Thursday, February 28, 2013

The New Normal

           You know the New Normal? All those police-state indignities and assaults on liberty for bogus and corrupt reasons, in the wake of the conspiracy-fueled terrorist incident and the subsequent wars and debt? The preceding sentence sounds like an absurd rant, but it is neither more nor less than a succinct objective description of present politics!

           What enrages me about the New Normal is not its newness - actually I kind of dig the slick modernizing of our oppression - but its damnable normality! The accursed stuck-on-stupid factor! We’re all expected to believe the BS!

           Actually, “new normal” is a contradiction in terms, like “fresh stale” or “original plagiarism” or “live dead” or “honest lie” or “genuine fake”.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Evidentialism and Why Ghosts Can’t Testify

           Evidentialism and Why Ghosts Can’t Testify

           I think there is a basic misunderstanding as to the philosophical intent of materialism. It is usually understood to mean that reality is made of stuff called “matter”, which is made of quantum particle fields, governed by general relativity and quantum mechanics. The equations are difficult and counterintuitive; quarks, leptons and bosons solve them in real time; yet they are regarded as somehow stupid. “Dumb” matter, “mindless” matter, though we are made of matter, and we say that we have minds.

           In addition to anthropocentric arrogance, I also see a grammatical error at work here. I think a proper understanding of materialism treats the word “matter” as a verb, not a noun. “To” matter, not “the” matter; materialism is about what matters; that is, what makes a significant difference.

           This shift, from objects (“the” matter) to thoughts (“to” matter), turns a question about existence into a question about universality. This is a sound move, philosophically, because existence is relative, transient and local, whereas universality is absolute, eternal and global.

           What does matter? Anything significant; whatever has firm evidence in its favor. Hence materialism ought to be renamed ‘evidentialism’, which accepts as real only that for which there is evidence. Materialism = evidentialism = the call for proof of one’s statements.

           The only reason why we talk about quarks, leptons, bosons, etc., is that particle accelerators give evidence of their existence. Matter as understood by 21st-century physics is radically different from matter as understood by the 19th century; but the philosophical demand for evidence remains the same.

           Evidentialism is simply the demand to not bullshit. It’s the philosopher’s usual unreasonable challenge: “prove it!”

           Ask any religion about any other religion. It will say that the other religion’s gods are immaterial in that they are false and absurd, and hence do not really matter.

           So riddle me this: why can’t ghosts testify in court? Answer; because they are not material witnesses. By which the lawyers don’t mean that the spook is made of ectoplasm rather than quantum particle fields; they mean that the spook’s wailings and gibberings make no sense and therefore are of no use to judge or jury. The ghost’s testimony is immaterial because it doesn’t matter.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

epimenidean relativity

When I was under thirty, I said that you should never trust anyone over thirty; and I was right. Now that I am over thirty, I say that you should never trust anyone under thirty; and I am still right.

Monday, February 25, 2013

On Diax’s Rake

On Diax’s Rake

Awhiles back I read “Anathem” by Neal Stephenson. An interesting story. It starts exotic and fascinating, ends rather conventionally. The aliens from parallel worlds arrive in their bomb-powered Orion ship; the powers that be call forth Arde’s best mathematicians and physicists, who on that world happen to be “mathic avouts”; i.e. ascetic atheist monks. It’s the mathics and their history that fascinate.
Part of their credo is “Diax’s Rake”, a philosophical principle. Stephenson defines it thus:
Diax’s Rake. A pithy phrase, uttered by Diax on the steps of the Temple of Orithena when he was driving out the fortune-tellers with a gardener’s rake. Its general import is that one should never believe a thing only because one wishes that it were true. After this event, most Physiologers accepted the Rake and,  in Diax’s terminology, thus became Theors. The remainder became known as Enthusiasts.
I love this story. The gardener’s rake is a wonderfully earthy touch. Diax comes across as a combination of Jesus, Diogenes and Euclid; but by Diax’s Rake itself, I cannot regard him as anything other than a fiction, despite Stephenson’s talk of parallel worlds. So Diax’s Rake argues against the existence of Diax. Nonetheless it remains a valid principle.
So an intellectually ascetic principle, warning against pleasant fictions, remains valid, even when dramatized by a pleasant fiction!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Contra Leary

Contra Leary

Timothy Leary famously advised: “Turn on, tune in, drop out!” But in the end the advice we Boomers followed was much more worldly; namely, “Move on, fit in, sell out!”