Critical thinking

Wireless Philosophy – An Introduction to Critical Thinking

Critical thinking

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a topic oft raised by members of the atheist community.  We often like to promote ourselves as ‘the rational ones’, and we often see atheists telling members of the theist community that they need to apply critical thinking to their beliefs.  How many atheists have actually studied critical thinking though?  While I do try my best to introduce my own original work in each Answers in Reason article that I post, I thought a nice change of pace, and an informative and useful change of pace, would be to share various YouTube, Blog, and Podcast series or shows that may help people learn a little more about various topics such as critical thinking, ethics, epistemology, and various other subjects included in philosophy.  As my first such share I introduce a YouTube channel called Wireless Philosophy, and their series on Critical Thinking.  The videos themselves are reasonably short, but packed full of information.  They are worth a watch, whether you are new to the topic of critical thinking or are already well-informed.

 

 

 




Life and Death

Life, purpose and dealing with death

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor life death

If you are reading this, you might be alive. You might be a computer program, simulating my life to me. We never know. To me, cogito ergo sum, to you, not so much. I think, therefore I am. But I don’t know that you think, so you might not be. This applies to our entire environment. And should it be true that our entire environment, the way we perceive others and the universe, be simulated, do we even classify as ‘alive’?

Because we are the rational human, homo sapiens, or at least because we can contemplate abstract principles, we can contemplate our lives. It is a blessing. It has made us able to build bridges and estimate their maximum carry weight beforehand, make increasingly complex buildings and objects and increasingly useful, safe and complex products. Our abstract mind is a great thing, which has enabled us to adapt like no other species before us; to the point of cultivating and maintaining our own ecosystem, the cityscape. But like many great things, it has its downsides. Because it enables us to contemplate our lives and objects around us, we can have fears. Fears of objects and/or concepts, people or death.

Especially this last one, the fear of death, is one that wreaks havoc, to this day, on human freedom. This is why I am writing this article; to clear up misconceptions around the concepts of life and death. To do this, we will start by handling the presumed current affairs; life. We will look at how close we can come to getting to a purpose for being alive. After that, we will look at the question ‘what to do with life in the face of death?’, at the hand of a few examples, such as Abortion, Euthanasia and Suicide and the Death Penalty.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor life

Life

Regardless the fact that most of us know intuitively how to separate life from non-life or death fairly flawlessly, there is quite some contention on what ‘life’ means. There are various definitions in contention. In the light of being inclusive, I will use the present biological definition: ‘an organismic state characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction’. It is important to note, that this definition is under contention, because some forms of plants, and animals -including humans with certain diseases-, though alive, show no reaction to stimuli. The same goes for reproduction; a dog that is neutered is nonetheless alive. Even while the dog is temporarily unconscious after getting neutered, he is not dead. So we have established that our definition is lacking. Therefore, I would ask the honored reader to attach this baggage to my starting definition, so that we may adequately and completely discuss the concept of life.

Valuing life

Many people say the value life, implying -purposefully or not- that they value life intrinsically. They have a good point in this. After all, it is a spectacular occurrence. The way each animal and human have their own goals, go on their own ways to survive is very impressive, as are the high trees. But, so too are the high, inanimate mountains and deep seas.

That being said, we don’t treat other lifeforms like we care about life itself, do we? If we set aside the fact that literally all of our food was once alive are killed for the express purpose of feeding us- we have no choice but to. But we cut up our house plants, squash bugs and hunt. These don’t really seem indicative of valuing life itself, do they? Moreover; when our home is infested with life, we call in an exterminator. So, at the most we can say that we “value life as long it conforms to the desires we have for it.” That is to say, that while we value life, we don’t necessarily consider life life when we want to make alterations to, or use of it. In cutting the plant, we don’t stop to think we are mutilating it. Yet, we are. In squashing the bug, we don’t stop to think we are ending a life. Yet, we are.

It is for this reason that I am convinced that, instead of life itself, we actually value awareness, or at least the potential of awareness. What do I mean with awareness, exactly? Awareness, as I mean to define it, is: “the state of being able to perceive, react upon and sensually experience one’s surroundings and to remember these experiences”. For a formal layout of the idea of awareness I am getting at, I will refer you to my earlier article; Cognicism; a secular moral system, I will here layout only the rudimentary case as it pertains to this article.

For any stimulus to have an effect on an organism, a certain processing of these stimuli should be present. If it isn’t, the stimulus wouldn’t have an effect, simply because the organism isn’t aware of the fact that a stimulus has occurred.

For any stimulus to an organism to have an effect on the moral status of the stimulus, there must be a certain processing of the stimulus so that the organism can take notice. This means that the organism shouldn’t only be able to process the stimulus, but it must be able to notice the results. If, for instance you hurt an animal, but it has no capacity for memory, it will have forgotten the pain right after the incident, leaving there be no pain.

In short, awareness is what we value about our own lives and the lives of others, because it is what we empathize with and what we base ourselves, our own actions and personality, on.

Purpose of life

Now that we established what it is that we value about life and about living creatures, it is time to start exploring what the purpose of life is. By ‘purpose of life’, I mean something similar to, yet completely different from the classic-theistic approach. The difference here, is mainly one of cause. In the classic-theistic sense, we typically start out (re-)affirming that we were made by god. (Re-)affirming of faith is significant, in this instance, as you can make the argument that purpose follows the intent of the creator, leading us to the conclusion that the purpose of life, is simply to live according to god’s plan, whatever that may be.

Let us stop for a minute, to acknowledge that; “to live according to god’s plan, whatever that may be.” It seems interesting, but is actually entirely vacuous. God is often silent, apart from the manual he left centuries, if not millennia ago. To make matters worse; most gods are omniscient and omnipotent, so you can’t not live according to god’s plan.

There’s not such an easy way out for us, here. If we want to get a satisfying answer, we’re going to have to look around. We do this by finding other things or beings in our environment that do have an established purpose. The first thing that comes to mind, are objects designed for use. They are designed for a certain use and they fulfill this use as a purpose. Knives and scissors, for instance, have the purpose of inflicting controlled damage on an object/individual, cars are meant to transport human beings and their belongings with a relatively high speed at a very specific location.

We can notice here, that purpose is a result of design. So, what does our design, or form, tell us about ourselves? A bit too much, I am afraid. We have a form that enables us to do almost everything. And it has enabled us to do everything we have done so far. But, does this mean that simply ‘being human’ is the purpose of human life? This does brush on what many non-religious people will give as an answer to the question. They will say: “to be” or “to live”. This is essentially a good answer. It takes into account all that we feel when trying to answer this question; the fact that there is no discernible god, the fact that no purpose is given beforehand and that we experience both good and bad things. But this fails to take into account that ‘being’ or ‘living’ itself has no purpose without an environment, so our purpose must have something to do with our environment. Not to mention that ‘living to live’ seems unsatisfying and circular, so we must keep on looking. If we take the car, mentioned above, we see a similar problem. A car, too, has many different functions and abilities. It typically has air conditioning, radio, mirrors etc. Yet, we do not consider the purpose of the car to be providing air conditioning, radio and reflections to be the purpose of the car. This is because we separate the primary functions from the secondary and tertiary functions; we only use these features when we are in the car, using it already. This, of course begs the question; how do we separate the different grades of functions.

I am convinced that we can find the answer to this question in the use of fuels. When we look at a car, we see that it has many functions, as laid out above.  But, we might also notice that uses the majority of the energy its fuel supplies in motion. When we consider humans, then, science tells us that 20-30% of our fuel is used to provide our brains with sufficient energy. Of this energy, most goes to recognizing, simulating and traversing our environment and surroundings. Thus, we have established our link to our surroundings. The rest of the energy that goes to our brains, that is not used for staying alive or knowing our surroundings, are used for contemplation of life or questions in life.

In conclusion, we can now show a hierarchy in purposes for life, which we can apply not only to human life, but to all forms of life:

  • To sustain life through procreation and nourishment
  • To experience life and the world
  • To contemplate life and the world

These all follow from our reasoning about awareness and function, in addition to having the neat attribute of connecting what we value about life with a sense of objective purpose.

This purpose to life is of course very universal and this probably makes it not very helpful in your day to day life. Alas, No one can be expected to craft you a personal purpose for life. But, the upside is that we are entirely free to shape our own personal purpose and legacy in this world. For me, I just try to spread compassion and understanding so that we might stop arguing. But you are free to do whatever you think best suits you.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor death

Death

All of this; life, our reasoning… our purpose… leads to the question of what we should do with life, considering death. The value of life and the inevitability of death combined, lead to a plethora of interesting dilemma’s. In this article, to avoid endlessly considering different kinds of medical dilemma’s, we will limit ourselves to the best known examples of these dilemma’s, known to be Abortion VS the right to life, Suicide VS Right/will to live, The death penalty VS the right to life and Euthanasia VS the sanctity of life.

Before we do this, however, let’s discuss the concept of death.

Death is, as we all know, the loss of life and/or the status of no longer being alive. Death is often considered an unpleasant or even scary subject to talk about, because we are confronted head-on that at a certain time, a certain day in the future, we too will die. This makes people anxious, because life is all we know. In this respect, death is the ‘great unknown’.

This also explains that many people, apart from being anxious about death, have an inexplicable fascination with it. Things that are unknown but (at the time) harmless, are very interesting. They challenge us to think outside the box, confront our fears and challenge our minds. It has done this to the point that we have significantly raised the age expectancy over just a few decades. But, alas, death remains inevitable.

Why exactly death is inevitable, or if it will in the far future remain to be, is unclear. But for the time being, it seems that we will all die. So why, if it is a fate we all share, are we so afraid of it?

One of the reasons, I have already mentioned, albeit briefly. “Death is the great unknown.” All we know, all we love, is in this life. Our stuff, our friends and family, but even the sun and the greater universe. These things make sense to us, give us a reason to get up in the morning. Parting with it, gives us a sense of alienation and insecurity. We are going into the unknown, and we never know what horrors or joys we might encounter.

A second reason is the process of dying. The fact that we will all die, doesn’t mean that the way we die is universal. Rather, there are quite different ways to die. We might die in our sleep, but we can also catch a piece of space junk on our head, and everything in between is a more or less viable way to die. So, too do the degrees of lain in this all vary. We might assume that we feel next to nothing when we die in our sleep, while when we die from a disease that slowly eats away at our body is likely near unbearable. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel; death in the sense of being dead and no longer feeling the pain of disease and existence. So, how do we handle this mixture of suffering and angst? Let’s examine this.

Abortion

Abortion is the first kind of death we might encounter in our lives. Namely, when we reside safely in our mother’s womb. Or well, in case of abortion, perhaps not so safely. Many atheists fight what they consider the good fight to legalize abortion, and are quite easily done with the topic after that. This I find regrettable, since many haven’t gotten their perceptions about life and death clearly in order and abortion is -in my opinion- one of the cornerstone-tools in finding clarity about life and death. Abortion is a good tool in this respect, because it contains elements not only of life and death, but personal bodily integrity, different facets of consciousness, legislation and autonomy. We find ourselves considering whether autonomy trumps the right to life or not. This is in and of itself a fascinating question, in which both sides have valid and good arguments.

For instance, the argument of deprival of choice for the fetus resonates with most people and initially rings true. A human baby and indeed a fetus, might not yet have the awareness to make this decision, but as I argued above, it is not so much ‘life’ or ‘awareness’ that we value, but the ‘potential for awareness’ and certainly a fetus has this potential.

However, it is only a potential for awareness (this will be further explained in the next section of this article). Up until a certain point, a developing baby isn’t conscious. This means that, though it is alive, it doesn’t know it’s alive. Because it isn’t aware that it’s alive, and abortion is a tough-to-grasp concept, it isn’t aware that there is a choice to be made, until long after the choice has been made, if it will ever be aware of the choice. Of course, this lack of awareness also impacts the moral status of the fetus; because it has little to no awareness, it has little to no ability to notice its environment, much less to interpret and remember any suffering inflicted upon it.

It may be noted that this argument does little to allow the removal of the fetus. The fact that committing an act leads to little to no damage, doesn’t mean you should commit it. If swatting a fly doesn’t do much damage, that doesn’t mean you should go out and kill every fly you encounter. In fact, depending on its location, this might be quite a dangerous undertaking. This is in effect the same when it comes to abortion, if you change ‘location’ to ‘state of development’ and ‘dangerous’ to ‘immoral’. At the stage of development (I say state of development instead of naming it, because this might shift) where we have significant reason to assume that the developing baby does have the ability to feel and remember joy or suffering, its moral status, and thus the moral status of abortion, change entirely. It is at that point, as we have clarified above, it becomes a creature that we have to morally account for beyond its potential for awareness.

The argument about the sanctity of life is also one that resonates. After all, we are here because life exists and removing the special ‘sacred’ status, might expose it to danger by ruthless treatment. The facts that our planet has life is barely short of miraculous and that we, as diverse life, sustain each other significantly on most every level, make life one of the most praiseworthy things. However, this only means that the preservation of life as a whole should be morally accounted for. This doesn’t mean every individual is worthy of such consideration. We can value the machine without valuing every part. And we seem to know this intuitively, as most of us eat animals.

But, at the end of things, abortion will always be a weighing of the values attached to the potential for awareness of the fetus versus the bodily autonomy of the woman in question. It will come as no surprise, that I find the ready awareness of the woman to be of higher moral status than the not-yet-existent awareness of the developing child. And as the woman’s awareness and experience of life are inseparably connected to her bodily autonomy, we must conclude that she is entitled to make such a decision in her best judgments

Suicide and Euthanasia

Sooner or later, most of us will confront ourselves with a great question, that might have even greater consequences. “Should I just end it all?” The brunt of people who entertain this thought don’t seriously intend to do so and a greater number refrains from both suicide and euthanasia. But some people do commit suicide, and it’s understandable. We have never chosen to live and should we have had the choice before conception or birth, many of us might well have refused the offer. Living hurts. We might get hurt ourselves or be hurt by others, there’s wars, famine, slavery and disease. Not to even talk about the troubles money and love may cause. And because we have the power of contemplation, we might estimate the impact of these troubles in our life. They can seem insurmountable and sometimes, they are.

When troubles are severe and insurmountable, by which I mean that they cause great suffering that shows no reasonable sign of halting, suicide or euthanasia might be a viable option. However, aside from abstractly thinking, we are also an emotional species. This leads us to often make our problems seem bigger than they are. This is why, before one goes through with suicide or euthanasia, they ought to be sure they have sufficient reason to. After all, it is a hefty trade. We leave behind all we know and all we love. Everything that we can be sure of, and trade it for something we can’t be sure of. We can’t be sure about how it is to lose awareness permanently. In this sense, suicide and euthanasia are like making an all-in wager at an international casino; you cash in your chips, but you don’t know in which currency they’ll pay you back.

We should thus conclude that both suicide and euthanasia should be acts that are only committed after lengthy and intense reflection as well as seeking psychological or otherwise professional help. And when and if we reach the conclusion that they are the best course of action, our thoughts ought to immediately go out to those we have during our lives surrounded ourselves with; friends, family and other loved ones. The ways people get to know about a death can be of great influence on their life. To minimize their suffering, arrangements ought to be made to keep trauma at a minimum. In the case of euthanasia, this is often the case. People who apply for euthanasia often share their plans with their loved ones. Their deaths will be professionally assisted and the body equally professionally taken care of. In suicide, this is often not the case. It are often loved ones who find the body, in all kinds of compromising positions and conditions. This is why euthanasia ought to be available to everyone who has been deemed to have sufficient reason to want to give up life. These reasons can vary from being terminally ill and severely suffering, to just not wanting to live.

The Death Penalty

Of the many forms of death we humans can succumb to, the death penalty might well be the hardest to reach a definitive conclusion on. This is in part because we hear a lot about the death penalty in our daily lives. We hear about a murderer who killed one person getting the death sentence, while those who have killed entire families may get life in prison and the other way around. My opinion about the death penalty is an unpopular one, simply because I don’t explicitly side with one side or the other.

Let’s start by setting up a framework for this discussion.

The death penalty should be considered in a reasonable context. That is to say that subjects who undergo the death penalty ought to be rightfully convicted in a fair trial with sufficient evidence, of a crime that is proportional to the penalty. The desired amount of evidence ought to be left to be derived from what is scientifically acceptable to reach consensus, as science has proven to be the most trustworthy way to determine reality, and that proportionality ought to be established in all moral reasonableness. This in turn means that we use good reasoning to determine when someone is eligible for the death penalty. Certainly, we don’t want to hang people for throwing their cigarette on the ground.

If we consider the death penalty this way, we see that it is a very viable option. It becomes a viable option, if -rather than punishment- we see it as a means of increasing utility (utility, in philosophy, is the amount of ‘usefulness’ in a resulting situation, varying from the amount of options that result to the amount of happiness and/or contentment), as long as you do it humanely.

The first reason for this, I regret having to mention it, money. People who pose a danger to society and can’t be rehabilitated, will otherwise spend their lives in jail. Jails, which are either publicly owned, or publicly funded in most cases. This means tax dollars would be spent on a ‘hopeless matter’.

A second reason, is the criminal himself. Many who pose a danger to society, and can’t be reasonably rehabilitated, will otherwise spend their lives in jail, where they will have little meaning in their life and constant threat of violence. As long as they are executed humanely, it seems that at least a choice must be given to these people.

However, the above is almost never the case. Juries and judges get the assignment to establish ‘beyond the shadow of a doubt’ that the defendant did it, but estimations (since courts don’t usually entertain the possibility of innocence after the fact) range between 20-30% of people who were executed being innocent. So clearly, there was a shadow of doubt looming over the conviction. We see, in many countries, that dissidents are silenced using the death penalty and/or undue sentencing. In short, we “get the wrong guys” too often.

The implications are severe. When we kill the wrong person, we are slaying an innocent person. In doing this, our system itself commits murder. Now, depending on the legislation for when exactly someone becomes eligible for the death penalty, this may quickly mean that the system that enacts the death penalty must itself be charged with murder and sentenced accordingly. But this is not all. If we consider the murderer a danger to society, how do we treat the executioner, who by all means has killed at least one, but may very well have killed multiple people. Do we consider him a threat to society? at the very least, he has killed innocents, which means he directly participated in murder. At the very least he ought to be considered an accessory to murder. So do we sentence him? And what about the judges and/or juries? surely, they gave the order for the execution. Do we charge them with a criminal conspiracy?

Of course, this would be both ridiculous and untenable. So though the value of life is not to be too highly estimated, we must also consider our state’s and nation’s practical moral implications. These show us that the death penalty isn’t the best course of action, though it has some very strong arguments in favor of it. These arguments, however, are insufficient when compared with the chance for committing a moral evil inadvertently. We must err on the side of life, rather than the side of death.

Natural Death

What then, do we do with natural death? Medical science has evolved rapidly over the course of the past 150 or so years. We have managed to -in large numbers- abandon the relative quackery of herbs and spices and get to pills, supplements, scans and vaccinations. this has allowed us to increase our lifespan significantly. However, the same can’t be said for our bodily health, which is collectively dropping. We eat a lot of strange, sweet and fatty foods, which makes our bodies ever fatter, our immune systems lacking.

It is truly a beautiful thing, what we have accomplished. I consider it a moral blessing that we have been able to elongate our most precious asset; awareness. This allows us to fulfill more of both our objective and our subjective, personal purposes. However, we must also acknowledge the fact that the age at which our body starts seriously deteriorating has largely remained that same, between the ages of 55 and 65. This is when many chronic disabilities and illnesses start to set in. Alzheimer’s becomes a real concern, but so do several forms of cancer, arthritis and sight-, hearing- and motion problems. These problems, though precautionary and preventative measures are in place and exceedingly prominent, persevere.

So what do we make of this? Firstly, we must understand that these problems, though life threatening, may be experienced as a threat to life. For many old people (especially those who have Alzheimer’s) any problem with the functions they used to have function as a premonition of their inevitable death. On the other hand, there are also older people who fare fairly well in these kinds of circumstances. Some, on the other hand, don’t very much mind, but would choose a younger body should they have the possibility. At any rate, getting older can be a serious burden, but it can also *just* be a burden. What we are effectively doing by elongating human life, is stretching this period of suffering and decline. This seems fairly damning at first hand, but we must also realize that, in saying this, it is the last of such periods a person will experience. In fact, from beginning to end, it might be their last experiences.

This makes the situation profoundly complicated, as on one hand, you would want to end the suffering, but doing that entails ending the awareness of the person suffering. The only reasonable option I see in this is to simply allow euthanasia for these people and keep on working on enhancing the medication we have available for these people, in whichever way that may come. In this way, we make it possible of those who are not ready to leave life to exit it with dignity, surrounded by the people they love or in any other way they see fit. On the other hand, we allow those who are not yet ready to leave life to continue going on, all the while reducing their suffering by introducing new ways to avoid, adapt to or numbing it.

Conclusion

What I have tried to argue in this text, is that though life is valuable in and of itself, we mustn’t apply that to every organism. The value of life is often made to out be sacred, while we all know -as I have shown- that life itself isn’t the quality from which we gather that position, but that it is rather awareness as seen in animals and humans. Taking this, I have shown you that an objective purpose can be found in life by investigating its forms and circumstances.

Using this, I have tried to show you how we can use the notion of life being less than sacred to actually reach conclusions that are very much in line with the intuitions many of us have when it comes to life and dealing with death, at the hand of Abortion, Suicide and euthanasia, the Death Penalty and Natural Death.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor the end




cofirmation bias conspiracy theorists fundamentalists and david wolfe

Confirmation Bias: Fanboys, Fundamentalists, Conspiracy Theorists and our Tribal Nature

Fanboys, Fundamentalists, and Conspiracy theorists are the prime users of Confirmation Bias.

In fact, everyone at some point has operated using confirmation bias based on their cognitive biases, but in most circumstances, you could drop them in to one of the above categories.

So let’s start with some definitions of the terminology shall we? We don’t want any Conflated or Misunderstood terms, do we?

Definitions

Fanboy/Fangirl

Someone who is obsessive, enthusiastic, and passionate over a topic/brand/toy etc. Generally, the thing the fan is obsessed with can do no wrong and are the best in their eyes, be they a fan of the PlayStation, DC comics, Star Trek, or Apple.

Fundamentalist

Usually applied to religious folk,  a “fanboy” of their faith. Essentially being a fundamentalist means they have a strict belief in a literal interpretation of their religious texts.

Conspiracy Theorist

A Conspiracy Theorist is a person who holds an idea that explains an event or situation as the result of a secret plan by usually powerful people or groups.

Confirmation Bias

The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. Essentially only listening to evidence/papers/ideas that back up ones preconceived notions.

Cognitive Bias

A cognitive bias is a mistake in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive process, often occurring as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information.

Cognitive Bias is perfectly natural and it would be almost impossible for humans to function if they had none in place. We would have to re-evaluate an analyse everything constantly. You know how you like your cup of tea, if you like it dark you will instantly assume a milky tea is disgusting. This is a cognitive bias. They are sometimes correct but can lead us down the wrong path.

For example assuming that because one person from one ethnicity did something bad to you in the past, that every person of that ethnicity would do it again. From here things like racism are born.

Conspiracy Theorists

The conspiracy theorist, as already described, holds an idea that explains an event as the result of a secret plan by powerful people.

Some current conspiracy theories (that won’t just go away)

  • Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone (or possibly at all). …
  • Princess Diana was killed on purpose. …
  • AIDS is a man-made disease. …
  • The government was involved in 9/11. …
  • Elvis never really left the building. …
  • The 1969 Apollo moon landing didn’t happen. …
  • A UFO crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. …
  • Global warming is a hoax.
  • Shakespeare didn’t write all those plays.
  • Reptilian humanoids control all of us.

Consider how many of those seem ridiculous to you, now consider that the others might be just as ridiculous.

The issue with a conspiracy theorist is that their confirmation bias is so intertwined with mental loops and circular reason that you can NEVER get through to them. Any evidence, anecdotes, or hearsay that backs up their claim is evidence they are right. Any evidence to the contrary is clearly falsely placed by “the man” or “them”. It is an endless loop of confirming ones own bias and rejecting everything else.

The most dangerous current conspiracy theorist (at least in my opinion) is the Antivaxxer. Someone who is against vaccines saying they are dangerous and no one should use them.

This has lead to preventable diseases spreading, and in fact those that had all but been eliminated returning with a vengeance.

David Wolfe

Alternative Scientist David Wolfe Confirmation Bias
I recently had a conversation with David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe. I imagine the Avocado is linked to it being a “superfood” and how he goes on about the Nutribullet (which does happen to be quite a good juicer if that’s what you’re into, but I digress).

I knew David to be a bit of a new age hippy spreading peace and love. I thought him harmless till a last year I noticed him on the Antivax band wagon.

Then on Twitter I see him going on about the earth being flat. Outside of fundamentalist Christian and Muslims I had not heard of anyone thinking the earth is genuinely flat. At least not in modern culture.

I contested both his ‘Anti Vaccination’ and ‘Flat Earth’ stance. He quickly became irate throwing out insults, unable to answer most of my questions like “how thick is this flat earth” and made up terms like “Scientism” calling it a religion.

Essentially a conversation transpired that the earth is flat, we are being lied to about it because they are hiding land in/over Antarctica, and the earth is also hollow filled with giants and Germans. How the earth could both be hollow AND flat, how deep it was, what happens when one reaches the edge, how no one had seen this during expeditions… all unanswered.

Here are a few examples of the conversations I had with David Wolfe.

Eventually he stopped responding because he couldn’t answer my questions. I tried for a while to reengage him but didn’t have any luck.  He didn’t support his claims, and when questioned either insulted or ignored.

Although a few days ago I did get this response from him:

And again no further response. Perhaps my misspelling of believe annoyed him. Or perhaps the fact I actually provided ways to prove the flat earth myth is false scared him off.

Here are some links to them on twitter:
Flat Hollow Earth: https://twitter.com/answersinreason/status/798825019396587521
Fake Science: https://twitter.com/DavidWolfe/status/824414274374291456
ISS is fake: https://twitter.com/answersinreason/status/798880354237083648
Or in fact here are my tweets to him: https://twitter.com/search?q=from%3Aanswersinreason%20to%3Adavidwolfe%20&src=typd
Or his to me: https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&q=from%3ADavidwolfe%20to%3Aanswersinreason&src=typd

The interesting thing with the conspiracy theorist is, other than the fact they are more likely to believe in a multitude of conspiracies, is that occasionally they will have one they find ridiculous. “That’s not possible and there is no supporting evidence” – when that happens my jaw drops. You can say “you understand that you think the same way about this conspiracy as others do yours. You don’t have any evidence either, just claims that “they” are out to get you” – but they don’t budge.

This happens with the religious too. How many religions believe their god is the true god and the other god claims are ridiculous? Yeah, most of them. Some are more accepting and just think your god is another aspect of theirs, but most have a “true god” “true religion” “everyone else is stupid” mentality.

Tactical Maneuvers

Mr Wolfe is either; a fantastic conman, or even scarier, truly believes what he is saying. Either way he generates money from selling his products and advertising on his site. Like him or not he is pretty successful, but how exactly does he do it?

I hypothesize he has a very particular formula that works really well for him.

  1. Normalisation – He posts some fantastic “positive vibe” memes.
  2. Sharing – Like a virus, his normalisation is shared on the web from those who like the positive messages.
  3. Trust – People start to trust him. There is a large number of people following and sharing his stuff. Friends you trust. Perhaps friends you think of as skeptical and science literate. You trust your friends, and your trust is passed on to Wolfe.
  4. Escalation – He then posts something slightly out there, perhaps about solar panels absorbing the sun’s energy.
    By this point, your brain has already built a cognitive bias. You find yourself agreeing without taking the time to think about it.
  5. Acceptance – Once you’re “in” to some of the minor pseudoscientific nonsense, it is easier to to buy in to the rest. Before you know it you’ll be engaging in the common vaccination arguments, flat earth nonsense, and all manner of fallacies.

Fundamentalists

Fundamentalists generally operate on confirmation bias and circular reasoning.

Religious fundamentalists tend to be literalists and inerrantists.

Literalist

Someone who believes their holy book is the literal word of their god

Inerrantist

Someone who believes their holy book is without error

Circular reasoning confirmation bias bibleThe above are quite circular. For example the Bible is the literal word of God. God is perfect, so the Bible is without error. We know the Bible is the word of God because it says so in the Bible and God is perfect so the Bible is without error.

That sort of logic is very frustrating, but is expected of many theists. They use the same sort of confirmation bias as conspiracy theorists. Anything that agrees with the Bible (or particular holy book) validates their claim and anything that disagrees can be rejected.

Claims, Evidence, and Primary Sources

There is a lack of understanding about claims and evidence.  The Bible is not the evidence. The Bible is the claim. The Bible, or at least some of its chapters, is/are the “Primary Source” of its information. When examining primary sources it is worth doing proper analysis.

For example Luke:

  1. Fails the time test – it is written after the fact.
  2. Fails the bias test – emotional involvement/desire to set up a faith.
  3. Passes the audience test – at least in the sense it probably wouldn’t be written differently for another audience.
  4. Fails the metaphor/symbolism test – it also contains reference to a Jewish prophesy.
  5. Fails evaluation – apart from failing 3/4 above it also fails to match up with any other historical documentation at the time. Check this expose on Jesus.

At best the Bible is a poor primary source. The Bible is mostly a secondary source.  If examined critically, without confirmation bias, you can see errors in the Bible. This doesn’t necessarily negate God’s existence but does cast doubt on the validity of the Bible. This is often why you find many theists reject any evidence that contradicts a biblical claim.

What would change your mind fudamentalist confirmation bias vs science

Fundamental atheism

Whilst atheism is not a religion; it is just the lack of belief in gods, there are many who take a very rigid or gnostic approach to every theistic claim. The atheist will take the approach that the theist is an idiot and wrong with whatever they are talking about. This is not the case at all. There are plenty of bright theists, and plenty of stupid atheists. Yes, I understand that in general theistic belief correlates with less intelligence, but to assume that every theist is stupid or wrong about everything just shows your own ignorance and stupidity.

Fanboys

It is so easy to become a “Fanboy/Fangirl”. All it takes is passion and bias. The first will be a cognitive bias (often wrapped in circular reasoning), eg “Apple phones are the best because they are made by Apple and Apple is the best”.

Any news that comes out that sheds positive light on your passion is a win. Every article where the “opponent” gets slammed is a win. Any article that poses any negativity about your passion is either false, a rare occasion, or not worthy of note.

I was an Android fanboy at one point. My fanboyism was actually born out of a hate for Apple fanboys. I was so sick of the attitude that “Apple is the best cos it’s Apple” – whilst the devices were well built I didn’t like how they operated. The way you were locked into their environment, the bloatware that is iTunes, the inability to just drag and drop music and have it playable… all things I didn’t like in the device and I saw most of the people who had them at the time had them more as fashion statements rather than actually having the savvy for a smart phone.

I found myself on a side, was very passionate, flamed those on the Apple side as “idiots” and other unnecessary insults. I was much younger at the time, less travelled, and far more arrogant.

Perhaps it is arrogance that is at the core of fanboyism and confirmation bias. I know best, therefore what I think is right, therefore anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot.

I grew up, I grew out of it. I am able to examine the positives and negatives of any device without the emotional angst. It taught me a lot. Not just about myself but about how people can be so blindsided by emotion. I’ve since tried to help people see when they are being biased but unfortunately it is a tangled web that one needs to want to untangle. I am still not a fan of Apple but I do see their merits, and they tend to have a fantastic build quality. They are right for some people, but not for me.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about fitness trackers.

We were in his car on the way to work with another friend and he mentioned wanting to get an Apple watch. I asked if it was primarily the fitness features or smart features he was after and he stated the fitness tracking.

I enquired as to if he had considered dedicated fitness trackers rather than an Apple watch. This simple statement started an argument. The driver is an Apple fan boy.

“Why would he want a different watch? The Apple watch is the best fitness tracker”

I enquired as to what he was basing that on, informed him the Apple Watch was more of a smart watch with fitness features and there were plenty of fitness trackers that would fit the bill.

I went on to explain all the research I did for my fitness tracker, how that there were some fitness trackers dedicated to specific activity, eg the Triathlon trackers focus on triathlon activity (running, swimming, and cycling) would be much better than an all round tracker. The reason I chose my Garmin Vivoactive HR is because I do a wide range of activity and one of the activities is swimming. There were not many all round trackers that did swimming, and less that did it well.

I explained the extensive research I did on it, noted its negatives like the poor sleep tracking and simple smart features, but based on all the reviews and features I found important it was right for me.

Unfortunately it descended in to him pretty much repetitively saying the Apple Watch is the best because it was Apple and they spend a lot of money making their devices the best. I stated that it was a fantastic smart watch but noted a few flaws with the smart features, e.g. inaccurate text to speech, all day heart rate, lack of GPS on gen 1, not transferring data to MyFitnessPal (but receiving it). We moved on to Gen 2 which is largely just a refinement with GPS, waterproofing and improved performance. If you think about how Apple release their phones the Apple watch 2 is the S version.

This fell on deaf ears. All he could hear me saying was “Apple is shit” – which was far from the truth. I had stated it was a good smart watch but was found wanting as a fitness tracker, just as dedicated fitness trackers with smart features are better at the fitness stuff. I said that people should examine their needs and look in to what suites their situation. A basic fitness tracker without swimming would be much much cheaper than an Apple watch, the fitness tracking would be better, and the battery would last much longer.

Eventually he said “Ugh lets end this, this is getting boring.” – I found that ironic as he was the one saying the same thing endlessly. Either “The Apple watch is the best” or “Everything I have read says the Apple watch is the best” – well yes, when you only look at Apple sites about Apple stuff it is going to say that…

But as you can see, when a cognitive bias is in place, reaffirmed with confirmation bias there is little you can do to sway the person. No matter how rationally you act, no matter how you admit the flaws of your point of view and acknowledge the benefits of their they wont shift in the slightest. They even take it as a personal attack, as my friend did. You could see how irate he was getting that I wasn’t saying it was the best.

You’ll also have to understand that this is my version of the story. Whilst I try to be as even and honest as I can there is every chance I am applying my own bias to this.

In a way, it is all fanboyism. Be it a fundamentalist fanboying over his inerrant faith, or a conspiracy theorist fanboying over his conspiracies. It is passion. Passion is great, but misguided passion can be dangerous, and at the very least leaves you ignorant.

I am prone to this kind of passion, so I have learned to be a bit more sceptical and fact check. I also lean on my critical friends to give me the appropriate kick when I need it. Unfortunately if you cannot let go of your ego, and be open to being wrong, you can’t grow as a person.

In fact when I say it is all fanboyism, a better way to describe it would be Tribalism.

Tribalism

Humans are prone to a tribalistic nature. It is how we survived the ages. We gathered together with those who were like us. Those that were different were often dangerous. This created an intrinsic xenophobia within us. “Those that are different to us are bad”.

You can see this anywhere you look too. Consider at school; how many were picked on for their music taste, hair cut, dress sense or sporting ability?
Look at the tribalistic nature of sports fans. Every team has a very “Us vs Them” attitude.
Look at religions, they are often opposed to each other, and most religions seem opposed to those without religion. There are still countries where atheism is illegal and punishable by death!
Gangs, politics, companies, brands and all the aforementioned are guilty of encouraging our inherent tribalistic behaviours.

There is no middle of the road!

Unfortunately those in a tribe, and of extreme point of view, don’t allow for people to have a middle of the road view.

I’m an analyst (and developer) by trade. I look at every situation and really struggle making decisions when I don’t have enough info, or can tell that there is lots of misinformation on both sides.

When it comes to politics I quite often protest vote (spoil my ballot) because I feel none of the candidates are up to the challenge. I want to be heard, but I want the system to change.

I also get pushed away by extreme points of view. You often see the various political tribes mocking the others. They don’t listen to each other, they don’t acknowledge the positives from each others parties. All that happens is insults and confirmation bias.

Unfortunately reasoning with an extremist is very difficult. The mentality is “If you are not with us, you are against us”. Whilst I understand this might have had an evolutionary benefit, it no longer fits in with our society.

I’ve spoken to some Republicans and questioned gun safety. I’ve said, “I think there should be more checks on people before they get their guns.” and in return have been called “A gun fearing libtard”. I actually quite like guns, I think they are cool, but I also think there are people that shouldn’t have them. They make killing too easy, too impersonal, and many are too unstable or vacant to handle the responsibility.

Similarly I have discussed employment with friends here in the UK. I’ve said the system should be changed to one that encourages people that can work, to work. That people should be helped find jobs rather than just filling in a piece of paper stating they have at the job centre. That even short term if the only thing available is a couple of days in Macdonalds the person should do it, the government makes up the deficit but they are contributing to society. That they and the job centre will still help them find appropriate work but it is a stop gap in the meantime.

Suddenly I am called a “Tory scumbag”. I have a family. If I lost my job, as much as I wouldn’t want to, I have no qualms taking a job that is “beneath” my technical expertise so that they, and I, can survive.

I don’t feel the system works. I know people that work the minimum they can because they earn more in benefit than they would if they had a full time job (at least until they had been in the job for a few years and earned the appropriate pay rises) and feel like “Why should I be miserable all week when I can work for two days and earn the same”.

I agree. Why should they? I am not saying to take away people’s benefit. There are many that need more benefit than they are getting, and there have been a few occasions where I have been out of work and was very grateful for the assistance. The point I was trying to get across is that there is a better way to go about unemployment. A way to encourage people to work. A way that people don’t feel like they are losing out by working. Perhaps this topic is moving too far from the point and I should expand on it in another article, or in our facebook debate group.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I just think we should look at doing things differently  because the current approaches don’t seem to work. Neither does the all or nothing attitude. In fact when I raise these points in might inspire a better idea from someone else. Some of my views might be considered conservative, others liberal, and for the most part they are somewhere in between because I think we should strive for balance.

From the couple of examples I provided above, you can see what I mean about tribal nature. The “With us or against us” mentality.

So what can we do to ascend the tribe?

Unfortunately very little. It seems that even when we try and break off and do something original, there will be some that follow and others that ostracise. Until we learn to accept people for their personality and actions instead of our cognitive bias and fear we can’t really move forward as a people.

The entire time one tribe is mocking another, no progress will be made. We need to do our best to be understanding, patient, and empathetic. Acknowledge positives in your “oppositions” point of view, and maybe they will soften. Perhaps they will see points from your side too. Instead of opponents maybe you will become friends that hold some different points of view instead of being the enemies you perceive each other to be now.

ALWAYS FACT CHECK

The last piece of advice can give anyone is to fact check. Be it a meme, an article, and definitely anything that comes out of a politicians mouth.David Wolfe Confirmation Bias Solar Power

Always use multiple and reputable sources. .EDU links are generally quite reliable. Scientific articles with links to the peer reviewed studies are also a great resources. Don’t just accept any article claiming to be scientific. Fact check everything, even what we share.

Question too. I often see articles claiming X cures cancer. Ask them how. Ask them by what mechanism. Ask people what evidence they have to support their claim. If someone cannot provide any evidence then there is a good chance there isn’t any. Their claim is unsupported or baseless. Just like pretty much everything shared by David Wolfe.

sci-gasm podcast is not confirmation bias

^The Wolfe image above is a genuine quote from the longevity intensive. If you haven’t checked out the Sci-Gasm Podcast you should. It is brilliant.

Bonus Content

Whilst writing this article I shared a few of the images  of David Wolfe’s to our Facebook Page. The one that caught the most attention was the one about the ISS.

One of our fans took a picture of the ISS with his telescope. A Newtonian 200/1000 with DSLR mounted in prime focus.  He sent it to us and I got his permission to put it in the article because I wanted you all to see how easy it was to detect the ISS from earth.

He did say that there were many better amateur pictures out there that I should use but I wanted to use some content from our readers.

If you are interested in seeing the ISS for yourself check this article on how to spot the ISS. Let me know if you see any strings, balloons, or evidence it is a hologram!

The below Photo of the International Space Station taken from the space shuttle Endeavour on May 30, 2011. Image via NASA.
Also, notice the curvature of the earth!

Photo of the International Space Station taken from the space shuttle Endeavour on May 30, 2011. Image via NASA.

Read again?

If you wanted to read any of the sections again, or would like to link directly to them, then please use one of the links below:

Thank you for reading!




Sense

Presup: Sense and Reason, Part 1

ANSWERS IN REASONIntroduction

Most who have been involved in discussion and debate of the existence of God will, at some point, have come across the Presuppositionalist. Presuppositionalism proposes that we must presuppose the existence of God in order to make sense of the world, and other ideas such as God being necessary in order to make sense of and explain various parts of existence as well as existence itself. One of the most well-known proponents of Presup is the infamous Sye Ten Bruggate, who many may know from his debate with Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience.

Two prongs of argument that the presupper attempts are to insert doubt into whether or not we can trust our sense experiences, and our ability to reason. This will of course be a familiar thing to those with experience of Descarte’s work Meditations. The arguments used in presup are similar, and have their roots in, ‘Cartesion Doubt’ or ‘hyperbolic doubt’ as Descarte himself referred to it. In his work Descarte’s uses his famous ‘Evil Demon’ thought experiment to insert absolute doubt, and attempts to find a way to justify why his senses can be trusted. Descarte’s conclusion is that God gives us sufficient reason to justify trusting our senses and our ability to reason. But is God necessary to trust our senses and our reason? Must we presuppose God in order to make sense of it, and to have certainty that our senses and our reason can be trusted?

Doubting the SensesANSWERS IN REASONI

n Descarte’s Meditations he sets forth the challenge for himself to remove all those things that cast doubt upon knowledge, and start from a solid foundation. In amongst those things that he perceives to cast doubt upon knowledge are the senses. Arguing that sometimes the senses deceive us, and this gives us cause to doubt sense experiences. That the idea that we know that we are sometimes fooled is evidence that our senses cannot be trusted, and our senses may also be fooled all of the time. Going further to introduce the idea of the ‘Evil Demon’ thought experiment which asks us to imagine that our senses are completely controlled by a demon that fools us into thinking we are experiencing things we simply are not.

There are many rebuttals from many minds that go into detail with the problems of Descarte’s ‘Evil Demon’, just as there are with the similarly made ‘Brain in a Vat’ argument. Rebuttals that give us good reason to doubt the validity of the arguments. However, the presup rarely opens with an ‘Evil Demon’ or ‘Brain in a Vat’ argument. Instead they simply ask us whether or not we can trust our senses, in the hopes of leading to an argument in which we can use God and the Bible in order to ‘synchronise’ our senses; in this way we can know what we are experiencing is real, true and that we are not being deceived. So do we need to do this in order to know that our senses are not deceiving us all the time?

Trusting the Senses

ANSWERS IN REASON

The argument will usually be put forward in a similar manner to Descarte’s argument. We know that the senses sometimes fool us, so could it be possible that they are always fooling us? Must we mistrust our senses continually because there are times we cannot trust our senses?

The first problem with that argument and reason is that it simply does not follow. The conclusion does not follow on from the premise. For the very premise itself presupposes that sometimes our senses do not deceive us. The conclusion in an indirect manner is asking us to imagine if senses that are known to be right some of the time can be incorrect all of the time. It is similar to making an argument that states ‘the senses are sometimes right, so could it be possible that they are always wrong?’. It simply is not possible to get to the question logically from the premise put forward. This alone gives us good reason to reject the proposition made by the argument asking us to think our senses are always being deceived because they are sometimes being deceived.

Thinking of it in a similar manner to that of a forged bank-note (Blackburn, 1999). Does it make sense to say that as some bank notes are forged, so all bank notes may be forged? Of course it does not, for forged bank notes are copies of original bank notes. We cannot have a forgery without their being an original to copy, therefore the conclusion is nonsensical. Just as it is when we are asked to imagine that our senses are always being deceived because some of the time they are not being deceived. It simply is a nonsensical argument.

The Evil Demon

ANSWERS IN REASONThis of course is where the thought experiments of the ‘Evil Demon’ and the ‘Brain in a Vat’ style of argument may come in, and are often brought in. These experiments invite us to imagine a scenario in which it is plausible that our senses are being fooled all of the time. The ‘Evil Demon’ inviting us to imagine a demon powerful enough to control our senses all of the time, and the ‘Brain in a Vat’ inviting us to imagine a scenario where we are simply brains in jars, attached to a giant computer which sends us all of our sense experiences. A scenario is created wherein it becomes possible that all of our senses and perceptions are deceiving us all of the time. There are many rebuttals made against these arguments, and the problems with these arguments, however in this article the focus is not on rebutting these arguments but examining the claims made by the presuppositionalist.

Here the claim is that God can give us certainty that our senses are not being fooled all of the time. It is similar to the claim that Descartes uses in order to overcome his ‘Evil Demon’. That God is a good god, and a personal god, and an honest god, and would therefore not allow us to be fooled by an ‘Evil Demon’ as described. Does this give us certainty that our senses are not being fooled 100% of the time?

One of the problems with this claim is that if a being truly were attempting to ‘fool your senses’ in a completely immersive way, and trick you into staying in that truly immersed ‘tricking of the senses’, it would be logical for it to create a way to convince you that it is not possible that you are being fooled. To insert an idea that you cannot be fooled would be a way to keep you entirely and unquestioningly immersed in the fooling of your senses. An argument such as Descartes, that there exists a god that would ensure that you were never being fooled. The same holds true for the idea of the ‘Brain in a Vat’. Proposing a god does not give us certainty that we are not ‘Brains in a Vat’ for the very same reason.

Another problem with this argument is the ‘free will defence’ that many use. That God does not violate ‘free will’. It is the reason that God will not stop the rape of a child, or the murder of defenceless old woman, or the genocide of a group of people. It is also a similar reason to why God does not simply put an end to Satan. He has been given free rein in the material world, but will be reeled in come ‘Judgement Day’. If, as the argument concludes, God would inform us of any attempt to deceive our senses in the manner of the ‘Evil Demon’ or of the mad scientist with the ‘Brains in a Vat’, then it argues against the idea that God would not violate ‘free will’ and would argue against the idea that Satan cannot be dispatched by God and has free rein in this world.

To argue that God would inform us of our senses being perpetually deceived is to bring in an inconsistency, and a contradiction in the definition of God. There would then need to be ‘caveats’ introduced into the claim that God does not violate ‘free will’. It would also then need to be explained why God would deem it more necessary to stop us from having our senses deceived than it is to stop a young child from being tortured, abused, raped and/or killed. It would also have to be explained why God deems it necessary to calibrate our senses in this instance, but not in instances where the wrong religion is followed, or even not believed.

So the argument that God can give us certainty that what we are experiencing is absolutely real, and that without God we must doubt our senses 100% of the time, or that it is even possible to doubt our senses 100% of the time if the claim that sometimes our senses are wrong, is without substance. Upon closer examination of the arguments, they do not hold as strong of a case as the presupper may argue, or may indeed believe. However, do we really even need 100% certainty that our senses work 100% of the time in order to trust them?

Why Trust Our Senses Sometimes?

ANSWERS IN REASONIf we consider the idea of how evolution works, we consider the idea of natural selections; or the selection of traits that favour the survival of the species. Imagine for a moment that our senses were always unreliable in navigating the world. If our senses were always unreliable for navigating the world then would we, as a species, have survived long enough to order to escape becoming prey? Would we have been able to know that there was a predator near, and would we have been able to escape that predator?

It would seem incredibly unlikely that it would be the case. If our senses could not navigate us successfully through the world we would not have survived long enough in order to evolve into beings capable of building societies. If our senses could never be trusted we would never have created the societies we have created today, or the technology that we have created today. If our senses were useless to us then none would be able to read this argument. We would not have the capability to write things in a coherent fashion in languages that others can understand, and those who understand that language could read back in a way that shows that it is coherent and that our senses calibrate to the same sense experience.

The fact that we can check that our sense experiences are alike with another human, or a group of humans, gives us cause to trust our senses to some degree also. We can also make note of our experiences, and have them tested by others to see if those experiences line up. The more people who test to see if it lines up, and does line up with, the better of course. Which is the nature of the scientific method. It does not simply ‘trust the senses’, it does its best to ensure rigorous testing of the conclusions made from sense experience. It also uses methods beyond our senses, such as measuring equipment, and recording equipment, that work in different, and more finely tuned, ways to our senses. We are able to hear frequencies we otherwise would not, and view things in a spectrum of light we otherwise would not, and see things in detail we otherwise would not. It is the very reason that sometimes our senses deceive us that we create even more rigorous and stringent testing methods due to it. This enables to further and further test and refine our conclusions. Is a little bit of doubt about our findings, or our behaviour, or our beliefs, not a good thing?

References

Blackburn, S. (1999) Think, Oxford Press, Oxford.




"virtual particle

Could a “virtual particle chaos” explain the origin of the universe?

In preparing to write the Deplosion series, I wanted to give my ideas as deeply scientific a basis as I could. My formal university training was in Computing Science and then in Molecular Biology and Genetics, so I’m no cosmologist. But Cosmology and Quantum Physics have always been hobbies of mine (begin “geek” comments now) so I thought I’d do my best to make a plausible hypothesis.

I found two sources to be amazingly helpful in putting these ideas together. The first is Lawrence Krauss’ fascinating book, “A Universe From Nothing.” The second is Matt Strassler’s website “Of Particular Significance”, in particular his discussion of virtual particles (https://profmattstrassler.com/articles-and-posts/particle-physics-basics/virtual-particles-what-are-they/).

But rather than yammer on about how I see this, I’m going to let Darian Leigh describe “his” theory in this excerpt from “The Reality Thief”:

"virtual particle

The observable universe is 90 billions light years across and contains over 100 billion galaxies.

“Today, I want to talk about what the universe might have looked like in the beginning, the Universe before the Universe, if you will.

“Since we’re not all physicists here, I’d like to start out by talking about the Big Bang, and how cosmologists think the universe began. From there, we’ll move on to nothing. What do philosophers, theologians, and physicists mean by the word, nothing? I’ll warn you now it’s more complicated than you think.  Then things are going to get a little strange for a while. I’ll introduce you to what I think of as the ultimate bits of nothing, virtual particles; how physicists think about them; why we’re certain they exist, even though they can’t be directly observed; and why they’re so important. And that will bring us to my most recent theories, which attempt to answer some of the most interesting and fundamentally important questions in our era, questions such as: How could real particles and the physical universe evolve from the virtual particle chaos that preceded it? Where do the ‘laws of nature’ come from? And, how can we test and apply these ideas?

“Let’s begin with something you’ve probably heard. Scientists believe everything in the universe began in a sudden expansion called the Big Bang, around 13.8 billion years ago. So, why do we think everything came from a Big Bang, a moment of creation? It is still a relatively new idea. The ancient Greeks, for example, believed that the universe was static; it had always existed.”

Darian put up a slide of the familiar Milky Way galaxy shown as it was projected to look from hundreds of light years above its elliptical plane.

“Until the mid-1920s, astronomers thought our own Milky Way galaxy, with its hundred billion stars, comprised the entire, never-ending universe. Then in 1925, Edwin Hubble used a 100-inch telescope at the new Mount Wilson observatory to prove there were other galaxies outside ours. Suddenly the universe was a lot bigger and more interesting.”

The slide changed to a famous picture compiled by the Hubble telescope, showing the thousands of galaxies visible to it in what used to be thought of as an empty portion of the sky.

“Around the same time, a physicist, named George LeMaître, constructed a mathematical model based on Einstein’s theory of relativity. His model concluded that the universe was expanding from an initial Primeval Atom. But nobody believed him, not even Einstein. A few years later, Hubble showed that not only was the universe expanding, but the farther away from us a galaxy was, the faster it was moving away.

“Since then, we’ve looked at millions of galaxies, using far more powerful telescopes, like the orbital Hubble, the James Web, the Wukong 3, and they all confirm what Professor Hubble saw over a hundred years ago. When you rewind the motion of the fleeing galaxies, you can project that all matter must have, at one time, occupied the same point in space from which it expanded outward in a Big Bang.

“These calculations and observations put an end to the idea of a static universe. For a while, some people believed that perhaps the universe was oscillating through periods of expansion and contraction, eternally being re-created. But our best calculations today suggest this universe is going to go on expanding forever. There’s not enough matter for gravity to pull it all back together. There’s no contraction in our future and there probably wasn’t in our past, either.

“But not everyone has been satisfied to leave it at that. There’s a simple problem with the idea of a Big Bang: where did everything come from? If there was nothing here before that, what was it that exploded? What caused the expansion?

”Our best cosmological answer is still: nothing. However, the physicist’s definition of ‘nothing’ is quite different than the philosophical idea of nothing. And precisely defining ‘nothing’ in a way that satisfies everyone turns out to be exceedingly difficult, more difficult than one would imagine. Both sides agree that something can’t come from absolutely nothing. So how do you get around the problem that there is, obviously, something?

“Let’s look at the philosophical theologians’ perspective first. Christian ideas about creation, for example, along with those of many other religions, assert the existence of some deity, God, if you will, who is outside of time and space, who has always existed, and who created the universe from absolutely nothing.

Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling

Darian changed the slide from the image of thousands of distant galaxies to a picture of the famous Michelangelo paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, showing the Christian God in the act of Creation.

“Let’s think about that for a minute. Theologians say, ‘God is not made of anything.’ In other words, God is outside the universe of matter and energy, outside of space and time. Still, He is powerful enough to make something from nothing. But is this really nothing, even a philosophical nothing?

“As I see it, there are two possibilities that fit with this traditional religious model of creation. Either the universe was created as part of God, or there was something in existence, or potentially in existence, apart from God, before He supposedly created the universe from it.

“If the universe came from a part of God, and the universe is made from ‘something,’ then it seems logical to conclude that God is made, at least in part, of ‘something’ as well, especially if the universe is still a part of God. On the other hand, if God created the universe apart from Himself, then whatever He made it from was either ‘something’ or had the potential to become ‘something’.

“Some theologians speak of ‘an empty room,’ separate from God, with absolutely nothing in it. But ‘an empty room’ is a location, a space separate from God. So, that’s still ‘something,’ isn’t it? Either everything was God at the beginning, or there was something, maybe only an empty space, that wasn’t God. In the end, the Creationist idea of an omnipotent God creating the ‘something’ of the universe from ‘absolutely nothing’ fails logically.

“So, we’ve arrived at one conclusion. The argument that a Creator God existed before the universe is not substantially better than the Greek static model of the universe. The Greek model doesn’t fit our observations, while the Creationist model simply moves the static, eternal part into an adjacent universe, containing an intelligent, willful being. It does not say how this universe containing a purposeful, omnipotent God came about. Nor does it explain how or why a potential universe, a space adjacent but separate from the universe of God, an empty room—from which or where He created everything—could exist. It is illogical.

“What does physics have to say about all this? What kind of natural ‘nothing’ could have existed before the Big Bang, according to physics?”

The next slide was a pure black image.

“In quantum mechanics, ‘nothing’ is generally interpreted as space devoid of stuff, without matter or energy. The nothing of physics is not the same as the nothing of philosophy or religion, so physicists call it something different, a quantum vacuum. A quantum vacuum is empty of matter and energy, it contains no things. But it’s not completely empty; it’s full of virtual particles.

“Aha, you say, that’s still ‘something’! Well, yes, and no. Virtual particles are called ‘virtual’ because they’re not real. In a quantum vacuum, they’re as close to nothing as physicists can imagine. Virtual particles simply pop in and out of existence all the time.

unicorn“I know this sounds completely ridiculous and unreal to many of you. You’re thinking, he might as well say unicorn as virtual particle. It would make as much sense. An imaginary thing for an imaginary thing, right? What would that sound like? Unicorns come in balanced pairs: unicorns and anti-unicorns. One of the unicorn types can travel some distance for a very short time before recombining with an antiunicorn of the same type. When they combine they are both annihilated. This happens over such a short time and distance that unicorns can’t be observed. Nevertheless, unicorns have real effects that can be observed.

“Sounds silly, I agree. Except they’re not the same. Unlike unicorns, virtual particles are more than just an idea. How do we know that?

“We use virtual particles to explain such things as quantum tunneling. That’s a well-documented phenomenon where an electron can disappear from one side of an insulator and instantly reappear on the other side, in spite of the barrier. All of our modern electronics containing quantum dot, field effect transistors depend on this tunneling effect.

“Ordinary static electricity is a virtual particle phenomenon. It’s a field composed of the virtual particles emitted by moving electrons inside a charged material. Virtual particles allow us to calculate the exact wavelengths of light emitted by heating pure elements with astounding accuracy; within one part in a billion, or 0.0000001 percent. So we accept the virtual particle theory because it allows us to make the most accurate calculations in all of science.

“Now, many of you may have heard of the two kinds of real particles, fermions, and bosons. Fermions are particles such as quarks, electrons, or neutrinos. The bosons carry forces between the fermions. Bosons include photons, gluons, Higgs bosons, and so on. We can calculate how these real particles and the virtual particles are related.

MushroomCloud“Everyone remembers Einstein’s famous E=mc2, right? Energy equals mass times speed of light squared? An atomic explosion converts mass into energy. Most people don’t realize that Einstein’s equation works in the other direction, too. When you put enough energy in one place, that energy gets converted into mass.”
He displayed an image of the familiar mushroom cloud from an atomic explosion. That was shortly replaced by a strange-looking image full of weird blobs, representing the interactions between virtual particles and quarks inside a proton.

Virtual particles inside a proton

Virtual particles inside a proton

“The binding energy that ties virtual particles together inside a real particle makes up the majority of the mass of that real particle. Indeed, about seventy-percent of the mass of a proton comes from the energy created by the virtual particles bound together inside of it.

“Another way to think of real particles is as complete standing waves in the quantum field. What does that mean? Well, think of each real particle as a string that loops back on itself. The looped string represents a wave in the quantum field. If a wave is of the correct frequency, relative to the size of the loop, when it reaches the end of the loop, it starts all over again, creating what we call a standing wave in that loop. Kind of like when an audience at a football game performs a wave that goes all the way around the stadium, and starts over again. Real particles, standing waves in a loop, are stable.

Standing waves in loops

Standing waves in loops

Virtual particles, on the other hand, are just incomplete sections of a complete standing wave. They’re highly unstable, transient, and do not last long enough for us to even observe.

“We have recently shown that every known real sub-atomic particle can be modeled, not as a solid speck or ball, but as a boiling collection of randomly appearing and disappearing virtual particles that somehow manages to maintain a consistency of behavior in the aggregate, that is, in the collective whole.

“How do these chaotic, erratically behaved virtual particles—these incomplete waveforms—become nice, stable standing waves? The short answer is, through resonance. Two resonant—or compatible—waves on the same looped string reinforce each other. When they match the natural resonance of the string, they form a stable standing wave.

“So, imagine we have a partial wave in a quantum field, and it meets up with another partial wave of the same frequency. The second wave ‘completes’ part of the first wave. And, if you put enough of these resonant partial waves together, you create a full standing-wave pattern. And, bingo, the virtual turns into the real. The sections that overlap are redundant and fall out of the resulting real particle as excess binding energy.

“That makes reality, the universe as we know it, an emergent phenomenon of interacting virtual particles, of things that don’t really exist in a measurable way. Poetically speaking, one might say that the physical nothing of the quantum vacuum is filled with an infinite number of tiny bits of imagination, existing without dimension, for no time. That sounds like a whole lot of unicorns, I mean, ‘nothing’ to me.”

Very few laughed. An unusually high number stared back, stone-faced, uncomprehending, fidgety and silent. What, no laughs? C’mon, surely that line was funny. Wow, tough crowd—he thought, but it was more than that. There was a pervasive tension, a nervousness, building out there. Something’s up. He took a sip of water and returned to his lecture, uneasy.

“An entire universe filled with nothing but virtual particles would be very chaotic, yet it would appear completely empty to us. Virtual particles of all kinds would spontaneously appear, perhaps briefly interact with each other, and disappear. Most of these interactions would be extremely short-lived because the incomplete waves of one particle would likely not resonate with the incomplete waves of incompatible, neighboring virtual particles. Either the natural resonances, the type of the virtual particles, wouldn’t match or else they’d be too far out of phase.

“Now, at last, we come to the question that has motivated my research team: How could a universe full of these poorly behaved, chaotic virtual particles give birth to the well-behaved universe we see today, via the mechanism of the Big Bang? How can we conceive of a completely natural mechanism of real matter evolving by a kind of natural selection from virtual matter? Without the intervention or initiation of any intelligent creator. In other words, without God.

“The problem of spontaneous creation of a universe from nothing is not really a problem of the creation of energy and matter. As we’ve established, what we used to think of as nothing, is actually full of stuff. The quantum vacuum, deeper than the deepest vacuum in outer space, is crowded with energetic virtual particles.

The Big Bang

The Big Bang

“The problem is: in the universe before the Big Bang, these virtual particles had not yet evolved a consistent set of stable, well-behaved associations with each other. They existed, in a sense; they just didn’t exist stably.

“Our newest theory came from thinking about this problem. That led us to the next question, which led to the next, and so on. Questions like: How could these virtual particles that filled the great nothingness before the Big Bang achieve stable associations in an otherwise chaotic universe? How could stable virtual particle interactions spread from one pair to another?

“Our best theory is that an orderly universe would start to distill from this chaotic brew of virtual particles by resonance, as I’ve already described. By chance, out of the unfathomably huge numbers of different ill-defined interactions, some of these virtual particles found themselves adjacent to other virtual particles whose waveforms happened to resonate.

“A very rare, low-probability event would eventually place numerous virtual particles, each with sufficient overlapping chaotic oscillations to produce a complete resonance, adjacent to each other. Eventually, this would lead to a standing wave in the quantum field. Such standing waves would be the first real particles and would provide ‘little islands of stability’ in an essentially chaotic universe.

“The standing waves of these real particles would interact with the incomplete waves of nearby virtual particles. Our models show, after many, many interactions—too many to count—these interactions could eventually lead to larger stable domains in the otherwise chaotic universe. All of this would have taken place with ridiculously low probability. But before the Big Bang and the causality that we know and love today, even ridiculously low probability events were essentially guaranteed to happen eventually.

“These resonances formed the basis of the rules that determine how matter and energy interact, the laws of nature if you will. The laws evolved from these interactions; they were not designed or imposed by an external force. The resonances, leading to the ways in which particles formed and interacted, arose by chance from infinite possibilities. Now, the universe that was formed through this process, our universe, still shares the same space with infinitely many other possible virtual universes. However, these other possible virtual universes have been unable to form a stable set of interactions and become real.

“This is different from the so-called multiverse theory, which states every universe that can exist, does. That’s correct to a certain extent, but only our universe ever became real, that is to say, stable. All other possible universes remained virtual, never forming a stable relationship between enough of their member virtual particles to coalesce into reality. They’re all still out there, those many other possibilities, interacting, appearing, vanishing. Rather boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

Darian switched to a slide showing a traditional analog stopwatch with a ticking second hand. The image was overlaid with a large question mark.

“I’ve got another brain twister for you. Consider the ridiculously high—practically infinite—number of interactions that would have to take place, along with the ridiculously low probability of just the right bits coming together precisely when, where and how they needed to. Got that? Now, given all that, how long do you think it took for our universe to come together, to evolve naturally from chaos? Anyone want to venture a guess?” Darian looked around to see if there were any takers. The second hand moved on the overhead slide. He let them suffer for only a few seconds before jumping back in.

“No takers? Well, I don’t blame you; it was kind of a trick question. In a universe struggling to come into existence as I’ve described, the question, ‘how long’ is meaningless. There is no way to measure time before the first stable interactions were in place. The chaotic universe was eternal, lasting forever. Time was immeasurable as far back as one could possibly imagine. Without cause and effect, time has no direction. In such a universe of chaos, we can roughly define time as something like event opportunities. According to this definition, we can see there would be adequate time for a real universe to evolve. Event opportunities are essentially infinite.

“Another question we’ve been scratching our heads over is: How could that lead to the Big Bang?

“What we’ve come up with so far is this. While partial waveforms of virtual particles are easily able to share the same space, standing waves of identical real particles, particularly those we call fermions, are not. This is called the Pauli Exclusion Principle. Remember those little islands of stability I mentioned earlier? As more and more of those interacting domains of stability appeared, a sufficiently large nucleus accumulated.

“The effect those domains had on adjacent virtual particles through resonance became overwhelming. New real particles sprang into existence as the stable interactions started to spread outward, mediated by their resonance effect on adjacent virtual particles. The nucleus of real particles expanded faster than the speed of light because the resonant effect of virtual particles is not limited by the speed of real photons.

“Virtual particles coalescing into real particles in this way hate to occupy the same space. They rushed to get away from each other. This led to the release of a huge amount of energy, the culmination of which, we call the Big Bang. Although, I think it would be more accurate to say, the Big Bloom.

The Big Bloom

The Big Bloom

“Our universe blossomed out of the chaos, rather than exploded. A region of stable reality spread into the surrounding area where only non-coherent virtual particles had existed previously. I suspect the process is still ongoing at the edges of the real universe, which continues to expand into the infinite chaotic virtual universe faster than the speed of light.

“In this way, the ancient Greeks were right: our universe has existed forever. There was a universe of chaotic virtual matter going back forever before the Big Bang. That virtual matter is the source of our universe, and the stable interactions that evolved between coalescing virtual particles are what we think of as the laws of nature.

“I realize that what I’ve described to you sounds extraordinary, certainly less than obvious. Science is, above all, pragmatic. We can make up all the outlandish theories and hypotheses we like, but they can only become scientifically accepted after they are tested against the reality of the universe. Reality is always the final arbiter of truth.

“So how can we test these ideas I’ve described? How do we go from wild conjecture to scientifically sound knowledge? We can’t exactly go back 13.8 billion years into the past to test the origin of the universe, nor can we go trillions of years into the future to see how it all turns out.

“Now here’s where it gets really interesting. We believe we can develop a machine capable of generating complex fields that will increase and select interactions among other virtual particles. Particles other than the ones that led to real particles in our universe.” Darian noted a couple of dubious faces peering up at that comment.

“Once these virtual particles are coaxed into their own resonance, they will form tiny universes with their own natural laws, laws different from our own.” A few more furrowed brows appeared.

“We call these fields ‘Reality Assertion Fields’ because they assert a new set of natural laws on a region of space. It turns out that a Reality Assertion Field, or RAF, is surprisingly easy to generate. All we have to do is compute the shape of a field that will encourage the selection of these new resonances between adjacent virtual particles within the RAF.

“We can use any field, but electromagnetic fields are the easiest to generate. The hard part is computing the shape of the overlap of a large number of EM fields so we can encourage the specific resonances we desire among the various virtual particles in a portion of space. The math gets a little difficult, as you might imagine.”

That line drew an appreciative chuckle, at least from the physicists in the audience. Darian checked in with his lattice sub-routine again. No one, other than the Reverend LaMontagne and the strangely unremarkable man had raised any further alarms within his algorithm. He would keep an eye on those two during the Q&A session, which was only a minute away.

“My group is now in the process of building a very fast and powerful computer, and developing new types of mathematics, which we will use to calculate the fields required to generate a new RAF in a very small volume—about one hundred cubic centimeters—of a nearly perfect vacuum.

“Once completed, we will probe this region with a variety of tests to make sure that it has physical properties different from those specified by the laws of nature in our own universe. We expect to be able to demonstrate that our principles are correct within the next few months and, from there, I anticipate some very interesting new science unfolding.”

Among the sea of confused, bored, or frustrated faces looking back, Darian counted a disappointingly small number of individuals still exhibiting rapt attention. In his distraction, he failed to see the ire building in a number of the protestors seated in Theatre 3. Darian consulted his lattice. Thirty-five minutes! “I apologize for the lengthy lecture,” he offered, sheepishly. “It’s easier to explain with the math but, unfortunately, that makes it harder for most people to understand.” He nodded at Dr. Pratt to resume control of the meeting and stood off to the side.




Changing A Mind: Respect Matters


Changing a mind

Ridiculous beliefs deserve ridicule…”

Introduction

For those atheists that discuss and debate religion, we should ask ourselves what the purpose behind it is. Why do we do the things we do? For the Christian evangelist, or the Muslim performing Da’wah, this is a simple question to answer. They do it because they are attempting to spread their religion. They believe their way is the way, and their religion teaches them that they should be spreading the religion. What of the atheist though? We have no such doctrine, we have no doctrine at all. Yet it is common, especially in this modern era, to find atheists discussing and debating religion. So we should ask ourselves why we attempt to discuss religion with the believer. Is the purpose simply to mock those that do not think like us, or is the purpose something more?  Is the purpose to change minds?

Ridiculing the Believer

It is common to find atheists in debate groups, especially amongst those that act like echo chambers for atheist thought, using the phrase ‘ridiculous beliefs deserve ridicule’. There are many who seem to be content to insult and mock the believer, because they hold the idea that the theist has ridiculous beliefs. What of the theist though? There are many who hold the idea that the atheist has ridiculous beliefs. We often see attempts from various theists to mock the non-believer, not just the atheist but those that hold a different religion. So does their belief that others hold ridiculous beliefs entitle them to ridicule those beliefs, as the statement implies? The atheists who hold to this idea justify their actions by claims of atheism being logical, reasonable and rational. Yet the believer holds that their beliefs are these things too. Each group believes that they are the ones with the correct beliefs, the rational beliefs, the logical beliefs. What does ridicule achieve though?

Ridiculing can be used to bully people into conformity of course. Is that all we as atheists want though, for those that do not believe to simply conform to our ideas? How does that make us any different from those believers that simply want us to conform to their ideas? If our goal is to attempt to promote rationality, and reason, and logic, then surely we want more than simple conformity? Surely we should want more than to simply look good, or look clever, amongst our peers and those that are in our in-group?

Unless those are our goals then of course we should want more. In order to achieve more though we must understand what it takes to change a person’s mind. We also must understand why it is people believe in religion, beyond memes such as ‘too stupid to understand science’. We need to understand why people believe their God exists, and their religion, beyond the simple answer of indoctrination. One of my colleages here at Answers In Reason presented an article in to the science of belief which you can read here at your own leisure. We already face an uphill battle when it comes to the believer changing their mind, especially in cases of religions like Islam, in which it is taught that it is perfect and beyond reproach, and that it cannot be wrong. If our goal is to change their minds then we must understand at least the bare minimum of what it takes to change a mind, and the approaches necessary in order to change a mind. In this article we will attempt to discuss some of the various approaches and ideas put forward about ‘changing someone’s mind’. So, what does it take to change a person’s mind?

An Interest in What is Being Said

The first step towards the acquisition of knowledge of course is an interest in the topic at hand. If we are not interested in the topic then we will rarely seek out the knowledge. Sometimes it is curiosity, other times it is necessity, but it is usually some kind of interest that begins our journey. The reason behind our interest is often a factor in what information we seek out, or what information we accept, as well. If we are simply interested in debunking an idea, often we will seek out that particular information. The same is true of the opposite as well, we will seek the information that supports the idea that we are interested in. However, interest is only the beginning of the journey. It is what leads us to begin our acquisition of information and knowledge, and not the deciding factor on where and who we get our information from.

Changing a mind

A Little Bit of Respect

It is often respect that is a major contributing factor in who we listen to. For if we do not respect the person, or at the very least their grasp of the topic they are speaking on, then we will reject the information that they present us. We can often not respect the person giving us the information, but if we respect their authority on the subject then we will still listen to what that person has to say on the subject; even if we dismiss their opinions on other subjects. Showing us that respect has much to do with our ability to change another’s mind. Here is where the atheist faces something of a problem though. The knowledge we have is not something that most believers have a genuine interest in, most are not seeking to acquire knowledge of atheism but instead to convince the atheist that the position they hold is incorrect. They are seeking to convert, rather than be converted. They also do not have a respect for the average atheists authority on certain subjects. The authority that they respect as far as knowledge goes is their God, and their scriptures. Made even more difficult in cases such as Islam, in which it convinces the believer that the scripture cannot be wrong, and that the Muslim cannot be wrong if they are indeed following what is taught in the Qu’ran. It creates an almighty (pun intended!) bias in their thinking, one that is incredibly difficult to challenge.

It is not an impossible challenge though. What it means that what we must rely on is their respect for us as people, and as human beings. We could argue that it will never happen, this is true. After all, it is included in some scriptures that we are not to be respected. That we are only worthy of hell fire, that we are fools, and that the wise are the one’s that follow ‘the true religion’, which usually tends to be the one that the particular believer is a member of. However, this is not always the case. There are many that are willing to engage in dialogue and discussion, and there are many that treat those who believe differently with respect. So long as they are worthy of respect of course. They generally tend not to engage in discussion with those whose behaviour is bullying and insulting. They are indeed looking for reasonable discourse, just as many atheists are simply looking for reasonable discourse.

This is something that we should be using to our advantage. By creating and reinforcing slogans such as ‘ridiculous beliefs deserve ridicule’ we immediately alienate those we should be having reasonable discourse with. We earn no respect from those we should be seeking to gain the respect of when we lead with the idea that we will ridicule what they believe. Especially when we factor in some of the stereotypes and ideas that many believers already hold of the atheist.

internet atheistStereotyping of the Atheist

When we enter into a conversation with many believers, the non-believer is already confronted by certain prejudices and stereotypes. Ideas such as the angry atheist, or that atheists are arrogant, or are atheists simply because we do not want to behave, and much more. Many atheists will have come across this in some form at some point in their lives, especially if they are active in discussion and debate. We are also seen as irrational by many believers, as they believe that the rational conclusion is that God exists and to believe otherwise is irrational. The Bible claims that those who do not believe in God are fools, and the Qu’ran promotes the idea that we are less than cattle (cite sources).

This means that even before entering into a conversation with many believers they have a particular image of us. An image designed to impact the amount of respect that the believer has on first contact. In order to overcome this we must show that these stereotypes do not hold weight, and that what they believe, what they have been taught to believe, is a falsehood. That we are not angry, and arrogant, and foolish, and immoral, and less than animals. That we are indeed reasonable and rational people, and we are good people.

“I will never respect religion”

There will be those who will reply that they will never respect religion, or religious beliefs, or believers. However, this is not the point being made here. The point is not that we must respect these things, but instead that one of the key conditions to getting someone to listen to you is that they must respect you enough to actually listen to what is being said. If they do not respect a person enough to listen to them, then there is little chance that person will have the opportunity to get them to question their beliefs, or listen to their criticisms of their belief, or to listen to reasons why they do not hold the same belief. Therefore if the goal is these things, then the approach used must be considered.

Conclusion

This is not to say that all believers are approachable, or will listen, or will ever respect anyone that does not believe the same thing as they do. For these people clearly exist, and the atheist active in discussion and debate will have come across these people on a regular basis. These people may or may not be unreachable, however it should be considered that even the most ardent of believers in particular ideologies have changed their mind when they have come across people who had certain extant qualities that made them consider their beliefs.

However, to approach all believers as if they hold this mindset would be an error in judgement. For there are those that are willing to have polite discussions. There are also those that criticise others for similar reasons the atheist does, such as the exclusion and harassment of the LGBT+ community and the like. Just as the atheist community is diverse, and is made up of many different ideas and beliefs, so to is the theist community. Some are not of the Abrahamic faiths. These things should all be considered in our approach to discussion and debate and criticism. Just as we atheists are unfairly lumped together, or faulty conclusions are made based on faulty premises, we must also not make the same the mistake of theists.

If our goal is to get people to consider their beliefs carefully, or to understand our criticisms of their beliefs, or to listen to our questions, then our approach needs to be considered by each and every one of us. Our goals too need to be considered; and if our goal is the things that are mentioned here then one of the main factors in even getting close to them is that we must have a minimum amount of respect from those we are in discussion with, enough respect to actually get them to listen to us.




Honesty

Enjoy your life; Honesty

The ancient Greek philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca said; ‘Why weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.’ Though I do not agree with this particular quote, I must admit that the sentiment is useful. And when push comes to shove, that’s all that matters. In this piece, I will attempt to show you the use of honesty in leading an enjoyable life.

The point Seneca was most likely making, and was in fact moderately famous for making, was that most people have too high expectations for life, which inevitably leads them to become disappointed and view life more as a burden than a joy. We’re told as kids that we may be the next president, that we’re very smart, that we’re beautiful. In short, all children are told they are special in some grand way. Yet, most adults end up hopelessly mediocre.

So how do we combat this? How can we manage not only our own expectations, but also the expectations others have for us?

Honesty

The first and most important point of discussion, is honesty. Not just towards others, but towards yourself. If we are to manage expectations, we must first realize we have to keep them at an acceptable median; our goals must be realistic, our expectation of achieving a goal should be no less realistic.

self assessmentHow do we use honesty to manage our own expectations of ourselves?

I’d say the key part is self-reflection. Before you commit to completing a certain task at a certain level, you should look back at previous tasks that are somewhat alike and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I complete this task the last time?
  • How did I complete this task the last time?
  • (How) Can I improve the way I complete this task?
  • Do I feel up to completing this task?

This will give you a more accurate reading of your qualities in different situations and allow you to assess your relative success in a better, more structured and thus dependable way, and in turn sync your expectations with your own qualities and abilities.

How do we use honesty to manage expectations others have about us?

Simply tell them about the results of your own assessment as described above. It’s actually that simple; let them know your weaknesses and own up to them.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable toward others. A handful will indeed exploit your vulnerability, maybe even humiliate you, but most people will appreciate it and view you not as a vulnerable person, but as a person with strength and character. It takes some cojones to allow yourself to be vulnerable and most people can relate to that. More over, it is admirable.

But honesty to your fellow human being goes further than just telling people what you can and can’t do. It also exists out of being honest about your opinions, beliefs and desires. It also encompasses your fears, dislikes and history. All the above might lead to an extraordinarily vulnerable position within your social context. Of course, you might want to look out, because this might not be compatible with your specific situation. It seems, for instance, a bad idea to say you fear gunfire when you’re an army member. But aside from compatibility issues, it doesn’t hurt to be a bit more vulnerable.

And when you think about it, the fact that we are often taught to be invulnerable or less vulnerable, is counter-productive. It chips away at the honesty in society, which inevitably means trust becomes increasingly scarce, which leads to suspicion and lying to cover up ones shortcomings. Not only are suspicion and lies bad for business, it’s bad for your wellbeing, too. Having to juggle lies, checking up on every promise that has been made to you, it’s tiresome and takes valuable time better used for other purposes.

expectationsHow do we use honesty to manage our expectations of others?

We can use honesty in curtailing our expectations of others and conforming them to the realistic. In other words, by being honest about our own capabilities and our expectations of others, we can incentivize others to be equally honest about their capabilities. In this way, we avoid being disappointed and can better plan our actions ahead.

Another way to use honesty to the same ends, is to be honest about your doubts. If you think someone is less capable than they say they are, you can be honest about this and tell them (gently, preferably). This will often illicit a more or less hostile, apologetic reaction, and rightfully so, it is a statement that can be considered an attack on the other person’s capabilities, or more often an attack on the other person in general. After settling this argument a more comprehensive and certain assessment of capabilities might be made.

Other reasons for honesty

Through honesty, there is a lot more we can achieve than just expectation management. First off, an honest person is a reliable person. This is true not just factually, but also perceptively, and being perceived a reliable person can have a myriad of benefits for both your professional and social life; people might trust you more and give you chances more easily. Honesty is also perceived to be a virtue by many people in modern society. This makes honesty an admirable quality within society, contributing to being perceived to be a great, morally gifted individual.

It’s better than lying. The weird thing about lies, is that we have trouble maintaining them, coming up with them and keeping them apart. Yet, when asked, most people say they lie to get ‘an easy way out’. Out of what? Mostly responsibilities or unsatisfactory appointments. It’s simply time that we realize the ‘easy way out’ that lying seems to offer, isn’t so easy and is actually a great bother.

Last but not least, it’s just the right thing to do. You might remember one of my previous pieces, called cognicism; a secular moral system, in which I advocated that awareness should be the main factor in determining the morality behind a moral event. To be dishonest, is to allow another conscious (i.e. aware) person to function on the basis of misconceptions or delusions. The consequences of this vary, but generally do not exceed the consequences of acting based upon honesty and real information. A case can be made however for certain cases, in which it is reasonable to assume that a little “white”, if you will, lie can help someone to function better.

Summary

In this part of the series “Enjoy your life”, we have spoken about honesty. A number of ways to help you in your professional and social life have passed review and we have examined moral, practical and individual reasons to be honest, as well as examine the possibility to use honesty to curtail false or baseless expectations across the spectrum.




Just

Is God’s Punishment Just?

Answers in Reason

Introduction

A common claim heard from followers of both Christianity and Islam is that God, or Allah, is just. God is the ultimate judge of our affairs, punishing the wicked and rewarding the good; depending of course on how one chooses to use their free will. This leads to a contradiction between the concepts, and there are many Christian and Islamic apologetics written in an attempt to overcome this paradox. However, they tend to attempt to reconcile the two from the point of free will while ignoring a much greater flaw.  They overlook the claim that God is also all-powerful and if it did indeed create the universe than God must have “intelligently designed” the universe. So, baring these facts in mind as well, can God truly be just?

In order to determine whether God’s punishment is just, first we must look at a few of the characteristics attributed to God by both Christian and Islamic theology.  The first characteristic we must look at is that of God being “all-knowing”.  Exactly what does God being all-knowing mean?

All-Knowing and All-Powerful

According to Christian and Islamic theology, there is nothing that is unknown to God.  He has known all things at all times, and there has never been a time that God did not know all things.  Which means that there has never been a time that God did not know the future of our universe. Which means that he knew every evil deed committed by every single evil doer from the beginning of time.  In effect, from the moment of creation God knew every single genocide that would happen, he knew every war and killing that would happen in his name, every child that would be raped by a priest.  Every single evil thing you could think of, God knew these things would happen before he created the universe.

The more interesting thing to remember is that upon creating the universe, God knew every single moment that he would intervene and what the outcome of that intervention would be.  In other words, God already knew that he would have to flood the Earth, God knew that he would have to rain fire down on Sodom and Gomorrah, and he knew the reaction from every parent whose child he would have to take away as a test.

Which leads us on to an interesting question.  Could God have created the universe in such a way that these things did not have to happen?  Well according to Christian and Islamic theology, yes he could have.  According to Christian and Islamic theology God is all-powerful.  This means that there is nothing that is beyond God’s power.  So God could have created the universe in a different configuration; not only could he have created the universe in a different configuration but he would have known the future of each configuration.

In effect, God chose every single evil deed that has happened and that will happen.  He chose a particular configuration where particular people commit particular deeds.  To put it a different way, God chose which people he would punish and why he would punish them.

An Oft Overlooked Point

This is the point that Christian and Islamic apologetics tend to overlook.  They tend mostly to focus on correlating free will with an all-knowing god.  So does putting the two attributes together negate free will?

The answer to that is both yes and no.  Free will can still be possible, however, it means that God chose the universe in which the person made that particular choice at that particular time.  He could have created a universe where those events did not happen, or he could have chosen a universe where the person made a different choice.   In other words, God chose the universe where you picked that particular choice.

A Universal Computer Simulationpc-sim

Think of it similar to a simulation on a computer.  Think of running a simulator that calculates every single possible combinations of universes and events in those universes. This would allow us to both know the future, and allow for free will.  However, these universes don’t actually exist.  Now imagine that the user of the simulation then goes on to choose their favourite configuration, the one that they would most like to see happen.  The creator of the universe would still be all-knowing as far as the future goes, the being inside the universe would still have made a choice out of free will, however ultimately the choice was down to the creator of the universe.  This is exactly how it would be if God had created the universe.  This point can be further enforced by the claims by Christian and Islamic theology that God intelligently designed the universe.

god justGod’s Choice…

What both of these points mean is that while a person may have made a choice to commit a particular deed, the choice was ultimately God’s.  The only way that the choice could not have been God’s is if he could not have known the future of the universe.  However, according to Christian and Islamic theology God cannot know something now that he did not know at the beginning of universe.  Further proving the point that any deed committed in this universe, if it was indeed created by God, was ultimately God’s choice.

…Is It Just?

So the question that must be asked is whether or not it is just for God to punish someone for doing something that he had no real choice about doing?  Is it just for God to punish someone for doing something that, ultimately, God chose for them to do?

According to the dictionary the definition of just is “Based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair”.  Is it right and fair to punish someone for something that you forced them to do?
To put it another way, if a scientist created an android whose sole purpose was to attempt to kill that scientist, would it be right and fair to punish him for attempting to kill the scientist?

Conclusion

Any reasonable person would of course come to the conclusion that it would not be fair to punish that android for performing that deed, after all it was the scientist who ultimately made the choice.  The same logic then should be applied to God, meaning that the only logical and rational response to the question of “Is God’s punishment just?” is no, God’s punishment is not just.

Which means that either God does not exist, as a being with the attributes assigned to it by Christian and Islamic theology can not be all-knowing, all-powerful and just, or that the Bible nor the Qur’an are the word of god.




brain vat presuppositionalist

A Brain… In A Vat!

 

brain vatIntroduction

Most of us who are active in discussions about religion will have come across a presuppositionalist at some point. These of course are people who argue that we must ‘presuppose the existence of God’ in order for things to make sense, and that presupposing the existence of God answers many questions. Those who have experience will have heard many questions from them, one such being the age-old question ‘how do we know you’re not just a brain in a vat?’. This is a question that they argue only belief in God can answer, and only belief in God can assure us that we are not. Before getting into the topic, we should first begin with a simple run down of what the ‘brain in a vat’ argument is for those who are not versed in the argument. So what is the ‘brain in a vat’ argument?

A Brain… In A Vat!

The ‘brain in a vat’ argument is a relatively simple one, and is designed to question our grasp of reality and what we can know about it. It asks us to imagine that all the we see, hear, smell, feel and know isn’t actually the result of sensory information coming in from ‘reality’. Instead of our senses getting information from ‘reality’, our sensory information is being fed to us by a super-computer. One that an evil genius, mad scientist, or overlords have attached our brains to. In fact, that is all we are, we are not these bodies that we inhabit, but simply brains, in a vat, attached by electrodes to a computer that feeds us information through our senses and fools us into believing that this is reality (Dupre, 2007). This, in essence, is the relatively simple concept behind the ‘brain in a vat’ thought experiment. It is an exercise in scepticism, but scepticism taken to the extreme. A thought experiment designed to introduce doubt to all that we know; and it is this problem that presuppositionalists say that only belief in God can give us any kind of answer to.

Unplugging The Brain

However, the problem itself has one glaring problem upon immediate examination. That is, what happens when the brain is unplugged from the machine? A brain on its own is just that, a brain on its own. With nothing powering it, it is simply an organ that sits there and does nothing. Without the brain, there is no mind, and therefore not ‘you’. Without a ‘you’ there is no reality for ‘you’ to experience. Think of the cow’s brain that we often see in something like a science class, or an exhibit. It sits there in a jar for us to observe, but it does not observe us. When we observe it we do not think ‘I wonder what that cow is experiencing?’ or ‘I wonder what reality is like for that cow?’. No, we usually observe it and think ‘cool, a cow’s brain in a jar!’. So would the question of what a lone human brain preserved in jar is experiencing even be a coherent one?

Of course it would not! The question of what ‘you’ would be doing if you were a brain in a jar is an even more incoherent question. This would mean that without being plugged into the machine that was serving you your experiences, there would be no reality for ‘you’. Which would mean that this would be reality. Knowing we were brains in a jar would not change what reality is like for us, it would only change our knowledge about reality. It would change our perceptions, our experiencing of reality, possibly even our behaviour, but nothing about the reality we are perceiving. The reality we are experiencing would still abide by the same laws of physics, we would have no more control over our reality than we do know. We would simply have an answer to a question, and some other questions like ‘how was the universe formed?’, and ‘do we have a creator?’.

If we were brain in a jar we would be brains in a jar having an experience, and we would hold knowledge about that. For some of us it may change our perceptions of reality, affect some of the philosophical questions we ask, or the way we interact with said reality, and only in that manner would our individual experience of reality change. Reality itself would stay the same. But what if we could change reality itself, such as bend the laws of physics, control gravity with our minds, or something else of that manner?

Physics brokenChanging The Laws Of Physics!

This, of course, would change reality. What we change would be an alteration of reality, and therefore a change of reality. Other’s would experience reality in an objectively different way. It wouldn’t be the individual’s reality that was affected, it would be a universal effect. Let us think about that for a moment though. If we were brains in a jar, hooked up to a supercomputer, controlling our reality, think of the technology that would take. The amount of knowledge that would take. The technical experience it would take to write that kind of software. Now think about the kind of ego it would take to ask that question.

Imagine the ego it would take to say that us, people who were created to be fooled by a computer program, could alter that program. For if a group of beings had the ability to create the illusion, they would have the ability, and ingenuity, to come up with a way to reinforce the illusion. Ways in which the illusion was enforced would be hard-coded into the software. It would be also be effortless to hard code into the software that we cannot change the parameters of the universe. It would be exactly as it is now. But what if the software, or the hardware, wasn’t up to scratch for the job?

broken-computerFaulty Hardware

Daniel Dennet makes an excellent point about this question in his book Consciousness Explained (1993). Here he makes the case that it would be more likely that reality actually exists (Dennet, 1993). The hardware necessary to run billions of brains in unison would be incredible. It also leads to other questions. Questions such as “what are new lives?”, “are they new brains hooked up to the system?”, or “are they new subroutines running?” If they are simply new subroutines, then what happened after the first generation died, and why did the simulation continue running? What is it running on and why did it need human brains to start? Why do I have thousands of generations before me, and yet I am the first brain?

Think of the technological and biological knowledge it would take to set something like that up. The wiring of the network to all the nerves that control our sensory input, converting whatever the machine is running into nerve commands and vice versa, to run the operating system it would take to run this kind of simulation, and the simulation itself. It seems more probable that a civilisation with that kind of technology could have perfected the technology. Even if they hadn’t, how problems with hardware affect the software. It would cause some kind of glitch, which would cause some kind of fault in the software, or complete shutdown of the technology. Complete shutdown would of course end the simulation, and the reality that exists inside of it would simply cease to function, and we would no longer be asking these kinds of questions. We would never know we were, and we would never know we ceased to be. What about a glitch in the software though?

bugA Bug In The Software

Could we ever truly know there had been a glitch in the software? For a civilisation with the knowledge to create this kind of simulation would have the ability to create a simulation that they could simply ‘rewind’. If the simulation was ‘rewound’ we would never know, and we would never know about the glitch in the system. This of course would take someone monitoring the code, or self monitoring code. The system would have to be under constant watch, everywhere at the same time in one form or another, in order for this to happen immediately. Even if the glitch wasn’t noticed immediately by the engineers or software, and the code to rewind it existed, we still would never know. For this moment that we are aware of could have been the moment it was ‘rewound’ to. This moment could be the reset. So we would still never know. It could still be before the rewind though, or perhaps the technology to rewind doesn’t exist.

Software Protection

This brings us back to the question of how well the illusion was coded. Surely the illusion could be created in such a way that we either do not accept the glitch in the illusion, or that we accept it and attribute it to something else. For those of us who hold the idea that the universe is entirely natural, we would challenge that glitch unless it was observed and measured in a way acceptable to the scientific method, and acceptable in an objectively studied or able to be studied objectively. There are many reasons we would not accept evidence of a glitch in the software.

For many believers, this glitch becomes attributed to their god, or their supernatural belief. Think of the existence of Jesus. Consider that Jesus was simply a glitch in the system. It was a localised event that took generations to get out to wider area. By the time it got out to the wider area it was a second-hand tale. As it has gotten older it has become less and less believed, and there were always those that simply rejected it. We even see around us that there are those who are, and always have been, active in questioning, casting doubt upon. It has also become so old that we can never really investigate it. If it was a glitch, then the illusion is so great, and written so well that it would always have been in doubt, and could never truly be shown to be true to a satisfactory standard of all that know of the glitch. The further away the harder, the harder to prove. This goes for proximity, which gets harder to believe the further the account gets from the observer.

It also seems less likely that in a natural universe that an event like the Biblical Jesus would occur, than it does that a glitch in a virtual world would occur. So, if the event of the Biblical Jesus did indeed occur, then it adds weight to the argument that we are brains in a jar living in a virtual world, than it does us living in a ‘real’ universe. Of course, it could also lend weight to the idea of God. That Jesus proves God exists, and that God existing proves this is real. Or does it simply lend more weight to the idea that we are brains in a jar living in a virtual world?

God Is Software Protection

In order to answer that question we need to return to some of our previous questions. The first one being the question of how would our perception of the universe change? In the case of some, their perception would change of course. Their behaviour may change as well, depending on their various other beliefs. However, what of the believer? How many believers are there that declare ‘nothing could change my mind about God’, or ‘nothing could change my mind about my religion’?

For these people, neither their knowledge of reality, nor their perception of it would change. For them, the only answer is that of God. This is not to say that all believers are like this, for there are those that would change their knowledge, and change their perception of reality. There are a huge amount, especially amongst Christians and Muslims, that would not. They would remain the same. They would even still be arguing against it, attempting to convince people who God is the answer, and that God proves we are not brains in jars living in a simulation.

Now back to the question of reinforcing the illusion, and keeping those in it in Here we have a belief, the belief in God, that not only would be useful in keeping people trapped in the illusion, we have a belief that causes people to refuse to accept that it could be anything else. Holding on to the belief in the face of inconsistencies, logically incoherent definitions, and the inability to actually test the idea. It is also a belief that encourages the holder to spread the belief, propagating itself. If all of this was indeed a virtual reality, and there was a need into fooling us that this is an illusion, God would indeed be a useful tool for those running the simulation.

Which leads us back to the idea of ‘software protection’. The effectiveness of the belief in God, especially by many Christians and Muslims, in convincing them they cannot be wrong about reality would make it ideal for protecting, and enforcing, the illusion. It is the type of idea we should expect to see in a system designed to protect the nature of the illusion from those perceiving it. The idea of God, and nature of some people’s belief, gives weight to the idea that it could be a virtual reality. One could argue here of course that God speaks to the believer, or that the believer feels God, but this too could be explained by a ‘software protection’ designed to enforce the illusion. However it is attempted to put God as the definitive answer to this question, it can be used to argue that it could also be an illusion.

extreme skepticExtreme Scepticism

The same extreme kind of scepticism could be held against any idea of reality. Questions continually asked, criticisms continually made, and ideas of illusion continually reinforced. God may offer an answer to the question, but it is an answer no more satisfactory than any other. There are of course other similar arguments of extreme scepticism, such as the ‘mischievous demon’ outlined in Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy (cite source). The same and similar objections can be raised about them, and many rebuttals already exist for these arguments. Rebuttals that do not involve the invoking of God. So the claim that only God can give us an answer to solving the problem is not one of truth. So how do we offer a rebuttal to the brain in the jar?

A Rebuttal To The Brain In The Jar?

How do we tell the difference between a virtual reality designed to fool us into thinking it’s real, and an actual reality? We only have experience of this place we exist in, and no other. We have no other frame of reference that we can compare it to so we could say ‘no, this is what a reality is supposed to be like’. Any civilisation advanced enough to create an illusion such as this also has the ability to enforce the illusion inside the system. The only way we would ever know we were simply brains in a vat living in a virtual world is if the technology was faulty or if the ability to know was part of the virtual reality. The chances of the hardware or software being faulty is slim, for a civilisation capable of this kind of technology would surely be capable of creating the hardware or software necessary to keep it running smoothly; and when faults did develop the simulation could easily be rewound, the faults or glitches erased from the memory of all those that inhabit it.

However, for all intents and purposes, this is reality. Even if we were brains in a jar living in a virtual reality, this is our reality. We can measure it, we can test it, we can interact with it; we live and die in it. To doubt that all the information we can gain from it is useless because we cannot know for certain that it is not x or not y, when clearly we have consistent results from our findings, and make advancements in technology and medicine, would be a pointless exercise. Assuming reality as a brute fact gets us places, rejecting all of that would mean a return to a state of nature. It would be a regression, rather than a progression. It also would mean very little to most people if they found out they were brains in a vat living in a virtual reality, as most would reject the premise and findings. Especially amongst the more religiously inclined. Spending a moment to reflect on how we would respond to someone who showed us proof we were brains in a vat should give us some idea of how little it would affect us.

There are good reasons to reject the idea of course. Why would a civilisation be inclined to create such a thing? What would the purpose behind it be? How are new brains attached, and what happens to the old brains? If there are 6 billion people on the planet, then where are these brains stored? And if not all the people living in this virtual world are the result of brains hooked up to a virtual reality, and these ‘virtual people’ fools us into thinking they are real, then this civilisation has the capability to just create a completely virtual reality, without the need for brains. So why does it use brains? Where does it get the power from to run the brains? There are simply far too many questions to ask, and answers necessary to support the premise, for it to be a reason to stop considering everything we experience to be ‘real’. Even for reasons of epistemology it is better for the premise to be rejected. For we cannot learn anything about this reality unless we accept that it is real, and we know what it exists because we exist in it, and we share experiences of it with others. There is no way to test for an existence outside of this reality, only infer it.

Conclusion

So in conclusion, while we may not be able to say with absolutely certainty that this is not a virtual reality, it seems far more probable that it is reality. It is also more productive to accept that it is reality, knowing it is not changes very little about our existence. It would only alter our knowledge and perception of it, rather than alter our reality as such. And though we cannot know with any certainty, neither can the believer who posits their God as the answer. It may give them assurances, and it may give them the false belief of being absolutely certain, but their argument does not hold any weight under deeper examination. If anything, it can be used to add weight to the idea that it is a virtual reality, and God is one of the methods through which the illusion is enforced.

References

Dennet, D. (1993) Consciousness Explained, London, Penguin Books Ltd.

Dupre, B. (2007) 50 Philosophy Ideas You Really Need To Know, London, Quercus Editions Ltd.




The significance of ethical consideration in politics.

Politics and ethics

In this day and age, where war, fear and hatred are so abundantly present, we encounter more and more fellow human beings who seem ruthlessly pragmatic when it comes to solving world problems. When discussing ISIL, for instance, the comment ‘just nuke ’em’ is far from scarce.

Other people, like a prominent businessman and politician speak of ‘killing their families’ and ‘implementing tortures such as waterboarding, even if it doesn’t work.’ These are instances of reactionary rhetoric and gives the impression that many amongst our fellow humans do not care to fully examine current political problems on an ethical level.

That’s sad, as we have a great abundance of even greater philosophical works by some of the most enlightened minds throughout history to help us with this. Aside from that, the world of ethical consideration is just wondrous and educative, even if you reach no conclusion. It just is such a waste to reserve ethical consideration for mere judgement.

So why should people ethically consider social or political problems?

Let’s take a trip to the present. If you, like me, enjoy discussing news articles online, you will have noticed that political, social and military factions are basically sorted into four categories: acceptable good, unacceptable good, acceptable evil and unacceptable evil. Let’s examine these categories for a minute.

The acceptable good;

The acceptable good, often also perceived as good by default, is the category for the factions that are perceived to have a right of existence and to strife for ‘good’. An example here is the US in the western world. Though specific opinions may vary, within the west, the US is generally accepted as the police of the world.

The unacceptable good;

The unacceptable good is a faction that is perceived of having good or noble goals or commits good or noble actions, but is in a way unacceptable, often due to its means of aspiration. An example for this category is found among a number of Muslims, whom typically support the erecting of a caliphate (Islamic state run by a caliph, who is a successor to Muhammad), but reject ISIL on the grounds of their un-Islamic ways of treating infidels and fellow Muslims.

The acceptable evil;

The acceptable evil is a faction that works to achieve a goal that is generally considered to be bad or evil, but either has redeemable qualities or is to powerful to terminate. A good example for this is Russia for the US and vice versa. Russia is the US’ prime evil. But it is accepted because going to war would engulf the world in fire and nuclear radiation.

The unacceptable evil;

The unacceptable evil is a faction that works to achieve a goal that is perceived as bad or evil and has little to no redeeming qualities or the redeeming qualities it possesses do not weigh up to the depravity of their intents and actions. A good example would be any faction that is perceived to be ripe for regime-change. Let’s take Al-Qaida, for westerners.

Description of the problem;

While it might not seem to be irrational or ignorant to have a system of four categories to neatly organise (geo-)political factions and events, a problem arises when one of these factions, mostly the one to which they (feel they) belong, is perceived as ‘good by default’ or even ‘better by default’.

Yet we see this is the case in most modern countries. Where the government of “country A” admits to having committed war crimes, their civilians are at the ready to defend them, no matter the case. A good example of this we find, once again, in the US with both Guantanamo bay and the CIA torture report. In both cases, innocent people were hurt, sometimes for years on end, without the fair trial each human deserves (see the Geneva treaty). And in both cases, droves of people were at the ready to defend this choice, saying it was absolutely necessary and a good or the best move.

But we know for a fact that they were not a good move, nor were they the best move. In the case of Guantanamo, the US government made agreements with afghan and Pakistani warlords to imprison and extradite Al-Qaida members. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of history and power could have predicted that rather than Al-Qaida members, these warlords extradited their competitors and pesky civilians. Yet, these men were kept in Guantanamo and tortured for years.

In the case of the CIA torture report, in which it was found that 52% of tortured captives turn out to be innocent and not in possession of the desired information, a military trial would have at the very least diminished the percentage of innocent or ignorant victims. But even this, I would say, is too lenient toward the US government. The fact is that they signed the treaty of Geneva, declaring the UN Human rights to be accepted -though the US never ratified the treaty- and the human rights provide protection against cruel and unusual punishment. This should never have happened and is thusly NOT a good or the best move.

So what difference does ethical consideration make?

Ethical consideration for political problems and questions, might seem to be irrelevant for the political landscape. This is in large parts due to recent politics, which haven’t focused on doing ‘the right thing’ for a long time.

These days, politics is almost synonymous with economics, and that’s a great shame. While politicians care about running the economy their way (which is funny, as both the left-wing and the right-wing proposed policies tend to run the economy into the ground, but that’s perhaps the subject for a future article), the population has to be submitted to higher taxes or increasing freedom and thus immoral behaviour by companies and corporations.

This makes sense economically, because a person registered as a company brings in more tax revenue than a person registered as a person. This is not because taxes for companies are higher (which isn’t the case), but because companies move more money and therefore make more money.

This leads to a tendency of giving more freedom to companies by lowering their tax-burden and giving them certain benefits, which in turn leads to terms like “too big to fail”. The term too big to fail in turn leads to a form of corporate welfare, in which the government is basically forced to maintain failing too big to fail companies in order to save the population from the consequences of said company failing. So we see that our economic policies are directly victimizing the population, the very population who voted for the people who created said policies, who are voted into office by the population. These are, by the way, entirely basic and predictable economic patterns.

 

Now, you might think to yourself; “But what about capitalism?” Well, I contend this isn’t capitalism. Capitalism is more meritocratic than the system we currently have. Capitalism is the principle of free market trade, where the market decides whether or not a company has what it takes to be founded and to prolong its existence. There is no “too big to fail” in capitalism, because once it fails, it no longer has the approval of the population, which means the product sold by the company is no longer in favour with the population. This is why there is such an emphasis on competition in the capitalist economic theory. Yet, in this day and age, we are left to deal with companies that have bankrupted thousands of us, simply because they are our only options and our “representatives” thought they were “too big to fail”.

So, we can see here the primary influence ethical consideration would have on politics; a more balanced stance regarding the economy. There would be an understanding for the needs and wants of companies and corporations, but there would not be special privileges that would undermine the link between companies, corporations and the population. The special welfare privileges would then be used fort he population itself and failing too big to fail companies would just be taken apart and the subsets would be left tof end for themselves.

 

The same thing can be said for foreign affairs. When we look at the refugee crisis for instance, we see that the panic in the EU has lead to an inability to decently distribute refugees across Europe. This is actually kind of a funny incident, as the influx of refugees had remained more or less stable from 2014 until 2015. The problems only started in late September of 2015, after the word ‘crisis’ was added to the description. The term crisis was added, because some reporter somewhere thought that the ‘massive’ influx of refugees would be unbearable for the delicate recovery of the economy. This turned out to be untrue, as most countries in the EU are showing signs of growth, regardless this new “crisis”.

 

This is a great example of how words can effect our thinking and actions as well as how easy it is to cause social upheaval. It’s altogether beautiful and terrifying.

 

When we introduce ethical consideration to the decision making in politics, we might have leaders that are willing to look beyond the potential problems fort heir own country and think more like a union ought to; spreading the risk, instead of avoiding it. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved Merkel’s “Wir schaffen das(We will make it)”, but the actions taken after that, resemble more a “wir schaffen das nicht(We will not make it)” approach, even threatening to close their borders to new refugees in may of 2016.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, we can say that politics is the governing of people, yet it has –over the last decades- changed to governing money. We also know that when governing people, the focus should be on “what is right/fair” than “what is cheapest or most lucrative”. This is leading to more and more situations in which innocent civilians are falling victim to government savings, only to see the government spend more and more on companies who go on to pocket their newly found benefits. But most importantly, we see that just a bit more of ethical consideration could change the world fort he better. I’d like to thank you for your time reading this and hope you have a good day.