Saturday, September 22, 2012

Majority Rulez

 An interesting thought occurred to me today while reading this philosophy article about election percentages and Romney’s various mis-speaks. The winner of the presidential, or any other election, is the candidate who receives the majority of the votes, obviously. This could easily mean, however, that over 45% of the country doesn’t actually want the winning candidate to be president. Or in W Bush’s case, a slight majority didn’t want him to be president. When Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota, almost 2/3 of Minnesotans voted against him.
None of this is new. My question, or thought, is this: What if it took more than just a majority to elect a president? What if it took, say, 75% of Americans to vote her/him into office. Is this even possible? For 75% of Americans to agree on a candidate? Even if it is incredibly unlikely, it almost seems like something we should strive for. I mean, this person is going to be our president. The leader of our country. Would it not be better if more than just half of the country believed in this person?
        Think of how this would change the face of politics. Getting a mere majority of voters to believe in them has not a problem for president’s of America’s past and present, although perhaps trying. The highest margin of victory for the presidency was only 60.3% with President Harding in 1920. But think of the way the game would be changed if candidates had to convince even their sternest opponents to trust them. Perhaps they would have to drop all of their ridiculous rhetoric. Gain more sincerity.
        Again, I’m not saying that this is even possible and it’s hard to imagine how a candidate would do this. I’d like to see it though. It is a goal that could even possibly result in a less divided country in general. I think at least 75% of Americans could agree that that would be a good thing.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Is Cruise Control A Car Thinking?

I’ve been on two small road trips in the last 2 weeks and on multiple occasions, while giving my right foot a much needed rest, I got to wondering: Is my car thinking when it changes speeds whilst set to cruise control? I’ve had this debate with my wife in the past but it’s been a few years, and I feel the need to resurrect it. I don’t really know the answer to this question. It seems like, obviously, that it isn’t thinking. But it’s not that easy to explain why. When we look at the process that occurs prior to a car changing its speed, and all of the factors involved, it appears very similar to the processes that we go through when making a decision of our own. And when we look at these similarities, it seems more difficult to maintain that there is a difference between my thought processes and my Sebring’s.
There are three factors at work in the most common Cruise Control system. This system is called the Proportional-Integral-Derivative Control, or a PID Control. The proportional control simply detects when the speed the car is travelling is higher, or lower, than the set desired speed. If it is different, the control will either open, or close, the throttle more. The Integral control is there to detect the time error. That is, the difference between the distance your car actually travelled, over a set amount of time, and the distance it would have travelled were it going the set desired speed. If you drive up a hill and your car slows down, the integral control will eventually detect this and open the throttle to increase your speed. This is because the distance error will have increased due to the slower speed. Finally, the derivative control is the control that detects any change in speed, also referred to as “acceleration.” If acceleration is detected, this control will immediately adjust the vehicle’s speed appropriately.
If we remove talk of the complex brain processes that also are occurring while we make a decision, it seems that the PID control is at least as complicated as some of our more basic decision making processes. Take, for an example, that we are walking down the sidewalk on our way to work. As we are walking we come across a blocked off section of concrete which has only recently been replaced and which we are not to be walking on. Seeing that we cannot continue to walk in a straight line along the sidewalk, we make the decision to veer off of the sidewalk and onto the street for a few moments until we have passed the blocked off section. After which, we step back onto the sidewalk and continue on until some other obstacle arises.
This example seem suspiciously similar to the operation of Cruise Control. Complex explanation aside, what is happening when a car is set on cruise control and the vehicle changes its speed? Basically, a car is told to travel at a certain speed, the car arrives at a hill and consequently slows its speed. The vehicle recognising that its speed has changed, makes an adjustment. Seems very plain, the car is supposed to do something, it is being hindered, so it makes an adjustment. Just like while we are walking on the sidewalk and the obstacle hinders us, we then had to make an adjustment.
I’m not suggesting that Cruise Control is comparable to any sort of complex human thought processes, merely that it is an example of a lower sort of process that looks a lot like one we may go through at any given time. The sort of process that we may not even realize we are going through at that time. When it comes down to it, the ability to take in information and make an adjustment to our actions based upon that information, that is thinking. And a car does this. It goes through this process. My wife will likely roll her eyes again if she reads this post and I will most likely write a response to this post based on some of the counterarguments that she, and myself, come can up with. Nevertheless, they will have to be some very serious arguments to contend with this apparent similarity between our thinking and my Sebring’s. And if it turns out that Cruise Control is even remotely equivalent to our most simple thought processes, then we will have to accept that perhaps our cars are smarter than we give them credit for.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Arguing With Bad Arguers

What exactly should one do when they find themselves debating some topic with someone who is not actually interested in participating in a “debate?” I recently reread A Rulebook for Arguments the 4th edition, and since then, in day-to-day conversations, watching TV and reading blogs at Talking philosophy, I have been painfully aware of many examples of bad arguing. How does one handle such things? This is not a rhetorical question and I do not have an answer, it simply baffles me. The professional Philosophers who blog on their website seem to take it seriously, but they differ in approach as well.
Some respond directly in an intellectually respectful way. That is to say, if someone writes a comment which is horribly fallacious and doesn’t really have any intellectual merit, the blogger will sometimes respond directly to the claim as if it did have merit and then easily disputes it. They will also ignore the fact that it is an example of a fallacy. The issue here can be that the commenter will not understand that they have erred, or perhaps don’t care, and continue to push their poorly phrased and thought out argument even after the response. So how far do you take polite refutations?
Another situation which will happen on their blog is that they will get commenters who will simply make a statement that is jam filled with rhetoric and insults. How much respect do you give this person? Some philosophers on the site will politely respond to their point intelligently and give them a warning. If they persist with that type of “debate,” then they get booted from the site. Some, don’t issue warnings, some issue many.
Is ignoring them the answer? Because even if the person is proposing their case in such a way that is unhelpful, offensive,etc. they may have a legitimate point buried beneath the rhetoric. So it seems we should probably give them the courtesy of the benefit of the doubt. Say we do give them that, and they respond again in a similar way. How many benefits do we give them before it is appropriate to stop responding?
There are also folks out there who simply are not interested in having an intelligent, two-way debate about something. They have a stance on a particular topic and they are not going to budge. They don’t care how poorly they make their case or how you make yours. How are you supposed to react to that? You can ignore them or you can keep responding in well thought out ways and perhaps they will get the point. But perhaps not. If you address their fallacy they continue to make them, if you ignore it, they continue to make them. It seems like a no win situation.
As an armchair/desk chair philosopher, I enjoy philosophical debate and think that it’s the  path to insight and self reflection. But what do you do with people who aren’t willing to participate, only to angrily make their points and ignore yours? Perhaps it’s to educate them. Treat them as if they were participating properly in hopes that they will. That doesn’t always work though. For me, I simply avoid those people, and discussing philosophical topics with them because they’re not interested in progress. Only in telling me how it is according to them. There’s no such thing as a one-way debate.