2012

The Stuff Of Knightmare | Featured Article | The Gameological Society
“Knightmare ran for eight years and 112 episodes. At the height of the program’s popularity, 5 million viewers tuned in every week. It remains one of the most fondly remembered children’s shows on British television, 25 years after the first episode was broadcast.” Great article on a top TV programme from my youth.
(tags: games knightmare gaming tv)
The Oxbridge delusion: why the more we talk about these two great universities, the less we know – Comment – Voices – The Independent
“Worse still is when journalists, comedians and television producers casually use Oxbridge as a byword for ‘elitist’ – and not elitist in the benevolent, meritocratic sense, but in the loaded dice sense. It politicises and toxifies Oxbridge, dragging it down into the national mood of resentment. The Guardian website even has a whole education section helpfully entitled ‘Oxbridge and elitism’ just in case the message ‘it’s not for people like you’ was too subtle.”
(tags: university education oxbridge oxford cambridge)

Glen Scrivener, who blogs at Christ the Truth, recently watched Derren Brown’s Fear and Faith programme. In it, Brown apparently converts (or at least induces a religious experience in) a staunch atheist, a biologist called Natalie. Brown used this as a jumping off point for an argument that we don’t need to invoke a god to explain religious experiences. Glen’s posting argued that the existence of fakes doesn’t disprove the existence of the genuine article.

Blah blah blah Bayes

I commented that Brown would go too far if he claimed that an ability to reproduce religious experiences means there’s no God, but he could use it to negate the value of religious experience as evidence for God’s existence. If it is trivial for people who aren’t God to produce such experiences, then they are about as likely to occur in a world without God as they are in a world with a God, so they aren’t good evidence. Glen tried a variant of the Argument from Wife, saying that his belief in his wife’s existence is not invalidated because of his feelings about her. But this doesn’t work, since he presumably saw and heard her and so believed she existed prior to having feelings for her, so the causality isn’t backwards, as it is when Christians point to feelings from God as evidence for God’s existence.

Then I watched the programme on Channel 4’s website. In it, we see Brown convert Natalie in what looks like a church, with 15 minutes of chat about her father and tapping on the table to “anchor” certain feelings. He leaves her alone (except for the cameras, of course) for a bit, at which point she stands up and bursts into tears, speaking about how sorry she is and wishing she could have had this feeling all her life. Well, that about wraps it up for God, right?

Hang on a sec…

Something’s gone wrong with everyone’s argument here, and I probably should have spotted it before I watched the programme, because I’ve written about Derren Brown before. Can you spot it? Have a think for a moment, then read on.

Christian and atheists alike were assuming that Brown can convert someone in 15 minutes with NLP (and then arguing about what that means for God-belief). We’ve been taken in. It was a trick! Nobody can really produce a conversion experience in 15 minutes in the way we’re supposed to believe he did. Brown’s tricks don’t work by using NLP (because NLP doesn’t work so dramatically, if indeed it works at all, which I rather doubt). Remember, the bit at the end of the trick where he shows you how he did it using NLP (though he never uses the phrase) to implant suggestions in people’s minds is itself misdirection, part of his act.

I should have realised that, because I’ve had a similar conversation about Brown before, with an NLP believer on Less Wrong. See also Ferretbrain’s Derren Brown is a Liar and this discussion on the show: pjc229 has it right.

The bit at the end with the moral of today’s episode

That little “something doesn’t make sense” feeling is something you want to train yourself to listen to: as Saunt Yudkowsky says, your strength as a rationalist is your ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality. At the point where someone claims to be able to produce religious conversion experiences after 15 minutes of chat about fathers and tapping on the table, you should be feeling confused; not trying to defend religion as if the story Brown’s telling really happened and you had to explain how it doesn’t really threaten Christianity, or attacking religion as if Brown had shown it was bunk (these are like Yudkowsky trying to defend the paramedics in his story).

I must congratulate Brown on getting me seriously debating whether he’d provided a contribution to the psychology of religion, though. The man’s a genius. I wish I knew how he did it (pjc229’s suggestions about what Natalie saw not being what we saw must have something to do with it, I guess).

(None of which is to say that there aren’t satisfying psychological explanations for religious experiences which remove the need to invoke gods, of course, just that we shouldn’t go to magicians for that kind of evidence).

Why The Daily Mail is Evil (at The @PodDelusion’s 3rd birthday do) by Martin Robbins – YouTube
Yes, it’s doing the rounds, but it’s still good.
(tags: paper mail journalism daily-mail newspaper)
The SCP Foundation
Descriptions of strange and horrifying objects being held by a secret organisation. If you liked Stross’s Laundry stuff, you might like this. Time sink warning, there are lots of them. Looks like it’s a collaboration using a wiki.
(tags: lovecraft sci-fi wiki science-fiction horror)
Windows 95 Tips, Tricks, and Tweaks
Lovecraftian Windows 95 dialogs: “It’s never safe to turn off your computer.”
(tags: computers horror lovecraft win95 funny windows)
Is Irish Law to blame for the death of Savita?
“In December 2010, the Irish government was told by the European Court of Human Rights to deal with exactly this kind of situation, either by making legislative changes or by issuing clear guidelines which acted to remove any and all ambiguities surround the question of when doctors are required to carry out terminations in order to save women’s lives.

To date, it has done nothing, largely, it seems, because Ireland’s anti-abortion lobby, and the Roman Catholic Church (naturally) have spent the last two years or so trying to shout down any notion that an abortion may be necessary to save a woman’s life in any circumstances.

What this sad case proves, definitively, is that they are lying and the real tragedy here is not just that a woman has died because they were lying but that woman has had to die, unnecessarily and in excruciating pain, to prove them wrong.”
(tags: medicine religion catholicism ireland law abortion)
Pelican Development Blog
Pelican is a Python static blog generator which works with Markdown. Looks nice. There’s also Calepin.co, which is a service that’ll publish your blog if you stick it in your Dropbox. Will I finally leave LJ? Maybe…
(tags: markdown software blog python)

Alex Gabriel // P.E. lessons ruined how I felt about myself
“P.E. lessons made me feel that my body belonged to someone else.” “I don’t believe [fitness] is really the motivation. If it were, why object, as Cameron does, to ‘Indian dance, or whatever’?” Obviously it’s worse if you’re out as gay, as Alex was, but this all sounds a bit familiar. PE certainly put me off exercise, and were it not for dancing restoring my confidence, I’d probably be in a much worse physical state.
(tags: health fitness sport school education physical-education PE)

Interview: Russell Blackford on Atheism, Philosophy and Morality – Rational Hub Blogs
Longish (written) interview with the philosopher Russell Blackford. I enjoyed the bits about the supposed incompatibility between science and religion, and the stuff about moral error theory.
(tags: scientism science scie error-theory religion morality ethics philosophy russell-blackford)

Let the Universe Be the Universe | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine
Sean Caroll got mentioned in Craig’s podcast, and responds: “The moment of the Big Bang is, if anything is, a place where quantum gravity is supremely important. The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin results are simply not about quantum gravity.” “But when we’re not experts, it’s not intellectually honest to distort the words of experts to make them sound like they fit our pre-conceived narrative. That’s why engagement with people like Craig is fundamentally less interesting than engagement with open-minded people who are willing to take what the universe has to offer, rather than forcing it into their favorite boxes.”
(tags: inflation william-lane-craig big-bang cosmology religion god physics sean-carroll)
Obama’s Address to United Nations – NYTimes.com
“Mr. Obama appeared to relish the larger canvas of the United Nations and his subject, freedom of speech and why in the United States, even making “a crude and disgusting video” is a right of all citizens.” Interesting: some of this is heading off Romney’s criticism, but it’s good to see, anyway.
(tags: UN united-nations islam politics freedom speech obama)
The Facts In The Case Of Dr. Andrew Wakefield
Cool comic about the MMR nonsense.
(tags: fraud medicine autism andrew-wakefield comic vaccination vaccine MMR)
“Popular Fast Tunes (>= 195 bpm)” by Ms. Lindy Hopper – Grooveshark
Hot!
(tags: lindyhop playlist charleston music lindy jazz)

FactCheck: Case dismissed on employment law reform | The FactCheck Blog
“The Beecroft study as it appears in the Telegraph contains little in the way of factual evidence as it stands, so it’s difficult to support the venture capitalist’s assertions that a change in the law on unfair dismissal is needed.” Via andrewducker.
(tags: dismissal factcheck law employment beecroft conservatives)
Heresy Corner: Tom Holland: In the shadow of a sword?
Don’t examine Islam too closely: “Channel 4 said today that it had cancelled a special screening planned for this Thursday of Islam: the Untold Story, its documentary of last month written and presented by Tom Holland and based on his latest book In The Shadow of the Sword.”
(tags: history tom-holland channel4 muslim islam)
Speaking Out Because I Must
“I am shocked but not surprised by the film. I am horrified and really, really pissed off at my Muslim brothers.”
(tags: muslim islam)
On the Freedom to Offend an Imaginary God : Sam Harris
“Here is where the line must be drawn and defended without apology: We are free to burn the Qur’an or any other book, and to criticize Muhammad or any other human being. Let no one forget it.” “The freedom to think out loud on certain topics, without fear of being hounded into hiding or killed, has already been lost. And the only forces on earth that can recover it are strong, secular governments that will face down charges of blasphemy with scorn. “
(tags: sam-harris islam mohammed koran politics free speech religion)
Sam Harris on the Innocence of Muslims affair | Talking Philosophy
Russel Blackford examines Harris’s essay. He gets a couple of commenters telling him that he’s a cultural imperialist or doesn’t understand the sacred or something, so I waded in.
(tags: religion blasphemy islam russell-blackford sam-harris)