Crash Blindness in an Inveterate Apple User: A Case Study

This paper is fantastic. Abstract:

“We report a brief case study of Crash Blindness in a long-term user of the Macintosh computers. The patient (LB), an otherwise normal, healthy adult, shows an almost complete blindness to software crashes on Macintosh computers. The degree of the pathology appears to correlate with the version of the operating system. An MRI shows an atypical lesion in the right frontal cortex, which is the only neurological pathology. A comparison is made with other operating systems to show the specificity to the Mac OS. The findings are discussed with respect to theories of software ‘Holy Wars’.”

Check out the lesion 🙂

Hot off the press: consciousness not epiphenomenon

According to Stuart Hameroff:

“… evidence suggests backwards time effects occur in the brain.  Quantum entanglement apparently depends on seemingly backward time effects which, as unconscious quantum information, can potentially rescue consciousness from the unfortunate position of illusory epiphenomenon.”

From Hameroff’s latest, The brain is both neurocomputer and quantum computer, in Cognitive Science [pdf].

What do you make of this?

Petition against Scientology

Just found this petition:

Without compromise to freedom of thought or expression, the teachings and beliefs of Scientology, Dianetics and science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard must never be legally be accepted as a religion – regardless of any recent EU decision to the contrary.

We consider the ‘Church’ of Scientology is an exclusive business venture that by prohibiting access to scientifically-proven psychiatric therapy and medicine is effectively enslaving its believers.

You know what you have to do.

More on religion and reasoning

Found some responses over here to an earlier post.  Some randomly chosen comments:

  • “within the constructs of any decent form of logic, and within any reasonable scientific framework, god does not exist and pretending he does is stupid and corrupts that framework.”
  • “On the topic of Leprechauns I’m agnostic.  The true believers of Leprechauns can’t be upset at me, because I still believe it’s *possible* Leprechauns exist. And of course, the a-leprechaunists can’t take issue with me because I don’t *really* believe in them.”
  • “If it is *obviously* false, then it is demonstrably false, and you should have evidence to *prove* it is false. There is no evidence that the earth was created 4,000 years ago. BUT there is plenty of evidence that it was created 4 billion years ago, proving the first assertion to be false.”

I love reading these sorts of debates: more evidence, I reckon, of reasonable individual differences in reasoning!

Editing God from the bible

There are some fun bits in the bible.  I’d like to collect them together and add the result to English Lit courses.  For instance:

“… the lips of an adulteress drip honey and her tongue is smoother than oil, yet in the end she is as bitter as wormwood, as sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet tread the downward path towards death, the road she walks leads straight to Sheol. She does not mark out the path to life; her course twists this way and that, but she is unconcerned.” (Proverbs 5:2-6)

Religion and reasoning style (updated)

The atheists I have spoken to seem to believe that argumentum ad ignorantiam is a valid inference rule. Roughly it says that if there is no evidence for p, then p is false. Some other athiests, on the other hand, believe that there actually is evidence against the existence of a God.

Agnostics, on the other (third?) hand, seem to believe that if there is no evidence for p, then p is “unknown (at this time)”. They also seem to argue that there’s something funny about the “God Exists” proposition, for instance bringing it closer to the Christian notion of a God would make them more likely to flip to false. I claim.

I’m intrigued now if people’s religious views are associated with how they interpret reasoning tasks. There’s a little questionnaire called the Characteristics and Beliefs Inventory (CABI) which seems to ask all the right questions. See e.g. Meyer and Chow (in press?) for an example of its use.  This could be combined with a battery of tasks which have multiple interpretation.

On Religion

Atheists annoy me.* I reckon they should learn to pass over in silence or embrace a logic with more than two truth values rather than run about exclaiming how “God Exists” is an obviously false proposition. The universe is a big and complicated place and just because not every sentence in the Christian bible is true, it doesn’t mean that they’re all false. It doesn’t mean that there is no God-like thing Out There, nor even that no religion gets it right or close to right. I don’t see why giving a proposition a value of “neither true or false” is any more demanding or dishonest than saying it’s false because there’s no evidence for its truth. Does God exist? Mu. I don’t know. I’m not even sure how to define the concept of God.

I dislike Russell’s teapot argument, brought up by Peter Atkins in the debate on Tuesday at Edinburgh University.

“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.”

No sensible person would believe it’s feasible that there is a teapot floating out in space between us and Mars, so we jump immediately to the truth value false, not a fence sitting don’t know. To me the crucial difference between this and a proposition about the existence of a god is that we have a rather thorough notion of what kind of a thing a teapot is. Teapots are constructed by humans and the most likely way a teapot could get into orbit around Mars is if a human put it there. It’s unlikely NASA ever launched a teapot orbiter probe, therefore it’s fairly safe to conjecture that there is no teapot. (Though if I worked for NASA I’d probably sneak a teapot into a probe if I got the chance.) But the existence of a something that constructed the universe, something we don’t understand, not necessarily a white-cloak semi-Santa Claus figure, is a very different “thing”. We don’t know a lot about that kind of thing, other than that (if it exists…) it/he/she/them makes universes (and recursively makes itself?).

Even if there were a God like thing Out There, what’s to stop us studying its properties? In science often an object is conjectured to exist to try to make sense of some phenomena before it’s understood. Religion isn’t inconsistent with science or modern philosophy (I think?).

Religions also have their own evolution—intriguingly enough given how they’re often associated with anti-evolutionary ideas. One needs only look at the increase in the number of ministers who are (out) gay or women (from zero) in the Church of England, for instance. Views change. Interpretations of the bible evolve.

In the meantime, here’s an interpretation of the Christian Holy Trinity that came to me in a moment of… divine inspiration… in the pub. The gist:

  • Father (Parent)
  • Son (Child)
  • Holy Spirit

As a first approximation, map these to:

  • Originator and transmitter of genetic material
  • Recipient of genetic material
  • Conscious magic stuff

So, the trinity is actually a specification of all humans (animals? organisms?): everyone is  child, potentially a parent, and has conscious experience. God is everyone and everyone is god. This specification seems hippy-friendly, which is a good thing I reckon. One problem is that not everyone has children, and I don’t want such people (for the moment I am one of them) to be seen as second-class organisms, so let’s generalise the genetic material to “information”.

I tried this idea out on a few hardened atheists and they didn’t seem too impressed. They do take their belief very seriously.


* Update: They annoy me less now it’s not 2007 and I’m an atheist.