Nate Smith

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Everything posted by Nate Smith

  1. The Impotence of Evil

    I don't fully grasp the idea that evil is impotent, and I'm hoping that others can elaborate on this for me. (Here are some relevant quotes.) I do understand that evil is in conflict with reality, and is therefore self-destructive. For example, if we put 50 people on a deserted island, and they tried to implement communism, they would die. Communism survives by taking things of value (created by good people or good actions). And I also understand that evil thrives when good people allow it to. But nonetheless evil often seems quite potent. For example, when the Nazi's were taking Jews from their homes, they were quite powerful. And we see in America what a majority of mistaken people can vote into office. Aren't there dictatorships that survive despite being opposed (Iraq for quite a while, or Cuba)? From John Galt: This needs to be elaborated upon for me. Certainly if I tell the IRS agent coming to take my taxes from me that he is immoral, that won't stop him. And I know that that's not what Ayn Rand meant, so I'd like some context or elaboration. Thanks.
  2. Limits

    Lately I've been rethinking the concept of a limit and how they are used to calculate areas under curves in Calculus. We start by estimating the area with a finite number of rectangles under the curve. We proceed to increase the number of rectangles and decrease their width, giving us a more accurate estimate of the area. We say that as the number of rectangles gets larger and larger (approaches infinity) we can get arbitrarily close to a limit, referred to as the "actual" area. It is usually stated that the limit of the sum as n (the number of rectangles) goes to inifinity is the definite integral (i.e. the area). But we also know that in math, while there may be a limit to a sequence, that doesn't mean we necessarily arrive at that limit. That is because we can never get to infinity. If I talk about the limit of 1 + 1/x as x goes to infinity, that limit is 1. I never get to one though, even though I can get arbitrarily close to 1. It seems as though we shouldn't be able to say that we are actually getting to the area, because our limit never gets to inifinity. Does this pose any problems for Calculus or am I missing something? A more fundamental example I was thinking of involved decimal representations of some rational numbers. For example, 1/3 can be represented at 0.333... But those two quantities are only equal if I have ALL of the 3's after the decimal point. But since there are an infinite amount of them, I can't have all of them. The conclusion seems to be that no decimal representation of 1/3 is possible, or that infinite decimals can't really exist. I think these two examples are the different sides of the same coin. Perhaps someone can straighten this out for me.
  3. I wonder if anyone has a little more information about HUAC and what/who it was looking for in its search for "communist infiltration of the motion picture industry." At first I was a little worried that HUAC was simply looking for communists. But I doubted Ayn Rand would participate in these hearings if that was the sole goal. Then I found this link which gives a little more background and context. Here's a relevant passage from this web page: "She did believe, however, that it was acceptable for the committee to ask people whether they had joined the Communist Party, because the Party supported the use of violence and other criminal activities to achieve its political goals, and investigating possible criminal activities was an appropriate role of government. "I certainly don't think it's any kind of interference with anybody's rights or freedom of speech," she said." Does anyone know what is referred to by the "use of violence and other criminal activities"?
  4. The Impotence of Evil

    Thanks, I forgot about that passage. Point 3 seems to best address my question, but they're all very interesting.
  5. The Impotence of Evil

    I see what you all were referring to now, and I agree with this comment. But I'm also curious how much correlation there is (if any) between an idea's truth and it's likelihood to spread and be accepted. Are true ideas more "powerful" in the realm of debate? (I'll stay away from using the word potent in this context.) Looking at the history of science, the answer seems to be a definite yes. While it may take time for ideas to be accepted, we certainly are moving in the right direction. Can the same be said for economics and political philosophy? I don't know. There have certainly been a number of advocates for free markets over the last few hundred years, but they haven't had a lot of success in influencing the majority in that field. When I talk politics and philosophy with people, I see that there are so few people that are willing and/or able to look at their basic premises, that it becomes essentially impossible to get them to change their minds. In this limited context, it often seems like the truth has little benefit in the realm of debate with bad ideas. This of course is why Ayn Rand was more concerned with future scholars than present ones. But at the same time, Atlas Shrugged continues to be one of the most influential books ever written. Is this because the ideas are presented in such an entertaining way? Possibly, but I think it has more to do with how she does such a great job of framing the debate between individualism and collectivism in such an essential way. Most people don't choose bad ideas because they see them for what they are, and this book shows what each is in such a vivid way. And more importantly, the lack of success that others have had in defending freedom is probably more due to the lack of a moral foundation for it than for a lack of good arguments. The best arguments in the world can't convince people to behave in a way they believe to be immoral. Now that there exists a moral foundation for individualism, perhaps in time we will finally start to see these traditions take hold in academia. So I guess I lean slightly in the direction of, yes, good ideas do have more likelihood to take hold in the long run.
  6. The Impotence of Evil

    Ok, that didn't come off right at all. Here's what I meant. (I probably am forced to deal with the "context" comment, so here it goes.) At times, the meaning of a word does depend on its context. For example, let's say someone states: "It is good to be seven feet tall." That statement would be true if talking about qualities beneficial to success in the NBA. But if that person was using "good" in the moral sense, of what's good for life, then that statement is false. "Good" has different meanings in the two contexts. Now in Ayn Rand's statement "evil is impotent," Alann pointed out that "Impotence refers to an Evil person's inability survive by the production of value." I was satisfied with his comments (as well as Ray's and L-C's). So I raised a new question about whether good ideas have any more "potency" than bad ideas. I was changing the context and giving the word "potency" meaning in this new context.
  7. The Impotence of Evil

    You didn't understand my question. I never said that the potency of an idea has anything to do with how many people you can convince of its truth. My question is about whether true ideas are more likely to "win" than false ideas. Perhaps later I will address your "context" comment, but at this time, I don't want this thread to turn into a discussion of that.
  8. The Impotence of Evil

    Good comments, thanks. Part of my misunderstanding was the way I read "evil is impotent." I focused too much on "evil is" and then its description "impotent." In other words, given that evil exists, it is impotent. I was ignoring the conditions of its genesis and looking at it in some of its current forms, which don't seem so impotent, while ignoring how it came to be. So those clarifications are useful. I have a follow up question. (And this time I am purposefully using a situation where evil already does exist.) Let's say we have a country where a third of the people are statists, a third are Objectivists, and the final third is indeterminate (or at least can be swayed to vote one way or the other). The first two groups argue about what is good, how the country should be run, and why their politicians should be elected. We have seen in debating with others, simply being right doesn't mean others will agree with you; it's hard to change others' minds. My question in this situation is, are the good ideas in this situation any more potent than the bad ones? In general, once evil does exist, is it more or less potent than good? (Adapting from Alann's comments, potency would be defined as the ability to survive by the production of values. I am not ignoring his comments, I am changing the context. In this context, potency of evil would be defined as its ability to succeed in the transmission of its ideas/values.) I have a partial answer in mind, but hopefully others can elaborate. I think at this point this is where reality becomes an essential part of the answer. I think the power good has over evil is that it is consistent with reality and ultimately people tend to look to reality (at least in part) to see which ideas seem right. This quote from Ayn Rand seems particularly relevant: This is a great reminder of how a false idea is impotent and needs a failure of the good to survive. But the reason I have my doubts as to whether the scales will always tip towards the good is because I think America is in a situation right now where the good ideas won't necessarily win out. It seems that since evil was allowed to grow, it may currently have the power to destroy the good, as well as itself. (Granted, in America, there are probably more statists than Objectivists.) And throughout history, there seem to be numerous examples where bad ideas have won out over good ideas. So how big of an advantage, if any, does the good have in this respect (being able to win out in the battle of ideas)?
  9. Freeman Dyson dumps on Climate Models

    On the same topic, here's an interesting article by Freeman Dyson:
  10. The Impotence of Evil

    Thanks, both of those comments are helpful. But as a follow up, do you find the word "impotence" a strange choice in this context? (Granted, she didn't use it in the passage Ray quoted.) Here are two definitions of impotent: "lacking power or ability" and "utterly unable (to do something)" Evil doesn't seem to be either of these. It seems that Parasitism of Evil or something like that would have been more exact. The choice of "impotence" is what confuses me.
  11. Drinking & Driving

    You use the word "It" too frequently. I am not sure what you are referring to in much of your post. Please elaborate.
  12. The American Form of Government

    Hi, A friend sent this to me. It's a great introductory piece on the fundamentals of different political systems. I don't know who produced this, but I wouldn't be surprised if he/she had some influence from Ayn Rand. It's a great link to forward to those not familiar with the issues (and those that are).
  13. I have a friend who is working through some Aristotle in grad school, and he's dealing with the problem of incommensurability of numbers. Having more of a math education, he came to me with questions, but I don’t have this all figured out. For those who haven't heard of this before, two numbers are incommensurable if they have no common unit of measure for which both numbers are whole number multiples of that unit. Put another way, a and b are commensurable if there exists some number c such that a = mc and b = nc where m and n are whole numbers. They are incommensurable if there is no such number c. For example, 23.516 and 4.1978 are commensurable. If we choose the number 0.0001 as our smallest unit of measurement, both of the numbers chosen are whole number multiples of that unit: 23.516 = 235160 x 0.0001 4.1978 = 41978 x 0.0001 Defined another way: if we choose any two lengths, and there exists some unit that measures both lengths evenly, the lengths are commensurable. It may seem that any two lengths are commensurable, that there must be some length small enough to measure both evenly, but it was discovered in ancient Greece (by Pythagoras I have read) that this is not true. Take for example a square with sides of length one. Applying the Pythagorean theorem to obtain the diagonal, we have sqrt(2). 1 and sqrt(2) are incommensurable. There is no unit small enough that will measure each length evenly. The same goes for pi. It is incommensurable with all whole numbers. Pi and sqrt(2) are called irrational numbers because, by definition, irrational number cannot be expressed as the fraction of two integers (the way that 3.5 can be expressed as 7/2). Because they can’t be expressed as ratios of integers, all irrational numbers are incommensurable with all rational numbers. (This link has a good background on this topic.) Now this raises some questions: 1) Does incommensurability create any metaphysical dilemmas? 2) Is it the case that mathematics at some level can’t match up with reality? 3) Do irrational numbers exist in reality? Apparently this was a problem in mathematics for centuries. According to my friend (and I may be misunderstanding him or Aristotle), Aristotle claimed that mathematical physics is not possible because of incommensurability (obviously this is presented out of context, but I’m just trying to raise some questions here). I’d like to hear any thoughts on this for those aware of this problem. Thanks.
  14. Potential Energy

    Well said. Thanks all for the comment, very helpful.
  15. Ayn Rand on Religion

    I was just reading the articles (1 & 2) on The Jerusalem Post forwarded by ARI. There was a quote by Ayn Rand that I hadn't read before (in the second link): "I want to fight religion as the root of all human lying and the only excuse for suffering." It's interesting, but I don't fully see her point. I'd like to hear some comments from people on this, particularly how religion is the root of all human lying. Thanks.
  16. An Ageless Universe

    Alex, after reading your answers to my last questions, I realized there are more fundamental issues to be dealt with before those answers will be meaningful to me. So I am going to ignore them for now and try and get to the beginning with some better questions. What exactly do you mean when you say that the universe is not finite in size, but it is finite. In what respect is it finite? I'll ask the question another way: Is it okay to ask, "How many atoms exist?" or, "What is the mass of the matter in the universe?" I realize that matter isn't all that exists, but I'm trying to understand if you are claiming that matter can continue indefinitely in no particular amount. This is what sounds like an existing infinity to me. I'll wait for the answer to this before I continue with more questions. Thanks again.
  17. An Ageless Universe

    Please correct me if I am mistaken. I mention this because the definition of infinite is 'having no boundaries or limits'. When you use it to mean, 'having idenitity', why do you use it that way? Why not say that everything in the universe is finite (has boundaries and identity), but the universe itself is infinte (in that it has no boundaries) and finite (in that this is its identity)? In other words, in one context, it is infinite (in the mathematical sense of there always being one more) and in another context it is finite (in that this is its identity).
  18. Dimensions

    I'm not educated in modern physics, so I wonder what is meant when I hear references to all kinds of different dimensions that different theories posit. The only dimensions that I know of are the three spatial dimensions. Those I have no problem with. I've heard of time referred to as a fourth dimension, but I'm not sure that's a valid application of the word dimension. I have no idea what anything beyond that would even mean. So how many dimensions are there? Is it proper to refer to time as a dimension, or this this just a metaphorical use? What is the definition of dimension? What do the people who accept other dimensions actually believe in? Are dimensions sometimes treated as alternate realities (like in sci-fi) or are they something else? Thanks for the clarification.
  19. This quote is from another thread. It lead me to a question about the nature of infinite decimals. Let's say I have a length of rope one foot long. I cut 9/10ths of that rope off. Then I cut off 9/10ths of the smaller piece, and then 9/10th of that remaining smaller piece and so on. I would have lengths of rope 0.9' + 0.09' + 0.009' + ... Of course I could never do that an infinite amount of times, but isn't there a sense in which the rope is "all of the decimals" of the number 0.999..., even while it is whole? In this sense, can't we view the number 1 as existing as 0.999... and not just as the limit of that series?
  20. Refraction

    I would like to understand why light bends as it passes through one medium to another (at an angle not perpendicular to the media border). Most explanations begin with the fact that light slows down in a denser medium (like traveling from air to glass). Often this process is described using the soldier analogy (a row of soldiers walks from solid ground to mud, and the soldiers on the mud move more slowly causing the row to bend). While this is a nice analogy, it doesn't explain why refraction happens. As soldiers walk onto the mud, they probably won't change direction, they will slow down. The column of soldiers to reach last will be ahead of the soldiers to reach first. After entering the mud, the soldiers will be moving in the same direction as before, but the front row will no longer be perpendicular the direction of travel. In other words, there won't be a path change, and the soldiers who entered the mud last will be ahead of those that entered first. The only way that the row of soldiers would change direction would be if they were all connected in some way. This would cause rotation as one side of the rows moved faster than the other (as the link I included suggested demonstrating this phenomenon with students joined by meter sticks). Another analogous example that made more sense was a water wave washing up on land (in a direction not perpendicular to the shore). As the wavefront approaches the shore, it will be at varying depths. The shallower part of the front moves slower than the deeper part (presumable because of friction). This causes the wave front to bend. I can understand why the bending occurs here though. Each water molecule is affected by those around it. As some water molecules are moving faster than others, there are pressure differences causing path changes. The main reason this puzzles me is because I don't really know what light is. Is it an array of individual beams or particles, independent of those around it (similar to the way I’ve characterized the soldiers). Is light more like water; is it more continuous, therefore each “piece” of light affects the light around it? Is there some analogy to “pressure” in light? Does gravity play a role? Thanks for the help.
  21. Refraction

    You've all given me a lot to think about. The most interesting thing I read was how light functions like waves very similar to water waves, but without a medium that it travels through. That's a hard one to get your head around. I'll look into that. Thanks.
  22. Units & Animals

    Animals do seem to have some ability to view different existents as separate members of a group of similar members. An example I was thinking about was viewing dogs and their reactions to people. Whenever someone comes over to my parents' house, their dog gets very excited and runs up to the new person, even if they haven't met before. The dog has distinguished man from other existents and regards certain existents (other men) as members of that group. Similarly, once a monkey discovers a banana, he will recognize other bananas and know what to do with them. He won't have to learn all over. I'm not claiming that these animals have formed concepts, but they do seem to be able to regard certain entities as units. Can they do this in a limited respect, and are they halted when it comes to conceptualizing entities?
  23. Units & Animals

    Does the child really need to experience all these different types of switches to regard them as units? Perhaps his word will not be as comprehensive as it someday will be, but I think he still has the ability to regard these things as separate members of a group of similar things. The rest of what you said I agree with.
  24. Units & Animals

    I think you are correct. Let me try and get a better grasp of the conceptual vs. perceptual with another example: When my son was very young, I remember when he first encountered light switches. He wasn't tall enough to reach them, but when he was held, he was enthralled by the ability to make the lights go on and off. (I don't believe he was speaking by this time.) Now compare this child's experience to a primate that learns to open a coconut with a rock (I think some primates do this). Is the child still acting solely on the perceptual level? Is it even possible for a conceptual being to act completely perceptually? I don't think so. When my son encountered other light switches, he would indicate the desire to flip the lights again. Therefore I think that he viewed the switchs as units of some concept, since he regards them in a similar manner. So judging by the comments in this thread, I think these scenarios would be summarized thusly: The child does view the switches as units of some kind (while there may be no word given to the concept yet), since he regards them as similar to each other and distinct from other things. The primate only perceives the similarity between the rocks and the coconuts and by memory can replicate the behavior to achieve an end. He doesn't regard the rocks or coconuts as members of a group of similar things though. Is this correct?
  25. Units & Animals

    I'll use the example that Ayn Rand used: I think this step is unique to humans. Could someone elaborate on what she means by "integrating"? This might help me understand where humans part ways with animals.