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Concepts Don't Work That Way

I found myself reading this book today thought I'd remembered someone on Less Wrong posting about it. So here I am.

I think your critique misses some really valid critiques provided by Lakoff of the entire rationalist project.

The sections on Quinne, Kahneman and Taversky(around p. 471) and around pages 15 and 105 are particularly good. 

What your critique misses is that when you use the lens of cognitive science to critique Lakoff's philosophy is that the body of work you are drawing on is already saturated with and informed by the assumptions you are critiquing. In Lakoffian terms, when we look at a brain scan and correlate activity in it to the words someone says, or to their selection of a set of options from a survey, the metaphor that informs and provides the interpretation for those words is already implicit in the words they say or the question asked to them. If I am already operating out of the "brain is like a computer" or "The I is the thinking I, Aristotelian, Cartesian etc metaphors then that is what I will interpret to be present in the brain. 

And if I am already operating in a certain metaphor, and so are the subjects in my psychology study then that is the metaphor that will guide my questions and their answers. 

Cognitive science did not spring out of a vaccum of objective anything. It arose out of a western, greek, post-enlightenment philosophy saturated people and scientists. So what they found, inevitably confirmed what they were looking for. Imagine if you will, if you were to give a tribe of Papa New Guineans, Indians, or any other culture influenced by any other philosophies the same tools of surveys, controlled experiment, and biological neuroscience. Would they have begun by asking questions that would potentially confirm the karmic nature of the mind? The God worshipping nature of the mind? Or perhaps something even more alien to us? And would they not find what they were looking for? And would they not take their findings as confirming evidence of their already present metaphors?

If the replication crisis has proved anything it's that cognitive science is NOT an objective activity that we can conduct devoid of bias or prior interpretation. 

Yes, psychology and neuroscience have something to do say about philosophy,  but you are merely using the assumptions of one metaphor, interpreting the world through it's lens, then using that lens to critique the idea of any lens other than the one you're using. Your conclusion is inherent in your premises and you are merely confirming your biases. 

Conceptual engineering: the revolution in philosophy you've never heard of

This was a fascinating read. You may find an essay in my recent post history on the purported difference between "Greek" and "Hebrew" ways of thinking interesting.

I stumbled on this essay while reading a book that does a meta-analysis of Lakoff's "objectivism vs experientialism" and then proposes an integration as part of a larger integration project for general and domain language. It does so while also addressing implications for Machine translation and AI, but I'm neither a linguist nor an AI researcher so I find myself wondering what someone more familiar with Lesswrongian projects than I would think of it.

The integration it proposes is through the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, my(budding) area of expertise.

Anyways, here it is, and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts if you do read it.

Memory is not about the past

Hebrew vs Greek Essay. I have to apologize upfront for the source. It's actually from an appendix of an LDS/Mormon scripture study guide. The author is a Levinas scholar and professional philosopher. His main source is a book called Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek by Thorlief Bowman, but he's also heavily drawing on the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas.

In it, he makes some pretty audacious claims about how ancient Greek people "thought" based off the structure of the Hebrew language that have since been called tenuous, unjustified leaps. I personally see the book and this essay as insight into the thinking of Emmanuel Levinas, one of my favorite existential phenomenological philosophers. So even if ancient Hebrews did not think this way, Emmanual Levinas did, and it may have insight into the phenomenology of the "ethical structure of subjectivity" as he described his philosophical project.

Memory is not about the past

This reminded me of an old essay I had laying around on the difference between the "Greek" and "Hebrew" ways of thinking about time. I'll post one section from it and I think you'll see the relevance.

Time and History

"One result of this difference in the Greek and Hebrew concepts of space is a difference in their concepts of time. For Greeks, space is fundamental to time; in fact, in an Indo European model of what it means to be, time is traditionally modeled on space, namely, as a series of points that follow one another in a line. For Hebrews, however, time is fundamental, not space. In Indo-European languages, time is a straight line. We can stand on it gazing forward at the future, with the past behind us. These points and that gaze define the tenses of our verbs, as does our attitude toward time, summed up in Aristotle's phrase, “time destroys”. In contrast, we might well sum the Hebrew attitude up in the phrase "time gives birth.”.

As part of their thinking about time, Indo-European (Greek) languages have three tenses describing the three relations possible to points on the timeline. In other words, these tenses reflect what we, standing in the present, can see: this moment, before this moment, and after this moment. On the other hand, Hebrew has essentially two tenses, corresponding to the completeness or incompleteness of the events that make up time, not to past, present, and future. Hebrew tenses refer to events: that which has been concluded and that which has not been concluded, or roughly the equivalent of the perfect and the imperfect tenses. Interestingly, when Hebrew does correlate seeing to time, it speaks of the past as before and the future behind.

The two tenses in Hebrew exist because, for Hebrew, the timeline is not paramount, nor can it be conceived as a circle, as is sometimes done to portray other non-Indo-European concepts of time. Instead, rhythm, ongoing related events rather than something seen, is the model for thinking about time. The rhythms of the seasons are one example, along with the rhythms of life and death and the rhythms of dance.

This difference between the Greek and Hebrew ways of thinking about time is illustrated by the different approaches to the New Year. For us it is the death of the old and the beginning of the new. However, for Hebrews it is the return of the beginning in a promise of what is coming. If we conceive time as a rhythm rather than a line, any one moment contains all previous moments and any coming moments, in much the same way that a rhythm consists of what has come before any point in the rhythm and what comes after it. We can conceive of spatial and, therefore, Indo-European temporal moments as discrete and independent. The existence of one particular moment of time can be considered apart from any other moment, just as any one point on a line can be separated from every other point on it. The moments of rhythm, however, are not discrete and remain part of the rhythm. They require (in fact, already include) the past and future in order to exist.

To illustrate, one beat of a drum is not part of a rhythm; a drum beat is part of a rhythm only in its relation to other beats. Moments in a rhythm are meaningful only in relation to what has come before and what will come after. Consequently, while for us space is what contains us, our lives, and everything about us, for Hebrews the "container" is time. For us, things and their qualities are metaphysically paramount; for Hebrews, events and their meanings are paramount.

When considering the past, this difference between Greek and Hebrew ways of thinking is telling. As latter-day Greeks, we think of the past as gone forever, and as we see in Augustine's Confessions, the passing of time becomes a difficult problem for Western thinkers. The problem is especially acute for Christians, for if the past is gone once and for all, redemption and atonement are incomprehensible. The Greek Christian may think, “I have sinned. Nothing can change that, and any recompense, whether by me or by God himself, is a poor substitute for what should have happened in the first place.” In the Western mind, history is a series of nows that disappear forever, and, once gone, they cannot be changed or redone. The form of events is fixed forever by the passing of time.

In contrast, if we conceive time rhythmically, as the Hebrews do, then the past can change. The previous moment of the rhythm still occurred, but the past exists and has its meaning only in relation to the continuation of the rhythm, only in relation to the present and future of the rhythm. As I noted earlier, the relation of one drum beat to the previous and subsequent beats determine the rhythmic meaning of any beat of a drum. Thus a present beat determines the rhythmic meaning of a past beat as much as the beats that came before determine the rhythmic meaning of a present beat. In rhythm, causation runs backward as well as forward. Similarly, a rhythmic concept of time means that something that happens now can affect the being of something that occurred previously.

This difference between the Greek and Hebrew understanding of time may also explain the visual/aural difference between Greek and Hebrew thinking, or perhaps the visual/ aural difference explains the time one. Seeing occurs in space and immediately. Whatever I see, I see all at once, as a whole. Thus it is not surprising that Indo-European languages, which understand the world and its contents in terms of abstract space, understand time in terms of abstract points, the smallest unit of abstract space. It thus follows that this thinking understands what is ultimate as static. In contrast, hearing is essentially temporal. It is an event and is necessarily sequential. Consequently, Semitic languages, in which the continuing event is essential to time, understand space and things in terms of events rather than in visual terms. "

Are consequentialism and deontology not even wrong?

I see the entire branch of philosophy known as normative ethics(deontology, consequentialist, virtue) as emerging out a need to codify a right and wrong that we already know. "By what measuring stick are you measuring your measuring stick?" You must already know what is right and what is wrong otherwise you would have no standard by which to judge ethical systems. This "phenomenological ethics" emerges out of our encounters with other people who we, as socially defined beings, feel a moral call towards(Levinas). The true moral question, that that encounter asks is simply, what does love demand? We either respond to that call or we betray it and when we betray it we have created a need within ourselves to self-justify our actions. I think that's where normative ethics originally arose. As a code to point to to justify our betrayals of the true moral of, "what does love demand". It is as if we are saying, "I'm justified in not doing what love demands because... they broke this deonotological rule, or it serves a higher purpose(consequence), or I'm serving a higher virtue." If we hadn't betrayed our true internal moral sense we would have no need to codify it.

Sorry for the bad summary of Levinasian/Buberian ethics. This book does an infinitely better job of explaining it than I can.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 113

Random lines of thought to explore:

Can we figure out how sacrificial magic works from available evidence(we've seen a lot of it recently) and could Harry use that new knowledge to solve his predicament? A principle similar to the potion making principle perhaps?

Harry had to go all the way down to timeless physics in order to do partial transfiguration. I know very little about the theory but could Harry apply that knowledge to somehow partially transfigure time itself or transfigure something not in his present?

If Harry can convince Voldemort to allow him to cast his Patronus(" Maybe I can teach you to cast the Patronus") then he could get a message off to Cedric Diggory telling him to time-turn back, grab the true cloak of invisibility(not sure how, maybe just re-using the rememberall trick), wait till this moment, grab Harry and turn the time turner another hour back(Harry originally only went back 5). Maybe after Harry tried to shoot Voldemort and he was temporarily out of sight with all of his possessions he quickly turned the time turner the remaining one hour which he used to set up Cedric or any number of other plots.

Eliezer's rules say,

" If the simplest timeline is otherwise one where Harry dies - if Harry cannot reach his Time-Turner without Time-Turned help - then the Time-Turner will not come into play."

I'm not quite sure what that means, does it ban this move?

What unique magics are possible when you combine partial transfiguration and the stone of permanency? Not that Harry could do them now, but he could tell Voldemort about an intended combination or have plans to do one in the future. Remember that apparently the stone doesn't just make transfiguration permanent, apparently it can also make otherwise temporary spells permanent like with the Troll's powers being transferred to Hermione. Also, how is Aunt Petunia's beauty transfiguration permanent? Did Lilly have access to the stone somehow?

Maybe the reason Harry and Voldemort's magic can't interact is because it's the same magic. Could Harry wandlessly begin untransfiguring Voldemort's body or another troll made into a tooth?

Maybe whatever spell trapped Dumbledore outside of time also trapped Atlantis?

I predict (20%) that Harry will snap his fingers.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 113

Theory: Voldemort has let Harry keep his wand because he intends Harry to do something with it. In story we have plenty of evidence that you can't "mess with time". Think of prophecies as messages from the future instead of predictions and it's obvious. Voldemort knows this first hand(and maybe Harry will figure it out) so instead of trying to foil the prophecy or actively trying to force the prophecy to play out in the most beneficial way he can imagine, like he did with his first encounter with a prophecy, he is trying to make it so that prophecy two cannot play out in any other way except the way he wants it to.

"He didn't understand why Voldemort was not just killing him. There seemed to be only a single line leading into the future, and it was Voldemort's chosen line"

So, the question we should be asking ourselves is this: How would you make these prophecies come true in the best possible way? If you were Voldie? If you were Harry?


"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies...And the Dark Lord shall mark him as his equal, But he shall have power the Dark Lord knows not... and either must destroy all but a remnant of the other, for those two different spirits cannot exist in the same world.

Two spirits cannot exist in the same world implies multiple worlds, only destroy one of them? Move one of them to another world? Would you try to set up a future where Harry "tears apart the stars in the heavens" as a fuel source to power an advanced civilization? Could the "end of the world" refer to the purposes of the world? The end for which it was created(Atlanteans?). Either that Harry is that end or that he will accomplish it?

Assuming that it is true that Voldie is trying to control the prophecy and not foil it, what do we know about what he intends, or expects to happen next?

*Some move that the unbreakable vow constrains Harry to do

*Hermione will escape?(His inside joke laughter)

*Require's Harry to have a wand

*He expects Harry to figure it out given available evidence

Anything else?

An important question to ask: What possible fulfillment interpretation of the prophecy(ies)(Does Voldemort really believe the first one already fulfilled or is he trying to accomplish both?) would Harry's actions be constrained towards by the unbreakable oath and the other conditions Voldemort has set up for Harry?

Maybe Harry just accepts that he is destined to destroy the world no matter what and since he doesn't have the power to do it now he MUST survive his present predicament and become much more powerful than he currently is so he resolves to return to this point in time when he achieves ultimate power. So kick butt Harry from the future is about to show up and knock some heads.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 109

Sooo it could show the coherent desires shared between all Tom Riddles?

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapters 105-107

Oops, he could just have Snape do it though or wake up someone else to do it.

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