Class Warfare Blog

February 20, 2021

The Trolley Problem Solved!

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 12:01 pm
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I assume you have heard of the ethical problem called the Trolley Problem. There are a number of versions of this problem but I will use just the basic problem which is an ethical dilemma. A trolley car is racing downhill toward an intersection. Just before that intersection, the rails split. You have access to the switch and you must choose which way to send the trolley. Unfortunately on one spur of the tracks stands a solitary man, often described as being fat, while on the other, five workers are standing. Onto which track will you switch the trolley?

Here are a number of solutions from various sources:

The Cannibal Solution
It doesn’t matter, either way we eat!

The Utilitarian Solution
You switch to the track that kills only one instead of five. It is a win-win all around.

The Overthinkers Solution
What if one of the five is another Hitler or maybe the fat man is a budding saint. What if the lone man is the sole support of his widowed mother? What if I get sued no matter which way I throw the switch? Dithering, you miss the opportunity to take action and the problem solves itself.

The Republican Solution
The workers are probably union people so they probably vote Democrat, so fuck ‘em.!

The Democrat Solution
We will have to hold some focus groups, check in with our donors, and maybe hold hearings. We will get back to you next week.

The Putin Solution
Quick, bring second trolley!

The Evangelical Solution
It doesn’t matter, it is all part of God’s plan.

The New Age Solution
Consult your spirit guide. Mediate upon the problem to see if it just is a mirage and then fast for three days and an answer will come to you.

The Obvious Solution
Since this is an hypothetical problem, I reach into my hypothetical pocket and pull out my hypothetical revolver. I fire three warning shots into the air. All six people look in my direction, see the runaway trolley, and move out of its path. Ta da!

February 3, 2021

Atheism is Just Another Religion, Right?

Filed under: Culture,History,Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:20 am
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How many times have you heard this claim? In my case, it is way too many times.

I have been working my way through Create Your Own Religion: A How-To Book Without Instructions by Daniele Bolelli and ran across this:

“Several secular ideologies also preach a faith in pure, abstract ideas that can never be realized in the world as it is. Plato’s philosophy is a prime example of this. In his view, the real can never match the ideal; what is earthy is rejected in favor of a ‘pure’ dimension beyond the Earth.”

I feel the need to unpack this claim as it is flawed at its core. That Plato’s philosophy can be considered an ideology at first rankled but then I looked up a definition ideology:

Ideology (noun)
a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.

Okay, it is an ideology. What I really object to is the sloppy use of two words “preach” and “faith.” Both of these words have religious connotations and lead people to believe the things they are labeled with to be religious ideas. (The word “preach,” even when used in a secular usage, caries religious overtones.)

Faith (noun)
1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something, Example: “this restores one’s faith in politicians”
2. strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

Here you can see the two main uses of the word faith: the common use and the religious use. We really need to split these apart. Using the word in the first sense is “received” in the second sense by many of the religious.

And, Plato’s world of ideals was set aside form our world because our world contains no such absolutes. Perfect or ideal things exist only in our imaginations. That we could imagine them, yet they certainly didn’t exist, apparently led Plato to formulate some of this ideas. Questions arise such as: if they exist in my mind yet not in this world, where do they exist? etc. Hidden realms, spiritual realms had been with us before language and history so, the postulation of such a hidden realm is far from unusual.

To illustrate the ideas of measurement and perfection I used to walk my students through measuring a table in our laboratory. The first measurement was by estimation or by body parts (cubits, spans and whatnot). Then we used a wooden meter stick. Then a steel measuring tape. Then a surveyor’s transit. Then we jump up to a laser interferometer. (Most of these required a short explanation to college freshmen and the “measurements” were done in the imagination after the first one.) When we get to finer and finer instrumentation, something interesting happens. We discover that where we take the measurement is important. We get different values measuring the “length” of the table depending upon where we take the measurement. We, in fact, discover that the two ends of the table aren’t parallel. (What did they expect? It was a government school and the table was made by the low bidder.) Even if the ends were parallel, a careful examination of each end would show that they are not perfectly smooth, that there are high and low spots, tiny mountains and valleys. We end up basically struggling to define where the table begins and where it ends. In other words the “length of the table” becomes obscure. This is the case in every other physical object and any of its dimensions.

As to “In his view, the real can never match the ideal; what is earthy is rejected in favor of a ‘pure’ dimension beyond the Earth.” It is not “in this view,” but in all views that the real can never match the ideal. But why on Earth (pun intended) would one “reject” what is earthly in favor of some airy-fairy idea land we cannot access? Who thinks “Damn, there is nothing perfect in this land; I reject it and refuse to live in it!”

Gosh, do you think, maybe, that there were gods in Plato’s time? And do you think that contesting the idea of the existence of those gods was good for business? Or do you think sucking up to god-believers was good for business? (Plato ran an academy which was supported by student subscriptions.) Gosh, gods are perfect, so where do you think they live? Actually in Plato’s time, gods were not perfect unless being perfect asshats from time to time made them more perfect and not less.

There is so much religion woven into the fabric of our languages, our thinking, our discourse, even our ideas that it is hard to extract anything from the world of ideas without dragging a coating of religion along with it.

Plato’s philosophy is not a secular ideology which is a viable view of the world subscribed to by atheists or anyone else. (There are probably a few, but until they outnumber the flat-Earthers, they are small potatoes.) No one I know “preaches” it (aka teaches it with religious fervor).

And, no, atheism isn’t a religion. Heck it isn’t even an ideology, there being no “system” and no ideas/ideals, especially one which could form the basis of economic or political theory and policy or, really, anything else.

“No, Virginia, there is no atheist religion.” Santa Claus

January 17, 2021

What is the Strongest Proof that God Does Not Exist?

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:07 am
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(I have a practice of trying to offer religious posts on Sundays. This is no exception. S)

The question in the title of this post was a question that popped up on Quora. It came with over 100 answers. I did not read them all, but quite a few of those I did read included some form of this tidbit “To be clear you can never say with 100% certainty that a god of some type does not exist.”

Maybe it is my scientific training but “100% proof” is something that does not exist except in our imaginations. We desire certainty in matters that are life and death. Even 50:1 odds in your favor don’t guarantee that you win. But 100% proof is an absolute that just doesn’t exist. And insisting on 100% proof that a god does not exist is a ploy to ensure failure for anyone who tries, a dishonest ploy. The request for the “strongest” proof is quite honest, however.

The example I use as my standard of a very high probability occurrence is the Sun coming up tomorrow. I predict that it will. I am very, very sure that this will happen. I understand why it has this high probability. Physically, either the Earth would have to stop rotating upon its axis or be thrown somehow off into space or maybe the Sun would have to disappear or explode or something of that ilk. The amount of force that would be necessary to stop the earth from rotating overnight (I did say the Sun will come up tomorrow) is so immense that the Earth would be sundered into pieces were it to be applied. Similarly if the Sun were to blow up, so as to not be there when the Earth rotates around through the night, it is unlikely the Earth would survive such an explosion.

So, the prediction that the Sun will come up tomorrow is secure and near 100% in certainty. I can imagine a scenario in which it does not, say involving aliens with advanced planet-busting weaponry (Like the Death Star of Star Wars!). It could destroy the Earth so that there is nothing to rotate around and no one to see the Sun “rising.” So, my prediction is not 100% certain.

So, is anything 100% certain? I do not think so. All quantitative laws in science are based upon measurements, none of which are 100% certain. All qualitative laws are based upon observations, which also are not 100% certain.

Human opinions, such as you may think Emily is a total Karen, a total bitch, but then you find out she dotes on her grandfather, so . . . not 100% certain. And so on. . . .

So, back to the God question. What is a reasonable sort of standard of proof? Since no proof currently exists, we should start with a low standard. I suggest 50+%. In words this would be “more likely than not.” This could be plugged into Bayesian calculations for our assessment.

So, can anyone make such an argument and have it be valid?

I have studied this question at some length. Recently I read a book entitled “The Non-Existence of God” by Nicholas Everitt. Doctor Everitt is a professional philosopher (I am only an amateur philosopher) and you can tell his conclusion based upon an exhaustive search through history for all of the philosophical arguments for the existence of a god. I say this so that you will understand that philosophical arguments will not serve our needs here. I seriously doubt that a philosophical argument can prove anything. At best they can attach conclusions to sets of premises, the outcomes of which are determined by the truthiness of the premises.

So, we need something other than a philosophic argument. The best option would be a scientific argument. So, start with some evidence, make a conjecture and then see if it holds up.

Any takers?

Note Obviously from the numbers of answers to questions regarding the existence of a god or gods, this is an important question to many people. I am hesitant to add another “answer” a question that already has 100+ answers as I am unwilling to read all of those answers so that I do not just duplicate one of them with my own. But I do take a stab every once in a while.

July 4, 2020

The Good and the Perfect

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:15 am
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I am reading a survey of the roots of western civilization and am at the ancient Greek stage.

Socrates focused on living a life of virtue and based it upon a search for the meaning of “good.” What is good? is the question he asked . . . and tried to answer. He felt that any man who didn’t have the exactly correct definition of virtue, would be mislead and make mistakes leading to a life that is not virtuous, at least in some aspects.

And, of course, thousands of years of philosophy have resulted in the following definition of “is good” . . . <cricket, cricket, . . .>.

Plato followed up the idea by extending it to all things, not just “the good.” He felt that it was obvious that there is a realm in which perfect examples, called Forms, of everything existed. Not just chairs and swords and Quiche Lorraines but abstracts like Beauty, Virtue, and Bravery.

This is somewhat understandable as one can imagine a craftsman building some device, a chair perhaps, and if they took their time and worked carefully and kept on improving that chair, either there would be an end to that process, a perfect chair, or there would not be. Plato was, like Socrates, enamored of perfect states, even though no such thing exists in nature. This was swept under the rug by declaring that all real things were but imperfect copies of the perfect Forms available in that other place.

Obviously, some people have too much imagination for their own good.

This ideas of perfect states feeds into the ideas of dichotomies, e.g. good and evil, dog lovers and cat lovers, Republicans and Democrats. The idea was that the other have of the pair is needed to define the first part and without that other part being in existence then we would not feel the first part. This is utter nonsense of course. (And dangerous. We think Repubs and Dems are opposites because they oppose one another when, in reality, you can’t tell which is which from their appearances or behaviors. They are not opposites, they are both defenders of the status quo.)

I have written on the dichotomy of good and evil and the claim that without evil, then good wouldn’t exist. This lame argument is, I suspect, a weaselly argument in defense of the argument from evil, basically “if God is all-good, why does evil exist?”

Good and evil, to start, aren’t opposites. The real opposites are good and bad. I have a rather extensive vocabulary and couldn’t come up with the opposite of evil. Here’s two lists I found:
Antonyms goodness, good, redeeming(a), beneficent, virtuous, redemptive, goody-goody, beatific, sainted, white, saving(a), saintlike, angelic, saintly, angelical. Synonyms malevolent, vicious, malefic, malign.
The antonyms are wishy-washy and the synonyms are vicious. There is no good antonym for “evil,” one that depicts the extreme nature of that word.

And, the silly argument that one part of the dichotomy is needed to define the other is easily disproved, even a baby can do it. Offer a baby (of suitable age) their first lick of an ice cream cone. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, said baby will express pleasure and want more. It will act out the thought, “Hey, that shit is goood . . . gimme, gimme, gimme.” Now does that baby know a definition of evil, does it know evil at all? Is it necessary that it have an innate understanding of “bad” or “evil” to appreciate the goodness of ice cream? Or is it the case that that baby has programmed into it a number of behaviors that lead to its success? Of course, religious apologists will say that the baby has an innate morality as a gift from their god, but that doesn’t explain anything, that is just another baseless claim to add to the stacks of the other baseless claims they have made.

The philosophical “problem of evil” is often explained away that man can do evil because we have free will, otherwise we would just be slaves to Yahweh’s will. And what do they say in other areas? They say, “Be a slave to Yahweh’s will, it will make you happy! And you will end up in Heaven and not Hell.” So, being a slave to Yahweh’s will is a bad thing if it is involuntary but a very good thing if it is voluntary. I think being a slave to Yahweh’s will is . . . being a slave to Yahweh’s will.

Plus, as I have pointed out often enough, the tradeoff is not “evil for free will” it is “evil for the free will to do evil.” Yahweh could have made us lacking in the free will to do evil things but with free will in everything else. Is that a tradeoff you would be in favor of? Hell, even Donald Trump would take that deal . . . well, maybe not.

Dichotomies, like perfect states are stages of thinking, I think, that we had to go through, just like the phases your parent’s talked about when you were young, e.g. “Oh, it is just a phase she is going through.” This was a universal excuse used by parents for inexplicable behavior of their children when I was young. (Is this still the case?)

Unfortunately way too many moderns are still stuck in these archaic, simplistic modes of thinking. Believing in imaginary things and perfections are rife in our culture.

How different things would be if we, as the new age gurus encourage, were to “focus on the journey and not the destination.” If a piece of software had to be perfect before it was sold, we wouldn’t have any software. If a car had to be perfect before it was sold, we would have to cars. If loaves of bread had to be perfect, the shelves of our supermarkets (the “bread aisle) would have empty shelves.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good enough.

June 8, 2020

The “Biblical” Source of Our Western Traditions, Part 2 of 2

I ran out of gas on this response to a claim I read. Here is the second half of my response (after the repeat of the lead in). Steve

* * *

I have been reading another William G. Dever book “What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They know It?” The title sounds like a Watergate catch phrase but the book was written in 2001, so. . . ?

Near the end of the book the author is commenting on the value of the Bible in our civilization/culture and he stated the following as being derived from the Bible:

  1. The absolute worth of the individual (the right of self-determination)
    2. The rule of law and justice (democracy)
    3. The immutable authority of morality (virtue)
    4. Liberty and justice as the foundations of politics (public morality)
    5. A free, entrepreneurial market
    6. The power of mind to dominate nature and grasp truth of higher order (science)
    7. Government as ordained (the rule of law and order)
    8. The importance of tradition and meaning (religious and cultural values)
    9. History as purposeful (progress)
    10. Universalism as the ultimate goal (triumphalism).

Of these Dever states that we take “for granted the following notions and cultural values, nearly all of them derived from one or another interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. . . .” (Emphasis added.

Interestingly, I have owned dozens of Bibles and I must not have got the one he is drawing from.)

Finishing, Finishing

  1. The power of mind to dominate nature and grasp truth of higher order (science)
    So, human beings would never have figured this out had it not been for the Bible? really? What did humans do for the 200,000 years before the Bible was written? Apparently not dominating nature and not grasping truths of higher order. So, the evidence that over ten thousand years ago, American native peoples didn’t use fire as a means of controlling the forage available to their prey animals. And they didn’t stampede prey animals into cul-de-sacs to slaughter them. Nor did any of those people have any religious thoughts at all, despite the burial process we have uncovered, and ritual spaces that were built? I am gob-smacked at this claim. Even after the Bible was written New World peoples used extensive irrigation systems to grow crops, built massive public works, cleared square miles of jungle to plant crops, established mail systems, etc, And they did it all without the guidance of the Bible . . . it’s a miracle!
  2. Government as ordained (the rule of law and order)
    Let’s see . . . to ordain means “order or decree (something) officially” so you cannot even have anything ordained until you have something like a government (theocratic or not) to do the deed. I presume this is a reference to a secular government being ordained by a religious government, as when the Israelites begged Yahweh to give them a king. Basically this seems to be the ability of religions to form governments. This doesn’t sound like the “rule of law and order,” this sounds like a thing guise of oppression. In other words, “we get to do to you want we want because God has ordained us to be able to do that.” This is the source of the divine rights of kings and, gee, I just don’t know how we would have gotten to our western civ without those wastrel, vicious kings.
  3. The importance of tradition and meaning (religious and cultural values)
    What? People didn’t transmit their culture, by indoctrinating their children until the Bible told them to or okayed the process? All of those rites of passage of prehistoric people were, what, unauthorized at best? People didn’t think traditions were important before the Bible? People didn’t imply meaning all over the place before the Bible? You know, hijacking is now a crime.
  4. History as purposeful (progress)
    Wow, I just don’t know how we get on in our day-to-day lives without knowing that our history was purposeful. In the US alone, all of those “settlers” (a disgusting euphemism for “conquerors”) were motivated by bring the word of god to the heathens. Greed for land and natural resources had nothing to do with it. History is not written by the victors then, it is simply the way that Biblical purposes play out. We are all just pawns to history writ large. What a crock of baloney. History is purposeful . . . what a concept! I guess those who claimed that “Progress was their most important product” were right in that they were just making it up . . . as a product . . . which we now call propaganda.
  5. Universalism as the ultimate goal (triumphalism). So, Genghis Khan’s desire to conquer the world was Biblical? Alexander the Great . . . him, too? So, our ultimate goal as participants in “Western Civilization” is to bring every other country into the fold? Is that true? The Bible’s stated goal of having the Jews rule the entire world is quite apparent. (This is what Yahweh promises.) The Catholic Church also that that particular goal, as does Islam. Gosh, don’t you think we would all be better off if that goal didn’t exist at all? This is hardly a good thing, you know.

* * *

I happen to like this author’s works (I have only read two) but this list is beyond the pale. These are the defining characteristics of Western Civilization . . . and they all come from the Bible? If that is the case, why is it that the longer a country is part of the Big WC, the less religious it becomes? That doesn’t seem to be a Biblically sourced idea, now does it?



June 7, 2020

The “Biblical” Source of Our Western Traditions

I have been reading another William G. Dever book “What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They know It?” The title sounds like a Watergate catch phrase but the book was written in 2001, so. . . ?

Near the end of the book the author is commenting on the value of the Bible in our civilization/culture and he stated the following as being derived from the Bible:

  1. The absolute worth of the individual (the right of self-determination)
    2. The rule of law and justice (democracy)
    3. The immutable authority of morality (virtue)
    4. Liberty and justice as the foundations of politics (public morality)
    5. A free, entrepreneurial market
    6. The power of mind to dominate nature and grasp truth of higher order (science)
    7. Government as ordained (the rule of law and order)
    8. The importance of tradition and meaning (religious and cultural values)
    9. History as purposeful (progress)
    10. Universalism as the ultimate goal (triumphalism).

Of these Dever states that we take “for granted the following notions and cultural values, nearly all of them derived from one or another interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. . . .”

Interestingly, I have owned dozens of Bibles and I must not have got the one he is drawing from.

Where to Start, Where to Start?
I guess I should just take these in order.

  1. The absolute worth of the individual (the right of self-determination)
    I guess he wasn’t referring to children, or women, or slaves, or non-Hebrews, or . . . The Hebrew Bible is all about obedience, obedience to Yahweh and his representatives upon Earth. The worth of individual Hebrews is found in the encoded laws and commandments and whatnot. Even trivial infractions of scriptures result in penalties of death, with no particular due process to be followed . . . take the bride not a virgin to the city gate and stone her to death, stone to death a cheeky teenager who speaks disrespectfully to his parents, etc. And as to value, prices are put on people’s lives, in silver or cattle, that tell exactly what value the Bible places on individual human lives, aka not much.
  2. The rule of law and justice (democracy)
    This is ludicrous. Nowhere in the Bible is democracy even mentioned, let alone condoned or recommended. The entire Biblical system is set up to be ruled by authoritarians. The father in the family. The military leaders in the armies. The priests and kings and whatnot in the public sphere. There is no voting, no solicitation of public sentiments, no agora where politics is debated, etc. Taxes are collected by tax farmers, aka thugs. The rule of law was determined by who was ruling at the time. Authority determined which rules were enforced and which were disregarded. (Is not the Bible full of excoriations of Hebrews who failed to exercise the law and their responsibilities . . . over and over and over.)
  3.  The immutable authority of morality (virtue)
    The immutable authority of Yahweh is what one finds but morality varies, depending upon Yahweh and who happens to be his representative on earth at the moment. When David disobeys Yahweh (confusingly as David and anyone reading the book cannot find out where he was disobedient), Yahweh punishes him by killing tens of thousands of his followers. What ever happened to “Thou shalt not murder?” I guess the absolute worth of the individual is as a marker for Yahweh’s ire. There is no abstract morality that all swear to follow. Yahweh issues commandments, not suggestions, not “if you love me, you will’s” . . . commandments and the implication is obey or else. How is that even a moral system?
  4. Liberty and justice as the foundations of politics (public morality)
    WTF? Politics? What politics? There is no polity, no elected officials, no elections. There is no place in which “citizens” have a say in anything. In fact there are no “citizens.” There are Hebrews, who are related through religion. Liberty? Justice? Possibly these concepts existed but, if your ass was needed in the army, you were in the army. Liberty? Self-determination? As long as you obeyed, well, I guess they existed somewhere else.
  5. A free, entrepreneurial market
    This is stated as if the Bible created these things. The idea of a market was created by the people, not by the Bible. The rules of the market were determined by the people participating, not by the Bible. As usual, religion comes along and co-opts these things but I think the Bible played a role in Biblical era markets about as much as it plays a role in the N.Y. Stock Exchange, which means not at all. According to the Bible you are free to act in a market, free to be a slave, free to starve, free to die of disease. free, free, free. And while you are dying, you can be an entrepreneur, too.

* * *

I am too emotionally drained to continue. I will do the other five tomorrow or the next day.

Blame It On the Greeks?

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 8:41 am
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The Greeks came up with some rather odd ideas. One was eventually codified into Platonism. This is a view that Ideal Forms and Ideal Ideas existed. This is not such a radical idea but they insisted that these Forms and Ideas existed in reality . . . in another realm (maybe beyond space and time?).

Socrates wanted to know all of the attributes of virtue so as to be able to guide the careers and lives of virtuous men (women didn’t count yet, #free_women). So, the Greeks also invented formal categories.

I don’t think that such concepts would exist at all, or exist in much detail, if it were not for philosophers, philosophers who were . . . what? They seemed to be people who wanted to sit around bullshitting and getting paid for it, kind of like the people on sports talk radio and TV are now.

So, think about a man at a bazaar looking to buy a knife. He picks one up, feels its balance and overall size, observes the workmanship, and then talks to the vendor, possibly haggling over the price. Does the category of “knives” even enter his thinking anywhere? I should think not. Now, later, sitting around a campfire the buyer of that knife might show off his new knife to his companions and they might comment as to whether it is a good knife, or a good deal, or whether it is preferable to another style of knife. (Think of Conan and Otli arguing over whose god was better around a campfire in the first Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan movie.) Do you think the “category” of knives would come up in that discussion? I don’t think so.

So, what were these philosophers up to (other than no good—ask your mother if it would be okay to hang out with a bunch of old men who do not have jobs)?

Clearly, looking around it is easy enough to see that nothing observable was perfect. Everything has flaws of some kind. The most beautiful young man you might fall in love with turns out to be as dull as a sack of hammers, your mirror has small specks in its polished surface, the vase you arrange flowers in has a base that isn’t quite flat, and so on. So, I can see playing a game of “What if he were perfect, what would he be like? Or what would a perfect knife be like? Or a perfect vase, or . . . or. . . . but to pontificate that the perfect versions of these things exist somewhere and the things we have are only bad copies is beyond bizarre. A sane man would speculate that the process of perfecting a creation could never be ended, and so perfect objects do not, and cannot exist. Ta da! Done! Consider that new knife designs are still being created. Is there a limit to the number of possible designs? What the heck could be the perfect avatar of “knives” when so many knives are different? Is there an “Absolute” for each design? And if you find that daunting, tackle “beauty” . . . they did!

What has the idea of perfect exemplars of every form and idea given us? The answer is . . . misery. This is where thoughts like “Jesus is perfect, man is flawed” come from. And where does Jesus reside? In another realm, along with all of the other perfect things, including a mansion with many rooms and you may get to live in it. Wow, I wonder if they have servants in that mansion?

Now that would be an interesting version of eternal torment. Those who fail to get into Heaven end up being servants in the Heavenly Mansion, living in meager servant’s quarters, eating leftovers, wearing hand-me-down garments, and no days off. All the time they are exposed to the wealthy mansion that all of the right acting and right thinking god-fearers get to enjoy. Now that would be everlasting torment, being forever exposed to all you lost out on. But no, those assholes had to dream up a Lake of Fire and demons! Why did God create demons? Only a dick would deliberately create demons or beings that could transform into demons.

I see imagination as a mental ability that we developed that helped us greatly to stay alive. Through imagination we could detect agency, that it we could imagine that rustling in the tall grass was a predator sneaking up on us and take actions to elude the stalking animal. But, of course, we have to take everything to extremes, especially when given leisure time (aka time not having to work to gather food, make shelters, make clothing, etc.) so we invent effing philosophers to do what? Imagine up all kinds of stuff, none of which has the possibility of benefiting the ordinary people, but much of which can be used by the elites to control the masses so they can siphon off our “surplus labor.”

* * *

Now I can see the value of categories. My academic subject field, chemistry, would be much more difficult without them. By assigning a chemical substance to a category, you can then characterize that substance with the general attributes of the category (e.g. metals are good conductors of electricity, and are malleable and ductile, etc.).

But one has to look carefully at what one is doing. In Plato’s case he said things like “A wind is pleasantly cool for one person but uncomfortably cold for another. A wine is sweet to a person who is well but sour to the same person when ill.” but then goes on by implying that human knowledge needs absolutes. Take that wine, for instance, is it sweet or is it sour, it can’t be both, no? Yes, it can. When I moved to the Midwest of the US from California I ended up with people who claimed a dish we were eating was “very spicy” but I thought was bland. (The offending spice was black pepper.) What I conclude is that perceptions depend upon context and aren’t absolutes. So, the wine is sweet when the person was well and sour when he was ill (but not at the same time), that is his sense of taste was affected by his illness. There does not need to be an idealized absolute “Sweet Wine” in the Realm of Absolutes so we can tell the sick person that they are wrong, the wine isn’t sour, so they can’t be tasting that. (My cartoon mind has the voice of Crocodile Dundee playing in the background saying “That’s not a sweet wine . . . this is a sweet wine.”)

These are the ideas of people who are too smart for their own good . .  our own good.

May 28, 2020

If Reality Were a Simulation, Could It Be Possible to Alter the Past of the Simulation?

Filed under: Philosophy,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:47 am
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I answered the question in the title of this post on Quora and I wanted to share it with you to see how you might respond to my final question (If you were an all-powerful deity, what would you do first?).

Here’s my answer to the question (slightly edited).

* * *

Sure, the simulation is stored as files and those files can be edited or overwritten. You could even retroactively change the rules involved.

Basically, if you believe in an all-powerful deity, what we have is the equivalent of a simulation. Such a deity could have created our reality 15 minutes ago, providing each of us with false memories leading us to believe what we believe now. Would we know any better?

If I were such a deity in our current reality, here are the first things I would do. First I would uncreate Satan, the Devil, Lucifer, etc and wipe the memories of these entities and their domains from human memory. Then I would adjust human free will, leaving 99+% of it intact but removing the Will to do Evil. Nobody would be inclined to do anything evil from that point onward but we would be free to prefer vanilla over chocolate, choose Toyota over Chevy, even so far as to freely choose to put pineapple on a pizza.

There are many, many things such an all-powerful deity could do … but hasn’t, at least to our knowledge.

If you had such power, what would you do first?

May 21, 2020

The Purpose of Your Life

Filed under: Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 9:52 am
You probably already know what I think about discussions of the purpose of life, the generic question, but what about the purpose of an individual’s life?

This topic was prompted by something I read, namely “The job I hope for, what I consider the most important part of what I see as my purpose, helping people, is to become a teacher.”

The adopted purpose of “helping people” or “helping others” comes off of the tongue quite easily as a stated purpose for one’s life. It even fell off of my tongue at one point in my life. It is still part of my pantheon of purposes but is stated quite differently now . . . “I enjoy helping people.”

The whole “my purpose in life is to help others” is bogus . . . sorry. The reason it is can be found in one simple question: “If your purpose in life is helping others, then why do the others exist?”

May 16, 2020

Oh, Boy, I Never Thought of This Before

Filed under: History,Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:31 am
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Like many of you I have been binge watching things available on cable TV services. I ran across a British series, Quark Science, on Amazon Prime that I have been enjoying, and even learned a thing or two. The episode I watched last night was on entropy and chaos theory and as they went into explaining chaos theory, I had quite a string of revelations.

For those of you who haven’t considered chaos theory it basically describes systems with multiple parts that contain feedback, which is basically all natural systems, and that such systems are inherently chaotic in that they cannot be predicted. The reason being is that they are very sensitive to the “initial conditions” and minor variations in those initial conditions affect substantially the final outcome. This is where the “Butterfly Effect” inherent in the question “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” comes from (and all of its other variants over the years).

In any case, I had a number of revelations from this excursion through science for the people.

#1 Chaos theory explains why determinism isn’t a possibility. In the centuries long free will debates there is often a road block in the form of the question as to whether we live in a deterministic universe, or not. If we actually live in a “clockwork universe” are all of our choices determine by stimuli and responses that are perfectly predictable? If we do live in a deterministic universe, then free will is an illusion. We are just robots responding to the stimuli we receive. Well, chaos theory shows us that we cannot live in a deterministic universe, because minor variations in any system can produced vastly different outcomes.

#2 Predicting the future is not possible. Since determinism isn’t possible, there is no basis, no cause-effect chain, that allows predicting of the future. As ancient people, we were obsessed with predicting the future. The reason was if you could predict what was going to happen, you could protect yourself from adverse changes and take advantage of the others. The Romans, for example, were very interested in Judaism because of their written records of prophecies (and their claims of accuracy). Chaos theory explains why weather prediction is about as good as it will get right now.

#3 Emergent properties make a lot more sense now. Emergent properties are properties that break any and all causal relationships established before then emerged. Chaos theory makes these more understandable.

#4 Chaos theory explains why the universe is the way it is. The laws of physics describe a transition during the Big Expansion of the universe, aka “The Big Bang,” from its initial almost all energy state to the formation of particles and then atoms. Those laws indicate that there should have been equal amounts of matter and anti-matter created. But our universe is almost all matter . . . where is all the antimatter? Why the asymmetry between the creation of matter and antimatter? The scenario goes like this: as the particles formed, there would be equal amounts of matter and anti-matter which would self-annihilate and produce light and so the universe would become an expanding sphere of light, The End. But the data show that a part per billion excess of matter over anti-matter would yield the universe we know now. In that scenario, the particles would form and the matter and anti-matter particles would annihilate, producing an immense flask of light (later to become the Cosmic Background Radiation) but a part per billion concentration of matter would be left over, enough to create all of the stars, planets and galaxies in the universe.

But where could a 1 ppb difference between the two forms of matter come from? Well, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and chaos theory almost guarantee these two forms would not be created in exactly equal amounts, and voila! (Note To grasp the size of a part per billion, take quite a large swimming pool and fill it with pinto beans. Then throw in one black bean. Stir. The concentration of black beans in the mixture is roughly 1 ppb.)

Interestingly, we don’t really know which form of matter survived. We call the one that survived matter and the one that did not anti-matter, but since their properties are opposites of one another, we just really know they are opposites, not which one we have.

There is much, much more that the chaos theory helps clarify, such as the self-organization of matter and so on. All of these things fly, splat!, into the face of our limited thinking. Most of us, me included, are still immersed in the “clockwork universe” thinking we inherited from Victorians. We still think of the world around us as being mechanisms, complex mechanism for sure, but much like the gears and levers in a mechanical device. Scientists have passed beyond that previous view and moved on but many of the rest of us, me included, haven’t followed because thinking about such things is hard! Really hard.

But programs, or rather programmes, like Quark Science make them much, much easier to understand. I recommend the series to you.

And, since I am in speculation mode, I suspect that my clinging to the clockwork universe paradigm is an artifact of my education. As scientists we are taught classical sciences before we are taught “modern sciences.” Our early thinking patterns are determined by the paradigms of classical science. This is why we find the transition to modern science difficult. And, if one goes on to study ancient science, it is hard to learn also because they were thinking quite differently from how we think now.

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