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

Underdetermination and Redundancy

Each idea depends on many others

From thinkers like Willard VO Quine and Wittgenstein and many other 20th century thinkers we have this idea of a web of meaning. That is, everything meaningful is emmeshed in a web of other meaningful things that mutually define each other. Sounds complicated, but it's an old idea really. It's that the idea of black is meaningless unless we also have the idea of white. What Quine and Wittgenstein pointed out is just how radical that idea is in a context where people were try to figure out how a word or anything is intrinsically meaningful. What is it in the word that makes it meaningful? Is it some sort of logical relation between the word and reality? Must be it seemed. But no link was ever made. Instead, we stumbled upon the web of meaning.

For a simple example - consider the sub-atomic particles; electrons protons and neutrons. There is a fundamental question about what those particles actually are. But how they interact is well known - they do this that and the other thing. It's not that THEY are defined by their interaction - it's that OUR understanding of them is defined by how they interact. That is, for us, electrons and protons and neutrons are defined by how we perceive them to interact - by how we explain the interaction that we perceive.

Quine realized that there are potentially very many explanations for the interactions we perceive. If different explanations present internally consistent explanations for perceived events how do we choose which explanation is right? This is the problem of underdetermination - the explanations in themselves don't provide enough information to allow choice among them.

It's actually a very common problem. We experience it viscerally when we argue with other people. And it's probably at the root of how hard it is to persuade anybody of anything. How can you be persuasive when other ways of thinking yield the same results?

Ahh - but there's the rub - do they really yield the same results? How can we tell?

We've encountered the idea that perception depends on interaction.
For instance - if you just place an object in somebody's palm it is very hard for them to perceive it's shape - they have to be able to move the object over their skin.

Another example would be trompe l'oile painting - hyper realistic to the point you are convinced if you have the right point of view that the nail really is sticking out of the picture. But if you move your head just a bit you see it's just paint on a surface. Which goes right back to another point we looked at a few weeks ago - the role of redundancy in error detection. We need the redundancy of multiple experiences of something to know what it is because any one experience is ambiguous.

See the link to underdetermination? Underdetermination is the problem of not being able to tell which of competing explanations is the actual explanation. If redundancy of experience helps us learn much better about what is causing our experience, might redundancy help us with the problem of underdetermination?

We've seen that happen in physics. Even now lots of people are offering up their own versions of physics. These are whole webs of meaning that are internally consistent. People devote their lives to these webs. They are known in science as cranks. And that's because they have evolved their perspective alone without the redundancy of experience of thousands and millions of fellow researchers.

It's easy to dismiss cranks.
But what about when millions of people share a web of meaning that competes with other webs of meaning? For instance we see that happening now in Ukraine. Ukrainians have one version history. Russians have another version. How can redundancy help them decide which version is correct? Perhaps it would work if they looked a little to the south to see what happens when civil war erupts.

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.