essentialsaltes: (muslin)
Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

This is an updated (2014) version of the 2004 original by Lakoff, a cognitive scientist at Berkeley.

Basic idea: conservative leaders have been better at framing issues than liberal counterparts.

Frames are embedded deeply enough in people that rational argumentation and facts are useless.

Voters have had these frames imposed upon them so that their kneejerk reactions are predictable.

e.g. describing a bill to lower taxes as 'tax relief' builds up the concept that taxes are (always) a burden. And inherently bad.

If liberals fight against these frames by mentioning them, this only reinforces the frame. Liberals may talk about tax relief for the middle class, but this leans on the idea that taxes are inherently bad.

Liberals need to find their own frames to use. 'Taxes contribute to the many valuable services we all make use of. They are investments in our future happiness and the happiness of our children. They are the 'membership fees' of citizenship.'

And then I start to get an itchy feeling.

"These are accurate views of taxes, but they are not yet enshrined in our brains. They need to be repeated over and over again, and refined until they take their rightful place in our synapses. But that takes time. It does not happen overnight. Start now."

Lakoff would like us to please brainwash ourselves.

This is not an exaggeration of his position. One of the strange things about the book is his frequent discussion that these frames are physical 'structures' in our brains. I mean, I too believe that mental states supervene on physical states in the brain, and there is no soul making 'free' decisions. But, unlike Lakoff, I don't think that makes rational argument useless.

“You might think that the world exists independently of how we understand it. You would be mistaken. Our understanding of the world is part of the world--a physical part of the world. Our conceptual framings exist in physical neural circuitry in our brains, largely below the level of conscious awareness, and they define and limit how we understand the world, and so they affect our actions in the world."

Inasmuch as he promotes frames as a weapon, he literally wants us to circumvent thought and react unconsciously to stimuli. [We will set aside his apparent disregard for the existence of an external world independent of ourselves.]

In discussing climate change, he notes that scientists are terrible at framing:

"The crucial words here are high degree of confidence, anomalies, consequence, likelihood, absence, and exceedingly small. Scientific weasel words! The power of the bald truth, namely causation..."

Those are not weasel words. Those are the correct ways to phrase these scientific results. If some treehugging granola-eater wants to wave a sign saying "Climate change caused Hurricane Sandy," that's fine, but it is not a scientific fact. Nor is it "the bald truth". It is irresponsible to ask scientists to say anything other than something like "it's unlikely for an event like Hurricane Sandy to have occurred without the influence of anthropogenic climate change." I know, it doesn't fit well on a placard. It's complicated. But it's what the science shows.

"The issue of "immigration" is about a new generation of such refugees. President Obama, in a speech ... beautifully states his moral understanding of the issue. His words showed that the current wave of refugees, referred to as 'undocumented immigrants' are in many ways already citizens --they contribute enormously to American society."

This has a couple things I want to mention. First, undocumented immigrants are not (in general) refugees. So Obama was right to so characterize them. Lakoff is indulging in spin, to put it most favorably. Second, Lakoff was hoping that by describing them as refugees, it would arouse feelings of compassion that would make us more likely to help rather than harm these people. Of course, Lakoff wrote his book in 2014. Right now, Americans are probably more afraid of 'refugees' than of 'illegal aliens'. I mean, that is perhaps a demonstration of the whole point of his book -- that there are different ways of framing the issue to cause kneejerk responses. But he has once again caused me some pause, since he starts his own framing exercise by lying, to put it less favorably.

In a FAQ at the end, he tries to distinguish between frames and euphemisms, spin, or propaganda. I wasn't really satisfied by his answer. Frames are not very different from euphemism, spin, or propaganda. These certainly have their place in politics.

His vision seems to be of two large masses of primates mindlessly shouting slogans at a small band of undecided primates in the middle, each hoping to inculcate the middle group with its slogan. While this is not an unfair description of American elections, I think we can do better. The way to fight propaganda is not (only) with propaganda of our own, but by exposing propaganda for what it is.

But possibly I'm wrong and brainwashing ourselves and others is the only route forward to victory.

Fortunately, it appears I'm not alone in being leery of Lakoff. I found a great point/counterpoint between Stephen Pinker and Lakoff. Skip to Pinker's Salvo to see his review of Lakoff's ideas from a different (but similar) book and a really good yo mama joke. This is apparently an outburst in a decades long intellectual war between the two, and I'm not qualified to judge the more technical aspects of their discussion of linguistics and cognitive science, but when it gets down to the political applications, I think Pinker is in the right:

But Lakoff’s advice doesn’t pass the giggle test. One can just imagine the howls of ridicule if a politician took Lakoff’s Orwellian advice tried to rebrand “taxes” as “membership fees.” Surely no one has to hear the metaphor tax relief to think of taxes as an affliction; that sentiment has been around for as long as taxes have been around. ... And even if taxes were like membership fees, aren’t lower membership fees better than higher ones, all else being equal? ... In defending his voters-are-idiots theory, Lakoff has written that people don’t realize that they are really better off with higher taxes, because any savings from a federal tax cut would be offset by increases in local taxes and private services. But if that is a fact, it would have to be demonstrated to a bureaucracy-jaded populace the old-fashioned way, as an argument backed with numbers–-the kind of wonkish analysis that Lakoff dismisses.
...
The problem with this burlesque is not that its targets don’t deserve criticism. It’s that it will backfire with all of its potential audiences. Any of Lakoff’s allies on the left who think that their opponents are such imbeciles will have their clocks cleaned in their first debate with a Young Republican. The book will be red meat for his foes on the right, who can hold up his distortions as proof of liberals’ insularity and incomprehension.


Overall:

B+ for showing how conservatives have used framing successfully.
F for suggesting that the liberal's only hope is to fight fire with fire, brainwash ourselves, and lay off the facts and rational thought.
F for not really exploring the liberal frames that already exist. The shortcuts to careful reasoning. Diagnosing police brutality, racism, sexism, without the full facts. Nazipunching. Reading the book, you get the impression that only wicked conservatives have frames to manipulate people, while the benevolent, wise, but prone-to-losing liberals are stuck with only useless tools like facts and rationality.
essentialsaltes: (that's not funny!)
Many people have recently opined about the justifiability of punching a Nazi(*) in the face. A surprising (to me) number of people are for it.

(*)To clarify, unless we're talking about these six Nazis, at best there are 'neo-Nazis' these days, or 'jerks with hateful ideas who are dangerously close to the levers of power'.

I test the Nazi punch hypothesis out in my own mind, and I just find it hard to accept. I mean, what if it was a lady Nazi? In Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah wisely observes that "in America, if a girl is kicking your ass, you do not have to be a gentleman." Honestly, I'm egalitarian enough that if a boy or girl is kicking your ass, you do not have to be a gentleperson.

And yes, if a boy or girl is kicking that helpless person over there's ass, this probably requires some intervention.

But these rules are not just about kicks and asses. They should be good for punches and faces. "Hey you! Anonymous coward punching an unsuspecting guy in the face! What's wrong with you?"

Anyway, some dudes may have some archaic patriarchal misgivings about punching a lady Nazi. Perhaps they could do something else generally considered illegal or antisocial? Maybe they could throw rocks at them or grab their pussies? This new moral hypothesis opens up so many interesting questions!

But it's fraught with so many logistical difficulties. I mean, not every neo-Nazi will go to the trouble of tattooing 88 on his forehead. They might look like anybody! If only we could form an organization that could identify them based on objective criteria and make them wear distinctive clothing or something, so we'd know who to punch.

But there seem to be deeper flaws that worry me. A lot.

If we decide that, for a certain class of people, we no longer have to treat them with the usual rules of civility and humanity, it would seem (to avoid being hypocrites) that other people could use this same hypothesis to justify treating other classes of people as sub-human.

Wait a moment! Have I fallen into Bizarro world? Nazis treating certain classes of people as sub-human is one of the justifications for treating them as subhuman. I have it all backward! It's not that we would be hypocrites to NOT allow other people to think this way in the future. It's that other people thinking that way in the past made US start to think like them.

You can't fight an ideology by implicitly accepting its tenets. You are strengthening it by making it the only way of looking at the world.


Now some have correctly pointed out that neo-Nazis can be experts at using 'the System' to quash opposition. "Oh, we're the victims, save us, save us, Law & Order!"

So then I ask: Why the fuck would you fall into their trap by punching people on the street? Are you stupid?

The good guys also have some experts at using 'the System', from politicians to judges to civil rights lawyers. I'm neither, but I expect they would advise you to refrain from punching people in the face.

Because it does play into their trap. Punch a few Nazis, set fire to a building, and the system might restrict the rights to "habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right of free association and public assembly, the secrecy of the post and telephone". In the name of security. To protect the crybabies.

And what is the goal of Nazipunch? What positive result is achieved?



When Obama was elected, the racists were gnashing their teeth, and afraid, and the left held out its hand and said:



And the dummies on the right were afraid Obama was going to grab their guns and put them in FEMA camps.

And so they hid in their bunkers, clutching their guns and bibles, despising the left, falling into their own groupthink, biding their time until... well, until their savior appeared. And they voted for him, to the astonishment of all those who thought they were safely and silently encapsulated in gun-lined bunkers where their unchallenged ideologies couldn't possibly hurt anybody.

And you know what? As dumb as they are, they played by the rules. In the state houses, the governor's mansions, the House and Senate, and now the White House. It's true that "democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time".

Now the shoe is on the other foot.



And the other side is afraid Trump is going to grab their pussies and put them in death camps.

It's all very familiar. Not all that different.

Now this is not to say that everything is fine. Trump's actions have real effects on pussies and Syrians and so on. But do you know how many pussies get contraception coverage on their insurance when you punch a Nazi?

Zero.

If anything, it plays into the hands of crybaby Nazis.


If you are conspiracy minded, well... probably you have already written me off as a closet Nazi, but consider this.

We know the Russians want to create chaos in our country.

We know the Russians have worked hard to get the dumb-dumb right to distrust the government, distrust the mainstream media, and listen only to RT.com and Breitbart.

Fortunately, we on the left are waaaaay too smart to be manipulated by Russian propaganda. Right? Right? No one would be suckered in by the idea that democracy or free speech are inherently flawed concepts, and are better replaced by punches in the face. Angry moron Trump voters wanted to blow up the system. Only idiots would want to blow it up bigger.
essentialsaltes: (beokay)
Why Violence Has Declined takes a long, long, too-long look at rates of violence over the past umpty-thousand years from our hunter-gatherer forebears to today. Pinker has marshalled a shitload of facts and statistics, and though there may be some niggling details here and there, on the whole, he's pretty convincing that rates of murder, war, and violence have declined per capita. This does require an explanation, and I think Pinker certainly outlines many ideas that contribute, but he doesn't seem to present a very strong thesis for an explanation. Rather he takes us on a plodding journey through the museum of ideas that every political philosopher has considered. The book plods so much that I found much of it a chore to get through. Reading through the outline in Wikipedia is good enough -- just feel certain that each point is held up by a few hundred footnotes each.

One of the ideas that did stick with me was that many violent acts are considered acts of justice by their perpetrators. They are not doing wrong, they are taking justice into their own hands. That bitch stole my man -- smack. That driver cut me off -- blam. Obviously, these solutions are not terribly rational, and generally frowned upon by Leviathan. I think it could extend to larger actions -- riots in Watts and LA. It doesn't make any fucking sense, but there was some ache for a justice that was not going to come from traditional channels.

Now, I have plodded so slowly through the book that that idea lodged some time ago. And then as I mulled it over in my mind, I considered the Trump voters in the lead-up to the election. Can a vote be an act of violence? A stupid plea for justice when you're aching for a justice that was not going to come from traditional channels? Mmmmm... no, I can't quite bring myself to consider a vote for Trump to be an act of violence. And then the vote actually happened, and Trump won. I still can't quite elevate it to an act of violence. But I think a lot of my friends may consider it to have been an act of violence. And certainly we have seen (even given some level of pernicious fakes) that some Trump supporters have been emboldened to enact actual violence. And we've also seen protests of Trump that have also risen to the level of violence.

Now I have to tread carefully here, because I think there are significant differences between the two sides. It is not just that I am trapped in my bubble and not their bubble (and I'll get to the bubble later, especially since almost everyone who will read this is in my liberal bubble). At the same time, the people (considered as people) in the two camps. Are not all that different.

Now apparently the worst thing I could possibly do is to suggest that we should reach out and hug the other side and unite. Which is fine, because I'm not suggesting that. When Trump has rotten plans, they should be fought. And many of his plans are rotten.

But possibly I'm saying something even worse. That people are people. And people on both sides are not all that different. And to realize that, it definitely helps to spend time outside your bubble.

Many of you know of the long years I've spent in the mission fields of Christian websites, spreading the good news of rationality and fact-based argument. It is not easy work, because they are beset by demons that deceive them. And again, it's not about compromise -- I think the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and they think it's 6,000 years old. I'm not looking to compromise at 2,250,003,000 years old. Wait, I'm rambling a little too much, but maybe we'll come back to this.

Another bit of bubble escape was listening to the infuriating drive-time talk show on a Christian radio station, though I haven't in many years. Until election night. As I drove home, feeling pretty confident that it was going to be close (my prediction: Hillary 278 EV) but would go blue, I turned that station on hoping for election news and... delicious Christian tears. Because that's a thing now. Enjoying people's tears. And because I'm a bad person.



And I got those tears. But I did not find them enjoyable. pout

A young Latina called in to the show. Her voice shook with raw emotion, clearly crying. Hillary was going to win, and as everyone in the conservative Christian bubble knew (as did I since I'd been visiting), Hillary believed that "deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs have to be changed". And as it was being spun in the bubble, this young woman knew that President Hillary was going to forcibly change religious beliefs in America. She was genuinely, fearfully afraid that hers was the last generation that was going to hear the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

All bullshit, of course. But the tears and pain in that bubble were real. Just like they were real when Obama was elected in 2008 and was going to take everyone's guns.

Anyway, fast-forward a few hours, and suddenly the tears were on the other foot. (Shut up.) There were organized cry-ins. And, and... the other side mocked it. They were enjoying those tears! How could they be so cruel?



Not all that different.

But they're all racists!

Yes, half of Trump voters hold implicit bias against POC. And only a third of Hillary voters do.

Not all that different.

But Trump's spouting ugly racism!

Well, yeah. Again, I don't want to rest on any false equivalencies. But if you want to characterize the GOP as full of racists, then you should step inside the other bubble and look at yourself.

You support murdering babies. You literally want doctors to crush the skulls of infants with forceps.
You want perverts to molest our delicate American girlhood in the bathroom at Target.
You want religious expression to be locked inside the walls of churches.
You let the biased(*) lame-stream media do your thinking for you.

[* I'm too tired, but to its credit, the media finally decided that he said/she said journalistic equivalency was no longer valid. Trump was lying. They called him on it. They endorsed Hillary. But... it does feed the narrative that the media is biased against Trump.]

You want them to stop being racist and join the correct party? Well, maybe you should stop killing babies, and join the correct party.

You scoff when people say they aren't racist, but voted for Trump? Well, what do you think of Tim Kaine, who personally opposes abortion, but stood for VP of the Democrat Party? And he's by no means alone. There are Democrats who think abortion is murder. If you can be against baby-murdering, and vote for a baby-murdering candidate, then surely you can be a non-racist and vote for a racist candidate. Sure, it must be a terrible internal conflict. Sucks to be them. But they got their racism/baby-killing just like the people-of-yesteryear got Skinemax with the package.

Not all that different.

But they are so very fact-challenged!

Well yes. That's what I combat the most. You give them a snopes link, and they don't believe snopes. You provide the links on the snopes page to the NYT, and they don't believe the NYT. There are some people there whose solitary (it appears) information source is infowars(*). They were primed and ready to believe crap like a Kenyan born Obama, or a Jade Helm takeover of Texas. Because it fits their narrative.

(* I'm too tired, but if you're getting info from occupydemocrats or Huffpo... Not all that different.)

In our bubble, the narrative is that Trump is a sexual predator. And I'm morally certain that Trump has grabbed more unwilling pussies than trans people have assaulted anybody in a bathroom. So the woman who accused Trump of raping her when she was a teenager fits the narrative. But when the press conference was announced, my baloney detector started beeping. Because (for better or worse) before I am a Democrat or a liberal, I am a skeptic. A court of law is where these things are decided, not at press conferences or FBI memos. And when the press conference was cancelled due to 'threats', my suspicion grew. It was not impossible that threats had deterred some poor woman, but I was not buying it at this point. But a lot of other people were. They railed against the Trumpeters who had cowed this woman. Maybe Trump had bought her off. How many millions did it take him? And then two days later, she dropped the suit. No cause given. Bought off? Full of shit? We may never know. But a retracted anonymous accusation is not much to hang something on, unless the narrative is more important than evidence.

And if you point to snopes articles showing that some cases of 'postelection Trump supporter racism' are imaginary... some people don't want to hear that shit. It doesn't fit the narrative.

I've showed dozens of snopes articles to conservatives, and know what it feels like to be ignored. So when it comes from the other side, it just shows that...

Not all that different.

We all laughed (I did, I'm a bad person) at that stupid bint who cut a backwards B on her face.



But we were also mad. She perpetrated a pernicious lie to denigrate a particular political candidate.

We were furious. She lied to say a black man did this. I hate her.

And now Trump supporters tore the hijab off a woman. Stole her wallet. That feeds the narrative.
But it's bullshit. All a lie.

C'mon now, everyone. Let's laugh at her. And hate her. C'mon. She made a pernicious lie to denigrate a particular political candidate. She lied to say white men did this to her. I hate her. I really do. But more importantly...

Not all that different.

As promised, this book review has devolved. Let me pull it back, at least briefly.

"According to Hofstede's data, countries differ along six dimensions. One of them is Long-Term versus Short-Term Orientation: 'Long-term oriented societies foster pragmatic virtues oriented towards future rewards, in particular saving, persistence, and adapting to changing circumstances. Short-term oriented societies foster virtues related to the past and present such as national pride, respect for tradition, preservation of 'face' and fulfilling social obligations.'"

Those are not bad descriptors of the two societies living in their bubbles that exist within America. The liberal and the conservative.

One of my regrets about the election is that so much was about the personalities and less about the issues. I have read that the Clinton campaign gamely released insightful policy statements to the media, but they never reached me. Since the Donald sucked all the oxygen in the primary fight, one would have thought that the Clinton team would strive harder in the general to make sure its message got out, but it didn't. Honestly, perhaps I'm giving them credit for having a message, because from my standpoint, most of what I heard from the Hillary campaign was...

It's her fucking turn. She cashed in her chips to keep the competition away. Only that asshole Sanders and McWhatever didn't get the memo. "Trump is awful. I'm not Trump."

Though true, this is not compelling. She could've done better with "I will be the third Obama term."

Anyway, one of the few policy things that did come out (because I watch closely) is for the coal miners of America.

HuffPo:

"Hillary Clinton has a $30 billion, 4,300-word plan to retrain coal workers that covers everything from education and infrastructure to tax credits and school funding.

Donald Trump’s coal plan is a duckface thumbs-up in a miner’s hard hat and a rant about hair spray, President Barack Obama and China."

Retrain coal workers? That's "adapting to changing circumstances". That's a Long-Term society strategy. And it's right.

A duckface thumbs-up? Well, if you can see through the HuffPo bias, that's a strategy oriented on today. Short-term. For the white working class families that are struggling.

And now, for you in my liberal well-informed bubble. Surely you are cognizant of the current spot price for coal.

No? Well, there are lots of reasons for it, but coal prices have tripled recently. And although US miners have not (yet) seen much of a boon, due to the horrible EPA, and Obama rules about coal-fueled power plants, a Trump presidency is clearly going to change that. Yes, there are certainly problems with burning coal like there is no tomorrow, but... if you are a part of an unemployed coal-mining family in Pennsylvania or Ohio focused on today... then you are part of the Short-Term Society, and I can see reasons other than racism to vote for Trump. And they did. And they are legitimately mad when we say their votes were racist.

In conclusion:

WE'RE ALL A BUNCH OF APES WHO ONLY RELATIVELY RECENTLY LEARNED TO WEAR CLOTHES AND NOT KILL EACH OTHER SO MUCH.
essentialsaltes: (dorian Gray)
Deep context: my conviction that Sam Harris is an idiot, and his idea of finding an objective measure of wellbeing is misguided from the outset. Making morality objective is like trying to make aesthetics objective -- it's just a fake way of baking in your own subjective opinions and declaring them objective.

Pull-quote:

The simplest explanation for biased algorithms is that the humans who create them have their own deeply entrenched biases. That means that despite perceptions that algorithms are somehow neutral and uniquely objective, they can often reproduce and amplify existing prejudices.

Headline: A beauty contest was judged by AI and the robots didn't like dark skin

Article also has a relevant link to a related story:

"To take just one example, judges, police forces and parole officers across the US are now using a computer program to decide whether a criminal defendant is likely to reoffend or not. ... If you’re black, the chances of being judged a potential reoffender are significantly higher than if you’re white. And yet those algorithmic predictions are not borne out by evidence.
...
The big puzzle is how the bias creeps into the algorithm. We might be able to understand how if we could examine it. But most of these algorithms are proprietary and secret, so they are effectively “black boxes” – virtual machines whose workings are opaque. Yet the software inside them was written by human beings, most of whom were probably unaware that their work now has an important moral dimension."
essentialsaltes: (a)
Massimo Pigliucci has just about had it with the Skeptical & Atheist Movement. I think most of his targets are well-chosen. And I would join him in giving Dan Dennett a big hug.
essentialsaltes: (space invader)
At least The System of the World provides a few fine set-pieces to enliven the end of the Baroque Cycle. Somewhat. Isaac Newton, the Tower of London, Alchemy, the Hannoverian Succession, all mixed up and 900 pages long. Too long to say much. [For reference, my unhappy review of Volume 1, ditto Volume 2]


From the bookchallenge list:

500+ pages (892!)
classic romance (sort of a doomed romance. That's classic, right?)
set in a different country
from an author you love that you haven't read yet
based on a true story (well, with a number of historical personages)
at the bottom of your to-read list (Not in the sense of being the last one, but I looked about and decided which book I LEAST wanted to read. This is why I got through this long before my 2019 deadline)
a trilogy (Yes, it comprises three books: Book 6 – Solomon's Gold ; Book 7 – Currency ; Book 8 – The System of the World -- additionally, it is the third volume of the Baroque trilogy)
with magic (Alchemy counts (in this case))
essentialsaltes: (cognitive Hazard)
subtitle: How the Social Brain Creates Identity

I was a little disappointed with the overall thrust of the book. I was coming at it hoping for more of a philosophical take. Something like what Daniel Dennett says about the self being more like a narrative center of gravity for the burbling bubblepot that is the brain. There is some of that, but more of the book seems to be directed at deflating what I would consider to be a strawman. That there is some sort of rigid self that is so autonomous that it is immune to outside influence. I mean, when you're hungry, I think we all know we make different decisions (even not about food) than when we're sated. But there was still much to like.
Here come the blockquotes )
essentialsaltes: (wrong)
You may remember [haha, no, of course not] when I dispensed with math as fictional [somewhere near the end of that rambling entry].

I had a similar epiphany about space and time. As one does. I mean I've known for a long time that space and time aren't what people naively assume they are, or even perceive they are. But it took some poking and prodding and internet tough guy arguing to really get a handle on it.

While conceding that space itself is not made of matter, someone was asking whether it was, nevertheless, a 'thing'. I was immediately leery of calling it a thing, but pressed on the issue ('how can nothing expand?') led to some deeper thinking.

Now the expansion of space is fraught with misunderstanding. All our standard analogies are really misleading: pennies taped to balloons, raisins in raisinbread dough. These treat space as though it really were a thing that stretched and expanded, carrying other things with it.

If you think that 'space streams' carry galaxies away on it, you're thinking of it wrong. If you think galaxies are pinned to space like they've been nailed into some stretchy jello, you're thinking of it wrong.

So what's right? What is space? What I ultimately came up with was:

"Space is, perhaps, our mental model of the world. We are betrayed by our senses into mapping objects into a three dimensional Euclidean space, and then implicitly reifying that model."

Temperature is modeled by a number that fits on a number line, but we are not tempted to reify that as a real physical dimension. It is only because distance behaves more or less like distance in Euclidean geometry that we assume that space is 'out there' for real, rather than just distance being a property shared between two objects, like the temperature difference between two objects. Well, not just that, it also seems to us in our perceptual visual field (or at least it does to me) like there's a three dimensional more-or-less-Euclidean space out there. Of course, all we really perceive are objects. We have no way of putting space-itself under the microscope, or look at it.

Anyway, so space is just a mental model and it isn't real. You all think I'm crazy. I think I'm crazy. My interlocutor thinks I'm crazy, and asks: "Would you say [space] has always been just a mental model? i.e. when Einstein first presented [GR], he had no intention of implying that space is a thing that actually bends and stretches?"

Oh crap, I'm in for it now. I'm a humble Physics lieutenant, and he's going over my head to the general.

Einstein thought a lot about the Problem of Space:
"It is characteristic of Newtonian physics that it has to ascribe independent and real existence to space and time ...

Newton himself and his most critical contemporaries felt it to be disturbing that one had to ascribe physical reality both to space itself as well as to its state of motion; but there was at that time no other alternative, if one wished to ascribe to mechanics a clear meaning.

It is indeed an exacting requirement to have to ascribe physical reality to space in general, and especially to empty space. ...

The psychological origin of the idea of space, or of the necessity for it, is far from being so obvious as it may appear to be on the basis of our customary habit of thought."

.......

On the basis of the general theory of relativity, on the other hand, space as opposed to "what fills space", which is dependent on the co-ordinates, has no separate existence. ...

Space-time does not claim existence on its own, but only as a structural quality of the field [i.e. the metric].


I honestly did not expect to find Al stating it so unambiguously. I'm not sure why it was so surprising to share the same view, since I had the advantage of standing on his shoulders, but it was still thrilling.
essentialsaltes: (Wrong)
I was invited to a small FB group for political discussion - just a couple dozen members, and not that many active ones. While there are some reasonable people there, there are also a couple people that I would like to think were trolls or paid shills of the Koch Brothers or something. But I fear they are sincere. And these are probably people who vote. If you would like to stare at them, as at a freak show or psychological experiment, you can ask me to invite you into the FB group (if we're FB friends -- I'm using LJ mainly so I can format stuff below). I beg you not to.

Examples of what passes for 'argument'.

Experimental Subject #1: Mahar... What a scumbag

Me: Ad hominem

Experimental Subject #1: Okay he's a dick

Me: Ad hominem

Experimental Subject #1: He is the King of all you liberals

Me: [SUBJECT NAME], an ad hominem is where you attack the person instead of the person's argument. Do you want to discuss what Maher has to say, or do you just want to call him names?

Experimental Subject #1: I want to call him names...he's a liberal nut job


TL;DR Example #2 )

So, like I said. I can invite you into this group. Do not, under any circumstances, take me up on this offer.
essentialsaltes: (Cognitive Hazard)
Sciam article on the effects of believing (or having been recently exposed to the idea that) free will is in some sense illusory.

Equally disturbing for social cohesion, diminished belief in free will also seems to release urges to harm others. One of the admittedly odd ways that psychologists measure aggression in the laboratory is by giving people the opportunity to add hot sauce or salsa to a snack that they know will be served to someone who hates spicy food. Roy F. Baumeister of Florida State University and his colleagues asked a group of volunteers to read arguments for or against the existence of free will before preparing plates of tortilla chips and clearly labeled hot salsa for another volunteer who had rebuffed each group member earlier, refusing to work together with that person. This same aloof individual, the subjects knew full well, was not a fan of spiciness, and the person would have to eat everything that was handed out. Those who had read texts doubting free will’s existence used nearly double the amount of salsa.
essentialsaltes: (islam)
It's sort of the inverse of the straw man fallacy.

Person 1: "I believe X."
Fallacy dude: "Well, that is indeed an option, but no one could seriously believe that."

Example captured in the wild: "So you seem to be suggesting that St. Peters Basillica and the Taj Mahal are the result of natural processes alone. In my original post I suggested that this was indeed an option for the naturalist although what I intended to point out is that it is too absurd to take seriously and thus we have a defeater for naturalistic belief."

Call me crazy, but it's quite true that I believe no supernatural processes were involved in building the Taj Mahal.

(Just to be clear, in the discussion so far, this person himself recognizes that a naturalist may regard mental processes as equivalent to or supervening on physical processes, and are thus natural processes. So it's not that the naturalist is claiming that the Taj Mahal was built by the wind or something.)

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