November 29, 2006

Meme Experiment

Apparently, via Crooked Timber, Scott Eric Kaufman is testing how blogospheric memes propagate by asking people to link this post and, presumably, the blog where we saw the meme. And to ping Technorati, something I've never done before. So, here goes.

I'm not expecting to propagate the meme much, given how infrequently I update -- earlier I was actually composing a post on some cool stuff from YouTube, and YouTube crashed the browser -- but in the name of Science, I will do it.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:36 PM | Comments (1)

November 07, 2006

Factivity/Imprecise Use of Language Watch

[Oh, and it's election day. Vote.]

A non-factive use of 'known' as an adjective:

A Marine pleaded guilty Monday to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice before testifying that his squad executed a known insurgent who turned out to be a civilian.

The circumstances are described more fully later in the article:

Jackson said that to his knowledge the man was a known insurgent. He learned later that it was Awad, he said. He said another serviceman told him that if anyone asked about the incident, he should "stick to the story," Jackson testified.

The use of 'known' for something that turns out to be false could be a case of protagonist projection (see also). The 'known' is in Jackson's reported testimony, but so is 'turned out to be a civilian', so we can't explain the use of 'known' simply by saying that Jackson said it was known.

I'm inclined to think that this is just sloppy wording though. We already have another instance of sloppy wording; the term for shooting a prisoner by the side of the road is not 'execution' but 'murder' or 'war crime'. Lessons about the advisability and morality of setting off civil wars and asking our troops to fight in them with no clear mission are left to the reader.

(via TPMMuckracker)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:46 AM | Comments (3)

November 05, 2006

Things Discovered Accidentally

I find the results of this search weirdly fascinating.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:50 PM | Comments (7)

November 03, 2006


In re the last entry, what's the opposite of "more likely than not"? "Less likely than not" shellacks "more unlikely than not," but it's still pretty rare compared to "more likely than not." And some of the occurrences are artifacts like "more likely than not-for-profit organizations...."

Maybe it's just that people don't like double negatives. The glass isn't half-nonempty.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:30 PM | Comments (10)

Failure of Closure...

...of something or other. Chris Bowers projects that a Democrat will win the Senate race in Montana, and that a Democrat will win the Senate race in Missouri, and that a Democrat will win the Senate race in Virginia, but not that Democrats will win the Senate races in Missouri, Montana, and Virginia. Which (given his background assumptions) seems entirely sensible. If he had the Democrats at odds of, say, .8, .7, and .6 in each race, then there would only be a .336 chance that they would win all three. It's routine that the property of having a probability greater than p isn't deductively closed.

The interesting question is what Bowers's attitude toward the propositions is. Has he asserted them? I'm inclined to say that this sort of projection is a weak form of assertion, in which case willingness to assert doesn't seem to be closed under known entailment. Does he believe them? Well, if you say "What does Chris Bowers think will happen in the Missouri Senate race?" the answer would be "The Democrat will win," so there's at least a little evidence for saying he believes them. In which case belief isn't closed under known entailment. But there's also a lot of use for a more robust notion of belief on which Bowers wouldn't count as believing any of these propositions, but only that they're more likely than not. Interestingly, on Mark Kaplan's conception of belief Bowers might count on believing them all and their conjunction to boot; each proposition is part of the story he tells, as is their conjunction, even if he believes that the conjunction is less likely than not.

[In other news, I disagree with Bowers about TX-22 as a toss-up. I just voted, and it would be extraordinarily patience-taxing to write in "Shelley Sekula-Gibbs" on one of those machines. Don't see it happening. Also, TPM reader ZL sings a familiar tune.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:26 PM | Comments (13)

November 01, 2006

Movies about Magicians that Raise Philosophical Issues that Can't Be Discussed without Spoilers: An Occasional Series

Just saw The Prestige, which I recommend highly (though if you don't like Christopher Nolan's dark twisty movies you won't like this). The movie raises some philosophical questions, which I can't explain without utterly spoiling it, and I think you should see it without having it spoiled. So I'll mention that in comments, which I expect to be a spoiler-full zone.

Jim Henley has a spoilery account of an alternate way that the movie could have gone, which (as I explain in his comments and maybe in mine) I think would've been better in one way but in another way worse.

Anyway, SPOILER in comments. I may post more thoughts about the movie in comments eventually.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:55 PM | Comments (9)