Poems in the Style of the Chinese

A. C. Graham in Poems of the Late T’ang explains how Chinese is a mass-term language (see “The World as Process”, at http://www.AdvancedReaoningForum.org —> research —> work in progress).  He gives some word-for-word literal translations as examples of how Chinese works without tenses and particles.  For example, on p. 18 he gives:

  Dog        bark        water        sound        middle

  A dog barks amid the sound of water.

Those examples are difficult for us because we don’t know the allusions or the way of life the poems are meant to reflect.  At the risk of being ridiculous, I offer here five poems in that style to give an idea how using a mass-process language can convey a great deal and in the hope, probably quite forlorn, that these will help us appreciate Chinese poetry more.

DOG  BARK  MIDDLE  NIGHT

COCK  VILLAGE DAWN

SLEEP  ABSENT  SLEEP  ABSENT

WOOF  CREE-CREE

 

LEAF  WATER  FLOAT

FISH GULP

OOPS

 

SUN  HOT  SHINE  HOT  SWEAT

TREE  BRANCH  SPIKE  SHADE-NO

SHE  VOICE  WATER  ROCK  RIPPLE

DRINK  DEEP

 

DOG  BARK

CAT  RUN

LIFE  GOOD

 

YOUNG BEAUTIFUL

OLD UGLY

NO FIT

A New Turing Test

 Alan Turing in 1950 proposed a test to answer the question “Can a machine think?” Roughly: There is one person who is the tester. In separate rooms there is another person and a machine. The only links are between the tester and the other person and between the tester and the machine, and those links are via typed responses only. The tester puts questions to the other person and the machine, not knowing which is which. If in 5 minutes the tester cannot determine which is the machine, then, it’s claimed, the machine can think.

Turing’s test has been analyzed and criticized by many. But no one seems to have noticed that it can be used to test for the capacity of other subjects to think.

I have serious doubts about whether women think—they are so different! So I propose a test to answer the question “Can a woman think?” We’ll have a man who is the tester, and in separate rooms another man and a woman. The only connections are between the other man and the tester, and between the woman and the tester, both via typed answers only. The tester puts questions to the other man and to the woman, not knowing which is which. If in 5 minutes the tester cannot determine which is the woman, then we can claim that the woman thinks.

Similar tests can be done to answer the questions: “Can black people think?” “Can Native Americans think?” “Can Hispanics think?” “Can these people in a community near the Amazon in Brazil who speak a very different language think?”

We look for what we want to find, we set up psychological tests or simply evaluate other people or groups according to our standards. Do these people have this cognitive ability? Too often our tests have the answers already embedded in them.

I was motivated to write up this new test, which I first proposed more than 30 years ago, because of two works I recently read that show how important it is to involve a cultural context in evaluating cognition. Michael Cole and Jerome S. Bruner in “Cultural Differences and Inferences about Psychological Processes” (American Psychologist, vol. 26, 1971) show how “data collection” about cognitive abilities among minorities and impoverished people in the U.S. is terribly flawed by both the framing of the questions and the way that the data is collected. And in her excellent Ph.D. thesis “Linguistic and Cultural Conceptualisations of Time in Huni Kui, Awety´, and Kamaiura Communities in Brazil” (University of East Anglia, 2018), Vera da Silva Sinha shows how to avoid imposing our answers on people who live and talk very differently, while discussing the general problem of data collection about cognition.

Peter Adams, reading the interchange on a draft of this, got frustrated and wrote: “Someone define thinking please.” But that’s what Turing thought he could avoid with his test. Placed in the movement of behavioralism at that time, he looked for behavior that could characterize—not define—thinking. Objective data, subjective conclusion. But as Fred Kroon, William S. (Bill) Robinson, and I showed in “Subjective Claims”, you can’t get a subjective conclusion from only objective claims. Some claim linking the objective claims (the “data”) and the subjective conclusion is needed as a premise, and any argument concluding with “This person thinks” will either be weak or beg the question. Still, in “Language-Thought-Meaning” I make an attempt to show, if not define, what I understand thinking to be.

Kris Hardy raised another issue, saying: From the tester’s perspective, he is determining which player is “thinking” or “not thinking”, a binary, exclusive assignment. If the desired result of the test is not to determine “is each player a person or computer (man or woman, etc.) thinking”, but instead we presuppose that both players do think (“capable of replying to a communication”), we can change the question to one, admittedly, more difficult: “How does each player think?” Solving this question is one that I actually do every day in my software development and security research. What I am trying to determine is “what is the internal model that my subject is using in their communications with me?” The comparisons between levels of thinking then turns into a measure of complexity, entropy, predictability, broadness, and other such factors.

Walter Carnielli said that the new test I proposed could be used by the woman to find out whether the tester, a man, thinks. But that’s just silly. We know that a man can think. After all, I do.

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GUILTY?

I live in the countryside. My nearest neighbors are about 100m away. I walk most nights along a dirt road beside an irrigation canal with my dogs Chcolate (a Catahoula) and Bidu (a Great Pyrenees-Anatolian Shepherd). Bidu is big.

Walking home two nights ago, Chocolate was at my side and Bidu was about 10m behind me when I was about 200m from home, near my neighbors’ homes. I didn’t look back again until I got home, and then I saw that Bidu was not with me. He had gone somewhere. I called, but he didn’t show up. It was already dusk, after sunset. Later, when it was nearly dark I went out and he was under the big shade tree, happily eating a big cooked chicken.

Where did he get that? The next evening on my walk I stopped and asked my neighbors, and they said it wasn’t their chicken.

The evidence was eaten. So Bidu can’t go to court! There’s no case against him now. I am the only witness, and I won’t testify. They can throw me in jail, I won’t say anything. A man can’t be forced to testify against his dog, just as he can’t be forced to testify against his wife. The relation is intimate and one of trust. And Bidu can’t be forced to testify against me.

But is Bidu guilty? By the laws of man or by the laws of DOG?

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What’s a Science?

(some ruminations from the work in *How to Reason + Reasoning in the Sciences*)

Some like to say that science is determined by its methods. But that’s not clear enough.

It seems that we have two necessary criteria for a subject to be classified as a science.

• There is a theory or theories.
• From the theories, predictions can be made that can be tested (shown to be true or false).

Are biological classifications science?

“The purpose of taxonomic classification is improved communication. If scientists are in general agreement with respect to the proper “scientific” name of an organism, anyone who reads the name knows which animal the writer means. Consistency precludes confusion. Most important earlier classifications were based on a description of form; that is, animals that looked alike were placed together and the classification was then given a scientific name. This classifying and naming process is what we mean by ‘taxonomy.’ ”
Claud A. Bramblett, Patterns of Primate Behavior, 2nd edition

If there is no theory, only a method of classifying, this doesn’t seem to be science. You can show that someone has classified incorrectly, if the criteria are objective. But you can’t show that the criteria are wrong. They’re only more or less useful for the purposes of communication. If someone finds a specimen that doesn’t fit into the classification system, the system can be expanded.

By these criteria, grammar as taught in secondary schools is also not a science. The rules of grammar are all prescriptive. Science is meant to describe and explain the world. The prescriptions of science are the same as the prescriptions of any study: if you agree with the theories, then you should accept their consequences. So we have another necessary criterion for a subject to be a science.

• The claims that can be deduced from the theory are descriptive.

Is astronomy, like taxonomy, only classification and hence not a science? No. Astronomers aren’t simply tracking the movements of planets and stars and classifying those. They are developing theories they test by making predictions. These are predictions about what happened—at least for stars, since the light astronomers observe has taken years to arrive here. Predictions can be made about the past, too. What about the Big Bang theory? That seems to be just a speculative explanation. But scientists say that predictions can be made with it. They can test it, and so far it seems correct.

There does seem to be a difference between experimental science and historical science. Chemistry is an experimental science. Astronomy is an historical science. With an historical science, theories and explanations can be offered, and predictions can be made from those about what one will find in the historical record. But no experiments can be made, for the past cannot be manipulated. Or perhaps we have different kinds of experiments, for sending a satellite to a comet to discover the composition of the material on it is a kind of experiment to test a theory.

Is evolution an historical science? Not entirely. Scientists have manipulated some species, such as the silver fox in Russia, to show how certain traits evolve.

Is history a science? Historical theories have been propounded, predicting the future development of human society. They’re always wrong. There are too many differences to make the analogies (abstractions) good. You can say that some historians, such as Marx, were trying to be scientists, using the methods of scientists. But if so, they were doing bad science.

What about economics? That’s not just history. Economists propound theories. Some have even been given power to manipulate the economic system of a country or even the whole world for experiments. Their theories are always proved wrong for the same reason that historical theories are wrong: there are too many differences between the past and the present. So if economics is a science, it’s a bad one.

What about the work of ESP researchers and Freudian psychoanalysts? They use the methods of science. But their theories are too vague or too general to be tested. We can never show that a (purported) claim deduced from the theory is false, for anything will confirm those theories.

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Bullying by Medical “Professionals”

At my yearly check-up my family doctor found that I had a high PSA (prostate specific antigen) reading: 133. Anything over 5 is a serious warning of prostate cancer. So she sent me to a urologist to check for cancer, though it took 2.5 months to get an appointment. I wasn’t worried because I have no symptoms. Still, I thought about what I would do if there is cancer. If it’s metastasized, no treatment, certainly not chemotherapy since I’ve seen friends suffer and die from that before the cancer got them. I figured my best treatment plan would be spontaneous remission. I really wasn’t worried, though I did make some plans for what to do with a last year of life: I went out and bought lottery tickets and a bottle of good scotch.

So I go to the urology clinic. They take my vitals and have me fill out some questionnaires. I tell them I have no symptoms at all. Then the physician’s assistant says that she is scheduling a biopsy for me. She’s marking that down on the chart. Then I ask: what’s a biopsy? They go through your lower bowel, puncturing it and taking samples from your prostate. And what are the risks? She tells me, and they are substantial, possibly life-altering. So I say, no biopsy thanks. And she says “Knowledge is power!” And I think “Ignorance is bliss.” I ask her for more information, and it’s clear she is reciting from a memorized script, ready to move on to the next patient. I object and want to talk to the physician. That will take 6 weeks I’m told. I object more and finally I talk to the clinic supervisor, who is a nurse with lots of clinical experience in urology. She goes over options, and I agree to have scans done that will tell us if there is cancer, though not if it’s slow-growing or fast-growing. Only a biopsy will do that. So I get two scans at the hospital the next week. And I also ask my family doctor to do another PSA test.

When the results are in, I see my family doctor. She is wonderful, so clear and helpful, working with me about what to do. The results: no sign of cancer at all. If there is any cancer it must be miniscule, and with no symptoms don’t worry about it for another year. The PSA test came back at 133 again, and that is really strange, but apparently it can happen.

So I call the supervisor of the clinic and tell her that the results show no cancer. And she says we should do a biopsy. I said no, just cancel my follow-up appointment.

Can you say “Overtreatment”? The cure and testing are worse than the (possible) disease.

So why am I telling you folks about this? It’s not (just) because I am a garrulous old man who wants to tell everyone about his health. I really don’t want to share my medical history. But it is such a perfect example of how people get bullied by medical “professionals”. If I’d just gone along, I wouldn’t have made a bad decision. I wouldn’t have made any decision at all. The physician’s assistant and the supervisor would have made the decisions for me. No talk even of risk versus benefit. And that’s why I’ve written the new book *How to Reason*. It’s a small book, based on the old *Pocket Guide to Critical Thinking*, but better (I used my experience teaching in the local jail). It’s meant to lead to the final section “Making Decisions”, which has a chapter on evaluating risk that includes a part on medical decisions.

We, all of us, need to know how to stop and reason, how to think in order to make decisions. And crucial to that is learning how to evaluate risk. Your life is your own. Don’t give it away to a medical “professional”.

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TIME and FREE WILL

“The Tapestry of Time” from the 2018 draft of *Time and Space in Formal Logic*

Let us suppose:

Some of what we do we choose freely to do.

Consider, then, the following picture. At every moment at which a free choice is made, the world branches. So there is a split at the moment at which I chose to sit down to type: in one branch I sit down to type, in another I do not. But that branching is not just a single splitting. Rather, there is a different path according to any of the choices I might have made: go for a walk, play with my dogs, go inspect the sheep corral, stick my head under a faucet to ease my allergies, . . . .

Similarly, the world branches depending on whether this electron moves to this or that energy level in this atom, if such movements are random. Particular random happenings and particular free choices in any combination lead each to a different branch.

At each “moment” there is a multiplicity of branchings, beyond our ability to comprehend except one branch in comparison to another specific branch.  These branchings continue on. What we call “a branch” is just a particular path through all such moments at which a free choice and /or random happening occurs. We do not have any reason to believe that any branch ever stops; nor do we have any reason to think that any branch does not stop. Nor do we have any reason to believe that each point on each branch has a unique path to it: there might have been many ways to arrive at the same point. If we count memory as part of our path, though, then a conscious free choice creates a branching that cannot be reached by any other branch. But a random act of an electron could lead to a point that could be reached by other random physical happenings. This is a way in which the internal world could differ from the external world.

Laws of nature, if there be any, give the substratum of all these branchings. When I choose to sit down and type, I do not have any choice in how the chemical reactions in my blood continue. Given this particular disintegration of the radon atom, the Geiger counter will make a sound.
Each branch is real, as real as any other. These are not “alternate worlds”, “alternate possibilities” compared to the world I am in. They are all real, equally real. At a branching, the “I” up to that point continues in a multiplicity of branches, and in each one it is reasonable to say it is the same “I”, for they all come from the same branching. Thus, the “I” of this branch is the same “I” as the one in which I chose to go for a walk instead of typing because they can be traced back to that moment at which the “I”s branched apart due to a free choice. If we had the ability to see all these branches, we could say, “That is one way I might have been had I done that instead of this.”

The world, then, is a tapestry of branchings so multitudinous as to be beyond comprehension in their details: only the general form is conceivable to us. The tapestry is not flowing; there is no movement in the tapestry, only threads that make up the whole. What we call “time” is a branch: the tapestry is oriented, and that orientation is what we call the arrow from the past to the future. What we call “now” is the consciousness we have of being right here on this branch. Every point on every branch is as real as any other: the unreality of the past and of the future, for me, is that they are not at the point that I call “now” on this branch where I am.

We, each of us, choose which branch we follow, though equally, another person, exactly the same “I” up to a particular branching point, chooses a different branch, and then a different branch, and a different branch again forever. There are some branchings in which the “I” of when I was nineteen chose to be mean to her, and one branch, followed through all its multiple branchings, in which “I” from nineteen on lived a blameless life, good to the point of being saintly.

In this conception, free will is fully compatible with the assumption that there is an omniscient God who knows the future as well as the past. God would be the only intelligence that could comprehend all branches at once. He can see the point on the branch of Jesus’ life at which Judas betrayed him and see a branching where Judas did not betray Jesus: in all the branchings that followed the one choice, Judas is damned; in all the branchings that followed the other choice, Judas is saved. Or perhaps not: in some of those branchings he may have repented and been saved; in some of those branchings he could have betrayed Jesus also. Only God knows.

Now all we need is some empirical evidence to support this view.

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A Question in Metaphysics and a Question in Ethics

Someone was visiting me, we were the only ones at Dogshine. The radio was playing music when we went for a walk. When we got back the radio was playing music. I asked my friend, “Do you think the radio was playing music all the time we were away.” She said, “Yes.” So I responded, “In that case, where did the music go?”

If a dog barks his head off in the forest for a long time, and there’s no human around, is he still a bad dog?

Arf (aka Richard L. Epstein)

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It’s So Easy to Count

Even small children do it. So what does it mean to say that some collection is countable? Here is what I recently published in Think.

Recently I had a short conversation that helped bring into focus different views of the nature of mathematics. My student Esperanza Buitrago-Díaz and I went to the airport to pick up Henrique Antunes Almeida for his first visit to my research institute, the Advanced Reasoning Forum. On the way home I mentioned that we have sheep there.

Henrique: How many sheep do you have?

Me: I don’t know. Every time I try to count them I fall
asleep. . . . They’re uncountable.

Esperanza: That’s ridiculous. That’s not uncountable.
I can count them.

I was taking “countable” to mean: can be counted by me. That’s a completely subjective, personal standard. So my sheep are uncountable.

Perhaps, though, countable should mean: can be counted by almost anyone. That’s an intersubjective standard. It would seem that by that standard my sheep are countable. But I’m not sure, since my friend’s six-year old can’t count them. We’d have to give some clearer description of what we mean by “almost anyone” for this to be a useful definition. And then we’d have to add that they (almost always) get the same number.

Such an intersubjective standard would make the number of stars visible in the night sky at my ranch January 6, 2014, uncountable. Yet we feel that those are countable. But by what standard? You might say that it’s because there aren’t an infinite number of them, to which I’d respond: How do you know? If you can’t count them, then there might be an infinite number of them: there’s no functional difference. Perhaps you could invoke some analysis in physics to show that there couldn’t be an infinite number of them. Would that make it clear that they are countable?

It seems that a different standard is being invoked: can in theory be counted. That “in theory” is the refuge of someone who wants to keep the notion of countability close to what we can do, but without our poor human limitations. It must mean something like: a person who had unlimited time and attention and memory could count them. That’s a
considerable abstraction from our own capacities, yet still grounded in abstracting from those. This is the kind of definition Turing proposed and we now accept for the notion of computability.

Or we could say that our capacities are of no concern in defining what “countable” means—not what we mean but what it does mean, the reality of it. And that is simply: there is a one-to-one, onto function from either an initial segment of the natural numbers or from the entire set of natural numbers to that collection. This gives a definition that is clear. It assumes, however, some kind of abstract, impersonal notion of natural number and counting.

Sometimes that fully abstract definition is made a little closer to human abilities: there is a constructive one-to one, onto function from either an initial segment of the natural numbers or from the entire set of natural numbers. That however, requires a supplementation to the notion of computability to cover functions to or from collections other than numbers.

Only two definitions of “countable” are clear, entirely precise, and require no supplementation: the fully subjective and the fully abstract. The former is clear but does not lead to a shareable standard. The latter is clear but removes the notion from our lives, except to the extent that we can actually construct an enumerating function.
These different standards reflect different conceptions about how we do or should do mathematics, conceptions which have been adopted by both mathematicians and philosophers, though I shall not try to enumerate those here.

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The PROBLEM of EVIL and the MEANING of LIFE

A short review

How can there be a benevolent God when the wicked prosper and the just suffer?
What is the meaning of life?


Here are short summaries of how some have answered these questions.

ECCLESIASTES
I’m going to die!
You’re going to die!
We’re all going to die!
Whine, whine, whine.
So I better fear God.

BHAGAVAD GITA
This guy is ready to battle his cousins and teachers to gert a crown or to die.
He doesn’t want to kill them–he realizes it would be wrong.
The god Krishna says it’s O.K. to kill them because it’s part of his bigger plan, and don’t worry, they’ll all be reborn anyway.
So the guy says O.K. and kills them.

The RUBAIYAT
We’re all going to die!
So let’s get drunk.

JOB
Job: It isn’t fair, the wicked prosper and the just suffer.
God: Who are you to complain?
CRASH! Fear me.
Job: OMG! O.K.

DOCTOR FAUSTUS
Power! Riches! Lust!
Enjoy it for a long time.
Then you’ll go to hell.

SERMON on the MOUNT
Be kind.
Be generous.
Do no violence.
Love God.
And if you do, your suffering will be redeemed in heaven.
And if you don’t, you’ll go to hell.

An Analysis:
If you are wicked, then you will suffer.
You are suffering now. Therefore you are wicked.
Bad reasoning (affirming the consequent).
Need: Only the wicked suffer.
Only the good prosper.
[The mediocre just get by?]
This goes against our experience.
So 1. The wicked really do suffer–they just don’t realize it.
or 2. You’re looking at it too short term. The wicked will suffer in the afterlife, and the good will be happy in the afterlife.
So against our experience, either we should be satisfied because “suffering” doesn’t really mean what you thought, it includes unconscious suffering, and/or believe in an afterlife that redeems justice.

The BARK of DOG
Be kind.
Be generous.
Count not the giving and taking but give unconditionally.
Harm no human.
Harm no dog.
Put from thee all thought of power save the power of a loving heart.
All sentient beings have the chance to learn to love.
But there is no deep love without suffering.
There is no heaven above the earth: heaven is here, giving and sharing.
There is no hell beneath the earth: hell is here, knowing you could have helped but didn’t.

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