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“Hey Sophi”, or How Much Philosophy Will Computers Do?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/03/2021 - 4:18am in

While we have seen increased use of computing in philosophy over the past two decades, the continued development of computational sophistication and power, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and associated technologies, suggest that philosophers in the near future could do more philosophy through computers, or outsource various philosophical tasks to computers. Should they? Would they? And if so, what should we be doing now to prepare for this?

[Obvious, “Duc de Belamy” and “Edmond de Belamy”]

This post was prompted by a recent article in Nature by Chris Reed about the work of Noam Slonim (IBM), Yonatan Bilu (KI Institute), and Ranit Aharonov (IBM) to develop an autonomous computer system, Project Debater, that can argue with and debate humans (shared with me by Tushar Irani of Wesleyan), as well the progress made with the language and communication skills of artifical intelligence, as demonstrated by GPT-3. (Also see the entry, “Computational Philosophy,” at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

Here’s a little about Project Debater from the Nature piece:

It brings together new approaches for harvesting and interpreting argumentatively relevant material from text with methods for repairing sentence syntax (which enable the system to redeploy extracted sentence fragments when presenting its arguments…). These components of the debater system are combined with information that was pre-prepared by humans, grouped around key themes, to provide knowledge, arguments and counterarguments about a wide range of topics. This knowledge base is supplemented with ‘canned’ text — fragments of sentences, pre-authored by humans — that can be used to introduce and structure a presentation during a debate…

In a series of outings in 2018 and 2019, Project Debater took on a range of talented, high-profile human debaters, and its performance was informally evaluated by the audiences. Backed by its argumentation techniques and fuelled by its processed data sets, the system creates a 4-minute speech that opens a debate about a topic from its repertoire, to which a human opponent responds. It then reacts to its opponent’s points by producing a second 4-minute speech. The opponent replies with their own 4-minute rebuttal, and the debate concludes with both participants giving a 2-minute closing statement.

Perhaps the weakest aspect of the system is that it struggles to emulate the coherence and flow of human debaters — a problem associated with the highest level at which its processing can select, abstract and choreograph arguments. Yet this limitation is hardly unique to Project Debater. The structure of argument is still poorly understood, despite two millennia of research. Depending on whether the focus of argumentation research is language use, epistemology (the philosophical theory of knowledge), cognitive processes or logical validity, the features that have been proposed as crucial for a coherent model of argumentation and reasoning differ wildly.

Models of what constitutes good argument are therefore extremely diverse, whereas models of what constitutes good debate amount to little more than formalized intuitions (although disciplines in which the goodness of debate is codified, such as law and, to a lesser extent, political science, are ahead of the game on this front). It is therefore no wonder that Project Debater’s performance was evaluated simply by asking a human audience whether they thought it was “exemplifying a decent performance”. For almost two thirds of the debated topics, the humans thought that it did.

As I tell my students, philosophy isn’t debate (the former is oriented towards understanding, the latter towards winning). But some of the work that goes into debate is similar to the work that goes into philosophy. What’s provocative about Project Debater, GPT-3, and related developments to me is that it suggests the near-term possibility of computing technology and language models semi-autonomously mapping out, in natural language, the assumptions and implications of arguments and their component parts.

One way to understand the body of knowledge philosophy generates is as a map of the unknown, or set of maps. Philosophical questions are points on the maps. So are premises, assumptions, principles, and theories. The “roads” on the maps are the arguments, implications, and inferences between these points, covering the ground of necessity and possiblity.

Individual philosophical works that pose questions, develop arguments, justify premises, and explore the implications of positions make small maps of small bits of the vast terrain of the unknown, and often provide “directions” to others about how to navigate it.

When computers get a bit better at understanding language, or adequately simulating an understanding of language, and better at understanding the structure of argument, they will be able to do a lot of this map-making work. They will also be able to provide directions for philosophers. How far into the future is an exchange like the following?

“Hey Sophi”
“Yes, Justin?”
“If I’m a consequentialist about ethics, how can I argue for eternalism about time?”
“There are a number of routes. Would you care to narrow them down?”
“Yes. Eliminate routes with supernatural and non-naturalist metaethics.”
“Current mapping is using over100 variants of consequentialist ethics. Would you care to specify this factor?”
“Not at this time”
“Some routes are blocked by your logic settings.”
“That’s fine.”
“Here are the top 10 routes on screen, ranked by estimated profession-wide average support for premises.”
“Re-rank according to compatibility with my philosophical and empirical presets.”
“Here you go, Justin.”
Annotate routes 1,2,3,6, and 8 with objection alerts, up to objection-level 3.”
“Thanks, Sophi.”

This kind of technology may not work flawlessly, it may need substantial contributions from human philosophers to work well doing what it does, and it certainly won’t do everything that everyone thinks philosophy should do, but it will nonetheless be a very useful tool for philosophers, and may open new philosophical territory to explore.

Is there any reason to think such a tool wouldn’t come into existence?

I think the most likely reason it may not come into existence is that philosophers themselves don’t cooperate with its development. As Reed notes in his summary, “the structure of argument is still poorly understood,” and philosophers might be integral to making the varieties of argument intelligible to and operationalizable by the technology (or its makers). Perhaps they won’t choose to do this kind of work. Or perhaps the philosophical profession may not recognize work done to create or assist with the creation of this technology as philosophical work, thereby institutionally discouraging it. Further, it would seem that some work on making philosophical content more machine-intelligible would be necessary, either directly or perhaps through feedback on beta-testing, and philosophers might be reluctant to do this work or provide guidance.

Many technologies face the paradoxstacle, “It needs to be used in order to become good, but needs to be good in order to be used,” and overcome it. But philosophers’ reluctance to cooperate and limited demand for more “efficient” philosophy could be a formidable barrier. That would be a pity. (Think of how the integration of computing into mathematics has made research on more kinds of mathematics possible, and how computing has brought about advances in many other disciplines.)

A question all of this raises is: What should we be doing now in regard to the development of such technology, or in regard to other prospects for the integration of computing into philosophy?

One thing to do would be for us all to become more aware of existing projects that involve computers, in some form or another, taking on some of the tasks involved in philosophizing, or projects that are relevant to this. I’m not just talking about computer-based philosophy-information aggregators of various kinds, such as PhilPapers, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and InPhO, but also the use by philosophers of various computing tools in their research, as with corpus analysis, topic modeling, computer simulations, and network modeling, as well as relevant work in the philosophy of computer science.

I’m sure there is a lot more here and I encourage those more knowledgeable to share examples in the comments. (Maybe the philosophers involved with the International Association for Computing and Philosophy could help out?)

Another thing to do would be to start thinking about the kinds of training philosophers of the near future might need in order to help create, improve, and work effectively with these technologies. In the recent past, people have argued that some philosophy graduate students may have good reason to learn statistics or other formal research methods. Many philosophers of science think that training in the relevant science is extraordinarily useful for doing philosophy of science well. Perhaps we can add computer programming to the list of skills one may opt for as part of their philosophical training (I believe some PhD programs already do this, allowing some students to satisfy their language requirement by gaining competence in programming in a computer language).

Your thoughts and suggestions welcome.

Related: The Distant Future of Philosophy, Will Computers Do Philosophy?

1980’s Book Discussing the Future Militarisation of Space

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 16/03/2021 - 10:00pm in

One of former president Donald Trump’s controversial decisions has been to propose the establishment of an American military space force. As with just about every stupid decision the orange buffoon made, this caused immediate controversy. It breaks the current international agreement banning the militarisation of space and threatens a new arms race, increasing international tension and the possibility of real war. Which could result in the nuclear annihilation of humanity and the reduction of our beautiful, blue-green planet to a smouldering atomic cinder.

But The Donald’s proposal was hardly new. Congress and the US military discussed the possible establishment of a space force over thirty years previously. These discussions had been accompanied by the publication of a book, Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years, by John M. Collins (Washington: Pergamon-Brasseys 1989). The book was published to help congressional representatives understand the issues. It also gives a fascinating insight in what American politicians and military staff considered might happen in this new area of human combat over the following half century. The book’s blurb runs

‘The latest from renowned defense authority John M. Collins, Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years was requested by key U.S. congressmen to help them and the White House evaluate and understand future space issues. This is the foundation document upon which future U.S. space policy will be based.

Concentrating on the Earth-Moon system, Military Space Forces has four purposes:

  • To describe space as a distinctive military medium.
  • To describe military space planning and programming, with particular concern for problems and options.
  • To compare present and projected U.S.-Soviet military space postures.
  • To indicate courses of action that might improve U.S. military space posture at sensible costs.

All appraisals are based on present technologies and predicted improvements during the next 25 to 50 years. Designed as a tool to help Washington blend military space capabilities with land, sea, and air power in ways that best assure U.S. security-without avoidable destabilization or waste of time and resources-Military Space Forces also clarifies the complex technology and issues facing military space planners today. This pathfinding new book provides any citizen an essential frame of reference with the nation’s future role in space.’

Among the issues discussed are military strategies, doctrines and tactics in space, and the development of space forces themselves. This includes their military infrastructure on the High Frontier, military space industries, military space installations, deployable space forces, R&D requirements and contributory science and technologies.

The book includes two sets of recommendations. One is a set of nonprovocative actions intended to strengthen deterrence and improve American combat capability in the event deterrence fails. These are:

  1. Develop comprehensive military space doctrines applicable to the total Earth-Moon system.
  2. Integrate military space more effectively into U.S. national security strategies.
  3. Emphasise verifiable arms control to confine threats.
  4. Reduce Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps dependency on space support by cross-training to preserve traditional skills such as communications and navigation.
  5. Embellish basic research to multiply serendipitous results that might benefit military space programmes.
  6. Employ technological expertise to produce first-class systems at acceptable cost.
  7. Improve passive defences for selected military space installations and vehicles, with particular attention to innovative hardening and deception.

These are all low cost options. Far more expensive are those in the second list, which suggested

  1. Survivable launch, recovery, and C3 infrastructure.
  2. Heavy lift boosters.
  3. National Aerospace Planes (NASP) able to breach the atmospheric barrier easily and maneuver in space.
  4. Reasonable redundancy and reconstitutions capabilities for essential military space systems.
  5. Anti-satellite systems.,
  6. Active onboard defences for military support satellites on a case-by-case-basis.
  7. Land-and space-based SDI systems.

The book concludes with this paragraph

Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, at a March 1974 press conference in Moscow, asked, “What in God’s name is strategic superiority?” It may be unilateral control of space, which overarches Planet Earth, all occupants, and its entire contents. If so, possessors of that vantage position could overpower every opponent. They might, in fact, impose their will without fighting, a feat that Sun Tzu called “the acme of skill” 25 centuries ago. U.S. military space forces therefore need means to forestall strategic surprise from space and respond successfully, unless best case estimates prove correct as events unfold.

The book’s clearly a product of the Reagan era and his wretched ‘Star Wars’ programme. Among the weapons and installations the book discusses is a six-man lunar base, space-based railguns, which use electromagnets to propel missiles to colossal speeds, and space based lasers. I don’t know how dated the book and its predictions are. It considers the threat of electromagnetic pulses generated from nuclear explosions high in the atmosphere above targets disrupting computers and other electronic systems, but I think that threat might have been overcome.

Whatever the reality is today, it shows that Trump’s demand for a space force follows decades of debate within the American military and political establishment.

Video of Trevithick’s Steam Carriage in Bristol

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 14/03/2021 - 10:03pm in

I’ve an interest in the real, Victorian technology that really does resemble the ideas and inventions in Steampunk Science Fiction. This is the SF genre that, following Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and other early writers, tries to imagine what it would have been like had the Victorians had cars, aircraft, robots, spaceships, computers and time travel. And at certain points the Victorians came very close to creating those worlds. Bruce Sterling’s and William Gibson’s The Difference Engine, set in the Victorian computer age, was a piece of speculation about what kind of society would have emerged, if William Babbage’s pioneering computer, the Difference Engine of the title, had been built. And also if the 1820s Tory government had fallen to be replaced the rule of Lord Byron. The 19th century was a hugely inventive age, as scientists and engineers explored new possibilities and discoveries. George Cayley in Britain successfully invented a glider, in France Giffard created a dirigible airship, flying it around the Eiffel Tower. And from the very beginning of the century scientists and inventors attempted to develop the first ancestors of the modern car, run on coal and steam, of course.

One of these was a steam carriage designed by the Cornish engineer, Richard Trevithick, in 1801. This was built, but wasn’t successful. This did not stop other engineers attempting to perfect such vehicles, and steam cars continued to be developed and built well into the 20th century. The most famous of these was the American Stanley Steamer of 1901.

I found this short video on Johnofbristol’s channel on YouTube. It shows a replica of Trevithick’s vehicle being driven around Bristol docks. From the cranes and the building over the other side of the river, it looks like it was shot outside Bristol’s M Shed museum. This was formerly the site of the city’s Industrial Museum, and still contains among its exhibits some fascinating pieces from the city’s industrial past. These include the aircraft and vehicles produced by Bristol’s aerospace and transport companies.

Model-Maker Bill Pearson Talks About His Work on Blake’s 7

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/02/2021 - 5:56am in

This is another video from the film about the work of the talented peeps behind the models and miniatures used in some of the classic SF films and TV shows, A Sense of Scale. In this short video of about 4 mins in length, the late Bill Pearson talks about his work on the Beeb’s cult SF series, Blake’s 7. He describes the series as the Magnificent 7 in space, and says that the heroes were all bad guys, but not as bad as the people they were fighting against. They were anti-heroes. It’s a fair description, as the heroes were nearly all convicted criminals – Vila was a thief, Jenna a smuggler, Avon an embezzler, Gan a murderer, while Blake was a democratic agitator, a political criminal against the totalitarian, fascistic Federation, who were the real bad guys. Cally, a freedom-fighter from the planet Auron, was the only one who hadn’t been arrested, sentenced and convicted by the Federation she was pledged to overthrow.

Pearson says he was persuaded to join the effects team as he was told it was going to be wonderful and big budget, which it never was. He was recruited to the series as he had impressed the Beeb’s head of special effects with what he had been doing at college, and started work at the Corporation with a couple of episodes of Dr. Who. He was on Blake’s 7 from the start and did most of the spaceships in the last series. He says there were very little miniatures. There were a couple of hero ships, but they’d been built by the time he joined the SFX crew. The London, the ship used in the first episode, ‘The Way Back’, to transport Blake and his future crew to the penal colony of Cygnus Alpha, had already been made by an outside company. Other model-makers on the series included Martin Bower, who also worked on Space 1999 and the film Outland, and who worked on a couple of models of the heroes’ ships, the Liberator. There, and I thought the effects were all done by Matt Irvine and Mike Kelt. He only got involved with the miniatures in the final series. Pearson says that he’s notorious on the internet for making the gun that Avon uses to kill Blake in the very last episode. This, he says, is still around and getting more appreciation. I think here he’s referring to the series, rather than the weapon, as it’s just after that he talks of Blake and his crew as being bad guys and anti-heroes.

Pearson states that model-making for the screen isn’t as glamorous people think. One of the downsides is unemployment and there are many special effects firms now going bankrupt. However, it is the closest we’re going to get to immortality at the moment. A century from now someone’s going to pick up a packet of cereal and get a free 4D recording of Alien, put it in their viewer, and see his work and his name on the credits. And that’s pretty cool. The video also includes stills of Pearson working on some of the models used in the series and on Alien along with the interview.

BLAKE´S 7 (TV) miniature effects – YouTube

Pearson gave the interview in 2012, and the state of the effects industry may have changed somewhat since then, but I don’t doubt that CGI has had a devastating effect on the use of practical effects in movies and television, although they’re still used to a certain extent.

Blake’s 7 was made over forty years ago and was low budget SF. Matt Irvine said once that the money spent on one effect in the cinema was far in excess of what they had to spend on the series. But the show had memorable characters, great actors and some excellent stories. The effects work varied in quality, but the main spaceships, the Liberator and the Scorpio, looked good, as did the three sentient computers in the show, Zen, Slave and Orac. Blake’s 7 is, along with Dr. Who, Thunderbirds and Space 1999, a classic of British SF television and still retains a cult following all these decades later.

A Real Steampunk Car and Motorcycle

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 19/02/2021 - 10:29pm in

Steampunk is a form of Science Fiction which speculates on what the world would have been like if they’d managed to invent cars, computers, aircraft and space and time travel. It follows Bruce Sterling’s and William Gibson’s novel, The Difference Engine, set in an alternative past where Charles Babbage’s pioneering computer, the difference engine of the title, has been built and Britain is ruled by Lord Byron. It’s heavily influenced by early SF writers such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. But some of the machines and inventions in the genre are very close to reality. In fact there was a history book published the other year with the title The Real Victorian Steampunk, or something like that. George Cayley in Britain invented a glider, while a Frenchman, Giffard, developed a dirigible airship in the 1850s and successfully demonstrated it by flying around the Eiffel Tower. And from the first years of the 19th century onwards, inventors were busy developing the first antecedents of the modern car and motorcycle, driven by steam, of course.

I found these two videos on Wildlyfunny’s channel on YouTube. They look like they’re from a steam rally somewhere in eastern Europe, though the blurbs for them doesn’t say where and I’m afraid I don’t recognise the language. This one below is of the 1886 Baffrey Steam Car.

Steam car Baffrey 1886 / Parní vůz Baffrey – YouTube

This second video looks like it’s from the same rally, and is of the 1869 Roper steam motorcycle, invented by Sylvester Howard Roper and demonstrated at fairs and circuses across the US. According to a couple of the commenters, Roper became the first motorcycle casualty when he was killed in a race against seven, ordinary human-powered bicycles.

The FIRST Steam Motorcycle in the world, ROPER 1869 year! – YouTube

The sheer inventiveness of the Victorians never ceases to amaze me, and you do wonder what would have happened had these machines taken off before the invention of the modern internal combustion engine. One of the reasons why they didn’t, and it was only until the invention of the modern petrol/ diesel driven automobile in the later 19th century that cars became an effective rival to horse-drawn transport, is because steam engines weren’t a sufficiently effective power source. It’s also why they were unable to develop steam-driven airplanes. Nevertheless, these machines are still awesome in their ingenuity and a fascinating episode in the history of the automobile.

Video of Bonobo Learning to Make Stone Tools

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/01/2021 - 7:17am in

I really don’t know if it’s a good idea to teach apes to make edged weapons – they’re physically much more powerful than we are as it is without giving them the knowledge to make stone blades. This is a video I found on the Cornell Arts and Sciences Channel on YouTube. It’s of a bonobo, Kanzi, being encouraged to make flint blades by one of the scientists, Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh. The blurb for the video on its YouTube page runs

In the 1990s, paleo-anthropologists Nick Toth and Kathy Schick taught Kanzi the bonobo to produce stone tools using techniques that were adopted by our early ancestors. In this 7-min excerpt, primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh is using language to encourage Kanzi to produce a certain number of tools—seizing the opportunity to consolidate his counting capacities. Near the end of the excerpt, Kanzi is trying to vocalize some numbers. (copyright Sue Savage-Rumbaugh).

Savage-Rumbaugh lines all nine of the bonobo’s flakes up in a row, and then tries to get him to count them. She tries and fails to get Kanzi to say the numbers, but all the animal can do is screech. However, he points and taps the flakes that correspond to that number. It also looks like they’ve devised a means for the creature to communicate in English using a computer. The video shows a computer screen with tiny thumbnail pictures, and at one point a synthesised voice can be heard saying ‘rock’, ‘knife’ and other words. It looks to me – and I might be wrong – that the computer is touch sensitive and says the name of whichever object the bonobo touches, thus allowing it to communicate vocally in English with the experimenters.

Kanzi making stone tools – YouTube

Kanzi is clearly a very intelligent creature. There’s another video about him on YouTube, which calls him an ‘Ape of Genius’, so he’s obviously a bit brighter than the hacks writing for the Scum. Primatologists are interested in finding out just how intelligent our nearest ape relatives – chimps and gorillas – really are. There was considerable interest in Koko the gorilla, who was taught sign language. I’ve heard it said that at hear peak she had a vocabulary of 900+ words. Kanzi is just one of a number of bonobos, whom the researchers tried to teach to make stone tools. I think the aim of these experiments was to see if they could make the type of stone tools crafted and used by Homo Habilis, one of the very early hominid ancestors. From what I’ve read, the tools they produced were inferior to those made by Habilis. I suppose we shouldn’t be disappointed, though, and expect too much. It’s perhaps enough that Kanzi and his friends understand what’s being said to them, and that they’re able to do it and communicate back.

Simon Sideways on Israel as Rogue Nuclear State

Despite styling himself ‘Reverend’, I very much doubt that Simon Sideways is a man of the cloth. He’s a right-wing youtuber, who vlogs about immigration, feminism, Islam and the coronavirus lockdown, all of which he opposes. I don’t share his views about these subjects. But in this short video below, he makes some very disturbing points about Israel. The video’s just over five minutes long, and it’s his thoughts about the assassination yesterday of the Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsin Fakhrizadeh. Sideways believes that it’s the work of the Israeli secret service, Mossad, and goes on to discuss their probably responsibility for a virus that attacked the Iranian nuclear programme a decade or so ago.

The virus was originally developed by the Americans, and was intended to disrupt the computer systems controlling the operation of the centrifuges used in nuclear research. The Israelis, however, decided that the virus wasn’t sufficiently destructive, so they took it over and altered it before unleashing it on the Iranians. It didn’t just affect Iran, however. It spread around the world causing havoc in all the computer systems it infected, including our NHS. When the Americans then confronted the Israelis with the chaos they caused, the Israelis just shrugged it off.

Sideways states very clearly that the Israelis do exactly what they want, to whom they want, with a complete disregard for the consequences because they will always defend themselves by accusing their critics of anti-Semitism. America can break one international law in a year, and there’s a global outcry. Israel, however, will break fifty, and there’s no criticism, because everyone’s afraid of being called anti-Semitic.

This cavalier disregard for the immense harm done by them also extends to the country’s nuclear policy. This is the ‘Samson Option’, named after the Old Testament hero. This policy states that in the event of a nuclear attack by another country, Israel will launch its nuclear weapons indiscriminately at the other countries around the world, including Europe. The point of the strategy is to turn Israel into a ‘mad dog’ so that no other nation dares attack it. There is an article about the strategy on Wikipedia, which provides a number of quotes from journalists, military historians and senior Israeli officers about the strategy. It was to be used in the event of a second holocaust, with nuclear missiles targeting Europe, Russia and Islam’s holy places.

See: Samson Option – Wikipedia

Here’s the video.

Mossad Murder inc at it agai. in Iran – YouTube

I remember the virus attack on Iran’s nuclear programme. If I recall correctly, it disabled an underground nuclear testing centre and killed 22 scientists. I also remember the crisis a few years ago caused by a virus infecting the NHS computers. I don’t know whether this was the same virus, but I really wouldn’t like to rule it out. He isn’t quite right about Israel escaping without criticism from the global community for its actions. The UN has issued any number of condemnations of Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, which are very definitely in violation of international law. It’s just that Israel takes zero notice of them, and they aren’t enforced with sanctions. And they almost certainly won’t be, so long as Israel has the support of America, Britain and the European Community.

Sideways is right when he says that Israel responds to criticism by calling its accuser an anti-Semite. We’ve seen that in the Israel lobby’s smears against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters in the Labour party, very many of whom were self-respecting Jews. Israel has been caught several times spying against friendly countries, another violation of international law. When Thatcher caught them doing so, she threatened to throw the Israeli spies out of the country. The Israelis duly issued an apology and amended their behaviour. They were caught doing the same under Blair and then under Cameron or Tweezer. I can’t remember which. Zero action was taken, and the Israelis got away with it.

They’ve also killed innocent people when they’ve tried assassinating Palestinian terrorists. And when I was growing up I remember how the rozzers in either Switzerland or Sweden nabbed a party of these clowns. The Israeli spies were trying to snatch a Palestinian terrorist, who was living in a block of flats. They decided the grab needed to be done in darkness, so turned off the block’s fuse box. Which plunged the entire block into darkness. Then Sweden’s or Switzerland’s finest turned up and grabbed them in turn.

This all shows that the Israeli security services are a bunch of out of control, murderous clowns. And the Samson Option shows that the Arabs and Muslims are right: it isn’t Iran that’s a rogue state. It’s the US and Israel. In his book America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, Blum cites a Zogby poll of global, or at least Middle Eastern opinion, about whether Iran would be a threat if it had nuclear weapons. Most of those polled believed that Iran wouldn’t, and that it had a right to nuclear weapons.

The prospect of a nuclear armed Iran was worrying a few years ago, when Ahmedinejad was president. Ahmedinejad was extremely religious and belonged to a group of Twelver Shia – the country’s major branch of Islam – who believed that the return of the 12th Imam was imminent. The Shi’a believe that leadership of the Islamic community after Mohammed rightly belonged with a line of divinely inspired rulers – the Imams – beginning with Mohammed’s son-in-law, Ali. There are different sects, and Twelver Shia are so-called because, unlike some others, they believe that there were 12 Imams, the last of whom vanished after he went to a well in the 9th century AD. They believe he will return in the last days, when there will be a battle between Islam and the forces of evil. Ahmedinejad’s presidency was frightening because there was a fear that he would launch some kind of war in order to fulfil this prophecy.

But the Iranian president wasn’t the only leader whose apocalyptic beliefs were a possible threat to the world. Ronald Reagan and various members of his cabinet and military advisers also believed that the End was near as right-wing fundamentalist Christians. There was thus also concern that he would launch a nuclear war against Russia, here representing the forces of the Antichrist, to bring about the end.

Well, Ahmedinijad and Reagan have been and gone. I don’t believe that the Iranians have a nuclear weapons programme, as I explained in a post I put up about the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist yesterday. I also think that the Iranians were genuine when they said they were willing to negotiate and reach a deal with America. The refusal to cooperate, in my opinion, comes from the Americans, who really want regime change.

Not that the Iranians are angels in their turn. The regime is a brutal, repressive theocracy and they have been responsible for terrorist attacks against opposition groups. There’s a report on one such attack by the Iranian security services on an Iranian opposition group in Europe in today’s I. It’s just that it now looks to me that Iran isn’t, and has never been, a nuclear threat.

It looks to me like the real nuclear threat and rogue state is Israel. And the Iranians have more to fear from an invasion from America and Israel, than America and Israel have from Iran.

From Maps to Apps: Introducing Students to Argument-Mapping (guest post)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 4:50am in

In the following guest post*, Chad Mohler, professor of philosophy at Truman State University, describes a cool new argument-mapping app he has created and shares a special offer with Daily Nous readers.

From Maps to Apps:
Introducing Students to Argument-Mapping in the Physical and Digital Realms
by Chad Mohler

Longtime Daily Nous readers may recall earlier posts (herehere, and here) about argument mapping. There are many studies that offer empirical confirmation of the cognitive benefits of argument-mapping: see a few listed here, along with studies mentioned in the Daily Nous posts. The studies suggest that argument maps can help individuals improve in their critical thinking and in their understanding of the arguments they encounter throughout their lives.

Learning to map arguments, though, is not a skill that comes quickly or easily to most people. The kind of intensive, reflective practice needed to become good at it can be discouraging to students approaching argument-mapping for the first time. In my Introduction to Philosophy classes, I’m sensitive to that potential for early frustration. To help counter it, I introduce students to mapping techniques in a gradual way. In this post, I’d like to describe some of the practices I’ve used to ease students into argument-mapping.

The following is one such practice. Long before students have to extract from a text an argument to map, I get them used to assembling argument maps using sets of premises I provide them. In an in-class activity I call an argument “map-a-thon,” small groups of students lay out pieces of paper and colored string to create maps of a line of reasoning presented in some textual passage. Each claim associated with the reasoning is on its own sheet of paper, and different colors of string indicate whether parts of the argument structure either support (green) or challenge (red) other parts. During the exercise, I give students an unordered set of these claims, and I circulate around the class and offer tips to students as they attempt to arrange the papers in the proper way to construct an argument. They are, in essence, putting together an argument jigsaw puzzle. An image of part of such an argument map is included below:

As a next step at introducing argument-mapping to my students, I provide my students with the ability to do electronically what the map-a-thon allows them to do with physical objects. Using technology to construct argument maps has the following key advantage over map construction on paper: it allows students easily to edit the claims they use in their maps and to move them around (on a screen) to reflect the structure of an argument. Argument-mapping software also affords students the ability easily to share maps with each other and with their instructors in order to receive useful feedback.

Unfortunately, software solutions for argument-mapping are frequently unwieldy and often get in the way of students assembling maps. I wanted to provide students with a mapping experience that emulated the map-a-thon as much as possible. Not finding such a piece of software that could provide such an experience, I decided to make one myself. I have some experience as an iOS developer, and I set about creating an app. The result is ArguMap, which is the first iPhone / iPad app uniquely tailored and optimized for the creation of argument maps.

When designing ArguMap, I strived to ensure that the technology recedes to the background as much as possible. The touch interface of ArguMap maximally emulates physical interaction with objects. ArguMap users can move claims around on the screen just as easily as physically arranging pieces of paper in the map-a-thon. ArguMap also allows its users easily to group claims together to show how they jointly (rather than independently) provide reasons in favor of (or against) other claims. ArguMap makes that grouping of claims as easy as dragging the claims onto each other. Claims can be ungrouped just as easily, by dragging them out of a group. With simple drags and taps, ArguMap users can additionally quickly connect or disconnect parts of a map. As a result, trying out different lines of reasoning is as easy as arranging cards on a table.

With thicker or thinner connecting lines, ArguMap can also show how some claims offer stronger or weaker reasons in favor of (or against) other claims. In addition, individuals can easily provide feedback on the various parts of a map using collapsible virtual notes. Commented-on maps can then be shared with their creators via email, text message, Apple’s Classroom software, or other sharing mechanisms. This is great, for instance, for teachers to provide feedback on student work or for students to offer peer reviews of each others’ maps (which is especially useful in remote learning contexts).

Below is a screenshot showing various parts of the ArguMap interface:

Here is a 30-second video clip of ArguMap in action:

My Introduction to Philosophy students have really enjoyed using ArguMap to construct their argument maps, and I am eager to share the app with you. ArguMap will be available publicly in the App Store beginning November 25, 2020; it runs on all iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches running iOS 14 or later. It is free to download and can be used forever as an argument map viewer. Users have access to a free 30-day trial of the app’s powerful map-editing functionality. A one-time in-app purchase of $8.99 unlocks those editing features for use beyond the trial period. Discounts of 50% are available to educational institutions who purchase 20 or more licenses via the Apple School Manager program.

I am pleased to be able to offer a promo code, redeemable for a free copy of ArguMap, to each of the first 50 Daily Nous readers who email me with their request for such a code. You can find out more information about ArguMap at its website. I am also happy to answer any questions you have about ArguMap or, in general, about my use of argument-mapping in my Introduction to Philosophy courses. You can email those questions to me. Happy mapping!

Discussion here also welcome.

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