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Feb. 16th, 2009

The Synergetic Perspective on the Problem of the Level(s) of Natural Selection

My good friend Steve, over at ZARBI (it's linked on the right) has posted about the question of levels of selection, advancing a phenotype-centric viewpoint.

This is one of the most discussed and debated questions in the philosophy of biology – and many highly competent people have struggled with it over time. Based on my relevant previous study of philosophical questions, I have now studied the major peer-reviewed publications on these subjects. In addition, Steve (over the net) and my girlfriend have taught me so much about biology that it is hard for me to find words to express my gratitude.

From this position, I have begun to formulate my own takes on these questions. They are detailed in the comments to steve's blog-entry, but here is a summary of it, with some additional points. Have at it:

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Deontology vs Consequentialism - A false distinction.

We all consider questions of how best to behave in given situations, and treat some set of such questions as questions of ethical nature. Naturally, we face the question of what our standards should be, how we should evaluate options for behaviour in their moral dimension.
In ethics, there has generally been a distinction between deontological and consequentialist approaches to this question. Deontological approaches focus on the intristic characteristics of the actions in question and how they relate to values and duties, while consequentialist approaches argue that it is the consequences of actions, not their intrinsic nature (including the intent with which they were performed) that should determine how we evaluate them.

I think this is not only a false dichotomy, a mistaken distinction - it is a paradoxical juxtaposition, because effectively, what have been called 'deontological' and 'consquentialist' approach differ not in whether they consider the nature of actions or their consequences, but only in the scope of consequences (effects) of actions they consider.
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Dec. 4th, 2008

"Impeach the Pope"... er... I mean "File A Lawsuit against the Vatican, GODDAMNIT!"

As I was reading through the German humanist press-service (hpd), I read how US courts have decided that the Vatican can be sued, but that the Vatican might refer to its state immunity, and this might make actual prosecution impossible.

Furthermore, I have read that a member of the Social-Democratic Party (the more reasonable one as opposed to the "Christian Democratic Union", the one that gets the most votes) is being supported by the International League of Non-Religious and Atheists - he filed a lawsuit at the European Court to determine the legal status of the demand of a fee of up to 35€ Euro to officially leave the church your parents had you baptized into when you couldn't have had a say in it. Yes, in 12 of our federal states, you have to pay a fee to leave a church.

The German "Bundesgerichtshof recently determined that while this practice does limit freedom of religion, it is legitimate because the state is entrusted with collecting money for the church from their members and manage these payments, so when a beaurocratic effort has to made, you have to pay for that...

I say: File Lawsuits against the Vatican everywhere. State immunity applies (or ought to apply) only in matters of official state affairs (ius imperii), not when acting as a (legal) person... (ius gestionis)

And I think it should be plainly obvious that when citizens of a country entrust their children to the care of the institution of the roman-catholic church, this is the church acting as a partner in a contract which has to satisfy law and the constitution - I would even go as far as to say: Hold Ratzinger and all those high up responsible, since they oversaw, knew of, and failed to intervent, report and deal adequately with the reports of child-molestation and abuse... to say the least. In fact, evidence has been brought up that from high places in the Vatican, priests who have been known (to the church) to be prone to child-molestation... sexual abuse - and only acted when something happened. And instead of preserving evidence and conferring the priests responsible directly to the next police for a complete investigation (a duty, as they should very well know), but simply relocated those priests to other congregations without telling those people, of whom some in turn entrusted their children to these people unknowingly.

This is not a matter of ius imperii for the Vatican - not even if the status of "theocracy" and the rights theocracies want to have were recognized by international law.

All nations on this earth should recognize that while priests may be citizens not of the vatican state but of another country, they have an ideological "office" conferred by the Vatican state that they act in capacity of as priests, the ius imperii does not extent to dealings with official citizens - especially where they are entrusted with the care of children (or adults), they are subject to ius gestionis, and the vatican qua institution of the roman-catholic church can and must be held responsible.

Churches as institutions cannot and must not be granted any rights or privileges in acting "towards" citizens our respective nations that other non-religious institutions (e.g. political) would not be granted. "What? Claim 'new members' by an official mysticistic ritual on people who cannot even consent, having them indoctrinated only to get their children for indoctrination later on and then boast with your high member-numbers to claim political influence? Whoa...hold your horses, buddy.

These are practices no other institutions would be allowed to get away with for good reason. Imagine what would have long since happened to, say, a political party that, nationawide, underheld kindergartens and private schools, with attendees they claim from birth for their political party because the parents wanted it that way, only to bring them up to send more children to these schools... anyway, what would have happened had it become known that there were tens of thousands of cases of child-molestation in these schools and kindergartens and that high-ranking officials did everything they could to hush it up and barely anything to protect the people?

Long since, the FBI, or your respective government agency would have had a huge simulataneous, nationwide raid of its premises, securing all documents and names - asking questions to former and present members of the congretation and bring everyone from high-ranking members to lowly clerks in front of a court!

And that's what should happen! There, rant over...

Dec. 3rd, 2008

The preposterous assertions of Douglas Wilson

In a recent debate with Christopher Hitchens, Douglas Wilson, who evidently has published a book on logic of all things and has read philosophy, made some claims that really astounded me.

In his closing statement (as well as at the beginning of the debate) he "argues" that in a universe that is just an accident, just particles whizzing around, how could there are in a subset of it (humanity) a knowledge of how it came there.

It must be said that we ought to question Mr. Wilson's competence to publish a book on logic and to read philosophy when he actually deems this worthy of the term "argument".

Aside from the fact that Mr. Wilson ought to know that he is presented a false dichotomy in intending this to support his theism, he also made the following claim:

"Not one single atheist" he knows has ever tried to answer that question.


Now I think that's a very astounding conclusion. Perhaps he has never actually read any significant philosophy - or at least he must have failed to understand the whole enterprise. In any case, he does seem to have no idea whatsoever about the tradition ranging from the stoa to Hume to the modern Naturalists have worked on exactly that question. Not to mention the contribution of biology, the modern neurosciences, systems theory and so forth.

People have worked on this question for a long, taking nothing for granted except for rules of logic and critical reason - who have looked at the world around them, investigated what we can know about it methodologically, take the established body of empirical data and scientific findings and integrate mentality and our attempts at explaining the world and our place in it!

Mr. Wilson simply does not seem to know about this, yet he makes grand claims about exactly this subject, in implying that a)a naturalistic worldview cannot allow for order, life and mentality and b)theism can explain this.

He talks a lot about "truth and beauty" being related - which just shows his irrational conviction that his own aesthetic judgement can determine, without any cogent arguments (but with a lot of non-sequiturs and outright falsehoods) demonstrate that the mysticism he advocates has any value whatsoever. Mysticism can easily be claimed to explain everything - while actually it explains nothing.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands of outstandingly brilliant people have put hard work into understanding how it is that in a world of atoms there should be molecules, stars, animals and even mentality. Actual understanding - not being so complacent and/or dogmatic, indoctrinated and compartmentalizing as to assume that in contrast to such heavy explanatory lifting as has been done by these people, a retroactive rationalization of mythology created by people who knew nothing of the universe compared to us.

Someone ought to write to the university that employs him and ask how he can be deemed competent in the matters where he claims or assumes competence. The education of a lot of people is potentially at stake here.

Nov. 30th, 2008

I have a new toy

I needed a new cellular phone. And since I'm a real audiophile and cineast and simply love technological gimmicks, I decided upon a high-end device.

Initially, I thought I'd get either the Nokia N95 8bg, then I thought perhaps the N96 or the Omnia or the Xperia X1... I considered the iPhone, but it's only available with quite expensive (even oppressive) contracts, and the Xperia has a better screen-resolution.

But finally, I found the perfect device - the true "iPhone Killer". Still doesn't have multitouch, but as a multimedia-smartphone and lifestyle-device it surpasses the iPhone by far:

the htc Touch HD.

Have a look at these:
htc Touch HD Hardware Tour
htc Touch HD Software Tour


I love it - it's gorgeous and performs admirably. Not only is it great as a portable music and video player (with microSD of up to 16gb of storage - I currently have 8GB installed) with its 800x480 screen, it's also perfect for car-navigation because of the large screen.

Nov. 21st, 2008

International Day of Philosophy - Prediction, Explanation, Emergence and Ontology

Today was the UNESCO's international day of philosophy.
I have deliberated for some time what I would post, and have now finally made up my mind.
The following will be a discussion of relation between predictability, determination, modelling and explanation, what role the concept of emergence plays and how this ought to affect our ontology, i.e. the set of beliefs pertaining to "what there is".Read more...Collapse )

Nov. 10th, 2008

Thermodynamics and Complex Systems - Life on Earth

PZ Myers has just posted on his blog about the old creationist argument that "Evolution contradicts the 2nd law of thermodynmaics", and has introduced a paper by Daniel Styer on the subject. Since this touches upon my recent studies, I want to present my thoughts on this matter. These are the two comments I posted on the respective thread on Pharyngula:
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Musical Interlude #2 - Rock Guitar Virtuoso

Think Jimi Hendrix was the best on the electric guitar ever? Or perhaps SRV? Eric Clapton? Think again...Read more...Collapse )
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Nov. 9th, 2008

Poor Television

I admit it. Every now and then, I enjoy watching an episode of Numb3rs - mainly because I am interested the presentation of applied mathematics, formal problem-solving. Occasionally, they picture this very well. In addition, to link the scientific element with the dramatic structure, they have the characters discuss worldview. A more scientific, empiricist worldview in the Character of Charlie Epps, the main character meets the worldview of his friend and fellow scientist Larry Fleinhardt, who has a need to find spiritual meaning in life.

Sometimes the interaction between these characters can be almost interesting - but sometimes, Fleinhardt's comments are too much to bear.Read more...Collapse )

Nov. 3rd, 2008

State of the Blog And Musical Interlude #1

Hey guys.

I know I've been away for a long time. University is stressful and I still got a lot to do. In fact, I have to write my master's thesis and this will take up much of my time. But I am currently bouncing some ideas back and forth between Steve (Zarbi), Brian (Philosophical Neuron) and myself. Perhaps I might even post some of it.

Until then, however, I want to start my own tradition of musical interludes, as Quetz, Steve and others have already done. Be warned, though - my taste in music is quite eclectic.Read more...Collapse )
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