Philosophical Multicore

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

Archive for December, 2009

Cloning Neanderthals

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 30, 2009

Earlier this year, the Neanderthal genome was sequenced. This means that, if we wanted to, we could clone Neanderthals by inserting their DNA into a human cell for the price of about 30 million dollars. A neanderthal could also be cloned by inserting DNA into a chimpanzee cell. It has been proposed that the DNA would be inserted into a chimpanzee cell instead of a human. Apparently, the purpose of this is so that people can mistreat the neanderthal without feeling bad about it. Is this justified?

First of all, it doesn’t matter in the slightest what cell the DNA was inserted into. What matters is the neanderthal after development. If the neanderthal has similar capacities to a human, it should be treated like a human. It would probably desire liberty just as much as any human; neanderthals are about as intelligent as we are. So we would have no right to cage it and study it.

That was a lot quicker than I expected. So let’s look at something else. How do we feel about creating a one-man species? The man wouldn’t be able to reproduce at all. His life would be far from natural, having no other members of his species around him. It would probably not be all that enjoyable. Can we really bring such a person into being?

Since I have been experiencing blogger’s block all week, I’ll just leave that question to the reader.

Posted in Ethics, Science | 1 Comment »

Thomson’s Violinist

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 26, 2009

The following is a fascinating thought experiment proposed by moral philosopher Judith Thomson:

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, “Look, we’re sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you–we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.” Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation?

The question then is, are you morally obligated to keep yourself plugged in? It is clear enough that, according to my own moral beliefs, staying plugged in is the morally right thing to do. But are you obligated? This is a question of individual rights: do you have a right to practice autonomy by unplugging yourself, but killing the violinist? Thomson says that the claim that you are obligated is “outrageous”; but why?

Let’s look at this from a more Utilitarian perspective. Will it be better for the world if you are obligated to remain attached? Perhaps there will be some benefit to the world, but there will also be detriment to your personal happiness.

Let’s revisit an old post of mine on assessing blame. This is similar to assessing moral responsibility. I assert that the one who is morally responsible for an event is the one who was most able to change the outcome. This involves some subtleties, but it is a pretty good general idea. In the case of this thought experiment, you are the only one capable of saving or condemning the violinist. I think it is clear enough that you are responsible for whether the violinist lives or dies. But are you therefore obligated to allow the violinist to live?

This dilemma can be looked at as a question of freedom. Are you morally obligated to restrict your own freedom? I would like to think that this is never the case, but it frequently is. Although personal liberty is one of my (and society’s) most important values, it is not unlimited. You do not always have the freedom to restrict the freedom of another. By unplugging yourself, you are killing the violinist and thus causing the ultimate restriction of freedom. The question then becomes, are you obligated to give up your nine months of freedom in exchange for the violinist’s however-many years of freedom? It is the right thing to do, but are you obligated?

So far, it seems as though we keep being led sideways. We are accumulating more and more information, but the information is only raising more questions. Or, perhaps, the same question is just being raised in many different ways.

So what do we do? I open up the question to the comments. I will continue to think about this problem, and will possibly write another post in the future. Until then, what do you think?

Here are some resources that I found useful.

A Defense of Abortion: the essay in which this dilemma was originally proposed. It was meant as an analogy to abortion; I have not yet treated it as such, but I may later on.

Killing and Letting Die: an essay on the difference between killing someone and letting someone die. I did not use this directly, but it gave me something to think about.

Rule Consequentialism: A Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on a branch of Consequentialism.

Posted in Abortion, Ethics | 3 Comments »

The Fertilization Argument

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 23, 2009

Some opponents of abortion (most, actually) argue that life begins at conception. But why conception? Why doesn’t life begin as soon as the egg is fully formed? proponents ask. Anti-abortionists respond, it is because an egg only has a half-set of DNA, and so doesn’t really count. So the question is, is this assertion a sound one?

The soundness of the assertion depends on where the opponent’s argument is coming from: what are his axioms? The opponent seems to be assuming that human life has intrinsic value, while non-human life does not. Is there any basis for this assumption? I think not. Although humans can cooperate with each other more effectively than with other animals, and we all happen to be human, there is nothing inherently special about human DNA. What makes humans special is their ability to reason and to think creatively; humans are better at this than any other animal. Just-fertilized eggs and unfertilized eggs, however, are both equally bad at reasoning and creative thinking. So the only real difference is in the DNA. Is the opponent of abortion then arguing that DNA is what defines human rights? This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So, in effect, the division is arbitrary.

What about an egg’s “potential”? A fertilized egg has the potential to grow into a human being. It will grow into a fully formed baby after just nine months. Fertilized eggs certainly have potential to become fully human. They just need warmth, nourishment, and protection from the elements. Actually, that’s quite a lot. But anyway, let’s look at unfertilized eggs. What kind of potential do they have? They may only have half a set of DNA, but the difference between a fertilized egg and an unfertilized egg is a fairly simple one. The egg just needs to be fertilized. Fertilizing an egg is certainly a lot less work than raising one into a baby. An unfertilized egg has nearly as much “potential” as a fertilized egg does. So that argument is bogus.

Given these observations, what then is the difference between a fertilized egg and an unfertilized egg? Apparently, DNA is the only real difference. So can the opponent prove that DNA matters? To do so, he must prove that human DNA is superior to non-human DNA, and that this superiority is the most important factor. I have many times seen it implicitly asserted that human DNA is superior, but have never heard a legitimate reason why. Sure, I’ve heard “because God made humans to be special”, but never a reason that didn’t rely on assuming the existence of a deity that no one has ever seen.

Posted in Abortion, Ethics | 1 Comment »

Exercise in Readability

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 23, 2009

The following text is from a previous post of mine, with many of the words removed. See how well you can still understand what is being said. For bonus points, fill in the missing words and see how close you can get.

I watching Bones, about Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan, leader forensics. brilliant, lacks social skills. think she objective. show based real life, but must loosely based since so wrong.

Brennan think objective. But if she brilliant as seems, must realize is not humanly to be objective.

She talks terms few understand, says “normally” directly after. example, “He has cortoscopic endicular psychosis. . . a brain tumor.” understands people not know what she is talking when says first term. But, why saying term at all? The possible answer she wants to sound smart. is not as socially as would like think, but instead has some problems ego. But that might not be it; she talks to baby in baby-talk-voice, “you like spacial disorientation, don’t you?” while spinning baby. no reason to try to impress baby. why bother talking that? It’s not necessarily more than “normal” baby talk, but it no more descriptive “you like being dizzy” and longer more complicated. Occam’s Razor, she should “you like being dizzy” and if as smart as thinks she is, have realized that.

avoid emotions, illogical or something. not. frequently logical, just different perspective than think. Emotion evolutionary tool to accomplish certain, works rather well. So why deny it? Sure, emotion perfect; sometimes gets way. But why deny it all time? no real logical reason avoid all.

So in this episode, Brennan she wants a baby. She it will “fulfilling”. How is fulfilling? A baby a huge amount of time effort, not to mention personal sacrifice. not I call fulfilling. No, sense in baby is fulfilling is emotional sense. And example of case where emotions are evolutionarily useful: by logic alone, child is not a rational decision individual standpoint. maybe Brennan understands. But, why try to emotion in all other? children not only scenario in emotion is more rational individualistic logic.

conclusion, Brennon not only illogical and subjective but highly fallible, even with “objective” analyses. going to be a writer on every show like this ever written so they get right. You know what show gets it right? Numb3rs. They know what doing.

Posted in Fun, Rant | Leave a Comment »

To Inspire the World

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 21, 2009

Lately, I’ve been feeling very inspired. I feel like I can change my life and the world. I can’t explain why I feel it, but it certainly does make me think. How can I — how can we — improve the world? That raises an even more fundamental question: what does an improved world look like?

This post, however, is not about that. This post is about why I am inspired. So here I will be posting some of the most inspiring things that I’ve found online. Inspiration cannot be completely found on the internet, but it’s a great place to start.

The Last Lecture is a lecture by terminal cancer patient Randy Pausch, filmed last year. It is about how to achieve your dreams. Randy talks about how, although he is terminal, he is a deeply happy person, and he shares his own happiness with the world.

The Five Things I’d Tell My 21-Year Old Entrepreneurial Self, not just for entrepreneurs! This page has five very useful bits of advice that I recommend that everyone read.

TED: David Logan on Tribal Leadership. This presentation speaks for itself.

Look at these presentations and get yourself inspired. Then go out there and do something.

Posted in Fun | 4 Comments »

Why Only 30?

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 18, 2009

As you may have noticed, my keyboard designs have been limited to only the central 30 characters — on a traditional QWERTY keyboard these keys include the alphabet, period, comma, semicolon and slash. Why have I not expanded my program to include other keys? It is certainly not because those keys are in optimal positions already. Many of the keys outside of the main 30 have the very worst placement. So why not try to optimize them as well?

1. They are too hard to re-learn.

I have tried to learn a layout where the all of the keys were optimized, but it did not go well. I found myself completely unable to switch back and forth between it and QWERTY. The layout was simply too complicated, so I ended up just putting all the outlying keys back into their original positions.

2. Many of them rely on aesthetics that a computer program won’t notice.

Look at the number keys. They are neatly lined up in an easy-to-remember fashion. However, their order of frequency is not so simple. A computer algorithm would end up completely jumbling these numbers. It would also likely not put the open and close brackets next to each other, as well as numerous other aesthetic benefits. A computer program would simply miss these little nuances.

3. That program would be harder to write.

Yes, I admit it, I am somewhat driven by laziness. This new program would require modification of many parts of the program, and would make it harder to evaluate the keyboard’s score. The set of digraphs used to score the keyboards would be larger, causing both accuracy and program efficiency to suffer. Evaluating the score would require taking into account all four (or even five) rows, and the extra keys on the side. The score evaluation process would be much more complicated, and therefore harder to get right. Overall, I didn’t see the benefits as worth the effort.

Posted in Keyboarding Theory, Keyboards | 1 Comment »


Posted by Michael Dickens on December 17, 2009

As much as some people may not like it, gay marriage will eventually be nationally legalized simply because of how our society works. Let’s look at America’s recent history. African Americans were enslaved for hundreds of years, and continued to be prosecuted even a century after they had achieved freedom. But eventually they got their equal rights. Oppression of women is perhaps the longest-standing oppression of a single group of people: it lasted for over two thousand years (and many more thousands of years by some counts), but today women and men stand on the same ground.

And that is exactly why gay marriage will not stay illegal for much longer.

In America and throughout the Western world, minorities have been moving closer and closer towards equality. Simply because of the way our society is structured, it is inevitable that gay marriage will soon be legalized. In fact, look at the arguments used against gay marriage. They are the very same arguments that were used fifty years ago to oppress black people. “They’re different”, “it is unnatural”, “God hates them.” Sure, not all of the arguments are the same, but a surprising majority follow along the same lines. “Marriage is a sacred institution between one man and one woman” is not really so different from “black people do not have the mental capacity to survive on their own, and so are better off as slaves.”

Posted in Ethics, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Dumb Quote by Supposedly Smart Person

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 14, 2009

If you can conceive of morality without god, why can you not conceive of society without government?
~ Peter Saint-André

Let me answer that question with a question: If you can conceive of morality without god, why can you not conceive of peaches without apples?

(Both questions used the same logic.)

Posted in Atheism and Religion, Philosophy, Rationality | 1 Comment »

What Does Your Handwriting Say About You?

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 14, 2009

Did you know that you can tell a person’s personality by their handwriting?

If Your Writing Slants…

This sounds fascinating. . . .

To the left: You generally like to work alone or behind the scenes. If you are right-handed and your handwriting slants to the left, you may be expressing rebellion.

. . . or not.

To the right: You are open to the world around you and like to socialize with other people.

Or maybe it means you’re RIGHT HANDED.

Not at all: You tend to be logical and practical. You are guarded with your emotions.

Or maybe you just HAVE STRAIGHT WRITING. Sometimes things only mean what they mean.

If the Size of Your Letters Is…

Mmm, more delicious little pseudoscience.

Large: You have a big personality. Many celebrities have large handwriting. It may suggest that you are outgoing and like the limelight.

Or maybe you have unsteady hands, so you are unable to write very small and have it still be legible. Or maybe you’re a young child. Or something like that.

Small: You are focused and can concentrate easily. You tend to be introspective and shy.

I used to have average-sized handwriting. But then my handwriting got smaller. Why? Did I suddenly become “introspective and shy”? I think not. I simply decided that it would be fun to have small handwriting, and that it would save paper. And now people are all the time commenting on how oh so very small my handwriting is. How’s that for “liking the limelight”?

See, at this point you might be saying something like, “oh, these are only generalizations, they don’t apply to everyone.” Well, you’re right. They don’t apply to everyone. If I were to guess, I’d say they apply to, oh, 50% of people. (Can you possibly guess why I came up with that number?)

Pseudoscience is delicious.

Posted in Rant | Leave a Comment »

New Keyboard Layout Project: Fast Typing Combinations

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 13, 2009

It’s been a while since I posted anything about the New Keyboard Layout Project. But I recently downloaded Amphetype and have been analyzing my typing patterns, using MTGAP 2.0. So I now have some results, and will probably get more in the future.

The fastest trigraphs to type almost all are either a type of one key on one hand followed by two keys on the other hand, or they are a roll on one hand in one direction. Most of the slowest trigraphs alternate hands every time, and a good number of them are all on one hand in awkward combinations. The fastest words have easy rolls on both hands: what is currently the fastest word, “should” with an average of 176 WPM (hint: my average typing speed is about 85 WPM), uses a combination of hand alternations and easy rolls. In QWERTY, “should” would be typed as “jeaior”. The “ul”/”io” combination is very fast; also, “od”/”ar” is very fast, and the difference between the finger strokes to type “o” and “d” are very brief because the two letters in between are typed too fast. (Does that make sense?)

I will report more fast combinations after the program gets enough data for some better results.

Posted in Keyboarding Theory, Keyboards, New Keyboard Layout Project | Leave a Comment »

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