Science will be able to read your mind

•September 27, 2011 • Leave a Comment

via Kottke

Okay, don’t panic. Science can’t read your thoughts just yet. However, they can kind of vaguely reproduce what you see using youtube videos.

Here is vaguely what it looks like:

And you can read more about it here.


What I personally find interesting in this is the consequences breakthroughs like this and one’s like it will have for our idea’s of what our minds are. If this opens up the possibility for us to reproduce what another person sees in their dreams and thoughts, we can at least partly eliminate the problem of other minds.

If we can reproduce what someone else can see, it stands to reason to say that we will also be able to reproduce someone else’s inner monologue. Essentially, we could be able to show the results of someone else’s conscious experience!

As I’m sure you can see in the video, it’s all very rough still, however I think this should allow us to at least think optimistically about the future of technology (and pessimistically about the future of privacy :P)


The Grandfather Paradox

•September 27, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The Grandfather Paradox is one of the better known problems in philosophy. It can be very briefly summarised as follows: if time travel is possible, then it should be possible to go back in time and kill your own grandfather before he has children. But, then you would not be there to kill him, therefore you wouldn’t kill him. So on and so forth, you get the picture.

This seems like a problem for the idea of time travel. However, clearly, it’s not. The events of the past have already been established and cannot change. Your grandfather has had children, and one of those had you. It seems impossible to think otherwise.

However, intuitively we want to believe that if time travel was possible, we could, at least hypothetically kill our own grandfather. Imagine time travel is possible and imagine someone who wants to kill their own grandfather.

David Lewis’ response to the problem is one I’m most familiar with, and he puts it beautifully. The time traveller can kill the grandfather, and he at the same time cannot. The time traveller might have everything necessary to kill the grandfather. In every way imaginable he is free to do so. He can kill his grandfather. However, the time traveller exists. Grandfather somehow will get out of the attempt alive. We know that because the past has already occurred and it is impossible to change it. In that sense, the time traveller cannot kill his grandfather.

Therefore, the seemingly contradictory statement that the time traveller can and cannot kill grandfather, is not actually a contradiction, as the can and cannot refer to different things.

This argument and example are roughly the same as that David Lewis gives in his article titled The Paradoxes of Time Travel. I consider it the most convincing solution to the problem posed by the Grandfather Paradox.

Can normative ignorance help excuse moral wrongs?

•September 22, 2011 • 2 Comments

In a recent Philosophy Bites podcast professor Gideon Rosen outlined three types of excuses which can help at least lower moral responsibility for bad acts. Those are:

1. Blameless ignorance of the facts

The example Rosen gives is poisoning his neighbour with a cup of tea spiced with arsenic. However, he does not realize that someone has poisoned the tea, or he was not aware that instead of sugar he passed his neighbour arsenic. He has killed an innocent man, yet, it is not his fault. There is a fact about the situation which he did not know, namely, that the tea was poisoned. Therefore, he can be excused.

2. Blameless moral ignorance

In this case the example was a completely homogeneous slave holding society. In such a society, it is acceptable for the master to rough up a slave. Everyone, including the slaves, thinks that such behaviour is acceptable. Therefore, the master is not really morally responsible for his own behaviour. He was ignorant of the moral wrong of beating up his slave (or owning slaves in general for that matter), and he did not have any possibility of learning that it is a moral wrong.
Therefore, he has acted out of blameless moral ignorance.

3. Normative ignorance of the strength of one’s reasoning.

In this case Rosen considers an individual considering telling a self serving lie. In the example, the individual has been caught with the wrong woman and is considering telling a lie to his wife. He knows what the right thing to do is (telling the truth), yet, he considers the implications for himself, and decides that his self serving reason is enough of a justification to lie.

The first two cases are perfectly clear, and I see no issue there. The third however is problematic. The individual sees the proper moral action. Yet, considers his own reasons to be greater than the reasons to act morally. I am willing to concede that the individual is in ignorance of the strength of his own reasons. Yet, it doesn’t seem possible to ever excuse an individual who knows what the moral action is and does otherwise.
Even if an individual has done all of the necessary consideration, has taken the time to think of the consequences of his action and the consequences of his choice. The individual is mistaken, however it is not blameless ignorance because in such a case where the proper moral action is known, reason should command to perform it.

Defining evil.

•September 19, 2011 • 2 Comments

A question often left out when talking about evil is that of objective evil. Is it possible for us to hold such a view rationally? It seems we have these vague intuitions which scarcely hold up when questioned further. Hitler was evil. Killing an innocent man is evil. Yet, Hitler certainly didn’t think that his orders were evil, and we can all imagine a situation in which killing an innocent is not only not evil, but in fact is the good thing to do.

How do we define evil then? We can argue (in my personal opinion quite rightly) that Hitler was simply misguided, however I don’t think anyone can successfully argue that there can be no scenario in which killing an innocent person is not wrong. Therefore, it seems like, at least in this world, there can not exist an objective evil.

Perhaps though, a different notion. Can we have an idea that is both subjective, yet also universal to all human beings (or for the sake of inclusiveness.. all rational beings)? I think so.

It seems inconceivable that any rational being would allow itself to be killed without a just cause. It is in our instinct to protect ourselves if someone was to jump at us with a knife. I haven’t ever come across a society or culture in which an individual would not be able to defend oneself from an assailant.

So then, is taking an individual’s life without a just cause always an evil?

It seems it is. He will be judged, however if the cause was deemed just it seems that there should be no repercussions. If the cause is deemed unjust there will be consequences.

But this is only one evil, merely scratching the top of the iceberg so to speak. I think it’s a valuable research topic.

Can we punish evil intent?

•September 17, 2011 • Leave a Comment
Lately I have been thinking a lot about evil. This could be mostly because I am studying it as a philosophical concept. In the last seminar we have spoken about evil thoughts, and asked can we be taken to be morally responsible for them?

My take is that thoughts are not something which individuals could ever be morally culpable for. Just the idea that we can call someone a bad person for something they thought takes us onto very thin philosophical ice. Orwell’s idea of thoughtcrime comes to mind instantly. The only thing individuals could ever truthfully be judged for is actions. If when a driver cuts me off I have thoughts which are perhaps unsavory. But my thoughts and feelings are the time are not up to me. I don’t reason, at first anyway, that I should be angry. I merely become angry. To me there is no question of whether or not I can be judged for the thought. What I could however be judged on, is my behavior. Not that I was to side with the behaviorists and say that all there is to us persons is behavior.

I do say though, that my behavior is the only thing that I can be judged on. It is because rationally, I can chose to behave in this way and not in that. I can reason with myself. Take anger: I could let myself get more angry at the poor quality drivers (and judging by their behavior, poor quality people) who cut me off. Being a rational man though, I chose not to give in to my passions.

Therefore, people judge me as a (most of the time) calm individual who hopefully is pleasant to have around. If I had reasoned and chose to follow through on my “ unsavory” thoughts, I could rightly be judged as being wrong.

To put my point to bed: we don’t judge murderers for thinking about murder, but rather for the actual act of murder. When we judge would-be murderers for intent, it is not because of their original impulse to kill, but rather for their rational and reasonable follow through with the impulse.

Why behaviourism is wrong

•September 15, 2011 • 2 Comments

I’ve been reading Searle’s “The Rediscovery of the Mind” and I found this nugget:

“The principle on which we ‘solve’ the problem of other minds, … , is not: same-behaviour-ergo-same-mental-phenomena. That is the old mistake enshrined in the Turing Test. If this principle were correct, we would all have to conclude that radios are conscious because they exhibit intelligent verbal behaviour.”

The Moral and Aesthetic Distinction

•September 13, 2011 • Leave a Comment

In matters of morality, our notions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are known to us through our intuitive thoughts which act as the experience of morality. In aesthetics what we consider to be ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are also known through our intuitive thoughts. Throughout the course of moral discussion there has been a widespread misunderstanding of the two values. Where morality considers the regarding of others, aesthetics role is only to evaluate those things that are accessed through the ordinary senses. For example, when one argues about the beauty of a piece of Gustav Klimt’s they are not making a moral evaluation but an aesthetic evaluation. Whereas when one argues for the rightness or wrongness of, say, abortion, infanticide, or euthanasia, they are making a moral evaluation.

What makes this distinction an issue is that our moral evaluations become clouded in factors that are not of a moral nature and hence wrongfully affect the culpability (or praise) of the evaluated agent. This presents further issues in our concept of ordinary language; this is especially evident in talk about evil. What constitutes evil is an ongoing problem that is tangled in the webs of language. People tend to use concepts such as ‘badness in immensity’ as synonymous with ‘evil’. Though the former is necessary, it does not capture the true seriousness of what it is to be ‘evil’. This is due to our considerations of those events that cause disastrous effects with little psychological bearing. Considering those events that are only to do with ordinary perceptions (viz. gruesomeness) should not be mixed with moral psychology, as our evaluations are things of intention, desire, and pleasure.

The problem of the distinction between the two values is not as evident in less complex moral situation. If one kills another simply for the pleasure received from doing so there is no cloudiness associated with whether it is moral or aesthetic. But in certain circumstances where aesthetics are difficult to look past our evaluations can be mislead. For example, if one kills another as a result of a negligent lawn mowing accident that decapitates an agent we must be careful not to include the grotesqueness of the victims circumstances in our moral evaluations, for they are of two different natures.

Though it may be hard to look past the aesthetics of a moral situation, and it may indeed be too far outside human nature to disregard repulsive scenes, morality can only be rationally analysed through this distinction.