Monday, December 31, 2007

An Original Discord

Between Plato and the Pre-Socratics, there was an original discord between philosophy and anti-philosophy. The Pre-Socratics accepted the 'primacy of discourse', whereas Plato affirmed some "real" thing beneath discourse. That is why we can call Plato's philosophy idealistic, since he believes in something ideally real, (the Platonic real), whereas the only real things our language talks about is the difference within itself, according to the Pre-Socratics.

But Plato's philosophy was simultaneously innocent and grandiose. Grandiose because he thought that language was commensurable with the Real. Innocent because his philosophic fiction has been superseded by every philosophic movement after Descartes. It was superseded by the mind-turn of the Enlightenment, where the origin of signifiers were relocated in the mind rather than the world, and the linguistic turn of the 20th Century where the origin of signifiers were relocated in language rather than in the mind.

It appears that the Pre-Socratics had it right. Their views were seen as anti-philosophic early on, since they opposed the formulaic reduction of language to the Real which later became the duty of the philosopher. I should say that there is really only one Pre-Socratic I have in mind here, to be fair to all the rest, and that is Heraclitus. He is known as the Philosopher of Discord. Whereas Plato and Socrates preached harmony, according to the Heraclitus' aphorisms, Discord and non-relation is more fundamental than harmony.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Status of Social Realist Photography

The photograph has been an integral part of social change in the 19th & 20th centuries. For example, it changed the way we think about one issue in particular--child labor--in the United States. The picture on the left is from Lewis Hine's 1908 collection of photos for the National Child Labor Committee, taken in a South Carolinian textile factory. Hine said his photographs of child labor provided unquestionable evidence of exploitation and inserted text captions to put his pictures in context. In the album and book How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis visually documented how child workers in New York and St. Louis operated in the slums, such as those in the oyster picking business.

The picture on the right is a famous photograph of a child poverty project by Stephen Shames, taken in the Bronx in 1989. The picture further below is from Marion Post Wolcott's collection of Farm Security Administration pictures, taken during the Great Depression, depicting the dire circumstances of children during that era. These pictures changed social policy because in some sense the entire photographic enterprise rests on the assumption that what is imaged is real, or that something about it is real. It seems all that is needed is a photograph, and that can be better than any witness. It's irrefutable evidence. This is the "new visual code" that Susan Sontag wrote about in On Photography.

The effect of modern photography on our education now provides "most of the knowledge people have about the look of the past and the reach of the future," Sontag writes. These images change our perspective and in another sense these images anesthetize us to the world. On the one hand, the lack of photographic evidence can anesthetize us to injustice. On the other hand the hyperreality of over-abundant images, where we are so used to seeing them, and using the them as the evidence, the photograph itself is the context. The picture is the story. The photoblog has become and important part of blog life because of this reason. Text is boring sometimes. An article with images will hold your attention much longer than text alone.

Yet there is also an unspoken skepticism involved, since we are never entirely sure that what the picture says is real, though it has been elevated to that status. Susan Sontag (pictured right, perhaps) wrote that the Farm Security Administration even doctored the photographs, and obsessed over the lighting and positioning of the subjects. It's this kind of skepticism that has de-elevated the photograph from its pedestal. And it thus seems that over the course of a century the social realism of the photographic enterprise had lost a great deal of its credibility, like the all-encompassing meta-narratives that lost their weight before then.

This is a curious situation, then, considering that this is supposed to be the age that is dominated by the image.

Google Zeitgeist 2007

Following the end-of-the-year blog fascination with the "Top 10 List" meme, here is a list of the highest-ranking Google searches for 2007, via Google Zeitgeist, with some pretentious answers for each query.

1) Most popular search on Google News: American Idol

American idol is the holy grail of counter-subversive pop iconography.

2) Most searched-for TV show: Heroes

Heroes is the collective myth of post 9/11 abjection.

3) Most searched-for movie: Transformers

Transformers are the Adolf Eichmanns of Astral America.

4) Fastest-rising US search: iPhone

The iPhone is the scalped-head of commodity fetishism.

5) Fastest-rising global search: iPhone

Did you hear what I said? The iPhone is the evil cookie jar of Buy Nothing Day!

6) Most-searched lawsuit: Borat lawsuit

This is the funniest thing that ever happened to a racist, sexist, British comedian.

7) Most searched "Who is...?": Who is God?

God is the buttery nipple of drunken metaphysics.

8) Most searched-for presidential candidate: Ron Paul

Ron Paul is the fifth wheel of relentlessly dichotomous political structures.

9) Most searched "How to...?": How to kiss

Kissing is a discourse between sexual iconography and evolutionary development. The first time you try it should be on MDMA.

10) Most searched "What is...?": What is love?


Friday, December 28, 2007

How To Form the Right Concepts

Psychology is concerned with how the mind forms concepts. Philosophy is interested too, but more interested in forming the right concepts. To get a theory of mind right, a concept itself, one of the eliminative materialists, Stephen Stich, argues that one has to give an accurate description of the concept, or the body of tacit knowledge, that “underlies our quotidian practice.” Once we have that the challenge to folk psychology is underway.

In the psychological literature, the most widely known challenge to the assumptions of our traditional philosophical analysis (the Socratic folk psychology in which categorizations in the mind have one-to-one match-ups in the physical view) is the model provided by Eleanor Rosch and her colleagues. On this model, mental structures that underlie our judgments do not exploit tacitly known necessary and sufficient conditions for category membership, “or anything roughly equivalent,” Stich adds.

The Rosch model, with its emphasis on idealized descriptions about “prototypes” and their similarities to other categorizations, says that categorizations are made without meeting conditions that the commonsense view, exemplar theory, would predict. Categorizations are instead determined by “tacit similarity knowledge”.

Though this model does not talk about intentional states like beliefs and desires, it is one more example how the commonsense paradigm does not make concrete one-to-one match-ups with the world. Stich suggests that there is no underlying concept motivating categorization judgments, as the folk theory predicts. He argues that subjects construct “various different sorts, on the fly” in response to a situation where concept-formation generally happens. Hence there are no one-to-one match-ups, so the traditional Socratic method of proposing definitions and then searching for intuitive counter-examples will have to be dropped.

If our introspective accounts about whether a mental state has the property of qualia, or the propositional “that p”, are motivated by the sorts of prototypes of the Rosch model, as opposed to exemplars or tacit theories, or if the judgments we make result spontaneously as subatomic particles do in quantum theory, then the conditions that they intuitively fall under a target concept will also be dropped.

In other words, the “classical structure” of defining the things we talk about has less weight, as Stich says. He proposes that the traditional Socratic method will have to be superseded by a cognitive science approach instead. (In Kripke’s example of gold being some sort of yellow substance, but not fool’s gold, we are also reminded that the scientific approach of defining it in terms of its chemical composition with the atomic number 79 allowed us to speak of rigid designators, and this is analogous to the way that cognitive science should be able to talk about mental states.)

The Rosch model is not the only model in support of this thesis. There are various computational models in support, and several papers on the relationship between connectionism and eliminativism are in support of the mature approach. This pluralism might be thought to be evidence against the idea that one explanation of cognitive phenomena is needed.

But this is precisely Stich’s point. “For if different paradigms within cognitive science use different notions of representation, then there isn’t going to be a theory of mental representation of the sort we have been discussing. There will be lots of theories.” It will make little sense to ask which one is the right theory, since each theory exploits a different branch of cognitive science, but we can be sure that the traditional method is a stagnant, degenerating research program.

But it does look like what we see in cognitive science is the beginning of an argument for eliminativism, since cognitive theories and folk theories make incompatible claims, and the folk theories are not reducible to the phenomena cognitive science exploits.

Paul and Patricia Churchland have emphasized the mismatch between the sentential structure of propositional attitudes on the one hand, and the actual neurological structures of the brain on the other hand. Whereas the former involves discrete symbols and a combinatorial syntax, the latter involves action potentials, spiking frequencies and spreading activation. As the Churchlands have argued, it is hard to see where in the brain we are going to find anything that even remotely resembles the sentence-like structure that appears to be essential to beliefs and other propositional attitudes.

Stich has emphasized, on the other hand, that folk psychology individuates beliefs by virtue of their semantic properties, e.g., we taxonomize states like beliefs by virtue of what they are about. However, according to Stich, there are a host of reasons for rejecting a semantic taxonomy for scientific psychology.

Semantic taxonomies ignore causally salient aspects of cognitive states, involve a high degree of vagueness, and break down in the case of the mentally ill or the very young. In place of the semantic individuation method adopted by folk psychology, Stich argues for a syntactic taxonomy that is based upon the causally relevant syntactic or physical properties of a given cognitive state.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Our Marxist Drinking Game

I'm at a friend's house, and we're drinking cream stout from Suffolk while rearranging his sexually-suggestive refrigerator magnets, which I said were overtly sexual. I proceeded to list them: words like breast, gorgeous, sausage, sordid, whisper, sweat, peach, manipulate, juicy, and enormous fill the refrigerator. I thought that obviously these magnets were designed for sexed-up college students' refrigerators. He said they weren't necessarily sexual or phallic, so I suggested we try to interpret them in other ways, such as interpreting them through a Marxian analysis and see whether other interpretations were possible. Taking turns then, we interpreted every magnet on the wall through Marxian analysis. If we could not think of anything Marxian to say about "smell", "king size bed" or "penetrate", (well then!) we just had to drink more cream stout.

In the end, my friend says what we came up with is more of a game than an explanation of the magnets' meaning. You should try it some time.

Jedi Mind Advertising

I received a (consumer) horoscope via text message:

"You're likely to find that you slip into a rather frivolous and happy-go-lucky mood, especially when it comes to cash."

How obnoxious.

Every Tool is a Weapon if you Hold it Right

Ani DiFranco sung those words. Wes Enzinna from the Nation Magazine, who interviewed me and others from Tacoma Port Militarization Resistance, used Ani DiFranco's lyrics to point out the power of YouTube as a tool in the fight against imperialist wars and exposing counter-protest measures taken by powerful governments dedicated to eradicative, anti-opposition tactics.

Ezinna recently wrote an article about a Patriot Act look-alike in El Salvador. The new law

"establishes a special terrorism tribunal and allows for anonymous witnesses and undercover agents to participate in those trials. It also criminalizes acts such as public protests, street blockades and "publicly justifying terrorism" with punishments of up to eighty years in prison."

El Salvador, a War on Terror ally, is giving a glimpse into the new counter-terrorism and anti-radicalization process. Human Rights Watch outlines a number of misuses of the counter-terrorism law against protesters. A number of people who have been blacklisted under the new law have fled. Journalists have been arrested as well. (Journalism is a weapon if you hold it right too.) No doubt the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act and bills like it are used as political weapons everywhere. The Bush and Saca Administration in El Salvador have close ties. The Nation Magazine writes,

"El Salvador is the only Latin American country with troops still in Iraq and was the first to sign the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The country receives $461 million over five years in US aid through the Millennium Challenge Corporation and is home to the controversial US-run International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in San Salvador."

Still, the US does not condemn the use of counter-terrorism laws in El Salvador. Douglas Barclay, the US Ambassador to El Salvador, said that "whatever step a government takes against terrorism is an appropriate step." Last January Barclay was also urging the Salvadoran government to increase the use of wiretapping, increase police wages, and to introduce a "security tax".

It isn't difficult to see where a lot of El Salvador's legal advice comes from, since most of El Salvador's laws are modeled after US laws. And if US ambassadors are suggesting the police-state solution to its allies, it isn't difficult to see what the US would like to see done with its own radicals. The internet is a weapon if you hold it right also, and this is why the internet is the focal point in bills like HR 1955. YouTube is a weapon, and even free speech is a weapon if you hold it right too.

Facebook Ethnography

It's not just student-ethnographers, entire institutions are using facebook as a means to study social behavior. The NYTimes ran a story last week about higher ed institutions that use facebook for its enormous quantities of unperturbed social data to pattern behaviors, map connections, and discover hidden tastes and preferences. "To study how personal tastes, habits and values affect the formation of social relationships" to be exact.

This is similar to the KSU digital ethnography researchers I have been tracking on YouTube, who use study the use of video and personal communication. One student-researcher and vlogger, named thepoasm, tells you everything about her professors, why she's studying, and what she wants from YouTube. She has become a vlogger herself and it has been interesting to see the transition take place progressively.

If institutions and researchers are behind this, it's easy to see why corporate marketing managers are interested. The goal is to create a Facebook that will become so consumerist that making purchases directly from Facebook will be common. FacePal - a PayPal client - is already in beta-testing. This will likely be integrated with the Marketplace feature, which allows you to create classified ads for housing, jobs, and other sales. But a highly corporatized Marketplace will make Facebook just like any other shopping site, so corporate exchanges will likely have low volume at least at first.

There is a rule for academic research that anything public can be studies. It's not clear whether online content is public or not. If you are someone's friend, potentially wall comments and things like that are public, since facebook publishes everything in the mini-feed. Although federal rules govern much of the academic research, each university approves professors’ research methods and they have different interpretations of the guidelines.

Most researchers do not get their studies approved by online subjects before studying, however, since that would compromise their behavior. It's also invasive to go ahead studying. KSU uses YouTube to study the way society works, and this is understandable since YouTube is public. Facebook is private and much more personal. The boundary between purely academic interests in social behavior and corporate manipulation is thin. It seems that the point at which academic research begins studying "tastes and preferences" is when it becomes of interest to corporate sponsors.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Exhibit F: Revolutionary Jack

During my holiday travels, I came across this mural on the side of a Jack in the Box in Federal Way, WA. At first it seemed to be blending in with the background, but then I noticed the fist and I stopped where I was standing. Has Jack become a revolutionary? And what does this mean for fast food, I joked to myself, will they change their evil ways?

Blessed are the Meek -- "The Kite Runner"

The Kite Runner is a pious film about an Afghan boy who escapes the Russian invasion and emigrates to America with his father. He returns to the country later to save his nephew from the Taliban and bring him back to America.

That the film is a sneaky justification of American values and interventionism, a straightforward response to the film, is probably too obvious. It's maybe obvious enough that it wouldn't slip under a critical movie-goer's interpretive radar. With the subject matter being "Afghanistan" how can the film not have obvious political considerations? So, I would like to critique the film in a way that most would not have considered. My interpretation is from the position that it is a justification of Christian virtues above anything else.

The most prominent theme is the master/slave relationship between Amir, the Afghan boy, and Hassan, his old servant. The film's tagline is "There is a way to be good again," which is indicative of the American obsession with its own appearance in the eyes of global civil society after so many mistakes. But in fact the way one becomes good again, the film shows, is to become like the old servant. Goodness is service; goodness is slavishness. It is not necessarily to intervene in another country's affairs.

Like Christ, Hassan's highest moral imperative is "to serve". A true disciple, as it says in Matthew 19, sells all of his possessions and becomes a follower and a servant. And there is one scene in particular that I would like to dissect.

The beginning of the film's tension starts during a scene where Hassan and Amir had won a kite-running contest, and Hassan -- in his unswerving devotion to Amir -- runs down the street to catch the kite that they had won in the contest. But Hassan is trapped in an alleyway and raped by three older Pushtan boys who see meekness in Hassan. The Pushtan boys say Hassan is simply one of Amir's dogs. And Amir, who watches the entire rape take place, does not stand up for his servant. Even though Amir already knows what happened, he covers up and asks "What happened?" to Hassan. Hassan also covers up and says nothing happened. At this point, the exposure of Amir's betrayal and Hassan's self-denial, we feel pity for Hassan and these moral sacrifices.

Later, Amir's anger towards his own weakness of will is displaced onto Hassan. In one scene, they are reading moral stories together, and Amir begins to throw pomegranates at Hassan, reddening his shirt. He screams "Why won't you hit me back?!" But Hassan is the ultimate embodiment of Christian-Abrahamic moral values. He 'turns the other cheek' as picks up a pomegranate and smashes it against his own head. Amir is paralyzed.

The problem is that Hassan is supposed to be morally superior to Amir, and Amir does not have strength in his will to overcome morality. Amir writes moral stories, and Hassan critiques them, and then Hassan critiques Amir himself. Hassan's critique of Amir's moral values seems to circumscribe any criteria that Amir gives. "Morality" is the only scheme of interpretation by which Hassan can endure himself. Amir needs some way to be better than Hassan, but morality is the overarching interpretive code, and Amir can't find a better one, so eventually he accepts the code and becomes a Christ-like servant too.

But the devotion to moral values like charity, piety, meekness and subservience that have formed Hassan's identity has made him into a Christ-like character who will eventually be publicly sacrificed in front of Amir's house. Hassan will be rejected by his own people. Amir's father, who is moral pharisee (radically reinterpreting "theft" as the only sin, and says that one has a "right to truth"), rejects Hassan because he is his own illegitimate child. The Pushtans reject him because he is a prophet of docile moral values. Amir rejects him because, like Judas Iscariot, he must betray his disguised master by turning him in to the authorities. (He cannot serve two masters.)

In fact Amir at one point frames Hassan and accuses him of being a thief in order to have Hassan seized by the pharisees. Hassan, while innocent, feigns guilt so that he can please Amir and be guilty. Yet when Hassan confesses, this only makes Amir more rambunctious. When Amir's father becomes like Pontius Pilate and pronounces Hassan innocent, Hassan and his father insist that they leave anyway. Hassan walks away like the quiet Christ, accepting false accusations while showing moral restraint and humility. Amir's father does not understand what has happened and he throws his hands up in the air as if to say "What is truth?"

Throughout the entire story, the audience simply accepts that meekness is a virtue, but what for? Meekness was never a classical virtue for the Greeks, the Romans, or the Persians. It was invented by Jewish slaves to justify their morality in imperial societies, as when they were captives in Babylon and subjects under Rome. It's a coping mechanism, yet it has subverted all other values and is accepted as universal. We are all Christianized. And now Hollywood has Christianized Islamic societies, subsuming other cultures and impressing on them their own values. We can turn the film's tagline into "How to be Christ-like again" and it would make just as much sense. Being an unquestioning servant with unconditional love for master and who is therefore brutalized is one of the highest moral qualities one can achieve, we are told, deserving reverence and pity.

"Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth."

This is one of the beatitudes found in the synoptic Gospels. It is interesting that it says the earth is the inheritable reward for meekness. When Jewish captives escaped from Egypt, they "inherited" the land of Israel, which means they had to kill everyone off who lived there before them. Yet slaves will never inherit anything except the earth they till for their masters, so long as they remain slaves. What this film shows us is how to become proper slaves. It is a projection of slave morality, the kind of morality that instructs us to become obedient, unquestioning, rule-abiding servants who sacrifice their will to the authority of their masters. Far from having a right to truth, as Amir's father says, there are truths that are fit only for slaves and truths fit only for stronger wills.

The Christian story is an odd mixture of pity and many other sentiments. The audience responds to Hassan's meekness just as they respond to Christ's meekness. Meekness is being quiet, gentle, and always ready to do what someone else wants without expressing one's own opinion. It is one of the seven virtues of Christianity. It is the embodiment of slave morality. Yet the value of those values are not called into question. They are simply part of our cultural interpretive code.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Banksy's West Bank

The 400+ mile concrete wall separating Palestine from Palestine has at least one purpose--the public display of art. Banksy, the UK-based guerrilla artist, recently stenciled several images on the wall, now making it reminiscent of the art the appeared on Berlin's "anti-fascist" Wall shortly after its fall. One of his new pieces is of a little girl in a pink dress frisking an Israeli soldier. It is almost exactly like the image on a UK wall of Scotland Yard frisking the little girl in a red dress. All of the new images were thrown up in the areas surrounding Bethlehem, a major pilgrimage site at this time of year. On the website, Banksy encourages people to visit Bethlehem and witness the uselessness of the wall for themselves. Like most walls in history, this one has only served to keep people who have legitimate claims to the land out. The ICJ stated that the barrier was "contrary to international law" and the UN stated that the wall created significant humanitarian and economic issues, not to mention that Palestinian land was confiscated to create the barrier. Initially contemplated by Israel as a security barrier, it has now become a political, economic, and humanitarian barrier.

The Royal Channel

50 Years ago as a young queen, Elizabeth II was adapting to the changing technological circumstances and began using television as a medium to spread the Royal message to her majesty's subjects throughout the British Empire and its 'commonwealth realms'. Now that message has reached a quarter of a million people on Christmas Day 2007 through YouTube. This year's message is foremost about the primacy of family, caring for the vulnerable, and remembering those who died for the cause of imperialism. But technology, YouTube in particular, will be what this message is remembered for.

"I very much hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct." She said in 1957. "That it's possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us." The Queen said that 25 years before that marked the first year the radio was used to broadcast the message. As the institutions of monarchs becomes less and less important in British society, however, it seems the mediums with which the throne uses to make their messages more personal and direct will have to keep with the changing pace of technology.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Cognitive Liberty

Emerging technologies are expected to create a multiplicity of psychological modes of being. This is known as neurodiversity. In general the right to one's own psychological state of mind is not recognized, while freedom of thought is. Thoughts are physiologically represented by brain states. If one does not have the right to alter one's own brain state, by extension one does not have freedom of thought.

Today, recreational drug users and the autistic rights community contend that the obsession with maintaining 'neurotypicality' is a form of oppression. In the transhuman future, technologies such as neuropharmaceuticals, cybernetics and other cognotech will offer individuals an unprecedented opportunity to experience alternative subjective mental states. Like anything, however, neuroenablement and cognitive liberty are rights that will have to be fought for.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Kemalist Empire to Destroy Rebellion

Two days after the first air raid, Turkey sent hundreds of soldiers into Northern Iraq in a second operation, but withdrew them shortly after. The military then said those two operations dealt a major blow to the Kurds, but did not say how many had been killed. Today, however, Turkey was back to bombing Northern Iraq again, which they said killed "hundreds" of rebels.

Crushing the terrorist organizations that choose to separate from the empire means, foremost, crushing the independence movement. The raids in Kurdistan are not aimed at terrorism so much as its own separatist elements. That Turkey and the United States have a "common enemy" is true, yet Turkey frames this in War on Terror terminology that the United States will understand. Turkey, however, openly and very bluntly does not want to see an independent Kurdistan. Neither does America, since a successful Kurdish War of Independence would likely mean another anti-American socialist Republic. Not that Turkey isn't a socialist Republic itself.

Woodrow Wilson's Nobel Prize-winning Fourteen Points about building peace and allowing self-determination are only gestures America gives to nations who kneel before empire. It specifically said in point #12 that,

"The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development." (italics mine)

That statement is nearly 90 years old. Yet today the other nationalities stand no chance against the empire that forces them into the fold. That Kurds' autonomous development is and was never "absolutely unmolested" under Turkish authority is evidenced in a statement from Prime Minister Erdogan's meeting with President Bush on Nov. 5th, which recounted Turkey's point that,

"The terrorist organization of the PKK will see and understand that there is no secure place left Iraq's north, and it will understand that it has no chances against the Turkish Republic." (italics mine.)

Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Terrorist!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Red Hot Chili Peppers - music of CIA torture

Regarding the torture videotapes the CIA conveniently destroyed, From Newsweek:

"The videotapes, made in 2002, showed the questioning of two high-level Qaeda detainees, including logistics chief Abu Zubaydah, whose interrogation at a secret cell in Thailand sparked an internal battle within the U.S. intelligence community after FBI agents angrily protested the aggressive methods that were used. In addition to waterboarding, Zubaydah was subjected to sleep deprivation and bombarded with blaring rock music by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. One agent was so offended he threatened to arrest the CIA interrogators, according to two former government officials directly familiar with the dispute."

The CIA used Red Hot Chili Peppers' music in their torture process. Does the CIA have a taste for the Chili Peppers or is this just "mainstream music" that happened to find its way into the CD deck? This also got me thinking what the Chili Peppers thought about this practice. Then I found this video, "Torture Me", from their 2006 album (voted 2nd best of 2006 by Rolling Stone) Stadium Arcadium:

The lyrics, viewable here, are eerily indiscernible. "The will of God is standing still - Brazilian children get their fill" means what exactly? "Because I'm happy to be sad - I want it all I want it bad". I'm not sure what this means either. I'm also unclear about what attracts the interrogators to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Stadium Arcadium won the Grammy for Best Rock Album of 2007. So the torture song was written long after the CIA began using RHCP for torture.

Now I'm not a Chili Peppers fan, so it's not clear to me what the song is supposed to be about. But since the Chili Peppers are now a part of - culturally - the War on Terror it would be ncie to see what the Chili Peppers think about torture, imperialism, and the U.S. But their contract with Time Warner, the largest media conglomerate in the world, most likely doesn't allow them to become overtly political. (Didn't you know your level of political engagement is decided by your employer?)

In the unlikely event that the CIA pays Time Warner royalties for using their music for official CIA operations, as Fortune Magazine noted, it might be enough to cover the cost of a rebellion in tastes and preferences if one takes place like it did with the Dixie Chicks.

But What If He's Got a Time-Bomb!

The ticking time-bomb scenario is just about the most pumped-out thought experiment ever. Alan Dershowitz, the famous Israeli lobbyist and defense attorney for O.J. Simpson, wrote the article in which he said that if he could get Americans to agree that in at least one case (the case of a ticking time-bomb on Manhattan island!) torturing somebody who knows the way to stop the ticking could save peoples' lives, and then torture would be justified. And then once it's justified, he said we should make it legal.

That was published in 2002, the same year Guantanamo began to be used for War on Terror prisoners. He published a follow-up article called "Tortured Reasoning". And though the ticking time-bomb scenario has never really occurred except in Hollywood studios, persuaded Americans instinctively think every enemy combatant has a ticking time-bomb somewhere up their sleeve and that torturing them with warrants is the proper, legal, American thing to do. Once we buy the ticking time-bomb, we buy Guantanamo, we buy Eastern Europe, and we buy all the ad-hoc torture situations that happen out-of-sight in the War on Terror. Torturing someone to potentially save someone else's life has become a noble, necessary (and naïve) moral imperative.

Yet another reason why I'm not a utilitarian. Dershowitz actually begins the second article by saying he's a "civil libertarian". What mischievous rhetorical devices that man has.

"Reasonably Just"

"In a reasonably just (though of course not perfectly just) democratic regime, civil disobedience is, when it is justified, normally to be understood as a political action which addresses the sense of justice of the majority in order to urge reconsideration of the measures protested and to warn that in the firm opinion of the dissenters the conditions of social cooperation are not being honored."
~John Rawls, The Justification For Civil Disobedience
But for Rawls, civil disobedience is limited in a reasonably just democratic regime when it cannot urge reconsideration from the majority because it threatens the integrity of the reasonably just regime. There is of course no corresponding obligation or duty to regard what the reasonably just regime enacts itself is (in the end) just, just as there is no corresponding obligation or duty to regard what the majority enacts itself is (in the end) just.

'Justice for reasonably just regimes', I guess.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Spectre Is Haunting The Internet

"...the spectre of free information!"

I put The Globalistik Informatik Manifesto onto Google Docs. As far as I'm concerned it should be open to editing. If you have information you think should go into it and want permissions, send me a message. By the way, I found a similar manifesto through by the name "The dotCommunist Manifesto", written by a professor at Columbia University in 2003. His manifesto is very well-written and extends beyond the arguments in The GIM. He has 7 main points, and the Globalistik Informatik Manifesto is basically his point # 7.

The New Economics of Labor Migration

The "new economics of labor migration" has added explanatory power to the neo-classical model by focusing on a household’s decision to send migrants in a context where migration serves to mitigate the impact of insurance and market imperfections on "emitting" households. The realization of this idea can be traced back to Stark and Bloom's 1985 paper.

The old Harris-Todaro model of migration is the traditional, and more individualized, model of migration. Contemporary research on the determinants of migration, however, has focused on the importance of economic and noneconomic factors in the decision to migrate in a "dualistic" economy, that is, one in which there rigid wages in the urban sector and flexible wages in the rural sector.

This “cumulative causation” of migration provides a framework for understanding migration by looking at individuals and households.

In the individual model model of migration, wage flexibility in rural areas effects decisions to migrate from rural to urban areas, where rigid wages are often higher. Urban utility may be higher due to unionization, proximity to policymakers, and thus more likely to have minimum wages, unemployment benefits, day cares, and pension schemes. And employers will often pay higher wages to "buy the threat" from loss of productivity caused by competing low-wage employment. According to the Harris-Todaro Model, an equilibrium obtains when the expected urban wage is equal to the marginal product of a rural worker.

Household models of migration, on the other hand, consider several noneconomic factors that influence the decision to migrate. Migration networks, for example, serve as a means of conveying information from those with migration experience to potential migrants, and network members assist new migrants, and therefore networks serve to influence the expected income gains from, and the uncertainty associated with, migration. There is also a distinction to be made between community and family networks. Family networks are considered "strong ties" and community networks "weak ties" for various reasons.

The household model therefore adds sophisticated variables like information, insurance, and social capital to the model. This is more difficult for the neo-classical model to absorb, however. It doesn't mean it cannot be done. Presumably everything can be reduced to mathematical formalisms, right? Perhaps, but models do have obvious limitations. Even the household model has its own. It opens the door to various other migration factors, such gender and totalitarian biases in the household itself, and the dynamics of labor- and wealth-endowments of households.

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The Fall of Man Was an Inside Job!

Sinfest is great.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Seegrid Corporation

The absent-minded and quixotic engineer/programmer/singularity prophet, Hans Moravec, started a robotics company in 2003 called Seegrid Corporation, with the goal of developing robots that will visualize their surroundings in three dimensions.

Now, Hans is also the author of several classic transhuman books like "Mind Children: the future of robot and human intelligence" and "Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind". His company may only create "warehouse drones" for now, but Hans' futuristic vision promises fruitful robots to come. In his view, popularizing industrial robots which do rather inane tasks is only the first step to developing an industry that will be able to popularize and produce - at lower costs - the future's technologies.

Indeed, from an economics perspective, human enhancement technologies would free up human labor, but this would not necessarily lead to unemployment. Think of all the technological jumps we've made in the last century, and by comparison, how much less unemployment we have.

Ray Kurzweil sits on the company's board of directors. Kurzweil himself is an AI genius, and has started ten successful enterprises himself, among them Kurzweil AI and Kurzweil Technologies. You've seen the Kurzweil electronic keyboards at Guitar Center? It's the same guy. Together with hundreds of other leadings scientists and AI prophets, they are working towards a "singular event" in which machine capital develops faster than the developers can develop them. Beyond that horizon lies a technological utopia.

So presumably, social robots will displace labor too. But artificial intelligence is not developed enough to do sophisticated work for the bourgeoisie. Moravec seems to be right in saying that industrial robots make up the base of the labor force, and that they would need to be developed first, allowing more skilled laborers to work on developing more advanced forms of capital. Human enhancement technologies and industrialized labor, Moravec said in an interview with Scientific American, "Will create the perfect welfare state."

Help Us Maintain the Power of the Spectacle!

Alice in Wonderland meets Critical Theory:

Like Alice, it should make us curious. Have we been dominated by something called a "spectacle" all our lives? Don't worry, what really matters is appearance and living in excess. How reassuring of the March Hare and Mad Hatter. Personally, I think it's hard to tell which side of the spectacle they're on. I suppose I'm with Alice's side, still trying to find Mr. Guy Debord...

Last Turkish Air Raid Largest Yet

When I visited Turkey last July, the policy analysts at the American embassy in Ankara said that Turkey would not invade Iraq because "they are our allies". Northern Iraq is the safest place in Iraq, and we wouldn't want Turkey to interfere. Turks will obey us, they seemed to be saying.

Yet Turkish society became irate when suspicions were confirmed that US-issued weapons were ending up in Kurdish separatists' hands in August. Turks have long thought that Americans backed the Kurds, and that their hypocritical "War on Terror" did not extend to Turkey's own plight. Turkish politicians seemed to be taunting neo-conservatives by asking how tough on terror are you, Mr. Bush?

Since then the Turkish military government received approval from the parliament in October to take military action "at any time" against Kurds, which includes this morning's raid. President Bush said in a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan that the "PKK is a terrorist organization. They're an enemy of Turkey, they're an enemy of Iraq, and they're an enemy of the United States."

Meanwhile self-proclaimed "Kemalist, nationalist, statist, secularist, populist, and revolutionist" Turkey was beating the war drums to invade Kurdistan.

For weeks, Turkey continues to bomb Kurdish separatists in Eastern Turkey and Northern Iraq. In Turkish society, Kurds have only recently (since 2005) been granted basic civil liberties such as being allowed to speak one's native language. Kurds can now speak Kurdish, but they cannot yearn for independence in irredentist Turkey. That's an attack on the state. "Insulting Turkishness," according to article 301 of the penal code, is a criminal offense.

At the moment there are tens of thousands of Turkish troops near the border area. A CNN headline reads Iraq Condemns Turkish Attack. Iraq's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that it asked its envoy to tell the Turkish government

"to halt such military actions that effect innocent and causes panic which may affect the friendly relations existing between the two peoples and governments of the two neighbors."
The EU also called for Turkey to halt raids in Northern Iraq. This is the largest air raid yet, says the UK Guardian, and more are expected. America wants to prove how tough it is on terror, so the Defense Department is aiding Turkey by supplying them with "lots of intelligence."

Websites like the Kurdistan Communist Party say Turkey is betraying the Kurds once again. After all, there are more nations than there are states, and when some states force fiercely unwilling nations to be included in the state's rule-by-force game, there are bound to be violent conflicts.

An Annotated Elimination of the Explanatory Gap

If you've seen the tirade of entries tagged under "consciousness studies" it's because I'm building a thesis about the primacy of folk theories in neuropsychology and philosophy of mind and why they should be eliminated.

To summarize, I've argued that there is an explanatory gap between folk theories and physics, but necessarily so because folk theories are false.

I argued that the folk theories that explain the reason why think qualia and propositional attitudes must exist are based on a misleading one-to-one hypothesis which infers that, if there is a prima facie case for mental states upon introspection, then subsequently there must be something in physics that can explain what we're introspecting about.

I argued that, not only are qualia and propositional attitudes like the falsified folk scientific theories of the past, like phlogiston and demons, but the ontological and phenomenological arguments for them are remarkably similar and share the same structure as the arguments for the existence of God.

Subsequently, these theories are at risk for elimination, and should be placed on program which will lead to their eventual phasing-out, while we search for theories that can replace them adequately.

There are various benefits of eliminating these problems. We get to reap all the benefits of turning the "hard problems" of consciousness, like the Mary Problem and the Zombies Problem, into mere pseudo-problems that do not need to be solved.

Consequently, physics is complete and does not need to rely on non-physical or quasi-physical properties and states to have explanatory power.

Lastly, we can quit being agnostic materialists and become eliminative materialists.

(There is still more work to be done, however, especially on the semantic thesis likening qualia's and propositional attitudes' intertheoretic irreducibility to folk-theoretic irreducibility.)

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One-to-One Connection Thesis

What it seems philosophy of mind is trying to do is create one-to-one match-ups between what exists according to commonsense and what our present physical and neuropsychological theories can say about the mind.

The folk philosophy of mind theory is supposed to work sort of like a function in mathematics: "For every input there is exactly and only one output."

Except in philosophy of mind we're not that certain there are one-to-one match-ups like that. So it's more like quantum indeterminacy, or should be.

Many philosophers still believe some sort of one-to-one rule applies to our concepts about the mind. That implicit thesis is defended by the majority of philosophy professors and academics in the consciousness studies.

We try to find a nice spot in our theory about the mind for all sorts of things we think must exist. Consciousness must exist, or an explanation of it must, so we have to be able to place that in our theory. That is given.

We also think beliefs and desires exist, so we must find a place for that too. That there is something called "first person experience" that must also have a counterpart in our theory as well. These are the things the folk thesis wants to salvage.

But identity theory (making those match-ups) has been called into question before. And we changed our theories because of it. Science use to think there was a fluid substance that held heat inside bodies, kind of like water in a sponge.

But we got rid of that when we decided heat was the rapid movement of trillions of jostling molecules that actually did the heating. We also thought, even further back, that demonic forces could possess people and turn them into witches. That, however, has been taken over by modern psychology, and they no longer explain mental conditions in demonic or Biblical terms.

In each case, something was eliminated. It seemed unlikely that we would arrive at a nice one-to-one match-up between the concepts of folk psychology and the concepts of theoretical neuropsychology.

That intertheoretic match-up is required if we think all the commonsense things can be reduced to neuropsychological things. But some things are just not reducible. You can't reduce the heat substance to the theory that says the heat substance doesn't exist. You have to eliminate that idea of the heat substance.

As I see it, the one-to-one match-ups will not be found in the philosophy of mind either, and our commonsense psychological framework will not have an intertheoretic reduction, because our commonsense psychological framework is a false and misleading conception of the causes of human behavior and the nature of cognitive reality.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Transcendental Signifiers, Gods and Qualia

Here's a summary of an old debate in philosophy between Saint Anselm and a little-known monk named Gaunilo, which dates back to the Eleventh Century Anno Domini.

Anselm: God is that which no greater can be conceived.
Gaunilo: Meaning what, exactly?
Anselm: God is perfect.
Gaunilo: So I cannot conceive of anything greater than God?
Anselm: Correct. Otherwise He would not be perfect.
Gaunilo: So if God is perfect, God exists, right?
Anselm: Correct. Otherwise He would not be perfect.
Gaunilo: Why?
Anselm: Because perfection is greater than imperfection.
Gaunilo: So perfection is necessarily existent, while imperfection is not necessarily existent.
Anselm: Yes because if something existed it would be greater than if it did not exist.
Gaunilo: So because God is perfect by definition, by definition he must also exist?
Anselm: Correct.
Gaunilo: Aren't you defining God into existence?
Anselm: No.
Gaunilo: But I can define things into existence, using that method.
Anselm: How so?
Gaunilo: Imagine a tropical island which no greater can be conceived.
Anselm: Okay, a perfect tropical island.
Gaunilo: The perfect topical island necessarily exists, but the imperfect ones may not necessarily exist, because an existing tropical island is always greater than a non-existing tropical island.
Anselm: But that's silly, where's the perfect tropical island supposed to be?
Gaunilo: My point exactly - I built its existence into the definition.
Anselm: Why should I accept your definition?
Gaunilo: Why should I accept yours?
Anselm: I'm not going to accept a fool's argument. Only a fool denies what he knows in his heart to be true.

The question: What's the difference between a perfect tropical island that exists and a perfect tropical island that doesn't exist? is relevant to more applications than theology. Today we have the debate about qualia and physics, which is very similar. The only difference between the islands is, in the end, the existence of the islands themselves.

Kant re-articulated Gaunilo's point in The Critique of Pure Reason when he wrote that existence was the realm in which we call object into question, it's not part of the question itself. The possible world calculus cannot help us with actual and non-actual if we say something is greater if it is in existence versus non-existence.

Think about the way qualia is debated, analogously.

We can ask: What is the difference between knowing all the truths of physics and perceiving all the truths of physics?

The difference, in the end, is rather trivial. (In fact the difference is the différance.)

If we know all the truths, we know what perceiving them is going to be like as well. It depends on how pervasive we take knowledge to be. We have to think about it this way because knowledge of truth in this debate is reduced to an anthropomorphized version of empiricism. When we're talking about knowledge of the truths of physics, it should be in the pervasive sense. It's not empirical knowledge, as physics is normally taken to knowledge about, it's the what-it's-really-like in the ontological sense kind of knowledge.

If there is a difference between knowledge of physics and the perception of physics, then physicalism is false. If there is something peculiar about the way we perceive the truths of physics that is different from physics itself, then the world is made of more substance than physics alone. Which means the ontology of physics cannot explain everything.

That is why the qualia debate is very important. It is not a debate about the mind alone. Contemporary philosophy has merely reduced it to a question about that for simplicity. It means that, if there is more to ontology than physics, physics could never be complete as an explanation.

How is this debate like the debate between Gaunilo and Anselm? I have come up with a rather short list (but still growing! submit more if you'd like).

The easy similarities:

  • Both entail an ontology which is not completed by physics alone.
  • Both are ontological arguments for the existence of a particular thing.
  • Both are a priori arguments for the existence of a particular thing.
  • Both God and qualia are defined into existence through analytic terms.
  • Only the fool "denies what he knows to be true in his heart" upon introspection, in both cases.
The more difficult similarities:
  • Each defines the object by referring to a transcendental signifier, something that has no reference in the structure of language, which can be defined by other reference points.
  • 'Absent qualia' and 'absent gods', if you will, are said to exist in some possible worlds, but they are seen as imperfect if absent. Hence we assume there are worlds where they are present.
  • It is argued that knowledge of physics will not obtain knowledge of qualia nor knowledge of God.
  • If it is possible that worlds exist in which absent qualia and absent gods are truths, physicalism is said to be false.
  • If qualia or gods are possible, physics is not complete.

Some might point out that contemporary physicalists accept the notion of qualia, while maintaining that physics is complete. This is the same mistake a soft-Gaunilo might make with with respect to God. Allowing that God is possible means that physics is an incomplete explanation for all possible worlds. If the analoticity of our language transcends signification, we ought not allow them possibility. It would be like allowing the perfect tropical island possibility.

Contemporary physicalists who accept qualia argue that qualia can be reduced to physics. They argue that when speak about "qualia" we are signifying something that is actually physical. However, they have allowed that there are explanatory gaps in physics, and introduced all sorts of problems using reductive methods to explain why qualia are ultimately physical. No one argues, on the other hand, that God can be reduced to physics. Or that when theologians say "God" they are really referring to something physical.

Another school of thought, known as eliminative materialism, argues that the sign 'qualia' signifies nothing at all. Instead of reducing something that does not exist to facts about the world, eliminativists eliminate the signifier altogether. Why allow that the sign signifies anything at all?

A contemporary philosopher at the University of Notre Dame, Alvin Plantinga, has since taken up the old debate in Anselms's defense. He argues that Kant and Gaunilo were wrong, and that if it is possible that God exists, then physicalism is false, and it is therefore rational to believe in God's existence. For the dualist, physicalism as a possibly false explanation is weighed against immaterialism as a possibly true explanation, and in every debate there are those who unknowingly allow the dualist more possibilities than is necessary to give.

Gaunilo, by the way, was not burned at the stake for replying to Anselm's treatise. And eliminative materialists are not denied tenure for their own treatises either.

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"Knowing How" and "Knowing That"

The "knowing how" and "knowing that" distinction is supposed to buttress the argument made by Frank Jackson and the like who want to say that knowledge cannot be reduced to physical facts. This plays a large role in the Mary's Room problem which I've mentioned earlier.

Consider this counter-example, however. If I knew that all I needed to do to make something bold in my favorite online forum was to add [b] and [/b] syntaxes around the word I wanted to make bold, "knowing how" to do that seems like a rather trivial distinction.

Perhaps that's not a very good example, because I already know how to type. In the original Mary problem, however, Jackson says that Mary knows everything about her subject. She has studied the physics of light, and how its particles interact with the eye. She presumably knows everything about it. But not "how" it would feel when it hits her own eye.

The further away from learning simple skills we get, it seems there is greater the potential is to attribute something almost supernatural to them. If I know everything that there is to know about riding bikes, and have thought about all the physics of balancing myself and pushing pedals, then presumably I know how to ride a bike. The "hows" ultimately become "thats" if we are imaginative enough with how sophisticated the "thats" can get. Remember, Mary knows everything physical fact about light. If there's something she doesn't know after all that, physicalism is false.

To me the "knowing how" part will always collapse into the "knowing that" part. Because if you knew everything that there was to know about how to do something, even without experiencing how it's done, you presumably already know how it's done.

Nietzsche's Kant-Smearing Campaign

As much as Immanuel Kant would probably be too shy to run for president, he apparently has a campaign going. This video ad has been making its rounds in the philosophy blog circuit. But Kant in fact is "Wrong for America", the ad concludes. Near the end, we find out it was paid for and approved by Friedrich Nietzsche. The last time an intellectual figure became president, if I recall correctly, was the former political science professor Woodrow Wilson in 1913. Realistically neither Kant nor Nietzsche stand a chance against this upcoming election's band of theologians, war veterans, and lobbyists.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Peak Oil Peak Oil Peak Oil Peak Oil!

Oops. Freudian slip. So I made the connection, I admit.

They say no one was monitoring a fuel transfer, so approximately 435 gallons of diesel was dumped into the Tacoma waterways on Monday. "There were no immediate reports of damage or contaminated marine life," the Seattle PI said. Not immediate, so shall we just wait? The Puget Sound already has 91,700 acres of toxic "muds and sands" alone. 435 gallons of benzene, toluene, carbon, and iso-octanes should fit in very easily. Who is going to assess the damage caused by one of the largest seafood distributors in the US, Trident Seafoods, and when do they get to compensate the oceans for their toxic-streaming, over-fishing habits and negligence?

Eliminating Mary's Room

I thought I should post more on 'the knowledge argument' which I alluded to in an earlier entry. This is Frank Jackson's popular argument, know as 'the knowledge argument' or 'Mary's Room', which can be found in his essay "Epiphenomenal Qualia" and "What Mary Didn't Know". Or read about it on Wikipedia. Assuming you're familiar, I'll delve into my criticism from an eliminativist perspective.

First, the argument equivocates on "knows." If we say Mary (really) does know everything about this, then Mary really does know everything about the waveforms of color, and everything about the way color is experienced in the mind. Anything Mary would learn upon leaving the room would be extremely trivial. It would be like a software developer who had written a quick program, and once it runs, it runs exactly the way the developer designed it to. The experience of the program running is a trivial piece of information, since everything that is experienced was already known by the developer.

Second, if this form of argument were a good one, it would prove too much. Suppose for a moment that dualism were at issue here, and consider the claim that there exists a non-physical substance--call it "ectoplasm"--whose hidden constitution and nomic intricacies are what ground the familiar mental phenomena. However much a color-blind ectoplasmologist comes to know about the ectpoplasmic process involved in the experience of color, there will still remain something that he does not know, namely, what it is like to see colors. But why should that ectoplasmic fact be left out? Consequently it begs the question, and we should have eliminated the non-physical ectoplasm from our question from the beginning. It leads us into temptation.

Third, if we say that the mind/brain uses more media of representation than the medium of sentences, and a discursive representation of x within the sentential medium--even an exhaustive representation--will never constitute a representation of x within some more primitive, pre-linguistic medium, as may be found in our sensory cortex. But accordingly, there need not be two distinct things known here: brain states on the one hand and sensory qualia on the other. There are only two distinct ways of knowing (or systems of representing) the very same thing: brain states. Which can be known in total if one knows everything there is to know about them. That statement sounds non-plussed and trivial, but only because it is just as trivial as what Mary would know when she see colors.

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