Freedom of…

Short brain dump. This may not make sense if you weren’t in the Pleasance cabaret bar at around 12:45 this morning.

… thought

Thought (the phenomenological consciously accessible kind) is private, thus it’s not possible to determine what someone is thinking. At best you’ll be able to relate patterns of brain activity to self-reports of what people are (i.e. claim to be) thinking. This is always an approximation of what people are really experiencing. Also even if it’s not, I may refuse to give you my particular thought-brain-pattern relations, and so protect myself from thought detection and censorship by the fact that there are individual differences in the relations. Using your big Gaussian smoothing kernel to try to get rid of the effect of individual differences will reduce your ability to read my thoughts. So there is always freedom of thought.

This does assume the folk psychological notions of “freedom” and “thought”. You might argue that from the viewpoint of the biological machinery that’s enabling the thinking, freedom of thought is impossible and an illusion since it’s all influenced by the environment, etc.

… action

Actions, outcomes of thoughts, are already controlled for good reason, for instance to try to reduce murder.

… speech

I’m exercising my right at the moment. I can produce pages of writings on my thoughts. I can go to the pub and broadcast my views there too. It’s brilliant, but there’s a problem: nobody may hear what I’m saying. Freedom of speech doesn’t work unless there’s freedom of advertising (“Listen to me! I’m telling you the truth! Guaranteed or your time and money back!”). Advertising is only effective if you’ve got the right kind of money, the time to do campaigning. Who decides who gets the money? Society. So freedom of speech doesn’t work as it’s implicity modulated by people who want to hear what you have to say.

… listening?

This would go that everyone has the right to read, watch, listen to whatever they want. Seems dubious as then children would see things that could, perhaps, cause feelings and behaviour we’d probably rather they didn’t. You could argue that consenting adults should be allowed to watch anything, but what about specific examples such as videos of real murders, real child abuse? Something is not quite right there.

Back to the biological-level argument, if your environment, in particular what you read and hear, influences in a major way what you think—as seems plausible—then we really don’t want it to be possible for people to be exposed to every form of information. One counterargument to this is that sensible people wouldn’t try to access the bad stuff, but it’s not them that need protecting.

So anyway, here’s a claim

Censorship is a good idea, but only if (a) it’s made public the kind of thing which has been censored and (b) it’s possible to challenge censorship for specific cases.

End of braindump.

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2 comments

  1. Robert is Robert is Robert is Robert

    Tangential comments…

    I agree. “Freedom of speech” is self-serving propaganda.

    If you are all for censorship…. How do you handle differing opinions on what should be censored/lawful? Who decides what is law? The moral majority? Will that make us any better off?

    The reason that can be reasoned is not the eternal reason….

    I like the bit about thought. But… if we cannot access each other’s internal states, then what are we doing when we talk to one another? Gaussian kernel smoothing?

  2. Andy

    Differing opinions: let people fight it out in public; allow rulings to be challenged; use the already successful mechanisms such as parental guidance stickers to sub-divide the population.

    When we talk to each other I guess we do some kind of smoothing :) Maybe that’s all analogy is.

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