More News from March 2001



Hmmm. The Mac OS X implementation of PDF allows you to print PDF files which have been marked as "for viewing and not for printing" by Adobe Acrobat. That's one part of the specification that I think I'm glad they didn't implement correctly. I doubt that Adobe will be happy about that, though.


Those of you who are following the story of my life will be pleased to know that today, the floor sander & polisher has finally arrived. If this will not bring on an early labour, I don't know what will.


Happy National Head Lice Awareness Day.


Further on Mac OS X, Omniweb is now a useful browser alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. The Mac OS X version of IE5.1 can't cut & paste in browser edit windows (or anywhere else, it seems), which makes it useless for a web-logger. Omniweb not only handles text nicely, it uses Apple's own spell-checker in edit windows. That's handy.


This picture, which I first mentioned a few days ago, was from a collection my uncle digitised for my brother and me. It was disconcerting to see so many pictures I hadn't seen for years. Apparently, I squinted in photos 31 years ago, just as I do now. It's apparent too (though I knew this) that my I was always close to both my mother and to my maternal grandfather. What I saw most strikingly in the early pictures was the great loss experienced my my mother's side of the family when they pulled up roots and emigrated from Holland to Australia in the early 1950's. Brisbane was a cultural wasteland and Australians were a little on the xenophobic side (though it helped that my family were white, of course). Somehow, they carved a life out for themselves, and for us, and we thrived.


We come from a blue planet light-years away
Where everything multiplies at an amazing rate
We're out here in the universe buying real estate
Hope we haven't gotten here too late

We're humans from earth.


U2Log is a repository of information about the U2 tour, which has just started in Miami. You've got to love the internet when you can listen to songs from the show less than 24 hours after it's finished.


OK. The installation of Mac OS X had its ups and downs (as anyone attempting to visit the site in the last couple of days will have suspected). Anyway, the machine is running nice and smoothly now. That wasn't the case yesterday, when a botched installation of a here unnamed mega-corporation's office suite not only tied up time, but managed to fry a partition of my disk so badly that neither the friendly Disk Utility or the last ditch boot into single user mode and fsck the disk could repair the errors. This required a reformat/reinstall. Just as well that my website was safely copied into another partition which survived the apocalypse.

Upgrading operating systems is not always the simple task that it ought to be.

However, once I recovered from that rigmarole, I've managed to get things done on this machine. The font and pdf support is just wonderful. iTunes rips disks and plays uninterrupted. The Finder is much more responsive than in the public beta, and (apart from my terrible experience with Office [oops!]) Classic MacOS applications run well too.


Erasmus seems to like avant garde music. Here's a larger version of the image. Endless fame and fortune await you if you can give titles or references for the books you can see on our shelves.


For me to write out 100 times after school is over today: When I update the operating system on my server, I must check that the Energy Saver control panel is not set to "put system to sleep after 30 minutes".


I'm back. I now know more about compiling and configuring PHP than I ever wanted to. But nonetheless, I'm back, and my computer is now running Mac OS X.


Hug Me: A picture of my family in 1970. I've just turned one.


There's something distinctly American about the mix of pop-psychology, religion and capitalism displayed by Scientology. The so-called "church" of Scientology might send their lawyers after me, but regardless, I feel compelled to point you to the crazy, sad and revealing inside story The Road to Xenu, written by Margery Wakefield. It is a perspective from the inside of this organisation.

For more on Scientology, read her Understanding Scientology and her autobiography Testimony.

For extra bonus credits, consider L. Ron Hubbard's amazing Logics, which is advertised as follows

The Logics were written by L. Ron Hubbard from a summary of information which began in November of 1938 and were published in 1951. They have never varied since that time. The Logics form a gradient scale of association of facts necessary to understand and resolve any problem. They are used to predict behavior and clarify the entire field of thought. The Logics are a method of thinking and could be called “how to think.” The basic common denominators of all education may be found in the Logics.
I cannot begin to explain how bad the Logics are, both in terms of content and "style". (It makes me wonder what would have happened had you locked Wittgenstein and Hubbard together in a room for 24 hours what might have emerged. Still, I'll take Wittgenstein's Tractatus over Hubbard's Logics any day of the week.)


Go see Yolngu Boy. It opened in cinemas here in Sydney a couple of days ago. It's a simple coming-of-age story about three aboriginal boys living in Arnhem Land. Good stuff.


I am rather looking forward to installing Mac OS X on this server. So, sometime in this upcoming week, expect a little downtime as I sweep out the old and bring in the new. I'm pleased to find that when I install the new operating system I'll be receiving a bucketload of sweet new fonts. (Genuine, complete Unicode sets of Optima, Didot and Gill Sans, just for starters.)


Apologies for the outages in the last 36 hours. That's what you get for not being in the office for a couple of days to fix an unplugged cable. We now return you to your previously scheduled programming.


There's lots to think about in this article on Amazoning the News. It's clear that Amazon does a lot of things well. Try looking at how news stories would look if publishers followed the same model.


There is some stunning Flash at therefore, the site of a UK design firm.


OK. We've got comments attached to each day's entry. If there's a comment attached to an entry, you'll see a little statement to that effect at the bottom of the entry. If not, you'll see a link prompting you to add one. In either case, use that link, or the date link at the top of the entry to see the comments form attached to each page and the other comments people have added.


Advice for weblog people who want to be linked in URL poetry: Name your weblog with a world which is not a noun.


I love the internet, part 2: Three specimens, received in my email in the last two days.

Specimen A

Dear Philosopher,

As we know, high-speed relativity effects are expensive to detect experimentally. However, in daily fluid phenomena, we can easily obtain similar Axial contractions, Circulating time dilations, and Virtual mass increasements. The maximum light speed in space is similar to the terminal propagation speed when the fabric of space is taken as a fluid continuum.
Now is the turning point for philosophers to be glorified for an open-minded new approach upon our fundamental Nature. Early birds please view a comparison table in the following URL

For more details, please view

Specimen B

sir, i am trained by my guru from himalays a technique by which a touch at forehead is enough to experience thoughtless and samadhi within few minutes.i offer this to you with a hope you would be interested.Oblige me by visiting my site

Specimen C

hi im george, i live in england uk,i believe i discovered that LOGIC is IT everything.makes everything,proves everything. the theory of logic is the theory which makes all laws of physics. im looking for someone who's interested about the discovery i made, you can see it at my webpage and of course i'm interested in anyone who's interested in working with me in a laboratory with this discovery.
Free email with personality! Over 200 domains!


I love the internet. I love the fact that people from all over the world who I've never met are coming to visit, because I posted this and sent an email around.



Previously on this channel, I started to explain why I didn't like Wittgensteinian fideism in talk about God or Ultimate Reality. (If you're a late arrival, this is what I'm talking about.) I started by scratching the usual "Use/Mention Distinction" itch. Let's go on:

Once I scratch this itch, it becomes clear to me why fideism is unappetising. God in God's-self is neither an assumption nor a conclusion. The claim that God exists on the other hand can be a presupposition and a conclusion. The one and the same claim we make can feature in plenty of different ways. Take an example from the sciences. At different times, the idea that force was mass times acceleration was treated as a definition of force and as a wonderful consequence of independent definitions of "Force", "mass" and "acceleration". As our use of the language changes, so do the way we treat the terms in those languages. Language is flexible and can be used in many different ways. To think that the term "God" is only avalable for use as an assumption, and that it can't enter into the give and take of the rest of our reasoning practices is to take our practices to be much more regimented than they actually are.

Another example. Apparently, for the fideist, God doesn't exist. No, I haven't said that correctly: apparently it's not true (or not appropriate) to say that God does exist, because to say that something exists is to say that it might have not existed. Similarly, you can't say that it's a fact that there's a God, because facts are contingent. Hmm. OK. Here we get a weird assumption from the science and philosophy of the late 19th and early 20th century infecting our philosophy of religion. The weird assumption is that the only facts are the ways that little bits of the world are (an electron here, a patch of colour there...) and the things you can make up by piecing these little bits together. If by "object" you mean "piece of the physical world or the world of phenomena" and by "fact" you mean "way that the physical world or the world of phenomena is arranged" then sure the existence of God isn't a fact, and God isn't an object.

But that's not what I mean by these things. All I mean by fact can be explained in a simple phrase: it's a fact that X if and only if X. For whatever X you please. So, it's a fact that 2+2=4 if and only if 2+2=4. It's a fact that Bilbo Baggins lived in Bag End if and only if Bilbo Baggins lived in Bag End. It's a fact that God predestines the righteous if and only if God predestines the righteous. It's a fact that there's a fourfold path to enlightenment if and only if there's a fourfold path to enlightenment. Whether it's contingent or not doesn't come in to it. The same goes for objects. Anything I can talk about is an object. Even God. Even Ultimate Reality. Nothing I've said presumes that we can understand God, or comprehendultimate reality but goodness: surely it's much more likely that the creator of the universe (or the way the whole universe is) would be much difficult to comprehend than any of our own concepts or ideas.


You've got to admire Gregory Chaitin for the publicity he manages to garner for himself. Apparently his work on computability and its limits is so important that he has "shattered mathematics with a single number". Apparently, he's revolutionised the field of mathematics like so:

TWO plus two equals four: nobody would argue with that. Mathematicians can rigorously prove sums like this, and many other things besides. The language of maths allows them to provide neatly ordered ways to describe everything that happens in the world around us. Or so they once thought. Gregory Chaitin ... has shown that mathematicians can't actually prove very much at all. (Marcus Chown in New Scientist)
Of course, he's done nothing of the sort. Nothing already proved by mathematicians has been overturned. The hordes of theorems proved in the acres of pages of journals (let alone all of those on the net) are not suddenly obselete. The potential countable infinity of provable mathematical claims has not shrunk overnight.

And the fact that there's plenty in the remit of mathematics which cannot be proved is not new with Chaitin either. Gödel managed that fine on his own. Yes, Chaitin manages to tie this in with his idiosyncratic definition of randomness and to prove nice things about certain numbers, such as his Omega. Good luck to him with it. But please, reporters, tone down the fanfare.


Well, perhaps I should stock up on Edam and Gouda. It looks like it will be in short supply for a while.


I am very worried about this program. Please don't send me mail with it. Please. Text is your friend. Sentences are good things. Bandwidth sucking images are not a good idea for email. Neither are sounds.


Australian Ethical Investment seem to be doing Good Things with money.


I promised an explanation of why I found Wittgensteinian fideism in philosophy of religion unappetising. Here it is.

Unappetising is a good word for the view. There's value and insight in it, but on it's own, it doesn't make for a satsfying meal. It's revealing and important to understand our conception of God (or of whatever we take to be ultimately real) to be formed by the way we use words, concepts and images. That's a deep and important insight. What happens when people convert? They learn to use a language. (Among other things.) Some people don't have competence in the language and don't share in the way of life, and as a result we say that they don't know what we mean.

So far, so good. But the step from there to full-blown fideism (that there can be no evidence for or against religious claims, there can be no reasons for or against religious claims, etc.) is a mighty big one.

First, I want to scratch an itch I feel whenever I read passages like these. Given my training, it bugs me whenever I see people slipping happily from talking about things to talking about words or concepts for things. When Messer writes "God is a presupposition, not a conclusion", I feel like shaking him and saying, no, for religious believers, God is the creator of the heavens and the earth and is neither a presupposition nor a conclusion. The idea of God or the concept of God might be found at the conclusion of an argument, or might be the kind of thing we can presuppose or assume. God in God's-self is none of those things. So, when I read Messer, I need to insert mental quote marks as we jump from talking about God to talking about our ideas of God or our claims about God or whatever.

Now, this might be a trivial matter. Perhaps Messer is just better at mentally jumping levels than I am. But maybe he's not. There have been enough people in the grip of an idealism (that everything is an idea) or a projectionism about God (that God is a projection of human wishes or hopes or fears) for me to think that in this ballpark it's better to be clearer about these things than not. After all, even if you're an idealist, you're probably going to want to distinguish yourself from my idea of you; from Inspector Moriarty and my idea of him. Perhaps we ought to extend the same courtesy to God.

More later.


I promised earlier to spew forth some of my thoughts about arguments for the existence of God. Let me start by quoting you some of Alex Messer's summaries of the classical Wittgensteinian position about belief in God. It all comes from his Does God's Existence Need Proof? Here are his nice summaries of the position:

God is inexpressible

The Wittgensteinian school is wholly opposed not only to the traditional definition of God, but also the whole idea of any definition of God. Defining God brings him within the boundaries of language rather than allowing him his proper place on the boundaries. To express God is to fail to give due respect to the inexpressible.

page 22

God is not an existent or a being
The Wittgensteinian school is concerned to show the grammatical inappropriateness of treating God (as traditional philosophy has done) as an existent among existents. Phillips, for example, often quotes Kierkegaard's dictum, 'God does not exist; he is eternal', with approval. The point is that to tread God as an existent is to imply that God might not have existed, and this is clearly not what believers have wanted to say at all. For any existing thing, it makes sense to suppose that it might not have existed. All people depend upon their parents having met, and their grandparents, and so on. All living creatures are equally dependent. All man-made objects depend for their existence upon geographical, geological, and biological factors. The point is that it is to impose an alien grammar upon God to bring him within this realm of discourse. God does not depend for his existence upon anything else; therefore he cannot be described as an existent ot being.

pages 23 and 24

God is not a matter of fact
It is just as grammatically confused to treat God as a fact as to treat God as an existent, and for the same reason. Facts are contingent: they are true, but they might not have been. God, however, cannot be spoken of as existing contingently, and this means that we cannot speak of God's reality as factual. Facts can change: we can come to find that, because of new evidence, what we thought of as a fact was mistaken. Yet it makes no sense to say that belief in God was mistaken because new facts have been discovered to show this. To come to believe in God ... is not to discover a new fact -- that there is a God -- but to change one's life in a fundamental and practical manner.

page 25

God is practical, not hypothetical
The Wittgensteinian school rejects the notion that God is an explanation of life in the way that a hypothesis is. If new evidence tomes to light to show that the Big Bang theory, or neo-Darwinian evolution, is true, this does not alter the genuine religious belief in God. God is not an explanation, because God is not in competition with any explanatory theory. Losing belief in God because of scientific advance reveals an inadequate conception of God.

Similarly, genuine belief in God is not hypothetical or theoretical. To treat God as a hypothesis is to believe in God tentatively; new evidence could arise at any time to show that our hypothesis was mistaken. We woulld have to check scientific and philosophical journals regularly to ensure that our belief in God was stil rational.

pages 25 and 26

God is not an inference, but a presupposition
For a Proof of God to be an appropriate task, it must be grammatically and religiously acceptable to be able to treat God, at least in part, as an inference from an idea of unsurpassable perfection, facts about the world, or the existence of the world itself. Phillips opposes such a view by arguing that God is an ungrounded presupposition in the believer's world-view. God is not to be inferred, but things are to be inferred from God.

God, for Wittgenstein, is a measure or a yardstick, not something to be inferred from some other measure such as philosophical reasoning. Belief in God is the undergirding of a way of looking at the world, not the result of simply looking at the world and trying to explain it. Religious belief is too fundamental and all-encompassing to be able to base it upon external factors.

page 26

Now, I think I disagree with just about everything here. I'll explain why soon. I'll let you chew on it for a little while.


Time for a quick reconfigure of this site: I got sick of the green. The colour is now officially in the pictures, not in the background. Two more changes to this place are in the works, but for the moment I'm having more fun preparing classes and teaching them.


Tim Chow has written a neat exposition of forcing for dummies. It's a misnomer. It's forcing for those who know what Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory is, and who have probably seen a forcing proof before, and who want to get a feel for Cohen's forcing proof of the independence of the continuum hypothesis from the ZF axioms. That's me. So I think this short essay is the bee's knees.


Today, after four hours of teaching, two with honours students, and two with second level logic students, I have remembered why I love this job.


Some mathematics:

In mathematical circles, there is the overall opinion that formulae, in their capacity of syntactic units, are dead things, and that formula manipulation tears the heart out of mathematics. In these circles, formulae largely live by virtue of what they stand for, of what they mean, of how they feel and appeal to our intuition—our(?) intuition? And their meanings then tell which formulae to consider next. Poor Leibniz, poor Lagrange, poor Boole, poor Hilbert, and all others who shifted their attention towards uninterpreted formulae manipulation: they were all wrong, weren’t they?

W.H.J. Feijen, "The joy of formula manipulation" Information Processing Letters 77 (2001), page 89.

Actually, I lied. That's really meta-mathematics.


Some emotion.

Actually, that's a lie too. That's really meta-emotion.


God exists! The proof is due to Bob Meyer, and he's serious, it's a proof not only of God's existence, but that God's existence is equivalent to the axiom of choice. I've been thinking and reading a bit about the role of proofs of the existence of God. I'll spew some of my thoughts here sometime for your delectation and disagreement, when they get well-formed enough to be committed to electrons.


This information about ftp hijacking is not a joke. I've had a few attempts at anonymous ftp into this box in the last few days. The latest is from the kind folks at according to the logs. Hi guys! Sorry, I don't do anonymous ftp.


This entry is here just in case I decide I need a career change.

However, I'm happy where I am at present, and frankly, a move to spying for Australia is not an option. ASIS probably already know about that meeting of the International Socialists I went to as an undergraduate. That will rule me out.

My brief flirtation with organised socialism was pretty revealing. The socialists were much better at following up interested students than the Christian groups on campus (probably because of having to deal with a smaller level of interest in conservative Queensland). I think that my mother more than just a little freaked out when the notorious Ian Rintoul and an associate paid me a visit. It was the Sunday afternoon immediately after the evangelistic "What is Socialism?" meeting I attended to check out other student groups on campus. They spent a quick 15 minutes over coffee guaging my interest and possible commitment to the cause.

Anyway, if they didn't know of that meeting back then, they probably do now.


Pouring rain last night, and as a result, Macquarie University (and this website) is cut off from the outside world for seven hours (from 1:30am to 8:30am).


Moby is remarkably articulate. I was aware of his liner-note discourses encouraging vegetarianism, left-leaning politics and his love for Jesus. I wasn't aware that he has an online diary. (The jabs at George W. Bush are to die for.)


It seems that I can add grantsmanship to my list of recently acquired skills. I helped (with my Head of Department, and another colleague) acquire $49,000 for the department in teaching development funds. I hate grant interview meetings, but in this case the outcome (a salary for a new member of staff for a year) is worth it.


Read Scott Rahin on Being Good. Good. Very good. Like all of Paul Ford's, it repays reading and rereading.


Within five hours of taking the password control off this website on February 28, it fields a request from No wonder google is the search engine of choice.


In August, I will be in Helsinki. What should I do there in my free time?

Here is the measly collection of links I've managed to find so far.

These are all instituitional. They tell you the official story. If you have any personal, inside information, please let me know. Where should I hang out? What should I look out for? What is distinctively Helsinki?


The bridge climb last night was an experience. A highly recommended one. There's no difficulty at all, and absolutely no danger. It was less edgy than I would have liked; probably because your focal length is foreshortened at night. (We were at the summit at approximately 8:45). A daytime climb would give you a greater sense of depth of field. Perhaps I will do that in approximately thirteen years' time, if the company running it is still operating then.


Not only is Neale back at wrongwaygoback, he's also writing some very good material. If you're a publisher, please consider showing him the money.


Ooof. Got into the office this morning to encounter my cube suffering a kernal panic. Estimated time, according to the logs, anything between 3am and 8am. (Expect occasional outages like this while I figure out how to keep it up and running. Luckily for you and me, this website is not a matter of life and death.)


More interesting writing, bending the form of the weblog, is to be found at Scroll right --->


Welcome to my new home on the web. The about page should give you an idea of how it works.

As with all new designs, there's the risk that I've coded something which doesn't render properly in your browser. If this is the case for you, please let me know.


I got off the bus this morning and walked to my building, to see (from the outside) that I'd left my office window wide open. There was a on metre square of air between my seventh-floor office desk and computer and the outside world. There was a violent storm yesterday late afternoon and evening after I had left work.

At least I knew from last night that my computer was still working. I waited to see the state of the rest of the desk as I took the lift up the building.

It's dried out, at least.


Saying sorry is difficult. (Thanks to Brian for the second link here.)


I’m Greg Restall, and this is my personal website. I am the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and the Director of the Arché Philosophical Research Centre for Logic, Language, Metaphysics and Epistemology I like thinking about – and helping other people think about – logic and philosophy and the many different ways they can inform each other.


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