Saturday, December 27, 2003

Monday, December 22, 2003

Sunday, December 21, 2003


One motivation for creationist theories often goes something like this: "Look at the amount of complexity in the human and natural world. The probability of something this complicated happening by random chance is [insert fantastically small number here]. Therefore, it is rational to conclude that life/the universe did not occur by chance, but rather by design." I've always been troubled by arguments of this type. The probability of an event's occurrance is relative to a state of affairs. We know that the probability of a coin landing heads up is .5, given that I flip it. Since we know that Tom is a professor, we can estimate a high probability of his being a liberal. But what presupposed states of affairs are relevant for our theory of the formation of the universe? From our point of view now, we already know that the universe happened, so it's just false to say there's a low probability of its having occurred. That would be as if I flipped a coin, observed it as having landed heads, and then said that there's a 50% chance that the coin landed tails. Let me put the problem another way. The problem for non-creationist origin stories is supposed to be that they rely on something fantastically unlikely to have occurred. But here's a case which I allege to be parallel: I'm currently reading Christine Korsgaard's The Sources of Normativity. Just now, I opened the book to page 61, and discovered the following remarkable thing -- the pattern of the left-most characters in each line on the page, read top to bottom, is "sTvmstvTawcIFseemcuTlormtomibouAanMc'r" Even ignoring punctuation, considering twenty-six letters and the upper/lower-case and italic or non-italic as variables, the probability of that string having occurred on a page by chance is one in (26 * 2 * 2)^38, somewhere on the order of 4.1 * 10^72. But surely that's not remarkable -- it's just what's there. We don't need to posit someone designing the page that way, even though it's fantastically unlikely that it should have turned out just like that. (Korsgaard is a designer for the book, but presumably not for the layout of page 61.) Fantastically unlikely things happen every day -- and we can discover true things that are unlikely to an arbitrary degree just by making them conjunctions (for example, even more unlikely than that string's occurrance is that string's occurrance in a paperback book. More unlikely still, that string occurred in a paperback book on a prime-numbered page! What kind of philosophy am I engaging in with these questions? What authoritative papers and books are relevant? I'm sure these aren't original ideas I'm having, but I've never formally studied anything like them.

Moving on

I think that Midland is officially no longer my home. At church this morning (that's the first clue), the following occurred: "I'm a grad student at Brown now." "Oh, are you the only conservative there?"

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Interstate Observations

I'm at my parents' house in Midland, Michigan now, after a long drive from Providence to Ann Arbor, then a much shorter but still kind of long drive from Ann Arbor to Midland. At one particularly odd point along the way, I encountered several orange signs along the road in Pennsylvania:
Buckle Up Next Million Miles
Apparently it's a big government thing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Hitting the Road

I'll be driving most of the day tomorrow. I'm leaving Providence early in the morning for Ann Arbor, then heading up to Midland shortly thereafter. Later, Houston! I'm now officially done with my own schoolwork for the semester. Whee.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Progressive NFL?

It looks like the NFL is slowly but surely making some social progress. It looks like the message has finally gotten through that it's not ok to talk about "homos" and "faggots". Detroit Lions president Matt Millen got in trouble, presumably for one of those terms, this weekend. (As a confusing side note, the article describes Millen as "using a derogatory term for gays", without identifying the term. I think it's a silly taboo to even refrain from mentioning derogatory terms, but I understand the desire to avoid them. The confusing part is that later in the article, we're told that "last summer, [Jeremey] Shockey called [Bill] Parcells a 'homo' in a New York magazine article." *shrug*) I'm impressed by Jonnie Morton's comments, though... I don't recall ever hearing a current NFL player stand up for respect for gays that univocally before. So this negative incident is a sign of progress to me.

More logic/math cuteness

Dave shared this tiny delight with me some time ago, and now I share it with all of you.
A friend who's in liquor production Owns a still of astounding construction. The alcohol boils Through old magnet coils; She says that it's "proof by induction." -- David M. Smith
I'm almost done with my course requirements... I have one term paper to finish, and I'm optimistically thinking about finishing it late tonight. Of course, there's still a growing pile of undergrad papers waiting to be graded, but those are much less stress-inducing. So I expect to be a more interesting blogger again soon.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Prizoner of Azkaban Trailer!

This may be old news to most of you, but I just learned today that the third Harry Potter movie trailer is now out. The movie opens June 4.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Google hit of the week

This evening someone clicked through to my blog as the #2 google hit for parvati patil auditioners. Whenever I get weird random hits like that, I wonder who's searching, and what they're looking for.

Headlines don't get apter than this.

The puzzling 49ers take on the ex-Bungles.


I haven't been posting much lately, in any of my blogs, because I'm stressing over finals and term papers and not having as much internet time. I did just add a new list to my sidebar... I thought it'd be nice for there to be a list of philosophy students with blogs. The idea is in response partially to posts by Timothy Yenter, a Yale grad student, and Brian Leiter. I'm aware that this list is shockingly incompete as of right now... so let me know if you are or know someone who ought to be added.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

No, in fact I cannot.

I just got an email from a "Teddy Mahoney" with subject, "Can you resist not opening this email?" Unfortunately, I can't tell you about its contents, because I failed to resist not opening it. (By the way, Mozilla's spam filter works impressively well.)

'Bad = bad' = bad!

One thing that often frustrates me with some of the more extreme conservatives in America is that they don't understand the differences between the various things they oppose. Gay people are promiscuous. Environmentalists are socialists. Black people are Democrats. They don't realize that they're opposing two seperate things, which are logically independent from one another. Example: Today I read about Stanley Shepp, a Mormon polygamist who wants to teach his daughter that he thinks it's ok for a man to have multiple wives. Her mother, his ex-wife, does not want him to teach their daughter that he thinks it's ok for a man to have multiple wives. There's a lawsuit flying around, and it's all very interesting. But some of the rhetoric floating around on the anti-teaching-the-daughter-about-polygamy side is shockingly bad. From the story:
The [Pennsylvania] state Superior Court panel based its decision in part on a finding that exposing Kaylynne to polygamy posed a substantial threat to her. Roberts' lawyer, Richard K. Konkel, said learning about polygamy from her father could put Kaylynne at risk of "child abuse and sexual abuse and whatever else." "In a custody case, the best interests of the child is always paramount," Konkel said.
Please explain the following three things to me, Richard K. Konkel. (1) What does polygamy have to do with child abuse? (2) What does polygamy have to do with sexual abuse? (3) Of what 'whatever else' are you concerned, and what does polygamy have to do with it? When answering these three questions, it may be useful to keep in mind the following: do these answers also provide reasons not to teach my child about the existence of God? UPDATE May 2006: I've had an email exchange with Mr. Konkel, and it's obvious to me now that I was judging things way too quickly when I wrote this, two and a half years ago; I was interpreting uncharitably to read offensive views that weren't there. I really feel pretty silly about it, now. I apologize to Mr. Konkel for the unfriendly attack, and to readers for having to read a pretty dumb rant.


After you give blood, they tell you not to smoke or drink alcohol until after several hours have passed and you've had a hearty meal. I believe that this is because when you have less blood in you, your body is more susceptible to being influenced by weird chemicals. After I gave blood today, I got a haircut, then I got a cafe mocha. I consume a lot of caffeine on a regular basis. It has never, ever hit me like this. My head feels exactly like it does when I'm very, very drunk. I'm also shaking and unable to concentrate on either my logic final or my Thomas Reid paper. So yeah, apparently, coffee should be on the list with alcohol and cigarettes.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Procrastination yields scary things

Shh... don't tell anyone. I sometimes get carried away with the things I enjoy. "Obsession" seems like a strong word, especially given the comparison with internet personalities who are genuinely obsessed with various things. But apparently I like Buffy and Angel enough to start a new blog in which I'll nitpick. And now, back to my regularly scheduled Thomas-Reid-term-paper-writing.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

The kind of thing I should definitely know by now...

I feel really stupid for having to ask this question... I'm pretty sure I've used both versions in the past. What is the correct possessive version of Descartes? Is it Descartes' skepticism, or Descartes's skepticism?

Friday, December 05, 2003

The way to distinguish an animal from a non-animal

I sometimes agree with Thomas Reid's philosophy, and I sometimes don't. He's big into the importance of common sense, which can be refreshing. But I've just read a very, very perplexing claim. It seems to me to have no basis at all in common sense. This is from Essays on the Active Powers of Mind, V: Of Morals, Chapter 7.
Feeling, or sensation, seems to be the lowest degree of animation we can conceive. We give the name of animal to every being that feels pain or pleasure; and this seems to be the boundary between the inanimate and animal creation.
This point is not critical to Reid's argument, but I'm baffled as to why he would think this is true. Anyone see any plausibility in it at all?

Book-noting procedure

I'm reading a Brown Library copy of Thomas Reid's Essays on the Active Powers of the Human Mind. Someone who read this copy sometime in the past wrote, in pencil, a note in the margin. However, the note written in the margin is incorrect; the writer clearly did not understand the full implications of Hume's expressivism. Although I usually consider it wrong to write in books that are not my own (I don't even like to write in my own), I have a strong instinct to correct the note in the margin. Would I be morally justified in doing so?

Mr. Wizard

I boiled a kettle of water, because I wanted some tea. The spout has a lid with a small hole in the center, for steam. Acting out of the same impulse that makes me stick my finger in hot wax or melt ice on my eye, I put my finger near that hole while the water was boiling. Unsurprisingly, the steam was very hot, and I quickly removed my finger. But did I give up? I did not. I braced myself, then planted my right index finger firmly over the hole in the lid, completely covering it. It didn't hurt even a little bit. I was confused. When I lifted my finger but kept it close, the steam burned me again; when I planted it down again, it did not. I guess that's because the steam just stops going that direction when it can't get out? Anyway, I found it to be a counterintuitive result.

Why you shouldn't be a racist

Answer: because (you have adequate evidence that) racism is empirically false. Yesterday before our Thomas Reid seminar, a couple other grad students partook in a Hume-bashing discussion. In general, this is very appropriate for a Reid seminar, but our particular focus wasn't an issue Reid took up. We'd read "Of Miracles", in which Hume says, among other things, that we shouldn't believe the testimony of miracles, because this testimony comes from "barbarous, savage nations." Hume does say a lot of racist stuff throughout his work. John said that this was ridiculous and unforgivable of Hume -- that no rational person could believe that some races were inferior to others. Ben and I disagreed -- we argued that there is no a priori reason to believe that, for example, black people are on average just as smart as white people (just as, for example, there is no reason at all to believe that Chinese people are on average just as tall as white people). To a person with no evidence to the contrary and surrounded by testimony that white people are superior, it would have been perfectly rational to believe that black people are genetically likely to be stupider. Racial equality of ability is all well and good, but it was an empirical discovery. (I don't know enough of Hume's biography to know whether he was in fact ignorant enough to be justified in his racial beliefs.)

Thursday, December 04, 2003

You have a moral obligation to click this link.

No, I'm serious. Click it. Vote for your favorite team if you have one. Vote for my favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers, if you don't. Every vote results in a can of soup donated to a hunger relief charity next year.

MIT Ruddigore Reviewed

We got a good review in the MIT student paper last month... I just checked, and the review is now online. I'm mentioned only briefly, but positively. There are, however, two good pictures of me with the review. Opening paragraphs don't get more positive than
If great voices, vibrant costumes, and an enchanting plot are all it takes for you to consider a show worthwhile, then Ruddigore (or The Witch’s Curse) is your show... and then some. The show itself was eye-candy. The blocking was perfect, with the set being used to its fullest potential. The acting was good, full of well-timed one-liners that kept the audience laughing throughout. And most important, it was obvious that the cast truly enjoyed what they were doing, which is a sure sign of a good show.

Poem interpretation (!)

One of the pieces I've been working on in my voice lessons is a setting of a Thomas Hardy poem by Gerald Finzi. The poem is entitled, "To Lizbie Browne". I've been singing it for several weeks now, and yesterday I learned that my teacher subscribes to what seems to me to be a very odd interpretation. I have very, very little confidence in my ability to interpret poetry, but I feel right to me. Please tell me what you think. Following is the poem. My teacher thinks that the speaker was married to Lizbie Browne. I think that he was not -- in fact, that she was never even very aware of him.
"To Lizbie Browne" Thomas Hardy Dear Lizbie Browne, Where are you now? In sun, in rain? - Or is your brow Past joy, past pain, Dear Lizbie Browne? Sweet Lizbie Browne, How you could smile, How you could sing! - How archly wile In glance-giving, Sweet Lizbie Browne! And, Lizbie Browne, Who else had hair Bay-red as yours, Or flesh so fair Bred out of doors, Sweet Lizbie Browne? When, Lizbie Browne, You had just begun To be endeared By stealth to one, You disappeared My Lizbie Browne! Ay, Lizbie Browne, So swift your life, And mine so slow, You were a wife Ere I could show Love, Lizbie Browne. Still, Lizbie Browne, You won, they said, The best of men When you were wed Where went you then, O Lizbie Browne? Dear Lizbie Browne, I should have thought, "Girls ripen fast," And coaxed and caught You ere you passed, Dear Lizbie Browne! But, Lizbie Browne, I let you slip; Shaped not a sign; Touched never your lip With lip of mine, Lost Lizbie Browne! So, Lizbie Browne, When on a day Men speak of me As not, you'll say, "And who was he?" - Yes, Lizbie Browne.
For the record, I like the song.

Googly fun

My blog is currently the ninth hit for "in that". I know because someone found it from that search last night. Who runs a google search on "in that"?

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Bad logic makes bad humor.

While I appreciate Alanna's brand of fun and humor, and enjoy her comments on my blog, I simply cannot allow the awful joke she related in the comments to this post to go unchallenged. I've always hated that joke. I don't hate it because it's a bad joke, I hate it because it's bad logic. (I also think it's a bad joke because it doesn't make sense, because it's bad logic.) Here's the "joke": Descartes is sitting at a bar. The bartender asks him if he wants another drink. He says, "I think not." Then he disappears. The background is the famous cogito: Descartes proved to himself that he existed by reasoning, I think, therefore I am. Presumably, the alleged joke is trying to do a kind of reverse modus tollens, resulting in this argument:
  1. If I think, then I am.
  2. I think not. Therefore,
  3. I do not exist.
The problem with this argument is that it's not valid. We can't go from if A then B and not A to not B. We can go from if A then B and A to B (modus ponens), or from if A then B and not B to not A (modus tollens), but the step the "joke" relies on just doesn't work. To illustrate, there are lots of examples of things that do not think but nevertheless exist. My spiced pumpkin candle, for instance. The following are recastings of the joke which are based on good logic. I recommend that if you ever feel the need to tell a Descartes-at-a-bar joke, you tell one of these: MP: Descartes is sitting at a bar, and the bartender asks him if he'll have another drink. "Yes, I think I will," says Descartes. Suddenly, he continues to exist. MT: Descartes is sitting at a bar, and the bartender asks him if he'll have another drink. Descartes suddenly disappears. "Well, I guess I'll take that as an 'I think not'," says the bartender. AC: Descartes is sitting at a bar, and the bartender asks him if he wants another drink. "Well, I do but I don't," says Descartes. Suddenly, everything happens. W: Descartes is sitting at a bar, and the bartender asks him if needs another drink, and tells the assistant bartender that she must, if Descartes says yes, get him one. Suddenly, Descartes becomes very, very thirsty.

Guns! On campus!

There's some controversy here at Brown this week because of the new decision to arm our campus police officers. Apparently, there was a safety audit in 2001 which recommended a bunch of stuff, including the arming of the police force, and Brown higher-ups have spent the better part of three years deciding whether to follow the recommendation. And now, some people are relieved, and some people think the decision was wrong. I have a hard time seeing what all the fuss is about. Some people just seem to be genuinely scared. I find this baffling. I'm as paranoid about police as the next guy, but I'm not afraid of them abusing their guns. I've heard people who seem genuinely to expect that if the Brown police are armed, then they will go trigger-happy and end up slaughtering students. I was an undergraduate at Rice, which is much smaller than Brown, and much more closed off from the rest of the world. Rice is surrounded by a three-mile perimeter of hedges. Rice campus police are armed. For all I know they always have been (anyone know?). I never found it odd. I occasionally had my problems with the way the Rice police acted -- I do have a couple incidents in mind in which I considered their actions to have overstepped reasonable bounds. But the idea of one of them misusing a firearm never would have occurred to me. Brown, by contrast, is in the middle of everywhere and open to everything (Half the time when I'm walking in the area, I don't know whether I'm on campus or not.) Brown apparently lies near some pretty shady neighborhoods. Every week, I read reports about students getting mugged and beaten. Apparently, official policy for the unarmed police at Brown was to walk away from any violence and phone Providence police, who eventually show up. I absolutely cannot understand why so many people think this is a scary idea. I don't understand why it took three years to decide -- it really feels like a no-brainer. What's the point of a police force that can't engage crime?

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

yuck yuck.

Joshua's latest post at Blogosophy reminded me of a philosophy joke I made up a couple years ago. I'm reasonably certain that I developed it independantly, but I also find it very, very likely that I wasn't the first person to do so. Why should you never insult Descartes' honor? Answer in comments.

There's still football

An AOL Sports headline right now is "An All-Missouri Super Bowl?" I'm embarassed to report several seconds of confusion, until I realized that the St. Louis Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs are each located in the state of Missouri. While I would have answered correctly if asked, "in what state is St. Louis/Kansas City where the Chiefs play?", I don't think I've ever realized that Missouri had even one NFL team. Speaking of NFL teams, the 49ers are officially out of the playoff race. Yeah, it hurts, but it's time for me to move on as a football fan. It could go without saying that I will still root for the 49ers in their remaining games, but now that I'm not thinking about playoffs, my opinions towards many of the other games change. (When your team is on the wildcard bubble, there are a lot of teams you have to root against.) So, my revised preferences, which reflect right now. Don't expect them to be the same next week, and certainly don't expect them to be the same next year: Teams I generally have positive feelings toward:
  • San Francisco 49ers
  • Detroit Lions
  • New England Patriots
  • Houston Texans
  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • The entire AFC South
Self-reflection observation: I expected that since the 49ers were out of the playoff picture, I'd find myself feeling positive about a few more NFC teams now. But I really can't bring myself to root for any of the NFC contenders at this point. I guess I like the Panthers. I'm neutral toward the Cowboys, which is better than most of the NFC. Teams I generally have negative feelings toward:
  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Green Bay Packers
  • Philadelphia Eagles
  • New York Giants
  • Kansas City Chiefs
Teams I hate with a white-hot passion whose inner fires are slowly but surely broiling the soul within me:
  • St. Louis Rams
If I have to choose actual condenters, I'll take the Patriots to win the AFC. The NFC playoff race will be a matchups game -- which team do I hate more? I just want to see the Rams go down hard, again. (In shootouts, where Marc Bulger nevertheless continues to put up good numbers for my fantasy team.)

Monday, December 01, 2003

To bandwagon or not to bandwagon...

Brayden King provides this link: For the record, I don't have strong feelings about the guy, although I definitely miss Mooch.

It's been a while since I've thought about epistemology...

Suppose I'm omniscient. This means that I know every true proposition, and also have no false beliefs. Therefore, I must know I'm omniscient, since I'm omniscient is a true proposition. If I know X, then I have X's content as a justified true belief. Therefore, I must be justified in believing that I'm omniscient. What could justify a belief like this? We might be tempted to say that it's justified in virtue of the fact that I'm omniscient. If I knew I was omniscient and discovered a belief in myself, I'd be justified in believing it to be true. But I can't assume my omniscience in justifying that belief -- that's a tight circle. We could do it if we were externalists about justification pretty easily... taking my beliefs as true would be a reliable mechanism. But it'd be kind of surprising if the possibility of an omniscient being implied externalism about justification.

Good morrow good Monday...

I hope that everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. I got a fairly substantial amount of work done, and did a lot of sitting around, but apparently not a lot of blogging. I think I'm considering myself back now, and you may reasonably expect to see me more active here. I've been thinking about omniscience this afternoon; there may be a post in the near future. I'm also thinking about the NFL -- with the 49ers sadly out of the playoff picture at this point, my perspective changes dramatically. But first, I want to go home, and prepare some food, and eat it.