December 26, 2012

Free will, if it existed, would be a third force between chance and necessity. No one has been able to show this between-space, although many have tried. Luke Rhinehart, the Dice Man and author of “The book of est,” notes that, whichever notion one considers, necessity (est) or chance (dice), the notion of agency collapses. Writes he:

“The diametrically opposed notions: ‘all is chance in the most accidental of worlds’ and ‘all is stimulus-response in the most mechanical of worlds’ create almost precisely the same psychological impact: namely, the disappearance of the illusion of the doer, of the illusion of there being someone who has control, of the illusion, created by beliefs, that there is something one has to do – in brief, the dissociation of the being from his mind and body” (The book of est, p. 196).

He had to throw in the wimpifier ‘almost,’ didn’t he?

December 18, 2012

Ex nihilo nihil

~ Lucretius

feinstoffliches chaos?

There is, they say, the material world. Some physicists say, however, that matter is not real. The appearance of matter is an emergent property of the interactions of ever smaller particles, particles so small that they are not really particles, but rather vibrations, like the activity (not the thing) of a tuning fork. Matter, as ordinary folk experience it, is also known as that which is grobstofflich. Grobstofflich is an enchanting word. Grob means coarse, or gross. Note that both these words have literal and metaphorical meanings. G-d bless the elasticity of semantics. Stofflich is the adjective derived from the noun Stoff, or stuff, i.e., matter. Matter, as we experience it, is coarse and gross, literally and metaphorically.

You wouldn't qualify a word and mark it if you did nothing else. If there is something grobstofflich, there also has to be something else, some Stoff that is not grob. Hence, we have the antonym, feinstofflich. Fine matter, subtle matter, ethereal ... may we still say matter?

Esoterics, gnostics, and others who are either far ahead of us or delusional, put great stock in everything feinstofflich. They have theoretical physics on their side, no? So what if they're right (and I mean the "so what" both in the sarcastic and the fair-minded sense)? If there is (can a "there is" question refer to something that IS not in the conventional sense?) anything that is feinstofflich, then how does it relate to that which is grobstofflich, or does it?

Let's assume that that which is feinstofflich does not interact with that which is grobstofflich. If so, why worry? Unless we think that our conscious experience itself is feinstofflich, of course. In that case, we must conclude that our consciousness cannot have any effect on the rest of the world, which is after all grobstofflich. Bummer!

Perhaps we're better off assuming that that which is feinstofflich interacts with that which is grobstofflich. If so, we should have testable hypotheses. According to an uncorroborated report, there is a guru who has ceased to ingest food that is grobstofflich. He sustains himself on the fine stuff. No details on how he does it have been revealed. Hence, I deduce that his noshing on the ethereal lies outside of empirical science. We can, however, ask if we can find evidence of him sneaking a nosh of the grobstoffliche variety. Where, we ask, is he hiding the Snickers bars? One case of in delicto flagranti would put the feinstoffliche hypothesis into Popper's hell (or Hume's). The guru also faces the problem of not being able to prove his mettle by tolerating a hunger strike. How might we withhold feinstoffliches nourishment if we wanted to? 

I found the pretty blue picture when foraging google images for anything feinstofflich. The website I found is dedicated to “Freie Energie aus Feinstofflichkeit” (free energy out of finestuffhood). [Note, whenever – ever – you see the promise of a free lunch, run.] The picture, pretty as it is, evokes chaos theory, which makes mathematics visible. It is not a photo of Feinstoff. The website goes on to say that at sleep, the measured weight of the human body varies (drops) more than what can be accounted for by breathing or sloppy measurement. The authors deduce the existence of a feinstofflicher Feldkörper, whose whereabouts in the universe remain mysterious (I bet!). Making the claim for the existence of such a Feldkörper (field body) reveals the authors as interactionists (at best, or muddleheads at worst). The Feldkörper, they write, weighs in with realem makroskopischem Masseinhalt (real macroscopic content of mass). If that which is feinstofflich leaves a mark on the grobstoffliche scale, what’s a boy to think? Perhaps we may assume that if it is true that energy may be drawn from the feinstoffliche sphere, then the troubles that have come with Germany’s (Merkel’s) Energiewende (not producing nuclear energy in Gemany, but buying it from the French) may be mitigated.

December 16, 2012

The great error of individualistic psychology is the supposition that man thinks.

~ Ludwig Gumplowicz


Ludwig Gumplowicz, 1838 - 1909

The naturalist view of free will, namely that there is no such thing, is hardly new. Hobbes, Spinoza, and Schopenhauer come to mind. Some went further and explained why it is that many believe so passionately in the freedom of the will. Ludwig Gumplowicz of the University of Graz, Austria, was a godfather of sociology. Underappreciated today, he had this to say in his Outlines of Sociology (1899).

Consciousness, i.e., an inner sense which, like an inner eye, sees the internal processes, becomes conscious of them, observes the conflict of motives, and the victory of the stronger. In common experience this perception is mistaken for free-will; the coming consciousness of the overbalance of the stronger motive, for the act of choice (p. 72).

To Gumplowicz, it was the social group, the context, and a person's history that determines what happens in the head. The mind, he held [thought], merely refracts incoming information like a prism refracts light.

The whole belief in the freedom of human action is rooted in the idea that man’s conduct is the fruit of his thoughts and that his thoughts are exclusively his own (p. 160).

This position is as radical as it gets. Gumplowizc not only denies the freedom of thought, but thought itself. That would be food for thought, if there were such a thing. Perhaps it's just a definitional subtlety. If thought is defined as mental activity that does not ultimately reduce to the totality of causes before it, then indeed there is no thought. But then again, there is nothing if everything is caused.


Gumplowizc's depth notwithstanding, 2 two-inch-deep thoughts presented themselves. [1] I am planning to offer a seminar on creativity, but I have no ideas. [2] Is it true that all women want is gender?


I did my best scientific work during the posthoc years.

December 11, 2012


Piaget asked children whether the waterline would tilt when you tilt the glass. What do you think? And what about beer?


December 9, 2012

I googled 'God quotes' but nothing turned up. Only quotes about god. E.g., Mark Twain wrote: "Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet." I think he put his finger on it.

At the zen workshop I tried the walking meditation. I got lost.


December 6, 2012

Today is Nikolaus Tag (St. Nick’s day). Nick looks like Santa Claus. In a way he is Santa Claus. He rewards kids for good (obedient) behavior over the last year and leaves the punishment of the bad apples to his adlatus, Knecht Ruprecht (der Schwatte Pitt; der Schmutzli). Good cop, bad cop. When he (they) can’t make a personal appearance he leaves chocolates for the good kids, who, in anticipation, leave their slippers in front of their bedroom doors as chocolate receptacles. Kids catch on easily that it is their parents who deliver the choc and that Nick and Ruprecht are not real. Yet, the charade goes on for years. When the point is reached that the ritual does more to sate the parents’ nostalgia than the kids’ appetite for choc, it is time for a new ritual. Kids also learn to let go of the tooth fairy, the easter bunny and the idea that the prophet Elijah sneaks through the ajar door to sip wine [being an ethereal being, why does he need the door to be ajar is a question that arises as the mind matures]. With the mind moving from the wondrous to the mundane – as it should – why is it that many continue to think that belief in a single invisible god is an attitude worthy of a grown-up mind? Why does this attitude demand respect, while a grown-up who believes in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny risks social ostracism or worse? It’s a mystery all right.


subway death

December 5, 2012

Man is pushed on subway track in New York City. A photographer takes pictures. Says he is farther away from the victims than other bystanders. Where are those in the picture?

December 1, 2012, 'Tis the season

This essay on Neurobabble speaks for itself. Also, note the notes from noted reductionist John Cleese.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I like the front lawn sign that says "Live like your kids drive here."  

Remember: Waste is a terrible thing to mind.

If you can be embittered, you can also be debittered.

Is a blog post a forme fruste of a journal article?

Byzantine Brown. My university has a "Senior Associate Vice President" for something. I assume that 'senior' modifies 'associate,' that 'associate' modifies 'vice,' and that 'vice' modifies 'president.' I further deduce that a Vice President is lower than a President, and that an Associate Vice is lower than a Vice, but a "Senior" is higher than an unmarked (implicitly Junior) Associate. In other words, the Senior Associate Vice President is two steps back and one step forward. If the exercise were mathematical, senior (a step up) and associate (a step down) would cancel each other out, and you'd be back to VP. But I further deduce that this not being the case, a Senior Associate Vice President is still a rather minor player in the grand university hierarchy. I know that your question now is "Why don't we have Senior (or Junior) Associate Vice Professors, for professors are far more scalable than administrators?" Alas, although I am a student of Demotic Greek, I cannot simulate the Byzantine mindset that would yield an answer. Meanwhile, let us not despair and await the coming of the Assistant Senior Associate Vice President.

November 18, 2012

In strategic interpersonal interaction, you try to obtain the best possible outcome by evaluating the consequences of various actions (i.e., the intersections of your own and other people’s behavioral choices), and you weigh them by your best estimate of the probability that the other person (or persons) will choose one option instead of another. In the trust game, for example, you have a small amount of money (say, $10) and you decide whether to keep it or to transfer it to another person. If you transfer the money, the invisible hand of the market triples the amount. The transfer amounts to an act of trust as now the other person has to choose between keeping the whole amount of $30 or to split it with you. To keep is to betray, to split is to reciprocate. Your decision to trust critically depends on your assessment of how likely it is that the other person, the trustee, will reciprocate. In this example, you would be indifferent between trusting and the status quo if you thought that this probability were 2/3. If, however, the invisible hand were more generous and quintupled the trusted amount, your probability estimate of indifference would be 2/5. Empirically (unpublished data), we find that trust goes up somewhat as the multiplier goes up. Trustees also return a bit more, but their probability of reciprocation does not increase. This is so, we think, because as the multiplier goes up, the trustee’s temptation to betray the trustor also goes up, a fact that is difficult for the trustor to foresee.

Now for the question of the day: Not knowing anything else about the trustee, would you rather trust someone who you know believes in free will or would you trust someone who believes that human behavior (including choice) is determined by the causal machinery of the universe? Supposing that the choices of a creature with free will are not predictable, you’d assume that the probability of reciprocation is .5 [in fact, you’d think that any probability value is equally probable, which integrates to p = .5, as opposed to believing that behavior is random, which implies p = .5, but without any distribution around that value]. Having settled on p = .5 as the weight for the calculation of the expected value of trust, you conclude that trusting is too risky if the money is tripled, but that the risk is acceptable if the money is quintupled.

By attributing free will to the trustee in the way described here, you commit yourself to the assumption that the trustee is indifferent about the specific payoffs of the game. He will reciprocate with p = .5 no matter what. You, on the other hand, are apparently sensitive to the payoffs, which means you do not have free will. Your choice to trust or not to trust is determined by what you may earn. If both of you have free will, neither of you needs to think about the game. You just freely choose to trust (vs. not) and to reciprocate or to betray (if trusted). It seems to me that the assumption of free will, at the limit, negates the activity of thinking. Thereby, it also eviscerates the meaning of trust and trustworthiness.


November 13, 2012

In an era not so long ago, students would come to the classroom to learn from a professor who knew the material. What the material was could be seen on the syllabus, a list of bibliographic references covering a domain of interest. An elder colleague of mine recalls that an elder colleague of his could assume that he and his friends were abreast with the field of psychology at the time. During my elder colleague’s generation, it was perhaps their sub-discipline that was still masterable. At the present time, it is no longer possible to even identify a sub-sub-discipline with masterable contents. Much less can we presume to tell our students that the sources gathered in the syllabus provide any sort of comprehensive introduction to the field they want to learn about.

Lest this seems like a depressing line of thought, I propose an optimistic interpretation. It is time for the postmodern professor to shake off the shackles of the syllabus. The conventional syllabus locks in by the end of August what you won't serve until December. Nay, it locks you in half a year earlier because the bookstore, the registrar’s office, the deanery, university and departmental curriculum committees, and you ex mother-in-law demand to know exactly what intellectual fare you intend to purvey. By the time you purvey, that fare is wilted and withered. When you have lost interest, how can you expect your students to be excited? The Germans’ apt phrases are Schnee von gestern and kalter Kaffee (‘the snows of yesterday’ and ‘cold coffee’ – not iced coffee, but coffee that should be hot but is not).

I promised to get to the optimistic interpretation. It is this: Keep the syllabus around to define the domain of the course. Include key readings, but do not micromanage the contents. Week by week, new material presents itself, and no one can fully predict which questions turn out to be the most interesting during class discussion. These questions can be followed up by introducing fresh material on short notice. It keeps learning lively and the syllabus elastic. Most importantly, this gypsy philosophy allows the students to participate and play a role in shaping the course. What is the downside other than burdening the bureaucrats with a little uncertainty? I am so glad that I am not a dean.


A fellow blogger posted an essay on “The elusive female orgasm II.” Proves the point. Didn’t find it in the first post.

November 12, 2012

Shallow thought of the day: How can one be a consequentialist if so many consequences are unforeseen or unintended?


The movie A beautiful mind dramatizes the life of John Nash, the legendary game theorist. In a beautiful scene, Nash seems to experience a conceptual breakthrough, which may have actually occurred, but it is not the breakthrough that made him legendary, i.e., the discovery of the eponymous equilibrium.


Here’s a sketch of the scene. Nash and his buddies are at a bar when a group of girls walk in. One girl is a pretty blonde, B, the others are plain looking, P. All the boys’ eyes are on B. They all want to ask her to dance with the premise that the best man will win. Nash hesitates and then announces that “Adam Smith was wrong.” Smith would have you believe, Nash explains, that the greatest collective good comes from every individual rigorously pursuing his self-interest. If everyone asked B to dance, only one can succeed, while all the others are left with nothing due to the Ps’ refusal to dance after having been designated second choice. The solution, according to Nash, is for the boys to make a pact that they will all ask Ps to dance and no one will ask B. That way, everyone gets something, although no one gets the best.

the blonde

What is the game that the boys are playing with each other? The order of payoffs or preferences is this: Dancing with B = 2. Asking B to dance, though, amounts to unilateral defection against the other boys and the pact. Dancing with P = 1. This can be had with unilateral or mutual cooperation. Not dancing = 0. This is the catastrophic outcome of mutual defection (think of ‘dancing’ as ‘mating’ if that helps you appreciate the evolutionary seriousness of the matter). This pattern of preferences describes a Volunteer’s Dilemma, in which one defector person can win the prize only if all others volunteer to make a sacrifice. If there are only two players, the game is the same as the regular Volunteer’s Dilemma, which is defined as a game requiring one volunteer for the delivery of a public good.

So what’s a boy to do? There is a strategy for rational play, but it is mixed. Players do best (i.e., maximize their expected values, assuming that the payoffs can be treated as being interval-scaled) if they each volunteer with a probability of .75. This, however, is not what young Nash – at least in the movie version of his life – recommends. At least he is right in pointing out that Adam Smith would also have done poorly in that bar on the Princeton campus.

There’s one more layer of complexity, which makes the Nash scene more psychological than a self-regarding game theorist would like. Nash makes a prediction about how the Ps will respond when treated as second choice (i.e., negatively). Nash could be wrong with this prediction, or he has an uncanny insight into a plain girl’s mind. What Nash in fact is doing is to predict that the girls will perceive a second-choice treatment on the dance floor as a low offer in an Ultimatum Game. If they were rational in the sense that Nash himself defines the term, they would accept any offer to dance. To dance (mate) is better than not to dance (mate).

Nash and the boys are caught in a complex social situation, a situation in which they have to play a Volunteer’s Dilemma with one another and an Ultimatum Game with the girls at the same time. If life’s a game (or games), someone tell us which one(s).

November 11, 2012


Dr. Cox of Scrubs used the term self-hating narcissist in one of his tirades. obliquely referring to himself. Research does not corroborate the idea that all narcissists hate themselves “deep down inside.” Correlations between measures of narcissism and various other measures of self-evaluation tend to be positive and small (Campbell et al., 2007). Consider the possible combinations of narcissism and self-esteem. According to one view, you need to look out for individuals with both high narcissism and high self-esteem because their self-esteem is not genuine. You certainly should be even warier of individuals with high narcissism and low self-esteem, as they are arrogant self-loathers of the Dr. Cox type. Individuals with low narcissism and low self-esteem will kill any party, which leaves those with low narcissism and high self-esteem. There are a few of them around, I heard.

Campbell, W. K., Bosson, J. K., Goheen, T. W., Lakey, C. E., & Kernis, M. H. (2007). Do narcissists dislike themselves 'deep down inside?' Psychological Science, 18, 227-229.


The word of the day is aboulia. A lack of will power. Some neurological patients cannot make decisions or initiate action. They are aboulic. Some philosophers have argued that sane people can face a state of aboulia if two options are equally attractive. This rather theoretical possibility was satirized in the parable of Buridan’s ass, which, being placed equidistantly between two equally appealing bales of hay, starved to death. In such a case, is aboulia a property of the ass, or is it a property emerging from the diabolic set-up of the situation? The existence of the word aboulia suggests the existence of a correspondent attribute within the would-be decision-maker. Might this be an example of the fundamental attribution error?

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