Traps and Intuitions is a category belonging to The Life of the Mind that contains what are often referred to as thought problems. They create a story or choice in which the reader experiences conflict between ideas, or one that reveals the reader’s deeper intuitions. Intuitions that one might not be ready to acknowledge when asked directly.
In development economics simple cash transfers, like GiveDirectly, are showing promise. The logic is that the people receiving the money know what will best improve their lives. The logic and the empirical results of such transfers are compelling. At the same time I find it difficult to reconcile with what I hear about lottery winners. I’m not sure if anyone has studied it, but one hears plenty of anecdotes on how the lottery has ruined a winner’s life. Assuming that low-level cash transfers tend to benefit people and that an excessive cash transfer will ruin them, is there some kind of sweet spot (percent of yearly income) where an unencumbered infusion of cash is likely to benefit one maximally?
Unlike other creatures that are born and then named, Gavagai was born name first. While we wait patiently to be named, then nicknamed, and possibly renamed. Gavagai is a name and is waiting for its thingness to come. Preliminary analyses suggest that Gavagai has been thing-ed with something related to a rabbit. It could be the rabbit itself, part of the rabbit. It could be some aspect, perhaps the color, or an action the rabbit is performing. Some have conjectured that it’s simply an idea suggested by the bunny. Only time will tell. As our names and nicknames are proposed and retired, leaving our one singular name, we too will have to wait and see what substance remains around Gavagai. I am patient. We will make progress on the matter. I do doubt sometimes that we will ever be quite sure what thing-ed Gavagai though.
The Chinese Room argument begins with this hypothetical premise: suppose that artificial intelligence research has succeeded in constructing a computer that behaves as if it understands Chinese. It takes Chinese characters as input and, by following the instructions of a computer program, produces other Chinese characters, which it presents as output. Suppose, says Searle, that this computer performs its task so convincingly that it comfortably passes the Turing test: it convinces a human Chinese speaker that the program is itself a live Chinese speaker. To all of the questions that the person asks, it makes appropriate responses, such that any Chinese speaker would be convinced that he or she is talking to another Chinese-speaking human being.
The question is this: does the machine literally “understand” Chinese? Or is it merely simulating the ability to understand Chinese?
If you think the computer understands Chinese, then suppose that a man is in a closed room and has a book with an English version of the computer program, along with sufficient paper, pencils, erasers, and filing cabinets. He could receive Chinese characters through a slot in the door, process them according to the program’s instructions, and produce Chinese characters as output. If the computer had passed the Turing test this way, it follows, that he would do so as well, simply by running the program manually.
There is no essential difference between the roles of the computer and the man in the experiment. Each simply follows a program, step-by-step, producing a behavior which is then interpreted as demonstrating intelligent conversation. However, the man would not be able to understand the conversation he is mediating. Therefore, neither does the computer in the original example.
One point I take from Nozick’s critique of Rawls is that any end-state distributive scheme requires coercion. Given natural micro-level exchanges, any kind of distributive goal will require redistribution of goods, not just initially but in an on-going manner. It is important to recognize this, but it is also important to recognize that there is no perfect libertarian coercion-free social unit (even an entitlement scheme). The market through it’s own actions will collapse into monopolies without coercion. We are stuck with coercion of some kind to make liberty (and our markets) work at all. The question is not how do we get rid of coercion, but how do we make coercion less onerous. There are many varieties of coercion, spanning from the threat of gulags to eye rolling to gentle nudges.
Sometimes the examples, details, and monikers of philosophy have a narrative power independent of their power to clarify. The Story of Discourse makes use of these story-charged bits to embellish and create.
A person is playing a game operated by the Predictor, an entity somehow presented as being exceptionally skilled at predicting people’s actions. Predictor’s predictions are “almost certainly” correct.
The player of the game is presented with two boxes, one transparent (labeled A) and the other opaque (labeled B). The player is permitted to take the contents of both boxes, or just the opaque box B. Box A contains a visible $1,000. The contents of box B, however, are determined as follows: At some point before the start of the game, the Predictor makes a prediction as to whether the player of the game will take just box B, or both boxes. If the Predictor predicts that both boxes will be taken, then box B will contain nothing. If the Predictor predicts that only box B will be taken, then box B will contain $1,000,000.
By the time the game begins, and the player is called upon to choose which boxes to take, the prediction has already been made, and the contents of box B have already been determined. That is, box B contains either $0 or $1,000,000 before the game begins, and once the game begins even the Predictor is powerless to change the contents of the boxes. Before the game begins, the player is aware of all the rules of the game, including the two possible contents of box B, the fact that its contents are based on the Predictor’s prediction, and knowledge of the Predictor’s infallibility. The only information withheld from the player is what prediction the Predictor made, and thus what the contents of box B are. Question: do you take two boxes or one box?
Choice is a more complicated thing than is often thought. One hears that market transactions are voluntary and therefore reflect each actor’s preference or choice. What is clear to me is that we have many preferences that often conflict. Example, one chooses to maintain one’s health and eat the cookie on the counter. I think of these preferences loosely as shorter term and longer term. The markets I am used to are very responsive of shorter term preferences. One question is how might one structure current markets to better balance the totality (often conflicting) of one’s preferences? And if not, what other methods of distribution would perform better in this respect than markets.
Descartes’ Demon is a maker of dreams and illusions. He has made your world, keeping you from his world. He must at times be sad that he cannot join his beautiful, sad, dramatic creation; or at least wonder why he has no monster to relieve him of the monotony of pure being. You have different problems though. You are stuck with his illusion, but you can choose to live it as life or as a lie. Do not anguish too much over your choice. Skepticism being what it is there might not be much difference.
Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.
You have two groups of people. The people in group A have $1,000 each and the people in group B have $1,000,000 each. The only options available to you are to take away money from people in group B, so they each have $1,000, or to do nothing. Which would be the better course of action?
Many of a social unit’s most difficult moral questions occur at it’s physical and temporal boundaries. Those members coming to be, those members that will be, those that live among us, but aren’t full members. Who should we induct as members, how many, who should we exile, what protections do we offer them? And what do we owe the members of other social units that we so drastically affect?
Wittgenstein’s ladder is a one-way ladder. Climbing it is difficult but descent is impossible. Once you have reached the top, there is a popular misconception that the ladder blocks your regress by casting itself down on the ground. However, ladder cognoscenti know that the ladder is much too subtle and elegant for that. The way it works is you can mount the ladder to return to the ground, but as you start to lower yourself, the ladder moves up at the same rate. The cumulative effect is null. The ladder has borne you up, and will now bear you exactly where you are for eternity.
“The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.”
— Plutarch, Theseus
There is this thing that we all do together. I would like to talk about that, all collective activities: families, clubs, organizations, firms, nation states…
Reminds me of…Series X, 16 Windmill
That Wright is Wright and Nott is Nott
Logicians must concede.
That Nott is right and Wright is not
Four judges have decreed.
That Nott is right, and Wright is not,
We all must now agree;
Then Nott is right and Wright is Nott–
The same thing, to a t.
If Nott is Nott and Wright is Nott,
It comes without a wrench
That we have not, if not two Notts,
Five judges on the bench.
If only four, as shown before,
And three agree with Nott,
The judgment is unanimous,
And Wright’s dissent is naught.
The knot is not, is Nott not Nott?
But is Wright right, or Nott?
Is Nott not right? What right has Wright
To write that Nott is not?
He concluded, “Do I do right to write to Wright
This most unrighteous rot?”
Reminds me of…Series X, 27 Cube
When we meet
We always meet in Steve’s head.
I invite him over he says great
But has always forgotten something
Or remembered something
And so we are comfortable again
Inside his head.
Dan Pharo, King of Eygpt,
lives where motley is born.
The tackle of ornaments,
Mod yeatspeare gone.
And my line?
Fill a bucket with a hole.
Catches me on the corny.
On the weary.
if I’m the solution,
what could the problem be.
We bleed our enemies
to give them their senses,
Dan Pharo said.
VIII. gasped down
A. away her breath
C. panted the regular way
i. no the question
ii. he neither
iii. her see nor hear
the common strange
VII. But that for the rest
all alive very clock
over and begin
VI. I declare!
A. just like
B. was to look
was to there, down
C. away as brightly
warm here, warmer
D. oh, what’ll