10 philosophical concepts relevant today

Something I wrote up on Quora.


The Drifting Argument from Design

Imagine the following 3 beaches.

  1. A beach on which there are a billion stacks of clams, all stacked 4-high.
  2. A beach on which there are only 4 clams, stacked 4-high.
  3. A beach on which there are 4 clams stacked 4-high, plus a billion other unstacked clams.

Which beach has an intelligence likely visited?

Most rational persons would say beach #1 since it is highly unlikely that what is perceived as of human design (a stack of 4 clams) would have been duplicated a billion times. Beach #2 would be second since it would be unlikely that, if there were 4 clams on the beach, those 4 clams would be stacked on top of each other.

However, most humans would concede that, with a billion clams on an ocean beach, it is quite likely that what would be unlikely on the uncluttered beach #2 would exist naturally on busy beach #3.

Now consider which hypothetical universe below would offer greatest evidence of intelligent design.

  1. A universe in which there are a billion planets, all populated by intelligence.20130908-205116.jpg
  2. A universe in which there is only one planet, populated by intelligence.
  3. A universe in which there is only one planet, populated by intelligence, plus a billion other unpopulated planets.

I think you get the picture.

For centuries, the argument for design was promoted under the assumption of universe #2; that there were no other planets. Now that we have indeed ascertained that there are billions of potential worlds out there, theists have exchanged the old argument for a new argument. Why would this planet, of all the billions of planets, be the only one known to be populated by intelligence?

They have forgotten their previous argument, and fail to consider that, on a beach with a billion clams, it is far from unlikely that you would find 4 clams stacked 4-high, and in a universe with a billion planets, it is far from unlikely that you would find a single planet with some sort of complexity.

The argument from design remains a possibly valid argument if it can be shown that nature can not by itself generate complexity to the point of intelligence, but to suggest that this argument is now now significantly weaker than in centuries past in which we accepted #2 is dishonest. And the question of why an actual intelligent designer would not have created universe #1 or #2 warrants doubt about the existence of any proposed intelligent designer.

I remain open-minded but unconvinced that the universe required an intelligent designer, especially since there has been no substantiated case of an intelligence existing apart from a material substrate.

Flipping Coins

Imagine you and your friend find a coin on the street, and without either of you examining the coin carefully, you make a bet. If a flip of the coin turns up “heads”, you must pay your friend a dollar, and every time it turns up “tails”, he pays you a dollar.

You flip. A “heads” turns up. You pay your friend a dollar.

You make the same deal again, and again a “heads” deprives you of another dollar.

Not wanting to cut your losses, and certain that there are at least a few “tails” ahead, you try again. “Heads”.

You sigh as you hand over a 3rd dollar, but then challenge your friend to a 4th flip. Again you lose.
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The Emotional Substrate Beneath Bloated Ontologies

We are most fundamentally emotional creatures, and the most fundamental realm of meaning is that of emotion. From the time we are infants, our emotional brains are busy sorting through these needy emotions and attempting to carve out a social identity, a set of things we can call “true”, and a code of behavior. But there is nothing as subjectively real as our emotions.

So we are compelled by these emotions to construct an edifice that can comfortably house our emotions by providing psychological, epistemological and moral frameworks over which we can then drape image, and respectably present ourselves to society.

Because the goal is to cloak our raw and muddled emotions under more presentable walls of definition, this enterprise is inherently illusory, and is most commonly self-delusional. Yet by the time we reach adulthood, we have constructed an elaborate edifice that, if matching the expectations of society, can assure our social well-being.

I’d like to deconstruct the various walls of meaning to expose the raw emotions that we often do not want to admit lie at the foundation of being.

  • Identity. This is the most transparent. Many realize that identity is static only where it is thought static. Personhood can change significantly over a lifetime. We say “this is who I am” at our peril. Constructing rigid walls of identity lock us into a self that forfeits a more colorful and fuller life. But, to avoid the swirling and persistent uncertainty and fear, our adolescent minds forge an identity that we often find hard to later modify. We begin to see the image that we have constructed upon our emotions as a rigid entity, and prior to our emotions. This self-delusion serves to maximize predictability and minimize risks, but it often leads to marginal lives. If we can recognize that it is emotions that are the substrate to our identities, and take measures to directly address those emotions rather than merely repainting the peeling facade the same color from time to time, life can become much more dynamic and enriching.

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Assessing The Tool Of Assessment

itemThis post is an elaboration of #2 from a list of things I’ve learned late in life.

Assessing the tool of assessment is the first step of assessment.

Prior to the understanding of the microscopic dynamics of neurons, the brains of cadavers were prodded and poked at with nothing uncovered that would suggest anything other than the widespread assumption that the folds of gray matter merely housed an immaterial agent of beliefs and the will. And this was intuitive. After all, we feel like we are more than neurons; that we are an immaterial soul that transcends the prison of our physical existence. In conjunction with our intuitive feelings of soulfulness, the nature of this soul was usually defined by a top-down ideology, most commonly a religion.

However, as scientific tools and method allowed us to more deeply examine the physical tissue of the brain, Continue reading

Tom Clark On Naturalism

0909DSCN4165_a_ (2)The interview of Tom Clark by Ginger Campbell linked to below is unquestionably one of the best commentaries on the essence and implications of naturalism out there. It confronts head-on the issues of free will, morality, and what it is to be human.

[ MP3 ]   [ TRANSCRIPT ]

Ginger Campbell is the host of both Books and Ideas and Brain Science Podcast, 2 great podcasts that are cherry pie for inquisitive minds.


It says that we are all natural creatures, that nature is what there is, and that nature is enough: That we don’t need anything supernatural to describe ourselves, nor do we need anything supernatural in order to lead meaningful, moral, and effective lives.

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Non-Prescriptive Laws

lawsSome suggest that the material logic of the world presupposes the prior mental logic of a creator. I suggest the inverse. It is the material logic that constrains our mental logic, and that we are improperly projecting this emergent mental logic back onto material logic.

Is there any reason to suppose that mind is prior to matter? I believe not.

Another way to state this is that our mental logic is merely descriptive (not prescriptive) of the material logic of our universe.

I intend to nudge you towards this conclusion with a succession of examples.

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