Re: Randall Munroe, historian of mathematics

1

Eh.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 6:56 PM
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But it doesn't tell you why it's shitty.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 6:57 PM
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If you take the one weird list-centric fetish view, then the
problematic question is:

"Is the person who is turned on by the list of things not on the great list of fetishes turned on by the list of things not on the great list of fetishes."

He isn't, cause the list of things not on the great list of fetishes *is* in fact on the great list of fetishes. But he also is, cause we stipulated it. Paradox!


Posted by: dz | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 6:58 PM
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(pretend the question has a question mark.)


Posted by: dz | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 6:59 PM
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(pretend the question has a question mark.)


Posted by: dz | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:00 PM
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He isn't, cause the list of things not on the great list of fetishes *is* in fact on the great list of fetishes.

No. "Things not on the great list of fetishes" is on the list. The list of such things is not on the list.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:01 PM
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Nor are the things themselves, of course.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:03 PM
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People who think XKCD is shitty are mental and moral degenerates.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:06 PM
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In the spirit of double-binds, I suppose this is the place to note that David Foster Wallace has apparently committed suicide.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:09 PM
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In the spirit of double-binds

Given the method, an insensitive introduction.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:10 PM
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Shit. This is very upsetting.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:10 PM
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10: Sorry, wasn't trying to make a joke. Truly not thinking straight. Surprised, and sad.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:11 PM
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9: Shit! That sucks.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:12 PM
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And the least they could have done is to give him a lengthy obituary with hundreds of footnotes.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:13 PM
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11: Tell me about it. I am about to fucking cry.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:13 PM
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I'm teaching Wallace to my freshmen this semester. This will be hard to discuss, I think.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:15 PM
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Why do they need to know?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:16 PM
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OK, I am fucking crying. Jesus.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:19 PM
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Watching this.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:26 PM
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Ben, I think you missed something about the strip -- check Standpipe's blog.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:35 PM
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Some disturbing stuff half an hour into that interview in 19 about why DFW was suicidal in the 90's. Reminds me very uncomfortably of a monologue I gave my therapist last week. Unsettling.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 7:59 PM
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I think Ben may be right about the strip, but I think it would be possible to create a well-formed sexual fetish such that the comparison to Russell's paradox worked.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 8:06 PM
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I had dinner with DFW, William Ga/ss, and three other people once. (Two spouses and one other peon employee of the writers center, as I myself was.) DFW was one weird dude. And wow, that was almost eleven years ago now.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 8:10 PM
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-


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 8:23 PM
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23: Yeah, his personality in that video reminds me exactly of his description of CT in IJ, which has been so useful to me for the past ten years, that he's "less of a man and more of a cross-section of a man."


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 8:27 PM
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Ben, I think you missed something about the strip -- check Standpipe's blog.

Standpipe's blog isn't for jokes in that sense, H-L.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 8:43 PM
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In that interview he reminds me a little of Spalding Gray, with whom I once had dinner (in company with3 or 4 others.) Laceratingly self-conscious.


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 8:45 PM
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"I enjoy the collection of sexual behaviors not described by any of the fetishes on your list", would that work?

Or am I being fuzzy, too?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 8:48 PM
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Laceratingly self-conscious.

Yeah, this was definitely the case. And I also kept getting utterly confused about whether or not he was being ironic. There aren't that many situations in life when you think, if I were stoned I'd actually understand this so much better.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 8:52 PM
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28: I think the key is "described by your list". "I get off on anything that nothing on your list describes".


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 8:54 PM
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Thanks for linking that video in 19, AWB. It's well worth watching. He seems like someone I would have liked to know. Very sad.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:04 PM
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There aren't that many situations in life when you think, if I were stoned I'd actually understand this so much better.

Did you watch the interview? The part where Charlie Rose tells him to stop worrying about how he's going to look and Just Be, and he replies "I've got news for you: being on television stimulates your 'what am I going to look like' gland like nothing else."

You know, that's sort of what I feel like when I get stoned, which is why I don't do it anymore. The introspector gets out of control.


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:06 PM
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Minus the being brilliant, of course.


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:07 PM
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-


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:11 PM
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Actually, I think the key in the strip, anyway, is "comprehensive." And the fact that the list is in the process of being compiled. In order to generate the paradox, the Godel character should rightly say "Anything that will never be added to your list."

But we are assuming some finished list. In which case the the Godel character's newly-stated fetish cannot be added to it.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:16 PM
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I engage in sexual fetishes with everyone in my town who does not engage in sexual fetishes when they are alone.



Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:16 PM
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35: the existence of the paradox precludes the completion of the list. It isn't dependent on the list being already complete, because then you'd have a paradox.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:29 PM
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37: So ... erm. Lemme think.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 9:41 PM
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The first and second sentences of 37 appear to be at odds.

Bear with me. If "things not on the list" is added to the list, then I have to go with the second option in the OP:

And if you don't take this view, the result is simply that everything's on the list one way or another, and nothing turns the person with the not-on-the-list fetish on. Which is also acceptable.

Still no paradox, so okay.

But it has to be that option because ben's "Things not on the List" doesn't name a list of other fetishes, it's just one weird listcentric fetish isn't going to work: it does name a list of other fetishes, namely those not on the (fluctuating) list. It's just the complement to that list. When "anything not on the list" is added to the list, you get: nothing on the list.

Eh. Can someone just do some simple symbolic logic on this? Something funky with the negations.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:04 PM
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Laceratingly self-conscious.

so evident in his writing. Depression and acuity of observation are I think connected at some level -- if your own emotions aren't working well, it can impel you to become a very acute thinker about emotions and therefore about human character.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:18 PM
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Oh, I see that this is not well-put:

When "anything not on the list" is added to the list, you get: nothing on the list.

That is: When "anything not on the list [turns me on]" is added to the list, you get: "nothing [turns me on]"

Better, barely.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:28 PM
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Wow, saw that interview. Thanks for posting it, AWB. DFW appears to be in pain through the whole thing, not the romantic pain of tragedy but this kind of twitchy irritation with his own compulsive thinking. (Loghorrea, I almost said). He must have found it truly unbearable to produce bad work, and almost all of even "good" writing is bad by some absolute standard.

This is like Kurt Cobain for depressive intellectual pop culture junkies.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:40 PM
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The comic is making fun of one of the standard ways of proving things by constructing a list of all possible numbers and then showing that there are numbers missing. A form of reductio ad absurdum or proving the contrapostitive. The most well known is the proof that there are numbers that cannot be expressed as the ratio of two integers. (rationals) It is also known as constructing the diagonal. The relevance to Godel is that his famous proof is also a diagonal proof. So the joke it that people are constructing a list of all fetishes and godel says, my fetish is not on your list.


Posted by: marc sobel | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:52 PM
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That is: When "anything not on the list [turns me on]" is added to the list, you get: "nothing [turns me on]"

No, you don't; at least, you don't have to. The description "anything not on the list" is not a very concise way of splicing into the list everything not on the list. Adding "anything not on the list" to the list is not the same as taking stock of the list as it now stands, and adding everything not on it, to it.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:52 PM
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The commenter is missing the point, patronizing the other commenters, and doing so with a decided lack of élan.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 10:56 PM
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I'm really uncertain that the most well known reductio is the proof of the existence of irrational numbers. The (most well known ancient Greek) proof of the infinitude of the primes is as simple or simpler.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 11:00 PM
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And to pile on, you construct the diagonal to show that the cardinality of the reals is larger than the cardinality of the rationals. Showing that irrational numbers exist is much easier.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 11:10 PM
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44: I know. That's why, if my logic-mashing days weren't rather a ways behind me, I'd try to be scribbling out some (for all x) and (there exists x) (~Lx then Tx) and sticking some negation signs here and there, and then embedding some things, to see how it parses; for the comic's formulation is problematic. It's late and my logic is primitive now. I'm also embarrassingly a few hours behind in even thinking about this.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 11:11 PM
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Essear, I think that's actually a misreading of sobel's comment. He's claiming that diagonalization is a subspecies of reductios, and that the most famous reductio is the proof of irrational numbers.

Though actually if you want to say that diagonalization proofs are reductios, probably the most famous is Gödel's.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 11:16 PM
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So in "It is also known as constructing the diagonal.", the "It" refers all the way back to "constructing a list of all possible numbers and then showing that there are numbers missing"? Could be. That reading didn't occur to me. Oh well. Still patronizing and missing the point, as you say.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 11:20 PM
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Ben, did you see the mouseover text? It's like there are not one but two frogs to be dissected here.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 11:22 PM
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Many cattle died to bring us the proof that irrational numbers exist, at least if you believe one version of the legend. Luckily mathematics evolved before Cantor's time, so he didn't have to kill uncountably many bulls.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 11:30 PM
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53

I have not yet begun to masturbate to David Foster Wallace.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 09-13-08 11:53 PM
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All in all, a sensible, if selfish choice. He left his wife, which is cruel, but he clearly felt life wasn't up to snuff and I can't say as I blame him. If the man thought he'd be better off not, I trust him.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 12:14 AM
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what's described in the cartoon isn't even paradoxical

It's not meant to be a paradox; Godel's reply simply invalidates Russel and Whitehead's project of a comprehensive list.



Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 12:29 AM
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I admit to liking 55.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 12:35 AM
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Depression and acuity of observation are I think connected at some level

Another possible mechanism: acuity of observation, when turned inward, sometimes results in a firm conviction that one's own life is without value.

It's funny - I had an odd, likely chemical-induced, experience a week ago when, for two hours, I suddenly had no fear about my future or my worth. It was absolutely bizarre; I was almost struck dumb with wonder at the fact that I was contemplating possibilities without any terror coming along for the ride. Is this a normal state for some people? That one's value just isn't on the table for discussion, internally?


Posted by: x. trapnel | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 2:49 AM
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57:"The problem with self-analysis is the counter transference."

Been like a koan to me for thirty years.

Hell, forty years ago I studied transactional analysis. It's kinda sappy to say that we each carry a nurturing and critical parent inside ourselves, and some kind of compulsion to make a choice between the two. But I am too tired to do anything more articulate.

Is this a normal state for some people?

I don't think so. The vast majority have to justify ourselves.

Sorry about DFW for those who valued him.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 3:10 AM
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And to pile on, you construct the diagonal to show that the cardinality of the reals is larger than the cardinality of the rationals.

...which is why the joke about Cantor in the mouseover text is actually good.

[Damnit, pwned on preview by Ham-Lov.]


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 3:18 AM
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Sorry about DFW for those who valued him.

Err, yes, indeed. Didn't mean to be all 'me me me.'

And thanks, Bob. Somehow that is comforting.


Posted by: x. trapnel | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 3:19 AM
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The vast majority have to justify ourselves.

And see I screwed up already, because I think that would be called transference:a seeking of self-approval.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 3:24 AM
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On the homepage, my browser is showing more comments than there are on the comments page. Is this just my browser, my part of the world or my vision?


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:45 AM
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Probably just your mind going. Have you ever been a user of drugs or alcohol or a member of a Christian group?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:23 AM
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63: Shouldn't they all cancel out?


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:32 AM
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Alas, Dis A, they multiply. Christian first, drugs later can be bad, but drugs first, Jesus later is worse.

I'm not saying that there's no hope for you. Many drug Christians are eventually able to eke out a meager living weaving baskets in a supportive environment.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:56 AM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:29 AM
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to eke out a meager living weaving baskets in a supportive environment.
i think i've read somewhere that mentally ill people are usually surprisingly healthy physically, as if when the mind is ill the body regulates itself automatically and does it well, but maybe it was just some unsupported observation
so if the mind is ill, should try to make the body suffer to restore its balance maybe, maybe things are not this mechanistic but still
to make it suffer voluntarily of course, a method to apply to self, just like some kind of prevention and not something extraordinary like self-torturing, just physical labor for example, or cold, something ordinary but unpleasant
it's not of course to impose on other mentally ill people
but maybe it's just called that, various rehabilitations and people already thought of that
nobody is insured against suicide, going begging or crazy, just if you feel it's close maybe one can always go wandering delaying somehow the inevitable
coz there should be always some other distractions worthy to stay for awhile
but it might be suicidal people know something that is worthy of the act, the self-chosen final agony


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:30 AM
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66 deserve to be deleted


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:30 AM
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the, s


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:33 AM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:57 AM
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I'm vaguely curious how much spam the ToS sends for every post that we actually briefly see.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 8:02 AM
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We're not supposed to mention him, but he seems to have degenerated -- I don't remember the anti-Semitism from before. Over at my defunct site he's had remissions when he's been quite intelligible and even interesting.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 8:09 AM
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ToS seems unaware that poor Read was the only one here who thinks that he might actually not deserve automatic deletion.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 8:11 AM
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-


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 8:20 AM
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try some cold shower ToS
it should help to correct bad mood


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 8:21 AM
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Get help, ToS. Do you think that there's anyone in the whole wide world who would regard your rants as anything other than nasty deranged? It's not us against you. It's you against your ghosts.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 8:23 AM
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Delete me before I post again!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 8:58 AM
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To cut to the crux of the matter, it is a sad and unfortunate fact that an alpha geek dissection of an alpha geek comic still does nothing to improve one's chance of getting laid.


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 9:23 AM
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read, I'm not sure what class you're talking about, but a lot of seriously mentally ill people are unhealthy. Atypical antipsychotics can cause a lot of weight gain. Zyprexa is especially well known for this. Metabolic syndrome and diabetes are common.

53 and 54 are disturbing, foolishmortal. I'm against suicide in 99 cases out of 100 (don't know how I feel about euthanasia). But I don't think it's fair to call it a selfish choice without more information. He could have felt that he was relieving his wife of a burden. In any case, across all populations suicide is rarely a fully rational choice.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 9:37 AM
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i don't remember where i read about that maybe it was just one's biased opinion and here is the explanation
a paper
i couldn't find studies or surveys on general health conditions of mentally ill patients, too broad a category maybe, just searching like mentally ill
depression is maybe pretty widespread, so the health condition of the depressed people could be the same or worse than that of the general population
well, i really shouldn't write anything without some supportive data or literature perhaps, just like to see where it would lead if to think things in this or other way, just idly


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 10:33 AM
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Read, at Unfogged it's customary to make unsupported assertions --though of course, it's also customary not to take them very seriously. Without unsupported assertions, the entire blogosphere would grind to a sudden halt.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 10:38 AM
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relieving his wife of a burden
what i recalled, an acquaintance who was dying of the liver cancer, he told his family to let him lie on the floor on the futon, he did not want to make someone feel bad if anybody after him would sleep on the bed


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 10:39 AM
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If he was genuinely miserable over an extended period of time and saw no reason to believe things would get better, then he made a defensible choice. The impact on those who loved him is terribly sad, but what is his obligation to continue suffering simply to spare them that pain?


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 10:40 AM
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an alpha geek dissection of an alpha geek comic still does nothing to improve one's chance of getting laid.

In experimental statistics, you need variation to establish correlation. If there is no variation in the binary variable "W-lfs-n gets laid YES/NO", then there is no way to know for sure what independent variables are associated with a higher probability of a YES value.

IOW, it's possible that said alpha geek dissection actually *does* improve W-lfs-n's chances of getting laid. But as the resultant probability remains exceedingly small, we're unlikely to be able to measure the effect experimentally. It's like exposure to chemicals increasing the probability of contracting certain rare forms of cancer.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 10:44 AM
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Deleting John Emerson.


Posted by: Jesurgislac | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 10:51 AM
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I think that from time to time a generally studly guy faced with an especially tough nut to crack might find an alpha geek capacity a useful resource indeed.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 10:51 AM
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In any case, across all populations suicide is rarely a fully rational choice.

And neither is keeping on keeping on. There was this Crooked Timber thread.

We all have our reasons. Dallas is past summer, no more nineties, I can start taking the dogs on 5-10 mile walks now. I think I'll live. But I've never been certain why I should get so much credit as a logical free agent for that decision. Ain't rocket science.

And it doesn't feel so much more admirable than:"Raining today, might as well hang myself."


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 10:53 AM
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an alpha geek dissection of an alpha geek comic still does nothing to improve one's chance of getting laid.

Actually, the thing that apparently caused my second girlfriend to decide she would make me hers was our immediate discussion of Megatokyo upon introduction, so don't knock it.

(Of course, she and I did meet at the state math competition in high school... So I'll admit this is hardly instructive for most real-life purposes.)

(Also 86 is laughable, even though W-lfs-n's studliness is beyond dispute.)


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 11:38 AM
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I dispute W-lfs-n's studliness.


Posted by: Jesurgislac | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 12:09 PM
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||
Attn: Unfoggedtariat-with-children-or-who-like-children-and-who-aren't opposed-to-war-toys

Please allow me to commend to your attention a recently discovered item offered for sale at Target: A retro-styled ray gun toy pistol that, when the trigger is depressed, whirls around a little paddle studded with LEDs in three colors (red, gold and green, red, gold and green) which produces a salubrious persistence of vision effect, and also emits an otherworldy science fictiony noise. This product is part of the line of generic toys that Target stocks, packaged in a plain light-blue box. I cannot find an example online, unfortunately, but take my word for it: this is the coolest $5 toy pistol I have ever seen! You should totally buy one. They are trippy.

||>


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 12:40 PM
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90: I've been on mailing lists with with Netochka Nezvanova; I've argued with Netochka Nezvanova; I think I've even been complimented by Netochka Nezvanova, and, Troll, you're no Netochka Nezvanova.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 12:56 PM
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91: But Minneapolitan, where do the children come in?


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 12:59 PM
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91: My mom had a rule with me that toy guns and toy soldiers were bad, but ray pistols and space rangers were ok, because they weren't really associated with real ongoing disasters, like the Vietnam war. This directed my attention to the original Star Trek, and later, Space 1999, thus fixing my aesthetic sensibility for the rest of my life.

In any case, I've decided to follow the same rule with my kids. I'm also intentionally exposing them to high levels of Star Trek and Space 1999.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 1:42 PM
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"Raining today, might as well hang myself."

This sounds so...Texan, somehow. But don't do it, Bob! You need to at least stick around for the election results.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 1:45 PM
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Last semester I had a student argue to me that a desire to live was in fact constuitive of rationality, so that someone who didn't want to live as by definition not a competent decision maker.

She didn't do that great a job of arguing the point, but it is a viewpoint I'm sympathetic to, and have flirted with myself in other contexts. It coheres well with my intuitive sense of what rationality is for and how it works. OTOH it is hard to get around the counter-examples of terminally ill patients in agony who seem very rational in their desire to die.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 2:06 PM
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Rationality is a meaningless word except in mathematics and a few other technical applications. It's just the opposite of irrationality, which is also ill-defined but definitely very very bad. It's also necessary for civil commitment proceeding, because you have to have some kind of standard, but it doesn't generalize past that legal context.

Look at the five or six definitions of economic rationalisty, and then think that there are also a bunch of non-economic definitions, and then tell me that it's much more than a buzz word.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 2:18 PM
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Last semester I had a student argue to me that a desire to live was in fact constuitive of rationality

This is transparent nonsense. The desire to live is the most pre-rational instinct we have, predating, in evolutionary terms, even the instinct to mate. An out-of-control survival instinct can overwhelm all rational thought--a phenomenon we know as "panic". Countless manhours are devoted to training people engaged in certain dangerous activities to supress their instinctive, prerational impulses so that they might survive.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 2:27 PM
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I think "rational" means "willing to abide by cost-benefit analysis". And there are several instances of cost-benefit analysis; there is the kind that is just a ledger of debits and credits, the kind that applies to one's personal life, the kind that applies to the global economy, and so on.


Posted by: CN | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 2:28 PM
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I think that, if rational means anything generally, outside specific contexts, it does mean something like trying to compare one quantity to another, as in a rational number, and to act on the basis of the ratio -- 3/7, 7/3, etc. Ends-mean, costs-benefits, inputs-outputs, etc. And there are specific contexts where the variable are genuinely quantifiable and the ratios knowable. But most of life is not as well-defined as that. A lot of alleged rationality involves pretending that things are quantifiable when they're not, or pretending that you're dealing with a well-defined system when you're not.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 2:34 PM
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So, John what do you call the capacity for language use, abstract reasoning, and developed moral agency that humans have in spades but are mostly lacking in other primates?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 2:42 PM
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re: 48

Russell's paradox is normally formulated set-theoretically, rather than in terms of predicate logic, is it not? So if you wanted to put together an analogue, that'd be the way to go. However, I'm not sure if it's possible anyway.

See the section on Russell-like paradoxes using transitive verbs in the wiki article on Russell's paradox.

"fetishise' doesn't look like the right kind of verb.

Also, DFW: shit. That's crap.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 2:47 PM
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98: Just because the instinct for survival pre-dates the rational system, doesn't mean it isn't necessary for the rational system.

Consider an easy, but still popular view of reason and emotion. What we call the emotions are really an evolutionary old, rapid, unconscious decision making system. Reason in a second system, almost literally plopped on top of the first, as the cerebral cortex sits on the more primitive parts of the brain. The second system works slowly, thinks in longer terms and has the capacity to override the first system.

But the second system can't work independently. It is a parasite on the first system, which sets basic goals ("Reason is and ought only to be a slave to the passions") The will to live, if it is one of these basic goals, is needed for reason to be effective.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 2:49 PM
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Reason works better, because it's ill-defined. Or intelligence.

When your student defined the will to live as constitutive are rationality, she was saying something that was either meaningless or false, and she was also making an illicit fiat ethical judgment about other people's lives that was not really grounded on anything.

And that kind of thing is the main thing that the notion of rationality is for -- declaring others to be irrational. (Which, in civil committment cases, can be valid).


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 2:51 PM
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Further: Any attempt to reduce reason to cost-benefit or economic rationality is bunk. Economic rationality can't give you language use, or any abstract symbol system.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 2:51 PM
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To prove my student wrong, you need to imagine a case where there is no will to live, but is not anhedonia. I actually find this very difficult to do. If there is a will to do something, there is a will to live in order to perform that action. But if you can't muster the will to do anything, you are by definition anhedonic.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 2:54 PM
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101: Russell's paradox is normally formulated set-theoretically, rather than in terms of predicate logic, is it not? So if you wanted to put together an analogue, that'd be the way to go.

I know; I admitted last night that I was being rather stupid about the whole matter.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 3:01 PM
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Basically I dispute your student's whole framework. I accept "rationality" as a specific technical concept. More generally it's mostly a smear-word invalidating someone's else's thought or behavior. I again accept this smear-word as a legal-psychiatric term meaning "So fucked up and erratic that they should be deprived their freedom, even though they are not guilty of a crime and indeed, are too fucked-up to be guilty of a crime." But other extended meanings are unacceptable. I don't think that as a deep concept it has any meaning.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 3:11 PM
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I don't see anything irrational about anhedonia and don't understand your point. Anhedonia seems like a state of being rather than a way of thinking, and one completely compatible with valid thought.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 3:13 PM
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John, obviously the concept has also been used to distinguish between human and non-human animals. We may well think that the felt need to make that distinction requires justification; but that would require a separate argument.

I'm playing devil's advocate to an extent here.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 3:17 PM
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105: The case of the terminally ill patient with a degenerative CNS condition that renders him/her incapable of switching off the life support system, but entirely willing to do so? Isn't that pretty close to the paradigmatic case that the student was discussing?

Then you're pretty much left with the student's circular reasoning debate trick.

But the second system can't work independently. It is a parasite on the first system, which sets basic goals.

You sneaked in an unwarranted assumption that equated emotions and instincts.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 3:20 PM
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Yeah, parsi, but when someone or something is declared to be irrational, it's still always human, more or less by definition.

I agree with rob that rationality, which I would call reason unless I could find a mushier word, is a parasitical overlay on something prerational which still remains as a substrate.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 3:28 PM
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110: Yeah, this was a standard classroom euthanasia debate, so the example you give is exactly what was at stake, and that counter example is exactly why I couldn't agree with her.

But....

Anhedonia is a real emotional state that makes all rational decision making impossible. Anyone with depression can recognize it immediately. One of David Foster Wallace's many gifts was an ability to depict it in a way that anyone can recognize. (See, among others, "The Depressed Person"). It is personally very difficult for me to imagine a an emotional state that both involves a wish to die (and to die for your own sake, not for the sake of a cause) and doesn't involve to kind of total failure of the emotional system you see in anhedonia.

I don't think I'm conflating emotion with instinct, I think I am saying they are both imprecise ways of describing the deliverances same cognitive system.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 3:46 PM
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111.1: Yes, you can define the rational in opposition to the irrational, but you can also define it in opposition to the non-rational. The latter would be the class of entities which does not treat of attributions of either rationality or irrationality. You sure you want to say that there's no meaning to the term then? You can; it's not a huge stretch.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 3:47 PM
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What the hell? I pwned W-lfs-n over 12 hours ago and he has yet to admit it. Enough with the stalling; I get to be on top tonight.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 3:54 PM
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As used, I think that the word rational is virtually meaningless. I mentioned six economists' definitions plus the legal-psychiatric definition plus the smear definition, and parsi has added "what distinguishes beasts from men" and "what distinguishes the rational from the non-rational". You could also point out that in some terms animals are rational -- eating, breeding, escaping their enemies, etc.

So anyway, you end up with quite a number of different precise (rational!) definitions of "rational" in specific contexts, plus a collection of less precise definitions in different context, plus family resemblances between them, plus a lot of aggressive attempts to invalidate someone else's thought or behavior by declaring it to be irrational.

In short, "rational" in the broad sense is a folk category like "nice" or "OK" or "decent". Not meaningless, exactly, but not rational.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 3:59 PM
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"what distinguishes beasts from men" and "what distinguishes the rational from the non-rational". You could also point out that in some terms animals are rational -- eating, breeding, escaping their enemies, etc.

How about "is able to use a language based on a recursive grammar that allows for the creation of infinite collection of discrete units."

In other words, the Chomskyian idea of reason, which hasn't been conclusively identified, even in chimpanzees and bottle nose dolphins.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:10 PM
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Sure, but almost all crazy people can do that, and almost all stupid people, and all "irrational" people.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:11 PM
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115: Now, John. Why do you want to privilege the folk definition of "rational"? Don't make me drag W-lfs-n in here to discuss the OED entries on the word.

Kidding, kidding. All I'd ask is that you grant that exploration of the meaning/use of the term is worthwhile in a number of ways. I'll be so bold as to venture that you grant that.

And actually, given the history of the way in which the term has been deployed, "nice" or "OK" or "decent" provides an interesting take. Have you been reading Foucault or something?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:17 PM
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Lest there be any confusion, given that I'm often a hyperbolist and troll, I actually believe that this statement:

"Rational" in the broad sense is a folk category like "nice" or "OK" or "decent": not quite meaningless, but definitely not "rational."

is a true statement.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:21 PM
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119: How do you distinguish methods of investigation that are likely to lead to truth from those that are not?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:24 PM
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Parsi, I'm saying that all uses of the word rational not tied to a specific technical discourse are folkish. Specifically Robb's student's use.

Of all terms, "rationality" seems to be one of those which should not have only a "family resemblance" definition. In most or all cases the term claim a powerful superiority to folk thinking. "Rationality" thus is merely the folkish self-description or aspiration of certain specific folk, who use it to assert a superiority to other sorts of folk.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:27 PM
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Anhedonia is a real emotional state that makes all rational decision making impossible.

I disagree. Anhedonia means lacking the necessary faculties to experience pleasure, more or less. That's not a matter of rationality, it's a matter of subjective experience. Demanding that a person conform to the norm for human response to experiences as a basis for rationality seems to me pretty problematic. Indeed, some common human responses are utterly irrational, even harmful: Freezing up in panic is helpful in some situations and harmful in others, yet it is completely normal.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:27 PM
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I'm an ueber-pragmatist, Robb. One thing a agree with Rorty about is that pragmatism isn't a different theory of truth, it's an explanation why you don't need a theory of truth.

But if I wanted a theory of truth and the methods by which it is attained, I'd regard "rationality" as too corrupt, ruined, messy, misused, and ill-defined to be usable for that purpose.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:34 PM
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Indeed, like a dull knife rationality has been completely irrationalized by misuse.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:39 PM
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I win! I win! Rationality has been defeated -- forever! Let chaos rule!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:49 PM
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121: Of all terms, "rationality" seems to be one of those which should not have only a "family resemblance" definition.

I began to write: Okay, now I'm getting a little impatient.*

But you know, never mind. Short version was that you can't legislate meaning/use, but I've decided that these are deep waters. Really, I'm more interested now in the ways in which 'rationality' or 'the rational' has been used in the negotation of power.

* My impatience is due in large part to the fact that it's become godawfully hot and humid here today; utterly still, like a freakin' swamp. Mosquitoes again, of a sudden. So, sorry.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:50 PM
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126: Sorry, the game's over. See 125.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:52 PM
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Lehman brothers is going under tomorrow. Some expect a lot of aftershocks, which might be the doom McManus has been prophesying for six months.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:54 PM
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The extra 'b' John is adding to my name makes me think he is confusing me with Chuck Robb.

(We are getting a huge windstorm here. A tree limb just fell into my front yard. No rain yet. But the view from the window is quite exciting. I hope Molly and the kids won' t have trouble making it back from central OH.)


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:55 PM
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Being confused with Chubb Rock would be more of a compliment.


Posted by: CN | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 4:58 PM
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Sorry, I was thinking of my friend Robb An/drews. No offense, distinguished from my friend Rob Kel/ler by the extra B.

Or is it the other way around?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:00 PM
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I win! I win! Rationality has been defeated -- forever! Let chaos rule!

Uh oh. I don't know about the rest of you, but I get a little bit nervous when Emerson plays the Lord of Misrule.

Wait. Is Rationality supposed to have ever been triumphant? or even ascendant?

And also: unless people are using it in some highly technical and strictly delimited way, I'm not sure I even believe in rationality.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:01 PM
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In her quiet Canadian way MC agrees with me.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:02 PM
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Having defeated rationality forever, I'll now explicate the defeat for Parsi's sake. People who talk about rationality rarely know what specifically they mean by the word, but they apply it very aggressively as though it were a powerful, precise term.

The exceptions are in certain formal areas like mathematics.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:04 PM
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Man, can I have a huge windstorm? Please? The trees whisper that one is coming in. Meanwhile I will attempt to respect the will to live of the mosquitoes in the bathroom.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:05 PM
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Emerson, I didn't need the explication: you've said it enough times now.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:07 PM
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And paradoxically, "rationality" is one of those terms that most require a clear definition.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:08 PM
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OK, what exasperates you besides the mosquitos? Are you agreeing?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:09 PM
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Look, it's pretty similar, rational is what I am, irrational is what you all are when you disagree with me.

How hard can it be?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:09 PM
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Similar?

Gah. Simple.

Auto-pwning at work.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:10 PM
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138: Agreeing with the proposition that seeking a (philosophical) definition of rationality is a project whose time is past? Yes. That doesn't mean I don't think there's value in exploring the question why we've been so obsessed over it for so long, looking at the variety of candidates for such a definition that have been floated and what that means about us, asking what has changed such that it might not be a worthwhile project any more, and so on. You can't just wave it away: that's what exasperates me.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:27 PM
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The post-rational world seems to have arrived simultaneously with the McMahon Event. Is this a good thing? So far, nobody knows.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:29 PM
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You have very high standards for drunken blog posts.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:30 PM
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-


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:32 PM
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More developed expositions of what I think, but only wrt to economics, are here, here, and
here.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:35 PM
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143: Sorry; you asked. I wasn't demanding ruminations on all these things. I'll look at the stuff linked in 145 later. Dinnertime.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:44 PM
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I'm not sure I even believe in rationality.

I win! I win!

Bring on the big puppets.

Nah, in my new pragmatist mode, rationality (reason, not reasons) is defined by goals, values, consequences, and results. It is not exogenous or a priori. There are many rationalities and irrationalities.

I have not yet decided if Evolution would lead to a better world than Intelligent Design. But even this is probably more a normative or aesthetic than empirical decision. Methods determine relevant data.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:46 PM
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proposition that seeking a (philosophical) definition of rationality is a project whose time is past?

Shit, no. With Darwinian theory and cog sci helping with the project, the goal is in sight. Well, at least, we stand a change of making real progress.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:49 PM
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I have no idea what you mean, Rob. I've read evolutionary behavioral economics by Gintis, Boyd, et al, and as far as I can tell they showed that the economists' concepts of rationality are invalid, but without really replacing them.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 5:55 PM
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With Darwinian theory and cog sci helping with taking over the project, the goal is in sight.

Tee hee!

Also, Chomsky sucks.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:23 PM
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92: We're all children of Jebus.

Anyhow, I was just showing it to a housemate, who is younger than me, but still an adult, and she thought it was pretty rad too. I'm serious people. Go to Target. Look in the generic toy aisle. It's the one that is mostly grey and red plastic, with a almost completely transparent nose cone, and the little paddle with five LEDs on it. There's also a similar one that comes with a sword for a few bucks more, but just get the one that comes by itself. If you were the sort of person who makes a rational decision to partake of mood-altering chemicals, you could hardly ask for a better accompaniment to them. Even sober its really something other than else.

On another note, wouldn't it be weird if we now entered an era where small groups of disaffected young men who were interested in very affected prose stylings started communicating with each other, and then at the end of their emails or blog comments or maybe even in their underground zines, they saluted each other with the word "Dafowa!"? That's pretty much all I've got to say that hasn't been said more eloquently above.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:25 PM
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With Darwinian theory and cog sci helping with taking over the project,

As long as progress is made, I don't care who gets the credit.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:27 PM
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152: me either, really, except insofar as they let me into their labs.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:30 PM
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But Minnie, will it fall apart before you get bored with it? I hate the shiny fun things that break too soon.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:31 PM
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Rob, what specifically do you see happening?

What do you think the term "rationality" means?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:32 PM
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insofar as they let me into their labs.

ATM.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:33 PM
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rob, cog sci and Darwinian theory taking over the project rather changes the nature of the project. Which is okay: they can do as they like. I lost interest in their project a while ago. I don't mean to be rude. Just a statement of preference, I suppose.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:36 PM
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Far better to invent, in the beautiful fields of imagination, a perfect and unblemished rationality, than to know what is actually going on when we think about things.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:38 PM
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158: Er, no, I just lost interest in the question, that's all. Just not my thing. It'll be fascinating if and when neuroscientists are able to explain in just what rationality consists. I wonder if they're not going to be explaining cognition, though, if there's a difference between that and rationality.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:45 PM
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I think what is happening is that cognitive mechanisms are being identified which aid us in goals which when stated broadly enough, we agree on. Mostly, these goals are things like making tools and predicting changes in the weather. They also include at the most abstract level the goal, in itself, of reaching a mutual, uncoerced agreement about what we want.

They can't abandon philosophy entirely in this endeavor, because they are dealing with normative issues. The project of identifying rationality may be changed by bringing in the empirical sciences, but the empirical sciences themselves will have to change in order to accommodate normativity.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:46 PM
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159: I was just causing trouble, really.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:49 PM
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Rob, brain functioning is a biological fact. By and large "rationality" seems to consist of learned behaviors overlaid on the preexisting biological substrate, as you pretty much said, and rationality (in the sense of "what works") would be defined by examining various approaches and tallying which worked and which didn't. But normative disagreement makes that hard, and on top of that there are the problems deriving from aggregating human behavior within enormous political, economic, cultural, and social organizational forms.

Basically, I don't think that the researches you named will play a very powerful role. It's not like social problems are mostly the result of failures to think accurately.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:52 PM
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I see no possibility that neuroscientists will be able to tell us what rationality consists of. Rationality, however defined, is a result or successful outcome defined in practice. It's a proposed ideal way of behaving. I don't see it can be defined in neuroscience terms. It's like saying that there's a piano-playing center in the brain.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:58 PM
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It's not like social problems are mostly the result of failures to think accurately.

So I'm not helping to save the world with my critical thinking class? Damn.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 6:59 PM
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It's like saying that there's a piano-playing center in the brain.

Could be!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:02 PM
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Is it piano-shaped?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:03 PM
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160: The project of identifying rationality may be changed by bringing in the empirical sciences, but the empirical sciences themselves will have to change in order to accommodate normativity.

Okay, this is pretty interesting, but at the moment I'm stumped by the second half of the sentence. I trust you, and as I've said, cog sci has pretty much always sent me running, but if somehow you can make out that it ...

Well. I really don't know what the second half of that sentence means.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:07 PM
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||

Week 4 of the 100 Pushups thing complete! My pathetic ego-preening is unbounded!

|>

And I'm with Emerson on the rationality thing. I value something that I think of as rationality highly, but it's got nothing more than a vague family resemblance to formal logic.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:09 PM
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what is his obligation to continue suffering simply to spare them that pain?
i hope you did not think that i was comparing these two situations in favor of one's self-sacrifice or thoughtfulness
i was thinking how similar impulses they are
as if the sparing of the bed could be more or less meaningful to the family when they mourn the loss of their dear one
but that feeling of trying to be not a burden for one's family is sure very strong, maybe even something like an instinct
Japanese they do it ritually in the skirts of Fujisan far from home, basically just disappearing into nowhere


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:11 PM
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Also, I've seen toys similar to minneap's; LED fan with light patterns, and a water squirter squirting out of the middle. Truly excellent, but shortlived -- the ones I got for my kids lasted about a week.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:11 PM
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Elbee: We are just indulging Minnie because he is clearly high.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:15 PM
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What I think would be interesting (in a wacky sort of way) would be if the evolutionary biologists actually discovered something, something sort of tangible, I mean, that corresponded to Reid's notion of the "moral sense." And then they could start performing measurements and evaluations, and perhaps identify future felons on the basis of their moral-sense calculations, and perform early-childhood interventions.

Actually, that last bit would be quite creepy, come to think of it.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:29 PM
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A Philosophical Investigation is a fun sci fi novel that takes place in a future where the genetic profile for serial killers has been identified. The government keeps a massive database on everyone who fits the profile, and everyone in the database has a philosopher for a code name. Then, a serial killer appears targeting people in the government potential serial killer database. HIs codename...wait for it...Wittgenstein!


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:34 PM
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172: I wondered if that sort of thing was what rob was referring to in 160. I hope not.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:35 PM
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172: well, there's plenty of evidence that brain lesions in specific areas can cause vast changes in how likely people are to engage in "anti-social" behavior. However, assuming that morality is a singular, broadly applicable thing, or that possessing it is what keeps people from committing crime, strikes me as pretty darn misguided.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:42 PM
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175: That's your tumor talking, not you.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:45 PM
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175: Downright ridiculous, even.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:49 PM
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It's not a tumor!


Posted by: california governor (for now) | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:49 PM
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I don't think neuroscience will have anything significant to contribute to profiling criminals. Profiling may advance a great deal, but social factors will continue to dominate the profiles, not anything genetic or biological.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:51 PM
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Of course you'd say that. You have the brainpan of a stagecoach tilter!


Posted by: c. m. burns | Link to this comment | 09-14-08 7:53 PM
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re: 173

It's a fun novel but I prefer Kerr's other stuff. His Berlin novels are good.

re: 172

The British government have already talked about implementing childhood profiling. In fact, iirc, they may actually be attempting to implement this. However, iirc, the profiling is an attempt to identify kids at risk of offending based on social and family factors rather than genetic. Depending who you read it's either a sensible approach targeting at-risk kids for extra help and support or a sinister monitoring program.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-15-08 12:31 AM
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Depending who you read it's either a sensible approach targeting at-risk kids for extra help and support or a sinister monitoring program.

Minority Report, bitches.


Posted by: Philip K Dick | Link to this comment | 09-15-08 4:19 AM
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The British government have already talked about implementing childhood profiling.

I had that in mind when I wrote 172, though I don't know much about it. What little I've read makes me think "sinister monitoring program."

Also, what's going on with the DNA database? That also sounds quite sinister to me. I'm genuinely shocked to hear of such measures introduced in Britain.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 09-15-08 4:42 AM
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181: The program ttaM mentions is a sort of test case of the difference between social democracy or democratic socialism (in their social engineering form) and liberalism. The former is more interventionist, whereas the latter respects individual rights much more strictly. A problem with liberalism, as McManus has told us, is that the legalistic rights orientation that protects potential criminals against proactive intervention and preventive detention also protects malefactors of great wealth, and protects the latter much more effectively. Individual freedom is like a fig leaf or loss leader. (/McManus).

I'd like to have the individual civil libertarianism without the free hand given to finance and capital, but I'd like a herd of ponies too. I can actually see the advantages of both approaches, which is why I could never have been a libertarian.

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Ponywise, Iceland and Read's Mongolia lead the world on a per capita basis. If I had a chance to interview Bjork I'd try to find out about her pony experiences.

On the other hand if I had a chance to interview Uma I'd try to wangle an introduction to her father, though I'd have to actually read one of his books first. He's a pretty impressive guy. Poor Uma never even replaced Winona in my pantheon, and Winona herself has been superseded by Natalie and Scarlett, but of course if Uma threw herelf at me I'd treat her nicely on her father's account.

As I mentioned recently, Ethan Hawke supposedly passed through Wobegon recently on a family visit. My attempt at checking made it seem that it was an imposter, however. The imposter gave some money to the Democrats, but I don't know if the check cleared.

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Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 09-15-08 4:44 AM
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181: You guys are really going fucking nuts with the surveillance state, aren't you? Most of these interventions aren't the sort of direct assault on civil liberty we've seen in the US, but they still seem out of hand.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-15-08 7:45 AM
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