Slide post

I’m sorry about the long silence. I’ve got something planned, but I’ve got a minor illness that’s postponing it. In the meantime, enjoy this.

Following recent discoveries that prescription drugs – including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones – have been found in drinking water across the U.S., it has just been revealed that another team has found homeopathic drugs in American tap water

The title refers to the fact that I’m trying to slide through on this lesser stuff. Or that I’m attempting to slide it in beneath my reader’s notice (no, reader is supposed to be singular there. I’ve no illusions about my popularity)

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Too many poets aren’t me

Quoting Patrick:

And that’s the only religious position I feel like defending. If there is a God, He favors atheists. Why? Because they are cruising around in His world, doing the best they can and coming to the only workable conclusion with the tools He gave them. They don’t snivel and whine when things don’t work out, they don’t ask for handouts or guidance, and they don’t go around trying to speak in his name. When God made atheists, dammit if they didn’t hit the ground running!

Good post. Good comment. Really nothing more to add.

EDIT: Fixed the linkings, to point to the original comment properly.

Pot, kettle, black

If the kettle is black, does it make a difference what color the pot is?

On Paradox

I call myself an atheist, one who lacks belief in gods, and at the same time, I call myself a Discordian, one who worships and honors the randomness and absurdity inherent in all things, personified as the Greek goddess Eris. Does anyone see the issue here?

The thing is, there really isn’t a problem. I may call myself a Discordian, but at the end of  the day, I recognize that I revere a principle more than any personality, and I mostly find it useful as a motivation and explanation for my behavior.

The even shorter version is that I am morally Discordian, but not in terms of faith. I hope. The truth is, I find myself thanking Zeus for most things that go right, and Tzeentch in cases of traffic. I wonder if perhaps I need a religious framework in order to function, which raises the question of Why. I have two primary hypotheses. First, perhaps my Catholic upbringing has inculcated a sense of need in me (hypothesis a). I might merely have been trained in religion, which would make me act in a religious manner. The second hypothesis is that I might have some “flaw” in me which necessitates religion(hypothesis b). It is possible that I am biologically predisposed toward religion.

The testing of these two hypotheses will take many years, and be difficult for me to do on my own. It would require me to objectively quantify my religious behaviors and record their trend over time. I would have to determine the predictions from each hypothesis, and measure the relative success  of those predictions over time. I shall attempt to begin doing that now.

The simplest prediction, which covers both, is that over time, my religious tendencies will either hold steady, or decrease. If they decrease, it is more likely that hypothesis a is correct, and that it’s all in my head. If they remain at the same level, AND I’m working to decrease them, it is more likely that hypothesis b  is correct. If I have made no effort to curb my religious tendencies, then them remaining the same is no indication either way, while a decrease still indicates an environmental source of these tendencies.

Despite wandering heavily, this is still more coherent than my average thought process.

Science in ACTION!

With any luck, I’ll be able to make a regular series out of this. If I am, it will be about applying the scientific method to real life situations.

Yesterday, I was searching for textbooks in my boxes, when I came upon two packets of Easy Mac. I knew right away that this was not the freshest stuff, since  it was given to me when my roommate’s girlfriend moved to Oregon, January of 2006. After a moment’s consideration, I hypothesized that “Easy Mac doesn’t go bad.”

If uncooked, pasta will last for ages. Most sources say one or two years is the expected shelf life of uncooked pasta, but this is Kraft we’re talking about here. Sealed in plastic bags on the factory floor, I imagine these noodles will last much longer than their less industrial brethren. Also, previous observation has shown that Kraft singles mostly just harden when left out, and don’t actually lose much in terms of flavor (I was a curious child with low hygenic standards). The cheese flavor is in powder form, and so has virtually no moisture to begin with, and is also well sealed. It’s entirely possible that virtually no “food content” is present in either of these elements. Thus we form the hypothesis.

The testing stage was next, so the Easy Mac was prepared according to the instructions on the packet, and eaten. At this stage, I was forced to revise the hypothesis to “Easy Mac does not go worse.” Still edible, though, and none of it vacated immediately from either end of the digestive tract, so I chalked it up as a success for culinary experimentation.

Today, while searching to see if I had anything else hiding about, I found five more bags! I could do more testing without having to buy more Easy Mac! This time, however, I deviated from the instructions a bit. I added half the cheese powder before the water, of which I used less, and the rest shortly before finishing. It tasted much better this time, meaning I’m going to have to test it again tomorrow, and the day after to see if it’s the individual batches, or if the preparation method has an influence.

Notes:

1)This is decidedly unscientific.  I have no intention of going out and getting more Easy Mac, so we may never have “fresh” product to compare with. Also, three trials isn’t really much to work with. Finally, I didn’t even make an attempt at quantification of the “goodness” of the Easy Mac.

2) The only date I could find on the packages is “19 Feb 2006 XCN 14:01”. I thought this was a manufacture date (having a timestamp and all) but then I realized that this date was after my roommates girlfriend left Arizona. It must, therefore, be an expiration date, or something even more arcane. Sell by? Ship by? No clue. There appears to be a similar date on the cheese package, which reads “5167XCN 09:49” which is only interpretable (to me) as either May 16 ’07 or July 16 ’07. Not knowing what the XCN means, I’ve no clue which is more reasonable. The ’05 interpretation is certainly better for horror stories, though.

3) I never measure water when cooking this sort of thing.

4) Two packets were used for both tests, and will also be used for tomorrow’s test. Thursday’s test will be with one packet.

I am Skeptic

You’ve seen this post a billion times, by a billion authors. If you don’t want to read it again, don’t.

I define myself as a skeptic. This means, to me, that my default position on any question should be, “Prove it.” It doesn’t mean I automatically doubt everything, it means I don’t accept claims without evidence. I don’t accept incredible claims without incredible evidence. If you tell me that things fall, I’m likely to believe it. I’ve seen things fall, and have seen mounds of evidence in favor of the law of Gravity. When you tell me the Earth is spherical, despite appearances otherwise, I need a little more evidence, as it’s kind of an incredible claim. Fortunately, there is tons of evidence from multiple sources that show this, making it an accepted truth. The case is much the same for the claims about the structure of the Solar System. On the other hand, claims of psychic vision and the like do not have as much evidence, and the claims tend to falter under even casual observation, making them rejected under current evidence.

This is where the skeptic differentiates from the denialist and the doubter. When sufficient evidence comes to light in favor of a proposition, a skeptic will change his/her position. The denialist, on the other hand, refuses to change their opinion. For a good example of this, look at the evolution/creation ‘debates.’ The default position is that everything is as it has been since it started. This is the simplest position, and was the accepted position for some time. In the mid 1800’s, Charles Darwin proposed the idea of evolution, which is best paraphrased as “descent with modification.” When a thing propagates, it will make things like it, with some wiggle room for discrepancies. You are like your parents, but a little different. These discrepancies make the various descendants more or less likely to survive, and the ones more likely to survive pass their discrepancies on, and so forth. All these little differences add up over time, leading to speciation and other frabjous diversifications. This made all of the evidence make sense, and since then more and more evidence has come to light supporting the laws and theories of evolution, and, after a small scuffle at the outset, the scientific community accepted it as a factual representation of the natural world. I, and any sensible skeptic, find the evidence more than convincing, and accept evolution as the source of biological diversity. A denialist or doubter (as I’m using the terms) has decided that evolution must be false, for whatever reason, and either ignores the evidence, or attempts to explain it away. No evidence is good enough, and no amount of evidence will convince them otherwise.

This position cannot hold for all things, however. At some point, positions on issues become so simplified and basic, no proof can be constructed, or they are unprovable but necessary beliefs. Mine are that (1)what I experience is real, barring an outside influence (that is, I’m not hallucinating, at default state), and (2) empirical, inductive reasoning is valid. That is, if it’s held true in the past, it will continue to do so without outside influence. Sort of a Newton’s First Law of Reality. These can’t actually be proven, and are both necessary for anything else to be proven in any manner that is useful to my mind, and the mind of anyone I’ve ever met.

I can’t think of anything else to say at all. If I do, this entry’s getting edited, likely without warning or notice.

Religious belief as poison

That’s not just raw offensiveness, it actually has metaphorical value.

Religious belief has lately been a poison in my mental system. Years ago, when I became Neo-Pagan, I though I had freed myself of Christianity, and when I finally declared my atheism, I thought I had left gods behind completely. Unfortunately, I haven’t told my family yet, so I still go to Mass with them when I’m living there, and it’s been slowly infecting my mind. The casual acceptance of the “fact” of God’s existence is a subtle poison, which corrodes through reason, and worms its way deep into the brain, until it becomes an assumption you hold, and you can’t get rid of it.

This, more than anything I’ve ever experienced, demonstrates clearly the need for people to come forth about atheism. By hiding it, we make it taboo, and people can casually assume you believe in some deiform entity. This allows the poison to work quietly on those who freed themselves of it, or who are too young to have built immunities yet.

I realize the hypocrisy in advocating openness and not practicing it with my own family, and for that, I apologize, but the point still holds.

The only antidote for the poison is regular doses of Critical Thought, under which the vine of religious belief tends to wither and fade. When in doubt, ask questions, and don’t accept non-answers. Truth will out.

Peace,

PMIEF1