Monday, February 28, 2011

Argument for the existence of coincident objects?

In a previous post, I mentioned that I believe in coincident objects. Here is another argument for their existence. It seems very likely that impure sets exist. Impure sets are even more plausible than the pure sets of mathematics which are either the null set or sets built up from the null set by certain (mental operations or otherwise) "operations." Thus you seem to get everything in the mathematical world out of nothing, ex nihilo. That may seem counter intuitive. But impure sets are sets that contain concrete objects such as the set containing president Obama and the world's largest potato. If any sets exist, impure sets must exist. A set is just a collection of objects. And surely, collections of individual objects exist as much as individual objects exists.

Now consider the set containing you, the person. Now consider another: the set containing all your cells. These are clearly two different sets as one has as its sole element, you, and the other contains more than a trillion elements. But it seems that both these sets occupy the same space-time region. (Also consider the set containing you as another example).

Some may object by saying that since all sets are abstract including impure sets, they don't really occupy any region of space-time even if all their elements do and thus, the two sets don't really coincide. I'm not sure what to say about this. I'm not sure of its coherence to say that a set (which by definition is just the collection of its elements) is not instantiated in space-time but all its elements are. A corollary of this is that some abstract objects really occupy regions of space-time such as impure sets as weird as that sounds.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Copernican Revolution in time?

There are three main competing theories for the topology of time. That's not to say that there aren't other possible topologies but there are three that are widely taken to be in the philosophical running: presentist, growing block universe, and eternalism. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. The first two are A-theories while the last is a B-theory. Presentism says that only the present is real with the past and future being non existent. Eternalism says that past, present and future all have the same "ontological status" of existence (i.e. being in the scope of our most unrestricted quantifiers for those those with a logical bent). Growing block says that time expands with stuff (events etc) being added at the front end of the growing block (the past being stationary).

According to McTaggart's famous paper, "The Unreality of Time," there are only two kinds of temporal order, namely the A and the B series, and all topologies must fall under these two classifications. Philosophers have not been able to find a plausible topology outside of those two series so on this account, McTaggart may be correct. The problem, as McTaggart pointed out, is that the B series are two-place relations (is before, is after) but that these relations cannot make sense of change which McTaggart believed essential to time.

The A series, however, does no better because it is incoherent. The reason is that the A series takes the past, the present, and the future to be genuine properties of times but that if the A series were true, all times would have all three properties at once and that is incoherent or contradictory.

I would like to concentrate on the growing block universe theory. Traditionally it has been thought of being described thus:

On this view, which we can call “The Growing Universe Theory,” the universe is always increasing in size, as more and more things are added on to the front end (temporally speaking).

However, why is the stuff always added on the front end?

Can't we think of time as receding away from the present? Instead of the past (especially the Big Bang e.g.) being the stationary reference point, why can't we see the present as such a point? Some may quickly respond and say that this view is clearly false because it seems that our subjective sense of time is of a "moving forward" into the future but what justification is there of that directionality? Can't we as easily see this as the past receding away from us? It would be analogous to people before Copernicus thinking that the sun and all heavenly objects revolved around the Earth when it was the earth that revolved around the sun. But here, there is no essential stationary reference point in modern astronomy.

My point is that we can see it both ways for temporal order. Better, I think the analogy is of a rubber band being stretched with us somewhere in between the two ends. At the beginning of (space)time, perhaps 14 billion years ago, there was just a point corresponding to the singularity that became the Big Bang. Now, the temporal order looks something like:

(future?)<-----------Present --------->Big Bang (beginning of time?)

One of the major advantages of this view of time is that it jibes well with relativity and the expanding universe idea (which presentism has notorious difficulties with among other things). If space is expanding, time is probably as well as space and time are unified under general relativity. Eternalism seem to be also at odds with an expanding spacetime. Also, notice that the expansion I am thinking of can be thought of as symmetric (which growing block is most certainly not).

We can simply think of the expansion of time like the stretching of a rubber band. The space between any two points on the band expands. In the case of space, astronomers thought that expansion of space is more like a balloon being inflated with any two points on the balloon's surface getting further apart when the region (balloon's skin) between them expands. This explains the odd observation in the early 20th century by astronomers that every galaxy in the universe seems to be flying away from us and each other.

I think doing so would mean making this kind of symmetric growing block have certain decided advantages of presentism without some of its problems. First of all, it can make sense of change and thus has some of the advantages of the A series. Second, it has some of the B series advantages such as making sense of "truth makers" for the past and maybe future as well for assertive claims about the non present. The past exists under the B series and has the same ontological status as the present, thus a fortiori, facts about the past exist rendering assertive statements about the past true or false unlike presentism which claims (implausibly) that all assertive statements about the past are strictly speaking false or have no truth value. My idea also has the advantage of symmetry which we know that our best physical theories posit. The general theory of relativity, quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics all posit temporal symmetry.

I am agnostic about whether we are at the growing tip of one end of that expanding rubber band or in the middle somewhere. This has the epistemic disadvantage that we may not ever be sure of where we are in the temporal order of things which was argued by David Braddon-Mitchell and Trenton Merricks to be a fault with growing block. We could be anywhere except one end which is the point of the Big Bang (Merricks argued that it is far more probable that we are in the past if growing block is true than any-when else). But notice that in my rubber band topology, all points on the rubber band, corresponding to times, will seem alike to any other. So it may be that we are between some point in the future and past and yet we would have the same perspective as any other point on the band. Any point on the band will look "alike" from the perspective of those in it.

I do think that we have reason to think that we are at the end band opposite from the Big Bang because we seem to have better epistemic access to information from the past than the future. We are better informed of the past than the future and this asymmetry may suggest we are at one of the end's edge. This epistemic asymmetry between knowledge of past and future presumably is because the future does not exist relative to our position.

My idea is disadvantaged however by the fact that any point in the future, if it exists and we are not at the endpoint opposite the Big Bang, is rocketing away from us (much like points in space are getting further apart from each other). That may seem counter intuitive. A further oddity that may have to be explained is that while the expansion of the universe and the Ptolemaic world views mistakingly see our own position as privileged and stationary, in the case of time, why is it that we seem to see the past (or perhaps the Big Bang) as that privileged and stationary point?

I also have some ideas about the semantics of talk about the present (and past, etc) which my view of time seem to offer ways around traditional difficulties with the other viewpoints. More to come on that later. This is just a sketch of my hazy idea which I will call (unimaginatively) "rubber band growing block theory." I need to think about it more. Also, we may see the view advocated here not so much as a growing block but a dynamic eternalism with a finite temporal extension (if such a thing makes any sense) but I suspect that that is a terminological point.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Scientific realism and idealizations

Roy Sorensen and Michael Weisberg talk about the subject here.

My comments and questions:

“If pigs can fly, then phlogiston causes fire.” This statement is vacuously true. If Sorenson is correct, all claims/theories in science which depend on idealizations are similarly vacuously true since the antecendent is false. Now Sorensen says at 42-43 minute mark that there has to be some “premises” which are added to render certain claims/theories less accurate or correct. But this is not clear and it seems to me to be a little too imprecise to make much sense of his supposition theory.

In any case, I suspect it will not appease realists and may be ammunition for the instrumentalist and other anti-realists that all theories, true or otherwise (under more intuitive notions of scientific truth which seems to be about the world and which are true or false simpliciter and not true under logical material implication with an added false supposition as antecendent), in science or otherwise are similarly vacuously true even if they happen to be less or more accurate, etc, under some premise. In this way, no theory is really true in a more robust sense required by the realist because they will always be vacuously true under some (false) idealization.

What I am missing from Sorensen’s account here?

Friday, February 25, 2011


I argued previously in a post that some forms of abortion may be morally permissible because the fetus or embryo at certain times of termination is not a person. However, some cases where the fetus is a person may also warrant the right of the woman to abort. Just what are these cases? When her life is in danger and when the pregnancy is due to rape or incest has been the common scenarios given to justify abortion on a rights based justification. Jarvis-Thomson has argued that in the case of rape, it is permissible even if the fetus is a full-fledged person.

But it seems to me that even though we can argue that arguments like Thomson's work to justify that pregnant women are not obligated to keep the fetus alive, the arguments do not justify the intentional killing of the fetus or even letting die (when it surpasses the time when it develops into a person) by other people.

Consider this thought experiment:

You wake up to find that a terrorist has attached you to another innocent victim to a bomb. The bomb will go off if you or the other victim try to disarm to escape from the bomb. The bomb will disarm itself in 9 months time automatically but for that time, you will have to be attached to it with your partner. The costs of being so attached are considerable to you. You will lose your ability to move about, etc, and there are health costs as the bomb and being attached to another persons is very burdensome on the body (not to mention the stress of being attached to a live bomb!). Now there is another way for you to disarm the bomb; you may kill your partner which will, by some elaborate mechanism, disarm it. This has a certain small risk of setting off the bomb and killing you as well by setting off the bomb. Some may wish to take that risk and they may have the right to even if it means certain death for your partner. That seems to be the conclusion of Thomson's argument and you may argue on similar lines for your actions if you so chose to kill your partner. But the question is, is it permissible for someone else, an expert on bomb disarmament in such scenarios, to intervene and help you kill your partner so that you will not have to endure the whole 9 months?

It seems that you can argue that no one has a right to so intervene though you may have the right to disarm the bomb yourself and thus causing the death of your partner, no one else has the right to intervene on your behalf. Any other individual may not have the right to "take sides." Analogously, it may not be permissible for abortion doctors to perform them after the crucial period required for person-hood, on behalf of the pregnant woman even if she has the right to terminate the pregnancy herself. This is a very unfortunate situation for her to find herself in for the obvious reasons but I can see no way around this analogy to justify abortion with the help of doctors, etc. I think the analogy holds for rape but probably also for abortion based on health concerns of the woman.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Double Rainbows

In a previous post, Carl mentioned the conundrum of whether two people can really see the same rainbow. This is really interesting because the look of rainbows, their "position" and "shape," etc are dependent on the perspective of the viewer. Just what exactly are we looking at when we look at a rainbow? Is the rainbow "just in our heads"? My feeling is that for rainbows, it really is just in one's head because I don't think there is anything substantive and definitive enough (either as a physical object or event or whatever) there for the term 'rainbow' to really "attach" to. Perhaps rainbows are like mirages, etc, only they can induce roughly the same images in different people in the same position at around the same time.

My review of Unrprincipled Virtue

By Nomy Arpaly here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Conjoined twins and pain

Wittgenstein once said that it may be possible for two different people to feel numerically the same pain. His example is that of conjoined twins (PI, SS 253). Consider two attached at the hip. They share a piece flesh joining their hips and associated nerve endings in that region of their bodies. A painful jab in that region should be felt by both twins since the associated nerve endings are shared. W uses this example to show that even something as private as pain is not inherently so. Many philosophers think that pain and other phenomenological experiences are by their very nature private but does W's example prove this view wrong?

It doesn't seem so if reductionism is true. For if pain is just some neuro-chemical activity in a region of the brain, say C1 of the somatosensory cortex, then since the twins have their own brains, they would experience their own pains. Even if reductionism is false, if mental properties like pain supervenes on physical properties such as brain regions and their associated neuro-chemical activities or those of entire neural networks, W's counter example still seems to fail. Consider a neural network composed of the nerve endings both twins share in the flesh connecting their hips together which we'll call N. N is attached to two different peripheral and central nervous systems. Each network only shares one region of overlap, namely, N, but are two different systems because they comprise different parts other than N. Overall activity in both systems would also be different.

So if pain is either reducible or supervenes on these different physical systems, they are not identical to each other.

To my mind, W does not deny the truth of either reductionism or mind-body supervenience. The only way to save W's "counter example" as far as I can see is if pain is severely localized to a single region of the body (where it is actually felt) but that seems highly implausible. Consider phantom limb pain where people feel pain where they once had limbs. People who experience this kind of pain experience it in their "phantom" limbs. The pain is thus "all in their heads." Alternatively, pain for these conjoined twins may be reduced or supervened on both their networks together. But that also seems unlikely.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Beliefs and Aliefs

In this video between Eric Schwitzgebel and Tamar Gendler, we have Gendler arguing for her famed distinction between beliefs and aliefs. Schwitzgebel argues that the distinction if a false dichotomy and that real beliefs are too complex, nuanced, and that there are too many gray areas between Gendler's beliefs and her aliefs to be so analysed. I am convinced that Gendler's analysis is insightful and useful to epistemology. But Schwitzgebel does make some interesting points. One thought experiment that I thought up that may help his case is the following:

Regina is a scientist who knows all about zombies in her post apocalyptic zombie infested world. She has a sister whom she loves dearly called Clair. Clair is bitten by a zombie and will turn into one herself soon (as the virus causing zombihood is highly contagious). Regina knows all about this and knows (a fortiori believes) that Clair will turn to a zombie. Clair does and Regina is faced with a harrowing moment where her sister is coming after her to eat her brains. Regina can either shoot the zombie that was at one time her sister knowing full well that that is not her sister but a zombie. She is not not under a delusion nor is she suffering from any other form of psychological pathology but she can not shoot the zombie because of the zombies likeness to her sister. The zombie kills and eats Regina's brain.

When a dramatic example like this is given, it would seem to my intuitions (and I would imagine many others) that it is indeterminate whether Regina believes in a robust sense of the word whether her sister is a zombie even though Regina is a scientist of zombies and knows all about them.

Though Gendler's examples are cherry-picked or "idealized" in her own words (and this example does seem to show a cherry-picked example on the other extreme), I still think that the belief-alief distinction is insightful.

My review of In Praise of Blame

By George Sher here.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Here's a quick read: The Semantics of Murder

A murder mystery novel by Aifric Campbell loosely based on the life and death of Richard Montague famed for his Montague grammar. It's probably a weekend read. It isn't very deep but it's entertainment and a distraction if you need one.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Does backward time travel violate the conservation of energy?

The law of conservation of energy basically states:

the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant over time (is said to be conserved over time).

Now imagine that a time traveler, Welles, goes into his time machine at time t` in order to go back 50 years to time t. We can think of Welles as a bundle of particles with mass, or its equivalent, packet of energy, as special relativity suggests with a inertial reference frame. What happens to that energy packet after t`? The state of the universe before t` had a constant amount of energy but after t`, its total energy is less by the amount composed of Welles. The inertial reference frame which traced his path through spacetime simply ends (where it goes backward in time, perhaps "doubling back") before that time. Thus the total energy of the isolated system (the universe) after t` is less than the time before making the total energy of the universe not constant over time.

Now when Welles appears at t, the total energy of the universe would appear to be increased after t (but before t`) by the amount composing of Welles.

Angels and Demons

Imagine if a nation of psychopaths were to appear on some land. These people are anti-social to the extreme and are out to destroy the rest of the human race. They have no higher goal and they seem to be no convincing them against their evil ways. There may be ways of convincing them to renounce those ways but no one has yet to find a way to convince them. They have developed sophisticated war technologies and are about to wage war on the rest of Mankind. Mankind seems to have adequate ground to kill many of them in self-defense or to incapacitate or incarcerate the rest. They would have no justified moral grounds to complain against such treatment.

Now imagine a nation of angels, of perfectly moral beings that were to appear on some land. They have also developed very sophisticated war technologies but their reasoning for doing so is to protect themselves from attack from the rest of Mankind. What principled, non hypocritical grounds would we have against a proposal by them to kill and/or capture and incapacitate us?

Personal identity

There are still some neo Lockean personal identity theorists around like Michael Tooley. I don't support such a view. I mentioned in a previous post that I supported a brain identity criterion (that the self is a phase sortal of the brain). One way that occurred to me in how to "settle" this is using XPHI. As I pointed out in another previous post, XPHI isn't that impressive to me but it might go some ways to convince those on this issue who see more value in it than myself. The following dilemma might be posed to a sample of people:

You have a brain disease that will destroy your brain in a few weeks. You have the option of either taking a drug that will cure you of the disease but will result in the deletion of all your current memories,personality and other unique character traits but will allow you to start anew by learning and forming new memories. Alternatively, you can have your brain state recorded by a brain scanner and "implanted" into a new brain inside another body without any of its own memories. The new brain will be activated as soon as your old brain is destroyed by the disease. This person which has the new brain will begin to act and behave and think just like you now but she will have a different brain.

Those who choose to have their brains scanned and the information "programed" into the new brain might have their intuitions in line with neo Lockean accounts while the ones that would choose to take the drug (and hence lose all their memories, etc but keep their physical brains) are closer to the brain theorists.

My review of Killing in War

By Jeff McMahan here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Just war theory

I've been reading some just war theory lately. Many theorists both legal and moral/philosophical explicitly use a self-defense analogy in their reasoning. However, the invasion and occupation of a country by a foreign power for the sake of occupation (and not for some morally justifiable ends such as humanitarian intervention or preventive self-defense) is universally deemed immoral and perpetrating countries are liable to be attacked by the defending country. However, self-defense is usually defined as justifiable only if one's life or "serious bodily injury" reasonably is expected to result from an action of those liable to deadly self-defense measures. The states of Texas, Florida, and I also believe Arizona and Louisiana aside, no state justifies killing as "self-defense" only to protect one's property. Why doesn't this apply to just war theory? Why isn't a war unjust when it is waged for the only goal of occupation unlawful and immoral like the domestic morality and law (except for those states mentioned above) considers when someone kills a burglar when he posed no reasonable immediate threat to the defender's life or was a serious threat to bodily injury? Some people may say that usually, occupations do not bode well for the occupied state with many deaths of civilians coming from continued occupation but this need not be necessarily the case. Some states have no murderous intent in occupying a sovereign state and their intent may be deemed credible by the available evidence. If Norway wanted to invade the US and the reason given is that Norwegians simply wanted to give Americans a better quality of life under Norwegian sovereignty, what justifiable means do we have to defend against such an invasion with deadly force if it is shown that they are reasonably sincere in their intent? Even if Norway wanted some of our resources or land, what ground would we have to kill them in defending that material possession of ours?

Now I believe that it is just (certainly permissible and perhaps justifiable) to wage war on an aggressive occupier or potential occupier to defend one's own country from being unjustly occupied even if that occupation may bring a better life for its current citizens. The rights of the people and the state itself against unjust invasion and occupation justify the use of deadly force even if the occupation does not bring with it any deaths of the citizens if they choose not to resist. But I don't see how the self-defense analogy will provide the moral grounds. The morality of war may be sui generis, or at least very unusual, in this regard.


Suicide is commonly defined as intentionally killing oneself. However, if defined thus, there are some odd consequences of such a definition: One can both commit suicide and be murdered or killed by someone else. Socrates both intentionally killed himself and was killed (arguably murdered) by his city-state for the crime of subverting the youth. However, if we add a non coercion criterion in there, we might avoid this intuitively odd entailment.