Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On humility

In spite of our need to remain humbled by our limitations as finite cognitive processes, it is perfectly permissible for us to think that we have better ideas than other people. After all, if we're not all that confident in our present assessments of the environment, then we shouldn't be presenting said assessments to the public. It is not okay for everyone to "have an opinion" on every conceivable topic. For example, because of my ignorance regarding the reliability of one spaceship over another for the purpose of getting to Mars, I keep my mouth shut on the matter; to do otherwise is to promote information pollution (side note: this is why the idea of a representative democratic republic is a poor one).

Conversely, if someone is confident in his assessments of the environment -- due, in part, to peer review and repetition -- then we should not scorn him for this, or reference his alleged "superiority complex." Of course, we should not take him -- or his independent peers -- at his word, but dismissing someone merely because he thinks that his ideas appear to be more rational than yours is a fallacy. "What, do you think you're better than me because you believe this stuff?" is not a valid argument in any scenario, and least valid where the purveyor of the assessments has no vested interest in proving his superiority.

I will say that suffering contains value instead of that it's my personal opinion that suffering contains value not because I know for a fact that suffering contains value, but because prefacing every single statement with "Gee, I guess this is kind of possibly right, but it's just my opinion, so feel free to think whatever you want and not listen to me!" would be tremendously impractical and counterproductive. Basically, the impractical part lies in the politically correct tedium of it all, while the counterproductive part lies in the ensuing "You can think whatever you want" clause, with the latter promoting the meme that all ideas are equal.

No two ideas are equal where their qualities or quantities differ in any way whatsoever, and the only apparent reason for why anyone thinks otherwise is because they associate ideas with personal identity and individuality. If no one defined themselves by their ideals or ascribed any emotional significance to the fact that they held those ideals personally, then no one would cast random accusations of superiority complexes whenever someone else felt confident in an idea; in essence, no one would ever feel threatened by new information or in any way consider it a weapon to be wielded in some struggle for social dominance. It's like gift-giving: If everyone were to give gifts out of kindness instead of to display their philanthropy to a social circle, then no one would raise an eyebrow or accuse any gift-giver of ego-boosting.

There is a clear difference between knowing that you're right and seeing the data as pointing in your direction more than in the other directions. Decision-making is a matter of both quality and quantity, and most of the time, the involved quantities cannot be represented by a binary quandary. If my idea is a 7 and yours is a 6, who's to say that there isn't an 8 out there somewhere, awaiting discovery? Even if I'm less wrong than someone else, that doesn't mean that I'm right. Approximation is all that we can do with science -- for now.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Problem-solving reminders

Two of the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to problem-solving are as follows:

1. There would be no need for retroaction if we were an adequately proactive species. Both kinds of action are presently necessary for addressing problems (or symptoms), but preventing a problem before it even begins should obviously take precedence over addressing it as it emerges, over and over again. For example, police are currently necessary for arresting civilly restless people, but if those people were to have been brought up in a more methodical and socially healthy environment (we could expound upon this for quite a bit, but that would require its own post), then there wouldn't be a need for police -- or the need would be greatly reduced, anyway.

2. Even after a problem has emerged, and we are socially obliged to be retroactive about it, we should still focus on the source of the causal chain rather than the continuously generated symptoms, or end products of the chain. For example, no, we can't rewind time and raise hardened criminals correctly, but we can still do something so that more of them don't emerge in the future. This is definitely something that police do not do at all.

There are three approaches to problem-solving, and all are valid, depending on the scenario:

1. Prevent the problem from starting; use your foresight.

2. Once the problem starts, clean up its manifestations everywhere that they appear in as practical a manner as is possible. Don't overdo it, because you might generate more problems by focusing so much on symptoms.

3. Try to stop the problem at its source after it has started.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

An emergent approach trumps a traditional approach

When discussing ideas, we should use an emergent, systematic approach. This means that, as ideas emerge, we should tackle them case-by-case by addressing any apparent flaws in them, and then contrast those flaws -- or lack thereof -- with the flaws inherent in the alternatives available at that moment, per our existing knowledge base. This will allow us to determine the ideas' relative attractiveness, which is subject to change as new data -- and new alternatives -- emerge.

Further, our approach should be negative; we should arrive at logical vantage points by attacking all vantage points and subsequently determining which is least wrong. If you can manage to state all that is illogical, then what's left doesn't necessarily have to even be explicitly spoken of.

The alternative to this approach is tradition, which means deciding whether something makes sense based on one's own personal experiences and consumption of cultural values and customs. This latter approach promotes attachment and mental hoarding.

An example of the traditional approach would be someone making the claim that 2+2=5, and another person countering this claim by stating that our mathematicians have learned over the years that 2+2=4. This is a faulty way of addressing the new claim.

The emergent alternative would be to examine the claim that 2+2=5 prior to consulting past knowledge, then checking to see if there are any updates to past knowledge that contradict either the new claim, the old one, or both.

Make a claim

Keeping true to the direction that I recently proposed, I am going to issue you a request: Make at least one claim in the comments section, and we will work together to understand whether it's logically sturdy. The claim can be about any facet of the world in which we live.

The only rule is that each claim can only be one sentence in length. Of course, with this rule in mind, you are allowed to post as many claims as you want.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Let's have a Socratic dialogue

"Socratic dialogue" is an unfortunate term for it, since nothing should ever be named after anyone (Occam's Razor is one of the most notoriously awful examples), but the practice is nevertheless quite sensible. Below, I have listed a few controversial or uncommon viewpoints for you to oppose in the comments section, if you so wish. Single a few out if you disagree with them and let's get an interrogation going until we discover, once and for all, whether the statements are truly sound; perhaps you can succeed in modifying them.

Without further ado:

Out of the government, the corporate world, and the media, the government is the most benign.

The average person is a larger problem than members of any "elite" group.

Americans are no dumber or more privileged than anyone in any other first world nation.

Feminism promotes social division and frivolity.

Courting sexual partners is a demonstration of prejudice.

All pleasurable states are nothing more than relief from previous unpleasurable states.

We should do away with money as soon as possible.

No one should have children for any available reason.

The "traditional family" model suffocates and depresses people -- or at least reduces their quality of life significantly.

There is no such thing as a mental disorder.

Anarchism is selfish and myopic.

Democracy is a terrible idea, and certainly did not originate with the emergence of the United States.

Ownership (property, copyright) creates a massive amount of waste while promoting attachment and conflict.

Attachment exacerbates suffering.

It is unlikely that there are other intelligent beings in the universe.

If life exists beyond the Earth, it must be absurdly uncommon.

Hurricanes, flus, earthquakes, school shooters, terrorists, stock market crashes, and debt are not going to get you.

We have replaced god with popular entertainment and the media.

Individualism is socially corrosive.

Capitalization, apostrophes, the multiplicity of punctuation marks, and synonyms should be done away with as soon as possible.

All words should be spelled phonetically.

Most books are a waste of time. The faster that you can glean information, the more efficient you are.

Quoting people is no different from wearing name brand clothing, showing off an expensive car, or increasing the size of your friends list on Facebook.

There should be one human language; any more than this is needlessly redundant.

Civilization will not collapse at any point over the next hundred years. In fact, it has never truly collapsed since its advent some 6-7,000 years ago.

The only state of perfection is nothingness.

Investing in [modification: Committing to] any idea is foolish, given that attempting to prove the reliability of one's senses via one's senses is illogical.

Marijuana will probably become the culprit of at least some lung cancer cases over the next hundred years.

Obesity, with few exceptions, is not especially unhealthy -- and is almost never life-threatening.

Loving your partner is the same, in principle, as favoring your race or nation over the others.

Cuddling with a puppy after eating a cow is contradictory behavior at its worst.

All competitive sports are a waste of money, resources, schooling, and brain space; furthermore, they promote social division and animosity.

We should strive to attack all ideas, no matter how good they seem. If we come to favor a particular viewpoint, it should be because, while attacking it, we found that it held up better than the opposing ideas -- which were also attacked.

Fast food is a convenient way to eat in modern society, and is usually better for you than a fatty slab of steak high in calories purchased at a fancy restaurant.

Organic foods are usually worse in quality, less delicious, and more susceptible to rot than other foods.

There is nothing particularly unacceptable about smoking cigarettes.

It is a bad idea to get high or drunk in any capacity, for such activities decrease one's judgment and physical reflexes.

Lyrics, image, philosophy, and politics have nothing to do with music.

Most people are unhappy due to their own poor decision-making skills, but rather than improve or seek guidance, they blame a group for their shortcomings -- usually the government, the corporations, the media, or their families.

We should intelligently (i.e. gradually, while maintaining a balanced ecosystem) spay and neuter all animals on Earth as soon as possible.

The Holocaust was not some brilliant conspiracy to exterminate a race of people, but rather, a poorly planned, feather-fluffing set of events aimed at merely deporting said race.

The United States's involvement in World War II was unjustified; similarly, the American Civil War and American Revolutionary War should have never happened.

We will be ruined by pleasure, meekness, and popular culture long before we are ruined by torture, statism, and Big Brother.

Failing any high school course -- or even most college courses -- will have no impact whatsoever on your economic well-being.

Those members of modern society who claim to believe in a god suffer from cognitive dissonance, and believe far more in television, work, and bar-hopping than that holy book which they have never once opened.

Washing your hands after going to the bathroom accomplishes absolutely nothing.

Charities accomplish nothing other than to generate profit for various entities while, in some circumstances, strengthening societies just enough to allow them to perpetuate their own suffering.

Exploring the planets and moons of our solar system is a tremendous waste of time and resources.

Most people speak in memorized, discrete blocks of thought patterns that are essentially platitudes. Rarely does anyone recite a "belief" from outside of his or her culture -- even if the belief is purported to be anti status quo.

We will not experience a major extinction event as a result of global warming.

Nature lovers are liars, for they despise plague, disease, insects (especially maggots!), suffocating heat, frostbite, intestinal worms, shredded animal carcasses, etc.

Most jobs exist only to help others do their jobs, or to produce more crap that we don't need.

Welfare and utility are not equivalent; consequently, the modern concept of a "job" is flawed.

Sexual orientation and desire for social bonds are largely conditioned.

The less people you know, the happier you'll be. The more wants and desires that have to be accommodated, the more that compromise becomes a necessity, and knowing less people means attending less funerals.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A pragmatic approach to ideas

This has already been touched upon numerous times, but I'd like to once again stress that we should go about forming "opinions" by rigorously testing all ideas prior to implementation. The questions that we should be asking ourselves when initially considering an idea are:

1. Does the idea work?

2. If the idea works, does another one work more efficiently?

All ideas must be able to pass the test of falsifiability before being considered for implementation. If we can't see results from a test of the idea, then no one should hold an opinion regarding its practical validity.

Avoiding optimism bias

If a potential quality that you're contemplating is desirable to you, consider a potential quality of similar likelihood which is undesirable to you before deciding to chase the former quality.

For example:

1. The odds of winning the lottery are 1 in 20 million*. Yeah, those numbers are outrageous, but I'm going to play the lottery, anyway. You never know!

2. The odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 20 million*. Phew, that's good to know. That's one less way of dying that I'll ever, ever have to worry about. It's basically a guarantee that it'll never happen to me.

Funny how we think about things differently depending on whether they benefit us -- even when the data are exactly the same in all instances! Regardless of what topics you're entertaining, always be sure to control for optimism bias during the decision-making process.

* These odds were fabricated for the purpose of the example.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

One more utilitarian post for the road

Premise 1: An action was taken.

1. The action was imposed on a sentient being.

2. Therefore, the action was bad.

This conclusion is false. Not all bad actions are imposed on other sentient beings; some only affect the self. In this sense, they may not be "immoral," but they are nevertheless foolish. Likewise, not all imposed actions are bad, for reasons stated below.

Premise 2: An action was taken.

1. The action caused harm -- regardless of whether it violated a sentient being's will.

2. Therefore, the action was bad.

This conclusion is also false. Harm is inherently bad, but causing harm is not, for some harm leads to a reduction of harm overall.

Premise 3: An action was taken.

1. The action was imposed on a sentient being, and/or...

2. ...the action caused harm beyond being a mere violation of the being's will.

3. The action prevented a much worse kind of harm from emerging elsewhere.

4. Therefore, the action was good.

This conclusion is true.

Sometimes, you need to kill the killer, lest he continue with his deeds uninterrupted. 

The next phase: Meta-conversations

Attracting people based on any particular present position is myopic. In retrospect, it may have been better for this blog to have stuck with detailing how to formulate ideals and make decisions than to have mentioned or endorsed any specific ideals or decisions. In the future, I would like to hold discussions regarding process management, premise formation, qualitative analysis, and logic; in short, I would rather discuss how to come to conclusions than give any of my readers any specific conclusions to revolve around and rally behind.

It may be the case that my conclusions -- tentative though they may indefinitely be -- are sound, but I am more interested in how a reader might have come to the same conclusions as myself than in the mere similarity of our positions. If, for example, your antinatalism leads you to choose vegetarianism, that does not entail that all vegetarians are antinatalists, or that congregating with vegetarians without any quality control is a sensible practice.

Note that I say all of the above not because I am interested in censorship or stifling important discussions, but rather, because there should be an order to this process, with specific ideals coming into play much later on after everyone has established that they utilize similar mental algorithms for processing information.

As a final thought on antinatalism, I will say the following (note the lack of generalizations below, as I am myself an antinatalist):

1. Many antinatalists are concerned solely with refraining from reproducing, and have either weak or nonexistent socio-political philosophies; in other words, they are often far wiser than most when it comes to being proactive (in at least the fundamental sense), but could use some improvement when it comes to being retroactive.

2. Many antinatalists view the world from an anthropocentric standpoint, meaning that they are solely concerned with the end of human reproduction. They may understand that animal suffering is bad, but they very often have no ambition to do anything about it beyond becoming vegetarian.

3. Many antinatalists view "the" problem as life itself (or, in more sensible cases, sentient life). The more accurate position to take, from my perspective, is that of "the" problem being a lack of intelligent management and regulation of the universe's energy processes -- or the mere existence of energy and work in the first place.

Furthermore, if sentience were distributed in discrete executable files to volunteering computers, such computers could call sentient processes for any given duration and turn them off on demand. In this scenario, a computer without any capacity to feel pain or pleasure could make calculations on a level of sophistication comparable to that of a human, and would only call conscious, sentient experience to the fore -- or "wake up," if you will -- when it felt like it would be fun or educational to do so; this would solve the problem of deprivation.

Of course, if such experiences, through repeated observation and testing, were demonstrated to be too risk-laden, then they would be phased out -- though, again, any conscious experience would be undertaken voluntarily, without impinging on any other conscious experiences or requiring anything other than self-contained information.

In summation:

Symptoms: Sentience; deprivation/desire/discomfort
Causes: Lack of intelligence; presence of existence

We either become gods and attain absolute, one-hundred-percent certainty that our ending the universe means that it's all over forever, or we volunteer to learn and explore, given that we cannot undo our births and that some of us suffer when contemplating death. Preventing future births, while a good thing, is no more credible as a rallying point than any other philosophical position, be it the unlikely existence of a deity or something as crass as rights-based activism. The discussion of how to properly use your brain is the only true rallying point -- for now.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The goal of society

This is a bit oversimplified, but it does bring some clarity to matters governmental:

Society should be goal-oriented. At present, the only goal of society is to have no goals -- or to allow everyone to be "free" enough to establish their own goals for whatever reasons they see fit. However, you can't predicate your political philosophy on "freedom," because:

1. Where do you decide to draw the arbitrary line? How free should people be allowed to be? If you concede that there should be some limitations, then how is anyone under the guidance of the proposed system free in the first place, and why is freedom the goal touted?

2. There is no such thing as freedom without context; we can only be free from specific things. Evaluate each potential constraint on its own terms, define its qualities, determine the value of those qualities, and then issue a decree regarding the necessity of freedom from the constraint.

3. Freedom from constraints is a means to an end; it can be used for any number of ends, all with their own pros and cons. Why not cut out the archaic Enlightenment rhetoric altogether and define some real goals for your society -- per its ideals?

No leadership does not equal no regulation

Some axioms:

1. There exist transmittable information patterns which guide the course of other information patterns in the universe. The former patterns are best understood when condensed into discrete concepts, or "ideas."

2. There exist facilitators, senders, recipients, and processors of the aforementioned information patterns. These could be loosely defined as information agents, and are currently most apparent in the form of human beings.

3. Information agents should agree upon a foundational set of information patterns as "ideals." Furthermore, this set should serve as the broadest base for work. For example, "Suffering is unwanted among sentient beings" is a maxim that should probably aid in the foundation of this base.

4. Ideals, while serving as the base of society over both self-satisfaction and ruling groups, should be questioned in order to promote consistency and uniformity among information agents. This axiom is the -- or one of the -- meta-ideals.

5. In theory, a meta-ideal could be questioned by a meta-ideal another layer back in the chain, but as this process has the potential to carry on ad infinitum and has no apparent point of logical termination, it is best, for practical reasons, to avoid it and instead opt to carry out the above in a manner which encourages positive demonstrable results.

On a related note, the IEEE standards are great examples of how information can be centrally standardized without the interference of any particular group of people. No one "rules" the IEEE or keeps "the people" who use its standards "out of power," yet networking technologies seem to get on just fine; likewise, Microsoft, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, etc. do not "enforce" IEEE standards or promise punishment for breaking with them.

Of course, the difference between a truly open system promoting the establishment of standards and the IEEE is that the latter exists within a capitalist paradigm, and is therefore channeled through corporate activities. Imagine if, instead of computing organizations, standards similar to those endorsed by the IEEE existed for nation-states, and that those states, binded by the standards, no longer had a reason to exist.

Arguments against balance in the universe

1. The ratio of "empty" space to stars and planets is astronomical. If life is part of some magnificent order, then why is the universe filled with cold blackness instead of green pastures and lakes? The current compilation of evidence points toward there being very little, if any, physical advantage in existing as a complex cluster of matter -- especially the kind that moves around and consumes other clusters of matter in order to resist entropy. Almost all of the universe is hostile to large masses, and life in particular. Seriously, just exiting the Earth's atmosphere is incredibly dangerous for sentient beings. How unfortunately small our safety zone is when contrasted with its encasing!

2. Extinction events happen all the time. Was there balance on Earth during the Permian Extinction, when upward of ninety percent of marine life vanished outright?

3. There is nothing against which we can compare the universe, so any relative statement regarding how structured or balanced it is is shortsighted. The universe's processes are orderly? Relative to what?

Actually, we can compare the universe's processes to another kind of process: the human kind. I'm pretty sure that no one on Earth would think it a good idea to build a computer case the size of a stadium just to store parts no larger than those found in modern PCs.

And if someone ever did? Perhaps the people of the future would marvel in awe and wonderment at the result, but that doesn't mean that they would subsequently desire to imitate it. Fascination does not entail admiration.

Re: Entropy

So I got the following anonymous email today as a complement to a comment somewhere regarding the inevitability of the heat death of the universe:

Even if truth hurts, it is better to accept it and face the
consequences. I. e. that life is ultimately pointless and heads
nowhere. We lost. I laughed. Then cried. Soon I'm dead. Thanks. Not.

First, I want to point out that the reason for why I am writing my reply here rather than via email is because this message was sent by an Austrian remailer. I've had stranger things happen, but regardless, I'm not a fan of one-sided conversations where one of the parties isn't allowed to participate or defend his stance. The reply, unaltered, to... someone:

1. Why are you using a remailer? What are the consequences of revealing your email address to me? Is it so frightening to you to have me know who your ISP is -- or even just your mail provider? What could I possibly do with this information? Google you? Yikes!

Guess not everyone is into the idea of transparent communications.

2. When the ostensibly true "hurts," I embrace the pain for the greater good. What hurts more than the truth, though, is the human species' insistence on promoting absolute certainty with regard to epistemological claims. I find it fascinating that you are able to predict, with such alleged precision, events trillions upon trillions of years into the future. The time scales involved in your claims are absurd to imagine; as a result, your conclusions are even more so.

3. Current predictions regarding the heat death of the universe do not utilize the life variable, because doing so would make any subsequent claims baseless and erratic in conclusion. Life -- and, consequently, intelligent information agents, both artificial and organic -- resist entropic decay by actively seeking to keep themselves indefinitely open as systems. Given that I have no idea what the universe will look like in a trillion trillion years, I have no idea what the implications are for both the success and the failure of these processes. I also have no idea whether one outcome or the other will result; the future of information is more uncertain now than it has ever been in human history.

4. We are presently unable to detect approximately 95% of the universe, and only speculate that it exists because we can measure its effects on the 5% that we can observe. In what ways intelligent information agents will be able to utilize dark energy a billion years from now is unknown.

Something to keep in mind, here, is that, if protons decay into nothing at some point, the universe will not be empty afterward; on the contrary, it will be filled with energy -- so much energy that the energy content at this instant will be laughable by comparison. If current models of the universe are accurate, then dark energy will continue to expand the fabric of spacetime for, potentially, eternity. Does this mean anything for intelligence one way or another? No, because we don't know what dark energy is.

5. During Einstein's time, we only had evidence for the existence of a single galaxy; today, we are aware of hundreds of billions. Furthermore, recent evidence in the field of astronomy has pointed toward the possibility that the universe is at least 250 times larger than we've been thinking it is, and that, as a result of inflation, the light cone spanning the diameter of the visible universe is minuscule in contrast to the vast distance separating our central point of observation from all of material reality outside of the cone.

The moral of the story is thus: Never forget that your time period containing all of the answers to the universe's mysteries is an immense coincidence for you, and that everyone to have ever thought this has been wrong to date. Sometimes it is better to accept that we do not know much about our bizarre situation than to feign authority out of some psychological need to feel secure in our certainty that, yes, the universe is a fatalistic place, and there's nothing that we can do about it.

It may feel good to believe that everything is okay, but feeling secure in our certainty has the same effect regardless of whether we're sure that it's all okay or that it's all terrible. I can tell from your reply that you are consoled by your indisputable grasp on truth; it is, after all, easier to accept that everything sucks -- or that everything is wonderful -- than it is to accept that our context is a gigantic unknown. It's human nurture to tend toward confidence and security, after all. Not having an answer causes discomfort. We can't have that!

Having said all of the above, I have no hope for the future, and think that the most likely outcome for life on Earth is that it will all get eradicated when the sun becomes a red giant. If this does happen, it will be a horrific event, but it is possible that afterward, there will never be any horrific events anywhere ever again. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

My take on the non-identity problem

As posted previously here:

The non-identity problem forsakes the essence of sentient organisms, because no sentient organism truly has a discrete identity to begin with. You, for example, are probably much more "me" than the seven-year-old kid whom my memory bank has essentially tricked me, for evolutionary reasons, into thinking is me. I likely contain very little, if any, of the original chemical content of that seven-year-old kid -- and my reactions, propensities, ideals, and general disposition are all drastically different as well.

So, then, if there are no "selves" to begin with, what we're actually dealing with are sensations. If we could push a button that removed all the meat and bones which encapsulate the nerves that do the feeling, we'd realize much more quickly that there are no more hard boundaries between one bundle of nerves and another than there are between one asteroid and another. Even the Earth used to be two "separate" planets billions of years ago -- before they collided with one another and formed what we call "Earth" today.

If you spill two drinks onto the floor at the same time, you clean them up as one mess; you don't view them as separate problems. Sensation is no different. In fact, with every child that gets "spilled" onto the carpet of the world, it should become even more prudent for us to initiate a cleanup. If we can quantify our progress, it should be in electrical signals eliminated -- not persons.

Another way of addressing the non-identity problem is by alerting whoever is wielding it to the fact that proactive maintenance is often considered preferable in business environments over retroactive or reactive maintenance. To prevent a server crash, you implement a backup policy on your network; you don't overload your computers or up the heat in the server room intentionally "just for fun" and then correct any errors after the fact. Why should it be any different for living things merely because they possess the illusions of free will and individuality?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

People are uninformed and lack direction

I once watched a film with a strong environmentalist slant to it which criticized overpopulation and, on some level, the individualistic capitalism required for there to be unregulated reproduction in the first place. I agreed with a lot of what was offered, but not all. However, I appreciated the effort.

I also once visited an Internet message board where someone who very poorly criticized the film was told to "stay the hell away" from the board if he didn't have anything constructive to add, critical or otherwise.

I find this highly ironic, since the best thing to offer the person who'd made the thread would have been education. Rather than shoo the person away for his belligerence, why not interview him? You may not change his mind, but it's equally unlikely that you'll change his mind about continuing to post on the board.

It's ironic because the film criticized social alienation, and what better way to alienate those who oppose our views than to tell them to shut up and leave? This kind of behavior is everywhere in our society; most people enjoy displaying their intellectual accomplishments, but very few are actually living by what they say. Pathetic.

Why we shouldn't leave anyone in charge

1. Leaving a set group of exclusive people in charge of society necessarily causes good ideas to get excluded from the meme pool.

2. On the other hand, getting rid of government really only means that a manmade government will be replaced by nature. This is why anarchism fails.

3. Therefore, the solution is to be ruled not by men, and not by nature, but by a methodology.

There is no President of the scientific community; on the other hand, "cryptozoologists" aren't considered real scientists for a reason.

All decisions should be made within the parameters of something akin to the scientific community; there is no qualitative difference between "We shouldn't waste resources" and "E=mc^2".

Friday, July 8, 2011

Do you think you have much to contribute to society?

It bothers me that so few people look upon themselves with disappointment. Members of Bigfoot message boards will be more than happy to provide you with their "opinion" that Bigfoot absolutely MUST exist -- even if they have no idea what they're talking about, and have no credentials relevant to zoology, biology, etc.

Why are such people allowed to provide their opinions on these topics? There is no basis for them whatsoever. Is it okay to let people provide an opinion on some ontological matter just because they want to feel like they belong to something? What if we were to let anyone form an "opinion" on how to build a bridge?

If you were to eyeball the distance between yourself and the clouds above you, what would make your opinion somehow worth considering, given the existence of measuring instruments?

Be honest with yourself: Are you providing your two cents because you have genuine business in doing so, or do you just want everyone to know that you exist? Do you have something to contribute beyond the baseline at which most opinions rest, or do you just want to be recognized? Sometimes the right thing to do is to admit ignorance, even in spite of an interest in the topic at hand, and politely step aside.

Too few people are disappointed in their shortcomings. I am very, very disappointed in mine -- not because I feel as though I've "failed" in life, but because the universe has so perfectly limited me. My brain could calculate things so much faster, judge distances so much more accurately. Most people don't think about stuff like this, because they're after social gratification rather than truth. What a great world it would be if everyone were horrified by their limitations.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Antinatalism forum

There is now an antinatalism forum.

I didn't set it up, but feel free to post. It looks like it could really use more activity.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The "nonexistent people never get a chance to choose" argument

I see antinatalists constantly struggling to crush an argument that's best summed up thusly:

Nonexistent people never get a chance to choose whether their individual lives are worth living or not. Because a nonexistent person cannot desire things, we cannot make statements regarding whether a nonexistent person will desire life if presented the choice.

Another variant might look something like this:

We don't know whether a particular person's coming into existence will be for the greater good or not, so we have no right to prevent it from happening. For all we know, a person's birth will be, at the minimum, good for the person himself.

An easy way to trump this is to alert the person making the argument to the fact that he or she is actually on step two in the line of questioning. The first step is:

Is life necessary?

If there is nothing necessary about life, then we cannot possibly justify it, given that stakes are present. We can only justify taking risks with stakes involved where it's necessary, or where the stakes are the lowest possible out of all the options. If the lowest possible number of stakes within a given scenario is zero, and the other options are not necessary, then we should choose the option with zero stakes.

Again, if you're not willing to roll a six-sided die with five amazingly pleasurable sides so long as AIDS or stomach cancer or the bubonic plague is on the sixth, please remember that every day, someone gets the "I just fell in love" side, someone gets the "I just won the lottery" side, and someone, somewhere gets the "Wow, I'm HIV positive" side. If you're okay with this but not okay with rolling the die yourself, then you are a hypocrite.

The issue at hand is NOT whether potential persons should be allowed to decide for "themselves" that their lives are good; it's whether there is a real, hard reason to fabricate the dilemma in the first place. I'm sure that ninety percent of the human population enjoys ice cream, but that doesn't give you the "right" to order a friend ice cream for dessert without first asking him if he wants ice cream. What if he's in the ten percent that abhors ice cream?

Now imagine that, not only does he dislike ice cream, but he's lactose intolerant to the point where eating even a single spoonful will cause him to vomit uncontrollably and become hospitalized.

Now imagine that eating ice cream is not of such dire importance that we can ever deem it necessary for anyone.

Hey, you haven't forced the dessert on him yet, so we can't say anything about whether he likes ice cream, right?

So what?

A concession to the antinatalist and voluntary human extinction communities

In a several-months-old post of mine, I said the following:

...it is certainly possible that automated, technological means of redesigning the natural world could emerge at some point, capable of removing negative sensation from that environs. In both cases, given that we can't predict future suffering with any degree of accuracy for now, it makes more sense to voluntarily exist to the end of learning more about our predicament than it does to voluntarily disappear from the universe outright. How irresponsible the alternative must be, if it indeed turns out that trillions of planets contain or will contain mass-energy configurations similar in content and substance to whales and buffalo, and that we can do something about it!

I was reading this post today, and realized that I don't really agree with its content. A couple of thoughts:

1. As previously noted, life, if it truly does exist elsewhere in the universe, must be preposterously rare -- so rare that any attempt to find and subsequently help it would prove incredibly impractical. We don't go out of our way to search for hypothetical abducted children halfway across the world from where they were last seen, do we?

2. How are we ever going to leave this solar system? Even if we were to dispatch energy-efficient nanobots and program them to spend most of their time drifting through space, coasting off their initial energy use, how in the world would we ever find anything without at least some kind of indication regarding where it might exist?

Given these points, I have modified my original stance on this issue. There are three kinds of people to consider, here:

1. Those who would rather end their lives than suffer to any great degree. These people abhor pointless pain, and, quite reasonably, find the concept of life unbearable.

2. Those who would rather live forever, or at least long enough to mentally prepare for eternal nonexistence and/or a huge, uncontrollable unknown.

3. Those who would rather live forever, or at least some substantial period of time, merely because they enjoy life. Note, here, that many life proponents who are also death proponents would probably opt for eternal life if given the choice; their biologically programmed desires do not have expiration dates built into them, so when they say that they think death is "just a part of life," they're usually just lying to themselves.

I see no reason why all of these groups shouldn't be allowed to have things their way simultaneously. The solution, then, is to legalize assisted suicide while working on simulated realities and a cure for aging.

So, if some of us ultimately do decide to stick around, it should be for one or both of the following reasons:

1. We're biding our time until we feel more comfortable with making a decision after which there is no turning back -- regardless of how unlikely the contrary prospects are.

2. We enjoy living.

We're probably never leaving this solar system, and if we do, it's unlikely that we'll find anything of interest out there. Sure, we can look, but looking shouldn't be our raison d'être.

An Ideal Society, Part 4: Language

I'm going to make a rather bold statement:

There should be only one language.

Honestly, why the redundancy? It's not as though, if English were to "crash," we'd have Italian waiting on standby to pick up its slack as part of some array of languages. The less that we are able to understand one another, the worse off we are.

We can't solve the problem by becoming multilingual, either, because:

1. It'd be pretty difficult to learn every language on Earth.

2. If I know English and Spanish and you know English and Spanish, that's two people who each have two distinct symbols in their brains for every imaginable human conception. Multiply this waste of time and space by six billion and you'll see where I'm going with this. You should only learn a second language if you need to in order to understand someone who doesn't already know your language -- but in an ideal society, this problem wouldn't exist in the first place.

Imagine having two cars, but living alone. Imagine owning two pairs of shoes when you only need one to protect your feet. Imagine having two computer keyboards that you occasionally swap back and forth for fun. Imagine having two beds to sleep in and oscillating between them at random.

A duplicate item needn't be identical to the original in order to qualify as being functionally void or needlessly redundant. Sure, you may enjoy the aesthetic variation, the novelty, the sheer variety; perhaps these qualities supersede boredom. There's nothing wrong with this, but if you're acquiring duplicate items at the expense of something more materially valuable at that moment, then you're woefully ignoring opportunity cost, which necessarily leads to your generating wasted space.

Brain space is no different from other forms of space; it's certainly finite, above all else. Don't waste time learning a new version of something with which you're already familiar when there's much more to be learned in its place; doing otherwise promotes pretentiousness, frivolous socialization, and, ultimately, a fragmented species intermittently predominated by huge communications holes.

Important disclaimer: If you're not American, British, Australian, or Canadian and you read this blog, you're likely bilingual. Please take note that it isn't your fault that a second language has been imposed upon you by academia; furthermore, considering the gradual encroachment of the English language upon much of the territory of the other languages of the world, there may be some practical benefit in your knowing English. Just keep in mind that it'd be really dumb of you to decide to learn Arabic for fun or to show off how cultured you are to friends. In any case, this post isn't about what you should be doing with your own personal life, but what a society as built from scratch should look like.

Statement of the day

It is better to be right than happy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

To reiterate: Pleasure is relief

Pleasure results from the termination of a negative state of experience; it is a form of relief.

Remember: It really isn't your "choice" to enjoy what you enjoy about life. If you were to cease all enjoyable activities for even a few days, you'd be dead -- and after a horrific episode of torment and horror at that. We are punished by our central nervous systems for not chasing objects of desire.

The titular maxim is best exemplified in the case of itching. Itching, while not the worst form of suffering imaginable, is nevertheless a negative/unpleasant sensation born from the body's desire to rid itself of some perceived threat to its attempts to stave off systemic decay. People do not enjoying itching; they would rather rid themselves of an itch than allow it to continue unhindered. Ever try ignoring an itch in a hard-to-reach spot on your body? It's incredibly difficult, because itches are meant to be distracting; they're meant to shift your brain's focus from the other negatives you're constantly running from to a fairly immediate -- if usually innocuous -- one.

Ignoring an itch produces a fairly large amount of discomfort and cognitive distraction; it is an undesirable thing. If you ignore an itch, prepare to have your concentration greatly diminished in favor of absurd, obsessive thoughts regarding something silly.

Scratching an itch, on the other hand, feels pleasurable; we sometimes even sigh with satisfaction upon scratching a particularly distracting and uncomfortable itch. Scratching itches is perceived by our brains as a good thing.

Now, after scratching an itch, try scratching where the itch used to be. You'll be using the same fingernails, the same amount of pressure. Why doesn't it feel pleasurable anymore? It's the same skin, composed of the same chemicals. Where did the pleasant scratching sensation disappear to?

The answer is that you needed the bad feeling in order to receive the good one; you needed something negative to be relieved from. You can't just decide on a whim to start scratching all over yourself and expect to enter a state of ecstasy.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cognitive dissonance as a staple of modern culture

When was the last time that you had an argument with someone? Did either you or the other party end up changing stances by the end? Probably not. More than likely, this is what happened instead:

1. You introduced stance A.

2. They introduced stance B.

3. You provided a fairly sturdy argument for stance A.

4. They provided a fairly transparent argument for stance B -- even if, on the surface, it appeared to have some solidity to it due to its use of platitudes and memorized, regurgitated phrases.

5. The both of you went back and forth for a while, neither budging. Despite their stance being obviously flawed, you couldn't find a way to really hit them over the head and wake them up to this fact.

6. Finally, you introduced a poignant, concise meme which crushed the opposing argument directly and explicitly. The absurdity of the other party's argument was subsequently quite out in the open.

7. The other party replied with "You're starting to frustrate me. Why do you have to overanalyze everything? Can't we talk about something nice for once?"

8. The argument ended abruptly with no resolution and the prospect of such growing vanishingly small. The other party then appeared uncomfortable and confused.

What has just been described, I hypothesize, is the result of terrible parenting. The other party participating in the argument realized, in some recess of their consciousness, that your logic was sound, but another, more biologically beneficial part of their mind interceded.

What happened? Well, during childhood, your conversational partner had probably participated in similar conversations that went something like this:

"Dad, why can't we see god?"

"I don't know, son. That's just the way it is."

"But how can we know he's real if we can't see him?"

"He's testing us. It'll all make sense when you get to heaven. You'll be rewarded for waiting so long!"

"But... how do you know that?"

"Look, he's just real, okay? What's with these questions all of a sudden? I'm trying to watch the news. Why don't you go outside and play ball with the kid next door?"

Upon encountering the problematic "foreign object" within a logic chain, kids are programmed to switch routines and do something personally rewarding or pleasurable. Because our society is relatively affluent, everything from happy meals to high tech video games is almost always a few seconds away from the grasp of children, so there is zero incentive to do "the right thing" when immediate self-satisfaction can so easily be substituted in its place -- with no consequences or scoldings.

The mentality birthed during this period of development apparently carries over into adulthood, where it germinates until it becomes a contributor to the monstrosity that is our current situation.

This is absolutely unacceptable for adult humans in this day and age. We cannot continue to act like children.

The fundamental nature of consciousness-raising

When it comes to memes of such immense gravity that they demand we spread them on a global scale, which do you, personally, think applies?

1. Progress, like the propagation of the memes themselves, is incremental; we must "spread the word" in any way that we can, with every "convert" being an indicator of progress.

2. Progress is spontaneous and holistic; we must find ways to access those methods which are most likely to bring about the change that we desire in a manner akin to searching for the lottery ticket that will be the winner.

I think it's more like 2., in which case, even if you wind up with a "following" of, say, ten million people, in a world of almost seven billion, it may ultimately turn out that you have accomplished nothing at all. When it comes to infrastructure, routines, rituals, and resource management, the nature of "societal transformation" is binary; either you're using the new model or you're not.

Islam, liberalism, and celebrity worship are tough opponents.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

An Ideal Society, Part 3: Communication; Law

Communication is something that we've been bad at from day one. In some ways, we've gotten better at it (e.g. the lack of revenge killings between "groups"), while in others, we've gotten worse (e.g. passive aggression, political correctness, bureaucracy). I'm not sure if we've really broken even per se, but the situation is nevertheless not very good.

What would it look like if it were?

Well, all of our communications media would be consolidated and centrally monitored. At birth, everyone would be assigned an ID number in addition to a name; however, unlike a social security number, this new number would be made available to everyone on Earth by everyone on Earth.

The news media would be incorporated into the future equivalents of RSS feeds and email subscriptions. If, for example, a powerful earthquake were to hit a given part of the world, rather than finding out in a more traditional way, you would receive a news update via email -- not because you'd be subscribed to a service of your own volition, but because the central computer would utilize something like IP broadcasting for sending out messages to all communications addresses on Earth.

For those not familiar with the process, all computers connected to IP-based networks -- or at least those configured to receive their addresses from a server -- must first communicate with any nearby servers in order to negotiate for an address. The problem is thus: How can something ask for an address -- that is, communicate -- without already having an address? Well, the solution to this problem is to design an address which can be utilized by any network object at any given time, but whose messages are also intended for all objects located within a given network segment's boundaries. This allows more or less any network object -- computer, printer, etc. -- to send out a quick, undirected broadcast to as many other objects as possible, with little preconfiguration, and no need to know who to contact beforehand.

In other words, we already have the ability to broadcast messages from one computer to any number of computers at once -- even if we don't know the individual addresses of the recipients; furthermore, rather than needing to keep track of which devices are currently online or within the replication boundaries, we can allow an address to be dedicated to the task of sending messages to every device, regardless of status.

Imagine what the world would be like if we were to apply this concept to the media. You'd no longer receive text messages and voicemails solely from friends, family, and stalkers; you'd also receive them from any number of organizations, including the government (if there were one at all, which there shouldn't be), schools, academies, research centers, your local news station, etc. If you were born into the society, it would be a requirement that you not only possess at least one portable communications device, but that you also be capable of receiving text messages and videos from literally anyone.

Communications devices would each have the future equivalent of a MAC address/IP address hybrid. If you ever wanted to replace your communications device with a new one, you'd simply go to an area where devices are distributed -- regardless of whether you were returning your current device(s) -- and check one out by swiping it through a computer on your way toward the exit; this would update the central database by mapping your personal ID number to the "IP address" of the device, thereby allowing all subnetworks on Earth to realize that, when that "IP address" does something, you're doing it -- not someone else. To put it simply, we'd do away with host names and domain names, and would instead utilize personal names and IDs for everything.

Staying informed would only be the beginning, however. With global broadcasting and a centralized Internet, help could be requested -- and subsequently received -- at lightning speed. Has someone just fallen from a building and shattered his spinal column? Don't call 911; send out a broadcast. Message options would have any number of designations, from "interesting" to "urgent," and everything in between. An urgent message, for example, would cause a person's device to buzz or beep, while most messages would not immediately interfere with daily activities. This way, in the event of an emergency, everyone within a given zone or sector would be aware of the situation. On top of this, if we apply my idea that first aid and mild medical knowledge should be taught at a young age to everyone on Earth, then it would be a rare thing indeed for an accident to go unattended, or to be attended in an untimely fashion.

The world is a big place, of course. Sending out broadcasts to everyone on the planet would be ridiculous; no one would be able to read all of their messages, and the whole system would become pointless in less than a day after its implementation. Therefore, while unicast and multicast messages would remain global in nature, broadcasts would come in three major types:

1. Those sent by the central computer, as input by some body of individuals who've deemed the message(s) globally relevant. These messages would first need to be approved, and would perhaps also need to be limited according to how many messages had recently been sent in succession in this manner. Examples of relevant information might include asteroid impacts, tsunamis, terrorist attacks, and major social transformations.

2. Those sent by anyone who feels that they are educational or otherwise interesting, but not urgent. These would be akin to the news, advertisements, etc., and would be grouped according to category on a central server rather than replicated locally on each individual device. These messages would not be broadcasts in the literal sense, but rather, free information available on the Internet. We more or less already receive these messages today.

3. Emergency messages pertaining to local events, such as a person having a heart attack in the street. These broadcasts would be the only kind that could be sent by an individual communications device, and would be designed with immediacy in mind. They would also be limited to particular population centers; every time that you'd leave a population center for another, in fact, a sensor would get triggered that would update the central computer as to the location of the communications device(s) that you'd be carrying.

If someone were to be assaulted unprovoked and you were a witness to this, you could submit something along the lines of a "trouble ticket" as a broadcast to the entire population center, complete with the approximate time of the interaction and the coordinates of the specific area within the center wherein the interaction occurred. Even if the interaction were to occur within a camera's blind spot, any interested parties could nevertheless consult the logs for the coordinates on the map for who'd triggered the sensors during that time.

For example, if the fight occurred at 30:20 (30 megaseconds and 20 kiloseconds) and you were a witness, you could simply broadcast an "email" that would be sent only to those within the population center; in computing terms, this would be something like how packets of data might only get sent to those hosts defined as within a domain, subdomain, workgroup, etc. behind a particular switch or router.

Next, Wikipedia-style communication would occur between interested individuals, who would then negotiate who got to investigate the skirmish. Because you were directly involved, you would be deemed valuable as a witness, but your role in making decisions would be diminished to prevent biases from influencing the consensus.

After that, logs would be checked in order to determine all of the people who had, from 30:19 to 30:21, walked "into" the invisible lines defining the particular sector of the population center (they would be much like modern alarm systems, only they'd belong to one, unified system, which would know where each sector existed via the previously mentioned GPS system). Whenever a sector's sensor would get triggered, data from a person's communications device would be downloaded to a server; this data would then get logged in order to ascertain which devices last triggered the sensor -- and, by extension, which individuals, as each device, again, must be mapped to a specific person's ID number in the central database.

Each sector, complete with its own unique coordinates, would be relatively small, and perhaps of standard dimensions. Because of the granular nature of each population center, let's say that only twenty individuals other than yourself had been registered as having entered the area during the three kiloseconds wherein the action occurred. Within little time, the people who'd remotely communicated their desire to be involved in evaluating the situation would then be in direct contact with the twenty people who'd been in the area from 30:19 to 30:21. Furthermore, even if you were unable to identify the "suspect," with some interrogation, it wouldn't take long before the investigation party would have an idea as to who perpetrated the assault.

More on interrogation methods, punishment, and the absence of police in a forthcoming post.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

An Ideal Society, Part 2: Time

We currently do a horrible job of keeping track of time. The two things that immediately come to mind when I think about how time is kept on Earth are:

1. Our time system doesn't integrate very well with our other measuring systems; in fact, it has nothing to do with them at all, which is strange.

2. Our time system is based on a medieval peasant's work day. Also strange.

Daylight saving time may conserve sunlight, but unless you don't have electricity, I don't really see why it's necessary. Actually, it's worse than unnecessary: It breaks the system. It's one thing to arbitrarily label a moment when the sun is positioned at a specific angle in the sky as 6:00 PM EST, but it's another altogether to later claim that that same angle occurs at a moment labeled as 7:00 PM EST, or 5:00 PM EST.

Wouldn't it be easier to get up at a different time than to change time?

Think about it: A lot more people than we might realize forget to set their clocks back, and while I'm most certainly in favor of automating all such menial processes to avoid lapses in memory, this particular one really doesn't need to exist in the first place. Furthermore, no credible academic or governmental body -- not even the U.S. Department of Energy -- has found any significant reduction in energy use or costs as a result of daylight saving time, with many studies reporting as little as a 0.5-1% difference in electricity use.

Worse still is that DST doesn't apply to all time zones, and some people frequently travel from one time zone to another, causing confusion regarding DST rules, which differ from region to region. Does this make any sense? If we are going to impose a confusing, arbitrary standard with no benefit to anyone whatsoever, can we not at least universalize it?

You might think that my proposal to do things at different times of day depending on sunlight output is myopic. First of all, in our technological society, it's extremely rare that the amount of sunlight matters to anyone for getting something done -- especially a mere hour's difference. Second of all, if our society didn't so rigidly impose its schedules, we wouldn't have to worry about reminding ourselves to do things at different times of day -- were schedules ever necessary in the first place. In an ideal society, if you really had to change how early you got up in order to increase the length of the day,  because your boss wouldn't care whether you took lunch at 12:00 or 1:00, you'd eat whenever a "natural" break presented itself in the day. This would ultimately deemphasize the importance of arbitrary scheduling, which almost never accounts for scope creep, and certainly does not parallel the processes of human work and energy use.

If you need to be at work by 8:00, and the sun starts rising earlier, then change your time of arrival from 8:00 to 7:56, and keep gradually knocking it down a few minutes every few weeks until the sun starts rising later in the morning again. A guestimate really is good enough for stuff like this.

The problem of conserving sunlight isn't that we need to find a better way to transition from one time* to another; it's that we need to find a better way to transition from doing things at one time to another -- or even that we need to stop caring whether we're five minutes late for work in the first place (OR, that we shouldn't "work" in the way that we currently do!).

Time zones are also pointless. They're dictated by time of day, of course, but again, the day is an archaic unit of measurement restricted by the activity of the sun. If you want to eat dinner on one part of the Earth, perhaps you do so at 6:30 PM, but if you move, does it really matter if it's suddenly dark outside at 3:00 PM? Do you have to wait until 6:30? What's more important -- the little numbers on the clock, or what's happening in the world?

Finally getting back to point 1. above, consider that the metric system is widely used throughout most of the first world (outside of the United States) for measuring physical quanta. Why not for quanta within the fourth dimension as well? Instead of sixty seconds to a minute, there should be one thousand seconds to one kilosecond -- not because the latter are somehow the "right" units to use, but because consistency is important for avoiding slop. There would then be one thousand kiloseconds per megasecond, and so on, with the base unit (seconds) remaining the suffix to each unit in order to remind us of its fundamental nature. Not only would this ally our time system with our other measuring systems, it would also standardize the time system itself.

Why base a particular scale of measurement on how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the sun or rotate? We no longer need to track how many days we have left until we have to start preparing for the winter. Why does where the moon exist in the sky matter to us? What is the point of the month as a unit of measurement? Instead of each unit containing 60, 24, 30, or 365 of the previous, why doesn't each simply contain 1,000 of the previous, regardless of its scale? Wouldn't that be much simpler?

If we ever wind up living somewhere else -- a prospect which I find rather unlikely, admittedly -- then we will need to acknowledge that days and years are meaningless, anyway, given the extreme variation in them from one planet to another.

* The little numbers on the clock -- not the actual time per the activity of the solar system and universe

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Statement of the day

You do not need to dislike a sensation -- or even imagine what it must feel like -- in order to understand that other beings dislike it.

More ideal society posts forthcoming, I think.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why suffering can be evaluated empirically

I've gone over this plenty of times, so I'm sure that if you're a regular reader, you know the drill by now. However, regardless of who you are, I've come up with another way to phrase "Suffering is bad" so that it sounds more empirically testable. Here it is:

Those who suffer do not want to suffer.

If we can verify this statement empirically, then that's all that we need to do; there is no more to "prove." You can't want to suffer; as soon as you come to enjoy something, it's no longer causing you to suffer.

Revisiting a great meme: "Life is a gamble"

Pleasure cannot justify suffering in any instance -- not even in instances where the pleasure experienced greatly dwarfs the negative state of desire experienced prior. Here's why:

Think of life as a six-sided die. The five greatest things about life that you can imagine occupy five of the six sides -- perhaps intense orgasms, spiritual fulfillment, growing old with a significant other, having ten trillion dollars, and access to an endless supply of great music (these definitely wouldn't be my choices; they're just examples). The sixth side is occupied by a fifteen-year battle with AIDS -- vomiting, loss of control over bowels and all.

Would you roll the die? If not, congratulations; if presented the choice to be born or to remain in your state of nonexistence, you'd choose to remain in your state of nonexistence. In other words: You wouldn't choose life.

We don't all get AIDS, you say. Well...

1. "We" don't exist as discrete selves in the first place. I remember things that happened to a ten-year-old kid, which gives me the impression that the kid was me, but he wasn't; he lacked my ideals, conceptions, desires, hormones, and even most (if not all) of my atoms. Therefore, that ten-year-old kid is no more "me" than anyone else to have ever lived -- yet all sentient organisms utilize the same chemical compounds and electrical signals in order to experience pain and pleasure, making them chemically equivalent. Clearly, then, there is no need for "me" to experience the worst parts of life: the universe experiences them, and that's bad enough.

2. It's very probable that we will all die -- most of us from cancer, possibly while in a tremendous amount of pain for a prolonged period of time.

The worst that life has to offer might not ever get inflicted upon you, but every day, we roll the die, and every day, many, many people roll the bad side. If you wouldn't want to live through it, then how can you justify its existence?

I ask again, and hope that you leave a comment with your answer: Would you roll the die?

How to make intellectual progress 101

1. Leave fear of new ideas -- the cause of most knee-jerk reactions -- out of any formulation of premises and conclusions; do not foam at the mouth.

2. Express hope that the person whose ideas you're critiquing will come around to seeing things your way.

3. Express awareness of the possibility that you are in error, and that the person whose ideas you're critiquing may be able to provide you with a learning experience.

Failing to adhere to even one of these three will eventually lead to your species fighting wars with itself.

Class dismissed.

James Randi Educational Foundation: Take 2

More convenient strawmen and haughty disdain, this time on page 2:

Posted by Sophronius:
I disagree that empathy is a bias. I have always considered empathy to be a source of information: By allowing us to sympathize with others, we gain a better understanding of them. It would be much harder to predict someone's behaviour without empathy, I think.

From dictionary.com:


[em-puh-thee] Show IPA
the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself: By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.

Empathy means to live vicariously through someone else, to truly feel or imagine what it must be like to be them, temporarily. If we were to attempt this for all beings to have ever felt anything, we'd fail miserably; nevertheless, the welfare of billions of beings is important -- something that we can ascertain via logic.

Empathy and sympathy completely block any attempts to fix problems, and in fact are part of "the problem," for they cause selfishness. When we identify with those like ourselves, it feels good, but it has no rational basis, and so is entirely founded on emotion.


I'm a cripple, so when someone picks on cripples, I empathize; I get upset. However, when someone picks on an obese person, perhaps I laugh, because I'm not obese myself, and, for one reason or another, lack the ability to put myself into the shoes of the obese person.

Because I'm black, I sympathize with victims of slavery. Because I'm female, I sympathize with female rape victims. Because I'm obese, I sympathize with those who attempt to spread awareness of heart disease.

We shouldn't be limited by what we've been conditioned to be capable of empathizing with. I can't cry when I hear that a bunch of people died last night in a tornado, so if I rely on empathy alone, I'll not rationally concern myself with the event, or the fact that such events happen outside of my personal life. If I feel something for someone who's experienced a tragedy, I'm going to neglect those for whom I feel nothing who've also experienced tragedies -- especially if I'm presented with a choice between these two options, and need to make a decision per the law of opportunity cost. Is this fair? Is this unbiased?

Well, he seems to make an error in the first paragraph when he claims that we consider life intrinsically valuable due to having gotten "emotionally attached" to our ego.

Strawman. I stated that we fabricate excuses for why life needs to exist in the first place -- not for why life is valuable. Furthermore, I'm in favor of the idea that SENTIENT life is valuable; plants and bacteria can be tortured for hours for all I care.

How difficult is it to understand that something can be precious, even in spite of its lack of functionality or purpose (and thus, need to be continued on the production line)? When you perform a mercy killing on your pet, does the fact that you don't believe that it should continue to exist negate the fact that you find its life valuable?

The explanation for us valuing life seems the logical result of natural selection, and as such is intrinsic to our nature. But eh, minor point.

Completely disagree. The general goal of valuing things as a phenomenon sprung from natural selection seems to be to perpetuate genes at the individual level -- not to value life itself. Members of early human tribes were no different from members of chimpanzee troupes or lion packs in their valuing of those genotypes most closely resembling their own -- and, thus, the individual genes whose goals were to perpetuate themselves feverishly and for no good reason.

Very few humans value "life" as a concept nowadays, anyway; they value their own lives, their own personal satisfaction, their nations, and the lives of those closest to them. If you mean to say that humans value their own lives, well, the fact that people are addicted to their various desires does not make those desires functional, imbued with purpose, or somehow objectively worth perpetuating.

Valuing life requires intellectual effort -- at the expense of one's genetically motivated inclinations to scorn all life but that which is reminiscent of oneself. This is evident all throughout the animal kingdom; dogs do not value life, but their own self-satisfaction.

It's a bit odd that he suggests that life is the cause of everything negative in existence, or that "the world might be better off without you". Negative is a human concept and wouldn't exist without sapient creatures to experience it.

This is silly. When baby birds starve to death in the absence of super important humans capable of deeming such a thing negative, is it somehow less unpleasant for the baby birds? Negative is not only a concept, but a sensation. Does the fact that we've contrived the concept of sex change the fact that animals have sex?

It also doesn't make much sense that he distinguishes between creating a positive and ending a negative, since the net effect is the same.

There is no such thing as a positive derived out of thin air; all "positives" are contrived from states of deprivation. I distinguish between the two merely because the former isn't physically possible.

He then claims that having emotions is dangerous. He backs this up by citing things like genocide, which would not occur if humans had no emotions. Even if true, this completely ignores the fact that we consider genocide bad because of our emotions.

That's precisely the point, isn't it? If emotions can lead to nasty consequences, then adding more emotions to the pile is going to make things nastier than they already are.

What you're saying is akin to stating that cancer wouldn't be so bad if we were biologically like plants instead of animals. Isn't that an obvious inference?

We'd also have no genocide if there were no humans, but that is kind of missing the point.

And what point would that be? Can you justify genocide? Short of Jesus and heaven, you're going to have a tough time finding something to put on the other end of the scale that balances everything out. Are you sure that you're not as religious as the fish in a barrel that you like to shoot so often?

He actually does seem to argue that human existence is bad at some points... while simultaneously praising productivity as if it's our highest goal.

1. Suffering is bad.

2. Human existence leads to suffering, so there's certainly something bad about human existence. Whether human existence will ultimately lead to less suffering or a discovery of some metric of value far greater than what we're currently using is hard to say.

3. Even if, hypothetically, all of human existence were a bad idea, wouldn't it be productive to do something about that bad idea? You're framing "productivity" as some kind of linear initiative where positive quantities continuously increase, which is an extremely limited approach to productivity -- a word which always needs context in the first place.

He is right, however, that people will have children even when this is a bad idea (natural selection at work again), but that's nothing new.

Newness is a terrible thing to value by itself. The Nazis were new for a time.

Posted by I Am The Scum
You really need to stop reading this blog. It's absolutely terrible.

I think I'm going to start using this kind of rhetoric in my research papers. I wonder if my grade will go up or down if I start the first paragraph of a paper on nuclear fusion by referring to it as "really horrible and stuff." Hmmm.

In his computer example, he mentions that a computer would have an understanding of how others feel, and lack empathy. That's what empathy is.

2+2=4 does not require empathy; it requires logic. Understanding evolution does not require empathy; it requires empirical observation, from which logic is eventually derived by logic agents. Computers can understand these things.

Empathy is an emotional response to an imagined scenario; see above for its official definition. Empathy requires sentience -- a central nervous system designed for sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste, or some combination of these. A computer does not require a central nervous system in order to understand that 2+2=4, or that circles are round, or that things that don't feel good don't feel good (or that some organisms don't want certain sensations).

We should stop trying to make things better...


We should stop trying to solve problems...

Huh? Have you read any of this blog?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Morality is a subtype of logic

A thread courteously started by an anonymous reader over at the James Randi Educational Foundation: http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=209087

I'm a fan of this forum, first and foremost. It's a good place for skeptics to congregate.

Secondly, I love stuff like this, and hope that more of it happens in the future.

Exhibit A: http://nobadmemes.blogspot.com/2010/12/logical-vs-moral.html

Exhibit B: http://nobadmemes.blogspot.com/2011/02/on-logic-and-morality-once-more.html

Posted by Vortigern99 in the thread: 
The OP and thread question strike me as a false dilemma and a nonsense question. The two concepts, morality and logic, are not mutually exclusive so there is no compunction to choose one to "replace" the other.

You might as well ask, "Is it possible to replace a banana with a game of Monopoly?" It's nonsensical. 


1. All personal moralities should conform to scientific standards and principles, as all facets of reality stem from or are themselves empirical phenomena; nothing is exempt from this -- not even whether you should be allowed to kill people for fun!

2. "Suffering is bad," while true, isn't the whole story. Value equations are the rest of it; see here.

3. However, there is a profound difference between "Suffering is bad" and "An action which causes suffering is bad." If causing harm in a particular instance negates a greater amount of harm elsewhere, then the potential action -- that is, the action that reduces suffering while in the process causing it to some degree -- is logically "good," while the harm itself is obviously still intrinsically bad in the same sense that circles are round.

4. Whether morality is an "objective" matter is beside the point of the original posts. Regardless of the status of morality as an empirically verifiable tool, it is valid; it's just that its scope is so narrow as to miss the vast majority of that which is "bad" in the universe. Humans are the only entities that we're currently aware of that are capable of being immoral; volcanoes, earthquakes, lions, and the AIDS virus may not be immoral beings, but they cause "bad" -- as far as we can tell.

Posted by mike3 in the thread:
...they seem to be saying we should toss out "morality" ("remove it from our philosophy"), leaving, apparently, only "logic". Does the false-dilemma response apply here?

"Morality" is in quotes in my original passage because I meant the word "morality" -- not the practice of framing things in moral terms. We should ask whether it's logical to rape women for fun -- not whether it's moral. Are both questions basically the same? Yes, but the latter causes us to focus on the human element of the bad parts of the universe, which isn't nearly a fundamental enough focus. I'm merely requesting that the human species update its vocabulary and broaden the scope of its ideals.

P.S.: It's more like asking if it's possible to replace a banana with a piece of fruit.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Quick rumination on functionality

In between the ideal society posts, I might make another kind of post here or there. This one's about life's lack of functionality.

1. A knife is FOR cutting.

2. A steering wheel is FOR driving.

3. A computer is FOR information processing.

4. Life is FOR...?

...and, additionally:

5. The universe is FOR...?

An Ideal Society, Part 1: The Suburbs; Occupations

Alright, we've hit on all of the major problems of the world, as far as I can tell. Occasional posts will still appear here regarding them, but today, I start a new series: An Ideal Society. It's time to stop talking about why our current situation is bad and start talking about what a good situation -- independent of whether a preceding bad one ever existed -- would look like, hypothetically. Over the months, I've hinted at some of the ideas that I'll be posting in this series, but I think that it's about time that I lay them out more explicitly.

Let's get started with the following two premises:

1. Our entire infrastructure is out of whack.

2. This is caused by bad values.

We waste things. A lot. The environmentalist movement seems to be aware of this, but in their quest to find a bad guy to blame, they've neglected the vast majority of the waste that humans produce in this society; perhaps one of their biggest blunders has been their blatant disregard for how we manage oil. Sure, there's lots of talk -- some of it legitimate -- about alternative energy, but what never gets discussed is that we could have continued to use oil for far longer than we will if we'd only structured society itself in a more rational, efficient way.

Let's pretend that society as we know it doesn't exist. If humans were to be dropped onto the Earth today, with big brains, language, and a need to understand whether the universe has any redeeming qualities whatsoever, how would their society (or societies) be structured in the ideal scenario?

For one, there'd be no suburbs. For two, there'd be no occupations.

Something that people generally don't seem to realize about jobs is that, in addition to being nauseatingly bureaucratic in nature, they're usually designed only to help someone else do his job; furthermore, for some reason, they don't really end.

Curious, isn't it? If jobs actually accomplished something, wouldn't they end at some point? If you need to paint your house, doesn't the need terminate once the house has been painted? You don't devise new ways to paint the house just to keep your family on the payroll, do you?

You might bring up more indefinite chores, like taking out the trash. To this, I say:

1. We already have the technology available to us to automate the majority of modern jobs. The only reason for why 90% of our jobs haven't been taken over by machines is that people need to make money in order to live. If we didn't need to make money, then machines would already be doing most of our menial chores.

2. Menial chores do not require that you hop into a car and drive for two hours to an entirely different building every day at a set time which cannot be violated. This is because menial chores are not enough work to constitute a true occupation, generally; they can be done by anyone whenever they're required to be done without forcing someone in particular to be "the guy" who does them at the same time every day. In short, while the chore of taking out the trash may be indefinite, my role as the person who handles the chore needn't be.

Number 2 takes us to the first assertion above: that the suburbs are a pathetic waste of resources.

Here's how our living spaces should be structured instead:

Housing units as large as one entire neighborhood -- or at least as large as some substantial portion of one, depending on architectural technicalities -- would exist all over the Earth. These units would look something like shopping malls in their openness, though they'd probably be much more aesthetically pleasing, given that no money means no capitalistic concerns over architectural parsimony. They would also contain individual quarters. There would be no leases, no deeds, and no mortgages, just as there are no leases, deeds, or mortgages for those who routinely and lawfully enter shopping malls all over the country every day today; if you wanted to take up residence within a housing unit, you'd simply walk inside at your leisure, just as you do today in parks, malls, libraries, and other public places where accommodations like benches and water fountains already exist.

For our ideal living quarters, though, the difference would be that, instead of mere water fountains and benches, you'd have access to cushioned resting areas, computers, pleasing scenery, and food kiosks. The analog to mall security in this scenario would be a centralized computer, complete with a camera system, alarm system, and connection to the main global network, where all information regarding individuals and material resources would be tracked (everyone would be monitored by a GPS in orbit around the planet). Of course, without money, there'd be no reason to hoard items and, more importantly, no reason to steal, so while the computer's sensors might get tripped from time to time, items leaving the premises wouldn't be one of the reasons for this.

Temporary residence would be encouraged, as exploration, innovation, and creativity would be valued in the place of self-indulgence, material excess, and expectation. The people within a particular housing unit's major lounge areas would likely be entirely different from one month to the next, with those bored of the area or finished with a particular project moving on to see the rest of the world, and newcomers (or past frequenters returning for one reason or another) constantly stopping by to relax and enjoy themselves.

Entertainment would vary, and would likely depend on the technology available per the time period. Modern examples might include fully immersive video games and other kinds of audio/visual simulations, Internet access from major kiosks for learning and interacting with content, mood lighting, and replicas of outdoor locations. Social activities would also be available, such as story-telling, game-playing (including physical games, though video games are already becoming increasingly physical), teaching, humor, etc.

Walls would, in many cases, be transparent; this would discourage privacy in public (i.e. the way that we treat places of work and cars today), promote open communication among everyone (e.g. if you're gay or really into Satanic heavy metal, you'd tell the middle aged woman sitting in the lounge area and never think anything of it), and increase the vitamin D intake for the population. The exception to the transparent walls rule would be private rooms, for the sake of allotting some amount of time for both personal contemplation and sleep.

Although such private areas would be available, when it would come to sleeping, they would be built to accommodate only one person, as group formation would be discouraged. Of course, it would be acceptable for a group of, say, four people, for example, to seek out a quiet room for planning an activity or working on a project, but each room would probably have one bed in order to both discourage the development of special needs (i.e. cutting down on pointless customization of infrastructure while in the process standardizing room sizes) and promote social transparency among the populace.

Rooms would be checked out by a user who would manually change the status of a door's computer from vacant to occupied, with additional settings including a "Please don't just barge in, but I'm open to talk if you need me" setting and a "Do not disturb" setting; the latter would call a computer-authenticated lock, and would also be monitored by the central computer in case the sensor ever remained flipped for substantially longer than is required by humans for sleep -- a sign of someone hiding something, in many cases.

There would be no need to "check out" a room the way that you do at a hotel, as the computer would handle everything by automatically updating the database to reflect room status changes. Check-out times would also be nonexistent, as the number of rooms per living area would always exceed the average population traffic size; where the main computer for a given population center detected that the average number of tracked people within the defined boundaries of the center was encroaching on an arbitrary maximum, an alert would be generated for someone to initiate a new building project for a separate housing unit.

So what about going places? The above description might be fine for a place to live, but what about the exploration that would allegedly be promoted by this model? Isn't what I've just written about the same as what we have today, only larger in scope and more socially open?

Well, no, it isn't. Remember that point two was that there'd be no occupations. Let's run through an example.

I, along with five people whom I've never met before, am a de facto overseer of a research project aimed at developing a way to clone organs. For convenience purposes, our research team has unanimously consented, without intervention from a third party or "leader," to meet at a specific population center designated on our communications devices' maps by an ID number (everyone would have a handheld computer that would provide him or her with names, IDs, and contact information for everyone else).

Perhaps we've chosen the population center based on the recreational activities available there. In any case, we convene at one of its living areas with tentative dates for when we'll be finished our research; there are no deadlines. To get to the population center, we take the public transportation system -- a series of interconnected, centrally managed, and automated vehicles tracked by the GPS. Once we arrive, we live there for about three months, often checking out local places of entertainment or enjoying time at the beach, but never really needing to go anywhere substantially far away. Remember: Every time that anyone in the society needs to commute to a new place of work, he changes where he "lives" to match.

My associates and I become close friends over the three months that we work together, sending our progress to the central computer for anyone in the entire society to read and add onto at any time. Once we've determined that we've made a substantial amount of progress and have heard back from a few interested individuals who want to pick up where we left off (without needing to preserve some profit-generating model, we'd have no reason to shun those interested in temporarily taking the reins), we part ways to relax or work on another, unrelated project elsewhere on the planet -- even if the latter project has nothing to do with medical science.

Contractors, freelance artists, and Wikipedia editors already do this; with the right amount of granular control, central management, and redundancy, real work can get done much faster in this model than it can in our current society -- especially given that there are no CEOs to demand that we manufacture the right amount of basketballs by a certain date or show up at exactly 9 AM every morning to begin scanning papers that are perfectly readable in their non-digital forms. The bottom line: Most "work" today is unnecessarily pushed into arbitrary time slots with pointless deadlines, all because the impetus is personal enrichment and not the betterment of society.

Alternatively, perhaps most or all of the research that I just outlined is done remotely, meaning that my imaginary team and I merely communicate via email and video chat, and are free to move around the world as we please. Maintenance and technical jobs might require physical meetings and close proximity to something in case it breaks, but again, as soon as someone else came in to take my place, I'd simply leave to do something else at another location on the planet.

So, there you have it. No ridiculous commutes, no traffic jams, no preposterous amounts of gas wasted every day. If you want to commute to a place and do work there, you go once, live down the street, and leave when your project has been completed. Even if the project takes years to complete -- an unlikely scenario in a sane, granular society with a socialistic bent -- there would never be a physical place of work without some living space within proximity, available to anyone free of charge. Really, if we can do it for libraries, we can do it for our homes.

Want to save gas? Don't do less; change the locations of your activities.

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