First few pages of The Brothers Karamazov

“One would think that you’d got a promotion, Fyodor Pavlovitch, you seem so pleased in spite of your sorrow,” scoffers said to him. Many even added that he was glad of a new comic part in which to play the buffoon, and that it was simply to make in funnier that he pretended to be unaware of his ludicrous position.

I have a feeling I will like this book quite a bit.


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Hard Determinism and Personal Experience of Free Will

Continuing on a similar theme, I wish to discuss how our experience of free will can be accounted for by hard determinism and why I don’t think hard determinism truly presents a problem.

William James believed that we live in a world of possibilities — determinism does not allow for that, because for there to be an otherwise, there had to have been an otherwise in the past. Personal freedom seems self-evident from our lived experience, but I contend that the illusion of free will and free will itself are indiscernible. In terms of epistemology, we — being finite physical beings — cannot have access to every piece of information that would be required to predict and retrodict events with certainty. (I am leaving the metaphysical question of whether this is even possible for a god in the open.) I’m not denying the possibility of there being sufficiently simple events where we can have complete knowledge of the determining factors leading to those events, but I think most of our knowledge lacks such convenience. Thus, while we can conceive of these possibilities, according to determinism, there is only one that was/is ever possible — this is the best we have.

In the view of determinism, the ‘world of possibilities’ is simply a world of illusions produced from our epistemic ignorance. William James was bothered greatly by this, which is why I suspect his conclusion of indeterminism and free will was a bit rash (as discussed in the link above). Again, how does one tell the difference between true free will and the illusion of free will? I don’t think it can be done, which is why if it so happens that I’m wrong, my lived experience would remain identical. I treat my ignorance on a probabilistic basis even while maintaining the position of hard determinism.

(I titled this post with ‘hard determinism’ to prevent confusion, because while soft determinism argues for a form of ‘freedom’, it’s not free will as hard determinism and libertarianism understand it.)

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Lots of hail!

Happened some time before noon here in California.

Hail in the backyard

Hail in the backyard

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This Tech Bubble Is Different

I realize I found this a little bit late, but I think this article is still worth mentioning.

I found this quite interesting:

“If instead of pointing their incredible infrastructure at making people click on ads,” he likes to ask, “they pointed it at great unsolved problems in science, how would the world be different today?”

While the algorithms involved may be applied in other areas, I think the endeavor itself contributes nothing to society. Personally, I would find it disturbing to reflect on life and to realize that I made my living on figuring out how to make people click on ads.

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Semicolon Obsession

I’m slowly making my way through Insanity: The Idea and Its Consequences, by Thomas Szasz. The book is quite interesting, but I find the overuse of semicolons a bit distracting. It almost becomes a game of trying to guess where he will throw in another semicolon (you can expect about 5 per page).

It may simply be just me (and the particular books I happened to read thus far), but I’ve seen more semicolons in the 80 or so pages that I’ve made it through the book than I’ve seen in my entire life.

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I encountered some of Kierkegaard’s writings on authenticity in philosophy class (which happens to be nearing its end). It struck me as very refreshing and unique, in contrast to the typical status quo present in society. Essentially what Kierkegaard prescribes is action that is true to our personal desires — desires which, ideally, spring from very individualistic, and, as a result, noncrowd-like thinking (“the crowd is untruth”).

In his day, Kierkegaard used the example of industrial workers, stripped of their individuality, working as mere cogs in a machine, doing essentially meaningless work. I find a similar theme in much of the content on the internet — the work is stripped of creativity, with no human spirit behind it. I looked into pay-per-article writing myself, but I quickly realized that I could never stand to do that sort of work because it’s so artificial (that was the word I used at the time; I believe it is synonymous with ‘inauthentic’ in this instance).

I may write more on this subject once I’ve done more reading and research.

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Contra Anselm’s Ontological Argument

Refer to this if you wish to get acquainted with the basics of the argument.

A formulation of the argument by William Matson goes as follows:

1. Whatever is understood exists in the understanding
2. When the fool hears of the GCB [greatest conceivable being], he understand what he hears
3. Therefore something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived.
4. Suppose the GCB exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality;
5. which is greater.
6. Therefore, if that than which nothing greater can be conceived exists in the understanding alone, the very Being than which nothing greater can be conceived is one than which a greater can be conceived.
7. Obviously this is impossible.
8. Assuredly that than which nothing greater can be conceived cannot exist in the understanding alone.
9. There is no doubt that there exists a Being than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality. (This is God.)

Essentially, the argument works in 3 general steps:
1. Anyone can conceive of a GCB
2. This GCB would have the property of existing beyond mere thought if it is to be a GCB
3. Therefore, this GCB exists beyond conception.

I’m going to specifically address the premises (4 and 5 are dependent premises and are the target at hand) that state that a thing/being that exists is a greater than one that exists only in conception.

Let us suppose that I conceive of a circle. If my conception is to reflect that of the abstract definition, I would conceive the circle as having an infinite number of points to be able to reflect its infinite number of sides, which would allow it to be a perfect representation of the abstract definition. While the circle is the greatest circle I can conceive of, it would be greater yet if it were to exist outside of conception. Am I warranted to jump to the conclusion that such a circle must exist outside of conception? I think not. An actual infinite could possibly lead to absurdities (such as Hilbert’s Hotel). Moreover, I would argue that in this case, the conception of a circle is greater than any possible representation of a circle in our world. What’s greater about a circle drawn on paper, for instance, if it fails to perfectly represent a circle?

The possibilities are: (1) the circle would be comprised of a finite amount of matter, in which case it would not be a perfect representation, (2) the circle would be comprised of an infinite amount of matter, in which case absurdities and paradoxes may come about due to the existence of an actual infinite, or (3), no such circle could exist outside of our conception. The circle cannot be perfect if it doesn’t have an infinite number of points to allow it to have an infinite number of sides. It would be perfect if it had access to an infinite amount of matter, but an actual infinite, let alone an infinite amount of matter, makes no sense given our current understanding of the world and the theoretical problems of actual infinites. I conclude that Anselm’s argument fails on the account of premise 4 and 5.

If you’re interested in reading further, here are some standard objections to Anselm’s argument.

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