rationality

YouTube – Simon Blackburn – The Great Debate: Can Science Tell us Right From Wrong? (6)

I'm reading Blackburn's "Truth" at the moment, and "Being Good" is next on the queue (clearly I should get "Lust" to complete the set). Here he is arguing that Sam Harris is wrong to claim that science can answer all moral questions.
(tags: sam-harris morality ethics simon-blackburn blackburn harris philosophy)

Chatroulette Founder Andrey Ternovskiy Raises New Funding: “50,000 Naked Men” | Fast Company

Chatroulette makes money of naked guys. Neat hack.
(tags: internet funny pornography chatroulette)

LessWrong – RationalWiki

What's wrong with Less Wrong, from RationalWiki. I didn't know about the Roko stuff, for example, which seems pretty bizarre. Always useful to see criticism to counteract my fanboy tendencies.
(tags: lesswrong eliezer-yudkowsky rationality bayesian bayes artificial-intelligence ai)

Double agent | World news | The Guardian

"Norah Vincent spent 18 months disguised as a man. She relives the boys nights out, the bad dates – and what happened when she ended up in bed with another woman." Women don't quite know what dating is like as a guy, it turns out. Or at least, Norah didn't, and ended up being quite sympathetic when she'd tried it 🙂
(tags: equality gender women men dating sex relationships)

Less Wrong: Five-minute rationality techniques

Reader Digest rationality. Some good tips there.
(tags: rationality psychology less-wrong)

Kill or cure?

"Help to make sense of the Daily Mail’s ongoing effort to classify every inanimate object into those that cause cancer and those that prevent it." Marvellous. Now there's no need to read the Heil.
(tags: cancer science health funny daily-mail journalism)

Hitchens: ‘We’re all dying, with me it’s accelerated’ – News, People – The Independent

Video and article. Martin Amis comes in carrying a bottle of beer half way through. We'll miss Hitchens, and no mistake.
(tags: hitchens cancer religion atheism christopher-hitchens)

Cult Divided On Whether To Let Women Become Telepathic-Vision Clerics | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source

Not the Church of England, this time. Via andrewducker.
(tags: funny onion religion telepathic cult)

Charlie Rose – Author Christopher Hitchens

The full interview with Hitchens (video, 1 hour long)
(tags: video christopher-hitchens cancer hitchens)

Hitchens Speaks Of God And Death During Interview | The New Republic

Commentary on Hitchens's statement that we should not believe any reports of a deathbed conversion, because even if it occurs, it would be because his mind had gone: "What is it, finally, that divides the believer from the atheist? … Levi and Hitchens imply that a person’s capacity to determine the truth depends on his or her ability to think calmly, coolly, dispassionately."
(tags: religion atheism death philosophy cancer hitchens christopher-hitchens primo-levi auschwitz)

TTA Press – Interzone: Science Fiction & Fantasy – Crystal Nights by Greg Egan

An Egan short story I'd not seen before. "You know what they say the modern version of Pascal’s Wager is? Sucking up to as many Transhumanists as possible, just in case one of them turns into God". Nice.
(tags: sci-fi ai sf science scifi fiction egan artificial-intelligence greg-egan)

Verbal Judo: Diffusing Conflict Through Conversation

An ex-English Professor and ex-Cop, George Thompson, who now teaches a method he calls "Verbal Judo", a primer on communications techniques, focusing on defensive & redirection tactics. This is a link to the Less Wrong thread where there's a comment giving a summary, though the video is good too (but long, as 1:30).
(tags: language psychology rationality video lectures negotiation persuasion)

YouTube – What Atheists Can Learn from the LGBT Movement :: 2010 Secular Student Alliance Annual Conference

Greta Christina gives an hour long talk, which is pretty interesting. One thing I learned was that I probably wouldn't want to live in America, if atheists there have it as bad as LGBT people, though I suppose a lot of it depends on where you are and who you mix with. Interesting bit at the end on how if atheists "win", atheism won't mean you're special, super-rational or whatever: I think we can see that in this country, certainly.
(tags: homosexuality lgbt atheism greta-christina video youtube)

NEVER WAKE UP: THE MEANING AND SECRET OF INCEPTION

Seems to make sense. Obviously, contains huge spoilers. Via Penny Arcade.
(tags: inception film movie science-fiction sci-fi dreams)

The slow, whiny death of British Christianity : Johann Hari

Johann Hari gets all strident neo-toxic sceptical neo-atheist (you missed "shrill" – Ed.): "As their dusty Churches crumble because nobody wants to go there, the few remaining Christians in Britain will only become more angry and uncomprehending." He's right about "whiny", though.
(tags: christianity religion atheism secularism uk hari johann-hari)

Don’t Be Ugly By Accident! « OkTrends

OKCupid, the dating site, took data from uploaded photographs and used it to work out some interesting stats. The better the camera you use for your pic, the hotter you look. iPhone users get laid more. Using a flash makes you look older. And so on. Interesting stuff. Via Mefi.
(tags: photography statistics research dating iphone okcupid sex relationships)

Battleground God is doing the rounds on Facebook. It’s a quiz on God-belief. It doesn’t try to argue for theism or atheism, but rather, checks whether your beliefs about God are consistent. I think I did the quiz a few years ago, but I did it again, and found I’m still a logically consistent atheist (at least as far as a quiz which asks a few True/False questions can tell), which was nice.

You’ll never find a Nessie in a zoo

There was some debate over these two questions:

Q10: If, despite years of trying, no strong evidence or argument has been presented to show that there is a Loch Ness monster, it is rational to believe that such a monster does not exist.

Q14: As long as there are no compelling arguments or evidence that show that God does not exist, atheism is a matter of faith, not rationality.

If you answer True to both, you get “hit” (which is bad, because you’re on a philosophical battlefield, remember). The site says:

Earlier you agreed that it is rational to believe that the Loch Ness monster does not exist if there is an absence of strong evidence or argument that it does. No strong evidence or argument was required to show that the monster does not exist – absence of evidence or argument was enough. But now you claim that the atheist needs to be able to provide strong arguments or evidence if their belief in the non-existence of God is to be rational rather than a matter of faith.

The contradiction is that on the first ocassion (sic) (Loch Ness monster) you agreed that the absence of evidence or argument is enough to rationally justify belief in the non-existence of the Loch Ness monster, but on this occasion (God), you do not.

On Facebook, AH (and perhaps RH) said that the cases were different because of the “years of trying” part: Nessie is supposed to live in Loch Ness, so a thorough search might be enough to convince us that she’s not there. If we cannot find God, however, maybe we just haven’t looked everywhere yet.

I think the “years of trying” thing is a red herring here, so the question is badly phrased. The FAQ for the Nessie question explains that in both cases, you’re presented with a lack of positive evidence that something does exist, rather than a positive evidence that it does not (edit: as I said below, on some definitions of evidence, this is a distinction that makes no difference, but it’s one the site seems to make, so we’ll run with it). If you propose using sonar to search Loch Ness, a true Nessian will not be moved: didn’t they mention that Nessie is undectable to sonar? You might find it suspicious that the Nessian knows in advance what experimental results they’ll need to excuse, but that’s merely a demonstration that the Nessian doesn’t believe in Nessie but rather believes in belief in Nessie. It’s not an argument that there’s no Nessie.

The FAQ adds that the Q14, the God question, doesn’t actually specify our current knowledge level about the universe: if we found explanations for the universe’s existence which did not involve God, this would not show that God does not exist, in the same way that the sonar survey wouldn’t show that Nessie didn’t exist, but the question is whether it’s rational to conclude that Nessie and God do not exist merely because of a lack of evidence that they do. Again, I think the “years of trying” in the Nessie question confuses things here, because it puts us in mind of the current state of affairs.

PH objects that the empiricists who wrote the quiz have assumed that God is the same sort of thing as Nessie. But the FAQ points out that the Nessian could say that, while of course Nessie and God are very different, they still assert that Nessie has the ability to evade detection. The atheist could then legitimately wonder why the theist gets to make the “you can’t disprove God” move while the Nessiant can’t make a similar move.

Edited: simont makes the point that we pretty definitely know what we mean by “Nessie”, and there aren’t in fact Nessians making clever claims that Nessie just isn’t the sort of thing that can be detected, whereas this isn’t the case for “God”. The fact that the FAQ has to go into it that particular “hit” in such detail means they could have done it better. A more obviously supernatural belief which doesn’t entail theism or atheism would prevent some of the arguments about those two questions. So, I’ve now concluded that it is fair to object based on the usual meaning of “Nessie”, and that Q10 should probably be about the existence of ghosts.

Bayesian homily

This talk of absence of evidence and evidence of absence reminded me of the appropriate Less Wrong article. I think the FAQ has confused evidence and proof. Absence of evidence for Nessie is evidence of absence of Nessie if that evidence would even slightly make us believe more strongly in Nessie (assuming the evidence is the sort where you either see it or you don’t, rather than having several possible outcomes: I’ve not worked out what happens in that case). This is just the same as the healing prayer case we mentioned before. Many Christians claim that their God’s existence is so obvious that anyone who doesn’t accept it is culpably deceiving themselves. I think this must mean that they would agree that we should expect to find evidence of the Christian God, in which case, if we don’t, that weighs against his existence.

On Self-Delusion and Bounded Rationality

or "Flowers for Carl Sagan", or something. A short story on whether it's always a good idea to know the truth.
(tags: psychology rationalism rationality philosophy reason science fiction humour)

A Letter to Patients With Chronic Disease

"You scare doctors… We don’t want to face things we can’t fix because it shows our limits. We want the miraculous, and you deny us that chance."
(tags: chronic doctors medical illness medicine)

Concern for Those Who Screen the Web for Barbarity – NYTimes.com

"An Internet content reviewer, Mr. Bess sifts through photographs that people upload to a big social networking site and keeps the illicit material — and there is plenty of it — from being posted." Rule 34 applies: some of these people end up needing counselling, apparently.
(tags: censorship filtering internet porn pornography social-networks)

Out with pink and blue: Don’t foster the gender divide – opinion – 19 July 2010 – New Scientist

Neurologist Lise Eliot argues that, while there are some differences innate differences between males and females, there's also a lot of plasticity in human brains.
(tags: gender science neuroscience brains psychology)

Kafkatrapping

'One very notable pathology is a form of argument that, reduced to essence, runs like this: “Your refusal to acknowledge that you are guilty of {sin,racism,sexism, homophobia,oppression…} confirms that you are guilty of {sin,racism,sexism, homophobia,oppression…}.” I’ve been presented with enough instances of this recently that I’ve decided that it needs a name. I call this general style of argument “kafkatrapping”'. Eric S. Raymond coins the phrase "kafkatrap" to describe a "heads I win, tails you lose" form of argument which sounds pretty similar to Suber's "logical rudeness".
(tags: culture debate debunking philosophy rhetoric racism sexism kafka esr)

Common Sense Atheism » Am I Sexist? (index)

Link to a series of posts: Luke at Common Sense Atheism put up a fairly crass "15 sexy scientists" post with pictures of said scientists (the scientists were all women, with the exception of PZ Myers). He got quite a strong reaction, especially over at Pharyngula (Myers's blog), read some Martha Nussbaum and eventually apologised and took down the posting.

Of note: for all that the atheists at Pharyngula tend to regard Christians as irrational, they aren't too keen on rationality when someone applies it to a domain where they mostly navigate by strong religious convictions (feminism, in this case). Luke initially seems hopelessly naive but ultimately finds the right answer and knows why it's right, which seems better than being cowed by yelling. Well done to him for publicly changing his mind.
(tags: rationality feminism sex objectification martha-nussbaum philosophy ethics morality sexism)

Top Eleven Reasons Why the Reformed Theologian Did not Cross the Road

Theology jokes are fun!
(tags: theology religion reformed joke funny)

Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable programme recently featured the atheist physicist Victor Stenger talking to the Christian statistician David Bartholomew about whether the failure of healing prayer experiments provides evidence against God’s existence. You can listen to the programme, and see some of the lively debates which occurred on Premier’s site, here and here. Bartholomew’s claim seems to be that these sort of experiments just can’t give any evidence about God, either for or against his existence. If the experiments had instead shown prayer did help with healing, he’d be among the people cautioning his fellow Christians not to draw any conclusion from it.

God is not a pigeon

So, why can’t experiments tell you anything about God? On the Premier forums, Tom Coverly summarises Bartholomew’s argument by saying that “God is a person, not a pigeon” (presumably a reference to Skinner’s experiments). But the objection that God is a person doesn’t seem to stand up: psychologists do useful experiments on people, after all, so God’s personhood alone can’t be the problem. Likewise, the fact that God knows every detail of the experiment isn’t necessarily a problem: not all experiments involving people can be done as blind trials (for instance, I suspect it’s pretty hard to come up with a placebo therapist when comparing antidepressant drugs to therapy).

The reason why scientists do healing prayer experiments in the first place is that Christians generally do claim that God answers prayers. They usually (though Coverly does not, as we’ll see) anticipate that some prayers are more likely to be answered than others: they might say that God is more likely to answer a prayer to heal a sick child than a prayer to give someone a brand new Ferrari. I’ll assume that Christians have some evidence for these beliefs. The claim that healing prayer experiments don’t provide evidence about God is then a rather strange one. Is this other evidence that the Christian has invalidated because they believe God is a person and that God knew he was providing the evidence? What makes the healing prayer experiments different?

Whatever can be destroyed by Bayes’ Theorem should be

Perhaps foreseeing this problem, Coverly claims that he does not think God is more likely to answer certain prayers than others, in fact, he says that humans cannot anticipate God’s actions at all. How should someone who agrees with Coverly bet on prayer experiments? How should an atheist bet? Suppose there are two outcomes: call healing the result that the prayers had a healing effect (after allowing for everything else), and no healing the result that the prayers had no effect. If we think that God exists but we cannot anticipate his actions, we should bet that the two are equally likely: after all, if we bet preferentially either way, we’re anticipating God’s actions (we could not bet, Coverly’s preferred option, but let’s suppose we have to bet, so we’d best minimise our losses). If we think that God doesn’t exist, we should bet strongly on no healing.

What this means is that the result no healing still provides more evidence for the claim that “God does not exist” than Coverly’s claim that “God exists but you can’t anticipate the result of prayers”. The claim that “God does not exist” is bolder: it sticks its neck out and says “you’ll certainly see no healing“, so that when no healing occurs (and it does), this claim is confirmed more strongly than the claim that which predicts you’ll see no healing about half the time. We can turn this into mathematics if we like, but that’s the gist of it.

Of course, there are other possibilities, such as “God exists but likes hiding from scientists more than healing sick people”, and in fact, this claim is confirmed over Coverly’s by our observations of no healing. Clearly, this area needs further research to differentiate the possible claims (for instance, we might investigate whether there is some threshold of seriousness for an illness, where God switches over to preferring healing to hiding from scientists): don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t learn anything about God from science.

Pakistani lawyer petitions for death of Mark Zuckerberg • The Register

Proof that the "religion of peace" isn't *all* bad.
(tags: religion islam pakistan facebook mohammed)

19 reasons why God torched Jesus

19 reasons why that huge statue of Jesus in America burnt down: best one: "5) He is resin."
(tags: jesus religion funny fire statue christianity)

The bright side of wrong – The Boston Globe

Article which argues that cognitive biases may be the price we pay for being able to jump to probable conclusions.
(tags: psychology neuroscience cognition rationality cognitive-bias)

The 10 Most Important Things They Didn’t Teach You In School | Cracked.com

From the author of "John Dies at the End". Mostly obvious, but well done.
(tags: education funny cracked life sex)

YouTube – Doctor Who: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Daleks (The Peter Jones-y Edit)

Two great tastes etc. etc.
(tags: video doctorwho dalek hitchhikers science-fiction sci-fi parody funny youtube)

Exploring the software behind Facebook, the world’s largest site | Royal Pingdom

Facebook: evil but still cool.
(tags: development facebook performance php programming server software tools internet)

Metamagician and the Hellfire Club: Science/religion compatibility yet again

Another round of the accommodationism debates: "Viewed historically, religion needs to thin out its epistemic content, or to introduce notions of the capricious way supernatural beings act, or to adopt intellectually unacceptable ad hoc tactics of various kinds, in order to maintain a formal compatibility with the scientific picture of the world; the advance of science pushes God into smaller gaps; and some religious views are plainly inconsistent with robust scientific findings. All this reflects a general mismatch between the scientific approach to the world and the religious approach, which follows from (1) the fact that they use different methods for discovering the truth and (2) the methods of science do not, historically and contingently, reach the same conclusions as previously reached by religion."
(tags: religion science russell-blackford philosophy)

You Are Not So Smart

Blog recommendation. Journalist David McRaney writes about cognitive biases and whatnot in a straightforward and funny way.
(tags: psychology science blog cognition cognitive-bias rationality)

Penn Jillette Is Willing to Be a Guest on Adolf Hitler’s Talk Show | Little Gold Men | Vanity Fair

Penn on why he went on Glenn Beck's show, among other things. Hugely quotable: "Well remember, the Catholic League is just one divorced guy in his garage. Or as Teller and I like to say, the Catholic League and his wife. I love that it's called hate speech when you have the audacity to suggest that pederasty and child rape might not be a good idea."
(tags: religion penn-jillette magic media catholicism islamism islam censorship)

Reluctance to Let Go | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine

Sean Carroll's last post before taking a break from blogging: "Instead of taking the natural world seriously, we have discussions about “Faith.” We pretend that questions of meaning and purpose and value must be the domain of religion. We are saddled with bizarre, antiquated attitudes toward sex and love, which have terrible consequences for real human beings.
I understand the reluctance to let go of religion as the lens through which we view questions of meaning and morality. For thousands of years it was the best we could do; it provided social structures and a framework for thinking about our place in the world. But that framework turns out not to be right, and it’s time to move on."
(tags: science religion accomodationism atheism)

Over at Parchment and Pen, Michael Patton wonders why some people believe and others don’t. He hews pretty close to the standard Christian answer that people know there’s a God but don’t admit it because they don’t want to admit to God’s authority (actually, it’s educated Christians who know there isn’t really a God but don’t admit to it).

Moses and the Prophets

I was interested in his discussion of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, in which the Rich Man ignores Lazarus, the beggar at his gate. The Rich Man ends up in Hell, while Lazarus ends up in Heaven. The Rich Man wants Lazarus to visit his brothers and warn them, but Abraham (who’s in charge of Heaven and Hell in this story, in a sort of Jewish version of St Peter’s role, I suppose) tells the Rich Man that “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Patton says this illustrates that “we have a much bigger problem than the lack of evidence”.

Well, maybe we do, but we certainly do have the problem of lack of evidence, and the Abraham of the parable is either irrational or encouraging the Rich Man’s brothers to be so. People rising from the dead is strong evidence in a way that merely writing books is not, because many worldviews have books which advocate them and they can’t all be right, and because the fact that your opponents write books isn’t very surprising to a whole load of views. Resurrections, on the other hand, are very surprising to views which don’t predict them.

This, then, is how you should pray

I was listening to the Christian philosopher Tim Mawson on a podcast recently. He thinks atheists should pray to God to reveal himself, which seems fair enough: I’d like to try it if I can think of what would be a fair positive and negative result. Any ideas?

Pre-commitment

Crucially, Mawson agrees beforehand that a negative result is evidence against Christianity, which makes him more rational than Abraham. As I mentioned previously, I’ve been following Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, a fun bit of creative writing which explores what would’ve happened if Harry Potter had been educated in science and rationality before the Hogwarts people turned up. Mawson’s attitude is a bit like the alternate Harry Potter getting everyone to agree on the significance of possible outcomes before doing an experiment at the beginning of this chapter of the story.

Edited: Speaking of Hell, there ended up being a lively discussion on Hell on one of my previous posts, which you might also be interested in.