Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Why My Old Post Is Wrong

On March 30 of this year I wrote On the Uselessness of Intuition; An Untestable Hypothesis to Explain Creationism.  In it, I posited my own definition of intuition: Intuition may be defined as the practice of drawing conclusions based upon untestable propositions.  Of course that is not really wrong.  Because of the fact that it is my own definition, it is correct, by definition.  But I have to admit that it is not the definition that everyone else uses.

Now consider what someone (Jeff Everist) wrote on a where-to-go-hiking website:

[...] That's really not enough sentences to do justice to the complex geologic processes involved, but it gives a rough idea of where the dunes come from and how they travel. The result of those processes is a somewhat weird and surrealistic landscape, but it is a place full of natural beauty, too. There is an outer-worldly feel to this Earthly realm.

That's why White Sands is at its best on full moon nights. Then magic and mystery, science and sorcery, the heavens and the Earth all mingle in the moonlight. Plants and animals, every living thing, and there are more than you might imagine, all react to the light. Some flowers are tricked into blooming, and a few extremely nocturnal creatures stay holed up until the moon goes down. [...]

click: someone else will sell you this pictureNew Mexico has a number of virtues.  Las Cruces, for example, is the true Pecan Capitol of the World.  And if you ever watch the sun go down, over the Organ Mountains, while putting your mind at ease, at White Sands, you will understand why the place attracts a lot of artists and persons interested in alternative spirituality.  Others have noticed this: if you google "sunset White Sands Organ Mountains," you get over seventy-two thousand hits.  I looked at a lot of the pictures that people have taken, in order to illustrate an aspect of intuition, but it is a pointless exercise because you really have to be there. 

I'm not really a Las Crucian, having spent only about two years there, but Cyndy, of Mousemusings fame, did spend a lot of time there.  Therefore, she is much more intuitive than I.  Her response to my rhetorical dismissal of intuition is contained in a single sentence:
"It is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover."
Really.  That statement is attributed to a guy named Jules Henri Poincaré.  Here is the link to a bio at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
[...] Poincaré studied mining engineering, mathematics and physics in Paris. Beginning in 1881, he taught at the University of Paris. There he held the chairs of Physical and Experimental Mechanics, Mathematical Physics and Theory of Probability, and Celestial Mechanics and Astronomy.

At the beginning of his scientific career, in his doctoral dissertation of1879, Poincaré devised a new way of studying the properties of functions defined by differential equations. [...]

Poincaré sketched a preliminary version of the special theory of relativity and stated that the velocity of light is a limit velocity and that mass depends on speed. [...]
A serious man, Poincaré.  (His essays probably do not contain spurious references to pecans or corned beef sandwiches.)  If you follow the link to his biography, and scroll down, you find a discussion of his thoughts about intuition and logic. 
For Poincaré, the principle of complete induction, which is not provable via analytical inferences, is a genuine synthetic a priori judgment. Hence arithmetic cannot be reduced to logic; the latter is analytic, while arithmetic is synthetic. [...]

In other words, every elementary inference in a proof is easily verifiable through formal logic, but the invention of a proof requires the understanding -- grasped by intuition -- of the general scheme, which directs mathematician's efforts towards the final goal.
In other words, in the realm of logic, it is possible to really prove things.  But once you make the leap from logic to arithmetic, you have to make at least one assumption.  You can prove that things are true by definition, for example; but beyond that, you are relying -- to some extent -- on guesswork. 

Now, if you consider the phylogeny of knowledge...

logic --> arithmetic --> mathematics --> physics -->
chemistry --> biology --> psychology --> perception

...it becomes apparent that our understanding of the world we live in -- the world we perceive -- is constructed upon a lot of guesses, and guesses upon guesses.  Thus, intuition is far from useless.  In fact, intuition is necessary for us to to have any understanding of the world. 

Therefore, I will revise my definition of intuition: Intuition refers to two similar but distinct processes: the practice of drawing conclusions based upon untestable propositions; and the practice of generating hypotheses based upon untestable propositions.  The former application is problematical; the latter is necessary just to get out of bed in the morning. 

Before you get out of bed, you first must assume that you are really awake, and not merely dreaming that you are awake.

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Dogs are Killed More Humanely than Humans

(Updated 4/19/2005)

The April 16, 2005 issue of The Lancet contains a fast-track Research Letter entitled Inadequate anaesthesia in lethal injection for execution, and an editorial entitled Medical collusion in the death penalty: an American atrocity.  It was the latter title that really got my attention.  Although it is not unusual for the leading British medical journal editorials to be critical of American policy, it is not common for them to use so strong of a word as atrocity.  It turns out, though, that their choice of words is no mere attention-getting gimmick; what they report really is an atrocity.  It this post, I review the Research Letter and the Editorial, to explain why it really is an atrocity.  Indeed, it is an embarrassment to our nation. 

From the Research Letter:
Toxicology reports from Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina showed that post-mortem concentrations of thiopental in the blood were lower than that required for surgery in 43 of 49 executed inmates (88%); 21 (43%) inmates had concentrations consistent with awareness. Methods of lethal injection anaesthesia are flawed and some inmates might experience awareness and suffering during execution.
The authors go through much technical detail explaining why the protocols are inadequate, particularly with regard to the dosage of thiopental.  The other two agents used are pancuronium, and potassium chloride.  The pancuronium is a neuromuscular blocking agent (a paralyzing agent), which makes it impossible to breathe; the potassium chloride stops the heartbeat.  It is the thiopental that is supposed to render the convict unconscious. 

Then the authors inform us of this tidbit:
With little public dialogue about protocols for killing human beings, it is pertinent to consider recommendations from animal euthanasia protocols. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) panel on euthanasia specifically prohibits the use of pentobarbital with a neuromuscular blocking agent to kill animals, and 19 states, including Texas, have expressly or implicitly prohibited the use of neuromuscular blocking agents in animal euthanasia because of the risk of unrecognised consciousness.
This sort of thing does have some precedent in our legal system.  After all, in our country, it was illegal to beat your dog before it was illegal to beat your spouse.  Now we learn that the standards for euthanasia of animals are more stringent and humane than those for executing humans. 

In the corresponding editorial, we are informed that, although the AMA Code of Medical Ethics forbids physicians from participating in execution, a substantial number would be willing to do so:
A survey of US physicians found that although the American Medical Association (AMA) ethical guidelines forbid physicians to participate in executions, 19% said they would inject lethal drugs and 41% said they would perform at least one action prohibited by the AMA guidelines, such as starting intravenous lines. In fact, only 3% of those asked were aware that there were guidelines.
One irony of these articles is that, by pointing out the technical deficiencies of the existing execution protocols, the authors provide information that could be used to improve those protocols.  If that actually happens, it would mean that the authors unwittingly contributed to the very practice they are protesting, which would, I suppose, be an ethical violation.  I hasten to add that I do not fault the authors for this.  There probably isn't any way for them to influence policy without providing such detail; without it, the articles would not be persuasive.

Another irony is this: Texas is preparing to execute two convicts by lethal injections on Wednesday (4/20/2005).

I will be curious to see if the Lancet articles have any influence here in the USA. 

Yesterday and today, I spoke about this subject with several people.  A common response was to say that perhaps it is not such a bad thing, for such criminals to suffer before they die.  I don't agree, but even if I did, I still would consider it an atrocity.  Our Constitution forbids cruel punishment.  I suppose that if, as a result of an honest political process, the constitution were changed; and if, through a well-reasoned political process, it became standard protocol to torture persons before putting them to death; and if a protocol were designed with that express purpose in mind, and properly legislated, then I could accept it as a political reality.  But I still wouldn't agree with it.

Of course, none of that is the case.  The convicts are being tortured before they die, only because someone who didn't understand what he or she was doing designed a bad protocol and did not do any follow-up testing.  The torture is not being administered as the result of due process; it is being done by mistake.  There just isn't any sense to that. 

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Sunday, April 17, 2005

Intensity in One City;
The Nuge Does Houston

The epicenter of liberal media bias, the Houston Chronicle, has several articles on the recent NRA convention, which was held in Houston this month.  The featured speaker was our good buddy Tom DeLay.  Not everyone was happy to see him, as the picture illustrates.

Tom Bolton could learn a lesson from DeLay, who is reported to have urged NRA members to be diplomatic with proponents of gun control:

Arms key to free society, DeLay tells convention
Majority leader urges diplomacy toward advocates of gun control
April 17, 2005, 12:19AM
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

[...] Speaking to a crowd of about 3,000 NRA members, DeLay said guns are imperative for a free society but encouraged gun supporters not to personally attack gun-control advocates.

"Political discourse tends to get so heated that it's not only policies but motives that get questioned," the Sugar Land Republican said.

Just because people want to destroy the Second Amendment, DeLay said, "that doesn't mean our opponents are bad people."

People who grew up around guns "tend to see guns as a normal part of life like fishing or watching football," he said. "Unfortunately too many of our fellow countrymen don't share our touchstone." [...]
Another featured speaker was Ted Nugent, the guy on the left.  On his website, he claims to have "earned the title Motor City Madman".  He used to live in Michigan -- not very far from me, actually -- although he moved to Crawford Texas two years ago.

I wonder what the Secret Service thought of that. 

The Detroit Free Press ("Freep") reports that Mr. Nugent "walked onto the stage with a large assault weapon in each hand".  That must have been a sight to behold.  The article provides us with the following Nugentisms:
"The whole world sucks but America sucks less," he said to laughter and applause. "And we can eliminate that sucking sound altogether if we all would actually be hardcore, radical extremists, hardcore radical extremists, demanding the right to self defense."

"Remember the Alamo! Shoot 'em!" he screamed to applause. "To show you how radical I am, I want carjackers dead. I want rapists dead. I want burglars dead. I want child molesters dead. I want the bad guys dead. No court case. No parole. No early release. I want 'em dead. Get a gun and when they attack you, shoot 'em."
Is that what Mr. DeLay means by diplomacy? 

Something odd happened while I was browsing around for this post.  When I opened the Freep article on Mr. Motor City Madman, the website server reported an error.  Here's the screenshot:

An error, indeed

Nobody likes child molesters, but really, Ted, do you advocate giving guns to children? 

In the interest of author disclosure, I must admit that I am an advocate of gun control.  I appreciate Mr. DeLay's diplomatic overture, although I do not  appreciate his implication that I am out to destroy the second amendment.  I don't even object to people having a gun for self defense.  But The Nuge's two assault rifles seem a bit much.  Each one holds 30 bullets. 

I suppose if sixty carjackers all decide, simultaneously, that they want to take your car, then two assault rifles would be needed.

What is it that bugs me about the reports from the NRA convention?  What bugs me is that they illustrate, graphically, that there are some pretty nutty people who advocate for looser restrictions on gun ownership.  And they are piss-poor role models for gun ownership.  Yes, Ted, that means you.  A responsible gun owner has control over his or her emotions.  A responsible gun owner does not boast about being called a "madman."  A responsible gun owner doesn't swagger onto a stage with two assault rifles.  In fact, a responsible gun owner does not swagger anywhere, even if carrying only one gun.  A responsible gun owner does not fantasize about being attacked so that he or she can shoot a human being righteously.  The correct way to use a weapon is as a deterrent to crime, not as a substitute for the right of due process: a right that is, incidentally, enshrined in the Constitution of the United States of America.  That's the same Constitution that gives us the right to bear arms.

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