Christopher Alexander

I’m not yet sure how I feel about Christopher Alexander and his ideas about what has been wrong with Architechture over the past 100 years or so. I think as an exercise (more for my own mental stimulation than anything else), I’ll listen again to the programme recently broadcast on ABC Radio National (no Podcast, but I figured out a way to download rather than stream it…) and perhaps summarize and critique his ideas. Of course, there’s always the chance I won’t finish doing that…

Cruel Intentions of a Philosopher and a Feminist

Reading Maria Tumarkin’s review of Hazel Rowley’s book Tète-â-tète, a ‘biography’ of Philosopher Jean Paul Sartre and Feminist Simone de Beauvoir’s relationship, kept reminding me, on some level, of the relationship between the two step-sibling protagonists in the 1999 film Cruel Intentions. Fascinated more by the power inherent in a sexual relationship than the act itself - apparently Sartre wasn’t that into sex - both couples were often competing for the affections of an often younger, more vulnerable female. The key thing that twigged me to this similarity was the fact that Sartre apparently couldn’t wait to finish the job, and get in touch with de Beauvoir and let her know he’d achieved a successful seduction, and de Beauvoir, in the relationships she initiated with other women saw her taking a much more aggressive rôle. Similar here to the extremely erotic “practice” kiss Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) helped the much younger target Cecile (Selma Blair) “learn”. The ending wasn’t quite the same - Sartre and de Beauvoir seemed more than happy to continue their work indefinitely, wheras Sebastian (Ryan Phillipe) fall for one of his victims, Annette (Reese Witherspoon), and ultimately died as a good person, who had finally, genuinely felt true love. However, the feel of the relationship between them is similar - Sartre and de Beauvoir apparently stopped “sleeping together”, and their relationship was based purely on sharing partners, wheras Kathryn and Sebastian never slept together, and had a lot of sexual tension between them that was never consumated. Similar, but different.

One Man, One Vote?

The Conservative Philosopher: One Man, One Vote I don’t normally read conservative websites, but I cam across this one as part of some fault-finding I was doing for another Blogsome user.

Suppose you have two people, A and B. A is intelligent, well-informed, and serious. He does his level best to form correct opinions about the issues of the day. He is an independent thinker, and his thinking is based in broad experience of life. B, however, makes no attempt to become informed, or to think for himself. He votes as his union boss tells him to vote. Why should B’s vote have the same weight as A’s?

I think it’s interesting the term “He votes as his union boss tells him to vote.” It shows the clear bias in this piece: that uneducated people are unionists (and implies vice-versa). Would the article read differently if it read: “He votes as the radio shock-jocks tell him to vote.”

It is self-evident that B’s vote should not count as much as A’s.

No, it is not self-evident. It is self evident that you believe that less educated people are lesser human beings. I am all for education: I am a teacher, and believe that education is the key to most of societies ills, but disenfranchising people who are less advantaged than you is not the way to democracy. With ‘lesser people’ not being able to vote, the balance of political power stays firmly in the hands of those who are already advantaged, and will never leave. Why should they vote for someone who wants to educate the poor? It will cost them more than it costs the poor, and it’s all money they wouldn’t otherwise have to pay, since they are sending their children to a private school already. Ideas like this entrench inherited poverty. I used to teach at a less advantaged school, and taught many students from lower Socio-Economic Backgrounds who showed more intelligence than their ‘richer’ counterparts (like those I went to school with, incidentally), and who showed far more moral fibre. Without a reasonable public education system these students would not have had the opportunity to attend university: and most of them are doing far better in their first degree than I did. Now for some straw man:

Comment Policy I (KBJ) have configured the PowerBlogs software so that only those who have (1) registered and (2) been approved (by me) may post comments. Please note that comments do not appear immediately, even by approved users; they must be approved individually. My aim in adopting this policy is to discourage incivility. If you want your comment to appear, it should be civil, coherent, and relevant to the post to which it is attached.

I had a quick read of the site and some comments, and I think the author may only allow comments that (a) support his views on the subject or (b) he already has a rebuttal prepared for, so he can answer straight back.

Good People and God

I found this on a site today. How do you know god loves you? It reminded me of the round of ads that are happening on Adelaide TV at the moment.

I’m not big on religion, but what Jesus said really makes sense.

These are, unsurprisingly, advertisements put out by some Christian organisation or other - the point they seem to be getting across is that “you don’t need to believe in god to be a good person”. Well done Captain Obvious. I like to think I am a ‘Good Person’, and I’m fairly sure I’ve never believed in god. In fact, I think I could make a pretty good argument that it’s easier to be a good person and not believe in god. That whole thing about having to have a personal relationship with god to get into heaven always seemed to be a little bit of a cop-out. Do what you want, as long as you commune with jesus, you’ll make it into heaven. And there have been some pretty evil christians in the past. The crusaders, for instance (and I’m not talking about the NTL permit!). The bible says “Thou shalt not kill”, to which the crusaders interpreted “thou shalt not kill other christians”. Throughout history various groups have judged other groups ‘less than human’, and the apparent respect for slavery amongst many christian sects shows they are not immune. The south of the US, for instance, probably the most fundamental christian area in the world, would probably still be happy to keep slaves, if the meddling north hadn’t interfered. And, the thing that Jaq brought up was that “What jesus said wasn’t new.” Surely other leaders of people, religious or otherwise, had preached tolerance prior to 2000-odd years ago. Come to think of it, much of what christians preach nowadays, or rather how they act, does not reflect what jesus said. And before I get any flaming comments - I have nothing personal against christians, moslems, buddhists or otherwise. I like to judge people by their actions, and their words. I know lots of people who I respect regardless of their faith or otherwise. Because, generally, they are Good People. And that is what I value.

Utopian Ideals

I have a little joke I make when people ask me how work is. It goes a little like this:

Other Person: How is work going?

Me: Okay, I suppose. I mean, it’s not like work is supposed to be fun or anything. That’s why it’s called ‘Work’, and not ‘Fun’. Can you imagine what the world would be like? “Well, I’m off to Fun now, I want to pop in there and have a little fun for a couple of hours”.

[Other Person walks away…]

Me: Hey, where are you going. Come back…

However, I don’t really believe this. I want to be in a situation where I can do something I love as the main [source of income thing I do each day]. I read an article which used to be at about this. I guess I don’t necessarily want to be a ‘professional blogger’, although it seems like it might be a fun job. I’d just like to be doing something I like, for the significant portion of my time. I already have a job where I do have a fair amount of time to ‘do my own thing’. If necessary (and meetings permit), I can leave work well before 3:30pm, and I get a fair chunk more holidays each year than the average worker. I don’t think I’d like to give up those aspects of the teacher lifestyle. But there are things about my job that I don’t really like. I’m not going to be too specific, but I forsee myself in the not to distant future not working full time as a teacher. Whilst some people don’t like the idea, and the ‘randomness’ of being a relief teacher (Supply Teacher in the UK, Substitute in the US), I think it sounds better than the alternative.

Not having to do a heap of marking and preparation.

Not having to attend staff meetings.

Not having to attend Parent-Teacher interviews.

Not having an income during holidays.

Okay, at the moment that last one is a bit of a kicker. My aim is to have some other sources of income, something that allows me to work ‘from home’, whether it’s building renovation and maintenance, coding or otherwise. I sometimes feel that my generation is the first one to decide that we don’t have to spend our whole lives working, to support our lifestyles. Our whole lives should be our lifestyles. Life is short. Enjoy every day.

Piracy as theft?

You wouldn’t steal someone’s car, so don’t steal Music/Movies.

I heard an interesting thought on the similarities between piracy of copyright material and theft.

No, I wouldn’t steal some guy’s Ferrari if it were left on the street, but if I were able to make an exact duplicate, without doing any damage to it, then I would. And what’s more, I was never going to buy a Ferrari in the first place. They haven’t lost a sale from me…

Thoughts on the Probability of Existence

This was written in response to a Year 12 Philosophy essay, title “The Probability of Existence”, early in 2004. I’m posting it here, as I thought I’d already sone so, but was unable to find it. There seems to me to be little doubt that, in some sense, we exist. Since, as Descartes suggested, the fact we can think, we must exist. Cogito ergo sum. But what of the idea of our type of existence? Is our perception of our environment real? Is our environment real? On first appearance, as Chas suggests, we observe reality, and there must be truth to it. Or, on closer examination, there must be some kind of existence. According to logic, something must either have a quality, or not have a quality. This seems reasonable, but in fact such a simple proposition can lead to a paradox. Before we examine the paradox, let us first examine the idea that something must either be or not be. The nature of our universe is universally (sorry, bad pun) accepted now to be that of the system proposed by Quantum Mechanics, and leads to some interesting ideas about, among other things, the reality of as-yet unobserved events. Take the idea of Schrodinger’s cat, and its superposition between life and death. Until we open the box, and the wave function of the cat collapses, it is neither alive nor dead, nor some percentage of both, but both alive and dead at the same time. In fact, we can take this a step further, and place some other monitoring device, connected to a computer, that opens the box after the designated time, and stores the result for us to refer to. But, in essence, this does not collapse the wave function until a human (or otherwise conscious individual) examines the results. In fact, I could argue that until I know, the state is still unsure. That is, even if you know, since I don’t, the superposition is still there until I know. Alternatively, until you know, even though I know, as far as you are concerned the cat is neither alive nor dead until I tell you. So, this idea raises some serious questions as to the validity of the statement that something is either true or not true. But let us put that aside, and examine it in purely logical, classical, real life (or maybe even mathematical) terms. The mathematical idea of sets allows us to organise things, and we can use membership of a set to classify objects. A set might consist of all of the integers, or all of the red apples, or something else, even other sets. Obviously, sets can have an infinite number of members, or no members (the empty set, called Ø). It is possible to build up all of arithmetic using only the theory of sets and the empty set. So, items can be classified as either belonging to a particular set, or not belonging to it. Sets can also belong to themselves. But what of the set of sets that belong to themselves? Does this set belong to itself, or not? Easy, of course it does. But that set of sets that don’t belong to themselves is a different matter. If this set belongs to itself, then it cannot, but if it doesn’t, then it must. Put this way, it may be difficult to understand. But let’s put it in a more human context. Take the Barber of Seville. Men living in Seville can be classified as belonging to one of two sets: either they shave themselves, or they are shaved by the Barber of Seville. But what of the Barber himself? Does he shave himself, or is he shaved by the Barber…wait a minute?! This paradox appears in a variety of other contexts (the above assumes that, amongst other things, every man in Seville shaves, and there is only one barber, but it proves a point). One of these is the idea of library catalogs, and books of library catalogs. Catalogs can either be in themselves or not, and a book could list all of the library catalogs that are listed in themselves. What of the catalog of catalogs that are not in themselves? In fact, this paradox invariably appears when dealing with sets that may contain themselves as members, and this caused much grief to Frege, the mathematician and philosopher who attempted to create all of mathematics from the ground up, and remove any doubt. This paradox is a precursor to Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which shook the foundations of mathematics to it’s core. Basically, it says that no sufficiently complex (enough to be useful) mathematical system can be complete - there will always be undecidable statements - this, however, is beyond the scope of this paper to explain. In fact, the whole idea is not usually breached until late in a mathematics degree. As an aside: what is the opposite of nothing? Something? Everything? The number zero, and it’s close friend, infinity, have enabled great leaps in mathematics, but also can create paradoxes of their own. It is possible, by throwing a division by a number that really is zero, but doesn’t look like it yet, to equate 1 and 2, or any other pair of numbers. Of course, mathematicians are taught that division by 0 is not allowed, even though a satisfactory result may be ∞). But back onto the idea of an external world, an environment, if you will. Since our brains apparently cannot exist in isolation, there must be something ‘out there’. But is it anything like we observe it to be? The film ‘The Matrix’ contained the idea that we were ‘energy sources’, bred and nursed by robots to create an energy source, and were linked up to a computer system that created an illusory reality, by hacking directly into our nervous system. This may turn out to be a perfectly feasible method of controlling perceptions. Early experiments discovered that physically touching parts of the brain created a feeling of sense, (thus confirming the brain as the seat of the mind), and recent developments have allowed for direct interface, using electrical signals with other parts of the nervous system. Given enough understanding of the brain and body, it should be possible to totally trick the mind/body. This would also require a significant level of computing power, but according to Gordon Moore from Intel, computing power doubles every 18 months - known as Moore’s Law, this has been true since the creation of computers, even when suspected barriers have been approached. Given sufficient computing power, it would be possible to create a simulation of another kind, purely in software. Such simulations, albeit crude, exist already, as games such as Sim City, and the more advanced of it’s ilk. To a Sim living in such a world, the world would appear real. A complex enough simulation may be capable of creating Sims with self awareness, what we call consciousness. Then, a Sim in this environment, may at some stage read a philosophy essay, and write a report…how would it know that the world it existed in was not the real world? Again, once the price of this computing power became low enough, it would be possible (probable?) to have a multitude of these simulations running, concurrently. Theoretically, one or more of these simulations could develop within it a computing technology that is capable of creating simulations of universes, nesting universes inside of one another. But, we are just one universe. Once a universe has created a simulation (or many), the odds of us being in the ‘real’ world reduce - if there is one real world, and one simulation, it’s 50-50, but it goes down pretty quickly. There’s little to suggest that the simulations would be malevolent like the robots from the Matrix - rather, if we were to create simulations we would study them, and use them to improve ideas such as evolution - thought we might have written the rules to begin with. Might the fact we live in a simulation have some side effects? If we discovered the limits of our simulation, things might be added on. Or, we might see the limits, as a ‘graininess’, apparent in quantum physics, of the limits of measurement of time/space calculated by Planck. Or, as we approach the limits, we might come across automatic controls that destroy the universe if we threaten to reach the edge (and discover that it’s all unreal, like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show). This idea was treated previously in a science fiction story, possibly by Asimov, where the concept was likened to a ring of penicillin around bacteria growing in a petri dish - those bacteria that reached the penicillin died.

Aristotle & Science.

I’d never really come across classical philosophy until partway through my Education degree. We did a philosophy of education subject, and around the same time I happened across Stephen Jay Gould’s books. And I realised how some historical figures - most notably Freud & Aristotle have shaped our ideas of the world. And in some cases held back the progress of science by decades, or even centuries. The most obvious examples are the elements, and the planets. Aristotle pushed for the acceptance of the 4 Elements theory - Earth / Air / Fire / Water, and it took centuries for more reasonable theories to take over. Four of anything is usually pretty neat - especially if you can pair them up on axes at right angles to one another and have a continuum. And having four elements means you can associate them with your four humours. Now there’s a classical mistake that cost countless lives! The furore over planetary gravitation is another cause of concern. The most worrying thing is that there were Classical Greek scholars who decided that the Earth orbited the Sun. But not Aristotle. Think of where we might be now if we’d figured this one out 2000 years ago. Freud and his fixation on sex held back psychology decades. And his work was all based on half a dozen patients. Nothing like a small (non-random) sample size to skew results. I think I could formulate a coherent theory of mental illness related to facial hair with a dozen or less carefully chosen subjects. And now I read (and realize) we have more than 5 senses. And the whole sight-sound-touch-taste-smell gimmick is down to the big A. I mean, it’s obvious to anyone who’s had a cold that taste and smell aren’t independant. And you can ‘feel’ when you are in a changing gravitational field, like an accellerating elevator. And there are others I hadn’t even thought of. We sense when we are hungry, or need to urinate. We know where our limbs are. NewScientist had an article naming 21. But my favourite is the Circadian Rhythm. Knowing when to get up. I think mine is broken.