novembro 28, 2011

Ferramentas cognitivas

A Estatística e a Economia são disciplinas muito subvalorizadas no nosso ensino. A Estatística lida com o inevitável da evidência finita e de qualidade variável. Por exemplo, ela diz-nos que a certeza e a impossibilidade são conceitos ideais que podemos apenas aproximar. A Economia ganha a sua razão de ser porque os recursos são finitos e as decisões de os usar acarretam custos e riscos nem sempre evidentes. Por exemplo, ela diz-nos ser impossível erradicar totalmente um problema social pelos limites económicos dos ganhos decrescentes. Este tipo de ideias são importantes na educação de cidadãos aptos a usar os seus direitos económicos e políticos na consolidação de uma sociedade cívica como a nossa.

novembro 24, 2011

Uma causa ou um sintoma?

Excertos do prefácio de John Gray ao livro de Bertrand de Jouvenel, The Ethics of Redistribution

Bertrand de Jouvenel's study in the ethics of redistribution is distinctive, in the first instance, because it focuses precisely on the morality of redistribution and not on its side effects on incentives. This is to say that de Jouvenel's critique embodies a fundamental challenge to the values expressed in redistributionist thought which in no way depends upon an instrumental or utilitarian assessment of the consequences of redistributionist policy. De Jouvenel is concerned with the impact on individual liberty and on cultural life of redistribution rather than with its effects on productivity. His study is significant for another reason, which is that he is careful to distinguish redistributionism from other, superficially similar doctrines. Thus, he shows clearly how it differs from agrarian egalitarianism, which aims to equalize a resource - land - but does not seek to control the distribution of its product. [...] De Jouvenel makes another fundamental distinction within redistributionism itself. Modern redistributionism encompasses two wholly disparate elements: the belief that government should be centrally involved in the relief of poverty, and the belief that economic inequality is itself unjust or evil. These two beliefs have indeed been conflated in the increasing acceptance of the view that it is the responsibility of government to ensure rising popular living standards. A further move in the direction of egalitarian redistributionism is taken when to the proposal that government supply a subsistence floor beneath which no one may fall is added the proposal that there be instituted a ceiling beyond which no one may rise. [...] He further notes that a policy of redistribution is bound to discriminate against minorities, since it will inevitably favor the preferences and interests of the majority [...]

For de Jouvenel, however, the most profound result of redistributionist policy is the impetus it gives to the baleful process of centralization. [...] De Jouvenel goes on to speculate that the underlying causal process may go in the opposite direction: Redistributionist policy may be an incident in a process of centralization that has acquired a momentum of its own.

novembro 21, 2011


Quantas decisões peculiares dos nossos maiores políticos, jurados, militares e outras eminências pardas são justificadas com argumentos que a realidade social é complexa, que é sempre preciso considerar inúmeros factores raramente explicitados, que foi tomada a melhor acção possível? Mas quantas destas decisões nasceram, de facto, de redes de preconceitos, favores e pressões que ligam e limitam estas pessoas do poder?

novembro 18, 2011

Razão e ETs

Uma citação longa, mas que vale a pena, da novela que inspirou Stalker de Andrey Tarkovskiy:

I must warn you that your question, Richard, comes under the heading of xenology. Xenology: an unnatural mixture of science fiction and formal logic. It's based on the false premise that human psychology is applicable to extraterrestrial intelligent beings."
"Why is that false?" Noonan asked.
"Because biologists have already been burned trying to use human psychology on animals. Earth animals, at that."
"Forgive me, but that's an entirely different matter. We're talking about the psychology of rational beings."
"Yes. And everything would be fine if we only knew what reason was."
"Don't we know?" Noonan was surprised.
"Believe it or not, we don't. Usually a trivial definition is used: reason is that part of man's activity that distinguishes him from the animals. You know, an attempt to distinguish the owner from the dog who understands everything but just can't speak. Actually, this trivial definition gives rise to rather more ingenious ones. Based on bitter observation of the above-mentioned human activities. For example: reason is the ability of a living creature to perform unreasonable or unnatural acts."
"Yes, that's about us, about me, and those like me," Noonan agreed bitterly.
"Unfortunately. Or how about this hypothetical definition. Reason is a complex type of instinct that has not yet formed completely. This implies that instinctual behavior is always purposeful and natural. A million years from now our instinct will have matured and we will stop making the mistakes that are probably integral to reason. And then, if something should change in the universe, we will all become extinct—precisely because we will have forgotten how to make mistakes, that is, to try various approaches not stipulated by an inflexible program of permitted alternatives."
"Somehow you make it all sound demeaning."
"All right, how about another definition—a very lofty and noble one. Reason is the ability to use the forces of the environment without destroying that environment."
Noonan grimaced and shook his head.
"No, that's not about us. How about this: 'man, as opposed to animals, is a creature with an undefinable need for knowledge'? I read that somewhere."
"So have I," said Valentine. "But the whole problem with that is that the average man—the one you have in mind when you talk about 'us' and 'not us'—very easily manages to overcome this need for knowledge. I don't believe that need even exists. There is a need to understand, and you don't need knowledge for that. The hypothesis of God, for instance, gives an incomparably absolute opportunity to understand everything and know absolutely nothing. Give man an extremely simplified system of the world and explain every phenomenon away on the basis of that system. An approach like that doesn't require any knowledge. Just a few memorized formulas plus so-called intuition and so-called common sense."
"Hold on," Noonan said. He finished his beer and set the mug noisily on the table. "Don't get off the track. Let's get back to the subject on hand. Man meets an extraterrestrial creature. How do they find out that they are both rational creatures?"
"I haven't the slightest idea," Valentine said with great pleasure. "Everything I've read on the subject comes down to a vicious circle. If they are capable of making contact, then they are rational. And vice versa; if they are rational, they are capable of contact. And in general: if an extraterrestrial creature has the honor of possessing human psychology, then it is rational. Like that."
"There you go. And I thought you boys had it all laid out in neat cubbyholes."
"A monkey can put things into cubbyholes," Valentine replied.
"No, wait a minute." For some reason, Noonan felt cheated. "If you don't know simple things like that … All right, the hell with reason. Obviously, it's a real quagmire. OK. But what about the Visitation? What do you think about the Visitation?"
"My pleasure. Imagine a picnic." Noonan shuddered.
"What did you say?"
"A picnic. Picture a forest, a country road, a meadow. A car drives , off the country road into the meadow, a group of young people get out of the car carrying bottles, baskets of food, transistor radios, and cameras. They light fires, pitch tents, turn on the music. In the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that watched in horror through the long night creep out from their hiding places. And what do they see? Gas and oil spilled on the grass. Old spark plugs and old filters strewn around. Rags, burnt-out bulbs, and a monkey wrench left behind. Oil slicks on the pond. And of course, the usual mess—apple cores, candy wrappers, charred remains of the campfire, cans, bottles, somebody's handkerchief, somebody's penknife, torn newspapers, coins, faded flowers picked in another meadow."
"I see. A roadside picnic."
"Precisely. A roadside picnic, on some road in the cosmos. And you ask if they will come back."
"Let me have a smoke. Goddamn this pseudoscience! Somehow I imagined it all differently."
"That's your right."
"So does that mean they never even noticed us?"
"Well, anyway, didn't pay any attention to us?"
"You know, I wouldn't be upset if I were you." Noonan inhaled, coughed, and threw away the cigarette.
"I don't care," he said stubbornly. "It can't be. Damn you scientists! Where do you get your contempt for man? Why are you always trying to put mankind down?"
"Wait a minute," Valentine said. "Listen: 'You ask me what makes man great?' " he quoted. " 'That he re-created nature? That he has harnessed cosmic forces? That in a brief time he conquered the planet and opened a window on the universe? No! That, despite all this, he has survived and intends to survive in the future.' "
There was a silence. Noonan was thinking.
"Don't get depressed," Valentine said kindly. "The picnic is my own theory. And not even a theory—just a picture. The serious xenologists are working on much more solid and flattering versions for human vanity. For example, that there has been no Visitation yet, that it is to come. A highly rational culture threw containers with artifacts of its civilization onto Earth. They expect us to study the artifacts, make a giant technological leap, and send a signal in response that will show we are ready for contact. How do you like that one?"
"That's much better," Noonan said. "I see that there are decent people among scientists after all."
"Here's another one. The Visitation has taken place, but it is not over by a long shot. We are in contact even as we speak, but we are not aware of it. The visitors are living in the Zones and carefully observing us and simultaneously preparing us for the 'cruel wonders of the future.' "
"Now that I can understand! At least that explains the mysterious activity in the ruins of the factory. By the way, your picnic doesn't explain it."
"Why doesn't it? One of the girls could have forgotten her favorite wind-up teddy bear on the meadow."
ROADSIDE PICNIC, Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky

novembro 14, 2011


O cepticismo é necessário para possibilitar a acumulação coerente de conhecimento. Cepticismo a menos pode levar-nos aos sistemas dogmáticos, edifícios estáveis mas imóveis. Excesso de cepticismo leva-nos ao niilismo, o que não serve de telhado quando começa a chover.

novembro 10, 2011


Citações retiradas do livro Metaphors we live by (1981) por George Lakoff e Mark Johnson, sobre a importância da metáfora não só na linguagem, mas no aparelho cognitivo humano.

"The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another. [...] The most important claim [...] is that metaphor is not just a matter of language, that is, of mere words. We shall argue that, on the contrary, human thought processes are largely metaphorical. This is what we mean when we say that the human conceptual system is metaphorically structured and defined. Metaphors as linguistic expressions are possible precisely because there are metaphors in a person's conceptual system.

[Chapter 6]

Just as the basic experiences of human spatial orientations give rise to orientational metaphors, so our experiences with physical objects (especially our own bodies) provide the basis for an extraordinarily wide variety of ontological metaphors, that is, ways of viewing events, activities, emotions, ideas, etc., as entities and substances. [...] Ontological metaphors are necessary for even attempting to deal rationally with our experiences.
The range of ontological metaphors that we use for such purposes is enormous. [...] Ontological metaphors like [THE MIND IS A MACHINE] are so natural and so pervasive in our thought that they are usually taken as self-evident, direct descriptions of mental phenomena. The fact that they are metaphorical never occurs to most of us. We take statements like "He cracked under pressure" as being directly true or false. [...] We use ontological metaphors to comprehend events, actions, activities, and states. Events and actions are conceptualized metaphorically as objects, activities as substances, states as containers.

[Chapter 7]

Perhaps the most obvious ontological metaphors are those where the physical object is further specified as being a person. This allows us to comprehend a wide variety of experiences with nonhuman entities in terms of human motivations, characteristics, and activities. [...] personification is a general category that covers a very wide range of metaphors, each picking out different aspects of a person or ways of looking at a person. What they all have in common is that they are extensions of ontological metaphors and that they allow us to make sense of phenomena in the world in human terms—terms that we can understand on the basis of our own motivations, goals, actions, and characteristics.

[Chapter 19]

metaphor pervades our normal conceptual system. Because so many of the concepts that are important to us are either abstract or not clearly delineated in our experience (the emotions, ideas, time, etc.), we need to get a grasp on them by means of other concepts that we understand in clearer terms (spatial orientations, objects, etc.). This need leads to metaphorical definition in our conceptual system.

novembro 08, 2011


A redundância é necessária para evitar a acumulação de erros. Um sistema sem redundância é eficiente mas instável. Excesso de redundância leva-nos ao pavor da burocracia.

novembro 03, 2011


As figuras de estilo são abusos de linguagem. Mas sem esses abusos, as pontes que nos ligam aos outros e às coisas seriam impossíveis. A boa educação, no limite, é insustentável.

novembro 01, 2011

Efeito corrosivo

"One of the worst things about breaking the law is that it puts one at odds with an indeterminate number of other people. This is among the many corrosive effects of having unjust laws: They tempt peaceful and (otherwise) honest people to lie so as to avoid being punished for behavior that is ethically blameless." Sam Harris, Lying