Saturday, September 5, 2020


I had been reading a book on AI that seemed promising at first, but the further I got into it the methodology seemed inappropriate. The author teaches law, and, with a perspective that emphasizes legal theory and analytic philosophy, he constructs arguments about what counts as good. The beginning of the book argues that work isn't good by examining several propositions and includes some empirical research, and later in the book he apparently writes about how the absence of work could enable a utopia. However, I got tired of his reasoning process and gave up before the halfway point. My default method for thinking about these kinds of things rests on knowledge of human behavior, particularly behavior that is encoded in our genes, and a book about humans that relies primarily on abstract propositions and logical arguments from those propositions reminds me of a bad philosophy class. It is possible that I would have appreciated the author's ideas more if he had presented them differently, but I found it difficult to take his arguments seriously. His manner of presentation rendered his ideas unconvincing. This author was on a podcast with Sean Carroll, which I didn't listen to. It is surprising to me that people such as Sean Carroll, who otherwise seem exceptionally intelligent, are unable to see the limitations of contemporary philosophy. I have yet to find a truly compelling book on AI, but the popularity of the subject is increasing, and there will probably be a better one sooner or later. It is such an important field that people from various academic disciplines are attempting to colonize it and take over. I'm rooting for the zoologists, not the physicists or the philosophers.

As things stand, I will be reading a long two-volume biography of Bertrand Russell. Russell is interesting to me because he had a life that spanned many periods. He was alive in 1872, when Charles Darwin, George Eliot and G.H. Lewes attended the séance that I mentioned, and he was still alive in 1970, when I was an undergraduate in college. Although he is considered one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century, his significant work in the philosophy of mathematics was completed when he was quite young, and no one pays much attention to it now. When I was in college it wasn't covered at all. His purely philosophical work is probably part of mathematics, and Russell wouldn't have been famous if it hadn't been for his popular writings and political activism. I am confident that I will enjoy this particular biography, because it is written by Ray Monk, who wrote a good biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein, which I read about thirty years ago. I am a little hesitant to read about analytic philosophers, but I now feel that I have a strong enough understanding of the strange context in which they wrote that I can properly assess their work.

Finally the heatwave has ended, and we are getting a satisfying preview of fall. There are too many tomatoes at the moment, and we will probably have to give some away. The variety of Brandywine tomatoes that I grew this year is quite good, and I plan to grow them again next year. I have grown tomatoes intermittently for about twenty-six years and am always looking for ones which both taste good and fit the environment in which I live. I have more or less finished my outdoor chores for the season and am awaiting leaves and snow. All of the firewood from the property has been cut, split and stacked, and there will also be kiln-dried firewood coming from Pittsfield in October and November. We will have more than enough for even the coldest winter.

Over time, weird things happen on this blog. For unknown reasons, there is a web crawler that shows up as being from Hong Kong that has been visiting this site constantly for over three weeks, with 3600 hits. Also, all of a sudden, I got several hits from Facebook on my Meliorism post. There may not be any meaning to any of this, but it still captures my attention.

Because the number of COVID-19 cases here remains low, we have been socializing a little more. We recently invited an elderly friend over for dinner, and we were invited to dinner with friends in town. We also picked apples at the property of some other friends in Cornwall who have eight acres of apples which currently have no commercial market. The college has opened for the fall, and so far they have only two cases of COVID-19. There is a chance that the pandemic will intensify after Labor Day – we'll have to wait and see. Life is easier when you don't spend all day every day with the same person.

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