Sunday, October 30, 2005

Knife of Dreams

Book eleven of the Wheel of Time series. I gotta hand it to Robert Jordan. The man can write. Exciting action, believable characters, and good plots. But, come on, does anyone else think this is starting to drag on too long? Things do seem to be coming to a head in this one, though. Some plot points are wrapped up, some are clearly on their way to conclusion. And more importantly, there were no new major plot points, or major characters, introduced. A few minor ones, but that's okay.

Wow, I can't seem to find a way to say what I want about this book without spoilers (as if anyone who might read this cares about spoilers for this book)

I had a hard time getting into KoD, probably because it's been so long since the last one (speaking of which, now I have to wait another year or two for the next one). But it was really good once I did. I am getting sick of the ups and downs for each subplot (of which there are many). All in all, I think it's time to wrap things up. Just bringing everything to closure will probably take two more books.


Saturday, October 29, 2005

More on Dover

Oh, come on! This crap is still going!

This is a quote from a June 2004 letter from Heather Geesey, one of the Dover school board members.

"The definition of theory is merely a speculative or an ideal circumstance."

Okay, This is true for common use, such as: "Will this work?" "In theory."

But "theory" in this sense is not "scientific theory." In terms of scienific research, the above definition fits the term "hypothesis." Well, not quite. But close enough. This is really the problem. What we have is a group of people who are either ignorant of what a "scientific theory" is, or are deliberately confusing the issue in order to futher their own ends. In the case of DI, I suspect the latter.

In either case, are these the kind of people who should be in charge of educating children?


Thursday, October 27, 2005

P. S.

If you had any doubts that I'm a geek, that should put them to rest.


Joss Whedon rules!

"Buffy" was pretty good. "Angel" was okay. But holy crap!

I was thinking about going to see the movie "Serenity," so I did some research online. It seems the movie is based on this science fiction TV show, "Firefly." I haven't watched much TV in the last couple of years, so I'd never heard of it. I headed on over to Netflix, and checked to see if they had it. They did, so I put the four DVD's for the first (only?) season at the top of my list. The first three came today, and when I got home from work, I started watching them. I have only gotten through two episodes, but I had to make this post. This show kicks ass!

The best character on the show is Jayne, played by Adam Baldwin. He's a complete jackass, but incredibly funny and cool just the same. The rest of the cast is good, too.

Apparently FOX cancelled the show halfway through the first season. What the hell were they thinking? This pisses me off as much as when those retards cancelled the live-action version of "The Tick." Whatever happened to the FOX that gave risky new shows a chance? "The Simpsons" for instance. Look how huge that got. And cancelling a Joss Whedon show? Ever hear of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Angel." And I thought the WB was dumb for letting UPN snake the last two seasons of "Buffy."

Anyway, I have more "Firefly" to watch.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Try this one.

I am an
Outcast Genius

73 % Nerd, 73% Geek, 78% Dork


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Another test

Okay, I calm down pretty fast.

Here is another test:

The Geek test - I am an extreme Geek. 63.31361 %

I expect Phil and Tom to score at least that high.


What a load!

Have you been following the "Dover Panda Trial?"

In Dover, PA, eleven parents are suing the school board for trying to teach kids about "Intelligent Design." The reason this is an issue is that ID is just a way to make Creationism seem scientific, and it is illegal to teach religion in public schools. It seems pretty cut and dried. Until the ID proponent, Discovery Institute, got involved. They are trying to prove in court that ID is a scientific theory, and two of their witnesses, Michael Behe (a biochemistry professor at Lehigh University) and Steven Fuller (a philosophy of science expert), say it would be if "scientific theory" were redefined. Behe's proposed definition would allow astrology to be considered scientific! Fuller would have theory redefined to include any hypothesis, no matter how half-baked.

This whole thing pisses me off. I need to go calm down.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

I don't make empty threats

In my last post, I threatened to analyze John DePoe's paper, "An Argument Why the Mind is Not a Physical Mechanism." Well, here goes.

First, let me discuss his dismissal of physicalism. The basic argument, as I understand it, is that in a physicalist universe, rational thought and purposive action are not possible. What does he mean by purposive action? Consider a thermostat. It acts to keep a room at a constant temperature. Isn't that purposive? It can be explained by purely physical means. Does he mean consciously purposive actions? Okay, would you agree that a computer is not conscious, even a cutting-edge one? Ever played chess against one? Before computers, the ability to play chess was considered indisputable evidence of consciousness. A computer chess algorithm is purely physical, but can seem purposive. I have seen my computer sacrifice it's queen for a winning position. That seems pretty purposive. Let's look at the difference between a human brain and a computer CPU, in terms of intraconnectivity (yes, that is correct, intraconnectivity). A Pentium 4, 3.0Ghz processor has 125 million transistors. Each transistor has 3 connections (Gate, Source, Drain) to connect it with other transistors. A human brain has billions of neurons, each with thousands of dendrites connecting it to other neurons. Even without doing the math, it is pretty obvious that the human brain is several orders of magnitude more complex than a computer. So if physical causes can seem purposive in a computer, how much more purposive would be physical causes in a human brain? Notice that physicalism states that ultimate physical causes must be present. In the philosophy of consciousness this is called "supervenience." A simple causative path is not necessary. Mr. DePoe's dismissal of physicalism in not well founded.

I actually agree with his argument against global external justification.

In my last post I showed that his use of Bayes' Theorem is nonsense. But after reading it again (and again), I found more reasons for this beyond the misuse discussed in the last post. Let's look at his variables: R, N, E, and C.
R - human cognitive faculties are reliable.
N - metaphysical naturalism - this means that no supernatural (non-physical) forces exist.
E - Humans have cognitive facilities (that is: minds) that have arisen through evolution.
C - Humans have blah, blah, blah. He means humans have minds.
Now, he says that the probability of R, P(R), is near one. That's debatable, but I'll go with it.
P(x|y) means the probability of x happening given that y has happened.
so: P(N & E & C | R) =P(N & E & C), since P(R) is assumed to be 1, and so will have occurred in all trials.
P(N & E & C) = P(N) & P(E) & P(C)

P(N) - the probability that nothing supernatural exists - He is trying to argue that 'mind' is non-physical (supernatural) and therefore P(N) = 0, so using this in any equation to support his argument reduces that equation to triviality (0=0, no information)

P(E) - the probability that mind arose through natural selection - Again, he is trying to demonstrate that P(E) = 0. Same argument as above.

P(C) - the probability that humans have minds - Humans do have minds. P(C) = 1. since P(x&1) = P(x), this drops out of the equation.

My conclusion: Mr. DePoe seems to have a poor grasp of probability, and has in no way shown that evolution (or rather natural selection) could not have produced the human mind.

He also restates the purposive causation argument that he used to dismiss physicalism. The same reasoning applies. He hasn't shown that physicalism (above) and natural selection (here) can be dismissed.

"Since mental sensations can cause something physical to occur (e.g., my utterances about beliefs that I have about mental sensations), epiphenomenalism is false."

Epiphenomenalism - physical causes can have mental effects, but mental causes cannot have physical effects.

My answer:
Supervenience - all mental causes are themselves effects of physical causes.
See Jaegwon Kim, "Physicalism, or Something Near Enough," Princeton University Press, 2005.

As for Mr. DePoe's argument against agent causation. Agent causation itself seems incompatible with physicalism, and I can't see how this argument in any way shows that the mind cannot be a purely physical phenomenon.

I do not think this paper achieves it's purpose.

I'd like to make one last comment on this paper.

Obfuscation - a big and confusing word that means big and confusing. Generally considered to be an extremely poor writing technique.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mind: Natural or Supernatural?

Today, on Qalmlea's blog, is a reference to an academic paper by John DePoe, "An Argument Why the Mind is Not a Physical Mechanism." Since a topic of a book that I am currently reading ("Darwin's Dangerous Idea" by Daniel C. Dennett) is that 'mind' is a product of physical mechanisms, I immediately found the paper (the link on Qalmlea's blog was dead) and read it. I have some issues with his arguments, but I need time (maybe this weekend) to make a coherent post about them. I do want to mention one issue though. I am not calling Mr. DePoe irrational, or a Creationist, but I have also encountered this problem in irrational Creationist arguments many times.

Sometimes a person will try to support their argument with mathematical equations. Then they claim that this proves their point, when in fact it does no such thing. This is what I mean:

"... by figuring that given (R) that our cognitive faculties are reliable, what is the probability of the following three propositions being true: that (N) metaphysical naturalism, (E) humans have cognitive faculties that have arisen through evolution, and (C) we have cognitive faculties of this sort that produce beliefs of this kind. Using Bayes’s Theorem, Plantinga expresses EAAN this way:

P(N & E & C | R) = [P(N & E & C) x P(R | N & E & C)] / P(R)

Since we believe our cognitive faculties are, in fact, reliable, P(R) is very near 1. Given the reasonable doubts expressed by Darwin and Churchland, P(R|N&E&C) is less than .5. Yet, even with a high estimation of P(N & C & E), it follows that P(N & E & C | R) is low (below .5). Consequently, Plantinga’s EAAN demonstrates that evolution cannot provide a way to assert that the mind is a rational mechanism."

I will ignore, for the moment, the specific meanings of R, N, E, and C as they are not important to my point. I will come back to them in the previously threatened post.

Here is the problem: Bayes' Theorem gives a probability, which in this case may be almost as high as .5 (according to Mr. DePoe). He then asserts that this 'low' probability "demonstrates that evolution cannot provide a way to assert that the mind is a rational mechanism." .5 is not a low probability. It is the probability of getting 'tails' on a single toss of a fair coin. But that does not matter. The argument boils down to: "Situation A exists. It is unlikely that process B caused A. Therefore, process B cannot have caused A." If you don't see the problem there, let me illustrate. This situation is fictional, the name, dollar amount and odds were arbitrarily chosen.

Emily just received a check for $100,000.00. The odds of Emily winning last week's Lottery drawing were 1:1,000,000. Therefore, Emily could not have won the Lottery.

Yes, the money could have come from somewhere else, but winning the Lottery is not ruled out.
Demonstrating that an event is unlikely does not prove that it cannot have happened.

Mr. DePoe's reference is: Alvin Plantinga, "Warrant and Proper Function" (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993)

Anyway, I do want to return to this topic after I have had time to compose my own arguments.


Monday, October 17, 2005


I just took this cool "Which Fantasy/SciFi character Are You?" quiz. Apparently I am a short, bald sicillian. I can live with that.


Friday, October 14, 2005

Old programs

I was thinking, not too long ago, that it would be nice if I had kept all of the programs I've written over the years. Whether in BASIC, Pascal, C, or C++, they were, if not actually useful, at least interesting. I recently bought Borland C++ Builder 6.0, and I think I'll try to recreate some of them. I don't know if I'll bother with the AD&D character generator (or any of the generators for other game systems that I've written. There was a time when writing a generator was almost more important than playing) since I'm not in an RPG group anymore. Some of the others might be fun as C++ refreshers. Some of them are fractal, like the root basin and Mandelbrot set. I'll have to brush up on differential equations to recreate my Runge-Kutta program. I think I'll start with Mr. Engleka's "Funky Chicken" program. Long story. Oh yeah: if anyone has the code for an equation parser (in C++, even a simple one will do) that they'd be willing to send, I'd appreciate it. I actually want to write my own, but I'm lazy.


Key Lime Pie

I have a yen for key lime pie today. Greybull has one grocery store. Sometimes it has fresh key limes, sometimes not. Today was not. So I got bottled key lime juice. Some purists will tell you that using bottled juice is like killing babies or something. Some people get very passionate about desserts. I do use fresh key limes when they are available and I'm not feeling too lazy to juice them. A key lime is smaller than a ping-pong ball. It takes about 15-18 to get enough juice for 1 pie. I keep a garlic press exclusively for this. This makes juicing key limes a lot easier. It's still a pain, though.

There isn't much else happening. I got a copy of Richard Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" that I'm reading, and a copy of Daniel Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea," which I'll read next. Sometimes I wish my life was less boring. Then I think of all the exciting things that can happen, and I decide that Rincewind was right. Boring is good.