log (2006/07/07 to 2006/07/13)

A bit more hit-and-run weblogging tonight. Although in retrospect I really don't like that image. Kiss-and-tell, maybe? *8)

First we'll get the latest Sims story out of the way (there it is, out of the way).

Then we'll note Google Mars just because we're not sure whether or not we've noted it before, and it's noteworthy. (Google Mars! Whoa!)

Then there's Re-introducing Group Selection to the Human Behavioral Sciences, which we hope to finish reading one of these days (and which contains the important phrase "As soon as we make vehicles the center of our analysis"), and a Dawkins reply Burying the Vehicle which is much shorter and easier to read, and suggests (quite convincingly) that we shouldn't make vehicles the center of our analysis, because they aren't all that real.

Group selection is interesting stuff, and the thing that I realize from reading about it is that group selection doesn't strictly speaking happen, but then neither does individual selection. What natural selection really applies to is genes; everything above that is just shorthand.

(Actually, for extra credit, demonstrate that gene selection doesn't, speaking really really strictly, happen either. Give a hypothetical example.)

It's easy and fun to ridicule Dan Brown's writing (see for instance Renowned author Dan Brown staggered through his formulaic opening sentence). And it's equally easy and fun to ridicule the technical content! Tonight's sample:

"Besides, if the key is a standard sixty-four bit -- even in broad daylight, nobody could possibly read and memorize all sixty-four characters."

(Insert witty comment about one-bit characters here.)

Subject: DI2

would shiver with ecstasy. For now, as I saw it, he had a long way to go. He
the fishing boats were specks in the flat blue water, Breakfast Flock was
can stick your hand in them, or even your head, if you're so knocked out by
  Gradually, in the night, another circle formed around the circle of

And similarly

Subject: WVE

"Got it. Are you looking for graviconcentrates?"
place as heaven?"
"I'm not going into the Zone. What instructions do you have?"
every schoolchild."

"What instructions do you have?"

"Every schoolchild."

And finally our Something o' the Day: What You Can Learn From a Computer Virus, by Rabbi Aron Moss.



Today's Good Deed Opportunity: BOIL + KANT = LOVE! Now if you can do that for n=20, say, rather than n=4, you can make the happy couple's day.

The First Amendment Center on the Pornography Exception.

From the reflog, we find that we have provided the third funniest joke (well, one of them). Yay, us!

And similarly Mislukte koans en ander Zen-puin. (I like "Zen-puin".)

And in a little trip down Memory Lane, let's see what you were thinking awhile ago: What do you think?


Have you read A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers yet? You should...

See [link] for uplifting nondenominational photography.

Ok, ok, here's something uplifting and non-Catholic: [link]

I think I'll have some more coffee before unpacking in order to pack

I was wavering over "collective" or "community"

I think I need a stiff drink.

It is heavy to push the rock.

God may be in the details, but the anti-Christ is in the minutae. Perfectionism is the death of me.

It's especially strange when I keep getting appeals from WNYC. I can't really hear them down in Florida, but still I can't shut off the appeals. They even phone & I tell them that WUFT gets my pbs money now. But it doesn't shut them off!

Still haven't read Eggers, and at least one of those links is broken, but still. Nostalgia is where you find it...

Over in an interesting Ask Metafilter thread started by someone wondering about how (and whether) to become less of a geek, someone (not me, I swear) wrote "Try reading David Chess's weblog. He muses a lot about how one should live one's life".

Which was gratifyin' to read, and also got me musing a bit about how one should live one's life. *8)

So I will now go on at great and probably disorganized length about that, because after all this is just a weblog.

I turns out that, technically speaking, Kant was wrong: there is no categorical imperative. There is no answer to "what should I do?" that does not hinge on some answer to "what do I want?". That is, you should get a certain amount of exercise if you want to be healthy, you should drink water if you're thirsty, you should be nice if you want people to like you.

Those are all conditional or hypothetical imperatives; Kant thought there was also a categorical imperative, and that you should (roughly) act the way that you'd like everyone else to act, regardless of what you want or anything else about you. But (questions of what exactly that could mean aside), it seems to me pretty clear that that (like any other candidate categorical imperative) is actually a conditional imperative, and it's compelling only because the wants that it's conditioned on are wants that pretty much everyone (or everyone sane enough to discuss the matter with) in fact shares (for contingent evolutionary reasons).

I have to pause for a moment here to contradict myself. I'm actually a moral realist, and I think that things like "you shouldn't torture children" are true facts about the universe; that is, if someone thinks "I should torture that child a bit because it's annoying me, and it will be fun, and my fun is more important than anyone else's suffering", that person is mistaken (among other things), in just the same way that someone who thinks the Sun rises in the west, or that five squared is fifty-five, is mistaken.

This moral realism can (I think!) be reconciled with my "there is no categorical imperative" by noting that, although "you shouldn't be mean" is true of everyone regardless of any other facts about them, I don't think there's any chain of purely objective evidence that I could use to convince anyone of it.

That is, I could argue objectively for "being mean has property X", and then say "and you shouldn't do things that have property X", but if my interlocutor were to say "why not? things with property X can be fun!", I would have no objective response that didn't depend on some shared wants (as in "they may be fun, but they make it more likely that people will frown at you, and you don't want people to frown at you!").

So, although it's a fact about the universe that you shouldn't be mean, I can't prove this to you objectively unless we share certain desires or values. And that's the sense in which there's no categorical imperative.

Did you hear a noise just then? Anyway, it turns out that the lack of a categorial imperative doesn't have all that much practical impact in the realm of morality. We all live in society, we all want to stay out of prison and not be universally hated and do things in concert with other people and stuff like that, and it turns out (here I resist a tangent on the subject of "it turns out") that if you want to do all that stuff you pretty much have to be nice. So it's easy (in principle) to argue objectively for a widely-applicable conditional imperative for basic morality.

But what kind of moral life should I live?

Should I geek out for years playing with all the latest technology toys? Should I get into a life-long committed relationship, riding into the future in slow similar familiar years with my family? Should I, instead, flit from continent to continent and job to job and partner to partner, drinking shallowly from numberless wells? Should I be wealthy and influential, should I work hard or take it easy, should I take seriously the standards of the business world, or the academic world, or the invisible college of dreamers who find eternity in a grain of sand? Or should I just play The Sims 2 alot?

Well, there are no categorical imperatives here, either. And it seems like there's also not nearly as much in the way of almost universally shared hypothetical imperatives.

So what should you do, of all the morally-permissible things you might do?

Well, what do you want?

But that's "what do you want?" broadly construed, in a sense in which few of us actually know what we want in sufficient detail.

The flitty hedonist has it easy; he can do what he wants in the obvious sense at any given instant (within moral and financial and practical constraints). But for the rest of us, who want in the broad sense something more than the fulfillment of each instant's immediate want, it's harder.

This has something to do with the principle of radical freedom that I mentioned in passing a year ago next Tuesday: there's no objective sense in which playing The Sims 2 (and by the way, Hermes Zoom has graduated from college, and Jen Danvers has enrolled) is any less worthwhile than studying Constitutional Law or learning the theory of algorithms, or painting the house.

Of course there may be some not-quite-objective senses, having to do with keeping one's neurons alive, earning an income, or having a nicely painted house... *8)

Quote o' the Day:

He gave an imperceptible sign, and the gate swung open.

The idea of an imperceptible sign is beautifully self-contradictory. A sign, qua sign, exists only to be perceived; an imperceptible one has an irresistable appeal.

(The quote is from Dan Brown's "Digital Fortress", I don't imagine Brown intended exactly this effect.)

In general "Digital Fortress" is going to involve alot of wincing; I'm just on page 28, and already we have the absurdity of "rotating cleartext". Have to supress my actual knowledge of the subject matter here, and just enjoy the fictional world (and its imperceptible signs).

(Oh, and note: there's something wrong with the CGI scripts on davidchess.com at the moment, so you probably won't be able to send in reader input or anything via the usual forms. The problem is being addressed, and things should be working again sortly.)


maria sharapova

Helen Chamberlain

iris chacon

north by northwest

Write a book one sentence at a time: [link]


Oooo: flickr spam!

flying spaghetti monster on google maps! [link]



one of the thousand


he wants, to some poob or other where no doubt he'll dhrink himself into foolishness. So instead I torrns him around and sends him off in tha way of our local weedio imporium. The latest Chacon is a grand solace on a dull night in. I told him to tellem what to give him. The real Irish Chacon, I says.


It gives me pleasure when you say that these days aren't bad either. It gives me hope.

I'm very, very glad to hear it...