Today’s Ignorance Courtesy of Jack Cafferty

March 31, 2009

CNN’s Jack Cafferty writes in his column today:

One senior Harvard economist estimates we spend $44 billion a year fighting the war on drugs. He says if they were legal, governments would realize about $33 billion a year in tax revenue. Net swing of $77 billion. Could we use that money today for something else? You bet your ass we could. Plus the cartels would be out of business. Instantly. Goodbye crime and violence.

Really Jack?  The cartels would be out of business?  Goodbye crime and violence?

I hate the illogical “War on Drugs” as much as the next literate, reasonably well-informed person – and don’t get me wrong, hyperbole is one heck of a literary device – but, no.

No, the cartels would not be out of business (according to UN estimates – p. 127 here – North America consumes less than half of the global illicit drug market).  No, it is not immediately obvious that crime and violence would decrease (see points 5 and 7 here).

The War on Drugs in its present form is ludicrous.  However, overstating the dissenter’s position does nothing to illuminate this insanity.

Worst. Cover. Ever.

March 30, 2009

This travesty courtesy of Sir Ivan. Remarkably he’s even creepier “live”.  Also, he’s 53…

Gottlob Frege and the Nature of Identity

March 26, 2009
Gottlob Frege

Gottlob Frege

The following is a paper on the views of Gottlob Frege, a 19th Century German philosopher  who founded modern logic and analytic philosophy.  In two of his most famous works (Begriffsschrift and On Sense and Nominatum) he tried to determine what kind of thing an identity statement (like A=A or A=B) is.

In Begriffsschrift, Frege suggested identity is a relation between names or signs of objects.  This means that what is expressed by something like A=B is simply that the name “A” and the name “B” both refer to the same object.  This seems like a reasonable view but it is wrong.  Frege realized his error more than a decade later and returned to the topic in On Sense and Nominatum to explain why he previously thought identity was a relation between names, why this is wrong, and what to make of identity now.

The text is marginally dense but does not require prior knowledge to understand.  Do pay attention to footnotes, they serve as guideposts to keep the wayward reader on course.

I In this section I will explain why Frege correctly rejected the view that identity (an identity is something like A=A or A=B where true) is a relation between objects, the problem of viewing identity as a relation between names[1], and how he tries to resolve these problems with his theory in On Sense and Nominatum.

The problem with viewing identity as a relation between objects is A=A and A=B, if true[2], would not be different in any important respect.  Both would state a logical, a priori truth (namely that some object is identical to itself) because the names “A” and “B” would both stand for the same object and nothing more.  However, there are many cases in which A=A and A=B express genuine, non-a priori knowledge.

Imagine A represents “the sun in the sky today” and B represents “the sun in the sky yesterday”.  A=A (the sun in the sky today is the same as the sun in the sky today) is an obvious, somewhat trivial point, but A=B (the sun in the sky today is the same as the sun in the sky yesterday) represents real, scientific knowledge[3].  Thus, identity cannot simply be a relation between objects because there are identity statements that express genuine knowledge, and identity relations between objects are not capable[4] of expressing genuine knowledge.

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This is Stupid

March 16, 2009

The University of Virginia recently published the results of a study aimed at discovering when human mental abilities begin to decline.  They evaluated 2,000 well educated, healthy people ages 18-60 over a period of seven years, using visual puzzles, memory tests and pattern recognition.

The results?  Human cognition peaks at 22 and begins to noticibly decline at 27.

Hmmm… anything special about the magic age of 22?  Well, yes – that’s when most “well educated, healthy people” graduate college.  The average 22 year old will have spent the past 16 years in more or less full-time academic settings, challenging his or her mind daily.

Chances are at 27 that same person will have been removed from academia for 5 years (and anyone who has a “real” job can attest the professional world is not nearly as mentally stimulating as the academic – generally speaking).

What happens if you don’t exercise your body for five years?  Isn’t it reasonable to think the same might happen to the mind?  Thus, the study would need to evaluate three separate groups of people who have (1) high school degree only (2) undergraduate degree (3) graduate degree to prove mental abilities truly decline at 27 and the recent findings are not simply the result of 5 years of brain rot.

Education is a pretty huge variable not to account for in a cognitive study…

Donnellan and Descriptivism

March 14, 2009

This is a less technical version of a paper I wrote last year.  It deals with the issue of meaning.  That is, how a word gets its meaning and what this meaning represents.  (In other words – what does “meaning” mean?).

Meaning is a huge subject in and of itself so this post only deals with one specific theory of meaning called “descriptivism” and explains why descriptivist theories of meaning are ultimately incorrect.

So what is “descriptivism”?

Descriptivists believe two things:

  1. The reference of a word (the things that word is used to pick out, for example the reference of the word “cat” is a real life cat) is determined entirely by a description of the word.  This means our ability to use the word “cat” to pick out real life cats is solely dependent on our description of the world “cat”. (If something seems fishy about this – pun intended – you’re right, this position is highly problematic)
  2. The meaning of a word is associated with a description associated with the word.  So the meaning of “cat” has something to do with our description of what a “cat” is (a sometimes living thing that most often has four-legs and a tail, and is a member of the feline family, etc.)

The important point is according to descriptivism, the purpose of description is to aid us in picking out specific referents (think: real life examples of the word)

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An Incredible Moment in Technology

March 11, 2009

You’re in a store looking at DVDs.  You photograph the barcode of a movie with your phone.  By the time you get home the movie is downloaded on your computer (free).

Necessary tools:

  1. Google Android Phone.  (Right now T-Mobile’s G1 is the only option but more models from other carriers are coming soon)
  2. BitTorrent (download here)
  3. (or any other BitTorrent tracker)
  4. Torrent Droid
  5. Watch and learn

(or you could just pay $9/month and stream any movie you want from Netflix)

Seen and Heard #11

March 11, 2009

From a friend’s IM conversation…

MTme3: I guess pooping everywhere is the solution

Z03: always has been

MTme3: we seem to forget that between infancy and old age