Sunday, August 28, 2011


People often seem to define words in funny ways. To the right, liberal seems to mean "liberty hating", which is more pregnant with irony than a Palin-teen.

I've written in the past on the dangers of the ISM (ideology) - belief systems that ask us to shut down reason and rationality and believe something because it fits into some predefined system of thought. I reject such simplistic thinking because it denies the very real complexity of our world - there aren't many simple answers except to simple problems. What I do "believe in" is discussing things in terms of values.

To me, being liberal is primarily a statement about values. It means I value civil liberties, equal rights, rule of law, education, and a nonprejudicial society. We can disagree on how to realize those values in society but don't you dare suggest that I don't hold them.

Andrew Chrucky wrote "The aim of liberal education is to create persons who have the ability and the disposition to try to reach agreements on matters of fact, theory, and actions through rational discussions."

I'm a liberal because I don't believe people are fully culpable for the circumstances in which they sometimes find themselves (neurological studies have greatly questioned the power of our consciousness). I believe it is the imperative duty and responsibility of those who are capable of acting to help others, to do so. This is why I have no problem with taxation going to support such actions. It IS an imperative and it is part and parcel of our social contract.

We've seen what happens when we rely on charitable organizations, it didn't work, it doesn't scale (it can work in small enough social circles). We know for a fact that people will exploit others for their own personal gain - it's not a matter of rewarding their work. They took people as slaves, beat them, exploited them until they died, raped them, and even raped their children. This is what people, "good Christian people", did when they were not constrained by approprite social pressure. These were the people who ran the largest, most powerful organization of their day. It wasn't a few extremists - it was a dominate corporate enterprise.

It's not a Robin Hood plan either, it's enlightened self-interest. The greater the opportunity for those less fortunate than ourselves to receive education, medical, mental health, and economic assistance the better for our society.

I KNOW for a fact that I benefit from taxation in these ways.

I freely admit there is government waste (that's a huge "DUH"), I disagree that the majority of government is wasteful, that's irrational hyperbole. And I know for an absolute, unquestionable fact that the idea that capitalistic corporations somehow magically minimize waste is a gigantic load of horse shit. I've worked in corporations for nearly 30 years and I've seen massive waste. So try to tell me that companies do a better job, that has been conclusively proven false in numerous studies.

Hopefully this will spark some discussion!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Living Without God

What living without belief in a god means to me...

I didn't stop being generous when I stopped believing in Santa

It means that I value human compassion. There will be no redemption in the distant future. Each and every person needs to be responsible for improving our collective well-being. People are abused and murdered every day and we have to work to improve this situation. Those who survive the abuses heaped on them do not generally end up being better or stronger people for it, far too often they end up continuing the cycle of abuse and they need our help and compassion; first and foremost in prevention.

It means that I cannot rely on the non-existent supernatural to make everything right at some nebulous point in the future. Therefore I must take my share of responsibility for how things are now and how things will be in the future.

Where do morals come from if not from god? They come from human behavior processed by human thought. This answer should be obvious. But without god there can be no absolute right or wrong? Wrong, there is no absolute right or wrong with god. The god of the bible tried to get people to murder their own children. The god of the bible ordered the slaughter of every man, woman, and child at Jericho (Josuha 6). The god of the bible directly Murdered all the first-born of Egypt, including innocent infants. The god of the bible Murdered every man, woman, and innocent child on the planet (except Noah's family) as part of the flood. Doesn't any of that seem wrong to you? If so, why is your innate sense of right & wrong better than gods supposedly is?

There are better ways to deal with our problems.

If the Christian god existed, he has allowed billions of children to be subjected to abusive parents (emotionally and physically) and then proposes to punish those children with eternal torment once they grow up to be less than ideal human beings? Doesn't that just seem wrong to you?

Consider the alternative, that we are animals who are slowly gaining greater cognitive abilities and we're now able to look back at our history and see the evils which we have propagated on our own. We are now capable of doing better but you have to take steps to be responsible for yourself and not scapegoat your own failings onto some mythical Christ.

And we are collectively guilty today for not immediately putting a stop to many of the evils that continue. Some will take longer but there are many things that we could end today if we all say, we're just not going to take it any more (cue rock music).

For example, it is not acceptable to stone people to death. It is not acceptable to put anyone to death, however horrible of a person they have been they are a product of our own collective failure to take action. I do not propose they be allowed to roam around free, but it is just not right to kill another human being unless it is absolutely necessary to prevent them from causing immediate harm.

500 million people live in abject poverty, without access to acceptably clean water, food, and shelter. and some 3 billion people live in unacceptable conditions that no human should have to endure.

15 million children die every year of starvation but for the cost of only ten Stealth bombers, every single child that starved to death over the past 10 years could have been saved. But these children will continue to suffer and die, every year, day in and day out, until we all stand up and say 'no more'.

Another major issue we face today is that the population growth rate is alarming (despite these problems which cause unacceptable levels of suffering and death). As we begin to fix the deplorable conditions our brothers and sisters are forced to live under we must gain control over our own reproduction rates. We have to be responsible and educate people so they can make better choices for themselves and others. And under these circumstances it is morally detestable to continue to preach this nonsense that god gets irate if you use a condom (or other forms of birth control).

I would love to see a world where abortions are not necessary but human-kind has not reached that level. If you are "pro-life" and want to end abortions then you need to go about it the right way.

First and foremost, by ensuring those who are alive and suffering have proper food and health care. If you cannot do that then you are not pro-life, you are just pro-suffering.

Secondly, you need to ensure that every child has a safe and happy home to grow up in with loving parents. And you need to accomplish this with compassion, not by forcibly removing children from their parents and shoving them into foster homes where they are abused further. If you want to "fix" a broken family move in with them and show them a better way. If that is too much of your time to bother with then you are part of the problem. Our current system of child protective services in the US is utterly broken and it wreaks havoc on everyone it touches. It is not based on compassion for the child although it pretends to be so. And through the rest of the world... well, we have a lot of work ahead of us.

It is irresponsible to assume there is supernatural safety net that awaits us. This is nothing more than a boorish excuse for inaction. So please, wake up and take some action to make the world a better place.

Quantum Mechanics in Plain English

Improve your knowledge of Quantum Mechanics with this excellent plain English series:


I'll probably add more going forward and use this post as a dumping ground for resources on QM.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Is-Ought Computation


First, let me say that I am not a Secular Humanist (I don't like ISMs in general, I prefer to actually consider my thoughts individually). I personally don't like the connotation of "Human" in that equation. I think humans are petty, evil, nasty, little shitstains on the planet and I think the planet would be better off, on the whole, without us around. I love my family and friends but come on, be honest for about 30 seconds and think about it. However, I don't advocate wiping us all out either because that's exactly the kind of petty, evil, nasty shit I was talking about in the first place. So we're kind of stuck with trying to make the world a better place.

[the above is pretty laden with sarcasm - please do try to read between the lines]

Anyway, I don't hate Secular Humanism and I think it has some good ideas. What I do dislike very much are absurdly irrational diatribes so let's get back to the content of the article that I wanted to comment on.

The article primarily attacks secular humanism on the basis of this bit in the manifesto: In this way there is no impenetrable wall between fact and value, is and ought. Using reason and cognition will better enable us to appraise our values in the light of evidence and by their consequences.

His primary argument is to invoke Hume's Law: you cannot derive a moral "ought" from a factual "is.".

This is an appeal to authority which undermines the entire argument. It MIGHT be true, but all evidence is to the contrary. He doesn't at all address John Searle's 1964 "How to Derive 'Ought' from 'Is'" or other attacks on Hume's assumption, although that isn't necessary to punt Hume out of the drivers seat.

What Hume was unaware of was Quantum Mechanics, Attractors in non-linear nonlinear dynamical systems, and the computational nature of the universe (not that it can be modeled with mathematics but that it fundamentally forms computation).

The absolutely unquestionable fact (and you can do this with sand, tinkertoys, water, just about anything) is that certain arrangements of physical materials allow CHOICES to be made. Choices take input data (either stored or gathered from the environment) and make decisions about it. This is how computers work, this is how brains work. At the lowest level the data and the choices made are so incredibly deeply abstracted from 'reality' it seems difficult to understand how they relate to our experience but by building up millions of bits of data and making trillions of choices we build up ever more complex abstractions. We KNOW this with computers. The exact same 'bits' in the computer make up numbers, letters, words, documents, pictures, sound, movies, AND THE PROGRAMS WHICH OPERATE ON THEM.

It's that last bit I stress because the data IS the program and it's that knowledge that blows Hume's presumption out of the water.

We have 'oughts' built into our individual cells by billions of years of evolution. Oughts that we have absolutely no conscious control over (only at the molecular level are such decisions being made, should I produce more ATP? etc). Oughts that are absolutely fundamental to life existing.

We have 'oughts' that are built into our brains by 10's of millions of years of evolution. These Oughts we have no little or conscious control over either. "Should I contract this muscle? Yes, because CO2 levels are rising"

We have 'oughts' that we do have 'conscious' control over - I say 'conscious' because I don't assume that we have Free Will and indeed, the research is rather strong suggesting that our apparently conscious decisions are made subconsciously.

It is at this level that we begin to consider the consequences of our actions - "should I eat another slice of Pie?" is of absolutely no qualitative difference from "should I attack that person violently?" In BOTH cases our subconscious knowledge and biological factors we are utterly unaware of will drive trillions of choices to be made which will ultimately bubble up into our conscious and result in action or inaction. "Moral" choices aren't somehow magically different from choices that evolved as necessary for survival.

The presumption should be that human beings are (extremely complex) machines, following the laws of nature, performing computation until you can prove otherwise because those are the facts that we KNOW and other than specific details no fact of our existence is unexplained by those assumptions. And in that model there is no place for the magical formation of 'oughts', they form naturally.

And here is the bottom-line, I can write a fairly simple program that learns from its inputs and forms 'oughts' as a result. Not a priori oughts, but oughts that evolve naturally out the consequences of the execution of the program. They will not be 'absolute' oughts except in the sense that are likely to be some cases where there are no viable alternatives (when there is only one possible answer).

I'm sure it will take years to fully develop this such that the majority of people can 'get it' but it's rather obvious to me and I think this is at least a good informal start on communicating (in the ~30 minutes I had to write this) why I find this objection absurd.

Entropy and the 2nd Law

If you really want to understand Entropy better watch this entire lecture series from Yale, but especially this segment:

23. The Second Law of Thermodynamics and Carnot's Engine

But please at least learn this one thing.

Entropy is the energy in a system no longer available for doing work. This does NOT mean that localized entropy cannot decrease (e.g., this is exactly what an A/C unit does), as long as the entropy of the entire System increases.

When the localized Entropy of an RNA or DNA molecule is lowered by work done with energy released from process of ATP -> ADP hydrolysis the total Entropy increases (you can calculate this using equations for Chemical Entropy if you have a specific reaction in mind).

Sunlight is used by plants to convert water and carbon dioxide into LOWER entropy molecules (sugars, etc). This is all Very Basic Science - pre-101 and is extremely well-known, studied, and the entropy calculations have been carried out to Many decimal places in study after study after study. When your body re-energizes ADP back into the LOWER Entropy molecule ATP it is doing the exact same thing and it's no Miracle™ because again, while the entropy of ADP is lowered during the chemical change the TOTAL entropy of the system increases.

It is an absolutely absurd proposition to object to "evolution" on thermodynamic grounds - anyone doing so is either ignorant, incompetent, or just flat out lying.

More resources that look specifically at evolution and thermodynamics:

Does evolution contradict the second law of thermodynamics?

Talk Origins: Thermodynamics, Evolution and Creationism

Google Scholar Resources

Friday, August 19, 2011

John Marco Allegro

This is a post to discuss John Marco Allego's book, "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross" [and related topics] as a carry over from a thread started on So You Had A Personal Experience.


John Marco Allegro, wiki
John Marco Allegro, home page (deceased)
Judith Anne Brown, article and Book Review
interview with Van Kooten & De Bie

Reply To: Original Comment

The Holy See had a "great distaste" for the ideas of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Giordano Bruno. Is your distaste so certain and absolute that you would burn people to death - as theirs was? And yet, the Holy See was wrong and the distasteful ideas eventually won out.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

You Want Answers?

@markmobley writes:>> I have answered your questions. Answer some of mine. If materialism is true, where did the material for the Big Bang come from? What about the space that the Universe occupies? Francis Crick thought aliens planted single-cell creatures because naked evolution is so unlikely. That takes a bit of faith, right?

It takes no faith to say "I don't know", we don't know - so what? If I don't know the Higgs energy does that imply God? There have been a billion things we didn't know before that we know now—we used to think gods shook the earth & moved the planets. if you must postulate a god then at least have the honesty to hold it to the same standard of evidence that you demand of evolution. And admit that postulating god does nothing but beg the question and explains absolutely nothing what-so-ever. For, if the universe/metaverse requires a 'god' to create it, how much more necessary is some meta-god to create that god. And if the buck has to stop somewhere then don't invent a useless placeholder for it until evidence demands it. You have NOT established the necessity - all you have is a vast ignorance of the true nature of the universe (ignorance that we all share) And if believers stopped at an abstract god that would be one thing but oh NO, that isn't good enough. it's the god that is on THEIR side in war, that tells them others must die for masturbation or other crocked-up-shit they want to pretend is immoral so they can control the lives of others in ways they have no legitimate business doing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What do Theologians and Pokeologists have in common?

Response to:

In this article, Mr. "FreeThinker" declares the author of Why Won't God Heal Amputees a theologian. It always amuses me when religious people use terms like "Religion", "Faith", or "Theologian" in a derogatory sense. I recommend a diet higher in irony.

First, a theologian is merely one who is trained in theology.

Just as someone studying Pokemon cannot study actual Pokemon (because they don't exist), the theologian studies written stories about God, the history of such pursuits, and philosophies (written or oral) about the presumed nature of God (all things which DO exist). As far as I am aware nobody has actually studied God directly. Many theologians, as a result of this study, find that the claims are simply too weak to support a belief in said 'god'. So being a theologian, in no way, implies belief in the claims - any more than studying Pokemon would imply a belief in actual Pokemon.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Science, Knowledge, Bias

Response to

Did it ever occur to you that perhaps people are just being "pedantic" when they object to your strawmen? You also never defined what you mean by "Knowledge". But in general terms, knowledge is an extremely fuzzy concept that has really never been nailed down by philosophy. It's a placeholder concept, we don't know what it is but we know it when we see it.

Even justified knowledge can (and has been) proven false. For example: CLEARLY the sun goes around the earth, I can see it moving, I don't feel like I'm moving. I can form this into a series of hypotheses that I test and all are born out by the facts. Therefore, I can form a justified belief that the sun goes around the Earth. What's wrong here is that I don't have ALL the facts. I didn't do a very good job and I missed some obvious difficulties. If you want to see an example of this at work in reality check out my post on it: Where I give a long list of observables that must ALL be satisfied by our theory and the geocentric theory absolutely fails a number of tests. Tests I may not have been aware of initially.

This is the hurdle you must overcome with any epistemic theory and this is the REASON the scientific methodology exists as it does today.

To put it more succinctly, Science is our best methodology for removing sources of error and bias from our conclusions.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mental Health Purge


The important take-away from this is that not all Mental Health issues are the same and the vast majority of people with Mental Health issues pose absolutely no threat to society. That everyone agrees on.

Blah blah blah, we all know already right? No we don't, so it DOES bear repeating because mentally ill people are unfairly discriminated against. I get that, in fact I said it on twitter "it's fine & reasonable to remind everyone that mental illness <> violent". This is all good stuff. Unfortunately, none of it applies to what PZ Myers actually said or the remainder of content of the article.

Where @zenbuffy's post goes awry is when it resorts to distorting the truth. Specifically:
@zenbuffy's blog: PZ’s blog is not about Markuze’s spam, though, but about his mental health

Friday, August 5, 2011

Crime and Punishment and Ayahuasca

No matter how horrible something someone has done they deserve a fair trial and if found guilty, fair, equal and safe incarceration.

"I hope they get what they gave when they get to prison. THAT would be justice."

This really is not justice. This is revenge. And while it is an understandable and common emotion, it is for that reason that we must use cooler heads to reason about crime and punishment. If you wish anything to happen to someone in prision other than lawful incarceration (and if we had a lick of sense, intensive and mandatory education & psychotherapy) then you are part of the proverbial problem. Please do not encourge further violence, not to mention the continuation of the rape culture that we often see in such discussions. Wishing someone to be beaten or raped is absolutely never acceptable. If any form of corporal punishment is to be included in our prisons it needs to be based on strong science and carried out with strict safeguards for prisoner safety.

This is like the parent who slaps their child to the ground screaming "Don't HIT Other Kids". I know you probably don't mean to and maybe you don't really even mean that you hope they are abused in prison - but you said it. And I think it's important to take note our own reactions to situations.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Ignorance of American Drug Policy (RANT)

RE: CNN's Lemaitre: Those who still see drug problem in U.S. as a 'war on drugs' are living in the past

I think it is Lemaitre who is living in the past to OUR detriment.

If you still honestly believe Drug Prohibitionist polices are good for the US or the World I am BEGGING you to please take a deeper look. I promise you that you are holding onto inculcated biases and factual errors. Inquire again with an open mind and really listen to what people like LEAP - Law Enforcement Against Prohibition are saying. Read up on the History of Drug Prohibition and how the entire program began as a Racist movement and became a Political Tool. It had nothing to do with Health or Safety or Science, in fact the Science was flat-out ignored. And don't be swayed by overly simplistic raw statistics - demand a full and complete picture of the data.

We all have anecdotal stories about how we have been affected. I have lost three family members to drug related deaths. How can I possibly be FOR Drug legalization then? Because I cared enough to look beyond the surface appearances and I hope you will also. Two of those deaths were alcohol related and another due to dirty needles and an inability to get clean and relatively safe drugs. Every one of these three deaths was preventable, not by making drugs MORE illegal - but by legalizing them, Regulating the market appropriately, and getting treatment to those in need (not heartless incarceration). I can walk down the street RIGHT NOW and buy a wide array of illegal drugs if I was so inclined, their current illegal status hasn't made us more safe - it has, in fact, made the world a much more dangerous and violent place.