Copious Incongruity

This is ridiculous. Near the end of this video Peter Hitchens makes the comparison that relative morals would be like if the magnetic north drifted. Surprise Peter! It drifts! In 2009 it was moving almost 40 miles per year! Does this make navigation harder as Peter claims? Well, not entirely: much navigation is far enough away from the poles that the exact location isn't too terribly important, but navigation relying on the magnetic north pole near the magnetic north pole will always be difficult—in very close analogy with moral orientation, which, in matters with poorly understood consequences or a poor sense of empathy, can be very difficult to resolve. 

In this analogy, obvious moral issues (like stealing & murder) are akin to navigation far from the poles (e.g. the equator), where the exact location of the magnetic poles is less influential on the resulting guidance, while morally controversial issues (like embryonic stem cell research or the creation of artificial life) are like trying to use a compass at the magnetic pole—it is not possible. In navigation we've overcome this limit by inventing artificial tools like GPS to take the place of the magnetic compass, in morals we've repeatedly tried to overcome this limit with new moral philosophies, but the moral landscape isn't a tiny sphere like Earth, it's an endless landscape largely unexplored. Technology and communication are constantly expanding the landscape we've explored, and relaying it back to the masses, where moral cartographers try to map out what is and isn't okay. Unfortunately for homo sapiens, moral cartographers are in constant conflict with religious zealots crying that all the answers were revealed to a handful of anonymous desert goat herders 2000-5000 years ago!

The real problem is that believing one has a black and white absolute resolution to every moral question interferes with actual progress in moral attitudes. As a shameful example, our nation, just a scant 150 years ago thought it was morally acceptable to own and treat human beings as property. Just try to comprehend that. Many southern baptists believed this was so acceptable they were willing to fight the bloodiest war of our history over it. Luckily another group of probably mostly religious people (as most people were and continue to be) felt strongly enough about human rights to fight such a terrible war in the name of equality.

Now I assume that most southern baptists today do not condone slavery, and would vehemently fight against it. Is that due to their immutable moral sense? Or is it because morals—like the magnetic north pole—drift over time, evolving as humankind comprehends more of reality, more of the pain of fellow humans, more of the similarities that cross skin color, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, and religious indoctrination? And if you are ready to admit that morals are indeed not absolute, the next step is to start seeing how the denial of that fact and the assertion of an absolute guide to morals is further inhibiting us—just as it did with slavery in the United States in 1860.

To a far lesser degree, we are witnessing this phenomena with respect to biological research. Religious dogmas are interfering with what should be a serious discussion about what is morally acceptable and what is not, but instead the whole discussion has been dragged into the mythical realm of books written by people who couldn't have dreamed of the slightest fraction of what the technology is capable of exploring.

Additional points that I don't want to bother describing in detail at the moment: he mentions consciousness as being a difficult challenge for atheists. I assure you, it's not. He also pretends as if his difficulty to imagine an answer were a sufficient reason for one to accept the introduction of magic into the explanation. This is silly, we're each born not understanding any phenomena, genetics, technology, physics, etc., are all intensely mysterious to the fresh human mind. It is only after many centuries of careful observation, analysis, hypothesis, and testing (i.e., science) that we have come to comprehend what powers the sun, why I look like my dad and so on. He mentions that if morality evolves, the things we strongly disapprove of now could be permitted later: yes! That is a good thing, that very process is the reason why it is generally accepted that enslaving human beings is morally impermissible. That is a wonderful thing. He asks if morals evolve than who evolves them? And the answer is obviously that we do. There is no grand hand to guide us, no stone tablet describing where stem cell research actually crosses the line. We are alone here, except for one another. And the sooner we all admit that, and accept it, and embrace it, the sooner we can make some real progress.

Finally (though this seems like a minor point in comparison to the horrifying topic of slavery), Peter says at the end that "morality is what you do when you think nobody is looking," and "theres a lot of things I would do if I didn't believe in god." Wow! I'd like to know what those things are. I suspect upon further reflection most people who make this kind of statement (and I assure you there are many) would realize that most of the things they would do aren't really all that wrong. I doubt any of them would confess desires to murder, rape, or steal from other people, abuse children, or most of the other things that most people think of as "wrong." But what would they do? Maybe drugs? Cursing? Take the lords name in vain? Maybe they would be more sexually "deviant"? or admit it more? Maybe they'd want to have a homosexual experience. I can imagine that being fairly likely, since many religious homosexuals have forced themselves to live a lie, choosing faith in their despicable book over a happy self-controlled life.


Look at me! Wrong!

I'm watching Apocalypse Now Redux. Wait, we created the Viet Cong too!? (Or their predecessor the Viet Minh.) What is wrong with us, don't we learn!?

I can't get over the French woman's glances! The Onion had/has a personals site called... I forgot the name. But it had a question like, "what's your favorite movie sex scene," and now I'm thinking I might rate this highly there.

Also, that purple haze looks amazing.


Henry Lewis Gates Jr. this morning on NPR pointed out that racism is always highly correlated with scarcity of resources, and that when we are uncertain of our economic future, it's easiest to preserve our share by dividing society into an us v. them, and looks happen to be a very easy way to group people. So maybe the first thing to do is figure out how to topple the economic system, with technology? Is it possible for us to overcome the basic struggle and competition to survive? We ought to have eliminated starvation and health concerns at this point, though we haven't.

Is there anything a baby can do that we can't build a robot that could do it also? That is, babies move, (mostly without coordination), they feed (take in energy), they excrete waste, they monitor a variety of sensory inputs, they record vast amounts of data from said sensory inputs... anything else? Facial recognition? But do they have a sense of self? are they conscious, in the way we find so mysterious? Or does that develop over time? They certainly don't sit around and think about things like what I've just written, which is the result of me sitting around thinking about consciousness. Wait a minute, do people find consciousness mysterious, or conscience? (I don't think either are all that mysterious.)

If you are willing to concede that animals have conscious brains, the question applies there too; and then you start to wonder, where is the line? Are our machines already conscious? (If this discussion ought to be about conscience instead, is it accepted that some animals have a conscience? that dogs can feel guilt?) (Because you can start to see that consciousness is not a defined feature, but rather a property of a broader quality that beyond some threshold deserves the label, much like beyond some size, grains of sand become a heap.)

So the program will: read in a sequence of photos (video frames); extract a specific line of each frame; reassemble the set of lines as a new frame; save the new frame; and then increment the line for extraction. Holy crap this is working! I need to figure out how to assemble them into a video automatically, instead of inside AE.

"Joseph Ratzinger is an enemy of humanity. He's an enemy of children who's bodies he's allowed to be raped and who's minds he's encouraged to be infected with guilt. It's embarrassingly clear that the church is less concerned with saving child's bodies from rapists than from saving priestly souls from hell, and most concerned with saving the long term reputation of the church itself. 

He's an enemy of gay people, bestowing on them the bigotry that the church used to reserve for Jews before nineteen sixty two. He is an enemy of women, baring them from the priesthood as though a penis were an essential tool for pastoral duties. 

He is an enemy of truth, promoting bare-faced lies about condoms not protecting against AIDS, especially in Africa.

He is an enemy of the poorest people on the planet, condemning them to inflated families that they cannot feed, and so keeping them in the bondage of perpetual poverty. A poverty which sits ill besides the obscene wealth of the vatican.

He is an enemy of science, obstructing the vital stem cell research on grounds not of true morality but on pre-scientific superstition.

Ratzinger is even an enemy of the Queen's own church, arrogantly dissing Anglican orders as quote, absolutely null and utterly void. While at the same time shamelessly trying to poach Anglican Vicars to shore up his own pitifully declining priesthood.

Finally, perhaps of most personal concern to me, Ratzinger is an enemy of education. Quite apart from the lifelong psychological damage caused by the guilt and fear that has made catholic education infamous throughout the world, he and his church foster the educationally pernicious doctrine that evidence is a less reliable basis for belief than faith, tradition, revelation and authority—his authority.  
—Richard Dawkins

Also, dear blogger: your editor here sucks. Can't you just give me a default button that actually defaults to the format of the rest of my post? maybe some day.