By HonestDiscussioner

Religion, Philosophy, Politics, and anything else I'd like to talk about


Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Hiya James. We are a bit overdue for this discussion aren't we?

James, DasAmericanAtheist, made a response to my video on Free Will, and yes James, I talk about Free Will a lot but I haven't brought it up in over a year until my last video, so I think I'm only beating a semi-dead horse here.

James brings up two points against my argument. Minorly he states that soft determinism is, for all intents and purposes, unfalsifiable and I will agree with him that unfalsifiable claims have little place in discussions of what we should believe. However I think James and I might BOTH be mistaken about soft determinism. I always thought of soft determinism as hard determinism with accepting at least the possibility of quantum randomness, and random will would hardly be considered the same as free will. However when I double checked it seems that soft determinism is really compatiblism, which I am not a proponent of. My position is not only that Free Will does not  exist, but that the very concept closely resembles a logical contradiction.

Rather than appeal to any form of determinism, I merely need to appeal to basic causality to dispel the myth of Free Will. Things happen for a reason, even if part of the reason is the randomness of quantum mechanics, that does not take away from the fact that our mental thought are caused, or shall I say determined factors outside of our control.  Unless one is to deny the truth that our neuro-chemical brains are affected by everything from how much sugar we've had to our DNA, to just random hormonal changes then there isn't much room for Free Will as your eventual decision is affected by all of these factors generally outside of your control.

Admittedly, this only dispels a broad definition of Free Will more common to theistic belief, and likely is not the kind Das is arguing for, if he's even arguing for anything. Mainly his video is just a critique of my reasoning which is a perfectly acceptable approach, even if we agree we must test out our reasoning. To summarize though, I don't follow soft determinism but rather appeal to the various forces beyond our control which determine our thoughts and actions.

Now for the study I cited, we come to James's main critique, in which he accepts the study as valid and says he's only going off of what I said about it. What I said was that the scientists were able to predict what people would consciously choose up to five seconds ahead of time. James says that he finds this unconvincing, however what does perplex me is that he alludes to my point leading to the Carterisan Theater, which originally was an idea Dan Dennet had as a way to negatively caricature René Descartes idea of dualism. It's the idea that within our minds there is a sort of homunculus, another entity responsible for our conscious experience.

Now I at no point alluded to anything other than our brains being responsible for our conscious experience and I state quite strongly that our brains are entirely responsible for our conscious experience. Now rather than rely on or promote the idea of a dualism of any sort, the study I mentioned supports the opposite conclusion.  Rather than a single entity using our brain as a sort of processing machine, the various parts of the processing machine come together to form consciousness.  Our brains work sort of like committee, so for example you see someone you are sexually attracted. How do you respond to that? Part of your brain is working to achieve the goal or either companionship or sex, but another part of your brain is trying to prevent the pain of rejection while another part is factoring in the risk in approaching the person with their friends around, which affects the part of the brain avoiding rejection because rejection in front of a group lowers you status in the group and increases the risk of further rejection down the line. Now all of this information can manifest itself in nervousness, or the idea to check yourself to make sure you look right, or perhaps an abandonment of the attempt all together because the risk was considered too great. You're not aware of all of these processes, but you know they exist because you can hone in on them if you sit down and think about it for long enough. That's generally what happens in psychological sessions, you delve into your own behavior to better understand why you do the things you do. If your decisions were made entirely by the conscious  part of your mind this would be entirely unnecessary. You'd know exactly why you did but so often we really don't. Most of the time really we don't. Some people spend decades of their lives trying to uncover the source of their behavior, and this flies in the face of the idea that our behavior is generated by conscious experience somehow cut off from the whole of physics. The fact that we can predict a conscious choice based off of looking at an MRI of the brain means that there are unconscious determinants to our decisions.

To summarize, consciousness is the result of your brain processes which are themselves the result of physics.

A criticism I received in the chat was that it is ridiculous to ask "why" ad infinitum because you can do that with anything. Sure, but I'm not asking "why" ad infinitum.  We have good and valid explanations for our behavior, and to lead people to those good, valid explanations. Those explanations show that our decisions are effected by things outside of what we would consider our "will" and thus our wills are only the result of physical processes.

One last thing before I go. I thought this would best be handled in a video rather in 4 comments, but user DivergentMind asks why consciousness evolved if it is merely determined and therefore does not give any benefits.

After thinking about it I think the premise is flawed. Consciousness is the ability to recognize that you exist, and contemplate your own experiences. So when you still feel hungry after gorging yourself, you can think "if I wait 15 minutes I'll feel full, perhaps I shouldn't continue". Without that conscious experience, without that ability, we would continue to eat until our brains got the signal to stop. We see such things in the animal kingdom all the time. So rather than evolve a single mechanism for quickly knowing when you are satisfied, a separate mechanism for recognizing when you should ignore or listen to your pain, and a thousand other mechanism that would take thousands of generations to form, consciousness allows us to adapt more quickly to a scenario and understand why we're feeling the way we do and adapt that knowledge to make actions that are more likely to be beneficial.

A response to this might be that I'm describing free will; your will or conscious mind imposing itself on the unconscious portions. There are two problems to this:

1. Your conscious mind's ability to do so is determined by the sections of your unconscious mind.

2. At best this establishes a feedback loop in which both the conscious and unconscious affect each other and neither is totally responsible for the end product, and still you don't have freedom of will. Just like the processor in a computer isn't solely responsible for the program running, it requires cooperation from all portions to get the final result.

In summary, I'm not a compatiablist, I'm not a dualist, and conscious experience is caused by chemical reactions that are subjected to the laws of physics.

Have a nice day, and thank you for the response James.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Free Agency Only Exists in Sports

So someone I talk, argue, and debate with  frequently on facebook made a response to someone else I talk, argue, and debate with frequently on facebook. However, the response was on the topic of free will or free agency, so I have to butt in. On Youtube his name is AngryDrunkenTheist, but here I'll just call him ADT.

ADT defines Free Agency as, and I'm paraphrasing "the ability of an agent to choose between two actions that each satisfy the same goal". So the example ADT gives is one in which he has the goal of drinking something hot to satisfy him, and the available options are coffee and tea. His Free Agency lies in his ability to choose between the two.

This is, generally, an accurate representation of what most people think of when referencing Free Will. Unfortunately, among commonly held concepts is it one of the most painfully false ones I am aware of insofar as its application to humanity. There are two ways to dispel this notion, one is to ask a question, the other is to state a fact.

The question is simply "why". To fully dispel the Free Will notion we need only ask this one question, though several times. Why, in this instance, do you choose coffee over tea? You could try and beg the question "because I choose to", but then ask "why do you choose to"? Generally it is because you have deduced that coffee is that which satisfies your goals. Did you choose for coffee to satisfy your goals better, or did you think about it for a while, evaluate what your experience with coffee will be over tea, and logically deduce your goals would be better satisfied with coffee. Notice I say "goals" and not "goal".

That brings us to the fact: Brains don't work the way ADT believes. He cites this "highest goal" as though we only work out one problem at a time, in serial order. This couldn't be further from the truth. While you could possibly reduce our goals to the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, that isn't how they generally manifest. So when ADT says this:

"Why can't it just be that wanting to try something new was my highest goal". The answer is, because you have many goals. Here ADT gives a scenario in which he actually chooses tea over coffee, despite deducing that coffee was the best way to satisfy his desire for something hot to drink. He offers up *as an explanation for this decision*  that he *also* has a desire to try something new. Now it could be that his desire to try something new was greater than his desire to have something hot, however a more likely scenario is that tea satisfies your desire for something new *without* compromising your desire for something hot, therefore you deduce that tea is what will satisfy the most goals for you. You see, ADT's argument more often than not goes against his position, not for. Whenever he discusses a decision, he always does so within the context of a reason, or more accurately, a cause. Or as I like to call it, a determining factor.

It's even worse for ADT's position than that. The Haynes et. al study, and yes I always bring up this study because it is so relevant to this discussion, dispelled any notion of Free Will. Through looking at the unconscious parts of the brain, they were able to predict the conscious choices of the participants five seconds or more before the individual had made their decision. Through proving that our decisions are highly affected by unconscious forces within the brain, they effectively removed the possibility of our conscious agency being the primary force or even a significant force, behind our actions. Rather, our cognitive processes are broken down in parts of the brain, and different unconscious parts can be fighting to go in different directions. Eventually a consensus is built by which direction has the strongest voices pulling for it, and that's how the action or decision manifests itself.

Lastly, ADT anticipates an argument and attempts to respond to it in advance, that being what would happen if you turned back time to a choice you've made in the past. Could you choose differently? ADT rejects this argument claiming "How could I chose otherwise when I've already chosen?" Well, if we're rewinding time then no, you have NOT already chosen. This argument is done to illustrate the facts that your actions are determined by your determined logic and reasoning, not some ill-defined abstract "agency", for if you say that you would always make that decision the same way no matter what then your will doesn't control your actions and you can't "choose between two actions that each satisfy the same goal". If you say "yes", you could choose something different, then you'd have to describe your thought process coming to a different conclusion based off the same evidence, thus making any Free Will you assert indicative of irrationality.

However, if ADT really finds problems with the "going in the past" scenario, then I can merely extend it to the future. Instead of rewinding time, imagine a scenario in which someone with memory issues chooses coffee, walks outside and puts his coffee down to . . . tie his shoe. He gets up, forgets he already ordered coffee, and realizing he wants something hot, goes back into the store to order something. So he's back in the store, let's assume his mind forgot everything that happened to him and for all intents and purposes his mind and brain are exactly the same as they were when he ordered last time. Technically this is still a new choice now. Could he then choose tea, and if so, how do you explain that decision without appealing to changing circumstance, of which we've already ruled out?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Dramagate

Those who hold a level of familiarity with my channel would likely describe its relation to drama as virtually non-existent. Searching my memory of my Youtube experience has returned only a single instance of what could be considered a "pure drama" video, an instance in my career that has long been privated per request of the party concerned.

Yet here I find myself at the precipice of one of the largest pieces of drama to hit the Youtube atheist community since "Wafergate". That too I commented on, yet I tried to remove myself from the personal side of the drama and focus on the intellectual side of who was in the right. That will mostly remain my objective here, however the situation may cause me to take a step further and dip my toes in the proverbial waters of drama.

Why, you ask? If there is anything that all sides of "Dramagate" can tentatively agree on, it is that there is too much drama, so why would one of the few members of the community who routinely avoids drama cross the line over to the poor man's Broadway?

The answer is simple: Dramagate isn't really about who did what, but instead it concerns itself with the direction of the atheist community itself. There is no more important topic in a community than that, and thus this requires a deeper investigation, and a wider perspective than most commentators have given it credit.

It also concerns individuals that I (still) have a high level of respect for, most prominently that of DarkMatter2525 who remains at the center of the event. For those of you who have been patient enough to read up until this point without knowing what "Dramagate" is, you will be less than pleased to know that the aforementioned DarkMatter, along with a few co-conspirators such as BionicDance, generated false rumors than DarkMatter had done something reprehensible in the eyes of a few people. Many a vague video was made alluding to these rumors, which lead me to an early conclusion (along with many others) that the drama was indeed fake.

Once it was admitted to be fake, it was revealed that the purpose behind this ruse was to illustrate our level of addiction is to drama, to point out how views went up when people talked about it in comparison to the more intellectually driven material on the same channels. AtheismTV compared the lackluster views of my interview with James Randi with the views of an interview with the far more controversial Thunderf00t as further evidence of this problem.

The criticisms of this move were passionate and filled with conviction at the inherent problems within Dramagate, though to my knowledge only fell into two categories. Some found the entire exercise pointless, they claimed with great accuracy that it was obvious to any observer that the community was largely drama focused and therefore the effort expose it as such was unnecessary. Analogies to water being wet or simple references to the word "duh" could be heard from many mouths and read from many screens. Others were more hurt, feeling this attempt to deceive, regardless of its success, breached a form of trust.

It is my humble opinion that both of these criticisms fail.

It is true, little imaginative muscle is required to view Youtube as drenched and entrenched in drama. It is also true that proving that fact was unnecessary. The issue arises from detractors of this event having unintentionally glossed over one important detail: more than merely 'illustrating" the problem, the perpetrators of this particular farce attempted to do something about the problem. One could possibly accuse the attempt of a level of ineptitude, but that hardly comprises the main thrust of the argument being made, if it is even present at all. This is not a criticism of all those who have not made an attempt at bettering the situation. It is perfectly reasonable to chalk drama up to human nature and therefore not something that can be solved. However to declare the obviousness of the problem, while participating in its proliferation, leaves one without room to rebuke those who honestly seek to combat it, regardless of their effectiveness.

As for those left feeling hurt or betrayed, who claim they were lied to and deceived, I believe a brief lesson in history is in order. As strange as it is to say it, even Youtube now contains a level of history that helps us understand our own situation all the better. It was years ago when DasAmericanAtheist and AHughman08 decided to play a little April Fool's joke on their subscribers. They pretended that each had stolen the others' channels. At first they played it as a joke, which then turned more serious as they began deleting (or privating in real life) each others' better works, and eventually claiming the channel they stole for their own.

It was not a largely successful endeavor. Despite my intervention and attempt to lend credence to their story, the fact that it happened on April Fool's Day made few people buy the story as legitimate. The difference between this event and Dramagate is that the former was done as a joke, and the latter to benefit the community. The other difference is that the the fomer lacked any serious backlash. Individuals seemed amused at the attempt, but little anger came from it to my knowledge. If we are to have outrage, it should at least strive for consistency. If we can forgive a joke, we can forgive Dramagate. There is nothing immoral in deception if it be both temporary and intended for good, as was the case here.

Now that I've exposed myself as shill for DarkMatter and his co-conspirators, hopelessly biased in their favor and unable to admit any wrong-doing on their part, let me begin my own criticism of their work. I do not disagree with their actions insomuch that I found their execution to be lacking, and largely responsible for the backlash that occurred.

For example, AtheismTV confesses that the overly vague set-up was intentional, and that those that recognized it as fake drama should be lauded. While exhibiting a healthy dose of skepticism is justifiably an important and advantageous trait in the atheist community, it has little to do with the prevalence and overpowering presence of drama. By allowing the ruse to be largely detectable, it shifted focus from the actual issue of drama to whether or not this instance was real, creating a legitimate instance of drama that distracted from the fake drama and thus weakening the overall case. The discussion of the legitimacy of a claim is integral to our community, and thus not something you can criticize one for getting involved in like you could for the personal life of DarkMatter.

By intending for some people to see through the facade, the creators of Dramagate forced themselves, unknowingly of course, into a no-win situation. There were three possibilities as far as reaction to the event. Either it was ignored as drama, focused on as drama, or it was understood to be a sham. Those that ignored the drama as it did not concern them are still to be congratulated, but other than providing a metaphorical pat on the back this group gains no benefit from Dramagate as they were not the intended targets. Now among the ranks of those that saw the hoax for what it was, perhaps there exist a portion of the intended targets. Perhaps though they may have passed the test of skepticism with flying colors, they would have failed the drama test had the story been legitimate. Sadly, we can never know from this experiment who these individuals are, and without evidence they can boldly assert the contrary and we have no recourse to disagree with them. Their beliefs in their resistance to drama strengthens, regardless of the reality they live.

Surely though, you argue, between those members taken in by the deception they will see the light and perhaps even benefit enough to not feed the fires of drama within the community, or at least feed it with less fervor. Perhaps some, but unlikely many. Most certainly the list is scant compared to one in which the majority fell for the deception. With the safety of numbers, with a common experience among a large group, there is no shame attached. Compare the experience of being the only one naked in crowded room with one in which all are naked and of the same body type. The former elicits feelings of embarrassment and shame, while the latter allows for contemplation of the shared experience. How does that compare to our current state of affairs? In a community which prides itself on intellect and skepticism, we now have a group that has failed tests for both, in a very public way. Rather than encourage awareness of how they react to and proliferate drama, we instead encourage an intense session of social self-preservation. Rather than look at how to change, efforts to explain away their now public failings abound, excuses rain down from sky, and ways to shift the metaphorical mountain of shame onto a proper scapegoat for all to witness are processed and implemented. Here the scapegoat can only be those who started it all, those individuals who dare lie to us and violate our trust. What gives them the right to police the community and declare there's too much drama? They're acting like the gods of atheism with their high and might message about how we're all wrong. I was concerned about DarkMatter for nothing. Pay no attention to my reaction behind the curtain! These reactions are as understandable as they are human. It is part of our human psychology to do these things, do not think of what I say in regards to those that fell for it a criticism. We've all fallen for tricks before, and we all rationalize and divert attention when we do.

I think Dramagate was a mistake, but a mistake blown out of proportion. One that at most deserves an eyeroll and at least deserves forgiveness for any negative repercussions. We all make mistakes, and to stay upset at this one goes above and beyond. We are better than this, and even if this was something to be taken more seriously than I advocate, clearly it must be tempered with the significant contribution that DarkMatter has made to the community. Let's learn from this and get past it. Unless of course, we'd rather dramatize it further.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Thunderf00t & "Feminism"

So, a review of TF's video, wherein I breakdown where I agree and disagree with him.

Agree: It's probably not a good idea to strictly moderate your channel or any forum. My personal rules is that banning\deletion of comments only comes when breaking the law, or spamming content not related to the discussion. Based on that metric, I have a total of zero people banned, and only one comment deleted (unless you count the blog, where I've had to delete dozens of spam comments). So yes, if someone threatens rape that's certainly a good reason to ban them. It is also my personal opinion that offensive speech should not be censored, lest the listing of what is offensive grows ever larger to the point where valid opinions are silenced. I am also not a very big fan of Atheism+ for similar reasons.

Disagree: While Youtube is a public forum, comparing it to a public park is non-sense. If you wanted the analogy to hold, Youtube is a public park where you are allowed to stake out your own little corner in which you are in charge and responsible for what goes on. While I ask people to *not* moderate their channel, I believe they have the right to do so, the same goes for conferences.

Further disagreement: The idea that a harassment policy is unnecessary because it is already covered under the law is . . . well I wouldn't call it "ludicrous" but certainly false. It is false for two reasons, best as I can tell. The first is that the law can only be applied when there is a large level of evidence. What if an individual is threatening women, or anyone really, in ways that cannot be confirmed? It's clear to everyone around that he is harassing people, but they couldn't prove it in the court of law. Establishing rules of conduct for such things gives the ones in charge of the convention a level of leeway to decide when a person is being disruptive. Will this ever be necessary? Perhaps not, but it does set precedent that I think is helpful. The second way in which TF's argument is false, is when the "I'm joking" excuse it being used. Some people may in reality only attempting some innocent fun or chiding, but for such topics that would in fact be unacceptable and placing rules against those types of statements is therefore understandable.

Still Further Disagreement: I don't think this whole thing was generated entirely be one single incident, here "ElevatorGate". My own thoughts on that matter are many and nuanced, but that's not really under the purview of this discussion. What's important is that in such a large group, it is unlikely that this is the only instance of men stepping over some sexual bounds or making women feel uncomfortable. To say that you are aware of every last instance and there is only one would require you to claim some sort of supernatural god-like status or make you guilty of several illegal wiretapping offenses.

So, there you have it.

Due to a problem with my blog theme, my recommended pages disappeared. Please go check out The Humble Empiricist, as her most recent entry from January 1st, 2013 is quite excellent.