Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Archive for August, 2009

Question of the Week

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 27, 2009

More of a quiz question:

What two English words contain each of the eight most frequent letters exactly once? (etaoinsr)


Posted in Question of the Week | 2 Comments »

RE: Ten Arguments For Abortion and Against Abortion

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 27, 2009

This is a response to the page on abortion. In a somewhat less traditional fashion, I will be responding to ALL arguments, not just the anti-abortion ones.

The Pro-Life arguments come first.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Abortion, Ethics | 5 Comments »

Nature vs. Nurture

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 25, 2009

There is an ongoing debate about Nature vs. Nurture. That is, which has more influence on an entity: its genetics or its upbringing? I will take some steps in answering that question.

First of all, I don’t think it matters. I’ve been thinking (or rather not thinking) this for years. But I’m going to contribute anyway.

If you’ve read The Selfish Gene, you will know what memes are. If you haven’t read it, go read it right now.

Did you leave yet? So everyone here knows what a meme is? Good.

Oh, what’s that? You’re still here? Fine. You get a one-sentence explanation: a meme is a cultural gene. I hope you understand it now. What’s that? You don’t? Well, it’s late and I’m tired. So go look it up. Or better, read The Selfish Gene.

But enough ranting. Here’s the idea. Nature vs. Nurture can be re-worded as Genes vs. Memes. At this point, it becomes much easier to sift through the details. Since cultural phenomena rely on the existence of beings, and beings rely on genetics, it is a given that genetics exist. If Nurture (memes) is 100% of the influence, then natural selection among genes will be unable to take place: there will still be random mutations, but the lack of selection will lead to a steady genetic decay. So it is impossible for Nurture/Memes to be the only influence.

Nature/Genes, however, can get along just fine on their own. By definition, genes had to exist before memes could begin to. Only Nature can survive on its own.

But this does not mean that Nature is the only factor. Memes clearly have a prominent effect on behavior. But what is the balance?

The answer is, I have no idea. Nature has to be prominent enough for natural selection to take place, or else generations would get weaker and weaker and eventually everyone would die. But for memes to even exist, Nurture has to be significant enough to continue to exert its influence over many generations. So the balance must be very close, very moderated.

I go sleep now. I have school tomorrow.

Posted in Science | 1 Comment »

Can Atheists Be Parents?

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 24, 2009

Apparently, atheists are evil and can’t have children.

After six years of childless marriage, John and Cynthia Burke of Newark decided to adopt a baby boy through a state agency. Since the Burkes were young, scandal-free and solvent, they had no trouble with the New Jersey Bureau of Children’s Services—until investigators came to the line on the application that asked for the couple’s religious affiliation.

. . . In an extraordinary decision, Judge Camarata denied the Burkes’ right to the child because of their lack of belief in a Supreme Being. Despite the Burkes’ “high moral and ethical standards,” he said, the New Jersey state constitution declares that “no person shall be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshiping Almighty God in a manner agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience.” Despite Eleanor Katherine’s tender years, he continued, “the child should have the freedom to worship as she sees fit, and not be influenced by prospective parents who do not believe in a Supreme Being.”

This is so utterly stupid that I don’t even know where to start. This judge is clearly so incompetent that he doesn’t understand the simple difference between the words “deprive” and “influence”. These sorts of people are actually in our government? I am disgusted.

P.S. There’s no reason to look at the date of this article. No reason whatsoever.

Posted in Politics | 1 Comment »

Programming Language Review

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 23, 2009

I am by no means a programming expert. And in ten years, I may look back and say, “What was I thinking?” But nonetheless, here is a review of various programming languages.

I tried to learn this when I was about ten years old. It didn’t work.

BASIC was written in 1964 to try to provide an easy-to-learn programming language. Since then, dozens of superior easy-to-use languages have been made such as Ruby and Python. Don’t try to learn BASIC.

I learned Python for a school project a while back. It was very easy to learn — I was fluent enough after I had logged only about five hours — but I did not like it. There are better alternatives. Python is very easy to learn, use, and read, and it’s a good language to learn when you’re just starting out. But after that, I don’t see that it serves much use. It’s slower than C or Java and it’s more difficult to use than Ruby. Sure, some people may like it. That’s fine. You might like it. It’s easy to learn, easy to use, and easy to maintain. I happen to like Ruby better.

Ruby was the first language that I learned. It is very slow, but there is so much that it can do. It has some very elegant features, and it is very broad in its capacity. Everything is an object, including numbers; one feature that I particularly love about that is this:
100.times do
# something gets done a hundred times

Is that awesome or what?

C is a solid low-level language. It’s hard to get a handle on, but there aren’t many features so you can learn it quickly. Especially in its favor is that it is very fast. I would recommend it for anyone who is writing either a simple program or a program that needs to be efficient.

On the other hand, C has some serious difficulties. There is no garbage collector, so you have to do all of your own memory management. Pointer arithmetic can get tricky. Working with arrays is much harder than in Ruby or even Java. This can work, and can even encourage more elegant code, but it’s harder.

Much like C++, Objective-C is an object-oriented extension of C. It has some fun syntax, and it has some annoying syntax. It’s easier to use than C, but not by a lot. Some people like it; I think it’s a decent language. Its portability is limited, since it is mostly only used for Mac and iPhone development.

Objective-C allows for a much broader perspective than C. You still have to deal with pointer arithmetic and such, but the objects make the daily grind so much easier.

Where to begin? For many purposes, I find that Java strikes a perfect balance between speed and ease of use. It is one of the fastest languages out there (though not as fast as C), has relatively easy syntax, and its massive standard library makes life much easier. It is suitable for many applications, and fun to use. It bridges the gap between low-level languages like C and high-level languages like Ruby.

Posted in Computer Science, Math, Programming | Leave a Comment »

New Keyboard Layout Project: Some Cost Modifications

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 22, 2009

Today, I played around with the costs. I found a few things that didn’t work too well, and a few that did. I came across something interesting, though. I reduced the cost of outward rolls to zero, and I got a somewhat different layout. There was too much same finger usage for my taste, so I increased the cost of same finger. Interestingly, I got the exact same result as MTGAP 3.2.

k c f g b  j h u w .
o s a t d  l n e r i
q v , p z  ; m y x '

I don’t like the way the “he” digraph requires that I bend my hand, so I added something to the program to take that into account. When I factored that in, I came up with this layout, which I like a lot:


k y d c b  j f u l ,
o i t s g  h n e r a
q ' w p z  v m . x ;

This solves some of the problems of MTGAP 3.2. The “he” digraph is much easier in my opinion. Inward rolls are improved, and that awkward “he” is eliminated. There are some problems, though. Distance, same hand and same finger are all increased. So is this layout really any better?

You may wonder why I care so much about the “he” digraph. I mean, it’s just one digraph. But the thing is, it’s the second most common digraph after “th”. That digraph alone has a significant impact.

I will continue to look for a good balance.

Posted in Keyboards, New Keyboard Layout Project | 6 Comments »

Hitler’s Demonstrative Adjectives

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 22, 2009

Posted in Humor | Leave a Comment »

Moral Matrix

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 21, 2009

Similar to my post on the Political Compass, I am going to write about my opinion on the Moral Matrix. See my post on the Political Compass for an overview of my potential biases. One thing I like about the Moral Matrix is that it gives explanations for each question and answer.

Q: About God (whatever ‘God’ means for you.).
A: Religion should not exist.

Justification: Religion in its modern form (last millennium or so) has done great harm with things like the Crusades and the Inquisition. Any potential fulfillment out of religion can just as easily come from a different source. Of course, so can war, but we don’t need any more excuses to start wars.

Q: About ethnic groups.
A: All ethnic groups are equal.

Justification: This one was tricky, since it is not evolutionarily possible for all ethnic groups to be the same. But the explanation read “All ethnic groups are equally capable”, which I agree with.

Q: About cultures.
A: Some cultures are better than others.

Justification: This one was interesting as well. I was tempted to select “The better cultures should win”, i.e. ” ‘Successful’ cultures are superior and should be able to dominate less ‘successful’ ones.” But if you read The Selfish Gene, you’ll learn that the best cultures don’t always win: the stable ones do. And I believe that some cultures are more morally sound than others.

Q: About countries.
A: We are all citizens of the world.

Justification: National borders are essentially arbitrary. I believe that the best (though definitely not most stable) system for each individual is worldwide cooperation. As self-aware beings, it may be possible for humans to see beyond the selfish (i.e. stable) personal desires and understand that long-term sacrifices and cooperation are best for everyone.

Q: About lifestyles.
A: ‘Traditional’ lifestyles should be encouraged.

Justification: Apparently I get to define what ‘traditional’ lifestyles are, so I define them as lifestyles that are the most productive for society.

Q: About men and women.
A: Men and women are different, but equal.

Justification: The differences are concrete and real, but they are both necessary elements for a strong whole.

Q: About Nature.
A: Nature does not belong to us, we belong to Nature.

Justification: I do not like the wording of this answer, but I agree with it more than any of the other answers. Not all of nature is worth preserving except for selfish reasons, but certain species within nature are worthy of preservation. Beings capable of suffering should have their suffering minimized, and self-aware beings should not be harmed.

Q: About success.
A: Success is finding your inner self.

Justification: In the end, making yourself happy is the most important goal for success. Making a difference with other people is important as well, but due to our evolutionary roots, personal satisfaction frequently encompasses that.

Q: About business.
A: We should sanction businesses who don’t play by the rules.

Justification: Businesses are for the most part private and should not be interfered with, but should not be allowed to infringe upon the rights of others.

Q: About professional employment and advancement.
A: Work and discipline should pay off.

Justification: This works best with inherently selfish humans, while at the same time being productive.

Q: About education.
A: Everyone should have the opportunity to receive a great education.

Justification: This is the most fair to everyone.

Q: About health care.
A: You should get the health care you are ready to pay for.

Justification: Everyone has access to health care, but this prevents exploitation by the unemployed.

Q: About financial responsibility.
A: It should first be an individual responsibility.

Justification: Social safety nets are useful for when someone hits some bad luck, but for the most part people should be responsible for their own finances.

Q: About charity.
A: It should be an individual responsibility.

Justification: If charity is mandatory, then it is not charity.

Q: About domestic security (protection from crime).
A: We should have the right to defend ourselves.

Justification: The police are more effective than individuals at domestic security, but individuals should be able to defend themselves if necessary. The right to self-defense is a fundamental one that directly corresponds with the right to liberty.

Q: About respect of the Law.
A: We should eliminate the causes of crime.

Justification: It seems to me that punishment is completely pointless. There should still be a justice system in place in case a crime is committed, but the source of crimes should be eliminated as that will make society as a whole more healthy.



moral matrix

Posted in Ethics, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Theft, Slavery and Rape Explained By Selfish Gene Theory

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 20, 2009

In The Selfish Gene, the reader was encouraged to consider how seemingly altruistic behaviors are actually selfish. I will now examine this for the cases of theft, slavery, and rape. That is, why do people consider these actions to be wrong?

We live in a community of people and we know each other’s personalities. If Edward Evil starts stealing from people, he will get a reputation as a thief (if people find out, that is, which they likely will). He will be pushed away: it is in the selfish interest of every other member of society to not be anywhere near a thief. Thus, the thief will then not get the benefits that come out of living in a society, such as an easier time getting food and finding a mate.

This one is easy. Sure, you may be able to propagate your genes. But it won’t matter, since no woman will ever want to sleep with you again. It is against a woman’s self-interest to be raped; so if someone is a known rapist, other women will avoid him. (This is all assuming that the males are the ones doing the raping, but it works the same if you flip it around.)

As we have seen in the past, many people do not believe that slavery is wrong. Today’s ideas are largely cultural. However, it is still a relatively wide-spread belief. Why? This one’s tricky. Perhaps slaves tend to rebel and harm their masters. I don’t know. What do you think?

Posted in Ethics | 1 Comment »

Resolved: Public high school students in the US ought not be required to pass standardized exit exams.

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 19, 2009

This is the September/October LD debate resolution. Here are my thoughts.

Arguments for the Affirmative

  • The most obvious argument for the affirmative is to argue that not everyone is the same so standardization is inherently flawed.
  • Standardized tests are not good measures of ability.
  • —Rebuttal: That is a different problem entirely. We just need better standardized tests, that’s all.

  • States should be able to decide whether students take exit exams; there should be no nationwide standard.
  • Standardized exams are unfair to minorities.
  • Arguments for the Negative

  • Standardized exams can give universities and employers an objective measure of a student’s ability.
  • —Rebuttal: It is erroneous to try to objectively compare students. Students cannot be compared like that because people are not the same.

  • Standardized exams objectively compare different school districts to measure the effectiveness of the education.
  • —Rebuttal: It only really measures the district’s ability at teaching that test. Teachers will focus on the test material and ignore other (possibly more important) subjects.
    ——Counter-Rebuttal: That is the result of a flawed exam, not exams themselves.
    ———Double-Counter-Rebuttal: All exams are flawed. Teachers and students will always exploit a standardized exam.

  • The original purpose of education was to prepare youth to work in the industrial world. Standardized exit exams fit this model perfectly.
  • —Rebuttal: The purpose of education has changed.


    The number of arguments for the negative is extremely limited (there are rebuttals to all three of the arguments that I came up with). I have looked at various sites such as Decorabilia and I have not come up with any more than these two. This topic seems like it could have depth, but it would require some serious digging. It is not up to usual LD standards. An argument on this topic would end up spinning in circles, simply because there is not enough to say.

    This resolution is biased in favor of the Affirmative. It is a decent topic; it could certainly be worse, but it is also just not all that great.

    Posted in Debate | Leave a Comment »

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