07-04-10

Vivere si rectè nescis ...

"Vivere si rectè nescis, decede peritis;
Lusisti satis, edisti satis atque bibisti;
Tempus abire tibi est, ne potum largius aequo
Rideat et pulset lasciva decentius aetas;"

Horatius as quoted by M. de Montaigne in: Essais II, Editions Gallimard, 1965, Chapitre XII (Apologie de Raimond Sebond), p. 213.

(amateuristic English translation below)


For lovers of Latin (all dead languages will be categorized under Montaigne - by the way - because he is the first of the individual thinkers that broke free from thinking himself an instantiation of something grander, & the first therefore to take classical texts and derive from them the first seeds of individuality that were put there in the inspired moments of a few individuals, ready to be harvested by the great - but not Great! - Michel who started this great cross-fertilization of independence, that allows me to do what I pretty well damn please to do, without worrying in which scheme it's fitting).

I wanted to talk about the essential differences between absolutes and universals. I also wanted to take the first book, and quote, that presented itself (for example, as in the present case, something with a piece of paper sticking out, meaning I marked it, on top of my traditional earmarking, for urgent use). Finally, I wanted to get 'real' on some stuff. All of this is an inside joke that I can only hope is not scaring away a non-insider; at least not more than my strenuous English is already scaring them.

The wish not to live beyond one's reasonable time is an universal. The requirements to live until such time as 'one is called' is the absolute. The difference between the 2 is the reality that is assigned to whatever it may be 'to live'.

I (try to) explain.

Universals are things that, on reflection, cannot but be true. Do not unto others what you wouldn't have done unto you, is one. There is no point in living when there is no point in living anymore, is another. You can only have a conversation when there's a certain somebody to talk to, is maybe a more obvious one. These things all feel like tautologies but they are not quite that. One of the reasons they are not is that there is a certain 'feel' to it - exactly the same type of 'feel' there is to whether or not such and such a sentence is grammatical or not. These are cases of truths that emerge in a way like icebergs: suddenly you see them and once seen they are unavoidable.

Their truth is not a matter of control; not a matter of revelation; but a matter of this common sense that is always an evolving common sense, but that is never common sense that can go back to accepting for instance that people are sentenced to death or left to their own devices when sick. Their truth is in fact a matter of fact - as more people have more visibility more of these icebergs are spotted. & once spotted their presence is communicated and then they are known. Not Forever with F - but forever with f - which is to all extents and purposes more or less as long a time period - but admits the possibility of all those that have spotted the iceberg & all those that they communicated with (& so on & so forth) to have perished.

That are universals for you. They include the knowledge of all predecessors; they're the material of which all future men will AT LEAST be made of.

Absolutes are different. Absolutes are summaries of what is known up to some point and then extrapolated as if nothing new can come up, ever, anywhere. Intrinsically it is a purely functional purpose that absolutes have; it is the purpose of custome, and of tradition; the purpose of standardizing somewhat the way people live together for the ordering of society and all that good stuff. That is why there is a sense that they should be adhered to absolutely. Indeed, admitting there is room for divergences is the same as not bothering at all; and organizing purely dictatorially.

There is nothing too wrong about absolutes and the moralizing that goes with it. The common sense is to heed absolutes with which your parents try to indoctrinate you if only to avoid unnecessary complexities.

The problem comes when the absolute is taken absolutely. Take life & euthanasia & abortion & (assisted) suicide and all that. For sure all in this list is problematic. But it is not the solution (even if many think it is The Solution) to say life is sacred, & that that is absolutely true. It is not and everybody in his or her right mind knows this. It is a matter of situation and circumstance and in the end: if life is not worth living - it is not worth living anymore.

The thing is: life is n't this Infinite Eternal real ontological thing. Life is just a word in use to denote a collection of events of a certain nature, where that nature cannot be grasped in any direct non-verbal way. Life is just something that comes and goes. It is not much more (however romantic we may be inclined, it is not). We don't have to make A Big Deal out of it.

I know I am bordering once again on the mystic but let me point out that the motto that 'if life isn't worth living - it is not worth living anymore' does not give a fiat for a fully random way of stopping life. It doesn't, at all - just as with I. Kant's categorical imperative it is a hovering sentence that makes clear that life is not an absolute but it doesn't say when life is not worth living anymore. The latter is something that is to be discussed and is part of a Rawlsian overlapping consensus (just as, by the way, it is not determined by the categorical imperative - what you would not have done unto yourself if yourself would have committed something you would feel you should not have been committing).

Pff. Tired. Work in Progress.


"If you don't know how to live well, leave your place to those who do;
you have fooled around enough, eaten enough and have drunk enough;
time for you to withdraw for fear of having drank more than reasonable and in so doing,
of becoming the laughing stock of the young, for whom cheerfulnes is more becoming."


Whilst writing this I was listening to nothing at all - but not in complete silence as there are always some noises where I live; a fact that is no longer disturbing to me and instead is of some comfort nowadays.

 

23:12 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: optimism, montaigne, right to die, universals, decadence |  Facebook |

19-02-10

De la ressemblance des enfants aux pères

"Et ne fut jamais au monde deux opinions pareilles, non plus que deux poils ou deux grains. Leur plus universelle qualoté, c'est la diversité." Michel de Montaigne, Essais II, chapitre XXXVII, p. 569, Gallimard, 1965.

(amateuristic English translation below)


Back to basics ;-)

One of the remaining problems with modern culture is that we're thinking in terms of success. The problem is not so much with the sensation of success. Not at all even - it is an enjoyable sensation and nobody should be cut off from it. No, the problem is that we want to make a snapshot of it. We want to frame it. And point to it lateron in company and demonstrate 'how much success we had'. Because we're afraid nobody will believe it. We're afraid nobody will believe we had any success. At bottom we are damned scared of not believing ourselves we had any success. We despair of times, we know to be always lurking behind the corner, in which we'll only see how pitiful we are. We will try to remember that we had some success; that we're not competely, & utterly, hopeless; but we know there is a chance that we won't believe it ourselves.

And that's why we think in terms of success. Why we quantify our success. Why all of our success is so similar to jealousy. What we know we need (or better what we think we know we need) is a measure of success that can outlast the success itself. That's the problem: we want to compare, we need to quantify and therefore is it incumbent upon us to simplify things in a couple of dimensions (money, recognition, popularity and all of the things that are so characteristic for the phonies).

Simplify and kill the wonderful diversity of ideas. Simplify into a couple of sides until anything has two sides and anybody is on one side or the other.

It is a little bit tragic. It's also quite comical. As we advance we think more thoughts, ideas pop up that were literally unspeakable and unthinkable before; but instead of enjoying the plentiful - we all jump on a couple of shiny objects that give only a little pleasure but that are the elements of the big competition. Not a kind of competition where you enjoy yourself trying to win and where, if you loose, you congratulate him, or her, that defeated you and you have a drink and you discuss what happened and you agree to try again next week; no, the kind of competition where you have to be participating, as a rat in a race, and where you hope that, if you loose, that at least the people you know best also loose because you couldn't face the world in all of the humiliation of having been worse than your peer.

A friend of mind asked me recently what the moral of a story of mine was. I think it was something like what is here above. I think it is Montaignistic. There are enough things out there for everybody to find something that fits. But we lack the confidence for going off & doing it in such a specific way, lastingly (because we start to do it in a specific way but we loose heart quickly). We want to have a kind of 'objective' way to establish that we're doing good. Feeling that we're doing well is not enough; there is to be some externally observable fact that testifies, certifies, qualifies, and accredits the fact that we're doing well. Such that we're driven to a few kinds of things in which everybody can be successful; not realizing that for 99% of the people these few kind of things simply are things for which they have no talent at all.

Maybe it is because I've been reminded recently of the Kierkegaardian absurdity - & maybe I'm rediscovering something that I would have to call 'spirituality' even if I'm going to eternally loathe that term. But the truth is that to feel somewhat successful you cannot be successful in the eyes of others. Only loosers can feel success, as the winners can only feel that they're winners. Or something paradoxical of that style - I know: not convincing but still: if to be regarded as a winner is what is required to be a winner then we're all condemned to make everybody else a looser. I won't have it like that so you can all go fuck yourself in the behind but I'm doing very well, thank you!, even if I know full well that my achievements are mediocre at best.

Peace!


"And there never were in the world two opinions that were similar, not more than two hairs or two grains. Their most universal quality, is there diversity."

(the two hairs and two grains stuff you'll have to google together with "Cicero")


Whilst writing this I was listening to Keith Jarrett, Paris/London Testament, EMI.

19:04 Gepost door Guido Nius in Algemeen | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: montaigne, decadence, tones, competition, universals |  Facebook |

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 |