How to think about truth | Psyche Guides

Source: How to think about truth | Psyche Guides

I am surprised to see it claimed that truth is a more basic concept than falsehood. In fact, it seems to me that the naive mind initially accepts any proposition at face value without having any concept of “truth”, and it is only after having had to deal with cases of error or deception that some propositions are identified as “false” – with “truth” then being defined as just the negation of falsehood.

And as for the definition, I would just say that a statement is judged as “false” if including it in my worldview leads to a subsequent feeling of disappointment with regard to the efficacy of my predictions.

I also have trouble with the following excerpt:

  • True beliefs pick out facts that exist independently of our beliefs about them.

This idea is admittedly questionable when applied to certain true beliefs, such as the belief that gold is more expensive than grapefruits. Sure enough, this belief picks out a fact: the fact that gold is more expensive than grapefruits. But if no one had ever believed that this is a fact, then it wouldn’t be a fact. The prices of objects are determined solely by humans’ social conventions, which are usually dictated by the levels of supply and demand. So, while the belief that gold is more expensive than grapefruits is true, it isn’t an objective truth.

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More Philosophical Silliness

Source: On the advantages of believing that nothing is true | Aeon Essays

The claim that “nothing is true” only makes sense if one has a well defined concept of what it means for something to be “true”. What makes more sense to me is the claim that no-one has ever given a satisfactory objective definition of that concept; and that when someone says “p is true”, what they mean is just that they agree with the propositon “p”, and strongly expect other reasonable people to do likewise if presented with the same evidence or argument. The usage “p is true” is unfortunate because it hides the subjective nature of the claim, but that doesn’t make it what I would call “false” (if I were going to commit the same misbehaviour).

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Driverless Transit Networks

I didn’t attend this seminar, but if I had I would have asked why the proposed system uses kiosks rather than service to arbitrary addresses within the safely drivable region. Restricting the routes to specific streets on which low speeds are acceptable seems like a sensible starting point for such a service, but I don’t see any reason for restricting to a limited number of specific stopping points.

A separate issue raised in the opening remarks is that of identifying different levels of AIDriving. My own preference would be to have just two acceptable levels: namely driver monitoring systems that take over in cases of apparent operator incompetence such as when an imminent collision or loss of traction is detected, and full driverless operation (at maybe a restricted speed on a limited selection of routes). The intermediate levels, I think, all encourage inattention of the “responsible” operator which is just asking for accidents to happen. (This does not preclude the traditional “cruise control” so long as it is just to relieve the operator of the physical requirement of having to exert constant pressure on the accelerator to maintain speed, but should perhaps be subject to switching itself off and reducing speed whenever a loss of operator attention is detected.)

Source: A Deployment Framework for MOVES-style Driverless Transit Networks — CARTS Inc.

see also

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Why the WHO took two years to say COVID is airborne

The most egregious failure of WHO is not that they took two years to say COVID is airborne, but that they made and then failed to quickly withdraw an announcement that it is NOT airborne! Misinformation is always, to me, a more serious offense than failure to inform, and I do think that some at WHO, including its top leadership, need to be identified and held accountable for this.

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Website survey: Why not – –

They say “We need your feedback to understand how we can improve your experience on our website”

Well here’s my response:

The site sometimes allows BCid verification as an option and sometimes not. And when I try to use by bank as a partner it accepts the id info and then immediately says the session has expired. Perhaps one time in ten things work as they should but the site almost always works badly and is atrociously designed. This stupid survey is just one more example – it tells me I must complete my task before filling it out but gives me no route back to that task and the question about what I came to do gives a ridiculously long list which does not appear to include one of the most common reasons for coming here – namely to autofill a tax return. Then, if I give up, next thing you know CRA is dinging me for interest and penalties! Total crap!!! But why do I bother telling you all this? It probably won’t lead to any improvement.

Source: Website survey: Why not – –

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Cement and steel — nine steps to net zero

It should be no surprise to either of my readers that I would be inclined to supplement these nine steps to net zero with a tenth – namely to explore the increased use of plastics as building materials.

See also this related article

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What if jobs are not the solution but the problem? | Aeon Essays

Source: What if jobs are not the solution but the problem? | Aeon Essays

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The BC Government Tapes: Climate, Energy and Site C | The Tyee

Something that really troubled me at the great BC climate marches of the last decade was the presence of a large and loud anti-site-C brigade.

Source: The BC Government Tapes: Climate, Energy and Site C | The Tyee

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The Morning: Follow the science?

The examples in this article are just the tip of the iceberg. And appeals to “the science” in support of whatever action plan one has in mind are unfortunately, I think, a big contributor to public skepticism about things that should in fact be understood as well-established.

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Why doesn’t “do-re-mi” start on A? (from

This is a direct copy for my own easy reference from this page at

Why doesn’t “do-re-mi” start on A?

Question: We can recite the notes as either DO, RE, MI etc, or as A, B, C, etc. Why doesn’t DO correpond to A? In other words, why don’t start with LA, SI, DO? – L.B.R.Answer: That is a deep one.

According to historian Willi Apel, Boethius (c. 480-524) was the first to describe a letter-name system using the Roman alphabet to identify musical notes, and though he used far more than just A-G he did of course start with A. He was not thinking in terms of our modern scales, but of the entire range of pitches found in his list of possible notes. “A” was nothing more than a label for the lowest one.

And that lowest pitch was not necessarily the one we would call A today. Apel says that in two versions of Boethius’ system the letter A actually refers to what we now call C. And Notker Babulus (died around 912, taking his wonderful name with him) also used the letter A to refer to what we now call C, which suggests that our modern major scale was already being born – there were no “black keys” at first, and starting on C makes the major scale. But in the end “A” remained where Boethius first had it; as a note that formed the first in a pattern of whole step, half step, whole step, just as now.

Unlike our modern practice, Boethius used different letters for what we would call identical pitch classes in different octaves – the pitch an octave higher than A was not another A; it was O, or H, depending on which of his complicated systems you look at.

Odo of Cluny (c. 878- 942), and later Guido of Arrezzo (c. 995-1050), limited the letters to just A through G and used the same letters for higher pitches of the same octave. Guido also created the system of solfege syllables used as a way of remembering the pattern of whole and half steps. He took the syllables from the words of a well-known Latin hymn, Ut Queant Laxis , each line of which begins on the next higher pitch, starting with C. His audience was familiar with the tune, so it could be used to remember that E-F is a small step, C-D a large one, etc.

(C, Ut) Ut queant laxis
(D, Re) resonare fibris,
(E, Mi) Mira gestorum
(F, Fa) famuli tuorum,
(G, Sol) Solve polluti
(A, La) labii reatum,
Sancte Iohannes.

“Ut” was later changed to Do (who wants to sing “Ut?” What could Julie Andrews do with that?) and that is why the solfege syllables start on C – because Ut Queant Laxis starts on C. The hymn doesn’t include B, and Guido wasn’t thinking of modern 7-note scales, but when the seventh note was finally added it was given the syllable Si anyway, standing for “Sancte Iohannes” in the original hymn. In English-speaking countries “Si” is now usually sung as “Ti” (hence Ti, I drink with jam and bread).

So, Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti began by representing C, D, E, F, G, A, the first 6 notes of what eventually turned into the major scale. In “Moveable Do” solfege we use those to represent the pattern of steps of the major scale starting on any pitch, though some countries continue to use “Fixed Do” solfege, in which the syllables are tied to C, D, E… just as they were 1000 years ago.

Short version: Do-Re-Mi begins on C because that’s where Ut Queant Laxis begins, and perhaps the fact that Ut Queant Laxis begins on C also suggests that the major scale was already getting started way back in the first millennium. But Do does not correspond to the note A because “A” originally just referred to the lowest pitch available.

Source: Why doesn’t “do-re-mi” start on A?

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Presumptions about NATO

A recent Quora question, asks “Is Noam Chomsky’s comment that ‘NATO should not have moved an inch east of Germany’ ignoring the desires of the eastern European states?

The use of direct quotes there is dishonest unless Chomsky actually said those exact words. But regardless of whether or not he actually said it, why should NATO members not have ignored the desires of the eastern European states?

NATO is not a general purpose service organization, but a military alliance between states who see one another as sufficiently similar, stable, and responsible, to justify risking their own safety in defence of one another essentially without question. And the desires of others to be covered by that umbrella creates no obligation whatsoever to actually include them.

This is very different from whatever obligation may exist to protect all states from attack by neighbours – which is the responsibility of the UN and subject to a more deliberative and less hair-trigger response.

Source: (375) Alan Cooper’s answer to Is Noam Chomsky’s comment that ‘NATO should not have moved an inch east of Germany’ ignoring the desires of the eastern European states? – Quora

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A Reminder (from Seven Years Ago!)

Source: It’s not Russia that’s pushed Ukraine to the brink of war | Seumas Milne | The Guardian

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Opponents of CRT claim that CRT teaches a hatred for whites, but where does this claim come from? How many times exactly have teachers of CRT actually affirmed that Caucasians are inherently evil? – Quora

Probably never. The idea of any person or ethnic group as being “inherently evil” seems to run counter to the basic ideas of Critical Race Theory. And the idea of teaching anything as sophisticated as actual CRT directly to elementary school students is as laughable as it would be for calculus or quantum mechanics.

It is not unlikely though that some teachers who have been influenced by CRT may have presented material which could be interpreted as saying that Caucasians are inherently evil.

A case in point is the book “Not my idea” (see also here for a polemically critical reading) that was criticized in a (subsequently deleted) post by C.S.Friedman and defended in a response from Tom Robinson.

It’s hard to imagine that Friedman had ever actually read the book. (She describes the story of a little girl’s frustration with her parents’ protection of her from evidence of society’s structural racism as being a tale of how “A white child encounters a red devil-figure who offers him a deal”.) But the page she refers to does occur, albeit in the supplementary material; and, although not in the story itself, the term “whiteness” is definitely introduced as a label for things that are evil.

Personally, I find this kind of linguistic overloading silly and dishonest at any level, but to ask an elementary school child not to identify “whiteness” with just the property of being white is worse than silly.

So, although I doubt that any teacher of CRT has ever actually affirmed that Caucasians are inherently evil, I am pretty sure from the evidence of this book that some teachers who think they are reflecting CRT have used language which a child might well interpret as saying Caucasians are inherently evil.

Source: (303) Alan Cooper’s answer to Opponents of CRT claim that CRT teaches a hatred for whites, but where does this claim come from? How many times exactly have teachers of CRT actually affirmed that Caucasians are inherently evil? – Quora

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What can the zombie argument say about human consciousness? | Aeon Essays

My response to the philosophers’ zombie argument is usually to do a kind of “reverse Turing test” – ie to challenge the philosopher to prove to himself (and to me) that I am not a zombie. If there was anything that had all the characteristics and (in principle completely predictable – or at least explainable) behaviours and responses of a human, then anyone (other than the solipsistic philosopher himself) might be not “really” conscious. The alternative is that we all are conscious but that what we perceive as conscious experience is just the physical property of recording memories into a system with some kind of recall and reprocessing mechanism. And if I think about it too much, that’s pretty much what if “feels like” to me ….. Oops!!!(maybe I just failed the real TTest)

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‘Moral molecules’ – a new theory of what goodness is made of | Psyche Ideas

My comment on ‘Moral molecules’ – a new theory of what goodness is made of | Psyche Ideas was as follows:

The idea of trying to identify various moral positions as combinations of just a few basic elements is interesting. And it may be useful for understanding where people’s moral positions come from and how to encourage them in other directions (if that is what we want to do). But to conclude that “the theory provides us at last with a scientific guide for how to be good” demonstrates both an unfortunate hubris and (as I see it) a complete misunderstanding of the problem of what it means to “be good” in the face of competing demands whose relative weights may vary from person to person and time to time (and may in the end just be functions of some chemical concentrations in our brains).

To which the author responded with a question – which was presumably rhetorical since Aeon+Psyche only allow one comment per responder, but which I will nonetheless respond to here.

The question was “Alan, what do you think it means to be good?”

And so, not being one to give in so easily, I had to find his email address and answer – as follows:

Hello Oliver.

    I was intrigued by your article and find the idea of trying to identify various moral positions as combinations of just a few basic elements both interesting and potentially useful (eg for understanding and maybe influencing those positions – both in others and in ourselves). But I found it a stretch to conclude that “the theory provides us at last with a scientific guide for how to be good”.

    I am sorry if my comment seemed to imply that I had anything better to offer. But unfortunately your response “Alan, what do you think it means to be good?” strikes me as a cheap shot, since (as I presume you know) the Aeon+Psyche commenting system gives me no opportunity to reply. But since you ask, I will answer.

    The answer though is just that I have no idea (and do not think my comment implied any claim otherwise). What I do think is that the very theory you discuss makes it quite plausible that there is no possible “scientific guide for how to be good” because the various moral elements might be mutually non-comparable. And I would be very interested in hearing of any path you can suggest for overcoming that challenge.


    Alan Cooper

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Can Things be Racist?

One can, of course, change the meaning of words, but it may be counterproductive to expect that others will understand and agree.

In Some medical devices don’t mean to be racist, but they are | Psyche Ideas, the authors say “If it seems hyperbolic to call an inanimate object racist, it might be due to our tendency to think of racism and other forms of oppression as residing in people’s minds.” But others (and I am among them) may say that’s just because that’s how the word has always been defined in their experience – namely as an attitude or opinion. Those who define racism as an attitude may well be able to see oppressiveness as defined more in terms of the effect, and so agree that it makes sense to call inanimate objects and systems racially oppressive while denying that they are actually racist.

My own preferred usage would include the use of “racist” to describe a device or system developed and maintained with racist intent, but that would not necessarily include everything that may have racially biased and even oppressive effects (such as the fingertip pulse oximeter).

Given what we have by way of explicit historical documents, it seems clear that, whatever the intent of our current populace and leadership, there are still some features of some of our institutions that were imposed with racist intent and so do qualify as “systemic racism”. There are also many individuals with racist attitudes who have power in the system. And even if the intent of the system as a whole is no longer racist, the presence of such people also fits in with what I would call “systemic racism”.

But others (such as Monsieur Legault), who do not see the continued persistence of those elements as intentional, may need some clarification before being prepared to describe the elements of racism that persist in their system as “systemic racism”.

And if they agree to aggressively pursue and root out from their system all of its racially oppressive aspects, racistly motivated structures, and racist individuals, then perhaps it does not matter whether or not they agree to use that label.

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Is Success Luck or Hard Work? – YouTube

I like this guy’s videos and certainly endorse the ideas expressed in this one:
But despite his byline he sometimes puts slickness ahead of veritacity and the bit about the astronaut selection model is unfortunately misleading. In the model both skill and luck are assigned by chance and the labelling was arbitrary, so the same argument would work the other way to show that if the selection was based 95% luck and 5% talent then all of the selected would in fact be talented – and more generally in a highly competitive selection process, any factor which contributes 5% to each evaluator’s judgement will turn out to be essentially a prerequisite for selection.

See also ‘The Drunkards Walk’ by Leonard Mlodinow

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Can Virtuality ever substitute for Reality?

The animatronic moose twitched the skin of its flank, and as the flies buzzed off, water drops dripped from the hairs on its belly. Four days into a seven day circuit of the Bowron Lakes, we were in a swampy area where each lake seemed to have a moose or two which appeared off to the left of us as we paddled in from the river, and which bounded off into the woods a moment or two later; and about the third time this happened, on the same day that we had seen an osprey catch a fish and a couple of beavers poking their heads up from the water as we prepared to drag-portage across a dam,  I had joked that it was just like being in Disneyland with all the predictable animatronic displays in each section.

But this time I was nervous. Perhaps we were too close, because if the moose spooked and ran towards us, its hooves might do us more damage than a mere dunking in slightly smelly water.


That was real. But the picture that occupies the header for this Aeon/Psyche article gave me the tools to imagine an experience I have never had. Having paddled a kayak in ocean waters, and having seen ponds in glacial ice up close, I could already well imagine the experience of paddling up to a floating iceberg – and maybe into and over the slightly luminous pale turquoise of the shallow water between the two looming mounds of hard white ice (rendered completely opaque by the action of weathering on its sometimes smoothly puckered and sometimes ornately sculpted surface). And prompted by the picture (or by a verbal description) I could even imagine the concern I might have on looking up at the darkening sky – about whether I should cut my visit short for fear of being caught far from land in bad weather.

Of course, that imagined fear is different (at the time) from the real fear I felt about getting too close to the moose. But I am not sure that the memory of it is necessarily so much different (which may be why false memories of abuse can sometimes be as harmful to the victim as the reality). And the same applies to almost every aspect of every other travel experience I have had. We do not now have (and may never have!) the technology needed to create a truly immersive travel experience. But if we did, and if that experience could include interactions with real people (or avatars that we could not distinguish from such), so that ethical decisions about how much to tip and so on would be understood to have real consequences for other real people, then I am not sure that anything would be lost by replacing all travel with its virtual counterpart.

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Another Rant About “scientism”

Quora: Alan Cooper’s answer to What is scientism? Why was Lewis against it?

The word “scientism” by its structure should refer to the belief system of a scientist, but it has been dishonestly appropriated by a bunch of religious philosophers to refer to a kind of worship of science as the only source of answers to anything – including questions of ethics and value (about which as yet science makes no claims).

A more honest name for that uncritical worship of science would have been “scienceism” and its followers could be called “scienceists” rather than scientists (who are practitioners of science, rather than believers in its exclusive power to answer all our questions). So I think that the wrong word was used deliberately in order to gain an advantage in arguments with scientists by subtly creating an impression that they all believe something that many do not.

[This may seem like an unfair claim, but I am disinclined to give the “scholars” who introduced the term much benefit of the doubt as they were just the kind of language specialists who, if not completely stupid, could not have failed to notice the problem with that word choice.]

C.S.Lewis (who was not the originator of that duplicitous naming game) was against scienceism for the very good reason that there are many questions we can ask which do not have empirically testable answers.

“What is ‘good’?” or even “What should I do next?” are questions to which the answers depend on the evaluation of competing claims, whose relative importance at any particular time may depend on many things from the community to the brain chemistry of the questioner, and for which we have no foreseeable means of definition and measurement.

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Book Review: ‘Time for Socialism,’ by Thomas Piketty – The New York Times

According to the New York Times’ Book Review of ‘Time for Socialism,’ by Thomas Piketty ,

Piketty calls for a “universal capital endowment” for all citizens beginning at birth, funded by taxes on wealth and inheritances.


Though provocative, none of these ideas is remarkable or original.

Well I am sure the idea wasn’t original with me either. But what is remarkable (to me) is the lack of a strong movement arguing for this for decades.


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