The Technology of Labor in the 21st Century

There are two possible ways the world might look in the distant future, or perhaps even the not-so-distant future.

The first is a world filled with people empowered by technology, as we develop increasingly sophisticated tools to enable people to speak freely, associate freely, control their property and direct their own destinies. The story of this world is of a revolution in technology granting greater power to more people, freeing them from needs both economic and political. A world where every person’s powers of choice and control of their own destiny is protected both by technology and by the universal agreement of all that those rights are worth protecting.

The second is not so rosy. The second version of the future world is filled with people repressed by increasingly sophisticated tools to control them. Pervasive surveillance watches everything that everyone does. Advanced predictive algorithms multiply the effectiveness of mass data collection by making inferences about other aspects of a person’s life. The benefits of technology are consolidated in the hands of a few people who own enough capital to have large interests in major corporations. New technologies developed by these corporations are leveraged to make money.

The problem here is that an endless train of small, separate decisions which in isolation appear reasonable, will nevertheless lead us down the road to world #2.

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Epistemic Regress

A topic I have been focused on for a bit is this idea of epistemic regress. By the typical definition of knowledge, a piece of knowledge is a belief which is true, that we have a justification for believing is true. The problem of epistemic regress falls out of this definition in the way that we justify beliefs. In short, the problem is that if we have a belief, it is typically justified by appeal to one or more other beliefs. Belief A is justified by belief B, which is presumably justified by belief C, and so on and so forth, causing an infinite regress. Which, if we don’t figure out some way to work out this infinite regress, could mean that we don’t actually know anything.

There are three basic ways we could resolve this regress. The infinitist theory is to say yes it is an infinite regress and that’s just how it is. Which is just terribly unsatisfying. Worse, if A isn’t justified unless B is justified, and B isn’t justified unless C is justified, etc. then we aren’t really justified in any of them because the string of unjustified beliefs goes on forever. We need some root belief that is justified. This brings us to the second way to resolve this problem, which is foundationalism. A foundational belief would be a terminal belief in this chain, that stops the infinite regress. The problem is that any belief that is foundational would need to be justified without needing another belief to justify it, which would be a very peculiar sort of belief indeed. The existence of such a belief is almost as hard to swallow as the idea that the infinite regress goes on forever. Now, the third possible way we could deal with this infinite regress is that there is no stopping point, and it doesn’t continue infinitely, but rather it goes in closed circular loops of indefinite length and structure. This solution is called coherentism. Superficially it seems acceptable, until you realize that you’re basically sanctioning circular reasoning as a means of justifying otherwise unjustified beliefs. That’s like saying God is good because the Bible says so, and we know the Bible is true because God is good (and wouldn’t lie to us). And we know that both those are true because it is circular. This logic is, to say the least, bad. Coherentism seems to suggest that this is acceptable, and that is a hard bullet to bite as well. So we have three bad theories that basically cover all the major solutions to an infinite regress. Either it is in fact an infinite regress, it terminates somewhere, or it just loops on itself. Now what?

Well, we have to test each one. Regarding the infinitist theory, it seems we are forced to conclude that we have little to no reason to think any of our beliefs are justified, and that we have no actual knowledge. This is most likely going to be our choice of last resort, since it basically concedes that we have no knowledge. Either that or infinite regresses are just fine, which is not really logically tenable. As a result this is not so much a serious theory of how to resolve epistemic regress as it is giving up.

Coherentism is a complex theory, and there are any number of ways you could go about attempting to prove it. If in fact our beliefs loop back on themselves, it also doesn’t appear we are justified in believing them, however most coherentists will argue that because the web of beliefs stands up coherently, we have reason to believe the entire group becomes justified to some extent. This seems a little bit plausible, but what about belief sets that are internally consistent, but disagree with the observable world? Does this same justificatory system apply to them? Unless a coherence theory adds in some element of observation then yes, and this would kill the theory. So a coherence theory must have some attachment to the real world in order to stop it from being legitimate to just make up all sorts of internally consistent nonsense and having it be justified as knowledge. Still, the truly knockout blow for coherentism is that a coherentist will generally rely on some belief which it makes little sense for it to be justified by a coherence argument. For example, “I think that coherence theory is true.” It doesn’t really make a lot of sense for a coherence theory to justify assertions about that sort of subject. But a coherence theorist cannot say that we have unproblematic epistemological access to anything, even our own thoughts, because that assertion that we have unproblematic epistemological access to our own minds is itself a belief that requires a justification, and a coherence theory will have to justify it by coherence with other beliefs.

Which leaves us with foundationalism. Which does seem to be the strongest candidate of the three, as well as the most intuitive, and is the one I will support. It is the typical way to resolve other infinite regresses, to find a base case. However its original problem still stands- what on earth could be a self-justifying belief? We need a belief that 1) is justified, and 2) does not depend on other beliefs for its justification. It’s easy to find beliefs that have either condition on their own. The belief that SKLAPPY SCHNAAA does not depend on other beliefs (if you are prepared to accept it is even a belief, which is debatable) but clearly it is nonsensical to say it is justified. Most beliefs we think are true will be justified, but will require other beliefs to justify them, even if those beliefs are as simple as what the subject concerned is. “That object is a chair” is a belief that depends on knowing what a chair is, for example, and possibly even knowing what an object is, or the sense in which one object can be of another class. Finding a truly foundational belief is quite challenging. Unlike a coherentist, a foundationalist can say that one of our foundational beliefs is that we have unproblematic epistemological access to our own minds. That can just be a foundational belief, if indeed it doesn’t require another belief to justify it by inference. And indeed it seems that the act of having a particular thought implies that it has been accessed by your consciousness, and it appears we have located our first foundational belief. Possibly. It could be that that “access” is really an experience of the sort that is suitable for a coherence theory, if you are prepared to accept that introspective experiences and sensory experiences are similar in nature, and can be used to modify a web of beliefs that is justified as a whole when it is internally consistent. Honestly, this is a truly complex topic.

There’s really far too much to this topic to ever hope to discuss all of it in one blog post, much less come to an actual answer. If you’re interesting in the topic do check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Foundationalism, or on Coherentism.

The Morality of Socialism

For some reason in the news recently there has been a great deal of discussion about socialism, most often with respect to the Obama health care plan. Before I start ripping into socialism as an idea, I think it’s important for me to point out that I see virtually nothing in any Obama policy that smacks of socialism.

Socialism as a theoretical framework is quite simple to disprove on moral grounds- by any classical argument in favor of the inalienable right of property. However, the people who advocate for welfare programs tend to disagree on the grounds that property is not an inalienable right. Moreover, they will argue that there are people who need help, who are unable to help themselves, and that the agency to help them may as well be the government. Especially since the government is in the business of taking responsibility for its citizens. So the issue is not as clear-cut as many conservatives will claim it is. In fact, I would say pretty much everything is more complex and nuanced than any conservative in the media has the neurons to understand. On the other hand, conservatives do tend to be conservative because deductions from moral frameworks make sense to them, where a liberal instead prefers arguments from emotion, relativism, and pragmatism in chaos. This is not to say that the political strategies they use reflects these paradigms, in fact it tends to be the opposite, where conservatives use smear campaigns, evocative language, and outright lies, and liberals use deliberate logical arguments from effect, which are principally arguments from pragmatism. It is somewhat sad that nobody seems able to reconcile theory with pragmatism- it’s not terribly difficult as long as the theory is sufficiently complete and the points where it is flexible are known.

Anyway, modern “socialism” is really a question of whether liberal democratic welfare programs are morally justified. The conservatives throw hissy fits and cry socialism, and the liberals claim it will address the issues. The conservatives claim the government is going to increase taxes to finance wasteful programs, the liberals claim big business is screwing everyone over and Big Daddy government must step in to save us.

First of all, I would like to point out that both sides of the argument are intrinsically linked, like two sides of a coin. Capitalism allows for owners and shareholders to profit from their businesses and holdings, which can through some wrangling be framed as waste. Conversely, the government can take some of the money in circulation through commerce and salary in sales and income tax, and that can be framed as a waste. There is a finite amount of money in circulation, and claiming that it is a waste when party :X acquires it is erroneous. My reason for this is that it is the nature of money to be spent. Government taxes, in large part, recirculate back into the economy because the government pays for services, in very large part to parties in their own country. Similarly, big business takes its money and either reinvests into itself, pays off its suppliers, or ends up in its employees and executives’ bank accounts. It could be said that overseas commerce and outsourcing “leaks” money, but that is absurd. In the act of paying for labor, a service or act of production is purchased in return, which presumably is worth more than the cost of the labor or it wouldn’t be worth making. If this product is then sold, a profit is made, and also the worker now has a little cash to spend which will recirculate. This process in economics is called the multiplier effect, where one dollar actually does a great deal more than one dollar’s work in the course of a year because it changes hands many times. So this issue of “it’s a waste if X acquires money” is really a question over who has control of that money. The one who controls that money has just that measure of extra power. So, which entity would you vest that power in? This is the fundamental question of welfare programs.

Now, as much as it pains the anarcho-capitalist in me to say this, you don’t necessarily want a company as they exist today to handle some concerns. Development of civilization proceeds in many dimensions, not just technological. The invention of the check caused a revolution of the “web of trust” between people and financial institutions. Before that network existed, credit as we know it was inconceivable. It was a recipe for being ripped off, and the economy was locked into a coin-or-barter mode, except between friends. In truth, it’s not as clean as the development of a technology, for example laws against usury and distrust of Jews and all this nonsense. Anyway, my point is that social development of society allows things which could not have happened before in a similar way that technological development does, it’s just as absolute as “the invention of the airplane- 1904- now we can fly!” It is my belief that government is one of those features that has been evolved over time, and whose evolution is not yet finished. At some time in the future we will not need it anymore, but given our current level of societal development and technological capability, it is most likely a necessary evil. This is not to say we should not try to develop past it as quickly as possible.

Karl Marx was unquestionably a brilliant man, although his theories are not exactly the font of human social development. Nevertheless I think he may have contributed at least one very important idea to the body of human knowledge. When the power of production drastically outstrips the wants and needs of an entire society, then we will have a utopia, materially at least, where everyone has everything they want. The social side is a separate issue, and is in my opinion infinitely more important to creating the sort of utopia that all theoretical political science is predicated upon producing. Now the question is, what is the best method of reaching a stage when we have that sort of productive power at our fingertips? Is it welfare programs, or by technological innovation? My favorite new and upcoming technology is rapid prototyping- check out RepRap. This one technology has the power to obviate material products at a stroke, by having a ubiquitous machine that can produce nearly anything. More advanced later versions will follow quickly, using that very device, and we may well have a true make-anything-machine very soon after that. Now, Marx believed that this world would be Communist in nature. I would react that communism is essentially capitalism where money is no longer relevant in day-to-day life. The best explanation for this is that goods and services change hands so easily that the monetary system is not worth its upkeep.

Those who argue that there are people who are poor and destitute need to be helped by the government providing welfare programs are reacting instinctively, their conscience is grating against the injustice. To some extent that’s fine, although it gets a little out of hand when you see this righteous indignation that some people are fabulously wealthy while others are poor. In any reasonable world there will be a set of choices which anyone can choose from, some of which will result in poverty. I don’t mean to say that all poverty is controllable- there are many, many unfortunates who had no opportunity to do anything else. The mentally ill, the handicapped, the people saddled with medical bills unexpectedly, there are all kinds of possibilities for being poor beyond all control. One stance is that the problem then becomes to differentiate between the deserving and the undeserving. My issue with this position is that any judgment on who is deserving and who is not is made by an agent who will lack a clear and objective metric. So whoever chooses to help one or more of these people is excluding others for subjective reasons. The only way this could possibly work is if it is entirely acceptable for those subjective reasons to be valid, and subjectivity is not something a government should EVER mix itself up in, because then corruption and misuse of public resources will run rampant. So private organizations should pick up the slack, offering resources where they can or choose to, and if they exclude someone for subjective or arbitrary or even completely bone-deep-corrupt reasons, it’s not morally nice but it is entirely within their purview. The government, on the other hand, by reserving the use of force restricts itself to a much higher moral standard that is virtually impossible to meet for beings with human-level intelligence, much less a conglomerate of them. A corruption of the use of force is a terrible, terrible moral crime, while a refusal to give alms to a beggar, however deserving, is not a big deal. Any policy the government might use to help the poor is subject to a host of issues stemming from this problem. But then, so does everything the government does, so it’s not like this will deter them.

My central point is that pragmatism at the expense of ethics is a bad idea in the long run, no matter how good your intentions. The poor and the underprivileged are much better served by advancing technology and social progress than by any attempt to simply hand them their daily bread. Now, I would be open to an argument that instituting government health care is itself a push towards social progress, but that is a very different type of argument than nearly all arguments being put forth in its defense, which tend to run something along the lines of “evil insurance companies! government good! Simple solution!” With the other side pretty much barking the reverse, and decrying that the solution is just as simple. It is not simple, and I hope to hear some real arguments for a change, instead of catering to the reptilian brain of people too stupid to think their way out of a wet cardboard box.

Axiomatic Human Properties

In any philosophy of human nature there are certain parameters of the human condition which are inserted axiomatically. These properties are extremely significant to the formulation of any philosophy governing people, namely ethics and politics, but usually aren’t addressed in a uniform and clear manner. The following elements are single pieces that might be composed together to create complex ethical theories or political philosophies. Simply rattling off a list of beliefs about human nature being one way or the other in reactionary mode is pretty much a waste of time. Connecting them together to create a model that accurately reflects the world, or some piece of it, can be very important to the advancement of human knowledge. Big names in political philosophy like Hobbes, Locke, and Nietzsche have built their ideas up from the same basic elements, but they’ve done it in such a creative, novel, and useful way that reflects the way many people see and interact with the world. I believe that spreading a little understanding about what exactly the building blocks of such thinking can improve the quality of thinking in the US and around the world.

The first and most commonly addressed one is whether people are fundamentally good or evil. This question has so many ramifications for all aspects of any philosophy. If people are inherently evil then it is necessary to use some form of philosophical machinery to control, alter, or ameliorate the evil nature of humanity. This is a totally different viewpoint from someone who believes people are fundamentally good, who doesn’t need their philosophy to do much to control human behavior. Indeed, the entire realm of philosophy, particularly ethics, is more focused on what individuals decide virtue is, and each person can have their own philosophy and you can trust them to be virtuous anyway. Their virtue is given, the philosophy is a result instead of the other way around. If human nature is evil, however, then philosophy must come before human virtue can be achieved, and it is necessary to identify the philosophy most conducive to society and then enforce that point of view on everyone. If they can’t be forced to accept it, they must be forced to at least obey it through the application of laws and punishments. Most political philosophers of sufficient import are in the camp of humans being evil, and most of the governments derived from their philosophy depend upon coercive application of laws and police and courts in order to control their population. Whether people or philosophy come first is the ultimate chicken-or-the-egg question, and its primary embodiment is the debate over whether human nature is good or evil.

There is also a question about whether one man is competent or not, regarding whether one man has great powers available to him or if one man is nothing by himself. It is reasonable to have a point of view where human nature is good, but naturally stupid. This is more akin to the Stoic idea, where everyone has virtue as a driving force. Every murderer has a justification for why they saw fit to commit murder (assuming they aren’t innocent), and they really believe their justification. If they were fundamentally evil, they could care less about virtue. They may still be trying to dress up their actions as virtuous to cynically try to escape punishment, and we arrive at a Chinese Room dilemma of having to verify whether or not someone “really believes” something or if they’re just pretending. In most all cases, however, they truly believe their rationale, despite the fact that it is highly irrational. Murder and other crimes, viewed in a broader context by a rational being, are all stupid, even discounting the additional punishments inflicted by laws. If you lie for your own benefit, then nobody has the incentive to trust you. In the extreme short term, perhaps you don’t care, but if such a person was actually rational they would realize the immense value of having a perfect reputation and rock-solid name can yield far greater dividends for their own success than simply cheating and running. The law is an attempt to make this choice “more obvious” by putting a direct penalty on undesirable actions, making the line of reasoning a little easier for the less rational in the populace.
It is also possible to have a worldview, and this is the particularly sinister Hobbesian or Machiavellian view, that people are both cunning and malevolent. If this is the case, the only recourse is to make people act outside of their nature. Indeed, not only is distrust of everyone to be expected, but there’s no authority to look to for protection who isn’t subject to the same rule- they can’t be trusted, they will seize power and abuse it. Hobbes is the more primitive philosopher, and his answer to the cunning-and-evil dilemma is to put the most cunning and evil of them all in charge, the better to protect the people under the power of the ruler. Obviously he didn’t phrase it like that, but in effect creating a single all-powerful ruler in such an environment will only magnify the problem. Machiavelli addresses the issue more accurately by saying yes, it is the most cunning and evil who will be in charge, and the more cunning and evil he is the better a ruler he will make because cunning and dirty tricks are the best way to get ahead. An extremely pessimistic view, but at least it’s internally consistent. It’s actually very difficult to disprove that argument because it contains within itself its own genesis, but I believe it fails on the grounds that people would shy away from a world like that and attempt to make it a more pleasant place to live in for themselves and others.

Whether people are rational, whether people are social, whether people are natural leaders, natural followers, etc. Indeed, there is always a huge debate over what properties we can ascribe as natural to humans, and which ones are learned or inculcated, and by whom they are or should be conditioned by, whether it’s the parents, the community, the government, the religion, etc. Different philosophers have proposed different traits as being innate, and I imagine that at some point some thinker has claimed each and every imaginable aspect under the sun must be natural and innate. The oldest anachronism of this type is that humans are innately social beings, and indeed this is backed up by recent discoveries in biology, anthropology, and genetics. If we are innately social creatures, then we will congregate into groups and there is no modification you can make to the human condition that will overcome this. You can compensate for it by conditioning behaviors, but the natural tendency will still exist. The idea of human nature is actually a special case of the naturalness argument which argues that people have both a natural ethical decision-making faculty and also makes a statement about the tendencies of that faculty. The argument that there is no such faculty can be used to construct nihilism, pragmatism, and numerous other theoretical frameworks. The same can be said of any given property that you wish to ascribe as natural to humans.

What properties are innate to a person, and what properties can change through the course of their lives. This is a similar issue, but quite distinct, from the question of whether a person has the capability to change themselves, and to what extent such willed self-change is possible, or what properties or aspects can be changed this way. The same question applies to other vectors such as parents, the state, etc. Innateness is distinct from natural appearance in that a property that is innate is dependent entirely on physical (or other immutable) composition. A naturally emergent property is merely said to exist, with no particular emphasis on how or why it is that way. If it’s innate then it is a product of the human physical (possibly soul or spiritual) existence. If it’s not innate then it is acquired at some point over the course of your life. Note that non-innate properties can still be natural. For example, humans lack the capability to walk at birth so it’s not truly innate (I use a philosophically difficult example because this is highly debatable, I apologize, but there is no example of something that is obviously not innate but is natural) but it is natural because it is a naturally emergent behavior. A better example may be language, where it could be argued that a natural faculty for languages in general exists, though perhaps not innate, but the faculty for any particular language such as English is definitely not innate (although it also probably isn’t natural because saying “humans naturally speak English” is obviously wrong. We can get around this by citing a particular unspecified instantiation, such as “Humans naturally speak some language” but this is rapidly becoming too complicated to use as an example).
An argument for extreme nativism puts total emphasis on innateness. The entire course of your development is preprogrammed into you as a baby, and is fully contained within your existence at any point in time. Extreme nativism is a more or less extinct line of reasoning. The opposite end, what has been called “tabula rasa” or “blank slate” is the idea that you have zero internal programming at birth- you are totally blank, and you acquire a mind and life over the course of your life. While this seems a lot more reasonable, purist tabula rasa thinking is also more or less extinct. It’s clear that there is some mixture of the two going on, but exactly how much of each is present is not entirely clear. I dislike this phrasing of the issue, but this debate has been called “Nature vs Nurture.” I hate saying that because nurturing is a natural process- indeed humans have certain parameters for raising children encoded into our genes (preying mantises have different ones…).

Part and parcel of the natural human condition debate is what is mutable about human nature, and what is immutable, which of course form a continuum between hard wiring and total flux. A certain trait might be imparted at birth, but still be changeable such as through changes in gene expression. My hair color is different than it was when I was eight (I was blonde, now I have brown hair) and this is a property that is usually associated with genes and assumed to be immutable. We usually assume that the Nature side of the debate assumes immutability, and the Nurture side likes mutable traits. There is no requirement that these assumptions be the case, but nevertheless they tend that way. It makes intuitive sense because after all, if you were born without a certain trait, it must have been installed at a later time and must therefore be reversible, right? Wrong. Conditioning received as a young child is often highly immutable and tough to change, and mental models touching core beliefs are often very difficult to change as well, even if they are destructive.

The reason why these human properties are axiomatic is that for the most part you can come to any conclusion you like and have it result in an internally consistent model. These are fundamental building blocks from which you can construct any theory you like. While someone may disagree with you on axiomatic grounds, a direct proof of their argument will not be sufficient to disprove or otherwise dislodge your position. As it should be, an argument made from such axiomatic points can be incorrect from premises, or improper in logic, and pushing an alternate position will not influence the impact of an argument made by someone else. There is an immense possible composite-theory space that can be created just from the extremely few basic axioms I have chosen to mention here, and there are many, many, many more that can be used reasonably.

Psychic Phenomena

I am going to make some statements in this post that are going to shock most of my readership, but I expect that you’ll consider me sensible if you read it the rest of the way through. I believe that psychic phenomena are real. However, I do not believe that they are physical manifestations of any sort- they are purely in the minds of the people who “experience” them. It is important to note, however, that no other criterion is required to determine if these phenomena are real or not. Let’s say that someone believes they communicate with ghosts- they have what might be called visions and might be called visceral hallucinations. My question is, is there really a difference between these two phenomena or is it simply a matter of connotation of the words used to describe them? True, there is no “ghost” existing in objective reality, this much is obvious. However does it necessarily follow that hallucinations of this type indicate insanity?

Consider the emotions felt by normal, healthy people. An emotional reaction is a complex sequence of chemicals and neural firings to produce a sensation or a reaction, and the mechanisms used are significantly different from other systems in the brain such as those used for memory, spatial or linguistic manipulation, reasoning, and others. They are of course intimately linked because they’re all in the same brain. Consider the fact that there exist drugs that can be administered to produce a “religious experience” which is essentially a complex of emotions, sensations and thoughts that is more complicated but not fundamentally different from more primitive emotions like contentedness. Does this mean that religious experiences don’t exist? Of course not. Indeed I would say this is conclusive proof that religious experiences are a fact. Whether a religious experience means what most users of the idea think it does is a separate question entirely. The hardcore religious who passionately believe their religion because of a personal religious experience, perhaps of connecting with their god or something along those lines, are justified in their sensation, but fatally in error about what that sensation means. Their religion has told them that if certain protocols are followed, a certain religious euphoria will follow, and provided a very intricate framework of religious scripture and ideology which backs this up. When someone experiments in the religion, they might truly surrender to the experience or do whatever else is required and then when they get exactly the reaction promised to them, they take it as visceral emotional proof that everything else that they were told must be true as well. This is, when phrased this way in words, fairly obvious, but it’s actually a very easy mistake to make, even for the highly rational. There is a specific emotion that most people don’t name expressly which I call the “convincement” feeling. It’s that feeling you get when you read or hear something and become convinced by it. This can powerfully bias your view on the matter that convinced you, the author or speaker, and also your future thought on the subject. Indeed, I am actually in quite serious doubt over whether a significant body of my reasoning has been tainted by this “convincedness” on the subject of anarcho-capitalism, among other areas. It happens to me all the time reading articles on the internet but I’m well accustomed to dealing with such things- it just requires fact checking and appropriate degree of due process. The reason the “I’m convinced” feeling is so tricky is because it is the tool you use to gauge whether or not you actually are convinced. In the vast majority of situations, it’s an incredibly useful tool. However, when squared off against an act which is carefully designed to fire off that convinced feeling and thereby sway your reasoning, extra care must be taken. There should be a fancy Latin name for this fallacy, like “argumentum ad convincem” or something. Latin being a dead language, though, coining new Latin phrases is something of a pointless exercise. The point I want to communicate is that just because a reaction only exists in one person’s perceptions, that doesn’t make it non-real, only non-objective. What types of dreams someone has, what ghosts or voices they hear might be very useful for psychoanalyzing that person.

Instead of turning this on religious phenomena only, I want to discuss a broad range of paranormal issues. Those that are obviously nonexistent in reality, and are products of mere superstition, are relatively easy to pick on and done by many other thinkers to great effect. I propose a new category of paranormal phenomena that are real, but only because people experience them, and the fact that they are experienced is the totality of their existence. Psychokinesis is obviously impossible, but is telepathy possible by building on intuition and body language? Mind-to-mind communication is also obviously impossible, but consider the fact that you can look at someone’s face and identify their emotional state. To what degree is that communication, and to what degree is that divination of information that lies in the other person’s mind? A polygraph is a technological attempt to “mind read” using subtle cues. Is it feasible that one person might understand enough of someone else’s thoughts and mannerisms to deduce what they are thinking? To one degree this is a trivial question, people have been guessing what others have been thinking since time immemorial. My question is how much information is actually available, being broadcast continuously by each of us, and available for sufficiently observant people to effectively read our minds. Consider that poker players, especially very good ones, can often deduce exactly what hand the other player is holding. They aren’t using some sort of pineal gland to probe the other person’s brain- they’re studying the other person’s face and behavior, as well as the strategies that they choose to play, and have played in the past. Is this obvious, or is this telepathy? My argument is that the distinction between “duh” and telepathy is meaningless. The fact that it is easy for us to figure out what other people are thinking to some degree proves that “telepathic” phenomena are real, it’s just that it’s, well, normal. The reason why the idea of “super-telepathy” which allows complete observance of another person’s mind persists so strongly in culture is because it’s easy for us to extrapolate the abilities we have to their logical extremes. We can easily conceive of super-strong, super-intelligent, or super-anything people, and indeed all of these caricatures persist in culture as well. These characteristics are treated differently because less subtle human abilities are much easier to verify. If there was a super-strong human, we could just say “lift that bus.” A super-intelligent human should be able to perform similar feats, but of a mental nature. A flying (extrapolation of walking- additional freedom of motion into the 3rd terran dimension) human could just lift off. Abilities like telepathy are difficult to prove or disprove, and so someone could posit “hey, I can mind-read” and get some attention out of it. People like Uri Geller who claim to bend spoons have a carefully constructed magic trick to accompany their act, which in a way acts like the religious experience. Because he claims to bend spoons, and does so on film, therefore everything else he says about telepathy and such must be true as well. Fallacious on exactly the same grounds, but convincing to many.

Clairvoyance and precognition fall into exactly the same mold as telepathy. They can be treated in more or less exactly the same way. These are faculties that all humans have- the ability to deduce what is happening at a different location in space or time, respectively. When someone tells you that twenty minutes ago the lights were out, you can picture in your mind the room in exactly the same state, or with whatever other alterations are supplied to you or fabricated to order by your mind, with the lights off. This isn’t some superhuman power, although the ability to do it with impeccable accuracy is certainly superhuman. The fact that you can conceive of what winter in Russia might be like, even if you’ve never been there, is proof of the power of so-called “clairvoyance” although its accuracy is highly questionable, and you naturally treat it with the appropriate level of confidence (virtually zero). Truth be told, there are actually very few “new” superpowers being coined in a cultural sense, and all superpowers as we know them stem from some natural faculty, trait, or principle carried to a logical, or illogical, extreme. Even very weird powers such as being half-man half-something are formed in the same way by combining concepts of man and something else, usually an animal. The adventures of man-onion don’t sound particularly entertaining because the suite of powers available to an onion are hilarious but boring, and those available to a man, while tremendous, are common to everyone and are dismissed as merely normal.

Now on to UFO encounters. First off, I am quite possibly the most convinced human being on the planet about the existence of extraterrestrials. The Drake Equation is a tough argument to beat. However, the reason why the Drake Equation is so powerful is because space is BIG. As a result, the odds that the aliens are anywhere within a million light years of earth is… extremely small, let’s just leave it at that. Also, the odds are dramatically in favor of alien sea sponges as opposed to interstellar civilizations (and finding sea sponges, or even xenophilic bacteria would be badass). Even in the event that they developed some form of faster-than-light or warp travel, why would aliens have any interest in a society as primitive as ours, relative to their own? Human civilization is at a sub Class-I state. We haven’t even gained control over the energy of our home planet yet, much less our home system. A civilization with both the capability and the need to build an interstellar drive would dramatically outstrip our own in terms of size, population, resources available, culture, etc. etc. Plus, such a society would necessarily have evolved a very intricate social form as well, in a similar way that human societies have evolved modern governments and social conventions to better preserve human life, well-being, property, industry, self-esteem, etc. Iain Banks’ Culture novels present an amazingly accurate view of the type of interactions interstellar civilizations might have (I’ve only read The Player of Games, but it was awesome on so many levels). Such a society “studying” us would be somewhat like humans studying an ant colony. There are plenty of methods by which they would never need interfere in any detectable way, and there are a plethora of methods by which they just step in full-force and there’s not a bloody thing the ants can do about it. Anyway, enough of my geek-out analysis of why the picture painted by UFO fanatics is absurd. The ultimate proof is that there has been no objective verification of claims made on objective reality- namely, the detection of UFO’s. This isn’t strictly true because UFO stands for Unidentified Flying Object, and there have been many, many incidences of objects detected on radar which could not be identified, perhaps by refusal to transmit or lack of IFF or digital uplink technologies. Enemy planes aren’t going to identify themselves, perhaps buying a few seconds before the interceptors are scrambled to engage them. Proposing the existence of aliens in flying saucers is completely apart from the UFO case, even though for some reason they have become synonymous. Show me a crashed UFO, wreckage of a self-destructed one, conclusive photos, or a depth of proof sufficient to confirm the existence of a new species of monkey, and I’ll believe you.

Now, faith healing is an issue I have a very hard time with because the weird thing is that it works. Of course, placebos also work, and it is quite obviously the same principle at work in both faith healing and placebos. Considering that sugar pills are cheaper than real drugs I can imagine a great value to being able to identify where a placebo is sufficient, and where real medication is required. Now, sugar pills are dirt cheap so whether faith healing is cheaper is doubtful. However faith healing does obviate the medical issue with giving out dud medicine. In order for the placebo to work, it is necessary that the patient not be aware that it is a placebo, and this type of treatment is totally unworkable for a reasonably managed medical establishment. One case of prescribing a placebo and having it fail will draw malpractice flak like a giant kite carrying a metal box and trailing a NUKE sign in enemy airspace. A doctor could refer a patient to a faith healer and avoid this type of legal insanity because the faith healer is a separate agent who a pissed off patient could sue independent of the original doctor. Using faith healers as a litigation scarecrow is actually quite an elegant solution to both the overly litiginous medical establishment and also puts people’s ridiculous beliefs to good use, quite neatly killing two birds with one stone. Interesting saying because I would be quite content to kill one bird with one stone- it’s just a rock after all, and reusable at that, but I digress. Faith healing is sticky because while it is totally bogus, it actually does work, and verifiably so. I am amazed at the amount of garbage they can churn out, take a look at homeopathy- it’s just water. Nevertheless people swear by it, citing some assumption about a new property of water which is totally unsupported by chemistry. Damn good thing too, because the water that’s in your body has probably been in contact with all kinds of stuff, and I find it rather comforting that water is just water, no complications- it’s just H2O regardless of history.

There are a lot of gullible people out there. They’re gullible because they want to believe in something, or there’s an engine of social acceptance or consistency behind the choice to “believe” which drives them into accepting irrational precepts without looking at them too closely. This is the secret of getting anyone to believe anything- provide an incentive for them to agree with you that is irrespective of the argument at hand. Then, get them to publicly confirm their belief to someone else, or even just say it aloud, and then a commitment to consistency or self-simplification will push them to actually fully accept and integrate it, a process which when divorced from its rationale is known as cognitive dissonance. Cults use very extreme persuasion and conditioning tactics, and it’s part of the structure of cults to hit each member as hard as their “belief” can handle. To acquire new members, use subtle tricks which appear reasonable. If they accept those, move on to more intensive material. The more extreme and unreasonable the material that they can make that individual confirm to themselves and others, the more deeply ingrained the ideology of the cult becomes, allowing even more extreme material to be put to them. Scientology is remarkable because it has such a rigorous methodology for maximum conversion effectiveness, even going so far as to explicitly call them “levels.” They need to keep their higher-level material secret because if it leaks (as it has) it exposes them as ridiculous frauds spouting utter insanity. If we only knew their outermost material, designed to pull in the unwary using relatively reasonable methods, we might suppose them an acceptable religion. I have a lot to talk about on this subject and I intend to go over it some other time, particularly as it relates to social conditioning by degrees. I bring it up here because psychic phenomena function in the same way. Small topics like palmistry or graphology lead up to more intensive phenomena like full-blown astral phenomena and UFO sightings. Because there is no centralized purveyor of material, there is no controlling agent to make sure that each person receives only material they are ready for, but the sheer volume of information acts like a smokescreen instead. As a result, only people actively searching for a certain subset of information are going to discover a full set of details. The rest of us are left with a stereotypical picture which we recognize as clearly simplified and inaccurate. This means that if at some point we become activated to seek out such phenomena, we can uncover additional information and naturally “refine” our perceptions with the new information, resulting in a new convert to paranormal phenomena. Effectively, you persuade yourself when you are ready to find out. Once again, there is no authority that causes this, there is no conspiracy theory, this just happens. Fiction writers make extensive use of this faculty, particularly science fiction and fantasy writers. They can easily concoct an alternate explanation which is equally fictitious but fulfills the same criteria for “why I used to think that” as the explanation that the true believers of the real-world phenomena ascribe to. For example, a writer about a common myth such as vampires or dragons has a well-known set of properties to address such as blood-drinking or fire-breathing, and these act as an interface that any science fiction or fantasy writer can implement with whatever explanation they like. Myths like this are so powerful because the explanation can be easily adapted with new information or discoveries. Note that the explanation can actually short-circuit the properties of the myth as long as it produces a “common misconception” situation. For example, maybe vampires can go out in the sunlight if the writer desires, but there has to be a reason why everyone thinks they shrivel up in the sun. Writers like Terry Pratchett are so good because they can create a compelling and internally consistent world, and this same principle applies to the real world. People will believe models of the real world that are compelling and internally consistent relative to their own framework. Note that a model can be internally consistent and be fraught with contradiction. A contradiction in such a case is a result of an external inconsistency and can be resolved by placing the model above the actual world, as is commonly done with the Bible. If the real world and the Bible disagree, people so conditioned will side with the Bible because otherwise their world won’t make any sense, which can be why such evangelicals are impossible to convince with reason. They have bitten off so much of the religious conditioning and publicly acknowledged it that they base their identity on it so much they cannot stop. A religion is simply taking the most potent aspects of a collection of stories, myths, phenomena, etc. etc., often based on what phenomena people believed a long time ago, and crafting it into one grand model which can be passed out in pieces the way Scientology does to maximize communicability. The Ten Commandments are an excellent example. Due to the decentralized nature of paranormal beliefs, they aren’t a “real religion,” they’re piecemeal. People who use it as their only belief system are “pagans.” There are no Ten Commandments of UFO sightings because such a centralized and widely agreed-upon document cannot be agreed upon, or even created in the first place.

Creationism and Logic

Watch this creationist if you can handle the stupid.

Quite simply the most disgusting display of the stupid virus I’ve seen in a long, long time.  I’m not going to even attempt to address her because it will degenerate into a litany of how incredibly stupid this woman is, such as how Charles Darwin didn’t use no scientific method, or how the entire world appeared fully formed billions of years ago, and how (irony!) unlikely it is for the world to just pop into existence complete with plants, animals, and people.  I will instead try to present a more rational discussion of the argument between atheism and creationism so that both sides can understand why A) 99.9% of creationists have got the stupid virus.  Some of them have it BAD, like this young lady.  B)  Atheism and evolution are not synonymous, but I would venture to bet that all atheists credit evolution with the status as by far the most probable explanation for the origin of life on earth.  C)  Evolution is not a theory of metaphysics, and D) It is possible to have an argument for God that is not dripping with the stupid virus, but it doesn’t look even remotely like the arguments fielded by creationists and religious people today because, as I said earlier, the vast majority of them are outrightly stupid and proud of it.

Firstly, the video link above doesn’t even make a reasonable attempt to represent any of the arguments it claims to attack.  If there was such a person who created an argument along the lines of the one she is outlining, atheists would line up to take a whack at them.  Perhaps because the argument she outlines looks EXACTLY like the creationist argument, only it occurs much earlier chronologically, and there’s no god.  In order to have a reasonable debate, you first have to understand the argument you are taking a stance against.  The only thing worse than a straw man argument is a straw man argument by someone who honestly doesn’t understand that they’re knocking down a straw man.  Then they proudly look to their authority figures like a child who just built a sandcastle.  That wasn’t an argument, that was you creating an argument that has even fewer legs to stand on than your own, and then proceeding to bash it to bits with crummy logic, however the starting proposition was so ridiculous that the audience doesn’t even need the explanation.  The explanation becomes little more than theatre, as priests and missionaries will understand thoroughly if they’re any good at their jobs.  This is not how scientists think, though.  For scientists, there exists some truth which they can find, and which other scientists can similarly find independently.  As a result, as the number of scientists increases, the reliability of their findings as a community will (hopefully) improve as well.  This of course falls flat if there is not an assumption of universality and of equality of function between humans.  By contrast, if the Pope has a direct line to God and everybody else has to talk up the chain of command, the Pope could theoretically run very different experiments than anyone else could to determine the structure of the universe.

Now on to some more substantive concepts.  Atheism is not the same thing as evolution, not by a long chalk.  Atheism is the belief that there is no god.  I suppose atheism could qualify as a theory considering any tests you run for the existence of god return negative, which count as positive proof for the reciprocal argument, but its label is irrelevant.  Atheism is a theological statement.  Evolution is the theory of biology, not theology or metaphysics.  It is the logical result of three factors: 1) a population with differing properties between its constituents, 2) a method for increasing the quantity of that population which draws upon its current members (in most biologies, sex- sometimes asexual), and 3) a method for altering the properties of the population between generations.  This role is also filled by sex, but mutations also have a marginal effect.  If you accept that those three things exist, then evolution as a theory is already a given.  The Bible itself contains enough evidence for evolution in the bloodlines it describes where one family member inherits properties of another.  That’s it, the chicken’s done.  We have evolution.  Evolution as a broader theory explains the immense diversity of life based on small changes in individual species over large timescales which eventually stack up to create significantly different species.  All this bullshit about how “my granddaddy wasn’t no monkey” is A) wrong because whatever ancestor we both inherit from probably looked very different from modern monkeys, B) wrong because such a creature would be a different species entirely from humans, most likely, meaning in the context of the human species identity we are no longer related, and C) wrong because this basically constitutes a failure to accept obvious proof on the grounds that it might discredit you or your family or be otherwise uncomfortable.  This woman is attacking her straw doppelgangers of evolution and atheism like they are synonymous, which is itself an absurd proposition.  Now, atheists being atheists and failing to accept the assertion that God exists because there’s no evidence for it, are shall we say rather likely to also support the theory of evolution considering the immense amount of evidence backing it.  Moreover, religion will oppose evolution because it is a viable and self-sufficient alternative to religion.  Evolution requires no help from God or some other agent to explain the nature of the world, in a similar way that the Big Bang theory requires no God in order to explain the nature of the cosmos.  In similar fashion, the idea that the earth isn’t the center of the universe is, well, was jarring to the religious because it detracts from the earth’s special status as God’s chosen planet.  Even the most stupid-virus afflicted creationist has gotten the picture on that score, however.  Although perhaps I shouldn’t speak so soon because you can find someone prepared to believe anything these days.  Well, if you don’t believe the earth is round and orbits the sun, you are beyond fucking help pal.  The fact that you can’t actually be packed off to an asylum on “religious” grounds I find highly amusing, though.  But if you try anything really psycho with me or mine, expect to get hurt, badly, because I am far smarter than you.

Evolution’s lack of metaphysical explanation is something most creationists cannot understand.  By creationist ideology, ANY assertion about the world must be metaphysical.  Metaphysics has its place, but in day-to-day affairs, metaphysics really doesn’t do much, usually.  This is one of the reasons why creationism can grab people so powerfully, because any assertion about the world at all will require challenging that person’s most basic presuppositions about the world.  By “going to root” immediately, the amount of work required to even consider the thought of a slightly different world is much greater than for a scientifically-minded individual.  A scientist can easily conceive of one specific piece of errata being wrong, while the entire model as a whole being functional. It is entirely possible for us to be wrong about, or flatly not know exactly how every animal evolved from every ancient creature in all of history, but still accept the theory of evolution. For religion, however, any given single aspect of errata must be correct.  Therefore, challenging that single piece of errata will resolve to a challenge of that person’s metaphysics and most basic ideology.  People have died over whether the bread and water taken at communion is the body of christ, or whether it is, metaphorically, the body of christ.  Because challenging any assertion in a religion constitutes a challenge of the fundamental truth of the religion.  In the case of the people who accept the fundamental truth unconditionally, this means only shaking their most deeply-held roots will convince them of even the smallest thing, and such a shaking will likely be effective at completely changing their entire ideology.  This also serves to help a religion by preserving homogeneity among its believers, which is a powerful tool for social pressure based conversions.  The religions that people practiced because they were pleasant and easygoing have all gone the way of the Quakers.  I bring up the Quakers frequently because I think that they are memetically very interesting because they didn’t use the most effective and widely used today methods to acquire converts, and they’re all but extinct now. However, I’m not going into that for now.

Lastly, and this is the topic I intend to focus the most on, is it possible to have an argument for the existence of God that is actually intelligent and reasonable?  Right off, I’m going to say that most of the people who want to prove the Bible and common creationism or most religions that I know of, no.  It is impossible to make a case for a particular religion which includes a text of stories such as the Bible.  Invariably, they are filled to a comic level with contradiction, which by definition cannot exist in reality, among other reasons.  However it is possible to have an intelligent philosophical argument about whether or not there is a God, or even many Gods.  What is a god, and what properties must such a being necessarily have to constitute a god?  If there was a god, how would that change the metaphysics of the world as we know it?  What broad categories of metaphysics require, make possible, or render impossible the existence of a God or gods?

My favorite argument for the existence of God is called the ontological argument, because it’s just fun.  Basically, it goes like this: can you conceive of a being that is all-perfect?  Yes.  Ergo, there exists a God.

Smiling now.  It’s an amazing argument isn’t it?  Short, sweet, and to the point.  Now, it happens to be sound but in a very interesting way.  Basically, on a deeper level the argument is that a perfect being would be more perfect if it exists.  Therefore, an all-perfect being must exist because you can conceive of a being that is all-perfect.  I think this argument is philosophically interesting, but of zero metaphysical consequence, and doesn’t actually prove that there is a god.  It’s pretty easy to poke fun at this argument by parodying it with a pair of children, “Can you think of a big-huge candy bar?”  “Yeah?!?”  “Well, wouldn’t it be even better if it existed?”  “Yeah!”  “Therefore, there exists a big-huge candy bar.”  A fun argument because even atheists who are experienced at arguing against the existence of God will be completely stumped.  Well-read atheists will of course have heard of it and probably be able to call you on using the ontological argument by name.  Now, there are as many writings on why the argument is valid or absurd as there are philosophers, but I think that it’s wrong because it uses a premise-truth paradox.  This is an extremely rare form of paradox whereby the premise creates a paradox whereby if it is true then it must necessarily be true, and if it is false then it must necessarily be false, and there is no other criteria by which you can judge the truth or falsehood of the premise.  So, can you conceive of a being that is all-perfect?  I would say the answer is probably not.  You can create a generic entity and slap the label “all-perfect” on it, but that doesn’t count.

An argument similar to the ontological argument whose name I can’t remember for the moment stems from an interesting application of modal logic, using possible worlds.  Basically, any logician would give you as axiomatic that there exists at least one possible world where some form of something that could be called a God exists.  Jumping from there to conclude that God must therefore exist in all possible worlds because God is omnipresent and all-powerful is one tactic you might use to throw an atheist.  With a little logical discipline they will quickly understand how you’ve cheated them.  Basically, they gave you that there exists some possible world on the grounds that, and this is of course exactly how modal logic is created, that these worlds are global-strength containers that nothing within them can possibly escape from or otherwise influence other possible worlds.  Taking advantage of their generosity in giving you “some form of something that is God” in one possible world to say that because it is omnipresent, it therefore exists in all possible worlds is to cheat on the application of modal logic by putting God in some world that contains all possible worlds, axiomatically, and without the consent of the person you’re arguing with.  Don’t use this, please.  An atheist who doesn’t figure that one out might want to take a class on logic to make their thinking a bit more rigorous.

These are canonical examples of arguments for God.  They aren’t perfect, but I am an atheist exactly because I can’t think of a good argument for why God exists.  That’s where you come in.  If you are religious, come up with a well-reasoned, solid argument for why God exists.  If you can’t do it, hen you should be an atheist too because you don’t believe God exists either.  If you can, however, tell it to atheists.  If it really is a good argument, and they’re really atheists for the right reasons, they will actually believe you.  If I were presented with such an argument that was sufficiently good that it outperformed the default position of atheism, and also explained all the observable phenomena of the world without contradiction, I might even believe you.  Do not, however, even attempt to push Christianity or other religions as-is on me because it’s frankly not worth my time anymore.  If you’re interested in atheism there are resources all over the internet.  They don’t really exist offline, which is fascinating if you ask me.  Atheists correlate with the tech-savvy young?  Cool.  We’re going to win.  Even if we can’t convince you, we’re young.  You’re going to go first.

Not considering the idea of immortality in digital form, which of course is out of the question for the religious.  So atheists still win.  The atheists shall outnumber the hordes of the faceless dead, such shall be the glory of their technology.

On Antisocial Stoics

I would like to address a claim that is sometimes made against stoics, particularly against some of the ideas of Marcus Aurelius, who said, among other things, “Permit nothing to cleave to you that is not your own, and nothing to grow upon you that will give you agony when it is torn away.”  Given the extremely elevated status of friends and interpersonal relationships in our society, this concept doesn’t jive well with the idea that we all have to form deep bonds with one another.  The idea of being stoic and of suppressing your emotions as subservient to your mind seems to conflict with the idea that we’re supposed to share our feelings with others.  Why the belief is that if someone else is aware of the factual state of your existence creates a bond is beyond me, but it is implicitly assumed in our interactions with one another.  The most canonical example is when you encounter someone you know and ask them how they’re doing, what’s going on with them, or the like.  Both of you probably know, if you thought about it, that the other person’s answer is irrelevant.  Neither of you could give a damn.  But it’s the greeting you use because it is a sharing of information of a moderately personal nature, or at least it’s a question requesting that information which implies a certain closeness.  Whether you’re doing it to provoke that sense of intimacy in the other person, in the impressions of people listening in, or to convince yourself, I don’t know.  However I do know that very little of what is commonly thought of as conversation is an actual sharing of empathic significance or deep thoughts.  What is commonly accepted as “small talk” is the norm of human interaction, and it is accepted as having zero functionality.

Now, I am of course being a little over-literal here.  The purpose of small talk is that it is talk where everyone concerned might be uncomfortable in having a real conversation, it fills up the time and allows people to get comfortable with one another.  However it is not and will never be the goal or endpoint.  It is vital that just “being with” other people is never something you’re setting out to do, because standing next to other humanoid figures and flapping your vocal folds is, in and of itself, not really a worthwhile activity.  If you’re interacting on an empathic, mental, philosophical, or whatever medium in a way that gives you genuine enjoyment such that you would actively choose to enjoy that person’s presence in favor of some other activity you enjoy then of course it’s a good thing- that’s just a basic pursuit of your own satisfaction.  This is obvious and a trivial proof, but I think I need to inject it here so I’m not scaring off exactly the people who need to hear this.

The best corollary to this whole mess is our modern conception of sex, especially among men.  Men tend to be in a position of weakness and insecurity due to having conflicting internal models and programming and all manner of other nonsense going on in their heads leaving them a little lost and confused.  One of the dominant themes that result is a pursuit of sex that is driven more by social power than actual personal satisfaction.  Many men are more gratified by the fact that they are having sex than they are enjoying the sex itself.  They’ll brag to their buddies about it and allow themselves that extra iota of self-respect because they “got laid.”  The self-destructive side of this thinking is that they honestly believe they aren’t worth anything unless they can convince a woman that they are worthwhile enough to sleep with.  I am unsure of how many women have this problem, but it is widespread among men.  I suspect that because women are dealing with this population of men, they live in sexual abundance and don’t develop the same complex- attractive women at least if not all women.  I am speculating now, but I find it probable that women have a similar complex revolving around marriage, gratified more by the fact of being married than they enjoy the marriage itself, resulting in the “must get married” effect at a certain age.  Many, many people of both sexes are gratified more by the presence of other people than they are actually enjoying being with them.

The simple fact of the matter is that if you go out seeking deep bonds, what you will find is the most superficial of relations with people as desperate for companionship as yourself.  Deep bonds, described as such, actually don’t exist as we conceive of them.  It’s not that you spend a lot of time with someone or that you have known them for a long time, or even that you know a great deal about them and their personal preferences such as their favorite flavor of ice cream.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that knowing a huge amount about their preferential minutiae actually subtracts significantly from the goal that most people are seeking.  If there’s a woman I like, I could care less what her favorite flavor of ice cream is.  The question is whether or not she is fun to be around.  If I was to feverishly try to get her to like me or memorize her personal preferences, that’s work.  Stupid, counterproductive, and manipulative work, at that.  That’s all.  Perhaps we have deep empathy, perhaps we’re alike, maybe we have good discussions or great sex, it makes no difference (OK, I lie) the question is only if she’s a positive presence in some- preferably many- ways.

Part of the problem is the widespread perspective of the “personality.”  And for the love of life NEVER evaluate someone’s “personality” as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  Both those words are the most abused semantic identities ever created, and they both can mean nearly anything while being very specific about one thing and one thing only- and by hiding the implementation of that judgment there is no way to argue with it.  There is no such thing as a personality- a person is composed of the sum of their mind and actions derived from it.  There is no way that you can ascribe someone a personality which if they do something that is “not like them” then they’re being fake or somehow not being themselves.  Whatever the circumstances, they are merely exhibiting a decision-making pattern you haven’t previously observed or were otherwise unaware of.  It is the same person, ergo they are the same person.  This idea that we can understand someone else, ascribe them a simplified model that will predict their behavior and then expect that behavior from them is disgusting.  People are very complex- one person is far more complex than the sum of all of their understandings of other people, much less someone else’s understanding of them.  It can’t be your personality that you like coffee, and that you’re doing something bad when you don’t drink coffee.  The drive to be consistent is not a natural one- it’s a societal stamp mark on the inside of your brain that tells you to be simple so that others can understand you better.  But who gives a flying shit about whether other people understand you?  Do what you want!  If you wake up and wonder if eggs scrambled with cocoa and baking soda tastes good with ketchup, then go right ahead and try it!  It doesn’t have to be your personality that you eat weird things- it’s just something you want to do, so you do it.  That’s a bit of a weird example, but it holds.  Why we don’t expect one another to do what we want is just beyond me, especially in our day and age with so many options available.  There are all manner of stigma against jocks, nerds, cheerleaders, sluts, you name it, there’s a stereotype that someone wants to slot you into.  So, how about, just to screw with them, completely break their model of the world by totally not fitting into the model they would like you to.  Just for fun.

So here’s the question.  “Permit nothing to cleave to you that is not your own, and nothing to grow upon you that will give you agony when it is torn away.”  The idea here is that you are your own pursuits and not permitting external people or objects to influence you or your goals.  This is both a warning against addictions of all forms, perhaps especially social ones, and a caveat emptor for everything you allow into your life.  You control your personal sphere- to the best of your ability at least.  It is your responsibility and nobody else’s to make sure that only elements you want are a part of your life, and it’s your duty to yourself to safeguard the vaults against the thieves that would seek to plunder your wealth.

I have something to say about victimization here.  Blaming the victim for a crime committed against them is the original scam.  It is the classical attempt to cheat and then get away with it, and the more serious the crime, the more potent a tactic it becomes.  The idea that you control your person means that yes, to a degree, you are responsible if something bad happens to you.  There are precautions you could have taken, etc. etc.  No matter the event, there are always choices you could have made to avoid that outcome you deem makes you a victim.  However part of the idea of being actually in control means that you are never a “victim” of other people’s choices or actions, because the very idea implies that you aren’t actually in control.  So you are only actually a victim when the aggressor has actively applied intelligence to disable, short-circuit, or otherwise evade whatever defenses or precautions you have taken against being taken advantage of.  Think of it like this: if you’re on a desert island and a bear comes and steals your food, then you’re a victim.  But you could have done any number of things to prevent your food from being stolen, such as hanging your food from a tree, out of reach.  The bear is fundamentally at fault here (I don’t believe the conventional idea of “blame” either, so this explanation might be a little awkward without a background but I’ll have to go on anyway) but that doesn’t mean you can sit there and rage about how that damn bear has made you a victim.  Your actions, to the degree that you invested resources to prevent an undesirable outcome, resulted in some probability of that undesirable outcome occurring- a risk.  Now, there are obviously far too many *possible* risks to address, but we can exercise our reason to determine which ones we need to address, which ones are worthwhile to address, and which ones we can safely ignore.  If you ignore a risk you should not have, then you are responsible for that mistake, even if you aren’t the acting agent of the aggression committed.  A bear is too animate.  Let’s go with physics.  You leave your food outside for a long time, and it rots.  Well?  You are responsible because you misjudged the risk of it rotting, didn’t take sufficient precautions, and now your food is gone.  In this case, there is no aggressor at all- it’s you against the laws of physics, but the situation is exactly identical.  You can mope around claiming to be a victim, perhaps go to the government and demand that your food be replaced…  yada yada.  Now, I absolutely do not want this concept of judgment and addressing of risk to be confused with actually blaming the victim as the active agent in their own victimization.  These are completely different concepts entirely.  An agent acting in a way that is exploitative of another agent is doing so because their incentives line up appropriately to make that a course of action they find acceptable.  The idea of punishing them is to tip these scales enough that it is no longer economical to exploit others.  There is of course the problem of giving the power of retribution to who, exactly, which I won’t go into here because this isn’t a post about anarchism.  The reason why you can’t have the punishment be equal to the crime (remove connotations of law or government) committed is that the risk of capture is never 100%.  Let’s say a thief steals purses.  If he gets caught 50% of the time, but each time he’s caught he only has to return the amount he stole, then it doesn’t really change the thief’s decision-making circumstances that much.  However, if the cost is losing a hand then the thief will think twice before stealing that purse because there would need to be a lot of money in there to justify a 50% chance, or even a 1% chance, of losing a hand.  Now, the funny thing about punishment is that you also have to account for a certain probability of false positives.  So if an innocent man is accused of stealing that purse and gets his hand cut off, well that’s pretty damn unjust, isn’t it?  So we have to scale back the punishment until it is enough to stop thieves while being acceptable to the innocents based on the risk of being hit with that false positive.  Keeping in mind that we are assuming the populace has a say in what the punishments are.  If you’re a totalitarian government, you could give a damn what the civvies say, and drastic punishments make sense because it’s less crime you have to deal with, freeing up resources for you to put towards your own ends.  Draconian methods of control are, pound for pound, more efficient in terms of resources spent versus results achieved.  Their main problem, in fact, is that they are so efficient that it makes life a living hell for nearly everyone.

After that long digression, back to the main issue.  If you’re simply enjoying another person’s presence, then there’s no further expectation in the matter.  If they leave, you’re no longer enjoying their presence.  You start to run into problems when you ascribe ultimate value to people or objects, because you can’t unlink ultimate value as long as you actually perceive it as “the ultimate good in the whole universe.”  Now we run into a very controversial edge case when dealing with the loss of loved ones.  I say it’s an edge case because it doesn’t happen very often relative to our lifetimes.  We’re not losing loved ones every other week.  A model that was focused primarily on dealing with death of the most intimate friends (I will not say “and family” because if your family are not your close friends then why are you with them?).  You know what, I’m going to elaborate on that parenthetical thought.  Your family, especially your nuclear family such as parents and immediate siblings, are people.  You know them for longer, and have more opportunity to become very good friends with them, and when you’re a child there is a certain amount of not-having-a-choice in the matter that forces you to make friends or make war, and rational individuals choose the former in all but the most extreme circumstances.  So there’s just very close friends.  The fact that you’re biologically related is of no philosophical significance whatsoever.  Medical significance, yes, but only because knowledge of your family’s genes can be used to deduce your genes.  Social significance, of course not.  So I will treat death of family as the death of friends who were equally close as family members.  Now, to be honest, this is a topic that I’m reluctant to exercise my usual methods of beating to death because there may be readers who have such a powerful subjective experience of the matter that I will waste my time if I try to dismiss the bits that require dismissal, focus in on what is significant , and use it build up a new model that more accurately fits reality and rationality.  We have arrived at the idea that being with people is something you do for yourself, but it seems like lunacy to say that the death of a loved one shouldn’t hurt because you aren’t able to enjoy their presence any more.  That’s just not strong enough, right?  BUt isn’t that exactly what mourning is?  You won’t speak to that person again, or see them, or talk to them, or whatever else.  If you could do those things then you wouldn’t care if they were technically dead- that’s just a cessation of some bodily functions.  If they could die and leave the person intact, now wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing- you wouldn’t have to worry about death.  This is actually a fairly direct deduction for most people, but the idea that the physical death isn’t the source of their trouble, isn’t.  It is the result of the event of death that they’re mourning.  Many religions exploit this weakness in thinking to interject “But life does continue after death!” and then the explanations, the fairy tales, and the bullshit that follows.  They are careful, however, to always exclude the very functionality that death precludes because they are unable to provide it.  They can’t help you talk to your dead loved ones, so they hide them away somewhere as ghosts or in heaven where you will go, too, once you die.  The intuitive universality of the death process makes this nearly logical, except that a slight elaboration can add a significant degree of control over the behavior of the people who want to believe.  And some of the crueler religions take advantage of exactly these people, and make this death process conditional upon your life, and exactly prescribed behaviors.  The most common trick is to exploit vague semantic identities such as “good” and “bad” which enable retroactive changing of what exactly those conditions are for live updating of the behavior of the believers based on what is expedient at the time.  I’m always amazed and fascinated at the complexity of religion as an organism, and the huge potential that religion proves memes have as a life form.

I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t feel pain- what a ridiculous assertion for a stoic.  The idea is that pain, like other sensations or emotions, are there to help you, not govern you.  If you felt fear and were unable to do anything else but freeze up, curl up into the fetal position, and pray, then what use is that?  For animals like the possum, it is an irresistible instinctive reaction programmed into them because in 99% of cases (at least in the genes’ experience) this is an effective defense mechanism, and giving the possum control over the matter would just screw up the system.  This isn’t strictly accurate because possums evolved their primary featureset in the time before memetic delegation had been “invented” by evolutionary processes.  The application of reason is itself a major feature of humanity, and quite novel in genetic terms.  If you wanted to be truly biological about it, you can look at memetic evolution as the ultimate genetic trick, but the problem is that it is so effective it makes genes obsolete.  Also, intelligence is so effective that genetic evolution can’t keep up with the rate of change.  For the prurient example, we have invented cars and now they’re everywhere.  And now possums, with their very effective defense mechanism of freezing up when afraid, causes them to get run over by speeding cars, and the genes can’t un-wire that feature given the new environment because they aren’t able to perceive and judge.  I would like to say, though, that genes are definitely alive.  Not just in the sense that a person is alive, but the gene of HUMANS is alive in a strange information amalgamation of the genes in every person in a way that we really can’t quite comprehend because there’s too many people, too much noise, and too much uncertainty about genes themselves.  The day that we truly understand genes completely, we won’t need them anymore because we’ll be able to construct our own biological machines to any specification or design we like.  They’re just like any other machine, but far more complicated and sophisticated.  Especially the organic ability to reproduce.  Interestingly, though, the body is itself one of the few things that we are currently unable to separate our selves from.  Some can conceive of what that might be like, and most of them have it wrong (I guarantee that I do, but it’s more complete than most, at least).  Note that the objective is to separate your self from as much as possible of what you don’t want, of that which subtracts from your good or your happiness.  I would argue that, for as long as it works, your body adds immensely to that happiness.  And as far as it doesn’t, it subtracts immensely.  So an ability to perfectly fix the human body, a hypothetical perfect medicine, would obsolete the need for mechanical bodies unless their features were so far beyond those of a human body (which is the case) that you could get even more out of one.  Probably the main advantage is the ability to add processing power and memory, and the ability to have direct inputs.  Anyway, permit nothing to cleave to you that is not your own.  I am not my body, but insofar as I use it, rely upon it, and wish to keep it, it is mine.

So if I don’t even value my own body enough to want to keep it, what does that mean?  Well, I never said that I didn’t value my body, just that the value it provides is of the material sort, similar to eating a burrito, except that instead of the satisfaction of the burrito, my body contains the hardware necessary to eat the burrito, and without it any sort of gustatory satisfaction would be impossible (not strictly true- a perfect simulation of the experience is an identity).  This is similar to having a computer.  The computer in and of itself doesn’t actually provide a whole lot of satisfaction, but the things you can do with it will.  Perhaps the computer hardware hobbyists who make it a point of pride to have the best possible machine wired up in the best possible configuration get significant enjoyment out of simply possessing the hardware itself.  However, even with that example, we see parallels with the human body, such as with fitness junkies who make it a point of pride to have bodies sculpted out of steel, and enjoy simply having it.  Important note: most of these “fitness junkies” are doing it because of other people, not because they genuinely enjoy it, or because they even want the results.  And they get further conflicted by the fact that they are causing a change, which might conflict with their perception of themselves, or with others’ perceptions, and for some reason they’re anxious to step outside of that box.

Anyway, my entire point is quite simple, as usual, but it’s dressed up with many trimmings like mirrors in every corner of the room to show off the gleam on the little gem in the middle.  The idea that you should be dependent on others, the idea that that constitutes good social practices, the concept of a social personality, all of these things are foisted upon us because others had them foisted upon them.  We are the monkeys conditioned not to reach for the bananas within our reach because someone, at some point in the past, was punished for trying.  So now we have to live with everyone else.  But the most vital point is this: they don’t matter.  If you want to reach for that banana, they could physically stop you, but if they do then you have a clear and objective obstacle in your way, which can be overcome, instead of the hazy, confusing aimlessness of contradiction.