Addenda to consciousness post

I recently published a substack post on consciousness and am using this to write a few extra notes that I excluded from the article for brevity. My goal with the article was to take the reader on a kind of explanatory journey, which meant that I had to take certain intellectual shortcuts and brush over some nuances. Examples: I start the piece with a materialist paradigm in which it’s “obvious” that chairs and atoms are not conscious....

August 11, 2021

Logical Impossibility

Warning: This piece is not meant to be readable. I’m just trying to explore some ideas about the foundations of math and belief. How is it that we can imagine things that are logically impossible? I’ve always been a little perturbed by this. It was strange to me that we can imagine or even believe things that are logically impossible. It makes sense to me that we can imagine things that are physically impossible....

June 22, 2021

Absurdism

The word ‘absurd’ has always held a special place in my heart. ‘Absurd’ evokes the ridiculousness of everything around us—the serendipity of our mutual existence at this place and time, the immeasurable complexity of the cells and proteins that make up our bodies, the unfathomable size of our galaxy. The moments I’m in touch with this absurdity have always been the moments I felt most alive. I’d find myself in awe that anything exists at all, and that the things which do exist happen to form this particular conscious experience of ‘me’ and ‘the world’....

May 21, 2021

Problems I'm thinking about

This is a list of philosophical questions I’m currently grappling with. Truth and objectivity I tend to be a realist, i.e. I think there are objective truths about the world, whether or not we’re aware of those truths. And for a while I’ve had the view that through science, philosophy, conjecture, reason, and error-correction, we could get closer to knowing those objective truths. (Some thoughts on objectivity here.) Recently I’ve been less sure about (1) the existence of such definite, objective facts describing the world, and (2) whether error-correction actually helps us get closer to those facts....

May 20, 2021

Life as problem-solving

A key part of happiness is understanding the role and nature of problem-solving in life. We are always solving problems. A problem can be defined as a conflict between ideas. The process of solving it requires the creation (and testing) of new ideas. Here are examples of problems: how do I relieve this back pain? how do we enable knowledge workers to collaborate more effectively? how do we reduce poverty?...

May 19, 2021

Objective morality

This post is an attempt to answer the question: how do you define morality objectively? Context: I used to be a moral nihilist (there is no such thing as “good” and “bad”, morality is completely arbitrary and subjective, the universe does not care). Today, I’m closer to being a moral realist, though I reserve some room for the possibility that morality is entirely a human construct. At the very least, I think arguments for objective morality should be considered seriously....

May 18, 2021

The importance of documenting (and subsequently sharing) your ideas

Many people have talked about this but I’d like to share my framing of it. As we grow, our ideas change. The way we see the world shifts. We update our political inclinations, philosophical stances, personal values, and understanding of things. Sometimes this is a sudden shift, precipitated by a profound experience or insight. But it usually happens more slowly than that. It can occur so slowly that it’s imperceptible – you only notice it after your worldview has already changed dramatically....

May 12, 2021

The relative primacy of contemplative and scientific truths

In this post I discuss two methods for understanding reality, and the respective roles they’ve played in my own worldview over time. I conclude with my current thinking about the relationship between these two modes, which is that (1) they can complement each other but have incompatibilities, and that (2) I have no idea which one takes primacy. Two modes of inquiry There are two broad classes of knowledge and truth-seeking that have underpinned my worldview in the past few years:...

May 9, 2021

Some thoughts on causality

In this piece, I first share a framework for causality put forth by Karl Popper; I then share how it differed from my initial intuitions about causality; and then I explain why Popper’s framework is better. In The Logic of Scientific Discovery (§12), Karl Popper states that there are two elements of any causal explanation: a statement in the form of a universal law. a statement of initial conditions. He gives the following example of a causal claim: a weight is placed on a thread and causes the thread to break....

May 3, 2021

Salon on Knowledge

I hosted a conversation yesterday about knowledge and epistemology. I opened the convo with this presentation, covering: (i) the justified-true-belief view of knowledge, (ii) Popper’s/Deutsch’s alternative framing of knowledge, and (iii) defining a few words like skepticism, rationalism, empiricism, and relativism. Consciousness and knowing One of the first things that came up was a question about consciousness and whether conscious truths are the only truths we can be “sure” about....

April 16, 2021