William James and Free Will

I’m not sure what to make of the arguments for free will in my philosophy book. The argument that William James makes doesn’t impress me much (which I summarize and interpret):

    We cannot, from events that have already occurred, conclude that they were determined. Given that the experience we have in everyday life (of what seems to be free will), we should conclude with indeterminism rather than determinism.

James states that in a world possibilities, there are genuine alternatives to events, whereas in the world of determinism, there could never be an alternative. I take it that the same conditions are assumed, from which I establish my criticism. If the conditions leading up to a certain event are unchanged, how could the event be any different? It seems that James, at most difficult point of the argument, appeals to common experience and states that because determinism cannot account for the lived experience of free will (in a way that he wishes, because determinism does account for it by referring to it as an illusion), we ought to accept indeterminism because we don’t have good reasons for accepting determinism.

Having sufficiently established free will for himself, James goes on to explain the utility of holding such a worldview (the common theme of deriving truth from utility, which I discussed in another topic). How does James deal with the implication that indeterminism potentially destroys any possibility for consistency in our world?* He doesn’t (at least, as far as the book is concerned — I hope a sufficiently complete summary of his argument is presented in the book so that I am critiquing something James hasn’t already addressed).

*Examples can come to mind, such as, in one instance, putting the keys into your car to initiate ignition starts the car’s engine, and in another instance, causes the car to spin like a top for no apparent reason (different outcome from the same conditions).


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Ayn Rand and her hatred of Kant

Having read her book, Philosophy: Who Needs It, and knowing a bit about the history of philosophy, I feel compelled to make this post. Throughout the entire book, Rand characterized Kant’s project solely as an “evil” attack upon the reason of human beings. It was a relentless assault which she attempted to justify by citing several sources (I can remember 2 clearly), which were largely uncompelling. Why pick on Kant when he was the one trying to figure out where David Hume and the entire project of Empiricism had gone wrong? If Kant is evil, is she afraid of speaking Hume’s name? Hume had taken Berkeley’s skepticism of the material world further, not only claiming that there is nothing but perception, but saying that there is no sense of “I,” no perceiver to speak of, either, because the “I” cannot be directly experienced (the possibility of there being other perceivers but yourself was already under assault by Berkeley’s time before he inserted his “wonderglue” solution of God). He also denied the concept of causality and was critical of the method of induction (it is justified by a circular argument). What wound Rand think about that?

It seems to me as though Rand is counting on the readers’ ignorance of the history philosophy to pander her opinion which she fails (in my opinion) to justify. Nevertheless, the very beginning and the end of her book was worth the read.

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A Reflection on Life

Strangely enough, I had trouble falling asleep this night. I couldn’t resolve my “thoughts for the day” during my hour or so walk. I kept reflecting on my general cynicism, on existentialism (particularly absurdism), and several of Tolstoy’s works (in decreasing order of amount of thought given: The Death of Ivan Ilych, A Confession, War and Peace). The idea of a happier life became more realistic to me than it has in the past few years. Mind, it is only a change of opinion, but I consider this fairly significant. After all, it was time for sleep, I was fairly tired, and yet I tossed around in bed for a good 2 hours before being able to sleep.

I post this because on the same day on a certain forum, a user experienced a related change of mind.

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Nearing the end of War and Peace

It does feel somewhat like a work accomplished, although I’ve really done nothing but read. 1240 pages in, 130 or so pages to go — pages that are easily 2 times as dense as the typical text that I read. I’m welcoming the more frequent philosophical asides, which seem to be concentrated mainly at the beginning and at the end of the boook. They originally made for a bit of a slow start to the book, but I’m enjoying the change of pace (events are coming to a “close”).

For those wondering, it took me about 3 months to get this far into the book, with various interruptions (college, other reading such as The Death of Ivan Ilych and A Confession, both by Tolstoy). This didn’t feel like a book that I could power my way through (unlike a book such as Complications) — some parts were a bit dense and I felt like I needed to take a bit of a break from reading. The chapters were partitioned in a way that it’s very easy to take a break — many chapters are 1-2 pages in length. I am quite pleased with the book.

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Anomie V.2

I find myself rereading this quite often:

Our civilization is founded on the shambles, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of helpless agony. If you protest, my friend, wait till you arrive there yourself!


I can’t seem to get over it; it always puts me out of comfort (comfort being used as a very relative term).

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The Economics of Adblock Plus

Several arguments have been made, claiming that using programs such as Adblock Plus, which completely eliminate ads from the vast majority of websites, and certainly popular websites (unless the user manually chooses to allow the ads), are hurting the very websites people visit without subscriptions. I think such a thing may be thrown out of proportion for several reasons.

There is still an abundance of users who do not use ad blocking software and have no interest in it. Given that the sources of the arguments tend to be technically-oriented websites, their user base probably has a greater usage of ad blocking software than most other websites. Regardless, the very same users who run the software probably never intend to click on advertisements. I find most advertisements annoying as they needlessly waste CPU cycles, draining my battery life when I’m on the go and flashing their messages obnoxiously, trying to get my attention. I research before making a purchase — advertisements can hardly count as that, and as such, will never be a factor in any of my money spent online. Ad revenue given solely from views (something that I should think is a rarity) is made on the assumption that a certain percentage of views will translate into clicks (and sales), or else the pay-per-click option would have replaced it in that specific instance.

There is an explanation for this using microeconomics and it has to do with elasticity — perfect elastic demand, in this case. In the case of elastic demand, the quantity demanded for a product is fairly reactive to price changes — a lowered price would attract more buyers. In the case of inelastic demand, the quantity demanded for a product is fairly nonreactive to price changes. Imagine the quantity demanded for a free item, such as water from a drinking fountain, when the price of it begins to rise over 0. Would many (or any) people pay for drinking water if it wasn’t free? I highly doubt it. That is an instance of perfect elasticity, in which a small price change has a very large effect on quantity demanded. Thus, when drinking water left the $0 price mark, quantity demanded is virtually zero.

The red line indicates the demand curve -- a potentially infinite quantity demanded exists at the price $0 but none or virtually none exists at any other price, even $0.01.

The same applies to websites that lack paid subscriptions. If their ‘price’ was to leave $0, people would simply look for alternatives. If those are not found or are unsatisfactory, people would either have to adjust their lifestyles (i.e., life without that specific website or websites) or consider whether it would be worth it to pay for a subscription to the previously free website. I think alternatives would be readily available because competition between websites would allow webmasters who get little traffic to work for the views and accept less pay than the previous website considered acceptable. A hypothetical example: popular website X considers 300k views/month and 10k/month income unacceptable while previously unknown website Y considers 150k views and 1k/month income a godsend.

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Printing with Gnumeric

Is an utter pain in the ass.

“What’s that, you want to print your chart? Why don’t I just split it into 2 pages without utilizing the OBVIOUS blank space here.”

“What’s that, you want me to fit your chart horizontally and vertically to one page? Here, how about I use 45% of the paper and make you a miniature chart — suck on that!”

“What’s that, you don’t want me to fit the chart horizontally but you want me to keep scaling the vertical aspect? Back to two pages, buddy boy!”

Already, enough with wasting paper, let’s get the print preview up.

“No preview available.”

Maybe I have to select what I want to preview (which is stupid because it attempts to print it regardless)?

“No preview available.”

“But good sir,” you may say, “there is a suite available called OpenOffice that has no such problems with printing!” Indeed, it prints very well. Let us see what happens when we transfer a chart from Gnumeric over to OpenOffice Calc.

“What’s that, you want me to import a chart that has MULTIPLE TRENDLINES?! I believe in no such thing! Here’s your incomplete chart — enjoy! Oh, and why don’t I make your font look like crap while I’m at it!”

Fine, let’s open up Excel 2003 and see what that thing can do, I’ve made multiple trendlines with it before.

“What’s that, you want me to look at a chart? Enjoy your idle (dual core) CPU usage at 50%!”

I give up.

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