A Timely Term24 May 2023
Tavish Cordero Kelly has offered the term
Bayesian gaslighting for surreptitious updating of a narrative.
Tavish Cordero Kelly has offered the term
Bayesian gaslighting for surreptitious updating of a narrative.
Most people who claim that argument from authority is fallacious would, perversely, argue for that claim by reference to the authority of common knowledge or of what were often taught. A fallacy is actually shown by demonstrating a conflict with a principle of logic or by an empirical counter-example. A case in which an authority proved to be wrong might be taken as the latter, but matters are not so simple.
When one normally makes a formal study of logic, that study is usually of assertoric logic, the logic in which every proposition is treated as if knowable to be true or knowable to be false, even if sometimes the study itself deliberately treats a propostion as false that is true or a proposition as true that is false. In the context of assertoric logic, an argument from authority is indeed fallacious.
But most of the propositions with which we deal are not known or knowable to be true or false; rather, we find that some propositions are relatively more plausible than others. Our everyday logic must be the logic of that ordering. Within that logic, showing that a proposition has one position in the ordering given some information does not show that it did not have a different position without that information. So we cannot show that arguments from authority are fallacious in the logic of plausibility simply by showing that what some particular authority claimed to be likely or even certainly true was later shown to be almost certainly false or simply false.
Arguments from authority, though often not recognized as such, are essential to our everyday reasoning. For example, most of us rely heavily upon the authority of others as to what they have experienced; we even rely heavily upon the authority of n-th-hand reports and distillations of reports of the experiences of others. And none of us has fully explored the theoretic structure of the scientific theories that the vast majority of us accept; instead, we rely upon the authority of those transmitting sketches, gists, or conclusions. Some of those authorities have failed us; some of those authorities will fail us in the future; those failures have not and will not make every such reliance upon authorities fallacious.
However, genuine fallacy would lie in over-reliance upon authorities — putting some authoritative claims higher in the plausibility ordering than any authoritative claims should be, or failing to account for factors that should lower the places in the plausibity ordering associated with authorities of various sorts, such as those with poor histories or with conflicts of interest.
By the way, I have occasionally been accused of arguing from authority when I've done no such thing, but instead have pointed to someone who was in some way important in development or useful in presentation of an argument that I wish to invoke.
Ninety six years ago, on 10 January 1927, the movie Metropolis premiered. Now-a-days, Metropolis is primarily remembered for its robot and for its depiction of a city of great skyscrapers, elevated roadways, and aircraft. Others will remember it for what they take to be a humanistic message about the relationship between physical laborers and thought-workers being brought and kept into harmonious relations by kindness. The ideologic subtext is often unrecognized.
Within the social order depicted in the movie, while money is a feature of the economy, that economy seems to be fundamentally technocratic. The city is under the ultimate control of a single institution, with headquarters in der neuen Turm Babel [the New Tower of Babel]. At the least, this institution controls power production and water delivery. The institution seems to employ the entirety or nearly the entirety of a substantial proletariat, living and working underground. The institution can act as a state in response to a violent uprising by this proletariat. Moreover, the head of the institution, Joh[ann] Frederson, is said to be responsible for the city more generally.
Observable, productive members of society, fall into very few classes. The narration and the female protagonist refer metaphorically to the proletariat as
die Hände [
the hands] and to a managerial class or to its leader as
das Hirn [
the brain]. Other classes are nearly irrelevant to the conception. For example, those dismissed from managerial positions are said to descend to the proletariat.
(The managerial class and proletariat are depicted as utterly male. Females employed above ground seem all to be young courtesans; females below ground are shown as living with the wage laborers, but not as employed outside the home.)
The work of the proletariat is terrible; their living conditions impoverished. But the proletariat are lacking in intelligence and self-control. When one, Georgy 11811, is rescued by Freder (son of Johann Frederson) from labor that is overwhelming Georgy, and tasked by Freder with going to an apartment to meet with him later, Georgy instead takes money left in his care and goes to the pleasure district, even as his savior suffers in place of Georgy. (Freder's other disciple, drawn from the managerial class, is unfailingly faithful.) Later, with just the one exception of a foreman, each and every man and woman in the underground allow themselves to be persuaded to destroy the machinery running the city, and then thoughtlessly monkey-dance in the ruins even as their children face drowning when water from the reservoir comes flooding into the residential area. Plainly, one wants no dictatorship of this proletariat, nor to have them make any decisions of import.
But, using that robot, Johann Frederson deliberately had the proletariat agitated to such violence, to excuse his bringing them under more repressive control. He's not merely callous, but quite willing to do horrific things to human beings, in order to realize his vision. He only comes to recognize that he has done horrific things when he discovers that his own son may be amongst those killed.
The resolution is to be a new order in which the classes — die Hände und das Hirn — are reconciled by Freder, das Herz [the heart].
Fritz Lang, who co-scripted and directed Metropolis, was reportedly appalled to discover that the National Socialists loved the movie. Despite assurances that he would not be considered Jewish though his mother had been born a Jew, Lang fled Germany. His wife Thea von Harbou, the other scriptwriter and the author of the novelization, was not appalled, and joined the National Socialist Party after divorcing Lang.
The reason that Lang should not have been surprised is that the popular visions of fascism and of Naziism — and the vision of a better society presented by Metropolis — were of a technocratic order in which class distinctions were natural but classes were brought together in harmony. Yes, indeed, the Nation Socialists in particular wanted to wipe-out a great many people on the way to such a harmonious technocratic order, but still such an order was part of their vision.
The bottom line is not that Naziism was somehow less awful because it had the vision of Metropolis and that vision is cool. The bottom line is not that fascism is somehow cool because it has the vision of Metropolis and that vision is cool. The bottom line is that Metropolis has a fascistic vision, and so people should be goddamn'd uncomfortable if they've thought that its vision were cool. They ought to ask themselves
Hey, am I, after all, a bit of a fascist?
Most people are. No one ought to be.
Everyday discussions of epistemics don't require us to discuss foundational epistemology explicitly. Were someone asked how she knew that Johnny and Judy are dating, it would typically be sufficient for that someone to say that Judy were wearing his ring. We don't usually need to ask whether the witness had a false memory or hallucination, mistook someone else for Judy, &c. But it is important always to understand that no one just knows any complex proposition. The only things of which we have perfect knowledge are the things immediately before the mind — such as a feeling of coldness — and then we don't perfectly know their sources. Perhaps some of us are utterly reasonable in constructing models of the world to explain things such as our occasional sensations of coldness; certainly nearly all of us are so convinced of these models that we refer to a major share of their propositions as
knowledge. But none of us just knows that Johnny and Judy are dating, that it is cold outside, that his or her eyes are blue, &c. Any reasonable belief in these things is an inference ultimately resting upon primitive experience.
I don't just know how it feels to be a man. I know how it feels to be me; I have memories, which I presume to be reliable, of how it felt to be me; and part of my model of the world (constructed to explain my experience) contains adult male bodies, one of which is my body. And, to that extent, I know how it feels to be a man. When someone else tells me something at odds with my experience of being a man, I don't think
Oh, maybe I'm not a man after all! I just infer that the other person is either a man over-generalizing from his own experience or from reports, or is someone who is not a man but engaged in incompetent conjecture. I don't know how it feels to be woman. I don't even know how I would feel if I woke and found that my mind were operating in the body of a woman (which I presume would be different from how I would feel if my mind had for its whole existence operated in a female body). I simply cannot know without the experience. I could, in theory, know that I were unhappy being a man. I could, in theory, know that I wished to have a female body. But I cannot know how it feels to be a woman, and thus in no sense could I know that I somehow had a female mind in a male body. It is impossible for me to know that I am a woman. It is impossible for those who have never had a female body to know that they are girls or women. It is impossible for any of them to just know that they are girls or women. But they can certainly know their unhappiness or know their wishes. And the complement is true of those who never had the experience of being in a male body. They cannot know that they have male minds. It is impossible for those who have never had a male body to know that they are boys or men. It is impossible for any of them to just know that they are boys or men. But they can certainly know their unhappiness or know their wishes.
Hormone treatments are available to make a brain that was supposedly already female be more like an actual female brain and more as if in a female body, or a brain that was supposedly already male be more like an actual male brain and more as if in a male body. But this treatment would be actively absurd if the mind of the subject were already that of the opposite sex. I am not somehow really more a man than my levels of androgen or of testosterone or of estrogen have ever allowed me to be; likewise, I am not somehow really more a woman than my hormones have ever allowed; nor is anyone else. Those receiving such hormone treatments are not of the opposite sex; they are seeking to become more as if of the opposite sex.
If a male body could be made of a female body and vice versa, then it wouldn't matter that the female body had previously been a male body or vice versa. But present technology allows no such thing. A body that has undergone the most extensive reässignment surgery is ruined for purposes of return to its original sexual configuration. What alteration is available is primarily cosmetic, and highly destructive. Testes don't somehow become ovaries or ovaries testes; they are discarded. Breast implants may later be removed, but mammary glands become tissue to be sold or incinerated. The rest of the reproductive system is savaged.
And, if a male body could be made into a female body, or vice versa, then the change would always be something of a leap in the dark. Quite plausibly a great many people would be happy with where they landed, but others would be depressed, shocked, or horrified. With the procedures presently available — with an ultimately irreversible leap — many are indeed depressed, shocked, or horrified, without even the genuine experience of a body with a new sex. I've had at least one friend kill himself because of what he'd had done in trying to be remade into a woman. In the case of children, we are not so much considering leaping in the dark as being picked-up and thrown into the darkness. In ten, twenty, and thirty years, most of those who had been cheering the throwing will speak and write as if society were at fault in the case of those children who discovered that they'd crashed in a terrible place.
Our response to those who have come to desire interaction as if of the opposite sex should not be founded in mystical nonsense; but neither should it be characterized by condemnation or by intolerance. People should not be prohibitted from doing as they will so long as only consenting adults are involved. I think that radical treatments to change an adult's appearance to resemble that of the opposite sex are plausibly the best way for some people to alleviate very great unhappiness. I think that accommodation of such people, treating them as if they are of the opposite sex, is often quite appropriate. However, no one has a right to be treated as something that he or she is not. And, in some cases, very good reasons underlie sexual distinctions and subverting those distinctions is less humane than respecting them.
Much of the discussion of transsexualism has involved confusion — often deliberately fostered — between sex and other definitions of
gender. The use of
gender to mean sex actually dates to about the same time as it was introduced to refer to the somewhat related but distinct grammatic classification; but, for a time, use of
gender in the sexual sense fell away. It began to be repopularized for purposes of euphemism, and continues as a euphemism into the present. The grammatic sense was related to the sexual sense in that things that were male were usually named with words that had the masculine grammatic gender and things that were female were usually named with words that had the feminine grammatic gender; but many things that did not have any sex were named with words having a masculine or feminine grammatic gender even when a neuter grammatic gender was a feature of the language, and some things that had sexes were assigned names with the neuter grammatic gender. Grammatic gender was an often odd social construct.. Grammatic gender and notions of rôles appropriate to each sex each influenced the other. At some time around 1980, the idea began to catch-on of using the term
gender not in reference to sex nor in reference to grammatic gender, but to socially or personally constructed notions of those sexual rôles. The scientific and philosophic study of social or personal constructions of sexual rôles is itself very worthwhile; and the analogic appeal of extending
gender to refer to such constructions is evident. However, the pre-existing and repopularized use of
gender to refer to sex facilitated a hijacking of discourse, which confused sex with a social or personal construct of social rôle, under which hijacking it has been pretended that persons who are masculine are ipso facto male, that persons who are feminine are ipso facto female, that some males are neither male nor female, that some females are neither female nor male, and that any otherwise legitimate distinctions by sex must be replaced with distinctions by personal constructions of sexual rôle.
Of course, more than just grammatic gender or our notions of sexual rôles are here social constructs. Our language and every other language is a social construct, and the taxonomies of biology and of every other science are social constructs. More generally all taxonomies are personal or social constructs. But that does not make propositions subject to falsification by a device of recategorizing things, of exchanging labels amongst categories, or of applying new labels to categories. Rather, with a change of language a proposition is expressed differently; with a relevant change of taxonomy, a proposition involves more or fewer categories. If we adopted the convention of using
Earth to mean only the Western Hemisphere, both that and the Eastern Hemisphere would continue as they would under the old taxonomy, rather than the underlying geophysics changing. Propositions about a sex do not become false or true by the device of insisting upon a new definition of
sex, or of
I encountered a rather odd problem when using Inkscape, a vector graphics program. I was unable to create unions joining two paths because each was in a group with only one a member. I could think of nothing that I'd done that should have created any group, and a group with only one member is an odd thing in any case. I only discovered the grouping because I had eliminated the other possible reasons that the paths should not form a union.
Each of the two paths was originally a text object, entered separately from the other. Perhaps in recent versions of Inkscape text is always in a group, even with just one character.
As is often noted, the map is not the territory. But what is usually missed is that, when we attempt to think of how they differ, we most often slip into specifics such that what we really compare is not the map with the territory, but the thing first recognized to be a map with a mental map of the territory.
Our efforts to think about how models differ from reality are usually likewise characterized by comparisons between some model and some other model not recognized to be a model. When we abandon specifics, and attempt to think of reality in the abstract, we almost always think of what amounts not to reality but to a hypothetical, unknown, perfect model of reality.
 with Alfred Habdank Skarbek Korzybski being the first to put it just that way
When Oliver Cromwell wrote, on 3 August 1650 to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland,
I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.
he was in fact paraphrasing Richard Hooker,
Think ye are Men, deem it not impoſſible for you to err; ſift unpartially your own hearts, whether it be force of Reaſon, or vehemency of Affection, which hath bred and ſtill doth feed theſe Opinions in you.Preface  § 9
Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie
(Underscore mine.) In Cromwell's time, and indeed for many years to follow, Hooker's work was widely known and widely respected, and Cromwell had every expectation that his allusion would be recognized for what it were.
On each side that is allowed a wide audience, public discourse on the subject of abortion is dominated by knaves and by fools. Arguments are offered that don't withstand much scrutiny.
But the overturning of Roe v. Wade will not result in a simple division of states into those that permit abortions in all or in almost all cases and those that forbid it in all or in almost all cases; the supposed dichotomy that has been imposed by insinuation from the commanding heights of our culture will be falsified. While I doubt that the policy adopted soon by any state will be the correct choice, the adoption of a multitude of policies will provoke a larger number of people to think more carefully about the criteria that ought to decide amongst policies.
Confined to the margins of recent discussion has been a very simple and important idea, which is the complement of the concept of brain death. This idea will make its way to the center of discussion.
[This entry was revised and expanded on 2022:07/07.]
I am always uncomfortable with the process of organizing books and articles on shelves or in boxes. I desire to have them grouped by each author and by each subject of interest; these desires cannot be reconciled without having multiple copies of each book and of each article, which multiplicity I cannot afford.
Electronic copies are a different matter. Even without multiple copies, symbolic links, which I discussed in a previous entry, make it possible effectively to list the same file in multiple directories. Hereïn, I'll explain the principle structure that I use for organizing documents, and I'll present some small utilities that facilitate creating and maintaining that structure on POSIX-compliant file systems. This structure is not as fine-grained as might be imagined, but it strikes a balance appropriate to my purposes. (For a more sophisticated system one should employ an application storing and retrieving documents mediated by a cataloguing relational database.)
As with many systems, mine have each a directory named
. Its two subdirectories relevant to this discussion are
The entries in
Subjects are subdirectories with names such as
Logic and Probability
In turn, the entries in each of these are subdirectories with the names of authors.
Finally, in each of these subdirectories are entries for files containing their work corresponding to the superdirectory. For example,
Documents/Subjects/Logic and Probability/Johnson William Ernest/ would have entries for works by him on logic or on probability, but his article on indifference curves would be listed instead in
Documents/Subjects/Economics/Johnson William Ernest/.
Most of the subdirectories of
Authors have names corresponding to the subdirectories in the third level of the
Subjects substructure, but all of these subdirectories in
Authors are different directories from those in the
Each of most of these subdirectories of
Authors lists not subdirectories nor files, but symbolic links. These links take their names from the subdirectories of
Subjects, but they do not link to those subdirectories. Instead, each links to an author-specific sub-subdirectory. Thus, for example,
Documents/Authors/Johnson William Ernest/Logic and Probability is a symbolic link to
Documents/Subjects/Logic and Probability/Johnson William Ernest. It is as if the subject-specific collection of an author's works is the author-specific collection of works on that subject, just as it should be.
One could, instead, use the complementary organization, in which the
Subjects substructure were ultimately dependent upon the
Authors substructure, or use a hybrid organization in which some of the dependency flows one way and some the other. The determinant should be what is most important to preserve if the collection is copied to a file system that does not support symbolic links, as in the case of a SD card with a FAT file system.
I've sketched the principal structure, but want to note useful complications of two sorts.
The first is that symbolic links may be used to place some subjects effectively under others. For example, logic an probability fall within the scope of philosophy. As well as having a directory named
Logic and Probability
Subjects, I have a symbolic link to it listed in
Philosophy. Indeed, when a subject falls within the intersection of other subjects, each may have such a symbolic link, and I have links to
Documents/Subjects/Logic and Probability not only in
Philosophy but in
Mathematics and in
The second is that symbolic links may be used effectively to list a document with multiple authors in the directory for each author. And essentially the same device may be used to classify a single document under different subjects.
Although this organization is not especially fine-grained, it requires the creation of many directories and symbolic links. I've written seven utilities in Python to reduce the burden. Two of those utilities were presented in a previous 'blog entry because they can be put to more general purpose. Here, I will present five more.
(Again, these utilities are written for POSIX-compliant file systems. Windows is not POSIX-compliant. A full discussion of the relevant issues would be tedious, as would be an effort to rewrite these programs to support Windows.)
While one might imagine computer files as stored in something analogous to folders, in reality the directories of file systems are, well, directories. A directory is a file of entries, most of which correspond to names, locations, and other information about other files (some of which may themselves be directories).
But some file systems allow for entries which do not directly provide the location of a file. Instead, these entries — called
symbolic links or
symlinks — point to other entries. One symbolic link may point to another symbolic link, but it is to be hoped that ultimately an entry is reached that points to a file. A file system will then treat most references to a symbolic link as if they are references to whatever file is indicated by the entry to which the symbolic link ultimately leads. The option of symbolic links allows for different directory entries — possibly with different names and possibly in different directories — effectively to point always to the same file.
I use symbolic links to organize electronic copies of books and articles, so that my directory system categorizes them both by topic and by author, and sometimes by multiple topics or by multiple authors (in the cases of collaborations and of anthologies). But I face the problem that often I want to save these documents using a file system that doesn't support symbolic links.
Not just in this case, but in any case in which I copy to a file system that does not support symbolic links a collection of files in which the directories contain symbolic links, I'd like to be able to restore the entire structure from such a copy.
My solution has been to create a file that catalogues the symbolic links, so that they can be recreated. Of course, I want both the cataloguing and the recreation to be automated. Towards that end, I've written two small programs in Python. These programs will work with any POSIX-compliant operatings system (Linux, MacOS, &c), but Windows is not generally POSIX-compliant.
This program creates a catalogue of symbolic links in the current working directory and in any of its subdirectories, as a set of records with tab-separated variables, and sends it to standard output.
separator = "\t"
source = os.readlink(link)
dir_save = os.getcwd()
print(source + separator,end="")
list_dir = [entry for entry in os.scandir(directory)
if entry.is_dir() or os.path.islink(entry)]
for entry in list_dir:
print(entry.path + separator,end="")
dir_top = "."
And this program reads a catalogue from standard input and recreates symbolic links in the current working directory and subdirectories (recreating subdirectories as necessary).
separator = "\t"
dir_start = os.getcwd()
if len(chain) > 2:
link = chain[chain.rindex("/")+1:]
if not os.path.exists(link):
for line in fileinput.input():
The reason that you see so much changing of directories in these programs is that they support symbolic links with relative specification. Absolute specification is also supported, but if absolute specification is used for symbolic links then relocating a directory structure is more difficult.
A catalogue created with the first program may have many redundant links. The program could be written to omit these, but that enhancement would come at an expense in programming time and in computing resources that simply doesn't make sense at the scale at which I operate. (Likewise for recoding these programs to work or to fail gracefully with various versions of Windows.) I try not to go crazy with my refinements!
In a later 'blog entry, I'll present some other utilities that I've written more specifically for managing the symbolic links of my files of books and of articles.