Sunday, 6 June 2010

Sentences to Ponder

"Modern humans often prefer to believe that the activities which they most treasure have no evolutionary function – that they were accidents. This attitude helps them stay blind to those functions, awareness of which would make their treasured activities seem less noble."

Robin Hanson

Evolution can provide explanations for so much. But we shy away from applying it to the things that really matter to us; stories, art, friendship, love...

To move humanity forward, some people have to pay the price. Rationality itself is a version of the "crisis of the commons" where those who see rationally do not necessarily benefit in their lifetimes; they provide the tools for future generations to improve their well being.

Humanity reaps the reward for the few that carefully and truthfully consider the sowing of the seed.


Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Sentences to Ponder

Here's an interesting thought:

This is what makes me slightly cross; we have reasons to believe some of our mental faculties should have evolved to be truthful, such as aspects of vision, but there is no reason our moral feelings should have evolved to make us benefit others consistently, so it is dishonest of us to pretend that following them somehow will.

Katja Grace

Although there's a healthy dose of self awareness:
As a friend pointed out, I am hypocritically motivated by disgust at others’ hypocritical motivation by disgust.


Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Should You Convince People to Give Up Religion?

Early Sunday closing, over the course of its history, has presumably cost the economy untold (but quantifable) billions. A simple-minded (and yes, incorrect) estimate might be that we lose 1/7 of our GDP because we choose to shut down the economy for a day. This reduction of GDP will have led to a lower standard of living, which will presumably have resulted in a great deal of harm, including a fairly well defined number of deaths. Are there any other examples of easily measurable harm done by religion?

As a vocal athiest, I still struggle with the question of whether it's justifiable to claim that religion has been a net force for evil. Sure, religion is obviously incorrect, and that's why I don't believe in it, but I'd really like a more defensible reason for why it's the correct course of action to d-evangelise. Given humanities general lack of interest in truth, I don't see the fact that it's patently false as a knock-down argument; particularly if the person in question has built their life around their faith. Equally I don't see the converse as obvious, people don't simply have a right to be as stupid as they want, particularly when interacting with me (yep, that is referring to that).

Interestingly, the fact that I can ask such a question (whilst still being a vocal athiest) demonstrates that improving peoples life by converting them is not my primary objective. If pushed, I'd have to accept that this probably means that the debate over the reason for the existence of life - and the entire nature of the universe - is to give me the petty little opportunity to signal intellectual ability. Feel free to comment to get in on the self-aggrandising party.

[c/t andy]

EDIT: Just to be clear; I don't think this is the most important or valid criticism of religion. It's simply an effort to move the debate from unsupported assertions, that inevitably lead to circuitous arguments, to quantifiable numbers.


Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Ecology of war: statistical patterns of insurgency

I haven't posted on this blog for a while, but this paper inspired me to. These guys have managed to make a pretty good stab at understanding terrorist motives by simply analysing the casualty data from various wars. Here's the blurb:

Many seemingly random or chaotic human activities have been found to exhibit universal statistical patterns. Among these is human conflict: the size distribution of casualties aggregated over entire wars follows an approximate power-law distribution. But do the events within individual wars share any common patterns? Neil Johnson and colleagues show that they do. Using detailed data sets from a wide range of conflicts, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Colombia, they show that insurgent wars share common patterns with each other, and also with global terrorism. They explain the size and timing of violent events in terms of ecological interactions between human groups. Their model is consistent with recent hypotheses concerning insurgency and establishes a quantitative connection between insurgent warfare, terrorism and ecology. Similarities to financial market models point to a link between violent and non-violent human behaviour.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Science is Real...


Sure it's simple, but they get it...


Thursday, 10 September 2009

Lady in Red...

Red is the colour most associated, at least in Western cultures*, with power and dominance. Tiger Woods famously wears a red shirt for the last day of a major. Liverpool, Man Utd and Arsenal, the three teams who have dominated the Premier League/First Division in the post war period, all wear red. Most importantly England won the 1966 World Cup wearing red. But surely this is all just a complete coincidence?

Apparently not, according to the latest research. It seems that what colour someone is wearing can measurably influence what happens to them.

Under controlled conditions umpires scored close Taekwondo bouts in favour of the red competitor more often than the blue. Football teams wearing red won more often than would be expected. Women were hotter when they were wearing red.

Just stop and think for a moment how unbelievable that is. It's almost certain that olympic medals and league titles have been won and lost on the basis of a kit colour. Can you imagine a referee ever owning up to giving Man Utd (red) a penalty against Everton (blue) because he thinks red is a dominant colour?

So what's the lesson from this? This kind of research reinforces my understanding that so little of our actual motivations are consciously accessible. It means if we truly want to understand people we have to dig deeper than just what they tell us.

That, and always wear red to a date if you want to get treated right.

*[it'd be interesting to know if these finding are culturally robust]


Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Establishing a Framework...

To discuss the topics that we intend to on this blog we're necessarily straying into controversial territory. The problem is that, every time we have a discussion, we end up treading over the same territory with regards to the fundamentals of truth and science etc. That's why, rather than have the same discussion every time, I'm trying to build up a few posts that I can refer back to.