May 9, 2016

Clever Game of Thrones-related title

Ok, this shit has been pissing me off for long enough and it's time to exorcise my brain demons by writing it down. Game of Thrones spoilers ahead.

First order of business: the retarded banishment of Jorah from Meereen. I've written alternative dialogue for that scene; what a smarter and less castrated Jorah might have said, and how a more reasonable Daenerys might have reacted to it. David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, if you guys read this and you feel like making your show less retarded, feel free to use this dialogue when re-recording the scene for a bluray re-release.

[Sorry about the retardedly-formatted dialogue; probably gonna edit this to make it look better once I learn how to do that. Also fuck you blogspot for not figuring this shit out for me. Oh also I'm not actually sorry about it; you don't come here for nicely formatted posts anyway, and it's really only annoying to me. Actually I guess it is annoying to you because you're me because I'm the only one that comes here. Haha. That is some solid comedy gold. Too bad it will all go away when I delete this paragraph after getting everything to work. But at least you will know it was once here. Because you're me. Anyway, back to the topic.]

     Daenerys: Why did the Usurper pardon you?

     Jorah: I used to spy on you for Varys, the spymaster of King's Landing. I told him you were pregnant, among other things.

     Daenerys: That wine merchant tried to poison me because of your information.

     Jorah: Yep.

     Daenerys: You betrayed me. From the first.

     Jorah: Uh, what now? I betrayed you from the first? As in, I wasn't loyal to you from the very moment I laid eyes on you? Well yeah, I suppose I am guilty of that. I had fled my country in shame for doing heinous things, and I took the job because I was desperate for a chance to redeem myself, and the best interests of some girl I had never met just wasn't on my list of priorities. And despite all this, I betrayed them, saved your life and devoted myself to you within months of meeting you based solely on the sheer awesomeness of your person. All of this before I first swore to you when you emerged from Drogo's funeral pyre. Before that I only swore a false oath to your brother, and I guess you could call that a betrayal but that's just what needs to be done in order to be a loyal spy. So I did basically the opposite of what you're accusing me of. Oh, by the way, if I had stayed loyal to your brother you wouldn't have your dragons. You're welcome.

     Barristan: Oh for fuck's sake...

     Daenerys: Well, fine, but still you should have told me sooner.

     Jorah: Yeah, sorry.

     Daenerys: I guess you can be an, uh, whatever it is that poor people do. Street cleaner I guess. For a fortnight.

     Jorah: Yes, Khaleesi. An appropriate and proportionate punishment for the crime, wouldn't you say, Ser Barristan?

     Barristan: Fuck you, Mormont.

     Jorah: Eat shit, Selmy.

Second order of business: Syrio Forel. He's not dead, and if you think he is, you're not qualified to have an opinion on anything.

Let's take a look at our combatants. On the one hand we have Meryn Trant, and as the Hound was kind enough to inform us, any boy whore with a sword could beat three Meryn Trants. Now, that may have been a tad hyperbolic, but he has never demonstrated his skill and every second- and third-hand account of him in both the show and books has portrayed him as a cruel, vile, cowardly little shit whose combat skill lies somewhere in the range from terrible to mediocre. He has attained his current status because he's a Lannister lackey who will obey any order, no matter how vile, and probably because of nepotism too. It is known that he's a fairly decent jouster, but that has little to do with real combat skill.

On the other hand we have Syrio Motherfucking Forel. He was the First Sword of Braavos - the personal bodyguard and champion of the Sealord (governor) of Braavos - for nine years, and while he appears to be past his prime, he's not exactly an old man. He's undoubtedly one of the greatest Water Dancers alive. Now, some will cast doubt on the efficacy of Water Dancing because they don't use "armor and a big fucking sword", but Jorah went up against a Water Dancer (getting right about sick of capitalizing this shit) in the Meereen fighting pits and got his ass handed to him pretty severely. The guy was toying with him. And Jorah is no slouch. He's not quite up there with the legends like pre-mutilation Jaime or Barristan in his prime, but he's somewhere on the scale between competent and formidable. He could probably beat three Meryn Trants.

I think the reason people tend to underestimate water dancing is because of Arya, who has barely any training and no real combat experience and is tiny and weak and yet supremely confident when going up against seasoned warriors who disarm her with one move. A real water dancer could go head to head with a Westerosi knight in any armor, deflecting, dodging, aiming for the weakpoints with their thin rapiers, though if need be they could also dance around their target and tire them out, kinda like Bronn did at the Eyrie except it's their specialty and an integral part of their technique. I'm not saying water dancing is necessarily better than Westerosi-style heavily armed fighting, but if it were vastly inferior, the richest and most powerful of the Free Cities would surely have figured that out long ago and abandoned the style.

As for this particular fight, because of the vast difference in skill, Syrio could easily dance around Trant with a broken wooden sword, or even unarmed. Just look at how Drogo danced around a guy who was way faster than Trant because he had no armor, a lighter weapon and a combat style that favors agility. Or he could just pick up a sword from one of the knocked-out guards. They were coming to, after all, so he wouldn't want to procrastinate. Though he could probably have taken them all on at once once he had a sword, given how easily he handled the situation with a stick.

Some questions remain:

Why did he let Trant live? There's no way to know for sure. Perhaps some passing goldcloaks heard the commotion and sounded the alarm, and Syrio decided to run because 50 men were heading his way. I mean he said the First Sword of Braavos doesn't run, but perhaps facing overwhelming odds made him forget his honor, or maybe saying that was just posturing in the first place because he knew he could take Trant. Or perhaps Syrio did win, knocking everyone out, killing and disposing of one guard and taking his clothes and face because he is Jaqen H'ghar or some other faceless man. Maybe he just won and left. We know based on what happened to Arya, as well as H'ghar's earlier murder debt to her back in Westeros, that worshippers of the Many-Faced God (a.k.a. God of Death) have some weird rules about when and whom it is okay to kill, and after he won, there was no need to kill the guards that lay knocked out on the ground.

Why did he let Trant grab his wood? Even if he had a real sword, the director of that scene would have us believe that anyone with a gauntlet could render one of the greatest water dancers alive helpless by simply grabbing his sword. It's an absurd proposition that should not be taken seriously by anyone after a moment's thought. If you suck at logical thinking, you might view the fact that Trant grabbed the wood as evidence that Syrio was in over his head (although he could still just have picked up a real sword...) but I view it as the most damning piece of evidence against this silly idea that Syrio is dead, because there's just no way that could have happened against Syrio's intent unless you believe water dancing sucks, and the guy in the fighting pit clearly disproved that once and for all (not that it needed disproving even then).

Anyway, it's clear that Syrio let Trant grab his wood in order to make Arya run away, so why did he do that? Either because he didn't know what was going on and thought her father was still 'in the game', so to speak (very plausible if he is not Jaqen H'ghar), or because just didn't wanna have to look after some fucking kid, or because he somehow knew that she was destined for great things and he was guiding her on the right path. Consider that Jaqen H'ghar would never in a million years get caught by the City Watch unless he wanted to. So if Syrio is H'ghar, why would he be wasting his time teaching some rich brat in King's Landing to fight? Probably because she was destined for great things and he was guiding her on the right path. And then the most convenient way to follow her was to go with the Night's Watch, and the most plausible way for him to pass as a recruit was to be a prisoner, and the safest way for him to get into the dungeons so he could be recruited - certainly safer than trying to get caught stealing or something and risk being killed in the arrest - was to take a guard's place and then sneak into the dungeons and pose as a prisoner shortly before Yoren arrived to take recruits.

I was gonna stop with two retarded things, but writing about it has pissed me off again so let's add a third thing: that retarded scene with Rorge and Biter attacking the Hound. Here's my interpretation of that scene:

     Rorge: Look, that's the Hound. The one with the bounty. And he's got his back turned to us. We could easily drive a sword right through his gut, neck or head, killing him in one blow.

     Biter: Ok, I'm just gonna charge at him and bite him in the least lethal way possible.

     Rorge: Oh, well that's fine. I still have plenty of time to deliver that fatal blow to him while he's distracted with you.

     Hound: I'm gonna snap your friend's neck.

     Rorge: I'm still just standing here for some reason.

     Hound: The fuck you doing?

     Rorge: Now I will explain what we were doing instead of attempting to escape or attack you, and then I'm going to stand around and wait for something to happen.

     Arya: I'm going to describe my prior experiences with you in such a way that it's clear that the only interest I could possibly have in you involes your death at my hands.

     Hound: I'm going to bring up that you have a list of people upon which one could reasonably expect to find a man whose death at your hands is the only thing you could want from him, with the obvious implication that this list couldn't be anything other than a kill list.

     Rorge: I'm gonna provide you with the information you need in order to add me to your list while not drawing any conclusions from any of this nor worrying that you might wish to retaliate after learning that we tried to kill you.

     Arya: I'm gonna draw my sword.

     Rorge: Ok, I'll just stand here and keep waiting for something to happen.

     Arya: I'm gonna put my sword through your heart.

     Rorge: Ok.

     Arya: Your heart now has an extra hole in it.

     Rorge: If only I could have seen this coming.

To recap:

  • Daenerys is a fucking idiot.
  • Jorah is a fucking idiot.
  • Barristan is a fucking idiot.
  • Missandei is a fucking idiot.
  • Grey Worm is a fucking idiot.
  • Anyone who was within earshot of Daenerys uttering the words "you betrayed me from the first" and didn't protest that that doesn't make any goddamn sense is a fucking idiot.
  • People who think Syrio Forel is dead are fucking idiots.
  • Anyone who was involved in the making of the Rorge and Biter scene on any level and didn't vehemently protest that it was a fucking stupid scene is a fucking idiot.

June 30, 2014

On agnosticism - a boring semantic analysis (warning: boring)

Until recently, I've always seen agnosticism as a bullshit label erroneously self-applied by smug assholes trying differentiate themselves from atheists in order to appear open-minded, when in reality they're just being intellectually disingenuous, refusing to embrace the rationale of atheism yet lacking faith which is the only valid excuse (if there ever was one) not to look at the issue critically, or simply refusing to acknowledge the fact that their position is equivalent in every meaningful way to atheism, hiding behind obnoxious remarks like "well you can't know".

The way I saw it, and the way pretty much anyone who has looked up the "proper" definition sees it, agnosticism is either the position that it's unknown or that it's unknowable whether any deity exists, and atheism is simply the negation of theism, meaning you're either a theist or an atheist depending on whether you actively believe in the existence of a deity, regardless of whether you're agnostic. Certainly this definition makes sense from an etymological perspective; the prefix a- means 'without' or 'not' in this situation, so if you're not a theist, well, you're not a theist, so by definition you're an atheist, and gnosis means knowledge, so gnosticism and agnosticism are not simply positions of belief, but of knowledge (or "belief of knowledge").

But a definition doesn't just have to be etymologically correct in order to be appropriate. If a word has a useful place in the common vernacular, and the concept it refers to has no synonyms, but the word itself turns out to be a combination of the Italian slang terms for 'nose picking', 'public' and 'fortune teller', you don't redefine the word to mean 'fortune teller who likes to pick their nose in public'. If it doesn't need a word, don't give it one.

Let's apply that logic to agnosticism. All atheists are agnostic except the ones who fail to understand the concept of an unfalsifiable hypothesis, and we don't need a word for people who fail to understand a certain concept. By and large, theists believe that it's up to their god whether or not it wants to reveal itself. If a creator deity exists, surely it's powerful enough that it could make sure to leave no trace of itself in nature. Any transcendent god has the power to reveal itself to all mankind or conceal themselves from it, and even if you believe in a pantheon of immanent gods, some of which aren't capable of that on their own, surely the pantheon as a whole can do it. I suppose it's possible that there once existed some obscure pagan religious ideas that contradicted this, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in modern times who holds such beliefs, so we don't need a specific label just for that. So whether you label theists as gnostic because they believe the gods can choose to reveal themselves, or you label them as agnostic because they don't believe mankind can attain knowledge of the gods unless the gods will it, they're all on the same side of the gnostic fence, as are atheists, so it's a fence we can safely tear down without losing anything of value. Though, many theological and philosophical concepts that are now obsolete (or never made sense to begin with) still have terms we can use to refer to them, so I guess you could use something like 'classic (a)gnosticism' for these two.

The popular definition of agnosticism describes a position that's actually held by people today, that's philosophically distinct from other forms of non-beliefs. I've identified three main categories of non-belief that I believe classify pretty much all non-believers (phrased in terms of monotheism for convenience):
  • Agnosticism: the position that there are no particularly compelling arguments for either belief or non-belief. There's no evidence for the existence of God, but there's also no way to prove its non-existence, so it's best to remain neutral.
  • Weak atheism: the position that the God hypothesis can be dismissed based on a lack of evidence, but there are no particularly compelling arguments beyond that for non-belief.
  • Strong atheism: not only can the God hypothesis be dismissed, but the very concept of God can and should be discarded. Many philosophical quandaries and paradoxes point toward God's non-existence.
Weak atheism is similar to agnosticism in all but its conclusion, but whether you dismiss or remain neutral towards a (from your perspective) completely baseless claim is a significant philosophical difference, so I think it's warranted to have separate terms for these positions. And yeah, I know it looks like I just hijacked the terms of weak and strong atheism, generally defined as "non-belief in the existence of God" and "belief in the non-existence of God", respectively, but the way I see it I merely improved them, since the end result is that they describe roughly the same things. While I rely on descriptions of actual, plausible philosophical positions, the established definitions rely on a slight difference in phrasing and don't really specify the actual positions that well. To determine where you stand according to my definitions, you have to ask "how do I feel about God as a hypothesis, and how do I feel about God as a concept?", rather than "how would I phrase my non-belief?" which is much more arbitrary.

ADDENDUM: None of this necessarily implies that agnostics are not atheists; you could simply define atheism as "non-theism" and consider agnosticism to be a subcategory therein, along with weak and strong atheism.

April 26, 2014

Abolish freedom of abortion (make it mandatory)

When people argue pro-choice, they tend to make an appeal to emotion and empathy, i.e. "a woman has the right to decide over her own body" or "every baby deserves loving parents that take proper care of them". I guess this approach holds some persuasive sway as a rhetorical tool, but intellectually it is utterly bankrupt.

See, these people you're arguing against believe that a fetus has the same value as a human being. They believe that ending the life of a fetus is equivalent to murdering a person with a family, friends, thoughts, beliefs, emotions and memories. They believe that life is binary, i.e. there's a sharp line between living beings and dead matter, with special weight usually given to human life which is "sacred". At one specific point in the pregnancy, a Human Being is created; the life switch is flipped from off to on. This moment is usually when the sperm fuses with the egg during conception, but some pro-choicers believe the same thing except said moment occurs sometime around week 20-24 when the brain "activates" or something. Some pro-lifers believe in the death penalty despite their "life is sacred" rhetoric, but that is a punishment for a person's actions - usually involving taking someone else's life - and what could possibly be more innocent than an unborn baby? To them, your position is that a woman's right to choose is more important than the baby's right to live. You're trying to convince them that women should get away with something that's equivalent to murder because they don't want to be inconvenienced by pregnancy for less than a year. You're trying to convince them that "unwanted" children should be murdered rather than adopted or put in some sort of foster home. See how that line of reasoning wouldn't work? It seems far more plausible to me that they'd embrace the rationale of "it's your irresponsibility that brought you this unwanted pregnancy, so it's your responsibility to deal with the consequences, and that's that!".

As mentioned, though, the argument from empathy still has some value, and that's because the underlying beliefs that support their pro-life stance are irrational, so you might as well try to replace one irrational idea with another. The way I picture the subconscious process playing out in people's heads, there's a vague set of irrational ideas based on emotion, pulling them into the pro-life direction, that can be summarized thusly: "it's a life! Can't y'all people see it's a life?". They see the life growing inside the woman and in their mind's eye they see the cute lil' baby it would grow into, and they see the child chasing a butterfly on a meadow in the summer, so full of life and excitement, and they see all that fading away as the abortion doctor mercilessly grinds up the baby and snorts it. Then there's one rational idea and two irrational ones pulling people into the opposite direction. There's the irrational idea that plays the same role as the idea that makes it easier to press a button that you know instantly kills some random dude halfway across the globe than to kill someone in person; there's an air of detachment. The fetus is just something that makes itself known by indirect signs such as a pregnancy test and a swollen belly. No-one has seen it, heard it or communicated with it, and vice versa. There's also the intuitive idea where you imagine the baby as barely being alive, barely knowing it exists, and you just let it gently slip back into nothingness. Then there's the rational idea based on the fetus' lack of cognitive functions, which we'll return to later.

I think those ideas (or at least the irrational ones) are present in pretty much everyone's psyches on some level; you see this for example when people who are staunchly pro-choice have an unexpected pregnancy and they feel really guilty about the idea of getting rid of it; at the very least, they let the fact that they are pregnant be a factor in deciding whether or not they should have a baby. And the role of the emotional appeal is to make it easier for people to accept the pro-choice ideas and push the pro-life ideas to the back of their minds, and make them shameful and unpalatable, for example by associating them with the oppression of women. But if you want to argue with intellectual integrity, to enlighten people rather than just further your pro-choice agenda, what you should instead do is confront the underlying beliefs that cause people to oppose your position, and convince them to look at the issue rationally.

Now, that may be easier said than done, because a lot of the pro-life people believe in something called the 'soul' that is, so to speak, "the real you", or the "essence" of your existence. It's immortal, it's separate from your material body, and all humans have it from the moment of conception. And that's what elevates all humans and fetuses beyond mere electrochemical processes, and life to something more than a biological mechanism. So to sell the idea of reproductive rights to those people, you'd have to argue against the existence of a soul, and the problem with that is that there's no consensus regarding what the soul does, how it works, how it interacts with the physical world etc. The soul as a general concept is an unverifiable hypothesis, just like the concept of God, and just like with God there's a whole bunch of arguments out there for why it probably doesn't exist and why you shouldn't believe in it, and I'm not going to bother rehashing them. If you believe in souls, just bear with me and suspend your belief for the sake of the argument.

First of all, life and consciousness are not binary; they're on a continuous scale. The first, single-cellular life on earth didn't have any inherent value beyond the particles around it that didn't happen to be part of a self-replicating process. Many insects have some form of moods, but they obviously don't have the same level of self-awareness, emotions, and other cognitive functions as humans do. Likewise, salmons are little more than biological machines that receive input from their senses and transform it into output, i.e. their actions and behavior. At least they feel pain, though, whereas an ant that has been chopped in half will carry on as if nothing happened, or at best slightly modify its behavior for practical reasons in order to be as efficient a half-ant as possible.

Wolves have more complicated emotions and relationships, but are still largely just instinctual beasts, and they have no sense of self. All great apes do, however, and some are even capable of abstract thought. Does this mean that great apes are somehow "superior" or "more valuable" than wolves, or are we humans just placing those traits on a pedestal to feel special? Well, I think you have to accept that the former is true if you want to posit that humans are more valuable than insects, or even inanimate objects. What's the loss if you kill an insect? It doesn't feel fear or pain as you kill it, even though it may produce self-preserving behaviors that make you think otherwise. You don't rob it of all these exciting life experiences that it would otherwise have, as it doesn't feel joy or excitement. It doesn't have any mourning relatives. A squashed bug is just an inanimate object that used to be animate. None of that is true for a wolf, but a wolf's desire to live is still just instinctual. Those experiences it was robbed of still only consist of living in the moment and acting mechanically on instinct. Its flock will mourn, but that mourning is also largely mechanical, instinct-based and predictable. "Wolf-friend dead. Initiate mourning process. Mourning process complete. Recommence eat-fight-fuck-shit-sleep protocol". A human's mourning is massively more complex than a wolf's, and the capability of abstract thought in chimpanzees enables them to have some of that complexity too. It puts them higher on the "consciousness scale", or "value of life scale". In summary, what I'm trying to convey here is that the same logic that can be used to justify that human life is more valuable than insect life can be used to justify that humans > chimpanzees > wolves > fish > insects. Got that? Good. Let's move on to killin' babies.

Well, I think I've pretty much already made my point. The brain doesn't start functioning until week 10, so up until that point abortion is less ethically questionable than stepping on an ant. The fetus is literally just an inanimate lump of flesh. Many important cognitive functions don't start (emphasis on start) to develop until the 20-somethingth week (it's surprisingly hard to find specific information about that on the internet) and the fetus probably doesn't qualify as conscious until at least its "late 20s" so to speak, so abort away all you want up until that point. No-one should be like "holy shit what am I going to do this is a really big deal" when they find out they're pregnant, because they have months until the ethical aspect of abortion even enters the equation, and they don't need to hear all this bullshit about how abortion is a "complex moral decision" clouding their ability to make a rational judgment. Whether you're pregnant shouldn't factor into your decision of whether or when to have children, other than on a strictly practical level, and if you weren't already planning to have kids when you find out you're pregnant, it's probably not a good idea to let a practical detail cause you to take such a huge decision on impulse.

Even after the blob of flesh has begun to develop cognition, are you really going to force someone to go through the massive inconvenience and bodily devastation of late-term pregnancy and labour for some instinctual beast with no abstract thought, sense of self, relationships or memories of past experiences, and less emotional complexity than the meat on your plate? If you're willing to let a pig die for a couple months' worth of meals, then surely the last couple months of pregnancy are a bigger deal than that? Hey, there's some of that "right to decide over their own body" reasoning. Turns out it does have a role in the debate, but only if presented within the proper framework of arguments, and only if the debate is about where to draw the line regarding late term abortion, rather than whether abortion should be legal at all.

On that note, I guess you do have to draw the line somewhere. It doesn't seem sound to allow abortion by shooting a gun up the vagina during labour, even disregarding safety concerns, for largely the same reasons that we have laws against murdering newborns. But the 20-24 week limit that seems to be popular in the western world is based on society's emotional attachment to the concepts of human life and innocence that the fetus represents (as well as the false dichotomy of "when does life begin?" that so many people have bought into), and has no place in the law book. If the fetus doesn't have any value in and of itself, shouldn't the pregnant woman's emotional attachment be what matters, rather than society's?

Pro-lifers like to argue that those fetuses being aborted would soon turn into innocent, cute lil' babies, and then eventually into fullgrown human beings, and you're taking all that away from them. But a being's potential for life - their potential to rise on the "value of life scale" that we discussed earlier - means nothing in this situation. Just like the fetus is at one point a being with the cognitive functions of an insect, the zygote is at one point an inanimate object that will eventually develop into a person, and the sperm and egg are at one point a dead collection of particles that we humans like to arbitrarily divide into two "objects" that will eventually merge into one "object" and then develop into a person. The sperm and egg are not inherently more valuable the moment after they merge into a zygote than before they merge, so it seems like every sperm and egg in our bodies is worth half a person. Every nine months you spend not being pregnant, you rob someone of their existence. Every time you masturbate, you destroy millions of half-lives. Oh, and that empty soda can you kicked around on the street yesterday? That matter could have been formed into a brain to generate a consciousness. But no, instead you just left it there and went home to commit genocide. You monster.

There must be value in potential life in some situations, though. Let's say some guy, as an adult human being, is put in a coma (or a cryofreezer) with barely any brain activity going on, but he's going to awaken in a couple of weeks. Wouldn't it be as ethically permissible to kill him during that time as it would an insect? According to the reasoning above, the person that will exist when he wakes up is right now just a potential person, just like the fetus that was aborted, or the soda can that didn't get turned into a mind. Well, the difference is that the coma guy used to be a fully-functioning person, with memories, skills, experiences, emotions and relationships. But wait, what about some loner with no family who suffered complete, irreversible memory loss as he was put in a coma, who hasn't done anything interesting in his life and isn't good at anything? Doesn't he have a right to live? Sure. Turns out it's not possible to be logically consistent in every way when dealing with life and consciousness - we'll return to that shortly - and which inconsistencies we accept or reject might seem somewhat arbitrary. Regardless, I think we all agree that living humans must have their existence protected (even if they're temporarily put in a coma), while I find the reasoning above sufficiently persuasive to dictate that the same protection should not be extended to fetuses until their mental development has reached a certain point where that alone is mostly enough to justify their legal rights. Some might say to err on the side of caution, which is usually a stance born of their misguided acceptance of the "when does life begin?" dichotomy; even so, I say to err on the side of individual liberty, because freedom doesn't need rock-solid justification; it is valuable in and of itself. Restrictions to freedom, however, does.

Sidenote: since consciousness is merely something that emerges when atoms interact with each other through billions of simultaneous reactions in your brain, there's no reason to believe that consciousness couldn't be generated just as well by purely electrical signals (just electrons moving around, rather than atoms and electrons), by a computer for example. It therefore stands to reason that once we can create artificial minds as advanced as those of humans, they should have rights like we do. But let's say you have a computer with a "consciousness program", and a macro that turns that program on and off a million times every second. You could as well imagine some kind of apparatus that does the same to a human brain, although I guess that process would have to be slower. Is that process equivalent to genocide just because technically the death of a human being (or human-equivalent being) occurred a couple million times? Let's even say every time the program was launched, the consciousness had different personality traits and a different lifetime of memories of relationships and experiences as well as a short term memory right up until the program was launched, so that it's for all intents and purposes equivalent to an adult human being, and they're for all intents and purposes different human beings. Still, nothing has changed about the world when it's over, and there's no reason to believe a mind was in great pain in between, since no mind existed for more than a millionth second. It seems like millions of deaths on paper could under very specific circumstances be an ethically neutral event. Just another example of real human beings justifiably being granted rights that an equivalent mind in certain situations doesn't and shouldn't have.

Now, all of this might seem unimportant to you if you're already living in a country with legal abortion up until, say, week 20. Even if there were no irrational "moral" (or legal) inhibitions regarding abortion up until whichever week is justifiable by cold, hard logic, surely the vast, vast majority of women have already decided by the 20th week whether they're gonna stick it out or not, and we have more important concerns to focus on than the small portion of women that change their minds after that. But there's a far greater injustice related to this issue that often goes ignored: financial abortion. The father's right to relinquishment of all parental rights and responsibilities as long as the decision was made before a certain point in the pregnancy, or if he wasn't informed of the pregnancy before a certain point. In less educated times (which I guess would be today, for most people) it would seem monstrous to financially force a woman to abortion by letting the father get away without paying child support. However, as we've established in this here article, there's nothing wrong with abortion up until the 20-somethingth week. Not even a little bit. If guys could have abortions, I'd get one every six months just to spite the people who think otherwise. Maybe I'd start a dead fetus collection. Spike 'em up on the wall. Put 'em in a blender, make a nice lil' milkshake (meatshake?). Hey, I think I just solved world hunger.

Anyway, now that we understand that the only thing that could stop a woman from getting an abortion is her own beliefs (or her own desire for a child), it doesn't make sense to force a guy to pay for nearly two decades for one night of what shouldn't even have to be considered a mistake (well, I guess STDs are still an issue), whereas the woman has months to get rid of the problem if she so chooses. I wouldn't say it's comparable to the atrocity against women that banning abortion would entail, but as long as adoption is an option, it's not so much that there's a vast chasm of difference in severity as that it's an apples and oranges situation. I know a lot of people would be outraged at even the consideration that paying child support could conceivably be worse than being forced to carry a baby to term, even when it's followed by adoption, but such a heavy financial blow (especially considering its duration) can do really bad things to you. Financial issues can lead to stress, which can lead to depression. If you're in a country without universal health care and you need some expensive treatment, you might die, or be forced to sell your house and live on the streets (which could happen even with free health care). Even if there's a system in place that ensures you don't have to pay if you're in deep financial shit, child support could eat away at your savings which might get you in trouble down the road. Maybe you won't feel the effects until you're living a depressing life in a shitty retirement home off a shitty pension and those extra $5,150 per year (that's the 2010 US average) could really have come in handy. I could keep listing scenarios like this all day, but in the end it doesn't really matter which is worse on average. Forced child support could be way worse, unwanted pregnancy followed by adoption could be way worse, but I couldn't give a fuck either way. The point is that it's really, really, really bad that financial abortion isn't widely available as a legal option.

As another side note before we move on, let's talk about vegetarianism. To be specific, let's talk about the moral stance that eating meat is wrong because it's wrong to kill animals. Certainly, I could see how one might take that stance regarding wild animals, but if the animal was raised captive and only exists because people eat meat, it doesn't really make sense. Disregard for a second the environmental effects of the meat industry and the negative health effects of eating too much meat, as well as the shitty treatment of a lot of animals raised for food, and just think about the idea that killing an animal for food is wrong no matter what. If a bull was raised on a farm with lots of green grass to run around on and a dozen cows to fuck indiscriminately, right up until it was fed into a meat grinder, what right do you have to say it should never have existed? If I could choose between nonexistence and living a good life up until my 20th birthday, then being ground up and put in a burger, I'd take life every time. Of course, we know that it gets silly pretty quickly if you assume the goal of creating life for the sake of life, what with the soda cans becoming minds and all, so I say a meat(/dairy) industry that treats animals well is at about plus-minus zero on the ethical scale. Except for the environmental effects. Oh well, close enough.

"But what if humans were being bred in captivity? Could you apply the same logic then?" Well, sure. You could partially counter that argument by saying that humans are more valuable because of emotional complexity and whatnot (all that shit we talked about earlier) and being isolated from the outside world could cause all sorts of existential pains, but I suppose theoretically if there was a way to determine with 100% certainty that a specific set of children were bred for captivity, kept in captivity and kept unaware of the outside world but treated well, and if this wasn't possible the world would be the exact same except those children wouldn't exist, that would be a moral grey area. But how would you make sure of all that? How would you make sure parents don't just use this as an excuse to take away their child's freedom, so that the world would be the same except a captive child is instead free, rather than nonexistent? How would you make sure they are treated as well as required at all times (especially considering their parents are probably fucked in the head)? And why should the intention of raising a child in captivity make it permissible, whereas children of normal parents enjoy the full protection of the law? Admittedly, this logic I'm using is somewhat arbitrary and could probably be turned against me in favor of vegetarianism, but as I mentioned earlier, it's not possible to be completely logically consistent when dealing with life and consciousness, and let's return to that right now. Let's discuss how:


Let's talk teleportation. You enter the teleportation chamber, then disappear and instantly appear in a teleportation chamber somewhere else. What happens is of course that some machine reads the relative positions of the atoms that make up your body, the information is sent to the other teleportation chamber while you are instantly disintegrated, and you're rebuilt. But is the person that walks out of the chamber really you? It certainly believes so, since it has your exact personality traits and memories right up until the moment of disintegration. Imagine you're instead rebuilt a couple centuries later. You cease to exist, but then far into the future your exact atomic pattern is recreated. Somehow that means you survived for all that time, but if some guy had decided to cancel the process and delete you from the machine's memory, that means you didn't survive? That doesn't make sense. It's not like you lived for all that time just because your information was stored somewhere. How can it be determined whether you survive or not by something that happens while you don't exist? One would have to conclude that you died when you disintegrated, and the copy is just that - a copy.

So does the teleportation have to be instant for you to survive the process? Well, it's not. It takes nonzero time for the machine to read the information (it has to travel from you to the detector), it takes nonzero time for the information to be transmitted, and it takes nonzero time to assemble the copy. Information can't be transmitted faster than the speed of light, and even if it could (worm holes, quantum entanglement (apparently not), or maybe some method we don't know of yet), what's to say it even matters whether the teleportation is instant? Our machines can never be infinitely precise so there will always be some delay, but let's say we have a practically impossible perfect machine with no delay, as well as a machine with a delay so small you couldn't even imagine it. Does it really make sense to say that one kills and clones you, whereas you survive the other, 0.000...001 seconds faster machine? What if the information was sent to both machines and two copies were made; does that mean the copy from the insignificantly faster machine is the "real" you? On that note, what if two copies are made in the exact same fashion? Are there suddenly two yous? What if you're never erased, so it's a duplication device rather than a teleportation device? You enter a room, a machine scans you but doesn't interact with you any more than, say, an airport scanner would, and then you leave, and far away a copy of you is made. None of that affects your consciousness in any big way. You are still you, and the copy is an entirely new mind that's not you. But if you're at the same time atomized, your consciousness is somehow "transferred" so that the copy is you?

Hypotheticals aside, there's no reason to believe that consciousness is written into the laws of nature (i.e. physics), any more than there is to believe that the laws of nature say something in particular about houses or street lights. They tend to be much more general and describe how matter behaves on a much more fundamental level, i.e. how macroscopic objects behave or how particles behave, rather than "if a macroscopic object made up of billions of particles has any of these 1050 exact particle setups, but not any of the other 1070 ones possible (some being off only by a handful of particles being slightly displaced), and particles move through it in these equally specific ways, something magical happens". Consciousness is just an emergent feature of a bunch of atoms being arranged in a certain way. There's no fundamental difference in terms of physical properties between a brain inside a living person and a brain with a knife run through it, or one that just stopped running because of a natural death. What about the computer with the consciousness program we talked about earlier - do the laws of nature say anything in particular about the computer while it's running that program, as opposed to while it's running other programs? It's just electrons moving around in different ways. What I'm getting at here is that since consciousness doesn't have its own chapter in the book of reality's laws, there's no way the persistent self would survive teleportation only if it happens in a set of extremely specific ways, for example instantly rather than with extremely small delay, or with at most 0.082357962859 seconds of delay.

Speaking of extremely specific, what if one atom in the copy is one femtometer to the left of where it should be - is that no longer you but someone else who appeared on the other side? Does your consciousness arrive like some sort of ghost at the other teleportation chamber, inspect the body it's supposed to inhabit, see that one particle is displaced, and vanish into nothingness, or go into standby mode awaiting a replica that's more faithful to the original? All the atoms in your body move around much more than that every millisecond, so one small displacement shouldn't change anything. But what about two? Five billion large displacements? Is there suddenly a breaking point where it's no longer you on the other side, but if one molecule was in a different position, it would be you? As per the preceding paragraph's logic there can be no such law detailing exactly which molecular arrangements are allowed in order for the copy to be you. So you could come out as another person, a mammoth, a rock, or even just a chaotic mess of particles (or no particles at all), and still be the same person. Using the same logic again, there could be no rule specifying exactly which version of you has to be transmitted. What if the information isn't gathered at exactly the same time as you're annihilated (which is practically impossible, by the way) but an attosecond before? If that's still you, extend that line of reasoning and it might as well be the version of you a minute, an hour or a year before being annihilated that's transmitted. How is it still you - the same person with one persistent consciousness - if all thoughts and memories from the intermediate time are gone? What if you are murdered in the meantime? You died, but you're alive.

Okay, so teleportation is a death sentence, but what about resurrection? Well, to resurrect you, some machine would have to scan you while you're alive to read the relative positions of every particle in your body, and after you die, the machine would reconstruct you. Sounds familiar? Yeah, it's the same thing as teleportation. The only differences are immaterial. Your corpse could be used for the reconstruction, but it's not the individual atoms in your body that create your consciousness; it's the pattern, the arrangement of atoms in relation to each other. Every atom in your brain could be replaced (they are, on a regular basis) and you wouldn't notice it.

It seems like the interruption of all brain activities causes permanent, irrevocable death. There's another possibility to consider, though: that merely the interruption of consciousness is sufficient. Certainly it's not out of mind's reach to imagine that if teleportation causes "death", despite the fact that the person walking out on the other end can't tell the difference in any way and can recall exactly what happened right up until the teleportation, then you also cease to be when you fall asleep, and the person waking up in the morning is a new consciousness. I can't come up with a clever hypothetical suggesting that that's the case, though, so we'll leave it alone for now. What we can say is that cryofreezing is just as deadly as teleportation - it is, in fact, pretty much the same thing as teleportation with delay. All your brain activities cease which is the same as death, regardless of whether your body is annihilated, and then an exact copy of you that just so happens to be made of the same atoms as you were wakes up somewhere some time later (same place unless the cryofreezer is moved, of course). What if you freeze and unfreeze very quickly? Ignore all the practical details and imagine you have a machine that can freeze you to just a few degrees Kelvin and unfreeze you and you're perfectly healthy, and that takes one second. And in that time, you cease to be and a new consciousness is born. Same thing if it takes one hundredth second. Skip the cryo part and just imagine that every atom in your body suddenly freezes to a standstill for a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a second. Eventually you get to such a short time interval that nothing that happens during it could possibly affect your consciousness in any way. It seems like there must be some law that determines exactly how long your mind particles can freeze without ending your existence, but as we've already discussed, there can be no such rule.

We don't even need to think about your atoms freezing. Consciousness is caused by electro-chemical reactions in your brain, i.e. particles moving around in a certain way. Certainly there are ways in which those particles could move without generating consciousness. If that were to happen for a second, or a zeptosecond, that'd mean your death. Again, there can be no extremely specific law governing exactly which molecular arrangements could follow one another in order for your consciousness to be the same from one moment to the next. This seems to imply that each consciousness exists for an infinitesimal amount of time, which is really the same thing as not existing at all.

The only sensible conclusion seems to be that consciousness is an illusion, or at least that the idea of a persistent self is meaningless (is there even a difference?). Nothing that ever happens to anyone matters because they won't get to experience the very next moment or anything beyond that, any more than they would if they died. Obviously that's not a very useful outlook on life as it reduces every ethical question and dilemma to "nothing matters, everything is arbitrary" (as I've noted a couple of times earlier in the article) and even makes murder and genocide permissible, but I don't know any way around it. It seems so abundantly clear to me that teleportation=death, but I can't very well accept that premise and not accept the logic behind it that leads to "nothing matters". If teleportation were possible, you'd have to accept one logical inconsistency or the other - either you'd accept that teleportation=death, abstain from it and pretend that consciousness is real, or you'd accept that nothing matters and everything is arbitrary so you might as well teleport, and you'd pretend that it even matters whether you teleport or don't teleport or jump off a bridge or whatever. Or you could just jump off a bridge, but nonexistence seems like such a drag so I wouldn't recommend it. Speaking of nonexistence, what if immortality were possible, by transferring your mind to a machine or something. Maybe chilling in a cryofreezer for a couple centuries until it's possible. On one hand, I realize that it's the same thing as achieving immortality without any interruption of consciousness, because everything is arbitrary and all that. On the other hand, I realize that transferring my mind like that would be the death of me. Then again, why even bother with immortality when nothing matters and consciousness is an illusion? They might as well shoot me and build an artificial intelligence and pretend that it's me. The world would be the same, and I would be no worse off for it.

Man, everything becomes so pointless and frustrating when you view the world through this lens. For all its inevitability and all its implications when it comes to abortion, treatment of animals, teleportation, immortality and consciousness in general, it's really not that useful for coming to any sort of conclusion; rather, it swoops in and drops a giant turd on the discussion. One thing I've found it's actually good for, though, is that it helps in dealing with the inevitability of death and such things. Death is everywhere and there's no telling when it will take me; perhaps it will come suddenly in the form of an icicle dropping from a roof, or as a deranged gunman who suddenly decides to shoot up a mall. Perhaps it will be time that finally gets me, creeping up on me slowly, giving me every chance in the world to dread it as I see it approaching but no hope of escape. In the end it doesn't really matter, because in a sense I'm a dead man already, in a world full of dead men walking around pretending to be alive. It might sound depressing and horrifying, but I find it can be a quite comforting notion if you apply it only to your fears and regrets and not to your goals and desires. There are so many things I won't get to experience because of my limited lifespan, but I can comfort myself knowing that there's no such thing as experiencing things. Immortality probably won't be invented before everyone currently alive is dead, but that's okay because immortality is meaningless. If my life goes to shit, well, you get the idea. On the other hand, I'm still going to enjoy life and strive to improve my existence in every way I can, because I'd still feel the pains of a crappy life even if such notions are meaningless, and I don't want that. I don't know if this makes sense to anyone else, but to me it provides a better answer to anxiety regarding the inevitability of death than "yo is gonna happen anyway so dun worry mang yanno w/e".

Another thing it's good for is that it would make for a pretty sweet end of the world scenario. Imagine that; humanity collectively losing its will to live because we all come to the conclusion that there is no self and everything is arbitrary and meaningless. Everything goes to shit at the same time, with society collapsing, people randomly deciding to stop eating because why bother, murder and suicide running rampant because why the fuck not, and people just wading apathetically through it all like it's nothing special. No pain, no sorrow, just indifference. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. Someone should make a novel about that. Then again, it doesn't really matter.

March 31, 2014

more on teh gay

Uggghhhhhh. I really don't want to write this article. I've already written an article on marriage in general, which I like to think of as everything that ever needs to be said on the subject and more. I could barely even muster enough give-a-shits to finish that article in the first place, because it just seems like it should be the mother of all non-issues. Consenting adults entering into whatever social contract they want and nobody else being able to even conceive of the idea that they have the capacity to give a fuck about it - especially the government. That's how it should be, but sadly we don't live in a world of should.

I tend to have a pretentious, dismissive, elitist attitude towards issues like this (at least internally), because where others might be all "we need to spread the peace and love and understanding and fight the ignorance", I like to see it as "beneath me" to discuss it (and this approach resonates more with me than their rallying cries ever could). It's completely uninteresting, there's nothing worthwhile to say about it, there's nothing to gain intellectually from contemplating it, and every argument is the same old rehashed crap that a fifth grader should be able to figure out, or a slight variation of the same basic appeal-to-emotion template. One side is wrong, bigoted and moronic and cannot be reasoned with because they don't value reason and logic, and the other is just throwing the same arguments over and over at them as if trying to break a solid brick wall of stupid by shouting it down. I'm not trying to put my lazy snobbiness on a pedestal, or claim that society would benefit from more people adapting this mentality, or diminish the efforts of those who step up to ignorance and try to effect change; I'm just explaining how I feel about it on a visceral level, and why it annoys me to no end that I'm actually writing this.

I guess the reason that I feel compelled to write about gay marriage again has to do with my idea of self-worth. The way I see it, if you don't at least have some basic conation to improve yourself as a thinking being, you're a worthless degenerate. I understand that not everyone has the time, ability or inclination to read philosophy, get politically literate or otherwise improve their understanding of the human condition, and I'm sure there are lots of more or less valid reasons for not reflecting on your life, your thoughts, other perspectives and so on, such as "I work 8-20 every day and have five kids so I don't have the mental energy to think about that" or "I have the finanical means to wallow in hedonism for every second of my life so fuck reality", but then you at least have to acknowledge that your opinion isn't worth much. However, if when presented with an argument or viewpoint that could change your own views and bring you closer to the truth, your default reaction is to disregard it, cling to your bigoted views and close off your mind from critical thought because it's more safe or convenient, and then keep spouting your insipid garbage loudly and proudly into the public discourse and proclaim "this is how things Should be and these are the dictates you must adhere to because this is what is Right and what is True", and even poison your children's minds with that bafflingly brainless bullshit, then how can you possibly justify your existence on this planet? If you actively resist every chance you get of intellectual development, how can you look in the mirror and claim to see someone who's a worthwhile addition to society? How can you justify all your self-limitations and intellectual cowardice to yourself? These people embody the essence of human stupidity and ignorance, and are both the root cause and enablers of every problem in our society. Bigotry, populism, dogmatic thinking, thought conformity that draws attention away from the real issues, moral panics followed by censorship and restrictions - a straight line can be drawn from all of these things right back to them. They are the fist in the face of progress, and I wish them nothing but grief. Fucking cattle.

And out of all the most shockingly stupid sentiments in the world, the stance against gay marriage is the most repugnantly retarded. How fucking mentally handicapped would you have to be in order to believe in this shit? How can these people exist that don't even understand the concepts of skepticism and critical thinking? I don't have the answer to these questions, but they keep bothering me day in and day out, and so I come here to unload all my frustrations with the stupidity of humanity on whoever comes across this blog during their wanderings on the web. An attempt at self-therapy, if you will. This article is exactly what I didn't create this blog to write about: an iteration of the same arguments you can find in a billion different places across the web, that every person who has even a passing interest in the issue should be familiar with. Prepare to be underwhelmed.

First off, the most infuriatingly idiotic arguments against gay marriage are the ones that have nothing to do with marriage. Some argue that gay relationships don't produce children and humanity needs reproduction to survive. It boggles (and saddens) my mind that these troglodytes have the brain power necessary to breathe. Last time I checked, no-one wants to create a law that forces gay people (and straight people, for that matter) to reproduce. What, do you think just because you're not allowing them to marry, they're gonna turn straight and start breeding like rabbits? No, you moron! They're going to keep being gay and having the same gay relationships, and the only difference is that it won't be called marriage. And besides, who the fuck wants there to be even more people on this already bloated planet? Soon, you'll have to eat your way to the supermarket because there will be so many people in the way that you'll have to create a tunnel. Maybe that's what they're planning. Maybe they want us to reproduce as much as possible because babies are greener than meat products from half a planet away. At least then their position would make some semblance of sense.

Continuing in the same vein, there's the argument that children need both a mom and a dad. Yes, there exist people that make this argument. Against gay marriage. Apparently, there are people who don't understand the difference between marriage and parenting, but still think they have opinions that are worth expressing. I think they should instead consider expressing their mindlessness by blowing their brains out. And the argument itself isn't even backed by scientific consensus. The most compelling article I could find in favor of it merely points out ways in which mothers' and fathers' parenting differs in heterosexual relationships, without addressing whether same-sex parents act the same way, or whether same-sex parenting yields all-in-all worse results. Meanwhile, this article (which agrees with the closest thing there seems to be to a consensus) cites research that does have an answer to that, concluding that "the gender of parents only matters in ways that don't matter". Besides that, no-one ever used the mom and dad argument against single parents. Go figure.

Next up on this painful parade of pathetic pleads to puerility is the God argument, i.e. "the almighty creator of the cosmos, who designed everything from quarks and leptons to planets, supernovas and black holes, is very concerned with a bunch of dumbass apes living on a speck of a speck of dust circling around a small (but not remarkably so) pebble within a heap of hundreds of millions of pebbles strewn across a field of billions of heaps. In particular, he's concerned with the classifications of intimate relationships between these apes. Only a certain kind of relationship may be legally recognized by the power structures these apes have created as having a certain name. That is His divine decree.". This is evidently a shitty argument, but even as an excuse for bigotry it doesn't hold up. Sure, you could argue that people with supernatural beliefs can be rational, skeptical and intelligent in areas not related to their faith, and so religious bigots can believe in stupid shit without being stupid shits. But no-one follows all the laws of their holy scripture. The bible says you can't wear mixed fabrics, and masturbation, contraception and sodomy are forbidden. Both the bible and the quran condone slavery, and the torah and bible say Sabbath-breakers should be put to death. Does anyone who's opposed to same-sex marriage argue in favor of these things? No? You just handpicked a couple of morals that don't apply to you but allow you to tell others how to live their lives? How very fucking convenient. The reason that bigots believe in their bigotry is clearly not because religious scripture mandates it; they just use that as a justification.

Another problem is that these dumbasses that use the God excuse don't even understand what they're opposing, because they don't understand that two different concepts can have a common name. Maybe that's what happened in Germany in the 30's: "we have defined the systematic extermination of everyone who are not exactly like us as 'multiculturalism', and we need multiculturalism because people must be allowed to be themselves, so we must exterminate everyone who are not exactly like us". In this case, the two concepts we must keep separate are the legal institution of marriage and the the ceremony and union tied to any specific religion. The former recognizes anyone who's wed in a christian, muslim, wiccan, pagan, hindu, taoist or secular ceremony, or no ceremony at all. It's just a legal contract between two individuals that has fuck all to do with Jehovah or Allah. If you're a christian bigot, you have your idea of what ceremony must be undertaken to be married under God, and the ceremony the hindus call marriage should be of no concern to you. It's just a ceremony, and it just so happens to fill the same function in their culture as marriage does in yours, but it still doesn't involve your god and so he can't have anything to say about it any more than he has about any non-christian religious ceremony. So if you think gays should be allowed to exist and do gay stuff, and you think hindus should be allowed to exist and do hindu stuff, then it doesn't make sense to say that hindus can't wed gay people. And if you think we should have freedom of religion and the state shouldn't discriminate in favor of the christian way of marriage, then where's the objection? At least be honest and admit that this has nothing to do with "protecting marriage" - you just want to limit gay rights in any way you can in order to make their lives miserable because you and your god hate homosexuality, not because you hate gay marriage in particular. The same goes for those who want to "protect marriage" from a cultural standpoint, because gays can already get together, have a ceremony and call their relationship a marriage, and the only difference is that the state wouldn't recognize it. This has nothing to do with marriage and everything to do with your hatred for gays and your desire to fuck with them through whatever legal means you can.

I mean, that's how it would be if these fuckwits understood how to use their brains in any sort of constructive manner, but in all likelihood they probably don't have the intellectual honesty to admit even to themselves that their position doesn't make sense and that they should either go full Westboro Baptist or back down completely. Either way, the underlying (nonreligious) reasons for their anti-gay beliefs are only superficially different. The people who are against gay marriage have an idea of what marriage should be, based on what it means to them, e.g. "marriage is about children" or "marriage is between a man and a woman", and the people who just hate "them fags" in general have their idea of what society should be like and how people should behave. Either way, the issue is that they have their ideals and they're putting them on a pedestal, and they have their offended sensibilities and their indignation and they're putting that on a pedestal and saying "this is how YOU have to behave and these are the things you can and can't do, and you will all bow down to MY will because I AM THE LAW". But that's not how a society should be run. People's indignation should be flushed down the toilet, not put on a pedestal. The law should protect people's rights, not their feelings or sensibilities. If you're offended by gays displaying their sexuality in public, or nazis promoting their hateful bullshit, or that douchy guy with sunshades staring at your cleavage like he's invisible, or that scientist in the middle ages discovering things that contradict religious scripture, or that naked geriatric running around in public with tits hanging low - that's your fucking concern. Not theirs. No-one should have the right to not be offended, made fun of, criticized, or exposed to shit they don't like.

I think the most disgusting element of all these anti-gay sentiments is not the one of deranged right-wing fundies saying there's a gay conspiracy to "recruit" people into faggotry, because at least they have the excuse of being misguided and insane. The worst fucking people are the ones who aren't even that strongly homophobic but just oppose gay marriage because it "doesn't feel right" or some dumb bullshit like that. They just kinda sorta don't-ish like the idea of two grown men getting together and having a serious relationship. It gives them a faint, vague, minute, slight sense of discomfort, and gays can still "unofficially" be together so what's the big deal? Yeah, who could have conceived of the idea that a ceremonial expression of everlasting love and loyalty in front of your entire family, that we're taught from a very young age is some great fucking end goal of life, might be kind of important to some people?! They have no sense of proportionality whatsoever. They think that as long as people have the most basic, fundamental rights of existence secured, their own feeling of comfort is next on the list of concerns. I'm sorry but it's not, and you're horrible, and fuck you, and I'm not actually sorry. Your comfort is not on the list. Any list that your comfort is on is a list I wouldn't use to wipe my ass because my ass has higher standards than that.

As an addendum, I should point out that pretty much everything I've said here in favor of gay marriage applies to polygamy as well. If you've been cheering me on from the sidelines up until now yet you're still beholden to the stone-age moral of "marriage is between a man and a woman, or a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, or any other combination of two but not three or four people", then fuck you. Fuck everyone who looks like you. Fuck your entire family tree. Fuck everything you stand for. Fuck your goals, ambitions, and childhood dreams. Fuck every thought that runs through your stupid head and every particle that runs through your disgusting body. You clearly haven't come by your pro-gay stance though rational inquiry; it's just a circumstance of your environment. It was spoon-fed to you by your parents, or your friends, or some writer or artist whose ideology you assumed in an act of teenage rebellion against your surroundings. If you were born 300 years ago you'd be in the front row at every witch burning or stoning or what have you. And you get to think of yourself as "progressive" or "enlightened"? Sure. I'm sure that's true in some darkly twisted alternate dimension where the stars shine black and Håkan Juholt can form a coherent sentence. Why don't you go there and stop ruining this dimension for the rest of us?

November 6, 2013

An imaginary tale (Mathematical perversions, part i)

The imaginary unit is something that always perplexed me through high school. Not because of the concept of a "number" that yields a negative number when squared, but rather because the definition seemed ambiguous. If i is defined as the number x that satisfies x2 = -1, that seems to imply i = -i ⇒ 2i = 0 ⇒ i = 0, since -i also satisfies the equation. It seemed kind of like defining the identity map on the real numbers as the unique differentiable ℝ→ℝ function f for which f' : x ↦ 1. How can it be the definition when it doesn't uniquely define the object?

It's a fair question for someone who is just learning about complex numbers, and probably something a lot of people struggle with at that level. I guess you could invalidate it by saying that the term 'definition' is really just an informal notion describing a category of axioms and there's no such fundamental limitation to what an axiom can and can't say, but when introducing this new and alien concept it's still reasonable to expect a more precise specification of what the imaginary unit is. It seems, however, that when confronted with this question the default response is to avoid giving a real answer and instead say that it's not important because i and -i are essentially the same thing - as in, you could replace i by -i everywhere from the ground up and still get the same results - which is certainly an interesting property, but not a satisfactory answer to the question.

A less obvious, but perhaps more relevant question, would be: what is -i? What is 2i, or 1 + i, or (-i)2? We have an equation defining i, but we haven't defined any other complex number, or any operation on i other than quadration. Can we really say that -i exists before we define it? Come to think of it, have we even really defined i, or did we just define quadration on it? Now we're getting to the root of the issue: we're trying to define both i and how an operation acts on i at the same time, but to define how an operation acts on an element, that element has to exist first!

There are two basic ways to go about when defining numbers: as sets or as so-called "urelements" (elements that are not sets). I'm mentioning urelements to clarify that my criticism of the conventional definition of i and complex numbers in general is not just a petty complaint based on the fact that it doesn't assign i to any particular set. See, pretty much all of modern mathematics is built on the foundations of ZFC, the Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory with the axiom of choice, wherein all objects (numbers, tuples, functions, relations...) are sets, but the properties of objects such as numbers when considered as sets (i.e. what elements they contain) are not important and the fact that they are sets is mostly ignored because it's irrelevant to their usage, and sets are usually thought of as just another type of object (as in, there's a fundamental difference between {0} and 1 because one is a set and the other's a number).

The set-theoretic model of numbers is implemented by first defining natural numbers, then integers, then rational numbers, then real numbers and then finally complex numbers. There are many ways to do it; I'll describe the most common here. 0 is defined as the empty set Ø, and then we introduce a successor function and define each natural number other than 0 as the successor of the number before it.

(There were supposed to be some fancy LaTex-style formulas here via MathJax, but apparently Google hates its customers and does its best to prevent every attempt to improve their services, so you can thank them for disabling that and making everything look like shit.)

0 := Ø
S: nn ∪ {n}

This yields 1 := S(0) = {Ø}, 2 := S(1) = {Ø, {Ø}}, 3 := S(2) = {Ø, {Ø}, {Ø, {Ø}}}, and so on (in general n = {0, 1, 2, ..., (n-1)}). Then we define addition on the natural numbers by

m + 0 := m
m + S(n) := S(m) + n

which yields 7 + 2 = 7 + S(1) = S(7) + 1 = 8 + 1 = 8 + S(0) = S(8) + 0 = 9 + 0 = 9. Then, calling the set of natural numbers ℕ and the set of 2-tuples of natural numbers ℕ2, we assign to each natural number m the set {z ∈ ℕ2| ∃n ∈ ℕ: z = (m + n, n)}, and call this new set the integer m. But wait, is the integer m not the same as the natural number m? Is the set of natural numbers not a subset of the integers? These are questions that might seem natural to ask, but they're not important; they're just linguistic detail. You could say that the set of elements we just defined is a different model of the natural numbers that are also integers, or you could say that what we called natural numbers above are just a bunch of sets we used to define integers (and later we replace the integers in the same way by rational numbers). As said, it's not relevant to their usage.

For each natural number m we also define the integer -m as {z ∈ ℕ2| ∃n ∈ ℕ: z = (n, m + n)}. For example, 3 = {(3,0), (4,1), (5,2), ...} and -4 = {(0,4), (1,5), (2,6), ...}, where the numbers within the brackets are the original natural numbers. For addition on integers we have to do a case-by-case definition; I'll demonstrate the case for two positive integers here: m+n is the integer that contains the element (m+n,0), where the plus sign in the parentheses denotes the original natural number addition. Subtraction is defined by m-n = m+(-n). In the same fashion as integers, rational numbers are defined such that, for example, the rational number 5 (or 5/1) is equal to {(5,1), (10,2), (15,3), ...}, and 7/2 = {(7,2), (14,4), (21,6), ...}, where the numbers within the brackets are the elements we introduced as integers above. Real numbers are defined as proper nonempty subsets of the set ℚ of rational numbers, that are closed downward and contain no greatest element. For example, the real number 7/2 is the set of rational numbers q that are strictly less than the rational number 7/2 (I won't go into detail on how the relation < is constructed, but for example for natural numbers, 3 < 5 because there exists a non-zero natural number n such that 3 + n = 5), and π is, in an intuitive sense, the set of rational numbers that are less than π (the precise definition is more complicated).

Finally, complex numbers are defined as 2-tuples of real numbers. For example, i := (0,1), and (5,-2) is the element we usually think of as 5 - 2i. The representation of the complex number (5,-2) as 5 - 2i could in fact be considered as a less simplified expression than (5,-2), just like 1 + 2 is less simplified than 3, as what it actually means is "the element which is returned when the operation - acts on the elements 5 and 2i", where by 5 we actually mean the complex number (5,0) and by 2i we mean the element which is returned when the operation × acts on 2 and i, where 2 is the complex number (2,0), and the result of all these operations is (5,-2). The same ambiguity is present when we write rational numbers as, for example, 7/2 - the / sign usually denotes an operation, but we don't think writing the number like that is like representing 3 as 1 + 2, because we don't have a more compact way of writing it. Anyway, we define addition, multiplication and so on on the tuples of real numbers, and then we define exponentiation by integers as repeated multiplication, which implies i2 = -1.

The definition based on urelements requires an axiom to assert the existence of each new type of number you introduce. For example, 0 exists and is a natural number, and for each natural number its successor exists, and for each natural number n, -n exists, and for each pair of integers m, n such that n ≠ 0, m/n exists and so on, and i exists, and for each pair of real numbers a and b, bi and a + bi exists. Obviously you need to be more precise than that, but that's the gist of it.

In order to truly grasp the problem with the conventional definition of i, you must also understand what a function (or operation, which is the same thing) really is. According to the simplest set-theoretic model, an element f is a function if all its elements are 2-tuples and for all elements x such that there exists some y such that (x,y) ∈ f, there exists no zy such that (x,z) ∈ f (by this definition, y is the element we denote as f(x)). If we don't want functions to be sets, there's the less formal, more intuitive model that says a function consists of a set (the domain of definition) and a rule that maps each element x of the set to another element y.

The problem now becomes apparent. Going by the set-theoretic definitions, the set (0,1) already exists before we define i, so that's not the issue. But we already have a logical, natural definition of i and the complex numbers as tuples of real numbers, and even if we for some reason want to clumsily circumvent that, we have to define the function of exponentiation that we refer to in the definition i^2 = -1. It's not clear exactly which function the ^ sign refers to, but let's say the exponent is fixed to 2 and the operation is just quadration (denoted by ^2, not just ^). It doesn't matter, because (a,b)^2 refers to the element (a2 - b2, 2ab) in either case. Then we define i as the unique element (a,b) ∈ ℝ2 (where ℝ is the set of real numbers) such that (a,b)^2 = (-1,0). But such an element does not exist, as both (0,1) and (0,-1) have this property. Should we define i as an element (a,b) such that (a,b)2 = (-1,0) and never specify which one we're referring to? That's retarded, and there's no reason to do so. It seems that to get a proper definition of i out of the equation i^2 = -1 we have to say that ^2 refers to the operation {((0,1),(-1,0))}, i.e. the operation defined on the set {(0,1)} that acts on the single element (0,1) and maps it to (-1,0). That's also retarded, and incredibly contrived. It's like defining 1 not as {0} but as the element f(0) where f is the function {(0,{0})} that maps the single element 0 to {0}. It accomplishes the same thing, but artificially inflates the amount of description needed for the definition for no reason. At that point, your only option is to give up and define i the proper way.

With the urelement approach, you can't define i by i^2 = -1 as the function that the ^ sign refers to must exist to make that definition, and for that function to exist, the set that is to be the domain of definition must exist, and for that set to contain i, i must exist (and then there's also the issue we ran into above). Recall that by this approach, i doesn't exist until you postulate that it does. In other words, the definition of i is given by the axiom "there exists an element i that is an urelement but doesn't belong to any category of urelements that we have previously introduced".

Now, you might say this is all highly technical and it's a waste of time to explain this to high school students because there are more practical matters to attend to, but that's a terrible way of viewing education. Teaching people the whats but not the whys is probably a good way to create office drones and construction workers, but if you look at the big picture you'll just end up with a population of mindless, soulless beings that know how to obey, that cling to outdated morals and worldviews without knowing why, that lack creativity and critical thinking. I think the most important role of education is not to be a factory that creates products that can perform simple tasks, not to teach people what to think, but how to think. To create critical, analytical, skeptical minds that can carry our civilization forwards scientifically and culturally. Avoiding discussion on the definition of i does nothing to that end; rather, it teaches people who question it or have a vague feeling that the definition is insufficient that it's best to just accept how things are, and it does nothing to further anyone's understanding of mathematics and directs all focus toward mechanical arithmetic skills.

Looking around the world, my impression is that no matter where you go, no matter how high a country scores in international tests and studies on mathematical skills, people don't actually understand anything of substance about math. Explaining the problem with the conventional definition of i can be done in one or a few sentences, and giving a pedagogic demonstration of how to define numbers in terms of sets can be done in an hour or two. But we neglect to do this, and people's understanding of math remains what it has always been:

September 30, 2013

Paradox of the ad hoc bullshit stone

Many sceptically-minded people go through a phase of rationaler-than-thou, self-righteous internet atheism in their early teenage years in which they are convinced that every religious person on the planet is mentally retarded and religion is the root of all evil and should be punishable by death, and most of their time is spent reciting the paradox of the stone and similar, done-to-death arguments all over the internet. I wonder if that's why I never hear of any serious attempts to discuss said paradox: everyone are sick of it and no-one wants to hear any more about it.

I'm going to give you my view on the subject, but first a little digression. All macroscopic objects (bugs, humans, planets...) are essentially just collections of atoms that have clumped up into various structures, and atoms are just collections of protons and neutrons that have clumped up and electrons that hang around close to them, and protons and neutrons are just collections of quarks that tend to behave in certain ways that make them probabilistically form greater structures. According to string theory, quarks are made up of one-dimensional strings. Doesn't it seem like it should be possible to go further down the rabbit hole until it's all just matter shaped in various ways, and let's say the shape determines which elementary particle it is.

According to quantum mechanics, pretty much anything is physically possible. I think. Atoms can disappear and then reappear, and that could theoretically happen to an entire planet if every atom disappeared at once, even though the chance is practically zero of that ever happening. The planck length, ~1.6×10-35 m, is the smallest measurable distance, which means (maybe? I dunno lol, but who cares) that it's the smallest physically meaningful distance. Planck time, ~5.4×10-44 s, is the smallest physically meaningful time or something.

Because of all of this, I like to see the universe as a giant three-dimensional (or more-than-three-dimensional) grid of cubic cells with the side length of 1 planck length, in which there can either be matter or not be matter, and this whole grid "updates" at the "frame rate" of one frame per planck time. Essentially, the whole grid could be seen as a binary sequence where 1 represents matter and 0 represents empty space - let's call it a "universe binary state". The probability for each binary state to occur would be determined by the ones that came before, meaning all laws of physics could be described by a function that to each possible sequence of binary states from the beginning of the universe up until any point in time would assign the set of all possible binary states along with the probability for those states to occur in the next "frame" ( (ordered list of all states since the universe began up until the present) ↦ {(state, probability), (state, probability), ...} ). Quarks would be a result of matter bunching up, and the "movement" of particles and objects would be a result of cells becoming empty and other cells becoming full in a certain pattern, and all of this would happen because the probability function is such that these events are extremely likely to happen on any measurable level.

Now, this model of reality is completely useless for making scientific predictions and also quite possibly incompatible with modern physics in a million different ways. It's not wrong, though, in the same sense that classical mechanics is not wrong but rather inaccurate when it comes to making predictions about reality on very large or very small scales, and the theory of relativity is not wrong when it talks about the size and velocity of macroscopic objects even though it's practically impossible to properly define objects (and their size, shape, position, velocity...) in terms of elementary particles, and the individual particles don't move exactly as the object is predicted to. You can't really say a model of reality is "wrong", but you can say it does a more or less good job of explaining various physical phenomena and observations within its intended range of applications. The reason I introduced the model above is because it's a useful tool when it comes to discussing certain philosophical and religious matters, although admittedly viewing the universe as just a collection of elementary particles would pretty much get the job done as well (though, I like to think, less elegantly), so I guess part of the reason is because I think it's a pretty cool idea and I wanted to write it down.

With that out of the way, let's get back to the subject matter. The paradox of the stone. Could God create a task for himself that he couldn't complete, e.g. create an unmovable stone? This is supposed to be a paradox because God is omnipotent; capable of all things conceivable and inconceivable. But that definition of omnipotence has to my knowledge never been espoused by any theist or religious text such as the bible or the koran. It seems like it was specifically constructed with paradoxes like this one in mind. When most people think of God, they think of the almighty creator and master of the universe. He can make anything within the universe happen, i.e. manually set a sequence of universe binary states to occur instead of letting it all play out randomly. He can alter the laws of reality, i.e. alter the probability function described above. And that's pretty much it. He doesn't have to have power over himself or anything that's not within the bounds of our universe. Whatever he chooses to do with the universe, he can undo it later.

There's another paradox that goes "how could God know that he's omniscient?". It's just as nonsensical as the paradox of the stone. God is supposed to be all-knowing, which means that all the data concerning the universe is available to him. He could view any universe binary state that has happened, will happen, or could happen. It doesn't mean that he has any knowledge of himself or the nature of his own reality.

A more interesting question is the theodice problem, i.e. if God has the power and knowledge to end all evil (or even just stop isolated, unnecessary instances of suffering), then whence cometh evil? To answer that, you first have to ask yourself: what is evil? What is suffering? From a scientific point of view, it's a part of the electrochemical process that is your consciousness. To an outside observer looking at the universe, it (along with consciousness and life in general) is an invisible consequence of how some matter is arranged, a detail of a detail of a detail within a tiny concentration of mass somewhere in the universe, a sequence of length ~1050 of subsequences of universe binary states. And if our universe was created, whether it be by a god or by some scientists that made a simulation in a lab, it seems pretty unlikely that they would even care about us or consider the notion of suffering within our world to be meaningful. Our creators would have to be so far above and beyond us that we're less than ants to them. We're a bunch of ones and zeros, arranged in a very specific combination that is no more inherently valuable than a combination in which we suffer, or don't exist at all. Life and happiness are valuable because humans perceive them as valuable, and an ant's life and "emotions" (the state of their central nervous system) are less valuable to us because we perceive them as such, and our value to our creators is entirely contingent upon how they perceive us. We can create advanced simulations of human beings with artificial intelligence, and we certainly don't consider them to be equal to actual humans to the point where we consider termination of the program to be equivalent to murder. If our creators could simulate the entire universe we live in, imagine what they could do if they put all that effort into creating one mind that's as advanced as possible. We are nothing compared to that. Why, then, would any eventual creators care about mankind's suffering? It seems absolutely preposterous to claim to have any idea of how the minds of such beings work or what their actions, goals and values are, or to think that anything humanity will ever do is of any consequence to them whatsoever. With that in mind, I'd like to offer an alternative to Epicurus's riddle: whence cometh benevolence?

That's how I reason regarding the theodice problem, and incidentally it also makes a pretty good case for why the concept of worship is inherently flawed. There's no reason to believe that a being so superior to us as God would be more concerned with us dying than we are with stepping on an ant, so why should we pray to him? Even if there's a divine plan in which humanity is central, why should we believe that it includes him answering to prayers, or us worshipping him, or that it requires any action whatsoever on our end? Even if he wants to be worshipped, why should we believe that he has any interest in rewarding us for it, or that he even values our well-being, or that his views on what's best for us are even remotely similar to ours? Maybe he views matter arranged in such a way that it forms a suffering human being as its optimal state and that's the paradise we get. You don't fucking know. And how would he reward us with paradise? If you created an exact replica of yourself, atom by atom, you wouldn't consider it to really be you, because you and it would be two separate minds that think, feel and perceive independently from one another. So if you were replicated or your body and mind were restored after your death, you would still have ceased to exist. But what's to say God would find that distinction meaningful? All you are is an arrangement of matter. And it seems to me that the only way for him to reward (or punish) you after death would be to not make that distinction, in which case you're not really getting anything out of it.

There are so many questions to ask about how such a being as God would work, and no answers. Who the hell are these people that claim to know the answers about this being we cannot possibly comprehend in any meaningful way? It seems no matter how much I think about religion, I always find some new way to be flabbergasted with it, but the conclusion I keep coming back to is that they're just not asking the questions.

ADDENDUM 2017-03-18: Re-reading this, it occurs to me that I was too harsh in my assessment of the omnipotence and omniscience paradoxes. They do hold up perfectly well as long as you don't apply them too broadly. They prove that a being can't have total control over or knowledge of himself or his own reality, but they do not refute the idea of an almighty god who has total control over and knowledge of a reality "beneath his own", so to speak (so a question like "does God know that he knows everything about the universe?" is a question not about his knowledge of the universe but about his self-knowledge). What they do prove is interesting in and of itself on a philosophical level, even though they don't make for good arguments against e.g. the Abrahamic God as understood by the average believer.

August 17, 2013

Ban gay marriage, and straight marriage

Marriage: a legal contract between a man and a woman who are (practically always) in love and have been a couple for long enough that they have decided they want to live together for the rest of their lives, giving them special privileges in areas such as health care, insurance, immigration, income taxes, property taxes and more (depending on country), that are not granted to people who are single, or have just met someone, or haven't got a stable enough relationship that they want to make a lifelong commitment to their partner, or have gotten divorced and are not ready to move on yet, or just don't want to get married for whatever reason, or prefer to have romantic and sexual relations with people of the same gender as themselves, or prefer to be with multiple partners, or prefer any other form of relationship.

The LGBT movement is lobbying to remove from that definition "or prefer to have romantic and sexual relations with people of the same gender as themselves". They're fine with discriminating against people who are single, or have just met someone, or haven't got a stable enough relationship that they want to make a lifelong commitment to their partner, or have gotten divorced and are not ready to move on yet, or just don't want to get married for whatever reason, or prefer to be with multiple partners, or prefer any other form of relationship. No-one cares about those people. They either will get married eventually and thus are not complaining, or are extremist woman-hating jihadists who want 20 slave-wives, or are crazy sex-freaks who only live to stick their dicks inside as many different holes as possible (and being too promiscuous is just not okay because _________). What really matters is that we don't discriminate against couples for not containing equal amounts of penises and vaginas.

Marriage with legal benefits is essentially the government's way of saying "this is the best way to live your lives, and everyone who does so shall be elevated beyond mere citizens and receive special recognition and privileges". You might think that's an exaggeration, but there's really no other way to motivate it that holds up. Marriage leads to children and children cost money to raise? Then just give all the benefits to parents and people with child custody, who are the ones that actually need benefits. There's no reason to split them up and give some to parents and some to married people. So, since when is it okay for the state to tell people how to live? Take a vacation abroad at least every other year or pay the boring tax! Buy your kids a smartphone before they're 10 and be arrested for child spoiling!

The reason that this is seen as okay is, of course, because the symbolic values way overshadow the legal privileges. Marriage is seen as a declaration of lifelong love and dedication to your partner, not as a way to pay less tax. And that is exactly why these privileges are absolutely, 100% inefficient as a motivator for marriage. People don't try to get into relationships to get tax benefits, they don't decide they're ready to get married earlier for it, they don't stay married for it, and it's definitely not a motivator to "become straight" (if that were even possible) or give up their polyamorous lifestyle.

I don't think anyone even disputes this. The simple truth is, the monoamorous lifestyle of "find partner, eventually break up and repeat or get married" is the only one that's socially accepted for adults, and people who don't have marriage as their end goal are seen as either immature or "not ready for marriage yet" or abnormal, and that's why marriage benefits are a non-issue. Polyamorous people have no voice, and unlike gays it's okay to be prejudiced and bigoted against them. But that's not the entire truth.

The only logical solution is of course to abolish marriage as a legal (not social) institution and instead offer registered partnership - which can be much more flexible with, for example, polyamorous relationships, as the symbolic value is gone - for boring legal stuff like joint tax filing. Secular marriage would be an open market and therefore much more flexible as well. Gay marriage wouldn't be given official recognition, so the bigots would be happy as the state wouldn't force them to acknowledge that the ceremony that homosexuals have is the same as their proper religious marriage, but homosexuals wouldn't feel the need for it to be recognized either. Straight marriage would lose its official recognition, but who gives a shit? Religious people still have their god(s) in their marriage, so they don't need the state, and I just don't see atheists going anal about it.

The issues of gay marriage, polygamy, and unfair privileges to married people solved in one fell swoop. And this very obvious solution isn't being advocated even by Swedish feminists who base their careers on questioning and even damning any and all social norms (heteronormativity is the devil to them), and even then the issue of polyamory has been given some attention in Swedish media such as Dagens Nyheter, the biggest non-tabloid daily newspaper (all the big, mainstream media in Sweden are feminist, at least passively). Even they are not questioning the legal institution of marriage. I guess they're just not clever enough.