Sequence Exercise: first 3 posts from “A Human’s Guide to Words”

Folk­the­ory, RobinZ, and I are de­sign­ing ex­er­cises to go with the se­quences. Here’s my first one. Please make sug­ges­tions as to how this could be im­proved or aug­mented and what to do the same/​differ­ently in fu­ture ex­er­cises. My cur­rent plan is to do more from the se­quence “A Hu­man’s Guide to Words.” This post will be ed­ited to in re­sponse to sug­ges­tions.

Ex­er­cise for “The Parable of the Dag­ger,” “The Parable of Hem­lock,” and “Words as Hid­den In­fer­ences

This ex­er­cise is meant to be worked on a com­puter. You can fill it out ei­ther in your head or by copy­ing the text into a word pro­ces­sor. Please do not read ahead of where you are work­ing. Where ap­pli­ca­ble, an­swers are posted in rot13.

1. List sev­eral prop­er­ties which are com­mon to crows. Here’s a pic­ture of one to help you out:

______________________ ______________________

______________________ ______________________

______________________ ______________________

Some of the char­ac­ter­is­tics you may have put down are “black,” “bird,” “can fly,” and “caws.”

Peo­ple in the time of Aris­to­tle be­lieved things were log­i­cally 100% cer­tain to have all the prop­er­ties that were part of their defi­ni­tion. For in­stance, they said they could be 100% cer­tain that Socrates was mor­tal be­cause hu­mans are mor­tal “by defi­ni­tion.”

Now, think­ing like an Aris­totelian and us­ing those four char­ac­ter­is­tics, is that bird in the linked pic­ture a crow?

An­swer: You can’t say whether it is or not. You haven’t seen it fly or heard it caw.

2. Now, sup­pose I (as­sume I’m com­pletely trust­wor­thy) were to tell you that there is a crow be­hind that door. If your brain worked like Aris­to­tle thought, you would be cer­tain that it had all the prop­er­ties listed above. Think of two ways that you could be wrong.

Some pos­si­ble an­swers:

The crow could be a hatch­ling, with­out red feathers or the abil­ity to fly.

It could be an albino.

It could be born mute.

If you were able to think of any of those an­swers, that shows you weren’t re­ally cer­tain. The fact that an­swers ex­ist shows that it would be in­cor­rect to be cer­tain. If you were, and you looked be­hind the door and saw an albino crow, you ei­ther would have de­nied it was a crow, and been wrong, or you wouldn’t have been able to be­lieve it was white. As­sign­ing some­thing zero prob­a­bil­ity means you can never up­date your be­liefs no mat­ter how much ev­i­dence you see.

Say­ing an ob­ject be­longs in a cat­e­gory does not force it to con­form to the at­tributes of the cat­e­gory.