Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Are the characters in your dreams conscious?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post explaining why you are probably not living in a simulation. One of the reasons I gave was that a simulation of a person probably wouldn't have its own individual consciousness, but you know good and well that you are conscious. I was just thinking that when you dream, your brain is basically running a simulation. There are characters in your dreams that walk and talk as if they were real people. But they don't have their own individual consciousness, so this seems to be evidence that a simulation in a computer probably wouldn't be conscious either. Just as a person in your dream is a mere representation, so also a simulated person in a computer would be a mere representation.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Skepticism about theories that invoke illusion to dismiss anomalies

There are a lot of views out there that require you to say that certain aspects of our experience are illusions. For example, on a B theory of time, the passing of time is an illusion. Or, on the emergent property view of the mind, the sense we have of acting on volition is an illusion.

It seems to me that any theory or model that has to resort to illusion is an inadequate or incomplete model or theory. Ideally, a model or theory should account for all the information you have. It would be consistent with all of your information and either explain it or be explained by it. When you say that some aspects of our experience is an illusion, what you're essentially doing is admitting that that piece of information doesn't fit neatly into your model, and rather than give up your model or try to come up with a different one, you're just dismissing some of the evidence or information. You're sweeping it under the rug.

On the other hand there is such a thing as an illusion. I'm not saying we're never justified in dismissing something as an illusion. But in general when it comes to theories or models of reality, if illusion is a persistent or intrinsic part of that theory or model, then we should be skeptical of it because basically it means we have a piece of information that the theory or model doesn't account for.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Forged In Fire

Forged In Fire is my favorite show, but I still have some problems with it.

First, I don't think it accurately represents the talent a lot of the contestants have. If you're a bladesmith, your first priority isn't to make a knife as fast as you can. Your priority is quality. Well, quality suffers if you're in a big hurry. This competition is timed, so all these bladesmiths are in a big hurry. Consequently, the quality of their work in the competition is not at all representative of what they are capable of. If you look some of these people up, they've got amazing talent. I would love to see their true talent displayed on the show, but the format just doesn't allow for it.

Second, the contestants don't have any control over the tempering process. Heat treating is one of the most important aspects of making a knife, second only to material. The problem with not allowing them to temper their own blades is that when somebody gets disqualified because their blade broke during testing, it's not entirely their fault. They might've been able to produce a tougher blade by tempering it at a higher temperature or differentially tempering it. Of course some of it also has to do with grain size, which they do have control over. You can control the grain size by thermal cycling the blade. Also, the blades sometimes break because of there being cracks which form during the forging process.

Third, the testing is kind of subjective. How can we be sure that the judges are swinging each blade with exactly the same force? I wonder about this especially in the case of J. Neilson. He swings those blades really hard. It seems like by the time he gets to the second and third blade, he'd have a little fatigue. Another problem is that the judges don't always know how to wield these weapons. They don't always know how to swing a sword or throw a knife. I think they could come up with more objective ways to test these blades, but it probably wouldn't be as exciting and fun to watch for most people.

Fourth, they don't show enough of the forging process. This seems to be getting worse over time. They show too much of the interviews and the conversation between the judges when they could be showing the people shaping their blades. In this respect, I think there are a lot of YouTube videos that are far more interesting than this aspect of Forged In Fire. I think Forged In Fire would be more enjoyable if they did a better job of editing and show more forging, sharpening, and handle shaping than people talking.

Fifth, I don't like how they try to trip people up. There were some episodes where they had 24 hour epoxy on the shelves, which makes no sense because you only get three hours to attach and finish your handle. Why do they even have 24 hours epoxy? It served no other purpose than to trip up the contestants. This didn't test their ability to make blades. It tested their ability to read labels. I don't know if I would've looked that closely on the labels because it wouldn't have entered my mind that they would've had 24 hour epoxy for a three hours handle segment. It looks like they stopped doing that, and I'm glad.

Sixth, I don't like when they have people do weird stuff with weird junk metal, like making a knife using two different parts of a car or motorcycle. Sure, people do salvage steel to make blades sometimes, but people are usually pretty selective about the kind of steel they'll salvage. They'll use ball bearings, leaf springs, and farrier rasps because those are usually reliable. But no good knife maker is likely to use mystery steel that they know nothing about, and some of the challenges are just silly. I'd rather the contestants get a good piece of known steel from which to work so we can actually see what they're capable of. The ability to forage for scraps and cobble something together isn't that interesting to me, and it's not how most bladesmiths make their knives and swords.

In spite of all these complaints, I love the show. A casting agent contacted me on reddit one time to see if I'd be interested in going on it. I declined because I don't forge knives (I use the stock removal method), and I don't have half the talent most of the people on that show have, but I referred her to another guy I know (Jason Fry), and he actually went on the show! He almost won it, too. He came in second place.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Two pro-choice myths

Back in 2010, I wrote a response to something a friend of a friend of a friend had written on the pro-choice/pro-life debate. In the comment section, somebody gave me four different links that supposedly showed that laws against abortion have no affect on abortion rates. It turned out that all four links referred to just one study, and I didn't think the study showed what this person thought it showed.

Later on, a friend of mine on facebook (the same friend who had the friend who had the pro-choice friend) announced to all her pro-life friends that it had been proven (she put 'proven' in all caps) that abortion bans did not prevent abortions but only lead to women dying horrible deaths. I questioned her about that, mentioning how somebody else had previously told me about a study that I didn't think showed any such thing. I explained to her why I didn't think the study showed what the other guy claimed it showed, and I asked her if she had anything else for me to look at. She gave me three sources. I looked at them, and all three of them pointed to that same study that the guy on my blog pointed me to.

So it turned out that there's just one study that people keep pointing to as proof that abortion bans don't prevent abortions: "The Incidence of Abortion Worldwide" by Stanley K. Henshaw, Susheela Singh, and Taylor Haas.

I recently found a post on the Secular Pro-Life Perspective blog that addresses this study, then cites several sources showing that abortion bans do stop abortions, and I thought you might like to have a look-see: "Pro-life laws stop abortions. Here's the evidence." by Candace Stewart.

Another thing that has come up in a few of my abortion conversations as recently as a week or two ago is the "fact" that abortion only accounts for 3% of the services that Planned Parenthood provides. This is a highly misleading figure, and if you just google "Planned Parenthood 3%," there are a few articles that debunk it just on the first page. Here is a video I found on YouTube that explains what's wrong with it: "Debunking Planned Parenthood's '3%' Abortion Myth."

Friday, March 01, 2019

Advice for apologists

Here's some stuff I've been thinking about for a week or so. I've been adding to this list as things come to me, so these aren't in any logical order.

Know the gospel first, and be able to communicate it clearly. Understand Christianity. Read the whole Bible. Especially read the New Testament. Don't neglect reading the Bible just because you're reading other literature. Also, I highly recommend reading Basic Christianity by John Stott and What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert.

Read your opposition carefully. Your first priority should be to make sure you understand what they are saying before you start thinking about why they're wrong. If there are mistakes in what they said, you're more likely to notice by reading them carefully. You also want to avoid misrepresenting them. It doesn't do anybody any good for you to refute an argument that nobody actually made.

Don't chase rabbit trails. If you chase every red herring the other person brings up, you'll never get anywhere. Stay focused, and stick to the topic. I will sometimes remind the person I'm talking to what our original topic was if I feel like they're bringing up red herrings. People are subtle when they bring up red herrings. They're never out of nowhere. They're always related to the topic in some way, but they are still evasive.

Don't just read apologetics books. Read academic books on the subject you're looking into, even by people who aren't Christians or who aren't your brand of Christian. And don't just read books about the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection happened in the context of the life, teachings, and claims of Jesus, and the historical Jesus happened in the context of first century Judaism. So read more broadly in these areas.

Read original source material. For example, don't just read books about the gospels; read the gospels, too. Also, don't just read stuff about David Hume's argument against miracles. Read Hume's actual argument by Hume himself. Sometimes commentators get stuff wrong, so you don't want to rely completely one what they say.

Be charitable and courteous. Don't assume bad motives in other people. Give them the benefit of the doubt. And don't be rude. Being rude and uncharitable is a good way to lose your audience. If you get a person's motives wrong, you'll lose credibility with them. It's best to avoid motive-mongering altogether.

Read Tactics by Greg Koukl. No matter what other book you read to prepare you to be an apologist, you need to read this one. It will help you use what you know to have effective conversations with people who disagree with you. There's no other book like this one, so it's essential reading.

Read The Ambassador's Creed by Greg Koukl. It's a short little creed that gives some very good advice about representing Christ well in apologetic encounters. I don't know why Stand to Reason doesn't display this creed more prominently on their web page like they used to. It made a big impression on me a long time ago.

Only use arguments that you personally find persuasive. Don't just throw everything that "works" out there hoping something will stick. If you only defend what you think is true for reasons you think are valid, you'll rarely get embarrassed in a debate. Besides that, it's just the honest thing to do.

Pursue subjects you're interested in and on an as needed basis. You'll get more out of a book or article if you're interested in the subject or if you need to know the information because of a situation that came up in your life. For example, if you just became friends with a Jehovah's Witness, you'll get a lot more out of The Forgotten Trinity than if you were just reading it because it was next on your list. As you pursue topics you're interested in, your interests will inevitably branch out because one thing leads to another when you're studying anything.

As painful as it may be, do take some time to read some material on critical thinking, formal logic, and fallacies.

Don't just label other people's arguments with the names of fallacies. If you think they've made a mistake, explain the mistake. Simply labeling a fallacy only annoys people and doesn't help them. Also, there's a habit some people have of misidentifying fallacies because they fit a certain pattern. When it comes to informal fallacies, there are almost always exceptions to them. So if you want to accuse somebody of committing an informal fallacy, you need to explain the mistake they made so it's clear that whatever exceptions there may be to that fallacy don't apply in their case.

Do not let your increase in knowledge make you arrogant. Stay humble, have compassion for the people you're talking to, take the high road, be patient, be kind, and remind yourself of why you're doing apologetics (hopefully not to boost your ego, but to help people who need Jesus).

Don't be a back slapper. A back slapper is somebody who will get behind any argument or any personality as long as they agree with the conclusion. Honesty requires you to be willing to say if you think an argument for God is fallacious or if you think your favorite apologist is wrong about something.

Make it your goal to communicate as clearly as you can in hopes of being understood. Avoid the temptation to dazzle people with technical language and complicated arguments you know they aren't going to get. Be patient when people misunderstand you. Take the burden on yourself to make your arguments clear. I have slacked off on this over the years because I've become lazy and impatient. I get annoyed when I can tell that somebody responds without putting forth any effort to understand me. When that happens, I'll say something like, "That is not my argument. Go read my post more carefully." But this is also why I recommended earlier to read your opposition carefully in the first place. Not only will that better prepare you to evaluate the merits of what they said, but it's just good manners.

Do some soul searching and personal reflection. Go for a walk and ask yourself, "What do I really thing about this?" or "Why do I honestly believe that?" You'd be surprised at how much this can improve your defense of the gospel. Of course if you were anything like me in my early 20's, it could also make you realize you don't have any good reasons. If you don't have any good reasons, then you need to study more. But still, as you study, think about what is being said and whether you should believe it or not, and be honest with yourself about the confidence with which you believe various things and your reasons. This goes back to what I said earlier about only using arguments that you find persuasive.

Don't shy away from saying you don't know something if you don't know. Nobody knows everything, so there's nothing to be embarrassed about. Avoid the temptation to disguise your ignorance by making stuff up.

Take a chill pill. You don't have to argue about every little thing. Choose your battles. Also, have other interests so you don't burn out and so you can remain a normal person. And don't be a sea lion. If you can see that somebody doesn't want to argue with you, leave them alone.

Define your terms, but don't get bogged down arguing over definitions. The purpose of definitions is to facilitate communication. It doesn't matter whether people are defining their words correctly as long as you understand what they mean and they understand what you mean.

When you're reading a book, take notes. Write down important points you want to remember later. Just writing stuff down helps you remember what you read, and it helps you understand as well. It's also helpful if you want to look stuff up later on since you'll know where it is. And, if you want to write a review or critique of the book, those notes help.

Reading at night while you're in bed about to go to sleep is the worst time to read stuff if you really want to learn it.

Pray for those you encounter. Ultimately, it's up to the Holy Spirit to prepare a person's heart to make them receptive to the gospel. You are, at best, a means through which God draws people to himself. So don't be discouraged that people resist your case. You could be the best apologist in the world and still not persuade people. Be the best apologist you can, but don't think it's all up to you. Pray that God will open people's hearts and call them to obedience to the gospel, and pray for yourself that you will be a good and faithful advocate for the gospel. Pray that God will lead you only into truth and protect you from error. Pray that God will give you the humility to realize when you're in the wrong and change your mind if necessary.