Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Nature of Laws

It occurred to me I haven't bothered you with my random thoughts for a while, so here's a topic that keeps coming back to me: The consistency of laws. In mathematics it's the whole point, in physics it's a guiding principle, but when it comes to our societies' legal system, the consistency of laws is considerably more murky.

As a teenager, I had a period when I was convinced that direct democracy would be the answer to all flaws in our democratic system. I also thought that the reason why we do not have a direct democracies is that it was in practice unfeasible. After all, Germany has some more inhabitants than Switzerland. With the advent of the internet, so I thought, direct democracy should eventually become practicable - globally! - and lead to flourishing of democracy.

I was really excited about that prospect for some while, until it occurred to me that there are other good reasons why a representative democracy is preferable, reasons that our, your, and their funding fathers thought about, and that a teenager needed some time to figure. It is ironic that a decade later I found the excitement about direct democracy echoing back at me from the internet, lacking exactly the awareness of the merits of representation that I had been lacking.

One of these merits of a representative democracy is what Jaron Lanier referred to very aptly as “low-pass filtering.” Opinions are easily influenced by all kinds of events and peripheral news, and in times when hypes pass around the globe in next-to-no time these opinions are in addition strongly amplified. One couldn't base any decent policy on such a constantly changing background of opinions.

Another problem that is that even without the high-frequency noise, people's opinions are inconsistent. He was a strong defender of freedom of speech, untill that blogpost proclaimed his product is a big piece of shit. Nuclear power plants are great, unless they are in your backyard. And abortion is evil until your teenage daughter dies in labor.

These are several variations of inconsistencies between laws on different level. The constitution (basic law!) is on the most fundamental level. It's what defines your nation. These laws are, for good reasons, very hard to modify. But they are also very general and with that quite vague when it comes to concrete applications. In other cases they are just outdated and require new interpretations; a good example is property rights in times of file sharing. But the point is that all laws more concrete for specific situations should be in agreement, read: consistent with, the fundamental laws.

If law was maths, one could derive everything from the basic axioms, but of course that's not strictly possible. One of the main reasons is that eventually our legal system is based on words that lack precise definitions and interpretations that change with time and context. But still, measures have to be taken to make sure no laws exist that are in conflict with each other, and that means in particular no newly passed law should be in conflict with the agreed-upon basic laws. Otherwise the legal system is inconsistent.

One problem of that sort that has made a lot of headlines in the last years is gay marriage in the USA. If your country grants equal rights to all its citizens they better be all allowed to marry their partners. It's not a question of public opinion, it a question of consistency with the constitution and a case for the constitutional court. As we've seen, the public opinion is indeed, sadly enough, inconsistent. But that's only my opinion of course, and I'm not the constitutional court.

MinaretAnother problem of that sort, the one that triggered this post, is Switzerland's ban on the building of minarets in a recent referendum. Yes, that is correct. Nevermind religious freedom. But hey, the Swiss Justice Minister says the decision is “not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture.” No? Then what is it? Let's see:
“Supporters of a ban claimed that allowing minarets would represent the growth of an ideology and a legal system - Sharia law - which are incompatible with Swiss democracy.”
The catholic church is of course a great example for democracy. But more importantly, banning minarets cures the symptoms, not the disease. It's a pointless, stupid, ineffective and constitutionally doubtful decision that should never have been allowed as referendum to begin with. If you have problems with certain practices a religion exercises, it's them that you should ban, not their architecture. I'm glad Switzerland is not in the European Union.

Now that I've voiced my outrage, let me say the underlying question is of course a tricky one. What questions is it that you can pose to a group (crowd, electorate) and get a useful answer? James Surowiecki in his book “The Wisdom of Crowds,” has summarized many research results that have targeted this question. But many questions still remain open and, what is worse, none of these results seem yet to have made it into application.

Knowing which questions one can pose to a group under which circumstances and expect a useful answer is important for our lives on many levels. Just take the question whether a group of successful scientists is able to select the most promising young researchers. It's not that I actually doubt it, what bothers me more is that we don't know. We are still operating by trial and error, and this is one of the reasons why I say we need to finish the scientific revolution.

Since I'm afraid these thoughts have been a little too random and I've lost the one or the other or the other or the other reader, let me wrap up: Direct democracy is not always the best option, and inappropriate use can result in inconsistencies. If you want intelligent decision making - in a referendum, in your committee, in your company - you better first figure out under which circumstances which way of aggregating opinions has proved to be successful.

    “Public Opinion... an attempt to organize the ignorance of the community, and to elevate it to the dignity of physical force.”
    ~Oscar Wilde

95 comments:

Plato said...

...until in your backyard.

Steven Colyer said...

Yes your thoughts are random Bee, but wonderfully so.

"Democracies never last."
... John Adams, 2nd US President and guiding force of The Declaration of Independence.

Laws are knee-jerk reactions to current issues, Bee, nothing more. When the benthic sludge known as Lawyers "graduate" (dig deeper into the sludge until they hit bedrock) to Politicians, corruption begins.

In America, I doubt any recent law has been passed without somebody and indeed many somebodies making a ton of money off said laws. The Lobbyist system (legal corruption) is so out of control here, it's not inconceivable an American version of Lucius Sulla Felix steps in to stop the madness.

Regarding that and one of your comments, a Benevolent Dictatorship is the best form of Government, but unfortunately that tends to de-evolve into Tyrannical Dictatorship, the very worst form of government (except and notably of course for the tyrant and his friends, and yes it's always a "He".)

Somewhere between Benevolence and Tyranny lies Democracy. There's probably a parabola that describes it, with the x-axis being a Jeremy Bentham-esque fierific calculus "happiness scale", and the y-axis being decree of control by the leader(s) vs the people.

But then we get into Political "Science," aka a pseudo-science, of which there seems no end.

It basically comes down to whatever the big merchants can convince the slick-talking "leaders" into hogwashing aka bullshiting the populace into believing whatEVer the big merchants want them to believe, and voting accordingly.

Also, if minarets were built in The Netherlands, wouldn't they be the only visable sign of Holland after Greenland melts? :-)P I'll go now.

Yeah, THIS thread. Won't be TOO controversial, hmm? Thank you, Bee. :-)

Peter Morgan said...

It isn't inconsistent with equal rights to allow marriage only between people of the opposite sex. Everyone may marry someone of the opposite sex.

Monogamy can be construed inconsistent with equal rights. Everyone cannot be married to a single person, if marriage is required to be a one-to-one relation. On the other hand, monogamy is more clearly consistent with equal opportunity. So, if we retain monogamy, we perhaps must replace equal rights by equal opportunity. Yet, a 50-year-old doesn't have the same opportunity as a 20-year-old, unless the older person has distinguishing graces, so perhaps the laws should be consistent with equal opportunity in cohorts by age. Or perhaps we wish to require consistency of lesser laws with a principle of equal opportunity over each persons' lifetime? On the other hand, evolution and physical law are givens, which legislation can deny only at its peril. Would anyone care to join me with my head in the sand? The language of rights, come what may, is somewhat a bulwark against the realities of competition.

Representative democracy, as you say, is good and bad.

Andrew Thomas said...

I actually think the gay marriage law has brought to our attention one aspect of complete inconsistency in law: the inabilty of heterosexual people to get married if they are closely related. This poor German couple have had a hell of a time:

BBC article

No one seems wiling to stand up for these people, but it just seems competely indefensible (and reeks of eugenics). Like the lawyer says: "Under Germany's criminal code, which dates back to 1871, it is a crime for close relatives to have sex and it's punishable by up to three years in prison. This law is out of date and it breaches the couple's civil rights," Dr Wilhelm said.

"Why are disabled parents allowed to have children, or people with hereditary diseases or women over 40? No-one says that is a crime."


In the UK it is even illegal for a person to marry a fostered child - even if they are not related in amy way.

Andrew Thomas said...

Peter Morgan said: "Everyone may marry someone of the opposite sex."

Yeah, you would have thought so. But as I explained, this is not the case.

Bee said...

Hi Peter,

I've heard this joke before, but merely reading the sentence shows the reference to sex (as in "opposite sex"). For any single person it excludes half of the population as possible "legal" partners. This is the aspect which is inconsistent with equal rights, not that this inconsistency be equally inconsistent for everybody (irrespective their sexual preference one might add). Best,

B.

Anonymous said...

Contrary to Germany, Switzerland is a real democracy. And we don't bomb civilians in Afghanistan.

Bee said...

Andrew: Yes, I've heard of that. Leaving aside the religious ground which this law doubtless has but that shouldn't count, it's also not for the best health of the common children if couples are closely related, which is a good reason for such a law. Nowadays however there are certainly ways to circumvent that problem, so, yes, one would think that law should be updated at some point. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Steven,

"Laws are knee-jerk reactions to current issues, Bee, nothing more."

No, in many cases they aren't. Many laws that we have are there for historical reasons. See Andrews example above. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

A most interesting and relevant post dealing with an issue that has also been the focus of my attention at times. It is of course obvious that if everyone had a direct say in the decisions made that they would not usually be expected to form as being rational choices. Then again how will democracy ever progress unless we begin to think it can, as to come up with ways it might be brought to be.

I think in this case we can draw on the scientific method for a possible answer and that’s to have result be taken into account. So for instance if the voter was given more or less influence based on the outcome of previous decisions. This would entail when one votes for a law or policy that is found to have things improve you are given more votes in relation to the next issue and if you were wrong your impact on a subsequent vote would then be decreased. Individual wisdom then would be based on result and nothing more. Perhaps this could first begin in the realm of municipal decisions, so that we might learn as we go, before expanding the scheme more generally. Then when I come to think of it we do have such system which of course acts a little slower known as evolution. However, I don’t find this to be surprising since I’ve always considered nature as being the ultimate scientist ;-)

Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...

""Laws are knee-jerk reactions to current issues, Bee, nothing more."

"No, in many cases they aren't. Many laws that we have are there for historical reasons. See Andrews example above. Best,

B."

Thanks, Bee. I've long suspected Europe was more sophisticated than my America, for that was the country I was referring to.

I live next door to a very nice Spanish couple from Orenza on the coast just north of Portugal, who came here to live and work and make a buck (mission accomplished), and the Mrs. in the family turned me on to an expression that I suppose was a European slam against Americans, but which nevertheless I totally agree with, living here, and that is:

"In America you live to work; in Europe we work to live."

Dayam, I should have been born and raised in Europe.

Given that The Bush Administration reminded many of us as the rise of The Fourth Reich, I've had my eyes on New Zealand for a while now, and may move there if our culture degrades much further here. NZ is yet another "New Europe," and possibly the best of them. I never met (via the Internet of course) a Kiwi I didn't like. I would add Australia but if you're over 45 as I am then it's against the law to be a citizen there, so no gots.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Your initial example serves to emphasis why it is so important to separate church and state. I also think it’s ridiculous to imagine that by tolerating having a few spires around would have any country to suddenly abandon the whole basis of their society; particularly one based on democratic principles.

On the issue of gay marriage and the distain it draws from many I believe this sentiment more resultant of the increasing fragility of the whole state of the institution at the present time, as to have it imagined the expansion of the definition being its biggest threat, rather than how the reasons and intentions for forming such unions having changed. One could argue that if traditional marriage was thought to be the one offering the greatest advantage and value, then looking to redefine it would have never been considered. That’s to say the best way to preserve traditional marriage is for those that think it should act accordingly in regards to their own. As far as I’m concerned marriage is a contract of commitment between individuals, which can never be assured by the mandate of government.

Best,

Phil

jr said...

fourty years ago I also thought that direct democracy might be a good idea, but after hanging around with Wobblies decided that total anarchy was more reasonable. And people shacked up long before there was anything called marriage so I cant see why all the fuss. Then it became clear that Wobblies have no intellectual integrity and anarchism isnt so great because they were stomped by stalinists.
Cant get a break.

Andrew Thomas said...

I believe that the politicians don't quite have the complete freedom to make laws that they think. I do believe that the people actually run the country: if politicians try imposing obviously unfair laws then the people quickly put them in their place (we had an example in the UK in the late '80s when the people rose up to defeat Margaret Thatcher's "poll tax"). The politicians are only allowed to do their job because the people let them. I am a firm believer in the power of the people, and it is foolish to fight the tide of public anger about an issue.

Steven Colyer said...

"Contrary to Germany, Switzerland is a real democracy. And we don't bomb civilians in Afghanistan."
... Anonymous

Oh, really? I'm calling: Bullshit on YOU, man. For two reasons, and while you're reading this, have another drink.

First Bullshit: Switzerland was anything BUT neutral during World War 2. Take a wild guess WHICH country Hitler hid his confiscated Jew-owned artworks in. Big hint: it wasn't France.

Second Bullshit: Civilians ALWAYS die in War. How young are you that you don't know that? Please say 12, because if you're older than that, I feel sorry for you. Bottoms up. Cheers.

THIRD BULLSHIT (a free extra bullshit): Will all you ignoramuses or insecure spineless jellyfish who hide behind the tag "Anonymous" please take a frigging stand and give your NAME!? It doesn't even have to be your real name, it can be a handle. I mean, c'mon, please. If you're going to take a controversial stand, that's fine, but please it's annoying as hell to deal with hiders in the dark. Go back to the slime from whence you came if you disagree, I don't care, but others do. Grow the hell up.

Fourth Bullshit: Afghanistan, yeah, the Unconquerable Country. Google Earth it if you don't know what I'm talking about. I guess the High Himalayas, the Sahara, and Antarctica and the Gobi are less hospitable. Where else? Because I can't think of any where else.

They have their opium though, don't they? And Osama and Zawahari, the world's worst doctor.

"Above all else, do no harm."

Right.

And you people think GAY issues are the most important issues of our times?! I guess the conservative right has won, then. Expert Karl Rovian/Machiavellian distraction.

Hello, New Zealand, here we come. Dust up the hobbit holes, thanks in advance.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Andrew,

Let’s assume that you are correct and that in a democratic society the politicians simply are supposed to and do enact the will of the people. Then I would ask that is the government suppose to give us what we want, rather then what we need? Many might answer both are the same, while I would argue the root cause of our current economic woes is the direct result of being given what we want, rather then what we need.

"A chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage"

-Herbert Hoover

Well we all know how the attempted fulfillment of that well supported wish turned out:-)

Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...

It turned out very well in America, Phil. I don't remember when there weren't two cars in our driveway, often as many as four, and chicken and beef and pork were always a-plenty.

Wants and Needs are, as you said, two different things.

My grandfather, the English one, was born in the same year as DeBroglie, and died a year sooner. What that means is he was 37 (and the married father of 2) when the stock market crashed in '29 and so 47 when WW2 started (Germany v. Poland) in '39, between which the Great Depression happened, which he survived.

What I mean by that is the sage advice he gave me, a child of the '60's, which made no sense to me at the time but makes ALL the sense given the world today, and his advice was this:

"If you want something, ask yourself the following question: Do I need it? If you want it but don't need it, don't buy it. If you want it AND need it, then buy it."

His name was Howard Strong Conklin, Jr., BSEE Lafayette College Class of 1915. I've yet to meet a finer man.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Of course we can't even prove the consistency of arithmetic, so I think we can assume that human laws can't do any better. The human brain itself is a kludge - a hodgepoge of systems designed to deal with disparate special cases.

The nervous system of a fly is a precision instrument that can bring him to a precision landing in moderately strong turbulence - even upside down - but it can't remember that he has run into the same window twenty times, so that he outh to stop trying. Humans have slightly more complex brains - but there are still plenty of defects in our ability to structure our reactions to the world.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

Your grandfather appears to have been a fine man and a wise one to boot. I also take note of your words regarding hard times and wars in that one is successful to be able to simply survive them. However, when it comes to the human experience there is certainly a distinction to be made between mere survival and living, which is what has us come to understand the difference between our wants and needs.

Personally I feel it is our mutual responsibility to look after, as to assure everyone’s basic needs, which are those that allow us to survive, this is the prime purpose and therefore mandate of government. However those wants that also form to be personal and individual needs are the sole responsibility of each individual, which the pursuit of shouldn’t be either controlled or limited by government; unless of course this impedes on others ability in attaining their own basic needs.

It is here where I find Hoover's message to be counter to these principles, for although the chicken in every pot forms to be a basic need, the two cars for most (particularly at the time) would be better defined as the wants of some. I feel this is the juncture where the maintenance of freedom and security was falsely superimposed with a need for consumerism. This is where the government no longer simply assured we could pursue our dreams, yet took it upon itself to also define them. To sum up is to say I feel as the world moves forward we need first to re-examine this from both the historical perspective in relation to where we need to be headed in the future as to be able to distinguish what each of us both truly needs and wants.

Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Colyer said...

You GO, CapitalistImperialPig, good thoughts. Keep em coming. I've always been fascinated with flies. It's like they live in the same world as us, but they perceive time so much faster.

"I believe that the politicians don't quite have the complete freedom to make laws that they think. I do believe that the people actually run the country: if politicians try imposing obviously unfair laws then the people quickly put them in their place (we had an example in the UK in the late '80s when the people rose up to defeat Margaret Thatcher's "poll tax"). The politicians are only allowed to do their job because the people let them. I am a firm believer in the power of the people, and it is foolish to fight the tide of public anger about an issue."
... Andrew Thomas, PhD Electrical Engineering, and owner of the Very Best Introduction to Quantum Mechanics and Cutting-Edge Speculative Issues: What is Reality?

I agree with your first sentence. You lost me with the rest. The current US President is being used. An intelligent man, he only controls one-third of the US government. I think he's being set up for the merchants to regain control in the US Prez election of 2012. They screwed up, but they'll blame him. They'll Machiavelli it up, you'll see.

"The People", like us, don't run anything except our own lives. We're all being used, just like US President Obama. We're re-actors, not actors. The actors are the moneyed rich; it's been so since the Ancient Sumerians traded with the ancients of the Indus River valley, and the even more ancient people who lived where Turkey, Iraq, and Iran come together; and the Arabs with Great Zimbabwe, all before the Chinese, the most ancient culture which still exists today, and together with India will most likely rule this century from where I'm sitting.

I'm a big believer in the power of people too, Andrew, we are still inside the Enlightenment started by Voltaire and Locke mostly, with big assists by Bentham, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Jefferson (truly, a Jefferson/Adams/Franklin alliance), the Six Heroes of The Enlightenment.

But let us never forget the disparity between political idealism and mercantile reality, to our peril, that we may survive to fight another day.

"All we are saying is give peace a chance."
... John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Nice words, but Arms Merchants disagree. Peace would wreck them economically.

So how how do we turn their swords into plowshares and realize John and Yoko's (and all of ours') dream?

I'm already given one idea: a Lunar Colony.

Got a better one?

Arun said...

If the set of laws governing a society had to remain consistent at every instant of time, then change would likely be very difficult if not impossible.

This is because any fundamental change would have to be enacted in a single package, which would be politically difficult to do.

To insist on consistency may also be to insist on stagnation.

Zephir said...

/*.. the consistency of laws is considerably more murky..*/
8-) The inconsistency of physical laws of general relativity and quantum mechanics is in two hundreds orders of magnitude (just compare the predictions of cosmological constants or energy density of vacuum by using of these two theories).

It's evident, physicists are seeing their theories in much more consistent way, then they're really are. It still doesn't prohibit them to fight for theories of their personal preference, whenever possible.

Zephir said...

In AWT we are observing reality from at least two dual perspectives mediated by transversal (insintric perspective of relativity or past) and longitudian waves (exsintric perspective of quantum mechanics or future) and the corresponding laws are always inconsistent each other in certain extent.

If they would, we could see anything from our universe.

Uncle Al said...

Given previous posts, one cannot argue in favor of direct democracy. Those are intelligent and educated folk, too. The common man is a mud puddle. Large scale representative democracy has about ~10% entreprenurial corruption to lubricate the gears, Rome to Washington, DC.

Eventually de jure and de facto rulers discover centrally administered corruption and that nation collapses, Rome to Washington, DC.

ErkDemon said...

A big chunk of the motivation for campaigning for gay marriage was about legal benefits.
Mortgages, inheritance law, employer benefits, health benefits, adoption law, and so on.

For instance, suppose that your long-term partner gets hit by a car, and is seriously ill and perhaps on the point of death, you try to visit them in hospital, and the hospital says "Sorry, family members only ...". If you're straight and they won't let you in because you don't have a legally-recognised relationship with the patient, then that's a consequence of your own decisions. If you're gay and your partner dies without you having the chance to say goodbye, because the State wouldn't let you officially register your relationship in a way that the hospital could recognise, then that's a legitimate cause for grievance.

There's nothing to stop same-sex couples making private arrangements for things like inheritance and property rights, but third parties won't necessarily recognise private agreements if they don't fit into an existing officially-recognised scheme. Insurance companies and banks and landlords don't want to bother getting their lawyers to pore over customised "private partnership" contracts that may or may not be binding, and which might clash with other contested previous private partnerships ... they want a simple checkbox for "married or single", with official marriage/divorce dates where applicable, the ability to check with an official centralised registry whether the claimed partnership registration is genuine and to know that there's no grey area that applicants can exploit to fill out misleading or inconsistent information, to "work" the system.

Arun said...

Capitalist/libertarian paradise: All profit and no laws.

Kaleberg said...

A good argument against direct government lies in the state of California which has a powerful referendum movement on both the left and the right. This has made it nearly impossible to raise taxes even as it has mandated spending in various specialized areas. Ever since Proposition 13, the state has been in slow meltdown, with remissions in good times and crises in hard times.

An elected representative has to follow a variety of budgetary rules. For example, the budget has to balance, even if the state sells assets or borrows money to make it do so. This means legislators have to make trade offs. Tax cuts mean borrowing or spending cuts. Increased spending means more borrowing or tax increases.

The voter checking the box for a tax cut or for funding kindergartens or whatever doesn't have to make these trade offs. They can just throw a spanner into the works and let the state representatives deal with the broken machinery.

As for banning minarets, there goes Switzer-Disney's Land of Aladdin. Talk about confusing style with substance.

Anonymous said...

Bee wrote: "I'm glad Switzerland is not in the European Union."

Bee, I'm sure the Swiss are glad they're not in the EU as well :)

Anonymous said...

Just to follow up - I'm sure all the lefties in Europe will yell "discrimination!" and proceed to say all the usual stuff like Islam is peaceful, Islam is the best thing since sliced bread, blah,blah, blah - yeah, until a bomb goes off in a subway or in a crowded bus!

The West better wake up and realize the barbarians aren't just at the gates but have already entered the city

Bee said...

Anonymous (the last one): If you read what I wrote you'll find I made it very clear that what's stupid about the decision to ban minarets is not to take seriously the potential danger a religion can bring, but to direct the anger at their buildings. And if you have an issue with a religion, you should have an issue with religion in general (consistency, consistency). Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

This would entail when one votes for a law or policy that is found to have things improve you are given more votes in relation to the next issue and if you were wrong your impact on a subsequent vote would then be decreased.

How do you know somebody was "wrong" if they voted for an option that was never realized? Best,

B.

ErkDemon said...

re: Minarets:
The Swiss seem to be very particular about architectural design. They do seem to like their buildings (and villages, and towns) to look distinctively Swiss.

Andrew Thomas said...

I'd have thought banning minarets would have been against some European law on anti-discrimination. I'm very surprised they could do that.

Andrew Thomas said...

Oops, excuse my complete ignorance, I see Switzerland is not in the EU.

Zephir said...

/*..nuclear power plants are great, unless they are in your backyard..*/
From AWT perspective such stance isn't inconsistent at all. It minimizes both potential, both kinetic energy of individuals. The same inconsistency is related to supersymmetry, i.e. surface tension in physics: the attractive force of gravity at proximity becomes repulsive one at larger distance. The higher energy density in environment, the more the supersymmetric phenomena are pronounced - and energy density in human society increases. The places for consistent moral imperatives and laws of behavior mediated by transversal waves are vanishing in dense particle systems on behalf of these atemporal/amoral ones.

Zephir said...

The idealism of contemporary scientists is in point, they've chosen a dual set of laws from very distanced perspectives: relativity and quantum mechanics, while ingnoring huge ocean of noise, which exists between them. I can even understand, why they did so: such dual perspective enables them to describe chaotic particle reality in most formal way as possible. It's similar to observation of reality by pair of eyes instead of single one - such scheme of vision enables us to estimate distances in more exact way - but it would mean too, our observations are becoming inconsistent by its very definition: left eye can see slightly different image, then the right one. Until such inconsistency isn't quite pronounced, human brain enables to render it into a single consistent image of reality, where we are living in. But such view is mostly an illusion: our reality simply isn't and cannot be fully consistent.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

”How do you know somebody was "wrong" if they voted for an option that was never realized?”

Of course you’re right for we would never know. Actually, I was trying to indicate that direct democracy for the most part could never work and my proposal therefore was meant tongue in cheek. Never the less I think we need to find some way to have people become more involved with their political systems, as the declining voter turnouts are indicative of the growing apathy and powerlessness felt about it all by many. I’ve been long convinced few things are done well unless its cared about, with governance being no exception.

One thing for certain it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a few referendums from time to time on major issues, such as ones that would render decisions about our ongoing participation in specific military actions or environmental issues. The general debates alone they would provoke I see as being a positive thing.

However I find the greatest problem in regards to our current system is found in its whole design as being a adversarial one, where not only decisions are taken as either only able as being right or wrong, yet the ideologies and political parties they are perceived to represented by. I guess what I’m suggesting is politics should be treated more like a science, rather than a philosophy or religion, as to be more concerned with if something can be made to work, rather than if it be right or wrong.


Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I just wanted to add as to clarify on the last thing I said which is to use evolution as an analogy. That’s to say that many see this process to be taken as a judgement rather then simply a mechanism of constint decision. That’s to say that the dinosaurs didn’t become extinct because they were bad rather then good, as right and wrong is often taken to mean, yet rather they were not a life form that could survive a specific change of conditions. So the lesson to be learned is not to ask if our decisions are good or bad, yet rather if they address the conditions. Mankind has always thought of itself as being creatures of destiny, which I say is a boast that can only be realized if we first understand what destiny entails by way of method and action.


Best,

Phil

Plato said...

In the beginning....I wrote, "until in your back yard," as it drew my interest as to what was linked, was somehow to admonish the reasons to which one is drawn into the debate?

I mean, for what reason?

Inconsistancy in the laws of "freedom of expression" as to be able to believe, so as to build according to the religion one wishes to practise?

Is this written in the constitution so as to apply to all peoples to guarantee this right?

What is the founding principle established by the founding fathers that would cover the population of any one country under a democratic form?

So one might observe "re:minarets" and say "local building codes to population design?"

This then would constitute a challenge to local building codes under the freedom of expression under that constitution.

Is this written?

This situation then forces one introspectively not to be "the adversary of the injustice," but to open awareness to the constitution and how it is being applied. Education then, as to democracies and how they are written, as one thing leads to another.

Who knew the foundational principles of democratic societies unless they were forced to realize something if it could happen personally to effect this willingness to under the differences of opinion legally?

So this then becomes the challenge?

Best,

Zephir said...

/*..how do you know somebody was "wrong" if they voted for an option that was never realized?”..*/
Why scientists are spending their time and our money for research of things, which never realized? This is what consistent thinking means in certain extent...

Plato said...

Phil,

"in reaction" to your last comment. A "recursive function" then to forward looking beings?

How would you apply "a algorithm" to recognize that all people in expression as an underlying expression toward materiality, would allow the "facets of character" would allow as many differences as there are in the number of people, to recognize "this sameness in nature's law," as to the right of expression given by our presence in materiality?

There is no race or religion that would govern such a population as to this awareness?

Best,

Plato said...

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences by Eugene Wigner

The great mathematician fully, almost ruthlessly, exploits the domain of permissible reasoning and skirts the impermissible. That his recklessness does not lead him into a morass of contradictions is a miracle in itself: certainly it is hard to believe that our reasoning power was brought, by Darwin's process of natural selection, to the perfection which it seems to possess. However, this is not our present subject. The principal point which will have to be recalled later is that the mathematician could formulate only a handful of interesting theorems without defining concepts beyond those contained in the axioms and that the concepts outside those contained in the axioms are defined with a view of permitting ingenious logical operations which appeal to our aesthetic sense both as operations and also in their results of great generality and simplicity.

[3 M. Polanyi, in his Personal Knowledge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), says: "All these difficulties are but consequences of our refusal to see that mathematics cannot be defined without acknowledging its most obvious feature: namely, that it is interesting" (p 188).]

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

I`m sorry yet I have to admit this be one of those times that no matter how hard I try I still fail to be able to understand what you mean to have me know. So could we simplify it a bit so that I might be clear as to what be your point is in response to my comment.

Best,

Phil

Anonymous said...

It isn't inconsistent with equal rights to allow marriage only between people of the opposite sex. Everyone may marry someone of the opposite sex.

"The law against stealing bread applies equally to the poor and the rich, how can this be unfair?" (or something like that.) It is, of course, since the rich don't have to worry about getting enough (or anything!) to eat and are literally blind to the needs of the poor.

Ditto 'gay marriage'. If you're straight (and not closely related) it's not a problem for you. If you're gay it's a critical issue and it's grossly unfair for straight couples to say that they don't see any problems since they individually don't have any problems.

(Then there's the monstrosity that allowing gays to marriage somehow weakens straight marriages. I've never been able to figure that out unless you assume that many (most?) straight couples are actually closeted and choose an opposite-sex partner because they preferred marriage over sexual desire. Allow gay marriage and they can follow their heart - get divorced and marry the gay person of their dreams.)

Much more broadly there's a profound conflict between core values and ANY system will have inconsistencies because of that. In the US you often hear "freedom" and "democracy" as one word but "democracy" is highly antagonistic towards "freedom" since it allows a small majority of your neighbors to control anything in your life absent other controls. That "small majority" can actually be far less than the population at large once you allow people to be excluded for various legal and practical reasons. (E.g., only allow voting during periods when hourly wage earners must be at work while professional and business classes can take some time off.)

The classic example is the guy who wants to put a toxic waste dump on his land. It's his land, right? Yet that decision clearly affects his neighbors since any spill can endanger their house and destroy their property values. Clearly there need to be some control. Yet how far does this go, e.g., can you use it to ban a building that blocks sunlight or even 'views' from adjacent properties? (You can, in some areas.) Can you use it to ban architecture specific to a religion?

Andrew Thomas said...

This just looks like a load of minarets to my mind. Makes me wonder how they can possibly define a "minaret", unless they're prepared to dismantle all fairytale castles.

Plato said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Plato said...

Phil:So the lesson to be learned is not to ask if our decisions are good or bad, yet rather if they address the conditions. Mankind has always thought of itself as being creatures of destiny, which I say is a boast that can only be realized if we first understand what destiny entails by way of method and action.

In reaction, a given situation like the idea of the spread of extremism can somehow be "contained according to the type of architecture that is used" was to further infuriate the response of the public as to the nature of its democracy, that would inhibit the spread of a religion modeled according to the belief of that extremism.

Computationally it made sense that a recursive function might seem more palatable if we had the perfect society given that the program precluded the division of race or religion.?:)

A tongue in cheek expression.

Best,

Plato said...

Oh more thought given then arrived at by the cave people:)

Bee said...

Anonymous, Peter:

The argument I was making has nothing to do with fairness, which, as anonymous correctly says, refers to values and is thus no accessible qua a logical constraint like consistency. What I was saying is *not* that gay marriage should be allowed because otherwise it's unfair, but because if it's not allowed it is inconsistent with every citizen having equal rights.

What Peter wrote

"It isn't inconsistent with equal rights to allow marriage only between people of the opposite sex. Everyone may marry someone of the opposite sex."

(and I read the same claim elsewhere) is simply wrong. You can see that it is wrong because you cannot formulate the sentence without making explicit reference to the qualifier "sex." If you take one person of the population, such a laws excludes half of the population as possible partners.

If you don't see why this is in conflict with equal rights, use a slight modification of the setting: CEO XYZ, female, is offering a job. But only men are allowed to apply. Such discrimination wouldn't hold up in any court, but it's isomorphic to requiring marriage to be among mixed-sex couples. Best,

B.

Andrew Thomas said...

To be fair, there's a lot of laws apply only to women (or men). The two sexes are certainly not treated equally under the law (well, they certainly aren't in the UK). Certainly the laws relating to sexual attack, rape, treat men very differently from women. We have a very controversial law here in the UK when, if a woman accuses a man of rape, the man has to right to anonymity but the woman does. So even if at a later stage the woman admits to inventing the attack, she still retains anonymity but the press has already smeared the name of the man. I suppose this rule is to encourage women to come forward with their rape allegations, but it does not seem fair on men.

Newspaper article

I'll be honest, as a man, this kind of thing is a real concern. It's a minefield out there (at least in this country).

Bee said...

Hi Andrew,

I don't know much about law in the UK, but the example you mention is not in conflict with equal rights. Reason is you could replace "the women accusing the man" with "the victim." It would be inconsistent only if a man accusing a women of rape would not be granted the same rights. Best,

B.

Andrew Thomas said...

Yes, I checked and apparently the laws are equal as regarding a woman raping a man. I didn't know that. So you're correct.

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Andrew,

What you mention is indeed a serious issue, which can only be addressed if false accusation also carries a penalty. However the greatest inequity under the law doesn’t come so much resultant of there being differences in how the sexes are treated, yet rather the differences in economic status bring. That’s why I’ve always thought all lawyers should be part of a separate part of the public service. That’s to say I find for the most part the laws to be adequate, rather it’s the access to it’s mechanism of protection that is sorely wanting. Find a workable way to fix this inequity and you will have gone a long way to having a better world.
Best,

Phil

Andrew Thomas said...

You're undoubtedly right, Phil. But Bee is making a very specific point about inconsistency in how the laws are written, not about how they are sometimes applied badly.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Andrew,

I see it as being all one in the same. For arguably the first law of the world is the second law of thermodynamics, where any system seeks equilibrium. I would ask if this is so required to have a universe work properly how can it be ignored in terms of our own systems able to operate the same.

Best,

Phil

Andrew Thomas said...

Well, we'll certainly get economic equality on this planet when it crashes into the sun, or the universe dies from heat death, but probably not before. But at least the 2nd law of thermodynamics will win eventually where communism failed.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Andrew,

I have always been mindful not to confuse equal oppertunity with there being equal potential, for all forces of nature in this way are weighted differently and also for good reason. So although cognitive difference or access to resource may seem to naturally drive things out of equilibrium, compassion and empathy exist so that they might mitigate the effects.

Best,

Phil

Giotis said...

Bee, the social structure and evolution is not a mathematical construction subject only to the laws of logic and of consistency. Things are much more complicated. Saying that a certain social behavior or norm is inconsistent is pretty much pointless. The easy answer to that argument could be: So what? Neither we as individuals nor our societies are bound to logic and to consistency.

Bee said...

Giotis: Of course our societies' laws are not mathematical laws and I've pointed out some of the differences explicitly, the most important difference is that there are no definitions for many objects, subjects and procedures in the laws which renders them time- and context-dependent.

However, inconsistency is not an option, because inconsistent laws are as good as no laws: If two laws are in disagreement about the same situation, you don't know which one to use. You can then either forget about something like a legal system altogether - anarchy, this is one option - or you fix the inconsistency, that's the other option. But as long as you live in a country that has a legal system, its laws have to be consistent.

It's not that I've invented that idea. As I said above, the constitutional court is one of the institutions you can appeal to if you are affected by what you believe is such an inconsistency. You can take Germany's discussion about the headscarf ban as an example. Best,

B.

Giotis said...

The concern of the state is not the consistency of the law. This is a luxury. The main concern of the state and of the judicial system is to impose laws that will preserve the desirable social status quo. The law is the mean to achieve their goals and can be manipulated and interpreted according to their convenience. So raising the flag of consistency won't help you.

Bee said...

Giotis: That is true. But this post is not about the status quo of our societies. It is about the consistency of laws. Best,

B.

Giotis said...

I think my comment was relevant. You are claiming that certain laws are not consistent and thus should be abolished or amended and I'm pointing out to you that the legislation and implementation of these laws has nothing to do with consistency. Why I am off topic?

Bee said...

Giotis: The consistency of laws is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for a functioning legal system and a successful implementation of these laws. My post is saying it's necessary thus care should be taken to make sure the laws are consistent. You are saying that's not sufficient. Which is true, but not what I was concerned with here. Best,

B.

Plato said...

okay we now know humanity is inconsistent in terms of the laws which are generated from country to country.

Didn't quite realize this was a a platform for something else.

One situation applying to another?

Didn't quite see where it was leading to either, so now see where the posting has lead I now know what the point was.

Sorry for going off topic in retrospect:)

Best,

Arun said...

Hi Bee,

Apropos of nothing - most averaging or "integrating over" degree of freedom procedures in physics lead to creation/increase of entropy, loss of unitarity or induce time irreversibility into the description. The exception is the Wilson-Kadanoff type renormalization, where we lose information of certain (irrelevant) terms in the Hamiltonian, but do not lose unitarity, do not increase the entropy, or induce time-reversal assymmetry.

I find it a bit peculiar and so mention it.

-Arun

Arun said...

One theme with the renormalization group is that, e.g., the standard model is only an effective theory, an approximation to a high-energy theory where lots of terms in the complete high-energy Lagrangian are suppressed by powers of the ratio of energy scales.

That assumes that the complete theory has parameters that take on "natural" values. What rules out parameters of the order of 10-raised-to-a-bazillion?

The smallness of the cosmological constant is an anthropic point-of-view. If we first observe the universe at the largest scales, we would measure the cosmological constant. We would then infer the short-distance physics (standard model scale) has much smaller coupling constants than we find in actuality - by precisely the powers of 10^(a lot)! So on what basis do we infer that Planck-scale physics has "natural" parameters?

The anthropic principle becomes even worse if the high-energy theory is somehow not natural - because it has to exclude an infinite subspace of high energy couplings, where they are all larger than (M_Planck/M_low_energy)^power.

---
Please tell me to stop if I'm sounding like a crank :)

Bee said...

I think even if you observed the universe on large scales you already had a puzzle to explain. If you can explain the dynamics you know that the coupling constant is 1/m_pl^2, so then why is \Lambda 120 orders of magnitude smaller (and happens to be of the same size as \rho "just now"). The question is of course whether that's a question that needs an answer. Best,

B.

Arun said...

So, the underlying question is - should we take numerology seriously?

Steven Colyer said...

Numerology, Arun? I find it odd how often the number 3 comes up in Physics.

3 dimensions of space that we know of, 3 weak force bosons, 3 quarks in baryons, 3 colors of quarks, 3 generations of fermions, quark charges come in thirds, 3 points define a plane (OK, that's Math, so sue me), and there's probably more.

It's downright spooky, as if SOMEbody up there (or out there in the ana/keta direction) has a fetish with a certain number.

It's

Bee said...

Isn't it amazing how often the number 1 appears? There's one photon, there's one graviton, there's one W-boson, and there's one blog called Backreaction. Must be some higher power involved here.

Christine said...

The number zero occurs more often than any other. It is amazing, but there is an infinite number of things that do not exist in the universe, that is, they have zero occurrence. Must be some higher power involved here.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steve,

“It's downright spooky, as if SOMEbody up there (or out there in the ana/keta direction) has a fetish with a certain number.”

I don’t find it so surprising for nature to know that although it may only take two to tango it requires at least three to really Rock'n Rock :-)

Of course it was Einstein who was first to realize she added a fouth being the drummer of time, as to feel the beat best:-)

Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Christine,

Yet it is also true that in terms of an equation, the difference between both sides must be always equal to zero and so it should be deemed the most important number in regards to nature considerations ,since it the only one able to hang all of reality in the balance.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Dear Arun,

Is there anything that deserves to be taken seriously? As far as numerology is concerned, I count it among the things that could give us some guidance. If it doesn't seem to lead us anywhere, then maybe it was just fireflies misleading us. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

As I see it the most daunting problem regarding unification of the laws is not so much with gravity being a theory best describing vastness, while the quantum better to explain the minimum to be considered, yet rather how harmony can be made between the holistic certainty of nature and the randomness of its indeterminacy. It has often had me reminiscent of a ballad formed of harmony, which has me mindful it may be important to discover why nature has it as necessary to do it’s crying in the rain.

Then again it just might be I;m showing my age agian:-)

Andrew Thomas said...

Steven said: "I find it odd how often the number 3 comes up in Physics.

Bee said: "Isn't it amazing how often the number 1 appears? "

Christine said: "The number zero occurs more often than any other."

Andrew said: "The number 113,782 seems very rare."

It would be interesting to count how many times all the numbers appear in physical theories. I reckon the larger the number, the smaller the frequency it would appear. Because the number 1 is common, but 7 is rarer, and 113,782 would be extremely rare. I don't think that's a mystery - I think it's probably what you'd expect from the statistics. After all, there are infinitely many integers, so if the low integers are common, then the higher-value integers are going to be much rarer.

Bee said...

No, you don't expect that from statistics. I'm not sure what statistics has to do with that, possibly you mean stochastics? But stochastics doesn't tell you anything without a measure. You're implicitly assuming there's some measure saying smaller numbers are "more natural" (more likely) and why that should be is exactly the question Arun was raising. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

If one takes Cantors work to its limit, as to imagine the random set being the one of greatest cardinality, then the infinite set of PI would be an infinite set found an infinite number of times within it as would any sequence imaginable. This has always had me to ask as Bohm before had wondered if random is actually a set counter to order or the one necessary to have any and all manifestations of it.

Andrew Thomas said...

Hi Bee and Phil, yes, you're right Bee - I meant stochastics, and the puzzle is indeed as to why the smaller numbers appear to be favoured. And, Phil, I suspect infinity does have something to do with the reason why the lower numbers appear to be favoured. Here's my nutty theory. Let's consider how these numbers which appear commonly in our laws might be selected. They might be selected randomly, like drawing numbered balls in a raffle. So let's say we have 100 balls (representing the numbers 1 to 100) and each ball has an equal chance of being selected. In that case, the common numbers might be 7, 23, and 81 (for example) instead of 1, 2, and 3. Each number has a 1 in 100 chance of being selected.

But now let's consider the more realistic case when we're not limited to selecting from 100 balls, but we can instead select any integer from 1 to infinity. In that case, the probability of any particular number being selected is no longer 1/100 but is now 1/infinity, which is zero probability. So no number would ever have a chance of being selected - that system just wouldn't work. So it would appear that we need some upper limit on these numbers - we can't just consider numbers up to infinity. And instead of there being a hard cut-off value, there would probably be some tailing-off of probability as the numbers get larger. Which might explain why the smaller numbers are more likely.

Andrew Thomas said...

It's interesting (and fun) that the most common selection of numbers selected by people in the UK National Lottery (out of 49 possible numbers) is 1,2,3,4,5,6.

"Apparently, at one stage, 10,000 people were selecting the numbers 1 to 6" (link).

Steven Colyer said...

Oh, good grief, Bee and Christine! You didn't have to be sarcastic. Now my feelings are hurt. :-(

Yes, I would expect 1 to occur more than 2, 2 more than 3, 3 more than 4, etc. My point was that the number 3 occurs more frequently than one would expect, nothing more. And I wouldn't have brought that up if Arun hadn't mentioned Numerology!

(And as an aside to Arun: THANK YOU India for introducing the "number" Zero to the West (and probably through the Arabs). Imagine if Alexander had NOT been stopped by India! We might have moon colonies now. Sigh.)

At this point I could bring up Michael Caine as Nigel Powers' remark to Vern Troyer as Mini-Me regarding tripods, but what would be the point of that, after all.

Good discussion on Number Theory, regardless. What a wonderful and infinite field of study. Pure Mathematics at its finest.

Arun said...

Hi Bee,

Is there anything that deserves to be taken seriously?

Of course there is. Cake is serious business and has to be baked correctly :)

-ARun

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Andrew,

Without entering endless debate, all I can say is that when it comes to considering infinity it is definitely context sensitive. That’s to note there being a difference and yet a correlation between infinite knowledge and infinite possibility, as the first would enable one to definitely know , while the latter prevents, not the likelihood, yet rather the certainty of knowledge.

With this understood I find a difference between saying 1/infinity to be resultant in having a likelihood of zero, rather than alternately having a certainty of zero. So I don’t find reason as to why infinite potential prevents having outcome, rather recognizing it places limits on the certainty of knowledge of them.

In short I find potential to drive the world and suspect if it had a limit less than being infinite, it would not only definitely cease to be, yet more importantly possibly not have any reason to be. I would admit to this being nothing more than philosophy, yet not one born of denying the existence of the infinite, rather one recognizing it must by reason of the necessity that it does.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Steven: Sorry for the sarcasm, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. You're neither the first nor the last to notice that there's a lot of 3s in the standard model. But please do ask yourself why do you "expect" the number 1 to appear more often than 2 etc, and does this "expectation" have anything to do with science? Best,

BBB

Andrew Thomas said...

I'm sure Steven is not too hurt.

I suspect the most likely reason why these small numbers are preferred is just that nature appears to prefer simplicity, and an object that can be described using 3 numbers is simpler than an object which needs 4 numbers to describe it.

But I don't think this question of why nature prefers small numbers is the same question as to why certain parameters would appear to need to be set to certain values or life would appear to be unlikely. I think that's a much more puzzling and mysterious question. I think the "small number" thing is just a drive towards simplicity in nature. After all, life could probably exist in 83 dimensions of space just as well as it exists in 3 dimensions of space, so the anthropic principle isn't involved in this small number idea. But why should nature bother creating 83 dimensions of space when 3 will do just as well. Everywhere in nature we see this drive towards simplicity and lack of unnecessary waste.

Bee said...

I doubt atoms would be stable in 83 dims. Arguably, the simplest universe you could think of is one that's entirely empty, or better: not there at all, which is the point Christine was making. Best,

B.

PS: Should we call this the noniverse? I herewith conjecture an infinite number of non-existing universes, called the noniverses.

Andrew Thomas said...

Good point, Bee.

(As to the "noniverse", I have already suggested "nulltiverse").

Christine said...

Hi Steven,

I'm sorry! It's Bee's fault! She instigated me! :) :)

Hi Bee,

I hate the multiverse, but I love the noniverse! (including your nomenclature!)

Best,
Christine
PS- The blog's "word verification" that come out right now is so funny in portuguese, but I'm ashamed to tell you!

Christine said...

Hi Andrew,

What about:

nulltiverse -> nulliverse

It's a nice word too!

Andrew Thomas said...

Hi Christine, feel free to copyright "nulliverse". I've already copyrighted "nulltiverse" and have T-shirts printed - you have to pay me 5 cents every time you say it. (In comparison, Tegmark gets 7 cents everytime you say "multiverse"). I don't know how much Bee charges for "noniverse" but I suspect she'll undercut me.

(I first used it at the bottom of my article).

P.S. Christine, I accept VISA. Have a nice day.

Christine said...

Hi Andrew,

It seems that Tegmark found a way to make a lot of money, given the state-of-affairs in theoretical physics. As for the antonym's copyright, I'm not certain it would make so much money, but good luck. :)

Neil' said...

Well finally! - I meant to put the below comment right here, and it went to two other threads first:

BTW, one can't say that things happen "because of laws of physics". As Hume pointed out, we see the regularities and call them "laws" - the laws aren't something that makes otherwise inert stuff do things (or are they?) We don't know why things do what they do, but in any case referring to "laws" is a circular argument.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Neil,

”BTW, one can't say that things happen "because of laws of physics".

The way I see it the laws of nature are no different than those of man, except for one important thing. That being if we break a law of man we run only a risk of being held to account, while if we attempt to break one of nature’s and get off scot free, it means it was never a law to begin with. So while the laws of man may be totally subjective, nature’s laws to be one must be objectively sound and thus is the job of science to discover what they be. So I find your attempt to lighten nature’s responsibility as to why things are by belittling its laws as not to be counter to the laws of science yet certainly to its prime principle of justice.

Best,

Phil