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Sunday, September 05, 2010

I became aware of Alan Fletcher's book "The Art of Looking Sideways" when it was first published in 2001, and though I've still not read it, the term stuck with me. I eventually came to associate it with a technique for thinking about "hard" problems that I'd always used in some form, but that subsequently became more refined and deliberate once I had a term for it. So while I suspect that much of what I will describe will have some similarity to Fletcher's work, this really has nothing directly to do with it aside from that wonderfully useful term.

By "hard" problems, I meant, at least in part, those question in philosophy and its ugly stepsister, politics, that have seemingly defied conclusive answers, and have certainly defied widely accepted consensus answers. But it also means any problem one is having difficulty coming up with an answer for by the usual means, whether in science, computer programming, personal finance, relationships, wherever such problems arise.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

In self-teaching a variety of subjects (including the one I am currently employed with), Iíve come across several common obstacles. Even the best self-learning materials fail to address all of these consistently, and it is one of the most difficult things about learning a subject on oneís own.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Timmy Geithner, who plays Obama's Secretary of the Treasury on TV, was laughed out of China yesterday. Here's a quick summation of some of Timmy's other recent public appearances:

It would appear that the Chinese are taking my advice seriously.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A pair of Jehova's Witnesses left my doorstep just now, one of them having promised to read Atlas Shrugged. It took about 20 minutes. He may never read it - I have no idea how seriously Witnesses take such promises - but if not, he may just keep wondering whether he should.

The one before that was a 17 year old kid, a few months ago. He told me, after more than an hour, that I was a good teacher. To which I responded "that's the best way to learn". I must have used up his entire time allotment at the park, since the van came by shortly after to pick him back up. Watching him climb into the van, I'm convinced that he'd be asking some tough questions, if not of his handlers, then of himself.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Damn straight

Billy's one of the most educated people I know. If you read enough of his comments here and there, or even just look at how the little "off the shelves" blurb at the top of his blog changes over time, you get a sense of the depth of his reading. I won't go all gushy and say "he taught me everything I know", mostly because it's not true - I've done a hell of a lot of it on my own, and from picking little bits here and there from a lot of people, and figuring out how they all fit together - but I have learned a hell of a lot from him.

His "crazy" idea to hang out a shingle as "Philosopher at Large" isn't so crazy. Back when I was involved in Second Life, I considered doing just that in there, for pay. The problem with doing it in "First Life" is that there's probably a total of about 14 adults in my town who would even consider such a thing, and so the internet is a much more target-rich environment.

On the other hand, I've had some recent contact with the local homeschoolers. I decided to clean out my bookshelves - there simply isn't room to even store the entire collection - and so I donated 12 file boxes full of them to the group. It got me thinking that they are probably a market for just this sort of thing. I was thinking more in terms of teaching some C++, or at least basic programming, but they'd probably eat up some formal teaching in philosophy, or even informal discussions. And I've still got enough books left to run a lending library to some tens of these intelligent kids.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Just a quick note, regarding some arguments I've been watching around...

A position, even the most obstinately held one, is not a principle. Principles support positions. Principles are facts that can be traced all the way back, with the best logic you can muster, to things you can see, touch, taste, smell or hear, with your very own eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin. "Gun rights" is no more a principle, and no less a mere position, than "Britney Spears is, like, the best singer evurrrrr!". except that only one of them is based on true principles.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

There is much truth here, and much childishness. But hey, there's worse crimes than childishness.

I may have spoken positively of Molyneux at some point in the past. I probably didn't, because there were plenty of red flags prior to fully figuring him out, but if so, I apologize for misleading. After a short while, I pretty much pegged him the same as the guys at the link, and promptly forgot all about him. Just remember that, when he makes the news some day.

See why first hand.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

It got very nasty over there at SOLO. (Comments are in reverse order, newest first, so scroll down and click "last" if you want to read from the start.)

It's usually the case that there's one guy who is as slimy as they come, wants to be the alpha male, and continually tries to cover his malice with pleas for civility and, in this case "benevolence". If you want the details, go read the thread, I told him all about it, and there's no need to repeat it here.

As nasty as it got, I was always alert for rational argument - it's the reason I do things like this, not to convince the slimeballs, but to find the ones who can rise above it. I was rewarded in that as well.

What they don't know about me, and, to be honest, I gave them little explicit reason to believe it, is that I am sometimes convinced by these arguments. But you'd think that lawyer-boy over there would be familiar with the adversarial approach to finding truth, as it is the basis for his profession.

I used to be involved in a forum that was frequently got very close to these levels of vitriol, but my participation went on for years. I was wet behind the ears then, in the art of internet argument, and made some mistakes, but I think I did pretty well overall.

There was one case where an argument very much like the one at SOLO raged for, I don't know, it must have been weeks, and on the very same subject, minarchy vs anarchy. Except I was then on the minarchy side.

There was one guy, Eric something, I have no idea who he is anymore, who I went around with over and over again. It got heated, but I do recall that it stayed rational and largely impersonal. One day, in the kind of frustration I fully understand now, he told me that he was done with me, that I was beyond the reach of rational argument.

I responded with something like the following: "That's too bad, because you were two, at most three posts from convincing me. But that's OK, I can do the rest on my own. " And I did. I was convinced.

Except that I wasn't, at least not as fully as I thought I was at the moment. For years, I went back and forth over the fence from minarchist to anarchist, without settling on a satisfying reason to decide one or the other was clearly correct.

I was OK with that, these things take time, and it wasn't like I had to make a life-or-death decision based on it any time soon. Meanwhile, I had spent a lot of time pondering, arguing, and studying objectivism and related philosophies, as well as figuring some stuff out on my own.

One day I sat down with pen and paper, and collected the various pieces I had put together. I started with "Reality exists, consciousness exists, and A is A", which I still believe to be the fundamental basis of all philosophy. But I did something more, something Rand never did, and, really, no philosopher in the history of mankind has done, at least to my own satisfaction. I defined consciousness.

"That which can conceptually place itself in alternative future contexts and weigh the outcomes against its values"

The definition might not mean much to you, nor its importance (which includes the core of an argument for how consciousness can evolve from non-conscious matter, a significant historical stumbling block). There's a lot of philosophical mass resting on those few words. I also had to define "context" and "value", and more, which I did, but won't bore you with the details of right now. There's also corollaries about conceptually placing itself in actual and alternative past contexts, but that too is beyond the scope here, and not really necessary to my point.

The point is that I had created a philosophy that, while technically new and unique (as far as I know), is really just built on the shoulders of giants, one horribly stunted giant in particular, Ayn Rand. And in this new framework, one thing became obvious: government itself is an utter contradiction of basic principles, principles deeper than the non-initiation of force.

Add in a little network theory from computer science, and spontaneous order theory (such as natural selection or free markets), and it also became apparent that man is capable of effective self-governance, so long as he cannot isolate himself from the consequences of his actions - and that a network, rather than a hierarchy, is the means by which all can be held to those consequences even when substantial parts of that network fail to do so, and when no part of the network has the intention to do so.

So, with the zeal of a zealot, (the one accusation I faced at SOLO that has a kernel of truth to it, and tacitly admitted so in a way I'm sure was far too subtle for the particular lightweight intellect that made it), I proceeded to make sure everybody who wanted to listen, and some who didn't, were aware that from now on self-governance is known for a fact to be the only viable means for social and political organization.

I ran up against an interesting phenomenon. The smarter someone is, the harder it is - in general, not always - to get them to see it. Now, that would normally be a giant red flag that there was something wrong with the theory. But there was a pattern to their objections. The more intelligent someone is, the more likely he has actually worked out a lot of their philosophy explicitly. With these people, I would run up against some premise that they held firmly to, with good reason, that seemed to contradict my conclusions. Except it didn't. It only contradicted a conclusion they had heard over and over again (being intellectually curious, thoughtful, and well-read people), that sounded like mine but wasn't.

The difficulty here is that my conclusions depend heavily on what I refer to as meta-context. It's hard enough to get people to understand context, but it can be done. I can explain meta-context to intelligent people as well, but it takes a lot of time and patience, on both sides, and then a hefty commitment of time and energy to actually argue within it. If context is like the physics of motion and acceleration, meta context is like the physics of relativistic space-time, black holes, and quantum mechanics. By the time I get their attention well enough to get that time, they've already evaluated and rejected my conclusions.

So I'm faced with a dilemma. Either figure out a way to reach intelligent people in a way that breaks the usual cycle of presenting conclusions in order to get their attention, with the result that the conclusions short-circuit the argument I really wanted to make in the first place - or start working on unintelligent people. The latter leaves a really bad taste in my mouth, so I have a lot more work to do.

I'm just gonna have to write a book, dammit.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

There's three ways somebody can lie to you: They can make a statement that is factually untrue; they can make a statement that is factually true but place it in a context that makes its meaning untrue; and they can be a stopped clock.

The first is a child's lie. "No, I didn't take a cookie out of the cookie jar." This kind of lie is subject to objective refutation, and is mostly avoided by the most sophisticated liars.

The second is much more sophisticated. It is context that provides the meaning for any statement, and a factual statement placed in the wrong context becomes a non-factual statement.

"George Bush is just like Hitler". What is the context of that statement? There is none, so you are left to fill in your own context, and most people would assume the context in which those two figures are most often discussed, that of being the top leader of a country. Leaving the context undefined, implying the widest possible context, is often a form of lie, when it isn't just the result of sloppy speaking.

But it's a factually correct statement, given the right context. Bush is of the species Homo Sapiens. So was Hitler. Of course, that context is one nobody would bother working in. There are policies Bush has pursued that are similar enough to some policies Hitler pursued that the statement could be considered factually correct in the narrow context of those policies as well. But that still leaves the statement in full context of the leadership of a country untrue.

A stopped clock is right twice a day. But still, even on those two minutes each day when it, through sheer coincidence, is reporting the correct time, it is lying to you. Coincidental correspondence to fact is not the same thing as truth.

You have no way to know when the stopped clock is right. You know that for 1438 minutes of the day it is lying, and for two minutes it is correct, but the only way you can know which two minutes are the correct ones is to trust that the clock is always giving the correct time. If you always checked it against another clock, the first clock's statements about the time would be redundant and useless. Once a clock's veracity is determined, it becomes its own standard of truth.

Until it is caught in a lie, that is. From that point on, everything it says has to again be considered a lie. An intelligent and malicious clock, one determined to mislead you about the real time, would realize that it could occasionally give you the correct time, yet still be providing misleading information. The bonus is that if you called it out on one of those statements, it could claim "See, I was telling the truth.". And a really clever clock could claim that the time it gave was correct, in some context other than the one you assumed it was working in. The time was correct in Singapore, so technically, the clock wasn't lying. But now you know that it is always lying.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Hillary wants to be your Veep, eh? Aside from the fact that the complete suicidal stupidity of choosing her would automatically disqualify you from the Presidency on soundness of judgment grounds, here's what I would do if somehow Hillary were just one of my heartbeats away from the Presidency:

  • Hire a food taster

  • Have someone expendable start my car every morning

  • Stay out of Fort Marcy Park

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Here's a brief science quiz for ya. If you pump water up a hill so that it can run back down the hill and power an electrical generator, how much electricity will you net benefit?

The state of Utah was apparently not interested in the scientific question. That's just engineering details to be worked out later. No, the most important question is how much environmental damage will their perpetual motion machine cause?

OK, the project actually seeks to time-shift energy usage by doing the pumping in off-peak hours and using to generate power during peak hours. But it's still a net loss of electricity, despite the claim in the article that:
Symbiotics LLC, in arguing for the project, pointed to hydroelectricity's renewable energy potential and claimed the project could meet about 85 percent of Utah's current peak energy demands if used in concert with conservation efforts.

They still need a power plant somewhere to supply 100% of Utah's current power demands, plus whatever additional this Roosevelt-esque make-work project. That would be, for the math challenged among you, greater than 100%. It's theoretically possibly they'd have to build a new power plant to meet the extra demand. I guess they plan to make it up in volume.

These people better not laugh too hard at the penis thievery panic in the Congo.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

"Stand" is an interesting word in Greek. An hour's research, from not knowing any Greek, led me to the following. I could be wrong on some of this, and would really appreciate any corrections from anyone who knows Greek. I hope your browser and OS support Unicode, or you won't be able to read some of this.

The word for "stand" is "ηισταστηαι". The alphabetic translation is "histasthai", but since the 'η' (h) is pronounced like 'i' (as in "ski"), and the "αι" is pronounced like "eh", the phonetic translation would be something like "iistastieh". "I stand" takes on a new ending: "ηισταμαι" - "histamai", pronounced "iistameh"

Where it gets interesting is when you add some Greek prefixes to it. "απο", ("apo") means "from", in the sense of apart. This gives us "αποσταστηαι", or "apostasthai" ("apostastieh"). "Stand apart" in Greek has become our word "apostasy". Or, "I am an apostate" would be "αποσταμαι" - "apsostamai" ("apostameh"), "I stand from".

Even more interesting, and this is how I started looking into this, is with the prefix "επι" - "epi" - meaning "over". So "επισταστηαι" ("epistasthai" or "epistastieh") means, literally, "to stand over". Why this is interesting is more apparent in the first person form: "επισταμαι", or "epistamai" ("epistameh"), which means, again, literally, "I stand over". You might recognize the basis for our word "epistemology", the study of knowledge.

I said the Greek word "επισταστηαι" means to stand over, but that is the literal translation. The actual meaning is "to understand". This reveals and interesting cultural distinction that separates us from the Greeks. In western culture, perhaps because of two millenia of religious influence, I don't know, our view of knowledge is to understand, or stand under it. Knowledge is something received from above. The Greeks, however, appear to have seen it differently. They stand over knowledge ("επιγνωσιϛ" - "epignosis" - means "knowledge"). Knowledge is something they command, they acquire it and "stand over" it. Their orientation to knowledge is one of dominance and proactivity, where our orientation is one of submission and reactivity.

This site, on Greek letters and pronunciation, was very helpful in this, as was this site, a concordance of common Greek words used in the New Testament.

UPDATE:I shouldn't neglect to link the Online Etymology Dictionary, It's becoming a regular resource for me.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Billy points through Karen to the latest trend in post-ownership home decorating. I wonít quote it, but you can read the sordid details in Karenís post, or from the original article.

Billy is right on about the loss of honor, but itís more than that. To say these people had sunk to the level of animals would be giving them too much credit. Even the poor animals left locked in abandoned homes for days will suffer for a while before finally soiling the rug. No, these people have sunk right past the whole animal kingdom. Theyíre vegetables with volition. And opposable thumbs.

This kind of deliberate, malicious vandalism isnít just neglect, or a fit of frustration. At best, itís a blind lashing out at the nearest thing at hand, at worst it reveals a value system that would rather see value destroyed than see it in someone elseís hands.

Theyíve been told that the bank is the source of all their problems, and they believe it, desperately, cravenly. This kind of person doesnít go back to being a normal member of society. Something is deeply broken in them, and they are dangerous to be around.

These are the kind of people who would happily load you into a cattle car if someone convinced them that you were the source of all their problems. And theyíd just as happily unload you on the other end, anticipatory drool running merrily down their chins.

You might think thatís a bit abstract, a bit distant, but these are real people - and itís not just a few. They might be your neighbors - itís not the slums where this Is happening, but middle class suburban neighborhoods. How many of them do you think are patrolling your neighborhood in black and whites? How many are guarding the guy from down street who is behind bars for smoking a joint? How many are pawing through your bags at the airport?

How many are teaching your kids?

Thereís a segment of society, not restricted to the fringes anymore, who have gone feral. They work at normal middle class jobs, go to normal middle class stores and restaurants and gas stations and banks. They seem normal until they can pin all their problems on some nameless, faceless group, and until they sense weakness in a member of that group. Then their aim is to destroy in a blind fury - not to get something they want, but simply to destroy something somebody else has.

At the risk of giving them ideas, Iíll predict that it wonít be long till gas stations are in for the same treatment.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Don't worry, assholes, I'm already as aware as I can be that the world is full of idiots. So, tonight's exercise in endarkenement will be sponsored in part by Google? Duly noted.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I'm not even done with the article, and I see the problem already.
Women now earn 57 percent of bachelors degrees and 59 percent of masters degrees. According to the Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2006 was the fifth year in a row in which the majority of research Ph.D.ís awarded to U.S. citizens went to women.

There's some fact-checking that needs doing in regards to that first sentence, that I suspect was not done, as it would be a monumental task, unlike, for instance, fact-checking the second sentence, which could be done simply by referring to the mentioned study. I'm looking at the verbs in those two sentences, and at the difference between them in their most basic meaning. Perhaps, though doubtful given the efforts already underway, the difference is currently inconsequential, but make no mistake, the widening of that gap will be the measure of success for the whole rotten enterprise.

HT Billy