Archive for August, 2007

Shared experiences

Friday, August 24th, 2007

This point is very hard to explain so I’ll probably refine this post over time.
Shared experiences are not what they seem. When you think you are experiencing the same thing as someone else – e.g. staring at a sunset, this is not true. Even superficially speaking, you’re looking at it from a different angle, you may rub your eye and the colours may change, you may be wearing sunglasses. When the other person closes their eyes, you still see the scene.
But it’s more fundamental than that. Even if you were both at the same point in space or could somehow hook your optic nerves up to the same pair of eyes, the subjective experience would still be an exclusive one-man show.
How would you ever be able to talk about a comparison between subjective experiences? I can compare things within my experience. E.g. I can check for myself if the light from my computer screen is brighter than light from yours.
I can also check with someone else that agreed linguistic relationships are the same. E.g. I can ask some else if what he calls “sunlight” is what he calls “brighter yellow” than what he calls “urine”, but I still can’t compare experiences themselves. Why? If you think it’s possible, tell me an experiment which would be able to tell me if your experience of green is the same as my experience of green. Such an experiment would be able for example to tell me if your green was my red and vice versa. This is obviously not possible by asking questions, any kind of questions, because every time you say green, I would think of my green, and you would think of your green (red).
Compare it to a signalling system. Say Alice is communicating through an interpreter Ingrid to Bob and Carol. Bob can’t hear what Ingrid says to Bob and Carol, but he can see what they do. How could Alice test whether Ingrid is talking the same language to Bob and Carol? Not possible. Same with subjective experience. We can only communicate about it to each other through a shared language which has only a conventional relationship to the experience itself.
My feeling is when examining experience closely however, that my experience is unique to my consciousness. I can’t explain this but I can refute any possible proofs that experience is shared. No wonder we often feel so inexplicably lonely…

What is

Friday, August 24th, 2007

The question “What is x” in an email reply has become more or less redundant now that Wikipaedia is so good.

The 5 senses

Monday, August 20th, 2007

The idea that there are only 5 senses is completely wrong.
Here’s a quick count of the ones I can identify. They are all sources of experience/sensation. Seems to add up to between 8 and 11:
1. Smell
2. Touch
3. Hearing
4. Vision
5. Taste
6. Temperature
7. Kinaesthesia (knowing where your body parts are)
8. Balance (knowing your orientation WRT gravity)
9. Gravity/acceleration (astronauts report that this is a distinct sense which you only realise when you’re deprived of gravity)
9. Thought
10. Pain
11. Bodily feelings which are neither touch, nor pressure, pain etc… (e.g. emotions)

Whether to believe in Global Warming

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

The problem with global warming and the Al Gore stuff is that you really have NO way of checking if this stuff is true. And let’s face it, we’ve been had royally in the past (e.g. 1970’s energy crisis) Even if you read the actual scientific papers (where can you find those anyway) rather than journalistic/political boil-down , how do you know that the scientists are not being paid by self-interested politicians?
I find the psychology of why someone would fake this stuff the most persuasive thing.
Why would someone want to fake this stuff? There are arguments on both sides – profits from Green products, do-goodism, scare-mongering journalists wanting to sell papers – or on the other side, Oil profits, laziness and wanting to be elected. To take another example – the Church says your kid goes to hell if he isn’t Christened and you do if you don’t go to church on Sundays (NB not Saturdays). If seen as the attempt of Roman Emporer, part time fratricidal maniac and first head of the church, Constantine to control a failing Roman Empire, subsequently propogated through the generations by fear-mongering and clever viral marketing techniques like christening, completely loses any credibility and in fact looks distinctly dodgy. In other words seeing the obvious hidden motives behind an argument or movement can help you to see its likely validity independently of its content.
The book Collapse by Jared Diamond goes into why people tend to be myopic in their use of resources and how this has led to the collapse of various civilisations in the past, despite the fact that these people obviously knew the consequences of their resource use. I found it very persuasive.
So overall, even though I don’t trust media reports at all, I tend to believe the Global Warming hype.

Congo Corruption

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

These credit card bills make interesting reading (from here):

Birth Control

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

I’ve blogged on this before but it’s such crucial issue I’m going to go on about it. I really think birth control is the solution to so many of our problems. Here’s a few:

  • Climate Change – is a caused by a combination of behaviour changes (mainly fossil fuel usage) and the HUGE increase in the world population in the last century. If the population keeps going up as much as it is, then no amount of behaviour changes will help and if we could reduce it, we wouldn’t need such drastic measures as not visiting our relatives by plane.
  • Species Loss – obvious
  • Water shortages – obvious
  • War – I’m very convinced by Jared Diamond’s arguments which show the clear link between competition for resources and war. Perhaps the best example of this is Rwanda where the war started just after the price of land in Rwanda became unsustainable for the majority of the population.

The main problems with reducing population are:
1. Christian fundamentalism. This is a big one. The US has withdrawn funding for billions of dollars of birth control programmes the world over because the belief that contraception is evil. They withdraw funding from any birth control programmes which support abortion even if the money doesn’t go towards the abortion part of the programme. The vatican has terrified millions of vulnerable Catholics into thinking that condoms are sinful and powerful Catholic lobbies are behind a lot of such US policy.
2. Economic myopia. People rant about pensions and bulges in demographic curves – yes – pensions are a problem if you reduce population. Not as much as a problem though as world wars, water shortages or the entire east coast of China being inundated by 20m of water for example.
3. Simply not seeing the obvious facts see here.


Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Why don’t thermostats ever do what they’re supposed to. One should be able to set the heating thermostat on 20 degrees and be done with for the whole year. Instead when it gets cold, you have to turn it up and when it gets warm, you have to turn it down.
Is it because they have a certain built-in tolerance otherwise they’d be going on and off endlessly when the stable temperature was reached?