Saturday, February 16, 2008

Works Cited

An alternative, favored by those of a religious persuasion, was that A'Tuin [the turtle upon which Discworld rests] was crawling from the Birthplace to the Time of Mating, as were all the stars in the sky which were, obviously, also carried by giant turtles. When they arrived they would briefly and passionately mate, for the first and only time, and from that fiery union new turtles would be born to carry a new pattern of worlds. This was known as the Big Bang hypothesis.

Terry Pratchett, The Color of Magic

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bobby Baby

So besides the sex and violence, my days aren't that eventful, despite a large and important project at work. As to that, we've been slamming against deadlines, but finally produced a bit of a buffer. If that sounds exciting, it's because it is! Mainly I've been reading and summarizing corporate taxation around the globe. You should see the capital gains rates in Brunei--my nipples are hard just thinking about it.

As always, reading about any tax with a title in the vein of "Social Insurance Payment" or "Enforced Contribution to Disemployment Scheme" makes me ill.

Last night, I was in the weight room, when Hanah sauntered over, poked me, and announced my workout was over and we were going to dinner. Hanah thinks that merely having a tiny person biding time in her tummy gives her some power over other people, whereby we are all slave to her surely increasingly hormonal whims. Which of course we are.

So I changed, and Jay and the two of us (technically, I suppose, the 2.08 of us) went out for pizza.

I've gained five pounds, but my belt is looser than ever. I know what you're going to say: muscle is heavier than fat. But c'mon, that's just something skinny people say to fat people. So I'm not sure what to make of it--I'm going on the theory that a month of crunches has granted me the ability to suck in my gut perpetually, and the reason my chest is bulgier is not because of the benching, but because my greater omentum and other assorted guts are stuffed up behind it.

My new love is the musical Company. My coworker, Joshana, suggested it. I've been watching youtube clips of a documentary on the recording of the original soundtrack, the highlight of which is Elaine Stritch being reduced through ten hours of singing to a guttural cackle. (To her credit, she ends up hitting it out of the park. And I'll drink to that.) Plus look how cute Sondheim was.

I am too straight.

Besides that, I admit I've been spending a lot of time playing FFXI with David. Here's a picture of us out levelling. He's the Sean Conneryesque elf, and I'm waving.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Works Cited

Arguments for materialism are few. Tyler Burge and others have maintained that the naturalistic picture of the world is more like a political or religious ideology than like a position well supported by evidence, and that materialism is an article of faith based on the worship of science.<4> That is an overstatement. But Ryle (to start with) gave no argument that I can recall for materialism per se; he only inveighed against the particularly Cartesian “dogma of the Ghost in the Machine.” Ullin Place, founder of the Identity Theory, gave none; he was originally a Behaviorist who bravely and honestly acknowledged that introspectible occurrent sensations were a problem for Behaviorism and, while making an exception for them, tried to account for them within the materialist framework, but without defending the need to do so.

J..J.C. Smart was perhaps the first to offer reasons. First, he appealed to the scientific view of the world:

[S]ensations, states of consciousness,…seem to be the one sort of thing left outside the physicalist picture, and for various reasons I just cannot believe that this can be so…. That everything should be explicable in terms of physics…except the occurrence of sensations seems to me frankly unbelievable….

The above is largely a confession of faith…. (pp. 142-43)

Just so, and just so. I too simply refuse to believe in spookstuff or surds in nature. But this argumentum ad recuso credere is no argument at all; it is at best, in David Lewis’ famous phrase, an incredulous stare.

William J. Lycan, Giving Dualism Its Due

Available here. I have omitted footnotes.

Old Friends

Inspired by a post on TJIC's blog, I googled some people from highschool. I haven't kept up with anyone--indeed, I cut off communication with everyone I knew from then the first year I got to college (I've had my dark times, and wanted them left behind--And I'm a loner by nature). Anyone with a common name wouldn't do, so I looked up the more peculiar, including an ex.

Nothing much for anyone. A few popped up, doing their things.

At first, it's interesting, but it quickly gets unsettling. Not because I'm violating privacy or stalking or anything--I mean I am, but I don't care.

I can't explain, not well at least, why it's so uncomfortable looking into other peoples' lives. I suppose most of the time I don't think of other people--but when you see scattered minutiae of them, from people you haven't seen in years (and the years you've missed have been the wavey ones of young adulthood), you appreciate how much they must have gone through, how deep and intricate their lives are. Does that make me feel less special? Is that why I hate it? Or does it remind me of how fast time goes--or how much has gone by? Whatever, I had to stop after three names.

I get the same feeling walking through schools, college campuses. I think of all the memories I have of school, all the things I went through, how many events transpired, how much memory lies in a particular dorm room, a bench, a corner of the cafeteria, a classroom. And seeing another school, I think of all the meaning other people have attached to this quad, that walk from that dorm to that building, all these things. How epic their everyday is. Stuff I'll never know or touch.

Sometimes I think the reason I'm not religious is this: Christianity is unacceptable, not because it postulates an omnipotent God. That's acceptable. But rather, it postulates that not only does God exist, but I'm not Him. Which is not.

Breaking the Spell

Dennett's Dilemma -- to give it a name -- is quite reasonable if you grant him his underlying naturalistic and scientistic (not scientific)assumptions, namely, that there is exactly one world, the physical world, and that (future if not contemporary) natural science provides the only knowledge of it. On these assumptions, there simply is nothing that is not physical in nature. Therefore, if God exists, then God is physical in nature. But since no enlightened person can believe that a physical God exists, the only option a sophisticated theist can have is to so sophisticate and refine his conception of God as to drain it of all meaning. And thus, to fill out Dennett's line of thought in my own way, one ends up with pablum such as Tillich's talk of God as one "ultimate concern." If God is identified as the object of one's ultimate concern, then of course God, strictly speaking, does not exist. Dennett and I wll surely agree on this point.

But why should we accept naturalism and scientism? It is unfortunately necessary to repeat that naturalism and scientism are not scientific but philosophical doctrines with all the rights, privileges, and liabilities pertaining thereunto. Among these liabilities, of course, is a lack of empirical verifiability. Naturalism and scientism cannot be supported scientifically. For example, we know vastly more than Descartes (1596-1650) did about the brain, but we are no closer than he was to a solution of the mind-body problem. Neuroscience will undoubtedly teach us more and more about the brain, but it takes a breathtaking lack of philosophical sophistication — or else ideologically induced blindness — to think that knowing more and more about the physical properties of a lump of matter will teach us anything about consciousness, the unity of consciousness, self-conciousness, intentionality, and the rest.

This is not the place to repeat the many arguments against naturalism. Suffice it to say that a very strong case can be brought against it, a case that renders its rejection reasonable. Dennett's reliance on it is thus dogmatic and uncompelling.

-William Vallicella

It's a fair point. Science comes with its own religioust trappings, valid or not, e.g., the constant chanting of falsifiability, or third-person verifiability. Dennett stresses that religion is unfairly protected from skepticism. Could be. But the scientific mythos and its philosophical underpinnings deserve just as much skepticism, if we're to be fair.

People advocating skepticism usually mean: "Express skepticism towards those things I don't believe in, but not towards those things I do believe in." Hence, if you doubt religion, you're a free-thinking bright, but if you doubt science, you're a ridiculous solipsist.


There's a dialogue in a Vernor Vinge book, between two self-aware entities within some very sophisticated computer. It goes something like:

AI 1: "We shouldn't be..."

AI 2: "Thinking this?"

AI 1: "No. Thinking at all."

That's how consciousness strikes me. It seems the human body and its behavior is mechanical from bicep down to the quark. We are a sophisticated bit of clockwork: so why this sense of awareness? When the body's behavior would be precisely the same without it? I shouldn't be thinking this--indeed, I shouldn't be thinking at all.

Yet I think. This awes me.

I learned of this topic a year ago, when I was reading the New York Times Book Review and came upon a nasty (and funny) exchange between Daniel Dennett and John Searle. Still cracks me up.

Scattered Thoughts

JACOB: And what are you reading?

SCOTT: The Conscious Mind, by David Chalmers.

JACOB: I don't understand what you find interesting about the philosophy of the mind. It has nothing to do with what a machine can perform.

SCOTT: ...

And why weren't you at my Superbowl party?

I hear it was a good game.

It was.

I just don't understand what you find interesting about football. It has nothing to do with whether or not a machine can think.

Interestingly enough, my brothers and I, though we've never actually talked about, are all atheists. At least, I assume they are from scant comments they've made. Queerly, we all seem to have come to the same conclusion, without ever having talked about it with one another. And I suppose none of us find the issue terribly important either, since we've not brought it up. Why's this? It's not like we have a lot in common--I've got David's cowlick, but not his artistic ability. Richard's got my math skill but not my pretensions of elitism. And David has Richard's taste in music, but not his hulking body language. Yet we coincide here. I suspect there must be some common cause that made us all turn out as such. Was it our religious education, which was quite moderate, just enough to have something to rebel against but not enough to take to heart? Some reliable pairing between our parents' genes that produces the trait in us but not in anyone earlier on the family tree? Just a sign of the godless times we live in? I'll have to ask my brothers some time.

My great aunt died. It was, like most deaths in our family, the blessed darkness after a long, soul-crushing twilight.

Tomorrow is my weekly day off from the weight room. A great feeling to go six straight days. Unfortunately, all the new pants I bought round Christmas now fall down to my knees, even when I don't want them to.

Huge project at work. I get to bill a client--which means a lot of money. That's pretty cool.

Finally got a former employer to fill out a form for my bar application materials.

A few weeks ago, my roommate and I were watching television and some story came on the news about a woman and her gay roommate who, the announcer revealed, "think of themselves as the original Will and Grace."

That's bullshit, Bob. You know you and I are the original Will and Grace.

So, long story short, now Bob calls me 'Grace.'