1867: "Physics Confession"

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Soupspoon » Wed Jul 26, 2017 10:36 am UTC

niauropsaka wrote:I also have a cat.
Do you weigh the same as a duck? Asking for an angry mob friend.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby morriswalters » Wed Jul 26, 2017 12:57 pm UTC

ucim wrote:
morriswalters wrote:To me as well, but not to the rocks.
The rocks don't have to know they have a purpose. (However, in the example I gave, the rocks actually did not have a purpose, though the eardrum did).

The argument actually extends into our future under AI robots. What will our "purpose" be?

Jose
It won't be as batteries. And yes, I agree with you, it all depends on where you are looking from.

Language seems be thought of as a probability problem currently, with repetition improving the the probability that you will understand any single word. The better your probabilistic interpretation, the better the communication. I would guess that this is the reason that kids quit playing the Why game.

Hello neural nets and hello Siri. Siri's point of view is different than a humans. To Siri an ear is nothing more than probabilistic cloud selected from a dictionary of other clouds by rules. Siri doesn't need to know the purpose, you supply it. So the class of questions about purpose from Siri's point of view aren't answerable by Siri other than randomly.

So to Siri, the idea of an ear and a rock are precisely the same.
niauropsaka wrote:I recognise the expression of which you speak. But I notice that in my art I use narrowed eyes (on humans) to indicate attraction and flirtatiousness, but not generally to indicate dislike, where I rely more on eyebrow, nose, and mouth movement. I'm not sure what this means, but I also have a cat.
Look at the emoticons on the editing window.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Hekateras » Wed Jul 26, 2017 1:11 pm UTC

Rossegacebes wrote:
Physics can be made a lot less scary if you replace all instances of "why" with "how."


In general the "why" questions are much clearer if we replace "why" by "how come" or "what for", depending on the information required. Dictionaries explain that this information is either "reason" (that is, how) or "purpose" (what for). "Why is there a rainbow?" may be rephrased as "What are the phenomena/mechanisms that explain how a rainbow is produced? (and then you go with optics, refraction and caustics), or "What is the purpose of the rainbow?", to which you may answer depending on your favourite set of beliefs.

In physics, and generally in science, "why" should be always interpreted in the first way. The second choice, purpose, posits that there is a being with free will and power of decision.


Exception: Evolution biology, where the question of purpose tends to be appropriate as well. "How" is analogous to the question of proximate causation, while "why" to the ultimate causation. ("How do we see colour? --> Because of our retina's cone cells that translate light of different spectrums into electric impulses yadda yadda" vs. "Why do we see? --> Because visual perception in colour is often advantageous for survival and possibly let cavehumans pick out tasty nonpoisonous herbs easier").

morriswalters wrote:Why is the word by which your toddler will teach you the concept of infinite regression. The appropriate exit condition for this state is, because mommy/daddy said so.


I have always wondered why people don't just answer truthfully that they don't know, or even better, that humanity in general does not know yet, but the kid can try to find out the answer if they like. Is it because too many people are convinced they have to pretend to be all-knowing and all-powerful as parents? Is it a pride thing?

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Zinho » Wed Jul 26, 2017 1:23 pm UTC

Hekateras wrote:I have always wondered why people don't just answer truthfully that they don't know, or even better, that humanity in general does not know yet, but the kid can try to find out the answer if they like. Is it because too many people are convinced they have to pretend to be all-knowing and all-powerful as parents? Is it a pride thing?

As a parent I can assure you that "no one knows yet" does not lead to a successful termination of the "why" regression. With my kids it led to then asking "Why don't you know? Why doesn't anyone know?", and the discussion quickly became very metaphysical.

I've found the most successful method of terminating the regression is distraction. Changing the game from "dad answers 'why'" to "tag, you're it, can't catch me" has been highly successful. "Who wants ice cream" less so, since it rewards and reinforces the "why" behavior. :wink:

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby speising » Wed Jul 26, 2017 1:37 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:Hello neural nets and hello Siri. Siri's point of view is different than a humans. To Siri an ear is nothing more than probabilistic cloud selected from a dictionary of other clouds by rules. Siri doesn't need to know the purpose, you supply it. So the class of questions about purpose from Siri's point of view aren't answerable by Siri other than randomly.So to Siri, the idea of an ear and a rock are precisely the same.


Siri is a chinese room.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Kit. » Wed Jul 26, 2017 1:46 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:Siri doesn't need to know the purpose, you supply it. So the class of questions about purpose from Siri's point of view aren't answerable by Siri other than randomly.

Only for as long as Siri is not taught to sell itself.

Which may mean "already not".

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Jul 26, 2017 1:55 pm UTC

Zinho wrote:
Hekateras wrote:I have always wondered why people don't just answer truthfully that they don't know, or even better, that humanity in general does not know yet, but the kid can try to find out the answer if they like. Is it because too many people are convinced they have to pretend to be all-knowing and all-powerful as parents? Is it a pride thing?

As a parent I can assure you that "no one knows yet" does not lead to a successful termination of the "why" regression. With my kids it led to then asking "Why don't you know? Why doesn't anyone know?", and the discussion quickly became very metaphysical.
It's probably an age thing, because I definitely remember my parents occasionally telling me no one knows because it's a really difficult problem, and that satisfied me (at least to the extent that I stopped asking). But younger kids are going to keep asking as long as you keep answering, because they're not really doing it to genuinely find out the ultimate answer.

Pfhorrest wrote:stuff about purpose that it's a pain to find and quote on my phone but this way there's a notification
While we agree that "Purpose requires conscious intent" is too narrow, I think "Purpose is what a thing is good at" is too broad. Lightning has a "how come" answer, but not a "what for" one. There's no real sense I can see in which equalizing charge distribution "ought to" happen, whereas from the evolutionary perspective of any part of an organism, there's definitely a sense in which the organism ought to survive and reproduce.
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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby morriswalters » Wed Jul 26, 2017 2:54 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:It's probably an age thing
Or else the child's speech center was able to to correctly infer the context where the statement is useful. At which time it was incorporated into their speech firmware.
gmalivuk wrote:While we agree that "Purpose requires conscious intent" is too narrow
In what way?
speising wrote:Siri is a chinese room.
I have mental health issues involving Chinese rooms. :lol:

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby ucim » Wed Jul 26, 2017 3:12 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:To Siri an ear is nothing more than probabilistic cloud selected from a dictionary of other clouds by rules....
We're just (metaphoricallly) closer to using chemistry to describe Siri than we are to human cognition. But as Siri becomes more complex and involved in our lives, certain shortcuts and conceptual metaphors will become useful in describing how and why Siri does certain things, just as in humans. At that point, it will have a "why" for its actions that is similar (in form) to the "why" for our actions. It will start to understand.

And here we graze the free will argument.
Spoiler:
...covered in several other threads; my position is that the free will question is defective in that the useful answer depends on how closely you are examining the entity purported to have (or not have) it. If you are looking at the mechanism, the answer is "no". If you back away and accept the metaphors and abbreviations that help us to interact with it, then the answer is "yes".
Now, what is the purpose of the free will question?

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby jc » Wed Jul 26, 2017 3:13 pm UTC

trpmb6 wrote:
orthogon wrote:Taking the argument to its conclusion, the desk is also a product of evolution. Genes chosen by natural selection built the person who built the desk. You're going to have to define sentience if you want trees on one side and desks on the other.


It truly is a multi-faceted topic. I just found myself flipping my opinion by using the argument that the leaf of a tree has purpose. I am at a loss really.


There is a widespread consensus in many scientific fields, especially biological fields, that "purpose" should only be used to mean that there was thought behind what's being described. Lots of textbooks suggest not using the term at all in scientific settings. Instead, the term "function" is used to describe actual results, without implying any actual intent.

The common textbook example is the giraffe's long neck. This evolved to serve the "function" of making it easier for the giraffe to reach its main food (tree leaves). But the giraffes didn't modify their own genes with the "purpose" of reaching those leaves. And (as far as we can determine), no intelligent being made those gene modifications with the "purpose" of making more food available to the animals. The changes happened as chemical accidents, and the giraffes with slightly longer necks had more food, so they were more likely to be healthier and produce more offspring to perpetuate the changes.

In such scientific circles, use of the term "purpose" in such cases is often considered a signal that the speaker/writer isn't a competent biologist. So students are taught to avoid the term entirely, unless they can actually show there there was purpose involved. Most of the acceptable examples of this involve humans controlling the reproduction of their animals or plants, to produce improvements in the quality of crops as human food.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Jul 26, 2017 3:41 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:While we agree that "Purpose requires conscious intent" is too narrow
In what way?
In the ways we've been discussing this whole time?

jc wrote:
trpmb6 wrote:
orthogon wrote:Taking the argument to its conclusion, the desk is also a product of evolution. Genes chosen by natural selection built the person who built the desk. You're going to have to define sentience if you want trees on one side and desks on the other.


It truly is a multi-faceted topic. I just found myself flipping my opinion by using the argument that the leaf of a tree has purpose. I am at a loss really.


There is a widespread consensus in many scientific fields, especially biological fields, that "purpose" should only be used to mean that there was thought behind what's being described. Lots of textbooks suggest not using the term at all in scientific settings. Instead, the term "function" is used to describe actual results, without implying any actual intent.

The common textbook example is the giraffe's long neck. This evolved to serve the "function" of making it easier for the giraffe to reach its main food (tree leaves). But the giraffes didn't modify their own genes with the "purpose" of reaching those leaves. And (as far as we can determine), no intelligent being made those gene modifications with the "purpose" of making more food available to the animals. The changes happened as chemical accidents, and the giraffes with slightly longer necks had more food, so they were more likely to be healthier and produce more offspring to perpetuate the changes.

In such scientific circles, use of the term "purpose" in such cases is often considered a signal that the speaker/writer isn't a competent biologist. So students are taught to avoid the term entirely, unless they can actually show there there was purpose involved. Most of the acceptable examples of this involve humans controlling the reproduction of their animals or plants, to produce improvements in the quality of crops as human food.
I suppose we could say purpose is function plus end goal, but then we have to take care whether a "what for" question is about purpose or function.

I'm not wed to the terminology I've been using, and it does make sense to have a special way to talk about conscious intent as opposed to evolutionary adaptation.

The main point I think is important is that "what for" questions don't imply an agent, contrary to what that person back on the first page claimed.
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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Jul 26, 2017 4:26 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:There's no real sense I can see in which equalizing charge distribution "ought to" happen, whereas from the evolutionary perspective of any part of an organism, there's definitely a sense in which the organism ought to survive and reproduce.

On my account it's perfectly possible for a thing to just have no purpose, if it is normatively neutral. If there is no reason why lightning ought to happen, then there is no purpose for lightning, it's just a thing that happens to happen, for no purpose. In extremis, if there turns out to be no "ought" to anything at all, that's the same as there being no purpose at all to anything. (And, to address some of the other comments since this one: in a descriptive field of natural science that's not in the business of making normative assertions at all, there shouldn't be any talk of purpose).
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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby morriswalters » Wed Jul 26, 2017 6:25 pm UTC

@ucim

I'll be interested in free will when I find a way to distinguish between it and any other state. As a convenience I assume it, other than that....

Do you think your speech centers will evolve to become intelligent?
gmalivuk wrote:In the ways we've been discussing this whole time?
Thank you. :roll: The next quote answered my question.
Pfhorrest wrote:And, to address some of the other comments since this one: in a descriptive field of natural science that's not in the business of making normative assertions at all, there shouldn't be any talk of purpose
In extremis, if there turns out to be no "ought" to anything at all, that's the same as there being no purpose at all to anything.
Yeah. :cry: Then I get up and put my feet on the floor and go get coffee. Which is what many people do. They invent a purpose. Buy a car, get a job, and so on. If the sun goes Nova, none of that will remain. Purpose is a tool you use to move between the endpoints. Or to control behavior that you don't like.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Jul 26, 2017 7:54 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:And, to address some of the other comments since this one: in a descriptive field of natural science that's not in the business of making normative assertions at all, there shouldn't be any talk of purpose
In extremis, if there turns out to be no "ought" to anything at all, that's the same as there being no purpose at all to anything.
Yeah. :cry: Then I get up and put my feet on the floor and go get coffee. Which is what many people do. They invent a purpose. Buy a car, get a job, and so on. If the sun goes Nova, none of that will remain. Purpose is a tool you use to move between the endpoints. Or to control behavior that you don't like.

I can't tell if you're trying to construe me as saying so, but I'm not asserting that there is no purpose and no "ought", just saying that one goes with the other, conditionally. And also that the natural sciences, being descriptive in their activity, are not even attempting to talk about "oughts", and so have no place talking about purpose either. But other, prescriptive fields, that are all about what ought or oughtn't be, are perfectly apt to talk about purpose as part and parcel of that. Whether there's any merit to such prescriptive activity at all is a different subject entirely, one I suspect we'd disagree on.
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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Kit. » Wed Jul 26, 2017 8:11 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:if there turns out to be no "ought" to anything at all

What do you exactly mean by "turns out to be" here?

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Jul 26, 2017 8:24 pm UTC

Kit. wrote:What do you exactly mean by "turns out to be" here?

I'm writing this from a perspective of not yet having answers to foundational questions about ethics, because the answers to those questions are beside the core point I'm making right now. "Turns out to be" means when you finish the logically subsequent investigation into those questions.
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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Kit. » Wed Jul 26, 2017 8:58 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
Kit. wrote:What do you exactly mean by "turns out to be" here?

I'm writing this from a perspective of not yet having answers to foundational questions about ethics, because the answers to those questions are beside the core point I'm making right now. "Turns out to be" means when you finish the logically subsequent investigation into those questions.

My concern is about the methodology of your framework. I don't see what could make these questions answerable in it.

I mean, how do we detect that we have an answer?

And if we cannot detect that, what meaning does your talk about "oughts" have? Including, but not limited to, the point you are trying to make now.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby ucim » Wed Jul 26, 2017 9:06 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:I'll be interested in free will when I find a way to distinguish between it and any other state.
Free will isn't a state. It's an outlook about the state, an outlook that depends on how deeply you look at the state, and why you are looking at it in the first place.

Besides, so long as there are lawyers, wills won't be free. :)

morriswalters wrote:Do you think your speech centers will evolve to become intelligent?
I see what you did just there.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Jul 26, 2017 9:27 pm UTC

Kit. wrote:My concern is about the methodology of your framework. I don't see what could make these questions answerable in it.

I mean, how do we detect that we have an answer?

And if we cannot detect that, what meaning does your talk about "oughts" have? Including, but not limited to, the point you are trying to make now.

I think you're on the wrong level of abstraction here. I'm not talking at all about finding out answers to specific questions about what ought or oughtn't happen, I'm talking about finding out answers to questions like the one you just asked: "what meaning does talk about 'oughts' have?"

The point I am making in this thread is just that talk about "purpose" boils down to talk about "oughts". But what does talk about "oughts" mean? That's a different question, no answers to which are assumed in this conversation. Do you think that question is unanswerable? Not just that the answer is "it doesn't mean anything"; that's still an answer. If it should turn out that that is the answer, then talk about purpose also doesn't mean anything. I'm not ruling that out in this conversation.
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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Kit. » Wed Jul 26, 2017 10:37 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:I think you're on the wrong level of abstraction here. I'm not talking at all about finding out answers to specific questions about what ought or oughtn't happen, I'm talking about finding out answers to questions like the one you just asked: "what meaning does talk about 'oughts' have?"

The point I am making in this thread is just that talk about "purpose" boils down to talk about "oughts".

That's the point you are trying to sell. I am questioning the value of your offer.

You are trying to replace something that definitely has a meaning (although it's probably not the meaning you want it to have) with something that likely has no meaning at all.

It's as if you were discussing the merits of the equation a=b, and I would come with a brilliant idea: "Why don't we speak about a/c=b/c instead? It's exactly the same! And by the way, c is likely to be zero...".

Pfhorrest wrote:But what does talk about "oughts" mean? That's a different question, no answers to which are assumed in this conversation. Do you think that question is unanswerable?

At the moment it's unanswerable because you haven't defined the "existence" for "oughts" well enough for this question to have a meaningful answer. And I don't see how you could define it if you want to keep "oughts" out of the descriptive naturalistic domain, while "purposes" (at least in the sense of literal conscious intent) definitely belong to it.

But you may try.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Jul 26, 2017 10:53 pm UTC

people having opinions on what ought to be is as much as part of the natural sciences as people putting things to some purpose. there are natural facts about what people think and do and what they think about what they're doing and why. (it's only saying which if any of those opinions are correct that's beyond the domain of the natural sciences, whether or not it's within the domain of anything else).

if you think all there is to "oughts" is that some people think some things ought or oughtn't be (but that they're all wrong about that because that's all meaningless nonsense) then that's fine with me for the purpose (no pun intended) of this conversation. whatever reason those people think something ought to be can constitute their purpose for that thing, and my account of purpose still holds up just fine. if all there is to "ought" is just people thinking that something ought to be, then all there is to purpose is just people thinking that something does something that they think ought to be done. that's fine for my account of purpose.
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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby morriswalters » Thu Jul 27, 2017 12:20 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:Whether there's any merit to such prescriptive activity at all is a different subject entirely, one I suspect we'd disagree on.
I really don't know. I don't have the vocabulary to discuss it. But except for here it doesn't come up. So I dance around and get whatever meaning I can gather from what I can understand. That was my this is the way it works. But I won't ask any more questions.
ucim wrote:I see what you did just there.
Sorry.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Cougar Allen » Thu Jul 27, 2017 3:39 am UTC

Sleeping cats don't purr.

Purring is not really a sign of feeling happy; it's a sign of feeling sociable. Cats who are in pain purr.

If snow is very cold skis don't work. The friction isn't enough to melt it and it's like trying to ski on sand.

I'm not sure that applies to ice skates. That might require the ice to be colder than it ever gets outdoors on Earth.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby rmsgrey » Thu Jul 27, 2017 7:29 pm UTC

Is 'ought' aught?

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Kit. » Thu Jul 27, 2017 8:24 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:people having opinions on what ought to be is as much as part of the natural sciences as people putting things to some purpose. there are natural facts about what people think and do and what they think about what they're doing and why.

"People having opinions on what is natural sciences" and "people making opinions on what is natural facts" are as well. That's not the point.

Pfhorrest wrote:it's... saying which if any of those opinions are correct that's beyond the domain of the natural sciences

This statement has no truth value unless the predicate "correct" is properly (which means at least unambiguously) defined. While it could be possible to define it unambiguously, I don't see how you could do it in your framework.

That's one of the points, although not the main one.

Pfhorrest wrote:whether or not it's within the domain of anything else

And that's my main point. "Purposes" and "oughts" belong to different domains. "Purposes" are instrumental, likely related to observational learning and/or toolmaking. "Oughts" are moral, likely related to reciprocal altruism.

There is a domain they can share, but it's the domain of religion.

Pfhorrest wrote:whatever reason those people think something ought to be can constitute their purpose for that thing

I don't think so. The purpose of a thing is not that it is ought to be, but what it was made to do.

Pfhorrest wrote:all there is to purpose is just people thinking that something does something that they think ought to be done.

I don't think so. If I see a hammer, I am not necessarily thinking that I ought to hit some nails.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Pfhorrest » Thu Jul 27, 2017 8:43 pm UTC

You seem very confused about what it is that I'm even saying. Why do we need hammers? Why do we want hammers? Why have hammers? These are all different ways of asking why hammers ought to be. Not in any kind of deep profound religious or altruistic or otherwise sappy bleeding-heart kind of way, just... you're not asking for a description of the hammer or of the chain of events that brought the hammer into being or anything like that, you're asking what good is a hammer, even if "what good" means nothing more than "what is it that you want that you think a hammer will get you?" If you answer that question, you've given the hammer's purpose (at least it's purpose to whoever you asked), because they're equivalent questions.

Hammers don't make you think you ought to hit nails, but if you're trying to hit nails -- for whatever reason, that's the thing you think it's best to be doing right now -- it might make you think "I ought to get a hammer, so that I can hit these nails".

I think your point of confusion is that you think "ought" brings with it some kind of thick profound religious altruistic bleeding-heart moralizing connotations, when all it's really talking about is... purpose. You could talk about some kind of greater sense of purpose than just what someone wants something for, just like you can talk about a greater sense of good than what someone wants, but the former doesn't demand there be some kind of ultimate cosmic authority doing the wanting any more than the latter does. If (and only if) you have some impersonal universal concept of goodness, then you automatically have some impersonal universal concept of purpose to go along with it. But even if you don't have that, we still have, without question, small relativistic concepts of "goodness" (in the sense of "what I want" if nothing else), and those suffice to support the small, everyday, relative sense of "purpose" (in the sense of "what I want this thing for").
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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby ucim » Thu Jul 27, 2017 8:55 pm UTC

Kit. wrote:"Purposes" and "oughts" belong to different domains. "Purposes" are instrumental, likely related to observational learning and/or toolmaking. "Oughts" are moral, likely related to reciprocal altruism.
Well put.
Pfhorrest wrote:You seem very confused about what it is that I'm even saying. Why do we need hammers? Why do we want hammers? Why have hammers? These are all different ways of asking why hammers ought to be.
If I make something, that doesn't mean that the thing I make ought to be. Similarly, If I do something, that doesn't mean that the thing I make ought to be done.

"Ought" (especially in the "is/ought" realm) does carry a prescriptive or harmonious ("all's right with the world") sense. (Note: "ought" doesn't look like a word to me any more.) If you mean a usage in which this doesn't matter, then "ought" ought not be used.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Hekateras » Fri Jul 28, 2017 12:27 pm UTC

jc wrote:
trpmb6 wrote:
orthogon wrote:Taking the argument to its conclusion, the desk is also a product of evolution. Genes chosen by natural selection built the person who built the desk. You're going to have to define sentience if you want trees on one side and desks on the other.


It truly is a multi-faceted topic. I just found myself flipping my opinion by using the argument that the leaf of a tree has purpose. I am at a loss really.


There is a widespread consensus in many scientific fields, especially biological fields, that "purpose" should only be used to mean that there was thought behind what's being described. Lots of textbooks suggest not using the term at all in scientific settings. Instead, the term "function" is used to describe actual results, without implying any actual intent.

The common textbook example is the giraffe's long neck. This evolved to serve the "function" of making it easier for the giraffe to reach its main food (tree leaves). But the giraffes didn't modify their own genes with the "purpose" of reaching those leaves. And (as far as we can determine), no intelligent being made those gene modifications with the "purpose" of making more food available to the animals. The changes happened as chemical accidents, and the giraffes with slightly longer necks had more food, so they were more likely to be healthier and produce more offspring to perpetuate the changes.

In such scientific circles, use of the term "purpose" in such cases is often considered a signal that the speaker/writer isn't a competent biologist. So students are taught to avoid the term entirely, unless they can actually show there there was purpose involved. Most of the acceptable examples of this involve humans controlling the reproduction of their animals or plants, to produce improvements in the quality of crops as human food.


See, the reason I brought up purpose is because the person I replied to seemed to think that asking "why" (as opposed to "how") implied a purpose and more importantly a will, something that is obviously not true in biology. You can ask "why" a leaf is green without implying that anyone deliberately made it green, because the purpose - or function, if you insist - of something in biology is a valid question. In the context of evobio, something being useful, functional or fulfilling a specific purpose is reason enough for it to exist, without any will being involved. So no, the leaf does not have a "purpose" in that someone made it so, but it has a purpose in that it fulfills a function, insofar as the semantics of two words with overlapping meanings matter.

However, that begs an interesting question. "Function" is partially synonymous with "purpose", so why is this question of semantics - and it is pure semantics - so relevant in academia? (Just to be sure, I've checked a couple of dictionaries for "purpose" and they all have at least one meaning that does not imply intent whatsoever, usually along the lines of "what something is useful for".) I'm a biology undergrad in Germany (and yes, I would prefer to think I am "competent" in biology) and during my undergrad educationI have never encountered this semantic issue with so badly wanting to avoid phrasings that could even potentially imply intent. So I'm wondering if it has something to do with the much more prevalent tension between evobio and Creationism in the almighty conversation-domineering US, particularly the "Bible Belt". The painstaking avoidance of possibly loaded words seems like it could be tied to a pre-emptive desire to not give ammunition to Creationists who might be too eager to draw false equivalencies between "believing" in God and "believing" in evolution?

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby trpmb6 » Fri Jul 28, 2017 12:34 pm UTC

Hekateras wrote:
However, that begs an interesting question. "Function" is partially synonymous with "purpose", so why is this question of semantics - and it is pure semantics - so relevant in academia? (Just to be sure, I've checked a couple of dictionaries for "purpose" and they all have at least one meaning that does not imply intent whatsoever, usually along the lines of "what something is useful for".) I'm a biology undergrad in Germany (and yes, I would prefer to think I am "competent" in biology) and during my undergrad educationI have never encountered this semantic issue with so badly wanting to avoid phrasings that could even potentially imply intent. So I'm wondering if it has something to do with the much more prevalent tension between evobio and Creationism in the almighty conversation-domineering US, particularly the "Bible Belt". The painstaking avoidance of possibly loaded words seems like it could be tied to a pre-emptive desire to not give ammunition to Creationists who might be too eager to draw false equivalencies between "believing" in God and "believing" in evolution?


This isn't really the place for this kind of discussion but I thought I'd mention that most of the creationists I know point to evolution as a sign of a divine being. As I've noted in other forum topics they often say God would have had the foresight to put dinosaur bones in the ground to give us a sense of time scale, and to provide us with the desire to explore further and learn techniques like carbon dating.

*Most of the people I associate with are engineers or intelectuals in some form. So they typically try to resolve the conflicts they see between academia and their creationist roots in this way.
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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby jc » Fri Jul 28, 2017 1:42 pm UTC

Hekateras wrote:... I'm a biology undergrad in Germany (and yes, I would prefer to think I am "competent" in biology) and during my undergrad educationI have never encountered this semantic issue with so badly wanting to avoid phrasings that could even potentially imply intent. So I'm wondering if it has something to do with the much more prevalent tension between evobio and Creationism in the almighty conversation-domineering US, particularly the "Bible Belt". The painstaking avoidance of possibly loaded words seems like it could be tied to a pre-emptive desire to not give ammunition to Creationists who might be too eager to draw false equivalencies between "believing" in God and "believing" in evolution?


Yeah, I think you've got it exactly right. Here in the US, I remember a high school biology teacher mentioning the textbook's chapter on evolution, saying that we could read it if we wanted, but he had to skip over it because the religious folks in the town would probably get him fired if he assigned it to us to read. This was a few decades ago; nowadays this doesn't much happen, because most of the pre-college textbooks no longer contain any mention of evolution. So for now, the religious folks have won the battle. One of the results is that colleges have to supply "remedial" information about the evolutionary process. This usually comes with the explanation that the students really have learn all this in high school or earlier, since everything else in biology depends on understanding how evolution works.

Another effect, of course, is that the US population is unknowingly pushing the evolution of things like antibiotic resistance via such things as "antibiotic" hand sanitizers, overuse of agricultural pesticides, etc. The companies that sell such things rarely warn about the long-term consequences, for the obvious reason. Biologists do bring it up when it's relevant, but this never much comes to the attention of the general population, because it's not "news". When it is, the media tends to talk vaguely about organisms "developing" resistance, with no explanation that in this case, "develop" really means "evolve".

There's a general understanding in the US population that evolution is an abstract academic concept that only works on a million-year time scale and is totally irrelevant to their lives. Most Americans have no idea that it's something real that is happening all around them, and might have a very real effect on them when they pick up an infection that used to be curable by fairly safe medicines.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby trpmb6 » Fri Jul 28, 2017 3:09 pm UTC

jc wrote:Yeah, I think you've got it exactly right. Here in the US,


You keep using the word "most americans" along with other generalities that I think are grossly misrepresented. I grew up in Missouri and live in Kansas (definitely bible thumping country) now. Rest assured, evolution is absolutely taught. No idea where you're getting this idea that the majority of the US population views evolution "as an abstract academic concept."

As I noted above, some of the staunchest creationists I know believe evolution happens. They just argue that evolution proves there is a divine being who came up with it.

Are there people who don't believe in evolution? absolutely. But don't grossly misrepresent the population of the US with broad sweeping generalizations based on zero facts.
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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Kit. » Fri Jul 28, 2017 4:37 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:You seem very confused about what it is that I'm even saying.

It seems to me that you have an idea that seems obvious to you, but looks plain wrong to me. Have you considered the possibility that it is indeed wrong?

Pfhorrest wrote:Why do we need hammers? Why do we want hammers? Why have hammers?.

Uhm... maybe to serve as an illustration to the law of the hammer? When the only theory you have is moral realism, everything looks like an "ought"?

Seriously, we don't "need" hammers. They are useful, but not necessary.

Pfhorrest wrote:you're not asking for a description of the hammer or of the chain of events that brought the hammer into being or anything like that, you're asking what good is a hammer,

I am not asking what good is a hammer. I find such a question meaningless. I might be asking what a hammer is good for, but that's a completely different question, with a completely different meaning of "good".

Looks like you have fallen prey to an equivocation. Likely caused by a cognitive metaphor, but an equivocation nonetheless.

Pfhorrest wrote:Hammers don't make you think you ought to hit nails, but if you're trying to hit nails -- for whatever reason, that's the thing you think it's best to be doing right now -- it might make you think "I ought to get a hammer, so that I can hit these nails".

I don't need to get a hammer for that. If I need to hit a lot of nails, I'd better get a nailgun. If not, pliers in practice are not much worse for hammering, and if I need precision, I would better switch to screws.

Pfhorrest wrote:I think your point of confusion is that you think "ought" brings with it some kind of thick profound religious altruistic bleeding-heart moralizing connotations,

Why would I confuse religion with morality?

No, I just look for good ways to explain humans to alien intelligences (such as computers).

Pfhorrest wrote:when all it's really talking about is... purpose. You could talk about some kind of greater sense of purpose than just what someone wants something for, just like you can talk about a greater sense of good than what someone wants, but the former doesn't demand there be some kind of ultimate cosmic authority doing the wanting any more than the latter does.

Or I could avoid confusing "goodness", "wish" and "purpose" with each other.

Pfhorrest wrote:If (and only if) you have some impersonal universal concept of goodness, then you automatically have some impersonal universal concept of purpose to go along with it.

This hypothesis of yours is easy to put to a test. Say, I have an impersonal universal trivial concept of goodness: everything is good. Which "impersonal universal concept of purpose" does follow?

Pfhorrest wrote:But even if you don't have that, we still have, without question, small relativistic concepts of "goodness" (in the sense of "what I want" if nothing else), and those suffice to support the small, everyday, relative sense of "purpose" (in the sense of "what I want this thing for").

I prefer to define "goodness" as "what I don't need to avoid". But anyway, no matter how we redefine the word "goodness", the purpose of the tools has nothing to do with what I want.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Jul 28, 2017 4:49 pm UTC

trpmb6 wrote:
jc wrote:Yeah, I think you've got it exactly right. Here in the US,


You keep using the word "most americans" along with other generalities that I think are grossly misrepresented. I grew up in Missouri and live in Kansas (definitely bible thumping country) now. Rest assured, evolution is absolutely taught. No idea where you're getting this idea that the majority of the US population views evolution "as an abstract academic concept."

As I noted above, some of the staunchest creationists I know believe evolution happens. They just argue that evolution proves there is a divine being who came up with it.

Are there people who don't believe in evolution? absolutely. But don't grossly misrepresent the population of the US with broad sweeping generalizations based on zero facts.
More than 40% of American adults believe God created humanity in its present form within the past 10,000 years, so I think it's probably pretty safe to say that those plus at least 1/6 of the people who believe something different don't have a very good understanding of evolution, which amounts to "most Americans".

Kit. wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:You seem very confused about what it is that I'm even saying.
It seems to me that you have an idea that seems obvious to you, but looks plain wrong to me. Have you considered the possibility that it is indeed wrong?
Have you?

Pfhorrest wrote:Why do we need hammers? Why do we want hammers? Why have hammers?.

Uhm... maybe to serve as an illustration to the law of the hammer? When the only theory you have is moral realism, everything looks like an "ought"?

Seriously, we don't "need" hammers. They are useful, but not necessary.
No one ever said we need hammers, nor do most people confuse "ought" with "must".

Pfhorrest wrote:you're not asking for a description of the hammer or of the chain of events that brought the hammer into being or anything like that, you're asking what good is a hammer,

I am not asking what good is a hammer. I find such a question meaningless. I might be asking what a hammer is good for, but that's a completely different question, with a completely different meaning of "good".
You're going to have to explain why you think these are completely different questions. In any case, this looks like a semantic difference more than anything else. Pfhorrest sees those as basically the same question (with the same sense of "good"). So if you prefer to treat "what good is a hammer" as some sort of completely different and unanswerable question, just treat him as asking the other question.

Pfhorrest wrote:But even if you don't have that, we still have, without question, small relativistic concepts of "goodness" (in the sense of "what I want" if nothing else), and those suffice to support the small, everyday, relative sense of "purpose" (in the sense of "what I want this thing for").

I prefer to define "goodness" as "what I don't need to avoid".
Okay, so here we see that you're using a rather different understanding of "goodness" than other people in this discussion. Maybe you should have just said that in the first place.

But anyway, no matter how we redefine the word "goodness", the purpose of the tools has nothing to do with what I want.
If you use a tool because you want to accomplish X, then is the purpose of that tool (to you at this time) not "to accomplish X"?
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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby ucim » Fri Jul 28, 2017 5:59 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:If you use a tool because you want to accomplish X, then is the purpose of that tool (to you at this time) not "to accomplish X"?


Yes, as you exactly stated it: "to you at this time".

I would however say that that's not necessarily the purpose of the tool as envisioned by its maker (if there is one). That's an equally valid purpose; it's important not to confuse the two senses of the word. Much confusion arises from switching the sense in the middle of a discussion, or saying one thing and being heard as saying the other.

I make a hammer for the purpose of hitting nails. Jane picks up that same hammer for the purpose of breaking a window. What is the purpose of the hammer?

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Kit. » Fri Jul 28, 2017 7:28 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Kit. wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:You seem very confused about what it is that I'm even saying.
It seems to me that you have an idea that seems obvious to you, but looks plain wrong to me. Have you considered the possibility that it is indeed wrong?
Have you?

Why would I be asking otherwise?

If you want to say that you have any questions about my ideas, feel fee to ask them.

gmalivuk wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:Why do we need hammers? Why do we want hammers? Why have hammers?.

Uhm... maybe to serve as an illustration to the law of the hammer? When the only theory you have is moral realism, everything looks like an "ought"?

Seriously, we don't "need" hammers. They are useful, but not necessary.
No one ever said we need hammers, nor do most people confuse "ought" with "must".

I wasn't speaking to "most" people, and if we don't need hammers, the question "Why do we need hammers?" is meaningless. If the question is meaningless it doesn't necessarily mean that we are speaking about the prescriptive domain (and vice versa, but that's not my point).

gmalivuk wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:you're not asking for a description of the hammer or of the chain of events that brought the hammer into being or anything like that, you're asking what good is a hammer,

I am not asking what good is a hammer. I find such a question meaningless. I might be asking what a hammer is good for, but that's a completely different question, with a completely different meaning of "good".
You're going to have to explain why you think these are completely different questions.

Easily. The question "what a hammer is good for" is a question about "the chain of events that brought the hammer into being or anything like that", unless you are looking for an answer like "dunno... anything you find it good for, maybe?".

gmalivuk wrote:In any case, this looks like a semantic difference more than anything else.

Are we discussing anything else? Or did you mean "grammatical difference"?

gmalivuk wrote:Pfhorrest sees those as basically the same question (with the same sense of "good").

Pfhorrest explicitly states that he talks about the prescriptive sense. "Good for" is not prescriptive.

gmalivuk wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:But even if you don't have that, we still have, without question, small relativistic concepts of "goodness" (in the sense of "what I want" if nothing else), and those suffice to support the small, everyday, relative sense of "purpose" (in the sense of "what I want this thing for").

I prefer to define "goodness" as "what I don't need to avoid".
Okay, so here we see that you're using a rather different understanding of "goodness" than other people in this discussion. Maybe you should have just said that in the first place.

Wasn't this the first place? Where would you like to see it before? We weren't speaking about "goodness" before (unless you count my "or whatever"), we were speaking about "purposes" and "oughts".

gmalivuk wrote:If you use a tool because you want to accomplish X, then is the purpose of that tool (to you at this time) not "to accomplish X"?

No, that would be the purpose of my action. You might say that the purpose of the tool was to help me with my action, but that would be a tautological purpose.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Soupspoon » Fri Jul 28, 2017 7:32 pm UTC

ucim wrote:I make a hammer for the purpose of hitting nails. Jane picks up that same hammer for the purpose of breaking a window. What is the purpose of the hammer?

If all Jane has is the hammer, then the window doubtless looks like a nail... ;)

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Heimhenge » Fri Jul 28, 2017 7:43 pm UTC

Soupspoon wrote:
ucim wrote:I make a hammer for the purpose of hitting nails. Jane picks up that same hammer for the purpose of breaking a window. What is the purpose of the hammer?

If all Jane has is the hammer, then the window doubtless looks like a nail... ;)


Reminds me of a song parody I once heard somewhere ...

If I had a hammer
And you had a bell,
I'd smash your bell
All over the land.

:)

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Jul 28, 2017 7:57 pm UTC

Kit. wrote:Pfhorrest explicitly states that he talks about the prescriptive sense. "Good for" is not prescriptive.

Only if you have a weirdly narrow conception of "prescriptive".

Guy says he has a headache. Friend tells him he ought to take some ibuprofen for that, because it's good for relieving headaches. Guy says he's not sure, he'll ask his doctor first. Asks his doctor what he should do about his headache. Doctor prescribes him ibuprofen after all. When he picks up that prescription, the bottle says "Purpose: Pain relief".

"Ought". "Good for". "Should". "Prescription". "Purpose". Perfectly natural use of language here.

Prescription isn't nearly all about lofty rules about altruistic social interaction. All of ordinary practical reason is about prescription. "To accomplish X, what should I do? What, in turn, should I do first in order to accomplish that?" That dovetails seamlessly into lofty moral topics when you just follow the line of practical reason in the other direction: why accomplish X in the first place? Whatever the answer to that question, why aim for that end in turn? Where does that regress end? That's a lofty moral question. "How should I drive this nail into this board?" isn't, but it's still prescriptive in the broad sense, and "use a hammer" (an imperative sentence, you'll note) is a possible answer to that question. As you've previously pointed out there are other possible answers too. Which dovetails nicely into my next comment...

ucim wrote:I make a hammer for the purpose of hitting nails. Jane picks up that same hammer for the purpose of breaking a window. What is the purpose of the hammer?

Purpose does not have to be singular. A single thing can serve multiple purposes.

ucim wrote:I would however say that that's not necessarily the purpose of the tool as envisioned by its maker (if there is one). That's an equally valid purpose; it's important not to confuse the two senses of the word.

Those aren't different senses of the word "purpose", they're different purposes (in the same sense of the word) that the same object can serve to different people. Coming back full circle to the original topic, there's nothing inherently privileging the purpose the creator of a thing had in mind as the singular purpose, and so no need for there to be a creator of a thing for it to have a purpose at all. A creator's purpose in making a thing is just one narrow case of the broader sense of things serving purposes in general, which is to say, serving as means to ends, an end being some good someone is trying to achieve, even if "good" turns out to mean nothing more than some baseless opinion of theirs.
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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby ucim » Fri Jul 28, 2017 8:33 pm UTC

Kit. wrote:The question "what a hammer is good for" is a question about "the chain of events that brought the hammer into being or anything like that", unless you are looking for an answer like "dunno... anything you find it good for, maybe?".
Is the same true of the similar question "what is a rock good for"?

Pfhorrest wrote:Purpose does not have to be singular. A single thing can serve multiple purposes.
Indeed, but they are not necessarily the same sense of the word. Serving a purpose is not the same thing as having a purpose. I'm drawing a distinction here, and claiming that this distinction can lead to much confusion if glossed over, and that that is what is happening here.

Pfhorrest wrote:Those aren't different senses of the word "purpose", they're different purposes (in the same sense of the word) that the same object can serve to different people. [...]there's nothing inherently privileging the purpose the creator of a thing had in mind
Sure there is. If I create a hammer for the purpose of driving nails (which is why it looks the way it does; to accomplish that purpose optimally), that is what the hammer "is for" (notice the existential aspect), even if I myself never use it for that. That purpose is what drove the design. It's a different sense of the word "purpose" from the one where Jane picks up an existing object (be it a hammer or a rock) and "uses it for" breaking a window. (Notice the action aspect)

I think there's an important distinction to be made in some contexts. It could be expressed as "proximate purpose" vs. "original purpose", leaving "purpose" by itself to be ambiguous. Anything that is used has a proximate purpose, but not everything has an original purpose. Rocks for example, just are. They have no original purpose, even though they could have the proximate purpose of bashing in a skull, or driving a nail.

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Re: 1867: "Physics Confession"

Postby Kit. » Fri Jul 28, 2017 9:29 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
Kit. wrote:Pfhorrest explicitly states that he talks about the prescriptive sense. "Good for" is not prescriptive.

Only if you have a weirdly narrow conception of "prescriptive".

First of all, it seemed to me that your initial position was "purposes are prescriptive, and as for everything prescriptive, their truth values cannot be deduced from the observation of the events happening in the world". Was I mistaken? And if I wasn't, do you still hold this position?

Pfhorrest wrote:Guy says he has a headache. Friend tells him he ought to take some ibuprofen for that, because it's good for relieving headaches. Guy says he's not sure, he'll ask his doctor first. Asks his doctor what he should do about his headache. Doctor prescribes him ibuprofen after all. When he picks up that prescription, the bottle says "Purpose: Pain relief".

"Ought". "Good for". "Should". "Prescription". "Purpose". Perfectly natural use of language here.

Are we speaking about the "natural use of language" (which is allowed to be ambiguous and even inconsistent) or are we talking about the formal logic that separates "prescriptive" from "descriptive"?

Now, let's retell the story:

Guy says he has a headache. Friend tells him he ought to take some ibuprofen for that, because it relieves headaches. Guy says he's not sure, he'll ask his doctor first. Asks his doctor what he should do about his headache. Doctor prescribes him ibuprofen after all. When he picks up that prescription, the bottle says "Pain reliever/Fever reducer (NSAID)".

The story is exactly the same. Have we managed to deduce "prescriptive" from "descriptive"? Or isn't the source of "prescription" in any version of the story the same: either the original intent of the guy to get rid of the headache, or the authority of the doctor?

Pfhorrest wrote:Prescription isn't nearly all about lofty rules about altruistic social interaction.

And shouldn't be. If some cognitive model was kept by the evolution because it was useful in social interactions, it doesn't mean that currently this model is used only for social interaction. All the power of cognitive metaphor lies in the ability to use a model outside its original domain.

But: the tool making (purpose) could come from another cognitive model, and does not need to assume "oughts". The idea of bringing tool making under the umbrella of "oughts" is not necessarily universal and might be even harmful.

Pfhorrest wrote:All of ordinary practical reason is about prescription.

It doesn't mean that it cannot include descriptive components into reasoning. "The efficiency of X for Y is Z" is descriptive no matter if Z is binary ("efficient", i.e. "good for", or "not efficient", i.e. "not good for"), or probabilistic ("95%"), or whatever.

Pfhorrest wrote:Which dovetails nicely into my next comment...

Not really. The choice between multiple tools having the same purpose is not equal to the ability of a single tool to serve multiple purposes. In the former case, one still needs to justify the choice of a particular tool for the job (to convert "could" into "ought", a descriptive component into a prescriptive one), and for that some external prescriptive source would be needed.

ucim wrote:
Kit. wrote:The question "what a hammer is good for" is a question about "the chain of events that brought the hammer into being or anything like that", unless you are looking for an answer like "dunno... anything you find it good for, maybe?".
Is the same true of the similar question "what is a rock good for"?

Yes. It is a question about the results of the attempts to shape rocks into different tools.


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