Archive for October 15th, 2012

Intro to economics   no comments

Posted at 4:45 pm in Economics

Having initially planned to research Economics and Sociology, I have now decided to change tack a little bit. I’ve now decided to look at Economics and Philosophy. I saw the first option as a fairly safe bet, and after hearing some of the adventurous plans of the rest of the group, not least of which Rob’s venture in to Oceanography and complex systems (!?), I thought I would push the boat out and dip in to Philosophy.

I’ve started my reading with two introductory Economics textbooks. One aimed at A-level students and one aimed at undergraduate students. This has worked really well so far as it has allowed me to gain a more shallow but wide overview from the A-level textbook, and when I’ve found a topic that I want to delve deeper in to I can look it up in the more detailed undergraduate textbook.  Fortunately the contents page of the two textbooks are almost identical, both covering the same topics just in differing levels of detail.

So far I have learnt that Economics is split in to two sections, micro and macro Economics. Microeconomics is the study of economic decisions made by particular individuals and businesses, e.g. whether buying a piece of new tractor is worth the investment for a farm. Macroeconomics is the study of the economy and the whole and focuses on economic decisions made by governments, for example asking questions like ‘will investment in education now mean the nation will have a more skilled workforce in 20 years time?’.  These two approaches seem separate but are actually interdependent, with many issues overlapping; economic decisions made by governments effect small businesses, and how small businesses perform effect the government’s decision making. Effectively microeconomics takes a bottom up approach to studying the economy whereas macroeconomics takes a top down approach.

The web issue that I will focus on is digital piracy. I’m not sure at this point whether I will look at this generally on all types of digital content or pick a media to focus on. I’m leaning towards focusing purely on music piracy. Demand curves described by the textbook speak about how as the price of a song drops, the buyer will purchase more songs. A rise in price will always mean a drop in demand and a fall in price will always cause an increase in demand. However the relationship between demand and price is not linear becuase willingness to buy more of a product drops as the number of purchases increases, this leads to what is known as effective demand. At first glance this seems like a theory that can be applied to the change in how music has become available for people to access either more cheaply or free (an economic view wouldn’t take in to account that the free option is illegal, it changes demand none the less), which may help explain the recent decline in the music industry.

In the following week I will start reading about Philosophy, the idea being to get a broad understanding of how philosophers approach problems, and then with a view to look at how moral philosophy can apply to illegally downloading music on the internet.

Written by William Lawrence on October 15th, 2012

EWI: Philosophy and Law   no comments

Posted at 12:11 pm in Law,Uncategorized

So I had a bit of a read this week around some of the philosophy texts. There are a number of different ways of interpreting or describing how philosophy is divided up into a discipline. This is, I suppose, a consequence of what philosophy is like in general. Philosophers hardly ever agree on anything, even when it comes to describing what it is that they do. Some people think that all of philosophy can be divided into two basic categories: realism, and the rest. Realism is the view that there is stuff that is real. The rest is, well, lots of other things. However this way of dividing up philosophy is controversial. The Cambridge philosopher Siumon Blackburn for instance in his book ‘Think’ suggests that it is perhaps not very helpful to divide up philosophy as a disicipline into these neat little categories. It is rather too dependent on the ability to taxonomise the arguments that are actually made. But there is no objectively correct way to do this that everyone can agree on. A philosopher’s job is to think about stuff. No wonder they can never agree on anything, including their own job description!

An alternative way of dividing up philosophy is to describe the different kinds of subjects that philosophers look at. This taxonomical approach has the advantage that it does not try to divide up philosophical approaches according to the arguments that are made: it is merely divided up by subject, not by the views taken on that subject. For instance, we might say that there are philosophers interested in questions of epistemology (knowledge), logic, politics, aesthetics, metaphysics, morality, and so on. This way of dividing it up does not say anything about what views the philosophers are taking on these different questions. So you could have the realists and the non-realists all lumped together into one category: the question of logic, say. However there are also problems with this way of describing philosophy as a discipline. Many of these areas overlap into each other, and there doesn’t seem to be any particularly objective reason, other than the causal whim of the observer, why we would divide these categories up in this particular way rather than any other.

From a personal perspective, I am inclined to describe the subject of philosophy in the way that it is often divided up in the university faculties, and the way that it is often divided up in the textbooks. You have things like philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of politics, philosophy of history, and so on. The discipline doesn’t have to be divided up this way necessarily; it just happens to be that it often is.

The particular area of philosophy that I am really interested in for this course is philosophy of law, and especially how this speaks to the internet. To some extent internet is still in its formative period. This is a time when internet legislative and constitutional precedent does not yet exist for the most part. So now is our opportunity to try to make decisions about what these precedents should look like. This is an area that I have never studied before and while there is a large amount of literature of philosophers commenting on law and legal procedures (sometimes known as jurisprudence) I do not know whether there is any substantial commentary by philosophers on internet law specifically. I did find one book by the philosopher Gordan Graham, ‘The Internet: A Philosophical Enquiry’. The book is quite out of date unfortunately (1999) but it is the only text I have been able to find so far on this subject. In general I liked the book and would recommend it. It is reasonably well written, though it is very wide-ranging and swings from one thing to another. But I think this is OK. Graham talks a little about the history of the internet, some of the technical aspects (not so relevant now perhaps) and puts this in the context of the history of technological development generally. Then he really lets it rip and has lots of fun talking about obscure and pretty much unrelated things like democracy and the internet (offering a dashing sweeping critique of democracy along the way), the nature of reality (is the internet a new form of ‘the real’?) and questions of the changing human experience (what has internet done to human individuality and community?). While this does seem a little bit all over the place, I think there are many really interesting ideas in here. The main point I take away from the book is the question of: to what extent should law on the web be different from law in the ‘real’ world (by which I mean the world off the web)? I mean, laws in the non-webby world are supposed to legislate over non-webby things, right. But the question is, how great is the disparity between webby stuff and non-webby stuff? And how great is the disparity between webby law and non-webby law? At this early stage, I am inclined towards the view that perhaps the disparity is a very big one indeed, much bigger than we had thought. This is something that we should probably find quite disconcerting. Do we need a set of laws for the ‘real’ world, and another set of laws for the virtual world that we have created?

Written by Eamonn Walls on October 15th, 2012

AI: Notes to week 1   no comments

Posted at 11:12 am in Uncategorized

Artificial Intelligence from the point of view of philosophy and compsci: Initial Reading/Findings
René Descartes – Discourse on Method and the Meditations
Computer Science: An Overview 11th Edition – Glenn Brookshear
Philosophy and Computing: An Introduction – Luciano Floridi

Started off by reading Brookshear, which was pretty clear and basic. Also looked into the Descartes, which is fairly basic philosophy and might be a little too general, but has some good points about reason and the mind. Philosophy and computing has a chapter on AI (hard and soft), and is more advanced/specified.

Notes on Brookshear –
So you get an agent, which needs to respond to environmental stimulus. Some of this is easier than other to programme, and how much of it actually indicates ‘intelligence?’ Like a plant grows towards light as a response to stimulus but that hardly makes it intelligent or aware. That said, human behaviour could also be a collection of stimulus responses that have evolved (respond correctly = survive to reproduce (1) respond incorrectly = die (0))

The Turing Test has, by now, pretty much been passed. What does this indicate?

There are some things which computers find really hard to create an appropriate response to; things which are super easy for humans, for example interpreting visual information and also double meanings in sentences. There are various ways to try to get around this, such as semantics webs constructing context in order to generate appropriate ‘understanding’.

Some people argue that computers will never be properly intelligent in the way that humans are, but others argue that the brain is just lots of different components performing different tasks, which a computer kinda is.

Also Strong AI and Weak AI are different. Should probably concentrate on just one as I only got 2500 words here.

It’s hard to get agents to reason. You can give them a goal though.

Inference Rules allow new statements to be made from old ones p475

And then there’s Heuristics (getting something/someone to learn for itself/themself)

“Another approach to developing better knowledge extraction systems has been to insert various forms of reasoning into the extraction process, resulting in what is called meta-reasoning – meaning reasoning about reasoning. An example, originally used in the context of database searches, is to apply the closed-world assumption, which is the assumption that a statement is false unless it can be explicitly derived from the information available.”

Written by Elzabi Rimington on October 15th, 2012

My Introduction To Sociology   no comments

Posted at 8:57 am in Sociology

I have chosen the topic of cryptography on the web and the disciplines of sociology and politics/political science (still undecided).

I decided the best way to start the process of research was to avoid looking at my topic in much depth and focus on grounding my knowledge in the two disciplines I’ve chosen. My reasoning was that this would better allow me to think about the cryptography within the context of my disciplines rather than read cryptography first and then need to refresh my understanding within new contexts of my chosen disciplines.

Whilst I am still undecided as to whether I will choose political science (a more theoretical approach to the nature of politics) or simply politics (closer to political history) but I am certain of my decision to examine the discipline of sociology. Having previously been heavily cognition/neurology oriented within psychology and less socially minded I felt this was a perfect opportunity for self development and so the choice of sociology was a ‘no-brainer’. Whilst psychology might be often associated with sociology, being that they are both social sciences, my particular psychological background means sociology is by all means a good distance outside my comfort zone.

I searched initially for “undergraduate sociology reading list[s]” and located an undergraduate reading list from City University London, University of Warwick and Brunel University London all of which touted Ken Plummer’s Sociology: The Basics as providing a sturdy foundation for undergraduate students. As such, this has been my first textbook on the topic of sociology.

The book establishes a basic description of sociology as a lens through which to view, examine and interpret the world. It is noted that “social” in sociology can have two similar but distinct interpretations. The first interpretations is “social” meaning the social ‘entity’ or ‘agent’. The second interpretation recognises “society” as a cumulative entity comprised of multiple agents. To make an analogy; this is the difference between describing the ways in which individual birds in a flock are influenced by their surroundings and describing the seemingly single entity that all the birds, moving together, appear to form.

In this way sociology offers two key opportunities. The first is to discuss issues such as the nature of culture, religion, ethics and any facet of social life in an both an abstract and society wide sense. The second is to allow for observations to be made of the ways these abstract concepts may influence the social world of the individual agents. In this way the discipline of sociology appears to be inherently interdisciplinary in and of itself; drawing on everything from medicine to theology in order to adequately represent the complex nature of social interactions.

I have encountered several topics of interest that I will research further:

Modernity: the discussion of the sociology of “modern” societies. In particular the idea of “multiple modernities”: as societies have advanced together technologically many have diverged in their modernisations forming new cultural and societal differences. The ways in which these differences interact with differing modernisation is the subject of this specific approach.

Discourse/Discourse analysis: The approach of analysing communication. This can be done from a variety of perspective to achieve ends. These ends include making theories about the interactions of humans or to further contextualise cultural expression within a wider societal context.

I am looking into what politically oriented undergraduate text would offer the strongest foundation and have identified several potential candidates using a similar approach of consulting University undergraduate pre-/reading lists:




Written by Kieran Rones on October 15th, 2012

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