The Rationality of Man

I hate that I have to say this.  But no, the title of this post does not exclude women.  Anyone who claims it does is hunting for semantic ambiguities they can themselves fill to satisfy their political/socio-psychological agenda. It’s rather like a child asking its parents “can’t I have a candy?” and when they say “no” the child happily munches away.

Now, I’ve had an interesting email conversation about whether or not man is actually rational.  It’s actually an extremely difficult proposition to prove either way, because you can cite evidence on either side in the form of anecdotes about people who acted rationally or irrationally, or create hypothetical situations in which the default response for someone is similarly obfuscated.  You can hem and haw all day and still not get anywhere decisively about the true nature of man.  The biggest obstacle to the argument that humans are rational is basically that sometimes humans act irrationally.  Conversely, the argument that humans are irrational is sunk because there are rational human decisions.  According to the popular relativist mode of thinking, we now reach an impasse, a compromise, a non-answer such as “humans are neither rational nor irrational” or “some humans are, and some aren’t” or worse “we can’t prove it, therefore it cannot be determined.”

Such a situation seems to indicate that we’re missing something, as I have often repeated.  To resolve this issue, let’s instead look at what exactly we mean by rationality in this context.  Do we mean that humans are like calculators with mouths, capable of maximizing every last erg of their efficiency and output in order to acquire the most material prosperity?  Obviously not- life is so much richer than cold monetarism.  I use the term ‘personal economics’ which includes subjective value relative to each person.  Family, psychological needs, preferences, etc. all sum together into a complex mass which we use to make choices, different for each person.  Now, I would argue that someone’s choices are always, always going to be rational relative to this standard that they’re carrying around in their heads.  Otherwise they would have done something else, or if they deviate from this model for a reason they consider rational, the act of contradicting that model would have changed the model to accommodate the behavior.  This is called cognitive dissonance.  The issue we’re really after, then, is whether or not this model we have is rational, and not whether the decision-making process used upon this model is rational.  My argument thus runs that the actual data operated upon is not a prerequisite for being a rational being.  If you punch into your calculator “what is the opposite of a hippo?” it’s going to go “ERROR” but that’s not because the calculator isn’t rational (bad example; calculators aren’t sentient… yet!)- it obeys perfectly objective, rational laws, and does so perfectly every time.  In human terms, if your brain were plugged into a computer that simulated reality exactly, with the small exception that you were in the body of a hippo, your rationality will not be affected by the irrational data being given to it.  In all probability you’ll figure out how to do your hippo thing and live life as a hippo with a very large IQ, at least until you’re unplugged.

The opposite argument basically claims that the information contained within your thought entity- i.e. mind, is actually an inseparable and fundamental building block of rationality.  Claiming rationality is dependent upon your actual thoughts/sense data/ideas is not that strange, considering that you have to learn how to be rational.  Otherwise you would be born just as rational as any scholar, and education is just claptrap.  We know for a fact that teaching, or specific sensory data designed to produce specific (usually useful) thought patterns makes people more rational, so rationality is learned and is therefore dependent upon what memories and information are actually in your head.  If a human mind was utterly deprived of sensory input, it would hardly become a rational entity.  I actually agree with this analysis, believe it or not.  However I will make the assertion that by teaching, you aren’t modifying the fundamental operations used to determine choices or actions, you’re actually modifying the model in the person’s head so that the same intrinsic operations will produce a more desirable result relative to objective reality.

Let’s look at an example.  You have to learn that 2 + 2 = 4.  If you haven’t been taught addition, you don’t know that.  I would argue that, rather, you did already know that, but you didn’t actually know the significance of the symbols 2, +, =, and 4 until you had been taught addition.  If you only understand numbers, you can certainly understand you have two, and if they add two, you can just count again and reach the result of 4.  Indeed, you don’t even have to understand counting to recognize the concept of numbers, that three of something is different from four of something in a specific, definite capacity, and that capacity of difference semantically formalized and transmitted through teaching is how we arrive at counting.  In fact, just by understanding numbers on the level of a 4 year old, you fundamentally understand mathematics up to basic algebra.  If you count two, and you count four, what operation will transform this into that?  We have just divined 2 + x = 4.  Furthermore, if you’re really that much smarter than the average bear, you might even develop a formulaic system of mathematics such as u%4/u.  I just made this notation up, and don’t claim it’s as flexible or useful as standard, but in order for someone else to understand, I would have to teach it to them.  Of course, this same reasoning applies to words and concepts as well.  An actual apple is completely different from the semantic identity of the word representing it, in just the same way that a pre-verbal child can understand quantities without knowing how to manipulate or communicate them as concepts.  This seems a trivial point, but the fact that multiple languages exist proves that semantic identity is not equivalent to reality, because if there was an equivalence, there could exist only one “true” language.  And let’s not even get into the idea of sensory data transmission of the nature of language, not just a language itself.

Back to the topic, we can all agree that at some point there existed a time when humans did not understand basic principles in rational terms.  Even if that requires we go back to before there was life on earth, we can do it.  So at some point, beginning with nothing, we developed every last one of those principles which we now teach.  The fact that they were discerned from out of the fabric of objective reality proves that the faculty needed to conceptualize those principles is separate from them.  Because we needed something to start with, some tool we used to derive all our other tools.  Now it is possible that we have a wide variety of tools genetically ingrained in us, such as an understanding of Newtonian physics derived from our monkey days of jumping between trees, and an implicit grasp of inductive reasoning ingrained in our behaviorist psychologies.  My only assertion is that the basic, universal, master decision-making system is one of those tools.  All the other tools, including inductive reasoning and others, are servile to your decision-making algorithm, whether in a sensory or in an enabling capacity.  They either provide you with (presumably accurate) information, or give you the power to act on your environment, or some other form of utility.  The faculty of memory is a very significant, but still servile, form of information storage for recall when useful.

This is a huge topic, actually, and I’ve only touched on it a little bit.  I’ll almost certainly do another post on this.  At least one.

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Radical Judgment

A relativist would say that it isn’t our place to judge other cultures. However, such people are flaming hypocrites. Two seconds afterwards they’ll turn around and tell you what they think of somebody, or that a certain movie is terrible, or that one artist is better than another, and so on and so forth. Judgment, in the sense of forming impressions, is an inescapable part of being a thinking being. To dismiss a certain type of judgment as “improper” because all the possible permutations must be appreciated equally, is just nonsense. It’s an attempt to make you stop thinking, just like how religion will tell you to trust your faith. There are indeed numerous hideous cultural practices that the world would be better off without, from genocide to female genital mutilation. However, the statement that they are horrible and unnecessary does not automatically follow through into action. I do not believe that it is anyone’s place, particularly in an international sense, to use military power to force anyone to do anything. If you’re going to point a gun at someone’s head and tell them not to kill people, OK, I can see what your intent is, but you’re kind of not being morally consistent. Not to mention that use of force is going to eventually tempt one of the gun’s holders to go a little farther, maybe to see infrastructure built, and then maybe anti-corruption laws (haha, no hypocrisy there), and then taxation, at which point the ones with the guns are basically muggers. Although they are very powerful, methodical, and have lots of mindless patriots willing to back them up for no better reason than the location of their birth, but they’re still muggers. Well, not exactly. I can at least respect the honesty of a real mugger, since he isn’t going to try to convince you that you’re a bad person if you don’t hand over your money.

Now, I would like to point out the twisted chain of reasoning which leads to this suspension of a necessary mental faculty. First, bring forth the evidence in the racial inequalities of the past and in other nations. Conclude that this is a bad thing. Therefore, since judging people based on the color of their skin, or eyes, or I don’t care what, is unjust, therefore we shouldn’t judge people. This is then used as a rationalization to suspend reactions to other cultures because we have to “respect” them, to religions in the form of “you can’t judge someone by their religion, therefore saying (religion X/religious people) are crazy is religious persecution=racism=bad.” Therefore we should conclude that talking to people about their religion is something we should avoid- you’ve probably observed the sensitivity to such discussion, at least in the US.

To get at the nitty-gritty of the issue- the issue isn’t that judgment is bad. That is a fallacy of the first order perpetuated in a masterwork of propaganda and conditioning. No, the evil is in irrational judgment. You can’t damn someone for making a judgment. You can, however, damn someone for a judgment that has no basis or bearing on reality and the truth. You don’t start a flame war when someone tries a food you like and says it tastes awful. If you’re over the age of 6, at least. They’re just responding to their own sensory impression, just as you would. However, there is always a huge, often violent reaction to racial injustice such as stereotypes based on skin colors because the ones being victimized know on a very deep level that their persecutors are being completely and totally irrational, yet they have the power to make their fantasy-world take shape in reality, and that will irritate the living shit out of absolutely anyone, including you. Don’t believe me? You’ve been in this exact situation many times before. Have you ever been talking with someone, and you observed some event, and then afterwards the other person has unequivocally deluded themselves about what just occurred? A true to life example would take some explication, so I’ll make a synthetic one just to keep it compact. Let’s say you’re playing a game where you roll a die- a 6 earns you $100, and a 1 makes you lose $100. It’s your turn, and you roll 6, 4, 3, 6, 2, 2, 3. After you finish you turn to your buddy, hand him the die, and go “Hey, that was pretty lucky. You owe me $200.” Your buddy looks at you quizzically and says “No, you owe me $400. You got four ones, idiot.” Ah, yes, I can hear the ire in my readers rising already. Now imagine that this deluded fool is your boss, and if you piss him off at all he’ll simply fire your ass, so you have no choice but to concede and hand over the money. This is the exact analogue of injustice- racial, religious, whatever, but on a teeny, tiny scale. The issue isn’t that judgment is bad, it’s that irrationality is horrifyingly damaging on a very deep emotional level. Kind of ironic that that exact brand of irrationality is used to perpetuate the suspension of judgment- another form of irrationality. However it isn’t surprising because you can’t back up such a proposition with true rationality.

In the words of Ayn Rand, “Judge, and prepare to be judged.” Think about this statement, it has a lot of depth. Market capitalism works because each vendor is competing with others selling the same thing, and each buyer is competing to get the products they want. Human social interaction is meant to work in the same organic fashion, where each person is free to do what they want, including to judge others, while at the same time others have the freedom to judge them (including for their judgments). Companies selling good products get more customers in an evolutionary system meant to produce the most happiness in the most efficient manner with the resources available. In every exchange, value is created because if both parties didn’t benefit then they wouldn’t make the deal. In the same way, human judgments should function within an evolutionary system to produce the most accurate picture, because the more useful judgments are perpetuated while the inferior or irrational ones are tested and recognized as such before being discarded. Modern science is an evolutionary system matching the body of knowledge against reality, using an evolutionary system of many scientists, and theories proved false are discarded because they detract from the accurateness of the picture as a whole.

The evolutionary system is the greatest discovery in the history of mankind. With the possible exceptions of language and agriculture (the distinction between discovery and invention is purely semantic and totally unnecessary). Problems arise when you try to interfere in this system using force. For example, let’s say we have a population of deer in some forest. These deer have lived in peace for millions of years, but now, because of mankind, they are faced with a new predator: the T-Rex. Thousands of Tyrannosaurus Rex specimens have escaped from Area 51 and run all the way from Roswell to eat these tasty deer. Now, as humans, some might say we have a responsibility to intervene because we caused this problem. They may have a legitimate point ethically, but that’s not what we’re talking about at this moment: we’re talking about the equilibrium of evolutionary systems. Let’s say for a moment that we decide the wacko environmentalists, as opposed to the rational environmentalists (i.e. me), are right, and we use SCUD missiles and machine guns and whatnot to keep down the population of T-Rexes. Lots of deer still get eaten, but they aren’t going to even approach the black chasmy brink of extinction. The wacko environmentalists cheer a successful cause, and the rationalists mourn the fact that now we, humans, are mired in mediating a war we cannot win, because our very objective is to keep the war going by maintaining a supply of defenseless deer. The sane, rational perspective is that the deer is just going to get evolutionarily selected out because of the presence of T-Rexes. War over, problem solved. Every day we insulate the deer population from its environment is another day that it is evolving for our artificially created fantasy bubble reality, and another day it’s not evolving for the actual problems it needs to face in the world. So, the hard truth is that in the long run it’s better to let the deer go by the wayside. Now, in real-life terms, this might result in a cascade effect which brings down the whole ecosystem, so we might decide to do something about it in that light, but the evolutionary system being artificially disrupted and warped is still true.

Now consider applying this idea to the economy. Insulating industry from overseas competition using tariffs is more or less equivalent to giving our hypothetical deer some badass anti-T-Rex device that means a T-Rex will run screaming back to its mama when faced by a mighty doe, if so equipped. In fact, given enough time these deer might even become so bold as to exercise their newfound T-Rex herding powers to useful effect. Perhaps they choose to hang around near them so that if some other predator shows up they can just dart past the T-Rex and their predator is sitting there, shaking, thinking “nuh uh, no way, man!” This will obviously mean the deer won’t evolve the means to protect themselves from these T-Rexes. So, if at some point in the future that protective shield is removed, the resulting correction in the system will be swift and brutal. Plus, if the deer had adapted to an environment in which they had T-Rex scarer devices then they’re living in a fantasy world that leaves them even more poorly equipped to deal with reality. To use the previous example, they’d probably seek out T-Rexes to hide near, only to their surprise now the T-Rex just eats their deluded mammalian ass. Though that trend would end fairly quickly because all the deer using that strategy would be devoured pretty fast. Leaving analogy-metaphor-land, tariffs are exactly that type of interference in an evolutionary system. As are taxes, regulation, and oh so many other economic interferences. The problem is that a) the government can enforce its fantasy land on a consistent basis, and does so, and b) we’ve been in consistent fantasy land for so long now that we have become totally unable to survive “in the economic wild.” American car companies have been producing poorer vehicles at higher prices than foreign car companies for a loooong time. But nevertheless, they get government funding, legislative aid, and a whole gaggle of loonies decrying that you should “buy American! Be patriotic!” The big problem is that it’s so tempting to just help them a little bit. There’s a rough patch a long time ago and we go “Alright, it’s OK, we’ll give you a teensy little edge, but only for a little while, OK?” Of course, it doesn’t last just a little while because the car companies adapt to the new environment to maximize profit and minimize cost, often producing a poorer product that will be equally competitive, factoring in their edge. You can’t strip their new advantage because they’ll cry bloody murder at how the government is destroying them, killing jobs, etc. etc. It’s gotten to the point that, if those aids were relaxed, the American car companies would have a very, very hard time, and probably fold.

Judgment falls into the same category. The ideal system is a free field because evolutionary systems will just appear wherever necessary to maximize utility. Don’t believe me? Get a group of 100 third grade students, lock them in a gym somewhere, give them 10 chips each, and give them a list of prizes- like 1 chip for a piece of candy, 5 for a toy, etc. etc., up to 1000 for a bike. Any prize list, any number of chips, it doesn’t matter. Watch what happens. You will see deals, contracts, breaches of faith, economic retribution, and in the end, on the whole, each kid will be relatively satisfied, having transformed their 10 chips into 10 chips of value for them, which will be subjectively different than 10 chips of value for each other kid. The ones who prefer candy have no qualms about getting 10 candies, although they will probably lent their 10 chips out to the kid who wants the video game for 40 chips, in return for an 11th candy. These kids have no training, and precious little reasoning ability, but nevertheless they can create a myriad of evolutionary systems to select for maximizing happiness.   The same methodology should apply to human truth, to history, opinions, to elections.  I have no problem with the idea of elections at all- they’re very representative.  What I have a problem with is the idea that the will of the majority can be enforced on everyone else by men with guns and blue uniforms.  Anyone who agrees to abide by the majority’s decision, fine, that’s great.  Otherwise you’re saying that if five men want to ambush and rape one woman, they’re the majority in that particular subset of humanity, and so therefore the woman is morally obligated to obey and if she doesn’t then the brutes have the moral authority to use violence.  Or, if you’re of the beauraucratic persuasion, you could argue that they have to be wearing blue uniforms.  It’s not the vote I have the problem with- it’s the idea that violent enforcement must, well of course somehow follow.  That’s my judgment, you’re free to make yours.  Just don’t tell me I shouldn’t judge just because it’s convenient for someone else if I don’t think.

The Dramatic Trick of Equality

Equality sounds like such a fantastic concept.  It can readily be phrased in altruistic terms, and decrying generosity never seems like a malevolent tactic.  However, fundamentally, you can’t want everyone to be equal without tacitly accepting the presence of evil.  In this essay, and by essay I am using the word etymologically derived from “to try”- I’ll try to shed a little light on the most widespread perversion of absolute morality. I am talking about the first and foremost false argument from morality in modern society.

First of all, what exactly do I mean by equality?  I think the easiest way to outline equality is to represent its opposite- a situation where the few possess the vast majority of the resources, and the many are thereby deprived.  Sounds difficult to support, doesn’t it?  But what if I said that that particular phrasing is merely a trick to more or less force you into accepting the proposition.  Something like how you can ask someone if they’re “for world hunger” and if they say yes you cook them alive, and if they say no then you force them to donate massive amounts to charity.  It is possible, however, to dislike the fact that in the world’s poorest countries many people are starving to death while at the same time putting your money to better use.  And this is certainly not being hypocritical- as a matter of fact foreign aid is nothing more than a tool used by the greater nations to obliterate the economies of the less fortunate.  To support sending money and goods to poorer nations is to cause world hunger and poverty, in the most direct sense.  Sure, it seems illogical that by sending them food you are causing them to starve.  But consider for a moment if a bunch of aliens were to arrive in the United States and start dropping super high-tech cars, no charge, for anyone who wants one.  The American car companies would be livid, at least until they went broke.  In fact these hypothetical aliens wouldn’t even need to drop very many alien tech supercars to put impossible strain on the American car companies.  The same process would hold true with food, if the aliens were to provide some form of very desirable food commodity, free of charge- American farmers would be roasted alive.  The issue with that example is that such alien food would have to be in extremely high demand relative to current food products, which isn’t really possible in the food industry.

Now the issue with such discussion is that the last paragraph was an argument from effect.  They have their place, but arguments from morality are much more significant.  Fundamentally, an argument for equality needs to prove that everyone wants some x, and also that the redistribution of x is morally acceptable.  The most common equality argument is about economic inequality.  In such a case, the proponent makes the case that everyone wants money- which is for the most part valid- and that the redistribution of money is morally justified.  Their problem is that clearly this structure of argumentation doesn’t hold up to generalization.  For example, I propose that everyone should have an equal number of pet snakes.  Everyone wants snakes, and the redistribution of snakes is morally justified.  Clearly false.  OK, how about a more controversial example?  Everyone wants… women!  No, not going there, just joking.  A more realistic example: food.  Everyone wants food, and the redistribution of food is morally justified, therefore a third party should decide what food you get.  None of these arguments hold, but for some reason many people are willing to make an exception for money- even putting aside for the moment that “redistribution” as a concept is essentially never justified.  If it was voluntary then it would be called a “gift” and if it’s not voluntary then you’re using coercion backed by violence.

Equality contains within it the vampiric seeds of parasitism and violence.  In order to ensure equality, guess what you would have to do?  Worse, who says we all want the same thing?  In the above example, not everyone wants to own a pet snake.  If you want a pet snake then you can see to it yourself.  Creating a committee for the allocation of pet snakes is the absurdist end of the spectrum, and would clearly fail.  But why should other committees function any differently?  Basically the idea of a committee is that a central organizing party can distribute better than each individual’s own time and effort- which is of course nonsense.  If it were the case then such committees would appear everywhere, take over the stock market, and rule the world economy.  Which doesn’t happen precisely because the committee can’t outthink the market.  So those with a little power will do their damnedest to put more resources under the sway of a committee because then, to some extent, they control a few more resources.  So, basically, if you’re arguing for equality, you’re saying that a centralized agency is the best method of achieving equality because otherwise those who want more of any specific commodity, or for other reasons are better able to acquire certain commodities will end up with more of those commodities.  Naturally gifted artists will take up art, those who own profitable farming land inherited from their parents will use it for farming, and those who want pet snakes will be prepared to pay more for them than people who don’t.  But, because we must avoid the accumulation of too much artistic ability in any one person, or of too much production capacity in one property, or in too many pet snakes per household, we need committees X, Y, and Z.

So this brings us to power.  Power is not just desirable for equality by redistribution, it is fundamentally necessary.  If nobody has the power to actually redistribute resources, then it can’t happen.  And if everybody has the power to freely redistribute resources then a couple greedy people will simply take everything else for themselves to squabble over for all eternity.  So, says the pro-government debator, we must have some people with the power to redistribute resources, and some people who don’t.  This is a very key point.  So you’re saying that in order to produce equality of resources we have to produce a large disparity of power.  To me, that sounds just silly.  However there are many people who would just nod and go “yeah, that makes sense.”  Well, what exactly is power?  Power is the ability to get what you want despite resistance.  The more resistance you can overcome, the more power you have, by definition.  Now, note the critical second piece.  Power is the ability to get what you want despite resistance.  This is clearly a necessary component because otherwise the forces in question would simply be inexorable in one direction or the other.  And please don’t give me any of this crap about power gives you the power to get something you don’t want, because if you’re intentionally aiming for what you don’t want you are A) stupid, and B) getting what you were trying to get- which is what you wanted in the important sense.  Power therefore necessarily provides indirect control over anything which you might want- we can consider it like an even more universal form of currency because it necessarily includes whatever powers currency can bring, as well as others.  The power to make decisions affecting others provides a very special kind of resource- politicians enjoy this kind of power all the time- others will pay you to make decisions in their favor.  They will give you resources so that you will say a few words and endow them with even more resources taken from third parties.  By giving power to anyone, you break your original goal of equality in absolutely irrevocable terms.

So we could start a priori from the libertarian perspective, or we can follow through on the logic of equality until we reach the problem of the application of power.  This contradiction then leads us to conclude that the only true form of equality is where everyone has the same level of power- which necessarily precludes the existence of a government.  Or, you can say that it is justified to have a rich, powerful elite in the government, but then you’re contradicting your original argument for equality.  You can factor in whatever tricks you like about elections, but then you run into the problem that an election consumes resources- so campaign donations from the rich and from interested companies or special interest groups only gives them a fully sanctioned avenue to use political power.  You cannot escape the integral relationship between power and resources.  Power, that primal feeling of dominance, is corrupting because in evolutionary terms it’s incredibly advantageous to be corrupt as hell!  Using nothing but a word to get free resources?  We’re programmed to seek such a position, it’s so ingrained in us.  Not only that, but we’re programmed to enjoy it, and then we’re programmed to be corrupt.  Power is liquid resources in a way that money can only numerically imitate.  So it is absolutely impossible to mandate equality, and any attempt to convince you otherwise must quite obviously present itself to you as an attempt to convince you with empty, generous-sounding contradictions that appeal to your humanity so that they may take your money, and your freedom.

Paradox

Paradoxes are interesting phenomena, and they can give us great insight into exactly how we err in interpreting our perceptions about reality. But how exactly do we approach paradoxes to learn about the nature of our perception?

I’m going to approach a selection of famous paradoxes and indicate exactly how the error is indicative of a flaw in our methods of perception, rather than using a paradox to reveal that the universe is somehow unknowable, contradictory, and mysterious. Let’s start with a simple one: the liar’s paradox. Someone who says “I always lie.” Are they lying? If you accept their statement as true, you must therefore accept the statement as false, etc. etc. This is an easy one to disentangle. Is the semantic identity of the word “lie” useful in this context? What do we mean, exactly, when a person “lies”. Do we mean they say something that is literally untrue? Lying is actually a fairly complex set of possibilities, often simplified in this context to mean always saying the opposite of what is true. But even “opposite” is a confusing and entangled term. With a verb, opposite implies a single negation. It could mean active behavior in the opposite, or any number of other possibilities. When applied to a color, somehow it reverses to the opposite side of the human-visible color spectrum. Little children even add incredibly arbitrary constructions, such as “dog” being the opposite of “cat”. Which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. For the sake of clarity, each context warrants its own predicate, but nobody seems to realize the profound extent of their entanglement. The liar’s paradox points out a clearly evident problem with our contextual interpretation of language, such that “lying” can mean essentially anything. I could even approach the word “always” but I think I’ve made my point. In a practical, logical sense, there is no paradox. The person could be saying that they do not necessarily speak the truth when they say they always lie, not that they always add a single negation to whatever is true. Next!

Nothing is better than eternal bliss, but a slice of bread is better than nothing. Therefore, a slice of bread is better than eternal bliss. This is an obvious one. The word “nothing” is clearly being used to refer to two different semantic entities. In the first case the word nothing is intended to produce a sentence meaning “there exists no thing better than eternal bliss.” In the second case, the logically precise equivalent is “bread is better than the complete absence of substance.” Just because the sequence of letters used is the same is no reason to draw such a conclusion.

The sorieties paradox. You have a heap of sand, and subtract one grain, leaving you with a heap. Presumably this means you could subtract all the grains, one at a time, preserving heap-ness at each step, until you had no sand at all. This is also a fairly rudimentary one, though tougher than the previous one. The resolution is that a heap is an imaginary entity with a vague definition. A “heap” does not actually exist in the same sense that a perfect circle doesn’t exist. In fact, in both cases, by definition they cannot exist because a perfect circle is a two-dimensional object and cannot exist in a three-dimensional world. A heap has a similar problem, but it’s more difficult to articulate. Consider: if you were omnipotent, and could create anything you wanted with a thought, and you wanted to create a heap, just a heap, then how would you do it? You could create numerous other objects and designate that “X is a heap” but you could not create “a heap” in the same way not even an omnipotent being could create a square circle, or a triangle with four sides. However, those exhibit the property of being overdefined, creating contradictions. A heap, however, is underdefined, which means we can automatically fill in the gaps based on context and fool ourselves into thinking such thing as a heap can exist. We can create it in imagination, but it does not therefore exist. I could go further and apply this same idea of imaginary entities to, say, religion, the government, positions of power, etc. etc. ad infinitum. I will restrain myself to move on to another paradox.

Achilles and his tortoise is an even tougher one, but still resolvable. This paradox is about the division of space, where if Achilles shoots arrows at a tortoise as it walks away, halving the distance his shots hit from the tortoise with every shot, will he ever hit the tortoise? Barring the practical considerations that Achilles would have to be a damn good shot, and also that there comes a time when it’s “close enough” and you’ve hit the tortoise anyway, this paradox raises some issues. In the mathematical sense, no, Achilles will never hit the tortoise. This is, as you may have noticed, just like taking any number c and dividing it by 2^n, where n is the number of shots Achilles is firing– this equation is asymptotic to the line x=0, and therefore Achilles should never hit the tortoise. However, the practical and mathematical interpretations both fall prey to the same issue. Where exactly is the tortoise? Are we measuring the position of the tortoise from its center, or from the point on the tortoise closest to Achilles? Clearly, if we’re measuring from the center of the tortoise, he’s going to hit it because presumably we’re not dealing with an infinitely small tortoise. While this seems like a trivial point, I imagine if you’ve heard of this paradox before, you were told that Achilles could never hit the tortoise and you believed it because there was sufficient leeway in your interpretation of the word “position” that you could rearrange the position to the point closest to Achilles. This post-interpretive semantic shift is what I’m aiming at, where dissonance in a conclusion can be resolved by rearranging the premises more easily than questioning the conclusion.

Now we can really get started.  Let’s look at Newcomb’s Paradox.  I’m now realizing that I may have to do multiple posts on paradoxes– this one grows long already, and there are many paradoxes to get to.  Anyway, Newcomb’s Paradox is a game theory problem.  You are presented with two boxes, one of which contains $1,000 and the other is a mystery which you are told contains either nothing, or $1 million.  The host tells you that you may take either the opaque box, or both boxes.  However, if the host predicted you would take both boxes, the mystery box is empty, and if they predicted you’d take just the mystery box then it has $1 million inside.  Should you take both, or just the mystery box?  Now, simple greed tells us to just take both– either the black box has the money, or it doesn’t.  The difficulty is in the fact that because this is the obvious choice, the mystery box probably has nothing in it.  Consider that logic loop for a moment– it’s stable.  However, if you allow for the fact that the host figured you’d take the mystery box, thinking that because you choose the mystery box it retroactively alters prior conditions, you end up with $1 million.  This situation has to do with the application of intent.  The host knows you are trying to maximize your winnings, and can figure you either for believing in the retroactive action, or for skepticism.  If the host guesses you’ll go for retroactivity, he’ll put the money in the mystery box.  However, the fact that he has done so disqualifies his retroactive prediction because choosing both will net the mystery box as well.  In short, this puzzle seems more confusing than it is.  Actually, the case reduces to a single, stable state where you always choose both boxes.  However, if you were to repeat the test, then the ideal strategy is to always select the mystery box only, leading the host to predict you will only take the mystery box.  So we arrive at the Prisoner’s Dilemma (slightly modified), easy as pie.  Language used purely for the sake of obfuscation.

To wrap up this post, I’ll bring in a case of where fake logic, rigorously applied, can be used to obfuscate.  The St. Petersburg Paradox is extremely interesting, especially in that it is actually logically justifiable.  Consider the statement “all crows are black”.  What evidence would you need to confirm or contradict this statement?  Clearly, finding a white crow would nullify that statement, but no matter how many black crows you find you’ll never be able to prove this statement authoritatively– you’re using inductive logic.  However, consider the logically equivalent statement “all non-black things are non-crows.”  According to this phrasing, finding an object that is not black and that is also not a crow is evidence for the fact that all crows are black.  So, in rigorous logical thought, finding a purple cow provides evidence for the fact that all crows are black.  Logic is a fantastic tool, but just like any tool it can be easily misused, or broken.  In this case, the distinction is similar to saying that “John is not telling the truth” which indicates that John is not saying a statement which is true, but not necessarily that they are saying something that is false.  This is a difficult problem of perception to enunciate clearly, but consider the statement “I don’t like Jean”.  I have not indicated that I dislike Jean, only that I don’t like her.  I may not know Jean, or I may be neutral.  The state of not-liking X is not equivalent to the state of disliking X, although dislike satisfies the condition of not-liking.  If I disliked Jean, I could truthfully say I didn’t like her, but I would be equally truthful if I hadn’t met her.

Just some interesting paradoxes revealing interesting features of the mind that tend to get entangled. I may do another post like this some other time. This is a pretty good sampling of basic and ubiquitous errors of thinking.  This could get you to the point where you can start identifying more on your own.  Mind your mind, please.

Objectivism, Your Mind, & Reality

Ayn Rand is, in my opinion, one of the most levelheaded thinkers out there. However, she’s also wrong on a number of counts. Of course, I say that about pretty much every major thinker because I agree with them on some points and disagree on others. Yet Objectivism is virtually perfect. Look it up if you don’t know what Objectivism is- wikipedia shall serve ye well.

Firstly is the concept of an objective reality with objective facts that exist irrespective of perception. This is utterly true. If you are referring to “reality.” But that’s actually rather harder to do than you would think. When you hold an apple in your hand and say “this is an apple” you are drawing those conclusions based on sensory data, constructing a world completely in your own mind that you can then abstract into concepts such as “apple.” In reality, an “apple” cannot exist, only a set of atoms arranged in such a way that your mind gets the idea that it is an apple. As such, the perspective of the conscious agent is inseparable from the reality it perceives.

This is going to seem like a massive tangent, and perhaps it will end up that way. But for now, trust me- I’m on track. As a sentient entity, humans use self-conceptualizing thinking mechanisms. That is, when you think something, you think you are thinking it. For a squirrel (me, apples, squirrels, they work) it has no idea what it is thinking at the time. It is merely a bunch of chemical and neurological reactions that produce survival behavior. There is no conscious mind being informed “this is what we are now doing, what next?” The squirrel is an automaton. However, since I always unify things in unexpected ways, I would go so far as to say that all purely biological lifeforms must be automatons. They can be very complex automatons, even to the point of taking inputs and modulating outputs, but there is no sentience being served and being told that it’s running the show. That is a meme. A meme-less brain is actually impossible, since any “hard-coded” information pattern created by genes would be replicated genetically. In this case the memes that fill the brain and evolve would be best-geared for the survival of the species (given competition) because the survival of the species is a prerequisite for the survival of the meme. We evolved learning mechanisms, memory, emotions, language centers, etc. etc. to aid our survival. However, when you add what I will call code communication to the mix it becomes possible for memes to move around in non-genetic ways. Speech was the first code-communication, enabling two humans to manipulate semantic agents in the same way they were expressed in the brain. As a result, memes could put themselves into a speech-form which can pass to another human, ready to be passed to another human. Note that the faculty for speech itself is a genetic meme- languages are learned through baser, non-code communication like body language. You don’t think in body language, but you can acquire memes through it.

I should reduce that convoluted paragraph to its essence. But I’m not going to cut it because there may be some people who follow my mind like locomotives on railroad tracks and would get a lot out of it. Basically, you think differently than you can communicate. As we develop more explicit modes of communication, the ability for memes to spread increases. Secondly, there exists a threshold I call code communication- the point at which it is possible to reliably communicate thinking patterns. Body language through the development of spoken language was the crossover into code communication. Someone who thinks in English and is told something in English is going to automatically integrate what was heard in a manner similar to their thoughts. When communicating in body language, you have a communication buffer that gets in the way. This insulates the mind and stops memes from being contagious under their own power. To get a better picture of this barrier, imagine trying to explain Christianity, or physics, to someone who did not speak any language at all, who literally never learned about language. It’s impossible in the purest sense because you’re trying to explain a semantic concept to someone who can’t handle semantic concepts, doesn’t even know they exist. The idea that “physics” exists just would not work for them. By the same token, “apple” would not exist for them. The object, apple, they would recognize, and they would understand they could eat it. But the idea that there is a concept derived from a number of similar objects all called apples would never penetrate their mind. And if you tried to explain that the thing is red and edible, you aren’t helping because they don’t understand the property of redness or edibleness.

So we can agree that a mind adds greatly to the depth of reality, introducing the existence of new things like redness or edibleness, or “apple”. Pure Objectivism would say that nothing exists that isn’t “real”. I’m getting self-conscious about my use of quotes. In case you hadn’t noticed, I use them to indicate that the word is not being used in the conventional sense. Somewhat like a ‘ from Lisp… Anyway! I would say that something doesn’t have to be real to exist, but it must exist to be considered. A couple other stipulations: all things that are real, exist, and (therefore, for logical people) all things that do not exist are not real. I am not saying that unicorns exist. Unicorns are neither real nor existent. However, the idea of a unicorn certainly exists, although it certainly is not real. “Real.” Damn I hate English. Give me a truly logical language and a lever long enough, and I will move the world. And all the little slave gnomes straining away in the Labor Furnace of Evan’s Brain scream “Oh NO! Here we go again!” I’m hoping you’re understanding the distinction between reality and existence. “Real” would mean that it has corporeal existence in the physical sense, while existence means only that there exists a pattern of information that would be adequately represented by that label. In reality, “an apple” doesn’t exist. However, there exist a large number of objects that we would say exhibit the form and properties of an apple, so semantically we take a shortcut and say that any one of them could be referred to. This is a lot of wrangling just to make a fairly rudimentary distinction. Still more fun, there are also things in reality that do not exist in our perceptual worlds. What is the color of ultraviolet? It doesn’t exist in our perception, so we have to tag it with some other color already used by another spectrum in order to “see” it. This is rather like the position of the languageless human, who doesn’t know what a semantic object is because it hasn’t been created in their perceptual world. Who knows what idea-inventions of equal magnitude we haven’t even begun to consider.

Comic relief time. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. (Weeehoooo!) It’s a real, grammatically valid sentence. Look it up.

OK, reality and existence established, we now arrive at existence of paradigms. The world we perceive as real has a certain set of physical laws that don’t change. This we probably know. However, we clearly know that the idea of a unicorn is bound by none of these laws. In effect, the idea-world is operating with different laws. I don’t actually like Plato’s philosophy but he was the first philosopher to take a stab at abstraction so I must give him credit. A unicorn exists in a paradigm world defined only by the properties of the unicorn, with no other restrictions. Effectively, we can say whatever we want about the situation the unicorn is in, the laws of its world, none of those are defined. In fact, many of the properties of the unicorn are also not defined. Are all unicorns white? Must they have only two genders? Basically you get a horselike thing with a horn, everything else is negotiable. We could place the unicorn in a world with one law: very powerful antigravity. Or maybe where all organisms spontaneously explode seconds after being created (maybe they’re the same world)- whatever!

Remarkably, we can even conceive of paradigms that are not logically consistent, or even remotely sane. Consider a square circle. Right off, you’ll tell me that it’s logically impossible. A square’s definition logically precludes it from being a circle. For the most part, you’re right. However, you are using those definitions in a natural-world context using “real” laws you are familiar with. Let’s envision a paradigm in which a shape has two attributes which, depending on its environment, can cause it to “appear” as a square or as a circle when in fact it is both and neither. This example is weak because actually what we’re doing is rendering the natural definition of “square” and “circle” null and void by changing the laws of the universe and then converting those definitions into analogues for the new paradigm in whatever form we want- truly an impressive feat in algorithmic terms. The essence of the last sentence is that we are no longer talking about a square and a circle by our real-world definition, because those couldn’t exist in such a world- they would be logically impossible.

I am not saying that there actually exists a “world of ideas” that we all come from. Instead I am saying that we all have powerful minds capable of more or less unlimited manipulation of information within their sphere of influence, and that we can create any paradigms or concepts that we wish within that. This is the reason why many people become addicted to things like computers. A computer is a tool to aid your mind in the same way that a hammer is an aid to the hand. The major distinction is that adding power to your mind is a highly addicting process because it gives you that much more outlet power. I imagine if we were able to represent a massive virtual world with nothing but our brains, we would be doing it all the time because that creative outlet, that power, is highly addictive. People can also become addicted to content, which is a similar process, except that it is input instead of output. In a way, input is the first resource for the creation of output so all couch potatoes are information packrat zombies who store and store and store and never use any of it. Worse, they aren’t particularly selective about what they choose to learn or keep, so it’s invariably complete junk. On the other hand, you get people who never accept information input. This produces an ivory-tower pure reason thinker. Philosophers who choose to consider the sensory world and the assertions of others unreliable a la Descartes tend to exhibit this sort of mentality, in their philosophy at least.

How am I going to draw all this together? The universe is more complicated than we know, not because its laws are sophisticated, but because it actually contains an extra world for each sentient being in it. And each of those worlds exhibits N-dimensional, code undefined, plastic behavior that can even use impossible logical system as their foundation. Now let’s say, just for fun, that our minds were powerful enough to conceive of a large enough quantity of information to define all the atoms necessary to make, say, Earth, it’s ecosystem, and 6 billion human inhabitants. We can throw in the rest of the universe and its paradigm laws just for the hell of it. Each of those human inhabitants could exhibit the same property of consciousness, N-dimensional mind-worlds derived purely from their (mind-virtual) atomic information. This is where it gets really trippy. So you have within your mind enough computational power to simulate the universe (with generalizations and abstraction, otherwise it would take 1 bit to represent 1 bit and you would need to be the universe to simulate it- which is impossible). You have run this simulation and arrived at Earth with humans on it. Do you hear all their thoughts? I’m going to leave you with that one and get onto the truly trippy stuff- let’s say these humans develop computers, they learn to augment their brains, and grow their own brainpower. Now you have billions of humans who are also able to simulate the entire Earth plus 6 billion people. And they are inside your head. Though by that point calling it your “head” is probably inaccurate.

How could this possibly work, you ask. Well, like I said, abstraction and generalization all the way. Provided that no entity is consciously observing the subatomic particles you can fairly confidently just use some accurate heuristic to represent their behavior. And as for the positions of stars and galaxies and suchlike, you don’t really need to represent every particle in every star, and it may be more efficient to skimp on representing all the stars in a galaxy and just go to whatever resolution is sufficiently accurate without consuming too much processor power. So you get a big universe for a relatively small processor drain. As for the quantity of information being “created” by life- you only need to represent the locations of the particles- all the other information is just *there* if you want to “read” it. This would be using your exact knowledge of every particle and every motion through every second of someone’s brain to figure out what they’re thinking. By “reading” it and deriving information such as thoughts, you are performing an identical action to looking at the positions of atoms and concluding “apple”, and you have actually created additional information, only in your higher-level “reality”. Though I am long-winded, I touch on far too many deep ideas not to be. I have a link to a powerful short story that you really must read if you’re still here. Or perhaps you’re more interested in Isaac Asimov’s interpretation. These stories each do a great job of clearly highlighting the idea behind and within this post. However, just like the difference between my ideas and Ayn Rand’s, they’re both a little different from mine.

In short, the Objectivist metaphysics is missing a critical element. Though I had wanted to touch on all the other aspects of Objectivism, they’re going to have to wait because this post is already far too long, just like all the others. If you’re still reading, thanks for the attention. I hope one day to read or perhaps hear your thoughts- perfectly fair exchange.

Human I/O

The essential purpose of having a mind is to manipulate information. All minds do it incessantly. Input from the senses is filtered, perceived, categorized, and filed away in memory. Processing memory is updated, scanned, and stripped of significant thoughts to be processed in the next cycle. A combination of select sensory data, accessed long term memory, and the products of short-term memory’s routines is used to actually make decisions- this element of our minds is called our consciousness. Is there something that makes consciousness special in terms of processing of information? Is there some reason why it is impossible to get human-level thought out of a computer we built ourselves?

Here’s a thought. Imagine that you were a computer. What would that be like? Many would say that it would be inhuman. You would be forever occupied with minute and nonsensical computer actions like Windows 95 printing bytecode. However, I suspect you’re drawing that conclusion from stereotypes of our day. In the early days of computers they thought computers would never exceed [insert tiny statistic of choice here]. Now we know computers can be powerful, but we’re still biased against their complexity, thinking they can only do mechanical things, can only live as a linear binary mind. The human brain is different in several significant ways, the first being that it runs on neurons instead of fixed silicon circuits. This much can be simulated with either analog neural network hardware, or emulated entirely within a Turing computer, endowed with a couple times more processor power. Also, the human brain is divided into specialized cortices with separate functions and limited communication between them. You just gave me consciousness as a form; limitation of computational perception. In your computer brain, “you”- the part that makes you human- is the higher-order information and the higher-order information only. If you include the lower-level information such as the neurochemical reactions within the brain, you can’t really conclude that that’s “you.” I would argue that you can derive all the higher-order information from that raw data, but whether it’s additional information or derived information isn’t really relevant. What is relevant is that above a certain unknown threshold of abstraction you have “you,” and below that you have data and simple processes and functions. If you’re a programmer you might have figured out where I’m going with this. Human thought is a very high-level programming language. Higher than English (or any other spoken or written language), lower than paradigms, or systems/frameworks of constructing human thought. More interestingly, the constant tendency for computer languages has been a generalized increase in abstraction in proportion to the processing power available. Yet more interestingly, it appears that above a specific threshold of abstraction we see an emergent property; the ability to understand and manipulate itself. Consciousness.

Well obviously we could build a computer that has just as much processing power as our brains do. So the question is instead- how do we program such a computer so it will be human, instead of a machine? The existence of humans means that it can be done because we are composed completely of inorganic matter organized into organic forms. So, what does it really mean to be “human”? Do we mean a human body, or do we mean a human spirit? It is possible we may conclude that a prerequisite of being human is to have a human structure and eliminate all except natural-born, carbon-based, earth-bound, and above all “normal” humans as being truly human. I, of course, utterly disagree with this assessment. We should be asking better questions. For example; is there some property of a human that you could subtract and leave something that is a non-human? I would say no, that any “property” that you could name would be a vague abstraction of something esoteric you simply couldn’t define. Such a dilemma means that we’re approaching this problem in the wrong way. Rather than asking what it means to be human, we should be asking what is the most significant property of life information that humans demonstrate? This is an immensely deep point, but I’ll reduce it as far as it will go here. Basically, if we were to transfer completely over to silicon-based consciousness or some other form and then discovered an alien race that had already made that shift, what would distinguish the human variety from the alien variety? Human and alien would be on the same substrate, but would clearly be different. Bear in mind that this situation is flawed as an example because there will be very clearly delineated cultural differences simply because the two species/races were not in the same geocultural area- both would have their own but they must by necessity (the improbability of parallel evolution) be different, though it doesn’t mark a significant difference between the two. To prove this point, any property that would be different between two human civilizations on different planets separated by that amount of time cannot be considered between a human and alien civilization because it cannot define a “human” property.

Life as a class is an example of self-organizing, self-reproducing, self-refining adaptive information. I have already covered my basic concept of what life as information is at some length, and this paragraph might not make sense if you haven’t read it, you have been warned. Life is a pattern of exponential growth, due to constant and improving refinement to improve growth and improve further refinement, etc. etc. ad infinitum. Humans are merely the bleeding edge of evolution, we are causing change faster than change has ever been caused before, and technology is the new font of evolution where our brains once were. We see a clear, direct, and unimpeded curve of the evolution from microbes to humans, the human mind, and the exponential increase of technology from a hammer to augment the hand to a computer to augment the mind. So to say that it is a human trait to expand and to push new horizons is not really accurate- that would be a property of any and all life. Our alien civilization will have been programmed by evolution with a similar drive due to the sum effects of competition, limited space/resources/whatever, and the ease of access to new untapped resources. By the same token we can disqualify traits such as drive to survive, perseverance, competition, cooperation, communication, and a bevy of other decidedly “human” abilities and traits. The truth is, there isn’t a hell of a lot left after that, none of it good. So we are left with no value to our “human” identity. So we are forced to conclude we should associate more with life than with being a particular species. Which makes sense because what it means to be “human” has evolved dramatically, and will evolve in the future, while the human status as living will not. I am not a citizen of the USA, I am a citizen of the world. Neither am I a human, I am a citizen of the great ecology of Life.

My position is that after we grew accustomed to having a trillion times as much brainpower as we do now, and having worked out any irksome little psychological issues and base drives and refined our own processes sufficiently- it would be a never-ending process, but there comes a point where it’s close enough- we would be indistinguishable from an alien race which made the same transformation independently. The reason is that we live in the same universe with the same physical laws and the same mathematics. The same logic and reason governs any and all possible alien species. If A then B, if B then C. A, therefore, C. I don’t care how many where you are in the universe, what level of technology you have, or how many eyes, limbs, or sets of genitalia you have, reason will hold. The differences between aliens would rise from the differences of their physical forms, their environments’ conditioning, and the unique and strange specialization, expansion, and limitation of their functioning. So irrespective of alienness, were you liberated from such a state and given time to sort yourself out you would end up more or less the same as another on the same path. I can hear the cries of “But I don’t wanna be the same!” Well of course, you shmuck. Why would you think that? This is where those previously discarded details come back. The cultural differences, those unique attributes that cannot be created artificially and can never evolve the same way due to a field of countless compounding infinities, make up your memory. There is no way to have a “more perfect” culture-memory in the same way a memory of an apple isn’t more perfect than a memory of an orange, provided both are pristinely accurate. Not a problem for entities such as these. Each would be incredibly unique, but would have arrived at an internal perceptual set and (comparatively) basic functional set that was highly idealized and comparable to the others’.

If you were one of these superbeings, you would probably dedicate your time to the creation of more of such material. Why do people write books, create movies, pursue their passions? Because it’s the quintessential human pursuit- the taking in of sensory data and other stimuli, the unique reinterpretation of it with our own minds in our own way. And then, lo and behold, our minds create from the ether a work that has never before been seen and could never exist in any other way had we neglected to create it. Every second not spent in its creation is wasted. The creation of better tools with which to create “cultural” (damn that word is poor) information is both its creation and the use of that knowledge to accelerate the rate at which it can be produced. The reason? Because that cultural information is alive in every sense of the word! Memes are the expansion of life into a substrate we can’t even comprehend, and we have the power to expand that substrate by making more humans, inventing ways to write them down and communicate them, making computers, and countless other inventions to come. The day we have sentient memes, things start getting truly interesting. (I suppose we already do in that one person is one meme bound to a specific brain- we don’t currently have the means to communicate a complete person-meme). And the day that another as yet unimagined and incomprehensible substrate as expansive as the mental/informational is uncovered, life will expand into that too.

Muddy the Waters

Modern public discourse’s most common trick. Proposition A is true in all cases. A voice from the peanut gallery interjects “except extremely-rare-and-specific cases X, Y, and Z” The speaker is forced to concede that, indeed, Proposition A is not true in those cases. Unfortunately for us, the human brain is hardwired to use inductive reasoning. If you think you’re a powerhouse deductive thinker, try this. If you get all four correct, good for you, you’re probably right. Good luck with that. Our extensive use of inductive reasoning I have covered before, I believe, but I’ll recap quickly here. Essentially, inductive reasoning allows you to produce a heuristic quickly, call it up quickly, and when it stops working it can change easily. In a survival setting, it doesn’t get better than that. However, for long-term systems and decisions our natural inductive reasoning doesn’t work as well because the cause and effect relationship is muddied by time, quantity of factors, and chaos. So here’s the problem- we have a hypothetical lecturer giving his students a proposition which is true 99.999% of the time. So much so that you may as well assume that it is always operable. But the knowledge of the three or four rare and specific cases pollutes the heuristic pool disproportionately. Now your mind contains one case where A is true, and three where A is false. In a simple context this isn’t a problem, but it gives the listener a psychological out to allow programming to overcome their reason.

Muddying the waters like this is an easy way to confuse facts that make simple intuitive sense- this is virtually the only strategy used against evolution, for example. “Can you prove without a shadow of a doubt that evolution is true?” Any responsible scientist will say no, when really the answer should be a solid “yes” because it’s better to be wrong with that much rationale than to let them corrupt a powerful theory that, to our perspective, is clearly true. The behavior of the scientist is a perfect example of the nature of real truth. The truth is that no, we don’t actually have authoritative proof. The virtuous, truth-respecting, complex road would be to try to explain why we don’t know it but believe it anyway. The cheap, easy, manipulative road would be to declare we just know- word of God- if you’re virtuous (or whatever) you’ll believe, and be done. Which we shouldn’t do, even though we would be lying to spread what we perceive to be the truth, and competing against enemies using tactics that quite simply work better but which we refuse to emulate.

Real truth is tough. We can’t prove evolution in the same sense we can’t prove that gravity exists, that we exist, or even that the universe exists. In fact, the only thing that it is possible for me to know is that I exist. It’s the nature of consciousness. I think therefore I am. Somewhere, somehow, in some sense, I exist. (You might think this applies to you as well, but I can’t tell you that because I have no proof of it.) However when I observe another entity, it is impossible for me to know if it is sentient or if it’s merely a complex imitation of sentience. Nevertheless, after tens of thousands of objects fall when you drop them you accept gravity as an invariable fact. Unlike gravity, we can demonstrate evolution and produce results yet somehow a disturbing portion of the populace doesn’t “believe.” Oh, that’s a good one too. The people who say that atheism is an act of faith are a perfect example of muddying the waters. We then have to explain that the burden of proof is on the person making the assertion of existence. Invariably, by the time we’ve reached the third syllable of “burden of proof” they’re too bored to care. Damage done, the Church wins. You can say whatever you want, just make ’em deny it. They use the easy road of powerful unfounded assertions and get fast, powerful results. They decry that faith is a virtue, appealing to conformation behavior in our social psychologies. They employ routine reinforcement in church, isolation punishment, and all forms of classical and operant conditioning. They “ban” contraceptives and abortions to multiply their flock, inflicting poverty and tragedy on poor unwitting victims who can’t break out because some clawed tentacle is lodged in their minds. Religions arbitrarily associate themselves with preexisting control structures- ages ago it was primarily fear of wrath and hellfire, now it’s a more fuzzy family oriented religion because that’s the version that survived in this environment. Fascinatingly, one genus of meme has rejected the idea of evolution when it survives by that very law.

The same style of attack is used to justify war. The self-defense clause is a classic example of when violence is appropriate. The question then becomes where is the line between aggression and self-defense? George Bush has thoroughly exploited that issue of definition and launched a completely unjustified war based on imaginary evidence of a threat, and then claiming self-defense. This is a complex issue, but I’m about to go all proposition A on you here. There is no case in which violence is justified. Period. However, the existence of an agent choosing to use violence for personal gain can change the nature of the situation. Provided that there are no other options, that any and all other reasonable measures have been tried unsuccessfully, you are justified in self-defense.

The issue of violence is exactly the Prisoner’s Dilemma. There exist two stable states, one of which more stable than the other. The first is a state of continuous violence, and the other is a state of continuous peace. Everyone needs to know how this works, as it explains human herd behavior beyond perfectly. The peaceful solution only stands if the convictions of everyone backs it up- easy to do with only two, but nigh impossible with millions. If everyone was a strong individual, following their right reason in pursuit of their own happiness then this is the logical outcome. The incredibly frustrating part is that we all have that choice RIGHT NOW. Tomorrow, we could be living in a utopia! We don’t because we know the chance is damn slim that everyone else is going to make the same decision at exactly the same time. So acting in such a strong individualist manner- being ethical and empathetic actually represents a huge disadvantage to the person doing it. It’s the hard road. But if you allow the herd’s actions to force you back onto their path then humanity’s chance at utopia is delayed indefinitely again.

Consider a board game for four. It doesn’t really change the game to add this, but let’s simplify the example by saying you can’t talk. One of the players cheats, and the other three (including you) know he’s cheating. However, the rules of the game in a roundabout way allow for precisely such a form of cheating. His tactics take advantage of every nuance and bug in the game’s design, but he’s legit. It’s the ideal strategy, but it ruins the fun of the game for everyone. Then someone else decides that if he’s going to play that way and clearly win, he’d better join in. The third player turns over with the other two. What do you do? Despite the triviality of the example, think about this seriously. Do you continue to play honestly, knowing you will lose? Or do you take up the sword and start cheating as well, hoping to beat them at their own game and maybe give them reason to stop? What if you played again after each, how would the following game change? All four of you could decide to just play fair and have fun. But if you do, you just lose because the others aren’t going to decide at the same time.

We’re talking about strategies here. If I say you never have the right to use violence, like I should, I’m missing a vital example. But if I talk too much about the exception, it dilutes the heuristic past usefulness. Keep that in mind. You only have the right to defend yourself when you are left in a bind. Compulsion is a necessary element of a bind. You have a choice to either do violence, or not do violence and suffer an unacceptable penalty. That is the only circumstance. You may not do violence for personal gain, and you may not do violence from a position of action. That is to say, as long as you have other options they need to be exercised first. If you’re worried about defending your house and property, a home security system should come before the shotgun on the wall. You may passively defend your home as much as you want- locks, cameras, dogs, whatever. They primarily act as a deterrent. Now the prisoner’s dilemma is actually working in your favor because the would-be criminal is left with a choice between your house and any other house. And should there come a time when everybody’s house is adequately secure then nobody will break into houses anymore because it’s just not worth it. But when someone breaks into your house and you meet it with lethal force, you are being irresponsible and are culpable for a lower-degree form of murder.

Now we’re obviously going to have a discussion about gun control. Just to put my thoughts out about that- the government needs to consider carefully every instance of control it institutes. Controlling drugs is the purest lunacy, although for the state it works pretty well. Controlling guns has some justification, but only if you do it completely. Gun control has to be all-or-nothing. Have “some” guns in circulation is insanity. Obviously the criminals are going to be the ones to get the guns, and they’re going to find people who don’t have guns and target them. Duh! If nobody can get guns, the criminals can’t, problem solved. If everyone has guns, the criminals are going to have nobody to rob. They’ll know they’re risking death for petty theft- maybe they’ll get away with it a hundred times (yeah right) but then on the hundred and first they’re dead and none of it was worth it.