Thursday, April 19, 2007

An interesting talk with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I’ve just had two very pleasant visitors from the Jehovah’s witnesses. They wanted to talk to me about Jesus.

“Ok, no problem, let’s have a chat”, I said.

We started with a discussion of whether the bible is literally true or not. They were certain that it is and so I pointed out in their bibles the blatant contradiction between the two different versions of the creation myth in Genesis. Their only answer to this, despite me reading the relevant parts aloud to them, was to deny it, but I could see on their faces that they weren’t convinced by their own argument – or lack of one really.

We then took a brief stroll through the history of the bible, focusing mostly on exactly how inerrant a book would be that was edited and transcribed numerous times starting off from a most ancient Hebrew work that completely lacked vowels, spaces, punctuation of any kind, capitalisation of first letters to demark sentences and the first book of which was entirely based on oral tradition and some pictorial etchings in leather. None of these facts are disputed by any of the Christian sects as far as I am aware so we were on pretty solid ground.

“But when you read it you know it is true. But some of it is allegorical” they said.

“OK, so you’re admitting that you do not believe in the literal bible?” I asked. You see Jehovah’s Witnesses do indeed believe in the literal bible. “And even if some of it is allegorical how do you know which parts? What makes you so sure the creation is true, pick which ever version you like, and not just allegorical?”

Some smiles and worried looking eyes but other than that silence. Let’s move on.

“What about the numerous failed predictions for the return of Christ since the founding of your organisation in the 1870’s? Are you at least able to consider being less certain about all of this?”

“There have been no failed predictions of the return of Christ”, they said.

“Yes there have, at least seven. The last one of which was the predicted visible return of Christ in 1975 and when that didn’t happen the prediction was changed to an invisible return of Christ. Membership dropped considerably directly after that last failed prediction”

“Oh but we have lots of members, millions of them” they said.

“That’s right, approximately 6.5 million door to door preachers and around 16 million in total. So doesn’t it bother you that only 144,000 of you get to be saved and live forever?”

“That’s right, only 144,000 and they will be part of the 1000 year reign”, they agreed

“That’s less than 1% of your current membership”, I said, “and 1000 years doesn’t seem like very long.”

From that we moved on through God’s various massacres – they denied all of them. And I moved on to massacres commanded by God, starting with Joshua’s massacre at Jericho and skimming over the 170 year murderous bloodbath that ended with David’s conquest of Jerusalem at the cost of the complete destruction of some 400 cities and the murder of pretty much everyone living in them.

They told me, “That wasn’t God. That was the devil.”

“But you told me that the bible is literally true and it says very clearly in the bible that it was God’s command”, I answered.

Now, this wasn’t an argument. We were being nice to each other. I wasn’t aggressive and the tone was genuinely friendly. As we moved on to the flood and the fact that a number of civilizations failed to notice their complete destruction and left records to prove it, the absolute lunacy of supposing that two of every animal on Earth could fit inside the ark along with food for a years voyage, or for that matter enter two by two through a single door (I believe for the number of known species that would require about 30 species per second to have achieved it in the stated seven days) it became obvious that I was making sense. This was reinforced to me by the fact that one of the two ladies was nodding in agreement with practically everything I said and the fact that the smile of the other one was becoming increasingly more desperate and she was edging towards the elevator door.

We continued our chat with a brief discussion of the age of the Earth, the dubious history of the Watch Tower organization, the logically fallacious idea of an all good and all powerful God, the fact that there is a great deal more to learn than only what is in their bible and that context is important, as is evidence, and I finally allowed them their get out of jail free card by letting them get away with suggesting that maybe I wasn’t fully understanding them because Spanish is not my first language.

We agreed that they would send someone to talk with me in English. For some reason they seemed quite keen to stress that it would be a girl and I said I’d be only too willing to welcome her or any of their colleagues again for a chat if they’d agree to at least have a think about things we’d discussed and reread Genesis looking for the contradictions I’d already pointed out.

I wished them a good day, they wished me one and I very much doubt I’ll ever see the same two ladies again (I did invite them to come round for a few hours on Sunday to learn about evolution as they seemed a little confused). But I shall look forward to meeting their reinforcements. Let’s see if I can’t get another deconversion or two under my belt.

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Cho Seung-hui

"Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and the defenceless people."

"Do you know what it feels like to be humiliated and be impaled on a cross and left to bleed to death for your amusement?"

No comment.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The end is nigh

I just wanted to share something with you. I've been thinking for some time of abandoning this blog. Actually, I've been thinking about it since before I even started. I'll explain.

One of the main reasons I wanted to write about religion was to encourage others to give it up. Whilst I don't regret anything I have written on this blog I do recognise that some of my less polite posts piss people off and send them running long before I've had a chance to share some valuable ideas. I have been told and I've considered that some of my posts are too harsh, too rude or just to damn offensive. I've written about this before and I absolutely do reserve the right and agree with the act of insulting religions because I think a service is performed by ridicule. But the styles don't mix very well, or at least the brash style doesn't mix well with the more inviting tone I've found to be more successful using this and other identities commenting on other blogs.

I've been laying the ground work for a new site. I've bought a domain, acquired hosting, developed the database and the application and even written around 100 pages of content for it (mostly coming from the book I threatened to write - and have been writing) and I'm getting close to the point where I think I will launch. I intend to strip some of the content from this blog and rewrite it to some degree for the new site which is a more earnest attempt at reaching out to theists and saying "Hey, let's have a friendly chat and see where that leads". And so it seems to me that the only reasonable thing to do is to shut this one down. I would expect to do this approximately one month from now (it may be a little longer).

I will not be posting any links to the new site and I'd ask you, if you stumble across it and recognise me, not to point out the connection. I really want to make an attempt to connect with theists and change their minds. That will be damaged if they trace me back to here - back to such beauties as my Fuck Islam campaign and the numerous insults I've flung at Muslims, Christians and everyone else with a belief in the stupid.

I'd guess the easiest way to put it is that I've developed a sense of the political, the diplomatic. I've come to realise that if I really want to make a difference instead of just talk to my own crowd that I have to engage with them in a way that doesn't scare them off, piss them off or otherwise cause them to flee before I've had chance to make a few good points.

I'll keep posting until then because I find it hard to go for too long without spilling out some blab about something or other. And you are welcome to email me (choose doubt [at] g mail \.\ com) if you'd like to take some of my posts and repost them on your blog.

I would keep this blog going for the less polite side of things, but since I will reuse some content it seems best to shut it down. So, I'll give one week notice before I delete the lot.

Cheers to you all,


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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

On Culture, Tradition, National Identity and Individuality.

On my previous post I touched briefly on culture, specifically on the fact that I am against the preservation of cultures. I thought I'd expand on that. My thoughts are quite controversial but I think I can make sound and reasonable arguments for them.

I was born in England and yet I have lived in a number of different countries. I'm really quite tired of being labelled as English as a primary descriptor of my identity. It is not. Yesterday I paid another visit to my dentist and he tried to make conversation with me about one of his daughters and the fact that she is a supporter of an English football team (that's a soccer team to American readers) known as the Bolton Wonderers. I told him that I have absolutely no interest in football and that I never have had.

He was surprised; "But you're English?", he asked, as though my distaste of football called into question the knowledge he already had of my place of birth. So I explained to him that, to me, football is 22 men chasing a bit of dead cow up and down a field trying to get it to go into one of two fishing nets. It simply doesn't interest me.

"That's very strange", he said, "All English love football".

"Obviously not", I answered. And this is the point I want to try and communicate here regarding culture, tradition, national identity, and individuality.

It is a gross and erroneous assumption to conclude that the geography of someone's birth determines their preferences or any aspect of their individuality, especially in an age when you can visit any English city and buy newspapers in 10 different languages (at least), food from 6 different continents, meet people from more than 100 countries and, by simply jumping onto the nearest internet connection, access thoughts and cultural practices from any culture currently on Earth and a large number of those already expired. Determining your own or anybody else's preferences by the accident of the geography of birth is a certain contradiction of the freedom of the individual mind to learn and choose.

To preserve a culture, in an active sense as opposed to in information archives, requires people to practice it. And it is interesting that this preservation, by actively practicing a culture, also seems to be a responsibility that falls upon those that have been born into it. How exactly would it be viewed if I, as a so called Englishman, moved to Africa to become Zulu and maintain the Zulu way?

I'll accept that cultures are less and less preserved simply by geography and in fact are transmitted now from parent to child as opposed to location to new occupant, but isn't this really the same thing? Through an accident of birth a child is expected to adopt an identity, an identity which often prohibits the adoption of behaviours or preferences that the child may otherwise enjoy. Few atheists have a problem in recognising that a Muslim or Christian parent has no valid grounds upon which to force Islam or Christianity upon their child as an inherited identity. We recognise that a view of the universe and its functioning is far too complex a thing to assume a young child has any understanding of the alternatives and so we recognise their right to learn before choosing. What is the difference with a culture? Aren't all the distinct preferences that constitute a human life equally complex and require at least as long to determine for oneself? Because I was born in England must I like football? Apparently so, if we are to accept common belief.

Must I also be cold and aloof, a hooligan, reserved, a great complainer in restaurants, and so on? Of course not. Neither should an Austrian child grow up with a love of lederhosen and sausages as opposed to saris and aloo ghobbi. The same is true of every aspect of "culture". If we are free then we are free to select that which we prefer from everything on offer. The individual aspects of any culture, from food to music and poetry belong no more to those that were born, by accident, with some tenuous thread of heritage to some often forgotten origin of that aspect than they do to any other that has had the fortune to experience it. Culture is nonsense. Cultural heritage is universal. A culture is nothing more than the practices that define it and the practices are each individually separable and free for all to choose.

But let's stick with this idea of preserving a culture for a while since it is such a bizarre but widely accepted ideal. How are we defining the culture that should be preserved and on what grounds? Why don't we preserve caveman culture and force children to grow up respecting and practicing the ancient rites of long dead hunter gatherers? I'm sure there'd be many complaints if some group tried. Why don't we pack kids onto Viking long boats and send them off to rape and pillage the coastal towns of neighbouring countries? At what point is something a culture and at what point do we recognise that the behaviour is something that is really better left behind or simply a personal choice? When does a culture start and end? Of course, a culture never really does start, it evolves, and it ends only when everybody following that collection of evolving memes has died. Cultures are dynamic. If we are going to preserve them then at what time in their evolution are we going to stick a pin in the passage of time and say "that's Zulu" or "that's English"? Are Zulu software architects Zulu?

And for that matter, why not preserve the cultures that form from the mix and abandonment of other cultures? Will we preserve McDonalds when the time finally comes? Do we really have to listen to 80's music and dance the robot dance for the rest of all time? For that matter, why not preserve the Nazi culture, which was by any measure an impressive time, full of ritual and imagery, in German history? It's all thoroughly ridiculous and upon analysis contrary to personal liberty and evolving standards and the increasing diversity of options. I'd even go as far as to call it racism.

"176 die in Taiwan plane crash, including 3 Britons" – we've all seen and heard headlines like that. Are the lives of those 3 Britons supposed to mean more to me because of an accident of birth, which in reality means I have no more knowledge of them and no greater connection to them than I do with the 103 Taiwanese passengers that died in the same crash? "British sailors captured", on what grounds should I care more about the injustice done to them than I should about the same injustice done to anybody else?

Don't get me wrong, I am not stating that I shouldn't care, I'm simply asking on what grounds does a tragedy or an injustice become more tragic or more unjust simply because I happen to carry the same passport as someone involved or happen to have been born within the same arbitrary boundaries of a nation that came into its virtual existence in the minds and documents of men a million years after my real relationship to these other men formed? Do you think we might be nicer to each other if we asked that question?

I have had great trouble for my attitude to national identity, culture and tradition during my life. Despite this it has remained largely unchanged. It's one of the opinions I seem to have formed very early in life, like atheism, and I've never found a valid argument to change. In England there is an annual remembrance day of those fallen in war and as a child I was supposed to go and stand, often in the rain, for an extended period of sincere boredom whilst music I wouldn't choose to listen to was played and wreathes were laid. It usually went something like this:

"Why do I have to come to this?" I asked.

"Because it's tradition", I was told.

"It's not my tradition. Can I go?"

"You ungrateful little bastard. These men died for you and you can't even spare an hour for them!"

"They didn't die for me. Not one of them had any suspicion I would be born."

"You wouldn't be here without them, your country men, who gave their lives for you!"

"I wouldn't be here without Hitler either, or a dinosaur that decided to walk one way around a tree instead of another. Should I stand in the rain to thank them also?"

"You evil little bastard …." And so on. I'm sure you get the idea.

But my point was never to belittle the suffering of others or their loss of life or even the certain heroics that are indeed attributable to many of my "country men" who died in the various wars, without whom I certainly would never have been. But I wouldn't have been if it were not for the brave Japanese, or even the cowards. I wouldn't have been without the gallant tin of asparagus soup that upped the zinc level in my grandfather's testicles for him to produce the precise batch of sperm from within which came the one that gave rise to my father. If we are going to base our honours on unwitting responsibility in the vast chain of consequences that gave rise to my life then we'd better honour absolutely everything. If instead we are going to honour based on bravery then why only honour the Allied dead? Is it not reasonable to inquire whether an equal proportion of our enemies were equally brave?

My point is I do respect that a great many people died in some very awful wars. I do respect that they made a sacrifice and I even respect that many of them made it with courage. But if I want to respect that then I think I'm far better off opening a book and looking not at some flowers around a monument legitimising their sacrifice but at the corpses piled high on all sides, showing me how truly illegitimate the artificial separators that allow us to commit such madness are. But, by the accident of birth, I am supposed to care that these are dead heroes and those are dead enemies. That may well be true but there is nothing to tell the two piles of corpses apart once the uniforms are removed and they were likely equal in courage and in pretty much every way, except by the forces of national identity and inherited cultural identity that allowed them the prejudice to call themselves different enough to warrant putting bullets through each others brains.

I am no pacifist and I think there are times to kill and I even agree with the heroes of the country in which I was born that they lived in such a time. But I wonder what really separates people when they stop taking pride in the accident of their birth and the behavioural quirks dictated by the "culture" they inherited before mutating it into another separatist cause? We are headed for more of these times so long as we determine that our "who" equates to the "where" of our births or the silly little rituals we were born to observe. And between those times of conflict we are destined only to shore up the crumbling walls of ridiculous traditions that we determine we own when it is clear we are really allowing them to own us. And we are all too ready to gift our children into the arms of restrictions and obligations that are anti-choice, anti-individuality, anti-freedom, and most importantly, when you get right down to it, at least partially anti-everybody else.

So, in my last post I made a statement that the charity that preserves cultures will be recognised as immoral because by preserving cultures you are actually preserving the right of parents or a group to enforce that their children remain within that group or somehow carry a burden of preserving ways that will conflict with individual freedom. You can preserve the pygmies for a billion years but to do so you have to preserve around 50 million generations of their children in a state of ignorance and isolate them from the benefits and options provided by the rest of the world. No parent has the right to insist upon that for their child. The preservation of a culture, an entirely non-existent thing, is a goal that ignores the dynamic and the freedom of an ever changing reality of knowledge and choice. Put them in the history books, video the practices and record the songs, and let them die. Cultures and traditions are interesting but they should own nobody. Jointly we own the knowledge of what has come before and we can choose from it anything we find improves our lives, pleases our taste buds or makes us dance. You don't have to be born into it to like it and you don't have to carry it just because your parents did.

Cultures are a burden, their individual practices may be so wonderful that every individual has the right to enjoy – but nobody has the obligation to carry it on and nobody has the right to oblige others to do so.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Hovering on the brink of the end

I know I seem to be returning to the topic of the end of the human race a little frequently lately but I've just caught an article over on the BBC that I see as related. The story is about the use of memory and cognition enhancing drugs, like Modafinil, already in use to boost mental performance. The article contains some quotes from some worried people:

"If, in the future, there are cognition tablets for exams and I wasn't happy for my children to take them, would I be disadvantaging them against those children that actually take them?" said a woman responding to an Academy of Medical Sciences study on these drugs.

My answer to that is yes, of course you are. It's pretty much the same as if your child is competing in a bicycle race and you aren't happy for them to use a model with a light weight frame and quality gears and other components. You are disadvantaging your children against those that are accepting the advantages that science makes available to them. If the drugs provide a benefit, denying them to your children is a disadvantage to your children. If the drugs do not provide a benefit then there's no reason to give them.

Then we have this comment from a respondent to the same study:

"In the future do you want one of those dictatorial type states where we have to take drugs to get better and faster to work longer hours?"

More fear of progress and it is worthy of note that people were similarly suspicious of the telephone, the pocket watch, and an impressive number of other inventions that we enjoy the utility of quite freely nowadays. But there's a more interesting way to answer all of this technofear that has nothing to do with preference.

Let's imagine for a second that the answer everybody in a country, for example the USA, gives to the above respondents question is a firm no. The government would then pass laws banning the production, sale and consumption of mental performance enhancers and making the wild assumption that a black market supply did not become ubiquitous what do you think would happen? Well, the key factor would be whether or not the drugs provided a significant benefit, and it looks likely that they do – which is why the first respondent fears disadvantaging her children. So, we have a technology that provides a significant benefit being outlawed in one nation and not used. It stands to reason therefore that those countries that adopt the drugs will develop a competitive advantage since their workers will be smarter, better problem solvers. Whether this first generation of cognitive enhancers provide enough of an advantage to greatly effect international competition or not is irrelevant. Sooner or later a more advanced generation of brain boosters will and so resistance to a performance enhancing technology will ultimately lead to reduction in a society's ability to compete. So if the USA prohibits these drugs and China adopts them, China will eventually rule.

There is no difference between these drugs and brain enhancing computer technologies except that the computer based technologies are likely to be far more powerful than any drug could ever be because they will give us the ability to interface with machines and so redesign parts of our brains as opposed to just enhance their operation. Coupled with the fact that life is competitive there really is only one way to go. Some will no doubt take the Amish route and try to opt out, subjectively considering one particular moment of technological progress "natural" and others will not. The others, those that adopt and adapt to progress will out compete the troglodytes and eventually the troglodytes will be gone. Some people may object to that, but I think it is also quite realistic. It is one thing to allow a way of life to be preserved and quite another to allow a way of life that does damage to the greater community to be preserved and any technologically retarded group will end up inflicting damage on the technology adopters even if it is only by requiring resources that the adopters want to use. Not to mention of course that we will pretty soon figure out that just because someone was born into a culture it does not give them the right to cripple their offspring with its burden of consequences in continuing it. Or do we really think it will be moral in one thousands years time to let pigmies limit their children's lives to a scrap of preserved forest when the rest of us have seen the surfaces of other worlds?

I think not. Progress will be enforced by competition and the charity that works against that will eventually dry up, faced with the realisation that preserving cultures equates to preserving the fate of those we allow to be born as prisoners of a culture and its inherent restrictions and limitations that the rest of us left gratefully behind.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Neuro-prosthetics and the end of the human race

A few days back I wrote a post called "It's the End of the World as we know it" in which I shared a few thoughts on what I consider to be the inevitable progress of technology towards our imminent extinction, at least as a biological species. Within that post I mentioned that if computers don't just replace us immediately, which I think is highly likely, that we will be forced by competitive necessity and even by desire to embark along the route of upgrading ourselves, component by component, until there is nothing left of what we originally were. I thought you might be interested in one of the first steps towards the mental upgrade process when I stumbled upon an article over on about Ted Berger, a man engineering brain implants that can re-create thoughts.

Srinivasan [a co-worker of Berger] explains that the chip is sending electric pulses through the needle into the brain slice, which is passing them on to the screen we're watching. "The difference in the waves' modulation reflects the signals sent out by the brain slice," he says. "And they're almost identical in frequency and pattern to the pulses sent by the chip." Put more simply, this iron-gray wafer about a millimeter square is talking to living brain cells as though it were an actual body part.

The article deals with Berger's creation of the world's first prototype memory implant, intended to replace damaged brain tissue and it's a fascinating read, full of interesting quotes like

Can a chunk of silicon really stand in for brain cells? I ask. "I don't need a grand theory of the mind to fix what is essentially a signal-processing problem," he says. "A repairman doesn't need to understand music to fix your broken CD player."


"It's the type of science that can change the world," says Richard H. Granger, Jr., a professor of brain sciences who leads the Neukom Institute for Interdisciplinary Computational Sciences at Dartmouth College. "Replicating memory is going to happen in our lifetimes, and that puts us on the edge of being able to understand how thought arises from tissue—in other words, to understand what consciousness really means."


"We'll prove we can replace a central part of the brain that has lost a higher cognitive function, such as memory, with a microchip," he says.

So if you didn't believe me before, read the article and ask yourself how long you think it'll be before we are upgrading our brains since it's not long now until we are replacing damaged parts of them?

Not long also I think. Nice to have shared a species with you – good bye :)

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Miracles Or Science

At around 3 minutes into the video below the train goes under the people on the bridge - whoooosh!

Pretty cool video.

Science provides us with these miracles everyday. Many thousands of people will fail to die today thanks to remedies, procedures, materials and knowledge all gained through science. Hundreds will be raised back to life from conditions we would very recently have called dead until science pushed the flat line further to give many thousands a second chance. More than a billion people will move from points A to B at speeds we thought were not for us, or even possible, until science gave us the power. More than a million people will fly today despite the fact that god never gave us wings. Many thousands more won't walk on water but glide across the surface at breakneck speeds on hydrofoils and more than billions will communicate in an instant across countries and continents and even some between the Earth and colleagues orbiting in space.

You can believe in a few miracles you never actually saw, reported by people you never met and never will, or you can open your eyes and look around and see the "miracles" that surround you and empower and extend your life - right now!

All of them you owe to science, which expects no worship and desires no faith. They are abundant and they are real. Sooner or later people are going to recognise this. And unlike your gods, your mesiahs and magicians, the scientists explain freely how all of their tricks are done so that you can do them too.

Face facts - if we brought the authors of the bible or Muhammad to today and showed them what we do with hospitals, communications, vehicles and even weapons it would be us they called the gods and us they worshipped once we returned them to their time. Our miracles are greater in number and more awesome than the pathetic few unsubstantiated magic tricks of the long dead wizards of religious beliefs. Wake up theists and smell the silicon. It's time to appreciate what you've got and learn what you can do.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Blogs need content warnings.

Just read this story over at the BBC about a group of bloggers trying to stick content warnings all over the blogsphere. Lead by Tim O'Reilly, these moral guardians are coming up with a code of conduct for bloggers which includes this:

We are committed to the 'Civility Enforced' standard: we will not post unacceptable content, and we'll delete comments that contain it.

Missing of course the entire point of who decides what is unacceptable and why the fuck should those that disagree on that standard have to bow down to it? It's just another case of the power hungry human mind trying to control others and it stinks.

I'm no fan of moral relativism and neither am I a fan of those I strongly disagree with over topics such as religion, terrorism, superstition, and so on, and I strongly object to their right to even hold their opinions as I think all opinions must submit to evidence and the right to hold them is lost when the evidence tells you that the opinion is simply wrong. But part of discovering that evidence requires opinions to be stated and part of countering opinions requires an open forum for discussion. In other words, even those I most strongly disagree with should be free to write whatever they want in their blogs. So called unacceptable content will disappear when the unacceptable opinion does and killing the opinion is the sole responsibility of the evidence and not of some bunch of moral crusaders using dangerous terms like "Civility Enforced" and setting rules regarding what is and what is not acceptable to discuss.

Co-founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, is backing the plan and he had this to say.

"The question is: Do we allow people to use our blogs as places to embark on threatening behaviour and really abusive personal insults?

"You don't have to insult people to be frank."

But who decides what constitutes threatening behaviour. I've had quite a few people wish that I was dead – does wishing count? Not to me. You can wish all you want, I'm pretty comfortable that you're not about to find a genie to make that wish come true. What if someone tells me they are going to kill me? Guess what – there are already laws to deal with that sort of thing and that makes the threatening angle of this code of conduct just plain fucking stupid. If someone is threatening you then they are most likely already violating a real law and that by some, such as governments and their law enforcement agencies, might be considered a little more seriously than a violation of some stupid code drawn up by whiners with nothing better to do than try to make themselves feel important and who already have the ability to delete or moderate anything posted on their own blog.

So what about insult? Two words – Muhammad Cartoons. It is the insulted party that decides to be insulted and they can decide that about any petty little thing they choose and with as much ferocity and absence of self control as their unreasonable nature can allow. The blogger has no control over the attitudes or actions of others and as such is not responsible for them in anyway. I say god doesn't exist – do you have any idea how many people on this planet find that insulting? It's in the billions. Do I give a shit? Not at all! If they want to be insulted that's up to them. If they think they have a right not to be insulted I'll agree only in so far as they have a right not read anything that they find insulting and if they do so by accident then that's just one of the risks of trying to interact with the world.

When I first launched this blog I had a line of text at the top that read as follows:

If you are easily offended, fuck off.

Perhaps that should be the text of the abusive content banner they want blogs that might offend someone to display. Of course that means on every blog because you can't please all of the people all of the time.

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The meaning of life.

What is the meaning of life?

Let’s get straight to the point. The question, whilst having been of sincere interest to many, even to the point of obsession, for much of human history, and having sprouted numerous often ridiculous solutions, is the wrong question to ask. Or at least it is the wrong question to ask first. An earlier question might be “is there a meaning of life” and even before that one would need to have answered “what would constitute a meaning”. By asking what would constitute a meaning one can define attributes that differentiate a meaningful meaning from a meaningless meaning and it is at that point that the entire chain of questions is undeniably subjective. Theists can claim “the meaning is god” but that’s still just their preference (or god’s if it exists – which it doesn’t) but why prefer god as a solution over for instance a potato? Both answers are equally meaningless, although at least I have good reason to believe that potatoes exist.

One of the problems with having an ultimate meaning of life is that the solution can always be followed by the question “why”. The other problem is whatever you posit as the meaning you can always ask “why not” of some alternative and that chain of questions will be infinite also.

In my opinion asking what is the meaning of life is rather like a 3 year old persistently asking why, although far less useful. Just as 3 year old eventually tire of asking endless why’s many thinkers tire of asking and just declare some nonsense reason to suppose that the meaning of life is god, love, or some other meaningless nonsense that really has absolutely no reason to be a better answer than potato.

What is the meaning of life? What’s the colour of existentialism?

Some questions are just stupid because the question means nothing. Face it. The meaning of life is subjective and therefore personal and you can choose what you want it to be. You can choose a different meaning every day if you like and there are no constraints in doing so because it is the meaning of YOUR life, for that moment and it has no greater significance than what it personally means to you. Get on with your life and enjoy finding the answers that are out there to real questions. It is a far more rewarding use of your time than head full of potato. I think that should be obvious.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

How stupid is superstition?

I was sitting in a bar last night having a beer. It’s been raining a lot here for the last couple of days and so the umbrellas are out in force. So there I was, having a beer and a chat and some guy opened his umbrella up inside the bar!!! So what, who cares right? Apparently plenty of people do. Puh-lease!

It started with one lady objecting and mentioning that it’s bad luck. “Oh, right, I forgot” says the umbrella man. I’m sorry, but I just can’t let this sort of bullshit pass. So I didn’t.

I asked both of them at once “Are you serious?”

“Yes” said the woman.

“You can’t be too careful” said the man.

Well apparently they can’t be too careless when it comes to their thinking and before I’d said anything more the incredulous smile on my face seemed to spark a debate between a few people in the bar along the lines of “Well, the universe is a mysterious place” and “My auntie’s friends brother once walked under a ladder and immediately had his head bitten off by a kangaroo blah blah blah”. Ok, I made the kangaroo bit up, but the point is people believe in these superstitions and had anecdotal evidence from distant, unconfirmed sources to back it up. In other words, otherwise ordinary people had outrageous beliefs, truly ridiculous in nature, that they were prepared to defend with absolutely no coherent reason to do so.

Good, because I’m prepared to attack them.

The origins of the umbrella are a little complicated. On the one hand its origin is claimed to be in China approximately 1,700 years ago but it’s close relative, the parasol, is depicted in Assyrian, Persian, Egyptian and Greek art pre-dating this (by as much as 2000 years) and it seems odd to imagine that no one ever stood under one when it rained. But regardless of exactly how old the umbrella is it is certainly no more than a few thousand years old. Young Earth Christians may therefore have a work around for what I am about to say. The rest of the at least partially sane people on this planet do not.

I asked the people how old they thought the umbrella was. Everybody seemed to be pretty content that it was maybe one or two thousand years old and two people even opted for China as the origin. So I asked “OK, so we can agree that the umbrella has been around for a few thousand years at most right?”, and we were all agreed.

“How old is the universe?” I asked.

“About 15 million years old” said one.

“No, it’s about 15 billion” said another.

Whatever! I didn’t want to get redirected into a discussion of the age of the universe and so I just asked if we could agree that the universe was vastly more ancient than the umbrella. Nobody had a problem with this.

“So, is the umbrella somehow special?” I asked, “I mean, when it was invented and the first one built did it’s shape or function somehow magically connect it to the universe in a way that the invention of the spoon did not, for example?”


“Or did the rules of the universe suddenly change upon the invention of the umbrella so that opening one up inside a room suddenly became some sort of magical remote control to influence the universe so that it then wanted to hurt who ever had opened it?”

More silence and then an “I don’t know why it works but you shouldn’t do it anyway”.

“Yes, unless you lightly salt a black cat whilst walking backwards under a ladder to protect yourself with a rabbits foot in your anus” I said and I finished my beer.

The moral of this story is that superstitions are fucking stupid. If you really think the universe works that way then you are not only mad but arguably certifiable. The intensity of the ignorance and the inability to think critically required to believe that the universe is affected in such a deterministic fashion by recent inventions, and recent life forms (black cats, rabbits and their feet, etc), with no causal mechanism whatsoever is so mind numbingly vacuous it really is incredible that anybody remains ignorant enough to believe such crap.

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