Reason Hell Special: Bad parsimony

"Pastinaca sativa Sturm28" by Johann Georg Sturm (Painter: Jacob Sturm) - Fig. from book Deutschlands Flora in Abbildungen see Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“Pastinaca sativa Sturm28” by Johann Georg Sturm (Painter: Jacob Sturm) – Fig. from book Deutschlands Flora in Abbildungen see Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

I should ration my visits to John C Wright’s blog but it is such a great source of material. He has written a long post on Theism versus Atheism: It’s…well notable if not original.

The strongest argument in favor of one model over another is how much it explained, how clearly, without recourse to special pleading, lapses in logic, or ad hoc. I propose that while the Christian religion contains mysteries certain to daze even the most patient of theologians, it is nonetheless the more robust, on the grounds that it requires fewer assumptions and leaves far less unexplained. For the atheist, nearly everything his worldview seeks to explain is left unexplained, marked off with a mere somehow.

While it is possible (in that it is not a logical self contradiction) that we live in a universe where irrational and non-deliberate chemical and evolutionary processes gave rise to creatures like ourselves capable of reason and deliberation, and that our reason somehow is able to deduce and predict correctly some of the processes of that material universe as well as the imponderable truths of logic, aesthetics, law and ethics, which just so happen somehow to apply to and work inside the material universe as well, it requires a leap of faith to believe that this is the case here in the real universe in which we actually live.

His argument here uses an appeal to parsimony but it is simply a bad argument. What he is offering is not more parsimonious when it comes to explanation and it isn’t more robust. It really is little more than a verbal trick because he (or anybody) can’t possibly explain how god (or gods) work nor how a god could do any of the things that he might require god to do as part of his explanation. So when ever god is given as an explantion it always carries its own “somehow”.

To compare. We have a question – how does X happen?

  • Wright’s straw-atheists says “somehow
  • Wright’s straw-theist says “God did it”
  • but actually the straw-theist has just dropped a word off their explanation which should read “God did it somehow

Now compare the pair:

  • atheist: “somehow”
  • theist: “God did it somehow”

The theist explanation is not simpler, it doesn’t require fewer assumptions and it isn’t more robust. That doesn’t make it wrong but it certaintly isn’t a better explanation.

Part 2 of Authority and Ad Hominem soon.


Review: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris

Crawk, said Munin morosely, helping herself to a pineapple.
‘Does she not talk at all?’ I said.
‘Not much,’ said Hugin. ‘But what she says is usually worth listening to. And she says that the only way to stop the End of the Worlds is to combat Chaos with Chaos, which means to set free will against determinism. If we believe the Oracle, free will is merely an illusion, and all our actions were written in runes that were preordained from the beginning of time. But if we take matters into our own hands, then we can write our own runes, remake our own reality.’
‘She said all that in a crawk?’ I said.
‘More or less,’ said Hugin.

In his book The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson explored the nature and theories around what modern society calls the ‘psychopath’/‘sociopath’. As a form of an alternate way for people to be the psychopath is currently a fashionable topic with popular works dedicated to identifying psychopaths in the works place, TV shows characterizing Sherlock Holmes as a ‘high functioning sociopath’ and even some of the darker sections of the net extolling the inherent virtue of the sociopath.

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On replying to objection on voting systems using verse

There have been some objection to the E Pluribus Hugo system that has been proposed for the nomination process of the Hugos. Brian Z (whom I alluded to in metafictional form previously) has made three points here:

1) Hugo nominations, unlike a FPTP election for a single office, involve a community of readers nominating up to five candidates each for five positions on a literary shortlist. That’s a horse of a different color. Calling EPH an electoral reform of the flawed FPTP system sounds good, but intentionally or not there is a sleight of hand and the eye is drawn away from how voting power is reduced and the signals sent to the community of voters are changed.

2) There is a real potential for an asterisk. Look at the precedent being set: Any Hugo administrator from any point in history would be able to post their historical data on github for EPH to be run with.

3) EPH normalizes slates by saying that if a group bloc-votes for a slate they obviously deserve to get some of their picks on the ballot, if two groups do it they should both get something on the ballot, etc. It flabbergasts me that any of you agree that.

My reply is a poem wot I rote. Aside from the typos, I’m quite pleased with it.

To a Brian Z I met Trolling on a Comment Thread

In verse, I must perforce
Attempt to answer true
The three points you raised to Oneiros
Before my face turns blue

Your voting power is not reduced, Nor in any form diminished
But rather the strength of it, Is increasingly embellished

For as each work you may have picked, Is lost to contingent cases
The power of your remaining picks, Is employed in stronger races

You see the strength of EPH, Is not within the weighting
Nor is it some odd artefact, Built to destroy the slating

As each time a choice of yours, Is by round eliminated
The weight of your remaining vote, Is increasingly inflated

So whereas in first-past-the-post, An unpopular choice is wasted
Your votes within the EPH, All contribute and are tasted

The potential for an asterisk, Is really not an issue
Assuming we has the ballots still, And are free from a snafu

The cases will be infrequent, In which a new fifth place instance
Would credibly be the winning work, Or would have run the distance

The slates do not become normalized, Nor does slating become accepted
By nominating with EPH,
Which has been carefully invested/With powers that do not tell
What combinations matter
But simply makes your preference work, And makes your vote grow fatter

This is not the case with first-past-the-post, That gives rewards a plenty
To the votes of a steadfast mob, With percentage of, say, twenty

In such a case this slating group, Will dominate quite completely
But joy or joys new EPH, Will limit them discretely

The point you see cannot be, To disenfranchise the nasties
Or treat them bad exclusively, Or call them names like ‘nahzees’

Every person’s vote must count, That must always be the rule
But the system must find a consensus choice, Or it will be played the fool

So must I now finish this, My clumsy versification
Haste you now to Making Light, For further elucidation

The mouse maze

For Brian Z

It was a dry cold Thursday when Professor Brian entered the lab. He’d swapped his moth-eaten sweater with the pug motif for a more thermally appropriate one emblazoned with a photo-realistic knitted pattern of the surface of Pluto.

“Looking snazzy Mr Z” remarked the security guard as Professor Brian waved the rfid-enabled key fob at the elevator door. It opened with an unpleasant hiss that unnerved him as he stepped into the musty smelling space.

“Stairs are broken Mr Z!” called out the security guard. Why bother to tell him this? He was clearly stepping into an elevator. Why would he possibly care about the state of a set of stairs that he never used? And why ‘again’? The stairs were broken again?

The professor was convinced that the security guard was engaged in some kind of mental warfare with him. However, he knew that he had to stay strong and prevent himself over obsessing with these unsettling remarks that the over-paid watchman would throw at him with a glib cheeriness.

The lift rumbled as it descended. The light flickered. The indicator for sub-basement 4 would occasionally blink for no good reason. Yet somehow he felt secure here – safe from both the manipulations of the uniformed Machiavelli at the front desk and the squeaking madness that awaited him below.

He stepped out from the elevator at sub-basement 7. He walked briskly past the first laboratory in which the beagles were kept and walked straight to Room 770.

The maze covered approximately 100 square meters of floor – divided into multiple sections and with each section further subdivided into twisting paths. He paused at the the section in which the mice had been the most active only the day before. It was empty. Each and every mouse had moved on.

It was Section 7/20 that was now occupied with the tiny rodents. Each one feverishly working on some new construction composed of chewed up paper and sawdust.

Professor Brian sighed. He would have to re-start the protocols for the new section. Patiently he laid out the baited cheese and began the voice recorder:
“EPH comment stimulus diversion: trial six hundred and thirteen…”

Was it his imagination? Was it merely his ears finding patterns in the hiss of the air-conditioning or was there a chorus of tiny mouse-like voices saying “Sing for us Brian, sing..”

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An insight into video game sexism? I’m in two minds…

A graph - go and read the paper.

A graph – go and read the paper.

There is an interesting paper (with an odd flaw) on sexism in online video games. It was published the other day on PLOS ONE and can be read in full here: Hoorah for open access! [You can even download their data and their R scripts]

Two researchers (Kasumovic from UNSW in Sydney and Kuznekoff from Miami University Middletown in Miami) used Xbox Live to play Halo 3 and recorded audio and video of their team games. They also created three special accounts: one nominated as male, one nominated as female and one nominated as a control. The control account was used to play the game without any verbal input. The other two accounts used a set of pre-recorded audio phrase which were identical between the two accounts but one recorded with a male voice and the other with a female voice.

These prerecorded phrases were identical in the male and female condition, harmless in nature, and designed to be inoffensive. Phrases included: ‘I like this map’, ‘nice shot there’, ‘I had fun playing that game’, ‘I think I just saw a couple of them heading this way’, and ‘that was a good game everyone’.

Having collected audio files from a bunch of games they then transcribed the comments of the other (real) players assigned to them by the game and then they coded those transcripts to identify sexism in the comments. In addition that they had a range of performance values for each of the players (number of kills etc).

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Reason Hell: Authority, Ad-Hominem, and credibility Part 1

Previous Reason Hells can be read here and here.

Mr Atomic endorses this post

Mr Atomic endorses this post

In a strict world of purely deductive reasoning, in which every proposition is tied to the next via an unassailable logical connection, many things are fallacies. Those things include aspects of the scientific method and much of informal reasoning. From a purely logical viewpoint it would seem that many or all informal arguments are just a mess of fallacious reasoning. However, it is possible to identify that some informal arguments are worse than others – so there is some disconnect here between a strictly logical notion of fallacy and its application to actual argument.

As I’ve suggested previously (and eventually will write a longer post about) much of this is due to the difference between formal proof (as used in formal logic and mathematics) and evidential reasoning. When reasoning with and about evidence, we are trying to evaluate which claims have merit. There is no fundamental guarantee of truth and our beliefs are provisional and open to change when new evidence is found.

The argumentum ad hominem and the appeal to authority are both common styles of argument that are used both fallaciously and non-fallaciously in arguments. Both styles of arguments pertain to issues of the credibility of claims made by a third person and so to make sense of when and how these arguments are valid, it is important to consider why we need evidential claims by other people.

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