People like to think they're objective. I get it; it's a good thing to strive to be. As a white dude, I know firsthand that it's easy to assume that you're coming from the "default" perspective, and thus, are more capable of being rationally objective than other, non-white dudes.
But that's wrong. Because if you're brainwashed into seeing your popular mainstream status quo assumptions as "default," then you're actually not objectively considering every possible factor. And this tweet might be the best, most succinct example to explain this:
In other words: we assume that someone can't be objective about prison reform if their own parent has been incarcerated. But what about the other way around? How can you be objective about prison reform if you don't have a parent that's been incarcerated? How can you rationally examine all of the evidence to form a conclusion, if you don't actually have firsthand knowledge of the social, financial, and emotional toll of incarceration? What biases might you be missing that you never even thought to consider because you assumed that your "default" position was automatically normal or correct?
In both situations, your objectivity will be tainted by your emotional response; the difference is that, as a society, we've arbitrarily decided that certain emotions are either proper or negligible when it comes to attaining our idealist objectivity. Read the rest
Retired Cambridge professor Peter Smith has distilled his experience in teaching philosophers and mathematicians about formal logic into a free, frequently updated (last updated: 2017) study guide to logic, constructed to be easily accessible, with quick-start guides for different kinds of learners, written on the assumption of very little education in either maths or philosophy.
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Implementing an on/off switch on a general artificial intelligence is way more complicated than it sounds. Rob Miles of Computerphile looks at what could go wrong. Hint: lots. Read the rest
I love Martin Gardner's puzzle, math, magic, and philosophy books. I just learned from visiting Clifford Pickover's website about a Gardner book that's new to me: Logic Machines & Diagrams (1958).
From the introduction:
A logic machine is a device, electrical or mechanical,
designed specifically for solving problems in formal logic. A logic
diagram is a geometrical method for doing the same thing. The two
fields are closely intertwined, and this book is the first attempt in
any language to trace their curious, fascinating histories.
I think I need the hard copy.
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Fans of the Judge John Hodgman podcast know that the harder you interrogate the category "sandwich," the less definitive it becomes, until you find yourself raging over tacos and hot-dogs. Read the rest
In this video Julie Galef, host of the Rationally Speaking podcast (about philosophy, rationality, science) presents one of my favorite paradoxes - Newcomb's Problem (and the related and "Parfit's Hitchhiker" dilemma).
Before Carla and I started the bOING bOING zine, I published another zine in the mid-1980s called Toilet Devil (Koko the talking ape calls people and her pet kitties "dirty toilet devils" when she is mad at them). In the first issue I drew a comic about "Newcomb's Problem." I might scan it one day and post it.
In 2006, I posted about Newcomb's Problem:
Franz Kiekeben does a nice job of describing Newcomb's Paradox, which I've enjoyed contemplating, on and off, for many years.
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A highly superior being from another part of the galaxy presents you with two boxes, one open and one closed. In the open box there is a thousand-dollar bill. In the closed box there is either one million dollars or there is nothing. You are to choose between taking both boxes or taking the closed box only. But there's a catch.
The being claims that he is able to predict what any human being will decide to do. If he predicted you would take only the closed box, then he placed a million dollars in it. But if he predicted you would take both boxes, he left the closed box empty. Furthermore, he has run this experiment with 999 people before, and has been right every time.
What do you do?
On the one hand, the evidence is fairly obvious that if you choose to take only the closed box you will get one million dollars, whereas if you take both boxes you get only a measly thousand.
Hugh sends us An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments: "This book is aimed at newcomers to the field of logical reasoning, particularly those who, to borrow a phrase from Pascal, are so made that they understand best through visuals. I have selected a small set of common errors in reasoning and visualized them using memorable illustrations that are supplemented with lots of examples. The hope is that the reader will learn from these pages some of the most common pitfalls in arguments and be able to identify and avoid them in practice."
The ebook is gorgeous, and it's available on a name-your-price basis in Spanish and English. There are also print editions in several languages. Read the rest