Monday, April 13, 2015

Owen Anderson on Conceptual Idolatry over the last 200 Years

This from Owen Anderson.

In an important way, because David Hume failed to understand reason as the laws of thought and instead noticed that a given reasoning process may not represent reality we have been given 2+ centuries of skepticism about our ability to know with certainty (to Know).  I've even been told by analytic philosophers, repeating Hume, that if there are laws of thought they don't get us very much as far as knowledge is concerned.

This post is related to my last one in identifying why there is skepticism about our ability to use reason to know God.  We use reason to distinguish between God and non-God.  In failing to know God we are attributing to "non-God" (the creation) properties such as eternal existence that are only attributable to God.  This includes the claims that there is nothing eternal or that what is eternal is some aspect of the creation like the material world or the human self.  By using reason to distinguish between what is eternal and what is not eternal (without beginning and with beginning) we can use reason (as the laws of thought) to know God and avoid conceptual idolatry.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Vox on Rand Paul needs to make libertarians Hate Him

This from my favorite left-leaning blogging center Vox, is exactly right.

The libertarian movement in the United States is not used to supporting candidates who compromise their core beliefs. In fact, they see both the Democrats and Republicans as terribly corrupt — and some believe, as Gillespie seems to, that a libertarian who really stuck to his guns could win the presidency.

But that's almost certainly not true. Libertarians are a very small part of the American electorate. The Republican Party activists and operatives who play a critical role in deciding the primary nominee wouldn't go for someone who refused to give at least some sops to social conservatives and hawks. Paul needs to compromise at least somewhat, but at least some portion of his true base will get mad at him every time he does.

Rand Paul is officially running for the 1016 presidential election now.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Scott Alexander on Whether Everything is a Religion

Here is SlatestarCodex on whether everything is a religion.

So one critique of these accusations is that “religion” is a broad enough category that anything can be mapped on to it:

Does it have well-known figures? Then they’re “gurus” and it’s a religion.

Are there books about it? Then those are “scriptures” and it’s a religion.

Does it recommend doing anything regularly? Then those are “rituals” and it’s a religion.

How about just doing anything at all? Then that’s a “commandment” and it’s a religion.

Does it say something is bad? Then that’s “sin” and it’s a religion.

Does it hope to improve the world, or worry about the world getting worse? That’s an “eschatology” and it’s a religion.

Do you disagree with it? Then since you’ve already determined all the evidence is against it, people must believe it on “faith” and it’s a religion.

Later he brings up the idea that religion is just another word for culture or sub-culture

Communities and cultures have their share of danger. Their mix of social and epistemological functions means that any evidence challenging the community’s core beliefs will be taken as an attack on the members’ identity. As a result, community members risk ending up mind-killed. That’s not news. And I don’t think this is especially different from the way religious fanatics are mind-killed. And certainly someone could argue that “religion” is the perfect name for a culture built on shared belief.

But I still think it’s unfair to call these communities/cultures “religions”. “Religion” is too easy to use as the Worst Argument In The World here. It’s supposed to imply all of these other connotations of “religion” like “their beliefs are based on magical thinking” and “they use blind faith instead of reason” and “instead of coming up with a world-view based on evidence they just played Bible Mad Libs.” If those are the connotations you’ve got with “religion”, then I think the word “religion” is actively doing harm here, and you should just use “belief-based community” or “movement” or whatever.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Justin Martyr on the Resurrection Vs. Heaven

I wandered upon this quote from Justin Martyr:

“For if you have conversed with some that are indeed called Christians, and do not maintain these opinions, but even dare to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and say that there is no resurrection of the dead, but that the souls, as soon as they leave the body, are received up into heaven, take care that you do not look upon these. But I, and all those Christians that are really orthodox in every respect, do know that there will be a resurrection of the body and a thousand years in Jerusalem, when it is built again, and adorned, and enlarged, as Ezekiel, and Isaiah, and the rest of the prophets declare.”
– Dialogue With Trypho, The Jew, section LXXX.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Paul Romer on Driverless Cars and Real-Estate

I like the way Paul Romer teaches to my intuition.

"the way to think about the expense of accord, the social cost of accord, is to think about the real estate it uses. Because when you drive a car down the street you are using some very scarce and valuable real estate at a particular time and day. Especially at rush hour. And the thing about a car driven by a human is it takes a lot more real estate than a car that's autonomously controlled, because humans have to allow a lot more distance between vehicles, because we have slower reaction times. So, one way to get excited about autonomous vehicles--I mean, I think a lot of people like the engineers who thought about this, thought about this as a way this saves time for somebody who would be driving and now doesn't have to drive. But the other way that may be more important in terms of the social value to think about these, is think about them as transport modes that use a lot less of the scarce, valuable real estate that we have in our streets."

The most recent Econtalk is a good one.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Homophobia without Fear or Irrationality


This meme I saw today reminds me of my dislike for the derogatory label, “homophobia”. Mostly because it fails the ideological turing test so badly. Can you accurately describe your opponents point of view? If your description is of a phobia, then you can’t.

We all know that a phobia is an irrational fear of something, homophobia must then be the irrational fear of homosexuals. I don’t think it is irrational in the normal sense of the word, and I don’t think it’s fear.

Fear first. Yeah, sure you’ll hear some conservative on Facebook ranting about how gays going to take over the planet. That’s fear but it’s not representative. Exclude him and look at the typical anti-gay person. They run into a male-male kiss at the supermarket, do they respond in any way with the kind of fear that other phobias incite? Nope. They go the other way and grumble to themselves about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket. They might say “ew”, but that’s disgust, not fear.

When the typical anti-gay person runs into a statistic proclaiming the popularity of homosexuality, they aren’t afraid of them taking over, making everyone else gay, and worrying about how we’re going to keep the earth populated. They’re sometimes angry, sometimes despairing, and sometimes self-justifying, but they don’t show the kind of response an arachnophobe shows to spiders.

I think about my objection to the “irrational” part of homophobia a lot more.

The truth is that homophobia is technically irrational. A (good) reason can’t be given for being anti-gay, but in the same way that all moral intuitions are irrational. What seems to be triggered in the “homophobe” is the moral disgust feeling that lots of people have about lots of things.  Brother and sister sex is morally disgusting to lots of people. The example I like to compare anti-gay moral disgust to is moral disgust toward the destruction of nature. What is triggered in the anti-gay person at the sight of a homosexual kiss is the exact same feeling someone else has when they think of a forest being leveled by bulldozers.

Moral disgust is often rationalized into care for harm – they’ll say that these morally disgusting things are causing pain to life and that’s the real problem. But when you suggest scenarios which try to adjust for care for harm the moral objection persists.

That’s why homophobia comes off to me as derogatory and slurish. It’s just a bad name you give to people who disagree with you. It means you’re sick with irrationality and fear. It has become common enough that some people use it more neutrally now, but the term still doesn’t accurately capture their opponents beliefs.

I don’t share moral disgust for homosexuality or the destruction of nature by the way.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Slate Star on Pharma Money

Behold the wit and insight of Slate Star Codex:

lots of studies have shown Seroquel is effective for depression, lots of guidelines suggest Seroquel as a backup depression treatment, and doctors have been (correctly) prescribing it for such for a long time. Doctors also very commonly prescribe it for sleep and dementia; I think is less evidence-based, but it’d be a lie to say it wasn’t common as dirt or that it didn’t work for these things (safety is the problem).

So what was happening was that AstraZeneca was promoting Seroquel for the things it was actually being used for, as opposed to the thing the FDA said it was supposed to be used for. Doctors are allowed to use drugs for whatever they want based on their own analysis and their best judgment, but pharmaceutical companies are only allowed to promote it for the FDA-approved indication, which at that point was psychosis and bipolar depression.

The reason the FDA hadn’t approved Seroquel for depression wasn’t because it was a bad idea. It was because in order to get the FDA to approve anything for anything, you must perform the appropriate ritual of putting a zillion dollars into a big pile, then burning it as a sacrifice to the Bureaucracy Gods. AstraZeneca had performed the ritual for bipolar and psychosis, but was still in the process of performing it a third time for depression. Once they finished, the FDA approved it as an adjunctive medication for depression, but also fined them hundreds of millions of dollars because they had advertised it for depression – merely based on evidence and clinical practice – before the FDA had told them they were allowed to.

“Doctors are allowed to use drugs for whatever they want based on their own analysis and their best judgment, but pharmaceutical companies are only allowed to promote it for the FDA- approved indication…”

“To get the FDA to approve anything for anything, you must perform the appropriate ritual of putting a zillion dollars into a big pile, then burning it as a sacrifice to the Bureaucracy Gods”

A ritual which, I might add, takes over a decade to perform.