I Can’t Decide if I have Free Will


Image courtesy of Slate.com

For the last few weeks, I have been ironically struggling with the idea of Free Will and whether or not I actually have it.  It seems odd, at least, to be wavering on the decision that I have a decision to make, but, alas, that’s what’s been happening.

Let me break down my choices for you.

First, there is the philosophy of libertarian free will which states that I, as an agent, have complete free will.  It takes into account that there are events that may influence my choice, but, ultimately, my choices are my own.  For example, I can choose to hit a baseball with my bat, however, I did not make the choice to throw the ball.  And, the choice to hit it or not is not based on anything but my own will – there are no prior events or decisions that led me to that choice. And, this philosophy also gives you room to have made a different choice given the same situation, a fantasy we all fancy at one time or another.

Then there is the opposite, known as determinism, which states that all choices are the result of prior causes – known or unknown.  In other words, free will is an illusion. Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, is a big proponent of this, as many other scientists are across many different disciplines. You can read Sam’s book, Free Will, which is a short, but enlightening read, or you can see him speak about it here.  He essentially lays out the case that your brain is making decisions before you’re even conscious of the decision.  Here’s one example he uses – think of a famous actor.  Think of another.  Now another.  Did you choose Sylvester Stallone?  You certainly know who he is, so why was he not presented as a choice?  Surely, your brain made the decision, for some reason, to not present him to you as an option.

(What I am not including here is fatalism which is a more extreme version of determinism that basically asks why you should make any decisions since shit is just gonna happen anyway, so you may as well just ride the wave.)

Then there is a third option known as compatibilism.  Compatibilism is basically a combination of libertarian free will and determinism.  It states that, although the choice is yours, your will is not.  Your will is determined (as determinism also states) by things like genetics, culture, nature, economics, etc., but the decision to act is yours.  As an example, you had no choice but to be homosexual, but you can choose how to express it or not express it at all.

They are all interesting choices and after thinking about it, I have ruled out libertarian free will.  It is really hard to see a world where our choices are not influenced in some way and we have complete control over them.  When given a choice, we don’t always do what we should – we eat bad food even though we know we shouldn’t, we smoke cigarettes, drink too much, etc., but we also have all the years of baggage and history that have shaped our minds in such a way that our consciousness limits our choices because that is what it is trained to do.  Students sit in assigned seats because teachers make them do so.  Because of that conditioning, those students go to college and sit in the same seat every time even though they aren’t assigned.

Of course, the problem with not having free will is that it gives an excuse to people who commit heinous crimes, which is pretty much what determinism does.  It states that all actions, all decisions, are determined by previous causes.  And, you can easily see how this is possible.  How many times have we heard about a mass murderer who was abused or was bullied? In some cases, they have physiological defects or brain damage or tumors that affect inhibitions.  That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be punished, it just means that we should react differently.  Rather than feel anger or the need for revenge, determinism says that we should feel compassion because, if you think about it, if you switched places with that person and experienced exactly what they did, would you have made the same choices?  Determinism says, if all is equal, that you would.

Compatibilism is a cushy, yet wishy-washy choice.  I keep thinking that the reason I lean towards this philosophy is because I want to feel like I have some free will and that since I don’t know the “unknown causes” behind determinism, that I can take responsibility for some of what I do. But, this just seems like another way of defining libertarianism.

For a better explanation of Free Will vs. Determinism, see this fantastic video.
Crash Course Philosophy #24


We Are Not a Puddle


The picture above is of a puddle.  It was formed by the simple act of water, either rain or some other means, of filling in a hole.  See how it fits snugly in the hole?  Well, guess what?  That hole was not created for that puddle any more than the Universe was created for us.

For some who cling to religion, they believe that the Universe was “fine tuned” for human beings and that that fact proves that an Intelligent Designer exists.  Well, I dispute that and state unequivocally that we are just not that important. In fact, human beings have existed for mere seconds in the span of time, so if the Universe was made for us, then we should have come by long, long ago.

You can also drill down further to just the Earth.  If our lovely planet was “designed” just for us, then why is most of it inhospitable to our life form?  Our blue marble is 71% water, in which we cannot survive.  Of the land that remains, we cannot survive extreme heat or cold.  So, deserts and the poles are off-limits.

What about space?  In our solar system alone, only one planet has human life.  All the others are either too hot or too cold, and none of them have the atmosphere we need to survive.  We just could not breathe.  Breathing is, um, necessary.

Outside of our solar system, we have discovered around 3500 planets, none of which we can even get to quite yet.  And, of those 3500, it is estimated that only around 30 of them are ones that we are optimistic about when it comes to supporting human life.

So, how “fine tuned” is this Universe for us, really?


This Mockingbird Don’t Sing


Behold the Northern Mockingbird.  You can identify him by his long, dark tail feathers,  gray body and white stripes across his wings when he unfolds them.  Even when you can’t see him, you will know he’s there when you hear the calls of a dozen or more birds sung in rapid succession from a singular source at one of the topmost parts of the tallest tree for hours at a time. A wondrous feat of which some are not enamored, especially since this singing can oftentimes start at midnight and go well into the wee hours of the morning.  i have a few living in my immediate area, so believe ne when I say that the mockingbird is relentless.

Speaking of relentless…

These birds are fucking crazy and I’m not just saying that because of the audible mockery.  They are actual brutal defenders of their territory, the likes of which I have seldom seen (but, I’m also sheltered).  I saw my local mockingbird chase a squirrel throughout my yard and across the street, endlessly dive-bombing the poor rodent until he was able to get his fluffy tail tucked under an Elephant Ear Hosta.  This was not a one-time occurrence, either. How did that squirrel offend? I do not know.

The mockingbird (who I think I should actually name) attacks the usual suspects, too.  Robins do not stand a chance.  He will go right for them, screeching like a banshee as he heads at them, beak first into a puff of brown and gray feathers.  The robins do not stand a chance, but they put up a decent fight.  They always end up separating and no one gets hurt, apparently coming to a new understanding of one another.

I even saw a mockingbird chase a trio of crows from a nearby rooftop.  Each crow was easily three to four times the size of the little gray ogre, but you’d be damned wrong if you bet any crow flicked him away like a sparrow.  Nope, those crows flew away, mockingbird in tow, cawing as they fled the scene of whatever crime they had committed.

So, you’re probably asking – “What is the point of this post?”. None. None at all. It was just what I was thinking at the time.

Divorce is Messy


Divorce is messy. When two people have been together, sharing every breath, every movement, every word, with one another for years, even decades, how easy can it be to separate? It cannot be easy.

But, that s not the divorce I’m talking about. I’m talking about the divorce from reality. I’m talking about the people who believe the Earth is flat. Never mind other conspiracy theories like chemtrails, the moon landing or 9/11, because this one takes the freakin’ cake. The belief that we are living on a plane rather than a sphere takes a certain level of ignorance that is hard to find.  And, to find a bunch of people (even if it’s 1,000) who all believe this nonsense is scary. I have to ask myself what I would say to a person who admitted to me that they believe the world we live on is flat.

I would hope to be civil to them and try to explain to them all of the reason why they are misguided, but, that type of argument doesn’t seem to work too well in this day and age. There is a conscious effort to make the masses less educated and more ignorant, in my opinion, and I’m not alone. Robert Proctor, a science historian from Stanford University, is actually studying agnotology, the study of ignorance. The effort to indoctrinate people into a state of ignorance is used from big business all the way to the government, but let’s not confuse that with things we can actually prove about our world, like those things proven by science.

Sure, scientific estimates can change, because we can only formulate models based on the data we have.  The beautiful thing about science is that when we get more information, we can change the model and, therefore, allow for the possibility of another, more accurate answer to the question.  Science deniers see this as a bad thing so they cite something like “Pluto used to be a planet, but now it’s not, so what good is science when they change their minds so much”.  This ignores the fact that Pluto is still there no matter what the fuck we call it and that it was found through scientific discovery and not because some mythical being whispered it into someone’s ear. But, i digress…

Let me get back to the Flat Earthers because this is one of those things that they can easily prove on their own without having to “trust” anyone else and that is why this is so fucking aggravating.

Ok, you morons, here are 10 easy ways you can tell for yourself that the Earth is not flat (as provided by Popular Science magazine):

  1. The phases of the Moon
  2. Ships and the horizon
  3. Varying Star constellations
  4. Shadows
  5. Seeing Farther form Higher up
  6. Ride a plane
  7. Other planets
  8. Time zones
  9. The center of gravity
  10. Images from space

Hawaii, Kentucky and Paris

HawaiiBeaches-28There are many conflicting opinions about Trump pulling the US out of the Paris Accord, that much is evident.  For the record, I think it was dumb and unnecessary to disavow a nonbinding agreement under any terms since we can pretty much make up the rules as we go along, but, hey, that’s only logical.  Logic gets lost on people sometimes.

That hasn’t stopped leaders in state and local governments from doing the right thing.  Hawaii actually became the first state to sign on to the accord.  While others, like California, have stated they will still shoot for the goals President Obama laid out, the groundswell of support for the accord is not something that should be ignored.  In other words, all hope is not lost.

There is no doubt among thinking people who believe climate change is real and it is caused by human activity.  If you doubt this, you are clearly bucking the opinions of the majority of scientists.  I’m not going into the actual science or the debate that ensues from deniers, and I’m not going to even give any credence to those arguments by laying them out.  I just want you to think on this question:

How many of you believe that the gases that contribute to global warming are not harmful? How many of you would survive sucking on a tailpipe or inhaling large concentrations of methane? How many of you think that the black smoke coming out of coal plants is good for our survival?

Apparently, not even the Kentucky Coal Museum believes coal is a good idea.  Think about that.

Trump’s anti-climate change agenda is a farce and should be fought.  This is not a battle to save the planet, it is a battle to save the human race.

Am I Crazy about AI?


(Graphic courtesy of ComputerWeekly.com).

When someone says that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a threat to the survival of humanity, they are normally looked at as if they said they just saw Elvis in a local McDonald’s yesterday.  It is quickly pointed out that there are so many other ways for the human race to become extinct – pandemic, nuclear war, climate change, even an asteroid – that they don’t even want to think about the fact that technology could be our undoing.  Why not?

First, we don’t actually know what AI is.  Every phone has some sort of AI in it.  Siri is AI.  Google Home is AI. Amazon Echo is AI.  Advertising uses AI – that’s why you have customized ads pop up on the websites you visit.  But, those seem so harmless, so how can they actually kill you?

Sam Harris gives us an easy picture as to how AI will grow and become smarter.

Nick Bostrum also cautions us about it’s inevitability and danger.

Daniel Suarez actually tells us about autonomous robots that can kill.  They exist now.

So, how far are we from losing, no, ceding, control to AI in matters of life and death? Perhaps, not as far as you would think. Some scientists estimate that between 30-50 years, we may reach what is called the “singularity”, where AI will surpass human intelligence and possess the ability for self-improvement.  Suddenly, the dystopian future of The Terminator series is not as much as science fiction as it is science reality.

The companies currently investing heavily in AI are all the biggest tech companies in the world – Google, IBM and Microsoft. They won’t stop improving on it, either.  There is too much money in it and we all know what the root of all evil is…