The Vault of Values

Merry Christmas everyone!

We have nice discussion with Matt M and Richard in the comments of the post Why Should We Care?

It is really simple issue, so let me repeat it…

Given that I have atheistic/naturalistic outlook there doesn’t seem any reason why I should prefer pleasure over pain, that I should value rational agency, value my or others’ life goals, value helping people over killing them, etc…

Richard’s Response:
Richard answered that people in fact do have certain values and interests. So given that I have ones, acting according to those is rational.

But we know that people can have all kind of values and interests. And acting rationally in relation to those values and interests might make them fly airplanes into buildings, get countries into wars, take weapon and go into rampage at school, and so on. So, pointing to me, a random atheist, with random values and interests, that I in fact have some interests and values and that it is rational for me to act according to those, isn’t much of a help. Especially if one wants to argue that people shouldn’t fly airplanes into buildings, or kill other people.

On that Richard says that we should take in account interests of other people. But that kind of answer again negates the importance of our already having some values and interests. As this is one value (of caring of other people’s interests) that people might not happen to have. So, we haven’t move in relation to the original question.

Matt’s Response:
Matt, on another side agrees that the atheism/naturalism can’t provide reasons for us caring about those things. Either you have those in you, or not. They aren’t rationally defensible. Matt, however points that this problem is not related merely to atheism, but to any other stance towards the universe. Even if there is Flying Spaghetti Monster that created us, for example, with the purpose of creating pasta, it doesn’t follow from the very act of creation with a purpose that there is a reason that we should in fact do that.

But, I think for people that are not limited to naturalism, there are still some options available. Some time ago, I gave this short argument for objectivity of morality:
1. World is a rational place. (It makes sense)
2. What is rational can be in principle understood.
3. From 1 and 2 => the world can in principle be understood.
4.Moral judgment of a rational agent in specific situation depends on agent’s understanding of the world (including the understanding of the situation) 
5. From 4 and 3 => because the world in principle can be understood, in principle there is an ideal moral judgment (or… there
is objectively right way to act, connected to the full understanding of the world)

Now, given the naturalistic/atheistic premise, the full understanding of the world of an ideal rational agent (5) can’t fully determine its moral judgment,  as it appears that some basic values are required for the moral judgment which values don’t come from the understanding of the world, but from things like natural selection. That is what me and Matt agree on, and what Richard seems to disagree on.
The issue is however if (5) is problematic in any case. But it seems to me, that a theist can hope for (5), because he thinks that the world has different ground. The ground in the naturalistic case is inanimate matter without any inherent values, in which the sentient beings appear as mere contingency. But theism can hope that the world has some identity of rationality and love within its ground. In such case it does seem that that comprehending, or getting in “contact” (so to say) with this kind of ground will be enough to give ground to moral values too, without any contingency.

Anyway, thanks for the comments on that post, and helping me to get better view on those things.

Let It Snow

In the book Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, William James gives this rough distinction of types of philosophers:

Rationalistic (going by ‘principles’),








Empiricist (going by ‘facts’),








Further in the text James says

The tough think of the tender as sentimentalists and soft-heads. The tender feel the tough to be unrefined, callous, or brutal. Their mutual reaction is very much like that that takes place when Bostonian tourists mingle with a population like that of Cripple Creek. Each type believes the other to be inferior to itself; but disdain in the one case is mingled with amusement, in the other it has a dash of fear.

I guess those who have read some parts of this blog, know what group I fall into. Most of the time, I carefully hold my ‘tender-mindedness’ under control, but it is that time of the year that probably even the most ‘tough-minded’ will give some space to “romantic spontaneity”. And for me, it is through the top!
Dean Martin:

Diana Krall:

Christina Aguilera:

Frank Sinatra:

Why Should We Care?

Richard at Philosophy Et Cetera has a post here, were he cites The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan saying:

Any kind of fundamentalism, be it Biblical, atheistic or Islamic, is dangerous.

Sarcastically Richard notes that “Islamic fundamentalists fly planes into buildings. Christian fundamentalists blow up abortion clinics. But most frightening of all is the atheistic variant:”, and there he quotes BBC, “He said it led to situations such as councils calling Christmas “Winterval”, schools refusing to put on nativity plays and crosses removed from chapels.”

While I agree with Richard that those actions of the “fundamental atheists” don’t sound dangerous, I wonder why is flying planes into buildings a big deal also? Or blowing abortion clinics? We are merely very specific configurations of molecules – why should we care if a particular configuration ‘disconfigurate’ today, tomorrow, or after 50 years?

Non-Naturalistic Evolution

What follows is a pretty outlandish metaphysical speculation, so if outlandish metaphysical speculations get on your nerves you better stop reading now :).

Reality and its aspects

Say that we have a normal three-dimensional (3D) object. If we have a projection of the 3D form of this object on certain 2D plane, we can say that this projection is an aspect of the 3D object. We can distinguish in this relation the real thing, from its particular aspect.

The aspect will depend on two things. Firstly it will depend on the real thing, and secondly it will depend on the nature of the projection. Because it depends on the thing itself, the aspect will correlate with it.

To see the physical world as an aspect means to think of it as standing in relation to the real world analogous to the relation of the 2d projection to the 3d object.

Here ia an example… Say, we have an event where we see a rabbit. If we take this situation, and explore its physical aspect, what we will find is light bouncing off of the rabbits fur, the rabbits fur having some reflectance characteristics, some of the light being focused by the lens of the eye on the retina, there affecting the cone and rode cells, which send further signals to the cerebral cortex, and so on…

The idea is then that what we are describing here is merely an aspect of the situation, and it leaves out some things which are present in the situation and of which we are aware. Here we might include things like the actual seeing (as intentional perceptual act) or say… the colors (which is usually called ‘qualia’, but I don’t think that this is needed, as actually people have in history, and outside of philosophy use ‘color’ to refer to those things which are now called ‘qualia’). Of course, given that one accepts that the physical is merely an aspect, there is no principle reason to think that there are yet other things which are a) neither in the physical aspect, but also b) of which we are not aware the way we are aware of seeing and colors.

The nature of the physical aspect

The aspects of things aren’t self-subsistent. Things aren’t sum of their aspects. Aspects can be picked-out by us because we can attend to them. Attending is abstracting – separating the aspect in thought.

What we attend in the case of the physical, are those aspects of the world that are susceptible to measurement. The measurement is when we can form a ratio between two magnitudes, and we have two aspects that we know how to directly measure – the distance in space, and the amount of time. Further we can measure the basic change – that of movement, by measuring those two aspects of the movement (space traversed and the time it took), and then characterizing the movement by the ratio of those two (v=s/t).

Because of the nature of the measurement, there are invariances which will appear in the physical aspect. For example, the measurements in general are invariant to the ‘point of origin’. If you measure how much time something takes, by making a ratio to some recurrent event, by counting how many times this second event happens while the first measured event happens, it doesn’t matter if you start counting from zero, or you start counting from e.g. 1544. So, the measurement of amount of time will show invariance vs the “translation in time”.

Similar thing will be there for the measurement of length. It doesn’t matter which mark of the ruler you make ‘coincide’ with the measured length, it can be 0 or 1544. The ratios are invariant to translations. Also there are other invariances, like invariance vs. directions, as measurements abstract from directions in space, so you will have invariance vs. rotation in space.  So, from the very nature of our way of approaching one particular aspect (and approaching an aspect is setting some limits), the aspects ending up having some nature – for example related to those invariances we have the so called ‘laws of conversation’ (of momentum, energy, etc..)

There are also other things in the nature of this aspect, that we might identify with the way we approach it. For example, we quantify movement through measuring two of its aspects – the space traversed, and the amount of time it took. Anyway, it is possible that such things as ‘special relativity’ are actually the necessary metaphysical relations between some measurables, which relations are there because of the nature of those measurements. This is something that I find very believable. (You can find dozen of attempts, published or not, to come to the special relativity ‘a priori’ on the net. Here is one which seems promising.).

How far can we go here? If we acknowledge possibility that some of the physical laws are metaphysically necessary (or if you want – that they follow a priori from how the aspect is defined), maybe we can entertain the possibility that all of the “physical laws” are such. If the special relativity is such, why not general relativity? Why not Schroedinger equation? And why not even what kind of fundamental particles there can be?

The complexity of the physical aspect

So, following this metaphysical speculation, what do we have now? We have an aspect which by its nature restricts what kind of projections we can see in that aspect. It might restrict it in the way, that when we put attention on those aspects, the projection will always appear as developing under the physical laws, and even that it consist of some kind of particles.
What we get here might be understood through a metaphor (which might not be quite suitable, but let me try). It would be like if we are asked to create a copy of something, just that we are given a set of parts, and set of rules of how those parts work with each other. Now, imagine that the projection IS such an engineer, which given some thing, it produces that same thing using the parts available. Now here is this principle:

Depending on the thing that we are asked to re-create, and given the parts and rules, the implementation might be very simple or very complex to do. And this complexity might not correlate with the complexity of the original thing. So to say, it might be that A will have more complex implementation than some B given the parts and rules, but that original A0 is in fact simpler than B0 given that reality is not limited to those parts and rules.

This principle is interesting, because it doesn’t really matter how simple the original thing is. It will depend a lot on the nature of the available cogs and wheels how complex the implementation will be. (Further, of course there is the possibility that things which are similar, will have to be implemented in quite a different ways. But I think that this is not important here).
Using this principle now when thinking about the relation of the real thing and its physical aspect, we can say that actually a pretty ‘simple’ real thing, might appear as complex in the physical aspect, and that more complexity in physical aspect might not in fact correlate with more complexity of the thing.

Evolution and its physical aspect

Now we come to the point where we can further speculate about evolution freed from the limits of the physical rules.

Say that we accept that in the case where we are seeing something, there are things of which we are aware of, but which are not present in the physical aspect. But why would be inclined to think that there is missing from the physical aspect when talking about phenomenon of evolution?

The simple argument would be that the evolution needs to be an explanation of there appearing beings which have those things which are not there in the physical aspect. So to say, we can see, and if this ‘we can see’ is not something in the physical aspect, but if it is product of evolution, than the phenomenon of evolution plausible will be a phenomenon not limited to the physical aspect also.

What this means is that the evolution can be seen as a real phenomenon which goes beyond the physical aspect of the evolution, and further it means that whatever principles we theorize as being “behind” the evolutionary developments, they will have to work not merely on the level of the physical aspect.
Now, the principle of survival of the fittest as a principle is not limited to the physical aspect. We can say for example, that a being that can see (and here we are using “seeing” to refer to this phenomenon of seeing we are aware) will have more chances of the survival. However besides this principle, there is the principle of random mutations, and those, when we are limited to the physical aspects are related to the random mutations of the DNA, plus the combination of the DNA information in the cases of sexual animals.

This belongs, it seems to me to the physical aspect. We are free to speculate here, what kind of processes actually are mapped/projected into this physical aspect? The questions appear like – are those random, isn’t there maybe some other thing of which we are not aware (not just in the physical aspect, but in general also) which plays role here? What is it that actually changes, when we in the physical aspect see a random mutation?, and so on…

Further into the uncharted territory

What kind of speculation-space this opens for views on evolution?

As one, given what was said in the previous part of this post, the change towards greater complexity in the physical aspect, for which we ‘give credit’ to evolution, doesn’t have to correlate with actual change towards greater complexity in reality! It might be even the opposite.

Instead of thinking of the species gaining abilities and features from the growing complexity of their make-up, we can speculate that what is actually happening is a case of removing limits. Further we speculate that such things as consciousness and intentionality are what is there present in the reality not as constructions, but as something which is there on very basic level. (A cog which is not present in the physical aspect, but which is present in the reality, so to say).

We can speculate then, that what we are seeing in evolution, is a movement from the complex limitations on this underlying nature (and which in the physical aspect is seen as simple species) towards removal of those limitations and species which come, so to say, closer to this underlying nature. We get to species that can perceive, think, make choices, be ethical and so on, getting closer to what we can call understanding of the reality. However this removal of limits, because of the nature of the physical aspect will appear in it as complex species.

Anyway, this thing got pretty long, so I better stop. Congratulations to anybody which made it to the end of this post! You gain 4 Strength, 5 Magicalness, and 10 Moxie.

What Do We Literally See?

What do you think we can literally see? I’m inclined to say that we literally see those things:

2.Multitude of objects
3.Unfolding events
4.Objects affecting other objects (like a thing hitting another thing)
5.Colors of the objects, shapes of the objects, etc…
6.Other people looking at things
7.People doing things… performing acts like opening a door, opening a box
8.A good move in the chess game
9.A possibility to do something, like possibility to lift the cup, or possibility to open the door
10.People being sad, happy, etc…

It is really more or less random list based on some thoughts I have. I intend to argue for this in more details in some following post.

Thinking Without Language

On Splintered Mind, Eric Schwitzgebel has a very interesting post about the relation between rationality or consciousness and language. He cites an example given in a paper by Andre Roch Lecours and Yves Joanette. It is very interesting story, please go to Eric’s place and read it first if you haven’t already.

Eric is very careful not to read too much from the “single anecdote transmitted second-hand”, but to me the conclusion from the anecdote seems pretty straightforward, and sensible.

First, wouldn’t it be hard to give a new name to a phenomenon, if we can’t think about the phenomenon without actually having words for it?

Think of the IQ tests (if you have solved one), and some of those problems with figures. When one thinks of which figure doesn’t fit, or something like that, what we do are things like rotating the figure in our minds (excuse my French), or imagining the mirror figure, or something like that. That is surely thinking and conscious act, and it doesn’t seem that it is done in language.

Take also playing of chess. A good chess player, might simply see that some move is wrong, without actually being able to explain or put into words why the move is wrong. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t aware that the move is wrong, he is fully conscious that the move is wrong, just it shows that his thinking is not done on linguistic level. Even simple tracking in the mind of the moves which are on the table doesn’t have to be correlated with words. I can be aware of the possibility of moves as such, without having words for them.

But why those “voices in our heads” then? What is their function, if we don’t think in terms of language?

Here is my thought on this…

The language is practice in the community, it is so very present that we are probably unaware just how much of our practices are related to language. Every informing, asking, expressing opinion, promising, threating, joking, and so on as social practices are related to language.  It is no wonder then, that we think of our experience in the world in terms of those practices, or to use the ‘language game’ metaphor, because we play language games so much, when we encounter different things, we tend to think  in terms of the possibilities that they relate to this playing a language games.

I want to relate this with the known phenomenon of how playing other games affect us.

Here are some examples Wired’s article Real World Doesn’t Use a Joystick:

Here is just one example, check the posts for more…

Taylor also said that after reviewing Quake III he had trouble getting his mind out of the game. “I’d play it, then walk out into the office corridor and realize I was looking at my co-workers as potential targets,” said Taylor. “I was so used to killing anything that moved.”

I think this is particularly interesting example related to the issue at hand:

Any addictive game can have a similar effect: The more someone plays, the more likely they are to stay mentally inside even afterward. And immersive games like Electronic Arts’ The Sims are frequently to blame, given the countless hours players put into them.  “When I played (it) a lot,” said Laura Martin, a devotee of the game, “I remember thinking, ‘What percent of my bladder is full?’ to decide if it was time to head to the bathroom.”

As I read this it says that Laura started to think in terms of the game which she was playing a lot. It is true that she used language to express what she thought, but I think that is just a consequence of necessity to express her thinking some way. Of course, without type of experiments done by Eric (and even with them) it is hard to solve this.

For what is worth, I know the feeling, as after long playing of Tony Hawk Pro Skater, when I was moving through the world I was thinking of the possibilities to grind on most ‘grindable’ things I was seeing. (For the record, in real life, I haven’t even try to skate. Also haven’t kill people.)
So, I guess you get the general idea, that the playing of the games affects what kind of possibilities we think of when we look at the world, and that because of playing the language game A LOT, we are inclined to think in terms of this (something like ‘what I would say to describe this situation’. Again, I use language here, but you get the point).

And, while at this, here is another way that things from the games can spill to our ‘real life’… Daily Bits has a post about Top 6 Bizarre Online Gaming Incidents.

Language, Practices and Objective Reality

Baptizing (giving name to something) is a conscious act done by a conscious person or persons, where a name is picked up to be used for something which appears as intentional target of our conscious intentional act (perceiving, assuming, imagining and so on).

Baptizing is a practice. It is a practice related to the social practice of using names to refer to things, which is in turn related to social practice of other speech acts. Baptizing is one of those speech acts (‘We will call this boy John’ is a speech act), however as a speech act it has sense only given those other speech acts.

What are those other speech acts? Language is used to inform other people, where we use sentences to describe relations of which the listener is not aware through words for things of which the listener is aware. It is used to ask for information, or give orders. It is also a crucial part of other practices, like wedding, betting, giving, promising, threating, appointing, forgiving, apologizing, and so on (to name few of the examples that Austin nicely worked through in his How to do things with words).

This opens interesting question of how can words appear, if we need speech acts for words to appear. I see three possibilities – a)Instead of ‘speech acts’ we can speak of more general ‘communication acts’ which don’t have to involve words, but which would be enough for the practice of baptizing to appear b)The co-evolution of basic speech acts (and words as part of those acts) with evolution of human kind and c)External source of language (God).

The practices are about what people do. What people do is related to what they know that they can do. By being part of the community, we are seeing what people do, and thus becoming aware of what can be done. What can be done is not about us, it is about the world (which contains the social, biological, and other facts). In such way, practices already established in the society are crucial part of extending our knowledge of the world. And not just in the sense that through practices as schooling one can get information, but the practices themselves are showing us open possibilities of what can be done.

But that practices are fundamental to our using language doesn’t make language and thoughts expressed in this language a social construct, less so make reality a social construct. As said, practices are related to what can be done in the world – those are possibilities which are not constructed, but which are discovered. And people from one society can become aware of those practices in another society.

That people can inform each other isn’t a construction. It is a possibility. It is the same possibility in all those cultures. That people can marry, promise, forgive, threat, etc… are also open possibilities. They are not constructions. Some cultures will include those possibilities, some not. Some practices in one society will be different from practices in another. Some practices will be interdependent with other, so a practice in one society might not be possible in another given some other practice.

Some practices might work as a way to prevent awareness of some possibilities in the world, while other societies might boost the probability of awareness of some possibilities. An outsider might easily see, what people entrenched in certain practices can’t see.

Good example of practices boosting some awareness might be where practice of exchanging goods, might make people aware of mathematical notions, or practice of rich art, might make people more aware of different colors. (The lack of those practices may be seen as an explanation why some tribes don’t have many words for math, colors or time determinations).

Given this view, I’m inclined to think that there is no need to talk about conceptual frameworks which reside ‘inside our minds’ or ‘in society’, but that one can address all those things in pure objective terms of awareness of the subjects in the society of some practices, and awareness of things in the world in general.

Hidden Person

Here is an interesting visual illusion (via Spluch) …

People at Spluch say that you should move away from the screen to see the face better, but you can also try looking at the image while shaking the head left/right or squint the eyes. Of course you can also move away from the screen, squint the eyes, and shake your head left/right. (You can try few dancing moves while you are at it).

I guess this is a good example of how rod cells pick up more information than cone cells can?

Are White Things Red?

I wrote that color is one aspect that we see of the things.
We also know that the color of the objects correlates with the reflectance characteristic of the surface of the objects, and our capacity to see certain colors correlates with the make up of our visual system.
From this correlation we can assume that certain beings are possible which can see just red, and that those beings when see white things will see them as red.
If what we see is an aspect of the thing, that ‘being red’ will be aspect of the white things.
If this is an aspect of the thing, and if we know that we CAN see red, then why don’t we see white things as red?
The explanation would be that our seeing is limited in that way, that in certain cases we can’t see the red aspect of the thing. This is the case when the thing has also the green and blue aspects (which in this case we don’t see also).

An interesting consequence from here would be that beings with less limited perception, will see white things not as colorless as we see them, but will see them as red, green, blue, etc… at same time. (I think it would be similar to how when we see purple things, they are kind of both blue and red).
This would mean that a color which is both red and green is not impossible, and in fact what we see as white is both red and green. It is just that our perception is limited in a way that WE can’t see the color aspect of those things.

I’m not sure about the perceptual systems of other animals, but I guess it would be interesting if there are some animals which doesn’t have this kind of limit.


Connectionism (from SEP):

Connectionism is a movement in cognitive science which hopes to explain human intellectual abilities using artificial neural networks (also known as ‘neural networks’ or ‘neural nets’). Neural networks are simplified models of the brain composed of large numbers of units (the analogs of neurons) together with weights that measure the strength of connections between the units. These weights model the effects of the synapses that link one neuron to another. Experiments on models of this kind have demonstrated an ability to learn such skills as face recognition, reading, and the detection of simple grammatical structure.

I call dibs on a view which will be called Disconnectionism, and which will have the following song as an anthem:

All I can say is that it will also be known (because of its anthem) as ‘DISCO’, and will probably have something to do with possibility of things to be disconnected, and will be MUCH MORE FUN than connectionism.


I guess this is good example of priming:

(I think the teddy-bear picture by kids thing is just result of the position of the paint buckets)

But, I’m not sure if I believe this.

I’m sure that one can have false memories. But to this extent? I’m more inclined to think that this involves some trick, but I’m open to be convinced otherwise.