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Comment Re:Angry atheists? (Score 1) 1037

Yes -- Niemöller nailed it.

The USA is well into a witch hunt phase right now in a completely transparent effort to create a permanent underclass. The mechanisms used -- computerized lists -- were first decoupled from the 4th amendment using the "save the children" bait, and now anyone, anywhere, can be put on any list the government deems useful... without due process, without judicial order, and without recourse. From there, a simple background check serves to deny housing, employment, travel, credit, insurance, voting, weapons ownership, even access to network resources and social sites from Facebook to dating sites. Once tarred with these easy access brushes, feathers aren't even required... and the crowds cheer.

It's a damn shame that Niemöller's poem wasn't better known, and wasn't taught so as to actually imprint the lesson on our young people so they didn't grow into the outright idiots that infest our legislative and judicial systems.

Oh well. Too late now. Onwards! It's bread and circuses all the way down.

Comment As an observer (Score 3, Insightful) 105

The objective reality is that this process has been observed to happen in the brain. Repeatedly; consensually; experientially.

The open question, at least for me, is, is there any reason to think that this is the only, or even the primary, mode of neural operation?

Sand will indeed avalanche following the power law when it's poured on top of itself. But it does something completely different when it is suspended in turbulent water, or melted into glass, or just sitting there on the beach (seems to have an affinity for the inside of bathing suits as I recall, though it's been a while.)

Perhaps avalanche at criticality is "the" answer. But I think we're quite some distance from declaring that particular win. I'm all for the exploration, though.

Comment Angry atheists? (Score 1) 1037

Many atheists are angry not at religion, but at what the religious have done to them. From blue laws to the subjugation of women to vilification of sexuality to 9/11 to bibles in courtrooms and required oaths to god and silly sayings on our money and all manner of other current-day evil, atheists have legitimate gripes that they are being abused for no other reason than those contained in religious thought.

Some go further and are mindful of religion's evil history, such as the crusades, the inquisitions, witch burnings and the like, taking those as cautionary tales of just how black and evil theism can get when it becomes the rationale that underlies the actions of the government. It tends to make us at least... twitchy, about modern day religion. Religion's current abject misbehavior when it interfaces with government very much appears to be a forewarning that perhaps we'd best get in there and put a stop to it, hence activism and negative characterizations (generally accurate ones, too.)

I don't hate religion -- in fact I have a large religious library and find it fascinating in terms of human behavior and can only appreciate and love the amazing art that it has brought to society from architecture to sculpture, painting and even some jewelry -- but I can sure tell you that my reaction to the various theist interferences with everyone else's politics, legal system, and even day to day life is nothing kind at all.

When theism can be characterized as a mode of thought kept to one's self and used to guide one's own actions, with great respect for, and isolation from, the actions of others, I have no problem with it whatsoever.

Comment Belief Device (Score 1) 1037

Humans, it seems, have the believe device built in.

My observation is that the "belief device" seems to be an aggregate made of of various amounts of fear, gullibility, emotional pain, ignorance and something I can't put a single word to, but characterize as "an unwillingness to settle for the actuality that we legitimately don't have answers to some questions." Any one of those things, or any combination of them, can be enough to trigger the leap of faith, and as you say, this is entirely independent of intelligence per se. Once that leap has been taken, trying to reverse it is very, very tough -- it's a different mode of thinking and frankly, it's not rational, which tends to cripple rational arguments right out of the gate.

I can even imagine that this had some advantages in building highly complex societies.

It certainly has proven to be an extremely useful lever to manipulate the population towards particular goals, some of which are often quite secular in nature, such as accumulating wealth, taking advantage of the sexual instincts, focusing power.

Comment Who says what (Score 1) 1037

Theist means "belief in a god or gods." From there, many divergences, all with their own interesting takes.

Atheist means "without belief in a god or gods." From there -- same thing. Many divergences, all with interesting takes.

Across that divide, the atheist stands on one side of a very distinct chasm, and all Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc. legitimately stand on the other. Most -- not all, but most -- arguments I see from atheists are about the reasons to be on their side of the chasm. In this sense, rolling fundies in with the most vague ideas of a god or gods and so forth is both appropriate and understandable. It may not be comfortable, but it really is what it is. Belief, or lack thereof.

When a theist brings up something specific -- say, a claim that the earth is 6k years old, or that Jesus was a real historical figure -- then atheist arguments tend to focus on the claim. That's because those claims are part of the theist reasons to advocate for their side of the chasm. And when theist A does not agree with theist B, there tends to be very fertile ground for someone to protest, "but that's not what we (or all of us) believe", which may be true enough, but doesn't address the actual back and forth that was going on, that is, between those that do believe that particular thing, and those that see that as invalid.

I hope that was clear. I tried. :)

Comment Brainops all the way down (Score 1) 1037

There is no scientific way I could think of that lets us tell what happens with our "soul" after death.

Proof? No. Evidence? Plenty. The evidence thus far uniformly indicates that everything about "you" is brainops, which in turn are manifestations of mundane physics, that is, well within the bounds of what we already know of physics.

What do we know?

On the side that is evidence for things happening in the brain, we know that various portions of the brain are key for various types of thinking, memory, sensory processing, glandular and organ control. We know that when these regions are drugged or damaged, those areas of cognition and other brain function are impaired or stopped; and that in the case where permanent damage is not done, those functions return. Cutting the corpus callosum does just what we'd expect, it's 100% consistent with our presumption of brainops. Injuries and lobotomies; sensory impairment and stimulation. Further, on the small scale, the brain's neuron structure has served as a model for us to build computing systems that operate in interesting and suggestive ways. Children without brains do not function. People with unusual brains (think Einstein and savants) function in unusual ways. Large waste loads in the bloodstream that reach the brain reduce acuity and many other metrics. Anesthetics of various types provide anywhere from none to partial to complete shutdown of brainops, and you go with it.

On the side that is evidence for things outside the brain not having anything to do with it, we know that magnetic fields of great intensity have little effect; certainly magnetic fields of typically extant intensities have no detectable effect. Likewise, gravity -- flip you upside down, you can still think, etc. Likewise electric fields -- hang around a radio transmitter or a power pylon or a Tesla coil, you're still you with no significant interference. We even know why -- the various layers of skull and fluids and membrane form an excellent shield for just about anything that can't actually put several watts per centimeter into the target.

What do we know that indicates that "we", in any way, shape or form, are an intermediary for an external soul? Nothing. What do we know that indicates that there's more going on than mundane physics? Nothing.

At this point, it's kind of like the big bang. We don't have the actual, resolved answer in hand, but we have a *lot* of evidence that only points one way. Because of this, scientifically speaking, until or unless someone comes up with evidence for external force or coupling, the way to bet is: It's brainops all the way down (apologies for unauthorized recasting of turtle metaphor.)

If you don't want to bet that way, then that's great: go research your idea, and bring back the data, because data pointing in some other direction would be amazingly delicious. But... if you just want to sit there and ignore the evidence we have, claim that an idea you have with no evidence at all behind it is more likely... well, all I can say is you've left science behind and you're well into faith.

But science, in and of itself, does have a lot of evidence on this matter. Repeatable, consensually experiential evidence. It all hangs together extremely well. Everything, no exceptions, points to the "I" as being an emergent function of brainops. The consequence of software running on the hardware, to strain a computing metaphor.

There is no scientific way I could think of that lets us tell what happens with our "soul" after death.

If the science is right -- which there is no reason to doubt at this point, no evidence pointing any other way -- then when the brain shuts down, you go out like a candle that's out of wick, tallow and oxygen. You're where you were before birth, which is to say, nowhere. No brain = no you.

If the evidence is wrong or only pointing at an intermediate system of some kind... well, we have yet to discover even a hint of it that isn't wholly anecdotal, not consensually experiential, not repeatable. That's generally a very bad sign for alternate ideas. But as I said, it isn't proof. It's just the smart way to bet by every metric we'd call rational.

Comment Re:Cognitive biases (Score 1) 470

Love does not exist without people.

Interesting. Love is a cognitive state, often accompanied by secondary hormonal and other physical effects. It can be discriminated on a brain scan, too, so the whole "can't be measured" thing is flat out wrong. And why you'd give the periodic table as an example for a cognitive state... inexplicable.

Love meets all the criterion of a pseudoscience, fantasy, scam.

No. It doesn't. Try again.

Comment Evidence is not a synonym for proof (Score 1) 470

claiming fallacious things like absence of evidence is evidence of absence

That phrase is precisely correct. It does not say, however, that absence of evidence is proof of absence.

Evidence for one thing is also often evidence for something else. Example: I hold in my hand a yellow fruit. There's your evidence. It's yellow; you start there. That is perfectly good evidence for bananas, lemons, etc. Turns out I was actually holding a lemon. So the evidence for a banana, while perfectly valid in that context, was not adequate to prove the case.

This is what "absence of evidence is evidence of absence" actually means. It is saying that if you can't find any evidence, a, or one of, the possible conditions this may be pointing to is absence of that thing. Remember: saying something is evidence is not the same as saying the evidence is proof.

Comment Little Snitch (Score 1) 187

Have you tried Little Snitch? When an app tries to open an outgoing port, it intercepts it and pops up a dialog giving you the option to allow the app to open any port, just that port, just to that target -- and then you can qualify that with once, until reboot, or forever.

You can edit these settings later if you have a reason to.

I've found it to be very useful, and certainly not difficult in any way.

Not affiliated, just a happy customer.

Comment Re:From TFS (Score 1) 392

Seriously, I wish I could agree with your statement that continuous acceleration of 1 gravity for the duration of a trip to a nearby star was within our technical grasp. It is not.

Want to enter into a fun and friendly bet I can get you to agree that it is (1G all the way, with turnover in the middle) in one post? If I win, you owe me an iced tea if I ever get near ya and we can pull off some face time. If you win, I owe you the beverage of your choice, not to exceed $20, my cost (not entering into a bet where I'm potentially on the hook for Chateau Margaux, no matter how confident I am) :)

Comment From TFS (Score 1) 392

The nearest star systems — such as our nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, which is 4.2 light-years from home — are so far away, reaching them would require a generational starship.

This is not axiomatic. Acceleration of 1G is well within our technical and biological means. From the spacecraft's POV, with turnover at the halfway point, 1G acceleration/deceleration to reach Proxima Centauri from here would have to be maintained for about 3 years, 8 months. That defines the energy requirements. They are significant, but not impossible.

Given a vehicle that can undertake such an acceleration for that amount of time -- this is the technical challenge -- and support its passengers safely as well, the trip is entirely feasible without a "generational starship."

Interested in how this all works? Here: Well worth your time.

And of course, if something along the lines of the Alcubierre drive can be brought to fruition, we'll go down another road entirely.

Comment Re:Don't bother. (Score 1) 509

They are fighting, even if you can preceive(sic) no effect.

If I am imprisoned in a sturdy concrete cell, and I spend my time beating on the walls, an undertaking which no one ever responds to and which has no chance of actually disrupting the integrity of said walls, I am not fighting, no matter what level of enthusiasm I bring to characterizing it that way. What I am doing is completely wasting my time, having no effect on the opposition, such as it is.

On the other hand, if the jailer comes along and beats my ass for making enough noise to bother others, I've had an effect that those others (obviously including the jailer) took notice of. It's not the effect I was after, mind you, but it is, at least, an effect -- I have provoked those who control my situation into a reaction.

That's exactly what will happen if you actually succeed in provoking the establishment. It'll address the issue by beating you down. I guarantee it.

One of the primary reasons that free speech continues to be largely protected by the establishment in a time when many other rights are being restricted is that it serves perfectly to let them know who to beat down, and when. The rise of pervasive surveillance technologies in the hands of the establishment is no coincidence; the one complements the other.

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