• Content Count

  • Joined

  • Last visited

Posts posted by Davy

  1. Regarding O'ist Metaphysics, it's not so much that I'm disputing anything, more that I find it a bit vague. I've no problem with the law of identitiy per se, it's the relation of it to cause and effect which I find fuzzy. Sorry, I know that's vague, I'm re-reading parts of OPAR and ITOE and I'll get back to you with something more concrete, hopefully.

    Hi Davy,

    I think you will find that NB writes more to the point on causality than AR. I'm sorry I don't have my references handy but you will find a page or two on causality in Branden's The Psychology of Self-Esteem. NB also briefly discusses the idea of metaphysical dualism in one of his later books (might be The Art of Living Conciously...I think MSK referenced it recently) and mentions that AR was in agreement with his thoughts in this area. Here he suggests that consciousness and matter may both emerge from a common underlying substance. While still vague, this is a step pointing the direction of their metaphysical thinking.

    I have spent a lot of time thinking on the issues of causality myself from the starting point provided by AR and NB. From my view, if "what a thing is determines what it does" then there is no need to look for an outside cause. There is no need to look for a first cause or a Prime Mover. AR and NB were suggesting a fundamental shift in how we understand the nature of causation. When we move from seeing causation as a relationship between the action of one thing and the action of another thing to a relationship between what a thing is and what it does, everything changes. It is a fundamental paradigm shift. The need for a Prime Mover comes from a different view of causality from AR and NB's. The question doesn't even come up in the story line of their worldview.


    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the feedback. After a bit of Googling I found this, which seems to more or less sum up what you're saying?

  2. The Last Superstition isn't about Catholicism or any other kind of religious dogma, it's a polemic against the philosophical worldview and ignorance of the New Atheists (Richard Dawkins et al).

    Since the author is a traditional Roman Catholic, he argues from a religious premise. Identifying the basic premise from where an individual is arguing from works quite well for finding out his/her the agenda. His polemic against Dawkins & Co is therefore also an attack against a philosophical worldview that rejects the god premise.

    I agree, neither the Bible nor Church dogma qualifies as evidence, but the book isn't about Theology; the arguments fall into the category of what's called Natural Theology, where no appeal is made to divine revelation, religious texts, or "blind" faith -

    Natural theology does not attempt to explain truths beyond reason such as the Incarnation or the Trinity, and it certainly does not attempt to base anything on claims made in the Bible.

    But since Feser is a traditional Roman Catholic, it would be quite interesting to get him to explain why he thinks those alleged "truths beyond reason" are in fact true.

    Rather, natural theology uses other sources of evidence. Natural theology appeals to empirical data and the deliverances of reason to search out, verify, justify, and organize as much truth about God as can be figured out when one limits oneself to just these sources of evidence.

    What has to be examined: does it constitute evidence? For labeling something as evidence doesn't necessarily make it so.

    I was attracted to this book for 2 reasons. I have recently read Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and thought that many of the so-called arguments in it were very bad indeed

    Dawkins has been accused of being inconsistent in his argumentation, for example by Rupert Sheldrake, who claims that Dawkins, while attacking teleology, then smuggles in teleology through the backdoor by speaking of a "selfish" gene.

    Even though I'm an atheist, I was interested to discover that there are in fact, purely rational arguments for religious views.

    It certainly pays to make oneself familiar with attempts that 'rationally' argue for a god's existence (and their rebuttals), because one can study the flaws and see why any attempt to prove a god's existence must fail. And why to claim knowledge about non-existence of a god is also fallacious. Absence of evidence (of a god) is not evidence of absence (of a god).

    As for alleged 'proofs' of a god's existence - Thomas Aquinas' 'first cause proof' for example may, at first glance, sound appealing because it seems to put a stop to the endless causality chain; but on closer scrutiny [the following is a quote from Leonard Mlodinow]: "The argument does nothing more than transfer the mystery of how a universe can come from nothing to the mystery of how God god could have come from nothing. Simply asserting that God is God because God requires no cause doesn't get us very far." (L. Mlodinow, War of the Worldviews, p. 89/90).

    True, Feser is a Catholic, and the style of his book is certainly polemical, but surely the arguments should be taken on merit? it's sounds like you're "poisoning the well" here ("he would say that God exists, because he's a Catholic"). For what it's worth, Feser used to be an atheist (although he was raised as a Catholic, he rejected it as dogmatic nonsense in his youth), what eventually turned him around were the arguments he presents in the book. Also, Feser is aiming to reveal the poverty of materialism (as espoused by Dawkins et al) as a philosophical worldview, as much as he is making the case for Theism (or at least, Deism), and that poverty and incoherence is recognized by many atheist philosophers, whose work he often cites in the book.

    As for the polemics, he's only giving as good as he gets from the New Atheists. Having read The God Delusion myself, I can certainly understand Feser's frustration (although he does give Dawkins credit for realizing that if you're going to dismiss all religious thinkers as a bunch of idiots, you have to at least make a minimal effort to actually refute them). It was only after reading TLS that I realized there was even such thing as Natural Theology. Like most atheists, I (rather arrogantly) assumed that believers MUST be deceiving themselves, and that the only conception of God was that of something similar to (1) in my above post; i.e. a magic sky daddy or something analogous to Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Dawkins et al do nothing to discourage such ignorance, in fact they positively encourage ridicule of religious belief. Dawkins took the view that, after 9/11, it was time to go on the offensive against religion. But "religion" covers a vast range of beliefs and cultures, some of which are "Wacka wacka", but you can't lump it all into the category chosen by a few religiously motivated terrorists.

    I can appreciate that some may become a bit irritated by the attacks on the New Atheists, though. Another of Feser's books - "Aquinas", covers the same ground and is written in a more "academic" style, although I haven't read it.

    "The argument does nothing more than transfer the mystery of how a universe can come from nothing to the mystery of how God god could have come from nothing. Simply asserting that God is God because God requires no cause doesn't get us very far."

    But that's not what Aquinas' argument says, and its purpose isn't to put a stop to any infinite regress. It might even mean something to ask "then what caused God?" if one of the premises in the argument was "everything has a cause", but it isn't. See here.

  3. What I deduce about the Western Gods is exactly the kind of thing that confuses me - For example the fact the identity of these Gods assumes such details as they have an existence that is everywhere at once (yet non-present and unaccounted so they are also nowhere at all). Their consciousness extends into all things and all people since it is everywhere yet unidentified and not interacted with so they are seemingly nowhere at all by any account. In fact, they don't have an identity since mathematically the concept of infinite is not a real number; it’s just a mathematical construct for equations.

    By deduction I come to a dead end since there are no attributes of an entity to review and no entity to examine for attributes to identity. As I see it, the Western God(s) contradict the Law of Identity since there is literally nothing to deduce from.

    Thus, I need information to actually hang a discussion on. Perhaps when I return from this weekend I’ll look up those links more, or any input is welcome.


    As I understand it, Omnipresence is to be understood (at least According to Aquinas) in an analogical sense.

    But how he [God] is in other things created by him may be considered from human affairs. A king, for example, is said to be in the whole kingdom by his power, although he is not everywhere present. Again, a thing is said to be by its presence in other things which are subject to its inspection; as things in a house are said to be present to anyone, who nevertheless may not be in substance in every part of the house. Lastly, a thing is said to be substantially or essentially in that place in which its substance is. [Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy]

    In The Last Superstition, Feser says that we might usefully distinguish five gradations in one's conception of God:

    1. God is literally an old man with a white beard, a kind if stern wizard-like being with very human thoughts and motivations who lives in a place called Heaven, which is like the places we know except for being very far away and impossible to get to except through magical means.

    2. God doesn't have a bodily form, and his thoughts and motivations are in many respects very different from ours. He is an immaterial object or substance which has existed forever, and (perhaps) pervades all space. Still, he is, somehow, a person like we are, only vastly more intelligent, powerful and virtuous, and in particular without our physical and moral limitations. He made the world the way a carpenter builds a house, as an independent object that would carry on even if he were to "go away" from it, but he neverthe less may decide to intervene it its operations from time to time.

    3. God is not an object or substance alongside other objects or substances in the world; rather He is pure being or existence itself, utterly distinct from the world of time, space, and things, underlying and maintaining them at every moment, and apart from whose ongoing conserving action they would be instantly annihilated. The world is not an independent object in the sense of something that might carry on if God were to "go away"; it is more like the music produced by a musician, which exists only when he plays and vanishes the moment he stops. None of the concepts we apply to things in the world, including to ourselves, apply to God in anything but an analogous sense. Hence, for example, we may say that God is "personal" insofar as He is not less than a person, the way an animal is less than a person. But God is not literally "a person" in the sense of being one individual thing among others who reasons, chooses, has moral obligations, etc. Such concepts make no sense when literally applied to God.

    4. God as somewho who has had a mystical experience of the sort Aquinas had.

    5. God as Aquinas knows Him now, i.e. as known in the beatific vision attained by the blessed after death.

    Further gradations between some of these are no doubt possible, but this will suffice for our purposes. Obviously, each grade represents an advance in sophistication over the previous one. Grade 1 represents a child's conception of God, and perhaps that of some uneducated adults. Grade 2 represents the conception of some educated religious believers, of popular apologetics, and of arguments like Paley's "Design argument". Grade 3 is the conception of classical philosophical theology: of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and other such thinkers. Grades 4 and 5 are attainable only if granted supernaturally by God.

    There's an excellent blog post by Feser which you might find useful, I still think it's better to read the book, in which he devotes a lot of pages to laying the groundwork, as it were, to a proper understanding of Aquinas' "Five Ways". There's also a link to a utube lecture which covers the same ground.

    To understand the arguments of classical natural theology -- arguments like Aquinas’s Five Ways, for example -- you need to understand the difference between empirical science on the one hand and metaphysics and the philosophy of nature on the other. And you need to understand how the attitudes that classical philosophers (Aristotelians, Neo-Platonists, Thomists and other Scholastics) take toward these three fields of study differs from the attitudes common among modern philosophers (whether early modern philosophers like Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, and Co., or the average contemporary academic philosopher, who has -- often unreflectively -- inherited his basic philosophical assumptions from the early moderns). For the arguments in question are grounded in the philosophy of nature (and in some cases in metaphysics) and not in natural science; and they are grounded in a classical rather than modern philosophical understanding of the three fields and their relationship to one another.

  4. Feser is a Catholic, but even if you're an atheist (as I am) you can't fail to be impressed by the force of the arguments.

    I'm an ex-Catholic.

    Catholicism is a dogmatic religion based on the premise of original sin. Feser is, by his own words, "a traditinal Roman Catholic". http://edwardfeser.blogspot.de/

    The first question I'd ask him would be "You really believe in original original sin? If yes, why?"

    For if the premise doesn't stand up scrutiny (which it can't in that case, give the very nature of the claim: for neither a Bible text nor a church dogma can qualify as evidence), all subsequent attempts to then 'prove' this god's existence will become even more futile (all attempts to prove any god's existence must necessarily fail because conducting proof is impossible here).

    Also, it's worth mentioning that Objectivism rejects materialism; it holds that the world and consciousness exist.

    Objectivism does not reject materialism. The contrary is the case: Objectivism holds that consciousness cannot exist apart from a material substrate. Hence Objectivism rejects all thinking that is based on the the primacy of consciousness, like e. g.

    assertions of the type which Deepak Chopra made in War of the Worldviews: "the state of procreation thinks itself into becoming the Universe". (DC, War of the Worldviews, p. 75).

    The Last Superstition isn't about Catholicism or any other kind of religious dogma, it's a polemic against the philosophical worldview and ignorance of the New Atheists (Richard Dawkins et al). But it's also a history of philosophy and an appeal for a return to Aristotelianism.

    I agree, neither the Bible nor Church dogma qualifies as evidence, but the book isn't about Theology; the arguments fall into the category of what's called Natural Theology, where no appeal is made to divine revelation, religious texts, or "blind" faith -

    Natural theology does not attempt to explain truths beyond reason such as the Incarnation or the Trinity, and it certainly does not attempt to base anything on claims made in the Bible. Rather, natural theology uses other sources of evidence. Natural theology appeals to empirical data and the deliverances of reason to search out, verify, justify, and organize as much truth about God as can be figured out when one limits oneself to just these sources of evidence.

    I was attracted to this book for 2 reasons. I have recently read Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and thought that many of the so-called arguments in it were very bad indeed. Even though I'm an atheist, I was interested to discover that there are in fact, purely rational arguments for religious views. Also, knowing that Rand was influenced by Aristotle and Aquinas, I thought it might shed some light on any parallels between O'ism and the arguments of the traditional Aristotelians and Thomists.

    Objectivism does not reject materialism.

    Well, this is where I find O'ist metaphysics ambiguous. In OPAR (page 33) Peikoff says:

    "This does not mean that Objectivists are Materialists. ... Consciousness, in this view, is either a myth or a useless byproduct of brain or other functions".

    But then on the following page, he says:

    "There is no basis for the suggestion that consciousness is separable from matter...".

  5. Davy,

    I'd like to offer a proper rebuttal but I'm lacking enough information to do so. For example, which God(s) are you suggesting are real?

    Sadly the gentlemen you quoted left that detail out, and with over 3000+ God(s) created by various cultures in earth's history it would help greatly if you could narrow down with one(s) we are discussing here. You did briefly touch upon Aristotle who left it ambiguous (An unidentified Prime Mover) or Aquinas who justified the Christian God(s) but I get the implication that you are following their methodology, not necessarily their conclusion.

    Further, if you are disputing O'ist metaphysics is it in the fact you think it mis-categorizes something? It is inadequate in what it covers? You have an issue with the Law of Identity?

    Hi Dan,

    The Prime Mover argument entails monotheism. I won't go into details, but having got to that point, you can go on to deduce other things about what such a being would have to be like, and it turns out that it would have to be like the God of traditional Western religious belief.

    Regarding O'ist Metaphysics, it's not so much that I'm disputing anything, more that I find it a bit vague. I've no problem with the law of identitiy per se, it's the relation of it to cause and effect which I find fuzzy. Sorry, I know that's vague, I'm re-reading parts of OPAR and ITOE and I'll get back to you with something more concrete, hopefully.

  6. whYNOT,

    Fair enough. But it's not really "AND" connected to the internet. The idea only works IF the cameras are connected to the internet - that's the whole point.

    I don't have a problem with the privacy issue; if you're in a shopping centre, railway station or other public space, do you you think about privacy issues then? if you want privacy, stay at home!

    Actually, on reflection, I think Michael's point about the relative unimportance of street crime is making this idea less attractive for me. Something like 80% of that kind of crime is committed by people on drugs or alcohol; I wonder whether the presence of cameras would be much of deterrent for such people. Also, it seems that cameras aren't so useful for catching criminals either - http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/may/06/ukcrime1

  7. It is called the Panopticon Society (Discipline and Punishby Michel Foucault, 1976), after a model prison in which the jailers have absolute visibility of all cells. I agree that it is potentially disturbing. I agree that it can be gotten around with simple masks and complex make-up. (The UK still has that problem: when hoodlums wear hoodies the camera cannot tell who they are. Cameras would be ubiquitous beyond your imagination to capture faces and other details. (Cameras on tall poles cannot see down into the face.) Cameras can be disabled. Hacking could re-route inputs and outputs.


    The key difference is that what Hehner is proposing doesn't involve an "agency". There is no big brother in the Orwellian sense, rather, everyone is "big brother", but only in regard to public spaces. Private spaces are still private, but the Panopticon concept seems to remove the boundary between public and private.

  8. Xray,

    I would urge you to read The Last Superstition, which lays the necessary groundwork for understanding the "proofs" for the existence of God, otherwise, they're likely to seem not very impressive at all. As Feser says in TLS -

    The conflict, then, is not over any actual results or discoveries of science, but rather over the more fundamental philosophical question of what sort of results or discoveries will be allowed to count as "scientific" in the first place. In particular, it is a war between, on the one hand, what I have called the classical philosophical vision of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas, and on the other hand, the naturalistic orthodoxy of contemporary secularism, whose premises derive from modern philosophers like the ones mentioned above [Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Locke and Kant].

    As we shall see, the radical differences between these world views with respect to what at first glance might seem fairly abstruse questions of metaphysics - the relationship between the universal and the particular, form and matter, substance and attributes, the nature of cause and effect, and so forth - in fact have dramatic repercussions for religion, morality, and even politics. It is only when the results of modern science are interpreted in naturalistic metaphysical terms that they can be made to seem incompatible with traditional religious belief, and it is only when modern naturalistic metaphysical assumptions are taken for granted, and the classical alternatives neglected, that the philosophical arguments for the traditional religious worldview (e.g. for the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the natural law conception of morality) can be made to seem problematic. By ignoring the challenge posed by the classical philosophical worldview, and distorting its key ideas and arguments on those rare occasions when it is taken account of at all, secularism maintains its illusory status as the rational default position. Prominent naturalists like the New Atheists are sure to "win" the public debate with their traditional religious critics every time, with the general public unaware that the game is being played with metaphysically loaded dice.

    Of course, you may end up rejecting the classical philosophical worldview (and the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics), but it's not easy to reject because it so much accords with common sense. Materialism (which is the dominant "religion" in the world today), has earned its position largely because it's been so fruitful for science in the last few centuries. But as a philosophical worldview, it really sucks (by that I mean it's incoherent).

    Also, it's worth mentioning that Objectivism rejects materialism; it holds that the world and consciousness exist. One of the issues I have with O'ism is its woefully inadequate metaphysics. Rand rejected Aristotle's view that "essences" are metaphysical rather than epistemological, but it's not clear to me how, or whether, this view of essences (as epistemological) impacts Aristotle's argument for the existence of God (The so-called "Prime Mover"). The notion of a prime mover depends rather on Aristotle's "act and potency" and the four causes. Rand's contention was that Aristotle's metaphysics included a "mystical" element (namely the view of essences as metaphysical), but if this has no effect on the Prime Mover argument, then why should she have rejected God?

    Anyway, you can get summaries of Aquinas' "Five Ways" here, but IMO you should read TLS first.

  9. In the UK (where I live), there are reportedly more CCTV cameras than in any other country. Opponents are concerned about privacy and civil liberties, but here's an idea by computer scientist Eric Hehner, which would appear to solve the problem. I think it's a pretty cool idea. What do you think?

    Cameras Everywhere

    Eric Hehner

    University of Toronto

    I propose that we mount cameras everywhere, on all streets, in all parks, and in all public places. The cameras should be so numerous that every part of every public area is covered by at least one camera. And I propose that the scenes viewed by all these cameras be recorded. And finally, I propose that all these scenes, both live and recorded, be available on the internet for everyone who wishes to see them. You just visit the cameraseverywhere website, tell it a location and time, and it shows you the scene. Navigation arrows move the scene to the next camera in your chosen direction. That's the whole proposal. This essay is about the benefits of, and objections to, this proposal.

    The main benefit is an enormous reduction in crime, and the improvement in catching anyone who does commit a crime. After a crime has been reported, the police can see who left the crime scene, follow their recorded movements from camera to camera to camera, and find out where they went, right up to the present moment. And equally easily, the recorded movements of the people at a crime scene can be followed backward from the crime, leading up to it. The ease with which criminals will be caught and convicted is the reason that crime will be reduced. On the other side of that same coin, fewer innocent people will be wrongly charged and convicted.

    If you want to know the current state of road repair at some location, just look. If you want to know whether the public garden is open right now, just look. People will find surprising and wonderful uses for the ability to see any public space at their fingertips.

    One objection to the proposal might be cost. But the cost of cameras has been decreasing, and it is now or very soon will be low enough, especially if cameras are bought in the very large quantities proposed. And against this cost we must balance the current cost of crime, both to the victims, and to the community that pays for police investigations and court cases. Just the monetary costs of crime that will be saved may be more than enough to pay for the cameras. And of course the nonmonetary costs of crime (lives, agony) that will be saved are incalculable.

    To some civil liberties advocates, this proposal is their worst nightmare. They would remind us of George Orwell's warning in the novel 1984: “big brother is watching”. They would remind us of the very real crimes committed by police in societies where the police have too much power and not enough accountability. And they would say that letting everyone monitor everyone's movements is just too great a loss of precious personal privacy. These are serious concerns, and I want to address them seriously.

    In recent years, police brutality has been caught and punished when, by luck, someone happens to record it on their video-camera or phone-camera, and sends the video to the news media. According to the proposal in this essay, all crimes committed in a public place will be recorded, including those by police. And for those crimes committed in a private place and not recorded, the criminal can be tracked whenever they leave the private place and enter public space, even if they are police. That's because the images are available to everyone, not just the police. The ancient question “Who polices the police?” now has an answer: everyone.

    There are many reasons someone might not want their movements tracked; some of them are good legitimate reasons, and some are not. I'll talk about three examples: cheating on your spouse, being homosexual, and buying a surprise present.

    Cheating on your spouse is not illegal (in our society), but one could argue that it is immoral, or in some other way wrong. If your objection to cameras everywhere is just that you cannot get away with immoral or bad behavior, then I have no patience and no respect for your objection. Or, one could argue that an extramarital affair is not morally wrong, but if your spouse knew, they would be hurt, and if they could prove it, you could get hurt. To that particular argument one might reply that a relationship based on secrecy is shaky, and the cameras are not the real problem. But my argument is quite different; I won't presume to judge morality or relationships. In today's world, a rich person can hire a private detective to track their spouse's movements, and determine whether they are having an affair. Cameras everywhere just gives poor people the same right that rich people now have. And who would argue that the right to track someone should be reserved for rich people?

    Homosexuality was illegal in our society fifty years ago, and it still is today in some other societies. A homosexual had an excellent reason to keep an affair secret. There is no suggestion here that cameras should invade the private spaces where affairs take place, but just tracking someone's movements through public spaces could provide weak evidence and strong suspicion of a homosexual affair. When a homosexual affair was discovered, it could cost them their friends, their jobs, their freedom, and in extreme cases, their lives. A homosexual, or anyone sympathetic to the suffering they endured, might be tempted to say “Thank goodness there weren't cameras everywhere back then!”. There has been a great change in our society over the past fifty years. Homosexuality is no longer illegal, and most people do not consider it to be immoral. How did that change happen? It happened because homosexuals came out of the closet; they went public. Secrecy was not their protector; it was their prison. Those brave people who came out first did suffer, but they encouraged others to follow, and soon a parade of gays and lesbians shouted: we are here, we are doing nothing wrong, so get used to us! In an era when we didn't know who was homosexual (because they kept it secret), heterosexuals could believe that all the good people they knew were heterosexual, and that homosexuals were somehow evil. But today we see people we know are both homosexual and good people, so the misconception dissolves. If there are any similar issues today involving activities that are moral but stigmatized (atheist? socialist?), cameras everywhere can only hasten their acceptance.

    Suppose you are going to buy a surprise present for someone. It's not a crime, and you are not ashamed of it, but you still don't want them to know where you are going. How do you keep it a secret if there are cameras everywhere? Fortunately, most people will not spend much of their time watching the scene under the public cameras; unless you are looking for something specific, it will be very boring. So you're probably ok. But they could track you if they want to, and spoil the surprise. If that's the price for a substantial reduction in crime, it's well worth it.

    In this proposal, I have divided our world into public space and private space. I advocate putting cameras in all public spaces where anyone is entitled to be and see with their own eyes; I do not suggest putting cameras in private spaces and showing private scenes to people who are not entitled to see them. But the division between public and private is not always clear: there are spaces whose status is intermediate between public and private. For example, there are buildings whose lobby and hallways are shared among the occupants of the building, but not among the general public. It is quite common for such buildings to have cameras in these spaces, and to make the images available on a television channel just to the occupants of the building. So the general principle is this: the images from the cameras should be made available to all and only those people who are entitled to be there and to see in person what the camera sees. I do not advocate any invasion of privacy.

    Google Earth makes satellite images available to everyone on the internet. It therefore provides some of the same capability as cameras everywhere. At present, the resolution of Google Earth images is not quite good enough to recognize an individual. And the images show only the tops of people's heads, which is not the most advantageous angle. And there are public spaces that are covered over, and not seen by a satellite. And there are uncovered private spaces invaded by satellite images. Google Maps will show you street scenes, but not current scenes, and no-one is identifiable. For these reasons, Google Earth and Google Maps do not quite do what cameras everywhere can do.

    In some cities, especially in England, cameras already cover an area of the city center. Initially there was a lot of opposition from civil liberties groups and privacy advocates. But after a couple of years experience, the crime rate dropped so much that all skeptics were convinced. The people of those cities do not want to go back to the days before their cameras. But the images from these cameras are available only to the police, not to the general public. Without public access, the problem of crime by police is not solved, and there are no other benefits.

    There is already an amazing amount of information instantly accessible to everyone on the internet. Information can be used for good or ill. In most people's opinion, the good uses that flow from easy access to so much information outweigh the bad uses by a lot; we would never vote to abolish the internet. The proposal in this essay is just to use the internet to provide everyone with easy access to certain information, the scene in all public places, that they already have a right to see. I cannot guess what all the uses will be. I guess that some uses will be good and some bad. And I expect that the good will greatly outweigh the bad.

  10. That was part of a struggle against the Church, which had a political as well as religious agenda.

    Science and Religion are very different. Science is about the world as it actually is and Religion is about God Knows What. If you want to call that tension and opposition a war, then do so. If it is a war, it is the war between Faith and Reason.

    Medieval Christendom has had a bad press for a long time, it's a myth that there was no science in the middle ages worth mentioning and that the church held back whatever advances were made. The idea that there is an inevitable conflict between faith and reason owes much to the work of 19th propagandists Thomas Huxley and John William Draper. Draper wrote the hugely influential History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, which cemented the conflict hypothesis in the public imagination (see Conflict Thesis).

    The denigration of the Middle Ages began as long ago as the 16th Century, when humanists (who were the intellectual trendsetters of the time), started to champion classical Greek and Roman literature. They cast aside medieval scholarship on the grounds that it was convuluted and written in "barbaric" Latin. The result was that people stopped reading and studying it. The cudgels were subsequently taken up by the philosophers Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke. These Protestant writers (and others later, such as Voltaire) were determined not to give any credit to Catholics, it suited them to maintain that nothing of value had been taught in the universities before the reformation.

    Futhermore, and contrary to popular belief, the Church never supported the idea that the earth is flat, never banned human dissection, never banned zero, and certainly never burnt anyone at the stake for scientific ideas. True, it was decided that philosophical speculation should not impinge on theology, and there were certain limits beyond which these speculations should not go, but most of the stories about how the Church held back science are myths that arose after the middle ages had ended.

    Actually, there was no "struggle against the church". The main scientific institution of the Middle Ages was the university, and although these were mainly intended to educate the higher clergy, they also provided a home for natural philosophers. Many theologians also wrote important works on natural philosophy and they considered the subject an essential part of their training. The starting point for all natural philosophy at that time was that nature had been created by God. This made it a legitimate area of study because through nature, man could learn about his creator. Medieval scholars thought that nature followed the rules that God had ordained for it, and because God was consistent and not capricious, these natural laws were constant and worth scrutinising. However, these scholars rejected Aristotle's contention that the laws of nature were bound by necessity - God was not constrained by what Aristotle thought, therefore the only way to find out what God had decided on was by experience and observation.

    This motivation and justification of the medievals was carried over almost unchanged by the pioneers of modern science. Newton explicitly stated that he was investigating God's creation, which was a religious duty because nature reflects the creativity of its maker.

    Before reading Feser's book, I pretty much had the same idea as you; I thought that there were no rational grounds for believing - it was a matter of blind faith (based on wishful thinking, perhaps). I discovered that there are in fact, good reasons for believing in a God (not necessarily the Christian God, but some kind of creator), and the premises of these arguments invoke no supernatural entities and no revelation is required, just a few almost self-evident propositions. I'm not about to convert, but I do see how rational, intelligent people could be convinced.

    The usual explanation you hear from atheists is that believers are deluding themselves; it's comforting and consoling to believe in a God who looks after us, an afterlife etc. The trouble is, an explanation isn't an argument, and a personal motive isn't a logical reason (the Genetic fallacy). But as Feser points out, atheists have their motives too:

    It is true that a fear of death, a craving for cosmic justice, and a desire to see our lives as meaningful can lead us to want to believe that we have immortal souls specially created by a God who will reward us or punish us for our deeds in this life. But it is no less true that a desire to be free of traditional moral standards, and fear of certain (real or imagined) political and social consequences of the truth of religious belief, can also lead us to want to believe that we are just clever animals with no purpose to our lives other than the purposes we choose to give them, and that there is no cosmic judge who will punish us for disobeying an objective moral law. Atheism, like religion, can often rest more on a will to believe than on dispassionate rational arguments. Indeed, as the philosopher C.F.J.Martin has pointed out, the element of divine punishment - traditionally understood in the monotheistic religions as a sentence of eternal damnation in Hell - shows that atheism is hardly less plausibly motivated by wishful thinking than theism is. For while it is hard to understand why someone would want to believe that he is in danger of everlasting hellfire, it is not at all hard to see why one would desperately not want to believe this.

  11. The general trend in the physical sciences is to purge themselves of teleology.

    And that's their PURPOSE? :laugh:

    Bob, this trend is absurd and self-refuting. I know you won't have any truck with it (word salad!), but I highly recommend reading Ed Feser's "The Last Superstition"

    The central contention of the "New Atheism" of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens is that there has for several centuries been a war between science and religion, that religion has been steadily losing that war, and that at this point in human history a completely secular scientific account of the world has been worked out in such thorough and convincing detail that there is no longer any reason why a rational and educated person should find the claims of any religion the least bit worthy of attention.

    But as Edward Feser argues in The Last Superstition, in fact there is not, and never has been, any war between science and religion at all. There has instead been a conflict between two entirely philosophical conceptions of the natural order: on the one hand, the classical "teleological" vision of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas, on which purpose or goal-directedness is as inherent a feature of the physical world as mass or electric charge; and the modern "mechanical" vision of Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, and Hume, according to which the physical world is comprised of nothing more than purposeless, meaningless particles in motion. The modern "mechanical" picture has never been established by science, and cannot be, for it is not a scientific theory in the first place but merely a philosophical interpretation of science.

    Not only is this modern philosophical picture rationally unfounded, it is demonstrably false. For the "mechanical" conception of the natural world, when worked out consistently, absurdly entails that rationality, and indeed the human mind itself, are illusory. The so-called "scientific worldview" championed by the New Atheists thus inevitably undermines its own rational foundations; and into the bargain it undermines the foundations of any possible morality as well.

    Feser is a Catholic, but even if you're an atheist (as I am) you can't fail to be impressed by the force of the arguments. Of all philosophers, Rand held only Aristotle and Aquinas in high regard, so her admirers should find the account of A-T metaphysics highly readable. A fascinating read IMO.

  12. What gets to me is the certainty people have when expounding on this--and the certainty with which they ridicule people with different speculations.

    Think about this. Is there something around us we know and can observe that works like the way they are saying the universe works?

    First you have a start from a bang of some sort. Before there was nothing unique, but suddenly there is something unique. Matter starts expanding from it and generating form after form. And it goes on to gigantic proportions in relation to the initial unique something. And keeps expanding outwards.

    Terence McKenna said: "Give us one free miracle and we'll explain everything else" ;-)

    Regarding dark matter and energy, I tend to agree. Seems like a fudge to make the equations balance.

  13. I was talking with some guys at my local astronomical society the other day, and the general consensus seemed to be that black holes, dark matter and energy and other hypothetical entitities are just fudges conjured up to fill gaps in the mathematical models. Modern cosmology doesn't do science the way it should be done; rather, it seems that the cosmologists have given themselves the licence to invent whatever mathematical abstractions they like in order the save the theory whenever the observations don't fit.

    In this book, electrical engineer Don Scott sets out the case for an "electric sky":

    The book contains sensible science for the experts written for the public, and represents the first substantial public exposition of the latest developments in the Electric Universe/Plasma Cosmology that is challenging the current “gravity only” system of thinking. It further undermines the “scientistic” cosmological mythology of the “big bang” and the “expanding” universe, while replacing it with confirmed electrical engineering and high energy plasma explanations.

  14. By the way, here is a "dirty little secret". Mathematicians are closet Platonists. No mathematician would devote ten years of his life to something that he did not consider real. No matter what a serious mathematician says, he does not consider the exercise of his craft merely formalized play with symbols. There is something more substantial there. If you accuse a mathematician of being a Platonist, unless he is Kurt Goedel, he will deny it but he really is a Platonist of some sort.

    Thank you for the reference. It was a pleasure to read.

    Ba'al Chatzaf

    I agree with you about mathematicians being closet Platonists, the 'pure' ones anyway. Surely you have to be a Platonist to believe that infinite sets have any meaning in the real world?

    Alder has written a few popular articles for 'Philosophy Now', you'll probably enjoy the others which you can find on his home page (scroll down to 'Public Service Work').

    Isn't the internet wonderful? there's some really cool stuff out there.

  15. There's a nice article here on why scientists don't like philosophy, but do it anyway. He takes the view that most philosophers are essentially Platonists.

    Not even Newton was a complete Newtonian, and it may be doubted if life generally offers the luxury of not having an opinion on anything that cannot be reduced to predicate calculus plus certified observation statements. While the Newtonian insistence on ensuring that any statement is testable by observation (or has logical consequences which are so testable) undoubtedly cuts out the crap, it also seems to cut out almost everything else as well. Newton’s Laser Sword should therefore be used very cautiously. On the other hand, when used appropriately, it transforms philosophy into something where problems can be solved, and definite and often surprising conclusions drawn. A Platonist who purports, for example, to deduce from principles which he has wrested from a universe of ideals by pure thought that euthanasia or abortion is always wrong, is doing something quite different.

  16. This thread seems to have wandered off-topic, but regarding the split in the movement, I haven't read or thought much about it, but it seems to me that it's a mistake to discredit someone's ideas merely because they're not able to live up to them at all times. Is hypocrisy irrational? you may be deceiving others, but not necessarily denying that A is A (ie; deceiving yourself). And it's a logical fallacy (appeal to hypocrisy) to discredit the opponent's position by asserting his/her failure to act consistently in accordance with that position, which I've often seen in attacks against Rand.

    BTW michael, thanks for the compliment, I hope to be able to post more often in the coming months, so I guess we'll find out how much more we have in common.

  17. Well, that's just nit-picking as far as I'm concerned:

    Newton was wrong about time and space. Time is not absolute and space is not euclidean. That is not a nit. Einstein's view of space-time is totally in line with electrodynamics which is Lorentz Invariant. Without Einstein's more correct view and space and time quantum electrodynamics could not have been formulated. Einstein produced a revolution, not a picked nit.

    Keep that in mind the next time you use a GPS device. Or a computer.

    Ba'al Chatzaf

    Oh boy, whatever...

    Einstein didn't work in a vacuum, his ideas were built on those of Newton and others such as Maxwell, whose theories were in turn built on those who came before them. The whole discussion of who was 'right' and 'wrong' is pointless and absurd, and quite insulting to these great men.

  18. As Bob Kolker has well explained, there isn't a reduction of the first-named theories to the second. For instance, in the case of Einstein's theory of gravitation versus Newton's, although the mathematical results are the same within narrow boundary conditions, the theories can't both be right. Einstein's theory disagrees with Newton's in major ways. It isn't an extension of Newton's.

    Well, that's just nit-picking as far as I'm concerned:

    As well as obeying local energy-momentum conservation, the EFE reduce to Newton's law of gravitation where the gravitational field is weak and velocities are much less than the speed of light.[3]


    Insofar as the equations ARE the theory (which, strangely enough, is what Ba'al was maintaining in a recent related thread, but now he seems to have changed his mind. ;-) ), then one theory does indeed reduce to the other.

    Why can't they both be right? one theory is valid given certain assumptions, the other isn't.

    If you think of scientific theories as mathematical models, then the question arises as to the limitations of the scope of the model - what situations is the model applicable to?

    Newton made his measurements without advanced equipment, so he couldn't measure properties of particles travelling at speeds close to the speed of light. Likewise, he did not measure the movements of molecules and other small particles, but macro particles only. It's hardly surprising, then, that his model does not extrapolate well into these domains, even though it's quite sufficient for ordinary life physics.

    But there's no law that says a complex model can't incorporate more than one theory. The theories aren't contradictory, because they apply to different domains.

  19. Michael, as a prelude to Yudkowsky's article, a rather more accessible and 'top down' intro is given by atheist blogger Richard Carrier (no toothpicks required!) plus, you don't even have to read much, just watch and listen:


    Lesswrong is a great site, I also visit it periodically. There is some really hard stuff to get your head around though.

    Re Newton: yes, and the fascinating thing is that just as the equations of relativity 'collapse' to Newton's laws as speeds reduce to those well below the speed of light, so do the equations of QM reduce to the those which govern our familiar 'macroscopic' world as the size of objects increase beyond the atomic level. The process of science (ideally) is one of greater inclusion.

    This doesn't seem so far from Objectivist Epistemology, as I understand it. So a newborn baby may distinguish between moving objects and stationary objects (e.g. furniture vs living things), and in time may further refine the classification of moving objects into 'human beings' and 'dogs', but this in no way implies that the earlier conception was wrong.

  20. Michael,

    Popper's ideas on science are a bit old-hat these days. Here's an extract from an article on Bayes' theorem which explains why aspects of his theory are incorrect.

    The Bayesian revolution in the sciences is fueled, not only by more and more cognitive scientists suddenly noticing that mental phenomena have Bayesian structure in them; not only by scientists in every field learning to judge their statistical methods by comparison with the Bayesian method; but also by the idea that science itself is a special case of Bayes' Theorem; experimental evidence is Bayesian evidence. The Bayesian revolutionaries hold that when you perform an experiment and get evidence that "confirms" or "disconfirms" your theory, this confirmation and disconfirmation is governed by the Bayesian rules. For example, you have to take into account, not only whether your theory predicts the phenomenon, but whether other possible explanations also predict the phenomenon. Previously, the most popular philosophy of science was probably Karl Popper's falsificationism - this is the old philosophy that the Bayesian revolution is currently dethroning. Karl Popper's idea that theories can be definitely falsified, but never definitely confirmed, is yet another special case of the Bayesian rules; if p(X|A) ~ 1 - if the theory makes a definite prediction - then observing ~X very strongly falsifies A. On the other hand, if p(X|A) ~ 1, and we observe X, this doesn't definitely confirm the theory; there might be some other condition B such that p(X|B) ~ 1, in which case observing X doesn't favor A over B. For observing X to definitely confirm A, we would have to know, not thatp(X|A) ~ 1, but that p(X|~A) ~ 0, which is something that we can't know because we can't range over all possible alternative explanations. For example, when Einstein's theory of General Relativity toppled Newton's incredibly well-confirmed theory of gravity, it turned out that all of Newton's predictions were just a special case of Einstein's predictions.

    You can even formalize Popper's philosophy mathematically. The likelihood ratio for X, p(X|A)/p(X|~A), determines how much observing X slides the probability for A; the likelihood ratio is what says how strong X is as evidence. Well, in your theory A, you can predict X with probability 1, if you like; but you can't control the denominator of the likelihood ratio, p(X|~A) - there will always be some alternative theories that also predict X, and while we go with the simplest theory that fits the current evidence, you may someday encounter some evidence that an alternative theory predicts but your theory does not. That's the hidden gotcha that toppled Newton's theory of gravity. So there's a limit on how much mileage you can get from successful predictions; there's a limit on how high the likelihood ratio goes forconfirmatory evidence.

    On the other hand, if you encounter some piece of evidence Y that is definitely not predicted by your theory, this is enormously strong evidence against your theory. Ifp(Y|A) is infinitesimal, then the likelihood ratio will also be infinitesimal. For example, if p(Y|A) is 0.0001%, and p(Y|~A) is 1%, then the likelihood ratiop(Y|A)/p(Y|~A) will be 1:10000. -40 decibels of evidence! Or flipping the likelihood ratio, if p(Y|A) is very small, then p(Y|~A)/p(Y|A) will be very large,meaning that observing Y greatly favors ~A over A. Falsification is much stronger than confirmation. This is a consequence of the earlier point that very strong evidence is not the product of a very high probability that A leads to X, but the product of a very low probability that not-A could have led to X. This is the precise Bayesian rule that underlies the heuristic value of Popper's falsificationism.

    Similarly, Popper's dictum that an idea must be falsifiable can be interpreted as a manifestation of the Bayesian conservation-of-probability rule; if a result X is positive evidence for the theory, then the result ~X would have disconfirmed the theory to some extent. If you try to interpret both X and ~X as "confirming" the theory, the Bayesian rules say this is impossible! To increase the probability of a theory you must expose it to tests that can potentially decrease its probability; this is not just a rule for detecting would-be cheaters in the social process of science, but a consequence of Bayesian probability theory. On the other hand, Popper's idea that there isonly falsification and no such thing as confirmation turns out to be incorrect. Bayes' Theorem shows that falsification is very strong evidence compared to confirmation, but falsification is still probabilistic in nature; it is not governed by fundamentally different rules from confirmation, as Popper argued.

    So we find that many phenomena in the cognitive sciences, plus the statistical methods used by scientists, plus the scientific method itself, are all turning out to be special cases of Bayes' Theorem. Hence the Bayesian revolution.

    If you're feeling strong, you might like to read the whole article. It isn't very technical, but it is long and you need to pay close attention and participate if you want to understand the ideas. You may hate equations, but if you only ever learn one in your life, in my opinion this should be it.

  21. It's absurd to blame Aristotle for holding back the progress of science; before him, there was no formal logic.

    Quote from Wiki:

    Since he was perhaps the philosopher most respected by European thinkers during and after the Renaissance, these thinkers often took Aristotle's erroneous positions as given, which held back science in this epoch.[22] However, Aristotle's scientific shortcomings should not mislead one into forgetting his great advances in the many scientific fields. For instance, he founded logic as a formal science and created foundations to biology that were not superseded for two millennia. Moreover, he introduced the fundamental notion that nature is composed of things that change and that studying such changes can provide useful knowledge of underlying constants.

    You might as well blame Newton (since he was an alchemist), for holding back the progress of Chemistry. In any case, you can't blame Aristotle, but those who took his positions as given.

  22. There's no scientific evidence for pure altruism, but plenty for cooperation with an expectation of reciprocity. For pure altruism you need religion. As Rand said:

    Now there is one word—a single word—which can blast the morality of altruism out of existence and which it cannot withstand—the word: “Why?” Why must man live for the sake of others? Why must he be a sacrificial animal? Why is that the good? There is no earthly reason for it—and, ladies and gentlemen, in the whole history of philosophy no earthly reason has ever been given.

    It is only mysticism that can permit moralists to get away with it. It was mysticism, the unearthly, the supernatural, the irrational that has always been called upon to justify it—or, to be exact, to escape the necessity of justification. One does not justify the irrational, one just takes it on faith. What most moralists—and few of their victims—realize is that reason and altruism are incompatible.

    I don't see the big issue with altruism. A lot of people pay lip-service to it, but how many really live it? And you should examine carefully the motives of those who advocate it.

  23. The problem I have is with the 'human nature' part of this. Good or bad doesn't matter for this. What "is" matters. It is in our nature to be altruistic, clearly. But now somehow only the selfish motives become the good. That's a leap I cannot take.

    <speculation> Rand had to take this leap and ignore reality, because if she didn't, her politics fail. Ultimately I think this was most important to her, and I don't like that.</speculation>


    I'm not so sure there is any biological altruism, if 'altruism' means the opposite of selfishness. It's just that evolution works in a statistical sense, which doesn't say anything about an individual case.

    Paul Lutus calls it the 'Symmetry Principle' -

    Because someone will surely argue that the case of a person killed while trying to save a stranger contradicts an expectation of reciprocity, I will reply that symmetry, like natural selection, works only in a broad statistical sense, even as it fails in many individual cases. Because of the peculiar and counterintuitive mathematics of natural selection, a tiny fitness advantage can in time become a trait shared by an entire species.


    Contrary to first impressions, symmetry doesn't favor a particular political outlook. Initially it seems to support the outlook of liberals, who would identify coöperation in nature as vindication for their views. But to an equal degree it favors a conservative political outlook, because symmetry, like natural selection, is a bottom-up game plan — it works at the lowest imaginable level (even of single-celled creatures) and doesn't require any sophisticated cognitive machinery, higher reasoning powers or centralized authority. Indeed, it can be argued that modern government (like modern religion) contradicts the Symmetry Principle by not conferring any advantage to the flock.

  24. Absolutely, Michael. I should have made it clear that the title of the thread was the title of the article I linked to, and that Lutus prefaces it with:

    Because this article is directed toward educated nonspecialist readers considering psychological treatment, students of psychology are cautioned that terms such as "psychology," "clinical psychology" and "psychiatry" are used interchangeably, on the ground that they rely on the field of human psychology for validation, in the same way that astronomy and particle physics, though very different, rely on physics for validation.

    The field of Psychology is a large one with many subfields, and I didn't mean to tar it all with the same brush.

    Also, although there are undoubtedly snake-oil salesman in clinical psychology, the field seems to be inherently prone to systemic bias.

    In 1959 statistician Theodore Sterling examined the results of psychological studies and discovered that 97% of them supported their initial hypotheses, implying a possible publication bias.[77][78][79] Similarly Fanelli (2010)[80] found out that 91.5% of psychiatry/psychology studies confirmed the effects they were looking for, which was around five times more often than in space- or geosciences. Fanelli argues that this is because of researchers in "softer" sciences have fewer constraints to their conscious and unconscious biases. - Wikipedia

    You'll read more about biases in Kahneman's book. It's gripping stuff.