catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Archive for May 2006

Nietzsche – the first evolutionary epistemologist?

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Readers will by now have noticed this is my second blogpost on Nietzsche in the last few days. This is because I have been re-reading his ‘The Gay Science’ and rediscovering certain passages in the book in light of more recent ideas I’ve come across in the last few years.

And now I’ll draw attention to para 111 in Book 3 which suggests that Nietzsche may have anticipated many ideas in evolutionary epistemology that were developed by Popper and Bartley in the 20th century.

What is evolutionary epistemology? It’s basically the attempt to explain human cognitive processes and human cognitive models in naturalistic terms. Some good introductions to the concept can be found here, here and here.

Anyway here is the passage from Nietzsche which moved me to write this post, where he offers intriguing explanations for how our minds evolved basic concepts of logic. Of course none of this is new today (though some of these concepts have only recently filtered down to more ‘practical’ areas such as behaviourial finance and economics) but the ingenuity of this philologist writing in the late 19th century is still amazing:

How did logic come into existence in man’s head? Certainly out of illogic, whose realm originally must have been immense. Innumerable beings who made inferences in a way different from ours perished: for all that, their ways might have been truer! Those, for example, who did not know how to find often enough what is “equal” as regards both nourishment and hostile animals, who subsumed things too slowly and cautiously, were favored with a lesser probability of survival than those who guessed immediately upon encountering similar instances that they must be equal. The dominant tendency, however, to treat as equal what is merely similar, an illogical tendency—for nothing is really equal—is what first created any basis for logic.

In order that the concept of substance could originate—which is indispensable for logic although in the strictest sense nothing real corresponds to it—it was likewise necessary that for a long time one did not see nor perceive the changes in things; the beings that did not see so precisely had an advantage over those that saw everything “in flux.” At bottom, every high degree of caution in making inferences and every skeptical tendency constitute a great danger for life. No living beings would have survived if the opposite tendency, to affirm rather than suspend judgment, to err and make up things rather than wait, to assent rather than negate, to pass judgment rather than be just—had not been bred to the point where it became extraordinarily strong.

The course of logical ideas and inferences in our brain today corresponds to a process and a struggle among impulses that are, taken singly, very illogical and unjust; we generally experience only the result of this struggle: this primeval mechanism now runs its course so quickly and is so well concealed.

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May 29, 2006 at 10:54 pm

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How economists vote

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Some recent empirical evidence on economists’ political preferences which once again, deals a blow to the myth that they are stereotypical right-wingers (link via Peter Klein):

In Spring 2003, a survey of 1000 economists was conducted using a randomly generated membership list from the American Economics Association. The survey contained questions about 18 policy issues, voting behavior, and several background variables. The response was 264 (nonblank) surveys.The responses show that most economists are supporters of safety regulations, gun control, redistribution, public schooling, and anti-discrimination laws. They are evenly mixed on personal choice issues, military action, and the minimum wage. Most economists oppose tighter immigration controls, government ownership of enterprise and tariffs. In voting, the Democratic:Republican ratio is 2.5:1.

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May 29, 2006 at 1:13 pm

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John Marsden

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Nothing of great public policy significance here – just some great non-MSM writing – the Boomer-hater (as he is known on my blogroll) tears Paul ‘Magic water’ Sheehan a new hole but Ken Parish has a different take.

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May 28, 2006 at 2:17 pm

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Nietzsche on happiness and economic growth?

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It’s amazing how much of what Nietzsche wrote anticipated today’s debates. Take this passage from Book 1 of The Gay Science:

But what if pleasure and displeasure were so tied together that whoever wanted to have as much as possible of one must also have as much as possible of the other — that whoever wanted to learn to “jubilate up to the heavens” would also have to be prepared for “depression unto death”? ..

To this day you have the choice: either as little displeasure as possible, painlessness in brief – and in the last analysis socialists and politicians of all parties have no right to promise their people more than that – or as much displeasure as possible as the price of growth of an abundance of subtle pleasures and joys that have rarely been relished yet. If you decide for the former and desire to diminish and lower the level of human pain, you also have to diminish and lower the level of their capacity for joy.

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May 28, 2006 at 11:56 am

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Third world armies

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The current problems of dissident elements of the army in East Timor raises a larger question about the function of the armed forces in the emerging nations of the world.  

This recalls some events from the common room at Lincoln College (North Adelaide) in the 1960s. There was a friendly running debate between some local students and a black African student on a number of topics, especially the armies of the newly emerging African states. He was asked why they spent so much money on their military when the more obvious needs were roads, schools and malaria control.

His defence can along these lines “Man, you just don’t UNDERSTAND, we need our armies for NATIONAL PRESTIGE” or words to that effect.

He was never able to explain who the armies would ever need to fight.

His audience was not convinced by his answers although they were young and not well informed of the details of events on the ground in Africa. I imagine their suspicions have not been relieved by subseqent events where it seems that the armies usually became the vehicle for the dictatorial leadership of some tribe or interest to control the other tribes and the popuulation at large.

I don’t have any answers to these problems, just questions. Like what are the respective roles of the UN, Australia and other stakeholders, and the East Timor administration?

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May 28, 2006 at 9:52 am

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Young foolishness or terrorism?

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Credit where credit is due to Michael Duffy for this level-headed piece on the plight of terrorism suspect Izhar ul-Haque:

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May 27, 2006 at 12:39 pm

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Open forum

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Questions, grievances, ditties, meta blogging – stoush away. This is the thread which you should use instead of detailing other threads (hint to a number of regulars).

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May 26, 2006 at 6:00 pm

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