09-01-10

Evidential probability

"The best the logician can do is to recommend gathering more data." Henry E. Kyburg Jr. & Choh Man Teng, p. 200, Cambridge University Press, 2001.


A small series on forgotton (or, let's be optimistic: not yet discovered) pearls of this human endeavour that's called thinking. I learned Mr. Kyburg died a couple of years ago. Given that that ís a fact, one can only hope that he turns out to be an instance of the reference class of great thinkers that have ideas requiring the environment of though of a generation that comes well after their own generation. The series has as its common theme: three B-list philosophers, on which I based my Cognitive Science dissertation (that, recently, became available online by clicking the link "Do Humans Think?' in the top of the right column of this page).

But I'll dispense with the niceties. One can sensibly ask this question: how certain is it that the probability of this coin coming up tails is about one half? Not all coins are the same; and there's evidence of people rigging coins to come up tails more often than our experience with 'normal' or 'average' coins would have us expect. In effect: it's the basic casino fraud to devise a game in which participants expect to have this probability of outcome based on 'everyday' events but where the probabilities of the outcome are drastically different (& skewed toward the offerer of the casino). Maybe, why not?, we should call it a "Humean" fraud because it consists in nothing else then the exploitation of our 'psychological' addiction to straightforward induction - it is the commonest fraud because common sense precisely has it that what happened some way in the past will continue to happen that way in the future.

Explicating this observation has succeeded interesting me in something that I - and not only I - thought to be not particularly interesting: probability. As long as it is the case that philosophy has not integrated probability (and more specifically: Kyburgian probability) at the center of its body of doctrines (the way it did with logic, language, & mathematics in the XXth century) it won't be able to make the next significant and necessary step in its evolution (and, consequently, we humans will not be able to be making the next significant step in our cultural and intellectual evolution).

I'm serious. Dead serious (somewhat aided by the music that's in my ears now - to tell you the whole truth).

Because that's still the towering truth of Hume: we kid ourselves if we believe there's a start for us in certainty. Take the above coin which may or may not be rigged. One perfectly defensible non-probabilistic move might be to say that a rigged coin is not, really, a coin. To say that rigged coins are not a subset of the set of coins poses the type of difficulties grammar-wise that one typically will wabt to avoid but these are in my view not insurmountable difficulties. This move then will keep a pristine & simple probability of one half for tails on all coins and relegate the rigged coins to the class of items that need investigation. This investigation will turn up empty, given there is no statement at all to be made about rigged coins before inspecting a specific coin - and here comes the real problem: there is no statement we can make about any of the coins presented to us prima facie because prima facie it is not possible to make a decision whether or not the coin presented is rigged or not. This is a bummer as it is clear that whatever is presented 'as a coin' is typically non-rigged, and therefore is commonsensically to be attributed with near-certainty the probability of one half - in coming up tails or heads.

That was a painstakingly roundabout way of coming to the following conclusion - in a non-idealized way of seeing the world, we never have probability as such but only an evidence that is more or less corroborating the association of a certain probability to a the type of a certain series of events. Naming (e.g. the naming of certain items as pertaining to the class of 'coins') is the most basic operation; labeling items with the same label is nothing else then saying that, at the level of what is asserted of some thing, there is enough evidence that the labeled item will be as other items with that label have been known to be in the past. Probability comes before the label and not (just or only) after it.

And in the case of labels, or names, we can appreciate why probability is mostly sent off to the outskirts of philosophical and everyday thinking. It makes verbose what is most apparent; that rigged coins are a special subset of coins; that somebody who's bald has between zero and some hairs. Or to try out something again for which I got blasted early on in a 10-year internet career: "Logic always holds but never applies." In most instances our common language has shaped itself around our common way of perceiving our common reality that we can tackle it with the purest deductive logic (with all the limitations that already poses). But when we need to be certain we have to realize the uncertainty of those ways. Not because logic is uncertain (it isn't - also Kyburg's mathematical treatment of evidential probability is certain and non-empty) but because the materials on which our logic operate are terminally uncertain - such that there always is some measurement error & something more of data that needs to be gathered.

Before going all humble and wallowing in guilty feelings of the original 'fallable'-ness of the human kind, let me add this: whatever the limitations of knowledge are - and the history of philosophy is the history of the limit of our knowledge - the knowledge of our limitations is a positive asset. Kyburg's deductions on how to proceed with our inductive reasoning are universally true and inescapable. In all situations in which we would need to use his thought we can be certain that it is sound. The fact that, after using his methods, we wind up with a conclusion that are not wholly certain is not the consequence of his fallibility, of the fallibility of his or other rational thinking - but of the systemic underdeterminedness of our conclusions by our evidence.

To resubmit to the internet another of my epiphanies of old internet-days: "Nothing is true but some things are false." The asymettry of knowledge isn't something that comes on top of knowledge (as, maybe, 'rigged' comes on top of 'coins') but it is an inherent vice of knowledge. I can be conclusive in saying that racism is 'at odds' with knowledge but I can't say that knowledge is conclusively pro-'this or that kind of non racism'. The bummer is that there is a tendency to associate the negative nature of knowledge and truth to mysticism (see as an example in point: Heisenberg): this is a consequence of the psychological fact that we are driven, to take our premises for granted and hence also want to grant that conclusiveness to our conclusions.

Quod non.

(I'll want to reread this once upon a time to make sure it is more than just poetically correct)


Whilst writing this I was listening to: "Earth" feat. Bill Frisell, "The Bee Made Honey in the Lion's Skull" in a genre whose existence I only recently discovered: post-rock or something with as many subgenres as one might expect for a subgenre originatiing in heavy metal ;-)

12:48 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: learning, optimism, kyburg, universals, language |  Facebook |

28-11-09

Das Gebiet des Fremdpsychischen

"(..) Das so konstituierte Psychische des Anderen wird als Klasse der "psychischen Zustände des Anderen" analog "meiner Seele" "die Seele des Anderen genannt. Das allgemeine Gebiet des "Fremdpsychischen" umfasst des Psychische aller der anderen Menschen die (d.h. deren Leiber) als physische Dinge in der konstituierten physikalischen Welt vorkommen.

Aus der angegebenen Art der Konstitution des Fremdpsychischen folgt: es gibt kein Fremdpsychisches ohne Leib. (..)", R. Carnap, Der logische Aufbau der Welt, p. 187, Meiner Philosophische Bibliothek, 1998.

(amateuristic English translation below)


I'm struggling with the demons of the mystical. What better weapon to take to such a fight than Der logische Aufbau? If I'm defeated, at least I will not be enshrined, & my bones scattered over the globe abused by the rich and powerful to instill hope in the poor and powerless; just enough hope for them not to question their status quo, but not so much hope as would avoid them being mobilized by the ruling classes, to fight their fights (typically in service of the demons of the mystical, that always come in handy when the people in power need them).

But enough of this left wing propaganda. On topic. Quick!

The afterlife. There is a wonderful argument by I. Kant to the effect that, practically, it just has to exist. I'm inclined to be sympathetic to that argument, although I will, hopefully, never be sympathetic to classical ideas of the after-life - including such a notion as 'living on in one's bones' or for that matter: 'via one's books' (although it is something like that but rather less restricted than books, & rather more than bad and good deeds).

In the end, for some kind of morality to find some kind of objective basis (empirical basis, if you want; I need to jump one of these days to Hume's development of the moral intuitions and the derived sense of justice and fairness), we will require that a certain action is deemed good on the basis of the consequences of that action &, as I remember that's the Kantian argument, that these consequences also count in the 'deeming good' way when they appear only after the person that does the 'deeming' is death. "We do it for the good of our children.", doesn't cut it because - to identify a less obvious complication - that would require 'the good' to be something that can be explicitated and that is stable over generations (which is not the case, as it's just merely the case that the process to check whether things have improved is stable, & not its content - but I'll desist from this by now usual topic of these quoughts). It is, by the way, more or less what Rawls also assumes (but he avoids the after-life by a rather deus ex machina assumption that you have an a priori situation in which one knows everything of consequences but one does not know who, or when, one is).

There are too many assumptions here already. On top of that there's a requirement that really is a requirement "amongst other" requirements where these others aren't put forward explicitly nor their interconnection is argued. I plead for your forgiveness and proceed to the conundrum posed by our requirement - consequences that count even if they're not consequences for 'us', strictly speaking (because - turning to our quote of the day - there's no psychical us when there's no bodily us; an assumption that I'll accept gladly as a premise conclusively established by Carnap (and previous issues raised here on Carnap do not really matter: this argument only starts "after" we have the own mental, the physical and the other mental).

Maybe a solution can be found in the direction of the 'cultural' objects of Carnap - if that is a sufficiently accurate translation of "Geistiger Zustände". Indeed, if we could make sense of our requirement as, properly, a requirement on such cultural objects, we would be rid of the whole body-soul (or primitive mind including the apperception and the 'sense' of the own individuality). Bear in mind that much of what I write here (and yeah-yeah, almost all conjecture, almost no proof) is premised on the fact that most everything that we would indicate with 'human' in everyday speak is - imho - a cultural object of this sort. Still, we can forget all of my previous wanderings and just step here into Carnap: if the above requirement makes sense in the 'cultural plane' only, we have achieved something.

I'm pretty confident that we could achieve this much. The concept of 'our soul' in the sense of the quote is not enough to qualify for the requirement above. It is just not enough mind to mind the goings-on of the here & now - one has to mind what could happen to a mind that would be co-happening with your body later. That ís a cultural construct. It's more than mere intuition - in fact it's the kind of higher order Humean intuition - to care about what could happen, generically so to speak, in a future that is only connected in the most abstract of ways to your present. You have no reason, to give an example, whatsoever to think you're going to get cancer but the fact that it is quite imaginabe that if you'd get it you'd want to have access to treatment, has enough of an impact for you (if you're not 'out' of your mind) to want to ensure that there is access to such treatment. This clearly is a cultural construct (& there's a link there to probabilities because there has to be some probability there).

So far so good but what about our deaths then? What about them indeed? Our lifes didn't come into the discussions. And while our specific bodies ARE strictly needed in the cultural constructs I talked about - they' ae only required in the most abstract of ways. A way that in my view would be amply satisfied by 'having existed once' in this or that body; something for which all moral agents qualify without mystery.

There are many remaining problems but only one is appropriate to touch upon here (if only not to forget it for posterity ;-): is there then only one cultural construct over all times. And if so, would that defeat our argument here by the ex absurdo used in the above: only one enumerable good? The answer is: yes and no. The construct of human culture is indeed a single one (which is, let me be clear: somewhat troubling a thought for me as it will be for you). But at the same time that does not mean the good is 'fixed' and stable; as it should be the requirement with which we started is a requirement on actions and not a requirement on all of culture. The restriction which comes from the requirement being in the 'cultural plane' is just that there is a single 'way in which' we can establish the good. But the actual judging remains on actions & consequences and may drift and will always be fallible and only piecemeal informed; all of the good humbling things.

Stilll (and it may well be that I'm loosing focus here; don't feel obliged to read on - I'd say): we can have some poetic justice for our afterlife. Given that culture cannot be identified with this or that object (this or that culture doesn't make sense, strictly speaking at least) but rather is the consequence of a Carnapian construction - we're all needed and part of it. In some poetical way we were part of our history and we're a part of our future (at least morally speaking). Even stronger than this - given that the process for the good is universal (however fallible we are in implementing it) we can actually be said to work for or against improvement; improvement defined as a comparison between times where at the 'better' time the process is more universally recognized and applied (the recognition of necessity becoming before application as we are not interested in blind luck here).

Finishing then on the idea of 'living on in one's works or one's books'. The former is not restrictive enough because surely not all of our doings are moral doings - some are just beastly doings or physical doings (there isn't anything wrong with either - by the way - as 'wrongness' doesn't apply to animals and particles). The second is very much too restrictive as clearly very little people write any books (& those that do are very rarely to live on in them; worse, eventually all those books will disappear (yeah I mean all of this in a very un-Borges-ian way). It suffices to do a moral doing to be qualifying for a living on. That living on does not need to be explicitly linked to your name (remember: you're as dead as a door bell so you have no way of knowing any of it); the best metaphor I have of it is that of a musical tone. Maybe for some this is not afterlife enough but it's all they're going to get (and if I would be paid for this I'd demonstrate that it's more than enough to qualify for the Kantian argument).

It is personally enough for me. I do my best and by doing thusly (and hence thisly) I will be rewarded. Doing it is indeed its own reward - if you can refrain from reading this in a manner of actual co-timed reward and punishment. The best thing is that I don't need to be successful in doing this (but do get me more readers, please) - as it's quite clear that this - as such with my pseudonym on it - will some time cease to exist.

I can have my ambition and eat it too!


"The so constituted psychical (mental) of the others is called "the soul of the other" being  the class of "psychical (or mental) states of the other; this in analogy with "my soul". The general field of the other-mental (or other-mindly or other-psychical) includes the psychical (or mental &c) of all other humans, that (i.e. whose bodies) appear as physical things in the constituted physical world.

From the indicated way in which the other-mindly is constituted, it follows: there's no other mind without a corresponding body."


Whilst writing this I was listening to Arvo Pärt, Orient Occident, ECM New Series (tones you hear, tones!).

19:33 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: form-content, mind-mind dualism, self, carnap, tones |  Facebook |

20-11-09

L'élan vital

"Le mécanisme reprochera donc avec raison au finalisme son caractère anthropomorphique. Mais il ne s'aperçoit pas qu'il procède lui-même selon cette méthode, en la tronquant simplement. Sans doute il a fait table rase de la fin poursuivie ou du modèle idéal. Mais il veut, lui aussi, que la nature ait travaillé comme l'ouvrier humain, en assemblant des parties. (..)", H. Bergson, L'évolution créatrice, p. 90, Quadrige, Grands Texts, 1941.

(amateuristic English translation below)


Going hard-core again. I apologize to those unwilling to dive deeply.

It's a 'slippery slope'-mission which I'm about to embark upon. Nobody will be willing to wave the mechanistic flag but many will be willing to put anything - even remotely - Bergsonian out with this garbage of extraterrestrial, supernatural, or, extrasensory entities, or, beings, or causes. But, much worse than that (& here stoppeth the usual disclaimers because these religious bastards just won't socially darwinize themselves into oblivion rapidly enough): the nut crew will be all too happy to claim anything, as far as there is something claimable.

It's a thin line where the friends are trying to push you to the nether side & enemies are trying to pull you into their camp. But enough apologies for crimes uncommitted, byt myself at least:

There's something rotten in neo-Darwinism. Hence there's something wrong with the currently established logico-materialistic consensus. Something that doesn't - at the present moment at least - should really bother us too much given the many billions that still believe the crap in which their less educated parents believed. But still, it is something that at least gives an argument to the advocates of "there just has to be a certain 'something' or other" thereby protracting the agony of getting rid of all that bull-shit (not that you're personally very bothered by this agony, you being one that has the luxury of reading philosophically type thingies on the internet but just watch the news and you'll see how literal the agony is in what's commonly referred to as a South-East portion of the world). And, eventually (but I'll leave that unexplored, it's a popular theme for the advocates of the nut crew anyway) it'll do real damage also to us (on second thought: I do think it already does damage by the work ethics that are inspired by the amassing of 'stuff' - but see further).

"What's wrong then?", you ask.

"Read the bloody quote!", I say.

OK, that was uncalled for. Let me take an unexpected example: the gene. What's a gene? Can we individuate genes? Take one, turn it around and examine whether it's selfish, or, less ambitiously, yellow? No, and that's why there is a problem with them (no, you're not getting any more disclaimers - so if you go off and imagine I' saying what I'm not saying: have fun in the looney bin, there are a few rather decent works of Michelangelo I'm told): conceptually they work but on closer inspection ... there is nothing to inspect. DNA, yes and bits and pieces of DNA that when handled in certain ways tend to have a certain range of effects but nothing quite as simple as we're led to believe by the common noun term that has been coined to refer to ... well, what?, what exactly?

It's atomism & holism. It's integers & reals. It's Wittgenstein A & Wittgenstein B. It's Quine. Them things simply do not exist! Subatomic particles don't exist; at least not if it is a criterion for the identity of them that they aren't also waves - and what could be further from particleness than waveness as undoubtedly many concluded before I concluded it.

Back to the drawing board then ...... Or not! Because that's it in the end, as much as we are drawn to drawing it out, preferably in minute specific detail; we can't 'wrap our heads around it'. There is indeed 'something' that resists being captured. No spirit - no essence - no 'Sein' & certainly no ... (hint: the first dot is in capitals). Something, you know, that is true but that resists being proven. Dunno really - but something in the order of such an improvably true something. Nothing mystical, maybe that was a flaw of Bergson himself, I also don't know, because it is something with which we are able to calculate. Indeed, this something will create new stuff, and that new stuff will get exposed to the existing stuff and out of that confrontation some stuff will prevail and other stuff will be lost (not material stuff of course - but stuff made out of those materials and nothing else). And so forth. And so on. Etcetera. Etc. Darwin.

Not the kind of stuff you can hope for. Not at all stuff that will come to your rescue & certainly not stuff that will listen to what you're not saying.

But maybe this is something that can be said of our stuff: that it is the type of stuff that'll make sure that we have to do an effort not to end well.

Energy/Entropy comes to mind. What is entropy?

(I'm starting to sound like Wittgenstein; sorry, I'll cut it out)

What I wanted to say when I started saying something here & wound up saying what is above: it's not a mystical thing that we need, even if Bergson (& I - with less good excuses I have to admit, more than a century on) could only give it a mystical name - something 'vital'. But it ís vital because it does bring hope without the 'Trojan' virus that is so exceedingly well adapted to our discrete thoughts.

It brings hope because, looking back, we see its impetus is in the direction of better adaptation, the direction of improvement. If energy comes from suns, plants always tend to evolve to trees. It can take forever & maybe even literally (never happen - I mean): but trees will never evolve away from the sun. Animals'll tend to intelligence, and intelligent animals to socialization and social animals to interaction & interaction with some luck to language and language to justice.

Oversimplified, I know, but you get the gist and the gist is everything I can convey - decadence is a logical impossibility - i.e. everything labeled like that has something we should identify and cherish. Or (strictly for later use) - from one thing always two.

One of the next times: Kant's argument for the after-life & a new type of after-life - kidding you not.


"Mechanistic thought will, rightly, attack final causes for its antropomorphic character. But it doesn't recognize that it proceeds following this same method, simply by leaving out a final cause. Without any doubt it makes tabula rasa with the objective sought after or with ideal models. But it wants, it as well, that nature works like the human worker, putting together piece parts."


Whilst wirting this I was listening to Valentin Silvestrov, Metamusik and Postludium, ECM New Series.

19:27 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: bergson, scientism, dynamics, mind-mind dualism, identity |  Facebook |