December 25, 2007

Ho Ho Ho!

Where's my cookie?!

December 15, 2007


I'm currently finishing up grading and doing laundry before heading off to California on Monday. My internet access will be spotty until I'm back in the SB, so I'll see you all in about three weeks.

December 14, 2007

Drivers, Start Your Crashes

What's that? A political post? Well we can't have that at the top of the page! For those that have an Xbox 360 or PS3 and didn't know, the demo for Burnout Paradise is ready for you to download a month before the game comes out. I hear it's very good.

For those hoping to get a Wii for the holidays (yeah yeah, it's for someone else I'm sure), Nintendo and Gamestop are now offering rain checks which Nintendo says will be honored by January. Since right now getting a Wii is as much divine grace as seeing Mary in your Cheerios this might be a good deal for the Wii-less, though it's not quite as satisfying to unwrap. Link.

Is It Fair? Do You Like It?

Ezra's got a post up about the possibility of switching from an income tax to a consumption tax. He makes the point that a consumption tax has positives and can indeed be made progressive if that's what you wanted from it. This is, of course, spawning out of Mike Huckabee's support for such a tax. Link.

Ok, I'm not an economist, but it seems to me that you could make any tax more progressive and fair, but that's now why Gov. Huckabee is supporting the change. Like so many calls for altering the tax system, Steve Forbes' Flat Tax proposal came to my mind, the argument is always that the change should be made because it's simple. We're told that the current tax code is over complicated and taxing in a different manner will eliminate such confusion. This is simply wrong. There's no reason an income tax *must* be complicated, but there is a very good reason why *ours* is: time. Any system of taxes can be very simple if you refuse to add any exceptions or modifications of the original tax assessment. But what invariably happens is that over a few decades the tax system is used for a variety of noble and not-so-noble goals and the system gets cluttered. If you're really interested in simplifying the tax code a committee could review the Code looking for unneeded sections to be eliminated or multiple sections to be combined into more uniform and readable language.

But conservative calls for a change to the tax code are rarely about actual simplification; they're about shifting the tax burden. As Ezra says, a consumption tax could have higher tax rates for higher levels of consumption and as the comments say you could pair that up with exceptions/incentives to help people with specific issues. That'd be fine. What we should be wary of any attempts to reduce the proportion of income paid by the affluent in taxes.

Incidentally, I can't watch at work, but here's Warren Buffett supporting a consumption tax. Link.

December 11, 2007

First Day

Well, technically today is the second day of my new job, but yesterday was just orientation with no actual connection to my normal day to day activities. I've seen some oral arguments today and got to organize my office a bit, but I probably won't get to do anything of real substance for another month. Until then I'll just try to, you know, learn the law...and stuff. It is nice to come to work again and feel like I'm doing, or will be doing soon, important work. Oh, and I suppose it's nice to know I'm getting paid too. So hooray for finally pushing through the bureaucracy and becoming productive again!

Values on both sides

Say you have a certain statistical tool S. You give a population a certain test, you crunch the resulting data, and out comes a number, one for each person. In certain cases R, the numbers line up in a normal distribution -- a lot of individuals clustered near the mean, smoothly tapering off towards the extremes.

Then you go and apply S to another population, P. Now things are way off -- the population's clustered around a much lower mean, maybe the distribution looks weird, and so on.

Suppose further that P is a significant part of the total population you're interested in measuring using S. Say, around 12%. And suppose, furthermore, that the mean of P is in the lower third standard deviation of the distribution for R.

Then you have to make a choice between two basic hypotheses: Either individuals in P are significantly lower than individuals in R in terms of whatever it is S is supposed to measure. Or P is a crappy way of measuring this whatever it is -- it's gotten the distribution spectacularly wrong.

How to decide between these two? Well, if you already think that individuals in P are significantly lower than individuals in R in terms of whatever it is S is supposed to measure, then you embrace that hypothesis, and don't really consider whether or not S is working right, because it does indeed appear to be working right.

But then, of course, you can't point to S to argue for the claim that individuals in P are significantly lower than individuals in R in terms of whatever it is S is supposed to measure. That would be blatantly circular.

Back in October, James Watson -- misogynist and Nobel laureate co-discoverer of DNA with Crick and Franklin -- said something rather racist:

[Watson] is "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really", and I know that this "hot potato" is going to be difficult to address.

Pretty indefensible, right? How can anyone think that Africans are less intelligent than `us'? (I'm not even going to get into the assumption that the intersection of `us' and Africans is the empty set.)

Well, thank the internets, someone has risen to Watson's defence.

Watson's claim in his recent interview with Charlotte Hunt-Grubbe that intelligence testing shows lower scores in Africa than Europe is likewise, entirely supported by the scientific literature.

Then there are citations to a bunch of studies that all say about the same thing: on standard IQ tests, the mean throughout Africa is between about 65 and 75. That's apparently right around the current definition of `mental retardation'.

The situation is an instance of the one I described above. Test in Western nations, and you get a mean around 100 (by construction). Test in Africa, and you get a mean in the third standard deviation. Africa's population is about 888 million, which is around 12% of the world's 6 billion. These results are incompatible with a worldwide standard distribution of IQ -- if the standard deviation for the African data sets is the same as the standard deviation for the Western data sets, about twice as many people are in the third standard deviation as should be.

So we have to choose between two hypotheses: either Africans are less intelligent than Westerners (that's highly simplified, but again, bracketing the spectacularly racist assumptions here) or IQ tests are not a good way of measuring intelligence.

There is a long attempt in that post to argue for the negation of the second hypothesis -- that is, that IQ tests are, in fact, a good way of measuring intelligence. The argument comes down to two points: First, IQ test scores correlate with other IQ test scores, and second, IQ test scores correlate with economic success. The first is useless -- the fact that all these tests measure the same thing doesn't imply that they don't all measure the same artificial statistical construction. And the second only implies that IQ tests are a good way of measuring intelligence if economic success is a good way of measuring intelligence. And that's only plausible if you think that rich people are more intelligent than poor people. The possibility that economic status has an effect on IQ scores is never considered.

It all comes down to racism, classism, and the intersection of the two. If you already believed that Africans and poor people are less intelligent than `us', then you won't see any problems here. IQ tests must measure intelligence, because they get the results we expected for intelligence. If you think that the idea that Africans and poor people are less intelligent than `us' is offensive on its face, then you're as liable as before to think that this IQ test business is a load of crap.

Which makes this an excellent example of the way ethico-political values show up as background assumptions when reasoning from evidence to theory. We have the same sets of evidence, but different background assumptions concerning race, class, and intelligence. Based on these assumptions, we reason to very different -- indeed, incompatible -- theories. Without these background assumptions -- if our reasoning process was truly `value-free' -- we would have no way of reaching any conclusions beyond statistical correlations between different metrics.

However, where I am willing to embrace the role my values play in my reasoning, the defender of Watson, it seems, does not.

December 09, 2007

Zalta's logical truths that are not metaphysically necessary

In this post, I want to summarise the argument of Zalta's paper `Logical and analytic truths that are not necessary' for non-logicians who still know a little bit about modal logic.

The basic idea is as follows: Zalta identifies certain sentences which, first, are logical truths, in that they are true under all interpretations; but, second, they are not metaphysically necessary, in that they are not true at all possible worlds under at least one interpretation.

Zalta's argument focusses on definite descriptions. I want to use a simpler language: a standard sentential language L with a single unary operator @. If p is a wff of L, then informally, @p means p is true at the actual world.

More specifically, give L countably many primitive sentential constants p1, p2, p3, ..., and build the wffs of L using the standard logical operators ^, v, -, -> and the unary operator @ on the pi. A world W is a total function {pi : i in N} -> {T,F}, ie, an assignment of truth values. An interpretation A is an ordered pair , where D is a set of worlds and W0 is in D. Informally, W0 is the actual world under A. `p is true at W under A' is defined in the usual recursive way for the standard logical operators. `@p is true at W under A' is true if p is true at W0 under A. For purposes of order of operations, @ is stipulated to be of the lowest order, ie, it is evaluated after all other operators when there is ambiguity. `p is true under A' is true if p is true at W0 under A. `p is necessary under A' is true if, for all W in D, p is true at W.

p is logically true if, for all interpretations A, p is true under A. p is necessarily true if, for all interpretations A, p is necessary under A. Zalta goes to great pains to show that his semantics are entirely standard for languages which involve rigid designators; the only difference here is that the language is much simpler than Zalta's primary example.

For some q, let Q be the sentence

@q -> q

Informally, Q says that, if q is actually true, then q is true.

1. Q is logically true.

Q is logically true iff for all interpretations A, Q is true under A. Choose an interpretation Q. Q is true under A iff Q is true at W0 under A. Q is true at W0 iff either @q is false at W0 or q is true at W0. @q is false at W0 iff q is false at W0. So Q is logically true iff q is false at W0 or q is true at W0. So Q is logically true iff either q is false or q is true at W0. Since W0 is total, either q is false or q is true at W0. Hence Q is logically true.

2. Q is not necessary.

Q is necessary iff for all interpretations A, Q is necessary under A. Q is necessary under A iff, for all W in D, Q is true at W. Q is true at W iff either @q is false at W or q is true at W. @q is false at W iff q is false at W0. Hence Q is necessary iff for all interpretations A and all worlds W in D either q is false at W0 or q is true at W.

Hence Q is not necessary iff there is some interpretation A with some W in D such that q is true at W0 and q is false at W.

Let A be an interpretation such that q is true at W0 and false at all other W in D and let W != W0. Then q is true at W0 and q is false at W. Hence Q is not necessary.

3. There are logical truths which are not necessary.

The `counterintuitive' gap arises because of a difference in scope between necessity and logical truth. Logical truths must be true at all actual worlds under all interpretations. It does not look at any worlds besides the actual world in each interpretation. Hence the actuality operator @ is inert with respect to logical truth: @p is logically true iff p is logically true.

It is with respect to necessity that @ is doing some work. Necessity does not just consider the actual world of each interpretation. It considers the full `multiverse' of each interpretation. Necessity is actually much broader than logical truth, in the sense that it takes more into consideration. Indeed, necessity implies logical truthhood, but as 3 shows, the converse is not true. In my experience, metaphysicians think exactly the opposite -- that logical truthhood implies necessity, but not vice-versa.

This version of Zalta's example show why metaphysicians should want necessity to be the broader notion in a very clear way. Q said that, if q is actually true, then q is true. If this were necessary and q were actually true, then q would itself be necessary. That is, if logical truth implies necessity, then rigid designation makes every true sentence necessary. Modality collapses, and every `multiverse' consists of a single possible world.

If modal metaphysicians wish to retain the equipment of rigid designation or actualism and any robust notion of possibility, then they must deny the inference from logical truth to necessity, at least with respect to statements that might involve rigid designation or reference to the actual world.

Yet, as Zalta points out, this creates a serious problem for metaphysical methodology. That a modal statement is self-contradictory -- is logically false -- does not imply that it is a necessary falsehood -- necessarily not the case. It implies only that it is not necessarily the case.

Zalta's paper is `Logical and analytic truths that are not necessary', J Phil (Feb. 1998: 85.2), pp 57-74. JSTOR link

December 08, 2007

Lipton's examples of projectivism

Peter Lipton was a Cambridge philosopher of science who recently died. In 2004, he gave the Medawar lecture before the Royal Society (published as `The truth about science' in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society' (2005: 360), pp. 1259-1269). In his lecture, Lipton distinguishes between three positions on scientific realism. His two examples to illustrate the third, `projectivism', are some of the best I've come across.

When I see the grass to be green, I am not hallucinating; nor can I see whatever colour I want to see. The colour I see depends in part on what is going on quite independently of me. Nevertheless, on the Lockean view, colour is defined in part in terms of human response: for an object to be green is for it to be disposed to produce a certain kind of experience. Thus although we see colours as being ‘out there’ in the objects, there is a sense in which that perception is in part a projection of the inner experience.

When a bridge is constructed, it cannot be built in any way one likes: the world constrains what materials and designs are possible. At the same time, a bridge is dependent on human activity: it is a human construct, if anything is. In that sense, a bridge is a joint produce of the human world and the world quite apart from human activity. Similarly, although that analogy will only go so far, on Kant’s version of projectivism, the properties that science attributes to the world are real, but are joint products of the things in themselves and the organizing, cognitive, descriptive activities of scientists.

This sounds familiar

From a comment on an article in the Chronicle of higher education:

MIT does not really tenure for excellence in research. Like other top-of-the-top universities, MIT tenures for reputation of excellence in research. (Forget about teaching or service; neither factors into the equation.)
This means two things: First, cutting-edge research, risky research, or what the corporate-types like to call “thinking outside of the box” is not viable when faced with a grueling tenure process, based so heavily upon peer review that—in order to garner outstanding reviews—one must cater to the preconceptions of one’s peers at other top institutions. Thus, much like that Other university up the road, MIT is forced poach its very best scholars who first proved their genius elsewhere, because the tenure process does not allow its own junior faculty the time or intellectual flexibility to excel at that level.

What does this have to do with gender (or race)? Well, peer review might claim to be an “objective” analysis of research, but any psychologist or sociologist worth their salt will tell you that evaluation of one’s peers is a social process. And look at the gender and racial breakdowns of these “peers.” White to a man. MIT’s unyielding adherence to reputation can and will only reproduce the social circle (white, male) of those called upon to evaluate the reputation. Meanwhile, there is a myopic and simple-minding insistence, pervasive throughout the institute, that this tenure process is somehow “objective” (tossing out a century of social science on the impossibility of such a thing), which leaves the Institute unable to address the problem.
Only after women and minorities (and white men with numbers of women or minorities in their social circle) have broken into other top and just-below the top institutions, and occupy positions of power in the profession, will they then advocate for those in their social networks in tenure cases at MIT. And only then will MIT’s tenuring process be physically able to recognize these one-time outsiders as worthy of tenure.

Most of the other comments are simply odious. For example, the way the next comment flatly denies that sex and gender play any role any the tenure process and raises the specter of -- oh noes! -- people getting things they don't deserve. The commenter is, evidently, completely ignoring decades of research that the same CV is consistently rated as less impressive when there's a woman's name at the top. S/he certainly misses the entire point of the previous comment.

Yes, these data show that the number and percentage of female faculty receiving tenure at MIT is increasing slowly. However, by themselves, these numbers do not prove that gender discrimination took place. In order to prove this, it would be necessary to provide evidence that female tenure candidates achieved the research record necessary to attain tenure, but were turned down because they were women (i.e., because of their genitalia or feminine attributes) .... It seems logical to believe that the vast majority of highly educated people would not turn down a candidate that has achieved the necessary record of accomplishments for tenure because of their genitalia or femininity. The flip side of this is whether a candidate without the necessary record of accomplishments should be granted tenure because of their genitalia or femininity so the percentages improve more quickly and become more equal? Those who use identity politics to try to leverage power and resources for individuals who may not merit them would say yes.

Now, I actually don't agree entirely with the first comment. S/he says that an objective evaluation is impossible. I think that an objective hiring process is possible. Or, to be more specific, an evaluation in which the consideration of candidates' races and genders and the fact of historical and ongoing discrimination against members of certain races and genders are considered specifically at certain points, would be more objective than the current system. When it comes to junior faculty, for example, measures could be taken to make sure the initial stages are completely anonymous (or as anonymous as possible), and gender, sex, and racial identity could be used to choose between candidates considered to be of the same quality by the initial stages.

December 06, 2007


I know a bit about Photoshop and digital image manipulation, though certainly not that much. But I don't think that's the reason why this blew me away:


Blog Readability Test

I'm not sure whether I trust the algorithm they're using, but it's certainly a fun tool. Link.

In case you're wondering, we here at the Ra were rated at a high school reading level. While I'm sure Noumena's posts would sky rocket the rating if judged on their own, I'm ok with the rating. I think it's a nice balance between smarty pantsocity and writing in a cogent manner. Anyone find some interesting results? Feel free to post them in the comments!

Oh The View...

Thanks Atrios. Link.

Kathleen Pender: Victims of predatory lending are junkies

To be fair, she didn't say it. She just quoted some risk analyst favourably immediately after saying that `subprime borrowers ... made bad, greedy or uninformed decisions.'

Pender's piece is on a proposed rate-freeze to prevent thousands of families from being forced to default on their subprime mortgages. The freeze would prevent the rates on these loans from rising for five years. (I'm not sure whether that's up to five years, or five years whatever happens.)

Beyond unsavory comparisons and non-argument insinuations that this is some sort of inappropriate bailout, subsidy, or other government interference in the market, Pender has some arguments, presented in the form of rhetorical questions. We'll take a look at a selection below the fold.

How do you define a subprime borrower?

Pender argues that there's no perfect definition. I think the point is supposed to be that an arbitrary decision has to be made, to decide who to help and who to not help. But so what? We have all kinds of arbitrary decisions built into our laws and policies -- what side of the street people are to drive on, how old you have to be to consent to sex, to drink alcohol, to vote. It seems weird to think that, because the decision to drive on the right or the left is arbitrary, there's something wrong with laws requiring drivers to stay on the right side of the road.

Maybe the argument is, instead, that however the line is drawn, there will be lots of people close to it on the other side, and shouldn't we help them too? Then the comparison is to Medicaid and the status of the working poor. But this is no reductio of the rate freeze. It just suggests that something more sophisticated might be needed -- a system of rate freezes whose caps and lengths are determined by family income, for example.

Is this simply prolonging the pain? "Some people who would qualify for this supposed assistance are probably better off defaulting," Whalen says.

Now, fortunately, I have never had to default on a loan or declare bankruptcy. And I don't know these things in great detail. But I do know that defaulting on one's mortgage or declaring bankruptcy basically means your ability to get credit is destroyed for a long, long time. So a family that defaulted or declared bankruptcy would lose their house as well as their access to credit, leaving them with basically no resources to turn to in case things got even worse -- say, unemployment in an uncertain economy, or a severe injury or illness with no health insurance.

Remember that your credit rating isn't just used to determine your access to credit. Landlords will often insist on running a credit check on a potential rentor, especially in middle-class neighbourhoods of large cities.

Perhaps some borrowers with subprime mortgages would be better off defaulting. But it's hard for me to imagine who these people like me. At the very least, the statement needs to be parsed out in much more detail.

Will this make it harder to borrow in the future? "The American way is, a deal is a deal. Not a deal is a deal until it hurts and then we'll change it. If the government forces one side to break a contract, it could easily have unintended consequences. Lenders might not be there the next time," Shoven says.

I don't see how the government is forcing one side to break a contract here. Defaulting, I would think, amounts to breaking the contract: I agreed to pay you back X amount of money, and now I'm not going to. Capping loan rates for a period of time seems more like modifying the terms of the contract: I agreed to pay you back X amount of money, but now I'm only paying you back Y amount of money instead. And I suspect that, in most cases, the latter is preferable to the former for lenders, as it means they're still collecting interest on the principal rather than just getting a house whose market price has seriously dropped since the loan was made.

People choose ARMs [adjustable-rate mortgages] because they are gambling that interest rates won't go up or because they can qualify for a bigger mortgage with an ARM than a fixed-rate mortgage. That lets them buy a larger house or take more cash out of their existing house.

Or because of racism.

Were some misled? Undoubtedly. Suing or prosecuting brokers or lenders who made false statements seems like a better remedy than a blanket rate freeze that treats all lenders and borrowers the same.

Mutatis mutandis for racism, presumably. But how will suing and prosecuting brokers or lenders who made subprime loans on a racist basis help the families who took these loans?

The junky analogy is especially disturbing once race is factored in. The finance `industry' is one of the most powerful sectors of the American economy. Just how does that industry see Black and Latin@ people?

December 05, 2007

The Politics Of Game Reviews

You may or may not be aware that Gamespot's Jeff Gerstmann, the publication's most senior editor and well respected games journalist, was recently fired. It is widely believed that his termination was directly tied to Gamespot receiving pressure from video game publisher Eidos after Gerstmann negatively reviewed one of their big holiday games. In response, N'Gai Croal has written a piece on the parasitic relationship between game publishers and the enthusiast press that covers their products. It's a good read, as his stuff frequently is, for anyone interested in the workings of the industry. Link.

December 04, 2007

Someone That Doesn't Like Rock Band

Link. The guitarist for Sleater-Kinney (a band whose name I have heard but know nothing else about) was given the opportunity to play Rock Band as a precursor to a possible promotion of the product. She didn't end up getting the promotional gig, but didn't seem to like the game anyway and has written up her thoughts on it for Slate. Though she definitely has an interesting point of view, she exemplifies for me every person who just doesn't understand the game.

It's an argument that I've heard a million times since Guitar Hero became popular: "Why not just learn to play an instrument?" Though she only touches on that point obliquely, the very basis of the article in comparing the game to being in a real life band rests on the assumption that the two things are even worth comparing. Nobody thinks to compare Splinter Cell to the reality of being a spy, or Gran Turismo to what it's like to be a real race car driver. Games are not a stepping stone to real world achievement. Some people might be inspired to take up the guitar after playing Rock Band or Guitar Hero and others may learn a thing or two about rhythm from playing the games, but that is beside the point. People play these games because it's fun to play them, particularly to play them together.

There's a snobbery that I find a little annoying and a little pitiful when people critique these games for not being "real" or for their "fakery". It's as if video games are fine when it's all weird plumbers in fantasy kingdoms but if they trod on your backyard, bringing most of the fun and hardly any of the hard work to the masses, they've somehow offended you personally. Moreover, the fun these masses enjoy is somehow less legitimate. Not every game is fun for every person, and that's fine. Some people, like Ms. Brownstein, don't even like video games, which is fine too. But Rock Band doesn't fail because it fails to provide the details of real life. It's fun for precisely that reason.

December 01, 2007

Robert Jensen roundup

Robert Jensen's Getting off, a male feminist critique of pornography and masculinity, has been the subject of some discussion on the feminist blogosphere over the last few days. Here are some links to get you started:

My first post mentioning Jensen, which links to this review and excerpt.

If you can get the feministing server to work (it's been really shaky lately), you can read the review that started the latest round of discussion.

Hugo recently finished the book, and the first
two parts of a three- or four-part review are up, with the others likely to follow early next week.

Amanda has a review of her own, which partially responds to both of the above blogger reviews.

November 30, 2007

Women are not earing more philosophy Ph.Ds

This is disappointing: despite the fact that, in 2004, women earned one-third of philosophy Ph.Ds, in 2006 they earned only 28.6%. In 2000, the number was 28.4%. Furthermore, in 2006, women earned just over 50% of doctorates in the life sciences and humanities, nearly 60% of doctorates in the social sciences, and less than 30% and about 20%, respectively, in the physical sciences and engineering.

In short, with respect to gender diversity, philosophy is more like physics than history.

The historical data are even more depressing. In 1976, women earned more than 30% of all doctorates in the humanities, and roughly 26% of all doctorates in the social sciences. So philosophy is three full decades of diversification behind our sister disciplines.

This is simply appalling.

We had a very respectable job talk this afternoon from an ethicist just finishing her dissertation at Harvard. I think she's a strong candidate for one of our open lines, and not just because the dean is threatening to take away some of our lines if we don't hire more people who aren't white men. And yet it would be rather generous to call the attendance by the faculty for her talk `sparse'.

They might have skipped her talk because she's female, or because she's South Asian-American, or because she's an ethicist. Frankly, I don't think it matters what the reasons were, either implicit and explicit. How can they even pretend to fairly decide between today's speaker and our two other applicants if they don't go to the damn talks? Given the extreme underrepresentation of both women and South Asians in Anglophone philosophy, I think there was an especially strong obligation to attend her talk so as to give her all due consideration.

Two Links

I'm sure I'm late to the party on this one, but do you guys know about Google Fight? You enter two words or phrases and then see which is searched for more. For instance, I just proved Bill O'Reilly right as "Happy holidays" beat the living Hell out of "Merry Christmas". Also, in a fight between "porn" and "Wii", porn actually lost. The modern world is a very strange place indeed. Link.

Europe really is more laid back that the US. I mean, it's just a bunch of nuclear weapons, right? Link.

November 25, 2007

Simple, But Cool

Three distinctions for an epistemology of mathematics

In The fate of knowledge, Helen Longino makes a distinction between three senses of the knowledge -- that is, three different usages of the term `knowledge'. These three senses of knowledge can help us tease apart some notions that have been tangled together in Analytic epistemology of mathematics for the last 130 years or so.

Necessary and possible

Necessity and possibility are modal notions. Modal notions show up in many different domains of enquiry: we have logical modalities, physical modalities, mathematical modalities, epistemological modalities, metaphysical modalities, and so on. It seems like unqualified modalities should be either logical or metaphysical. Zalta has argued that some logical impossibilities are metaphysical possibilities, though I suspect many metaphysicians around here assume the negation of this.

When made in mathematics, this distinction seems to be related to the truth status of mathematical propositions and the theories built up out of those propositions: Under `what circumstances' are mathematical propositions true? `All of them', so mathematical truths are `necessary'. It's therefore tied to at least one view -- and more likely a family of views -- of the content of mathematical knowledge.

A priori and a posteriori

These notions distinguish two sorts of justification or warrant relations. When I know (a priori) that 2+2=4, I have warrant for this belief. This warrant is different from the (a posteriori) warrant I have for the belief that it's a little cold in my house right now or that I'm being appeared to redly. The distinction does not refer to the doxastic processes by which I came to have these beliefs. In a famous paper, `What numbers could not be', Benacerraf argues that realists about mathematics cannot give a suitable epistemology for mathematics because their views are not compatible with any `causal theory of knowledge'. But the causal story about how I came to have my belief that 2+2=4 is not the same as the warranting story about how I came to be warranted in my belief that 2+2=4. A causal theory of knowledge may be confusing doxastic and warranting relations.

More generally, when I have a priori warrant, a certain relation obtains between my belief that 2+2=4, the proposition (or sentence or whatever) that 2+2=4, and possibly some other things (perhaps the Platonic numbers 2, 4, and the addition relation; perhaps the abstract natural number structure; perhaps something else entirely). This relation is the warrant or justification relation. I am said to have knowledge (at least in part) by standing in this relation. A priori and a posteriori therefore refer to the second, relational, sense of mathematical knowledge.

Analytic and synthetic

Until the eighteenth century, analysis and synthesis were two different and complementary mathematical methods. Analysis was the method of `breaking down' ideas, while synthesis was the method of `building up' complex ideas from simpler ones. In Ancient geometry, for example, one first analysed the relations between the given geometrical objects, and then assembled the simple relations thereby discovered into a rigorous proof of the desired claim. By the late nineteenth century, the terms were adjectives -- analytic and synthetic -- and not nouns. They were identified with logical relations, which in turn were bundled together with a priori and a posteriori. This is seen most clearly in Carnap's most important books, Der logische Aufbau der Welt and Logische Syntax der Sprache. These were the basis for Ayer's Language, truth, and logic, which provided the framework within which most Anglophone philosophers have been working for the past sixty years. The transition between these two uses of the terms is identified most prominently with Kant, whose usage is, (in)famously, neither the same as a priori/a posteriori nor easy to understand. Until Kant scholars provide us with a better understand of the use of the distinction during the eighteenth century, it is probably better to stick with the pre-Enlightenment methodological understanding of analysis and synthesis.

With this sense of the distinction in place, each of these terms refers to either one of two different knowledge-producing processes or one of two complementary parts of a single knowledge-producing process. This corresponds to Longino's third sense of knowledge.

As an epistemologist, I am unusual in that I most interested in the third sense: what are the processes by which mathematical knowledge is produced? Most contemporary philosophers of mathematics are primarily interested in the first sense, the content of mathematical knowledge, and the closely related metaphysical problems. That is, they want to understand what mathematics is about. A few philosophers have approached epistemology from the second side, and attempted to give an account of how mathematical beliefs can be warranted. For realists, these generally involve either a Platonic-Goedelian direct intuition of mathematicals or a quasi-Aristotelean abstraction of mathematical knowledge from perception. Kantian apriorist, Millean empiricist, and Fregean logicist views also show up occasionally, but are nowhere near as prominent in the literature. Obviously these five are related to views about the processes by which mathematical knowledge is produced.

Generally speaking, no philosopher of mathematics is at all happy with the proposals offered by any other philosopher of mathematics, and often a given philosopher of mathematics is not all that happy with his (the subdiscipline is ridiculously male-dominated) own views either.

November 24, 2007

Animal Crossing

Here's a touching story about Animal Crossing. It's a good comic to boot. Link.

November 21, 2007

I miss the Daily Show

Fortunately, they've put together a four-minute YouTube video on the WGA strike that's a bit ... familiar.

Via A,aB

November 17, 2007

Darth Vader: Live

He rocks a mean harmonica. Link.

November 15, 2007

I'm The Many Bales of Straw That Broke The Camel's Back

O.K., that's it. I've been hearing from Brottman for several months now about his plans to start a weight loss competition and I nodded my approval while not joining in. But now Drew's trying to slim down and he's doing it publicly, so I feel like I should sidle up to the bar myself.

As of weigh in this evening I'm a ballerina-like 285lbs. I'm sure some of that is fat baby that I never lost. Anyway, I know I've been a smaller person and I can be one again. It's just a matter of committing to it, and maybe making the process public will help me stick to it. I've got to get tough. Go, Joe!

Somebody's Coming...Whoa ooooooooh!

There's a new Ghostbuster's video game coming out. It's written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis and the original cast is doing the voices. They've confirmed that there will be cooperative multiplayer. Here's a picture. Radical. Link.

In other news, here's some upcoming downloadable content for Rock Band.

November 11, 2007

Making a place for the other

Janet Kourany is one of my mentors here. She's married to Jim Sterba, another of my mentors. Today, both are tenured professors in the philosophy department -- Janet is an associate professor, and Jim is a full professor. Their daughter, Sonya, is also planning on pursuing a career in academia. Janet recently wrote a heart-breaking and infuriating open letter to Sonya that was published in the latest APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy. In it, she describes -- to put it bluntly -- the incredibly shitty way she has been treated by various departments of philosophy in attempting to solve the two-body problem, and she warns Sonya not to make the same mistakes she did.

People who have interviewed professional women of my generation—people like the journalist Vivian Gornick—have set out poignantly what so many of these women experienced: how they started out full of ambition and promise, how so many of them became trapped in dead-end positions such as research associate positions in the sciences, and how they ended up believing that that was all they could be. Rather than transform a negative environment to meet their needs and deserts, they allowed the negative environment to transform them. Something of that happened to me. Indeed, my third, and probably my worst, mistake was that I allowed my adjunct status at Dad’s university at least to some extent to define me. True, I fought for and eventually got an office with the regular faculty, paid trips to give papers at conferences, the possibility of teaching graduate courses and, in fact, any courses I pleased, and many of the research supports available to the regular faculty, and true, I kept professionally active, but the demoralization took its toll.

You can read all of Janet's letter here.

November 09, 2007

An epistemological argument against metaphysics

Infamously -- at least, as infamously as I can make it -- I am radically indifferent to the concerns, problems, and techniques of metaphysics. I am thoroughgoing here: whether it's Shapiro, Quine, Heidegger, van Inwagen, Aristotle, Leibniz, or Aquinas, I think metaphysics is less interesting and important than the number of hairs on my head. This post is an attempt to justify that radical and thoroughgoing indifference to any metaphysicians that might happen to read it.

If the job of the sciences is to describe the way the world is, then, or so I've been told, the job of metaphysics is to describe the way the world must be. That is (well, this isn't exactly the same thing, but probably what's intended), metaphysics is in the business of discovering (metaphysically) necessary truths, truths of the form []p. This discovery often involves considering (metaphysically) possible truths, truths of the form <>p. I have problems with the idea that we can know such truths, if any such truths there be. That is, I don't think that beliefs that []p or beliefs that <>p are ever justified.

Let's consider an arbitrary necessary truth []p. How could we be justified in believing that []p? I want to consider this by asking what sort of argument could be given for []p. What sort of argument? Unless the metaphysician is prepared to say that we can come to know that []p by generalising empirical truths, presumably the argument should be deductive. More specifically, it should be logically valid and sound.

But what logic? The presence of the modal operator [] suggests that a modal logic. S5 is the most widely accepted, or so I've been told. Perhaps the reader prefers another modal logic. Or perhaps the reader thinks she can do her metaphysics with classical first-order logic. In any case, she will have a set of inferences rules for her logic, which can be stated as axioms, and these axioms will have to be necessary truths themselves. If they are not necessary, then her inferences will not apply across all possible worlds -- her logic will not be metaphysically sound. Furthermore, in order for our belief in the conclusions of the arguments built using these inferences to be justified, our belief in the necessity of these axioms must be justified itself.

In short, in order for metaphysical beliefs to be justified, our beliefs that logical axioms are necessarily true must be justified.

There, I think, only three meta-doxastic attitudes one can take towards axioms. First, on the Aristotelean or Classical attitude, axioms are contentual and must be self-evident. Alternatively, on the Hilbertian or Mathematical attitude, axioms are formal and simply stipulative. (Note that Hilbert himself was not a Hilbertian in this sense about all branches of mathematics -- he was an Aristotelean about finite arithmetic.) On the first attitude, axioms are the most basic and fundamental truths -- and probably this `fundamental' carries both metaphysical and epistemological tones. On the second attitude, axioms are simply laid down arbitrarily, and need not be true of anything. The first attitude has been prominent in Western thought since Antiquity. The second was a late nineteenth-century development out of non-Euclidean geometry and abstract algebra. The third or Contingentist attitude is to take axioms to be assumptions we make contingently, either implicitly or explicitly. Perhaps the axioms express reliable-but-not-necessary and contingent features of our cognition (a certain sort of neo-Humean might think this), or perhaps they express the theory of logic that best exemplifies the features we want a theory of logic to have (Quine thought this, Michael Friedman's `contingent a priori' is somewhat related, and my own view lies in the vicinity of both of these).

Illustrate these three with an example: modus tollens.

(((p -> -q) ^ q) -> -p)

The Aristotelean says that this is self-evident and fundamental in both metaphysical and epistemological senses. Bivalence and non-contradiction are deep features of reality and our knowledge of it. The Hilbertian says that this is just a certain rule for manipulating arrays of strings of symbols -- when you have a subproof that terminates in -q and a separate proof of q, then you can write down the negation of the premiss of the subproof. And the Contingentist says, perhaps, that this is a pragmatically useful posit -- it lets us create proofs by contradiction, which are very powerful indeed, and is only objectionable if you have a very strict understanding of the nature of mathematical reasoning or think truth means justified assertion.

If we take one of these attitudes explicitly, what sort of attitudes towards the axioms is justified? Are we justified in believing that they are necessarily true? For the Contingentist, we are at most justified in believing that axioms are true (that is, true of the actual world). Similarly, as there is no need on the Hilbertian attitude for the axioms to be true, we are at most justified in believing that axioms are true. To infer that axioms are necessarily true is to make a ridiculously hasty generalisation. We are justified, on these two attitudes, at best in believing them to be contingent truths. (Note that even this may not be justified: on certain sorts of Contingentism, such as the neo-Humean, we are not even justified in believing that they are true!) Finally, for the Aristotelean, if self-evidence is indeed justification, then it seems that we are justified in believing that the axioms are true. But self-evidence doesn't imply necessity. Indeed, for classical epistemological foundationalists, sensory beliefs are self-evident, but are assumed not to be necessary at all. If self-evidence is not justification, then it doesn't seem that we are even justified in believing that the axioms are true.

The problem is just this: Any story we tell about being justified in believing that the axioms of logic are true is consistent with them not being necessarily true. Indeed, any story we tell is consistent with the axioms of logic only being true of the actual world, and false of every other possible world.

Something entirely parallel happens if we prefer an externalist account of knowledge, replacing justification with warrant. Every non-ad hoc story the externalist epistemologist-metaphysician tells us about how our belief that the axioms of logic are true is warranted is consistent with them not being necessarily true, and indeed with them only being true of the actual world. The only way out that I can see is to propose that belief that []p is warranted just in the case that []p is true, or something equivalent, which is clearly ad hoc.

To summarise: In order to be justified in our belief that []p, a paradigm example of an important claim of metaphysics, we must first be justified in believing that the axioms of logic are necessarily true. But on no reasonable account of the status of axioms are they necessarily true. Hence our belief that the axioms are necessarily true is not justified. Hence we are justified in believing that []p.

November 08, 2007

Xbox 360 Is Here To Stay

For those expecting a big comeback from the other consoles and a decline of the 360, for the three months preceding September 30, 2007 Electronic Arts sold $218 million in 360 software. For that same time period they sold $217 million on all other platforms combined. Wow...Link.

November 05, 2007

A Night Of Rock Band

Rock Band drops in a few weeks, but review units are trickling out here and there. Wondering what a night of Rock Band is like? Here's a live blog of the experience. Link.

November 03, 2007

What's the difference between an attack ad and legitimate criticism?

The Edwards campaign has a new ad out, presenting Clinton contradicting herself during a(?) recent Democratic debate:

I came across this ad on Tennessee Guerilla Women, where the blogger accuses Edwards of `cut[ing] and past[ing]' a `scathing' and `nasty' ad, and implying that he has thereby, and unlike Hillary, `gon[e] negative'. There's also a link to a discussion on another blog that, from the excerpt, appears to be accusing Edwards of hypocrisy. I want to bracket the issue of hypocrisy, since it could be that Edwards is making a legitimate criticism that applies just as well to both himself and Clinton. Note that I also assume some criticism is legitimate. While we're rather fond of accusing politicians of `going negative', part of the process of campaigning is pointing out the failings and flaws of one's opponents. Indeed, going negative has gained such prominence that accusations of it are popular and often unfair and illegitimate attacks -- it's a way to shame one's opponent for revealing one's own flaws and failings.

Attack ads and legitimate criticisms lie on opposite ends of a spectrum. In the murky middle are ads that might be illegitimate and unfair attacks and might be legitimate criticisms. Which one is this -- attack ad, legitimate criticism, or in the murky middle? It's clear that the blogger I quoted in the last paragraph thinks it is clearly an attack ad.

But it's not so clear to me. First, the ad doesn't contain vague and emotionally-loaded descriptions of her policies and past actions. It's showing clips of her speaking. Next, we might worry about context -- perhaps these remarks were made in contexts that change their meaning. But they mostly seem to be pretty clear, so that means that it's at least not clearly an unfair attack. Third, we might worry about the fact that Clinton is speaking extemporaneously rather than carefully and precisely stating her views. She's speaking on her feet at a debate to explain her views in a general way rather than formulating policy in a precise way for implementation. So, again, there might be subtlety and nuance to her views that are being unfairly neglected. The portion of the ad on immigration might be especially worrying in this respect.

Let's think about that immigration portion a little more carefully. The ad wants to suggest that Clinton is being inconsistent. It seems to me as though she might be trying to avoid answering an obviously stupid question -- giving illegal immigrants driver's licenses isn't an issue that can be settled with a `yes' or `no' answer in thirty seconds. But then I wonder why she didn't just say that it's a stupid question, and far too complex of an issue to be settled so simplistically. Hence, she might be saying inconsistent things, and she might be caught off-guard with a spectacularly stupid question. It's not clear either way.

So, with respect to the immigration portion, it's not clear whether the ad is an unfair attack or a legitimate criticism. With respect to the other two reasons I can think of for calling an ad an attack ad rather than a legitimate criticism, it's at least not clearly an unfair attack, and probably a legitimate criticism. I can't think of any other reasons for calling an ad an attack ad rather than a legitimate criticism. So, considering these three reasons together, I conclude that the ad is in the murky middle, but very, very close to being a legitimate criticism. It's at least not clearly an attack ad.

Addendum: There's a fourth respect in which an ad could be an attack ad, and that's if it's promoting or appealing to some odious ideology (racism, sexism, heterosexism, ablism, xenophobia, and so on). This ad is clearly not doing that by any ordinary standard. It's not, as one commentator on the source post suggests, going after Clinton `on the basis that she's female'.

November 01, 2007

What's wrong with Ron Paul?

David Neiwert and a diarist on Kos have very, very disturbing series of posts on Paul. The three major points of Neiwert's post:

Most of his positions today -- including his opposition to the Iraq war -- are built on this same shoddy foundation of far-right conspiracism and extremist belief systems, particularly long-debunked theories about the "New World Order," the Federal Reserve and our monetary system, the IRS, and the education system.


While I think the evidence that Paul is incredibly insensitive on racial issues -- ranging from a racially incendiary newsletter to his willingness to appear before neo-Confederate and white-supremacist groups -- is simply overwhelming, it isn't as simple to make the case that he is an outright racist, since he does not often indulge in hateful rhetoric -- and when he has, he tries to ameliorate it by placing it in the context of what he thinks are legitimate policy issues.


Note, if you will, that the interviewers' questions are all predicated on a belief in old far-right conspiracy theories about "banking elites" [read: Jews] are secretly out to control the world -- and Paul clearly accepts those premises as valid.

Phenry's diary is its own rundown. Here are some highlights that, I believe, will generally disturb my libertarian friends: Paul is anti-abortion (and not just anti-Roe v. Wade), is pro-shielding oil companies from contamination lawsuits, is so anti-immigrant that he wants to repeal birthright citizenship, voted against reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voted for a bill that would require `proof of citizenship' -- producing a birth certificate, passport, or naturalisation certification -- at the polls, supports the Defense of Marriage Act (indeed, he cosponsored a bill that would bar federal courts from considering challenges to the federal DMA), does not believe in the separation of church and state (though he does believe in the `separation of school and state'), introduced a bill that would prohibit the federal court system from hearing any equal protection case involving religion or sexuality, refuses to acknowledge that there is genocide in Darfur, hates unions and voted to make it harder to file class-action lawsuits.

And that's a selection from one post in a series of four.

This does not sound like the set of beliefs of a man whose political philosophy is firmly grounded on a principle of respect for individual liberty.

October 29, 2007

The diversity of philosophy

Quoting a quotation of a summary (with quotations) of Anita Allen's keynote address at the recent first meeting of the Collegium of Black Women Philosophers (my source; the punctuational oddities are, I believe, theirs):

“I have not been able to encourage other people like me to go into philosophy because I don’t think it has enough to offer them. The salaries aren’t that great, the prestige isn’t that great, the ability to interact with the world isn’t that great, the career options aren’t that great, the methodologies are narrow. Why would you do that,” she asks, “when you could be in an African American studies department, a law school, a history department, and have so many more people to interact with who are more like you, a place where so many more methods are acceptable, so many more topics are going to be written about? Why would you close yourself off in philosophy?”I feel that philosophy is hoisting itself by its own petard. Its unwillingness to be more inclusive in terms of issues, methods, demographics, means that it’s losing out on a lot of vibrancy, a lot of intellectual power.”Despite delight at the birth of the collegium, the existence finally of a “critical mass” of black female philosophers, she admits “philosophy still feels to me like an isolated profession. I don’t think I would encourage a black woman who has big ideas necessarily to go into philosophy,” Allen says. “Why? What’s the point? Go out and win the Pulitzer Prize! Don’t worry about academic philosophy. On the other hand, I would like to see that world open up to more women and women of color.”

I worry a lot about the lack of diversity in philosophy. (Setting aside for the moment the problems with treating diversity as a mass noun.) As a discipline, we're notorious for being just about the only branch of the humanities that's still as male- and caucasian-dominated as physics and mathematics. That's an ethical problem, and it's also an epistemological problem.

The first thing I want to ask is, How do we create more diversity in the community of philosophers? The obvious but unhelpful answer is, Eliminate or counteract the features of that community that drive off most of the potential philosophers that aren't caucasian men. This leads to the second question, What makes contemporary philosophy so unattractive to people who aren't caucasian men? And this question is ill-posed. Philosophy isn't unattractive in an absolute sense. It's unattractive as a major compared to other majors, as a career compared to other careers, as a discipline compared to other disciplines. The choice to go into philosophy is neither made at any one discrete moment nor made in a vacuum.

So, before answering the second question, we need to identify the comparable disciplines that do not have the problems with diversity that philosophy has. This, I think, is fairly easy: pretty much every other discipline in the humanities. The interdisciplinary disciplines that have formed over the last 35+ years -- African American studies, gender studies, and so on -- are especially important answers here. Someone interested in clinical psychology might take a courses or two in philosophy of mind and early psychology (Freud, James, et al. were still considered philosophers), but she's unlikely to end up a philosopher. Likewise with political science and history. African American studies, gender studies, and similar interdisciplinary disciplines in the humanities, by contrast, draw heavily on the work of a certain kind of philosopher, just as much as they draw on the work of historians, sociologists, political theorists, and so on.

This leads me to my hypothesis. As distinct majors, these interdisciplinary disciplines are drawing potential philosophy students away from philosophy. To expand on Allen's question, Why would you go into philosophy when African American studies is a much more inviting place to do the same sort of thing?

The passage from Allen has given me some things to think about under the aegis of my hypothesis. First, doing philosophy in gender studies (with which I'm more familiar than African American studies) isn't the same thing as doing philosophy in philosophy. The abstract worries over, say, whether compositional nihilism is compatible with ante rem realism about universals (and if so, what sort of ante rem realism) that are the central problems of contemporary Anglophone philosophy are non-starters in gender studies. This is one thing that Allen might mean when she talks about `so many more topics ... be[ing] written about' in other humanities departments. While the methods and techniques can be the same, the topics are very very different.

But this is a gross overgeneralisation. There are ethicists and political philosophers in philosophy departments; not all of us spend all of our time worrying about compositional nihilism. The topics contemporary ethicists and political philosophers consider are much more closely aligned to the topics considered in gender studies. And it's also grossly prejudicial to assume that an undergraduate trying to choose whether to major in philosophy or African American studies wouldn't be interested in worrying about compositional nihilism, as grossly prejudicial as assuming that women decide not to pursue careers in mathematics because set theory is just so boring.

Hence, second, the content and topics of `mainstream', `important' philosophy are not the only reasons why philosopher has a problem with diversity. As much as I'd like an excuse to cast metaphysics out (in the nicest possible way, of course), diversity is not going to be one. So we need to look at other potential causes. We need to look at discrimination, on both a personal and structural level. Third, we can't do this, as philosophers are so often wont to do, from our armchairs. We cannot divine, a priori, the reasons why our discipline is so much less attractive than our sister disciplines in the humanities. We cannot, by pure ratiocination, discover the objectively best way to structure the discipline. We need to be talking to students from underrepresented backgrounds, especially those who consider majoring in philosophy and decide to major in something else -- Why did you decide to major in gender studies/history/African American studies/Swanhili instead of philosophy?

Fourth, this means we need to meet these students. We need to offer classes within philosophy that deliberately align with and support the classes offered under the heading of African American studies, gender studies, and so on. We need Intro to Philosophy classes that aren't just a parade of dead wealthy European men worrying about whether the fact that the stick looks bent but feels straight means I'm being deceived by an evil demon. We need joint minors and, eventually, majors with these interdisciplinary disciplines -- not to mention more traditional disciplines like history, psychology, and political science.

October 26, 2007

A question for every Democratic presidential candidate

Over the past seven years, we've seen the Bush administration systematically and continually assault the Constitutional doctrine of the separation of governmental powers. This assault has resulted in one of the greatest expansions in Executive power in the history of the United States, and is widely regarded as the single most pernicious effect this administration will have on the American way of life. Simply put, the presidency of George W. Bush has threatened the rule of law in this country.

Bush's Democratic successor will have an opportunity to use this Executive overreach to undo much of the more immediate harms the current administration has inflicted on the United States. Between executive orders and signing statements, the next President will be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, roll back the Bush tax cuts, and rebuild our health care system without the co-operation of the Congress. But this successor may well be the last chance this country has for restoring the separation of powers. Should you win the nomination and then the election, you will therefore be presented with a historic moral dilemma: Will you sacrifice your policy goals for the sake of restoring the rule of law, or will use the nearly unchecked power of the Executive to achieve policy reform?

October 25, 2007

The metabolic fallacy

There is, or so one often hears (as I heard last weekend), one sure-fire, guaranteed, absolutely foolproof way for a fat person to lose weight: eat less. More specifically, first you figure out the average number of calories burned a day, then you eat less than that. You'll burn `excess fat' making up the difference. (Presumably, once you reach your target weight, you resume a normal intake.)

Only problem: this doesn't work. As anyone who either is, or knows someone who is, fat or thin and tried to lose or gain weight knows, `naturally thin' people can eat `all they want' and never gain and ounce, while `naturally fat' people can't keep their weight down longer than about five years.

Maybe you think the former cases -- the thin people -- just have a high metabolism, and the latter cases just are `psychologically weak'. Fat = psychologically weak is certainly a popular narrative in our culture. But that's an odd asymmetry: thin people are thin for physiological reasons, but fat people are fat for psychological reasons. And the `high metabolism' explanation doesn't work for thin people anyways -- just factor the metabolic rate or an estimate thereof into the calculation of the number of calories burned a day. Likewise with a `low metabolism' explanation for fat people. You'll see the same thing.

No, something is wrong in the line of thought above. And that something is the assumption that there's this number, called the average number of calories burned a day.

Now, in trying to calculate this number, of course you have to look over a period of time (previous week? previous one year? previous ten years?), and throw out exceptional days (that day you went on the 12 mile hike on Mt. Rainier, and that week you were too sick with the flu to do much more than shuffle to the bathroom and back). This requires making choices about what data to include and exclude, and these will be arbitrary but make a difference. If that's what I meant, then the easy reply would be to point out that this difference will, most likely, be negligible, or utterly irrelevant to the process by which you actually calculate your average number of calories burned a day (that is, by carrying around a little journal on a `normal day' and making note of what you do, how often you do it, and for how long).

So that's not what I mean. The average number business is confusing, so let's drop it. What we really assume when we assume there is such a thing as the average number of calories burned a day is that metabolic rate is roughly constant from day to day. Again, some daily variation is likely and expected, but typically things will stay within a fairly narrow range.

In particular, the line of thought from the first paragraph needs to assume that the metabolic rate is roughly the same for a given individual both when they are fat and when they are thin.

And this assumption was pretty thoroughly debunked. Nearly fifty years ago.

There is a reason that fat people cannot stay thin after they diet and that thin people cannot stay fat when they force themselves to gain weight. The body's metabolism speeds up or slows down to keep weight within a narrow range. Gain weight and the metabolism can as much as double; lose weight and it can slow to half its original speed.

You might still think the counting-calories method would work -- we just need to be able to measure the change in metabolism. But the change in metabolism isn't the only effect of dramatic weight loss.

fat people who lost large amounts of weight might look like someone who was never fat, but they were very different. In fact, by every metabolic measurement, they seemed like people who were starving.

Before the diet began, the fat subjects' metabolism was normal - the number of calories burned per square meter of body surface was no different from that of people who had never been fat. But when they lost weight, they were burning as much as 24 percent fewer calories per square meter of their surface area than the calories consumed by those who were naturally thin.

The Rockefeller subjects also had a psychiatric syndrome, called semi-starvation neurosis, which had been noticed before in people of normal weight who had been starved. They dreamed of food, they fantasized about food or about breaking their diet. They were anxious and depressed; some had thoughts of suicide. They secreted food in their rooms. And they binged.

The Rockefeller researchers explained their observations in one of their papers: "It is entirely possible that weight reduction, instead of resulting in a normal state for obese patients, results in an abnormal state resembling that of starved nonobese individuals."

This doesn't formally refute the line of thought from the beginning of the post: if you're fat you can lose weight by carefully monitoring caloric intake. And literally starving yourself. So the `fallacy' of the title is more polemical than logical. Still, this is a case of the `cure' being orders of magnitude worse than the `disease'.

October 24, 2007


Will Wright, Nerdiest of Nerds, says the much anticipated Spore will be released in 6 months. He says the game is done an is just being tweaked and balanced at this point, but healthy skepticism would not be remiss here. Still, it's nice to think that then end might be in sight. Link.

An Offer I Couldn't Refuse

You know how I've been talking about that HD-DVD player for the 360 lately? Well I bit the bullet and got one. It seems Best Buy has changed its initial position and is considering the player an actual HD-DVD player and not an Xbox 360 accessory. This means the machine is eligible for the 2 free movies of your choice they were giving away with all the other HD-DVD players. This means that when you purchase the player for $179 at Best Buy you get King Kong (packed in with the player), 2 free HD-DVD movies of your choice, Heroes Season 1 on HD-DVD, and 5 free HD-DVD movies in the mail through the Toshiba promotion. HD-DVD movies run between $25 and $35 and Heroes Season 1 is $99, so that's about $300 worth of movies/tv shows for free. Granted, I don't really want King Kong and the selection from Toshiba only has two or three movies that I'd want to hold on to, but if I can get $50 in store credit from Gamestop trading the movies in that I don't want then I'll still consider this a steal. For those of you with an Xbox 360 or who are planning on getting one, this is a hell of a deal.

October 22, 2007

It's Alive!!!!

I received a brand new Xbox 360 from Microsoft today to replace the dead one. At under two weeks turnaround between shipping it out and getting the new one, I have to say that I'm impressed with the service and no longer worried about whether this new machine might die.

October 20, 2007

Win A 360 And More

Update to a previous post: I know nobody will see this if I post it to the original post, but in addition to the 5 free HD-DVDs you can get from Toshiba for purchasing an HD-DVD player for your Xbox 360, now you can also get the first season of Heroes for free from and Best Buy in addition to the five free movies. Best Buy is also running a deal this week where you get two free movies from them with the purchase of any HD-DVD player but there is some dispute as to whether this applies to the player for the 360. Even without those last two free movies, if you've got a 360, a fan of Heroes, and you're in the market for an HD player, this is a pretty sweet deal. Link.

Don't have an Xbox 360? Amazon is giving away 90 Heroes themed 360s over the next month, so there's your shot. Link.

Unreal Tournament 3 is going to allow PC gamers to build levels and other modifications on their PCs and then export them to the PS3, where presumably anyone can download them. Now, my experience in mods for the PC is a little out of date, but I played plenty of mods in college and about half of them were utter crap, 45% wouldn't be worth your time if they hadn't been free, and 5% were legitimately good. So yeah, this is really interesting news and there's some real potential for cool free stuff to come out of this, but it doesn't make my heart sing the way it seems to make some people. Link.

Microsoft and Toshiba are working on an Xbox 360 that will include an HD-DVD player in the machine itself. Now, I think the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD competition has been and continues to be horrible for consumers and is still nowhere near being resolved, but I suppose this could be an interesting system as a replacement for the Elite. Link. Update: After mulling a bit I think this probably is referring to the next generation of Xbox and probably not a replacement for the Elite. Crazy though it may seem, the replacement for the 360 will probably be announced in less than two years and be released in three, so it would make sense that they're in the planning stages now.

Thanks, EA.

October 19, 2007

Video Game Blog Dump

The new NPD numbers are out for the month of September (though there seems to be some question as to whether they count the first week of October here as well) and Halo 3 sold 3.3 million units. Keep in mind that Halo 3 came out the last week of September. The game also bumped the hardware sales up to over half a million as well, surpassing the Wii. We'll see how that carries through to the holiday season, but my guess is this is only the beginning. Link.

Microsoft is offering five free HD-DVDs if you buy the HD-DVD player for the Xbox 360. At $200 it's not super cheap, but it's probably the cheapest of the HD players and five free movies helps a bit I guess. Plus, as far as deals like this go, this is a fairly decent list of options. Link.

When the PS3 launched both 20gb and 60gb versions contained both the CPU and the GPU (graphics processing unit) of the PS2 in addition to all the computing stuff that makes PS3 games go. When they brought out the 80gb version of the PS3 they ditched the PS2 CPU in order to cut some costs. From what I understand this solution worked pretty well for playing PS2 games. For the new 40gb version, however, Sony is *also* ditching the PS2 GPU, meaning the machine will be completely unable to play PS2 games. It will, of course, be $399 rather than $499 they're charging for the 80gb version, but Sony Computer Entertainment America CEO Jack Tretton thinks we're actually better off without backwards compatibility. You see, now you can buy a PS3 and a PS2 for a combined price of $70 less than the original 60gb PS3. What a deal! (/sarcasm) Link.

October 16, 2007

Will Wright Also Resolved The Iran Hostage Crisis

Wow, it's amazing it took this long to come out, but before he made Sim City and all the other Sim games, Will Wright won the race eventually known as Cannonball Run. Dom DeLuise was his navigator. Will Wright is the awesomest ever. Link.

October 11, 2007

One Of Us! One Of Us!

EA has assimilated Bioware and Pandemic, two of the best video game studios out there. Link.

P.S. The comments following that post are of varying interest, but are worthwhile if only because they produced this:

You know the sick part? I knew within a few seconds what episode that shot is from. Kudos to anyone who can name the episode *and* tell me what Picard is quoting.

Quite possibly the bestest thing ever

Pour Silk Chocolate Soymilk in a mug. Microwave for 2 minutes or so. Add a dash of paprika.

A Moment Of Silence

Please, everyone, bow your heads out of respect for my fallen comrade, my Xbox 360. It was quite nearly two years old and had played many games but the recent strain of finishing Halo 3 in two days was just too much and it finally died yesterday afternoon. I've sent the body off to Microsoft where, like any good pet, it will be quickly replaced. I suppose they might try to repair it. If that's the case, ZOMBIE 360!

October 10, 2007

Holy Crap!

Somebody get a home loan now. We're moving to a decommissioned missile base in Central Washington State. Link.

Tip o' the hat to PA.

October 09, 2007

Cannon Rock

Insomnia set in, so I listened to twenty or so versions of Cannon Rock. I love that the internet allows musicians to gather like this, showing each other what personal twist they can each put on a basic song. Also, I think this song is ripe for an appearance in Rock Band.

And because I'm still up....

Hammer tricks.
Crazy claymation.
Funny cat.
Holy crap, some dude getting tasered at a Kerry rally.
That's one tall bike/Ron Paul advert.
Honestly, I was only hoping there was a reason they misspelled "lucky". There wasn't.

October 05, 2007

Is The Whale Coming Back Next?

Winnipeg is being considered as an expansion city for the NHL. Is there anyone in the world that thinks expansion is a good idea? I'm not a contraction hawk, but come on, move a team to Winnipeg if it's such a good place for a hockey. Link.

October 04, 2007

I Needs Me Some Of That Haloez Money

Halo 3 has raked in $300 million in one week of sales. I know it sounds crazy, but I'm betting that there will be a Halo 4 at some point. Link.

October 02, 2007

A hypothesis

The reason scientists dislike philosophers (as a discipline) is that they -- the scientists -- have no idea what the hell philosophy is.

Be sure to skim the comments thread. Commenters Caledonian and Glen Davidson are especially wacky in the having-no-idea-what-philosophy-is respect.

I think I'm done reading PZ, frankly. The biology-for-the-masses posts are what really hooked me on his blog in the first place, and those are few and far between lately. His atheist shtick is really nothing more than disingenuous ad hominem attacks on religious believers. I'm still not a theist, and have no interest in theism, but I've had enough of `only stupid people believe in God, except I didn't mean stupid even though that's what I've said ad nauseum'.

PZ's spot on my daily reading list, I think, will now be occupied by Feminist philosophers, which, based on the past week, is pretty good at exactly what you would expect from the name.

The Brave And The Bold

Who among us is brave enough to try a beverage purposefully trying to taste like sports cream? Link.

September 29, 2007

Well Color Me Shocked

A while ago I reported that Rock Band was a top selling game already despite the fact that it won't be released until November. I bemoaned the people pre-ordering the mega package of the game for $200 as that pretty much guaranteed that the game would not sell for any less than that. Well, then my resolve broke and I became exactly one of those people who pre-ordered the game and now we get final pricing and it's $30 cheaper. Still no small investment, but hooray anyhow! Link.

September 27, 2007

Competition To Make Adam Smith Happy is getting into the mp3 business with DRM-free songs available at $.89 a pop and many albums at below $10.00. Now, I've always thought $1 per song was a bit high, but what really kept me away from itunes is the possibility that I would buy an mp3 player from another company and would have to buy my music all over again. The Amazon store also doesn't require you to download any software to buy songs (only to buy some whole albums) and provides 30 second clips of songs so you can get an idea of whether you actually want to buy it.

It's going to be really interesting how Apple and MS respond to this, but it's only good for us.

Tip o' the hat to EA.

Pretending that economics is the right way to think about problems of justice

Background: NARAL PCA wants to use text messaging to send action alerts to members who sign up to receive such alerts. Verizon, citing a longstanding internal rule prohibiting text messaging about `controversial' topics, refuses to let NARAL PCA run this program with Verizon customers. (Cont'd below the fold.)

What's to be done? One response suggests expanding something called the common carrier rule to include text messaging, now that text messaging has become a major form of interstate communication.

Professor Wu pointed to a historical analogy. In the 19th century, he said, Western Union, the telegraph company, engaged in discrimination, based on the political views of people who sought to send telegrams. “One of the eventual reactions was the common carrier rule,” Professor Wu said, which required telegraph and then phone companies to accept communications from all speakers on all topics.

But this isn't the only response.

Some scholars said such a rule was not needed for text messages because market competition was sufficient to ensure robust political debate.

“Instead of having the government get in the game of regulating who can carry what, I would get in the game of promoting as many options as possible,” said Christopher S. Yoo, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “You might find text-messaging companies competing on their openness policies.”

Well, yes, you might find text-messaging companies competing on their openness policies. Just the same way you might find organic foods being served at McDonald's and Burger King. Or the way you might find $500 in your winter coat next week.

The supply and demand model (which I presume Prof. Yoo is utilising here, the Times not having quoted him citing any more sophisticated model) assumes, among other things, that the marketplace is in a state of perfect competition. Primary features of this state include perfect and complete information (everyone knows everything), equal access (it's easy for consumers to move from one producer to another, among other things), free entry (it's easy to start up a new company in the market), and the independence of consumers and producers (the fact that my best friend chose to go with company A in no way influences my choice between companies A and B).

It should be clear that none of the assumptions made in the previous sentence obtain in the case of today's telecommunications giants. A quick Google search isn't turning up a nice chart or graph, so I don't have evidence, but AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint (I might be forgetting one or two prominent others) have almost complete control over the cell phone network within the United States. Critically, this includes the infrastructure, the physical network itself. A new carrier trying to enter the market must either pay one of these companies to use their infrastructure, or invest billions of dollars (and, most likely, engage in tedious legal fights) to build their own infrastructure. The big telecoms require customers to sign two-year service contracts, so buyers cannot easily move from one service to another. And, of course, the service contracts are specifically designed to encourage customers to use the same network as their friends, family, and co-workers, with significant discounts for in-network communications.

Again, a quick Google search isn't turning up the information I need to make good on this claim, but I think the cell phone networks in the US would be better described as an oligopoly. If this is the case, then both competition and collusion are likely, and a simple model can't predict with any reliability. For example, the telecommunications giants might start competing with each other to let NARAL PCA send action alert text messages. Or they might just as well all decide to ban NARAL PCA from their networks. Critically, in neither case do consumers have any real say over what happens. The ability of NARAL PCA to effectively communicate with its members using text messages depends on decisions made at the highest levels within the big telecoms.

Which leads to the real problem I have with Prof. Yoo's suggestion that we just let the invisible hand sort things out. There's a difference between NARAL PCA communicating action alerts to a list of members and what kinds of frozen pizzas we can find at the local megamart. The Times reporter recognises that difference, albeit only in one short sentence: `Messages urging political action are generally thought to be at the heart of what the First Amendment protects.'

The real, effective ability of citizens to express their political beliefs is at issue here. It's true that there are plenty of other ways for citizens to engage in political speech -- NARAL PCA has a website and sends out messages to its members by both e- and snail mail. But if Verizon is allowed to prohibit the communication of controversial ideas over its network, then mutatis mutandis so is FedEx, and so are landline phone companies and television stations and cable television and internet companies. Hence, by contraposition, if we accept a principle requiring these other common carriers to give NARAL PCA access to their networks (whether that principle is grounded in the First Amendment or something else), then we must accept a principle requiring Verizon to give NARAL PCA access to its text messaging network.

Finally, once we highlight this aspect, we realise that Yoo's economic argument (such as I assume he had; the Times just quoted his conclusion, not his reasoning for that conclusion) is a huge red herring. When we start debating the proper economic policy, we end up completely ignoring the deeper, and far more important, issue of justice: What impositions can and should we place on members of our society to ensure that everyone has a real ability to express their political beliefs?

September 26, 2007

Review: Teh Haloez 3

So I just finished the Halo 3 single player campaign. Yeah, unemployment has given me some spare time. The story was good. Yeah, in a world post-Bioshock (and several games before that for that matter, it's just on my mind having finished it so recently) it's no longer acceptable to say "Good enough for a video game". Both games have plenty of action, but Bioshock was Serenity, Halo 3 was Die Hard. Well actually, Halo 3 has a few missteps that Die Hard doesn't in that there are a couple times where you might be scratching your head if you don't pay close attention or haven't played the previous games. Still, it's not a movie, it's a video game and though the story could definitely be better (or perhaps just better told), the game is plenty of fun to play.

Really though, it's hard for me to fairly judge Halo. I finished the single player campaign, which is pretty rare normally, but the real focus of this game is multiplayer. While I'm really hoping to play matches with my friends over Live, I really don't have the time or energy to get good enough at multiplayer to really compete online, so there's a rather large chunk of the game that I'm not going to really play much of.

In the end I do really like the game. It's 8-10 or so hours of fun single player goodness, even if it won't blow your mind. The multiplayer will undoubtedly be tons of fun if I can get my friends into it, but I'd recommend the game even if you don't plan on using this feature. Is it the best single player campaign I've played all year? No, but it's quite good and definitely worth your time.

September 25, 2007

Differentiating human and non-human animals

In a 1986 article in the New England journal of medicine, `The case for the use of animals into biomedical research', Carl Cohen gives a handful of arguments against the work of Tom Regan and Peter Singer, who in turn had previously argued against the use of non-human animals as research subjects. (Cont'd below the fold.)

One of Cohen's arguments is to attack an analogy of Singer's, between the denial of the moral status of non-human animals and racism. Cohen quotes Singer:

The racist violates the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the interests of members of his own race when there is a clash between their interests and the interests of those of another race .... Similarly the speciesist allows the interests of his own species to override the greater interests of members of other species. The pattern is identical in each case.

(NB Singer also makes the analogy to sexism. For the sake of simplicity, I will confine my remarks to the racism analogy. I believe all that follows will apply, mutatis mutandis, to sexism.)

Cohen goes on to argue against this analogy (my emphasis):

Racists ... do grave moral wrong precisely because there is no morally relevant distinction among the races ....

Between species of animate life, however -- between (for example) humans on the one hand and cats or rats on the other -- the morally relevant differences are enormous .... Humans engage in moral reflection; humans are morally autonomous; humans are members of moral communities, recognizing just claims against their own interest.

Elsewhere in the article, Cohen seems to think living in a moral community supervenes on autonomy, and that the ability to engage in moral reflection and act with moral autonomy are one and the same. So I take the central claims here to be that the ability to engage in moral reflection is (A) not a morally relevant distinction among human beings, and (B) a morally relevant distinction between human beings and non-human animals.

Why accept (A)? Prima facie, one might attempt to claim that the ability to engage in moral reflection is an essential property of human beings: if a being does not have this ability, then that being simply cannot be a human being. But as it follows immediately from this that all human beings have the ability to engage in moral reflection, and this is clearly false, this is not a plausible reading of (A).

Cohen himself recognises this problem. However, his solution to the problem is simply to assert (B):

The issue is one of kind. Humans are of such a kind that they may be the subject of experiments only with their voluntary consent .... Animals are of such a kind that it is impossible for them, in principle, to give or withhold voluntary consent or to make a moral choice. What humans retain when disabled, animals have never had.

This appears to be nothing but a non-sequitur.

Why accept (B)? One might, following Kant, claim that the possession of a capacity for moral reflection is the only thing that is good or valuable in itself. Then the possession of this capacity is not just a morally relevant distinction between (many) human beings and non-human animals, but is in fact the only morally relevant distinction one can make in any circumstance.

But Cohen cannot follow Kant down this path. He denies `that we are morally free to do anything we please to animals' and affirms that `In our dealings with [non-human] animals, we are at least obliged to act humanely -- that is, to treat them with the decency and concern that we owe, as sensitive human beings, to other sentient creatures' (my emphasis). He denies, that is, that the capacity for moral reflection is the only thing that is good or valuable in itself: non-human animals have a certain intrinsic moral worth because they are sentient.

With this admission, Cohen not only undermines the classical argument for (B). He also leaves open the possibility that (C) the morally relevant distinction between human and non-human animals with respect to the capacity to engage in moral reflection is overridden by the morally relevant lack of distinction between human and non-human animals with respect to sentience. If (C) is true, then even if both (A) and (B) are true, Cohen's argument still fails: morally speaking, human and non-human animals are more similar than dissimilar, very much in the same way that humans of different `races' are more similar than dissimilar, and Singer's analogy holds up.

Why accept (C)? If the capacity to engage in moral reflection is less morally important than other features, common to impaired humans, non-impaired humans, and non-human animals, then this could explain obligations to impaired humans in ways that imply obligations to non-human animals. Sentience or an ability to reason above a certain threshhold (significantly lower than the classical, implicit standard of a highly-trained philosopher), could be capacities of this sort. This is not yet an argument, but is a line of thought that could be pursued.