Friday, September 28, 2007

Is outdoing monkeys while imagining free will the only way you can feel like a man?

Why does it bother people that we might be pretty similar to other monkeys (i.e. with better vocabularies, worse feet etc but no glorious fundamental difference)? Similarly what's so scary about everything being mechanistic, free will not existing, and everything being meaningless apart from the values that we make up?

If we are fundamentally similar to other animals it has no effect whatsoever on the experience of humanity that we cherish. It has always been that way, and works fine. We know what being human is like, so if monkeys are similar that should only change our ideas of what being a monkey is like. What being a monkey is like is not usually considered a pressing issue in society, so why care? Why does our societal self-worth rest on being heaps better than monkeys?

Similarly with the other possibilities listed above, if they are true, obviously they always have been and everything we enjoy is possible in their presence. It isn't like as soon as you stop believing in free will you will turn into a robot. If it's the case, you already are one, and everything you've ever loved and dreamed of has arisen from that. It's not some strange new reality.

Perhaps practically these things seem to hold different probabilities for the future to other beliefs? e.g. the universe being purely mechanistic might make Heaven seem unlikely. But you could still have a mechanistic God and Heaven and soul (it's not nearly as impossible as non-mechanistic ones). It's not the end of the world.

Or is it actually hard to hold one's own values, for instance, without the delusion that they are somehow fundamentally valuable?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

So much for the factual public debate that democracies completely fail to be built on

Publicly refuting facts often reinforces their believed truth in the minds of the public, and they will even credit the misinformation to the organisation denying it.

A Washington Post article reports an experiment where people were given fliers labelling common ideas about influenza 'true' or 'false'. Half an hour later older people already remembered 28% of falsities as facts, and three days later 40% , by which time younger people caught up to the older people's half hour figure. It seems that the repetition of the false information helps to ingrain it, while the extra information - that it is false - is soon lost.

So how do you have factual public debate when whoever starts it automaticly has a major advantage? Denial and silence can have the same effect as agreeing, but denying is still best. A good proportion of people (a few days later at least) do remember whether their facts are false or not. Though as TWP discusses, it's probably best to deny things without actually mentioning them if possible. That is, fiercly support something mutually exclusive.

As noted in the discussion of Overcoming Bias' post on this, if people have anything at stake they might pay more attention. While this has problems of its own (discussed there), a big obvious gap where it's important for people to have accurate information on topics not directly concerning them is in democracy. Just another in a long list of problems with the kinds of democratic systems we use, but in conjunction with rational ignorance it makes the chance of voters having a clue about anything not immediately concerning them both tiny and tied firmly to the chance of the first buyer of lots of ads happening to be right.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Markets are a kind of electrochemical cell

There are two processes taking place: adding and using up value from units. When everything is mixed together and these processes are happening in one place, they happen slowly (think of subsistence production by consumers). Separate them to their own containers and they happen faster (think production in factories and consumption in homes). The containers must be joined by a channel for units to move according to their value, and a wire for charges to balance that. The same value is removed from particles in one container as added to others in the other.

The extra energy pushing the charges and value laden particles between the containers can be used to run things like light bulbs and welfare systems. Alternatively it can be used to run a small heat to warm up the reaction, or an advertising industry.

While the charges can move around indefinitely, the particles eventually run out. Then it's all over. With any luck/sensible policy the metaphor doesn't continue this far.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Who needs democracy, free speech and all that rubbish when you can prescribe the values of your citizens?

The Australian Government has released a list of ten values it considers essential to being an Australian citizen.

While these principles are relatively inoffensive, letting the government prescribe what values citizens should hold is a frightening road to be going down! The point of democracy is for citizens to decide what the government's values should be. This means nothing if the government chooses citizens' values.

Incidentally I don't value any of those listed per se. Only as general principles that are usually upshots of what I do value. There are times I would act against most of them for values not on this list. I also don't know what our national flower is (though I've never found that a barrier to integrating with Australian culture). I hope I get deported to somewhere where policy is less of a joke.