There are two major kinds of maps that people tend to use: geographic and political. The first kind represents the nature: landscape features of the land. The second presumably represent people living on the land.
But does it? It surely represents the boundaries of political authority that is imposed from the top, but does it say anything meaningful about the people themselves (besides the fact that in this place people tolerate the fact that they were forced to choose between Bob and Bill, and in that place they tolerate the fact that they were forced to choose between Joe and Jim)?
This new approach to mapping human activity challenges this notion. Briefly, the authors of the approach propose to draw boundaries based on "how far a buck travels": the extent of people's economic activity. The other approach is to try clustering the exchanges of money for products and services. I tend to buy a lot of my stuff locally. I also tend to order some things from a few online stores centered in certain locations. So, I tend to spend my money in the area where I live (with reduced probability of spending with the distance) and in a few "hubs".
Another approach is to try mapping communication: cell phone calls between places. Or employment: how far do people travel to work. Or personal interaction. Etc.
Using one of these approaches, US map becomes this:
(You can read more in the report on the methodology of creating these maps.)
Notice how rarely the political boundaries correspond with the "real" boundaries of human interaction. (It seems that in most cases that they do, there is also a physical boundary like a river or a mountain range that obviously serves as real boundary for human interaction.)
On the other hand, the political map of Great Britain, a much older country, tends to correlate somewhat better with the country's political map:
The map actually looks somewhat similar to the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic kingdoms that existed before the Danish invasion in the 9th century CE:
I wonder if these patterns correlate with geographic features or just with traditional established economic centers.
But another, much stronger, point that immediately jumps to one's attention is that thinking of communities in terms of little bounded areas with well-established lines is silly. At best, the lines are very fuzzy. But it's also the case that the communication between people, especially in our times, is so fluid, dynamic and far-ranging that thinking of nations and communities in terms of boundaries seems unjustified.
Much better to think of them in terms of connections that unite people rather than borders that divide them:
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Monday, April 22, 2013
From Bernard Cornwell's Last Kingdom:
I do not know if King Edmund was a saint. He was a fool, that was for sure. He had given the Danes refuge before they attacked Eoferwic, and given them more than refuge. He had paid them coin, provided them with food, and supplied their army with horses, all on the two promises that they would leave East Anglia in the spring and that they would not harm a single churchman.
They kept their promises, but now, two years later and much stronger, the Danes were back, and King Edmund had decided to fight them. He had seen what had happened to Mercia and Northumbria, and must have known his own kingdom would suffer the same fate, and so he gathered his fyrd and prayed to his god and marched to do battle. First he faced us by the sea, then, hearing that Ivar was marching around the edge of the great watery wastes west of the Gewæsc, he turned about to confront him.
Ubba then led our fleet up the Gewæsc and we nosed into one of the rivers until the channel was so narrow our oars could not be used, and then men towed the boats, wading through waistdeep water until we could go no farther and there we left the ships under guard while the rest of us followed soggy paths through endless marshland until, at long last, we came to higher ground. No one knew where we were, only that if we went south we had to reach the road along which Edmund had marched to confront Ivar. Cut that road and we would trap him between our forces and Ivar’s army.
Which is precisely what happened. Ivar fought him, shield wall against shield wall, and we knew none of it until the first East Anglian fugitives came streaming eastward to find another shield wall waiting for them. They scattered rather than fight us, we advanced, and from the few prisoners we took we discovered that Ivar had beaten them easily. That was confirmed next day when the first horsemen from Ivar’s forces reached us.
King Edmund fled southward. East Anglia was a big country, he could easily have found refuge in a fortress, or else he could have gone to Wessex, but instead he put his faith in God and took shelter in a small monastery at Dic. The monastery was lost in the wetlands and perhaps he believed he would never be found there, or else, as I heard, one of the monks promised him that God would shroud the monastery in a perpetual fog in which the pagans would get lost, but the fog never came and the Danes arrived instead.
Ivar, Ubba, and their brother, Halfdan, rode to Dic, taking half their army, while the other half set about pacifying East Anglia, which meant raping, burning, and killing until the people submitted, which most did swiftly enough. East Anglia, in short, fell as easily as Mercia, and the only bad news for the Danes was that there had been unrest in Northumbria. Rumors spoke of some kind of revolt, Danes had been killed, and Ivar wanted that rising quenched, but he dared not leave East Anglia so soon after capturing it, so at Dic he made a proposal to King Edmund that would leave Edmund as king just as Burghred still ruled over Mercia.
The meeting was held in the monastery’s church, which was a surprisingly large hall made of timber and thatch, but with great leather panels hanging on the walls. The panels were painted with gaudy scenes. One of the pictures showed naked folk tumbling down to hell where a massive serpent with a fanged mouth swallowed them up.
“Corpseripper,” Ragnar said with a shudder.
“A serpent that waits in Niflheim,” he explained, touching his hammer amulet. Niflheim, I knew, was a kind of Norse hell, but unlike the Christian hell Niflheim was icy cold. “CorpseRipper feeds on the dead,” Ragnar went on, “but he also gnaws at the tree of life. He wants to kill the whole world and bring time to an end.” He touched his hammer again.
Another panel, behind the altar, showed Christ on the cross, and next to it was a third painted leather panel that fascinated Ivar. A man, naked but for a loincloth, had been tied to a stake and was being used as a target by archers. At least a score of arrows had punctured his white flesh, but he still had a saintly expression and a secret smile as though, despite his troubles, he was quite enjoying himself.
“Who is that?” Ivar wanted to know.
“The blessed Saint Sebastian.” King Edmund was seated in front of the altar, and his interpreter provided the answer. Ivar, skull eyes staring at the painting, wanted to know the whole story, and Edmund recounted how the blessed Saint Sebastian, a Roman soldier, had refused to renounce his faith and so the emperor had ordered him shot to death with arrows. “Yet he lived!” Edmund said eagerly.
“He lived because God protected him and God be praised for that mercy.”
“He lived?” Ivar asked suspiciously.
“So the emperor had him clubbed to death instead,” the interpreter finished the tale.
“So he didn’t live?”
“He went to heaven,” King Edmund said, “so he lived.”
Ubba intervened, wanting to have the concept of heaven explained to him, and Edmund eagerly sketched its delights, but Ubba spat in derision when he realized that the Christian heaven was Valhalla without any of the amusements. “And Christians want to go to heaven?” he asked in disbelief.
“Of course,” the interpreter said.
Ubba sneered. He and his two brothers were attended by as many Danish warriors as could cram themselves into the church, while King Edmund had an entourage of two priests and six monks who all listened as Ivar proposed his settlement. King Edmund could live, he could rule in East Anglia, but the chief fortresses were to be garrisoned by Danes, and Danes were to be granted whatever land they required, except for royal land. Edmund would be expected to provide horses for the Danish army, coin and food for the Danish warriors, and his fyrd, what was left of it, would march under Danish orders. Edmund had no sons, but his chief men, those who lived, had sons who would become hostages to ensure that the East Anglians kept the terms Ivar proposed.
“And if I say no?” Edmund asked.
Ivar was amused by that. “We take the land anyway.”
The king consulted his priests and monks. Edmund was a tall, spare man, bald as an egg though he was only about thirty years old. He had protruding eyes, a pursed mouth, and a perpetual frown. He was wearing a white tunic that made him look like a priest himself. “What of God’s church?” he finally asked Ivar.
“What of it?”
“Your men have desecrated God’s altars, slaughtered his servants, defiled his image, and stolen his tribute!” The king was angry now. One of his hands was clenched on the arm of his chair that was set in front of the altar, while the other hand was a fist that beat time with his accusations.
“Your god cannot look after himself?” Ubba enquired.
“Our god is a mighty god,” Edmund declared, “the creator of the world, yet he also allows evil to exist to test us.”
“Amen,” one of the priests murmured as Ivar’s interpreter translated the words.
“He brought you,” the king spat, “pagans from the north! Jeremiah foretold this!”
“Jeremiah?” Ivar asked, quite lost now.
One of the monks had a book, the first I had seen in many years, and he unwrapped its leather cover, paged through the stiff leaves, and gave it to the king who reached into a pocket and took out a small ivory pointer that he used to indicate the words he wanted.“Quia malum ego,” he thundered, the pale pointer moving along the lines,“adduco ab aquilone et contritionem magnam!”
He stopped there, glaring at Ivar, and some of the Danes, impressed by the forcefulness of the king’s words, even though none of them understood a single one of them, touched their hammer charms. The priests around Edmund looked reproachfully at us. A sparrow flew in through a high window and perched for a moment on an arm of the high wooden cross that stood on the altar. Ivar’s dread face showed no reaction to Jeremiah’s words and it finally dawned on the East Anglian interpreter, who was one of the priests, that the king’s impassioned reading had meant nothing to any of us.
“For I will bring evil from the north,” he translated, “and great destruction.”
“It is in the book!” Edmund said fiercely, giving the volume back to the monk.
“You can keep your church,” Ivar said carelessly.
“It is not enough!” Edmund said. He stood up to give his next words more force. “I will rule here,” he went on, “and I will suffer your presence if I must, and I will provide you with horses, food, coin, and hostages, but only if you, and all of your men, submit to God. You must be baptized!”
That word was lost on the Danish interpreter, and on the king’s, and finally Ubba looked to me for help.
“You have to stand in a barrel of water,” I said, remembering how Beocca had baptized me after my brother’s death, “and they pour more water over you.”
“They want to wash me?” Ubba asked, astonished.
I shrugged. “That’s what they do, lord.”
“You will become Christians!” Edmund said, then shot me an irritated look. “We can baptize in the river, boy. Barrels are not necessary.”
“They want to wash you in the river,” I explained to Ivar and Ubba, and the Danes laughed. Ivar thought about it. Standing in a river for a few minutes was not such a bad thing, especially if it meant he could hurry back to quell whatever trouble afflicted Northumbria. “I can go on worshipping Odin once I’m washed?” he asked.
“Of course not!” Edmund said angrily. “There is only one God!”
“There are many gods,” Ivar snapped back, “many! Everyone knows that.”
“There is only one God, and you must serve him.”
“But we’re winning,” Ivar explained patiently, almost as if he talked to a child, “which means our gods are beating your one god.”
The king shuddered at this awful heresy.
“Your gods are false gods,” he said. “They are turds of the devil, they are evil things who will bring darkness to the world, while our god is great, he is all powerful, he is magnificent.”
“Show me,” Ivar said.
Those two words brought silence. The king, his priests, and his monks all stared at Ivar in evident puzzlement.
“Prove it,” Ivar said, and his Danes murmured their support of the idea. King Edmund blinked, evidently lost for inspiration, then had a sudden idea and pointed at the leather panel on which was painted Saint Sebastian’s experience of being an archer’s target. “Our god spared the blessed Saint Sebastian from death by arrows,” Edmund said, “which is proof enough, is it not?”
“But the man still died,” Ivar pointed out.
“Only because that was God’s will.”
Ivar thought about that. “So would your god protect you from my arrows?” He asked.
“If it is his will, yes.”
“So let’s try,” Ivar proposed. “We shall shoot arrows at you, and if you survive then we’ll all be washed.”
Edmund stared at the Dane, wondering if he was serious, then looked nervous when he saw that Ivar was not joking. The king opened his mouth, found he had nothing to say, and closed it again, then one of his tonsured monks murmured to him and he must have been trying to persuade the king that God was suggesting this ordeal in order to extend his church, and that a miracle would result, and the Danes would become Christians and we would all be friends and end up singing together on the high platform in heaven. The king did not look entirely convinced by this argument, if that was indeed what the monk was proposing, but the Danes wanted to attempt the miracle now and it was no longer up to Edmund to accept or refuse the trial.
A dozen men shoved the monks and priests aside while more went outside to find bows and arrows. The king, trapped in his defense of God, was kneeling at the altar, praying as hard as any man has ever prayed. The Danes were grinning. I was enjoying it. I think I rather hoped to see a miracle, not because I was a Christian, but because I just wanted to see a miracle. Beocca had often told me about miracles, stressing that they were the real proof of Christianity’s truths, but I had never seen one. No one had ever walked on the water at Bebbanburg and no lepers were healed there and no angels had filled our night skies with blazing glory, but now, perhaps, I would see the power of God that Beocca had forever preached to me. Brida just wanted to see Edmund dead.
“Are you ready?” Ivar demanded of the king.
Edmund looked at his priests and monks and I wondered if he was about to suggest that one of them should replace him in this test of God’s power. Then he frowned and looked back to Ivar. “I will accept your proposal,” he said.
“That we shoot arrows at you?”
“That I remain king here.”
“But you want to wash me first.”
“We can dispense with that,” Edmund said.
“No,” Ivar said. “You have claimed your god is all powerful, that he is the only god, so I want it proved. If you are right then all of us will be washed. Are we agreed?” This question was asked of the Danes, who roared their approval.
“Not me,” Ravn said, “I won’t be washed.”
“We will all be washed!” Ivar snarled, and I realized he truly was interested in the outcome of the test, more interested, indeed, than he was in making a quick and convenient peace with Edmund. All men need the support of their god and Ivar was trying to discover whether he had, all these years, been worshipping at the wrong shrine. “Are you wearing armor?” he asked Edmund.
“Best to be sure,” Ubba intervened and glanced at the fatal painting. “Strip him,” he ordered. The king and the churchmen protested, but the Danes would not be denied and King Edmund was stripped stark naked. Brida enjoyed that. “He’s puny,” she said. Edmund, the butt of laughter now, did his best to look dignified. The priests and monks were on their knees, praying, while six archers took their stance a dozen paces from Edmund.
“We are going to find out,” Ivar told us, stilling the laughter, “whether the English god is as powerful as our Danish gods. If he is, and if the king lives, then we shall become Christians, all of us!”
“Not me,” Ravn said again, but quietly so that Ivar could not hear. “Tell me what happens, Uhtred.”
It was soon told. Six arrows hit, the king screamed, blood spattered the altar, he fell down, he twitched like a gaffed salmon, and six more arrows thumped home. Edmund twitched some more, and the archers kept on shooting, though their aim was bad because they were half helpless with laughter, and they went on shooting until the king was as full of feathered shafts as a hedgehog has spikes. And he was quite dead by then. He was bloodied, his white skin redlaced, openmouthed, and dead. His god had failed him miserably.
Nowadays, of course, that story is never told; instead children learn how brave Saint Edmund stood up to the Danes, demanded their conversion, and was murdered. So now he is a martyr and a saint, warbling happily in heaven, but the truth is that he was a fool and talked himself into martyrdom.
The priests and monks wailed, so Ivar ordered them killed as well; then he decreed that Earl Godrim, one of his chiefs, would rule in East Anglia and that Halfdan would savage the country to quench the last sparks of resistance. Godrim and Halfdan would be given a third of the army to keep East Anglia quiet, while the rest of us would return to subdue the unrest in Northumbria. So now East Anglia was gone.
And Wessex was the last kingdom of England.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
(NOTE: for those who don't wish to read my summary of moral intuitionism, skip till after the second set of asterisks.)
I wish to propose a meta-meta-ethical view that will give reason for existence of meta-ethical theories.
What does that mean? Well, ethics asks evaluative questions. Such as: "What actions or circumstances are good or bad?" and "What actions or circumstances are right or wrong?"
Meta-ethics asks questions about the nature of evaluative truths. What is good and bad? What is their nature? What do we mean when we say those words (or should mean if we are to make any sense)? How do we know what actions are good or bad? How can we find out?
A meta-meta-ethical analysis asks what the role of making meta-ethical theories is. And how we know that those are true.
One simple answer is: by using reason. We can just see if a meta-ethical theory makes any sense internally. (Just like we would with, say, a geometric theorem.)
For instance, Kant says that a categorical imperative is a kind of imperative that would be binding on you if you knew it to be binding on everyone. Which you can verify by imagining a world in which such an imperative is not binding on anyone. Is this view coherent? Does it make sense? One can ask questions like: Well, yes, it makes sense that were absolute binding rules to exist, they would take form of categorical imperatives. But who says they exist? Also: how are we to judge whether a world in which everyone is free to lie or murder is a good world? Should we use our emotions? Why is that a good method for evaluating whether a world is good or bad?
In other words, we can test the internal coherence of a specific meta-ethical theory.
But people oftentimes don't do just that. They do that and they also test the conclusions of the theory. For instance: is torturing puppies for fun moral? Some might argue that it passes every one of Kant's moral maxims. Is lying to a Nazi asking you where the Jews are hiding immoral? Some argue that according to Kant's maxims it is immoral, and one shouldn't lie even in such a situation.
When people hear such conclusions, they infer that there is something wrong with Kant's meta-ethical theory. Or at least that it is incomplete. Because it leads to absurd conclusions.
But why should that be a test of a meta-ethical theory?
* * *
It seems that people already know what the correct moral answers are — at least in some cases. Even without having a coherent meta-ethical theory on their hands. How do they know? And if they do, what's the use of having meta-ethical theories?
Well, this is where the theory of moral intuitionism comes in. I've discussed it before, and I was introduced to it through writings of a moral philosopher Michael Huemer (whose book, Moral Intuitionism, I am currently reading and recommend to everyone interested in the subject), but, briefly, the idea is that there are moral truths about the world and our actions which we perceive intuitively.
What are these truths metaphysically? I haven't read that far in Huemer's book yet, but from his essays, it seems that he believes that the answer doesn't make sense. It assumes that moral truths must be defined in terms of some other set of truths, like natural truths. But, first, this would defy Humean is–ought gap, and, second, there is no reason why we cannot think of moral truths to be a separate set of truths, besides the natural ones.*
(I expressed my frustration and skepticism with this analysis before and offered an alternative explanation as to the metaphysics of moral truths. But I will leave that issue alone for now. And I am not completely sure I was right.)
How do we know about moral truths? Well, we perceive them. Intuitively. We have a perceptual modality called moral intuition, and through it we perceive certain actions as "choice-worthy" or not. And the idea called phenomenal conservatism says that unless we have a good reason to do otherwise, we should take our perceptions seriously. Because: well, they are there. We know about them. That is some sort of knowledge. Unless you have another sort of knowledge (usually from other perceptions) that denies this knowledge, it seems unreasonable not take the latter seriously.
* * *
So, how can moral intuitionism be a meta-meta-ethical theory? Doesn't it sound like a meta-ethical theory in itself?
Well, to answer this question, we have to humble ourselves a little regarding our physical and mathematical theories. We perceive physical and mathematical "truths" to be exactly such: true (we hope). Of course, with physics, we often re-evaluate our models later. And then again. With math we don't re-evaluate them, but we just make new ones if we need to. (So, in physics, "F=ma" is corrected by Einstein. In Math, Eucledean geometry exists in parallel with Riemannian geometry.)
But perhaps another equally correct way of thinking about both physical and mathematical models is not in terms of their absolute truth (or a degree of approximation thereof), but in terms of their usefulness. It is useful to imagine the world being countable in discrete numbers. It is useful to imagine shapes of all objects as being drawn on a sheet of paper. It is useful to think of the world as full of moving particles.
Until it's not useful anymore. And then, on that level, we apply a different model. What do I mean by "useful"? Useful in what sense? Only in the sense of explanatory power. I can explain how heat flows from one room to another if I model it in terms of many particles' kinetic energy. Such a model is more useful than one having some mysterious substance phlogiston flowing from one place to another, because the first model fits and predicts more observable phenomena.
The same goes for physical concepts like field, mass, energy, force, spin, voltage, and so on. They are just lego pieces that we invented; a perceptual glue to hold our observations together and make them fit into one shape. It's not really clear to me, for example, whether field really exists out there, as a property of space, or whether it's just something we made up to explain charged particles' behavior when they are a certain distance from other charged particles.
Why do we need the models? Because we can't observe all aspects of nature directly. So, we must deduce existence of something from those observations that we can make directly. And those deductions must be judged in terms of their usefulness in terms of their predictive and explanatory power.
What does this have to do with ethics? Well: I know it's wrong to kill humans out of pure convenience (or to prevent inconvenience). I know it's wrong to kill newborn babies. I know it's not wrong to kill one's cancer tumor (lo aleinu) or remove a mole. All these things I know from intuition.
I don't know whether it's wrong to kill fetuses. That's a gray area for my intuition.
For that reason, I need to construct a meta-ethical theory that will somehow incorporate my intuitive knowledge about ethics of "everyday" killing and will give me an answer about the morality of abortion. The data for this theory (that will either verify or break it) will be the moral facts I already know intuitively.
For instance, if we say that it's wrong to kill someone because you're extinguishing consciousness, then it seems OK to kill a fetus before his nervous system is developed enough to be conscious. Well... is it moral to put someone under anesthesia? Is it moral to kill someone, once he is under anesthesia? The answers to these questions seem intuitively obvious, and these answers break the "extinguishing consciousness" theory.
Note that "extinguishing consciousness" theory is not itself internally complete. It doesn't explain why extinguishing consciousness would be wrong. It only attempts to systematize our existing beliefs in some cohesive whole and make predictions about moral truths not immediately accessible to our intuition. Unfortunately, as I said, it is not a good meta-ethical theory, because it is broken by the data: our intuitive knowledge.
This way, moral intuitionism serves not only as a meta-ethical theory (it explains about the nature of moral truths and how we are to know them), but also as a meta-meta-ethical theory: it explains how meta-ethical theories can be useful even if we are not to think of them as "real truths" as opposed to mere models.
* Also, as an aside, if someone asks you: "What is water?", the most straightforward answer is: "What I perceive to be water: a clear, odorless, tasteless, drinkable liquid, with certain observable physical and chemical properties". Based on those characteristics, I know I am dealing with water.
If you answer: "Well, water is H2O", that invites the question: "What is hydrogen? What is oxygen? What are atoms?" You can explain in terms of electrons and protons, and so on... but eventually you will have to stop. You will have to say that there is a set of phenomena in the universe that behave a certain way, but why they behave that way we don't know for sure yet.
So, does this mean that you fundamentally don't know what water is? That seems strange. Also, imagine that — as unlikely as it sounds — it was proven that actually water is not H2O and H2O is not water. What would that mean? Would we continue calling the H2O water? Seemingly not. We would continue calling water the phenomenon of clear, odorless, tasteless, drinkable liquid that freezes at 0 degrees Celcius.
Basically, this analysis shows us that our perceptions are not chopped liver. Now apply the same analysis to "what is good" and "what is evil", and the answer "that which I perceive as something that ought not be done in principle" doesn't seem so silly anymore.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
(If you're too bored to read the whole post, skip to the summary at the bottom.)
In the first part I have briefly outlined Stephan Kinsella's argument against intellectual property (IP) that is very popular in libertarian circles. To recap, Kinsella states that property rights exist to resolve conflicts over scarce resources. Because information is not scarce (my use of an idea does not conflict with/prevent your use of the same idea), property rights do not apply to information; in fact, they create a conflict rather than resolve one.
I said that I would outline possible objections to Kinsella's approach in the next post. It will probably take at least two posts. First, let's list the two possible metaphysical theories of information:
1. Information is a bunch of platonic objects
2. Information is patterns of matter isomorphic to other patterns of matter (I will explain below what this means)
A platonic object is a hypothetical ideal object ("ideal" as in "idea", not in "perfect") existing either in a parallel realm or as a part of our reality. Whenever we access some information through a piece of matter, we are actually observing that object, either in its "pure" form, or somehow distorted. So, if a few mushrooms are arranged in a circle, there is a platonic circle which somehow communicates with the matter of the mushroom resulting in their arrangement in an approximation of the said circle.
Likewise, the idea of Middle Earth is a platonic object (either created or discovered by J.R.R. Tolkien). Every time someone reads The Lord of the Rings, he accesses the Middle Earth platonic object. Likewise if he writes a novel set in the Middle Earth.
The assumption that information is non-scarce (that Kinsella and other libertarians make in their anti-IP analyses) alludes to the concept of platonic objects. Each such platonic object is non-scarce in the sense that both I and Tolkien can use Middle Earth to write a separate book (after Middle Earth has been created/discovered). Supporters of IP claim that Middle Earth can be owned by Tolkien estate. Critics of IP claim that Middle Earth cannot be owned by anyone, since nobody may exclude someone else from accessing Middle Earth, precisely because it is a non-scarce object, and one person's use of it does not conflict with another person's use. In other words, a rule that would allow such an exclusion would be both immoral and illegal in the sense that it would go against the moral/legal purpose of property rights: to prevent conflicts over scarce resources.
* * *Here is the first part of my critique:
Kinsella's argument is based on the acceptance of the doctrine of platonic objects. But why should one do that? Why not assume the alternative hypothesis: that information is not platonic objects but merely patterns in matter not separable from matter itself? Or, if you wish, information is a series of patterns isomorphic to another series of patterns. "Isomorphic" here means "corresponding" in such a way that someone can use set of patterns A to recreate or analyze set of patterns B. For example, sequence of nucleotides on DNA is isomorphic to a sequence of amino-acids in a protein. Note that this doesn't have anything to do with human brain; cells use DNA code to create proteins all the time.
This argument is much more straightforward in that it does not require assumption of religious-like concepts like Platonic objects. If someone believes in platonic objects, let him bring forth evidence of their existence. (I will deal with a religious assumption that platonic objects exist in the next post.) Likewise, if he believes that we live in a Matrix, and all information we have is owned by some Matrix machine, let him also bring forth that evidence. Prima facie, it seems that information is nothing but patterns of matter that can either be recognized by our brains (by creating a set of isomorphic patterns in them) or not.
(The burden-of-proof argument is significant, by the way. If someone believes that platonic objects exist, he must formulate exactly what they are and how he knows about them. It may still turn out, from his evidence, that they cannot be property. For instance, if platonic objects exist in a non-material world, created by G-d, then who says they are our property? They are G-d's property. To be sure, so are all the objects in the material world, but G-d granted people rights of ownership because of the scarce/rivalrous nature of the objects. My point is: we can't willy-nilly state some theory without looking at its context.)
* * *
Significantly, this means that information is scarce. Only one person can read a given piece of information in a given book. Or, at least, it is as scarce as the carrier of the given instance of information. And someone certainly can own information -- by owning its carrier. If I bought a book from you, I now own the ideas in the book: the specific patterns of ink that create isomorphic patterns in my brain. You don't own them, because you don't own the book (since I bought it from you).
Can I use these patterns to create new patterns? (Either by copying the book or by using its fantasy-land setting to write my own book.) Why not? I am using my property the whole time. The book and information within it is my property. The new book that I am writing is also my property: I am using my paper and ink (presumably). I can sell it to anyone I want, since it's my property.
So, this analysis still argues against IP. And to me it seems like a much more straightforward approach that does not require the mental gymnastics of scarcity and justification for property rights. (Which I will deal with in the next post.) It's not clear to me why Kinsella, who is an atheist (and writing mostly for an atheist crowd) does not use it.
* * *One can probably also criticize the platonic model as somewhat vague and incoherent. Imagine I re-write The Hobbit, replacing each instance of "Bilbo" with "Shmilbo". Is my Shmobbit the same ideal object as Tolkien's Hobbit? What if I write a novel (as has been done) from the point of view of Orcs: in which the latter and Sauron are actually misunderstood fighters for freedom against the oppression of the West? What if I write a novel whose fantasy-land setting has Misty Mountains, but nothing else from the Middle Earth? How about the Misty Mountains and a forest called Lothlórien? What if in my novel, the plot is very similar to Tolkien's (someone goes somewhere to destroy some object of power), but doesn't use the same details?
You can perform this kind of mental experiments to see that the concept of platonic objects is too vague to be used successfully as a set of rules for allocation of property. But this analysis also demonstrates that even if the universe of platonic objects existed, its anatomy would be so vague and alien to our mind that it would be difficult to determine who owns what and to what extent. It would be like owning land whose borders sometimes expand and sometimes contract.
In the next post I will try to analyze what would happen if we were to overcome the problems of figuring out what exactly platonic projects are and if we had some source (e.g., a religious revelation) that told us that all information is actually a bunch of platonic objects.
* * *
In the first version of critique of Kinsella's anti-IP argument, I am stating that a much easier argument would be to ask: what exactly are we owning? What is that object? Where is it?
If we discover that there is no such thing as platonic ideal objects (or their existence is subject to burden of proof), then we have to identify information with its material carriers. I cannot own contents of something without owning also its carrier. The contents of something are merely the properties of that thing.
The fact that my key fits my lock is my key's property. The unique pattern of the key's molecules is mine as long as I own the key, because it is the key. (Sure enough, another pattern on another key is that key and belong to whomever owns the key. Even if it is "the same" pattern, in the sense that it can fit the same lock or can be recognized as the same by a human brain.)
Some people may be against this attempt of "isolating" where and what objects are. But I disagree. Perhaps as a scientist, I find it important to understand the nature and ontology of some phenomenon before we deal with it.
The same goes, for example, for numbers, rights, values, tastes, truths, etc. We must identify what they are exactly before we are to deal with them.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
(who owns Middle Earth?)
I have recently thought about Stephan Kinsella's core argument against intellectual property (IP) and whether it has a hole in it. I think it might not, if certain assumptions are made, but I will try to discuss my approach to the issue. This will also be a useful review of why intellectual property makes no sense.
First, let me outline Kinsella's argument:
Nature, then, contains things that are economically scarce. My use of such a thing conflicts with (excludes) your use of it, and vice versa. The function of property rights is to prevent interpersonal conflict over scarce resources, by allocating exclusive ownership of resources to specified individuals (owners).
(Against Intellectual Property, p. 20)You can read the quoted essay for more details of the argument. Here is my understanding of what Kinsella is saying:
1. Some resources in nature are scarce: they can only be used by one person at a time.
2. Sometimes two or more people will want to use the same resource and will not give way to each other. This is called "conflict over scarce resources". (The conflict can be actual, with two people arguing, or theoretical: for instance, if I see a resource and want to know whether I have a right to take it.)
3. Property rights exist (as an aspect of both law and morality) to resolve conflicts over scarce resources peacefully. NOTE: this means peacefully determining whom the resource should "belong" to. Enforcement of that decision can be violent or not.
The last point is important. Assume someone disagrees to honor a certain determination of property rights. It seems that the rights-holder has, well, a right to defend his property. With force if necessary. (Or threat of ostracism. Or personal authority.) Point is: it's moral and legal for the owner to exclude others from use of his property.
4. Resources that are not scarce don't fall under above justification for property rights. In other words: if my use of X does not conflict with your use of X, then it doesn't seem like there is any conflict. So, what exactly are property rights to X supposed to resolve? What is the justification for you to prevent me from accessing X if my doing so doesn't prevent you from accessing it?
Now, let's look at what information is. Information is a non-scarce resource. If you describe a new method for getting rid of garden gnomes or a new fantasy land, and I gain access to that information (e.g., by buying your book in a store), why should you prevent me from using that information whichever way I want with my property? (E.g., printing out instructions in my book and selling them or writing a new novel set in the same fantasy land setting.) It's not like I am preventing you from using the said information for your purposes.
One quick objection is that my activity can lure some of your potential customers away. But: therefore what? Do you own your customers? Do you own their money before they gave it to you? Certainly not. Is it a loss to the original author? Well, it is in the same sense that the fact that I cooked tonight and didn't go out was a loss to whatever restaurant I would eat out at. (And if I ate at a pizza place, that decision resulted in a loss to the deli next door.) It's a loss from the estimated potential future profits. But potential future profits were not in your possession — that's why they were "potential" and "future". So, I didn't steal anything that you actually owned.
What IP laws do, therefore, is not protect from theft of actual property. Quite the contrary: they themselves create theft (if we define "theft" more generally as "violation of property rights"; such as "borrowing without permission is theft"). If I am not allowed to use my pen, ink, and paper to write a novel in a fantasy world invented by you (or, for that matter, to distribute the book I bought from you), my property rights to my pen, ink, paper, printer, hard drive, etc., are being violated.
That is the general outline of the anti-IP argument prevalent in the libertarian circles. I will discuss my slight objection — and the potential answer to it — in the next post.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Michael Huemer, a libertarian and intuitionist-moralist philosopher (who's been receiving some attention both on this blog and on Cato Unbound website recently) talks about ethics of open borders and unrestricted immigration:
Interestingly, Dr. Huemer discusses the concept of prima facie vs. absolute right to travel.
Interestingly, Dr. Huemer discusses the concept of prima facie vs. absolute right to travel.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
A copy of two comments I made elsewhere (one of them on Facebook).
I grow less interested in economic arguments and more in ethical arguments. Here is why:
1) Economic arguments themselves are based on moral presupposition that "increasing wealth of the society = good".
I mean, you could objectively say that something is stupid, because it won't get you to the goal you set yourself; so, in that sense Hitler's decision to allow the 6th Army to be encircled at Stalingrad was a stupid decision (although I am personally glad he did that). We could analyze economics and politics from such a detached point of view: e.g., "politicians want to cure poverty, but their programs just exacerbate it for the following reasons...".
But I don't think anybody actually thinks that way. If it turned out that Stalin actually did want to starve millions of Ukrainians, we wouldn't call Holodomor an economic success. There is a built-in assumption that the purpose of economic policies is to increase wealth for a society through ethical means (not, for example, conquest).
2) I was reading some stuff about Germanic tribes and Roman Empire. And I realized that I'd rather have lived as a free German tribesman, albeit without the benefits of Roman civilization and prosperity, than as a Roman slave or semi-slave ("subject"). So, if I had a choice around the time of Arminius whether to ally myself with Germanic tribes or Roman Empire, I would do the former.
I care more about freedom and rights than about prosperity. That is my personal preference. I also think that resounds more with my views on objective morality, but even if there are no objective morals outside of religion, my subjective preferences are such that I abhor any violation of personal freedom in favor of some supposed prosperity for the greater number.
Normally, freedom correlates with prosperity, but not if there are confounds, such as difference in capital and knowledge accumulation (such as in the case of Roman Empire vs. Germanic tribes). So, there could be a case when freedom doesn't correlate with prosperity.
In such a case, I would choose freedom anyway.
* * *
And here is the other comment, where I elaborate on the second part above and contrast it with Roderick Long's views:
I was reading recently about Arminius and the ambush on three Roman legions by Germanic tribes. Very briefly, as Roman Empire was expanding into "Germania" during the times of Augustus Octavian, Romans started subjugating certain tribes just east of Rhine. They taxed them and introduced Roman law, replacing traditional Germanic law. This obviously provoked a great deal of displeasure from many people. On the other hand, contacts with Romans brought benefits from trade, exposure to new technologies and way of life, etc.
Arminius was a son of a Germanic chieftain who was taken as a child a hostage to Rome to be brought up as a Roman officer. He gained command of Roman auxilia and was eventually sent back to Germania by Augustus together with Varus, a new governor of the "province". Long story short, he sided with Germanic tribes, contrived a scheme to get rid of Roman presence, lured three legions led by Varus into German forests, where they were butchered by a confederation of Germanic warriors led by Arminius himself. This is basically an equivalent of Stalingrad Battle for Hitler. Despite some future wars with Germanic tribes and punitive incursions by Roman army into Germania, this basically was the end of Roman expansion east of Rhine.
Interestingly, at the time when Arminius was planning his scheme, some chieftains had to be convinced to side with him, because for them it was better off to live under Roman semi-subjugation.
So, as I was reading all of this, I realized that I don't agree with Roderick Long that justice is always profitable. (Let's assume that continuing to live under Germanic law in a relatively greater freedom = more justice here.) Maybe having absolute justice is more profitable than having absolute injustice, but you can have more justice and less prosperity and vice versa. I am not talking about just some chieftains who were in the Romans' pockets. One might imagine a situation when all Germans would be better off in terms of prosperity living under Roman rule.
So, which one would you choose?
at 2:10 AM