Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Putting the Dick in vice-president

I just read this from Mblog.

The main point
Vice President Dick Cheney said the following on Larry King Live this evening of Amnesty’s recent report on US human rights abuses:

"For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously.”

The clever counterpoint
The response to Cheney’s comments by Amnesty USA’s William Schulz was:

"It doesn't matter whether he takes Amnesty International seriously. He doesn't take torture seriously; he doesn't take the Geneva Convention seriously; he doesn't take due process rights seriously; and he doesn't take international law seriously. And that is more important than whether he takes Amnesty International seriously."


What a great birthday I just had. I went downtown today and bought some shoes (something I hate because I seem to have finicky feet), but I'm lovin' seeing all the people and the buildings. I got to spent some good time with some good friends. I think one of the highlights would be watching Secha Baron Cohen's Borat with my friends and my mom. Additionally, I was able to play Ben Fold's cover of Dre's "Bitches aint' shit" for my friends and my mom. In conclusion, there is great evidence to suggest that my mom is cool. :P (and clouds at night look awesome-beautiful)
On to 27 I guess.

Monday, May 30, 2005


Darren Blake Cameron McKee turned 26 today.
He succeeded in not dying for another year.
(today shall be great :)

Sunday, May 29, 2005

A Wonderful World

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

-Bob Thiele, George David Weiss & George Douglas(?)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

TO update

I'm home! :) It is so nice and it has been so long (almost six months). My flight was wonderful: I saw the reflection of clouds in water for (what I think was) the first time. It was so pretty. I could see the CN tower from many kilometers away, and could still see it when the plane landed.

My Dad picked me up, had some subs, chatted and then home to see my house and hug my mom. I went for a wonderful walk along the lakeshore seeing a gorgeous sky, waves lapping, swans and Ben Affleck filming a movie. How odd. I wanted to be that guy that says, "Affleck! You suck!" but I thought that wouldn't really help the world. What a lucky monkey.

The garden is beautiful, resolving some things with my sister was draining but relieving and seeing my good friend Owen is fantastic. We walked around Queen St. a little. SO many big buildings! I end up seeming like some hick, it amuses me.

Life's pretty good. Movies to watch, friends to see, a birthday to be had and relaxation occurring. I hope everyone else is well.

Oh, and to everyone in Halifax:
a) when I arrived it was sunny and 20 degrees and
b) I haven't been mugged yet. :P

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Voyager 1 and the Ineffable

The BBC reported recently that Voyager 1 is about to leave our solar system. The craft was first launched in 1977 and is now 14 billion km from the Sun. The graphic below is from the article. It gives an idea of trajectory, relative position and nature of our solar system.

Things in the this world are just wild!

The article mentions solar 'wind' that reaches speeds of "1.1-2.4 million km/h." Wow!!! Additionally, things in space are SO big! It is really hard to picture this craft, it is even past Pluto; a place where the sun looks like just another star.

Along with the sheer vastness of size, another incomprehensible value is the speed of light. Light travels through (the abnormal vacuum of) space at 299792458ms/s. That's 108 million km/h. Even at light speed, it would take about 130 hours, or about 5 and a half days. I realize that is might make either value less understandable by using them in relation to each other, but other values also become unhelpful. An example: Many people have travelled at 100km/hour, if that is the speed one went, to reach Voyager 1's distance it would take about 16,000 years!

On a related note, I highly recommend you read this (again?)

Solar wind: Stream of charged particles blown off the Sun and travelling at supersonic speeds
Termination shock: Area where particles from the Sun begin to slow and clash with matter from deep space
Heliosheath: A vast, turbulent expanse where the solar wind piles up as it presses outward against interstellar matter
Heliopause: The boundary between the solar wind and the interstellar wind, where the pressure of both are in balance
Bow shock: The shock wave caused by the edge our Solar System travelling through deep space

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Great Day!

Today was just one of those fantastic days. I was giggling to myself while walking to school I was in such a good mood. Hee hee. I actually had to refrain from smiling 'too' much least people think I was odd.
Life is good, life is good, life is good! :D

Monday, May 23, 2005

Pondering Processing Processes

Inspired by reading a dialogue by Hofstadter in The Mind’s I, I began to try to think of myself as a process.

It is kinda odd, and a bit difficult, but it is interesting. We are so used to seeing ourselves as hard nouns (i.e, person, body, organism, thing) that to see one’s self as something less tangible, something more like “A series of actions, changes, or functions bringing about a result,” is a bit bizarre.

What result? Could be a number of things: consciousness, gene propagation, helping to move around molecules, or eventually the heat death of the universe. The key is to try to think about your self as part of something greater, but also as part of a something that does not have a goal, as there is no plan. Enjoy.

PS: I came across another wonderful tidbit. The background: The Mind’s I is series of collected essays and short works of fiction, with subsequent reflections by either Hofstadter or Dennett. After one of the essays, Hofstadter’s reflection was politely interrupted by Dennett, who said, ‘“If I were you, I’d mention how curious it would be to preface some advice with “If you were me, I’d…” but if you were me, would I suggest that you mention it?’

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Yay Science!

1) New species of monkey discovered.

2) It is possible to detect the mass of a single DNA molecule! It's a little more than an attogram (0.0000000000000000001 gm) (Actually, what they do is stand on a scale and weigh themselves, add the DNA molecule and weigh themselves again, and subtract the difference. Kidding! :P)

(for Canada)
3) When measuring citation rate per papers published, Canada is the best in astronomical research.

4) Canadian teenagers succeed at world science fair.

Finally, stem cell research is 'progressing.'

Saturday, May 21, 2005

What the Bleep do we Know!?

Answer: We know how to make New-Age propaganda films that misappropriates the current findings of quantum physics by combining that complicated knowledge with surreptitious edits, suspicious commentators, non sequiturs, specious arguments and highly misleading graphics.

The movie “What the Bleep do we Know!?” is a pseudo-documentary about what quantum mechanics can tell us about our lives. For much of the movie, one finds oneself understanding or agreeing with an idea presented, but then the presenter says something which is either a) incoherent or b) untrue. The movie is aptly named because one can’t help but watch and think “What the #&*%?”

Often in documentaries, they will provide the name and affiliation of the individual speaking, and any related works. The movie only did this at the end; I believe the reason was tactical. Most of the people interviewed were physicists, some at very respectable universities (I address that issue later). But there were one or two that were not associated with universities, of which the most interesting (and revealing) one was:

Master Teacher – Ramtha School of Enlightenment
Channelled by JZ Knight.

“Channelled?” “Channelled?!??!?!?!” This woman (either one) was given a prominent role in the film and she isn’t even herself? Wtf?!

I’m all for the presentation and discussion of ideas, but “What the Bleep” was not this. It was the thieving of science for non-scientific purposes. Having a PhD in Physics does not mean you know anything about philosophy or how science should or does impact our lives. It means (hopefully) that you know something about physics. Technically, that is all.

As for the complexity of quantum mechanics, Niels Bohr, one of the discoverers/founders of quantum theory, said, “Anybody who thinks they understand quantum physics is wrong.” This is from someone that engaged in multiple (i.e., nearly constant) debates with Einstein over many years. Einstein also helped create quantum theory, but he didn’t like it, so he would try to come up with ways to demonstrate its falsity. Every time Bohr was able to reject Einstein’s argument.
I’m not saying that all the research that has occurred in the past 50 years hasn’t brought a lot of information, or that the understanding of quantum mechanics has not increased; I provided the aforementioned information to indicate caution is appropriate. When one of the founders of quantum theory, consistently out-debates Einstein, and then says no one understands it, maybe it is more complex than is often presented to the public. (maybe *eye-roll*)

I do not recommend this movie. In fact, I ‘anti-recommend’ it. At best, it is something to watch in a critical thinking class for the purposes of analyzing fallacious statements and how information is often presented in a misleading manner.

(ps: upon looking at their web page to link the movie, I couldn't help but be concerned. Also, it sure is nice there is lots of stuff to buy. sigh )

Thursday, May 19, 2005

This will (likely) always be funny to me

Dr. Evil:
The details of my life are quite inconsequential.
Therapist: Oh no, please, please, let's hear about your childhood.
Dr Evil: Very well, where do I begin? My father was a relentlessly self-improving boulangerie owner from Belgium with low grade narcolepsy and a penchant for buggery. My mother was a fifteen year old French prostitute named Chloe with webbed feet. My father would womanize, he would drink, he would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark. Some times he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy, the sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament. My childhood was typical, summers in Rangoon, luge lessons. In the spring we'd make meat helmets. When I was insolent I was placed in a burlap bag and beaten with reeds, pretty standard really. At the age of 12 I received my first scribe. At the age of fourteen, a Zoroastrian woman named Vilma ritualistically shaved my testicles. There really is nothing like a shorn scrotum, it's breathtaking, I suggest you try it.
Therapist: You know, we have to stop.

Quotation of the Day

"Come hell or high water, there's no frigging way I'm going to let one ovary bring the government down," Parrish told a reporter for the Canadian Press news agency. (cbc)

(note: I realize 'quote of the day' flows better, but it is grammatically incorrect. "People have been using the noun quote as a truncation of quotation for over 100 years, and its use in less formal contexts is widespread today. Language critics have objected to this usage, however, as unduly journalistic or breezy." (Dictionary.com). While this is an informal setting, I thought I'd still use the proper form just to acknowledge the issue. Yes, yes, language is always changing, but words do mean something.)

Nerd Alert!!!

It is estimated that 650 million dollars in lost work hours will occur because of Episode III. Numerous 35 year old males will rage, rage against daylight and the outside world as they defiantly leave their mom's basement to watch a movie. Hey, if they aren't hurting anyone... meh.

(Note: The title is not to alert nerds to the opening of the movie. They already know that. This is more to alert others of the likely sudden influx of nerds into the society which they usually shun. Lastly, if you see an odd costumed people with little social experience, it's okay, it'll be over in a couple weeks.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Big Deal about free will (a reply to Josh)

Recently, my friend Josh did a post about free will on his blog. Below is his post and then my reply.

Thursday, May 12, 2005
What’s the big deal about free will?

Either we have “free will” or we don’t.
If we don’t, then free will is an illusion, because we certainly have the perception of free will. But if we have the perception of free will, why does it matter whether or not the perception is true / valid?

Example: If I have to make a choice between A or B (i.e. not A). It may be true that my choice is pre-determined by the interaction between the environment and the cells in my body. However, my perception is that there is a possibility of choosing either (A or B). I perceive freedom to choose. I perceive that the probability of choosing A or B is greater than zero for both options. If I am wrong, and the “choice” is really an illusion, so what? I still have to participate in that illusion, don’t I?

posted by Cosd @ 10:52 AM 2 comments

My Reply:

Oh, how I love’s the free will talk. The first thing that should occur (and I hope you shall do soon or at least next time) is to precisely define what it is that you mean by free will. There are many different definitions, as well as perspectives to take, that affect the answer one might return. I shall first discuss a few definitions (and their corresponding answers) and then attempt a description of why it matters.

Definition 1) The ability to make a choice independent of one’s physiology. I think this is the most comprehensive, initial viewpoint of free will. This can only occur if one posits various ethereal non-material stuff (i.e., souls). This free will does not exist.

Definition 2) Though relatively constrained by previous events, random fluctuations from the quantum world provide enough of a break in the causal chain of things for their to be a ‘freer’ choice. Thoughts like this are incoherent on many levels. First, why would randomness give ‘you’ any more choice? Second, it is not necessarily the case that random quantum fluctuations would scale up to any larger indeterminacy. It is possible that the noise is dampened. Third, free will is complicated enough, is it really wise to rely on whatever ‘the collapse of the waveform’ means?

Definition 3) The ability to make a selection among a set of options. Well, just look at what someone does at a restaurant. They selected one item over another. Hence, a ‘choice’ occurred. Humans have this ability.

To address your little example, in one sense you do have to participate in the ‘illusion,’ I even suggested as much when I quoted Dennett recently. From a human’s point of view, there is subjective uncertainty and the role of deliberation is an important one. It makes no sense to shun it, as one would soon find out. The universe has (purposelessly) created a highly rational, deliberative processing system that often does what is in its best interests. The ‘feeling’ of choice is a part of that it seems.

In another sense, you don’t have to participate as fully. Why? The illusory nature of free will is such that it breaks down if you start to examine it. Here is a quick little dialogue, please permit me some leeway because I’m going to put words in your mouth (as I think they represent thoughts many would have, even if you do not).

Darren: If you feel like you have a choice, who is doing choosing?

Josh: Well, I am.

Darren: Okay. Who are you? Please describe what exactly is choosing?

Josh: Maybe you want me to say that the collection of cells that comprises “Josh” that has existed in, and been shaped by, myriad environments throughout all of time?

Darren: Well, that’s what I think is a good description of an individual (not exclusively of course, there is always room for relevant specific designations. i.e., juggler).

Josh: But that still doesn’t really say who or what is choosing does it, it just gives a general description.

Darren: Right you are. I feel one must start with generalities because if there is a foundational disagreement greater specificity is wasted. So, the trillion-molecular machine that is Josh does the choosing. If I knew exactly how this happens we would both be lounging by my large pool, but here are various thoughts that might help understanding. Over the 4.5 billion years that Earth has existed, various life forms have emerged. For nearly all of that time, various organisms interacted with each other, they ate, they killed, they mated. In short, some of them survived. This naturally selective process created organisms that were highly compatible with their environments. Fast forwarding, an ape starts to stand a bit, but more importantly, the ape can talk. The transmission of ideas through language is likely what allowed for the various aspects of consciousness we currently possess. The brains of these primates still show their hundred million-year ancestry in the anatomy of the brain: the old stuff is under the new stuff. In many situations (more than they care to realize), these homo sapiens are heavily influenced by these ‘ancestral’ brain regions. Does anyone here enjoy eating and/or sex? How about not enjoying being attacked? There are reasons for this. Those who like sex (and dislike dying) are simply those that are going to be around to pass on those ‘dispositions.’

If you open up the brain, there is nobody home. It seems there is no centre, no main processing unit, no homunculus, and no ghost in that machine. Why this matters is that it offers greater explanatory power for understanding the world (and it is empirically supported!).

Here are some questions to ponder.

Have you ever wanted to do something, but you still did it? I want to diet, so I plan not to eat junk food. Yet, I still do. Why is this? Or there is something truly important to you, but you forgot. How is that possible if ‘you’ are in control? What about addicts or people with OCD? Are they in control? Have you ever forgotten anything? How could this happen if you were decided things?

More generally, how did you decide to have the thought you have right now? Where did it come from? Did ‘you’ decide to think it? Who decided on that decision then? Isn’t it more accurate to say, “a thought just pops in, and that seems to be what I think?”

If anyone has ever been really introspective, they are likely to hit a wall. If you are honest, and have thought about various reasons for behaviour, all you can do is assign probabilities to potential causes. Why did I do X? Maybe it was A, B, or C, but you might be left with a feeling of uncertainty. This is because you do not have full access to what you are. It is an odd sentence, but the speed and complexity of the processing of your brain creates a simpler world for you. There is a problem with this last sentence, which I’ll address after an example.

Your eyes often move around in very short bursts, or saccades. Several of these occur each second, and unless you are tracking a moving object, your eyes are not moving continuously but in these little bursts. These saccades are ballistic, meaning once a saccade begins it does not change trajectory in mid-air. When you read the words in this sentence, you do not read every word. Depending on your reading level, you might just scan part of each word, or you might skip whole words. Think about who is deciding where to look (and why you don’t see the ‘visual smear’ that the world becomes when you saccade? i.e., why don’t you perceive the stuff between saccades?). There have been experiments done to examine the nature of saccades. In one, a participant reads text on a screen while having their eyes monitored in real-time. A person reads along, saccading to words and reading sentences. They perceive it as very straight forward. But, during a saccade (when it is in mid-flight) the program can change the word the participant is saccading to. Here’s the kicker: they don’t notice. This can happen multiple times, and thy still don’t notice. If a second person looks at the screen from further back while the first person is doing the task, they will see the words changing because they are reading at different place/pace. The example is just to display that just because things appear a certain way, doesn’t mean they are.

Do you remember I said there was a problem with the sentence “It is an odd sentence, but the speed and complexity of the processing of your brain creates a simpler world for you”?

The problem is that an unnecessary dichotomy was created. Concisely, I separated you from your brain; this does not correspond to reality and that’s the problem. This occurs VERY frequently. It has to do with a sense of self and personhood, but there seems to be this tendency to say, “Did Josh do it, or did Josh’s brain?” That is an incoherent question. ‘Josh’ is a created (but not like output) by his brain, which is connected to his body, which is connected to the environment. All these things are connected and none of these parts work in isolation.

The topic of free will is an important one, because if one realizes that ‘they’ are a product of the interaction of their genetics and their environment (two things they had nothing to do with, at least initially), then one might feel less judgemental of others. For if you are just ‘fortunate’ enough to have the ‘right’ genes and the ‘right’ environments, and it is easy to imagine things could be different, how mad could you get at someone that has ‘failed’ our codes of behaviour, ethics or morality. I’m not saying remove responsibility, but I think compassion reasonably follows out of realizing that there is no free will (or that oneself is distributed in space and time).

Of course, there are many more issues here, but I think this reply is relatively sufficient to answer your question. You are what is choosing. You are a complex aggregation of billions of parts that exist together and whose design has been successful against numerous others. Some processing systems will be more successful in this world than others. If you happen to be one of the successful ones: a) thank the universe; b) do what you can to help those that weren’t the recipients of your probabilistic success.

Phew! Any questions or thoughts?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A Phantasmagoric Night

Hypnogogical accomplishments. So sick, but So well. I made it. Another accepted hallucination: Empathetical, perseverence and fortitude displayed. Tears of understanding, appreciation and respect. Imprecise processing muddles mind; Depth provides energetic rewards.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Life (x5) from Death

Positive outcomes to negative situations always make me happy.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

He'd be shaking his head.

Dear Chucky D,
Thank you for starting it all; the theory of natural selection has provided innumerable insights into the workings of the universe. Sadly, many still reject it. They are scared to rely upon themselves. They probably need a hug and someone to tell them it is okay. Don't worry, we will do what we can and fight for the rightful dominance of reason over idiocy.

The Way of a good dialogue

I was recently re-reading the dialogue “Is God a Taoist” (in The Mind’s I) and it had many intellectually delectable parts. The dialogue consists of a mortal talking to God about free will. The mortal’s initial request of seeking understanding about why God gave the mortal free will divaricates in many philosophical directions with interesting notions raised and ideas expressed. Here are two main excerpts.

GOD: Here I am eternally blissful without ever having to suffer or make sacrifices or struggle against evil temptations or anything like that. Without any of that type of “merit,” I enjoy blissful eternal existence. By contrast, you poor mortals have to sweat and suffer and have all sorts of horrible conflicts about morality, and all for what? You don’t even know whether I really exist or not, or if there really is any afterlife, or if there is, where you come into the picture. No matter how much you try to placate me by being “good,” you never have any real assurance that your “best” is good enough for me, and hence you have no real security in obtaining salvation. Just think of it! I already have the equivalent of “salvation” – and have never had to go through this infinitely lugubrious process of earning it. Don’t you ever envy me for it?

(and another good one, at a different part in the dialogue)

GOD: … all the arguments of the moralists – all the alleged reasons why people shouldn’t commit evils acts – simply pale into insignificance in light of the one basic truth that evil is suffering.

No, … I am not a moralist. I am wholly a utilitarian. That I should have been conceived in the role of moralist is one of the great tragedies of the human race. My role in the scheme of things (if one can use this misleading expression) is neither to punish nor reward, but to aid the process by which all sentient beings achieve ultimate perfection.

MORTAL: Why did you say your expression is misleading?

GOD: What I said was misleading in two respects. First of all it is inaccurate to speak of my role in the scheme of things. I am the scheme of things. Secondly, it is equally misleading to speak of my aiding the process of sentient beings attaining enlightenment. I am the process. The ancient Taoists were quite close when they said of me (whom they called “Tao”) that I do not do things, yet through me all things get done. In more modern terms, I am not the cause of the Cosmic Process, I am Cosmic Process itself. I think the most accurate and fruitful definition of me which man can frame – at least in his present state of evolution – is that I am the very process of enlightenment. Those who wish to think of the devil (although I wish they wouldn’t!) might analogously define him as the unfortunate length of time the process takes. In this sense, the devil is necessary; the process simply does take an enormous amount of time, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. But, I assure you, once the process is more correctly understood, the painful length of time will no longer be regarded as an essential limitation or evil. It will be seen to be the very essence of the process itself. I know this is not completely consoling to you who are now in the finite sea of suffering, but the amazing thing is that once you grasp this fundamental attitude, your very finite suffering will begin to diminish – ultimately to the vanishing point.

I really wish I could adopt this metaphysical view because I think that much happiness could be gained from it. Sadly, the notion of reincarnation is incoherent; or at least requires a departure from an evidence-based existence. I do like the idea of ‘the process of enlightenment,’ but modifying from the possible capital ‘E’ Enlightenment to the idea of understanding more about the world and the consequences of one’s actions.

My main concern is that of the pain of a victim. It just doesn’t make sense to me to believe that a perpetrator is hurting themselves more than the pain caused to their victim. Heck, if I could get behind that, I’d be blissed out almost all the time.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Napoleman Spidernomite?

No, but it seems close

That's one

Apparently, some US politicians can be reasonable sometimes. Senator (R) George Voinovich stated, "It is my opinion that John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be."
Full story.
(baby steps :)

I'm starting to run out of Sighs

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Across the Universe (Beatles)

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,
They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind,
Possessing and caressing me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Crunching Numbers

It was posted on base rates yesterday that the total lives lost in WWII was approximately 50 million. I find that number absolutely stunning; pondering context exacerbated the situation.

Currently, about 8.5 million people die every year from starvation. The Second World War was from 1939-1945 (i.e., six years).
6 x 8.5 = 51.
This means that over every six year period, deaths from starvation is equivalent to deaths from WWII.

Hard to determine what is worse: the human desires of greed, power, domination and violence that lead to countries destroying one another, or the human desires of greed, power, domination and violence that leads to countries not sharing their food.

It should be mentioned that at the time of WWII the population of the planet was less than one billion, while today it is over six billion. Proportionally then, the deaths of WWII are much higher. Yet, 50 million people dead now still seems rather important. Lastly, 20-30 years ago, when the population of the planet was 4-5 billion, 100 million were dying from starvation every six years, so the proportions possibly are not that disparate.

Monday, May 09, 2005

As simple as that

If you are against gay marriage, then you are against human rights.

The temporary absence of consciousness = Great

Oh, to be unconscious! How delightful! Of course, one cannot actually realize it at the time, nor would permanent unconsciousness be desirable.
As the title states, I actually had a decent nap.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Epistemic Oscillations

I’'ve now finished Elbow Room and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the topic of free will (it may be hard to find though). When I read the passage below, this thought popped into my head: What a wonderful description of a largely ineffable situation, as well as a decent account of what I think about several times throughout the day. Consequently, reading the passage will give your brain some delightful stimulation and insight into my thoughts. I especially identified with the second paragraph, and like the suggestions of the third.
Enjoy (from pages 114-115)

A creature with a particularly hidebound and unadventurous policy of imagination management in its manifest image would no doubt never run the risk of encountering, let alone being bothered by, the problem of free will. But we human beings have proven too clever for that. The manifest image of human beings is the everyday world of colored things (not swarms of molecules); our eyes are macroscopes, not microscopes. We also only perceive only “middle-sized” rates of change; things that happen faster or slower are imperceptible to our naked eyes and ears. But unlike any other species, we have in addition to our manifest image what Sellers calls the scientific image. With our natural equipment we may not be able to see, or track, electrons, but we understand that while “water” is a mass noun for us, water is also a swarm of countable molecules, whose trajectories are trackable in principle, and sometimes even in practice (with the aid of prosthetic extensions of our senses).

Given our extended purposes and circumstances, it even becomes in our interests, in special circumstances, to abandon the wise economies of our manifest image and reconceive portions of our world at a different, more fine-grained level of description. It is then that we discover the incompleteness of the conceptual scheme of our manifest image, and begin to reconceive it as a limited, biased, defeasible perspective on the world. We have seen that our capacity to engage in real-time deliberation – including the deliberation required to engage in scientific research – depends on our manifest image, but it still seems to be a sort of illusion born of cognitive miserliness.

We come, then, to an apparent dilemma, wavering back and forth between the practical – even, perhaps, optimally practical – way of thinking of the world, and an impractical but still rationally endorsed vision. We have made some progress, however. We have found some reasons supporting our parochial hunch that they way we think about our place in the universe is not only the only way we can think of it (on a day-to-day basis), but the only way to think of it – the only way for a finite, rational deliberator to think, whether or not determinism is true. If you want to deliberate, and deliberate well, it is rational for you to act as if the world really does have an open future, with real opportunities.

Happy Mother's Day!!!

I love ya Mom.

(I do realize that it is unlikely you will read this unless I show you, but that will happen eventually so it is worth doing now. Secondly, my mom IS better than yours! :P )


I find moods interesting. Well, when I'm not in a bad one I find them interesting. One's outlook on their life and the world can shift quite dramatically simply with the passage of time or other factors. Currently, I'm sick and have been sleeping even worse than usual, so I wasn't so happy most of the day. Now, I feel clearer. Knowing a bit of psyc, I think about how a negative (or positive) mental state will tend to activate negative (or positive) thoughts or perspectives. The key is to somehow make the shift. That is much easier done intellectually than viscerally. Below are two songs I was thinking about at different times of the day. Ah, the illogical disposition of those in the Western world to tend to extrapolate the future from the present assuming things will be consistent. Ideally, I would have the Eastern concept of balance when I'm in a bad mood, and the Western one when I'm in a good mood. If you have any tips on how to do this, please pass them along. As this is more of rambling post, this is a good a time as any to end it.

"I walk alone and I
I ride alone and I
I rock myself to sleep"
- MG

"Give a little bit
Give a little bit of your love to me"
- Supertramp

(oh, and here is a nice story for bedtime)

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Sigh (again)

This isn't a joke (well, not in a good way anyway). For more sighing...

Friday, May 06, 2005

Every Little bit...

(celebs might have some use)

"If everyone who wants to see an end to poverty, hunger and suffering speaks out, then the noise will be deafening. Politicians will have to listen."
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu


Life must be understood backwards; but... it must be lived forwards.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Isn’t culture great?

As I recently mentioned, I’m reading a book about free will. While reading, I got to thinking about books in general, and then language and culture. Do you realize that for almost ANY topic you can think of there is a book about it? Think of how rare that is for most of human history! If you want to know something you can probably find the answer! That works generally, and probably for most specific questions.

Regarding free will, Dennett has read tons of books and papers on it, thought about it a lot, wrote it out, lectured about it, responded to suggestions from the lectures, had editors and then produced a book. I just have to read it! Of course, sometimes the reading is hard enough, and the book obviously comes along with his perspective… but what a time saver.

What’s more, now one can almost use Google and the Web exclusively for nearly all information. Now, numerous people have done lots of work, so I just type in a couple words and tons of info pops up. This has created the problem of much useless junk, but… not so much that the utility is negated.

Oh, memetic transmission of complex ideas and phenomena, what would I do without you? (Might be happier, but I wouldn’t have been able to write that sentence. Heck, I would probably be using the same stone tool for a million years. Brilliant ancestors we have, eh?)

ps: It is saddening to realize that despite the availability of vast amounts of knowledge (i.e., facts) there are still many that choose to hide within their castles of ignorance and bias. Examining history, they used to burn people. Then they burned books. Now they attempt to stifle discussion. Not good, but things seem to be getting better.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

In the news...

I came across several news stories today which I thought were worth mentioning, either for their importance, absurdity or both.

The first is that the BBC reported that a CIA operative was instructed to "Capture Bin Laden, kill him and bring his head back in a box on dry ice." I couldn't help but think that perhaps what we see in the movies isn't that far off. It is not that such things wouldn't be expected in times of war, it is that the particular country in question seems morally indignant at such acts, yet continues to do them. The story also mentioned that it was desireable to have "...their heads up on pikes," referencing the terrorits. In what is one of the oddest things I'll read lately, the operative replied, "I can certainly make pikes out in the field but I don't know what I'll do about dry ice to bring the head back - but we'll manage something." Apparently, the practicalities of war cause shock laughted in me.

Another story had the headling "Cruise thanks scientology for IQ." Although the story is not that detailed, I believe what Cruise was trying to say was that his belief system allowed him to overcome some literacy issues. Alternativley, I thought a better introduction to the story would be: Tom Cruise, demonstrating his inability to understand not one, but two things, announced today...

Saturn has 12 new moons

Maybe that technique would make the new movie better for everyone?

Why must we compete for the 6th deadly sin?

Being young, having fun? Forget Pepsi, have sex. Better odds in the States?

Police catch a suspect in G-string. The bystanders comments are the highlight: "I saw his ass and it wasn't cute," said a woman named Vicki who did not want to give her last name. hahaha

This is saddening for anyone that cares about art.

This is from awhile ago, and is satirical, but is worth your read (mainly if you are in science) Fifth-Grade Science Paper Doesn't Stand Up To Peer Review.

What about you? Any interesting stories?

Elbow Room

I’ve been reading through Dennett’s Elbow Room (1984) and have come across some wonderful lines/passages. It is a book about Free Will, how we come to have choices, how they can be rational, how decisions are made and what that means for responsibility. Of course it is better within the book, but I think that contextualizes things a bit. [My comments are in square brackets]

When an entity arrives on the scene [Earth] capable of behaviour that staves off, however primitively, its own dissolution and decomposition, it brings with it into the world its “good.” That is to say it creates a point of view from which the world’s events can be roughly partitioned into the favorable, the unfavorable, and the neutral. And its own innate proclivities to seek the first, shun the second, and ignore the third contribute essentially to the definition of the three classes. As the creature thus comes to have interests, the world and its events begin creating reasons for it – whether or not the creature can fully recognize them. page 23
[Not only a great description of ‘good,’ but touches on the idea of reasons before reasoners]

With thought experiments, just as with actual experiments, one should not neglect to run the control experiments. page 64/65
[Often, thought experiments are set up to make you think a particular way, but one should explore similar avenues because they may be quite informative. Contrast a nefarious neurosurgeon controlling your brain with well-informed truthful oracle that indirectly manipulates a person by using lucid and accurate warnings, as well as citation of all the evidence that went into those warnings and an account of process of gathering that evidence. Seems less controlling, doesn’t it?]

We never choose a course of actions as the best course all things considered; it would be insane to try to consider all things. page 70
[Just how many things do we consider then?]

"An act in equilibrium withstands knowledge of its own causes" (Nozik, 181, page 348)
[That stimulated this thought in me: If you sincerely believe you have the truth, you can withstand any intellectual attacks with grace; you’d even welcome them.]

[This one is more for psychologists, but I think most will appreciate it]
Searching for the self or the soul can be somewhat [confusing]. You enter the brain though the eye, march up the optic nerve, round and round the cortex, looking behind every neuron, and then, before you know it, you emerge into daylight on the spike of a motor nerve impulse, scratching your head and wondering where the self is. page 75

That’s all for now, I’m sure there will be more to come. Thoughts on any of this? Questions?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Away, away, you have been banished.
Your land is gone, and given to me.
And here I will spread my wings.
Yes, I will call this home.
What’s this you say, you feel a right to remain?
Then stay and I will bury you.
What’s that you say, your father’s spirit still lives in this place?
Well, I will silence you.
Here’s the hitch, your horse is leaving.
Don’t miss your boat, it’s leaving now.
And as you go I will spread my wings.
Yes, I will call this home.
I have no time to justify to you,
Fool, you’re blind, move aside for me.
All I can say to you my new neighbor,
You must move on or I will bury you.
Now as I rest my feet by this fire
Those hands once warmed here, but I have retired them.
I can breathe my own air and I can sleep more soundly
Upon these poor souls,
I’ll build heaven and call it home.

-Dave Matthews

(those last two lines are some of my all time favourite)

Monday, May 02, 2005

Everyone has something; I guess this is mine.

(2011 Preface: Looking back on this piece that was written about 6 years ago creates a multitude of thoughts and observations. For your purposes, I think it worthwhile to note that what I have written below still mostly represents how things are and how things seem to me, although some specifics are no longer true and some passages I do not fully agree with. Life, along with our perspective on it, changes, but I have chosen to keep the entry as it was initially written.)

Today’s blog will be a bit of departure from the normal fare. The purpose here will not be to make you think or laugh, but learn something about my life or gain a perspective you might not have otherwise had. My hope is to a) share information about my life; b) show you things so that you might not take other things for granted; and c) invite you to share for the benefit of all. The second and third points are quite important (but of course there is no pressure). If these things do not interest you, read no further. Something about consciousness or politics will soon follow. :)

In this odd world of ours, various people suffer various afflictions. Some have never known their parents because they are absent or have died; some are beset by anxiety or extreme shyness and have trouble in social groups; some children are abused, others are mistreated; some people have cancer or problems with addiction or live in poverty. My thinking is that once you learn about someone else’s life, you are more likely to appreciate whatever it is they don’t have. One might complain about how bad their relationship with their mom is, while another whose mom has died would give anything for that complaint. If you can truly realize that, then maybe you might approach resolution differently (still might not work though). If you envy a person who has never known financial concerns, but then find out that person would trade it all for more hugs during their childhood, you just might appreciate the hugs you received and not worry so much about the lack of fancy dinners or whatever. The aforementioned explanation relates to the title of this post: I know everyone has something, but that doesn’t change the fact that we can learn from one another about these afflictions. Recently, one of my best friends learned that his father would likely die from cancer in about one year. Makes me want to call my parents and tell them I care. Even if those feelings aren’t appropriate for you, if you thought you’d never see someone again (i.e., realistically, someone’s relative/friend has to get hit by a car), then maybe there are things you’d want to discuss, issues to resolve, or just appreciation to be mentioned. So, when I write about my ‘burden to bear’ I’m not looking for a medal, it is just a way of sharing, contextualizing my life (and maybe yours as well). I know some readers are more personal than others, and some others may not care at all (but because the content of my blog this is less likely), but ideally others would feel comfortable to share their trials and tribulations. As it is the information that is important, do not feel that your identity is required if you chose to post a comment.

Concisely, I suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It is also known as Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. It is a chronic, debilitating medical condition with an unknown cause. It is diagnosed by exclusion and has no known verifying test. The treatment is relief of symptoms, life style changes and occasionally time. For your information (and for the clinicians out there) the CDC states that “Clinically evaluated, unexplained chronic fatigue cases can be classified as chronic fatigue syndrome if the patient meets both the following criteria:
(1) Clinically evaluated, unexplained persistent or relapsing chronic fatigue that is of new or definite onset (i.e., not lifelong), is not the result of ongoing exertion, is not substantially alleviated by rest, and results in substantial reduction in previous levels of occupational, educational, social, or personal activities.
(2) The concurrent occurrence of four or more of the following symptoms: substantial impairment in short-term memory or concentration; sore throat; tender lymph nodes; muscle pain; multi-joint pain without swelling or redness; headaches of a new type, pattern, or severity; unrefreshing sleep; and post-exertional malaise lasting more than 24 hours. These symptoms must have persisted or recurred during 6 or more consecutive months of illness and must not have predated the fatigue. (fyi, I have the muscle and joint pain, unrefreshing sleep, the malaise, and had the headaches)

As for my story, I guess one should begin at the beginning. I should also mention that this is my memory of the events, which like all memories, is imperfect. I keep meaning to attempt greater accuracy by concerted research, but know that the basic story is true and has been corroborated by others who were more aware at the time.

Rarely can a single event define a person. Even if that event is very significant, it will just illustrate how your personality would react and develop (over time if the event is prolonged). For the most part, one could reasonably say that some events have greater causal effects than others. I would say that is a decent description of my situation, but also that my condition is likely the single biggest event to impact my life, and always will be.

I was generally a happy kid with loving parents. I did well in school, had friends and played on various sports teams. I would get up early, sometimes shoot some basketball before going to school, school, run home for lunch, back to school, then ball hockey with friends or playing in a nearby park. The usual active kid. One day in grade six (1990), my legs hurt and I was just too tired to go to school. I have a vague memory of exhaustion. Here’s a brief account of what happened the next four years. Tons of doctors: Family doctors, specialists, neurologists, three sleep studies, numerous prescriptions, vast amounts of bloodwork, trips to the hospital, and a couple of psychiatrists as well. This was all a quest to learn what was wrong with me. Was it mono? Ebstein-barr? Fibromyalgia? Psychological? Allergies? Brain malfunction? Immune system?

Though my whole family was supportive, my mom was definitely the driving force. She was a nurse for 25 years, so she had an idea of what questions to ask and where to seek help, she was also extremely supportive and I likely owe her more than I can express or comprehend. She would also keep track of everything. Years later, she told me that one year we had an average of 2 visits to a doctor/clinic a week. 104 visits in a year? No wonder I hated waiting rooms.

I remember that I was in pain. I felt exhausted, had a bad headache constantly (months at a time, for years) and had trouble sleeping. It is truly hard to express how fatigued/pained I was. Try to imagine not being able to brush your teeth. Try to fathom not being able to be driven around for 20 minutes. If I concentrated too much, I’d get a headache. It not only seems like another time, it seems like another’s life.

Basically, imagine having the flu for a thousand days.

Scholastically, I missed half of grade six, and most of grade seven, eight and nine. The course of my disease was not unvarying, in that I would seem to be better, and then have relapses (mostly severe). An example would be that in grade 9 I felt better, so I went to school like a ‘normal’ kid for the full day and such. Three weeks later, I was sick. I missed the next 8 months. It is odd to see your attendance record say 125 days absent. I did have tutors: a kind woman by the name of Janellen, for about an hour a day when capable for parts of the grades grade 6,7,8. In grade 9, two tutors came once/twice a week for the year. Amusingly, my memory is that they came about 5-7 times total. Based on past performance and minimal coursework, I passed through elementary school. In high school, I graduated honourarily.

From a SPECT scan it is known I have a decreased blood flow to my right thalamus (in relation to my left and normals). As my mom would research all things about CFS, she would note which vitamins might help my condition. I was taking about 20 pills a day, plus some acetaminophen and whatever my prescription was at the time. (If you do some math, I’ve probably taken over 40,000 pills in my life). I had Tylenol 3s, and also had them not do enough to stop my headache. I’ve gone to the hospital for an injection to do so a couple times.

During my sickness, at times when I was a bit better, my mom would invite friends for lunch. She realized the importance of social contact and how much I was missing. Some have said, “Well, you don’t really learn anything in those grades anyway.” A more reasoned thought would be that it is highly probable that losing about four years of psychosociointellectual development is important. When sick, I would be too tired to read (or play video games even!), yet not enough to sleep, so I would watch a lot of TV. As much as I think a television might destroy a nation more than nuclear bombs, I have to give my thanks to that stupid box. That level of stimulation likely helped quite a bit, more than I might know.

I have had a relatively consistent level of functioning since grade 10. Trying a new drug allowed me to attend school halftime, in the afternoons. Before grade 10 started, the courses I would take throughout high school were planned. As I could not take that many, many subjects were sacrificed for English and Math, the core requirements, and basically my OACs (grade 13 from ye old Ontario high school system). There was some flexibility, but I never had a chance to take art, music, languages, geography, or various histories (I took 3 total for the OAC). I would be driven to school, go to three classes and come home to rest. Happily, I did well. Quite well it seems, as I was allowed to skip grade 11 English. That helped so I could take another OAC. I was able to take 5 classes (instead of 4) in grades 11 and 12, and 4 in OAC to have 7 OACs and an honourary diploma. I have to remind myself that if things were a little different, I would have never made it out of high school.

It pleases me that since the start of grade 10, I never missed a day or class in high school, nor was I ever late. The idea of skipping class, aside from being wrong (yeah, I was a goody goody) doesn’t make as much sense when you have missed so much. The very fact of being outside, in the world, experiencing both it and people, gave me great happiness. One could imagine my fellow teenagers didn’t exactly feel this way; in fact they had much more angst. My parents always being quite reasonable, and my condition changing the normal course of development, I often felt separate from my peers. Drinking to get drunk, angry music, not appreciating what they had… it didn’t make sense to me. I wouldn’t say I was isolated, because I had friends and people to hang out with, but I did feel like I didn’t belong (I guess that is a common feeling though).

I was able to go out, to exercise, and to go on trips, but there was always a cost. While other people would do one activity, then another, I had to rest in-between. I use the term ‘resting’ to mean recuperating. It doesn’t really count as resting unless I’m lying flat on my back, fully stretched out, with minimal disturbance (meaning TV or nothing).
It might be hard to understand, but I’m losing energy when I’m sitting.

As the years went by, I would basically cope with my disease, trying out new medication from time to time to either help the muscle pains, exhaustion or sleeping problems. None have really improved things. Generally, if anyone is in pain, they will often try to understand the source of the pain, either for treatment or prevention. If you can imagine pain happening everyday, that will be a lot of introspective and/or behavioural analyses. Picture that for years. What I’m trying to express is how I currently think: almost in a state of continual self-monitoring to try to detect levels of fatigue and exertion to minimize future pain. It has its pros and cons. If I didn’t think about it, I would be in more pain and accomplish less, but if I do, then I have numerous annoying cognitions. I think about how I walk, how I sit, how many stairs there are, how long I have to stand somewhere; basically I cost-benefit every situation. It isn’t just about future pain; it is also incorporating whatever pain I’m currently experiencing. Anything that involves movement, counts as expenditure. I’m not saying it is perfect or that I’m perfectly aware, but if you’d like to sample the experience try asking yourself how/what you are feeling every couple minutes (sometimes in tens of seconds).

Another related issue is awareness of my disease. Usually, people will not know unless I tell them. I’m in decent shape and I don’t usually act exhausted. I’m generally a happy guy and even when I’m not, when I’m around people happiness is usually brought out of me. When I go to school or socialize, I will rest before and afterward, so people don’t really see the exhaustion. Most things that I would like to do violate social protocol too much. It is somewhat unreasonable to lie down on the floor in the middle of a lecture. Or to tell someone “Can we sit down and talk because my legs are about to collapse.” Another point of this blog is that I won’t have to repeat myself or continually type out the situation to new people I meet. I also think everyone has their own problems; they don’t need to hear about mine all the time (this blog is the exception, but it has other uses). I do try to share my whole world more, as I think it is important for people to know. It appears that it is hard for people to understand my self-report unless they see behavioural evidence. But, that comes with the risk of invalidation as well as explanation. If I lie down on the couch in the lounge, some think I’m lazy or had a rough night. No. I’m just diseased. And when I lie down again 40 minutes later it is because I’m attempting to charge up for a two-hour class. I don’t put my feet up because I really want to; it is because it minimizes the pain in my legs. It isn’t that I’m not interested in an activity or a lecture/event, it is that the sacrifice is too great for me to maintain my normal existence.

I usually sleep, but it often isn’t restful. Ideally, I have about 14+ hours of downtime. For comparison, if you are normally healthy, you have 3-6 hours more time than me. Every day. That’s 21-42 hours a week, or a day a week. This gets into a whole line of thinking that is worth sharing. First the qualification: I have thought a lot about the lives people have, how their genetics influences their existence, their upbringing, their personality and how it might react to certain circumstances, opportunities they have either had or haven’t, and cultures they were borne into. By no means do I have all the answers, but I can understand (in a general, plausible manner) why someone would do something or behave in a certain way. The expression “I can’t imagine someone would…” doesn’t make much sense to me. My metaphysical stance currently indicates materialism with no free will (but still responsibility; I’ll explore another time), which is great for being less judgemental and less critical of people.

I know why people don’t value something, because they get accustomed to an existence that has it, feel that is how things are and how they should be, and only notice it when it is gone. As I’m similar (i.e., human), I understand that and cannot complain too much. Additionally, like at the beginning, there are a variety of problems in this world. Some are blind, others have no legs, still others watch their children starve. There is context, but there can also be complexity and variety of thoughts and feelings. Consequently, I think exhibiting my ‘bitter/ranty/less rational’ side is worthwhile because it may serve as an aversive, motivating stimulus. If not, it just gives an indication of the thoughts someone like me might have.

How on earth is everyone not happier? You can walk without thinking about the damage it will cause you, how hard could your life possibly be? How are people not fitter? You can exercise without days of fallout? I actually do think most people could look like magazine covers (the few reasonable, not-so-airbrushed ones), if they just had the desire. You have a day a week more than me?!?!? What the hell are you doing with it? That’s enough time to work a part time job, volunteer, socialize, read half a book, write an essay, play a sport and recover from it all. EVERYWEEK! You may worry about a family, but I must additionally worry that I won’t be able to work, drive my kids to soccer practice and love my wife. Whatever you try to jumble in a day, imagine losing 5 hours. You just don’t know how precious your health is. I almost wish I could give everyone some disease for a couple weeks or a month. When I hear of people with mono for six months, I envy them. Six months? I’m almost at 15 years and I’ll likely have this the rest of my life. The idea of doing something (museum, night out, walking downtown) comes with thoughts about future pain. I must overcome the cognitive concern that accompanies the idea of most things. You have the ability to do so much… and it is wasted. It makes me so sad to see it; it brings frustration beyond belief. At the same time, it is likely the reason I can mostly keep pace. Your wasted time is my recuperation, so it seems like the output is the same. Except mine is uphill, almost always. It is rare for me to feel ‘not tired.’ I know it existed, but I don’t have a known memory of being healthy.
Please appreciate what you have. Please.

I hope this lengthy description of my life, my thoughts and my feelings has had some value. Know that there are thousands of others afflicted. There is more to say in almost every paragraph, but I think enough has been said for now.
Hey, everyone’s got something, right?

I should mention that for most of the past 10-15 years, when I’m rested I feel that life is so beautiful. Why? Because all the pain doesn’t remove clouds, sunsets, and laughter. So many wonderful experiences are free in this world, embrace as much as you can.

Know that this has also been informative for me. It is still hard to believe it is my own life. For appreciation of my current existence, I don’t really have to go to another’s, I can just go to myself in a different time. It is so easy to forget, but the effort of remembering is worth it.

It is hard for me to soar if my wings are clipped, but hey… at least I can walk now.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

What is it like to be forgotten?

In the philosophical world, there is a famous paper called "What is it like to be a bat?" by Thomas Nagel. Upon reading some Dennett, it seems to be the case that this question was already explored by another, Farrell, in a paper called "Experience," in the book Mind in 1950. I haven't yet read both papers to see the degrees of overlap, but I thought it worth mentioning because it never usually is.


Last night I cried. And it was wonderful.