Turns out we’ve reached yet another Friday, which means it’s time for yet another Weekly Link Roundup. Here as the thirty-first in the series, I’ll bring you more essay summaries, discussion summaries, site updates, and links to other places on the web, like I do every Friday. Only at Greatplay.net! And… well… other sites that do this sort of thing!
- Monday, May 28 >> Cl, Bubonic Plagues, and Bibles, Part II: “Awhile ago, Cl wrote an argument for Christianity that is said to have left me ‘no rational alternative but to abandon atheism and acknowledge the God of the Bible’, because the Bible contains medical knowledge several millennia ahead of its time. In this essay, I delve into the history of sanitation and waste management to demonstrate that the Bible is not remarkable at all when it comes to the practice of medicine.”
- Tuesday, May 29 >> Much Ado About Gay Marriage, Part II: “In this essay, I continue my comprehensive take on gay marriage, detailing some of the underlying history, philosophy, and science in the issue. Here, I find that there is nothing to the argument that same-sex couples are bad for children, and thus shouldn’t be allowed to be married. I also talk more about the ‘definition’ of marriage and the inadequacy of civil unions from an equality standpoint.”
- Wednesday, May 30 >> Jumping Over The Is-Ought Gap: “In previous essays about morality, I mentioned a problem: the Is-Ought Problem. Most simply, this problem points out that any claim about what we ought to do must explain why it is we ought to do that. In this essay, I look to hypothetical imperatives and show how they can use goals like the desires of agents or generic standards to jump over the Is-Ought gap and actually derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’.”
- Thursday, May 31 >> The Morality Series Companion Reader: “This companion reader is a list of links to other essays that also deal with the topic of morality, specifically selected by me to supplement my own ongoing morality series. While I’m aiming to do the best I can at writing my series and as effective as I can be in addressing comments on the series, I thought it would be best to release this reader so you can see what works I draw from for my own work, see where I’m coming from, or just generally get more reading to supplement (or completely replace) what I already say. You could also consider it a works cited to give due credit to the kind shoulders upon which I stand.”
This week brought in 55 more on-site comments. Here are the summaries of the discussion so you can get involved, or just know what’s going on:
On “Jumping Over The Is-Ought Gap”, we talk about the meaning of ought from a variety of different standpoints, especially the difference between an ought statement that is motivating and one that is not. We also talk about how oughts can be true despite not being motivating, and how God plays into normativity.
On “You Can’t Make Everyone Happy All the Time – Congress Disapproval Research, we get meta and talk about to what extent survey analysis can shed light on why people disapprove of Congress, and how to test competing theories of Congressional Disapproval.
On “The Contradictory Failure of Prayer, Part II”, we discuss what it whether something is likely true by virtue of being not proven false, and whether Christianity falls in this camp.
On “Joseph Kony and Malaria: Why Rationality Matters” we talk about why how you spend your money can matter a lot for the values you hold, and a bit about why we hold the values we do.
On “The Patriotic Humanist”, we talk a bit about utilitarian and virtue ethics, especially when anti-realism and psychology get involved.
Offsite, I continue my conversation at Cl’s “A Legitimate Question” where we talk further about the creation order in Genesis and how consistent the Bible is with science.
I updated “Of Oughts and Is, Part III” to make my commentary about God-based moral theories clearer.
Now it’s time for everyone’s favorite links to other cool places, for more ideas to share! As always,
(1) The links are also ordered so that the ones I like most are at the top, for those who don’t have time for all the links… but for those who do have time, I think all of them are worthwhile.
(2) The Link Roundup category has, I’d estimate, over 500 more links if you need the extra distraction. At a link an hour, that’s 20+ days of constant reading. If you budgeted 8 hours a day to constantly read these links, at a link per hour, that would take over two months. Fun facts!
(3) I don’t necessarily agree with everything said by these links; I just post what I find to be interesting and well-written. If you want to know whether I support a particular opinion you see, feel free to ask.
- A Self-Referential Game of Twister – What Religion Looks Like From the Outside: “Here’s the thing, Rev. Cawley. I’m not dying to continue the point-counterpoint debate on the points you raised. Instead, I want to step back for a moment and give you an idea of what your arguments sound like to someone who isn’t already a Christian. Not just to someone who’s a pretty convinced atheist, but to someone who doesn’t know what they think one way or another, who’s looking at different religious beliefs and deciding what to think. You seem to be at least somewhat sincere about wanting to understand non-believers, and I want to give you, and other believers, an idea of what religion — and religious apologetics — looks like to us.”
- Thou Art Physics: “My position [on Free Will] might perhaps be called ‘Requiredism.’ When agency, choice, control, and moral responsibility are cashed out in a sensible way, they require determinism—at least some patches of determinism within the universe. If you choose, and plan, and act, and bring some future into being, in accordance with your desire, then all this requires a lawful sort of reality; you cannot do it amid utter chaos. There must be order over at least over those parts of reality that are being controlled by you. You are within physics, and so you/physics have determined the future. If it were not determined by physics, it could not be determined by you.”
- Can All Religion Be True? – The Problem With Ecumenicalism: “his notion that “all religion’s true”? This notion that everyone finds their own path to God — even atheists, in our own way? This notion that people can hold religious beliefs that are not only different but totally contradictory — Jesus both is and is not the son of God, dead people both go to Heaven and are reincarnated, homosexuality is both loved and despised by God, there are many gods and there is only one God and God is a sort of three-for-one deal, Catholicism is the one true faith and Mormonism is the one true faith and Islam is the one true faith and no one faith is the one true faith — and that, somehow, all of these contradictory beliefs can be true? It’s not just laughably absurd. It’s not just logically impossible. It shows a callous unconcern about whether the things you believe are true.”
- The Science of Happiness: “Dan Gilbert [...] is a scientist who explores what philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics have to teach us about how, and how well the human brain can imagine its own future, and about how, and how well it can predict which of those futures it will most enjoy. Below he talks about a wide range of matters that include how we measure a person’s subjective emotional experience; the role of “positive hedonic experience”; science as an attempt to replace qualitative distinctions with quantitative distinctions; the role negative emotions play in our lives; the costs of variety; and the need to abandon the romantic notion that human unhappiness results from the loss of our primal innocence.”
- Drawing Out Our Better Angels: The Important Role of Moral Reminders: “Vohs’ and Ariely’s work suggests that the question of humans being inherently good or bad is largely irrelevant. The more accurate picture is the cartoon image; our moral senses are dictated by an angel over one shoulder and a devil over the other. Therefore, the more fruitful question is: what are the external contexts and circumstances that favor one over the other? This is not to suggest a blank slate view of human morality – far from it – but it is to say that societies where messages of honesty and fairness dominate are better off. Ariely’s conclusion is bad news for societies where it is almost impossible to go a day without seeing a photo, video or advertisement where avarice rules. And this is the larger and more important point. When given a chance to cheat most people do; not a lot, but enough to improve a test score by a few points (One can easily see how this can perpetuate in a negative way). But when the same people are reminded about honestly and fairness it is their moral codes that take the drivers seat.”
- What We Miss in the Free Will Debate: “What does the debate on free will actually accomplish in a practical sense? Does it tell us anything new about human cognition? About the psychological and neurological factors that cause human behavior? Does it help us form systems that can lead to a more desirable society? Whether you want to label something free will or not is, ultimately, not what I’m interested in. If we want to draw a line and call everything beyond that line of neurological functioning ‘free will’, I’m fine with that. Whether someone in prison for armed robbery was truly ‘free’ in their action is not what I’m concerned with. What I am concerned with is what are the causal factors that led to this person committing that act and what are steps we can take to help that person realize the error of their ways so to speak.”
- Do We Concede The Ground of Death Too Easily?: “I think this is a huge mistake. I agree that the fear of death is one of the main reasons people cling to religion. But I don’t agree, even in the slightest, that religious philosophies of death are inherently more comforting than secular ones. And if we want to make atheism a safe place to land when people let go of their faith, we need to get these secular philosophies into the public square, and let the world know what we think about death.”
- How To Take Good Advice and Actually Use It To Better Your Life: “Good advice is a waste of your time. Yes, you read that right. Good advice is mostly useless. Why? Because no matter how good the advice is you’ll probably forget it and never use it. One of the big ironies of the many personal development blogs that have sprouted up all over the internet is that people can waste a lot of time reading them. Alas, I’m guilty of doing this. I’ve wasted many hours reading many articles on productivity, and I forget most of it! But it doesn’t have to be this way, if we’re smart about it.”
- My Algorithm for Beating Procrastination: “After three months of practice, I now use a single algorithm to beat procrastination most of the times I face it.1 It probably won’t work for you quite like it did for me, but it’s the best advice on motivation I’ve got, and it’s a major reason I’m known for having the ‘gets shit done’ property. There are reasons to hope that we can eventually break the chain of akrasia; maybe this post is one baby step in the right direction.”
- The Hell With Christianity: “Craig has a real problem here, and that is that he himself cannot stomach what the Bible really says about Hell. Read Matthew 25. Read Jesus’ description of God’s attitude towards the unsaved. It’s not, ‘Oh dear, you’re going to Hell, if only there were something I could do to save you.’ God’s attitude can be summed up by two words: ‘Fuck you.’ You pissed Me off, and I am throwing your ass in Hell, and you can stay there. No apologies, no regrets. The God of the Bible absolutely does throw people in Hell, and doesn’t ask for Craig’s approval or consent. Call that Inconsistency #3: Craig has to reinvent damnation before he can defend it.”
- The Problem of Unfreedom: “I’ve never understood how anyone could be at all convinced by the ‘free will’ defence against the problem of evil. It seems obvious that any cosmic designer did a shockingly poor job of designing us to be free agents. There are all sorts of barriers to human choice and free action that no perfect being could tolerate. [...] Here’s the problem: humans are not ideally free agents. Due to our imperfect biological design, we suffer a variety of internal maladies — from cravings and addiction to mental illness and simple irrationality — that impede the rational exercise of our will. Our brains are far from optimally designed for rational decision-making. If God existed, he would free us from the bondage of addiction, bias and other mental defects.”
- Transhumanism as Simplified Humanism: “Suppose you find an unconscious six-year-old girl lying on the train tracks of an active railroad. What, morally speaking, ought you to do in this situation? Would it be better to leave her there to get run over, or to try to save her? How about if a 45-year-old man has a debilitating but nonfatal illness that will severely reduce his quality of life – is it better to cure him, or not cure him? Oh, and by the way: This is not a trick question. I answer that I would save them if I had the power to do so – both the six-year-old on the train tracks, and the sick 45-year-old. The obvious answer isn’t always the best choice, but sometimes it is.”
- Peter Singer and William Easterly [Video]: Peter Singer and William Easterly talk about foreign aid and non-profit organizations working in the developing world, and talk about how you can find an effective charity and best approach aid, and how aid can fail and be counter-productive if we don’t look for effectiveness rigorously.
- Hack Away at the Edges: “Humanity’s intellectual history is not the story of a Few Great Men who had a burst of insight, cried “Eureka!” and jumped 10 paces ahead of everyone else. More often, an intellectual breakthrough is the story of dozens of people building on the ideas of others before them, making wrong turns, proposing and discarding ideas, combining insights from multiple subfields, slamming into brick walls and getting back up again. Very slowly, the space around the solution is crowded in by dozens of investigators until finally one of them hits the payload.”
- Passions, Reason & Moral Hypocrisy: “When it comes to assessing moral situations we have a gut-reaction immediately followed by a more deliberate line of reasoning. For example, when someone asks us if killing an innocent person is wrong you know right away that the answer is yes, but it usually takes a few moments to think of reasons for why this is true. This is not to say that these two systems (system 1 and system 2 as they are referred to in the popular literature) are neurologically separate, but it is to suggest that they are not necessarily on the same page at all times. Understanding their relationship is key to understanding how humans think about moral judgments.”
- A Year After the Non-Apocalypse: Where Are They Now?: “A reporter tracks down the remnants of Harold Camping’s apocalyptic movement and finds out you don’t have to be crazy to believe something nuts.”
- A Defense by Example of Uncompromising Secularism: “I said at the start that I was going to defend a strict and unaccommodating form of secularism. This is it. There is zero tolerance in a court of law for sectarian argument. All evidence, and all forms of reasoning, must be secular. Even when the debate is over what evidence the jurists are allowed to see and what arguments are permitted, other than evidence excluded because it was obtained illegally, the concern is over whether the jurists might draw inferences harmful to the accused that are unsound in the secular sense.”
- Macromuddle: “More and more I feel like economics reporting is based on crude principles of adding up “good news” and “bad news.” Sometimes this makes sense: by almost any measure, an unemployment rate of 10% is bad news compared to an unemployment rate of 5%. Other times, though, the good/bad news framework seems so tangled. For example: house prices up is considered good news but inflation is considered bad news. A strong dollar is considered good news but it’s also an unfavorable exchange rate, which is bad news. When facebook shares go down, that’s bad news, but if they automatically go up, that means they were underpriced which doesn’t seem so good either.”
- Weigh More, Pay More: ” am writing this at an airport. A slight Asian woman has checked in with, I would guess, about 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of suitcases and boxes. She pays extra for exceeding the weight allowance. A man who must weigh at least 40 kilos more than she does, but whose baggage is under the limit, pays nothing. Yet, in terms of the airplane’s fuel consumption, it is all the same whether the extra weight is baggage or body fat.”
- Brains, Meaning, and Corpus Statistics [YouTube]: “How does the human brain represent meanings of words and pictures in terms of the underlying neural activity? This talk will present our research using machine learning methods together with fMRI brain imaging to study this question. One line of our research has involved training classifiers that identify which word a person is thinking about, based on their neural activity observed using fMRI. A more recent line involves developing a computational model that predicts the neural activity associated with arbitrary English words, including words for which we do not yet have brain image data.”
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