Wow. The human face is an amazing thing — so different and yet so the same over the course of a person’s lifetime.
In response to my post on The Four Steps of Purposefulness, Robert Campbell sent me some interesting comments via e-mail. What follows is his comment and my reply.
On Tue, 1 Oct 2002, Robert L. Campbell wrote:
In Artificial Intelligence jargon, what makes step 4 hard is called a “blame assignment” problem. When you fail at some project, is it because your overall goal was unrealistic? Or was the overall goal OK, but one or more subgoals weren’t? Should you work harder–or work smarter–or change your overall goal–or abandon it? One thing that I think you can get AI and robotics types from every school of though to agree on: there is no algorithm for resolving most blame assignment problems.
Thanks for giving me a name to put with the error!
The basic problem of blame assignment, I think, stems from the fact that we are attempting to reach valid inductions under the worst of conditions. We often can’t afford to repeat our mistakes in a quest to discern the exact cause of failure. Additionally, we are often dealing with such complex situations (particularly when multiple other people are concerned) that we cannot effectively test whether X or Y or Z is to blame because so many of the variables are changing all the time without our even knowing.
Such problems do make the blame assignment problem inherent difficult. But for a great many people (particularly those that would benefit from Branden’s book), such problems of induction are never even encountered. These people are mired in their own beliefs about the rightness of their action, so they simply keep repeating the same bad strategy over and over again. For such people, to have the “blame assignment” problem would be a big step in the right direction!
Nevertheless, I do wonder what sort of methodology would be most effective in dealing with the inherent problems of blame assignment. There may be no single overall methodology, as situations may vary so greatly in their risks and complexity as to require radically different approaches.
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This gem quoted in Nordlinger’s Impromptus was just too good to pass up:
“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you are a mile away and have their shoes.”
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As a result of yesterday’s posting, I was pointed to some further information about Ignatius Piazza’s connection to Scientology. Some of the information below comes from a “First Family Members Only” thread entitled Please Beware … ! ! ! on the Front Sight Alumni Board. The rest comes from the public archives of the API list.
Perhaps most importantly, Piazza has repeatedly and clearly stated that Front Sight itself is not and will never be involved with any religion, Scientology included. Based on my own and others’ experience, there is no reason to doubt him on this.
But Piazza himself is another story — and an important one. He does admit that he has been involved in Scientology. He says that he is “Clear,” which means that he has probably spent over $100,000 to reach the alleged state of “total erasure of the reactive mind.” (He also says that he has “attended Scientology services,” although that is trivial.) Strangely enough however, Piazza also claims to be a Catholic.
Piazza also admits that Front Sight uses “some of the business technology developed by L. Ron Hubbard.” He lists other companies who do so as well, including Allstate (which had a disastrous run-in with the management system) and EarthLink (which is under fraud investigations as a result of its deep association with Scientologists). He claims that “Hubbard Business Management is the most used system of management in the world,” but I have a sneaking suspicion that that’s a ridiculously inflated claim.
Perhaps most worrisome is Piazza’s apparent evasion of multiple polite questions as to whether he is or is not a Scientologist. And also worrisome is his apparent denial of being substantially involved in Scientology in this post:
Date: Fri, 04 Oct 2002 10:41:00 -0700
From: Ignatius Piazza <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: API: Re: My last word on this
Your question of “are you are aren’t you”
cannot be answered “absolutely no” because there are shreds
of minor fact woven into his pack of lies.
I have attended business management courses
using the business management tools of L. Ron Hubbard.
So do Fortune 500 companies.
I have had some Scientology services. So have some of the
most successful people in the world.
That’s were it ends.
Obtaining “Clear” is no small feat. It is not “some Scientology services,” but rather part and parcel of being a Scientologist. Perhaps Piazza doesn’t see it that way. Perhaps he doesn’t understand the absurd contradiction of being a “Clear Catholic.” I’m not sure.
I’m going to write him an e-mail tonight, asking him a few blunt questions about his views on and support of Scientology. I’ll explain to him why my professional integrity as a philosopher and relationship with Front Sight requires me to inquire, although I would prefer not to do so.
I do hope this situation resolves well enough. Front Sight is an amazing place for firearms training, after all.
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As some of you know, I am a supporter of Front Sight, a superb firearms training facility outside of Las Vegas. As a bit of background, Paul and I went to our first course (Four Day Defensive Handgun) this past April and were completely blown away by the experience. I attended the kickoff of the Ambassador Program in August. And Paul and I are returning to Front Sight in early November to repeat the Four Day Defensive Handgun course. Both Paul and I are also “First Family” members, which means that we paid a certain amount of money up front in order to be able to take certain set of classes for free.
Last night, I learned that Front Sight has something of a PR brouhaha on its hands. Ignatius Piazza send out an e-mail reporting that as of last June, “a former Front Sight instructor suddenly began to circulate hate-group propaganda to some of our staff and students on the Internet and by rumor, attacking both Front Sight and me personally.”
That person is former Front Sight Instructor and Range Master Dean Gamburd who has posted an article entitled “The Fourth Secret” on Arnie Lerma’s anti-Scientology web site, Lermanet. The basic accusation of the article is that Ignatius Piazza “is a hard core Scientologist using the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute as his personal Scientology recruiting ground, cash generator, and to further the ultimate goals and presence of Scientology.”
The result has been some debate and speculation on various gun forums, like in this thread on Glock Talk and this thread on the Front Sight Alumni message board.
In the e-mail, Piazza denied these allegations by saying:
I am aware that he [Dean Gamburd] is attempting to establish his own firearms training organization and has taken the irresponsible approach of spreading false rumor, misrepresentation, disparagement, slander and libel to damage the good work and outstanding reputation Front Sight has established. In other words, we reasonably believe he is lying for his own personal gain, to siphon off our students and staff, and to interfere with our ability to serve you and the Second Amendment.
Some current Front Sight Instructors and Range Masters have also offered their testimony in support of Front Sight. On Glocktalk Bill Carns wrote, “I’ve never … had Scientology brought up in any conversation I’ve ever had there.” Bill Haag wrote:
No one at Front Sight, or connected with Front Sight or with any Front Sight affiliated organization has ever approaced me with any information about Scientology.
Let me be perfectly clear for all those who would try to parse my words to find some hidden meaning where there is none. There has never been any discussion about Scientology at Front Sight or with persons associated with Front Sight. I have never been approached to learn, contribute, etc. about or to anything to do with Scientology in order to “go up the Instructor ladder.” Or at any other time.
These recent ravings about Front Sight and Scientology are groundless and I find them personally insulting.
On Front Sight Alumni, John Woo wrote:
Throughout my entire career at Front Sight, there has NEVER been any mention, attempt to recruit, or even a slight indication that Scientology was an influence. Indeed, in all the conversations and interactions I have ever had with Front Sight staff have been regarding firearms training, or some common social issue.
Truthfully, the first time I have ever heard of Front Sight and Scientology even being used in the same sentence was on the Internet boards.
I cannot say whether or not Naish is Scientologist. However, I can say, with 100% certainty, that Front Sight is NOT a “recuiting ground for Scientology”, nor a cult, nor a subtle medium for manipulating people into Scientology’s belief system.
Front Sight offers firearms training. Period.
(John Woo was our superb Range Master in our April Four Day Handgun course. I have no doubt that he is telling the absolute truth.)
The Lack of Evidence
This whole episode is rather disturbing to me, particularly as a philosopher who cares about little things like logic and evidence.
Far too many people commenting in the thread on Glocktalk seem quite eager and willing to believe Dean Gamburd’s accusations without any sort of solid evidence. One person called the information “interesting and highly disturbing.” Another simply commented “scary.” Yet another said “When I first heard he charged such and such for his different levels of membership, I had a feeling that the guy was not legit.” Oh good, thanks for the “feeling”…
Others are posting false rumors of their own. One said, “The way I hear it is that all of the main range masters must attend some scientolgy classes in order to keep their jobs.” Another wrote, “Lets just say that in order to go up the instructors ladder they have some suited people give you readings,alone,you are not to let anyone know where you are for a week period of time, like just happen to one of their up and coming instructor. plus one instructor keeps scientology books and material out for others (wogs) to study on.” No evidence whatsoever for these claims was given.
The worst aspect of such comments is that they are almost entirely from people who have not actually ever attended Front Sight courses. Yet they seem determined to think ill of Front Sight; these accusations are just the latest excuse. (I’ve seen this pattern with respect to other issues as well, where the harshest critics of Front Sight are those with no direct knowledge of the issue or even experience taking the courses at Front Sight.)
Those who have been to Front Sight were uniformly more reasonable in their assessments of the accusations. I was delighted to see that they restricted their claims to subjects of which they were actually knowledgeable.
I have taken two classes at Front Sight in the past year. I was expecting the “sales pitch” to be rather hard. It was not. Basically, Piazza tells you how Front Sight started and his plans for it in the future. He then reviews the membership plans and that’s it. There is no hard sell there folks.
There were no Scientology pitches at all during both classes nor have I heard anything about Scientology and Front Sight except on forums like these.
The training is first rate.
Regarding instructors and Scientology, that is only up to speculation as far as I’m concerned.
I am not an instructor at Front Sight but have taken several classes there in Handgun and Shotgun. I can recommend it without reservation. The training and instruction is top notch.
My business dealing with Dr. Piazza and Front Sight have been above board and Front Sight has delivered what they have promised and more. I have never seen any evidence of Scientology or been solicited along those lines.
I do not know the “truth” here but I can tell you about my experiences at a customer at Front Sight.
I’m not affiliated with Frontsight in any way but I have been there a couple of times, most recently the weekend of 27-30 Sept. I totally agree with the statements made by Bill Haag. There was absolutley no mention of any religion, cult etc. The training is awesome, the instructors are great. The briefings on Frontsight givien by Piazza are given at lunch break and are purely optional. No one is forced to listen and they are very low key. The place is great and I have no reservations in going back.
For the record, let me add that I have never heard any talk of Scientology at any Front Sight event — ever.
So given this range of uninformed and informed opinion, let’s take a look at the strength of the actual accusations in Dean Gamburd’s article “The Fourth Secret.”
1. Gamburd claims that Piazza is a Scientologist. He references a document (“Scientology’s Auditor publication #296 dated October 2001″ published “published by ‘ASHO’ in Los Angeles California”) in which Piazza is claimed to have reached “clear.”) The problem is that we do not have any access to or even verification of the existence of this document. There is no online version, either as text or as a scanned image. In fact, it’s unclear to what document or publication Gamburd is actually referring, as there is no proper publication title or publisher.
2. Gamburd claims that Piazza is “very short on Scientology conversions.” Thus Gamburd claims that Piazza was “about to launch a full assault to help him move up the Scientology ladder, through the Front Sight First Family Ambassador Program and other soon to be announced programs.” The problem is that the testimony of multiple Students, Instructors, and Range Masters offers no indication whatsoever of any recruitment efforts or even discussions of Scientology by Piazza or anyone else at Front Sight. I attended the big initial meeting of the Ambassador Program in Las Vegas. There was no mention of Scientology or presentations of any concepts of Scientology whatsoever. (I am familiar with and detest Scientology, so I would have noticed!)
3. Gamburd claims that Piazza spoke to him directly about being a Scientologist, send him and his wife some books, and offered to send them to Scientology classes for free. There is no independent confirmation of these facts. Given Gamburd’s other groundless claims, we have good reason not to take him at his word. Independent verification would be needed, but none is offered.
4. The rest of Gamburd’s article consists of innuendos about Piazza’s handling of the finances of Front Sight, the curriculum at Front Sight, and more ludicrous claims about the Ambassador Program. (BTW, The management guru brought in for the Ambassador Program was Chet Holmes. He has no discernable association with Scientology whatsoever.)
Dean Gamburd clearly has an ax to grind against Front Sight. He has no evidence to back up his claims. They should be dismissed as ludicrous.
One Nagging Question
That being said, I did have one nagging question about Piazza’s e-mail. So I wrote to Ignatius Piazza about it directly. Here’s the entire letter:
After receiving the “Front Sight Legal Bulletin” I found and read Dean
Gamburd’s essay, as well as the commentary on GlockTalk and elsewhere.
Gamburd’s accusations have no evidence whatsoever to back them up, so I’m
pleased to ignore them, as the vast majority of Front Sight students seem
to be doing as well. As usual, the most eager and willing to believe the
accusations on the discussion boards are those who have never attended a
course. I think such people have an envy problem, at the very least.
In any case, it pains me for Front Sight to have to be dealing with such
One thing did catch my attention in your note though:
> We took the time to investigate him and continue our investigation. We
> have found that he has hooked up with a hate group and is associating
> with people of known criminal background and questionable ethics.
I’ve kept my eye on the dangerous and criminal organization of Scientology
over the past few years. When publicly criticized, one common strategy of
the Church of Scientology has been to brand the critics as “religious
intolerants” and “criminals” “involved in hate groups” on web sites like
www.religiousfreedomwatch.com. (I can provide particular examples if you
wish.) I’m sure that they would brand me as such if I ever investigated
or published on Scientology, although nothing could be further from the
In case you are unfamiliar with the tactics of Scientology, I wanted to
alert you to the extreme unreliability of any information they might
provide about their critics. I am worried simply because your language
seemed a bit too close to theirs. I hope that it was merely a
Let me know if I can be of any assistance. Best wishes in all of this
Naish only responded with “Thanks Diana.” As I have expressed my concern about the wording and my views on Scientology, this matter is closed for me unless some actual evidence turns up. I don’t entertain arbitrary hypotheses.
However: Don’t make the mistake of confusing dismissive my attitude towards baseless speculations with not actually caring about whether organizations and people I support are involved with Scientology. Given my views of Scientology, I would abhor being unknowingly associated with the Church of Scientology or any Scientologist. (After reading Monica Pignotti’s My Nine Lives in Scientology, I could never be “whatever” about Scientology.) It is precisely the gravity of such situations that requires a careful and rational approach to judgment, not leaping to conclusions as so many have been all-too-willing to do.
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I’m pretty pleased with how my paper on Cartesian substance dualism paper turned out. But don’t take my word for it, go see for yourself. (I’ve also posted my paper on Aristotle’s view on substance in the Categories.)
In retrospect, I’m actually quite glad that my professor refused my proposed paper topic. I enjoyed delving deep into Descartes’ reasoning in the Meditations, particularly since I’ve never looked in detail at his arguments in that work before. Also, it proved to be a valuable lesson in bad philosophical method — despite Descartes’ great attempts to be careful and rigorous.
In the paper, I decided not to discuss Descartes’ errors in adopting a “diaphanous model of the mind” because in reading David Kelley’s comments on Descartes in Evidence of the Senses, I realized that a more fundamental and interesting point could be made. Kelley points out that Descartes’ Evil Demon Hypothesis in the First Meditation requires the mind to be something capable of existence independent of any physical world or external reality. As a result, Descartes has committed himself to substance dualism long before he officially broaches the subject in the Sixth Meditation. Interestingly enough, in my research on the Meditations I found no other commentator on Descartes who noted this presumption hidden in the Evil Demon Hypothesis; Descartes’ skeptical worries in the First Meditation were seen as unproblematic. That David Kelley guy is one smart cookie!
I’m not entirely sure, but Bob Campbell seems to have made similar point about Descartes’ presumptions in the comments:
Descartes not only believes that mind is diaphanous and identity-less, he also assumes that it is able to know about itself without knowing anything about the external world. Isn’t this “prior certainty of consciousness” assumption anti-biological per se?
If I understand what Bob means, yes. Descartes can’t possibly have a view of the mind as dependent upon the physical, biological organism if the mind must be capable of existence independent of the physical world. Thus, as I note in the paper, it makes sense that Descartes never considers the option that the mind might be an action or attribute of the brain or organism as a whole. Such an option would have been incompatible with his capacity to doubt body but not mind.
In writing this paper and listening to Binswanger’s tapes The Metaphysics of Consciousness, I feel like I’m finally starting to get a handle on what a philosophy of mind ought to look like. It’s about time!
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Let me offer my apologies to everyone I have been ignoring lately. My excuse is that I have been totally mired in my paper on Cartesian substance dualism these past few days.
Delightfully, I have no classes tomorrow, thanks to fall break. So at least I’ll have time to catch up with some household chores and philosophical work in these next few days. So I should be blogging frequently, hopefully on both philosophy of mind and philosophical method. In fact, in a few moments I’ll be posting some notes on that paper that sucked up so much of my time in the past week.
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I’m having trouble structuring my paper on Cartesian substance dualism. So perhaps a bit of blogging will get me going.
The paper topic is:
Are minds and bodies essentially different substances that nevertheless causally interact? First, briefly spell out and explicate the basic steps of Ren´ Descartes’s argument in the second Meditation for the thesis that he is essentially a thinking thing. Second, briefly spell out and explicate the basic steps of Descartes’s arguments in the sixth Meditation for the “real distinction between the mind and the body” and for causal interactionism (you can also use the excerpts from the Passions of the Soul). Third, answer the following question and give detailed reasons for your answer: Is Cartesian substance dualism true?
So there are essentially four issues to examine in this paper:
So here’s my basic game plan:
Gilbert Ryle’s essay “Descartes Myth” shows the absurdity of substance dualism by painting a clear picture of it as “the dogma of the Ghost in the Machine.” Ryle’s substantial philosophical arguments in this essay are thin, however, in that they largely consist of the suggestion that to speak of mind and body as a substance dualist does is to commit a category error. (Ryle’s substantial arguments for the category mistake later in The Concept of Mind rest upon a behaviorist conception mind and body that need not be accepted in order to reject Cartesian substance dualism.)
However, by looking more closely at Descartes’ own philosophical premises and methodology, we see that many of the absurdities of substance dualism are the result of two basic problems with Descartes’ arguments about body and mind:
(1) Descartes repeatedly argues from epistemological premises about what can and cannot be doubted to metaphysical conclusions about what is possible or necessary. Descartes uses these methods to show that he is essentially mind, essentially a thinking thing. As such, he does not even consider the possibility that the mind might be an action or property of the body, such that having a mind would necessarily imply having a body as well. We need not accept the hidden premise of this methodology that we are infallible about what can and cannot be rationally doubted. If we are mistaken about the basic nature of something (as Descartes may be with respect to mind), then we may sometimes be mistaken about the doubtfulness of the existence of those things. With such fallibility established, we cannot accept Descartes’ inferences from epistemology to metaphysics.
(2) Descartes understands consciousness as essentially diaphanous, without identity. This diaphanous model of the mind is clear in Descartes’ definition of mind in terms of what body is not, not in terms of what mind is. As a result, mind and body seem far more ontologically distant than they actually are. Additionally, coherently explaining the causal interactions between a body and a diaphanous mind is nearly impossible. A diaphanous mind could not have effects in the physical world, nor could the physical world have effects on a diaphanous mind.
These two basic errors in Descartes reasoning about mind and body substantially contribute to his strange and unscientific account of the relationship between mind and body.
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Thinking for a moment about the censorship of the ARI by the Canadian government, I’m not sure which aspect of the situation angers me more:
Both are revolting, but the second is worse, I think. Anyone with half a brain knows that Canada doesn’t have much respect left for individual rights.
(According to the article, “Goods that constitute hate propaganda under the Criminal Code are those which advocate or promote genocide or promote hatred against an identifiable group distinguished by colour, race, religion or ethnic origin.”)
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One frequently-heard critique of Ayn Rand’s politics, even occasionally among alleged Objectivists, is that Rand too-narrowly construed the concept “censorship.” Such people argue that the concept should apply to any action of preventing someone from speaking his/her mind to a particular audience.
In her essay “Man’s Rights” in The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand herself summarized and argued against this view:
Potentially, a government is the most dangerous threat to man’s rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims. When unlimited and unrestricted by individual rights, a government is man’s deadliest enemy. It is not as protection against private actions, but against governmental actions that the Bill of Rights was written.
Now observe the process by which that protection is being destroyed.
The process consists of ascribing to private citizens the specific violations constitutionally forbidden to the government (which private citizens have no power to commit) and thus freeing the government from all restrictions. The switch is becoming progressively more obvious in the field of free speech. For years, the collectivists have been propagating the notion that a private individual’s refusal to finance an opponent is a violation of the opponent’s right of free speech and an act of “censorship.”
It is “censorship,” they claim, if a newspaper refuses to employ or publish writers whose ideas are diametrically opposed to its policy.
It is “censorship,” they claim, if businessmen refuse to advertise in a magazine that denounces, insults and smears them.
It is “censorship,” they claim, if a TV sponsor objects to some outrage perpetrated on a program he is financing–such as the incident of Alger Hiss being invited to denounce former Vice-President Nixon.
And then there is Newton N. Minow who declares: “There is censorship by ratings, by advertisers, by networks, by affiliates which reject programming offered to their areas.” It is the same Mr. Minow who threatens to revoke the license of any station that does not comply with his views on programming–and who claims that that is not censorship. Consider the implications of such a trend.
“Censorship” is a term pertaining only to governmental nation. No private action is censorship. No private individual or agency can silence a man or suppress a publication; only the government can do so. The freedom of speech of private individuals includes the right not to agree, not to listen and not to finance one’s own antagonists.
Later, in the essay “The Cashing-In: The Student ‘Rebellion’” in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Rand correctly identified the attempt to broaden the concept of censorship to the actions of private actions as a package-deal. Speaking of “the obliteration of the difference between private action and government action,” she wrote:
This has always been attempted by means of a “package-deal” ascribing to private citizens the specific violations constitutionally forbidden to the government, and thus destroying individual rights while freeing the government from any restrictions. The most frequent example of this technique consists of accusing private citizens of practicing “censorship” (a concept applicable only to the government) and thus negating their right to disagree.
Sadly, Rand has been vindicated in a distressingly personal way to the Objectivist movement, as Arthur Silber blogs and the National Post reports. The Canadian government has confiscated Ayn Rand Institute pamphlets defending Israel’s moral right to exist on the grounds that they may be “hate speech.” The pamphlets were on the way to the University of Toronto, as Yaron Brook will be speaking on the subject of Israel on Sunday. (I attended this talk in Denver. It was excellent. I only hope that this publicity will bring an overflow crowd to the event.)
No person is forced to read this pamphlet or hear Yaron Brooks’ speech. Contrary to the claims of some, that’s not censorship. No news media is required to report on the event. That’s not censorship either. No private organization is required to host the event. No printing company is required to print the pamphlet. No private shipping agency is required to ship the pamphlets. No airline is required to transport Yaron Brook to Toronto. Such things are not censorship. Such actions, if they occurred, might prevent Yaron Brook from gaining as wide of an audience as easily as he would like. But they would not prevent him from expressing his opinions. Only the government can accomplish that vile task, such as by confiscating pamphlets at the border!
To equate private acts of refusal of association or refusal of attention with the forcible suppression of speech and thought by the government is to equate the normal actions of everyday life with the most insufferable violation of the human mind possible. It is a monstrosity, a monstrosity that gives the government censors a slippery slope of moral justification for their actions.