Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Forever War

Over on Facebook recently there was a bit of a discussion prompted by the posting of this video of a back and forth between Richard Dawkins, noted atheist, and Wendy Wright, creationist.

The question was asked, "Do you think evolutionists and creationists can reach a mutual understanding? By that I mean something that both sides can NOT polarize themselves over. Some sort of common ground." I decided that was worth a blog post so here I am.

In theory, I think they can (mostly); but, of course, that's the problem. "In theory" is great for...theory, but often stumbles when hitting reality. The problem seems to be that both sides view the other as a threat. Evolutionists think that creationists are leading people away from reason and science. Creationists think evolutionists are out to lead people away from God (at least their perspective of God, anyway). Naturally if one feels threatened, one is likely to lash out at whoever it is that is attacking.

I think that despite all of the heated rhetoric, there is less of a divide than most people imagine. That's because most of the time the people debating this point (like Dawkins and Wright) are on the extreme edges of the spectrum. Most people tend to be somewhere in the middle. Dawkins even makes reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury believing in evolution (and I'm pretty sure he believes in God).

Look at this data showing people's belief in creationism, evolution guided by God, or evolution without God. It shows over time that more and more people are shifting to believing in evolution being a tool of God. It also shows that people who have attended college are much more likely to believe in it. As our economy changes and more and more people get post-secondary education, this number will only grow larger. With more people finding themselves in the middle, there will likely be less vitriol on this topic.

That's not to say it will disappear completely. There will always be people who cherry pick the science they want to believe in. Who disputes gravity? Likewise, there will always be staunch evolutionists who can't accept belief in a God. There shouldn't need to be conflict over this. If people were more humble about their own knowledge and more respectful of other people's thoughts, then arguments over this wouldn't occur.

But that's not likely to happen anytime soon.

Star Trek Girl

Cute girl + Star Trek = Win

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Rich Don't Care About You

I am Jack's Complete Lack of Surprise that a new study shows that rich people have a lack of empathy.

The paper, published in October by the Association for Psychological Science, recounts three experiments conducted among students and employees of a large (unidentified) public university, some of whom had graduated from college and others who had not. In American social science, the definition of class is generally based on measures like income, occupational prestige and material wealth. In these experiments, class was determined either by educational level or by self-reported perceptions of family socioeconomic status.

In the first experiment, participants were asked to look at pictures of faces and indicate which emotions were being expressed. The more upper class the judges, the less able they were to accurately identify emotions in others.

In another experiment, upper-class participants had a harder time reading the emotions of strangers during simulated job interviews.

In the third one — an interesting twist of an experiment — people of greater socioeconomic status were asked to compare themselves to the wealthiest, most powerful Americans, thus diminishing their own relative stature. When asked to identify emotions by looking at 36 sets of emoting eyes, they did markedly better than their upper-class peers.

Fascinating stuff. I think it also shows why politicians have such a hard time enacting policies to help the less well off. Here's a chart I whipped up outlining the median wealth of Senators, Representatives, and average American families.

That's a striking difference. If wealthy people struggle psychologically to empathize with other people, is it any wonder that politicians seem so hell bent on slashing Social Security, Medicare, education, food stamps, and any program designed to help others? They know it's not going to have an impact on them, so why should they care?

I really have no idea what could be done to fix this.

Redeeming the Ukulele

The ukulele is not on my list of "Things That Are Cool." However, I may have to rethink that after listening to a rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody" played on one. Okay, the instrument still probably won't be on that list, but this version of BoRhap just might be eligible.

Note: the guy pictured above is not the guy playing BoRhap in the link. I just found this picture and thought it fit.

Worst States

This is a fascinating map.

I'm curious how some of these were measured, though. Look at Ohio. It's the "Nerdiest state." How is that determined? And why is it a bad thing?

What about New Mexico being the most "anti-social." What were the metrics for that?

I must also say that I'm very proud of my home state, Montana, for being the worst in drunk driving. Way to go, guys! You earned it!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mathematician's Dice

As a gamer geek and a math geek, I really want some of these.

HT: GeekDad

No Oscar Nomination for Christopher Nolan's Directing?

Why, oh why did Christopher Nolan not get a nomination for Best Director for Inception? I'm glad he was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, but not getting a directing nod seems ludicrous. To be fair, I haven't seen any of the nominees in the category (I'm behind on my viewing, okay?), but I'm having a hard time not seeing Nolan's masterful guiding hand behind Inception not ranking with any of them.

So, anyone out there who has seen some of these other films think they are better directed than Inception?

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Facts of Life

Adam Frank has a post over on NPR entitled "Life Is More Meaningful Than Mere Facts Can Convey."

There are many reasons human beings institutionalized their spiritual longing into religions. Those reasons often devolved into considerations of power, control and real estate. Those institutions certainly have needed to enforce creed and doctrine, i.e. "knowledge."

But the reasons individuals find their lives transformed by spiritual longing are intimate and deeply personal affairs having little to do with dusty "proofs for the existence of God." As all those "spiritual but not religious" folks popping up in surveys on religion will tell you, the essence of the question is about experience, not facts.

Along a similar vein, in the pro-science/anti-religion camps one often hears the quest for understanding the universe put in equally ultimate, quasi-theological terms. Finding the final theory, the Theory of Everything, is held up as a kind of moment "when the truth shall be revealed once and for all." While many practicing scientists might not see it this way, the scientific knowledge/enlightenment trope has been there in popular culture for a long time reaching all the back to Faust and up through movies like Pi.

I think the conflict comes when someone on either side claims a monopoly on "truth." I'm not sure why there needs to be a conflict. Science gives us the facts about the universe and how it operates. Religion gives us the reason for being here. I am passionate about science, but I also have very closely held religious views. In my mind, they are not in conflict; rather they complement each other. It probably helps that I don't feel any need to convert anyone to my religious belief. Within my paradigm it's perfectly acceptable for people to believe whatever they are comfortable believing.

Science is a beautiful thing and I love it for how it illuminates our world and reveals the beauty in it. It can also be perverted into something twisted such as eugenics. I find religion to be much the same. Think of the beauty of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the Sermon on the Mount, or the teachings of Buddha. Like science, though, religion also has it's share of horrific acts such as the Crusades.

People on both ends of this spectrum need to be more respectful of the other side. Ideally (in my view, at least), there wouldn't be sides because I don't think there should be conflict. People should be humble about their unprovable religious beliefs and understand that others may feel differently. Also, while science should not be worshipped as being without error, there should not be quibbling over facts especially those facts that have been demonstrated time and time again through multiple different experiments to be the best possible explanation.

Actually, this whole thing could be summarized by "Everyone should endeavor to be more humble and more respectful."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Oddities of Pandora

I love Pandora. It's a site that allows you to build your own stations by starting with an artist or song you like. It then plays music similar to them and you can rate it with a thumbs down if you don't like it or a thumbs up if you do. This is great for tweaking a radio station for any genre of music or any mood.

Still, Pandora occasionally plays some odd songs. I've got a station I've dubbed Epic Metal which as the name suggests is for epic sounding heavy metal (mostly power and symphonic), think Nightwish, Edguy, Blind Guardian, Iced Earth, Symphony X, and Rhapsody of Fire. This stuff is mostly over the top with songs about adventures, fantastic quests, and so on. Cheesy, yes, but I love it.

So, imagine my surprise the other day when I'm listening to this station on my phone while I'm driving and this song comes on.

What the hell? I thought. There's nothing metal about that.I had to double-check the station to make sure it hadn't been changed on me somehow. It hadn't. The Pandora algorithm somehow thought this New Age soft song used on Pure Moods was an appropriate fit for my station of over the top metal (\m/). If I had been at my computer I would have clicked the "Why was this song chosen?" button, but that's not an option on the phone version. If I had to guess, I would say that it was chosen due to the orchestral elements which many songs on my station have as well as the strong vocal aesthetic which again is a common element of the songs on Epic Metal.

But it certainly was an odd selection and not the first time it's happened to me.

From the Annals of Local News

In my hometown, a lawyer is charged with misconduct - again - for having sexual relations with a client.

A complaint filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel on Jan. 12 alleges that Solomon Neuhardt violated the rules of conduct for lawyers by having a sexual relationship with a client in 2008 and 2009.

Neuhardt denies the allegations in the recent complaint.

Neuhardt's license to practice law in Montana was suspended for four months in October 2007 after he was found to have had a sexual relationship with a client in 2005.

Pretty typically fare, really - people behaving stupidly. If I were the lawyer, however, I'm not sure I'd be saying this in my defense in a case like this.
[Neuhardt] said he has a “legion of satisfied current and former customers.”

Yep, I'm sure he could have phrased that more appropriately.