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17 Jun 2013, 03:15

Beliefs vs Assumptions

Beliefs vs Assumptions

Originally submitted by emil10001 on Tue, 11/01/2011 - 11:57

There are some interesting differences that result from making decisions based on beliefs as opposed to making decisions based on assumptions. Since you can rarely be in a situation in which you have all possible information available to you in making a decision, you will need to rely upon either beliefs or assumptions, or some combination of those to make your decision.

I need to make decisions based on some assumptions that I have because I don’t have all of the information needed to make a fully reasoned decision. I do not need to believe that my assumptions are correct, as I know that they are just assumptions. If they turn out wrong, there is no need for me to change my beliefs, just discard some incorrect assumptions.

Belief - 2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof: a statement unworthy of belief.

Assumption - 1. something taken for granted; a supposition: a correct assumption. Synonyms: presupposition; hypothesis, conjecture, guess, postulate, theory.

The difference is that I have no attachment to my assumptions. I can easily discard them if I find them to be incorrect, and I actually do not even need to believe that my assumptions are correct. However, as you pointed out, we can’t always make decisions based on rigorous logic, and a main reason for this is that we don’t have all of the information. So, instead, we make assumptions about things that we are unsure about and hope for the best. We tend to accept that our assumptions might be wrong, and because of that, we might end up making the wrong decision. While we may be held responsible for the choice that we make based on that set of assumptions, it is difficult to blame someone acting in good faith who made a decision based on a faulty assumption. That said, there are poor assumptions, and then there are good assumptions, and if someone made a very poor assumption, then it may be easier to place moral responsibility on that person.

Beliefs are not so easy to discard, and people tend to be much more attached to them. If you make a decision based on your beliefs, it is a different thing from making a decision based on an assumption. Beliefs are generally unfalsifiable, and therefore have no real basis for believing them. (Please note that I am not trying to minimize yours or anyone else’s beliefs here, simply that this is what it is to have a belief.) When it comes to making a decision based upon a belief, I think that it would be more reasonable for you to be held morally accountable for that decision, as opposed to someone who acted on an assumption.

Example: A motorist is driving a car, and he sees someone on the side of the road, who looks like he is injured. The motorist needs to decide if he should stop and attempt to help this person out.

  • Outcome 1

Assumption: This person could be dangerous. The motorist decides to keep driving, because this person could be dangerous. Assumption: The police probably already know about this. The motorist decides not to call the police, because they probably already know about this.

Here, we might not want to hold the person morally responsible for the action resulting from the first assumption, but we probably would want to hold them morally responsible for the second. The reason is because calling the police would not have any possible negative impact on the caller.

  • Outcome 2

Assumption: This person is probably not dangerous. The motorist decides to pull over and help the person. The motorist calls the police because even if they already know about it, it doesn’t hurt to tell them again.

Here is an assumption made that may have a good outcome. The person on the side of the road may, or may not be dangerous, so it is possible that this was not a good idea to pull over.

  • Outcome 3

Belief: It is always good to help people. The motorist decides to pull over and help the person. The motorist calls the police because even if they already know about it, it doesn’t hurt to tell them again.

Is it always good to help people? What if this person is a murderer, and they look injured because another motorist pushed him out of a moving car to save her life? Now, by helping this person, the motorist is possibly aiding a murderer. We might be tempted to say the same thing about the case where the assumption caused the driver to pull over, but they never made the moral argument that it was always good to help people. They just assumed that the person was probably not dangerous.

In the reverse, where the injured person is just there by bad luck, we would want to assign moral praise to the motorist for pulling over.

  • Outcome 4

Belief: It is sinful to sit on the side of the road, imposing on motorists. The motorist decides not to pull over and keep driving. The motorist feels annoyed that this person has imposed upon him by sitting on the side of the road, so the motorist do not call the police.

This belief is harmful to the person on the side of the road. Declaring that they are sinful because they happen to be in a bad situation is arbitrary. It is easier to hold the motorist morally responsible here, because they have an arbitrary moral rule about the situation that informs their actions.

Here, I am trying to balance assumptions and beliefs, you can have good or bad outcomes from beliefs or assumptions. However, making a decision based on a belief rather than an assumption might change the way in which we would want to hold the decider responsible.

17 Jun 2013, 03:15

My response to a Whole Foods post promoting homeopathy

My response to a Whole Foods post promoting homeopathy

Originally submitted by emil10001 on Thu, 10/20/2011 - 10:04

I just saw an article on the Whole Foods blog that I thought deserved a response. The post was promoting homeopathy, and I felt it necessary to point out both what homeopathy is, why it does not make sense, and its dangers. I decided that it would be a good idea to post this here as well, since I am not sure how long the post will stay up on the Whole Foods site.

Dear Whole Foods,

As one of your customers, this post makes me very uncomfortable. At worst, this perpetuates pseudoscience, and encourages people to waste their money on water wrapped up in a package, pretending to be a remedy. The sort of reasoning that encourages people to subscribe to homeopathic remedies, could end up doing real harm to them, even killing them, in certain situations, if they do not seek real medical attention.

There is no evidence to support the claims that homeopathy makes. The basic premise of the practice is that by taking some ingredient that would normally cause certain symptoms, and put that ingredient or ingredients into a solution and dilute it down to nothing in water. When you see a number like 12c, that means that the process of dilution has occurred such that there is a concentration of the ingredient of 10^-24. At 12c, there is only a 60% chance that there is even a single molecule of the original ingredient remaining in the solution. At 30c, you would need to consume 10^41 pills (a billion times the mass of the Earth) to consume a molecule of the original substance. If you think this is drastic, Oscillococcinum (sold at Whole Foods!) is at a concentration of 200c. What’s more, the homeopaths claim that the dilution process increases the effectiveness of a substance. That is, a concentration of 1 is less potent than a concentration of 10^-24.

Why do they claim this works? Well, the claim is that the original substance somehow imprints its energy in the water, and that that energy is carried through the dilution process, and remains present long after there are no more molecules of the substance in the solution (of water). This is physically impossible. There is no evidence that this is true, because if it were true, we would have a very different understanding of the physical world that we live in than we do. Not only that, but imagine how much human waste, or animal waste, has been in contact with water. According to homeopaths, even though the waste is completely removed from the water, the essence is still there. And, again, according to the homeopathic view the essence of waste would grow stronger the more that it was diluted. Should we stop treating our waste water, for fear of an overdose?

On the topic of overdoses, a number of skeptics have tried to overdose on homeopathic remedies, taking entire bottles of remedies at once. No one was injured, and no one was cured of anything either. The evidence available suggests that homeopathic remedies are about as effective as a placebo.

One more important note, not all homeopathic remedies are created equal. Some of them do actually contain real, active ingredients. There was a cold and sinus nasal spray on the market called Zicam, marketed as an unapproved homeopathic product, contained zinc acetate at 10^-2 and zinc gluconate at 10^-1. Both of the ingredients are biologically active, and actually caused some users of the product to lose their sense of smell, a condition termed anosmia.

Maybe it would be good to end on a joke: Do you know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proven to work? MEDICINE!

References and good reading:

17 Jun 2013, 03:14

Bad PeerGuardian

Bad PeerGuardian

Originally submitted by emil10001 on Sat, 10/01/2011 - 16:10

I will try to make this one brief. If you are on a mac, do not install PeerGuardian. This application gave me weeks of trouble for something that I had only used once or twice. Basically, PeerGuardian is a safety tool for using P2P. The idea is that it will blacklist certain IPs/domains based on whether the IP address might be dangerous. Generally, the blacklisted IPs belong to RIAA/MPAA associates, and while I wasn’t downloading any movies or music, I figured that I could use some protection if I’m going to be using P2P for anything.

The Issue

The problem with PeerGuardian for Mac is that it actually did more than just block traffic to certain unsavory IPs while the application was running. Instead, it blacklisted my server, but only for port 22 (possibly other untested ports as well), while leaving port 80 alone. PeerGuardian also blocked access to one of my client’s servers. I was able to ssh from my macbook to other machines, and from other machines on my local network to my EC2 boxes.

Explanation

(Disclaimer - This section is basically my guessing about factors contributing to my issue. I have no real way of verifying whether or not this is an accurate explanation.)

It seems possible that PG was liberally blocking traffic on certain ports to certain IP groups. If there were some legitimate IPs residing on the EC2 cloud, worthy of blocking, where my VPS is hosted, as well as my client’s, that gets us part-way there to an explanation. Again, traffic was flowing through port 80 to both boxes, so PG may have been blocking only certain ports.

The other issue, the thing that made this difficult to track down, was that I had not been running PG when I was experiencing these issues. In fact, since I had downloaded it several weeks ago, I think that I only used it twice. The implication here is that the blacklist exists all the time, and blocks traffic whether you are running PG or not. I did not see any processes running that indicated to me that PG was running in the background, and PG does not use the system’s hosts.deny file to define what traffic to blacklist. Now, it was probably not that smart of me to download and run something like this without really looking into how it worked, but how was I supposed to guess that the thing would block traffic whether it was running or not?

These factors contributed to making this a very difficult problem to diagnose, the fact that I didn’t use it much, it wasn’t running, and it was randomly blocking legitimate traffic to EC2 servers, while allowing other ssh traffic to other places.

Resolution

I spent about two weeks, in the few free hours I could find, trying to fix this myself before posting the question on EC2’s forums and ServerFault. My ServerFault question provides a detailed look at what was involved in tracking down the root cause of this problem. Basically, once someone suggested that I try a traceroute from my macbook, the failure gave me something new to google, leading me to people with similar issues. The other symptoms that I was seeing were common symptoms of other problems, thus leading to many dead ends.

My advice is to find a different tool for security while using P2P. PeerGuardian can cause more harm than good.

Original discussion on Reddit.

17 Jun 2013, 03:14

Ethics and Real Estate Agents

Ethics and Real Estate Agents

Originally submitted by emil10001 on Sun, 06/05/2011 - 20:58

I was recently doing some apartment hunting and found myself trying to answer a difficult question: do I think that it is ethical to use more than one real estate agent in my search for an apartment? I found myself leaning towards a qualified ‘yes’, but it was difficult for me to produce a worthwhile answer under the circumstances. Now that I’ve had a couple of days to think about it, I believe that I have been able to come up with at least a couple of reasons why I do not think that it is unethical to use more than one real estate agent in searching for an apartment.

Before I give my reasons, I might as well give you the details of how I came to face this question. If you don’t care about the back-story, then just skip down a couple of paragraphs. A bit of background, after a year of working at my telecommute consulting gig, my boss decided that it was time that we finally met face-to-face. He flew my wife and I down for the weekend to meet and visit. My boss presented me with a great opportunity for a promotion, but it would involve me being physically in the office. My wife and I thought it was a great idea and booked an appointment with a realtor to see a few apartments over the weekend. I was to be staying through the week and might have some time to see more properties during the week.

The realtor set up three showings for us on Saturday. I was a bit disappointed that we were only seeing three places, as my wife was only going to be in town for the weekend, and we really don’t want to have to make a second trip back to look at more apartments. During the showing of the second of three units, which I actually liked a lot, my wife let slip that I might be seeing some more places during the week. The realtor halted and said in a sort of playful tone, 'Oh, I hope you’re going to call me for those.’ To which my wife responded that I had been given a contact by my boss, and that I would probably be seeing at least a few places with her. I tried to diffuse the situation by saying that I hadn’t called the other realtor, and that I was really hoping to find something over the weekend. This was apparently not enough for our realtor.

At this point, she asked my wife and I to discuss whether or not we wanted to continue working with her, and said that she would not work with us unless she was the only realtor we were dealing with. I again said that I had not called the other realtor, but this was not enough. She was also not leaving us alone to discuss the situation, and kept pushing us to make a decision.

The realtor made the claim several times that it would be unethical for us to use a second realtor. Her reasoning was that she spent a few hours of working on our showings for which they may not get paid if we decided to rent through another agent. She then posed the question: Do you think it’s ethical to use more than one real estate agent, given that only one of them will get paid?

My initial reaction was that this was the work that she chose to do, and that to me, there was no expectation that we would be exclusively using a single realtor. I also felt that she was being manipulative in how she was raising the issue. She could have easily turned this around and showed us why we should stick with her as an agent. However, she was also free to make this demand, just as we were free to reject it. The question still remained.

I still think that the answer is a qualified 'yes, it is ethical’. Let me put the qualifiers down, first, I am only considering this from the point of view of a renter and not someone who is looking to buy a home or sell either a home or rental or anyone else involved. There are a couple of other important factors here, and those are selection and time. Realtors have a limited selection of properties to show, so going to multiple realtors will give me different options. The process of trying to find an apartment usually happens on a more compressed timeframe than one might like.

I will take these out of order, first regarding time. You typically don’t have a ton of time to go look at places, many times units aren’t on the market for very long and when you find a place, you shell out the cash immediately to avoid losing it. This means that you’re probably not going to be looking much further out than 2-3 months from when your lease is up, and even given that, you’ll probably only be looking for a week or two. This encourages people to see as much as they can in a short timeframe, and to do that, you might need more than one realtor. Then again, you might not, you might find a realtor who is able to devote enough time to you to find you a place to live. For this realtor, she decided that even though we travelled from Boston to Florida, and only had the weekend to look, showing us three places was good enough. Given all that, I don’t think that the time criteria is very compelling as it is too subjective and may rely on too many variables in a given situation, as is shown by the example that I gave from this situation.

I think that the stronger argument can be made by way of the selection criteria. If the property that I want to rent is represented by another realtor, then if I am faithful to my realtor, I will never get the property that I want. If I am going to commit to moving across the country to live in some place for a year, I want to make sure that I’m getting the perfect place for me (and my wife). This might be difficult to conceptualize by just thinking about it in terms of living spaces, so I’ve got a couple of other concrete examples.

Let’s say that I’m in the market for a new computer, I have a good general idea of what I will need to be able to do, but I don’t know a whole lot about the hardware. Now, my first stop is the Apple store, where I look at some nice MacBooks. There is a salesman that goes through the specs, talks to me about what I would like to do and shows me to a couple of models that might be a good fit for me. He wants me to buy a computer from him because he gets a commission. But, this is just my first stop, I still have some PCs to look at. So, I go across the street to the PC store, where a saleswoman also talks to me and shows me some PCs that might fit my needs. She also wants me to buy a computer from her, because she gets a commission. Was it unethical of me to go into the PC store?

Now that I’ve got my computer, I need to buy a new car. I know what size, and what fuel efficiency I want, but I have no idea what manufacturer I want to buy from. I go to the GM dealer first where the saleswoman shows me a couple of GM made cars that fit my criteria. She even accompanies me on a couple of test drives with these cars, and I’ve taken up several hours of her time. But, again, this is just my first stop, there are several other manufacturers to consider. My next stop is the Honda dealership, where a salesman talks to me about my needs and takes me out for test dives in a couple Honda cars. He also gives me several hours of his time. Was it unethical to go to the Honda dealership?

To me the answer to both of these questions is 'no, it was not unethical’. The reason is because there are different products being offered by each of the different salespeople. This is why I feel that it is not unethical to use more than one realtor, even though only one of them will get paid. They are sales people, and this comes with the territory.

If things were a bit different, however, I would be inclined to go a different way. If the first computer store that I went to was, say, a BestBuy, where they have both Mac and PC computers, and I was helped by a salesperson. Then i go into Fry’s, where they have the same selection of computers at the same prices and am helped by another salesperson. If I knew beforehand that that the pricing was going to be the same, and that the only thing that I would accomplish by going to Fry’s would be to take away the first salesperson’s commission, that might be unethical. Then again, the salesperson at BestBuy might not have sold me on anything while the salesperson at Fry’s does sell me on something. The same goes for the car salespeople. If the dealerships had the same inventory, and the salesman at dealership A showed me the same vehicles as the saleswoman at dealership B, then that might be enough to open the argument up again. Following this, if the various realtors had the same properties to show, and the same availability to show them, then it might be considered unethical for me to use another realtor. However, in that situation I would have no reason to contact another realtor.

Original discussion on r/philosophy.

17 Jun 2013, 03:13

Attacking the Soul

Attacking the Soul

Originally submitted by emil10001 on Tue, 12/21/2010 - 10:35

I think that the soul is an often overlooked weak-point in the theist’s beliefs. It seems that it would be possible to make some very good arguments against the soul that don’t appear to be attacking their central belief system, but will cause them to seriously look at those other beliefs. If we can get people thinking seriously about their beliefs, and really attacking them critically, then I think that’s a step in the right direction.

I have recently had several discussions with people on the topic of the soul. There seem to be some effective arguments against the soul that are very difficult to counter. My general strategy for getting into a discussion about the soul with people has been to first ask them to explain what they thought the soul is and how it might work. To help them along, I’ll ask them questions as they are explaining, to make sure that I have a good picture of what they are talking about. Once they have given me a complete picture, I will try to find some things that seem novel about their view, or something that I like and tell them that it’s interesting, or something that I had not considered. Then I start to deconstruct their view.

I think that for most people the view is that the soul is a non-physical entity. People describe this as our consciousness, or our mind. The very first question here is, ‘how does a non-physical entity, such as the soul, interact with something in the physical world, like your mind, without breaking the laws of physics?’ It seems that there are only a couple of ways to answer this question, the first would be to say that we don’t understand enough physics yet to explain this phenomenon. We will attack this argument later. The next type of response is that perhaps the soul doesn’t interact with our body. If they say that the soul does not interact with the body, you’re home free. If the soul does not interact with the body, then what does it do? why is it something worth wanting? Does it outlive you? If so, then is it to be held accountable for all of the things that your body did while you were alive, but that the soul had no control over (since it can’t interact)? It seems to me that this is not the type of soul worth wanting.

If, however, they give some response along the lines of, future physics might explain this, then they are saying that the soul is a physical thing. If the soul is a physical thing, it should be able to be measured in some way, even though there has been no indication thus far of such a phenomenon. Then the participant is asked why we should include more in the picture than is necessary, when it seems that this extra part (the soul) is just added in because we want it there. You can’t just add in a physical thing into a system, say it does something and not be able to show its effect. Consciousness does not count as an effect, since it more simply explained as your brain interpreting its own activity. (Dennett calls this the myth of double transduction.) If there is an effect of a physical soul, and the soul is something separate from us, then it should have a measurable effect somewhere. If the physical soul is not separate from us, then that is basically the view of a physicalist.

Some years ago, there was a lovely philosopher of science and journalist in Italy named Giulio Giorello, and he did an interview with me. And I don’t know if he wrote it or not, but the headline in Corriere della Sera when it was published was “Sì, abbiamo un'anima. Ma è fatta di tanti piccoli robot – "Yes, we have a soul, but it’s made of lots of tiny robots.” And I thought, exactly. That’s the view. – Dan Dennett (source)

I think that if we take the tactic of attacking the soul, and other analogous issues, the problem of God will become more clear to the theist. At least, that there are a lot of good arguments against such a thing, or that the supporting players are no longer around to help out. Giving other types of analogous refutations of things like unicorns, fairies and dragons can also help to show how we think about the issue of God, and why we don’t find the arguments compelling.

Original comments on r/Atheism.

17 Jun 2013, 03:12

Shifting the Intuitions of the Folk

Shifting the Intuitions of the Folk

Originally submitted by emil10001 on Mon, 12/20/2010 - 21:48

Executive Summary

The findings of experimental philosophy studies that show the folk intuitions on Free Will to show a Dualist Libertarian leaning. This paper tries to show that it is possible to shift the intuitions of the folk through narrowly focused discussion. The discussions executed in preparation for this paper seem to indicate that this might be a worthwhile effort.

This is a rough draft version of the paper, so I may update this a bit as it gets revised. Final, revised version in pdf form is here.

Introduction

There have been several experimental philosophy studies done to try to determine the intuitions of the folk with respect to Free Will. Questions as to whether or not this was a worthwhile pursuit, and what to do with the information gathered. Such information might be useful for philosophers who write about Free Will to simply be more accurate in terms of their descriptions and understanding of the folk. The information may also be useful for a philosopher who wants to know what people think that they want to get out of Free Will. Another possible use for such information is to inform philosophers of what the public needs education on, and what needs to be corrected in the folk view. This intent of this paper is to show that shifting the intuitions of the folk is not an impossible task. The paper will present one method of intuition shifting, which is simply to have a discussion.

There is an initial problem that presents itself almost immediately when the topic of discussions with the folk is brought up, and that is that the folk hasn’t given this too much though, so how can they be expected to have an intelligent conversation on the topic? The answer here might be disappointing, as it doesn’t really matter whether or not the folk already has a good understanding prior to a conversation. What matters is whether or not they will be open to the difficult ideas presented, or whether they will dig in their heels and refuse to continue down a difficult line of reasoning.

The paper “Free Will and the Bounds of the Self,” by Knobe and Nichols, described the folk as Dualist Libertarians, at least in certain circumstances. Another possible term of the leanings of the folk would be the view of Agent Causation. It seems that the Dualism part is doing the heavy lifting for the folk of allowing freedom of action in an adequately determined universe, and it is plausible that this idea lines up well with Agent Causation. If a person’s position of Free Will will inform their position on responsibility, and their view of responsibility may inform their views on punishment, then it is important that the person have a good understanding of the topic of Free Will. Taking this perspective, it seems that the philosopher should be concerned with shifting the intuitions of the folk to be more in line with the current philosophical leanings regarding Free Will.

Concept

The basic concept of this paper is that given the basic difference in the leanings of the folk and philosophers, on the topics of Free Will and Responsibility, it is worthwhile to have discussions with the folk. Through discussions, it should be possible to get the folk to shift their intuitions on Free Will and Responsibility. This paper would like to start a dialog with people who epitomize the folk intuitions.

It seems to that the Dualist Libertarian view has its roots in the religious tradition, so naturally, seminary students would be good subjects for this discussion. Two of the participants in the discussions were seminary students, and the other two were Christians who claimed to have Dualist Libertarian leanings. Within the discussions, the views of the participants were discussed, including how they view people, souls, in what sense they thought that we have free will, and how those views impact their views of responsibility. Then, the views that seemed inconsistent with the views of compatibilism, physicalism and consequentialism were dissected and discussed at length, using thought experiments as a starting point. The discussions were finally grounded with some examples of how these views impact how we think about and make laws, and the sorts of reasons that we have for the laws that we make.

The measure of success for these discussions will be how open the participants will be at the end of the discussion to the idea of consequentialism. Given the position that what we have is free will in the compatibilist sense, consequentialism is a much more reasonable position than that of retributivism. If the discussion fails to move the participant, then given their initial views, retributivism may be a more comfortable position. There were some criteria laid down about what we might want to catch and have laws against. Those criteria would be that if an individual is harming someone else, themselves or infringing on the rights of another individual.

This appears to be a good place to make clear that the purpose of this paper is not to argue for a compatibilist, physicalist or consequentialist view. Rather, the purpose is to show that the folk are not incapable of participating in these sorts of discussions, and, more importantly, that they are capable of shifting their intuitions if they are presented with strong enough reasons to do so.

Formula

The discussions had a pre-defined structure as follows:

  • Opening statement of positions
  • Discuss a series of thought experiments
  • Discuss differences in positions
  • Discuss any remaining questions
  • Arguments for consequentialism
  • Conclusion

The structure was designed to attempt to get the participants, first to state their current intuitions, and then to get them thinking about the issue with a narrow focus on arguments that should lead to a particular conclusion. The goal of the discussion was also made clear to the participants from the start.

Thought Experiments

The following are the thought experiments that were used to seed the discussion:

Jones is sitting in a chair, and some activity in his brain causes his arm to twitch. Jones’s arm twitch causes a glass to be knocked over and broken. The noise from the broken glass causes his baby to wake up and start crying. Is Jones responsible for the baby crying?

‘Jone’s brain twitch’ was intended to get the participant thinking about ways in which Jones could be held responsible. There seem to be two clear ways in which one would want to hold Jones responsible. The first, would be that one could say that Jones is responsible in the sense that if either Jones or his wife needs to get up to calm the baby down, Jones should be the one chosen. There is another sense in which we might want to hold Jones morally responsible for disrupting his baby’s sleep, and in this sense, it is more difficult to hold Jones responsible, since he lacked the control necessary to have stopped the chain of events that caused his baby to wake up.

Bill Gates, having a large disposable income, has paid a neuroscientist to plant a transceiver module in his brain. He has also hired a team of people to listen in on all of his business dealings, using the transceiver. When he needs to make a business decision, he will be transmitted by the people through the transceiver. Bill always makes the decision transmitted to him. Can we hold Gates responsible for those decisions? Can Bill Gates be praised for those decisions?

This was a series derived from some of the thought experiments that were discussed in class. The main idea is to try to see if the participant can pick out that Bill had chosen to implant this transceiver in his head in the first place. The word 'praised’ was used to try to get the participants to think more about this than if they had been asked if we could hold Gates 'responsible.’ While there was more discussion about his praiseworthiness, the participants felt that Gates had chosen to install the transceiver, had chosen the team, and had likely chosen to go along with the choice sent to him.

There might also be questions as to whether or not Gates could have done something other than what was transmitted to him. There were several other experiments along these lines, where several knobs were turned, however the participants didn’t take long to point out that still, Gates had chosen to implant the transceiver. We would hold him responsible regardless of whether or not he could do otherwise.}

Suppose that there is a supercomputer designed to read all of the information in your body, all of the information stored in your brain, down to every cell, molecular bond and atom and will produce a physical clone of you. This clone will read your information, produce the clone, and a moment later, the clone will swap places with you. Then, the clone will be faced with a moral decision. Can we hold your clone responsible? Is it possible that we could hold you responsible? Is it likely that the clone will make the same decision that you would have made in the same situation?

This series of experiments turned out to be more difficult than the others. The intent of this was to see if it made any difference to the participants whether or not this clone had a soul, and whether or not that soul would allow the clone to do something different than they would do in a given situation. There is a lot to unpack here, and there was good discussion on several of the issues raised.

The first issue that gets raised is whether or not the participant willingly signed up for this experiment, and how much the participant knew going into the experiment. The next issue is whether or not the clone has any idea that it’s a clone, and whether or not that makes a difference. The clone was not a willing participant in the experiment, rather, it had this situation foisted onto it. Then we get to the problem of whether or not we can hold the participant responsible, since it was their brain states that let to the choice made by their clone.

This may have not been as clear-cut as the other thought experiments, but there was a lot to discuss here. This thought experiment really got the participants thinking about the problem, perhaps in a different way than they previously had.

Q: Two chess programs, program A and program B are set up on a computer to play each other in a series of chess matches. Chess playing programs rely on random number generators to make decisions during play about how long to consider each move. Instead of using the system’s random number generator, they are fed with one that can be easily reset, and will produce a determined, pseudo-random series of numbers. Once reset, the number generator will produce the exact same pseudo-random series of numbers, in the same order.

The two programs then proceed to play 1000 games against each other. Program A wins 682 of the games, and program B wins the remaining 318 games. The random number generator is reset, and another 1000 games are played. Given that the programs exist in a deterministic system, and that we are feeding them with the same random numbers, this series of one thousand games is identical to the previous thousand games. And, once again, program A wins 682 of the games, and program B wins the remaining 318 games. This is repeated several more times to demonstrate that this is truly a deterministic system, and that these games are clearly reproducible, in detail, given the same series of random numbers.

Upon analysis, it appears that in a number of games where B lost, if B had castled, it would have likely won. The programmer who wrote B says, “Oh yes, B could have castled,” even though it clearly did not. Can this be true?

A: There are three possible meanings of the word 'can’ or 'could’ that we need to consider in the above scenario. The first is the case in which we are saying that B could have castled in the exact situations in which it did not castle, using the same random numbers. Obviously, we have shown this to be impossible. We have given B multiple opportunities using the same set of numbers, and B never did anything different (in corresponding games). In this sense, the programmer is incorrect, B could not have done otherwise. There is another case however, in which the term 'can’ might be taken to mean, the ability in similar, though not exactly the same, situations. It might be the case that B’s programming was such that it did have the ability to be analytic enough to be able to castle in similar situations, but didn’t as a result of the number that it received from the pseudo-random number generator. For this, we might give the random number generator a different seed value, and run another thousand games. This time around, B wins more games, instead of 682 to 318, the results are 591 to 409. In this sense of the word 'can,’ the programmer was correct, B could have done otherwise in an important sense. Another possibility is that we, again, take the word 'can’ to mean the ability to do otherwise in similar situations, but B’s programming was analytic enough to recognize those types of situations where it would have been beneficial to castle. We could play with the random number generator all we want, and B would not take the appropriate action, and would not castle. In this case, B truly could not have done otherwise.

The Chess Playing Programs is a compatibilist favorite, as it illustrates the problem of 'could have done otherwise’ so nicely. It certainly did its job in this context as well, in helping the participants to really understand the issue of Free Will in a serious way, or at the very least, within the context of the conversation.

Execution

The discussions, in their entirety, have been posted online at http://tinyrobots.net/node/11. The participants in the discussion were Derek, Ian, Jackson and taev. The first discussion was with Derek. He is in seminary to become a Methodist pastor. The second discussion was with another seminary student named Ian. He is studying to become an Episcopalian minister. In search of a couple more participants, a post was made on Reddit. There were a couple of people interested in the discussion. The third participant was Jackson. He is currently working on a philosophy paper using Free Will as an argument against the problem of evil. The final discussion was with another Redditor, taev, who asked to be referred to by his Reddit name.

Derek

Derek’s basic view, regarding the topic at hand, was that people have souls, and those souls have one truly free choice, whether or not to accept God. The other decisions are all known to God before you make them. During the discussion some of the inconstancies in his views were addressed. The question of whether or not the soul was necessary was also discussed. The discussion followed the designed arc very closely. There was a fair amount of disagreement at the beginning. By the end, in light of arguments about Free Will and the impact that it has on moral responsibility, he was able to agree that it might be a good thing for society not to worry so much about holding people morally accountable.

The discussion started with defining a few relevant terms, to make sure that we were using the same words to mean the same things. I then gave my position and my goals for the discussion, with the intention to be as forthcoming as possible in this discussion.

Derek then gave his initial views. His view was that we have souls, that the soul is separate from the body, and that the soul is able to interact with the body. God is the Laplacian Demon, but God gives us the ability to choose. The only truly free choice that we are given is that we have the choice to accept or reject God. God can know every other decision that we make except the choice of whether or not to accept God. Derek said that the body limits the freedom of the soul, though didn’t elaborate much on how the soul would be free, or how the body is limited. He was also very concerned with personal responsibility, which was heavily tied to his beliefs. We took a few minutes to clarify his position before moving on. I suggested that he was already had some compatibilist leanings, with God as the Laplacian Demon.

After Derek stated his initial views, we moved on to the thought experiments listed above. Derek said that Jones was not responsible for his baby crying. Derek dug into the problem a little, and asked a few astute questions, but didn’t take much time to figure out the Bill Gates problem, pointing out that since Gates decided to implant the transceiver, we could hold him responsible.

The clone problem was more difficult. This experiment did have the intended effect of getting Derek to think from a physicalist viewpoint, about the problem of responsibility. Derek said that the clone would have the same opportunities as himself to make a decision, so we could hold the clone responsible. He said that he should not be able to be held responsible, as he was not actually making the decision himself, though he was less sure of this position than the other stances that he had taken. Going further into the clone problem, when asked if he and the clone would likely make the same set of decisions, Derek said that he thought that it would be possible to make two different decisions in that situation. He initially gave a physicalist backing for this response, but then retreated to the dualist view for an explanation. Derek also gave the clone free will, even if it makes the same choices that he would make in the same situations.

The chess playing programs were then discussed, which set up the rest of the discussion. This is a great thought experiment to get people thinking about the ways in which we could do otherwise in a given deterministic situation. The experiment was also the perfect way to explain the compatibilist position, and then move on with the discussion from there.

After the thought experiments, we went back over some of Derek’s initial views, and tried to work out some of the inconsistencies. The first problem that we looked at was his view that the choice to accept God was a free choice, and a that God could not know your decision prior to your making it. We took this from several angles, and concluded that it was problematic to say that God could be privy to some future decisions, but not others. That God would either know all of your decisions, or none of them, but couldn’t only know some of them. The next problem that we discussed was whether or not we could come up with a coherent concept of a soul worth wanting. Derek conceded that he might need to rethink his position on the soul, and that perhaps it wasn’t a necessary component of his beliefs. Though, he did say that he wanted to do some more research on the problem of souls from the theological perspective.

Once we had discussed those two problems, we talked about how we would want to hold people responsible, in light of what we had been discussing. The argument is for a consequentialist view of responsibility, and that as a society, we should be weary of holding people morally responsible. The examples of premarital sex and gay marriage were discussed, in terms of how we, as a society, should deal with those issues. We decided that, as a society, we shouldn’t try to hold people morally responsible for those things. Instead, we would want to hold people responsible for breaking rules that can be backed up by some basic arguments about what could be considered generally bad for society. We said that those basics would probably come down to that you should not allow someone to harm other people, themselves, or to infringe on the rights of other people. Derek had started out with some strong intuitions about responsibility, but agreed to the compatibilist view by the end of the discussion.

Ian

Ian’s views were a bit difficult to nail down exactly. Although, it turned out that he agreed with the principle arguments from the beginning. While there wasn’t much progress to be made, a good discussion was had none-the-less.

The position that Ian gave was that he thinks that physics may come to a point of being able to include something like a soul in its model of the universe. He did not, however, have a very solid understanding of physics. He also said that he didn’t think that God was outside of the universe. Ian felt that the universe would lack meaning without Free Will. Ian also thought that God gave us Free Will to provide him with more entertainment. When asked whether God has knowledge of all of our decisions, Ian described a similar view to Derek’s in that it had compatibilist leanings, with respect to God as opposed to determinism. His view was that we could still have free will even if God knows what you are going to do because of branching paths resulting in a multiverse. Though, after discussing physics a bit, Ian backed down from that argument. Ian did like the idea of compatibilism as being a pragmatic approach to free will. When asked if he felt that we needed the idea of a soul to get free will, he dodged the question, but also didn’t seem to lean on the idea of a soul to do any real work for us. As a result of that, we the soul out of the discussion.

Moving into the thought experiments, Ian said that Jones was not responsible for the baby crying. Ian answered that Bill Gates could be held responsible for the same reason that Derek gave, that Gates chose to have the transceiver implanted. Ian gave the counter-example of the German nation after World War II, where we punished the nation for allowing themselves to be led by their nefarious leaders. When asked about the clone experiment, Ian wanted to know if the clone knew that it was a clone. We said that it would not know that it was a clone, since it only has whatever knowledge he had a moment prior to the cloning. Ian thought that he could be held partly responsible, the distinction that he drew was that you would hold the clone responsible in a consequentialist way, but you might want to hold the original agent responsible in a retributivist way. This is because the original agent had been responsible for the brain states that the clone was given, and the original agent was at least partly responsible for producing the clone. When the original agent was not given a choice about creating the clone, he still does not hold the clone responsible in a retributivist way, but puts more of the responsibility on the researchers. We then discussed the chess playing programs, and unpacked the compatibilist notion of 'could have done otherwise.’

Ian, without much prompting, went on to describe a consequentialist view on his own. The example of teen sex was used to illustrate how removing morality from a situation might be beneficial to society. The Dutch view of this is very different from what we have in the US, and as a result of having a more consequentialist view of the problem, the Dutch have much better statistics regarding teen pregnancy and STD rates. Ian pointed out that we need an arbitrary line drawn to distinguish how we determine the age of consent. Ian tended to agree with the idea, and as the intent of the discussion was to get to this point, we decided to end there.

Jackson

Jackson’s basic position was that our bodies limit the sort of Free Will that we have, and that we might be more free in certain circumstances. Jackson admitted that he was not sure of what the soul is or does. He thought that the soul had something to do with consciousness, but that he did not know if it had anything to do with free will.

In discussing the Jones thought experiment, Jackson was the first participant to break down the idea that you would not want to hold Jones morally responsible, but that if someone needs to go calm the baby down, it should be Jones. Jackson answered the Bill Gates problem in a similar way to the previous participants, holding Gates responsible for implanting the transceiver. We then turned a knob on the experiment, and narrowed the problem to only business decisions and whether Gates was praiseworthy for good decisions. Then we moved a step further and asked if he was being fed business decisions by a learning machine that he wrote. Jackson still held Gates responsible, again because he had made the decision to have the transceiver implanted. In the clone experiment, Jackson thought that the clone might make a different choice than he would make, and therefore the clone should be held responsible. Jackson also had a pretty good answer to the problem of the chess playing programs, recognizing that if you give a new set of numbers, that B might be able to castle when it needed to.

The discussion then moved to the topic of responsibility and ways in which we want to hold people responsible. Jackson agreed that the consequentialist position was much better suited to making laws that the entire society would be required to follow. Again, the example of teen sex was used to illustrate the consequentialist view. Again, we came to the issue came of the arbitrary line to draw for the age of consent. Still, we had agreed on the basic view of consequentialism. Jackson also took issue with the problem of punishment, and suggested that education might be a better way to go.

Taev

This conversation was a bit more tricky, as it started by getting off track. It seemed to be a good diversion, that provided material for later in the discussion, as well as some good insight into taev. Taev is probably the closest to what has been described as the folk view. By the end of the conversation, we were able to find some common ground and agree on some important points.

Taev’s view is that we have a limited sort of free will, as a result of the idea that God sets up your fate. He goes on to say that your freedom is whether or not to choose the things that God has chosen for you. Taev did say that he thought that we had a non-physical soul, but he wasn’t sure whether or not it played a part in free will. When asked if the soul does any work for us, taev said that our bodies were how our souls interact with the world. However, he also suggested that even if we have a soul, that we might not have free will if determinism was true. He wasn’t able to give an answer on the free will question because he said that he didn’t know whether or not we had free will. Taev didn’t have a big problem with consequentialism, as he thought that the government’s job was to uphold the law, and that God was the one to judge someone based on moral reasons.

Moving on to the thought experiments, taev did not hold Jones morally responsible for the baby crying, while saying that physically, he is more responsible than anyone else. Taev pointed out the transceiver as a red herring in the Gates experiment, and said that Gates would be praiseworthy in his good business decisions. He made the analogy of our praising the President when he makes a good decision, despite relying on a team of advisors to inform him. In the clone experiment, Taev initially viewed the clone as a 'creation,’ but then changed his mind and said that it could be held responsible. He likened it to identical twins, where the inputs are similar but they become different people. In the analysis of the chess playing programs problem, taev got close to the right answer, saying that the castle may have been one of the moves that B was choosing from.

When we reached the point of the discussion of trying to do away with morality from the point of view of society, taev dug his heels in a little. He did not want to give up the idea of holding people morally responsible, and thought that doing so might have dire consequences. Taev did go on to say that he did not think that it was the job of government to legislate morality, that the government should be an amoral institution. We decided to leave it at that, as we had agreed on the idea that government should not have anything to do with morality.

Analysis

All four of the discussions went very well. The conversations were very pleasant, interesting and engaging. The focus was narrow enough that the participants didn’t have to be on-edge about side issues, which seemed to help. Rapoport’s Rules, as discussed in one of the earlier lectures, was very helpful in getting the participants to shift their thinking. I was also forthcoming about my goals in the discussion, and my positions and beliefs.

Some of the participants seemed to describe compatibilist leanings from the beginning of the discussion. However, instead of having a view of Free WIll that was compatible with Determinism, their view was that Free Will was compatible with the idea of an omniscient God, where God always knows what you are going to do. This was an unexpected view, and was discussed at length with the first participant. This issue was mainly untouched with the other participants, as it did not seem to help in moving the discussion in the desired direction.

Though not all of the discussions spent much time on the arguments against dualism, the couple that did seemed to be effective. What made them effective arguments was that the first thing that was done was to get the participants to explain their view of the soul, and to try to get them to describe how that might work. From there, the participant gets asked to describe how the soul, as a non-physical entity, could possibly interact with the physical universe without violating the laws of physics. If they give some response along the lines of, future physics might explain this, then the soul is a physical thing. If the soul is a physical thing, it should be able to be measured in some way, even though there has been no indication of such a thing. Then the participant is asked why we should include more in the picture than is necessary, when it seems that this extra part (the soul) is just added in because we want it there. Then, the other possibilities for types of souls are looked at, discussed and discarded. The participant is left with no coherent notion of a soul.

The approach taken here is problematic for a few reasons. The most glaring issue is that there were only four discussions that were used to inform this paper. It would be interesting to continue the discussions with more people of varying background and initial assumptions and see how the outcomes vary. Another problem here was the assumptions made about the participants positions prior to the discussion. The participants had differing views coming into the discussion, and those differing views may not have been well accounted for. At this point, without any follow-up, it would be difficult to say whether or not these discussions actually shifted the intuitions of the participants, or if they just changed their rational within the context of the conversation.

Some argue that the issues of freedom and responsibility are separate. It is possible that these discussions had too broad a scope with trying to include both free will and responsibility. However, the ideas that people have about responsibility do seem to be tied to their ideas about free will, and therefore seems to be relevant. It may be possible that it is actually not that difficult to get people to agree to the consequentialist view, without discussing free will at all. In that case, reaching a consequentialist conclusion may not have been a worthy goal of these discussions.

The thought experiment about the clone may have been problematic because it sneaks in views of self. Where the participants view of self would have an impact on on their answer. The topic of self was outside the bounds of the discussion, though the question was intended more just to get the participant to think about free will and responsibility from the physicalist point of view.

Conclusion

The discussions were all fruitful and seemed to have all reached the desired point. All four of the participants agreed with the basic arguments laid out by the end of the conversation, and also agreed to the conclusions laid out.

It seems that these sorts of discussions are worth having. From how these discussions went, one thing that seemed to be important was to be very up front with the participant as to what you are trying to accomplish with the discussion, or why you think that it is a conversation worth having. Perhaps if this were in the form of a public debate, it would be effective to let the audience know what your motives are, and why you think that this discussion is worth your time and energy. Perhaps giving the audience that information might give them enough understanding so as not to give more consideration than is desired to your opponent. If you make clear from the beginning that you feel that the views that you are debating against are not only incorrect, but somehow harmful to society, and that as a result, you feel compelled to challenge those ideas, perhaps there will be less of a possibility of your opponents’ views being adopted by the audience.

Comments

Original discussions on r/Philosophy and r/DebateAChristian.

17 Jun 2013, 03:11

Rapoport's Rules

Rapoport’s Rules

Originally submitted by emil10001 on Wed, 12/15/2010 - 23:27

I am taking a course with Daniel Dennett, and he laid out some rules for constructively criticizing your opponent. The point, he said, was to make sure that your opponent knows that you understand very well their idea, that you get them to like you as a person and then when you deconstruct their idea, everyone involved will be enlightened. It is a way to force your opponent to concede to the points that you are making without being particularly forceful, and opening them up to such criticisms. He credited Anatol Rapoport for these rules, though I could not find a source. If anybody has a source for this, I’d really be interested to read a bit more about it. Here they are:

  • Restate your opponents view, giving the best possible interpretation. Be very charitable here, to the point where they will say, ‘Gee, I wish I’d said that’
  • List points of agreement between you and your opponent
  • List anything you have learned from your opponent and their ideas
  • Attack!

I followed the basics of these rules for the four discussions that I had with the ‘folk’ on Free Will. Using the above guidelines, I thought that the discussions went very smoothly. Rapoport’s rules are probably why I got all four of the participants to agree with my basic arguments, and even my conclusions. The rules aren’t about trying to be overly nice to your opponent because they deserve it, but because it is an effective technique.

Original comments here.

17 Jun 2013, 03:11

My Open Letter to Al Franken

My Open Letter to Al Franken

Originally submitted by emil10001 on Fri, 12/03/2010 - 12:37

Now, it may not make much sense for me to be posting this here, but I think that anybody who wants to utilize the internet should care about this issue. Recently, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to reintroduce the COICA, aka the Internet Blacklist Bill. The bill was originally put forward by the entertainment industry so that they could shut down any site that they claim is violating their copyrights. However, it would also give the government the mechanism to make sites that they disagree with disappear.

How this would work is that the government would force the DNS providers to remove the website from their service. The Domain Name Service (DNS) is how a website name, e.g. tinyrobots.net, is translated into an ip address that can be easily processed and routed to the appropriate server. Without an entry in the DNS, typing something like wikileaks.org into your browser will just return an error message when you try to navigate there. Though, you might still be able to get there if you happen to know the ip address.

I picked WikiLeaks as an example for a reason, this has already happened to them. They are not infringing on an RIAA/MPAA owned copyright, rather they are providing a service to the people of this country that the US government does not like. The COICA has not been passed yet, but this is the sort of thing that we could expect to see more of if it does.

I also picked Al Franken for a reason, he has been a very vocal supporter of Net Neutrality. He has spent a lot of time and energy talking about the issue, raising awareness and supporting Net Neutrality. Unfortunately, he supported the COICA in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the COICA would have the potential to be even more damaging to the internet than an infringement by an ISP. This is because the COICA would give the government the power to quietly silence Free Speech.

Letter is after the jump.


Dear Mr. Franken,

I really thought that you were different. I thought you were one of us, one of the people who deeply care about the survival of the internet. You have been a vocal proponent of Net Neutrality. Why, then, did you vote for the COICA as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee? Why didn’t you stand up for Net Neutrality and Free Speech and vote against it?

I understand that your background is in entertainment, and that you are sympathetic to the calls of the industry. However, shouldn’t it have been obvious how this bill could be abused to seriously hinder the ability of individuals to speak freely online? Further, why should the US Government bend to the whims of an industry that has insisted on suing people instead of fixing their business model? And, for that matter, why should your constituents support someone who doesn’t understand the very issue that they claim to be a champion of? It seems that the people aren’t as important as the $700k donation from the entertainment industry.

I am truly disappointed.


Update, here is a list of the judiciary committee members who voted, and how much money they received from the entertainment industry.

17 Jun 2013, 03:11

Discussions with Seminary Students on Free Will

Discussions with Seminary Students on Free Will

Originally submitted by emil10001 on Thu, 12/02/2010 - 14:02

I have a completed four discussions that will be used for my paper. I have included the full, uncut, discussions after the jump.

According to various experimental philosophy papers, the folk intuitions on Free Will are that of Dualist Libertarians. This is in opposition to the views of the philosophical community, whose majority identify themselves as Physicalist Compatibilists. I think that if we take the view that Free Will is an important topic, and that differing views of Free Will shape our discussions of other important topics, then we need to be concerned about the folk intuitions. What I would like to do is to try to start a dialog with people who epitomize the folk intuitions. It seems to me that the Dualist Libertarian view has its roots in the religious tradition, so naturally, seminary students would be good subjects for my discussion.

I would like to try to nail down how they view people, souls and in what sense we have free will, and how those views impact their views of responsibility. Then, I would like to try to tease out situations in which their intuitions fail them, and try to suggest that we should be cautious of leaning too heavily on our intuitions. I will then try to argue that while it may be useful for church-goers to hold these views on Sunday, it may not be wise to allow them the rest of the week. Rather, we should try to focus on more consequentialist views of responsibility.

The first discussion was with Derek. He is in seminary to become a Methodist pastor. His basic view, regarding the topic at hand, was that people have souls, and those souls have one truly free choice, whether or not to accept God. The other decisions are all known to God before you make them. During the discussion, we addressed some of the inconstancies in his views, and whether or not the soul was necessary. The discussion was just about exactly what I was hoping for, we disagreed on a fair amount at the beginning. By the end, in light of my arguments about Free Will and the impact that it has on moral responsibility, we were able to agree that it might be a good thing for society not to worry so much about holding people morally accountable.

Derek (2h 8m):

Download

The second discussion that I had was with Ian. He is in seminary to become an Episcopalian minister. His views were a bit difficult to nail down exactly. Although, it turned out that he agreed with my basic stance from the beginning. While there wasn’t much progress to be made, we did have a good discussion none-the-less.

Ian (1h 4m):

Download

I posted on Reddit to see if I could get a couple more participants, and luckily, I did! My third discussion was with Jackson Wiley. He is currently working on a philosophy paper using Free Will as an argument against evil. His basic position was that our bodies limit the sort of Free Will that we have, and that we might be more free in certain circumstances.

Jackson (53m):

Download

I had one final discussion with fellow Redditor taev on this topic. This one was a bit more tricky, as we started off by getting off track. That was my fault, but I thought that it was a good diversion. Taev is probably the closest to what has been described as the folk view. By the end of the conversation, we were able to find some common ground and agree on some important points.

taev (1h 14m):

Download

The main objection to taking this approach is that I will be disappointed with what the seminary students have to say on the topic of Free Will. That they have likely not given much thought to the idea and will have a hard time backing up their position. So far, I have been very happy with what I have found, and thought there there were some interesting views there. For instance, both Ian and Derek started out with a view that was along the lines of a compatibilist already, which I found quite surprising.

I’m sure that there is a lot of material to discuss here, especially in the first discussion. I was very happy with both of these, and I think that these are the types of discussions worth having with people who have opposing views. The discussions were pleasant, respectful and interesting. I certainly learned a lot in the process.

Here is the outline that I used, including the thought experiments. Here is the survey that shows the leanings of the philosophical community.

Original comments on r/DebateAChristian, r/Philosophy, r/Atheism.

17 Jun 2013, 03:10

The Burden of Proof

The Burden of Proof

Submitted by emil10001 on Wed, 12/01/2010 - 21:37

Shelly Kagan has done a brilliant job of summing up our responsibility when asked to prove that something does not exist:

Do I, as a physicalist who does not believe in the existence of souls, immaterial entities above and beyond the body, do I need to disprove the existence of souls? “Well, there’s no soul here, no souls there.” No. What I need to do is to take a look at each argument that gets offered for the existence of a soul and rebut it–explain why those arguments are not compelling. I don’t need to prove that souls are impossible. I just need to undermine the case for souls. If there’s no good reason to believe in souls, that actually constitutes a reason to believe there are no souls.

This has been brought up in atheist discussions many times regarding the existence of God, but I felt that Kagen really put a point on it in the above quote. Source.

Original comments here.