Five main arguments against veganism

I encountered yet another book that claims to be the critique of a plant-based diet[1], but yet again perceived the same old arguments against it, I couldn’t help but give my two cents on the debate. There are five main, legitimate but not just reasons to refute a plant based diet:

  • Domesticated species of livestock are not suitable to live in the wild any more.
  • Plants have biochemical reactions to harmful stimuli.
  • There is a viable way to grow in vitro meat.
  • A fully vegan human culture would cause more death of animals.
  • It privileges the living beings that resemble us.

These are the semi-valid arguments only, as I don’t want to consider the “meat is needed to stay healthy” and the “ancient humans needed to hunt because that challenge made our brains bigger” or the infamous “what about B12” kind of non-sense. There are plenty of resources on the Internet to answer two of them, while for the middle one you could have the ability to just solve a Sudoku puzzle but you certainly don’t need ancient ways to challenge yourself.

Before we start to analyze these serious arguments, let’s settle something down. The attitude to suffering should be qualitative, not quantitative. It’s not a race of corpse numbers, but a kind of applied empathy. If you consider it a problem from an economical perspective only, then you will never get the full picture. Given our current environment eating meat is simply theft, because your body doesn’t need it to function properly. Why would you take something you don’t need? For pleasure? That could be right, as countless people admit it that the whole debate is covered in arguments but after all they just want to enjoy their food.

It’s an ecological and economical problem that we shouldn’t be selfish all the time even if certain systems tell us otherwise, like how societies following the thoughts of Adam Smith consider infinite grow possible, suggesting we shall act accordingly. Our planet is inhabited by myriad forms of living beings, and we use each other as resources either we like it or not. There is a conceptual thought experiment, called the tragedy of the commons that is perfectly applicable to the Earth ecology itself.  If everyone wants to use everything as much as they can, then common resources are depleted or ruined completely, driving the whole community into a losing situation. Nobody wins in the end.

Even veganism (the stricter, no-animal-product-at-all diet) is not usually an all inclusive practice, because it’s impossible to live entirely cruelty free and you can’t really choose the usage of your money either in our present communities. Let’s face it, whether you buy that ham in the store or not doesn’t change the fact that a pig already was slaughtered to present that current product. The act of eating it has no significance any more, you mainly vote and voice opinion by your money these days. But what if you may just send a postcard to someone? The postman that gets paid by the company who received your money may spend his salary at the local Burger King to grab a whopper. Does this make you responsible?

Let’s just say that there is a practical limit to our actions as vegetarians or vegans, because it’s not a way to eliminate suffering but a way to reduce it. This is a very misrepresented point, and need to be emphasized to those who listen. (Eliminating suffering would be possible by realizing the Four Noble Truths[*], but it’s not possible through diet only.)

In a summary, I think you can’t justify killing animals for their meat because the very same arguments will lead you to justify killing humans for whatever reason you may have. Even though this is probably a pretty harsh judgment for a lot of people, I still think that these four issues usually raised to refule a plant-based diet are worth considering and mentioned for very good reasons.

You may complain very rightly that I mix up or confuse veganism and vegetarianism, but it’s because in my own opinion they are almost identical in motivation. The main difference is the belief of ethical animal products, that vegans mostly deny to exist while vegetarians claim them to be possible to obtain. It is true that all animal products cause animal suffering in our modern industrialized setting and if you don’t eat meat but still wear leather or eat cheese then you support the same industry that you may claim to oppose but I view veganism as mostly a modern movement because personally I claim ethical animal products to exist like eggs or milk even though in the current era it is close to impossible to obtain such products. While both are concerned with the same ideals, I prefer to use them interchangeably in the following arguments.

The future of our livestock

Some mistakes are irreversible, and either you view human culture as a mistake or not, it certainly introduced irreversible changes to our planet. Homo Sapiens turned out not to be just yet another apex predator but something we don’t know any similar siblings of in the entire universe. Our actions still shape the future of the whole globe – now more than ever.  The balance between plant species is shaped by our activity so much that Noah Harari even wrote[2] that we may even think of agriculture as crops like wheat domesticating humans, not the other way around.

With the era of genetical engineering, the modification of our gene pool will be just as much irreversible of a change. Yet the whole situation that one day everyone stops eating meat and our livestock goes to live free seems more like a scene of a Disney movie than reality. It’s highly improbable and surely a very significant amount of them would die, probably all of them. This means reading from 2017 Janury figures 12.1 million cattles and 13.7 million hogs in Canada only.[3]

The questions is that why would it concern either us or them if their whole fate is already decided anyway? If it’s a choice between death and death, then it seems to utilitarian people that the only logical solution is eating them all, but this view is really just the view of maintaining the status quo. There is no revolution without casualities because an economical change is always a change against something, in this case against the livestock system itself.

On a more serious note, it could be decided on case by case, but let’s face the facts early that most of the animals raised for food are in such a pathetic condition that they are barely self-sustainable, even. An ideal solution would be degradation of the livestock, this would probably cause the least amount of suffering – while to this problem there exists no solution without any deaths at all, we need to understand that for these animals this is an already lost battle, if we view them from an evolutionary perspective. We can patch up the wounds but can’t raise the dead.

Plant neurobiology

Ever since we have amazing capabilities of computing power and thousands of technological tools it became fashionable again to talk about plant neurobiology, plant consciousness and how they are supposed to “feel” pain. Using these scientific theories in a debate about diet has a very clear propaganda though, basically equaling plant experience with animal experience.

Let’s be clear from the very beginning for those who still haven’t let it fully sink in: humans are animals. We are just confused monkeys trying to understand what the hell is happening to all of us. Apart from very significant changes in the neocortal region we are almost entirely identical to primates, and we have very good empirical evidence to support the view they have similar experience of the world as we do so. If you want to step onto a stricter path you can always deny the possibility of human consciousness even, but let’s leave these ideas to the philosophers of the mind and face our neighbours on earth.

If you are satisfied only with very well documented research, then it’s not extraordinary to claim that we need a functioning central nervous system for emotions, the experience of pain, and all the inner workings of our “souls” to “emerge” or at least to get experienced by us. The altered states like epilepsy, sleeping or fainting provide a very factual basis to assume the need for such a system to have similar experiences. In short: to feel something.

Point is that this central nervous system is the very thing that all plant life lack and what most probably makes a qualitative difference between reacting and feeling something. Even though there are very recent researches challenging our very notion of intelligence through using slime mold or algae for pathfinding and such[4], it’s more of a sign that we need to be more open minded abour our categories we use. If you get too open for possibilities though, your definitions will be useless – if you consider anything capable of reacting to the environment as conscious for example, then given wide enough interpretation of a reaction, literally everything could count conscious. What about viruses for example?

Having a biochemical reaction is no way proof that one would have a conscious experience such as pain. Proving such things are very very difficult though so you can never really be sure of others’ experiences but saying that both animals and plants feel pain so it’s ok to kill them both sounds unreasonable, especially considering that maintaining the livestock just to kill still means a higher need for plant resource.

As an addition, I read in the mentioned book that a cyclical view of your diet would be more appropiate, but there is a huge difference between killing something consciously and for example stepping on roaches accidentally or drinking larvae with water and such. A cyclical view of diet suggest that you can’t be fully vegetarian as your plant food “eats” the soil that contains the nutrition in the form of decomposing animal carcasses – so other than carnivorous plants it means already dead beings. Even though I asked a very similar question about the usage of your financial funds in the introductory section, I mention this idea here because it’s an oversimplification of both the decomposition process that involves already dead beings and the notion of “eating” something. It’s a common bias of humans to anthropomorphize a process or an object, because explaining how a plant feeds itself as eating is misleading at the very least, the missing volition is a crucial link in the chain to call something “eating” as in “human-like eating”. A plant eats just like a bacteria moves – both are fascinatingly complex on their own but calling a bacteria walking would be nonsense.

In vitro meat

Cultured, synthetic or in vitro meat is not science fiction but one of the main projects of a medicinal scientific field called cellular agriculture where you are capable of growing meat tissue out of cells in an artificial growing environment instead of a body.

While there is no suffering and death involved here, the environmental factor is still very questionable as meat itself is still an addition to our diets but not a fundamental part, as we are fully capable of producing our cells utilizing plant protein. Instead of livestock you could have the very precious space of our planet occupied by meat factories instead of slaughterhouses with their ranches.

There are so many other catastrophic global risks today[5] should be taken seriously, that I view this option as mainly allocating resources in a wasteful way. Maybe I view it in the wrong way again, but this is yet another uneeded project of luxury instead of focusing on real issues, because I emphasize it again: you don’t need the flesh of other beings to surive, so why would you take it?

As we are actually at the start of a race to escape this planet before we completely destroy ourselves by overpopulation only, ecology and sustainable technology should be two immanently important aspects of our researches and a plant based diet provides a more feasible alternative than researching and founding yet another solution.

Vegetarian/Vegan Earth would cause more deaths

The last point on the list says that if you would want to have enough fields to grow crops and such, that would result in significantly more animal suffering than simply feeding them to people. The argument goes like this: if you increase the amount of fields you grow on, you need to defend more land against pests such as mice and bugs as they would feed on them as well. This is mainly a confusion or misinterpretation of the qualitative and quantitative difference as well, but also lacks a wider perspective of the problem. They deliberately ignore the fact that you need to feed your livestock, because it’s mainly an argument about how humans would consume more plant based foods than livestock does, essentially arguing that using animals is a more cost effective method to feed us. Such argument always points out to global trends[6], or in simpler terms they are about a hypothetical scenario where the whole planet and human industry turned vegan miraculously overnight.

The thing is that our livestock is not a stock of alpha predators either, just we don’t really count foxes or lions into the equation usually but if we would consider all kinds of competition with us such as flies and forest wolves then it worths considering how the list of endangered animals consist a significant ratio of predators such as bigger felines, big reptiles, canines and so on. We consciously hunted down the competition for our food and still do so up to present day, so projecting this problem onto a completely vegan or vegetarian culture is very misleading, suggesting that maintaining our vast livestock of animals has no such a cost. I don’t know exact numbers but it would be hard for me to imagine how both producing the crop for your livestock versus producing the crop only to feed us would lead to worse effects and more deaths.

Even if it would be somehow proved that keeping livestock provides a more sustainable environment (that is not the case[7]), you would still miss out the empathy part of the whole story. If all is permittable for the greater good (that is usually considered to be the sustainability and survival of the human race but not the planet’s ecosystem), then it becomes self evident how the boundary between animals and humans are artificial and morally you are not very far away from euthanizing the weak or utilizing eugenics and such. It worths considering how space for contemporary science fiction is the water of adventure novels in the 19th century, and how vast our planet seemed to be up until the rapid transport methods possible by steam and then electricity. Most of our environmental problems are because of overpopulation, that is mainly a social problem that (you probably agree) should be solved in a humane way.

Presupposing a vertical hierarchy between different life forms.

A main advocate of this argument is Daniel Quinn, who maintains this perspective from a collectively ecological view, stating that it’s ethnocentrism to value some life forms over others based on their resemblence to human beings in sentience or experience.[8]

At first this notion seems easy to dismiss but while we trying to do so, we can be easily more and more aware of how we make such a hierarchy between life forms. Based on the most current data, animals feels more (their experience resemble to our more) than plant life, and there is a bottom of the chain with bacteria that even if have any kind of experience it’s surely very alien to human-like feelings. A very troubling problem is how this attitude becomes a slippery slope of argument, namely how the line between animals and plants can be so thin that favorizing certain life on the basis of experience can be strange if we consider a few things. The very obvious example is unconscious humans or other beings in coma, but let’s turn to biology itself.

You may not remember the OpenWorm[9] project from 2015, but it’s worth seeing how a mere one thousand of neurons can be accountable for relatively complex behavior of the Caenorhabditis elegans. There is still also the open question whether viruses are alive or not? We need to decide whether we truly base such a vertical hierarchy on resemblence or being conscious, and understand that whichever we choose, it means the same. Because being conscious in this argument means “being conscious the way humans are being conscious of something”. It’s nothing but a relation, and our ethnocentrism comes from favoring life that has the most similar relation to their environment. I don’t want to get into a really long and complex debate whether our experience is the only possible one because it’s a really tough epistemological debate, but let’s just accept that it’s not an all or nothing scenario but human-like relations versus alien-to-humans relations.

From Quinn’s view we are saving some species because we have dissimilar attitudes to something that behaves and probably feels the same way as us, but don’t consider how everything alive wants to be alive. This need, this very essence of life is left out of the equation. It’s a step back to the cartesian view of res cogitans, even if we include animals into the very same category than humans. In other terms, we may cause less physical suffering by eating plants only because this kind of suffering most probably requires a brain (functioning in a certain way), but we by no means do less harm to other living beings. This is the main reason Quinn says we should abolish the idea entirely that eating is causing harm. I must admit that I struggled with this question for a long time. On what basis could we justify such a hierarchy of resemblence?

One way is embracing this ethnocentrism by saying that only human-like experiences exist, that is a sane opinion but very difficult to philosophically defend. Another way is just looking at it like it was natural, like how we relate to our family more than strangers, but in this case you must accept that your stance is psychological, an emotional decision even if you base it on understanding. You can justify such a hierarchy between life forms by saying even if artificial, there is such a thing as a right to life and animals have more potential to keep up to your standards than plants, and humans have even morepotential to live up to such standards (like being moral, just, etc). Obvious problem is that it’s forcing a world view on a mostly naturalist debate and logically there is no difference between such a standard between generally accepted as positive values such as justness versus this standard being set as having red hair, or whatever else.

Anyhow, my answer to this question is mainly a religious one, so if you don’t like reading such it’s probably time to stop reading my already quite lengthy article altogether. As a buddhist, I never take suffering identical with bodily harm. Dukkha is mind made, and a very essence to existence itself. Where becoming is, dukkha appears as well. Such a hierarchy between life forms is mostly based on their potential to realize nibbana, the ultimate goal that sets apart ethical from unethical. While I understand and agree with the notion how it is most probable that a dying animal suffer more than a dying plant, for me it’s ultimately worse to kill animals because they have less avijja than plants (where one could imagine avijja as a shroud of ignorance). In buddhist cosmology planes or worlds are mostly separated by states of mind and not by spatial location, the animal realm is called Tiracchānayoni. Although we are animals too, we have a better chance for liberation because of mindful skills we can employ in “the human state”, the human realm.

What really matters for this vertical hierarchy is seeing how humans are in a special place of possessing “higher” (it’s best to interpret these terms in means related to nibbana) consciousness, to overcome pure insticts and practice the eightfold path. Animals have way less options to do so, but they are still capable of such mental cognition to “escape the flow of phenomena”. There is not enough space here to explain my chosen terms and such, but let it be said that plants are “beyond saving” from a buddhist perspective, while more complex life forms are capable of realizing dhamma.

Notes

Let’s also emphasize it again that you can’t be “fully” vegan or vegetarian in such an all-involving definition (eg. eliminating all animal suffering) but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t reduce it by a large portion via extracting a significant dietary choice we are culturally accustomed with. A plant based diet certainly can’t reverse a lot of environmental damage we have already done, as the first and last arguments clearly show but if we act at the very last moment on risks we have foreseen for centuries or thousands of years then it will be one hundred percent surely too late aready.

[1] https://newsblog.drexel.edu/2016/02/24/thinking-of-becoming-a-vegetarian-well-you-cant/

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/11/sapiens-brief-history-humankind-yuval-noah-harari-review

[3] https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:k24HZ0EUxBMJ:www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/160303/dq160303b-eng.htm+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=hu

[4] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/brainless-slime-molds/

[5] https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2017

[6] http://www.sciencealert.com/vegetarian-and-healthy-diets-may-actually-be-worse-for-the-environment-study-finds

[7] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/660S.full

[8] http://www.ishmael.org/Interaction/QandA/Detail.CFM?Record=58

[9] http://www.openworm.org/

[*] http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/study/truths.html

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Tides of Numenera

Update from 2018: Despite it may seem I didn’t like this game even just this blog post means that actually it was one of the few games that actually impressed me in every meaning of the word. I casually revisit it by time to time and I recommend at least trying it out. A second playthrough may be a bit better, mostly because of the issues I mentioned in this very post. The only serious problem with this game is that it was advertised alongside Planescape Torment while there are several huge difference between them and expecting similarity leads to disappointment.

Numenera starts a bit overwhelming, maybe because I didn’t follow the kickstarter itself and I’m not familiar with the Monte Cook world of Numenera. The first hours were pretty much smelling a flower and having a hard time deciding if it’s an aromatic odor or just something rotten to the core, assaulting your nose.

After a while it certainly matures into something great with very common literary devices (since Pillars of Eternity so I definitely recommend not playing that before Torment) and a story that is kind of difficult not to tell spoilers of when writing about it. I’ll try to keep it to events and parts you would find out at the very start anyway, because you have plenty of information right away.

The main story revolves around you being a human body, a mere vessel of someone called the Changing God. This character mostly starts out as an archetype of the idea of a monotheistic God, sometimes described as cruel or all-merciful but overall it’s very difficult to form an encompassing view of them. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that this mythical figure is more human than anyone else, a Homo Deus excellence – the man-made god itself.

The main point of the story will be to make up your mind about the idea of their godhood, their self-made immortality and how to judge their (and also your own) actions. This is why the story works so well – even though you have limited options, and they force views on you it still doesn’t feel like that. While wandering the world talking to the non-player characters you have a lot of time to form your own opinion even if the game itself limits them into strict categories a lot of the times. Still feels like that you are free to make up your own mind, even if it’s just an illusion.

Let’s face it though, a video game can’t really do it much better, this is pretty much the best such a medium can go these times. While at tabletop sessions you have the storyteller (or dungeon master in some systems) to form the story for your decisions, a software should become creative to have a qualitative step over the current roleplaying games – something that softwares won’t be capable of for a long time, even though it’s just my own opinion and up for debate.

Another serious aspect of the game is that you can solve almost every single encounter without using force and violence, that seems like a good idea but given the world and realistic problems in Numenera, easily becomes silly a lot of the time. A common solution is to frighten and intimidate others, persuading them that you are tougher than you look – something you can be succesful at even against like 8-10 fanatic cultists and such enemies.

As I mostly had the Gold/Blue tides dominant on my character it certainly wasn’t an issue for me that besides “boss fights” you can always talk your way out, as it made a lot of sense to my character’s approach but in some situations it really led to awkward dialogues and silly situations that broke the illusion of the story for me. On another note, it worths mentioning: leaving certain main areas result in instantly failing any uncompleted quests, you can’t go back after leaving certain points.

The world is very strange because it doesn’t really feel like sci-fi but it’s not fantasy either, the thing is that the devices you encounter are never really explained well – I mean their inner workings and such. Just as a common example, every mention of consciousness could be just as easily replaced with the term soul. This kills the science vibe as every technology and machine is reduced into magic, while their presence is so dominant that some scenes are closer to a Shadowrun world than Middle-Earth. If I would need to summarize the world of Numenera then it would be a strange alloy of Mage The Awakening and Planescape, like in the ratio of 30-70 or so.

To be fair, considering how alien the structures and devices are in the world it would be very challenging to “harden” it from soft science-fiction to something more plausible, because we have all the technology here that are the rage these days like mind uploading, matrix-like simulations, time travel, artificial intelligence and large size quantum effects. These are all made into literary devices and other than their effects and how do they feel to use, they are never explained or described as potential scientific breakthroughs. Then again, this could be a conscious choice of the world builders, because for example the numenera cyphers are supposed to be mysterious, and detailing their workings would kill some of the vibe.

I completed most of the game with Rhin only , because the other characters didn’t seem memorable enough. This was pretty much a problem for me all the time with lot of characters in the game, that their stories and problems are interesting and fascinating as they have real moral problems and disputes but the characters themselves are not really interesting. I couldn’t even recall too much of them I’ve met in the game, that could be some problem with my memory for sure. Though if you consider how do they talk to you, like how the psychics don’t even take themselves seriously while discussing the nature of perception – it just becomes a mess of stories and you dont really grow attached to most of them, at least I couldn’t.

Sometimes even the merecaster characters were more memorable than the met companions or main story ones, that could be the problem of inconsistent writing process – I mean check the development information and see for yourself that there were more than 10 writers involved that surely makes a very wide variety of quality and moods involved. Trust me I wasn’t rushing the game through yet it took 21 hours to complete that is decent for someone like me who doesn’t have that much time to play any more, but still counts as kind of short compared to the 30-40 hours average of a Baldur’s Gate game.

Even the mere notion of writing this post means that the game is really good and I don’t think that I’ve played a rpg in the last decade that was this interesting, even with all the bitter taste involved that some parts left in my mind.

Though I encountered game breaking bugs while playing (one time the game was stuck at a certain point after finishing a dialogue so I had to kill it from the task manager, and another time I did something in the wrong order so failed to complete a pretty much important quest with no chance to redo it) I didn’t mention those, because I got the 1.0.1 version and they may have fixed these already.

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Introduction to a computational worldview

https://media.ccc.de/v/33c3-8369-machine_dreams

Update: The youtube account that uploaded the video was terminated so I included a link to the original website even with an option to download the video itself.

The 33th Chaos Computer Conference has ended and one of the talks was a really nice introduction to the computational worldview that is gaining more and more support since Putnam formalized the foundations in the 60s. It is extraordinary as it touches all the crucial points where you can either agree or disagree, mentioning the specific theories being used to support the presented views.

The presentation itself is called “Dreaming Machines” and while being utterly interesting it fails to make the connection between computationalism and phenomena, actually even at 37:45 the presenter (Joscha) admits the lack of answers.

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When will be the world understood?

I can’t sleep again. If you don’t know history, you are doomed to repeat it. My diary reads mostly like any text by Berkeley even though 300 years have passed. Is understanding inherently mathematical? One of the things scientism showed me, is that the mere notion of the world as a problem can be very misleading. On a Sartrean notion, we are completely free to make up our categories. This is a great example: the world doesn’t necessarily present itself as a problem to be solved. A difficulty with this view of the world is that the solution would be part of the world, and so the problem itself as well. Is there even a state of the world when it could be called solved if we view all the possible configurations as part of some universal state space? When does a theory end? Must the end of a theory be found within the theory of ends, seeking eradication of itself?

In physics, understanding something means finding mathematical analogy to get right (like fitting into the Standard Model) calculations, in short understanding means to calculate – that fits with the common view of intelligence as optimization.  The problem really gets emphasized by recalling the problem of dark matter and dark energy. We can say that science roughly works in the phase of normal science (Kuhnian terminology) at the current era, and I assume there is an epistemological gap between different phases of scientific works. (These phases are probably ideologized, and there could be overlaps between them). Understanding something starts with considering something a problem on both psychological and philosophical level. So how do we understand the world?

When we proceed to understand dark matter and dark energy, do we need to alter the theory of gravity, the theory of dark matter itself, or is it a mathematical problem only? How do we decide? Let’s say in advance that this is not about my view of physics, I will mostly think about the differences between these attitudes while the actual and practical solution is always in the domain of physics itself. With attitude I mainly mean the problem of science as an universal solution that is pretty much an ongoing debate heated up mostly by Feyerabend. Is there a single scientific method you can isolate or only scientific methods with little in common?

Whenever we apply a mathematical apparatus onto certain arguments, it’s clear that the equations themselves are indifferent to their inputs and we can only decide if they are “right” when they are consistent within a system or theory. I really think that the search for a priori principles is not even near to being finished (this is basically The Kantian project itself), because mathematical truths work within their corresponding frameworks only (that makes them a great example of the coherence theory of truth). What is understanding then? If it’s not algorithmic, then it must lie within the framework itself and we could just as well say it’s a matter of perspective. The full understanding may come with both framework and algorithmic part, but the fundamental parts are the essential ones – and it’s not in the algorithms. Why?

Maybe Scott Aaronson framed it the best about the problem of complexity in “Reasons to believe“:

“If P = NP, then the world would be a profoundly different place than we usually assume it to be. There would be no special value in “creative leaps,” no fundamental gap between solving a problem and recognizing the solution once it’s found. Everyone who could appreciate a symphony would be Mozart; everyone who could follow a step-by-step argument would be Gauss; everyone who could recognize a good investment strategy would be Warren Buffett.”

Even with mathematics getting more and more abstract, including more and more previously metamathematical questions into it’s framework (see Type Theory), the main questions remain the same. Why do some analogies work while others don’t? Which part of a framework is fundamental for understanding? Where does the “meaning” of everything comes from? But as I used to frame the question: how do we understand the world?

This was not just my weird dream and strange categorization. The so-called theory of everything is about this exact problem, a very fashionable problem these days that is kind of strange in a post-Gödelian scientific community. If everything is calculations, that is not more meaningful than saying that everything is in some kind of space.

As it is very imminently grasped after reading a very good summary of the related problem in a paper from 1959, the problem is mostly shadowed by our presuppositions. The mind is not an universal intelligence either, you are always bounded by a framework and as I wrote about it earlier I don’t think that the classical category of consciousness is very helpful to present these questions either. Viewing the world as a problem leads to infinite regression and other known problems that can’t be solved within the given bounds. The biological mind may be different, but it is nowhere universal either, and to solve the universe as a problem you would need an universal intelligence that is probably one of the most paradoxical things one can think of.

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Ricoh SP-150

dscf1502

It was quite an adventure, even though looking back, it should have been easy to get this printer to work, knowing that there is supposed to be official support for linux. If you are puzzled on how to get it to work, first visit this website. I’m on Parabola that is basically Arch Linux but contains free software only.

The listed entries are all self extracting .exe files so you can’t avoid using either a windows box or maybe cabextract. I extracted them on a borrowed laptop, and got a .deb file for ubuntu. You can extract deb files via the following method:

ar vx RICOH-SP-150_1.0-22_amd64.deb
tar -xzvf data.tar.gz

You won’t need any more parts, as this yield all the contents for a CUPS installation, we end up having an /opt/ and /usr/ and such folders with the appropriate .ppd and .app files. The very core of what you need are the following ones, copy them to their place with:

sudo mkdir -p /opt/RICOH/lib
sudo cp opt/RICOH/lib/RICOH\ SP\ 150cl.so /opt/RICOH/lib/
sudo cp usr/lib/cups/filter/RICOH_SP_150Filter.app usr/lib/cups/filter/

The file “RICOH SP 150.ppd” is needed on the CUPS page you can access with:

http://localhost:631

That part is pretty straightforward, my printer is shared over the network with a router, so I added it via AppSocket/HP JetDirect protocol, using my routers address, and on the second page you will need to upload the .ppd file. The test page from CUPS didn’t work but I can use it without any problems from my PDF reader or browser.

Update: I had an issue with Iceweasel not seeing any printer, so first I tried:

strace iceweasel 2>&1 | grep "print"
sudo pacman -Sy gtk3-print-backends
sudo ln -s /usr/lib/gtk-3.0/3.0.0/printbackends/ /usr/lib/gtk-3.0/3.0.0/x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/

Then iceweasel started showing up my printer but it doesn’t actually print anything even though the Ricoh starts to heat up. I managed to print some pages so far, but it seems kind of random. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Not sure yet about the why.

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Robin Le Poidevin: Változás, ok és ellentmondás (magyar fordítás)

Update: On 2018/03/26 I got a response from the publisher that I’m not allowed to host this translation so I may work on it in the future but won’t upload the book here.

Eredetileg ez a poszt angolul volt, de végül úgy döntöttem egy magyar fordításhoz írok azért magyarul is. Szabadidőmben 2016. októbere környékén elkezdtem fordítani Poidevin “Change, cause and contradiction” című könyvét, mely a “Változás, ok és ellentmondás” címet kapta. Jelenleg nagyjából 7 fejezettel vagyok készen, és mivel ez csupán szabadidős projekt ezért a saját szájízem szerint fordítok ami azt jelenti, hogy a használt kifejezések helyenként nagyon eltérhetnek a bevett terminológiától. A dokumentum végén mindig van fordítási szószedet az eligazodáshoz, ezt eredetileg itt a posztban kívántam közölni de megtekinthető a fordítás után.

Úgy érzem megengedhetem magamnak azt, hogy ha kifejezőbbnek érzek egy adott fordítást, akkor úgy használom. A tenseless theory lehetne “igeidőtlen elmélet” is, de az izotrópia – anizotrópia dichotómiája az időtípusok hierarchiájára és ezáltal az elmélet struktúrájára irányítja a figyelmet, ami sokkal fontosabb mint maga a nyelvtani igeidő. A valódi különbség tenseless és tensed elmélet között nem a nyelv szintjén keresendő, így a nyelvi elemekről elnevezni őket nem látszott helyesnek számomra. Minden fordítás persze értelmezés is, így aki valamilyen okból visszataszítónak találja az értékítéleteimet ezen állásfoglalások felett, az mindenképpen a szöveg eredetijéhez kell, hogy forduljon.

I started translating this book in my spare time, even though it’s really tough without the proper glossary of hungarian. I’m not aware of any widespread translations (I must admit thought I very rarely read such text in my native) of such like tensed theory, so because it’s just a hobby project I was brave enough to use untraditional terms for the related ideas. There will be a translation glossary included, so I don’t list the translated terms in this blog post any more.

Gifford seems to be some kind of lecture series on St. Andreas university, so I didn’t change that. You can see a preview here, though it’s full of parts with hasty and temporary translations.

Update: I will probably migrate the whole document into latex to properly render the modal formulas but the current tex version is just an unfinished example.

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Hinoki 2.0

I’ve seen this performance in Trafó tonight, and it was well worth my time. The following description and opinion is highly personal of course.

Ever since I’ve grown tired of the theater plays usually available in my city I started visiting dance related performances and ballet as well, seemingly it suits my taste much better. I’m kind of amazed by the wide and open space of interpretation that is offered by something that completely lacks vocal grammar and language. It’s certainly not without problems especially for someone quite new to the whole genre, because we are full of preconceptions brought from language and they don’t work in the inferential area of music and movement. Language is a very rigid structure compared to the nonverbal reality laying beyond words and conscious thoughts. If theater is philosophy then dance is psychology.

To me it was surprising that Hinoki was presented with live music of an acoustic drum kit, some kind of a stratocaster guitar and a BOSS RC-50 looper multi-effect pedal. On my way out I think I also spotted a TE OP-1 but I’m not entirely sure. Most of the music was done by drumming not on the kit only but on the guitar also and applying various looping methods and tape delay, reverse echo with other various sound effects. At one point there was even a bow involved, and just as I was thinking at the start that I’d be afraid of ground or feedback loops occurring while using such an equipment, once it seemed to happen but Áron solved it very fast. Or was it intentional? It doesn’t even matter, to be perfectly honest.

Do you remember being born? It’s most probably a very rude awakening, the world being overwhelming and burning with noise and light you need a lot of time getting used to. This is exactly how Hinoki felt in the first few minutes, like an explosion in your mind ripping it apart. There’s nothing to fear though, as the slow recollection of your pieces and the categorization of the world begins and you are used to being there, even if it takes some effort.

Before I go on I must admit it, that I was mildly uncomfortable during the whole hour, because of the live act in the left corner. I couldn’t help myself but keeping checking back to the drummer and guitarist, kind of breaking the whole experience every single time. Honestly, I couldn’t focus perfectly even though the lights were dim on him, the musician was still very noticeable and I think the principle of “less is more” could have been very fitting to Hinoki in this regard. Don’t get me wrong, the live music was a very very strong point but not hiding the instruments is something I must complain about a little bit. It may have been just me, who knows? But anyway with a bit different lighting, the stage could have been rid of the spot in the corner that kept diverting my attention all the time.

The figures on the stage very often do a full cycle of resting and waking, then getting dirty from being alive, fighting and forming pairs then getting dissolved in the shadows once again. Most of the time there were 5 or 3 dancers active that made the whole performance kind of asymmetric by default. You can feel that the whole “story” is mostly about the feel of being broken. There are so many ways to break, and there is not a single way to interpret this word as it can refer to some kind of disorder, introducing something whole into the picture, it can mean some kind of loss but the parts not fitting anywhere can be considered broken as well.

I wonder if it really worths analyzing these experiences after a certain point. Indeed when someone makes a choreography and you are watching it being presented then one is tempted to say they were translating something to a language that I also need to translate into a third language but as there is no language involved, I really doubt that this is the correct way of phrasing what is really happening. Somehow movement escapes language entirely and building up an entire story just to interpret seems like a poor way of framing what is really happening on the stage.

Seems to me that the most authentic description and interpretation would be just writing down some kind of script of all the happenings, because all of us know the meaning – even without words – of being on the ground, getting close to someone, ducking in a fist fight or stepping and moving in the black fragments of something that becomes a part of us by contact, even if just for a certain time like everything else. The world becomes nothing but a mess full of births and deaths even if we don’t view it like that usually after the one hour of Hinoki is over.

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Notes about a comment on “Kantian space”

“How did Kantians in the 1800s and afterward address non-Euclidean Geometry? I have strong issues with Kant’s reasoning, since it implicitly relies on the assumption that Euclidean Geometry is the fundamental basis of spatial reasoning, where triangles inherently must all have angles which sum to 180 degrees. In non-Euclidean Geometry, there are triangles which ARE triangles yet do not have angle sums equal to 180 degrees. Same with mathematical reasoning of 5+7=12, which assumes Base 10 and some underlying logic axioms, but does not apply, say, to other number bases such as Base 9, or to clouds (5 clouds + 7 clouds may combine into 1 cloud). Did Kantians address these assumptions of Kant versus later mathematical developments? Your suggestion that it is about the structure of geometry goes to Kant’s thinking and other philosophers’ thinking that you only need logic and some structural reasoning to reach universal truths. But logic and reasoning are flawed due to their implicit assumptions, such as focusing on one type of geometry or counting system as opposed to other types. When one considers the possibility that 5+7 does not always equal 12 (unless one lays out, in detail, the implicit assumptions being used), one should see that Kant’s arguments are flawed.”

(Edit: Should have started the whole post with “In my opinion:”) The particular geometry of Euclid is just an example, the Kantian arguments are not about specific geometries but rather about the structure of any kind of geometry itself, so it doesn’t rely on those assumptions. It can be understood just as abstract as the notion of space evolved over time in linear algebra and physics. Even if we don’t count specific properties of fields, rings and spaces, there is always an idea of “in-ness” and you can’t get rid of it this easily by mentioning non-euclidean geometry. It was hinted in the comment, that every system is “flawed” by having a perspective, because their truths are inherently bound by the frames of that given system. Maybe I’m defending the coherence theory of truth way too much here, but the comment itself presupposes a similar theory of truth, so I’m trying to reply in the same frame of reference. This is not an universal truth, at least we don’t know from just this, may be just a human bias even, this really depends on your further views.

The thing is, that we are talking about geometries and a priori principles, not about some universal truth (that seems like a quite strange idea in itself). What the a priori notion of space means, is that there is something general about them (all of spaces, any space), and it is the same generalization that mathematics is formalizing by discovering all the possible spaces and relations in them.  (Type theory should be especially interesting for philosophy.)
Kant’s examples may be outdated, but the arguments themselves are not affected by that because there is some kind of “space-ness” in everything we think about, it’s not just a semantical problem of using phrases like “in my head” or “out of question”. My personal opinion is that the categories of a priori and a posteriori would need a rework themselves but there is still a sharp distinction between at least two types of ideas. (Here’s an analogy within set theories, you could think of sets as a priori and relations or attributes like being well-ordered as a posteriori.) The very  crucial nature of space is certainly mysterious, but nevertheless it seems to be a fundamental “base” to interpret, imagine or understand anything at all. I think an interesting addition is how modern physics seems to be in agreement with this view in a way, because according to the current models where there is anything (forces), there is space as well. Could it be any other way?
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The Simulation Argument

I found these thoughts about the issue on another webpage, although much clearly. For a better explanation of this critique you can visit this website by Brian Eggleston. A better summary would be: “[…] the expectation that he assigns to the number of simulated people is not independent of the prior probability of the existence of other worlds.”

It is clear that Bostrom’s argument is mainly about probabilities, and honestly I love it a lot. As the probability of a post-human civilization capable of running ancestor simulations goes up, and their resources are supposedly let them to run as much of these as they are capable of, your probability of living in such a world is increasing as well.

Why? If you try to imagine all the possible worlds, and pick out the ones that are simulated by a post-human civilization, it’s rather clear that the more they run, the more part of the possible worlds are taken by these simulations (in the original argument it’s actually 1 host + n simulations). Yet I think it’s a pretty premature scenario to consider, given we can’t measure the number of all the possible worlds. Given a big enough (expanding to be sure) universe, as the post-human civilizations’ numbers and their resource management capabilities are increasing, exponentially increase the number of simulations as well.

Yet I impose that just by dropping the “ancestor” part of Bostrom’s argument, it becomes about a slightly different problem completely enclosing the original argument itself. The simulation argument is really about multi-verses (or possible worlds) and nested simulations (or simulations within simulations, their running time and resource usage).

The real problem is that we don’t know how many universes are possible, and we don’t know how big even our own universe is. Whatever enormous number someone thinks of, there is always a bigger number in theory. In reality, how could we measure all the possible universes? Without that information though the simulation argument  fails to hold of to prove (as with logical necessity prove) our simulated reality, because it is certainly a possible case that we may be even the very first civilization capable of such a thing. Highly unlikely given the assumptions of Bostrom? Sure. Impossible? Not the least amount.

To get a bit more technical, you always give probabilities in the ratio of examined case/all cases. So to get a formula such as in the original paper from 2003, you need to give something like Nsw/Naw where Nsw is the number of simulated worlds, Naw is the number of all possible worlds, that is not simulation by any civilization capable of running such a universe simulation. Let me quote this part in his paper.

aaa

“[…] we can then see that at least one of the following three propositions must be true.” Meaning the three propositions above. What is really important is seeing how Bostrom claimed to give the probability that will always be around 0.9 probability unless there are no civilizations either capable of or interested in running such an ancestor simulation. (Exactly the three propositions above.) This is because the original argument only consider a single possible world, where you are either in the host universe or within any of the running simulations. Given this environment your chance is clearly as little as 1% if most of the premises are true (and what gives weight to the whole paper is that all of the considered scenarios about consciousness, post-human civilizations’ capabilities, etc. are quite likely).

Bostrom only counts with a single possible universe, that has simulations running in them, and asks what are the chances we are not in a simulation within a host universe given the high probability of a post-human civilization capable of running intensive amount of simulations. You can clearly see a problem for yourself if you consider the scenario of simulations within simulations, as a first step asking what are the chances that the mother/host/original/non-simulated universe is simulated itself? (I’ll probably go by the name host universe.)

As you go deeper within the simulation chain, will the probability of a possible world being a simulation rise or will it go lower? It will rise, and the chance of being in the host universe will be infinitely small within just a few thousands of steps. Because of all the cases there is only one being non-simulated. Even if you accept the only one possible world view, you need to know if there are any simulated universe within the simulated universes, to know the probabilities for sure. However if you accept the view that there could be multi-verses, then with 5 host universe and 5 simulation, the probability becomes 5/10 to be within a non-simulated environment. Unless we assume infinite energy, keeping the simulations at least equally quantized/precise/complex will also give exponential rise to resource usage that leads to the question if these would be run only until a certain technological stage before the simulated ancestor can develop their own simulations or are they run indefinitely? The first and more likely case also limits their number, this is also most probably why Bostrom considers ancestor simulations instead of simulations in general. It is clear that his argument doesn’t work in a retro-causal way – if you are not in a simulation now, then the future possibilities of civilizations running such won’t affect your universe.

You really don’t need to consider multi-verses to see my point. How big is our universe, do we even know? How many possible civilizations could be there that are already running such simulations? Even with a single possible universe, we can classify therefore civilizations into two eras: pre-simulation and post-simulation, the latter being capable of running an ancestor simulation. If the number of ancestor simulations are indeed that high as Bostrom claims so, then the number of post-simulation civilizations number must get lower as well. As the number of universe simulations get higher, the possible number of post-simulation civilizations go down. We are talking about such an immense resource and processing power that it’s difficult to see for sure, but if we can hypothesize that such a computing power is even possible to simulate such a structure as our reality, then it’s equally dubious that these simulations would be run indefinitely.

What are we really talking about is the size of these host or simulated universes. To our best knowledge, our universe is expanding. If we consider this as resource usage for a simulated environment, the host universe must expand and/or keep up with the fast increasing computation demand of such an universe as well, and with the physical limits of computation in mind, even if the limits are hard to understand with a human mind, they exist and very real. If you consider the host universe having very different physics, then we are not very far away from the possibility of multi-verses either.

Why is this multi-verse thing important? The human mind is very bad with numbers in general and especially with big numbers, but let’s assume we have 1000 simulations for every world and we have 5 possible worlds. We already have 5/5000 chance to be in a non-simulated environment. With 50 possible worlds and 10000 simulations it’s 50/50000, and so on. The number of simulations will be always limited within a single universe, as resource is very likely to be finite especially considering the physical limits of computation, the number of possible worlds is very difficult to evaluate. What are crucial to consider for a better understanding of Bostrom’s argument are:

  1. the uptime of simulations,
  2. the resource (computing) limitations of universes,
  3. the number of possible worlds (multi-verses)
  4. physical limits of computation (Landauer’s principle, etc.)

All these simulation arguments change nothing but reinvent theology in an algorithmic concept, and such a world view will eventually face the same ages old issues if they really go by their theory. If I remember well, even when The Matrix came out, people were already talking about how it is related to the indian Brahman concept and such. See also the 9th question here.

 

 

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Sometimes I think it’s more of a tormenting prison of thoughts. I don’t think because I want to, I think because I can’t stop thinking. Some problems are so burning and so important that I can’t stop thinking about them again and again. It’s half past 4 am.

One of the most problematic part of thinking is that you can’t have a consistent theory and opinion of such fundamental ideas as change or causality without also defining connected terms like minds or time. Reality is such a network of ideas, a map or a net of all thoughts that we can’t have singular and consistent ideas without context (by definition of consistency, actually). The right question is usually not “what is possible” but consider a solving method of the famous sudoku puzzles. By logical means we filter out the not-possible and then relations between the remaining possible solutions will eventually narrow down into reality (a solution in this case). This works out if enough parameters are given, what is maybe not the case in our human existence.

Lately I was reading up about tenseless theory of time, and especially after special relativity and recognizing the matter of light as an information source I don’t see why would a tensed theory be reasonable. I’d say that we are not spatial bodies or beings but tempo-spatial beings, our bodies extending in both spatial and temporal dimensions. Just as I doubt the consistency of the idea of a single consciousness, I also doubt the consistency of a single present moment we live in. Just as the mind can be a society (in Minskian terms), our present can be a “society of moments” as well. Whenever we consider present as a single moment, we need to ask (especially in a post-Einsteinian world) that whose present moment are we talking about? With properly fine quantization in mind, we need to consider which sense input or which part of our bodies we want to locate our present moment at.

Why don’t I have memories of my temporal body’s “future” parts?  We are such a thin slice of this temporal and spatial being, that some of our “very early” parts are not memories of us but memories of others. It could be the case that my memory of the future parts of my temporal body is actually my “current” thoughts and decisions.

Why am I this particular slice of this spatial-temporal body? Certain parts of reality is given like a seed of a generated world, this is also called the anthropic principle. There is no viewpoint without a point (a frame of reference), and although I think the subjectivity-objectivity distinction is fundamentally wrong, you could consider my opinion stating that “every viewpoint is a subjective viewpoint”, as objectivity is really just a pursuit to be compatible with every (subjective) views. This may sound strange, as compatibility usually have the connotations of something that extends the possibilities, but it really narrows down the options throughout all the possible views. I think the method of how we make up objectivity is the same as the B->A reduction of the series of time.

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