Wednesday, September 05, 2018

What Do Philosophers Do?

For myself, I just notice such facts as:

(A) The overwhelming majority of professional mathematicians are not going to be wrong about what numbers are.

(B) The overwhelming majority of mathematicians assume, in their professional work, that numbers are axiomatic sets.

(C) Numbers are not axiomatic sets.

The conjunction of (A), (B) and (C) would be a contradiction, were the mathematicians of (B) not just assuming that numbers are axiomatic sets for the purposes of proving theorems from axioms, as I suspect they do. But many analytic philosophers deny (C), because of that apparent contradiction. Such philosophers also ask questions like: “Do numbers (or sets) exist? If they do, where are they? If they don’t, then what does ‘2’ refer to?”

The implication is that since numbers (or sets) are abstract objects, hence if they do exist then they exist in some Platonic realm of abstract objects, raising the question: “How is it that we can access that realm, in order to know such properties of numbers as arithmetic?” To see how stupid such questions are, one only has to ask such questions as: “Does value exist; and if so, where is it?” Clearly some things have value, but it makes no sense to ask where it is (or what colour it is); such questions hardly further the analytical task of describing accurately what value is.

A question similar to the one about numbers might be: “Do shapes exist?” Shapes are instantiated in, and abstracted from, shaped things, clearly; and similarly, whole numbers are instantiated in, and abstracted from, numbers of things. That is basically what John Stuart Mill said (in passing); it is only common sense, although his observation was jumped on by a founder of analytic philosopher, Gottlob Frege (incorrectly).

Sunday, September 02, 2018


F is six

The ancient Greeks used alpha, when doing arithmetic, instead of our one, 1, and they had beta for 2, gamma for 3 and so forth. The symbol for gamma was like a reflected L, and so our letter F began life as digamma (which is, spookily, an anagram of mad magi), which they used for 6. Now, the New Testament was originally written in ancient Greek, and so the Number of the Beast was basically FEX, which is, spookily, indeed the name of a man. But, this post is really about physics (ancient Greek for “nature”); and in particular, an urban myth:

Urban Myth

The myth concerns a small machine with a clock-face of light bulbs, one of which is on at any given time when the machine is on. Which bulb it is that is on is determined by which one was previously on and how a small radioactive sample has decayed in the unit of time of the machine: the light will have moved one place clockwise if the sample emitted a detected particle in that time, one place anticlockwise if no such particle was detected. The unit of time is such that there is a 50% chance of a particle being detected in that time.

The machine (which is clearly from The Fury) is placed in front of a human subject, who has to try to make the light move clockwise by really wanting it to. The myth is that some physicists built such a machine and got the light to move clockwise more often than would be expected from random motion. Other physicists tried to repeat the experiment and, according to the myth, they got no positive results. The original results were explained as being random after all (quite likely because things that are truly random tend to look more structured), or as being due to methodological errors (they were physicists, not parapsychologists).

However, the original results could hardly have been undermined by similar results not being obtained with other people, who might not have had the same abilities. Further research, of an appropriate kind, would have had to have been carried out, because of the enormous implications for physics: Modern physics is based on particle physics, which is based on observations of what is essentially a scaled-up and much more complicated version of the small machine. If physicists could affect the events inside particle accelerators, via their expectations and desires, then that would throw a whole new light on particle physics, and hence the whole of physics.

Had there been something to find, then they would have found it, and physics would have changed accordingly. Now, we would have noticed, because there would hardly be this urban myth floating about had they wanted to keep it secret (the possibility of secrets arises because of the money in innovation, the world wars, the cold war and so forth). So, it must be a myth because conversely, had there not been anything to find, then that would have put micro-psychokinesis to sleep forever. Since the physicists would have wanted to be quite sure, hence they would have been quite exhaustive in their investigations. Whereas, parapsychologists still investigate micro-psychokinesis.

Evidence that there is micro-psychokinesis could therefore include, given the above, the very success of relativistic physics. The equations of relativistic space-time were developed at the end of the nineteenth century, even before the quantum-mechanical nature of moving particles had been noticed. It was an amazing discovery, and it is even more amazing that it has not fundamentally altered because it is inconsistent with quantum mechanics. But, particle physicists keep finding patterns that verify it. (Particle physicists are very proud of their understanding of the sophisticated mathematical language of relativistic physics, of course.)

The main evidence is the operation of the human brain (how else is the mind going to influence the working of the brain?) and a few paranormal phenomena; but how odd that the equations of relativity arrived out of nowhere, when wars were still being fought on horseback. We are asked to imagine how the world would look were we going at the speed of light, because physics should always look just the same. Then we find such equations. But what if bats did physics? Would Bert the bat assume that nothing goes faster than the speed of sound? What if his equations ended up being very complicated? What would that mean? That he was a batty bat!

But of course, science likes materialism, not Cartesian dualism. And it likes spiritualism even less. As for relativity, we know that there are no aliens because of it. Why can nothing go faster than the speed of light? Imagine going at the speed of light, or faster, and then emitting light. And the problem with that is that we do not know how fast we are going through space. How unlikely it is that we would be going slowly. And yet, light gets emitted just the same in all directions. There was an experiment to test the speed of light in various directions. It was small enough to fit inside a plane. So imagine how sensitive it was. Then it was taken up in a plane!

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Curry's Paradox

Last year’s new SEP entry on Currys paradox followed in Haskell Curry’s footsteps by saying nothing about where our reasoning goes wrong in such informal versions of the paradox as the examples in the introductory section of that entry, the first of which was as follows:
Suppose that your friend tells you: “If what I’m saying using this very sentence is true, then time is infinite”. It turns out that there is a short and seemingly compelling argument for the following conclusion:

(P) The mere existence of your friend’s assertion entails (or has as a consequence) that time is infinite.

Many hold that (P) is beyond belief (and, in that sense, paradoxical), even if time is indeed infinite.


Here is the argument for (P). Let k be the self-referential sentence your friend uttered, simplified somewhat so that it reads “If k is true then time is infinite”. In view of what k says, we know this much:

(1) Under the supposition that k is true, it is the case that if k is true then time is infinite.

But, of course, we also have

(2) Under the supposition that k is true, it is the case that k is true.

Under the supposition that k is true, we have thus derived a conditional together with its antecedent. Using modus ponens within the scope of the supposition, we now derive the conditional’s consequent under that same supposition:

(3) Under the supposition that k is true, it is the case that time is infinite.

The rule of conditional proof now entitles us to affirm a conditional with our supposition as antecedent:

(4) If k is true then time is infinite.

But, since (4) just is k itself, we thus have

(5) k is true.

Finally, putting (4) and (5) together by modus ponens, we get

(6) Time is infinite.

We seem to have established that time is infinite using no assumptions beyond the existence of the self-referential sentence k, along with the seemingly obvious principles about truth that took us to (1) and also from (4) to (5).
That may look rather formal to you, but formal logic is not even logic (it is mathematics); the above is just very well laid out. Note the two uses of modus ponens, the two sets of three steps, with the first three steps, (1), (2) and (3), all beginning “Under the supposition that”. You should note that because we cannot always use modus ponens within the scope of a supposition, e.g.:

(a) Under the supposition that modus ponens is invalid under a self-referential supposition, (A) implies (C).

(b) Under the supposition that modus ponens is invalid under a self-referential supposition, (A).

With (a) and (b) we have, under the supposition that modus ponens is invalid under a self-referential supposition, a conditional and its antecedent, but it would of course be absurd to use modus ponens within the scope of that supposition, to obtain

(c) Under the supposition that modus ponens is invalid under a self-referential supposition, (C).

There was, then, at least one step in the above argument for (P) that stood in need of some justification, i.e. the step to (3). Were no other step deficient in justification we could conclude, from the absurdity of (P), that the step to (3) was invalid.

Of course, it would be more satisfying to see where precisely that step lacked justification, so presumably we need an analysis of what would in general count as justification for such a step. For now, note that in order to get to (3) we used modus ponens under the supposition that k is true, which was no less self-referential than the supposition that modus ponens is invalid under a self-referential supposition. In the step to (3) we had k being true instead of (A) implying (C), and “k is true” instead of (A).

To progress, we need to step back, I think, because I suspect that the reason why we find (P) to be beyond belief is that the above argument for (P) has exactly the same logical structure as a clearly invalid argument for the obviously false (Q):
Let your friend say instead: “If what I’m saying using this very sentence is true, then all numbers are prime”. Now, mutatis mutandis, the same short and seemingly compelling argument yields (Q):

(Q) The mere existence of your friend’s assertion entails (or has as a consequence) that all numbers are prime.
My suspicion is based on the fact that one could conceivably have a valid argument for

(S) The mere existence of “happy summer days” entails (or has as a consequence) that time is infinite.

For a start, the mere existence of some words can entail the actual existence of something important, as when Descartes proved that he existed: I think, therefore I am. But furthermore, there is a surprisingly valid argument from the existence of “happy summer days” to the probable existence of a transcendent Creator of all things ex nihilo (this links to that), and it might only take some tidying up to get to (S), because such a Creator is an omnipotent being endlessly generating a temporal dimension. (Such a Creator could possibly have a logical existence proof, because of its unique ontological status.) And of course, were there a valid argument for (S), then there would be an identical, equally valid argument for (P).

Anyway, a six-step argument for (Q) that is identical to the Curry-paradoxical argument for (P) would have, in place of k, some such l as “If is true, then all numbers are prime”. And is likely to be about as true as not, because (i) it is about as true as not that a contradiction follows from a statement that is about as true as not, since such a statement is about as false as not, and also because (ii) one informal meaning of is the obvious meaning of the liar sentence “is not true”, which is, if meaningful, about as true as not, according to my The Liar Proof. And of course, our logic is naturally suited to that part of our language where propositions are either true or else not true, exclusively and exhaustively. For a proposition that is otherwise, we have natural clarification procedures that enable us to construct new propositions that are more suited to logical reasoning. So, it seems likely that propositions that might be about as true as not should be ruled out from the use of modus ponens within the scope of a too-self-referential supposition (to say the least).

Curry’s paradox entered into the analytic philosophy of the Forties, where the logical paradoxes were in general thought to be reasons for replacing our informal logical reasoning with formal logical reasoning (via the mathematical philosophy of formal languages), on such grounds as that (i) one would not expect primates, even highly evolved primates, to be able to reason perfectly, and (ii) the physical sciences use mathematics to get to the underlying physical laws. However, why would such primates not take themselves to be reasoning perfectly adequately; and why should I be doing mathematics when I am really doing philosophy?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sequence and Consequence

I add grains of sand to the same place, one by one, and eventually I have a heap of sand.

Originally I did not have a heap of sand, of course, and in between having such numbers of grains – just a few originally, and later on lots of them – there are numbers of grains with which I do not obviously have a heap, and do not obviously not have a heap.

Let n be some such number. Perhaps it is the case that when I have n grains of sand I have a heap of sand; but certainly, if that is not the case, then n grains is not a heap. So for all n, either n grains is a heap, or else n grains is not a heap. It follows logically that there must be some n, say N, such that N is large enough for N grains of sand to be a heap of sand, but (N – 1) is not large enough for (N – 1) grains of sand to be a heap of sand.

The problem is that the rather vague meaning of “heap” does not allow there to be such a number. Given any heap of sand, if I take just one grain away from it, then I would still have a heap of sand. Quite generally, if you take one unit away from any very large number of units, then you still have a very large number of units. So it must, after all, be false that for all n either n grains is a heap or else not. That is surprising, but at least we have a picture of how that can be false, with this picture of my adding grains of sand one by one. So while it is surprising, it is not beyond belief; it is not paradoxical (despite what many analytic philosophers seem to think).

It is not, then, always the case that, given some description, either that description is true or else, if that is not the case, the description is not true. It could be that there is no fact of the matter of whether the description is true or not, as when meanings are a little vague and we have a borderline case. Now, in such cases the description cannot simply be neither true nor not true, as that is just to say that it is not true while ruling out its being not true. The only thing left for us to say is that it is about as true as not. In the picture above, the sand changes from not being a heap, to being about as much a heap as not, and then more a heap than not. That is just a fact, of such matters.

One consequence of the possibility of assertions being about as true as not is that there is a relatively simple resolution of the Liar paradox.
Note that it can indeed make sense to say that a proposition is about as true as not. Consider, for another example, how if I say of some artwork that I think good “That is not good” then I am lying. I am saying something false. What would be true would be for me to say that it was good. And if some artwork seems to me to be about as good as not – and you must allow me such a possibility, because such matters are matters of opinion – then it would be true for me to say that it was about as good as not. In such a case, it might make sense (as follows) for it to be about as true as not for me to say that it was good. And if so, and if we all agreed that a particular artwork, say Z, was about as good as not, then it would make sense for “Z is good” to be about as true as not. Does that make sense? Well, were it simply true to say that Z was good, then were “Z is not good” true too, it would follow that Z was good and not good, whereas the symmetry of Z being about as good as not means that we could hardly have one true and the other not true. And if it was instead not true to say that Z was good, so that it would not be the case that Z was good, then there would be a problem with it being not true to say that Z was not good, because that would mean that Z was good.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Modal Paradox

Here in the actual world A we have a ship, let us name it the good ship Theseus, made of 1000 planks. Our first intuition X is that the same ship could have been made of 999 of these planks plus a replacement for plank #473. In possible-worlds terms that means there is another world B where the same good ship Theseus exists with all but one plank the same as in our world A, and only plank #473 different. But then in world B one has a good ship Theseus made of 1000 planks, and by the same sort of intuition, there must another world C where the same good ship Theseus exists with all but one plank the same as in the world B, but with plank #692 different. That means for us back in world A there is another world C where the good ship Theseus exists with all but two planks the same as in our world A, but with planks #473 and #692 different, so one could have two planks different and still have the same ship. The same sort of considerations can then be used to argue that one could have three planks different, or four, or five, or all 1000. But that is contrary to our other intuition Y [a ship made of a thousand different planks would have been a different ship].
     The modal paradox resembles well-known paradoxes of vagueness, such as the heap and the bald one, for which proposed solutions are a dime a dozen — except that here what seems to be vague is the relation of identity. And the idea that ‘is the very same thing as’ could be vague is for many a far more troubling idea than the idea that ‘heap’ or “bald’ is vague. Indeed, according to many, it is an outright incoherent idea.
From John P. Burgess, "Modal Logic, In the Modal Sense of Modality" pp. 40-1.
     In the fourth line Burgess says "by the same sort of intuition," which is a relatively weak sort of thing to say, and so it might be where the paradoxical reasoning started to go wrong. Our original intuition X was that in the actual world A, Theseus could have had one plank different and still have been the same ship. We know, equally intuitively, that X coheres perfectly well (somehow) with the intuition, Y, that in the actual world A, Theseus could not have a thousand planks different and remain the same ship. Whereas the ship in B is not exactly the same as the ship in A. And the meanings of all our words are rooted in A. The further we get from A, the more vague we might expect our meanings to become.
     In the first line of the second paragraph Burgess observes that proposed solutions to the paradoxes of vagueness are "a dime a dozen" and that means, I think, that anything I might say is bound to pointlessness; but, onward and upwards. And it is certainly the case that "the very same thing" often equivocates, as in the case of the famous clay statue: if that thing is squashed then, while it is the same lump of clay, it is no longer a statue at all. So let us look at a very different formulation of the ship paradox, one that does not involve modality at all. The following is by Ryan Wasserman, "Material Constitution", §1:
[...] the story of the famous ship of Theseus, which was displayed in Athens for many centuries. Over time, the ship’s planks wore down and were gradually replaced. [...] Suppose that a custodian collects the original planks as they are removed from the ship and later puts them back together in the original arrangement. In this version of the story, we are left with two seafaring vessels, one on display in Athens and one in the possession of the custodian. But where is the famous Ship of Theseus? Some will say that the ship is with the museum, since ships can survive the complete replacement of parts, provided that the change is sufficiently gradual. Others will say that the ship is with the custodian, since ships can survive being disassembled and reassembled. Both answers seems right, but this leads to the surprising conclusion that, at the end of the story, the ship of Theseus is in two places at once. More generally, the argument suggests that it is possible for one material object to exist in two places at the same time. We get an equally implausible result by working backwards: There are clearly two ships at the end of the story. Each of those ships was also around at the beginning of the story, for the reasons just given. So, at the beginning of the story, there were actually two ships of Theseus occupying the same place at the same time, one of which would go on to the museum and one of which would enter into the care of the custodian.
For myself, I do not think that the ship in the museum was the famous Ship of Theseus, I think that what was left of that ship is now the custodian's ship. But I concede that it could be that the museum ship is legally the ship of Theseus. It would then follow that the custodian's ship was not, for legal purposes, the ship of Theseus. So I think that there are at least two senses of "ship of Theseus" in play. What we can say about those senses is another matter. Our language is inextricably rooted in the usual events of the actual world. But it could be scientific to know that there are those two senses even before our theories of such senses have become a dime a dozen. And we might find clues as to what we should be saying from related puzzles.
     There are many intuitive puzzles about identity. For just one example, suppose that the world that you are in splits into two worlds, so that you are in one while an identical person is in the other. You are the same person as the original you, of course, but so is the person in the other world. So, that other person is the very same person as the original you, who is the very same person as you, and yet that other person is not the very same person as you. So, either personal identity is not always a transitive relation, or else this scenario is impossible. And while the latter is certainly plausible, it seems to me to be the wrong sort of conclusion to draw from this scenario. Knowing whether it is the wrong sort of conclusion to draw or not may well be a prerequisite for getting anywhere with such puzzles as the modal paradox, because intuitions for "is the very same thing as" not ever being at all vague seem to be very similar to intuitions that it must always be transitive.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Force and Foreseeability

Some thinkers think that if there is a God, then God will know all about the future, because otherwise bad things might happen. About ten years ago I spent a few years trying to refute one such view as neatly as possible (see my result here), during which attempt I found a new theodicy (which I called "The Odyssey Theodicy" for no good reason) and discovered the mathematical proof that there is a God (who is not immutable) that I have recently been tidying up. Today I thought of this title to go with my original refutation; basically, my original thought was that God's power over God's creation gives God plenty of ability to know that good will definitely happen, without God needing to know all about the future. However, despite now having the sort of title that I like, for my thought, I find that I now have little interest in expressing as neatly as possible such academic thoughts. That is because my thought is so obvious that the view that I was refuting must have existed for some other reason than simply not knowing that thought. Could that view not have been clearer about its reasons, I wonder. But, that is just the academic way, it seems. I also now think that finding new theodicies is pretty pointless, though; consider this analogy: it is the first day of school, and things do not go well. And of course, you learn very little; but of course, that is no reason to have no first day of school. And the evidence that, if there is a Creator of all things, then it is an evil Creator, is a bit like that: if all of this was created by such a power, then there is very likely to be life after death (like further school days after the first, and then life after school, a life enhanced by prior schooling) because that would be better, and no less possible than this life; and so the worse this life is, the more likely there is to be life after death, if there is a God. The logic of such arguments is simple, and undeniable, and so the way the problem of evil is hyped up by mainstream analytic philosophers of religion is, clearly, pure rhetoric.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

On the Sorites

          A drop of water falling on a hill does not wash it away.
So, if we start with a hill, then after a drop of water we still have a hill.
After another drop, we still have a hill; and many repeated applications
of the first, italicised line means that after lots of drops the hill remains.
But, after enough drops the hill will, of course, have been eroded away.

That is basically a Sorites paradox. Similarly, all real-world calculations will, if long enough, become swamped by error bounds. All measurements should come with error bounds, and while a short calculation will result in only slightly larger error bounds on the result, a very long calculation will be useless. Now, logic is supposed to be different, more like Geometry, where given certain lengths, geometrical manipulations can be arbitrarily long. But that will only be the case if the terms that the logic is applying to are definite. In the real world, there is a ubiquitous, if usually very slight, vagueness (it is there because it is so slight: nothing has acted to remove it). Consequently logical arguments that are about real things should not be too long. It is an interesting question, how long they can be; but certainly, those of the Sorites paradoxes are too long.

Why Merit Lacks Merit

Everywhere has been invaded, usually several times. As a rule, the invaders steal everything, killing some and enslaving the rest. A few of the natives help them. There is a continuum, between such collaborators and the dead, on which the majority of the original people find themselves. Most of them tend not to volunteer for anything, after invasion. But among the new ruling class there are many volunteers, eager to prove their metal. People pair up, and new generations give way to even newer ones. Now, some people do well, and often it is in large part because their ancestors inherited stolen goods. Of course, such people have still, themselves, done well. Perhaps they also had good genes. Perhaps they were lucky. They hardly thereby deserve advantages over people who suffer, while doing badly, because, in large part, their ancestors had stuff stolen from them, or because their genetic inheritance was also poor, or because they were unlucky. Note that according to standard evolutionary theory, every genetically fit individual owes that fitness to the immense sufferings of a huge number of other individuals who died without leaving any offspring behind. Of course, it is in general much more complicated than that, too complicated for simple words to do it justice; but it would certainly, therefore, be quite unjust, to say the least, to talk up meritocracy. (More details: this from last year.)