Calculators: Knowledge-Producing Machines



Recently, my brother and I have been somewhat interested in how non-philosophers, specifically business scholars (if you will) and science students approach philosophical problems. Yesterday, we were at boxing practice, and Hui decided to ask about the topic discussed in our 400-level philosophy class. True: a meeting for pugilists is not the most likely place to engage in philosophical discourse, but better yesterday than tomorrow.


The question posed: A calculator shows the equation ‘2+2=4’. Can I now say that I know ‘2+2=4’, or in other words, the composition of 4?

I’d like to give you three accounts of the solution to the question. Perhaps, you’ll find it fun to see how others answer the question.


The Biology Major. He said that the composition of 4 cannot be known because there is an uncertainty in the calculator’s purport (presumably based on the idea of that there is always a probability of failure, in this case, in the calculator). And knowing something does not allow for uncertainty.

The Mathematics Major. She said a proof would be the only way of knowing whether 2+2=4 presumably because the calculator derives its purport from the proof and the theoretical (a priori) evaluation cannot be proven wrong.

The Police Officer. He said that he has no problem knowing the composition of 4 from the calculator because whatever makes ‘2+2=4’ known, whether it be a proof or experimentation, also makes the calculator’s purport known.

In retrospect, I believe all these responses characterize their major and occupation. This is not to say that the criteria for knowledge is relative or also that these accounts are incompatible. Both Hui and I are just surprised and humored at how others approach the question. As for our pick, surprisingly enough, we like the police officer’s austerity in reasoning and preservation of truth.

It’s Hard to Follow Certain Philosophies

This is the book Yang read. I would come to read it before going to college.
This is the book Yang read. I would come to read it before going to college.

Hui and I at first dismissed the notion that people do not change for philosophies (of the continental sort). Some who would discover meaningful ideas (for instance Stoicism) and attempt to adhere to them generally end up feeling unenthusiastic or forgetting the extremities of the ideas. By “some,” I know at least one.

I read an instance of a person changing for her philosophy. I read that the author was getting annoyed by her husband for the usual jokes, but she realized her petulance and changed her entire attitude. I was either incredulous or respectful to the post, but I do commend the author, if it actually happened.

But for those who find it hard to stick to a philosophy, I’ll use mine to rationalize the difficulty, the main suspect being that the philosophy is too different from the nature of people. For example, how could a hipster stop suppressing emotion for following Stoicism? However, I don’t know if anyone would be capable of straying from Zhuangzi’s philosophy.

Not Good is Not No Good

In logic, there is a fallacy (an instance of poor reasoning) called the straw man: contorting a proposition only for it to be “beaten” down. Scarecrow in Taipei by 陽炎.

A logical opposite is a sentence (I use sentence very loosely here.) that is the negation of its counterpart. In practice, logical opposition is generally inserting a “not” near the core of the sentence.

Zhuangzi could have been striving to be therapeutic or (its logical opposite) not therapeutic. 

Continue reading Not Good is Not No Good

Taoist Musings: Truck Driver

Black Vulture, taken by Mdf, can symbolize either me or the Tao

Lord of the Great Way, let me write what may seem contrived, clauses pinned with awkward rhymes, and inspire others to their own precious poesy; and also to some new, unkempt lines–call them yellow and dashed, literally not literary, and rolling metal oncoming-passed, actually but automotively, for in essence, isn’t a truck driver a sage, turning her wheels only to the wage. Thus, the Way is to get paid, the ears to drown out the paved, and the eyes always to gaze at the roads no different from ten miles ago, though I concede the trucker’s eyes may be strained as the summer sets that even the doctor would prescribe 40 pills of Percocet.

These musings are the pain-killed poetic and taoist fusing, so I hope my fun of writing this transfers to you an equal amusing.

Spontaneity in a Push-up Competition

(By Stoyan Vassev) Our favorite fighter Rigondeaux who seems to fight spontaneously, within his limits.
(By Stoyan Vassev) Our favorite fighter Rigondeaux who seems to fight spontaneously, within his limits.

My brother and Ibelieve it or notwere on our high school’s football team. Although we will have left the team to focus more on school and boxing, we invested ourselves in it, and with the help of our coach, we at one point surpassed most of our peers in strength (speed, not so much). Continue reading Spontaneity in a Push-up Competition