This is an interesting article about the physics of transmission of the coronavirus. Detecting super-spreaders requires a sophisticated device now being used in hospitals.
Friday, November 27, 2020
Often said about top-down causation is that if such a thing existed, it would have to involve suspension of, or interference with, operative laws at the lower level. But how does the apparent commitment to law violation arise from the assumption that certain psychological states and events can cause the cells and molecules in a bird’s body to move? Why would physical laws be such that do not allow for any variation according to their setting? Is it that laws of physics completely dictate the movements of all physical things? What if they only constrain the movements without dictating every detail? A free falling tennis ball will obey Newton’s laws of gravity and the laws predict its travel without interference, but interference is possible. There is no scientific reason to endorse the claim that physical laws completely dictate movement. There is only the grip of a mesmerising world view.
John Searle has argued there is no room for free will because neurophysiology settles everything. On the other hand Roger Sperry defends downward causation on the grounds of emergent properties. We cannot understand the movement of a small part of a wheel apart from understanding the movement of the whole wheel.
“Our standard model for causation involves one object impacting on another and thereby producing a change in it, usually a change in properties that relates to its motion (though perhaps not only those.) The wheel certainly does not impact on the molecule in this way, but must that be the only kind of causal interaction we can envisage? Might there be types of causal affecting that obtain only in the special case where one object is part of another?” (p.235).
“The key to to this puzzle about top-down causation, I think, is the phenomenon of coincidence. For in general the ‘basal conditions’ from which complex entities may be said to ‘emerge’ tend to be complex conditions, which require for their generation that a great many quite separate things occur together or else in some precise order, or (more usually) both” (p. 236).
“That molecules are in this special kind of arrangement, that they are ordered in the necessary way, is a fact that is to be causally explained by appeal to someone’s plans and designs: a wheel was wanted and so a wheel got made. Without this part of the causal story, it would just be an enormous and totally inexplicable coincidence that the universe had managed to throw up molecules arranged wheelwise” (p. 237).
“Causation is about how things come to be. Where certain things require for their coming to be that complex synchronous arrangements to exist has to be part of the causal story, part of the relevant metaphysics of causation and not just part of what is required to satisfy the intellectual curiosity of the investigator” (p. 239).
“The question is how on earth a whole person or animal could manage to have effects on its own parts in such a way that causation does not simply reduce to the causation of parts on parts? It is of course not possible for me to give a full account here of what the cause of human action actually involves, for that is the scientific question to which there will have to be scientific answers” (p. 243).
An animal could affect things without its role collapsing into the role played by the various lower-level entities out of the activities from which its own doings emerge. It is essential to avoid thinking of the animals input as something prior to whatever neural processes initiate and then monitor and control the relevant bodily movement or change.
“In more complex animals [ ] it seems the need to respond swiftly to the ever-changing demands of an unpredictable environment has made it imperative that the integration of subsystems be organized overall by a top-level system that differs from the other systems that operate in it in a special way. The important new feature of the top-down system is discretion [ ] as to optimize its chances of survival and success.” (p. 245)
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” - Henry David Thoreau
Some might say that the 3-word title is too short, since it doesn’t include love and fame. In my opinion love and fame don’t compete in a political context nearly as much as the three. By “power” I mean political power.
In all the noise about Democrats stealing the election from Donald Trump and others denying it, I’d say truth is in third place in the competition. It seems that power is in first place for most Democrats, most of the media, Trump and most pro-Trumpers. Die-hard Democrats and major media brand any allegations of flawed vote counts as completely absurd. Apparently the quest for power trumps truth.
It is hard for me to rank the three for the leaders of Trump’s legal team Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis. (Giuliani recently said Powell is no longer part of the "team", whatever means. Regardless and doubtless, Powell remains part of the effort of Trump being re-elected.) I’m inclined to say money is #1. Are they being paid from campaign funds whose purpose is to re-elect Trump? I would not be surprised if the answer is ‘yes’.
There was a Legal Defense Fund for the American Republic established to fund the legal effort on behalf of Trump. It apparently has been superseded by another fund. Sidney Powell established a legal defense fund called Defending the Republic. Checks are payable to Sidney Powell, PC. If all the money to pay the team is not coming from one of these fund, then where? Have campaign funds for Trump gone to said funds? What will happen to any money remaining in the funds after the dust settles?
Giuliani, Powell, and Ellis are all lawyers. So I suspect they know pretty well about libel, slander, and perjury. I also suspect they know pretty well how to use half-truths, hyperbole, innuendos, omit things that challenge their hype, and to stretch the truth, but not go so far as cross the line into lies that could have adverse legal problems for them.
They and others have made lots of allegations. Some sound like far-fetched conspiracy theories. Whether or not they have enough solid evidence to overturn the election of Biden is yet to be seen. If the Dominion Voting System allows manipulating the vote count, where are the lines of code and/or the user interface that allow such manipulation?
Newsweek reports that Sidney Powell claimed that Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger were being paid to be part of a conspiracy with Dominion Voting Systems. She said, “And Mr. Kemp and the secretary of state [are] in on the Dominion scam with their last-minute purchase or reward of a contract to Dominion of $100 million."
Hmm. If Kemp and Raffensperger were paid “proves” a fraudulent vote in Georgia, then doesn’t Sidney Powell getting paid to represent Trump “prove” her allegations are fraudulent?
I don’t doubt that there were some illegitimate votes, e.g. from “dead voters” or altered ballots or altered counts. However, were there enough to overturn the election?
For most of the media, left-wing and right-wing, the quest for power outranks truth. It is not about the opiner having the power personally, but deciding what politicians will have power.
This webpage, obviously pro-Trump, claims the following.
“The democrats found a batch of 23,277 votes in Philadelphia and incredibly, every single ballot was for #GropeyJoe. 🤔 Not a single ballot was for President Trump. Not a single ballot was for third party candidates.
"In a hypothetical precinct with a 50/50 split of voters, the chance of a vote going for either President Trump or #GropeyJoe is statistically equivalent to a coin flip. Now imagine flipping a coin 23,277 times, and every single time it lands on tails. That is what the democrats would have us believe happened.”
How did this allegedly occur? The article doesn’t say.
From a pile of votes, some for Trump and some for Biden, 23,277 in a row for Biden is extremely unlikely. However, assume 45,000 (legitimate) ballots are firstly sorted into two bins, one for Biden and a second for Trump, and then counted. Then finding 23,277 in a row for Biden in the first bin would not be surprising! Saying so would be wholly truthful. Neither would finding 21,723 in a row for Trump in the second bin be surprising, and saying so would also be wholly truthful. Citing one number but not the other would be a half-truth.
I am not alleging that Trump’s lawyers actually claimed such a half-truth about only votes for Biden. However, I have not seen proof that they didn’t either.
Sunday, November 22, 2020
This article was amended on 18 November 2020 to clarify that results of vaccine trials at this stage refer to “efficacy” – the performance of an intervention under ideal and controlled circumstances – not “effectiveness”, which describes performance under real-world conditions" (The Guardian).
I heard a doctor say on television that he expects effective rates will fall as the vaccine is more widely distributed. He wasn’t clear about why.
Friday, November 20, 2020
The New York Post reports that a clinical trial has shown another repurposed drug, baricitinib (brand name Olumiant) is effective in reducing mortality rates of Covid patients. Other sources, such as news-medical.net report the same.
The articles say baricitinib reduces mortality by two-thirds or 71%. I don't understand how, because 1 - 17/35 = 0.514 is significantly less. Moreover, I have seen other cases where I didn't understand how the number was calculated.
I have heard of other metrics used for clinical trials, such as odds-ratio and Cox Proportional Hazards-model but have been unable to replicate numbers the story claimed. I couldn't calculate an odds ratio for baricitinib because the news stories do not give all the numbers needed. Anyway, the alleged number in the news story has every time been higher than the number I got using the simple method shown above.
Thursday, November 19, 2020
Steward’s view has much in common with what’s called agent causationism, which holds that causation by agents is fundamental to any solution to the problem of free will. She doesn’t believe agent or substance causation is reducible to event causation. (She doesn’t say so explicitly, but her use of substance seems like that of Aristotle.) “The first and most crucial point to be made is that it is simply not correct to suppose that the ontology of most non-human causation is an event ontology. Causation by substances is utterly ubiquitous. Inanimate substances can cause things just as well as animate ones.” The idea seems to have become very prevalent in philosophy that where an inanimate substance may be said to cause something, it is always ‘really’ some event involving it that is the cause (p. 207).
Steward states three categories of cause – movers, makers-happen, and matterers.
“Roughly speaking, movers are things: usually substances, or collections o substances, although [ ] I would not want to rule out [ ] less familiar sorts of endurants, such as fields, might also be movers of a sort. They are such entities as stones and masses of air and water, animals and persons, as well as some of the smaller entities that go to make them up, like molecules and ions” (p. 212). One might object that fundamental physics may ultimately recognize no entities of the sort we generally suppose enduring things like this to be, but fundamental physics has little use for the concept of causation either. Movers are the primary doers of so-called ‘causal work’.
“Makers happen, roughly speaking, are the proper [Donald] Davidsonian events that trigger substances into action.” Often the event that triggers a mover into action is the impact of some other substance.
Matterers are facts. They are the causes we advert to by means of basically sentential expressions and which we link together with their effects by means of sentential connectives like ‘because’. For example, the match did not light because it was too damp.
There is no need for an agent causationist to deny that actions may have causes, but not all actions have a necessitating cause. If the latter were so, there would be no settling by agents.
The idea of a form of causation that is ‘top-down’ evidently exploits a metaphor of ascending levels. The relevant levels are relative, not absolute. There is no need to commit to monolithic divides across all of nature. For animals, for example, at the bottom there may be subatomic particles, moving up to atoms and molecules, then cells, tissues, and then organs, and finally top-level.
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
I believe this MarketWatch article about self-employment taxes -- for Social Security and Medicare -- could have a better title. Like the article says, the full-time self-employed are well aware of said tax. The article's purpose seems to be to inform readers -- especially those self-employed part-time or who do occasional work -- whether or not they are subject to said taxes. A title such as 'Is Work Income Subject To Social Security & Medicare Taxes?' better fits that purpose.
Some more specific kinds of work that the article doesn't mention are:
- Driving for Uber or Lyft is subject to self-employment taxes. The state of California government based on Assembly Bill 5 tried to turn said drivers into Uber or Lyft employees instead of independent contractors. This attempt was defeated by Proposition 22 this month (link). If treated as employees, they would pay half and their employers pay the other half of Social Security and Medicare taxes.
- Income to poll workers (for voting) and door-to-door census workers presumably are not subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes, since the work does not qualify as a "regular trade or business."
This Motley Fool article implies that Social Security and Medicare taxes are owed on all gig work. “Gig work” is not defined, but there can be exceptions if the work does not qualify as a "regular trade or business."
When filing taxes, self-employment income is reported on Schedule C and line 3 of Form 1040 Schedule 1. Income to poll workers (for voting), to door-to-door census workers, and for jury duty are reported on line 8 of Schedule 1 and not on Schedule C. The Form 1040 Instructions, page 82 show more kinds of income that go on line 8. Many are non-work income.
Sunday, November 15, 2020
Matters of Luck
Steward uses an example of Joe deciding whether or not to move in with his girlfriend and the ideas in of Alfred Mele’s book Free Will and Luck. Mele holds that the difference between the possible world in which Joe decides at time t to move in and the world in which he decides at time t to not move in as a ‘matter of luck.’ For Mele it seems that there is no complete explanation in terms of antecedent condition at time t why one outcome rather than the other occurs. Steward’s Agency Compatibilist position is it is not something about us that makes us act, but simply because we act that it is up to us what happens to our bodies. “There is simply no coherent way of understanding how Joe, gripped by the excitement and enthusiasm with which he is happily imagining his new life in his girlfriend’s beautiful flat [ ] , and lacking any thoughts, emotions, or motivations that might justify the decision to stay where he is, could nevertheless have made the decision at t not to move in at all.”
Mele would contend that we have to allow for the possibility that Joe might not have moved in at time t despite he did so at time t. Steward counters that it is rationally unintelligible there is an alien force that counters Joe’s wishes and reasons and hopes. Indeed, there are lots of alternative possibilities for which there is really no good explanation. There are, of course, cases in which a decision must be made at a given moment if an opportunity is not to be lost. However, the hypothetical alternative decision is a failure to act, not an action. It is important to Steward’s position that the power of agency is a power to settle, not merely a power to decide.
Frankfurt style examples
Philosopher Harry Frankfurt is the originator of a much-discussed variety of counterexamples to what he calls the Principal of Alternative Possibilities: A person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise. It had been supposed to be a priori; Frankfurt argued it was false.
Such examples are very contrived. One is that Gunnar intensely dislikes Ridley and plans to shoot him. Cosser also dislikes Ridley and worries that Gunnar will not complete his plan. Cosser, a neurosurgeon, is able to implant a device in Gunnar’s brain that Cosser can activate if Gunnar loses his resolve. The point of the example is that Gunnar could not have done other than to shoot Ridley.
Since such examples are so contrived, have little bearing on Steward’s concept of agency, and pertain to moral questions, I will skip saying more.
Refrainment and robustness
Van Inwagen suggested that though Frankfurtian agents may not be able to avoid bringing about certain types of consequences (e.g. Ridley dies), they might nevertheless retain the power to prevent the particular consequences they in fact produce. Again, since such examples are so contrived, have little bearing on Steward’s concept of agency, and pertain to moral questions, I will skip saying more.
Friday, November 13, 2020
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
It is essential to distinguish between the following:
P1: The question whether determinism is true can only be answered by physics.
P2: Whether determinism is true or false may some day be settled by physics.
P2 does not rule out a philosophical argument bearing on the issue. But some people say deciding if determinism is true or not is not a philosophical question.
In Steward view we make sense of agency daily when we use the concepts of agent, action, and psychology – the psychology of belief, desire, intention, etc., and even seeing, wanting, and trying to get.
She gives two arguments for libertarian free will as ultimately unintelligible. Chapters 6 and 7 address the first one. Chapter 8 addresses the second one. The first is that its denial of determinism merely introduces an unhelpful randomness to causality. She calls it the Challenge from Chance. If it is right to think that a genuine choice has to be something with intelligible roots in such things as an agent’s reasons and desires, libertarian free will not only saddles us with the Challenge from Chance. It looks incoherent, if it insists it was possible, at the moment of decision, that the agent could have made the opposite choice, even when the agent has no reason or desire for the opposite. Even if it were possible to make a choice unrelated to one’s desires, beliefs, or deliberations – perhaps from deep psychological causes – it’s hard to accept that such a cause provides a solid foundation for a coherent libertarian free will (p. 132). It suggests that outcomes are then at least partly a matter of luck. It is partly a matter of luck not merely in that the outcome is not completely determined by antecedent factors, it is a matter of luck to the decision maker. It is not freedom-enhancing. It is an obstacle to control and the operation of agency (p. 141). I skip Steward’s extensive examples to support this.
The concept of action she defends draws on terminology introduced by John Searle. He argues for three ‘gaps’ an explanation of action must take into account.
1. A gap between ones beliefs and desires and any actual decision made.
2. A gap between the decision and the action.
3. For actions extended in time, a gap between the initiation of the action and its completion. A constant voluntary effort is required.
Regarding 2, we often decide to do things and then fail to do them without changing our minds, but due to laziness, inertia, lack of resolve, cowardice, etc. Chapter 7 will deal with responses to the Challenges from Chance such a challenger could make to her claims.
Saturday, November 7, 2020
Normal development starting in infancy “results in the eventual emergence of a mature concept of agency that has roughly the following features:
- and agent can move the whole, or at least some parts, of something we are inclined to think of as its body;
- an agent is a centre of some form of subjectivity;
- an agent is something to which at least some rudimentary types of intentional state (e.g. trying, wanting, perceiving) may be properly attributed;
- an agent is a settler of matters concerning certain kinds of the movements of its own body in roughly the sense described in Chapter 2, i.e. the actions by means of which those movements are effected cannot be regarded merely as the inevitable consequence of what has gone before” (p. 71-2).
“The most powerful motivation to compatibilism has always been the reflection that it is no easier to see how indeterministic processes of a psychological sort could possibly sustain agency than it is to see how deterministic ones might allow for it” (p. 74).
If one watches a large farm animal engaged in its normal activities, she suggest it is near impossible to avoid looking upon it as an agent. The animal determines the details of how, when, and where exactly these activities are to be carried out. It looks as though it involves such things as desires and perceptions and decisions on the part of the animal itself, and we have not the faintest idea of explaining these movements without such mentalistic concepts.
Human children acquire and adults use a framework which postulates not independent ment al ‘staes’ causally interacting, but rather a minded entity that possesses those states, and that acts in light of them. The agent, not her desires and beliefs, retain the power to produce, or not produce, bodily motions (p.77).
Watching a bird pecking for food or a cat stalking a mouse is utterly unlike, say, a tree blowing in the wind. Such animal is a moment-to-moment controller of its own body and its motivational states. It is a way of mental states and at the same time a way of seeing.
Daniel Dennett’s “intentional stance” including concepts like ’desire’, ‘intention’, and ‘belief’ goes hand in hand with agency, although Dennett rarely uses ‘agency.’ However, one aspect of Dennett’s view with which Steward doesn’t agree is his willingness to attribute consciousness to computers (p.103).
In the final section of Chapter 4, Steward tries answering which animals pass the test of being an agent. Where does agency end and mechanism begin? She considers the jumping spider, Portia. Observing the Portia’s apparent plans and strategies of catching prey, she finds it hard to conceive of the spider as not an agent. She doesn’t doubt that much of Portia’s behavior is instinct, but she also posits judgment and some form of thinking based on its variability and flexibility (p. 108).
She also considers earthworms, which Charles Darwin intensely studied and made the subject of his last work. “Darwin’s own conclusion appears to be that though the general types of purposive behavior he examined were undoubtedly instinctive in the earthworms, the precise manner of execution of the various tasks they undertook were too variable to be strictly instinctive” (p. 111).
An algorithmic or functionalist view of the earthworm’s behavior can only go so far. At that point she suggest “it is natural to have recourse to the idea that instead of a simple program-instantiating machine we had a different kind of system in our sights: an agent with a [ ] lowly form of consciousness making moment-to-moment decisions about what to do, guided no doubt by instinct, sometimes pre-empted in its operation by mere reflexes, tropisms, and other involuntary responses, but nevertheless deserving to be thought of as a low-level conscious controller of a body, responding to environmental factors in ways [ ] not open to exact prediction” (p. 112).
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
A compatibilist likely holds that certain things are up to us, but this does not bear upon the future being metaphysically open. The compatibilist can suppose that something’s being up to someone is a matter of that thing’s being causally dependent on such things as desires or choices or intentions. This brings no difficulty fitting within the confines of a perfectly deterministic world, according to which actions are the causal upshots of such prior mental events and states.
Van Inwagon’s Consequent Argument: If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequence of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore, the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us.
Presumably, Van Inwagon takes it for granted such things as ‘our acts’ exist; his concern is whether or not theses acts are ‘up to us’ or not. Steward contends that his is the wrong way of looking at the matter. If nothing is up to us, then there are no such things as actions. There are merely reactions, a series of inevitably unfolding events.
Her concept of settling is central. “I want to insist that as I move through the world, performing the various activities of which my life consists, I am constantly settling the answers to a variety of questions whose answers are (therefore) not already settled long before the time at which my actions take place.” The moment of settling is when the agents decides and acts and hence settles the matter in a particular way (p. 39).
“I settle things not only by initiating motor activity but also by continuing it; by refraining, for example, from vetoing the original instruction or from altering it in any of the multifarious ways that are constantly open to me. Because these powers of refrainment and alteration are present throughout the whole duration of the action, I am constantly settling what happens from moment to moment, even if I do not in fact exercise those powers of refrainment and alteration” (p. 46).
Experiments conducted by Libet cast doubt on Steward’s contemporaneous settling, since such experiments suggest that how we shall move is sometimes settled by prior causes of which we have no knowledge. It might be thought that evidence of prior neural activity in advance of a conscious decision suggest the operation of a hidden neural variety of determinism. On Steward’s view, Libet’s evidence is of a readiness potential, a part of the action, but not the necessary cause of the entire action.
“All intentional bodily agency, I suggest, involves the interweaving of conscious systems of bodily control with more basic, effectively automated or partly automated systems. … An enormous amount of the settling that we do as agents is delegated, inevitably, to processes that are ill-described as the causing of motions by mental states, such as choosings, intendings, and the like. … An agent’s settling of things can be perfectly well be constituted by processes to which she pays no mind whatever” (p. 52).
Monday, November 2, 2020
A Metaphysics for Freedom is the title of a 2014 book by Helen Steward, a lecturer at the University of Leeds in England. Her book offers a new perspective on free will, free choice, or volition based on the concept agency. Agency is not limited to human beings. It also exists to a lesser extent in many other, but not all, animal species.Quotes and paraphrases from Chapter 1 follow.
In traditional terms Seward is an incompatibalist [ref.: compatibalism], holding that anything worthy of calling ‘free agency” could not exist in a completely deterministic universe. She agrees with John Bishop, who claimed that the serious problem concerning debates about freedom and determinism has nothing to do with either, but with the possibility of accommodating actions within the natural universe. Determinism is falsified as much as what is natural to think about the meanderings of a goat as by the ethical agonizing and deliberate choices of humans. Yet in recent years there has been a tendency for the ‘freedom’ side of the debate to be conceived in more lofty and sophisticated terms.
“The supposition that agency itself – the capacity to move oneself about the world in purposive ways, ways that are at least in some respects up to oneself – is unproblematic, and that it is only something rather more special, given, perhaps, the honorific appellation ‘free agency’ or ‘free will’, that creates potential difficulties, inevitably gives rise to the suspicion that the incompatibalist must mean to insist upon the operation, in connection solely with human powers, of types of causality or disruption in the natural unfolding of events not generally found elsewhere in the world, and it is reasonably supported by many that this cannot be acceptable.” [p. 4-5; Whew!]
“[W]hat I shall call animal agency, a collection of powers that are remarkable enough, despite the fact that they are not unique to humanity, and which might themselves be thought of as representative of a variety of freedom – albeit, admittedly, a far more lowly sort than we are used to encompassing with that term – which will be the main focus of my book” (p. 5).
“In order to exercise the forms of agency that we value so highly – moral choice, exercises of taste and skill, communication, self-disciplined attention to duties, personal development, creativity, etc. – we have to be able to move our bodies in such a way as to make them carry out plans of our own devising, in the service of our ends. My claim will be that these humble abilities, which are widely possess throughout the animal kingdom, are themselves incompatible with universal determinism” (p. 5).
Causal theories of rational action, according to which an agent’s strongest desire always prevails, provide further grist to the determinist’s mill, as does empirical evidence that root explanations in sub-personal phenomena such as hormones or neurally-based dispositions (p. 10).
Quantum indeterminacy, if granted, seems not to help very much with the free will problem (p. 10).
Her argument for the falsity of universal determinism is:
1. If universal determinism is true, the future is not open.
2. If there are self-moving animals, the future is open.
3. There are self-moving animals.
4. Therefore, universal determinism is not true (p. 12).
However, the concept of self-moving animal needed to support agency is hard to specify precisely. Sponges and paramecium are not good candidates (p. 16). A goal is required (p.17).
Settling is a key concept in her theory. It is not true that everything relating to the relevant set of movements and changes in the animal’s body is determinately settled by the universe prior to the time of the animal’s activity, for at least some things have to be settled by the animal at the time of its activity (p. 20).
No one supposes that the mere existence of quantum indeterminacy lead to the dissolution of the free will problem (p. 9).
The huge success of molecular biology provide evidence that some complex, higher-level phenomena of life are susceptible to reductive explanation by chemistry. She believes explaining what these are, how higher level phenomena relate to lower level phenomena, rather than any generalized commitment to determinism, that sustains compatibilism (Steward being an incompatibilist). It is not universal determinism per se which is problematic for agency, but a localized variant of determinism. She will say more about this in Chapters 6-8, and I will also in later posts in this series.
The relation between agency and the microphysical is as much about supposing the way different levels of reality relate to one another as it is the idea that each momentary state of the universe inexorably necessitating the next.
Section 1.3 is titled ‘An Argument Against Universal Determinism.’ However, most of the section in my view is her case for her concept of agency.