Monthly Archives: December 2013

Building Reality, Part Two: The Mind

Five axioms down, three to go. I’ve titled these three “The Mind” because they’re more to do with that kind of concept, but I don’t mean to imply that the mind is necessarily distinct from metaphysics (which was the title I gave the previous three axioms). As I mentioned in the discussion of axiom #4, that’s not true by definition.

Axiom 6: My senses provide me with information that is functionally determined by the underlying reality.

Reliability of the senses is a big question in empiricism, philosophy of science, etc. This axiom doesn’t go quite that far; all it gives us is the fact that our senses are somehow determined by the underlying reality. Maybe we only have access to a subset of reality, or maybe there’s some random transform in place between reality and what we sense. Regardless, we have some sort of access, however mediated or probabilistic.

Axiom 7: My memory is usually a reliable and valid guide to my past experiences.

Reliability of memory is another big question in a lot of disciplines, and there are obviously cases where it doesn’t hold. Amnesia and memory implantation both seem to be real phenomena after all. As with reliability of the senses, I’ve chosen to split the difference. We assume our memory is usually reliable, for some definition of “usually”.

Axiom 8: Logic is a valid form of reasoning.

This one is kind of cheating since I’m explicitly leaving the definition of “logic” so vague. I am intending it here to include forms such as propositional and predicate logic, and all the other weird mental constructs without which it’s hard to make sense of things like mathematics. Perhaps this would be better phrased as something more to do with thought processes in general than pure logic. Hmm…

Regardless, we now have our eight core axioms from which we can start to build up an understanding of the world. I expect to revisit these occasionally as I think up better wordings, or discover missing concepts, but as per axiom #2 I hope not to add to them unless absolutely necessary. Let’s at least see how far we get with just these eight!

Other Opinions #3: Thought Crime, Public Shaming and Thick Liberty in the Internet Age

http://www.popehat.com/2013/09/11/pax-dickinson-thought-crime-public-shaming-and-thick-liberty-in-the-internet-age/

Disclaimer: I don’t necessarily agree with or endorse everything that I link to. I link to things that are interesting and/or thought-provoking. Caveat lector.

Building Reality, Part One: Metaphysics

We now have two relatively basic axioms that let us pull ourselves up by our bootstraps without falling into a nihilistic or explosive view. However, that’s about all they do on their own, so beside these we will lay out a bare handful more axioms that will let us really get going. While several of these axioms may be hard to articulate, none of them should be controversial.

Axiom 3: There is some underlying consistent reality that is made up of things.

There are a couple of different ideas wrapped up in this, most importantly those of existence, consistency, and divisibility. Consistency is hard to define at this level, but is something like “follows unchanging rules”. It should be easy to understand though; if reality isn’t consistent then there’s no way to make sense of anything. It is also worth noting that the “things” which make up reality in this axiom are intentionally vague. They could be atoms, quarks, Platonic ideals, Cartesian egos… What kind of things they are doesn’t really matter at this point.

Axiom 4: I (or the thing that I think of as “me”) exist in some form in that reality.

This one is more straight-forward, it gives us a reference point to work from, although it tells us nothing at all about that reference point. The key here is that the self is part of or contained in reality, not separate from it. It isn’t necessarily a fundamental “thing” in the third axiom’s sense, but it does belong to reality. This is purely definitional: reality is all the things that actually exist, so the self is either one of those things or made up of them.

Axiom 5: Things in reality interact, forming temporal and causal relationships.

This one just works in the concepts of time and causality. Nothing tricky, though lots to argue about if you feel like it. Importantly, this axiom makes causality a property of things in reality, not reality itself. There is no commitment here to the peculiar idea that reality itself must have a cause. Something about the wording of this one still bugs me, but I haven’t been able to pin it down.

These three axioms give us some metaphysical meat to work with, but we need a just a little bit more. I have three more axioms planned for the next post, at which point we’ll hopefully be able to move beyond this low-level mucking about.

Occam’s Razor and Epistemic Explosions

We have started by accepting a single axiom on the validity of axioms, and all of the relevant circularity. We must now be careful though, for we currently have no criteria for which other axioms we accept. In fact in our current state we are allowed to choose any and however many axioms we want. Don’t feel like arguing for a particular proposal? Just take it as an axiom!

This epistemic explosion puts no limits on what we can claim as fundamental truth. As with it’s opposite, epistemic nihilism, there isn’t actually anything philosophically wrong with this. We are still effectively too close to the circular trap to be able to make that kind of judgement. However, like epistemic nihilism, accepting an epistemic explosion just doesn’t seem practical or useful. If we take a nihilistic view then there is nothing more we can say, whereas if we take an explosive view then we can say literally anything. Either way, we’re philosophically finished. Frankly, that kind of view is just boring.

So, we will add a second axiom to our set, based on a fairly well-known principle: Occam’s Razor. A lot of the historical details around Occam’s Razor are rather fuzzy, including who said it first, whether Ockham said it at all, and why the spelling has changed. These questions are not really relevant to the underlying principle though, which is often stated as “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity” (Wikipedia claims this formulation is due to John Punch).

The razor has many other various formations, but they all basically boil down to “simpler is better”. Or more practically, if you’ve got two possible explanations for a thing that do an equally good job on all points, pick the explanation that only requires a paragraph, not the explanation that requires thirty pages, two diagrams and an appendix. With all that in mind, we can formulate our second axiom:

Axiom 2: The fewer axioms you need, the better.

Other Opinions #1: Lies We Tell Kids

In addition to my own work I plan on occasionally posting links to various other interesting articles and essays on a wide variety of topics. Eventually I hope to cover all of these ideas myself, but that’s going to take a while.

Disclaimer: As you might infer from the title “Other Opinions”, I won’t necessarily agree with or endorse everything that I link to. I link to things that are interesting and/or thought-provoking. Caveat lector.

http://www.paulgraham.com/lies.html