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Everything posted by wellnamed

  1. I'm by no means an expert but I believe I've read cosmologists who argue that big bang cosmology doesn't actually say anything about a "before", or really anything about the singularity. The theory and all of the data are extrapolations back towards a kind of asymptote, but not an attempt to say anything about what could exist (or not exist) "before the big bang", as it were. The real work is trying to explain conditions at time T0 + δ for increasingly small (but not 0) deltas.
  2. I agree that "quantum foam" is not really nothing in the philosophical sense usually meant in the context of asking about being and nothingness, or whether something can come from nothing. I tend to think the underlying question about "why is there something rather than nothing" (which I think is closely related) is unanswerable. There's a line of argument related to the Principle of Sufficient Reason here, and I tend to think that principle is not absolutely true, or at least probably not knowable. Instead, it seems to me that it's probably necessary to take as a principle of pragmatic reason the axiom that there are some brute facts which just have to be taken as a given. That there is "something" and not "nothing" is the prime example, in my view. I wouldn't expect cosmology to be able to give some ultimately satisfying explanation anymore than I'd expect religion to be able to do so. As far as justifying the existence of brute facts, the argument that I've heard that I find most compelling goes something like this: "Why?" explanations (in comparison to how? or what? and so on) are mostly about placing some phenomenon into a larger context. If I ask you why you went to the store, your answer will necessarily invoke some larger universe of meaning outside the narrow mechanics of how you traveled there, what you purchased, and so on. You went to the store to buy milk. "Why did you want milk?" "So I could put it in my coffee in the morning." And you can just keep asking why questions that get at broader and broader contexts. You can start by asking why someone went to the store and eventually find yourself discussing some really high level conception of human nature, for example. But at some point it seems that there can be no broader context in which to place an explanation for a given phenomenon. This is as true for the religious as for atheists, of course. The Euthyphro dillema is like that (why is "the good" good? essentially). Or "why is there a God?" And of course "why is there something rather than nothing?" The universe in the sense of "all that exists" is the largest possible context for meaning that we could conceivably deal with. We can't give a "why" answer to reality itself because there is no "beyond reality" in which to situate an answer. As an aside, there's a Sanskrit phrase used to mean "reality" in some of the Upanishads that I really think captures something about this question: idam sarvam. "All this". As in "reality is idam sarvam, all this (or this 'all', even)." The fact that this is a demonstrative is relevant to the above argument. It's not a purely abstract thing viewed from nowhere. Our definitions of reality are grounded in what we can experience. Reality is a "this", it's something we can point towards. A "why" explanation requires a larger "this" to point at, but there is no larger "this" for reality itself.
  3. I kind of gave up after season 1, which was hit or miss for me. I love the book though.
  4. I believe it is here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1071-0 Full text: https://s3.amazonaws.com/wellnamed/10.1038%40s41586-019-1071-0.pdf
  5. Fair enough, for my purposes the fact that it's not widely accepted is good enough for answering the question. The original concept of the aether is wrong, at the very least, I think. New theories adopting that term notwithstanding?
  6. The reason for the paragraphs is to point out that you're probably asking the wrong question to begin with Like I said, the labeling has more to do with the use of scientific methods than anything else. It would still be called a theory if it were proven false. It would just no longer be used in the same way. For example, you could refer to the idea of the "aether" as a scientific theory, it's just one that's been disproven.
  7. this essay is pretty great:



    As I’m writing this, Wyoming’s state legislature just voted to preserve capital punishment in the state. Some legislators made the usual tough-on-crime excuses for their votes, but one state senator, incredibly, offered that the death penalty was good enough for Jesus, so we should keep it because if you think about it, we really owe our salvation to capital punishment. This conceivably could just be an episode of the show, but if you extend the logic far enough, you get to “we need to have the death penalty ready to go if any messiahs show up"...


  8. Another thing I like to think about, regarding knowledge in general: One of the classical definitions of knowledge is "justified, true belief". That is, we can say we "know that P" if and only if we believe that P, we are justified to believe that P, and P is true. There are some interesting issues with that definition (cf. Gettier problems), but I think that really all of epistemology boils down to just that one element: justification. Putting aside technical terminology for a second, what makes science valuable as an approach to knowledge is just the effort to justify beliefs in a more rigorous way. That's what all the talk about falsifiability, or observability, repeatability, and the qualifications of scientists (as fuego mentioned) is for. That is the essence of "scientific method". So if we call one idea "scientific" and doubt that another is equally scientific, then what we're really doing is evaluating epistemic justification, and I think it's more accurate to put it that way than to say we're evaluating some level of certainty. The other reason this framing is useful is because it tells you how to evaluate ideas: look at the how the idea can be arrived at -- the methods used to collect, analyze, and make generalizations from data (observations). This is why a theory which may be rather uncertain can still be scientific, if the theory is formulated following scientific methods. This makes sense because science is not just the body of accumulated knowledge about the world, but also the accumulated body of knowledge about the epistemic reliability of various methods for gaining knowledge in general.
  9. The point in the wiki entry about black swans is just a point about logical induction in general, and also of abduction (inference to the best explanation). Inductive conclusions do not have the same logical force of necessity that deductive proofs (e.g. in math). This is an inescapable fact of epistemology that one just has to accept. Theories are not facts in some simple sense. But, it may be helpful to think in terms of probability. The better tested a theory is, that is the more opportunities there have been for empirical falsification, and the wider the range of phenomena for which the theory has been tested, the more likely it is to be correct, or to put it another way: the space of possible phenomena under which the theory might fail is smaller. Think of Newtonian mechanics here: that theory still works, we use it all the time. The theory was not "wrong" within the domain it was originally supposed to explain, it just turned out that it was inadequate to cover the entirety of physical phenomena. It fails at relativistic speeds and when dealing with sub-atomic behavior. With relativistic mechanics, the theory was mostly just expanded so that the scope in which it failed became even smaller. So, the problem with saying "oh, that's just a theory" (in the sense of not having complete certainty) is that this way of thinking collapses knowledge into a false choice where we either know something with certainty or not at all. But in truth there's a wide range of certainties. I am very confident in the correctness of the theory of gravitation, especially within the limits of the applications I might use it for. But it might turn out to be incomplete with respect of black holes, say. Yet saying "it's only a theory" pretty dramatically understates the reasonable level of certainty we can have, given the empirical support for the theory. Other scientific theories may be less certain, but still the best explanations we currently have. It's probably also worth keeping in mind that for some theories we judge them on usefulness. That's why we still use newtonian mechanics. It's not "correct" in some sense, but if you want to write a computer simulation of a billiards table it is highly useful. There are degrees of "correctness", if you will. Mathematically there is the concept of error, especially in statistics. If the error is small enough to not matter for your use case, then why worry about it?
  10. Sort of an entertaining thing on interpretation: this is the second time recently I've heard someone interpret the golden rule as "treating you the way I like to be treated" (instead of treating you the way you would like to be treated, or treating you the way I expect I would want to be treated if I were you). I always interpreted is more or less in the latter way, along with "love your neighbor as yourself. I thought the point was to reflect on the idea that other people are also Selves, Subjects, in the first person, rather than just objects, others, in the second/third person. It's about perspective taking. Anyway, I just find it funny because I always assumed that was the only interpretation of that injunction, but apparently I was wrong. Edit: also I think Wil Wheaton gets first dibs on "don't be a dick" as the #1 rule It used to be the tagline on his blog...
  11. I think these are all profoundly important realizations for any kind of secular humanism.
  12. I think there's a lot of truth to that statement: "A religion is a cult that won". But it's interesting to think about what winning means. You hit on part of it: winning means lasting long enough to where the founders (e.g. charismatic cult leaders?) no longer matter as much as ongoing cultural development within the group. A great modern example is the LDS church. It definitely began as a cult by typical standards. Even by religious standards there are some pretty weird ideas in their sacred texts written by Brigham Young or Joseph Smith. I wouldn't argue with folks (especially ex-Mormons) who would still find it to be pretty cult-like. But there's also no doubt it's changed a lot in 150 years or however long it's been, and it's grown to such an extent that it's not really a cult in the same way that it was. Religions are dynamic because they are invented by people (rather than being the immutable revelation of a perfect being): they don't remain what they were at the beginning. But it's a good observation that the seeds of most world religions seem to require some cult-like aspects, particularly charismatic leadership. Although they may also require other interesting cultural factors as well...
  13. Oof. I'm glad you have money and a plan! Sounds like a bad situation, and I'm glad you're getting out of it.
  14. You trust this a bit more than I do. My understanding is that employment discrimination suits are very difficult to win. That said, I do believe that if were talking about employment discrimination a lot of is likely the result of more implicit biases rather than intentional discrimination. Hence I tend to think merely shedding some light on different situations is often enough. Moves by employers to measure and publish their own wage gaps is useful to that end, I think, and probably better than more legislation, and even better than marches. Although marches perhaps bring awareness and prompt those sorts of responses. I'm glad that you feel that way, and I don't doubt you. I never did get back to one of your earlier posts about narratives of oppression, but I do agree that there's something tricky -- psychologically, or culturally -- about leaning too hard into such narratives. Psychologists talk about "locus of control", i.e. to what extent a person feels like that have individual control over their own life. It's generally more productive to maintain an internal locus of control, for reasons that I think should be intuitive to most people. I'd agree that oppression narratives can discourage that. Again though, it's tricky, because that psychological effect doesn't negate the fact that people don't have complete control over everything that happens to them, and people do face various disadvantages due to accidents of their birth (and not just due to race or gender). I tend to think the right way to balance these things is that -- insofar as the question is "how should I live my life?" -- people are probably better off making themselves responsible and just doing the best they can with the situation they find themselves in, i.e. they ought to try to maintain an internal locus of control even if the world is unfair. On the other hand, when the question is sociological -- what is happening, what problems exist? -- or political -- how can we make the world better for all of us? -- then I don't think we should entirely discount structural factors that we can measure. We should try to be aware of the role of those factors and ameliorate them if we can. Gosh, now I feel bad for maybe dumping too many links. I'd say the Case for Reparations is just a classic essay that's beautifully written and worth everyone's time. I would skip the NBER paper on the wage gap unless you are just really interested in getting down in the weeds on that subject. I'm not sure I've linked anything else that's very long or particularly important, but maybe I forgot.
  15. Ah, this makes sense. It's kind of like it's a standard joke that socialists (I mean like communist party members; actual for-reals socialists...) in the west are always too busy in-fighting to get anywhere. I've seen a bit of that first-hand.
  16. This reminds me of a blog post Tyler Cowen (an economist) made the other day, in response to a query about SJWs: Another writer I think is often thoughtful and worth reading on some related topics is Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic
  17. It did, and I agree 100% with both of your last two statements. With that in mind, I'll go back to a couple things very quickly, just out of interest. Yes, I think our disagreement was smaller than it appeared at first. In the earlier post you wrote "Do women make $0.77 to the dollar (no)", and I responded to that, which I read to be making the claim that there is, in fact, no wage gap at all. Your second post clarified your intent: "There is clearly a difference in earnings, I'm not arguing that doesn't exist, but I don't think it's discriminatory so I don't see the point of arguing about it or claiming that it is discrimination." So the brief set of points I posted in response to your first statement was mostly about establishing the existence of the gap, and I think with your clarification we have no disagreement on that point. We probably disagree somewhat on whether or not discrimination plays any role whatsoever in the the existence of the wage gap, and I linked to an NBER article that discusses a lot of research about causes of the gap, including evidence for some level of discrimination. On that, you wrote: The first part, to me, sounds a little bit like arguing that there must not be any crime because crime is illegal. The fact that the law exists is not a proof that there is no discrimination, just like the existence of laws is not a proof that there is no crime. I think there is some validity in the rest of your statements there, but I'd say its too simplistic and I think it under-appreciates the role of social factors constraining individual choices. It's also perhaps misconstruing me: I wouldn't call the wage gap a conspiracy at all. I also wouldn't characterize it as something where legitimate individual choices play no role. I think the interplay between individual choice and social constraint is really complicated (cf. the article I linked on career choices). But, to back up a second, I think I should clarify that my interest in this subject is mostly academic, rather than political. If I were making a list of political issues that I think are very important right now, the wage gap wouldn't be too near the top of the list. My list would be something more like { climate change, healthcare, immigration, criminal justice reform, economic inequality, education, ... }. So I'm probably not the person to ask about why it's a topic for political activists. I'm generally not an activist. I also said previously I thought the "Women make $.77 on the dollar" activist framing is misleading, just like "there is no wage gap" is misleading. That said, I think it is a part of those marches because some women are concerned with their ability to earn a living independently as well as men can. I don't think people's concern for that is entirely misguided; I think it's a complicated topic. I do think it gets oversimplified. When I say my interest is mostly academic, I mean that I think the topic is connected to really interesting changes going on in society and that I like to try to understand them. I don't necessarily mean that I think all such "problems" require political solutions. But to reiterate the pace of change: it's pretty amazing how much things have changed since WWII. Look at women's labor force participation. Think about women being unable to independently open credit accounts until the mid-70s (or other similar examples). Think about norms related to marriage and divorce, or related to sexual consent. A lot has changed and is changing still. If I refer to "social problems" I don't necessarily mean that there are heroes and villains, and I don't necessarily mean that the "problem" is "oppression". I just mean that there are things happening that seem problematic or less than ideal to various people, and that makes sense to me given the pace of change. I wouldn't even limit the "social problems" related to this topic to women. I think it's reasonably likely that the entrance of women into the workforce (just by means of increasing labor supply) played some (maybe small) role in wage stagnation for men in recent decades, although there are other factors from research I've read. When I look at current trends in educational attainment by gender I wonder if, in the future, we may instead have a problem with men lacking economic opportunity relative to women because they are underachieving academically. I think all of it is pretty interesting, but I'll cut myself off here
  18. You can't possibly expect me to pass up opportunities to post links to Pew Research. That's my #2 hobby.
  19. On ideology, cf. Gallup. AFAIK this association has been pretty stable for a long time, so I'd expect to find similar results from other surveys, I just grabbed this one quickly. Here's a slighly older Pew survey with similar results. Of course it's worth noting that it's not as if the highly educated are overwhelmingly liberal, they are just more liberal than the less educated on average. (And I should probably clarify that I wouldn't read "more educated" here to mean "smarter" or "less educated" to mean "dumber", or anything like that. :P) On religiosity, the strength of the association depends on how you measure religiosity, from what I've seen, but it's generally the case that being more educated is correlated with being less religious, although again it's not overwhelming. See for example Pew
  20. I wouldn't entirely dismiss "personal experience". In a very real sense data actually is the plural of anecdote. Ultimately empiricism is all about experiences, yours mine and everyone else's. Clearly more data is better than less because you cannot assess the representativeness of an single data point, and methods for gathering data also matter, e.g. one case in a scientific study is probably more reliable than one anecdote sloppily remembered. And also how credible I'd find someone's claims of experience would depend on whatever prior probability I might assign to those experiences being real (i.e. I'm more likely to trust you when you tell me about your weird experience with a bank teller than your weird experience with Bigfoot :P). So there's lots of caveats and I'm being nitty but IMHO it's worth being nitty about experience
  21. No need to apologize for anything. Like I said before, I think it's inevitable that there will be misunderstandings and miscommunications, and just as much on my part as anyone else's. Talking (or writing :P) is easy, but communicating is always delightfully difficult. I appreciate your willingness to plow through all the ambiguities and I do think we probably understand each other a little bit better now, and that's really useful. More later on...
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