58 Tiger Cub Motorcycle

FRS 106, Michael Littman – Spring 2017

March 7, 2017 (Tuesday, Week 5)


  • Updates on shop progress
  • Readings with Gideon Rosen


  • Bottom End: Cleaned the transmission gears, counted them – the cycle has a standard ratio; Given a kinex model to explain to the class on Thursday
  • Clutch: Cleaned – oil parts, sprocket of clutch, ball bearings; Took inventory of clutch
  • Electrical: Tested capacitor
  • FastenersFound new seals; Cleaned the carb, began putting it back together
  • Forks: Cleaned fork, prepared it to be sent to powder coater
  • Frame: Sandblasted and polished rear struts – will begin painting; Frame needs to be welded
  • Top End: Machined dowels to align the head with the barrel (made a replacement part)
  • Wheels: Scrubbed wheels to get off rust


We were joined by Professor Gideon Rosen, a philosopher at Princeton

Rosen’s Background:

  • Mathematics: What is it? How can we know something is proved and with certainty if it is invisible and created?
  • Ethics: How should we live? Do we live in a deterministic universe?  Ethics deals with the application of morals and responsibility versus free will.
  • Rosen doesn’t have one key philosopher he looks to, for no one philosopher answers every question.

General Questions for Rosen

  • Why study philosophy?  It sharpens one’s thinking needed to deal with “muddy” topics.  Also, it brings the intrinsic value of reflection, and meets a genuine intellectual need in some people.
  • What is metaphysics? The study of reality – objects, their structures, and the principals governing them.  It looks to define which features are real and which depend on our minds and the way we perceive.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Chapters 10-11 

  • Scientific method leads to infinite hypotheses; it is constantly evolving new knowledge.
  • One view: Truth differs from what is “known” to be true.  Humans find facts, but do not make them.
  • Another view: Humans are not finding facts, rather new ways to describe reality.
  • Some intuition is required to make some hypotheses.
  • Kant: “a priori” – many objective features are subjective – we impose time on objects, but we aren’t detecting the passage of time
  • Whatever is out there, we cannot know anything about it beyond how it presents itself to us – we cannot peel away the layers of our minds to see what it really is (a mind independent world does not exist)
  • Motorcycle used to teach philosophy:
    • Concept of a motorcycle helps you know what it is as you move around it.
    • You know the motorcycle is not changing as you move even though your experience of it is.
    • The mind constructs the underlying permanent thing that resides below the changing sensory information.
  • Machine learning, when teaching machines how to identify an object, e.g. a chair
  • Hume said with just sensation and reason there is no learning.  To know more about an object, you need to bring some prior knowledge.
  • Kant tries to describe the algorithm the mind uses to go from sensation to object, and how we are able to make predictions about unseen sides of an object.
  • Rationality – what is it?
    • Coherent relations among beliefs – e.g. even a hallucinator can be rational
  • Reason – what is it?
    • Capacity of the mind for arriving at knowledge of one truth from other truths
  • Is perception hypothesis?
    • In modern view, yes.
    • In past, perception led to reason.
  • Pure reason is supposed to be free of perception.
  • Kant’s thesis: No knowledge of objective reality can come without some experience.
  • Reason applied to ethics:
    • Utilitarianism – moral requirement to act for the greatest good
    • Utilitariansim is a preposterous assumption e.g under it, a doctor should kill a healthy patient to give organs to several sick ones because the net survival is greater
    • But very simple reasoning behind this principle
    • Ends justify the means – very easily abused
  • Rosen’s opinion of ZAMM?
    • The story of a failed amateur philosopher
    • Gives a good example of the mind drifting the philosophical direction
  • Mindlessness is never the solution.
  • Everything needs intuition and imagination – from science to the arts
  • People have different levels of skepticism about the validity of generally accepted underlying views.
  • If one desires knowledge, classical is best.
  • Romantics can have valuable experience but cannot have an understanding of object.
  • So what is beauty?
    • An attention to detail
    • Some things are beautiful because they are useful, not in spite of it, e.g. structural art