Nate Smith

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Everything posted by Nate Smith

  1. Units & Animals

    Unless I'm missing something, Ayn Rand's definition of a unit seems to fit the monkey and banana example perfectly. This definition, as far as I can tell, could be taken as synonomous for a description of perceiving similarity. There are some useful comments in this thread, so I'll keep thinking about this. If anyone has any clarifications, please add them. Thanks.
  2. I could accept this assessment of the parent-child relationship as a general truth, but I have trouble seeing it as a universal one. I agree that most people would feel some sort of shame if they felt that their child has surpassed them philosophically, but I don’t think this is necessarily true. Ayn Rand lost me when she says this is “more than a rational person could absorb.” If she said that it is more than most people could absorb, I’d agree. I try to imagine myself in this situation where my son one day surpasses me intellectually. I have worked hard to remain honest with myself and open to reality. If he does surpass me, I don’t think I’d have any problem admitting that. I don’t think I’d feel any shame in learning from him, any more than I do learning from someone else. I can only see this as a difficult fact for a parent to deal with if they have inner guilt from a lifetime of evasion. But I don’t see this as a problem for an honest person. What if your child turns out to be the next Ayn Rand? Any thoughts?
  3. A Question About Infinite Decimals

    In order to clarify some of your language, I want to lay out the development of numbers and what I think is the origin and solution to some of these questions. The development that I am laying out is in no way supposed to be comprehensive. I've included only what I think is essential to this problem. We begin by grasping the counting numbers (1, 2, 3 ...). The counting numbers continue with our “placeholder” system for powers-of-ten. (For example, 5,092 represents 5 one-thousands, 0 one-hundreds, 9 tens and 2 ones.) I’m not sure if the concept of "power" is explicit or implicit at this point. I think it is only implicit. When I first learned numbers, I remember understanding how ten ones is ten, ten tens is one-hundred, ten one-hundreds is one-thousand, etc. without being aware of exponents. It is a later integration of exponents to realize that our number system is a place holder system for powers of 10 (ex: 6217 = 6(10^3) + 2(10^2) + 1(10^1) + 7(10^0)). We later make the abstraction parts-of-a-whole, or fractions. The first would probably be 1/2 and then other subdivisions like 1/3, 1/4, etc. These eventually lead to parts such as 2/5 & 4/7. A later development is the decimal system. Prior to this, we have the counting numbers, and our system using digits 0-9 to indicate how many of each of the "powers of 10" are in a given quantity. The decimal system is a realization that we can also represent quantities by using divisions of ten (i.e. tenths, hundredths, etc.) in addition to using multiples of ten (tens, hundreds, etc.). In other words, the decimal system represents an integration of our previous base-10 system with the concepts of fractions. Prior to the decimal system, we might have said that we have three-and-one-fourth cups of water, represented as 3 1/4. But with the decimal system, we can indicate this as three and two-tenths and five-hundredths, or 3.25. As we all know, this development makes calculations much more efficient. The decimal system integrated with our system for the counting numbers lets us represent all quantities as multiples of ten and divisions of ten. For example, 472.53 = 4(100) + 7(10) + 2(1) + 5(1/10) + 3(1/100). I think it is at this step that we first run into the “problem” of infinite decimals. Some parts-of-wholes can easily be changed from fractional form to decimal form (such as 1/2 = 0.5 or 1/4 = 0.25). But others run into the problem of “going on forever” (such as 1/3 = 0.333… or 25/99 = 0.2525…). If my understanding is correct, the decimal form of representing fractions is the origin of the infinite decimals. And consequently these infinite decimals only have meaning as the limit of that sequence, as that fraction. When we refer to the quantity 0.555…, we refer to 5/9, because that is its origin; that is the only sense in which it can refer to a quantity. Please correct me if I am mistaken on this point. I have questions to follow if we’re in agreement so far.
  4. Immigration

    Harry Binswanger recently wrote a very interesting article on immigration that appeared on Capitalism Magazine. Coincidentally, just last week I was discussing this topic with some friends who work in labor industries that employ a relatively high percentage of Mexicans. One friend in particular is a sider (he puts siding on homes) for a living. He was complaining about how more and more of these jobs are being "taken away" from Americans because Mexicans are willing to work for much less. As Dr. Binswanger says in his article: While I agree with this point completely, and I am aware that a capitalist economy necessitates changing markets, it is difficult to argue this point with someone who's skills are becoming less marketable. How do you tell someone that has little education and a family with 3 kids that, this is an opportunity to move on to bigger and better things? I'm not saying that this isn't the right argument, but this can be a sensitve subject to talk about with someone in that situation. I was wondering how others might deal with a situation like this. Thanks.
  5. Does positing no ultimate speed limit imply instantaneous speeds? If an object can go faster and faster, that doesn't mean it will eventually be going "infinitely fast". No matter how fast it goes, it always has some speed, right?
  6. Potential Energy

    In physics, we are taught that an object thrown straight up begins with an amount of kinetic energy equal to 1/2mv^2 (m = mass and v = velocity). When it comes to rest at the top of its path, it has no kinetic energy, but it has an amount of potential energy equal to mgh (g = acceleration to gravity and h = height above initial position). It can be shown that the amount of kinetic energy lost equals the amount of potential energy gained, and therefore the total amount of energy is conserved. The conservation of energy (in my limited experience) seems to be a cornerstone of physics. Is there anything problematic with saying that the energy is conserved, but only as "potential" energy? After all, a potential is not an actual. Is the conservation of energy more of an epistemological principle than a metaphysical one, or a mixture of the two? When an object slides to rest along the floor, its kinetic energy becomes thermal energy, so in this example, the principle appears more metaphysical. I've never felt fully comfortable with potential energy though. Would someone explain the epistemological validity of potential energy and conservation of energy? Thanks.
  7. Potential Energy

    I don't have as much of a problem with the idea of potential energy as its part in the conservation of energy. We're told that energy is neither gained nor lost, it just converts from one type to another. But if kinetic energy (for example) is lost when an object travels to the top of its path, what is gained? We say that it gains potential energy, but is anything really gained? If something is conserved, doesn't it need to be conserved as something and not just as a potential something?
  8. A Question About Infinite Decimals

    Agreed. I think I've got a much better understanding of what you're saying. I'll keep thinking about this. Would you agree with these two assertions? 1) The concepts of limits and mathematical infinities arise (at least in this situation) as a means to reconcile two previously formed concepts. Once we have the concepts of fractions (parts-of-a-whole) and decimals (decimal representations of fractions), we quickly see that some decimal representations will go on forever (like 1/3). At this point concepts like mathematical infinity and limits arise to reconcile these previous two concepts. If we were using a base-3 number system instead of base-10, one-third would simply be represented as 0.1 and we wouldn't need limits or sequences (but we would need them for other fractions though). 2) When someone argues that 0.999... isn't equal to 1, essentially he is making a stolen-concept fallacy. That person doesn't understand the origins of infinite decimals and how they can only have value and meaning in their limits.
  9. A Question About Infinite Decimals

    Let me rephrase that last part. Abstractions like one-third and one-fourth are on the same level, but are you saying that the decimal representation 0.333... is a higher-level abstraction than 0.25? If so, how? (By the way, is one-third a concept? Don't concepts need to be held by a single word, not a hyphenated word?)
  10. A Question About Infinite Decimals

    There is much about your post that I do not fully understand. Clearly there is some foundation that I am missing. I would like to get deeper into the heirarchy of numbers and what you mean by the difference between a sequence and its limit. I also need to understand the terminology better as well. Let me try and start from the beginning and see how far I can get: The first numbers that we grasp are the counting numbers (beginning with one). We perceive units and groups of units. Conceptually, these larger groups are counted. Later in our development (not necessarily next though), we conceive of "parts of a whole", in other words, fractions. Our first experience is probably with the concept of "half", one of two equal parts totalling a whole. The notation of course is 1/2. Soon after, we become familiar with thirds, fourths, etc. and eventually parts such as two-thirds or three-fifths and so on. I take it from what you are saying that things get more complicated when we try and represent these fractions as decimals. For example: Let's say we try and measure a rod (which is of length 1/4 feet). Using our one-foot ruler, we immediately see that it is less than a foot. We proceed to design a better ruler that measures to the nearest 0.1 feet. (Children of course don't design instruments early on; this analogy is supposed to mimic what we learn as long division.) With our ruler, we determine that the rod is between 0.2 and 0.3 feet long. We proceed to design a better ruler that measures to 1/10 of 1/10 of a foot (or 0.01 ft). At this point, we determine that the rod is of length 0.25 feet long. At this point, have we encountered the concept of a sequence? I think so, just a short finite one though. The sequence is 0.2, 0.25. Now let's imagine that we use the same process to measure a rod of length 1/3 feet. On first measure, it is 0.3, then 0.33, then 0.333, etc. We have probably all divided 1 by 3 using long division and seen how the process continues indefinitely. If at any time we stop (which of course we have to), we don't have a decimal representation of 1/3. The sequences is 0.3, 0.03, 0.003, ... and only as a limit do we have 1/3. Am I understanding you correctly so far? Is the example of 1/3 a a higher-level abstraction than 1/4? If so, how exactly.
  11. This quote is from a conversation between Dagny Taggart and Eddie Willers in Atlas Shrugged. What is the significance of their answers? What do their answers say about each of them? I think that their answers relate to their metaphysical value judgements. Eddie considers evil to be important, and therefore it bothers him more than Dagny who sees it as impotent, and isn't concerned with it. If I am correct, I would appreciate some elaboration on this point. This is one aspect of Objectivism that I haven't fully grasped. While a false philosophy may be impotent in that it can't be useful in dealing with reality, a group of large enough people with false ideas can be dangerous, particularly in politics. For example, in We the Living, I've never understood how Kira isn't bothered more psychologically by the conditions of her country. I'll admit that I am more bothered by the problems in the US than she is with Russia. In addition, are there parallels between Eddie and Leo? I always assumed that Leo was supposed to represent the philosophy of someone troubled by the fact that evil exists, in other words, Leo is what Eddie would be (psychologically) in Russia. If my assessment is correct, why are Kira and Dagny correct, and how are Leo and Eddie mistaken?
  12. The Psychology of Some of Ayn Rand's Characters

    Would you agree with the following analysis: Young children are naturally curious. Their curiosity and desire to think comes with little to no effort and requires very little will to maintain, at least at first. As this process continues, there are multiple reasons why this may require more strength or motivation. Some of these reasons are: negative influences from parents (poor explanations, rules without reasons, little intellectual stimulus), peer pressure (some children value attention from others over understaning reality) and frustration with the increasing difficulty of ideas, just to list a few. The fewer of these types of impediments there are, the more likely the natural process is likely to continue. But more impediments will tend to discourage an active mind. When you referred to (paraphrasing) "strength of character manifesting as the will to remain in full focus and contact with reality", this is to what you refer. A strong, or motivated, individual may not need that motivation under healthy circumstances, but that individual is strong nontheless. But ultimately volition allows one to choose either path. I take this to be a brief summary of your position, so please correct me if I'm still missing something. Now I would like to return to the question of the difference between Kira and Leo. Earlier I questioned whether their different reactions were the result of "inner strength" or mistaken premises on Leo's part (not making the distinction between the metaphysical and man-made, in this case). While it might be the case that Leo chose to stop thinking, I think this was largely the result of his mistaken premise that lead him to choose this. He saw no value in continuing, because he saw the world as malevolent. I'm not sure this point was addressed before this thread took a turn, so I'm bringing it up again. Stephen, you first interjected with your comments explaining strength in answer to my question about strength, but I am unclear as to whether you were just answering that question, or also asserting a position on Leo. I have found this thread very helpfull, so thank you to everyone for your comments. I haven't thought about some of these questions before.
  13. The Psychology of Some of Ayn Rand's Characters

    For anyone not aware of this other thread, I found Betsy Speicher's comments on inner stregth very helpful.
  14. The Psychology of Some of Ayn Rand's Characters

    For anyone not aware of this other thread, I found Betsy Speicher's comments on inner stregth very helpful.
  15. The Psychology of Some of Ayn Rand's Characters

    I still don't see where the strength is needed. Young children are naturally very curious; this doesn't occur as the result of strength. It is the result of poor cultural and philosophical influences that most people never see that point of ideas and philosophy, and that curiosity fades. If one of these people were to try and rehabilitate themselves and break old habits, then perhaps strength would be necessary.
  16. The Psychology of Some of Ayn Rand's Characters

    Is strength always necessary? Speaking for myself, strength was never needed to remain conscious. I was eager to do it. Many people find discussing ideas distasteful and unpleasant, but that's because of their premises. I see strength as necessary when there is some disconnect between one's conscious and subconscious beliefs or values.

    Please add this show for rating.
  18. The Psychology of Some of Ayn Rand's Characters

    I want to make my previous point a little better with an experience that I (and probably most people who become Objectivists) can relate to. When I first started getting interested in ideas (somewhere in my teens), I remember noticing how easily many people would just dismiss arguments they couldn't answer as one more example of how reason can show anything to be true. Most people's opinions of philosophy are very negative, because they believe it can be used to prove anything. Most of these people reject reason and argumentation, and as a result most of their philosophy is one big floating set of principles. The metaphysical premise they have accepted here is "A and not-A are possible". We are all familiar with these type of people. For whatever reason, I was explicitly aware that reason couldn't show that two contradictory beliefs could both be true. I don't know where I learned this or how I figured it out, while others didn't. But as a result, I listened closely to what was being said, and occassionally I could find the flaw in the arguments. Most of the time I couldn't, but I never gave up on reason. This didn't require any strength on my part, just one correct premise that far too few people seem to have. I think this example is analogous to the difference between Kira and Leo. My point is that I don't think that strength is a very important part of ethics. I'm not ready to say that there is no place for it; I don't know what it's place is yet.
  19. The Psychology of Some of Ayn Rand's Characters

    I'm curious about this issue of strength in contrast with the idea that evil is impotent. I always thought Kira's character was able to remain "strong", because she understood the nature of evil and its impotence. Therefore she sees the miserable conditions that she lives under as an unfortunate historical concidence. This allows her to maintain a benevolnt view of reality. Leo on the other hand has drawn the false philosphical conclusion that reality is malevolent. This is what breaks his spirit. Isn't this what Ayn Rand meant by not being able to distinguish between the metaphysical and the man-made? Therefore Leo's loss of spirit and Kira's continued spirit aren't issues of strength but of false vs. correct premises, and Leo was. What do you think?
  20. Immigration

    The friend I was referring to is not philosophical, nor is he familiar with Objectivisim. He is generally open-minded, but it would take some time to get him to understand our position. I agree with Stephen it is a positive characteristic to be able to put one's emotions aside and rely on reason. Since my friend doesn't have a lot of experience in this area, expecting this sort of rationality on an issue that is affecting him personally could be difficult. This is what I meant by a "sensitive subject". When I asked the question, I was curious how others might approach these subjects. I think Stephen answered my question very well--appeal to others' rationality, and walk away if they refuse. Thank you.
  21. The Majestic (2001)

    Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post. When I first saw this movie, I knew little to nothing of the communist movement that took place in Hollywood, let alone Ayn Rand's thoughts and comments on those events. Therefore I didn't view this movie as a political commentary on that time period. As a result, I loved it. In the movie, the government is portrayed as an institution that is essentially squelching free speech and ideas (communist ideas in this movie). Later becoming more aware of what took place, my opinion of the movie changed. The Majestic can properly be viewed as a 'straw man' argument against those that attacked the communist party members and their sympathizers. The movie attempts to make the issue one of free speech, while ignoring the actual threat that the communists presented. Nevertheless I am still torn. If the movie is viewed as a an isolated whole, I can't help but say that this is a great movie. The sense of life that Jim Carey's character portrays is wonderful, and I just loved the speech that he gives to Congress towards the end. When it is viewed in its historical and political context, it's essentially a lie, or at least based on a very mistaken premise. It is the job of artists to (when necessary) create a fictional world where the events and political climate differ greatly from our own in order to tell a story (Star Wars is just one example). But when that fictional scenario resembles one too much like our own, one can't help but make a connection. In the world that was created in The Majestic, there was no reason for the government to be doing what they did. My question is, what is the proper way to view this movie--as an isolated whole, or as a political commentary, and why? By the way, I gave the movie an 8 because I liked the movie so much that I was able to ignore the ulterior motives, but was still slightly bothered by them.
  22. Are we still evolving?

    I've never read anything on this topic, so I wanted to get thoughts from others. With the advancement of medicine and technology, we keep many people alive that would have not survived, or at least would have had less of a chance than if we were we still living in the wild. Physical qualities such as strength and speed no longer seem to have much advantage in terms of reproductive liklihood. In the wild, intelligence was a very selectively advantageous quality (and is still advantageous of course), but my guess would be that successful and educated people on average reproduce less than less educated people (pure speculation though). Birth defects and other genetically transmitted deficiencies can often be compenstated for with medicine, and people with them can live long lives. All this being said, which qualities, if any, are selectively advantageous, and is mankind still evolving in any way?
  23. The Nature of Space?

    It looks like we were writing at the same time. You answered some of my question before I asked it; how's that for service? I'm not sure what to make of an entity that is "something" but not a "thing". I don't know enough about physics to know of such a thing. Would gravity be something like this, ie, a continuous field of some kind that can fill up a region? You briefly mentioned waves; when I think of waves, I think of a beam like this: ~~~~~~, but in that case I can imagine space between the waves. Do you suggest something more continous? While we're at it, is gravity a "something", that is, something physical? Thanks again.
  24. The Nature of Space?

    Do you mean that two existents occupy the same place at the same time? Can that be ruled out philosphically?
  25. The Nature of Space?

    Just to clarify, if the universe is a plenum, musn't we be moving through something? There are no empty places, right? As to whether that 'something' is traveled through, or displaced, I don't know. When we travel through water or air, metaphysically, it's not much different than traveling through space, ie, something is always there that we must navigate through. That something just isn't 'space'. When we travel to the moon, what do we travel through, fields, waves, somethign else?