Sunday, October 30, 2005

Philosophical Humor

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Logic of Evolution and the Evolution of Logic

In philosophy we are finding more and more attention being paid to evolution as the principle of explanation. As I have written here, evolutionary theory is now frequently applied to many branches of philosophy. In philosophy of mind, evolutionary explanations are used to explain the development and nature of mental content and consciousness; in ethics, they are used to explain altruism, care, and responsibility; in epistemology, they are used to explain the development of doxastic practices and justificatory schemes; in aesthetics and political philosophy, they are used to explain the development and dissemination of "memes." Evolutionary theory, it seems, can be used to explain almost anything. Regardless of the explanandum, the explicans remains evolutionary theory.

As I have written about here and here, C. S. Peirce claims that “the only possible way of accounting for the laws of nature and for the uniformity in general is to suppose them results of evolution.” Part of the argument for this thesis relies on his argument against determinism. See here for that point. Given this background, I want to examine two other points to see if there is a connection between them.

The first point is a follow-up to the Peirce argument about evolutionary explanations of natural laws. It is this claim by biologist Stuart Kauffman:

Biologists tell stories. If I am right, if the biosphere is getting on with it, muddling along, exapting, creating, and destroying ways of making a living, then there is a central need to tell stories. If we cannot have all the categories that may be of relevance finitely prestated ahead of time, how else should we talk about the emergence in the biosphere or in our history—a piece of the biosphere—of new relevant categories, new functionalities, new ways of making a living?

The second point is a debate about reading Hegel’s logic in conjunction with his doctrine of historicism. This conjunction contains a tension. On the one hand, there is empirical novelty; on the other, there is logical completion. If Hegel’s historicism admits the ongoing historical development of novel events and norms, then Hegel’s aim for philosophy to achieve completion in some form of comprehensive logic seems impossible. However, Robert Pippin has argued for a kind of open Hegelianism through a revision of the logic, interpreting it to be about a process of constructing categories rather than as establishing the final categories in their completion. This reading of Hegel renders the logic as a sort of “story” which accounts for the evolutionary development of, among other things, the laws of nature. In this sense, Hegel’s logic entails an openness to the world by depending on the developments of history, and it is a “meta-logic” that places general logical constraints on what could be told as part of this story of development. As Pippin writes, “It might be that some Notion could be prompted by a recalcitrant problem in empirical research, even though such a Notion could get to be a Notion, get to be unrevisable and be thought of as constitutive, only be virtue of its ‘dialectical’ integration within our general conceptual scheme” (Hegel's Idealism, p. 259). In other words, the story of life and of the “muddling, exapting, creating, and destroying” biosphere may prompt not simply new empirical facts but also new notions which then come to be necessary and constitutive of those facts.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Scare tactics

"Iraq Requires More Sacrifice: Bush" is the headline of an Australian newspaper article describing the President's recent call for more sacrifice in dealing with the war in Iraq. The article then notes this bit of specious argument against the war's detractors:
Mr Bush said arguments calling for a US withdrawal from Iraq were refuted by a simple question: whether America and other nations would be more or less safe if Iraqi insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden were in control there.
Juan Cole finds this scare tactic to be misleading and downright unconscionable:
Now Bush is menacing us with Usamah Bin Laden taking over Iraq. Note that this scenario would have been utterly laughable in 2002. That is, anyone who heard that Bush thought Usamah Bin Ladin could overthrow Saddam and take over Iraq would have just fallen down laughing. Saddam would have had all the al-Qaeda people just taken out and shot. Twice. It was risible. Now, Bush has screwed up things so royally that he can even say this with a straight face. (It still is fairly ridiculous, since 80 percent of Iraqi is Shiites and Kurds who would kill Usamah on sight, and few Iraqi Sunni Arabs would want a fugitive Saudi terrorist as their leader.) It is George W. Bush's fault if this outcome is at all plausible. His policies have reduced Iraq to violent chaos, and he is the one who let Usamah escape at Tora Bora. And then he made the US military lie about it during the presidential campaign!

Quote of the Day

Amos 5:24: "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream."

Friday, October 21, 2005

Paul's Tolerance

Is the apostle Paul preaching intellectual tolerance in Philippians 4:8?
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


C. S. Peirce does not deny the lawfulness of nature, but he does dispute the notion that the laws of nature of "iron necessities." They should be seen as statistical regularities or, in his idealist language, habits. Such an interpretation of the facts would allow for chance--hence, his doctrine of tychism; furthermore, it would be compatible with growth and novelty.

But why is determinism mistaken? Peirce takes up three arguments for determinism and refutes each one.

1. Determinism is a postulate of scientific reasoning. Peirce says this does not make it true. "It is as if man should come to borrow money and, when asked for his security, should reply he 'postulated' the loan. To 'postulate' a proposition is no more than to hope it is true."

2. Determinism is known to be true, or at least highly probable, by the observation of nature. Against this point, Peirce argues that the "constants" of nature (e.g., the n in PV = nRT or the gravitational constant G in a = GM/r^2 or even the exponent 2 in the acceleration rate) are only elements of regularity in nature. Perhaps the 2 could be some number 2.000...001. No matter how often they are measured, such observations will never decide whether such regularity is exact and universal. In fact, as regards exactitude, all observation actually offers contrary evidence.

3. Chance is unintelligible because it demands the acceptance of arbitrary givens without disclosing "to the eye of reason the how or why of things." To this Peirce argues that determinism requires no less swallowing of arbitrary givenness in the form of "immutable and ultimate facts" for which no account can be offered. The only difference is that in this case the facts are all given up front at once--a bitter pill that can be swallowed and then forgotten only at the expense of self-delusion. In other words, what is rational about 9.8 m/s^2 rather than 9.800001 m/s^2.000001? Instead, Peirce suggests we acknowledge the immense amount of change in the universe and recognize the implications of it: "the history of states, of institutions, of language, of ideas . . . paleontology . . . changes in stellar systems. Everywhere the main fact is growth and increasing complexity." From these facts of change and growth all around us, Peirce infers that "there is probably in nature some agency by which the complexity and diversity of things can be increased; and that consequently the rule of mechanical necessity [determinism] meets in some way with interference."

It is not that any of this proves "tychism," his doctrine of chance, to be true, but as a metaphysics it avoids the dead end of basing all thought on brute facts which admit of no further explanation. By taking the universe as an evolutionary development in which habits successively emerge, Peirce imposes no automatic dead ends on his metaphysical inquiry. Everything is part of an ongoing process and can be explained as the outgrowth of an earlier stage. This all happens according to the laws of evolution, but, of course, even these laws are habits which have been forged within the process.

Shells Are Very Interesting

Month 19 004

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fafnir's Theodicy of Ignorance

Fafnir has been channeling Voltaire lately. Here is a bit of Fafblog's interview with God:
GOD: God's policies work in mysterious ways, Fafnir. Maybe what mortal eyes see as a catastrophic failure is, in the greater plan of God, an incredible success!
FafBlog: Ooh, like maybe the increased terrorism will lead to increased explosions which will make us more visible from space which will attract benevolent super-aliens who will finally capture Osama bin Laden!

Important Activity

Sometimes you gotta get your hands dirty.

Month 18 013

Evolution of Law, Part 2

When we last left off in this discussion of C. S. Peirce's essay "Architecture of Theories" here, we were noting that Peirce claims that "the only possible way of accounting for the laws of nature and for the uniformity in general is to suppose them results of evolution." The consequence of this view is that the laws of nature cannot be absolute (true in every instance of reality) or deterministic (based on mechanical principles). The reasons for this are: 1. purely mechanical laws presuppose an extraneous cause beyond the process; 2. law results from evolution, not the other way around; 3. mechanical laws can only explain homogeneity, not heterogeneity; and 4. mechanical laws are reversible, but growth is not.

Moving on to the next section of the essay, Peirce takes up the notion of "the law of habit" in which he deals with the laws of mental rather than physical phenomena. Whenever we find ourselves applying a rule in order to establish a connection between feelings, we are witnessing the way in which thought is governed by the law of habit. Mental action is par excellence the recognition of patterns among mental states. Peirce then claims that the tendency to generalization is the one primary and fundamental law of mental action, and it is thus the supreme law of habit. This law cannot be deterministic because "it would instantly crystallize thought and prevent all further formation of habit." A mental action can only make a feeling or mental state more likely to arise, but it cannot determine it. It is a stochastic law, i.e., it involves some measure of randomness or chance.

In discussing this point, Peirce issues an apparently odd statement given what he said earlier about physical law:
The law of habit exhibits a striking contrast to all physical laws in the character of its commands. A physical law is absolute. What it requires is an exact relation.
By contrast to this sort of absolute law, "no exact conformity is required by the mental law." How could Peirce be arguing this after just showing that physical laws are not "absolute" or deterministic (i.e., "requiring an exact relation") but products of evolution?

The solution to this question is Peirce's solution to the mind-body problem. He rejects what he calls "neutralism," which sounds like a version of parallelism: the doctrine that physical law and psychical law are independent. He also rejects materialism: the doctrine that psychical law is derivative and physical law alone is primordial. This leaves the third option of idealism: the doctrine that physical law is derivative and psychical law alone is primordial. By opting for idealism, we can reinterpret his claim above about the absolute nature of physical law to be a counterfactual claim: if physical law were primordial, it would be absolute; since it is not, it is not.

His reason for rejecting dualism is standard: two "primordials" with no logical relation. His reason for rejecting materialism is also standard: repugnance at the requirement that a mechanism could feel--"a hypothesis absolutely irreducible to reason." Thus, matter is "effete mind, inveterate habits becoming physical laws."

Peirce concludes the essay with some observations about his notions of First, Second, and Third. To summarize, First is the conception of being or existing independent of anything else. Second is the conception of being relative to something else. Third is the conception of mediation of the first and second. He then lists some examples without explanation:

1. Psychology: First--feeling; Second--sense of reaction; Third--general conception.
2. Biology: First--arbitrary reproduction; Second--heredity; Third--selection.
3. Epistemology: First--chance; Second--law; Third--habit.
4. Metaphysics: First--mind; Second--matter; Third--evolution.

This structure, however it should be construed, provides the architectonic for knowledge.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Blow to Academic Blogs

Holy crap! Drezner was denied tenure.

Yankees Lose!

While reveling in the Schadenfreude of last night's Yankee loss to the Angels, I dug up these statistics to enhance the euphoria. Enjoy.

Playoff team payrolls (league rankings):
1. New York Yankees.....$202,978,809
2. Boston Red Sox.....$126,800,160
5. Los Angeles Angels.....$96,140,560
10. St. Louis Cardinals.....$83,510,604
11. Houston Astros.....$77,453,843
12. Atlanta Braves.....$74,977,433
13. Chicago White Sox.....$74,273,478
15. San Diego Padres.....$70,503,572

Friday, October 07, 2005

Evolution of Law

I once wrote the following (in a little thing called a dissertation):
How do we explain things? What is an explanation, or what counts as an explanation? When offered an explanation, by what criteria do we decide whether it is satisfactory? Is this satisfaction, if indeed any is provided, merely a matter of the psychology of the person taking up this explanation? Are there different kinds of things which then demand different kinds of explanations? Are there some things (such as “tables when you’re not there” or purposiveness in nature or consciousness itself) that are simply inexplicable or necessarily unintelligible? Does the kind of explicans depend on the kind of explicanda, and if so how is the norm prescribing that relation established? Does the world or nature make this norm binding on us by “telling” us what sort of explanatory terms and rules properly apply to the thing needing explanation? If the answer to this latter question is affirmative, does the proffered explanation then become mere redescription of the explicandum, not giving a satisfying explanation after all? But if the answer is negative (that the world or nature does not constrain the choice and deployment of explanatory terms and rules), does the explanation then become a mere matter of satisfying some arbitrary subjective demands that, though satisfied in the tautological sense of fulfilling what we determine in advance to count as fulfilling, remain upon further reflection hollow and dissatisfying? Does true or satisfying explanation then require the establishment of the basis of explanation, which means establishing the basis of the norms legislating the relations between explicanda and their explicans? Does this basis of true explanation require systematization for it to be a basis?
The answer to the last question is, yes. That is Kant's point about the need for architectonic construction of knowledge. Anything else would be haphazard and dissatisfying. In particular, when we come up with laws to explain the uniformities of nature, it is essential that the laws themselves not be inexplicable and irrational, i.e., without any reason for their special forms. Occam's razor frequently cuts away such irrationalities once they have been superseded by simpler explanations, but all that means is that explanations must have reasons which fit within the architectonic of knowledge.

Now I'm reading C. S. Peirce's essay "The Architecture of Theories," and it has me interested in his claim there that "the only possible way of accounting for the laws of nature and for the uniformity in general is to suppose them results of evolution." This is an interesting claim--that the laws of nature are the results of evolution. This would mean that laws are the product of cumulative selection processes, i.e., repeated cycles of replication involving interaction with an environment such that these processes offer explanations of the adaptations which the laws have accrued over time. See my earlier post for some background.

To see laws as the product of evolution, then, is to presuppose that they are not absolute. This allows for the aleatory which is observed in the minute discrepancies involved in any application of the laws to reality. As Peirce writes, there is always a "certain swerving of the facts from any definite formula," and this is not always and only due to the imperfections of our techniques of observation.

He goes on to claim that it would be illogical to explain evolution upon mechanical principles. First, such a claim presupposes an extraneous cause beyond the process--a first cause, if you will. Instead, we are dealing with organismic growth originating accidentally from an "infinitesimal germ." Apparently, this growth is sui generis.

Second, it would be illogical because it puts the cart before the horse. It is law that results from evolution, not evolution from mechanical law.

Third, it would be illogical because it does not address the heterogeneity of the universe. Only homogeneity can result from exact law, whereas experience shows us an abundance of arbitrary heterogeneity. In Darwinian terms, we need accidental variations with each iteration of the selection process. In another sense, Kolmogorov complexity seems to be involved here: that the complexity of information (in the form of a string) can be--and mostly is, according to Gregory Chaitin--as complex as the program which generated it. That is to say, there is much heterogeneity which cannot be captured by anything simpler than a program of equivalent "heterogeneity" or complexity.

Fourth, the conservation law amounts to the reversibility of mechanical operations; thus, growth would not be explicable by such operations. Much of emergence theory today hinges on the recognition of this point.

Peirce goes on to argue for objective idealism. Thus, he can write elsewhere, "My philosophy resuscitates Hegel, though in a strange costume." I will come back to this point in a later post, because it seems to be crucial for making the point that law evolves.

Critique of Bush's Speech

President Bush gave a new speech about the war on terror yesterday, and it turned out to be the same set of mumbo-jumbo that he always says. He began with his usual tactic of misinformation: citing September 11 as connected to the war in Iraq. Juan Cole takes him to task for this and many other points of deception and confusion. For example, Cole cites this passage from the speech:
"The influence of Islamic radicalism is also magnified by helpers and enablers. They have been sheltered by authoritarian regimes, allies of convenience like Syria and Iran that share the goal of hurting America and moderate Muslim governments . . ."
And Cole then writes:
This line is the most lunatic thing in Bush's speech. It is outrageous. It is the Big Lie. Syria has a secular Baath Arab nationalist government. The regime killed 10,000 Muslim activists at Hama in 1982. It tortured al-Qaeda members for the United States after September 11. Syria, a small country of only 18 million, has no ability to harm the United States and it most certainly is not in alliance with radical Muslim fundamentalists!

As for Iran, its brand of fundamentalism is Shiite. Al-Qaeda is made up of Sunnis and Wahhabis, who despise Shiites. Iran supports the new, Shiite-dominated government in Iraq. It supported the Jan. 30 elections. It supports the new constitution and the referendum. Iran hated the Taliban and very nearly went to war against them, backing the Northern Alliance instead. The Shiite Iranians hate the radical Salafis like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has called for a war of extermination against the Shiites.

Bush's attempt to conflate the regimes he doesn't like with al-Qaeda makes nonsense of his whole vision.
Read the rest of Cole's critique. It's worth it.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Consciousness: Terra Incognita

What is consciousness? Let's see what the International Dictionary of Psychology (1989) has to say:
Consciousness: The having of perception, thoughts, and feelings; awareness. The term is impossible to define except in terms that are unintelligible without a grasp of what consciousness means.

Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon: it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written about it.
That is all.