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Saturday, January 10, 2004



How do you get humanism from empiricism? Easy. Look at people.

Go back to the Declaration of Independence. "All men are created equal, and endowed... with certain inalienable rights. Amoung these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Now while rights are ideas, another way of looking at this is common traits that humans possess. Humans live, the are free to pick and choose their actions, and they will pick those actions that (they think, feel or believe) will lead to their happiness. THat is the way people are, as extrapolated from a huge sampling of the world's population.

I see where Criton is coming from regarding SETI, but his comments are missing a very important word. YET. Yes, at this stage of things the question of extraterrestial intelligence is open. But what the Drake equation does is break down the overall question into smaller, bite sized chunks. If you look at the factors involved, the statistical nature of the way the question is framed, you can see that answering each factor become easier than trying to go for the whole thing at one shot.

Yes, at this stage of the game, the factors are guesses. Some wild and have no basis in fact, but some of the factor, (stellar populations, probability of planet formation, etc.) are answerable today. And as our techniques improve, we will get a better handle on each of these factors down the road. Today, it may be just guesswork. But that is no guarentee that it will remain so.

As for mathematics being "ideal" I ain't buying. This goes back to Einstein's question, and Witger's paper on how such an "ideal" construct such as mathematics, can be so effective at describing the real world. The truth is that it was the real world that taught us mathematics, in the first place, back when our ancestors were raising goats. Mathematics did not spring up full formed in the minds of some ancient philosopher, but is the result of observation and studying of the real world around us, any time we had more than 1 goat, or sheep or what have you.

Morality from a realist point of view, I think I have explored earlier in your later post. But think game theory. Isn't that exactly what game theorists are studying, whether they are willing to admit it or not?

While your point about cross pollination is valid, the question is not whether we should ignore the ideal constructs, but which has primacy. Are our ideas based on (our observations of) the real world, as presented to our senses. Or whether the real world should be shoehorned into our preconcieved notions.

Andrew Schouten

I find it curious that you would reference the Declaration of Independence as though the ideas within it are, well, "self-evident".

Surely during the time of the Renaissance these things were not "self-evident". It is anachronistic to describe humanism in terms of its results as proof of its "self-evident" nature.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress Vatican Exhibit:

The great intellectual movement of Renaissance Italy was humanism. The humanists believed that the Greek and Latin classics contained both all the lessons one needed to lead a moral and effective life and the best models for a powerful Latin style. They developed a new, rigorous kind of classical scholarship, with which they corrected and tried to understand the works of the Greeks and Romans, which seemed so vital to them. Both the republican elites of Florence and Venice and the ruling families of Milan, Ferrara, and Urbino hired humanists to teach their children classical morality and to write elegant, classical letters, histories, and propaganda.

What I see here is not empiricism, but the birth of Classics. I'm afraid that as moderns, these ideas are such a part of our historical legacy that things that look fairly straight-forward and "self-evident".

As for the mathematics dig, you're right: if what I said was what you addressed, I wouldn't buy either, hell, I'd short it! The fact is that, as a critique of Steve's shoe-horned "three way struggle", his description of ur-teleology describes not just a proto-marxism, but Pythagoras' thinking. Now, you might not care one iota for the Ancient Greeks, but the fact of the matter is that you're not counting in Mayan numbers today.

As for game theory.... well let's take the prisoner's dilemna. So here you have these two prisoners, A and B, and, well, you know the set up. Except, let me say that A and B are actually brothers-in-law, who were set out to steal something to get one's uncle out of prison. This is compounded by the fact that A owes B a large sum of money, and B employs A's little brother in a gambling parlor of his. Furthermore, the chief of police frequents said gambling parlor with his, er, uh, niece, yeah that's it, niece.

Now, riddle me this Batman: Which one's going to squeal? I don't know.

You know why I don't know? Because life is so much more confusing and convoluted than can be explained in a four-square matrix that reduces these two people's lives to "Prisoner A can squeal, thus..." Perhaps game theory can get more complex. Perhaps. But I would like to see how you could quantify not only the kinship relationship, but also the pull the two prisoners have with the chief of police. Where would that fit on the matrix, I wonder?

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