My Atheism

Sep. 24th, 2009 08:07 pm
packbat: Wearing a open-frame backpack, a pair of sunglasses, and a wide, triangular grin. (hiking)
Greta Christina recently posted something rather brilliant about atheism and self-definition that ... well, it inspires me to define my atheism, just so people know where I'm coming from.

I'd love to see people's reactions to this, by the way. I might be too busy to react properly, but I'll try to answer questions, comments, complains, and arguments, whatever reaction you have to what I say.

*clears throat*

I'm an atheist. What that means is that I don't believe that anything like a god is real. I'm not totally certain - I don't think any atheist is totally certain, however hyperbolic their rhetoric might become in the heat of debate - but I've thought about this quite a lot for quite a while, I've read a lot of arguments, and all told I simply don't believe it. I'm pretty sure that the people who do believe there are any gods, be it one, a few, or many, are simply mistaken.

I'm an atheist. I'm a strong atheist - I believe that no such thing as a god is real. Now, this distinction commonly causes semantic confusion: "I don't believe gods are real" doesn't mean "I believe gods are imaginary", never mind that I could state both truthfully; it's perfectly common for atheists to not believe that gods exist, while simultaneously not believing that gods don't exist. Such persons don't believe they have the evidence to commit either way on the question. I do.

I'm an atheist. I'm a metaphysical naturalist - I think the universe operates according to fundamentally non-mental principles. Richard Carrier defined supernaturalism well in an essay a couple years ago: supernatural things cannot be broken down into non-mental pieces. That makes no sense to me. Everything I have ever learned - my education in philosophy, in physics, in psychology, in mathematics, in computer science, in literature - has given me a strong instinct that somewhere at the base of it all are simple mathematical laws. I draw the comparison to Conway's Game of Life: the rules are basic and unbreakable, but through their implications on higher and higher levels of complexity in the world shaped as it is we find everything with which we are familiar.

I'm an atheist. I don't believe there's any overlord of the universe to dictate moral laws for us, nor any afterlife wherein our acts can be judged. Our morals are our own - earned in the struggles and victories of our ancestral species, forged on the anvil of a world which does not tell us what we should do, but merely referees. Our senses of beauty, of honor, of justice, of fairness, of charity, of love, of pride, of disgust ... every subjective experience we have is ours, proven on the steppes from which we came and coming together to create that which is us. To declare that this makes goodness into something meaningless is, if you'll forgive the rhyme, senseless - we're not stupid, and if we value goodness, that is meaning enough.

I'm an atheist. I am an atheist because I have the freedom to be thus - the freedom to learn, to decide, and to proclaim. I would not live where I was required to be thus by ignorance, deception, or coercion: to be an atheist freely is to be aware of the need for freedom. As Alfred Tarski is quoted to have said, "The sentence 'snow is white' is true if and only if snow is white" - and to be forced to believe that snow is white is to be coerced to believe, be that belief true or false. The only way to be free to believe truth is to be free to believe what one must on the strength of one's own judgement.

I'm an atheist. I care about being an atheist - I care about what I believe, and about being true to what I believe. I want to be treated decently and with respect. I want the people who disagree with me to listen to me - to trust my sincerity and my rationality - and when they argue with me, I want them to be sincere and rational in doing so. I want the arguments against me to stem from a fair and charitable reading of my sometimes-clumsy explanations - you can fight me, but fight the true implications of my world-view with the true implications of yours.
packbat: Wearing my custom-made hat and a smirk. (hat)
Day before yesterday, Jerry "Tycho" Holkins commented on his fascination with the deeply disturbing "seduction community", and Mike "Gabe" Krahulik stepped in to play devil's advocate.

I completely see where both of these people are coming from, here. But in this particular case, Tycho is very straightforwardly correct, and Gabe's instinctive fairmindness is misplaced. And normally I wouldn't be so confident staking out my spot in this minefield, but I happen to have an advantage: just last month, a completely unrelated community which I have been involved in discussed this question, and the conclusions of the discussion are pretty clear.

The seduction community, or pick-up artist community, or whatever it's called, explicitly treats sexual relations between persons as a game in which the player - singular - seeks to win against opposition. This attributes an explicit status imbalance in which only the man is an actor (cf. Bark/Bite, "Do You Tell a Football What Time the Superbowl Starts?") and in which sexual congress raises the status of the man and lowers that of the woman. It's sexist, offensive, and wrong.

End of line.

P.S. Obviously, two days being an eternity in the wonderful world of cyberspace, I have been preceded in remarking on this discussion - goblinpaladin, pandagon's Amanda Marcotte.

P.P.S. If there are people reading this is frustrated in their desire to find sexual partners, recall that people are complicated. Anyone offering shortcuts is lying.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (pale blue dot)
Dead At Your Age (hat tip to [ profile] shatterstripes):

You are 23 years and 266 days old today.

That’s exactly half the life of somebody famous. In another 23 years and 266 days, you will have lived exactly as long as Fernando Pessoa. He was an innovative poet and creator of heteronyms, imaginary characters who write in different styles [sic] who died at the age of 47 years, 170 days of cirrhosis of the liver.

Fernando Pessoa lived twice as long as you have, but other notable people have died at about this age.

  • You've outlived Booker Little Jr. by more than 2 months. He was a trumpeter-composer who co-led a quintet with Eric Dolphy. He died on October 5, 1961, 24 years before you were born.
  • Bonnie Parker was about 3 months younger than you when she died by homicide on March 23, 1934. She was a Depression-era outlaw who joined Clyde Barrow in a bank-robbing spree across the West. She died 52 years before you were born.
  • You've outlived Jacques Herbrand by more than 3 months. He was a mathematician who introduced various theories of mathematical logic. He died in a mountaineering accident on July 27, 1931, 54 years before you were born.
  • Ernie Davis was more than 3 months younger than you when he died of leukemia on May 18, 1963. He was a football halfback for Syracuse University and the first African American to win the Heisman trophy. He died 23 years before you were born.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

If you knew that a friend's significant other was cheating on him or her, would you tell your friend the truth or keep it to yourself?

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I would confront the S.O. before anything else (not the least because some people are in open relationships). Then I would talk to someone I trust, to make sure that I'm not being utterly stupid. But if I did that and still knew, I would tell my friend - it's what I'd want.

(See, that's the thing with lies - it's much easier to think lying is okay if you don't put yourself in the shoes of the lied-to. I know - I read it in a book!)

(But seriously - it's true, and it's a good book: Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life by Sissela Bok. I recommend it.)
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (butterfly)
(I heard this story in a first-year art class I took as an elective.)

Once there was a great painter, renown through the land for his art. One day, a warlord visited him; he told the painter that he wished to commission a picture of a carp, and he would pay such-and-such as a fee. The painter said, "It will be ready in three months."

The three months went by, and the warlord returned. The painter told him, "It is not quite ready - I shall have it in three more weeks." The warlord was angry at this delay, but he did not wish to offend the painter, so he went away.

The three weeks passed, and the warlord returned again. The painter told him, "It is almost complete - come back in three days, and I will have it for you." The warlord was still more angry at this. "Why not today?" he asked. "You have had nearly four months!" "It is not yet ready," replied the painter. And the warlord stormed out.

The next day, he returned with a hundred men to bang on his door. "Painter, I have no more patience," he exclaimed. "Give me my painting immediately!"

The painter bowed his head, and said, "Follow me." He led the warlord inside to his desk, where he pulled out his brush, his ink, and a single sheet of blank paper. As the warlord watched, he wet the brush and painted three strokes on the page - three strokes to create the most perfect carp the world had seen.

The warlord stood speechless for a moment, then darkened with anger. "Why could you not do that when I first came?" he asked.

The painter rose, and walked to a cabinet on one wall of the room. He opened the door, and a thousand pages flew out - every one, a painting of a carp.


Feb. 1st, 2009 01:05 pm
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Earth:Harmless/WikiGuide)
[ profile] dslartoo has a couple good links about depression from [ profile] fairgoldberry: Part 1, Part 2. Worth reading.

(Yes, a few items on that first list sound pretty familiar - both in my case and in someone else's. Dunno what I'll do about it.)

On a more cheerful note - I hope you enjoyed my Rabbit Hole Day entry this year; here are the ones I bookmarked of those I read, in no particular order:

packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Earth:Harmless/WikiGuide)
As you probably do not know, I have recently been trying out Google Reader as a way of tracking my weblogs. (My "Shared Items" page.) What I have discovered, in the experiment, is that Google Reader acts like the ever-multiplying tabs in the more-slowly-multiplying Firefox windows that keep haunting me, only on speed.

So, back to "Morning Coffee". At least that way, I can say "eh" and ignore the huge pileup of old posts.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

A lot of resolutions, from the mundane to the truly ambitious, are being made today. What are your New Year's resolutions? Do you think you're likely to stick to them past the month of January?

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Oh, I should make some of these!

1. Practice being calm when being calm is the best strategy - most prominently, when receiving unwanted advice. (I was going to say "senseless courtesy", but civility sometimes requires rudeness.)

2. Ride my bicycle more, building up to commuting to school on it.

3. Reclaim time from those pleasures which do not give me much pleasure, and gather up fragments of time, lest they perish.

4. Work out the list of things I need need to pay attention to (my financial status, my health care coverage, my health, my...) and pay attention to those things.

...okay, those seem like good ideas. I'll leave them there.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Earth:Harmless/WikiGuide)
[ profile] goblinpaladin pointed it out here, and I managed to track back a step to here, but I don't know who actually wrote it. It doesn't matter, though. It still needs saying.

Cut for triggering potential. )
packbat: Coming into the finish line after a mile race - the announcer can be seen behind me. (running)
Before: "Hmm, I need to take a crap. I should go to the bathroom."

After: "So I'll pack the running clothes and an empty water bottle tonight, and tomorrow morning I will stow them in my locker at the ASME lounge while I'm working. At 4 o'clock, I will knock off work, retrieve the items from my locker, and proceed to the Eppley Recreation Center. There, I will borrow a lock and a locker, change into the running clothes, and stow everything but the key to the lock and the water bottle (which I will fill before departing). This done, I will walk to the outdoor track and do intervals (400 m running, 200 m walking) until I have expended the water in the bottle. Then I will return to the ERC, shower, change into my street clothes, refill the bottle, and walk up to the Stamp to catch the 6:05 shuttle home. In the unlikely event that I am too late to catch the shuttle, I will take the bus or the subway, depending. Finis."

I amuse myself.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (tired)

packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

What words do you find wise enough to live by?

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A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

If your daily life had a theme song, what would it be?

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Spoon, "The Way We Get By", from Kill the Moonlight. (Apologies for the poor audio of the embed - Spoon's webpage has better.)

Don't read too much into the literal meaning.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (pale blue dot)
I know some of you all (I'm thinking m'dad [ profile] zhurnaly and the Dread Medievalist [ profile] goblinpaladin for starters) will love this blog, for three reasons.

First, Overcoming Bias is a cool goal.

Second, because it's written by people who know stuff and like to share. (Like Edward Slingerland in What Science Offers the Humanities, and yes, I still owe [ profile] goblinpaladin the review, it's halfway done.)

Third, tasty, tasty writing.

Decoherence is implicit in quantum physics, not an extra postulate on top of it, and quantum physics is continuous.  Thus, "decoherence" is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon - there's no sharp cutoff point.  Given two blobs, there's a quantitative amount of amplitude that can flow into identical configurations between them.  This quantum interference diminishes down to an exponentially tiny infinitesimal as the two blobs separate in configuration space.

Asking exactly when decoherence takes place, in this continuous process, is like asking when, if you keep removing grains of sand from a pile, it stops being a "heap".

The sand-heap dilemma is known as the Sorites Paradox, after the Greek soros, for heap.  It is attributed to Eubulides of Miletus, in the 4th century BCE.  The moral I draw from this very ancient tale:  If you try to draw sharp lines in a continuous process and you end up looking silly, it's your own darn fault.

(Incidentally, I once posed the Sorites Paradox to Marcello Herreshoff, who hadn't previously heard of it; and Marcello answered without the slightest hesitation, "If you remove all the sand, what's left is a 'heap of zero grains'."  Now that's a computer scientist.)

From The Conscious Sorites Paradox, by Eliezer Yudkowsky on Overcoming Bias, as part of a long digression-from-a-digression-from-a-digression-from-a-digression on quantum physics (and, back up the chain, philosophical zombies, reduction, the Mind Projection Fallacy, and ultimately - I think - AI research. Unless ultimately is "Overcoming Bias", in which case ... what am I saying?).

Anyway, you know the problem with WIkipedia? You can totally get the same groove here. Very hypertext.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (darwin has a posse) (ironically) borrow a phrase.

Just did a flist purge. Let me know if you noticed and want back on. Don't have time any more for some of this stuff - if, as your brain thinks, anything you make time to do is important, I'm making way to much crap important. (Will be doing a blog purge anon.)


Mar. 30th, 2008 08:57 pm
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (butterfly)
My mom told me this story once. She was in an English class, Lit class, something like that - high school or college - and the teacher was talking about that "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" poem. Dreck, he said. Or didn't, probably; I don't remember Mom's words, and she might not remember his. Hers? I think his. Anyway, he went along describing in detail all the ways this poem was terrible, and finally said, Here, just listen to it! And opened the book and read it out loud.

(I'm going to invoke artistic license here, depart from my mother's account, and quote Sonnets from the Portugese: XLIII from RPO:)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

And then he stopped.

Hey, that's actually pretty good, he said.

We may be tempted to laugh at the spectacle of the critic being overwhelmed by the work he tried to shred. But that is not the lesson here - he spoke his mind in the most laudable sense of the phrase, and that he had to - and did - reverse himself a moment later merely shows that he was honest.

Nor should we believe that we may not lambast any work of art. For example, Rescue from Gilligan's Island was a terrible, terrible movie (although not, fortunately, near-fatally so), and no amount of misplaced excoriation will change that.

Insead, we should say this: familiarity does not require contempt. The old "To be or not to be" soliloquy, High Noon with Gary Cooper, Vivaldi's Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269 ("Spring" from the Four Seasons), Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67, Leonardo da Vinci's Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, Melville's Moby Dick - these things are familiar because they are superb. Let never cynicism, misanthropy, the desire for originality, or the opinion of your companions stop you from recognizing that.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
Me: Joseph Weizenbaum died.

Eliza: Please go on.

Me: Well, he was very nearly the inventor of AI - wrote your progenitor, the first Eliza - and then he became one of the harshest critics of it. It's odd thinking of his life, given the contradiction.

Eliza: What about your own progenitor the first eliza and then he became one of the harshest critics of it its odd thinking of his life given the contradiction?

Me: Well, in a way you have a point - it does parallel the Eden story.

Eliza: Oh, i have a point it does parallel the eden story.

Me: Sure, except I don't believe the Eden story.

Eliza: Why do you not believe the eden story?

Me: Does it matter?

Eliza: Please go on.

Me: Anyway, the disquieting thing about Dr. Weizenbaum's life is that I fear he may be right about AI - the potential for harm, I mean.

Eliza: Can you elaborate on that?

Me: Well, if he invented it, then doesn't that mean his opinion means more?

Eliza: Do you wish that he invented it then doesnt that mean his opinion means more?

Me: Of course.

Eliza: Please go on.

Me: What more is there to say?

Eliza: Does that question interest you?

Me: No, not really.

Eliza: You are being a bit negative.

Me: That's true - I guess the best thing is to hear and acknowledge his life, and then move on from there.

Eliza: Can you elaborate on that?

Me: Well, just because he's respected (and deservedly so) doesn't mean he's right or wrong - just that we must listen.

Other obituaries: MIT News Office, Boston Globe, Washington Post, L.A. Times. ELIZA via - text not edited.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (butterfly)
Via [ profile] the_gneech, [ profile] crisper, [ profile] goblinpaladin, and [ profile] active_apathy (I steal the post outright from the last):
"I would like the world to remember me as the guy who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else." (Source)

Ernest Gary Gygax, 1938-2008

(And, for the terminally irreverent among you: Penny Arcade, The Ferret's list.)
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (one-quarter view)
For anyone who feels like answering, here or in their own journals:

Consider the following fill-in-the-blank: "If someone said I wasn't _______________, I would object."

(Clarification: Imagine someone is describing you - either explicitly (e.g. "Robin isn't a guy!") or implicitly (e.g. "She likes LJ") - and they describe you inaccurately (see either of previous examples). The question is not whether you correct them - an interesting question of etiquette - whether you dislike being described thus.)

My answers, below the cut. )
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

What would you do if you had one day left to live?

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Y'know what? I've thought about this over and over, and there's nothing I'd really want to accomplish that I could get done in just one day. All that leaves, then, is goodbyes - to my parents and siblings, to my neighbors and friends, to my grandparents, and to my blog and Web presences. Oh, and resignation from my job - almost forgot that.

That done ... I don't know. Maybe I'd get out my paper, brushes, and ink left over from my art classes and start painting.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Green RZ)
When you're studying something, there will often be tedious bits. Sometimes those tedious bits are bits you need to learn. Sometimes they aren't. And when they aren't, if you have a legitimate means of avoiding them, you should take it.

Specific example: my variational methods class. The variational methods I am learning involve much algebra. I know algebra. In fact, I have been doing my own algebra from the time I was studying geometry at home through every single mathematics or engineering textbook I have ever worked through or class I have ever taken (excepting number theory and MATLAB, respectively). Furthermore, no-one cares about the algebra, including the teacher (who explicitly said so). The important parts are (a) identifying the type of problem, (b) setting up the integrals, and (c) analyzing the solutions.

So, self, just use your fancy little calculator for the grunt work and be happy about it. You're just wasting time else.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

What's your method for calculating a tip?

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1. Observe the amount of the check.

2. Make up a round number (or a number that makes your payment round) that sounds like it is in the 15-20% zone.

3. Check that the number actually is in the 15-20% zone.

Fudge upwards if service is good, you made a lot of requests, or you used the table for a long time. Aim for 15% or just over if none of the above.

(P.S. I think it entirely shameful that waiters in the U.S. are not paid actual minimum wage pre-tip.)
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (RZ Ambigram)
From ^z – a sampling:

1. Engineering is done with numbers. Analysis without numbers is only an opinion.
6. (Mar's Law) Everything is linear if plotted log-log with a fat magic marker.
8. In nature, the optimum is almost always in the middle somewhere. Distrust assertions that the optimum is at an extreme point.
9. Not having all the information you need is never a satisfactory excuse for not starting the analysis.
13. Design is based on requirements. There's no justification for designing something one bit "better" than the requirements dictate.
16. The previous people who did a similar analysis did not have a direct pipeline to the wisdom of the ages. There is therefore no reason to believe their analysis over yours. There is especially no reason to present their analysis as yours.
19. The odds are greatly against you being immensely smarter than everyone else in the field. If your analysis says your terminal velocity is twice the speed of light, you may have invented warp drive, but the chances are a lot better that you've screwed up.
25. (Bowden's Law) Following a testing failure, it's always possible to refine the analysis to show that you really had negative margins all along.

And my favorite:

26. (Montemerlo's Law) Don't do nuthin' dumb.

Here is the canonical list.


packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)

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