Sunday, December 31, 2017

Overcome!



Hi. The following is a poem I wrote a while back. I kept trying to incorporate it into larger writing projects and every single one of those projects failed. So now I think I'll just post it here instead. Also, if you're viewing this on a mobile device make sure to rotate it to landscape view (horizontal). Otherwise the formatting gets ruined.
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                                                     None to guide you

                                                                                        None to save you
                       
                                                                No gods

                                                                                        No heroes
                              
                                                                    No justice                 
                                     

                                                                               No second chances                                                                   
                              
                                                                           Only you



                                         Once innocent
                                                                     No longer
                                                                                        Not broken
                                                                                                              But stronger




                                                                            Overcome!


     

                                                         
                                                                            Overcome!


                                              Else the world crumbles
                                        

                                                                                   The stars in Heaven answer none                     


                                                        But the Men of Earth still hear
                       
              
                                                                                        The cries and bloodshed
           
                     
                                                              The toil and hardship
               

                                                                                 The endless screams of the living damned
                               
            
                                                   Trapped in their cages and squalor


                                                                      Only to die with dreams unfulfilled


                                                 Enough! No more! Never again!




      
                                                                             Overcome!




                                   Once innocent

                                                                 No longer
                                                                                        Not broken
                                                                                                                 But stronger



Overcome
O' People of the Dawn
Will you rise to the morning sun?
Or will you fall back to the mud whence you came?


                                                    None to guide you

                                                                                        None to save you
                       
                                                                No gods

                                                                                        No heroes
                              
                                                                    No justice                 
                                     

                                                                               No second chances                                                                                                                                     

                                                                           Only you

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Stop Trying to Make the Pro-Truth Pledge Partisan!


            It seems that I keep seeing Pro-Truth Pledge signers who don't seem to quite understand the Pledge that they've committed to. No, the purpose of the Pro-Truth Pledge is NOT to expose republicans as hateful liars. The purpose of the Pledge is to reduce misinformation and public deception as much as possible across the board.
Let me repeat that. The Pro-Truth Pledge is NOT anti-republican. It is NON-PARTISAN, and for good reason.
I understand that recent events have likely made many democrats who have taken the Pledge feel vindicated that they were right all along about the republican party and that the Republicans are now "showing their true colors" so to speak. But that is confirmation bias and us-vs-them reasoning.
One of the 12 behaviors that Pro-Truth Pledge signers commit to make an earnest effort at when they sign the Pledge is Balance.

Balance: share the whole truth, even if some aspects do not support my opinion

If one wishes to avoid confirmation bias, they should not ask what would confirm their own opinions. Instead they should ask what would falsify them. It's important to practice steelmanning positions one disagrees with, rather than wasting time arguing with a strawman that's only there to be knocked down.
One should try to understand the thoughts and feelings of people who disagree with them or who have different values and ideological perspectives. Republicans are human too, and there are republicans who have signed the Pro-Truth Pledge as well, and they are not secretly subconsciously democrats, nor are they mere exceptions to a rule of what it means to be republican.
If one truly believes that republican/conservative values and ideology is just racism and sexism and ignorant power-hungry aristocrats, then what of the republicans who have signed the Pro-Truth Pledge? Have you asked them why they signed the Pledge even though they are republicans? Are these republicans on the side of racism and sexism and plutocracy? Or are they on your side, the side of freedom and security and justice and respect and civilization? You might be surprised by what they have to say.
I think this video on fivethirtyeight.com should give some perspective on what has happened to the republican party in recent history. I'm not entirely sure how much of it is accurate or not, but as far as I can tell it seems legit. There are republicans in the video talking about how the republican party went wrong and how it used to be before that.
For those who haven't signed the Pro-Truth Pledge, you can learn more about it here.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Tracey Davis and the Bayesian Conspiracy


Author's Note:
Hi. This is an idea that popped into my head today that I thought might be kinda entertaining. I probably won't be able to complete it, knowing my rather abysmal track record with completing multichapter works (countless attempts in the past decade or so, zero successful), so I can't promise not to leave you hanging indefinitely. That being said, this first chapter might still function well as a standalone one-shot. Let me know what you think of it. Enjoy!






Summary: Slytherin Hogwarts graduate Tracey Davis doesn't know what she wants to do with her life. No, actually she does know what she wants to do with her life. She wants to do too many things with her life, and she can't decide on which to do first! So when she hears about Bayes Academy, a secretive and exclusive school of higher education for wizards and witches founded by Harry Potter himself, she applies straight away. Bayes Academy just so happens to be affiliated with and share building space with the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Maybe it's not quite the same as becoming a double witch. Or then again, maybe it is.

The Bayesian revolution has begun, and the magical world will never be the same...




In the hub of the magical british shopping district, on the intersection between Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley, there was a quaint little cafe with gray cobblestone walls and nice blue curtains over the windows. The cafe was well-known throughout magical Britain and even in some other places abroad. And yet, while many wizards and witches knew of this famous restaurant, very few knew that it was famous. They did not know that everyone else knew about this restaurant in Diagon Alley just like they did.

Or at least, that was the case up until one month previously, when the cafe had been bought out by Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. Mr. and Mr. Weasley had publicly stated that too many illicit dealings went on behind closed doors in this restaurant, and that everyone knew that, so there was no point in pretending otherwise. However, they knew that if the cafe was closed, wizards and witches would simply go somewhere else for their illicit dealings. Not to mention that not all illicit dealings were bad, and Mr. and Mr. Weasley wholeheartedly approved of a little rulebreaking now and then when it was done for a good cause. That was why Mr. and Mr. Weasley had every room in the cafe outfitted with hidden muggle recording devices, and all of the chairs with transfigured whoopee cushions in place of normal seats, and wrote up a privacy policy which anyone who wanted to eat at the restaurant had to read and sign. Mr. and Mr. Weasley's personal assistants would be listening in the new control room of the cafe, and if a patron started "speaking bullshit" (attempting to deceive others into taking a deal without sufficiently just cause, or attempting to make a deal that was obviously unethical), they would remotely set the magic batteries in the bullshitter's chair to stop feeding magic into the transfigured whoopee cushion seat, thereby turning it back to into its natural form as a whoopee cushion. However, the cafe would not turn them over to the authorities.

The sign on the outside of the cafe was visible in bright glowing disembodied letters which partially obscured the view into its blurry windows, which couldn't be seen through from either side. (If you didn't want anyone spying on you while you were in the cafe, then you weren't going to spy on anyone else while they were outside it, and that was that.)


MARY'S PLACE
YOUR OWN MAGICAL PRIVATE DINING ROOM

For Boring Old Ravenclaws to Eat in Peace and Quiet!


And in one of the rooms in the cafe, a seemingly and surprisingly mundane meeting was taking place. Professor Michael Potter, long-lost magical second cousin of the Boy-who-Lived, head of the Admissions department and Professor of Living Material at Bayes Academy of Higher Magickal Education, was interviewing a student applicant, Slytherin Hogwarts graduate Tracy Davis.

"How did you find out about Bayes Academy?" asked Professor Potter, a man in formal wizard robes with a clipboard and pen in hand.

"Oh, you know," said Tracy nonchalantly. "Same way everyone does."

"And what way is that?" asked the professor.

"Oh, a little bird told me," said Tracy, smiling mysteriously.

"No, really, how did you find out about Bayes Academy?" asked the professor, intently.

"No, really, a little bird told me," said Tracy, mimicking the professor's tone. "He's an animagus who said he was a teacher at your school."

The professor frowned. "We have no bird animagi on the teaching staff at Bayes Academy."

"Well, that's what he told me!" said Tracy indignantly. "Are you saying he was lying?"

"Um...well, I don't know what he said, I only have your word, not his." Professor Potter wouldn't meet her eyes as he said this, staring at his clipboard. Then there was a distinct farting noise which seemed to be coming from him.

"You're lying, aren't you?" asked Tracy. "There is a bird animagus on your teaching staff, isn't there?"

The professor cursed, and muttered something about "damn nosy slytherin applicants".

Tracy wisely decided to ignore that. People muttered when they were thinking out loud, and to intentionally eavesdrop on them and respond would be no more polite than reading their mind without their permission. Unfortunately, Tracy wasn't very good at ignoring people who were muttering under their breath. But at least she tried.

Professor Potter refused to answer her question and continued the interview. First he had her do a variant of the 2-4-6 task, which Tracy solved on her first attempt after about five queries and a little over five minutes of thinking.

When asked how she figured out the solution, Tracy had stated that there was no way that the man who had been General Chaos in their first year battle magic class would use a puzzle like that in the admissions process for his school if it didn't have some weird counter-intuitive answer which was obviously right in retrospect. So she had kept thinking until she thought of a hypothesis which met that criteria.

Finally, Professor Michael Potter had asked Tracy for her opinion on muggles.

"Well, I haven't really thought about it much," said Tracy. "I mean, I know they're clever. They have to be, since they don't have magic. And some of their inventions and techniques can be very useful in a fight, even for wizards and witches like us. Also, the late Light Lord David Monroe (who taught Battle Magic at Hogwarts in my first year, by the way) believed that they're powerful enough to destroy the magical world entirely if they knew about it. I'm not sure if I believe that, but I don't really know much about the muggle world, so..."

Professor Potter then asked her a few more questions about her education and extracurricular activities, as well as what other skills she had, and her reasons for wanting to attend Bayes Academy.

To that last question Tracy had said that she wanted to do something big and important and exciting, but she wasn't sure what that something would be yet. So she figured a few years of extra schooling at the only institution of higher education in the magical world might help her figure that out.

Professor Potter made a note of it on his clipboard.

"So, did I make it in?" asked Tracy, excitedly.

Professor Michael Potter smiled. "Yes. You did. Congratulations on your acceptance to Bayes Academy, Miss Davis."

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Ritual ≠ Religion



          For anyone who reads this who is squicked out by ritual in general regardless of informational content or of actual psychological and social impact, this is a comprehensive rebuttal to your position. It should go without saying that no one is forcing you to read this. If you don't want to change your mind and update your beliefs with evidence that is your own affair.
          I mean it. I'm not trying to be sarcastic or condescending here, I'm being sincere. While it is better to have beliefs that are as accurate as possible on general principle, some of the wrong things we learn over the course of our lives can take a significant chunk of time, effort, introspection and research to unlearn, and that kind of commitment isn't feasible for everyone. Some people have had traumatic experiences as a result of organized religion, and anything that reminds them too strongly of that may trigger them, so they may not be ready to accept ritual as a good thing.
          That being said, engaging in ritual does not itself make a community religious, and while ritual can be dangerous when done wrong, when done right it can be a very valuable part of human experience that should not be so readily dismissed.
          You don't have to agree with me. You don't have to even listen to me. If you choose to ignore what I'm saying here, it will be unfortunate, but it won't make you a bad person and you will not be ostracized, rejected or unfairly judged for it.
          Still here? Great, let's begin!
          So for those of you who are squicked out by ritual in general, I think I have a good idea of what it is that's squicking you out about it. In religions, "Everyone please say this thing in unison" is too often an order rather than a request. If you don't say it along with everybody else people look at you funny or judge you for it or ostracize you or reject you etc.
          However, I guarantee you that most secular humanists, including those who value rituals will NOT look at you funny or judge you for it or ostracize you or reject you etc. if you choose not to participate in them. Unlike in many religions, in secular humanist communities participating in rituals is optional. It is NOT a requirement or obligation, and choosing to abstain from it does not violate any group norms.
          Secular humanist rituals are not brainwashing anyone. They are not being used to perpetuate lies and misinformation, nor to persuade people of anything against their will.
          The secular humanist community in general strongly values reason and truth. So if someone did try to use secular humanist ritual to deceive and manipulate, someone would probably catch on to that. And while I don't know what the consequences for such a violation would be, I'm pretty sure that at the very least the responsible party would likely not be permitted to help facilitate secular humanist rituals in the future.
          And if someone unintentionally spread misinformation or unreasonable epistemology through secular humanist ritual, one would need to just point it out so that the mistake does not get repeated. 
          Resisting the universal cult attractor may not be easy, but the secular humanist community in particular is more aware of that attractor and cares more about resisting it than many other communities, and so is more likely to actually put in the effort required to do so. (Don't let this fact trigger the halo effect, mind you. Being more rational on average than other communities doesn't make us particularly rational; this isn't a competition after all.)
          Remember that secular humanists who engage in rituals value reason and truth and free thinking just as much as you do.
          I suspect that your being squicked out by secular humanist ritual in general is probably an irrational gut reaction and not based on actual reasons or evidence. If I am wrong about this please let me know.
          By the way, your being squicked out by secular humanist ritual might actually be a symptom of a much larger problem which is unfortunately and unnecessarily endemic in many well-educated, free-thinking, secular communities. You can read more about it here.


Monday, December 25, 2017

Love is Not Enough



I just took this attachment style test, and I've noticed some major flaws in it:

1. The questions about romantic partners appear to assume that if you have an insecure attachment style, you must predict future romantic relationships as being insecure.

The thing is, I've never been in a romantic relationship before. And I assume that if and when I end up in one I will be saner and more competent and think and do smarter things.
So I imagine my potential future self who is in a romantic relationship as being more secure than I am. The attachment style test takes that to to mean that I am secure in my relationships right now. For me, just having a romantic relationship at all would likely be an indicator that my attachment style had become more secure, because I would have to actually build that trust with someone first.

2. This might be a criticism of attachment theory itself, but I noticed that the questions meant to measure attachment-related anxiety regarding parents neglected or perhaps outright ignored the possibility of someone who grew up with parents who love them still having an insecure attachment style.

The test assumes that my attachment-related anxiety regarding my father is low, because I'm not worried about him not loving me or not caring about me or abandoning me etc. But the thing is, I'm worried about the opposite. Him loving or caring about me is what I really DON'T want. It scares me, because him caring about me and worrying about me is what made him be such an utter asshole to me over the course of my childhood. He terrorized me, not because he didn't care but because he cared too much. Like, he was so scared that I was going be disrespectful of authority and mouth of to a police officer or my future employer or what have you, that he used that as an excuse to take his temper out on me and belittle me and micromanage me at home, because he was trying to simulate what he perceived to be a typical work environment. Or at least that's what he told himself and me, anyways.
He would always say, "BELIEVE WHAT YOU'RE TOLD AND DO WHAT YOU'RE TOLD". He said that over and over again for years.
And my mother, while she's generally a nice person and has truly done a lot for me that I'm grateful for, she's not innocent either. She prioritized passing on her ethnic and religious heritage at the expense of my own mental health. She forced me to go to religious school to be indoctrinated with bad fairy tales, even though she didn't believe in any of them herself.
She didn't lie to me, she just had other people do that for her in order to brainwash me into staying in her culture.
Even though SHE KNEW the whole issue with "BELIEVE WHAT YOU'RE TOLD AND DO WHAT YOU'RE TOLD".
For most of my childhood my mind was the only thing I was remotely good at, even though I wasn't very good at it.
And I knew on some level that my mental development was the key to my future.
And she DELIBERATELY put obstacles in the way of that because she cared more about passing on her judaism than she cared about my own mental health and well-being. She even openly admitted to prioritizing passing on her heritage over my own mental health. I asked her about it once and she admitted it, although she sugarcoated it in more socially palatable words.
That decision, while by any reasonable definition would count as child abuse, she got away with it because it is a form of child abuse which is widespread and socially acceptable.
Of course, many other parents have the excuse of being brainwashed into it themselves, and believing that if they don't brainwash their children to believe what they believe, that their children will be TORTURED FOREVER.
My mother did not have that excuse, and she still had me brainwashed anyway.
And she also prioritized keeping me living with her and being in her family over my own mental health. She once told me that they (she and my father) did not know who else to trust to take care of me who knew me as well as they did and could do as good a job of parenting me. But this was just an excuse. By the time I was in middle school my mother had plenty of connections to others in a community of parents for socially impaired children, and if she really tried, she likely could have found less abusive parents for me. Most family environments are less toxic than the one I was forced to endure, and assuming that the issue of religion or lack thereof didn't mess with things, almost anyone else likely would have done a better job parenting me than her. She knowingly kept me trapped in that awful situation being terrorized by her husband because the thought of giving me away to someone else was even more unbearable to her than letting me continue to suffer.
And the thing is, both my parents knew that I had a social developmental disability and they knew what that meant.
They knew that communication, understanding and trust were things that I was not naturally very good at
And they were both doctors specializing in the brain.
My father terrorized me from an early age, and everyone in the house including him and my mother and sisters would be quick to blame me whenever anything went wrong. The really awful part of that was that my mother and my sisters both blamed me just as much as my father for my father's mistreatment of me. Whenever I was forced into a confrontation with my father, to them it was "Those two are fighting again" and not "Dad's picking on him again and he's defending himself".
I had close attachments with my mother and sisters in preschool. By elementary school things were getting strained. By some point around middle school or high school things had completely broken. During around that time I realized that I didn't love them.
My parents, when they started to realize that I was feeling distrustful of them and not very close with them, instead of actually trying to rebuild that trust, tried to scare me and give me ultimatums to make me stay in their family.
Like, "You don't get to choose your family, you're stuck with us whether you like it or not."
That sort of thing.
They even once expressed to me when I was a teenager, that if I stopped being jewish that I would be alone for my entire adulthood, and that I wouldn't have anyone I could depend on after they were dead.
Yeah, they actually said that to me.
To be fair, they sort of made half-hearted attempts to rebuild trust with me, but all they were willing to do on that front was just spend more time with me and have more conversations with me where they "listened" to me. But they weren't willing to admit what they themselves had done wrong and fix it, and when I tried to persuade them to do so, they would get angry because by merely trying to reason with them or questioning how they treated me I was being "belligerent" and "disobedient" and "disrespectful". But if I can't question their actions, that means I can't point out when they do something wrong, which means that they don't fix their behavior and don't change what they're doing or apologize for having done so no matter what I do. The only wrong my mother ever apologized for was for spanking me. As if that was the only harmful thing she had ever done.
The best decision my mother ever made on my behalf was when I was a teenager and she decided to start hiring professionals to raise me instead of her. Of course, she will never put it in those terms, and she has deluded herself into thinking that she actually did the work of successfully raising me.
And everyone around me to this day thinks I'm being horribly unfair to her and they don't seem to understand how I could possibly not love her after everything she's done for me, etc. etc.
I think she should count herself lucky that I'm even still willing to be friends with her. And no one understands. They think I'm making a big deal out of nothing.
And a part of me is worried that they are right, that I'll never have anyone else, and that I'll always need to depend on them for something or other even though I really don't want to.

Long story short, the fact is that some abusive parents still love their children. Merely loving your children isn't enough to make them secure in their relationships as adults. You have to actually treat them right. The attachment style test linked above, if not attachment theory in general, overlooks this fact.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

On Censorship and Why I Believe that "Fanfiction" Does Not Exist

"Screw Censorship" by Sessie on Deviantart



          Fangames get shut down, while the actual pirates who are distributing the original games illegally don't? In other words, companies like Nintendo don't mind people copying them, they just don't like it when people get creative and start building new ideas on top of theirs.
          Large scale violation of free speech/expression is already happening and has been for a long time now. It's just that the original ideas they don't want you to express have been stigmatized as "unoriginal" by virtue of drawing from preexisting culture and ideas that aren't at least half a century old.
          Sorry, this stuff just makes me REALLY angry. Maybe you think I'm overreacting and making a big deal out of nothing. After all, there are still plenty of non-fanmade works out there to enjoy, right?
          But I am not overreacting, and I am right to be this angry, and you should be too and the fact that you aren't is probably because you have some serious misconceptions about the nature of creativity and originality and what constitutes censorship.
          To be frank, my views on fanmade works are rather unusual. I think I can probably sum it up like this: Fanfiction DOES NOT EXIST.
          Yes, you read that correctly. I am saying that fanfiction does not exist. There is only fiction. No need to add the "fan-" prefix to anything. It is an arbitrary and meaningless distinction, a line drawn by the law and by public opinion which doesn't correspond to the uniqueness or novelty of a work, nor the amount of time or effort put into its creation, nor even its quality or value.
          What it does correspond to is whether someone is making money off of an idea and would like to have a permanent monopoly of that idea, even if it means silencing other people who try to comment on or build on that idea without making a joke out of it.
          Most of my favorite novels are considered to be "fanfiction". Not just a few of them. Most of them. And these aren't guilty pleasure sort of readings either. Many of them I consider to be literary masterpieces which stand on their own and stand apart from the "original" works that came before them.
          Why is it that "Harry Potter and the Philosophers' Stone" by J.K. Rowling gets to be in libraries and bookstores where mainstream readers will actually be able to see them, but a vastly better written and more insightful novel which inspired an entire social movement, "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" by Eliezer Yudkowsky can't?
          Because Rowling published her book first, and we have this crazy idea that the first person to use an idea should have the sole rights to it forever.
          As Benjamin Disraeli said in 1870, "Books are fatal: they are the curse of the human race. Nine-tenths of existing books are nonsense, and the clever books are the refutation of that nonsense." Unfortunately, refutations of nonsense have to be published after the nonsense. So if someone writes a lower quality novel (like "Twilight" by Stephanie Meyer) and then someone else tries to write the sort of masterpiece that said lower quality novel could have been if its author was smarter and better at writing (like "Luminosity" by Alicorn), the second novel gets the fanfic label and all the associated stigma, while the first novel is what actually is allowed to be published on respectable platforms where the public will actually see them.
          I can write a really good, unique, original, well-written novel all by myself, but if there's any part or aspect of it that builds on or twists an idea that someone else came up with (the very definition of originality!) and someone else is already making money off of that idea that I'm twisting or building on, then according to public opinion and the law, that person owns my novel.
          This is seriously messed up. It should not be possible to have sole ownership of a novel that you did not write which someone else did write. But unfortunately that is the world we live in, and most people just blindly accept and tolerate this state of affairs.
          "But what about public domain!?" You cry.
          Public domain is kind of a joke. Not much has entered it in a long time. You're probably never going to read much in the public domain, unless you're particularly interested in old classics from the previous century or earlier, much of which may have been published before you were even born.
"Fanfiction" doesn't exist. It's an arbitrary and meaningless distinction meant to excuse large-scale violation of the basic human right of freedom of speech.
          If it weren't for copyright law and the public domain dying, we probably wouldn't have this idea of "fanfiction" as a distinct category at all.
          Shame on you Nintendo. Shame on you J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers and everyone of your kind. Freedom of speech and expression is fucking important for free societies and culture, and you are violating that basic human right, and no one is standing up to you because you have convinced them that what you are doing is okay.
          But it is NOT okay, and you should know better.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

For People Who are too Honest, or Why the Rules of Social Interaction are Actually Important Sometimes



"Honest" from xkcd.com


          This is a fictional phone conversation with a friend that I think maybe some people might find helpful and entertaining. Naturally I changed some details about the friend for the sake of anonymity. Hope you like it!
-----
          "So, I've been thinking a bit more about what happened when I visited you on Sunday night, and I thought of some more advice that you might find helpful which I didn't give you at the time," I said, hesitantly. "Would you like to hear it?"
          "Sure," said Ronald. "You don't even need to ask. You know I like keeping it real. Don't have to hold anything back."
          "Well," I said. "I think in a few short minutes you are going to understand why I asked you permission first before giving you advice, and also why that's important."
          "Okay, go on," said Ronald.
          "Remember how Alex said that basically everyone you meet either loves you or hates you?"
          "Yeah," said Ronald.
          "'I don't think it has anything to do with your personality," I said. "There are plenty of people who are similar to you who don't have the same issue. In terms of personality you are totally normal."
I paused, trying to figure out how to explain it.
          "Has anyone ever told you that there's such a thing as being too honest?"
          "I don't agree with that," said Ronald. "You can never be too honest. Like I said, I keep it real."
          "When people say that there's such a thing as being too honest, I don't think they're talking about honesty per se," I told him. "More likely, they're actually saying that there's such a thing as being too open and familiar with people too quickly.
          "People generally build trust in each other by exposing their vulnerabilities to each other. When you expose too many of your vulnerabilities to someone too quickly, that can make people extremely uncomfortable because to them it assumes a level of trust and familiarity that they don't necessarily feel comfortable with yet.
          "Imagine that social relationships are like a swimming pool. Sometimes people might be okay with diving into the deep end right away, but the water is cold and it can take some time to adjust to the temperature. So a lot of the time people would rather start out testing the waters by dipping their feet in the shallow end of the pool, and then gradually submerging more of themselves before diving into the deep end."
          "But I don't like all that small talk and superficial bullshit," said Ronald. "I don't care what everybody else thinks of me. Their opinion don't matter to me. If they don't like it they don't have to talk to me."
          "Well, how would you feel if a stranger started picking their nose in front of you?" I countered.
          "It'd be weird, but I wouldn't let it bother me much," said Ronald.
          "You don't get grossed out?" I pressed.
          "Well, maybe a little..."
          "Aha," I said. "Now, what if the person who was publicly nose-picking defended that behavior by saying, 'But I don't like all that small talk and superficial bullshit. I don't care what everybody else thinks of me. Their opinion don't matter to me. If they don't like it they don't have to talk to me. Therefore I'm going to pick my nose whenever I want and I don't care if anyone sees me doing it.'"
          "Um, good for you?" said Ronald.
          "Not picking your nose in public isn't just an arbitrary social rule that people follow for no good reason," I continued. "Nose picking grosses other people out, and they don't want to see it unless they're already comfortable and familiar enough with you to be able to get over their disgust. It's kinda like why people usually don't get naked in public. It's out of respect for other people and their thoughts and feelings and boundaries, even if you're not actually friends with them. This kind of respect and the kind of behavioral conduct associated with it is otherwise known as politeness, or common courtesy, or being considerate. And while it's not the most important thing in the world and people often make a much bigger deal about it than they should, it is still a little bit important."
          I stopped for a moment. "Sorry, I'm rambling a bit," I said.
          "It's fine," said Ronald. "I wanna hear this."
          "Okay," I said. "Anyways, there are different degrees of trust, different degrees of caring about other people, and different degrees of how much their thoughts and feelings should matter to you. An acquaintance or a stranger might not matter as much as a good friend or family member, but they're still people and still matter, and therefore it's important to be at least a little bit considerate of their thoughts and feelings. You don't have to go out of your way or seriously inconvenience yourself for them, but you also shouldn't pick your nose or get naked in front of them, nor should you share every little vulnerability and personal thing about yourself with them. The exception to that last rule is when you are sharing personal things about yourself in a context that maintains distance from the people you're talking to,  like if you're presenting a speech or sharing a blog post."
          "I think I understand," said Ronald. "I'll have to think about this."
          "One more thing," I said. "The rules of social interaction are very complex and there are oftentimes more exceptions to those rules than we might consciously realize. A full set of all the rules of social interaction would probably take decades to write and most people probably don't have enough space in their heads to store the full rule set explicitly. Instead they seem to pick up on general patterns in the rules, only getting more specific when they interact with  particular cultures and groups. And most of their understanding of the rules of social interaction is subconscious and implicit. So take everything I've said with a grain of salt.
          "Also, social rules aren't always necessarily 'rules' in the sense of 'follow them or you will be punished'. They're often more like the 'rules' of aerodynamics, in the sense that you have to follow them in order to successfully reach a particular goal. In order to successfully reach the goal of making a plane that can fly safely, you need to understand and work within the rules of aerodynamics. If you disregard those rules the plane won't fly, or it might not be safe to fly.
          "Likewise, if you want to successfully reach the goal of making more friends and not turning people off so much, you need to understand and work within the rules of social interaction at least to some extent. Many of those 'rules' are simply descriptions of what sorts of behaviors are more likely to demonstrate sensitivity to or consideration of the thoughts, feelings and boundaries of other people.
          "And if you're not sensitive to other people's thoughts and feelings and boundaries, then they are unlikely to want to become better friends with you, or maybe they won't want to become friends with you at all. Saying that you don't care what other people think of you at all unless they're close to you closes you off to most people. While there's such a thing as caring too much, there's also such a thing as caring too little."
          "That wasn't just one more thing," said Ronald.
          "Sorry," I apologized.
          "Don't worry about it, you don't have to say sorry," said Ronald. "This is just a lot to take in, you know? I'm gonna have to take some time to think about this. Anyways, I'm feeling kinda tired, think I'm going to go to bed now."
          "Same," I yawned.
          "Thanks for your help man, I really appreciate it. See ya!"
          I smiled. "You're welcome. Bye!"
          I hung up from the imaginary phone conversation, wishing that I was this articulate in real life, rather than just in my writing.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

I'm Gonna Do It

Here's a poem I wrote about determination and resolve. Hope you like it!

I'm Gonna Do It

I'm gonna do it
I'm gonna do it
I'm gonna get it done

I won't stop
I won't give up
I won't run

No matter what
Even if it's hard
Even if it hurts

Even if every muscle and bone in my body is protesting
And telling me to quit

I won't quit
I'll keep going
I won't stop

Until I'm finally there
Until I've reached my goal

That's what matters
Everything else can wait

Friday, November 17, 2017

3 Reasons that 0.999...≠1

1. If 0.999...=1, then ...999.0=-1
https://youtu.be/x-fUDqXlmHM

2. If 0.999...=1, then 2=1
https://youtu.be/wsOXvQn3JuE

3. You can construct a set for a number that is infinitely close to 1 but is still less than 1. Not sure what the speaker means by 0.999...=1 in some math systems and not in others. It's not like 2=1 in some math systems and not in others.
https://youtu.be/aRUABAUcTiI

Disclaimer: I had nothing to do with the making of any of the videos I cited here, they were created by mathematicians on YouTube. I don't own those videos.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Privacy is REAL. Privacy MATTERS. Privacy is NOT dead.


          So, recently a friend of mine posted something along the lines of privacy not existing anymore and that therefore if he posts a little bit of personal info about somebody else (including photographs of them) he's not doing any harm because the info is already out there. And the person in question was depressed and he was trying to spread awareness of depression in the process of sharing this bit of personal info, so he figured he was doing a net good.
          Now, there are two problems with this assertion that he made:

  1. He could probably have found photographs online of depressed people who had volunteered their info, rather than using info from someone who hadn't consented. If someone is too far gone in their depression to rationally consent, then one should get their consent in advance while they are not so depressed if possible.
  2. We do still have privacy and it is still valuable and worth protecting and respecting. No one is watching us pee, and just because computer algorithms can predict most general things about us doesn't mean they're super duper precise all the time. I'm reminded of this every time I go on Facebook see all the posts that I have zero interest in. Or when I'm browsing the web in general the vast majority of ads are for things I don't care about at all.
          If the algorithms were really that good at predicting people personally advertisers wouldn't need to cast such a wide net with their target audiences.
          All the basic information about you is out there, and all of your online activity is too. But someone would probably have to have a LOT of patience and time on their hands and some hacking skills to follow your online trail and uncover all of your information. And that's only going to happen if someone has a motive to dig up dirt on you personally in the first place.
          I'm guessing different companies don't always communicate your info with each other (they are competing with each other after all).
          Also, just because the algorithms can track you doesn't mean there's a human being who's looking through the databases and making a note of it every time you personally put something on the web. A lot of that tracking stuff is probably automated, so the big brother who's supposedly watching you isnt even paying any attention to you because he can have his computer do it for him. Less work for him, and the computer won't judge you like he would.
          Potential employers might be an exception to this perhaps to some extent, but even then they have limited time and they're only going to do a background check on you if you decide to apply for a job with them. A background check, NOT an investigation.
          Also, just because information is technically available publicly doesn't necessarily make it "public information". You go to a grocery store and go check out. Everyone behind you in line can see what you're buying. And so can the cashier. Doesn't mean you want the whole world to know what you're buying, and if everyone in line behind you plus the cashier started gossiping about you based on your purchases, that would be weird and kind of creepy.
          Privacy is real. Privacy matters. Privacy is not dead.
          So the next time you start thinking that privacy isn't a thing anymore, try searching the web for pornography of yourself, or videos of you using the toilet. You probably won't find any.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Boolean value-Beliefs vs Probabilistic Beliefs and their Relationship to the Accountability of Scientists and Fact-Checkers



          On the Pro-Truth Pledge's website, it says:

          Misinformation is anything that goes against reality.  It can mean directly lying, lying by omission, or misrepresenting the truth to suit one’s own purposes. Sometimes misinformation is blatant and sometimes it’s harder to tell. For those tough calls we rely on credible fact-checking sites and the scientific consensus.

          Now, I've noticed a certain question that seems like it probably comes up a lot from potential signers of the Pro-Truth Pledge. They ask, "How do you fact-check a fact-checking site?"

          And the response, "By asking other fact-checkers to fact-check them."

          Then they ask, "If a fact-checker checks another fact-checker, and finds a statement that the first fact-checker said to be false, how do you know whether the second fact-checker is right about that or if the first fact-checker was right after all?"


          And the response: "check the scientific consensus."


          And they ask, "Can you fact-check the scientific consensus?"


          And the response "scientists can, but regular people don't have enough expertise and so they can't."

          And then they ask, "then how do you know if the scientific consensus is correct?"

          And the response, "because science has been pretty reliable in general compared to everything else so far, so scientific consensus is really unlikely to be wrong."

          And then they ask, "But how do you know if scientific consensus is correct in this particular case?"

          And then they also ask, "And how do we know that scientists never collectively decide to lie about their findings? Like, if the physicist community had conspired to hide some dangerous knowledge so that no one finds out the secret of how to make nuclear weapons in 1945, how would we know they were lying?"
          
          Although I suppose in that case it could be argued that scientists basically never collectively decide to lie about their findings unless there's a REALLY GOOD REASON, because they're really smart and their findings are how they get paid and going through all that investigative work and then not getting to brag about finally solving the mystery afterwards and advance science further for all mankind really really sucks.

          And they might also ask "And what if the scientific consensus is just plain wrong about something, simply because their current measuring tools aren't strong enough to get the right answer on a particular research question, and no one will realize it until maybe a century later when we have better tools?"
 
How would we know?

          And the response?


          The Pro-Truth Movement doesn't seem to have made that response yet. And I know a lot of people are going to want one. Just saying "trust the scientific consensus" isn't enough. It's probably going to get people good, reliable results most of the time, but many laypeople won't know that in advance of signing the Pledge.
          So I, a bonafide Pro-Truth Pledge signer and advocate, will now take it upon myself to provide that response. Bear in mind, the response is a bit complicated and depends on a decent amount of background knowledge of advanced critical thinking methods, in particular how you can apply probability theory to your own thought processes. I'm going to walk you through it and make this as simple and easy to understand as I can, so please bear with me.
          Let's begin, shall we?
          Let's start with the way a typical layperson who signs the pledge is likely to think. Here is something someone I know on facebook who had signed the PTP posted:
          "
We can overcome some biases but not all because we, each of us, is always on the inside of our own selves looking out. We must come to agree as to rules to describe objective phenomena because we have no guarantee that our subjective perceptions of those phenomena are identical or that any of us is empirically correct in our perception. In fact, the odds are that neither they nor we are factually correct. Analogy: We both agree that the sky is blue, but the way your optical system processes color may not be the same as the way mine does? (Some of us can see more colors, some less and to a greater or lesser degree.) And to ice the cake, when we get down to the empirical reality -- the science of it -- we find that that sky is actually colorless and what we're perceiving as color (i.e., a pigmented object reflecting certain optical wavelengths) is actually a result of the prismatic effects of the atmosphere -- refraction vice reflection. We're fooled due to our own subjective limitations -- limitations that we can't be objectively aware of but that we can assume we have."
          Let's break this down. Here is what seems to be the core claim of the above quote:"We must come to agree as to rules to describe objective phenomena because we have no guarantee that our subjective perceptions of those phenomena are identical or that any of us is empirically correct in our perception."
 

          The above argument has 3 component claims:
          
          -we have no guarantee that our perceptions are consistent with each other
                    -we have no guarantee that our perceptions are correct (that they match reality).
                    -Therefore, we must agree on outside rules to evaluate whether specific beliefs accurately describe objective phenomena, rather than relying on our own perceptions.

          These statements sound reasonable at first. Someone who describes all of their beliefs in terms of pure Boolean values (0 or 1, yes or no etc), would not be able to notice the flaw in the above argument.
          But why shouldn't we use Boolean values to describe our beliefs? With Boolean values it's a simple 0 or 1, yes or no, true or false. And in reality, a claim is ALWAYS either true OR false.
          Yes, but how much do you know about reality? Maybe the claim that "Sailor Vulcan loves cereal" in reality must necessarily be 100% true OR 100% false. But you don't know which it is.

          Now suppose you got some finite amount of evidence, some clue as to what the answer to that question "Does Sailor Vulcan love cereal" might be. For instance, you discover that:
"Sailor Vulcan lives an unusually healthy lifestyle, and only every once in a while consumes an amount of carbohydrates similar or close to what can be found in a bowl of cereal during a single meal."
          You should DEFINITELY update on this evidence! Clearly this evidence favors the hypothesis that Sailor Vulcan doesn't love cereal.
          But wait a moment. Even after seeing this evidence, you still don't really know whether Sailor Vulcan loves cereal or not. Sure, that hypothesis seems less likely now, but you still don't really know.
          How much evidence would it take to really know?
          Well you could ask me if I love cereal. And I might tell you "yes" or "no". But how would you know if I was telling the truth? Maybe I don't know if I love cereal. Maybe I haven't tried it before. Hey, it's possible, isn't it? So then you could ask me if I've eaten cereal before. And I can say "yes" or "no". 
          How would you know if I was lying?
          
          How do you know that cereal exists?

          No really, how do you know?

          Because you eat it for breakfast every day?

          How do you know you eat it for breakfast every day?

          Because you remember eating it?

          How do you know you're remembering that correctly? Is there an experimental test or some other outside indicator that you can rely on to be 100% sure that your cereal-eating memories weren't confabulated/hallucinated?

          Now, you might be tempted to give up at this point and say "Well that could never happen."

          But how do you know that for certain? Haven't you been wrong before? A typical layperson isn't bothered by this question, but they don't really know why they aren't bothered by it. They will just reiterate that those hypothetical scenarios are ridiculous nonsense and obviously false, which is circular reasoning. I ask them, "How do you know that claim X is false?" and they come up with a counterexample in the literature or their own experience that shows claim X to be false. And then I ask "How do you know that the counterexample you just gave isn't false?" and they say "Because claim X is obviously false, therefore you can't falsify the examples that falsify claim X".

          How do you know that for certain? 

          I'm not bothered by this question any more than the typical layperson. However, I know (or at least I'm reasonably certain) of why I'm not bothered by it. The reason?
          
          Because the chances of claim X being true are EXTREMELY low. I don't need to round off my estimate of those chances to the nearest whole number.
 
          Yes that's right, it's really that simple.

          In the case of whether Sailor Vulcan loves cereal, you could make an estimate in your head of how likely you think it is that Sailor Vulcan loves cereal. You would base this estimate on your previous baseline estimate modified by the evidence you have gotten after your baseline estimate was established. Maybe your baseline estimate of the probability that someone loves cereal is "Most people love cereal, and therefore in the absence of any more specific information about this individual's food preferences, I estimate a high probability (if you're really smart you'll give it a number, let's say 70% for now) that Sailor Vulcan loves cereal."
          Then, you acquire the evidence:
"Sailor Vulcan lives an unusually healthy lifestyle, and only every once in a while consumes an amount of carbohydrates similar or close to what can be found in a bowl of cereal during a single meal."
          Let's say that the probability that this evidence is genuine and not me lying or being mistaken about my food preferences or you misremembering something I said or did in your presence etc. is really high maybe around 80%.
          Since your prior probability that Sailor Vulcan loves cereal is 70%, that means that if you looked at 100 people who were sufficiently similar to me, you would expect the number of them who love cereal to be ~70 people, and the number of them who don't love cereal to be ~30 people. The prior probability of Sailor Vulcan being in the group of 70 people is 70%, and the prior probability of Sailor Vulcan being in the group of 30 people is 30%.
          Now here's where things get really interesting. You can use the evidence: "Sailor Vulcan lives an unusually healthy lifestyle, and only every once in a while consumes an amount of carbohydrates similar or close to what can be found in a bowl of cereal during a single meal," to update your original mental probability estimate. To do this, simply multiply your original mental probability estimate by the probability of the evidence given that original estimate.
          For instance, multiply your estimate of the likelihood that "Sailor Vulcan loves cereal" by the likelihood of finding out that "Sailor Vulcan lives an unusually healthy lifestyle, and only every once in a while consumes an amount of carbohydrates similar or close to what can be found in a bowl of cereal during a single meal."
          
          Don't look at the numbers. You can do this without consciously doing any math!!

          Imagine the hypothetical you that estimated a 70% baseline likelihood that Sailor Vulcan loves cereal. Put yourself in their shoes, try to imagine what that version of you is thinking and feeling, what their psychological state is.
          Imagine your psychological state when you believe that Sailor Vulcan is highly likely to love cereal.
          Now imagine precisely how surprised or unsuprised you are when you find out that
"Sailor Vulcan lives an unusually healthy lifestyle, and only every once in a while consumes an amount of carbohydrates similar or close to what can be found in a bowl of cereal during a single meal."
          Now imagine your psychological state after this. How likely do you feel it is that Sailor Vulcan loves cereal? Do the chances feel higher? Do they feel lower?

          Remember this feeling. Memorize it. Pay attention to it. This feeling of being surprised or unsurprised by the evidence tells you what your mental likelihood-estimates were before encountering that evidence. And if you know in advance how surprised or unsurpised you would be to find out that a certain claim is true or false, then that level of hypothetical surprise or unsurprise IS your current mental likelihood-estimate that said claim is true or false. You don't need to round this estimate off to the nearest whole number. This mental estimate IS your currently held belief.
          Now, you're never going to be able to get infinite certainty in this new kind of belief. 0% and 100% are not actually probabilities, but absolute certainties, aka "estimates of infinite certainty", so they can't be updated by the evidence. Anything multiplied by 0% is 0%, and anything multiplied by 100% is still itself (100% equals 1 and 0% equals 0, percentages are just treating all numbers from 0 to 1 as improper fractions with a denominator of 100).
          Do you see why it was often so hard to change your mind before? When you round up all your beliefs to the nearest whole number and treat them like they are all 100% likely to be true or 0% likely to be true, it becomes really really hard to change your mind. It's also worth noting that "50% likely to be true" isn't quite the same as "I have no idea whatseover". With a  50% mental likelihood-estimate that a claim is true, you would not be surprised if the claim was true, nor if it was false. But if you really had no opinion, if you really had no idea and no way to make a guess besides eenie-meanie-minie-moe or flipping a coin, then it wouldn't be at 50%. You simply wouldn't have any idea how surprised or unsurprised you would be at all.
           Since you don't have an infinite amount of evidence to draw from, there will always be some level of uncertainty in whether our beliefs are true or false, and in how closely our perspectives match reality.
          Just because different people's brains are unreliable sometimes in slightly different ways doesn't mean that you should just always ignore your brain and only listen to experts. Experts have limited data sets too, and they aren't with you 24/7 to make all your decisions and judgements for you in your everyday life. Scientific consensus is definitely more reliable than individual judgements, but science is used more for generalized and reproducible knowledge and there are types of knowledge that aren't scientific, like the fact that my keys are in my pocket, or the fact that i am currently writing a post on my blog.
          If you wanted to rely on scientific consensus to figure out where your keys were, you'd need to give the scientific community quite a bit of data about yourself and your personal organizational habits, and then you'd probably need to have a large representative sample of everett branches with a "you" in it who have misplaced their keys sometimes and then they could do a behavioral study on them and then make a prediction of where your keys are most likely to be right now based on that, having each "you" look in each location, and then recording the number of yous who found the keys in each particular spot.
          Or at the very least, (since this is real life) you need a large sample of people who are sufficiently similar to you to habitually tend to leave their keys in the same spots as you do when they lose their keys.
          You dont need a 100% certain "guarantee" that your perceptions are accurate to act on them or to use them as models to help make further predictions. Having a finite amount of data/observations means you can have a finite amount of likelihood/expectation that your hypotheses are true or false.
          
          And this brings us full circle back to the Pro-Truth Pledge, and to our original question: how can we know if and when scientists or fact-checkers collectively lie or are collectively wrong?
          To be honest, it is my opinion that the Pro-Truth Pledge oversimplifies rational epistemology by framing rational beliefs in terms of Boolean values. Potential states of reality can be Boolean, but a rational belief in the absence of infinite evidence will always be merely probabilistic.
          However, I think it does this for a very good reason. It seems most likely to be because most people don't have the time or desire to learn any probability theory, and yet we still need a way for regular people to distinguish between:
                    1. claims that are significantly higher than 50% likely to be true based on the evidence available
          and
                    2. claims that are significantly lower than 50% likely to be true based on the evidence available.

          Most people already use Boolean values to describe their beliefs about a thing, rather than using a percentage that measures how surprised or unsuprised they would be by certain hypothetical observations they could make about that thing.
          And it would be a lot harder to start a movement educating everybody about probability BEFORE starting a movement getting people to value truth more.
          Rest assured, using Boolean values can still be good enough a lot of the time. Generally, I would say that Boolean value-beliefs are probably good enough for most purposes when you're dealing with subjects that have larger data sets, because doing more tests tends to increase the disparity between:

                    1. the probability of a claim being true given the evidence available
          and
                    2. the probability of that same claim being false given the evidence available.

          Unfortunately, using Boolean value-beliefs makes it harder to independently evaluate the reliability or honesty of particular fact-checkers and scientists/scientific organizations. If you're using Boolean value-beliefs, then when it comes to science it's really hard to change your mind with evidence, because you won't be able to form an opinion until the scientists have already gathered enough evidence to make a really high or really low likelihood estimate of whether a claim is true or false. Checking for yourself would mean gathering the evidence that had been used to form your scientific consensus-given baseline estimate in the first place.
          If you're using Boolean value-beliefs, any probability estimate too close to 50% is simply labeled "I don't know". So no matter how much evidence you gather, you're still basically stuck there until you've gathered enough evidence to be overwhelmingly on one side or the other. And even then it's hard to update, because you've already ran so many tests, and they all resulted in "I don't know". If all the tests you ran felt "Inconclusive" it's going to be hard to make that jump to "this is really likely/unlikely to be true". But if you can't update your beliefs incrementally with the evidence, then you can't properly check a scientist's work. You would only be able to evaluate whether new results matched with old well-established results, and anything really surprising would be thrown out the window simply because it is really surprising.
          So laypeople who don't have any knowledge of probability will just have to take our word for it and hope that fact-checkers and science is trustworthy.
          Which is a bit of a bummer, because if they were thinking about their beliefs in terms of percentages of expectation, as levels of surprise/unsurprise, rather than just a yes/no, they would be able to update incrementally. And that would allow them to actually be able to form opinions based directly on the evidence available to scientists which they publish in journals, rather than just taking their word for it.
          And the thing is, while scientific consensus is a LOT MORE reliable than individual perception, it still isn't infallible, and in the infrequent and unlikely event that the scientific consensus gets something wrong, a layperson with no knowledge of probability would be unable to notice it. This could have consequences for new or emerging fields of study which are highly relevant where there aren't very large data sets yet but people still want to know about. If there's any public reporting being done on a relatively new field without many or perhaps without any established well-supported theories, then a layperson who uses Boolean-value beliefs instead of probabilistic beliefs is going to be unable to form any rational opinions about it. And if it's a field that they really need to know about for their own safety or wellbeing or the safety or wellbeing of society, then not being able to form an accurate understanding of the currrent state of the field is not a good thing.
          However, every cause has to start somewhere, and since currently most people aren't interested in learning about probability, we'll just have to stick with the Pro-Truth Pledge as it is for now.