Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Two vital research projects YOU can help

YOURMORALS.ORG has been an ongoing research project done by a self professed liberal, with an interest in understanding "the other" (in this case, conservatives). So, what has resulted is an internet based series of surveys too numerous to mention. They are fascinating if sometimes frustrating for the research subject. You may find yourself mulling over the exact meaning of questions, cursing ambiguities, etc.. But this is the sort of risk you run when you formulate surveys. What has resulted is a quite interesting and fair view of 'the other.' and what the researchers consider to be a basic value sets that libs and conservatives both come to life with. We have these various values set, almost as parameters, or dials on a equalizer, some of us putting more emphasis on one subset, others on that subset, plus some other values neglected by the former group. I will leave it up to you to determine who the "formers" and the "latters" are in this. If you would like to help this research click above!

Your results will be compared to other respondents via nifty bar-graphs. You see how you stack up against other folks who have self identified their political leanings. You too will be asked to do so when you register.

I identified myself as a conservative, and do tend to line up with others who have done likewise, but am wildly off with the blues on some of the surveys. Must be my 'inner lib.' But, then again, I'm wildly off into red territory on others. Must be my inner "arch conservative."

Now, this Yourmorals.org thing is SMALL POTATOES when compared to what might be the single most important ongoing internet based research project I've happened upon.

THE GREAT POP v SODA CONTROVERSY. If you grew up in the great Midwest of our country, you probably use the term "pop" as your generic term referring to any sweet flavored carbonated beverage like Sprite, or Coca Cola. If you grew up in Northeast, you insist on the term "Soda." If you are from the South (Dallas for instance, one of my hometowns) you insist on using "Coke" for every single carbonated beverage save beer, or other sparkling adult beverages.

Why this diversity? Why this Babel of generic terms? This is one of the ultimate mysteries of the world, and you can do your part in solving that mystery. All you need to do in order to contribute to this vital piece of linguistic research is mosey on over by clicking above!

Do it now!

If Only Norman read his Bertrand Russell!

Midweek Star Trek funny from the Trekkies over at NRO's "Corner"

If it's a funny that combines cognitive dissonance vis-a-vis former VP Cheney AND a reference to the Liar's paradox, it must be linked.

Kirk: "Everything Harry Mudd says is a lie."

Harry Mudd: "I am lying."

Russell's solution: There are different uses of language, in fact different universes of discourse that can be discriminated from one another by the objects that the particular uses of language take, the things about which the particular bits of language discourse:

Every language has "objects" about which it speaks. Usually, a language finds itself 'talked about' as well. In English we often talk about people (in this case, Harry Mudd being one such object). Yet, we also talk about talking about people. For instance we might say that the way English refers to active agents is typically by placing a term referring to the agent in the subject slot of sentences. When you speak like this, about the rules of English grammar, you are speaking "metalinguistically."

Metalanguages: Languages that talk about languages and their statements. You can visualize these metalanguages as looking "below" themselves at 'other' languages, and the statements of those languages. (This can get a bit confusing because the actual natural language used in the metalanguages often is the very same language as is that metalanguage's object (in this case English) But, here is a metalinguistic sentence about English IN English:

"In the English language "Harry Mudd" refers to Harry Mudd."
This sentence, using English, talks about English, and a couple of words (more accurately, names) in that language. [Names are considered by phil. of language folks as not really being words of a particular language at all, I'll pass over that quibble for now]

Now, Russell's big idea is that Norman is blowing circuits (and we human paradox victims grow confused) because he/we tend to in some way confuse two of these levels of discourse. The problem is to see exactly how Russell thinks this will dissolve the problem with cases like this:

The statement "Everything Harry Mudd says is false" is a second level metalanguistic use of English. It refers to the set of all statements made by Harry. It claims that all these statements (presumably the "objects" for this meta, or second level use of language) have the property of being false.

Now, the statement, uttered by Harry himself "I am lying" is different than Kirk's statement. It is a statement that does not talk about the set of all statements uttered by Mudd. It talks about exactly one statement. Now, because the statement only speaks about one statement (itself) one might mistake it for lower level statement. But, it, like Kirk's generalization, is a second level statement, just has the peculiar property of being self referential and referring to only one of Harry's statements.

Somehow, if you are clear about the different universes of discourse involved here this is supposed to dissolve the dilemma. You should see that language use comes in these various levels, and no statement can make a metalinguistic claim about its own falsehood, or somehow make some other self referential claim about itself that involves a negation without landing one in circuit-burning territory. So, we should stipulate that such statements are out of bounds, not allowed by the rules of language. Then, everything will be just hunky-dory.
Well, maybe. But, another approach might be simply to say that the vicious circularity of Harry's statement, results from insisting that it must be either true or false.
If you admit that some statements have a third "truth value" i.e., they are neither true nor false, it seems you would avoid circuit burning, and would even see that you have supplied yourself with a good explanation as to why and how such statements exist (combination of self reference, and the presupposition of bi-valent truth value, along with some use of a negation.) In fact the presentation of the deduction of falsehood from truth and vice versa proves that this statement is neither true nor false. This statement of Harry's would be just one of those odd-ball statements. Notice, Harry's statement is not just simply nonsense like this sentence:
"The fludington gordes descend upon madness,"
Nonsensical statements are neither true nor false, because they lack a meaning, they don't "picture" anything, but are a mere play of words.
But, Harry's sentence simultaneously has sense, while also having the property of being neither true nor false. Neat eh?