Wednesday, 14 August 2019

On The Nature Of Free Will & Determinism

In 2011, I wrote a paper on the nature of free will and determinism - dispelling some common myths about the two terms, and hopefully providing a fresh and enlightening perspective on some complex but intriguing matters. Eight years later I decided to touch it up a little. For anyone interested, here is the new version, made up of the following sections.

Part I - Define your terms properly
Part II - Lenses of Determination
Part III - The First and Third Person Self
Part IV - Determinism unpacked
Part V -- What would it be like to know the whole universe?

Read the full paper here.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

This Is My New Favourite Teenager

I've just found a contender for my new favourite teenager. And no, I don’t mean this little madam in the picture above (about whom I’ve been about as critical as I could get away with towards a teenage girl who doesn’t really know much yet) – I mean the teenager called Felix Kirby who wrote this article - Teenage Climate Change Protestors Have No Idea What They’re Protesting - and who gets pretty much everything right about how young climate change activists haven't really got a clue about what the heck they are doing.

Here are three of the article's quotes from the bright young Felix:

1) "Global-warming research is a hugely complex field, and it’s unlikely that any ordinary person—let alone a minor—would have any real grasp of it. Nor would they be able to appreciate the uncertainty that characterizes our understanding of how today’s human activity will affect the future state of the earth’s climate."

2) "As a teenager, I fully understand the mindset of young people. We’re predisposed to leap before we look. This is borne out by neuroscience. Our prefrontal cortices, which regulate (among other things) decision-making, planning, self-awareness and inhibition, do not fully develop until we are in our mid-20s. Until then, we have difficulty analyzing the long-term consequences of our actions. The upshot is that many young people tend toward reckless behaviour. "

3) "Given the inconclusive state of contemporary climate science, we can’t be sure; and, until we absolutely do know the truth, we should hold off on drastic action. Encouraging mobs of young people to join the climate-protest movement only adds a spirit of social panic to an issue that already is extremely tangled."

You should read Felix's whole article - he's precocious and showing lots of promise in a world awash with reactionary, overly-simplistic thinking Greta Thunbergs. It's unsurprising that young climate change activists don't know what they're talking about - the older climate change activists don't know what they're talking about either, and the nonsense is just being passed down. Older green activists (like Rupert Read, George Monbiot and Caroline Lucas) are regularly giving talks and writing articles explaining how we are letting down our youth and leaving them a calamitous future worthy of grave foreboding. Here is what I would say to any young person who happened to be listening.

Dear Young Person,

Contrary to the scaremongering you’re likely to see about future climate damage, and the crippled world you’re going to inherit – I want to tell you how I really think it is. You are so privileged to be alive in a UK like the one you’re in today. You are reading this in one of the top dozen countries that has ever existed, and by virtue of living here, you are among the top 0.01% of the richest people who has ever lived on this planet. It is only because of your extraordinary riches and prodigious standard of living that your life is luxurious enough to consider things like climate change and future generations.

Most humans who have ever lived had no such luxury – they spent most of their time with hardly enough to eat, with debilitating, vomit-inducing diseases, infant mortality, with almost no technology, and almost no comfortable leisure time. Even basic things like electricity, gas, running water, regular food and drink, relative safety, rule of law, property rights and central heating would have been unimaginable to them. You are so blessed to have the luxury to ponder climate change – you can do so only because your recent forebears worked so hard, and shared so many ideas, that you’ve been liberated from most of the harshest, devastating scenarios that plagued our pre-industrial progenitors.

The main reason climate change seems so terrible is because, relative to its problems, so much of the world is so well off, and so many people are so prosperous, that we can hardly believe how rich we are. Living in the UK, you have stable floors, walls and a roof, carpets, heating, running water, a shower, a toilet, a garden, a car, legal rights, food in the cupboard, and almost none of the fungi, bacteria, insects, and rodents that would have once infested your home. Just having access to clean water and a toilet protects you from the numerous sanitary problems that would have been lethal just a short time ago.

In your kitchen you have white goods that enable you to store, refrigerate and freeze food, cook with ease, wash your clothes and dishes. In your bathroom you have the means of keeping clean, and sanitary goods, cleaning products, detergents, and medicines that protect you against things that would have once killed you. Every day you go out with clean clothes, clean teeth, and a relatively clean bill of health. And furthermore, most of the things that do contribute to climate change are the things that have conferred such mass benefits on our species – homes, schools, hospitals, shops, factories, churches, care homes, universities, industrial activity, entertainment industries, leisure, travel, social interaction, cars, trains, planes, boats and digital technology - that it would have been impossible to have progressed to the degree we have without them.

You are being told that all those benefits have contributed to global warming – and that is true – but you are not being asked to think enough about the immense benefits that the concomitant economic growth and technological innovation have brought to bear on our increased standards of living, on human relationships, on increased human knowledge and understanding, on higher life expectancy and lower infant mortality, on lifting people out of poverty, on improving the GDP of developing countries, on healing the sick, and on reducing suffering and misery – you are being told none of this because they are trying to avert your attention from a much bigger and more informative picture that doesn't fit in with their biased, ideological agenda.

Think of it this way: no one sane would look at our industrial history in the past 100 years and assume that the mass lifting people out of poverty, the economic growth, the enhanced technological innovation, the higher life expectancy, and the increased standards of living amounts to an argument that the governments need to ‘do’ something to stop these activities. Therefore no one sane should look at the costs of our industrial activity and assume that the governments need to ‘do’ something. The reason should be obvious: if the government ‘does’ something to help with the latter, it needs to do so without bringing about negative unintended consequence against the former – and that is not going to happen. Not only will the government action certainly impede our economic progress, it will also certainly misallocate resources, provoke numerous opportunity costs and ‘unseen’ lost opportunities, and make decisions blindly that future history will show to have been gross misunderstandings of reality.

To add weight to this, the Heritage Foundation have confirmed that there is a positive relationship between a country's economic freedom and its environmental performance. Fifteen years of rigorous data analysis confirms that the more economic freedom, the greener the country. Economic freedom is good not only for increased prosperity and higher standards of living - it is good for environmental improvement too. The trade-off isn't between market growth and environmental protection, it is between government suppression of freedom and environmental protection. The freer the county, the more economically innovative it is, the more ideas there are exchanged, and the more chance there is to make energy cleaner and more efficient.

Ranking the countries from freest to least free (in quartiles):

Then with this scatter plot we find that for every one point increase in the Index of Economic Freedom, there is a 0.96 point increase in the Environmental Performance Index:
One factor that could mislead the above correlation would be if the countries scoring highest on the Index of Economic Freedom are “exporting” their polluting industries to poorer countries, thereby artificially increasing their score on the Environmental Performance Index. But some further research shows me that that isn't the case either:
Looking at human history in the past 100 years, it ought to be obvious that the benefits of our industrial industry so overwhelmingly outweigh the costs that have come alongside them - the only thing not yet established is by how much? 99.9% benefits for every 0.1% costs; 99% benefits for every 1% costs? I'm not sure - the analysis is really complex with lots of unknowns ,but I'll bet it's something like that, because you have to factor into the equation how much our trade and innovation engenders the routes to solutions that solve problems. But once you undertake as comprehensive an analysis as you can muster - you'd have to be pretty blinkered to fail to see the orders of magnitude by which the benefits of our industrial progress and economic growth far outweigh the costs the living things on the planet have incurred alongside it.
Yours Fraternally,
James Knight (The Philosophical Muser).


Monday, 5 August 2019

Cover Versions That Are Better Than The Originals

Although it’s all subjective opinion (or is it?), most cover versions aren’t a patch on the originals (and that’s even truer when it comes to movie remakes) – but occasionally a cover version bucks the trend and either slightly improves on the original, or in some cases blows it out of the water. There aren’t many, but here is my list of cover versions about which I think that applies – divided into four categories:

Category 1 - The original is ok, but the cover version is better
Soft Cell, "Tainted Love" (Gloria Jones)
Urge Overkill, “Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon” (Neil Diamond)

Category 2 – The original is good, but the cover version is even better
Aretha Franklin, "Respect" (Otis Redding)
Mark Ronson ft. Amy Winehouse, "Valerie" (The Zutons)
Matthew’s Southern Comfort, “Woodstock” (Joni Mitchell)
Yo La Tengo, “You Can Have It All” (George McRae)
Eva Cassidy, “Over The Rainbow” (Judy Garland)

Category 3 - The original is ok, but the cover version completely blows it out of the water
The Beatles, ‘Twist and Shout’ (The Isley Brothers)
The Animals, ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’ (Traditional)
Sinead O'Connor, "Nothing Compares 2 U" (Prince)
Led Zeppelin, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” – (Joan Baez)
Led Zeppelin, “Dazed and Confused” (Jake Holmes)

Category 4 – The original is great, but the cover version completely blows it out of the water
Jimi Hendrix, "All Along the Watchtower" (Bob Dylan)
The Stranglers, “Walk On By” (Dionne Warwick)
Jeff Buckley, "Hallelujah" (Leonard Cohen)

Now my top 5
1) The Stranglers, “Walk On By”
2) Jimi Hendrix, "All Along the Watchtower"
3) Led Zeppelin, “Dazed and Confused”
4) Aretha Franklin, "Respect"
5) Jeff Buckley, "Hallelujah"

Any further contenders that you’re outraged I’ve precluded, do let me know.