Friday, February 16, 2007

Casual sex is a con

I highly recommended this article,Casual sex is a con. Here is a quote...

But in all that casual sex, there was one moment I learnt to dread more than any other. I dreaded it not out of fear that the sex would be bad, but out of fear that it would be good. If the sex was good, then, even if I knew in my heart that the relationship wouldn’t work, I would still feel as though the act had bonded me with my sex partner in a deeper way than we had been bonded before. It’s in the nature of sex to awaken deep emotions within us, emotions that are unwelcome when one is trying to keep it light.

On such nights the worst moment was when it was all over. Suddenly I was jarred back to earth. Then I’d lie back and feel bereft. He would still be there, and if I was really lucky, he’d lie down next to me. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling like the spell had been broken. We could nuzzle or giggle or we could fall asleep in each other’s arms but I knew it was play acting and so did he. We weren’t really intimate — it had just been a game. The circus had left town.

And here is her blog...The Dawn Patrol

Sammy Blaze: The Meaning of Life

Phatmass's Sammy Blaze is coming out with a new CD. Check out this song. LINK

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Dawkins Delusion

The Illusion

ANOTHER STARTLING CONCLUSION FROM the science of consciousness is that the intuitive feeling we have that there's an executive "I" that sits in a control room of our brain, scanning the screens of the senses and pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion. Consciousness turns out to consist of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain. These events compete for attention, and as one process outshouts the others, the brain rationalizes the outcome after the fact and concocts the impression that a single self was in charge all along. (Link)

He then later says....

“the biology of consciousness offers a sounder basis for morality than the unprovable dogma of an immortal soul.”

So if the conclusion of neuroscience is that our own executive “I” is an “illusion” then why isn’t morality or science also an illusion? Is that what you call a "sounder basis"?

The Self-esteem (i.e. Self-Pride) Fallacy

Another study showing the pride does not pay. I recomend reading the rest of the article if you have children.

From 1970 to 2000, there were over 15,000 scholarly articles written on self-esteem and its relationship to everything—from sex to career advancement. But results were often contradictory or inconclusive. So in 2003 the Association for Psychological Science asked Dr. Roy Baumeister, then a leading proponent of self-esteem, to review this literature. His team concluded that self-esteem was polluted with flawed science. Only 200 of those 15,000 studies met their rigorous standards.

After reviewing those 200 studies, Baumeister concluded that having high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievement. It didn’t even reduce alcohol usage. And it especially did not lower violence of any sort. (Highly aggressive, violent people happen to think very highly of themselves, debunking the theory that people are aggressive to make up for low self-esteem.) At the time, Baumeister was quoted as saying that his findings were “the biggest disappointment of my career.” (link)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Reason and Materialism

An exchange between Mark Shea and an atheist...
(Atheist) Firstly, we have empirical evidence that reason and logic exist from both our own experiences and the recorded experiences of humans before us. Even nonhuman animals have limited powers of reasoning and learning, as can be demonstrated empirically.

(Mark) You do realize, of course, that you are saying "Reason proves that reason exists." I do believe reason exists. But I think you need to rework this argument.
(Atheist) Mark seems to have trouble with ideas grounded on abductive inferences validated by evidence and experience. Nonetheless, he has provided no evidence to refute their existence.

(Mark) Er, why? I have no need to show that reason, freedom or morality don't exist. I think they do exist. I simply don't think that a materialist philosophy can account for *why* they exist. In a materialist universe, reason, freedom and morality cannot be grounded in supernature, for supernature does not exist. So they must be grounded purely in Nature. The problem is, atheists don't talk that way. They talk as though Reason will liberate us from, among other artifacts of irrational Nature, religion. "Free your mind!" is the common slogan of atheism. But if materialism is true, then your mind *can't* be freed from the slavery nature imposes via the meme of religion because your mind is just another epiphenomenon of Nature. The best Reason can do is conduct you into another cell in the same prison. This is related to the problem of freedom, of course. Because if materialism is true then your "free" thought is just an illusion. It's all determined by the physical laws governing the motion of molecules in your brain. And morality, likewise, is simply that pattern of behavior which wind and weather have accidently conditioned you to prefer. If you happen to like killing and eating children, that's not "wrong" in a purely material universe. It's just a statistical aberration from the needs of the herd. No doubt you will be locked up or even killed as the herd asserts the dominant survival paradigm. But it's rubbish to say that your preference for juvenile cannibalism is "wrong". That drags in the word "ought" (As in, "You ought not to kill and eat children.") and you cannot derive "ought" from "is".

The trouble is, atheists generally moralize and drop "oughts" all over the place every day in ways that strongly suggest they believe their particular values are *really* right, and not at all in ways that suggest "I prefer chocolate, but others prefer butterscotch." This happens most especially, of course, when they are talking of religion itself. ("It is *criminal* to enslave young minds to this ignorant superstition!") Why, it's as though they think religion is really *evil* and not simply part of the marvelous diversity and colorful pageant of possible brain configurations, which are just as much a part of Nature's vast interlocking web of Inevitable Cause and Effect as the march of the clouds across the sky. Nope. Not a few atheists are pissed at religionists. And pissed, not as a man is pissed at his computer for breaking, but pissed as a man is pissed at another man for being really bad when he need not be.
Read the rest here LINK

The New Atheists

A quote from the WSJ...

For the new atheists, believing in God is a form of stupidity, which sets off their own intelligence. They write as if they were the first to discover that biblical miracles are improbable, that Parson Weems was a fabulist, that religion is full of superstition. They write as if great minds had never before wrestled with the big questions of creation, moral law and the contending versions of revealed truth. They argue as if these questions are easily answered by their own blunt materialism. Most of all, they assume that no intelligent, reflective person could ever defend religion rather than dismiss it. The reviewer of Dr. Dawkins’s volume in a recent New York Review of Books noted his unwillingness to take theology seriously, a starting point for any considered debate over religion.

The faith that the new atheists describe is a simple-minded parody. It is impossible to see within it what might have preoccupied great artists and thinkers like Homer, Milton, Michelangelo, Newton and Spinoza–let alone Aquinas, Dr. Johnson, Kierkegaard, Goya, Cardinal Newman, Reinhold Niebuhr or, for that matter, Albert Einstein. But to pass over this deeper faith–the kind that engaged the great minds of Western history–is to diminish the loss of faith too. The new atheists are separated from the old by their shallowness. Link

Occam’s Razor

I was reading a debate between Apolonio Latar and an atheist. They were discussing the question, “Is it Rational to Believe in God?” Apolonio does a fine job of making the case that it is rational to believe in God. The atheist made a comment that I would like to address. The atheist makes the following remark...

I think the answer is the failure to properly appreciate the necessity of Occam’s Razor. The mere fact that God is not necessary is, in and of itself, all the rational defeater one needs.

I will not be addressing the claim that it is a “fact” that God is not necessary. I want to focus instead on the idea that Occam’s Razor can be a decisive method in disproving God. To do this I will quote a online discussion on the topic outside the context of proving/disproving God.

(Chad Orzel) Occam’s razor is not science. The scientific method does not consist of looking at the world, constructing multiple theories which might explain the observed facts, and then choosing the simplest.

Occam’s razor is meta-science at best, and not a decisive argument in any way. Sometimes, the more complicated theory is the right one.
(Tommaso Dorigo) Well, well, well, while I usually concur with Chad’s opinions, I am not sure I agree with him on this one. Occam’s razor does not consist in constructing multiple theories, but rather to advise succintness in construction of a scientific theory.
(Chad Orzel)I wouldn't say that Occam's razor is unscientific, but it is not by any stretch a decisive principle of science. It's like mathematical elegance-- a hint that you're on the right track, but not conclusive evidence of the rightness of the theory.

If the only tool you have to distinguish between two theories is that one is simpler than the other (or that one is more mathematically elegant than the other) then you need better experiments.

(There's an anecdote about some famous physicist-- for some reason, I think it was Bethe, but it might've been Feynman or Fermi or one of those people-- who was presented with a bunch of experiments that some people were claiming as evidence of a new particle discovery. Each time they showed him a bubble chamber picture that they said showed their new particle, he had an alternate explanation-- stray fields, particles not detected in the picture, all sorts of things.

(Finally, in frustration, they said "Look, we've shown you a dozen pictures, and you've given a dozen different explanations of the track. We have a single, simple theory that explains all of them."

("Yes," was the reply, "and the difference is that each of my dozen different explanations is right, and your single simple explanation is wrong." And he was right.)
(Tommaso Dorigo) I know Feynman's story Chad, but it proves my point - entia non sunt multiplicanda: it is the particle they were claiming which was what Occam's razor would have slashed, and it was precisely by applying Occam's principle that Feynman ended up being right: his explanation were more economical, since they relied on known effects.
(Chad Orzel)This is a nice illustration of the reasonwhy Occam's razor is not a decisive scientific principle, though: Prior to the experimental confirmation, you could perfectly well argue that either side had the more economical explanation. The people doing the experiment thought that a single particle was a simpler experiment, while Feynman (was it Feynman? I can't recall the source) thought that using known effects was simpler.

In hindsight, we can easily say that the correct explanation was also the simpler one, but that's because we know it was correct. Relative simplicity is very much in the eye of the beholder, though, and does not provide a useful basis for determining which theory is correct.

I don't object to Occam's razor as a sort of useful heuristic, but it's not decisive. You can say of two theories "Well, this one seems simpler, so I think it's on the right track," but that doesn't prove anything. It might be a good way to determine which of two expensive and complicated sets of experiments would be better to undertake (the simpler theory stands a better chance of being confirmed), but experiments are the only real way to distinguish between theories. (LINK)

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Path to Happiness

What is the scientific proof that a modest lifestyle is the path to happiness? Rayo said one example is Buddhist monks. They eat the same food and wear the same clothes every day. With years of meditation they lose interest in the "next new thing and the moving target," he said. "And their brain scans show that they are happier than most people in a scientifically measurable way." Link

Looks like psychology is finally catching up to Aristotle, “buddhist monks”, and Christian saints. I had a post way back that covered the 4 levels of happiness that basically says the same thing as this study. I would like to know how a brain scan can measure happiness though. If happiness consists in a group of neurons, then lets just throw out the hassles of everyday life and just hook some electrodes up to these neurons and be done with it.

The virtue of humility and the folly of pride

I teach confirmation, and one of the topics that it hard to get across is pride and humility. My students seem to see pride as the virtue and humility as self hate. I have tried to explained that humility is seeing onself as one really is. Humility is being honest and it provides the ability for growth. In regards to pride, I try to give them examples of people acting proud and it seems to work as far as showing them the concept. Anyway this study also shows the distinction between humility and pride from a secular source.

A recent NYTimes article highlights the work of Cornell psychologist David Dunning and his grad student Justin Kruger on the critical relationship between self-assessment and skill level. Not surprisingly, they've shown that people with poor skills are also quite bad at assessing their own abilities. They tend to be grossly overconfident, demonstrating a notable deficiency in "self-monitoring skills." The opposite is also true: better performers have far more humble predictions, and subsequently more accurate assessments, of their performances. (Link)

Monday, February 05, 2007

G.K. Chesterton’s on Saint Francis of Assisi

I found this quote/post intersting:

To write history and hate Rome, both pagan and papal, [referring to H.G. Wells’ Outline of History] is practically to hate nearly everything that has happened. It comes very near to hating humanity on purely humanitarian grounds. To dislike both the priest and the soldier, both the laurels of the warrior and the lilies of the saint, is to suffer a division from the mass of mankind for which not all the dexterities of the finest and most flexible of modern intelligences can compensate. A much wider sympathy is needed for the historical setting of St. Francis, himself both a soldier and a saint.

If religion doesn’t work so well for you and the concept of spirituality is totally baffling, that’s fine. But becoming hateful or crusading about it seems as ridiculous to me as it would be for Asperger-types to rail against the need for empathy and social skills. You’re obviously just missing some hard-wiring, so leave it alone (Link).

Thursday, February 01, 2007

"Accountabalism" and the sex abuse scandal

As an amature computer chair apologist it is hard to deal with the sex abuse scandal. How do you defend the indefensible? You don’t. I have heard it said that the corruption of the best is the worst and this is true with the Priests who abused. This is really the only response that I know when the subject is brought up. And I have spent many sleepless nights thinking about the issue.

I guess it’s the 5th "anniversary" of the breaking of the sex abuse scandal. (Let the confetti be thrown and blow the party horns) I have seen/heard these "anniversary" type specials on both PBS and NPR. They seem to push the idea that the scandal stems from some systemic problem of the Catholic Church. There is a problem with this view, a view that has been coined as "Accountabalism".

Accountabalism assumes perfection—if anything goes wrong, it’s a sign that the system is broken. That’s not true even of mechanical systems: Entropy, friction, and manufacturing tolerances ensure that no machine works perfectly. Social systems are incapable of anything close to perfection, so if something goes wrong in one, that need not mean the system is broken. If an employee cheats on expenses by filling in taxi receipts for himself, the organization doesn’t have to “fix” the expense-reporting system by requiring that everyone travel with a notary public. (Breakthrough Ideas for 2007)

There are some basic, common sense things that were implemented like reporting to police when there is an allegation of sex abuse. I think this is great and what any decent Bishop would have done anyway. But for NPR and PBS this is not enough. Women need to become priest. Priest need to be married. The Church needs to turn into a democracy so that public opinion can tell the holy Spirit that abortion is a right. Religion should be compartmentalised as much as possible. Basically they have the agenda to twist the Church into their own image and it has nothing really to do with sex abuse but more to do with their own agenda.

Patriarchs don’t die...we multiply

But patriarchy always makes a comeback, because its adherents put more genes and ideas into the future than do their secular counterparts. This process is already well under way in the United States. For example, among American women just now passing beyond reproductive age, nearly 20% are childless and almost as many have only one child. Consequently, a relatively large share of the next generation is descended from a comparatively narrow and socially conservative segment of society that places a high value on reproduction. Today we see a culture in which social conservatives and the religious-minded play a far greater role than they did forty years ago. (Breakthrough Ideas for 2007)

It’s ironic that liberalism is in decline by it’s own venerated evolutionary mechanics.