Thursday, February 18, 2010


Our human ability to abstract is perhaps our greatest ability. It allows us to look at this, this and this and call each of them "tree". We need it to understand mathematics, science and, well, everything, really.

But it can be taken too far.

Ideas like Platonic Forms are recurrent themes in philosophy. The idea that the abstractions are more real than the things that they represent. This is, perhaps, the greatest folly of philosophy.

What exists is what exists. Our conceptions and abstractions are merely tools we use to understand and manipulate reality.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mandatory Attendance Policies

Most classes shouldn't have mandatory attendance policies. If you can learn without listening to the teacher, you shouldn't be penalized for it. And if you can't, you'll be penalized when you take the tests.

Really, it should be up to the student. If he thinks he can learn without going to class, he should be allowed to. Then he can be judged by whether or not he really did learn the material.

It seems like just arrogance for professors to require for you to listen to them. As if they were the only way for someone to learn.

I will make an exception, though. Any classes that involve group discussions, or something of that sort, in which not attending can hurt people who did attend, attendance should be mandatory.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Belief in God and Attitude towards God.

I don't think god exists, and I'm glad that god doesn't exist. I think living in a universe without god is better than living in a universe with god (all else being equal).

Most theists are glad that god does exist. They'd prefer the universe with god to the one without him.

It seems like there are very few people who believe one way, but think the other would be better.

So, is this correlation, or causation, and if it's causation, does the belief cause the attitude, or does the attitude cause the belief? I'd speculate that it's some of all three.

Both elements are probably largely influenced by the same outside sources. For example, most of what people believe about god and religion comes from their parents. So, both the belief about god and the attitude toward god will be picked up.

Humans are terribly prone to magical thinking, so the attitude definitely helps foster the belief. If you think something is good, you're more likely to believe that it's true too and the opposite.

And humans also prefer what they have to what they could have. If you've already concluded one way or the other, since there's no way to change it, you'll convince yourself that whatever you have is best. The theists will be more likely to ignore that bad things about god, and the atheists will be more likely to ignore the good things.

It's interesting, and I think it serves to both highlight our cognitive biases and demonstrate just how little actual evidence there is either way. People believe things they don't want to all the time when there's good solid evidence for it. I don't like high murder and rape rates, but I believe them.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pascal's Wager

Pascal's wager is an argument to believe in god. It goes like this: If god exists, and you believe, you'll go to heaven for eternity. If god exists, and you don't believe, you'll go to hell for eternity. If god doesn't exist, you'll neither gain nor lose anything by believing or not believing. Because the reward/punishment of heaven/hell is infinite, no matter how unlikely god's existence is, the cost/benefit analysis says that you should believe.

The first problem is: what if you pick the wrong god? Worship Zeus and Odin could damn you. Oops. Still, you might think it's better to choose some god, rather than none. Picking the wrong god gets the same punishment as picking no god, but picking a god gives some chance of getting the infinite reward.

But it goes further than that. There's no reason to think that any god would give you infinite reward for believing in it and infinite punishment for not believing in it. It's possible, sure. But it's just as possible for a god to punish anyone who believes in it, and reward anyone who doesn't believe in it. Or, the god could reward only those who truly believe, and not just play some silly game. Or, god could capriciously reward and punish people regardless of what they did in life. Or, some other scenario I haven't thought of.

Also, there is a cost to believing that's not incumbent on the non-believer; following the tenets of the religion you've chosen.

With all those different possibilities, there's no reason to think trying to believe in god is better than not trying to believe.