Papers in Desk Drawer
Various
This Page provides (where held) the Abstract of the above Book and those of all the Papers contained in it.
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BOOK ABSTRACT:

Pseudo-Book (Hanging Folders!) to hold a subset my printouts / photocopies of papers related - inter alia - to my Thesis on the topic of Personal Identity. Those I'm reading or intend to read shortly.



"Alter (Michael J.) - 'Follow the Money': Faith-Based Education and Publishing"

Source: Κέλσος - Matthew Ferguson Blogs


Editor’s Introduction
  1. Below is a guest blog by Michael Alter, author of "Alter (Michael J.) - The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry", which is a 912 page tome offering one of the most important contributions to challenging historical apologetics for the resurrection. During his research, Alter learned a great deal about the vast amount of resources that are invested in Christian apologetics – spanning universities, organizations, and publishers – which eclipse the scattered authors and handful of organizations that engage in counter-apologetics. In this post, Alter provides a researched summary that offers just a glimpse at the tip of the iceberg for how much money and resources are invested in Christian apologetics.
  2. I’ve been talking about problems with how faith-based universities distort critical biblical scholarship for years now, due to doctrinal statements that their faculty are required to sign, which force them to adhere to predetermined conclusions that are friendly to Christian dogma. As someone who works in Classical Studies, researching ancient texts from the same historical period, written in the same ancient languages, and using the same historical methodology, I am not aware of any Classics department or university that requires professors to sign doctrinal statements asking them to affirm tenets of Pagan theology or Greco-Roman religion. The fact that the Christian religion is treated in an abnormal manner in this regard is very disturbing, therefore, and a bad sign for the health of higher education.
  3. As a note, while the essay below discusses faith-based universities with doctrinal statements, not all institutions of higher education that have a Christian affiliation fall into this category. While the University of Notre Dame has a Catholic affiliation, for example, the school still fosters a secular research environment and its religious affiliation is more traditional. While I do not think that a religious affiliation is beneficial for the structure of any university (even if it can be relatively innocuous), it should not be assumed that a loose religious affiliation based on a school’s history implies that it belongs to the apologetic-type campuses discussed below.


COMMENT:



"Anton (Roman) - Re-evaluation of artificial intelligence engine alpha zero"

Source: MedCrave: Open Acc J Math Theor Phy. March 07, 2018; 1(1):22–33


Author’s Abstract
  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is at the heart of IT-research and pioneers automated problem-solving. A recent breakthrough that could shift the AI-field was reported by Silver and colleagues of the famous Google Deep mind developer team around Demis Hassabis. They have reported that a new adaption of their in-house generalized neural network (NN) machine learning algorithm, termed AlphaZero, has achieved to outperform the world’s best-rated chess engine Stockfish, already after four hours of self-learning, and starting only with the rules of chess.
  2. AlphaZero originates from the superhuman Alpha Go program and could beat the best chess engine via blank slate tabula rasa self-play reinforcement machine learning, i.e. only by learning from many games played against itself. This worldwide strongest AI-performance claim has been drawn from a 100-game match between AlphaZero and Stockfish engines and has attracted much attention by the media, especially in the world of chess, which has been historically a key domain of AI. AlphaZero did not lose one game and won 28 times, while the remainders of the 100 games were draws.
  3. General reinforcement learning is very promising for many applications of mathematical solution finding in complexity. However, the requirement to independently verify if this breakthrough AI claim can be made poses some major difficulties and raises some inevitable doubts if a final proof has been given.
  4. Machine and method details are not available and only10 example games were given. This research starts with a reproducibility testing of all 10 example games and reveals that AlphaZero shows signs of human openings and might have outperformed Stockfish due to an irregular underperformance of Stockfish8, like post-opening novelties or sub-perfect game moves, like in game moves and post-opening novelites.
  5. At this juncture, the testing revealed that AI quiescence searches could be improved via multiple roots for both engines, which could boost all future AI performances. In light of a lack of tournament conditions and an independent referee, comparability challenges of software and hardware configurations such as AlphaZero’s TFLOP super-calculation-power, this work suggests that a final best AI-engine-claim requires further proof. Overclaim biases are found in all sciences of today due to the publishing imperatives and wish to be first.


COMMENT:
  • See Re-evaluation of AI engine alpha zero.
  • The author is from "The University of Truth and Common Sense, Department of Theoretical Sciences, Germany", which sounds somewhat dodgy! I couldn't find anything about it on-line.



"Appiah (Anthony Kwame) - The Politics of Identity"

Source: Daedalus, Vol. 135, No. 4, On Identity (Fall, 2006), pp. 15-22


Author’s Introduction
  1. The extremity of Identity' politics in many parts of the globe during the last few decades has given rise to widespread use of the term 'identity' as well as to a glamorous theoretical interest in the concept. However, there has been little clarity or rigor in its theoretical deployment. This brief essay will make a very small effort at correcting that.
  2. My main concern will be how we use 'identity' in the context of identity politics, not how the word surfaces in discussions of metaphysics, about which philosophers have already produced a flourishing and interesting literature. In politics, when we say an individual has a certain identity, we mean that he be longs to a certain type relevant to what we commonly call 'identity politics.'
  3. For some years now, in various essays, I have tried to impose some theoretical order on the concept by distinguishing at the outset between the 'subjective' and 'objective' aspects of identity. Your subjective identity is what you conceive yourself to be, whereas your objective identity is how you might be viewed in dependently of how you see yourself. In other words, your objective identity is who you are in light of certain biological or social facts about you.
  4. Of course, subjective identity and objective identity are often closely related. It is neither routine nor plausible, at least in a political sense, to conceive of yourself as something you manifestly are not. Could I, born of Indian parents, think of myself as an African American? I suppose I could. One can imagine all sorts of things that go beyond reality. But since we are interested in the notion of identity in the realm of identity politics, we would be sensible to put aside self-conceptions that amount to fantasies.
  5. But while the two aspects of identity are closely linked, there can be asymmetry between them. Subjective identity - when it is not mere fantasy - presupposes some proximate objective version of that identity, but not vice versa. For instance, one might be a Jew or an Indian objectively - born to a Jewish mother or to Indian parents - but not identify subjectively as a Jew or an Indian.
  6. It is worth spending time discussing both subjective and objective identities, since they raise very different philosophical issues and ought to be analyzed in very different ways. But before doing so let me quickly register another distinction.
  7. On the question of political identity, one can take either a normative angle or a descriptive one. A normative perspective asks if it is good to have identity or to engage in a politics based on one's cultural, national, racial, or other forms of identity. Much writing about identity politics takes this perspective, with a view to arguing either that identities should not be left out of politics or that infecting politics with identitarian issues is dangerous and wrong.
  8. By contrast, a descriptive treatment of the subject merely tries to analyze what it means to have an identity in the con text of identity politics. Of course, a descriptive angle on identity can observe that those who have a certain subjective identity themselves often think that it is a good thing. However, the theorist of identity, in taking a descriptive approach to the subject, does not take a position either way. This distinction between the normative and the descriptive is important. Too often, an author's normative stance drives his description of identity, skewing the analysis in one direction or the other. Rather than taking a normative approach to identity politics, this brief essay merely tries to examine 'identity' descriptively.



"Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Precis of 'Persons & Bodies: A Constitution View'"

Source: Field Guide to the Philosophy of Mind, 2001, e-Symposium on "Persons & Bodies: A Constitution View"
Write-up Note1

Full Text
  1. Persons and Bodies develops and defends an account of persons and of the relation between human persons and their bodies. According to the Constitution View2 of human persons, as I call it, a human person is a person in virtue of having a first-person perspective, and is a human person in virtue of being constituted by a human body (or human animal)3.
  2. Thus, the Constitution View4 aims to give our animal natures their due, while recognizing what makes human persons ontologically distinctive. The Constitution View5 contrasts with two other leading accounts of human persons: Animalism6 and Immaterialism. Like Animalism7 but unlike Immaterialism, the Constitution View8 holds that human persons are material beings; like Immaterialism but unlike Animalism9, the Constitution View10 holds that we are not identical to the animals that constitute us. This, of course involves self-reference, but it is self-reference of a distinctive kind.
  3. On the one hand, human persons are constituted by human animals11, and hence cannot escape their animal natures; on the other hand, there is more to human persons than their animal natures. What sets human persons apart from other animals has nothing to do with anything immaterial; rather what sets us apart is the ability that underlies our asking, “What am I12?” That ability is a first-person perspective. First-person perspectives may well be the result of natural selection; but what is relevant here is not where they came from, but what they are and the difference that they make in what there is.
  4. So, there are two theoretical ideas needed for the Constitution View13 of human persons: the idea of a first-person perspective, the property in virtue of which a being (human or not) is a person, and the idea of constitution, the relation between a human person and her body.
Contents Analysis
  • Part I, “The Metaphysical Background” (Chapters 1-3), explores and defends the two theoretical ideas.
  • Part II, “The Constitution View14 Explained” (Chapters 4-6), uses these two ideas to give an account of human persons.
  • Part III, “The Constitution View15 Defended” (Chapters 7-9), argues for the coherence of the general idea of constitution-without-identity and the coherence of the application of that idea to the notion of human persons; finally, it argues directly for the Constitution View16 by contrasting it with its competitors, Animalism17 and Immaterialism.
Detailed Contents Analysis

Now turn to Persons and Bodies in greater detail.
  1. Chapter 1
    • Sets out the task. Persons and Bodies will answer three questions: What I am18 most fundamentally? What is a person? How are human persons related to their bodies?
  2. Chapter 2
    • Provides a technical account of the idea of constitution. The basic idea of constitution is this: when certain kinds of things are in certain kinds of circumstances, things of new kinds, with new kinds of causal powers, come into existence. For example, when a certain combination of chemicals is in a certain environments, a thing of a new kind—an organism—comes into existence. A world without organisms, even if it contained the “right” combination of chemicals but in the “wrong” environment, would not have the same things in it as a world with organisms. So, constitution makes an ontological difference. It guarantees ontological plurality.
    • The relationship of constitution is ubiquitous. It is not peculiar to human persons and their bodies. It holds between rivers and aggregates of water molecules, between statues19 and pieces of marble, between genes and groups of DNA molecules, between stop signs and octagonal pieces of metal. If x constitutes y at t, then x and y are spatially coincident at t, but they not identical. If x constitutes y at t, then x and y have different persistence conditions20. Identity is a necessary relation; constitution is contingent. (Indeed, I use the notion of constitution to solve problems that others try to solve by notions of contingent identity21, temporal identity22, relative identity23 and so on. The idea of constitution has an advantage over these other views in that the idea of constitution does not compromise the classical notion of identity in its strict Leibnizian form.) I provide a definition of ‘x constitutes y at t’ in order to show that the idea of constitution-without-identity does not suffer from obvious incoherence.
    • If x constitutes y at t, then x and y share many of their properties: x weighs 100 lbs. at t if and only if y weighs 100 lbs. at t; x is worth $10,000 at t if and only if y is worth $12,000 at t. Each of these properties has its source in either x or y. If a piece of bronze constitutes a statue24 at t, then what exists at t is a statue-constituted-by-a-piece-of-bronze25, whose weight has its source in its being (constituted by) a piece of bronze, and whose value (usually) has its source in its being a statue26. This observation leads to the notion of ‘having properties derivatively.’ The piece of bronze has its weight nonderivatively; the statue27 has its weight derivatively. The statue28 has its value nonderivatively; the piece of bronze has its weight derivatively. To have a property derivatively is to constitute, or be constituted by, something that has the property independently of its constitution-relations. Only some properties are subject to being had derivatively. All this is spelled out in two definitions. The notion of having a property derivatively explains why if x and y both weigh 100 lbs. at t, and x and y are not identical, it does not follow that there is an object that weighs 200 lbs. where x is at t.
    • The idea of constitution is decidedly nonreductive. As long as x constitutes y, x has no independent existence. If x continues to exist after the demise of y, then x comes into its own, existing independently. But during the period that x constitutes y, “what the thing really is”—y, constituted by x—is determined by the identity of y. So, what is in front of you when you go to a museum is a statue29 (constituted, perhaps, by a piece of bronze). What the thing most fundamentally is a statue30; but it is constituted by a piece of bronze.
  3. Chapter 3
    • Develops the notion of a first-person perspective. A first-person perspective is the ability to think of—to conceive of—oneself in the first-person without recourse to any name or description or demonstrative. A first-person perspective is necessary for any form of self-consciousness31, and is sufficient for some forms of self-consciousness32. Evidence that a being has a first-person perspective comes from the person’s ability to think a thought expressible as, e.g., “I wonder how I shall die.” The second occurrence of ‘I’ in a first-person sentence, with a psychological or linguistic verb and an embedded first-person sentence indicates that the being has a first-person perspective.
    • Nonhuman animals are conscious (some chimpanzees may even be able to refer to themselves), but as far as we can tell, they do not have first-person perspectives in this sense. They don’t wonder how they will die, or hope that they have a painless death or any other such thing. I argue for the irreducibility of the first-person perspective, and argue that other views of self-consciousness33 (e.g., Rosenthal’s, Armstrong’s, Dennett’s) are inadequate.
  4. Chapter 4
    • Applies the notions of constitution and of a first-person perspective to the issue of human persons. A person is a being with first-person perspective; a human person (at t) is a person constituted by a human body (at t). Human persons are essentially embodied; they can never exist without some body or other, but they do not necessarily have the bodies that in fact constitute them. E.g., it is possible that parts of a person’s human body are replaced by bionic parts until the person is no longer human; still the same person would continue to exist (now constituted by a bionic body) as long as the first-person perspective stayed intact.
    • So, although a human person cannot exist unembodied, she may come to be constituted by a different body from the one that actually constitutes her. If she came to be constituted by a bionic body, she would no longer be a human person. But she would still be a person as long as she existed. A human person is most fundamentally a person, not an animal—just as a bronze statue34 is most fundamentally a statue35, not a piece of bronze. Two separate human persons that exist at the same time are individuated by their bodies. A human person’s body at a time distinguishes her from all other separate persons at that time.
    • A human person and the body that constitutes her are a unity, in the same way that a bronze statue36 and the piece of bronze that constitutes it are a unity. Unlike the statue37, however, I have a first-person relation to my body. Properties that my body has nonderivatively are my properties derivatively. E.g., I have the property of being left-handed and of having brown eyes derivatively; the nonderivative bearer of these properties is my body. When I attribute to myself such properties, I am thinking of myself-as-my-body. On the other hand, .I have the property of being employed or of having asked a question nonderivatively; my body is the derivative bearer of these properties. When I attribute to my body properties that I have nonderivatively, I am thinking of my-body-as-myself.
  5. Chapter 5
    • Discusses the vexing problem of personal identity over time. In virtue of what is a person P1 at t1 the same person as a person P2 at t2? I canvass candidate answers to this question, and show that each fails:
      … 1) sameness of person consists in sameness of body,
      … 2) sameness of person consists in sameness of living organism (Animalism)38,
      … 3) sameness of person consists in sameness of brain,
      … 4) sameness of person consists in psychological continuity39,
      … 5) sameness of person consists in sameness of immaterial soul.
    • Then, I discuss my own view: sameness of person consists in sameness of first-person perspective. Alas, my own view does not provide an informative criterion either. Although I can characterize noncircularly what it is to have a first-person perspective at a time, I know of no noncircular characterization of sameness of first-person perspective over time. Since nobody has an adequate and informative criterion of personal identity over time, I conclude that there is no adequate and informative criterion of personal identity over time: Sameness of person is not reducible to sameness of anything nonpersonal.
    • Nevertheless, construing personal identity in terms of sameness of first-person perspective has its advantages. First, it avoids problems besetting the other views (e.g., species chauvinism, the duplication problem). Second, it accords well with our self-understanding: there is a fact of the matter whether some future individual is I, and that fact of the matter does not depend on the nonexistence of someone else. Finally, the idea of sameness of first-person perspective ties what it is to be a person over time with what it is to be a person in the first place.
  6. Chapter 6
    • Discusses the importance of personhood. Only persons can be moral agents or rational agents. Persons have many cognitive and practical abilities that beings lacking first-person perspectives lack. Only beings with first-person perspectives can know that they are going to die; only such beings can envisage alternative possibilities for their own futures, or seek self-understanding. Only beings with first-person perspectives can have ideals or can try to change themselves to conform better to their ideals. Human persons are not only the products of evolution, but (unlike any other finite beings) only human persons can deliberately change the course of evolution—not only by artificial breeding, but more directly by genetic engineering.
  7. Chapter 7
    • Defends the coherence of the general idea of constitution (without identity) from a number of published criticisms. Here are two examples. First is the criticism that two things consisting of the same atoms (e.g., a statue40 and a piece of bronze) cannot differ in kind; this criticism is answered by a discussion of essential properties. Second is the criticism from counting: that if x is spatially coincident with y, and x not = y, and x is a statue41 and y is a statue42, then where x is there are two statues43. The second criticism is answered by a discussion of the distinction between having a property derivatively and having a property nonderivatively. Also, Chapter 7 discusses criticisms stemming from mereology and supervenience44.
  8. Chapter 8
    • Defends the coherence of the application of the idea of constitution to human persons. I discuss the misleading conception of constitution (which I have spelled out in detail) as mere coincidence of two different things, another version of the “how many” problem, a charge of linguistic incoherence stemming from the reference of ‘I’. I show at length that the Constitution View45 has a coherent account of the relation between an early-term fetus46 and the person that it comes to constitute later. Finally, I reply to a counterexample concerning ghosts made of ectoplasm.
  9. Chapter 9
    • Concludes the book with reasons to accept the Constitution View47. It really is a materialistic view. It can accomplish almost everything that a dualist wants without the burden of dualism. It takes persons seriously in a specified sense: Being a person is relevant to the fundamental kind of individual that one is; elimination of any person would be elimination of an individual; having mental states is relevant to what a person is. No other materialist view takes persons seriously in all three of these respects.
    • The Constitution View48 explains how it is that, although we are set apart by our first-person perspectives, we are still animals. Hence, the Constitution View49 locates human persons in the material world. The general idea of constitution (without identity) allows for a metaphysics that is both materialistic and nonreductive. This general conception of constitution supports an ontological pluralism that honors the genuine variety of kinds of individuals in the world.


COMMENT:



"Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Reply to Garrett"

Source: Field Guide to the Philosophy of Mind, 2001, e-Symposium on "Persons & Bodies: A Constitution View"
Write-up Note1


COMMENT:



"Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Reply to Noonan"

Source: Field Guide to the Philosophy of Mind, 2001, e-Symposium on "Persons & Bodies: A Constitution View"
Write-up Note1


COMMENT:



"Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Reply to Olson"

Source: Field Guide to the Philosophy of Mind, 2001, e-Symposium on "Persons & Bodies: A Constitution View"
Write-up Note1


COMMENT:



"Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Technology and the Future of Persons"

Source: The Monist, 96(1):37–53, 2013


Author’s Introduction
  1. Futurologists believe that we are on the verge of merging with our technology. Techno-guru Ray Kurzweil has predicted that by the 2020s, we will have reverse-engineered the entire brain, and nanobots will be operating our consciousness. (Kurzweil 2005)
  2. But we need not venture into the world of science fiction to be staggered by the accelerating pace of technology today. We have already become familiar with cochlear implants that, by stimulating the auditory nerve, allow babies born deaf to hear; and we know something about computer-chip-sized devices that can take brain signals and rout them to robotic limbs, thereby allowing amputees’ thoughts to control their movement. We are nearing the development of retinal implants to treat blindness. I have just read about research at the University of Florida on a new kind of neural implant that does not just receive instructions, but learns along with the brain. (Unattributed 2008)
  3. […]
  4. As a Practical Realist, what interests me in these examples is that they are real-life cases. They are not merely imagined. We do not have to indulge in long-range prediction or in outré thought experiments1 about zombies in order to be astonished by the melding of the biological with the nonbiological. And it is no surprise that these technological developments have raised anew the question of what we really are.
  5. I want to ask: What’s to become of us? Do these dizzying advances presage a future in which persons — traditionally conceived as self-understanding moral and rational agents — have disappeared?


COMMENT: See Link.



"Barua (Ankur) - Revisiting the Rationality of Reincarnation-Talk"

Source: International Journal of Philosophy and Theology, 2015


Author’s Abstract
  1. A survey of the key arguments that have been developed for and against the rationality of belief in reincarnation shows that often the central dispute is not over what the ‘data’ are but how to assess the ‘data’ from specific metaphysical-hermeneutical horizons.
  2. By examining some of these arguments formulated by Hindu thinkers as well as their critiques – from the perspectives of metaphysical naturalism and Christian theology – we argue that one of the reasons why these debates remain intractable is that the ‘theory’ is underdetermined by the ‘data’, so that more than one set of the latter can be regarded as adequate explanations of the former.


COMMENT: See Link



"Bauer (Rudolph) - The Direct Experience of Our Ontological Sense of Being as Self"

Source: Retrieved from Link (Defunct), 14th August 2018


Author’s Abstract
  1. This paper describes the self-liberating power of a person being in the transitional space of awareness. By being in the transitional space of awareness, we are able to directly experience the field of Being and to experience our embodied sense of the field of Being. We are directly able to experience our sense of self as the ongoing continuity of embodied Being.
  2. This paper explores the sources and dimensions of our lack of Being and the natural resource that brings forth our simultaneous experience of the duality of beings and our direct sense of the non-duality of Being within the duality of beings.
  3. The paper illuminates the drama of our direct knowing of Being and our knowing of the indivisible experience of the Being of phenomena.


COMMENT:
  • Full Text at Link.
  • I have to say that this paper looks like complete tripe, redolent of the Sokal hoax, but I've added it to my list of stuff to read on Buddhism1



"Beckwith (Francis J.) - Potentials and burdens: a reply to Giubilini and Minerva"

Source: Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 39, No. 5 (May 2013), pp. 341-344


Author’s Abstract
  1. This article responds to "Giubilini (Alberto) & Minerva (Francesca) - After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?".
  2. Giubilini and Minerva argue for the permissibility of 'after-birth abortion1', based on two conjoined considerations:
    1. the fetus2 or newborn, though a 'potential person', is not an actual person, because it is not mature enough to appreciate its own interests, and
    2. because we allow parents to terminate the life of a fetus3 when it is diagnosed with a deformity or fatal illness because of the burden it will place on the child, parent, family or society we should also allow parents to do the same to their newborn, since it is no more a person than the fetus4.
  3. The author critiques this case by pointing out
    1. the metaphysical ambiguity of potential personhood and
    2. why the appeal to burdens is irrelevant or unnecessary.


COMMENT: Response to "Giubilini (Alberto) & Minerva (Francesca) - After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?"



"Bilgrami (Akeel) - Notes toward the Definition of 'Identity'"

Source: Daedalus, Vol. 135, No. 4, On Identity (Fall, 2006), pp. 5-14


Author’s Introduction
  1. The extremity of Identity' politics in many parts of the globe during the last few decades has given rise to widespread use of the term 'identity' as well as to a glamorous theoretical interest in the concept. However, there has been little clarity or rigor in its theoretical deployment. This brief essay will make a very small effort at correcting that.
  2. My main concern will be how we use 'identity' in the context of identity politics, not how the word surfaces in discussions of metaphysics, about which philosophers have already produced a flourishing and interesting literature. In politics, when we say an individual has a certain identity, we mean that he be longs to a certain type relevant to what we commonly call 'identity politics.'
  3. For some years now, in various essays, I have tried to impose some theoretical order on the concept by distinguishing at the outset between the 'subjective' and 'objective' aspects of identity. Your subjective identity is what you conceive yourself to be, whereas your objective identity is how you might be viewed in dependently of how you see yourself. In other words, your objective identity is who you are in light of certain biological or social facts about you.
  4. Of course, subjective identity and objective identity are often closely related. It is neither routine nor plausible, at least in a political sense, to conceive of yourself as something you manifestly are not. Could I, born of Indian parents, think of myself as an African American? I suppose I could. One can imagine all sorts of things that go beyond reality. But since we are interested in the notion of identity in the realm of identity politics, we would be sensible to put aside self-conceptions that amount to fantasies.
  5. But while the two aspects of identity are closely linked, there can be asymmetry between them. Subjective identity - when it is not mere fantasy - presupposes some proximate objective version of that identity, but not vice versa. For instance, one might be a Jew or an Indian objectively - born to a Jewish mother or to Indian parents - but not identify subjectively as a Jew or an Indian.
  6. It is worth spending time discussing both subjective and objective identities, since they raise very different philosophical issues and ought to be analyzed in very different ways. But before doing so let me quickly register another distinction.
  7. On the question of political identity, one can take either a normative angle or a descriptive one. A normative perspective asks if it is good to have identity or to engage in a politics based on one's cultural, national, racial, or other forms of identity. Much writing about identity politics takes this perspective, with a view to arguing either that identities should not be left out of politics or that infecting politics with identitarian issues is dangerous and wrong.
  8. By contrast, a descriptive treatment of the subject merely tries to analyze what it means to have an identity in the con text of identity politics. Of course, a descriptive angle on identity can observe that those who have a certain subjective identity themselves often think that it is a good thing. However, the theorist of identity, in taking a descriptive approach to the subject, does not take a position either way. This distinction between the normative and the descriptive is important. Too often, an author's normative stance drives his description of identity, skewing the analysis in one direction or the other. Rather than taking a normative approach to identity politics, this brief essay merely tries to examine 'identity' descriptively.



"Blatti (Stephan) - Animalism (SEP)"

Source: Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2014


Author’s Introduction
  1. Among the questions to be raised under the heading of “personal identity” are these:
    → “What are we1?” (fundamental nature question) and
    → “Under what conditions do we persist through time?” (persistence question).
  2. Against the dominant neo-Lockean approach to these questions, the view known as animalism2 answers that each of us is an organism of the species Homo sapiens and that the conditions of our persistence are those of animals.
  3. Beyond describing the content and historical background of animalism3 and its rivals, this entry explores some of the arguments for and objections to this controversial account of our nature and persistence.

Sections
  1. Formulating Animalism4
    → 1.1 Our Fundamental Nature
    → 1.2 Our Persistence
  2. The Lockean Legacy
    → 2.1 Locke's Human/Person Distinction
    → 2.2 Animalism5 and the Human/Person Distinction
    → 2.3 Animalism(s)6 vs. Neo-Lockeanism(s)
  3. Arguments for and Objections to Animalism7
    → 3.1 Thinking Animal Argument8
    → 3.2 Replies to the Thinking Animal Argument9
    → 3.3 Animal Ancestors Argument
    → 3.4 Further Objections, Implications, and Questions
  4. Bibliography


COMMENT:
  • First published Mon Apr 7, 2014
  • See Link.



"Blatti (Stephan) - We Are Animals"

Source: Philosophy for Us, ed. Lenny Clapp (Cognella, 2018), 73-82


Sections
  1. Introduction
  2. What Animalism1 Does and Doesn’t Say
  3. Arguments for Animalism2
    Thinking Animal Argument3
    → Animal Ancestors Argument
  4. Death and Immortality

Notes
  1. Introduction
    • This paper comes from a book Philosophy for Us4.
    • The Chapter starts with a motivation for animalism5 with a ruse where the death and subsequent decay of a 10-year-old at the teeth of a grizzly bear is described in detail, until6 it is revealed that the individual is an elk.
    • Blatti claims that the reader had no difficulty imagining himself the subject of this drama, thereby imagining that he was:-
      1. The evolutionary descendent of animals,
      2. A creature with a biological life,
      3. A creature subject to the same diseases7 and predations as other animals,
      4. An organism that ceases to exist at death, and
      5. The progenitor of a corpse subsequently consumed by other animals and bacteria.
    • We had no difficulty imagining ourselves in this story, despite all the above being characteristics of an animal.
    • Blatti seems to suggest that we’ve been imaging ourselves as an elk – so how much easier to imagine ourselves as human animals8. But this is nonsense – we didn’t imagine ourselves as elks, but as human beings facing death and decay.
    • Blatti tries to milk this delusion, mistakenly in my view. To be clear: we didn’t know this drama involved an elk until we were told. So, we never thought of ourselves as an elk, or as “inhabiting an elk’s body”. So, the story doesn’t show either that we are animals or that we might be non-animals inhabiting an animal body (our own, considered as separate to “us”).
    • But, Blatti is right – the idea of “inhabiting” one’s body is a popular idea. So, in this case:-
      → Just what would your nature be? An immaterial soul?
      → How is the “inhabiting” supposed to work?
      But, more importantly (he says),
      → what would happen to “the elk itself”, from its perspective, if this took place?
    • Blatti is right to press this Thought Experiment9. His point is that maybe there’s no “elk itself” to be displaced, or have its body shared with a human interloper. But if the elk just is its body, why isn’t the
  2. What Animalism10 Does and Doesn’t Say
  3. Arguments for Animalism11
  4. Death and Immortality

Author’s Conclusion
  1. There is much to recommend organic animalism13, not least that it jibes with many of our practices and concerns regarding the dead and beliefs regarding our nonexistence. We describe the deceased as being “gone.” At a funeral service for a deceased loved one, we do not fret that we are burying her when we bury her corpse or cremate her remains. Friends and family do not rush to death beds for no reason: the moment when one of us dies is a moment of great consequence. How could anyone deny that you will cease to exist whenever you breathe your last breath?
  2. Well, imagine the moment when your grandfather eventually passes away: his heart rate slows, his blood pressure drops, his breathing becomes increasingly shallower, until finally, quietly, he expires. Now imagine the very next moment after that. What do you see on the hospital bed? Not your grandfather, according to organic animalism14, for he quite literally disappeared from the realm of existence the moment before. Nor, even, do you see a human animal15, as strictly speaking, on this view, there is no such thing as a “dead animal.”
  3. This has struck some animalists16 as an implausible upshot of organic animalism17. To be sure, they say, death is a significant moment, but nothing literally goes out of existence when it occurs. Accordingly, and in contrast to organic animalism’s18 claim that continued life is both sufficient and necessary for human persistence, those who endorse “somatic animalism”19 — so called because it emphasizes the bodily aspects of the human animal20 — deny that continued life is necessary. On this view, a human animal21 persists just in case its parts remain sufficiently intact as to be apt for life. In other words, vital processes like metabolism and respiration need not actually continue for an organism to persist. All that is required is that the internal structure of its body remain organized enough as to be explicable only by appeal to the animal body’s being, or having once been, alive. What this means in the case of your imaginary grandfather is that he quite literally survives his own death: he continues existing even after all of his vital functions cease.
  4. In this way, somatic animalism22 can, whilst organic animalism23 cannot, countenance the possibility of postmortem survival. It is interesting, then, that both views can allow for the possibility of immortality. If, immediately after dying, your grandfather was cryogenically preserved in a way that maintained the functional organization of his body’s internal structure, then according to somatic animalism24, he would properly be said to persist so long as he remained in this state — perhaps forever. Likewise, according to organic animalism25, if it were possible to induce human animals26 into a protracted state of hibernation — wherein one’s vital processes are slowed dramatically without stopping, but where this state is maintained indefinitely — we could achieve “eternal life” of a kind. Neither organic nor somatic animalism27 could accommodate the religious idea of persisting eternally as an immaterial being in heaven or hell. But nor does either view rule out the possibility of immortality altogether.


COMMENT: See Link




In-Page Footnotes ("Blatti (Stephan) - We Are Animals")

Footnote 4:
  • Philosophy for Us is a fairly general undergraduate introduction to “doing” philosophy. The chapters are by some famous names, and the book looks to be of good quality, but is necessarily of an elementary level.
  • It is somewhat brief, and inordinately expensive, though a positive is that it was recenty published - in Novenber 2017 (by Cognella Inc.).
  • As I don't intend to buy it, I note its virtues and contents here.
  • I only have two of the papers - this one by Blatti, and that by Oppy.
  • The Editor’s introduction reads as follows:-
    1. When selecting a textbook instructors of introductory philosophy courses face a dilemma. On one horn is the lamentable fact that many introductory college students are incapable of reading and comprehending original philosophical texts, whether these texts be classics of the ancient or modern periods, or more contemporary works. That such texts are inaccessible to introductory students is not necessarily indicative of a shortcoming on the part of the students: original texts are written by philosophers and for philosophers, and thus they often presuppose a lot of specialized background knowledge and use many unfamiliar archaic and/or technical terms. On the other horn is the widely accepted pedagogical attitude that learning philosophy requires doing philosophy; the pedagogical goals of most instructors of introductory philosophy courses primarily concern the development of critical thinking skills, and only secondarily concern acquiring knowledge of significant philosophical theories. Achieving this primary goal of developing students’ critical thinking skills is not well served by texts that merely attempt to summarize, from “an objective point of view,” the opinions and theories of influential philosophical figures. Rather, achieving the primary goal seems to require engaging with texts that are written with the objective of persuading the reader to adopt a particular philosophical position.
    2. Philosophy for Us resolves this dilemma. This anthology contains short papers written by philosophers who really endorse the views they arguing in support of, but the papers are written for contemporary introductory students. Thus all technical terms are defined when they are introduced, and no familiarity with other philosophical texts is presupposed. The result is a collection of short papers that introductory students will find both comprehensible, and, I hope, philosophically engaging.
    3. The text consists of five sections, each of which is devoted to a different philosophical issue. The issues addressed are all comprehensible to introductory students; they are the kinds of issue that minimally reflective students will have already thought about, though perhaps not in a careful and systematic way. Each section begins with a very brief introduction presenting a philosophical issue, followed by 2–4 short papers addressing it. Each paper is written by a contemporary philosopher who is attempting to establish a particular philosophical position with regard to the issue. As the positions defended in the papers are incompatible, students are compelled to engage in the process of critical inquiry and determine which of these positions—if any—they themselves endorse. The objective of Philosophy for Us is to motivate and inspire introductory students to do philosophy.
  • Contents:-
    1. Does God Exist? 1
      1. "Oppy (Graham) - An Argument for Atheism From Naturalism" - 3
        → Graham Oppy, Monash University
      2. The Case for Divine Creation from Cosmic Fine-tuning - 15
        Robin Collins, Messiah College
      3. An a Priori Argument for the Existence of God: The Ontological Argument - 25
        Trent Dougherty, Baylor University
    2. Do We Have Free Will? 37
      1. An Argument for Free Will Skepticism - 39
        Derek Pereboom, Cornell University
      2. Agent Causation and Free Will: A Case for Libertarianism - 49
        → Thad Botham, Arizona State University
      3. A Compatibilist Account of Free Will - 59
        Tomis Kapitan, Northern Illinois University
    3. What Am I? 71
      1. "Blatti (Stephan) - We Are Animals" - 73
        → Stephan Blatti, University of Maryland
      2. The Psychological Approach to Personal Identity - 83
        Marya Schechtman, University of Illinois at Chicago
      3. On Behalf of Mind-Body Dualism - 91
        William Hasker, Huntington University
      4. An Argument for Eliminativism Regarding Persons - 99
        Jim Stone, University of New Orleans
    4. Are There Objective Moral Truths? 111
      1. Morality from God - 113
        → Christian Miller, Wake Forest University
      2. In Defense of Theism-Independent Moral Realism - 125
        → Erik Wielenberg, DePauw University (for Wielenberg , see "Morriston (Wes) - Omnipotence and the Power to Choose: A Reply to Wielenberg")
      3. The Unbelievable Truth About Morality - 135
        → Bart Streumer, University of Groningen
      4. A Brief Explanation and Defense of Expressivism - 145
        → Steven Daskal, Northern Illinois University (for Daskal, see "McKenzie (Peter) - The Christians: Their Practices and Beliefs"?)
    5. Is It Morally Permissible To Eat Meat? 155
      1. The Commonsense Case for Ethical Vegetarianism: Why It Is Morally Wrong to Eat Animals - 157
        → Mylan Engel Jr., Northern Illinois University
      2. Some Permissible Meat Eating - 169
        Ted Warfield, University of Notre Dame
Footnote 6:
  • Actually, the game is given away when it is remarked that “your animal ancestry can be traced back more than 12 million years to East Asia”.
Footnote 7:
  • The hero’s mother had died of a wasting disease, progressive encephalopathy.
Footnote 9:
  • See this Note.
  • But, as noted previously, we didn’t imagine ourselves as elks in the first place, though maybe this doesn’t matter. He could have asked us to do so and we might have thought we’d succeeded.
  • That said, there’s a tradition of denying we can do any such thing – consider Nagel’s bat and Wittgenstein’s lion.



"Braddon-Mitchell (David) & Miller (Kristie) - How To Be A Conventional Person"

Source: Monist, Oct2004, Vol. 87 Issue 4, p457-474, 18p;


Philosophers’ Index Abstract
  1. Focuses on the concepts of becoming a conventional person.
  2. Use of realism about personal identity to refer to the view that personal identity over time is not a matter of convention;
  3. Contrast between conventionalism and realism about personal identity;
  4. Changes needed to casually instigate more changes of convention until such time as enough have changed.

Authors’ Introduction
  1. It is an increasingly influential view that personal identity across time is in part a matter of the attitudes or desires of the entities that constitute persons. Thus some talk of "person-directed practices" – practices of reasonable self-regard that entities have for some of their continuants. In some versions, these practices are social as well as personal.
  2. On these views a person's identity over time is, at least in part, determined by the various person-directed practices of the individual and/or of the community. These practices include the attribution of blame and reward for past actions, encouragement for future actions, the transmission of property, the attitude of anticipation or self-regard for future continuants and so forth.
  3. On this view someone survives some event just if, given her person-tracking practices, or those of her community, the being that exists prior to the event is treated in the same person-directed way as the being that exists after the event. Yet had these practices been somewhat different, she would have failed to survive the event even though, as it was, she did survive.
  4. We will sometimes call these person-directed practices 'conventions of identity', and later come back to discuss whether 'convention' is exactly the right term. If these practices are conventions, then it seems that personal identity is sometimes, at least in part, a matter of convention. Call such a view conventionalism about identity.
  5. The job of this paper is to defend the coherence of this view, and in particular to defend it from some important recent criticisms by Trenton Merricks.

Authors’ Conclusion
  1. Perhaps some of the resistance that many have to conventionalism – and especially logical conventionalism – has to do with the idea that if conventionalism were true, our personhood would be a matter of mere convention. But there is all the difference in the world between convention and mere convention. Mere convention is where we must make a decision between a number of options, but it does not matter to us which option we choose. Or it is where we operate on a particular convention, but see that, if we all switched to another convention, matters would be just as good; and as a result, we do not much care for our convention except insofar as we see we have to have one or another.
  2. Our personhood, though, is something we care about deeply. We operate on certain conventions, but care greatly about them. Some of the most interesting issues in personal identity in fact arise from seeing that there are cases where we care enormously about certain conventions, even while seeing that there is nothing in nature that makes our caring about those conventions any more rational than caring about some other conventions.
  3. In puzzle cases, the psychological-continuity theorists and the physical-continuity theorists continue to fight it out in metaphysics class, even when they realise there is no further fact that could settle the issue. We should not let this blind us to the fact that most of us have as settled convention that we have self-regard for future entities that are both psychologically and physically continuous. Nor that that settled convention – or perhaps the disjoined version – mattes a lot to us. Most of us are human beings, but that is not all that we care about in ourselves. We care about caring about things: and that is why our concept of person determines that there are persons only when these conventions of care are instantiated. Being merely human is not enough.
  4. Showing that our concept does work this way is of course a bigger job than we can attempt here, though it is begun in much of the conventionalist literature. Our task is to show how it could work that way: to show how to be a conventional person, and to show how to be a logical conventionalist.

References1
  1. "Bickerton (Derek) - How Protolanguage Became Language",
  2. "Braddon-Mitchell (David) - Masters of Our Meanings",
  3. "Braddon-Mitchell (David) & West (Caroline) - Temporal Phase Pluralism",
  4. "Chalmers (David) - The Foundations of Two-Dimensional Semantics",
  5. "Frankfurt (Harry) - Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person",
  6. "Heller (Mark) - The Ontology of Physical Objects: Four-Dimensional Hunks of Matter",
  7. "Jackson (Frank) - Why We Need A-Intensions",
  8. "Johnston (Mark) - Relativism and the Self",
  9. "Lewis (David) - Convention",
  10. "Merricks (Trenton) - Realism About Personal Identity Over Time",
  11. "Merricks (Trenton) - No Statues",
  12. "Nozick (Robert) - Philosophical Explanations",
  13. "Olson (Eric) - Relativism and Persistence",
  14. "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons",
  15. "Perry (John) - Can the Self Divide?",
  16. "Robinson (Denis) - Failing To Agree Or Failing To Disagree?: Personal Identity Quasi-Relativism",
  17. "Sider (Ted) - Criteria of Personal Identity and the Limits of Conceptual Analysis",
  18. "Unger (Peter) - Identity, Consciousness and Value",
  19. "Tooley (Michael) - Abortion and Infanticide",
  20. "Williams (Bernard) - Are Persons Bodies?",


COMMENT:




In-Page Footnotes ("Braddon-Mitchell (David) & Miller (Kristie) - How To Be A Conventional Person")

Footnote 1:
  • Omitting the “classics”.



"Broome (John) - The Badness of Death and the Goodness of Life"

Source: Bradley (Ben), Feldman (Fred) & Johansson (Jens) - The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Death


Author’s Introduction
  1. What harm does death do you? To put the question differently: when you die, what do you lose by dying? To put it differently again: when you do not die, what do you gain by continuing to live? The question of what harm death does you is the same as the question of what good is done you by living. It is the question of the goodness of your life.
  2. Two extreme answers can be given. One is “everything”; we might think that, for you, your life is everything, and by dying you lose everything. Another is “nothing”; we might think that you lose nothing by dying. I shall start by rejecting these extreme answers. Then I shall go on to the moderate, quantitative answer that I favor.

Author’s Conclusion
  1. When you die, what you lose is neither nothing nor everything. It is the rest of your life. The badness of this loss is, seen differently, the goodness of rest of your life. More accurately, it is the difference between the goodness of the longer life you would have led, had you survived, and the shorter life you do lead. So the question of how bad is death transmutes into the question of how good is life.
  2. I have not tried to answer this latter question, but I have outlined and classified some of the answers that are available.


COMMENT:



"Camosy (Charles) - Concern for our vulnerable prenatal and neonatal children: a brief reply to Giubilini and Minerva"

Source: Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 39, No. 5 (May 2013), pp. 296-298


Author’s Abstract
  1. This is a response to Giubilini and Minerva arguing that, on the basis of the similar moral status of the fetus1 and infant, infanticide is justifiable for many of the same reasons that justify abortion2.
  2. It argues that, although the authors are correct in claiming the logical connection between abortion3 and infanticide, they are mistaken in their moral anthropology and so misunderstand which way the reasoning should cut.
  3. It concludes with an exhortation - especially to fellow pro-lifers - to have a different kind of discourse on these matters


COMMENT: Response to "Giubilini (Alberto) & Minerva (Francesca) - After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?"



"Catterson (Troy) - Introduction to Synthese Special Issue on Personal Identity"

Source: Synthese, Vol. 162, No. 3 (Jun., 2008), pp. 309-311


Notes
  • Contributors “from all sides of the debate” – both established and new names – are asked to submit their own work in the light of "Kolak (Daniel) - I Am You: The Metaphysical Foundations for Global Ethics".
  • Catterson has made a contribution to the volume ("Catterson (Troy) - Changing the subject: on the subject of subjectivity"), which betrays a stance – the simple view1 – that may have biased his “take” on the state of the debate, which is far from what I had taken it to be.
  • Catterson sees the sides in the debate as split between2:-
    1. Those who claim there is no self, or that personal identity is at heart an empty question”, and
    2. Those who deny this claim and view the self as a substance that cannot be reduced to more basic ontological categories”.
  • Catterson claims that the issue is epistemological, which strikes me as a bit odd as he’s just claimed it to be metaphysical.
  • The issue has to do with whether knowledge has to be objective, and that we must understand ourselves as part of nature that exists irrespective of us and our perspective on it. This seems the default stance, so any attack on it is important (if irritating).


COMMENT: Introduction to "Catterson (Troy), Ed. - Synthese Special Issue on Personal Identity".




In-Page Footnotes ("Catterson (Troy) - Introduction to Synthese Special Issue on Personal Identity")

Footnote 2:
  • This is a rather pejorative way of describing those who adopt a reductionist view of PID.
  • Hardly anyone takes the nihilist view that “we don’t exist”.
  • What reductionists claim is that “we” are most fundamentally something other than persons.
  • They – in general – would deny – I would have thought – that they adopted either of the stances predicated of them.



"Chalmers (David) - The Meta-Problem of Consciousness"

Source: Journal of Consciousness Studies, 25, No. 9–10, 2018, pp. 6–61


Philos-List Abstract
  1. The meta-problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining why we think and say there is a hard problem of consciousness. The meta-problem of consciousness is in principle one of the easy problems, but it bears a special relation to the hard problem, which suggests that finding a solution to it could shed light on the hard problem itself.
  2. Chalmers’ new paper introduces the meta-problem, lays out an interdisciplinary research program for addressing the meta-problem, and evaluates possible solutions.
  3. Chalmers also uses the meta-problem to pose a challenge for many popular scientific and philosophical theories of consciousness, and discusses whether it can be used to “debunk” our beliefs in consciousness and to support a sort of illusionism.


COMMENT: See Chalmers: The Meta-Problem of Consciousness



"Cottingham (John) - Why we are not 'persons'"

Source: Eidos: A Journal for Philosophy of Culture 1:3 (2018), pp. 5-16


TT Comments1
  1. It is interesting – and sensible – that Cottingham thinks it’s obvious that we are2 human beings3.
  2. In case we might be worried by what “human beings4” are, he clarifies this as “members of the species homo sapiens5”, adding in a footnote that discoveries about our origins raise interesting philosophical questions about what it is to be human which “merit further discussion”, though he doesn’t say where6.
  3. He rightly dislikes needless jargon in philosophy, as it leads to opacity for educated non-philosophers, and thinks the philosophical use of “person7” is a case in point. In particular he dislikes the plural “persons” rather than “people”.
  4. I disagree – as I do with Eric Olson’s usage. If “person8” is simply equated with “human being”, in a dictionary sense, we lose an important philosophical distinction. Cottingham admits – in a footnote – that “Person” and “Human Being” are not synonymous for the usual two reasons:
    1. There are the specialised uses about to appear, and
    2. There can be non-human persons, such as aliens and mythological creatures.

Author’s Introduction
  1. “I know that I exist”, says Descartes’s meditator, in the Second Meditation, “but I do not yet know what I am.” Actually, of course, all of us know perfectly well what we are – we are human beings. And Descartes, too, knew this perfectly well. Writing outside the artificial and rarefied context of the Meditations, he was perfectly clear that each of us is a creature of flesh and blood, with arms and legs, able to move around the world, see and hear, using our eyes and ears, and all the rest of it. I am a specimen of a certain biological species that we now call homo sapiens. I’m not some incorporeal spirit mysteriously lodged in a body like a sailor in a ship (and indeed Descartes himself went on to make just this point in the Sixth Meditation); on the contrary, I am a genuine human being, un vrai homme, as Descartes elsewhere put it, or, in Latin, verus homo.
  2. Given that we all know quite well that we are human beings, why do so many philosophers today prefer to use a different term, and say that we are “persons”. It’s amazing how quickly professional philosophers get used to special bits of jargon, and cease to hear them as jargon. A good example is “normativity”, now standardly used to refer to evaluative or prescriptive language, to the special authoritative force of moral principles – we’ve got so used to it that we have forgotten how opaque this term is to ordinary educated speakers of English who are not professional philosophers. Jargon should in my view always be avoided in philosophy, partly because it’s so often employed (whether consciously or not) in order to intimidate, and partly because it encourages the delusion that philosophy is like a science, aimed at acquiring technical or specialized knowledge, instead of being about understanding – fitting the knowledge we already have into an intelligible framework.
  3. You may think that “person” is not a piece of jargon, but a perfectly ordinary English word. So it is, in ordinary usage, as when we say “she’s a very nice person” But notice that the plural of this ordinary innocuous term is “people”, as in “the teachers at this university are very nice people”. People in this sense are simply human beings – we are back to the basic common-sense meaning of the term ‘person’, which is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘an individual human being, man, woman or child’.
  4. But “person”, as a piece of philosophical jargon is different, and the difference is signalled by the fact that its plural is not “people” but “persons”. Lawyers, those other great lovers of jargon, sometimes use this term in drafting rules “persons proceeding beyond this point do so at their own risk” – but that’s probably just a piece of pompous grandiloquence: “people proceeding beyond this point” would do just as well (though there are other legal contexts, for example when corporations are treated for certain purposes as “persons”, where the jargon may have some point). Outside of the law, the other main setting I can think of where “person” has a technical sense is in the faintly absurd English class system of the early part of the twentieth century (as depicted for example in the novels of P. G. Woodhouse or Dorothy Sayers), where “person”, plural “persons” was used to indicate people of supposedly inferior social rank who therefore did not qualify as gentlemen or ladies.


COMMENT: For the full text, see Link.




In-Page Footnotes ("Cottingham (John) - Why we are not 'persons'")

Footnote 1:
  • This isn’t a balanced appraisal as I’ve ignored anything not strictly relevant to my concerns, interesting though it may be.
  • Contra my usual style, I’ve added some excerpts from the author’s text after my comments.
Footnote 4: Footnote 6:



"Damschen (Gregor), Gomez-Lobo (Alfonso) & Schonecker (Dieter) - Sixteen Days? A Reply to B. Smith and B. Brogaard on the Beginning of Human Individuals"

Source: Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, Apr. 2006, 31.2, pp. 165-175


Author’s Abstract
  1. When does a human being begin to exist? Barry Smith and Berit Brogaard have argued that it is possible, through a combination of biological fact and philosophical analysis, to provide a definitive answer to this question. In their view, a human individual begins to exist at gastrulation, i. e. at about sixteen days after fertilization.
  2. In this paper we argue that even granting Smith and Brogaard's ontological commitments and biological assumptions, the existence of a human being can be shown to begin much earlier, viz., with fertilization.
  3. Their interpretative claim that a zygote1 divides immediately into two substances and therefore ceases to exist is highly implausible by their own standards, and their factual claim that there is no communication between the blastomeres has to be abandoned in light of recent embryological2 research.


COMMENT:



"DeGrazia (David) - Are we essentially persons? Olson, Baker, and a reply"

Source: Philosophical Forum; Winter2002, Vol. 33 Issue 1, p101, 20p
Write-up Note1

Abstract 12
  1. Recently, Eric Olson and Lynne Rudder Baker have vigorously debated the question of our essence: What are we3, most fundamentally: human animals4, persons, or something else?
  2. After reconstructing Olson's critique of the standard view – according to which we are essentially persons and our identity over time consists in psychological continuity5 – I argue that Baker goes some distance towards meeting his challenge to account plausibly for the relationship between persons and human animals6.
  3. Then I contend that her version of the standard view has major difficulties: a "newborn problem"; a dubious ontology; and a problematic account of personal identity.

Abstract 2
  1. Discusses the fundamental essence of a person.
  2. Comments on the Standard View;
  3. Theories that define persons in terms of psychological capacities;
  4. Reply of Lynne Rudder Baker on the comments of Eric Olson to the Standard View;
  5. Criticism to Baker's view.

For my thoughts, Click here for Note.




In-Page Footnotes ("DeGrazia (David) - Are we essentially persons? Olson, Baker, and a reply")

Footnote 2:
  • I’m not sure where these abstracts came from.
  • One is no-doubt from the Philosophers Index.



"Deutsch (Diana) - Absolute Pitch"

Source: "Absolute pitch" In D. Deutsch (Ed.), The psychology of music, 3rd Edition: 141–182


Author’s Introduction
  1. This passage1 furnishes a good characterization of absolute pitch (AP)—otherwise known as perfect pitch — the ability to name or produce a note of a given pitch in the absence of a reference note. AP possessors name musical notes as effortlessly and rapidly as most people name colors, and they generally do so without specific training. The ability is very rare in North America and Europe, with its prevalence in the general population estimated as less than one in 10,000. Because of its rarity, and because a substantial number of world-class composers and performers are known to possess it, AP is often regarded as a perplexing ability that occurs only in exceptionally gifted individuals. However, its genesis and characteristics are unclear, and these have recently become the subject of considerable research.
  2. In contrast to the rarity of AP, the ability to name relationships between notes is very common among musicians. Most trained musicians have no difficulty in naming the ascending pattern D-Fx as a major third, E-B as a perfect fifth, and so on. Further, when given the name of one of these notes, they generally have no difficulty in producing the name of the other note, using relative pitch as the cue. Yet most musicians, at least in Western cultures, are unable to name a note when it is presented in isolation.
  3. The rarity of AP presents us with an enigma. We can take color naming as an analogy: When we label a color as red, we do not do so by comparing it with another color (such as blue) and determining the relationship between the two colors; the labeling process is instead direct and immediate. Consider, also, that note naming involves choosing between only 12 possibilities—the 12 notes within the octave. Such a task should be trivial for musicians, who typically spend thousands of hours reading musical scores, playing the notes they read, and hearing the notes they play. In addition, most people have no difficulty naming well-known melodies, yet this task is considerably more complex than is naming a single note. It appears, therefore, that the lack of AP is analogous to color anomia, in which patients can recognize and discriminate colors, yet cannot associate them with verbal labels.


COMMENT: See Link.




In-Page Footnotes ("Deutsch (Diana) - Absolute Pitch")

Footnote 1: On Mozart, aged 7.



"Deutsch (Diana) - The Enigma of Absolute Pitch"

Source: Acoustics Today, 2006, 2 (4): 11–18


Author’s Introduction
  1. This passage1 provides a good characterization of absolute pitch — the ability to name or produce a note of a given pitch in the absence of a reference note. This ability, which is also known as “perfect pitch,” is very rare in our culture, with an estimated overall prevalence of less than one in ten thousand. People with absolute pitch name musical notes as rapidly and effortlessly as most people name colors. Yet absolute pitch is often regarded as a mysterious endowment that is available only to a few gifted individuals. This impression is strengthened by the fact that most famous musicians, such as Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Menuhin, Toscanini, Boulez, and so on, were known to possess this ability.
  2. In contrast with the rarity of absolute pitch, the ability to judge one musical note in relation to another is very common. So, for example, most musicians, when presented with the note F and given its name, have no difficulty in naming the note two semitones higher as G, the note four semitones tones higher as A; and so on. (A semitone is the pitch relation formed by two adjacent notes on a keyboard, and corresponds to a frequency ratio of approximately 18:17.) What most people, including most musicians, cannot do is name a note when they hear it out of context.
  3. As someone with absolute pitch, it has always seemed puzzling to me that this ability should be so rare. When we name a color, for example as green, we do not do this by viewing a different color, determining its name, and comparing the relationship between the two colors. Instead, the labeling process is direct and immediate. Consider, also, that note naming involves choosing between only 12 possibilities; namely the 12 notes within the octave (termed pitch classes). Such a task should not be difficult; indeed, it should be trivial for professional musicians, who spend many thousands of hours reading musical scores, playing the notes they read, and hearing the notes they play. As another point most people can easily identify well-known melodies when they hear them; yet the amount of information required to do this is vastly greater than is required to name a single note. A lack of absolute pitch, viewed from this perspective, appears akin to the syndrome of color anomia, in which the person can recognize and discriminate between colors, yet cannot associate them with verbal labels. So the real mystery of absolute pitch is not why some people possess this ability, but instead why it is so rare.


COMMENT: See Link.




In-Page Footnotes ("Deutsch (Diana) - The Enigma of Absolute Pitch")

Footnote 1: On Mozart, aged 7.



"Deutsch (Diana), Henthorn (Trevor) & Dolson (Mark) - Absolute Pitch, Speech, and Tone Language"

Source: Music Perception, Spring 2004, Vol. 21, No. 3, 339–356


Author’s Abstract
  1. Absolute pitch is generally considered to reflect a rare musical endowment; however, its characteristics are puzzling and its genesis is unclear.
  2. We describe two experiments in which native speakers of tone languages — Mandarin and Vietnamese — were found to display a remarkably precise and stable form of absolute pitch in enunciating words. We further describe a third experiment in which speakers of English displayed less stability on an analogous task.
  3. Based on these findings, and considering the related literatures on critical periods in speech development, and the neurological underpinnings of lexical tone, we propose a framework for the genesis of absolute pitch. The framework assumes that absolute pitch originally evolved as a feature of speech, analogous to other features such as vowel quality, and that speakers of tone language naturally acquire this feature during the critical period for speech acquisition.
  4. We further propose that the acquisition of absolute pitch by rare individuals who speak an intonation language may be associated with a critical period of unusually long duration, so that it encompasses the age at which the child can take music lessons.
  5. We conclude that the potential to acquire absolute pitch is universally present at birth, and that it can be realized by enabling the infant to associate pitches with verbal labels during the critical period for speech acquisition.


COMMENT:
  • "Some Experiments and a Proposed Framework."
  • See Link.



"Deutsch (Diana), Li (Xiounuo) & Shen (Jing) - Absolute pitch among students at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music"

Source: Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 134: 3853–3859


Author’s Abstract
  1. This paper reports a large-scale direct-test study of absolute pitch (AP) in students at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Overall note-naming scores were very high, with high scores correlating positively with early onset of musical training. Students who had begun training at age <6 yr scored 83% correct not allowing for semitone errors and 90% correct allowing for semitone errors. Performance levels were higher for white key pitches than for black key pitches.
  2. This effect was greater for orchestral performers than for pianists, indicating that it cannot be attributed to early training on the piano. Rather, accuracy in identifying notes of different names (C, C#, D, etc.) correlated with their frequency of occurrence in a large sample of music taken from the Western tonal repertoire. There was also an effect of pitch range, so that performance on tones in the two-octave range beginning on Middle C was higher than on tones in the octave below Middle C.
  3. In addition, semitone errors tended to be on the sharp side. The evidence also ran counter to the hypothesis, previously advanced by others, that the note A plays a special role in pitch identification judgments.


COMMENT:
  • "A large-scale direct-test study."
  • See Link.



"Doyle (Robert O.) - Abstract Entities"

Source: Personal Website

COMMENT:



"Doyle (Robert O.) - Change (Being and Becoming)"

Source: Personal Website

COMMENT:
  • Bob Doyle styles himself "The Information Philosopher".
  • For this page on his website, see Bob Doyle: Change.



"Doyle (Robert O.) - Coinciding Objects"

Source: Personal Website

COMMENT:



"Doyle (Robert O.) - Composition (Parts and Wholes)"

Source: Personal Website

COMMENT:
  • Bob Doyle styles himself "The Information Philosopher".
  • For this page on his website, see Bob Doyle: Composition.



"Doyle (Robert O.) - David Wiggins"

Source: Personal Website

COMMENT:
  • Bob Doyle styles himself "The Information Philosopher".
  • See Link



"Doyle (Robert O.) - Identity"

Source: Personal Website

COMMENT:
  • Bob Doyle styles himself "The Information Philosopher".
  • For this page on his website, see Bob Doyle: Identity.



"Doyle (Robert O.) - Material Constitution"

Source: Personal Website

COMMENT:



"Doyle (Robert O.) - Persistence (Perdurance and Endurance)"

Source: Personal Website

COMMENT:
  • Bob Doyle styles himself "The Information Philosopher".
  • For this page on his website, see Bob Doyle: Persistence.



"Doyle (Robert O.) - The Growing Argument"

Source: Personal Website

COMMENT:
  • Bob Doyle styles himself "The Information Philosopher".
  • For this page on his website, see Link.



"Doyle (Robert O.) - The Problem of Individuation"

Source: Personal Website

COMMENT:



"Doyle (Robert O.) - The Problem of the Many"

Source: Personal Website

COMMENT:



"Doyle (Robert O.) - The Sorites Puzzle of the Heap"

Source: Personal Website

COMMENT:
  • Bob Doyle styles himself "The Information Philosopher".
  • For this page on his website, see Bob Doyle: Sorites.



"Doyle (Robert O.) - The Statue and the Clay"

Source: Personal Website

COMMENT:



"Doyle (Robert O.) - Tibbles, the Cat"

Source: Personal Website

COMMENT:



"Doyle (Robert O.) - Vagueness"

Source: Personal Website

COMMENT:
  • Bob Doyle styles himself "The Information Philosopher".
  • For this page on his website, see Bob Doyle: Vagueness.



"Ellis (Rachel) - Dry January"

Source: Daily Mail, 3rd January 2017

COMMENT:



"Ettenberg (Jodi) - Silence and Spiders at a 10-Day Vipassana Meditation Course"

Source: Legal Nomads Website

COMMENT:



"Ferguson (Matthew) - Bart Ehrman and Jodi Magness on the Burial of Jesus and the Empty Tomb"

Source: Ferguson (Matthew) - Κέλσος, 20 January 2018

COMMENT:



"Ferguson (Matthew) - Numismatic Evidence that Corroborates Suetonius’ Life of Otho and Contradicts the Gospels"

Source: Ferguson (Matthew) - Κέλσος, 12 January 2018

COMMENT:



"Ferguson (Matthew) & Luke (Trevor) - Dialogue with Classicist Trevor Luke on Roman Imperial Ideology and the Miracles of Jesus"

Source: Ferguson (Matthew) - Κέλσος, 17 December 2017

COMMENT:



"Frauenfelder (Mark) - 'I forgot my PIN': An Epic Tale of Losing $30,000 in Bitcoin"

Source: Wired, 29th October 2017

COMMENT:



"Frederick (Shane) - Time Preference & Personal Identity"

Source: Personal Page, Yale University Website; Time and Decision, 2003


Author’s Introduction
  1. Economists usually regard time preference as they view any other type of preference. A preference for current utility over future utility is treated like the preference for an apple over an orange – an issue of personal taste, whose rationality cannot be disputed. There is an important difference, however. Choosing an apple over an orange is compatible with utility maximization: While one cannot be certain that the apple conferred more utility than the orange, it seems reasonable to assume so. Such an assumption is not tenable in the case of time preference: someone who chooses a smaller amount of utility now over a greater amount in some future period is clearly not maximizing utility over that interval.
  2. Because time preference runs counter to utility maximization, it requires more justification than other types of preferences. Many have argued that no such justification can be found; that there is no good reason to care less about future utility than current utility (see, e.g., Jevons 1871; Sidgwick, 1874; Pigou, 1920; Ramsey, 1928; Lewis, 1946; Rawls, 1971; Elster 1986; Broome, 1991). Those who advocate temporal neutrality argue that one should want their life, as a whole, to go as well as possible, and that counting some parts of life more than others interferes with this goal. On this view, it is irrational to prefer a smaller immediate pleasure over a greater future pleasure (or a greater future pain over a smaller immediate pain), because now and later are equally parts of one life, and choosing the smaller good or the greater bad reduces the quality of one's life, as a whole.
  3. The belief that a person should weight all utility the same, regardless of its temporal position implicitly assumes that all parts of one's future are equally parts of oneself; that there is a single, enduring, irreducible entity to whom all future utility can be ascribed. However, some philosophers – most notably Derek Parfit (1971, 1984) – deny this assumption. They argue that a person is nothing more than a succession of overlapping selves related to varying degrees by physical continuities, memories, and similarities of character and interests. On this view, the separation between selves may be just as significant as the separation between persons, and discounting one's "own" future utility may be no more irrational than discounting the utility of someone else.
  4. To illustrate this argument with an extreme example, consider the plight of Seth Brundle, the main character in the movie "The Fly." In a scientific experiment gone awry, Seth becomes genetically fused with a housefly and gradually metamorphoses into "Brundlefly" (a human-fly hybrid). Under these exceptional circumstances, it seems rational for Seth to discount "his" future utility -- to give less weight (perhaps no weight at all) to the future utility of Brundlefly.
  5. The foregoing example lends credibility to the idea that it could, at least under some circumstances, be rational to discount future utility. Of course, it leaves open the questions of exactly which types of changes justify diminished concern for future selves and what degree of discounting might ordinarily be appropriate. This chapter will explore these issues in two different contexts. Section 2 summarizes philosophical positions on the nature of personal identity and sketches the most common philosophical critiques of Parfit’s1 view. Section 3 presents a descriptive study that assesses individual’s perceptions about the intertemporal stability of their identity, and assesses whether these perceptions can account for interpersonal variability in implicit discount rates. Section 4 concludes.


COMMENT:
  • For Shane Frederick, see Link.
  • For the paper, see Link



"Garrett (Brian) - The Story of I: Some Comments on L.R.Baker 'Persons & Bodies'"

Source: Field Guide to the Philosophy of Mind, 2001, e-Symposium on "Persons & Bodies: A Constitution View"
Write-up Note1

Author’s Introduction
  1. In her thorough and comprehensive study "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View", Lynne Rudder Baker argues for what she calls the Constitution View2 of persons. This view comprises two strands.
    • According to one strand, persons are constituted by, but not identical with, their bodies.
    • According to the other strand, persons are essentially self-conscious beings with a distinctively first-person perspective on the world.
    The book is basically an elucidation and defence of these two strands.
  2. I am pretty much in agreement with Baker on both strands.
    • I agree, contra the Animalists3, that persons are not identical to their bodies/brains, but reject Dualism; so I agree that the relation between a person and his body is constitution-without-identity.
    • And I agree that persons are distinctively and uniquely self-conscious beings, with a first-person perspective on themselves and the world.
    (My own views on these matters, for what they’re worth, are set out in my short book "Garrett (Brian) - Personal Identity and Self-consciousness" (Routledge, 1998).)
  3. However, I found it a bit odd that both these strands were described as comprising the Constitution View4, as if the two strands formed a unified view. I would have thought that ‘Constitution View’5 is really only a name for the first, metaphysical, strand; after all, many different metaphysical conceptions of the relation between a person and his body could agree that there is an intimate link between personhood and self-consciousness6. But this may just be a book-keeping point. What of more substantial issues? I have no intention of discussing every issues Baker raises, and will confine my comments largely to claims made in Chapters 3, 5 and 9, ie. to .


COMMENT:



"Giubilini (Alberto) & Minerva (Francesca) - After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?"

Source: Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 39, No. 5 (May 2013), pp. 261-263


Author’s Abstract
  1. Abortion1 is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus2' health.
  2. By showing that
    1. both fetuses3 and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons,
    2. the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and
    3. adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people,
    the authors argue that what we call 'after-birth abortion4' (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion5 is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.


COMMENT: See "Giubilini (Alberto) & Minerva (Francesca) - Clarifications on the moral status of newborns and the normative implications" for clarifications.



"Gopnik (Alison) - Finding Our Inner Scientist"

Source: Daedalus, Vol. 133, No. 1, On Learning (Winter, 2004), pp. 21-28


Author’s Abstract
  1. In 1946, the philosopher of science Karl Popper had a fateful meeting with the philosopher of language Ludwig Wittgenstein at the Cambridge Philosophy Club. In a talk to the Club, with Wittgenstein in the audience, Popper described several "philosophical problems" - important, difficult questions that he thought would one day be answered. Here Popper was issuing a direct challenge to Wittgenstein, who had argued that philosophy could only analyze linguistic puzzles - not solve any real problems. The visit has become most famous for the subsequent controversy among eye witnesses over whether or not Wittgenstein's response to this challenge was to angrily brandish a fireplace poker1 at Popper. But there is a more interesting aspect to the story. One of the problems Popper described was the problem of causal induction: How is it possible for us to correctly infer the causal structure of the world from our limited and fragmentary experience? Popper claimed that this problem would one day be solved, and he turned out to be right2. Surprisingly, at least part of the solution to the problem comes from a source about as far removed from the chilly Cambridge seminar room of fifty years ago as possible - it comes from babies and young children. The past thirty years have been a golden age for the study of cognitive development. We've learned more about what babies and young children know, and when they know it, than we did in the preceding two thousand years. And this new science has completely overturned traditional ideas about what children are like.




In-Page Footnotes ("Gopnik (Alison) - Finding Our Inner Scientist")

Footnote 1: Footnote 2:



"Grossman (Neal) - Four Errors Commonly Made by Professional Debunkers"

Source: Journal of Near Death Studies, 2008, 26, 231-8


Author’s Abstract
  1. In an editorial previously published in this Journal (Grossman, 2002), I coined the term "fundamaterialist" to characterize a person whose attitude towards materialism is the same as the fundamentalist's attitude towards his or her religion. In each case, the attitude is one of unwavering certainty towards the chosen ideology.
  2. For fundamaterialists, materialism does not appear to be an empirical hypothesis about the real world; it appears to be a given, an article of faith, the central tenet of his web of belief, around which everything else must conform. As all philosophers know, it is always logically possible to hold onto any a priori belief, no matter what the evidence to the contrary, by making enough ad hoc assumptions; so I am not at all surprised that Keith Augustine, in his recent articles in this Journal (2007a, 2007b, 2007c) was able to sustain his faith in materialist ideology even in the face of near-death experiences (NDEs).
  3. This letter will not be a response to anything Augustine wrote, but rather is directed more to the scientists who might be "taken in" by some of the fallacious reasoning that he and other debunkers customarily employ. I will discuss four such fallacies, three briefly, the other at greater length.


COMMENT: See Link



"Gunaratana (Bhante Henepola) - What Exactly Is Vipassana Meditation?"

Source: Tricycle Website (Buddhism for Beginners)


Full Text
  1. Vipassana or insight meditation is a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens.
    1. The distinction between Vipassana meditation and other styles of meditation is crucial and needs to be fully understood. Buddhism addresses two major types of meditation. They are different mental skills, modes of functioning or qualities of consciousness. In Pali, the original language of Theravada literature, they are called Vipassana and Samatha.
    2. Vipassana can be translated as “Insight,” a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens. Samatha can be translated as “concentration” or “tranquility.” It is a state in which the mind is brought to rest, focused only on one item and not allowed to wander. When this is done, a deep calm pervades body and mind, a state of tranquility which must be experienced to be understood.
    3. Most systems of meditation emphasize the Samatha component. The meditator focuses his mind upon some items, such as prayer, a certain type of box, a chant, a candle flame, a religious image or whatever, and excludes all other thoughts and perceptions from his consciousness. The result is a state of rapture which lasts until the meditator ends the session of sitting. It is beautiful, delightful, meaningful and alluring, but only temporary. Vipassana meditation addresses the other component, insight.
    4. In Vipassana mediation, the meditator uses his concentration as a tool by which his awareness can chip away at the wall of illusion that cuts him off from the living light of reality. It is a gradual process of ever-increasing awareness into the inner workings of reality itself. It takes years, but one day the meditator chisels through that wall and tumbles into the presence of light. The transformation is complete. It’s called Liberation, and it’s permanent. Liberation is the goal of all Buddhist systems of practice. But the routes to the attainment of that end are quite diverse.
  2. THE OLDEST BUDDHIST MEDITATION PRACTICE
    1. Vipassana is the oldest of Buddhist meditation practices. The method comes directly from the Satipatthana Sutta [Foundations of Mindfulness], a discourse attributed to the Buddha himself. Vipassana is a direct and gradual cultivation of mindfulness or awareness. It proceeds piece by piece over a period of years. The student’s attention is carefully directed to an intense examination of certain aspects of his own existence. The meditator is trained to notice more and more of his own flowing life experience.
    2. Vipassana is a gentle technique. But it also is very, very thorough. It is an ancient and codified system of training your mind, a set of exercises dedicated to becoming more and more aware of your own life experience. It is attentive listening, mindful seeing and careful testing.
    3. We learn to smell acutely, to touch fully, and to really pay attention to the changes taking place in all these experiences. We learn to listen to our own thoughts without being caught up in them. The object of Vipassana meditation practice is to learn to see the truth of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness of phenomena.
    4. We think we are doing this already, but that is an illusion. It comes from the fact that we are paying so little attention to the ongoing surge of our own life experience that we might just as well be asleep. We are simply not paying enough attention to notice that we are not paying attention. It is another Catch-22.
  3. MEDITATION AS DISCOVERY
    1. Through the process of mindfulness, we slowly become aware of what we really are down below the ego image. We wake up to what life really is. It is not just a parade of ups and downs, lollipops and smacks on the wrist. That is an illusion. Life has a much deeper texture than that if we bother to look, and if we look in the right way.
    2. Vipassana is a form of mental training that will teach you to experience the world in an entirely new way. You will learn for the first time what is truly happening to you, around you and within you. It is a process of self-discovery, a participatory investigation in which you observe your own experiences while participating in them as they occur.
    3. The practice must be approached with this attitude: “Never mind what I have been taught. Forget about theories and prejudices and stereotypes. I want to understand the true nature of life. I want to know what this experience of being alive really is. I want to apprehend the true and deepest qualities of life, and I don’t want to just accept somebody else’s explanation. I want to see it for myself.”
    4. If you pursue your meditation practice with this attitude, you will succeed. You’ll find yourself observing things objectively, exactly as they are - flowing and changing from moment to moment. Life then takes on an unbelievable richness which cannot be described. It has to be experienced.
  4. VIPASSANA & BHAVANA
    1. The Pali term for Insight meditation is Vipassana Bhavana. Bhavana comes from the root bh, which means to grow or to become. Therefore Bhavana means to cultivate, and the word is always used in reference to the mind. Bhavana means mental cultivation. Vipassana is derived from two roots. Passana means seeing or perceiving. Vi is a prefix with a complex set of connotations. The basic meaning is “in a special way.” But there also is the connotation of both “into” and “through.”
    2. The whole meaning of the word is looking into something with clarity and precision, seeing each component as distinct, and piercing all the way through so as to perceive the most fundamental reality of that thing. This process leads to insight into the basic reality of whatever is being inspected. Put it all together and Vipassana Bhavana means the cultivation of the mind, aimed at seeing in the special way that leads to insight and to full understanding.
    3. The method we are explaining here is probably what Gotama Buddha taught his students. The Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha’s original discourse on mindfulness, specifically says that one must begin by focusing the attention on the breathing and then go on to note all other physical and mental phenomena which arise.
    4. We sit, watching the air going in and out of our noses. At first glance, this seems an exceedingly odd and useless procedure. Before going on to specific instructions, let us examine the reason behind it.
  5. WHY FOCUSING IS IMPORTANT
    1. The first question we might have is why use any focus of attention at all? We are, after all, trying to develop awareness. Why not just sit down and be aware of whatever happens to be present in the mind? In fact, there are meditations of that nature. They are sometimes referred to as unstructured meditation and they are quite difficult.
    2. The mind is tricky. Thought is an inherently complicated procedure. By that we mean that we become trapped, wrapped up, and stuck in the thought chain. One thought leads to another which leads to another, and another, and another, and so on. Fifteen minutes later we suddenly wake up and realize we spent that whole time stuck in a daydream or sexual fantasy or a set of worries about our bills or whatever.
    3. We use breath as our focus. It serves as that vital reference point from which the mind wanders and is drawn back. Distraction cannot be seen as distraction unless there is some central focus to be distracted from. That is the frame of reference against which we can view the incessant changes and interruptions that go on all the time as a part of normal thinking.
  6. TAMING WILD ELEPHANTS
    1. Ancient Pali texts liken meditation to the process of taming a wild elephant. The procedure in those days was to tie a newly captured animal to a post with a good strong rope. When you do this, the elephant is not happy. He screams and tramples, and pulls against the rope for days. Finally it sinks through his skull that he can’t get away, and he settles down.
    2. At this point you can begin to feed him and to handle him with some measure of safety. Eventually you can dispense with the rope and post altogether, and train your elephant for various tasks. Now you have got a tamed elephant that can be put to useful work.
    3. In this analogy the wild elephant is your wildly active mind, the rope is mindfulness, and the post is our object of meditation, our breathing. The tamed elephant who emerges from this process is a well-trained, concentrated mind that can then be used for the exceedingly tough job of piercing the layers of illusion that obscure reality. Meditation tames the mind.
  7. WHY BREATHING?
    1. The next question we need to address is: Why choose breathing as the primary object of meditation? Why not something a bit more interesting? Answers to this are numerous. A useful object of meditation should be one that promotes mindfulness. It should be portable, easily available, and cheap. It should also be something that will not embroil us in those states of mind from which we are trying to free ourselves, such as greed, anger, and delusion.
    2. Breathing satisfies all these criteria and more. It is common to every human being. We all carry it with us wherever we go. It is always there, constantly available, never ceasing from birth till death, and it costs nothing.
    3. Breathing is a non-conceptual process, a thing that can be experienced directly without a need for thought. Furthermore, it is a very living process, an aspect of life that is in constant change. The breath moves in cycles - inhalation, exhalation, breathing in, and breathing out. Thus, it is a miniature model of life itself.
    4. Breath is a phenomenon common to all living things. A true experiential understanding of the process moves you closer to other living beings. It shows you your inherent connectedness with all of life. Finally, breathing is a present-time process.
    5. The first step in using the breath as an object of meditation is to find it. What you are looking for is the physical, tactile sensation of the air that passes in and out of the nostrils. This is usually just inside the tip of the nose. But the exact spot varies from one person to another, depending on the shape of the nose.
    6. To find your own point, take a quick deep breath and notice and point just inside the nose or on the upper tip where you have the most distinct sensation of passing air. Now exhale and notice the sensation at the same point. It is from this point that you will follow the whole passage of breath.
  8. NOT ALWAYS EASY
    1. When you first begin this procedure, expect to face some difficulties. Your mind will wander off constantly darting, around like a bumble bee and zooming off on wild tangents. Try not to worry. The monkey mind phenomenon is well known. It is something that every advanced meditator has had to deal with. They have pushed through it one way or another, and so can you.
    2. When it happens, just note the fact that you have been thinking, day-dreaming, worrying, or whatever. Gently, but firmly, without getting upset or judging yourself for straying, simply return to the simple physical sensation of the breath. Then do it again the next time, and again, and again, and again.
    3. Essentially, Vipassana meditation is a process of retraining the mind. The state you are aiming for is one in which you are totally aware of everything that is happening in your own perceptual universe, exactly the way it happens, exactly when it is happening; total, unbroken awareness in present time.
    4. This is an incredibly high goal, and not to be reached all at once. It takes practice, so we start small. We start by becoming totalIy aware of one small unit of time, just one single inhalation. And, when you succeed, you are on your way to a whole new experience of life.


COMMENT:
  • Vipassana or insight meditation is a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens.
  • See Link.
  • While this is nothing to do with "Hains (Brigid) & Hains (Paul) - Aeon: G-K" I’ve filed an annotated copy with the Aeon papers for want of a better home.



"Hales (Steven D.) - Evidence and the Afterlife"

Source: Philosophia, vol. 28, nos. 1-4, pp. 335-346


Author’s Abstract
  1. Several prominent philosophers, including A.J. Ayer and Derek Parfit, have offered the evidentiary requirements for believing human personality can reincarnate, and hence that Cartesian dualism is true.
  2. At least one philosopher, Robert Almeder, has argued that there are actual cases which satisfy these requirements.
  3. I argue in this paper that even if we grant the empirical data – a large concession – belief in reincarnation is still unjustified.
  4. The problem is that without a theoretical account of the alleged cases of reincarnation, the empirical evidence alone does not license giving up materialist theories of the mind.


COMMENT: See Link



"Hales (Steven D.) - Reincarnation Redux"

Source: Philosophia, vol. 28, nos. 1-4, pp. 359-367


Author’s Abstract
  1. This paper is a rejoinder to Robert Almeder's "On Reincarnation: A Reply to Hales".
  2. I argue that even if we stipulate the case studies of the reincarnationists to be good data, the explanatory hypothesis of reincarnation is a deus ex machina.
  3. Without a comprehensive scientific or philosophical theory of the mind that embeds the reincarnation hypothesis, the view should not be taken seriously.
  4. The fact that reincarnation is the first explanation of the case studies that comes to mind says more about us and our culture than it does about which explanations are the most probable ones.
  5. Robert Almeder offers a host of arguments in response to "Hales (Steven D.) - Evidence and the Afterlife". I’ll first address three of his smaller objections, and then look at his primary challenge to my views. All three of these initial criticisms were discussed in my original paper but, hydra-like, bear further applications of the sword.


COMMENT: See Link



"Halkin (Hillel) - Blurry 'Vision of Gabriel'"

Source: The New York Sun, July 2008

COMMENT:



"Hauskeller (Michael) - Reflections from a Troubled Stream: Giubilini and Minerva on 'After-Birth Abortion'"

Source: The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 42, No. 4 (July-August 2012), pp. 17-20


Author’s Conclusion
  1. If there is such a thing as a "right to life," then a newborn has as much of it as you and I, and the fact that it lacks our abilities is irrelevant. Holding this view does not make us irrational — or at least not less rational than anyone who believes that certain things are wrong and ought not to be done or allowed.
  2. It is a mistake to demand that moral convictions be always justifiable in terms of a narrow conception of rationality. Indeed, it is the very fact that morality often requires us to defy the seemingly rational that makes it so important. This tends to be forgotten by a bioethical tradition whose style of thinking has its roots in analytical philosophy, leading to results that should give us pause.
  3. When people want to describe the horrors of war, the wanton killing of young children is often cited as the clearest expression of human depravity. We believe not only that, without question, they have a right to life, but also, because they represent human life at its most vulnerable stage, that they need and deserve our protection then more than at any other time and that, consequently, harming and killing them is even worse and more unforgivable than harming and killing an adult.
  4. This view is about as essential to our shared ethical self-understanding as a position can get. If a philosophical argument, such as the one presented by Giubilini and Minerva, calls this into question, we should not be swayed by its appearance of rationality, but rather take it as our cue to rethink the way we practice philosophical ethics.


COMMENT: Response to an on-line pre-print of "Giubilini (Alberto) & Minerva (Francesca) - After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?"



"Hershenov (David) - Review of David DeGrazia’s Human Identity and Bioethics"

Source: National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, 8:4, Winter 2008


Author's Introduction
  1. David DeGrazia has penned an ambitious book that brings recent work in the metaphysics of personal identity as well as the “non-metaphysical” notion of narrative identity1 to bear on contemporary bioethics issues.
  2. While I am sympathetic to the metaphysical account of animal identity that DeGrazia borrows from Eric Olson, he doesn’t seem to realize a major weakness, which Olson himself admitted. This has to do with the possibility of thinking entities embedded within the organism.
  3. He also seems unaware, or, at least, indifferent to rival religious-inspired soul theories of our identity that avoid this problem - as well as have other merits.
  4. His summary dismissal of such soul theories and his defense of abortion2 and embryonic3 stem cell research will not endear him to most readers of NCBQ. Despite these qualms, the book is worth reading. The chapter on advance directives may become the starting point for future discussions.


COMMENT:



"Heyes (Cecilia M.) - Grist and mills: on the cultural origins of cultural learning"

Source: Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, Vol. 367, No. 1599, New thinking: the evolution of human cognition (5 August 2012), pp. 2181-2191


Author's Abstract
  1. Cumulative cultural evolution is what 'makes us odd'; our capacity to learn facts and techniques from others, and to refine them over generations, plays a major role in making human minds and lives radically different from those of other animals.
  2. In this article, I discuss cognitive processes that are known collectively as 'cultural learning' because they enable cumulative cultural evolution. These cognitive processes include reading, social learning, imitation, teaching, social motivation and theory of mind.
  3. Taking the first of these three types of cultural learning as examples, I ask whether and to what extent these cognitive processes have been adapted genetically or culturally to enable cumulative cultural evolution.
  4. I find that recent empirical work in comparative psychology, developmental psychology and cognitive neuroscience provides surprisingly little evidence of genetic adaptation, and ample evidence of cultural adaptation.
  5. This raises the possibility that it is not only 'grist' but also 'mills' that are culturally inherited; through social interaction in the course of development, we not only acquire facts about the world and how to deal with it (grist), we also build the cognitive processes that make 'fact inheritance' possible (mills).



"Heyes (Cecilia M.) - Introduction: New thinking: the evolution of human cognition"

Source: Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, Vol. 367, No. 1599, New thinking: the evolution of human cognition (5 August 2012), pp. 2091-2096


Author's Abstract
  1. Humans are animals that specialize in thinking and knowing, and our extraordinary cognitive abilities have transformed every aspect of our lives. In contrast to our chimpanzee cousins and Stone Age ancestors, we are complex political, economic, scientific and artistic creatures, living in a vast range of habitats, many of which are our own creation.
  2. Research on the evolution of human cognition asks what types of thinking make us such peculiar animals, and how they have been generated by evolutionary processes. New research in this field looks deeper into the evolutionary history of human cognition, and adopts a more multi-disciplinary approach than earlier 'Evolutionary Psychology'. It is informed by comparisons between humans and a range of primate and non-primate species, and integrates findings from anthropology, archaeology, economics, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, philosophy and psychology.
  3. Using these methods, recent research reveals profound commonalities, as well striking differences, between human and non-human minds, and suggests that the evolution of human cognition has been much more gradual and incremental than previously assumed.
  4. It accords crucial roles to cultural evolution, techno-social co-evolution and gene-culture co-evolution. These have produced domain-general developmental processes with extraordinary power — power that makes human cognition, and human lives, unique.



"Heyes (Cecilia M.) - Simple minds: a qualified defence of associative learning"

Source: Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, Vol. 367, No. 1603, Animal minds: from computation to evolution (5 October 2012), pp. 2695-2703


Author's Abstract
  1. Using cooperation in chimpanzees as a case study, this article argues that research on animal minds needs to steer a course between 'association-blindness' - the failure to consider associative learning as a candidate explanation for complex behaviour - and 'simple-mindedness' - the assumption that associative explanations trump more cognitive hypotheses.
  2. Association-blindness is challenged by the evidence that associative learning occurs in a wide range of taxa and functional contexts, and is a major force guiding the development of complex human behaviour. Furthermore, contrary to a common view, association-blindness is not entailed by the rejection of behaviourism.
  3. Simple mindedness is founded on Morgan's canon, a methodological principle recommending 'lower' over 'higher' explanations for animal behaviour. Studies in the history and philosophy of science show that Morgan failed to offer an adequate justification for his canon, and subsequent attempts to justify the canon using evolutionary arguments and appeals to simplicity have not been successful.
  4. The weaknesses of association-blindness and simple-mindedness imply that there are no short cuts to finding out about animal minds. To decide between associative and yet more cognitive explanations for animal behaviour, we have to spell them out in sufficient detail to allow differential predictions, and to test these predictions through observation and experiment.



"Heyes (Cecilia M.) - Theory of mind in nonhuman primates"

Source: Behavioral and Brain Sciences 21 (1): 101-134


Author's Abstract
  1. Since the BBS article in which Premack & Woodruff (1978) asked "Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?", it has been repeatedly claimed that there is observational and experimental evidence that apes have mental state concepts, such as 'want' and 'know'.
  2. Unlike in research on the development of theory of mind in childhood, however, no substantial progress has been made through this work with nonhuman primates. A survey of empirical studies of imitation, self-recognition, social relationships, deception, role-taking and perspective-taking suggests that in every case where nonhuman primate behavior has been interpreted as a sign of theory of mind, it could instead have occurred by chance or as a product of nonmentalistic processes such as associative learning or inferences based on nonmental categories.
  3. Arguments to the effect that, in spite of this, the theory of mind hypothesis should be accepted because it is more parsimonious than alternatives, or because it is supported by convergent evidence, are not compelling. Such arguments are based on unsupportable assumptions about the role of parsimony in science, and either ignore the requirement that convergent evidence proceed from independent assumptions, or fail to show that it supports the theory of mind hypothesis over nonmentalist alternatives.
  4. Progress in research on theory of mind requires experimental procedures that can distinguish the theory of mind hypothesis from nonmentalist alternatives.
  5. A procedure that may have this potential is proposed. It uses conditional discrimination training and transfer tests to determine whether chimpanzees have the concept 'see'.
  6. Commentators are invited to identify flaws in the procedure and to suggest alternatives.

Contents
  • Paper: Theory of mind in nonhuman primates; pp. 101-114
  • Open Peer Commentary; pp. 115-134
  • Author's Response; pp. 134-144
  • References; pp. 144-148



"Jackson (Frank) - Grue"

Source: Journal of Philosophy 72.5, Mar. 1975, pp. 113-131
Write-up Note1

Philosophers Index Abstract
  1. Since Nelson Goodman's 1946 paper, it has been almost universally supposed that the inductive rule: certain fs being g supports other fs being g, needs to be restricted to "projectible" predicates and hypotheses.
  2. I argue against this view, and suggest three sources of it:
    1. a tendency to conflate three different ways of defining 'grue';
    2. a lack of precision about just how, in detail, the 'grue' paradox is supposed to arise; and
    3. a failure to note a counterfactual condition which governs the vast majority of our applications of the SR2.


COMMENT:




In-Page Footnotes ("Jackson (Frank) - Grue")

Footnote 2: Straight Rule.



"Justnes (Arstein) - Hazon Gabriel: A Modern Forgery?"

Source: Forthcoming in Material Philology in the Dead Sea Scrolls: New Approaches for New Text Editions. Proceedings of the International Conference at the University of Copenhagen, 3–5 April, 2014. Edited by Kipp Davis and Trine Hasselbalch


Author’s Introduction
  1. The Hazon Gabriel (Vision of Gabriel), first published in March 2007, has thus far taken both media and scholars by storm.
  2. In this article I will address several problematic issues concerning the text — its origin, material, content, genre, language — and argue that the text in all probability is a modern forgery.
  3. Despite the fact that several forgeries have been exposed in recent years (the Ivory Pomegranate, the Moussaieff Ostraca, the Jehoash Inscription, and the Jesus’s wife fragment and its “sister-in-law”), the scholarly community continues to receive unprovenanced material with enthusiasm.
  4. It is already more than ten years since Christopher A. Rollston, one of the world leading epigraphers, wrote: "Vaughn (Andrew G.) & Rollston (Christopher A.) - The Crisis of Modern Epigraphic Forgeries and the Antiquities Market". Little seems to have changed since Rollston wrote this, and the issue might actually be more pressing today than ten years ago.
  5. The situation for the field is serious, and has been so for quite some time. Obviously, there are forgers “out there” — some of them probably colleagues — with both the skills and the will to produce highly credible forgeries.


COMMENT: See Link



"Kingma (Elselijn) - BUMP: Better Understanding the Metaphysics of Pregnancy (B1)"

Source: Southampton University Website


Introduction
  • As the paper is a (successful) research proposal it has several sections of necessary administrative twaddle.
  • Consequently, I’ve extracted the philosophical sections as full texts, which are – given their provenance – somewhat repetitious.
  • I’ve adulterated the text format to make the points easier to spot.
  • This text is from the Summary (Part B1): See Link.
  • There’s also a “more detailed” version (part B2): See Link
  • I’m in the process of adding my own comments.

Summary
  1. Every single human is the product of a pregnancy1: an approximately nine-month period during which a foetus2 develops within its mother’s body. Yet pregnancy3 has not been a traditional focus in philosophy. That is remarkable, for two reasons:
    1. First, because pregnancy4 presents fascinating philosophical problems: what, during the pregnancy5, is the nature of the relationship between the foetus6 and the maternal organism? What is the relationship between the pregnant7 organism and the later baby? And when does one person or organism become two?
    2. Second, because so many topics immediately adjacent to or involved in pregnancy8 have taken centre-stage in philosophical enquiry. Examples include questions about personhood, foetuses9, personal identity and the self.
  2. This project launches the metaphysics of pregnancy10 as an important and fundamental area of philosophical research.
  3. The core aims of the project are:
    1. to develop a philosophically sophisticated account of human pregnancy11 and birth, and the entities involved in this, that is attentive to our best empirical understanding of human reproductive biology;
    2. to articulate the metaphysics of organisms, persons and selves in a way that acknowledges the details of how we come into existence; and
    3. to start the process of rewriting the legal, social and moral language we use to classify ourselves and our actions, so that it is compatible with and can accommodate the nature of pregnancy12.
  4. The project will investigate these questions in the context of a range of philosophical sub disciplines, including analytic metaphysics, philosophy of biology and feminist philosophy, and in close dialogue with our best empirical understanding of the life sciences – most notably physiology.

Context
  1. Every single human is the product of a pregnancy13; a (usually) nine-month period of development within another human’s body. Yet pregnancy14 itself has not been a traditional focus in philosophy. That is remarkable, for two reasons.
    1. First, because pregnancy15 presents fascinating philosophical problems:
      • What, during the pregnancy16, is the relationship between foetus17 and maternal organism?
      • How do pregnant18 organisms relate to their potential offspring?
      • And when does one person or organism become two?
    2. Second, because so many topics that seem to depend on those questions have taken up centre stage in philosophical enquiry. Examples include
      • questions about personhood, personal identity and personal persistence;
      • the boundaries of the self and the relationship between self and body;
      • coming into existence; and
      • a variety of topics in reproductive ethics, such as the rights over and obligations towards foetuses19 and/or (future) offspring.
  2. These are not mere academic questions; they are practical. At this very moment, courts attempt to rule whether women can undergo forced Caesarean Sections on behalf of their foetus’20 or future offspring’s wellbeing; whether women who smoke or take other toxic substances during pregnancy21 can be held criminally liable; and who, in case of conflict, has final rights over the contents of a (surrogate) mother’s womb. Less dramatically but possibly more seriously – and certainly more commonly – doctors and medical ethicists struggle to assimilate the facts of maternal-foetal intertwinement, maternal autonomy, and the different risk profiles that intervention-options present to mother and foetus22 into a coherent reasoning process and morally and/or clinically adequate recommendation; lawmakers wonder how we can consistently criminalise feticide without criminalizing abortion23; and pregnant24 women all over the world fret over the risks and benefits of jogging, eating fish and drinking alcohol – or working in their field or engaging in a possibly risky profession – in the context of balancing their duty of care to self, foetus25, present and future offspring.
  3. One thing that unites all these struggles is the inadequacy of the conceptual language in which we try to analyse them. Our moral, legal and social languages encode certain universal assumptions:
    • that there is a distinction between self and other;
    • between intervening and ‘letting things happen’; and
    • between persons, other persons and non-persons.
    But these distinctions break down when our object of consideration is a pregnant26 human. The reason for this inadequacy, I suggest, is twofold.
    1. First, even though pregnancy27 is how every person comes into existence, our language, laws and thinking about persons have not developed from a vantage point that was very attuned towards the possibility of being pregnant28.
    2. Second, and more profoundly, pregnancy29 presents genuine and deep philosophical puzzles that may not be easy to solve, and that have not been adequately investigated. This project will take up that task.

State of the Art: The Foetal Container Model
  1. Pregnancy30 appears in three main contexts in analytic philosophy.
    1. First, in the context of the non-identity problem: the question whether future individuals can be harmed or wronged by the consequences of choices or conditions that were necessary to their existence ("Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons", 1984)
    2. Second, in the context of debates about the morality of abortion31 (e.g. McMahan 2002; Thompson, 1971).
    3. Third, in other questions in reproductive ethics, such as questions about genetic screening and questions about a pregnant32 woman’s obligations towards her (future) offspring (e.g. Buchanan et al., 2000).
    In none of these contexts does the literature pay due attention to the peculiar metaphysical questions that pregnancy33 raises: questions about
    1. the nature of pregnancy34;
    2. the entities involved in it; and
    3. the relations between them.
    In this literature, what I call the foetal container model of pregnancy35 is implicitly, and uncritically, assumed. According to this model, the foetus36 develops inside the maternal organism as “a tub of yogurt is inside your refrigerator” (Smith & Brogaard, 2003: 74). But foetus37 and pregnant38 organism are not otherwise seen as overlapping, related or intertwined.
  2. The best illustration of the lack of philosophical focus on pregnancy39 is its conspicuous absence in places where such focus ought to appear. Take, for example, Olson (1997), who defends the dual claims (1) that we literally were once foetuses40, and (2) that human persons are organisms. On that view we, literally, once inhabited our mothers. One would expect that to raise questions about pregnancy41, personal identity and the relation between the gestating organism and her foetus/offspring42. But at no point, not even in a footnote in an entire book devoted to these arguments, are those questions mentioned. That is not a particular criticism of Olson; it is entirely typical for the analytic philosophical literature – a silent testament to the widespread implicit acceptance of the foetal container model.
  3. This stands in stark contrast to the large body of work that explicates and criticise the foetal container model. A rich tradition in history and sociology documents its recent development and historical contingency (McClive, 2002; Duden, 1993); emphasises the role of political and professional interests in its construal (e.g. Arney, 1982; Petechsky, 1987); and explains it more generally within the context of larger social, classed and gendered power structures (e.g. Caspar, 1998; Duden, 1998; Katz-Rothman, 1994; Oakley, 1984). A wide range of feminist scholarship, meanwhile, has investigated the experience and (lack of) symbolic representation of pregnancy43 to present an image that is radically different from the foetal container model: metaphysically messy and ambiguous (Young, 1984; Kristeva, 1993; Irigaray, 1985; Howes, 2007), active and agential (Ruddick, 1994; Lindeman Nelson, 1994), constructed & transitional (Bergum, 1997) and characterized by intimacy and intertwinement (Little, 1999; 2005). But neither of these criticisms has successfully engaged analytic metaphysics; the entries on neither feminist metaphysics nor analytic feminism in the highly influential ‘Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’ mention pregnancy44 at all.
  4. There are many reasons for this lack of engagement, but at least one is this: analytic metaphysics is broadly naturalistic in outlook, which requires a conception of pregnancy45 and organisms that is attentive to our best understanding of reproductive biology. Most feminist work, however – and for understandable reasons – has shied away from such a perspective, stressing that persons are pregnant46, but perhaps overlooking that mammals are too. This lack of engagement between the two traditions means, on the one hand, that analytic philosophy still lacks the means to adequately conceptualise pregnancy47, and on the other that much of the feminist work on pregnancy48 has not sufficiently probed the metaphysically peculiar claims that some of their claims seem to commit to. There is a dire need for a project that can bridge this gap:

Aims
  1. To develop a philosophically sophisticated account of human pregnancy49 and birth, and the entities involved in this, that is attentive to our best understanding of human reproductive biology;
  2. To articulate a metaphysics of organisms, persons and selves that acknowledges the details of how we come into existence;
  3. To start the process of rewriting the legal, social and moral language we use to classify ourselves and our actions so that it is compatible with and can accommodate the nature of pregnancy50.

Topics to be Investigated: The project will proceed through the investigation of five interrelated subprojects.
  1. Metaphysics & Physiology of Pregnancy51: Beyond the Foetal Container.
    • Subproject one forms the backbone of the larger research project. It will closely investigate the physiology of pregnancy52 in conjunction with existing philosophical literature on when we come into existence, in order to do three things.
      1. First, it will properly articulate the central questions and puzzles that the larger research project will answer: questions about the nature of pregnancy53, the nature of maternal-foetal and foetal-baby relations, and the timing of organismic multiplication. Often the main philosophical work lies in asking the right questions, and the multiplication question is an example of this: it posits the maternal organism as an essential part of the story of how persons come into existence.
      2. Second, it will investigate alternatives to the foetal container model. An example of such an alternative is the part-whole model, according to which foetuses54 are not merely inside, but a proper part of pregnant55 organisms – like hearts, kidneys, nails and hair. (Kingma, under review). I will refer back to this particular hypothesis throughout the proposal in order to illustrate how the different subprojects are related, and how a fundamental investigation of the nature of pregnancy56 can bear upon a range of interesting and difficult questions in different domains.
      3. Third, it will articulate an important and – perhaps – radical assumption in the project: the assumption that the metaphysics of pregnancy57 is prior to the metaphysics of persons. This entails an explicit commitment to the possibility of revising dearly held assumptions about what a human or person is or what properties humans or persons have. For example, it is often simply assumed that persons and human beings could never be part of other humans (e.g. Howsepian, 2008); this project may force us to question such assumptions. This commitment posits some particular methodological requirements; for example that concepts used in this project, such as humans and persons, without the use of which the project cannot progress, should be seen as mere placeholders whose meaning and properties may turn out to differ radically from what we presently expect them to be.
  2. Reproducing Mammals: Organisms, Individuals and Other Biological Categories
    • Although we think of humans primarily as persons, they (also) reproduce as organisms – a feature they share with the rest of the biological world. Subproject two sets difficult questions about persons aside, and focuses solely on biological organisms. It will investigate the core claims and questions of subproject one, metaphysics and physiology of pregnancy58, in the context of the most sophisticated views of organisms that the philosophy of biology has to offer. Most of these are very friendly to the idea that organisms can be part of other organisms; some include the bacteria that line our gut as part of the human organism, for example (e.g. Dupré & O’Malley, 2009). But they also work with a conception of organism that is in many ways quite different from our commonplace practical and philosophical assumptions about ourselves.
    • Subproject two has several important roles within the overall project.
      1. First, it keeps it firmly aware of our being mammals and animals as well as persons and should prevent us from adopting an overly anthropocentric approach;
      2. second, I expect this to generate alternative ways of conceiving the relation between foetus59 and gestational organism, suggesting accounts of the nature of pregnancy60 that we might not otherwise have thought to consider, whilst simultaneously ruling out some that would have seemed plausible had one only focused on persons.
      These will feed back into subproject one.
  3. Metaphysics of Nested Entities: Mereology, Identity, Persistence & Constitution.
    • If there are interesting metaphysical relations between foetus61 and future baby – such as identity and persistence – as well as interesting metaphysical relations between foetus62 and maternal organism then the nature of pregnancy63 presents us with a metaphysical entity that has unusual features at its most basic and abstract level. This raises interesting new questions in the context of two established but difficult metaphysical questions:
      1. how we distinguish wholes from their parts, and
      2. how entities remain the same thing over time, whilst undergoing change.
    • Subproject three investigates these problems. The role of this subproject within the larger whole is to ensure that solutions are built from first principles and respect basic metaphysical constraints. Specifically, I suspect that some of the puzzles about pregnancy64 are not peculiar to humans, persons or even animals, but reflect more general and basic philosophical puzzles about wholes, parts, identity and constitution. If so they need to be solved (or at least articulated and addressed) at that more basic and general level.
  4. Reproducing Persons: Self, Other and Future Self
    • Ultimately this project strives towards an account of the reproduction of persons. Subprojects two, reproducing organisms, and three, the metaphysics of nested parts, ensure that the project is, first, sensitive to the our best understanding of human reproduction, qua mammalian organisms, and, second, respects the general rules of logic and metaphysics. With those conceptions in place, subproject four investigates what the nature of pregnancy65 teaches us about persons. This separates out into two sub-questions.
      1. The first sub-question is: what does the nature of pregnancy66 imply for our conceptions of what persons are? It will investigate, for example, how common philosophical conceptions of persons (as organisms, minds, brains, or self-constructing narrative agents) are affected by and could accommodate alternatives to the foetal container model and the other research findings about the nature of pregnancy67.
      2. Second, it will investigate the relation between past and future persons and explore whether this is affected by earlier research findings on the peculiar nature of pregnancy68. Take, for example, the part-whole hypothesis, which conjectures that foetuses69 are part of the pregnant70 organism. If we also suppose that persons are organism, then this may suggest new ways of conceiving the relationship between pregnant71 organism and future offspring. We can explore, for example, whether the pregnant72 organism is a person that is about to split into two future persons: one mother-person, and one offspring-person. On this understanding the pregnant73 organism’s relationship to future offspring is (like) its relationship towards its future selves.
    • Reconceptions of the maternal-offspring relationship such as this one have the potential to affect some of the moral, legal and practical questions I discussed in the introduction: e.g. how we think about the obligations of pregnant74 women, and what, if anything, would justify externally enforcing them.
  5. Philosophical Embedding and Translation
    • Subproject 5 re-embeds the findings of the project in a wider philosophical context. This has two components. The first focuses on ethics, and in particular on a translation of the research findings into the legal and moral domain; our moral and legal language may reflect certain assumptions that are not warranted in the light of pregnancy75, such as the tacit assumptions that persons are always distinct. If this project finds that, some, or all, persons do not have the properties we tacitly assume them to have, we have to revise the language underpinning social, moral and legal analysis to accommodate those findings.
    • The second component allows for situating this project’s highly analytic and approach to the philosophical investigation of pregnancy76 within the wider tradition of philosophical and feminist reflection on pregnancy77, birth and motherhood in relation to the self.


COMMENT:
  • Sub-title: Organisms, Identity, Personhood & Persistence
  • Successful request for funding for a 5-year large-scale project.
  • See Link



"Kingma (Elselijn) - BUMP: Better Understanding the Metaphysics of Pregnancy (B2)"

Source: Southampton University Website



"Klein (Mike) - Google's AlphaZero Destroys Stockfish In 100-Game Match"

Source: Chess.com, 6 Dec 2017


Full Text1, including selected Comments
  1. Chess changed forever today. And maybe the rest of the world did, too.
  2. A little more than a year after AlphaGo sensationally won against the top Go player, the artificial-intelligence program AlphaZero has obliterated the highest-rated chess engine.
  3. Stockfish, which for most top players is their go-to preparation tool, and which won the 2016 TCEC Championship and the 2017 Chess.com Computer Chess Championship, didn't stand a chance. AlphaZero won the closed-door, 100-game match with 28 wins, 72 draws, and zero losses.
  4. Oh, and it took AlphaZero only four hours to "learn" chess. Sorry humans, you had a good run.
  5. That's right -- the programmers of AlphaZero, housed within the DeepMind division of Google, had it use a type of "machine learning," specifically reinforcement learning. Put more plainly, AlphaZero was not "taught" the game in the traditional sense. That means no opening book, no endgame tables, and apparently no complicated algorithms dissecting minute differences between center pawns and side pawns.
  6. This would be akin to a robot being given access to thousands of metal bits and parts, but no knowledge of a combustion engine, then it experiments numerous times with every combination possible until it builds a Ferrari. That's all in less time that it takes to watch the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The program had four hours to play itself many, many times, thereby becoming its own teacher.
  7. For now, the programming team is keeping quiet. They chose not to comment to Chess.com, pointing out the paper "is currently under review" but you can read the full paper here (Google Deep Mind: Mastering Chess and Shogi by Self-Play). Part of the research group is Demis Hassabis, a candidate master from England and co-founder of DeepMind (bought by Google in 2014). Hassabis, who played in the ProBiz event of the London Chess Classic, is currently at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference in California where he is a co-author of another paper on a different subject.
  8. One person that did comment to Chess.com has quite a lot of first-hand experience playing chess computers. GM Garry Kasparov is not surprised that DeepMind branched out from Go to chess.
  9. "It's a remarkable achievement, even if we should have expected it after AlphaGo," he told Chess.com. "It approaches the 'Type B,' human-like approach to machine chess dreamt of by Claude Shannon and Alan Turing instead of brute force."
  10. AlphaZero vs. Stockfish | Round 1 | 4 Dec 2017 | 1-0 | One of the 10 selected games given in the paper.
    1. Nf3 Nf6 2. d4 e6 3. c4 b6 4. g3 Bb7 5. Bg2 Be7 6. O-O O-O 7. d5 exd5 8. Nh4 c6 9. cxd5 Nxd5 10. Nf5 Nc7 11. e4 d5 12. exd5 Nxd5 13. Nc3 Nxc3 14. Qg4 g6 15. Nh6+ Kg7 16. bxc3 Bc8 17. Qf4 Qd6 18. Qa4 g5 19. Re1 Kxh6 20. h4 f6 21. Be3 Bf5 22. Rad1 Qa3 23. Qc4 b5 24. hxg5+ fxg5 25. Qh4+ Kg6 26. Qh1 Kg7 27. Be4 Bg6 28. Bxg6 hxg6 29. Qh3 Bf6 30. Kg2 Qxa2 31. Rh1 Qg8 32. c4 Re8 33. Bd4 Bxd4 34. Rxd4 Rd8 35. Rxd8 Qxd8 36. Qe6 Nd7 37. Rd1 Nc5 38. Rxd8 Nxe6 39. Rxa8 Kf6 40. cxb5 cxb5 41. Kf3 Nd4+ 42. Ke4 Nc6 43. Rc8 Ne7 44. Rb8 Nf5 45. g4 Nh6 46. f3 Nf7 47. Ra8 Nd6+ 48. Kd5 Nc4 49. Rxa7 Ne3+ 50. Ke4 Nc4 51. Ra6+ Kg7 52. Rc6 Kf7 53. Rc5 Ke6 54. Rxg5 Kf6 55. Rc5 g5 56. Kd4
  11. Indeed, much like humans, AlphaZero searches fewer positions that its predecessors. The paper claims that it looks at "only" 80,000 positions per second, compared to Stockfish's 70 million per second.
  12. GM Peter Heine Nielsen, the longtime second of World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen, is now on board with the FIDE president in one way: aliens. As he told Chess.com, "After reading the paper but especially seeing the games I thought, well, I always wondered how it would be if a superior species landed on earth and showed us how they play chess. I feel now I know."
  13. We also learned, unsurprisingly, that White is indeed the choice, even among the non-sentient. Of AlphaZero's 28 wins, 25 came from the white side (although +3=47-0 as Black against the 3400+ Stockfish isn't too bad either).
  14. The machine also ramped up the frequency of openings it preferred. Sorry, King's Indian practitioners, your baby is not the chosen one. The French also tailed off in the program's enthusiasm over time, while the Queen's Gambit and especially the English Opening were well represented.
  15. What do you do if you are a thing that never tires and you just mastered a 1400-year-old game? You conquer another one. After the Stockfish match, AlphaZero then "trained" for only two hours and then beat the best Shogi-playing computer program "Elmo."
  16. The ramifications for such an inventive way of learning are of course not limited to games.
  17. "We have always assumed that chess required too much empirical knowledge for a machine to play so well from scratch, with no human knowledge added at all," Kasparov said. "Of course I’ll be fascinated to see what we can learn about chess from AlphaZero, since that is the great promise of machine learning in general — machines figuring out rules that humans cannot detect. But obviously the implications are wonderful far beyond chess and other games. The ability of a machine to replicate and surpass centuries of human knowledge in complex closed systems is a world-changing tool."
  18. Chess.com interviewed eight of the 10 players participating in the London Chess Classic about their thoughts on the match. A video compilation of their thoughts will be posted on the site later.
  19. The player with most strident objections to the conditions of the match was GM Hikaru Nakamura. While a heated discussion is taking place online about processing power of the two sides, Nakamura thought that was a secondary issue.
  20. The American called the match "dishonest" and pointed out that Stockfish's methodology requires it to have an openings book for optimal performance. While he doesn't think the ultimate winner would have changed, Nakamura thought the size of the winning score would be mitigated.
  21. "I am pretty sure God himself could not beat Stockfish 75 percent of the time with White without certain handicaps," he said about the 25 wins and 25 draws AlphaZero scored with the white pieces.
  22. GM Larry Kaufman, lead chess consultant on the Komodo program, hopes to see the new program's performance on home machines without the benefits of Google's own computers. He also echoed Nakamura's objections to Stockfish's lack of its standard opening knowledge.
  23. "It is of course rather incredible, he said. "Although after I heard about the achievements of AlphaGo Zero in Go I was rather expecting something like this, especially since the team has a chess master, Demis Hassabis. What isn't yet clear is whether AlphaZero could play chess on normal PCs and if so how strong it would be. It may well be that the current dominance of minimax chess engines may be at an end, but it's too soon to say so. It should be pointed out that AlphaZero had effectively built its own opening book, so a fairer run would be against a top engine using a good opening book."
  24. Whatever the merits of the match conditions, Nielsen is eager to see what other disciplines will be refined or mastered by this type of learning.
  25. "[This is] actual artificial intelligence," he said. "It goes from having something that's relevant to chess to something that's gonna win Nobel Prizes or even bigger than Nobel Prizes. I think it's basically cool for us that they also decided to do four hours on chess because we get a lot of knowledge. We feel it's a great day for chess but of course it goes so much further."





Selected Comments
  1. There are many problems with the paper which I stated here: New computer chess champion? Not yet!. Also when you go through the games, you will find very interesting blunders from Stockfish which are definitively not characteristic for it. It all comes down to the settings. I don't believe this version is superior to Stockfish just yet, next version might very well be.
    • Very recently, news about a new chess playing entity hit the world. Google published their article about a program called Alpha Zero, generalized AlphaGo Zero, which had shown its dominance in the game of Go. This time they aimed to conquer chess.
    • It is a nice step in a different direction, perhaps the start of the revolution, but Alpha Zero is not yet better than Stockfish and if you keep up with me I will explain why. Most of the people are very excited now and wishing for sensation so they don't really read the paper or think about what it says which leads to uninformed opinions.
    • The testing conditions were terrible. 1min/move is not really suitable time for any engine testing but you could tolerate that. What is intolerable though is the hash-table size - with 64 cores Stockfish was given, you would expect around 32GB or more otherwise it fills up very quickly leading to marked reduction in strength - 1GB was given and that far from ideal value! Also SF was not given any endgame tablebases which is current norm for any computer chess engine.
    • The computational power behind each entity was very different - while SF was given 64 CPU threads (really a lot I've got to say), Alpha Zero was given 4 TPUs. TPU is a specialized chip for machine learning and neural network calculations. It's estimated power compared to classical CPU is as follows - 1TPU ~ 30xE5-2699v3 (18 cores machine) -> Aplha Zero had at it's back power of ~2000 Haswell cores. That is nowhere near a fair match. And yet, even though the result was dominant, it was not what it would be if SF faced itself 2000 cores vs 64 cores. In that case the win percentage would be much more heavily in favor of the more powerful hardware.
    • From those observations we can make a conclusion - Alpha Zero is not so close in strength to SF as Google would like us to believe. Incorrect match settings suggest either lack of knowledge about classical brute-force calculating engines and how they are properly used, or intention to create conditions where SF would be defeated.
    • With all that said, it is still an amazing achievement and definitively fresh air in computer chess, most welcome these days. But for the new computer chess champion we will have to wait a little bit longer.
  2. Sadly, I think this is as much as hype (at this point) as anything. It's just impossible to compare the 4 TPUs of AlphaZero to 64 cores (and only 1 GB of RAM?!) of Stockfish on a hardware basis (the paper doesn't even try to do so!). Rudimentary guesses/estimates are that this is a 100 or 1000 times hardware advantage (200-400 Elo), which completely nullifies the 100 Elo from the 64-36 score. It is still impressive on other measures though (like machine learning), I just don't think the whomping of Stockfish as a software advance is the main point, given the quite incomparable hardware situation. Alternatively, perhaps it says that these massively parallel GPU/TPU solutions are the future, and the single CPU/RAM model is (for the second time) dead.
  3. The hardware issue is definitely putting questions to the value of the 64-36 score, but to me the most impressive aspect is that it got so strong in just four hours, meanwhile developing opening theory that took humanity more than a century.
  4. The hardware difference is mitigated by the number of positions calculated. Stockfish was able to compare 7million/sec while AlphaZero only compared 80k/sec, so no matter what additional hardware was put behind Stockfish. The point being made is that AlphaZero's calculating ability and intimate knowledge of chess is far superior to that of Stockfish, despite the amount of human knowledge of chess (and human time being taught chess), put into each, thanks to machine learning.
  5. 4 hours sounds impressive, and it is, but be aware that AlphaZero used more than 500 TPUs during the learning phase... That is equivalent of 250,000 CPUs or more. So 4 hours on that is an eternity (or at least years) on a single PC.
  6. Well guys, chess is a mathematical problem. The google team came up with a very effective new way of challenging this problem. Well done! Still I don't see how an optimized Monte Carlo approach that uses self-created statistics (the engine playing itself zillions of times) to come up with the best move has ANYTHING to do with intelligence or human learning. Because it hasn't. It's simple as that. It's a machine that follows a protocol. Now the machine is powerful and fast enough to follow the protocol without specific instructions. It's quantity with a feedback system (statistics which move scores best). And now to what it does not do: It does NOT "play" chess. It does NOT think. It does NOT decide to play chess. It does NOT have ideas. It's an optimized calculator. I wish, people (especially journalists) would come to terms with that instead of spreading Google's spin of a revolution of humanity.
  7. The type of programing used for alphazero was used by computer chess developers and on a consumer grade computer could only achieve 2400 rating. This type of algorithm isn't new. They discarded it years ago for what they use now. So yeah parameters of the computers raw resources have just a teeny bit of effect here (yes that is sarcasm). I hope it's Vishy that called out the parameters in the interview! Guess I'll come back to find that out later.
  8. I agree the stockfish program was run at a sub-optimal level for these games. In addition the time control is a little off compared to its claim of tournament play, as it gave players fixed time per move rather than fixed time per game, thus nullifying a large part of Stockfish's opening book advantage (playing a move instantly gives no advantage vs AlphaZero's 60 seconds). Also it is unknown to me at this point if Stockfish even was using a top opening book. The paper just states Google tossed together openings that were played over 100,000 times. So I take it the book was just made from a database with no edits? This would be a very non-competitive opening book in a standard computer chess engine tournament. I want to say that for the longest time engines such as Houdini could outplay Stockfish in G/10 second matches but lose in longer times. I feel the same is at play here but AlphaZero is at a much higher level. If you gave both engines 2 Hours/Game and higher computing power to Stockfish, I wouldn't be surprised if result goes in Stockfish's favor if Stockfish was given an actually competitive opening book. Also no mention was given to what tablebases Stockfish was using if any. Wouldn't surprise me if the Google guys ran stockfish with permanent brain set to off.
  9. I wish all these articles would stop citing '4 hours'. Yes, there is a line in the paper that it outperformed Stockfish after 4 hours, but in the training methodology section you can clearly see that the final product trained for 700k batches in each game, which took 9 hours for chess. The neural net that whomped stockfish was trained for 9 hours, not 4 hours. (Also, that's 9 hours on a 5000-TSU stack that essentially represents decades of continuous computation on a consumer-grade computer). Not to diminish the awesomeness of AlphaZero's performance, but the bit about 'after only 4 hours' is sensationalist journalism that trivializes the amount of computation that goes into training such a network.
  10. This match doesn't seem to be fair. As far as I know 1 TPU has 8GB of memory and 180 teraflops: Google announces TPU 2.0. 8 core high end CPU has 350 gigaflops. Core i7 5960X (Haswell E). 8 core @ 3.0GHz AVX2. Haswell-E Core-i7. So overall it is around: 32 GB vs 1GB; 720 TF vs 2.9TF. It looks like Deepmind hardware was more than 200 times stronger.
  11. I'd be interested to see how Stockfish would do with its opening book. After all, Stockfish isn't designed to calculate the opening, and AlphaZero seems to be specifically designed to excel in the opening as "intuition" or AI is its core.
  12. In my understanding, because ("traditional") engines can't remember anything that isn't available to them at this very moment - no matter whether it has never been available, was available but then deleted, or still available but hidden (not on the current search path or directory, opening book switched off). The human equivalent of an engine without opening book would be someone who never, never ever studied openings at all - not by reading opening books, not by checking databases, playing through games, getting coaching, whatever. Or someone who has studied openings but forgot literally everything. A Caro-Kann player would have to find out anew each time that 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 requires 3.-dxe4. A Sicilian player would have to figure out from scratch whether a7-a6 is useful or even needed in a given position. Both might be possible based on 'general considerations', in the second case including the fact that white playing Nb5 might be annoying - but without opening study you won't even know that it CAN be annoying in such structures. Human players, down to weak amateurs, naturally use their "opening book" - small or big, but never completely switched off.
  13. Only a strong player or a techie understands what this is really about. The match is not what is important. If Deepmind taught itself to play like this that is the story. It doesn't matter if it was a fair match with SF. That it could win some games at this level with this kind of play using totally different processes is amazing. Remember this technology is still improving.
  14. If Stockfish couldn't use opening libraries and ending tables (and the strength of the hardware is questionable), it really is like saying: Ok, guys, we're going to have a race between a motorbike (= Stockfish) and a bicycle (= AlphaZero). The motorbike has been tuned for many years to have the best performance, but at last moment you say: "Sorry, you can't use petrol, because our machine, the bicycle doesn't use petrol either." Obviously, the motorbike loses, because the bicycle uses a different kind of power (muscles). Stockfish can only show its full strength if using the tools that have been "tuned" over many years. AlphaZero uses a different kind of power: reinforced learning. And it's nonsense that AZ doesn't use opening libraries: it does. It uses its own libraries that saves during self-learning (or self-teaching, whatever you call it). What DeepMind achieved in Go is truly remarkable. But this is really unnecessary PR, and imho DeepMind is rather losing credit, not gaining. However, as a lot of people have pointed out, the achievement of being able to create a strong chess machine that learns chess at a high level from the scratch (only the rules) is great! And now a real and fair match, please! If DeepMind dares to have one... Under controlled circumstances, not on Google's playground behind closed doors!
  15. This is a seminal moment in the evolution of chess algorithms. Now all the 'top' engines will have to have their algorithms rewritten in Machine Learning to stand some chance in the future against a model that learned from itself by playing millions of games.ML identifies patterns that is impossible to identify using any other techniques. This is the real computer chess. So far all the engines heavily depended upon creators access to game db and explicit programing of parameters. What is even more scary is that the AlphaZero will get even better when it starts playing against similar ML based engines and by tweaking its hyper parameters.
  16. “I just ran some of the provided PGN's though Stockfish and every time, Stockfish was confident it had reached equilibrium or close to it in middle-game. How is that possible if it's hamstrung in opening book play?”
    • I noticed the same thing in the two I looked at.
    • It kinda negates the whole argument that the lack of opening book was a significant issue. AlphaZero seemed to have a deeper understanding of the endgame that even led to a piece sac that would be considered risky by most humans. Stockfish didn't even recognize that the sac led to an advantage until several moves later. AlphaZero's understanding was just so much deeper.
    • Those complaining about hardware disparity and lack of opening book are totally missing the point. No, this isn't apples to apples, like comparing Komodo to Stockfish. You could undoubtedly run Stockfish on the supercomputer and get a predictable increase in strength due to the added brute force power, and that surely would have narrowed the gap between the two systems.
    • But AlphaZero's ability was obtained after four hours of self-play! Of course it could continue to become stronger with more time. And maybe it couldn't compete if it was running on the same hardware SF was using. That's kinda irrelevant. The point was a demonstration of the learning and problem-solving capability of this new form of artificial intelligence. Assuming SF was running on anything close to decent hardware, it could easily perform at an ELO of 3300, and AlphaZero stomped it. Just appreciate how amazing that is without getting distracted by the irrelevant details.
  17. An opening book is worth about 50 Elo. Tablebase is worth about 35. That makes the StockFish8 used for this match about 3140 Elo and so A0's performance is about 3250. After only four hours of self-training that is a stunning result. DeepMind's best Go program trained for 40 days.
  18. A comparison of the intelligence required to build a Ferrari from a pile of parts against the difficulty of playing chess is terrible.
    • Chess is greatly different than a bag of mechanical parts, in that a given chess position contains only a small amount of "information" (under 200 bits) -- think a few bits for each piece multiplied by 64 squares. This can be stored and processed extremely quickly in a mathematical sense on the thousands of tiny ridiculously fast processors in Deep Mind.
    • With a pile of mechanical parts, the position and orientation of each part in three dimensional space represents a unique piece of information. If you stored that as floating point, the 30,000 parts in a typical functional car would represent over 7 million bits of information. But that's not enough information for an "intelligent" computer to iterate on putting the pieces of the car together -- you would also need the surface representation of each part (like a CAD drawing of it), which if factored in to the simulation would increase that to hundreds of millions of bits. Beyond that, you would also need the ability to simulate the motion and interaction of those parts -- Newton's laws, statics, dynamics, etc, in sufficient detail, which takes ridiculous processing power.
    • The problem is actually infinitely worse than that though -- the problem is how to define a "score" for a given configuration of parts, that represents how close you are to successfully putting together the car. With chess, you can easily define a score for a position in a variety of ways (i.e. points of the pieces, or run a random simulation forward from a given position and see which side tends to win more often). Obviously there are exceptions, for example where there is a forced mate, you can ignore points, but it still lets you cut out a lot of branches you would otherwise have to search.
    • With putting together a car, you have no such way of defining that a certain configuration of parts is mathematically better than another, because the vast majority of configurations of parts are completely nonsensical (for example, attach the steering wheel to the tail pipe -- think of all kinds of funny ways you could arrange the parts) and effectively have a score of "zero" in the grand scheme of things. A human could figure things out, because we have the ability to do abstract problem solving based on vast life knowledge of how things work. Deep Mind has none of that.
    • There's probably hundreds or even thousands of auto mechanics in the world that could successfully put together a Ferrari from parts without a manual, given enough time and patience, but not one of those mechanics could beat AlphaZero or even Stockfish in a thousand years. Give Deep Mind a thousand years trying to put together any car (or even something much simpler, like a bicycle) and it will get nowhere. It's a completely different problem space for a computer to solve abstract unconstrained real world problems, versus the tightly constrained mathematical problem space of chess.
  19. The mere fact what an AI has achieved from SCRATCH (tabula rasa) is amazing. It knew ONLY the rules of chess! No evaluation tables and 20 years of coding by hundreds of programmers! BTW, it is written in the paper that it used only 4 tensor processors in the match. They consume even less Watts than the Xeons and are built on 28 nm technology. So it was not a supercomputer you allude to. In fact, "AlphaZero searched just
    80 thousand positions per second , compared to 70 million by Stockfish." By all events, the computational power of Alpha Zero was not so overwhelming - 4 TPU take just 4 SATA slots in a computer and consume about 200 Watts altogether.
  20. It's making use of artificial neural networks to learn, so this result should have been obvious considering a similar system performed well playing Go, which is a far more complicated game for a neural network to learn. The actual important thing of all this isn't that it beat Stockfish, it's how it beat Stockfish. It played much more human moves than any engine would, as it is essentially learning how a human does, and so we can learn much more from it than we can from a normal engine. Also, I don't know the specifics of the system obviously, but generally these systems take much more computing power to train than they do to run, so a distributed, trained version may not need a lot of power to be very very strong.
  21. What people fail to realize is that the human brain is just a computer. Many believe PCs are "faster" than us at calculations but lack other forms of intelligence. This isn’t true. The human brain is a PC that evolved trough millions of years of evolution. It is way faster then the best current supercomputers. Similar to this chess AI we use neural networks to make decisions. Our neural nets are way more complex than those of the PC. Both out hardware and software are superior at the moment to the PCs. The only reason we cannot do fast calculations, is because we didn’t evolve the software for that because it wasn’t necessary in the human evolution. The AIs on the other hand are designed instead of evolved. It’s easy to design a machine that can do calculations. The reason AIs are not good at real-life tasks yet, is because their hardware is insufficient, and we lack the general purpose algorithms. This is only a matter of time though, there is no fundamental difference between a PC and a human brain. In the end every task that a human can do, will be done better by an AI. AIs will be better writers, judges, lovers, researchers. Human beings will become completely obsolete in the near eras. Enjoy the nice life while it lasts, it won’t be for too long.
  22. ”What people fail to realize is that the human brain is just a computer.”
    • Interesting assertion, but it's only that. Many people have asserted that a human brain is analogous to a computer, but that's not demonstrable and not scientific. In fact very little is actually known or understood about how the human brain works. There's no evidence that the human mind visualizes or calculates, on a conscious or unconscious level, thousands of accurately projected possible chess positions per second as part of its evaluation process. We can say that the human mind uses logic, analysis, thought, creativity, intuition, etc. in solving problems, but we don't have very precise definitions for these terms. People claim that A.I. does some of these things, but again, that's just an assertion, not scientific. The best we can say is that, based on results, it kind of looks like that. And as A.I. is getting more complex, we have less of an understanding of what the computer is doing as part of its process. Claims that what a computer does is analogous to what a human brain does are based on faith, not fact.
    • If A.I. is as sophisticated and "intelligent" as its advocates claim, and if the success of machines at chess and go is not principally a result of brute force calculation, then let's take away the computer's brute force and see what happens. Let’s give a machine like Alpha* a lot of time to learn the game. Then, during play, let's constrain it so that it's only capable of calculating, let's say 20 positions per second rather than tens of thousands or tens of millions. It will still be calculating deeper than a human! It will still have the brute force advantage! Then have it play at classical-chess time controls against the best humans in the world and see who wins.
    • Although two competitors approach the same goal, that does not mean they use analogous methods, and results prove nothing about method. I could race you 200 meters. I run, you ride a motorcycle. We both have the same goal, but we get there entirely differently. If I want to make a "fair" race, I'll have you race against Usain Bolt, and you have to kick start the engine after the starting gun has fired. But in any event, to claim that the human leg is just another kind of motorcycle would be somewhat absurd. (The motorcycle might win the race, but let's see it dance the cha cha cha!)
  23. Regarding the game analysis, one thing I noticed that agrees completely with a key difference between AlphaZero and Stockfish, at least according to the Deep Mind paper. Stockfish will accept a path with a very narrow line that keeps it alive (which, as Black, you accept). AlphaZero prefers a path that gives it many options. Around the point at which the game appears to turn, Stockfish as hanging on to a path with only one survivable outcome... when that singular path gets refuted, it's game over. This results from AlphaZero averaging outcomes in it's look-forward tree (pruning the obviously bad options), whereas Stockfish, like almost all engines, uses a minimax algorithm. So Stockfish as Black will take a +0.00 evaluation that leaves it no options, over a 0.10 evaluation that gives it more flexibility. AlphaZero is not the first engine to use averaging, but the first to do so with such success. This might be the sort of decision that made sense at ELO 2500, but not at ELO 3500.
  24. If your neural net is flexible enough, it's indistinguishable from looking-ahead, or equivalently, to searching more positions. If you can do that on equivalent hardware, you have a powerful argument for a superior problem-solving architecture. If you have far more computing power available to you, you can't really claim a better architecture. Suppose I build a quantum computer that beats AlphaZero using the dumbest brute-force algorithm imaginable. It would not prove the superiority of my algorithm. I'm quite impressed with the AlphaZero accomplishment ... pending some important details that are uncertain, such as whether AlphaZero played against SF as part of its training. But the hardware certainly matters. Also ... you have to wonder why pondering was disabled ... this was supposed to look like a normal game, and that's not normal. It would definitely make SF more predictable ... which matters if AZ trained itself against SF. Or maybe SF just isn't capable of pondering usefully, because of the nature of its architecture. Things to wonder about...
  25. ”For the MCTS algorithm to work as explained at AlphaGo Zero - How and Why it Works without any chess knowledge programmed into it besides the bare rules Alpha Zero had to play out every single "node" move until the very end of each line to get a new single value for each node. This is really hard to believe, incredible. I have to say I still don't get it.”
    • It's hard enough to believe that it's quite suspect. If I understand how AlphaZero works, it starts by playing completely random moves against itself. The winning side has positional factors (or nodes) weighted positively, the loser negatively. At the simplest level, a node is having a particular piece on a particular square. But going deeper the relationships between the pieces on the various squares comes into play as weighted nodes. The number of potential nodes is practically endless, and they aren't telling us what nodes are and aren't tracked. But still ... none get weighted until a game is over. So you can drop your queen, win anyways against an opponent who played randomly, and begin by concluding that dropping your queen was a good idea. Eventually you'll sort it all out, but is seems an unbelievably inefficient way to learn.
  26. Folks, so many things about the match condition are not known that is almost impossible to say anything meaningful about the match. But one thing is known so far: Stockfish was not allowed to use an opening book, and that seriously weakened it, no doubt about it. Now, let take a look at the games to see whether Stockfish played in its optimal performance. Below was the first game of the 10 samples:
    • In the match, Stockfish played 11. Kh1 which seriously makes no sense at all. An analysis with Stockfish 64 bits yields indeed 11. b4 or 11. Be3 would be the optimal move for White and the game would be even. Not enough, the next move was even more crazy: Stockfish played 12. a5just to get the a pawn of out reach of the black knight when even a quick glance will say b3 is a much better move and my Stockfish agreed on that. Let Stockfish run for 15 seconds, it would propose 12. Qc3 or 12. Nfxe5 as the optimal moves and again the play field will be even. I seriously don't understand why Stockfish had played weaker for 1 min/move (as indicated in the paper)!
    • Game 3 is even more interesting: After 47. Rxc5 Stockfish responded naturally with 47.... bxc5 and evaluated the position as even. But just after white moved its queen to the h column 48. Qh4 , Stockfish must double its rook on the e column and dropped its evaluation almost 100 pts(!), which should signal a serious trouble. The sudden drop in evaluation is disturbing. Do we see a horizon problem of Stockfish (and similar engines) here because even after a 69-depth evaluation of move 47th, Stockfish still could not sense the danger? A superb positional playing of Alpha Zero where its strength of recognizing patterns came evidently into play. But what happened next is beyond my knowledge: 49. Rf6 Rf8. Why on earth should the black rook limit itself, its king and queen to the corner? An attempt to protect the pawn f7 is futile because white can easily double down the pressure with Qf4, which it actually also did. A clearly better alternative would be 49...Kf8 where the black king and its queen would have a litter more breathing room. The 50th move of black was catastrophic, too. 50. Qf4 a4. Now, this move lead to nowhere. If black wanted to protect the f7 pawn, it must block diagonal line of the bishop b3 with 50...d5 than move its e7 rook out of misere. Anyway, the game was lost after the two blunders but the question remains, why did Stockfish do that? Not enough time or what was the reason?
    • One last thing about the training of Alpha Zero. Google claimed it took only 4 hours and around 300000 steps to beat Stockfish. I don't know what they mean exactly with "steps", but probably that means a batch of 4096 games or around 1.2 billion games in total to beat Stockfish. And that again means Alpha Zero used to finish a game on 11 ms on average! This is serious ass-kicking hardware that everybody else could only dream of. It throws the questions about the evaluation function Alpha Zero used for its training. Did DeepMind use the same evaluation function of Stockfish (which is open-source and contains lot of chess knowledges) to train its networks than claimed to beat Stockfish on a million times more powerful hardware?
  27. To be honest, I don't think we as humans can ever judge these decisions either on our analysis or even Stockfish's early analysis, that's because the computer considers way too many moves and if you let it run for more, it may change its decision (i.e. maybe somewhere 30 moves after Be3, stockfish realizes that it's losing). Additionally, I can clearly see a weakness in stockfish's play where it mostly favors lines where the play is forced (e.g. exchanges), or as someone else put it, lines that are narrow.
    • I ran the latest stockfish on the position you mentioned (at move 11): At first, It gives b4 as the optimal move when the engine is running for about a minute. After that, it decides Be3 is better. But after 5 minutes on my hardware that runs on 1,400k nodes/s it will decide to go with Kh1 as the optimal move.
    • In the paper, it is said that stockfish calculates 70,000k positions per second and is run for 1 minute per move, that's about 50 times my hardware, so I'll let mine run for 50 minutes... Kg1-h1 is still the choice for Stockfish.
    • However, an interesting result was observed when evaluating move 12, stockfish started out suggesting the moves you mentioned, but after 6 minutes it preferred a4-a5 just as the game went. But I had to keep it running for a complete 50 minutes in order to reach 70,000k(positions/sec) * 60(seconds) =4,200,000k nodes mentioned in the paper. After 18 minutes the line changed back to Qc3, and again to Ne3 after 24 minutes. After 27 minutes, it suggested Ng1 all the way up to 56 minutes. After that, the optimal move was Nf3xe5 but it's past the 50minutes mark I mentioned before (you can see the engine analysis for an hour and 22 minutes in this screenshot).
    • I don't know why Stockfish in the real game didn't play the moves above the 1,472,000k nodesmark (red line). There were three other good lines after a4-a5 until the 4,200,000k nodes (50 minutes) I mentioned before. Maybe I'm confusing the definitions of nodes vs. positions. However, I think we can see that Stockfish on the match performed below 1,472,000k nodes mark in order to play a4-a5 and that gives us an inkling of its performance. I hope I can get useful insights on this assumption from people who are more familiar with the engine.
    • As you mentioned, so many details are unknown that makes it really hard for us to trust the outcomes of the games. For instance, AlphaZero was allowed four hours of training but Stockfish was not allowed to use opening tables which is a serious drawback. We can clearly see in the paper that AlphaZero started training itself very quickly on the matter and has even built preferences on some openings. AlphaZero is a neural network, so claiming that AlphaZero uses no openings because it doesn't have a book (and therefore Stockfish shouldn't as well) is like saying Grandmasters do not know openings because they don't bring their books to matches. I would have been much happier if they would at least allow Stockfish to build an opening book for itself at the same duration and using the same hardware AlphaZero was trained.
  28. Some of the facts of the AlphaZero vs Stockfish 8 match that we know so far are:
    • 1,300 games were played in total by AlphaZero against Stockfish 8.
    • Stockfish won 24 games! Drew 958 games, and lost a massive 318 games!
    • The interim paper released only showed a selection of 100 games from the 1300 games the full paper should have all 1300 game scores and detailed results (summary stats below of the 1300 games)
    • Some misconceptions:
      • Stockfish 8 in the match was playing stronger than the standard stockfish. This is not validated yet and what makes it doubtful is that despite the 64 threads processing power, the hash memory was very unfavorable to Stockfish. This actually could hinder it evaluating positions and explain why people have been seeing some suboptimal moves played by Stockfish 8 in the match but find their Stockfish making stronger moves. It is true that the horizon effect could have come into play in some situations but it is not convincing to say that this is true in many of the examples that have been listed in this thread of weaker moves played by the Stockfish 8 in the match.
      • The Time management hurt Stockfish 8's evaluation positions as the 1 minute per move curtailed full-depth search and left it often playing suboptimal moves as it has run out of time.
      • AlphaZero trained with self-play developing "expert policies" it could apply to any position it encountered against Stockfish 8. The learning was only in self-play.
      • The 24 games that were lost by AlphaZero against Stockfish 8 show that the learning could still be improved and the 958 draws against a handicapped Stockfish 8 show both could benefit from enhancements, in Stockfish (books, tablebase) and AlphaZero (learning from expert games with no bias).
      • AlphaZero is impressive even against a weakened Stockfish 8, but releasing only 100 games with none of AlphaZero's draws (958) and none of its lost games (24) was not the best for an objective discussion about the DeepMind team's achievements.
  29. These brute force type of engines like Stockfish don't really get much better with more computing power. The Stockfish on a smartphone can probably beat Carlsen with ease. That's because the search tree gets exponentially bigger: for each extra depth, there are on average 20 more moves to consider. That's 20 times more computing power for each extra move. What Alpha Zero does is completely different. It uses (an approximation of) infinite depth for all the moves it considers. It plays entire games against itself and determines what percentage of games are winning, losing, or drawing. That's how it finds those really deep positional ideas that brute force engines will never find.
  30. See Re-evaluation of AI engine alpha zero. Abstract: Artificial Intelligence (AI) is at the heart of IT-research and pioneers automated problemsolving. A recent breakthrough that could shift the AI-field was reported by Silver and colleagues of the famous Google Deep mind developer team around Demis Hassabis. They have reported that a new adaption of their in-house generalized neural network (NN) machine learning algorithm, termed AlphaZero, has achieved to outperform the world’s best-rated chess engine Stockfish, already after four hours of self-learning, and starting only with the rules of chess. AlphaZero originates from the superhuman Alpha Go program and could beat the best chess engine via blank slate tabula rasa self-play reinforcement machine learning, i.e. only by learning from many games played against itself. This worldwide strongest AI-performance claim has been drawn from a 100-game match between AlphaZero and Stockfish engines and has attracted much attention by the media, especially in the world of chess, which has been historically a key domain of AI. AlphaZero did not lose one game and won 28 times, while the remainders of the 100 games were draws. General reinforcement learning is very promising for many applications of mathematical solution finding in complexity. However, the requirement to independently verify if this breakthrough AI claim can be made poses some major difficulties and raises some inevitable doubts if a final proof has been given. Machine and method details are not available and only10 example games were given. This research starts with a reproducibility testing of all 10 example games and reveals that AlphaZero shows signs of human openings and might have outperformed Stockfish due to an irregular underperformance of Stockfish8, like post-opening novelties or subperfect game moves, like in game moves and post-opening novelites. At this juncture, the testing revealed that AI quiescence searches could be improved via multiple roots for both engines, which could boost all future AI performances. In light of a lack of tournament conditions and an independent referee, comparability challenges of software and hardware configurations such as AlphaZero’s TFLOP super-calculation-power, this work suggests that a final best AI-engine-claim requires further proof. Overclaim biases are found in all sciences of today due to the publishing imperatives and wish to be first.
  31. Sundry Links:
    Twitter: Demis Hassabis
    Google Deep Mind: Mastering Chess and Shogi by Self-Play
    Chess24: Alphazero vs Stockfish
    AlphaZero vs Stockfish 1200 games! 4100+ rating!
    Alphazero: Its great predecessors
    AlphaGo Zero: Learning from scratch


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In-Page Footnotes ("Klein (Mike) - Google's AlphaZero Destroys Stockfish In 100-Game Match")

Footnote 1:



"Kolak (Daniel) - Room for a View: On the Metaphysical Subject of Personal Identity"

Source: Synthese, Vol. 162, No. 3 (Jun., 2008), pp. 341-372


Author’s Abstract
  1. Sydney Shoemaker leads today's "neo-Lockean" liberation of persons from the conservative animalist1 charge of "neo-Aristotelians" such as Eric Olson, according to whom persons are biological entities and who challenge all neo-Lockean views on grounds that abstracting from strictly physical, or bodily, criteria plays fast and loose with our identities.
  2. There is a fundamental mistake on both sides: a false dichotomy between bodily continuity versus psychological continuity2 theories of personal identity.
  3. Neo-Lockeans, like everyone else today who relies on Locke's analysis of personal identity, including Derek Parfit3, have either completely distorted or not understood Locke's actual view. Shoemaker's defense, which uses a "package deal" definition that relies on internal relations of synchronic and diachronic unity and employs the Ramsey-Lewis account to define personal identity, leaves far less room for psychological continuity4 views than for my own view, which, independently of its radical implications, is that
    1. consciousness makes personal identity, and
    2. in consciousness alone personal identity consists - which happens to be also Locke's actual view.
  4. Moreover, the ubiquitous Fregean conception of borders and the so-called "ambiguity of is" collapse in the light of what Hintikka has called the "Frege trichotomy." The Ramsey-Lewis account, due to the problematic way Shoemaker tries to bind the variables, makes it impossible for the neo-Lockean ala Shoemaker to fulfill the uniqueness clause required by all such Lewis style definitions; such attempts avoid circularity only at the expense of mistaking isomorphism with identity.
  5. Contrary to what virtually all philosophers writing on the topic assume, fission does not destroy personal identity. A proper analysis of public versus perspectival identification, derived using actual case studies from neuropsychiatry, provides the scientific, mathematical and logical frameworks for a new theory of self-reference, wherein "consciousness," "self-consciousness5," and the "I," can be precisely defined in terms of the subject and the subject-in-itself.


COMMENT: Part of "Quine (W.V.) - On the Axiom of Reducibility".



"Kwong (Ivy) - A Brutally Honest Review of My 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat"

Source: Legal Nomads Website


Full Text1A Brutally Honest Review of My 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat
My slow spiral into insanity and inner peace
Ivy Kwong
Sep 25, 2017

This gong rang at 4:00am in the morning. Every. Freaking. Morning. For 11 days straight.

No talking. No phones or technology. No yoga pants. No working out. No music. No reading. No writing. No killing (even spiders!). No stealing. No masturbating. No sex. No lying. No drugs or alcohol. No moving during “sittings of strong determination.”

The morning gong rings at 4 a.m. sharp to rouse everyone for the opening 4:30–6:30 a.m. meditation session. The first two of 10 1/2 total hours of meditation scheduled every single day. For 10 days straight.

I am officially in Meditation Prison.
How did I end up here?

In a questionable moment of sanity, I decided to book a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat for my birthday. I had no idea what I was in for. Without bothering to do much research beforehand, I figured it’d be nice to disconnect and take a break from technology and social media, relax, and do some yoga and meditation. On a good week, I average about 20 minutes of meditation every few days, so this seemed like a solid way to try and practice it more regularly.

When I looked for payment options on the mysterious website Dhamma.org — complete with a spinning wagon wheel graphic that looked like it was plucked from the internet of 1998 — there was none to be found. What was this madness? What kind of place gives you a bed, three meals a day, and daily meditation instruction for nearly two weeks without requiring a significant chunk of change in return? Was I being lured into an international organ harvesting organization cleverly using the guise of a retreat to find deep inner peace as their cover? Was this some sort of Satanic cult? Do Satanists even meditate?

I had questions.

Digging deeper, I discovered that all of the meditation courses offered via the site are 100 percent donation-based. They won’t accept any money up front, but you can offer a donation after successful completion of one of their programs.

It seemed too good to be true. What was the catch?

I was about to find out.

I was accepted for a 10-day course at the Northwest Vipassana Center located in Onalaska, Washington. On my scheduled day of arrival I road-tripped down from Seattle, grabbed my suitcase (complete with clothes, toiletries, pillow, a sheet for a twin-sized bed, and blankets) — and nervously stepped into the simple, single-story building. It kind of felt like I was starting my freshman year of college all over again.

Immediately upon entering the registration area, I was given paperwork to fill out and a cloth bag into which I was to relinquish my cell phone. The last text that I received was from my father:

“Mom and I suspect this is a cult. If you feel something is out of line just leave right away.”
Thanks for calming my nerves, Dad.

The cloth bag was numbered, and taken away while I was assured it’d be returned on the last day. I sat down to read over the paperwork, preparing to sign away my life:

Signing my entire life away, no big deal.

“A serious undertaking”? I thought we were here to relax… How wrong I was. TM (Transcendental Meditation), yes. Vipassana, no. (Also, a shout out to Nikki Myers for telling me about this in the first place)

While agreeing to all the terms and conditions, I noticed that the men who arrived were sent to residential quarters on the far side of the campus and also had a separate dining area. Division of men and women was required at all times.

After my paperwork was squared away, I was assigned to room 10, spot B. No room key. Just go.

I gathered my things and found my room.

Room 10. The interior was clean, basic, and very college freshman dorm-esque.

My home for the next 10 days, equipped with an “InstaBed” (just add your own sheets and blankets!) and privacy curtains.

Same amount of storage space as a NYC studio. On the right, separate clothes lines for drying things over the heater, plus a posted schedule, rules for clean up, and acceptable times to shower.
Unlimited tissues, paper towels, and toilet paper. So fresh and so clean, clean.

I met my roommate briefly and we agreed to keep the temperature a little cooler at night. That was the first and only conversation we’d have for nearly two weeks. It was time for our first “practice” hour of meditation in the meditation hall.

First, everyone selected an assortment of pillows and props from the prop area. If you do this retreat, I highly recommend taking everything that you need immediately and keeping it at your assigned spot, because everything will be completely gone by the second day and you will be left wishing you’d taken an extra pillow to sit on or a set of blocks to prop up your knees with:

Slim pickings remain after the shelves have been ravaged like free appetizer trays at a Yelp Elite event.

Men on the left, women on the right. We filed in through separate entrances, officially beginning our “Noble Silence” in the meditation hall. From the Code of Discipline section of the introductory pamphlet:

All students must observe Noble Silence from the beginning of the course until the morning of the last full day. Noble Silence means silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication with fellow students, whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc. is prohibited. Students should cultivate the feeling that they are working in isolation.

Inside of the meditation hall.

My inner introvert was secretly relieved. No forced small talk? Phew.

Little did I know that in less than 48 hours, this feeling would completely change and I would have stolen an entire Halloween pumpkin bucket of full-size candy bars from a small child just to hear another human being’s voice again.

We were welcomed by our teachers: a woman named Tina in her 70s who sat in front atop a stool and a guy with a brown beard who looked to be in his late 30s or early 40s resting cross-legged on a pillow.

As everyone settled down, I was suddenly shocked by the blasting of an elderly Indian gentleman’s voice over the meditation hall speakers. Though he was extremely passionate and seemingly well-intentioned in his delivery, he also sounded — very unfortunately — like a groaning goat either giving birth, or dying, maybe both. If you’d like to experience it for yourself, go ahead and give this a listen.

After the unexpected chanting faded away, we were instructed by the same voice to focus on our breath. Feel the breath moving in and out of your nose. Feel the sensation caused by your breath in that small triangular area between your nostrils and upper lip. Focus all of your attention here, in this small spot.

For an hour, we breathed and meditated together. I finished feeling strong. This was going to be totally doable.

At 9 p.m., we were dismissed back to our rooms to shower and rest. My bedtime is normally much later (i.e. I’m writing this at 2:06 a.m.) but upon reviewing the posted daily schedule and seeing I was going to be woken up at 4 a.m. each morning, I tried my best to knock out. It didn’t work, so Day 0 passed with barely any sleep.

Day 1: Attempting to Herd Cats in My Brain
So. Much. Meditation. Rinse and repeat.

The morning gong rang at 4 a.m. sharp, as scheduled. I groggily tumbled out of bed and somehow made it to my meditation mat. Swaying from side to side from lack of sleep, I survived the first two hours in a semi-conscious state.

Breakfast followed from 6:30–8 a.m. We were offered an assortment of bread for toasting (raisin, whole grain, 7-grain, and gluten-free rice bread), a giant vat of oatmeal, some strange boiled fruit in syrup to pour over the oatmeal (raisins, plums, and dates?), a Costco-sized bucket of plain yogurt, granola, and two big silver bowls overflowing with bananas, apples, and oranges. Unsurprisingly, the tea and coffee station proved to be very popular:

Mmmm caffeine and toast. Creamer, sugar, and lemon to the left; tea and coffee to the right; and cups, hot water, and honey in the middle.

Everyone was very polite, waiting patiently in line while being very careful not to make direct eye contact.

I slathered two pieces of slightly burnt raisin bread toast with real butter (not the dairy-free option or anything from the tubs of tahini, peanut butter, or jelly), polished off a banana, and sipped some ginger tea with almond milk.

After eating, everyone politely lined up again to scrape leftovers into a compost bucket, place their used forks and spoons into a silverware bin, and wash and stack their dishes.

From 8–9 a.m., we were to gather for the next group meditation in the hall. After that, there was another 9–11 a.m. meditation marathon before lunch, followed by a 1–2:30 p.m. meditation, a 2:30–3:30 p.m. meditation, and another 3:30–5 p.m. meditation with five-minute breaks in between each scheduled sitting before a 5–6 p.m. tea break, 6–7 p.m. group meditation, 7–8:15 p.m. seated lecture, and finally the 8:15–9 p.m. evening meditation.

At some point during these millions of hours of meditation, my butt, back, and basically every part of my body began to hurt, and my mind started to freak out.

Why am I here? What am I doing? This was a terrible idea. One hour, fine. Two hours, OK. Three hours, are you kidding me? Five, six, seven, eight and a half more hours after that? Oh god. What if my legs fall asleep? What if they fall off? Can that happen if my circulation gets cut off for too long? Am I going to be able to walk again? Is my mind going to spontaneously combust and kill me?

I attempted to distract myself from the growing pain in and around my ass by thinking about something else. Anything else. My mind ran with it.

Remember when you jumped off the Macau Tower in China (at 1:23, to be exact)?

How about that time you clung to Richard Branson’s back like a baby koala while he was kitesurfing?

Such a cheeky old man, that Richie B.

Remember when you went sandboarding down a 1000-foot sand dune in the Sahara Desert after riding a camel?

Made friends with a sweet elephant before she gave you pink eye while you were splashing water at each other?

Went to a giant robot show in Tokyo to watch a massive fire-breathing robot spider battle a shiny robot unicorn that blasted sparkles from its horn?

Swam in the warm, crystal clear waters of Super Paradise Beach in Mykonos? Ate your way across Florence with your sister? Was a bridesmaid during your other sister’s wedding? Went to your friend Chelsey’s wedding? Dressed up to be shot by Richard Kern and film a television pilot in LA? Celebrated Dan Sullivan’s 70th birthday and took photo booth pics with your bff Joe Polish?

Distraction. Distraction. Distraction. Distraction. Distraction.
Were any of these things actually happening in the moment?

No.

The only thing that was real was the fact that I was sitting in a meditation hall on some farmland in the middle of nowhere, Washington.

The only thing that was real was my breath, and the momentary sensations flickering on and off across my body.

The only thing that was real was that nothing was permanent. Everything was changing, all the time. But yet I fought it. I didn’t like the soreness or the pain. I wanted it all to end.

Attempting to put a stop my obsessive thoughts about the past, I started fantasizing about the future. What if I stood up and screamed? A piercing sound to slice through the silence? What if I ran around kicking over people’s meditation benches and shaking them in their shawls? What if I stood up, solemnly announced that I quit, and turned to walk defiantly out the door, never to return again?

My fantasy faded, and I returned to my breath. Still there. Still steady. Still real.

Dinner consisted of a cup of tea and a piece of fruit.

At some point, the hours ended. I crawled into bed at 9:00 p.m., my stomach growling and my mind awake, alive, and alert as ever.

Want to think some more? What should we think about now? How about now? Now?

It was going to be a long night.

Day 2: Planning My Escape
Welcome to Meditation Prison. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

GONG. GONG. GONG.

4 a.m. 4:12 a.m. 4:22 a.m.

In case you didn’t get up to the banging of the big gong, a volunteer walks around 20 minutes later with a smaller gong, whacking it outside each individual room.

GONG. GONG. GONG.

4:30 a.m. Fuck.

As I’m putting my clothes on, I can hear my roommate snoring. I feel a mixture of envy, disgust, and annoyance. I want what she has.

My resolution to go to every single meditation instantly dissolves. I curl back up in bed and pass out, sleeping through the 4:30–6:30am sitting.

My dreams punish me accordingly, maybe out of unconscious guilt. I dream that a man murders a girl. His mother, who happens to be an attorney, refuses to defend him in court. He throws a knife into his mother’s neck and she dies. His best friend is horrified, but — not wanting to upset him — requests a massage using the blood. Suddenly the killer looks directly at me, smiling. I am his girlfriend, and my obedience is expected.

I jerk awake, sweating through my thin sheet. What. The. Actual. Fuck. I haven’t had a dream that disturbing in a long time. I’m a therapist. I’m too disoriented to do a proper dream analysis on myself. It’s 6:33 a.m. Breakfast time.

My thoughts shift from sociopathic serial killers to the type of topping I would like on my toast today. I’m inspired to get creative at the condiment tray.

Would tumeric and peanut butter toast taste good? Cinnamon or cayenne sprinkled on a banana?

My brain is screaming for stimulation. It wants to “like” something and “dislike” something else. It needs to read the news, scan a Facebook feed or watch a movie. It is thinking, thinking, thinking, and obsessively judging everyone and everything. It is judging itself, hating itself, annoyed at itself, and reeling from inner pangs of shame, frustration, and resentment.

Where’s this inner peace that everyone talks about? Liberation from suffering? Total enlightenment?

The hours pass. My brain switches modes, moving from blasting random songs to replaying entire episodes of Black Mirror. (That “White Christmas” episode was so messed up.)

The day passes. My mind swirls, coming up with new business ideas and chapters for a book. I have vivid fantasies about my escape. Minutes and hours pass as I detail where I will go, what I will do, and what I will say as I leave. Escape. Escape. Escape. After lunch, I will escape.

Lunch is a tasty offering of vegetable curry over brown rice, a salad of lettuce topped with shredded carrots, beets, and a sesame-colored “sunshine dressing,” plus a couple scoops of cottage cheese.

I eat. I fantasize about escaping. I don’t escape.

1–2:30 p.m., meditate. 2:30–3:30 p.m., meditate. 3:30–5 p.m., meditate. 6–7 p.m., meditate.

At 7 p.m., everyone gathers in the meditation hall for the evening discourse. We are about to sit and watch a video over an hour long so I happily busy myself by building a comfortable reclining seat out of bolsters and blocks. Kind of like this, but without the eye mask and with my eyes (mostly) open:

After a few minutes of relaxing in my reclined work of art, a volunteer comes by and whisper-scolds me to sit up straight. Damn it.

I reluctantly deconstruct my makeshift bolster bed and hunch over my mat. It begins.

The late S.N. Goenka, the revered teacher of Vipassana meditation, appears in grainy footage dated back to 1991. He is a chubby, cheerful-looking man with a shiny forehead and a crisp white shirt. He looks like a kindly Indian uncle who likes to sing loudly, usually slightly off-key, and gives you sweets while you gather around to listen to his stories.

Except now, there are no sweets. Instead, he speaks of the root cause of all suffering: Craving and aversion.

If we like something, that liking can turn into craving, which turns into clinging. If we cling to something that we want or like desperately, and then we don’t get it or we lose it, we can become despondent, angry, and miserable.

If we dislike something or someone, that dislike can intensify into anger and hatred. When it comes to physical pain, focusing on it, becoming angry with it, and trying to force it to change or go away will only cause it to worsen and strengthen in its power and scope.

At one point, S.N. Goenka says,

“The thing that hurts you the most in life is your own untamed mind. The thing that can help you the most in life is a disciplined mind. When the wild mind is untamed, it can be very harmful. If we learn to tame our minds, then it can help us by reducing our suffering and misery.”

But how do you escape the misery? By understanding that pain, sadness, and suffering are a natural part of life. You also have to understand that these are temporary and ever-changing, just as joy, happiness, and pleasure are. If you stop fighting things you don’t like and stop desperately trying to hold onto things you do like, life can become more peaceful. Everything is temporary, so just notice each feeling. Observe it, without any sort of craving or aversion. Everything will ultimately shift, change, or go away, and that’s OK, because something new will take its place.

This is a practice that offers a way out of suffering. Living not in the past nor in the future, but right now, in the present.

For the first time, a tiny ray of light glints through a crack in the darkness. I think that maybe there’s something to this after all.

It sucks, but I vow to keep sticking it out.

Days 3, 4 and 5: The Suck, a Poem
Suffering streams down my back
Misery clenches my ass
Cracks and creaks cramp my stiff neck
Fact: All of this, too, shall pass.
But not now. Not yet.
Now I am aching. Sore. Straining with gas.
So. Much. Suck.

It was a rainy, soggy, shitty mess during days three through five. The weather decided to match my mood.

We are taught to switch from focusing on the triangle between our nostrils and our upper lip to scanning our entire body for both subtle and intense sensations, from the top of our head to the bottom of our toes. We are to do so with an equanimous mind, merely observing, not reacting, craving, hating, or judging.

Everything hurts. I continue to struggle in an upright seated position for over 10 1/2 freaking hours each day. Distraction. Past. Distraction. Future. Distraction. Past. Distraction. Future. And despite the request for Noble Silence, a couple people continuously burp and yawn loudly. I judge them, annoyed that they would disturb the silence so rudely when they could exert a little effort to contain themselves. I’m noting that this checks the boxes of both a dislike and an aversion. I am supposed to generate love for Mr. Loud Sigh-Yawn and compassion for Burpy McBurpeeson who I feel would be immediately cast as the lead in an all-burped Phantom of the Opera.

I have a lot of work to do.

Even the seats in the dining area are uncomfortable. I ate nearly every meal while staring at my food or the wall. Stubbornly, I slog onward.

Day 6: Tina, I Have Questions

Students are allowed a five-minute Q&A session with a teacher from noon to 1 p.m. This is the only time we are allowed to speak.

I sign up. I have questions.

I arrive at my assigned time and am ushered inside. Tina awaits my entry in the otherwise empty meditation hall. I notice she is wearing black New Balance sneakers beneath her long skirt.

Me: Isn’t pain an important indicator? Our body’s way of communicating danger to us? How do we determine when and if to react to pain? For example, if someone is burning us with a hot iron, we can’t just observe it and calmly think, “interesting,” before moving on to a different part of the body, right?

Tina: We are learning to observe pain without reacting to it. Explore and observe the pain. If you are in danger or if it is pure torture, take care of yourself. Remove yourself from the danger. Stand up and walk around for a moment. Otherwise, simply notice it. Where is the pain? Where is its epicenter? Where does it begin and where does it end? Don’t stay in it if it’s intolerable. Also understand that it’s not permanent, and this practice and experience is an opportunity to face more and more of your pain in a new way, by observing it instead of reacting to it. If you keep observing and allowing it to be, while staying neutral, it will eventually pass because everything is temporary, even the worst pain. This is a way out of suffering.

Me: Isn’t liking and disliking things part of nature? A dog likes treats and getting its belly rubbed. It dislikes being hit, and will react by biting whomever hit him. Aren’t we wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain? How can we understand what is healthy and good liking as well as disliking, versus excessive craving and unhealthy aversion?

Tina: There are different degrees of liking and disliking something. It’s unhealthy when you inflict suffering on yourself due to your preferences. For example, let’s say you’re really excited to eat chocolate cake for dessert, but when it’s time for dessert, there’s no chocolate cake left. It’s OK and healthy to be disappointed, but then say, “oh well,” and move on. Don’t let the lack of chocolate cake disturb your peace. If you get angry and miserable because things didn’t turn out the way you wanted and hoped, this is what the Vipassana practice helps to free you from. Why make yourself more miserable about something that is temporary? Don’t let your disliking of a person, thing, or situation rob you of your happiness and peace of mind.

Me: Speaking of chocolate cake, if my stomach growls when I’m hungry, shouldn’t I eat? Right now, I’m not sleeping well because I’m going to bed hungry. I’m not used to skipping dinner. Then I wake up tired and grumpy because I’m attached to sleep. I have a strong liking and craving for sleep, and I function a heckuva lot better when I have enough of it. I think I could meditate and focus better if I got more sleep. Wouldn’t it be more helpful if I could have more than tea and an apple for dinner so I can wake up more refreshed and alert to do better at this meditation practice?

Tina: It’s true that human beings need food, water, and shelter. However, unless you are actually starving, it can be a helpful practice to observe and accept your hunger during the day or at night. If you lay down and can’t sleep but you are resting your body and mind, you will wake up feeling rested. Be aware of your strong attachment to sleep. If you get angry and make yourself more miserable because you are not sleeping, you’re feeding your craving for sleep and it’s robbing you of your peace by making you mad that you don’t have it. Keep noticing and observing the sensations with an equanimous mind.

Me: I’m playing mind games with myself to get through the meditation sittings. For example, one game I play with myself is, “If I just complete three more full body scans, then I’ll reward and treat myself by allowing my mind to escape into a fantasy about the past or the future for a bit.” Is this OK?

Tina: Your mind games are also a fantasy and future-oriented. We are working on being in the present, not trying to escape into the future. Keep doing the work and take it one body scan at a time, because that is all that’s happening right now.

My time with Tina is up. It’s time to be quiet and get back to the backbreaking work of more (and more and more) meditation.

Day 7: I Break Noble Silence (Five Times)

The walking area.
By this day, I’ve broken my Noble Silence a grand total of five times:

“Oooh, snake.” (When I saw a tiny snake slither out from the brush, as if exclaiming what it was out loud would somehow prevent it from attacking me)

“Yum!” (When I ate a deliciously sweet blackberry that I picked from a wild blackberry vine)
“Ouch!” (When the vine’s thorns pricked me)

“Oooh, bunny.” (When I came across a cute wild bunny eating a fern)

“Desss-paaa-cito.” (Uttered inadvertently while I was showering — damn you for being so catchy, Justin Bieber)

I’m working on judging myself less. We are told “never to be disappointed, angry, or upset” with ourselves for making mistakes. We are encouraged to “gently and smilingly come back to the practice of scanning your body from the top of your head to the bottom of your toes with a calm and equanimous mind.”

Everything still sucks.

During the discourse this night, S.N. Goenka talks about “five friends that will help you on your path to liberation from suffering:” Faith and devotion, wise effort, wise attention and awareness, concentration, and wisdom. He tells amusing stories to illustrate each point. I do my best to listen through a heavy haze of pain.

Day 8: Impermanence, a Poem
By the time
You finish this poem
You will be
A completely
Different
Person
Than when you began.

The pain has started to wax and wane with each body scan. It’s excruciating, sharp, and intense during one sweep, and completely gone the next. Then it’s back again before fading to a dull throb. Holy crap. This Vipassana meditation thing works. Pain really is only temporary and ever-changing.

I’m not out of the woods yet, but the glint of light has turned into a stronger glimmer. I try not to become attached to any outcome.

Be here now. That’s all there is.

Day 9: Today Was a Good(ish) Day

My favorite part of the walking area. Note the giant ant hill in the lower left corner.

I suspect I may be developing some supernatural powers. And by supernatural powers, I mean an attention span that lasts longer than five seconds.

Now that I’ve been away from the instant stimulation and gratification of my phone for over 220 hours (but who’s counting?), things are slowing down. And instead of fighting it, I’m just existing in it.

On an early morning walk after meditation and breakfast, I stop to observe a giant ant colony, crouching down to watch this fascinating drama of nature, one that I call, As The Ant World Turns:

There are like 500 ants in this photo. I could hear them buzzing, swarming, walking, and crunching. All of my senses were amplified. It was like I was on drugs, except I wasn’t.

I look up at the sky for a moment before re-entering the meditation hall. It’s a vibrant blue with sea turtle and mustache-shaped tufts of white clouds. The limbs of the sun stretch out from millions of miles away to touch my forehead and cheeks with their warmth.

Today, I meditate for all 10 1/2 hours without horrible lasting pain or terrible struggle. My mind still wanders to the past, future, and any number of creative, random, and tempting distractions, but instead of losing control of it for minutes or hours, I am able to notice and “smilingly bring it back” to scanning my body within seconds.

Whaddaya know. Discipline. Focus. Peace. It’s possible after all. Longer and longer moments of it, somehow strangely built up over the course of the past few days.

It’s still hard, but it doesn’t suck as hard anymore. And the times that it does suck pass, replaced by times that suck less, and even times that are kind of pleasant. Those pass too.

Hey look, I’m being!
Walking back to my room after the last 8:15–9pm meditation that night, I stop to look up at the sky again. The starry spread of the Milky Way is clear and vibrant, sparkling like diamond jelly on black toast.

Maybe we look up at the sky to have our faces stroked by the cosmos.

Maybe we’re all made up of stars after all.

Day 10: But My Body Didn’t Dissolve?

After the 4:30–6:30 a.m. and 8–9 a.m. meditations, we are allowed to come out of Noble Silence and enter a period of Noble Speech.

S.N. Goenka calls this a “soothing balm to help heal our wounds after doing surgery on our minds.” The transition is supposed to help us ease back into the real world.

It’s strange being able to look at everyone and finally talk to them. I take a moment to gather myself in my room to enjoy a few more precious moments of peace and quiet before going out into the chatter.

Across the board, the most common question I’m hearing asked is, “How was your experience?”. Here’s a sampling of the answers I hear:

OMG MY BODY TOTALLY DISSOLVED! I WAS ONE WITH THE UNIVERSE!

Everything hurt for awhile and when I accepted and observed it, the pain went away. I started noticing pleasant sensations, like my entire body had been dipped in good vibrations.

I sweated a ton. Tina told me that this was anger and negative old patterns leaving my body. Apparently I have a lot of rage.

I’ve done this course four times now. The first time I felt nothing, the second I felt everything, the third time I felt mixed things, and this time I dissolved my body halfway.

A lot of emotions came up for me. I focused on taming my mind.

My husband passed away last year. I knew if I didn’t find something to help me calm down my mind, I’d go crazy with misery and sadness. This helped me.

I completely dissolved and my whole body became a mass of vibrating particles. There was a surprising amount of talk of “body dissolving.”

My body didn’t “dissolve,” and that’s OK. If I’d heard about that experience earlier, I probably would’ve developed a craving to have that sensation, tried to chase it, and felt upset if it didn’t happen.

It makes sense that we weren’t allowed to talk with each other until the last day. Comparison is the thief of all joy.

The day continued with talks about the importance of serving and giving back, not just with money, but as a volunteer for future courses. S.N. Goenka encouraged us to be happy and for all beings to have peace. We ended with a new meditation of love and compassion, sending out good vibes and caring intentions, pardoning those who we may have been intentionally or unintentionally hurt by, asking for pardon from those who we may have intentionally or unintentionally hurt, and wishing for the liberation, peace, and happiness of all beings. Very lovey-dovey stuff.

I was tired and not sure how strong my vibes of love and compassion were, but I did my best.

And that was it. A little anticlimactic, but it was what it was — for me, at least.

Was it a cult? No.

Was it a magical cure-all for life’s problems? No.

Was it the ultimate way and the only path to enlightenment? No.

Well then, what was it?

Three Main Takeaways and Final Thoughts

I found Vipassana meditation to be a tool. Like any tool, if you use it properly, it can be helpful. By scanning your body, paying attention to both slight and significant sensations, and observing instead of reacting to them, you can gain more mastery over your mind and a greater ability to focus, concentrate, and exist in the moment instead of obsessing about the past or fantasizing about the future. Regardless of your religion or belief system, living in the present is a pretty cool thing.
It was a powerful experience to objectively observe my mind and all of its crazy-making. By being stuck with it for hours, I noticed where my brain goes to escape from discomfort and how I avoid both emotional and physical pain. I learned more about how I cope by examining what I crave and try to avoid. I also learned that I can be in the suck and it, too, shall pass. It’s OK to feel sadness, anger, worry, pain, and suffering, just like it’s OK to experience pleasure, joy, and excitement, and that all of these feelings will ebb and flow. Nothing is permanent, and that’s life.

I was able to reconnect with my body. By noticing and experiencing soft and gentle sensations on and in my body, from the feeling of my clothing to the air on my face, I recognized and appreciated subtle feelings again in addition to stronger ones. All are real, all are valid, and I don’t need to go chasing intense highs to feel something. I’m always feeling something, I just have to take the time and make the effort to notice it. As someone who has been disconnected from my body at times, this was a seemingly small achievement, but a very big one to me.

Would you do it again?

Not anytime soon, but maybe in the future.

Did you find the experience valuable?

Yes.

Would you recommend it?

Yes. Go and have your experience. It won’t be like mine or anyone else’s. It will be uniquely, perfectly, 100 percent yours. And that’s exactly what your life is supposed to be.

If you want to check out a Vipassana Meditation retreat, go here.

If you made it to the end of this article, give yourself a hand and then go out and get a breath of fresh air. And take a look up at the sky while you’re at it. It will be a different sky every time, ever-changing, and it will never look the same again.

WRITTEN BY
Ivy Kwong: Psychotherapist specializing in healing, creating, and deepening your relationships — with others, and most importantly, with yourself. Link


COMMENT:




In-Page Footnotes ("Kwong (Ivy) - A Brutally Honest Review of My 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat")

Footnote 1:



"Laing (Jacqueline) - Infanticide: a reply to Giubilini and Minerva"

Source: Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 39, No. 5 (May 2013), pp. 336-340


Author’s Abstract
  1. Alberto Giubilini and Francesco Minerva's recent infanticide proposal is predicated on their personism and actualism. According to these related ideas, human beings achieve their moral status in virtue of the degree to which they are capable of laying value upon their lives or exhibiting certain qualities or being desirable to third-party family members.
  2. This article challenges these criteria, suggesting that these and related ideas are rely on arbitrary and discriminatory notions of human moral status. Our propensity to sleep1, fall unconscious, pass out and so on, demonstrates that we often exhibit our status as 'potential persons' who are not in the condition of attributing any value to their own existence. Our abilities, age and desirability can and do fluctuate.
  3. The equal dignity principle, distinguished in turn from both the excesses of vitalism and consequentialism, is analysed and defended in the context of human rights logic and law.
  4. The normalisation of non- and involuntary euthanasia, via such emerging practices as the self-styled Groningen Protocol, is considered. Substituted consent to the euthanasia of babies and others is scrutinised and the implications of institutionalising non-voluntary euthanasia in the context of financial, research and political interests are considered. The impact on the medical and legal professions, carers, families and societies, as well as public attitudes more generally, is discussed.
  5. It is suggested that eroding the value of human life carries with it significant destructive long-term implications. To elevate some, often short-term, implications while ignoring others demonstrates the irrational nature of the effort to institutionalise euthanasia.


COMMENT: Response to "Giubilini (Alberto) & Minerva (Francesca) - After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?"



"Liggins (David) - Nihilism without Self-Contradiction"

Source: Philosophy 83 supplement 62 (2008), 177-196 (special issue on Being: Developments in Contemporary Metaphysics)


Author’s Introduction
  1. Last weekend, I made a bookcase. To begin with, I went and bought various pieces of wood and several screws. Then I screwed the pieces of wood together. In doing so, I created something new: my bookcase. And this bookcase is made up of the pieces of wood and the screws. In other words, they’re parts of it.
  2. It seems that many of the assertions we make when we’re not doing philosophy imply that there are things that have parts. We think that there are bookcases, and that lots of them have wooden parts. There are many more examples. For instance, we think that there are houses, and that they have bricks among their parts; we think that there are bicycles, and that they have wheels and handlebars among their parts.
  3. Things that have parts are philosophically puzzling. Let me briefly explain just one of the difficulties they raise. If I take a shelf away from my bookcase and replace it with a new one, I still have the same bookcase. But suppose I replace each of the pieces of wood and each of the screws, carefully storing the original parts in my shed. And suppose further that, after twenty years, I come across this useful collection and put them together into a bookcase. Which is the bookcase that I started off with? The bookcase made of the original parts? Or the bookcase made of their replacements1?
  4. There are many different ways of responding to puzzles such as this. My purpose here is to discuss a particularly simple response: that of denying that anything has parts. The doctrine that nothing has parts is called nihilism2. It is easy to see how nihilism3 deals with the bookcase puzzle. If there never was anything made up of the pieces of wood and the screws, then there can be no sensible debate about its identity. To a close approximation, this is the response that Peter Van Inwagen favours. Actually, van Inwagen thinks that living organisms have parts, but he denies that anything else does. For ease of exposition, I’ll ignore what van Inwagen says about organisms and treat him as a nihilist. Nothing will be lost, apart from a great deal of tedious qualification.
  5. I should stress that I am not arguing that van Inwagen’s response to the puzzles is ultimately the best one; although I think van Inwagen’s view demands to be taken seriously, I am not volunteering to defend it against all comers. Rather, my interest here is in an objection to van Inwagen’s view which alleges that it is self-contradictory. I’ll set out this objection in §3. Van Inwagen responds by claiming that certain sentences are context-sensitive: they have different truth-conditions in the context of philosophical discussions about ontology than they do in more ordinary contexts (§3). This claim is the focus of my discussion. I point out that it is problematic (§6), and I provide an alternative response to the threat of contradiction, which (I argue) is preferable to van Inwagen’s (§7). I defend this from two objections (§§8, 9). Along the way, I defend van Inwagen from an attack launched by Trenton Merricks (§§4, 7). But, first, I must set out van Inwagen’s views.




In-Page Footnotes ("Liggins (David) - Nihilism without Self-Contradiction")

Footnote 1:



"Mackie (Penelope) - Coincidence and Identity"

Source: Philosophy 83 supplement 62 (2008), 151-176 (special issue on Being: Developments in Contemporary Metaphysics)


Author’s Introduction
  1. This paper is about a puzzle concerning the metaphysics of material objects: a puzzle generated by cases where material objects appear to coincide, sharing all their matter. As is well known, it can be illustrated by the example of a statue1. In front of me now, sitting on my desk, is a (small) statue2 – a statue3 of a lion. The statue4 is made of clay. So in front of me now is a piece of clay. But what is the relation between the statue5 and the piece of clay? Are they identical, or are they distinct?
  2. In this paper, I do the following.
    1. First, in §§2 and 3 I set out some cases of coincidence, and some responses to the cases.
    2. In the remainder of the paper, I focus on the opposition between two of these responses:
      1. the one standardly given by the endurantist6 about persistence, and
      2. the one standardly given by the perdurantist about persistence.
      For reasons that will be clear, I call the first response ‘pluralism’, and the second response ‘intermediate monism’. I make no secret of the fact that my sympathies are with the pluralist.
    3. In §6 I raise what seems to me to be a serious problem for the intermediate monist’s account – i.e., for the account standardly given by the perdurantist.
    4. In the final sections of the paper (§§ 7–10) I defend the pluralist view against some objections.



"Manninen (Bertha Alvarez) - Yes, the baby should live: a pro-choice response to Giubilini and Minerva"

Source: Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 39, No. 5 (May 2013), pp. 330-335


Author’s Abstract
  1. In "Giubilini (Alberto) & Minerva (Francesca) - After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?", Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva argue that because there are no significant differences between a fetus1 and a neonate, in that neither possess sufficiently robust mental traits to qualify as persons, a neonate may be justifiably killed for any reason that also justifies abortion2.
  2. To further emphasise their view that a newly born infant is more on a par with a fetus3 rather than a more developed baby, Giubilini and Minerva elect to call this 'after-birth abortion4' rather than infanticide.
  3. In this paper, I argue that their thesis is incorrect, and that the moral permissibility of abortion5 does not entail the moral permissibility of 'after-birth' abortion6



"Manzotti (Riccardo) & Parks (Tim) - On Consciousness"

Source: New York Review of Books; 15 part series (Nov. 2016 - Jan. 2018)


Discussions
  1. November 21, 2016 - The Challenge of Consciousness
  2. December 8, 2016 - The Color of Consciousness
  3. December 30, 2016 - Does Information Smell?
  4. January 26, 2017 - The Ice Cream Problem
  5. February 22, 2017 - Am I the Apple?
  6. March 16, 2017 - The Mind in the Whirlwind
  7. April 20, 2017 - Dreaming Outside Our Heads
  8. May 11, 2017 - The Body and Us
  9. June 17, 2017 - Consciousness: Who’s at the Wheel?
  10. July 20, 2017 - A Test for Consciousness?
  11. September 11, 2017 - The Hardening of Consciousness
  12. October 9, 2017 - Consciousness: An Object Lesson
  13. November 26, 2017 - The Pizza Thought Experiment
  14. December 27, 2017 - Consciousness: Where Are Words?
  15. January 29, 2018 - Consciousness and the World


COMMENT:



"Martin (Raymond) - What really matters"

Source: Synthese, Vol. 162, No. 3 (Jun., 2008), pp. 325-340


Author’s Abstract
  1. What really matters fundamentally in survival?
  2. That question - the one on which I focus - is not about what should matter or about metaphysics. Rather, it is a factual question the answer to which can be determined, if at all, only empirically.
  3. I argue that the answer to it is that in the case of many people it is not one's own persistence, but continuing in ways that may involve one's own cessation that really matters fundamentally in survival.
  4. Call this the surprising result. What are we to make of it?
  5. According to several philosophers, not much. I argue that these philosophers are wrong. What best explains the surprising result is that in the case of many people one's special concern for oneself in the future is not fundamental, but derived. I explain what this means.
  6. Finally I explain why the task of explaining empirically what matters1 fundamentally in survival is in some ways more like a meditative quest than a traditional inquiry in western philosophy or social science and, as such, is best answered not by psychologists, but by philosophers.


COMMENT: Part of "Quine (W.V.) - On the Axiom of Reducibility".



"Meincke (Anne Sophie) - The Disappearance of Change: Towards a Process Account of Persistence"

Source: Forthcoming (as of November 2018) in: International Journal of Philosophical Studies


Author’s Abstract
  1. This paper aims to motivate a new beginning in metaphysical thinking about persistence by drawing attention to the disappearance of change in current accounts of persistence.
  2. I defend the claim that the debate is stuck in a dilemma which results from neglecting the constructive role of change for persistence. Neither of the two main competing views, perdurantism1 and endurantism2, captures the idea of persistence as an identity through time. I identify the fundamental ontological reasons for this, namely the shared commitment to what I call ‘thing ontology’: an ontology that gives the ontological priority to static things.
  3. I conclude by briefly indicating how switching to a process ontological framework that takes process and change to be ontologically primary may allow for overcoming the dilemma of persistence.


COMMENT: See Link



"Midgley (Mary) - Biotechnology and Monstrosity: Why We Should Pay Attention to the 'Yuk Factor'"

Source: The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 30, No. 5 (Sep. - Oct., 2000), pp. 7-15


Author's Abstract
    We find our way in the world partly by means of the discriminatory power of our emotions.
  1. The gut sense that something is repugnant or unsavoury – the sort of feeling that many now have about various forms of biotechnology – sometimes turns out to be rooted in articulable and legitimate objections, which with time can be spelled out, weighed, and either endorsed or dismissed.
  2. But we ought not dismiss the emotional response at the outset as "mere feeling”.



"Miyazaki (Ken’ichi) - How well do we understand absolute pitch?"

Source: Acoust. Sci. & Tech. 25, 6 (2004)


Author’s Abstract
  1. Absolute pitch (AP) is the ability based on the fixed association between musical pitch and its verbal label. Experiments on AP identification demonstrated extreme accuracy of AP listeners in identifying pitch, influences of timbre and pitch range, and difference in accuracy between white-key notes and black-key notes.
  2. However, contrary to the common belief that AP is a component of musical ability, it was found that AP listeners have difficulty in perceiving pitch relations in different pitch contexts, and in recognizing transposed melodies, as compared to listeners having no AP.
  3. These results suggest that AP is irrelevant and even disadvantageous to music.
  4. Systematic music training in early childhood seems effective for acquiring AP. Possible genetic contributions to AP are undeniable, but evidence for them is inconclusive. There are several AP-like phenomena that do not reach consciousness: absolute tonality, long-term memory of pitch of repeatedly heard tunes, specific patterns of pitch comparison in the tritone paradox, and fixed pitch levels in speech.
  5. Contrary to true AP observed as a pitch naming ability, the implicit AP phenomena are widespread among general population.


COMMENT: See Link.



"Mori (Maurizio) - The Italian reaction to the Giubilini and Minerva paper"

Source: Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 39, No. 5 (May 2013), pp. 317-322


Author’s Abstract
  1. From 28 February to the end of March 2012, the Italian media reacted fiercely to the Giubilini and Minerva paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics a few days earlier.
  2. The first article viewed the proposal as analogous to 'barbaric invasions', but in a first stage of the debate it could be seen as a case of the usual controversy between Catholics and secularists.
  3. Then emotive reactions prevailed and a flood of papers expressed strong opposition to 'infanticide'. The authors were even deemed insane; the fact that both are Italian certainly increased interest in the subject as well as surprise at their proposal, which some reckoned to be an insult to their 'national identity'.
  4. Even freedom of academic research and discussion was put in question, and defenders of free debate were accused of being supporters of the theory of infanticide.


COMMENT: Response to "Giubilini (Alberto) & Minerva (Francesca) - After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?"



"Nakamoto (Satoshi) - Bitcoin - A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System"

Source: nakamotoinstitute.org, 31 October 2008


Author’s Abstract
  1. A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution. Digital signatures provide part of the solution, but the main benefits are lost if a trusted third party is still required to prevent double-spending.
  2. We propose a solution to the double-spending problem using a peer-to-peer network. The network timestamps transactions by hashing them into an ongoing chain of hash-based proof-of-work, forming a record that cannot be changed without redoing the proof-of-work.
  3. The longest chain not only serves as proof of the sequence of events witnessed, but proof that it came from the largest pool of CPU power. As long as a majority of CPU power is controlled by nodes that are not cooperating to attack the network, they'll generate the longest chain and outpace attackers.
  4. The network itself requires minimal structure. Messages are broadcast on a best effort basis, and nodes can leave and rejoin the network at will, accepting the longest proof-of-work chain as proof of what happened while they were gone.


COMMENT: See Nakamoto - Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System



"Noonan (Harold) - Arguments Against Animalism: Comments on L.R.Baker 'Persons & Bodies'"

Source: Field Guide to the Philosophy of Mind, 2001, e-Symposium on "Persons & Bodies: A Constitution View"
Write-up Note1


COMMENT:



"Olson (Eric) - Personal Identity - Oxford Bibliographies Online"

Source: Oxford Bibliographies Online / Sheffield University website
Write-up Note1


COMMENT:
  • These get updated from time to time.
  • I've found my copies on the Sheffield University Website.
    → For 2011: see Link,
    → For 2017: See Link



"Olson (Eric) - Personal Identity (Stanford, 2002)"

Source: Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2002


Author’s Abstract
  1. I will first survey the main philosophical questions that go under the heading of personal identity. Most of the entry will then focus on the question of personal identity over time: what it means and the main proposed answers.
  2. I will try to show how these answers relate to some of the other questions about personal identity, and to more general questions in metaphysics and the philosophy of mind.

Sections
  1. The Problems of Personal Identity
  2. Understanding the Persistence Question
  3. Accounts of Our Identity Through Time
  4. The Psychological Approach
  5. Fission
  6. The Problem of the Thinking Animal1
  7. The Somatic Approach
  8. Wider Issues


COMMENT:



"Olson (Eric) - Personal Identity (Stanford, 2007)"

Source: Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2007


Substantive revision (to the 2002 version) made Tue Feb 20, 2007.

COMMENT:



"Olson (Eric) - Personal Identity (Stanford, 2010)"

Source: Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2002-10


Author’s Abstract

Personal identity deals with questions that arise about ourselves by virtue of our being people (or, as lawyers and philosophers like to say, persons). Many of these questions are familiar ones that occur to nearly all of us now and again: What am I1? When did I begin? What will happen to me when I die? Others are more abstruse. Personal identity has been discussed since the origins of Western philosophy, and most major figures have had something to say about it. (There is also a rich literature on this topic in Eastern philosophy, which I am not competent to discuss; Collins 1982 and Jinpa 2002 are useful sources.)

I will first survey the main questions of personal identity. Most of the entry will then focus on the one that has received most attention in recent times, namely our identity over time. I will discuss what the question means and the main proposed answers. I will also say a little about how these answers relate to some of the other questions of personal identity and to more general questions in metaphysics and the philosophy of mind.
  1. The Problems of Personal Identity
  2. Understanding the Persistence Question
  3. Accounts of Our Identity Through Time
  4. The Psychological Approach
  5. Fission
  6. The Too-Many-Thinkers2 Problem
  7. The Somatic Approach
  8. Wider Issues
    Bibliography
    Other Internet Resources
    Related Entries


COMMENT:



"Olson (Eric) - Personal Identity (Stanford, 2015)"

Source: Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, Summer 2017


Author’s Abstract
  1. Personal identity deals with philosophical questions that arise about ourselves by virtue of our being people (or, as lawyers and philosophers like to say, persons). This contrasts with questions about ourselves that arise by virtue of our being living things, conscious beings, material objects, or the like. Many of these questions occur to nearly all of us now and again:
    What am I1?
    → When did I begin?
    → What will happen to me when I die?
    Others are more abstruse. Personal identity has been discussed since the origins of Western philosophy, and most major figures have had something to say about it. (There is also a rich literature on the topic in Eastern philosophy, which I am not competent to discuss; ....)
  2. Personal identity is sometimes discussed under the protean term self. And ‘self’ does sometimes mean ‘person’. But it often means something different: some sort of immaterial subject of consciousness, for instance (as in the phrase ‘the myth of the self’). The term is often used without any clear meaning at all. This entry will avoid it.
  3. We will first survey the main questions of personal identity. Most of the entry will then focus on the one that has received most attention in recent times, namely our persistence through time.

Contents
  1. The Problems of Personal Identity
  2. Understanding the Persistence Question
  3. Accounts of Our Identity Through Time
  4. Psychological-Continuity Views
  5. Fission
  6. The Too-Many-Thinkers2 Problem
  7. Brute-Physical Views
  8. Wider Themes
    Bibliography


COMMENT:



"Olson (Eric) - Thinking Animals and the Constitution View"

Source: Field Guide to the Philosophy of Mind, 2001, e-Symposium on "Persons & Bodies: A Constitution View"
Write-up Note1

Sections
  1. The Arguments Against Animalism2
    1. The Argument From Fiction
    2. Animalism3 is not a Contender
    3. Animals are Brutish
    4. The Corpse4 Problem
  2. Baker's Defence of the Constitution View5


COMMENT:



"Papineau (David) - Competence without comprehension (The peculiar philosophical assumptions of Daniel Dennett)"

Source: Times Literary Supplement, June 28, 2017

COMMENT:



"Papineau (David), Dennett (Daniel), Crane (Tim) - Papineau vs Dennett: a philosophical dispute"

Source: Times Literary Supplement, August 2, 2017

COMMENT:



"Quach (Katyanna) - Checkmate: DeepMind's AlphaZero AI clobbered rival chess app on non-level playing, er, board"

Source: The Register, 14 Dec 2017


Full Text, including selected Comments
  1. Good effort but the games were seemingly rigged
  2. DeepMind claimed this month its latest AI system – AlphaZero – mastered chess and Shogi as well as Go to "superhuman levels" within a handful of hours.
  3. Sounds impressive, and to an extent it is. However, some things are too good to be completely true. Now experts are questioning AlphaZero's level of success.
  4. AlphaZero is based on AlphaGo (The Register: AlphaGo), the machine-learning software that beat 18-time Go champion Lee Sedol last year, and AlphaGo Zero (The Register: AlphaGoZero), an upgraded version of AlphaGo that beat AlphaGo 100-0.
  5. Like AlphaGo Zero, AlphaZero learned to play games by playing against itself, a technique in reinforcement learning known as self-play.
  6. “Starting from random play, and given no domain knowledge except the game rules, AlphaZero achieved within 24 hours a superhuman level of play in the games of chess and shogi (Japanese chess) as well as Go, and convincingly defeated a world-champion program in each case,” DeepMind's research team wrote in a paper detailing AlphaZero's design.
  7. AlphaZero faced Stockfish, a chess-playing AI program that won the Top Chess Engine Championship (TCEC) last year. AlphaZero won 28 games of chess, drew 72, and lost none against Stockfish.
  8. Shogi, a Japanese strategy game similar to chess, is more complex. Here, AlphaZero won against Elmo, a Shogi computer engine, in 90 games, drew twice, and lost 10 matches.
  9. The rules of the two board games were provided to AlphaZero, and the system learned how to master them both over the course of 68 million self-play matches against itself. To put it another way, AlphaZero took four hours to grasp chess to a level where it could beat Stockfish, spending nine hours totals on the game format – and took less than two hours to master Shogi to the point where it could see off Elmo. AlphaZero also creamed DeepMind's Go-playing AI AlphaGo Lee after eight hours of training.
  10. It’s an impressive feat – but one that was achieved by carefully manipulating the experiment, Jose Camacho Collados, an AI researcher and an international chess master, argued in an analysis this week.
  11. Firstly, DeepMind is part of Google-parent Alphabet, and thus has access to massive computing power. AlphaZero was trained on 64 TPU2s – the second generation of Google’s TPU accelerator chip – and a whopping 5,000 first-generation TPUs to generate self-play games from which AlphaZero played from.
  12. That means, as Camacho Collados pointed out, the time spent training AlphaZero per TPU is roughly two years. In contrast to that processing power, Stockfish and Elmo, were only given 64 x86 CPU threads and a hash size of 1GB, meaning that both game engines were not on equal footing to begin with.
  13. AlphaZero ran on math-crunching hardware dedicated to neural networks, while its opponents ran on PCs. Think supercar versus a Ford Focus.
  14. “The experimental setting does not seem fair,” Camacho Collados said. “The version of Stockfish used was not the last one but, more importantly, it was run in its released version run on a normal PC, while AlphaZero was ran using considerable higher processing power. For example, in the TCEC competition engines play against each other using the same processor.”
  15. Next, DeepMind's paper stated that both systems, AlphaZero and Stockfish, were given one minute to make a move. That is highly unorthodox for tournament play. As everyone knows, in a chess match, players are typically given a bank of time in which to make all their moves, not a countdown per move. For example, the World Chess Federation gives players "90 minutes for the first 40 moves followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game with an addition of 30 seconds per move starting from move one."
  16. That means some actions, such as early moves, can be performed quickly, giving yourself more time – more than a minute if needed – to perform later-stage maneuvers. Stockfish was designed to play chess like normal over a period of time rather than against a minute-long shot clock.
  17. AlphaZero, on the other hand, was optimized for minute-to-minute play. The neural network took the positions on the board as input, and spat out a range of moves and chose the one with the highest chance of winning at every move. It learned this by self-play and using a Monte Carlo tree search algorithm to sort through the potential strategies.
  18. Camacho Collados noted: The selection of the time seems odd. Each engine was given one minute per move. However, in the vast majority of human and engine competitions each player is given a fixed amount of time for the whole game, and then this time is administered individually. As Tord Romstad, one of the original developers of Stockfish, declared, this was another questionable decision in detriment of Stockfish, as “lot of effort has been put into making Stockfish identify critical points in the game and decide when to spend some extra time on a move.”
  19. The decision to go with one-minute timeouts, as well as under-powering its competitors, seems awfully convenient for DeepMind.
  20. It’s also difficult to really scrutinize AlphaZero since DeepMind have not released the code publicly for any of its game-playing systems. It’s impossible to test any claims made, and to check if the results are reproducible.
  21. In the paper, ten games played between AlphaZero and Stockfish were cherry-picked by the researchers to show AlphaZero winning. The losses it faced against Elmo in Shogi have not been published, so it’s impossible to see where the software was inferior.
  22. “It is customary in scientific papers to show examples on which the proposed system displays some weaknesses or may not behave as well in order to have a more global understanding and for other researchers to build upon it,” Collados wrote.
  23. “We should scientifically scrutinize alleged breakthroughs carefully, especially in the period of AI hype we live now. It is actually responsibility of researchers in this area to accurately describe and advertise our achievements, and try not to contribute to the growing (often self-interested) misinformation and mystification of the field.
  24. “I personally have a lot of hope in the potential of DeepMind in achieving relevant discoveries in AI, but I hope these achievements will be developed in a way that can be easily judged by peers and contribute to society."
  25. Other machine-learning experts El Reg chatted to this week privately agreed that while AlphaZero is a cool research project, it is not quite the scientific breakthrough the mainstream press has been screaming about.
  26. A spokesperson from DeepMind told The Register that it could not comment on any of the claims made since “the work is being submitted for peer review and unfortunately we cannot say any more at this time.”



Selected Comments1
  1. Flawed, Perhaps, but Valuable Still.
    • Comments on the initial AlphaZero announcement fairly quickly took note of the large floating-point power used by AlphaZero, and the fact that Stockfish's hash tables were restricted to 1 GB.
    • But that chess experts noted that AlphaZero's play included consideration of very subtle positional factors - something Stockfish does not excel at, but this is known to be a strength of the commercial chess engine Komodo - is also a fact.
    • It may well be that if one tried using equal hardware power to play chess by techniques similar to those used by AlphaZero, the result wouldn't be much better than had been achieved by the Giraffe chess engine. That took 72 hours, rather than 4, to teach itself to play chess - and it only got to International Master level, significantly inferior to that of Stockfish.
    • The thing is, though, it is still very significant to prove that something can be done at all, even if not necessarily in an efficient manner. Something can be a significant scientific advance in AI without being the most cost-effective way to make a strong chess engine.
    • It may well be that AlphaZero's feat, by demonstrating the validity of the neural network and Monte Carlo search approaches, will allow technology from Giraffe to be incorporated into programs like Stockfish to make them better.
  2. Re: Did it come up with anything new?
    • AlphaZero is causing a stir in the chess community. I'm a big fan of agadmator's Youtube chess channel and I watched an analysis of one of the games between AlphaZero and StockFish. The greatest surprise was the way AlphaZero willingly gave up a whole piece (a Knight) to keep up its own momentum and refuse to allow StockFish to develop its pieces. Note this behaviour is very human; usually a chess engine will sac(rifice) a piece for some tangible, strategic gain or to implement a tactic.
    • This is the key difference here. The point to take away from this is that Google have not merely developed a more powerful chess engine that runs on more powerful hardware, rather they have created something that behaves much like an *extremely* strong human Grandmaster, not simply a super-powerful logic-monster. This will probably change the way elite chess players train for tournaments.
    • Keep in mind that even with the hardware handicap, StockFish could analyse up to 70 million positions a second and play with an ELO rating of 3300+. AlphaZero took just 4 hours to learn the game from scratch and beat a well-honed engine like StockFish is pretty impressive.
    • Link: Google Deep Mind Alpha Zero Sacs a Piece Without "Thinking" Twice
  3. Re: Did it come up with anything new?
    • For a different viewpoint, see this article: Chessbase.com: AlphaZero learns chess
    • These things are relative, and compared to grandmasters I too am a crap chess player. But I have spent a lot of time playing and studying the game, and I think The Register's article is far too dismissive. Chess players see AlphaZero as playing at a completely different level from any previous chess engines. Even though programs like Stockfish can easily make mincemeat of any human player - including the world champion - they still play in a distinctive, highly tactical style. There are still positions that completely baffle them, because all they really do is apply minimax to the deepest level they can.
    • From the ChessBase article linked to above, it would seem that AlphaZero combines the strengths of previous chess engines with those of very strong human players. The games it played against Stockfish are very impressive, as it completely outthinks Stockfish in a very human - or, rather, superhuman way.
    • Time will tell. On the one hand, if it's a genuine breakthrough, this could be one sign that AI is real. Remember, there was a lot of difference between the Wright Brothers' collection of bicycle parts and, say, a 747 - but the principles are the same and the time to go from one to the other not all that long.
  4. The way to think about NN processing is: it's compression (throwing away "irrelevant" details): Totally readable with a large picture of the bottled dog of John Bull: New Theory Cracks Open the Black Box of Deep Learning. Also check out the Youtube video (YouTube: Information Theory of Deep Learning. Naftali Tishby).
  5. What the "standard" chess programs fail to see, are crippled pieces. Almost all games won, there was a material balance or even a plus for Stockfish, but that program fails to notice a long inactivity of its pieces.


COMMENT:




In-Page Footnotes ("Quach (Katyanna) - Checkmate: DeepMind's AlphaZero AI clobbered rival chess app on non-level playing, er, board")

Footnote 1:
  • The vast majority of the comments were quibbles about Google’s publicity tactics. While there’s some truth in these complaints, they miss the point of the overall achievement of AlphaZero, whether or not it has been “talked up”.



"Rodger (Daniel), Blackshaw (Bruce P.) & Wilcox (Clinton) - Why arguments against infanticide remain convincing"

Source: Bioethics. 2018;00:1–5


Authors’ Abstract
  1. In 'Pro-life arguments against infanticide and why they are not convincing' Joona Räsänen1 argues that Christopher Kaczor2's objections to Giubilini and Minerva3's position on infanticide are not persuasive.
  2. We argue that Räsänen's criticism is largely misplaced, and that he has not engaged with Kaczor's strongest arguments against infanticide.
  3. We reply to each of Räsänen's criticisms, drawing on the full range of Kaczor's arguments, as well as adding some of our own.

Authors’ Introduction
  1. Giubilini and Minerva’s well-known article ‘After-birth abortion4: why should the baby live?’ presents a case for their view that ‘killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion5 would be’. They label infanticide as ‘after-birth abortion’6 to emphasize the moral equivalence between it and abortion7, based on their belief that fetuses8 and infants have similar moral status, lacking the cognitive properties necessary to be regarded as persons with an accompanying right to life.
  2. An early chapter in Kaczor’s most recent edition of his book ‘The Ethics of Abortion’9 addresses infanticide, and in it he briefly offers four objections to Giubilini and Minerva’s arguments.
  3. Räsänen’s paper consists of a detailed examination of each of Kaczor’s objections, but Räsänen seems unaware that Kaczor is not mounting a comprehensive attack on Giubilini and Minerva in the few pages of this short critique. Kaczor provides additional support for his objections later in the same chapter, but Räsänen does not address the points raised. Additionally, many of the detailed arguments Kaczor subsequently develops against abortion10 are equally applicable against infanticide, and so his four objections taken in isolation are not representative of the true strength of his case against infanticide.
  4. Here we reply to each of Räsänen’s objections, drawing on the full range of Kaczor’s arguments, as well as adding some of our own.

Authors’ Conclusion
  1. Räsänen has criticized four objections Kaczor offers to Giubilini and Minerva’s defense of infanticide. We have argued that these objections, taken in isolation, do not comprise a full representation of Kaczor’s case against infanticide. Although Kaczor is primarily developing a case against abortion11, the majority of his arguments are also applicable to infanticide, and when combined with his four objections, present a powerful case for it being morally impermissible.
  2. Räsänen concludes by stating ‘if we want to reject the permissibility of infanticide, we must find better arguments for it’. We disagree strongly on several points. We have explained in detail how Kaczor in fact provides excellent arguments for rejecting infanticide, contrary to this claim.
  3. Additionally, permitting infanticide is a hugely controversial position that is against the status quo. The burden of proof is on proponents such as Räsänen to find better arguments in favor of it.


COMMENT: Sub-title: "A reply to Räsänen"




In-Page Footnotes ("Rodger (Daniel), Blackshaw (Bruce P.) & Wilcox (Clinton) - Why arguments against infanticide remain convincing")

Footnote 1: Räsänen, J. (2016). Pro-life arguments against infanticide and why they are not convincing. Bioethics, 30, 656-662.

Footnote 2: Kaczor, C. (2015). Ethics of abortion (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Footnote 3: "Giubilini (Alberto) & Minerva (Francesca) - After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?"




"Rollston (Christopher A.) - The Antiquities Market, Sensationalized Textual Data, and Modern Forgeries"

Source: Near Eastern Archaeology, 68:1-2, 2005



"Rosenkrantz (Gary) - Haecceity - Preface"

Source: Rosenkrantz - Haecceity: An Ontological Essay, 1993, Preface

COMMENT:



"Shipley (G.J.) - Review of Andy Clark's 'Natural-Born Cyborgs'"

Source: Mind - 113/450 (April 2004)


Excerpts
  1. You may very well baulk at the idea but, at least according to Andy Clark's illuminating new book, "Clark (Andy) - Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence", you are, and always have been, a cyborg. The fact that you are unlikely to have more than a very small percentage of non-biological components incorporated into your body (if any at all) is, we are told, rather beside the point. What it is that makes human beings cyborgs (or ‘human-technology symbionts’) is the very real sense in which human beings assimilate the tools they create into their own (ever-broadening) identities. Clark is quick to point out that a cyborg needn't be fully integrated physically1 with its technological scaffolding. What matters, what is paramount when determining the nature of a cyborg, is the extent to which someone's sense of self can be said to encompass, to extend to, both the biological and the non-biological. And as Clark is eager to show us, humans have been on this road since the birth of language2.
  2. […]
  3. Towards the end of the book Clark tackles nine of what he considers to be the primary causes for concern3 among those who are rather less optimistic than himself about the threat posed to humanity by its continued affiliation with technological advancement. On the whole Clark handles these worries very well and, without overstating his case, manages to assuage, or at least put into context, a good deal of them.
  4. If I had one criticism it would be the rather short shrift Clark gives to the possibilities for technological advances to provide us with the means for immortality (or at the very least, considerable life extension), which I feel, like the scientist Hans Moravec whose optimism he questions, is a crucial issue when considering our propensity to merge with our technology. As natural born cyborgs if indeed we are, and Clark certainly makes a good case for it, isn't one of our primary drives, in addition to streamlining and accentuating our lives, also to extend them through the manipulation of our non-biological resources? Clark is hostile to the idea that future advances in information transmission might eventually bring about a situation where the human body itself starts to look like a superfluous part of the equation, and where it will be possible for the self to enjoy immortality as transferable patterns of information4. As he puts it, 'I roundly reject the vision of the self as a kind of ethereal, information-based construct. There is no informationally constituted user relative to whom the rest is just tools' (p. 192). …
    […]
  5. Clark has written a very readable and well-balanced book, which, with an inspired use of anecdotes, a wealth of empirical data, and a commendable degree of clarity, more than lives up to its provocative title. I found it easy and fun to read, while also displaying a considerable depth of insight.

Further Notes
  1. The above excerpts are just top and tail, with a fairly random passage from the middle. I could have reproduced the lot.
  2. It seems that Clark thinks the key issue is the seamless integration of ourselves and “our smart worlds”. If the technology is “invisible in use” then we have become cyborgs.
  3. OK – but there’s an odd analogy. We can (correctly) be said to “know the time” if all we have to do is flip our wrist, but can’t say we “know the meaning of a word” if we have to look it up in a dictionary. But, what if we could look it up as easily as we look up the time? This is nearly the case, and certainly more so than when Clark wrote.
  4. But I doubt the analogy. There’s no universal time to know – I can only know it by looking it up now. But knowledge of meaning is pretty permanent. I don’t know the meaning of a word if I have to look it up on my smartphone, so ease of access isn’t the issue.
  5. Clark makes an analogy between the unconscious sub-systems of the brain that are so important in constituting the self. Isn’t it unprincipled to reject the non-biological subsystems merely on the grounds that they are automated?
  6. Clark discusses and supports Daniel Dennett’s work on the self5, which “fully allows for cyborg selves”, though he rejects Dennett’s attempt to sideline the self as an illusory central controller. Rather, he thinks the self can legitimately absorb invisible-in-use technology within its boundaries.
  7. See "Erickson (Mark) - Review of Andy Clark's 'Natural-Born Cyborgs'" for a much less enthusiastic review.


COMMENT:




In-Page Footnotes ("Shipley (G.J.) - Review of Andy Clark's 'Natural-Born Cyborgs'")

Footnote 1:
  • This is an important and interesting point.
  • Is it correct? I feel inclined to reject cyborg status to those silly people who are trying to jump the gun and have smart devices implanted under their skin when they would work just as well in their pockets.
  • So, I’d like to read careful argumentation that persistent use of non-integrated technology does make us cyborgs, and doesn’t leave another category outstanding for when integration arrives.
Footnote 2:
  • Why language?
Footnote 3:
  • These are “Inequality, Intrusion, Uncontrollability, Overload, Alienation, Narrowing, Deceit, Degradation and Disembodiment
  • What does “Disembodiment” deal with, and how does it relates to Cyborgs?
Footnote 4:
  • I strongly agree with Clark against Shipley here.
  • Firstly, if such an information transfer were to be possible, we’d just be swapping one body for another – in the case considered, (part of) a digital computer.
  • Secondly, such a “possibility” would not be identity-preserving. Our psychology might “live on” – or at least “survive” as “life” would not be an appropriate term – but “we” would not, on account of the reduplication objections amongst many others.



"Shoemaker (Sydney) - Identity & Identities"

Source: Daedalus, Vol. 135, No. 4, On Identity (Fall, 2006), pp. 40-48


Author’s Introduction
  1. In its primary meaning, the noun 'identity' refers to the relation each thing has to itself and to no other thing. In the language of the logicians, this relation is transitive (if A is identical to B and B is identical to C, then A is identical C), symmetrical (if A is identical to B, B is identical to A), and reflexive (everything is identical to itself). In addition, it is governed by Leibniz's Law1, the principle that says that if A is identical to B, whatever is true of A is true of B. In ordinary speech, the relation is expressed by the terms 'identical' and 'same.' But in addition to being used to express 'numerical' identity, the relation that here concerns us, these terms are also used to express 'qualitative' identity, i.e., exact similarity. The phrase, 'one and the same,' on the other hand, always expresses numerical identity. When philosophers talk about identity, they are usually referring to identity in this sense.
  2. Nonphilosophers, when offered a discussion of identity, are often puzzled and disappointed to find that it is identity in this 'logical' sense that is under consideration. They wonder how identity as the relation everything has to itself and to no other thing can be of any interest, and how, if at all, it is related to what they regard as clearly of interest, namely, the notion that figures in such expressions as 'quest for identity,' 'identity crisis,' 'loss of identity,' and (most recently) 'identity theft.'
  3. But the 'logical' conception of identity - numerical identity - is far from foreign to ordinary folk; on the contrary, it is pervasive in everyday discourse. It is one of the notions expressed by the word 'is': it is in play whenever anyone judges that a car in the parking lot is hers, or that someone she now sees is the person she was introduced to yesterday. The adjectives 'same' and 'identical' are regularly used to communicate this concept. What is foreign to many is the use of the noun 'identity' to express it. The noun has been appropriated to articulate a different, though undoubtedly related, notion.



"Sider (Ted) - Reductive Theories of Modality"

Source: M. J. Loux and D.W. Zimmerman, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics (OUP, 2003): 180–208


Author’s Introduction1 (Modality)
  1. Logic begins but does not end with the study of truth and falsity. Within truth there are the modes of truth, ways of being true: necessary truth and contingent truth. When a proposition is true, we may ask whether it could have been false. If so, then it is contingently true. If not, then it is necessarily true; it must be true; it could not have been false. Falsity has modes as well: a false proposition that could not have been true is impossible or necessarily false; one that could have been true is merely contingently false. The proposition that some humans are over seven feet tall is contingently true; the proposition that all humans over seven feet tall are over six feet tall is necessarily true; the proposition that some humans are over seven feet tall and under six feet tall is impossible, and the proposition that some humans are over nine feet tall is contingently false.
  2. Of these four modes of truth, let us focus on necessity, plus a fifth: possibility. A proposition is possible if it is or could have been true; hence propositions that are either necessarily true, contingently true, or contingently false are possible.
  3. Notions that are similar to the modes of truth in being concerned with what might have been are called modal. Dispositions are modal notions, for example the disposition of fragility. Relatedly, there are counterfactual conditionals, for example "if this glass were dropped, it would break." And the notion of supervenience is modal2. But let us focus here on necessity and possibility.
  4. Modal words are notoriously ambiguous (or at least context-sensitive). I may reply to an invitation to give a talk in England by saying "I can't come; I have to give a talk in California the day before". This use of "can't" is perfectly appropriate. But it would be equally appropriate for me to say that I could cancel my talk in California (although that would be rude) and give the talk in England instead. What I cannot do is give both talks. But wait: it also seems appropriate to say, in another context, that given contemporary transportation, one can give a talk in California one day and England the next. It may be very exhausting, but one can do it. What one cannot do is give a talk in California and then give a talk in England the next hour. But in yet another context one could say the following: "Given the limits on travel faster than the speed of light, one cannot give a talk on Earth, and then another on Alpha Centauri an hour later. But one could give a talk in California and then an hour later give a talk in England." Finally, even this performance seems appropriate: "The laws of nature could have been different. Supra-luminal travel might have permitted by the laws of nature. One could (if the laws had indeed allowed supra-luminal travel) have given a talk on Earth, and then another an hour later on Alpha Centauri, 4.12 x 1013 km away. What is impossible is giving talks on Earth and Alpha Centauri at the very same time."
  5. There are, therefore, different "strengths" of necessity and possibility, which can be signified by modal words (like 'can') in different contexts. Philosophers have tended to concentrate on a very broad sort, so-called "metaphysical" possibility and necessity. According to many, it is metaphysically possible that the laws of nature be different, that the past be different from what it actually was, and so on3. All of the scenarios in the last paragraph — giving a talk in England, giving a talk in California one day and England the next, giving a talk in California at one moment and a talk in England an hour later, giving a talk on Earth one moment and on Alpha Centauri an hour later — are metaphysically possible. What is not metaphysically possible? Almost everyone agrees that contradictions are metaphysically impossible — it is metaphysically impossible to both give a talk in California and also not to give a talk in California. And everyone who accepts the legitimacy of the notion of analyticity — of truth that is in some sense guaranteed by meaning — agrees that the negations of analytic sentences like 'all bachelors are unmarried' are impossible. But it is usually thought that there exist further impossibilities. Examples might include the existence of a round square, someone's being taller than himself, someone's being in two places at once, George W. Bush's being a donkey, there existing no numbers, and there existing some water that is not made up of H2O. Exactly what is metaphysically impossible beyond logical and analytic contradictions is unclear; this unclarity is what makes the analysis of metaphysical possibility and necessity so difficult. But it is metaphysical possibility and necessity that most concerns philosophers, and so from now on it is on the metaphysical sense of the modal notions that I will focus. It is common to distinguish between de re and de dicto modality.
  6. The contrast may be brought out with this example:
    • (De dicto) Necessarily, the number of the planets is odd
      □ [(the x: Nx) Ox]
    • (De re) The number of the planets is such that it is necessarily odd
      (The x: Nx) □ [Ox]
    The de dicto sentence is false. It claims that it is necessary that the number of the planets is odd, whereas there clearly might have been 6 or 8 planets. The de re sentence, however, is presumably true. It claims of the number that actually numbers the planets — namely, 9 — that it is necessarily odd. Assuming with orthodoxy that mathematical facts are necessary, this is true: the number 9 itself is necessarily odd. The de dicto sentence claims that a certain descriptive claim is necessary: it is necessary that the number picked out by the description 'the number of the planets', whatever that might turn out to be, is odd. In each possible world, whatever number is the number of the planets in that world must be odd. In contrast, the de re sentence uses the description 'the number of the planets' to single out a certain individual, the number 9, but then goes on to make a modal claim about that number itself; the description used to single out 9 plays no role in evaluating the modal claim about 9. In each possible world, 9 itself must be odd, never mind whether 9 is the number of the planets in that world.
  7. There is a grammatical contrast between the de re and the de dicto sentences that is made clearer by the symbolically regimented versions of those sentences. In the de re sentence there is a variable in the scope of the modal operator □ (symbolizing 'it is necessary that') that is bound to a quantifier outside the scope of the □ whereas in the de dicto sentence no quantification into the scope of modal operators occurs. A further example: the false sentence4 'Possibly, some bachelor is unmarried', or '◇∃x(Bx&~Mx)' is de dicto, whereas the true sentence 'Some bachelor is possibly unmarried', or '∃x(Bx & ◇~Mx)' is de re, since the variable x occurs inside the scope of the ◇ but is bound to the quantifier ∃x which occurs outside the scope of the ◇. This grammatical or syntactic way of drawing the de re / de dicto distinction is common, and can be extended to natural language given the existence of natural language analogs of modal operators and variable binding. However, for present purposes it will be useful to (somewhat stipulatively) draw the distinction slightly differently. Specifically, in addition to sentences with quantification into modal contexts, let us count as de re modal sentences in which "directly referential terms" occur within the scope of modal operators. Directly referential terms are terms whose prepositional contributions are simply their referents, for example proper names and indexicals. The reason for counting these sentences as de re is that they attribute modal properties to objects simpliciter, rather than under descriptions5.
  8. Modality is important to philosophy for many reasons. A first reason derives from philosophy's traditional association with logic. Advances in modal logic in the middle of the 20th century provided a reason to be interested in the modalities. Moreover, propositions that are logically true seem necessarily true. Another source of modality's importance is that necessary truth, according to one tradition, demarcates philosophical from empirical inquiry. Science identifies contingent aspects of the world, whereas philosophical inquiry reveals the essential nature of its objects; philosophical propositions are therefore necessarily true when true at all.
  9. But the most important source of importance derives from modality's connections with epistemology and philosophy of language. These connections are at the core of analytic philosophy. The propositions identified by traditional epistemology as those that can be known a priori, independent of sensory experience, seem necessary. These are generally agreed to include the propositions of logic as well as analytic truths. Whether there are other a priori propositions was one of the great questions of 17th and 18th century epistemology, and the debate continues to this day. But it was generally agreed until recently that all a priori propositions are necessarily true. Indeed, before the publication of "Kripke (Saul) - Naming and Necessity", it was not uncommon to identify a prioricity with necessity.
  10. Given the compelling examples of necessary a posteriori propositions given by Kripke, and by Hilary Putnam (1975), as well as Kripke's examples of contingent a priori propositions, this identification is no longer made. And given "Quine (W.V.) - Two Dogmas of Empiricism" critique of analyticity, some have doubted the connection between analyticity and necessity, others the sense of the notion of necessity itself. But despite this, many of the important traditional connections remain. It is still relatively common to claim that some necessary propositions are a priori, thus, the nature of necessity is relevant to epistemology, for what is necessary truth, that it can be ascertained without sensory input? And despite Quine, there remains an overwhelming temptation to think that the notion of linguistic convention has some legitimate application, and some connection with the traditional notion of necessity.


COMMENT: See Ted Sider - Reductive Theories of Modality.




In-Page Footnotes ("Sider (Ted) - Reductive Theories of Modality")

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: Footnote 3: Footnote 4:
  • I must be thick, because I can’t see why this sentence – 'Possibly, some bachelor is unmarried' – is false.
Footnote 5:
  • De re modal claims are often explained etymologically as those that attribute necessity to an object, a res, e.g., the number 9, rather than to a proposition, a dictum, e.g., the proposition that the number of the planets is odd.
  • But this way of drawing the distinction is misleading. In a perfectly good sense of "object," propositions are objects. Moreover, modal sentences containing directly referential terms inside the scopes of modal operators would attribute modal properties to (singular) propositions, but would nevertheless be de re on my usage.



"Silver (Albert) - The future is here – AlphaZero learns chess"

Source: Chessbase - Chess News - 6 Dec 2017


Full Text
  1. Imagine this: you tell a computer system how the pieces move — nothing more1. Then you tell it to learn to play the game. And a day later — yes, just 24 hours — it has figured it out to the level that beats the strongest programs in the world convincingly! DeepMind, the company that recently created the strongest Go program in the world, turned its attention to chess, and came up with this spectacular result.
  2. DeepMind and AlphaZero: About three years ago, DeepMind, a company owned by Google that specializes in AI development, turned its attention to the ancient game of Go. Go had been the one game that had eluded all computer efforts to become world class, and even up until the announcement was deemed a goal that would not be attained for another decade! This was how large the difference was. When a public challenge and match was organized against the legendary player Lee Sedol, a South Korean whose track record had him in the ranks of the greatest ever, everyone thought it would be an interesting spectacle, but a certain win by the human. The question wasn’t even whether the program AlphaGo would win or lose, but how much closer it was to the Holy Grail goal. The result was a crushing 4-1 victory, and a revolution in the Go world. In spite of a ton of second-guessing by the elite, who could not accept the loss, eventually they came to terms with the reality of AlphaGo, a machine that was among the very best, albeit not unbeatable. It had lost a game after all.
  3. The saga did not end there. A year later a new updated version of AlphaGo was pitted against the world number one of Go, Ke Jie, a young Chinese whose genius is not without parallels to Magnus Carlsen in chess. At the age of just 16 he won his first world title and by the age of 17 was the clear world number one. That had been in 2015, and now at age 19, he was even stronger. The new match was held in China itself, and even Ke Jie knew he was most likely a serious underdog. There were no illusions anymore. He played superbly but still lost by a perfect 3-0, a testimony to the amazing capabilities of the new AI.
  4. Many chess players and pundits had wondered how it would do in the noble game of chess. There were serious doubts on just how successful it might be. Go is a huge and long game with a 19x19 grid, in which all pieces are the same, and not one moves. Calculating ahead as in chess is an exercise in futility so pattern recognition is king. Chess is very different. There is no questioning the value of knowledge and pattern recognition in chess, but the royal game is supremely tactical and a lot of knowledge can be compensated for by simply outcalculating the opponent. This has been true not only of computer chess, but humans as well.
  5. However, there were some very startling results in the last few months that need to be understood. DeepMind’s interest in Go did not end with that match against the number one. You might ask yourself what more there was to do after that? Beat him 20-0 and not just 3-0? No, of course not. However, the super Go program became an internal litmus test of a sorts. Its standard was unquestioned and quantified, so if one wanted to test a new self-learning AI, and how good it was, then throwing it at Go and seeing how it compared to the AlphaGo program would be a way to measure it.
  6. A new AI was created called AlphaZero. It had several strikingly different changes. The first was that it was not shown tens of thousands of master games in Go to learn from, instead it was shown none. Not a single one. It was merely shown the rules, without any other information. The result was a shock. Within just three days its completely self-taught Go program was stronger than the version that had beat Lee Sedol, a result the previous AI had needed over a year to achieve. Within three weeks it was beating the strongest AlphaGo that had defeated Ke Jie. What is more: while the Lee Sedol version had used 48 highly specialized processors to create the program, this new version used only four!

  7. Graph showing the relative evolution of AlphaZero : Source: DeepMind
  8. AlphaZero learns Chess: Approaching chess might still seem unusual. After all, although DeepMind had already shown near revolutionary breakthroughs thanks to Go, that had been a game that had yet to be ‘solved’. Chess already had its Deep Blue 20 years ago, and today even a good smartphone can beat the world number one. What is there to prove exactly?
  9. It needs to be remembered that Demis Hassabis, the founder of DeepMind has a profound chess connection of his own. He had been a chess prodigy in his own right, and at age 13 was the second highest rated player under 14 in the world, second only to Judit Polgar. He eventually left the chess track to pursue other things, like founding his own PC video game company at age 17, but the link is there. There was still a burning question on everyone’s mind: just how well would AlphaZero do if it was focused on chess? Would it just be very smart, but smashed by the number-crunching engines of today where a single ply is often the difference between winning or losing? Or would something special come of it?
  10. David Silver - AlphaGo Zero: Starting from Scratch. Professor David Silver explains how AlphaZero was able to progress much quicker when it had to learn everything on its own as opposed to analysing large amounts of data. The efficiency of a principled algorithm was the most important factor.
  11. A new paradigm: On December 5 the DeepMind group published a new paper at the site of Cornell University called paper "Silver (David), Hassabis (Demis), Etc. - Mastering Chess and Shogi by Self-Play with a General Reinforcement Learning Algorithm" at Cornell University: Google Deep Mind: Mastering Chess and Shogi by Self-Play, and the results were nothing short of staggering. AlphaZero had done more than just master the game, it had attained new heights in ways considered inconceivable. The test is in the pudding of course, so before going into some of the fascinating nitty-gritty details, let’s cut to the chase. It played a match against the latest and greatest version of Stockfish, and won by an incredible score of 64 : 36, and not only that, AlphaZero had zero losses (28 wins and 72 draws)!
  12. Stockfish needs no introduction to ChessBase readers, but it's worth noting that the program was on a computer that was running nearly 900 times faster! Indeed, AlphaZero was calculating roughly 80 thousand positions per second, while Stockfish, running on a PC with 64 threads (likely a 32-core machine) was running at 70 million positions per second. To better understand how big a deficit that is, if another version of Stockfish were to run 900 times slower, this would be equivalent to roughly 8 moves less deep. How is this possible?
  13. The paper explains: “AlphaZero compensates for the lower number of evaluations by using its deep neural network to focus much more selectively on the most promising variations – arguably a more “human-like” approach to search, as originally proposed by Shannon. Figure 2 shows the scalability of each player with respect to thinking time, measured on an Elo scale, relative to Stockfish or Elmo with 40ms thinking time. AlphaZero’s MCTS scaled more effectively with thinking time than either Stockfish or Elmo, calling into question the widely held belief that alpha-beta search is inherently superior in these domains.”

  14. This diagram shows that the longer AlphaZero had to think, the more it improved compared to Stockfish.
  15. In other words, instead of a hybrid brute-force approach, which has been the core of chess engines today, it went in a completely different direction, opting for an extremely selective search that emulates how humans think. A top player may be able to outcalculate a weaker player in both consistency and depth, but it still remains a joke compared to what even the weakest computer programs are doing. It is the human’s sheer knowledge and ability to filter out so many moves that allows them to reach the standard they do. Remember that although Garry Kasparov lost to Deep Blue it is not clear at all that it was genuinely stronger than him even then, and this was despite reaching speeds of 200 million positions per second. If AlphaZero is really able to use its understanding to not only compensate 900 times fewer moves, but surpass them, then we are looking at a major paradigm shift.
  16. How does it play? Since AlphaZero did not benefit from any chess knowledge, which means no games or opening theory, it also means it had to discover opening theory on its own. And do recall that this is the result of only 24 hours of self-learning. The team produced fascinating graphs showing the openings it discovered as well as the ones it gradually rejected as it grew stronger!
  17. David Silver - AlphaGo Zero: Discovering new knowledge: Professor David Silver, lead scientist behind AlphaZero, explains how AlphaZero learned openings in Go, and gradually began to discard some in favor of others as it improved. The same is seen in chess.

  18. In the diagram above, we can see that in the early games, AlphaZero was quite enthusiastic about playing the French Defense, but after two hours (this so humiliating) began to play it less and less.

  19. The Caro-Kann fared a good deal better, and held a prime spot in AlphaZero's opening choices until it also gradually filtered it out. So what openings did AlphaZero actually like or choose by the end of its learning process? The English Opening and the Queen's Gambit!

  20. The paper also came accompanied by ten games to share the results. It needs to be said that these are very different from the usual fare of engine games. If Karpov had been a chess engine, he might have been called AlphaZero. There is a relentless positional boa constrictor approach that is simply unheard of. Modern chess engines are focused on activity, and have special safeguards to avoid blocked positions as they have no understanding of them and often find themselves in a dead end before they realize it. AlphaZero has no such prejudices or issues, and seems to thrive on snuffing out the opponent’s play. It is singularly impressive, and what is astonishing is how it is able to also find tactics that the engines seem blind to.

    A screenshot of Houdini 6.02 after an hour of analysis
  21. AlphaZero - Stockfish 8 (Game 5): Position after 20...Kh8. In this position from Game 5 of the ten published, this position arose after move 20...Kh8. The completely disjointed array of Black’s pieces is striking, and AlphaZero came up with the fantastic 21.Bg5!! After analyzing it and the consequences, there is no question this is the killer move here, and while my laptop cannot produce 70 million positions per second, I gave it to Houdini 6.02 with 9 million positions per second. It analyzed it for one full hour and was unable to find 21.Bg5!!
  22. Here is another little gem of a shot, in which AlphaZero had completely stymied Stockfish positionally, and now wraps it up with some nice tactics. Look at this incredible sequence in game nine.
    AlphaZero - Stockfish 8 (Game 92)
    • Here AlphaZero played the breathtaking 30. Bxg6!! The threat is obviously 30...fxg6 31. Qxe6+, but how do you continue after the game's 30...Bxg5 31. Qxg5 fxg6?
    • Here AlphaZero continued with 32. f5!! and after 32...Rg8 33. Qh6 Qf7 34. f6 obtained a deadly bind, and worked it into a win 20 moves later. Time to get a thesaurus for all the references synonymous of 'amazing'.
  23. What lies ahead: So where does this leave chess, and what does it mean in general? This is a game-changer, a term that is so often used and abused, and there is no other way of describing it. Deep Blue was a breakthrough moment, but its result was thanks to highly specialized hardware whose purpose was to play chess, nothing else. If one had tried to make it play Go, for example, it would have never worked. This completely open-ended AI able to learn from the least amount of information and take this to levels hitherto never imagined is not a threat to ‘beat’ us at any number of activities, it is a promise to analyze problems such as disease, famine, and other problems3 in ways that might conceivably lead to genuine solutions.
  24. For chess, this will likely lead to genuinely breakthrough engines following in these footsteps. That is what happened in Go. For years and years, Go programs had been more or less stuck where they were, unable to make any meaningful advances, and then came along AlphaGo. It wasn't because AlphaGo offered some inspiration to 'try harder', it was because just as here, a paper was published detailing all the techniques and algorithms developed and used so that others might follow in their footsteps. And they did. Literally within a couple of months, new versions of top programs such as Go: Crazy Stone, began offering updated engines with Deep Learning, which brought hundreds (plural) of Elo in improvement. This is no exaggeration.
  25. The paper on chess offers similar information allowing anyone to do what they did. Obviously they won't have the benefit of the specialized TPUs, a processor designed especially for this deep learning training, but nor are they required to do so. It bears remembering that this was also done without the benefit of many of the specialized programming techniques and tricks in chess programming. Who is to say they cannot be combined for even greater results? Even the DeepMind team think it bears investigating:
  26. "It is likely that some of these techniques could further improve the performance of AlphaZero; however, we have focused on a pure self-play reinforcement learning approach and leave these extensions for future research."
  27. Replay4 the ten games between AlphaZero and Stockfish 8 (70 million NPS)
  28. Albert Silver5: Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News.



Selected Comments

I’ve not had the opportunity to read the Comments. See the article.

COMMENT:




In-Page Footnotes ("Silver (Albert) - The future is here – AlphaZero learns chess")

Footnote 1:
  • You also need to tell it the aim of the game – to checkmate the K!
  • If this is the aim, do all the training games need to play out to the bitter end?
Footnote 2:
  • See the Article for the diagrams, which I can’t display here.
Footnote 3: Footnote 4:
  • See the Article for the games, which I can’t display here.
Footnote 5:



"Silver (David), Hassabis (Demis), Etc. - Mastering Chess and Shogi by Self-Play with a General Reinforcement Learning Algorithm"

Source: arxiv.org, 05 December, 2017


Authors’ Abstract
  1. The game of chess is the most widely-studied domain in the history of artificial intelligence. The strongest programs are based on a combination of sophisticated search techniques, domain-specific adaptations, and handcrafted evaluation functions that have been refined by human experts over several decades.
  2. In contrast, the AlphaGo Zero program recently achieved superhuman performance in the game of Go, by tabula rasa reinforcement learning from games of self-play. In this paper, we generalise this approach into a single AlphaZero algorithm that can achieve, tabula rasa, superhuman performance in many challenging domains.
  3. Starting from random play, and given no domain knowledge except the game rules, AlphaZero achieved within 24 hours a superhuman level of play in the games of chess and shogi (Japanese chess) as well as Go, and convincingly defeated a world-champion program in each case.


COMMENT:



"Silver (David), Hassabis (Demis), Etc. - Mastering the Game of Go without Human Knowledge"

Source: Nature, via Deepmind.com


Authors’ Abstract
  1. A long-standing goal of artificial intelligence is an algorithm that learns, tabula rasa, superhuman proficiency in challenging domains.
  2. Recently, AlphaGo became the first program to defeat a world champion in the game of Go. The tree search in AlphaGo evaluated positions and selected moves using deep neural networks. These neural networks were trained by supervised learning from human expert moves, and by reinforcement learning from selfplay.
  3. Here, we introduce an algorithm based solely on reinforcement learning, without human data, guidance, or domain knowledge beyond game rules. AlphaGo becomes its own teacher: a neural network is trained to predict AlphaGo’s own move selections and also the winner of AlphaGo’s games. This neural network improves the strength of tree search, resulting in higher quality move selection and stronger self-play in the next iteration.
  4. Starting tabula rasa, our new program AlphaGo Zero achieved superhuman performance, winning 100-0 against the previously published, champion-defeating AlphaGo.


COMMENT:



"Simons (Peter) - How To Exist at a Time When You Have No Temporal Parts"

Source: Monist, Jul2000, Vol. 83 Issue 3, p419, 18p


Abstract Philosophers Index
  1. A plain existential proposition "A exists" about a continuant is made true by A itself, but for a temporally specific existential, "A exists at t", A need not suffice, not needing to exist at t.
  2. To make such propositions true we evoke occurrents (events, processes) from the life of A whose occurrence is vital to A's existence at t, and which essentially have temporal parts covering t.
  3. A then stands to its life as invariant to the field of an equivalence relation. It is explained why this does not make continuants abstract and why temporary intrinsic predications require tense.

Abstract1
  1. Discusses the worries on how to exist at a time without having temporal parts.
  2. Definition of continuants;
  3. Existence of continuance;
  4. Reasons why continuants, although products of abstraction, are not classically abstracts;
  5. Classical abstracta of Platonic philosophy;
  6. Abstraction theory of continuants;
  7. Relationship between continuants and occurrants.




In-Page Footnotes ("Simons (Peter) - How To Exist at a Time When You Have No Temporal Parts")

Footnote 1:
  • I can’t remember where this abstract came from, but the first one was definitely from the Philosopher’s Index.
  • Also, I have this paper categorized under exdurantism for some reason. But it looks interesting, anyway.



"Smith (Barry) & Brogaard (Berit) - Sixteen Days"

Source: Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, Feb. 2003, 28.1, pp. 45-78


Author’s Abstract
  1. When does a human being begin to exist? We argue that it is possible, through a combination of biological fact and philosophical analysis, to provide a definitive answer to this question.
  2. We lay down a set of conditions for being a human being, and we determine when, in the course of normal fetal development, these conditions are first satisfied.
  3. Issues dealt with along the way include:
    → modes of substance-formation,
    twinning1,
    → the nature of the intra-uterine environment, and
    → the nature of the relation between fetus2 and mother (connection, parthood, dependence).


COMMENT:



"Smith (Martin) - Why Throwing 92 Heads in a Row Is Not Surprising"

Source: Philosophers' Imprint, Vol. 17, No. 21, October 2017, pp. 1-8
Write-up Note1

Author’s Abstract
  1. Tom Stoppard’s "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" opens with a puzzling scene in which the title characters are betting on coin throws and observe a seemingly astonishing run of 92 heads in a row. Guildenstern grows uneasy and proposes a number of unsettling explanations for what is occurring. Then, in a sudden change of heart, he appears to suggest that there is nothing surprising about what they are witnessing, and nothing that needs any explanation. He says ‘…each individual coin spun individually is as likely to come down heads as tails and therefore should cause no surprise each individual time it does.’
  2. In this article I argue that Guildenstern is right – there is nothing surprising about throwing 92 heads in a row. I go on to consider the relationship between surprise, probability and belief.


COMMENT:



"Srinivasan (Amia) - The Sucker, the Sucker!"

Source: London Review of Books, Vol. 39 No. 17·7, September 2017, pages 23-25

COMMENT:
  • See Link.
  • Reviews of:-
    → "Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life" by Peter Godfrey-Smith, Collins, March 2017, 255 pp, and
    → "The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness" by Sy Montgomery, Simon & Schuster, April 2016, 272 pp
  • Annotated printout filed with "Hains (Brigid) & Hains (Paul) - Aeon: Q-S" for want of a better home.



"Swinburne (Richard) - Review of John Earman's 'Hume's Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles'"

Source: Mind - 111/441 (January 2002)


Notes1
  1. Swinburne broadly agrees with Earman’s essay in Part I ("Earman (John) - Hume on Miracles") that "Hume (David) - Of Miracles" “is a largely unoriginal and really poor piece of philosophical reasoning. Not merely so, but Hume had no excuse for not doing better. For Hume makes sweeping statements about probability, entirely ignoring the more sophisticated work on probability being done in his day, especially by Richard Price”.
  2. Swinburne helpfully divides up Part II as
    1. “General pieces about the epistemology of testimony (Locke),
    2. Contributions to the eighteenth-century debate about the Resurrection (such as Sherlock and Annet),
    3. Responses to Hume (Campbell), and
    4. More detailed work on the probabilistic principles involved in the assessment of testimony (Price and Laplace).
    5. They end with Babbage's brilliant (though not fully clear) demonstration that 'it is always possible to assign a number of independent witnesses, the improbability of the falsehood of whose concurring testimonies shall be greater than that of the improbability of the miracle2”.
  3. The latter claim is supported by a rather simplistic model that shows that even if an event is of probability 10-12, it can be reasonable to believe it on the testimony of 11 independent witnesses3 who are 99% reliable.
  4. Swinburne agrees that Hume vacillates between two claims about the (im)possibility of the violation of a law of nature:-
    1. “Claiming that there cannot be strong enough testimony to probabilify the occurrence of a violation, or at any rate testimony strong enough thereby to probabilify a religious doctrine, and
    2. Claiming that there has not been so far in human history strong enough testimony to probabilify such an occurrence.”
  5. What Swinburne personally found most valuable about the book was:-
    1. “The details of the historical context,
    2. The discussion on Bayesian principles of the extent to which the improbability of an event requires stronger testimony to overcome it,
    3. The clarification of Babbage's result about the force of multiple testimony to an improbable event, and
    4. The extension of this discussion to the force of multiple testimony to different improbable events.”
  6. Swinburne notes that “Many people who make honest and accurate reports on a certain proportion of occasions are very much less likely to make such reports in certain circumstances: They are much less likely to report
    1. Accurately when they believe that they are perceiving something which they very much want to be true; or
    2. Truthfully, when they have a deep personal interest in people not knowing what really happened.”
  7. However, Swinburne claims that things are often round the other way:-
    1. “Some people who do not normally observe goings-on very closely may do so when it seems that they are perceiving something of deep metaphysical significance. And
    2. Some people may have a deep personal interest in others believing that a miracle occurred while not wishing for the publicity and contumely which would result from their reporting.”
  8. There are important discussions of whether – in our society – people would report, or admit to having seen, a miracle if they saw one, given the secular climate. Swinburne claims that “the probability of someone saying that they had witnessed a miracle when they believed they had not done so but were liable to be crucified (literally) for saying that they had, must be very small indeed; and that, of course, was the situation of some of the first Christians.”. My view is that the situation is much more complicated, both then and now4.
  9. The review ends with the demonstration that “the extremely improbable does sometimes happen.”: the usually-reliable Earman has misinterpreted Swinburne, who still believes that5it seems not unnatural to say that a purported law is no less a law for there being a non-repeatable exception to it; and then to describe the exception as a ‘violation’ of the law”.


COMMENT:




In-Page Footnotes ("Swinburne (Richard) - Review of John Earman's 'Hume's Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles'")

Footnote 1:
  • This is just a brief file-note. I intend to return to this matter in more detail later.
Footnote 2:
  • So, this is in flat contradiction of Hume.
Footnote 3:
  • Doh! I can’t see why this wouldn’t have a probability of error of 10-22.
  • Read the text in Earman!
Footnote 4:
  • People have always been keen to report events that comport with their beliefs, whatever reputational risk is involved – witness contemporary people happy to claim being abducted by aliens.
  • It’s not clear that the disciples were – simply by believing and reporting the resurrection of Jesus – at risk of anything much – that came from their actions in the light of that belief.
Footnote 5:
  • I don’t know whether the claim about “purported laws”, or its rejection, is of any importance in this context



"Todman (Theo) - Poverty of Stimulus Arguments"

Write-up Note1
  • This pseudo-Paper is intended as the mechanism to record time spent on the Note 'Poverty of Stimulus Arguments2' during my Thesis research, as from 2018.
  • This Note derives - or will derive, when converted from the PDF - from the Dissertation I submitted for my BA at Birkbeck in 2003.
  • For the actual time recorded, click on "Paper Statistics" above.



"Todman (Theo) - Thesis - 1 Corinthians: 15"

Write-up Note1
  • This pseudo-Paper is intended as the mechanism to record time spent on the Note '1 Corinthians: 152' during my Thesis research, as from April 2018.
  • For the actual time recorded, click on "Paper Statistics" above.



"Tooley (Michael) - Abortion and Infanticide"

Source: Tooley (Michael) - Abortion and Infanticide

COMMENT: Annotated copy of Book Introduction + Contents filed in "Various - Papers in Desk Drawer".



"Torrengo (Giuliano) & Buonomo (Valerio) - What's next? Time travel and phenomenal continuity"

Source: Draft (final version in The Persistence of Persons. Studies in the metaphysics of personal identity over time (2018), V. Buonomo (ed.), Neunkirchen-Seelscheid: Editiones Scholasticae: pp. 184-201)


Authors’ Abstract
  1. In this paper we shall argue for the view that personal identity over time is constituted by continuity of phenomenology. Following recent terminology, we call this view the phenomenal account of personal persistence.
  2. In Section 2, we bring to the fore its main advantages and disadvantages.
  3. Section 3 will focus on a thought experiment1 involving identity over time in a time travel2 scenario, and
  4. In Section 4 we argue that the phenomenal account, unlike other mentalistic approaches, has the resources to cope with the thought experiment3, thereby offering an indirect argument in support of this view.
  5. Finally, in Section 5 we will deal with objections and replies.



"Various - Papers in Desk Drawer"

Source: Various - Papers in Desk Drawer



"Vaughn (Andrew G.) & Rollston (Christopher A.) - The Crisis of Modern Epigraphic Forgeries and the Antiquities Market"

Source: Society for Biblical Literature Forum Archive


Author’s “Synopsis of the Problem”
  1. The number of Northwest Semitic inscriptions appearing on the antiquities market continues unabated. Some of these epigraphic objects are genuine (i.e., ancient) inscriptions, but have appeared on the market as a result of illicit excavations. Some of these epigraphic objects, however, are modern forgeries.
  2. It should be safe to presume that because of the presence of modern forgeries on the antiquities market, vigilance and caution would be the modus operandi of specialists (and non-specialists) within the field. Sometimes, however, credulousness has actually been regnant of late. This suspension of critical judgment has precipitated at least two crises:
    1. The dataset of ancient Northwest Semitic has been corrupted with modern forgeries, and
    2. the general public has become suspicious about the capacity of the field to produce and convey reliable information.
  3. The purpose of this article is to discuss various aspects of the forgery crisis, including some of the assumptions that foster it, and to propose various protocols for the field so as to protect the dataset of Northwest Semitic.


COMMENT:



"Warnock (Mary) - Ethical challenges in embryo manipulation"

Source: British Medical Journal, 1992;304:1045-9


Notes
Author’s Introduction
  1. The more that is known about the development of the early embryo1, the process of fertilisation, and the nature and specific functions of the cells' gene systems, as well as the environment necessary for them to divide and multiply, the greater are the possibilities of manipulating these embryos2, whether in utero or in vitro. If we are prepared to make a fairly simple minded distinction, we may ask two questions:
    1. Firstly, Should this knowledge be pursued? and
    2. Secondly, to what use is it right or expedient to put it if we acquire it?
  2. The questions may be distinguished and discussed as if they were quite separate. But it ought to be understood that in practice they are not completely distinct. Knowledge and using knowledge are not in reality two totally different things; or rather, acquiring knowledge and using it are not two totally different activities. In acquiring scientific knowledge possible uses for it often become apparent, and in making practical use of the knowledge we have we often acquire further knowledge.
  3. Nevertheless, treating the first question separately and asking should knowledge of the early embryo3 be pursued, the answer seems to me straightforward. The rate at which new information, including information about human gene systems, is being accumulated is prodigious. There is a sense of vast new fields opening out to be explored. It would be impossibly arbitrary for someone to say, "Let nothing more be discovered." Even if on some principle an organisation such as a church or scientific funding council decided that knowledge would stop here, just where we are in 1991, such an organisation could not ensure that nothing more was discovered or published. And if someone were determined to pursue research contrary to the edict they could rightly plead, if challenged, that academic freedom is one of the highest human values and that to refuse to allow any increase in understanding of the world is contrary to one of the most important moral imperatives to which humans are subject. In short, to suggest that knowledge should be ossified at a particular date is a suggestion that neither could nor should be taken seriously.



"Wheeler (Tim Allan) - AlphaGo Zero - How and Why it Works"

Source: Author's Website


Author’s Abstract
  1. DeepMind's AlphaGo made waves when it became the first AI to beat a top human Go player in March of 2016. This version of AlphaGo - AlphaGo Lee - used a large set of Go games from the best players in the world during its training process.
  2. A new paper was released a few days ago detailing a new neural net - AlphaGo Zero - that does not need humans to show it how to play Go. Not only does it outperform all previous Go players, human or machine, it does so after only three days of training time.
  3. This article will explain how and why it works.


COMMENT: See AlphaGo Zero - How and Why it Works.



"Wikipedia - Absolute Pitch, Relatice Pitch & Ear Training"

Source: Wikipedia, 01 October 2017


Three Wikipedia articles combined. See:-



"Wikipedia - Bitcoin"

Source: Wikipedia

COMMENT: See Wikipedia: Bitcoin.



"Wikipedia - Blockchain"

Source: Wikipedia

COMMENT: See Wikipedia: Blockchain.



"Wikipedia - Vipassana"

Source: Wikipedia, last modified on 1 January 2014


Contents
  1. Vipassana (Pali) or vipasyana (Sanskrit) in the Buddhist tradition means insight into the true nature of reality. In the Theravada tradition this specifically refers to insight into the three marks of existence: impermanence, suffering or unsatisfactoriness, and the realisation of non-self.
  2. Vipassana meditation in conjunction with Samatha meditation is a necessary part of all Buddhist traditions. Therefore, it is important to distinguish Vipassana on the one hand, and the Vipassana movement on the other, which was represented in the Theravada tradition by Ledi Sayadaw and Mogok Sayadaw and popularised by Mahasi Sayadaw, V. R. Dhiravamsa and S. N. Goenka.

Contents
  1. Etymology
  2. Insight
    • 2.1 Origins
    • 2.2 Sudden insight
    • 2.3 Relation with samatha
  3. Vipassana meditation
    • 3.1 Theravada
      → 3.1.1 Insight in the Four Noble Truths
      → 3.1.2 Vipassana movement
      → 3.1.3 Vipassana-meditation in the modern Vipassana movement
      → 3.1.4 Stages of Jhana in the Vipassana movement
    • 3.2 Northern tradition and Mahayana
      → 3.2.1 East Asian Mahayana
      → 3.2.2 Tibetan Buddhism
      → 3.2.3 Mahamudra and Dzogchen
  4. See also
    • 4.1 Buddhism
    • 4.2 Christianity
  5. Notes
  6. References
  7. Sources
  8. External links
    • 8.1 History
    • 8.2 Background
    • 8.3 Practice


COMMENT:



"Woollaston (Victoria) & Moldrich (Curtis) - How Bitcoin works"

Source: Alphr, 7 Aug 2017


Full Text
  1. Introduction
    • In 2017, many of us use online banking to sort out our finances but there's an all-digital currency soaring in popularity, and it's called bitcoin. To add to the confusion, the "coins" are known as bitcoins but there is also a form of the currency called Bitcoin. Earlier this month, a bitcoin fork generated a new form of cryptocurrency called Bitcoin Cash. Still with us?
    • Unlike other currencies, bitcoin only exists on the internet and not in physical form – despite what stock images will have you believe. Bitcoin works a little differently, so instead of a central authority, it uses an encrypted peer-to-peer network to store your balance and confirm and verify any transactions or purchases. This platform is called the blockchain, and it can also be thought of as a huge list of every bitcoin transaction that has ever taken place.
    • It’s stored on every computer (or "node") in the bitcoin network, and lists the sender, receiver, value and approximate time of every Bitcoin transfer, all verified and anonymised. So what is the blockchain exactly, and how does Bitcoin work? Here's all you need to know.
  2. What is Bitcoin?
    • Bitcoin is known as a "peer-to-peer electronic cash system" or "cryptocurrency". Its beauty and appeal lie in the fact it isn't controlled by a single authority or country, and that it allows money to be sent anonymously (this is also seen as one of its biggest downsides, and critics claim it encourages illegal behaviour). Bitcoin as an idea was first officially proposed by a programmer called Satoshi Nakamoto in a paper in 2008. The system and network were built a year later. Due to its complex nature, it remained a reserve of more tech-savvy users for years, but more recently (due to an increase in knowledge as well as computing power), it has soared in popularity.
  3. How Bitcoin works
    • The best way to understand how the bitcoin register blockchain works is to follow how it’s added to step-by-step, starting with transactions. When a user wants to send bitcoins to someone else, they broadcast the details of the transaction – their public key, the recipient’s public key, and the bitcoin amount transferred – to a network of interlinked nodes.
    • This transfer information is independently verified by other computers in the network, analogous to having witnesses present when signing a contract. These other nodes use a "digital signature" to authenticate a transaction.
    • This long, complex string of letters and numbers is generated from a combination of a user’s private and public keys, along with the transaction message itself. The alphanumeric pattern is unique to every transfer and can't be used twice, to further guard against fraud.
    • Once it’s been confirmed that the transaction message is genuine, the transaction data itself must be added to the blockchain to be considered "confirmed". Nodes periodically collect "unconfirmed transactions" – those that have been verified genuine but not yet added to the blockchain – into sets, and broadcast them to the network as a new potential block.
    • These blocks are comprised of a group of transactions that have all been judged to take place at roughly the same time. Each new block that joins the chain must reference the preceding block, and in this manner, the blockchain establishes a traceable chronology that runs all the way back to the first bitcoin transfer.
  4. The blockchain: Mining
    • Bitcoin's mining software can be installed by anyone and uses a computer's processing power to carry out the calculations needed for the transactions. The ultimate aim of mining bitcoin is to identify a sequence of data known as a "block". This generates a pattern when the Bitcoin "hash" algorithm is applied to the data and whoever's computer does this first will "win" bitcoins. There is a cap on the number or bitcoins that will be produced, which is 21 million, and a pre-defined schedule of how quickly they are released up until 2040.
    • The strength of the blockchain relies on group verification. Every node in the network has a copy of the blockchain, and if a node submits data that doesn’t match the rest of the network’s blockchain data, that information will be rejected.
    • Therefore, it’s important that all network nodes operate from identical blockchain information. In order to prevent clashes deriving from two different blocks being proposed by separate nodes at the same time, before a submitted block is accepted into the chain, nodes must first solve an incredibly complex cryptographic puzzle.
    • Involving highly complex mathematics and algorithms, the puzzle essentially boils down to each node guessing random numbers. The best comparison would be trying to guess the code to a combination lock, or the weight of a cake at a church fair.
    • Statistically speaking, a lone computer would take years to arrive at the right solution. Multiple computers on the network guessing simultaneously, however, average a solution time of about ten minutes. The first node to solve the puzzle gets their block suggestion added to the chain.
    • Nodes that perform this function are known as miners, and each node that successfully solves a block puzzle is rewarded with bitcoins, as an incentive to keep the blockchain going, and keep the system operational.
    • However, there is a finite number of bitcoins in existence, and every four years, the amount of coins generated per solved block is halved, in order to stave off the currency’s deflation. Some experts have stated that in spite of this, Bitcoin is unsustainable in the long term due to the gradual and irrecoverable loss of private keys.
  5. The blockchain: Privacy
    • One of the key benefits of Bitcoin over traditional monetary systems is its anonymity. What designates Bitcoin as a "crypto-currency" is that Bitcoin, and the transfers thereof, can't be traced back to individual users.
    • How the system achieves this is linked to the methods in which transactions are managed. Although the network has a public and open record of every transaction, the blockchain keeps no details of users’ individual balances.
    • Instead, the blockchain uses a reference system to ensure that users have enough funds to cover any bitcoin transfers. When sending money to another user, this transaction (known as an output) must be validated by referencing the information stored in the blockchain of one or more payments you received in the past (also called inputs).
    • To prevent users referencing the same input in more than one transaction – doublespending – each input can only be referenced once before it is considered "spent" by the system. For every transfer, the network checks these references against their copy of the existing blockchain data.
    • This is another aspect of the authentication system blockchain uses, in concert with the digital signature mentioned earlier. The signature ensures that the transfer is authorised by the account holder, while the input references make sure that they have sufficient bitcoins to send.
    • Another factor in Bitcoin’s anonymity, and the thing that makes it so attractive to criminal enterprises on the dark web, is that it’s possible to maintain complete separation between bitcoin transfers and your real identity.
    • Privacy-conscious users can use anonymising services such as TOR for extra identity protection, but this isn’t really necessary. The public keys that bitcoin holders use to receive payments are randomly generated sequences that can be generated at will by your wallet software, with almost limitless combinations.
  6. The blockchain: Other uses
    • The beauty of the blockchain system is that it can be used as a model for other peer-to-peer authentication networks. This technique can be applied to access codes to secure clouds, encrypted file transfers and communication logs.
    • While the blockchain is almost always associated with bitcoins right now, it looks set to be an important part of the technological network throughout this century.


COMMENT:
  • Sub-titles:-
    → “This is how the blockchain works — the technical system behind the Bitcoin
    → “Everything you need to know about cryptocurrency and the blockchain
  • See Alphr: How Bitcoin Works
  • Filed in Aeon for want of a better home.
  • Also, see Wikipedia for:-
    → Bitcoin: Wikipedia: Bitcoin
    → Blockchain: Wikipedia: Blockchain



"Zatorre (Robert J.) - Absolute Pitch"

Source: Nature Neuroscience, Vol. 6.7, July 2003


Author’s Abstract
  1. Absolute pitch (AP), the ability to identify or produce the pitch of a sound without any reference point, is discussed here as a possible model system for understanding the neurobiology of complex cognitive functions.
  2. AP is of interest because it may reflect an atypical organization of sensory representations. Indications are that it depends on both genetic factors and exposure to musical training during childhood, supporting the idea of a sensitive period. Functional and structural neuroimaging studies suggest special roles for working memory and associative memory mechanisms in AP, and results from these studies indicate that there may be structural markers of AP in asymmetries of cortical areas.
  3. AP seems to depend on the nervous system's response to experiential, maturational and genetic factors, making it a good candidate model for understanding how these interactions play out in cognitive development generally.


COMMENT:
  • "A model for understanding the influence of genes and development on neural and cognitive function. "
  • See Link.



"Zimmerman (Dean) - Personal Identity and the Survival of Death"

Source: Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Death; ed. Ben Bradley, Fred Feldman, and Jens Johansson (OUP, 2015), pp. 97-153


Author’s Introduction
  1. The argument for a Protean criterion of identity (section 4), shall, I hope, be of interest to anyone who takes seriously the idea that we might persist by means of temporal parts. But, beyond the argument for Proteanism, the conclusions of the chapter will be of greatest interest to those who think there is, or may well be, a God. Most of today’s atheists are materialists; and the forms of survival-for-materialists that shall emerge require miraculous events. Furthermore, my conclusions about the prospects of survival-for-dualists provide little comfort for (that rare bird!) the dualist atheist. A person’s mental life evidently depends upon her possession of a living, healthy brain; so, even if she is an immaterial thinking thing, it seems unlikely that she could go on thinking after the destruction of that organ — barring, once again, some miracle. Without God in the picture, dualism by itself would not lead us to expect any very meaningful kind of survival of death1.
  2. Some philosophers have taken materialism to be obviously true, and to be incompatible with our enjoying any kind of life after death2 — thus providing a knock-down argument against the existence of a good God who will right wrongs and explain the meaning of our earthly circumstances in the afterlife3. If I am right, these arguments would fail, even if materialism were as obvious as many take it to be. So the chapter should interest atheists who make use of such arguments — however quaint they may find the supernatural machinery that I frequently wheel in.


COMMENT:



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