30th December 2011
“”Belief and Unbelief.
What is atheism?
Traditionally, we view these as two different entities. We know that there is often a lot of debate and argument over them - but what is the actual technical difference?
In most language statements, we are effectively refining a cluster of objects from an infinitely sized object-space that contains everything conceivable and then saying something about it. Someone says "I like dogs", they're refining that infinite space of things into those four-legged furry friends and saying that they have an preference and attachment to them. Simple.Now let's consider those two well-argued distinctions of atheism above. In order to make any sense at all they need to refine a cluster of objects marked "God and gods", that's true in both cases. Once we have that cluster marked out and refined (assume everyone agrees on what constitutes this god(s)-shaped cluster) there is actually very little semantic difference between lacking a belief in them and believing that they don't exist. One presumes that if you're identifying as an atheist you automatically bolt on the "these things are imaginary" meme to the god(s)-shaped cluster - and so you would, regardless of whether you choose "belief" or "lack of belief" think that they don't actually exist. When analysed that way, there's no real distinction, and getting precious about such a distinction doesn't seem worthwhile.
 29th December 2011
“”But not all religious believers are like that...
Following a massive Facebook based discussion on a Muslim cleric apparently endorsing wife-beating, a Muslim chimed in with the usual "but no all Muslims are like that" response, and that she was taught to be tolerant so wouldn't chastise us for mocking her religion. Now, while my standard retort to this is something along the lines that cranks and fundamentalists should be mocked irrespective of religion (we're mocking them and their personal attitude, not the religion itself, after all) I want to commend a friend of mine for posting this, which I just had to share:
 29th December 2011
 28th December 2011
So I've written this essay now, which sort of completes a bit of a sequence I've been going through recently on atheism. Now I can finally step outside and enjoy the world for once. Or eat chocolate.Yes, I'll eat chocolate.
 27th December 2011
A few people I know were in tears over poor Mr Bates on the Christmas episode of Downton Abbey. But don't cry, 'cheer up' I told them. It's fictional. It's not real. In the real world innocent people are never wrongly executed!I suppose that should have been a spoiler alert, but meh. Sorry.
 22nd December 2011
Man after my own heart.
 22nd December 2011
“”Depressingly Shit Apologetics Arguments. Seriously?
 21st December 2011
“”Faith is a virtue.
I'm looking for reasons that faith is a virtue, i.e., a good thing to have, endeavor to support, respect, admire, and so on. Without this particular meme religion simply wouldn't exist - end of story. Unfortunately, I can't find any decent explanations via Google - only atheist blogs and sites asking this very question and coming to the conclusion "it isn't". I did find this article but, frankly, it's reliance on -isms, -ians and -ists, and needlessly skirting about with "what is a virtue?" succinctly represents what I hate about philosophy. Similarly, this one is rather... well, I don't quite get why it's banging on about charity and why it has to hot-link every noun. Here's one from About.com which I tend to find has a decent atheism section, but again, the answer isn't terribly convincing - a force of nature so we should respect it? That still doesn't answer why, it just shifts the "why" back another step - though "because people of faith won't respect you" is an interesting response that's simply saying "just because it's polite and it's polite just because". And, of course, the less said about the chocolate fireguard that is Yahoo Answers the better. Even Be Thinking - fast becoming my one-stop-shop for depressingly shit apologetics arguments - doesn't give me any sugar on the question, although they're quick to criticise Dawkins for supposedly having faith, which kind of puts a big fat throbbing cock into the entire idea of it being a good thing on its own.It can't be that hard a question to answer... can it?
 21st December 2011
“”Here's why it's im-fucking-portant.
The whole bloody gateway religion thing is a controversial clusterfuck. With apologetic wheezebag idiots on one side saying live-and-let-fucking live over religion like a bunch of Blue-fucking-Peter presenters trying their hand at world peace - and in the other corner you have complete arseholes who want to take the cock of religion, slap it on a chopping board and use it in fucking cock-sausage casserole. Maybe I'm turning into the casserole sniffing arsehole, but I'll at least be honest. Here's the part where I stand; the whole of this catastrophuck we call "religion" stands on a bunch of ideas as useful and reasonable as chocolate condoms wrapped around big fat juicy solid gold arsebiscuits. It tells people to just say "hey, have some fucking faith and it'll be tickity-fucking-boo forever" no matter what sort of sloppy shite gets thrown in your face by that cruel twisted cunt we call "reality". You know, like the shit and fan metaphor except they deny the existence of shit and think their fans are all wipe-clean non-stick fans, with silver plating and jewel encrusted buttons. In fact, let's not call this crappy thing "faith", that's just legitimising the bag of shit that it really represents, like sticking a fake white beard and hat on someone's dick, getting it out in a playground, and telling the kids "come on, Santa wants a fucking kiss". Let's just call it what it fucking is: "making shit up just be-fucking-cause we can".
And you know why they think they fucking can? Because they take what they say and lock it up in box too fucking small for even a gnat to have fucking anal sex in. Here's what it fucking sounds like to the outside world: "Hey, here's the shit I've made up off the top of my cunting head, it smells of sweating bollocks but ignore that, because it's not sweaty bollocks after all, it's crisp 18 year-old whisky, except like fuck can you taste it so fucking prove me wrong". These are the words of total and utter prat.
So you end up saying "let's just make shit up" and then saying that it's perfectly A-cock-O-fucking-K with a capital cunt to fucking do so - except when you take your fucking thinking cap off your god's cock for three fucking minutes and shaft it up your arsehole where the rest of the useful parts of your fucking cerebellum are, you realise that this is just a massive load of horseshit complete with fly flavoured icing that you insist works while you spoon feed it into your fucking kids' faces, and their kids' faces, and their kids' faces before they're even born because you're crawling into the womb like some sick cunt with some shit and a big spoon. This doesn't make you fucking deep, or open fucking minded or intellectual or philosophical - unless your definition of "philosophical" is "dumb cunt" - it makes you an idiotic catastrophically retarded twat with bollocks for earrings and fat hairy labia lips for a mouth that spouts hot meaningless air that wastes my fucking drinking time with your cute little bastard memes, phrases and twatishly cheery demeanour. So once you've crammed this horseshit smothered cock pie down the world's throat, you then pretend to be surprised when some other cunt straps a bomb to his chest because he has this same basic "making shit up as you go along" idea as you - only you don't have the bollocks of steel needed to actually go about strapping a bomb to yourself for it you hypocritical titty-arse-face. That's not fucking beautiful, it's fucking tragic. It's not a cause for fucking debate, it's a cause to look at yourself and think "boy, what a cunt am I for thinking I can just make shit up without consequences". Get it fucking straight; these are the consequences and it's all your fucking fault for telling the world that this "let's just make shit up" idea is a grand idea, like it's some grand hotel of an idea with hundreds of floors, ornamental staircases and waiting staff that'll kiss your arse for a penny - except it's not, you just fucking blue-tacked a polaroid photograph of that image, that you just pulled out of your magic arse, to your cock pie and wanked off your oh-so-fucking-deep intellectual open-fucking-minded jizz all over it and complain when others don't like the mess you made of it. But never mind, at least you have your magic fucking faith in your feckless invisible friend to pat you on the fucking head and say "there there" like a Grade A twat that you very clearly say he is.
But it's not just shit-for-brains suicide bombers. Take these cunts who go to faith healers for all their fucking woes from ingrown toenails to arse cancer. They're the worst twats in this shittly little game of cock-soldiers. You know, some fucking brainy bastards, with an eye for detail, rigour and empiricism, and a fucking talent and imagination for helping people have spent years developing a little thing you might have heard of: medicine. And it fucking works. We know it fucking works because we fucking tested it. Then the brainy bastards thought a little bit more and said "actually, can it work better?" and fucking tried that too. And this is all so cunts like you and I can die peacefully aged 80 rather than shitting ourselves to death with plague before we're even old enough to be arse-raped by a Catholic priest. Yet because of this whole "making shit up is fine and fucking dandy" brigade, there are cunts in the world that just say "fuck you medicine, I'm going to trust making shit up instead" like their own shit smells of roses and petals and springtime instead of blood and guts and shit. Suicide bombers are tragic, but at least they're doing the decent thing and fucking themselves up in the process. Toddlers, babies, young kids...fucking kids, they have no fucking choice in the matter if their parents decided to go along with these "making shit up" twats. And you know the fuck what? They die. And they didn't get a say in the matter. And it's all because a bunch of cunts have managed to brainwash the world into thinking "making shit the-fuck-up" is an idea worthy of a good long slow cock sucking with fucking cherry fucking cream on top.Find the tone of this offensive? Then fuck you; this shit is something to be fucking offended by.
 19th December 2011
“”Theology in a nutshell.
If I had to describe religious apologetics and theology in a single sentence, I'd probably say this:
That has to be pretty much it, right? You can discuss the nature of God all you like, but if you can't relate that to some real-world experience or observation that differentiates your hypotheses (i.e., playing the whole "God is beyond science" crap) then you may as well be talking about what it would feel like to give a blow job to a unicorn.Personally I think it'd taste of skittles. Prove me wrong.
 19th December 2011
Perhaps one of the most important things when holding a belief is to ensure you follow it through to its most widely applicable conclusion; What it actually means and what it actually represents in the world. It's not enough to just hold an idea in your head and say it's "true", no matter how many times you repeat it or justify it, that's just mindlessly obeying a trope. Even if you profess to believe something due to "faith" alone you should still figure out the end ramifications of your belief. Otherwise you're simply just doing what someone told you just for the sake of doing it because someone told you - and I can't see many people agreeing, when it's phrased like that, that this is a virtuous thing to do. Consider what the belief means, and if these considerations don't bother you, then you're free to go. If you struggle to justify or can only amateurishly handwave these considerations when they don't suit you, then you should rethink your belief from scratch.
In one sense, yes, you should continue your belief through to say what evidence you would suggest appears from it. It's a virtue of rational empiricism and critical thinking, and is certainly the best working definition of "true" I can think of. But doing this is only of interest to people who want to actually do this - so if you want your belief to be "beyond proof", suit yourself, just don't expect anyone to agree with it and if your argumentation fails, and be fully aware that it's your fault. Finding predictions and evidence is only a special case, just a single dimension, of the more general idea behind it; which is following your belief through completely, rather than just mindless regurgitation of over-used tropes in support of it. In this more general case, you should understand what you are actually saying and what it means in any and all possible contexts.
It's a frequent problem. If you're for capital punishment, then you should be aware of the cases of miscarriages of justice, whether excessive pain is experienced by the victim, or whether psychological trauma is experienced by the executioner (arguably "modern" methods are there to make us feel better about it, not the one losing their life). You should ask why the Governor can do the deed by just signing a piece of paper, rather than flicking a switch or pulling a trigger themselves, therefore getting their hands dirty because they approve of the process so much. These are probably questions you'd put out of your mind because if you really did think about them, they might even conflict with other values you had and you might start feeling uncomfortable. In this specific case you might say "I don't care", but that effectively makes you a c**t. But don't worry, that's actually valid. At least you've thought about it and given your answer to an obvious "why?" that you probably ignored for some time. I might think you're a c**t, but I respect you slightly more for it.
Similarly, you can play this game with professions of faith in an all-good and all-loving God. Do you really expect non-believers to swallow this God/Jesus/Allah/SFM-loves-you crap in the face of the problem of evil? You're working with a quite a douchebag God, rather than an omnibenevolent one, if you consider things like child poverty and starvation, plague, small pox, Ebola, parasites, mental illness, depression, murderous rampages... suffering might be subjective, but the fact that we actually feel it certainly isn't. With a God apparently powerful enough to create the universe exactly as he wants down to minute quantum mechanical detail, then we're looking at some odd (perhaps even circular) definitions of the word "good" here. Certainly you'd have to concede that God's "goodness" bares little resemblance to our idea of "goodness" in everyday use. If you want to produce other escape hatches for this, I can simply press you into answering "what is the difference between a universe with a douchebag for a God, and a universe with no God at all?" - I'd wager the answer would have to be "not much".This is the root cause of cognitive dissonance, and it can be painful to experience. But it's what you should have to go through if you want to hold a belief with a straight face.
 16th December 2011
There is something about that moment where you swap your mentions from the present tense to past tense.It's sad because it cements it as real. "Is" can easily become "was", but the reverse is almost never possible. I trust he would take it as a compliment if I was to say "see you in hell".
 15th December 2011
“”Parable of balls.
Imagine Sian has 5 balls; a tennis ball, a baseball, a football, a ping-pong ball and a basket ball. Jenny then says "pass me the ball". Now, obviously Sian then says "which one" and Jenny says "the basket ball". They go about their business without problem.
However, the way I see a lot of "debates" is that Jenny says "pass me the ball" and the two of them end up arguing over the definition of "ball" - Jenny picks up a dictionary and says "look you idiot, I'm asking you for a round spherical object, pass it to me!" and Sian gets irate because this doesn't actually help the situation.
And then when Sian presents the basketball out of frustration, Jenny gets irate because it's not the ball she wants, even though it matches the dictionary definition of "spherical object". Why? Because they've inferred the size, and stitching, and dimples of the ball themselves, separately, rather than clarified them. And it's all because Jenny simply isn't aware that there are 5 balls in front of Sian; Jenny has used the word "ball" all her life and has never had to ask for one from someone who has five of them before, she's too used to everyone having baseballs and not being aware that basketballs or ping-pong balls exist, and so has never had to use such modifiers or explain herself before. Doing so is then quite difficult - she's not used to it, and doesn't quite know how to step back from the problem and describe what she wants in new terms.
On the other side of the conversation, Sian doesn't realise Jenny's pre-existing condition of only knowing "ball", and so doesn't realise she needs to step back and say "which one?", or give Jenny a hand by describing, in detail, the 5 different ones on offer.This sounds absurd, precisely because we have objects in the real-world that we can point to - but its the mechanism I see when people often talk about things like "God" or "feminism" or "atheism" or "spiritualism" and so on. We're very used to using these words on our own terms that we might fail to realise that someone else is using them on their own terms; and that these terms don't necessarily match up. If we're careful, intelligent about our discussion and get lucky, we can spot this.
"Milk" probably wouldn't represent the same thing as "dog" - at least, it's very unlikely to. The cluster of four-legged, furry, barking objects in the real world called "dog" probably doesn't have much overlap with the cluster of wet, white liquidy stuff called "milk". Other terms might not be as nicely defined as this so you need to know what others are inferring; knowing the audience is key because communication is a two-way process. For example; We're both members of RationalWiki, we've both written things on skepticism and debunking, we read the same stuff on WIGO. So the chances are that if I said "I'm an atheist" to you we'd know what we're talking about. This is fine, and we don't clash. Much.
But even if you do know your audience, there are other times when this communication might fail. Given the above that we both know what "atheism" means because we read the same stuff, write the same stuff and so on, we might still disagree on something that has either yet to be covered or that we've just presumed we agree upon up until now. Finding and spotting that is useful when it arises, OR we could try to eliminate the chances of it earlier on by being crystal clear from the outset. Whether you do need to do this is probably very context dependent; but the most important context is when you want to use your statement for something. I'm talking more about situations where someone says something along the lines of "as atheists we should..." or "as rationalists we should..." or "as feminists we should..." because these things aren't, so much, object clusters in the real world like milk and dogs that we can point to. We've just (sort of) made them up. In the case of "we should..." you're giving someone a command based on the fact you see them grouped under a label; do the conclusions follow the premises though? It would depend on what someone infers from the "as atheists..." part more than from the "...we should..." part.
For example, there's old canard that atheism means we shouldn't believe in ghosts or any other supernatural powers. BUT, atheism just "means" (if we run to the dictionary) "a lack of belief in god". It says nothing about ghosts, ghouls and mediums or any convoluted ways we can get around this definition of "God". This is more of an inferred characteristic, it's an extension provided by some people that might not be universally agreed on by others. There are a lot of broadly related concepts, but which ones people actually think of when talking about atheism doesn't necessarily agree; and certainly when someone starts dictating what a group should do ("as atheists we should...") it's vitally important that everyone does agree. Hence me wanting to find the underlying mechanism that leads to saying "I'm an atheist", rather than trying to adapt "atheist" to my own terms and force that on others.
If I adapt "atheist" to mean what I want, and then say "as an atheist you should..." we're liable to have an argument because we'll disagree on what "atheist" means and so the part that follows the "should..." might clash horrendously. If we were communicating well, then that clash shouldn't happen because the conclusions always follow the premise. Essentially what sounds like a perfectly logical thing to say to Person A ("as atheists we should not believe in ghosts") sounds like an absurd non sequitur to Person B.
My central point is that this clash doesn't stem from faulty logic, but the fact that A and B aren't talking about the same premise, fail to realise this, and then blame each others logic instead.If, instead, I said "as people who think that beliefs should have observable consequences or should otherwise be discarded we should..." then we have something different entirely. The cluster of ideas that this longer sentence represents is reduced (it's unfortunate that it's less concise, but it's basically information theory, we need more bits of information to represent a more precise piece of data) and the overlap in what the premise is between Person A and Person B is greater. Far greater. In fact, it becomes so great that they are far more likely to agree than if they kept the same premise but argued the logical process to death.
 13th December 2011
 13th December 2011
I seriously think people who think Linux is awesome are just deluded. They're doing it just to impress others. Really, I bet ever sysadmin is secretly running Windows NT or something instead.Literal head-desk.
 13th December 2011
“”Y U NO LIKE AGNOSTICS?
From the Facebook page of my local "Atheist Club" comes a question paraphrased thusly:
Oh how I love angry white boy rants... Thing is, I'm not sure how to respond exactly. Do I:
 - Being a noted self-superior twat, I will use the scare quotes on this. I don't really hang out with the society as such (people applauding Dawkins juts for appearing on screen makes me remarkably uncomfortable), I just post on Arsebook and watch the discussions move from interesting to hilariously misinformed.
 12th December 2011
“”Atheism as an identity
Managing atheism as a self-identity is one of the trickiest things to master. It's almost paradoxical in nature. Consider that it's a lack of a positive belief in the concept of a built-in, all powerful "God" character of any kind and the lack of positive belief in the more plural gods of yore. Even if you were to stretch it, as some do, to include the assertive phrase "there is no God" (which, in principle, is a positive belief) it still raises an issue about which "God" exactly. As an overarching concept, there are many interpretations and atheism is a by fiat rejection of them all - in any and all formulations.
But how can that be? By the very nature of the world we're not aware of every single possible formulation of the concept of God, so how can we reject them all? Shouldn't we need to know what it is that we don't believe in to assert it so positively?
It's easy enough to say this isn't a problem and talk about not collecting stamps being a hobby, but this doesn't help as much as you might think. It's simply shifting the argument to an analogy, and then saying that because we don't care about the analogous situation we shouldn't care about the God situation. Fair enough, perhaps, but this says nothing about the situation (in any context) and whether we should care or not.
Here's a different take, one that shouldn't require such messing around with not stamp collecting and other bad analogies. We should simply identify the properties that we do not agree with and reject those, rather than the label of God or gods, which begs us to define "God" in the first place. Do we reject the existence of entities that cannot cause a meaningful reaction or interaction with our senses? Yes. The entire concept of prayer forming a testable statement about the existence of God derives from this; if prayer works we can test it empirically, if we can't test it empirically it doesn't work, no ifs, no buts, end of story. This would also include the gods of old, the newer "God" concept, and then a whole host of supernatural powers to boot whether we've encountered and defined them yet or not. If they feature the property we reject, we reject them by definition. Consider this piece of legislation; sick of trying to play catch-up with molecular structures of cannabis derivatives, the law simply bans what they cause. By not looking at a specific label and looking at properties, it simply manages to get around the unknowns and forever stays ahead of new drug variants. This is, I think, a far better analogy to run to than not collecting stamps.So it should be the same with denying the existence of God if we want to create a useful identity - that is, an identity based on demonstrable properties. You could still call this "atheist" if you like - indeed as a mental short-cut it will convey what you're talking about quickly - but we need to be aware of the connotation that it's exclusively about the Judeo-Christian "God" character. If pushed to expand upon this, we shouldn't say that we "disbelieve in God of any kind or gods of any kind equally", as that's simply a rejection of a label, cowers away from the "why?" and invites people to start listing hypothetical gods that you might believe in if you got to know them better. Instead we should push ourselves to explain this view in terms of rational empiricism; that which produces no meaningful, real-world, sensory effect is utterly worthless to spend time believing in.
 11th December 2011
“”Logic and reason.
Been going through Christine Foust's MA dissertation (which is definitely worth reading) and came across a section (page 58) saying how atheists state that their reasons for being atheist revolve around "logic" and "reason":
Foust doesn't dwell on this too much (it's a thesis about atheists not atheism after all), but she does cheekily describe this use of "logic" and "reason" as vocabulary choices, narratives and explanatory mechanisms. It might just be my own cynicism, but I find that these particular vocabulary choices, narratives and explanatory mechanisms ofter overpower many discussions about atheism and so don't convey much. Foust notes that those attending atheist meetings run to such words often, and they're almost universal amongst communities of self-defined or out-of-the-closet atheists. We seem to often treat atheism as the default rationalist position, and like to throw around terms like "rational" and "logical" to describe it. But really, are these being used any more than just parroting off the right words to conjure up ideas of being correct, or of being intelligent, or of being individually free-thinking, rather than of actually being logical and rational? I've seen people deep in the middle of anxiety attacks attempting to rationalise their thoughts, and they claim that their paranoias and self-doubts are "logical" - but this doesn't make it so. Similarly, with atheism, someone saying "I'm a non-believer because of reason and logic" doesn't make it a reasonable or logical position.
So are atheists tempted to just run to these words without really knowing what they mean? "They" in that sense being both what the words mean and also what the atheists mean by them. This is quite an accusation, to be honest. Fair enough, these words do act as mechanisms that like-minded people can identify with, but this really just puts them in the same category as things like "faith". Believers will often cite cute little phrases like "F.A.I.T.H = Finding Answers In The Heart" or "it doesn't matter what you believe so long as you believe", and we rightly recognise them as meaningless gumph. However, I think many atheists can fall into a the exact same trap; running to your cute little phrases just because you assume everyone else is talking your language. It's effectively justifying yourself with an uninformative cliché, and this is equally bad if you believe in God, listen to heavy metal music, believe in Yoda, are for/against abortion, or simply don't believe in anything.This isn't to say that people couldn't defend their view more clearly if pressed, though, simply that we shouldn't have to press people for this in the first place. Merely running to well-used ideas like "logic" and "reason" are a bit lazy. We should, every now and then, step back away from our clichés to seriously consider why, and not just resort to "because it's rational". We should regularly examine why we think things, especially if we feel our explanations (vocabulary choices, narratives and explanatory mechanisms) are getting a little worn and are just something to parrot off to like-minded individuals. And then we should do the same with those explanations once we realise we're too used to them. I've already suggested that casual believers could benefit from this, non-believers shouldn't be exempt from similar demands for clarification. It's only a fear that answering the next "why?" could be a little more difficult that stops us.
 11th December 2011
I brought this thing up in the SB. Now, the whole science-by-press-release thing is one of the fundamental sins here, but is beside the point. Without the paper to hand I can't assess the methodology used, so I have to go by what the quotes and releases say; and what they say isn't particularly compelling. We have a myriad of articles on what is involved here; cherry picking and quote mining being the largest. Let's just illustrate the methodological flaws with a simple experiment:
Which of the following quotes do you identify most with. No cheating to see where they're from, and if you do correctly guess... well, I suppose it'd be too much to ask for you to not bias your opinion with this knowledge.
 10th December 2011
Monopoly is a great analogy for how economics works.
Think about it. You basically run in circles fleecing people out of money they have no choice but to give you, ramming them into debt as fast as you can. It's entirely a roll of the dice if you get shafted or not. And you only rarely ever get jailed for all the shit you do - and when you do it's not all that bad.But mainly, try playing it without getting £200 every time you pass go. See how far you get without these magical injections of cash from nowhere.
 8th December 2011
“”Should atheists try to covert believers?
Well, should they?
But as always, the more important question is why?
I'd be incredibly disappointed if anyone was to simply answer "no, because that would make us just like a religion", as that just begs us to have a circular fight over what a religion is and why conversion makes it so. After all, the politically minded attempt to convert people all the time yet your political affiliation stubbornly refuses to be categorised as "religion". Instead of arguing that, it would be far better to argue what favourable properties your belief system should have, instead of what label you give it. A slightly more intelligent answer would be "no, because groups that force their opinions on others are reprehensible". Indeed, it's highly implicit that many free thinking objections to religion involve the use of force and coercion to spread; whether it be evangelists threatening people with hell or more explicit (and real) threats of war, violence and genocide over religion. But if that is the objection to religion, wouldn't non-believers have a moral duty to try and wipe it out? As Karl Popper once confusingly said; we should not be tolerant of intolerance itself because the intolerant will always win by force while the tolerant just lay down and let it happen.
So indeed, I think the question is a little more complicated than that. How can we consistently assert an opinion of religion as a negative force and not want to convert people? Wouldn't one of these beliefs need to budge?
On another note, what is the point if you don't go out to preach? What measure of truth value does a statement have if you cannot use it to persuade others? It could be argued that not persuading others is simply admitting that you don't believe your view has any truth to it - and as a rationalist/atheist/free-thinker/empiricist you would think that any view that has little to no truth value should be abandoned in favour of another one. If you didn't want to explicitly convert others, you reduce all the argumentation down to the level of traditional religious apologetics; half-baked arguments that are only there to convince existing followers that they're not wasting their time. Surely if you didn't go out to proclaim a rational truth and just stayed at home to reassure your friends that you've chosen correctly, if you make no challenge towards yours and others' belief systems, you're far more guilty of being part of a "religion".So, should we?
 8th December 2011
“”Analogies and solidarity.
Good point, actually. Although I'd add that RW doesn't actually have a landlord. Well, someone owns the building and pays for the heating, but no one is there buying in the barrels and checking stock. No one is ensuring everyone buys the drinks at a fair price and people are fine to wander in with their own stuff bought from the Off License down the road - whether that be expensive 18-year aged whisky or cheap pear cider.There is no landlord to complain to because no one really wanted one until it came to kicking out the charvers.
 7th December 2011
I just thought I'd get this example of a language thing out of the way as my little deviation into language and rationality is coming to an end (aspie has low attention span, whodathunkit).
When completing an organic chemistry reactions its often necessary to add an acid or base solution to your product to finish up any remaining protonation or charge balancing you need to do. It's called a "work-up" for reasons unknown. It involves taking your solution and washing it with another aqueous solution by combining both in a separating funnel and shaking wildly - and venting it regularly as you tend to produce quite a bit of gas as a side product with these things. Then you get two immiscible layers formed; your organic layer and an aqueous layer, separated out just like oil floating over water. Well, it is oil floating on water, basically. But even though you can run off one layer and get rid of most of the water, you organic layer is still pretty wet because miscible and immiscible are really just relative terms and some water will still dissolve in the organic layer (and vice versa) and this extended explanation of the practical lab work is essential in padding out the blog post. But the punchline is that you still need to dry your organic layer some more, which usually involves adding copious amounts of a drying agent like the massively hygroscopic magnesium sulphate.
This is where I actually get to the point. You can tell that your organic layer has dried when you add your anhydrous MgSO4 or other drying agent and it ceases to clump together. It starts as a fine powder and if it can't absorb any more water from your solution it will stay as a fine powder, and slosh around as such in your solution when you shake it - any more of it that you add to solution stays loose and fine, while the rest clumps together because of what water it has absorbed. Easy. I've explained this in a couple of sentences and you can probably envision what it looks like easily from this whether you'd done organic chemistry or not.
Except this year I've noticed a lot of undergraduates coming up to me unsure what to look for when adding their drying agent. Wait, what? It's explainable in a practically a single sentence; I remember doing it myself, and having no problems understanding what to look for; and last year and the year before (and, shit I've been doing this a while, the year before that) there were no odd questions. So what suddenly happened?
Well, this is what happened: Someone re-wrote the experiments thinking that good pop-science and science education is all about analogies and simplified explanations of things with nice evocative words rather than "boring" explanations. Instead of describing it, they've called it a "snowstorm effect" (the particular academic I'm blaming this on, who will remain nameless, is apparently internationally renowned for being useless so I'm unsurprised) and that's it. Now, I know what I'm looking for so I can see why they've used this word. I really does look like a snow globe of sorts if you have dry MgSO4 and swirl it around in a flask of organic solvent. But the term "snowstorm effect" on its own conveys no information, it tells you nothing, and you can't get it from a dictionary or from Google because as far as I can tell someone has just made it up out of nowhere. Unless you already know what you're looking for - and I do because I've done it enough times - then it is, in a word, meaningless. No explanation of the term is forthcoming and so the students are stuck in a situation where their instructions may as well be printed in French for all they can understand the terminology involved.So this really highlights the central point in my recent ravings: If the representative terminology that you use cannot successfully conjure up the same thoughts and images in someone else's head, you've failed at communication. To solve this you need to replace your specialist terminology with what it actually represents. This isn't a simple misunderstanding of a term of art, but a misplaced trust in the ability of a word to begin conjuring up the right images to get a point across succinctly. But, even if it was a misunderstanding of a term of art the solution to the problem would be the same. Sometimes its a little more expensive (two sentences vs two words) but it's certainly worth it.
- 1. It's like cooking - except you don't lick the spoon. No, really, there is almost no difference between flouncing around a synthetic laboratory and flouncing around the MasterChef kitchen.
 7th December 2011
I will finish this photochemistry paper this week. I swear to the God I don't believe in I will fucking finish it.
Which probably means I won't. Never mind.
Damn you Sci-Finder! For costing a bajillion quid a year to have, you ain't half shit.
Gender issues have completely destroyed my appreciation of stereochemistry...Here's one pain in the arse. In order to get a paper finished, I really need to finish a chapter so I can make sure it's all present and correct. But in order to finish the chapter, I really need to get the paper finished and submitted so that I can conveniently reference it. This is going to end badly.
 4th December 2011
Fuck it. I've ran out of steam with this one so have decided to upload it here.It's taken about a week to write but is really the conclusion to the last month or so of chatting on RW. It's far from finished, and I don't even know if it's right, which is quite scary. But anyway, it's not going anywhere at the moment so here is the extended essay on cognitive-linguistic mapping.
 4th December 2011
“”Let's have a debate.
I'm growing increasingly frustrated with the word "debate". Not least because people seem to say "let's have a debate" only as an excuse to avoid laying their opinion down and backing them up with concrete facts, and so use it as some magic word to prove that they have an open mind and are therefore a Good Intelligent Person. But I also notice that there's often a disparity between what people imply when they say "let's have a debate" and what we actually get at the end of the day.
What people seem to try to mean is this: Let's have an open discussion where alternative views on the evidence can be aired freely so that we have the widest possible selection of choices available when making the decision about the right course of action, and that no evidence is ignored because of our biases towards what we think we already know.
What we end up with when it comes down it is this: Let's give other people the chance to air their views just for the sake of them having different views (let's not understand why this is actually important) and then flatly ignore them anyway, give in to our well-known biases, and refuse to learn something from them no matter what.
In any "debate" you just get people reiterating their views again and again and again. You go into a debate expecting two sides with different ideas - and the side that convinces the most people with their argument wins. Note that this is not necessarily synonymous with "is right". No one goes into a debate in the expectation to come out wrong, or enlightened, or with the intention of hammering out some greater truth from the mix of ideas that are to be presented. This would almost be analogous to going into a marriage knowing you will divorce in 10 years anyway, or joining a religion knowing that you'll just recant and become an apostate at some point in the future. It requires prior admission that you could be wrong, and people simply don't do this - particularly in political debate where this view is especially rife. Often a debate may as well be replaced by people reciting their own manifestos word-for-word with absolutely no reference to what anyone else has said.I suppose we need to debate this.
 1st December 2011
“”Stalin was an atheist.
Joseph Stalin was an atheist. Does that bother me?But he also believed the sky was blue. He breathed oxygen. He had hair on his body. He believed that blood flowed around the body. He thought tables were solid objects. He tended to use two legs to walk on. Does that bother you?
 1st December 2011
The most useful piece of art advice I was ever given was "draw what you see, not what you think you see". The first time I heard this is was because we were drawing at school and someone had an Adidas bag. Naturally, people just drew a box with "adidas" written on it, except, that's not what it looks like is it? So I was taught, from a fairly young age and through the salient medium of drawing to examine the world for what it really is, not for what I thought about it.
"Aaha!!!" screams some artsy type. Probably with an ironic nose-ring. "But art is about creativity!! If you were drawing like that you may as well take a photograph. TRUE art comes from within. You shouldn't draw what you see because that's BORING and so MUNDANE! Feel it!"Fair enough, I say, but I'm not the one wasting my money on New Age cures and homoepathic remedies and stuck on websites putting down "spiritual but not religious". Just saying.