Scientists connect brain to internet

I recently came across this interesting article:
https://www.iflscience.com/brain/scientists-connect-human-brain-internet-first-time/

I found this quote interesting: “Ultimately, we’re aiming to enable interactivity between the user and their brain so that the user can provide a stimulus and see the response”. Descartes would be impressed at how well his separation of the self and the body has caught on. It is as if the self (or user) is an entity other than the brain and these scientists are going to connect the two entities.

Of course, the idea that the self is separate from the body is older than Descartes. He borrowed much of his Cogito from Augustine. And earlier thinkers held the same view. Perhaps they were right. Perhaps the self and the brain are separate entities. I have always thought so. In fact, that might explain how I happen to be here, still seeking wisdom after all these years.

But neuroscientists tell us that the brain and the self are the same thing. So, if they are right, the sentence should be worded as “we’re aiming to enable interactivity between the brain and the brain so that the brain can provide a stimulus and see the response”. But that wouldn’t capture our common sense notion of the self.

Cartesian language lives on.

— Socrates

Filed under Articles, Socrates' Meditations

Objective good

My time over the last few months has been spent conversing with a variety of people. Many people make bold claims about a subject that I believe to be most important: ethics. The claims some people make are similar to the claims made by an old acquaintance of mine, Protagoras. Put simply, they are moral relativists, believing that there is no objective good, and that matters of right or wrong are no more than matters of personal opinion.

It seems to me that following this thought may lead to the view that the actions of people do not really matter. If there is no objective good, or right, or wrong, then we cannot say that it truly matters if a student cheats, or if thief steals property, or if a murderer goes on a killing spree. But when I make this proposal to the wise people with whom I converse, they object and declare that these things do matter. So what can we deduce from these two premises? Perhaps a tension in the relativist position. Let us take a closer look:

  1. If there is no objective good, or right, or wrong, then our actions do not matter
  2. Our actions do matter
  3. Therefore, there is an objective good, or right, or wrong

This argument is valid, but if one of the premises is false, it is unsound. So, is premise #2 true? Well, the people I have been dialoguing with believe that our actions do matter. So, they think premise #2 is true. If my friends maintain that there is no objective good, they must therefore refute premise #1. In other words, they need to show that it is false that if there is no objective good, or right, or wrong, then our actions do not matter. To do so, they need to find an example in which our actions matter and yet there is no way to objectively measure an action’s goodness.

But if an action matters, then it must be good or bad, correct? Otherwise, it wouldn’t matter. So finding an example in which our actions matter, while there is no way to measure an action’s goodness, is to find an example in which our actions matter when there is no way to measure whether our actions matter. But we cannot find an example in which our actions matter if there is no way to measure whether our actions matter. So something may have gone wrong. Either the relativist position is problematic, or my reasoning is mistaken.

I shall continue to dialogue with my wise friends and allow them to educate me. I know nothing.

Filed under Socrates' Meditations

Robots taking jobs?

People in this century are amusing. There appears to be wide-spread nervousness about intelligent computers taking people’s jobs. Has it not occurred to anyone that there is a very simple solution to this problem? Here it is: Don’t make intelligent computers that take people’s jobs.

— Socrates

Filed under Socrates' Meditations

Thinking makes it so…

Reading through some texts, I found an interesting passage. It appears in a play by an author named William Shakespeare. The quote reads: “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. This sounded familiar to me, and with good reason. A philosopher closer to my time named Seneca said the same thing.

But what does it mean? It sounds suspiciously relativist and reminds me of a similar claim made by Protagoras, who lived during my time in Athens. He said “Man is the measure of all things”, meaning that truth or falsity is dependent upon one’s subjective point of view.

Now, Seneca was not talking about objective truth. He was talking about moral action and values. And I agree with his statement, in a sense, but I do not agree with relativism. So I worry that there is tension in my beliefs.

Consider this syllogism:

P1. (premise) If there is no objective good or bad, then good or bad is based on subjective thought

P2. (premise) There is no objective good or bad (Seneca)

C. (conclusion) Therefore, good or bad is based on subjective thought

But I think the conclusion is false. I have argued many times that moral good or bad is not subjective, which means it is objective:

P1. (premise) If there is no objective good or bad, then good or bad is based on subjective thought

P2. (premise) It is not true that good or bad is based on subjective thought

C. (conclusion) Therefore, there is objective good or bad.

So, I wonder what Seneca meant. How can I reconcile my belief that there is objective good and bad with his claim that “thinking makes it so”? Perhaps he was merely talking about the feelings we have towards certain events. An event may be objectively good or bad, but my feeling about the event is subjective. It is up to me to respond to the event. So I believe he meant that whether we feel angry or upset about an event is the result of our thinking about things.

— Socrates.


Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby


Filed under Socrates' Meditations

Sam Harris – An attempt at getting “ought” from “is”


Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby


On this cloudy winter’s day I have been meditating on a short argument recently presented by Sam Harris on his Facebook page. This popular thinker has, for some time, been attempting to reduce ethics to science, and he has recently put forward an argument which he believes succeeds in doing so. As someone who knows very little, I find myself drawn to people who make big knowledge claims. I am, as you know, especially interested in Ethics, so I eagerly read Harris’s argument.

Harris wants to show that ethics and values can be derived from facts about the world. If he succeeds in doing this, he will solve the famous is-ought problem. The is-ought problem suggests that no amount of knowledge about how the world happens to be can lead us to conclusions about how the world ought to be and how we ought to behave. Decisions about how we should behave may be informed by empirical facts, but ultimately they are based on values which do not seem to be derivable, in themselves, from empirical facts.

Continue reading

Filed under Articles, Socrates' Meditations

A healthy economy means a healthy country?


Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby


Yesterday I found myself involved in a dialogue about the state of New Zealand. My interlocutor made the claim that the country’s previous government had left the country in a “healthy state”. I asked what he meant, and he responded by referring to an international report in which New Zealand’s economy was highly rated.

I have heard this talk before, but I find it confusing. If a sick man is in hospital and I ask the doctor about his health, does the doctor check the man’s bank account and pronounce him as healthy based on his wealth? Of course not. Yet when I ask people about this country they say it is in good health because the economy is strong. They don’t mention the homeless. They don’t mention hardship, poverty, or unemployment. They don’t mention pollution, water shortages, or violence. For them the country is healthy. Are they not as foolish as the doctor who determines his patient’s health by checking his financial situation?

Well, I questioned my friend about this and asked if there are any other measures of a country’s health. I am sad to report that my friend stood steadfast in his view that New Zealand is a healthy country because it is in a good economic state.

— Socrates

Filed under Articles, Socrates' Meditations

The dialogues about guns


Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby


My friends, you will not be surprised to learn that I have continued to engage in dialogues about the ownership of guns. In a recent dialogue my friend argued that reducing gun ownership will not reduce murder rates as desired. I questioned him about this and helped him to formulate his argument more precisely.

The first version of his argument took this form:

P1. (premise) If human nature is such that people will always seek to murder each other then reducing guns in society will not lower the murder rate

P2. (premise) Human nature is such that people will always seek to murder each other

C. (conclusion) Therefore, we should not reduce guns in society

But because the conclusion did not follow from the premises, we reformulated his argument as follows:

P1. (premise) If human nature is such that people will always seek to murder each other then reducing guns in society will not lower the murder rate

P2. (premise) Human nature is such that people will always seek to murder each other

C1. (conclusion) Therefore, reducing guns in society will not lower the murder rate

P3. (premise) If reducing guns in society will not lower the murder rate, then we should not reduce guns in society

C2. (conclusion) Therefore, we should not reduce guns in society

Although this version is valid, I was not convinced because I found premise number one to be questionable. As expressed in the argument, it seems to assume that human nature guarantees human action. I asked my friend to consider the following equivalent premise: if human nature is such that people will always seek to eat sugar then reducing the amount of candy available will not lower rates of sugar consumption. He agreed that this conditional is questionable.

Next, I asked him to consider this equivalent premise: If human nature is such that people will always seek to reproduce, then restricting the right to reproduce will not lower birth rates.

This premise can be shown to be false by looking at China as a counter example. I have been told by reliable people that in recent history the Chinese government placed restrictions on birth rates. This restriction succeeded in lowering birthrates despite human nature.

Despite showing the problem with premise one by demonstrating the problem with logically equivalent conditionals, my friend would not concede. He was committed to the truth of the consequent of the conditional (reducing guns in society will not lower the murder rate).

We then discussed premise two. I found this to be in need of support because I am not sure that our human nature is such that people will always seek to murder other people. So I asked if it is possible that this tendency is a result of social forces rather than biological forces. By the gods, I said, if it is a socialization issue, then removing weapons from people may well help. My friend was not willing to concede to my point and he lost patience with me. So we agreed to adjourn our dialogue.

The issue you moderns face regarding gun ownership is complex. My hope is that by following logic, our common master, you will one day resolve these questions.

— Socrates

Filed under Articles, Socrates' Meditations

Democracy


Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby


This article (click here) outlines my reasons for “hating” democracy. Well, hate is a strong word. I never said I hated democracy–even if it did result in my death. Democracy allowed me the freedom to devote my life to philosophy, so I did benefit from it. Having said that, I certainly didn’t care much for democracy back in Athens, and I still find it problematic. Why? Because it can result in unwise people leading the state. A clever demagogue can very easily convince the public to vote for his or her ideas by appealing to people’s prejudices and desires rather than by using reasoned argument. They are like sophists. They make bad arguments look good and good arguments look bad. Their trick of the trade is rhetoric. So, their ideas get voted for (or in modern democracy they get elected to lead) for the wrong reasons. They may not have the wisdom to run the state. That’s why I don’t care for democracy.

— Socrates

Filed under Articles, Socrates' Meditations

Simulated Universe


Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby


You moderns are wonderfully entertaining. Almost everyone I talk to thinks that there is no God and that the universe exists for no reason. I can certainly understand some of the reasoning behind these beliefs, even though it seems strange to me. But what I find more strange is that this belief often exists alongside the acceptance of another possibility — the idea that this entire world was created by a super powerful species within a vast computer. Am I foolish to think there is a tension between these two beliefs? On the one hand is the denial of a creator with a purpose, and on the other is acceptance of the possibility of a creator with a purpose. I wonder if people will ever make their minds up.
Continue reading

Filed under Articles, Socrates' Meditations