News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 12, 2011 in News

Paper of the week: Pennachin & Goertzel, “Contemporary Approaches to Artificial General Intelligence

Ontology for AI programmers: here is a diagram that shows a selection of the ontological categories used by OpenCyc, which is itself a subset of the largest extant collection of common sense knowledge statements in the world, Cyc.

Four podcast episodes on machine ethics: 1, 2, 3, 4.

A post I wrote on Less Wrong: Plant Seeds of Rationality.

Here are my own picks for the 2011 Oscars.

I wrote some advice on how to write a good philosophy paper.

I made a graphical overview of meta-ethics.

I love it when Noam Chomsky lays the smackdown… with facts.

The other paper of the week: Bostrom, “Pascal’s Mugging” (this one is extremely short and easy to read; it’s a dialogue)

Bradley Manning’s legal letter complaining of mistreatment.

From Twitter:

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{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

josef johann March 12, 2011 at 6:22 am

About your 2011 movie awards, I thought Inside Job was pretty scatterbrained and unclear, more like a collage of soundbites than a documentary.

One of the worst parts was hearing the interviewer ask a Financial Services Roundtable lobbyist an excruciatingly vague question about banks “large scale criminal activity” and whether he was “comfortable” with it. Predictably the lobbyist asked for specifics. Then they cut away as if they had demonstrated the lobbyist harbored some sort of insensitivity to the crisis.

I think Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big To Fail is invaluable in understanding the financial crisis, as well as Gary B. Gorton’s Slapped By The Invisible Hand, which is an expanded version of a freely-available research paper he authored. Obviously those aren’t movies.


juhou March 12, 2011 at 7:09 am

About that Chomsky video. In the end he talks about efficient markets in a way that shows his ignorance of that hypothesis. Here is an interview from a person who actually knows what the hypothesis means:

Also although Chomsky is an interesting read he usually likes to interpert facts to suit his cause. Here is a critique of his writing by Hitchens:

And finally a nice little Ad Hominem about Chomsky who has a bit of a problem of putting his money where his mouth is:


Patrick who is not Patrick March 12, 2011 at 7:43 am

I rather liked the Pascal Boyer article.

When I was a kid, I read a book of short fantasy stories about dragons. The conceit of the book was that each story used the cultural traditions of dragons from a different part of the world. I started out being fascinated that every culture, from Asia to Africa to North America and obvious to Europe had a concept of a “dragon.”… until I read the book and realized just how hard they were shoehorning in local mythologies to make them seem like dragons. The monsters referenced from Africa simply weren’t dragons, no matter how you squinted at them. They were probably just the closest thing, renamed. Same problem with North America. Asia had your classic Japanese and Chinese dragon ideas, but once the idea was in my head I couldn’t help reflect that these creatures bore little similarity at all to European dragons, and were probably just assigned the name by Europeans because they had scales.

“Religion” as a concept seems to be treated similarly. Although… Ok. The central idea that seemed to control whether something would get called a “dragon” was whether it was scaled or lizard-like. The central concept that controls whether a set of local beliefs is termed “religion” seems to be whether they’re obviously imaginary. And I find that hilariously revealing.


Paul March 12, 2011 at 7:48 am

Best article on bumpy penises I’ve read in a while.


Michael Baldwin March 12, 2011 at 8:17 am

Thanks so much for that overview of meta-ethics Luke, great idea.
It really helps simplify all the seeming complexities, will be very useful!

And I have to echo what Juhou said, and say that whilst Chomsky is great, his most avid fans often fail to apply the same scepticism which they employ when looking at the West’s foreign policy, to Chomsky’s conclusions.
I take what he says with a pinch of salt, but I still take what he says.


Luke Muehlhauser March 12, 2011 at 8:39 am

Michael Baldwin,

Chomsky is far from perfect, and we can and should point to lots of specific examples. That doesn’t mean that he’s wrong on broad strokes, or that his opponents are right in broad strokes.


juhou March 12, 2011 at 9:06 am


Well I at least think he is wrong on a lot of his broad strokes (anarcho-socialism, capitalism, at least). To which it is easy to point out why. Socialism has been dead for a while now and that is not because communism collapsed but because the theory is just bad.


JNester March 12, 2011 at 9:56 am

Luke: I love it when Noam Chomsky makes, like, the whole planet his bitch…

Can you lay off the sexist bullshit? Thanks.


Silas March 12, 2011 at 10:36 am

Luke,Well I at least think he is wrong on a lot of his broad strokes (anarcho-socialism, capitalism, at least). To which it is easy to point out why. Socialism has been dead for a while now and that is not because communism collapsed but because the theory is just bad.  

Yeah, like in Scandinavia. Those poor bastards. They’ve never experienced the stable economy of the US.

…Or wait. Fuck.


Garren March 12, 2011 at 10:52 am

I don’t understand the last decision on the Metaethics chart. Maybe I’ll have to pick up Miller’s textbook again. It was the first full book I read about moral philosophy and, obviously, not all of was clear to a neophyte.

One thing that did strike me back then was how annoying and misleading the ‘natural’ terminology is within the discussion of metaethics. It usually seems to come down to: If moral facts reduce to any other kinds of facts (even what we might in other contexts call “supernatural facts”), we’re talking moral naturalism. Otherwise — when moral facts are sui generis — we’re talking moral non-naturalism.

For this reason, I recommend removing the word ‘natural’ from the decision points in any metaethics chart. It’s the conventional name for certain positions within philosophy, but our everyday or religious understanding of the word only confuses attempts to pin down which position we hold.


Jacopo March 12, 2011 at 10:55 am

Most Scandanvian countries are broadly social democracies, which isn’t the same as socialism. Though sadly, the rhetoric of the far-right would have you believe it is.


juhou March 12, 2011 at 11:02 am


I am actually not sure what you meant but the number one thing to know is that Nordic countries are actually capitalist not socialist. When I here in Finland go to get milk I still actually have to buy it from a shop. I’m not getting it from the collective. (The same I suppose is the situation of Sweden from where I once did buy a Cola bottle.)

Second point is that Nordic countries experience the same business cycles as US. We did experience the dot-com bubble. We have just now starting to recover from this recessions right now and we did have our very own recessions in the early 90s.

Third point is that though markets are not perfect either neither is the government. Due to government actions we have serious problems here in Finland with things such as unemployment. This is due mostly to too high unemployment benefits that discourage taking jobs.


Silas March 12, 2011 at 11:50 am

I am actually not sure what you meant but the number one thing to know is that Nordic countries are actually capitalist not socialist.

Well, no. They are both ‘capitalist’ and ‘socialist’, which most countries are, to different degrees. Most Scandinavian countries have a fairly equal mix of the good parts from both isms, I think, which is evidently beneficial for the country.

When I here in Finland go to get milk I still actually have to buy it from a shop. I’m not getting it from the collective. (The same I suppose is the situation of Sweden from where I once did buy a Cola bottle.)

That sounds like good old communism. We may have different definitions of what ‘socialism’ means.


reticularimus March 12, 2011 at 12:03 pm

lukeprog wrote:
“because for me, philosophy basically just is cognitive science”

Really…. Really?

I’m saddened by this. I hope you’re just smitten with this new domain of interest, much like with a new girlfriend. I’m glad that you qualified the statement with ‘for me’. Please let us know when the fantasy phase is over.


juhou March 12, 2011 at 12:11 pm


That sounds like good old communism. We may have different definitions of what ‘socialism’ means.

I am pretty much with Wikipedia on what socialism means “Socialism is an economic and political theory advocating public or common ownership and cooperative management of the means of production and allocation of resources”

I am also pretty sure that Chomsky means something very similar to that and that is the point of view I said is pretty much dead. Even the attempts to resurrect that view like the participatory economics thing are very weak what comes to their economic concepts.

If you call social democratic society a socialist society than I am a socialist together with people like Paul Krugman. I support socialized medicine and education and so forth. My point was that Chomsky is wrong when he thinks capitalism is all evil and socialism would be a good choice instead.


juhou March 12, 2011 at 12:37 pm

On the Oscars. My list from US movies would be:

Best Picture: Black Swan
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Original Screenplay: Black Swan
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Animated Film: Yogi bear
Best Cinematography: Inception
Best Film Editing: Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, The Social Network

I would put Inception higher if it wasn’t such a clear rip off from a Donald Duck story:


Michael March 12, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Lol I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I thought the exact same thing as reticularimus. Was disappointed to see that.


Luke Muehlhauser March 12, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Michael and reticularimus,

Then a great deal of philosophy will disappoint you. But Quineans are not much hurt by the fact that we disappoint you. :)


Luke Muehlhauser March 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm


It never even crossed my mind that people would read that as sexist.

Thanks for that little bit of consciousness-raising.


Michael March 12, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Well not much of the philosophy I’ve read so far has espoused scientism, but I guess if you’re into that then you’ll come across a lot of it. ;)
Btw have you read this ?


Garren March 12, 2011 at 3:03 pm

What is supposed to be the problem with scientism?


Luke Muehlhauser March 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm

If you’re quoting the proudly medieval Ed Feser, I’m afraid there is no bridge that will reach between us… :)


Michael March 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Depends how far you go with scientism, but basically this


Michael March 12, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Lool, well I knew you wouldn’t AGREE with it, which is why I simply asked if you’d read it :)
And I think I found out there would definitely be no bridges (no not even for trollies and throwing fat men over) between us when you said that philosophy basically is CS.

My thoughts on that would be summarised by replacing the ‘C’ with a ‘B’. ;)


reticularimus March 12, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I agree that Feser seems to be rigidly locked in millennia past. Although he is great for Aristotelian history, and I did like his paper arguing that Searle is actually a property dualist.

Cognitive Science is an exciting field, and my faculty advisor tells me that it is by far the the most pragmatic course to follow post bachelors. But claims of all-inclusiveness, or basically so, are insanely hasty for field in its infancy. I see echoes of behaviorism all over again, just because of the amenability to interdisciplinary experimentation.


Garren March 12, 2011 at 4:43 pm


Right. As we’ve discussed, science does require some minimal philosophical assumptions. If scientism is the denial of that, then I would agree. But I see less of a problem with taking the stance that we stick to these minimal assumptions, plus any necessary truths, plus scientific inquiry broadly defined…and stop there.


JNester March 12, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Luke: It never even crossed my mind that people would read that as sexist.

Really? If that is true your worse off than I thought. Who *doesn’t* know that referring to women as “bitches” is sexist? Yeah you weren’t refrring to a woman here but you are using the same phrase. Put yourself in the mind of a female reader next time. Before I sick Steinem and Co. on you.


Thomas March 12, 2011 at 5:11 pm


What is supposed to be the problem with scientism?

According to Susan Haack, this is like asking “what is supposed to be the problem with round circles”. She says that scientism is a bad thing is “a trivial truth”.

One reason why that is btw is that scientism seems to be self-defeating.

About Luke´s revolutionary Quinean scientism:

I hope you’re just smitten with this new domain of interest, much like with a new girlfriend.

Yeah, I hope this too!


woodchuck64 March 12, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Really? If that is true your worse off than I thought. Who *doesn’t* know that referring to women as “bitches” is sexist? Yeah you weren’t refrring to a woman here but you are using the same phrase. Put yourself in the mind of a female reader next time. Before I sick Steinem and Co. on you.

Oh don’t be such a dick.


Luke Muehlhauser March 12, 2011 at 7:01 pm

woodchuck64 FTW.


Patrick who is not Patrick March 12, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Scientism is basically defined as a pejorative. Its simplest definition is probably something like, “applying science or scientific reasoning when its not appropriate to use them.” It would be like if we defined Michaelism as speaking to, hiring, or talking about Michael at a time when it is inappropriate to speak to, hire, or talk about Michael. It wouldn’t make sense to ask whether Michaelism is bad because it says so right in the definition.

Unfortunately, because the pejorative aspect is included in the definition, this makes scientism nearly useless as a concept. And even more unfortunately, if you use “scientism” as a club against other people, there’s about a 99% statistical likelihood that you’re either an idiot or a horrible, dishonest person. Scientism is built for equivocation fallacies, and that’s almost all you ever hear when its advanced. Scientism can be thought of as a trivially true but also trivially important matter, or a deeply important matter that may not exist. So people just leap back and forth between the two as needed when the subject comes up.


Scott March 12, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Then a great deal of philosophy will disappoint you. But Quineans are not much hurt by the fact that we disappoint you.

What do you mean by this? Why have you given so much primacy to CogSci as philosophy? And what’s significant about being “Quinean”? (I mean, I know who WVOQ is, but haven’t had the opportunity to study him much – my shitty university doesn’t do much 20th-C philosophy, & I don’t know where to start on my own).


MarkD March 12, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Much liked Pennachin & Goertzel. Tierra brought back fond memories of SFI in its heyday, the coyotes wandering the hillsides. I’m glad there are big-picture enthusiasts because I tend to think there are conceptual limitations concerning behavioral plasticity that are not effectively covered by anyone…yet: specifically the junction between representations for dealing with uncertainty and the automated construction/learning of the matrix of those representations. There are hints of success in the Latent Semantic Analysis efforts (and their probabilistic duals), but those results are largely limited to associative semantic memory.


Luke Muehlhauser March 12, 2011 at 7:46 pm

As an example of philosophy as cognitive science on the particular subject of epistemology, see a recent version of Quine’s naturalized epistemology: Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment. I interviewed one of the authors here.


Garren March 12, 2011 at 8:36 pm


Ah. So it’s like asking what’s wrong with murder, where murder is defined as wrongful killing. I always did think it was funny to have a Commandment about that.


JNester March 12, 2011 at 10:42 pm

woodchuck: Oh don’t be such a dick.

My bad I guess we should just let people regurgitate sexist bullshit and not say anything.


Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) March 13, 2011 at 12:06 am

Putting in my amateurish input here, but since we’re on the topic, doesn’t all philosophy revolve around the cognitive aspects of the brain/mind (adjusting it for all you dualists out there :P)? Therefore, it seems to me that since all methods of inquiry all come back down to this, everything we do or think about is indeed about our cognition.

Here’s what’s been troubling me: how can we trust any inquiry into cognition when we are using our own cognition to study other’s cognition? It is, to put it one way, to have a device capable of gleaning all sorts of knowledge about it’s environment, but if you don’t know it’s components, the way it works, its possible inaccuracies and ways it can be misled or, indeed, know what exactly it can detect, it seems foolish to declare this device as capable of providing conclusive proof of anything, or even of providing accurate insights into anything. We then use this device to study other devices, and say that the results are accurate.

It seems that all of us, despite our point of view, are forced into making the irrational assumption of just trusting our own cognitions as presenting anything real, or, indeed, of even being “ours” whatever the self may be.

Any input on this problem would be appreciated, because, as it stands, I see no way out of making an irrational assumption (and hey, I didn’t even need an evil daemon to be sceptic!).


Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) March 13, 2011 at 12:14 am

So, moving on to politics: I don’t think any definition of socialism that includes Nordic countries is very useful. They certainly aren’t based around the worker, just worker benefits and welfare for the poor, but markets based on competition and other free market principles exist. That seems like a Capitalist-Welfare State (I refuse to use the term “socialism” since I see no root in the actual movement and it just leads to confusion on terms).

And, quite clearly, a criticism that applies to worker communes could or could not have anything to do with a criticism to a Capitalist-Welfare State, and so, too many people just come up with an argument against either and then pretend that they’ve refuted socialism and all of it’s varying, very different definitions.

That said, despite flirting with the concepts of socialism and anarchism, I just can’t see democracy and other forms of popular government working, namely because it seems next to impossible to motivate people to be properly informed to govern themselves. Recent American politics and the rise of the Tea Party, I believe, have proven this, along with the general decadence of intellectual culture. Just my take on this.



I do believe you got “trolled” in the sense that you took a satirical comment seriously.


Luke, that Super Mario 64 link was just….amazing.



Thanks for your posts, once again, very interesting insights!


Luke Muehlhauser March 13, 2011 at 12:43 am


Your hyperactive sexism radar is blinding you to the cleverness of woodchuck64′s comment!


Mike Young March 13, 2011 at 3:32 am

Reagan fired the air-traffic controllers. FDR was against public unions. As am I.


Bebok March 13, 2011 at 2:01 pm


Could you point me to some substantial academic critique of libertarian socialism?


juhou March 13, 2011 at 2:48 pm


Well the natural way to go about it would be to first ask for any libertarian socialist papers published in top economic journals? It’s hard to find a critique something that doesn’t exist in the academic world.

If you read my comments again I think you notice that I said socialism is dead, which is pretty much true. A compendium of basic critiques against socialism are for example here:

And against the labor theory of value here:

Academic research has mostly just moved on to better theories.

If you want me to be more precise point to a clear argument for socialism otherwise I just don’t have the time to make a compendium of all related articles.

Before you go on about libertarian socialism please point out a theory that has been well formulated and published in a reasonable level economic journal. Otherwise there is really no point in the whole argument. (I am absolutely sure that if an excellent model was made it would merit publishing on top journals such as The Quartely Journal of Economics.)

On the participatory economics there is something here btw:


Scott March 13, 2011 at 3:24 pm

The Economist has an interesting article + videos on the idea of computers surpassing humans in intelligence:


woodchucky64 March 13, 2011 at 3:44 pm

JNester, sorry; I probably should have added a smiley to that to better convey my point :-)


Wade March 13, 2011 at 6:07 pm

LOL@ Ed Feser, I stumbled across his blog from a link by Parsons on the Secular Outpost, I was amazed. Not only does this guy seem to take himself seriously, but other people do, too. It’s not the fault of aristotelian metaphysics or thomist arguments for god, it’s that the moderns & everyone else (but him of course) just haven’t read enough of them to understand them. Descartes, Kant, Hume, & apparently Parsons, all just big dummies who didn’t read enough Anselm & Scotus.


James Farrell March 13, 2011 at 7:50 pm

…shows his ignorance of that hypothesis. …a person who actually knows what the hypothesis means…

If Chomsky’s comments show his ignorance about the Efficient Markets Hypothesis, the same is true about Paul Krugman, Joseph Stglitz, Brad Delong, Michael Intrilligator, and many other leading economists who have blamed the bad ideas emanating from the Chicago School as a partial cause of the GFC. As for Fama, any of the above people would name him as part of the problem, not the person you would turn to for guidance re. the significance of the EFH. Chomsky isn’t an economist, but he isn’t ‘showing his ignorance’ here at all. Johou’s comment is a good example of how, every time Chomsky’s name comes up, someone will throw specious pebbles at his credibility.


Bebok March 13, 2011 at 8:18 pm


I by no means wanted you to make any kind of compendium. I just thought that you might know something (rather scholarly) on what is wrong with libertarian socialism in general.
As for some specific theories defended in economy journals, you can find some papers by R. Hahnel on his site (, though I’m not sure how much “top” those journals are. You have linked to the article by D. Schweickart who himself seems to endorse some sort of individualist left-libertarianism and has some publications on that ( There is also J. Roemer who published quite a list of papers defending some other sort of individualist left-libertarianism (
Those general critiques of socialism you have linked to seem to me to apply mostly to state-socialism only. As for the labour theory of value, you don’t have to accept it to be a socialist, neither libertarian nor a state one, I think.
I’m surely no champion of economics, but from what you wrote here and on some other thread I’ve got the impression that your favourite argument against socialism (meant as a system with no or at least little wage labour) is that guys who publish in economics journals are usually not really into it.


juhou March 14, 2011 at 1:01 am

James Farrell,

Eugene Fama does research in the field of finance. Paul Krugman Brad Delong and Joseph Stiglitz are macro economists. There is a quite a big difference there. My point is that efficient markets is a finance theory and the person who should know what the theory means is the guy who has been working most of his life with it. I am pretty sure there are other problems with the theory but this is not one of them.


juhou March 14, 2011 at 1:55 am


Thanks for the links when I have free time I am gonna read those articles. Those critiques I linked to you are problems for most of socialism not just state socialism. They are just the type of things I would be looking for answers in libertarian socialist solutions to economic problems. In your Hahnel link there seems to be new information about those things. Looking forward to reading those.

My general arguments against libertarian socialism is that I don’t know what it even means. The things I’ve been told to read so far (not saying anything about the new stuff you linked) seems generally low quality. The point is if we would implement a libertarian socialist society as of tomorrow what would happen? Would we live in a paradise after that? A better world even? Or maybe it would be succumb into dictatorships and chaos? Nobody really knows, not even Chomsky. To me it seems immoral to support such a world view as long as there is no viable theory to predict outcomes. I would also prefer empirical evidence about it but that’s harder to get. People who support Parecon though, could implement a huge manufacturing company based on the model of participatory economics and see how it goes.


juhou March 14, 2011 at 2:05 am

James Farrel,

BTW, If there are specious pebbles to throw at someones argumentation or more to the point rocks like in this case I do believe they should be thrown. I realize Chomsky is not a perfect person but there are limits to understanding his mistakes also. I’ve generally liked to the guy until I discovered his dishonesty in argumentation against Hitchens and the not so minor issues with his personal finances. As of now I even think the G.W. Bush had more integrity than Chomsky. You just can’t be against war and torture and all that and then go and buy stocks related to war industries or oil companies, etc. Plus the thing about copyrights is just ridiculous. I personally have problems taking him all that serious as of now (some of his arguments might be right though) and am just hoping that somebody shows that Hoover article to be utter bullshit.


Bebok March 15, 2011 at 9:24 am


Very few people, if any, think that it would be possible to implement any kind of libertarian socialism tomorrow anywhere, as it would require vast majority of people not only wanting to do that, but also knowing how to do that.
It would also be impossible to run one big parecon company in the middle of capitalist ocean. You may have a worker cooperative, but for it to be parecon you would need a whole parecon economy, self-efficient to large extent.
The good thing though is that libertarian socialism actually was implemented in few places like Spain, Ukraine or Mexico, not without some success, so for a bit of empirical evidence you may read something about those achievements:


juhou March 17, 2011 at 9:57 am


Thanks for the link. I’ll take a closer look when I have time. As of now though I suspect the quality of that empirical evidence due to two things. First the social experiments didn’t last long and second the countries where rather poor at the time.

I think nobody really knows how to implement a parecon economy. So far the theory is not extensive enough but I am going to follow it’s development. I do however disagree with you about whether or not is possible to establish at least something similar to a parecon based worker collectice inside a capitalist economy. I think if the theory works there should be a possibility to do that.


juhou March 17, 2011 at 10:17 am


One more point. This confused me a bit:

You may have a worker cooperative, but for it to be parecon you would need a whole parecon economy, self-efficient to large extent.

I have no idea with self-efficiency means. If you mean self-reliant I hope you still do see that even a parecon economy has to have a lot of international trade with other countries, some of them capitalist, to be able to benefit from comparative advantages between countries. Otherwise I am afraid there would be an increase in poverty in parecon country.


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