The Problem of Induction

“In our daily lives and in the sciences, we infer certain qualities and effects based on our past experience of similar objects and causes. Hume argued that inductive inferences of this kind cannot be justified by reason. The underlying assumption about the uniformity of nature, that the future will resemble the past and that like effects have like causes, cannot be demonstrated without begging the question. This famously sceptical view about knowledge has often been wrongly interpreted as anti-rational and perhaps hypocritical…Hume’s argument is not a clarion call to total scepticism but instead, calls for a better appreciation of the limits of human understanding and for greater epistemic humility.

—Razavi, Seyed P. “H.5 The Problem of Induction.” June 26, 2017.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a fuller discussion of The Problem of Induction, which provides some interesting color to the problem:

“There is no comprehensive theory of sound induction, no set of agreed upon rules that license good or sound inductive inference, nor is there a serious prospect of such a theory. Further, induction differs from deductive proof or demonstration (in first-order logic, at least) not only in induction’s failure to preserve truth (true premises may lead inductively to false conclusions) but also in failing of monotonicity: adding true premises to a sound induction may make it unsound.”

It’s an interesting problem in so far as it encourages us to question common beliefs in the modern worldview, such as in the scientific method, materialism, etc. Reason, science and other tools we routinely rely upon are fundamentally flawed. While this does not mean we should abandon them, it does mean we should take better care in understanding their limitations.

Perception & Reality

“‘We read the world wrong and say it deceives us,’ wrote Rabindranath Tagore. We take for permanent that which is ephemeral and for happiness that which is but a source of suffering: the desire for wealth, for power, for fame, and for nagging pleasures…By knowledge we mean not mastery of masses of information and learning but an understanding of the true nature of things. Out of habit, we perceive the exterior world as a series of distinct, autonomous entities to which we attribute characteristics that we believe belong inherently to them. Our day-to-day experience tells us that things are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The ‘I’ that perceives them seems to us to be equally concrete and real. This error, which Buddhism calls ignorance, gives rise to powerful reflexes  of attachment and aversion that lead to suffering. As Etty Hillesum says so tersely: ‘That great obstacle is always the representation and never the reality.'”

—Ricard, Matthieu. Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2003.

This is How Big Oil Will Die

“And here is what is disruptive for Big Oil: Self-driving vehicles get to combine the capital savings from the improved lifetime of EVs, with the savings from eliminating the driver…The costs of electric self-driving cars will be so low, it will be cheaper to hail a ride than to drive the car you already own.”

—Miller, Seth. “This is how Big Oil will die.” May 24, 2017.

Pretty straight-forward conclusion, but this essay contains a lot of interesting detail, such as the number of parts in an internal combustion engine versus an electric engine (2,000 and 20, respectively).

A Golden Age for Dystopian Fiction

“Dystopia used to be a fiction of resistance; it’s become a fiction of submission, the fiction of an untrusting, lonely, and sullen twenty-first century, the fiction of fake news and infowars, the fiction of helplessness and hopelessness. It cannot imagine a better future, and it doesn’t ask anyone to bother to make one. It nurses grievances and indulges resentments; it doesn’t call for courage; it finds that cowardice suffices. Its only admonition is: Despair more. It appeals to both the left and the right, because, in the end, it requires so little by way of literary, political, or moral imagination, asking only that you enjoy the company of people whose fear of the future aligns comfortably with your own. Left or right, the radical pessimism of an unremitting dystopianism has itself contributed to the unravelling of the liberal state and the weakening of a commitment to political pluralism. ‘This isn’t a story about war,’ El Akkad writes in ‘American War.’ ‘It’s about ruin.’ A story about ruin can be beautiful. Wreckage is romantic. But a politics of ruin is doomed.”

—Lepore, Jill. “A Golden Age For Dystopian Fiction.” The New Yorker. June 5, 2017.

Dystopia is the gym. Ain’t that the truth?

Insults are Free!

“Once there was a disciple of a renowned Greek philosopher who was handed an odd assignment. He was commanded by his Master to give money to everyone who insulted him for a period of three years. Wanting very much to achieve spiritual awakening, this student did exactly what he was told. Every time he was insulted, he gave money to the person who insulted him, no matter how galling the experience was.

When this rather lengthy trial was over, the Master summoned the young man to his quarters and said to him: ‘Now you can go to Athens, for you are ready to learn wisdom.’

The disciple was elated, and he set off for Athens. Just before he entered the great city, however, he saw a certain wise man sitting at the gate insulting everybody who came and went. Naturally, the moment this fellow saw the disciple he insulted him, too.

‘Hey!’ he cried out to the student, ‘How did you get to be so ugly and stupid? I have never before seen anyone as ridiculous looking as you.’

But instead of taking offense, the disciple just burst out laughing.

‘Why do you laugh when I insult you?’ asked the wise man.

‘Because,’ said the disciple, ‘for three whole years I have been paying for this kind of thing and now you give it to me for NOTHING!’

‘Enter the city,’ said the wise man. ‘It is all yours.'”

—Ward, Benedicta. tr. “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.” Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1984.