Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Dennett comments on ID

In a recent NY Times article, Dan Dennett comments on the ID situation. (register, it only takes one minute)

The designs found in nature are nothing short of brilliant, but the process of design that generates them is utterly lacking in intelligence of its own.

Intelligent design advocates, however, exploit the ambiguity between process and product that is built into the word "design." For them, the presence of a finished product (a fully evolved eye, for instance) is evidence of an intelligent design process. But this tempting conclusion is just what evolutionary biology has shown to be mistaken.

Yes, eyes are for seeing, but these and all the other purposes in the natural world can be generated by processes that are themselves without purposes and without intelligence. This is hard to understand, but so is the idea that colored objects in the world are composed of atoms that are not themselves colored, and that heat is not made of tiny hot things."
"Indeed, no intelligent design hypothesis has even been ventured as a rival explanation of any biological phenomenon. This might seem surprising to people who think that intelligent design competes directly with the hypothesis of non-intelligent design by natural selection. But saying, as intelligent design proponents do, "You haven't explained everything yet," is not a competing hypothesis. Evolutionary biology certainly hasn't explained everything that perplexes biologists. But intelligent design hasn't yet tried to explain anything."

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Show us your Wrath(?)

Did God finally have enough of it or did he just want some beads?

(I know I'm making a joke even though people have actually died. It is only to point out that the Argument from Evil is a powerful one and/or many people are inconsistent when it comes to their values and their behaviour. In the linked story the Biloxi mayor said "This is our tsunami." While the process of comparing deaths is somewhat absurd, I think there is validity in it. 100 dead is not the same as 210,000 dead. It would seem odd to say, "This is our one-twentieth tsunami," but it would be more accurate and less insulting to the families of thousands of people. Secondly, why can't you make a reference to some devastating hurricane? A hurricane is not a tsunami. More reasons it is dissimilar are that large foreign corporations will not likely displace you from your future homes and that aid given to help will actually be received and used to help you.)

Fast Food Nation

Over the past two days I listened to the audiobook of Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. This is another one of those ‘everyone should be exposed to this material or at least this perspective, angering that it might be.’ Basically, the structure of the fast food industry has created a whole series of transformations (many bad) in America and other industries are following suit.

Though saddening, it is important to be reminded that it is all about money; there are operations and operatives working constantly to seduce your existence (i.e., resources, thoughts, being).

Here are some tidbits:

8 years old is the perfect marketing age, they are impressionable and have 65 years ahead of them.

70% of visits to fast food stores are unplanned. Most aren’t evening planning to eat.

One of the major breakthroughs of fast food is the absence of cutlery and plates. (That is so familiar to me that I hadn’t even thought about it being another way.)

McDonald’s uses commercial satellites to predict urban sprawl to build appropriate locations.

McDonald’s is almost more appropriately thought of as a gargantuan landlord. It just so happens that the best way for their ‘tennets’ to pay the rent is by selling cheap hamburgers.

Almost everything arrives frozen and is then cooked.

Fries are purchased for 30 cents/pound, they are heated and oiled and sold for 6 bucks a pound.

The syrup in soft drinks costs between 9-14 cents.

New Jersey turnpike runs through ‘flavour’ country, as in flavour companies are based in and around there. Those factories make the flavours you love.

0.5 cents for flavour in a Coke.

It was interesting to think about olfaction/taste and that one drop of one chemical provides enough flavour when diluted in an amount equivalent to 5 swimming pools.

Add a chemical, and things can taste like apple, popcorn or grass even!

Natural flavour is a sketchy misleading concept

The McNugget changed things. Chicken was never sold in little pieces like that. Consequently, in 1992 sales of chicken surpassed that of beef.

A top executive involved in food ingredient production/sales actually said, “Our competitors are our friends and our customers are our enemies.” (wow)

Many stores use illegal or recent immigrants. They are poor, less likely to join unions, and more willing to comply.

More fast food workers are killed each year than police officers. (I think this might be misleading. There are 200,000 stores, so probably at least one million workers, what about the average citizen, or how many police officers are there? More stats would help).

Slitter – someone’s actual job is to slit the throat of cattle at about once every ten seconds.

A meat packer is three times more dangerous than the average factory job

This one guy Kenny worked and worked for a meat packing plant despite injury after injury and unjust requests. After a broken leg, ankle, heart attack and lungs destroyed from chlorine, he was fired. He said, “…I have no body parts left to give…” (I imagine that his situation is atypical, but… wow)

Companies used to feed cows dead dogs/cats from shelters.

Dead chicken, sheep, cow blood, chicken manure are feed to cows.

Food safety… yikes.

JackintheBox now has the more thorough safety testing. Other companies are resistant to microbial testing, but it raises costs by only about a penny per pound.

In Brazil, McDonald’s is the largest private employer.

McDonald’s opened a store in Germany, one mile from a concentration camp. They denied they were trying to ‘cash in’ on visitors, but initially distributed flyers in the parking lots near the camps.

What Las Vegas really sells: a loss that feels like winning. (Regarding the nature/structure of slot machines)

We’ve been fattening ourselves up and it is spreading, despite the fact that a western diet increases likelihood of death.

In summation, like Wal-Mart or Nike, through fast food we are destroying ourselves because of our attraction to shiny, colourful things, our desire for cheaper prices, and our quest for immediate gratification.

Monday, August 29, 2005

I can relate

"I used to be entertaining. Someone reminded me of that today. They asked me why I spend the majority of my time focused on such dour subjects. I shrugged my shoulders and said that there’s only so much of your life you can spend ignoring it before it makes you feel like a coward."
- Matthew Good.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Vroom Vroom

Whlist walking to Spring Garden I had the displeasure of experiencing several cars racing up South Park. Is making a loud noise and competing to see who can cover 20-80 metres the fastest really necessary?
I had to say to myself, "I guess the shitheads are out tonight." Sigh.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

One of these things is not like the others...

[Mike and I crafted the following in reponse to Robert Paul's (Dalhouise Philosophy Dept.) statement that "Actually, I think it is easy to justify the notion that Science is as much a religion as those other belief systems that we generally classify as such."]

Darren and Mike here with a shared response to Robert's suggestion that Science is indistinguishable from religion at a metaphysical level. We concede that both science and religion share a common first tenet that truth (i.e. some reality) exists. (Actually, to be properly scientific, it might be better labelled a first working hypothesis). Indeed, this is a universal axiom; those that lead an existence in opposition to this hypothesis have a tendency of dying quickly (from malnutrition, hypoxia, etc). However, we feel that the literally vital distinction between science and religion lies in the next step: the means by which knowledge regarding the nature truth is sought.

Science holds evidence as the ultimate arbiter, whereas faith by definition is belief without evidence. (Of course, the definition of "evidence" is going to be a hazy one. Indeed, it is likely that evidence is best expressed as some continuum of degrees: making things up; guessing; single person's anecdotal experience; multiple people's common experience; ... ; measurement via double-blind experimentation; etc.) It might be argued that the religious are indeed basing their belief on some sort of evidence (visceral feelings, anecdotal experiences, etc), but the point is that science seeks validation of beliefs/hypotheses by the most rigorous evidence possible while religion satisfies itself with much weaker evidence.

While science does not hold a monopoly on knowledge acquisition, the knowledge it provides is by definition the most reliable and useful for navigating the world in which we live. Nothing else provides both power and specificity; nothing else gets you to the moon and can tell you how it did it. This of course ties in with Andrew's comments regarding the type of answers science provides, which in turn espouses the Lakatosian philosophy of science that both explanation AND prediction are critical to the validity of theory.

This is all definitely getting off topic for this list, so we'll cut things off here. Note that we do recognize that there are further complexities to this argument, for example the value and emotional communicativity of non-scientific pursuits such as the arts, and the question of how to derive a morality from a scientific perspective. Indeed we haven't achieved full agreement amongst ourselves on these points, but in the interests of preserving the focus of this list we'll leave further discussion to another forum.

Mike Lawrence & Darren McKee

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Who created Hume?

"We are still obliged to mount higher, in order to find the cause of this cause, which you had assigned as satisfactory and conclusive.... How therefore shall we satisfy ourselves concerning the cause of that Being, whom you suppose the Author of nature, or, according to your system of anthropomorphism, the ideal world, into which you trace the material? Have we not the same reason to trace that ideal world into another ideal world, or new intelligent principle? But if we stop, and go no farther; why go so far? Why not stop at the material world? How can we satisfy ourselves without going on in infinitum? And after all, what satisfaction is there in that infinite progression?"
-Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Pt. IV. 1779.

(The above is a statment regarding the First Cause Argument: That everything has a first cause. This is sometimes used as a reason for believing in God, but those supporters never ask "Who created God?" thereby invalidating their own argument.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Iraq: The Unseen War

From Salon...
'The grim reality of Iraq rarely appears in the American press. This photo gallery reveals the war's horrible human toll.' (warning: graphic images)

Monday, August 22, 2005

To answer your question, it seems to be good for debt

(from the NY Times)

Sunday, August 21, 2005


As I'm currently reading GEB, it was great to find this picture and many more here.
(I'll get back to writing real stuff soon ;)

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Power of Life in the palms...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Intelligent Design... sigh

Haha... intelligent and delightful. On a more serious note, here is a thorough essay discussing and refuting ID.

Relevance for Canadians and those in the UK.

Additionally, as I have another decent Dennett quotation and it fits the subject matter, I thought I'd share the thoughts of someone likely smarter than either of us.

"The evidence of evolution pours in, not only from geology, paleontology, biogeography, and anatomy (Darwin's chief sources), but from molecular biology and every other branch of the life sciences. To put it bluntly but fairly, anyone today who doubts that the variety of life on this planet was produced by a process of evolution is simply ignorant - inexcusably ignorant, in a world where three out of four people have learned to read and write. Doubts about the power of Darwin's idea of natural selection to explain this evolutionary process are still intellectually respectable, however, although the burdern of proof for such skepticism has become immense..."
-Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

For the inadvertent exacerbators...

"There's nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view that I hold dear."
-Daniel C. Dennett

Monday, August 15, 2005

Okay, I'm impressed

Another breakdancing video.

Evocative Defined?

"The pilot has turned blue. Cousin, farewell, we're freezing."

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Recent Media

Last Tuesday I watched the Thai martial arts movie Ong-bak. If you like martial arts movie, and can withstand their normal (or lack of) plot structure, as well as handle of range of "I can't believe he just did that!" to "that makes no sense!" then I highly recommend it. The subtitles make it more cognitively demanding than most action flicks, but it is worth it. Solid rental. (There are actually some new moves/stuff in this.)

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of finally watching the movie Awakenings. Wow... what a wonderful film! No wonder it is highly acclaimed. I think everyone should watch this movie because it serves to put one's health in perspective (as well as an affirmation of aspects of the scientific method :P).

I've been reading and recommending this article and other stuff from Mblog.
Additionally, Common Dreams has some good articles; some of the big names have written lately (Zinn, Nader and Klein)

I recently read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and thought it was a great little book. Interesting and informative because the writer takes the perspective of a teenager with autism who is writing a story. Easy read, too.

I also just finished Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. The work is pseudo-autobiographical as it describes Miller's experiences in Paris in the early 1930s. While I found it worthwhile (to experience an author) and well-written, I prefer more of a narrative and... different content. Meaning, I want to identify with protagonists or respect them for their virtues, not have them continuously visiting whores and feeling unfulfilled.

I'm starting to watch episodes of the old (90s) Superman cartoon show. I'll admit my fanboyosity. :D

I've also been listening the White Stripes new ablum while doing this post. Though I enjoyed some of the songs, it's not really my thing. Alternatively, I just started some YoYo Ma Cello Suites inspired by Bach... ineffably beautiful.

Readin's neat.

(Note: the 'normal' sentence structure in which the above paragraph was written allows for the effect described within. If words were written randomly (i.e., without grammar) then the overt effect would disappear.)

Friday, August 12, 2005

Pinker vs. Spelke

Last night, I had the pleasure of watching this debate with a group of friends. It was good in two ways: (1) the content itself, and (2) discussing the thoughts of those attending (oh, and that people actually came :P).

From the link you can read or download the two-hour discussion; I recommend it. The issue, popularized at the time because of remarks from Harvard's president, was 'Why are less women in certain high-level professions' such as engineering or mathematics. Pinker went more the 'there are genetic differences between the sexes and men are more variable' while Spelke posited 'discrimination and bias' as the main factors that created the situation.

Pinker's presentation was more structured and he was a better speaker, if only because Spelke kept stepping away from her main mic, making it annoying to have the volume fluctuate. (Another technical point is that the filming could have been a bit better.)
I always think it is great to have two smart people with good arguments disagree because the 'real' answer is likely in the middle. They both had some 'damaging' points, and I felt myself being lead towards Pinker's point (he went first) but then Spelke's. His use of meta-analyses and statistics versus her use of studies examining perception of behaviour/ability based on sex (children and prof CVs). I wish they addressed potential historical/evolutionary reasons for differences, as well as specifically detailed why they each presented the relatively opposing point with different sources of data.

The other main issue touches on my apparently idealistic oratorical standards. Pinker and Spelke were not poor speakers, but she said 'uh' quite a bit during her presentation, and Pinker said 'uh' quite a bit during the 'rebuttal' period. This is the cream of the crop. Harvard professors, confident to debate publicly about a controversial subject, who have been studying psychology for over 30 years. I would seem that things are not what I thought they could be (or maybe things just are not like tv). So it goes.

It was stimulating discussion regarding a complex issue that cannot be intellectually delineated in only 120 minutes. Good stuff.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Go read.

This and this are worth reading from Mblog.

That's interesting

If Japan's postal system were privatized it would become the world's largest bank.
(Huh, guess they have some really nice stamps.)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Player Piano

I recently finished another Vonnegut book: Player Piano. Here are two excerpts I thought worth sharing.

“The band at the far end of the hall, amplified to the din of an elephant charge, smashed and hewed at the tune as though in a holy war against silence. It was impossible even to be cordial to oneself in the midst of the uproar.” (p169)

“And as Paul said these things to himself, a wave of sadness washed over them as though they’d been written in sand. He was understanding now that no man could live without roots – roots in a patch of desert, a red clay field, a mountain slope, a rocky coast, a city street. In black loam, in mud or sand or rock or asphalt or carpet, every man had his roots down deep – in home.” (p205)

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A Sigh of Design?

Yesterday, Bush endorsed the teaching of 'intelligent design' in schools. If you read the story, you'll notice that he also believes Palmerio and supports Karl Rove. Almost gotta hand it to someone that unabashedly displays an intuition-based tripartition of stupidity in one press conference. Almost.


25% of all children born in Niger will die before the age of 10.

(More info from the BBC or CBC or CNN and baserates)

Look Closer?

"The unexamined life is not be worth living."


The overly examined life is arduous (albeit providing a likely reduction in the tendency to perform acts that will create negativity for one's self or others).

Monday, August 01, 2005

One more reason...