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.

August 14, 2013

Random thoughts on stupid songs

These are some thoughts on annoying music I hear when going to the gym or getting drunk and dancing like an idiot to annoying music. Without further ado:

Flo Rida - Wild Ones ft. Sia

I don't generally have a problem with vocal sounds in music that aren't meant to convey any lyrical meaning, like "yeah", "hey", "ugh", "come on" and so on. That being said, there are ways of doing it very, very wrong. I'm talking about the part right at the beginning of the song:
Hey I heard you were a wild one
Not only does the OOO sound incredibly stupid, but the way she sings it, it's like she's saying it in mid-conversation, like it's part of the lyrics. It makes me imagine her walking up to some guy in a bar and going all "hey, I heard you're a wild one... OOooOOo". Allow me to illustrate:

[Credit goes to Cyanide & Happiness and Paint for the image]

I don't know how it goes from there, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't involve her "taking him home for a home run".

Sebastian Ingrosso - Reload
When everything starts to fade
You don’t have to be afraid
No you don’t have to be afraid
Take my hand and reload
This is free love
That’s what we are made of
Uh. When everything starts to fade - I'm guessing that means you're about to pass out, which means your control over your mind and body is slipping and it's not a good time to be fucking around with lethal weapons - the first thought that pops into your head is "hey, let's go on a shooting spree!". Or does 'reload' mean refill the stapler? I don't fucking think so. And what's next, we're made of "free love"? What does that even mean? This reminds me of how soothsayers and spiritual new-age hippie type fellas like to append some vague, meaningless adjective to the term 'energy', like positive, negative, creative, spiritual, because if they speak clearly and actually make sense it just sounds so much less mystical and wise. Are you referring to an abstract but measurable physical quantity that ties together mass, macroscopic motion, vibration, the position of a body within a force field (i.e. vector field), and a bunch of other quantities related to the ability of a system to perform mechanical work on a body? No? Then the term you're looking for is 'bullshit'.

I think seeing the songwriters as typical God-fearing redneck 'muricans might help us analyze the song. They love guns, freedom ("freedom") and the American way. Getting fat, shooting their guns, that sorta thing. Really, this song is an ode to rural American culture. Oh, and did I mention getting fat?
When you want to get off the ground
But gravity pulls you down
Gravity pulls you down
Yeah. When gravity pulls you down, causing you to have trouble getting off the ground. I hate it when that happens.

I like how the writers specified very clearly that the issue here is gravity. It's not like life is pulling you down, or you feel weak and powerless because you're going through some hard times. Nope, it's all gravity. That's what we're dealing with. Ok, so I think I might have a solution. How about you, oh I don't know, just get off the fucking ground? That might help!

I mean, do you realize how fucking fat you would have to be to have a hard time standing up because of gravity? You think Oprah's bad, well, these people eat Oprahs for breakfast. I'm beginning to think these people love America so much that they've devoured it, along with the rest of the universe. Don't get too close to them or you'll be pulled into their event horizons and sucked into the big blob of fat that is their bodies, except instead of fat cells they have billions of tiny singularities.

Some asshole (not N.R.G.) - I Need Your Lovin' (Like the Sunshine)

I'm pretty damn sure it was a guy singing this when I heard it, so it's probably a cover, but I didn't manage to find it online. Anyway, some guy sings about how he "needs your lovin' like the sunshine" and of course all the gullible girls in the hypothetical audience go "oh he's so sweet why can't I find a guy like that". But does he really need the sunshine? Not directly. We need the oxygen and glucose created by photosynthesis, and vitamin D is produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight. Not that the energy for those reactions necessarily needs to come from the sun - any other source of photons will do. So he doesn't need your love directly, but he needs a biproduct of your love. He needs to get laid. And he doesn't even need it from you - any source of vagina will do. Doesn't sound so sweet now, does it?

(Alternative interpretation: he needs your kidneys.)

Bruno Mars - Grenade

This song is so fucking stupid it makes the blood boil in my veins. The lyrics are in the video description, so go read them if you don't have blood pressure issues. Basically what we have is the last song, with some guy talking sweet talk about love to fool gullible teenage girls, except the lyrics are actually stupid on their own without requiring some asshole to overanalyze and misinterpret them. I mean, I guess just comparing love to sunshine without any sort of elaboration won't fool anyone with more than a handful of neurons firing in their brain that the lyrics are somehow "poetic", or "good" for that matter, but this is much worse. If the last song is a tea party supporter saying "we need to protect family values" in a short TV interview at a rally, then this song is a long, elaborative essay on the same subject from a professor at the Patriotic Christ University involving the terms 'abortion' (or 'anti-life'), 'homosexual propaganda', 'communism' (used interchangeably with 'liberalism' and 'socialism'), and 'heavy metal music'.

First off, how the hell do you know you'd catch a grenade and all that for this girl? Have you been in such a situation before and heroically taken a bullet by jumping in front of a gun to save your loved one? No? Didn't fucking think so, assface! People who haven't been there before have no idea of how they'd react, but judging from what I've seen from this guy he'd probably just wet himself and cry like a pussy.

But let's forget about that for a second. Let's pretend he would sacrifice himself to save her. Why is that a good thing? What reward could possibly be worth sacrificing yourself? You'd be dead. You wouldn't exist, and so nothing would at that point be of any value to you. That's not to say that I wouldn't selflessly sacrifice myself rather than have 99% of the world's population wiped out, but again, I can't say for sure whether or not I would until I had been in such a situation.

The point is, sacrificing your life means giving up absolutely everything you've ever had or will have, and in order to do so out of love for a single person that love would probably have to be so strong the vast majority of us will never comprehend, much less experience it. In fact, to the extent that such a selfless sacrifice happens in real life, I'd say it's roughly 100% of the time a combination of social ideals and guilt; for example, a man in love should sacrifice himself for his woman, parents should sacrifice themselves for their children, it's romanticized as such a strong and noble and brave thing to do, if you don't you're a coward and you can't live with yourself if you don't and what will people think etc.

As for this guy, he has apparently decided that if you love someone to the point of insane obsession and are willing to sacrifice yourself for them, that's a foolproof recipe to get them to love you back. If this guy loves you enough, he practically owns you. And if you don't "give him all your love", or you don't want to take a bullet for him, you're an evil bitch, a spawn of hell, and you deserve to suffer through eternity for it. Seriously, it's right there in the lyrics.

Ok, so that's not all there is to it. It's not like he just decided that he loves someone who didn't return the love. It seems to me like they did love each other, and then she stopped loving him (quite possibly because she realized how insane he was). Or maybe she just thought she loved him, and said so ("you said you loved me, you're a liar"), and then realized she didn't. Or maybe he suddenly broke out the L word and she responded without thinking much, or felt pressured into saying it back, and while that's not a good thing to do, it's a human thing to do, and doesn't really warrant an eternity of hellfire. Either way, nothing in these lyrics makes me think she's in any way a bad person.

So, she breaks up with him, or he breaks up with her because she's not prepared to catch a grenade for him, and he decides that she's a demon from hell. But still he'd die for her. Wait, what? That doesn't make any goddamn sense whatsoever. Why would he do that? It's simple: this entire song is constructed specifically to make him look like this sweet, emotional, sensitive dream prince by creating a completely unrealistic, inauthentic fairytale representation of love that anyone past their teens would (or rather, should) see right through. The purpose of this, of course, is to make every naive girl out there love him, and wish that he was with her instead of the girl in the song, and buy his shit.

Now, I'm not saying that realism is always good. Hollywood blockbuster action movies can pull off ridiculous and overblown and make it entertaining. But when you set out to invoke a feeling of melancholy and make us all weepy, and end up just making us roll our eyes instead, your efforts have fallen pitifully short of the mark. The real problem here, though, is that the unrealism is used to judge someone - if you don't hold up to these phony ideals, you're an awful human being. If your first kiss isn't fairytale perfect in every conceivable way ("had your eyes wide open, why were they open?"), the emotions are fake and you're just seeking to exploit the guy. If you wouldn't die a horrible, gruesome death for him, you're a treacherous harlot. That's the core of what's so disgusting and despicable about this song - it constructs a strawman and tells you to hate it for completely nonsensical reasons so that the artist will seem better, and everyone who listens to it comes out a little dumber. It pretends to be heartfelt and sorrowful, when in reality it's just dishonest and cynical. (Sidenote: the video had the potential to be awesome, but they fucked it up by cutting off just before he got hit by the train. And there was a lot of unnecessary stuff before that part.)

And that's a wrap. I could go on, but I plan to live past the age of 30 before my first cardiac arrest. Fuck the radio.

Domestic abuse is hilarious

When it comes to offensive humor, the debate seems to consist mostly of one side saying "that's not okay, it's racist/sexist/whatever", and the other saying "it's funny, get over it". The former side looks at a joke (or similarly a statement or an article) and thinks "can it be interpreted as sexist?" (for example), i.e. "is there any way I can attach the 'sexist' label to it?". If the answer is yes, the latter side might agree or remain neutral, but rarely protests just yet. The former side decides that it's the root of the world's problems and the true face of evil, and the one who made the joke should lose their livelihood and be shunned by society, no matter how much they beg and plead for forgiveness. Now the latter side does protest, but all it usually amounts to is "get a sense of humor".

But labels such as 'sexist' do in no way imply or justify any of that. In the case of a joke, it usually means that it involves a stereotype of the target demographic, or that a member of it finds themselves in an unfortunate situation (e.g. rape, domestic abuse). And to joke about such things is not okay because... you guessed it, it's sexist. And we come full circle. (Sidenote: when it comes to subjects such as rape and domestic abuse you should of course be cautious of who might hear, as it might be distressing for victims to be reminded of it. But I'll return to that shortly.)

The issue, then, is that the meaning of these labels don't reflect what you'd expect them to based on the definitions of the actual words. Let's take the definition of racism as an example: the belief in a racial hierarchy based on some inherent superiority of certain races to others, or the belief that it's ever appropriate to judge people or their actions based on their race, as well as actions motivated by said beliefs. Or something like that. With that in mind, I'd like you to take a look at the following jokes:
What's long and black?
The unemployment line.

What do black men do after sex?
15 years to life.

What do you call 100 niggers on the bottom of the sea?
A good start.
These would all probably be labeled as 'racist' by most people. The first one, however, merely jokes about the social situation of blacks, and if you're actually offended by it (unless presented in such a way that it signals contempt for blacks), you're probably an idiot. The second one is a joke about a very negative black stereotype: that they are more prone to rape than others, which I guess is statistically true to some extent because of social factors, but the joke obviously means to imply that their skin color is a factor. The third one jokes that blacks should be eradicated. Sounds pretty racist, huh? Well, imagine that some guy who we'll refer to as 蘋果醬 tells his friend 厄運鍋鏟 these jokes in private, and 厄運鍋鏟 finds them hilarious. They don't actually support black genocide or think that "black men are rapists", even though the jokes express those sentiments when taken at face value. 蘋果醬 tells them with the intention of making 厄運鍋鏟 laugh, and 厄運鍋鏟 laughs because he finds them funny (and "so wrong", which is of course part of what makes them funny). Has anyone committed a racist act? Did they do something that was motivated by their belief in one racial group's inferiority? No. Then the jokes were, in this context, not racist.

Of course, in the context that I found these jokes on a site displaying actual, honest racist beliefs, what they actually say is something like "niggers are lazy and incompetent, they rape our women, and we must wipe them off this planet to save the white race". They are racist. Their uploading was a racist action. Finding the site, reading the jokes, finding some of them mildly amusing and posting some of them on a blog would not be a racist action.

Let's talk about racial and sexual slurs, instead. Is the word 'nigger' racist? Yes, because it can't be separated from its historical context and it's been used as a pejorative in the past to suggest that the target is a lesser being and an uncivilized brute and blah blah blah. Bullshit. There's no historical context unless I say it in a historical context, whatever that means. It's presented in a neutral, analytical context in this article. I'm discussing the word. Not racist. Let's say a white person calls a black person a nigger. It's inappropriate, but what else is it? If it's said rebelliously, like "I can use any word I want and you're an idiot if you're offended", it's just kinda stupid and rude (even though there's some truth to that). If it's said by someone who doesn't know of its history and was just told "it's synonymous with 'black person'", it's not racist. If it's used by a racist to signal his contempt for blacks, it's racist.

With that in mind, I'd like to propose the following expressions: 'racial joke' (to replace 'racist joke') and 'gender joke' (to replace 'sexist joke'). Like 'gay joke', they tell you the subject matter of the joke without coming with an in-built accusation. Because when labels such as 'racist' and 'sexist' are used for something as trivial as jokes, it becomes so much easier to apply them to situations such as these:

  • An article called Sexual Economics: Sex as Female Resource for Social Exchange in Heterosexual Interactions, or at least that's the one I think it was. Then again, I remember reading it and I don't recall it being that goddamn long. In either case, it was an article analyzing heterosexual sex from an economic perspective, and some facebook friends of facebook friends of mine were calling it the most sexist thing ever, and both caused by and reinforcing sexual norms, misogyny, homophobia and all kinds of nasty stuff. It did no such things, of course. All it did was apply methods of one area of academic study to another, aspiring to analyze and explain social tendencies and phenomena. But that doesn't matter, because the article can be labeled as 'sexist', which means it's terrible.

  • This scrubs scene
    *JD and Turk hug*
    Ted: I need one of those.
    JD: A hug?
    Ted: No, a black friend. I think it would make me much cooler.
    Turk: I should be offended, but he's right.
    WHAT?! You should be offended? As a black male it is your duty to be offended because he had the audacity to suggest that black guys are cool? But... you're not offended. Because he's right. And that... should have been offensive. This is a crystal clear example of what I'm talking about: he says something completely inoffensive, but he's a white guy and the subject matter of what he says is black guys, which means you can apply the 'racist' label to it (the application of which is, in itself, actually racist), which makes it (or "should" make it) offensive.

  • This scrubs scene
    Turk: How long have you been awake?
    Patient: Long enough to know that [...] JD's imitation of a black guy is really racist.
    JD: He be trippin'.
    And here's the imitation in question. Turk's imitation of JD comes shortly after, but that's not racist because JD is white, and neither's imitation of Stacy is racist (though it may well be sexist because she's a woman). JD's imitation of Turk, however, is REALLY racist. No, wait, wasn't it his imitation of "a black guy"..? It seems like the fact that JD is just trying to imitate his friend, possibly by using mannerisms Turk himself used at the time, or possibly by trying to reconstruct what actually happened from memory, isn't important. What matters is that JD is white and Turk is black, and for the imitation he uses what could be considered black stereotypes. Bam, racist label. Never mind that everyone has stereotypes and there's nothing inherently wrong with that.

The basic formula goes like this: there's a joke or statement or whatever and you have some observations A about it, like "it's a statement made by a white-ass cracka honkey, and the subject matter is people of color". Then you have some conclusions B you would like to make about said statement, such as "it's offensive, evil, and reprehensible", but your observations A do not imply B. A and B are islands in an ocean, and you want to get from one to the other but you can't swim 'cause you're a dumbass. The solution? A label C, for example 'racist', that you can apply to the statement, acting as a bridge between A and B. A still does not imply B, but by using C you can make it seem like it does! The reason it works is because C means two things: C1, "the word C as a label can be applied to the situation because it has been rendered meaningless by popular use", and C2, "the situation can be described by C based on C's actual meaning". The common man's lack of critical thinking makes him think that C1 and C2 are equal, so while I look at the situation and think "A ⇒ C1, and C2 ⇒ B", Average Joe thinks "C1 = C2 = C, so A ⇒ C and C ⇒ B, so A ⇒ B".

This formula can be applied to situations that have nothing to do with race or gender issues. For example, if someone has a differing opinion in an internet argument, they're a troll, and thus they're intentionally trying to piss you off by taking a position they don't believe in, and thus their arguments can be disregarded. If someone makes an argument that you can put a fancy label on, such as 'straw man' or 'begging the question' or 'slippery slope', that's a proper counterargument and you don't need to address the specific points they made; rather, it's their job to further explain why their argument works or why the label couldn't be applied to it. Or in the reversed situation (A ⇒ C2 = C1 ⇒ B), if you can put a fancy label on a statement, literary work, art piece or person, such as 'nihilism', 'cubism', 'impressionism', or 'of the Nietzschean school of thought', it immediately becomes more sophisticated, artistic and thought-provoking. There are even words that essentially mean nothing but have several different meanings incorrectly attached to them by popular use and can be used as an "argument" on their own (A ⇒ C1 = C1' ⇒ B); "homosexuality is unnatural in the sense that it's not found in 'nature' which I guess means forests and shit because humans don't count, except it is found in nature, but heterosexuality is more prevalent and heterosexual mating leads to reproduction and I guess you have to reproduce in order to be natural unless you're asexual or sterile, and therefore it's unnatural in the sense that it's not how we're 'supposed' to be or it's immoral or something, and therefore it's bad (even though it doesn't make sense to conflate 'natural' with 'good' because even if we accept the bullshit premise of natural meaning non-human things found in Earth's ecosystems, we'd have to accept cancer and oppressive hierarchies and rape as natural)" (commonly shortened to "homosexuality is unnatural").

None of this really justifies the use of "offensive" humor, though, so let's talk about that. As I've said, subjects such as rape and domestic abuse should be approached with caution, but you're not gonna self-censor elevator jokes because someone's relative might have died in an elevator accident, are you? It's up to the individual to draw the line for when, where and how, as is it with other forms of off-color humor, because even if no-one is reminded of past horrors (in their own lives, that is), and even if no-one is offended (which is not necessarily something you're obligated to be concerned about because being offended is stupid), it might still be inappropriate and make people uncomfortable, and that's usually not the reaction you're going for when telling a joke. It's really no different from other social interaction: use your judgment.

Another issue, and perhaps the only really important one for people attempting to make a serious case against disparaging humor, is about whether or not it actually affects people's beliefs. I looked around the web, and all research I could find on the subject (relayed in this article, for instance) pointed toward the same conclusion: racial humor (for example) does not actually cause racism but does, if you already harbor racist beliefs, normalize them and release inhibitions against them. Esssentially you could say that for racists, race jokes place a temporary debuff on you that increases your racism for the duration. Long-term effects have not been confirmed by these studies, and while it seems likely that there might be to some degree, it may well be that they are too small to matter, or that the threshold of exposure to racial humor for these long-term effects to take root is rarely surpassed in everyday society (because it's not like this kind of humor is rampant). The actual damage of the short-term effects hasn't been documented either, but I think we can safely assume that people generally don't go directly from reading gay jokes to making budget cuts, like in the study in the article above.

In either case, we can conclude that disparaging humor does cause some increase of negative views against the subject group, and telling such jokes to people you don't know very well could, to some extent, be considered an "immoral act". But very few people actively strive to maximize the moral value of their actions in every area of their lives. For example, the meat industry apparently has a huge negative environmental impact, so the most ethical thing to do is be vegetarian, or at least minimize your meat consumption. It's more ethical to get a medical education and volunteer in some poor African country than to be an accountant or regional sales manager at Ikea. Do the people who complain about these jokes eat less meat than the people they complain about, or donate more money to charity? I'm guessing they don't tend to take the time to find out.

Again, it's up to the individual to draw the line, and just like when it comes to eating meat, it's up to society to make sure people know they're being annoying and preachy when they're condemning others for drawing their line differently. This is especially true when the real problem doesn't lie with you, but with people who hold discriminating beliefs to begin with.

July 30, 2013


I decided to start this blog because I keep having all these thoughts about things and stuff that I rarely see mentioned by anyone else, and I never get to expand on them thoroughly in conversations when the respective subject is brought up. Instead I just keep repeating them in my head over and over and over and over, afraid I'll forget them so the world will never learn from my brilliant insight. Eventually it got tiresome, so I figured I'll lock away these thoughts in some forgotten corner of the internet so I'll never have to think them again. Ha! Suck it, thoughts.

So yeah, this blog will be about whatever I feel like writing about at any given moment. I probably won't cover complex social issues that countless other, more educated and dedicated people have written books and essays about, or issues like atheism/religion where every possible thing that can be said about it has been covered from every possible angle and every argument has been repeated ad nauseum by every self-righteous asshole on the internet (except I do plan to write something about religion, because I'm just that amazing at thinking about stuff). I value originality and interesting...ness. Really, anything I can make a good article about goes.

I have 7-ish articles already planned (that will probably already be up when you're reading this), and after that it might be anything from a week to a decade until the next post. I'll make an update when I have something to say, simple as that. I don't consider myself to be a 'blogger' or a 'writer' because I don't write to make a living, or just to have a blog, or to maintain a readership, or for any reason other than to express some thoughts I have and consider worthy of being expressed. I'm not interested in (nor am I capable of) churning out content to "keep the blog alive", because I don't consider it to be 'alive' or an ongoing project. This blog might as well be a drawer where I put ruled paper with graphite scribbles (although that would be harder to link to on my facebook wall, which I will probably want to do at some point).

You can sign up for updates via email or RSS feed (protip: RSS feeds are the best thing ever, and only idiots don't have one) so you don't end up locked away in your basement, desperately spamming F5 all day, thirsting for more of my divine wisdom.