Author Archive

Measuring Emotions

2016-11-21 Comments off

The classic way to think about emotions is to ask things like whether you feel happy or sad, whether you’re anxious or excited, in awe or disappointed. But these reduce the complexity of how we experience emotion.

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The Reality of Mental Illness

2015-09-08 Comments off

A lot of psychology textbooks claim that people with mental illnesses and symptoms, such as delusions, panic attacks, hallucinations, or dissociation, do not know they’re having those symptoms. It’s said that those things feel entirely real to the person having them, that there is no way they can tell the difference between the “true perceptions” and the false symptoms.

Boiled down, it’s the idea that people who are “crazy” don’t know they’re “crazy”.

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2015-04-26 Comments off

We used to claim that various gods pushed the sun across the sky, that gods were the reason for storms and droughts, that gods or demons caused and healed all sickness. Using that reasoning as proof of the divine is called the “god of the gaps”. It inserts the supernatural as explanations for things we currently don’t understand.

The problem with that reasoning is that we merely need to figure out how a thing works. Voila, there was never a god in that gap, only lack of knowledge. Science has continually replaced that divinity with physical knowledge.

The way that this reasoning tries to say that there could be more beyond our understanding is backward: it looks inward for miracles, saying that all this complexity can’t be understood and must have an ultimate designer. That is easily proven false once we figure out the rules of nature. Rather, it should look at all the complexity of nature, and then say that, if all this exists, then surely there could be more out there.

Looking at things we don’t understand inspires wonder and mystique. I think that’s where the idea that such things must be powered by the divine comes from. Wondrous things tend to rouse our interest precisely because we don’t understand them. Those powerful feelings make you feel like what you’re looking at is incomprehensible. For a lot of people, it seems that incomprehensibility and awe are one and the same feeling; they can’t have one without the other.

If we then find an explanation, that incomprehensibility is destroyed; because we require wonder to be incomprehensible, that explanation also destroys the wonder. Being given an explanation is often said to be “ruining” the experience, to be taking that wonder away. Think of someone who is no longer fascinated by magic tricks once they know how it works. That’s not truly wonder, though. That’s fascination and curiosity being mistaken for wonder. Wonder doesn’t die when you learn how a thing works, but curiosity and fascination do.

More plainly: All life and consciousness comes from nonlife–from inert, dead atoms. That’s not something we would predict. That doesn’t mean that something divine had to create it in order for it to exist; it means that we don’t understand this phenomenon. Because we don’t understand that, perhaps there is even more that we don’t understand, that we have yet to encounter. Perhaps there is such a thing as telepathy, as psychics; maybe there is a way to time travel, for the future to affect the past.

Based on what we know right now, those things don’t exist and can’t happen. What we know right now is what we must make our decisions with. We’d be paralyzed in indecision if we tried to account for all the infinite possibilities. Realistically, then, the supernatural does not exist. Fantastically, philosophically, it’s a possibility.

Pro-choice/Pro-life Identification

2015-02-13 Comments off

Lots of people will tell you that abortion should be legal, though they personally are pro-life. Logically, all of those people should be called pro-choice, but some of them will tell you no, they’re pro-life. The pro-choice side thinks that’s a contradiction, that people who identify this way just don’t understand what they’re talking about.

I think the difference here is due to how people are defining their views. Pro-choice people are making a purely legal decision. They’re not talking about their plans if they find themselves pregnant; they’re talking about what the laws should look like. Their label is about public policy, not a declaration of their personal moral code as the prolife can be.

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In Dog We Trust

2015-01-15 Comments off

Reason for the Season

2014-12-12 Comments off


You should be. (judgemental bug-eyed stare)
Update: Jesus now has a tumblr and a Facebook.

Welfare for Millionaires

2014-11-11 Comments off

The idea behind cutting corporate taxes during a recession is that the extra money would be reinvested, driving growth and thus hiring more people. That generates economic activity, creating jobs and breaking the recession. If the same business opportunities that exist normally still existed during a recession, this could work, but only if you also assume businesses are more interested in the public good than their own.

What’s missing during a recession is a basic driver of economic activity: demand. Demand drives profit, and that drives growth which means more people will be hired. A tax break increases profit, which ought to create jobs according the the previous logic. But not all profit is the same, even though “marginal differences” would count a tax break the same way it would count a sales revenue increase.

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