Friday, December 12, 2008

Technicalities (Choices... continued)

I made a post about free will back in August and I have an adjustment to make. At one point I claimed humans could predict the future if given all current information. After further thought I believe this to be impossible, because of a technicality.

Future prediction via mathematical means is impossible because the function for finding future events would necessarily take those same future events. This is because human knowledge of the future would immediately impact it. I've provided a sample formula below to give you an idea of what I mean.


E = f(A,B,C,...,E)

E = future events (next set of events in the next unit of time)
f = future calculating function
A,B,C = information from the current unit of time


Now my stance on free will still stands however. Just because the future cannot be predicted, doesn't mean it's not predetermined.

A Moment of Brilliance

Rob over at RabbleCopter had an epiphany that must be shared with the world. The results are posted below, enjoy!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Red Devil

I'm so tired of people demonizing Obama's economic policies as Socialist. I'm not sold on the idea of them being socialist, but what would be so bad about it if they were? People seem to have an immediate negative reaction to socialism without even considering what they're really afraid of. Have they considered the benefits it could bring that capitalism would not?

First of all, America's economy does not run on pure capitalism anyways. Our government constantly intervenes to guide it in a desired direction (think bail out).

There are also some things I don't approve about capitalism. For instance, capitalism runs on the principle of supply and demand, and sometimes we want stupid things. Observe:

Now this picture seems a bit exaggerated, but it still serves a valid point. Entertainment drives profits, not education. Public goods go poorly funded while sports stars make millions. Capitalism is failing our education system.

All that I ask is that you take the time to think critically about an economic policy (or whatever) before you demonize it solely on the grounds that it's socialist.

Patriotism Is Not A Virtue

Well, at least not inherently. Let's begin with a quote from Oscar Wilde:
Patriotism is the virtue of the wicked.
Allow me to explain what I think Mr. Wilde meant. Patriotism is generally defined as a love for one's country. However, patriotism can be used to promote separatism and xenophobia. It can also be used to silence opposition and blind people to the corruption of government.

You can see this tactic being employed by the McCain campaign when they accuse their opposition of being un-American. Republicans are appealing to the patriotism of the ignorant and stupid to build an "us vs. them" mentality.

My favorite philosopher, Socrates, has an excellent explanation of what it means to be a true patriot:
Patriotism does not require one to agree with everything that his country does and would actually promote analytical questioning in a quest to make the country the best it possibly can be.
So the moral of the story here is that it takes more than just loving your country to be a patriot. You must question your leaders and work hard to make it a better place to live.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fear and Politics on the Straight Talk Express

If any of you have been watching The Daily Show lately, you will have seen McCain supporters in hysterical fear of Barack Obama over this whole William Ayres thing. A supporter referred to Obama as an Arab during one of his speaches, and another shouted "terrorist". McCain did the right thing and refuted these claims saying:
I have to tell you. Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States.
This is all well and good, but the McCain campain is responsible for the hysteria in the first place. It was McCain and Palin who called Obama's loyalties into question.

I was displeased with McCain's response to the supporter who referred to Obama as Arab:

No, ma'am. He's a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign's all about. He's not [an Arab].
He's on the right track, but he missed a key point. It doesn't matter whether or not he's of Arab decent (so long as he's a citizen). Cultural background is something that should never be called into question, and McCain should have made that clear. Politicians should only be judged on their values. Now culture and religion do sometimes highlight the values of a candidate (as they do with Palin), and should be examined. However, being an Arab, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Homosexual, or Witch Doctor shouldn't be an automatic disqualifier.

What you CAN do is say, "how would the candidate's status as a Witch Doctor affect their legislation?" This may seem a bit schizophrenic, but there is a slight difference between calling a candidate a Muslim and asking how/if the values of the candidate would affect legislation.

It does pain me to take this position, because I personally would like to see an atheist in office. A lot of people are under the incorrect assumption that this country was founded on Christian values. This is false. The country was founded on Secular values with a clear separation of Church and State. Oh, if the Founding Fathers could see us now. What shame we have brought them.

On a side note:


For information on whether or not the Democratic candidate is "Muslin," check this helpful website:

http://www.isbarackobamamuslin.com/

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Evolution and Technology

I've talked about the affects of technology on evolution before, but I feel I didn't do the subject proper justice. There seems to be this notion that human technology has somehow halted evolution. That man has risen above the force that has shaped all creatures on Earth. This is a misunderstanding that reveals an ignorance of evolution, even among the educated.

I think the term "survival of the fittest" is the main source of the problem. This phrase is truly a misguided characterization of the process. Survival is an important aspect of evolution, but not quite the defining feature. It is really just a prerequisite for the replication of organisms. The more copies a species is able to make of itself, the more able it is to pass its genes from generation to generation. We are only concerned with whether or not an organism was able to live long enough to reproduce.

The "fittest" is a poorly chosen word as well. The term fittest implies that an organism is the smartest or strongest. Again, this is not the case. An organism is fit if it is able to survive and reproduce in its environment. I can not stress that enough. It is certainly possible to imagine an environment where the dumb and weak are more fit, even if it is a fabricated one.

I suppose if I'm going to bash the terminology I should probably propose an alternative. Here's what I came up with:

Replication of the most reproducible mutations in a given environment.

It's not perfect, but it's a start. Now that we've got some of those pesky misconceptions out of the way, let's do some practical applications.

Going back to technology's affect on evolution, technology does indeed affect evolution but it does not halt it. Technology merely changes the environment. Weak and dumb humans are fit in our environment if they are able to reproduce and pass their genes. It's really as simple as that. There are many factors that go into the makeup of the environment, and many things are relative.

The best example I can give of relativity is this little anecdote:
In a land of honest people, the liar is king.
There is a certain balance to this. A liar can indeed be successful in an environment where everyone else is honest, but it breaks down if there are too many liars. What can a liar hope to achieve when there is no one to swindle? It is also easy to see how honesty can be advantageous. If you build a reputation of honesty, others will be more willing to cooperate with you.

Now let's take a little trip to the dark side of all this. It is very possible to evolve ourselves out of existence. If we become so successful at replicating, we could overpopulate. Overpopulation creates a strain on resources and we could potentially doom ourselves to starvation.

It has also become very apparent that dumb people are very successful at reproducing. Now this certainly makes them more fit in the current environment, but it also makes them less adaptable. The ability to adapt is a strong survival feature. If we lose that ability, a sudden change in the environment could easily lead to our extinction. Now we could certainly guide our reproduction to ensure the best humans are replicated (notice I used the word "best" instead of "fit"). This is still evolution though, because our artificial guiding hand is still just another environmental factor. If we for some reason decide to save the beautiful and kill the ugly, then it is evolutionarily beneficial to be beautiful in that particular environment.

Well we went over quite a bit of stuff. There is certainly much more to say, but I'll leave it at that for now. As always I welcome your comments, questions, and challenges.

Roaring Science

Here is a quote from PZ Myers that I find to be fantastic:

Typical apologetic rubbish. Atheists aren't trying to weaken anyone's happiness; atheists are happy without god. We've discovered that you don't need a veneer of lies to make it through life, and that the truth and reality and the real world are satisfying and beautiful — and that the nonsense the priests tell you is squalid and pathetic. The Trinity is a feeble glimmer next to the glory of the Calculus, Genesis is a short, limping, clumsy limerick next to the epic poetry of Evolution, and the mewling whining of sanctimonious theologians is a simpering whimper drowned out in the vigor and rigor of good, roaring science.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

VP Debate

Just a reminder.

The Vice Presidential Debate is tonight! Please do watch it. I'm sure it will be entertaining, to say nothing of informative. I intend to make a drinking game out of it. Every time Palin is completely ignorant about something, take a shot! Should be good times.

If I can overcome my laziness I will make a post on the results of this debate and the one that already occurred.

Fulfilling My Obligation

Presuming I still have 5 readers, I think posting this video here aught to cover me.

5 Friends

Enjoy.

Teaching the Controversy

There are a lot of people who feel that it is fair to teach "both sides" of the argument when it comes to evolution vs. creationism. Now this never sat right with me but I haven't been able to express it properly. The problem is that creationism is not a valid argument in the realm of a science classroom. It has absolutely no evidence to support it, and only serves to give credence to religious nonsense in schools. Which, of course, is explicitly against separation of church and state.

With the elections coming up and the Vice Presidential debate on tonight, it's important to note that Palin is in favor of "teaching the controversy" in schools. Here's what Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy had to say on the subject:

She has stated on record that she is for teaching "both sides" of the evolution "controversy". Some people think this is only fair, but that’s baloney. First of all, for the hundredth time, there is no controversy, and there aren’t two sides. Unless you count one side as being right — science — and the other side being wrong — creationism. Also, the "both sides" nonsense has long been used as creationist code for getting it taught in school. Teaching religion in a science classroom is not only unconstitutional, it’s ridiculous. Which creation myth do you teach, and where do you stop? Odin, the Enuma Elish, Marvel Comics? There are thousands. But when she says "Teach both", she means teach evolution, and teach fundamentalist Christian creationism.

If you truly believe there is controversy here, then I suggest you get educated on both sides. The creationist arguments are flawed. We need to protect our nations children from anti-science propaganda in the classroom.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Altar Boy To Atheist

I saw this and thought it was pretty interesting. It's about someone's conversion to atheism. There are a lot of interesting thoughts in there. Some of it reminds me of myself....

Particularly this part:

Simultaneously during my studies, I kept going to church with my family. I started to realize that the place was full of robotic, inflectionless voices. During the Nicene Creed (you know, “We Believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, etc. It’s the Christian manifesto), everybody said it, but you could see it in their eyes — nobody listened to what they were saying.


From Altar Boy To Atheist

Check it out.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A New Hope

Barack Obama might just be able to bring rationality back to this country.

The Science Debate 2008 organization recently asked the candidates to answer some questions regarding their policy on some science issue. So far only Obama has answered, but McCain plans to as well. Obama has essentially stated that he plans to improve our education system, lift the ban on stem cell research, and address global warming. These are good things. Things a responsible society ought to do.

Hit the link to see his full answers or check out the summary from Bad Astronomy.

Today

Happy 9/11 everyone. A day when religious extremism and nationalism caused the deaths of almost 3,000 innocent people. It also marks a point of opportunity for our government, who used this tragedy to begin fear tactics. They scared all of us into relinquishing some of our basic rights and pushed a war mentality on to us.

So cheers, and poor one out for the lost! This is the day that marks America's decline, both in world image and economy.

They See Me Rollin, They Hatin

This is for all you haters out there who thought I was making up the word "strumpet". Dictionary.com defines the word as a prostitute or harlot. Harlot is another one of those words I've been using frequently...

Other fun words that serve to degrade women include trollop and hussy. A trollop is an immoral or promiscuous woman, and a hussy is a saucy or impudent girl.

Now kids, as your project for the week, I'd like you to try to use each one of these words in casual conversation! Impress your friends and family with your advanced knowledge of the English language!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Srsly

I saw this over at Enemy Combatant Trailmix Appreciation Club:


Apparently it's from one of Failblog's sister sites, Pundit Kitchen.

Scooby-Doo Skeptics

So, I was watching Scooby-Doo the other day. I truly hate that show, but I wanted some background noise and it was the best option. I may have found something to like about it though. They're skeptics! Well at least Fred, Daphne, and Velma are. Shaggy and Scooby are a bit more credulous.

Shaggy and Scooby tend to exclaim "Ghost!" at the slightest unexplained event. The rest of the gang is inclined to get to the bottom of it though. They investigate and figure out the real cause. They unmask the villain and present their evidence.

What an excellent lesson for children. Teach the kids how to question the unexplained. Show them that there is always a rational explanation.

One of these days we're going to hear the Pope say, "...and we would have gotten away with it too! If it wasn't for you meddling kids!"

Large Hadron Collider

Here's a helpful website:

Has the Large Hadron Collider destroyed the world yet?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Praying = Wishing

What exactly is Prayer? Wikipedia defines prayer as an attempt to commune with a deity. The main reason you pray to your deity of choice is to ask for something, such as assistance or guidance. Beyond that you might confess something. Or you could just be calling to chit-chat.

How do you pray? Praying is really a pretty simple procedure. You can address a particular deity just by speaking silently in your head. You can also do this aloud, if you're so inclined. It can be done alone or in a group. Since your deity is omniscient, they will know that you are praying to them. Pretty sweet, huh?

My favorite part of the Wikipedia description of prayer, is that it says that prayer can be used as an alternative to "hope". This is precisely the point I wanted to make. What praying really boils down to is wishing.

Oh, a hurricane hit some town? I'll pray for them. Your friend has been diagnosed with cancer? I'll pray for them. I cheated on my wife. I'll pray for God's forgiveness.

But what are you really doing when you pray? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. What is my justification for this? The scientific method of course. This link shows a study that found no overall effect of prayer on heart-surgery patients. The methods of this study are (of course) debated, but it's not hard to see that people's prayers rarely go answered. I would go so far as to say that prayers are answered no more often than chance would allow.

Prayer is an avoidance of your humanitarian responsibilities, simple as that. It's saying your going to do something to help somebody, when all you're really doing is wishing really hard. It's a feel good act. You make yourself feel better about doing nothing. Praying is a conscience clearer.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Forum Drinking Game!

I have formulated an idea.

I was over at Pharyngula, as I often am, when I came upon this picture. The picture is a bingo board filled with Liberal Christian sayings. The idea is you read a religious (or non-religious) based blog or forum and try to find comments to match the spaces on the bingo board. Now this is all well and good, but bingo generally does not involve drinking. This fact instantly makes it less entertaining and thus prompted a revamp!

I find the Liberal Christian sayings portion of the game to be a limiting factor. My proposal is that we change the game to be common forum comments. This would make the game slightly less infuriating. I imagine this is probably not an original idea, but I think it would be fun to come up with our own set of rules.

To play the game gather around a computer with a group of your friends. You need to have access to the interblag and an alcoholic beverage. Go to a popular forum or blog and select a thread or comment section. If any of the below events occur you must drink:

  • Someone exclaims "first!" when they are not the first commenter
  • Someone says "don't feed the trolls"
  • Someone says an alongated form of lol; such as lawlocaust, lollerskates, lolbbq, etc
  • Someone tries to pull off a Rick-Roll
  • Someone tries to sneak in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
  • Someone says "fail" or "win" (I wouldn't recommend using this rule on the Failblog site)
  • Someone says some form of "you were not prepared"
  • Someone posts their entire comment in L337 speak
  • The grammar police show up
  • When something is over 9000

This is what I have so far. I'll add to it as I come up with more. If you have any suggestions, let me know and I'll add them.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bringing It Back

There has been some debate amongst my friends as to what exactly constitutes as topical. We introduced some new terms, so I thought I would highlight them here.

First let's go over the basics. Something is topical if it is a reference to an idea (quote, meme, etc) from the present or recent past. Now this is a blurred line, and it is hard to say if something is truly topical. Issues about whether something is topical or not should be handled by popular vote. In the event of a tie, the referencer should decide. If the referencer is unavailable (or on TV), then the person who cried topical has the right to make the final judgment. It seems like overkill, but this is important stuff.

Bringing it back is when an idea is referenced from the distant past. The idea must have almost been forgotten for it to be considered bringing it back. The same rules that applied to topical work here, when deciding whether something is to be considered bringing it back.

It is important to note that these two definitions cover the entire set of ideas and are disjoint. This means that every idea is either topical OR bringing it back. It is impossible to be both or neither.

Someone tried to raise the point that bringing something back is topical, if another idea was brought back recently. But it is the idea of bringing it back that is topical, not what is being brought back. So what is being brought back is still bringing it back, and bringing it back is topical. (I dare you to make less sense.)

Now the idea of bringing it back being topical may fall into the category of metatopical. Metatopical is a subset of topical and refers to the idea of topical being topical itself. This definition could be extended to refer to occasions when bringing it back is topical. Likewise, we could also introduce the idea of meta bringing it back. I have never experience an occasion when this would be used, but it may someday be possible to bring back the idea of topical. And when that day comes, it will be meta bringing it back.

I would also like to take this opportunity to introduce the idea of neotopical. This is an idea that's topical almost immediately after its conception. A reference would have to be made within minutes or hours of the original event for something to be considered neotopical. Again, the same rules apply when there is a discrepancy in determining the neotopicalness of a reference.

Well, I hope this has cleared up the confusion for you all. I welcome your comments and questions.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Job

Let me tell you about my job. I work for a company called RightNow Technologies. Basically, what we do is create and manage programs that help companies with their customer service. We sell voice recognition interfaces and tools that call centers use to handle callers. We also sell our services in tuning and improving the voice interfaces. That's where I come in.

Electronic Arts is one of our biggest customers. Today I was updating some of our FAQs and adding new games. I came across a humorous FAQ that I thought I'd share with you all.

The FAQ is called, "The Sims aren't speaking my language." As most of you probably know, the Sims basically speak gibberish. You can tell what they're thinking or talking about by the thought bubbles that pop up over their heads. Apparently, there was a large enough volume of people that didn't get this that it warranted an FAQ be made about it.

I want to laugh at these people, but I almost feel sorry for them. I wonder what language they thought they were speaking... I also wonder how silly they felt when they called our system and discovered the truth.

Photoshop Poll

The "Does my title pic look 'shopped?" poll is now closed and I must say I'm surprised by the results. The answer should have been a resounding YES! However, the poll is tied with 4 people saying it looks 'shopped and 4 people saying it was done with MS Paint.

People, how could you possibly think that masterpiece could have been created with such a wretched program? I know our friend over at RabbleCopter thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread, but he's wrong! The main tools I used in the creation of the picture are unavailable in Paint. Does MS Paint have a skew function? How about a burn tool? Can it do layering?

The answer to all these questions is no, because it's a terrible tool. You should all be ashamed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My, what sexy brains you have...

I have become infatuated with Olivia Judson.


Olivia is an evolutionary biologist who has received acclaim for her 2002 book, Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation. The book has now become a 3 part television series. She also has a weekly blog for the New York Times called The Wild Side. On top of all that, she's pretty easy on the eyes. Now she's a bit older than me, but that's how I like 'em.

Olivia got me thinking. Are there any other sexy intellectuals out there? Thus began my morning long quest to find those fine ladies with the apple bottoms jeans and the big brains. This was an arduous task and was a glorious waste of my time at work. That being said, here's what I managed to dig up:

Hypatia was a Greek scholar born around 350 AD. She is described as a "valiant defender of science against religion." Clearly a woman after my own heart. She is considered to be the first notable woman in mathematics. Hypatia was dragged into a church and murdered by a Christian mob that blamed her for religious turmoil.


Maria was born in 1718 and was an Italian linguist, mathematician, and philosopher. She is most known for her work in mathematics and is credited with the first book discussing both differential and integral calculus.


This saucy lady was an English Countess, born in 1815. She is credited as being the first computer programmer. Ada worked closely with Charles Babbage, who originated the concept of the first programmable computer. She was one of the few who understood his ideas and wrote a program for his theoretical machine.

In the interest of fairness, I thought it appropriate to treat our female (and some male) readers to some hunky man meat. Because you know what they say about big brains... big wigs.

This Cadillac of men needs no introduction, but here's one anyways. Newton was an English physicist, born in 1643. His theories on gravity and the laws of motion did much to advance science. Newton's ideas are still used as the basis for modern physics.

This man caught my attention for a variety of reasons. First the name, and then the mustache. Tycho was a Danish nobleman, born in 1546. He is known for having the most accurate astronomical observations of his time. His data was used by Johannes Kepler in deriving his laws of planetary motion.

So there you have it! The complete and comprehensive list of the sexiest intellectuals of all time. I'll let you have some time alone now...

If you feel I've missed someone of note, let me know and I'll add them to the list (should I deem them worthy).

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commenter Suggestions:

George Washington Carver
He invented hundreds of things using agricultural items, one being peanut butter. He never patented it because he believed food was a gift from God to everybody.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Family and Charity: An Evolutionary Perspective

I used to be of the opinion that it was human nature to procreate as often as possible. It is evolutionarily beneficial, I would argue, to spread your seed and produce the most copies of your genes. I found our natural instinct to be savage and selfish. Society was the reins that held back our instincts and admonished us. Marriage was an odd concept. Why would we remain with only one person when we should be out replicating our genes? My perspective on this changed greatly after reading Richard Dawkin's book, The God Delusion.

Where after all, does society come from? Does it benefit an organism to act selflessly by helping and protecting others?

Some would argue that modern society started out as mutual cooperation among people in an in-group. It's sort of like how monkeys clean each other. An organism will help another, with the expectation of being helped in return. There is also the benefit of strength in numbers. An organism is safer in a group. It has been observed that some organisms use charity to assert dominance over others in the group. By doing this, the organism is saying they can support themselves and have strength left to provide for others. In these types of societies, giving food to the dominant organism is considered a challenge to their leadership.

Charity makes us feel good. When we do something nice for others, we are rewarded with a happy feeling. That trait is evolutionarily beneficial for our species. It is my belief that the evolution of charity helped shape modern society.

But what about family? What does an organism have to gain through monogamy?

One of the biggest benefits that I can see, is that monogamy gives children two dedicated protectors. Emperor Penguins are a prime example (even though they are only serially monogamous). There is no way that the offspring would survive without the two parents working together. This extra dedication to the child helps ensure that the parents genes get passed on. It could also be argued that monogamy increases the likelihood that an organism will bear multiple children.

The feeling of love is evolutionarily beneficial. Forming a strong bond with a mate encourages protection of both organisms, and of their children.

You might think that this is a grim way to view love, but I find it fascinating and beautiful. This line of thinking has greatly improved my opinion of human nature.

Topical!

I would generally frown on posting things from other blags, but I'll make an exception. I was reading Pharyngula and I found this post to be pertinent to the discussion happening in the Survey Answer Key comments.

Science and Human Rights

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Most balla poll eva

The 'Most balla shit eva' poll is closed and we have no clear winner. Dinosaur egg, poop sprinkled with diamonds, and fur coat from polar bear Hulk Hogan choked out, are all tied at 2. Since this is my blag and I am the law, I'm going to go ahead and say the fur coat made from a polar bear that Hulk Hogan choked out is easily the most balla shit eva. So congrats to the winner!

More useless and inane polls to follow.

Survey Answer Key

Well I'm a bit disappoint with the lack of responses to Monday's survey post, but as promised I'll post my opinions. These are not "the answers" as the title of this post would suggest. This is just my opinion. Unfortunately, I do not have my original answers, but I will do my best to reproduce them.

To the best of your understanding, and in your own words, please explain what "evolution" means.

Evolution is changes in organisms over time as a result of the successful reproduction of organisms with beneficial traits. Beneficial traits, in this case, are those that help the organism reach maturity and bare offspring. These traits are not always limited to ones that only benefit the organism. Organisms that protect their young and work together with others are generally better at passing their genes. Evolution is something that happens generation to generation, but does not always bring about a net change in a species' traits.

If you accept the theory of evolution, please explain in your own words why; or if you do not accept the theory of evolution, please explain in you own words why not.

I accept the theory of evolution because it makes sense to me. It is easy to see how it can work in real world situations, and it is currently the best explanation we have for our origin. This is a theory based on supporting evidence. I will put my stock in it until I see reasonable evidence against it.


So, these are my thoughts on evolution. I welcome your opinions and comments.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Here is an article about an observed example of evolution occurring generation to generation:
http://judson.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/22/a-natural-selection/

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Progressive Christians

Firstly, I'd like to say that I generally find people in the category of Progressive Christian to be much more likable than your average fundamentalist Christian. These are people that are more willing to question the teachings of the bible and decide on which morals they really want to put stock in. They are generally believers in gay rights and accept the theory of evolution. I find their willingness to compromise very admirable.

That being said, I also find them spineless. These are people that desperately slash away at their beliefs, trying to make them fit into the modern world. Science has discovered evolution? Well that fits with Christianity. God must have made evolution. Oh, you say being gay is OK now? Well that fits just fine with my beliefs. That part of the bible is wrong. Women have equal right now? The bible was wrong on that too.

It's just an exercise in futility to me. It's all very akin to the God of the Gaps argument. Basically, anything that science cannot currently explain is accounted for by God. However, every time science progresses it infringes on things that God used to explain. Science keeps filling in the gaps. One ponders how long it will take before God no longer has a place to hide.

In a similar fashion, these Progressives keep ripping pages out of the bible. Every time our morals progress they admit fault in a portion of the bible and follow the Moral Zeitgeist. I wonder how empty their bible will have to be until they see that morality doesn't come from there. Our ideas have shifted so much in just this past century. It's so clear that we make our own morality.

So give it up already. Your desperate clinging to old ideas is tasteless and shameful.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Understanding Evolution

So I saw this survey posted over at Pharyngula. The purpose of the survey is to see what the general public actually knows about Evolution. If you have any interest, take the survey and post your responses in the comments. You don't have to take the survey if you don't want to, but I would like to hear your ideas on evolution. Later in the day or perhaps tomorrow, I will post what I think. I wanted to give you a chance to express yourselves first though, before I taint your mind with my ideas.

So, tell me what you think! No peaking at other people's answers until you've answered yourself.

Note: It would be a good idea to save your answers separately, because you can't retrieve your answers once you've submitted.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Hallucination

I'm currently ready this book called "The Demon-Haunted World" by Carl Sagan, and in it was a brief chapter on Hallucination. The book talks about hallucination as a reason people might believe in things that aren't real, like abductions or ghosts (or God). Well I found it fascinating and thought it would be a fun topic for the blag.

First let's do some background. A hallucination is generally defined as perceiving something without a stimulus. Now hallucinations aren't limited to vision. You could definitely hear voices where there are none, or smell pizza when there's none around. There are of course some treatable forms of reoccurring hallucinations, but it's not uncommon for regular people to experience them. They are especially likely right before going to sleep or right after walking up. There are also drugs that can make you experience hallucinations, like LSD for example. Sleep and food deprivation, along with isolation, can increases the likelihood that you will experience hallucinations. The Native American vision quests are a good example of this.

Dreams can be considered a form of hallucination. There is a particular state during the sleep cycle when dreams are believed to occur. The state is called REM, or rapid eye movement. As you might guess, your eyes move erratically and your brain activity increases. According to Sagan, there was a study in which people were awoken during the night every time they entered the REM state. After about a week, these people began experiencing hallucinations during the day. So it would seem that we hallucinate naturally, but normally during the REM state. We might also observe that removing the REM state will increase daytime hallucinations. Of course this is just theory, but it's an interesting thing to consider.

So there you have it. A perfectly good explanation for the extraordinary. Some people want so much for the world to be something more. I can't understand why. Reality already offers so much to be fascinated in.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Choices...

Today I wanted to talk about the concept of Free Will. I've had this discussion with multiple friends recently and I thought I'd bring it to the blag. Hopefully we can get a discussion going.... (lazy readers). Well there's a lot to talk about, but where to start....

Generally speaking, humans are predisposed to believing in Dualism. To put it briefly, Dualism is the theory that at least some mental processes are non-physical. It's easy to see why we'd think this. It's hard to grasp the concept of the mind and how we think.

The Dualism theory begins to lose credibility when you examine cases where the brain is damaged or altered. There have been many instance where someone takes a blow to the head and has loss of mental function. It is pretty clear that decision making and other brain functions are the result of neurons firing or not firing.

Neural Networks could really be its own fascinating subject, but I'll try to review it quickly here (I'm not an expert, however). Basically, your brain is a collection of neurons that make up many paths through your brain. Sensory inputs trigger these neurons to fire, which in turn triggers the next neuron to fire (if the strength of the previous neuron is large enough). The more a certain path of neurons is used, the easier it is for that path to fire. This is how motor skills are developed, as well as how other skills are learned. Of course it's really much more complicated, but that's the general theory. Some AI systems are modeled this way. It's surprising to see how similarly we operate when compared with computers.

Now I sort of want to switch topics to Randomness. I'll start with a favorite quote of mine:


"Occurrences in this domain are beyond the reach of exact prediction because of the variety of factors in operation, not because of any lack of order in nature."
~Albert Einstein

What Einstein is basically saying here (and what I am inclined to believe) is that there really is no such thing as random. Events happen as a reaction to some prior event. It's as simple as that. We perceive things as random when something happens we do not expect, or when we can't see the pattern. Just like how there is no true randomness in computers, there is no true randomness in nature. I assert that if you knew every variable in operation, you could predict any future event.

You might say, "what about human influence?" Well humans are just another variable in the equation, with brains made of matter that are subject to the same laws of cause and effect. The human brain is a function, with inputs and outputs. It's a complicated function, and one that changes constantly, but it is predictable.

Now what does all this have to do with Free Will? Well if minds are subject to the physical laws of matter and there really is no such thing as randomness in nature, what are we left with? Predestination comes to mind, although I hate the sound of the word. I'm saying that since the mind is simply a function with inputs and outputs, we never actually make a choice. The choice is already made what we're eating for lunch tomorrow. I think we don't realize it because we are not aware of all the processes going on in our brain.

So what does this mean for life as we know it? Nothing really... We will always feel like we're making the choices. I also doubt we will ever have the technology or the intelligence to accurately predict future events (I'm not talking about trivial things like predicting an eclipse).

There are some issues I haven't covered yet in regards to this theory of mine. Humans are self-aware and have the ability to imagine possible outcomes and weigh them. Self-awareness is the tricky one. Why exactly are we aware of our thought processes is unknown to me. My best guess would be that it is a side effect of our ability to imagine.

Imagination is undoubtedly a major strength in terms of survivability. We can imagine possible outcomes based on previous information stored in our memory (memory is located in a physical part of our brain). Using this information we can weigh outcomes and make what we perceive to be a choice. However, these presented outcomes are the output of some process in the brain. The imagined outcomes then become the inputs to our "decision making" function. No choice is actually made however, because the decision making function has a predetermined output based on our imagined input.

So maybe our "thoughts" are just an interpretation of the inner imagination process going on in our brains. Just like the visual system makes an interpretation of the physical world that's useful to us in terms of survivability. (Did you know that objects we can see are mostly empty space? Since we can't actually pass through these objects we perceive them as solid).

So, there are my thoughts on Free Will. Hopefully I didn't ramble too much. I welcome your questions and comments. An opinion is worthless until someone has tried to prove it wrong.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Wedding Stuff

Overall I had a great time this weekend. I do however have one grievance regarding the Catholic ceremony. I went to this wedding to honor my good friend Jen on one of the happiest days of her life. However, I spent 80% of my time listening to the priest and other speakers spout God trivia at me and the rest of the congregation. On a side note, I was disgusted to learn that I still remember every freaking line of mass. Anyways, I wish it had been a little more focused on the couple. I didn't really want to hear about how God IS love, over and over. I just felt like the priest took the opportunity as a means to spew more nonsense, rather than honor my friends.

But yea... that's all I'll complain about for now.

After the ceremony I had a blast. The reception was great. I saw lots of old friends and ate delicious food. I may have behaved a little too much, however. I remember the whole night. There was some debauchery... Not in the literal sense of the word of course. We took over the 7th floor of the hotel until about 4am, when security came up and asked us to go to sleep. I do feel bad for the unfortunate souls that were actually trying to sleep up there.

Well that's it for now. More engaging content to follow...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Wedding season baby!

I'm off to a wedding this weekend. Congrats to Jen and Jesse! I'm very happy for the both of them. It's so weird watching your friends grow up....

I'm anticipating good times and debauchery. They really are asking for it with the open bar... I can't wait to see some old friends.

Well try to behave yourselves whilst I'm away. I shall see you on the flip.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Redefining Atheism

Hello potential readers! This being the first post, I figure we can get some nasty preconceptions out of the way. Now atheism is not the only topic I will be covering in this blag, but it will come up enough to constitute a formal definition.

Atheists have a bad rap amongst the general populous. I believe it is because out intentions are not fully understood. Religion is so indoctrinated into our minds that godlessness strikes us as immoral and arrogant. It is clearly absurd to believe that godlessness leads to immorality, as I'm sure I will discuss at great length in another post.

But let's stay on track...

I also get the feeling that some of us don't truly understand what it means to be an Atheist, non believers included. Now here is were I'd like to veer from the generally accepted definition of the word, and take on something far grander.

I'd like to start a discussion. We need to change the way that we are perceived if we want to make any changes in this world. I'm going to start by suggesting an alternative definition for Atheism. Hopefully there is some constructive criticism out there to aid me.

Here goes:



Atheism is not merely a denial of a god, but of all things without evidence. Atheism is the belief in the scientific practices of critical thought and skepticism. Evidence is what drives our beliefs in certain ideals. Atheists doubt that which has not been proven, but reject close-mindedness. All things must be made available for inquiry, regardless of its holy status or its far-fetched claims. Atheism is not a religion. It does not need rituals to celebrate its own merit. It does not need to be charitable to prove its value. It is about being human and accepting the reality of life. It does not follow any man or law save for one principle, be skeptical and diligent in your quest for truth. Hold nothing sacred.



Well, that's what I've come up with so far. I admit that I'm not the most elegant speaker. I welcome your comments, whether they pertain to content or prose.