Sunday, January 27, 2013

A principle of art

Someone asked: What do you mean by the idea that all fields have principles and knowing them helps one learn in that field (even art)?

A physics principle is like: All energy is conserved. This helps one figure out how to approach physics problems related to energy. It helps him create math equations that correspond to the physics problems.

In art, lets say the problem is that you want the art viewer to feel calm when looking at your painting. What principle helps here?

What makes someone feel calm? Order.

What makes someone feel the opposite (nervousness)? Chaos.

What does order and chaos mean in a painting? Well, one example is that curved lines is more ordered than lines with sharp edges. So, to make a nervous feeling, use lines with sharp edges. And to make a calm feeling, use curved lines.

Why does curved lines mean order, and why does jagged lines mean chaos? The answer is in the field of math. A curved line is defined by one equation. A jagged line is defined by multiple equations -- for each sharp edge (aka discontinuity) there are two equations representing the lines on each end of that discontinuity. The more equations, the more chaos. So the more discontinuities in a line, the more chaotic it is. And that chaos is registered by us neurologically.

So the principle is: Order causes calm -- so the reverse is, chaos causes nervousness.

But there is more to it. Too much order is overwhelmingly boring. And too much chaos is overwhelming too. So, in a chaotic painting, use at least one ordered element, and in an ordered painting, use at least one chaotic element.

An interesting consequence of this is that if an artist is calm, he'll create calm paintings. And if he's nervous, he'll create nervous paintings -- which is sort of an emotional resonance between the art creator and the art viewer. This is not to say that an artist cannot create a calm painting when he's nervous (or vice versa). The artist could know what I've explained, or he could have a customer asking for a calm painting, in which case he can override his subconscious.


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Friday, January 18, 2013

Criticism of _Athene's Theory of Everything_

Criticism of _Athene's Theory of Everything_:

Part 1:

"The human brain is a network of approximately 100 billion neurons."
Its interesting that he didn't mention the number of connections. Each neuron has thousands of connections to other neurons. So, the more interesting number to ponder is the number of connections between neurons, which is on the order of 700 trillion.

Note that as we create new ideas, we are creating new connections. So the more we solve problems, the more connections we make.

Its interesting to me how neuroscientists focus on neurons and neuroplasticity but not on philosophy.

"Different *experiences* create different neural connections which bring about different emotions."
Notice that he says experiences. What does he mean by that? It seems that he's saying that one's experience is only a result of one's environment. But that is false. One's ideas play a causal role too, and a more important one. And more importantly, one's ideas also plays a causal role in the manifestation of his emotions.

"And depending on which neurons get stimulated, certain connections become stronger and more efficient, while others may become weaker. This is what's called neuroplasticity."
This is true, though I don't think its important. Whats happening is that when an axon has a signal pass through it, that stimulates a response that causes more mylen sheath to be added to the axon. Mylen sheath acts as an electric insulator allowing for the signals to pass through faster.

The reason I think its not important is that it relies on exterior factors rather than on one's free will. It hints at the idea of habits and how habits form. And that habits can change. And it implies that habits can be hard to change, because of this extra mylen sheath effect. But the reality is that with better philosophy, one can change his habits more effectively, more effortlessly, more quickly.

I'd like to say something that is consistent with the author's explanation. He says that we can get good at what we put effort in. This is true, but not always, and his explanation doesn't explain why sometimes it doesn't work. And the reason it can't explain that is his explanation is void of philosophy.

He's saying that our talents are created by us -- that we are not born with them. I agree. But why this is true the author doesn't explain.

We are born with zero talent. All we have is the capacity to guess and criticize. (More on this later.)

As we live, we create interest in things. And those interests are the reasons for which we spend time thinking about those things.

And the more we think about something, the more we are solving problems in that field. From as far back as I can remember, I was interested in knowing how the world works. From as far back as my mom can remember, she was interested in knowing how to express people and the world in art (drawing, painting, etc.). So with years of thinking (aka problem solving) about our interests, we improved our skill (aka talent). We were not born with talent. We created talent.

"Specific neurons and neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, trigger a defensive state when we feel that our thoughts have to be protected from the influence of others."
(Side note: Sounds like Cognitive Dissonance theory, which is fundamentally flawed.)

That implies that a brain chemical causes this defensive state. But that is false. The cause is one's ideas. And if a person has certain bad ideas, then the norepinephrine gets triggered.

"If we are then confronted with differences in opinion, the chemicals that are released in the brain are the same ones that try to ensure our survival in dangerous situations."

Again this only happens with people who have the bad idea that these situations are bad. They fear the experience of having a conflict of ideas. Why do they fear that? The author doesn't explain. They fear it because they lived a life of conflicts of ideas (aka disagreements) that didn't end well. They disagreed with their parents and their parents coerced them to conform, rather than trying to persuade them. If one lives his whole childhood like this, he doesn't have much knowledge about how conflicts of ideas (aka disagreements) should be approached, and how they can be pleasant, even sought after for fun. Note that I do it for fun. I post my ideas knowing that some people will disagree and those disagreements are fun to me because it leads to me learning something new -- e.g. some new perspective that I've never thought of before. Sometimes the hair on my arms stands when I learn something new.

The reality is that the only difference between me and others is our philosophy (aka worldview). Anybody can learn this philosophy and thus change his attitude towards conflicts of ideas (aka disagreements).

"In this defensive state, the more primitive part of the brain interferes with rational thinking and the limbic system can knock out most of our working memory, physically causing 'narrow-mindedness'. We see this in the politics of fear, in the strategy of poker players or simply when someone is stubborn in a discussion. No matter how valuable the idea is, the brain has trouble processing it when it is in such a state. On a neural level, it reacts as if we're being threatened, even if this threat comes from harmless opinions or facts that we may otherwise find helpful and could rationally agree with."

I agree. But again, its one's ideas that causes that "defensive state".

"But when we express ourselves and our views are appreciated, these 'defense chemicals' decrease in the brain and dopamine neurotransmission activates the rewards neurons, making us feel empowered and increasing our self-esteem."

Again that is true *if and only if* one has the idea that causes that -- namely the idea that social acceptance is important. Note that I do not have a goal of social acceptance. If people like me (aka my ideas), then we can be friends, coworkers, etc. If not, then we don't need to be friends/coworkers. And I have no negative feelings if that happens.

"Our beliefs have a profound impact on our body chemistry, this is why placebos can be so effective. Self-esteem or self-belief is closely linked to the neurotransmitter serotonin. When the lack of it takes on severe proportions, it often leads to depression, self-destructive behavior or even suicide."

Notice the author admits that our ideas (aka beliefs/values/philosophy/worldview) have a profound impact on our body chemistry. He's right, but I don't think he understands this well (as evidenced by the fact that he didn't mention this previously with respect to whether or not our ideas cause us to create the "defensive state").

"Social validation increases the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain and allows us to let go of emotional fixations and become self-aware more easily."

No. That only happens with people who have the idea/belief/value/worldview/philosophy that social validation is important.

To summarize, this is my understanding of the causal chain:

(1) A person is presented with a string of words and other body language and facial expression (that he has not yet interpreted).

(2) He thinks about those words (aka interprets them). Most of this processing is subconscious and inexplicit.

(3) If (2) resulted in the understanding that there was a disagreement AND if the person has the anti-rational meme that disagreements are bad and will end badly, then his brain fires neurochemicals that causes it to enter the defensive state. And this is what people experience as emotion.

(4) If (3) resulted in the defensive state, then the brain is now less capable of rationality while the brain is still in that defensive state.

Part 2:

Athene takes brain scans of his subjects and generalizes to the entire human population, implying that *all* people have this mirror neuron effect in *every* social situation. Its a parochial mistake. One that he's making because he doesn't know that all emotion/thought/behavior is theory-laden.

He says that the brain scans indicate that a person has an emotion before the person is conscious of it. Judging from the fact that he juxtaposed this idea with the previous one about mirror neurons, I think he's using this as his reasoning for his explanation that we are not in control of our emotions. But his reasoning is flawed. I agree that the subconscious does its work before serving its result to the conscious (consistent with his brain scan findings), but that does not imply that the conscious is not capable of changing the subconscious. So, we *are* in control.

Consider this. A person is born to parents that are not skilled in conflict resolution -- so conflicts in this family routinely end in yelling and negative emotion. This child is *conditioned* to react to conflicts with negative emotion, because that is what he experienced his whole life.

People who are conditioned in this way will react to conflicts with negative emotion. And people who are not conditioned that way, will not react with negative emotion.

In the future, people will be raised by parents who are highly skilled in conflict resolution -- so conflicts in these families end well, i.e. no yelling and no negative emotion. These children will not be conditioned to react to conflicts with negative emotion. They'll instead have a positive attitude towards conflicts -- one of optimism that conflicts will end well.

But even before that future, people who are conditioned in this way can change their conditioning. After changing their conditioning, these people will not react to conflicts with negative emotion. They'll be optimistic that each conflict will end well. They are so good at conflict resolution that they seek it out for fun, e.g. by publicly posting quotes by authors that many people disagree with.

Humans have the capacity for reason. We have the capacity to choose to change our conditioning, and to create/learn the necessary methodological knowledge to do it. Other animals do not have this capacity. They can only *be* conditioned by their masters -- in the case of domesticated animals -- or by the members of their social groups -- in the case of wild animals.

Part 3 through 5 (not done yet)


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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Justificationism and Critical Rationalism


Justificationism says that positive arguments can make a theory true (or more probably true).

Some justificationists are also Bayesians. Bayesianism says that better (or more probable) truths can be calculated using arbitrarily-assigned initial values representing the "weight" of a positive argument. [1]

Critical Rationalism (aka Popperism)

Critical Rationalism says that all knowledge is created by (1) guesses and (2) criticism:

(1) A guess is a new theory. Another name for this is a positive argument. Note that if the theory can be criticized using physical evidence, then we call it a scientific theory.

(2) A criticism is also a guess. It rules out a theory, i.e. make it false. Another name for this is a negative argument. Note that if the negative argument uses physical evidence, then we call it a scientific experiment.

In other words, a theory is (conjecturally) true so long as there is no negative argument acting against it.

A consequence of this is that Justificationism is wrong, since positive arguments cannot make a theory true. All a positive argument can do is propose a new theory. And a theory is true only so long as no negative argument is acting against it.

Critical Rationalism also says that:

Truth is objective. This means that truth exists independent of what people think about what the truth is. This is called Objective Knowledge.

People are fallible. This means that people cannot know which of their ideas are objectively true -- any one of their ideas could be wrong. What we do have is conjectural knowledge (aka fallible knowledge). A consequence of this is that people do not have access to infallible sources of knowledge (or more trust-worthy sources of knowledge), like intuition, emotion, justifications, induction, etc.

So human knowledge is created by guessing ideas and ruling them out with criticism.

In short-hand philosophy-speak: (1) guesses, and (2) criticism.

In epistemology-speak: (1) a positive argument creates a new idea and by default its truth-value is set to true (aka +1), and (2) a negative argument has the same qualities as positive arguments and it has one extra quality which is that it acts against another idea, thus immediately (and without hesitation) setting the target idea's truth-value to false (aka 0).

In morality, which is the body of knowledge concerning how people should make choices, aka decision-making/choice-theory, we do the same thing. We guess ideas and criticism them. Some commonly known moral ideas that have passed the test of criticism are *murder is evil* and *rape is evil*. By "evil" I mean that it shouldn't-be-done/immoral/bad/hurtful/harmful/non-mutually-beneficial.

In science, there is an extra component which is physical evidence. Physical evidence is used as part of a negative argument. Its important to note a typical justificationist mistake which is to think that physical evidence can be used as part of a positive argument. This is actually a special case of the more general mistake of thinking that positive arguments can be used to act in support of other ideas, thereby adding truth-value to the target idea, giving it a truth-value great than +1, which is impossible.

The truth-value of an idea is either true or false. Its boolean. 1 or 0. Yes or no. There are no other meaningful options.



The question that Bayesianism can't answer, which Popperism does answer, is this: If I have 3 rival theories, and they don't refute each other, and if I use Bayesian math to figure out that T1 is 90% likely to be true, and T2 is 9% likely to be true, and T3 is 1% likely to be true, then how does a person act on this? Which theory does he enact? T1 because its got the most chance of happening?

Also this raises a question. Why did T1 get a higher score? By what criteria was that judged? How do we know that criteria is right? Did you submit that to external criticism?

Consider how Bayesian math involves initial values and then running that through an algorithm that updates the values while also producing probabilities. Do you know how those initial values are chosen? Arbitrarily. That means it doesn't correspond with reality.

So think about that for a moment. What does it mean for those initial values to be arbitrary? It means that its mysticism. It means that there is no way to test those values against reality because it doesn't correspond with reality. It means that there is error and that the error is not being corrected. And that error in the system (referring to the Bayesian algorithm and the data too) will grow without limit. So its useless.


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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Favorite quotes

I'm still working on finding primary sources for each quote...

by Socrates 469-399 BC  About

"The unexamined life is not worth living."
"I know that I know nothing." Source
by Johannes Kepler 1571-1630  About
"I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses."
by Edmund Burke 1729-1797  About
"Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."
"You can never plan the future by the past.". Source
by William Godwin 1756-1836  About
"If a thing be really good, it can be shown to be such." Source
"As the true object of education is not to render the pupil the mere copy of his preceptor, it is rather to be rejoiced in, than lamented, that various reading should lead him into new trains of thinking."
by Albert Einstein 1879-1955  About
"My pencil and I are more clever than I." 
“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Source

“I believe the most important mission of the state is to protect the individual and make it possible for him to develop into a creative personality…” Source
“There could be no fairer destiny for any. . . theory than that it should point the way to a
more comprehensive theory in which it lives on, as a limiting case.”

by Ludwig Von Mises 1881-1973  About
"Men cannot be made happy against their will." Source

"Modern society, based as it is on the division of labor, can be preserved only under conditions of lasting peace." Source
"It is not from a disdain of spiritual goods that liberalism concerns itself exclusively with man’s material well-being, but from a conviction that what is highest and deepest in man cannot be touched by any outward regulation. It seeks to produce only outer well-being because it knows that inner, spiritual riches cannot come to man from without, but only from within his own heart. It does not aim at creating anything but the outward preconditions for the development of the inner life." Source
by Ayn Rand 1902-1982  About

"I am, therefore I'll think." | Atlas Shrugged

"In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit." | Atlas Shrugged

"Philosophy is a necessity for a rational being: philosophy is the foundation of science, the organizer of man's mind, the integrator of his knowledge, the programmer of his subconscious, the selector of his values."

‎"For centuries, the battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs to your neighbors - between those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of ghosts in heaven and those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of incompetents on earth. And no one came to say that your life belongs to you and that the good is to live it." | Atlas Shrugged
"The worst guilt is to accept an unearned guilt."
"A desire presupposes the possibility of action to achieve it; action presupposes a goal which is worth achieving."
"A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others."
"These two — reason and freedom — are corollaries, and their relationship is reciprocal: when men are rational, freedom wins; when men are free, reason wins."
"Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong."
“The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me.”
"Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual)."
"Wealth is the product of man's capacity to think."
check source, The Virtue of Selfishness
 "Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors."

"Man—every man—is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life." | The Ayn Rand Column

"Every dictator is a mystic, and every mystic is a potential dictator. A mystic craves obedience from men, not their agreement. He wants them to surrender their consciousness to his assertions, his edicts, his wishes, his whims - as his consciousness is surrendered to theirs. He wants to deal with men by means of faith and force - he finds no satisfaction in their consent if he must earn it by means of facts and reason." | Atlas Shrugged

“The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man's rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence... The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.” | P3C7

by Richard Feynman 1918-1988  About
"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool."
"Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars - mere globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more?"
by Karl Popper 1902-1994
"All life is problem solving."
"Our knowledge can only be finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite."
"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood."
"No rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude."
"Those who promise us paradise on earth never produced anything but a hell."
“The problem 'Which comes first, the hypothesis (H) or the observation (O)?' is soluble; as is the problem, 'Which comes first, the hen (H) or the egg (O)?' . The reply to the latter is, 'An earlier kind of egg'; to the former, 'An earlier kind of hypothesis'. It is quite true that any particular hypothesis we choose will have been preceded by observations- the observations, for example, which it is designed to explain. But these observations, in their turn, presupposed the adoption of a frame of reference: a frame of expectations: a frame of theories. If they were significant, if they created a need for explanations and thus gave rise to the invention of a hypothesis, it was because they could not be explained within the old theoretical framework, the old horizon of expectations. There is no danger here of infinite regress. Going back to more and more primitive theories and myths we shall in the end find unconscious, inborn expectations.”
Karl Popper, Conjectures an Refutations.

“Reason, like science, grows by way of mutual criticism; the only possible way of 'planning' its growth is to develop those institutions that safeguard the freedom of this criticism, that is to say, the freedom of thought.”  Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies.

“I have decided to preach intellectual modesty for the rest of my days. There is a tradition, a monstrously strong tradition of intellectual immodesty and irresponsibility. I have said this around 1930 as a joke: many students don't go to university assuming that it is a great empire of knowledge, in the hope to gain some understanding; but they go to university to learn how to speak in an impressive and incomprehensible way. This is the tradition of intellectualism. At the time I thought it was a joke. But having become a university professor myself, I have perceived with horror that it is a reality. That's the way things are, unfortunately. In universities there is a tradition that legitimizes this attitude, it is the tradition of hegelianism. Especially in Germany, Hegel is extraordinarily admired. People really believe that Hegel was a great philosopher because he used big words. And it is exactly this incredible immodesty that destroys so much in and between intellectuals. I would like to spend my last years fighting against this. I want to start a new fashion. I have always fought against fashions, and I have never followed any fashion, and I have never tried to start one. But I would love to start a new fashion of intellectual modesty, of permanent thought of everything we don't know.“
Karl Popper in “Karl Popper and Konrad Lorenz: L'Avenir est Ouvert”. This is a translation of the original German “Die Zukunft is offen”.

by Thomas Szasz 1920-2012
"Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is."
"People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates."
"The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget."
"Adulthood is the ever-shrinking period between childhood and old age. It is the apparent aim of modern industrial societies to reduce this period to a minimum."
"Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic."
"The proverb warns that 'You should not bite the hand that feeds you.' But maybe you should, if it prevents you from feeding yourself."
"Narcissist: psychoanalytic term for the person who loves himself more than his analyst; considered to be the manifestation of a dire mental disease whose successful treatment depends on the patient learning to love the analyst more and himself less."
"Doubt is to certainty as neurosis is to psychosis. The neurotic is in doubt and has fears about persons and things; the psychotic has convictions and makes claims about them. In short, the neurotic has problems, the psychotic has solutions."
"He who does not accept and respect those who want to reject life does not truly accept and respect life itself."
"If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist; if God talks to you, you are a schizophrenic."
by David Deutsch 1953-  About
"So it is fallibilism, not mere rejection of authority, that is essential for the initiation of unlimited knowledge growth – the beginning of infinity." Source
"...everything that is not forbidden by laws of nature is achievable, given the right knowledge." Source
"The overwhelming majority of theories are rejected because they contain bad explanations, not because they fail experimental tests." Source
"Biological evolution was merely a finite preface to the main story of evolution, the unbounded evolution of memes." Source
by Penn Jillette 1955-
"Every problem we have should be solved with more freedom, not less."
by Elliot Temple
"All knowledge is created by guesses and criticism." Source
"Emotions embody traditional knowledge which we don't have a full, conscious understanding of. Emotions are also fallible and possible to change." Source
"Do not do anything to your child that would be a crime to do to someone else." Source
And here's some of my own
"We are all fallible -- anyone of us can be wrong about any one of our ideas. So shielding any one of my ideas from criticism means irrationally believing that I have the truth."
"Being judgmental means not hiding from the truth. Its a good thing!"
"I don't reject the collective. I reject the attempts of the collective to enforce its will against my will."
"All knowledge is connected in a network."
"I am my ideas, no more no less."

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