Monthly Archives: July 2011

The McGurk effect and what it tells us about our noetic faculties

Here is an excellent example of the McGurk effect:

My interpretation of this effect is based on the physics of both sound and light waves. Based on Shannon’s theorum, light carries more information than sound so it makes sense that our minds would, when presented with conflicting information. So it is understandable why many people operate on the principle of “seeing is believing”. However the McGurk effect should serve as a warning to us that when faced with problems of interpreting information, what we are seeing may be masking the truth of what we are perceiving.

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An illustration of counterfactuals

In the movie, Next, Nicholas Cage plays a man who has the ability to perceive future events.

Here is a section of the movie where Cage’s character is attempting to thwart a future event (don’t worry, this isn’t a plot spoiler, the movie is still worth watching) by examining all the possible outcomes of his actions in space and time.

This provides a pretty good approximation to the philosophical concept of counterfactuals which are used in the theological concept of Molinism/middle knowledge.

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Language and Social Ontology – John Searle

In this talk I attempt to explain the distinctive features of human civilization. Animals have forms of social organization and communication but they do not have money, property, government, and marriage. Why not? Human institutional facts are created and maintained by a specific type of linguistic representation that I call a “status function declaration.” This operation can be performed over and over again on a wide range of subjects. It creates and maintains systems of deontic power: rights, duties, obligations and empowerments of various kinds. These provide the glue that hold human society together. They do that by providing humans with desire independent reasons for action, that is, reasons for doing things that are independent of their immediate inclinations.

John Searle in Oslo (the whole lecture) from Speldosa on Vimeo.

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What it means to “teach the controversy”

Here is a textbook example of how to discuss what it means to “teach the controversy”. Casey Luskin does a great job of diffusing the “anything other than accepted Darwinist dogma is religious in nature!” argument that is rather common among the high priests of Darwinism.

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Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism by Robert P. Murphy

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Worst possible misery for everyone

Sam Harris, in his book “The Moral Landscape”, defines good as that which moves away from “the worst possible misery”.

Once we conceive of “the worst possible misery for everyone” then we can talk about taking incremental steps towards this abyss. -Sam Harris, Moral Landscape, pg 39

While listening to Sam’s opening speech in his recent debate with William Lane Craig (audio, video), it occurred to me that by “misery”, Sam means, “physical misery”. That made me wonder, what about nonphysical misery? It seems that Sam’s dedication to physical materialism could prove to be a great hinderance here.

The best example of non-physical pain in my estimation is phantom pain experienced by amputees. In this case its the memory of a limb is the source of pain. I’m sure physicalists would argue that the neurons in the brain which supposedly constitute memories are the physical source of pain in this instance, but it seems like a stretch to think that memories themselves could be the source of pain since, in our memories, our limbs are still in tact. Phantom pain is not only the recollection of a limb that no longer exists, but an extrapolation from there that the body must be in pain since the limb is no longer providing feedback to the nervous system.

Next to phantom pain for non-existent limbs would be psycogenic pain, ie mental disorders. Mental anguish is one of the most common forms of pain we experience all the time. From mild discomfort (ie small insults or slights) to insurmountable pain (ie the loss of a loved one).

In conclusion I believe there is sufficient evidence for the claim that metaphysical pain trumps physical pain in

  • Duration – it is not possible to remove metaphysical pain through medication or amputation.
  • Intensity – while both metaphysical pain can be mitigated somewhat through medication, its intensity is not limited by natural constraints.
  • Capacity – physical pain does end at some point. Nerves get overloaded and either shut down (become numb) or the body builds a tolerance or the body itself shuts down (ie the person passes out). Metaphysical pain is bound by none of these physical constraints.

So if the greatest possible pain is not confined to physical states of affairs, it follows that any solution to the problem of pain would need to entail a metaphysical component to it if it is to be a complete and coherent. Sam’s solution is simply incomplete. It fails to adequately address metaphysical pain which would still exist even under the most ideal physical circumstances. And since it is possible for the metaphysical to effect the physical, and not vice versa, it also follows that any solution to the problem of pain should come primarialy from a metaphysical source, not a physical one.

So while I agree with Sam that morality would entail the transition from a state of pain to a state of pleasure, I find Sam’s solution to be shallow and incomplete. The greatest possible pain is not physical, its metaphysical. So the solution we ought to be looking for, if we are serious about looking for an exhaustive solution, should be metaphysical, not physical.

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What the debt debate is really about

Everyone is talking about the present debt ceiling debate, but few people are talking about the root of the issue. Why is it that our nation spends more than it receives in taxes?

Here are a couple of issues which outline the root of the issue, our fractional reserve banking system:

And is a rather hilarious version:

This is what the debt ceiling debate is really about. What is amazing is that people who are for raising the debt limit are actually for inflation. Its a sadomasochistic state of affairs. Liberals get people hooked on money that isn’t theirs, it doesn’t exist actually, and through that addiction they get them to support the system of printing money without end.

Who is hurt the most in this scheme? The poor. It is difficult, if not impossible, to build wealth if your wealth’s value is constantly depreciated.

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Could marriage be undermined by language?

A friend of mine recently pointed me to this page where in the author crafts an argument against the definition of marriage being between one man and one woman. His argument is based largely on biological anomalies which give rise to odd situations where if we consider the person to be male or female depending on what aspects of the male or female biological makeup we choose to measure by (ie. testosterone, estrogen, physical features) we might end up “mandating and legally sanctifying exactly the sort of same-sex marriages they’re intending to ban”.

First off, it needs to be pointed out that no one is required to marry or procreate. They may have the freedom to or not depending on their physical characteristics, but they are by no means forced to marry anyone.

Additionally, since genetic abnormalities are quite common (ie. cancer) I fail to see why offering medical treatment to resolve these conditions would be less preferential than redefining the institution of marriage.

As to government’s involvement. I would agree with government’s non-intervention and I would argue that any attempt at redefining commonly used words would constitute a major intervention. If you want to strengthen contract law to rectify situations like visiting a loved one in the hospital or prison then I would be all for that. But you don’t need to redefine a word in order to accomplish that end. Likewise it makes no sense to say that a group of people are deprived of a right because the definition of words functions in an exclusionary sense in order to convey meaning. In order words, if we, as a society, start monkeying around with our language such that marriage is no longer biologically bound, then what we would have accomplished is the destruction of language and constructive discourse.

We would not, however, have done anything to increase freedom or equality.

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The radicalness of ordinary

The best way to write a bestseller is to have a compelling, action-packed narrative. In the Christian market it seems the best route to take is to buck accepted wisdom, to tell everyone that what they thought was a good idea really isn’t and that what we should do is overhaul our lives.

This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, nor is it particularly wrong in itself to call to attention traditional practices of Christians that legitimately do need to be changed. Martin Luther was arguable one of the first christian bestsellers, and for a good reason. His books were lengthy and detailed. Luther wanted to convince his readers of the truthfulness of his position.

Today, however, I wonder if much of what passes for christian literature, is not meant (or otherwise merely has the effect of) producing an emotional reaction.

Take the grandfather of what I’ll call “get busy for Jesus” books. Charles Sheldon wrote In His Steps around the turn of the 19th century in order to encourage his readers to ask the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” The intent of the question is sound, to encourage people to be courageous Christians, but the method is wholly existential. In order to answer the question one is asked to, at some level, pretend they are Jesus. The result is that the answer to what Jesus would do turns out to be whatever the one asking the question subjectively decides.

The alternate to this approach, in case you’re wondering, is to ask “what did Jesus do and say?” This is the difference between a deconstructive and an analytical approach to the acquisition of knowledge.

But that’s the problem. Luther wrote to impart knowledge. Sheldon wrote to impart an experience. And it is Sheldon’s intent that I find in many Christian bestsellers today.

Three modern variations come to mind. Henry Blackaby’s bible study, Experiencing God, Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, and David Platt’s Radical series. Each one has, at its core, a call to an experience. And each one, if closely analyzed, is inherently against the analytical approach to gaining knowledge.

Another common factor in these books is a call to “be radical”. To make sweeping wholesale changes, preferably without much analysis or forethought. Not only is this reckless, but it runs afoul of what Jesus taught about carefully calculating the cost of any decision we make.

Sometimes radical changes are necessary. But more often than not they are merely destructive and should be avoided in favor of slow and gradual change.

One of Luther’s radical conclusions was that the normal, average person was important. That even the most ordinary work could be glorifying to God. That one didn’t need to be a rock-star in order to have an impact on the world.

What is really radical are ordinary people doing ordinary things day after day. What is radical is a family that lasts. What is radical is a responsible financial plan that helps mitigate unforeseen circumstances while allowing for a slow and steady accumulation of wealth to be handed down to subsequent generations.

Here are a couple of other great reviews of David Platt’s Radical:

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John Stewart in denial about media bias

This interview with Jon Stewart on media bias is painful to watch.

What makes this painful to watch is that Stewart refuses to acknowledge the political power humor has in shaping political discourse. At one point he claims that it is sad that he is given credibility because of the failure of news organizations. What he apparently fails to realize is that he is giving far too much credit to his viewers. Stewert is given credibility above other news organizations because his viewers are lazy. They can only learn about current events if they are made to be funny in some way. I would be willing to bet that very few of Stewart’s viewers have bothered to seriously study any of the issues that are covered on his show. Issues like criminal law (as it pertains to the controversial immigration law in Arizona), economics (Stewart constantly tows the Marxist economic line of the left), and religion (Stewart’s grasp of theology as it pertains to Christianity and Islam is appalling).

Apparently Jon Stewart thinks he is immune to bias.

But I know others who would beg to differ.

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