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Weblog :: Metaphysics
Probability and certainty, science and religion 20.IV.2006 01:06
In my discussion courses this year, especially Religion and Film, I was often told by more relativistically-minded classmates that it's closed-minded to think that 'right' and 'wrong' beliefs exist at all, that faith and taste are both private matters, not subject to judgement. I think this is ridiculous. One of the big problems in the modern way of thinking is our preoccupations with certainty and equality – which lead us to the conclusion that, when things aren't certain, all possibilities are equal. Now, I don't believe that certainty exists at all, at least not for the human mind – rather what we have are sets of probabilities. We apply this kind of thinking every day – in, say, risk management – but when it comes to more contentious issues (especially the news) suddenly every possibility is an equal one. I think there are wrong things to believe (intelligent design) and that people should be called out for believing them. Unfortunately, our society seems to be more and more tolerant of stupid theories when they are mere possibilities.

Let us start with a simple example: I'm holding a ball in my hand, and I'm going to let go of it. What should I think this ball is going to do? In my opinion, the correct thing to believe is that it will fall – even though there's a chance it won't, because of any number of possible factors that of which I might be unaware, from anomalous wind patterns to God. However, I think a person would be a fool to say that since both it rising and it falling are technically possible, a person would be just as 'right' to say that it will fall up as that it will fall down. Of course, I think it would be ridiculous in the extreme to say that the two possibilities should be given equal credence. It's right to believe that the book will fall, and wrong to believe otherwise.

In fact, I think everyone agrees with this fact, even those philosophers who have made careers out of denying it – simply because this belief is vital to any kind of functioning in the real world. Think what would happen if you kept all your options equally open: you'd wake up in the morning, decide you wanted to get up and eat breakfast, but then you'd be completely lost. The kitchen would be the best place to get breakfast – but what if your roommates rearranged the house in the night. There's no reason to believe the kitchen's still there – if it's possible that it's not, it's just as likely, right? – so there'd be no reason to head in the direction you remember the kitchen being, rather than say, going to another bedroom – maybe the kitchen's there now. The reason we go to the kitchen and don't think about these other possibilities is because they're so unlikely that they don't merit being prepared for – we'd consider a person who constantly behaved in this way as stark raving mad. Clearly, in the matter of getting breakfast, the right way of thinking is to go to the kitchen.

Now, most of the breakfast-eating population of the world would concede this fact quite readily – but many contend that, even so, spiritual matters are beyond the scope of such reasoning. I have never been able to see why this should be so. My grade eleven English teacher once tried to tell me that science was like any other religion, reliant on faith for its legitimacy. This is true, but only a to a very limited degree, and certainly not in the way he meant. Science has one article of faith – that a multiplicity of consistent examples constitutes a pattern. Some (notably David Hume) have argued that this renders our knowledge meaningless, but I disagree for a number of reasons outside the scope of this entry. What I want to emphasise is that that article of scientific faith is the exact same one the enables us to go and get some breakfast – that past evidence tells us what is probable in the future, and that the rational person acts on this knowledge.

Science is (or at least, should be) the art of stripping away everything but that one assumption about induction and seeing what remains. There is an element of faith in trusting broad scientific opinion, of course – I don't test every theory I hear before I believe it – but even this is only a manifestation of the belief in the plausibility of induction, because the times I have tested scientific theories, they have not failed me. Of course, this isn't to say that all our current theories are correct: what it means is that given the knowledge available to mankind, it is rational to believe in evolution, and irrational not to. People in favour of teaching intelligent design on par with evolution are proponents of precisely the kind of irrational thinking described above – that possibility is enough to give one theory equal value to another.

In my opinion, knowledge is in essence the recognition of patterns, and it is because of this that I cannot believe in God, or spirituality in general: there has been nothing in my life, no pattern or other evidence, that suggests his existence. Now, I don't deny that the existence of an omnipotent God is possible – it is perfectly consistent with everything I've observed about the world, and, in fact, with every possible set of observations in every possible world. Moreover, I agree that absence of proof is not proof of absence. But Occam's Razor teaches us not to multiply entities beyond necessity – meaning that given that both the absence and the presence of a thing explain something equally well, we should favour the absence. We could believe that planes fly because great imperceptible birds carry them in their talons, but are beyond human observation – but it can be explained using air currents, and any proponent of the 'ornithological imperceptibility' theory of flight would hardly be listened to. There is no reason not to apply the same logic to the existence of God, beyond the purely sociological fact of billions' belief in him – but 'five billion people can't be wrong' does not qualify as hard science.

This is what distinguishes science from religion – it has its basis in probability, not desire. But we don't merely need to explain things like human evolution; we need to explain why it rained yesterday, or why our cars won't start, or why bad things happen to good people. Most importantly, we need these theories to help us in our planning for future events. However, if we put separate out parts of our lives and keep them from reason – the 'spiritual', and most dangerously, the moral – we cease to act on our thoughts and start to act more on our desires. Open-mindedness is important when it comes to culture, and when it comes to genuine mysteries, and questioning accepted wisdom is a vital part of science; but if we start to pretend that every option with even a modicum of possibility is equal, as favoured by the creationist movement, the very foundations of rational thinking will have been abandoned.
Why bad things happen to good people 18.I.2005 16:24
And God said unto Job, 'there's just something about you that pisses me off.'

In Denys Arcand's Les invasions barbares, which I recommend you all see, there is a dialogue that deals briefly with Poland. Paraphrased, it is said that for Poles, every misfortune of Poland is proof of the existence of God. While rather sarcastic, this is certainly an accurate criticism. The Virgin Mary is revered nationwide as the protector of Poland, despite the fact that Poland is one of the least successfully defend nations in history, having ceased to exist completely no less than three times. The story of Virgin Mary as protector comes from one battle wherein Poland's holiest city did not fall to a much larger Swedish force several centuries ago. However, the Polish persist in their faith that they are one of God's most loved nations (what nation isn't?), despite massive evidence to the contrary. The exception is said to prove the rule, even though what is being cited as the rule is in fact a unique event, isolated in a sea of so-called 'exceptions.'

In Poland, the most frequent inscription on gravestones is 'Bóg tak chciał', which means 'God willed it thus.' Similarly, in the wake of the asian tsunami disaster, there were many features on the news talking about how one can maintain ones faith having witnessed such devastation. Not one of these reports showed people who had lost their faith in the face of the cruelty of the world. No, in fact, every religious person's faith had, in fact, been strengthened by these extreme circumstances. This is more understandable with religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, but in the Abrahamic religions, which have an omnibenevolent God, this should bring about rather large crises of faith. Where is the benevolence of God when he slaughters thousands of his Children?

I have always regarded the story of Job as simultaneously the most infuriating and ingenious book of the Bible. It's like a disclaimer, a catch-all absolution for God, allowing the believer to instantly dismiss any suggestion that evil disproves God's omnibenevolence. Good things happen? God loves us. Bad things happen? God loves us, we mortals merely cannot comprehend His plan right now. There are no falsificators, there is no possibility for error. God pours needless suffering on Job, yet loves him. Faith must be maintained even in the darkest of circumstances. God can do no wrong.

Personally, I have always treated the world as apathetic, except in my weaker or less rational moments. I know there is neither a force protecting nor hindering me, and even my comments about my luck, which can be on occasion ridiculous, are not meant seriously. It can be difficult, sometimes, to accept that a tragic event is forthcoming and the only things allowing for hope are the deeply impersonal laws of probability, but nonetheless this is the state of the world. It is the apathy of the world, I find, that is hardest for people to deal with. The Greek Gods are a perfect example of this: they can be whimsical, they can be cruel, vengeful, petty. However, for every tragedy there is at least a reason and people, for some reason, take comfort in this. There is blame to be allotted, and there is a target for that blame. People have a tough time coming to terms with events that happen that are without meaning, behind which there was neither driving force nor justification. And yet, I feel this is how humans must view their environment, an apathetic, indifferent set of circumstances, neither good nor evil, one that can be neither swayed nor appeased. 150,000 people died in the tsunamis because there happened to be a tsunami, not because God was punishing, nor even because he was testing them. I understand, to a degree, why this is difficult to accept, but that does not mean it is not true.

This attitude is, in my opinion, tied to another harmful myth of modern society: that to understand is also to forgive. There is a very interesting debate about determinism and free will involved with this, but that's not point at the moment. The point is that our society, as soon as it finds causes for behaviour, tends to excuse that behaviour. People who were abused as children not being held responsible for their crimes is a typical example of this: we understand why he did, so we try to eliminate those causes rather than punishing for what they've done. Comprehension is forgiveness. I do not agree with this, because I believe almost all behaviour can be traced to some root cause, and also because it frees the wrongdoer of responsibility.

As an example, I watched The Hamburg Cell on Sunday, a dramatisation of the Sept. 11th hijackers' lives before the attack. The film itself awas fairly unremarkable, though it did give a strong impression of verisimilitude, but more important are the reactions to it. Like many films about Hitler, it is criticised for making the hijackers seem 'too human.' My first response to this is 'guess what? they are human, just like you,' but this isn't taking the arguments quite for what they mean. Because of the correlation between comprehension and absolution, many people feel that if they understood the hijackers actions, if they seemed reasonable (and, by the way, they do), then that would be tantamount to forgiving them. It's not. Their actions are as wrong as they ever were, but that does not mean that there cannot be a perfectly reasonable explanation of why they did so. All wrong acts are manifestations of poor judgement, nothing else, yet we want to believe they are monsters.

To truly blame, we seem to require some intangible, often referred to as 'evil', sometimes (inaccurately) as 'sociopathy', that would propel people to these acts. We want to believe they are monsters largely, I think, because we do not want to believe that we could act that way. If a battered wife murders her husband, we know who to blame, but we know she is also to be forgiven. It is acceptable. That is why we require a benevolent God: so we can blame him for the seemingly random ills, but also, knowing that he did it for our own good, forgive him. The apathetic world, with no one to blame, deprives us of this.

God, in this case, is once again a tool for lessening our own tragedies, as a target for our recriminations, but also absolved by them. God's motives are unimpeachable, and therefore His transgressions, however seemingly senseless, are forgiven. The apathetic world - the real world - is too difficult for many; they cannot accept that events, even massive life-changing events, are driven by mere statistics, probabilities without the restraining had of the Benevolent, or even the comprehensible hand of the minor deity. We can only react, and we cannot have faith that someone is protecting us, but this is the faith to which so many cling in the wakes of disasters.
On Dummett’s Defence of McTaggart and Token-Reflexive Expressions in Space 26.XI.2004 22:28
In his defence of McTaggart’s proof of the unreality of time, Dummett frequently invokes the distinction between the natures of space and time. Specifically, he argues that token-reflexivity (the use of referential words such as I, here and now) are essential to time, but not so to space. In doing so, however, he commits several grave errors. One is the denial of relativity, which physics has proven, and which allows us to perceive multiple times in the same instant. Secondly, he projects onto all possible perception the strictures of human perception, thus limiting the realms of possibility and reality without justification. Dummett’s distinctions between space and time are erroneous, and McTaggart’s criticisms apply equally to both; but these criticisms fail to prove the non-existence of either.

The fundamental component of McTaggart’s proof of the unreality of time is the assertion that A-series events, one of the form (E is past, present or future) contain an inherent contradiction: that each event is all at once, as it exhibits each quality at some point across the whole of time. McTaggart makes no attempt to apply this contradiction to space, and Dummett maintains that this is because token-reflexive expressions are not necessary to enumerate facts about space, but they are about time. This, however, does not seem to hold true.

To show the plausibility, and necessity, of treating time as a bidirectional vector, like the special dimensions, locations in space-time will be referred to as ordered quadruplets of the form (x,y,z,t), with the fourth term being the temporal axis, or t-axis, along which single points are referred to as t-values. This provides a convenient short-hand for relating how changes and relations along the three spatial axes are no different from changes and relations in the t-axis. Furthermore, this notation allows us to track changes along any axis in relation to changes along the other axes.

The first argument Dummett makes to absolve space of McTaggart’s objections is that statements about space do not require token-reflexive words such as here, near or far. ‘I can describe an arrangement of objects in space,’ he says, ‘although I do not myself occupy a position in that space.’ (Dummett, 1960) He cites the example of his visual field, whose arrangement he can describe despite not being in that space.

There is no reason, however, that this argument should not apply equally to time. For example, I do not exist in my visual field just as I do not exist during the life of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. However, I can describe the arrangement of events in his life despite their t-values never overlapping my t-values. I can say that ‘John F. Kennedy died on November 22nd, 1963’ without existing in that time frame or using a token-reflexive expression. My ability to describe events along the t-axis is not reliant on my existence at those points on the axis.

Dummett would now argue, however, that I do not perceive events during the life of Kennedy as I perceive spaces in which I do not exist. I perceive the former only second-hand, through other people’s accounts: I cannot perceive it directly. However, when modern physics, specifically the finite speed of light c, is taken into account, it becomes clear that we are not only capable of perceiving events even though we do not exist at their -values, we are incapable of perceiving events that share the ­t-value of the event of perception. More simply, none of the events we perceive at a given moment share the t-value of our token-reflexive now.

If I look at a pulsating quasar millions of light years away, I perceive, directly, an event whose >t-value is far removed from the range of ­t-values at which I exist. This is because the speed of light limits the rate at which data about one event can be accessed by a perceiver at different spatial co-ordinates from the perceived event. This distance cannot be 0, since no two particles can have the same co-ordinates in space-time, and therefore observer and observed must also have different co-ordinates. Thus, the t-value of the event of perception is always different from the t-value of the perceived event. Token-reflexive expressions are as necessary for time as for space, because the co-ordinates of events we perceive are proportionate along each spatiotemporal axis to the speed of light.

As human observers, we can no more exist outside of space than we can outside of time, and our perceptions of each will always be from the perspective of the co-ordinates of the perception event. This, along with the realisation that token-reflexive expressions have the same use in time as well as space, subjects space to McTaggart’s objections. For McTaggart, for time to exist, there must be an A-series of events, described by token-reflexive expressions such as is past, is present and is future. The B-series consists of relational expressions the form E­­1 is earlier than, later than or simultaneous with E2. The contradiction lies in the fact that when, taking into account all co-ordinates along the t-axis, all events share the contradictory properties of past, present and future.

Equivalents for these can easily be found for the spatial axes. Since time is a single axis, let us also examine a single spatial axis, say the x-axis. Objectively, events can have an x-value greater than, less than or equal to other events’ x-values. If we posit an observer, whose events of perception Ep must by definition have an x-value, we can say that the events he perceives are either ahead of him, behind him, or at his position: respectively having greater, lesser or equal x-values as Ep. These former terms constitute the A-series of the x-axis, and the latter constitute the B-series.

There exist points on the x-axis for which an event is ahead of, behind and at the position of the spatial observer’s token-reflexive here, just as there are events past, and future to the temporal observer’s now. Why, then, do Dummett and McTaggart not dismiss the x-axis by the same mechanism as that by which they dismiss the t-axis? The answer to this is the central error to Dummett’s reasoning: he projects the limited nature onto all possible perception and, by extension, onto all possibility. The reason for this error is the inherent phenomenological guarantee of time for human observers. Put simply, this means that the rate and sequence at which we perceive events will always be proportionate. For example, if we perceive an object at time t1 and then again at t2 the difference between the t-values of the perceived events and the difference between the t-values of the perceiving events will be proportionate. They are commonly held to be equal – if I see a ball, then 5 seconds later I look at the ball again, I would say with confidence that the t-value of the ball was five seconds later – but, because of relativity, they are not equal, but proportionate. At speeds so much lower than the speed of light, this difference is phenomenologically negligible.

These two limitations – that of perceiving events in a sequence of increasing t-values, and that of perceiving events with t-values compared to our now proportionate to their x,y,z-values compared to our here – place a severe restriction on human perception. A consequence of these two is the restriction, that we cannot simultaneously perceive two objects with identical spatial co-ordinates but different temporal co-ordinates. However, there is no reason that this restriction should be placed on all possible perception in the universe. Nevertheless, this is what Dummett erroneously does.

He asks us, at one point, to imagine an observer that can perceive events with multiple t-values simultaneously, without the restriction of perceiving only simultaneous events, in the traditional sense. This observer could then, for example, perceive two events at the same spatial location with different t-values. Dummett then contends that the observer could ask, ‘which of these events is happening now?’ (Dummett, 1960) However, this very question links space and time inextricably: for the observer, the now has the same value as the here has for a human observer: it is that point at which the event of perception takes place, but not necessarily the point at which the perceived events take place. Just as we can observe events that are ahead of, behind or at our position on the x-axis, so this non-human observe can do with the t-axis.

It is here that Dummett lapses into error; while he affirms that the observer might see simultaneously multiple events at disproportionate times, i.e. spatially equidistant events from the observer could have different t-values, he neglects the possibility of the observer seeing two non-simultaneous events at one location. Thus, he states that, ‘what [the observer] observes can only be a model of the sequence of events in our three-dimensional space, not that sequence of events itself.’ (Dummett, 1960) He says this because, as with human perception, each x,y,z-value observed can have only one t-value mapped to it, which would indeed reduced to a three-dimensional model. However, there is absolutely no justification for such a stricture to be made.

Following the same line of reasoning, he dismisses the ability to model events over multiple t-values, because he states that there is an underlying assumption of temporal movement that is cannot be represented within the model itself. This, however, is also erroneous for a being who can perceive the world as four distinct vectors. Human perception only allows three; even though the events we perceive have different t-values they are mathematically interrelated, just as a two-dimensional creature might perceive a conic section as a parabola. However, when we view what we term as ‘sequence’ as being a range along an axis, we can model things along the t-axis, and even give them shape, as long as we do not take into account one of the other four vectors.

Let us consider the three-dimensional shape of a rectangular prism. This prism has the property that its height, its upper bound along the z-axis, is proportional to its t-value. This is to say that if a unit change along the -axis cannot exist without an equal change along the z-axis. Crucially for this thought-experiment, the x,y-bounds of the object stay constant. Since they are constant, for an accurate description of the object, we can ignore one of the other dimensions in our model, keeping in mind its constancy. Eliminating the y-value, we see that the model does indeed have a shape: it is that of a wedge, covering the range of ordered pairs (x,z,t) such that z = t. This is a model of an object with multiple t-values that can be understood by human perception; extending it to the 4-dimensional reality of the universe by re-inserting the constant y-value is a simple matter, albeit an inconceivable one in terms of mental modelling.

Another way in which human perceptive limits affect discussion on the subject of time is exhibited in this model: the perception that all ‘motion’ must be relative to the t-axis. In giving a synopsis of the above model, most people would say that the object’s z-value changes at a rate of one z-unit per one t-unit, that it is a change of height over time. However, for an observer not limited by human perception, it would be just as correct to say that its time changes over height, perhaps at a rate of three seconds per metre. Human prejudice indicates that time precedes motion, but this is not the case any more than the sky being above the ground precedes the grounds being below the sky. They are interrelated facts, inextricably linked and one cannot be true without the other.

Dummett’s article, even though it was written after the advent of relativity, continues as though time is an absolute, continuing at a steady rate of change. Relativity, however, has shown this to be untrue: all motion, be it along spatial or temporal axes, is only measured in relation to the rest of space-time. Just as a period in time cannot be described as being before or after the other moments in time, so locations in space can only be described in terms of their relation to other locations in space. Finally, motions between these points is describable only relative to the other points in space-time, because motion in time changes just as motion in space does at different speeds. Redshift, the light-wave equivalent of the Doppler Effect, is an example of this principle: events, occurring at the source at a constant rate, are perceived at different rates depending on the observer’s motion relative to the source of the events. Time is relative just as space.

Dummett asserts that any reality must be describable in its entirety, and he cites this tenet as a final argument in favour of McTaggart’s criticisms of space, but not of time. The reality of a rock, he says, can be described independent of any observer, without recourse to token-reflexive expressions. But can it? The rock, taken in isolation, can only be described in terms of the relation of points in the rock’s space to other points in that space, in the same way that events can be described in time only in relation to other events. To be located in space as a whole, it must again be relative to objects within that space, which in turn can only be located relative to other objects, and so on regressively. Location and description in space, just as in time, is totally regressive, and the token-reflexive expression remains the easiest anchor point for such descriptions. Nothing can be fully described in space-time except relative to everything else.

Descriptions of spatiotemporal objects are inherently relativistic, and a complete description of reality such as the one Dummett desires is impossible without resort to token-reflexive expressions. However, these token-reflexive events exist also relative to all other events and, conceivably, a full description of reality can be achieved in terms of such relation. By McTaggart’s definition, it seems neither space nor time is real; yet if reality consists of describability, such a definition does not preclude reality itself.

Space and time cannot be regarded as distinct kinds with distinct properties. They are both manifestations of the same dimensionality, and it is our human perceptions which limit our perception to only three of those at a time, and restrict our t-axis perception immeasurably. However, Dummett makes the error of applying this restriction to all possible perception, and thus arrives at an erroneous distinction between space and time, concluding the former can be described in absolute terms. However, once the notion of absolute time is abandoned, as physics proves it must be, the arguments upon which Dummett relies are greatly weakened, and time and space are unified. Space is no more independent of token-reflexive expressions than time, and no more or less real.
Colorless green ideas sleep furiously 25.X.2004 21:07
PHIL 355 (Theories of Reality aka Metaphysics) is definitely the most worthwhile academic endeavour in which I've ever taken part. It just seems like, for once, I'm taking a course that actually discusses, and forces me to think more rationally about, things which are important to me. Now, obviously, to most people in the world, metaphysics is not exactly up there in terms of concerns, but to me, nothing could be more important, at least from an intellectual-analytical perspective. I really do want to try to understand the world as best I can, and metaphysics deals with the most basic level of this: what it means for things to exist. Almost all the sciences have tacit metaphysical assumptions that they never explore, because they are simply widely assumed, based either on common sense or observation. However, it seems to be to be at least equally important to consider, and justify, these assumptions, and this is exactly what metaphysics is concerned with doing. I recommend anyone even remotely interested in philosophy take a metaphysics course. It's the foundation upon which all else is laid.

Specifically, I'd like to write about a problem we've discussed in class (it was on my recent midterm, which I think went pretty damn well), this being: is x exists a predicate. This is mostly intended as a rebuttal to the ontological argument, but it has a number of interesting side consequences when it comes to talking about things from a formal logic standpoint.

First of all, we must see what we are really saying when we make a predicate statement like, 'the Prime Minister of Canada is uncharismatic,' which he most surely is. Logically, though, what we are saying is 'there is something that is the Prime Minister of Canada and uncharismatic, and nothing else is the Prime Minister of Canada.' This sort of formulation, although farther from the natural language equivalent, it saves us from false statements being dismissed as nonsense. For example, if we say 'the present King of France is bald,' we cannot say that this statement is true or false, but are forced to dismiss it as nonsense. However, if we recognise this statement for what it really is, 'there is something that is the present King of France and bald, and nothing else is the King of France,' we can easily see how this statement is false: there is nothing which is the present King of France.

In this case, though, what can we do about existence as a predicate. Let us take an example from my textbook. We define a bachelor as something which is an unmarried male, and a superbachelor as something which is a bachelor and also exists. The question is: have we added anything to the definition of the former by positing existence as a necessary trait? Note that this is one thing that supporters of the ontological argument, from Anselm to Plantinga, have said of God: any maximally perfect being must have existence as one of his attributes. Thus they define God into existence, and existence being a predicate would allow them to do that. But is existence really a predicate?

If it is, then a problem arises when we try to make statements about non-existence. When we say 'x does not exist', this is a statement of the form 'subject-predicate', which is to say, logically, 'there exists a subject such taht subject is predicate', which would lead, in our example, to 'there exists an x such that x does not exists,' which borders on nonsensical. There are a couple ways to dance around it, most notably wading into the murky realm of 'unactualised possibles', objects that could exist, but don't. So, saying 'x does not exist' is really saying 'there exists an x such that the existential possibility of x is not instantiated.' However, such evasion becomes impossible when dealing with truly impossible objects.

The title of this post comes from Chomsky, being his famous sentence which he used to prove that impossible sentences do, in fact, make sense to us as long as they're syntactically valid, even though they refer to nothing in the world, or even to anything possible. Similar we could discuss something like, to use Quine's example, 'the round square cupola atop Berkeley College.' Needless, to say, there is no such thing: most of us would agree that it is true to say 'the round square cupola atop Berkeley College does not exist.' Yet this is not an unactualised possible, it is a plain impossibility. Thus, there must be some logical way of stating that it does not exist.

The solution is of course that existence is not a predicate. To say 'x exists', and consider it a subject-predicate statement, is as ridiculous as saying that in 'unmarried bachelors are unmarried', the predicate portion adds meaning to the proposition, which it obviously doesn't. This lends coherence to statements about incoherence: it is easy to see how saying 'there does not exist and object which is round and square and a cupola and atop Berkeley College.' Thus, it seems prettylogical that existence is in fact not a predicate, and thus the ontological argument, or at least one of its core arguments, is rendered invalid. If anyone's still reading at this point, give yourself one gold star!

On an interesting sidenote, one of the CompEng profs here at UW, who happens to be president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, made the news recently by declaring that all Israelis over the age of 18 are eligible targets for the intifadeh. His argument is that since military service is compulsory, all adults should count as soldiers of the enemy, but come on. It's not like you'd say war veterans are legitimate targets once they've been discharged. And why would you even make statements like that? To piss off the Jews? To make the government lean further towards Israel? To increase the distrust of Muslims in the west? Whom the hell do comments like that help? Nobody, that's who.