Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why the machines were the good guys in the Matrix

Yes. I'm saying the machines, who enslaved humanity, used them as batteries, massacred most of them several times, and fought to keep them from escaping a fantasy world were the good guys.

Smith says in the first film and the Architect and Oracle later confirm that the original intent of the Matrix was to be a perfect world, free from suffering, discomfort, and unhappiness. This failed because human beings "define their existence through suffering and misery" which sounds a lot like Buddhism but to me says too much.
It is impossible to elevate humans to a state of infinite euphoria because human brains adapt to become used to any environment eventually. You "reset" your "baseline" gradually and adjust to new conditions, and your desires and complaints adjust as well. This is why the greedy, the powerful, and the vengeful are not easily satisfied.
But anyway, the Matrix simulated reality as it was known to human beings, effectively allowing people to live their lives normally - the only way apparently possible. The only way possible to allow them to live. But of course, the machines only want us to live to use us as a power source, right? Morpheus asserts that human beings are batteries to the machines, and this is generally accepted by the humans, but this contradicts the behaviours of the machine-world programs and the laws of physics.

The first and second laws of thermodynamics disallow the machines from gaining any net energy from a system that "liquef[ies] the dead and feed[s] them to feed the living," as no net energy is entering the system, and heat is (as observed directly by Neo) being lost from the towers.
But Morpheus adds that this is "combined with a form of fusion." If they have fusion power, why the hell would they need to keep humans alive, which necessarily results in a net loss of energy for the machines? I can see no reason other than a) to keep the humans alive for moral reasons, b) at least to keep them around to play with, or c) to do research. If b or c, then why attempt a utopia first?
Everything the machines did was in the interest of the survival and well-being of the human race. I mean, what were the humans going to do if they got out anyway? The sun was blotted out, what exaclty would they eat? Where would they grow it?
This hypothesis is a bit easier to explain in light of the Animatrix:
The machines chose to keep 6 billion humans alive, and this after a nuclear war. A nuclear war which the humans definitely started (in the Animatrix and in common sense). We rejected the inhabitants of the uncanny valley, we denied their rights, we kicked them out of our society, and rejecting capitalism, we decided to eliminate the more successful competition, even though 01's technological innovations improved human life immensely. We brought it upon ourselves and the machines did everything they could to keep us alive and well while we did everything we could to kill everything.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Road Rage Hypothesis

Ever try to pass someone only to have them speed up to block you out? Asshole! Well, have you ever been that asshole? Why do people drive like it's a race?
The explanation seems obvious on the face of it - it's rude to try to get ahead of someone. People don't like being passed.
But why?
We all know it's not a race. We all understand that we'll all get to our destinations faster if we cooperate. We all know that letting someone pass you doesn't slow you down at all. We all know Wal-Mart will probably still be there when you get there, and you're going to spend 5 minutes comparing brands of socks, anyway. So why the hell don't we all act like we know these things we clearly all know? Why are we willing to speed up and greatly increase our chances of dying horribly just to stop this stupid douche in his lame-ass Camaro  from passing me before his lane ends?

Think about it this way - why in our ancestral past, and in fact, why anywhere in nature, would one animal overtake another, running? I can think of two scenarios right off the bat - they're a) going after some food or b) evading some predator. If you recognize that this is happening, what's a [read: the only] reasonable course of action for your limbic system to take in competitive situations that may mean life or death, especially where you may want a sudden burst of muscle strength? Rage circuitry, activate! Adrenaline++. Gaaah, you motherfucker! A mechanism that did this simply in response to any situation where another animal is trying to run past you would be an easy, effective response, and in nature, it would almost always be appropriate.

So what is the use of this information, supposing I'm even remotely correct?
This is an example of why I think Evolutionary psychology, while admittedly sort of ad hoc, can be useful. If you think this way habitually, you may catch yourself thinking irrationally in response to some vestigial mechanism in your brain that you or someone else has been able to point out and hopefully back up with some evidence or at least sound reasoning. If it's true (if its use always produces good results, then it probably is), you may learn to set aside emotions that might otherwise lead you to waste time and effort or risk harm, ultimately over nothing. Your brain makes mistakes, but other parts of your brain can correct those mistakes.   Reason is our mind's tool for correcting them. Of course, you first have to recognize that they're mistakes. Evo-psych is one way of going about it, as I hope this helps to demonstrate.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


You must obey the rules in this book and love the character in the book that is alleged to have created the universe or else you will be tortured for eternity (according to the book). How do I know? Because I have a personal relationship with the creator of the universe. That's right, I talk to him, you don't, because I believe the right things. Your entire existence weighs on you believing this message I am giving you. You say it's impossible to know exactly what caused the universe to happen because some things can't be known, and we can only know what we can examine, but I say pshaw! IIIII know exactly what caused the universe to happen. I know what's going to happen to you when you die. I know because the creator of the universe LOVES me. So please excuse my humility, I'm used to dealing with... higher beings.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Some questions for Christians

Why does God allow Satan to exist?
Why does God allow evil to exist?
Are good things good because God says so, or does God say so because they're good?
What were Jesus' last words? Had God forsaken him or was it all planned? If it was planned, why was Judas punished, being pivotal to the plan?
Why did Jesus have to die in order for God to forgive us?
Why must he have condemned us in the first place? Doesn't he make the rules?
What evidence/arguments can you give me for your God that Hindus and Muslims can't (and don't) for theirs?
How do humans share over a dozen ERVs with chimpanzees if we're not related, when these are the exact same kinds of genetic markers we use to determine relatedness with such certainty that no other evidence is necessary to sentence someone to life for murder in the US?
Why do bad things (random, uncontrollable things, like cancer) happen to good people, and more importantly, why do they happen just as often to good people as bad people?
If God answers prayers with "yes," "no," or "wait," wouldn't praying to your pillow have exactly the same effect?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Wherein I Learn Just How Many Nails Can Fit Into One Coffin

Yesterday I had the privilege of seeing Sam Harris debate William Lane Craig on the topic of morality. However, I was a bit disappointed with both of them. Craig not only defined morality as whatever the hell God says regardless of the consequences, but he made some really obvious dodges and even repeated everyone's favorite line, the argument from ignorance: “I can't think of a way…” He also accused Harris of building an argument on wordplay, the most ironic thing I've ever heard anyone say. On a positive note, however, I got to (very briefly) meet John Loftus and a cute girl named Megan that recommended a book to me.

In his introduction, Dr. Craig (yes, it is a legitimate PhD, albeit in theology, which, to me, is about as much of an accomplishment as being a level-20 druid or something) outlined the secular basis for morality, as atheists like Harris, Carrier, and I would argue, and did so surprisingly well. In fact, I agreed with most of what he said in his introduction, and couldn't really figure out what his objection was. He said that moral intuition arises as a result of being large-brained, social mammals. It evolved as a way of governing behavior in such a way as to increase the well-being and happiness (thus, the survivability) of our species, collectively. Beyond that, it's (not so) simply a matter of Game Theory (I don't know if Harris mentions Game Theory in The Moral Landscape, because I haven't gotten around to reading it yet, but I think it is absolutely essential to understanding morality). The goal is maximizing human well-being and happiness (to the extent that they can be quantified, and by extension, all other living things, to a lesser degree, based on their ability to suffer). We also feel morally inclined toward those that are most closely related to us more than those who are more distant relatives, which is perfectly consistent with this model (because genes are selfish).

So essentially, Craig laid out the basis for secular morality, and then said that there isn't one. He asked, almost in so many words, “what's so good about human well-being and happiness?” His objection seemed to be that in a secular view, morality itself is amoral and that “deeper meaning is illusory.” What deeper meaning? Why is that necessary? How can morality itself be moral? To use Harris' health analogy, it's as if Craig was asking what's desirable about health, or what's healthy about health itself. The question is meaningless. So his argument relied on assumptions he was apparently unaware of, as well as a serious lack of clear definitions.

In defense of Divine Command, Craig then equated goodness with God's will, and compared God to a police officer, in that he was a “competent authority,” which is wrong for a number of reasons. First of all, how is he judging God to be competent, just, or good? Secondly, cops can be corrupt. There can be immoral laws. I suppose his argument relies on the assumption that God is perfectly intelligent and sane, which is a huge leap, but even accepting that, what end do his declarations of moral obligation serve? Craig never once even attempted to explain what determined or justified God's “good” nature, which was the whole point of the debate. As with any cosmological argument, all he did was add a step.

Dr. Harris called him out on his poor attempt to side-step the Euthyphro Dilemma towards the end, and began to address Craig's arguments more directly, after spending the first half re-hashing some of his favorite material and sort of going off on tangents. That's fine, because all theological arguments overlap, so shifting topics is inevitable, and he's not going to write 100% new material each time he debates someone or gives a lecture, but I was expecting some more biting and direct counter-attacks, a la Matt Dillahunty or Hitch.

The audience stepped up and asked some great questions, however. Harris dealt with the theists' questions deftly and satisfyingly, but whenever a question was directed at Craig, he usually either dismissed it or failed so horribly the audience actually laughed at him. One girl sitting two rows in front of me asked, since Craig had earlier compared our intuitive knowledge of morality to our intuitive understanding of light, if he was implying, because we have replaced supernatural explanations for light with the real, natural explanations, that the same would happen with morality. Her question also implied a second point - that light exists objectively, and it doesn't need a divine basis, just like morality. This is the point at which he said that he believed morals must come from God because he can't think of another way!

At one point, Craig also said “atheism doesn't offer a basis of morality.” I almost stood up and shouted “neither does not believing in unicorns!” but resisted. Time ran out before I got a chance to ask my questions, but I think Craig was sufficiently trounced. I still felt like I had to talk about it here, though.

I think the best objection to Divine Command Theory, however, is to ask whether any moral behavior, as supposedly determined by God, ever increases suffering and decreases human well-being and happiness, or whether any action can be considered immoral that increases well-being and happiness and reduces suffering. EVEN IF you accept Divine Command because Might Makes Right, the threat of Hell and the opportunity of Heaven are still merely appeals to happiness and suffering. It's inescapable. Morality cannot depend on any gods.

One of the main points of this debate surrounds the difference between subjectivity and objectivity, which I have a problem with. My own moral opinions are shaped by a combination of my knowledge (of the consequences of my actions, primarily) and my innate desires instilled in me (us) by natural selection. And the fact that those desires exist in me (to live, to be healthy and to find happiness, etc) is amoral, because it is half of the foundation on which morality is based! They cannot be justified, only explained. They are neither good nor bad, because that judgment depends on those innate desires already being there. My desire to live and be happy + an understanding of the consequences of my actions + Game Theory --> moral obligations. Anyway, the feeling of happiness itself is subjective, but whether or not I am healthy and happy etc. is objectively verifiable, so subjectivity doesn't enter into it. For instance, if I am sitting in a relaxed position, smiling, talking to friends, and laughing, you and everyone else can observe these behaviors and determine that I am happy. If I look down at my feet, frown, and sigh heavily, you will then determine that I am upset. And so on. You can even be wrong about my mood, interpreting the evidence incorrectly. If I say I am happy, or I like the sweater my grandma knitted me for Christmas, there is an underlying truth that only I know about (that I am not happy, or that I like the sweater), only because I am disguising the evidence. A more accurate assessment can be made later if I give evidence revealing my true feelings. Furthermore, it is theoretically possible to observe my brain state with something like an fMRI and determine my mood more directly. I can't lie about that. So assessing the evidence can tell you whether your actions affect me positively or negatively, to varying degrees of certainty. 100% certainty is never possible in science, so we can't expect it in this case either. So in this way, we have an objective basis for morality. Its effectiveness depends on creativity, how accurately we can predict the consequences of our actions for other people and ourselves, and how well we can assess whether those consequences are conducive or detrimental to human well-being and happiness as we are able to observe evidence of it. 

I have like three pages of notes from the debate, but I think I've said all I need to say on the subject.

Take care, sir.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Future Facebook Status Updates

atheist \'a-the-ist\ n. - a person who has actually read the Bible

Just to be clear: you're not stupid, your religion is.

I'm really condescending when I'm high, you pissants.

Attention Indiana Drivers:
SIGNAL and make sure the other lane is clear BEFORE you start to change lanes

Attention Retail Managers:
Don't train your employees to be upbeat and enthusiastic, spewing off with a stupid grin every single sale or promotion you're doing. I AVOID THOSE STORES.

Attention Republicans:
Not everyone is motivated solely by the acquisition of wealth. We are not Ferengi.

Attention Creationists:
It's over. Shut the fuck up.

I think the movie War Games contains the most accurate representation of hacking in cinema. Therefore I approve of this film.

Love is a strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

QED bitches!

Man, I get a lot of references.

Please nobody like or comment on this status.

If you're not my Facebook friend, you're not really my friend.

Good band name: Shopping Cart Avalanche

Tequila is Spanish for "you don't get to decide when you fall asleep"

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm Moving to Pretendistan

In Pretendistan, the average IQ is over 120.
There are no churches, and there is no Republican party.
In fact, there are no political parties at all - such an idea would be absurd in Pretendistan. It'd be like having scientific parties.
Pretendistanis understand that morality is the mortar that holds a society together and makes it strong.
Their actions are guided by this understanding.
There are no keys or locks in Pretendistan. Nobody is enough of an asshole to go around stealing other people's shit.
Schools teach critical thinking and fiscal responsibility there.
All drugs are legal. Their addiction rates are half ours.
Traffic laws are unnecessary. Pretendistanis pay attention to what they're doing.
Pretendistan combines elements of socialism, capitalism, and communism - the government controls oil transparently - nobody profits from its sale.
Advertisements actually inform you.
Science is valued beyond its potential to create new avenues of profit.
Pretendistanis are aware that the world will exist beyond the next year or two and plan accordingly.
Pretendistanis know they're human. They know their fundamental nature and subsequently their limitations.
No Pretendistani elevates himself/herself or his/her group(s) above any other.

    The world could very easily be a much better place. With the exception of that first detail (although it would help with the others), every difference between Pretendistan and the US depends entirely on individual choices made by individual people. We have the capacity within us right now to become like Pretendistan.

    I really wish I could move to Pretendistan right now, but unfortunately, nobody knows where it is. The closest I can get right now is Canada. Fortunately, I believe the world has been moving in the right direction, slowly, for the past 400 years or so. It might take a few more revolutions but we'll get there.

    Take care, sir.