Sunday, January 22, 2017

A brief summary of my current philosophical worldview

I've been putting this post off for many months, but I think it's time that I finally wrote it.  The idea behind this entry, and hopefully future entries, is to capture a snapshot of my current philosophical thoughts about the world so that in the future I may periodically reflect upon how my beliefs have changed.  This post will probably be shorter than a baseline exposition ought to be, but I'm too lazy to put in the time and mental energy required for a comprehensive treatment.

On the topic that I would loosely describe as metaphysics, I can make a couple of clear statements about my beliefs.  I fall firmly in the naturalist camp, in that I believe that the natural world is the only one that exists - i.e., there are no supernatural or spiritual entities.  It obviously follows, then, that I am an atheist.  If pressed, I might make agnostic noises about how I don't think we can truly know if anything exists outside the natural universe, but in casual conversation the operative position is the lack of a belief in supernatural entities.

One consequence of my naturalist view is that I am a determinist - i.e., I believe that the future is determined by the past.  However, when it comes to free will, I don't know whether to describe my position as a hard determinist (who would basically say that free will does not exist because events are deterministic) or a compatibilist (who would say that a belief in free will is compatible with determinism).  I feel like both positions are plausible, and that in some ways hard determinists and compatibilists are talking past each other.  I think it is useful to talk of free will in a common sense in reference to choices that are not externally forced (i.e., freedom of action), but I don't think choices can in a deep sense be otherwise than has been determined by prior events.

In the field of ethics, I would consider myself some flavor of utilitarian, despite probably being a moral non-realist.  My moral non-realist position is that moral properties are mind-dependent - there are no moral facts that exist independent of minds (e.g., in the way that facts of physics or chemistry exist independent of minds).  That being said, I find the basic principles of utilitarianism (the best actions maximize the well-being of sentient entities) most convincing in relation to the minds that do exist.  I have a hard time pinning myself down to a subcategory of utilitarianism, but I think it's sufficient to say that my views lie somewhere in there.  This viewpoint has manifested itself in my vegetarian diet and my support of the effective altruism movement.

I have far less figured out when it comes to political philosophy.  I generally subscribe to John Stuart Mill's Harm Principle (the actions of individuals should only be limited to prevent harm to other individuals), but I have a hard time definitively saying much more than that.
Another area that I find interesting but don't have much to say about is the philosophy of mind.  Since I believe that our minds emerge from a purely physical system that is the brain, I think that artificial general intelligence is in principle possible.  However, at this point I will not make any claims about how likely we are to achieve such a thing.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Top albums of 2016

I was discussing my shortlist for favorite albums of 2016 last week with my friend Tom Musick when I made an offhand comment about only having listened to one-thousandth (i.e., 1/1000) of the music out there.  This was intended to demonstrate that, in addition to music tastes being highly subjective, my exposure level to new music is vanishingly small, especially for someone who kind of tries to keep up.

I became curious about the accuracy of that statement, and so decided to research it a minimal amount.  Based on the information here, there were about 75,000 albums released in the U.S. in 2011, which at the time was trending downward; let's leave aside the surprising fact that 60,000 of those sold less than 100 copies.  I don't know how album releases have trended in the last few years, nor do I know what the worldwide album release numbers might look like, nor what percentage of international releases I could have easy access to.  My guess is that I could reasonably potentially have listened to any of somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 albums in 2016.  An examination of the albums I listened to in 2016 shows that I listened to something like 71 albums that were released last year, which is on the order of one-thousandth of the estimated available released albums.  And 71 is not really that big a number...

Anyway, to the list...

1. Moderat - III
2. The Range - Potential
4. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
5. Anderson .Paak - Malibu
6. James Blake - The Colour In Anything
7. Tycho - Epoch
9. Young Magic - Still Life
10. dvsn - SEPT 5TH

11. Phantogram - Three
12. Yeasayer - Amen & Goodbye
13. Young Thug - JEFFERY
14. School of Seven Bells - SVIIB
15. Mogwai - Atomic
16. MIA - AIM

Also, here's a shout-out to Fetty Wap's album "Fetty Wap", which would have made my list last year if I had listened to it beforehand.