Archive for the ‘communication’ Category

Death and Its Complement

Sunday, 26 June 2022

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.

Sexual [Meta]-Preferences

Friday, 20 May 2022

As I noted in an earlier 'blog entry, I use the words choice and choose simply to refer to selection; and, when I say that someone prefers X to Y, I mean that if given a set of mutually exclusive options that include X and Y then Y will never be selected. Some people try to mean something else by one or both of these terms. In the case of choose, they seldom if ever explain what that something might be. R[obert] Duncan Luce proposed to define preference in terms of probability of selection, rather than in an absolute manner as do I; that difference won't bear meaningfully upon what I have to say here.

One might have preferences about one's preferences. For example, preferring-not-to-prefer simultaneously X to Y, Y to Z, and Z to X for any X, Y, and Z. But note that making choices based upon the preferences that one has is different from choosing to have the preferences with which one makes the choice. Choices about preferences are meta-choices; preferences determining meta-choices are meta-preferences.

In theory, all choices could be determined by preferences, all preferences could be meta-chosen, all meta-choices could be determined by meta-preferences, all meta-preferences could be meta-meta-chosen, all meta-meta-choices could be determined by meta-meta-preferences, &c out to any finite level of meta that you might imagine. But the levelling cannot be infinite. At some point, one reaches a level that wasn't chosen. Varieties of choices and preferences that are turtles all the way down are an impossibility. A class of choices cannot have any members if it is defined such that each member is underlain by a choice of that same class. Likewise for preferences.

And hence I come to the expression sexual preference. As introduced and still generally to-day, it refers to what one sexually prefers; it says nothing about what one meta-prefers or meta-chooses. People said to have sexual preferences are thereby said to choose with those preferences, not to have chosen the preferences themselves. Someone said to have heterosexual preferences is not thus said to have chosen heterosexuality itself, and so too of someone said to have homosexual preferences. And if we deny that sexual preferences can be real because they are not underlain by a choice of sexual orientation, then we must claim that all non-sexual preferences are likewise not real, because it's never turtles-all-the-way-down.

The only people who will be offended by the term sexual preference itself will have confused preferences with meta-preferences — or will be those people who have simply embraced the claim that the term is offensive without much thought as to why it should be so. And a rather large group will not actually be offended, but will rôle-play as if offended, because they observe that this behavior is the practice of their political tribe.

A Common Fallacy in Advocacy of Dictatorship

Monday, 3 January 2022

Authoritarians and totalitarians of the political left and right, in arguing that they are not authoritarians or not totalitarians, often engage in a bait-and-switch, with little or no awareness that they are doing so. To argue that policy or programme X is justified is not somehow a contradiction of a claim that policy or programme X is authoritarian or even of a claim that policy or programme X is totalitarian At best, the authoritarians are arguing that authoritarianism is justified and the totalitarians are arguing that totalitarianism is justified but it seems that they are arguing that authoritarianism is not authoritarianism if it is justified or that totalitarianism is not totalitarianism if it is justified

Some Common Sense about Common Sense and about Common Sense

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

I often hear or read Common sense isn't common. or, ambiguously, Common sense isn't.

The term common sense refers to variety of things believed or formerly believed to be closely related. In some cases, the term is indeed a description; in others, it is like Common Raven, which began as a description or as an attempt at a description, but names a now uncommon bird.

Consulting the SOED, I find about five definitions of common sense. Archaically, common sense refers to a supposed faculty that coördinated and united senses such as those of sight and of touch to form impressions of the world. The term may refer to ordinary or normal understanding (which must be common). Common sense may also refer to collective judgment across some group of people. Philosophers may use common sense to refer to the power by which generally accepted beliefs are formed in the absence of contemplation and of instruction. Normatively, common sense refers to reliable practical wisdom in everyday matters.

I don't use the term common sense much at all, but I occasionally use it normatively, as when I tell people that an introductory course in microeconomics will start with building-blocks of common sense but assemble them with uncommon care. Now, I suppose that I could use those very same words without normative intent, but I really am hoping that the audience will accept the blocks as themselves reliable. I cannot teach my audience everything, and I shouldn't have to teach those blocks to them.

When I use common sense normatively, the notions that I have in mind are of sound reasoning that is within the intellectual capabilities common to human beings, and of the structures of belief that result from such application. Something that would not be what I were normatively calling common sense would be unsound or outside of the possibility of common understanding. However, I'm more likely to say That should be common sense. than That seems like common sense. I'm even more likely to say That should be obvious.

I'm on the subject of common sense because various people in various groups will treat beliefs as if they are obvious to everyone who is not a fool when they are no such thing. Treating them as common sense — here using common sense normatively — is a form of implicit or explicit begging of the question; it is a violation of the rules of proper discourse. That said, most of those who treat those beliefs as common sense sincerely, thoughtlessly regard most of them as such; these people are not violating the rules willfully.

I've encountered this begging of the question by the political left, by the political right, and by political moderates. But I am at present most concerned by the misrepresentations from the left, because they have control of so much of the commanding heights of our culture. When a strong wind prevails, one leans against it, not against a wind of the past nor against a wind that may come in the distant future.

Examples of propositions that some or all of the left treat as common sense include

  • that greater economic efficiency can often be achieved by replacing markets with state administration based upon centralized collection of relevant information;
  • that material inequality is a social ill;
  • that poverty may be reduced by state-directed redistribution of wealth or of income from the affluent to those of little means;
  • that, if a school system is performing poorly, then some increase in the material resources provided to it would be sufficient to improve that performance, and that any decrease in such resources will be followed by a decline in performance.

Treating these propositions as common sense precludes consideration.

To impel consideration of all that the left distinctly takes to be common sense, we want a concise label for that group of their beliefs. We want an X such that we can say things such as This idea is X; if you're going to treat it as common sense, then you're first going to have to show that it truly is common sense. or such as This idea is X but it is not common sense; if you're going to justify it, then you're going to have to justify it on some other basis. Any label that itself begs the question, in some contrary way, will do little or nothing to promote thoughtful consideration. It will not provoke the left to think, and it will offend uncommitted members of the audience (with whom we should be principally concerned) and otherwise cause them to dismiss the argument as logomachy amongst knaves and fools. An insulting label would beg the question in an especially counter-productive way.

But the label should be used to establish a context of discourse across arguments and conversations in which context the left can no longer simply proceed with its presumptions as such or it will come to seem absurd to the audience and outmanoeuvred to itself. I don't know what the properly effective label should be.

Cut to the Goddamn'd Chase!

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Most prefaces, forewords, introductions, and introductory paragraphs are largely or entirely superfluous; most introductory sentences are wastes of time.[1] In the last few years, my annoyance about entropic rhetoric in general and about blathering preambles in particular has become outrage.

The internal state of affairs in the West is more terrible now than ever previously in my lifetime. A great many people believe themselves to have important insights to convey about this state of affairs, and want our time. Our time is scarce, but many of them want to present essays in the form of audio recordings, which deliver words far more slowly than most of us can read. Worse, almost every one of those who offer these recordings prologues for some minutes, usually about the importance of what they will have to say but almost always without the prologues' saying anything important.

I believe that some of these people indeed have important things to say; but, in each case, he or she behaves as if unable to recognize what is important. In each individual case, the probability is especially low that a person not getting to the point will get to an important point. I almost always abandon attention before the prologue ends, possibly well before it ends.


[1]  I acknowledge exceptions. I like to believe that I am responsible for some of them; but, had I always the luxury of being my own editor, some of my work would get more rapidily to its point.

The Paradox of Shadows

Friday, 5 March 2021

For many years, one of the projects on a back-burner in my mind has been the writing of a novel, A Paradox of Shadows, in which the principal character is attempting to reconstruct or to otherwise recover an ancient work, the title of which might have been περὶ τοῦ ἀτόπου τοῦ τῶν σκιῶν, or De [Anomalia de] Obumbratio, or perhaps something else.

Everything about the work is a matter of doubt or of conjecture, including its author and the era and language in which it were originally composed; even that there ever were such a work is uncertain. Its existence is primarily inferred from how parts of it seem to be esoterically embedded in other works; sometimes these passages can be made to fit together like bits of a jigsaw, but different ways of fitting are possible, especially allowing for lacunæ, interpolations, and unintended errors in translation or in transcription. In ancient art and literature are found what may be other references to the work, but these apparent references are subject to alternate interpretation, especially as many of them would be quite oblique if indeed they refer to the work. The search is largely a matter of poring over old manuscripts and documents.

No rational person would look at any one piece of evidence known to the main character and conclude that the work must have existed or just probably existed. Few would take the evidence as jointly establishing such a probability. There is both too much and too little information, so that bold intellectual leaps must be made in chaos or in darkness. A searcher may encounter unscalable cliffs or unbridgable chasms; and, if forced to stop at any point, one is likely to look pathetic. But the evidence, taken jointly, associates a relative plausibility of recovery with each of various possibilities as to the nature of the work. In that context, the possible profundity is enough to drive the search by the principal character, even with likely failure.

Adapting Images to Small Displays

Friday, 15 January 2021

This 'blog has yet to fully accommodate mobile computing. Images in entries have usually had an absolute width of 450 pixels, which made sense when displays were 640 pixels or more wide (and seldom more than 1920 pixels wide), but is now too wide for some devices.

I've been occasionally patching old entries to fix this problem. With IMG and IFRAME elements, the trick is to add

max-width: 100% ; max-height: Rvw ;

to the string-value of the style attribute, where R is the ratio of the height divided by the width, multiplied by 100. For example, if the image is 450 pixels wide and 900 pixels tall, then

R = 100 · (900 / 450) = 200

Just what happens when R is not an integer seems to be browser-dependent.

An example of an IMG element could be

<img src="wp-content/uploads/2020/11/A6_corrected.png" alt="[image of formula]" width="449" height="92" style="display: block ; margin-left: auto ; margin-right: auto ; margin-top: 1em ; margin-bottom: 1em ; border: none ; width: 26.4em ; height: 5.4em ; max-width: 100% ; max-height: 20.5vw ;" />

When BitChute gives code to embed a video, it looks something like this:

<iframe width="640" height="360" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" style="border: none;" src="https://www.bitchute.com/embed/QKOTRHgzsuQE/"></iframe>

It should look something like this:

<iframe width="640" height="360" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" style="border: none ; max-width: 100% ; max-height: 56.25vw ;" src="https://www.bitchute.com/embed/QKOTRHgzsuQE/"></iframe>

Humpty Dumpty and Commerce

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Fairly inexpensive hair combs made of hard rubber — rubber vulcanized to a state in which it is as about firm as a modern plastic — could be found in most American drugstores at least into the mid-'90s. Now-a-days, they have become something of a premium item. I was looking at listing on Amazon supposedly of hard rubber combs and discovered, to my annoyance, that a careful reading of the descriptions showed that most of the combs explicitly described as hard rubber were made of plastic. To me, the situation seemed to be of pervasive fraud, as it will to many others.

But then I realized that it is more likely to be something else. Fraud, after all, involves deliberate misrepresentation. Whereäs we live in a world in which a great many people believe that no use of a word or phrase is objectively improper — that if they think that hard rubber means a rubbery plastic or a plastic that looks like another substance called hard rubber, then it indeed means just that. (Of course, we cannot trust any verbal explanation from them of these idiosyncratic meanings, as they may be assigning different meanings to any words with which they define other words.)

My defense of linguistic prescriptivism has for the most part been driven by concerns other than those immediate to commercial transactions. And, when I've seen things such on eBay as items described with mint condition for its age or with draped nude, my inclination has been merely to groan or to laugh. But it seems to me that the effects of ignoring or of rejecting linguistic prescription have found their way into commercial transactions beyond the casual.

Well, those who are not prescriptivists are hypocrites if they complain, and they're getting no worse than they deserve.

Transcription Error

Monday, 23 November 2020

To my chagrin, I find that I made a transcription error for an axiom in Formal Qualitative Probability. More specifically, I placed a quantification in the wrong place. Axiom (A6) should read [image of formula] I've corrected this error in the working version.

Science and the Humanities

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Reading a book first published in 1951, I am reminded that, at one time, the definition of humanities included sciences of human behavior within its scope. Now, one seldom encounters that inclusion in contemporary use, and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary explicitly excludes the study of social relations (though it says nothing explicit about that part of behavior outside of the social).

In the earlier period, there was a question of whether the study of human behavior were fundamentally different from the study of the properties of other things. Those who insisted upon such a difference would speak and write of science and the humanities as if of two separate things.

But the tools by which the physical, biological, and behavioral science were studied were increasingly shared. The physical and biological sciences took-up probability and statistics; the biological sciences have taken-up chemistry, mechanics, and game theory; the behavioral science have taken-up biological explanation and mathematical modelling. All have been affected by the same philosophic theories of method. A dichotomy of science and the humanities cannot prevail so long as the behavioral sciences are included amongst what are called humanities.

Apparently that dichotomy was so dear to some of those who insisted upon it that they attempted its preservation by implicitly changing what they intended with humanities in order to hold fast to it. Of course, the newer definition doesn't maintain the original dichotomy; but replaces it with a new one.