Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cluster Horror

From here:
HILTA: From his hospital room in the Marjayoun Public Hospital, 10-year-old Mohammad Jamal Abdel- Aal says he will not forgive nor forget Israel for ripping off his limbs. Abdel-Aal's left leg and right hand got amputated on Sunday after a cluster bomb, left over from the summer 2006 war with Israel, exploded while he was playing in one of the fields near his home in the southern town of Hilta.

"I am not able to play anymore," Abdel-Aal told The Daily Star on Sunday.
You see, it was like this:
All Things Considered, September 27, 2006 · Melissa Block talks with Anthony Shadid, foreign correspondent for The Washington Post, about the problem of small, unexploded cluster bombs in southern Lebanon. About the size of a soda can, they may number more than 1 million. Most were dropped during the last three days of the fighting. (emphasis added)
Oh, and, by the way, guess where those cluster bombs were made.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Crab Blogging

This crab species known to have a lot of legs. Sort of a centicrab.

This is a hermit crab.....

You've got to appreciate the detail on this one's tee-shirt. Oh, that's a crab above the figure.

Two late entries:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Crab Blogging

They're starting to run soon. Ummmmm.

Sans Snark

Nothing if not persistent

"However, the teeny, tiny (not polka-dotted) bagel is a bee bagel. For that one, you must indicate the precise (and accurate) location of the "beginning" by doing the bee waggle dance." (emphasis added)

"People steadily crossed the yard carrying things that gave them a reason for being there - shopping, briefcases, musical instruments, library books, city maps or rucksacks..." (emphasis added)

Beeing the reason after the dance.

On the other hand:
I never nursed a dear gazelle,
To glad me with its dappled hide,
But when it came to know me well,
It fell upon the buttered side.

Now, was it Joyce or Elliot. I'm getting confused. You know, it is unclear that Thomas Moore was ever in Africa. How did he know about Gazelles?
“Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”
However, in four days we'll get to sing my favorite song of all time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bee is for Bagel

I, of course, want to bee bloggerly* correct, so here is the link. However, the torus of all torae:


Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Bagel



As an old friend, Mr. W. says:
Since the late 19th century the term has often been used as a synonym for anarchism.
This is sort of sad, since I've always felt a little warmth at the bottom of my cold, deterministic heart for anarchy, not necessarily the bomb throwing kind. But, I am being unfair, That would be political libertarianism and what we are discussing here is metaphysical libertarianism which Mr. W. says is:
...a philosophical position in metaphysics with respect to free will and determinism. It entails the belief that human beings possess free will, that free will is incompatible with determinism, and that determinism is false.
The citation that Unreal Nature has led us to, is a review by Eric Carlsson of a book by Randolph Clarke called "Libertarian Accounts of Free Will"

As Unreal Nature states, we are all amateurs and, believe me, if there was ever the definition of amateur it would be:
"One who has trouble understanding Libertarian Accounts of Free Will."
I need to quote the first para of Carlsson's review to get you in the mood for this thing. Mind you, there are no chloride ions involved:
The purpose of Clarke’s book is to assess the conceptual adequacy of libertarian accounts of free will, i.e., accounts which assume that free will is incompatible with determinism. Clarke discusses libertarian views of three types; noncausal, event-causal, and agent-causal. All noncausal accounts are found inadequate, while the best event-causal accounts are adequate, assuming the truth of “merely narrow” incompatibilism, i.e., the view that moral responsibility is, unlike free will, compatible with determinism. Given “broad” incompatibilism, claiming that moral responsibility is also incompatible with determinism, only agent-causal accounts can, according to Clarke, be adequate. The adequacy of such accounts presupposes, however, that substance causation is possible. Clarke finds good, although not decisive, reasons to reject the possibility of such causation. He concludes that the possibility of free will is doubtful, given broad incompatibilism.
Alright, then, we have three positions to grapple with.

1. Non causal. This is, as Carlsson states:
Noncausal libertarian accounts maintain that free actions can be uncaused, and lack internal causal structure. In Clarke’s view, such accounts thereby fail to give an adequate characterization of the active control required for free will. Such control is, he argues, a causal phenomenon. “An agent’s exercising active control … consists in her action’s being caused by her, or in her action’s being caused, in an appropriate way, by certain events involving her, such as her having certain reasons and a certain intention” (p. 19).
How does one parse this statement from a neurophysiological standpoint? Events are caused by "actions" on the part of an animal. It is entirely illogical to assume the possibility of a "lack of internal causal structure." Perhaps this is the definition of a mad man? (I will certainly stay away from the booby trap of proposing that there could ever, in any way, even with former girl friends, be a mad woman.) There can be no physiologic activity (i.e. muscle activity including vocal muscles) without prior "internal causal structures," i.e. coordinated firing of neurons in the motor cortex. So, in my opinion, this is Libertarian pie in the sky.

2. Event-causal libertarian:
On event-causal libertarian accounts, a free action is caused by events involving the agent, such as her having certain beliefs, desires, reasons, or intentions. Such accounts differ from event-causal compatibilist accounts primarily by requiring that the action is nondeterministically caused by these events.
Whoa Nelly! There are just too many angels on the head of this damn pin. How can "beliefs, desires, reasons or intentions" not deterministically determine an action? Beliefs, etc. are neurophysiologic structures in the brain. Actions are actually reactions. The perception, analysis, reaction circuit is obligated to run through these structures. I am sure that there are vast reservoirs of thought behind the concepts bandied about here, but they should at least make physiologic sense.

Clarke argues, first, that the absence of causal determination precludes neither that the agent exercises sufficient active control for her action to be fully rational, nor that there is an adequate rational explanation of what she does.
Again, at the end of the chain, we have the little supernatural homunculus in our brain determining our actions. It makes no difference how far back one places this activity. That is, "active control" presumes something that is not a result of the neurophysiological structures of the brain.

Some libertarians have tried to avoid this problem by locating the required element of indeterminism at an earlier stage in the causal process issuing in the action.
Now, what to make of this statement:
The “argument from luck” is another aspect of the problem of diminished control. If a decision is nondeterministically caused, this argument goes, it is a matter of luck that the agent makes it.
This is a fascinating concept that goes back to the ideas of the Fates, Pandora's Box, and even Karma, though one could argue about the latter.

Further on, Carlsson states:
If an account provides for the openness of alternatives, as well as for the positive active control required for moral responsibility, there are good reasons to conclude that it adequately characterizes free will.
Pardon me if I am perplexed. That is, why do I feel that this is just saying: "We have Free Will because we have Free Will."

However, the mere openness of alternatives, understood as the absence of a determining cause, cannot, Clarke maintains, make a difference as to whether an agent is morally responsible. (emphasis added)
And again, this is circular. What distinguishes "openness of alternatives" from Free Will? How can one possibly have "Free Will" and not have moral responsibility? It is this refusal on the part of philosophers to clearly define their terms (i.e. spell out differences in concepts) that drives one bonkers.

3. Agent causal: For this Carlsson says:
Clarke moves on to consider whether an agent-causal libertarian account can provide such positive active control. He argues, first, that no account postulating the agent as the sole cause of a free action is adequate. Like noncausal accounts, such pure agent-causal accounts fail to provide reason-explanations of actions. Instead, he suggests an “integrated” agent-causal account. On this account, a free action has a nondeterministic conjunctive cause, one conjunct of which is the agent herself, and the other is her having certain reasons, etc. (emphasis added)
What I really need a definition for here is "Agent." To wax philosophical, one cannot have a conjunction of two dissimilar objects, i.e. two "things" that are not of the same philosophical strata. In this case, the "agent" is either the same as the "reasons" or, as in my little homunculus, different. From a neurophysiological standpoint, we would argue that they are the same and these arguments have no real meaning. This argument holds for this statement also:
Clarke finds, however, fairly strong reasons to reject the possibility of such causation. The most serious difficulties concern causation by substances in general, rather than causation by agents in particular.

I'm sorry, I can't go on. The jargon is just too much for me. I knew I was in trouble when I read this:
“Effects are caused to occur at times, and it might be argued that this can be so only if their causes likewise occur at times—only, that is, if their causes are directly in time in the way in which events are but substances are not” (p. 201). It can be replied that if a substance causes an event, then it does so in virtue of having a certain property at a certain time. The temporality of causation is thus accommodated in an indirect way. (emphasis added)
Because I immediately thought of this guy:

Amazing how he is able to pick up that Church!

And he made me think of Transubstantiation:
The Council of Trent defined transubstantiation as "that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood – the species only of the bread and wine remaining – which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation".[4]
But that, of course, led me to:
Two, four, six, eight
Time to transubstantiate
And to think this guy was a Prof at Harvard, MIT and Wellesley (during the time Hillary was there).

Friday, March 06, 2009

Deja Vu All Over

Once the investment trust was the remarkable invention that brought the small and innocent investor the precious benefits of skilled investment advice and the promise of high earnings and rich capital gains. Now we have the mutual funds. So precious is the financial genius provided by these that companies are organized to supply it to the companies that actually invest the money. The profit from the sale of this genius and also the cost of selling it being considerable, it would be illogical to assume that the investor gets the counsel at low cost. When the next collapse comes, quite a few who have committed themselves to contractual plans for investment - to putting so much money in a mutual fund each month - may discover that much of their money has gone for the genius, and the other costs, and not much remains in the stocks.

John Kenneth Galbraith, The Great Crash 1929. Time Inc Book Division. 1955. p. xxii-xxiv


Note: I got Galbraith's book when in college, many, many years ago. It has sat on my shelf since then. I always assumed it was boring. On the other hand, every single other book in the Time reading program of the early 60's was interesting when I finally got around to reading it (including Bend Sinister by Nabokov which got me hooked on him.) So, I read The Great Crash - 1929 last fall for obvious reasons. Galbraith's book is extremely well written and funny. I know. I know. Funny economics is an oxymoron. Go figure.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Gaza Day 43


How quickly we forget. The common refrain these days is "nothing to see here," "move along, now." The thousands of children who died needlessly in Iraq. The children of Lebanon and the cluster bombs. And now the almost forgotten 437 slain children of Gaza.

The child in this picture did not survive. She was buried alive by the debris from a bombing attack, as detailed in surgical coldness by Paul Rogers:
The war started with an intense aerial operation involving 88 Israeli strike aircraft attacking 100 pre-planned targets in under four minutes. 400 more targets were hit within the first week of the war...
Mr. Rogers of the Oxford Research Group, continues on with his aseptic analysis of the situation in January. As an American, I find the following paragraph chilling:
It is certainly the case that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) had undertaken very detailed planning and training for a major air and ground offensive to be directed at Hamas, including a substantial increase in infantry training for urban warfare. Much of this was concentrated at a new facility, the National Urban Training Centre, the mock Arab town of Baladia in the Negev complete with refugee camp. This was built for the IDF by the US Army Corps of Engineers, financed largely by US military aid and has been in operation for the past eighteen months.
Think about this for a moment. This operation, with its devastation of the civilian population, was planned in model of a civilian facility (a "mock Arab town" and a "refugee camp") built by the American Army. The American Army is financed by my tax dollars.

One of the most powerful armies in the world plans, for many months, to attack a civilian population and trains for it not by combating simulated soldiers, but by practicing attacking a refugee camp. To do this it is equipped by the U.S.:
... F-16 strike aircraft and the Apache helicopter gunships are seen as US aircraft in Israeli markings, and there is the memory of the airlift of military supplies from the United States to Israel at the time of the 2006 Lebanon War.
You might say that this is real politik. But why then do we view what the General Ratko Mladić did in Sebrenica with such moral outrage?

Slowly the world starts coming around to confronting the fate of these children. It is difficult to review the pictures, particularly when one shares the guilt, without wondering where we all are heading.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Pearls from Pauline

A Correspondent raises the following questions about You Know What:

-Do mind, soul, free will differ in source?
Comment: These three concepts all arise in the human brain, if that is the meaning of the question. While many have tried to make distinctions between mind and soul, in my opinion these are semantic issues.

-Does someone who denies free will, necessarily deny concept of "soul"?
Comment: Again, one would have to ask what the word "soul" denotes. There is "soul music," "soul food," and full or empty milk bottles (Baltimore Catechism circa 1950). There are Buddhist concepts, Hindu concepts, those of Aristotle and Plato. Thomas Aquinas, I think, was big on souls. I once heard of a high school student who tried to buy other student's souls (she was a witch). This would be the soul of Goethe. In summary, many would say that the soul is a life spirit, but, in the end most people assume that other's think of a soul the same way they do. It is an intuition.

-If humans have souls, and non-human animals do not, when in evolution does soul enter humans?
Comment: Very good question. For some very interesting discussion of this see Unreal Nature. I now see that this goes back to your first question. That is, are soul, mind and free will all part and parcel of the same "thing." I don't know whether there is an answer for this since it is impossible to get a definition. However, many would say that there is a "life force" in higher animals that leaves at death. It is hard not to say that a chimpanzee, who shares so much DNA with humans, and who seems almost to be a human, doesn't have a "soul" in the same way that people say humans do. The existence of this question and the lack of a viable answer is a big challenge for Free Willers.

-Do animals have a mind?
Comment: See above.

-How do humans and non-humans differ regarding brain and electrical activity? is there any?
Comment: Other than absolute number and complexity of the circuits, they are, to the best of my knowledge, exactly the same (same neurotransmitters, same ion gates, same action potential, etc.) I say this because most of the defining research in neurophysiology was done on animal models.
The interesting thing here, if you are of a galactic bent, is wondering what the human mind will become in 100,000 years. For starters, everyone would have to be born by Cesarean Section, since (and I can assure you of this) the current human female birth canal is barely able to cope. (See The Singing Neanderthal for an explanation of this development). While I hold no hope for telepathy or teletransportation, the ability of a humanoid mind twice our capacity for aesthetic appreciation must be unbelievable.

-What is the source of emotion: affection, compassion, misery?
Comment: Buddha would be proud. The source, as best as I understand this of emotion is a complex interaction between a very primitive part of the brain called the limbic system and the higher area called the neocortex. Note that whales have compassion, dogs are affectionate (arf, arf Julie). The only emotion that I am aware that is unique to humans is embarrassment. As Mark Twain said (paraphrase), "Humans are the only animals that blush; and they are the only animals that need to."

-And what about humor, language, intelligence measured in animals?
Comment: Very good question. It is debatable that animals have humor that is at all on the spectrum of humans. Doggies and kittens are certainly playful. I think that primates have something similar. Language, on the other hand, is a uniquely developed human facility that has evolved over millenia. Closely allied to language is an appreciation of music. See the aforementioned "The Singing Neanderthal" for a comprehensive exploration of this topic. As for intelligence, a colony of ants shows intelligence (see Unreal Nature and this New York Review of Books item on The Superior Civilization)

-How do neuron patterns differ in non-humans and humans? and do they?
Comment: Again, I assume that the patterns in a human are more complex, just because there are more neurons. For instance, we have color vision but dogs do not. However, it is probably a question of degree. This is an interesting question that cannot be answered yet.

-Who chose the word "animal"?
Etymology: Latin, from animale, neuter of animalis animate, from anima soul. So, there you have it, its those damn Romans.

Pauline says: One last comment on the chimp who made headlines recently. It boggles my mind that ONE chimp gets shot for ONE attack on ONE human. Never mind some humans "freely choosing" to kill thousands of Iraqis in an unconscionable war. But that's another whole matter.
Some of these questions make one go back and think very, very hard about what was said. I must confess that my comments are just what I think and do not represent any orthodoxy.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A question of legitimacy - II

Far be it from me, carrying the sports metaphor beyond bounds, to suggest that Unreal Nature was involved in "sledging." No, no, no, we welcome all opinions on the subject, even if they be in Ingush. (Some of us have trouble with the l's.)

To rephrase the question:
Are there "rules" that govern literary (textual) criticism?

If there are, who determines them?

If there are not rules per se, are there, as Unreal Nature would suggest, "rules" about rules? To use the sports metaphor, are there some things in common with all sports that everyone agrees on? (The aforelinked article on Sports Ethics seems to suggest so. However, I find it hard to fit boxing into that framework.)(He coins the words "aforelinked" and "aforeblogged". Thank you.)

If there are uber-rules, do they extend to all art criticism?


Consider the graphics that our favorite mermaid sings about: A CT scan of metastatic lung cancer (very familiar, I wonder where it came from), the running of the bulls in Minos (I almost said cretin cattle, but bringing up the subject of Iodine deficiency would be diluting the discourse), an incomprehensible phrase, and a poem about how I feel these days.

CT scan:
Now, to my eyes, an entirely different picture. But to the anthropologist? The mermaid? Dr. Rorschach?

The comment I guess I am driving at is that we respond to any text or work of art in a structured way. That is, while layered with many concomitant emotions from the limbic system, we still interpret things (criticize) in the way that is structured by our memories and inherited mental structures. To the extent that the latter are common to all humans (a very long discussion about evolutionary psychology here,) there probably are uber rules. We could not be caught in this discussion if there were not.

So, I bow to the wisdom of my colleagues. I will pack up my lance and leave the field. At least I don't have a lance through my eye.