Category Archives: Religion and Philosophy

"Things I wish I’d known when I was younger"

Adrian Savage at Lifehack.org:

Most people learn over time, but often learning comes too late to be fully useful. There are certainly many things that I know now that would have been extremely useful to me earlier in my life; things that could have saved me from many of the mistakes and hurts I suffered over the years—and most of those that I inflicted on others too.

I don’t buy the romantic notion that my life has been somehow richer or more interesting because of all the times I screwed up; nor that the mistakes were “put” there to help me learn. I made them myself—through ignorance, fear, and a dumb wish to have everyone like me—and life and work would have been less stressful and more enjoyable (and certainly more successful) without them. So here are some of the things I wish I had learned long ago. I hope they may help a few of you avoid the mistakes that I made back then.

His list strikes me as wise.

"Times have not become more violent. …"

”  …They have just become more televised.” 
                                     Marilyn Manson

Video of Michael Holmes’ (Amazingly Non-fatal) Fall to Earth

An amazing update to the story of Michael Holmes, the skydiver who survived a fall of 2.2 miles in New Zealand last December with only a broken ankle and a punctured lung:  The Sunday Mail has posted footage of Michael’s fall taken with his helmet-cam.  The horrible crunch of a landing sounds… very uncomfortable.  A detailed account of the story is here.  What a phenomenal (and improbably happy) ending.  Via digg.

Was This Post Predestined?

For those of you just joining us, Russell and I have been discussing the contention by Scott Adams (and assorted philosophers, over the years) that there is no such thing as free will.  Russell replied to Adams’ argument here, and said, among other things:

To say that the choice of getting out of bed is a function of those algorithms is precisely the same thing as saying it is a function of free will. The will is the algorithm!

I think Adams is defining "free will" as the ability to choose a path inconsistent with the predestination of the universe. I don’t agree. I think that the thing we think of as free will is part of the predestination of the universe.

I suspect that part of why people argue so bitterly against Adams’ premise is that the definition Russell is proposing is somehow ultimately unsatisfying.  After all, if Adams is right, every decision you’ve ever made, every thought you’ve ever had, every word in your every conversation, right down to the timing of the pauses between the words, was determined entirely by either the position and velocity of the matter in the universe billions of years before you were born, the random variations introduced by quantum mechanics, or both—and by nothing else.  Every other factor that appears to contribute to your decisions actually falls within the scope of these two controlling factors. 

Without taking a position on whether Adams is right, since I remain without an opinion one way or the other, how would labeling the decisions made under those constraints be different from, for example, saying that a dropped basketball exercises free will when it chooses to bounce?  Certainly we, unlike a basketball, are conscious*, but under Adams’ model, what we consciously decide was as predetermined at the beginning of time as everything else in the universe.  We contribute no more to the outcome of our decisions, or any part of our lives, then the ball contributes to where it comes to rest.  How could calling that "free will" not render the term meaningless?

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*I propose we stipulate for the sake of argument that basketballs are not, in fact, conscious, and that we are.

Not a Good Sign

You’re accused of being too wild and Paris Hilton steps forward to defend you:  Hilton defends Britney’s "partying ethics"

It’s like having Michael Jackson denying that you’re eccentric.

Free Will and the Baby-Killing Robot

I put a comment on the Dilbert Blog in response to his post about free will, as dutifully reported by David.

I’ll paraphrase — and expand — here.

It seems that Adams is concerned not with the ability of a human to make choices about their lives, but their ability to make choices that contradict the (possibly) predestined nature of the physical world. Putting aside the thorny question of whether that physical world really has no random component, he’s making a far more specific claim than I think most of his furious readers realize.

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“The Little Robot That Could”

Dilbert creator Scott Adams has blogged in the past about his belief that free will is an illusion. Me, I freely choose to believe that Scott is full of crap on this point… except that I haven’t put my finger on any compelling reason why he’s wrong except that I would prefer it. Well, that’s plenty of reason, I say!

Anyway, he has a new post on the subject up, which includes a quick precis of his past arguments, and offers his latest. An excerpt:

Of all the controversial topics I’ve raised on this blog, free will is the one that seems to most grab people by the nuts and/or teats and twirl them around. I understand why. Belief in free will is the reboot button for civilization. Don’t read any further until you have saved your applications.

A lot of smart, thoughtful people are religious or at least believe in some sort of relevant God. It’s a safe belief to have, in the sense that there’s no way to disprove the existence of an entity that is beyond time and space and the natural world – whatever any of that means. If you throw in the concept of omnipotence and his “mysterious ways,” you even have an airtight case for why he can avoid detection by atheists. I will avoid the question of God’s existence today because it is
a debate no one can win.

Luckily there is a simpler question that is almost equally important: Do humans have free will?

If we DO have free will, that leaves open the door that God could exist and might be relevant to the choices we make throughout our lives and beyond. But if we DON’T have free will, God is no more important to our choices than he is to the toaster’s choices. In that case, choices are illusions.

Unfortunately, I can’t convince most people that free will doesn’t exist. I have tried arguing that the laws of physics clearly apply to brains, and brains cause your actions. That seems so obvious to me that belaboring it with additional evidence would be overkill. And yet, the free willys counter my seemingly airtight chain of reasoning with something that sounds a lot like this:

“I come to a fork in the road. I can choose to go left or right. Therefore I have free will.”

No one doubts that you FEEL as if you make choices in those situations. But the argument ignores the fact that your specific brain in that specific situation can only operate in one specific way unless the rules of physics stop applying at decision-making time.

Some free willys argue that the universe is brimming with uncertainty at the quantum level, as if that helps the case for free will. But at most it makes the case that our actions might have a random component, and that’s very different from free will.

Today I offer a new approach to understanding why you don’t have free will. I call it The Little Robot That Could. I will show that a robot, designed with current technology, could exhibit everything you call free will. Once you accept that the robot has every bit of “choice” that you have in this world, your superstition about your own choices will begin to dissolve.

He continues here.

Thought for the Day

I think high self-esteem is overrated. A little low self-esteem is actually
quite good…Maybe you’re not the best, so you should work a little
harder."
Jay
Leno

Thought for the Day

In the beginning there was nothing. God said, ‘Let there be light!’ And there was light. There was still nothing, but you could see it a whole lot better.
Ellen DeGeneres

“The Leonardo Code”

That’s what the title of the film should be, BTW. Da Vinci isn’t a name. It’s a indication of where the guy was from. That’s like refering to me as “Of Seattle”.

Minor point, and nothing to do with the movie. On to the review.

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