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August 21, 2016 | 16 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Intellect & Free Will

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

More on the intellect, the good, and what precisely free will means.

Chapter 48 The intellectual substance are of free-will in acting (alternate translation)

1 FROM this it is clear that the aforesaid substances are of free-will in acting.

2 That they act by judgment is clear, since through their intellective knowledge they judge of things to be done. And they must needs have freedom if, as proved, they have dominion over their action. Therefore the aforesaid substances are of free-will in acting.

Notes Which is plain, since you yourself used your intellective knowledge to judge that it would be well to read this article.

3 Again. The free is that which is its own cause. Wherefore that which is not the cause of its own acting is not free in acting. Now whatever things are not moved, nor act except they be moved by others, are not a cause of their own acting. Therefore self-movers alone have liberty in acting. These alone act by judgment: because the self-mover is divided into mover and moved; and the mover is the appetite moved by intellect, imagination, or sense, to which faculties judgment belongs. Of these then those alone judge freely which in judging move themselves. Now, no judging power moves itself to judge unless it reflect on its own action: for if it moves itself to judge it must needs know its own judgment: and this belongs to the intellect alone. Hence irrational animals have, in a sense, free movement or action, but not free judgment: whereas inanimate beings, which are moved only by others, have not even free action or movement; while intellectual beings have freedom not only of action, but also of judgment, and this is to have free-will.

Notes The italics in the translation for “The free is that which is its own cause” are original and important, especially considering arguments against free will are causative (molecules, atoms, and whatnot act by strict unbreakable “laws” so free will cannot occur). Now “no judging power moves itself to judge unless it reflect on its own action…and this belongs to the intellect alone.” Only the intellect can apprehend. Apprehension is greater than sensation or imagination. Apprehension is what you yourself are doing now by understanding these sentences.

4 Further. The apprehended form is a moving principle according as it is apprehended under the aspect of good or fittingness: because the external action in self-movers comes from the judgment whereby it is judged that something is good or fitting through the aforesaid form. Accordingly, if he who judges moves himself to judge, he must needs, by some higher form, move himself to judge. And this form can be no other than the idea itself of good or fittingness, whereby one judges of any determinate good or fitting thing. Wherefore those alone move themselves to judge who apprehend the common notion of goodness or fittingness. And these are intellectual beings alone. Therefore intellectual beings alone move themselves not only to act, but also to judge. Therefore they alone are free in judging, and this is to have free-will.

Notes We move towards what we think is good in the moment, even though, Lord help us, we often realize some movements were better not made. This says our momentary notions of the good are not accurate apprehensions of the good.

5 Moreover. Movement and action do not follow from a universal concept save through the medium of a particular apprehension: because movement and action are about particular things. Now the intellect is naturally apprehensive of universals. Wherefore, in order that movement and action of any kind follow from the apprehension of the intellect, it is necessary for the universal concept of the intellect to be applied to particulars. But the universal contains many particulars potentially. Hence application of the intellectual concept may be made to many and divers things. Consequently the judgment of the intellect about matters of action is not determined to one thing only. Therefore all intellectual beings have free-will.

Notes And we know “the intellect is naturally apprehensive of universals” because you yourself understand universals. Even claiming not to understand universals would be to claim apprehension of a universals (that there aren’t any), which is self-contradictory. The rest follows easily from choosing among potentialities.

6 Further. Certain things lack liberty of judgment, either because they have no judgment at all, as plants and stones; or because they have a judgment determined by nature to one thing, as irrational animals, for the sheep by its natural estimate judges the wolf to be harmful to it, and as a result of this judgment flies from the wolf; and the same applies to others.

Whatever beings therefore have a judgment that is not determined to one thing by nature, must needs have free-will. Now such are all intellectual beings. For the intellect apprehends not only this or that good, but good itself in general. Wherefore, since the intellect moves the will by the form apprehended; and since in all things mover and moved must needs be mutually proportionate; the will of an intellectual substance will not be determined by nature otherwise than to the good in general. Hence, whatever be offered to it under the aspect of good, it is possible for the will to be inclined thereto, since there is no natural determination to the contrary to prevent it. Therefore in all intellectual beings the will’s act resulting from the judgments of the intellect is free: and this is to have free-will which is defined as the free judgment of reason.

Notes And there you go. Free will is the apprehending and choosing what seems good, the rest following by physics and chemistry, of you like. And this reinforces the ancient notion that the most important thing we can do is know what the good is.

August 20, 2016 | 23 Comments

Satanism & Religious Freedom

I have a right to be here, right?
I have a right to be here, right?

Religious freedom is an unalloyed good, isn’t it? The idea was so cherished that it was written into the founding document of our nation. “Congress shall make no law”, and so forth. People ought to be able to practice the religion they like without government interference.

We don’t have only religious freedom in this great nation, but the ideology of Equality, which is the secular doctrine of non-judgmentalism, the sacred belief that no belief is sacred, the tenet that no tenet can be the Truth, a position which translates to the assurance that all religions are mere habits or charming cultural traditions. Equality insists no religion is superior to another, an attitude that drains religion of transcendence.

Marry religious freedom and Equality and you get Satanism. Truly. You’ve seen the headlines: Satanists have petitioned and won the right to offer the convocation at several events, and they’re now asking for the right to form after-school clubs.

We’re talking nerdy, storefront Satanists here, the Saul Alinsky kind who talk (in public) about Lucifer metaphorically, not the serious devotees who shun the public eye. But still. Satanists giving public prayers and guiding your children. And you, under the freedom of religion, made to accept it.

The way these encroachments came about is interesting. For instance, WEAR-TV reports that “David Suhor, co-founder of the local chapter of the Satanic Temple” offered the invocation at a recent Pensacola city council meeting. In winning the right to speak, Suhor told the Washington Post, “When one group wants their message to be the only one and they try to enlist the agenda of the government, people get angry. True religious diversity means I don’t have to respect what you believe, but I’ll defend your right to believe it.” Diversity is a theorem of Equality; it’s worth recalling diversity always leads to mandated quotas.

The Satanic Temple also argued their way into the Phoenix City Council. USA Today reported:

Mayor Greg Stanton and Councilwoman Kate Gallego said they support letting the satanists speak. Stanton released a statement, saying, “the Constitution demands equal treatment under the law” even though he disagrees with the group’s message.

Gallego also pointed to First Amendment protections, adding, “I just believe we’re a diverse society and if we have prayer, we welcome all points of view.”

All points of view? So that if some people openly resurrected the cult of Baal and began sacrificing children (and not just to Planned Parenthood), this would be a bona fide religious practice? Would Gallego defend their rights?

Instead of offering human lives, how about a sect drawing a pentagram around a city? No possibility of harming anybody with that. That’s what happened in Lancaster, California. Christians were there to protest the ritual, which is their right, too. But they couldn’t possibly object to the rite on religious freedom grounds.

Evangelical and other Christian groups have won the legal right to conduct after-school programs in public facilities, a prominent example being the Good News Clubs. Satanists latched onto the legal argument used by these organizations and are using it to place their own After School Satan clubs.

According to The Washington Post, Doug Mesner, a.k.a. Lucien Greaves, said the Satanic Temple is going to “leverage” the same “religious freedom laws that put after-school clubs in elementary schools nationwide.” The legal group that fought for the Good News Clubs, the Liberty Counsel,

agrees that the Satanic Temple has a right to organize its clubs in public schools and takes the view that they can’t be banned so long as they’re not disruptive or engaging in rituals that put people at risk.

“I would definitely oppose after-school Satanic clubs, but they have a First Amendment right to meet,” said Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel’s founder and chairman.

The Post reminds us that in “2014, after the Supreme Court ruled that the regular recitation of prayers before town meetings did not violate the First Amendment, provided that towns do not discriminate among religions, the Temple decided to test just how much religious liberty towns allowed.”

It was the same story in the Granite School District in Taylorsville, Utah. A spokesperson wrote, “This ‘after-school Satan club’ must, by law, be treated like any other outside entity. If they want to rent a facility after hours and the building is available, they will be permitted to do so.”

It is clear from these examples that government officials will continue to succumbed to the argument that freedom of religion implies the State must not discriminate between religions, and that freedom of religion bars the State from forbidding any religion at State events.

The government is inconsistent, however. For instance, consider that the government routinely admonishes citizens on what to eat, warning of the dangers of certain foodstuffs. Yet, for the most part, the government does not forbid the public access to these supposedly deleterious products, though government often bans the products from government facilities. In the same way, the State could declare Satanism harmful and therefore forbidden at government events. This would not keep Satanists from freely exercising their religion, except on State property. The danger, of course, is that as Christianity wanes, the State could equally decide Christianity is harmful and therefore ban it from public venues, too. There is ample reason to suppose they would. Hillary Clinton said (more than once) that people have to change their religious beliefs on cultural matters, or risk being ostracized.

One extreme or the other will be embraced. Either all religions will be made welcome, and any attempts at protesting a religion’s presence at a public event, such as happened in Pensacola, will be treated harshly, or all religions will be banned. Either choice will accelerate the disappearance of traditional Western religion from public life.

August 19, 2016 | 123 Comments

Essence Is Of The Essence


This is Part II of my answer to Mayo’s quip. See Part I. Obviously, it’s only a wee fraction of what could be said.

Are you you? I do not ask in jest. Consider that yesterday parts of what-might-have-been-you are no longer with you. What-might-have-been-you ate, what-might-have-been-you digested, some cells of what-might-have-been-you are no more, and some cells are new. Change has occurred from what-might-have-been-you to what-might-be-you now.

Given change occurred, the question is not an empty one: are you you?

Answer: of course you are you!

“You honor, I move to have this case dismissed. The client I represent is not the person who robbed the bank. My client wears a hat, whereas the person who robbed the bank did not.”

You are you because nothing essential that made you you changed, only things accidental to your essence changed, and accidents, as they are technically called, do not define essence. You are still you even though you’ve digested a banana, put on a hat, or dyed your hair. Cell content, hat status, and hair color (assuming you have any left) are accidents. That you can apprehend, intellectually grasp, this sentence is essential to making you you. Your rationality, your intellect, mind, and body make you you. Take something essential away, like rationality, by for instance gouging out your heart Aztec-style, and the corpse which remains is no longer you—even if the heart is stitched back in.

And of course people with heart transplants are still the same people. What about head transplants?

Everybody believes in essence, even those people who say they don’t. For the first thing people who do not believe in essence will do is to try to find other people to convince these other people that they don’t exist!

If there is no such thing as essence, there are no such things as people, because people are defined by the essence common to human beings. The committed non-essence holder must be willing to talk to ’57 Buicks, kumquats, and politicians and convince these non-entities that there are no such things as Buicks, kumquats, and politicians, and that the only reason they are not considered people is because of a wholly arbitrary definition.

If you say there is no such thing as essence, the only logically compatible belief is that everything is nothing. You cannot even say there are molecules, atoms, or even quarks, because defining these requires essence. If there is no essence, everything that is just is and any regular persisting pattern which might seem to exist really doesn’t. But if you don’t believe in essence, you cannot claim that some people are misled into seeing patterns, because creatures that can discern patters are defined by the (partial) essence of creatures-that-can-discern-patterns, and these cannot exist. That is, these creatures can exist, but lumping any two of them together based on any universal criteria makes no sense. Why should your criteria be my criteria?

Anyway, essence is trivial. But knowing it often isn’t.

Pug Cavet, Tex Covington, Oscar Stanage, Squanto Wilson, and Tyrus Raymond Cobb (a nice guy: no, really) in 1911 played a game the essence of which we call baseball. They (and others) played for a team called the Detroit Tigers. The field on which they played was called Bennett Park, which in 1912 became Navin Field, which in 1938 became Briggs Stadium (you heard me), which in 1961 became Tiger Stadium, and which is now a forlorn empty field named after the greatest announcer who ever lived, Ernie Harwell. The Tigers, if there is such an essential thing as the Tigers, now play at Comerica Park, which is in a new location, but still in Detroit.

It’s now 2016. Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, and Victor Martinez are on the team. None of the men from 1911 are on the 2016 roster. The manager is not the same (Brad Ausmus now, Hughie Jennings then). The owner is not the same (Mike Ilitch now, Frank Navin then). The uniforms are not exactly the same. The fields are not the same, as we saw. The rules of baseball are not exactly the same then and now (there is now the dismal time-wasting soul-sucking play review, whereas before people realized perfection was impossible and it was just a game).

Question is, are the Detroit Tigers the Detroit Tigers?

If so, there has to be something that defines the essence of the Tigers. Can’t be the players, nor managers, nor owners, nor stadiums, nor precise uniforms, nor precise rules. I certainly think the Tigers are the Tigers, but that doesn’t mean I can specify with exactitude just what it is that makes them the same team through time.

The team has persisted, in the sense there was always some kind of continuous overlap, whether in men, uniform, name, location. That persistence is what convinces me the Tigers are the Tigers. It’s why I root root root for them every year.

So if the Tigers are essentially the Tigers, are the Dodgers essentially the Dodgers, given their shift from Brooklyn to LA? They certainly think so. You?

August 18, 2016 | 24 Comments

Falsifiability Is Not That Useful


False is not True

We spoke earlier of falsification and why I didn’t think it was an especially useful criterion. My tweets about it inspired Deborah Mayo, who advocates for the new way of statistics (whereas I vouch for the old), to respond: “It’s not low prob but a strong arg from coincidence that warrants falsifying in sci. Essence -weasel word.” She links to her article on falsification, which I’ll assume you’ll read. Essence we’ll do later, though I responded “How can you tell a weasel from a statistician without essence? Answer: you cannot.”

Today a brief explanation why falsification isn’t exciting. For details, see my book Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics.

Falsified means something very specific. Words matter. We are not free to redefine them willy-nilly.

(Please forgive the use of notation; though it often leads to the Deadly Sin of Reification, it can often scoot things along.)

If a model X (a list of premises, data, etc.) for observable Y says Pr(Y | X) = p > 0, and Y subsequently is observed then X has not been falsified. And this is so even if p is as small as you like, as long as it is greater than 0. Falsified means proved false. In mathematics and logic, prove has a definite rigorous inflexible intransigent meaning. And thank the Lord for that. I propose keeping the word prove as it is and not stretching it to make some sociologist’s job easier. (Most researchers are anxious to say X did or did not cause Y.)

If Pr(Y | X) = 0, and Y is observed—and all as in all as in all as in all conditions in X having been met—then X has been proved false, i.e. it has been falsified. It is as simple as that. (What part of X that is the problem is another matter; see the book.)

So why do people say, when Pr(Y | X) = p and p is small and Y is observed, that X has been “practically (or statistically) falsified”? Because they are mixing up probability and decision. They want a decision about X and since that requires hard work and there is a tantalizingly small p offering to take the pain away, so they say “X can’t be true because p is small.” Well, brother, X can be true if p is any number but 0. That’s not Briggs’s requirement: that’s the Universal Law of Logic.

Decision is Not Probability

That small p may be negligible to you, and so you are comfortable quashing X and therefore are willing to accept the consequences of that act of belief. But to another man, that p may not be small at all. The pain caused by incorrectly rejecting X may be too great for this fellow. How can you know? Bets, and believing or disbelieving X is a sort of bet, are individualistic not universal.

Incidentally, p is not the “p-value”. The p-value says nothing about what anybody wants to hear about (conditional statements about functions of observables given model parameters equal certain values). I’ve defined and debunked the p-value so often, that I won’t repeat those arguments here (see the boo). Pr(Y | X) makes sense to everybody.

Now if you have to act, if you have to act as if X is true or false, then you will need figure how p fits in with your consequences if X should turn out true or false. That’s not easy! It has been made way, way too easy in classical statistical methods; so easy that consequences are not even an afterthought. They are a non-thought. P-values and Bayes factors act as magic, and say, “Yes, my son, you may believe (or not) X”, but they don’t tell you why, or give you p, or tell you what will happen if the hypothesis test is wrong.

X is X

X is X, as Aristotle would agree. Make even the tiniest, weest, most microscopic change to X, such that the change cannot be logically deduced from the original X, then you no longer have X.

“Is Briggs saying that if you change X into something else, X is no longer X?”

“He is.”

Mirabile dictu!”

“If X is not-X, that means Pr(Y | X) probably won’t equal Pr(Y | not-X), and so the decision one would make whether to believe X is completely different than the decision one would make whether to believe not-X.”

Sacré bleu! He is not the same choice!”

“Hang on. ‘Not-X’ isn’t some blanket ‘X is false’ statement. If I read my logic right, and I do, this abuse of notation ‘not-X’ means some very definite, well specified model itself, say, W.”

Ouf! You are right! There is nothing special about that p. It is wholly dependent on X. That must mean all probability is conditional, which further weakens the utility of falsifiability.”

There is also the point that you might dislike X at Pr(Y1 | X) = p1, but love X at Pr(Y2 | X) = p2. The number of observable propositions Yi that are dependent on X may be many, and the choices you make could depend on what X says about these different propositions and which Yi are observed, which not (in these equations X is fixed). But did you notice you have to wait until Y is observed before you know how the model works? Decision is not easy!

Sloppiness Abounds

There exists classes of “machine learning” models, some of which say things like Pr(Y1 | X) = 0, i.e. they make hard predictions, like the weatherman who says, “The high will be 75 F.” If the temperature is 75.1 F, the weatherman’s model has been falsified, because he implied that any number but 75 F was impossible. Some machine “learning” models are like that. But few or none would reject X if the model was just a little off, like the weatherman was.

In other words, even though the model has been falsified, few would act on that falsification. People add “fuzz” to the predictions, which is to say, the model might insist Pr(Y1 | X) = 0, but people make a mental substitution and say either Pr(Y1 | X) = 0 + p (a false deduction) or they will agree Pr(Y1 | X) = 0 but say Pr(Y1 | W) = p, where W is not X but which is similar enough to X that “It might as well be X”. That does not follow; it is an illegal maneuver.

Of course, with the weatherman, everybody understands him to mean not “The high will be 75 F” but “The high will be about 75 F”. Then Pr(High something far from 75 | Weatherman’s model) = p where p does not equal 0. The words “something far” and “about” are indefinite. This is fine, acceptable, and desirable. The last thing in the world we need is more quantification.

Is X true?

X is an assumption, a model. We accept for the sake of argument X is true in judgments like Pr(Y | X). All of science is like this! If we want separate information whether X is true, we need statements like this: Pr (X | outside evidence). One version of is this: outside evidence = X said Y couldn’t happen, but Y did. Then Pr (X | outside evidence) = 0, i.e. X has been falsified. But another example is this: outside evidence = X said Y might happen, and Y did. Then Pr (X | outside evidence) = q, where q > 0.

There will be lots of other outside evidence, because inside most X are lots of mathematics, which we know is true based on various theorems; inside X will be data, which are assume true based on measurement (usually), and other things. So really we should be writing all along Pr (Y | X & E), where E = “background” evidence. All arguments are chains of reasoning back to indubitable propositions. Why?

No why here. That’s enough for this post. I’m abusing notation terribly here, but only because a full-blown treatment requires the sort of room you have in a book.

Did somebody say book? Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics.