Basic Humanism

Humanism is about what is good for humans. What is valuable to us.

That is about as basic as Humanism can get.

We value our own experience of life.  Thus humans have intrinsic value.  We’re not merely valuable for what we can accomplish for others (though certainly we are priceless on that measure alone), we have value regardless of external evaluation.

Everything else in Humanism is less basic, and has to be built on top of that foundation.  For that project, here’s some material to check by a Humanist philosopher:

Responsibility Explosions

Here’s something I thought of recently with a post that went viral on facebook.  I commented that I wished the post had citations, and someone told me to just google it.

There’s a lot that could be said about responses like that, but the one I want to focus on in this post is what I’m going to call “responsibility explosion”.

The viral post had thousands of shares.

Think of all the thousands of people viewing that post.  Even if it only takes a few minutes to google for the facts, that’s thousands of minutes used up.

On the other hand, if the one single person who wrote the post included citations (and, if just googling it is so easy, why not?), then all that work would only need to be done once.

That’s something the rest of us can’t do (thanks to the design of facebook).  Even if I googled it for myself, I wouldn’t be able to supply those results to the other thousands of people who saw and shared the post.  Only the original poster could have done that.

So, when thinking about whose responsibility something is, remember this.  Could the small number of people who know the facts handle the responsibility efficiently?  Is your message going to be effective if you shoulder people who know less than you with the responsibility of researching and verifying your words?

This is one reason why we have stuff like a school system.  Even for adults (in university, college, etc.) who can do learning and research on their own, education systems use a few knowledgeable teachers to help many others learn in a structured way.

Division of labor!  It’s great.

(See also, Division of Information Labor)

Networking 2019

The Alberta election is over.

During the election, Zain Velji asked us to be the “Campaign Manager” of our own social media.  I was going to write a blog post asking for more from people, but it kinda wasn’t really the time to revive a blog I haven’t used for over a year.

But now I am asking for more.  I have to face that this is my passion.

I’ve already posted in a couple facebook groups, and I’m scheduled to meet some people over the next few days, and I hope I can get more and more going.

Here’s one thing I posted to Alberta’s NDP Members Hub:

I don’t want to leave the future to chance. We can’t expect better outcomes if we stay the same, and just “wing it” with whatever we’ve got.

I want to build values-based community, with fundamental values that can unify people. Build structure and sustainable social networks that are valuable in every way possible to the members. Building skill, gaining knowledge and resources. Contending with the deeper reasons for this defeat, and even reaching for more than electoral victory.

And the first step is to connect directly with individuals who are interested. Let me know what you think.

The Main Options in Human Conflict.

The fundamental options (means to an end) to consider in every human conflict:

  1. Changing minds (possibly even your own mind)
  2. Compromise
  3. Separation
  4. Use of Force
  5. Surrender

Obviously, where reasonable, the first three options should be used instead of the latter two.  And I’d include a wide range of things (perhaps even verbal abuse, certainly verbal harassment) in the category of “use of force” even if it is intended to change minds.  Some people even physically strike someone over the head and shout “think”, and that could be an attempt to change minds too, but certainly involves physical force.  See also:  Conflict Escalation, and De-Escalation.

On the topic of changing minds, it would be nice if we could spread values that made people tend towards correction. Such as:

  • strong curiosity and good epistemology
  • valuing learning more than being right all along (this will even make you have less fear of admitting error):
    • recognizing that learning happens all our lives, so we might be able to improve past what we currently think.  If so, wouldn’t you want to?  The advantages to your own future are clear.
    • Here’s some tips from Julia Galef:  How to want to change your mind.

(and I think these could be used for conflict prevention, too)

Zootopia Might Not Take The Political Stance That You Think It Does.

  • In this movie the police heroes abuse their power routinely, bunny threatens to falsely testify against fox, and this is hunky dory.  And even together with the mafia, our “heroes” threaten someone with death to get the answers they want (or is it just Waterboarding, not lethal? Whatever).  No way that could go wrong!  What is this, 24 with Jack Bauer?
  • Two opposing government conspiracies in the same story?  Yet, somehow, both conspiracies seem to point in the same direction:  in our real world, both of them are the kinds of conspiracy theories that paranoid anti-social-justice people would believe in:
    • 1) people hide evidence of biological differences, even when they are dangerous
    • 2) people falsely create evidence of oppression by using False Flag Operations, to gain power!


Though that doesn’t mean we should cheer for the villain.  Using False Flag Operations is still villainy that we should despise.  And, as the main character does, we should strive for some kind of harmony (something like Meta-Utopia is one way to do that) even if there were extreme biological differences, and even if there are a few dangerous people in a group.

It’s a bit of a mixed bag.  Some of those issues are only troubling because of the real world context we find ourselves in.

A few personal notes:

  • disappointed it was all mammals!  I wanted reptiles and such!
  • The different climates in Zootopia reminded me of a Meta-Utopia!  🙂
  • The movie suffers from Convoluted Blockbuster Syndrome.

Other points to maybe consider:

  • “kid fox wants to be an elephant” seems very pointed at transness.  Though (somewhat realistically) it turns out to be a “troll”, not sincere.
  • The main theme is bunny’s dreams/aspiorations I guess.  For a while, that was captivating me a bit, since that tension between hope for dreams and despair is where I find myself a lot.  But the movie just seems to say “Lean In!” I think?
  • And those damn cell phone apps these days!  Making the police front desk person distracted, har har.
  • And I was even put a bit off by how extremely they portrayed the hippie guy at the nudist place.  Gotta put LOTS AND LOTS of flies around his hair!  Make sure everyone feels that CRINGE!
  • a plant-based chemical turns normal people into savages.  Reefer Madness!  We also see them growing it in a secret drug lab.
  • The pro-tolerance protests started by the celebrity singer seem to run counter to reason, because aren’t the facts clear that there is a SUDDEN EPIDEMIC that is hurting prey?  I guess you could argue that the epidemic is still statistically very small, maybe not worthy of such concern?
  • the fox gets flashbacks to his childhood trauma (of being treated like a dangerous savage when he wasn’t) while looking at images of an animal that actually was dangerous and savage
  • does it make sense that both meanings of the clue “night howlers” turn out to be “correct”?  What are the odds?
  • When “biology” is used as an explanation, it’s set up as a plausible explanation that the audience should at least consider (and the one who seems incredulous at first is a huge lion authority figure who is at that moment using his physical intimidation to silence the biology hypothesis, clearly the audience is supposed to be against him).  Remember, inner biological instincts were mentioned in the opening exposition of the movie.*  If they wanted us to think that Judy was jumping to conclusions based on prejudice, not science, they should have made it clear before she said it.

*It almost seems like this facet of the story is crafted precisely as a thought experiment.  It’s like the writers are using the method that the main character from “The Illusionist” uses when getting the authority guy to try to lift the sword.  They hold it just long enough to get people watching the movie uncomfortable, then let it go.  I don’t think I have fully grasped the meaning produced by this in relation to everything else yet.

Some Musing About Different Concept Styles

This is a bit speculative, and maybe not as precise as I’d like it to be, but I think there’s really something here to be aware of.  For example, what I’m going to say here might help people avoid needless conflict.

There seem to be these two major styles of thinking and conceptualizing and such.  Different ways of looking at things?

  • One, is to see things sort of all together, at once, a big continuous whole.  “Holistic“.  Certainly, this is how reality is, and I think people who use this method believe this to be a strength.  “Reality is complicated!”  they will shout (I think I’ve seen PZ Myers and/or others say such things over at Pharyngula).  See also this advocacy for “lawless science”.
  • The other is to identify precise variables.  “Analytic“.  This is a method that is nicer for analysis.  It in no way fails to account for the complicatedness of reality.

I think a lot of difficulty arises when there is a dispute between parties that use a different one of these styles. First, I think, because the two sides have difficulty understanding the other.  Second, I think, because they believe only their own thinking is correct, so surely the other must be wrong.

Yet I suspect that both can be used to describe reality with equal accuracy.  And it might be advantageous to use both, rather than just one.  Obviously I’m sold on the utility of the more analytic approach.  But I’m also writing a blog post which (on retrospect?) looks strikingly like advocacy for the holistic way of thinking.  If I had to guess right now, I’d say each is more efficient at different tasks, even though theoretically both will end up with equally accurate descriptions of reality.

Other possibly related things to check out:

Some of my replies on Youtube

Sometimes it seems like I follow the opposite of Thumper’s Rule.  Even when I mostly like stuff, I’m prone to being silent until I spot a flaw to point out! Recently I’ve been less like that, but here I wanted to share two comments I made that admittedly followed that trend.

  1. Julia Galef Newcomb’s problem In her video, she explained how two different theories of decision making (“State of the World” Causal decision theory VS Evidential decision theory) seem to come to opposite conclusions in this paradox. Now that I’m revisiting this, I think the “state of the world” thing (as stated in the video) is a failure to actually be what it’s claimed to be:  Causal decision theory.   It’s stated as if the person’s choice will not cause the contents of the box.  Yet that’s precisely the line of causation that the thought experiment tells you will take place.  So any true Causal Decision Theory should accept that. Because of that mixup, my comment below might look like it isn’t totally addressing the position as stated in the video, I addressed causality, which is what really matters.  By definition, causality determines what outcome (such as the contents of the box) will be caused. I said:

    The two decision theories don’t predict different actions if done correctly. The state of the world isn’t just the contents of the box. It is also the decision maker, and the mind reading, the fact that the future is physically pre-determined, etc.. Given THAT state of the world, which to pick? You get the same answer as the evidential approach. Your idea of “the state of the world” has to depend on evidence anyways, and so does the “which action causes the best expected outcome” part.

    It only seems that they give different answers because you are, essentially, approximating the answers, rather than computing them exactly. Or because you disagree on the state of the world. Maybe you disagree that the “state of the world” includes the fact that the future is pre-determined in some way (or at least functionally identical to determinism). But then you are simply rejecting the thought experiment, which dictates that this is indeed the state of the world.

    Also, the correct answer can change (and both decision theories will agree) once the situation is not idealized. Once there is uncertainty. Then you need to use Bayesian decision making based on the values and probabilities. But also note that the values in this calculation don’t merely depend on the absolute value of the dollars, but also how important each outcome is in your life. For some people, it might be more important to guarantee that they get more than zero dollars (maybe they are starving poor) so taking the $1000 might be the only rational choice. For others, $1000 might not be enough (maybe they need ransom money immediately), so increasing the probability of the million might be the only rational choice.

    (I also replied to several other commenters) Check out her channel! One of her videos even had advice for solving “paradoxes”, and when I watched that one I got the feeling maybe she’d even agree with my above comment.

  2. Also, Arthur Isaac Ecumenopolises He argued something to the effect of “since we value people more than we value heaps of unused raw material, it’s better (all else being equal) if all the unused material in the universe is turned into more people”.  Hmmm.  Maybe, if it increases our chances of finding people that are more perfect soul mates etc?  And similar “lottery” situations, where you need to “buy more tickets” to ensure “winning”.  Anyways, at the time, I said:

    I have to disagree that more people is good since you said “all things being equal”. I take that to mean that a lesser number of people have nothing to gain by choosing one option over the other. That means more people would be entirely neutral, not good, but not bad either. You say intelligent life is more valuable than inanimate asteroids and dead planets. Of course that is true in at least two ways: first, the good that they can bring to other people. But eventually, if you have enough, I think more people will make no difference to anyone (except for those people who want to have children, but plenty of advanced nations have very low birth rates, so who knows). Second, intrinsic value. We are intrinsically valuable because we value ourselves. But that is different from valuing a state of the world where there are more people. Moral arguments, such as the trolley problem, work because people already value their own futures and such. In the trolley solution, it’s not because more people will exist, it’s because there is statistically less disaster. And we want to live in a world where there is statistically less disaster. People want us to make that world, and we want other people to make that world.

What are things?

There’s different ways to say what something “is”. For example a hammer. You can talk about:

For hammers, like for many things, an intensional definition can be developed. In the case of hammers I think it would mostly have to do with its function, what we use it to do, and how it works.

See also:

Though usually, a ton of these ways of looking at the thing come together into a concept or “construct”.  Even degree or probability might go into the concept.  An ice cream sandwich might be “a sandwich” in some sense, but when someone says they are bringing you “a sandwich” you’d be rather confused if it turned out to be an ice cream sandwich.  And yet clearly the two have enough similarity in form and purpose that it makes sense to use the name “ice cream sandwich” rather than “ice cream mystery object”, as if it were a wholly unfamiliar shape.

See also:

My Missions Statement for 2017

Ok.  I think I have some ideas for this year.  What to do, how to do things differently and better, etc.:

  • My job search needs to be more “social”.  No more impersonal online job applications.  Do a more social networking style of job search (though of course business websites are good and helpful), and only apply when relevant people know me by name.
  • I’ve got an idea for a website that is technically possible.  I’d like to make a prototype before summer, and see if I can make a business.  There’s people I can talk to about this.  And plenty of people who would be interested in using my product.
  • I’ve finally got a bunch of ideas for art I can make.  Time to start making.  I’ll try to get some fans online, and a Patreon and that sort of thing.

There’s other things too, like getting an APEGA mentor, investing some money, doing stuff for the Humanist groups I’m part of, and lots of learning about stuff, and (of course) blogging more often.

But the above three points seem like the main three to me right now.  In fact, the website idea has stuck with me since I was first putting it together in the early months of this recent fall.  Then I realized, really, it is related to many other ideas I’ve been enthused by over the years, and I guess it’s all evolved over time into this.  Many different ideas came together into a comprehensive whole, and it might actually be something people would be interested in.

Hopefully this will all be as fun as it sounds.  At the very least, I’ll be building skills and experience.