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.

    Sunday, March 6, 2011

    Jesus Probably Did Not Exist.

    Yeah, I said it. I actually believe it. Even most other atheists resent my saying this. It's not due to a lack of familiarity with William Lane Craig, et al. I know pretty much all the arguments. Most of them are rendered moot by an argument I use, in the form of an analogy. I'll explain further down.

    The Iron Chariots Wiki puts it, I would say, mildly:
    Today, there exists little in the way of historical documentation for Jesus' life beyond the Biblical Gospel, and it is likely that these accounts were not written by eyewitnesses. This lack of evidence makes it very difficult to discern actual historical facts behind the Christian stories that describe him. This, however, has not stopped scholars from defending the existence of a historical Jesus, as well as specific views of who Jesus was.
    Some atheists consider discussion of a historical Jesus to be a red herring and argue that, while a person named Jesus may or may not have existed, there is clearly no reason to believe that he had special powers, was the son of God, or performed miracles. Even if it could be firmly established that Jesus, the man, existed, this would not be evidence for the extraordinary claims that make up the foundation of the Christian religion.
     Nothing even approaches an eyewitness account. There is no other real evidence beyond written accounts. Even the name "Jesus" is contrived. Elements of Christianity existed centuries before the alleged birth of Christ.
    Authors Richard Carrier [blog] [wiki] [YT], Robert M. Price [blag] [wiki] [YT], David Fitzgerald [YT] [book], Bart Ehrman [blag] [wiki] [YT] make the case clear in their books, lectures, debates, etc. READ THEIR SHIT and THEN talk to me about the arguments (or at least watch the YT links - they're entertaining, I swear).

    Anyway, the analogy I like to use regards the Roman invasion of Gaul by Caesar's 13th legion. Imagine for a moment that archaeologists stumbled upon a collection of letters signed by identifiable members of the Roman military at the time of the battle of Alesia. They are eyewitness accounts, written in first person (you may argue that the fact that the original gospels were reproduced is in fact evidence of their truth value, since apologists like to have it both ways). They consistently describe an event in the midst of the battle wherein the goddess Athena descended and gave the general a magic wand, which he used to turn various Gallic warriors into frogs. We would not expect much other evidence (beyond reproductions of this account in other places - assume there are if you want), as the remains of the frogs would have long since disappeared. We know the battle really took place, already. We already know that Caesar was a real man, too. Would this alone convince you that the goddess Athena really exists, and that magic wands exist? For some of you, it may be. If so, I may have to talk to you about an amazing investment opportunity.
    But this evidence is FAR better than the evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ. There are no eyewitness accounts, let alone signed, let alone by identifiable figures referenced in other sources, let alone originals, etc. It's special pleading to accept the Gospels as accurate. It's about as justifiable as accepting any other religious text, for that matter.

    There is one good argument for an actual historical Jesus (hence the qualifier "probably"). Cults spring up based on charismatic leaders who are merely human but are attributed supernatural aspects all the time. David Koresh is still worshiped as a messiah. Sathya Sai Baba is considered by millions to be God right now. True divine nature does not seem to be a prerequisite for widespread belief/adherence. But at the core of each cult/religion (the only difference is size, really) is a real person. The only difference is that the antiquity of Christianity naturally makes its history murky. I think, however, the answer lies in the similarity between early Christianities and other cults at the time, most of which were probably fabricated wholecloth as a metaphor for the sun and the zodiac signs etc. anyway, like Mithras. Much of the Gospel story seems contrived [read the Incredible Shrinking Son of Man] anyway.

    The most interesting theistic argument I've heard to account for the success of other cults similar to Christianity at the time (suggesting there was a need for such an argument) is that the miracles performed by members of pagan cults were in fact real, but the work of the devil [read Not the Impossible Faith by Richard Carrier]. Anyone willing to entertain this kind of theology has lost the argument, in my mind, based on the nature of the devil in such a theology. That's another discussion.

    More on the topic

    Take care, sir.

    Saturday, March 5, 2011

    I nominate Harry Glicken for Discordian sainthood

    Hopefully you've at least heard of Discordianism, if you aren't already a worshiper of the Goddess. If so, you probably know about Discordian saints, like His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I, a failed San Francisco business man who declared himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico and Officially dissolved Congress in 1859.

    I've found another interesting candidate. Harry Glicken was a volcanologist. He was supposed to watch Mount St. Helens erupt, but missed it for an interview. His replacement, David A Johnston, died watching the eruption (along with 56 other people). Apparently, they failed to learn from Pliny the Younger, who documented the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD from a safe distance quite adequately without dying. His uncle, Pliny the Elder, wanted a closer look and wound up in Hades (ok, he actually had the noble intention of attempting to rescue survivors and suffered a massive asthma attack in the noxious clouds of smoke and ash).

    In defiance of all sense, Glicken again decided to get a closer look at an impending volcanic eruption - Mt. Unzen, in 1991. Guess what the fuck happened. FORTY-THREE scientists died, including Glicken. This may qualify him, despite being a scientist, for a Darwin Award too.

    Take care, sir.

    Thursday, March 3, 2011

    Technological Singularity

    So last night, I had sort of an odd brainstorm regarding the technological singularity, a la Ray Kurzweil. I was watching Star Trek TNG with some of my friend when I realized that by the time we have the technology to build transporters and replicators, computers will be ridiculously powerful, and we'll combine these technologies to manipulate matter in extremely intricate ways. Before long, we'll be able to create just about anything wherever we want, whenever we want. We'll be teleporting and rearranging matter all the time, reshaping even our bodies. We'll be sharing information nearly instantly and reshaping the entire planet before long, ultimately becoming something like a massive cloud of hyper-intelligent matter that used to be Earth - a giant nebulous consciousness. We'll learn how to bend space and time and envelop the entire universe and live forever. In a sense, we'll become God.
    That's how I hope it happens, anyway.