Off Amazon

Now that Amazon is using its power as an internet application host to silence political speech I think it’s time to start seriously looking for alternatives. I know it’s a hassle to look for and learn to use different sites, but power corrupts, and huge companies like Amazon are just way too powerful. If you value freedom, you will support smaller companies over the big ones, just to prevent one company from dominating.

  • general shopping.
  • Walmart: general shopping + groceries.
  • groceries.
  • Microcenter: computers and electronics.
  • B&H: electronics and photography.
  • BAM: general books, including ebooks.
  • Thriftbooks: used books.
  • Project Guttenberg: free ebooks. (Lots of old and out-of-copyright ebooks. I highly recommend reading older titles to help shake you out of your present culture and see more alternatives.)

If you have additional suggestions, leave them in the comments and I’ll update the post.

How Can Good People Vote For Donald Trump?

I believe there is still a chance that Donald Trump will win the election on Tuesday, and if he does, there will be a primal scream of rage and hatred superseding even what we saw the last time. Everyone will be strongly encouraged to hate and despise everyone who voted for Donald Trump. If you live in a blue area, you may well be afraid to say anything nice about Donald Trump or about anyone who voted for him.

I’m concerned about this personalization of politics because is unhealthy for the nation and unhealthy for the individuals. Hatred is one of the few emotions that has no positive aspects to it. Anger, fear, lust–in their proper place each of these has value, but hate never does. Hate is always toxic. It eats away at judgment and kindness. Yet hate has become admirable in some places. Some people seem to be practicing to increase their capacity to hate. Don’t believe me? Check out the following video. Unfortunately, this video is intended to mock people rather than show concern for them, but if you look beneath the mockery, you will see people who are deeply obsessed with hatred, seemingly as an end in itself.

And the primary focus for all of this hatred is Donald Trump and the people who support him. The hatred is based on the belief that Donald Trump is such a flawed and dangerous man that he is wholly unsuitable to be president. And the question is: how can any good person vote for this monster?

My goal in this post is to answer that question and in a way that might diffuse some of the suspicion and acrimony. Just to be clear: I’m not trying to get anyone to vote for Trump. I’m not going to talk about his successes as a president, and I’m only going to talk about Joe Biden where it is necessary to ask whether a criticism of Trump only applies to Trump.

Let’s start with a list of the main accusations against Trump, reasons why good people should not support him, and then I’ll explain why there are good people who are not persuaded by these accusations.

  1. Donald Trump is an embarrassment to the country. His bombastic showmanship is undignified, and other national leaders hold him in contempt.
  2. Donald Trump lies. He is constantly exaggerating and making other false claims.
  3. Donald Trump is mean. He is constantly insulting and demeaning people on Twitter and in his speeches.
  4. Donald Trump has dignified and built up totalitarian leaders. He has famously said nice things about Putin of Russia, Xi Jinping of China and even Kim Jong Un of North Korea.
  5. Donald Trump flirts with white supremacy. He said that the Charlottesville white supremacists were “fine people” and has repeatedly been reluctant to disavow white supremacist groups.
  6. Donald Trump attacks the free press. He has repeatedly referred to the mainstream press as “fake news”, insulted them, encouraged his followers to mock and boo them.
  7. Donald Trump is a threat to the Constitutional Order. His lawless actions have threatened to destabilize the country and bring anarchy.

I’ll take each of these things in order.

1. Donald Trump is an embarrassment to the country

A lot of good people just don’t care what foreigners think of the United States. Should they? Well, should the people of France worry what Americans think of them? Should they vote for politicians who will impress Americans? What about the people of Mexico or Canada or Japan? Do they have an obligation to impress Americans with their political leaders? If not, why should Americans care any more than they do?

I think this worry is a result of American education which has been heavily slanted against America for the last forty years or so. Because of the warped educations that are given to people today, a lot of Americans are embarrassed of their own country, and as a result they seek validation from other countries. However, there are a lot of good people who know that America has one of the noblest histories of any country on earth–yes, despite slavery and the Indian wars.

Historic Americans were people of their time and they did things that were common in their time. That includes slavery and conquest. What was different about America was not that they did what everyone else in their time was doing, but that they had an ideal of being better than that. There were always those among them urging them to be better, and these better ideals eventually won out. The ideals that are used to so harshly judge past Americans are ideals that the past Americans worked towards creating and to spreading throughout the world.

Americans have nothing to be ashamed of about their country. No country in history with the possible exception of Great Britain has done more to improve the worldwide human condition than America has done.

2. Donald Trump lies

Practically no one denies that Donald Trump is given to exaggerations and off-the-cuff claims that aren’t literally true. How can a good person support someone who does this? Let’s divide this into two separate issues: bombastic claims and factual claims.

In the first case, Trump is bragging or is being obnoxious about someone, and he makes a bombastic claim: “I’m the least racist person in this room” or “She’s a terrible person. Worst reporter ever”. Trump’s fans don’t see these statements as literal falsehoods; they see them as non-literal speech. Just like you don’t accuse someone of lying when he says “I have a million things to do today” or “You’re a rock star”, they don’t view Trump’s exaggerations and distortions literally; they recognized that he is using hyperbole or metaphor or similar non-literal speech.

Trump is a New York real estate tycoon and he talks like a New York real estate tycoon. People often don’t get his speech mannerisms and don’t recognize when he is making bombastic claims, but once you accustom yourself to his way of talking, you come to recognize that he is just puffing, not lying. In the social environment where he grew up, the way he talks was normal. This is why Trump fans don’t hold it against him: they don’t think he is actually lying.

A more serious problem is when Trump makes factual claims that are false. If Trump were to say “I was the first person in my family to go to college” when he wasn’t the first person in his family to go to college, that would be a lie rather than bombast because it can’t be taken it non-literally (in fact, Joe Biden told that very lie). Does Donald Trump tell a lot of lies like this? He has certainly been accused of it.

I can’t go over the thousands of times Trump has been accused of lying, but let’s go over CNNs list of Trump’s top lies of 2019 and see how many of them were actually lies:

  1. Trump said that kidnapped women aren’t brought in at border crossings because the kidnappers would be caught. Instead the women are brought in “through the border” (presumably he means not at a legal crossing). CNN calls this a lie because sometimes kidnapped women are brought in through legal ports of entry. Is that really a lie? Compare a home-security salesman who says, “Someone breaking into your house isn’t going to come through the front door because someone might see. He’s going to break in through the window.” Is that man a liar because some home break ins are through the front door? Of course not. He is not trying to give you a class on the history of breaking and entering; he is emphasizing the importance of a particular risk. Trump was not lying in this instance.
  2. Trump claimed there had been a million fraudulent votes in California. This claim was probably from a study that estimated there were 3 million illegal votes in California. I can’t find the study now, but here is an article with some relevant information on illegal voting in the US and why the claim is plausible. Was Trump right? I don’t know. But neither does the journalist who is calling him a liar. It is a difference of opinion. The journalist thinks that the facts are on his side, but even if he were right–even if the facts did lean more in his direction–that wouldn’t make Trump a liar; it would make Trump a person with a different opinion.
  3. Trump said he was joking when he publicly asked Russia for Hillary’s deleted emails. I think there is confusion here between the emails that were hacked from Hillary’s campaign and the emails that Hillary deleted from her email server after they were subpoenaed. Trump may have been misremembering what happened. Or maybe he is describing a different event than the one the reporter is describing. An honest person doesn’t call someone a liar for a vague, joking, sarcastic comment about an event that may or may not be the event that you are thinking of. But there were certainly lies told about this event by many reporters and commentators who lied when they said that Trump asked the Russians to hack Hillary’s server. That was clearly not what he said–if for no other reason than because the server no longer existed and could no longer be hacked. So what did he mean? Well, Hillary’s email server was such a juicy target and was so insecure that it was widely assumed foreign intelligence services had already hacked the server and taken all of the emails–including the ones that Hillary deleted in defiance of a court order. Trump was just saying that if they did so, they should make the emails public.

I won’t detail the rest–just a few remarks: 4: snarking at Trump for calling wind turbines “windmills” (the same word everyone else uses), and calling him a liar for a “some people say” comment. 5: Trump said his predecessors had failed to give veterans “choice” and the reporter calls this a lie because his predecessors passed a bill with “choice” in the name. Clearly what Trump was saying was that the bill with “choice” in the name didn’t actually give veterans choice, and the reporter knew that was what he meant. Here the reporter is clearly lying about Trump lying. 6: Calling it a lie because Trump is promising something for the future that the reporter doesn’t think will happen. 7: Calling Trump a liar for repeating things he had heard in news sources that weren’t properly vetted according to the reporter. 8: Calling it a lie because Trump used the word “paying” to refer to who bears the cost when the reporter thinks it should refer to who spends the money. 9: Calling Trump a liar for referring to a different weather report than the mainstream media was using. 10: Calling Trump a liar over another difference of opinion. 11: Calling Trump a liar for using the phrase “pulling out” to mean “reducing forces in the area”. 12: Calling Trump a liar for what was obviously intended to be a humorous exaggeration.

Clearly, you can be a good person and think that the reporter is being unfair to Trump in this article. Of course I haven’t covered all of the incidents where Trump was accused of lying–that would be impossible–but let’s suppose you can convince a good person that Trump does indeed lie a lot in the sense of telling real, literal lies. What then would this good person do, knowing that Trump’s opponent in the election also lies a lot?

Joe Biden has been caught in numerous incidents of plagiarism, even pretending that Neil Kinnock’s life story was his own life story. Biden’s wife was killed in a car accident that was ruled her fault, and Biden has spent decades exploiting her death by saying she was killed by a drunk driver–she was not. Biden has repeatedly said that he had nothing to do with Hunter’s mysterious and amazing success at landing high-paying no-show jobs and lucrative deals, but we now know from Hunter’s laptop that Joe was lying about that too. And here is a list of 32 lies he told in his last debate. Now, the article about Biden’s lies in a few cases is unfair to Biden in the same ways that the article on Trump’s lies is unfair to Trump, but other examples are real lies, such as the claim that no one lost their health insurance as a result of Obamacare.

So, what is a good person to do if he does believe Trump is a liar? Allow the other liar, the one who is also pro-choice, pro-tax, and anti-energy to win?

3. Donald Trump is mean

Compared to previous presidents and presidential candidates, Trump sure has a mouth on him. He is constantly deriding and demeaning people. How can a good person condone that? Sure, the other side is mean too–every Republican presidential candidate in my lifetime has been called a racist and likened to Hitler–but does that justify our side being mean? Shouldn’t good people be above that sort of thing? Take the high road? Try to keep society as civil as possible by not returning hate for hate?

There is a lot to be said for that position, but a lot of good people think that ship has sailed. It mostly started with George Bush II who was always courteous and decent man who was treated horribly. They said he “lied us into war” (another disagreement framed by the media as a lie). They called him a Nazi and a war criminal. They did their best to humiliate him at every turn. Then there was Sarah Palin who was treated even worse. This was a smart, accomplished woman, famous for cleaning up the corruption in Alaska state politics. The national press treated her like trailer trash. They went after her kids to hurt her by hurting them. Then there Mitt Romney, who was probably the nicest, least offensive human being ever to run for president of a large nation. He was treated abominably, and he never fought back. And he lost. And I think that’s when a lot of good people decided they didn’t care any more if the guy running on their side was nice or not.

I think most of Trump’s supporters would prefer if he were nicer, more polite, less prone to interrupting and insults, but they aren’t voting for head of the PTA. Any Republican in high office has lots of very powerful enemies, including almost all of the mainstream press, a lot of politically active billionaires, most college administrators and professors, the majority of the federal civil service, and almost the entire entertainment industry. After Mitt Romney, a lot of good people decided that they need to judge a presidential candidate, not on whether he makes a good impression, but on whether he can stand up to those enemies.

People are literally getting fired for expressing common Christian and Republican views–I was one of them, but there are many others. Then there are the Christians sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars (in most cases, successfully) for declining a job to work a gay wedding. There are the student groups that can’t get campus recognition because they are pro-life or require that the group leaders be professing Christians. There are the mobs that shut down conservative speakers on college campuses and sometimes violently attack people at free-speech demonstrations and other venues. There are the required classes people all over the country are being forced to take, where they explain that white people, and especially white men are the big problem in society and that they need to be replaced. Before Trump, no one in the Republican party would do anything about this because they were terrified of the tons of vicious criticism that would rain down on them from all corners of society if they stood up for one of the marginalized groups.

A lot of nice people have decided that politeness is less important than a willingness to stand up to the cultural demagogues and believe Trump will stand up for them.

Donald Trump has dignified and built up totalitarian leaders

This is kind of an odd one. The same people who talk about how mean Donald Trump is, also complain about him saying nice things about totalitarian leaders. Does anyone really believe that if Donald Trump said mean things about the totalitarian leaders the very same people would not be complaining that he is making diplomacy harder? Complaining that we won’t be able to negotiate because Donald Trump is such a wildcard?

Donald Trump is a negotiator and he says the things that help the negotiation. He has made some progress with both North Korea and China. Also, Trump has negotiated some historic agreements in the Middle East. It’s shocking that several Muslim nations signing normalization agreements with Israel isn’t bigger news. Peace in the Middle East has been a prime foreign policy goal for every president since … I dunno … Carter? How can significant progress toward this goal not be big news?

So, I think a good person can look at the above and say, “Trump may be saying nice things about some bad people, but he is also a great negotiator who has the best interests of the US at heart.”

Donald Trump flirts with white supremacy

What is the evidence for this? Well, there are three things. First, there is the “very fine people” lie that has been spread so widely. Second, David Duke endorsed Trump four years ago, and third, the press keeps asking Trump, over and over, to denounce white supremacy, and they can’t seem to remember from one day to the next that he has done so over and over.

After the Charlottesville fiasco, the media widely reported that Trump had called the white supremacists “very fine people”. I’m sorry, but there is no other way to describe this than as a lie, because in the same quote where Trump said there were very fine people on both sides, he specifically said that he was not talking about the white supremacists.

The demands that Trump denounce white supremacy are insults intended to imply that there are reasonable suspicions that Trump has something to do with white supremacy. When Trump was insulted in this way at the first debate, the first word out of his mouth was “sure”, but the moderator kept picking at him demanding more and more, and Trump got truculent about the insult, which the entire press world ended up reporting as Trump refusing to condemn white supremacy (for what it’s worth, the Proud Boys is not a white supremacist organization. The leader is not even white).

Good people want to know why the press hasn’t asked Joe Biden to denounce Richard Spencer, the notorious neo-Nazi who organized the Charlottesville fiasco and who endorsed Joe Biden. Biden actually has a history with KKK leaders and segregationists that would destroy any Republican, yet no one has demanded that Joe Biden denounce white supremacy. Nor should they, because it would be an insulting demand, but Trump doesn’t get even that minimal level of courtesy.

But it’s worse than that. Segregationists haven’t been a significant threat in the US for sixty years, but communists and other radical leftists are a major threat today, rioting in the streets and hurting people. The Communist Party endorsed Joe Biden; why haven’t they ever asked Joe Biden to denounce Communism? Also, no major media figure has asked Biden to denounce Antifa, despite that Antifa, unlike David Duke, is actually attacking people in the streets (see this, this, this, this, this, and this).

Trump supporters know all of this, which is why they don’t take the media seriously on this issue.

6. Donald Trump attacks the free press

If you have read this far, you probably already know why good people don’t mind that Trump attacks the free press. A lot of good people, for a lot of good reasons believe that the national news media is actively hostile to them and to their interests and core principles. Trump supporters aren’t the only ones who think so. Glenn Greenwald is a hardcore Leftist who says the same thing. Jim Treacher is a Never-Trumper who says the same thing.

But is there evidence (beyond all the evidence I gave above)? Well, good people might reasonably be concerned that there have been thousands of news stories and intense media investigations on everything Trump was accused of, but no interest whatsoever in the Democrat candidate for president being involved in influence peddling to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. In fact, the press was outraged that Trump dared even try to investigate Biden for some extremely suspicious behavior–before Biden was even the Democrat nominee. Here is an example of how the press brushed off that extremely suspicious behavior with no investigation or prying–they just took the government’s word that the government did nothing wrong. Would they take Trump’s word for anything?

By contrast to the outrage over Biden who was not even the Democrat candidate yet, there was no outrage in the press over the fact that Trump was investigated while he was the Republican candidate–even though both Biden and Obama were involved in it, and there was never any evidence that Trump did anything. When that bit of information finally came out, no one in the press cared that Trump and people who worked for him had been persecuted over a non-crime with no evidence and that his political opponents were directly involved.

Today, the press is refusing to cover the story that Joe Biden’s family was taking millions of dollars from China while Joe was VP and in charge of negotiations with China. They are not reporting that there is now strong evidence that Biden was getting a cut of the China business and more strong evidence that he got a cut of all of Hunter’s influence peddling. If we had a fair and unbiased press, this would be one of the biggest political stories in US history. If this story were about Trump and his family, you would hear nothing else on the news until the night of the election, but since it is the Democrat, almost no one in the mainstream media is even covering it, much less investigating it.

The news always tries to make Trump supporters look bad and BLM supporters look innocent. Here is an infamous video of a CNN reporter standing in front of an arson fire talking about how the protest is “mostly peaceful”. Now, truth time: if Trump had a rally and a small group of his followers rioted and set a building on fire, would CNN describe the rally as “mostly peaceful” or would they focus on the riot and arson as the most important characteristic of the rally?

The news networks never say “Far-left protesters shot a free-speech protester”, no it’s a shooting that occurs during a clash. Count how many paragraphs it takes before they tell you the victim was wearing a Patriot Prayer hat–and then they helpfully tell you that Patriot Prayer is a right-wing group that has “clashed” with “protesters” in the past. Not “left-wing protesters”, just “protesters”. What they don’t tell you is that Patriot Prayer is a free-speech, small-government group (that’s what makes them right-wing, I guess). Or that these previous “clashes” have all involved the Patriot Prayer group being attacked by Left-wing groups when they were peacefully demonstrating in favor of free speech.

The mainstream press also doesn’t say “BLM protesters shoot 8-year-old girl to death”, they say a suspect was arrested in a tragic death. Count how many paragraphs it takes before they get to the part where three different BLM protesters fired into a car because it tried to get through their blockade.

Here’s one more example of the press running interference for Joe Biden. There are thousand of examples. I probably see around five to ten per week, and those are only the examples that are worth writing about on conservative web sites.

Trump’s criticism of the press is true, and that is why good people aren’t put off by it. In fact, good people are glad to see someone in Republican politics who doesn’t maintain the polite fiction that America has a politically independent press.

7. Donald Trump is a threat to the Constitutional order

How is Trump a threat to the Constitutional order? He hasn’t written any executive orders after he said he didn’t have the power to do it like Obama did. It isn’t Trump who is threatening to pack the Supreme Court. It isn’t Trump who wants to get rid of the Electoral College, which was specifically designed to prevent the big population centers from controlling smaller states.

Trump has been repeatedly stymied by court decisions where the various lower courts took unprecedented power onto themselves interfering in presidential duties like immigration. If Trump were the dangerous man his enemies say he is, he would have ignored the courts like Andrew Jackson did. Instead, he litigated.

Trump has been stridently criticized for appointing people who won’t be “independent”. Good people who understand the Constitution won’t be influenced by this complaint because they know that the president is supposed to be in charge of the federal agencies. The Attorney General and the Secretary of State and the heads of the FBI and CIA are supposed to do what the president says. It is the president’s job to oversee those areas as the people’s representative.

The mainstream press didn’t complain that Obama’s Justice Department refused to appoint an independent prosecutor to look into the IRS’s political interference, and no one in the press said they needed to seem more independent. Attorney General Eric Holder called himself Obama’s wing man, and no one objected that he needed to be independent. This idea about an independent Justice Department was just invented in 1918 to discredit any potential charges that the Justice Department may bring against the people involved in the Russiagate scandal.

Trump has also been criticized for firing inspectors general, but he is just following the precedents set by Obama.

And of course Trump’s effort to investigate Joe Biden was such a serious overstep that it led to his impeachment. There were some good people who noticed that Democrats have called for the investigation of every single Republican president in my lifetime with the possible exception of Gerald Ford. They also noticed that Democrats began demanding Trump be investigated and impeached before he ever took office. But a Republican investigating a Democrat is an impeachable offense?

As to destabilizing the country and bringing anarchy, a lot of good people know that Joe Biden’s supporters have engaged in an entire summer of riots. They have attacked police, beaten people, shot people, burned buildings, broken windows, looted stores, blocked streets, blocked police out of neighborhoods, and intimidated people just trying to enjoy a nice meal at a restaurant. Some good people think this is more destabilizing than anything Trump has done.

Some good people are even more worried about the Democrat politicians who refuse to say anything negative about these rioters, and who ordered the police to stand down and allow private property to be destroyed to the tune of billions of dollars–much of it not insured against civil unrest, so people’s entire lives and retirements are being destroyed. This is not some legalistic dispute over limits of presidential authority; this is deliberate in-your-face defiance of law and order, so how are good people supposed to believe it is Trump who is a threat to the Constitution?

Well, that’s it. I don’t really expect to persuade anyone, but I hope by reading this, you will at least come to be a little more sympathetic to people who support Trump, realizing that the information they get is a lot different from the information you get.

Democrat and Republican Responses to the Wuhan Flu

It’s interesting how the response cycle on the Wuhan flu has been so different for Democrats and Republicans. I’m speaking in generalities, of course, but in general, Republicans were the first to become alarmed over the news coming out of China. Trump closed down travel from China while Democrats were still urging people to travel and to visit Chinatown. Republicans were urging people to wear masks and avoid crowds while Democrats were saying that masks don’t help and urging people to go out to bars and ride the subways.

Continue reading “Democrat and Republican Responses to the Wuhan Flu”

Open-world Games with Stories

Computer adventure games can be broadly divided into two categories, single-path games where the player is guided through a more-or-less fixed sequence of encounters, and open-world games where the player can make choices that lead to avoiding encounters entirely or approaching them in many different orders.

Single-path games lend themselves to story-telling sequences where a layer of dramatic fiction is overlayed on the game events. Story telling is obviously much harder with open-world games because stories require a more-or-less fixed sequence of events, but it is not impossible. Here are some thoughts on how to do it.

Continue reading “Open-world Games with Stories”

Never Trust Someone Who Worries About Computers Behaving Badly (as Opposed to Malfunctioning)

This is an absurd article:

EXCLUSIVE: Dr David Levy told Daily Star Online it will be important to teach the robots of the future about consent, because they will have their own sexual desires

Presumably they mean this David Levy, who has a PhD in some unrevealed subject, and he is promoting an old book based on his dissertation called Love and Sex With Robots. If this got him a PhD in computer science, some computer science department needs to have its charter reviewed, because he reveals a shocking level of ignorance about how AI works.

Levy presents an image of AI where the computer has its own drives, and like a human is able to find novel solutions to satisfying those drives–neither of those things is true. Computers do not have drives. You don’t program a computer to want to calculate an orbit to the moon to make the computer do that, and you don’t program a computer to want to simulate sex to get the computer to do that.

The computer is not feeling anything like pleasure or the satisfaction of a drive; it is just adjusting the position of a collection of stepper motors in response to the input of various sensors, and it can only do that to the extent that it has been programmed to make the right adjustments based on the right inputs. A robot has no capacity even to subdue someone unless you have programmed that in. A robot that has not been programmed to hold someone down cannot hold a woman down and rape her.

There are some caveats to my claim that computers can’t come up with novel solutions. Machine learning is a technique where you program the computer to try random actions and record the outcomes so it “learns” what those actions will do without a programmer specifically having to program that “knowledge” in. This is a very helpful programming technique when the actions and results happen at computer speeds because it saves a lot of time; the computer can try millions of actions in the time it would take a programmer to program just one. But the computer has no ability to judge what to try, and it doesn’t even have the ability to try anything that hasn’t been programmed in. In particular, if the programmer has not programmed the computer to try restraining someone, it will never try that.

And it isn’t likely machine learning could be used for something like teaching a robot to interact physically with humans, because it can’t try millions of things per minute. Imagine getting a robot to learn how to simulate sex. You would have to program in all of its potential actions, which would involve moving body parts by a fraction of an inch at a time. A quick perusal (by me, I haven’t looked it up) suggests that with multiple degrees of freedom for many joints, there are about 36 dimensions just in the major joints (not counting fingers and toes). You have to try all combinations of motions, both up and down, so at any point, there are at least 2^37  or 137,438,953,472 different possible motions to try–and each motion only moves body parts by a fraction of an inch.

Adding to the difficulty, you are trying to get the robot to please a human sexually, so there has to be a human involved in the testing to indicate whether the robot is successful or not. This is not a viable technique, so sex robots will not be programmed using machine learning–at least that won’t be the primary technique, and no robot will ever learn to subdue a human by machine learning–it would have to be explicitly and deliberately programmed in.

Now, it’s probably possible to program that in. A robot could potentially be programmed to restrain someone while simulating sex with them, but that would be deliberate programming, and there is nothing to prevent it that would correspond in any way to making the robot understand consent.

Another possibility is that a robot could possibly be programmed both to subdue an intruder and to simulate sex, and there could be bugs where it would combine these two functions with a result that the robot would involuntarily restrain someone and then simulate sex with them. But the solution to that potential problem is not to program the robot about “consent” either; the solution is some redundant lockout mechanism in the software that prevents both restraint mode and sex-simulation mode from being active at the same time.

The entire notion of programming a robot to understand consent is ridiculous. You can’t get a robot to genuinely understand anything. They respond to their sensors in ways that they are programmed to respond. Could you program a robot to sense a person’s behavior and respond in ways that would make the robot change its actions based on that person’s behavior? Probably, but describing that as making the robot understand “consent” is absurd.

Is Pain Evil? Are Moral Truths Describable in Non-Moral Language?

This post asks two questions. The first, “Is pain evil?” has been widely discussed in the past, but I think it’s worth bringing it up again with regards to the One-Chip Challenge (see below). The second, “Are moral truths describable in non-moral language?” is something that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere (full disclosure though, my reading in moral philosophy is not extensive). Notice that I’m not asking whether ethical facts, are reducible to non-ethical facts, but whether it is possible, even in principle, to state rules using non-moral language which accurately and completely describes moral truth.

Continue reading “Is Pain Evil? Are Moral Truths Describable in Non-Moral Language?”

A Vertiginous Revelation

This post at Instapundit made me realize something a bit dizzying. Both Donald Trump and Mitt Romney had me fooled. I thought Trump was a pathetic attention-whore with no moral foundation, and Romney was a man of character who could be relied on to keep his word. It turns out that Romney is a pathetic attention-whore with no moral foundation and Trump is a man of character who can be relied on to keep his word.

There is No Estimate of Pi in the Bible

There is no estimate of the mathematical constant pi (or \pi) in the Bible. Mathematically-inclined critics sometimes quote I Kings 7:23

And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other; it was round all about, and his height was five cubits, and a line of thirty cubits compassed it round about.

and point out that since the numbers here are the diamater and ratio of a circle, this implies that \pi=3 whereas \pi is actually a bit more than 3; it’s actually a bit more than 3.14159 which is as far as I can go by memory. After this, they typically add some snarky remark about Biblical accuracy, but the criticism is wrong-headed for two different reasons, either one of which is sufficient to make anyone who spends a second thinking about it realize that the criticism is dumb.

First, this is obviously not a mathematical estimate of \pi. There is no indication here or anywhere else in the literature of the region and period that they even knew that the ratio of diameter to circumference of a circle is a constant; that is, there is no evidence that they knew there was a constant to estimate. What this passage clearly reports is not a mathematical theory, but a pair of measurements, rounded to the nearest cubit.

The entire passage is full of measurements, clearly someone went through the construction site with a measuring line and measured a bunch of stuff while a scribe wrote it all down. The text first specifies the size of the basin by its diameter, implying that they measured the diameter, and then specifically says that they measured the circumference with a line. If you measure the diameter of any circle and it rounds to ten units, then measure the circumference with a measuring line and round to the nearest unit, the most likely result to get is 30 units. That is not an error; it is a rounded value.

Second, people who claim Biblical inerrancy are not claiming high-precision mathematics. If the writer of this report been estimating \pi (which he wasn’t) then his estimate was accurate to within the precision of the report. There is no way to actually write down all of the digits of \pi because there are an infinite number of them. You have to stop somewhere, and there are lots of applications where stopping with 3 works just fine. In other words, even if this were an estimate of \pi, it is not an error; it is just less precise than the critic would like.

I’m not a Biblical literalist, but horrifically bad arguments like that one just annoy me because they reveal that the critic doesn’t really care about the truth, but only about a gotcha.

A Short Note Observing that Physicalism is a Rationalist Doctrine

By “physicalism” I mean that doctrine which says that only the physical or material world exists and that all causes are physical causes. By “rationalism” I mean that doctrine which says that we have access to information about the physical world which does not come from our physical senses alone. By “empiricism” I mean the denial of rationalism.

Physicalism and empiricism are often thought to go together, but in fact a consistent empiricist must deny that there is any evidence for physicalism. To see this, we note that the empiricist is committed to the position that all of our knowledge comes from our physical senses; there is a sort of wall of separation between our minds and the physical world such that all information about the physical world must come through a fixed and limited sort of pipeline of information, namely the senses.

Our epistemological situation as envisioned by the empiricist can be modeled as follows: a man sits in a room which has a slot in the wall. A paper tape issues from the wall, and on that tape is a sequence of letters. As time goes on, more of the tape issues from the wall with more letters. The man has no information about where the tape comes from or how the letters are being produced.

Suppose now that by examining the tape, the man is able to discover a pattern. Say that a sequence of three A’s is always followed by a B. Clearly the man can use discovered patterns to predict future letters, so long as the pattern continues to be followed, but what can the man infer about the causality that leads to the pattern? He has no idea how the pattern is being produced; it could be by another person, by a computer (in which case he has no knowledge about the algorithm), by some sort of mechanical device, or anything else.

It would be reckless for the man to come to any conclusions about the cause behind the pattern, but it would be more than reckless–it would be downright bizarre–to say that the letters themselves cause the pattern. It would be odd to say that the A’s combine their forces in some way to produce a B.

This bizarre position is the position of an empiricist physicalist. The empiricist can see nothing but the letter, which corresponds to a physical phenomenon; the mechanism behind the wall–the noumenon– is entirely unavailable. As a physicalist, he concludes that the letters themselves–the phenomena–are the causes. This is a great leap of faith, and a bizarre one, for an empiricist to take since nothing in his observation, pared of all intuition and expectation, can possibly tell him that phenomena have causal power of any sort. All his senses tell him is that phenomena exist and follow patterns.

The only way to justify the idea that phenomena have causal power is to rely on physical intuition. When we take a stick and push a ball, we have an immediate sense that it was our hand that made the stick move and the stick that made the ball move, but relying on such intuition is a rationalist position, not an empiricist position.

So, just the position that some phenomena are caused by other phenomena, is a rationalist position, must less full-on physicalism which asserts that all phenomena are caused by other phenomena. Even more a violation of empiricism is the idea that there is nothing behind the wall at all. How could an empiricist possibly know? Consequently, anyone who is a physicalist can’t be considered an empiricist.