Friday, November 18, 2005

Rethinking people

Periodically, it dawns on me to rethink people. Particularly people whom I have decided to either dislike or disparage.

I spend too many waking hours implicitly supposing that I am a great judge of other people. That my opinions are so well thought out I don't have to question them.

The truth is, most people whom I have decided to think less of are probably just as good, and possibly even better than I. Even if they do have the fault(s) that I attribute to them, so what? I am a part-time asshole, and plenty of people respect me anyway. Why can't I let other people be assholes at least part of the time without supposing that is all there is to know about them.

So, for awhile -- at least until I forget and start to re-believe that I am a great judge of my neighbors and coworkers -- I will try to look at these people with new eyes. Maybe I will learn something good about them.

Tomorrow is a new day. Spread the word.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

My Spider Dream

When I first moved to this city, 17 years ago, I lived in a slummy apartment in the downtown area. It was both a stressful and an exhilirating time as I was in a new and vibrant place, where there was a whole world of potential, but where I was also unsure of what would come next.

I will never forget waking up suddenly in that disgusting excuse for an apartment one afternoon. I had been working nights, and I woke up in a cold sweat, with my heart pounding in abject fear. I had just dreamt of a huge seeming spider, right up close in front of my eyes.

The fear was so intense, that it took me several minutes to get a grip on myself. I remember muttering to myself, sweating, shaken. It turned out to be a good moment.

I have never been particularly afraid of spiders, as far as I can remember. So it shocked me to think how thoroughly that dream had jolted my system.

I couldn't stop thinking about it for awhile, wondering how I was could have been so vulnerable to such intense fear. Such sudden, almost debilitating fear.

And as I thought about it, I had a realization about my life. About so many other things that I have feared, or let stress me out. I realized that when I was dreaming about the spider, I was dreaming about it being close up before my eyes.

That was what frightened me. I dreamt about it up close. I magnified it. I realized that I had magnified the spider in my mind by dreaming of it up so close. When I thought about the reality, it occurred to me that I am probably at least one thousand times bigger than that spider. But naturally, if I am going to imagine it a few inches away from my eyeballs, it is going to seem like it's huge and threatening. And my limbic primitive brain...are going to do what they do best and freak out at the image.

It was after that that I started right-sizing spiders. More importantly, I realized in the most concrete way, that I have to take responsibility for how I represent things in my own mind, or I risk stressing myself for nothing.

I still get stressed. Pretty often, really. But I have found that the lesson I pulled from my spider dream has helped me get a lot of my stressors under control. And now, when I dream of spiders, I make a special point of not dreaming of them up so close to my eyes.

Maybe my spider dream will help you, or maybe it could help somebody else. Anyway, right-size your spiders. Spread the word.

(PS: Does anybody know how many times smaller the average spider is than the average human?)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Did I say changing my posting habits? What I meant was...

Did I say changing my posting habits?

What I meant was changing my sleeping habits. At some point in my life, I got in the habit of trying to get a bit more done, or having a bit more time to myself. And when I got that habit, I got out of the habit of getting a proper night's sleep.

Now that I think of it, I wonder how much much we...spend our time walking around impaired by our lack of proper sleep.

Do you find yourself going through your day feeling that if you had just gotten a bit more rest the night before, you might be able to think a bit more clearly? Do you wonder if you had more rest that you could be a bit calmer? Or more attentive to others?

I do. And, by gully, I'm gonna try and see if I can improve my life with an extra hour of sleep a night.

Get more sleep. Spread the word.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Changing my posting habits

Lately, I have been finding it a bit difficult to keep up the posting activity to the levels I would like. My intent was to post daily, but I seem to have underestimated the effort to do this, as well as to stay abreast of so much other great activity in the blogosphere.

The result has been too many sleepless nights, and too little attention paid to my own family and personal affairs. So I have decided to try to go with a reduced number of posts. I apologize for not keeping up, but I do hope by letting some things go, I might be able to do others better.

It's already late, so off to bed I go. Goodnight.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Good Night and Good Luck

I went to the movie Good Night and Good Luck last night. In case you're not aware, it was the story of the great Edward R. Murrow in his battle to bring down Senator Joseph McCarthy.

I noticed several people leaving. And at the end I heard a young fellow saying loudly to his girlfriend, and anybody else that would listen, that he wanted his money back. The girlfriend seemed to have enjoyed it, however.

Personally, I enjoyed it very much. It guess it helps that I was already at least generally familiar with the story. But I can imagine that a younger person might have difficulty relating to what was going on. And the fact that the film was in black and white would probably have been a turnoff for some. In fairness, the movie probably did need a touch of physical violence and a tad of nudity. Not sure how they overlooked that.

Anyway, it was a very good movie. I certainly consider Edward R. Murrow to be one of the greats of journalism. And I am particularly impressed with his personal courage--not to mention the courage of his team.

I am curious as to how close it was to the facts. Does anybody know?

I am also curious what you think of the movie, if you saw it. And, more importantly, what did you think of Edward R. Murrow, the man? Where do you rate him, in the patheon of journalists?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Neo-Neocon: A Mind is a Difficult Thing to Change

I have been reading Neo-Neocon's series of posts collectively labelled "A Mind is a Difficult Thing to Change".

I am fascinated by the sense that strong beliefs are often more about affiliation than about views that have been really carefully examined. What our family believes, what our friends believe, what our neighborhood believes exerts a huge influence on what we believe. That's not news, but when we are locked into our point of view in a debate, we typically don't see it that way. When our view seem so self-evidently true, and the other guy's seems so self-evidently wrong, it may just be that we are drawing on prejudices that dance before us in the guise of reason.

I live in an part of the world that tends a bit to the left. I have in-laws who live in an area that reputedly tends to the right. I consider my in-laws to be very bright, thoughtful and reasonable people. So, it amazes me when they say things that seem so close to the stereotypical views of their part of the world -- things that seem self-evidently wrong when I first hear them. Perhaps if it were somebody I didn't respect so much I would just be dismissive. But knowing them as I do -- as people of considerable intellect and sensitivity to the world -- I can not dismiss them, or their views.

Instead, I am left in fascination. Wondering. Is it possible that so much that I hold to be self-evident is just an illusion? Are my so so reasonable opinions nothing but prejudice? Am I just a product of my town, my newspaper, and my television? Are they my mind?

Is it the same for the in-laws?

When was the last time you or I really challenged something that you believe to be self-evidently true, or self-evidently good?

When you read this, do yourself a favor and try challenging yourself in this way.

Whatever your political leanings, I suggest you visit her site and check out the posts. You can find them on the sidebar on the right of her blog.

I am just reading her writings bit by bit, so please, nobody tell me how it ends.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

What is my religion?

What is my religion

But everything I do,
And everything I say?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Neo-Copernicus Award

Announcing the Neo-Copernicus Award!!

This is still in the mulling-over stage -- maybe this really is too crazy an idea -- but I would like to propose a contest to see who can make the best theories.

The categories would be:

1) Best Alternative to Evolution.
2) Best Intelligent Design variation.
3) Best Plan to Quantify God.

In each of these 3 categories, there would be awards for:
A) Best Science
B) Best humor
C) Best crackpot

Is this too crazy? Or does it interest you? Would you like to get involved?

If so, I think I would definitely need other people -- the more the merrier -- involved in organizing and running it. Don't worry if you don't know what you would do. I sure don't.

In hopes of getting the thinking started, I came up with some general categories (by header only) that would need to be thought through and discussed. They would include:

-Name of awards? Do we need a better name?
-Categories? Should we modify the categories?
-Scope? Do we make it elaborate, or quite simple? Classy or cheesy?
-Legal concerns?
-Hosting? (New blog -- jointly managed?)
-Response volumes? If very high?

Anyway, drop a comment to tell me what you think. Bad idea. Good idea. You're on your own, freak. I'm excited, sign me up right now. I already have a theory. Etc.

Your comments will be greatly appreciated. And don't worry about hurting my feelings. I have a 1000 dumb ideas before breakfast each morning. (Well actually, my breakfast usually ends up around 3 pm because I am so busy having dumb ideas). But every once in awhile I get a keeper. So tell me what you think.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Ice Cream and the City.

I wonder how many people have successfully changed a habit that they didn't like, or deliberately set out to acquire a new one that they wanted.

I used to hate doing dishes. When I was young and single I would leave them for weeks. The mould in the air did wonders for my immunite system. Isn't mould where penicillin comes from?

Being a lazy slob didn't seem to hurt my chances with the girls. But once I got into my first long term live-in relationship, I discovered to my dismay that my boyishly bad dishwashing habits quickly lost their charming effect on my main girl. (Women can be so fickle.) In order to keep the peace, I tried to make myself do my share of the dishes, but I would just forget. A guy's perogative, right? Wrong!

Anyway, this was the source of a lot of interpersonal friction with my girl. Unfortunately, it was not the kind of interpersonal friction that I would have liked. I would keep trying to make myself do them, but I would keep forgetting. Consequence: more friction.

To make a long story short, I had to figure a way to get myself to do the dishes regularly. Before I got turfed out.

After awhile, I came up with a solution -- ice cream!

I loved ice cream. (Still do.) So, I started giving myself an ice cream reward immediately after I washed the dishes. It was good old fashioned behavior modification.

Pretty soon, I was washing dishes morning, noon and night. There was more interpersonal friction -- but this time it was the kind a boy craves. So, I was getting pretty motivated. It wasn't long before, as soon as I saw a dirty dish, I would start to salivate.

And get erect.

Anyway, I was sure I was on to something. I had discovered the secret of self-control. It was rather exciting. I was still in my early twenties and I had figured out the secret to getting myself to doing things I didn't like. And boy was it fun! Then I started getting big ideas. I started planning how to change myself from the underachieving schlep that I had become, to a super-overachiever. All I had to do was find rewards I liked and administer them.

There were some ups and downs, however. After a couple of months, something stopped working. Quite against my will, I started losing the desire for ice cream. And my dishwashing was being taken for granted by the person in charge, so that kind of tapered off too. And bit by bit, my dishwashing habit started to wane.


I got a bit depressed with myself. I had found the great secret, but then seemed to lose it. It all just evaporated! Everything had been going so well.

Fast forward a few years. My number one girl was now my number one ex-girl. And I had moved hundreds of miles away to the big city. I was living by myself in a slum, and feeling pretty slummy.

The place was a mess. Nobody was doing the dishes. Again. Then y'know what. Through a chance encounter, I was reintroduced to my former love. Ice cream!! And you know what else? She had made herself more desirable and sexier than ever. Absence truly had made the heart grow fonder. I had discovered Haagen Daz. At first, I just indulged.

But after a short while, I remembered my experiment. I was tired of living the way I was. Tired of the slob in the mirror. Tired of the penicillin. So I made a decision to once again to take ice cream as a reward for doing dishes. And pretty soon...I was doing dishes morning, noon and night. Ah, love!!

Anyway, it's many, many years later. I am somewhat balder, and I have a little paunch. I live in a cold country where it's winter for years on end. But I am comfortable because I have the same extra layer of fat that keeps arctic animals warm in the cold. I don't actually see any of those arctic animals -- I live in the city, remember.

Anyway, my life did take a turn for the better. My dishwashing habit stuck this time. I even used rewards to change a few other behaviours. I moved up a bit in life.

And best of all, I met and married my only other true love. She seems not to mind my shortcomings. And I think she appreciates how fond I am of doing the dishes.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Reply to Kelly's post on Epistemology

Please refer to Kelly's post Pluralism: The Solution to the ID Debate?

[This post is actually a reply to an interesting proposal by Kelly on his blog. Supposedly, I am doing this because there is a bit of a technical problem interfering with the display on his page. Actually, I just spent so much time writing this, that I wanted to kill two birds with one stone by getting my comment and my post in at the same time.]

Very interesting post, Kelly! You may be onto something.

Here is my recent train of thought:

Euclid's book, the Elements, introduced a system of geometry from which he deduced the properties of geometric objects from a set of only 5 postulates. He had invented a method of proving numerous truths about geometry and numbers that rocked the world. What was truly fascinating about his achievement was how he proved so many theorems (things proved) from such a small number of postulates or axioms.

His method was so nifty -- so frikkin' cool -- it inspired both geniuses and crackpots throughout the ages to use it as the model for almost any endeavor that required deductive reasoning, or the creation of proofs.

Today, modern math and logic make extensive use of the axiomatic system to prove whatever it is that they are concerned with proving. Informal logic is also heavily influenced by Euclid's great idea.

Euclid's idea was so impressive, that people tried to apply it to just about every area of human reasoning. Sometimes with absurd results. Several years ago, I encountered a book in a public library that was written in the 1800's (I think), and purported to teach chess as an axiomatic system. As far as I could tell, the book was complete nonsense.

The problem with incredibly brilliant ideas that rock the world, however, is that people don't often see their limitations. Sometimes for centuries -- or even millenia. They introduce notions that may become so pervasive, so much a part of our basic assumptions about reality, that we don't even notice them, let alone question them.

And that is what happened when people became so enamored with the axiomatic system. They thought it should be able to prove everything. All you had to do was to find the right basic set of axioms, and apply the right reasoning, and eventually you could prove all the truths in the system.

This idea was so pervasive, that it permeated virtually all of Western philosophy and science. [Okay, you should call me on this last statement.] And so did the fallacy that any truth should be provable if you just had the right axioms and the right method. Of course, there were always paradoxes and weirdities that occured in every tightly expressed logic or mathematical system. Like Bertrand Russell and a paradox involving the logic of classes. I just remember it had something to do with a class of all classes. I'm too tired think it through, so you can look it up yourself, if you want.

Anyway, as far as I remember learning it, Russell set out to try to resolve all the paradoxes. He hoped to come up with a complete little axiomatic system that resolved all paradoxes, and could prove all the truths of the system. He ended up producing the massive Principia Mathematica (with Alfred North Whitehead), which managed to avoid many paradoxes and problems of logic. It was a huge effort. But it was incomplete.

But he must have felt rather disappointed when Kurt Goedel came up with a proof that showed a that Russel never could have accomplished some of the goals that it aimed to do. He proved that it is impossible for any logic system (of a non-trivial size) to eliminate all paradoxes. He also showed that no logic system could be complete based on a limited number of axioms. There would always we truths that could not be proven from the axioms. If you wanted to prove them, you would have to increase the axioms. But then you will just get more paradoxes and more truths that are known to exist, but can not be proven.

And in one fell swoop, he knocked down some of the key assumptions driving western logic systems for the previous 2000+ years. In my opinion, it was a feat at least as important as Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

The problem is, that so many people didn't get the memo.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, it seems to me that this relates to the ID vs Evolution debate, epistimology, and whatever else you want to throw into the mix. (I am getting very, very sleeeepy).

It's the problem of there always being truths out there that can not be proven. We may know that there are such truths. We may suspect we know which truths they are. But we can not use deduction from any finite set of known axioms, or already proved things, to prove that they are true. So, if I understand Godel correctly (and I very well may not), it seems to me that there will always be these gaps in what the Scientific Method can and can't prove. (By the way, I should add that, because of Godel's proof, it does not seem to be a valid criticism of any theory that there are truths that it can not prove.)

But just as important, we have to ask the question, if it is proved that there will always be truths that the Scientific Method can not prove, then what options are open to us? Is religion the appropriate method for finding those truths?

I don't know. I guess that's a question to be answered in Kelly's epistemology class.

Disclaimer -- I make no pretense of having doublechecked any of the above facts, or even having thought my conclusions and interpretations over in any detail. Please feel free to correct me if you have better knowledge than I.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Good Night Message

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Scientific Method

[A castle scene near the end of the middle ages. A terrified rabble gathers within the confines of the castle:

A peasant voice from within the rabble: Aaahhh!! The barbarians are at the gates!!! They are ignorant and don't wash. They will burst down the castle walls and swallow us! They will plunge us back into a new dark age! They will steal our children!! We will be consumed by the madness! We will all perish in the night!! Aaaaaaaaagh!!!

Suddenly, Copernicus, the great voice of reason, leaps up from the rabble onto some stairs where he can be seen by one and all:

Copernicus: Citizens! Hear me, I beg you. Heed these words of wisdom. The enemy is indeed at the gate. It is the Theory of Evolution they want to destroy. If we fight them, we will surely be overrun. They will show neither mercy nor reason. My counsel to you is thus: Screw the Theory of Evolution. Let us throw it out the gate to defend itself. Then perhaps the huns and zombies will eat it and leave the rest of us alone.

Another voice from the rabble: Yeah! Copernicus speaks well!! Screw the Theory of Evolution. Let's save ourselves!!...]

Is it possible too much is being made of the theory of evolution being under attack? Are we a bit too panicky? Are we a bit too protective?

And is it the theory of evolution that we need to worry about anyway? Or is it the scientific method?

Should we be worried that the flaws in the theory of evolution may be showing?
Should we be worried that some people might be tempted to believe in all manner of nonsense because they found out there are gaps in the theory of evolution?

Or do we really just lack confidence in our ability to teach the theory of the scientific method?

My view? Science isn't this theory or that theory. It's not the truths that we think we have found. It's not the falsehoods that we think we have exposed. It's the scientific method itself.

We shouldn't worry too much about the theory of evolution. The theory of evolution can stand by itself. If not, the theory of evolution should fall. If the barbarians come to destroy the theory of evolution, let them try. Push the theory of evolution out the front gates. It's supposed to be our champion. Let it do what champions do.

It's the castle that matters. The castle is the Theory of the Scientific Method. And the Theory of the Scientific Method did not become strong by hiding its flaws. It was not made strong by backing down from the challenges of the barbarians. It was made strong because of those challenges. If the barbarians could knock down a wall, a better one had to be built. If they killed our champion, we had to get a better champion.

For centuries, the barbarians have done more to build the castle than the people within.

What do you think?