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hunter & wolfe featured in quietlunch magazine!
check out the full feature and interview!

hunter & wolfe featured in quietlunch magazine!

check out the full feature and interview!

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Film I wrote and directed.  Shot by Aymann Ismail (aymann.com) and produced by Jane Lee.  Music by hunter & wolfe (Michael Maffei & Sundeep Kapur)

Starring Andrew Ruth (andrewruth.com) and Caitlin Gold (caitlingold.net)

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No philosophy this time - just music.  Me performing a song from the hunter & wolfe EP in the basement of Animal NY.

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shields

When I take 2 - 3 weeks to read a 66 page book; I’m not sure if I am thorough, stupid, or thoroughly stupid.  Anyway, I’ve been too busy to write anything up.  And I’ve been too busy listening to Grizzly Bear’s newest album which is streaming on npr’s site! http://www.npr.org/2012/09/09/160672368/first-listen-grizzly-bear-shields?ps=view&ec=mostpopular.  Haven’t checked who produced the album, but I am so impressed - especially with the guitar tones.

Totally going to see them in NYC!

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Plato’s allegory of the cave as told by philosophy bro.  bro has a knack for explaining things in layman’s terms.

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thoughts on kant

Last weekend I went to a bbq at an old friend’s house.  I expected delicious ribs and beer - which I got.  I did not expect to have a lengthy philosophical discussion with two men having three phD’s between them.  The conversation started off mildly enough (let’s call these gentlemen P and D for simplicity’s sake): D began talking about how one of his interns, so to speak, was unable to calculate a relatively simple definite integral.  I, of course, went on my typical rant about how everyone should at least be taught basic calculus since it’s applications are so ubiquitous [coming from a science/math background, I think it is worth mentioning that I think the balance should extend both ways; the “writing” course I had to take as an undergrad was an absolute joke!].  

In any case, a series of digressions led to my admission that I find Kant to be highly obfuscated.  D seemed incredulous at this notion (at which I was incredulous that someone could be incredulous about the lack of clarity in Kant’s writing).  He then took it upon himself to drill me on Kant as he saw fit.  In all of this discussion, I think I have found a reasonable way of expressing my general disagreement with Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.


I do not have any qualms with Kant’s premises when highly abstracted.  The so-called “Copernican Revolution” (that cognitions conform to our own understanding rather than the other way around) is not such a ridiculous idea.  My biggest issues with my - admittedly limited - understanding of Kant are as follows:

1. I accept the possibility that human understanding has limits.  However, we cannot truly know those limits since, well, they are outside of our understanding.  Speaking of that which we are not supposed to understand is a precarious stance to take.  Furthermore, admitting that there are things outside of our understanding leaves open the possibility that we may know even less than we think we know.  If we admit that there are limits to our reason, how easily can it be argued that those limits do not constrain us even in the cognitions we take for granted?  This particular facet of my misgivings is not so specific to Kant’s mode of argument as it is to his mission.

2. Throughout my reading, I have felt a faint, nagging doubt in Kant’s supposedly systematic approach to finding the “quid juris”.  I was finally able to better (though not perfectly) vocalize this doubt in my conversation with D.  It would appear that Kant makes seemingly arbitrary distinctions about the stages of sensuousness and understanding: a) their passivity, b) their links to the categories, c) even the distinction of the categories themselves.

2a. In his attempts to link perception to the categories, Kant creates the idea of a single consciousness under which all phenomena must be synthesized to create a cognition (i.e. we are battered with a barrage of the “manifold of intuition”, our understanding ties all of these intuitions together; this synthesis requires that all intuition be handled under a single consciousness (“I think” being implicit in all these intuitions).  How do we know that sensuousness doesn’t handle this synthesis?  Kant explains that synthesis is an active process; since our senses are passive and our understanding is active (by his own definition), synthesis must take place in the understanding (which he hopes to show is tied to the categories, therefore answering the quid juris [question of right {“what am I entitled to believe is objectively true?”…I did this nested bracket bit solely for my own amusement and I apologize}]). 

Who is to say that sensuousness is passive?  Even if we are to make that definitional distinction, who is to say that our intuitions are not “bundled” already and do not require synthesis?  The best defense I can find is simply “anything that is active we will, at least nominatively, call the understanding” but this does not take away the apparent arbitrariness of the aforementioned distinctions.  [P, being a psychiatrist, alluded to the possibility of Kant’s being schizophrenic (based on the separation of reception and cognition).  Superfluous but pretty funny nonetheless].  As I said, this “systematic” approach seems to be a bit of a pseudo-science.

2b.  There is plenty of literature on the open-ended-ness [being silly again…] of transcendental apperception to at least show the troubles with the attempted jump from understanding to categories.  Once again, the arbitrary distinction that apperception is a function of the understanding based on some contrived idea of “the understanding” - and, therefore, so nicely linked to the categories - is a leap in my mind.  The convenience of the link seems just so - overly convenient and not properly fleshed out as far as I can tell.  Running with an oversimplification of Paul Guyer’s alternate suggestion, Kant may have been better off with a simpler take [my words]: our minds can only process information/stimuli/objects in a certain way; since we see objects, they must apply to the categories or we wouldn’t experience them at all (Like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole…which you can do if the round hole is much larger than the square peg and you use the term ‘fit’ loosely, but you get the meaning…our minds only allow a certain type of intuition into our brains.  Therefore if we see it, it must conform to our “form”).

2c.  Modern logic (in my limited scope) doesn’t even handle subject-predicate relations in such a way as to accommodate for Kant’s method for deriving the categories.  My understanding is as follows: Kant derived the categories from the subject-predicate relation of all propositions based on classical logic (e.g. All A are B, No A are B, Some A are B, If A then B etc.).  However, modern logic speaks more like “for an object x, A is y and B is z” i.e. there is no subject per se outside of x; A and B are both predicates.  Whether you subscribe to that notion or not, for Kant to make the claim that he can reduce all thought so tidily is something that has made my stomach churn for quite a while.  The idea is gorgeous: if we can find the laws that dictate our thought, we can claim objective (though I use that in a Kantian way that I find loose…I consider truly objective as Kant would call noumenal rather than merely phenomenal, but I see operational validity in his distinction) validity in our thought.  The problem is paring down those laws or rules.

No interesting way to end this.  Not going to bother reading this over, either.  Don’t get mad at me for glossing over one of the most important minds of Western Philosophy :)

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on market forces

"…market forces don’t exist in a vacuum; we shape those market forces."
     - Quote from Joseph Stiglitz while on the Daily Show.

Great way of crystalizing  the relationship between public policy and so called free market affairs.  I am not intimately familiar with Stiglitz’s views, but I thought that this quote was worth sharing.  

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some thoughts on ‘free enterprise’

I recently had a discussion with an individual I would consider more ‘fiscally conservative’ than myself: letting people decide what to do with their money rather than the government; ‘rewarding hard work’ rather than taxing it.  The catalyst for this conversation was a video by AEI president and author, Arthur Brooks (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NfLUCBZ1is&feature=youtu.be), wherein he attempts to make the ‘moral argument’ for free enterprise.  

The thing that got me going was Brooks’s analog between distribution of wealth and distribution of grades within a class where he, ”[proposed to] take a quarter of the points earned by the top half of the class and pass them over to the lower half.”  No one in the class agreed with this and, somehow, that makes a case for a less progressive tax system.  I think we’ve run into an issue of conflation between income and worth.  Or even income and productivity.  In education, we all play by the same rules: everyone is in the same class and takes the same tests.  There may be slight differences in intelligence, but hard work is generally the most important factor.  In economics and public policy today, the wealthiest have a lot more power in ‘how tests are graded’ or ‘what is taught in class’, so to speak.  If the A students had been choosing test questions for the class, perhaps the C students would not have been so against the aforementioned grade redistribution. 

Let’s review the key points in this video:

1) Free enterprise safeguards lasting happiness

"Free enterprise is the only system that allows us to pursue our happiness by earning our success, and that’s the right thing to do whether we get rich, or not."

I’m not going to spend time on this subject in the interest of space, and simply because I don’t have much to say about it at the moment.  I do think it is worth discussing in the near future, however.  It is important to think about the semantics of words like ‘happiness’, ‘earning’, and ‘success’.  Will get to that next time, I suppose?  Too much else to say!    

2) It promotes real fairness

"…real fairness is rewarding merit and hard work."

2a) What a nice argument prima facie.  Free enterprise as the embodiment of the American Dream.  And for some people it is.  Some get to work their way up the ladder until, through their own hard work, they’re finally on top.  But let’s talk about “real fairness”.  

Real fairness provides opportunities for those who grow up with poor education, because they grow up in destitute areas.  This destitution follows them throughout their entire lives - whether it be impoverished education, temptation of addictive substances, the need to support their family from a young age etc. - and greatly diminishes their changes of ‘earning success’.

2b) Occupations do not have some intrinsic value.  Claiming that the market will determine them is problematic when considering the power the wealthy have in said market, especially in a laissez-faire environment.

It is also worth mentioning that this sort of mentality will not, necessarily, create jobs since the ‘job-creators’ will only create jobs to meet demand, not simply due to a larger amount of capital stemming from looser taxes/regulations.  But this is not the time to flesh out the statement above.       

2c) Now, now, let’s not get all worked up on the ‘moral argument’ for the progressive distribution of wealth.  Let’s, instead, look at the way that free enterprise is tipping the scales for the wealthy (and why shouldn’t it?).

Consider the following: **I start a business, put in a bunch of capital, take a whole bunch of risks, and end up being one of the few successes.  I am now remarkably wealthy.  

You are a politician.  You need money to conduct a campaign.  You need to advertise - no one will vote for you if they have no idea who you are!  You need media coverage!

I think to myself, “Gee, this politician’s policies will further my success; I should really back her!” I decide to put my financial clout to work and help get officials elected who will support my cause as a wealthy individual; who will help my business grow even more.  Why wouldn’t I do that?**

We live in a system where this occurs, and often dilutes the efforts of the average American.  Here is a good example (from http://video.msnbc.msn.com/the-rachel-maddow-show/48203918#48204096) consisting of simple math: $40 contributed by a family making $100,000/yr is equivalent to billionaire Sheldon Adelson giving $10 million.  Is Adelson’s agenda really ‘worth’ the agenda of the 250,000 people in the prior description?  Our system allows the wealthy to push their agendas in unprecedented ways.  [I will concede, however, that this may be a question of public policy regarding how financially involved an individual ought to be.]

3) It does the most good for the most vulnerable

In the most literal sense, this may be true.  Outsourcing of work to third-world nations has brought up the working conditions and wages of many developing nations.  There are just two problems with that:

1. The ‘improvement’, while relatively marked, is still leaving many workers in abject poverty.  Making $2.00/day vs $0.50/day seems like a difference, but is it really giving people the quality of life they deserve when they still can’t afford a gallon of milk?

2. This undermines the middle class and creates a chasm between the rich and poor.  Outsourcing forces middle class workers to work for less, lest they be replaced by their multinational competition.  I crunched the numbers based on census information: since 1967, the top quintile of Americans have seen their % of US income raise from 43.6% to 50.2% in 2010 - it is the only quintile to see this net growth, and it has never lost percentage points.  So while the ‘most vulnerable’ are being ‘lifted’ for the benefit of the least vulnerable, the average individual suffers and her chances of ‘earning success’ are diminished.

 _____________________________

Perhaps I am being a bit hard on free enterprise as an economic system.  In any case, the bulk of the blame belongs to public policy.  What we have is a republic heading towards an aristocracy.


 Probably going to regret not proofing this one.

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did i mention the ‘can implies ought’ argument?

i could have sworn i wrote about this bit, but if not it should make for a decent tumble.  this particular argument was pulled from a sam harris v. william lane craig debate i have most definitely touched upon.  many people knocked harris for failing to respond to the bevy of questions posed by craig.  in harris’s defense, craig didn’t supply the arguments so much as their names and would have given harris no time to make his own prepared remarks.  while i understand that a pretty big part of a debate lies in…well…debating, i think each side should be able to give it’s own arguments without having to constantly be on the defensive.  

SOANYWAY!  

let’s talk about the ‘can implies ought’ problem as according to craig.  let it be perfectly clear here that i am not espousing either harris’s nor craig’s views on the matter of objective morality per se - i think i’ve made my position on craig pretty clear, though.

craig’s point begins through the (perhaps skewed) view that a purely materialist reality inevitably leads to determinism.  after all, if our decisions are only a succession of chemical reactions/synapses, what real choice do we have?  (let’s just leave those implications out of it for the moment, shall we?)  what craig is really getting at is this: if we are merely slaves to our biology (which he surmises leaves us with determinism), how can we speak about what we ought to do (i.e. rules of morality) if we cannot actually do it?  i’ll rephrase that in he interest of clarity: morals prescribe what we ought to do, but saying we ought to do it implies that we are able to; how can we have morals talking about ought if we have no say in what we can do? [may have used some grammatical finagling to extend that sentence]

perhaps it was roderick chisholm who talked about levels of self-determination [or maybe i’m completely wrong; i only did some peripheral reading on the matter and my memory is not my strongest ability…i would have known whether i had this discussion already!], and if it is, that is worth a look regarding the answer to the question above.  but let me address the question more directly.

let’s talk about our use of the word ‘ought’.

if both my parents are 7 feet tall, i ought to grow up to be tall myself.  it ought to be hot the rest of this summer.  i ought not murder my fellow tumblr-er.  [don’t put me on a watchlist for using the word ‘murder’].  these are all proper uses of the word ‘ought’.  i think at this point we ought to realize that ‘ought’ does not necessarily imply indeterminate possibility through autonomy - the term ‘ought’ can apply to logical possibility, too.  it can even work in situations where there is a biological impetus over which i have no control (even if determinism holds!).  i cannot help but be 6 feet tall even if my parents were both 7 feet tall.  i may get the objection ‘but that is not a question of ought - if we knew all of the biological factors, we would know just how tall he ought to be!’  SILENCE! THIS IS MY TUMBLE!

the fact is that height example works semantically due to our inability to tell the future, really.  even if we did know the future, we would find it to be an anomaly and still think ‘well he ought to be taller, huh?’. in a behaviorally deterministic model, the same holds true.  i may just be destined to be a bad guy, but that doesn’t mean that our society doesn’t reach some normative conception of what is accepted behavior.  nor does it mean that we shouldn’t punish people who behave delinquently [let’s keep the mentally infirm out of this for the moment as i don’t have the time].

i will gladly substantiate the idea above further [i really think chisholm mentions the idea of quarantines for the sick as an analog…is it him…?], but i am too hungry to go on…and i’m sure you’re too tired, too.      

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babbling about kant

here i am - back in the consistent fashion you’ve come to know and love!

what have i been up to? well, if you’re reading this i suppose you may actually care.  FINALLY wrapping up the film i started over half a year ago.  keeping the final details under wraps, but i have seen the latest cut and am much prouder than i expected to be.

anyway!

ive also been trying to increase my reading load and i came to the simple realization that the only way to improve my own writing [aside from actually following general rules of punctuation and grammar…and proofing my work…] is to actually write.  to the effect of my first point, i’ve started to tackle kant’s critique of pure reason. as a big fan of the principle of induction, i was excited to (attempt to) digest kant’s response (yes, i am aware it goes far beyond that scope).  i should probably preface this bit with a disclaimer: i have only read through the transcendental aesthetic and beginnings of the categories.  if there is some massive concept that seems to elude me, perhaps i deserve the benefit of the doubt here.

but in any case, my real qualm with kant’s framework is in the transcendental aesthetic.  let’s have a quick run through of the t.a:

***

hume’s principle of induction did a pretty wonderful job of bringing into question the origin and ‘reliability’, so to speak [i.e. this is a blog post and i am not exactly taxing my vocabulary here], of our knowledge.  i won’t bother going into the principle of induction much since i most definitely have in the past, but it asks the question: “how can we ascertain any apodictic (kantian term!…?) knowledge from empirical observation? how can we really know anything universally?”  Now this is, of course, a massive distillation of a really important idea, but it lead kant to thinking about certain bits of knowledge we claim to have a universal understanding of; math, for example.  

at this junction it’s worth noting that math at the time of kant was handled in a vastly different fashion than the math we’ve come to [some of us] know and [even less of us] love.  we are going to lose kant here for a moment.  i am currently scanning through david foster wallace’s everything and more in which he recounts the history of transfinite math.  i only mention this because wallace’s analysis fits oh so well with my own and i love when i make a judgment call and someone way smarter than me agrees.  wallace explains that up until the 1800’s, math was not as rigorously axiomatic as it is today.  i found this for myself when i started to ask the question ‘what constitutes a mathematical proof?’.  as it turns out, most early proofs were handled through geometry.  the pythagorean theorem is a great example.  there are plenty of geometric proofs out there, but i just couldn’t see how that was substantial - how can a geometric proof be necessarily valid across the board, for all scaling etc.?  well, it wasn’t until after kant’s time that math demanded more rigorous proofs and a sturdier infrastructure.  

so this is where the kant bit comes back in.  in kant’s time, proofs were not axiomatic; they were largely empirical. from kant’s perspective, how could we be sure of math’s universality if we’re basing our proofs on empirical geometry?  the real answer is “well, really we shouldn’t have, but no one really cared in your day”.  kant’s response was the t.a. - suggesting that the only way we can have a universal understanding through empiricism for something like math is if the mechanism through which we perceived it (in this case the space of geometry) is subjectively given to us (i.e. objects are not necessarily spatial per se, but it is how our mind understands them to be).  all worth a read for yourself - there’s no way i can properly recap all the action and still have space for the rest of this post.

a common critique of kant is ‘well, if we don’t experience/know things-in-themselves, but rather only through a type of subjective lens, how can we speak intelligently about these objects at all?’  and yeah, i do agree with this point.  i’ve said in the past that our knowledge is anything but complete, but once you concede that we are not capable of understanding everything (though i have a feeling kant’s talk about us as ‘autonomous lawmakers’ would lead him to disagree on this point), how can you make any real claim for knowledge?  it is very true, perhaps we just cannot see everything, or cannot cogitate everything in the way that a mouse cannot think on par with a human.  or worse, maybe we simply aren’t privy to some bits of things-in-themselves.  acceptance of this leaves us only qith questions.  i am very much in favor of ‘reason is all we have, and all we can do is trust our reason lest everything break down’.  my brief rebuttal to kant’s t.a. (thanks to the perspective of modern, axiomatic math) is this:

first of all, i flatly disagree with the (paraphrased) idea that given the equation 5 + 7 = 12, that the concepts of 5 and 7 are not contained in 12.  as a matter of fact, i think that the above statement is exactly the containment that we’re looking for. kant’s disclaimer that an equal sign does not signify definition, but a synthesis of concepts in this case.  i simply beg to differ - 5 + 7 is merely a different definition for 12 given the syntax of ‘+’ that we have created.  and how have we created it? through epistemological, axiomatic advances.  kant’s example for an a priori fact (‘fact’ being a loosely used term here) is ‘a bachelor is an unmarried man’.  how do we create this understanding?  we see an occurrence in our experience {an unmarried man} and assign a relationship, or definition to him {bachelor}.  this is a priori because it is by definition.  now, thanks to advances in math after kant’s time, we also see this ascribing of definition to mathematical proofs and axioms.  so, how do we have proofs for math if it is an empirical science?  same way we can call an unmarried man a bachelor: we see a mathematical ‘entity’ in our experience and create a definition for it.  these definitions are then advanced through axioms.

i thought about it a bit like this: if we were to undo all math and language, due to our cognition they would be rebuilt in nearly the same way.  perhaps some of the symbols and syntax would change a tad, but the mode of communication and the representations we strive to make would, ultimately, be the same.  think about how different mathematical systems and cultures have sprung up and evolved to better describe experiences. math is purely axiomatic and epistemological just as language is used to identify and describe experience in an a priori fashion.

pardon my rambling and lack of command on this post - i suppose i have a fair amount of work to do on identifying and describing my experience… 

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