It wasn't a decision, it was simply the truth, so far as I could discern it. And it was such a coherent and complete explanation, that the alternatives provided no contest.

"Like all shaman, they returned to the sky."

There is a box on which I work, with many copper pipes entering & exiting, most of which carry steam at about 250 degrees fahrenheit. I've bumped into the pipes & burnt my forearms many times, but today, while working on top of the box, I reached across to swap a tube, and in the process, was prepared to rest both my forearms, and probably much of my weight, on a copper pipe. Just a moment before I would do so, an intense feeling of doom & panic consumed me, and I aborted—somewhat awkwardly shifting my weight and arms to not land on the pipe. Of course, after another moment I remembered that this particular copper pipe carries air, and is always cool to the touch, but humans are not steam carrying copper pipes now are we?!

Dreamt a lot last night. That we were going on a trip, with many people. But then you, and the people who you were with, would go on, when I, and the people who had come with me, would stop. So we did, but then we expected to hear from you, but no one did. So I went to a town that you worked in, and I went somewhere you worked, but no one had heard from you there either. I wanted to explain where you had gone, but I felt like since they didn't know me, you might not want me talking to them. When I left, I crossed the street and was heading home, when I passed a warehouse that appeared to have a restaurant inside, so I went in, and decided to see if you worked there too. But then I had the same problem, thinking it was invasive of me to talk about you. They told me you did work there, and they hadn't heard from you, like everyone else. I explained a little bit, that you had gone on a trip, and no one had heard, and you were probably fine. Then I realized I should order something. I was really nervous trying to find something to order right away. I bought a hamburger and fries, and instead of giving me change back, they gave me some sort of gift card, which at first I accepted. It was light gray, semi-transparent, thick in the middle with the edges chamfered slightly. A piece of paper with some text printed on it was taped to the card with scotch tape. Then I got kind of angry, asking why they gave me a gift card at a restaurant. But then I didn't care, and left. I don't recall any other details.

Skepticism of the establishment, when taken too far, is not productive and provides no benefit—extreme skepticism walks a fine line between circumventing ill-guided navigation and outright paranoia. When skepticism grows so extreme as to reject all external references it risks crossing into paranoia, with little hope of preserving its orientation, since considering outside references is the greatest hope of avoiding psychosis. Unfortunately, the suggestion that we "heed cautions of skepticism inhibiting worthy rational thought without reason" itself is not a well reasoned assertion. Am I going mad?

Ouch. I watched a program once on the discovery channel, about climbing mt. everest, and how above 15,000 or 20 or whatever it was, the oxygen deprivation can cause severe judgement impairment. And suddenly I was really freaked out. Far more than any physical danger you can encounter while climbing a mountain, the idea that the thing you rely on to make sensible decisions, to make survival decisions, could be greatly impaired, by nothing other than the environment, is terrifying. Though having insufficient information to make a decision can have the exact same effect, in which case you don't need to be in a greatly oxygen-deprived environment, you maybe just need someone to not give you everything they know. With the additional handicap that perhaps you can never quite decide what other people are thinking, or feeling, the slightest obvious ambiguity in information can be enough to prevent any decision from being made. The terror emerges from the fact that a mind disabled in a particular way is incapable of even observing that it is disabled, incapable of detecting fatal flaws in very simple reasoning. You watch otherwise intelligent people do entirely insane things; damaging the reasoning machinery risks the whole organization even without a real threat. Likewise, a mind, seemingly incapable of empathizing with other minds, risks much greater consequences of mis-calculation than a empathetic mind, without having any clue whatsoever that it is taking such sharp risks. It's far more than ignorance is bliss, its a complete inability to become informed. It is an eternal condemnation of comprehension. It's as close to a curse as might be realized in a strictly physical world. And so how to recover? Can one compensate? Or must I admit defeat, and accept that verifying one's sanity will always demand external input, despite such reliance on others appearing to be the very definition of vulnerability?

And all this without any consideration of the destruction incurred in the other direction.


Building a "Religion"

This post seems very relevant to my roomate's response to my idea of a website that tracks politician's stances on scientific matters. I expressed an urge to expand the idea to other political ideas, but a reluctance due to those issues being opinion, rather than fact-driven.

He liked this idea, and pointed out that politics is an opinion game, which in some instances is perfectly reasonable (truly political issues), while other times it interferes with actual facts (for instance, evolution).

The goal of this organization would be to gather powerful political leaders' stances regarding certain scientific facts, first and foremost: evolution. We want a list of every politician, from the top down; name, location, influence, and sourced quotes describing their acceptance, rejection, or ignorance of scientific theories.

Suddenly I wondered if the phase "jump the gun" could mean, "charge the shooter".

Sean Carroll wrote:
When Chris and Matt talk to the PZ/Dawkins crowd, they do a really bad job of understanding and working within the presuppositions of their audience — exactly what framing is supposed to be all about. To the Framers, what’s going on is an essentially political battle; a public-relations contest, pitting pro-science vs. anti-science, where the goal is to sway more people to your side. And there is no doubt that such a contest is going on. But it’s not all that is going on, and it’s not the only motivation one might have for wading into discussions of science and religion.

There is a more basic motivation: telling the truth.

What Matt and Chris (seemingly) fail to understand is that PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins are not trying to be successful politicians, persuading the largest number of people to come over to their side. They have no interest in being politicians. They are critics, and their goal is to say correct things about the world and argue against incorrect statements. Of course, they would certainly like to see evolution rather than creationism taught in schools, and ultimately they would be very happy if all of humanity were persuaded of the correctness of their views. But their books and blogs about science and religion are not strategic documents designed to bring about some desired outcome; they are attempts to say true things about issues they care about. Telling them “Shut up! You’ll offend the sensibilities of people we are trying to persuade!” is like talking to a brick wall, or at least in an alien language. You will have to frame things much better than that.

However, we also need critics. If everyone were a politician, it would be equally disastrous. In Bernard Shaw’s famous phrasing, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” The perfect can be the enemy of the good, but if we don’t have a loud and persistent chorus of voices reminding us of how far short we fall of perfection, we won’t work as hard as we can to get there.

I find the categorization of "politicians and critics" interesting, and I can't help but bring this up: scientists, in general (at least real scientists), must always be critics, in this sense. Truth must always be the #1 priority. Limited funding and competition conspire to distort that ideal, but in the limit, any veering from the truth will one day be revealed, that's just how science works.

But now we might wonder, should one hold a default skepticism, doubting everything they are told, only accepting it when sufficient evidence is presented? Or could one tentatively accept anything that fits into the previous body of evidence & best-fit model? Obviously it is undesirable to accept non-evidenced (no data one way or the other) claims as being validated, and obviously invalidated claims should be scrutinized, but for claims in which no relevant data exists, scrutinizing the claim in terms of it's consistency with unrelated data and accepted models, and accepting the claim tentatively, ought to be acceptable, as it allows one to advance their thinking into new areas more rapidly. This may also lead to new theoretical considerations which could ultimately lead to new experiments to validate or falsify both the new claims as well as the older models.

Perhaps I should start a "religion". It's tenets would be strict physicalism and metaphysical naturalism, and a complete rejection of any notion of supernaturalism.
In those sense, it wouldn't be much of a religion, but why not call it one?
We can emphasize personal responsibility and a sense of community, equality, and truth.
Personal testimony could be shared between members with our experiences of the numinous, and Sam Harris's notions of mysticism, or something resembling spirituality.
Our reverence for nature and humanity will be our sacred tenets.

Our principles will include requiring our worldview be consistent with empirical evidence above all else, combined with a utilitarian-like approach to moral issues, which, although relative, should be fairly solid and perhaps only laid out by a majority vote of church members.
Sometimes moral views will change, and some morals, if divided among two large majorities, will be given a "no comment" stance by the church, citing insufficient evidence, understanding, and/or consensus to make a decision.
Individuals could perhaps abstain from voting, in which case they have no influence on the outcome, or perhaps allowed to vote a "I don't know" vote, which if in a majority, may prevent an official stance by the church. (Though it seems likely that anyone involved with such an institution would tend to be informed, or if not, rapidly remedy that themselves.)

We could call it "Saganism." We could always write "religion" and "church" in "quotes."

If we had a political stance, I would prefer they promote a linear combination of socialistic and capitalistic models, as well as a mix of meritocracy and democracy, better voting systems (that is, multi-vote systems or the other alternatives, unrelated to computers), issue-based rather than party-based elections, (as well as issue-based metrics for feedback), and a more scientific approach to what does and doesn't work, to eliminate debate over the correctness of social and economic models. (E.g., abstinence-only doesn't work, lazza-faire economics failed, and free-markets don't necessarily evolve into creatures that will efficiently promote the best interests of the people.)

"The favored method of those who would claim that science and religion are compatible — really, the only method available — is to twist the definition of either “science” or “religion” well out of the form in which most people would recognize it. Often both. Of course, it’s very difficult to agree on a single definition of “religion” (and not that much easier for “science”)..."

We would use Richard Feynman's 'definition' of science, as the process of testing old information to make sure it is valid.
And of course, "Saganism" would be an immense distortion of the definition of "religion," at the expense of preserving the definition of "science" in all it's glory.
I'd be really nervous about such a distortion, and the potential damage it could cause. But on the other hand, it seems like it might attract swaths of previously elusive faitheists who just haven't quite seen the incandescence of atheism for the rainbow of benefits it really is.

Of course, the purpose of such distortion is really to create a competitive, non-destructive alternative for religion. Something people can do on Sundays, and that instills a greater sense of purpose in them. Real science isn't for everyone, it requires a lot of time and effort, and sometimes a de-prioritizing of what many people consider "more typical" goals (i.e., a sacrifice; a cost incurred against the possibility of a more 'normal' life).

"Religions have always made claims about the natural world, from how it was created to the importance of supernatural interventions in it. And these claims are often very important to the religions who make them; ask Galileo or Giordano Bruno if you don’t believe me." -Sean Carroll

I should emphasize: morals can not be derived directly from science, they require a set of axioms that can only be defined by human opinions and interests. However, such opinions should not be considered "true" indefinitely, as technology has a way of spurring real-world moral dilemmas that exceed the previous societies' moral sophistication. The only seemingly sensible way I can imagine to deal with this is to bring the full brunt of human discussion down on it (I think Sam Harris advocated this approach as well), relying on the best scientific knowledge available to inform a debate in which we, as a society, develop a consensus view of where exactly to draw the line between right and wrong.


Finish What You Start

"Truth is a very very, hard thing to find, except in, local empirical circumstances. Much much more significant than that is rationality. And the word rationality is a very interesting one. The first part of it, ratio, is about proportioning evidence to the conclusions that you derive from it. It means being guided by your very best exploration of the evidence, your very best, most responsible reasonings, and submitting things to public test and debate. Rationality is the key. To behave, to think, and to believe, rationally, on the basis of evidence, that is the surest path towards truth. You have to remember what Voltaire said, 'I will defend with my life the person who is seeking the truth, but I will not be so keen on the person who claims to have it.' Finally, there is one big difference between Richard Dawkins and myself on the question of the 6.5, and agnosticism. I am not one little bit agnostic about fairies, or pixies, or goblins, and so on for all the other super natural agencies that might be invoked… And for exactly the same kind of rational, I hope, reasons, I'm not agnostic about deities and gods and goddesses and the rest of it." —AC Grayling

Moments of Grief.
The Chromoscope is pretty sweet.
"The sky really has fallen on some civilizations."

"Passion is the enemy of precision."
He liked studying the physical world, he added, but, "I have neither the natural ability nor the experience to deal with human beings."Read more.

Unfamiliar territory.
Would you care to join me?

I know most people wouldn't believe me, but I think a lot of what makes "me" me is an inability to understand other people. On (at least) two levels. Often times it's difficult for me to understand, (simply comprehend), either the words, or meaning, people are trying to convey. Also, it's difficult sometimes to pay attention to them.

"What are you looking for?" Does that mean, "what is the object of your search", or "what is the motivation for searching for such an object"? Why look? I must be going completely insane. I gotta get out more. "Lets go out. Lets get going."

Proper psycho.

"I think I might miss you enough to say so. I think I already did."

"You can't buy silence, you can only rent it."—Zero Effect

"Everything I say is true, so theres nothing we can do, 'then what the hell', I say to you, let me have one dance with you."
Suddenly the movie "Million Dollar Hotel" popped into my head.

start a website: calling out powerful ignorants
make a comprehensive list of politicians and leaders who:
understand evolution
deny evolution
won't answer
Maybe other topics too?

As a kid, in school, I never gave too much thought to the American Civil War. I mean, I got by in history class, and I paid some attention, and learned some things. But suddenly, looking at the numbers, it strikes me how devastating a time that must have been for what (in my life time) is a very stable (feeling) country. The very idea of a battle on American soil seems like ancient history, and maybe it is now, with the ridiculous technology we have. But at the time, the war might have been as devastating as any modern war is now. Can you imagine such lunacy? Fully 10 percent of the southern population was a soldier, yet they were still out numbered by the north 2-to-1. And yet now, the views that caused such a drastic divide are very nearly extinct. Do you think the internet would have been enough to get people to quit? Or the nightly news, with images of American bodies, frozen in their last moments? Six hundred and twenty thousand dead, more than four hundred thousand wounded. What sort of pressures can cause humans to act so irrationally?

"Is solitude indeed the cure, for loneliness? No I don't think so."
"All dolled up in straps, all colored in…My head plays it over and over."

Then the next goal would be to make decisions about how best to guide the evolutionary algorithm. That is, can we characterize the landscape, in terms of it's graininess? And the features of the landscape; are there sharp divisions with drastically different fitness? Or does it smoothly change? (Probably the former on large scales, the latter on smaller scales.) Does the landscape have islands of good solutions? We want to cast our net over the islands, and as the scale of the features of the landscape changes, we want to use different sized nets. (Originally we may want large mutations, but as we hone in on a solution, we may want to keep all candidate solutions fairly similar to one another.) Seems like some sort of power-law distribution should govern changes in our search method.

Oh! Also, if we have a jar, with an infinite number of balls in it, how many events can we sample before the jar is empty? Answer: the jar is never empty! Even with an infinite number of events being withdrawn at each infinitesimal interval, we're still left with an infinity of balls in the jar!
Let the "balls" be analogous to a space-time event in relativity, and we encounter a new problem: the time-like interval surrounding an event grows very rapidly with time!

There are far too many quotes in this post.

So far, most of the essays I've read claim the internet has not changed the way the author thinks. Lisa Randall seems to have a slightly more interesting view: she points out that we don't really know how we think in the first place.

But how about we consider this from a more general viewpoint. I'd like to argue that the internet changes the way people think in a way analogous to how the industrial revolution changed the way people owned things. The industrial revolution was an abrupt acceleration of technological progress, and ultimately it introduced certain physical luxuries to the broader population, (whereas those luxuries were previously reserved for only the very well endowed). Generally this is what technology has always done: it has enabled more people to do [blank]--either by making it easier or cheaper to produce, consume, distribute, etc. Just think of the internet as an industrial revolution for information, or communication, where information and communication have previously been commodities held by one privileged class or another. (Communication typically limited to governments, or in the 20th century, media conglomerates, and information traditionally held by either the authorities, or to a degree, the academic and broader intellectual communities.) If there is any worth in this viewpoint, it might explain why the many intellectuals who are writing these essays don't feel much of an influence on the way they think---all it has done is accelerated the rate of information aggregation. I dunno, I'm back to not knowing.

for leaving the light on
so I could find my way home.
for meeting me half way
from the curb to the door-way."

It's an addictive certainty, that computer science provides. Both new, and necessary.
"The sleep of reason produces monsters."
Put me on the brink of the abyss please.