Thursday, January 31, 2008

Oh no!

Via Sporadic Maunderings comes Net Disaster. It's pretty cool.


Dr Myers debates a creo

Dr PZ Myers debated a creo named Geoffrey Simmons on a Xian radio station this afternoon. I was unable to listen to it live, but followed the running commentary. It seems Dr Myers laid the smackdown on poor Geoff. The debate is supposed to be available for download by tomorrow evening, but I hope that someone out there made a separate recording. 24+ hours is plenty of time for editing.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Robots and Evolution

Having returned from vacation Sunday night, I have been catching up on my 'blog reading. A post on The Panda's Thumb from Jan 21 caught my eye. Like a previous post I made back in November '05, this sits at the intersection of my interest in electronics/computers/robotics and my interest in evolution.

The object of this experiment (.pdf) was to test the evolvability of communication. The setup is pretty simple. The selection pressure is based on foraging efficiency in an environment with one source of food, and one source of poison, which are indistinguishable from a distance.

The robots in the test groups had the ability to flash a blue light. There were four test groups.

  • Closely related, colony selection
  • Closely related, individual selection
  • Unrelated, colony selection
  • Unrelated, individual selection
There was also a control group that was tested in the same environment but without the ability to flash a light.

All groups started with random 'genomes' in individuals. In three of the four test groups, communication evolved which provided a higher foraging efficiency than the non-communicating control group. Interestingly, some rudimentary altruistic behavior evolved, too.

Even more interesting was the fourth group: Unrelated, individual selection. It also evolved communication, but was slightly less efficient than the control group. Why? Its members evolved deceptive behavior.

That's pretty cool.

The thread quickly became a discussion of moral sense. Which is also interesting, but not something I really want to go into right now. However, one commenter provided a link to this article at the New York Times, about moral instincts. It's long, but well worth the time. Here is the concluding paragraph:
Far from debunking morality, then, the science of the moral sense can advance it, by allowing us to see through the illusions that evolution and culture have saddled us with and to focus on goals we can share and defend. As Anton Chekhov wrote, ''Man will become better when you show him what he is like.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Eye update

The doctor called the thing by my eye a stye. It is an infection, probably staph or strep. I'm pretty conscientious about washing my hands, but I do have a habit of rubbing my eyes. He took a culture to test it and prescribed some antibiotics, which should clear it up in a few days.


Sunday, January 13, 2008


Via I Drew This comes a story about FBI wiretaps being shut off because the FBI hasn't been paying it's phone bill!

Telecom SOP:

Civil liberty violations = no problem.
Unpaid bills = termination of service.
No, really, we're not just about the money.


Kevin Welsh

There's a song verse in my random quote generator. Here's a video of Kevin Welsh performing it.

and here's another Kevin Welsh song I really like:

I have a tinwhistle that I've tried to learn to play. I used to be ok, but I haven't even touched it in several years. I should get back to it.


Philosophy/Logic quizzes

Via Qalmlea I found this page, Games and Interactive Activities of a generally philosophical bent.

1) Do-It-Yourself Deity - Choose a number of attributes that you feel are necessary for a being to be called "God." Your choices will be given a "plausibility quotient" based on internal consistency.

My score: 1.0, total internal consistency.
This is because I didn't choose any attributes as necessary. Partly because I don't believe in any God or gods, but mostly because I really don't know what criteria to use to define 'god.'
For example: who is this?

People pray to him, believe he sees their every action, makes moral judgments on those actions, punishes or rewards them accordingly, and he is not restricted by physical (mortal?) laws.

Answer: Santa Claus.

Is there anyone who considers Santa to be a god?
2) Taboo - Moral judgements, chickens and the yuk-factor.
Your Moralising Quotient of 0.00 compares to an average Moralising Quotient of 0.31. This means that as far as the events depicted in the scenarios featured in this activity are concerned you are more permissive than average.

Your Interference Factor of 0.00 compares to an average Interference Factor of 0.20. This means that as far as the events depicted in the scenarios featured in this activity are concerned you are less likely to recommend societal interference in matters of moral wrongdoing, in the form of prevention or punishment, than average.

Your Universalising Factor of -1 compares to an average Universalising Factor of 0.40. Your score of -1 indicates that you saw no moral wrong in any of the activities depicted in these scenarios, which means that it is not possible for this activity to determine the extent to which you see moral wrongdoing in universal terms (i.e., without regard to prevailing cultural norms and social conventions)
It's true. I saw nothing morally wrong with any of these scenarios. I thought that they were weird and squicky, but not morally wrong
3) Interactive Philosophy Quiz - Test your knowledge of philosophy in this interactive quiz
Boring! It's just a test of dates/locations/names.
4) Battleground God - Will your beliefs about God and religion survive on our intellectual battlefield?
You took zero direct hits and you bit zero bullets. The average player of this activity to date takes 1.39 hits and bites 1.11 bullets. 402449 people have so far undertaken this activity.
It's pretty easy to be internally consistent when you don't believe in a supreme being
5) Morality Play - How do your moral judgments match up against those of other people? How broad a range of moral principles do you invoke when making moral judgments?
Your Moral Parsimony Score is 76%

What does this mean?

Moral frameworks can be more or less parsimonious. That is to say, they can employ a wide range of principles, which vary in their application according to circumstances (less parsimonious) or they can employ a small range of principles which apply across a wide range of circumstances without modification (more parsimonious). An example might make this clear. Let's assume that we are committed to the principle that it is a good to reduce suffering. The test of moral parsimony is to see whether this principle is applied simply and without modification or qualification in a number of different circumstances. Supposing, for example, we find that in otherwise identical circumstances, the principle is applied differently if the suffering person is from a different country to our own. This suggests a lack of moral parsimony because a factor which could be taken to be morally irrelevant in an alternative moral framework is here taken to be morally relevant.

How to interpret your score

The higher your percentage score the more parsimonious your moral framework. In other words, a high score is suggestive of a moral framework that comprises a minimal number of moral principles that apply across a range of circumstances and acts. What is a high score? As a rule of thumb, any score above 75% should be considered indicative of a parsimonious moral framework. However, perhaps a better way to think about this is to see how your score compares to other people's scores.
In fact, your score of 76% is slightly higher than the average score of 64%. This suggests that you have utilised a somewhat smaller range of moral principles than average in order to make judgements about the scenarios presented in this test, and that you have, at least on occasion, judged aspects of the acts and circumstances depicted here to be morally irrelevant that other people consider to be morally relevant.

Moral Parsimony - good or bad?

We make no judgement about whether moral parsimony is a good or bad thing. Some people will think that on balance it is a good thing and that we should strive to minimise the number of moral principles that form our moral frameworks. Others will suspect that moral parsimony is likely to render moral frameworks simplistic and that an overly parsimonious moral framework will leave us unable to deal with the complexity of real circumstances and acts. We'll leave it up to you to decide who is right.

How was your score calculated?

Your score was calculated by combining and averaging your scores in the four categories that appear below.

Geographical Distance

This category has to do with the impact of geographical distance on the application of moral principles. The idea here is to determine whether moral principles are applied equally when dealing with sets of circumstances and acts that differ only in their geographical location in relation to the person making the judgement.

Your score of 100% is significantly higher than the average score of 72% in this category.

The suggestion then is that geographical distance plays little, if any, role in your moral thinking.

Family Relatedness

In this category, we look at the impact of family loyalty and ties on the way in which moral principles are applied. The idea here is to determine whether moral principles are applied without modification or qualification when you're dealing with sets of circumstances and acts that differ only in whether the participants are related through family ties to the person making the judgement.

Your score of 67% is a lot higher than the average score of 52% in this category.

However, despite the fact that issues of family relatedness are less significant to you as a moral factor than to most other people who have taken this test, your score is low enough so that it might be supposed that they still play some role in your moral thinking. To the extent that they do, the parsimoniousness of your moral framework is reduced.

Acts and Omissions

This category has to do with whether there is a difference between the moral status of acting and omitting to act where the consequences are the same in both instances. Consider the following example. Let's assume that on the whole it is a bad thing if a person is poisoned whilst drinking a cola drink. One might then ask whether there is a moral difference between poisoning the coke, on the one hand (an act), and failing to prevent a person from drinking a coke someone else has poisoned, when in a position to do so, on the other (an omission). In this category then, the idea is to determine if moral principles are applied equally when you're dealing with sets of circumstances that differ only in whether the participants have acted or omitted to act.

Your score of 35% is much lower than the average score of 61% in this category.

This suggests that the difference between acting and omitting to act is a relevant factor in your moral framework. Usually, this will mean thinking that those who act have greater moral culpability than those who simply omit to act. To insist on a moral distinction between acting and omitting to act is to decrease the parsimoniousness of your moral framework.


This category has to do with whether scale is a factor in making moral judgements. A simple example will make this clear. Consider a situation where it is possible to save ten lives by sacrificing one life. Is there a moral difference between this choice and one where the numbers of lives involved are different but proportional - for example, saving 100 lives by sacrificing ten? In this category then, the idea is to determine whether moral principles are applied without modification or qualification when you're dealing with sets of circumstances that differ only in their scale, as in the sense described above.

Your score of 100% is significantly higher than the average score of 73% in this category.

It seems that scale, as it is described above, is not an important consideration in your moral worldview. But if, contrary to our findings, it is important, then it decreases the parsimoniousness of your moral framework.
6) Shakespeare vs. Britney Spears - What is art? Which artists produce the greatest works of art?
Another boring one.
7) Strange New World - how can you know you aren't living in the Matrix?
Ah, phenomenology. Watch Dark Star instead.
8) The Philosophical Health Check - Is your thinking up to scratch?
Tests internal consistency

I got a tension quotient of 13%, (lower means more internally consistent) but I disagree that that the following are in tension:

There are no objective moral standards; moral judgements are merely an expression of the values of particular cultures
I think different cultures can have different moral standards

Acts of genocide stand as a testament to man's ability to do great evil
A moral judgment that I have made based on my cultural upbringing
9) Staying Alive - is it real or is it Memorex?
Your choices are consistent with the theory known as psychological reductionism. On this view, all that is required for the continued existence of the self is psychological continuity. Your three choices show that this is what you see as central to your sense of self, not any attachment to a particular substance, be it your body, brain or soul. However, some would say that you have not survived at all, but fallen foul of a terrible error. In the teletransporter case, for example, was it really you that travelled to Mars or is it more correct to say that a clone or copy of you was made on Mars, while you were destroyed?
I have no problem with this. I don't believe in mind/body dualism or the existence of an immortal soul separate from the body.

Yoda: "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter"

Me: "Wrong, we are just this crude matter. How amazing and wonderful that crude matter can shine."
10) So you think you're logical - Maybe we're not quite as logical as we like to think we are!
I got all 4 correct. A basic rule to remember is that "A implies B does NOT mean that B implies A"
11) Dealing with Induction - Can you figure out the rule?
You are dealt cards and have to decide if that card is to be included in the series. The catch is that you don't know the rule defining the series. How many mistakes will it take for you to figure it out?

Also, my left eye still hurts. The upper eyelid is even more swollen.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

My eye hurts.

This is my left eye.

That lump in the corner is pretty damn painful. Is it an infection of some kind? A clogged tear duct maybe? I don't know. I have a doctor's appointment Monday morning to get it looked at.

Also, my upper eyelid is a bit swollen.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008


I just finished watching the 9th episode of Moonlight and am about 3 minutes into the 10th. The situation prompted me to make this post. So if you care, there are spoilers ahead for the 9th episode

At the end of the 9th episode, Mick and Beth learn that Morgan is actually Coraline (Mick's vampire ex-wife). This isn't a spoiler, as it was revealed to the audience back in the 7th episode. Beth, convinced that Coraline is still a vampire and out for revenge (Mick had supposedly killed her), stakes Coraline. Mick freaks out, because Coraline is human, and must therefore have a cure for vampirism. Cut to the beginning of episode 10. At the hospital, Mick says that if Coraline dies, the cure dies with her.

Um...Hello! Vampire! All Mick has to do is turn her; problem solved. She can cure herself again, if she wants. She can tell Mick the cure, if he can convince her. Even if the cure would somehow prevent Coraline from turning, Mick doesn't know that, and if she's that close to dying (and apparently she is) turning her is the obvious solution. I really like this show (although not as much as Buffy or Angel) but I really hate it when characters suddenly become morons when drama requires it (Buffy and Angel were guilty of this occasionally, too). Like I said, I'm only a few minutes into the episode, maybe they will think of it.

I know it's only the 10th episode of the first season, but I hope that more monsters that just vampires are introduced soon. I don't want it to get all demon-rific and sorcery-y, but some werewolves would be nice. Maybe some zombies.