Foggy Wittgenstein

Ned Block links to these two additions to Philosophical Investigations on the subject of ‘fog’. Both of them are quite old, the Frayn apparently from the 1960s, and Fodor’s perhaps from around 1970. Anyway, for weekend amusement.

The Fodor page is a graphic, and it might be easier to read zoomed in.

Who ate all the pies?

Happy Australia Day, everyone.

John Heil just came by my office (in St Louis, Missouri) and presented me with two frozen pies that he picked up in an Australian shop in Florida. They’re vegetarian.

(respectful silence in which to consider this state of affairs)

Virtual Conferencing

In many respects I have a moderate carbon footprint. I drive a very fuel-efficient car, and I don’t drive it much. Despite all my electronic toys, my power bills are always fairly low. And my heating bills aren’t as bad as they could be. But there’s one respect in which I use a lot of fuel, and it overwhelms the rest. That’s air travel. Now part of that travel is for fun, but much of it is for conferencing. So I’ve been wondering how much of the benefits of conferencing could be obtained without the travel. Some of the benefits, getting to see wonderful parts of the world, go drinking with friends from around the world etc, could not be had. But some benefits, arguably, could.

It should be possible, that is, to run virtual conferences. I don’t mean conferences done through emails or blogs, which have their benefits but don’t provide the same level of interactivity as actual conferences do. I mean something where the participants, from around the world, get to all be talking just about a single paper for an extended period of time.

The main point of this post is to ask whether anyone has any experiences with such conferences, and if so how they have worked. Below the fold I have some thoughts for a few models for how to run such a conference.
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Second Thoughts on Gruesome Predicates

There were two things I should have said in yesterday’s post that I didn’t say. So this is in part a retraction (since what I’ll say now qualifies what I said then), in part an addition, and in part an apology for doing an incomplete job the first time.

First, I was presupposing throughout the post that there is such a thing as a difference between the natural and gruesome predicates. That might not be right. There might be several distinctions to be drawn in the area, and the vague talk we make of natural and gruesome predicates cuts across the real distinctions. I haven’t seen their paper, but I believe Maya Eddon and Chris Meacham have been developing a line like this in some work, and it might be right. I refuse to believe there is no distinction between natural and gruesome predicates, but there might be several relevant distinctions in the area, and if so we have to say things more carefully than I did.

Second, I left out one very important option in my survey of how we might define naturalness for special science terms. In recent work Barry Loewer has been arguing that a Humean can define naturalness via the theory of laws. (I want to be a bit careful here, because Loewer’s paper isn’t published, or even available on his website, but I think what I’ll say here is public record from his various presentations of the material.) Lewis thought that we needed to define naturalness before we could work out what the laws are, but Loewer argues (a) that Lewis’s arguments to this effect don’t work, and (b) that we can work out what the laws are and what the natural properties are simultaneously. I think (a) is right and (b) is an interesting step towards a solution. That’s to say, there is an interesting step towards a solution in existence, so some of the pessimism of yesterday’s post was unwarranted. Whether there would be any epistemological payoff from Loewer’s metaphysical theory (even if it were true) is a further, and difficult, question.

Martians and the Gruesome

One of my quirkier philosophical views is that the most pressing question in metaphysics, and perhaps all of philosophy, is how to distinguish between disjunctive and non-disjunctive predicates in the special sciences. This might look like a relatively technical problem of no interest to anyone. But I suspect that the question is important to all sorts of issues, as well as being one of those unhappy problems that no one seems to even have a beginning of a solution to. One of the issues that it’s important to was raised by Brad DeLong yesterday. He was wondering why John Campbell might accept the following two claims.

  • There is an important and unbridgeable gulf between our notions of physical causation and our notions of psychological causation.
  • Martian physicists—intelligences vast, cool, and unsympathetic with no notions of human psychology or psychological causation—could not understand why, could not put their finger on physical variables and factors explaining why, the fifty or so of us assemble in the Seaborg Room Monday at lunch time during the spring semester.

I don’t know why Campbell accepts these claims. And I certainly don’t want to accept them. But I do know of one good reason to accept them, one that worries me no end some days. The short version involves the conjunction of the following two claims.

  • Understanding a phenomenon involves being able to explain it in relatively broad, but non-disjunctive, terms.
  • Just what terms are non-disjunctive might not be knowable to someone who only knows what the Martian physicists know, namely the microphysics of the universe.

The long version is below the fold. (This is cross-posted to CT, so I’ve filled in more of the background than I usually would here.)
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More Illusions

The pictures are copyrighted, so I won’t copy any of them here, but there are several more illusions by Akiyoshi Kitaoka at his website. For a really striking contrast effect, scroll down to the “Green and Blue Spirals” image.

UPDATE: And here is the page of illusions by Beau Lotto at UCL. Thanks to Jamie Dreier for the link. Again the images are copyrighted, so I won’t cut and paste any, but they are utterly remarkable. (Note that one of them is a brown/orange ‘illusion’ that, as Daniel Nolan noted in the previous comment thread, we might want to think twice about saying is illusory.)

The Checkershadow Illusion

Every term when I’m preparing my 101 notes on illusion, I’m amazed by just how good the checkershadow illusion produced by Edward Adelson is. I use this as a way to get the students to feel the force of Descartes’ worries about the reliability of sense perception. Here is the illusion.

The point, as many of you will know, is that A and B are the same shade on the screen. Seeing this is, to say the least, non-trivial. I’ve made a small powerpoint demonstration of it, which I’ll be using in class.
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Some Links

I’m just back from the SOFIA conference on the metaphysics of epistemology, which was quite rewarding. More serious philosophy to follow soon, but first here are a few links to fun things from while I was away.

  • A very interesting thread at PEA Soup on whether APA interviews are worthwhile. My short answer is no, not least because one opportunity cost of going to the APA is not going to the Boxing Day Test. I’m also pretty moved by the argument Gilbert Harman gives in that comments thread.
  • Kieran Setiya likes Jarman’s Wittgenstein for reasons that can be shown not said. (Sorry…)
  • Clayton Littlejohn dissects Alvin Platinga’s review of Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Let me mention one technical point about something Clayton quotes from Plantinga. Plantinga says that if God is a necessary being, then the probability He exists is 1. I think that’s not right. In the relevant sense, the probability in question is epistemic probability, and the epistemic probability of a necessary truth can be arbitrarily low. Proof: For any (positive) value x, there is a true proposition whose probability is x. Let p be such a proposition. The epistemic probability of Actually p is the same as the epistemic probability of p, which by hypothesis is x. So the epistemic probability of this necessary truth, Actually p, is x. But x was an arbitrary positive value, so the probability of a necessary truth can be arbitrarily low.

APA Fire

Some potentially helpful info, from Mark Moyer (cut and pasted from his email):

Several of us that were at the APA have asked for, and have been given, a refund for our hotel bills for the final night of the conference (due to the fire). Those who have been given refunds include a few people who were on the 7th floor (where the fire was) as well as one person on the 3rd floor who incurred water damage. I don’t know if they are giving a refund to everyone who asks, or just to those on the 7th floor, or … But presumably many people would like to know this so they too can try to get a refund, whether they were funded by their school or, for many such as graduate students, they were footing the bill themselves. Hence, I thought this might deserve it’s own post on TAR.

The Politics of ASL

Is it better to think of the deaf positively as those who speak America Sign Language, rather than negatively as those who have a distinctive kind of impairment? Sounds good perhaps but here’s Lennard Davis on the reasons not to:

The central problem with defining deaf people as a linguistic group is that to do so, you have to patrol the fire wall between the deaf and nondeaf in very rigid ways. If deaf people are defined as only those who are native users of ASL, you have to define all nonusers of ASL as “other.” That excludes, or at least marginalizes, deaf people who are orally trained — that is, who were taught to eschew ASL for speech alone; have cochlear implants; or never had the chance to learn sign language. Many people who grew up in non-ASL settings in the 1950s and 1960s and who have quite happily thought of themselves as deaf would have to reassign themselves to some other camp. Likewise, the strict linguistic-group definition expels hard-of-hearing people who have not learned ASL. Ironically, the model also stigmatizes those who have been educated orally; they are seen as victims of oral education rather than as victims of audism. Since it is hearing parents who usually make the decision to educate their deaf children orally, rather than with ASL, or to give them cochlear implants, it doesn’t seem fair to define those children as not deaf. The other flaw in the model is that it defines hearing, signing children of deaf adults (CODA’s) as deaf, since they are native sign-language speakers. One could argue that CODA’s aren’t discriminated against by the hearing world, but if one takes that tack, then one has to abandon the idea that language is the key defining term.

To which we can add the following against the specific suggestion considered: it would be crazy to think of the deaf as the community of native speakers of ASL because lots of the deaf speak OTHER sign languages instead.