On Free Will

Not a big post–I composed this as a simple comment on Pharyngula, but it got a bit big, so I thought I’d post it here, too.

Our free will, or its illusion,
Is the source of much confusion;
We make choices all the time, but can we say that they are free?
Mind and body in cohesion
Make us think we are Cartesian,
But the whole of modern science makes me want to disagree!
A causal mind’s existence,
Though a meme of some persistence,
Has the weight of long tradition, but the evidence is slim.
Our environment controls us;
Though Cartesian thought consoles us,
The truth is, we’re reactive, and we never act on whim.
Even my creative rhyming
Is controlled by sound and timing
And a history of consequences leading to this end;
Rhymes appear as chosen freely,
When the truth is different, really—
There are multiple parameters to which I must attend!

(Parenthetically, I mention
That “free will” will draw attention
To the action and its consequence, but little to its cause;
The resulting shift of focus
Makes it seem like hocus-pocus;
Through a bit of misdirection, it appears we break the laws!)

Fun With Magic Invisible Flying Monkeys!

In the closing of yet another post about the accommodationism skirmish, PZ lays claim to a magical, mystical, supernatural (and thus beyond questioning and deserving of utmost respect) source of knowledge:

There are limits to what we can attack as bad ideas.

But, apparently, there are no limits to the absurdities that the religious can advance.

It’s an asymmetrical situation that will be maintained as long as we have people insisting that we grant religious ideas a specially protected status. I reject that — I’m going to insist that it is fair game to attack the obvious failings of religion. And it’s not because I am unaware of the limitations of my knowledge, or because I believe I’m flawlessly rational.

It’s because the invisible monkeys in my pants dart out every once in a while to whisper the truth in my ear, in the ancient language of omniscient primates. And that is a source of knowledge nobody can attack me on, by Wilkins’ rules.

Not that I am a devout invisibleflyingmonkeyist*, but I wanted to get in on the ground floor before all the good hymn-writing was already over. (*I know, PZ does not specifically mention that his invisible monkeys fly, but neither does he deny it, and what is a religion without bloody internal disagreement? Besides, “flying”, at 2 syllables, worked a lot better than “invisible” at four.)

So I wrote the first hymn:

There are limits, this I know
Flying monkeys tell me so
Darting out from in my pants
They’re the source for all my rants

Yes, flying monkeys
Yes, flying monkeys
Yes, flying monkeys
The monkeys tell me so

Though no light they do reflect
They deserve your full respect
None can claim that they’re absurd
You’ll just have to take my word

Yes, flying monkeys
Yes, flying monkeys
Yes, flying monkeys
The monkeys tell me so

Monkeys see the men obey
All the things religions say
Monkeys want to play that, too
Monkey see and monkey do

Yes, flying monkeys
Yes, flying monkeys
Yes, flying monkeys
The monkeys tell me so

Ok, the trick is, it has been so long since the last time I heard the original that I had forgotten pretty much all of the words. So I had to look them up online. Turns out there is a metric crapload of additional verses, some adequate, some utterly atrocious. Seriously, take a look.

Now, the fun. It is so incredibly easy to write these verses, I cannot in good conscious keep all the fun for myself. Do your best, and do your worst! (Again, look at the link–apparently, both rhyme and meter are optional; you can always claim yours was a parody!)

And may the magic invisible flying monkeys be with you.

Ahh…. Sally. Sally Kern.

Sally Kern is at it again. She has produced a Proclamation for Morality (pdf–but seriously, click through and read it–it is a fantastic exercise in cherry-picking quotes from historical figures!), justifying her resolution to do… what, exactly?

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that we the undersigned elected officials of the people of Oklahoma, religious leaders and citizens of the State of Oklahoma, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world, solemnly declare that the HOPE of the great State of Oklahoma and of these United States, rests upon the Principles of Religion and Morality as put forth in the HOLY BIBLE; and

BE IT RESOLVED that we, the undersigned, believers in the One True God and His only Son, call upon all to join with us in recognizing that “Blessed is the Nation whose God is the Lord,” and humbly implore all who love Truth and Virtue to live above reproach in the sight of God and man with a firm reliance on the leadership and protection of Almighty God; and

BE IT RESOLVED that we, the undersigned, humbly call upon Holy God, our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer, to have mercy on this nation, to stay His hand of judgment, and grant a national awakening of righteousness and Christian renewal as we repent of our great sin.

Seriously? That’s all?

Sally has lost the courage of her alleged convictions–she should remember that the only way to really get things done, even in the bible, even for her god to take care of things… was human sacrifice.

WHEREAS the thoughts of Sally Kern
Are always easy to discern—
In fact, if you will take a look
You’ll find them written in a book—
The Holy Bible is her source;
She cannot think alone, of course
WHEREAS Ms. Kern believes in God
She wants us all to smile and nod
And spend a day in earnest prayer
To set our country straight and square;
A day or so is all we need,
If we would follow Sally’s lead,
WHEREAS this nation first was built,
So Sally says, on Christian Guilt,
Which now the POTUS has forsaken—
Now it’s Satan’s path we’ve taken—
Abortion, drugs, and same-sex sex,
Which Sally Kern, of course, rejects,
WHEREAS she simply cannot quit,
But must produce her legal shit,
Proclaim it in the public square
To all the cameras gathered there
And thus display her piety
To sinful types like you and me

therefore be it
RESOLVED, that we, the undersigned,
Unsound in body, soul, or mind,
Do hereby claim alliance with
The bronze-age god, of shepherds’ myth
To save our state from total loss,
Let’s nail some kid up on a cross.

Well, If It Can’t Be Me

Let’s hoist and let the flag unfrrl:
Go vote! Go vote! For ScienceGrrl!*

The blogosphere’s most precious prrl:
Go vote! Go vote! For ScienceGrrl!

I really think it would be nice
To send her to the cold and ice—
So take my Cuttlefish advice
And vote! (Chicago, you vote twice.)

So send her where the cold winds swrrl:
Go vote! Go vote! For ScienceGrrl!

Yes you! Come on, and give it a whrrl:
Go vote! Go vote! For ScienceGrrl!

(Much more of this, and I could hrrl—
I’ll stop. You vote for ScienceGrrl!)

More info here.

*ok, it’s actually “GrrlScientist”, but you try rhyming that.

Nothing Else Happened Today

Five women burned as witches, in a western Kenya village
The authorities say nothing; it’s a common thing to do.
The reporter was a witness to the burning and the horror,
But with Michael Jackson dying, move the story to page two.

In two days, we’ve seen eight bombings, maybe nine or more are dead,
As Americans are pulling out, and fighting will renew.
And Wednesday’s count keeps climbing, from the bombing in the market,
But with Michael Jackson dying, move the story to page two.

In Connecticut, a teenaged boy who happens to be gay
Has the demon gayness exorcised, and driven from his head;
Outlandish and barbaric, yet they’re proud of what they did
But you’ll have to search to find it, now that Michael Jackson’s dead.

Book Review: How To Teach Physics To Your Dog

Chad Orzel and I have some pretty serious differences when it comes to how and why we write. For one thing, he has help. His dog, Emmy, is an important part of his writing team. My dog is, thus far, no help at all.

Part of it is our respective subject matter. Orzel writes about quantum physics, and by a stroke of fate, it turns out that dogs have a bit of a natural advantage there. Don’t ask me, ask him. (seriously, check out that interview!) Me, I write commentary, often satirical, in verse. Dogs don’t do verse. Dogs are notoriously bad at rhyming, and have no sense of meter at all. So right there, Orzel has an unnatural advantage.

Another difference is editing. Orzel actually takes the time to write, edit, rewrite, re-edit, and make sure he says exactly what he wants to. As such, over 2 years has passed between the writing of “Bunnies made of cheese” and the (not quite yet) publication of the actual book that grew from that seed. Me, if I take an extra hour to look for typos, I may miss the chance on making a timely comment. Almost everything that I post is essentially a first draft, and there is rarely motivation to go back and fine-tune (exception: I am re-doing my book, and taking the time to make a few changes and clean up categories, etc. But that is for another time).

Indeed, my post this time is so timely, it actually precedes its cause! Which actually brings up another difference, although I am not certain what to call it. I write about the real world. Orzel writes about the real world. In his real world, things can meaningfully pop in and out of existence; in mine, if you make such claims people start edging away nervously and trying to remember the number of the proper authorities (1-800-LUNATIC, perhaps [ok, now I wonder who has that number]). Causation takes a holiday in Orzel’s real world, or maybe it just seems that way to me because of my limited understanding. My dog says he will explain it to me some day.

So, as I was saying, this post actually precedes its cause. This post is a book review of a book (How to teach physics to your dog) that is not yet published, and which I have not yet seen. My dog tells me that in another alternate universe I may have already read it, but that does not help here. I submit it in hopes of actually winning a copy of the book which I can then read to see how well it matches my review. I suspect that, having read it, I will need to revise and edit my review, which I can only assume will lead to the publication of another book by Orzel, and perhaps lead to the collapse of the Cuttlefish wave form.

So here goes.

One necessity of teaching: a facility for reaching
Through the mass of preconceptions that can settle like a fog,
And may block new information, or bring misinterpretation;
There’s a remedy for some of this: try thinking like a dog!
That’s the premise of the method that Professor Orzel plied
With the Queen of Niskayuna by his side!

She told him of the habits of the Niskayuna rabbits
How they sometimes seemed to vanish in the Niskayuna air.
It would help her with her chases if she occupied two places
And could trap the little bunnies as they’re running to their lair.
Oh, the yummy little bunnies would have nowhere left to hide
If the Queen of Niskayuna could divide!

“Spooky barking at a distance” clearly needed her assistance,
So they wrangled with entanglement and tackled it with ease;
She learned how to beam a bunny, which to humans may sound funny
But to dogs it’s just as plausible as bunnies made of cheese.
There are laws of Quantum Physics—and they will not be denied—
Which the Queen of Niskayuna takes in stride.

Here the uses and mis-uses (and occasional abuses)
Quantum Physics has been saddled with, are rendered clear for you,
With occasional referrals to the Niskayuna squirrels
(Who are never to be trusted, and are evil through and through).
So begin the thrilling journey that these essays will provide
With the Queen of Niskayuna as your guide!

(I am saddened to discover it’s not Emmy on the cover
But some fancy dog professional who likes to cock his head.
He may look all nice and quizzical, But Emmy’s quantum-physical,
Although, perhaps, as royalty, she’s not one to be led.
Though the picture on the cover she was callously denied,
It’s the Queen of Niskayuna who’s inside!)

A Hymn To Accommodation

Praise the pow’r of faith unswerving
In the face of evidence.
With a doctrine undeserving,
We must cling to our pretense;
Let us climb the rugged mountain
Though the cliffs are in our way:
“Faith and science from one fountain”
Let’s repeat the old cliché.

Faith and science, we must tether,
Through our cunning and our art,
Force the twain to come together
Though they long to cleave apart.
With the use of clever framing
Forge a bond that will not break;
Then, resort to petty blaming
Cov’ring up our own mistake.

Now two currents in the ocean
Long diverged, and long discrete,
One long stilled, and one in motion
Nevermore the two to meet;
Pray that God will cause a blending
Till they carve a single course
Justify our whine unending:
Faith and science, joined by force.

(The original is “Praise the Source of Faith and Learning”–text can be found here.)

Cuttlecap tip to PZ, of course, for reporting on the PEW Forum.

For those with a masochistic streak, Francis Collins sings the original at the end of this mp3.

Oh, yeah, buy my book, note the tip jar, yadda yadda yadda…

Romeo And Juliet, 2009

The BBC tells us that the story was buried deep within the pages of Indian newspapers

Two star-crossed lovers committed suicide after the local village council, or panchayat, ordered them to annul their marriage or face death.
Amreen was Muslim and her husband, Lokesh, a Hindu. Their match was simply unacceptable to their communities. The couple poisoned themselves.

The only really surprising part, to my thinking, was this:

Now police have charged the entire panchayat with abetting suicide.

Damn, I hope it sticks.

Read the whole BBC story (the link above); this young couple should not die without the world knowing.

Two households, alike save for belief
In fair Phaphunda, where our scene is set,
Where Hindu-Muslim tensions lead to grief
And faiths, in conflict, evil will abet.
Amreen, a Muslim, and her love Lokesh,
A Hindu man who loved her more than life;
Two faiths the village elders would not mesh,
Though legally the two were man and wife.
They fell in love because the two would meet
Where Amreen’s father sold the family’s milk;
The panchayat—the governing elite—
Decreed they could not sully ilk with ilk.
The Hindu man and lovely Muslim bride
Chose poison over panchayat… and died.

But hey, religion is a good thing, and it’s important that people believe, isn’t it? Seriously, what could go wrong?


The Digital Pack-Rat, Volume 18

A bit of a departure, at first–although they do show up on a Pharyngula thread, this was originally posted on Eric Hovind’s creationist blog! Eric had posted, with his approval, a racist piece of crap poem, lacking in rhyme, meter, meaning, and any shred of human decency. But for some reason, Eric liked it. After an early comment corrected the flawed statistics touted in the verse, Eric admitted the stats were wrong, but reaffirmed that he liked the poem itself.

I find out that the stats are wrong
But still I gonna sing this song;
My skull so thick, my bone so dense
It will not let in evidence.

If something fits my point of view
It doesn’t matter if it’s true;
I’ll let it in, and keep it in,
Cos telling lies is no great sin.

And if I’m told that it’s a lie,
With evidence I can’t deny,
I’ll keep the lie that fits my views–
Thank God I have the right to choose!

America is great, because
My lie’s protected by our laws!
The First Amendment still applies
To ignoranti spreading lies!

A perusal of some of Eric’s other posts led to this little quatrain:

No matter how hard Eric tries,
It’s all mistakes. Well, some are lies.
Misrepresenting for his cause,
Young Hovind puts the “F” in “laws”.

From a single idiot to a small group of idiots–several members of Congress, based on their own individual experience with alternative medicine, have managed to give hundreds of millions of dollars to support it–despite its lack of actual empirical support:

I know my treatment works, and hence
I have no need of evidence;
It does not matter what the facts is–
This is how I’ll spend your taxes.

A little double-dactyl about PZ’s being named Humanist of the Year (and being given a ton of cephalopodian gifts to boot!):

Booty-ful, cutie-ful,
Thanks to the Humanists–
They’d reconsider, if
Only they knew

Evidence seen in his
Tells us that Humans are
Ranked number two!

A very sad thread on Pharyngula reported on the death of a kitten–burned to death in an oven as a “joke”. One commenter suggested that we should not, logically, care so much about the kitten, since it is merely taking advantage of our evolved fondness for baby-like features. Evolution forced me to respond:

There’s little or nothing that isn’t emotion
In thoughts that we claim are a logical stream;
It’s not as if science has bottled a potion
That separates things from the way that they seem.
The kitten has hijacked my baby-detector,
Making me care when I maybe should not;
So what? Is that reason to cruelly reject her?
To not give a fuck if she’s cooked or she’s shot?
All humans are products of natural selection–
We are what we are, and we do what we do
We’re fooled into thinking that cats need protection;
The kitten has forced me to tell you “fuck you!”

And noted that the recognition of something as the product of evolution does not mean that we can, for that reason, dismiss it:

We may note with some confusion
That this empathy illusion
Makes us feel a certain feeling, and decide that we won’t play.
We may feel it holds us captive
But remember, it’s adaptive,
So dismiss it at your peril, cos it got us to today.
I don’t think I have to mention
We’re unique in comprehension
But that does not make us logical, no matter what we hope;
We are animals–with passion
And with reason, each in ration,
We may think ourselves a genius, when we’re really just a dope.

On murder by “pro-life” people:

And black is white, and up is down,
And hate, it seems, is love
So long as you can claim it’s done
In God’s name, from above
And wrong is right and bad is good
Let’s re-write all the laws
To justify a homicide
If Jesus is the cause

And a comment on a metaphysical course of study…

Of Science, Metaphysical, you now have your Degree–
It’s a quality diploma (you can keep the crayons for free!)
Just a couple thousand dollars, and it’s more than worth the fee
(Which is why we recommend that you invest in two or three)

It’s important to remember, on the chance you disagree,
That we never ever ever give a cash-back guarantee.

Lastly, from Orac’s stomping grounds, on the discovery that some homeopathic preparations actually, contrary to homeopathic teachings, have some real ingredients in them! Sadly, these actual ingredients are causing people who use them to lose their sense of smell! Actual homeopathy would be safer–after all, it does nothing at all!

Is it Zinc or is it water
That you’re giving to your daughter?
If it’s water, then it’s safer, cos it doesn’t do a thing.
Insufficiently diluting,
Which is what they’re now disputing,
Means the “remedy”‘s no longer pure as crystal mountain spring.
I had thought that the expedience
Of having no ingredients
Was what they found attractive (and it’s cost-effective, too!)
But now noticeable fractions
Of a drug produce reactions
Time to circle up the lawyers and aver that it’s not you!

Everyone Hates Everyone (And Everyone Hates You)

So on the same Pharyngula thread that spawned my last post, an interesting couple of comments appeared. “Troy”, self-identified as gay, described himself as “normal gay”, which he distinguished from “faggy, feminine gays”, whom normal gays don’t like.

Now, of course, Troy could simply be trolling. Sadly, though, it is entirely possible that he is speaking honestly about his experience. Although the original article wrote of a dance sponsored by a very inclusive group, it is certainly not unheard of for the various factions within the group to be at odds with one another. Although I am not aware of any good evidence, anecdotal tales abound–a very dear friend of mine surprised me once by stating that bisexuals irritated her, since as a lesbian she felt that they were simply gays who were to chickenshit to admit it.

Of course, there is a vast literature on ingroup/outgroup biases; even “minimal group” membership (group membership determined by, say, the flip of a coin) can result in biases that favor ingroups at the expense of outgroups. Where an outside observer might find tremendous agreement between two groups, members of those groups tend to accentuate the differences and minimize shared characteristics, and as a result see crucial, important differences (which always seem to leave their own group morally superior to the losers in the outgroup). Thus two groups of nominal Christians can kill each other in Northern Ireland, or two ethnic minorities attack one another instead of joining against the majority, and Troy, though gay, can nonetheless be a bigot, prejudiced against those “faggy feminine gays” with which he must share nothing at all in common.

Oh, well.

So the closet-living homos hate the homos who are out
And the bulls and femmes are enemies, of that there is no doubt;
Bi-curious are furious, and don’t know what to do–
Seems everyone hates everyone, and everyone hates you.

The Catholics and the Protestants, for centuries, have fought
And the Sunnis and the Shia are a little overwrought;
From the Hindu to the Mormon to the Buddhist to the Jew
Seems everyone hates everyone, and everyone hates you.

The white folks hate the black folks, and the black folks hate the white,
The brown and red and yellow folks are also apt to fight
We’ll treat you like an animal, for skin a different hue–
Seems everyone hates everyone, and everyone hates you.