Thursday, October 27, 2005

Armchair Psychology

I retook a web version of the Jung personality test today, and was rather stunned by the following question:

17) I tend to pay more attention to my thoughts than my feelings.

Perhaps I'm just in some strange mood, but I don't get the distinction. I don't think I categorize mental states of mine into thoughts and feelings. I take it that both are supposed to be occurent mental states, roughly dateable events in an individual's conscious experience, and I'm not sure I find two such things "when I introspect."

That isn't to say I don't use feeling as either a verb or a noun, it just seems that the usages to which I put it don't correspond to what the test-takers have in mind. First, I often refer to sensations as feelings: "I feel hot." Second, I use feelings to refer to moods: "I feel elated" or "I feel down." But, as Ryle did a good job of showing, moods are more or less patterns of dispositions to think certain thoughts and feel certain ways. Third, if I have a strong opinion which I cannot find good reasons for, yet which I can't give up, I might say "well, I don't know why, but I just feel like he's bad news." This seems like it's the closest to what the test-makers had in mind, but I'm still not getting it. After all, it doesn't seem like anyone could pay more attention to their feelings than they pay attention to their thoughts, if this is what a feeling is. This thing is just a thought "he's bad news" that you've discovered that you don't have a reason for. But you had to go through a logical process of reasoning, checking over the various possible rationales you might have to discover that you don't have a good one. So it seems like this isn't precisely an occurent mental state either.

I'm an extremely analytical and logical person, but I certainly haven't gone through a process of reasoning for most of the things that I think. Most of my beliefs go unexamined until something comes up to call them into question, and most of my thoughts occur to me and I move on without ever thinking of a reason for them. In that, I'm in the same boat as everyone who has ever lived. What distinguishes the analytically minded person is her dogged persuit of a sound rationale for the thought once it has been called into question.

Most people don't react this way when they take the Jung personality test (or its cousin the myers-briggs). They find that sort of question easy to answer. So, tell me what the utterly obvious thing I'm missing is. Really, I mean it. I demand that you comment and explain what a feeling is.

Also, in case you didn't catch it:
INTP - "Architect". Greatest precision in thought and language. Can readily discern contradictions and inconsistencies. The world exists primarily to be understood. 3.3% of total population.
Free Jung Personality Test (similar to Myers-Briggs/MBTI)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Shot Down

"Thank you for bearing with us while your paper was considered for publication in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy. I am sorry to have to tell you that your paper has been judged unsuitable for publication in the AJP. I attach a copy of the referee's report on which our decision about your paper has been based; perhaps this information will be useful to you in revising your paper for submission to some other journal. Please bear in mind that the AJP accepts less than 10% of the papers submitted to it. Thanks again for considering the AJP. (From internal evidence or other sources, you may feel that you have identified one or more of the individuals involved in the assessment of your paper. We ask, nevertheless, that you direct any communications to assessors through me at the above address.)"

The reviewers complaints were that 1) I did seem to substantially engage with the literature on intuitions in my discussion (true-though I'm familiar with the volume he cites, and I didn't find it especially helpful. Still, this is worth fixing). 2) The author picked up on some important slip-ups on my part, 3) The author claims a disconnect between what I assert I prove and what I prove (I'm mulling over this one), and 4) I think the reviewer may have missed the thrust of my argument at the end of the paper (I'm mulling over this one as well). (2) can be easily rectified, (3) is troubling, (4) is a problem if the author didn't make the mistake I'm attributing. (1) Will probably take time to fix that I don't have until after Nov 9th.

Still, very helpful comments, and the review time was literally less than a month. The kids at the AJP do a very nice job.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Can anyone guess what I'm doing?

I think one of the major differences between a real philosopher and an undergraduate is that the real philosopher doesn't look at

Explain Frege's puzzle about identity. What is Frege's distinction between sense and reference, and how is (sic) this distinction supposed to account for the informativeness of some identity claims? Is Frege's account of the informativeness of identity claims adequate?

and think to themselves "how the heck do I get 5 pages out of that?" At moments like these, I join the non-philosopher in thinking that philosophy just teaches you how to complicate the obvious.

The letter of the law

prohibits me from linking to the blogs that I link to over there to the right, unless I have my own contribution (of dubious value) to tack onto it, as in the Frege post. I'm going to circumvent my hitherto unannounced and self-imposed rule. Here's the trick: I'll link to someone who is doing the exact same thing as Kieran Healey is doing at crooked timber. When you're going apeshit over Leon Kass's most recent attempt to have what is colloquially known as a "thought," there's sort of a standard model for the post. Just let him hang himself:

For the first time in human history, mature women by the tens of thousands live the entire decade of their twenties — their most fertile years — neither in the homes of their fathers nor in the homes of their husbands; unprotected, lonely, and out of sync with their inborn nature. Some women positively welcome this state of affairs, but most do not; resenting the personal price they pay for their worldly independence, they nevertheless try to put a good face on things and take refuge in work or feminist ideology.

Speaking of my rule about not linking to those blogs, the rationale is that you, being a good person, are already reading them religiously. Seriously, if you're not reading crooked timber on an almost daily basis there's probably something wrong with you. If you're checking it seven times a day, hypothetically speaking, there's probably nothing wrong with that either.

Did I mention that Leon Kass is Addie Clark Harding Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and The College at the University of Chicago, and Chairman of the President’s Commission on Bioethics. This man is in charge of deciding that we can use embryonic stem cells for scientific research prior to the date of the proclamation concerning whether or not we can use them. Today he's taking a break from that sort of thing to tell us about the downfall of civilization. Priorities, you know?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Political uses of philosophy of language

Juan Cole trots out Frege's distinction between sense and reference in order to explain why Cheney's decision to reveal Valerie Plame's identity was illegal. Cheney et al seem to have thought that by using the phrase "Joe Wilson's wife" they could avoid the law which forbids revealing a covert agent's name. I think Frege's sense-reference distinction is actually in line with Cheney's position. Picture Cheney claiming that they didn't reveal the name of a covert agent, merely that name's referent.

Still, Cole is clearly invoking Frege in a spirit of "you've got to be kidding me." Anytime "19th century german logicians" enter a political discussion someone is probably getting condescended to, and lord knows that's justified. I wonder if any of the philosophy bloggers will mention this one, since I'm not sure that Cole's invocation of Frege is mistaken.

Update: I probably should be sure about that, since I started my philosophy of language paper on Frege's sense-reference distinction today.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I very nearly failed to get in to grad school today...

You see, it turns out that while you can sign up for the GRE as little as two days in advance and there are GRE tests offered almost constantly throughout the fall, as time goes on the tests fill up. Of the test centers in Durham, Raleigh and Greensboro there was only one open test-date in October. Neither the Raleigh nor the Durham center had any November tests either.

It takes 4-6 weeks for scores to make it to your schools and the Rutgers application is due December 15th. Time for someone to learn me some words.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Fish in a barrel pt 1

Perfect, but a problem. Had the ringtone been a common telephone ring, the scene could have dropped into the final edit without a hitch, the moment providing a quick bit of emotional texture to the film. But EMI Music Publishing, which owns the rights to "Gonna Fly Now," was asking the first-time producer for $10,000 to use those six seconds. (Times)

I don't know how to state the distinction, but it's obvious: the documentarian was not using this song to enhance their documentary, they were recording an event in which the song incidentally appeared. Recording this event should be no more a copyright violation than the woman playing the song in the first place is one.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


Anomalous behavior on the part of GNU Go: I've been playing with a 4 stone handicap, and winning by perhaps 20 points so long as I concentrated. 3-stone games, I'd lose by 30 points. On Sergio's advice, I've tried some even games, and lost both by 30 points...I know not what to think. Anyway, time to learn fuseki.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Drugs Drugs Drugs

I think I'm being inconsistent. I'd be inclined to agree with both of the following statements:

(1) Most recreational drugs should be made legal. Not just relatively safe drugs like marijuana but also some of the nastier stuff. I'm not sure how far I take this: the relative ease of addiction and debilitating nature of withdrawal symptoms might make a drug like heroin bad enough to warrant legal proscription, though not with the severity of current laws.

(2) The distinction between prescription and non-prescription medications serves an important purpose and should be maintained (without saying that everything is on the side of the line where it should be).

The inconsistency isn't as wide-spread or obvious as it might seem. Many legal prescription drugs are much more dangerous than illicit drugs. To take an obvious example, someone using barbituates under a doctor's supervision is putting themselves in a lot more danger than someone smoking weed.

A second point is that there's more need to regulate something that people think is good for them than something people think is dangerous. People are prone to thinking of drugs in a very Manichean fashion even if they are moderately aware of the facts about how the drugs function. Thinking of a drug as "useful but dangerous" and acting in accord with that thought requires a bit of cognitive sophistication and will power that most people lack. For that reason, allowing people to self-prescribe medication would probably end up having extremely negative effects.

Third, limiting access to prescription drugs while allowing the standard set of recreational drugs would avoid many of the costs of our current program of criminalization. Part of the reason that drug laws are so widely ignored is that there really are no (or few) substitutes for the recreational drugs that people use. So they keep using them, and we have the high cost of enforcement most importantly the harm to those who are prosecuted, or the victims of drug war related crime. If today's recreational drugs were legalized, while keeping prescription drugs limited to those with prescriptions, the prescription drugs wouldn't have the same incidence of illicit recreational use because of the availability of substitutes.

That said, I don't think the tension is really resolved. I ought to think about this more if I want to get it right.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Triviality is my style

Best to break my hiatus gently.

StumbleUpon, the best thing to happen to random internet use since AIM, delivered me to a blog entirely devoted to attacking figurative uses of the word 'literally.' I am literally furious. I can understand the sentiment that the figurative use is becoming so prevalent that it is simultaneously losing its force and obfuscating the original meaning of the term. What annoys me is that a large portion of the people commenting on this website seem to think that it's plain wrong to say "I literally want to kill him" when you do not in fact intend to commit homicide.

The ironic thing about this is that the function of the word 'literally' is to distinguish between literal and figurative uses of a word, yet its defenders are telling us that the figurative use is wrong. So if we applied their advice across the board, we wouldn't even have the word in the first place.

Although it doesn't precisely match the definition, the usage in question is essentially nothing other than hyperbole, a well established rhetorical device. A word of advice, children: when your view has the consequence that Catullus doesn't know how to use language, you might want to jump ship.

An article linked to from said blog indicates that I occupy an odd position by both defending the figurative use and deploring its superabundance.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

For the moral psychologists

A few years ago we were all horrified to hear about a first person shooter ethnic cleansing game. We were not horrified to hear about Grand Theft Auto, a game in which you shot random pedestrians and beat hookers. The difference in our reaction was based on the natural assumption that the people who played the first game believed in what they were doing. Or at least, even if they didn't believe in literally gunning down members of other ethnic groups, they thought something like the members of those ethnic groups were subhuman. We didn't assume that the people playing Grand Theft Auto believed in beating hookers or shooting random pedestrians. At least, a lot of us didn't. Hearing the media hysteria, it was clear that someone out there really did seem to think your average teenager believed in beating hookers and shooting pedestrians.

I'm pretty sure we were right. But what lead us to view the two cases differently in that way? I think that's a surprisingly sophisticated judgment at the intersection of ethics and psychology and one that most of us perform quite naturally.

Law of Unintended Consequences

Yesterday evening I left my computer with ITS and today I retrieved something that has a new hard drive. I'm not sure it's my computer because I was missing three arrow keys, and this thing has a new keyboard, so there's no tactile resemblance. When I left mine there was a burzum cd in it and this thing came with a burzum cd, but they could be just that devious.

In this time of new beginnings, I'm starting over with Firefox. I also suspect I won't be reading Salon anymore. I was already falling off of the bandwagon, but with adblock, I now have to go to salon, disable adblock, watch a stupid advertisement to get the site pass and then turn adblock on again before going about my reading. So goodbye dear Salon, you've been a faithful companion these 6 years, but we all must die. Even eclectic left of center webmags with steadily deteriorating content.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Nietzschean Moral Philosophy

Josh Knobe and Brian Leiter have a paper in progress which argues for a Nietzschean approach to moral psychology, in contrast to the dominant Aristotelian and Kantian approaches. The majority of their argument is actually based on a huge body of psychological research which, they argue, is congenial towards the Nietzschean view and mostly incompatible with the alternate views. Much of this work concerns self-deception and free will (first separately then followed by free will as self-deception).

A choice study: It was assumed, for example, that any program that decreased racist attitudes would thereby also decrease racist behavior. This initial assumption was called into question by the influential work of LaPiere (1934). LaPiere went on a long car trip with a Chinese couple. Along the way, he took careful notes about how his companions were treated at each of the hotels and restaurants they visited. Despite the widespread prejudice against Chinese people in America at the time, LaPiere found that he and his companions were generally treated quite well and that they were refused service on only one occasion. Later, he wrote to all 250 hotels and restaurants listed in his notes, asking the employees whether or not they would be willing to serve Chinese guests. Over 90% of respondents said that they would not serve Chinese, in spite of the fact that they had just done exactly that. This finding seemed to suggest that attitudes and behavior were not quite as closely linked as had previously been thought.

I have two recommendations.
1) You should read the paper (it's probably the antepenultimate draft)
2) I should familiarize myself with the majority of the work they cite.

My first recommendation will probably take you 30-90 minutes to comply with. Given the various other commitments I have, the second will take me the next 6 years.

I'd already arranged to meet with Josh this thursday before finding this paper. Now I'll have even more stuff to ask about. *grins*

Monday, October 03, 2005


Been a while, eh? In the results category, I have played a lot of people and am continuing to improve. I even attended a tournament and conducted myself respectably. You don't want details.

I replayed some of Takemiya's games on the computer and found them utterly incomprehensible. Then I found out that "reviewing Takemiya's games is very instructive since they are full of unusual ideas. It is very difficult to follow his style but at the same time his plays opens horizons for others," so I didn't cry. Then I replayed the most famous game of Go ever, and it wasn't completely bewildering. I think if I keep improving quickly, I'll ask for this book of Shusaku's games for Christmas. Unless it's $47 and I'm not a moron, of course.

You heard it here first: the NRA is nuts

One question that really just now occured to me is how well various national political organizations represent the views of their members. For a while I've criticized the NRA not respecting the positions of a majority of its members on several issues. Part of what makes this so objectionable is that often the members are right at the NRA is wrong. Or sometimes the members are wrong, and the NRA is insane.

But thinking about it more, I suspect that the disconnect between members' opinions and official organizational positions is probably pretty common. And sometimes the organization is closer to being right than its members are. So (1) I'm curious how common the disconnect I mentioned is, (2) I'm unsure how worried about it I need be, and (3) pending the response to (1) and (2), the criticism that the NRA misrepresents its members positions seems pointless: the real problem is that the views involved are typically insane. You could criticize a political organization for failing to represent the views of its members, but I think you'd need a special sort of relationship to the organization to do that. Part of that special sort of relationship involves not wanting to abolish the organization. Since I don't really feel like the NRA needs to exist, I lack that special sort of relationship. So I should just stick to my guns and continue saying that the NRA's positions are freakin nuts.