Re: Certainty, Experiments & Facts

Sarah Marr (
Sun, 29 Sep 1996 12:06:05 +0100

This is getting a little too personal for my liking, but I must say I found
this particular post far more pleasant than the last one: thanks, Reilly.

>Sarah Marrs wrote 9/28/96: <Congratulations. I think you've won a prize for the
>most unpleasant and ad feminam comment I've ever read on this or the >H list.>
>I couldn't find "ad feminam" in my dictionary. Is it a Latin derivative?

Yep. A mere feminist conceit on my part. Shouldn't worry about it.

>called yourself a "gal," am I supposed to not pick on you? You want a
break? >I don't take gender claims seriously on the Net. Maybe if I meet
you, I'll be
>more chivalrous.

Well, I call myself lots of things, and none of them are intended to make
people stop picking on me (in fact, I suspect some of them encourage it). I
do think this is an inappropriate forum for claims against the person,
rather than against the views or arguments of that person, but if you wanna
go for it, go for it!

(Not a great fan of chivalry myself, although I have been known to hold
doors open for attractive women, I suppose.)

>SM: <My experience of this list is that people always speak out if the disagree
>with something, but don't if they simply agree. So I would have interpreted a
>lack of responses to my original mail as agreement by the list, not
>disagreement (and hence disagreement with you).>
>Thank you for sharing your experience. What a convenient and
>self-congratulatory interpretation.

I can see how it my come across as such. Oops, my mistake.

However, in the light of Robin Hanson's corroborative post I must say it
seems I was wrong. In some ways I think that's a shame: if people disagree
with me I'd like to know. For instance, Robin and I had a short discussion
some time ago which showed me flaws in my thinking and allowed me to revise
my ideas on gender very productively. I'd hate to think I might have missed
that chance.

>I see that with a worldview of relative
>truth and mythological history...

Your formation of this opinion started from the premise that I thought
contradictory things could happen in the same place at the same time. I don't.
So that ain't my worldview. Promise.

>SM: <Where did I, or you, mention contradicatory events? Where did I, or you,
>mention the same place? What, in short, are you talking about?>
>You invoked quantum physics at the Planck scales in the context of events
>occurring in space-time.

Yes, I did. And?

>SM: <I just tried to explain what toleration actually is: no judgement call.>
>Nonsense, we judge all the time, some of us are more honest about it. To
>tolerate someone's intentions or actions means we've judged them to be
>unimportant. Beneath us.

Similar thing to last time: you're confusing a judgement call _about_
toleration with a judgement call which _is_ toleration.

I disagree that toleration means judging a person's actions to be
unimportant. For instance, suppose I had a partner who spent a lot of time
away, which made me unhappy, but she was away because she was helping with
human rights issues somewhere. I might tolerate her absence precisely
_because_ I considered her actions so incredibly important, and _above_ me.

>SM: <I base the answers to these questions on feelings, so you wouldn't accept
>them anyway.>
>I don't "feel" that I would accept them, no. Now if you wanted to find some
>ground underneath the feelings, something connected to rational thought, I
>would be interested.

I wouldn't hold your breath in this case :-) I'm not about to try and
rationalize my system of morality and ethics at this point, which is what
such a discussion would amount to.

>SM: <You're confusing the feelings which _are_ tolerance and intolerance with
>feelings _about_ tolerance and intolerance.>
>Feelings are confusing. That's why I prefer thinking, clarity and
certainty >are more adaptive than mush.

I prefer to use both systems as appropriate. Doesn't alter the fact, you
were confusing the feelings which _are_ tolerance and intolerance with
feelings _about_ tolerance and intolerance.

>SM: <An individual's feelings include tolerance and intolerance...>
>Tolerance is not a "feeling," but a virtue.

That's a very healthy attitude.

>SM: <Personally, however, I don't attach such value judgements to tolerance or
>intolerance: i.e. I would not make a blanket statement that tolerance is
>good. I choose to tolerate some things, and not tolerate others.>
>Do you throw dice to choose? Spin arrows? Consult the Ouija board? Call the
>Psychic Hot-Line?

How did you guess? :-)

Again, all I'm saying is that I don't place a value judgement on tolerance
itself. I would not say 'tolerance' is good, and therefore tolerate all
things. My value judgements decide what I tolerate and what I do not tolerate.

>SM: <But my balance would place diversity above being destroyed, so I
>wouldn't be in that situation.>
>You would rather be destroyed than dishonor diversity? What a funny "feeling."

No: I think my reply was badly worded. I'd rather not be destroyed _and_
honour diversity. Mind you, sometimes that's a difficult fight!

>SM: <So it is those listening who change human ideals, not those talking.>
>Passivity is passivity, not change.

But the actions precipitated in those who listen by those who talk are the
real agents of societal change.

>SM: <So what was the theory that Brown had when he observed Brownian motion for
>the first time?>
>How did Brown recognize what he was observing without theoretically
>categorizing it?

Robert Brown observed Brownian motion and couldn't explain it: but I'm sure
he had his own pet theory. It took Einstein to come up with the answer (if
my science books are correct, and I have no reason to doubt them).

But your argument was that "Observation, meaning no predictions are
involved, still must have some theory behind it, or else what is to be
recorded as having been observed?" When Brown first observed pollen motion
there was no theory at all behind it. Afterwards there may have been some
incorrect theory behind it. But supposing Brown had just recorded his
observations, without any supporting theory (which, for all I know, he may
have done). That wouldn't have stopped Einstein coming up with the theory
and, after verification, explanation for the phenomenon. You don't need a
theory to observe, and you don't need a theory to record your observations.


Sarah Kathryn Marr