Saturday, June 24, 2006

Unintelligent Design

Enough has been written about the current attempt to resurrect the argument from design by prefixing it with the term "intelligent" that there doesn't seem to be the need for me to add to the body of writing. However there is an aspect to this that seems to have escaped many people so I figured I'd eludicate it here for future reference.

The vast majority of people are not self-aware. Amongst other things, this means that they have no idea what words actually mean -- they merely string words together by certain syntactic rules without any kind of awareness or appreciation for the fact that words are utterly meaningless symbols and that all perceived meaning happens inside the head of a self-aware being, not in a jumble of letters. That's why they think one can define things into or out of existence - but that is a ramble for another time.

One word that the majority of people cannot adequately define is "intelligence". People use the word as if it meant something to them, but ask them what exactly the meaning of that word might be and you're going to get a shrug.

What does "intelligent" design really mean and how would it be different from unintelligent design? The standard cop-out is that "intelligent" is something along the lines of "kinda like me/us" maybe with the added afterthought of "but not like that rock over there".

The problem with the definition of "kinda like me" is that this immediately leads unintelligent people to imagine that intelligent people are as unintelligent as they are. Pretty much by definition.

Once you let that sink in, there's suddenly a whole new dimension to the whole "intelligent design" notion: since christians are merely brainless, mindless automata, without any kind of self-awareness or self-governance and since they consider "intelligence" as something "kinda like them" their phrase "intelligent design" really means "design by a bunch of brainless, mindless mechanisms that react on pure stimulus/response basis without any intervening thought or self-direction" which is actually a perfectly accurate description of ... evolution.

Once you understand this, many of the absurd notions of christians suddenly make sense: why do they think that a mindless clump of cells should have "rights"? Because they are mindless clumps of cells themselves and they imagine that everybody else is a mindless clump of cells like they are and thus an embryo should have "rights". It never occurs to them how utterly dehumanizing this stance is to any being that is more than just a clump of cells; how absurd it seems to someone who is self-governed to be told that some undifferentiated bit of tissue's rights trump hers.

Why were the Xtians up in arms about the lifeless, brainless, mindless corpse of Terry Shiavo? Because they're brainless mindless lifeless corpses, that's why.

Since Xtians have no self-governance, they're entirely governed by external forces. And since they proclaim that everybody is like them, they want to impose external forces on everybody. And they hate and despise people who function well without any externally imposed rules. Or who even go so far as to point out the utter idiocy of the silly rules that some primitive shamans made up thousands of years ago to calm the primitives when there was lightning in the night.

Let it sink in, and all the Xtian idiocies, all their lies, all their unending streams of vile insults can all be neatly summed up in these two concepts: they are mindles automata and they think everybody is like them.

If anybody can name one of the utterly absurd insulting follies of christianity (and possibly other religions) that does not neatly condense into this idea, I'd be curious to hear of it. There's already another blog entry forming in my head as I type this that will examine a number of christian crazinesses in this light. Stay tuned...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Cargo Cult of Religious Argument

The white man goes into the jungle to research the things that are there - the plants, the animals, the rocks, the people. He clears a little patch of woods for a small makeshift-runway so that planes can land there, even though most of the time the planes will only drop off supplies and turn back to home base. He builds a little radio-tower and a few barracks, and every two weeks he sits down at the radio, eager to hear the voices of his friends and colleagues as they fly by to supply him with another packet of foods and medication and books and so forth.

The aboriginal has watched the little process and at some point he thinks he has it all figured out: he goes and clears a little spot in the jungle, he builds a tower and a "radio" (out of bamboo - that's all he has for building material) and religiously every couple days he sits down speaking frantically into the "microphone" seriously expecting planes to show up and drop things on him.

We call this phenomenon a "cargo cult".

It comes about through a complete disregard of the savage for the immense processes behind those supply-planes, the effort that has to be expended to build them, to staff them, to supply them, to fly them.

Not to mention the whole motivation behind this endeavor - the fact that all the visible infrastructure is not there to coax planes into dropping goodies onto you, but that this is a setup to gain knowledge, and that the dropping of food is just a small part in the whole big enterprise.

Religious people that we can find all over the internet are firm adherents of the cargo-cult of argumentation. They think that if they only string words together that sound like the words that are used by me and other thinking beings, this will somehow magically turn their brainless dogma into an "argument".

This fallacy comes about from a complete disregard of these people of the work, effort, energy behind any actual argument: the careful examination of premises, the painstaking test of conclusions against observable phenomena, the years of studying the subject at hand into great detail.

Not to mention the whole motivation behind this endeavor - the fact that all the visible infrastructure of argumentation is not there to "win fights" or to "propagate my dogma" but is a setup to gain knowledge, and that the "arguing" and "convincing others" is just a small part in the whole big enterprise.

All this could be amusing: to watch these little clueless beings that would never drop their beliefs even in the face of overwhelming evidence play with something they made to look like the tools that those who are in pursuit of the actual Truth of matters have created to further exactly that goal.

The problem arises when the white man - in pity for these misguided creatures - talks to them in an attempt to show them that there's reasons behind all these things, that this is only a very small part of a big picture and that the whole big picture is the result of a lot of hard work on the parts of a lot of people -- and the savages walk up to the white man and claim steadfastly that what they're doing is just as good as what he's doing - after all they mimicked his actions very, very carefully.

Talk about insult.

By implying that the little facades that they slapped together in a couple days are just as good as the universe of energy, ingenuity, thought, resources and just plain hard work that the white men invested to make their operation work is an insult not just to the white man in the jungle, but to the thousands and thousands who invested their time and effort to conceive, invent, design, improve, discard, re-invent, maintain, repair and supply all the parts of the operation.

This is why religion is an insult to all thinking beings.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Errors in publication...

There's an interesting selection-effect in scientific publishing, in that it is much more likely that positive results are being published than negative ones. This seems to be enforced both from the research-end (are you going to put a lot of effort into publishing that you were looking for something and found nothing?) and the publishing side (peer-review is taken in certain disciplines to the point where there's a requirement for something to be there to be published for your paper to be accepted), and the fact that "nothing's there" is a valuable result is often overlooked.

You set out to study a certain effect. You spend some time and effort, but you simply don't see anything. What do you do? You can't necessarily rule out that there's something there, but your research certainly isn't sensitive to it.

This gets even more problematic, when the research in question isn't particularly high-profile, or maybe even questionable. "Should we really study how exactly drug-users kill themselves?" - Now if you had some breakthrough result, you could probably publish even if its on a somewhat unfashionable topic, but if your result is of the usual Hum-Hah quality (as is most cutting-edge research -- that's what makes it cutting-edge) then there's not much of a chance of publication.

There's a wealth of studies on these magnetic water-treatment thingies, for example, that you can buy and plug onto your water-pipe and they're supposed to keep your heater crud-free. Every other engineer that is worth his money has been intrigued by the glaringly obvious (and simple) experiment of putting one on their water-pipe but not the neighbor's (or something similarly straightforward). The circumstances are generally not particularly well-controlled (the neighbor has a slightly different model water-heater for example), since there's no research-money in it and so you do this kind of thing on the side. Then, after a couple years, you look into the heaters and usually there's some difference. Not less crud, but the crud is in a different place or has slightly different color. -probably- a result of the fact that you have copper-pipes and your neighbor has plastic. Then again: who knows. There's essentially a null-result, with the possibility of -maybe- something being there (then again, maybe not) and wwhatever result may be there is certainly deep in the noise.

And hence there's nothing published. End of story.

Even worse for obvious but unfruitful approaches. Lets say you want to study something and there's a way of looking at it that nobody seems to have done before and you set out to do it and you mess around for some weeks, moths, maybe even years and - you discover that there's a deep, subtle thinking error here, that prevents you from examining the thing in question in this particular way.

And you wonder: how many people have gone this wrong way to the dead end? In general, mistakes aren't being published - in general, someone will not write a paper detailing how they spent lots of time (and possibly money) going some route rust to discover that its an invalid approach.

And hence a year later, somewhere on the world, someone will make the same mistake again. People go into the dead end, but it is not considered worthwhile to put up a sign that says "dead end" to keep others from following you. "Dead end" is not publishable.