Archive for January, 2007

Reality and Rational Thought

I must admit to being a closet philosopher. It adds to my geekiness, and maybe even endures me to certain people. But for most I’m sure I seem more like a bore. Yes, thank you, I do sometimes just sit around thinking. Maybe you do the same thing…but you call it letting your mind wander, or just “wonderin”.

My beautiful and brillant daughter is a philosopher, and has been one longer than I can remember. She is now a philsophy major in college. Now, me, being the kind of Father that takes an interest in his children’s endeavors, I enjoy finally being able to not, well, apologize for being a closet philsopher. After all, when my oldest son was in school, and he wanted to talk business and marketing, I enjoyed researching and reading things that he was studying also. So all the better for me that daughter-san ended up majoring in one of my hidden passions.

Philosophy has a way about it. While you can go to school, and major in it, at which time you have a set curriculum that teaches key conceptual things and all that, we in the non-collegiate world, can choose to start in philosophy about anywhere we want. What it does require however, is great patience and to be willing to throw up just about anything that you believe as a target to be shot down by yourself. Doesn’t THAT sound impressive? It’s not. But it serves a purpose by letting me start writing my own journey on things without any kind of judgement on anyone’s part but my own ūüôā

In beginning to grasp the “art” of philosophy (well I dont THINK its a science, but that might be argued), one must begin somewhere. My first steps began with trying to approach the idea of what philosophy is all about…wisdom and knowledge, for its very etomology means “love of knowledge or wisdom”. I like to always begin endeavors trying my best to define the scope of what I am attempting to pursue. And with philosophy it seems there are many roads and forks and all kinds of diversions. So my first idea to pursue was to understand what knowledge really is. What does it mean to really “know” something and is that really what knowledge is? The answers to those two questions might not be the same.

To me, knowledge is a bit like what one attains, not about what it is. Knowledge can be compared to scoring in a basketball game. When you play the game the attainment is to score. (we ill put aside a discussion here about the goal of basketball so that we dont confuse things). But in basketball the attainment objective is to score, much like our attainment is to have knowledge. In basketball, in order to score we must shoot…which is the activity on which scoring is based. In philosophy, belief is the activity that allows us to attain knowledge. Now just as there are bad shots that lead to no score in our game, similarly bad beliefs lead to no knowledge. So, in essence, knowledge is attained through well-founded, true beliefs.

Now its very interesting when we begin to talk about our beliefs. Anton Chekov once wrote that “Man is what he believes”. Perhaps more poignantly, Michel de Montaigne said “Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know”. So, in order to know ourselves better we should examine our beliefs on a regular basis, and see how we’re stacking up. Some beliefs we really dont need to examine, others we do, which I will discuss momentarily. One thing is very clear to me however: our actions as human beings are most definitely coincident with both our desires and our beliefs. And, many of us have false beliefs. And as I said above, it gains us nothing in our quest for knowledge, if we hold on to those false beliefs. So self-appraisement should be held in the highest value.

If you think this not to be true, take just a moment and think of all the things in your lifetime that you once believed, but do not believe any more. Oh yes you have them. Something as simple as thinking 8 x 7 is 58 when it is really 56. Or thinking, perhaps, that the stork brought your brother or sister. Now, where would you be today, if you still held on to those false beliefs? Well, in the former case you’d have a very short career as an accountant, and in the latter…well, certainly you wouldn’t be living life the way you do today. Think also of all the things that we encouter in our every day lives that ask us to believe them? Newscasters, radio talk show hosts, statisticians, marketing professionals, advertisers… the list goes on and on. It is of penultimate importance that we be able to understand the beliefs we hold, how we got them, and what keeps us there. Otherwise, we can be manipulated too easily.

Now, as I had gotten this far, I felt pretty good. Everything seemed to click. The next step however seemed to be the hardest to get through. This is where it may begin to get boring. I am chronicling my own steps through all this, and maybe your own steps are different which is fine. But armed with my thoughts that “beliefs are the nuggets that lead to knowledge”, and convinced that I needed to get a better handle on my beliefs, I now began to research what is involved in challenging my beliefs, and figuring out exactly how one comes to decide, finally, that a belief is “true” or “held”. This turns out not to be an easy path.

Now, my formal education is in the science and mathematics disciplines. So this of course is where I started. Things in math and science, most of the time are stated in either propositions (math) or hypotheses (science). My first inclination was to apply this approach to beliefs. That is, state a belief and then simply find the proof. This meant that there must be valid kinds of proof that are acceptable. For instance, physical properties of the universe, mathematical laws of geometry and algebra… these all seemed good starting points. And for some beliefs, they are. I believe, for instance that 3+2 = 5. I also believe that 2 + 3 =5. Why? Conceptually I can put three things with two things and count them to get 5 things… i.e. sense perception. And my understanding of the commutative law of addition further completes this exercise. However, other things arent quite that simple.

For instance, we hear claims (broadcast beliefs) everyday that challenge us to believe or disbelieve them. Now, we wont get into “bias” here, because the philosopher takes care never to be biased (haha). However, if you are like me, when a belief is thrust upon you, the first tendency you have is to critically examine it. This seemed fairly obvious to me, so I began to research this. This technique, is a formal discipline in philosophy called skepticism. In our world today, the “skeptic” seems to get a bad rap. But in ancient times, skepticism was a desired virtue. However, the idea of skepticism among philosophers, seems to differ than our general meaning of it. Let me digress momentarily for purposes of a more enlightened convergence.

Now the skeptic seeks to ask us some very challenging questions to which there don’t seem to be quick answers. There IS a reason for this, because in so doing, we can find ourselves painted into a corner and this always causes us to dig deeper. In essence, the skeptic lives to ask us why we have any of the beliefs we have…that is, he wants empirically to get answers to how we “know” the beliefs we have are true. In so doing, this seems to cause us to go into different directions than we once would.

For example, lets pursue an exercise where we divide what we believe into three basic arbitrary categories: the past, the present, and the future. This seems reasonable yes? In the past we believe that people fought in World War II, or that John Kennedy was assasinated ro that you had bacon and eggs for breakfast a few hours ago. Now if we follow the path that the skeptic leads, there are basic questions we must answer. These questions fall into two categories: source skepticism, and radical skepticism.

So if we examine the simple “past” belief that John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 skepticism would first ask this how this belief is true? Now some of us may have lived in 1963 and remembered this event happening, watching it on TV and reading it in the papers. Others of us, arent old enough to have been there, but none the less believe this to be true because we have read about it in history books, or our parents have told us about it.

But you see, the skeptic isnt satisfied. He wants to ask if those elements of support of your belief are indeed true or not? In this case, our support of our belief comes from two sources: our memory (if we were there), or the testimony (and thus the memory) of others that were there. Now, how do we know, as true, that memory is ever reliable? Not if its sometimes reliable, or mostly reliable, but if it is EVER reliable. We could argue that many times we have taken our shoes off, or put our keys down, or drove home from work, and in each case we recall that our memory hasnt failed us. But hold on. In order for us to recall this, we are relying on our memory, which is exactly the things we are trying to prove. Well, what about my wife, who can testify to the fact that I always remember where my keys are…oh wait..that doesnt work either because she’s relying on her memory to validate it! This “circular reasoning” is invalid because the voracity of the thing we are proving seems cant be proven in an unbiased way, without employing the very thing we are trying to prove!

And we dont get much further with the testimony of others either! Why? Because as soon as we set them up for support of their belief they must call upon their memory to tell us, and we’re back to square one. What’s worse, is that we pretty much have put a dent in ever believing anything, reliably, thats in the past. Using similar logic, we have trouble with the present also! If we think about “present” beliefs, things like “I believe its raining”, or “My investments are doing well”, we run into similar kinds of things. We rely on testimony of others, or, in some cases, we rely on sensory perceptions. Now we actually wonder at this point.. can those be trusted? Are they reliable? Well, we fall into the same trap. How do I know what I saw is reliable? Well, I have to rely on memory to give me that feedback. I see a car coming down the road. How do I know that it is a car? Well I’ve seen a car before and … yeah there we are again.

Now from a pure absolute truth, it seems rather embarassing doesn’t it. But then that is the skeptic’s viewpoint, not really to make us feel silly I dont think. But to do two things: point us in a direction that we CAN actually salvage our beliefs (YAY), and two, allow us to learn something in the process. During this revelation, I came across what is known as the “5-minute hypothesis”. It is a classic philosophical problem, and one that you may have even thought of. This particular variation, is from 20th century philosopher Bertrand Russel. And it sets forth this belief statement:

“The entire universe sprang into existence from nothing a mere 5 minutes ago, exactly as it then was, apparent fossils in the ground, wrinkles on people’s faces, and other signs of age all intantly formed and thoroughly deceptive.”

If you are like me, this seems like udder nonsense. It flies in the face of everything you believe…and yet. Yet, looking back, there isnt one shred of evidence we can apply here to prove this belief wrong. Now before you completely give up on this, remember I said that there were things we’d learn. Well, the first is that we dont have to believe this, because thats really not what the radical skeptic wants us to do at all. What he asserts is that your beliefs commit you to a position that it IS false, but how in the world would you ever “prove” it. Perhaps that IS the lesson?? Yes, it is. As much as we try, we cannot come up with any good evidence that our most basic belief-forming mechanisms are ever reliable. Now I will dig us out of this I believe, but its important to realize here that we should all be just a little bit less dogmatic about our beliefs from now on!

However this still didnt get me where I needed to be. If you think about it, this line of thinking really begins to fall down quite a bit. There is an intuition in all of us to realize things that seem correct, and things that dont. And, I certainly believe that it is normal for us all the be skeptical (maybe not as much as the ancients), but there has to be something there in between. Many of our beliefs we can prove to our satisfaction with the most basic of things. For instance, a group of philosophers called “empiricists” claim that sense experience is the ultimate beginning for all beliefs. From their perspective, if you cant see, touch, feel, smell or hear it, then that belief is unproven, at best. Rationalists claim that the starting point for all beliefs is not the senses, but reason. But then how do you define reason? Maybe we dont have to.

Here is a case worthy of thinking about. Suppose you are outside with your kids. You see one of them hit a ball with the bat. The ball goes sailing with good velocity, and is aimed at your neighbor’s window. You hear a crash and see the window fall into many pieces. Now, what just happened. The empiricist can “see” and “hear” the bat hit the ball. He can “see” the flight of the ball. The empiricst can “see” and “hear” the ball hit the window. The empiricist can “see” and “hear” the window pieces fall down. But. the empiricist is sensorily blinded to the fact the that ball “caused” the window to break. So the belief that a ball going at velocity hitting a window will break it, isnt something that the empiricist can justify, but is something a rationalist can, because he looks at rational concepts called “causation” or “cause and effect”. This cant be seen, so the empiricist cannot justify it.

If we look to another direction I find a slightly different group of thinkers called “Evidentialists”. Now lawyers and, indeed, many of us think this was. They will certainly own up to rational beliefs, like the ball and window. But they want to know where those beliefs come from. Ok, thats seems reasonable. In other words, I will allow you to believe something, strictly based on rational thought, but give me evidence that supports it. Those things need to be either facts or evidences that are “self-evident” (i.e. no proof of their belief is necessary). evident to our senses (much like the empiricist), or some combination of both of these that can be logically deduced.¬† In essence, we can rationally state any belief, but the evidentialist says “Ok, whats your proof for that”.

It seems that many of us live our belief-lives this way (well at least partly).¬† But I can’t get around the fact that EVERY belief we hold can be “proved”.¬† I believe that I love my wife. Can I prove it?¬† Well, some people will say so, by my actions, but thats not “proof”. There is no sensory perception proof. In fact, belief in “love” isnt provable.¬† But yet we all believe in it.

So what I am moved to belief, is that there MUST be something else other than pure evidentialism. And I came across it recently in a proposition known as the “Principle of Belief Conservation”.¬† This particular principle gives us the reasonability to believe unprovable things, but also is rational enough to allow for our own skepticism.¬† The principle is as follows:

For any proposition P:  If

1. Taking a certain cognitive stance toward P (for example believing it, rejecting it, or withholding judgement) would require rejecting or doubting a VAST number of our current beliefs,

2. We have no independent positive reason to reject or doubt all those other beliefs, and

3. You have no compelling reason to take up that cognitive stance toward P,

then it is more rational for you NOT to take that cognitive stance toward P.
Now, this seems to be a very proper approach to approaching most of our beliefs I think. For instance, if you think about the “5-minute hyporthesis” we presented earlier, and apply the above Rational postulate, you’ll see that we get to the point where it is rational for us NOT to believe it.¬† There are 3 cognitive approaches we can take with the 5-minute hypothesis: we can accept it, reserve judgement, or reject it. But as you go through each position of the propostition, its easy to see:

1) If we accept the 5-minute hypothesis, it WOULD cause us to have to disrupt a radical number of our beliefs,

2) We have no independing or positive reason to reject or doubt our beliefs,

3) There is no compelling reason for us to aceept the 5-minute hypothesis,

therefore it is rational that we do NOT accept the 5-minute hypothesis.  Using this same logic for the other cognitive stances, we see that the only proper rational approach is to reject it.

 I will leave this with you for pondering.  My next pursuit is that troublesome are we call ethics and morality, or simply, what is good?


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I know there are several “wiki” pages that tell you how to install nVidia drivers, but its seems that something isnt quite right as there are many people that still dont get this correctly done. So below is a process that is an almost-fool-proof (almost!) method for manually making sure your nVidia driver gets installed.

1. Be sure you have the capability to compile on your system. This usually means using YaST or SMART to install basic compilation packages such as gcc, make, and the like. MAKE SURE you install kernel-source and kernel-syms.

2. Go to http://www.nvidia.com. Look at the top. Just below the Logo you will see “Download Drivers”. Kindly click on this and choose “download drivers” on the menu. You’ll be taken to a page that says “Welcome to the nVidia software download page.

3. Note the BLUE links. The first one is the one you want that says “Linux, FreeBSD and Solaris Drivers”.

4. Cleverly enough this will take you to the download page. You need to know what chipset you have so you can choose what driver you get. If you have a 32-bit machine use the IA32 drivers. If you have a 64-bit or any of the others, use those. On a 32-bit machine, depending on how old your card is, you may need to use the Legacy Driver. If you have a reasonably new computer then the “Latest Version” is the one you want to download. Right click and “save as” this driver to a home directory of your choice. I usually put it in /home/username/drivers.

5. Now, exit your gui screen with ctrl-alt f1. This will drop you into a console.

6. Login as root with su, and type your password.

7. Stop X absolutely with: rcxdm stop.

8. Now drop to level 3: init 3

9. Once you are here, navigate to the directory where you downloaded your driver. So in the above case you would enter: cd /home/username/drivers

10. Look for the name of the driver. For IA32 its somethng like NVIDIA-Linux-x86-1.0-9746-pkg1.run or something similar.

11. Execute this run file by typing: sh ./NVIDIA-Linux-x86-1.0-9746-pkg1.run and hit return.

12. If you have everything in order, you’ll see a few lines and dots. It will ask if you want to install and maybe even overwrite, say YES or ACCEPT.

13. At some point you will get a message that will say “No precompiled kernel interface exists….” and it will ask if you want to download one. Say NO! You want the system to build it.

14. At this point if you installed all your compilation things, the system will then compile the interface for you with your kernel.

15. This process should complete and tell you that your driver has been installed.

16. To test this, type sax2 -r -m 0=nvida (note that it is a ZERO=nvidia here). You should be given a test screen to approve.

17. Once you complete this, type: init 5

18. This will reboot you to your GUI. You should see your nVidia driver screen show briefly on boot.


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I recently had an exchange with an individual who accused me of being unpatriotic and anti-American, assumedly because I disagreed with his particular political view.¬† His ideology is quite conservative, pro-Bush, and pro-Republican, and as such pro-war. Interesting, because he is a veteran of World War II….you would think he would abhor war.

As the ancient philosophers often purport, an argument should always direct itself toward truth, but passion many times blocks its way. I understand my esteemed colleague’s point of view, but do question his factual basis to back up his views, and his contradiction in many things, based on the life he has led.¬† However, this is not relevant.¬† What this recent exchange prompted, was an exercise in discovering what patriotism is.

First, in its purest sense, Webster’s dictionary defines patriotism as “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty.”¬† I see no interjection here that involves political ideology, or association with one party or another. While I am quick to assert that patriotism might involve deep emotional overtones, we must divorce that from the actual belief called “patriotism”.

I’d like to suggest a fitting analogy.¬† If you think of a loving couple, that has had a deep relationship over a long time, I believe this aptly should be a model for patriotism. As you look in your loved one’s eyes, whether wife, husband, child, lover, or even dog, what is it that you experience? Why do you have these feelings? Are they not feelings of devotion, support, love, defense?¬† What loving husband wouldn’t defend his wife if threatened?¬† Is there not a bond of love between a man and his wife, a mother and child? It seems to me that patriotism is just the same kind of relationship.

Yet, who hasn’t disagreed with their wife or husband at one time or another? Does that mean that they love each other any less? Of course not. Positions on issues, are not the basis of lasting, deep, abiding love. You dont love your husband, wife, or child, based on how they feel about minimum wage or what to have for dinner. Love is based on those defining attributes that you personally deem worthy of your love and devotion. Character, kindness, honesty, sense of humor, faith, and sensitivity are just a few of those attributes on which we base our love of each other.

I have to think that this is true also when it comes to patriotism. If, the definition holds, and patriotism is our love, defense and devotion to our country, then we do so for similar reasons  to those that we love others.  Attributes that we deem worthy Рfreedom, democracy, way of life, standard of living, etc.  There are many people, in all walks of life, and all walks of ideology, conservative, liberal, democrat, republican, libertarian, that all love their country. Why is it that these men and women will serve in our government, fight in wars and conflicts, and give countless hours to America, if they didnt love it?

What bothers me about those people, like my colleague who brazenly accused me of unpatriotic behavior, is that too many people try to set up elite systems of devotion. Because he served in the armed forces, he can somehow claim to be more patriotic than the next person.  Where does this line of reasoning lead?  Why is actually destroys one of the main ideals that America itself is based upong Рthat of plurality.

America is great, because there are free, unsurpressed sharing of thoughts and ideas on almost every issue. Perhaps it is this single thing that our enemies hate the most. The idea that men and and women can stand together and intelligently discuss issues of vital interest to all Americans, and consensus can be achieved, is certainly something that is envied around the globe. Yet, because these people disagree in the method of accomplishing these interests, hardly makes either of them unpatriotic or un-American.

So, the next time that you are tempted to call someone these unflattering and hateful things, be sure you know exactly where you are coming from.¬† It is not an insult to disagree with someone’s point of view, respectfully, but it IS an insult to defame. By being an elitist, you actually lower your argument to passion rather than reason, and that, is not what this country is all about.

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Fixing Beryl on SUSE KDE

Many of the problems you have with Beryl, can be solved by making sure, it was installed correctly, and that KDE has been properly set.

If you are experiencing difficulties, first get out of the session and turn off xgl as follows:

1) ctrl-alt-F1 = this will get you to a console

2) Login as root (su)

3) Type rcxdm stop this will kill X

4) Type gnome-xgl-switch –disable-xgl this disables xgl from restarting

5) Type rcxdm start – this should restart KDE just fine.

Now you need to go and turn OFF translucency and shadows in KDE (this is on by default in SUSE). This causes the KDE composite manager to interfere with the Beryl one:

kcontrol – desktop – windows behavior – translucency tab (uncheck the check box)

Now you need to reset xgl again:

1) ctrl-alt-f1 to get to a console

2) rcxdm stop to stop x

3) gnome-xgl-switch –enable-xgl to set xgl to start

4) rcxdm start – launches X and KDE

When you get back into KDE, you should now start the beryl-manager by right clicking on the desktop, choose RUN, and type beryl-manager. This will send a new icon to the tray.

Now click on the icon, and choose Beryl from the Select Window Manager option.

This should fix just about any problems.

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I¬† am not sure ANYONE was expecting a blowout in the National Championship, but sure enough Florida did it. And I’ll say that I am not suprised.

If you think of college football today, the Big 10 just doesn’t have the national level of competition that the other conferences have. If it werent for Penn State and Wisconsin, the B10 would be winless in bowl games. For crying out loud Minnesota blew a 31 point lead to Texas Tech!! Please!!

The Big 10 just is still 10 years behind the game of football.  It is smash mouth football, where they only RECENTLY found that the football is aerodynamically sound.  The ACC, Pac-10, SEC, ACC and even smaller conferences know that offensive finesse and solid defense wins championships.  The Big 10 just hasnt gotten that far yet.

¬†Hence I was NOT surprised at Florida’s blow out. I would have publically picked OSU, because I did think they had superior athletes, but apparently not. The level of competition just isnt there yet. The SEC, top to bottom, is easily the best conference in NCAA div I and that was easily proved tonight.

So I’d like to offer my FINAL top 20 ranking for 2006-2007:

 1. Florida
2. USC
3. LSU
4. Ohio State
5. Louisville
6. Boise State
7.  Michigan
8. Notre Dame
9. Wisconsin
10.  West Virginia
11. Auburn
12. California
13. Notre Dame
14. Texas
15. Rutgers
16. BYU
17. Oklahoma
18. Georgia Tech
19. Boston College
20. Wake Forest

 Coach of the Year:  Bob Stoopes, Oklahoma

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