Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bearded Spock knows the answer to this question.

Could "Mirror Matter" Be the Hidden Mass that Holds the Universe Together?

As it name implies, mirror matter is basically a spatial reflection of ordinary matter. Matter particles can be either left-handed or right-handed, so if an ordinary matter particle were left-handed, its mirror particle would be right-handed, but exactly identical in every other way. In the theory of mirror matter, every ordinary matter particle (e.g. protons, electrons, etc.) would have a mirror particle, thus doubling the number of particles in the universe.

The inspiration for mirror matter came from an experiment performed in 1956 that showed that the laws of nature are not left-right symmetrical (also called parity-symmetrical, or p-symmetrical). Specifically, the experiment showed that particles in weak interactions display a preference for left-handedness, so that in a way, the Universe is left-handed. Since the other two forms of symmetry - rotational and translational - do seem to be symmetrical everywhere in nature, scientists wonder why nature doesn’t have p-symmetry as well. But if mirror matter exists, it would solve this problem by having slight right-handedness and restoring the Universe’s p-symmetry.

Cool Astronomy pic o' the day.

A mere 60 million light years away: the Leo Triplet.

Three galaxies in the foreground here. Go large view by clicking and see how many smaller galaxies you can count peppered in the background.

Wednesday Wolf

Howlin' Wolf, that is.

"Meet Me in the Bottom."

Wolf is gettin' himself in trouble here.

Wolf's ill-advised psychedelic version, circa 1969:

He never took a likin' to that one.

Other covers of the song..

Another messed up hippy-trippy-lysergic-soaked version, by Cream

A better version by The Strolling Bones:

While we are stuck in the '60s, here's a very decent version. John Lee Hooker and Woodstock icons Canned Heat team up:

Nice. Very nice.

Hey, these guys from today are good..The Derek Trucks band:

Good, Evil, Empathy and Projection

What sorts of things can have moral properties?

Persons; actions by persons; institutions created and maintained by persons.

What is it that constitutes the moral goodness or badness of any of these?

In each case, it is the fact that the persons involved knowingly undertake to do something that in some way is harmful, helpful, or beneficial to persons or other moral patients.

What is a moral patient?

Anything that is capable of suffering, pain, flourishing or pleasure.

What is meant by the adverbial “knowingly”?

Either, Acting with empathetic cognizance of the harmful, helpful or beneficial import of the ‘something’ one is doing vis, the moral patients involved, OR acting with requisite levels of projective cognizance of same.

What is empathetic cognizance?

Not only projective cognizance, but cognizance with recognition of emotional import. Empathetic cognizance necessarily includes projective cognizance, but also includes an ability to stand in proxy for moral patients and feel experiences as subjects would from their points of view.

What is projective cognizance?

Projective cognizance is the ability to project the likely consequences or ramifications of one’s actions. This comes in relative levels of sophistication, with regard to the projections. (More on this in just a bit.)

What is emotional import?

This is something that can only be experienced in proxy. Some examples: Members of an audience being absorbed in and feeling angst along with a character in a tragedy or; watching in horror and averting eyes as someone jumps from a burning building.

In each case, one experiences the distress of the other as if one were in the place of the other. In the former case, one experiences the catastrophic effects of the events upon the character’s life, and those he cares for. In the latter case one experiences the horror of dying in that particular way (by plummeting and hitting the ground).

A clarification: There is a distinction here I want to make quite clear. Borrowing some terminology from 20th century philosophy of language, when it comes to the difference between empathetic cognizance and projective cognizance, there is similarity or kinship to the distinction, made most famously by Russell, between knowledge by description and knowledge by direct acquaintance.

I can have knowledge by description of the act of riding a bicycle. Suppose I am a physiologist writing a treatise on motor skills, and hook up Lance Armstrong to sophisticated machinery, and I eventually churn out a multi-volume description of his body as it rides a bike. That is an extremely detailed case of knowledge by description.

That is quite a different thing than knowledge by acquaintance. For, supposing I never learned to ride a bike, IF I were to pick up a bike and make the attempt, even after my massive study of Armstrong, I would fail. Eventually, after enough trials and scraped knees, I would learn to ride that bike, and would only then have knowledge by direct acquaintance.

Being able to stand in proxy for others is something like this. If an entity does not have this ability to stand in emotional proxy, that entity is not capable of moral acts UNLESS it is capable of the sophisticated level of projective cognizance that normal human beings possess.

It may help to illustrate with three related examples.

1. A tiger kills a man.

2. An AI enabled robot kills a man, according to a program that enables its sensors to find the man’s head, and shoot a phaser at that detected object in its field of vision.

3. A normal person kills a man.

1. The tiger is doing nothing wrong because it is not capable of knowing that its acts harm the man in anything but the merely ‘projective’ sense. It is incapable of recognizing the emotional import of its acts for the man. It cannot put itself in proxy for the man. Indeed, it is safe to say that the tiger has no self consciousness. Self consciousness is needed in order to be able to pull off the ‘proxy’ operation and have empathy. The tiger has subjective experiences, but is not sophisticated enough to have either self consciousness, or empathy. Neither can the cat project the distress the killing will cause for the social network the man inhabits. So the tiger’s acts have no moral aspect. The tiger’s actions cannot take on moral properties. Therefore, its action in killing the man is not evil.

2. The AI robot is capable of something that is at least analogous to ‘projective’ knowledge that its acts harm the man. This is supplied in its programming. The AI robot is clearly also not capable of recognizing the emotional import of its acts for the man it targets. It has no subjectivity to speak of. It cannot proxy itself for the man. Neither does it have cognizance of impact on society. So, its act also has no moral aspect. Its action is not evil. The robot is more like an insect than the tiger, in that it is arguable that there is no subjective ‘feel’ to its “experience”. The tiger has ‘subjective feel,’ but no self consciousness and limited projective capabilities.

3. The normal person is capable of projectively knowing his act harms the man and society. He is also capable of recognizing the emotional import of his act for the man. Because he is capable of self consciousness, he can proxy himself in place of the man. So, his act has a moral aspect. It is evil.

What does this say about sociopaths, that is, those persons allegedly incapable of empathetic cognizance, but who are nevertheless capable of projecting that some of their acts harm society, persons and other entities?

IF empathy is necessary for moral status, the answer seems to be this: If such people truly exist, their acts have no moral aspect. Their acts are not evil. They embody a more sophisticated projective cognizance, one greater than the tiger’s, with the cool affectless functioning of the robot.

By saying this I take no position on whether or not sociopaths truly exist. I doubt that they do. I suspect that even the most depraved person labeled with this category has some empathetic cognizance, and is thus morally responsible on those grounds. This I attribute to possession of human evolutionary heritage; self consciousness, and the projective and proxying abilities normal human beings have.

Yet, even if we accept that such people have absolutely no empathetic cognizance, we still must admit that they have projective cognizance of the social impact of their actions, and awareness of the distress it causes, even if this awareness is only awareness by description (as it were). The tiger does not have this latter ability, nor does the robot.

This indeed may be sufficient grounds for claiming sociopaths (should they truly exist) have moral responsibility.

The serial killer knows that he extinguishes lives, and that this distresses others connected to the victims, even if he cannot empathetically engage with his victims or those affected by the victims’ death.

So, even if (as I doubt) we cannot ascribe moral responsibility to them, we can nevertheless ascribe more than one sort of responsibility to humans, each dependent on one of the two humanly possible sorts of cognizance {(descriptive/projective/social) and (acquaintance/projective/social/empathetic)}, and we can therefore ascribe more than one sort of responsibility or accountability for actions.

So, for purposes of argument, let’s do that. Let’s assume the sociopath truly exists. We can still hold him responsible in one of our two senses:

If human empathetic cognizance is a necessary condition of being a moral agent, then it is a necessary condition of being held morally responsible.

If human projective/social cognizance is a necessary condition of being a practical agent, then it is a necessary condition of being held practically responsible.

So, we can be justified in holding true sociopaths, (should such persons exist) practically responsible for their actions, even if we cannot hold them morally responsible. Why? They freely and knowingly undertook the actions. That is why.

A related note:

To say that some person is not a moral agent is not equivalent to saying that they are not free in their actions.

For, if freedom consists in being able to project likely consequences of potential courses of action, and subsequently choosing from among these projected courses, then, any entity capable of projective cognizance is, in that sense, free.

Similarly; to say that someone is a sociopath does not necessitate having to admit the person is compelled by a disorder to behave only in one way. It does not entail determinism.