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Free Speech • God and Humour • Detecting Androids • Peter versus Paul

Free Speech

SIR: I enjoyed very much your recent issue on humour. I laughed especially hard at John Searle’s proposed defence of free speech, which he outlined in the interview with Julian Moore. Searle asserted that humans have a basic right to free speech “because we are speech act performing animals” and that the right to free speech is “like a right to move your body around.” But there is a big difference between the right to move one’s body around, a right which no sane person would ever deny, and the right to move one’s body in any way one pleases, which no sane person should ever accept. This last right, which we might call the right to free bodily movement, is unacceptable because it would entail that people have a right to kill, torture, and destroy as they please. Searle is confused in treating the right to free speech – the right to say whatever one pleases – on a par with the uncontroversial right to bodily movement. It is the other putative right, the right to free bodily movement that is related to the right to free speech. Indeed, since speech acts are a subset of all bodily movements, the right to free speech is entailed by the right to free bodily movement. And free speech is objectionable for precisely the same reason that free bodily movement is objectionable: it has the potential to inflict substantial harm on others.

The mere fact that we are active beings, that we can move our bodies, provides no justification at all for the idea that we have a right to move our bodies in any way we please. Similarly, the mere fact that we are speech act performing animals provides no justification at all for the idea that we have a right to say whatever we please. It is laughable that Searle regards his defence of free speech as an improvement on the utilitarian defence provided by John Stuart Mill. And regarding his stated intention to write a book in defence of free speech, I suggest that Searle had better stick to issues in the philosophy of mind and language, unless of course his intention is to make us laugh.


God and Humour

SIR: Thoroughly enjoyed the issue on humour. It did leave me with one question which I wondered if anyone could answer. Does God have a sense of humour? And if not, how else does one explain the duck-billed platypus?


Detecting Androids

SIR: I cannot agree with some of the arguments put forward by Antoni Diller (‘Detecting Androids’, Issue 25). Assuming that an undetectable android is ever made from ‘powerful miniature motors’ and ‘electronic sensors’, this would hardly “prove that we (human beings) are nothing but machines whose behaviour can be completely explained in scientific terms.” There is rather more to human beings than the behaviour they exhibit. The hypothetical android’s behaviour would be explained by the programming that enabled it to mimic human behaviour; but this would not explain how the human mind and brain produces human behaviour, which would remain as mysterious as ever.

With reference to the truth or falsity of scientific theories, Diller states that “A scientist would have little incentive to try and falsify the theories of his rivals if he thought that they were certainly true”, but equally he would have just as little incentive if he thought that all scientific theories were false. This is just one of the problems that would arise if the premise “All scientific theories are false” was accepted as being true.

Even if we accept that “We cannot be certain that any of our current scientific theories are definitely true,” it does not follow from this that every scientific theory is false. All that we can conclude from the lack of certainty is that the theories may be true or false. If no scientific theory is ever true, then the term ‘false’ is also redundant when applied to these theories.


SIR: Antoni Diller is to be congratulated on his interesting and original argument (‘Detecting Androids’, Issue 25). However, I believe that his conclusion is stronger than his argument justifies. His major premise is that all scientific theories are false. This may be true but all I think he can justifiably claim is that no general scientific theory can be known to be true. But this weaker conclusion cannot be the basis of his proof.

Further, even if an android were designed with an imperfect (and hence technically false) embedded theory of human behaviour this could not guarantee its detection.

The situation would not arise unless there were a very good theory available. It would have had to pass many rigorous tests and be consistent with all known behaviour. Given the extreme variety of known human behaviour (including inhuman behaviour) this would make it a very impressive theory indeed. To apply it to any human individual many parameters would need to be measured and supplied to the model. Further accurate initial conditions would have to be set. Without these sets of data the model could not be reliably used. This would correspond to supplying Newton’s theory with such data as the masses of the planets and their initial positions and velocities. If, in these circumstances, the behaviour of an individual (human or android) was observed to be different from the predictions of the theory, would one be justified in concluding that we must be dealing with a human? Surely, as with the planetary example, one would suspect that some data element or measurement was incorrect. After all it is, by hypothesis, a very well established theory. So, perhaps, more measurements would be undertaken on the same individual. But now everything would need to be recomputed and new predictions and measurements made. Given that we are dealing with a well tested theory this new prediction is likely to be confirmed. No conclusion could be drawn.

A further, potentially lethal, difficulty would arise if this general theory had chaotic elements within its dynamical structure. This is likely, given the degree of complexity to be expected of any theory successfully predicting all human behaviour. If the dynamical structure of the theory is chaotic then long term prediction of behaviour is impossible anyway. This is thought to be the case with, for example, weather forecasting. Failure to correctly predict actual weather is not likely to be due to our lack of a good dynamical theory. I’m afraid that androids will remain undetected.

Finally, the job interview example is not impressive. Any well tested general theory of human behaviour would certainly involve learning so that our android’s experiences would certainly change her behaviour, just as with humans.

There are parallels here with the use of Turing tests. In practice it is not uncommon for humans to be mistaken for computers. We all know people we could easily believe to be androids (not operating under a superb theory).


SIR: Reading Peter Rickman’ s ‘The Philosopher as Joker’ I became intrigued as to why, with all the similarities between philosophy and comedy, all philosophy doesn’t cause one to split one’s sides, and great philosophy especially so. I have found the art of humour to be very different from philosophical discourse; indeed, the product of the humourist is neatly antithetical or complementary to, and often the mockery of, serious, structured, thorough investigation. The general rule is that long words are a real no-no: the humourist’s angle on paradox isn’t one of meticulous delineation.

The humourist has in his armoury a number of weapons which can fire point-blank into our latent insecurity.


Peter versus Paul

SIR: Therese Murray’s article on Christianity in your Winter 99 magazine was most interesting and pinpointed quite a problem in interpreting the true import of Christ’s teaching. We can, of course, glimpse the difference of opinion between Peter and Paul in Galatians.

Paul was a profound thinker. He was not only steeped in the traditional Jewish concept of God and His purpose, but it is evident that he was widely read in Greek philosophy.

His insistence on the atonement goes back to Isaiah 53 and reflects the attitude of most of the Jewish community of that time. He was attempting to rationalise the purpose of Christ’s suffering, and perhaps to some extent was missing the essence of Christ’s teaching, a teaching which reflected the purest form of many religions: a life of selfishness and a belief in an absolute.

It is unfortunate for Christianity that dogmas arrived at through careful thought have tended to divide the church.


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