On 22 September, I was informed that my article
Formal Qualitative Probability had been accepted for publication by The Review of Symbolic Logic. I do not yet know in what issue it is to be published.
Archive for the ‘metaphysics’ Category
On 22 September, I was informed that my article
A psychologist once told me that people do not begin to dream until they've fallen into a relatively deep sleep. I know her assertion to be false based upon my own experience and upon the reports of others. Some of us begin dreaming right after or perhaps right before falling asleep. Being either barely on one side of consciousness or perhaps in an intermediate state in which dreaming occurs is not quite the same as what is normally called
lucid dreaming, but I'm able to notice some peculiar psychological phenomena as such.
Amongst these are spurious memories. In a dreaming state, I seem to remember events that did not occur in the waking world, though I don't experience those events within the dream. Because the events are not dreamt, but instead there is an apparent memory of these events, it can be harder upon becoming wakeful to discern that the apparent memory were false. But such spurious memories do disintegrate much like memories of dreamt events. In fact, I notice apparent memories often disintegrating within dreams, which disintegration is sufficiently troubling to make me more wakeful.
One disintegration, experienced a few mornings ago, was especially disturbing. I dreamt that I had an old Japanese bank note, and I had (spurious) memories of how I'd acquired the note. But I dreamt that some woman stole the note from me; and, as I dreamt of that theft, my apparent memories of how I'd come to have the note disintegrated, as if themselves stolen.
Another Monday has effectively passed without my receiving a rejection from the latest journal to which I offered my paper on probability.
My paper was submitted to that journal on 20 February, and on 2 March I was informed that it were assigned to a handling editor and that I'd be notified when a report were returned by a reviewer. I don't know whether a reviewer has accepted the assignment; but, while sometimes it takes months to find a reviewer, usually that happens more quickly. The journal says that it makes an effort to make a decision within three months; but, at most journals, reviewers are asked to return a report in something like four weeks or a month. So, while the three-month mark is six weeks away, it is increasingly plausible that a decision will be made soon.
Those who review academic articles and edit academic journals do so as a side activity, and are most likely to give time to this activity on the weekends. Additionally, weekends are psychologically natural for self-imposed deadlines. Monday becomes the most probable day for an editor to inform an author of a decision. Because the journal and the handling editor are in Europe, Monday effectively ends in what is for me the late after-noon.
And the most likely decision is a rejection. I don't think that I quite said this when previously writing about submitting my article to a journal. Instead, I wrote about the fate of most articles being rejection. But, after observing the responses of reviewers at those previous journals, I've reached a judgment about probability. It's probable that my article will again be rejected.
Thus, on each Monday, I look for a rejection.
Sometimes, people who have trouble understanding an expression that is complete, unambiguous, and concise will claim that the expression is
unclear. This response is very much like claiming that a day upon which they want sunglasses is
On 20 February, I submitted my paper on probability to yet another academic journal. To my surprise, the journal in question gave me a choice as to whether my review would be doubly blind — with my identity withheld from the reviewers; I chose that option.
Although in my initial reading of the longer of the two reviews that I most recently received I found no worthwhile criticism, I thought that I should pore over that review carefully, to ensure that I didn't overlook anything in it that would cause me to improve my paper. However, though the review was not written with abusive intent, it is none-the-less abusive, and I was averse to reading it. To impel myself to read it carefully, I decided to write a response to each of the criticisms within it, as I would then have to take care to find and to consider each criticism. I completed a draft of the response without finding any good reason to revise my paper. Having gone that far with the draft, I proofread it on 21 February, and posted a version on-line. It is written more in the manner of a 'blog entry than of something intended to go into a journal or book; and I don't know that any of you would want to bother with reading it in any case. But it's available.
Between the time that I previously submitted the paper and the time that received the most recent decision, I more efficiently organized the citations in one paragraph and I compressed one appendix by removing formula numbers and by suppressing logical quantifiers so that its eleven formulæ could be placed into a one-page grid.
In the early morning of 2 March, I received e.mail indicating that my probability paper had been assigned to a handling editor (who was named), and that I would be contacted after a reviewer had returned a report. It seems that the threat of a desk rejection has passed. I made a very cursory check on the handling editor; she seems quite qualified.
I have argued that persons outside of any social context can be scientists. Recently, I watched and listened to a recording of an interview of one philosopher by another, in which the two agreed that science is intrinsically social, that persons outside of social contexts cannot be scientists.
Towards explaining what was wrong with their argument, I'll first explain their argument. One of the very most important things that a scientist ought to do is to look for areas of potential vulnerability in theories, and to test those theories against what evidence may practicably be gathered. And any one researcher is imperfect in his or her ability to find such potential vulnerabilites, in knowledge of existing evidence, and in capacity to collect new evidence. It is often particularly difficult for any one researcher to recognize the unconscious presumptions that inform his or her own theories; exposing the work of one researcher to the scrutiny of other researchers may mean that those presumptions are recognized and challenged.
All right; but, just as any one researcher is imperfect, so are jointly any two researchers, or any three researchers, or any n researchers, for all finite values of n. In fact, I am nearly certain that even an infinite number of scientists would be insufficient to overcome weaknesses across the whole body of theories that these scientists could construct; but, in any case, science is not an unattainable limiting case of behavior. One might instead pick a finite n, and insist that one does not have science until one has n participants engaging in behavior of some sort, but the choice of n would seem to be quite arbitrary; and I'd like to know what one should then call the behavior when there are fewer participants.
As a practical matter, it is far from clear that two people each in isolation engaged in that behavior would continue to engage in that behavior when brought together. Social contexts can promote peculiar forms of irrationality. Historically, a great deal of what has been widely taken to be science by participants and by most observers in wider society has often been grossly unscientific behavior resulting exactly from social pressures. A great deal of what passes for science these days is socially required to conform to consensus, which is to say that social mechanisms protect widely shared presumptions from scrutiny.
 As it happens both one of those philosophers and I referred to Robinson Crusoe as an individual outside of a social context. It was natural for us each independent of the other to reach for the most famous example within our shared cultural context, but it heightened my sense of annoyance.
On 17 May, I received communication from one of the editors of the journal to which, on 20 February, I had sent my paper on qualitative probability. He apologized for the delay, explaining that it were caused by a set of individually small mistakes. He said that, weeks earlier, the editors had reached a decision to request that I revise and resubmit the paper before it were sent to reviewers. They recognized that the set of axiomata had philosophical significance, but felt that the abstract would not attract their readers and that there were not enough philosophical discussion in the exposition of the paper.
I wasn't sure whether I could rewrite the paper sufficiently to get their acceptance without unbearably compromising the mission of the paper. I spent the better part of two days pondering the matter, then saw a plan of revision that I would be willing to effect and that they might find satisfactory.
The major share of the revision was to the introductory section. I pulled content from elsewhere in the paper and put it in that section, so that readers would know more of whither the paper would go. I added material that I think to be over-explanation, but from the reading of which some readers would probably benefit. Additionally, I made what were plainly major improvements to the paragraph on intervals as such. I made various other changes through-out the article.
I do not know that the editors will find these changes sufficient. I think that a major issue is that I see discussion of the formal structure of reason as philosophy, whereäs plainly some academic philosophers do not. In a revision cover-letter, I noted that the axiomata were explicitly justified in the paper as conforming to principles that hold in formal systems across all major interpretations of probability, with the exception of one principle whose justification were labored, and that were I to explain how each interpretation would justify each principle used as an axiom, then the work would mushroom to the size of a book, and its principal contributions would be swamped.
I resubmitted the article. It was quickly returned with a request that it not be submitted in PDF but in LAΤΕΧ mark-up or as a Microsoft Word .DOC. (That demand was probably an artefact of how all revisions are handled, rather than indicating that the revision were considered to be sufficient for the article to be sent to reviewers.) I had composed and entered the article using LyX, a WYSIWYM editor that uses LAΤΕΧ programs for final rendering (and converting the document to Word format would be a dreadful process because of the formulæ). But I had to modify things so that the publisher's own programs could successfully process my files. I spent a considerable amount of time figuring-out what modifications to make. At one point, I bobbled the process, but was rescued by the JEO assistant effecting a reset so that I could begin anew. I completed the resubmission at 03:50 on 30 May.
I am not sanguine about my revisions being considered sufficient. I have one more philosophy journal in-mind, after which I must consider submitting to a journal of a different sort.
If rejection does not come swiftly, then within a very few days I will return to work on my next paper, which is to combine the logic of preference and the logic of plausibility, each allowing incomplete preörderings, into a general theory of decision making.
Confronted with a real or imagined social problem, most people first grab for an ostensible solution that appeals to their prejudices, and then for an argument (in favor of this policy) that seems plausible to them. That approach is not ideal, but might still result in good policy if people would poke at each such argument, to see whether it were actually logical, and move away from proposed solutions in cases in which none of the arguments withstood examination. Unfortunately, people don't generally test their arguments; words strung together in emotionally satisfying ways are embraced as if any reasonable person would accept them.
I came upon an epitomal example of this behavior, in the wake of a recent mass shooting at a school. Someone posted a graphic macro suggesting how guns might be treated analogously to motor vehicles and and declared
Let’s go through this one more time…maybe they will get it. And yes, people will obtain guns illegally. And yes, people kill people. But doing nothing means more die.
(Underscore mine.) Now, there are various problems with the suggestion that guns should be treated analogously to motor vehicles, and perhaps someday I'll labor all that occur to me. But here I want to focus on that assertion
doing nothing means more die. To the poster, it apparently seems that any reasonable person would accept that this assertion is an argument for the policy that he favors. Let's poke at this use, to see whether it is actually logical.
It is surely true that if we do nothing different, then people who have not yet died will die, and in this sense more will die. But, as a matter of logic, that doesn't mean that there is something that we can do such that people would not die, or even that fewer would die. If we somehow had an optimal social policy, and found that people died, we could still say that if we did nothing different then people would die. So, one question that we might ask is of whether a change in social policy would cause fewer or more people to die.
And I'm not simply talking about whether a change in social policy would cause fewer or more people to die at the hands of shooters who are not state officials, or even about the more general question of whether a change in policy would cause fewer or more people to to die at the hands of shooters of all sorts, but about the question of whether the change in policy would result in fewer or in more deaths across all causes. For example, a policy change might lead to greater use of IEDs. (The deadliest mass murder at a school in American history was effected by a bomb.) The answer is not known a priori.
There is also the issue of other costs. For example, some jurisdictions have a lower rate per capita of homicide, but a higher rate of rape. One doesn't want to switch from one set of policies to another simply on the basis that
if we do nothing then more will be raped, and likewise one doesn't want to switch from one set of policies to another simply on the basis that
if we do nothing then more will die. I don't think that any utilitarian calculus is actually reasonable, but one that simply counts lives is plainly inhumane. And it would be childlike to think and childish to insist that, with some set of policies, the global minimum for each costs could be achieved simultaneous to that for every other, let alone that such a fantastic minimum could be found by first finding the local minimum for one cost and then seeking the local minimum for another.
The poster has presented an example from just one class of policies, and declared
doing nothing means more die. Plainly, there are other possible policy responses, so that the relevant comparison is not simply between adopting the policy that he favors and maintaining the status quo.
Moreover, if his argument were adapted to the defense of other policies, he and others might be provoked to examine that argument more carefully. His words might be left essentially unchanged, but the macro replaced with one discussing a policy of a different sort. For example, someone might propose that each person above the age of 10 years old be interned in a mental-health camp, until and unless experts appointed by the state certified that he or she was not a danger to society. I'd like to think that, if the original poster had earlier seen the very same words used in defense of an internment policy, then he would have immediately poked at the argument to find the illogic. I'm quite sure that most people who applauded or would have applauded his words in the context in which he did use them would have found their illogic in the context of an argument for rounding-up American youth and throwing them into camps. Well, they should have poked at the argument where they actually found it.
As occasionally noted in publicly accessible entries to this 'blog, I have been working on a paper on qualitative probability. A day or so before Christmas, I had a draft that I was willing to promote beyond a circle of friends.
I sent links to a few researchers, some of them quite prominent in the field. One of them responded very quickly in a way that I found very encouraging; and his remarks motivated me to make some improvements in the verbal exposition.
I hoped and still hope to receive responses from others, but as of to-day have not. I'd set to-day as my dead-line to begin the process of submitting the paper to academic journals, and therefore have done so.
The process of submission is emotionally difficult for many authors, and my past experiences have been especially bad, including having a journal fail to reach a decision for more than a year-and-a-half, so that I ultimate withdrew the paper from their consideration. I even abandoned one short paper because the psychological cost of trying to get it accepted in some journal was significantly impeding my development of other work. While there is some possibility that finding acceptance for this latest paper will be less painful, I am likely to be in for a very trying time.
It is to be hoped that, none-the-less, I will be able to make some progress on the next paper in the programme of which my paper on indecision and now this paper on probability are the first two installments. In the presumably forth-coming paper, I will integrate incomplete preferences with incompletely ordered probabilities to arrive at a theory of rational decision-making more generalized and more reälistic than that of expected-utility maximization. A fourth and fifth installment are to follow that.
But the probability paper may be the most important thing that I will ever have written.
In an attempt to promote his work A Treatise on Human Nature (1738), David Hume anonymously wrote and in 1740 had published a booklet, An Abstract of a Book Lately Published, Entituled, A Treatiſe of Human Nature, &c. It went nearly unnoticed and unrecognized until republished in 1938, with an introduction by John Maynard Keynes and Piero Sraffa. That edition was reprinted in 1965. The introduction may still be protected by copyright, as may be images of the reset text.
In any event, I did not find any editions of the booklet itself freely available on-line; so I have created one.
Well, actually, two editions. The first retains the use of long ess (‘ſ’) and the convention by which longer passages were quoted, which was a matter of prefixing a quotation mark to each line which continued a quotation from the previous line. The second replaces the long esses with now ordinary lower-case esses, and uses block quotation where now conventional, though the second version otherwise preserves the spelling and punctuation of the original.
The Abstract is about 6,500 words. The booklet was just thirty two pages, one of which was a title page and one of which was blank. My transcriptions come each to less than nine pages of twelve-point type.
Addendum (2017:12/15): After I posted my transcriptions, a Google search on an Android tablet returned a link not previously returned by a Google search on my Linux box, to a transcription by Carl Mickelsen lacking the original preface contained in the booklet, and with the remaining text extensively editted to change spellings, punctuation, italicization, &c I also found a wholesale paraphasing of the Abstract by Jonathan Bennett, with changes far more extensive than the reader is led to believe