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Saturday, April 26

Rant

The Historical Stupid Files

Much nonsense has been written on the subject of human consciousness, from both those whom we would expect to know better, such as Roger Penrose in The Emperor's New Mind* and those whom we wouldn't, such as John Searle in his Chinese Room piffle.**

But one of the stars in this particular field of nonscience has to be Julian Jaynes, author of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

Jaynes claims that until very recently - as late as the 10th century BC - the human mind was not unified as we find it today, but bicameral, the left hemisphere disconnected from the right.  Humans of the day were effectively schizophrenic, not in the soap-opera sense of having multiple personalities, but in the genuine clinical sense of paranoia and hearing voices.

Jaynes' evidence for this is literary.  He argues that older works such as the Iliad display no sign of such modern mental faculties as introspection, where more recent works, such as the Odyssey, do show this.

Now, perhaps it happened that in both translations of the Iliad that I have to hand*** the obvious implications of introspection were the result of careless editing.  Jaynes is a psychologist, not a historian or linguist, but perhaps he reads fluent Ionic Greek.  Never mind that.

Never mind that even if these two poems were not the work of the same man (which is historically uncertain), they were likely created only about a century apart, not a very long time for such a significant evolution of human mentality.  Never mind that people not only write poems and stories like this today, but act like this today, and yet are often not diagnosably schizophrenic.  Never mind either that this is not at all the behaviour we see in unfortunate individuals who do suffer from a bicameral mind or split brain.

Never mind that.

Instead, let's go to the oldest one in the book, the Epic of Gilgamesh.

In the story, Gilgamesh rejects the advances of the goddess Ishtar because he has read the myths and knows that this never ends well for the hero.

Yes folks, it's a trope subversion, and one that predates the Iliad by hundreds of years, if not a thousand and more.  This particular passage is only found in the Akkadian version of the Epic; the much older Babylonian version is incomplete and doesn't appear to refer to this part of the tale.  Nevertheless, the entire tale of Gilgamesh is deeply and incontrovertibly introspective, rendering Jaynes' thesis incoherent on a literary basis as well.

And the whole topic arose only because I was browsing the TV Tropes wiki for a subject that I have now entirely forgotten.

* Penrose argues three points: First, that human consciousness is non-algorithmic, which is very likely true; that human-like consciousness could not arise from a Universal Turing Machine, which is unsupported by logic or evidence; and that human consciousness is directly dependent on quantum events, which is impossible.

** Searle's argument goes like this: Suppose we have a man locked in a room with a library full of books.  He receives via a slot in the wall, pieces of paper covered with illegible symbols.  Following instructions in the books, he writes a new set of symbols on another piece of paper and feeds that back out through the slot.

Unbeknownst to the man in the box, the symbols are Chinese; the pieces of paper he receives are questions, and the pieces of paper he returns are answers.  He neither speaks nor reads a word of Chinese, and yet via the Room he is conducting fluent conversations.

Searle argues that since the man does not understand Chinese, artificial intelligence is impossible.

If you experienced a Huh? moment there, you are not alone.  The argument rests on a multitude of fallacies, including  - depending on where how you slice it - self-contradiction, circularity, assuming the consequent, the fallacy of composition, and a good old-fashioned helping of non-sequitur.

To put it most simply, though the man doesn't understand Chinese - because Searle stipulated that - the room does - because Searle stipulated that.  There are more subtle arguments to Searle's incorrectness, but it's not necessary to go into those here, because Searle's response is always the same, to wit, "Artificial intelligence is impossible because I said so."

*** E. V. Rieu's prose version and Richmond Lattimore's verse translation.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 05:24 PM | Comments (15) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Rant

The Stupid Files

Today's dose of burning stupid comes to us courtesy of Lynne McTaggart of The Intention Experiment

What is The Intention Experiment?  Well, about 13 hours from now, McTaggart plans to change the spectroscopic fingerprint of a sample of water by thinking at it.

Yes, you read that correctly.

She's planning to point a Raman spectrometer at a beaker of water, and think good (or perhaps bad) thoughts at it for a few hours, in hopes that it will change.  Change what?  Well, she doesn't exactly say.  There are three things that can change a spectroscopic fingerprint: A change in the actual chemical structure of the compound you're studying; uneven mixtures of impurities; and random variation because you're running an experiment with no controls and no clearly stated goals.

It's a bit like modern "ghost hunters": Get hold of an extremely sensitive scientific instrument that you don't understand, and wave it about until it registers a reading that it wasn't showing before.  It doesn't matter what the reading is, because you haven't bothered to make any predictions or set up any controls.  Any reading at all will do.

More generally, this is termed a unicorn hunt: Go out, find something, and call it a unicorn.

McTaggart brings real scientific expertise to the table, in the form of, well, I'll let her tell it:
Scientists like Dr. Rustum Roy, who is an expert on water, at the University of Pennsylvania, have recorded the structuring of water with electromagnetic radiation.
Professor Roy is an elderly but respected materials scientist specialising in ceramics, which is not notably a category featuring water among its members.  He famously lent his name to a paper proposing structures in water as a potential mechanism for homeopathy based entirely on Raman spectroscopic analysis of alcohol.  Which is not only not a ceramic, but also not water.  Said paper also lacked any proper controls, or any relevant discussion of what was being measured and how.  Again, all they were looking for was anomalies, with no prior definition of what would be considered anomalous.

In short, it's unicorns all the way down.

McTaggart is no fool: She's using the notoriety of this ludicrous bit of pseudo-science to flog her books and DVDs, which I can recommend highly to no-one at all.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 01:44 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Friday, April 25

Rant

Joy In The Mid-Afternoon

CPanel does its daily update thing, and promptly commits suicide by segfault.  I've managed to get CPanel going again, but WHM is still down.  Bleh and double bleh.

Update: Nothing I tried seem to fix it, so I waited a day and did a forced update of the entire mess.  And now it works.

Automatic updates: They're good for you.  Yep.

Well, to be fair, that's the first time in four years of running CPanel that it's spontaneously combusted in that fashion.  Which is rather better luck than I've had with Windows.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 03:31 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Thursday, April 24

Rant

An Exemplar Of Exactitude

Not.

Ben Stein, quoting Charles Darwin in Expelled Exposed in an effort to tie Evolution to Nazism:
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
And what Darwin actually said:
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.
Quote mining is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

(Thanks to Scientific American, who go on to list five more things that Ben Stein doesn't want you to know.)

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 06:19 PM | No Comments | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Tuesday, April 22

Rant

All Expelled, All The Time

Okay, probably not. wink

I haven't seen the film, and probably won't bother, and as soon as I get a chance to take a look at the new anime season I'll have something more interesting to talk about.

But the deceit and wilful ignorance displayed by the film, and the near-total lack of understanding of science displayed in the thread at LGF, have irked me.

So here's a review of the movie that takes director Nathan Frankowski and presenter and co-writer Ben Stein solidly to task, not just for being comprehensively dishonest, but also for producing a crappy film.

Be sure to stay for the surprise ending.  No, not the film, the review.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 02:12 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Monday, April 21

Rant

The Stupid On Sunday

Like Glenn Reynolds, Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs has linked to Expelled Exposed, drawing the predictable ire of many of his readers in a thread that's 1600 comments and growing fast(Update: 2300 comments, and still growing.)

Let's be clear: Charles - again like Glenn - comes down firmly on the side of science.  And does so in the full knowledge of what will happen.  I can rant freely here and rarely get more than a handful of comments.  PZ Myers can point out Ben Stein's follies and be guaranteed a mostly supportive audience.  Charles knew he was going to ignite a flame war, but he waded in anyway, because this stuff matters.

Also because, hey, who doesn't love a flame war?

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 12:55 PM | Comments (6) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Sunday, April 20

Rant

The Stupid, It Burns, Local Edition

Tim Blair has an update - 21 updates, in fact - on the world-class inanity that is Australia's new federal government.

And we have another 30 months of this crap to look forward to.

Update: Learned a new word: woftam.  Much like a wombat, but no brains involved.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 06:06 PM | No Comments | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Rant

The Stupid, It Burns

Some of the later comments come from people with some sort of clue, but  there really are people who think Expelled has some sort of value, rather than being a lie based on a lie based on a lie.

Congratulations.  The Religious Right has found its Michael Moore.

(Via Instapundit, who writes At any rate, according to the comments, at least, there's more to the film than I.D. twaddle.  Yeah.  The film blames the Holocaust on Charles Darwin.  That's something more than the usual I.D. twaddle alright.)

Update: Stupidity abounds.  Again, some well-informed souls brave the fires of wilful ignorance, but the post and the comments thread alike are, for the most part, hot air.

Update the Second: Glenn has now added a link to Expelled Exposed - possibly because I emailed that link to him, though he adds:
I hate writing about this stuff because -- pardon me while I speak plainly -- the people on both sides of this issue are assholes. I mean, even by the low standards of Internet discussion. I'm getting email calling me a "theocon shill" for mentioning Stein, and email telling me I'll burn in hell for calling Intelligent Design "pernicious twaddle." Frankly, the rabid atheists and the rabid creationists seem an awful lot alike, and no proper hell could be truly hellish without the both of them yammering away at each other. Feh.
There's a certain degree of truth in this, but the two groups are not equally detestable.  While I dislike unnecessary rudeness at any time, if you insist on being rude, it helps to also be right.  cf. Gregory House.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 06:03 PM | Comments (6) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Wednesday, April 16

Rant

Bugger And Double Bugger

I was thinking of doing a full system backup of mu.nu last night, but decided to leave it for another day because it was already very late.

Naturally, the system crashed overnight.  Drive failure.

The only thing on the plus side is that it was the backup drive that failed.

So we're back, minus backups.

mee.nu is actually on a different server, but relies on the mu.nu server for DNS.  I need to untangle that a bit so that this doesn't happen any more.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 10:16 AM | Comments (2) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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