Saturday, May 4, 2013

Answer Given During a Blog Brawl Elsewhere

James Randi maintains his cult through his "Educational" Foundation, which seems to be dedicated mostly to covering up his many sins.  It's the Scientology of the Scientistic, Randi the El Ron Hubbard of his hucksterism.   He is the Ayn Rand of his own Randians, frequently they're anal Randians.  He's the Lyndon Larouche of his lied to and louche lair of louts. 

It's been a long week, I'm taking the morning off and hope to post tonight.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Oscar Peterson: Clavichord Joe Pass: Guitar

It Ain't Necessarily So


I've gotten bored with the trolling of Steve Simels so I will not be answering him here anymore but at the blog NY Mary started, handed off to him and fled for something productive.  It was probably something like what the oarsman did to the evil queen in The Three Hairs of the Devil.   His act isn't variable enough to maintain interest, as noted here the other day, it doesn't reach the novelty and originality of the late Soupy Sales.  It does remind me of George W. Bush.

If he thinks I'm giving him a link, no. 

Update:  As I knew he would as soon as I answered him at his own blog instead of here, Simels has proven he can't take it.  I will not be posting his comments from now on.  

Upupdate:   Response to an e-mail

Anthony -   Steve Simels is at Eschaton sayi.....

Yeah, whatever. 

People Are Not Machines Machines Don't Have Rights or Moral Obligations

You will probably hear it today, you will almost certainly hear it this week,  "people are hard-wired to..."  In the last couple of decades as materialists presenting their ideological metaphors as neuro- or cognitive science people have been taught to believe that they are "hard-wired" to behave and think and even perceive in the way they do by their "genes", evo-psy has a large hand in it too.  

The common view of  human minds expressed in the media is that "science proves" that we are the "moist robots" of Daniel Dennett, the "lumbering robots" of Richard Dawkins , "computers made of meat"  the phrase used by other materialists.   Even if other expressions are used,  that is the enforced point of view presented by a media, almost certainly as an article of "scientific" faith presented by people who probably couldn't tell you much of anything about genes and what they do or about how computers work.   That it is a belief that is entirely congenial to the corporations they work for as they sell our minds as product to advertisers who see us as units of potential profit might be seen as ironic, considering the passage I'm about to type into this piece, from Computer Power and Human Reason:  From Judgement to Calculation by the eminent and, I would say, prophetic, computer scientist, the late Joseph Weizenbaum


In 1935 Michael Polanyi,  then holder of the Chair of Physical Chemistry at Victoria University of Manchester,  England, was suddenly shocked into a confrontation with philosophical questions that have ever since dominated his life.  The shock was administered by Nicolai Bukharin,  one of the leading theoreticians of th Russian Communist party,  who told Polanyi that "under socialism the conception of science pursued for its own sake would disappear, for the interests of scientists would spontaneously turn to the problems of the current Five Year Plan."  Polanyi sensed then that "the scientific outlook appeared to have produced a mechanical conception of man and history in which there was no place for science itself."  And further that "this conception denied altogether any intrinsic power of thought and thus denied any grounds for claiming freedom of thought."  

I don't know how much time Polanyi thought he would devote to developing an argument for a contrary concept of man and history.  His very shock testifies to the fact that he was in profound disagreement with Bukharin,  therefore that he already conceived of man differently,  even if he could not then give explicit form to his concept.  It may be that he determined to write a counterargument in Bukharin's position,  drawing only on his own experience as a scientist, and to have done with it in short order.  As it turned out,  however, the confrontation with philosophy triggered by Bukharin's revelation was to demand Polanyi's entire attention from then to the present day [c1975]

I recite this bit of history for two reasons.  The first is to illustrate that ideas which seem at first glance to be obvious and simple, and which ought therefore to be universally credible once they have been articulated,  are sometimes buoys marking out stormy channels in deep intellectual seas.  That science is creative, that the creative act in science is equivalent to the creative act in art, that creation springs only from autonomous individuals, as such a simple and, one might think, obvious idea.  Yet Polyani has, as have many others, spent nearly a lifetime exploring, the ground in which it is anchored and the turbulent sea of implications which surrounds it. 

The second reason I recite this history is that I feel myself to be reliving part of it.  My own shock was administered not by any important political figures espousing his philosophy of science, but by some people who insisted on misinterpreting a piece of work I had done.  I write this without bitterness and certainly not in a defensive mood  Indeed, the interpretations I have in mind tended, if anything, to overrate what little I had accomplished and certainly its importance.  No, I recall that piece of work now only because it seems to me to provide the most parsimonious way of identifying the issues I mean to discuss.   

The work was done in the eriod 1964-1966, and was reported in the computer-science literature in January 1966 and August 1967.  To summarize it briefly,  I composed a computer program with which one could "converse" in English.  The human conversationalist partner would type his portion of the conversation on a typewriter connected to a computer, and the computer, under control of my program, would analyze the message that had so been transmitted to it,  compose a response to it in English, and cause the response to be typed on the computer's typewriter.

I chose the name ELIZA for the language analysis program because, like the Eliza of Pygmalion fame,  it could be taught to "speak" increasingly well.  Because the conversations must about something, that is, because they must take place within some context,  the program was constructed in a two-tiered arrangement, the first tier consisting of the language analyzer and the second of a script.  The script is a set of rules rather like those that might be given to an actor who is to use them to improvise around a certain theme.  Thus ELIZA could be given a script to enable it to maintain a conversation about cooking eggs or about managing a bank checking account,  and so on.  Each specific script thus enabled ELIZA to play a specific conversational role. 

For my first experiment, I gave ELIZA a script designed to permit it to play ( and I should realy say parody) the role of a Rogerian psychotherapist engaged in an initial interview with a patient.  The Rogerian psychotherapist is relatively easy to imitate because much of his technique consists of drawing his patient out by reflecting the patients statements back to him.  The following conversation between a young lady ELIZA playing doctor illustrates both the Rogerian technique of encouraging a patient to keep talking and the operation of a computer program ELIZA .  The first to "speak" is the young lady.  The computer's responses are printed entirely in capitals

Men are all like that
They're always bugging us about something or other.
Well, my boyfriend made me come here.
He says I'm depressed much of the time.

... DOCTOR, as ELIZA playing psychiatrist came to be known, soon becoming famous around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,  where it first came into existence, mainly because it was an easy program to demonstrate.  Most other programs could not vividly demonstrate the information-processing power of a computer to visitors who did not already have some specialized knowledge, say of some branch of mathematics.  DOCTOR, on the other hand, could be appreciated on some level by anyone.  Its power as a demonstration vehicle was further enhanced by the fact that the visitor could actually participate in its operation.  Soon copies of DOCTOR, constructed on the basis of my published description of it,  began appearing at other institutions in the United States.  The program became nationally known and even, in certain circles, a national plaything.

The shocks I experience as DOCTOR became widely known and "played" were due principally to three distinct events.

1.  A number of practicing psychiatrists seriously believed the DOCTOR computer program could grow into a nearly completely automatic form of psychotherapy.  Colby et al.* write, for example, 

"Further work must be done before the program will be ready for clinical use.  If the method proves beneficial,  then it would provide a therapeutic took which can be made widely available to mental hospitals and psychiatric centers suffering a shortage of therapists.  Because of the time-sharing capabilities of modern and future computers, several hundred patients an hour could be handled by a computer system designed for this purpose.  The human therapist, involved in the design and operation of this system, would not be replaced, but would become a much more efficient man since his efforts would no longer be limited to the one-to-one patient-therapist ration as now exists."

I had thought it essential, as a prerequisite to the very possibility that one person might help another learn to cope with his emotional problems, that the helper himself participate in the other's experience of those problems and, in large part by way of his own sympathetic recognition of them, himself come to understand them.  There are undoubtedly many techniques to facilitate the therapist's imaginative projection into the patient's inner life.  But that it was possible for even one practicing psychiatrist to advocate that this crucial component of therapeutic process could be entirely supplanted by pure technique - that I had not imagined!  What must a psychiatrist who makes such a suggestion think he is doing while treating a patient,  that he can view the simplest mechanical parody of a single interviewing technique as having captured anything of the essence of a human encounter?  Perhaps Colby et al. give us the required clue when they write;

"A human therapist can be viewed as an information processor and decision maker with a set of decision rules which are closely linked to short-range and long-range goals, ... He is guided in these decisions by rough empiric rules telling him what is appropriate to say and not to say in certain contexts.  To incorporate these processes, to the degree possessed by a human therapist, in the program would be a considerable undertaking but we are attempting to move in this direction."

What can a psychiatrist's image of his patient be when he sees himself, as therapist, not as an engaged human being acting as a healer, but as an information processor following rules, etc." 

Such questions were my awakening to what Polany had earlier called a "scientific outlook that appeared to have produced a mechanical conception of man."  

* Nor is Dr. Colby alone in his enthusiasm for computer administered psychotherapy.   Dr. Carl Sagan, the astrophysicist, recently commented on ELIZA in Natural History, vol. LXXXIV,  "No such computer program is adequate for psychiatric use today, but the same can be remarked about some human psychotherapists.  In a period when more and more people in our society seem to be in need of psychiatric counseling, and when time sharing of computers is widespread,  I can imagine the development of a network of computer psychotherapeutic terminals, something like arrays of large telephone booths, in which, for a few dollars a session, we would be able to talk with an attentive, tested and largely non-directive psychotherapist." 

For anyone who wants to read ahead, the entire Introduction, it has been posted online in pdf format.  There are a number of versions of ELIZA available online.   Those which I have tried would require a large amount of credulous acceptance on the part of the human, though I doubt people in 2013 have become any less credulous about the fact that they are interacting with a machine than those in the mid-60s were.  If anything, people are far more impressed with the far more powerful computers and sophisticated programs and far, far less impressed with people, even in their own minds.   The extent to which that is due to their casual experience with using computers and what influence that has had on the language people use to talk about our minds, I don't know.  I do know that what was commonly believed by people during that time, that people were really thinking, freely choosing, living beings seems to have given way to exactly the mechanical view that Weizenbaum warned about.    As he was surprised to find, it was among scientists who he, and earlier, Polanyi, believed should have known better that the mechanical view of humanity was already more common.   That it was, apparently, acceptable among psychotherapists and psychologists should tell us that there was something seriously wrong with the scientific identity of those academic fields.  I would say that the subsequent decades, as Behaviorism was succeeded by evolutionary psychology, the beliefs, assumptions and attitudes on display, have almost entirely dominated those and other "sciences" dealing with our minds.

I don't think the sci-fi nightmare of us being dictated to by enslaving machines is the problem, though, as scientists in "artificial intelligence" work to give predator drones the ability to "decide" to kill and to carry out those "decisions" that could change in the most drastic way possible.   The more immediate problem is that how people see themselves and, especially, "other people" has an controlling influence on their political choices and how they will react to the choices made by politicians and courts.   Which is why it is even more important to understand the folly of believing people are computers.  Which is why Weizenbaum's book is so important.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Thelonious Monk: Well You Needn't  
Gabriele Toia - Clavichord

Night Thought About Economic Democracy and China

It is possible to consider China since the revolution as being a series of experiments in a large country officially governed by materialists.   First there was the brutality of the imposition of the Communist government, from an admittedly brutal and chaotic series of awful non-communist regimes.  Then there were the horrible famines brought on by the imposition of high theory and science on agriculture.  Tens of millions of people are estimated to have died in those.  Part of that was the importation of Lysenkoism in China but much of it was the inability of lower level communist hacks and lackies to tell higher ups that the great applications of science in service to materialist ideology didn't, somehow, seem to work in reality.   Lysenkoism was abandoned within fifteen years, as it was in the Soviet Union after Stalin died.  The bureaucratic establishment under communism has been perpetuated into today.

Then, I'd guess largely in response to the disasters of the early years of the "Peoples' Republic",  the different horrors of the Cultural Revolution were imposed as a means of maintaining control.  With its large scale bloodshed, enslavement and other horrors.   I don't think that the frequently encountered stories of families forcibly divided into agit-prop dramas for public consumption were merely coincidental.  Any level of competition for loyalty to the governing establishment was seen as a danger to it.  It is an indictment, especially of people allegedly on the left in the West, that the lives of people destroyed in this modern reign of terror, weren't seen as more important than theory, more important than concentrating on the bizarre spectacles of that period and finding them amusing.

Gradually, as the old and true believers died off or became the focus of show trials by those who grabbed the reigns, China abandoned pretensions of "socialism"* for a capitalism that has been brutal and destructive, humanly and environmentally,  on a scale that would be hard to match.  Adding scientific efficiency to the enslavement of humanity and the despoliation of the environment, quite intuitively, turns out to bring even more horrific results.  It's so weird that students of Marx, whose critique of industrial capitalism will stand as his greatest work even as so much else of it lies discredited, didn't get that.   Or maybe they did and, in the belief that moral obligations are scientifically discredited, they went with it.   And here we can indict  the "right" in the West which has had no problem with moving in to make deals turning the "Peoples" Republic" into a vast slave market and industrial brown field, working hand in hand with their "communist" partners, so many of whom became instant billionaires with a vulgarity unmatched by that of the most vulgar "capitalists" our gaudy economics has produced.

For this week, as I turn from encouraging people to read Eddington to promoting Joseph Weizenbaum's great and important and criminally neglected book,  "Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment To Calculation",  I will ask if the current system in Capitalist-Communist China, isn't a continuing experiment in capitalism with the, admittedly imperfect, moral restraints of religion removed and what that means for people and the biosphere.  If the new atheists' prophesy of an atheist West comes true, it might be a window into our future.

*  I put socialism in quotes because that word has come to mean something quite different from what socialism should have always meant.   When I said "I'm a socialist" I meant nothing except that the means of production rightfully belong to those who use them to produce wealth and not to investors who, through legalized theft, are illegitimately given legal ownership of them.  That turns workers into equipment as it steals the tangible product that they produce, allowing the "owners" to turn them out and ship their jobs to slave labor markets in places such as China.

"Socialism", in that meaning of the word must be democratic, socialism is an aspect of democracy. No political system which is not, actually, democratic could possibly sustain workers' ownership of the means of production.  Some form of theft on behalf of investors will always succeed where democracy is absent.  I would almost guarantee that, as in the United States, the extent to which investors are allowed to steal the products of other peoples' work that democracy can be dependably regarded as being absent.

The appropriation of the word by fascists, both of the "right wing" and "left wing" variety, has made it unusable.  I'm in favor of finding a term that will separate real socialism from what most people mean when they use the word.   "Economic democracy" seems to me to be the best expression of what I meant when I have said I was a socialist.   If I'd said I was an "economic democrat"  from the beginning I might have avoided being willfully blind to the horrors of so much of the brutal history of communist rule and the moral depravity of so much of the pseudo-left here and in Europe.   So, in my very late middle age, I go from being a "socialist" to being an economic democrat,  changing nothing except common misunderstanding and a label.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Remains Of The Day

From "The Cool Ones"

Tantrum A-go-go

Does the Flying Spaghetti Monster Exist?

Updated Below

In my never ending quest to provide service to my readers I now go the extra mile and respond to  my most obvious non-reader, the washed-up pop-music scribbler, Steve Simels.  Or, at least, the person who posts comments here as "Steve Simels".   Since someone using that same name has been caught by different people using other identities in order to attack people, on a number of  blogs - me being one of those-  it's possible that the "Steve Simels" who has been trolling me here isn't the washed-up pop-music scribbler but some other witzbold  in his own mind who is assuming his identity for some purpose.   Which would be called "satire" if someone with the technical ability traced him, or his sock puppets, to a less deniable identity.  Though it would be surprising if someone voluntarily chose him to impersonate.  It would be like  choosing Cisco Red or MD 20/20 when you could choose something a bit higher up on the wine list at the convenience store.

Now, to start with, and, I suspect to his bitter disappointment, I wouldn't hold that Steve Simels is God.  Though such an hypothesis might help us to understand The Problem of Pain and other such mysteries if that were the case, the theory fails on other tests.   Such a god would have to be demoted far down from all knowing, all wise, and any number of other, partial definitions of God as believed in by most believers.   The sometimes ventured speculation that God had a sense of humor would have to go too.  I mean, God would have to have more of a sense of humor than someone who can't even come up to the level of Soupy Sales and Stubby Kaye.  Not even by stealing their material.  Soupy had some sense of timing, mostly when to not repeat the pie in the face for the 98,457th time in order to avoid his audience noticing it had gotten unacceptably old .   If I had a dime for every time that "Steve Simels" has pulled out the lamest of lame satirical cliches, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I'd be able to bribe the guy with the hook to get him off stage permanently.

God, the creator of the universe is definitely beyond human definition, as is the universe.

I will pause here to point out that any human conception of God, individually or collectively,  is inevitably incomplete and inadequate.  In that sense, any idea we have about God might be reasonably considered an idol.  Forgetting human inability to conceive of God leads religion and the religious into some of their most serious sins.

Now, remember one of my proudest achievements, getting Sean Carroll to admit that there was not a single object, not the most humble and common molecule, atom or subatomic particle, which physics knows comprehensively and exhaustively.  Since physics doesn't know even one object in the universe completely, it will not soon encompass the entire universe no matter how fashionable the talk of a "Theory of Everything" is among the trendy and sciency.  I think that when someone claims to have one of those, even as it is taught as such at universities around the world and touted by science reporters who don't have the foggiest idea of what it really means, it will be a relatively short time before the holes, lapses and discrepancies in that materialist desideratum are identified.  There will be lots of physicists with the ability to understand the issues who will be wanting to make a name for themselves.   With them on the case, I have a feeling that the expiration date of theories of everything will be rather briefer than the Newtonian Universe was when, as I mentioned last week, Lord Kelvin declared the first End of Physics in the 19th century.

The universe, the creation of God would seem to not be entirely comprehensible by the brightest of the Brights, so many of who don't seem to understand the wisdom of being rather more modest about their products than they are.   Eddington understood the problem of overestimating how much of even the physical universe was vulnerable to discovery by human abilities.   In a quote already given here he said:

It is one thing for the human mind to extract from the phenomena of nature the laws which it has itself put into them; it may be a far harder thing to extract laws over which it has had no control It is even possible that laws which have not their origin in the mind may be irrational and we can never succeed in formulating them.

Reason is a means of people to make reliable assumptions about the nature of their world of sense. It is applied to levels of the universe that aren't vulnerable to our everyday senses and used to construct ways of understanding things at those levels, with some success, though often with far less than complete success.  What often gets included in the corpus of ideas held to comprise "science" is later found to be, as they say, mistaken.   Often reason lets us down, often due to reliance on incomplete knowledge or understanding, it's no better than the people applying it and their ability to understand what they see.  And no one can see more than they can.  Reason has limits.

As Eddington says, there might well be "laws" of the universe that are irrational - that is not vulnerable to discovery by human reason -  and which would always elude our reason.  Always.  It's pretty amusing to think about that when you consider how many of the true believers that we are on the verge  of the day when the great and true Theory of Everything, never stop asserting that we're just like other animals or, even worse, computers who I doubt they'd suspect have the capacity to even observe, never mind understand the entire universe.  I mean, even if you've got a really groovy and powerful computer, do you not find it often doesn't seem to even understand its own instructions?   I'm extremely skeptical of the plainly absurd idea that science hasn't rendered us quite different from other animals, and, having eaten from that tree of most efficacious knowledge, far more capable of depravity and the most irrational acts of murder and destruction.   But I really don't think we're more capable of a comprehensive observation of the universe than a bacterium that shows some response to its environment.   Comprehensive means, well,  absolutely comprehensive.  Anything that isn't comprehended could not be included in the "everything" in a "Theory of EVERYTHING".

Since it would seem to be wise to be skeptical of the idea that even such Big Thinkers as Sean Carroll are on the verge of understanding the entire universe, the idea that they understand God who created the universe, would seem to be even less wise.   Even the most popular current hero of physics and cosmology, Steven Hawking, hasn't got that ability.  As Peter Woit has pointed out, he's given up* on the quest to explain even physical reality,  demanding to change the rules to remove the exigencies of the subject of physics as a test for the ideas of "physicists".

We seem to be at a critical point in the history of science, in which we must alter our conception of goals and of what makes a physical theory acceptable. It appears that the fundamental numbers, and even the form, of the apparent laws of nature are not demanded by logic or physical principle. The parameters are free to take on many values and the laws to take on any form that leads to a self-consistent mathematical theory, and they do take on different values and different forms in different universes.

or, considering the proposal to replace the verifiable physical universe with sci-fi written in equations, once they've divorced the observable universe from their "discipline, at least people who get called "physicists" for purposes of filling important chairs at important universeities.   It was reading Hawking's recent stuff that convinced me physics, though likely not at an end, was certainly well into a decadent phase.  I suspect it is exactly the Cervantine cosmological quest for what can't be had which has helped lead it there.  Even as modest, sober and aware a scientist as Eddington made a more modest version of that mistake with his Fundamental Theory, and Hawking and Carroll ain't exactly modest.  That the quest to use physics, the study of the physical universe, in the attempted hit job on God, is done by some of the same guys doesn't give my powers of deduction much of a workout.

If the Big Thinkers of atheism can't come up with what is necessary to convince people to give up God, I doubt that Bobby Henderson's claim to fame will do it.  Flying Spaghetti Monster is pretty lame satire, even by pop-atheist standards.  So, after making Simels suffer through skimming through this piece in search of references to himself,  FSM exists as a really stupid example of what gets called satire in this post-literate age, more like something a 5th grader might scribble out in a fantasy of him eating the mean teacher who gave him a D - on his history paper.   It doesn't eat the teacher and it doesn't eat God.  No more than Hawking's imaginary universes "not demanded by logic or physical principle".   If physics doesn't have to follow the exigencies of those, and as committed a "naturalist" as Sean Carroll doesn't have any objection to it, their war machine against God and religion has disappeared.  Though it seems that they're even willing to sacrifice physical science in their quest to do that.

* David Gross has in the past invoked the phrase “never, never, never give up”, attributed to Churchill, to describe his view about claims that one should give up on the traditional goals of fundamental physics in favor of anthropic arguments invoking a multiverse. Steven Hawking has a new book out this week, called The Grand Design and written with Leonard Mlodinow, in which he effectively announces that he has given up:

"We seem to be at a critical point in the history of science, in which we must alter our conception of goals and of what makes a physical theory acceptable. It appears that the fundamental numbers, and even the form, of the apparent laws of nature are not demanded by logic or physical principle. The parameters are free to take on many values and the laws to take on any form that leads to a self-consistent mathematical theory, and they do take on different values and different forms in different universes."

Thirty years ago, in his inaugural lecture as Lucasian professor, Hawking took a very different point of view. He argued that we were quite close to a final unified theory, based on N=8 supergravity, with a 50% chance of complete success by the year 2000. A few years after this, N=8 supergravity fell into disfavor when it was shown that supersymmetry was not enough to cancel possible ultraviolet divergences in the theory. There has been a recent revival of interest as new calculational methods show unexpected and still not completely understood additional cancellations that may fully eliminate ultraviolet divergences. Hawking shows no interest in this, instead signing on to the notion that “M-theory” is the theory of everything. The book doesn’t even really try to explain what “M-theory” is, we’re just told that:

"People are still trying to decipher the nature of M-theory, but that may not be possible. It could be that the physicist’s traditional expectation of a single theory of nature is untenable, and there exists no single formulation. It might be that to describe the universe, we have to employ different theories in different situations"

The book ends with the argument that

Our TOE must contain gravity.
Supersymmetry is required to have a finite theory of gravity.
M-theory is the most general supersymmetric theory of gravity.

M-theory is the unified theory Einstein was hoping to find. The fact that we human beings – who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature – have been able to come this close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our universe is a great triumph.

This isn’t exactly an air-tight argument…

UPDATE:  I don't know if the urgent e-mail I just got demanding that I change the reference of  Stubby Kaye to Dennis Miller, on threat of a lawsuit, is authentic.  I will stipulate that it wouldn't work because "Simels" can match Dennis Miller.  I'd assert that he doesn't appear to have much of a choice, in that.  I've never seen Simels,  though I wonder if he and Miller have ever been seen together.   Anyone know?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Claude Debussy: Sonata for Cello and Piano

Janos Starker: Cello
Maximillian Pilzer: Piano

In Memory of Janos Starker

I didn't know till this afternoon that the great cellist, Janos Starker had died.  In a century that produced some really great cellists, he was unique in his ability to turn self-restraint into enormous expression.  Not expression on his behalf but on behalf of the composers whose music he played.  His Bach playing is famous for avoiding the excesses that most bring to it, his recording of the Kodaly Sonata is the best one I'm aware of.   His playing of the Brahms e minor Sonata Op. 38 is wonderful.  In the middle minuet playing, when he is in an accompaniment role he, somehow, manages to dominate things by enhancing the main voice, played by  Gyorgy Sebok.   Wonderful ensemble playing, very special.   There was no more dignified master of the cello.

"Why Do You Hate Atheists"?

So asks someone who was steered to my blog during the Randi series.   "Hate" isn't the right   word.  There are some atheists who I downright revere, Richard Lewontin,  Joseph Weizenbaum (who I will be drawing on for a series of posts), my dear old Latin teacher who I fully expect was surprised when he was welcomed into eternal life after years of goading me with Russell era atheist bromides.  So, I don't hate atheists.  I even learn some worth while things from them.  Even after  the past ten years of being exposed to the tsunami of atheist hate talk and some of the most self-regarding, arrogant and dishonest ignorance from a single, self-identified group in recent history, I don't regard atheists as being, uniformly, a group of total assholes.   Though so many of them turn out to be, in the end.

What I do hate is the psychotic ideology of materialism that is prepared to destroy the only redeeming features of humanity, the only good things about us,  on behalf of a pretty stupid belief, out of their personal preferences and theophobia.   If I didn't fully believe that the history of the 20th century ran a series of massive experiments in materialistic atheism in various societies around the world, proving its uniformly homicidal and ecocidal results I'd probably have never never bothered to continue writing about it.  When I wrote my first piece about atheism seven years ago, I thought of it solely in terms of political stupidity, of a tiny fraction, allegedly of the left, insisting on insulting and alienating an enormous percentage of the voting population.   It was in researching that issue, in facing the history of atheist governance, of the coercive atheist domination of the political left in the West, and other issues that I've come to the conclusion that it is, most typically, destructive of a real left that is a real alternative to what is generally considered to be the right.

I don't think a real left can exist on the basis of materialism.  I don't think anything but a non-materialistic view of life can produce the alternative to a view of people in terms of economic utility and exploitation.   And even that is no guarantee.  Resisting selfishness and its temptations into depravity is hard enough when you believe moral obligations are real and will have real consequences.  A society where an insufficient number of people really believe that is guaranteed be a depraved society.  I'll bet you everything I could possibly ever own on that point.   The past two weeks of listening to the genteel, soft handed,  big thinkers of "Moving Naturalism Forward" has reinforced my belief in that point.

Since the theme of my writing is in how the left can regain the strength and commitment required for it to gain power, to improve real lives and sustain life on the planet,  I don't have any alternative but to oppose the materialist, atheist pseudo-left that has been bringing the left down since the 18th century.

I will not go into the irony of being called out as a hater by a fan of James Randi, the cult figure of one of the most hate drenched websites online.   Well, not other than to say that.

Update:  I just noticed I mistyped.  Joseph Weinberg is a friend, who doesn't happen to be an atheist.  Joseph Weizenbaum is who I intend to crib.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Mable Hillary  

How Long's This Train Been Gone? 

When You Say "It Exists" What Do You Really Mean?

Or, more often these days, when someone says something "doesn't exist"?

I think it was a hot afternoon in the fourth grade, in a room silent except for the rubbing of graphite on paper, that, as I wrote the word, I suddenly realized I couldn't say what the word "when" means.   It stopped me short as I started trying to think of how I would explain what the word means.  As I came up with several attempts, only to realize they weren't adequate,  I started laughing uncontrollably.   I never explained why.  Luckily, our teacher had a rather sharp sense of humor, herself, so I didn't get into trouble.  Maybe she thought it was the heat.

We throw around so many words we couldn't possibly define, many of those as common place and high up in the corpus or words by frequency of use.  I'd guess a lot of those would be as hard to define, many, such as the articles, are especially abstract in denotation though seldom misused.  Except in writing.  It's my experience that, looking at something a week after your final edit that it will be the prepositions and conjunctives that you neglected to change.    Here is part of what Eddington wrote about one of those words in his lecture, "The Concept of Existence"  from The Philosophy of Physical Science

I find a difficulty in understanding books on philosophy because they talk a great deal about "existence",  and I do not know what they mean.  Existence seems to be a rather important property, because I gather that one of the main sources of division between different schools of philosophy is the question of whether certain things exist or not.  But I cannot even begin to understand these issues, because I can find no explanation of the term "exist".

The word "existence" is, of course, familiar in everyday speech;  but it does not express a uniform idea - a universally agreed principle according to which things can be divided into existing and non-existing.   Difference of opinion as to whether a thing exists or not sometimes arises because the thing itself is imperfectly defined,  or because the exact implications of the definition have not been grasped;  thus the "real existence" of electrons, aether, space, colour, may be affirmed or denied because different persons use these terms with somewhat different implications.  But ambiguity of definition is not always responsible for the difference of view.  Let us take something familiar, say an overdraft at a bank.  No one can fail to understand precisely what that means.  Is an overdraft something which exists?  If the question were put to a vote,  I think some would say that its existence must be accepted as a grim reality,  and others would consider it illogical to concede existence to what is intrinsically a negation.  But what divides the two parties is no more than a question of words.  It would be absurd to divide mankind into two sects,  the one believing in the existence of overdrafts and the other denying their existence.  The division is a question of classification, not of belief.  If you tell me your own answer,  I shall not learn anything new about the nature or properties of an overdraft;  but I shall learn something about your usage of the term "exists"  -  what category of things you intend it to cover.

It is a primitive form of thought that things either exist or do not exist;  and the concept of a category of things possessing existence results from forcing our knowledge into a corresponding frame of thought.  Everyone does this instinctively;  but there are borderline cases in which all do not employ the same criteria,  as an example of the overdraft shows.  A philosopher is not bound by traditional or instinctive conventions to the same extent as a layman; and when he similarly expresses his knowledge in this primitive frame of thought, it is impossible to guess what classificatory system he will adopt.  It would be rather surprising if all philosophers adopted the same system.  In any case I do not see why such a mystery should be made of it,  nor how an arbitrary decision as to the classification to be adopted has come to be transformed into a fervid philosophical belief.

I do not want to make sweeping charges on the basis of a very limited reading of philosophy.  I am aware that in the recondite works the meaning of the term is sometimes discussed.  But, after all, philosophers do occasionally write for the layman;  and some of them seek to repel the scientific invader in language which he is supposed to understand.  What I complain of is that these writers do not seem to realise that the term "exist", if they do not explain the meaning they attach to it, must necessarily be as bewildering to the scientists  as, for example, the term "curvature of space", if left unexplained, would be to the philosopher.  and I think it is not an unfair inference from this omission that they themselves attach more importance to the word than to its meaning.  

It is not every sentence containing the verb " to exist" that troubles me,.  The term is often used in an intelligible way.  for me ( and, it appears, also for my dictionary) "exists" is a rather emphatic form of "is".  "A thought eists in somebody's mind," i.e. a thought is in somebody's mind - I can understand that.  " A state of war exists in Ruritania,"  i.e. a state of war is in Ruritania -  not very good English, but intelligible.  but when a philosopher says "Familiar chairs and tables exist", i.e. familiar chairs and tales are....,  I wait for him to conclude.  Yes:  What were you going to say they are?  But he never finishes the sentences/  and I do not know what to make of it. 

Speech is often elliptical,  and I do not mind unfinished sentences if I know how they are meant to be finished.  "A horrible noise exists"  presumably is intended to be completed in such form as " A horrible noise is- disturbing me".  But that is not how the philosopher intends me to complete his unfinished statement. "noises actually exist " - and I really have no idea what completion he does intend.  I myself, when I am not intimidated by the existence* of critics determined to make nonsense of my words if it is possible to do so, often say that atoms and electrons exist.  I mean, of course, that they exist - or are - in the physical world,  that being the theme of discussion in the context.  We need not examine the precise ellipsis by which a mathematician says that the root of an equation exists, when he means that the equation has a root;  it is sufficient to say that he has no idea of putting forward a claim to include the root of a mathematical equation in the category of things which philosophers speak of as "really existing".  

In the preceding chapters I have discussed a number of things which exist in the physical universe;  that is to say, that are in, or are parts of the physical universe.  We have seen that "to exist in",  even in the equivalent expression " to be part of", is not free from ambiguity,  and is made definite only by the conventions discussed in connection with the concept of analysis.  The question whether the physical universe itself exists has not arisen.  I have, in fact, avoided saying that it exists - which would be an unfinished sentence.  Ordinarily it would be unnecessary to be so particular.  The existence or non-existence of things is a primitive form of thought; and, if I had used the term, it would mean no more than that I was forcing our observational knowledge into such a frame** as it is forced into several other frames that we have discussed.  Knowing, however that as philosophers we must seek to get behind these forms of thought,  I have thought it best in this book to avoid introducing it even temporarily.

* No;  you have not caught me this time.  The critics intimidate me just as much, whether philosophy concedes to them "real existence" or not.

** If we wish the assertion to mean more than the expression of a primitive form of thought, we say "really exists".

Of course, my motive in typing this out is related to the past several posts on the debunking of morality, free will and consciousness.  It is also related to the frequently angry or mockingly derisive claims of the non-existence of God or any other entity that the materialistic atheist takes up so much of our attention with.   In her popular book, A History of God,  Karen Armstrong introduced many people to the rather startling fact that many religious mystics have held that God doesn't exist, or, rather, God doesn't merely exist, that to say that God exists is to put the category of existence over God,  they reject the human practice of assigning a defined limit to God who is held to be above all possibilities such as those.   I am sure that atheists with a broad enough corpus of locutions would mouth the logical positivists' pat phrases declaring that idea to be nonsense and so meaningless.  I take that to be a demonstration of their being naive of the fact that logical positivism died a rather definitive death as a viable intellectual frame years and even decades before most of them were born.

In what I've been interested in, the moral and political entities - equality, rights, moral obligations, free will, consciousness - all of those are non-material entities, all of them, admittedly, not demonstrable with science or mathematics, none of them having any physical, but moral consequences in the world, which also entirely elude the one and only net that modern atheism asserts exists,  causation as can be demonstrated with physical science.   Their one and true oracle whose decisions are absolute and true.

Only, as Eddington pointed out the variable rigor with which people make definitive statements about things existing depends on context.  If those same materialists have a notion that they are the victims of an infringement on their rights, the reality of those things are asserted by them to be so concretely existing that everyone must act, now, to grant them relief.  They demand their rights to everything from suppressing all public talk of God and religion,  parents talking to their own children about religion  and to their right to have you cast your next ballot for an atheist candidate, whose right to your vote, even against your will, seems to be held to have an absolute existence.  Though, as I've mentioned, that would seem to be a right that is, somehow, absent from Biblical fundamentalists or even moderate or liberal evangelicals.  I'd love to have someone assert their rights to public office in an appropriate grouping of atheists.

Funny how often it's "different" when it's their preferences in question.  Where do their strongly held, scientifically asserted negations go then?  Did their rigorous assertions that free will, morals, etc. are illusions if not delusions,  really exist?

Update:  When I say that equality, rights, moral obligations, have no physical effects in the world, I didn't mean that there weren't the most obvious physical effects which the human species have produced when the reality of those is denied.  Piles of corpses result when the existence of those is rejected, though the possible non-existence of the similarly immaterial motives in murdering tens and hundreds of millions don't seem to trouble materialists or alleged non-materialists to the extent that they prevent murders.   I have come to find that it is far easier to disbelieve that the allegedly religious mass murderer's professions of faith are sincere than that they somehow forget what they allegedly believe to obviously violate it.   People who don't follow the words of Jesus to not kill and oppress people should be suspected of not really believing he spoke with divine authority.  That murderers might have no scruples about lying when it serves their purpose doesn't seem an unreasonable idea, to me.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Culture In a Eutrophic State: Where Intellectuals Debunk The Intellect

I've been dealing with the "Moving Naturalism Forward" discussion of free will and consciousness during a week ill suited to my writing about it.  It being allergy season, I've been typing under the influence of Benadryl for the past week.   Worse, I've been listening to the bizarre and frequently incoherent materialist wrecking crew using their intellectual resources to tear down the equipment with which they are trying to wreck it.   I can't get an image of the Ship of Fools out of my mind, and I don't think it's just the Benadryl.

Ususally, when I talk about materialism or its more modern guises of "naturalism" or "physicalism" I call it an ideology.   Often to objections by materialists who don't like the idea that they are ideologues. You see, they've got the truth.  Science tells them so.  But, after reading and interacting with materialists during this past decade, when atheism has been fashionable, it would be just as accurate to call it a faith.   Even worse, to them, perhaps, it is a religious faith with its own oracles of truth and its own moral code of conduct and nagging, scrupulous prohibition squad.

If taken as an intellectual stand, materialism has to count as one of the most decadent of those in the recorded history of culture.   That is obvious in what has to be given up to believe in materialism.  As can be seen in "Moving Naturalism Forward",  modern materialism, allegedly based in science,  is most effective in denying the reality of things.  It has been used to deny the reality of morality, free will, even consciousness, itself, the most basic thing which our experience can know is real through its self-awareness.  It holds that people, even those who have never been accused of irrationality,  can't trust their own perceptions or their own conclusions about those.   It denies that our minds are anything but epiphenomena of chemistry and, ultimately, physics, the results of which are entirely dependent on the determinism of chemistry and physics, not on the truth of that product.   But you can't debunk peoples' minds without debunking its products, the articulations of those minds or the perceptions on which those articulations are based.  And you can't exempt your own thoughts while insisting that is the case.

As I've pointed out, the "laws of physics" are the products of human minds, through human observation  Yet these same people who spend so much of their thinking time debunking all other aspects of human thought present those "laws" as being superior and in control of the minds which construct them from those observations.  Obviously there is a problem with that idea. It is far more of a  problem than the original Hubble Microscope mirrors having been miscalculated and unable to present a clear view of its subject.   There is no way to selectively separate the validity of the product of human minds into the good and the bad on the basis of these science-based mind- debunkers' preference.  No subject of thought, including those of these materialists, can be exempt from their proposed origin of thoughts.  Materialist determinism of our minds is an absolute system, admitting no exceptions.  To exempt the laws of physics from it would be to entirely negate the ideology.

I'm sure all of these collected debunkers would scorn people who disbelieve that evolution is true.  The scorn of evolution deniers is an absolute requirement of intellectual respectability, perhaps even an act of merit, if not a moral requirement.  Which is, perhaps, as should be.  Evolution is true if any part of science is, as Stephen J. Gould said, it is the idea in science most massively supported by evidence in many different areas*.

But while ridiculing those who find it hard or impossible to believe in evolution, we ignore that when we talk about evolution we are talking about a human idea not based in direct observation or experience.  It is an obscure natural phenomenon  happening over time periods that preclude any direct human observation or experience.   Evolution - the human science, not the natural phenomenon-  is hardly visible or susceptible to human experience.  It is, entirely, the product of human thinking based on a number of indirect human observations, many of those based in rather tenuous analysis and expressed in metaphors.

And evolution is very far from vitally important to anyone who doesn't work in biological topics related to that study.  For most people, who these materialists hold MUST BELIEVE IN EVOLUTION, it is as important as some of the more esoteric topics of mathematics or Etruscan history. For all of the ideological strife over it, it is a less important topic for a high school biology class than how to avoid spreading and contracting infectious diseases, what the organs  in their bodies that might become diseased are and how those function, etc.   I have never heard much outrage expressed by these sciency types at the massive ignorance of biological topics that might lead to actual harm to the lives of real people.

Yet these same, highly credentialed, people, who endlessly mock and ridicule people over something none of them could experience insist that they disbelieve their own lives, their own experiences, to disbelieve that they make their own decisions and choices, insisting that they distrust their perceptions and their own conclusions.   And they rage furiously when most people refuse to find materialist-atheist-"Skeptical"  debunkery more credible than their own experience.   All while they obviously exempt their own, materialist, ideas from the necessary conclusion drawn from their own ideology.

A lot of the time was spent in these discussions pretending that we know that dualism is wrong when that is not known but is believed on the basis of materialism.  The idea that we may have minds independent of our brains is repugnant to these true believers.   But in doing what they do they create a dualism between minds which are not to be trusted, belonging to other people and their minds, but only when it suits the materialists to hold that.   Their opponents, those who believe their experiences and come to conclusions these guys don't like are the dupes of faulty chemistry and biology and environmental influences.   But those who, like them, hold virtuous ideas, see things clearly.  It doesn't seem much different from the same kind of dualism in the scriptures of Zoroastrianism, dividing the universe of human thought between the light and the dark.

In their zeal to insist on THE TRUTH of materialism, though, the materialists have to exempt many ideas - from the "laws of physics" on up  - from the vississitudes of their "brain only" model.  Those ideas they like, those perceptions they approve of, cannot escape their debunkery except among other true believers and those too ignorant to understand the problem.   Most of the atheists I've encountered over the past ten years would certainly fall into the second category, though, after listening to these big thinkers of "naturalism" I wonder if all of them might not belong there as well.   They don't seem to be aware of the full implications of their ideology and their negligence in applying it to their preferred ideas.  Among those is the inevitable undermining of science which can't rise above the minds which produce it.  And I don't think it's the Benadryl that is leading me to that conclusion.

* I, of course, accept that evolution is true as a natural phenomenon accounting for diversity of life.   I am far more skeptical that the state of knowledge in what is, undoubtedly, about the most massively complex phenomenon that scientists propose to study on the extremely fragmentary evidence available, is at more than a preliminary stage.  I find that the more I think about natural selection, the more I read about it, the more skeptical I am of the belief it is an actual thing, an actual force of nature on the same level as physical law.   I simply do not believe that any law could cover every life of the billions and billions of organisms that either did or didn't successfully leave a line of descendants is reducible to an economic analysis.  I believe that natural selection probably acts as a filter and a directive channel that forces even very tenuous assertions of natural selection while excluding other possibilities from even getting a hearing.  I believe that a large part of the reason for that is the widespread use of natural selection to attack religion, beginning with debunking the stories in Genesis but continuing down to the denial of morality and the debasement of consciousness into a mere mechanism at the service of natural selection.   I think evolution is a far, far more complex reality than human culture could ever master.

Notice that Bosch put a monk in the boat.   During his time universities were religious institutions, monks were far more likely to have been educated than even members of the relatively affluent class.   It makes me think of Paul Feyerabend's famous statement
The younger generation of physicists, the Feynmans, the Schwingers, etc., may be very bright; they may be more intelligent than their predecessors, than Bohr, Einstein, Schrödinger, Boltzmann, Mach, and so on.  But they are uncivilized savages, they lack in philosophical depth.
I wouldn't accuse any of those at the Naturalism workshop I'm familiar with of being in the same category as Bohr, Einstein or Schrödinger .  Or Feynman, for that matter.