Sunday, March 18, 2018

Stephen Hawking On Star Talk

As we all bid farewell to the passing of physicist Stephen Hawking, the most famous scientist of his generation, we can appreciate his humor as well as his intellect. Here he was on a recent episode of Star Talk with Neil deGrasse Tyson, demonstrating a bit of that. Interestingly, he died on Pi day (3.14), also Einstein's birthday, and was born exactly 300 years after the death of Galileo (Jan 8, 1942), often considered the father of modern astronomy. A life started and ended by mathematical coincidences indeed. What a universe!

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Problems Of Free Will As Explained In Waking Life

Back in 2001 a fantastic movie came out called Waking Life that explored numerous philosophical issues in a way few movies have done before or since. It was also distinct in that it used a technique called rotoscoping, where animations are drawn over live action video. I first saw the movie almost ten years ago and loved it. At the time, I hadn't done any serious research into the free will topic, but since then I've studied it intensely. And given all my current knowledge on the topic (which I think is very extensive), I can say that the part on free will is very good at quickly summarizing two of the known problems inherent in free will belief that many casual thinkers overlook.

Check it out, and watch the full movie if you can. If you're a philosophy lover, you will enjoy it.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Abortion And Anti-Natalism Part 1: Anti-Natalism Analyzed

It recently occurred to me that I've never made a formal argument for abortion on my blog, although I've certainly touched on the topic in various posts. I've been inspired to write about abortion because of my recent interest in the idea of anti-natalism. So I plan on spending two blog posts writing my thoughts about each topic, culminating in an argument for the ethics of abortion.

Anti-natalism is the view that not procreating is preferable to procreating because life necessarily involves some degree of suffering and there is an asymmetric relationship between suffering and pleasure such that the experience of suffering outweighs the experience of pleasure. So for example, on that latter part, imagine you were offered a week long vacation to anywhere in the world where you can do anything you wanted and all expenses would be paid for you making it totally free. But, in order to get the free vacation, you must submit to a certain amount of physical torture first. This physical torture would involve massive amounts of pain but not include any life lasting physical defects, like broken bones, scars, etc. Just pain. You also get to negotiate how long the torture will be, with the ability to bargain it down. The bargaining starts at 1 week in length, the same length as the vacation. The question is: what would be the longest amount of time you'd be willing to be tortured for a week long all-expenses paid vacation in paradise? Would you be willing to be tortured for a week? A day? An hour? A minute? A second? None at all? Chances are the maximum amount of time of torture you'd be willing to endure is not equal to the amount of time of pleasure you'd get on the vacation. In other words, if you were forced to endure an equal duration of torture to the pleasure of the vacation, you would likely not agree to the deal.

And that's because you recognize that there's an asymmetry between pain and pleasure. 1 minute at the spa getting pampered is not equal to 1 minute of torture. Now what exactly that ratio is between pain and pleasure is perhaps subjective, but virtually all of us recognize that there is an asymmetry, and we factor that into our calculations for ourselves and our loved ones when we make a cost-benefit analysis of difficult ethical conundrums.

And therein lies the basic argument for anti-natalism:

  1. Suffering is guaranteed in every human life. 
  2. Because there is an asymmetry between suffering and pleasure, such that the impact of suffering far outweighs pleasure, 
  3. In the moral calculus to have a child the heavier weight of the potential suffering overrides the weight of potential pleasure.
  4. And thus, it is better to not have a child than to have one.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Video I Made Last Year On The Pro-Truth Pledge

This is a video I made last year for my friend John Kirbow on him taking the pro-truth pledge. I made several videos like this, most of them were for The Atheist Conference that is now dead. But some of that footage is still usable, and I will find a way to repurpose it. For now, check it out. I plan on creating a YouTube channel (or several) to make videos like this in the future.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Economist Mark Blyth On New Economic Normals

For the past year or so I've been listening to economist Mark Blyth break down the rather complex and esoteric field of economics. Despite his thick Scottish accent, he's a skilled communicator at making it somewhat digestible. He's particularly good at criticizing the ineffectiveness of right wing ideas like austerity and showing the problems that come as a result of middle class wage stagnation for 40 years. This is a recent talk of his at the Global Financial Markets Forum on those topics.

Follow him on Twitter here: @MkBlyth

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Secular Humanism: What Is It, And Can It Replace Religion?

There are numerous ideas in modern social justice philosophy and tactics used to achieve its goals that are counterproductive and that are fueling a resurgence and interest in the political Right. Many people on the Left are completely unaware of this because they live firmly surrounded by the ideological bubble cocooning them from any views they might disagree with.

And so in the sea of alternatives to traditional religion, a large segment of the Left has turned to social justice in a way that resembles all the hallmarks of a traditional religion, just without the deity. This alarms many, including me, which is why in my last post I argued why we have no better alternative but to double down in our efforts to replace traditional religion with something like secular humanism. But this won't be easy, and secular humanism is fraught with problems if it is to replace religion. And that's what I'm going to explore in this post.

What is secular humanism?

First, what is secular humanism? The name gets used a lot by atheists, but what does it mean? While there are numerous definitions, I'll focus on two. From, it's a "comprehensive, nonreligious lifestance incorporating:
  • A naturalistic philosophy
  • A cosmic outlook rooted in science
  • A consequentialist ethical system"
So secular humanism commits one to a basic consequentialist ethics, according to the Council for Secular Humanism. According to Wikipedia, secular humanism is a "philosophy or life stance that embraces human reason, ethics, social justice, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition as the bases of morality and decision making."

The international symbol
of secular humanism
So let's examine the definitions above. First, secular humanism is naturalistic, meaning, it's atheistic. And that means it can't be religious in any traditional way. So far so good. Second, it's rooted in science, meaning, it's a worldview with an epistemological framework "relying on methods demonstrated by science." A critic could argue that this is scientism. Scientism is the view that science alone can render truth about the world and reality. The problem with that is it's wrong. There are other ways to know truth besides science, like for example, philosophy. It's not clear from the secular humanist's site that they are saying science is the only way to truth, but it is implied. Science is certainly the most reliable way to know truth about our world, as I've written about in the past, but it isn't the only way. This is a modified view known as weak scientism. Third, strict consequentialism as a normative ethical theory is too restrictive. The best approach to ethics is the tool box approach: a combination of consequentialism, virtue ethics, and deontology. So demanding that secular humanists must abide by consequentialism is a potential problem. It can alienate people, like me, who think there is no single normative ethical framework that works perfectly in all situations.


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