Thursday, December 28, 2006

Game Night! Er, Year?

I previously mentioned the idea of a game of Diplomacy being played by email among skeptical/atheist bloggers. Since it's getting buried under long posts, I'm expanding some of it over here.

Here are some of the ideas I'm thinking for the game.

1) We need a moderator who'd receive the emails with people's commands and post updates to the map, inform players of combat results, etcetera. (Or a program to do it for us)

2) Ideally, I'd like to be able to play a large custom non-Earth map with more than the standard 7 players. One thought I had was playing the game on a globe of some sort, but that might have a few difficulties from a programming stance: I don't know much about that sort of thing, but I imagine if the concept's advertised enough, it won't be hard to find a programmer who's willing to work on it. After it's done, it'd probably be something other people would like to use. Suspect people would like to be able to name their starting regions and supply centers. (Canis Aeneus, the impenetrable city... ...nah.)

3) I'd like a relaxed pace for turns. Lot of bloggers out there can get unexpectedly busy, so maybe just one or two turns per week. More time for players to talk about where they'll put the knives in my back, too.

Alternate game concept, just because: Heavily abstracted map: Bunch of connected nodes, handful of identical units. Some twists, such as nodes with certain features, or limited accessibility, (like land/sea/air/city/wall/whatever nodes).

If you're the coding sort, or at least willing to moderate a bunch of pieces on a physical board for a long time, be sure to email me at my gmail account or leave a comment.

EDITED TO ADD: Here's a link to a tutorial for the fellow newbies.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dogfight #3: Don Erler

Welcome to another Dogfight. It's been a while. I've been trying to get away from the ID front for a while, since I haven't been dissecting as much general woo lately. But this column, emailed to me by my brother, contained a few statements that were so amazingly stupid, my inner masochist dragged me to the "New Post" button.

A large majority of Americans celebrated Christmas -- literally, the Mass of Christ -- yesterday, including Christians whose religious services are not called Mass. Even atheists like Richard Dawkins celebrated the holiday for its secular joys.

Don't know if "small blessing" is appropriate, but I am profoundly glad there's no mention of the alleged "War on Christmas," otherwise I'd be typing for a LOT longer. Skipping ahead of some fluff...

Yet here at the end of one year and the start of another, during days of religious significance for most of us, should we not permit ourselves to reflect upon the "big questions"?

If so, start with the smallest of them: Have you noticed that atheism is suddenly front page and big business?

Sam Harris has had two bestsellers attacking religious belief: The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. Add those to Dawkins' The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great, Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell and Frederick Crews' Follies of the Wise, and believers confront an intellectual assault of dramatic proportion.

It's a good thing that atheists can get published, and that more of us have the courage to do so. Thank the FSM for Blogger, WordPress, and so forth. Text often falls short of implications and tone, but he sounds like he's saying atheists speaking up more often and standing up for their (dis)beliefs is a bad thing.

Jeff Randall, the editor at large of London's Telegraph, who describes himself as a weak believer, recently complained about the "extraordinary ... [and] tyrannical minority" of militant secularists who exhibit "hatred against those who adhere to biblical values."

1. I think we can all safely say, even without prior knowledge, that Jeff Randall is an idiot and/or a liar. Since when was publishing more books "militant?" Granted, my brother used that adjective to describe Deepak Chopra recently, with a touch of exaggeration and humorous irony, but I don't think anyone really knows what that word means anymore.

2. What kind of "weak believer" talks about "biblical values?" Which "biblical values?" Slavery? Genocide? Absolute piety? Fashion? What? Shouldn't "weak believer" imply something about near-agnosticism, and some recognition that values are pretty much universal? It's a weird, nebulous term that I can't parse.

3. Where's this "hatred?" To my incomplete knowledge (Got some relevant books for Decemberween, but haven't started reading them yet), there's no hate whatsoever in those books: Just a lot of emphasis that faith is inherently opposed to reason.

There is, of course, at least another side to this story. Many brilliant people remain both scientists and believers. Even Steven Weinberg, who once wrote that the "more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless," told me several years ago that he finds plausible something like the "Force" of Star Wars movie legend. So this notorious atheist finds a kind of divine reality to be consistent with his explorations of subatomic particles.

My gut says that someone seriously misinterpreted. In case Weinberg actually does believe in that sort of stuff, I have a feeling Infophile would jump to set him straight.

Of course, someone will feel obligated to point out midochlorians or however they're spelled, so I might as well be the one. Please, no groaning in the comments.

Moreover, as Newsweek reported in its Dec. 18 edition, heavyweight cosmologist Paul Davies thinks that those who study nature closely "proceed on the assumption that there is a coherent scheme to the universe to be uncovered. ... That's also an act of faith."

Can you say "Equivocation?"

Sure, I knew you could.

We work on the assumption that the universe follows consistent rules because, so far, the rules we've uncovered are consistent. Also kind of pointless to map something if it keeps changing.

How about this: We'll continue working on that assumption until someone proves the rules we've uncovered aren't consistent.

Readers who think about the words on this page know that intelligence exists in our world. What accounts for it? And why are the "laws" of nature (isn't a lawgiver required?) mathematical?

1. Intelligence is accounted for by evolution, neurology, and so forth. We don't have a complete picture, but I'm not about to put up a brick wall called "magic" because we don't know everything yet.

2. I think we've established that you can say "equivocation." "Law" as scientists use the term doesn't imply any sort of lawgiver. The rules of the universe are the rules of the universe. So far, we don't see any source. There may be no source.

3. The answer to the last question is "Mu." If the laws were different, math would be different in the same way. The concepts are inseparable. Sounds a lot like another nut I've read about. Just imagine him in a basement giggling and saying "Dude!" and "Maaaaan" between every sentence, and you'll have a good idea of how these people sound to me when I read them.

If, as Weinberg quipped, nature is "pointless," then it is also, as Davies countered recently, "incomprehensible." But scientists who probe its mysteries keep uncovering additional layers of its comprehensibility.

Pointlessness and comprehensibility are separate concepts. Just because Erler can't deal with a pointless universe doesn't mean it's incomprehensible. We'll keep uncovering more knowledge about the universe, but it seems likely we'll eventually bump into that little curse of Gödel's.

And the fortunate faithful believe that they know what ambivalent philosophers and agnostic scientists seek to learn.

If they're so fortunate, I'd like to see them prove it.

See also: AA's take

Quote of the Time Being #6

Via M. Kulper, commenter on Brendan Calling:

‘Twas the Month Before X-Box and all through the land,
the fake “War on Christmas” went according to plan.

It’s always the same, no matter the facts.
Fake Christian elites pretend they’re under attack!

Say “Merry Christmas” they shriek, or we’ll boycott your stores.
We’ll go on Fox News and call you all whores!

We’ll go on talk radio and create such a clatter,
to distract and divide you so nothing else matters.

And they divide and they conquer us in all sorts of ways,
so that no one will notice how well their crime pays.

They run up our debts, with deficits galore.
While they cut their own taxes and stomp on our poor.

They preach Peace On Earth, and Good Will Towards Man.
But they dream of war profits and invading Iran.

And with war in Iraq, and more dead every day,
their biggest concern, is whether you’re gay.

But the whole War On Christmas is just this month’s ploy,
to profit from hatred, like Sears profits from toys.

And if Jesus was born in this day and age,
He’d die of starvation, on minimum wage.

But if He survived, and grew to a man,
they’d call Him liberal and toss His Book in the can.

They’d call Him a commie, a pinko and worse,
then slap both His cheeks and send Him off with a curse.

They’d sue Him in court to trademark His name,
and sell Him on Wall Street for money and fame.

So for this “War on Christmas,” don’t shy from the fight
Tell them “talk’s cheap, just DO what is right.”

‘Cause He belongs in our hearts, not up on some wall.
Not stamped upon money, or in City Hall.

He knows us by deeds, not the prayers that we shout.
What we DO unto others, is what it’s about.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Under the Microscope #3: Deepak Chopra on the Colbert Report

Welcome back to my play-by-play dissection of general woo. Deepak Chopra is one of those woos who's pretty well spread out, and I'm kind of hoping to take a break from whacking the usually unfalsifiable brick wall that is IDiocy. My brother will be joining me today on this one.

For those not in the know, Steven Colbert is an actor on Comedy Central who pretends to be a Fox News style right wing nutbar. (My brother, Austin Atheist, is quick to point out that some people still don't know he's pretending.)

So, here we go with a loose transcript:

SC: Welcome back, everybody. My guest tonight is a spiritual guru to millions. If he touches my soul, I will sue. Please welcome Deepak Chopra!

SC: Deepak Chopra, thank you for joining me today. I have been looking forward to this interview since my last life.

DC: I had the impressions about that in my last life, yes.

SC: You did. You've been looking forward to this. So you knew this was coming.

DC: I did.

SC: I'm glad.

DC: It's called prophecy.

SC: Oh, really?

DC: Yes.

SC: Are you a prophet?

DC: If you spell it P-R-O-F-I-T.

SC: Good for you. William Morris?

DC: Sure, why not?

SC: Okay. SC: You think that reality isn't as real as we think.

DC: Well, you're my projection, my illusion.

SC: Oh, really? Oh, really?

DC: And I'm experiencing life after death right now with you.

SC: Hey, we're all here. I am, you are, he, she, or it is. Look at the table. Look at the book.

DC: But there's only one of us.

SC: Yeah. Me. But if you're saying everyone has their own reality, I agree. My reality just happens to be realer than anyone else's.

DC: The Islamic fundamentalists think the same.

SC: Oh, really?

DC: Yes.

SC: Well, I can beat them at their own game.

DC: I'm sure you can.

SC: Thank you very much. But it, uh, reality does exist. We're all here, we're all watching. You know. There are advertisers.

DC: It's a, it's a projection of our consciousness. Our perception, our cognition, our emotions, our biology, our behavior, our personal relationships, our social interactions, our environment are all a projection of our consciousness. So if my consciousness is constricted and afraid, then all of those things will reflect fear. On the other hand, if I have love, compassion, expansion, then all perception and cognition and relationships will reflect that. So yes, reality is a projection of a deeper self. And if you get in touch with that, then you'll realize that reality is infinite possibilities.

SC: If there are infinite possibilities, uh, can we win in Iraq?

DC: The question is not can we win, can we find a creative solution? Because winning is-

SC: You sound like you work for the UN right now.

DC: You know we have these metaphors, the war on terrorism, the war on cancer, the war on drugs, the war on AIDS, the war on poverty-

SC: Those aren't metaphors, those are realities! We're fighting a war, it is us or them or it!

DC: They're expressions of a violent mind. Why not find a creative solution-

SC: No, we're fighting fire with fire!

DC: Why not-

SC: People attack us, you've got to attack back. That's how the world works, my friend. We're all snakes in a pit together. Only one snake survives, he swallows all the other, and he is the giant king anaconda.

DC: But a permanently victorious species risks its own extinction.

SC: Well then, we'll just feed on each other.

DC: Yeah, but if that's the choice, we can make it.

SC: I think we should. It means kill or be killed. That's the law of the jungle. Isn't that nature? Isn't that the most natural way we could live? Like animals?

DC: It was, it was. Survival of the fittest was the old paradigm. The new paradigm is survival of the wisest. Wisdom will become the new criterion for evolution, if we are to survive.

SC: Okay, wisdom is for the old.
DC: Wisdom is knowledge. (Simultaneously)

DC: Well, I have the wisdom of aging, but the biology of youth, so you can have a combination of both.

SC: I'm sorry, you have the wisdom of aging and the biology of youth? How do you have the wisdom of age? How can you be old and young at the same time?

DC: Experience, experience.

SC: But how do you have the biology of youth?

DC: I exercise my mind and my body.

SC: Do you exfoliate?

DC: It's the way we renew ourselves. If you don't exfoliate, you'll have leathery skin, you'll be like a crocodile. Do you want that?

SC: No, you've got to moisturize. Gotta stay hydrated and moisturized. But this I understand. That reality expanding part lost me. But hydration, moisturizing, this I do. I have a regimine

DC: Exfoliation is recreation, unless the skin cells die, you won't create new skin.

SC: Speaking of dying, you've got a book called "Life After Death: The Burden of Proof" Okay, what happens after we die? What is eternity like? You got ten seconds.

DC: Well, what happens, what happens to the space in this room if walls collapse? What happens to-

SC: I call the insurance company.

DC: Yeah, but the space still remains. The walls collapsed. What happens to the people who are watching us on their television screens? Let's say their TV stops working. Does that mean you and I disappear?

SC: Uuuuuuuuh, no.

DC: So what happens?

SC: People at home panic.

DC: What happens when we die is we lose a certain line of communication. The nervous system is a line of communication. You're not the nervous system. You're the user of the nervous system.

SC: Okay, but I'm talking about like-

DC: Do you get that?

SC: *Stammers* Do you mean by "I am the user of my nervous system" and that my nervous system is no longer is communicating or receiving communication when I die. By that, do you mean that when I die, I go up to clouds and there's a pearly gate and an old man with a beard?

DC: Well, if you want, you can upgrade the illusion.

SC: Well, that's not an illusion, that's a- What about, Hell, is that an illusion?

DC: That's downgrading the illusion.

SC: Does one of them cost more than the other or can I-- Is the same price for either one?

DC: No, Hell cost a little more, because it's more interesting. If you were in Heaven, you'd be doomed to eternal senility.

SC: Oh, wow. So you agree with David Burns that Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens?

DC: Yeah, because there's no creative impulse in the absence of discontent. You need divine discontent in order to create.

SC: Isn't that what we need on Earth? Don't we free ourselves of discontent when go on to Heaven?

DC: As I told you, it's an upgrading of illusion. This is the illusion, that's the illusion, the only thing that's real is you.

SC: Okay. For the $24 that this book cost me, does that upgrade me or downgrade me?

DC: All I can say is that it's a must read for anyone who's going to die.

SC: (End of interview book plug)

Wow. That was traumatic. Especially since AA and I had to rewind-pause-play over and over and over again to get it all. I hope our mental anguish will entertain you for 15 minutes or so. AA had to repeat a lot for confirmation, so he's preventing infection by washing his mouth with ethyl alcohol.

There was some back corner of my mind that made me think Akusai might have made up that "P-R-O-F-I-T" thing, but he actually said it. At least Hako Deepcrap is honest about being full of it on that front. Of course, above, Chopra had to confuse the difference between reality being a projection of his emotions and his perception of reality being colored by his emotions. Yeah. Had to take a laugh break when Colbert threw in winning in Iraq thanks to infinite possibilities. Of course, one thing that struck me as quite stupid was his line about "survival of the wisest." Beyond the vagueness of "wisdom", if you interpret it as knowledge and intelligence, Chopra would be dead. Humans do survive by knowledge, but have survived well enough for some members to waste time writing insipid books for little pieces of green paper.

That was indeed painful. And now that my mouth has been cleansed of any residual woo, I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, that Deepak Chopra, in no uncertain terms, is a militant solipsist. Of course, solipsism is the thesis that only I and my mind exist. As Wittgenstein once pointed out, if this thesis is indeed true, then it's a wonder it can be expressed linguistically at all. Given that only I and my mind exists, how did I learn to communicate in the first place? But I think Chopra's particular brand of solipsism has a peculiar twist, which may be necessary to avoid begging such questions. Judging from his remarks transcribed above, he might be advancing the thesis that only we and our collective mind exists. But if this is true, then how is it we don't already know what everyone else knows? So it seems Chopra would rather beg the latter question as opposed to the former, not that doing so bestows upon him any particular advantage. Either way, my mind certainly hurts. I don't know about yours.

Happy Decemberween!

Well, things are going well for my family. I played a game of Settlers of Catan with AA and one of our mutual genetic contributors. It was a surprisingly close game, with me squeezing out a victory. We got into a longest road war, with me largely dropping out: Built settlements and cities to increase my resources, and only built roads towards that end. Had a 3:1 port since the start, and managed to completely monopolize a clay and farmland hex towards the end. Caught them by surprise when I started trading in all that clay for other resources. Won the game without the longest road or the largest army. Dad started out slow, but once he got his wool production and wool 2:1 port going, he started catching up pretty quickly. One annoyance was that we were all rolling a fair number of 7s, thus activating the robber over and over. The gambler's fallacy was strong with AA, so he insisted that we pack up and head to Vegas. Sanity was restored quickly enough.

Since the game's still new enough for us, we spent some time commenting on some of the game mechanics we enjoyed. Then I brought up the idea of starting a big play-by-email game of Diplomacy among skeptical/atheist bloggers. I haven't played Diplomacy before, but the game concept struck me as interesting when I read about it. No dice rolls, just tactical second-guessing, or something like that. Plus, there is, of course, all the massive backstabbing we could do amongst each other.

I don't have any of the supplies myself, but it should be easy enough to get ahold of a rule book and a scan of the game map. Probably need to get someone to moderate and post round-by-round updates or something. I was thinking we'd do one or two rounds a week. Something else that might be interesting to do: Make a new board that doesn't correspond with Earth. Could be a map of some alien planet, fantasy world, or whatever: Mostly I'm thinking along those lines because it might throw off some of the veterans who know where to work the default board, and as a first time player, I'd like something of a fighting chance.

Of course, during the course of the game, I'll be trying out my hand at propaganda to inform the masses of my inevitable victory.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Fraternal Pluggery

My brother's a little annoyed he didn't make it into the latest Carnival of the Godless, so I might as well generate a little traffic for him.

First, my favorite of his submissions: No Peace On Earth With Atheists Under Fire

Here, he ravages one of the typical right wing "Save Christmas from a largely nonexistent threat" editorials.

Another quick entry is a handy item, just in case it turns out we're wrong. It'll fit in your wallet, so it shouldn't burden you too much. Of course, I seriously doubt we'll be needing it.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Say Hello to the New Love in My Life

Her name is Patina.

Got one of those dual core processors, so I'm curious how that'll work out. Also got a TV tuner, so you might just see me upload some stuff to YouTube from TV. Fingerprint scanner's kind of neat.

Keyboard's a little weird: The arrow keys are squnched into tall, thin buttons.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Comment Moderation, Once Again

You know who.

Censorship he cries, expecting us to believe that allowing him to cram my blog full of identical straw men when I've already allowed a hundred or so copies in is somehow "censorship."

It's a good thing comments don't allow images, otherwise, we'd be drowning in a Kilikian flood of animated gifs, pictures of Magic: The Gathering cards, and so forth as evidence for psi.

And one last bit of his diatribe, he complains that we don't know what ID is. Well, duh. He never talked about it, even though his very first post here more or less required for him to define it, to separate his version from all the arguments from ignorance, incredulity, and faux information theory that are floating out there.

Question for my dear readers to consider: Would painting over tasteless, repetitive graffiti on my house be considered "censorship"?

50th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Humbug Online. Big round numbers in base 10 deserve fireworks. Especially since Carl Sagan is involved.

Open thread as usual, but efforts to convince me to climb inside a Transformer in the form of a taxi are FORBIDDEN. You know how messy things'll get.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Doggerel #50: "Science Doesn't Apply to [Woo]!"

Welcome to a very, or at least mildly Carl Sagan edition of "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

One small, yet profound thing Carl Sagan has contributed to my skepticism was a simple metaphor: The dragon in the garage. This reptilian critter is invisible, incorporeal, breathes heatless fire, and requires no food, air, or water to survive. In short, her existence has no effect on the universe. Because science involves the studying of observable effects, our draconic friend isn't subject to science. Of course, the problem is that without observable effects, it doesn't really matter whether or not she exists:
Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.
Woos who use this bit of doggerel don't seem to realize that they're making their woo exactly like the dragon: As powerful as nothing. If something has an effect that can be noticed by a layman, surely it must be subject to science. In addition to making their hypothesis useless, woos make it unfalsifiable: There's nothing it can fail at, because there's nothing it can succeed at, either. No test can be devised for something that does nothing.

I think the problem stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of just what science is. It isn't beakers, X-rays, and so forth: Science can be quite simple, especially when it comes to woo:
The boffins at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California could not explain how an Israeli National managed to levitate a matchbox laid flat on the back of his hand. The physicists had X-rayed the box, looked for magnets, weighed the box to within one micron and analysed the chemical composition of the matches. They found nothing to explain what would make the matchbox stand on its end. When Randi witnessed the phenomenon he was not impressed and immediately replicated the conjuring trick. He placed the matchbox on the back of his hand with the lid slightly ajar, then he closed the box so that some of his skin was jammed in the lid. With a few magical words he suddenly clenched his fist so that the skin on the back of his hand tightened. The matchbox lifted gracefully onto its end. Randi joked that if the fraudster was using supernatural powers to lift the matchbox he was doing it the hard way.
A fancy PhD and complicated equipment doesn't make something scientific.


Doggerel Index

Flea Versus Trolls

Flea's made a good post about vaccines, and will no doubt be dealing with trolls for a long time as a result. Give him a hand.

Doggerel #49: "Ad Hominem"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Since skeptics like me love to point out logical fallacies, the woos are starting to shout out names of logical fallacies without any understanding of them. One of the fallacies most commonly abused in this manner is the ad hominem. Most people think that any insult of any sort qualifies as an ad hominem. Not true.

It's only an ad hominem if your argument relies on it. Examples: "You're just a paid pharma shill, therefore any data you use is biased!" is a real ad hominem. "You're relying on an absurd redefinition, you've taken a single data point out of context, and you're an idiot" is not an ad hominem. The last bit is entirely unnecessary, but its presence does not magically transform the previous two points into invalid arguments. And that's why it rocks.

So, when a woo abuses ad hominem in this manner, they're essentially saying, "You threw in a side insult, therefore I'll ignore your real arguments and verifiable data!"


Doggerel Index

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Symbolism for Iconoclasts

Since my work schedule's lightened up (though I'll likely soon be occupied with Decemberween), I'm going to make an effort to do something with the blog template. For the blog roll, I'm going to have a symbol for each blog inside a hexagon. If you're on it already, or would like to be on it, tell me what you'd like for your symbol if it isn't obvious. Ideally, I'd like to make everything out of small monochromatic hexagon pixels, so try to keep your concepts simple, though I will bend rules here and there.

The symbol will change to text when someone mouses over, so hopefully an association will build up, at least among my regulars.

IDiots and Doggrel = Kibbles 'N Bits

Having read some of the comments posted by that weapon of mass instruction kid (who will hereafter be known as "cocksnack") it just made me realize how unsinkable these people are.

"Goddidit" is more tenable to me than "nobodydidit"
I'm sure it is. Is it also more tenable to believe that when you plug your lamp into the socket it is light fairies making the bulb glow?

See, it is obvious to me having dealt with cocksnack and his ilk that they simply haven't taken the time to understand what evolution is: A change in the gene pool of a population over time. That's it in layman's terms. A simple google search for observed instances of speciation will bring up all the evidence you need that this has happened, and continues to happen. So when the cocksnack of the world continue to say evolution did not/does not happen, all they are doing is putting their fingers in their ears and living in a fantasy world.

A note to skeptics - whenever you bring this point up, the smart IDiots (oxymoron?) usually go into "micro-evolution vs. macro-evolution" mode (which is complete B.S anyway).

But somehow you have no problem in making sense of how your great grandad was a chimpanzee.
If I ever saw a chimpanzee give birth to a human being, I would cease my defense of evolution in favor of ID/Creationism.

First, humans and chimpanzees split from a common ancestor millions of years ago. And to see that many generational changes take place in only 3 generations would refute evolutionary theory outright.

So, there we have proof that evolution happened and is happening. We also have proof that if, as all the cocksnack think, a frog gave birth to a cat, not only would that refute evolutionary thought in general, it would give support to the Sky Daddy made it from nothing belief.

Foamin' at the Mouth #4

Well, I think we all knew this was coming. The Libyan kangaroo court has found the six medical workers guilty of deliberately infecting people with AIDS, despite solid evidence to the contrary.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Doggerel #48: "Hateful"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Attacks on skepticism are full of propagandistic stereotypes. Woos often claim, or at least imply that all skeptics are inherently miserable, bitter, rude, obsessive, arrogant, negative, closed-minded, oppressive, limited in their thinking, thin-skinned, and all sorts of nasty things. Some of the extra-nasty trolls will even use today's word: "Hateful"

First, as is common to the Doggerel entries, this one is a change of subject. If Hitler came in here and made a valid argument, his Hitlerness would have no impact on the validity of that argument. A valid argument is a valid argument, so even if we were hateful, that doesn't change anything.

Second, skeptics like me typically see ourselves as defenders. If a "psychic" is bilking people out of their hard-earned money with a few parlor tricks, are we just supposed to smile and nod? Of course not. We're supposed to criticize bad things. We're supposed to point out problems when they occur. Although I think the world is a nifty-keen place, I'm not going to pretend that it's perfect and let wishful thinking slip in for myself or others. We've got problems, so let's solve them. The first step in solving a problem is to recognize its existence.


Doggerel Index

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I Got the Thiiiiig!

Sing the above to the Zelda item-collecting tune.

Got up early for a Wii today. Let's say I'm glad IHOP is open 24/7. New Zelda's pretty different. Kind of weird to wind up slashing because I had a nose itch. At least I haven't been going terribly crazy with the controller.

Wii Sports gave me a nice work-out.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Geeze. Forgot My Own Blogiversary

Yesterday (Friday) at noon was one year after my first post here.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bloggin' in Beta... Whether I Like it or Not

Well, I was forcefully upgraded. Oh well. At least I'll have a few new options to try out, like that "Metablogging" label. Hope that works out into easy-click categories. Even if it means going back to applying them to my earlier posts. Guess I'll find out all sorts of new tricks. And annoying hassles.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Doggerel #17.1: "Quantum" (Take Two)

This updated edition of "Doggerel" brought to you by Infophile.

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where Bronze Dog rambles on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless. This week’s going to be a bit different, though. We’re returning to a subject that presents a most interesting problem: Quantum Mechanics. Richard Feynman explains it best:

“I think I can safely say that no one understands quantum mechanics.”

And there’s the problem: Bronze Dog isn’t “no one,” so he can’t come out here and explain it. I, on the other hand, am different. In order to facilitate the help I’ve given the Canadian Special Forces (Never heard of them? That’s how good they are), the Canadian government has officially registered “no one” as one of my identities. This means that when someone comes up with a code that “no one” can crack, I can crack it. Or maybe if “no one” can tell the difference between butter and I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter, I can. I also understand Quantum Mechanics (henceforth “QM”).

The big problem with QM is that it’s in many ways counter-intuitive. Effects are somewhat non-local. Conservation of Energy can be temporarily ignored under the right circumstances. Particles act like both particles and waves at the same time. The results of experiments aren’t deterministic, but instead based on probabilities. And with all this, scientists still can’t agree on what causes all of this odd behavior.

There are two key ingredients here, QM being weird and scientists not knowing everything about it, which make “quantum” a very appealing word for woos to use. They figure that it gives them carte blanche if they explain any weird effect away as being “quantum.” It’s not just an “energy field,” it’s a “quantum energy field!”

Of course, they don’t understand it themselves most of the time, so in the end, it’s no better than hand-waving it away as “magic.” In fact, it’s worth noting that in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, where magic is a well-understood force of nature, the use of the term “quantum” in explaining what counts for woo in that universe plays exactly the same role that the term “magic” does in ours.

The logic the woos use to defend their claims boils down to asking how, if scientists don’t understand Quantum Mechanics, they can claim the woos are wrong about it? It’s simple, really. Scientists are confused about what causes all of this, not what can happen. The possible events in QM are all well-defined, and the calculations of probabilities are done deterministically.

Now, there’s one particular phenomenon of QM, which the woos (particularly “psychics”) seem to love, that bears special mention here: Entanglement. In the simplest sense, entanglement means that there’s a correlation between two different observables. Remember that in general, measurements in QM have random outcomes. When two particles are entangled, measuring just one of them will still have a random outcome. But if you measure both at the same time, they’re outcomes will be related somehow – they might both always have the same outcome, always opposite outcomes, or simply tend more towards one of these extremes.

These effects occur regardless of distance between the two particles, so it seems like there’s some information traveling from one to the other, telling it what it should resolve as, at faster than lightspeed. This apparent transfer of information has made entanglement seem like a good way to explain faster-than-light communication for bad Science Fiction writers. Some woos also use it to explain telepathy by claiming the psychic’s thoughts become entangled with those of the subject.

It doesn’t quite work that way, however. Let’s go with a metaphor for entanglement: two magical entangled coins. These coins have the properties that their flips are always perfectly random, and if they’re both flipped simultaneously, they’ll always both come up the same way. So, let’s say that we have a human colony many lightyears away we wish to communicate with. We keep one coin with us, and the people going over there bring one coin with them.

Now, how would we use these coins to communicate with them? You could try to receive data by flipping your own coin, but all you know from it is that if someone’s flipping it at the colony, they’re getting the same results. You could try to force the coin to come up one way, in hopes of sending binary information, but the first property of the coin prevents this: Its flips are always random, no matter what you try to do. In the end, all you can possibly get from this coin is logical inference about the other coin. There is an instantaneous transmission of information between the two, but the data that’s transmitted is completely random and can’t be forced.

The way psychic apologists use entanglement requires a different rebuttal. They can actually get around the above restriction if they claim they claim that conscious thoughts are generated in part by the random outcomes of quantum processes (which some bona fide scientists are theorizing). In this case, if part of the psychic’s mind is entangled with the subject’s mind, the same thoughts will be randomly generated in both. The problem in this case is that there’s no reason the two minds should have become entangled in the first place. Entanglement between two particles happens due to a close, quantum-scale interaction between the two. You can’t just magically turn on entanglement with someone who’s far away from you.


Doggerel Index

Chuck Norris Fact # 17,019,876 - He Believes in Fairies

They tried to carve him into Mount Rushmore, but the granite wasn't tough enough for his beard.

His tears cure cancer; too bad he never cries. Ever.

He can divide by zero.

He's also an IDiot.

When asked by WorldNetDaily what he thought when some Parent's Basement Dweller wrote

There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live.

Chuck removed every bit of respect I had left for him after Sidekicks when he responded

It's funny. It's cute. But here's what I really think about the theory of evolution: It's not real. It is not the way we got here. In fact, the life you see on this planet is really just a list of creatures God has allowed to live. We are not creations of random chance. We are not accidents. There is a God, a Creator, who made you and me. We were made in His image, which separates us from all other creatures.

By the way, without him, I don't have any power. But with Him, the Bible tells me, I really can do all things – and so can you.
The Theory of Evolution is not real? Like the theory itself doesn't exist? Do I need to link here?

And it appears Chuck thinks we are just too cool to have evolved so he had to create something even more powerful than himself - An Almighty Omnipotent Benevolent MAGIC SKY FAIRY that we all bow down to! Well, he IS a Ninja I guess...

Hey Chuck, I'm going to prove you wrong by using the same amount of evidence you did:

We evolved because Charles Darwin said so. And I can't do all things and neither can you. I'm officially placing you below Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme in the action star category. So here are some new Chuck Norris facts:

Chuck Norris locks himself in the bathroom and pees his pants.

I gave Chuck Norris a survey...and he failed.

Feel free to add your own.

Doggerel #47: "Science Made the Bomb!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Often, when a non-woo waxes poetic about the scientific method and hopeful about a future that it may someday bring, woos retort, "Science made the bomb!" as if that negates anything.

First: Science is the best thing we've got for finding out the truth and dispelling ignorance. Knowledge is, by itself, amoral: Like any tool, it can be used for good or evil. The fact that delving into the secrets of the atom allowed us the capability of producing horrible weapons doesn't change the practical value of science: It's still the best learning tool we have. Magical thinking doesn't exactly have the best track record for uncovering knowledge, helpful or dangerous. At its worst, however, it can fabricate new, irrational reasons to do bad things. Magical thinking, however, doesn't seem at all necessary to come up with reasons to do good.

Second: It speaks of a heavy anti-knowledge sentiment. If we abandoned the scientific method much earlier, we wouldn't have nuclear weaponry. But we wouldn't have vaccines against deadly diseases, vehicle safety, early hurricane warning systems, and so many other things we take for granted that can mean the difference between life and death. Let's keep looking for solutions to our problems, rather than ignore them.


Doggerel Index

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sorry For the Quietude

As you've probably gathered, I've been a little busy, so I'm not posting up to my usual standards. But, hopefully, that'll be changing. This weekend, I'll probably be free enough to start up a slew of Doggerel entries. Would like to get #50 submitted to the 50th Skeptics' Circle. I already know what I'm going to be doing for #50, but I need suggestions for #47, 48, and 49.

So, fire away.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

49th Skeptics' Circle

Apparently it's brought to us by Dad of Cameron and Harry Houdini being channeled by Stephen Hawking. Or something.

Open thread as usual, except talking about how I'll totally blow my presentation today is FORBIDDEN!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Closin' a Thread

I'm going to be closing an old thread where a Jack Chickian troll has been redefining logical fallacies, making stuff up, and effectively denying the existence of all those deep space probes NASA has been launching because nuclear physics couldn't possibly be right because it's been contaminated by Darwinism. Or something.

Multi-clause run-on sentences aside, I'll be deleting any comments that show up there after noon, Friday, December 8, 2006 (Central US Time) unless they're truly astounding. That essentially amounts to making me almost suffocate as I laugh.

Found the option to kill comments. The originals are still there, of course. There just won't be any new ones coming up.

So, in the meantime, feel free to skim through the comments and tear apart some magical thinking in entertaining ways.

Monday, December 04, 2006

This is Just Ducky.

Well, I'm working on one of my projects. And all of my computers are getting annoying. My laptop suddenly cuts off, and when it restarts, neither of my USB ports work. Bye-bye to my trackball. So, it's either work on Adobe Illustrator on my desktop, or try it with the ultra-annoying touch pad thingy I've avoided for so long. Obviously, I go for the desktop. I try to register my Adobe stuff on there, and the automated registration is brickwalling me. Trying to get into my account, and apparently in Adobeland, "a few minutes" amounts to about half an hour now. Of course, I'm using my private email that apparently slices and dices all the spam out there, so it may be taking longer than Adobe anticipates.

Of course, I'm a freak because I don't get a whole lot of spam. Over the weekend: 5 (auto-dumped by Gmail) spam mails, not counting spam comments over here where there was a spike of about 6.

So, what's annoying you in the world?

EDIT: Mechalith and I have thus far confirmed the hypothesis that my USB ports are physically fried, short of cracking my laptop open.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Two Friday Traditions Collide

Hey, did you know that DIABETES (ugh, Orac spread the caps to me) is caused by a demon squid? Maybe one of those ghost hunting nuts should photograph it and send it to PZ for a Friday Cephalopod.