Pure signal.

Religion and Particle Physics

The only thing that religion and particle physics have in common is a complex and abstract vocabulary which is far enough from our daily experience, or any kind of verifiable evidence, that it is easy for manipulative people who want to sell books to confuse people into thinking that their deeply held personal wishes and prejudices are therein confirmed.

August 30, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Perpetual Motion, Perpetual Sound

Hey! I dated this girl I think…

Perpetual Motion, Perpetual Sound by: Lovers

(I made a station on Pandora called Shoegazers where you can hear this and other similar songs, but I don’t know if I can share it publicly on a blog or not. If you try this link and it doesn’t work let me know.)

baby, i know i am crazy and it pains me to find you spending all your time talking me down from heights and watching for warning signs, looking into overcast eyes that predict the coming storm. i beg you to keep me warm.
they warn, here comes another night of holding me while i cry until the morning. so lock the doors, draw the blinds, bring the furniture inside and wait for it to start pouring. ’cause it’s gonna come down in torrents.
somehow and somewhere i found you and i suckered you into this one-sided relationship. it was a dirty trick, the truth side distorted. a simple bait and switch, a failing circus of perforated promises, like i am improving and it’ll be worth it. like if i would believe them, they’ll become honest. oh, i am improving; it’ll be worth it. i am improving; it’ll be worth it. it’s nice of you to wait, darling, while i make all my mistakes. i can’t say how long it will take. there’s no end in sight, i’m afraid. but the kindness you’ve displayed without a hint of impatience, i pray that it infiltrates my madness and _.
the city wears rain like a veil and i failed to meet her glance, just the way love and opulence sails down the back of my neck, leaves through my fingertips. everything’s coming up pale, oh, i feel my body grey. i need perpetual motion, perpetual sound to keep my thoughts away. okay.

August 29, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What is your favorite flavor of bullshit?

I want to believe.

Listening to the Democratic convention today I was struck by two things. Firstly, I agree with the bullshit the Democrats lie about more than I agree with the bullshit the Republicans lie about. Secondly, knowing that the Democrats are going to wear thousand dollar suits to gala parties held all week long all around the convention by lobbyists kind of makes the whole point moot.

I like Obama, and I like Biden — as much as I can tell. I realize, though, that their image — which is the thing that I like — is a product produced for me by people who I think are principally motivated by power.

Well, let me try that again — they are principally motivated by habit, secondarily by fear, and finally by power.

It’s all a bunch of bullshit. It makes me kind of dizzy and sick to think about it. I am looking forward to working in a hospital and keeping machines running that save peoples lives. I need to be doing something unambiguous. Politics DEPRESSES me.

In my younger days I used to visit strip clubs and there is this very specific emotion which a young man gets when a beautiful woman who has been teasing and flirting with him (for money) for a half hour starts to pretend that she likes him. He knows that it’s an act — he knows because he paid for it. He came to a place where they sell that act, and then he paid for it. And you know that you deserve for someone to like you — you think to yourself “I’m a likable guy!” — and the girl is a really good actress — after all she gets paid for the act. So somewhere between how much you want it to be true, and how much you believe you deserve it to be true, and how you know it isn’t true is this amazing vertigo. A nauseating mixture of hope and self contempt.

That is the feeling that I get from politics. Except at the strip club I gave the money voluntarily instead of having it taken by force from my paycheck, and no one was getting killed anywhere in my name by paid agents of the strippers. I know someone out there will think I have over extended the analogy — but I swear to god I can point at the line on my check marked “withholding” — and they just flew the death planes over my city this last Seafair. These things are not ideas — they are quite physical. So even if you close your eyes, surely you have to hear the sound of those jet engines tearing the sky in half.

August 27, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Idiot’s “fair”

Fair does not mean giving equal time to both people in a two person argument.

Of all of the obnoxious ideas dominating pseudo-intellectual discourse in America I think this one is the worst.

The implication being, of course, that the field of discussion in any controversy is fixed, and that the poles of disagreement are clear and one only needs to choose (often along pre-existing lines: science vs. the environment, liberal vs. conservative) and EVEN WORSE that opposing one side means that you are aligning yourself with the other side.

In general any partition of a field of discourse into opposing poles is at least as problematic as the assertion of one of the poles within the partition. If a lot of time is not given in determining the grounds of acceptable evidence in advance of an argument, then the argument is likely wasted time.

Equal time, in honest discourse, means giving equal consideration to all of the facts. That is NOT giving equal consideration to all of the positions. For instance, in an honest discussion of evolutionary theory, you have to consider the instances of error in carbon dating. It is not unscientific to consider those, and it does not mean that you are siding with the creationists. Are there instances of error? What are they? How might they have occurred?

If there are errors, it is not evidence of creationism. It is not a sporting event where you count up points and the side with the most points wins.

Equal time means being honest about what you do not know. But the fact that you do not know a specific thing does not mean that the claim being made by the person who is arguing against you is bolstered — they still have to make their positive claim.

Being “fair” is not being fair to individual claims, it is being fair to the field of discourse, to all of the facts, and all of the uncertainties about those facts, and then being honest about the range (and it is always a range) of possible answers to whatever question is being discussed. Most discussion about creationism breaks down into opposing camps who argue subadequately and dishonestly. Making a bad argument for the truth is still making a bad argument. In fact it is even worse since if it is an argument for the truth, then a good argument existed.

Being fair and open minded does not necessarily mean that I owe you so much as the time of day.

August 25, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Does Rick Warren’s Work Require Intellectual Dishonesty?

Pastor Rick is more than willing to address serious criticism with cute homilies, inspiring stories and emotional appeals. And I can imagine him looking at me and saying “Is that so wrong?” — and the man does do meaningful work. Both the preaching and the social work coming from him are positive — so why would I persist in being critical of him?

If we achieve a good thing through deception, is it any less good than a good thing achieved through truth?

Of course, he would say that he believes in truth also — but I hope that it is clear to anyone that reads him that the word “truth” that he uses, and the word “truth” as it is used in a legal or scientific context are two very different things.

Rick Warren damages our ability to critically think about the truth — he does this by attaching rewards to chains of reasoning that are delusional. Ultimately this binds us to delusion, because if we accept those chains of reasoning, then we are subject to losing our perceived gains if we turn away from them and again turn towards the truth. The danger of entering into a pattern of self-delusion is that you will not find, once you are in it, that there is as compelling a reason to move you outside of the delusional state as there was to move you into it. There is a really simple reason for this (please take a moment to think about this) — if you are not constrained by reality, you can make up whatever story you want. So you can make up a story that is much more attuned to how you would choose to have things than you can if you want to honor what you can actually know about reality.

You can tell yourself that the person you love, loves you. Or that you can lose weight without exercise — or anything else you want to believe. Then — once you believe that, you are going to have to work hard to get over those compelling if illusory benefits.

His discussion with Sam Harris on the question of prayer illustrates this — he exhibits a classic example of biased thinking in his discussion of prayer (he claims that when he prayed about an immigration issue, and went for a walk, he was led to an immigration lawyer.) But when Sam Harris discusses ways to confirm that this apparent correlation is real or not, Warren does not appear to understand what it is that Harris is talking about.

This is a problem — because it is a serious problem to accept any perceived correlation as valid, and not to understand that some perceived correlations are in fact delusional, and others are real, and that some work needs to be done to uncover which are which — and that in some cases it can be very hard or even impossible to uncover that.

Rick Warren will never come to that conclusion, because he is exhibiting agenda driven thinking — he argues for the purpose of convincing you of something he already believes — he is not searching, he is arguing. And more importantly he doesn’t appear to know the difference between inquiry and argument.

I think that is a dangerous state — because at the point where a person is bound by illusion, they are helpless. Reality can shift around and the illusion driven life is stuck out there blowing against it’s own sails.

Warren profits a lot from the image of philosophers and intellectuals as being “arrogant” and it is certainly true enough of enough of them — but it is also true that the standards of intellectual integrity, when held to and not merely assumed as a posture, have come out of a dialog with reality — with the physical reality in which we live — and that as such they represent the best and most important things we have learned about the world. I don’t know that I can accept solutions to problems that come at a cost of my own intellectual integrity. And I find leveling a charge of arrogance to be at best specious — because the truth claims of my statements are independent of my arrogance.

Or anger! Why would you choose a philosophy that makes you angry? Well — Pastor Rick — because I don’t have the freedom of movement in “choosing” that you do — I have to be constrained by truth.

So why would arrogance or anger even come up, if the truth is what matters? The answer is that it is not the truth that matters, but winning an argument. And the argument can be won by making “philosophers” look “bad” — and then of course you don’t have to sweat thinking about what it is that they are saying.

There is nothing I have found that is so valuable as the freedom that comes from openness and the willingness to subject my own ideas to inquiry, and to consider arguments in light of their merits as opposed to their consequences. I am too much in love with truth to be overly impressed with effective salesmen.

August 17, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

My Kitty

I am missing my kitty today. I have seen him out of the corner of my eye in a hundred different places and it’s made me very sad. We have moved since we lost him — which I’m actually very grateful for — the old house felt very somber once he was gone and being in the yard would not have been any fun at all any more.

I commented to my mom that it seemed like it’s been more than a year since he passed, but it’s only been 5 months, which I think is amazing. What an awful thing to have happen. One’s own death is a matter of no concern (except for those with overactive imaginations) but losing the people we love is certainly the worst thing that life has to offer us.

In the months before he died (we knew, as I mention in the memorial, that he was dieing) I took special care to sit and really look at him to try to notice all the little details that made him unique — the shape of his ears, and pattern of whorls on his head. His long legs and how he sat with his tail (which never stopped moving unless he was sleeping). The way he liked to keep his fur (he was a fastidious groomer) and his numerous very specific facial expressions and postures. I tried to be fully aware of the details of him, so that they would live on in my mind after he was gone.

I don’t know if there is any point to any of that, but the grief I feel for him is definitely a very specific grief, and the idea of forgetting him (which would be impossible in any event) is a horror.

One odd thing about him — my mom had a couple of drinks which she drank with a straw. He watched her do this, and got the idea, but could never figure out the details. He would get her straw out of the trash when she was done, and would take it to his water dish, and leave it in the water dish. He knew it went there, but couldn’t really get it past that. He was also fascinated with my pen and would often try to take it out of my hand, or would sit next to me and watch me write (when I wrote longhand) and then paw at the paper where the pen scratched. He was a remarkable little man.

August 17, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How Do I Raise My Child Not To Be A Mindless Consumer?

Well, teach them to have real fun instead of spending money on them.

Start here.

What a treasure. I have heard so many teachers whine about being underfunded for science in their classroom — and here is this wonderful resource which provides laboratory options for almost nothing.

The problem isn’t FUNDING it is INITIATIVE.

August 16, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some of the things that have brought you to see me in the last couple weeks:

rick warren is a fraud
is snopes always right?
being a successful troll
republicans just dumber?
general system administration checklist
“the joker” “overman”
troll saved to hard drive
most successful troll
day 3 of a broken heart
shout out about broken hearted
trying to fix a broken heart poem
computer hardware
awfully nice
animils fucking humans
successful troll is successful
system admin checklist
astonishingly stupid

These were some search terms (duplicates deleted) that brought you to me from Google over the last couple of weeks. The one I am proudest of is “awfully nice”. I’m not sure about “animils fucking humans” — I suppose I got that because I cuss. It would be fun to put all of the Google search terms that bring people here into a database — kind of a portrait of my blog according to Google. I’m glad someone got to my hydrobius post, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t what they were looking for. LOL! That is one of my favorite blog entries. I don’t know if anyone ever looked up the reference or not — if no one did I guess that is part of the joke.

August 15, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Scientific Literacy

A friend of mine sent me an interesting study discussing scientific literacy. I felt that the study was compelling and interesting, but completely wrong. It is available in PDF form here.

As with many discussions of scientific literacy, the study confuses science with knowledge of certain “facts.” Facts are just stories about the current state of knowledge — and I don’t care if you get them from your priest or your local University — knowing facts is not knowledge, and it is certainly not scientific knowledge.

I would like to propose a different definition:

Scientific literacy is the ability to follow an argument back through a chain of definitions and abstractions to the data sets on which it is based. It should include the ability to evaluate and challenge the assumptions and range of validity of an argument — to identify where errors may have been made, and to propose confirming or complicating experiments, and if given the resources, to conduct those experiments.

This doesn’t need to be exotic — there are hundreds of normal daily examples (for example: show that the Coriolis effect doesn’t really affect the way water swirls when it drains from a bowl. Or — confirm the temperature measurements on the knob of your stove.)

Knowledge is great — knowledge about how we get knowledge is better.

August 7, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment