Archive for March, 2020

Twin Peaks, The Fugitive, and Other Dominant Plots

March 31, 2020

So, in a comment on last week’s “Twin Peaks” post, Tom sent me to this article. I had noticed the initial scene with Lily, and it’s a good scene where an odd-seeming aspect pays off later, although in this case it was explicitly explained. Still, even at the time I knew that it was going to have some kind of meaning later, which made it interesting instead of just confusing. At any rate, though, I don’t really want to talk about that. I instead want to continue talking about solving Laura Palmer’s murder as per this quote from the article:

“Twin Peaks” was conceived as a series (like “The Fugitive” before it) in which the central “mystery” (Who killed Laura Palmer? Who killed Dr. Richard Kimble’s wife? And what of the one-armed man?) would spin off new complications, week after week, but would never really be solved — at least (in the case of “The Fugitive”) until the end of the series. (I like to think of it as sort of the TV series version of Buñuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” where the characters keep on walking but never seem to get anywhere. Instead of preventing these people from eatinga meal, “Twin Peaks” would continually deny the audience and the characters a solution to the mystery. I still think that’s a great idea.)

But soon (or finally, depending on how you look at it), public and network pressure forced the hand of “Twin Peaks” co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, and they revealed Laura Palmer’s murderer a few weeks into the second season. Lynch said recently (2007) in Seattle that, for him, the series was basically over once identity of Laura’s killer was exposed. Ratings dived and creative ennui set in shortly thereafter.

This is an interesting example, because there are a number of shows that did have that sort of central premise driving their show. “The Fugitive” is one example that is explicitly driven by a murder mystery, but “The Incredible Hulk” is another example, as is “Star Trek: Voyager”. But the interesting thing about them is that for all of them it would be difficult to imagine the series continuing if the main plot was resolved, or at least that the story would have to change dramatically in that case. If you solve the murder in “The Fugitive”, we would expect the main character to settle down somewhere and for his story to end. If David Banner ever managed to free himself from the Hulk, then he would have no reason to wander the country and wouldn’t be a fugitive anymore. Arguably, you could bring Voyager home, but all that would do is turn the series back into a regular Star Trek series (which, in actuality, was one of the big complaints against it, that it introduced a unique premise and didn’t do anything with it). In all of these cases, the show would have to dramatically change if that plot point was resolved.

This was not the case for the murder of Laura Palmer in “Twin Peaks”. Since most of the interactions were about things that happened in and around “Twin Peaks”, and from what I’ve heard was deliberately aiming to show a seamy side underneath the seeming quaint and tranquil small town, it was easy to imagine that solving the murder wouldn’t really impact the series as a whole. Given how important the murder was made to the story and how dramatically it was portrayed, this turn the murder into something more like “Who Shot J.R.?” from “Dallas”, which was so huge that it was something that needed to be resolved before changing focus to new, less dramatic storylines. So if Lynch wanted to make the murder into a driving force for the story akin to the murder in “The Fugitive”, he completely failed to do so, and thus the network was actually correct in recognizing that and pushing for a resolution. I’ve already commented on why I think the shift to the post-murder show failed, but why did Laura Palmer’s murder turn out more like “Dallas” than like “The Fugitive”?

One of the things that those plots did was drive the main character forward into the new situations they found themselves in. Much of the time, where they traveled do and what they did was tied directly into that main plot: they went there to investigate a lead or track something down or investigate something that might cure them or whatever. However, since the plots also encouraged wandering, there was room to slip in other stories as well, as they just by coincidence wander into an area where other things happened to them. In those cases, the premise works in the same manner as “The Foundation for Law and Government” worked in “Knight Rider” or the jobs in “A-Team”: an excuse to get the main character or characters to a place and into a plot that the writers want to explore. But in the last two cases it is clear that you could change those premises and the show could survive, although possibly changed. In fact, “A-Team” actually did change their premise in the last season, but the replacement premise lost some of the more interesting implications — that they were doing jobs to mostly help people despite being chased by the government — and so failed. Yet, it is clear that those sorts of premises aren’t enough to drive a “Fugitive”-style show.

And note that “Twin Peaks” didn’t even rise to that level with the murder of Laura Palmer, because the scope of the show was too small to pull that off. We didn’t have a main character or characters wandering the world and meeting new people and new situations every week, allowing for a wide range of plots to explore. “Twin Peaks” really was a soap opera in its scope: mostly focusing on the concerns and lives of people in the town itself. You aren’t going to get the sort of wandering plot in a show like that. Which is not to say that that sort of show is bad — remember, I do like the show — but just that it is missing the scope that was an important part of the shows I mentioned earlier.

But, again, that’s not enough, as seen with the examples of “Knight Rider” and “A-Team”. What is important with a plot that is going to carry a series and be one where we cannot imagine the series continuing if the plot is resolved is that it is in fact deeply personal to the main character or characters. It is a driving force in their lives, and in terms of the series is the driving force in their lives. The main character in “The Fugitive” has had his entire life overturned by the murder accusation, and clearing his name is the most important thing to him. David Banner’s life was overturned and is dominated by the monster dwelling within him, and curing himself is the most important thing in his life. In Voyager, all the characters want to get home, and that’s the driving force in their lives. The shows can drift from that main thrust at times, but if it drifts for too long into too deep a plot, we will start to wonder why the main characters are spending their time on the things that are less important to them instead of trying to solve their main issues. This is what makes those premises the sort of plot they are: they are both so important and so personal that the series itself cannot survive if they are ever resolved.

In my examination above, I’ve already talked about how the Laura Palmer murder-mystery was too important to be ignored. It was important enough that if the main characters and show ignored it for too long, we would wonder why they weren’t dealing with it. But that would have been true for “Who Shot J.R.?” in “Dallas” as well, or any major soap opera plot. However, the murder mystery wasn’t personal to any of the main characters. Agent Cooper was there to solve the mystery, but that was only the reason he came to the town in the first place. If the mystery was resolved, he would have to leave or they would have to find another reason for him to stay. The sheriff, arguably the other main character, wanted to solve the mystery, but again it wasn’t the driving force in his life at that point. The people who were most personally affected by the murder were minor characters. So the main things that the series focused on could have carried on even if the murder was solved. The hidden secrets and relationships would remain, and those could have evolved and new ones could have arisen even after the murder was solved. So it seems that Lynch et al made the mistake of thinking that a murder mystery in and of itself could be a premise that could last through an entire series, when that wasn’t what made it work in “The Fugitive”. They made a mystery, but forgot to make it sufficiently personal to carry the plot as they wanted it to.

There are two oddities here. The first is that they could, in fact, have made that work if they had made Cooper far more obsessed with it for reasons that they could have filled in later. However, they didn’t do that. They also could have, as I noted, written things so that the murder plot was the instigator of events and led to much more important things to investigate later, such as what as corrupting relatively good people and the underlying supernatural element (and even the aliens events outlined in the various books). But the show focused too much on the lives of small town Twin Peaks, and that didn’t need the murder plot to keep going … but was often overshadowed by it anyway.

The second is that “The Return” had the scope that would have had a better chance of pulling it off. Building it around the mystery of what really happened to Agent Cooper would have given them a plot that was important and personal enough to the players — especially the FBI agents — to carry the series and the different locations and travels had the scope to utilize that premise effectively. And yet it seems like he didn’t really try, as there is no great mystery in “The Return”.

At any rate, I have to reiterate my belief that the network was right here and Lynch was wrong. As written, the Laura Palmer murder wasn’t a plot that could carry a series like the premise of “The Fugitive”, but it was too important to simply leave unresolved. Lynch might have intended something like “The Fugitive”, but when it turned out to be insufficiently like it resolving the premise was the right call, and still could have carried the most interesting aspects of the show if they had just tried.

Musings on Causation

March 30, 2020

I have come across a number of comments — mostly from atheists attempting to refute the cosmological argument — insisting that in a timeless space causation is not possible, and so if the theist places God outside of time or demands to know what caused the universe to exist — which, they argue, is when time starts to exist — they are making a huge error. They are demanding that causation work outside of time, but causation cannot work outside of time. I’m not going to provide direct quotes of this here — so you might have cause to challenge me for being unfair to their actual arguments — but whenever this happens I’ve always thought that this was at best a rather facile argument, dodging the actual issue by relying on technicalities about how we define and identify causes and effects in this world but not really considering the possibility that things can — and must — still happen outside of time, and those happenings can have and would have to have explanations, for which God is one explanation. But as I have been reading Kant for the past while — I just managed to finish “A Critique of Pure Reason”, as reading philosophy can be slow — I came to understand that this sort of argument is not merely facile, but is just plain wrong. I don’t personally subscribe to Kant’s take on causation, but reading it definitely led me to realize that time is not a critical component of causation.

When we think about it, the idea that it is critical to a claim that X caused Y that X preceded Y is precisely the sort of reasoning that leads to superstitions, which no rationalist atheist will want to accept. The mistake that people make in superstitions is in looking for a cause for an effect, noting that something occurred before the effect, and anointing that as the cause for at a minimum loose and even no reasoning whatsoever. If we are wondering why something happened, we are indeed quite likely to grab onto something that happens most of the time before that thing happens and investigate that, or even assume that that is the cause. If that’s never contradicted but happens to be wrong, then it becomes a superstition. But superstitions, by definition, do not identify the real causes of things.

So it seems that we need far more than to identify that something has happened before the purported effect to identify it as a cause. After all, there are a large or even infinite number of things that happened before any event that, if that was a defining criteria, would make it a cause. So what is it about real causes that make them causes as opposed to superstitions? The main notion, it seems to me, is this relationship: The reason Y happened was that X happened. This can also be described by the counterfactual: If X had not happened, Y would not have happened. Often with the second formulation we can get stuck spinning our wheels by noting that if X had not happened, Z might have happened and if that was the case then Y would still have happened. More seriously, we can run into issues with the second formulation where there are a large number of events that had to have happened or else the relationship between X and Y wouldn’t have formed (Dretzke’s structuring causes, for example). Still, we can still identify the most reasonable direct causes by appealing to reasons: is X the reason Y occurred? Note that reason doesn’t have to include intentionality — although some might insist that it does — but is really the answer to the question “Why did Y happen instead of something else?”. In general, at the level of physics, intentional answers — such as “I wanted tea” — would not be the ones we’re after. So we can actually split a lot of these off by domain and avoid a lot of the pitfalls.

What this means is that if you want to insist that you can’t have causes in any domain have to accept this: you have to insist that things can no longer happen for reasons in that domain. And it isn’t just — as we see sometimes with appeals to quantum mechanics in these sorts of discussions — that it’s determined by a random process, because the random process itself would count as a cause for the event happening, at least under the idea that causation says that X is the reason for Y happening. Y happens because the randomization hits and triggers it by whatever process things get triggered, and that counts as being the cause of Y happening. What this also means is that if the atheist wants to argue that if there is no time there is no causation, they have to show that removing time necessarily means removing the ability for things to happen for reasons. If they can’t demonstrate why things can no longer happen for reasons if there is no time, or it causes problems for their own views on the origin of the universe, then their argument will rather obviously fail.

Note that we might be able to limit some of their responses by arguing this as well: it is entirely possible that in a universe like ours with time structured the way it is that causes will always precede effects, and so simultaneous causation and backwards causation are not possible. Stated that way, that’s definitely an empirical question. However, the argument outlined above relies on being able to say something about things in universes that are not ours and have a different structure for time, and possibly don’t have any structure for time at all. That’s a conceptual argument, and cannot be resolved by appealing to how things work — or, rather, seem to work — in this one. So appealing to what physics says about causes in this world won’t help them one bit, because their argument, by definition, is outside of the scope of physics.

Causation is not determined by temporal order. It’s not a defining characteristic of any case of causation that the cause happened before the effect. That’s merely an accident of how time is structured in our universe. What’s important about causation is that the cause is the reason the effect occurred. And there is no reason to think that it is conceptually true that things can’t happen for reasons if there is no time to mark what happened first and what happened second. Therefore, arguments that there cannot be causes if there is no time are at best unmotivated and, in my view, are clearly just plain wrong.

Shallow Thoughts on the G.I. Joe Movies

March 27, 2020

So, again, while browsing in some store I came across a two-pack of the two G.I. Joe movies for a reasonable price. I had remembered watching “The Rise of Cobra” and not minding it, but couldn’t remember ever watching “Retaliation”. As part of my regular Friday night movie watching, I decided — on two separate weeks — to watch the movies and see what I thought of them.

“The Rise of Cobra” was the most interesting, mostly because this was the first time I was watching it after having watched the original cartoon series. What struck me is just how many references there were in that movie to the cartoon. This gave it an added charm that made it much more enjoyable this time around. However, I had never liked setting up the Baroness as Duke’s former fiance, and liked it even less this time around, mostly because her character didn’t strike me as being at all like the Barnoness. She was far less coldly competent and calculating, and so far less interesting as a character, and the love relationship also led to her getting at least a potential moment of being redeemed which worked against the character. Still, the movie itself was moderately entertaining and, again, the references worked.

“Retaliation”, though, was a disappointment. Not because it was bad, mind you, but because it was pretty much a standard action movie that had little to do with the actual G.I. Joe mythos other than some of the names. It had an impressive list of stars that I do kinda like — The Rock, Adrienne Palicki, Bruce Willis — but, again, it’s pretty much an action movie, not a G.I. Joe movie. Even the character plots and personalities don’t really relate to the original characters. So, ultimately, it’s an action movie with the G.I. Joe name slapped on it, which is going to disappoint G.I. Joe fans.

I might be willing to watch the first movie again. It’s unlikely that I’ll watch the second one again unless I decide to watch it after rewatching the first one.

Thoughts on “Leprechaun 3”

March 26, 2020

This movie wasted a really interesting character.

Unlike the previous movie, this movie had a really interesting female lead. She was pretty, smart, worldly, and was even set-up to have an interesting and potentially useful skill, as she was training to be a magician and hopefully take over from the one she was an assistant to, which sets up her having escape artist skills that could save the day. By contrast, the male lead was a country bumpkin type who was pretty much an idiot and incompetent throughout the entire movie. As an example, in the beginning after he helps her out by giving her a ride to work, she lets him into the casino on the condition that he not gamble as he is underage and she will get into trouble if he does, and yet he immediately gambles away all of the money he had for his schooling and then tries to gamble some more. This sort of thing is common in movies and even in real life isn’t particularly unrealistic, but it establishes him as an absolute idiot from the start, and that she later has to come in and save him from himself makes him a … rather unimpressive male lead.

So we’d expect that they’d be setting up things so that at the end the leprechaun or the magician has her — and maybe him — in some kind of restraints that she gets herself out of so that they can both escape, given the backstory. This never happens. Instead, it seems like the only reason to make her a magician’s assistant is to be able to put her into one of the slinky outfits so that we can get a good look at her, despite them having a striptease scene with the actress (not the character) elsewhere in the movie. So we end up minimizing the interesting character and focusing on the idiotic male lead.

They also add in a detail where being bitten by a leprechaun turns you into one. Other than adding some complications at times, this doesn’t add anything to the movie and makes no sense, so it would have been better if it hadn’t been there.

The idea that people are getting wishes from the coin and what the different people use it for is an interesting one, but is overshadowed by the other details of the movie and the need to have the actual leprechaun character get his kills in. The kills are somewhat interesting, but nothing particularly special.

Other than to see the lead actress and character again, there’s really no reason for me to watch this movie again. It wouldn’t be a bad movie if it wasn’t for the fact that the lead is annoying and incompetent and the most interesting character gets sidelined, but with that it ends up being more frustrating than it should be.

Galileo’s Error: Can Physical Science Explain Consciousness?

March 25, 2020

I had intended to go into more detail on these chapters than I’m going to, because things have been a bit hectic and enough time has passed that some of the thoughts I had while reading them have faded from my memory. But there are still some things I’d like to comment on, so I’m going to continue going chapter by chapter anyway.

As I noted in my first comment on the book, Goff wasn’t quite as fair to the physicalist view as he was to the dualist view. He outlines a lot of problems with the view, but unlike with dualism he doesn’t spend a lot of time outlining ways physicalists can respond to those problems. This can leave the impression that all they have are problems and no solutions. Ultimately, his objection to dualism is going to be that it isn’t simple enough, but the impression one can get of his view is that he just thinks that physicalism is wrong or only has problems. Physicalists will surely disagree with that interpretation.

But the most interesting thing in the chapter is his comment that while people think that Galileo’s theories were empirically driven and his conclusions proven by experience, the thing that Galileo used to convince the most people of his idea that things all fall at the same speed was instead a thought experiment. According to Goff, Galileo asked what would happen if you tied a really heavy object and a much lighter object together with a cable and dropped them. If heavier things fell faster, then this should have an impact on how the two things fell. But he pointed out that the theory led to two contradictory conclusions. The first is that the two objects have a greater mass than just the one object, and so the two of them combined should fall faster than just the heavier object alone. However, the second is that the lighter object would fall slower and so provide some “drag” and so the two objects should fall slower than just the heaver object alone. Since the theory produced two logically contradictory conclusions, there seems to be something wrong with the theory.

The thing is, I don’t think that modern scientists would be all that impressed by that thought experiment. It looks quite a bit like Xeno’s Paradox, where we reason to a specific conclusion but that doesn’t mean that that’s how it will work in reality. From this, I suspect that most naturalists and scientists today would simply say that we should try it out and see what happens (eliminating things like air resistance). Once we try it and see what happens, then we can see how our theory should react to it and adjust accordingly. So while people may have been convinced by the thought experiment, they probably should have been. So I think that most of the people who need to be convinced that thought experiments can be useful either won’t or shouldn’t be convinced by the example he used. Thus, they’d have to be convinced of it simply by the fact that Galileo used them, but they all know that in the olden days more philosophical methods were mixed in with the scientific ones, but the incredibly success of scientific methods means that we don’t feel the need to do that anymore. So while, initially, the idea that Galileo’s big success came from a thought experiment seems like a win for philosophical methods, upon examination it’s probably just the sort of thing that scientismists will use to show how thought experiments fail to describe anything useful about reality.

Next up will be some comments on his chapter on panpsychism itself.

Thoughts on “Fire Walk With Me” and “The Missing Pieces”

March 24, 2020

So, after watching both runs of “Twin Peaks”, I picked up and watched both “Fire Walk With Me” and “The Missing Pieces”. To continue on from my point last time about being self-indulgent, creating an hour and a halfish separate movie out of cut scenes strung together certainly raises that possibility. There’s also a cut where all of those scenes are restored into the movie itself, which I don’t have and think that you’d have to be a really, really big “Twin Peaks” fan to want to watch.

That being said, the thing about “Fire Walk With Me” is that in order to enjoy it, you really do have to have watched the original “Twin Peaks” series, and probably have watched it recently. You don’t get any of the emotional connections or interesting plots without that. That being said, that’s typical of a prequel, which the movie is. This is even more true of “The Missing Pieces”, since if you haven’t watched “Fire Walk With Me” recently you’ll be missing the required context to have the scenes make sense. So they are tightly tied to the works that they are enhancing.

However, outside of that, they’re pretty entertaining. “Fire Walk With Me” brings in more of the backstory of Laura Palmer and at least part of her fall from grace, and “The Missing Pieces” adds some scenes that help fill in details around things that happened in the story. That being said, the revelations aren’t that groundbreaking, so you can very much enjoy the series and movie without watching them. They also manage to, at least for the most part, not contradict things in the series either, which is something that’s important in a prequel and that many prequels don’t manage. About the only odd thing I noticed was the scene where Donna goes into Laura’s wild world while in the series Donna is trying to figure out Laura’s second world, but this is minor and explained to some degree in “The Diary of Laura Palmer”.

I would probably watch both again, but with a caveat: only as part of rewatching the original series again. They just don’t work on their own, but then again they aren’t really intended to.

Presentism and Truthmaking, a Shallowish Examination

March 23, 2020

Edward Feser recently wrote a post talking about William Labe Craig’s response to an objection to presentism from the idea of “truthmakers”. I haven’t kept up with arguments like this since my undergrad degree, but the arguments resembled issues in Philosophy of Language that I have covered, and so from this and from skimming the other posts Feser has on the topic as well as one from someone who thinks this is a problem, I think that the issue is not as Feser and Craig consider it in some important ways.

Let me outline the basic issue first. Presentism is the idea that only things in the immediate present exist. Things and events in the past may have existed at one point in time, but no longer exists. Things in events in the future don’t exist yet, and won’t until the future becomes the present. The “truthmaker” idea — I’m sure that there is a more formal idea of this but that’s the term being used there and I don’t want to dig into philosophy of mind to figure it out — is a theory of truth that essentially says that what makes a statement true is, in fact, some thing that performs some kind of causal function to make that statement true. The objection to presentism is that if presentism is true, the “truthmaker” way of creating truth means that statements about the past cannot be true, because they would have to be made true by objects that no longer exist, and things that don’t exist can’t do anything, let alone make statements true. So if you’re a presentist, then you either can’t use the “truthmaker” approach to making things true, or else you have to come up with some kind of object that can make statements true but aren’t the obvious ones. For example, it’s easy to say that the object that makes the statement “I wear glasses” true is me, but if presentism is true for the statement “Caesar was assassinated” you couldn’t use “Caesar” as the object because unlike in the first case, Caesar no longer exists. This also leads to the first problem with the issue — which, to be fair, the critics may be missing as well — which is that it’s not necessarily an intractable problem for presentism, but if it works the presentist either needs to abandon the theory of “truthmaking” or else needs to find a reasonably existing object to do the truthmaking instead of the actual object the statement is about. Otherwise, if they want to keep “truthmaking” then they need to abandon presentism.

Second, Craig and Feser both take the purported objection to be one that flows from common sense:

Craig makes the same point about all the heavy-going talk among analytic philosophers about “ontological commitment.” Common sense would agree that when we make a true statement, the things that the statement is about in some sense “exist.” But terms like “exist” are in ordinary usage very elastic, covering not only tables, chairs, and the like, but things as diverse as the way that you smile, a lack of compassion in the world, the chance that something will not happen, the way things might have been, and so on (to cite several examples of the sort Craig gives on pp. 111-12). And there is nothing in common sense that entails that the way things might have been is an entity in the way that a table is an entity. You can argue that it is, on the basis of some metaphysical theory, but it would in that case be the theory – and not common sense – that is doing the work.

Commonsense usage, Craig says, is “metaphysically lightweight” (p. 112). The neo-Quinean metaphysician reads his heavyweight metaphysics into ordinary usage and pretends that he is simply drawing out the implications of common sense.

The thing is that common sense doesn’t have this problem. This problem only arises when we philosophize about the nature of the things that common sense is thinking about. In common sense, we are all presentists: we think that only things that exist in the present really exist. Things in the future do not yet exist and things that have ceased to exist in the past do not yet exist. This, however, doesn’t cause problems for truth in common sense because in common sense we can easily have true statements about things that do not exist, in line with all of the other examples that Feser and Craig list, including fictional characters. The problem only arises when we start philosophizing about what makes something true. In common sense, it’s the mere fact that it accurately describes some course of events or states in the world. What makes something true is simply that it is correct and accurate and nothing more needs to be said. It’s only when we start asking what exactly it is that makes something true that issues arise. “Truthmaking” is one way to make things true, and while it has its own problems, it arose in reaction to problems of other models.

This leads to the third issue, which, as noted above, is that the main issue on the philosophical side is ontological or metaphysical. That’s not the case. It’s entirely in the realm of truth that the problem arises, and so either in Philosophy of Language or in epistemology. We need to know what it is that makes things true, and one theory of this is the “truthmaking” theory. This theory, however, has implications. I recall when we discussed this theory in my Philosophy of Language class one of the issues was indeed that statements like the ones that Feser and Craig talk about ended up not having truth values. We couldn’t say that statements about fictional characters were true, for example. The other examples had similar implications. For past events, we can get out of it by rejecting the idea of presentism and having past and future events still exist, which is what raises the challenge here: if you want to accept the “truthmaking” theory, then you need to have some kind of existing object to make statements about the past true, and presentism removes the obvious objects from contention.

Of course, you don’t have to accept the “truthmaker” theory. Because of its issues with statements about fictional objects, I personally considered the theory a complete non-starter. Feser’s comments about how these issues are invented problems from a metaphysical or ontological commitment suggests that he should probably take the same path: if a “truthmaker” theory has no room for truthmakers that can make statements about fictional or past events true, then so much the worse for “truthmaker” theory. But it is too blithe a dismissal to say that there must be some sort of object that can be used as a “truthmaker” to make those statements true. There are many philosophical arguments that challenge the idea that there can be such objects, or objects of the right sort of do that. It’s not obvious how to preserve those things on the “truthmaker” theory, and insisting there must be to preserve both “truthmaker” theory and presentism simply ignores those challenges.

So the real challenge is this: what sorts of objects could be used as “truthmakers” to make past events true if presentism is true? If Feser and Craig can’t come up with some, then their commitment to both presentism and “truthmaker” theory seems to be in jeopardy. And if they aren’t attached to “truthmaker” theory at all, then there is no need to consider how the two theories might clash.

Not Quite Final Thoughts on “Steins;Gate”

March 20, 2020

So, at about 13 or so hours into the game, I hit the first opportunity — I think — to end the game in “Steins;Gate”. I had been debating whether I was just going to end the game if I got to an ending or keep going, but what I decided to do here was to save the game first and continue on to the ending, and then come back and continue from the save point. But the ending was surprisingly satisfying.

Roughly, the game sets up a situation where someone goes back in time to get an item that can save Mayuri, but things go wrong and the character fails and things … turn out really badly for them. The main character can undo that and have them go back early when they would have succeeded, but the character would lose a lot of good experiences doing that. But not doing that would end up with Mayuri being killed in the main timeline. So the first choice is to refuse to do that, but to instead have the main character lock themselves into a two day timeloop so that neither of the events will ever happen. This starts to turn the main character in a hollow shell with dark thoughts, and the character notices this because he looks like the people in the dystopian future the character came from. The character then convinces the main character to go back into the past along with them in the hopes that things might be different and that they might actually be able to craft a future where Mayuri doesn’t die, which the main character accepts.

This is the first ending that you can access — as far as I know — and it’s one that it’s pretty obvious what the “right” solution is, so most players will simply skip it. Yet, it’s surprisingly detailed, hinting at one of the downsides of time travel and also implying that maybe in the future these sorts of things would be happening to the people in that dystopian future, which could suggest that control is kept there by looping time and everyone is subconsciously reacting as the main character is. It’s also satisfying because while it’s not the “true ending”, it’s also hopeful because the move might indeed make everything better and avert the bad timeline (the game doesn’t say whether it does or not). It also follows from the tough choice of having to have Mayuri die or have the character lose a lot of experiences and be despondent and friendless, although doing so averts some nasty consequences for the character.

So, since it’s a pretty good ending from my perspective, I’m at least putting a pause on this game and making other games my main focus. So let me talk about this game a bit more now in case I don’t get back to it anytime soon.

I commented on the anime that Mayuri was flaky enough that she would be really annoying if the anime hadn’t spent the time to make her very likeable. The game didn’t do that, at least not early in the game. Early in the game, she was mostly clueless, but not in a nice way, but in a very selfish way, expressing concern only for the things she wants and not really caring about anyone’s feelings in doing so. The anime brought out how much she cared for others and made them feel welcome and comfortable a lot earlier than the game did. By the end, they had started to do that more, but early on she was far more annoying. At least they did manage to get that in before you’d have to decide whether or not to keep her alive.

I also found that Kurise was more sympathetic in the game, as she was far less imperious and far more open here. Also, Okabe and Daru were far more annoying towards her in the game, making her reactions far more reasonable. So while I did like her in the anime, I liked her more here.

I do very much regret watching the anime before playing the game, because the anime spoils most of the interesting plot twists in the game, and the game takes a lot longer to get to and through those plot twists than the anime does, which means there’s a lot of the early game where the game is building towards a revelation that I already know the resolution to. So it gets boring, even if it is done a bit differently. That being said, once the SERN plot ramps up, the differences in presentation do matter and I found myself far more interested in it.

Still, it’s a visual novel with little interaction until you start getting into the big choices that determine the endings. As I’ve noted on a number of occasions, visual novels aren’t really my genre, as I get bored with the lack of interactivity in the game. This game isn’t an exception, and again is only made worse by the fact that I already knew the plot and so couldn’t even really enjoy the story as presented. This made it difficult for me to play. However, I don’t regret playing it. I won’t play it from the start again, but I might go back to my save point and see what happens if I go on, if I get some time.

Thoughts on “Leprechaun 2”

March 19, 2020

So, let me continue my look at the “Leprechaun” movie series with “Leprechaun 2”. This one … is really uninteresting, actually. It introduces an idea never seen before and that we will rarely see afterwards of a complicated set of rules around when the leprechaun can get married attached to a curse given him due to a thrall denying him an agreed upon bride. So it starts a thousand years in the past with the agreement and betrayal, and then he awakens 1000 years later to pursue a bride from the same family line. He also, as usual, loses at least part of his pot of gold and has to chase that down. He’s opposed by the girl he wants to marry, her boyfriend, and his uncle. The latter two are shysters and con artists running a fake horror tour of Hollywood, and use those sorts of tricks to oppose the titular leprechaun.

That the uncle is going to hoist himself on his own petard by going after the pot of gold instead of sticking to the plan to rescue the girl is utterly predictable but does work in character. And the boyfriend’s character works as the sort of hustler that we can nevertheless feel sympathetic towards. However, the girlfriend’s actress just isn’t very good in this movie, which hurts every scene that she’s in. And ultimately, the plot itself just isn’t that interesting. This would leave the scares and murders, and the leprechaun is both a bit too powerful and a bit too weak for it to work. At best, the horror parts are “Meh” and overall the movie isn’t very memorable.

I don’t think I’d want to watch this movie again, and don’t have much more to say about it. It’s nothing special, but unlike “A Nightmare on Elm Street” that isn’t because it does what it does well, but just because it’s relatively inoffensive most of the time. The first movie was okay, but this one is straight-out blah.

Galileo’s Error: Is There a Ghost in the Machine?

March 18, 2020

This is the chapter on dualism. I’m not going to go over it much in detail, but want to pull out a couple of things to talk about that interested me.

First, as I noted earlier, Goff is pretty fair to dualism in this chapter. While he himself isn’t a dualist, he does spend a lot of time pointing out moves that dualism can make to avoid some of the problems materialists raise against it. His biggest objection seems to be Ockham’s Razor, where dualism doesn’t seem like the simplest of the options, so I’ll talk a bit about that here, as I’m now a confirmed skeptic of Ockham’s Razor.

Goff gives an example of Ockham’s Razor by using “the angelic model”, which posits everything that the standard model of physics does but adds on an angel, but that angel doesn’t play any causal role in any physical phenomena. So things work exactly the same and there’s an angel added on that does nothing. This of course would be consistent with the existing evidence, but it would have another entity in it. And Goff goes on to add in the “dual angelic model” and the “triple angelic model” to show how you can multiply angels ad infinitum. He uses this to justify the requirement for Ockham’s Razor, but this example only demonstrates why I don’t think that Ockham’s Razor is particularly useful in situations like the debate over consciousness. The reason is that Ockham’s Razor only works when we can’t decide on the basis of the evidence, which means that they explain the evidence equally well. That’s why Goff had to have the “angelic model” make the same predictions as the standard model. But in doing so, he ends up having to create a new entity that has no impact on the theory. In short, that model has no need for that entity because it doesn’t explain anything. While it might well be what Ockham originally intended with his Razor, you don’t need any incredible insight to look at the entities a theory posits and slice away the ones that aren’t actually even doing anything internally to the theory. If a theory contains an entity that adds no explanatory value to itself, eliminating that entity is reduction, not simplification.

But what happens if you have a theory that explains the same evidence as another theory but has one more entity if we add up entities, but the extra entity is absolutely required to make that theory work? Assuming that we can’t know that one of those theories are correct, is it necessarily rational to choose the one that has one less entity? Surely if someone found the theory with less entities less plausible and we couldn’t decide between them they wouldn’t be acting irrationally to prefer the theory with more entities. This only gets worse if we aren’t certain which theory is correct but might be able to test which is correct in the future. And this only gets even worse if the two theories don’t each explain all of the evidence, but explain different evidence, some of which might be things that someone is more worried about explaining than other things. If the theory with less entities doesn’t explain the things that someone wants explained, why would they accept that theory just because it posits fewer entities than the theory that does have an explanation for the things they want explained?

This is the situation we are actually in with respect to the consciousness debate. Dualistic theories, at least, can explain the properties of mental things and experiences by stating that we have mental properties and things and they have those properties, just as we do for physical things. The problem they have is explaining how those things and properties interact with physical things and properties. Physicalist theories can easily explain how what we call mental things interact with physical things — being physical things themselves — but don’t have any real explanation for any specifically mental properties and experiences. If you care about mental properties and experiences themselves, you aren’t going to find the physicalist view in any way interesting. However, if you care about the physical correlates of mental things, you’re going to find that the dualist explanation posits something that you don’t seem to need. Why should the physicalist theory automatically get to win just because it posits less entities? The entities that the dualist theory posits are only there to explain the specific evidence that they explain, and that evidence is precisely what the physicalist theory is struggling to explain. Ultimately, it seems to me that you can only really use Ockham’s Razor when there is no other reasonable reason to prefer one or the other theory, and that’s certainly not the case when it comes to consciousness.

I’ll also briefly touch on the idea of “quantum dualism” mentioned in the chapter, which suggests that using the idea that quantum states only resolve when observed could help dualism out here, by giving consciousness a causal role in collapsing all quantum states and so in having anything happen whatsoever. I was skimming this in preparation for this post, but it struck me that it’s hard to make it work without collapsing into Berkeley’s idealism, where we can only know anything about anything — and even whether or not it exists — if we are perceiving it. If quantum dualism is going to have any impact at the non-quantum level, then this would have to be the case: quantum interactions stop and go indeterminate when no one is observing them. This, however, is problematic. Quantum events no longer occurring once we stop observing it raises problems if they would have an effect over time and no one is observing it. How would it know what to do over that period of time? Add in that in general specific quantum events don’t have an effect at the non-quantum level, and this doesn’t seem like a better explanation for consciousness, despite Goff’s hints that it is being discriminated against by being called dualistic.

Anyway, that’s the second chapter. I will briefly talk about the chapter on physicalism next.