Thursday, August 06, 2020

The GIF and Hume, Sapir, Whorf, and Goodman

It's a piece from late 2017, but still quite interesting.

Some people hear GIFs.

Yes, those looped bit videos that have no sound.

Some people here them, normally in cases where sounds would be expected in real life, such as a GIF of hands clapping, one of police lights (with inferred sirens), and such.

Are such things being heard?

Yes, indeed, an audiologist professor told the Times' journalist.

Two cognitive neuroscientists said it is similar to the "filling in" of some types of optical illusion. They added that people with synesthesia are more likely to do this.

That said, why the author, Heather Murphy, stopped with scientists, I don't know, but it presented a punches-pulled story.

Obviously, this has connections to empirical philosophy of centuries past, and per the cognitive neuroscientists, connections to cognitive philosophy today, namely the issue of qualia, and within that, how specific qualia may be in the auditory world. (Murphy does loop in Christof Koch, but, academically, despite his gushing about pantheism, he's a scientist, not a philosopher.)

Of course, hearing exists inside our heads.

"If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?" It makes sound waves, but it doesn't make a sound until it's heard. (That said, there are plenty of foxes, bears, deer and squirrels to hear it.)

This is partially what the whole idea of empiricism is about. But, David Hume, and his predecessors, didn't really wrestle with the issue behind sensory experience. (Of course, 300 years ago, they weren't really able to wrestle with how the brain works!)

It focuses itself in modern philosophy with the discussion of qualia. As a sidebar, and not to go too Sapir-Whorf, but per Nelson Goodman's new problem of induction, there's the issue of how we experience a sound based on not only our genetics, as in the synesthesia, but also based on our individual developmental histories. (The Inverted Spectrum idea, a thought experiment often discussed in thinking about qualia, more directly connects to Goodman.) To riff on Sapir-Whorf, an Inuit may hear 20 different sounds from snow at different temperatures, different thicknesses and different degrees of compaction and you or I might here three. But, a recording microphone will show the same sonic signatures for the Inuit's 20 sounds and my three.

And, this leads me to wonder aloud on other things.

Other than feeling vibrations from clapping, especially, let us say, large group clapping at a concert, political rally, etc., do deaf people have the equivalent of "hearing" clapping? If so, how would they respond to these GIFs?

Thursday, July 30, 2020

More Gnu Atheist bullshit windstreaming
Black Lives Matter for evangelism

Gnu-friendly Hemant  Mehta has the details, starting with his introduction.

If you’re driving through Atlanta this week, be on the lookout for two digital billboards from the group Black Nonbelievers urging other Black people to “liberate” themselves from Christianity, a faith the group says is responsible for “aiding and abetting White supremacy.”

He then quotes:
“Christianity was definitely a useful tool for enslavers,” says Black Nonbelievers Founder and President, Mandisa Thomas. “It conditioned us to accept harsh treatment and oppression and even gave us a way to view that acceptance as godly behavior. We were trained to ‘serve our earthly masters’ as a proxy of how earnestly we would serve our ‘heavenly master’ — all while we waited for justice and our reward in the next life.” …
“One major concern to many of us is how much the Black community still tightly holds on to Christianity in particular,” says Thomas. “While the general nonreligious demographic is on the rise in the U.S., the numbers in our communities are significantly lower in comparison. And as anti-racism work becomes a focal point, it is clear that something as foundational as faith could be predisposing us to more oppression, and for longer periods of time.
You can read more from there.

This is about as close to the truth as the 1619 Project, which gets the big picture half right, no more.

So, as I told Hemant, with some expansion here.

Sounds like Gnu Atheist type bullshit.

First, atheism is no guarantor of moral or intellectual superiority. First said on this site at least eight years ago. This is something I've long said to Gnu Athests.

Second, there are racist atheists. Jesus Mythicist Robert Price is some sort of racist. He belongs, or belonged, to some sort of white rights group on Facebook, and even outside of it, called regularly for Obama to be impeached. That call may have been just based on politics. Or it may have been based in part on racism.

In the past, notable atheist David Hume was a racist. And, yes, going Godwin's Law and you fill in the blank and no, he wasn't Catholic. Or neopagan. Nor, for that matter, was Uncle Joe, arguably also a racist, at least on antisemitism, and also an atheist. And, yes, I've heard Gnus make those claims time after time that Hitler and Stalin weren't atheist, and was refuting them nearly a decade ago. (Funny how they don't even try to touch Mao.)

Third, although they themselves were exploited by emerging European capitalism, the African tribespeople who enslaved other Africans for sale were either indigenously religious or Muslim. That doesn't say they were racist, just that the African slave trade wasn't all Christian.

Fourth, it ignores other Christians' role in abolition.

Fifth, it ignores that, speaking of Islam and of indigenous African religion, to the degree their African members were just capturing and selling slaves for money, and there were no racism issues, they could make the same argument as the Gnu Atheists are. In fact, that IS part of Farrakhan's argument, and that of the Nation of Islam.

Finally, this is yet another reason I prefer the term "secular humanist."It doesn't label me on what I don't believe in. Plus, I argue that it's LESS open to misinterpretation than "atheist."

First, people like Price claim to be "Christian atheists." Basically, they mean the same thing as Rome meant when it called Christians "atheist." Price et al reject the god of Christianity, but not necessarily all. I halfway think that Price believes Lovecraft's Cthulhu is a real being, for example.

Second, as I have said many a time, about as often as I have said about Gnus in the "no guarantor" comment above? There's millions of very atheistic — and very religious — Theravada Buddhists running around the world.

Third? Unlike many Gnus, I'm not here to evangelize anybody.

Finally, while I'm here? Hemant knows better than to uncritically post this BS.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

In memoriam Bach's 270th death anniversary

Of course, today, there's only one Bach, although CPE and others are worth listening to as well.

Here's a few items from my YouTube libraries that I find particularly noteworthy, not just for the pieces, but the performing individual or group and their interpretation.

Selected organ works by Hans-André Stamm. Great performances on a fine instrument:

Bach organ music generates a lot of debate, but I like this.

Oboe and oboe d'amore concertos:

There are other recordings of these, but that's the one in my YouTube library.

Bach's magnificent B minor Mass:

In my opinion, you cannot go wrong with Gardiner, whatever outfit he's leading.

Transitioning not just to a specific conductor but a specific outfit for the Brandenburgs:

I first heard them doing the Mozart Requiem, Levin realization, after hearing another group play it live in Dallas.

Finally, one more. This is a slower take than I would always like, but, it's in the hands of a master. The Musical Offering, Jordi Savali.

Introspective, and very transparent, whether I agree with every tempo line or not.

I'm going to offer one more, to show that interpretations of Bach aren't dead and also that there's young 'uns revitalizing classical music in general.

THIS on the storied Passacaglia and Fugue:

A&A is worth a listen on all sorts of classical and non-classical music.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Taste and aesthetics and literary criticism, and Niezsche being wrong

An interesting essay from Academia about Hume's "Nietzsche's Aesthetic Science and Hume's Standard of Taste."

I see some things that relate to biblical criticism, not just pre-modern, but modern, including the Jesus Seminar. Hume was halfway questioning what standard there was to judge the excellence of a poet such as Homer. Then, per the author of the piece, Nietzsche then asked what was the standard at his time, in trying to judge whether a fragment of Greek poetry was indeed Homeric or not, and whether there was any standard besides a subjective standard of taste.

And, in fact, he seems to actually support the idea that taste IS the ultimate standard.

To me, this sounds like some things that could relate to biblical criticism, and not just that of Nietzsche's time. I first thought of the Jesus Seminar and its criteria for voting sayings of Jesus as red, pink, gray or black.

Outside of this immediate thought, I am more generally reminded of the "criterion of dissimilarity" in biblical criticism. To me, it should be treated as a one-way valve. If an apparent saying of Jesus IS dissimilar to Judaism of the time, early Christianity or both, then it's likely authentic. But, as Jesus was a Jew, and the church developed from him (allowing for editorial work on the gospels), well, then there's going to be cases of similarity.

That said, Nietzsche was wrong on the bigger picture.

A philosopher trying to claim a science of aesthetics?

As a philologist as well as philosopher, he knew the Roman maxim: "De gustibus non disputandum."

Now, while we can tout some artists for understanding the science of human body proportion (Leonardo) or perspective, and many other things, there was plenty a Renaissance artist that understood both and still painted crap.

Within literary criticism, Hume does hit on one thing. A cross-cultural, anachronistic (in its technical sense) popularity for a poet or author, while not scientific, can surely be used as historic proof of greatness.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

All hail the lowly aphorism

In one of his normal Friday reading roundups a few weeks ago, Massimo Pigliucci had a link to an Aeon piece about reading philosophy as aphoristic discourse first, systemic critiques second?

I agree with him on it being wrong. After all, even the pre-Socratics, quoted today for aphoristic insight like Heraclitus' "Nobody walks through the same river twice," were system-builders. Whether Socrates was himself or not is ultimately unknowable. But Plato was. Zeno was — the paradoxes, as a whole, were a system. The "other" Zeno was — rational detachment in light of the Logos is a system. Epicurus was. The Skeptics as a group were. Arguably, Diogenes was. Aristotle? One could make the argument that deductive reading was itself a system.

That said, we remember the pre-Socratics for aphoristic comment, as noted above. In modern times, Nietzsche, who arguably was NOT a system builder indeed, is certainly remembered as an aphorist.

However, on the flip side? None of the Empiricists are remembered that way. Nor  Comte, nor the logical positivists. Certainly not Kant.

But, per Massimo, it IS stimulating.

So, I offer a few of my own.

“Nobody reads the same philosophical system twice.” — The Socratic Gadfly, coming after Heraclitus, Plato and Whitehead.

“Nobody gets more than halfway through the same philosophical system once.” — The Socratic Gadfly, coming after Zeno of Elea.

“An aphorist is a deep thinker who knows the value of brevity and the price of wit.” — The SocraticGadfly, coming after Oscar Wilde.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Peter Singer disciple may be even more
outrageous than the master

I missed this piece from Nautilus just over a year ago, but it's a look at Oxford philosophy prof Julian Savulescu, a disciple of Australian philosopher Peter Singer.

First, he shoots himself in the ethics foot in one area. Call it either the demarcation problem, per old philosophy friend Massimo Pigliucci, or else call it the sorites paradox.

Among things he says many people get wrong, ethically (and he seems to be talking about his fellow professionals in the field, not just outsiders) is something like blood doping for bicyclists. He says he is OK with low-level doping.

That leads to two immediate questions:
1. What is "low level" vs "high level" doping? That's more a demarcation problem than sorites issue, but could be a bit of both. In fact, I see them as interrelated. How many micro-moles of extra oxygen, if I'm oxygen-loading, to reverse the sorites paradox, can I add before I move from low-level to high-level?
2. Why NOT on high-level doping? (He never says why not, in the interview.)

His talk about eugenics is overall more ethically reasonable. That includes the part that classism issues will arise with it until we move to a post-capitalist world. (I agree, and use the word post-capitalist rather than anti-capitalist, in part because of any Marxist implications it has.)

His part about lifespan extension, though, is a fail, especially since he talked about moving to a post-capitalist world on eugenics. Our planet is getting closer and closer to a "carrying capacity" problem. When we hit 9 billion in another 30 years or whatever, and 1 billion more than today of that number trying to have a halfway "Western" lifestyle, including air conditioning that exacerbates climate change in a negative feedback loop, we'll be in trouble. Working to extend the average human lifespan to 120 or more will just put all those problems on steroids, and Savulescu misses that entirely. He does mention resource depletion later, as a separate ethical issue, but doesn't make a direct connection.

Regular readers of my philosophy-related writing know I'm not a system-builder. But, I do think you have to have a systemic consideration, and not just an ad hoc consideration, of empirical facts on, or likely to be on, the table.

Savulescu fails to do that. And, it's not necessarily him alone. Utilitarianism in general at least runs that risk.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

No, chimps aren't religious

I've seen shorter versions of this claim made before by James Harrod, but with a longer paper on Academia, wanted to take a few minutes to refute it.

First, my rough-and-ready definition of religion is:

"A communal focus on engagement with believed metaphysical personages or entities involving communal rituals and actions to align the community with believed personages or entities."

First of all, this definition is written to include something like Theravada Buddhism, by noting "entities," not just "personages." Theravada believes in an incarnation of a metaphysical life force, even if it doesn't believe in a personal soul, let alone a personal deity. And it believes that laws of karma govern that reincarnation. I have discussed in detail before the fact that Buddhism is a religion, and had a follow-up. I have also noted karma is as offensive as original sin, and maybe worse in Theravada with its rejection of an individual soul. I've also noted how reincarnation and karma has other problems, mainly based in a "progress" mindset that's as wrong there as in misframings of evolutionary theory. OK, so with all that about Buddhism, we move on.

Second, religion is communal, and part of that alignment includes addressing things like "sin." In many religions, the focus is first on sins against a god or gods, but still includes communal sins as well. And, even sins against a god are only visible within the light of a community.

Third, the "rituals and actions" notes that all religions have elements of orthopraxis. They all also have elements of orthodoxy. I've covered this recently.

Now, let's dig in.

Do chimpanzees have compassion? Yes. And even, perhaps, something like compassion for the memory of dead fellow chimps? Yes, I think. So do elephants, cetaceans and a few other non-human animals.

Do chimps have metaphysics? Highly, highly unlikely. In other words, chimps, IMO, don't believe in chimp souls, chimp karma, or a chimp god. Nor do gorillas, neither in the 1970s nor this past decade:

Sorry, James.

And, unlike Caesar/Andy Serkis, chimpanzees, and other primates don't have the speech to organize a community to focus on abstract ideas. And, contra Harrod, who is letting other scholars and thinkers be his mouthpiece, it's tempting to overread what communication chimps have. Well, tempting to him and them, but not to me.

Cetaceans might. But, if they do, they don't have hands with opposable thumbs and can't really engage in metaphysically related actions.

A rich emotion life and symbolic play also prove nothing about chimpanzees possibly conceiving metaphysical concepts. Nor does it at all address the difficulty of communicating such concepts without language. The fact that chimps have neural substrate systems similar to something like Broca's in humans only proves that evolutionary biology is real and is a conservative workman.

And, a first-order theory of mind? Given the complexity of judging human actions that might be called sins against a community, that's not enough. But, let’s get to Harrod’s nutgrafs — his transspecific definition of religion. Here goes:
• Reverence (showing devotion, intense love, deep respect), which may involve a hush;
• Careful observance, which may involve a calling-out announcement or remark;
• Experiencing or expressing emotion of dread (awe in its terror or astonishment aspect) before that which overwhelms the subject by its magnitude, grandeur, beneficence, or lethality; mysterium tremendum
• Experiencing or expressing emotion of wonder (awe in its fascination, curiosity, or desire-to-know-more aspect) with respect to a phenomenon (especially a movement) which is surprising, non-ordinary, extraordinary, special, or ‘miraculous’; mysterium fascinans
• Binding individuals together or back together in empathic intimacy or communion with respect to experiences of aliveness and animacy, including other living beings or things that appear to be alive, which may secondarily involve the witnessing of this by a collective social group.

OK, first observation? He's clearly smoking some Rudolf Otto high-grade drugs. And the "mysterium tremendum" as a key to "religious experience" is by no means widely accepted. As the likes of Susan Blackmore note, psychadelic drugs or deep meditative experiences can induce this "mysterium" in the non-religious. Ditto for near-death experiences.

Harrod goes on to make clear that he is indeed adapting an Ottonian framework to animals.

He ignores entirely ideas of sin, guilt, and metaphysical entities.

As for his five actual points?
• I can love either a girlfriend or a bottle of whisky. I don't worship either one, even if I shout "oh my god" during sex.
• Careful observance? Chimps, like us, evolved to stay safe from snakes and predators, as well as to identify a variety of ripe foods. Careful observance is part of not being dead. It's also, in we humans, what's behind overuse of agency imputation and pattern detection in non-savannah civilized live.
• Mysterium tremendum? Since chimps don't have abstract language, no way I see for them to communicate that, let alone for us to see that they're trying to do so.
• Wonder? Many scientists still have great degrees of wonder for the facts of evolutionary biology, cosmology and many things in between, and they're not religious. Indeed, Aeon has a new piece about the role of awe in scientific work.
• Empathy for life? I have that, too, and again, I'm not religious.

What Harrod is missing is that, in reality, at some point in human CULTURAL evolution, some point AFTER the evolution of some degree of language in all likelihood, these five points were adapted for what developed into religion. Some of the adaptation, per my notes on point 2 above, may well have been non-conscious.

Should chimpanzees have an evolutionary twig that offshoots into a new species, that follows a similar bath, Harrod can contact me back in a couple of million years.

And with that, I've wasted enough time on him.