Sunday, June 8, 2014

Roman Dodecahedron I suspect is a Ball Guage

Roman Dodecahedron
Is it a Spherical Ball Gauge?
I just learned about these interesting historical artifacts known as a Roman Dodecahedron yesterday (June, 7th 2014) and started to research them. Seems no one can agree on what they must have been used for.  Here's my guess.

It's a ball gauge!

That is, it's a gauge for checking the spherical curvature of balls.  Used most likely, for carving round balls from stone, such as the roman stone ballista balls. I did not see any other suggestions for this possible answer.

The holes of different sizes with the knobs of the same size, will allow each face of the 12 sided device to match a different sized ball.  It would allow the stone carver to check the ball to find the high spots that still need to be carved down further. If anyone has ever tried to carve a sphere, without the help of a tool like a lathe, you would know how hard it is to get an accurate round ball created.  A tool like this, would allow the stone carver to start on one spot of the rock, and establish the curvature of that spot, without first having to rough out the entire sphere. Once the curvature was started, they could continue working around the rock to form the entire ball.

The 12 sided shape is also very easy to make highly accurately, using only a compass and a straight edge. One side could be laid out and cut with a compass, and then 11 matching pieces could be made. The accuracy of the pentagrams are easily checked by rotating, and flipping the pieces to make sure they all align perfectly with each other no matter which they they turned. Each one, only needed a different sized hole in the middle. The actual size of the hole was not critical, as long as it was round, and well centered, which would be easy to lay out and cut with just a compass. 
Once the sides are all assembled, the dodecahedron is easily constructed and guaranteed accurate by geometry. No extra alignment tools are needed.

The balls can be brazed onto each corner, and checked for accuracy of length, against a flat surface.  Each side of the gauge must have all 5 corners aligned in a flat plane.  By checking and adjusting until all 12 sides are flat, it can be assured that all 20 corners are aligned into a perfect dodecahedron.

The resulting gauge will make 12 different sized but highly accurate round balls.

Though this technique would be very difficult if the goal was to make a highly accurate diameter sphere, say to fit inside a cannon bore.  It would be ideal however, if the exact diameter was not important, but the roundness of the sphere was important.  And that, as I understand it, is just what the roman's did need for the sling-shot like balsitis that would no doubt have maximum effect, and accuracy, if the balls were highly round, but where the precise diameter was not critical.

At the same time, there are other variations of this device, that have no holes in the structure at all, like this one:

This second form, seems to be for the same purpose -- to check the curvature of a sphere.  But instead of using a hole of a different size in each face, this device used nobs of different sizes on each corner to control the curvature of the sphere it was gauging.

Note also how the sides are decorated with round circles which is consistent with the concept that the device is associated with round objects.

Also note, how the sides curve inward, even though that's not needed.  But by making the sides curve inward, it reduces how far out the knobs need to stick, to create a given sized curvature.  All features seem logically consistent with using this device to check the curvature of a sphere.

Since this device only has three corners per side, different sized balls on the corners were guaranteed to produce different curvature gauges without needing to guarantee the accuracy of the alignment of the sides.  One could randomly place different sized balls on each corner and the device would still work to produce highly accurate spheres of many different sizes.

However, this style was probably harder to use, becuase it would require one to feel the rocking of the gauge on the work piece, but not to be able to see where it was touching and not touching. The style with the holes, would probably make it easier to see what parts needed to be carved down, and maybe even make it possible to mark the spots of the ball that needed more carving.

If my theory is correct, I suspect a closer examination of these devices would show tapered wear on the knobs consistent with it being placed against stone and dragged around to test the curve.  The alignment of each side could also be tested to verify that each face was correctly aligned to form an accurate spherical curvature gauge.

If one were to fight a war, where lots of stone Ballista balls had to be carved, and all tools needed to do the work had to be carried with you, this small hand tools seems idea for an army on the march.  I don't know much about Roman history, but if the location of where these were found in Europe were fairly consistent with where the Romans were using their Ballistas, that would be yet another verification of what these were.

Curt Welch

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Some Thoughts on Sam Harris' book "Free Will"

I read Sam Harris' book on Free Will today and quite enjoyed it. I do hope it brings greater awareness of these issues to our society because our society is much in need of an escape from its many superstitions and myths.  Our common notion of Free Will is certainly a myth and I do hope Harris' book will open more people's eyes to this fact.

Harris, Dennett, and Compatibilism

I became aware of Sam Harris' book after reading Daniel Dennett's response to it.

Dennett does not argue against Harris' position on free will, but instead, only argues against Harris' position against the complex philosophical position of compatibilism.  In this respect, Dennett is obviously correct, and Sam is obviously wrong.

I see Harris has written a blog response to the differences between his and Dan's position on free will here.

In that, we find this enlightened message from Harris:

"Fans of Dan’s account—and there are many—seem to miss my primary purpose in writing about free will. My goal is to show how the traditional notion is flawed, and to point out the consequences of our being taken in by it. Whenever Dan discusses free will, he bypasses the traditional idea and offers a revised version that he believes to be the only one “worth wanting.” Dan insists that this conceptual refinement is a great strength of his approach, analogous to other maneuvers in science and philosophy that allow us to get past how things seem so that we can discover how they actually are. I do not agree. From my point of view, he has simply changed the subject in a way that either confuses people or lets them off the hook too easily."
This argument made by Harris is fine and good.  However, it is not an argument against compatibilism as I read it. It is only a statement that Harris believes the position will confuse most people.

In this regard, I totally agree with Harris.  Philosophy is complex, hard, and difficult.  It's not a light subject to study or master. Compatibilism is an idea that most people in society will just never understand.  But so is quantum physics.  Being complex and confusing, does not make it wrong, and that is where all of Harris' argument's in the book against Compatibilism fail.

In short, Compatibilism does not deny determinism, but instead of declaring freedom lost, it understands that if we deepen our understanding of what the words "free will" mean, we can find a definitions of Free Will that is compatible with both the scientific facts of physics, and our layman's use of the term.  Dennett, and others, including myself, prefer this approach as it allows us to form a richer, and more accurate few of realty.  But this ability to bend meaning to fit reality, is a move not easy for many in our society - some, seem not only unwilling to do it, but unable.  For those, the position of compatibilism will offer only confusion, instead of greater insight.

For this reason, I believe Harris has simply made a misstep by ever mentioning the concept in his book.  Attacking the "errors" of compatibilism in the book does not help the layman better understand the illusion of Free Will, and only forces the true philosophers like Dennett (not me), to attack the deeper philosophical errors of an otherwise excellent and important book.

The Dangers of saying Free Will doesn't exist

The danger of the move that Harris makes, is that once we accept the idea that Free Will is an illusion, and that it "does not exist" we are left in a bind when faced with a sentence such as this:
I am here today of my own free will.
If we argue free will is an illusion and does not exist, then we are in effect arguing it has no meaning at all.  And if the words have no meaning, then what does this sentence mean?  Do we throw it out and pretend the person has said nothing valid?  We don't want that, because in fact, it has a valid meaning even in a deterministic world.  It means, "I have have not consciously allowed the will of another person to persuade me to be here."  It means, the person is declaring, he was not knowingly forced against his will, by the will of another person to be here.  If we take the statement as an honest one, we can assume no one coerced the speaker with blatant force, such as a use of physical force, to be here today.

The Illusion of Free Will is Created by our Ignorance

There is a better and simpler move to be made here.

Our Free Will comes from our ignorance of the forces that control us.  That which we are blind to, creates in us the illusion of freedom from external control.  When we can not see the strings that move us, we feel as though the cause of our actions must come from inside us.  This unknown force, has at times been called the human soul.

Once we fully internalize, and accept this view of free will as ignorance, we can get a far better grasp on what someone is really suggesting when they talk about their free will.  If we return to the example above, we can understand what the person has in fact said something valid, and is not just speaking nonsense.  We can understand the person has told us that they have no awareness of why they are here. So this means we can rule out all the causes that the person would have been aware of.  We know he wasn't being threatened with physical violence to make him come here, because he would have been aware of that, for example.

When I act on my own Free Will, I simply mean, I have no clue why I'm doing this.  We learn to hide our ignorance by conflating the true forces at work with a variety of cover up statement such as: "I wanted to".

But using the "ignorance" definition of Free Will, we can give the reader something simple to substitute for his old ideas of Free Will.  We are not leaving the reader lost with no understanding of how to cope every time he or others, uses the words "free will".

Moral Responsibility with the "Ignorance" of Free Will

When we hold someone accountable for their actions, due to the actions being under the control of their Free Will, we place ourselves in the unfortunate position of blaming the person for his actions, due to our own ignorance.  When we are too ignorant to know the cause, we simply place the responsibility on the person.  They are asked to pay for our ignorance.  This is just how our society works.

We have, for example, allowed people to live in poverty, because of our faith in the power of capitalism to protect us.  But our faith in capitalism has some evil side effects.  It will cause some people in society to live in relative poverty, and that poverty, will drive some people to commit crimes against the very society that trapped them there.  When the person comes before a judge, and admits to having committed the crime of their own free will, we then punish the person for "their" crime.  Our ignorance of the true cause, allows us to blame the wrong forces for the crime, and allows us to ignore the real problems, such as the poverty we have allowed to exist in our society.

This type of problem is the very problem that Sam Harris is trying to fix in our society, and it's a very noble cause to try and correct this.

When anyone commits a crime against society, it should be understood implicitly, that society has failed to create the correct environment for its citizens.  Citizens living in a healthy environment will not commit crimes against the forces of the society that protects them.  People do not bite the hands that feed them, unless they have a defective brain.  But people will always strike back, against any force that harms or threatens to harm them.

When someone has committed a crime, we must understand that the real fault, lies first with our society, for creating the forces that motivated the crime, or for failing to identify a person with a mental problem before they committed a crime.  Then, secondarily, we must attempt to correct the damage done to the person.  That is, the damage our society did to them, that led to the crime.

Our legal system is there to train our citizens after the fact, to correct for what we should have prevented in the first place.  How we train the person, should be a matter for science to best answer, and not a matter to be addressed by some misdirected sense of vengeance.  Two wrongs never makes a right, no matter how "good" it may feel to someone.  What we can not correct with training after the fact, we must as a society, take responsibility for.  If we can not remove the desire from a person, to commit a future crime, we must take responsibility to monitor, and protect them, from the opportunity to repeat their previous mistake.

Why doesn't our society better understand this?

It is because our society is highly ignorant of many things other than just the true nature of Free Will.

The structure of our society evolves by trial and error.  Those social features that worked best to help past societies survive, tends to be the changes that populate the societies we live in today.  This means that the older a social convention is, the more likely it's had a positive effect on our survival.  Old rules, are in general, good for survival. Memes that have been around a long time, are likely to be good survival memes.  A society that includes the meme of "trust and follow old memes" and "distrust anything new", is itself, a sign of a society that is good at surviving.

Our society in the US, is full of these social memes that help our society survive.  It is filled to the brim, with superstitions, and myths, that are at the same time, blatantly false, but yet also, obviously important to the survival of our past societies.  We are here today, because of these blatantly false, but yet very effective, survival memes.

A very complex problem, that few understand, is that the top goal of our human brain, is not survival.  The top goal of the human brain, and the goal of all intelligence is to maximize rewards -- which we also understand in lay terms as "seeking happiness".

We do a good job of surviving, because our genetics have been tweaked, so as to closely align our brain's goal of happiness, with what is needed for us to survive.  We are happy if we have food to eat.  We are happy if our body is protected from damage.  We are happy if we can reproduce.  All these things that we are genetically predisposed to be happy about, help our genes make it into the future.

But the memes that fill our society -- all our social traditions, beliefs, and superstitions, are here not just because they make us happy, but because they have helped our genes and our memes to survive.

To the extent that we consciously understand the difference between survival of our genes, and being happy, we choose happy, over gene survival.  But it is to the advantage of the memes, and to our genes, for us NOT to UNDERSTAND this.  The more ignorant of the forces that drive us to keep our genes alive, the better the odds are for the genes to make it into the future.

If we look at the true role of religion, as well as many other superstitions and myths in society -- typical those followed by conservatives -- we see the truth of what is at work here.  Those that have been well infected with the memes of gene and meme survival, have been conditioned by all the memes, to be ignorant of reality.  And it is that ignorance, which the memes, and our genes, take advantage of for their own survival over our brain's own true need of happiness.

The human brain needs to believe the future will be a happy one.  So to give the brain what it needs, the religious meme of heaven as a reward for a "hard life today" has been locked into our society.  This meme is nothing but an evil trick being played on the human brains.  It's a false promise to create happiness, "after" the brain spends a hard life helping the memes, and the genes, survive into the future.  It's a debt that is never paid.  But it works to trick the happiness driven brain, into doing what the memes and the genes want.

The concept of "happiness" is a "sin" is of course, more of the same. The concept that "sex is for reproduction and not fun" is yet another. The concept that birth control is a sin, is yet another.  The concept that abortion is a sin, is yet another.

Those infected with these social memes, have been made to believe that the ultimate purpose of life -- their ultimate purpose for being here on earth -- is to survive at all costs.  They have been tricked into believing that self survival, is the ultimate gauge of "good".  They believe, that if they do this job they have been given, they will "meet their creator" and "live in perfect bliss for eternity".  They have been infected by memes, that evolved, because they were good at tricking human brains, in just this way.

The struggle between the liberal "free thinking" ideologies, and the conservative ideologies in society, is a struggle between the desires of these memes, and the true desires of the human brain.

The meme of Free Will, is just one piece of the much larger puzzle of the set of memes that all work together to infect people and to make them give up their own happiness, for the survival of the memes, and for the survival of their genes.

A true conservative that has been infected with these memes, believes his purpose in life is to "do his duty".  And he will believe that "his duty", is to pass on his memes (beliefs) and his genes, to future generations.  He will never put his own happiness, or comfort, above his "duty".  That is what the memes have burned into his brain.  But the memes are also self protecting in many different ways. They train their victims to never question their duty.  This is "God's will", and "God's will is beyond your understanding"! They have been conditioned to FEAR the "Wrath of God" if they go against his will!  And fear it, they do.

Free thinking liberals, tend to be the people in society that have escaped, or at least partially escaped, the infection of these memes.  The recurring theme of all liberal ideologies, is that "happiness" should come before "survival of the memes" or "survival of the genes".
Liberals both scare, and confuse, conservatives infected with these memes. Conservatives instinctively fear anything that makes them "weaker" (less able to do their God assigned duty).  All liberal policies trade off strength, for greater current and future happiness in society, and the thought of doing that only creates fear and confusion in the heart of a good meme infected conservative. They have been conditioned by the memes, to fear ANY loss of strength and to never put their happiness, before their duty. That fear, combined with the lack of any understanding on their part of where the fear comes from, drives endless examples of cognitive dissonance from the right. It shows up as creationism, climate denial, belief in the soul, belief in traditional Free Will.

The survival memes, want guns, and a larger military, and more oil, and more money, over clean air. Our survival memes, want their memes to be taught in our schools. Our survival memes want to ban abortion. The survival memes want to punish and even let die, those that show they are bad survivors (the poor). The survival memes, want those that are proven to be the best at surviving, to be given the most resources to help them survive. The survival memes believe "might makes right". The survival memes make people believe they have the moral authority to do anything, that they have the power to "get away with".

Our society is highly ignorant, because our society is deeply infected with the memes of survival that blind people to their true purpose, which is to maximize human happiness, and not to maximize the odds of the survival of our memes, or our genes.

To achieve the true goal our brains and our intelligence is built to achieve (human happiness), we must eradicate this infection of ignorance from our society. But the infection will not go easily. It will fight us with every trick in it's large playbook.

Until we drive this infection out of society, those inflicted with the survival memes, will continue to act against our innate human need to create greater happiness in society.

Those infected with these memes will also have a very difficult time understanding and accepting that Free Will is an illusion because this illusion is leveraged, and tied in to the large mesh of memes that all working together, form the foundational belief system, of those infected.