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Notes on Morality by Alfred Stein
by Alfred Stein

These notes were composed in the spring of 1995 by Alfred Stein (1930-1995). These notes were composed as a basis for some future project. They were unedited. We are publishing these notes over the next few issues of BiC. The first part was published in the March 2003 issue.
Alfred Stein
Alfred Stein


H 3 Computational states are not physical states independent of assignment or determination. What is the physical relationship of the sum of two numbers to the two numbers?
C 2 If someone asks "if you believe in G-d," don't ask him what he means by "G-d," ask him what he means by "believe,"
C 3 Examine the ways in which "believe" is used. Can one in any sense deny the existence of a belief?
I 4 How is the word "problem" used? When we use the word in a mathematic, scientific or political context are we referring to a common property? A "problem" is a particular sort of a question. Like a question it has an answer but we are inclined to believe that "problems" have singular answers. There is a sense in which mathematical problems are different. They (may) have solutions and we can in principle prove that the solutions are "correct." Now the notion of "correct" must be examined.
I 4-1 Words fail to have a use (are meaningless) when they are used without antithesis.
K 1 What is a language game in Wittgenstein's sense? Is this a metaphysical question? Is the appropriate response "listen and watch and you will understand?" You don't learn how to play pool by learning the rules of geometry and mechanics; it must be played to be understood. Not really: playing a game and understanding it are different.
G 1-3-3 The thing that is "me" (has sensations) yields a set of observations which cannot be obtained from the thing called "you."
L 1 Pain is the most direct experience of self. One can see pain in the eyes of a beast; it is the bond between man and beast.
L 1-1 The Manichean position is unarguable. The existence of pain disposes of the notion of an omniscient benign deity.
M 1 Platonism is linguistically inescapable. "Good" and "beauty" are applied to very different objects and experiences. I attribute beauty to disparate observations, not all of which I would also describe by, saying, "good." "Round" on the other hand is a very different description than "small" or "many" they are Platonic in a way that "round" or "odd" in number theory are not. So what is the nature of "round" or other such seemingly ideal forms? Are they descriptions of operations disguised as words? Another instance of special grammar?
A 1-2.1 Pater says "all art constantly aspires towards the condition of music." This condition is of course abstraction. Compare Millay's "Euclid alone saw beauty bare." Aesthetics has an austere moral aspect distinct and divorced from kindness. Yet kindness is often lacking from (stern) morality. Hitler was kind to dogs and preached an austere morality combined with a puerile and fatuous romanticism¨then we have lex talionis.
E 1-3 Libertarians as Rousseau's heirs and disciples. Man is born free and corrupted by government. In the final analysis Libertarians resort to a desert island model and assume that individuals left on their own will engage in commerce rather than coercion. Individuals are seen as atomic, and social configurations evolve on the basis of binary transactions between individuals. The atoms incorporate a minimum pain (Fermat's least action) rule and have no memory (history).
I 2 The proof that the sum of the reciprocals of the triangular numbers Ž= n(n+1) 2 =2 requires only grade school mathematics, yet the few steps in the proof do not in any way follow logically, though it is possible that a retrospective analysis may convey the notion of implicit necessity. Proof and discovery are inventions, matters of chance and serendipity.
E2 In the industrial nations it costs much more to maintain the average individual (the aggregate costs include lifelong educational, social, medical, and legal processing as well the incremental diminution of non-renewable resources and the progressive erosion of the quality of life) than he/she can contribute by means of mind and muscle. The individual's main contribution in the past was as a participant in economies of scale which reached a point of diminishing returns by mid-century.
E 3 Robots and the obsolescence of the worker. Computers and the obsolescence of the specialist. Money as the measure of time; interest and the priority of the present; capitalism as the process of progressive commoditization, but seen as rationalization through the agency of market determined prices; entrepreneurs and the technological holocaust (Schumpeter).
E 2 In Eden there was no future and hence no death; the return to Eden means the vanquishing of death ("grave where is thy victory; O death where is thy sting?").
G 2 My "self" is not a name. The name is something others use to designate me and that I use to provide others with a means for addressing me. "Self" is something that has a history but whose existence (I feel) would remain intact if that history was erased. I feel that way because "self" is more a matter of sensibility than history. If I lose my memory but retain my use of language and my repertoire of likes and dislikes my self persists.
G 3 Where death is I am not; where I am death is not, hence how can I fear death? Most of us experience dying; none of us experience death.
C 4 The custodial nature of the divine mandate. The preservation and protection of the world (nature) and the perpetuation and perfection of humanity are obligations imposed upon us by "Being."
C 5 Meaning is the web that the organism called humanity weaves. It is as much a part of the organism as the web is a part of certain spider species, or the hive and the hill are commingled with the honey bee and the termites. We are born into a world saturated with meaning. In this sense man is unique.
G 4 Is there a sense of perspective in memory? No, memories are not arranged chronologically. Our memory of time, or rather our ability to arrange events in a temporal order is arrived at through a process of contextual inference (and logic). Past and future lack any sense of depth. One is more real than the other in the sense that it is less private and more dense.
I 3-6 Mathematical constants, that is transcendental numbers (e,p,g) though they have interminable numerical expansions, are unlike physical constants whose every digit requires an effort and even ingenuity. Running a Cray for a year will vastly extend the expansion of pi and tell us nothing while one more digit in c, the velocity of light, might reveal a crack in that strange intellectual edifice we call the universe.
I 3-7 Scientific statements are neither true nor false; they are correct or incorrect. There is a distinction. (Is there a scientific lie?) Paul Davies says "Science is the most reliable road to truth that we know." Now that is almost too much of a gift. I wonder why "truth" wasn't capitalized. At the very least he should employ the plural "truths." Can a poem be true or false? Is Feuerbach's circle more or less true than Maxwell's laws? Is Goldbach's conjecture as true as the second law? Does true mean the same as provable?¨as demonstrable repeatedly, or just a word like "nice" or "terrific?" A word used to indicate agreement or approval? A sound rather than a symbol or even a signal (S. Langer) ("real" and "objective" are other words of approval).
I 3-8 Scientific statements are implicit instructions for performing an experiment; that is to say following a set of instructions (again a far from transparent condition) so as to produce certain observables.
K 2 Language as innate, deep grammar (Chomsky)¨[hardwiring and lesion and trauma induced linguistic faults (inability to elicit the names of certain classes of objects, to employ personal pronouns), also the case cited by Gazzaniga of an entire family, who, other than an inability to form plurals, were able to speak normally)] Is it all a matter of flipping (in sequence?) switches with the environment flipping the switch? First the native language switch is triggered by the community, the articulation, fluency, use of similes and metaphors, within all of its forms, etc. (see C-5) switches set by genes and circumstances.
K 2-2 The Language game could never be understood by an "objective" observer unfamiliar with the rules, nor could an observer infer the rules by a prolonged observation of a group of interacting "players." An objective observer is assumed to know nothing about language; any language; that is associated with vocalization or gesture, just as an entomologist knows nothing about an entirely new species of insect. The observer witnesses individuals who make noises at each other and occasionally engage in a co-operative effort. The assumption that the noises produce collaboration is plausible to the same extent that the sound produced by a bird or an insect may precede mating or swarming. Is there a difference?
G 1-4 The past selves we know are a collage of dim confused memories brought to a crude focus through the melting lens that constitutes our momentary and transient identity. We have no stake in what we were. Past images must be touched up and polished if they are to be displayed. Most are best buried and forgotten.
I 3 The Greeks' discovery of irrational (í2¨) numbers was perhaps the greatest challenge that the rational mind has confronted. It is presented to children as a gift and not one child in a hundred feels any sense of awe or wonderment. Is there any wonder that the Bible is read and revered by millions (or the Torah or the Koran) and only school boys can be compelled to read Euclid. (a book of greater antiquity than any of the versions of the Old Testament).
G 5 Can you remember music (something you have heard) without humming it? Can you clearly remember something you have seen to the extent of being able to draw it in detail? You hear with your ears. You see with your eyes. How can you see and hear events that have occurred in the past? There are no sounds in your head corresponding to the longitudinal vibrations impacting the tympanum. I confess that my memories are fuzzy and dilute; they don't approach the reality of my dreams. And what are dreams? Can REM be invariably related to dreams? Do I construct a dream in a few seconds upon waking and assume that it had a much greater duration? Then the old story of the butterfly and the man; which is dreaming of which?
M 1 Like the reporter and the diarist; the scientist is concerned with facts The historian interprets and integrates texts produced by other historians and by the recorders of facts. All of history is an interpretation, an instance of multiple refractions through a selected ensemble of pasts, brought to focus in the present as text. So the "past" is the myth the present lives by. But now there are many "pasts" and consensus reality is fast dissolving.
N 1 Life as an anti-entropic island. With life the universe becomes very much more eventful. The inorganic world is not subject to mutation. Sex accelerates change and variation. Then, memory and consciousness, a single energetic particle impacting a synapse can bring about a sequence of actions causing colossal changes in the environment, something which might require eons in an organic world. Think of an impulsive telephone call producing a sequence of actions resulting in, say, a month's time, in an atomic explosion which results in a tectonic shift, the release of noxious gases, the devastation of some region and the extermination of certain species. (For want of a gamma ray a forest was lost.)
L 2 There is no argument against relativism. We acquire values as a birthright (or a stigma). We inherit them. We can make a conscious decision to reject some of them, to subject them to criticism according to criteria which are of necessity arbitrary. The rabbis debated at length whether it was better to be or not to be (Hillel and Shamai schools). Discuss the categorical imperative with a masochist* and see how happy you will be with his universal law (*or a sadist).
N 2 At a particular stage in the world process memory emerges in the form of DNA (there were of course more primitive precursors). Memory is then externalized by means of culture and language and then in more extensive and durable forms (books, computer memories etc.). Knowledge then comes into existence as an external attribute of the species. What is the existential status of knowledge? Does it make any sense to describe a book in terms of a set of physical attributes because its subject matter is not material? Books move mountains.
N 2 How inefficient our coding methods are; 105
N 3-2 genes code for the construction of an incredibly complex self-replicating mechanism. The brain has 1011 complex cells, the immune system almost as many (or is it more?), the body perhaps 1014 cells; each one of which is a mechanism of awesome complexity. The number of base pairs in the genome is about 5 x 109 (so in some sense each base pair codes for more than 104 cells). The best we can do is Huffman coding.
B 2 Rawls says that justice is the first virtue of social systems just as truth is the first virtue of systems of thought (crudely paraphrased). He is wrong in both instances. Survival is the first virtue of a social system and effectiveness is the first virtue of an intellectual system. Justice is a luxury in the first case comparable to elegance in the second. Is survival worth the effort if it can only be bought at the price of injustice and ugliness? Can one ask an ant? Is survival a virtue? Is it the old case of making a virtue out of a necessity?
E 4 A person lives and dies with the full knowledge that his life's work can be summarized in a net worth statement. This is why vanity, ostentation and public recognition can be appeased by accumulation of money. And in turn how such primitive instinctual drives can provide a mechanism for an ongoing and continuous technological revolution. Money is more effective than whips in making people perform difficult and boring tasks. G-d would be a nobler inspiration than money but neither pyramids nor cathedrals were built by people who went unpaid. A society in which rationing of goods and services is determined by prices is by definition rational; though prices derive from ancient half-submerged behaviors inherited from naked predators who huddled fearfully together on moonless nights as lightning shattered the sky only twenty-five thousand years ago. A blink of the eye in geological terms separates us from the primates; a blink, and less than 0.5% of the base pairs in our genomes.
G 6 Ontology is not possible without epistemology. Statements like: "matter is that which exists independent of mind" are paradoxical or meaningless¨likely both. In any case it conveys, something like the "ding an sich" a sort of consoling material presence, justifying (in a way I can't understand) and supporting sensations. The ordinary man when told the world is in his head attempts to repress a giggle. Things don't improve if you tell him something is there but no one knows or can ever know what it is. Nor do quarks, neutrinos, and other such spectral entities help in establishing his by now dubious sanity.
I 4 Start with relativity theory and then go to the primal discontinuity and attempt to discuss the origins of time and space, physical laws, and matter. How remote and impossible to convey. Go on to galaxies and neutrinos, then to flowers and poems and attempt to make such a world, if not coherent, at least somehow credible and more relevant than the creation myths of riparian societies eight millennia ago.
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