting in the shade – rather than Young King Stork “helping” his subjects by eating them.

Agorism

A New Libertarian Manifesto

Chapter 1

By Samuel Edward Konkin III

Read by Mike Gogulski

Ken Ham takes his dogma for a walk

Bill-Nye-vs.-Ken-Ham-Debate

Periodically, the intellectual conflict between science and religion comes to a head in the form of a debate and the results of such debates are often quite interesting and lead into areas of enlightenment that are surprising. Those who say scientists should not take part in such debates are fascists, morons and idiots.

I classify myself a lapsed-Catholic agnostic atheist (that is someone who fundamentally does not believe in god, but as a good scientist cannot prove or disprove his/her non-existence, it’s a very good form of rhetorical macramé), as such the debate between Bill Nye, the Science Guy and Ken Ham CEO of the Creation Museum piqued my interest.

At 2½ hours it is quite a long debate, but you need to go through it all to get a real flavour of the thing, the excerpts simply do not do it justice. As you would expect, neither side expected to win over their opponents, but this was a genuine debate for serious stakes, with the minds of children in classrooms at stake.

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How to be human 101 – Empathy

Bad RobotIn my early years I had an all encompassing belief that the universe revolved around my arse. Apparently this is quite common among single children and ‘tail end charlies’ like myself, whose elder brothers were nearly 10-years older than me.

It also didn’t help that I came into my mothers life at a very difficult time when she was being physically abused by my father, as she told me in later years, I was the raft that she clung to during the storms of her turbulent marriage. She finally divorced my father when he was coming up for retirement as she couldn’t bear the thought of being stuck in the house with the miserable old bastard 24/7. (more…)

How William James of Harvard helped undermine moral responsiblity – agency.

Most libertarians (and conservatives) have some idea of the harm Harvard University (in spite of the good elements that have always existed there) has done to the United States and (by extension) the rest of the West.

For example, Harvard (via its relationship with Cambridge in England) helped push Keynesian “economics” thus undermining real economics – and leading to the credit bubble nightmare the world now faces.

Before this Harvard Law School actively discouraged study of the text of the Constitution of the United States and the other writings (showing the intentions) of those who wrote that text – pushing the study of “case law” instead, thus undermining constitutional limitations on government power in the United States.

It is true to say that both in economics and law many other American universities followed the example of Harvard – because of its prestige (based, in part, on its being the first American university and its vast resources).

However, before the harm it did in economics and law, Harvard did great harm in the study of human beings themselves (in what was called the study of the “nature of man”) – in philosophy and psychology.

Once American philosophy had been dominated by those who believed and defended three great principles.

The objective nature of the physical universe.

The objective nature of good and evil.

And the ability of humans to choose between good and evil – that humans were beings (agents) that they had the capacity (if they made the effort – a big “if”) to choose good and reject evil.

Both the Aristotelians who dominated Catholic education and the “Common Sense” thinkers who dominated Protestant education (sometimes called followers of “Scottish philosophy” of John Reid and so on – although the principles go back to 17th century thinkers such as Ralph Cudworth and before).

Harvard took the lead in attacking these principles – by the rise of the American “Pragmatist” School.

The “Pragmatists” are best summed up in the words of William James (one of the leading members of the group) “the right is just the expedient in our way of thinking” – and by this William James meant both “the right” in the sense of truth (there was no objective truth – whatever it was useful to be “true” was “true”) and in the sense of “good and evil” (right and wrong – in both senses), to the Pragmatists objective good and evil did not exist – they were “myths” just as objective truth was a “myth”..

The European “philosopher of violence” Sorel, was later to make use of this doctrine of “useful myths” – what did it matter if one told lies (to incite violence) if truth and lies did not really exist? If what was “true” was just what was “useful” to  the cause.

Mussolini did the same thing – what did it matter if both reason and evidence had refuted socialism? So much for reason and evidence! He might move from strict Marxism (because it was too easy to refute – at least for people who believe in such things as objective truth), but his new form of socialism (“Fascism”) would do – it would be based upon “myths”  and if there was no objective truth. lying was O.K. (indeed a new “truth”).

One can even see this in the writings of the Oslo murderer (he wanted his name to be famous – so I never use it) – William James was his most favoured philosopher (on his Facebook page – before it was taken down). So what if the people he murdered were unarmed kids – if his “truth” was that they were armed foes, and he was a “Knight Templar” was not his “truth” as valid as the “truth” of anyone else? And was not his “good” (murdering unarmed kids) not as valid as the “good” of anyone else?

Not even religious people were immune from the spell of William James – as Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out, one was more like to hear the name William James than Saint James in the Churches of the Progressives.

How can it be objectively wrong to murder millions of helpless people – if there is no such thing as objective wrong (or objective right)? Besides it is not convenient to try and save the helpless people being murdered – one might be hurt (or even killed) trying to save them, so it may be “your truth” that they should be saved, but it is not “my truth”.

Besides “modern scientific thought” had “proved” that one could not choose between good and evil (which do not objectively exist anyway) – choice is an “illusion”, one is really controlled by impersonal social forces of “class” and/or “race” in one’s “historical period”.

The Schoolmen (the scholastics) had been fond of saying “natural law is the law of God – but if God did not exist natural law would be EXACTLY THE SAME” – the “new” way of thinking (actually this evil is as old humanity – but I will not go into this here) held that natural law (right and wrong, good and evil) did not really exist for the religious or for atheists – and that (even if they did exist) humans were not beings (not agents) and could not choose between them anyway – choice (morality) being an “illusion”.

Thus the fury (righteous fury) of Dietrich Bonhoeffer with the “Christians” who either murdered the innocent (after all “what is innocence?” said the smooth talking scum) themselves, or stood by and did nothing as the innocent were murdered in front of them.

And it was not just in Germany. in the United States the eugenics movement was welcomed by the “religious progressive” – both the holding down and cutting up of women for being “inferior” (only Justice Pierce Butler, the “arch reactionary”, voted against forced sterilisation – the other eight Justices on the Supreme Court thought it was fine) and even plans to actively exterminate the “inferior” – even if this “inferiority” was actually a “useful myth”.

And even if is evil (although objective evil does not exist……) we do not “really” choose our actions – choice is just an “illusion” (so it is not my fault that I pushed these children into the gas chamber and then murdered them).

But how did William James (and his “intellectual” friends) undermine moral responsibility – agency. the courage to choose good and reject evil? To stand against the “social forces”?

How did the philosophy (and the psychology) of “Common Sense” thinkers such as James McCosh (the once famous President of Princeton) and Noah Porter (the once famous President of Yale) get replaced?

One looks in vain for in “Psychology” (1892) for a formal refutation of (for example) Noah Porter’s “The Human Intellect: With An Introduction Upon Psychology And The Soul” – which, before the work of William James, was the standard work on psychology in the United States. Indeed the name “Noah Porter” is not even mentioned in the book.

Instead we get this……..page 457 “Psychology” by William James (1892).

“But a psychologist cannot be expected to be thus impartial, having a great motive in favour of determinism. He wants to build a Science; and Science is a system of fixed relations. Where ever there are independent variables, there Science stops. So far, then, as our volitions may be independent variables, a scientific psychology must ignore that fact, and treat of them only so far as they are fixed functions. In other words, she must deal with the general laws of volition exclusively; with the impulsive and inhibitory character of ideas; with the nature of their appeals to the attention; with the conditions under which effort may arise, etc.; but not with the precise amounts of effort for these, if our wills be free, are impossible to compute, She thus abstracts from free-will, without necessarily denying its existence. Practically, however, such abstraction is not distinguished from rejection; and most actual psychologists have no hesitation in denying that free-will exists.”

The word “psychology” goes back to Ralph Cudworth in the 17th century – the great defender (against Thomas Hobbes) of human agency, the great denier that humans were just machines (not beings). And. by the way, the great attacker of the “chopping up” of the human mind between “will” and “reason” ( a perhaps mistaken practice of the scholastics). Noah Porter (the most famous writer on psychology in America ) had only died a couple of years before this book by William James was published, James McCosh (the great “Common Sense” philosopher) was actually still alive (he died in 1894). Reason (agency) had defenders (at that time) in almost every university in America – yet William James comes out with this tissue of lies – and that is what (thanks to Harvard – and its influence) future generations of students would be taught.

I will now translate what William James wrote into English – I will give its “practical” sense, to use his term. “Practically” (without his cowardly evasions – such as “without necessarily denying its existence”).

Humans are not beings, human volition (agency) does not exist. Humans are just machines – all of whose actions are predetermined. There is no real “choice” (it is an “illusion”). There is no moral difference between a human and a clockwork mouse. And we need not be concerned with enslavement of humans by the state – because humans are slaves (indeed machines – not beings) by nature anyway.

The utter denial of human freedom – no agency, no moral responsibility.

The victory of evil – total and absolute.

That is at the heart of modern academia (of “Nudge” by Cass Sunstein and all the rest of it) – and it came long before (indeed was the cause) of the corruption of such things as law and economics.

Why should humans make the great effort (suffer the terrible pain) required for agency (for standing against evil) if this is impossible? If humans are not really beings (not really agents) at all.

This is the heart of evil.

What happens when a Turing Machine meets a Blackhole?

A while back I promised to write this. It has taken some time.

Well the short answer is nobody knows. In principle. Let me explain…

But seeing as this is not QI and I am not the curly haired loon Alan Davis I’d best try to explain why…

There are questions that are unanswered and there are the unanswerable.

Magic don’t exist. Science does and it is a kinda magic (or is that Queen?). Robert Oppenheimer certainly proved that. Well, with his pencil he certainly wielded more power than Dumbledore did with a twig. Real science is magic and it is magic beyond anything these sort of numpties could dream of.

In 1995 at Nottingham University a geezer dressed in a manner that would make Arch-Chancellor Ridcully look under-dressed handed me a piece of paper that was the official recognition of my getting the keys to the Universe. It was emotional, I can tell you. It was a BSc in Physics.

So what I am getting at in this preamble is that magic is real and it’s magic because it doesn’t always make “common sense”.

So, to the point!

Black-holes are essentially collapsed stars that have all their mass within their Schwarzchild radius. This is the radius which even classically, light can’t escape from because as you know Neil, Buzz and Mike had to go rather fast to get off this rock but seeing as the speed of light is a cosmic speed limit once the gravity of a collapsed star gets to that having an escape velocity above that of light then you are in it for the duration. By the way I’m sticking with the non-charged, non-rotational solutions here. Hence Schwarzchild will suffice.

If you really want to muck about with Kerr-Newman metric then knock yourselves out. We’ll keep it without angular velocity (or charge). Now I appreciate the revolutions of Beyonce’s twerking her fundamental singularity as much as the next person but for the current porpoise the entertainer on the stage might as well be Noel Coward in a dinner-suit singing some old nonsense that the late Queen Ma would like.

Because the simple truth is black holes have a property which is awesome. It brings information theory (one of the grandest achievements of C20 maths) into a kind of conflict with one of the grandest achievements of C20th physics. And it’s dead simple. By which I mean it lacks complexity. Now, modeling weather is complicated because modeling multiple processes is. This is a different kind of hard. It does not involve the kind of recursive computation that gets a Julia Set on screen. It is conceptually hard rather than computationally so. Hold that thought – it will matter. There are incredible complicated things that are hard and there are simple things that are hard. Things can be hard in qualitatively different ways.

Now, in the 1930s Alan Turing came up with a theoretical model for computers. I’m typing on one now. Now Turing proved (as did Alonzo Church) by a different route (and Kurt Gödel had a look in too) proved this. Now some of this was purely formal such as the disproof of Peano Arithmetic which set out to prove essentially that the mathematics of integers can be based on a single finite and logically consistent axiom-set. That this was a bit of an embuggeration (especially to David Hilbert) is to say the least. Hilbert had proposed a program in which he hoped all mathematics could be reduced to a single axiom set. Peano Arithmetic was a jolly good punt at that. Essentially he’d proposed an idea to develop something much like the characteristica universalis of Leibniz. Essentially an attempt to reduce everything to rule-following. The idea was this…

When the Peano axioms were first proposed, Bertrand Russell and others agreed that these axioms implicitly defined what we mean by a “natural number”. Henri Poincaré was more cautious, saying they only defined natural numbers if they were consistent; if there is a proof that starts from just these axioms and derives a contradiction such as 0 = 1, then the axioms are inconsistent, and don’t define anything. In 1900, David Hilbert posed the problem of proving their consistency using only finitistic methods as the second of his twenty-three problems. In 1931, Kurt Gödel proved his second incompleteness theorem, which shows that such a consistency proof cannot be formalized within Peano arithmetic itself

That’s from wikipedia

So it is entirely a bust flush. Or is it?

Anyway, I realized I’m hundreds of words in and haven’t answered the question! Sorry, but I had to foreground and the essential problem is to do with words like “definable”, “consistent” and especially “infinite”. Now the final one is the impenetrable. Now way back when Galileo realized infinity was a tough nut to crack when he put as an aside the idea (which is true) that the set of Naturals had exactly the same cardinality as the set of Perfect Squares. Now the first set is {1,2,3…} and the second starts {1,4,9…} but both have the same number of members. Huh? You might be thinking there are more of the first because of the gaps in the second? But as Galileo argued and Cantor proved the cardinality (the size of the sets – sort of) can be proven to be the identical for both because both can be put in an exact 1-1 bijection – essentially for each member of the first set there is a one on the other side – kinda like the perfect tea-dance – with integers He (Cantor) called this number Aleph-null. The first of the transfinite cardinals (there are many more cardinals – more than they have in Rome – and some are fucking enormous – a technical term I owe to a Leeds University number theorist). I am getting a bit OT here but I must mention a collection known (and I know this sounds rather “Father Ted” but there are, amongst many others, ineffable cardinals. Please read this because it conveys the total Woo-Woo.

Yes, there are numbers that are infinite in ways that can’t be uttered but must exist, logically. Yes this sounds mystic and it is but it is provable. This is not homeopathy. This is reality.

What was that paragraph about? Well it was really about trying to say (and this is relevant) that there. In an arguably similar way General Relativity contains solutions (such as those due to Kurt Gödel which include the possibility of time-travel but whilst mathematically impeccable do not pertain to our Universe, but could in principle, just don’t). Now that is interesting. So interesting I wrote an MSc thesis on it. What was dear old Gödel up to? Fuck knows! I don’t know fuck so I don’t. It is all a piggy-rotten mystery and no mistake. It’s like Windows 8. No bastard groks that one.

Anyway Blackholes are simpler. Once you cross the event horizon you is doomed and I mean proper Frazer doomed. Not only are you not getting out but you can’t really communicate out either. Because nothing can get out of an event horizon. It’s kinda like dropping car keys down a toilet. Now I’m on my uppers here (but promised to write this piece) but my understanding is that in the vicinity of an event horizon time slows as seen by an external observer but seems the same for the subject falling in. They also get gravitationally red-shifted and dim into the IR. So if you chuck your mate into a blackhole and they wave back at you it seems ever slower and ever redder until you can see nothing of them. Now this time dilation is kinda like working a 36hr day and then a 48hr day and then a 72hr day so you get more done. Essentially any computable problem accelerates (i.e. breaking a code and not whether Miley Cyrus ought to wear pants) because the effective time the Turing machine’s rate of knots has becomes asymptotic because time has slowed for it – though not for the observer at a safe distance. So it can actually solve or get round the likes of the Entsheidungsproblem

Except. As the Turing machine (and if you are reading this – you have one – just not a local blackhole – I hope) hits max and goes infinite it is going beyond the event horizon so you never get to know the results. I know. It sucks. Of course you could leap in after it but you’d never be able to get the data out so what is the point?

Now I have no idea whatsoever where my trash goes. But if it were to be chucked in a blackhole then nothing of it would remain to the external observer other than mass, electric charge and angular momentum. This applies to anything. This applies to pork bellies, gold ingots, the works of Shakespeare and your Aunty Gladys. All meaningful information is lost to the Universe. In a very real sense that is why blackholes are something else. And that is why a Turing machine can achieve infinite speed (even that dreadful Acer you bought five years ago) but anyone outside the hole can do nothing with it. And if you are past the event horizon neither can you.

And for my next trick I have this cat and this box ;-)

The New Shadow

JRR Tolkien started writing a sequel to the Lord of the Rings.

I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall [of Sauron], but it proved both sinister and depressing. Since we are dealing with Men it is inevitable that we should be concerned with the most regrettable feature of their nature: their quick satiety with good. So that the people of Gondor in times of peace, justice and prosperity, would become discontented and restless – while the dynasts descended from Aragorn would become just kings and governors – like Denethor or worse. I found that even so early there was an outcrop of revolutionary plots, about a centre of secret Satanistic religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going round doing damage. I could have written a ‘thriller’ about the plot and its discovery and overthrow – but it would be just that. Not worth doing.

I think that says as much about our World as Middle Earth. No moment of triumph ever lasts. It’s a second law of thermodynamics for societies.

Cartoon of the week.

Sorry folks, couldn’t find a better way to display this one. I think you’ll like it though.

 

H/T Alisa, Samizdata long time commentator.

Sowell: “Studies Prove…”

Often we hear that “all the experts agree” that A is better than B or that “studies prove” A to be better than B. ….

A fascinating discussion of the fact that statistical studies can be interpreted and presented in various ways…with varying degrees of rigor and of intellectual honesty…for various reasons. Dr. Sowell provides some excellent examples in this three-part article.

Part 1: http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/sowell080906.php3

Part 2: http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/sowell081006.php3

Part 3: http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/sowell081106.php3

Might We Have Free Will?

I hope no one is wasting time this evening listening to the Sith, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing much worthwhile.

. . .
Prefatory Notes:

1.  One thing I cannot stress enough: There is no, NO, non-trivial and logically consistent system of thought that does not rest upon postulates: unproven presumptions about existents within the system and relationships between them. These postulates are the foundational “givens” of the system. This is as as true of moral philosophy as it is of any other system. In reasoning about the nature of humans and their faculties (such as free will) you will always hit up on an unprovable assumption.

2.  Note this also: It is the nature of the human mind that, having formed a concept and then having found the concept logically problematic–or wanting in some other respect–it will seek a different angle, a change to the concept so as to get around the problem. This cannot always be done, but in the case of the concept of Free Will, I think the conventional concept is based on a misunderstanding and must be re-cast slightly if we are to maintain our belief that we live in a cause-and-effect (that is, a rational) universe and yet hold to the idea that real choice exists for each of us, and that we are indeed properly held accountable for the choices we make.

3.  My own belief, and starting premise, is that we are part of the physical universe and as such are systems made up of matter and energy like everything else in it, and that all of our constituent parts, whether considered as isolated or as subsystems, are subject to the same laws of cause and effect. The following is written from that point of view.

. . .

In the more common, or conventional, or traditional conception of “free will,” there is some faculty of human beings which serves as a prime mover–i.e., it is causeless–and yet, simultaneously, it is under the control of the human, the moral agent, the actor. This has been a problem for Western (at least) philosophers since the Greeks. Miss Rand, among others, tried to get around this by saying No, the faculty is not “causeless”–it is caused by the human will. But this begs the question (i.e., the argument already assumes that which is to be proven), because the “causeless” faculty under discussion is the will itself. The question, as always, is, How comes the Will to will as it does?

For religions which posit the existence of a “soul” distinct from the physical body, this need not pose a problem; for them, the Soul is the essence of what we are and the driver of what we do, and Free Will simply means that God or the gods allow the Soul to direct, or at least to strongly influence, the person’s actions as it will, without His or their intervention. And they are quite welcome to their understanding, their fundamental postulate; the following analysis is not for them, but for those who are trying to square a reliable principle of cause-and-effect with “Free Will,” whose existence is to most of us (I think) self-evident.

The “soul-body dichotomy” is implicit even in Miss Rand’s own insistence upon the existence of traditionally understood “Free Will” (though without any gods). And she spoke forcefully against any idea of “determinism” as applicable to human beings, because, in her view, not only would a deterministic view invalidate the very concept of logic, but also it would make morality “a sick joke.”

But we see that people “make choices.” One guy goes left at the
crossroads, the other goes right. What then? How can there be choice without freedom to choose?

Now note: I’m limiting the following discussion to include only entities which we commonly think of as possibly having some sort of “mind.” Humans, dogs, mice if you think so…; fish are an open question. * That’s to keep the discussion from becoming as long as the OED. (In a posthumous volume I will discuss the free will of creeping juniper, celery, and sacks of hammers. )

To the observer, whether external or internal, the actions of the entity being observed are not 100% absolutely knowable in advance. I know that you are about to go out, and that it’s raining, and that there’s an umbrella by the door. Still, I can’t say with absolute certainty that you’ll take the umbrella with you, let alone use it. This is the result of the fact that you do have a choice–a real choice.

That choice exists because there is no mechanism external to yourself that would prevent your taking the umbrella or that would force you to take it; along with the fact that you have the biological capacity to develop the motivation to pick it up or to leave it, and the capacity to exercise your muscles in accordance with the motivation. It’s the lack of absolute external compulsion, combined with your internal capacity to evaluate and to act according to your evaluation, which together constitute the availability of your choosing.

(Of course I may well know from previous experience that you ALWAYS–or, conversely, NEVER–in the past have taken the umbrella when it’s raining. But that only allows me to say that “knowing you, I know you will [or won't] take the umbrella”–you are not CONSTRAINED to take it, or not take it, by circumstances external to your physical self.)

. . .

Yet we often say, “I had no choice; I HAD to do it.” In this case, the entity finds itself FEELING constrained by the fullness of circumstance to act in a certain way. One person says, “I had no choice”; another, in a virtually identical situation, says, “I felt I had no choice.” And the latter formulation, I believe, is the accurate one, and it points out very well the real meaning we ought to attach to the concept of “choice.”

Contrast this with the genuine experience of being literally unable to act upon the capacity of choosing, because external constraints prohibit it. The two experiences FEEL entirely different. (I’ve been there.)

“Free Will” arises from the fact that a being possessing the faculty of “will” is not completely constrained from without to behave in a certain manner. It–the being, the entity–is constantly faced with choices. “Shall I turn east or west? Shall I hunt for a job or go on welfare?” It is the system of internal mechanisms, considered in their totality as the system of which the acting being consists, which both enable and require that being to act as it does in any given situation.

Thus, in what I believe is a much better conception of “Free Will” than the common one, it is the whole man, not some human subsystem or ancillary system, that has “free will” or the ability to “choose”; and this “free will” lies in the perception of the observer, whether he is some other person external to the actor or is the actor observing himself, and not in the disconnection of some subsystem of the acting entity from physical reality and the laws of cause-and-effect which make that reality available to human reason.

There is a real capacity to choose, and there is real free will, in that it is only the acting individual himself who picks and then acts upon one particular alternative among the ones, plural, available.

. . .

PS. Contra Miss Rand (and many, many others), this viewpoint specifically does NOT disallow judgments about the morality or responsibilities of persons, which are based on observations of the whole person and what he does or has done.

PPS. One of the delights of growing older is discovering that other, brighter guys than oneself have long since made similar observations and come to similar conclusions. :>)))

PPPS. Lengthy discussion on this issue yesterday and today at

http://www.samizdata.net/2013/02/16650/#comment-292671

Liberalism and Nationalism – a fatal 19th century alliance?

Libertarians sometimes say that we are really “classical liberals”, “19th century liberals”.

Of course if I actually found myself in Victorian Kettering my political opinions (against the establishment of a School Board, anti prohibition of booze, hostile to land nationalisation or even taxation…….) would mark me as a “Conservative” indeed an “arch Conservative” or a “blackhearted reactionary Conservative” (which, of course, is exactly what I am).

But let us leave aside these irritating “fact” things, and go off into generalities…..

There was a  strain of 19th century liberalism that was pro freedom (even if I can not find much evidence that it ever existed in Kettering – centre of the universe). Indeed “Liberalism” was the international movement that declared itself pro freedom – dedicated to reducing the size and scope of government.

In Britain such things as 1835 Muncipal Reform Act were intended to sweep away the corrupt Tory dominated closed corporations and lower the rates (the property taxes). Of course the actual result (in Manchester and virtually everywhere else) is that the rates went UP – but the intention was good. And, indeed, such Liberal party leaders as Gladstone really did work to reduce government spending and taxes – and with some success (at least till 1874). And some Conservative party leaders (such as Disraeli) were vile statist ………

However, the major liberal thinkers in Britain in the 19th century (at least the mid to late 19th century) present a confused picture. The thought of people such as J.S. Mill and Walter Bagehot (and so on) seems pro freedom when one first glances at it – but the more one examines it in detail the less pro freedom (pro driving back the size and scope of the state) it is.

But it would take an essay (or book) to show fully what I mean…………………………………………………………..

In Europe and Latin America also “Liberal” meant the party of freedom – but it does get a bit harder to argue the case in practice.

In Latin America “Liberal” basically meant “someone who robs the Church” as that is what Latin American Liberals seem to have concentrated on – with anticlericalism being a sort of religion in-its-self with them. But there were some Liberal (as in freedom) aspects – for example in the 1850s the Columbian Liberals got rid of slavery (also done by Liberal forces in other Latin American countries – the first being Chile in the early years of the 19th century). But there does seem to have been an obsession with “nation building” – with Liberals being associated with state education systems, and “national this” and “national that”.

In Europe the picture is not wonderful either.

In France things are best in terms of what “Liberal” meant – with the French “Liberal School of Political Economy” being solidly libertarian, the Say family, Bastiat and so on. And having a positive influence in the United States (the leading American free market economist of the 19th century was A.L. Perry – a follower of Bastiat). Even as late as the 1920s 1930s Irving Babbit (the leader of the “New Humanism” in literature) was a follower of French civilisation – and an enemy of the statism he associated with German thought.

Hard for us to think of French thinkers as defenders of “capitalist” civilisation – but perhaps we should remember such modern thinkers as Bertrand de Jouvenel and (leaving economics but not the defence of civilisation) Jacques Barzun – who died in Texas last year, the last living link with the old French civilisation, the civilisation that all those left bank degenerates revolted against.

Once French “Liberal School” thinkers (not British thinkers – as British liberal economic thought was a bit of a mess, Walter Baghot, J.S. Mill, Alfred Marshall) were indeed the main counter weight to Germanic statist thought in the United States.  It is only later that the “Austrian School”  took on the antistaist role of the French School in American thought – with, perhaps, the first Amercan thinker to be an open follower of the “Austrian School” being Frank Fetter.

People such as Richard Ely (and his followers “Teddy” Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson) may have wanted to destroy Germany – but only because they wanted to turn the United States into a new (and more extreme) version of Germany. Of course a more extreme version of Imperial Germany was eventually created, but not in the United States (as the Progressives were pushed back by Conservative forces in America) – but by the National Socialists in the 1930s, who adopted many American Progressive ideas (such as the extermination of the “inferior”) which had met determined opposition in the United States itself (almost needless to say, the true evil of the American Progressive movement does not appear in mainstream American history books – where they are presented as true “liberals”).

But in Switzerland, Germany and Italy things were less clear than in France.

In Switzerland – liberalism became associated with centralisation (with the destruction of the independence of the Cantons after the was of 1947 – in order to persecute Catholics, religious persection of the Jesuits may be “Liberal” but it is not libertarian) and the increase in the size and scope of the Central government after the 1874 Constitution – and in stages since then. Although, it should be pointed out, that the 20th century Liberal party in Switzerland was opposed to further centralisation – and was considered the opposite of the Social Democrats who became part of the Swiss govenrment in 1959 (and still are part of the Swiss government).

In Germany things were not good either. German liberalism was obsessed with nationalism. This became clear in 1848 – when the energies of the liberals were entirely devoted to building up a “nation called Germany” (an idea about as positive as the obsession with a “nation called Europe” is now).

Such a “unification” could only lead to higher taxes and so on (because of the reduction of tax and regulation competition between the various polities of the old Germany) – but the liberals (for the most part) did not seem to care about that.

Indeed even the opposition (it is wrong to call it resistance – as the liberals did not fire a shot) to the extra Parliamentary taxation (plundering) of Bismark after 1861 was not opposition to higher taxes as such, but just over who should increase the taxes.

That taxes “had to be” increased, in order to build up the Prussian Army to “unify” Germany (by such things as attacking Denmark, Austria and France……) was taken for granted by most Germans “liberals”. They just wanted to be in charge of doing it.

The Prussian liberals eventually split – into the “National Liberals” (who were Bismark’s slaves – till he turned on them as a “party of Jews”), and the “Progressives” who just went on about “civil liberties” (keeping rather quiet about the private property rights upon which civil liberties really depend) who eventually became the slaves of the Social Democrats (who, it should be remembered, were full socialists in Germany till the conference of 1959 when they moderated their position).

Bismark’s takeover of places such as the Kingdom of Hanover (and the increase in taxes upon the local people) do not seem to have produced much opposition from German Liberals.

Even the later creation of the Prussian Welfare State (with its roots in the “Police State” thinking of Frederick the Great and so on – long before) and Progressive (graduated) income taxation – seem to have only been opposed by a few isolated Liberal thinkers (not the mass of Liberal thought).

It is somewhat of a mircle that the few isolated thinkers that were all that was left of  “economic liberalism” in Germany by the Second World War (in the face of the German “Historical School” effort to wipe them out) were able to lauch such a comeback after World War II – although they were helped by the utter collapse of the National Socialists (the Nazis) and the wretched mess that the international socialists (the Marxists) produced in  East Germany. People (especially Catholic Conservatives) were looking for something else – and the few pro private enterprise (as opposed to Progressive) “liberal” thinkers in Germany provided it.

People (not just big “capitalists”) all sorts of people were looking for ideas that WORKED (a very German demand – as in the positive side of the German spirit) and the, relatively, free market policies offered to Germany from 1948 onwards did work.

And 19th century Italy?

Perhaps worst of all.

Mussolini was to say that his Fascism (all power to the state) was the “opposite of liberalism” (with its desire to reduce the size and scope of the state).

But there is little evidence for this in 19th century Italy (bar a few islolated thinkers) – on the contrary Italian Liberalism was obsessed with “unification”.

What did this mean in practice? In meant language persecution (with places like Venice having Tuscan forced down upon the people – as “standard Italian”), it meant conscription (for example Sicily did not have conscription before “unification”), it meant plundering (of Churches in Rome – and of private banks in Naples, whose wealth went to the new “Italian Treasury”) and it meant HIGHER TAXES.

Taxes in the South of Italy (the old Kingdom of Naples and Sicily) basically doubled – no wonder so many Southern Italians fled their “liberation” to go all the way to the United States. But a century and a half of brainwashing state eduation have made Italians forget all this – and resistance (which lasted for decades in Sicily) is written up as “bandit activity”.

In spite of its high taxes, the Liberal Kingdom of Italy was always on the verge of bankrutpcy – going from pratfall to pratfall till it collapsed in the face of the Fascists in the 1920s.

What to make of all this?

Well Karl Marx had no trouble explaining the contradiction between the pro freedom words of the Liberals and there less than pro freedom actions.

To him liberalism was just an “ideology” representing the “interests of the capitalists” – so governments would do what was in the interests of these “capitalists”.

The trouble with the Marxist account is that it is not true. For example some big business enterprises may have gained by Italian government’s Imperial adventures – but most big business enterprises lost by the high taxation and the messed up national finances.

In Germany Bismark never ruled in the interests of business – on the contrary he secretly subsidized the first socialists (whose movement he only turned against when it became powerful) in order to scare business people into not imposing his high tax policies (it is me or the Reds lads), and the people who followed Bismark were worse than he was. It is always possible to find business enterprises who benefit from statism – but that does not alter the fact that most of “big business” LOSES by it.

So what does explain why liberalism fell so short of its promise?

Anti clericalism is part of it – for example in Germany the Liberals mostly strongly supported Bismark’s “War of Culture” persecution of the Roman Catholics. Hardly a libertarian position – and one that made their own position, as Liberals, an isolated one. After all why should the Catholics support the Liberals when Bismark turned upon the latter as a “party of Jews”? The Liberals had not supported the freedom of the Catholics. And the Catholics (from 1891) fell more and more into forms of economic interventionism of their own – becomming the divided group of people they still are (Catholic “Social Teaching” is actually riven by rival “interpretations”).

But the main factor was the obsession with the “nation”.

Liberals rejected loyality to the old Kings and Princes (or to the little Free Cities) and they certainly rejected loyality to an international Church.

But they had a loyalty of their own – to the new “nation state” (whether in Latin America, Europe, or the “New Nationalism” and “New Freedom” of the American Progressive moverment which corrupted American liberalism – once American liberals had opposed the Progressives, but by the 1920s they had become one and the same, only the most reactionary elements in American life, the American versions of “Colonel Blimp and the old school tie” stood up in defence of Civilisation against the Progressive onslaught of eugenics and other horrors – much as the Hapsburgs, and other such, stood against it in Europe).

This Progressive nationalism (the interests of “the nation”, “the people”), not the “squalid interests of the capitalists”, eventually became the guiding light of liberalism.

But it collapsed in the horror of the unlimited “total wars” – the First World War and the Second World War.

“Well at least liberals have rejected nationalism now Paul”.

Yes they certainly have – so totally that they have forgotten that they were nationalists – and, sadly, they have replaced it with something WORSE.

There was always an elment in the New Liberalism (Progressivism) that was not satisfied with nationalism – after all some nations might collapse into “reactionary” forms of thought (perhaps even such “absurdities” as “natural law” like the more reactionary Catholics, Protestants and Jews).

The most “learned” (in the sense of the vile twisted “wisdom” one gets from, say, studying the works of Sauron – the basis of so much social sciences and humanities work in the universities and schools….) Progressives were never really satisfied with the tup thumping Proto National Statism of someone like “Teddy” Roosevelt – a man whose bark was often worse than his bite – for example he might not with agreement to an argument that blacks were inferior, but exterminate them? not a chance, he “even” used the same toilets as black people – which an “intellectual” such as Woodrow Wilson would never do. Deep down there was still something of the reactionary “gentleman” about T. Roosevelt (for all his Progressive ideas). And there was a fear that such people could never “rise above” the petty and weak ideas of their national traditions.

A true Progressive intellectual (such as Woodrow Wilson) thought on a WORLD scale.

They still worshipped the state – but it was (in their muddy dreams) a WORLD state. With nowhere, anywhere, for the “reactionary” and “inferior” to flee to.

Only a world state could ever truly be the new “God” – to replace the old fashioned (“bearded man in the sky”) view of God, that Progressive “Social Gospel” thought wished to transform into a religion of “the people” and “collective salvation”.

Even Woodrow Wilson never quite “freed himself” from the “moral chains of good and evil” that had been taught to him in childhood – and by the habits of his nation.

Marxism and other developments of international collectivism really made an impact later – cutting off the last links with concepts of “good” and “evil” in terms of personal conduct and honour.

The world state would not be a “state” – it would be “the people” the new “God”. And good would be (as with extreme theological “voluntarism” which is similar to legal and philosophical “Positivism”) whatever served the interests of this new “God” as worked out by the “enlightened elite”. Whether they called themselves, Marxist, Progressive, or “Liberal”.

As terrible as the 19th century alliance between Liberalism and Nationalism was – the 21st century alliance between Liberalism and COLLECTIVIST “internationalism” may prove to be even worse.

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