Posted: May 9th, 2013 | Author: Darwin Harmless | Filed under: How Weird is our Culture, Opposing bigotry, Uncategorized | No Comments »
This in response to something posted on FB saying women should dress modestly if they want “real men” to respect them.
We do hope you women will all wear the burka
It only makes good common sense
Without it the men will all go bezurka
And a burka’s your only defense
Don’t wear tight clothing or show them an ankle
Forego the cosplay at TAM
A burka’s your only defense against menfolk
Don’t get yourself into a jam
It’s women who must take the lead to stop rapist
We all know that men can’t be blamed
For losing control at the sight of a woman
They’ve never been been taught or restrained
If you go out in clothing that reveals more than eye holes
It’s really your fault if you’re raped
You can’t blame the men ’cause it’s just in their nature
Just make sure you’re properly draped
And if men respect you when drunk or when naked
You must know for sure that they’re gay
No man who’s a real man can control his libido
No matter what women might say
You know freedoms not worth any effort or struggle
It would only bring sorrow and pain
So slip into that burka before you have trouble
We’re not going to tell you again.
Women, we beg you, get back in your burkas
If you don’t you’re a slut and a whore
You should send a message of proper behavior
And that’s what the burka is for.
Relax, Digital Cuttlefish. The doggerel muse strikes me very rarely, and I’ll never equal your delightful poetry.
Posted: May 6th, 2013 | Author: Darwin Harmless | Filed under: Personal issues, The Consciousness Question | No Comments »
“Human consciousness is just about the last surviving mystery. A mystery is a phenomenon that people don’t know how to think about – yet. There have been other great mysteries: the mystery of the origin of the universe, the mystery of life and reproduction, the mystery of the design to be found in nature, the mysteries of time, space, and gravity. These were not just areas of scientific ignorance, but of utter bafflement and wonder. We do not yet have all the answers to any of the questions of cosmology and particle physics, molecular genetics and evolutionary theory, but we do know how to think about them …. With consciousness, however, we are still in a terrible muddle. Consciousness stands alone today as a topic that often leaves even the most sophisticated thinkers tongue-tied and confused. And, as with all of the earlier mysteries, there are many who insist — and hope — that there will never be a demystification of consciousness.”
― Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained
I am trying to understand why this is so confusing. I am conscious now. At least I am conscious of many things. I could sit here and meditate on all the things of which I am conscious, like the hum of my computer tower, the feeling of the slippers on my feet, the texture of the air, the sound of the clock, the light from the monitor and the words appearing as if by magic on my screen because I don’t have to think about which key to push to make a letter happen. I am conscious of many things. And all that means is that my brain’s computer is turned on and monitoring the environment, while at the same time monitoring it’s own self generated thoughts. What is so mysterious about this?
The fact that my thoughts are being generated in parts of my brain to which I can have no access? Is this what makes it mysterious?
If I think of my “conscious self” as the CEO running a board meeting. It’s as if there is an indeterminate number of board members setting at the table. Some of them I am aware of, but most of them are invisible. When a thought is required, one of them pops up with it and kicks it down the table, usually in verbal or visual form, as words or as a picture or sometimes as a tightening in my chest and a physical sensation caused by certain muscles tensing on my face, forming a smile or a frown. I then become aware of the thought, and can choose to express it or let it slide by unacknowledged. I can talk directly to these board members, and they can talk directly to me, but in my case it’s like talking from the stage into an audience that is mostly hidden in darkness. I don’t really know whether they hear me when I talk to them, and sometimes I don’t hear them when they talk to me, unless they do something dramatic to get my attention, such as cause tears to fall from my eyes.
Take my current source of sadness: My young lover who never was my lover because at the time we met she was too young and I was too old. Recently she came to visit, and we discovered that she could now be my lover, but I am even older and now unavailable. She has gone away again. Parts of my brain are generating fantasies. Other parts of my brain are telling those parts of my brain to shut the fuck up, or picking holes in the memories and saying “that’s not what really happened” or dissecting the fantasies and saying “that’s not what is likely to happen if you take any action”. And a part of my brain is telling me that I’m not seeing the real person there. I’m just reacting to a reflection of my emotional needs. Yet the heart aches. (What? Where did that phrase come from. My heart is not aching. I feel these emotions in my neck and face.) My conscious mind is riding on this swirling shit storm of emotions, feelings, needs, desires, and drama. I think there’s something in me that is enjoying it all, while another part of me is asking why I am generating these thoughts and feelings when they are not making me happy.
Then there is the part of my brain that keeps reminding me that I love my wife, and that my life is complete with my wife and my friends. I have no real need to complicate my life with romantic drama, fantasies, and regrets about what might have been if different decisions had been made. (Our child, the one that we will never have together, would now be seven or eight years old. Yeah, and you regret that? Really? Are you nuts? Been there done that.)
And then there is the part of my brain that is asking me why I’m putting all of this up in a public forum when I’m supposed to be considering the question of consciousness and surely this is just a distraction from that question.
So what is consciousness? Isn’t it merely the awareness of all of this going on at the same time: The physical sensations being brought in by the senses, the language being directed out through my fingers, and the various parts of my limbic system and amygdula and neocortex competing for my attention by creating fantasies and physical sensations.
Let’s look at consciousness as if it were a computer running subroutines. We are now at a point where we can almost list all the subroutines being run. We have desires and drives, impulses, damping of impulses, fantasies, memories, all the things I listed in the earlier post about what consciousness should be able to do. At any one point one could ask the computer “How do you feel.” Supposedly one would get an answer that would come from the “ghost in the machine”. At the moment I feel sad and conflicted.
And here’s where Dennett nails it.
“Some years ago, there was a lovely philosopher of science and journalist in Italy named Giulio Giorello, and he did an interview with me. And I don’t know if he wrote it or not, but the headline in Corriere della Sera when it was published was “Sì, abbiamo un’anima. Ma è fatta di tanti piccoli robot – “Yes, we have a soul, but it’s made of lots of tiny robots.” And I thought, exactly. That’s the view. Yes, we have a soul, but in what sense? In the sense that our brains, unlike the brains even of dogs and cats and chimpanzees and dolphins, our brains have functional structures that give our brains powers that no other brains have – powers of look-ahead, primarily. We can understand our position in the world, we can see the future, we can understand where we came from. We know that we’re here. No buffalo knows it’s a buffalo, but we jolly well know that we’re members of Homo sapiens, and it’s the knowledge that we have and the can-do, our capacity to think ahead and to reflect and to evaluate and to evaluate our evaluations, and evaluate the grounds for our evaluations.
It’s this expandable capacity to represent reasons that we have that gives us a soul. But what’s it made of? It’s made of neurons. It’s made of lots of tiny robots. And we can actually explain the structure and operation of that kind of soul, whereas an eternal, immortal, immaterial soul is just a metaphysical rug under which you sweep your embarrassment for not having any explanation.”
― Daniel C. Dennett
And one more. This one is off topic, but delightful. And apparently quite famous.
“The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn’t need its brain anymore, so it eats it! It’s rather like getting tenure.”
― Daniel C. Dennett
Bravo Doctor D. Bravo.
Posted: May 4th, 2013 | Author: Darwin Harmless | Filed under: How Weird is our Culture, Personal issues, Uncategorized | No Comments »
Spare the rod and spoil the child.
Where does that come from? Who was the asshole who made this a foundation of parenting?
Proverbs 13:24 (King James version) He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
Well that figures. One more thing to hate about Christianity. Because this is very bad advice. Maybe not bad advice if you want your child to fear you and become an authoritarian follower who will blindly accepts whatever a bully decrees should be done. But who wants a child like that?
I was spanked as a child. Not with the bare hand. With a belt. That was the instrument of choice. Beating children was a family tradition and I didn’t have it nearly as bad as my father had it. If he had transgressed in some way, his mother would instruct him to cut a number of willow switches. The number corresponded to the severity of his punishment, and she used each one in turn until there was nothing but a stub in her hand, then reached for the next. He told me that he once was whipped for just looking like he would like another spoonful of ice cream while visiting a neighbour. Not actually asking for it, just looking like he would like it. Then when they got home it was, “Go and cut seven willow switches.”
Yet he spanked his children. With his belt.
My grandmother once gave me a spanking for taking pop bottles to the store on Sunday. Our parents were away. She was baby sitting. I had no idea that I wasn’t supposed to take pop bottles in for a refund on a Sunday. But ignorance of biblical prescription is no excuse, apparently. So I was given a spanking. And yet I spanked my children.
That is something I very much regret, the fact that I spanked my children. It was wrong. It was failure as a parent.
You have to recognize one important fact: spanking is violence. Spanking is violence.
Spanking can be effective in preventing children from doing things that are forbidden, at least when there is some expectation of being caught and punished. But spanking carries additional implicit lessons you don’t want to teach your child: 1. violence is okay if you are bigger and stronger, or just in a position of authority. 2. the child is helpless against superior physical force, so logic and reason and argument isn’t worth trying 3. losing your temper and inflicting violence is something adults do when they are frustrated, and something you will do when you are an adult.
There are always alternatives to spanking. Isolation. Confiscation of toys. Removal of privileges like favourite TV shows or music. Children always want something from the parents, and cancelling an outing or not giving desert can be an effective non-violent punishment. Such sanctions must be consistent, and must be adhered to once decreed, no mater how much you don’t want to punish the child. A child can learn that bad behaviour has consequences. But the consequences never need to be violence. We don’t allow violence against adults, and we shouldn’t allow violence against children.
“I’m sorry” should never mean “Please don’t hit me again.”
Posted: April 29th, 2013 | Author: Darwin Harmless | Filed under: The Consciousness Question, Uncategorized | No Comments »
In a recent comment by AcolyteofSagsn there was the suggesting that human consciousness must not be the same as a computer generated consciousness because humans have differing reactions to their programing. That got me thinking about programming in variation by setting a number of different “personality characteristics” into the AI program – varying qualities such as attention span (how long the program will consider input before spitting out an answer; closely related to impulse control), curiosity, temperament, sensitivity to emotional stimulation, empathy, and orientation to pattern seeking versus logic. Acolyte seems to assume that any consciousness that does not duplicate human consciousness isn’t “real” but is simply programing. It’s an easy assumption to make. But he also sees that we are, in fact, programmed. It’s just that we accept our programming differently, depending on our mental configurations. So that got me wondering whether individuality or unpredictability is any requirement of consciousness. Seems to me it isn’t. If it is essential to consciousness, it can be programmed in to the system.
I’m on a steep learning curve, and there’s been lots written on this subject that I have yet to read. Daniel Dennett has written a whole book entitled “Consciousness Explained” , which would certainly be a good place for me to start. (From the Wikipedia article I note that Dennett denies the existence of qualia, which makes me feel a kinship to him already.) I’ve also signed up for an online course that Richard Carrier is giving: The Science Behind Free Will.
But here’s where I am right now. I think our limbic brain is analogous to the car that can drive from Frankfurt to Beijing without a human at the wheel. It is the lizard brain. The brain that takes care of movement and all of our subconscious functions. When evolution added the neocortex there was no reason for that part of the brain to be in touch with or control of all the functions of the lizard brain, so the subconscious was born and consciousness was created. What is consciousness but input of sensory data from the outside world, plus programing by the neocortex that monitors that data while also monitoring memory and fantasy. Add in the amygdula to provide “values” which are nothing but emotional reasons for decisions, but leave much of the processing that’s going on in the amygdula to the limbic brain, therefore subconscious, therefore mysterious to the neocortex, and we have consciousness as we experience it.
So my expectation is that we will create consciousness by accident, probably by taking a very complex automatic system and adding on a layer of programming that monitors both the data inputs and the processing of those inputs, without access to all the gears and belts and pulleys that are irrelevant to the monitoring of the overall system.
This sounds incredibly simple. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened yet. But maybe it has, and nobody has noticed.
Posted: April 16th, 2013 | Author: Darwin Harmless | Filed under: How Weird is our Culture, Opposing bigotry | No Comments »
Usually I just let the stupid roll by me, but every once in a while I can’t take it. This landed on my Facebook news feed today and I just couldn’t resist adding some comments.
Posted: April 12th, 2013 | Author: Darwin Harmless | Filed under: science and technology, The Consciousness Question, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »
If you are new to the consciousness project, please take a look at the introduction and the first and second instalments, dealing with sense and memory before reading this post.
I think I just had a breakthrough. One of the most obvious things about consciousness is the subconscious.
I don’t think anybody can deny the existence of the sub conscious. And it seems to have arisen from the evolutionary development of the brain.
We start with the reactive brain stem, the lizard brain. That is the kind of brain we find in a thermostat, or a car that can navigate from Frankfurt to Beijing without a driver. We pile on functionality until the sensors and controls can do everything a snake or a chicken can do – deal with all the necessities of reality determined by programming and algorithms that ensure survival.
On top of all of that we add a level that monitors the emotions, drives, and decisions made by these unconscious functions, and makes value judgements on whether goals are achieved or desires met. This level can monitor the fantasies and memories being reviews by the decision making process, and again make value judgements on past and future outcomes. This level can recognize the difference between self and not self. This level might be able to learn about all the functions that are active in the subconscious level, but it can never have direct access to all the processes as they a engaged in the business of guiding and running things.
Can this be programmed? Would it then amount to consciousness? What exactly is consciousness? Is it not simply awareness of the outside world, plus awareness of the “inner” world, plus awareness of the self versus the not self?
Help me out here, folks. Am I being too simplistic? I think we (meaning smart people who have programmed complicated spacial mapping and sensory responses, not me specifically) have already solved what Pinker called “the easy problem”. Isn’t what I’m suggesting the solution to the hard problem? And don’t we solve that just by using the easy problem solutions to look at the inner and outer world?
Oh fuck, I’m talking nonsense. What does it mean to “monitors the emotions, drives, and decisions made by these unconscious functions, and makes value judgements on whether goals are achieved or desires met”? How does that translate into a functioning program? What is a goal? What is a desire? What is a value judgement? It may be the vodka and tonic talking, but I’m feeling overwhelmed.
Does anybody have any thoughts to share on all of this? Please speak up.
Posted: April 11th, 2013 | Author: Darwin Harmless | Filed under: Cicumcision debate, How Weird is our Culture, Personal issues, sexuality, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »
I’ve often heard the argument from defenders of infant male circumcision, more correctly known as infant male genital mutilation, that it’s really best to do it while the child is an infant because he will never remember the pain (not that there is any pain of course, they claim) and it’s really terrible if a man needs to have his foreskin removed later in life. Which often happens. Very often. Often enough to justify removing a potentially troubling part of a boy’s body in a preemptive strike.
One man, who said he is a former military medic, cited the case of a shipmate under his care who required circumcision, causing him great discomfort. He stated as fact that ten percent of men who are intact will require an “emergency circumcision” at some point in their life. Ten percent? Really? Ten percent?
Needless to say, this is a claim that should be backed up with some evidence. Ten percent of intact men will require “emergency circumcision”? What on earth could this emergency possibly be? The foreskin is just that, skin. Okay, skin and a few other anatomical parts most people don’t even know about, like the frenulum and the ridged band, important parts not to be lightly discarded, but mostly skin. Skin is amazingly flexible and adaptive. I can imagine an infection causing a problem, but not a problem that requires surgery. We don’t usually perform surgeries for infection. And perhaps a sudden case of phimosis could leave a man in discomfort, but again it’s hard to imagine a surgical solution being necessary, at least not a surgical solution calling for the complete removal of the foreskin.
Yesterday I found myself in a meeting with several Chinese doctors, one of whom is a fertility expert at a maternity hospital in mainland China. I asked him if circumcision was a usual practice in China. He said no, it is very unusual, and only done in cases of a congenital defect or other serious problem. He told me that the Chinese believe that their body is a gift from their ancestors, and it would dishonour the ancestors to remove or reject a part of their body. Then I asked if he was aware of older men requiring circumcision later in life. He seemed surprised at the question. No, he said, if there is a problem we advise cleaning under the foreskin and might give medicine to cure an infection, but I’m not aware of any circumcisions being done because of a problem.
So there you have it. One more argument of the pro-circumcision lobby shot down in flames. In a country with a huge population of uncircumcised men, we are not seeing lineups at the clinic of men demanding circumcision. Nobody in China seems to see any problem with possessing a foreskin. The excuse that the operation should be done to an infant because it will be necessary, and much more painful, later simply isn’t true.
As if we didn’t know it.
By the way, I also asked what the Chinese doctors thought of the campaign in Africa to circumcise men as a measure to prevent transmission of HIV. They thought that idea is as crazy as the idea that all infants should be circumcised.
Posted: April 11th, 2013 | Author: Darwin Harmless | Filed under: freedom of speech and rule of law, How Weird is our Culture, justice delayed or denied, Opposing bigotry, The Conviction That God is a Fiction, Uncategorized | No Comments »
I just re-watched the wonderful TED talk by Larry Brilliant wherein he talks about the case for pessimism and optimism. His story about how more than 30 countries of the world, people of all races and genders and religions, came together under the World Health Organization to eradicate smallpox, one of the horrors of history, is truly inspiring. It amazes me that people treat sports stars as heroes, yet don’t even know about this, one of the greatest accomplishments of humanity.
Much of the video is devoted to the situation in Bangladesh, particularly the part laying out the case for pessimism. It seems that Bangladesh has a very pressing problem. According to Larry Brilliant, even if we stopped all CO2 emissions right now, we are “baked in” to a situation that will see sea levels rise twenty to thirty inches, and possibly ten times that much. With the added snow pack melt coming down from the Himalayas, uninterrupted by the trees that are no longer on the deforested land, and the rising ocean, Bangladesh is going to be under water. There will be an estimated hundred million refugees fleeing into China and India.
So Bangladesh has problems. Big serious problems. One might expect demonstrations and protests in Bangladesh, and that’s what we’re seeing.
I would never have predicted what the protests are about. Are you ready for this. One hundred thousand protesters took to the streets to demand…. oh, this is serious business… the death penalty for the atheist bloggers who have been arrested by the police. They want strict enforcement of their anti-blasphemy laws. The most pressing thing on their mind is that their god has been insulted by people who say their god doesn’t exist.
It’s enough to swing my needle sharply toward pessimism.
Posted: April 5th, 2013 | Author: Darwin Harmless | Filed under: science and technology, The Consciousness Question, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »
Good news. Obama is on board with my interest in understanding consciousness, though he frames it in terms of understanding how the brain functions. A hundred million dollars thrown at real scientists is a good start to attacking this problem.
I am currently working on part 3 of my Exploration of Consciousness. So far I’ve only had one person contribute any brain power, and that was much appreciated. I wish the rest of you would climb on board. My suspicion is that, just as Wikipedia could show up Encarta with the shear brain power of Internet volunteers, we humble non-scientists can do just as much if we seriously put our heads together. Let’s see if we can beat Obama and his millions to some interesting answers.
My suspicion, hope, and belief is that most if not all the components of consciousness have already been invented – sensing software that can control a driverless car from Frankfurt to Beijing, voice recognition software, voice synthesis software, character recognition software, facial recognition software, logic software that can win at Jeopardy over a human opponent, touch sensors for robotics, sniffers for drug and bomb detection, spacial mapping and navigation software, smart programs that can learn. My guess is that all it will take is an integration of all these existing technologies. We have memory density equivalent to the human brain. Couple that with the right programing and we should be able to create consciousness. Let’s get to it.
If you haven’t read them yet, please go back and read Part 1 and Part 2 of Considering Consciousness. Then contribute some thoughts before I make a complete fool of myself all by myself.
Posted: March 30th, 2013 | Author: Darwin Harmless | Filed under: How Weird is our Culture, Personal issues, Uncategorized | No Comments »
We went to see “Jack the Giant Slayer” on Friday. Another park your brain at the door and go along for the ride move. Great, beautiful and spectacular images. Good enough acting. A good ride. But please, can we put the “princess doesn’t want to marry the evil guy her father wants her to marry” trope to rest for a while. And then, please please please don’t write women out of your movie.
Jack the Giant killer passes the Bechdel Test in the opening scenes. Well, okay, only if you count a child as a woman. In that case you have two women talking to each other without talking about men. But it’s a mother talking to her daughter. And from then on… forget women. They don’t exist. There are no other visible women in the whole damn show. The giants are all ugly nose picking hairy dudebros with skin conditions, with no women giants anywhere to be seen. There may have been a few women in the early market scene when Jack takes his horse and cart in to sell it. If so, I hardly noticed them because they were so background. But scenes with women in them? Forget women talking to women, women doing anything at all, even women acting like men? Nada. Nothing. Nowhere.
We’ve come to expect the usual missing elements in these movies, like where the hell does everybody in this sterile barren landscape get his (I don’t have to write “his or her” because there is no “her” to be concerned about) food (thinking more “John Carver of Mars” here but there’s similar omissions in any movie), who does all the work, where is the supply train for the army. These things don’t help the story, and nobody misses them. But deleting the women? That’s going too far.
What gives with this? I’m aware that we live in a patriarchy. I’m aware that we see almost everything from the male point of view, from history to sex. But this is writing women out of the culture completely, except as symbols of the perceived latest feminist talking point , a sex object, a priceless object in need of rescue, a love interest. Don’t by any accident include a real woman or let one act like real women might act.
For me the biggest disappointment of the movie was when the giants all bow down and you just know that somebody has the magic crown that makes them all subservient, if resentful. Reveal the wearer of the crown. That was their chance to really say something about women, and the proper roll of a woman in a story. And they blew it. That crown should have been worn by the princess. That should have been the reveal. But no. It had to be the farm boy* wearing the crown. And sure he deserved it, but the princess deserved it just as much, maybe even more.
This has gone far enough. I like women. I want women in my movies. Something is missing when you write them out.
*Now, stop blubbering about me spoiling the ending. You really thought there might be something else at the ending? This is a faerie tale. The hero has to be the big winner. There is a great surprise in the plot line, in the way the main bad guy giant bites the dust, and I’m not going to give that one away. But don’t tell me that letting you know there’s a happy ending spoiled with the male hero coming out on top anything for you.