Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.
–Aristotle

The moment has arrived. Weve invoked the laws of thermodynamics, probability and the law of large numbers; we can now state the Universal Law of Life. We define a utility function for all living systems:

max E([α - αc]@t | F@t-1)

E is expected value. α is alpha, the equation for which I gave in Part 2. αc, or alpha critical, is a direct analogue to wealthc in Part 5. If you’ve ever played pickup sticks or Jenga, you know there comes a point in the game where removing one more piece causes the whole structure to come tumbling down. So it is for any Eustace. At some point the disruptive forces overwhelm the stabilizing forces and all falls down. This is alpha critical, and when you go below it it’s game over.

F is the filtration, and F@t-1 represents all of the information available to Eustace as of t – 1. t is the current time index.

You will note that this is almost identical to the wealth maximization equation given in Part 5. We have simply substituted one desirable, objective, measurable term, alpha, for another, wealth. In Alphabet City or on Alpha Centauri, living systems configured to maximize this function will have the greatest likelihood of survival. Bacteria, people, and as-yet undiscovered life forms on Rigel 6 all play the same game.

To maximize its sustainability, Eustace must be:

  • alphatropic: can generate alpha from available free energy. Living organisms are alphatropic at every scale. They are all composed of a cell or cells that are highly coordinated, down to the organelles. The thermodynamic choreography of the simplest virus, in alpha terms, is vastly more elaborate than that of the most sophisticated machined devices. (This is an experimentally verifiable proposition, and alpha theory ought to be subject to verification.)
  • alphametric: calibrates “appropriate” responses to fluctuations in alpha. (I will come to what “appropriate” means in a moment.) In complex systems many things can go wrong — by wrong I mean alphadystropic. If a temperature gauge gives an erroneous reading in an HVAC system, the system runs inefficiently and is more prone to failure. Any extraneous complexity that does not increase alpha has a thermodynamic cost that weighs against it. Alpha theory in no way states that living systems a priori know the best path. It states that alpha and survivability are directly correlated.
  • alphaphilic: can recognize and respond to sources of alpha. A simple bacterium may use chemotaxis to follow a maltose gradient. Human brains are considerably more complex and agile. Our ability to aggregate data through practice, to learn, allows us to model a new task so well that eventually we may perform it subconsciously. Think back to your first trip to work and how carefully you traced your route. Soon after there were probably days when you didnt even remember the journey. Information from a new experience was collected, and eventually, the process was normalized. We accumulate countless Poisson rules and normalize them throughout our lives. As our model grows, new information that fits cleanly within it is easier to digest than information that challenges or contradicts it. (Alpha theory explains, for example, resistance to alpha theory.)

Poisson strategies or “Poisson rules” are mnemonics, guesses, estimates; these will inevitably lead to error. Poisson rules that are adapted to the filtration will be better than wild guesses. The term itself is merely a convenience. It in no way implies that all randomness fits into neat categories but rather emphasizes the challenges of discontinuous random processes.

There are often many routes to get from here to there. Where is there? The destination is always maximal alpha given available free energy. To choose this ideal path, Eustace would need to know every possible conformation of energy. Since this is impossible in practice, Eustace must follow the best path based on his alpha model. Let’s call this alpha quantity α* (alpha star). We can now introduce an error term, ε (epsilon).

ε = |α – α*|

Incomplete or incorrect information increases Eustace’s epsilon; more correct or accurate information decreases it. “Appropriate” action is based on a low-epsilon model. All Eustaces act to maximize alpha star: they succeed insofar as alpha star maps to alpha.

This is an extravagant claim, which I may as well put extravagantly: Alpha star defines behavior, and alpha defines ethics, for all life that adheres to the laws of thermodynamics. Moral action turns out to be objective after all. All physiological intuitions have been rigorously excluded — no “consciousness,” no “self,” no “volition,” and certainly no “soul.” Objective measure and logical definition alone are the criteria for the validity of alpha. There is, to be sure, nothing intuitively unreasonable in the derivation; but the criterion for mathematical acceptability is logical self-consistency rather than simply reasonableness of conception. Poincaré said that had mathematicians been left in the prey of abstract logic, they would have never gone beyond number theory and geometry. It is nature, in our case thermodynamics, that opens mathematics as a tool for understanding the world.

Alpha proposes a bridge that links the chemistry and physics of individual molecules to macromolecules to primitive organisms all the way through to higher forms of life. Researchers and philosophers can look at the same questions they always have, but with a rigorous basis of reference. To indulge in another computer analogy, when I program in a high-level language I ultimately generate binary output, long strings of zeros and ones. The computer cares only about this binary output. Alpha is the binary output of living systems.

The reader will discover that alpha can reconstitute the mechanisms that prevailed in forming the first large molecules — the molecules known to be the repositories of genetic information in every living cell throughout history. In 1965 the work of Jacob, Monod, and Gros demonstrated the role of messenger ribonucleic acids in carrying information stored in deoxyribonucleic acid that is the basis of protein synthesis. Then American biologists Tom Cech and Sidney Altman earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1989 for showing that RNA molecules possess properties that were not originally noticed: they can reorganize themselves without any outside intervention.

All of this complexity stems from the recursive application of a simple phenomenon. Alpha’s story has never changed and, so long as the laws of thermodynamics continue to hold, it never will. But recursive simplicity can get awfully complicated, as anyone who’s ever looked at a fractal can tell you. Remember that t and t – 1 in the maximization function change constantly; it’s a fresh Bernoulli trial all the time. Human beings calculate first-order consequences pretty well, second-order consequences notoriously badly, and the third order is like the third bottle of wine: all bets are off. This is why we need alpha models, and why we can maximize only alpha star, not alpha itself. Alpha is not a truth machine. It is one step in the process of abstracting the real fundamentals from all the irrelevant encumbrances in which intuition tangles us. There is a lot of moral advice to be derived from alpha theory, which I will get around to offering, but for now: Look at your alpha model. (Objectivists will recognize this as another form of “check your premises.”)

But for those of you who want some cash value right away — and I can’t blame you — the definition of life falls out immediately from alpha theory. Alpha is a dimensionless unit. Living systems, even primitive ones, have an immensely higher such number than machines. Life is a number. (We don’t know its value of course, but this could be determined experimentally.) Erwin Schrödinger, in his vastly overrated book What Is Life?, worried this question for nearly 100 pages without answering it. Douglas Adams, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, claimed that the meaning of life is 42. He got a hell of a lot closer than Schrödinger.

In the next few posts, well subsume Darwin into a much more comprehensive theory and we’ll consolidate — or as E.O. Wilson would say, consiliate — the noble sciences into a unified field in a way that might even make Aristotle proud.

Aaron Haspel | Posted December 4, 2004 @ 12:36 PM | Alpha Theory

93 Responses to “The Disconsolation of Philosophy, Part 6: The Universal Law of Life”

  1. 1 1. Tommy Whigham

    I’m going to print all of your old posts and go oer the equations again, along with this one, while I’m vacationing in the mountains.
    I look forward to it. Thanks for the car ride consideration.


  2. 2 2. Matt McIntosh

    I had a feeling that this was where you were headed, but nevertheless this is bold and mindblowing stuff. At this point I can’t seem to find fault anywhere, but I’ll let Bill, Bourbaki and Jim have at it before I totally get on board though.

    One pedantic thing, though: it’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (which I think you got confused with Life, the Universe and Everything). Adams fanboy here, couldn’t let that pass.


  3. 3 3. Aaron Haspel

    Corrected, Matt, and thanks.


  4. 4 4. David Airth

    Aaron,

    I don’t mean to needle you with this question but could you better explain how the laws of thermodynamics applies to your thinking. You say that all is bound by its laws. Can you be more specific. I am really interested. I know the general idea behind it but I’d liked to hear your take on it. Maybe others could offer their views.


  5. 5 5. Aaron Haspel

    Well David, I’ve done my best to be specific, but I’ve posted a summary of the theory, sans formulae, which may help. Look it over and if you still have questions I’ll be happy to try to answer them.


  6. 6 6. Jim Valliant

    I think Ive got it, Aaron, so your explanation must be pretty clear, with and without formulas, but my growing concerns now are twofold.

    First, you seem to think that your theory excludes the existence of agency or volition. (It cannot without self-contradiciton, of course.) You, as a person, seem to associate volition with religion. There are no grounds for that at all. There is no refutation of the concept of agency here, just an assertion against it and a troubling admission that it is not always possible to completely remove it from our language. I, for one, have NO problem omitting it entirely, except when discussing people, where I do find it utterly impossible to do without. It, of course, is "anthropocentric," but that’s o.k. if the only claimed agents are humans. (When, of course, it is required. And, calling it "anthropocentric" sort-of admits that it does, in some sense, apply to humans, at least, no?)

    Indeed, I suspect that you already appreciate that you have put forward an account of a kind of non-conscious "teleology" for what has traditionally been considered the non-teleological, and even a physical account for what has been the traditionally teleological. (I really dig this kind of approach, so long as it isn’t crude reductionism.)

    In fact, it seems to me that the increasing self-regulation, or self-consciousness, or control of consciousness, plainly observed as we gradually move from bacteria to humans, is something that alpha might be able to actually explain. Whaddya think?

    Don’t run away from it — explain it — as you might actually be able to do now!!)

    Which leads me to the second problem that I sense emerging here: reductionism. The major limitations of physics over the years have been self-imposed, the straight-jacket of physical reductionism, to put it bluntly.

    The "objective" is not merely the physical. The theory of evolution, for instance, was OBJECTIVE, even without alpha, or even DNA. Physics’ explanations do not explain "away." Properly understood, they explain a fundamental aspect of the full, rich, even sometimes the non-physical and relational, character of the whole thing. For example, the assertion, "life is a number" is true only in the most limited sense. It is the purest nonsense outside of a VERY limited context of explanation.

    My emotions may be exainable with alpha, but I sure don’t need alpha to know them, and OBJECTIVELY; same with my values; same with, well, every other complex thing, from the weather to nutrition to politics to art. The physicist who says that the table before me is NOT a solid table at all, but a complex cloud of electrons is the one missing out on real dimensions of truth, not the guy who understands that the electron cloud has created the very solid table actually before me.

    Every time someone discovers something in physics, why is it that they always need to contend that, at last, we have reached the Nirvana consisting of the ultimate metaphysical reduction to number? It’s just blather.


  7. 7 7. Aaron's father

    At last an application! A definition of life, no less. The calculations are beyond me, but I would certainly like to see what alpha-star is in the following three cases:

    A protozoan

    An air conditioner

    A virus

    An answer to the question, "Is a virus alive?" would be an enormous advance.


  8. 8 8. Bourbaki

    Mr. Aaron’s Father,

    If the derivation is clean, then these experimental results could be pure gold. But we’re talking philosophy here so we need to keep our hands clean.

    Let’s consider cellular respiration in living organism:

    citric acid cycle

    glycolysis

    oxidative phosphorylation

    In living systems, such cycles are coupled to other highly coordinated pathways that in turn carry out tasks including synthesis, repair and replication. These pathways are by no means flawless but the organization of living systems is conducted to the smallest scale to this end.

    An air conditioner is a collection of machined parts. The coordination stops at the scale of these parts. And when our machines get small, say microprocessors, they become extremely rigid and brittle.

    Is a virus alive?

    Alpha is a numerical scale. It offers both ordinality and cardinality where none existed. For any Eustace to display the features that we associate with life, he’ll need to travel up this scale. At present, we have no experimental data to know whether this scale is a smooth gradient or punctuated by inflection points.

    The answer lies in the graph of that data and where a virus falls on it compared to other points of reference.

    But that sounds like a lot of work very little of which could be conducted from a sidewalk cafe.


  9. 9 9. Aaron Haspel

    Jim: It would be nice if you stuck to the arguments I make instead of the arguments you are afraid I will make or think I might be about to make. Alpha, I repeat, is the binary output of living systems. It’s level 0 while we are accustomed to deal with these matters at level 8 or so. I would no more foresake discussing tables as solid objects because they can be conceived as electron clouds than I would foresake discussing hashtables and classes because they can be conceived as strings of ones and zeros. Incidentally, I have never known a physicist to deny that solid matter is solid.

    However, there is a level 0, we know what it is, and we can measure it, theoretically. This is more than we knew last month. Just as I compile my programs down to byte code, so we can "compile" our ordinary normative concepts down to alpha.

    Eschewing "agent language" isn’t quite as easy as you think; depends on the subject. Language is a social creation of human beings, and we are hard-wired for teleology, for better or worse. Try giving an account of evolution without it. Darwin, Gould, and Dawkins all use teleological terms liberally (with appropriate disclaimers). E.O. Wilson, as materialist a man as you will ever hope to find, can’t discuss even ants without them.

    I don’t know where you got the impression that I was attempting to "refute agency," but it certainly wasn’t from anything I wrote. Alpha theory is, so far, resolutely agnostic on agency, consciousness, and volition. (I have a pretty good idea how to define consciousness in alpha terms, but until I can demonstrate it rigorously I’d rather leave it off the table.) For now I claim only that a considerable amount of behavior, even human behavior, can be accounted for without introducing any of these concepts. You ask for a "non-conscious teleology"; no thanks. I would rather not retreat to the days of rocks falling because of their "affinity" for the ground. All scientific progress has been in the opposite direction.


  10. 10 10. Jim Valliant

    Sorry, Aaron, no can do. You must account for volition whether you want to or not, whether its already accounted for in your theory or not. I import it over by sheer necessity. If choice is an illusion, then you are wasting everyones time if you hope to give them normative advice of any kind. Aristotle was right on the money when he said that any and all ethics presupposes the truth of volition and cannot exist without it.

    Also, teleology and volition, while intimately related, are two different things. True agency talk, the language of conscious-choice, applies only to people (or some other conceptual consciousness out there.) Teleology, i.e., goal-directedness, is obviously inescapable in any discussion of biology, including ants. I am never compelled to imply that ants individually choose, but I am compelled to say that they pursue goalsthey do. I am compelled to say that people consciously choosethey do. This is no linguistic problem at all for meever. Please provide us but a single example of such verbal difficulty, and Ill be happy to sort it out for you in seconds

    A moral theory cannot be ‘agency-neutral’ or agnostic about free will. That’s my point.

    No, its not part of your theory, but have you not implied that agency-talk is practically a superstition, a by-product of linguistic history?

    Dont resent the request for philosophical qualification, Aaron. Thats always a big mistake. You are the one claiming that this is philosophy, not physics. If so, we need more than a numerical definition of life. Otherwise, its fallacious reductionism. Its the numerical answer that needs qualification; its the theorys responsibility.

    I get to import any facts over that might be uncomfortable for you and your theory, sorry, dude. In addition, I was hoping that you would see some hopeful possibility in my suggestion that your theory might actually account for agency (or the illusion of agency?) This would serve your theory no end of good, dont you think? Or maybe you are just doing physics after all, and not ethics of any kind. Even physics can give us all kinds of normative advice, to engineers, for instance.

    That you might also be able to provide help on this issue was a suggestion, try it or not, as you choose, but please dont resent the fellow who brings it up.

    By the way, what is your personal position (notice thats how I put before) on the following questions:

    Do humans possess free will?
    Is this an essential part of normative thinking?


  11. 11 11. Jim Valliant

    P.S. I will let my determinist friends know that they are "hard-wired" to think and talk otherwise. It’ll come as big shock to them!


  12. 12 12. Aaron Haspel

    I’m gonna have to call several Occam’s Razor violations here. We do not need any of these slippery concepts if we simply think about the problem in the following way:

    1. An organism reconfigures itself in response to input.
    2. This new configuration either promotes its sustainability or not.
    3. How do we tell?

    These are the questions I’m trying to answer. They have not been answered yet, and they are worth answering. They can be answered without any reference to consciousness, or volition, or good and evil and right and wrong for that matter. Let’s follow Nietzsche for a bit and stop talking about that stuff. Let’s just think in terms of sickness and health.


  13. 13 13. Jim Valliant

    The mask has slipped, and Aaron has finally exposed himself to my satisfaction!! He IS a crude reductionist. No, he is never tempted to say that the solid table isn’t really a solid table (which, incidentally, has been said many, many times as a demonstration of the senses’ invalidity), but he is the direct analogue of thoise folks and a crude reductionist. Volition is an illusion, just as the table was allegedly only a cloud of electrons.

    Can’t you hear yourself, Aaron? ‘[These questions] can be answered without any reference to consciousness [even YOURS or mine?!?!], or volition [ditto], or good and evil and right and wrong for that matter.’ No, they cannot. Don’t tell me, ‘consciousness-talk’ is ‘hard-wired,’ too.

    It’s true most questions can be answered without reference to the concepts of good and evil, but certainly no ethical ones can be. You can’t destroy the subject and then claim to be the master of it. Whatever you hope to be doing, this is not ethics. I am also now convinced beyond all doubt that this isn’t even philosophy. It’s (at best) physics.

    Most organisms do not ‘reconfigure themselves’ at all. (I’d like to see a single example of that.) At best, mutation reconfigures their offspring into something else or a change in the environment reconditions their behavior. Now, humans DO reconfigure themselves, quite literally, just as you are attempting to reconfigure our understanding of things. Ignoring this distinction (or, worse, smearing these two radically different realities into the same thing) will only confuse the matter further; it ignores the difference between true agents and others, for instance.

    Human intelligence is natural selection sped-up: instead of waiting for the organism to turn white in a snowy environment, humans can change/design/invent clothes, heaters, housing, even themselves, in less than a single generation. Polar bears can’t do that. WE, on the other hand, really do. That’s the difference agency makes!

    My previous questions stand.


  14. 14 14. Jim Valliant

    1. Three cheers for RNA!! Cats and dogs, and bacteria, sorry, you don’t fit. Interesting biological model, though… Even RNA’s self-adaptation lacks any purpose, intelligence or choice in the process, of course. (Does RNA even have an illusion of choice, Aaron?) Intelligence is HOW we humans can purposely ‘reconfigure’ ourselves, and this difference to RNA in the nature of the ‘reconfiguring’ is significant. Will your normative advice, whatever it is, be of any assistance to RNA? Sit down and have a good heart-to-heart with some RNA and do tell me if its harder to convince than me! You still refuse to answer this very point: how do you deal with the necessary premise of all ethics, namely, volition? If choice is not recognized in your theory, do you expect me to take any ‘advice’ from you? Just how would I do that?

    2. Physics is inferred from observation. Thermodynamics is no more certain than the observations that went into its discovery and validation. Physical theories are the less certain, if anything is, not my observations of solid tables and consciousness and choice. The more of these observations that are accounted for and explained, the better, the more complete the theory. Observation, as one of my earlier detractors put it, has PRIMACY. Put it this way: if Occam properly razors off volition in your theory, then too bad for your (sadly self-limited) theory. You will be missing something big. Occam cannot razor off any part of reality, though.

    This is not to say that your theory cant have some use or application, just a self-limited one, discussing only one slice of the pie. Philosophy talks about the whole pie. I don’t give a damn about turf-wars, just about keeping the whole of reality in mind in a single integration.

    3. Ethics never needed to wait for a mathematical derivation to be known to be objective, any more than evolution by natural selection did. Ethics turning out to be ‘objective’ on basis of math, reveals a rationalism of the worst kind, Aaron. Consciousness and volition won’t become any more ‘objective’ when you figure out what their alpha math is, either. (Ancient Pythagoreans thought ‘love’ was 5, I believe, perhaps, that’s a good place for you to start.) It’s up to theories to explain and conform to them, not vice versa. For the sake of your theory, I hope that an explanation of these things can really be done…


  15. 15 15. Aaron Haspel

    Oh yes, you found me out. Reduced to a reductionist at last, and a lucky thing too: otherwise you might have to learn a little probability and physics and deal with the actual arguments instead of imputing positions to me that I have not stated and don’t, in fact, hold. It was a narrow escape.

    We might begin with some biochemistry. The claim that only human beings can reconfigure themselves is astonishing, particularly in light of the link I provided in this very post to Cech’s and Altman’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for showing that RNA molecules can do exactly that.

    I ask the unbiased reader to examine the question (#3) in my last comment and ask himself why, to answer it, I am obliged to explain, define, or even introduce consciousness or volition. Now obviously I trust that when I write I will be understood a trust that is rapidly eroding. But does this mean that I am somehow dragging my own or my reader’s consciousness into the argument on that account? That any time I conduct an argument in language I have to explain consciousness beforehand? Be serious.

    You want to conduct a turf war and arrogate to yourself the terms ethics and philosophy? Be my guest. You want to call what I’m doing physics, or praxeology, or basket-weaving? OK by me. All I want to know is: Is the maximization function valid or isn’t it? If not, then where is the error? And if there’s no error, then what’s all the fuss about?


  16. 16 16. CT

    Valliant[quote]:”Physics is inferred from observation. Thermodynamics is no more certain than the observations that went into its discovery and validation. Physical theories are the less certain, if anything is, not my observations of solid tables and consciousness and choice. The more of these observations that are accounted for and explained, the better, the more complete the theory. Observation, as one of my earlier detractors put it, has PRIMACY.”Valliant[endquote]

    First you state:
    Valliant[quote]"…physical theories are the less certain, if anything is, not my observations of solid tables but the more of these observations that are accounted for the better.”Valliant[endquote]

    What do you think these physical theories are if not the strictly confirmed and defined observations of phenomena many, many times over, and many times corroborated? If, incidentally, your "observations" lead you to conclude something different than what these theories conclude, odds are you are wrong. You may not be and by all means attempt to prove what you claim to be as true as such using the same tools as everyone else. If you are right and can prove it by the tools upon which we have all agreed (rules of inference, the scientific method, CPPD, etc..) then lo and behold we have something new.

    But in the face of not having this, indeed having only your claim that your senses are superior to physical theories were they to be in contradiction, how can we conceivably accept that you can draw more robust conclusions about the universe than we "physical theorists"? All you have as evidence is appeal to the most privileged of knowledge – your experience of the world By your own standards physical theory is to be believed over your experiential evidence, if the truth of your statement becomes more firmly supported by repeated observation.

    Unless you are proposing that the physical world *exists* as you perceive it in which case let me step aside to make room for your ego *and* your misconceptions. In other words, if physical theories *did* prove that tables were not solid objects (and let me re-emphasize what Aaron wrote – I too have never met the physicist that has or would make this claim, altho I know plenty of philosophers that would defend it) and *your* observation, *your* experience of the world said otherwise, that they were solid – you are wrong.

    Valliant[quote]"Ethics never needed to wait for a mathematical derivation to be known to be ‘objective,’"Valliant[endquote]

    Nor has it ever succeeded in trying to give an objective basis for any of its theories. To date, there are *no* successful ethical theories that do not ultimately resort to intuition or the brute assertion of unsubstantial (and unsubstantiable) first principles. Alpha proposes to do this to give the objective ethic.

    But this is, mystifyingly, unsavory to you:
    Valliant[quote]“Ethics ‘turning out’ to be ‘objective’ on basis of math, reveals a rationalism of the worst kind”Valliant[endquote]

    Every ethical theory that has been taken seriously, in fact I’ll go so far as to say that every ethical theory tries to have an objective basis. The difference between alpha and every other theory so far is that alpha succeeds, if we are to apply it ethics, which we have been promised.

    Every other theory ultimately falls under the weight of weird and untrue (or empty) metaphysics, see Kant, religion; appeal to special knowledge, see religion again; an untrue understanding of the universe *as it is*, etc. But every one of them has attempted to be objective, hence they are able to be, in theory, prescriptive. Without the objectivity, there is no basis for claiming an ethical system is prescriptive because by definition it will then be subjective (either a or b, not a therefore b – it is either objective or subjective, it is not objective therefore it is subjective) and therefore of no use. Unless your ethics has no prescriptive power, in which case you have misunderstood the term. Or perhaps you think that the subjective experience is a good basis for prescribing actins to others?

    Alpha falls right out of axioms with which no one has a problem (and certainly no one here as no one has disputed the premises) and everyone is willing to regard as true, excepting those mentioned way back when: those who question whether the world even exists or if math is true. To these people I leave those with the stomach to indulge such nonsense.

    Alpha is objective. And if this can lead to an ethical system that is objective, then despite your distaste for the notion I fail to see how you cannot accept unless you don’t accept one of the premises (and if you don’t accept say the Second Law the world would very much like to see your proof as to why it should not be accepted).

    But no one has disputed the premises effectively; i.e. no one has disagreed they are true and if they have had a problem with them they have failed to offer a true, valid counterargument here. Or you do not accept that these premises lead to the proffered conclusion. That conclusion to date is above and if it does not fall right out of the axioms, I should also like to see how, other than the exhortation that we cannot do away with volition.

    What is being investigated is put very simply in 3 numbered points in Aaron’s above post. Do you have any problem with this and do you agree that alpha can accomplish this measurement? If so, then you can see that there is no need at this point to introduce consciousness or volition. Argue all the arguments that you think Aaron will make or not, so far this is what we are talking about.

    Now if you are wondering *how* these things may be applied to an ethical issue, then please put your issue forward and let us see how alpha fares. Until then, talk of consciousness and volition is the new noise used to fill the gap left when everyone realized that the premises and axioms were unassailable. It is at least an attempt to attack the conclusions but by introducing more to the solution than is needed. Claim that volition and consciousness are necessary if you must, but while you do so can you show us where it is needed in Aaron’s 3-point summation?


  17. 17 17. Peter

    I don’t understand why you attempt to define systems (including living ones) as alpha-maximizing, and not fitness-maximizing. Certainly one could imagine a more-fit system that doesn’t maximize alpha. It seems to me that the epsilon value attempts to correct this fact, but that seems like an arbitrary step to take, since fitness can’t be recast in terms of alpha, which was originally defined in terms of entropy and enthalpy. Although I realize that alpha is unitless, it seems like you use this fact with too much liberty when you assert that fitness can be reworked into a number and thrown into the model. Since fitness (or, rather, behaviour / ethics) doesn’t exactly lead itself to being numerically defined, I don’t see how it could be added to the model as an "objective" measure.

    Furthermore, it seems like your model leaves out the possibility of highly-complex (alpha-maximizing) systems which are prone to Poisson events. Since being disaster-prone doesn’t fit into a measure of alpha, we could say that there are systems with high alphas that are terribly unfit. Perhaps I don’t understand your Universal Law of Life function properly, since it seems to say that alpha will be maximized in the present… obviously, future values of alpha are important as well for the viability of any system. Are these future values somehow accounted for in the measure of present alphas?


  18. 18 18. Bourbaki

    I don’t understand why you attempt to define systems (including living ones) as alpha-maximizing, and not fitness-maximizing.

    How would you measure fitness?

    Certainly one could imagine a more-fit system that doesn’t maximize alpha.

    You have two systems, A and B. What makes A more "fit" than B.

    Please provide an example of this imagined system. If it’s "fit", it should possess "survivability". Alpha is a measurable index of its survivability.

    It seems to me that the epsilon value attempts to correct this fact, but that seems like an arbitrary step to take, since fitness can’t be recast in terms of alpha, which was originally defined in terms of entropy and enthalpy.

    Careful. The aim is to maximize the utility function. All living systems do not actually achieve this. That would require full knowledge of all available free energy sources and optimal strategies to process each source.

    There is nothing arbitrary about epsilon. There is a strict thermodynamic maximum for any available quantity of free energy, dG. The difference between this theoretical max and that achieved by any dynamic system is epsilon.

    Although I realize that alpha is unitless, it seems like you use this fact with too much liberty when you assert that fitness can be reworked into a number and thrown into the model. Since fitness (or, rather, behaviour / ethics) doesn’t exactly lead itself to being numerically defined, I don’t see how it could be added to the model as an "objective" measure.

    Fitness as you’ve used it so far is a rather arbitrary term. Please provide a rigorous explanation of fitness and how it deviates from alpha.

    Also, please point out where alpha is applied with too much liberty. A counterexample would be most helpful.

    Furthermore, it seems like your model leaves out the possibility of highly-complex (alpha-maximizing) systems which are prone to Poisson events.

    Complexity for complexity’s sake is not alphatropic. The system you describe would have reduced survivability.

    Since being disaster-prone doesn’t fit into a measure of alpha, we could say that there are systems with high alphas that are terribly unfit.

    Sure. A disaster prone complex has low survivability. It would dissipate quickly. It would have low alpha.

    Perhaps I don’t understand your Universal Law of Life function properly, since it seems to say that alpha will be maximized in the present…

    It says that the best configuration an alpha complex can achieve is one adapted to all the information available in the filtration.

    obviously, future values of alpha are important as well for the viability of any system. Are these future values somehow accounted for in the measure of present alphas?

    Yes. This was addressed in the discussion about continuous/discrete randomness and strong/weak solutions. Some things about the future can be known with a high degree of certainty. In the Bernoulli betting game, having $100 meant that it would take at least 100 rounds to lose.

    You are going to have to offer some clear examples of your objections. Apologies but so far, they are too vague to address directly.


  19. 19 19. Bourbaki

    Mr. Peter,

    Upon closer inspection, you’ll discover that the quantitative properties of alpha are intimately related to the qualitative properties of fitness.


  20. 20 20. Jim Valliant

    C.T.,

    I feel as misunderstood by you as Aaron does by me!

    If I had a distaste for alpha, I doubt that I would have suggested that other important (and necessary) features of ethics be explained by it.

    What I object to is the strange reluctance by Aaron to even approach the subjects I mentioned. We can’t give normative advice to ants (teleological though they be), nor to molecules (even RNA, as un-teleological as they are), but we can do so for human beings. This appears to me to be a crucial difference (between "agents" and others) that is a necessary prerequisite to any and all ethical thinking. It cannot be evaded, either. Moral judgment requires that I distinguish between those actions which a person could have chosen otherwise and those for which he could NOT have. One must recognize those areas which can, under current circumstances, be "reconfigured" and those which currently cannot be (at least by me now.) Any failure to recognize volition will render the entire "ethics" quite dubious. This is not optional and not something that Occam, Aaron, or anyone else can razor off of ethics.

    And, no, ethics HAS been demonstrated to be objective by previous ethical thinkers, and all without math.


  21. 21 21. Peter

    Upon closer inspection, you’ll discover that the quantitative properties of alpha are intimately related to the qualitative properties of fitness.

    I suppose so. If alpha simply represents both a measure of internal efficiency and the system’s ability to cope with the outside world in the optimal manner, I guess there’s little to object to.

    And so maybe I’ll communicate another point that seems strange to me. It seems that a system which could be "frozen" and boxed away for eternity would have a higher alpha than it would otherwise. If I preserve my dead dog, does that mean its alpha is higher than it was when it’s alive, and hence it has a higher survivability? That would certainly seem strange.

    It doesn’t seem like alpha addresses the role of system reproduction, either. There’s certainly more to fitness as we know it than survivability – one must be able to reproduce as well. How does this theory address this issue?


  22. 22 22. Bourbaki

    Mr. Peter,

    Careful. The derivation of alpha is spread over Part 2 through Part 6. Each Part is layered onto the previous Part and none of the pieces can be excluded.

    If I preserve my dead dog, does that mean its alpha is higher than it was when it’s alive, and hence it has a higher survivability? That would certainly seem strange.

    This is an excellent question. First, alpha is a ratio of flux. That ratio needs to be above a threshold called alpha critical (a_c).

    Something that is dead will not be above a_c. But what about something in suspended animation?

    Believe it or not, alpha accommodates this case. Watch for an upcoming post that will address this case along with several other edge cases. Hint: L’Hopital’s Rule.

    It doesn’t seem like alpha addresses the role of system reproduction, either. There’s certainly more to fitness as we know it than survivability – one must be able to reproduce as well. How does this theory address this issue?

    Alpha is very abstract. It focuses only on quantitative measurement and commensurability of consequences. Again, if you look back over the posts you’ll notice that there were no restrictions on the size of "Eustace". A Eustace that reproduces increases alpha and diversifies its fitness in terms of location and perhaps configuration (via recombination). It’s just another method to increase the utility function.


  23. 23 23. Bourbaki

    Mr. Valliant,

    It seems that you are concerned that some applications or prescriptive consequences have not been addressed. The idea develops from theory to application in iterative steps.

    Specific application will become apparent as more and more layers are added to the abstract foundations of the idea. By opening up each and every single step of the derivation, you may interject an objection of where it went wrong. But this method of careful derivation does mean that some of the higher level applications to philosophy will have to wait until tools have been iteratively assembled to address them.

    Are you saying that alpha can’t address issues of interest (please explain why) or that it hasn’t addressed them yet?


  24. 24 24. Jim Valliant

    Bourbaki,

    As I have suggested already, I think that alpha actually might (still just a might) be able to handle the very issues that I have raised. I am impressed enough (so far) that I am beginning to suspect that (whatever its ultimate merits) even such an attempt to do so will be insightful. (My own math consultant is still working me through–what is for me–some very difficult stuff here. But I may get there some day…) Whatever the math, a Eustace’s ability to do ethics itself, i.e., the intelligence and will that that presupposes, seems to me to be a seminal event in the history of alpha ‘reconfiguration,’ enormously accelerating this capacity to ‘reconfigure.’ (Just a guess, so far.)

    But whether or not this can be made sense of in the terms of the theory presented, these are still critical issues for ANY ethical theory, or ANY practical application of it, to handle.

    One other issue: the danger of reductionism. I see a red object. By telling me the reason why I see it as red, even breaking it down to the mathematics of the very photons involved, does not render my perceptions any more ‘objective,’ it tells me why they were always ‘objective.’ Any derivations made here, even perfectly successful ones, won’t let us say that ethics ‘turns out’ to be objective–ethics (as such) will have simply been proven to have been ‘objective’ all along. (Specific prescriptions may have been wrong, others red-hot close, at least, but the subject of ethics, as was stated, will be simply verified from a new angle.) Anything else is pure reductionism and ‘rationalism’ (in the Objectivist sense of the word.) The subject of ethics arises ONLY because we possess intelligence and will–we are ethical beings and have been so as long as we have been beings of intellect and choice. Exactly that long, in fact, and because we possess intellect and will–Aaron’s theory, right or wrong, being just another eloquent demonstration of this.)

    As an atheist and lover of science, I am convinced that SOME physical explanation for agency and teleology (being plainly observed facts) exists. As Aaron is really proving, it is the physics that has been lacking, not the ethics. I am willing to wait and see Aaron’s ethics give advice–and see if it actually conforms to what I objectively know about ethics. (Aaron cannot derive and deduce me into murder and dishonesty, no matter what his math shows!)

    I don’t believe in ‘vital forces,’ or any of the other mystical ideas Aaron rightly rejects, but I also still believe ethics to be ‘objective’ without any math, simply by using clear concepts. I believe that ‘agency’ (or volition) is one of these very real, natural and plainly observable facts that, in some form, is indispensable. I do not demand or expect the theory to account for everything, from every perspective, but if it has a claim to the title of ‘philosophy’ (to be, for example, a workable ethics), it must address some important facts and issues, like those I have raised.

    (I also don’t imagine that the average person will be able or willing to do complex math to figure out how to live a good life, but this is a comparatively small matter, especially given Aaron’s lucidity with plain English.)

    Again, I am willing to be patient in a patient cause.


  25. 25 25. Bourbaki

    Whatever the math, a Eustace’s ability to do ethics itself, i.e., the intelligence and will that that presupposes, seems to me to be a seminal event in the history of alpha ‘reconfiguration,’ enormously accelerating this capacity to ‘reconfigure.’

    You are absolutely correct on this point. This agility greatly improves our ability to adapt.

    One other issue: the danger of reductionism.

    This not a danger of reductionism. This is a danger of bad scholarship and poor reasoning. That is why the entire derivation has been openly laid out before you along with references. That you are taking the time and energy to learn the math so that you may refute or accept the theory properly is good scholarship.

    I don’t believe in ‘vital forces,’ or any of the other mystical ideas Aaron rightly rejects, but I also still believe ethics to be ‘objective’ without any math [...]

    So no supernatural–we are dealing with the physical. Surely the possibility of adding ordinality and cardinality is desirable?

    "In physical science the first essential step in the direction of learning any subject is to find principles of numerical reckoning and practicable methods for measuring some quality connected with it. I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the state of Science, whatever the matter may be."
    – William Thomson (Lord Kelvin)


  26. 26 26. Jim Valliant

    I agree with Lord Kelvin in the context of the kind of science that he worked in, but not other things. Math is not needed to create more than "meagre" knowledge. (I wonder how we even got to math, then? Indeed, math-reduction is "meagre" knowledge, unless it can be translated into words.)

    And, when concepts at least as clear and certain as "table" and "chair," are called "slippery," e.g. consciousness, teleology, and volition, and it is suggested, "Don’t worry, they will ‘turn out’ to be objective when we find the math, just like ethics ‘turns out’ to be," then we may just have entered the realm of "bad scholarship and poor reasoning," if we do not exercise the utmost care.

    It’s curious that I sense that none of my ethical positions, e.g., on murder and honesty, are on the block here, but only whether a physical account of them can be provided, i.e., it’s physics, not ethics, that may find a new application.


  27. 27 27. Bourbaki

    Mr. Valliant,

    You are asserting things that no one has claimed. No one here has called a chair "slippery".

    And, surely, no engineer versed in Newtonian mechanics would tell Barry Bonds to calculate the velocity and trajectory of a ball using the laws of motion. None of Barry Bond’s positions on how to hit a fastball would be "on the table". But Barry would (likely) be unable to take his knowledge and apply it to an airfoil to produce an airplane.

    Qualitative knowledge can be highly effective but there are severe limitations: it is very difficult to integrate and generalize without becoming brittle and dogmatic.

    Indeed, math-reduction is "meagre" knowledge, unless it can be translated into words.

    Words are too easily misunderstood. This series of posts is an excellent example. Notice how throughout the derivation in Parts 1-6, all debate stemmed from words and their interpretation.

    No one quarrelled over Gibbs, Boltzmann, Bernoulli, Gauss, or Poisson.

    Everyone argued over Aristotle, Mill, Rand and Nietzche.

    Either as individuals or groups, humans piece together strategies as best they can. Each of us has our own closely-held views but to date, there has been no consensus on any single ethical theory.

    After six posts, we’ve established a very general term. And we established it openly and quantitatively. The underlying principles are general enough to apply seamlessly from puddle to protozoan to person.

    I am not aware of any other commensurable system built on both an empirically corroborative and logically consistent foundation. Of course, an error may be discovered and the entire enterprise will come tumbling down. However, if the derivation proves to be sound, it will be a new capability that extends it beyond other systems.


  28. 28 28. Jim Valliant

    Bourbaki,

    It HAS been claimed that consciousness, teleology and volition are ‘slippery’ concepts. I used ‘chair’ precisely because no one has (or would) say that it was ‘slippery.’ Get it?

    Math provides a quantitative precision that words cannot. Agreed. But words are not so ‘brittle’ as you think, and there is nothing so ‘dogmatic’ as the absolute precision of math. But it is concepts that create the foundation for math, not vice versa.

    Attaining a ‘consensus’ about ethical foundations is not required for my own certainty. If this theory turns out to be right, I’ll wager that you and Aaron will be the first to be certain of its truth, even before it achieves consensus recognition!

    There are reasons why consensus has been achieved in the physical sciences but not in philosophy, and it has little to do with the certainty of the subject. Things like religion come along and trump any scientific method at all. People think that something other reason can occasionally be employed in this area, while they would never say the same about physics or chemistry. When it comes to metaphysics, the absurd skepticism and subjectivism of Hume and Kant and others has ‘made room’ for religion in these matters, don’t you know? Words and metaphysics are not to blame, but overt irrationality about the methodology itself. There has never been any earthly reason to believe in Christian ethics (or its secular variants). And, as Rand observed, that’s just it, no ‘earthly’ reason can be given. But it still forms the unquestioned absolute in the field. If you think for five seconds that providing a mathematical ethics consistent with the laws of thermodynamics is going to change this reality, I fear that you are sadly mistaken. The problem has never been the inadequacy of a rational alternative to mystical metaphysics and ethics, but the irrational commitment to mystical solutions in these matters–and the pseudo-scientific justifications that have been provided to justify such a commitment.


  29. 29 29. Bourbaki

    Remarkable. You’re bitching about Hume and Kant ruining the party with absurd skepticism while complaining that 2 + 2 = 4 is dogma in the same post.

    And I’m sure this makes sense. Objectively. To you.

    I’m beginning to understand the adolescent appeal of Rand and why people so often say that they’ve outgrown it. It appears to offer canned confidence where perhaps there was none.

    Quick, easy, and absurd answers in storybook form with unilateral fanaticism that is indistinguishable from solipsism. It indulges narrow-gauged intellectual impatience that let’s one confidently assert absurdities about how physicists see the world in gossamer and why women should be attracted to breasts. You mention pseudo-scientific justification but your posts are nothing but pseudo-scientific.

    I can see the deeply emotional appeal.

    Can alpha theory offer this even if it proves to be true?

    Doubtful.

    But then again, we didn’t set out looking for another opiate, did we? Your math tutor is an excellent start.


  30. 30 30. Jim Valliant

    Bourbaki,

    The pathos of your idiocy is heartbreaking. You cannot grasp the slightest irony, ever, can you? It was against your complaints of "dogmatism" that I was reacting–the "dogma" of math is just fine with this metaphysical absolutist.

    If you would ever take only 1% of the effort to honestly understand me that I am making here, rather than making embarrassingly ill-informed and utterly gratuitous attacks on Rand (why?) and me, you might have time to address the points that I make. Alas, you NEVER do!

    Consciousness is no less obvious, clear and certain than chair. Aaron says that hes almost got the alpha math worked out for this slippery concept. Like ethics, I suspect that he will declare that this concept "turns out" to be "objective," too. THIS is reductionism.

    Now, go figure this outno math neededand you might actually learn a something about the science of philosophy. But, I fear, true dogma has corroded YOUR mind too badly, and I doubt that you possess the open mind required to think outside of your sadly narrow and rigid little box, whatever its precise quantitative dimensions.


  31. 31 31. CT

    [Valliant quote] Consciousness is no less obvious, clear and certain than chair. Aaron says that hes almost got the alpha math worked out for this slippery concept. Like ethics, I suspect that he will declare that this concept "turns out" to be "objective," too. THIS is reductionism." [Valliant endquote]

    I don’t understand what your problem seems to be, so I am afraid I too must not address your point as I cannot seem to find one.

    Suppose that Aaron did work out an objective explantion of consciousness (note that this has not been offered yet, but that does not seem to stop anyone from arguing about it or bringing it up), and it was demonstrated with "alpha math". So what?

    Why would this be a problem, it would simply confirm the primacy of alpha. Unless of course Aaron derived such a construction falsely in which case we will be free to point out how he has done so. But you seem to be objecting to the very notion that such a thing is possible. Or do I completely misunderstand you?

    I would see such an explanation (hysterical charges of "Reductionsim!" notwithstanding) as neither problematic nor unexpected. But if I did, then I would set out to see if it was wrong in the same fashion that it had been provided to me and if I found one I would post my counterproof. I would not just ranckle at the notion and declare my distaste for the proposition counterargument.


  32. 32 32. CT

    [Valliant quote] "The problem has never been the inadequacy of a rational alternative to mystical metaphysics and ethics, but the irrational commitment to mystical solutions in these matters–and the pseudo-scientific justifications that have been provided to justify such a commitment." [Valliant endquote]

    If "pseudo-science has been used to prop up these fixtures of the ethical debate then I am surprised there is not more rejoicing at the opportunity to construct an ethic that does not rely on such weak ground but is rather firmly planted in *actual* science. That alpha does so seems to me would be regarded as a great boon.

    [valliant quote] "Attaining a ‘consensus’ about ethical foundations is not required for my own certainty." [Valliant endquote]

    Agreed, it is certainly a good thing that right and wrong and the facts of the matter are not determined by public opinion or perception. However if one disagrees with the the popular opinon and intends to (a) either offer alternatives or b) not adhere to the public moral out of principle, one is then beholden to explain why. All the better if that explanation can be provided with rigor, transparency and appeal only to wholly aggreeable axioms – again as alpha does. Failure to have this as reason for bucking the "consensus" makes one either a relativist or without ethics altogether; more is needed for an argument about what is good and right than "I think it is and I don’t need consensus to know it". That is dogmatism defined.

    [Valliant quote] "The problem has never been the inadequacy of a rational alternative to mystical metaphysics and ethics," [Valliant endquote]

    I disagree. This has been a huge problem and even the ehtical systems that evade the pitfalls of mysticism still fail when one finally arrives at their first principles.

    Up until alpha these have been prinicples that are either baldly and brutely asserted as holding and we must accept them or they are ultimately appeals to intuition or they are asserted vaguely and usually without any rigor in their derivation, if derived they even be or they are platitudes. I can take neither comfort nor prescription from a system devised thusly.

    Alpha not only derives from the first principles nakedly but the first principles themselves are indisputable. Again, if anyone wants to dispute the axioms or how they were used, I and no doubt Aaron, Bourbaki and the rest of the world await with eager ear (if you’ve got that counterargument to algebra or thermodynamics we’d all love to see it). To date, no such objections have been submitted.

    *No* other ethical system to date has offered this degree of transparency, incontrovertible first prinicples, a totally transparent derivation of the conclusion and a proof that is completely public (i.e the tools used to derive the conclusions are available to everyone, everywhere and require no costume, incense or particular experience to use). If there is another system that does this, as you have now claimed twice that there is, I should very much like to hear what it is, tho I have my suspicions what you will offer. Nevertheless, what is the ethic that is as objective and transparent and as rigorously defined as one that can be seen coming from alpha?


  33. 33 33. Jim Valliant

    C.T.,

    I will asume that you have not followed my previous comments very closely, so I will recapitulate:

    The concept of consciousness is a necessary part of the epistemic foundation for the math, the physics, and the still more basic knowledge that this entire theory presupposes in order to get off of the ground. Such a concept cannot be regarded as uncertain or non-objective without casting the entire theory into an identical doubt. This kind of concept is what consitutes a philosophical axiom since all subsequent knowledge must assume its truth. Also, it is a concept derived from each and every instance of direct perception, so, in this sense, it is more fundamental and inescapable even than "table" and "chair." Scientists can provide a great deal of important subsequent information about it, e.g., as possibly here, why consciousness will or must arise in nature, given the laws of physics and probability, or, how does the brain generate this internal experience of the world, etc. These are important questions. But none the answers to these questions can have any bearing on the original objectivity of the concept of consciousness. (I used the previous example of the sense-perception of color. The discovery of photons and their wave-lengths did not make eye-sight any more or less "objective." Indeed, the objectivity of eye-sight was a presupposition of the discovery of photons.)

    Alpha may incredibly and enormously increase our understanding of ethics (still just a "may), but this will not mean, as Aaron has asserted, that ethics "turns out" to be "objective," either. Like all the other instances of fallacious scientific reductionism, this is science as religion, a kind of Primary-Secondary Quality distinction that is without merit. It gets the epistemological order of things backwards. This is something I have fretted about from the outset, and an on-going problem here, in my view.

    Science does not "explain away," it simply explains. Consciousness is not the squirting and jiggling, the chemical and electric activity, of my brain–it is my internal experience of the world–and it did not need to wait for brain science to be known to be "objective" or "real." Ethics is something I know a lot about already, and quite objectively, e.g., I know that it is wrong to murder. This is as objective as the theory of natural selection was, even before the discovery of the molecules involved. Understanding the physics of ethics, if you will, will not change the wrong-ness of murder, or render something else true in ethics, or ethics itself, any more "objective." Etc., etc., etc., etc…

    I do believe that an "alpha explanation" for ethics may help a great in the debate over the objectivity of ethics, but it will not be decisive. The "lack of a consensus" was not the result of thinking that murder to be a good thing, or any debate over this point, or even any supposed uncertainties about this fact. It was about the nature of ethical thinking and foundations AS SUCH that was the problem. Whatever its merits, the religious ethicist will stare at Aaron’s brilliant derivations unmoved. I’ll wager the farm on that one…


  34. 34 34. Jim Valliant

    Please forgive the multiple lapses in the writing above.

    While its foundations are much debated, there really IS some consensus as to certain, narrowly framed policy-issues on ethics, like the aforementioned case of murder. As a criminal attorney, I am well acquainted with this fact. I myself cannot dispute much in the standard criminal codes of our time (i do dispute a considerable chunk of it, too, though.) But my metaetics is as far removed from the standard religious one as you could imagine. I am often startled at the amount of good sense that even quasi-mystics have discovered over the centuries, and for good, clear reasons. So, the original claim that previous ethical thinking is all worthless is, well, worthless, and the more recent claim that no consensus exists in the area is also overstated.

    Of course, I do not regard consensus as necessary to certainty, but I suspect that many of Aaron’s policy-conclusions will echo the good work already done in the science of ethics. If he does not, then I will really have profound doubts about alpha, not the previously established truths of ethics.

    On the other hand, the religious will tell us that what the ancient Greeks thought so important–happiness, survival, health, etc.–that so influenced Nietzsche and Rand–has little to do with real ethics. If one is trying to obey God, please God, or get into heaven, then why should one consider alpha at all? Why is my health even a value?

    Why should I care about earthly success, in science or in ethics, including the "tools" being suggested here? Why is science and technology a value to such a thoroughly mystical soul? He may consider death a wonderful thing–the great escape to bliss, the promised virgins, the goal!

    Of course, if this theory is correct, then it WILL have an enormous bearing on ethics, but how does alpha respond to the fully mystical position?

    Isn’t this a pre-alpha consideration, i.e., philosophy?


  35. 35 35. Matt McIntosh

    Jim,

    "The concept of consciousness is a necessary part of the epistemic foundation for the math, the physics…"

    When you close your eyes and plug your ears, does the universe go away? Don’t go all Kantian on us now, Jim!

    Yes, I’m being facetious. I’m sure you accept that the laws of physics, insofar as they are true, would exist whether anyone percieved them or not. And as for math, it’s simply a language we use to express how things work. Again, the things that these mathematical expressions describe, insofar as they are true, would exist whether we did or not. So how exactly do you square the above quoted statement with belief in objective reality independent of observation?


  36. 36 36. Jim Valliant

    The axiomatic status of consciousness is an entirely different question from the existence of a world independent of consciousness. Consciousness is axiomatic: I know nothing about the world except in, by, and through a state of consciousness. It is inescapable and a premise of all subsequent knowledge. But there is something equally axiomatic, existence. Indeed, existence is still more basic, since consciousness is an inherently relational state, i.e., it is always consciousness OF something. The day a child grasps that the world does not go away when he closes his eyes, is the day he grasps the Primacy of Existence. But the idea of consciousness is equally inescapable and foundational.


  37. 37 37. Matt McIntosh

    As far as I know, nobody is disputing that what we call "consciousness" exists. What is up for grabs is what this "consciousness" is and how it works (hint: complex systems with feedback loops which create reflexivity within the system). My perceptions are undoubtably real, but they remain wholly subjective (i.e. my sense-perceptions are real, but nobody else can experience them). What scientific approaches like alpha theory can do is pus things like consciousness and ethics onto inter-subjectively testable (or "objective" if we prefer) footing by providing a measuring device for them. But by no means does anything Aaron has said up to now require consciousness/volition to exist in order to be true.


  38. 38 38. Jim Valliant

    Eustaces like ants don’t worry about ethics and we cannot give them moral advice.

    Ethics, as a subject, only arises because of our kind of consciousness, a consciousness that operates volitionally. Without volition or choice, giving advice is equally absurd and senseless.

    When morally evaluating a person’s behavior, we must know his or her context of knowledge (another state of consciousness). Could the person have chosen differently? Was it an autonomic or involuntary act? Did the person "know better"?

    The actor’s very state of mind, his intent, is vital in criminal law and any other moral evaluation: if there was no "intent", then it will do no good to punish the actor. It cannot dissuade or discourage his conduct, or even set the scales of justice to even–if, that is, it was unintentional.

    Reducing consciousness out of the picture evicts one from the realm of ethics.


  39. 39 39. Matt McIntosh

    I’m going to follow Aaron here in saying that if you don’t like calling this "ethics" then feel free not to. I think we would do better to adopt a more game-theory-esque term like "strategies", which carries a lot less scholastic baggage. Ants follow strategies. So to humans. In discussing these strategies, "agency" need not even enter the picture. Beings like us with complex brains that allow us the reflexivity to abstractly consider and be aware of our choices just makes us better equipped than ants.


  40. 40 40. Jim Valliant

    Ants dtermine, make and follow no "strategies." THIS is anthropomorphism of the worst kind.

    This is the very nonsense that obliterates the distinction between moral agents and others. Ants don’t do ethics at all. Sit down and tell them to change their mode of action. Would you say, "Bad ant! You should have followed my advice," when it doesn’t? Agency IS this little capacity. As Aristotle said, ethics is only possible to beings with choice. Ethical judgment and evaluation is possible only with consciousness and volition. An ant is stuck with the range of alternatives it is given. We are not. We can choose otherwise. We can "know better." We are ethical beings only because we are agents.


  41. 41 41. Matt McIntosh

    Jim,

    "Ants dtermine, make and follow no "strategies." THIS is anthropomorphism of the worst kind."

    Sigh. So what, all these evolutionary biologists are just talking out of their asses when they speak of reproductive strategies and the like? You might want to let them know, I’m sure they’ll update their vocabulary to suit you.

    Look Jim, call it whatever you want to call it, but everything from RNA to ants to apes and humans act in certain ways, and differing courses of action yield positive (alphatropic) or negative (alphadistropic) results. This is what everyone is talking about while you’re busy thwacking everyone for using the word "ethics". Aaron, Bourbaki and myself are more than happy to abandon the word if it gets you to think outside the Aristotlean box.

    "As Aristotle said, ethics is only possible to beings with choice. Ethical judgment and evaluation is possible only with consciousness and volition."

    Aristotle lived over 2000 years ago and new absolutely nothing about evolutionary biology, neuroscience, thermodynamics, or probability. He made the best of what he did know, but it’s time to let him rest in peace. You’re clinging to a bunch of very old epistemological constructs that have served us pretty well up to now, but we’ve since discovered that reality is a little more nuanced than that.

    "An ant is stuck with the range of alternatives it is given. We are not."

    Come again? How am I not "stuck with the alternatives" I’m given? I have far more alternatives than an ant, and far greater ability to deal with these alternatives, but I still can’t go outside the range I’m "given". I can’t "choose" to lift up a car (my options limited by my muscles and such), and I can’t "choose" to go to Harvard (my options limited by their tuition fees and entrance requirements).


  42. 42 42. Jim Valliant

    Mr. McIntosh,

    Evolution is not a conscious process. "Strategies" are made by consciousnesses for consciousnesses.

    Evolution’s "strategies" are so only by analogy. If those biologists mean something else, then, yes, they are most definitely talking out of their asses. Such terms are employed to capture the teleological element of all biological process and activities, including evolution. But the word "strategies" applies in a different way to humans, even under your thinking, right? Or is this big fact something we can ignore…in ethics?!

    The relationship bewteen volition and evaluation has little to do with physics. It makes no sense to criticize, blame, praise, admire, hate, or even to attempt to advise a being with no choice, like an ant. On the other hand, I can blame you for doing something wrong or stupid. You could have done otherwise.

    Choice does not mean that I can violate the laws of physics, though, and my choices are obviously limited. But, using my intellect, choosing to make that effort, is what expands my options. I still can ignore my better judgment and mess-up, but it is the effort of thought that gives me more choices than ants have.

    And, unlike an ant, it makes me an ethical being.


  43. 43 43. Matt McIntosh

    Jim,

    "Evolution’s "strategies" are so only by analogy."

    Well, that’s the sense of the word I’m using when I say "strategies". In this sense, courses of action are called strategies whether they’re conscious or not.

    "But the word "strategies" applies in a different way to humans, even under your thinking, right?"

    Not qualitatively. Like I’ve said, we’re able to compute/analyze our strategies with greater complexity than any other lifeforms on this planet, but I see it as a difference of degree rather than kind. There’s no physical barrier with "volitional" beings on one side and "non-volitional" beings on the other. It’s more of a slide-ruler. Which of course brings us back to alpha…

    "It makes no sense to criticize, blame, praise, admire, hate, or even to attempt to advise a being with no choice, like an ant."

    This is only true because the ant wouldn’t even understand us. But with higher-level organisms like mice for example, we can "teach" them things in very crude ways, train them to navigate mazes or to not touch the piece of cheese on the lefthand side of the cage lest they get a little electrical shock. This is just a very crude form of learning; with humans it’s just a matter of greater complexity.

    "I still can ignore my better judgment and mess-up, but it is the effort of thought that gives me more choices than ants have."

    I think your opposable thumbs and size help a lot too. This is the whole point: your thought comes from your brain, which runs according to the same phsyics as everything else. I am unable to do parabolic geometry in my head and unable to jump over my house, and both stem from physical limitations.


  44. 44 44. Jim Valliant

    And, in physics, that’s all we need. In ethics, we need all that voltional stuff. Or no dice. That’s why alpha is inadequate qua ethics (at least so far.)


  45. 45 45. Casey Fahy

    Gentleman, having followed this thread through the maze I have to ask Messrs. Haspel, Bourbaki, CT and McIntosh to at least hesitate every time they use a concept like "teach," "strategy," "choose,""ethics," etc. While I know Aaron protested that it is difficult to talk about teleology in nature without resorting to the lexicon of agency, it is still absolutely inappropriate and inevitably creates the queasy impression of mysticism smuggled in the back door by way of reductionism. And, Jimmy, stop using irony, it’s confusing your opponents.

    The basic idea, from what I understand, is, to paraphrase Charles Darwin, that all things are either better or worse equiped to exist, whether animate or inanimate. Put bowl of marbles in a box of corn flakes and shake: the marbles will make it, the cornflakes will not. Those characteristics that bestow an entity with endurance, are selected for because those characteristics bestow endurance on entities. It is a near-tautology begging for a formulaic expression. So be it, and have at it; it can only lead to good.

    BUT, "ethics," like so many other concepts bandied about here, applies to one kind of entity — agency — period. When I notice someone using a concept like "teaching" with rats (instead of the obvious "training" or "conditioning") I wonder if there is not an overeager reductionism going on — and why shouldn’t I? Any and all evolutionary scientists worth their salt from Darwin to Dawkins go to GREAT PAINS to explain what they DO NOT MEAN when they use these concepts in relation to evolution, or avoid using such terms altogether. It’s not enough to make a disclaimer, and then go ahead and violate the spirit of the disclaimer repeatedly to smuggle in the very thing disclaimed.

    I’ve heard a couple rejoinders to Valliant that say something like "If you really are hung up on that terminology" or "if you are so bummed by the use of the concept ethics then perhaps we can switch to different terminology." (I am paraphrasing, for the literal-minded.) IF??? Avoiding that confusion should be the theorists’ first concern, not anyone else’s.

    Mr. Valliant has reminded everyone of the axiomatic nature of consciousness and existence; they can’t be questioned without using consciousness and existence to refute them; in other words, they can’t be refuted without refuting the refutation. That should be plain and simple enough, regardless of how "adolescent" Rand’s clarity on this may be. And before I consider anything to be more "mature" I would need to see someone prove that my consciousness doesn’t exist — oops, that’s a contradiction. Oh yeah, they’re AXIOMS. The very act of proving they don’t exist requires their existence.

    The fact remains that human beings can set goals quite outside alpha. Altruism comes to mind. If "storing up your treasures" here on Earth is a sin, then being crucified is the ultimate moral ideal. No math equation is going to persuade. In fact, I can envision a true Kantian using the equation in reverse to determine all action that should be avoided — a sort of sliderule for determining the most altruistic course of action available.

    Dawkins would point out that such a meme will wipe itself out if applied consistently. Inconsistency has been the savior of such memes, however. Perhaps Aaron’s theory can solve that problem, too, and provide a roadmap to ruin for such memes that would speed up societal evolution. (Irony)

    But the fact remains that there is a bright line between human consciousness and its free agency and the rest of life on earth and the earth itself. I buy completely that all life (apart from us) is subject to the same laws as regard inanimate objects in terms of their endurance or their failure to endure. RNA, DNA, bacteria, right on up to blue whales all reorganize matter in such a way as to improve their endurance.

    But we are different, and the difference is not insignificant, or indeed, a matter of degree. It is a fundamental difference and if that’s not going to be addressed, then there really isn’t any "if" about it that I can see: this is not a system of ethics but a formulaic description of the mechanism by which teleology operates in nature. It actually demystifies that teleology by demonstrating an inevitable principle at work. And that is great and useful in explaining the evolution of matter up to but not including human behavior. We’re different, and not because we are outside nature or because we are mystical creatures but because we have free agency, which is in a class by itself. To pull us back into a predictive model is the real mysticism, a reductionism that elevates the theory to the state of primacy.

    It reminds me of the movie "Human Nature" in which scientist Tim Robbins presses on with his dissatisfying efforts to teach table manners to mice; they just don’t get it. Philosophy is of no use to entities that do not possess free will. If that divide isn’t accounted for, this theory has the potential to take a theory that applies to every non-human entity and apply it to humans, with the same frustrating (and absurd) results.

    Peanut gallery signing off…


  46. 46 46. Matt McIntosh

    Show me the bright line, smartass. Go ahead, point out where the magic happens that means the rules that apply to everything else don’t apply to us. I really would like to know.


  47. 47 47. Casey Fahy

    The bright line is the line you wrote. Nothing else can write that line except human beings.

    Mice or monkeys couldn’t even spell it, let alone write it.

    We have a conceptual faculty. It does not exist on a continuum. No animals have even partially conceptual faculties. Only we do.

    Bright enough for ya?

    There was a first time (of course) that a conceptual (human) consciousness emerged. It emerged first as a potential, but as soon as someone exploited that potential to actually conceptualize, it was born. That should not be too difficult to understand, right?

    What I find mystifying is the idea that there is a continuum. What evidence is there for such an assertion? I have never witnessed a conceptual faculty in any creature other than human beings. And now I’m a mystic believing in magic or something? Dude! Look around, man. What do you see that I don’t see?


  48. 48 48. Jim Valliant

    There certainly exists a sharp and bright line between beings with art, scientific studies of other animal species, theories of physics, senses of humor that grasp irony and satire, trips to the moon, libraries full of books, metaphysical abstractions, debates over these very refined subjects, mathematics requiring symbolic expression … tell me when to stop … and every other species or entity of which we are aware. There is obviously something qualitatively different about such a consciousness. A difference that must be recognized. This does not mean that conceptual consciousness is not a refinement–clearly a radical one–a further development, along a certain path, and, in this sense, part of a continuum.


  49. 49 49. Casey Fahy

    I think Peikoff described the difference between non-human (perceptual) consciousness and human (conceptual) consciousness as akin to the difference between addition & subtraction and algebra.


  50. 50 50. Jim Valliant

    Something on that order.


  51. 51 51. Jim Valliant

    Also bearing in mind that a number of our hominid ancestors and relations are no longer around to compare ourselves to.


  52. 52 52. CT

    "But the fact remains that there is a bright line between human consciousness and its free agency and the rest of life on earth and the earth itself."

    "There certainly exists a sharp and bright line between beings with art, scientific studies of other animal species,"

    "There is obviously something qualitatively different about such a consciousness."

    "I think Peikoff described the difference between non-human (perceptual) consciousness and human (conceptual) consciousness as akin to the difference between addition & subtraction and algebra."

    Perhaps you have just chosen a poor analogy to illustrate your point (or this Peikoff certainly did), but I should very much like to hear what the *qualitative* difference is between arthimetic and algebra. Can you point out exactly where this line is drawn and perhaps guide me to the text and the page number where it is demonstrated that we have now gone from one thing (arthimetic) to a wholly new and different thing (algebra)?

    Either that or Peikoff’s analogy is meant in the opposite way that you intend to use it – i.e that there is no qualitative difference between the two and thus there is not for consciousness as well.


  53. 53 53. CT

    Forgive the double post – but what exactly is meant by "conceptual consciousness? Please be more precise, if you can and I am not sure that you can, than to say "well a mouse or an algae could not have written that sentence and that is what we mean by this unique human thing"

    What is it? The ability to do what?

    If you intend to ascribe to humans this unique status – the possession of what you are calling conceptual consciousness – is this something that is possessed binarily? So if you are human you have this faculty and if you are not human you do not?

    Do newborn infants and the severely mentally impaired possess this quality as much as a fully functioning adult?

    Without knowing exactly what you mean by the term I can neither agree or disagree, but certainly you do not mean to suggest that it is something like language, or the ability to solve problems or have a sense of oneself as oneself across time and space? I assume that it is something other than these things, yes?


  54. 54 54. CT

    "The fact remains that human beings can set goals quite outside alpha"

    Since we cannot even know what "goal" would be set according to alpha unless we have a filtration that includes the entire universe and everything in it that is subject to the laws of thermodynamics, i.e. everything, I don’t think anyone is going to disagree.

    The relevant question is can anyone set a goal that is outside of alpha*?

    "Gentleman, having followed this thread through the maze I have to ask Messrs. Haspel, Bourbaki, CT and McIntosh to at least hesitate every time they use a concept like "teach," "strategy," "choose,""ethics," etc."

    Sure. Except that every time the use of these terms is excluded say for example in using only the unloaded terminology of mathematics – the boards light up with people who think something else is being smuggled in because they do not understand the math and do not want to bother to learn it. Which is fine, if lazy, it can be explained elsewise but we lose the precision and rigor for the gain of mutual understanding. Which would you like?

    "Philosophy is of no use to entities that do not possess free will."

    It is of little use period.

    "I’ve heard a couple rejoinders to Valliant that say something like "If you really are hung up on that terminology" or "if you are so bummed by the use of the concept ethics then perhaps we can switch to different terminology." (I am paraphrasing, for the literal-minded.) IF??? Avoiding that confusion should be the theorists’ first concern, not anyone else’s."

    Great so can we stop using it? I for one would be far more comfortable if we discontinued the use of such and spoke instead in more precise and measurable terms. In fact, we have tried. However, the use of alternative terms or alternative langauge has not been embraced by those who clamor about the abuse their terms suffer. All of alpha theory, including whatever precriptions may fall out of it, can be written as an equation. Recognizing the turn off that this may be, Aaron has graciously put alpha into a more user-friendly, democratic parlance. Personally, I prefer to try with the terms that are the least tambiguous and that avoid arguments based on undefined terms and anecdotal "evidence".

    Frankly it matters little to me. As pointed out on the other thread, the real dsiconsolation of philosophy may turn out to be that there is no such thing as ethics. So if folks want to argue about whether or not a unicorn would really do x or y that is fine with me. I suppose the faculty offices in humanities, departments the world over have to be filled by someone. Otherwise what will become of all that cake?

    Sorry…triple post?


  55. 55 55. Aaron Haspel

    I am touched by Casey’s impassioned plea for the dignity of the species. Its profoundly anti-scientific attitude impresses me less favorably.

    Casey is keen on bright lines, and they have their uses in fields like law. Science, however, abhors them. Science seeks unitary explanations of the world, and consciousness does not liberate human beings from the laws of thermodynamics. If you want to discover what optimal behavior for humans is, a scientific way to begin is to recognize that humans are, among other things, matter. You ask how some forms of matter sustain themselves and grow more complex than others. If you find a commonality (like alpha), then maybe you’ve got somewhere.

    Or you can take this approach:

    "I buy completely that all life (apart from us) is subject to the same laws as regard inanimate objects in terms of their endurance or their failure to endure. RNA, DNA, bacteria, right on up to blue whales all reorganize matter in such a way as to improve their endurance. But we are different, and the difference is not insignificant, or indeed, a matter of degree. It is a fundamental difference…"

    I find the claim that human beings are exempt from physical law shocking; perhaps I am easily shocked.

    Science concerns itself with behavior, not essence. We still don’t know what gravity is; "attraction at a distance" doesn’t tell you very much. Nonetheless we have learned a great deal about how it operates. Similarly we can learn a great deal about living systems, even human beings, if we stop worrying about what they are for a minute and look at what they do.

    "Reductionism" seems to be a naughty word here. Science has another term for it: analysis. You construct the simplest possible model and account later for the variables you’ve omitted. This is how Descartes discovered inertia; it is how the Austrian economists discovered the laws of money. Of course Descartes did not literally believe in frictionless bodies travelling through space and Mises did not literally believe in economies at equilibrium. The model is just that — an idealization, a tool. And who knows? The procedure might just work on human beings too. If this be reductionism, make the most of it.

    I have never "denied" consciousness, or even "questioned" it. I have merely not discussed it (yet). I am as certain of the existence of some such phenomenon as of the existence of turbine generators, which I haven’t discussed either. Our brains are instruments for constructing alpha models, and damn good ones on the whole, though with liabilities. But ultimately we still act on alpha models, which puts us, in that respect, in the same boat with the amoeba or baboon. "We are special." "We are different." "Your argument is correct for everything but us." The similarities to Bishop Wilberforce are almost too obvious to remark.


  56. 56 56. Jim Valliant

    Wow, arithmetic and algebra are the very same thing–identical and interchangeable words, really! If only I’d known, I could’ve avoided a lot of effort! Algebra uses nothing that arithmetic does not and it is no more powerful or useful for using it! You’re absolutely right. (Irony for the slow.) By the way, is calculus no different, either? THAT would really simplify my life, I could chuck differential equations altogether since addition, subtraction, division and multiplication will always suffice to calculate anything!

    Peikoff meant it both ways to make both points and to do so simultaneously in order to make a third point! In one sense, the are the same: just methods of determining quantities and quantitative relations. But while algebra uses all of the operations of arithmetic, it adds something, no? That little addition makes its math way more powerful, right?

    If "X" stands for the power of simple arithmetic and "Y" stands for the power of algebra, then are you saying that X = Y? Just curious.

    Words are very much like "X’s" and the ability to write a sentence is related to the same kind of abstraction as algebra. This is something I think you can readily see. Or a I wrong? This kind of abstraction is alien to beasties. They can associate the bell with the meal, like Pavlov’s dog, they can hand-sign for food or attention, like a small child, and they MAY even being able to handle single, simple, perceptual level concepts, but they cannot build abstractions upon abstractions upon abstractions, self-critically consider their mental method and construct vast abstract theories. Otherwise, they would be writing poems and doing math.

    One good bright line that may be obvious to some, have you ever seen an animal do algebra? I think those horse counting jokes are fake, but lets assume that horses can count. Lets even assume that they can subtract low numbers. Let’s even say that dolphins can do long division and chimps can multiply three digit numbers (incredible as that assumption is!) Could a chimp even know what a formula IS, much less "Calculate Q for all conditions Z"?

    Lines don’t get much brighter in the animal world.

    As for understanding the particulars and essence of this kind of consciousness that we possess and that makes this radical difference possible, there are a number of good books that can help you here: Rand and Peikoff being only the best. But, as with all authors, one cannot be hell-bent to misinterpret them to learn anything.


  57. 57 57. Jim Valliant

    Aaron,

    Jeepers Aaron, you bitch and moan when you think someone has imputed to you something you didn’t say, e.g., you never "derived consciousness." (Boy, is that painfully obvious!) But then you commit the same crime: Casey never suggested that anything was exempt from the laws of physics, ever. Don’t get your panties all in a bunch, just try to slow down and understand him

    Science does seek unified explanations. But science, as it so often does, becomes religion when it ignores reality. Things are different and science explains the differences, too.

    No bright lines exist anywhere in nature? There are no differences or distinctions to be found on earth, and, thus, science is the task of showing us that everything is really all just the one same identical thing. I wonder how we could ever have thought otherwise then??

    A science that ignores bright lines that exist is religion, not science.

    The self-loathing of modern man has him denying the obvious differences and uniqueness of man. The future will not be kind to such mysticism.


  58. 58 58. Jim Valliant

    The fallacy of reductionism may be defined as the pseudo-scientific attempt to ignore such real distinctions and differences. They need explaining, too.


  59. 59 59. CT

    Mr. Valliant:

    Did I ever claim that "Wow, arithmetic and algebra are the very same thing–identical and interchangeable words, really!"?

    I did not. I asked for either you or Mr. Fahy to show me the this great bright line where one moves from arthimetic to algebra. You claimed that they are qualitatively different. I claimed, or perhaps this was too implicit for your radar, that they are a grade shift. Of course they are different and have more and less capabilities.

    How you conclude from my claim that they exist on a continumm without a qualitative shift to:

    "If "X" stands for the power of simple arithmetic and "Y" stands for the power of algebra, then are you saying that X = Y?"

    is a total mystery to me. Must be all that powerful super-special human conceptual consciousness at work.

    "As for understanding the particulars and essence of this kind of consciousness that we possess and that makes this radical difference possible, there are a number of good books that can help you here"

    Great I’ll get right on that. In the meantime, can you thumbnail what you mean by it? I won’t hold you accountable to it (much). I am just wondering if it even has a defintion beyond "humans have it and horses don’t".

    Usually when people respond with "here are some books you can read" either they do not understand the concept well enough to explain it or the concept does not lend itself to explication because it is bs.

    "they can hand-sign for food or attention, like a small child"

    Does this mean then that the child has yet to achieve "conceptual consciousness" in a greater capacity than the animals that can indicate the same thing? If yes, then when does this vast architecture of "conceptual consciousness" kick-in? Puberty? Elementary school? If no, then there must be a continuum of advanced consciousness.

    Incidentally, if the latter, and this conceptual consciousness is the arbiter by which you judge moral agents remind me not to ever let you babysit.


  60. 60 60. Aaron Haspel

    I suggest, Jim, that you reread what I quoted. The parenthesis in the first sentence means exactly what I said it meant. The second and third sentences restate the point. Contra Casey, humans obviously "reorganize matter in such a way as to improve their endurance" (not how I would put it, but close enough). They act on alpha models. The efficacy of those models can be analyzed, no matter what their source is. This is why all of the characteristics of human beings that so excite you need not yet enter the picture.

    Incidentally, I wrote "denied," not "derived." But if you can’t read Casey I don’t expect you to be able to read me either.


  61. 61 61. Jim Valliant

    C.T.,

    If you deny implying my first reductio, then pray tell what are the differences between algebra and arithmetic? Does algebra have any capabilities that arithmetic does not? If not then they are identical, right? If it does then you are as competent as anyone to make the very point we just did, for you will then have done so. And, having done so yourself, it will be then convincing to you in a way that I cannot be (for what I guess can only be psychological reasons.)

    When people cite books, they usually don’t know? Interesting, but my experience is otherwise, and I suggest you not waste your time discussing things with the dishonest. In fact, now that I’ve come to my senses, please, don’t read their books.

    You got me! There is no such think as forming abstractions from sense-perception. No, people are unable to see both differences and similarities and then to form a mental unit to treat as single thing what is in fact an open-ended number of concrete instances. People do not form concepts and their words do not represent these concepts; but animals do use many high-level abstractions, in fact, for which they need many words. The do so in the same way I had thought that humans do, silly me, and are every bit as conceptual as I had thought that we are. (I’m switchin’ over to a chimp website, much more informative discussions.) I will ignore all of the cognitive science that shows the opposite, the psychological studies, the epistemological ones, too. I will stop fighting the obvious.

    Aaron,

    Only your now tiresome penchant for the reductionist fallacy can permit you to misread Casey like that. He did not say that there is a different physics for humans. He did imply that they have their own rules, not of phsyics, but of consciousness, e.g., only humans do, have, or need ethics. There’s a whole set of "rules" only applicable to humans, however consistent with physics they are (and must be.) This is a big fat bright line: animals cannot do and do not need ethics of any kind.

    (Sorry about the misread, but it comes to nothing of substance; you have consciously avoided consciousness as best as you could–and that takes a lot of conscious effort, I understand. But reconfigured "filtration" via natural selection and reconfigured "filtration" by judgment kinda form a solid bright line, too, eh? And one that matters both in terms of efficient alpha pursuit/reconfiguration, and, obviously, ethics.)


  62. 62 62. CT

    Mr. Valliant:

    Yes I misunderstand you for "psychological reasons" that must be it.

    Your and Fahy’s claim was that algebra and arthimetic were *qualitatively* different things; there was no scale from one to the other; no grade change but a state change. This was what I questioned.

    You now seem to have backed off that claim (and I don’t blame you as it is untenable) and now you claim merely that they are different things. I’ll concede that, in fact I never denied it. So progress then, you now see that they are in fact grade changes. Good. Perhaps we will get somewhere after all.

    I should have been more specific. When someone recommends as explanation books that I can read *and* they are unable to offer anything by way of explanation themselves, short of a shopping list then yes usually they are full of it or the idea they are defending is; surely you can take a moment of your time to at least offer some kind, any kind of defintion for conceptual consciousness.

    But from what I can glean from your last post, the notion is as hollow as I thought: the ability to form conceptions and abstractions. Yes plenty of animals do this, no they do not do it so well as a human adult; many animals do it better than a human infant so I guess we can add chimps to our list of the conceptually capable but unfortunately we have to remove human infants.

    And speaking of tiresome penchants. Can you point out where I noted that not only are humans are incapable of abstract thought but that animals do it better?

    Are you constitutionally incapable of arguing the argument that has actually been made? It seems you are only comfortable paraphrasing the argument incorrectly and with the most extreme terms as synonyms.

    Perhaps I too have overestimated the human ability for abstract thought.


  63. 63 63. Casey Fahy

    Aaron: Hopefully you know me better than to believe I was stating that human beings operate under different physical laws. Jeesh.

    We were talking about what, in consciousness, separates us from animals.

    Algebra is qualitatively different from subtraction and addition precisely because subtraction and addition are quantitative and algebra is qualitative — it deals with the qualities of quantities, if you will, and it’s the difference between living in a burrow or in a highrise penthouse.

    C.T., just think about what adding and subtracting can do for you and what algebra does for you, mentally. It’s actually a powerful insight into the difference between dealing with things on the perceptual level and dealing with things on the conceptual level.

    As for a continuum between perceptual level consciousness, which includes the ability to relate a percept like a bell-tone with a percept like a dog biscuit, and conceptual consciousness, uh, you lost me there. You’re either doing algebra or you’re not. Some might be better at algebra than others, but that isn’t a qualitative difference — there’s you’re continuum, but it starts on the other side of the bright line.

    Conceptualization is not automatic, unlike sense perception and its instinctive responses in animals. Every person on Earth with a normal, operating brain must learn to conceptualize. There is a Eureeka moment for everyone as there was for Helen Keller who finally understood that a hand sign meant "water". She wept when it dawned on her — her whole universe opened up with that revelation, which she did not reach until young adulthood and behaved as an animal would prior to that. (It’s a good movie, "The Miracle Worker," which illustrates the non-automatic quality of conceptual thought.)

    There was a time, just as there was in your own life, when someone reached the conceptual level for the first time. Before that time, no one had ever reached it before. That’s not mystical. Believing that it did not happen sometime, someplace, with somebody strikes me as the mystical position, or at least the fuzzy and uncertain view on the matter.

    Coincidentally (this should be a clue) when humans crossed that bright line a whole host of unprecedented things happened with humans that simply don’t happen with animals. The world is full of such striking evidence of human uniqueness, New York City being perhaps the loudest, tallest example one could point at. The fact, not the theory, that humans do all sorts of things that animals do not suggests there is a bright line, or should suggest it, already. The identification of that bright line as the conceptual faculty, the ability to abstract from concretes and then deal with abstracts as though they were concretes is a dramatic innovation that left animals in the dust.

    So, no gradation, no blurry smudge, no continuum: you learned how to conceptualize with the careful guidance of your parents, and one day you got it and your parents were excited. You did not spring from the head of Zeus with concepts. Having the faculty for conceptual thought is not the same as having conceptual thought. Most of our consciousness is perceptual, just like animals. It is that innovation of conceptual thought that can organize the evidence of your senses in a radical new way that makes all the difference, but most of our consciousness still comprises perceptual awareness.

    I don’t mean to be a smart-ass, by the way. I’m happy to explain what I had assumed were not the most original observations when they turn out to be unfamiliar ideas.

    -Casey


  64. 64 64. Jim Valliant

    C.T.,

    I am sorry for the sharp and somewhat unpleasant tone here. This my fault and probably a carry-over from my experiences with Bourbaki. It’s no good excuse, but, please, forgive me.

    Yes, abstract thought is only as "different" from other modes of consciousness as arithmetic is as "different" from algebra. But that’s why we suggested it is an analogue. They both "do the same thing," but one possesses capabilities greatly increasing its power to do so. In this sense the difference is a difference in kind–but well within the same general function. Algebra uses new symbols, a new kind of code, that arithmetic does not. So it is with abstraction, humans use a flexible language of words to do essentially the same thing.

    That’s why I qualified Casey’s over-statement. It really is part of continuum, in the big picture.

    Human reliance on this mode of consciousness is such that our infants are indeed quite helpless for quite a period of time, well beyond the norm for other animals.

    But, of course, in a simpler form, a few animals do (or can be carefully trained to do) things similar to human children. And, absolutely, these are often animals younger than the their human counterparts who will take more time to get even that far.

    But those dim human kids will go on to take this capacity much, much further, will you agree? And they will also require this capacity for their survival. And here, a part of the importance of this feature of human consciousness (as opposed to other species’) is most clear. No other animal really relies on this this capacity as we do. What is the animal analogue for physics or mathematics or abstract art? Just an analogue will do. Don’t these effects signal a qualitative difference? What other animal is so liberated from a single environment? Even chimps stay put. We walk the sea-floor and the surface of the moon. We appear o possess a capacity to project alternative futures that chimps barely and dimly possess (and even this is debated.)

    For another example, we use abstraction to such a degree that serious changes in behavior occur more rapidly for us than for any other species. If other species did rely on abstraction very much, we should expect to see "innovation" and radical change their behaviors in a single generation. Even the studies with chimps and other primates, while they show these creatures to be remarkably adaptable, inventive, and reliant on social communication of a very complex order, don’t show that these creatures have fundamentally altered their behavior in a very long time and that such change comes only slowly.

    All of these do form a bright line of sorts. We study the other animals, not vice versa. Blazingly bright. But its cause is part of a continuum gradually reaching this stage and really ultimately only a quantitative difference in the relative power of our consciousnesses, I agree.


  65. 65 65. Casey Fahy

    I should clarify something: if we are talking about "arithmetic" and "algebra" as mathematical systems, then, yes, they exist on a continuum that is mathematics.

    I wasn’t talking about that. I was talking about the mental function of doing 1 + 1 + 1 – 1 (on the perceptual level) and doing "If 1 = A x 2 than A = 1 divided by 2."

    I am referring to counting vs. algebra, that is counting CONCRETES vs. abstracting relationships. Two different things with no continuum connecting them; and there is no such continuum between non-human animals and humans in this regard. It is not as though chimps get bathroom humor but fade away at satire, or that dolphins like limericks but are bored by sonnets. The line is sharp and absolute.


  66. 66 66. Casey Fahy

    One other thing: there seems to be a confusion between the way mutations catch on (or don’t) in evolution and how conceptual consciousness comes about.

    When a mutation arises that enables an animal with a survival advantage, it emerges on a continuum as the trait is passed on and reinforced.

    Conceptual thinking is never "passed on" genetically, only the faculty for conceptual thinking is passed on. Unlike non-human animals, human beings depend on an activity (conceptual thinking) that must be self-initiated. It’s not as though a mutant human was born ready to conceptualize and then passed on the trait to his offspring. That’s the difference between inherited traits and acquired traits, and evolutionary science has made that distinction ever since Lamarck went the way of the dodo.

    But, just as a hippo who has lost a leg won’t have three-legged baby hippos, people who have acquired the ability to think conceptually will not have babies who think conceptually.

    Unlike all other animals, however, human beings utterly depend on an acquired trait to survive. Moreover, they must each acquire that trait individually, that’s how I mean "acquired" in this case. So, yes, birds must "learn" to fly, but all birds INHERIT the instinctive BEHAVIOR necessary to fly. I raised a sparrow baby, once, and believe me, I didn’t take it to flight school — it flew anyway when the time came.

    At any rate, these observed differences are quite profound and can’t just be smudged over. The evidence is all around us that there is something qualitatively different about human consciousness — not the perceptual part, which I readily concede is the lion’s share of our consciousness — but the conceptual part, which is entirely new and different, which is self-initiated, which is essential to our survival, and which can only be passed on through culture.


  67. 67 67. Casey Fahy

    "It’s not as though a mutant human was born ready to conceptualize and then passed on the trait to his offspring."

    Let me correct myself here: I meant that it’s not as though a mutant human was born with fully operating conceptual thinking and then passed it on as a behavioral trait to his offspring. Of course, the ability to think conceptually was present in the first human who did it, and that ability (not the behavior, not the activity) could well have been passed on to his offspring, whether they actually utilized that potential or not.

    -Casey


  68. 68 68. Jim Valliant

    Yes, you mean the PRODUCTS of conceptual thought are not necessarily inherited by the offspring. Even the transmission of a new conceptualization isn’t automatic, but requires individualized effort. A new idea, unlike new a mutation, is individually initiated and then individually accepted or rejected, often for non and anti-alpha reasons.


  69. 69 69. Casey Fahy

    Yes, Jim, I agree with that.

    Also, I can see how, if the slide-rule is "consciousness," perceptual and conceptual faculties should be put on a continuum as far as the degree of consciousness is concerned.

    But again, that’s not what I was talking about when I claimed a bright line, as I hope is clear by now. Perhaps that will solve C.T.’s problem?


  70. 70 70. CT

    "I am sorry for the sharp and somewhat unpleasant tone here. This my fault and probably a carry-over from my experiences with Bourbaki. It’s no good excuse, but, please, forgive me."

    No problem. These are big ideas and many tend to get worked up over them accordingly. I took no offense and hope that I have offered none myself.

    "So, no gradation, no blurry smudge, no continuum: you learned how to conceptualize with the careful guidance of your parents, and one day you got it and your parents were excited."

    So I am clear: Little Timmy (LT) is born, but at this point lacks "conceptual consciousness" which as far as you are concerned is the big whoop about humans. But we are born without it so at this point LT=sub-human. Then one day, after "careful guidance" (and such guidance must be a real drag as LT lacks any of the machinery of conceptual consciousness with which to grasp concepts) LT – ta-da! – has it!

    Tuesday we have poor LT worse off than a well-trained dog and lacking in his special human qualities. But wait! Don’t despair! On Wednesday, LT is a fully accredited member of the human race as he now has conceptual consciousness! Huzzah! Yes that is a bright clear line indeed.

    "Yes, abstract thought is only as "different" from other modes of consciousness as arithmetic is as "different" from algebra. But that’s why we suggested it is an analogue. They both "do the same thing," but one possesses capabilities greatly increasing its power to do so."

    This is perfectly unobjectionable to me. I agree absolutely that abstract thought is a grade change, a serious one, as is the grade change from arithmetic to algebra. And as one makes this change one gains more and better capabilities. I am not objecting to the claim that algebra and arithmetic are two different things. It is how one gets from one to the other and the nature of their differences on which we disagree. But if you are now willing to stipulate that the difference between abstract and other kinds of thought are as algebra to arithmetic than I am quite happy with the analogy.

    "But those dim human kids will go on to take this capacity much, much further, will you agree?"

    Absolutely. Of course there is no doubt that humans can, have and will exploit their capacities for abstract thought in ways that exceed the imagination of the most ingenious of chimps. Again, this is a change in quantity tho, not quality. There is no difference *in kind* between the Apollo Space Program and the chimps who learn to create tools to simplify their lives and pass this knowledge on to future generations as has happened many times. I am sticking with chimps here as an example, but even my dog exhibits on occasion rudimentary problem-solving skills that cannot be accounted for by training or birth. He is not going to get to the moon anytime soon, but there is no difference in kind between the two instances of problem-solving.

    Problem solving (and more importantly solution-producing) is an alphatropic process. How complex the problem will vary from species to species and from individual to individual, but it neither surprises nor offends to see that other alpha systems pursue the same alphatrophy.

    Yes the furry animals and the bugs are alpha machines as well and what they do and what we do are changes in kind. Naturally the further down the continuum of complexity one goes, the more it seems to be a kind rather than a sloped change, but this is merely perspective and if one cannot see this, feel free to point out exactly where the change occurs. Please no recourse to the circular arguments of “man can produce poetry because man can produce poetry: which is essentially what I argued when one says “man can produce poetry because man has consciousness”.

    So conceptual consciousness, which is not innate, only the ability to do so is, must be acquired. And it is this ability that marks moral agents and those who can enter into our moral consideration. So most animals are out. Not all – there certainly are animals who can engage in conceptual thought, tho rudimentary compared to a human it may be. There are all sorts of studies in zoology and esp. primatology that will bear out the evidence that other animals beside humans can do this. Not only can they engage in it, but they can teach it and it can be passed from one generation to the next. Certainly we will want to include them in our moral consideration as what they possess is the same faculty, just not as sophisticated. Launching a space shuttle may be more impressive than learning to make a tool that increases the efficacy of food-gathering , but in kind they are no different.

    On the other hand, infants (and really children until they acquire this bright and shining distinction from their parents or whomever) are out of our moral consideration. They lack entirely this faculty. They may possess the promise of it, but that is not what, according to you, matters. It is the possession of it that does. So infants do not merit our moral consideration.

    Nor do the severely mentally impaired. Nor do those in a vegetative state. Nor do those whose conceptual faculties may not be much more sophisticated than a clever chimp, nor do…

    As far as I know there may even be otherwise fully functioning human beings who are lacking in enough of this conceptual consciousness to warrant consideration. Since it is acquired, and it is so distinctive, there must be some way to define what qualifies as conceptual consciousness; so if a human is never exposed to it, never is taught to make use of this physiological faculty, then he too must be excluded.

    “The fact, not the theory, that humans do all sorts of things that animals do not suggests there is a bright line, or should suggest it, already.”

    What this suggests to me is that humans do it better, not that other animals don’t do it at all. There is plenty of research and observation to support the conclusion that problem solving and conceptualization occurs in other animals, it is just not as sophisticated. It is more than mere perceptual awareness but admittedly less than building a skyscraper. It is a continuum.

    If you really want to bake your noodle – there are even computer generated automata that can devise survival strategies, exploit their environments, evade predators/catch prey…really all the stuff you are pointing to as evidence of some kind of conceptual consciousness. So them we can include. Now, it seems weird to me to have an ethic that accounts for these automata but not for infants, but whatever. It is just not my cup of worldview tea. I’d like to stick to something not only a little more intuitively satisfying, but also more rigorously justifiable.


  71. 71 71. Jim Valliant

    C.T.,

    Both animals and infants DO "merit our moral consideration," if you mean how WE treat them is of moral significance. It obviously is. But I think you mean, more precisely, they are not moral agents. Many animals, as you point out, are clearly not moral agents, but it is also clear that even chimps and infants and (so far) the smartest computers should not be judged by our criminal justice system, nor be allowed to vote, nor be allowed to sign contracts, nor to own property.

    Also, those adults whose cognitive disabilities are such that they do not possess that complex conceptual consciousness we are talking about–one that can project various realistic future alternatives in conceptual terms, i.e., possessing conscious choice–should be either. They should be appointed guardians, don’t you think?

    All moral judgment must account for the fact that something is or is not a moral agent, and even sometimes to what degree the being is one or the other. (This is one of the major gaps in this theory so far, at least as ethics.) And the degree of the being’s ability to use concepts is precisely the degree to which it is a moral agent.

    Our capacity for choice is largely coextensive with our conceptual consciousess, e.g., our ability to project alternatives in more than merely perceptual images. This means beyond our last perceptual (pleasure/pain) associations with the thing, i.e. conditioning, but in terms of expected outcomes, in terms of causes and effects, even long before the concept of "causality" is explicitly discovered. But that’s what humans do. This requires concepts. And, as you point out, a great facility with them.

    Children should be treated like budding conceptual consciousnesses, educated in the tools of complex abstract thought, reading and math, i.e., concepts. This will do animals themselves little good in the long run, although it may prove to yield important science. Those with disabilities should be cured if possible, and treated well, in any case. But none of these should even be criticized unless they could have really "known better" and "chosen otherwise." It would do no good anyway. At best, they should be conditioned or physically repaired. Agents alone alone can be "advised" or "persuaded." Thus, there is a vital difference to how we judge-how we morally judge, most critically–agents and others.

    Part of the issue may be pure epistemology and the nature of concepts. Being "the big whoop"–even being definitional of the species (or concept)–does not mean any member of the group who lacks the quality is excluded from membership. If an animal lost it’s definitional structure or capacity due to disease or injury, it would be wrong to say that it is no longer a "cat" or a "dog." It would be more precise to say that it is a dog that has lost the essential feature or structure of dogs. The concept "dog" includes everything about every dog, not just its essential characteristic. The definition of a concept may change over time, as the working definition of a concept changes for each one of us as we mature and learn more about it from childhood forward. But, almost always, we still classify the very same things as "dogs" even as our definition improves. (There are notable exceptions, but these are examples of the concept literally changing, i.e., an error being discovered in our previous understanding of it.) Thus, Little Timmy (or a la South Park, "TIMM-AAYYY!!) is very much a human being.


  72. 72 72. Jim Valliant

    C.T,

    Notice how all ethics is transmitted, by words. Moses, according to legend, came down from Mt. Sinai–with a bunch of words. Aaron and Bourbaki post on the Internet–with a bunch of words and symbols. Humans have so many concepts, and they interrelate and organize them in such complex ways, that they need a large vocabulary of words and symbols just to remember and use them. It is this capacity which allows humans to consider and retain principles of conduct. "Don’t kill," presupposes a choice and a consideration of the alternatives of doing so or not. Moses might have said, "Because it violates our Covenant with God and punishment will follow." (Although I’ll bet that the origins of this rule were far more practical than this.) Rand would have said, "Because it is self-destructive and can only thwart your own interests, survival and happiness." But, in any case, to retain the knowledge gleaned from projecting and evaluating alternative courses, we must, again, use concepts and words. Only concepts can give actual "advice." The entire range of normative abstractions only applies to a being that can deal with abstractions.


  73. 73 73. Casey Fahy

    Words and mathematical symbols are actually the form that concepts take — they are the means by which abstractions and various collections of sense evidence are categorized. Concepts without such "concretes" or such symbolic representations can not reach beyond whatever sense perceptions and memories can be held in the conscious mind simultaneously; like water without a bucket, they drain away as consciousness can’t hold on to them. So words and numbers and mathematical symbols are the physical form of concepts, and conceptualization is the process of collecting sense perceptions into the mental "concretes" we call concepts so that we can handle them with our conscious minds.

    So, while I believe some non-human animals can hold the semblance of a concept, the contents of a concept, for a brief time, they have no way to hold it over time, no handle to put on it for easy future access, greatly limiting their consciousness. At best, they can hold temporarily the contents of a concept in their conscious minds. After that, they lose it.

    (People can relate words to things for animals, and they can memorize associations, like "Dinner," "Bone" etc. But this is Pavlovian and not true conceptualization.)

    As an example, my pug woke me up one morning at 3:00am standing on my chest and nudging my nose out of a deep sleep. Amazed by the highly unusual behavior of this particularly smart and polite canine, imagine my groggy surprise as he insistently gestured his head at my (empty) water glass on my nightstand. Was it possible? I got up and found his water bowl pushed into the center of the kitchen floor (from the dining room), dry as a bone. I filled it, he drank a river, and then contentedly trotted in to go to sleep.

    Was this a concept? He was relating two things to tell me something. Your water glass (which was empty!) and my empty water bowl, to get me to understand he wanted water. That’s "conceptual" without the concept — "water." You need the pseudo-concrete of the WORD "water" to deal with the same issue using language, but he was getting across a concept on the purely perceptual level without using an actual concept (word, symbol, etc.).

    While this implies conceptual thinking, it is very much bound to making relationships between perceivable concretes in Caesar’s environment. He tied together, momentarily and purely using percepts, a pre-conceptual connection which could only last temporarily for the duration and limited context of the situation. Without words or mathematical symbols, he’s stuck with whatever his perceptual mind can handle in the moment, and make no mistake — that is quite a lot! We underestimate how much of our consciousness is non-conceptual.

    So the layer of consciousness that includes words and symbols that concretize abstractions is a thin layer to be sure, layed over an already impressive foundation of what can be done on the purely perceptual level, even in the realm of relationships.

    But the layer of consciousness that included full conceptual thinking (words and symbols) freed human beings from having to hold memories and perceptions of actual objects consciously in order to operate. That thin layer on top, of language and symbolic concepts, made all the difference in the world.

    It is this cognitive ability to handle the myriad of concretes in reality with abtracted concepts (mathematical, which subtract qualities and leave quantities; verbal, which subtract quantities and leave qualities, for a crude idea of the different acts of abstraction) that allows us to consider physical principles, courses of action, chemical formulas, future consequences, etc., and therefore requires of us an ethics to navigate, enables us to BE ethical agents, and makes us morally responsible for our decisions all at the same time.

    In other words, that intellectual innovation made us different.


  74. 74 74. Bourbaki

    It is this cognitive ability to handle the myriad of concretes in reality with abtracted concepts

    In other words, that intellectual innovation made us different.

    Bingo. You should have no problem with abstracting ethics.


  75. 75 75. Casey Fahy

    Whoops! Spelling error, you caught me.


  76. 76 76. Bourbaki

    Mr. Fahy,

    You are missing the point. I was not calling your attention to a spelling error.


  77. 77 77. Casey Fahy

    OK.

    Then I don’t get it.

    Seriously, Bourbaki, I seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot with you here.

    Let’s call a rhetorical truce.

    I presented in an understandable way (I hope) a view of the issue that, yes, most "objectivists" wouldn’t have too many problems with, but mainly to communicate to you how I see the problem, the issue, etc., how I understand the problem. Of course, I think the view I presented has great explanatory power that shines a light on an issue that may be important to your theory. It doesn’t matter whether it is Objectivist or not — I explained the view to you, as have others, so that you could deal with the view on its own terms. Now what say you? Are you going to run over me roughshod with a hail of scientific name-dropping and arguments from authority? It’s your privilege. Even as a genius who may be correct while all the world of idiots like me are driving you insane, though, it might be better to be less obscure in your retorts. For the sake of communication.

    Yes, I think I have no problem abstracting ethics, based on the knowledge that human beings possess a specialized form of consciousness that requires ethics, if that’s what you mean. Because I know it actually does help me "abstract ethics" even better than if I didn’t know it.

    Maybe that’s what you meant?

    Otherwise, just explain it. You can even call me a dummy while you do it.

    Casey


  78. 78 78. Bourbaki

    Let’s call a rhetorical truce.

    Sure. But I don’t at all mind the huffing and puffing so long as it gets new ideas out.

    Now what say you? Are you going to run over me roughshod with a hail of scientific name-dropping and arguments from authority?

    What arguments from authority? The theory has been openly and rigorously derived based on the openly and rigorously derived work of other people. Those links aren’t name dropping–they’re references and citations. They give you or anyone else the opportunity to challenge the theory as it is presented here or to challenge its foundations.

    We didn’t say that "Kolmogorov said this and it is so" anywhere.

    Because I know it actually does help me "abstract ethics" even better than if I didn’t know it.

    Then why all the "concreteness" with respect to humans? Please explain how the "special status" of humans changes the consequences of alpha theory?

    Here is a good starting point.

    THE SECOND LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS
    (Check the archives if the program has been removed)

    The Second Law of Thermodynamics can be very simply stated like this: "Energy spontaneously tends to flow from being concentrated in one place to becoming diffused and spread out". It was first formulated to explain how a steam engine worked, it can explain why a cup of tea goes cold if you don’t drink it and how a pan of water can be heated to boil an egg.

    But its application has been found to be rather grander than this. The Second Law is now used to explain the big bang, the expansion of the cosmos and even suggests our inexorable passage through time towards the ‘heat death’ of the universe. It’s been called the most fundamental law in all of science, and CP Snow in his Two Cultures wrote: "Not knowing the Second Law of Thermodynamics is like never having read a work of Shakespeare".

    What is the Second Law? What are its implications for time and energy in the universe, and does it tend to be refuted by the existence of life and the theory of evolution?


  79. 79 79. Casey Fahy

    OK. I’m intrigued and will check it out. You know my upfront objections to applying a thermo-dynamic model to human action (you should really read Ludwig von Mises’s "Human Action" on macro-praxeological prediction), but I’m interested in the subject as you’ve laid it out. Thanks!


  80. 80 80. CT

    "Children should be treated like budding conceptual consciousnesses, educated in the tools of complex abstract thought, reading and math, i.e., concepts. This will do animals themselves little good in the long run,"

    How come? After all, all the kiddies have is the potential for it. Then again maybe my dog is a genius and he too should be considered as in possession of this potential. Or are you suggesting that *potential* conceptual consciousness is enough to warrant a unique consideration from us?

    It will do the animals themselves little good in the long run?! A chimp that can teach other chimps to use tools to acquire more, better food and then those chimps can in turn teach the next generation the same thing… seems to me this will do loads of good for the chimps. Let me be clear *this has happened*. This is not speculation.

    And why should children be treated like budding anything anymore than a chimp or a dog should be treated like budding somethings? If the possession of the conceptual consciousness is what matters and it is acquired at a bright clear line than one is either on the side of having it or not. Sorry, kids and rabbits form a line to one side. Linus Pauling and Archimedes and Joe the Barber to the other.

    "Those with disabilities should be cured if possible, and treated well, in any case"

    Why? What makes them worthy of consideration according to you? They do not possess the conceptual consciousness which you value so highly so what marks them for worth a damn much less "treated well"? Lacking this one thing renders one sub-human so any consideration we may give them is that of the owner to the pet or that which we may show out of magnanimous pity, but surely not something as even-footed as consideration. And why should I? After all, I posses this magnificent artifice of conceptual consciousness and they are …well they do not. At best, frankly, I can pity them.

    "Agents alone can be "advised" or "persuaded." Thus, there is a vital difference to how we judge-how we morally judge, most critically–agents and others."

    So

    (*conceptual* consciousness)–>moral agency

    therefore

    ~(*conceptual* consciousness)–>not a moral agent (moral judgments cannot be rendered)

    In the latter case then I should treat those without conceptual consciousness as beneath full consideration, like a plant. Infants then are in this category. Unless you are suddenly broadening the prerequisite to include potential for conceptual consciousness, infants are out but the automata from my last posts are in. However broadening the prereqs seems to be exactly what you intend:

    "It would be more precise to say that it is a dog that has lost the essential feature or structure of dogs."

    Then what makes it a dog? Lacking the *essential* feature that renders it dog (or human) it cannot possibly, by definition be as dog-like or human-like as those that possess this trait. They must be something less. If this is the inherent feature of a class then that class must contain it by definition.

    "Thus, Little Timmy (or a la South Park, "TIMM-AAYYY!!) is very much a human being."

    Short of LT having the quality you assign as human there is simply no way to define LT as anything but a potential human. But if we are to include the potential as candidate for elevation to increased status then there are surely better candidates – the beasties who can actually conceptualize better than LT *now*. Chimps, dogs, etc…


  81. 81 81. Casey Fahy

    We would call a physically normal and healthy adult who craps his pants daily morally repugnant, whereas we would not hold a baby morally responsible for such behavior (or the incontinent). Dear lord, is volition and the conceptual faculty that is its prerequisite so hard to understand?

    And what’s with this stuff:

    "In the latter case then I should treat those without conceptual consciousness as beneath full consideration, like a plant."

    No, CT, you should treat babies like they’re Thomas Jefferson, if that’s the way you want to play verbal volleyball.

    As for EVERYTHING else you ignored in those posts, phooey.

    By the way, how is a three-legged dog not a dog, smart-ass?


  82. 82 82. CT

    "By the way, how is a three-legged dog not a dog, smart-ass?"

    If you claim that four-legs are what makes a dog. Which is essentially what you did with humans and the bright clear line of conceptual consciousness.

    "Dear lord, is volition and the conceptual faculty that is its prerequisite so hard to understand?"

    No harder it would seem than the grasping the concept that saying something over and over again does not make it true. Nor is it any harder to grasp than the desire to have solutions presented that can even be proven or disproven. We all have our crosses to bear.

    "No, CT, you should treat babies like they’re Thomas Jefferson, if that’s the way you want to play verbal volleyball."

    What verbal volleyball? You said that this conceptual consciousness made moral agents and thus those that we ought to consider morally. Infants lack this capacity, you said it was taught, not something with which we are born. Therefore infants according to you do not qualify for moral consideration – they are not aggents so how can we hold them responsible? If we cannot hold them responsible then, according to you, we cannot judge their actions nor consider them morally.

    "As for EVERYTHING else you ignored in those posts, phooey."

    Touche.


  83. 83 83. CT

    Sorry for ignoring other things you got wrong (this seemed to bother Casey) so:

    "So, while I believe some non-human animals can hold the semblance of a concept, the contents of a concept, for a brief time, they have no way to hold it over time, no handle to put on it for easy future access, greatly limiting their consciousness. At best, they can hold temporarily the contents of a concept in their conscious minds. After that, they lose it."

    You could not be more wrong. As I have said there are primates who have learned how to create a tool or achieve some end, they have taught this to the other primates who in turn taught it to their young etc.. This is not a hypothetical. This is fact. So your above belief is factually wrong.

    "Words and mathematical symbols are actually the form that concepts take"

    "He was relating two things to tell me something. Your water glass (which was empty!) and my empty water bowl, to get me to understand he wanted water. That’s "conceptual" without the concept — "water." You need the pseudo-concrete of the WORD "water" to deal with the same issue using language, but he was getting across a concept on the purely perceptual level without using an actual concept (word, symbol, etc.)."

    Now I am confused. First you state that words and symbols stand for concepts, then you state that those words and symbols are the concept. Which is it?
    And he was conveying a concept without using concepts? I admit this last bit confuses me could you be a little more more specific on how this happens.

    "It is this capacity which allows humans to consider and retain principles of conduct."

    Wrong. Plenty of animal species retain principles of conduct without written language. There is nothing special about this. Any social animal (any animal that does not live in solitude) has these. Witness pack behavior, and the social dynamics that underlie it.

    Incidentally, all social animals retain the "don’t kill your own" prohibition and most in ways far more efficient than the beasties that invented the Abrahamic religions.

    "But, in any case, to retain the knowledge gleaned from projecting and evaluating alternative courses, we must, again, use concepts and words."

    The chimps who learned that a stick was an efficient tool for getting ants out of anthills for food and taught this to their fellows and offspring "retained knowledge and projected from alternate courses" (not using a stick=not as good). Nothing too human about this. Well, at least nothing specifically human. Was he using concepts? If not then what could you possibly mean by concepts except the language itself, whcih is supposed to represent or convey concepts, not be them. However if you are defining them thus at least your set of moral agents makes sense. It is circular, but at least (more) sensible.

    "The entire range of normative abstractions only applies to a being that can deal with abstractions."

    In which case your ethic applies to automata and some non-human animals but not to infants or the severely mentally-handicapped. Unless you want to smuggle in potential for conceptual consciousness. This will get you back infants etc but it will not remove automata and some non-human animals from the list.


  84. 84 84. Jim Valliant

    C.T.,

    I totally reject your view of concepts and will not add to this incredible thread with a further discussion of it. But isn’t it curious that a philosophical question unanswered by the alpha theory actually seems to exist under all of the vitriol against previous philosophy. Call kids "potentials" all you like. I and most folks will go on calling them "human beings," knowing its membership to possess a whole complex of qualities apart from the essential and even the essential one to varying degrees. No matter how injured the dog, I will still call it a dog. But use words in whatever bizarre fashion you wish. When the table’s flat surface breaks or warps, I will continue to call it a "broken table" and be understood.

    Also, why certain beings possess rights or deserve moral consideration would require a complete discussion of the substance of my ethcis, even more space required than the presentation of alpha, I am afraid. At the risk of you believing me to be actually without an answer in this regard, I will refer you to books, e.g., The Virtue of Selfishness, Atlas Shrugged, and Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand. Believe me when I say that there are good (and very selfish) reasons for doing so that would take us very far afield–especially from alpha.

    Animals cannot project future alternatives conceptually. To do so would require a significant vocabulary of words. They do not consider ethics at all. This, too, would require words.

    Please, go train the socks off of a chimp and tell me if he ever winds up arguing ethics with you, or points out some moral ramification that you may not have previously considered, or can even tell you what will "cause" what else. Ditto with your automata. Kids can, do and will. Of course, humans did it all on their own, no training from another species required.

    This has become so absurd, that I fear that my previous anger may have been justified.


  85. 85 85. CT

    Mr. Valliant:

    It certainly has become absurd when the positions you attribute to me that you find objectionable are in fact the positions that fall out of your defintions and ethical construction(s).

    "Call kids "potentials" all you like. I and most folks will go on calling them "human beings," knowing its membership to possess a whole complex of qualities apart from the essential and even the essential one to varying degrees. No matter how injured the dog, I will still call it a dog."

    Which is fine by me, it is merely wholly inconsistent and unsupported by *your* argument. These are not my conclusions but the ones you have to make by vuirtue of your defintion of what it means to be human and your bright shining line.

    "Animals cannot project future alternatives conceptually. To do so would require a significant vocabulary of words."

    Ok. Feel free to ignore all the evidence to the contrary and instead define everything by the use of words. It is a new, even weaker wrinkle in your argument but once again this is your fallacious ethical system, not mine. It is at least good that you can see all the weaknesses in it.

    "This has become so absurd, that I fear that my previous anger may have been justified."

    Don’t be afraid. Overreaction and emotional hysterics are the about the only things so far that have been consistent with the Randroids. That and, apparently, an utter unfamiliarity with having to actually argue their points and *gasp* provide proof more compelling than religio-fanactic narcism and reptition of the same discredited points.


  86. 86 86. Casey Fahy

    CT,

    BABIES CAN’T BE HELD MORALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS. WHY IS THAT? DISCUSS INSIDE YOUR OWN BRAIN.

    Then stop going on about your moral piety for considering all things blindly equivalent.


  87. 87 87. CT

    reductio ad absurdem

    *These are consequences of your position*. I do not hold these views, but you and Valliant and anyone else who buys your nonsense must.

    Arguing inside your head must be the only place you do it as you seem fully unequipped to do it with others.

    But do continue please. I have to admit to getting a kick out of arguing with people who use as counterargument the propostition that a theory must be flawed because it is new.


  88. 88 88. Jim Valliant

    C.T.,

    I give you one "Randroid" more than I gave Bourbaki, o.k.? After that, your projection of "fear" becomes obviously just that–projection. Is that kind of invective otherwise necessary?

    By "conceptually" I mean the need for words due to a surfeit of concepts. Are you saying that animals are like this? I do not mean the ability to reach a concept. Animals’ projections of the "future" are really like ours? What do you think the difference is in their ability to evaluate their own conduct, or to refine the "principles" by which they live? You see, animals do not act according to "principles" at all, do they? The moral among us do live by principles, i.e., a complex conceptual understandings of the world. Is there an animal Moses or Rand or Jesus or Aaron to frequently come along and rock their worlds? Or even a grandma or wise, experienced old uncle whose learned a thing or two about the world and can communicate this without SHOWING, but by giving advice and telling stories??

    But, as I have suggested, it is this level of concept-using that is a prerequisite of moral judgment as moral agent precisely because it is this level of thought that allows us to evaluate the character of our actions, stepping beyond perceptual memory and association. A few crude "concepts" won’t do it. That’s why children are not judged the same way as adults. That’s why animals, even the smartest, aren’t, either. If this is beyond you, just say so, rather than accuse me of contradiction. My patience wears thin when the box my companion just stubbed his toe on is said by him not to exist.


  89. 89 89. CT

    "But, as I have suggested, it is this level of concept-using that is a prerequisite of moral judgment as moral agent precisely because it is this level of thought that allows us to evaluate the character of our actions, stepping beyond perceptual memory and association. A few crude "concepts" won’t do it."

    So if the concept cannot be expressed in strictly defined and exceedingly narrow terms from Aunt Matilda or as a Grimm Fairy Tale then it does not count as conceptualization despite something actually being a concept. Got it. Yes that certainly winnows down the morally considerable. It is quite a different definition than the one originally offered, but I have come to expect neither consistency nor reason from the Randr…oops I mean some of the posters here. It is on my Christmas list right after the wish that people would offer even the most meager of proofs.

    "That’s why children are not judged the same way as adults. That’s why animals, even the smartest, aren’t, either. If this is beyond you,"

    Rest assured Mr. Valliant there is nothing in Rand’s or your philosophy that is beyond me, save an understanding as to why anyone would adhere to such a position. I know that animals and kiddies are not treated as adults in your system. In fact they are not to be considered at all, according to your philosophy. I made note of it multiple times in the posts you apparently failed to understand

    I do not accuse you of contradiction, I am merely illuminating the consequences of your argument. If they seem unpalatable to you I agree. It is part of the reason why I wonder why anyone in their right mind would adhere to such a system.

    As far as the hurling of invectives (I’ll give you guys this you certainy have a flair for the dramatic) I shall try to adhere to the Randian prescription against laughter as I know this all (to be spoken in an echoing baritone): Very Serious Stuff (end baritone).

    ""Humor is the denial of metaphysical importance to that which you laugh
    at… Therefore, humor is a destructive element – which is quite all
    right, but its value and its morality depend on what it is that you are
    laughing at. If what you are laughing at is the evil in the world
    (provided that you take it seriously, but occasionally you permit
    yourself to laugh at it), that’s fine." (Ayn Rand, quoted in The Ayn
    Rand Lexicon, p. 207.)"

    And you guys are for this crap? Yeesh.


  90. 90 90. Jim Valliant

    C.T.,

    You don’t grasp any of it, I assure you.


  91. 91 91. Anon

    I haven’t visited this site in a wile, and my what a contentious comment area has emerged.

    I am normally loathe to comment on very long threads (associated with very long comments sections, as well), but I would like to respond to Aaron’s three points above, since he suggests that no one else has.

    1. & 2. Aaron, if I recall your earlier posts correctly, you were trying to put philosophy (as practiced on blogs) on a firmer ground by removing the mutable opinions of people and replacing them with the immutable structures of science.

    So let us suppose that I have no argument with the laws of thermodynamics. As you have stated things, the laws of thermodynamics are ironclad. In other words, they will hold whether I accept them or not. As a result, I really do not see where you have shown that Eustaces flourish "insofar as they _pursue_ [alpha]," or that all we wild Eustaces "_act_ on models, which we call alpha models, to approximate it." (emphasis mine)

    At most you have shown that thermodynamics favors some Eustaces over others. You have not shown that any Eustaces are aware of that fact — In fact, you have repeatedly emphasized that philosophers, throughout history, have been blithely unaware of it, and that even scientists only realized it over the last couple of centuries — nor that they choose to act on that fact in any way even if they are aware of it. (I apologize for that horrible sentence construction, and for my repeared use of the phase "in fact" in what follows.)

    In fact, if I take your argument on its face, I don’t need to do anything it all to move philosophy forward. After all, thermodynamics works in one direction, as you have also pointed out. The sheer passage of time has surely led us towards the maximization of whatever function you propose. Even if that function itself has been changing over time, we should still have made some progress up its hill. If that were not the case, if the maximization function could be changing so rapidly and radically that progress could not be made, your thermodynamic model would be pointless.

    So to summarize: I do not see that you have motivated any _necessary cognizant (or even incognizant) action_ on Eustace’s part (a survival instinct, I suppose, as that phrase is suggestive of the origins of your approach). In fact, I think your model does not require it, as it would appear to pose a undirectional model of progress for any organism located within it — any object, really, that follows the laws of thermodynamics.

    As a result, I can only conclude that under your model we are currently at or approximately at the highest level of philosophical attainment the world has ever known.

    I am a bit too tired to properly address the consequences of this observation now, so I will only say this. People who made this sort of argument in the last century of the last millenium were generally met with the retort of WWI. Then, at least in American arts and letters, they were met with the retort of the Great Depression. Then WWII. Then the USSR. Then…Well, you get the idea. The point is, philosophy and humanity in this day and age should be rightly suspicious of unidirectional theories of development.

    And frankly, given your "pre-Disconsolation" posts, I would have expected you to be rather cynical about them as well.

    Since you say there has been much discussion of point 3., I will leave that one alone.

    Finally, I apologize if I have missed your point. I do intend to return and try to work through the comments section a bit more. But if you do intend to argue that the question of "What is optimal behavior for living systems?" is a question best answered with physics, I am afraid I will always have to disagree. Physics is what "is", not what "ought" — even more strongly, physics is what "is", _regardless_ of what "ought." A philosophy based on physics will therefore necessarily true or necessarily false, regardless of whether or not I personally assent or dissent from it. But such a philosophy, and certainly such an aesthetics, is plainly absurd. My life is full of "oughts," like what I ought to have for dinner, when I ought to leave for work, and how I ought to finish this comment already. Any philosophy with no room for "oughts" has no room for actual living, breathing people making active, conscious decisions in a living, breathing world.

    However, I do recognize that eliminating people tends to streamline the philosophy. Your equations are relatively simple, after all. So please, feel free to build your castle in the air. But I’ll remain here on the ground.

    Anon.


  92. 92 92. tommy whigham

    Philosophy is of no use to entities that do not possess free will."

    It is of little use period.

    wrong, some beings use philosphy to maximize their alpha function. duh. if the quantifiable measurement is alpha, and alpha is the measuremment of consequential energy flux, and not in fact the measured consequence of energy flux, which is different, either way, lets say it exists.

    and positive entropy kills you. and a happy philosophy led me to better normative operations, because i belive, philosophically speaking, that my senses tell me things, and i don’t understand science so how could i be scientifically telling myself this, so my philosophy, FOR THOSE WITHOUT science, works for me to add more normative operations that ultimately provide benefit and assist my maximization. know how i know? i aint dead yet.


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