Thursday, June 27, 2013

Quality of Information

Those who claim the past is better than the present --"wisdom of the ages," in this case--are mistaken. The quality of information we have *improves* with time and the best information is what we should always use when making decisions.

Plus, making the case that any people from any point in time should be given the ability to control what happens to future generations should be dismissed outright. No one should be beholden to people who have been long dead. 


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Loyalty Unearned

Why do so many insist on loyalty to a country when no such assertion is made in regard to other human constructions like churches, schools, corporations and social clubs? It seems to me that loyalty needs to be constantly sought, not demanded, for any of the elements of society we create for ourselves. To me, countries shouldn't get a pass. To demand loyalty is, at least partially, to admit it's not warranted based on merit.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Problem of Scope

There is an concept about how we humans misconstrue contrasting measurements of all kinds that I've often tossed around in my head without coming up with a really good way to express it concisely. Part of the problem is the limitation of language that fails to provide me the words I need. But, here it is as best as I can describe at the moment...

The idea centers on how we see things much "closer" to us than is actually the case (opposite to the familiar warning on car door mirrors). I think it's true for things that are very small and very large. The distance (or space or interval or scope or other similar term) between the "I" we perceive of ourselves and the sun, for example, is foreshortened by our brains by default. Similarly, the "distance" between the perception of oneself and something really tiny like an atom is also foreshortened, for lack of a better term. In both cases, I think we comprehend these things as much "closer" to the more commonplace scale of things that describe each of us than they really are.

This problem of comprehension tends to make us mis-perceive anything more than a short "distance" from us. Look at the sun. It seems so close, yet it is 93 million miles away. That distance is so massive that if someone traveled a mile per minute through space, it would take over 176 years to get there. How can something that far away produce so much heat that we can feel it here? I think it's literally incomprehensible, forcing us to perceive it as closer in order to comprehend it at all. (And this problem gets even worse when we think of galaxies and the universe.)

I think we have a similar problem with objects that are really small, causing us to think of them as larger than they really are in order to get any sense at all of them, skewing them like a flat map of the earth make Greenland and Iceland look huge (but not for the same reason). 

The same is true for other items as diverse and money and time. Once numbers get too small or too large--and that threshold is really low, I think--we automatically "squeeze" the scale to bring the numbers closer to us, and by "us" I mean the commonplace sense of the size and scope of oneself. What we perceive as the space between 1 and 2, for example, is not proportional to the space we perceive between 2 and +/- 10 million--or any other really large or small number. We tend to falsify those very small/very large figures as "closer" than they really are.

While we can do math that will take care of this problem when working with raw numbers, our perception issues plays a big role in the decisions we make about how we run our lives and our societies. The time it takes to do something or the differences in wealth between rich and poor, noting just two examples, are areas where this mis-perception problem causes us to make faulty decisions about all kinds of things ranging from how much interest and tax rates matter to levels of deforestation and climate change.

I'm not sure if there is a solution, but I do think we need to acknowledge the problem in order to work on one.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Pushing Fear

This whole idea that fear is somehow a good thing has always bothered me. I can think of nothing I've ever read or heard from anyone reputable that fear is a state of mind from which to make good decisions. Anyone in a state of fear is in a degraded mental state, not an enhanced one. For the religious folks among us to push fear as a virtue is incorrect on its face.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

No Regulations For Carriages

Pretend for a moment that when the automobile was invented we retained the word "carriage" for it. After all, it was just a non-horse-drawn carriage. Then pretend that the U.S. Constitution had within it a declaration that the right for anyone to own a "carriage" would "not be infringed."

Friday, April 19, 2013

Character and Hate

How we treat people who are easy to hate is a test of our character.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dictating To Our Descendants

Why do we think it's a good idea for our lives to be dictated by people who died two centuries ago? What about 1,000 years ago, or 2,000 years ago? Do we think we should have the right to do the same to our descendants?

Friday, March 29, 2013

Filling the Gaps

In order to try and explain what we humans don't understand or don't have enough information to explain, we have invented the dual ideas of  free will and deities; free will to explain what we don't know or don't understand about ourselves, and deities to explain what we don't know or don't understand about everything else.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Complexity Gaps

The irreducible complexity claim by creationists is simply a fancier "god of the gaps" argument that uses a deity to fill the holes in someone's knowledge and/or understanding.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Impotent Quote

Two common and mistaken tactics are used when it comes to quotes: quote mining (mis-quoting) and using opinions as fact.

Let's use this post as an example.

First, in quote mining, a fragment is pulled from within its larger context and the reader is either told a straight up fabrication about it or is encouraged to infer one. For example, this quote from Darwin: "I am quite conscious that my speculations run quite beyond the bounds of true science." In the letter where this quote appears, Darwin is talking about one specific idea on which he is speculating because there is not enough information yet to form a scientific assessment--not the entire Theory of Evolution. However, even if Darwin were to dismiss his own evolutionary discoveries, they have been confirmed repeatedly since he made them public. A person does not own the truth of a discovery because they are the first to recognize it.

Second, using a quote from someone who agrees with your position is not proof of its validity. The example from this blog post: “nobody to date has yet found a demarcation criterion according to which Darwin(ism) can be described as scientific” The claim is not backed up with any evidence; it's only offered as another opinion to match that of the apologist. Two people who are wrong do not cancel each other out.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Mixing Up Metaphors

I wanted to share this opinion piece as an example of a tactic often used to mislead by use of metaphor and/or analogy.

This person starts off by telling a story, probably true, about something (it doesn't really matter what it is). Then, by being seen as meaningful or touching or real or whatever, the listener/reader is told this story is just like something unrelated, in this case Christianity. The BIG mistake people make is taking the original story to be proof (or an example) of the falsely attached claim.

Metaphors and analogies are not components of proof; they are only a way to try and help explain some point with added clarity. But we often mistake them for examples or outright proof of some claim being made, even if the connection is missing entirely. I think this error is usually done without knowing it, so we need to be careful.

Gerrymandering and Affirmative Action

Gerrymandering is the type of affirmative action approved by Republicans.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Theist Yardstick Misses The Mark

I've read a few of the responses some of the more notable people have written recently when it comes to a humanist/atheist response to tragedy and none of them have touched on it the way I see it (or I just didn't understand it as intended).

One of the problems that theists see with a nontheist point of view is that there is not a valid alternative to their idea of a source that will eventually even things out and reward all the right people while punishing the rest. They also claim that this is part of an unknown master morality that will eventually be understood by us after we die. The idea is that there is an all-perfect and ideal source of some kind that does exist out there somewhere and is the keeper of perfection. This thing, whatever it is, holds the key to a perfect morality and, therefore, an everlasting state of bliss if only we can discover this code that's currently being kept from us. Unless those with a godless outlook can offer a competing path to unlock this supernatural secret of perfection, we don't count--at all. Since we don't even make the attempt, given our view that assumptions of supernaturalism aren't worthy of consideration, we seem at best irrelevant.

What I wish people from "our side" would say is that our view of existence is not going to offer a direct alternative because it's not supposed to. Since we don't operate under the assumption there is an ultimate moral code-giver, it would be silly to insist we offer a way to discover this thing we think in all likelihood doesn't even exist. We base our search for meaning and happiness on something completely different.

It would be similar for someone who gets the most happiness and meaning in life from music to insist someone who gets the most meaning and happiness in their life from cancer research to show them how to appreciate music with it, otherwise it's invalid. It's a nonsensical idea.

The notion that nonreligious people need to provide an alternative within their narrow religious parameters is illogical at its core. We should be more open about saying so and hope they'll eventually understand.