Archive for April, 2021

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.

Accomplishments Update

April 27, 2021

Another three months have passed and I’ve just finished my first-half-of-the-year vacation (because if I don’t take any vacation time in the first half of the year since I don’t like to take vacation in the summer I’d have to take too much in the fall for my manager to tolerate), it’s a good time to look at my accomplishments and see how things have gone.

DVDs, as always, work out really, really well.  I managed to get through “Knight Rider” and “Airwolf” (I have to write about the latter one soon), rewatched the original Battlestar Galactica series, and have now started watching Stargirl (and I should be almost done the one season I have of it before this posts).  I also watched a number of science fiction movies and added a tag for sci-fi in general.  I also managed to keep up with the horror movies and have made a dent in my stack that I’ve only partially filled in again with other movies.  And I ended up rewatching “Doctor Who” while working, and then “Transformers G1” and “Beast Wars” and “Beast Machines”.  I’m probably going to cycle back to “Pretty Little Liars” because a) I might be working from work again in a few months time and b) I found that with my wanting to listen to music I want something that runs a little over three hours per disk, since Transformers ran a little under which left a little too much time for music but a little too little time to watch another disk, in general, and “Doctor Who” was slightly over 3 hours and worked really, really well, and I know from my first watch of “Pretty Little Liars” that it’s in the right ball park (some disks might be a little longer than I’d like, but they’d still leave some room for music).

Books went smashingly well.  I read through the entire “X-Wing” series, and then read “New Jedi Order” (and have commented on it) and am now about half-way through “Legacy of the Force”.  I also finished reading through some of Feser’s works as well as “The Unnecessary Science” to comment on, and am now working through some free will stuff and some Batman stuff.  So reading is going really, really well.  But, then, when I’m busy, it always does.

Which means that other things … don’t.  Video games suffered, of course, although I did play a little of “The Old Republic”, am working my way through “Knights of the Old Republic”, have played a little of “Galactic Battlegrounds”, and even installed and played a few simulator missions in “X-Wing Alliance”.  My plan is to slot some time in for “The Old Republic” and some console games in my spring schedule, although I don’t know what console game it will be yet (I’m inclined towards “Persona 5 Royal” but it doesn’t really fit nicely into my schedule at all).  I’ve also managed to stick with “Ring Fit Adventure” and am just about to finish my first run through the RPG.

Which leaves projects.  Other than the blog, there’s no progress here, but I’ve done more and more in-depth things with the blog, which makes me happy.  I’m hoping to get some programming in with the new spring schedule.  So we’ll see how it goes.

So, some really good and some at least fairly bad.  I guess I can at least take consolation with the successes, especially since they’re more important to me right now than the ones I’m faltering on.

Thoughts on the Players’ Championship

April 26, 2021

So with the Players’ Championship, the Grand Slam of Curling has finally effectively closed out their 2020 season, only about a year late.

Last week, Rachel Homan went on a tear after the birth of her daughter to win the Champions Cup.  Before that, Kerri Einarson continued her excellent play by winning the Scotties over Homan in the final for the second straight year.  So it was probably only appropriate for them to meet in the final here, the last time they would possibly be able to meet this curling season.  Coming into this, they had played each other 4 times in this shortened curling season, and had beaten each other twice each.  This, then, was something of a rubber match between them.

And one that Einarson won 5-2 in seven ends.  While the score might seem fairly close, Einarson was up 3-0 after two ends with a deuce and a steal and that stayed as the margin of victory.  Both teams were making great shots, but Homan had a couple of big misses that seemed to follow from her tendency to try for trickier shots than she really needed and after that both teams kept each other close the rest of the way.  So for Einarson, that’s a Scotties win, which lets her play even more next week in the Women’s World Championships, along with a Mixed Doubles Championship that lets her play even more after that, as well as a Grand Slam of Curling championship in just this very short season.  I think her all-skip experiment was a success, although that required all of the players being willing to accept their roles and learning to play in that role, which suggests that simply sticking the four best players together regardless of position in, say, the year before the Olympics for an all-star team probably wouldn’t work.

Unlike at the Champions Cup, this bonspiel went back to the standard free guard zone instead of not being able to move rocks off the centre line, and obviously there were a number of tick shots used for defense in the game.  I’m still not certain about the no-tick zone, but I’d like them to try it where the only free guard zone is the no-tick zone and see how that impacts things and strategies.

As already mentioned, the next curling is next week, with the Women’s World Championships.

John Martin Fischer and Compatibilism

April 23, 2021

So the next view in “Four Views on Free Will” is John Martin Fischer’s view on Compatibilism, which includes his unique view of compatibilism called semi-compatibilism.  What I’m going to do here is talk a bit about why compatibilism is attractive (since he does that at the beginning of the chapter) and then talk a bit about semi-compatibilism since I don’t think it really achieves what he wants it to achieve.

First, Fischer focuses on arguing that it seems obvious that we make choices, but also notes that determinism could be true, so a compatibilism that allows us to retain decision-making abilities even if it turns out that determinism is true.  Unfortunately, this way of talking about it seems to bias him towards simply making it possible for us to retain “free will” if determinism happens to turn out to be true, which isn’t going to satisfy either of the other two main sides — yes, there is a third one lurking out there since it’s the last segment of the book — because hard determinists think that determinism is true and libertarians are going to reply that there definitely seem to be types of determinisms that would eliminate all free will, and so finding that there might be types of determinisms that wouldn’t isn’t all that impressive, especially since the hard determinists are talking about determinisms that really do seem like they would eliminate all free will.  So compatibilists need to do more than simply carve out an exception in some determinisms for free will, but instead need to show why the determinisms we are likely to have don’t cause any issues for free will.  And I think that this impacts his semi-compatibilism, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Before that, though, I’d like to note that he is somewhat right about the appeal of compatibilism, with it being a view that bridges the two positions.  But I think that the main reason it is appealing to many — although many find it implausible rather than plausible — is a basic philosophical methodology.  Our intuitions strongly support the idea that we have some sort of meaningful free will and that we actually make meaningful choices.  However, a lot of the intuitions from science and even every day life suggest that for everything else things are pretty much entirely determined causally (we can ignore quantum phenomena because they don’t seem to have much if any impact at the macro level and we don’t observe quantum phenomena in our everyday lives).  So it raises the obvious question that if everything else in our world is determined, why would we be any different.  So what we have are two strong and pretty plausible and intuitive arguments for either side.  And when we have such a clash of arguments where we can make strong arguments for either side — think Kant’s Antimonies — and can’t see where either side’s argument goes wrong there is a natural philosophical tendency to ask whether maybe the problem isn’t in the arguments for each side, but instead in the arguments that we are making to say that they can’t both be true.  Maybe we’re wrong about that and they can both be true.  And all compatibilisms at their heart say exactly that:  both of those intuitive and strong arguments are, indeed, actually true.

Which means, of course, that the debates against compatibilism really should focus on whether it is indeed the case that both can be true, and so on whether we can have a meaningful free will even if things are totally determined.

Which leads to his semi-compatibilism.  The problem with it is that as I understand it he relies on a distinction between regulative control and guidance control, and argues that while determinism would kill regulative control (which requires access to alternative possibilities that determinism would eliminate) from guidance control which he argues would not or would not need to be impacted.  But those terms can be a bit confusing, so I’d like to focus on his example of the difference (from page 58) which is a Frankfurt-type example (I’ll be summarizing it as I understand it and not quoting it because I have an actual book and that would be a real pain for me):

Imagine that someone is going to vote, but hasn’t decided who to vote for yet.  Unbeknownst to them — but knownst to us — someone else has implanted a chip in their brain that will notify them if they decide to vote for Party B so that they can instantaneously flip a switch and change the decision so that they will instead vote for Party A.  So if they go through their process and decide to vote for Party A, then they would clearly have made a free choice because the chip in their brain is irrelevant to that process.  However, it’s also clear that they were going to vote for Party A no matter what happened.  So the fact that there was only one possible outcome doesn’t mean in this case that they had no free will.  I think Fischer at least analogizes regulative and guidance control to these two examples, making the case where their deliberation process chooses Party A the guidance case and so in a case where we have only that sort of control it looks like we would still be making a free choice even if we really “couldn’t choose otherwise”, since no matter what happened the person was always only going to choose to vote for Party A.

The problem I see here is that I don’t think that any real kind of determinism is going to allow for even that kind of control, and so semi-compatibilism can’t get off the ground.  Let’s alter the example to add that someone else inserts another chip that completely controls the person’s decision-making process to walk them through a decision-making path that ends with them deciding to vote for Party B.  They walk through that process and decide to vote for Party B, and then the chip is triggered and they end up having that decision changed to vote for Party A.  So they didn’t freely choose to vote for Party A at all, I think we can all agree (even Fischer).  However, let’s then change it so that the person who inserted the second chip instead sets it so that their decision-making process gets them to vote for Party A.  As before, the first chip is irrelevant to the outcome, but now we have to ask if the person made a free choice to vote for Party A.  And it looks like they didn’t, because their entire decision-making process was determined by an agent outside of themselves to without fail come to that specific conclusion.  It’s not only the case that they couldn’t have done otherwise, but also that they couldn’t have decided otherwise.  And if they couldn’t even have decided otherwise, there seems no room for any kind of control, whether regulative, guidance, or anything else.

What this shows is that it isn’t sufficient to show that a decision was the result of a deliberation and our decision-making processes to show that we should think that it’s free.  It’s entirely possible that under determinism our entire decision-making process was determined before it was even engaged, and so that it’s just “going through the motions” to produce a predetermined decision, and so has no causal impact on the outcome at all.  And if nothing in our decision making processes has a real and meaningful causal impact on the outcome, then our decisions don’t seem to be free at all, not matter what type of control we talk about.

So Fischer would need, at a minimum, to show how we can have a specific type of control that still remains even if determinism is true.  And he would need to address it in the forms of determinism that are more likely to be true, and hard determinists and libertarians both agree that that’s the very strict causal sense that would determine the entirety of our decision-making processes and so would look a lot like the example of the chip that I added to his Frankfurt example.  I did not see how he could escape that case in his chapter, and so see his semi-compatbilism as having as serious issues as other compatibilisms and so that it doesn’t really give us any advantage here.  It’s true that he can concede that we would lose one type of control and so not have to argue over that anymore, but he doesn’t seem to have shown that the same mechanism that eliminates regulative control doesn’t also eliminate guidance control and every other sort of control that we could have as well.

Next is the position that I have the least sympathy for, which is hard determinism or, as they — and many others, I suppose — call it, hard incompatibilism, which I don’t like as a term because libertarians are hard incompatibilists as well, which is precisely why they are libertarians.

Thoughts on “Alien Contamination”

April 22, 2021

So despite having the name “Alien Contamination”, this movie from the “The Deadly Beyond” compilation is really more of a horror movie than a sci-fi movie.  It’s also one of the movies that made me realize just how common a theme deadly viral infections are in sci-fi/horror movies (which I note more now for obvious reasons).  Here, it isn’t a virus that’s doing the killing, but instead pods brought back from Mars during a Mars mission that are deliberately being seeded around the world and that kill or convert those who encounter them (mostly kill).

What is interesting about this take on the contamination plot is that normally the contamination starts and is a threat because people act stupidly or carelessly towards them and that’s what causes it to spread.  Here, they tend to act fairly intelligently towards them and take lots of precautions, and so the real threat is that one of the astronauts from the mission is deliberately trying to spread them and so he needs to be stopped.  Opposing him is a agent assigned to stop the infection, an expert she brought in to help, and the other astronaut on that mission.  They try to set this up as a kind of love triangle, but while they give her the most resolution with the expert, they also end up killing him off in a long, long dragged out scene and leave her seemingly with the astronaut who was not really developed all that well as a love interest.  Again, they approach the issue mostly intelligently, but it devolves into an action movie with a long, drawn out threat and death scene right at the end.

The version in this compilation also has really, really bad cinematography.  I’m not sure if that was how it was filmed or if that was just the version that was available, but it’s really noticeable here.

As for the characters, the female lead is unnecessarily aggressive and hostile until the end, the astronaut is more reasonably hostile since he was sick of people not trusting or believing him, and the expert is actually kinda amusing and so the most sympathetic of them all.  Still, this is not a set of characters to build a sympathetic cast out of, although they do all resolve their issues as the movie goes on, which is nice.

With the poor production values and the weak plot and characterization, this is not a movie that I’d really care to watch again, even though it wasn’t terrible.

“Legacy of the Force” and the Weakness of the Structure

April 21, 2021

So, as everyone should know, I’ve been re-reading the Star Wars Mega Series (New Jedi Order, Legacy of the Force, and Fate of the Jedi) and am now about half-way through “Legacy of the Force”.  I’ve also been commenting on some specific aspects of them in more detail because I’ve already given my overall impressions of the three series.  For “New Jedi Order”, I’ve talked a lot about how its structure worked really, really well, as it allowed various authors to play with their favourite characters without actually forcing other authors to use those characters or readers to actually read about them (since only the mainline works were necessary to get the plot, and even some of those weren’t really necessary either).  This structure was, of course, changed in the next two series, and in my opinion to their detriment.  The first reason for that, I think, is that they lost out on the ability to truly capture the entire breadth of the Legends characters and scope and so by the nature of the structure gave short-shrift to some characters that some parts of the fan base really liked.  The second reason is that the authors in this series had their own favourites that might not have been the favourites of many fans that got what could be seen as altogether too much focus for the story that was being told.

So before getting into specific cases, let me expand on that a little bit.  What we have are some characters that have deeper story arcs than what we might expect from side characters, but those story arcs are also for the most part only tangentially related to the overall plot.  In “New Jedi Order”, these stories could be segmented into their own books or duologies, but in “Legacy of the Force” if they were going to be expanded out they had to be expanded out in the mainline works (because, obviously, there’s nothing else).  This is problematic in two ways.  First, it clutters up the mainline works and detracts from the main plot.  Second, it doesn’t allow for the room to really develop those stories, and so they aren’t developed as well as they could have been.  So both the main plot and the side plots suffer when the authors try to stuff them all into the mainline books.

The most famous — or rather infamous — example in the series is Karen Traviss’ favourite aspect, the clones/Mandalorians.  Her subplot follows Boba Fett through his attempting to find a cure for the degeneration he is experiencing, while connecting/reconnecting with his abandoned family and trying to rebuild Mandalore as the new Mandalore.  His actual connection to the plot itself is that Jacen kills his daughter during interrogation which both indicates his growing darkness and sets up a new fear for him, that Mandalore starts rebuilding which adds to the chaos, and at the end that he trains Jaina Solo in specific fighting techniques and provides some Mandalorean technology to help her kill Jacen.  That’s pretty much it.

Now, I happen to like Boba Fett — I like his depiction in “The Bounty Hunter Wars” better but this one works better for a longer story arc — and kinda enjoy the Mandalorean parts, so I didn’t really mind the diversion, but even I had to admit while reading it that for the most part all of that is tangential to the plot.  All we really need to know from the perspective of the main plot is that Jacen killed Fett’s daughter, and even that isn’t really necessary, except to have Fett be mentioned in the context of the plot so that we remember that he still exists.  Knowing that Fett is out there and that Jacen has techniques that Jaina can’t counter directly or understand, having her go there to learn to fight differently isn’t unreasonable, and the revenge plot gives good reason for him to accept her for training and provide her with some new weaponry.  But we clearly didn’t need to follow him as he gets involved in assassination plots or builds a new type of fighter or connects with his granddaughter or finds his wife or learns to accept his role as Mandalore from the perspective of the main plot.  If you find it interesting, it’s clearly tangential, and if you don’t like it, it’s taking time away from the main plot that you hopefully were enjoying.

And it not getting its own set of works also hurts it.  A lot of the time, the arc seems to stop to give a Mandalorean lore dump, to get in the basic ideas that Traviss wants to get out.  If it had its own separate works, then there would be the time to let that all come out more organically and even to allow us to go deeper into the separate issues.  As it stands, things, even important things like his getting the cure, seem to get resolved far too quickly and with far too little detail for the sort of plot they actually are.  This is because she has to get it all out in her works because the other authors are obviously not as interested in it as she is, but she also has to do it while advancing the main plot.  If the works had been separated, then there would have been more room to develop all of that and make it a more interesting story without having to essentially stick it into the gaps when the main story doesn’t need to be advanced.

The other case is Denning’s.  Now, I’m nowhere near as interested in his characters — Alema Rar being the big one that I’ve noticed in this series — as I am in Fett, but there was an interesting subplot that got squeezed out in the works that would have benefited from its own duology, which is the discussion of the Sith through Lumiya, the Ship, and Alema Rar.  This one is again disconnected from the main plot because in the main plot Lumiya is trying to manipulate Jacen and so isn’t going to tell him the whole truth about the Sith and what her intentions are.  So what we get are tantalizing snippets of information when Lumiya and Alema discuss the various aspects and what Lumiya’s actual plan is.  A duology focused more on them and their interactions, especially when the Ship comes into the picture, would have worked really well and allowed them to develop that more, again without having to infringe on the main plot too much.  And it also would have allowed readers who liked Alema Rar to get more of her, and readers who didn’t like her to ignore her.

And all of this is actually really, really important, because aside from those plots needing more development, it turns out that Jacen Solo’s story could have used the extra time and focus to get more development as well.  I’ll talk about that next time.

Thoughts on the Champion’s Cup

April 20, 2021

Normally, curling posts come out on Monday.  The reason for this is that pretty much all of the curling bonspiels have their finals on Sunday, and so it’s the most convenient day to post about them.  While one might expect that the reason this post is coming out on Tuesday is due to my deciding to delay it, instead it is coming out today because the actual bonspiel was delayed.  See, what they’re doing for curling this season is running a bubble in Calgary, containing a lot of events like the Scotties, the Briar, the Worlds, and some others.  Well, the men’s Worlds were right before this event, and right at the end of that event they had a Covid scare, as some players on teams that weren’t making the playoffs tested positive right before they were about to leave.  So the event was shut down for a couple of days while everyone was tested, and they ended up with a shortened playoff and extended things slightly.  Which meant that the icemakers said that they couldn’t get the ice ready for the next event in time, and so they wanted an extra day to prepare things.  Which pushed the start of the event back a day, and thus pushed the finals back a day.  So they happened yesterday.

However, the next Grand Slam of Curling event is happening this week.  They aren’t delaying the start of that one.  It’s the same teams in that one as was in this one, so if a team was in the finals they get an entire day off before having to jump right back into the action.

That one will also be the last Grand Slam curling action this year, as in reaction to Covid what they did was cancel the last two events of the season, cancel the events in the fall, and essentially made it so that they effectively finished the previous season now, with the last two events.  No matter what they call it, that’s really what happened.  They obviously are hoping that in the fall they can return to a normal schedule and a normal season.

This event featured the return of skips to their teams on the women’s side.  First up, Tracy Fleury had had to skip the Scotties because of some medical issues with her child, but with things getting slightly better she was able to play this event with her team, and they only went 4-0 before being beaten in the semi-finals by Sylvana Tirinzoni.  From what I heard, she might not be able to stay for this event, at which point Chelsea Carey, who subbed in for her at the Scotties, will take over.  But I can’t rule it out, because it’s far less likely that she could stay for both events than that the next skip could play in, well, the events she’s already played in.

Rachel Homan went into the Scotties eight months pregnant and played the entire event, and only made it to the finals before losing to Kerri Einarson.  Then, she had her baby.  They had arranged for Laura Walker to join her team for this event, and so Emma Miskew would skip and Walker would play third.  And then, only three weeks after she had her baby, Rachel Homan decided that she was okay to play and came in and played the entire event, and only managed to win the entire thing (6 – 3 over the aforementioned Tirinzoni).  The commentators couldn’t help but note how amazing that was and, yeah, that’s impressive.  Rachel Homan truly is an intense competitor just to even try that, and also is an amazing curler to actually be able to do it so successfully.

However, Emma Miskew in an interview did seem to be looking forward to getting some experience in at skip.  I’ve noted in the past that she’s fully capable of skipping and that given the shuffle on Homan’s team the door is open for her to create her own team, so she might have a reason for wanting to get some skipping in.  Then again, the two of them have been together forever so that might not be a consideration.

The event also tried out a new rule meant to add offense to the game.  A long time back, you could hit any rock at any time and so what ended up happening was that when a team was sufficiently up they’d simply run any guards that the other team put up leaving everything wide open, which made it very hard for their opposition to score multiple points, and also made for a bit of a boring game.  So curling adopted the free guard zone, where for the first four or five stones any guard — a stone that wasn’t touching the rings — could not be removed from play.  In response, teams adopted the “tick shot” — also sometimes called “The Weagle” because Lisa Weagle was so good at it — where they’d lightly tap the rock out of the way without removing it completely, rendering them ineffective.  So at this event they added the rule that any guard that was touching the centre line couldn’t be moved off the centre line.  It could be moved up and down the line, but not off of it.  The effect of this was obvious:  teams put guards on the centre line depending on what they wanted and all the play stayed in the centre, which led to more rocks in play and so far fewer ends with blanks.  However, the play did end up being a little obvious, as in the situations where the tick shot was more likely to be used the team that would have been using the tick shot would almost always devolve into peeling those guards and trying for runback doubles.  And the men, in particular, have enough upweight ability that they were clearing things out anyway almost whenever they needed to.

I didn’t mind it, but I worry that this rule will lead to some other set strategy like the tick shot that will make the rule somewhat pointless.  I also don’t really like combining it with the free guard zone since that really limits what teams can do — they couldn’t hit any guards at all and then on top of that can’t even move the centre line ones — and so would prefer them going with only the no tick zone rule, but then that would mean that any team that puts up corner guards would have them removed making them irrelevant and so making for a new standard play of simply clogging up the centre.  On the plus side — for some, at least — that would make it far more like mixed doubles, which can be exciting.  The rule isn’t going to be in place for the next event, so they’ll evaluate it and we’ll see what happens in the future.

The next event is the Player’s Championship starting … tomorrow!

“Bargaining with Eternity and Numbering One’s Days: Medicine, Nietzsche and Doctor Strange”

April 19, 2021

So, while browsing online for things, I came across the book “Doctor Strange and Philosophy” edited by Mark D. White which, in the tradition of all of the other “Philosophy and Pop Culture” works, uses aspects of mostly the Doctor Strange movie to discuss philosophical issues.  So I get to start here with the first essay in this collection, which is “Bargaining with Eternity and Numbering One’s Days: Medicine, Nietzsche and Doctor Strange” by George A. Dunn.  Basically, in this essay Dunn examines the Western medical approach and materialistic approach of reducing physical bodies mechanistically to the status of machines and then trying to deal with them as if they were machines to simply be “fixed”, tying it directly to the notion of control.  If bodies are machines, then we can control them, and so we can make them do what we want them to, and so anything that they do that’s out of our control is a failure that we need to overcome.  Dunn traces this tradition back from Strange himself — who, to be fair, is much more arrogant about it — to Descartes and Francis Bacon who at a minimum treated the body that way (Descartes clearly did not think of the mind or soul that way, and it is likely that his view of the body is in part what drove his rejection of the idea that the mind can be reduced to body).  Dunn compares this to the Eastern ideas expressed in the movie as well as to Nietzsche’s own criticisms of the idea, where he at a minimum believed that adversity was necessary to make something worthwhile out of people (the old “it builds character” argument) but might go so far as to demand that we consider suffering good in and of itself, a beautiful part of life — according to one rhapsodic passage that Dunn quotes — that we need to learn to love and not seek to avoid.

People following my posts in general should see the link to the Problem of Evil, at least as interpreted in the modern sense as the Problem of Suffering.  So while I don’t think that we should love suffering, I do think that in order to develop we need there to be adversity and that will cause some suffering.  As someone Stoic-leaning, then, I don’t see suffering as being inherently bad or something to be avoided or railed against.  One could indeed try to reduce unnecessary suffering, but that would be a practical consideration and not a moral one.  But then when it comes to medicine it can indeed be argued that that is a practical rather than a moral field and so trying to eliminate all the suffering it possibly can is the right approach for medicine.  We might not want to import that attitude into every aspect of our daily lives — and the criticisms of Eastern philosophies about the West being overly materialistic are really about importing that as an overall moral standard for all — but in medicine it seems a not unreasonable approach.

But the most interesting point in the essay is Nietzsche’s view or thought experiment of the “eternal return”, where someone is told by a demon that they will be required to live this very life out over and over again.  Now, at first I didn’t get the thought experiment and thought that it was basically a “Groundhog Day” loop, except over a longer scale, but where you can do different things and make some changes, at which point I thought that everyone would leap at the chance, even if they had experienced suffering during it.  But then I realized that the life was going to be exactly the same, which means that we would, in fact, make the exact same mistakes.  This would be a more challenging scenario, as we have all done things in our past that we would like to change and that we regret.  Could you live your life again knowing that it was all going to turn out the same?  Now if you remembered your previous lives, this could indeed be torture, as you would see your mistakes coming and be powerless to change that.  This would probably make for a good concept for Hell, come to think of it.  But if we take that obvious torment out of the picture and instead posit that the demon says that you will relive your life to infinity but won’t remember it, then whether or not this is torment depends on how satisfied you are with this life, which ties into one of my own main principles.  If you are trying to happy, then you might look back on all the times you failed to achieve that and lament being damned to a life where you can’t ever improve it.  But if you strive for contentment then you can look back on your life and be content with it, warts and, more importantly, mistakes and all.  So the more you accept that life isn’t perfect, the more willing you will be to accept the demon’s words as at least neutral and not the curse you might think it to be.

Now, Nietzsche thinks that you should be able to do this after your “loneliest loneliness”, which for many people will be difficult for emotional reasons.  But I think that most people should be able to look back on their lives and find the good things and the bad things and, hopefully, note that the good outweighs the bad and that reliving it would not be horrible torment.  It’s an interesting way to make that point and to get people to look at the bulk of their lives and not the most dramatic mistakes and sufferings that they’ve experienced.