Psychotic Dreaming

May 8, 2021

I never expected to make any kind of series out of this, but mere days after I made this post asking people how they dream, Yahoo reposted a video talking about what our brains do when they dream.  And I was struck by this quote:

Well, to take a step back I think it’s important to note that dreaming essentially is a time when we all become flagrantly psychotic. And before you perhaps dismiss that diagnosis, I’ll give you five good reasons …

And in reading those supposedly good reasons, it turns out that I, at least, don’t do pretty much any of them, and I think most people don’t really do them either.

[F]irst you started to see things which were not there, so you were hallucinating.

Or, rather, you were imagining or visualizing.  In fact, dreaming is exactly  like imagining or visualizing, right down to the fact that you do it with your eyes closed.  I don’t think too many people who are dreaming, at least after they wake up, think that they were seeing at the time, any more than they think that when they stop imagining or visualizing things.  And since those things can work like a stream of consciousness as well (with the progression of images not being totally conscious) it’s really not seeing things that are not there.

For me, this distinction is even more acute because my dreams do not, in general, work the same way seeing is but in fact work the same way that visualizing or imagining does.  I do not visualize well at all, and so every time I visualize or imagine the images are incomplete and “unreal” in a way that actual vision isn’t.  So, yeah, I’m clearly not seeing things that aren’t there, but am imagining or visualizing things (it’s so bad that to not be taken out of a dream I really do have to suspend disbelief like I would while watching a movie or TV show, which might explain why my dreams have to justify their moves and progressions so that I don’t realize that it’s a dream and start to react to that).

Second, you believe things that couldn’t possibly be true, so you were delusional.

The only things that people believe in dreams are the things that follow from the experiences itself while they’re fooled by it, which ties back into the “suspension of disbelief” angle above.  So we’re just as delusional as we are while involved in a fictional movie about, say, space aliens and futuristic technology, or about supernatural horrors.  So, really, not at all.

Personally, I don’t really believe things while dreaming.  I kinda go with the flow and my only beliefs are those that are attached to the context of the dream.  And epistemologically, beliefs that are about a specific fictional context are true, as long as they are appropriately attached to the context.  After all, the beliefs “Luke Skywalker is a Jedi” and “Han Solo flies the Millennium Falcon” are true beliefs and have to be true beliefs, because “Luke Skywalker is a Sith” and “Han Solo flies the Lady Luck” are false statements and so we need to have a way to distinguish between true and false beliefs even about fictional contexts.  So not only is this statement inaccurate, it’s even false at the deeper epistemological level.

Third, you became confused about time, place, and person, so you’re suffering from disorientation.

Well, _I_ don’t.  My dreams keep a pretty consistent time, place and person, and in that sense I’m as confused in them as I am while engrossed in a good movie.  And, again, that applies to most people:  we understand where we are in the dream while in it, and when we wake up we promptly understand that that was a dream and what our real circumstances are.  So even psychologically people are not feeling disoriented in the dream and aren’t disoriented when they wake up, and so there could only be that brief period right when they wake up that would count.  Which we get any time we are engrossed in anything and break free of it, and in fact we would do even during what is, to us, dreamless sleep.

Fourth, you had wildly fluctuating emotions like a pendulum, something that we call being affectively labile. 

Um, is this common?  It doesn’t happen to me.  At all.  At most I sometimes get angry in dreams, but that’s in reaction to what happens in the dream.  And he could argue that it happens in the parts I don’t remember, but is it really an emotion if it isn’t experienced, and what justification does he have for saying that I experienced it if none of my experiences seem that way, even the ones that I’ve forgotten later (for me, dreams fade away but due to my analytical nature I remember interesting things about the experience itself, which is why I remember being angry in dreams because for me any emotions are rare).

And then, how wonderful? You woke up this morning and you forgot most if not all of that dream experience, so you’re suffering from amnesia.

At the end of the day, almost everyone will have forgotten almost everything they’ve done throughout the day, and so by that logic we suffer from amnesia constantly.  Heck, if you forget what someone told you, that was amnesia.  So I don’t think that’s what amnesia really refers to.

Okay, this list was probably supposed to be facetious, and I only bother to engage it because a) it annoyed me and b) I had just talked about dreams so it was mildly interesting.  Suffice it to say that I really don’t think he manages to get his “flagrantly psychotic” reasoning quite correct …

Manuel Vargas on “Revisionism”

May 7, 2021

The last of the four views in “Four Views on Free Will” is Revisionism by Manuel Vargas.  Now, this was a view that I had never heard of before, so as I said last time I was looking forward to finding out what it was.  After reading the essay, I don’t find it a particularly strong position and, in fact, wonder if it really counts as a distinct view and category at all.

First, let me describe what it is.  As best I understand it, it’s the idea that we might be wrong about our intuitive view of free will, like we were wrong about our intuitive views about things like water and a host of other things that science managed to clarify.  So, in order to solve the issues we’re having with reconciling our conception of free will with the determinism that science says is the nature of our mental operations, what we need to do is come up with a scientifically informed definition of free will that respects and captures our intuitions while clarifying the concept enough so that the problems go away.  So the definition needs to be close enough to the intuitive definition so that we can recognize it, and yet different enough that we can see that once we understand the real definition of free will we can see why our problematic definitions are no longer relevant.

I always thought that there was another position that described that:  compatibilism.  Pretty much every compatibilist I’ve ever read has in some way pointed out the errors in the folk or intuitive view of free will that cause the seeming contradiction between free will and determinism.  For the most part, the compatibilist project is to capture what is most vital about the folk view of free will and explain why a) that’s all that’s important free will and b) that core is compatible with free will.  Dan Dennett even explicitly says that his position captures the “varieties of free will worth wanting”.  So it has always seemed to me that even if it isn’t explicitly part of the definition of compatibilism, practically they are going to have to significantly change the concept of free will as we understand it to resolve the seeming contradiction.

Now, Vargas argues that it can’t just be compatibilism because we can have people who are incompatibilist revisionists and people who are compatibilist revisionists.  But I think that this actually gives the game away.  For a philosophical problem this intransigent, it’s pretty much a given that we are going to have to clarify and adjust our concept of free will to resolve the apparent contradiction.  So pretty much everyone who doesn’t want to abandon the concept entirely is going to argue that it will have to be significantly altered.  So Vargas is going to have to argue that libertarians and compatibilists want to mostly preserve the concept, hard determinists/incompatibilists are going to want to abandon it, and revisionists will have to want to change it more than libertarians and compatibilists would accept but still maintain it as a useful concept that meaningfully maps to our intuitive view to avoid being a de facto hard determinist/incompatibilist but simply try to preserve the name for some reason.  That’s … a pretty narrow line he’s going to have to tread.  And worst of all, once he manages to establish that new concept, he’s going to have to answer the question of whether it is compatible with a deterministic world or not, and so he’s going to have to address the other question and end up holding one of the other positions anyway.

So that’s why I don’t think it a particularly useful new view/position/category in the free will debate.  Everyone who wants to preserve free will is going to agree that the concept needs to be altered, and won’t disagree with the analogy that it might need to be changed as radically as the concept of water was altered, so revisionism is not really a position that they’d disagree with.  And once he’s done revising, he’s still going to have to answer the main question that the other three positions pretty much exhaust all the possibilities for.  So it’s not distinct enough for its own category, and ultimately has to take one of the other three positions anyway.

Still, let me talk about his proposed revision.  I think that he falls into the trap of worrying too much about morality and not enough about responsibility, because his revised concept/definition is very strongly moral.  He follows on from the definition we’ve talked about before relating it to praise and blameworthiness, and clarifies it to say that a choice is free if it is responsive to praise and blame relating to its moral status, and thus making it so that further decisions are more likely to take those moral considerations into account.  So if the praise or blame alters how they make similar decisions in the future, then we have free will (as best I understand it).  The main issue here is that while that ties it tightly to morality, it doesn’t tie it tightly to responsibility, and as I’ve argued responsibility is the main stumbling block here.  To illustrate this, we can ask this question:  what happens if they are praised or blamed and it doesn’t make them more responsive to moral reasons?  Are they responsible for that outcome, or not?  If they aren’t, then they wouldn’t have free will by any reasonable definition.  But Vargas’ view doesn’t tell us whether they are responsible for that process or not, and so it doesn’t really give us a concept that we can use to settle the question.  And solving that issue requires adopting a stance that would fall into one of the other views.

Another reason why I think he focuses too much on morality is that he says that one of the main objections to his view is that it is “merely consequentialist”, which he immediately tries to rebut by pointing out that the moral position of consequentialism might, in fact, turn out to be the right one.  But I’m not convinced that that’s what’s meant by that criticism.  A more reasonable criticism there is that he is trying to define free will not by what it is, but instead by what the results or consequences of free will are.  It is reasonable to say that someone becoming more responsive to moral praise or blame or in fact even being responsive to moral praise or blame is in fact what free will does.  But that wouldn’t explain what free will is.  To illustrate this, ask what would happen if we found that something else was also able to do that (such as a computer algorithm).  Would we have to argue that the computer algorithm also is free will, even if it works completely differently and so in a way that it is clearly not the same sort of thing as what we originally called free will?  This has actually been a problem for the philosophy of mind view of functionalism, since it says that anything that performs the functions of consciousness counts as consciousness, but qualia and actual experience is not generally captured by the functions functionalism talks about, so does that mean that things that have the functions that functionalism captures but don’t have qualia are, nevertheless, still conscious?  And if they are, do we need to invent another term to capture consciousness with qualia since it’s clearly distinct?

So that might be the objection here.  Vargas’ concept might tell us what free will does but doesn’t tell us what free will is.  And even in his example of water the new concept clearly told us what water was and derived from that what water does and why it does what it does.  The concept Vargas advances doesn’t seem to do any of that, and so doesn’t seem like it would be a satisfactory definition even by his standards.

So those are the four views.  The last forty or so pages are each philosopher’s responses to the others, that I was quite careful not to read before writing about all of the views.  So I’ll do a short summary of their responses in the next post before likely taking a break from talking about free will to read the other books I have.

Thoughts on “My Mom’s a Werewolf”

May 6, 2021

So continuing through the horror movies in that 11 movie pack, I end up at “My Mom’s a Werewolf”.  Given a title like that, you can probably already guess that it’s not a particularly serious movie, which is both the best and worst thing about it.

The main premise is that your typical bored suburban housewife is frustrated with the fact that she’s ignored by her family and, in particular, her husband.  As she goes out to the local pet store, she encounters the new guy in town who happens to be a werewolf and who becomes interested in her.  In addition to actually paying attention to her and treating her like she’s actually attractive — and she is — he also seems to have some weird vampire-like hypnosis powers that he uses to try to seduce her and, after he bites her, turn her into a werewolf like himself as a sort of consort.  It’s at this point that the daughter referenced in the title comes in, as she discovers that they were together and so suspects that her mother was having an affair, but ends up discovering that her mother is indeed turning into a werewolf.  And so together with her friend who is heavily into horror tropes, they set out to cure her mother and stop the werewolf.

Yes, the premise is ridiculous.  But to its credit, the movie itself realizes that it’s a ridiculous premise and aims the entire movie at, well, being ridiculous.  One of the earliest characters introduced is an utterly ridiculous fortune teller who plays a role in the action and yet is more comedic than dramatic.  Over and over again the movie goes out of its way to be funny and highlight that this is not meant to be a serious movie.

However, where it fails is that it doesn’t quite commit to just being a parody.  Now, it might just be a sign of the times, as the movie was made in 1989 and we didn’t have at least as many of the full-on and complete horror parodies that we’ve seen since (Scary Movie, for example) that are just all-humour, all-the-time, so the movie is funny but has large sections that are more serious and standard for horror movies of the time.  But the premise is too ridiculous to sustain that, so it gets a bit boring and I found myself really wishing that the movie would get back to trying to be funny.  The movie isn’t very long, but those segments made it feel longer than it actually was.

I like the humour parts, and wish that it focused on them more than it does.  I don’t mind the movie and might consider watching it again, but it’s not a movie that I’m likely to watch again anytime soon.

“New Jedi Order” and “Legacy of the Force”: I Like Them

May 5, 2021

So, if you’ve been paying attention to my last few posts talking about the Star Wars megaseries books that I’ve been spending my time re-reading, you might have come to the conclusion that I do, in fact, really like “New Jedi Order” and “Legacy of the Force”, which is a huge contrast to how I feel about “Fate of the Jedi”, which I’ve called “an utter disaster”.

For “New Jedi Order”, I really like its structure.  The breakdown into the smaller stories made up of two or three books allows them to feature a lot of different characters from the EU without boring people who didn’t care for those characters.  They get shorter, more focused stories that allow the stories time to develop properly without having to wear out their welcome.  But if the characters do wear out their welcome for some reason — in general because they didn’t care for those characters — the entire short series is entirely skippable.  If you don’t like Corran Horn, don’t read the two books dedicated to him, and the other books will pretty much fill in the details as things go along.  I think that most of the books are pretty good and don’t really feel that they drag things out too much (probably because they have the ability to focus and so get in and get out of their own stories quickly).  What I did feel dragged a bit was “Star By Star” — the mission went on far longer than I would have expected for one book — and the trilogy “Force Heretic”, although in the latter case that was probably more because it spent three books setting things up but not really resolving anything, which hurt the last two books.  So for such a long series — it’s about eighteen books which is twice as long as “Legacy of the Force” — it’s structure let it work really, really well.  Ultimately, it ends up feeling like those huge comic events that end up running a little too long because they kept adding things to the end of it, even though it’s good for almost all of it.

“Legacy of the Force”, by contrast, for me never drags.  And at the end, in the last couple of books, I couldn’t help but note to myself just how much I was enjoying it.  Yes, the Boba Fett stuff was irrelevant, but I liked it anyway, and he plays the exact right role in the ending.  Yes, Alema Rar was annoying, but she faded away for the ending (by being killed).  So about the only issue I had with it at the end is that the ending is a bit abrupt.  Daala becomes Chief of State.  Jag Fell is appointed to lead the Imperial Remnant.  Jacen/Caedus is rather anticlimactically killed off by his sister and a nano weapon is introduced and then used in the span of a short period (if anything is really wrong with this series, it’s that that happens way too often, where something is introduced and then resolved in one book).  And even that is probably a result of the biggest weakness, which is the structure:  the authors need to get their own things done in their own book because the other authors don’t want or can’t resolve it in their books.  So while I prefer the structure of “New Jedi Order”, I like the ending of “Legacy of the Force” better right up until the very end, when it just kinda peters out.  As a shorter series, I wasn’t tiring of it and just wanting it to end, but really did want to see it end properly and fully.

Next time, after about half a book of my re-read of “Fate of the Jedi”, I’m going to talk about it.  Already.  That’s … probably not a good sign [grin].

Thoughts on “Airwolf”

May 4, 2021

So after watching “Knight Rider”, I decided to get through the series that I bought at the same time and was in the exact same sort of package, which was “Airwolf”.  There are a lot of parallels between the two series, however, and so I’ll be making a lot of references to “Knight Rider” here when I talk about “Airwolf”, especially since a number of Airwolf’s flaws follow from what “Knight Rider” could do that it couldn’t.

One of the first things I noticed was that Airwolf was created by Donald P. Bellisario, whom I recognized from also having done “Quantum Leap”.  However, a friend — and a rewatch — clued me in to the fact that he was also involved in the original Battlestar Galactica series, even writing some of the episodes.  And, of course, he’s also the father of Troian Bellisario, who I know from “Pretty Little Liars”.  Aside from making the comparison to “Knight Rider” even more salient — Glen A. Larson was, of course, known for “Battlestar Galactica” and was the creator of “Knight Rider” — these links also explain a lot of the differences in the show, as “Airwolf” definitely tried to tackle more serious issues and have more serious episodes than “Knight Rider” did, and so more in line with what “Quantum Leap” would be.

The basic premise is that an advanced attack helicopter is stolen by its pilot and taken to an Arabian country, and the secret governmental organization that built it recruits a former Vietnam vet to get it back, over his resistance to working with them.  He agrees to do so if they find his missing in action brother.  At the end of the mission, since he doesn’t trust them he hides the helicopter until they live up to their end of the bargain, and as things go along the organization essentially uses him as an independent contractor to perform their missions with the helicopter because finding his brother is not an easy task (and doesn’t happen until the last season, which I’ll get to in a moment).

The first season is, in my opinion, overly melodramatic.  It focuses a lot on Stringfellow Hawk’s missing brother, and every episode that focuses on that throughout the entire series is very angsty and melodramatic.  That makes the rather short first season — it’s only 13 episodes — a bit too heavy to be supported by the action-oriented premise, and Stringfellow seems to lack humanity during it.  In the second season, things get better, as the show focuses more on the action and so turns Stringfellow and his partner Dom (played by Ernest Borgnine) into more of a buddy act, which lets Stringfellow show his somewhat dry sense of humour and lets Dom run roughshod over things to lighten the mood (and show Stringfellow being amused by his antics).  This not only lightens the show up a bit, but really makes us get the sense of Stringfellow as a human being, which then makes us like and sympathize with him more.

The season also brought on Caitlyn. as a former helicopter cop from Texas who is saved by Stringfellow and then tracks him down and begs to work with them, and is gradually brought into the fold and eventually into the secret of Airwolf.  I like the character, but she does have flaws.  First, at times she can be overly aggressive and snaps at people when it wouldn’t make sense to do so, but this is integrated as part of her character.  Second, pretty much the only time they show her with any kind of romantic relationship is when someone is using her, which for someone that pretty and nice strains credulity.  She should be able to find nicer dates than that, and the hints that she was chasing Stringfellow never go anywhere and are contradicted by how quickly she falls for her disastrous beaus.  Stringfellow’s romances, of course, don’t go anywhere either but he at least gets good women who have to leave him for various reasons — yes, including dying, as happened with the first woman who dies in the pilot — and is rarely simply being deceived, whereas Caitlyn’s are always deceiving.  And finally, Stringfellow and Dom play with her by denying that the helicopter that she saw exists, and while this is funny at first, they keep it up even after an episode where they take it to meet a mobster and so reveal it to criminal but won’t reveal it to her.  Fortunately, this doesn’t last that long but there is a brief period of annoyance when they dragged it out too long.

That being said, with this cast of characters and the focus on more action-oriented plots, the second season and the first half of season three was a lot more entertaining.  However, it quickly revealed a flaw in the show itself.  Like “Knight Rider”, it was based around a really cool vehicle, which was the thing that was unique about the show and what was the main draw.  The problem is that it’s a lot easier to work a car into the action than it is to work an attack helicopter, unless you’re running military missions.  They actually try to use it to solve a murder and go after a gangster running a casino, but that only shows how ridiculous it is, as they end up shooting up the casino in broad daylight in a way that should reveal Airwolf’s existence and push that secret organization to take it away from them.  So it’s more difficult for them to find ways to show off the thing that most people watched the show to see.  And, of course, “Knight Rider” is famous for having to do that as well, but there they had an advantage in that the car is not only a cool vehicle, but is a character, and so they can find ways to put the car into the action just by interacting with the lead instead of having to be directly involved in the action.  Airwolf is just a helicopter and so just a cool vehicle.  If it’s not involved in the action, then it’s not doing anything, and so the show loses what most people tune it to see.

Speaking of the governmental organization, their contact is Archangel, who originally wasn’t all that fond of them but grew to respect them.  It works, but again early on he’s a bit too aggressive and so they end up fighting seemingly just for the sake of them clashing rather than for good reasons.  He also always has an attractive woman as an assistant, who is played by Deborah Pratt in the first few seasons — and she even gets to write an episode that shows her off a bit — and is then replaced with an anonymous and rotating one in the third season which doesn’t work as well since they don’t get to show much personality and so are just there.  Anyway, it works well enough once they settle in to a respectful relationship, but then without the conflict they need to generate it another way — usually with the organization as a whole — and so it gets a little contrived.

The last half of the third season gets more serious and loses the action-adventure elements that the show was using so effectively in the second season, and so it starts to get melodramatic again, and so less entertaining.  However, because the show was so expensive it was actually dropped by its original network and picked up by another company, which decided to do it on the cheap.  They replaced all the original actors and characters and found Stringfellow’s brother, who takes over for Stringfellow when he dies.  And then in the next episode all of the new characters are a polished spy team with an attack helicopter, even Dom’s niece who had had no experience with any of that before.  Since they were doing it on the cheap, they only reused footage from other episodes, but for the most part, especially as the season goes along, it works pretty well and you can’t really tell.  The show thus returns to a more action-oriented style with the helicopter being used to get them to where they needed to go or to finish very specific missions, which is indeed more entertaining than the overly melodramatic parts were.

However, the production values dropped significantly which makes moving between the third and fourth seasons rather jarring.  That, along with changing out the entire cast, was going to disappoint the fans who had been watching it for the previous three seasons.  The actors also had a bit of trouble getting into their characters and so early on some of the acting isn’t up to snuff, which is even more jarring.  Most of this gets better by the end of the season, but I suspect that most of the fans had moved on from it by then.  If the fourth season had been the first season, I think it would have been better received, but as the fourth and ultimately last season it can’t help but be a disappointment.

While I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did “Knight Rider”, I still did enjoy it.  The helicopter is cool and both sets of characters have their moments when used properly.  I will definitely watch this one again.

“Send in the Clones: The Ethics of Future Wars”

May 3, 2021

The next essay in “Star Wars and Philosophy” is “Send in the Clones:  The Ethics of Future Wars” by Richard Hanley.  This essay is attempting to show that a) cloning is not inherently wrong and also b) that using clones as the primary army in a war is probably a good thing as well.  I’m not going to get into the ethics of cloning because Hanley doesn’t really consider the strongest arguments against that (reducing it to a “yuck” factor with minimal additional examination) and I think the issue is probably more complicated than can be covered in an essay like this one.  Instead, I’ll cover one very suspect argument about whether there can be a victim is something is modified before it exists and then make a general comment rising from the essay about the ethics of using clones as an army.

So, first, the suspect argument.  Hanley describes a case where there we find a genetic defect and correct it so that where a child would have been produced that would have only had one arm, it now is produced that has two arms.  Using an idea of genetic identity — our identity is determined by our genes — he argues that the only possible victim in the process would be the one-armed child, but since that child doesn’t exist and the two-armed child does, and the two-armed child was in no way harmed by the procedure, then there was no harm done and the procedure is moral.  So far so good.  But he then tries to use it to argue that if a similar procedure was done to instead of producing a child with two arms a child was produced with no arms, the same reasoning would apply.  The two-armed child that now has no arms would clearly be a victim, but that child never existed, and so cannot be a victim.  And if the armless child’s life could be fulfilling and worth living, then that child can’t be a victim, because it wouldn’t have existed otherwise, so it wasn’t harmed either as on the whole it existing is better for it even without having arms.

Obviously, this is a very controversial move, and here’s why.  While one can argue that the fully two-armed child never existed and so can’t be a victim, it doesn’t work to say that the armless child isn’t one.  In the first case, the procedure was undertaken to produce the child in a more, perhaps, perfect state, or at least a more capable one, and so a less disadvantaged one.  So we can assume in that argument that the intent of that was to make the child’s life easier or better as opposed to the case that would have occurred without intervention.  Thus, we could expect the child to be grateful for the interference once they understand all the reasons for it.  In the second case, though, the child would be being deliberately made less capable and so more disadvantaged.  So the base intent here is to make the child’s life worse.  If there aren’t any other factors in play, then the child, when it understands the reasons for doing that, will rightly not be grateful but instead will be angry and bitter towards the people who undertook that procedure.  The key factor here is that their life is worse off after our action than it was if we had not acted, and that then makes them a victim of our actions.  The fact that they may still have an overall worthwhile life doesn’t outweigh the fact that they would have had a better life — even by your own analysis when performing the procedure — if you had done nothing.  Even if you have your own reasons for preferring that, and even if you wouldn’t have created the child if you couldn’t perform the procedure to leave it armless, the child is still a victim because you created them but deliberately did so in an imperfect manner that leaves them less capable than they could have been.

Hanley tries to use this to argue that we could create clones with diminished autonomy, and if we did that we could then use that diminished autonomy to get them to fight our wars for us.  As seen above, that probably wouldn’t be ethical if we could give them full autonomy.  But this highlights the issue with a clone army.  If we produced clones with full autonomy, we would have to give them the ability to choose whether or not they wanted to fight in the army.  Assuming that without conditioning them towards wanting to fight they would choose to fight about as often as everyone else, what would we do with the large number of clones that were left over?  We couldn’t just kill them, but they’d be more people who’d need jobs and resources.  But if they aren’t given full autonomy, then we’d be producing what should count — even to Hanley — as full human beings for the sole purpose of dying in wars, and they wouldn’t even get the choice of whether to do so or not.  That doesn’t seem morally right either, even if deliberately stunting their autonomy was moral as Hanley tries to argue.

So while Hanley at the end thinks that fighting wars with clones might be the best alternative, to me it’s clear that fighting wars with willing volunteers is the best alternative, especially since if everyone is forced to do that they would in general have to get some sort of willing compliance from a sufficient percentage of their population to start a war.  We don’t want to be in a case where it really is a simple matter of production rather than of support that is necessary before someone can start a war.

How Do You Dream?

May 1, 2021

So, I don’t get a lot of comments at the best of times, and running this on a weekend when I don’t normally post and so people have no real reason to pay attention to the blog is even more risky, but I’ve been really curious about this for a long time and don’t really have room in my normal posting schedule for it.  So my question to the readers is this:  how do you dream?  How do your dreams work?

The reason I’m asking is this:  from what I understand, I dream quite a bit differently from most people.  As I understand it, most people get mostly disconnected and disjointed dreams, with perhaps short vignettes at times.  For me, however, my dreams are always stories.  They’re always narratives.  Things happen that follow on from what happened before, and there are always links between the two.  Not all of them are obvious or clear, mind you, but there’s almost always some connection or else it comes across as being a completely distinct dream.  So, for me, my dreams are more like movies or TV episodes.  Again, some of them could be more lateral ones, but ultimately there’s always a story happening.  Perhaps relatedly, my dreams also seem quite easily influenced by what I’m watching on TV or reading right before I go to sleep.  Additionally, my dreams seem receptive to my own thoughts on the matter.  If something doesn’t really make sense, fairly often my mind will clue into it and my dream will have to react to it.  This is what makes it so that I don’t really have nightmares anymore, because I’ll often recognize that I’m dreaming and since Wolverine is my favourite superhero I will often, when faced with a threat, decide to pop Wolverine claws and force the dream threat to try to deal with that.

Let me give you an example of a dream that I had last night to highlight what I mean.

It started with my staying at the house of a female curler that I, yes, have for a long time thought was pretty (the women’s worlds are on right now, which might have spawned that).  Of course, since my dreams are not very imaginative when it comes to imagery, it was actually my parents’ place.  Anyway, I was piling wood with her young adult son (her actual son is not a young adult).  He was splitting and I was mostly piling, but when he was piling I noticed that he wasn’t really piling it properly — he wasn’t aligning one end of it right — and so I was correcting it.  But then the family had a case of Covid and so had to quarantine, but I didn’t want to stay, and there was an order that someone who couldn’t quarantine there because it would be too burdensome could go home.  So I jumped in my truck and started driving home, with a short dirt road driving sequence.  But then I remembered that she lived in a another part of the country and so that driving home was going to take a number of days, and so needed a place to stay, and while I pondered sleeping in the truck itself, I ended up stopping at some kind of hotel or dormitory, and was shown the amenities including vending machines that you needed two people to operate.  But then I moved on and stopped at a dentist’s office, not to get my teeth fixed but mostly just to stay somewhere for a while, while the woman from earlier on sent texts trying to get me an appointment at my own dentist to get one repaired but I wanted to put it off until the entire quarantine period was well past.  And then I ended up at home, and was watching baseball, and there was a key game between the Blue Jays and Yankees and I was debating whether to watch it on TV or in person.  And then I woke up.

Now, of course, the scenes are kinda unrelated, but they aren’t random or not linked either.  They do flow from one to the other and there are explicit links between them.  And this one is more random because it’s a lot longer dream than I usually have and so there’s a lot more room to drift (the previous dream I remembered was a shorter one that was an action dream about martial arts battles which was much more direct but had a lot less details).  So I think it works as an example even if it isn’t ideal.

(And note that I don’t want people to try to analyze it to try to figure out what it means.  My dreams don’t tend to have deeper meanings — remember, a lot of them are literally dreams where I’m simply placed in the fictional universe of the show I watched before going to bed — and if I wanted an analysis of a dream there are far better ones to use than this one).

So, are my dreams mostly normal?  Do most people have dreams that work like little stories or narratives?  Or are my dreams odd and more story-based than most people’s dreams?  Please talk about this in the comments.

Derk Pereboom and Hard Determinism/Incompatibilism

April 30, 2021

The next view in “Four Views on Free Will” is Derk Pereboom’s view on what he calls Hard Incompatibilism and I call Hard Determinism.  I’ll get into that terminological difference in a minute.  First I want to note that I actually have one of his books on my reading queue, and so it is quite possible that when I read that his view will be fleshed out and I’ll have a different view on it.  However, for now, all I have to go on is what he says here.

So, let me start by looking at why he wants to call the view “Hard Incompatibilism”.  As I understand it — again, it’s from an actual book and this is a simple blog post so quoting things in detail isn’t going to be happening — the main reason is that he is taking the position here as being more opposed to the Libertarian and Compatibilist view in the sense that it holds that free will doesn’t exist.  Thus, he thinks both that free will wouldn’t exist if determinism is true but even if determinism isn’t true there is at least one case — if the source of the indeterminism is not the right sort of source — where we don’t have free will either.  The problem I have with this renaming is that when it comes to the actual form of the debate, it ignores that both Libertarians and what I’d call Hard Determinists share what should be call the Incompatibilist position that free will is incompatible with determinism.  Libertarians accept that and say “So much the worse for determinism” and Hard Determinists accept that and say “So much the worse for free will”.  Pereboom’s definition makes the Libertarian and Compatibilist views seem far more similar than they really are.  Pereboom is more anti-free will in general, and calling that position Hard Incompatibilism confuses what the traditional debate was about.  I don’t disagree that perhaps a classification is required for people who think free will as traditionally understood is just plain impossible, but don’t really think it is beneficial to insert it into the classic positions by redefining those who at least used to be called Hard Determinists into a new one.  Pereboom would need, then, to create a new one to insert himself into, but I’m not sure it’s a significant difference for us to have the two categories of Hard Determinist and Hard Incompatibilist, but even to Pereboom the two positions are not the same.

Moving on from that, though, Pereboom also wants to clarify what sort of thing we need to have free will.  As with the other two, he doesn’t like the “alternate possibilities” idea, instead want to focus on the “agent is ultimately responsible” idea, which I have no issue with.  However, he wants to talk about that responsibility being moral responsibility, which always raises alarm bells for me.  A lot of Hard Determinists like to make the split between responsibility and moral responsibility because they want or need to claim that the agent is in some way responsible for their actions but aren’t morally responsible, and often attempt that — Jerry Coyne is a really good example here — by trying to eliminate morality from the picture:  we aren’t morally responsible for our actions if determinism is true because morality becomes meaningless and so there is nothing moral that we can use to make any kind of responsibility moral responsibility.  This ignores that the main reason we think that you can’t have moral responsibility if determinism is true has always been that we don’t think that the person can be properly or meaningfully responsible for their actions.  So we are arguing that it’s the responsibility part of moral responsibility that’s lacking, not the moral part.  After all, it’s pretty easy to see that even if morality is true we could describe a process as maximizing utility or treating other agents as ends as well as means, so the specific moralities wouldn’t go away, but since morality is based on oughts and ought has to imply can, if they couldn’t do anything else than what they do then they can’t be held morally responsible for it (this is what drives the “alternate possibilities” classification).  So we always have to be aware that proper responsibility is the challenge here, not morality.

Pereboom is actually better at this than most I’ve read, as he doesn’t rely as much on us having real and meaningful responsibility (although he does talk a lot about what we should do if we properly understand Hard Incompatibilism, which always implies that we are responsible for what we do and don’t do).  But his definition of moral responsibility, I feel, isn’t all that helpful.  He argues for adopting the “blameworthy/praiseworthy” definition, where we are morally responsible for our action if we could properly be blamed or praised for it.  The problem with this is that it’s still pretty vague.  It sounds good for thought experiments where we can talk about whether the person should be blamed or praised, but it opens up the potential for all sorts of confusions when we try to look at the cases to see just why someone should be blamed or praised for their action, and confusions right around the precise cases that those debating free will will be disagreeing about.  We probably need a more robust notion of “responsible” in order to make any headway on this issue.

Case in point:  Pereboom gives four cases that he thinks forms a progression that shows that in most common cases a person is not morally responsible for a specific action (he seems to be using an example from Clue and so talks about Professor Plum and Mrs. White).  As I understand the cases, they are this:

1) Neuroscientists can deliberately manipulate Professor Plum’s reasoning process to make him have desires, at least, that are more rationally egoistic than moral, even though sometimes — I guess either when they don’t manipulate him or when the desires that are there at the time happen to work out that way — he can act morally.

2) Instead of directly manipulating his reasoning/desire-formation, they instead build in a set of desires that strongly bias him towards rationally egoistic choices, although he can overcome them with his other decision-making processes.

3) Instead of those desires being implanted by the neuroscientists, he gets them from training from his culture and upbringing.

4) This is all determined by physicalist determinism.

Pereboom is aiming this at compatibilism, and he argues that if we have to follow the chain down in all of these cases it means that intuitively we think that these are cases where the person is not morally responsible, in particular by the definition that compatibilist cases say that our decisions should follow from the person’s character and in all of these cases the rationally egoistic cases the decisions are following their character but are more or less determined outside of them.  The big problem I have with these cases is that I think that proper moral responsibility comes in at Case 2), and so the rest of his chain fails, but as a Libertarian I also think that there is no moral responsibility in Case 4).  The reason for this is that I see both Cases 2) and 3) and essentially defining tendencies for Professor Plum, but his normal decision-making processes can overcome those tendencies (because in the cases Pereboom specifically says that he can).  Since he can overcome those tendencies and if he’s observing any of his actions at all he could come to know that he has those tendencies, he is indeed properly responsible in those cases where he doesn’t overcome those tendencies.  In fact, while I may be misremembering — and I didn’t talk about it — I think that for Robert Kane making free decisions is entirely about interrupting the causal path through an act of will, whatever that means.  So we can indeed claim that someone is praise or blameworthy for their decision to follow a tendency and not override it.  And even for the character argument, when one overcomes tendencies and when one doesn’t is a reflection of their overall character, so I don’t even think that the compatibilists that Pereboom aims this at will be refuted by these cases.

For Case 1), I think that Professor Plum isn’t morally responsible because no matter how you interpret the case it’s more than overcoming tendencies.  My first blush interpretation was that the neuroscientists go through the entire reasoning process for him and come to that conclusion, even though sometimes they come up with the more moral option.  In this case, the entire reasoning process has been subverted and if he isn’t responsible for his reasoning then he isn’t responsible for his decisions.  I also think that the more common — at least in my experience — view of compatibilism would agree, since it would insist that the decision-making process must be functioning properly and in that case it isn’t.  If they are merely determining all of his desires, then I would again argue that he isn’t morally responsible because even as a Libertarian we should reason based on our actual desires, and his desires are completely determined by others.  That’s more than his having a simple tendency.  It is impossible for him to ever want anything else than what they determine he wants, and naturally he will try to act based on the desires he has.  In Cases 2) and 3), he can form new desires and potentially remove old ones, which is not the case here.  And for the compatibilism I’ve talked about above, implanting desires clearly invalidly manipulates the reasoning process, and so the decision-making process isn’t valid, and so it’s not a free choice either.

For 4), compatibilists, of course, will argue that once we suss out how this system will all work, we will see that in the physically determined case the decision-making process is working properly.  For libertarians like me, what we see is that there’s no agent-causality at all and so no real decision-making process, as everything is determined by things outside of the agent.  So Pereboom’s fourth case does capture the clash between compatibilists and incompatibilists, but his chain doesn’t really show that compatibilists are forced to accept that Case 4) is the same and is similarly problematic to Case 1).

The last thing I want to talk about is Pereboom’s attempts to deal with the argument from phenomenology, which is that it really, really feels like we really make decisions.  He uses at least twice Spinoza’s argument that maybe once we understand the causal process, we would then see how the phenomenology is illusory or at least misleading.  The problem is that the phenomenology of something is what would get preference unless we have a very good explanation for why it shouldn’t get preference.  If I stick a stick into water and it looks like it bends, I’m perfectly justified in thinking that it really does bend until I get contradictory phenomenology or a good explanation for why it looks like it bends but really doesn’t or at least get a good argument for why the stick case is similar to other cases with light and so it would only look like it bends.  What Hard Determinists are trying to do here is appeal to the latter case, arguing that the components are all determined and so the process itself should be, even though the phenomenology strongly suggests otherwise.  This, though, is challenged by how consciousness itself does seem to be pretty special and so not standard, and so opponents can suggest that those material, determined things are correlations, not causes, and so don’t trump phenomenology in that way.  In short, Spinoza’s argument will work once Hard Determinists have provided sufficient evidence to think that the phenomenology is wrong, but Libertarians and Compatibilists will deny that they have (Libertarians because they feel Hard Determinists invalidly assume that mental things are deterministic, and Compatibilists because they feel that Hard Determinists invalidly assume that determined processes can’t work in a way that is consistent with the phenomenology we have).  So I felt his dismissal of the phenomenology to be too quick, and in fact it really seems like an attempt to assume that his position is correct and then demand that his opponents demonstrate that he’s wrong, which isn’t really a fair demand.

The last one is a new one to me, Revisionism.  I look forward to discovering what the heck it actually is …

Thoughts on “Eternal Evil”

April 29, 2021

“Eternal Evil” finishes off the first disk of “The Deadly Beyond”.  It stars Winston Rekert (who I knew from the “Adderly” TV series) as a TV producer who is being taught that he has special powers from a woman that he’s, well, cheating on his wife with (it’s a very troubled marriage, actually, with them not getting along at all and having issues with the son).  He has strange dreams that look like astral projection, but they all involve the deaths of people around him and, particularly, people who are getting in his way at some point.  There are also elements of an interview that he did with a couple who talk about psychic powers and, most importantly, the ability to live forever by possessing others and living out their lives.

Which, of course, is indeed the twist:  what the couple does is take someone, give them the dreams, and convince them that they are responsible for the killings, achieving the dual goal of taking away all of their loved ones and so giving them nothing to live for while making them believe that they are terrible people and so worthy of death itself.  At that point, their bodies are easy to take over and their spirits are driven away.  The woman he’s seeing is in fact one half of the couple and she is with another woman who is the other half (and they are still in a sexual relationship).  The reason they are doing this to him is because one of them, a dancer, is dying of a terminal illness and they need to replace her body as soon as possible.  The main character brings a friend and a shotgun and together they end up killing both of them, ending the movie.

Because the interviews seem so out of place, they kinda spoil the ending, because we know that it has to be relevant somehow and the idea of possessing him for them to keep going is a bit obvious.  The explanation for why they did it is more detailed and interesting than some, but it comes up right at the end which doesn’t leave time for it to simmer with us.  The performances are okay but for the most part it’s just not a memorable movie.  I don’t think I want to watch this one again.

“Legacy of the Force” and Making a Sith

April 28, 2021

So last time I suggested that if “Legacy of the Force” had had a structure more like “New Jedi Order” it would not only have allowed them to develop the side stories more and made them seem more interesting and less intrusive, but would have given them room to better develop Jacen Solo’s fall to the dark side, which I argue they desperately needed.  This might seem odd since my assessment of the series has always been that it was an attempt to do the prequel trilogy right and that it mostly succeeded at that.  However, that doesn’t mean that the fall doesn’t seem rushed at times, and that it could have benefited from having more room to make it work.

The biggest problem that I noticed on this re-read is Jacen Solo’s intellectual acceptance of the Sith philosophy and committing himself to it.  It’s in something like the second book that he accepts that, with rather minimal prodding from Lumiya about its benefits and nature.  The first problem with this is that Jacen is the wrong Solo sibling to be so quickly convinced.  He had always been very questioning and had multiple character arcs where he was examining all things in — sometimes obsessive — detail, and surely he would have done the same to Lumiya’s words about the Sith.  This is only compounded by the second problem, which is that Jacen would have certainly wanted to question it in detail given how everything he had been taught as a Jedi and from his uncle went against what Lumiya was saying about the Sith.  While it still would have been a stretch, Anakin or Jaina might have been influenced by their feelings (assuming they trusted her at all, which none of them had any reason to trust) and not examined the intellectual details of the code that carefully, but Jacen surely would have and wouldn’t have bought the rather shaky arguments that quickly.

What really makes this problematic, though, is that we could indeed seen Jacen going along with it and could even seen him rationalizing himself into it by providing the better arguments (or at least by filling them in for Lumiya) if he was properly motivated, but at the time he has to accept the arguments those motivations aren’t yet present.  Jacen really, really needed to be leaning Sith already so that Lumiya could be doing nothing more than providing confirmation of what he already believed or, at most, identifying the conclusions that he had already been driving towards as being Sith ones.  So, intellectually, he needed to have rejected or had good reasons to reject the Jedi teachings so that he could be seduced with an argument of “If you don’t have the Jedi, doesn’t that mean that all you have left is the Sith?”.

This also aligns with how quickly the tensions between the Corellia-led Confederation and Coruscant-centred GA develop.  The same thing pretty much applies:  even though there was some Force-manipulation involved, things go south in a big hurry despite the connections that many of the heroes have to both sides (which is important because those are famous and influential people with diplomatic training or access to it that could calm things down).  More importantly for Jacen’s development, things develop so quickly on their own that he never really needs to take drastic measures or be pushed into them by changing conditions.  Which not only makes his escalating them later a bit unconvincing, but it also doesn’t give us a progression where Jacen is pushed towards the dark side because those options were working where the other ones failed, giving him reasons to reject Luke’s vision and a reason to think that Lumiya isn’t just lying to him about the Sith.  It also would have given more time to develop that conflict which would have made it more interesting.

I really think they should have taken advantage of Tenel Ka and Allana, who are the main emotional reasons he turns Sith, to give him a reason to adopt Sith tactics and the Sith mindset before Lumiya ever approaches him.  With the conflict escalating, Jacen could have already been straddling the line and wondering if the Jedi taking a more passive approach was the right one to take.  Then there could have been a threat to Tenel Ka’s leadership in Hapes, due to her support of the GA (which was already in the series).  But the threat wouldn’t have been directly physical, but would have been political, and while the Jedi might have wanted to help her out the Chief of State at the time Cal Omas could have prevailed upon them to stay out of it because it would look like the GA was directly interfering and that would cause even more tensions and more planets to split with the GA.  Jacen wouldn’t be able to tolerate that threat to his lover and his daughter and would take it upon himself to interfere.  Ideally, it would also involve him breaking the rules as a reaction to the other side breaking the rules, while Luke would point out that breaking the rules isn’t the way to go (at least because getting caught would be worse, see the DS9 episode “In the Pale Moonlight” for that idea).  But following the rules would clearly not be working while breaking the rules would clearly work, and the seed would be planted for the three most important ideas in Jacen’s fall:

1) The GA political situation is getting in the way of doing what’s right, whereas a strong individual wouldn’t have those issues (setting up for him wanting political power).

2) The Jedi approach doesn’t work either, because they were willing to stay out of it for political reasons instead of ensuring that the right thing is done.

3) Breaking the rules is sometimes the right way to do things.

So Jacen feels the need to be in political control, feels that the Jedi approach is flawed, and accepts that breaking the rules might be the only way to do the right thing.  He’s pretty close, then, to the Sith approach that Lumiya spins for him.

And one of the worst rushes of Jacen Solo was his adopting of the Vader approach to minion management by Force-choking Tebut to death on the bridge.  I do like it as an example of his really becoming Vader, but the way it was done was lacking.  First, he moves from praising her for her ability to killing her and screaming that she’s a traitor in the span of a few pages of one book.  It seems way too quick.  Second, he does it in a fairly deranged manner, lashing out at her because his daughter has been taken because … she followed procedure and allowed a shuttle to dock that had all the proper codes.  While his emotional connection to his daughter makes that marginally justifiable, it comes across as totally deranged at the same time as they should be building him up as a cold and ruthless Sith (and were trying to do that, at least in his own mind).  So what they really needed, in my opinion, was not that sort of lashing out, but instead the cold “You have failed me for the last time!” approach, where he really does do it only because he sees it as a colossal failure and wants to motivate everyone else to ensure that they don’t fail him again.  Even better, her apologizing for the failure instead of defending herself and him doing that with the standard “Apology accepted (but it won’t spare you)” line would have really worked to cement in our minds the idea that he was indeed really a Sith in the vein of Vader.  As it is, he is portrayed as someone who is losing it while things that are coming up require him to be more in control.

I still do like the series, and next time I’ll talk a bit more about why I like these two series before I dive into re-reading the one megaseries that I actively dislike.