Gaim

I just start using a very cool open source install messager called Gaim. This instant messager can connect to both ICQ and MSN, both accounts are unified in a single window. I can send messages to my friends in both network exactly the same way. I no longer have to open two messager and take up large chuck of my screen. I would like it to have a few more extra features to be more user friendly. The contact list is not compact enough, each row of contact is a little bit too wide. I can’t arrange the contact list freely and it doesn’t show offline users. Other than these kind of minor visual problems, Gaim is a very convinient and very usable piece of software

You can download Gaim at here.

哲學功課: Problem of Induction

David Hume has introduced one of the problems in epistemology that baffled many philosophers for ages. In his argument about the problem of induction, he made the claim that inductive inference cannot be rationally justify. Many philosophers had proposed solutions to this problem, such as Hume’s own psychological solution and Kant’s synthetic a priori knowledge solution. However none of them can solve the problem of induction with a satisfaction. This problem is finally resolved by 20th century philosopher Karl Popper by introducing a paradigm shift in the definition of knowledge. This article will first outline Hume’s claim about the problem of induction and the implication of this problem, then it will present Popper’s solution to this problem.

The problem of induction arrived from Hume’s position as an empirical philosopher. Hume believes the source of human knowledge is experience from outside world instead of from reason within our mind. He uses Hume’s fork to divide all human knowledge into two groups, either “relations of ideas” or “matter of facts”. The “relations of ideas” is a prior proposition that can be verified with reason alone. For example, “a circle has no angle” and “pork is pig meat”. The “matter of facts” is a posterior proposition that can only be verified by experience and observations. For example, “the sun always rises from the east” and “it has 400cm of snow in Whistler”. The cause and effect of “matter of facts” are the only concerning matter in human knowledge. Every piece of information in the “matter of facts” has a cause. We know it is going to rain from the dark clouds in the sky. We know that we can take sky train and bus from downtown Vancouver to SFU from the transmit map. Therefore human does not have intelligent without understand the causality between difference pieces of knowledge.

Hume points out the causal connection between two events are discovered by experience but not by reason. Thought induction, we can establish the connection between two events. Induction is generalization work by inferring a claim about an entire population of objects from data about a sample of those objects. We have observed many people die from eating cyanide, so that we can conclude cyanide kills people. However Hume claims that we didn’t actually observe the casual connection between the two events. We only observe a sequence of two events happens one after another all the time and come to the conclusion that there is a causal relationship between them. If we in fact we cannot assert the one event will always leads to another, how can claim we have know anything at all. For example, for many years all birds observed by men have wings. We took it for granted that birds must have wings, until we discover the wingless kiwi bird in New Zealand. Therefore no matter how many winged birds we have observed, we cannot guarantee all birds have wings. The same principle can apply to any other knowledge we have. How can we prove that we will have a full moon next month? We merely expect future events will follow the past experience. We are just assuming the external world is uniform and consistence over time so that all natural phenomena are expected to repeat themselves. This is circular reasoning that we beg the question by assuming the answer we are looking for. Since all our knowledge is based on this assumption that we cannot rationally justify, Hume has shown that we in fact don’t know anything.

Karl Popper is probably the most notable philosopher in the 20th century. His philosophy works changed how the field of epistemology perceives knowledge. For the past two hundred years, the laws of physics discovered by Newton have shaped how philosophers viewed science and knowledge. Science facts are the most reliable form of knowledge in human society. Once a scientific fact is discovered and verified by rigorous experiments, it is thought that the science theory or law will not change. Many great philosophers in the modern age believe that the scope of human knowledge will expand over the time as we discover more scientific facts and add to the existing pool of knowledge. However at the turn of the 20th century, the discovery of a genius scientist Albert Einstein has shaken the foundation of the Newtonian world of physics. His famously relativity theory is compatibility with Newton’s theory. Einstein’s theory is confirmed by the eclipse observations to show that light from distant stars can be bended by the sun’s gravitational field. The consequence of this discovery to philosophy makes us reconsider our understanding of knowledge. We can no longer guarantee the certainty of what we know as any piece of knowledge can call in to question and later shown that it is wrong after all.

Popper’s philosophy shines new lights on the view of science by replacing the traditional static view of science with a more dynamic approach. First he begins with identifying the difference between science and pseudo-science, and defines the properties of a proper scientific theory. Human develop theories to explain the cause and effect between difference events from our experience and attempted to predict the expected result of similar events. Popper thinks that what makes a theory science is not whether the theory is verified to be true nor it is good. A scientific theory has to be falsifiable, namely stated the hypothetical condition that this theory is no longer valid. For example, creationism is not a scientific theory because there is no observation or test could falsify the claim that God created the world in literally 7 days, provided that God can fake any evidences showing the Earth is several million years old . On the other hand, the theory of evolution is science because we can prove it wrong if one day God or some aliens shows up and tell us they had indeed created the Earth. However, Popper didn’t go as extreme as Hume claiming all metaphysics or pseudo science theories meaningless.

Popper has changed the concept of knowledge in philosophy by realizing that there is no certainty in science. Instead he said “science is perhaps the only human activity in which errors are systemically criticized and in time corrected”. Science not only adds new knowledge to the domain, it also replaces existing theories with better ones. It is impossible to prove a scientific theory is ultimately true, we can only claimed that the theory has a tentative status quo, until new there are challenges. When new challenges arise, the old theory either have to be revised to cope with the new findings or limited its scope of assertion to remain useful. The progress of science comes from trial and errors, the continuous regression of hypothesis and observation. Every theory in science not secure, they are open for revision or rejection. All scientific knowledge could probably be false, yet it aspires eventually to the truth. Newton’s theory classical physics is still valid over in the everyday life. Its prediction breaks down when comes to the world of very large scale where Einstein’s relativity theory supplement and correct Newton’s theory. Then along come the quantum theory that is incompatible with both Newton’s and Einstein’s theory on very small scale. The three contradicting theories cannot all be right at the same time. In fact, it is very likely that all of them are wrong. However each theory is served as a stepping stone for a more accurate theory to describe our external world. Although Hume showed that it is not possible to infer a theory from induction of observations, but this does not affect the possibility or falsifying a theory from new observations. Therefore, Popper has solved by problem of induction by changing our concept of knowledge to a more practical and realistic view. Instead of knowing more about knowledge with absolute certainty, we are getting closer to the true nature of knowledge by reducing the degree of uncertainty.

哲學功課: Cogito, ergo sum

The Cogito is the short form of “Cogito, ergo sum” in Latin, which means “I think, therefore I am” in English. The Cogito is the most famous quote from French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650). Contrary to popular beliefs, the phrase “Cogito, ergo sum” is not used in his most important work, Meditations on First Philosophy (1641). This phrase is found in his earlier work, Discourse on Method (1637). However, Descartes offers the clearest explanation of the Cogito in the Meditations on First Philosophy. According to Descartes, the Cogito, awareness of one’s own existence, is the first secure step in the path to knowledge. The idea of the Cogito is Descartes’ solution to the problem of epistemology. He wants to show that we have foundations of knowledge by using the method of doubt. He keeps rejecting all the beliefs that are not absolutely certain, until he arrives at the one certain and unshakeable idea, which is the Cogito.

Descartes starts his inquiry about the true nature of knowledge by systematically questioning all his prior beliefs. First, he concludes that knowledge deriving from senses is not reliable. Human senses are prone to error from direct and immediate observations. A different answer often surfaces when the object in question is examined in further details. Second, he argues that we are not able to distinguish the real world from dreams. Descartes does not satisfy even if he has a clear understanding of the world through senses. He questions the existence of the world that he senses. Therefore, we cannot rely on any knowledge based on the observation of the external world. After all his briefs are filtered by these two powerful doubts, only abstract knowledge, namely mathematics, exists in his mind that remains trustworthy. At this point, Descartes takes another step and introduces an additional twist to his arguments. He claims that an evil demon may exist that aims to deceive him continuously. As a result, he cannot even rely on the truths coming from reasons, as well from experience. In this thought experiment, Descartes successfully falsify almost all his perceptions, except the Cogito.

Descartes asserts that although he no longer knows what is absolutely true, he cannot falsify what he seems to perceive. He knows that he is a “thinking thing” through the fact that he is thinking, doubting, understanding, affirming, denying, willing, refusing, perceiving senses and having mental images. This fact is the light at the end of the tunnel in his quest of knowledge. He cannot deny his own existence even with the three stages of doubts: senses, dreams and evil demon. He argues that he knows with absolute certitude that he has conscious experiences and thus he exists. Descartes used the phrase “I am, I exist” to conclude the proposition of his thought experiment. Ironically, even though this phase is more precise, it is not as remarkable as the phrase “I think, therefore I am” used in his earlier work. Thus his train of thoughts is often known to later generations in the form of “Cogito ergo sum”, which gives the Cogito its name.

It is important to point out that the Cogito can only be understood from the first-person perspective. We cannot consider the preposition of “Descartes is thinking, there he exists” is valid. Each of us should follow Descartes’ foot steps individually and formulate the arguments outlined in the Meditations I and II to convince ourselves that we really know that we exist. Once the proposition of “I exist” is understood, it can be served as the foundation for the rest of our knowledge.

Mandarin class

I am having my first Mandarin class today at Langara. It is a Mandarin class special tailored for Cantonese speakers. Normal Mandarin classes start with learning the characters and grammer, which is too easy for me. I have learnt Mandarin many years ago back in HK. My listening is pretty good, if it is spoken slowly. However, talking is quite a challenage to me, I always use the Cantonese words pretending to be Mandarin. We started with pin-yin like every other Madarin first class. I think pin-yin is only good to help you prounce the word the first time. To be good at Mandarin, it is important to link the sound directly to the characters or even the meaning of the words. Almost everyone in the class are men. I guess woman has more talent in language, so they don’t need to learn Mandarin in a classroom. They can just pick up the language easily from daily usage. Hopefully, I would able to carry out basic conversation after finishing the level 1 and level 2 classes. I don’t need to speak perfect Mandarin Bejing accent. Actually as long as others can understand my Mandarin, I am proud to have a Cantonese accent. I always found the Bejing Mandarin sounds quite ugly, the Taiwan Mandarin sounds more beautiful. Luckily, my teacher was born in China but lived in Taiwan for many years. Her Mandarin is easy to listen and easy to learn.

Driving

I can’t believe in the past 5 days, I didn’t driving at all. Last week, I attend the P.Eng seminar in downtown and it is more convinient took Skytrain. Over the weekend, I stay home studying most of the time. When went out with Pat, somehow she did all the driving because we have to bring Charlie along. On Monday and Tuesday, I went to the IWCMC conference in downtown again, so no need to drive. Today I tried to take taking Skytrain to go to class in SFU. It would take an hour from my home to school. If I havn’t missed the bus at the skytrain station, I will be there 10 minutes sooner. From this experiment, I figured that I could probably survive without a car in Vancouver. The only problem is that Skytrain is much slower than driving. It takes me almost doubt or tripple of time to go to work. It is unfeasible to waste an extra hour on the road everyday. I guess taking Skytrain once a while on special occation is accepable though. The city always try to convince people take more public transsit instead of driving. However, the public transport system in Vancouver is really inefficient. You can bear with it, but not a pleasent choice.

Conference 2nd day

Today I slept in and missed the moring session. It the same old boring stuff anyways. When I arrived Shareton, the hotel pub is showing Worldcup, German vs Italy. There was a big crowd of conference attendee watching the game. So I joined the group and watched German lost to Italy 2 minutes before the end of the the game in extra time. I end up only listen to 4-5 papers in the afternoon session. There was a banquet tonight in the conference. The quality of the food is about the same as yesterday. I don’t know it is the problem of Shareton, or the organizers are too cheap to order better food for us. I found that in the reception and banquet, the professors mostly talk to other professors, while the students hang out with each other. It suppose to be a networking event, but I don’t see any value in it. I would probably forget those people the moment I walk out the door. In the banquet, I was sitting next to a Swiss guy teaching in a Taiwan university. His Manadrin is really good. It is fun to hear something about the Taiwan culture from the eyes of a Gwai Lo.

IWCMC Conference

I have attended my first, and probably last, academic conference today. It is quite an interesting experience. The conference is hosted by Sheraton hotel downtown, so I have to wake up early again. The registration is straight forward, except they somehow mixed up my last name and first name. There was breakfast, but not as good as those at the Hyatt. The keynote speaker is from Bell Canada, he talked about trends in wireless communication for the next 5-6 years. Kinda the same thing PMC talked about in staff update. Then the rest of the day is presentation of papers in 5 different rooms. I went to my session, multimedia over wireless, for the whole day. The conference is not as crowd as I expected, my session only has about 20 people. To my disappointment, the conference doesn’t come with lunch. So I walked to Yale Town to have lunch. I wished I had bought a lighter laptop. It is the first time I carry my laptop walking. I have some shoulder pain afterward.I presented my paper in the afternoon. It went pretty smoothly. Toastmaster really helps. In the evening, the conference hosted a outdoor reception by the fountain. The food is so and so, but at least I can fill myself up. I am really disappointed drinks are not included. I have talked to a few people from Europe or the States in the reception. The default topics of conversation between any Italian, German and French is the world cup. I will attend the conference tomorrow, try to sit in other sessions. I think going to an academic conference once is enough, just have a taste of it. It is actually really boring. Try to imagine you are locked up in a room and have to listen to 10 or so technical papers full of equations the whole day. To make it worse, you have to stay awake all the time, since there ain’t many people in the room to cover you up.

Time

What is time? Today my metaphysics class talk about the duality between time and space. Some philosophers think time and space are inter changable. Both of the measure the relative distance between two points, either in space or in time. The class talked about the problem of time travel as well. The hardest problem is the causation loop, where one event is the cause of itself. I don’t agree that nature of time and time travel is metaphysics, it should be in the realm of science. When preparing for this week’s class, I digged out and read my copy of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Most philosophers without a science backround assume space and time are two different but similiar things. According to Hawking, there exists only one thing call space-time. Space cannot exist indepedent of time, so it is pointless to talk about space alone. I ask this question to the profressor after class, and it seems he dismiss Hawking’s point of view has any philosophical value. What a old fashion philosophy guy! I can see how science will change the field of metaphysics. Many metaphysics assumings philosphers take it for granted for centuaries are being challenaged by quatum physics. Quatum physics shine lights on those old questions and maybe it will lead to a more convincing solution oneday.

Dog in mass

Today Charlie went to mass for the first time. St. Mass is having a summer picnic this afternoon. There is an outdoor mass before lunch in the picnic area. Pat and me bring Charlie along to let him enjoy some sunshine and fresh air. Charlie is under the spot light most of time because I sticked a name tag on his forehead, so everyone knows his name. During the mass, Charlie is behaves well, he just sit quietly next to us. I bring him along to have the Eucharist, too bad the father didn’t give him a blessing. I don’t see any reason why dogs can not be baptized and recieve holy communion. Adapting the same arguments from the animal rights activitist, I think I can start a new new branch of animal theology. Jesus loves dogs, he even sacrifice his body and blood to be the saviour of dogs. Dog treats can be transformed into Jesus. Nowadays there are resturants, chauffeur, body shops for pets, why can’t we have churchs for pets? I can start a church that welcome pets, have blessed dogs treats for dog Eucharist. I think that will be a big business. I even come up with some slogans such as, “All dogs goes to heaven!”, “Believe in Jesus and your pets will be saved!”.