Back Once Again Into The Breach

Well, I’m back and I survived my first week of grad school. Mostly. Actually, I still have a final exam and two papers that are due in the next few weeks. The only reason I’m not working on those right now is because the final exam doesn’t go online until midnight tonight. As to why I’m not working on the papers, well . . . I don’t really have a good answer to that question, especially since I’m leaving for New York on Saturday and won’t be able to take my research materials with me.

Yeah, I really should start one of those papers. That, or prepare to take a stack of library books on the plane with me.

Don’t laugh, I might just do that.

I’ve spent the last week getting introduced to the world of graduate school and quite literally, almost every waking moment has been focused on the topics of libraries and information professionalism. You might wonder how this is different from a normal day for me, given my job. Basically, it’s different in that while I spend eight hours a day in a library, I spend considerably than that amount of time thinking about libraries. It sounds crazy, but you can’t really appreciate how much you don’t think about your job until you start a graduate school course dedicated to studying your job.

In the past week, I’ve read scholarly articles about my job. I’ve wandered the stacks of the university library for hours, digging up arcane research materials and taking notes. I’ve listened and discussed and argued about this or that, all in the name of libraries. It was quite an experience and although I spent much of the past week looking forward to being done, I’m actually missing it now that it’s over. There was a certain purity to my time and a focus that was refreshing. Of course, I still have the papers to write . . . and I can’t wait for those to be done. Stupid papers.

Do you want to know the weirdest thing about my first week in graduate school? You’re still reading, so I’ll assume you do. The weird thing is that this is the first time I’ve ever felt like a college student. I have my bachelor’s degree, in Creative Writing, of all things, which does indicate how much research I had to do (very little) but during my undergrad, college just felt like this thing. This seemingly infinite thing that was really just a continuation of the same thing I’d been doing since my memory began. It didn’t feel distinct or unique. Sure, there were differences; there was one class I showed up for all of five times and still aced, but overall, the general feeling was “more of the same.”

I’m not sure whether it was the rigor of the class compared to my undergrad, if it’s the fact that I paid for this first class out of pocket, or if I’m that much more mature now than I was three years ago when I graduated. Maybe it’s some combination. Maybe it’s all of the above.

What I do know is that I learned more than I expected in the past week and I enjoyed it a hell of a lot more than I anticipated.

Except for the goddamn papers. I still don’t want to write those.


I’m starting grad school today. I’m taking a week-long course that I’m told will consume the very essence of my being and the entirety of my focus. I may find the time to write a post or two, but most likely not. Thus, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from me again until July 31st.

Thanks for reading. See you at the end of the month, if not before.

Immortality At The Pull Of A Trigger

Quantum immortality is one of those ideas that’s managed to burrow its way into my thoughts and has remained there stubbornly every since. I’ll sometimes pick at it in my mind much like you might worry a loose tooth with your tongue. It’s an idea that balances just enough logic and insanity that I doubt I’ll ever come to a personal resolution.

I don’t have a science background myself, so I only really understand the basics of everything I’m talking about. To actually articulate what’s going on, you’d need somebody who can first explain quantum physics in a meaningful way; I chose to use a silly video, so there you go.

Here’s the short version, which is still several paragraphs long. We’re going to assume that quantum physics mean we don’t live in a universe but rather an infinite multiverse. In the multiverse, there are an infinite number of different versions of reality. There’s a reality where I ate breakfast this morning and one where I didn’t. There’s a reality where I’m actually named Zaphod Beeblebrox. There’s a reality where I’m a Republican. There are an infinite number of different versions of myself just as there are an infinite number of different versions of yourself. And those are just the small differences. There are versions where humanity didn’t exist, where Hitler won the war, where Coke comes in blue cans, and so on.

Infinity, man.

So, in this multiverse, there’s the current thread of experience that believes itself to be me. As far as I’m aware, I’m the only version of me that exists; I’m closed off from all the other infinite mes. The reason for this has to do with probability and the states of electrons, but I don’t have enough authority to articulate the specifics. Let’s just assume this is the way it is.

Each time a choice occurs, my personal thread of existence chooses one option and follows it. I am now living in the reality where I ate breakfast this morning. This means, however, that my action also spawned a new reality where I didn’t take that action. Thus, my thread of experience has fragmented and spawned new threads, one for each choice and each variable of my life. The number of variables is incomprehensibly large, but we’re talking about the infinite.

Quantum immortality is the idea that my thread of experience will shift accordingly to continue itself. Basically, whenever a variable occurs where one choice will lead to the termination of my experience thread, I will shift to the version of reality where that didn’t happen. In theory, I could test this very easily by putting a gun to my head and pulling the trigger. If quantum immortality is correct, I should experience a misfire every single time, no matter how statistically improbable. I should note, however, that the idea only guarantees that  I’ll survive; I could very easily survive the gunshot itself and be crippled without violating the principle idea. You can understand why I’m not eager to test it out.

There’s another reason why testing it out is unfeasible. Even if I do perform the experiment, I’ll now exist in a version of reality where I pulled the trigger fourteen times and survived unharmed. But each of those attempts will spawn more and more versions of reality where I pulled the trigger and died. Youthe observer, with your own thread of experience, will almost certainly not progress to the same version of reality I do. You will almost certainly be in a reality where I died, if not the first time then the second, third, or fourth time, and so on. It’s virtually impossible that you’ll end up in the same version of reality that I do, where I make it out alive.

Of course, there would be a version of you in the reality where I do live, and you’d be correspondingly impressed (and probably pissed about such a rash action). But that version of you wouldn’t be the you that is reading this article now, because each you has its own thread of experience that doesn’t overlap. You are thus almost certainly not the you in this hypothetical miraculous survival scenario. This explains why we don’t currently live in a universe where someone else has performed this experiment successfully. Anybody who does will almost certainly die from our perspective, because the experience of immortality is only true for the person pulling the trigger.

Since the idea is based on probability and your consciousness shifting to the variable that ensures its own continuation no matter how unlikely, I imagine you would still die of old age due to the fact that eventually, the probably of your survival becomes zero and there is no further version of reality for you to shift into.

Or maybe not; maybe you just shift into the version of reality where you miraculously discover the fountain of youth and keep on living. Who knows?


It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the mindset of an anti-vaccine believer. The only reason that seems logical to me is that the person who believes such has received bad information and is incapable of making an informed choice. But bad information should never be an acceptable excuse for cases like this; we live in an era where access to information is literally overflowing. The information is out there.

I’ve written a lot about diplomacy and the importance of maintaining a good political reputation when it comes to dealing with religious concerns as a nonreligious person. I want to mention this topic because I do not believe this desire confers a blanket pardon on all things a person might do in the name of religious tradition. There is a line and once that line has been crossed, I have no compunction against saying that certain beliefs, no matter its theological origin, are horrifying and intolerable.

Anti-vaccination is such a belief.

There was an essay I came across a while ago that made me both profoundly glad that I was born in a time where vaccines exist and profoundly sad for those who suffered these fates. From an essay by Elizabeth Moon:

Then came the vaccines—first the Salk, then then Sabin. Three shots for the Salk, one or two weeks apart: they lined us up in the halls of a school, and bang-bang-bang it was done. Then a year or two later, we had another series of three shots. By then, the outbreaks were noticeably smaller. In five years, hardly a new case—a new case was news.

That didn’t cure those who’d already had it. When I went off to college, I did some volunteer work in a children’s hospital. There was only one polio patient: one of the last cases, then a teenager, in an iron lung. By then there were no more specialty polio centers, no more polio wards, in which at least the inhabitants could talk to someone who understood. In a ward for children, where the other patients were kids who’d had some other treatable illness or injuries, there was his iron lung. He wanted no part of the cheerfulness we tried to bring to the ward.

And no wonder. Unless he could adapt to one of the smaller respiratory assists that came later, he was stuck for life in a huge, unwieldy, scary case…immobile, having to be tended by people who reached in through portholes on the side to clean him up, change his diaper…and who, increasingly, would not have a clue what his life was like because people like him were so few now. He could not see his body, engulfed in the machine that kept him alive. He could see only what was directly above him or reflected in the mirror over his head. None of the electronic aids for the disabled existed then…or for another decade or two.

There were, and are, more lethal diseases than polio: those with a higher mortality, and greater infectivity as well. But polio had a special horror to it.

If you want to know why vaccines exist . . . there’s your answer.

Those Left Behind

This weekend is a rough one for those geeks who didn’t manage to score ComiCon tickets. The Internet, so long a source of comfort and interest, instead becomes our tormentor as Twitter feeds fill up with snippets of “omg, so amazing, I just saw ___” and articles leak out with details of cool things to see, cool things to do, and cool things to come.

I’m surprised nobody ever uses this feeling for evangelizing. It seems to me a really effective way to convince geeks to join your religion would be to describe being left behind during the Rapture as “it’ll be just like all the times you couldn’t go to ComiCon.”

I’m not saying that this would work, of course, just that I’m surprised nobody has tried this tactic.

Shit, maybe I should delete this post. I don’t want to be responsible for a bunch of signs at next year’s ComiCon.

I can’t help but wonder about those people who bring the religious “hellfire and brimstone”  religious signs outside the San Diego convention center each year. My assumption is that this behavior is a natural reaction to any large crowd of people, much in the same way that ants are a reaction to an outdoor picnic.

Do they truly believe they’re going to reach anyone? Do they not realize that, from the perspective of our tribe, they exist only so that clever geeks might counter their religious tracts with witty retorts?

Religious Protesters at Comic-Con
I saw these guys last year, although I didn’t take this picture.

I really have to admire these guys. The geeks, I mean, not the original sign-holders. These guys are kind of like that person who manages the perfect sarcastic comment during a really shitty movie trailer that makes everybody in the theater laugh. They’re unsung heroes whose identities will never be known but whose deeds live on in our hearts and on our Internets.

Zodspeed, noble geeks. Zodspeed.

T.Rex: Return of the King

It’s no secret that I love dinosaurs. Like most kids, I could wrangle my mouth around a word like pachycephalosarus before I could spell my own name. I’m not sure whether my continuing love for the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods is because I’m still secretly eight years old in my soul or because dinosaurs are just really that awesome. I find that I don’t care what the reason is.

My favorite dinosaur is the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex. Admittedly, it’s a vanilla choice; it’s easily the most popular and well known dinosaur in the world. For a while in my teenage years, I flirted with lesser known tyrannosaurids like Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus, and Dilophosaurus. After passing through this phase of dinosaur hipster-ism, I returned to my first love and have remained an enthusiast of the Tyrannosaurus rex ever since. I’ll still rant about the Spinosaurus vs. Tyrannosaurus duel in Jurassic Park 3 if someone is unwise to mention it around me.

One of the longest running debates in paleontology is whether the T. rex was actually worthy of the name “tyrant king of lizards” or if it was really more akin to an overgrown, reptilian hyena. There’s a good summary of the feeding strategy arguments for T. rex over on Wikipedia and there is strong evidence for each side of the “scavenger vs. predator” debate. Ultimately, this has led most to concur that the T. rex took its food wherever it could find it, whether that meant killing other dinosaurs, stealing kills, or scavenging carrion. For most, the case has been closed, let’s talk about something else.

Despite the general consensus, there have been a few prominent hold-outs for the “T.rex was a scavenger” argument. Dr. Jack Horner is the most prominent one and if you’re familiar with the work of one modern paleontologist, it’s probably him. He was the consultant on the Jurassic Park movies and has been a prominent speaker in the arena of public opinion. To be fair, I don’t blame him for any of the historical inaccuracies of the movies; a consultant does not have the power of a director, after all, and Spielberg has never been shy about the fact that he makes films to entertain, not to teach.

The frilled, spitting dilophosarus was cool looking, even if it doomed us all to explaining to our friends and family that no, they didn’t really do that, for the rest of our lives.

Horner has been credited with keeping the T. rex scavenger theory going, although he’s never published a formal paper arguing the point. This theory has inevitably led to buzz-killing and downer articles with titles like T-rex’s Hunting Habits Disappoint Fans of Carnage and Was Tyrannosaurus Rex a Fearsome Predator or Just Another Scavenger? Nobody wants to see their champ get reduced to “just another scavenger.” Even if it’s true, it totally ruins the awesome story of a fearsome, bad-ass dinosaur tearing its way across the prehistoric food chain.

However, we now have compelling evidence that T. Rex was indeed a predator! From an article on IO9 (which is where I seem to get almost all of my cool shit these days):

But owing to a discovery made at a site in South Dakota by paleontologist David Burnham and his graduate student Robert DePalma, we now know that T-rex did indeed hunt its prey.

The scientists found a Tyrannosaurus rex tooth lodged in the tail vertebrae of a plant-eating hadrosaur (sometimes referred to as the “duck-billed dinosaur”). Moreover, their analysis of the fossil showed that there was fresh bone growth surrounding the tooth, an indication that the hadrosaur survived the attack.

Eh, so maybe our champ doesn’t have a perfect fighting record, but hey, the important thing is that the T. rex is back! The killing machine of our childhood dreams (and sometimes nightmares) actually matches reality. I always enjoy when reality obliges me by matching up with the cool story version that was in my head.

Not everybody is enthusiastic about this news, however. Dr. John Hutchinson has a few words on this subject:

The T. rex “predator vs. scavenger” so-called controversy has sadly distracted the public from vastly more important, real controversies in paleontology since it was most strongly voiced by Dr Jack Horner in the 1990s. I find this very unfortunate. It is not like scientists sit around scratching their heads in befuddlement over the question, or debate it endlessly in scientific meetings. Virtually any paleontologist who knows about the biology of extant meat-eaters and the fossil evidence of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs accepts that T. rex was both a predator and scavenger; it was a carnivore like virtually any other kind that has ever been known to exist.

Ouch. And, you know, on many points, I agree with him completely! For the paleontology community as a whole, the door was closed on this issue a long time ago; the fossil evidence suggested T. rex could do both hunting and scavenging and there was no reason to assume it only engaged in one type of feeding behavior. This particular issue is, if you’ll allow me to be hyperbolic, the dinosaur community’s “faked moon landing” controversy, in that the controversy doesn’t really exist except in the minds of those talking about the non-existent controversy.

But, man, there’s something in me that gets excited about this news anyway. I think it’s because, as a lay-person, I don’t have to deal with recurring misconceptions over and over again. I don’t have to continually point out there there is no controversy on the issue. If I did, I imagine I would get tired of it very quickly.

On the other hand, I’m not so quick to write this news off as irrelevant, because in my opinion, any news that gets people excited about dinosaurs is worth talking about. The worst thing that could happen to paleontology is if nobody cared, in my opinion, because if nobody cares, nobody is going to shelling out the funding for research on dinosaurs.

If you need an example of what waning public interest can do a field, compare the rate of space exploration during the Cold War vs. the last two decades. We were supposed to colonizing Pluto by now, not bitterly revoking its status as a planet.

Keep in mind that my perspective is informed by my employment in a public library system. This is the reason I place such a premium on the public interest, because for us, staying relevant in the public consciousness is the different between having a job and not having a job.

Even if it’s just one more bit of evidence in an already convincing body of work, there’s nothing bad about an announcement that gets people talking about dinosaurs. That’s a success, if only because a tiresome false controversy isn’t the worse thing; the worse thing is finding out that the public just doesn’t care.

Apathy might not be considered a destructive force of nature. Maybe it should be.

My “1984” Moment Of The Day

When life imitates fiction, I begin to worry. The fiction in question is one that should need no introduction: Orwell’s 1984. I reread it at the beginning of this year, so it’s still fresh on my mind, although I mostly consider whether Orwell’s dystopia is more or less likely than Huxley’s.

And then along comes this exchange:

Me: “So, you can tell from the email header that this is a phishing attempt. If this was the actual government agency they’re pretending to be, the email would end in .gov. This one is .com; that’s how you can tell it’s a fake.”

Person: “I already called their department and warned them they’ve been hacked.”

Me: “That’s not really what this is-”

Person: “It’s probably that Snowden character. He’s probably hacking us all from his secret base in Russia.”

Me: (after a long pause) “I’m reasonably certain that’s not true. For one thing, it would be difficult to obtain proper access while stranded in a Russian airport.”

Person: “Oh, he’s not stranded; he’s in league with Putin. And you just know that Putin is laughing at us all the way to the bank. Snowden’s given us all up to Putin. Why else did he run right to our enemies the first chance he got?”

Me: “Are we talking about Edward Snowden or Emmanuel Goldstein?”

Person: “What? Snowden. I don’t know the other guy. Is he a hacker too?”

Me: “I think we’re done here.”

Evangelical Personality Analysis

One of the tenets of Evangelicalism is handing people things. At least, that’s what I’ve been able to determine based on the number of things I’ve been handed over the years, many of them by Evangelicals. I don’t really mind this, except for a brief feeling of regret for the trees that died and whose deaths served no purpose. If you’re wondering, yes, I also think of the trees as I recycle the truly horrendous amount of junk mail I seem to get.

This particular Evangelical tract is a bit of folded cardstock made to look like a wallet. The inside flap has several juicy pretend offerings: a few $50 bills poke out of the top and we’ve also got some pretend guy’s three credit cards, driver’s license, social security and a few other cards I don’t recognize. If this was a real wallet and I was a bad person, I could go on quite the shopping spree, I imagine.

Insider the pretend wallet is a series of questions under the heading of “Personality Analysis.” I imagine the point is to make you consider your own personal level of avarice as you contemplate what you would do if this was a real wallet. Interestingly, there is no provided answer key or assessment for what your choices mean; it’s up to you to interpret them. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Here are the questions, along with my own personal interpretation of the answers:

1. If this was a real wallet, packed with real money, would you:
a. Keep it?
b. Take it to the police?
c. Give some of the money to the poor?

This question is interesting as it’s not quite obvious which answer the author of the tract considers to be the “right” one that a “good” person would choose. My answer is B, of course; the wallet is not my property and “finders-keepers” is not a moral justification. Nor is helping myself to a “finder’s fee.” If the owner is grateful enough to give me some money for my trouble, that is his or her choice. My moral obligation is to do my best to return this to the owner.

But what about poor people? The Bible is full of stories about giving money to poor people and how that’s a good thing to do. Perhaps by giving this person’s money to the poor, I’m doing the wallet’s owner a favor; he or she would likely spend this money on sinful things like alcohol and prostitutes. Clearly, if I was a good Evangelical, I should strongly consider C. But I’m not, so I won’t. The wallet goes to the police.

2. You have been underpaid for years. There’s a BIG mistake in your paycheck to your advantage, would you:
a. Tell the boss?
b. Keep quiet?
c. Give some to a church?

Again with the money questions! Unfortunately, this question is so far removed from real context that it is entirely meaningless. Have I literally been underpaid, as in my employer has been shorting me for years? If so, why haven’t I contacted Human Resources or Accounting if I work in some big organization, or quit and found another job if it’s my boss who is shorting me? Or reported him for criminal behavior, since it’s illegal to pay your employees less than they lawfully earn? How do I know the increase in pay is a mistake and not compensation for previous underpayment? In my case, I’d go with B, having come to the reasonable conclusion based on the premises that this is money I earned through my work.

I think if I was in good with God, or wanted to get in good with God, I would be obligated to go with C. I’m not sure what that actually does, though. It is an action that has no actual bearing on my moral choice to keep or return the money. How I choose to spend the money that comes into my possession doesn’t represent a mitigating factor i. e. it’s not as though keeping the extra money is immoral if I use it to buy food, but totally okay if I use give it to a church.

3. If telling a white lie would save a friend’s job, would you:
a. Tell the truth?
b. Act dumb?
C. Lie?

I’m going to assume by the reference to a “white lie” means that my friend hasn’t done something criminally negligent, such as caused a catastrophic meltdown and endangered the lives of other people. I’ll assume it’s something small, like maybe took an extra ten minutes on his lunch break or something even though the department has strict rules against this sort of behavior. Maybe he did something small, but it will earn him a third strike on his record.

My morality is such that loyalty to my friends and family is more important to me than simplistic admonishments such as “lying is always wrong!” The fact is, I’m going to do what I can to look out for the people around me. This, to me, is part of being a good person and a good friend. The only kind of person who would “tattle” is this case is a sanctimonious dick and not somebody I would want to be friends with.

Everybody needs a job. Everybody has bills to pay and many people have others depending on them to make a living. If my idiotically blind dedication to Truth caused my friend to lose his job which led to him being unable to provide for his family, how can that result possibly justify my actions? Hooray, I get to feel good about myself while another person now has to suffer and struggle.

But God would know! That’s the Evangelical response. God will know that I lied. By lying, I’m risking my own soul. I could go to Hell! All I can say to this is that if Heaven is filled with the people who chose Option A, Heaven is not the afterlife for me. It is not going to be filled with the sort of people I want to associate with: the sort of people who will sell out their friends for promise of a reward.

That’s what Heaven is. It’s not an indication of a true understanding of moral behavior. All that Heaven and Hell represent are extensions of the reward/punishment consideration. This is how children understand morality. You’re throwing your friend under the bus for a cosmic pat on the head and a cookie.

4. Do you consider yourself to be a “good” person?
a. Yes.
b. No.

Pretty straightforward. Yes, yes I do consider myself to be a good person. I use rationality to attempt to arrive at a moral understanding, which I then try to live my life by. I don’t always succeed, but I never stop trying to live up to my ideals.

I think that it is narrow-minded and insulting to suggest that I cannot understand morality without resorting to a higher power. Either moral actions are correct through their innate essence, which means it doesn’t matter how God feels about morality, or moral actions are only such because God said so, and thus morality is nothing more than a cosmic game of “might makes right” and is thus meaningless. Plato articulated this in 399 B.C.E. It’s amazing we’re still arguing about it.

5. Have you ever told a lie for any reason (including fibs and white lies — be honest)?
a. Yes.
b. No.

I love the little admonishment here to be honest on a question about lying. It’s just so mind-boggling silly that you have to reflect on it for a while. Why is it even here? Is there a person out there that is so self-deluded he was able to lie to himself about his lying until he was reminded to not lie? Seriously?

This is another one of those questions that’s silly, both because it implies that a person who lies ever for any reason is an evil person and because lying is part of human nature. Obviously, we should do our best not to lie . . . unless you have a really damn good reason. What are some good times to lie? Here is a brief field guide to appropriate lying:

  • When a Nazi storm trooper is asking you if you are hiding any Jewish refugees in your cellar (and you are), it is okay to lie.
  • If your friend is going to suffer unless you tell a white lie, it is okay to lie.

Basically, if telling the truth produces a worse result for another person, it is permissible to lie to help that person. Lying for your own personal gain is excluded from this permission.

6. Have you ever stolen something — irrespective of its value (listen to your conscience)?

Again, we have a warning against lying on this analysis, which is really cute. This question is interesting, because clearly, stealing is wrong . . . but what if you stole food for a starving child? What if you were starving? Would theft be wrong in that case? As I’ve never been reduced to such extreme measures, I’ve never felt the need to steal. This one is simple enough.

But wait! What about music? Have I stolen music? Well, that depends, too; what if there was a piece of music that I wanted to have and tried to pay for, only to find that it was not available through any legal means? What if I tried to pay for this music and found no way to get money to the creator, who had elected to not make this music commercially available? Am I justified in downloading it then without paying for it? Is that stealing?

7. Would you consider a person who admits that they are a liar and a thief, to be a “good” person?

Well, I’d expect an actual liar and thief to be dishonest about her lying and thieving, which seems to me a reason to never trust anybody who doesn’t admit to being a thief and a liar. Think about that for a moment.

8. Who do you think will enter Heaven?
a. Those who say they are good when they are not?
b. Liars and thieves?
c. Those who God has forgiven and cleansed of sin?

Oh, come on, now you’re not even trying to introduce some ambiguity. Unless these are the honest liars and thieves from the previous question we’re talking about here? The analysis does some heavily weight against lying in particular; perhaps a person who is honest about their lies will find that their honesty cancels out the lying? Maybe? No?

What if our liar lied to safeguard a family of runaway slaves as part of the Underground Railroad? Does she get to go to Heaven?

What if our thief stole critical information from a terrorist cell and used that information to prevent the deaths of hundreds? Does that outweigh the fact that he stole it?

There really are no other jokes to make about this question. It’s painfully obvious that I’m supposed to get here and think, oh, shits, I might be the kind of person that says that I’m a good person when I’m not. Uh oh.

Regardless of the obvious answer I’m supposed to pick, I think I’ve made a good case that B could be chosen in good conscience, with the caveat that these liars and thieves had good reasons for what they did.

But aren’t you just equivocating? Aren’t you just trying to muddy the waters with your words? The difference between good and evil is simple!

Except . . . it’s really not. If there’s one thing that is universal about morality, it is that it is not simple. Everything requires context. There are shades of grey. The real world is not so basic that it can be distilled down to a handful of quotes written in a book. Life is more complicated than that.

9. Do you realize that the Bible warns that thieves, liars, fornicators (those who have had sex out of marriage, idolaters (those who create a god to suit themselves), adulterers, and the covetous (the greedy) will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven?

No multiple choice for this one; either you realized the Bible said this or you did not. I think it’s funny that so many of these horrible descriptors have to do with sex; because it is, after all, humanity’s fault for having been created in such a state that sex feels really, really good and we feel a biological compunction to seek out sex. It certainly isn’t the fault of the creator who made us this way, even though a reasonable designer who didn’t want us having sex would have just written the sex drive out of the blueprint.

After all, you don’t blame the engineer who designs an engine that explodes every time you activate it, right? It’s not his fault. It’s your fault for turning the engine on. Clearly.

10. Did you also realize that the Bible says “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery for her in his heart?” On Judgement Day, God will bring to light, every secret thing, whether good or evil. When you stand before . . . wait, a minute, you’re not asking a question any more, now you’re just using this as a chance to preach! (Seriously, it goes on for the final fourth of the card in this sermon mode and then just ends without giving us any kind of interpretation of our results).

Again, no multiple choice for this one: you either realized this is what the Bible says or you didn’t. Interestingly, only he can commit adultery in his heart. The Bible makes no reference to what happens to her if she looks at him with lust for him. I guess that means God is okay with ladies getting lusty, if you know what I’m saying. Guys, sucks to be us, I guess.

Seriously, it’s illegal to even think lusty thoughts? Do you know how fucking hard it is to not think about something, especially after somebody tells you, hey, don’t think about that?




Hey, what are you thinking about? Is it elephants?

How about now?

Sucks to be you, I guess. You failed and thought about elephants. Off to Hell with you!

Seriously, it seems to me that if you want people to not think about something, you shouldn’t arrange things so that trying not to think about something is literally impossible.

That concludes our Evangelical Personality Analysis. My interpretation of the results is that I would make a very bad Evangelical.

Also, I’m probably going to Hell. Alas.

Thoughts On Enhanced Intelligence

I saw this article on IO9 asking if artificially enhanced human intelligence might not be as beneficial as we might imagine. The fact that I saw this on IO9 kept me from dismissing it as typical Luddite fear-mongering; their tagline, after all, is “we come from the future.” If anybody on the Internet is pro-future, it’s these guys.

Well, these guys and countless other trans-humanist blogs, tech sites, and other groups. Technologically interested people on the Internet? You don’t say! Anyway.

My position going into the article was firmly in the “pro-enhancement” camp. Intelligence is the defining characteristic of our species. Technological progress has made life better for most people. It stands to reason that more intelligence will lead to more technology which will lead to better lives.

However, I’m no longer quite as certain about this position as I was before. The article points out a few things that I, like many others, often take for granted:

We value smartness, no doubt about it. No one likes to be called stupid, especially in the sci-tech-saturated world we live in. High intelligence, goes the argument, is what’s needed for success in this society, a trait that trumps physical strength, the conviction to succeed, and even a solid education.

But as Walker told me, this is an intelligence bias, one that’s twofold. There’s the emphasis towards intelligence itself, and then there’s the bias towards certain kinds of intelligence — namely “IQ-type” intelligence, or what Changizi calls chess-and-brain-teaser-like intelligence.

It’s a good point. You don’t often hear discussion of intelligence-enhancement of things like social intelligence or emotional intelligence; it’s always the brain-puzzle stuff, the stereotypical “nerd” stuff.

I really like Changizi’s version of what he views as the optimal vision for an enhanced intelligence in humans:

“Well, there’s my own Human 3.0 view, in which I make the case that any enhancements that truly take off will be ones that closely harness our brains’ natural instincts — that’s the only way to coax the brain to do new things brilliantly — and in this sense I deem even writing, speech and music as “enhancements”.

This is a perspective I’ve never considered before and it’s something that, in retrospect, reveals that I’m fully guilty of falling into the “fetishization” of intelligence, valuing only outcomes like higher IQs and the ability to crunch numbers in one’s head.

This is strange, because in truth, I’m incredibly weak in math and similar disciplines; one of the reasons I focused so heavily on writing throughout my education. You’d think I would be the first to point out that intelligence is more than just IQ. Maybe I focused on those goals hoping there would one day be technology that would help me understand trig.

I’m glad that this is a discussion. I feel that my own perspective has been broadened and I very much agree with the vision of intelligence-enhancement will mirror our own natural biological processes and improve upon them.

Although it’s not mentioned in the article, I believe enhancement with the goal of preventing neurological decay (such as what happens to the brain through natural aging) would be a worthy goal.

Interesting stuff. I’m still very interested in trans-humanism and its goals and I’m glad to see there is nuanced discussion happening about them. That bodes well for the future, in my opinion.

Thinking About Fermi

I’ve been thinking about the Fermi Paradox lately. Here’s the short version, if you didn’t click the link to do the background reading:

According to this line of thinking, the Earth should have already been colonized, or at least visited. But no convincing evidence of this exists. Furthermore, no confirmed signs of intelligence elsewhere have been spotted, either in our galaxy or the more than 80 billion other galaxies of the observable universe. Hence Fermi’s question, “Where is everybody?

There are a lot of possible answers to this question, some of which are more compelling to me than others. One possibility is that there’s nobody else out there, but that seems unlikely. Current evidence suggests that planets like our own are not rare; odds are good there are enough candidates out there for life.

Although it’s not the most logically compelling argument, I admit to liking the idea that we will be the first ones to the stars and that we’ll be the first to visit other worlds and other species. We haven’t heard from aliens because we’ll be the first to discover them.

A lot of speculation has been made about ancient astronauts visiting our world and guiding our technological development, but I’ve always found this idea somewhat disappointing; it strikes me as something of an insult to suggest that we couldn’t have figured out any of this shit without help from a higher power.

My admittedly flimsy justification for believing that humans might be the first intelligent species to arise in our galaxy comes from the apparent frequency of extinction events; we’ve had more than our fair share and if they’re common enough, they could explain why the clock has been reset on intelligence enough times such that nobody has beat us to the punch. Of course, that line of thinking falls into the same trap as all speculation of this sort does; we cannot assume that the conditions we experienced in our planetary history are common. We need a larger sample size before we can draw any kind of inference.

Anyway, it’s an interest thing to kick around for a while if you don’t have anything more pressing on your mind and you’re able to assess the question of “where are the aliens” in a reasonable, non-conspiratorial manner. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts; I’d love to have a discussion about this.