Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How We Know #1: Foundations

How We Know is the title of a recent book by Harry Binswanger. He presents his theory of knowledge based on Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy. He was a friend and associate of her for many years.

The book is well-written in my opinion and well worth reading. I agree with most of it. I will devote several blogposts to it.

Chapter 1 is titled Foundations. His foundations are the same as Ayn Rand's. I refer the reader to the Table of Contents using the Look Inside feature at the above Amazon link for what the fundamentals are.

He emphasizes consciousness being a biological faculty more so than Rand did.

"Conscious activities, whether sensory or conceptual, have, like the heartbeat, a biological function. Man has eyes for the same reason he has a heart: to sustain his life; vision is an adaptive, biological, life-sustaining capacity. The same is true of the other sense modalities: each provides man with life-sustaining information about the world.
     And the same is true of the faculty of reason. The mind, the reasoning intellect is a vital organ. A biologist could not understand the heart if he did not know its biological function, and a philosopher cannot understand reason, or any other faculty of consciousness, if he ignores the biological function of that faculty" (p. 37).

He addresses what consciousness does for animals to prepare the stage for what it does for man.

Rand was rather skeptical about evolution. Binswanger is not. He defers some of his discussion of evolutionary biology until later in the book, but biology is prominent in Chapter 1.

He gives a different meaning to "self-evident" than most people. Self-evident means "available to direct awareness. "Self-evident" is not a synonym for "obvious." To one who has learned arithmetic, it is obvious that two plus two is four, but that truth is not self-evident; it is inferred by a process of comparison and counting. But that the page you are reading exists is not an inference; it is self-evident. The data of sensory perception are self-evident (23).

Ayn Rand said the last thing, too, but it seems unusual in philosophy. Neither The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Colliers-Macmillan 1967) nor the on-line Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy have "self-evident" as a separate entry.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Bird Eggs and Wings

A NY Times article caught my attention. Why Do Bird Eggs Have Different Shapes? Look to the Wings. The article relates egg shape to "flight ability," but doesn't explain what that means. Speed? Stamina? Maneuverability? Efficiency?

Having recently returned from New Zealand, it made me wonder about kiwis. Kiwis can't fly and have tiny stubby wings. The article suggested to me a kiwi egg would be more spherical, less elongated, and not pointy. It isn't pointy as I expected, but it is elongated similar to an egg of a wondering albatross, which has great flying ability and huge wings, at least in length, relative to their body size.

By the way, while in New Zealand I was surprised when I saw an x-ray image that showed egg size relative to the mother's body size. Why Is the Kiwi’s Egg So Big?

We also saw an albatross breeding ground on the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin. About the only time they spend on land is for breeding. The rest is in air or on water. They migrate eastward encircling Antarctica in the process. They fly long distances expending very little energy by soaring (using the wind with minimal wing movement).

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

New Zealand

A vacation in New Zealand is mainly why I have not posted here in 2+ weeks. My wife and I did a 14-day escorted tour of the north and south islands. NZ has lots of beautiful scenery, about 4.5 million human inhabitants, 6 million cows, and 56 million sheep. There are 19 breeds of sheep.

We heard about common brushtail possums. Like the link says, NZ has about 30 million of them (about 70 million several years ago), they aren't native but were introduced there, where they have no natural predators (e.g. coyotes). They differ from the Virginia or North American possums in the USA. Many people in NZ regard them as destructive pests. Some blend their fur with merino wool to make very warm and expensive clothing of incomparable quality and durability.

We heard a lot about rugby, the favorite sport in NZ, and the Maori people. We rode a JetBoat. We saw a few places where scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Hobbit movies were filmed, including Hobbiton. We saw glowworms.

A visit to Rutherford's Den was not part of the tour, but we chanced upon this delightful place walking during free time in Christchurch. Ernest Rutherford was born and grew up in New Zealand.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Fisher's Theory of Interest #4

Fisher says the rate of interest is based in part on the preference for present versus future goods, or human impatience. The chief other part is an objective element, investment opportunity. Fisher's human impatience is essentially like what other economists have called "time preference" or some similar term. Böhm-Bawerk called it the "perspective undervaluation of the future." It's the marginal want for present goods versus future goods. Indeed, Chapter IV of Fisher's book is titled "Time Preference (Human Impatience)." He treats these terms as synonyms.

Fisher's explanation of time preference differs from others in that he makes income -- rather than, say, goods or wealth -- central. "The degree of impatience varies, of course, with the individual, but when we have selected our individual, the degree of his impatience depends on his entire income stream, beginning at the present instant and stretching indefinitely into the future" (Theory of Interest, p. 66).

I can't remember him specifically addressing the impatience or time preference of many people who "live payday to payday" with all their income coming from labor. Surely they have a very high time preference for immediate income to satisfy their desire to spend, often limited to rent, food, and other essentials. When I posted Interest As Cost Immediacy in April, 2016 I was not aware of Fisher's term impatience, but it it would have been an apt alternative.