Uncommon Sense

January 20, 2022

Are You a Free Market Advocate?

It has been tried.

https://mitchellglennfrommichigan.medium.com/free-market-economics-is-a-disaster-just-ask-a-chilean-629e9c10d270

It was a unmitigated disaster.

Then, why are these ideologies still being preached here? Well, in Chile, some billionaires got everso much richer. Pssst . . . follow the money.

January 18, 2022

People are Good? Stop the Madness!

Filed under: Culture,Morality,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:28 am
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An orthodox rabbi made an astounding proclamation recently, but the good man, Dennis Prager, will set him straight.

The Rabbi claimed that . . . wait for it . . . that people are good. Oh, the perfidy, the obtuseness, the betrayal of Judeo-Christian ethics and morals!

Accord in Prager:

With regard to Judaism, the Torah completely rejects the notion that man is basically good. God Himself states that “the will of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21) and that “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5).

For a rabbi to assert that man is basically good is to assert that God was wrong. I am used to secular people saying that, not Orthodox rabbis.

Ah, preaching to the choir, again, Dennis. But Genesis also said other things. For example, at the end of the sixth day of creation, the Torah says “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Every thing, that phrase includes the people He had made, no? How did they get from being “very good,” noy just “good” mind you, in chapter 1 of Genesis to being the bearer of only evil thoughts in chapter 6? How is Yahweh not responsible for His flawed creation? Why is he blaming everyone around him, but not Himself?

And why is Mr. Prager, along with all of the other “religious authorities,” claiming that the evil characterizations of scripture are valid, but not the good characterizations? Gosh, do you think they have an incentive to promoting the disease they claim only they have the cure for? Do you think?

January 12, 2022

Another Book Recommendation

Filed under: Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 1:46 pm
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I am only part way through this one but it seems too good to keep to myself. If you, like me, are an atheist, then I think this is a must read book. The reason: well, the author says things exactly as I have been thinking them for quite some time, but almost never am I that blunt.

The book is “The Praying Ape: How Evolution Explains the Strange Phenomenon of Religious Belief” by Allan Lees.

Here is a taste.

Right out of the box, the introduction begins:
“There is one very curious fact about the human race that few people notice: alone among all the other animals on the planet, our species lives largely in an imaginary world. All other animals live in the real world, a world of predators and prey, of hunger and satiation, of inclement weather and shelter. We, on the other hand, see gods and goblins everywhere. We conjure “reasons” for events that are in fact entirely unconnected with our fantastical imaginings. We believe if we mutter ritual incantations and make suitable genuflections these actions will result in some gift being bestowed or some boon being granted by one or more invisible magical creatures for which there has never been the slightest shred of evidence and the existence of which would be contrary to everything we know about how the universe actually works.”

Later he says:

“While lamentable intellectually, it may be necessary emotionally for the vast majority of our species to indulge in this self-deception in order to be able to function adequately on a daily basis. Our minds may simply be incapable of dealing with reality in any meaningful way. Thus superstition, and by extension religious belief, may be a necessary mental crutch upon which most people hobble through life.”
“In conclusion, therefore, we can see that there are no viable arguments to be made for religion, regardless of whether one is pleading morality, utility, causality, or subjectivity. The only other potential argument would be from evidence but this is not a proposition available to religionists simply because there never has been any evidence in favor of whatever superstitious and supernatural beliefs have been invoked across time and place. No religion has ever produced anything even remotely approaching tangible evidence or even secondary or tertiary evidence of the existence of any form of invisible magical creature or “grand plan” or a plausible mechanism by means of which such a creature could create the universe in which we live.”

This book is highly recommended.

January 4, 2022

Government is No Replacement for Religion (Thank God!)

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:46 am
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All evidence to the contrary, there are people who espouse the idea in this piece’s title. In an online article entitled “We Must Stop the Progressive Doctrine of More Government and Less Religion!” by Star Parker on Dec 29, 2021, the author says the following: “One great mystery is the persistent refusal of those on the left to abandon what is clearly not true. That is, that the means for reducing the burden of poverty is more government spending.”

Silly progressives!

She goes on to say “As Americans allow themselves to be convinced that government is the answer to their lives, they become more likely to abandon faith and religion, which provide the light and principles for individuals to take control of their own lives.”

Basically she is saying government (all of us acting as one) is no substitute for religion when it comes to poverty (and every other social aspect of our society).

WTF?

Hey, you don’t need permission, if your religion can provide the antidote to poverty, fire away. Do it. What are you waiting for? Why whine that bad, old government is undermining your religious beliefs when your religion has all of the answers? Hey, put up or shut up. If religion has the answer to poverty or any other social ill, they should execute their plan and do away with it. Then there would be no need for government intervention, right?

This sounds much like the Catholics whittling away at the contraceptive coverage in Obamacare because they couldn’t enforce their ban on contraception in their own church’s memberships.

The religious are oh, so quick to use government power when it is in their favor and then decry the influence of “big (bad) government” when it is not.

If you can solve these problems, do it. If not, how about shutting up while we try to find something that actually works.

I hate whining.

Life After Death—You Just Have to Believe!

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:41 am

An author I just read claims to “believe” in life after death, amongst a number of other things based upon his ability to “sense” electricity, but I am going to set that aside. In his diatribe about how consciousness survives death the author pointed out that “Researchers say there’s evidence that consciousness continues after clinical death.” This is true. But as someone who has gotten exercise from jumping to conclusions, I don’t think the author read the article closely enough, or based his thinking on what a “science writer” wrote interpreting those results.

Most of us think that when we die, the “light goes out” as when a light switch is thrown. One second you are alive, the next you are dead. The scientific findings showed, conclusively I think, that dying is a process that takes more time than we are inclined to believe. And, using “clinical death” as a standard of comparison is iffy at best. We have more than one definition of when a person is “truly dead,” in fact I think there are many. Why is this? Possibly this is because dying is a process that takes more time than we are inclined to believe.

It was not that long ago that burial crypts had bells installed in them because people interred in them “came back to life” and were trapped in those crypts. The bell was a way to signal for help.

Being dead and being in a deep coma are easier to distinguish today because of modern instrumentation, EKGs, etc. In the past, well, mistakes were made. Some of these were labeled “resurrections.” Here is a sure test. If you think someone is dead, wait a week and check again. I have heard of no accounts of people being resurrected after a week of time, except in horror novels.

It is extremely unlikely that consciousness survives death. I mean really, really, really unlikely . . . really! Think about it. Every night when you go to sleep you become unconscious. Why is that? You are alive, no? So, why do you lose consciousness? Where does your consciousness go? Apparently some physical part of your body has some maintenance or other to do to support being conscious the rest of the day. Having gone more than a whole day without sleep, I can attest to unpleasantness associated with that and would not want to have extended that experiment longer than one day.

It seems clear, from disease and injury studies, that the seat of our consciousness is our brains. Upon death, our brains, along with all other tissues of our bodies, decompose. That is a technical term for “turn to goo.” Our muscles no longer work and neither do our brains as their structures have turned to goo. A brain dead for any time no longer has the capacity to do what it did while you were alive, so how is one’s consciousness supposed to be supported? Where does it reside?

It seems to me that beliefs in consciousness after death are residuums of the belief in souls, which are manifestations of beliefs in an afterlife, which became the domain of religions. The soul provided a mechanism by which one could carry on after dying. But nature tells us over and over than “life continues after your death, it just doesn’t involve you.” Some people find this fact dismaying. I think those people need to get a grip on reality. Believing in things untrue get you nowhere. I am constantly surprised that people say that religious beliefs are “consoling.” How can something you know is not true be consoling. (Every time I hear someone say “I know <name of loved one here> is up there looking down upon us . . .” all I feel is sadness, that people cling to such beliefs.

January 2, 2022

Does Understanding Help Apply Knowledge?

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 10:39 am
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The word understand has roots that essentially mean “to stand between or among.” That is being so intimately involved with something as to grok what it is. In each of our cases our knowledge vastly outweighs our understanding. What we know, does not mean we understand. This is nowhere more apparent than in religious discussions. People claim knowledge they do not understand.

In these discussions the difference between correlation and causation often arises. Just because something happens before something else doesn’t mean the earlier action caused the latter. Examples are: the larger a child’s shoe size, the higher their IQ score and 96% of all U.S. prisoners ate carrots and peas as children! Often enough these discussions stop at a couple of examples, but there is a key aspect that doesn’t receive enough attention. To establish causation, you need to provide a mechanism between stimulus and response. To claim that a god is a cause of any action requires that a mechanism for the creation of that action be stipulated. This is almost never the case. Occasionally one is given a mechanism. In the Bible, people are first created out of mud with life being “breathed” into them. This is clearly nonsense as mud doesn’t contain enough of the elements people are made of to do the job, so apparently some of the mud’s elements were transmuted to the needed elements by . . . by what mechanism? Transmutation of elements is bloody difficult and can’t be done willy-nilly. There are patterns of change in nature that are allowed and others forbidden.

So, when one can supply causal chains of events, e.g. sunlight beaming down through droplets of water causing the light to be refracted, as in a prism, and a rainbow occurs (there are many more details involved, but all of them have been worked out and tested), one has some understanding of an event.

But, as I mentioned, our knowledge clearly outweighs our understanding. For example, how many of us clearly understood the biology of reproduction before having children? Was the understanding needed? Clearly not. If it were our species would have died out long ago.

I have been laboring under the belief that understanding does help apply and extend knowledge. I am a scientist after all, but is that true?

I have been reading John Ralston Saul’s “On Equilibrium” and on page 30 he says “As the quantity of understanding has grown, we have made an appalling discovery. Understanding does not necessarily help us use our knowledge in a sensible or shared way. Let’s say in a commonsensical way. The exact opposite seems to happen.

Now Ralston is trying to relate understanding to our society, but I think he is missing the point. He goes on to say “To put it bluntly, understanding often seems to rush on like a blinkered runaway horse. It rushes on and on with a curious combination of determinism and panic, indifferent to the consequences. This sort of disembodied understanding—in which the process of seeking a particular truth is justification in and of itself—actually flees the perceived limitations of shared knowledge.”

This is true but not on point. Scientists are focused, possible too narrowly, on acquiring understanding that doesn’t enter society’s storehouses. Getting a Ph.D. degree studying how the knees of mosquitoes function is clearly not something that will impact society. But in order for understanding to help apply and extend knowledge, the extender must possess the understanding and the knowledge together.

Consider that at one time in our European roots there were craft guilds. Craftsmen were taught certain useful skills by a guild master to become someone who could make furniture, shoe horses, make pottery, whatever. Almost all knowledge was traditional. The operative principle is that “we do that way because we have always done it that way.” Questions were not encouraged and were actively discouraged. European religions, I suspect, prepared apprentices for the needed mindset. These systems weren’t great innovation machines because doing anything differently was an attack on tradition and was also an attack on the masters because what they possessed was knowledge but not understanding. The industrial revolution and the scientific revolution blew these older tradition-based systems out of the water, as it were. Innovation surged ahead, but our society hasn’t kept pace. We have developed very few systems to elevate understanding and knowledge to new levels, compulsory education being the only one I can think of.

A consequence of this is that our current public discourse is barely coherent. Theists attack things like the Big Bang theory and the theory of evolution with statements that clearly show they lack both knowledge and understanding of the topic. Yet, they seem to believe that they are participating in rational discourse.

Yes, knowledge has never been more at our fingertips, you can Google it! But science has expanded knowledge so far beyond what any individual could learn and understand, too, that as a society, we have very little understanding in common and not being in common means that it cannot support a healthy, stable society. For a time we had a tradition of consulting “experts” but that has been undermined by disinformation and, well, by experts selling nonsense for money (I’m speaking to you, economists!). Business “consultants” are notorious for telling their paymasters what they wanted to hear. Even accounting firms with massive reputations have gone acropper by fudging their analyses to make what their paymasters wanted to be true to look as if it were(remember Arthur Anderson, LLP?).

And now, nefarious political actors are muddying our political discourse with outright lies for money. Such politicians have always been there but now they are far more numerous and well paid and have more outlets that don’t have gatekeepers weeding out the idiocies.

So, for the vast majority of the time, people do not need understanding to further their knowledge, which shows up as disdain in some for those who do possess understanding.

But, I think that for those of us who wish to master our crafts, understanding can be an important aspect of achieving something more. Instead of doing things the way we were taught, we can explore new ways of doing things, letting our understanding guide us.

January 1, 2022

We Need to Fix Capitalism . . . Now!

Capitalism is quite flawed, but so are all of the other economic/political systems. Some countries have been good at reining capitalism’s excesses . . . this country isn’t one of those.

As I have said, often enough, capitalism’s Achilles’ Heel is that it doesn’t place any limits whatsoever upon greed. I suggest that a good start at reining in the greed woven into the warp and woof of capitalism is to eliminate speculation. There is no inherent good associated with speculation, although there are many associated evils in it; for example, people try over and over to manipulate prices, markets, whatever to make their speculations pay off, legally and illegally. Those are not what might be classified as productive labors.

We need to eliminate speculation as something that doesn’t contribute anything to our society, nor does it contribute anything to individuals. It is a form of gambling, pure and simple.

There is something called the “futures markets” in which prices are set now for sales that will take place in the future for various commodities. The buyers are hoping the prices go up and they will get a deal when that sale is triggered and the sellers are hoping the prices are going to go down, so they will get a fatter price for their goods. In an ideal world this process helps to moderate price changes, but in the world we live in, it is just another form of gambling.

The stock markets are dominated by secondary sales, making the story about the role of such markets in our economy we are taught in school to be a very, very minor form of providing capital for businesses. Instead these markets are very close to just being casinos where rich people gamble.

Let me explain how these capitalistic devices have taken over. If you go to the store and buy, say, a shirt in most states you will pay a sales tax, up to almost 10% of the price of the item (although a small number of states charge nothing, but I think there are just five of those). But if you buy a share of stock, what “sales tax” to you pay? The answer is nada, zip, zilch, no tax at all. Some items, such as alcoholic beverages, include what used to be called “sin taxes.” Extra taxes are levied upon alcoholic beverages to discourage their consumption (Get behind me, Demon Rum!). We do the same for gasoline in which there are substantial taxes, both federal and state, paid and then sales taxes added on top of those! We could do the same for stock transactions. This would discourage speculation, certainly the practice of buying a stock and selling in when its price went up a few cents, often just seconds or minutes after the buying transaction. (Amazing what you can do with computers!) If the profits from the sale didn’t cover the sales taxes, those sales wouldn’t be made.

Plus people who buy and sale and trade stocks contribute nothing to our society. Extensive studies show that stock markets are actually a drag on our economy (they extract funds from the economy without producing anything in exchange). We, at least, need to slow their roll.

Currently we have a patent system, a flawed system but it works . . . kind of, sort of. Drug companies have become adept at acquiring patents and then jacking up the prices for the goods produced under those patents. A current example is insulin. One vial of insulin lispro (Humalog), which used to cost $21 in 1999, costs $332 in 2019, reflecting a price increase of more than 1000%. The cost of manufacturing that drug has barely changed over that same time period. We could change patent laws to prevent such abuses. “What the market will bear” is not a limit upon greed. These same pharmaceutical companies have also taken to making very, very (very!) minor changes in their drug’s formulations to apply for new patents, extending their “right” to make as much money as they want. Patents were supposed to, were designed to, expire so that those things end up belonging to the commonweal. Often the public has already paid to research that drug in the first place through public universities and federal institutions and research funding. The same thing is woven into our copyright laws with written works and others eventually ending up in the public domain.

We have tools to rein in greed in capitalism but the current greedy class has acquired so much wealth that they are blocking access to the political gears of government to make such reforms. If we do not act soon, it will be too late. The only result of extreme wealth inequality is armed strife.

December 29, 2021

Jack, The Most Interesting Dog in the World

Filed under: Culture,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 1:27 pm
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  1. A portrait of Jack, in progress

    He sings, but only baracarolles
    2. His breed is barcalounger because when he isn’t barking, he is lounging.
    3.  He never barks up a wrong tree; he has staff for that job.
    4.  Unlike the other presidential candidates, he can scratch his ear with his hind leg.
    5.  When he goes to Spain, he chases the bulls.
    6.  Once a rattlesnake bit him, after five days of excruciating pain, the snake finally died.
    7.  His tears can cure cancer. Too bad he never cries.
    8.  The dark is afraid of him.
    9.  He once taught a German shepherd how to bark in French.
    10.  He has taught older dogs a variety of newer tricks.
    11.  He can kill two stones with one bird.
    12.  Whatever side of the tracks he’s currently on is the right side, even if he crosses the tracks, he’ll still be on the right side.
    13.  The police often question him, just because they find him interesting.
    14.  He won the same lifetime achievement award . . . twice.
    15.  When in Rome, they do as he does
    16.  Presidents take his birthday off.
    17.  He is considered a national treasure in countries he’s never visited.
    18.  He never says something tastes like chicken, not even chicken.
    19.  His pillow is cool on both sides
    20.  He is the life of parties that he hasn’t attended.
    21.  He has never filled up on chips.
    22.  He once won a staring contest with his own reflection.
    23.  Presidents celebrate his birthday.
    24.  In a past life, he was himself.
    25.  On multiple occasions, he has vouched for himself.
    26.  His morning breath has notes of cilantro and sweet potato.
    27.  He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels.
    28.  Sharks have a week dedicated to him.
    29.  Roses stop to smell him.
    30.  His cereal never gets soggy; it sits there, staying crispy, just for him.
    31.  Cars look both ways for him, before driving down a street.
    32.  He has crossed the point of no return – on several occasions.
    33.  UFOs report sightings of him.
    34.  Jesus wears a bracelet asking “What would Jack do?”
    35.  He doesn’t always carry on, but when he does he keeps calm.
    36.  When a tree falls in a forest and no one is there, he hears it.
    37.  Time waits on no one, but him.
    38.  His friends call him by his name, his enemies don’t call him anything because they are all dead.
    39.  He lives vicariously through himself.
    40.  Nobody dares to rub him the wrong way.

December 19, 2021

The Illusion of Control

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:27 am
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There is a current Medium.com post entitled “Are You in Control of Your Mind? ‘No,’ Says Neuroscientist Sam Harris.” Which stimulated this post on human illusions. That article is part of the ongoing free will discussion . . . of course.

We all have these desires: desires for being sure, for being in control of our lives, for finding the true meaning of our life . . . and those are all illusions. Think about control. What does it mean to you? Think about being in control of your life, or being out of control of your life. What feelings are evoked?

People who have “lost control” of their lives, possibly for no fault of their own, possibly for indulging too much in illicit drugs, whatever are disparaged. They are pitied and often despized. We all tend to think, unlike the despised ones, that we have control over our lives, I suggest considerably more than what we really have. Consider that Stoic philosophy is based upon the claim that “we cannot control what happens to us, we can only control how we respond to it.” And this is a philosophy, currently undergoing a renaissance, that is over 2000 years old.

But we dreamily go through life, making plans, and feeling as if we are in control. How many people do you think, God-fearing Americans, planned on opening a small business and jumped through all of the hoops, had the right advisors, reasonable capitalization, etc. and opened their doors in the Spring of 2020? Boom, whap! The COVID pandemic shutdown crushes their dreams and their business slowly or quickly circles the drain. Were they in control of that? Should they have planned for that? Could they have planned for that?

Being in control of your mind is a fantasy. Nobody, not Newton, not Einstein, not Aristotle was in control of his mind. That is not what minds are for. For example, a common question is “where do thoughts come from?” Thoughts pop into your mind consciously seemingly at random. We do not know how these thoughts are created by why they happen seems evident. One job of your mind is to anticipate the future. Ordinary animals just wait for things to happen. Humans are constantly anticipating. I suggest that is what the power of imagination is for, and why it evolved (it helped us survive). We can anticipate events, at least things that might occur, and prepare to face them ahead of time, rather than simply react to what is happening now. (Those advising you to “live in the present moment” are suggesting that you throw away this valuable tool, rather than learn to harness it.)

So, your brain is taking in sensory information and whipping scenarios out so you can be prepared for what might happen. Do you really want to be in control of that process?

Similarly, someone calculated from the numbers of nerves involved in sensory activities the amount of information, bits if you will, that our senses pull in every minute. The amount is staggering. What happens to most of this information? It is discarded. For example, I am sitting in a chair as I type this. If I focus my attention, I notice the pressure I feel from the seat of the chair. I can feel the fabric of my pants against my skin. A couple of minutes ago, I noticed none of that. What happened to those sensations a couple of minutes ago? They were discarded. We can direct out attention . . . somewhat . . . which determines to some extent what sensory information makes it through the winnowing process but that cannot be an exclusive process. Overrides are built into the system, like when I cut my finger when cooking (I did this a couple of days ago) and boy, my attention got placed on that cut with no effort on my part (ow, ow, ow, ow).

And the flaw in almost all of the free will discussions is that they focus entirely upon conscious free will. But, our lives are dominated by unconscious and autonomic processes. Consciousness is used for a small subset of our activities. Philosophers shy away from addressing the idea of unconscious free will because that smacks of determinism to them. That sensory or other forces cause the unconscious “us” to behave in certain ways, which makes us slaves, robots to those data inputs. Our behavior is determined by whatever inputs come into the system. (“Determinism, determinism! . . . imagine this sung with “Fiddler on the Roof” bravura.)

But we know less of the unconscious functions of our brains than we know of our conscious minds. Why couldn’t our unconscious minds exert our will freely? Why does our will necessarily be conscious?

Consciously we create ideas that just don’t exist. Absolutes don’t exist. Perfect control of anything doesn’t exist (if you think it does, consult NASA, they will disabuse you of any idea of being in control of complex systems). Being sure doesn’t exist. Being sure is dangerous. And free will is not a “yes-no” question.

December 16, 2021

Equal Protection Under the Law

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion,Science,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 11:32 am
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Conservatives, especially conservative SCOTUS justices, would like nothing more than to repeal Roe v. Wade and turn the issue over to the states.

They are claiming this is the “democratic” thing to do.

Political cartoonists are our modern court jesters, but that doesn’t mean they play fair.

But this is not the issue. The issue is whether there is equal protection under the law. If this issue is detailed to the states the following scenario is very likely to happen. In one hospital, a woman receives a safe abortion, paid for by her medical insurance, and is released into the care of her family. Twenty miles away, a doctor giving a woman an abortion is arrested and charged with murder. So is the woman who hired the doctor to do the procedure, so is her husband for driving his wife to her medical clinic.

The difference? In the twenty miles separating the two facilities is a state border.

The federal government has stepped in over and over . . . and over, to make policies consistent across state lines to ensure “equal protection under the law.”

There are only a few issues over which it has demurred, e.g. capital punishment, although it has restricted the methods by which capital punishment can be imposed.

Surely the legality of the procedure is a matter of interstate commerce, no? Can a legal procedure in one state carry a death penalty in another?

Instead of turning it over to the states, we would be much better off to do what Canada has done; it forbade legislation on the matter, declaring it a personal matter, not a public matter. Canada has no laws, other than the health and safety laws governing all medical procedures, on the topic . . . none. And I just can’t believe that all Canadians are going to Hell because of their sensibility.

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