Choose a topic

.. Society
We Live in the Present

10 Views of Landscape
Affect and Effect
Culture is Ordinary
I pay rent.
Listening to Corn
The Reform vs Revolution Paradox
What is Public Schooling For?

AI and Art
Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Is this picture real?
NonFungible Tokens
Public Art
Tearing Down Statues
What is Art?
Working With Reality

Artificial Intelligence and the Collingridge Dilemma.
Bird Brains
Bounded Rationality
Competence Without Comprehension
Consciousness is More Like Fame Than Television
Developmental Processes
Emergence and Cognition
I Lost My Knife
Incomplete Information and Stories
Is free will an illusion?
Natural Law
Necessary Illusions
On Affordances
Pencil and Paper
Post Phenomenology
Reflective Equilibrium
Return of the Law of Forms
Shifting Meanings
Taking Things on Faith
The Hard Problem
The I Love You Gesture
The Imagined Order
The Phenomenology of Swim Bladders.
Thinking about medical procedures
Thinking About Risk
Underdetermination and Redundancy
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
What Does Google Know?

A Country Is Not Like A Company
Alternate ideas lying around waiting for disaster
Blood and Money
Can Capitalism Survive?
Do Our Minds Own Our Bodies?
Everyday Communism
Invisible Hand
Job Creators
Job Destroyers
Money and Value
Money is Different
National Accounts
Necessary Production
Paper Wealth
Post Capitalist Society
Profit Motive Fails
Rentier Capitalism
Social Wealth vs Surplus Value
Spending Money Into Existence
The Metaphysics of Money
The Ontology of Debt
Thinking about Money
Wealth is What Money Buys

Blowing Up Pipelines

Absolute Knowledge
I do not know everything
Rethinking Knowledge
Rethinking Knowledge
The Curious Ineffectiveness of Facts
The Past and the Future.
Uncertainty and Unpredictability

Competition and Cooperation
Dr Malthus would be pleased
Error Correction
Evolution Defended
Evolution is not Religion
Evolution of Cars
Forces of Nature
Is Natural Selection Obsolete?
Politics and Evolution
The Evolution of Purpose.
The Problem with Natural Selection.
The Source of Bad Behavior
Thinking about Tails
Why Does a Leopard Have Spots?

Free Speech in the age of Twitter
Freedom and Badness
Freedom and Morality
Freedom From and Freedom To
Freedom in the Age of Convoys
Libertarian Coercion

Levels of Abstraction
Levels of Abstraction and Minds
What is a newspaper?

As Much As Possible
Zipfs Law

Emotional Plague
Memes: Imitated Behavior.
The Problem with Memes
What is a replicator?

Beyond Rules Based Morality
Freedom and Morality
Moral Realism.
What do we owe animals?


Maps and Territories
Metaphysics Without Absolutes
Philosophy Buds
Sincerely Held Beliefs
Sorites Paradox
Stereoscopic Vision and The Hard Problem
The Gorilla in the Room of Science
The Purpose of Science
What is Going On?

If It Walks Like a Duck
Right Wing Freedom
The Sovereign Citizen
Tyranny of the Majority


Constructed Life
Correlation Wins
Quack Doctors
The Great Shattering
The Material Space
Thinking about Interconnection
Too Small to See
Watching Pigeons
Weirdness in Physics

A society needs a government.
Belly of the Beast
Cultural Appropriation
Family Values
Griefers and Misinformation and Disinformation
Open Society and Falsification
Rules in a Knife Fight?
Sex and Gender
Society and The State
Spheres of Influence
The Care and Feeding of Free Speech
The Collingridge Dilemma
The Dual Meaning of Power
The Homeless
The Problem with Hedonism
To the Moon
Work - Productive, Useful, Worthless, and Bad.

Implications of Very Productive Technology
Modest Proposal
Problems with Universal Basic Income
Tormenting Unlucky People
Why there are oligarchs

The Material Space

We're stuck in it

I can remember my astonishment when I realized that air was a substance; not nothing. An empty room was full of air. Once you get the idea it's pretty obvious: we feel the wind after all. And we taste air every time we draw a breath. But I wasn't aware of air until that astonishing moment.

Air is material and we take material for granted in the same way I once did for air. But when you think about material closely it's way harder to understand than it seems at first glance. The issue here is that it is people trying to understand and people have a fairly restricted, though marvelous, range of capacities. As creatures we have 5 senses that work within a fairly restricted range and are bound by the human size and time scale. We get presented with a world of things; things like rocks or bananas or other people and we have cognitive capacities that we share with many creatures that informs us of the world at that scale. I think of this as our basic perception of the material plane. I guess that my astonishment at learning that air was a thing was that it was not a thing like my toys or the other things that filled my world. I couldn't see it and I couldn't bump into it: but it was there. Later I learned more about air. It's made of atoms zipping around. Imagine air trapped in a balloon. The image is of zillions of atoms all moving at high speed and bouncing off each other and the walls of the balloon. It's the ones bouncing off the walls that provide the outward pressure. That's obvious.

Isn't it?

Hmmmm - Just why are the atoms zipping around? Seems energy is involved. And energy is what exactly? (the teacher sez: shut up kid, and calculate :-) And then we wonder: What is between the atoms? Whoops - As Dorothy once said to Toto, "We're not in Kansas anymore." The scale where atoms are things is so far from the human scale that our basic perceptions and the ideas that emerge from them don't work any more.

As it happens though, our basic perceptions are not the only capacities that people have. We're intelligent and can learn and both of those are cumulative. The more we learn, the smarter we get. And we multiply what we learn by sharing it with others. And this is an accumulation that has been going on for a long time now. And we now have ways of checking what's between atoms. The surprising answer seems to be that there is no "between atoms". Instead of being like tiny marbles atoms are extended and fuzzy and overlap so there is never a space that is outside of an atom. Maybe there is never a space that is outside any atom.

Blinks at that - it always astonishes me - but I take it as a clear implication of quantum mechanics. If energy is hard to understand then QM is really hard to understand. But amazingly Feynmann's advice to "Shut up and calculate" works with QM too. Our contemporary world wouldn't work if the calculations didn't give useful answers.

Gravity has that characteristic too - it extends with diminishing influence without end.

As we look at the material space in finer and finer detail we can see evidence of emergence, but sort of in reverse from the way I usually talk about emergence. That way I start with (say) atoms and show how higher level properties like liquidity emerges from the properties of atoms but is not seen at the level of atoms. It makes no sense to talk of a wet atom even if it is part of a liquid. In the present case we can see more and more sophisticated perceptions emerging from our basic perceptions over time. This has happened over time as humans evolved. But it also seems reflected in the developmental process of each person as they grow.

Material space is what it is, whatever that is. It doesn't care. But we have emerged and we wouldn't have emerged if we didn't care what the material space we are in is like. And lucky us. We get to be astonished.

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.