Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Acquired taste?

I like dark beer and coffee, so it stands to reason that I should like dark chocolate, too-- but I don't.

So I bought a bar of it (like 85% cacao or something) a few days ago and have been eating a little bit at a time, just to see if I would acquire a taste for it.

And it appears to work; at first little nibbles were enough to wrinkle my nose, but I just ate a whole square of it and thought it tasted decent. And some milk chocolate I had the other day tasted too sweet.

OK, now you can file this under "random" and go about your day.

Friday, December 18, 2009

More books

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

It's the most famous book by my favorite author, and I hadn't read it. It deserves its fame; it was good. There's two types of fiction; some books make you wish the world worked a certain way, some make you glad it doesn't. This is in the former category.

The Golem's Eye and Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud

The second and final book in the series that began with The Amulet of Samarkand. For once, I'm happy to report that each book in the series got better.

I've recently read a bunch of other things, too, but I can't think of them right now...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Major piece on polysleeping

I've written up everything I learned about how to adapt during my months of experimentation here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pathetic

Wikileaks is a website that posts sensitive documents without authorization, set up to protect whistle-blowers.

"Dr." Kent Hovind is a young-earth creationist currently doing time in Florida for tax evasion, if I recall correctly.

This is his doctoral thesis, which his college for some reason did not make publicly available. I skimmed it. Wow. It's terrible. It's so bad it's funny in places, like where he goes through the "history" of Evolution. Did you know evolution had an Eastern branch? Or that it actually started thousands of years ago? Yeah, that's right, people were evolutionists for thousands of years before Darwin. Origen, Agustine and other church fathers were evil evolutionists according to him. (You would think that having church fathers hold a position would tend to legetimize the position, but apparently not. Not that, in reality, they believed anything approaching evolution; they just didn't think Genesis 1-11 or whatever is literal, which practically makes them satanists in his mind.)

Oh, and evolution is responsible for both Nazism and Communism, and evolutionists will eat your babies. OK, one of those I didn't literally see in there, but again, I just skimmed it.

Also, I'm not sure if the guy was the originator of jillions of things I've heard Christians say over the years, or if he is the biggest parrot ever. I think half of his thesis is illustrations I've heard numerous times from various places, all of which are terrible. He (and this is a common failing) doesn't understand that you use an illustration to help explain yourself to someone who's not following you; you do NOT use them to help you argue a point to someone who is skeptical.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Interesting study

A study was recently done by Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago that I find very interesting. They asked their subjects their opinions on a variety of subjects, and then asked them how they thought Bill Gates, God, President Bush, and the average American would answer those same questions. They calculate how closely the subject's views match to each of those. Not surprisingly, the subjects views matched their perception of God's views much better than their perception of anyone else's. (Humorously, nobody's views matched poor bush's views-- except on the subject of the death penalty).

OK, that's great, you say, but it doesn't prove anything: They could genuinely be changing their minds to start believing what they think God believes, in which case it's no wonder they correlate well.

Ah, but that's where they get tricky:

... We investigated this in Study 5 by
influencing participants’ own attitudes about affirmative action
through exposure to persuasive arguments. In a pro-policy
condition, participants read one strong argument supporting
affirmative action and one weak argument opposing it. In an
anti-policy condition, participants read one weak argument
supporting affirmative action and one strong argument opposing
it (see SI Text). Participants then rated the strength of each
argument they received. Finally, participants reported their
attitude about affirmative action and did the same for God, the
average American, Gates, and Bush. ...


They have the subject read a paper designed to shift their view in some point, and administer the survey again. The paper does indeed shift the opinions of the subject, and it also shifts what they think God's opinions are, and what they think Bill Gate's are (though to a lesser extent), but not Bush or the average american.

In another study,

Study 6 sought convergent evidence by using a
different experimental manipulation that relied on internally
generated arguments rather than on externally provided ones. In
particular, participants were asked to write and deliver a speech
either consistent or inconsistent with their own preexisting
beliefs in front of a video camera. Under these circumstances,
people tend to shift their attitudes in a direction consistent with
the speech they deliver (21, 22). Participants first reported (in a
dichotomous choice task) whether they generally supported or
opposed the death penalty, among other issues. Approximately
30 min later, a new experimenter told participants that videotapes
were needed for another study of people evaluating
speeches about the death penalty. Participants were then asked,
depending on random assignment, if they would be willing to
deliver a speech in favor of or opposed to the death penalty. This
meant delivering a speech consistent with preexisting attitudes
for some participants and inconsistent with preexisting attitudes
for the other participants. All but five participants (two in the
consistent condition, three in the inconsistent condition) agreed
to the experimenter’s request. After delivering the speech,
participants reported their own attitude about the death penalty,
and then did the same for God, Gates, Bush, and the average
American.


They did a similar thing, only with a different method of modifying the participants' beliefs, with the same result.

Finally, they did a comparison in an fMRI which confirmed that people use the same brain areas to process questions about their own beliefs and God's beliefs-- but they use different areas to process other people's beliefs. (In my mind, until we know more about the brain, this sort of thing is of limited use in proving anything)

So what does this prove, and what doesn't it prove?

They do seem to have shown fairly convincingly that these people do not maintain separate categories in their mind for their own opinions and God's opinions. This implies that these people are or could be serving as their own God: their perception of God's opinions are probably just echo boxes for their own opinions.

OK, so the sample sizes are adequate but not huge; I'd be willing to bet that there's one personality type that would probably break this mold, at least occasionally: the theology geek and/or pastor. The sort of person who would say something like "I wish I didn't have to believe this, but the bible says blah blah blah..."

I suspect a common Christian response to this will take the general form of claiming that that the individuals in the study were not *good* Christians, that, in fact, the majority of Christians in the country are not good Christians and do tend to remake God in their own image. So the people in the studies were sinful/backslidden/uninformed/idolatrous/fake Christians. I find this to be a very unpalatable response; what reason do we have for supposing those who propose this kind of argument are actually among the good/real Christians?

So how do you know if you are doing this yourself? I can only speculate, but chances would seem pretty good that if there's nothing you and God disagree on, you're doing this.

Here are two other takes on this study. I'll add other links to responses to the study if you have them and they're interesting.