Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Innocent Guilt

Humans (and possibly some other primates) are "moral agents" precisely because we have the power of introspection. We can self-analyze our own minds and decision processes, and by extension, those of others. ("I know that you know that I know that ...") For that reason, we are capable of guile - deceitful cunning or duplicity, as well as guilt - the feeling we have done wrong.

The German word Schadenfreude ("damage joy") has been adopted into English to describe the often guilty pleasure we feel when, through no action of our own, someone we do not like suffers a well-deserved punishment. When that "Don't taze me bro" guy got tazed recently, millions of us felt a certain pleasure in his pain. Objectively, the campus security officers over-reacted when they tazed him and most of his screaming was an act, but the pleasure we felt was quite real.

The other side of the coin is something I'm going to call "innocent guilt". By that I mean an unjustified feeling of guilt by a totally innocent person. There is a German equivalent, Unschuldige Schuld, but I am not familiar enough with German to know if that word carries the same meaning. (Perhaps Jurgen can help in this regard.)


Here is an example: My neighbor called me about a problem with his computer. Something was wrong with his keyboard, he thought, because when he pressed a key twice in succession, it would only type a single character. He could press different keys as fast as he wanted and they would all type OK, but if he typed "ee" or "44" he would only get a single "e" or "4". To get a character to repeat, he had to wait a second and press the key again.

He had called various help lines with no solution. I watched him demonstrate the problem and instantly figured it out. I opened the Control Panel and selected Handicapped Access and noticed that an option called "filter keys" had been selected. I deselected it and his problem was solved! (This feature is for people who have the shakes or who hold a key down too long. )

I did not know about these features beforehand. The possible association of his problem with a handicapped access feature came to me as if "God" had shouted it in my ear.

My neighbor's thanks were genuine, but I had a feeling they were tinged with jealousy about my superior knowledge of computers. Immediately afterwards, he came over to my house and gave me some unsolicited advice about my golf cart battery.

Then, I began to feel guilty! A few weeks prior he had given me the key to his house so I could look after his dog while he was gone for the day. Perhaps he thought I had taken that opportunity to plant the problem in his PC and later fix it to become a hero? (Like the fireman who sets a fire so he can later be a hero for putting it out.)


A similar situation occurred some years ago when I visited my brother in California. As I arrived, his business partner was in a tizzy about a packet of important papers a messinger was supposed to have dropped off at his house some hours earlier. I suggested the messenger might have dropped it off on the front porch of an adjacent house. We checked and it was not there. I then suggested it might be at the same address on a parallel block. (Again the idea came as if "God" had shouted it in my ear.) He was hesitant to walk around the block for fear the messenger might come while he was gone, but I talked him into in. Sure enough, the packet was at the right address on the wrong street.

He thanked me, of course, but I had the guilty feeling he might have suspected that it was I who, seeing the packet on his front porch when I arrived, had secretly moved it to the parallel block as a trick and so I could be the "hero". (Later, at lunch, he joked about being a member of the club for "abused children of engineer fathers". I, like his father, am an engineer. He was a comedy writer, many of whom seem to believe good writers have had to have painful childhoods.)


A third case happened some years ago when, at lunch, a co-worker mentioned he had seen a TV program about "auras". He was convinced some people could see glowing areas of color on parts of other people's bodies. As I recall, yellow and gold were good signs and red or black was bad. I am totally skeptical of such powers, but, when I squinted my eyes a bit and tried to imagine colors on parts of his body, I saw a distinct red glowing area on his right arm. I mentioned it to him and we laughed.

The next time I saw him, his right arm was in a sling. He had fallen and hurt that very arm! Again, although I had absolutely nothing to do with his injury, I felt guilty. Perhaps, in some odd way he thought I was responsible for his injury?


My personality type, according to the Myers-Briggs system, is a relatively rare "ENTP" (Extrovert, iNtuitive, Thinking, Perceiving). It is named "Inventor" or "Suspector". In my professional and personal lives I often "know" the solution without knowing why! It is as if "God" planted the answer in my brain without any backup reasoning. (Mostly, when I get these brain surges I turn out to be correct, but, when I turn out to be wrong, I have no idea why!)

I wonder if others reading this Blog have had similar "innocent guilt" feelings and experiences. My knowledge of psychology is quite shallow. Are there psychological labels for my feelings of innocent guilt?

Ira Glickstein

Friday, October 26, 2007

What Atheists Kant Refute - Limits of Human Reason

Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and several other highly popular books, recently wrote The God Delusion, regarded as an anti-religious, atheist manifesto by some. I (Ira) am currently reading that book and plan to post a new Main Topic when I complete it.

In an email, Stu provided the following link "What atheists Kant refute" from the Christian Science Monitor. Dinesh D'Souza is interviewed regarding a series of anti-religious books by Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens. That led to an email exchange between Stu, Joel, Howard and Ira. Rather than limit that exchange to a small, private group, here is an edited version for the enjoyment of readers of this Blog. I hope it generates lots of cross-discussion!


Reason must know its limits in order to be truly reasonable.

Opinion editor Josh Burek talks with Dinesh D'Souza about atheism.

Religion has faced formidable foes in its history. But atheism hasn't generally been one of them – until today. A recent string of bestselling books has put believers of all stripes on the defensive. Religion, say authors such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, is an unreasonable form of blind faith, often leading to fanaticism and violence. Reason and science, they contend, are the only proper foundations for forming opinions and understanding the universe. Those who believe in God, they insist, are falling for silly superstitions.

This atheist attack is based on a fallacy – the Fallacy of the Enlightenment. It was pointed out by the great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant erected a sturdy intellectual bulwark against atheism that hasn't been breached since. His defense doesn't draw on sacred texts or any other sources of authority to which people of faith might naturally and rightfully turn when confronted with atheist arguments. Instead, it relies on the only framework that today's atheist proselytizers say is valid: reason. The Fallacy of the Enlightenment is the glib assumption that there is only one limit to what human beings can know – reality itself. This view says we can find out more and more until eventually there is nothing more to discover. It holds that human reason and science can, in principle, unmask the whole of reality.

In his 1781 "Critique of Pure Reason," Kant showed that this premise is false. In fact, he argued, there is a much greater limit to what human beings can know. Kant showed that human knowledge is constrained not merely by the unlimited magnitude of reality but also by a limited sensory apparatus of perception.

Consider a tape recorder. It captures only one mode of reality, namely sound. Thus all aspects of reality that cannot be captured in sound are beyond its reach. The same, Kant would argue, is true of human beings. The only way we apprehend empirical reality is through our five senses. But why should we believe, Kant asked, that this five-mode instrument is sufficient? What makes us think that there is no reality that lies beyond sensory perception?

... Notice that Kant's argument is entirely secular: It does not employ any religious vocabulary, nor does it rely on any kind of faith. But in showing the limits of reason, Kant's philosophy "opens the door to faith," as the philosopher himself noted.

Kant exposes the ignorant boast of atheists that atheism operates on a higher intellectual plane than theism. He shows that reason must know its limits in order to be truly reasonable. Atheism foolishly presumes that reason is in principle capable of figuring out all that there is, while theism at least knows that there is a reality greater than, and beyond, that which our senses and our minds can ever apprehend.


I agree with Dinesh D'Souza that our five senses are insufficient to apprehend the whole truth of the world. However, I don't trust our "faith" sense to fill in that lacuna reliably. D'Souza's book is titled What's So Great About Christianity, and, if it is a pean to traditional Christianity I don't necessarily think it will satisfy me. On the other hand, if he makes the point that religion in general (when not too fundamentalist or radical) is of net benefit to civilization, and that, via Christianity, civilization and society has been uplifted, then I would buy it!

As it happens, I am currently reading Dawkin's The God Delusion and, so far, (about 70% into it) am not overwhelmed (even though I respect Dawkins and enjoyed a couple of his other books). Perhaps I will find some meat in the book as I go further, but, so far, he is demolishing arguments for a God external to the Universe who created it and is interested in day-to-day activities of individuals and regularly manipulates His Creation. The idea of a "personal God", while quite common to the average "Joe and Jane" is, IMHO, so flat that it does not need further attack.

He acknowledges Einstein's pantheistic God and quotes Hawking and others who use the term "God" in that vein. Dawkins then makes an incredible charge (worthy of Ann Coulter :^) when he says (p19):

... I wish that physicists would refrain from using the word God in their special metaphorical sence. The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking ... God of the Bible... Deliberately to confuse the two is, in my opinion, AN ACT OF INTELLECTUAL HIGH TREASON. [EMPHASIS added]

I checked the index and could find no reference to the "Gaia Hypothesis" that we humans (and other life in the biosphere) are, by our role in evolution and natural selection, creating some sort of meta-consciousness that does wield some overall power and intentionality at the whole Earth level. That concept is part and parcel of a pantheistic belief an God and, if true, fully worthy of the use of the term "God". I hope he gets to it.


Dinesh D'Souza’s argument that our five senses are insufficient to apprehend the whole truth is a misleading half-truth about science. One can argue that all the sciences began by going beyond the natural senses with measurement devices. Chemistry began with the analytic balance, biology with the microscope, physics with the telescope. Spectroscopes, particle detectors, radiation detectors, scanning electron microscopes, atomic force microscopes and dozens of other instruments go many categories and many magnitudes beyond our senses from the highest energies and smallest particles to almost to the entire detectable universe. Science also explains why things exist beyond our knowing, that is, beyond the event horizon and black holes.

The panentheist definition of God is the totality of whatever exists (the "ground of existence") in the broadest possible sense of “exists’ including what we can never know. My opinion of Dawkins is that he is a brilliant polemicist but not a reliable authority on either religion or science. Right or wrong, I think his motive is winning arguments, and he is good at it. He could also have been a great preacher or maybe an insurance salesman.


Thanks for the reference, Stu. It's interesting to me that Dinesh D'Souza is trying to make something out of nothing. The trouble with quoting old philosophers is that they are often deprived of essential knowledge that any school child has today. Kant wrote in a time in which there was no remote sensing and man had to depend on his own immediate sensing capability. This gives one a very restrictive idea of what can be known by the senses and what actually exists. He also misrepresents science as very narrow and restrictive in its view.

First of all, science places no limit on what might be invisible to us and our sensory surrogates. It only requires that the unsensible world be consistent with the sensible world in any place
they make contact. It we use D'Souza's tape recorder analogy, I would say the following. If you postulate that an invisible, unfeelable, unsmellible, etc. tree falls in a forest next to the tape recorder, then the tape recorder should at least hear a sound which is consistent with the existence of such a tree, even if the tape recorder can't "see" the tree fall. The science establishment has demonstrated that it is willing to seek out hypothetical things that are normally invisible. Remember that scientists hypothesized the existence of the neutrino based upon seeming violations of Conservation of Momentum and Energy. The particle was actually "seen" only after the the design of an experiment, expenditure of millions of dollars and tons of steel from old battle ships (if I remember correctly). Believers in the invisible world of religion can't even propose a consistency experiment.

I understand, even if I don't agree with, authors like Dawkins. It seems as though we still have terrible global clashes over religion. In Dawkins' mind and that of others, such clashes will continue as long as humans are willing to be motivated by a blind faith that makes them intolerant of those who don't also admit that unverifiable truth. In a sense, Dawkins is acting out of political ideology rather than science. I think that Ira's laisser-faire policy is the right one. Aggressive atheism (or pantheism) is not the way to fight aggressive religion.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Liberty and security

The aphorism "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" is heard in many variations. It has enough degrees of freedom to allow its use by conservatives, liberals and libertarians in various situations. It's usually stated without the important modifiers, "essential" and "a little," in order to make it more powerful. It is also almost always incorrectly attributed to Benjamin Franklin. An implication of the dictum is that liberty and security are two adversaries in a zero sum game. I'd like to explore this concept.

First let's look at an individual as the system under consideration. If a pie chart represents the individual's liberty, we can examine two extreme cases and then those in between. If the entire pie is liberty, then the individual can do what he (or she) wants only subject to the laws of gravity, conservation of energy, biological limitations, etc. There is no one to impose any restrictions. This person in total liberty can eat what he wants to eat, go where he wants to go, and say what he wants to say. He also has no security. If the iiberty pie plate is virtually empty, the person is in bondage. The survival of the slave is totally dependent on the security provided by another.
Parenthetically, it's important to note that with respect to liberty, the terms "freedom of" and "freedom from" are totally different. For example "freedom of speech" indicates liberty to say what one will. On the other hand, "freedom from fear" indicates not liberty but security from undesired actions of others. In our pie chart, every slice of security requires the sacrifice of a slice of liberty, if this is a zero sum game. If one is a caveman, spending the night in a cave may provide security, but this comes at the sacrifice of the liberty to be wherever you will. In communal life, the security provided by traffic signals comes at the sacrifice of one's liberty to drive in whatever manner one wills. (I'm not going to escalate the examples to the level of federal government, since this would risk a partisan discussion.) Remember that I'm saying that liberty versus security is a zero sum game for an individual not averaged over society in general.

The next step is to consider two liberty-security pies representing two individuals interacting. The situation gets vastly more complicated, because new elements are added which can "eat up" liberty. Examples of such factors are conscience, responsibility and cooperation. The question in my mind is whether this is still a zero sum game.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Soma continued or Brave New World

Soma continued or Brave New World

I mentioned that I'm going to give a talk on this topic. It's going to be on Friday. In the meantime, if any of you have any words of wisdom you'd like to contribute, I'd appreciate the help. Brave New World is the backdrop for my talk, but I hope to examine more general topics.

In "Brave New World" society is designed and operated in such a way as to maximize peace stability. The way this is done is to follow industrial mass production techniques and management. Test tube babies are produced in quantity and quality according to the needs of society. Everything is done to create a stress-free population. Each class of (Alpha to Epsilon) people is inculcated through sleep-education to believe that it is the most fortunate. Promiscuous behavior is encourages from childhood and all appetites are satisfied either in reality or with the drug called "soma.". Where "1984" is about a society controlled by fear and pain, "Brave New World" is controlled by constant pleasure. No one has time to be alone or to think. It's a sort of steady-state Roman rule via bread and circuses.

The philosophical questions I'm going to ask the group to address are:
1) What's so bad about substituting chemical pleasure for "real" pleasure? Isn't it more efficient?
2) Is the pain of frustrated desire necessary for the production of poetry or art?
3) What do we mean when we say that a little pain is good for the soul.
4) In Brave New World total security from all hazards of poor health, old age, loneliness, frustration, etc. requires surrender of all liberty to the benevolent dictator. When we use Franklin's expression, "Those who would give up a little liberty to gain a little security merit neither," we imply that security and liberty are a zero sum game. Do you believe that an increase in security requires a decrease in liberty (for someone) ? With respect -Joel

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

US Patent #7,280,897

Well, it ain't quite a Nobel Prize, but I just learned that US Patent #7,280,897 was awarded this month - with my name on it.

As I've been retired since 2001 you can see how slowly the wheels turn in the Patent Department of Lockheed Martin and the US Patent Office.

You can see it at:

It has to do with determining "intervisibility" between two points in a 3D space using a digital terrain map.

Although the method has many possible practical uses, the context for our work was to protect a helicopter flying at low altitude from threats. Given the locations, heights, and effective ranges of multiple threats, and a digital terrain map, the algorithm and method rapidly calculates the 3D cells that can and cannot be seen by those threats.

(A related algorithm and method, patented in 2001 and also with my name on it, calculates the 3D path a helicopter should fly between points "A" and "B" to minimize chances of being seen by threats while avoiding running into the terrain. See

Ira Glickstein

Friday, October 5, 2007

House and Brave New World

Hello fellow philosophers,
I'm curious about what may seem a trivial topic. There is only one fictional program on television that seriously interests me. I wonder how many of you also like "House." I'm not talking about a program that tells you how to redecorate. I'm talking about the super-diagnostician, Gregory House, M.D. I think that what I like about it is that it's mostly about the thinking process, obsessive problem solving and about unconventionality. Is there anyone else on this blog who enjoys this show?

In a similar vein, I wonder what you think about the need for entertainment. In "Brave New World" (which I'm preparing for a presentation), life is about bread and circuses. New Worlders work and in their spare time are constantly entertained. There is no room for thought. Is there too much entertainment in our world? With respect -Joel

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


All about the abuse of anecdotal math to falsify the truth and truthify falsehood.

This is the fourth part of my "presentation" on the topic of "Lies, ..." Click for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

This part is about the "Normal Curve".

The height of young American women ranges from about 4' 9" to 6'. For young men it is 5' 2" to 6' 5". That's a difference of about five inches -- less than ten percent.

Therefore, in basketball and other sports where height is critical, you'd expect about ten percent fewer women than men. Right?

Anything less would be proof of discrimination against women. Right?


Actually, if you had a cut-off of six feet, over 100 men would qualify for every woman who qualified! Even if you had a cut-off of 5' 7", which is the average height of the population of young men and women combined, you'd find over five men for every woman who qualified.


Why are Our Expectations Wrong?

Glad you asked!

You have probably heard of the "Normal Curve" or the "Bell-Shaped Curve" and if you stay tuned for a bit you will understand what that is and why it is important. I promise to keep the math to a minimum and the understanding to a maximum.

The curve is called "Normal" because, when you make lots of measurements, such as the heights of a bunch of random people, you normally get a "Bell-Shaped Curve"!

Most of the measurements will be near the average value and you will get fewer and fewer as you go further away from the average.

[Click figure for larger view] The figure shows the Normal curve for the heights of young women (in red) and young men (in blue). Notice how each group of measurements resembles the shape of a bell?

Please look at the red bars that represent measurements of a thousand young women. Nearly all of them are between 57" and 72", a range of fifteen-inches. No more than five out of a thousand will be below or above that range. If you divide that range into six equal increments of two and a half inches each, about two-thirds of them will be in the two increments closest to the middle.

As indicated in the figure, in ordinary English, we would say women in that range are of "average" height.

On either side of the "average" are increments for "short" and "tall". Out of 1000, there will be about 136 "short" women and 136 "tall" women.

On either side of "short" and "tall" are "very short" and "very tall". Out of a 1000, there will only be about 21 "very short" and 21 "very tall".

The handful of women who fall outside the range would be called "extremely tall" and "extremely short".

The same situation prevails for young men, shown in blue. But note: the measurement results are shifted two increments to the right. A woman we'd call "tall" or "very tall" would be "average" if she were a man. Similarly, a man we'd call "short" or "very short" would be "average" if he were a woman.

None of the above is controversial. These are simply the facts that can be verified by anyone who would like to do the measurements.

Mathematical Terms (I'll keep this very short :^)

Mathematicians call the area that contains 68.3% of the measurements the "plus or minus one standard deviation" range. Since standard deviation is usually represented by the Greek letter “sigma”, this is called the “one-sigma” range.

A mathematician would analyze the height measurements and calculate the standard deviation as 2.5". He or she would note that the average for males is 5" above that for females and conclude that males are two standard deviations taller than females.

Please don't worry about the math terms "standard deviation" and “sigma" too much. These terms are just a fancy way of saying where to expect 68% of the measurements to be.

Representation of Women in Sports

For basketball, height is obviously a critical factor. If high schools and colleges insisted on having unisex teams, we'd find boys and young men outnumbering girls and young women by one-hundred to one! That would not be fair to girls and young women who want to play sports. That is why it makes total sense to separate basketball teams by gender.

Since height often correlates to strength and speed and other factors that are important in baseball, football, soccer and many other sports, it also makes sense to separate those sports by gender. In fact, only a small number of sports (gymnastics comes to mind) favor participants who tend to be shorter.

Bottom Line

1) In high school, college, and other amateur play, I favor separation by gender in the sports where males have a significant advantage. I would make an exception for the few girls and women who could qualify and allow them to join the male division if they wanted to.

2) For professional sports, I would make it illegal to exclude women from the highest level in any given sport. There are women who qualify, and, however few their number, it is unfair to exclude them. On the other hand, for the lower levels of professional sports, I would allow separation by gender to give highly qualified women a fair chance to play at their level.


OOPS - here is where we may get "politically incorrect".

Now that you understand all about the Normal curve and standard deviation and so on, let us apply our newfound knowledge to a different domain.

Lots of well-meaning people are misinformed about standardized tests, particularly those that are said to measure "intelligence".

I'll be the first to admit that some college graduates with advanced degrees don't have the intelligence to "rub two sticks together to save their lives". Some with the highest academic honors could not survive more than a few days in the woods or on the streets of a big city.

Some PhDs are at a total loss when it comes to doing carpentry or plumbing or fixing a TV set or PC or a car. They cannot grow fruits and vegetables and would be a total failure at "animal husbandry" (whatever that is :^) Some of them have no social intelligence at all and cannot sing on key or play a musical instrument. I would not want to "have a beer" with many of them.

The standardized so-called "Intelligence Quotient" (IQ) test does not measure any of the above talents.

However, IQ tests do a damn good job of evaluating "normal" people as to their ACADEMIC INTELLIGENCE.

People with high IQs generally excel in high school and college. They also excel at jobs that require lots of reading and writing and designing and science and math and so on.

People with low IQs generally do not do well in school and they find employment in fields that do not require academic-type talents.

Design of IQ Tests

IQ tests are designed to yield a score of 100 for the average person and to have a standard deviation of fifteen points. If you give IQ tests to a thousand people (in their native languages), all but a handful will fall between 55 and 145.

Out of a thousand people, about 683 will have IQs between 85 and 115, and will be said to have "average" intelligence. About 136 will be "high" and 136 "low". About 21 will be "very high" and 21 "very low".

A handful will be out of the range. People with IQs above 145 are considered "extremely intelligent".

In some jurisdictions, those below 70, with "very low" or "extremely low" intelligence, are exempted from things like the death penalty because their intelligence is so low they cannot be considered moral agents. A considerable portion of the prison population falls in the range of 80 and below.

Here is the Politically Incorrect Part

What if there was an ethnic or racial group that had an average IQ ten percent above or below 100? Say members of group "Beta" have an average IQ of 90 and members of group "Alpha" have an average of 110? (Actually, there are groups like that, or close to that. However, political correctness forbids me from mentioning their ethnic and/or racial descriptions.)

If the IQ difference between Alpha and Beta was only twenty percent, would you expect the Alpha group to have only twenty percent higher representation among professions that require high academic intelligence? Would you expect Alpha to have only twenty percent more scientists and engineers and accountants and so on? Would you expect Alpha to have only twenty percent more PhDs?

If you did you would be WRONG.

If the standard deviation for IQ is fifteen points, and the Alpha group is twenty points above the Beta group, that is a difference of over one standard deviation.

For example, if a Nobel Prize winner had to be "very intelligent" or "extremely intelligent" in the top two increments, there would be over ten people from the Alpha group for every one from the Beta group.

If you had to have an above-average IQ (100 or more) people in the Alpha group would outnumber those in the Beta group by three to one!

Bottom Line:

If members of some ethnic and racial groups are "over-represented" and other groups "under-represented" in professions requiring higher academic intelligence, that does not necessarily imply discrimination or favoritism.

If one group has an average IQ of 110 or more, you would expect them to be "over-represented" by at least three-to-one over the average American.

If another group has an average IQ of 90, you would expect them to be "under-represented" by a factor of three-to-one or more below the average American.


There is a great deal of overlap.

A "tall" woman is taller than 60% of all men and an "extremely tall" woman is taller than 90% of all the men.

A "very intelligent" member of the
Beta group is smarter than 60% of all members of the Alpha group and an "extremely intelligent" member of the Beta group is smarter than 90% of all the members of the Alpha group.

Do not judge a person by his or her group membership!

Ira Glickstein

The above is the fourth part of my "presentation" on the topic of "Lies, ..." Click for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.