Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Sci-Fi and actually alien aliens

This was a final essay for a sci-fi class last semester that I thought I'd share. The tl;dr is that I'm sad there aren't more creative approaches to aliens in sci-fi, but it's understandable why that's the case and why things probably aren't going to change in the near future.

On the nature of reasoning with mathematical models about the real world, E.T. Jaynes in his book Probability Theory: The Logic of Science asserts ``Anyone who believes that he is proving things about the real world, is a victim of the mind projection fallacy.'' (My emphasis.) In his experience with English speakers, there's an ``almost universal tendency to disguise epistemological statements by putting them into a grammatical form which suggests to the unwary an ontological statement.'' He was most concerned about people treating their internal states-of-mind as an external fundamental truth about reality, but it generalizes--e.g. the fallacy underlies philosophical confusions about sound in a forest. He insists that probability is a state of mind representing one's absence of perfect information; reality itself is never uncertain.

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Is perception reduction sufficient for justifying a belief?


"Perception reduction" is a common phrase amongst followers of Ayn Rand. Their argument is that, ultimately, conceptual knowledge must be justified by connecting it to human perceptions. Sometimes they misspeak and say "sensory reduction", which is very different. What's the difference between a sense and a percept? It's the difference between knowing "button 2513 is down" and knowing "some object is moving toward me at 5 m/s". In other words, perception requires an intelligent agent such as a person, a circuit, or an ant. Mere sensory data does not. A rock receives the same sensory input as an eye. It's important to note that humans are not rocks, and due to our complexity, perception is the base-level interaction we have with reality. Even for babies. (Something Rand did not believe; the science of the matter (perceptual psychology) has been done since her death in 1982. Alas, figures in history whose work did not contain hard mathematics and formal logic are destined to be shown wrong sooner or later on more or less all accounts. The degree of wrongness is varying, of course, and is often proportional to how mathematical an idea is without being pure math.)

Like much of Randian language, "perception reduction" is a moderately vague phrase with a moderately vague interpretation that can change. Is the Christian who insists they perceived God's touch and God's light justifying their belief in God? And indeed the brain is a complex piece of machinery: for mysterious reasons we can suddenly feel cold, or warm, even though we are not physically next to a source or sink of heat.

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