Thursday, October 27, 2011


Thinking about the last post on my dad's now defunct blog led to an interesting realization. I put it here:

Saturday, October 22, 2011


My friend Tony had the idea of combining forces into one super-duper blogging team. That should at least double the chances of me writing something, right? And triple our non-readers at the same time! So it sounded good to me. Well, anyway, I've written my first post for his blog: (permalink: Bayes: not just a good idea...). Add it to your google reader or your bookmarks. I probably won't announce it here every time I write something over there.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Death, be not proud

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. ... then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? -St. Paul
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die. -John Donne
On this point, christian theology is absolutely correct. Death is the last enemy. I'm so pedantic that I'll divide this into two things I agree with:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Evolution: a response

Today we take a break from our regularly scheduled posts. I'll be responding to:

The medium of text doesn't do a good job of transmitting inflections. I do believe what I believe passionately when I have good reasons for believing it. Please don't mistake my passion for intentional offensiveness or disrespect. This post is somewhat long. I'm sorry.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Explaining vs. Explaining Away, redux

Mental entities are just like other entities; they are made of smaller components.

But, says one, my perception of myself is that I'm a single entity, not made of fragments.

Well, of course. It couldn't be any other way. When you look at a brick, do you see the molecules that compose it, or the brick as a whole? There's two reasons that you don't see the molecules. The first is that molecules are too small, your vision can't see them at all without outside assistance. The second is that even if you could physically see them, your vision abstracts away all the detail and just leaves you with the impression of a "brick" unless you're explicitly looking for the details.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What is rationality, and why should you care

Pretend for a moment you are a 40 year old women who just had a routine mammogram. Your doctor tells you that only 1% of women your age have breast cancer, that 80% of women with breast cancer will get positive mammographies, and that 9.6% of women without breast cancer will also get positive mammographies. Suppose your mammogram was positive. What is the probability that you actually have breast cancer?
Think about it for a moment, and take a guess. Or try to work it out.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In defense of reductionism

Continuing my summary of

It's very important that you understand what I meant yesterday by map and territory, so I'll talk about it a bit more.

I ended yesterday by saying, "the map is NOT the territory." What exactly does that mean? It means that a map of Texas is not Texas. It means that if you draw a mountain behind your house on a map, and you look out your back window, no mountain will have spontaneously formed. It also means that if the city bulldozes the mountain in front of your house, it won't vanish from your map until you get out the eraser. It means that your ideas about the universe are not actually the universe itself.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The map and the territory

There's a part of your brain that I want to talk about. Let's call it the "labeler". What does it do? Well, consider: your eyes are basically cameras, but when you look at something you see rocks, trees and flowers, not little blips of light. The labeler is the part of your brain that takes an image from your eyes and tell the rest of your brain, "there's a rock here, a tree there, that's a car..." In other words, it sees a rock-shaped and colored group of pixels and attaches the XML tag to the area.

The interesting thing (well, the one I want to talk about) is that the labeler works at different levels of abstraction. For example, if you see a hand, the labeler tells you, "There's a hand there!" But if you focus in on the hand, the labeler will tell you, "There's four fingers, a thumb, and a palm there!" If you focus in further, you'll see the outlines of veins and muscles, and perhaps some fingernails. So, depending on what you're paying attention to, the labeler will mark the same piece of reality (e.g., a hand) with different labels.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A letter from the past: snips

Another perhaps interesting post from my drafts folder. This one is a little rougher, looks like it contains the beginnings of a few different posts.

Let's move out for a broader view; I believe this is a specific instance of a trend across a section of Christianity: Calvinists classify other Christians as Arminians and say they miss the "clear" teaching of the bible; Premillineal dispensationalists find their version of the end-times to be "clear" in the bible; some Protestants vilify Catholics as rejecting the "clear" teaching of the bible, and some catholics return the favor; the "social gospel" is, among more conservative Christians, pretty universally derided as missing the point of the gospel; (Edit: it appears I never completed this thought.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A letter from the past: The little bits and pieces, or, Cognitive dissonance

I found the following in my drafts folder, and I thought it might be of interest. It was written probably two or three years ago. I never posted it because I never quite figured out what I wanted to say exactly, and I didn't want to offend people. I was a christian at the time, but am not now. Surprisingly, I still agree with most of it, except for a few sentences at the end which I crossed out.

A couple posts ago I said something about the little bits and pieces which my view consisted of changing in importance. I think it's worth talking about what those were, before they changed in importance, and after.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Explaining vs. Explaining away

I found myself wanting to link to to illustrate a point for a second time recently. There's nothing wrong with that post, but parts of it are hard to understand unless you've read enough of Yudkowsky's posts to grasp some of the terms he uses. So, this is a dumbed down version.

John Keats' Lamia reads, in part:
... Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine—-
Unweave a rainbow, ...

According to Keats, the "mere touch of cold philosophy" (aka the truth, aka science) can:
  • Remove ghosts from the air
  • Remove gnomes from the mines
  • Unweave rainbows

Well, actually...

If you know me, you already know this. But I thought I would post this here:

I am no longer a christian. The technical term is "agnostic atheist".

I feel like posting something

A post or two a decade is enough to keep readers interested, right? ... Right? Hello?