Monthly ArchiveOctober 2006

Programming Languages &Science &Software 30 Oct 2006 12:31 am

MLJVM and λJVM – ML VM’s and bytecode readers for Java

MLJVM: A Java Virtual Machine implemented in ML.

Interesting thesis on work done to develop a Java Virtual Machine in ML. I was hoping for them to do more with the functional nature of ML as a guide for my own work in implementing a Java analysis tools in functional languages, however they were pretty light on that topic. Still, it was a very interesting read to see how they built the VM.

Follow-on: Functional Java Bytecode talks about building a Java frontend for the FLINT system at Yale (Now part of SML/NJ). They parse Java bytecode into FLINT, and then compile it to native code while preserving type checking. Also, it is a form that supposedly makes data flow very clear, and they say it’s fast. That could be very handy.

Science &Words 29 Oct 2006 11:45 pm

The complete work of Charles Darwin

The complete work of Charles Darwin online. Very cool.

(Via Anarchaia.)

Philosophy 29 Oct 2006 11:31 pm

Effective Reasoning – Teaching Company

I love to converse in argument. Done well, it is instructive and all parties involved may learn something, even if it is only the strengthening of their own opinion. Hopefully though, it leads to greater insight about the world and others in it, and in the best cases there is eventually a meeting of the minds.

Sadly, it seems to be a bit of a lost art. There is a great course available from the Teaching Company on it, Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning. I enjoyed it immensely this summer on my long commute.

Miscellaneous &Philosophy &Politics 27 Oct 2006 10:15 am

Yay! First Anonymous poster

This is very exciting. Today I got my first anonymous post. Daniel Dennett was so right on the money when he told me, “Bob it’s easy to draw web traffic, just take a strong position that can’t be proven wrong or right.”
“No way Dan, that is crazy.”, I said.
Boy was I wrong — that dude is brilliant.

Philosophy &Politics 27 Oct 2006 12:55 am

Belief in Belief

In Belief in Belief, Kevin laments the closet atheists, and the supposition that it is popularly held in America that Atheists are crackpots.

I think the atheists should feel free to speak their mind, and not be persecuted for it in any form. It also may be true that atheists are widely viewed as crackpots. I think most evangelical groups are viewed as crackpots. It all sounds curiously like the claims of religious evangelicals in America who believe they are always being persecuted.

Personally, I believe that atheists are as likely to be right as anybody who firmly believes in any God. In essence, atheists take it on faith that God cannot exist. They are as incapable of proving their belief as those who believe in more standard religions. I believe it is a question that cannot be answered affirmatively one way or the other because we are trapped in the system we are trying to comment on, and the system is insufficient to discuss things that are outside the system (this is probably a bad plagiarism of Godel’s incompleteness theorem which states that any sufficiently powerful formal system is incomplete because it cannot fully describe itself (further bastardization I am sure.))

I would be sad if people repress atheists in any way. So why would people think they are crackpots or repress them? Probably it is not as much about their beliefs as what they do with them. Most of the atheists I know personally, not all, but a lot, are vehemently against people who hold a faith in religion, to the point of ridiculing them. Maybe that has something to do with it.

I think Dennett comes off as pompous when he tries to convince people not to believe in God. He should spend his time elaborating other things like his theory of mind. That is much more worthwhile for all. There’s no point trying to convince someone who thinks they can fly that they cannot.

Further, if thinking they can fly helps them be happy, and causes no harm to them or anyone else (that is if they don’t try to jump off a cliff and fly – or try to convince others that they also can fly), then let them believe and be happy. It reminds me of an expression that I often heard growing up: “Everyone’s right to swing their fist in the air ends at the tip of anyone else’s nose.” Or, something to that effect.

To quote a podcast I listen to occassionally, “Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who cares? It’s all about proper logic and reasoning.” Which also answers the problematic things about any firmly held belief that is not provable – government and those who would govern should stay out of legislating it one way or the other, including funding any kind of faith-based initiatives for either side. As well, those who believe one way or the other are free to do so, and shouldn’t try to convince others of their own religion.

That said, I have great respect for Dawkins’ ideas, and I would be tickled if he could prove that God doesn’t exist. I’m looking forward to reading his book. Somehow though I am always reminded of the funny bumper sticker.

God is Dead

Nietzsche is Dead

Oh that reminds me, and this is probably not related, but why does cell death need to exist in the universe?

Philosophy 11 Oct 2006 06:07 pm

Up, Up and Away in my … thump.. Oops

In If atheists could fly, Kevin quotes Brad Billy-Bob Mill:

If I concentrate very, very hard I can levitate several hundred feet in the air. I have never actually levitated because I have not yet concentrated hard enough but I am sure I will one day. Even if it’s not true and I will never actually be able to prove it one way or another, the belief that I will makes me happy. It contributes to the happiness of my friends. Therefore I am justified in believing that I can fly.

This comparison to the acceptability of belief from J.S. Mill is not analogous, and thus not a refutation, on a couple of points (Though 3B Mill’s effort to increase the amount of good in the world is laudable, however misguided). Here’s one:

  • J.S. Mill benefits from the Weak Evidentiary standard where 3B Mill does not.

    For all persons S and propositions p and times t, if believing p fits S’s evidence at t, then S ought to believe that p at t.

    While not strong, this works, because there is no evidence against the belief in God.
    3B Mill does not get the same benefit because there is strong evidence against the claim of flying. Namely, people try to fly and fail, presumably with much concentration. As further proof, wasn’t it the claim of levitation that contributed to the downfall of the Transcendental Meditation movement in the 80’s.

Philosophy 11 Oct 2006 02:38 pm

What are the Practical Benefits of a Belief in God?

When confronted with the question of whether or not there is a God, I as a scientifically-minded person, have a hard time with the fact that I believe there is a God. Why would I believe that? There is no rational evidence to believe.

Somehow, I find that my spirit is buffeted by the notion that there is some large force out there that organizes the cosmos. I don’t see it as a person, or as any kind of intelligence that I could comprehend, nor do I see it directly, immediately intervening in human affairs. However, it provides hope.

I like the way John Stuart Mill discusses the belief in God,

any one who feels it conducive either to his satisfaction or to his usefulness to hope for a future state as a possibility, there is no hindrance to his indulging that hope” (Mill 1874: 210).

He further states that it is permissible if:

L1. For all one knows or justifiably believes, the object of one’s hope could obtain; and,
L2. One believes that hoping contributes to one’s own happiness, or to the well-being of others.

So, while I do not look to Mill for permission, I agree with him that there is practical good if it helps you to be happy, or if it helps in the happiness of others.

Personally, I think this improvement in happiness is possible because religion is a programming language to talk to the deepest part of our mental faculties. Put another way, it is a vehicle that somehow produces action in most human organisms. Most likely, science will someday be able to describe this in detail.

Though we do not understand it, it is obvious that it is an effective language for programming people. Used well, it is a tool for happiness. Used poorly it leads to bad thinking, lack of intellectual testing, and wrong decisions.

There are some other discussions of other philosophers’ stance on the pragmatics of believing in religion at the Stanford philosophy server: here. One reason to look at that site is also that it contains a nice section at the end which talks about the arguments around the ethics of constructing beliefs based on pragmatics.

Philosophy &Politics 10 Oct 2006 03:29 pm

Thinking Points by George Lakoff

I just picked up Thinking Points by George Lakoff. I read the first few chapters over lunch, and so far I am impressed. It is an easy read, and it is optimistic; It posits that if progressives authentically and articulately talk about progressive values then they will win the majority of votes.

The problem, the book states, is that progressives don’t know how to talk about their values because the values are so much a part of American life that they are taken for granted. The rest of the book plans to lay out these values in articulate terms that can be used to communicate with bi-conceptuals (formerly called the swing voters.)

Though some of the intro material is a restatement of his previous work, I am looking forward to the presentation of the values; I wonder how they will compare to my own values. It’s also interesting that the book is the kickoff to a website for the creation of a progressive manual.

Miscellaneous &Programming Languages &Software 09 Oct 2006 06:13 pm

Sudoku Solver in Haskell by Bird

Here’s a cool explanation of a Sudoku solver written in Haskell.

Via The Sudoku page on the HaskellWiki

Science 08 Oct 2006 01:48 am

A Pale Blue Dot: Our Only Home

A Pale Blue Dot: Earth from 4 billion miles away as presented by Carl Sagan.

Makes you feel quite small really.

(Via Anarchaia.)