Thursday, April 27, 2017

My Political Compass

It turns out I'm a Jewish socialist.

Let me explain.

I recently took a political compass test and I landed right on Bernie Sanders. I mean literally right on his face. It turns out the Vermont senator and I basically see eye to eye on politics, at least according to the test. I supported him in the primary, and still support him now, but I was really surprised to see that I was right on him on the compass.

According to the test, I'm a "left libertarian," roughly in the center of the libertarian left quadrant of the compass, not far from Noam Chomsky. I didn't think I'd be that libertarian and honestly expected to be a little more to the center on the libertarian-authoritarian scale.

One of the interesting questions is whether or not one can be moral without being religious. That was an easy one.

I think every political candidate should take this test and this should be a part of the public knowledge on them for us to take into consideration in order to vote. And every sitting politician should take it once a year so that we can track long term trends of candidates and their time in office.

Take the test here if you're interested. It's worth knowing where you stand.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Quote Of The Day: How Length Contraction Entails Eternalism

Vesselin Petkov is a philosopher of physics who has written relentlessly on the reality of spacetime. He's one of the founders of the Minkowski Institute, an organization dedicated to (among other things) changing "the present situation in fundamental physics and lead[ing] the research on the major open questions," and is the current director. I emailed him a year ago to comment on my logical argument for eternalism and in response he said it "looks correct" and sent me a link to a short PDF that makes some additional arguments for the same conclusion.

The PDF, entitled The Ultimate Judge: Time does not Flow since it is the Fourth Dimension of the Real World, describes how the empirical evidence of time dilation and length contraction necessarily entail eternalism. Unless you want to deny your senses and empirical evidence as if they're an illusion forged on us by some unknown aspect of nature, the conclusion of eternalism necessarily follows. That is the only way to deny it. 

Below is an excerpt from one part of the PDF that makes an argument that the length contraction of a meter stick would be impossible if the meter stick existed only as a three-dimensional body, and not as a worldtube in 4 dimensional spacetime (which is what it is on eternalism).

It should be stressed that if the worldtube of the meter stick were an abstract geometric construction and what existed were a single three-dimensional meter stick (which constitutes a single class of simultaneous events), both observers would measure the same three-dimensional meter stick of the same length, i.e. the same class of simultaneous events, which means that simultaneity would be absolute and there would be no length contraction. So, if the meter stick were a three-dimensional object, neither relativity of simultaneity nor length contraction would exists, which means that all experiments mentioned above (that repeatedly confirmed these relativistic effects) would be impossible. This conclusion can be easily generalized - as a three-dimensional world is defined as everything that exists simultaneously at the present moment (as a single class of simultaneous events), if reality were a three-dimensional world evolving in time, then at every moment all observers would share this single three-dimensional world (since nothing else exists); therefore they would share the same single class of simultaneous events, which means that relativity of simultaneity would be impossible in contradiction with the experimental evidence.

This thought experiment clearly demonstrates that length contraction of a meter stick would be impossible if the meter stick existed as a three-dimensional body (not as a worldtube). An ordinary three-dimensional meter stick at rest with respect to an observer A is shown in fig. 1. What we see in the figure is what we perceive and take for granted that it is what really exists. According to Minkowski, however, the meter stick exists equally at all moments of its history and what is ultimately real is the worldtube of the meter stick as shown in fig. 2 (only part of the worldtube is displayed in the figure).

Assume that another meter stick at rest in another observer’s (observer B’s) reference frame moves relative to the first one at a distance 1 mm above it. Let us assume that at the event M the middle point of B’s meter stick (the mark “50 cm”) is instantaneously above the middle point of A’s meter stick. Lights are installed at every point inside A’s meter stick, which can change their color simultaneously at every instant in A’s frame. At the event of the meeting M all lights are red in A’s frame. At all previous moments all lights were green. At all moments after the meeting all lights will be blue. When A and B meet at event M this and only this event is present for both of them. At that moment all lights of A’s meter stick will be simultaneously red for A. In other words, at M the present meter stick for A is red (that is, all parts of A’s meter stick, which exist simultaneously for A at M, are red). All moments before M, when all lights of the meter were green, are past for A, whereas all moments when the meter stick will be blue are in A’s future. Imagine that B’s meter stick contains cameras, instead of lights, at every point along its length. At the event of the meeting M all cameras take snapshots of the parts of A’s meter stick which the cameras face. At event M all snapshots are taken simultaneously in B’s reference frame. Even without looking at the pictures taken by the cameras it is clear that not all pictures will show a red part of A’s meter stick, because what is simultaneous for A is not simultaneous for B.
When the picture of A’s meter stick is assembled from the pictures of all cameras it would show two things as shown in fig. 3 - (i) A’s meter stick photographed by B is shorter, and (ii) only the middle part of the picture of A’s meter stick (as measured, i.e., photographed by B) is red; half is green and the other half is blue. So what is past (green), present (red), and future (blue) for A, exists simultaneously as present for B. But this is only possible if the meter stick is the worldtube as shown in fig. 4.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Here's What You Have To Believe In Order To Deny Eternalism

I've recently gotten marred down in another debate over eternalism vs presentism via private email. It's a debate I generally like having because it's one I know I can win. Plus it's a great way to get to know Special Relativity, one of the coolest and most fascinating scientific theories. What I want to emphasize here is what one has to deny in order to deny eternalism and hold to either presentism or possibilism, because it's not always apparent to those who do so.

In order to deny eternalism, one has to deny one or both of the following. They have to either:
  1. Deny that the speed of light travels at constant speed regardless of the speed of the light source.
  2. Deny that we can accurately measure two non-parallel distances as being of equal length with any physical instrument, such as a ruler, or tape measurer.
The denier of eternalism must accept one or both; there is no logical way to deny at least one and still deny eternalism.

The reason why is because logic demands it.

(1) the speed of light is constant for all observers and isn't changed depending on whether or not the light source is moving,
(2) we are able to physically measure two perpendicular distances accurately using any device such as a ruler or tape measurer,
(3) if two beams of light travel an equal distance to a single point and arrive at the same time, they must have been emitted at the same time and the events that emitted them must have been ontologically simultaneous. 
(4) if two beams of light travel an equal distance to a single point and arrive at different times, they must have been emitted at different times and the events that emitted them must have not been ontologically simultaneous.
In order to deny (3) and (4) you must deny either (1) or (2) or both (1) and (2). There is no other logically possible way to do so.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

For The Sake Of Absurdity

In recent years I have more and more come to celebrate and embrace the absurd. I have an intense infatuation with what is preposterous, ridiculous, and incompatible with sound reason. I think this is why I love religion so much. It's the absurdity of it that fascinates me and the humor drawn from the absurdity that I find so appealing. Now the philosophy of absurdism within existentialism is about conflict between the search for meaning in world and its meaninglessness. And my view on this, as an atheist, is to embrace the meaninglessness of the world, rather than commit suicide or believe in a religious transcendental realm. One way we can do this is to celebrate the absurd.

But what's the absurdity? Is it the meaninglessness of the world, or the religious view of the world created by a designer who confers meaning? Well if you ask me which one is supposed to be the absurdity, it's both. They're both absurd. The world having no meaning, and the world having meaning given by some god are both absurd. The very idea of those two things are absurd too. Every worldview is absurd if you ask me. Existence itself is absurd. But we can make the most of it by finding subjective meaning in things, like art, or music, or philosophy, and so long as we don't ever confuse these things with any notion of objective meaning, this can make life more pleasurable.

But I say, we should also embrace the ridiculous of the absurd by creating more of it. I routinely tell absurd jokes with deliberate non-sequitors simply because they're absurd. I routinely emphasize natural absurdity contrived by nature. And I try to create absurd situations when ever possible, just for the sake of absurdity for laughs. The more absurd, the better. Humor is the celebration of the absurd.

There is a dark side however to celebrating the absurdity. Donald Trump as president is absurd. Totally and completely absurd. In some ways, I like it because him and his presidency are absurd, and I know people who've voted for him solely because they thought it would be absurd if he was president. Now I think his presidency is a "total disaster" and "Sad!" — to borrow his own phraseology, and I truly fear for the future. So I think sometimes it's proper to set aside one's embrace of the absurd for the sake of human well being. The absurd we celebrate should be harmless, and other than rustling a few feathers, no one should be seriously hurt from the absurd if it can be helped. The presidency of Donald Trump, while a daily monument to absurdity, is going to seriously harm the world. His lack of concern for man-made climate change alone is enough to do this.

So I urge you to consider the absurd. For laughs, try inventing a religion with the goal of making it as absurd as possible. Do it with friends, and try to out do each other. Make an absurd joke that has no obvious punchline other than the absurdity of the joke itself. Tell an absurd story just for laughs. Emphasize the absurdity of the news, situations, or of life in general. For example: How can relationships thrive in a society that increasingly celebrates individuality? It's absurd when you think about it.

Don't confuse any of this with being the same thing as Albert Camus's philosophy of absurdism. That's a deeper intellectual project. I'm simply recognizing his thesis and arguing that we should cope with life's objective meaninglessness by celebrating absurdity.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Gender Pay Gap Is Misleading

It's one of the things that gets repeated over and over again: Women earn 77 cents on the dollar for what men make. Sometimes it's reported as 81 cents, as in Senator Bernie Sander's recent tweet for #EqualPayDay:

But after reading about the pay gap, I've discovered over the years that it's completely false at worst, and misleading at best. The claim makes it appear that women are making 77 or 81 cents for every dollar a man makes for the exact same job. But that's by and large not the case. If it were, why wouldn't every employer fire all of their male employees and replace them with women who will be paid 20% less as a way to save on labor costs?

It turns out, the truth behind those numbers is more complicated than what we're often lead to believe. The 77 percent figure is created by comparing the amount earned by men and women regardless of their occupation. And since men tend to work in higher paying professions and women tend to work in lower paying professions the total amount of money men make tends to be higher than women. If women are over represented in lower paying occupations, they will earn less money than men on average.

Although it is not clear how the study that came up with the 77 percent figure calculated what full time workers are, women tend to work part time much more than men. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 women were 13% more likely than men to be working part time for economic reasons, and nearly twice as likely than men to be working part time for noneconomics reasons. This means women often work part time because they want to, for a variety of reasons, like being able to spend more time with children, and choosing to do so will make it so that women earn less then men in a given year, or over a lifetime. Women sometimes exit the workforce entirely to care for children for a number of years, and this too cuts down the earnings of women to men over their lifetime. All of these are major factors in why women earn 77 or 81 percent of what men do.

This is not to say that there is no pay gap whatsoever, it simply means that the 77 cents on the dollar figure is not explained by the claim that women earn 77% men do for the same exact jobs. In fact, for unmarried childless women in their 20s, they are often earning more money than their male counterparts in large metro areas like Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York.

But say any of this to your average liberal, or your average feminist, and they will think you're a sexistor even worse, a republican! That's because once this claim gets repeated enough and becomes your rallying cry, you will continue defending this in the face of contrary evidence due to the sunk cost bias. And this is very hard to shake off for most people. We all need to fact check our claims, especially the ones we're most committed to, as this is the best way to ensure that we're right. Our ideology shouldn't determine the facts, the facts should determine our ideology.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Great Video On Life As A Nihilist

Nihilism may seem bleak to some, but to others, they manage to enjoy the world of wonder around them that admits of no objective purpose. Over at the Veritasium YouTube channel, science enthusiast Derek Muller talks about seeing the world as a nihilist in "Our Greatest Delusion."

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Quote Of The Day: Hitchens On The Fine Tuning Argument

As I've said before, I don't look to Christopher Hitchens if I want to hear the most sophisticated arguments for or against god, but he did have a snappy comeback in a debate about the apparent fine tuning of the universe with Rabbi Wolpe years ago. Wolpe challenges Hitchens, saying, "The odds that the universe would actually be constituted are .0000 to the billion power, because all these various astronomical constants have to be exactly right, balanced on a knife edge in order for there to be a world. So that's the first piece of evidence that the world knew we were coming."

Unimpressed, Hitch responds,

Now to this knife edge point, why are people so impressed that it so nearly didn't happen? Some designer. I might mention on the knife edge point, knife edge is exactly the right metaphor as it turns out, just in the little far off suburban slum of our tiny solar system—that's a detail in the cosmos—just the one we know, we know the following: that of the other planets, all of them are either much too hot or much too cold to support any kind of life at all. If they ever did they don't any longer and will never do so again. And that is true a very large tracts of our own planet. They're either the too hot or too cold and it's on a climatic knife edge as it is and is waiting for the Sun swell up into a red dwarf, boil the oceans, and have done with the whole business, and we even know roughly the date on which that will occur. That's just in our suburb; it's in our hood. So we may have a lot of a little bit of something this now but there's a great deal of nothingness headed our way. Some design, huh?

He continues, showing the absurdity of thinking the whole of the cosmos, including all of its mass extinctions, was all a preparation for us.

They were waiting for us? It was waiting for us to occur? For you and me to arrive? 98.9 percent of every species has ever been on earth has already become extinct. So if there's a creator or designer—and I can't prove there isn't—who wanted that, this designer must be either very capricious, very cruel, very incompetent, or very indifferent. Grant him and you must grant all that. You can't say "Ah, what a welcome. What a table was spread for us to dine on." 

And then of course the crowd laughs and claps.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Why It's Harder To Live On Your Own As A Young Adult

With 32.1 percent of 18-34 year olds living with their parents, up from 20 percent in 1960, according to a Pew Research Center study, two clear trends are emerging: (1) more young adults are living with their parents for a longer amount of time, and (2) fewer young people are getting married. I'm going to be writing a 2 part series of blog posts that address why these two trends are emerging in recent decades.

For the first part, here are 3 important reasons explaining why more young adults are living with their parents:

1. Rent costs have gone up faster than inflation. Rent is the bigger factor when it comes to how housing costs make it harder to survive on your own as a young adult, since most young people rent and are not buying a home right out of college. Median rent costs have risen 64% since 1960 when factoring inflation:


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