Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Importance of Fresh Perspectives and A Confession

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I've only subscribed to 3 people this year on YouTube and 2 of them I unsubscribed from again. YouTube just wasn't the thriving community that it once was. It's not the diverging from religious issues as many of us had done that years ago. It's the lack of new ideas and the obsession with such uninteresting and dead-end issues, the incredibly fragile egos that have to explode at the slightest criticism over the pettiest things, and the herd mentality which encourages those egos. Not being able to make videos doesn't even factor into it.

My 3rd, my most recent subscription was to SamiZaatari, a Muslim. I have seen 1 video from him since subscribing a week ago and after the 16 minutes and 34 seconds of the video, I already feel better about YouTube. I feel more interested in the discussions taking place than I have all year, and I have not only more ideas myself for blogs or videos, but a new source of such ideas. How has this happened?

The video was called "Free Speech and Muslim Protests". In it, Sami acknowledged the situation in various Middle Eastern countries regarding the protests over "The Innocence of Muslims" but noting that our comments, videos and statements in general regarding free speech are very selective. When it's Muslims, he says, we jump on the issues wholeheartedly, but when it's, say, France banning counter-protests or Europe in general criminalising Holocaust denial, we are silent. There are issues that can be taken with the video: while the statement was aimed at the community in general, certain individuals have been addressing these issues, and his example of the Westboro Baptist Church funeral protests received quite a lot of attention from us. However, Muslim-specific issues do get a lot more of our attention, and this demands an explanation, which I believe is fairly obvious: what is, was or never was (depending on your point of view) the Atheist Community's most popular figures generally do not express a nuanced and approving view of Islam. Look at thunderf00t and Pat Condell. Both of them have projected extremist Muslim actions onto all Muslims, and their subscribers have not shown the skepticism they claim to possess in assessing these figures' claims. Most do not watch the other person's video or read the blog which these figures' link, in order that their subscribers can have both sides of the story, but they feel qualified to comment anyway. The ongoing criticism of Islam is one of the most significant events in the community's history, perhaps second only to the Blasphemy challenge that encouraged so many people to start channels, and so we are more likely to be aware of Muslim-related free speech issues like the one described above.

It is unlikely that the free speech issues that Sami described will be talked about not because he is a Muslim, or that they are not as important (some are more important), but because if the big names don't talk about it, it won't go viral in the community and be 1 of those issues we all feel compelled to talk about. It would be easy to deride the herd mentality that I'm describing here but I would be a hypocrite for doing so:

When I started this blog, I had the idea that it might temporarily replace my YT videos as I couldn't make them. HubPages randomly demonetised or outright deleted articles, deciding years after I'd written them that they were suddenly in violation of some bullshit rule which was never the case, so I moved here. However, there were so many blog ideas that I had that I didn't follow through on, many because it involved looking a lot of stuff up, or because it just didn't look right written down even though it sounded fine in my head. Part of it is definitely laziness, but I don't tend to do stuff I haven't been asked to do that involves a lot of work if I'm unlikely to get anything back for it. Many of my posts haven't been seen by anyone, so this greatly discourages me from writing ones that involve a lot of preparation. The Assange post that I talked about in my last video that I still haven't written is clear proof of this. I have written posts since that video, but about comparatively meaningless shit like Atheism +. The bottom line is I am no different to the rest of the community. While I've genuinely wanted to follow through, I have focused on irrelevant crap that the majority of YTers had already been talking about to the exclusion of more important issues probably because I knew that people would read/watch/care about them, and for that I am sorry. In many ways, I'm even worse than the community that I am talking about because I, hypocritically, have chastised them before. The psychology behind our tendency to focus on these dead-end, irrelevant issues is strong and not to be taken lightly, but it should be pointed out.

This all being the case, I could tell you now that I'm going to address the issues that Sami has shed light on, and seek out new ones myself. I could, but history and psychology both suggest these would be more empty promises. Having this conscious understanding of our failings in these endeavours will, I hope, help me to try harder. I know that I want to write about this stuff, I just need, somehow, to actually do it.


Friday, 14 September 2012

"Let Gary Johnson and Jill Stein Debate" Says Outsider

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I've seen a number of videos recently advocating letting Gary Johnson of the US' Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party into the presidential debates with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. I'm not American, I'm from the UK, but this gives me some insight which I think could be useful here.

First off, I'd like to make it very clear that this has nothing to do with any political affiliation. Not that this matters because, as a non-American, I can't vote anyway. What I am doing here is explaining why I agree with the effort to get Gary Johnson and Jill Stein into the debates, and using the events of the 2010 UK general election as evidence of the success that either or both of the candidates could enjoy.

First, let me give you a brief summary of UK politics and the political climate immediately preceding the election. Like the US, we had 2 major parties in the UK: Labour, and the Conservatives (or Tories).  To give a brief description of these parties, Labour is left-wing and focuses on Democratic Socialism, while the Tories are right-wing. Gordon Brown, our prime minister at the time was Labour's leader and both him and the party weren't very popular. The opposition leader was the Tory leader and now prime minister, David Cameron, and many hadn't forgiven them for Thatcher. Where we differed from the US is in having a 3rd party: a minor but not insignificant party called the Liberal Democrats (or Lib Dems), led by Nick Clegg. The Lib Dems would typically get around 15-20% of the votes in elections. For the first time ever, we had televised debates at this election and those 3 parties were allowed to have their leaders debate. Nick Clegg's performance in the first of the 3 debates had the effect of boosting Lib Dem opinion polls up to around 35% and it generally hovered around 25-30% in the following debates, in the same neighbourhood as the other 2 parties, with the decrease from the 1st debate due to David Cameron responding. The final result was 36.1% for the Tories, 29% for Labour and 23% for the Lib Dems, but even though the final result wasn't much of an improvement over the previous election (22.1%), the spread was more even (the gap between the Tories and Labour was wider than that between Labour and the Lib Dems, and there was only 6% difference between 2nd and 3rd as opposed to 12% in 2005), and the debates showed the potential for improvement if the debate performance is strong enough. The point is that the televised debates changed the perception of what many previously considered a 2-party system, bringing a genuine challenge from a 3rd party. Since the elections, the Lib Dems have pretty much sealed their doom by flip-flopping on pre-election promises, especially regarding tuition fees, which angered the essential younger voter base, but take that as a lesson for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein on what not to do: fuck up.

In his most recent video, pogobat (Dan Brown) argued the following:

"Presidential contests are as much as anything about testing a candidate's ability to lead and organise a large group of people. You don't get to organise people through the debates. You get to the debates through organising a large group of people and Gary Johnson just hasn't done that."

pogobat, "Should Gary Johnson Be In The Debates?" - 3:16-3:34

Let me first state that I'm unfamiliar with the practical aspects of implementing the idea at the premise of this post. If Dan is talking about such practicalities and he is right, then this is all simply feel-good fantasy, but if he is arguing that a position in the debates must be earned then, due to the nature of the American electoral process as I understand it, this is extremely unfair. The Libertarian and Green parties, not to mention all other minor parties, are already fighting an uphill battle as they do not have the opportunities for mainstream exposure that the big 2 have. By not already having these opportunities, the 2-party system actively prevents and hinders the efforts of the minor parties to gain these voters. Dan cites Ross Perot, from the 1992 election as a counterexample, but he had the advantage of already being famous. He had already achieved enormous successes as a businessman. Prior to the 2008 and 2012 election processes, Romney and Obama were senators, not really well-known at all. To have to be famous to get equal attention is not a great argument for the status quo. Incidentally, despite getting just under 20% of the votes, Perot didn't win any states due to the even distribution of his voter base throughout the country: another adversary of a 2+ party system, but something for another time.

This is what needs to happen. If you ever want to see a political system that is not dominated by crazy fundamentalist oil and finance slaves, and pretend progressive oil and finance slaves, a good start would be letting Gary and Jill debate. From there, they must perform exceptionally well, and, in my experience of watching the Lib Dems in the UK crash and burn, they absolutely must stick to their promises. They must appeal to the fact that they are something new: genuine change. They will get derided by the big 2 who will view them as wackos, but they must be able to address such criticism with a damning rebuttal of the big 2's failed policies and the repeated attempts to implement said policies, and who is funding/owning them. And whatever they promise, they must do. All of this is essential as, because they are something new and untested, they will be held to a much higher standard. However, American or not, I'm not convinced the current system will ever change without more parties being allowed to enter the debates.


Monday, 10 September 2012

Fundamentalists, Opinions, and Responsibilities

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

LatumWay recently made a video called "Don't Blame Me! Blame God!". In it, he talks about the defence that a fundamentalist presents of their position when they make a controversial statement in which they argue that they are not to blame because it's what God says. I've had a perspective on this that I haven't seen expressed elsewhere so I want to chime in on this.

Many of these so-called fundamentalists will be charlatans profiting off of the sincerely held beliefs of genuine fundamentalists, so I'm not talking about these people. They are not only trying to transfer the blame to a god, but the opinion away from which they're trying to transfer the blame isn't even sincere, it's expressed for the purpose of gaining money and/or fame. These people know what they're doing and should be called on it, as LatumWay does in his video.

On the other hand, I would not favour this approach with a genuine fundamentalist, as they might not understand such a reaction. Let me explain:

Put yourself in a fundie's shoes. They belief in the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing deity. For them, this deity is the source of morality: any moral viewpoint expressed by this deity is, to the fundamentalist, a truth. We would see it as an opinion to agree or disagree with, but, to a fundie, any alternative viewpoint is wrong. It's not that you disagree with god, it's that it's not a question of agreeing or disagreeing. It doesn't matter if there are logical problems with this viewpoint, this is what they believe.

To clarify the above paragraph, let's take the example from the video as it would be said by someone who we know genuinely believes what they are saying, and what they're saying is that "it's not OK to be gay". Because of what the fundie believes about their god, they don't view this as their own opinion, they view this as a basic truth of reality: they have no more choice to believe this than we do of believing that the Earth is round or that the Earth orbits the sun. In their mind, they are not expressing an opinion, they are imparting a truth. As such, if we were to get angry at them because of what we perceive to be their opinion, they won't understand why we are angry at them for making a statement that, to them, is not something to agree or disagree with, but is instead a truth. They would see such a reaction as "shooting the messenger".

So how should we deal with these people? Well I generally don't deal in "should"s. I'll just say that this is how I would do it:

To the fundie: "Put yourself in my shoes. I don't believe in your god. As such, I don't accept that the statement "it's not OK to be gay" is a truth. Instead I see it as an opinion, and people like me will look at you saying these things and think it is your opinion and react accordingly. Whatever you believe, this statement is very offensive to a gay person as science indicates that they were born that way, and are no more able to change that than they could change their skin colour. Also, if you're genuinely concerned about such people's souls, making such an offensive statement will only push them further away from your position. You need to understand these things."

OK, knowing my social skills, it wouldn't be that formal, clear or eloquent in a real-life scenario but you get the idea. If you take anything away from this post, the general idea is that understanding your detractors leads to more fruitful discussions.


Saturday, 1 September 2012

Atheism +

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

You're all probably familiar with the concept of a troll. This is someone who will say anything they can to provoke a reaction from you. If you express any sort of opinion on the internet, it's a matter of very little time before you get 1 attacking you. If you make videos on YouTube, your appearance alone can give the troll ammunition for their insults. Take me as an example: I have relatively long hair for a guy and I don't shave often. My trolls have tended to target these features in particular. Anything that stands out from the norm tends to be a target. When it comes to women, these insults tend to take a more sexist form: for example, "get back in the kitchen". They will almost definitely make reference to your breasts or vagina or say "I'd tap that", as an extremely mild example. For these reasons, women are more prone to trolling than men. This is a perfectly legitimate issue to raise: even if the insults are insincere, the fact that one gender receives more, and that those insults are of a more sexist nature, is an issue that can be addressed. There are any number of reasons why this could be the case: perhaps trolls feel that women's rights are still a sensitive issue seeing as how any significant equality was only established last century. How women were treated before such progress was made gives them ideas. I don't think any female-specific body parts in and of themselves contribute to it because otherwise male-specific body parts would be targeted just as frequently, and that hasn't, in my experience anyway, been the case. Of course it could be that most trolls are male.

Now what does this have to do with Atheism +? If you look at the people who started or inspired the movement: Greta Christina, Jen McCreight, not to mention that Rebecca Watson's "Elevatorgate" incident was a precursor to the whole thing, they have all taken the above fact extremely seriously. They, perfectly legitimately as I said, see the fact that women are trolled more often than men as a gender issue to be addressed in our community. Every action by these trolls: every death threat, rape threat, sexist remark, or objectifying comment is taken very seriously. That's not to say that they don't understand that it's trolling, just that it doesn't matter if it is: it's still a problem to be addressed. Some people are doubtful that they receive such threats, but if you count every instance of trolling towards them in which someone says something like "I hope you get raped" as such a threat, is it really so hard to believe? Many internet personalities talk about their hate mail, many reading it out for fun. Why would you deny that the aforementioned people are any different? When Rebecca Watson, or someone like her, talks about these threats at skeptic conferences, these instances of trolling are what she is referring to. Atheism + is a movement reacting against such trolling, but also against the viewpoints that enable or encourage such trolling. Had they used a different name I wouldn't have a problem with them AT ALL. The behaviour, and the underlying mindset that encourages it, should be challenged; my problem with them is that they have taken that perfectly noble idea and framed it as "the third wave of atheism" (the previous 2 being philosophers that have championed atheism in the past and "New Atheism", referring to the more recent efforts by people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris).

I recently saw a video by noelplum99 called "Atheism+ My Day on Freethought Blogs". In it, he details his experiences responding to a blog post by Greta Christina defending Atheism +. His response was perfectly civil, outlining his objections to the movement and offering some constructive criticism. However he was constantly misinterpreted and even Greta herself, in her response, completely missed or ignored his point. So I'm going to spell out those objections, which I share, adding my own if any more come to me. First, the movement is called Atheism +. To me, this implies that it is some kind of extension of the atheist movement. Atheism + is about addressing issues of social justice: LGBT rights, ableism, feminism etc. The only relevance this has to atheism is that the members of Atheism + happen to be atheists, but I've seen no evidence that religious issues are addressed at all. As such, as many people have pointed out, this movement is associating atheism with these social justice issues. This is unforgivable. Atheism is not a political viewpoint, it is nothing more or less than the lack of belief in a god. The issue raised by critics like me, that the members and defenders of Atheism + either don't understand or outright ignore, is that we are not OK with atheism being associated with the political perspectives of a few people, whose perspectives are not shared by the majority of atheists. To make my point more clear, consider the following.

Let's take a hypothetical future where Atheism + has flourished. A man, let's call him Bob, who lives in Alabama, is surrounded by Christian fundamentalists. His parents are fundies, his friends are fundies, and he was taught creationism in school, but, as he grows older, he becomes less and less convinced. He finds a community of atheists on the internet where, for the first time ever, he can meet people who share his perspectives. One day, he plucks up the courage to tell his friends and family that he is an atheist. Now, if this were today, he might get told that they will pray for him, they might alienate him, and he could even be fired if his work heard about it. All of this just because he doesn't subscribe to the idea of a creator of the universe that has an opinion on the way you live your life, and expects you to abide by it. But in the world where Atheism + is a gigantic movement, being an atheist means more. Without saying anything to his family or friends about his political views, he is assumed to be in support of LGBT rights, a feminist and extremely politically correct, so, through no fault of his own, he is associated with these beliefs which, in addition to the already controversial atheist viewpoint, are even more controversial in the conservative southern American state where he lives. Now think, is someone in Bob's position likely to ever come out as an atheist if atheism has a political dimension to it as well? What if Bob doesn't share that political perspective, is it fair that he gets associated with that because a lack of belief in a god has become linked to that perspective? To Atheism + directly: if you want to call yourselves something like the "atheist social justice movement", that's fine. It's clear from the name that you are atheists who also have a passion for social justice, and addressing the related issues. But Atheism + is just atheism with a plus sign. An outside observer will most likely and quite reasonably come to the conclusion that you are the next generation of atheists, but you don't simply believe in a god, you also have a certain, and very specific, position on social justice which, if the movement is to have any success, is likely to tar the label atheism with such associations.

When confronted on these points, members of Atheism + seem to completely fail to understand. The last 2 perspectives have been dedicated to spelling out exactly what the problem is, but we are still met with boneheaded remarks which show no understanding of our criticism such as:

"So you're OK with atheism being associated with misogynists and rape apologists, but you're not OK with it being associated with us?"

To illustrate why this is such a monumentally stupid remark, I'm going to create a hypothetical atheist movement, like Atheism +, that these "misogynists and rape apologists" are a part of. Let's call it Atheism -. This movement is committed to opposing the political perspectives of Atheism +. My criticisms of Atheism + also hold for Atheism -: they are using the label of atheism to advance a particular political position. In reality, there is no Atheism -. There are misogynists and rape apologists who HAPPEN TO BE atheists, but they are not conducting their behaviour UNDER THE BANNER OF ATHEISM. Atheism + ARE advocating their own stance on social justice issues under this banner. If Atheism - did exist, I'd oppose it for the exact same reasons as I oppose Atheism +, but, as I've said, atheism just means a lack of belief in a god. All unrelated viewpoints can be held by atheists. Just because we might not like that, doesn't mean we should try to exclude these people from "atheism", this would just be a No True Scotsman fallacy. The behaviour of many people towards feminists is completely unacceptable, but they have never tried to claim that this kind of behaviour is part and parcel of being an atheist. You, Atheism +, are doing exactly that.

The blog post which noelplum99 responded to, by Greta Christina, which can be found here, makes another point that I'd like to address. Greta goes on the defence saying that if you want to go your own route and address your own issues, that's fine with her, but we shouldn't try to talk people out of Atheism + by saying that it will weaken the Atheist community. Greta, there is no such objection. I agree with you that the community is already relatively weak. Where I disagree is in seeing this as a problem. As I've previously said, atheists can hold any position which doesn't contradict their lack of belief in a god. This diversity ensures that there will always be in-fighting in an atheist community. This is completely fine, as the community is not a unified movement, rather it is a community of subgroups with differing political and philosophical allegiances that share one thing in common: atheism. This is how it has always been and there's nothing wrong with that. But, until now, no group has sought to hijack the term "atheism" for its own political ends.

You then say this in your response to noelplum99: 

"The group that has formed in large part to combat this situation [feminist-oriented attacks] and to create a safe haven from it has a name that you think will be confusing and create an incorrect impression of atheism."

You claim that Atheism + is a safe haven for people who have been the victim of the rape and death threats that you rightfully speak out against. Jen McCreight, on the other hand, claims that Atheism + is "the third wave of atheism" which necessarily involves hijacking the label atheism for your own political ends. So what's the deal? Are you right, is she right, or are you both right? If it was just a safe haven, as long as it didn't sell itself as "the third wave of atheism", and there was more than a + sign, which can very easily be misinterpreted, to describe the nuances of your movement's particular goals, none of us would have a problem with you. We'd agree or disagree with your opinions, but we'd have no reason to oppose the existence of your group.

Atheism +, try to understand:

By choosing a name which suggests that you are the next wave of atheism, by saying exactly that, and not, instead, choosing a name which simply tells people that you are atheists supporting your own interpretation of social justice, you are changing the definition of atheism to equate all of us with your political perspective that we may or may not agree with. This is, with all due respect, far more serious than the threats you have received, because you are forever changing what it means to be an atheist and you do not get to do that. We are not OK with that, and we will oppose you as long as you keep trying to do this. If you want us to get off your back, you MUST change your name and mission statement to something which does not try to actively change the definition of the word atheism, which, in the extremely unlikely event that you are successful, will have huge implications not just for current atheists, but ones who want to be able to say, without fear of consequences, that they are an atheist as well.


Friday, 31 August 2012

Intelligence vs Skepticism

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

When I started Orygyn on YouTube, I was 18, and I had a tiny fraction of the understanding of religious and political issues that I do today, despite it only being slightly over 4 years later. I was very open to all sorts of different perspectives and, rather than viewing them with preconceptions that would lead me to instantly discard them, I was fair to them all, with the possible exception of theism. There wasn't any evidence for a god, and I wasn't hopeful anyone could show me any, but I was still very much open to that possibility. For the most part, that hasn't changed, but I want to share with you something I've noticed about myself which I think goes some way to explaining the dogma that many among our community on YouTube have demonstrated, along with the unresolvable stalemates I mentioned in my last video.

I'm a very curious person. I love to learn, and I am especially driven to understand how things work. To give you some idea of this, I spend a lot of time on Wikipedia, MIT OpenCourseware, and howstuffworks. Having recently gotten into the show "The Big Bang Theory", my curiosity drove me to try to understand, at least on some basic level, the equations that appear on the whiteboards in the apartment in each episode. I already know a lot of the concepts such as string theory, M theory, and, after great difficulty, I more or less understand the basics of how subatomic particles move. As a Maths student, the equations make mathematical sense to me, but without a knowledge of what each letter or symbol means in that particular context, I can't understand what the equation is saying. As a result of this ignorance, I'm almost fanatically driven to gain such understanding.

The most important thing, however, is the underlying mindset which drives this curiosity. I know I'm not in any way special, or exceptionally talented, but when I look at great achievements and visionaries, people who are exceptionally talented beyond all question, I don't say to myself "I'll never be able to do that", instead I think that, given enough time and effort, I could achieve something like that. Now I'm not under any delusions as to the incredible irrationality of this mindset, but this is the 1 irrational view I'd never want to lose, because without it, I'd lose the curiosity that makes me continually strive to learn more and understand everything better. Where this is relevant to the main point of this post is in the trade-off of this mindset, one which appears to only be getting worse by the day: increasingly, I don't want to be wrong. I didn't really care in the past, and I saw it as a good thing when I realised I had the weaker position, because it's a win-win scenario: the winner stays right, the loser re-evaluates their position based on the new information and is smarter and wiser for it. I don't intend to forget that any time soon, but being the loser is a stark reminder that there are still people who know things and understand concepts that I don't and, in some cases, never will. With the drive to understand more comes this need to already be that paragon of intelligence and understanding, and I guess, as long as I have that drive, a part of me will never want to accept that I'm not already there and never will be. This annoying trade-off has manifested in me wanting to hold onto untenable perspectives longer than I used to, when my defence of them has run dry. I've felt this dogma at work all of this year especially, and, if I'm serious about wanting to continue talking about skepticism, reason and logic, it's important to notice this growing affront to my self-use of those terms.

More importantly, I wonder if what I've just described is the engine behind the persistence with which many self-proclaimed atheists and skeptics cling to obviously ridiculous positions such as "all Muslims are terrorists/terrorist sympathisers" or "all feminists are man-hating lesbians"; such basic errors in logic that it doesn't even demonstrate an understanding of nuance at all, and these arguments are made by people whose knowledge in some fields is near-encyclopaedic. My theory is that they share, to some extent, my problem. These people either think they're smarter than everyone else, because they're an expert in 1 or 2 fields, or, like me, know they're not, but desperately want to be, and the resulting desire not to be wrong creates a dogma which even the most adept self-critics find it difficult to overcome.

If this sounds familiar to you, based on interactions you've had on YouTube, but more importantly, if this is describing you, the first step is identifying that dogma. Once you know it's there, never let yourself forget it. I'm not prepared to let go of the belief that I have what it takes to be a polymath, but, because I know that that belief has a trade-off, which affects how I view arguments other people make, and how open-minded I can be, I can force my awareness of that dogma to surface when I'm in an argument or analysing a claim. If you truly want to be smarter, this dogma is an obstacle to that. By preventing it from affecting your ego, you can cut your losses and adopt more accurate viewpoints faster than if you let the dogma continue to stand between you and that ultimate goal of perfect understanding.

I know these blog posts don't get many (sometimes even no) views, but if you think this idea can benefit you or someone you know, let them know its here. If my request put you off from doing that because you think it's me whoring myself out to get views, but you still think it can benefit someone, feel free to steal the content of this post for your own video or just to use in your own discussion with the person. What I care about first and foremost is that good ideas thrive and benefit other people.


Monday, 13 August 2012

Where Am I?

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I suck at this. Yeh, it's not a very deep piece of insight but it's true. It's been well over a month since I posted here. Most of that is my fault: I lack the motivation and I lack any incentive due to the fact that no-one reads this. In my defence, however, there also hasn't been much worth talking about, as everyone has been wrapped up in various dramas. You can surely forgive my apathy when the biggest talking point is how thunderf00t obtained FreeThoughtBlogs' mailing list after he was kicked off for incessant troll-like behaviour (not as some including himself have suggested for simply disagreeing with PZ Myers) all because TF and PZ disagreed on whether there should be a harassment policy at conferences. It's like being a kid at a nursery and phoning the police because another kid stole your toy and won't give it back. Overreaction is an art form in the husk of what was once the YouTube Atheist community and, if it were an Olympic sport, TF takes the gold. Well, at least I've had stuff to laugh at.

This'll have to be it. Maybe I'll come back with something better when all this drama has moved on.


Sunday, 1 July 2012

America: An Extrospective

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

In his latest video, junosden wondered what people outside of America thought of the country. The video covers multiple topics, but I'll be focusing on this one. It can be found here:

Everything that follows are only my own thoughts. I'm not speaking on behalf of anyone else.

America comes off to me as the big, dumb, and very unfriendly giant. An embarrassing percentage of its citizens reject evolution and global warming, the Republican party and Fox News are taken seriously by many people, and even people like Obama won't think twice about stripping rights away with extreme tenacity and without any expectation of public resistance. The government is prepared to lie in order to go to war, torture its citizens without so much as a trial or warrant, it has a gigantic military which it doesn't need, which is viewed with misplaced and disgusting levels of pride, racism persists let alone homophobia, and patriotism in some cases is at levels where any criticism of the country results in the following response: "if you don't like our country, get out". We have our problems here in Scotland and the UK in general, but I don't think any of those criticisms apply significantly over here.

But all I've done so far is state what sane and rational Americans already know, the ones who understand nuance, and who therefore know that my view doesn't apply to them. America is a laughing stock to me, but a dangerous one. Remember, gigantic military, WITH NUKES! Not only that, but ours and other countries tend to listen to them. We tend to follow you into wars. During the Iraq War, our forces were described in the news as the American-led Coalition. If it were a smaller and less important country, we could just laugh at stuff like that or stuff like SOPA and PIPA, but when it's coming from the country with the most power and influence, laughter takes a back seat to fear.

I want to address the sane and rational Americans directly, which includes junosden, who I will send this blog post to. Know that your government's and your people's stupidity affects us as well. It affected the millions of innocent Iraqis and Afghans who were killed in the wars, sometimes just as a result of being next to the wrong trigger-happy soldier, it's affected quite a few victims of extraordinary rendition, and it will no doubt continue to affect many others. Since you guys have brains, you need to be vocal. Some of you already are, but it needs to continue, and it has to be made clear how profoundly stupid these creationists and GW-denialists really are. I'll be doing my part, but actual results must come from within the country.


Saturday, 30 June 2012

The State of Popular Music

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

Yesterday, I received a PM from a YouTuber who goes by the name jhams2 containing essentially a mini-thesis on why there has been a decline in the standard of popular music over the past few decades. jhams2 made it his senior project to answer the question through getting expert opinions on the subject and I'm extremely grateful that he has shared his results with me. I did a similar dissertation myself, which can be found in full on this blog minus any personal information relating to myself or university staff.

In this post I'd like to share my thoughts on his results. The entire PM will be pasted below in bold interspersed with my comments.

"Often I have asked myself- what happened to good music? Why is music in general today so utterly revolting, and downright embarrassing compared to what has been in the past? How could something that was once so good and refined, degenerate into what it has now become, and why has nothing been done? I have been told before that I was simply born in the wrong generation, and that it's all a matter of taste and preference, and I have considered this, and decided that there must be more to it."

I agree that there is more to it. First of all, there is no such thing as objectively good or bad music. "Good" and "bad" are words we, as humans, invented to describe our preferences or how we value something. This does not, however, mean that all music is equal in terms of how we value it. Some songs get to #1, some don't, some are remembered for centuries after they were written, some are forgotten within a month. If we can observe that there are relatively fewer songs today with that staying power, we have shown there is more to it.

"I decided that I needed an answer to these questions, and the senior project presented me with an opportunity to do so. But what is the best way to go about this, I asked myself. Certainly questions of this magnitude could not be easy to unravel, nor could I likely find the answers to them by any traditional "research paper" means- e.g. trolling the mass of information on the internet, cornering myself in some stuffy college library, and so on. Being that I am experienced with music only in listening to it and playing it, I decided that I would have to get an expert opinion on the matter, and if I wanted to truly do justice to the questions at hand, I would need outlooks from various experts in multiple positions throughout the industry."

I've written music for 6 years now and I've got a degree in it, but I'm not going to make the mistake of calling myself an expert. However, I have thought long and hard about this issue, and I have a few theories that I'd like to share in this post. I'll wait and see what theories the experts have suggested first though and then add any of my own which might not have come up.

"I created a short series of questions relating to this subject, and sent them to a number of music wonks in different areas of the music field; DJ's, music editors, radio station program directors, music critics, and other various music journalists. When the results were in there seemed to be a few theories as to why music quality had so degenerated, but there was absolute unanimous agreement that music had in fact not only lost its luster over the last 30 or so years, but had deteriorated almost beyond recognition in the area of artistic development, and had entirely lost its staying power."

"Entirely" I think is a bit of a stretch. There will always be a few songs which have this staying power, but I do agree that there are fewer.

"There was not total agreement however when it came to the cause of this downfall. One particular theory was summed up well by Sean Spillane who wrote:

"I think it's harder for artists affiliated with major record labels to keep artistic integrity than it has been in the past. Years ago, labels would allow artists to grow and take chances and would stick by someone it has invested time and money in. Nowadays, companies are just as likely to be impatient and cut an artist loose if the artist tries something that may not be as commercial as the label would like.""

I would agree with this analysis, however, it begs the question as to why there has been this change. This is answered below though.

"This is certainly an element to what has happened to music. Where is the wild inventiveness and bold experimentalism that embodied such bands as Pink Floyd? Why has no modern band come close to the soaring crescendos of lunacy found on Wish You Were Here, the towers of sound and cyclones of obsessive fervor on The Wall, or the orgasmic apogee one feels whilst saturated in the momentarily all-encompassing vibrations of ineffable euphoria offered on Eclipse, the final track on Dark Side of the Moon?"

This is where I would like to make my most important point. I would think there are many such bands producing music now which fit the current description, but they are not in the mainstream for the reasons given throughout the post. It is unlikely that a money-hungry record label would take a chance on a band that likes to experiment to that degree, but on the internet, where you can host and share music for the cost of your connection, there is practically infinite room to experiment and grow.

"Spillane is certainly correct in his analysis. If a band such as Pink Floyd wasn't given time to develop artistically, perhaps our ears would never be allowed the privilege to tune in to their masterpieces of sound. The solution could not be so simple. It would be easy to lay full blame on the soulless corporate bogeymen of our modern age, bedfellows of the money they so crave, however there are other factors that I believe should be taken into account, and other reasons for the decline in music that were mentioned in the interviews that I read. Technology is also a major player in the music industry, and though there are quite a few benefits to the new wave of technology there are also problems that it causes. As Rick Koster of the New London Day says,
Because of the amazing developments in technology (wherein almost anyone can make relatively inexpensive high quality recordings at home) and the stubborn idiocy of the major record labels (wherein they over the years ceded artistic control to accountants who have no taste or talent), the industry has been revolutionized. In this context, thousands of artists who believe in the integrity of music and their own work are finding ways to get their stuff out there. The problem with this, though, is obvious: if everyone can afford to release music, and being a "rock star" is perhaps more attractive than ever before, there is an astonishing amount of crap out there. It can be very frustrating, from the perspective of a music journalist, to have to wade through the overwhelming amount of mediocre or even awful music -- but it's always a blast to find something great and new."

Again, I very much agree. The barriers to entry to bands are pretty much gone now, so the average lay-man can upload his musical endeavours. This brings the average standard of music produced down dramatically.

Again, this is true and accounts for another factor in the decline of music, the burst of technology we have seen. The statement above also sheds further light on the first theory that the industry has become too money driven, and does not give the artists time to grow and prosper. In the 60's and 70's many of the major record labels were run by people who were very involved in the music industry, some of whom were musicians themselves. Today, as Koster stated, the control of the companies is left up to the accountants and bean counters who care nothing about the artists, but only about the cold hard dollar. The negative effects on the music industry from management like this are clear, and we are seeing them today. Without allowing artists creative freedom, and enough time to grow and age to perfection, as they could in the past, we come out with one hit wonders, and corporately produced groups that have about as much combined talent in them as Jimi Hendrix's right big pinky toe, if that."

There are a few additional points I'd like to make here. The decrease in music sales as a result of increased piracy, which are inevitable and unstoppable trade-offs of the digital age, compound the above factor. Record labels need to squeeze that much more out of their acts and, since catchy #1s are what sell best, that is what they'll focus on. It's possible that a gem will squeeze through, but only if it did the job of getting to #1. Also this would suggest that formulaic and short-lived music is an inevitable result of music costing any money at all, and that the more competition is involved, the lower the quality will be, as record labels will compete to sell their best-selling music (formulaic #1s) to the public.

"The record industry has prospered in the short run because of cheap tactics like these, but is creating a far worse situation for themselves in the long run. Without sustainable music acts, the industry is going to have to keep churning out the talentless groups and one hit wonders that they have begun to produce, and will have no sustainable means of income from people that can continue to sell records decades later such as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, and so on, because there are no such acts today, and unless great change occurs, there will likely not be such acts ever again. Kevin O'Hare, of the Republican agrees with this sentiment. When asked "Do you think musicians today have the staying power of previous generations of musicians?" He replied: Overall, definitely no. If you look at the acts that are still filling some of the largest venues, a vast number are older acts that built a career around more than one or two hits. Look at all the nights Billy Joel has sold out the Mohegan Sun! He hasn't put out an album in 15 years but he could live off his massive backlog of hits for years. The Police, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers, Santana, Prince, Jimmy Buffett, Stevie Wonder, etc., etc. are examples of stars from the past still doing tremendously well in this market. Who's going to fill vast arenas in 20 years? For the most part we've seen a parade of one or two-hit wonders rise to stardom and crash in burn because the music industry has not been intent upon building the careers of these artists they've been far more intent on cashing in as quickly as possible and now they are paying a price."

As I've said, there's not a complete lack of recent music legends. I would argue, for example, that Muse have enormous staying power, and their ability to fill stadiums is beyond question. In slightly less mainstream circles, metal simply does not have this problem. Regardless of people's views of metal, these bands are where the highest concentration of staying power resides. Look at bands like Lamb of God or Meshuggah. They engender huge respect from their fans, and their releases are generally viewed as getting better with time, in sharp contrast with the norm. Unfortunately, the big labels will survive, even after the Santanas and McCartneys are gone, as their current market strategy will persist as long as we collectively choose to buy from their acts. There is no reason to believe this will change any time soon.

"This response confirmed my fears about the record industry, and the lack of integrity within it. The result has been the same from all of the interviews that I have conducted. There is a major problem with the misuse of technology in the industry, but far worse of a problem in the ethics and motives of the decision makers of the record companies."

Worse though is that these are rational motives based on the desire for money, and so they are likely to continue to thrive among the Cowells of the world.

"Another issue lies with the fans, and consumers of music. The fact is that despite all that is wrong with the industry, the people are at fault as well. People continue to consume the trash that they are handed by the record companies. In order to enact change, people need to stop being ok with bad music. There needs to be a revolution against the music of today, or music will never again be what it was."

I can say with an enormous degree of confidence that this revolution is unlikely to occur. Think about the structure and style of today's pop music. The overwhelming majority of it at the very least has a strong dance beat. Many have no possible application in the modern world beyond dance. When you consider that the vast majority of teenagers and young adults, the most important demographic to the record labels, socialise in pubs, bars and nightclubs, the prevalence of this style of music makes perfect sense. While it may not be Beethoven, it's exactly the kind of music that works in that setting, even more so when drunk. Even I, as a passionate music fan, can't argue with dance music in a nightclub setting. Combine this with the more democratic way that we buy music (in the form of individual songs), another inevitable result of the digital age, and we find that the prevailing music is dictated by our social lives. As long as nightclubs and bars persist, and I don't see any reason to believe that they won't, dance music will prevail.

Of course, dance music is not the only form of pop music, but I'll address others if they get mentioned in the comments below.

"The main problem as I see it lies with the parents. Children are constantly being exposed to crappy music, without knowing how bad it really is. They are left on their own to try and find music, and unless by some chance they are exposed to quality music, will never know what they are missing. Some parents even encourage this filthy behavior by doing such things as watching American Idol with their children. Such an act of child abuse leaves me shocked and chagrined. If a parent were to send their child to a prostitute, the child would be taken away, and brought to a more responsible family, and rightfully so. But when a parent exposes their child to the musical equivalent, the brutish and barbaric ritual dubbed American Idol, it is looked upon as family time. Just as the Romans had the Coliseum, we have American Idol with its screaming mindless masses of fans under the spell of mob mentality. This is a classic example of irresponsible and neglectful parenting. Parents who want the best for their child must take it upon themselves to teach their children right and wrong. This goes for every aspect of the child's life, including music. Of course in the end, the decision must ultimately be the child's, however without exposure to quality, genuine music, in our corporate controlled culture of advertising and media buys, young impressionable children will undoubtedly fall victim to the Satan that is modern day mainstream music."

This is the last part of the PM, and also the part that I take most issue with. It is easy to think that someone growing up in an era where the quality of music is generally lower will be content with such music, although to address the question in full, there needs to be a better description of what higher quality music is exactly. If we're saying that kids will be content with music that will be forgotten in a month, this doesn't make a lot of sense, especially if, as I would argue is the case, there is little difference between such music. Eventually, everyone would get bored of such music. I'm in my early 20s, and yet there are people 10 years younger than me that agree with me. Sure, their parents may have had something to do with it, but is it really so hard to imagine that they could've gotten bored of the same pop formula using the same sounds and same endlessly repeating 4-chord progressions, and decided to look to metal, alternative, or the past for something different? All I'm asking is that you give generations Y and Z a bit more credit.

I would also ask that if the situation persists, what happens in 20 or 30 years time when those same kids are themselves the parents? Will they still be clueless and have nothing to pass onto their kids? Or will they eventually wise up? If they do, what's the problem in the first place? I don't think we should be worried about the kids. Look at how Ark Music Factory (responsible for Rebecca Black) and songs like Hot Problems were so overwhelmingly rejected by the public, made up mostly of the people we're concerned about. At the very least, I'm not worried.

I'd like to share some additional theories of my own. 1 that I had was that the internet has made it easier for people to share their opinions and so for opinions to prevail. 20 years ago, outside of a market research job, you would probably hear no more than 10 opinions a week about popular music of the time. Today you can literally hear (or more accurately, see) hundreds or thousands of opinions in a single day from reading forums, blogs or YouTube comment sections. When you're that much more in tune with public sentiment, of course it's going to seem like more of an issue. Maybe people have felt like this for quite a while. Still, I do think the position has a lot of validity.

Also, I think originality is increasingly harder to come by. As a result of our current technology, we could theoretically produce any conceivable sound, but we would still mentally group those sounds into categories: electronic, rock, etc. Our own labelling has the potential to close our minds to the variety of possible sounds, of which we are only currently using the tiniest fraction. Eventually, we'll run out of styles to cross-breed or invent, based on these shallow labelling techniques, and we'll be forced to churn out music which is increasingly similar to what has been done before. If, at that point, we don't stop seeing originality as being important, we won't be able to appreciate much music from that point on, and it'll be our fault rather than the fault of those future musicians. Of the wide variety of sonic combinations uploaded by the millions of musicians onto the internet every day, you'd think 1 would've caused a stir by now on the scale of the grunge movement, but this hasn't happened yet. Could it be that we've already reached the point where we have to value originality less?

I'd like to end by giving some objective criticisms of current pop music. First off, although the pop formula of verse-chorus has been followed for decades, the great songs of the past that used it did so only loosely. Nowadays, it's employed rigidly: 4x bar intro, 4x bar verse, 4x bar chorus, interlude, 4x bar verse, 4x bar chorus, 4x bar middle-eight, y(4x bar chorus). Add more sections, take some away, adjust the lengths of the sections to something exotic. Basically, do something unexpected. Anything, just not the exact same structure over and over again. Don't repeat the same 4 chords endlessly throughout the song. Repetition works in moderation, but let's see something more inventive. Why always 4/4 or 3/4? Why not 7/4 like "Them Bones" by Alice In Chains, or switching it up like in "Black Hole Sun" by Soundgarden, starting in 4/4 and then having the solo in 9/4? Don't copy those exactly, of course, but have some imagination. And if you have a huge vocal range, why not show it off? Seeing as Pink Floyd was mentioned earlier, there's not many better examples of exactly that than "The Great Gig In The Sky". Most importantly of all, electronic sounds need not be the soulless music-killers they're characterised as, just spend time on cultivating them with the software and using them in new and inventive ways like Aphex Twin or post-2000 Radiohead. It's so easy to make any of these changes that it absolutely can't be that no-one today can do it. If you're reading this, and you're an aspiring songwriter, please, take all of this into consideration.


Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The 4 Omnis

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

When monotheists describe their god, you will normally hear that this god is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent. One of my favourite YouTubers, noelplum99, has made a number of videos recently focusing on omniscience. I won't link them all but I'll link the most recent 1 at the time of writing this post.

These videos have motivated me to investigate all the "omnis". Let's start with omnipotence.


God is meant to be omnipotent or all-powerful. There is nothing he cannot do. An objection which is common to all of the omnis is "how do you know this"? I'm not concerned about such arguments as I've yet to hear any evidence for any god, or even a coherent definition of a god. In terms of omnipotence, it is normally attacked as being impossible using the following question:

"Can God create a rock which he cannot lift?"

Notice that either answer betrays his omnipotence. If God can create such a rock, then there is at least 1 thing he cannot do (specifically lift the rock) but no doubt more as it implies that his physical strength is finite and that it is meaningful to talk of a god possessing physical strength (i.e. he has some form of material existence). If, however, God cannot create such a rock, this is 1 thing he cannot do and so he is also not omnipotent. Critics of this question suggest that a "no" answer does not betray God's omnipotence because if God can't create a rock which he can't lift, then in order to comply with the concept of omnipotence, God is capable of lifting a rock of infinite mass. Since it is logically impossible to create a rock of mass greater than infinity, this disqualifies the question from being a valid challenge to omnipotence. Allow me to explain why I disagree.

In 2008, near the very beginning of my YouTube channel, I posted a video in which I asked theists if God could violate the laws of logic (this video was deleted in the same year). The response was mixed reflecting the differing views among theists. Nevertheless, it is clear that some theists believe that God is capable of this feat. This presents a huge problem though. If God is able to violate the laws of logic, then God's attributes become incredibly bizarre:

Laws of Logic

1. Law of Identity: A is A.
2. Law of Non-Contradiction: "A is B" and "A is not B" cannot both be true.
3. Law of Excluded Middle: A is either B or not B, and not anywhere in between (half B, quarter B etc.).

If God can violate the laws of logic then he can create a rock which he cannot lift, and can't. He is both omnipotent and not omnipotent and everywhere in between. He exists, doesn't exist, half-exists etc. It becomes meaningless to discuss the issue as we are all right, wrong and everywhere in between at the same time. To selectively apply to God this ability to break the laws of logic to try and get around the problem demands explanation as to why he would only be able to, or would, break those laws when it is convenient for him.

To get around the problem, omnipotence would have to be defined as the ability to do all that is logically possible. However, this does put limits on God, and opens up the possibility for a discussion that there may be other things he cannot do. Since he has neither been properly defined, shown to exist, OR shown to be omnibenevolent, this is a perfectly valid discussion to have, but I'll leave that for another time.


God is claimed to be omniscient or all-knowing. There is nothing which he doesn't know. In his videos, noelplum99 references Donald Rumsfeld's "unknown unknowns" argument. The idea is this: what if god is a sub-god that thinks he knows everything, when in fact there is a realm that is inaccessible to him mentally or physically that is resided over by a greater god. I have a problem with this argument in that all I need to say is that the sub-god is not omniscient although the greater god still could be. I think the key to tackling omniscience is the same as with omnipotence. Take the rock question from before and replace "can" with  "does God know how to". If the answer is yes, there is only 1 possibility, to violate the laws of logic. If he can do that, he knows how to. If not, he doesn't, as knowing how to do it would make a truly omnipotent God able to do it. The 2nd omni has now become limited by that which is logically possible. The question could even be phrased as simply as "does God know something which it is logically impossible to know?" It has also become apparent that combining these 2 omnis has caused further difficulty.


God is everywhere. Same problems and more:

"Does God exist where space itself does not (i.e. where it is logically impossible for anything to exist)?"
"If God exists everywhere, aren't you simply conflating God with existence itself? If he does, how is it meaningful to suggest that this entity appears to anyone when he is logically already there?"

Feel free to suggest more below.


This is the worst of the 4. It doesn't even make logical sense as a concept. Theists suggest that God is an objective source of morality but this assertion has no basis. Good and bad are words that we humans invented to describe how we value a wide range of things and they mean nothing outside of that context. Even God must have some basis for his moral views and, make no mistake, they are still views. For those views to have the absolute authority demanded of them by that god's adherents, omniscience is an essential quality of that god. However, let's say that God is omniscient, satisfying this criteria, it still poses a problem. If God is omnibenevolent, then everything God does is good. This is a problem, as God does what he tells us not to do. For example, God floods the entire Earth killing all but 2 of every animal yet he tells us that we should not kill. He later "amends" this by making exceptions for homosexuals, rebellious children and people who work on the Sabbath. Changing the mind is a result of new information which God can't obtain as he already knows everything. Why not then state the exceptions from the beginning? And if it's OK for God to kill all but 2 humans (to make it simpler), surely we are immoral for not killing since an omnibenevolent God could only perform good actions (what happened to omnipotence)? And the double standard argument doesn't work either as the two standards: the one which God abides by, and the one we abide by, contradict each other. If God is omnibenevolent then the following is true:

"Killing is both moral and immoral."

This violates the laws of logic, specifically the law of non-contradiction. Based on God's actions, God cannot be omnibenevolent even if he knows everything.

I consider this blog post to simply be hammering nails into a coffin. Religion has not met the most basic challenges asked of us skeptics, such as a coherent definition and evidence, but all of its absurdity should be addressed.


"It's such a non-issue..."

...that we all have to comment on it.

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I have no excuse, I've just been lazy. Thunderf00t, who probably needs no introduction at this stage, has come under fire for a blog post he wrote about the policy at various skeptic conferences regarding harassment. I'm only going to briefly touch on this as I have a greater point to make, but he criticises what he sees to be excessive reactions to women who are, or feel, harassed at conferences as treating everyone like children, making the point that "we reserve the right to kick you out" should be adequate protection. Critics have slammed his lack of understanding of the issue saying that he doesn't know how rife the problem is at these conferences. I'll link thunderf00t's post and 1 critic's reply below.

I will say right now that I don't know much about the issue myself and I don't have much of an interest in it. However, I think thunderf00t's line, as long as it is properly enforced, is enough. If there is obvious harassment, the staff should pick up on it and discipline the harasser appropriately. If needs be, they can be escorted out and/or banned from further conferences of a similar nature. Where this harassment isn't obvious to an outsider, this next part is for attendees who may be at risk from harassment. In this instance, you need to report it to the staff. It really doesn't matter how much of a problem harassment is, you just provide enough security to deal with the anticipated level of harassment, and enforce the existing rule that if you don't play nice, you're gone.

Having said that, what I'm more interested in is the claim that the 2nd above article makes that Rebecca Watson's "Elevatorgate" incident initiated this increased security approach. I respectfully disagree. In the video clip that started "Elevatorgate", Rebecca talks about her experiences at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin last year, when she was alone with a man who asked her to have coffee with him. Below is the video, and her description of the incident starts at 4:30.

My take on what she said is that there is nothing about this incident to warrant increasing security at future conferences, but make no mistake, it was the reaction to the video which is more likely to have produced this result. Yes, perhaps Rebecca overreacted to the situation, and it was just a poorly timed, poorly situated request for an innocent discussion over coffee, but PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins had to comment on it, and, of course, so many "skeptics" followed suit. Here's a word of advice. If something's such a non-issue, don't comment on it. This could all have been avoided if the response to Rebecca's discomfort was "meh, she's overreacting, now let's all just get on with our lives". If you just had to get involved with Elevatorgate, YOU are to blame for any security over-provisions, not Rebecca. At the very least, I expect you to admit your role in it.

First Elevatorgate, then the NY drink-size ban, and now the aftermath of Elevatorgate. It really pisses me off when people turn a non-issue into an issue just by saying in the thousands that it's a non-issue. If you think that way, leave the discussion to the people who think it is an issue. It's not rocket science.


Sunday, 3 June 2012

Ban on Super Size

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

Sorry, it's been too long. To introduce this post, I need to talk about long past YouTube drama. In 2009, a number of high-profile YouTubers engaged in video debates with a YouTuber called Lee Doren, more commonly known as HowTheWorldWorks. At the time, he worked for a libertarian think tank called the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and he has a history of dishonesty in making his videos. It's been a while since any of my subscriptions made a video about him, but the most recent 1 concerns his opposition to a New York ban on 16oz+ drinks containing more than 25 calories per 8 oz from delis, restaurants, concession stands, movie theatres and other public areas where such drinks can be bought, but not convenience stores or supermarkets. 2 of my subscriptions responded to Lee's video with essentially the same criticism: "there are much bigger problems out there".

Given Lee's reputation, this post is unlikely to win fans with many viewers, if there will be any, but I agree with him here. The logic of the ban is to discourage obesity and encourage healthier consumption choices but I fundamentally disagree with banning anything as a way to go about it, except when any characteristic of the food or drink which could possibly be valued by the consumer can be exactly replaced by a healthier option. In other words, if a drink can look, smell and taste exactly the same when the sugar is replaced by a healthier substitute, ban away. This is clearly not the case with the NY ban and appealing to the notion of "first world problems" is a very poor way to dismiss legitimate criticisms of it. Let me explain.

First off, there can only be 1 worst problem in the world, and due to the subjective nature of "bad" or "suffering", we will likely never agree on what problem that might be. This should be embarrassingly obvious to everyone. To lump something into the category of "first world problems", so you can then ignore it, is an exercise in arbitrarily deciding which problems are significant and which aren't, a decision which is also subjective. Lee's argument appeals to the notion of freedom which has significant implications for the idea of ignoring it. The community that I'm a part of on YouTube is, for the most part, very liberal. Many of us are for abortion and euthanasia and against the drug wars and Middle East wars. To anyone who fits that criteria, but agrees that the issue should be dismissed as a "first world problem" and allow the ban to be enacted, a justification is required. Like drugs and euthanasia, this is an issue of freedom. What particular characteristics of the NY ban make it any different? I oppose the ban because the 1 significant potential justification that I mentioned earlier falls short of a reason to enact the ban. If there's a problem with obesity, the answer is providing the relevant information on the drink and, beyond that, education in schools. Chances are the recommended daily intake of sugar, fat, and many other chemicals is already present on the drink, so education is the more relevant solution.

The videos addressing Lee's criticisms, that I saw from my subscriptions, suggested that you can get around the ban by buying 2. This is where I would have a problem with individual vendors. I support your right to sell any size of drink and have no judgement of anyone for selling very large drinks, but to provide a price incentive for those really large drinks is something I'd have a problem with. I still support your right to do it, but I would find that to be very distasteful.

I want to end by saying that if freedom is your thing, follow through, even on minor issues.


Friday, 18 May 2012

Antinatalism: The "Risk Equation" Argument

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

My subscriptions have made a few videos about antinatalism over the past year. Among these videos, 1 argument was raised by the antinatalist camp which I have not seen sufficiently addressed. I will refer to it in this post as the "risk equation" argument and it goes like this:

"The act of creating life comes with a 100% certainty that the new life form will suffer at some point in their life, but a lesser probability that the life form will ever experience pleasure. To minimise suffering, we must abstain from producing life."

First, I want to assess the logic of the argument. It doesn't hold for a human being that has no mental or physical disorders. It will, at some point, experience pleasure, unless it dies very soon after birth. Is suffering guaranteed? This depends on what is defined as suffering. If my understanding of the argument and the antinatalist position is correct, any form of discomfort including mild hunger counts as suffering. To eliminate bias, the definition of pleasure, as the opposite of suffering, must be equally flexible. For example, satisfying hunger decreases suffering and so, by definition, increases pleasure. A fetus is constantly fed through its umbilical cord and so the organism's utility varies (pleasure and suffering will cycle up and down). This holds true, even if the organism has a debilitating disease or disorder. The only case in which it is not true is when an organism may not be mentally capable of pleasure, suffering or both. As such, I have problems accepting the argument at all.

However, let's assume that the definitions of pleasure and suffering could be adjusted in such a way where the argument's logic becomes sound. The argument concludes by making a moral assertion, that to minimise suffering in the world, we must stop procreating. This is a utilitarian viewpoint, but one which I find to be unsatisfactory. It essentially makes the case that suffering should always be avoided, even when it could be argued to be justifiable because it produces net pleasure (more pleasure than suffering). I don't necessarily agree with this position.

Let's take a very simple example: disciplining a child. This discipline could be anything from a mild telling off to a beating. Here's the scenario:

A child does something which the parent views as wrong. As this is the first instance of the child performing this action, and because the parent is relatively understanding, the parent explains to the child that it is wrong and that they shouldn't do it again. The child seems to take this in but, some time later, repeats the action. At this point, the parent decides that discipline involving some amount of suffering for the child is necessary. Once again, this action need not be a beating, just as simple as a telling off. Is the parent wrong to discipline the child in a manner which involves some amount of suffering? Anyone using the morality required to argue against natalism by means of a "risk equation" must, if they are consistent, answer "no". However, this morality clearly isn't practical in the example of disciplining a child. Nothing short of some amount of discipline will prevent the child from repeating the undesirable action, an action which causes some other form of suffering. A small amount of suffering is induced in the child to prevent them from causing a larger amount of suffering to others as a result of their actions. If the child doesn't understand the immorality of the action they are being punished for, they will likely forgive the parent later on when they do, as they will then understand why it was necessary.

The previous paragraph introduces a concept, which I think must be present in any utilitarian view of morality for it to function in practice, and that is the concept of "acceptable suffering". It needn't be the example of disciplining a child, it could be something as simple as delayed gratification, and encouraging that practice in others. It teaches individuals to persist at an activity to reap enormous benefits when they eventually succeed. Where it applies to the risk equation argument is when we look at how people view their own life. It's very easy to assume that someone living in the most resource deprived parts of Africa might wish they were never born, but is this true? Humans are very adaptable, especially when faced with a hardship they have no control over. Dan Gilbert talked on TED about how lottery winners and paraplegics were equally happy 1 year after their respective events. I know personal experience is a bad way to argue anything, but I, for one, would rather be alive now than to not have been born at all. It's unlikely you'd find many people, especially in developed countries, who disagree. I argue, then, that the inevitable suffering, which it is argued any child will necessarily experience as a result of growing up, is acceptable, as the child is unlikely to care about it in the long run, unless their life is consistently deeply horrific.

Antinatalists make some very valid points about how we live our lives, but, in my opinion, ruin it by providing a hatchet job as a solution. In the 21st century, when humans inarguably have a huge impact on the environment and the planet's available resources, we should think before we add 1 more to the 7 billion we already have. We should, at the very least, consider the upbringing that the child we create will experience. I'm not telling anyone what to do, but if it's controversial to even suggest that people should be responsible when considering how many kids they have, or even whether they should have kids given their immediate environment, we are fucked as a species. We need to reduce our impact on the planet, we need to watch our numbers so we don't exhaust our resources, but the situation does not call for our extinction as a species.


Thursday, 10 May 2012

Age of Consent Laws

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

A YouTuber, Ujames1978Forever, has recently posted a lot of videos about age of consent laws. I'm not subscribed to him, but a lot of people I am subscribed to have been responding to him. This is a sensitive issue, so the potential for uninformed emotional opinions is high, even amongst a community which prides itself on its skepticism, and this is why I'm making this post.

I'll state right off the bat that I think age of consent laws are terrible. However, I can't see a better way of addressing the problem. The laws are terrible because people mature at different rates, so they don't really reflect reality. It's also ageism by definition. Ujames eschews them completely, arguing that the kind of situations that these laws deal with should be taken on a case-by-case basis. The YouTubers I'm subscribed to unanimously disagree with him, although I'm not convinced a few of them understand his position. Today, Richard Coughlan, someone I've been subscribed to now for 3 years, mirrored a video by pamew. pamew asked Ujames to provide a lower age bound at which he considers people to be able to consent to sex. This misses the point of Ujames' argument as I understand it. He's not giving an answer because he doesn't see it as an issue of age but of maturity. For example, he might say in 1 case that a 13 year old is mature enough to consent, but in another case, another 13 year old might not. I don't know exactly what criteria he'd be using: most likely their knowledge of what can happen, and how confidently they assert their consent. I don't agree with Ujames, as dealing with each case on a case-by-case basis would be costly and time consuming, as there are likely to be many cases, but if you're asserting that Ujames needs to provide any sort of lower age bound, you've fundamentally misunderstood his position.

I said that there are no better ways of doing it. I'll explain this further using alternatives. Let's say we scrapped age of consent laws. By "consent", I'm simply referring to the ability to give legal consent, not consent for any particular issue. I've already explained why I don't think Ujames' idea would work. One idea would be to license that consent. The idea is that a person of any age can sit an "exam" of sorts to demonstrate some minimum understanding of the responsibilities they will be faced with: the risks associated with sex, STDs, alcohol use, etc. This is already done for driving, it just seems logical to apply it to anything else, right? I don't think this can work. If the exam is well thought out there shouldn't be cases of people that clearly are too young to understand getting through, but the law would mean that everyone, regardless of age, will need to take this exam to consent to anything. In practice, not only would this law be deeply unpopular, but completely unenforceable as well. On these 2 points alone, it can't be considered further.

Off the top of my head, that's it. What other way could there be to do it? Now, are there problems with existing consent laws? I would argue that there is, and the most significant problem is consistency. In the UK, the age of consent is 16, but you need to be 17 to begin learning to drive and 18 to buy alcohol or vote. Why have a discrepancy at all? Some might argue that granting responsibilities step-by-step is a good idea as you become accustomed to the responsibility of 1 task before you move on to another greater responsibility, but, in practice, I don't see the effect of such an idea. Before I became 18, there was an element of fun to drinking which died when I became 18. The atmosphere completely changed when me and my friends became 18. I have a number of theories why. First, the underground element cuts underage drinkers off from 18+ drinkers for the most part, and part of the thrill for underage drinkers is getting alcohol at all. This make the 2 scenes very different. There is some overlap at nightclubs, as under 18s are still perfectly able to obtain fake ID or pass for 18. Also, as with anything else, the novelty of being able to legally buy alcohol wears off fast after becoming 18. There's also the change in surroundings as many people go off to uni where there are no detentions or headteacher visits, you just show up to lectures or don't, and you alone are responsible for your own education. People need to adapt fast and this necessarily makes them more mature. Finally, if you treat people as irresponsible, it's expected for them to act that way. In practice, I think consistent age limits is better. There's no ambiguity: 1 day, you're too young, the next, you're a full adult with no strings attached. No-one will be thinking "why can I do this and not that?" The subtleties to consenting to sex such as "if one's 16 and the other's 15 it's OK" can remain.

The final point I'd like to make would be to consider what the best age of consent would be if it was applied consistently to all activities? I think the ultimate acid test for this is what teenagers themselves think. I want to be clear here, I'm not talking about someone saying "I want to do this", I'm talking about someone saying "I feel like I'm old enough to be trusted to do this". Based on that mindset, I think at the very least that the alcohol age is too high. Pretty much no-one aged 16-17 respects this law. A lot of things a teenager does is dismissed as "rebellion" but think about what "rebellion" means. It means "I'm not going to stand for this". While laws are there for a reason, if it's so unpopular with the group it affects that they disobey it in gigantic numbers, in most cases, people would consider that law to be really bad, yet the drinking age stands, and people have even tried to make it higher. I say make the age of consent 16 across all activities. The novelty will wear off in the same way that it wears off at 18, but earlier. Schools retain their tough stance on people who turn up to class drunk, but the responsibility is there where it wasn't before. As the law is more consistent, I predict there will be a lot more respect for it, and the number of 14-15 year olds drinking won't skyrocket. It might rise a bit, but it will surely be offset by the fall in consumption by 16-17 year olds. In the year leading up to their 16th birthdays, education about the risks and responsibilities are emphasised at school in an honest factual presentation to maximise awareness and appreciation for the responsibilities they'll be granted.

As usual, thoughts and comments welcome.


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Why I Despise Syco

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I recently posted about the new BBC talent show, "The Voice". I'd like to follow up on that.

I wrote that post very soon after the first episode. The show's audience surpassed 10 million. Based on what I wrote in my first post I should be happy but I'm not. It's lost 4 million since then but that's not what's pissing me off. It's the reasons why. Apparently the first results show was pre-recorded. Apparently the judges are "too nice". One of my local radio DJs said it was because there were no "novelty acts". OK, 1 at a time.

Pre-recorded show

I admit this was a mistake. It shouldn't have been allowed. This is why the first million left and it's a fair point. I'm annoyed that they did it, but shows inevitably make mistakes, especially on the first series. Let's move on.

Too nice

The argument goes that bad acts are given little or sugar-coated criticism. Instead of using the word "pitchy", some viewers would prefer terms like "awful" or "terrible". I've seen the shows, and it's not necessary. I'm not saying it's not right to do so, I'm saying they're not "awful" or "terrible", they are, at worst, "pitchy". The 1 exception was a girl called Ruth-Ann. She was eliminated by Jessie J last week. Let me use her to explain why "too nice" is such a hollow and pathetic criticism.

When Ruth-Ann auditioned, I thought she was pretty bad, but it wasn't like one of the truly awful acts that would audition for X Factor and get laughed at. She was just off-key a lot. Jessie was the only judge who turned round, and the others thought she'd lost her mind. Jessie defended her by saying that she saw potential. Now, out of the 4 judges, Jessie has consistently been the most critical towards the singers. "Too nice" is not a criticism that could meaningfully be attributed to her. She is tactful about her criticisms, but she makes them consistently. My assessment of the Ruth-Ann situation then is this: she disagreed with us. Everyone has their own personal preferences, and occasionally everyone champions someone who the rest of us can't stand. This happens, and has happened, everywhere. In the end, it doesn't really matter, because Jessie eventually voted her out.

Let's compare this to X Factor and Britain's Got Talent. On both of these shows, at the audition stage, a number of truly horrible acts are put in front of the judges so that they can embarrass themselves on TV in front of millions of people. Yes, the judges tear these people apart. They have no qualms throwing around words like "terrible", "awful" and "worst we've ever seen". On the other hand, there are acts that are equally awful, but because they have some degree of likeability with the audience, the judges put them through. If they didn't make it to the live shows, I might go from utterly despising to merely hating these shows, but many of these poor people do indeed get put through to embarrass themselves further. Now for the most important part. Whenever the audience gets behind one of these car crashes, the judges don't dare to criticise them, or be as tactful as they possibly can to avoid being booed. Simon tends to get a lot of his respect from being the exception to this rule, but even he applauds such acts a lot of the time.

So let's review. The public is complaining that the judges on The Voice aren't relentlessly criticising singers, the standard of whom is a lot higher than you'd typically get on X Factor or Britain's Got Talent, on a show which, on principle, doesn't allow for novelty acts, but they're perfectly fine with Cowell and his ilk putting through and praising novelty acts on their shows. The judges on The Voice aren't being too nice. The acts are just better.

Now fans of the Cowell shows might say "what about their good acts"? I see no difference in how The Voice's judges are treating their acts to how Cowell treats the best of his acts. Both camps are critical when needs be but tactful.

Novelty Acts

Let's get to the DJs criticism. He criticised the show's lack of novelty acts, saying this made the show boring. At least he admitted how sad such a criticism is. The concept that the British public prefer shows which give us Jedward to shows which filter through only talent scares me. What scares me more though is the possibility that the DJ is right. I actually think he is. It's disturbing to me that drama, novelty and image are more important than talent to millions of people. It's disturbing that they'd choose the integrity of a show like The Voice over the pantomime that is X Factor or BGT.

But none of this really explains why I despise Syco. To do this I need to tell you a story. It's about a young man from Scotland called Jai. Last year, Jai auditioned on BGT. He was terrified, but he unleashed a voice which I can only describe as "Josh Groban but better" (I say this having just recently compared both men's versions of "To Where You Are" live and recorded). He breezed through the auditions and the semi-final and eventually won the entire competition. He won £100,000 and a one-album contract with Syco, as well as the Royal Variety Performance. In December last year, he released an album called "Believe". He was great, but the album was terrible. It's the same Syco clone styles they apply in each relevant genre, never veering from their ridiculously strict formula, and it's all covers. Jai said he was given more creative control than he thought they might but, as a novice, he was happy to hand a lot of it over to the producers. He won a contest watched by over 10 million, and released an album bought by less than 30,000. In March this year, Syco dropped him.

This is why I despise Syco. Jai had enormous potential, but they released an album of crappily-made covers, emphasising the background over his voice, making it sound just like everything else they've done, and it flopped hard. They ruined him. The winner of The Voice gets £100,000 and a contract with Universal and it remains to be seen whether they will treat their winner more seriously than Syco treated Jai. I hope The Voice hangs on so it can strike the death blow to Syco's disgusting invasion of our mainstream music.


Science of Morality

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

A while ago, on my YouTube channel, I reviewed Sam Harris' book, "The Moral Landscape". To summarise the review, I thought it was a great introduction to the idea of a science of morality, and it lead me to look at morality differently. Another YouTuber I'm subscribed to was disappointed that the book didn't go far enough into the actual science. I would respond by saying that the book was never written for that purpose, but that is the point of this post. I have a degree in Maths, and a science of morality is likely to deal in Maths very heavily. I would like to share my thoughts on how a science of morality might work in practice.

It's important, first of all, to make 2 points. First, a science gets stronger with criticism. If you have criticisms, it is not necessary to throw out the idea entirely, unless those criticisms are made against the foundations of the science. People might bring up the Is-Ought problem, but this problem affects all ethical systems, and therefore is irrelevant to the science. The second point is that the ideas I will outline are not yet linked to brain states as Sam Harris outlines in his book, although there will be nothing to exclude the possibility of adapting the ideas to facts about the operation of the human brain in the future.

First off, we give people a utility value. Choosing the bounds of this value is important as it will affect the morality of any given action. After a lot of reflection, I've settled on 0 to 1, 0 representing minimum well-being, 1 representing maximum well-being. For example, someone with a utility value of 1 is in a situation where nothing could improve their subjective enjoyment of life or their objective health or general well-being. There are currently practicality problems when it comes to discovering any individual's utility value, but this is where Sam Harris' talk about brain states comes in. In the future, it will get progressively easier to assign that value to someone, given improvements in our understanding of neuroscience. The most important thing about choosing the bounds as 0 to 1 is that a dead or non-existent person has a utility value of 0. This means that killing any individual will always be a negative utility action (which I'll explain in detail later on) except when that individual's value is 0 for other reasons. In practice, a living human being's utility value will only be at 0 when they are in the womb, prior to the development of their brain and their mental capacity to feel pleasure or pain, or very near to 0 when in a coma.

Next, we need to look at moral actions. A moral action can affect many different people, and so is not subject to the same bounds as a person's own utility value. The upper and lower bounds on the utility increase or decrease caused by any action can be expressed mathematically as follows.

A = [-p, p]

AH! MATHS! Don't worry, I'll take you through it. A is any action which affects anyone's utility value. For example punching someone in the face will likely cause that person emotional and physical harm which will decrease their utility. This is therefore a negative utility action. The square brackets indicate a closed set which, in this case, means that the minimum possible effect on utility values is -p, and the maximum is p. p is used here to refer to the number of people affected by the moral action. The largest possible decrease in any one person's utility value is -1 (in practice, this would basically mean killing a perfectly content human being, which is unlikely as killing is not done by most people, and achieving a perfect utility is very unlikely as well). This largest possible decrease (-1) is then multiplied by the number of people affected (p) to give the maximum combined utility lost:

-1 x p = -p

Likewise, the largest possible increase in any one person's utility is 1 (this is pretty much impossible in practice, we're essentially talking about resurrection immediately followed by elevating the person to a state of perfect well-being). An action which increases utility is a positive utility action. The same maths is applied to this example as was to the previous and so the maximum combined utility gained is therefore:

1 x p = p

See, not so hard. But I like to be sure. Example time.


A serial killer has murdered 6 people. The utility values of this 6 people are 0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.55, 0.6 and 0.65. The murders give the serial killer a 0.01 increase in his own utility for each murder committed but don't freak out, moral actions are actions which affect others, and so this isn't included in the equation. What is the utility effect of the serial killer's actions?

This is kids' stuff when you know how. All you need to know is that murder makes a human being incapable of any kind of subjective experience and so it permanently decreases their utility values to 0. Let's take the 1st victim:

M = v2 - v1

where v1 is the victim's utility prior to the murder and v2 is the victim's utility after the murder. M is, of course, the murder itself. We know that v1 is 0.3 from the question and v2 is 0 because they die. Substituting those values into the equation we get:

M = 0 - 0.3 = -0.3

But it goes further. Since v2 will be 0 in all cases, we can simplify the equation to this:

M = -v1

All you need to do is put a "-" before the victim's utility prior to the murder. Now for the complete problem. This time we just work out M for each victim and add them together:

-0.3 - 0.4 - 0.5 - 0.55 - 0.6 - 0.65 = -3

So the serial killer's action result in a combined utility change of -3. As low a value as that might sound, this actually makes the action very wrong. You have to remember that a more minor negative utility action, for example punching someone in the face, will result in physical harm and anger which will probably result in a utility change of something like -0.05 if it's a relatively bad but non-fatal punch.The values chosen for the 6 people were completely arbitrary, so it's important not to take away from this that some lives are more valuable than others. Murder is ALWAYS a negative utility action, and so is always wrong. The fact that 1 individual has a lower utility value than another never means it is more OK to kill the person with the lower utility, it just means that that person loses less from their death. A negative utility action should always be treated as something you never do except when there are no positive or zero utility actions possible.


If people are unhappy enough with their lives, they may commit suicide. In the vast majority of cases, suicide will be a negative utility action. Why? As I've already said, the morality of the action depends on how much it affects other people. Killing yourself reduces your own utility to 0 but this isn't factored into the equation because you are not other people. However, suicide affects everyone that knows you, especially your family and friends. It will decrease their utility. Mathematically, this can be represented as:
S =  xi
       i = 1

S is the suicide, x is anyone whose utility is affected by the suicide with i being used to specify a certain individual (for example x1 could be the mother, x2 could be the father etc.) and n is the number of people affected. The ∑ means that all values of xi are added together from the number underneath (1) to the value above (n). Example:

A mother and father both lose utility 0.1 as a result of the suicide of their son. What is the total utility change caused by the son's suicide?

Well 2 people are affected, the mother (x1) and the father (x2). Both x1 and x2 are -0.1. We simply add them together.

-0.1 + (-0.1) = -0.1 - 0.1 = -0.2

The son's suicide has decreased utility by 0.2. This tells us that the son's suicide is wrong, although the son almost certainly knew the effect his death would have on his family and chose to kill himself anyway. This is simply maths telling you that people will miss you!

Before I go any further, some might look back at the murder scenario and look at it as overly simplistic in light of the fact that we are now including the effects the action has on relatives and friends in the equation. You'd be right. If this ever gets used in practice, these less direct effects must be included in the equations, I'm just introducing you to the science here.


Enough messing around. If the science can't advise us on the big issues, what's the point of it? By the simple fact that abortion remains a contentious issue, whatever I write here will be controversial. Let's get to it.

Conception is the creation of a moral agent, a life form with a utility value. How do we address the problem of the developing human being? Well, if morality is to be based on an organism's capacity for emotion, self-awareness and caring about its existence, none of this applies to a foetus until the neural architecture making this possible has developed. Until this point, the organism's utility value is 0 and so abortion at this stage is a zero utility action. It's neither wrong nor right. At this point, the pro-life side will make the following criticisms:

"What about the fetus' potential for life?"
"Isn't their any utility in the health of an organism?"

I'll deal with the second one first. The simple answer is no. At face value, an organism incapable of caring about its health has a utility of 0 as the organism is unable to care what you do to it. Does this necessarily mean that killing such an organism is never wrong? Not really, not if its actions still affect the utility values of others. For example, if a certain insect plays a crucial role in the conservation of the environment, killing enough of them will later on affect human beings.

The issue of a non-moral agent being able to perform moral actions is central to addressing the pro-lifers 1st criticism as well. An unborn human being has the potential to raise the utility of others on average, to lower it, or for the good and bad to cancel themselves out. Since the outcome is completely unpredictable, the 3 outcomes are treated as having equal probability. A fair criticism would be that the probability of an exact net zero change in the utility of others should be much lower, but what really matters is that the positive and negative utility outcomes have equal probability. This makes the expected utility change caused by that potential human's actions 0. In summary, because we never know whether that human being will be good overall or bad overall, the 2 equal probabilities cancel each other out and so both the developing human's own utility value and the change they are expected to cause in other people's utility values is 0. This makes the pro-lifers' first criticism irrelevant to the utility equations.

The pro-choice side will have a criticism of their own.

"Doesn't this mean that abortion after the fetus' brain is working is immoral?"

To some extent, yes. The fetus is capable of suffering and has a rudimentary awareness of its existence. Its utility value is therefore non-zero. The issue of abortion at this stage now reverts to the murder scenario outlined earlier: it will always be a negative utility action. At this stage, if you don't want the child, the more moral options are to remove it from the womb and have it grow further outside or to carry it to term and give it up for adoption. Ideally, the best thing to have done would have been to get the abortion early. I appreciate that the legality of abortion in any given country could make this impossible for some, but this is where the science comes in handy, as it shows that illegal early abortion is unjustified.

In cases where the mother's health is at risk, you just compare the outcomes of the following 2 scenarios.

1. The fetus is not aborted and the mother and fetus die.
2. The fetus is aborted so the fetus dies.

Mathematically, we can use the earlier murder equation to represent this:

m = mother's utility value
f = fetus' utility value

Case 1 = -m - f
Case 2 = -f

It's very straight forward. In either case, the fetus will die so no matter what stage of development the fetus is at, the higher utility option is always case 2. This is an example where both cases are negative utility actions. Neither are ideal, but since these are the only possibilities, you go with the option which decreases utility the least.

Remember, a science gets stronger with criticism. I WANT you to criticise this or ask questions about scenarios I may not have included here.


If we're all on the same page, you'll probably think it's not looking good for those who support euthanasia. Don't be too hasty though. When dealing with the issue of euthanasia, what we're asking in terms of the science is this: can it ever be positive utility to kill someone? If we're talking about killing someone against their will, no. It doesn't matter what the utility value of the murder victim is, it's always wrong. However, euthanasia deals with situations where the victim will die anyway. This makes it more analogous to the 2 scenarios in the abortion issue. Let's take the example of a patient on life support. This time the scenarios are as follows.

1. The patient will remain comatose/in agony until their death.
2. The patient is removed from life support and they die shortly after.

Case 1 depends very heavily on the condition of the patient. If they are in a coma and die while comatose, their utility is unlikely to vary much. Since the effects of the patient's death on the relatives and friends is unlikely to vary either, there is likely to be little difference in the utility change caused by the particular scenario chosen. What about when the patient is in agony?

First, let's assume they can communicate with us. We first need to establish a new principle for our science. I might rename it later, but for now I'll call it the Moral Responsibility Transfer principle:

MRT principle

"If an individual A freely wishes, without any manipulative influence upon them, to perform an action which lowers their own utility, but is unable to carry out the action his/herself, another individual B can carry out the action on behalf of A if A freely allows, without any manipulative influence upon them, to grant B this responsibility. B's actions are then treated in the utility equation as A's."

I've taken great care in the wording to exclude cases where someone is being manipulated into providing MRT, or is unable to consent, or cases where the MRT recipient decreases utility further than is requested. The application of the MRT principle in euthanasia is that, because the patient is unable to kill him/herself, another must do it for them, and since the patient wants to die, even though their utility is decreased to 0, because it is in accordance with the patient's wishes, it is not wrong. It can also be used by human beings long before an accident that puts them in that scenario occurs.

A simple way to sum up the action is to go back to what I was saying about a person decreasing their own utility not being immoral. This is exempt from the utility equation. The MRT principle simply treats the actions of the person assisting in the patient's suicide as the actions of the patient. I make this point to discourage possible criticisms that this is an arbitrary principle invented to justify my own views. Science is about modelling reality, and in reality, we don't punish people for carrying out the freely chosen wishes of another informed human being, even if those wishes are detrimental to that person. It's only when we doubt how free those wishes are or how informed they are that we take issue.

What does this mean for the 2 scenarios? Well, it depends on whether the patient wants to die. If they don't, case 2 would be treated in the same way as murder and the MRT principle doesn't apply. This would be a negative utility action for the person who makes the decision about life support. As for case 1, the decision to endure is the patient's and so morality isn't involved. If, however, the patient does want to die, the MRT principle applies to the person assisting in the death as it is the patient's informed choice. If the patient is not taken off of life support, despite the patient's wishes to the contrary, those who are able to do so are morally responsible for all of the patient's suffering prior to their death as they could've prevented it. How are all of these scenarios expressed mathematically?

Patient chooses not to die:

P = patient's utility value immediately prior to death
E = euthanasia action utility change on patient
\E = non-action utility change on patient
si = suffering event number i
di = decay constant of suffering event number i
t = time
                     n        -dit
Case 1: \E = sie          - P

Hieroglyphics? Don't worry, I'll explain it. What we're modelling here is not just the patient's death but their suffering up to the point of their death. The actual death is the -P part (the murder equation from earlier). The rest involves slightly more complicated mathematics. You may recognise ∑ from earlier, the function which adds together related variables. s refers to the change in utility caused when the patient experiences pain and i is simply used to describe how many times it's happened. For example, s3 means that the patient is experiencing a burst of pain for the third time. n refers to the number of times this burst of pain will occur prior to their death. However, the pain will decrease with time and their utility value will gradually rise again, most likely due, in this scenario, to the involvement of painkillers. This is where e, di and t come in. e is an irrational number like pi. Very roughly, it's value is close to 2.7. I'm not going to explain it in detail here, but it's standard practice to use this number for what I'm about to describe. As you can see, -dit is above e. We are raising e "to the power of -dit" which means we are multiplying e by 1 -dit times, or dividing e from 1 dit times, whichever way helps you understand it better. Because the logarithm (-dit in this case) is negative, e to the power of this logarithm will be between 0 and 1 and decreasing towards 0 as t increases. di was described in the equation key as the decay constant. This is just a number chosen to make the model accurate. You could describe it in this case as the effectiveness of the pain killers. The higher d is, the less time is required for e to the power of -dit to converge to 0. \E will always be less than 0 as the patient's utility decreases from a positive value to 0 as they die.

This equation is just a utility equation. Morality isn't relevant to it as the responsibility for the suffering and death involved was taken by the patient. In a morality relevant utility equation, e to the power of dit is not relevant as it describes the recovery of the suffering. People are not absolved of their actions simply because the suffering they cause will eventually subside.

Case 2: E = -P

This is a straight forward murder equation. The patient did not ask to be euthanised, so doing so is murder. This is a negative utility action for which the person doing the euthanising is culpable and that's all there is to it.

Patient chooses to die:

The utility equations for case 1 and case 2 are the same. However, since morality is relevant to case 1, and the decay rates aren't, we should describe this in a separate equation:

\Em = morally relevant utility change of no euthanasia

Case 1: \Em∑ si 

As you can see, e to the power of -dit has been taken out. As I described earlier, we don't absolve people of the suffering they cause simply because the suffering caused by the action diminishes over time. To get a value relevant to the morality of the action we have to remove this from the equation. -P, the death, is also absent from the equation as this is inevitable. The person who failed to respect the patient's wishes for euthanasia is not responsible for the patient's death simply because they are responsible for all of the patient's suffering prior to it. All we need to do then is add up the utility change of each sudden burst of pain, which will all be negative, and we get the morally relevant utility value of neglecting the patient's wishes. This will obviously always be negative as well.

Case 2 is as above, but the MRT principle applies, so the equation describes the wishes of the patient, and so is not morally relevant.

For now, I just want to look at 1 more scenario:


This issue describes the morality of having children. Natalists argue that there is positive utility in having children and antinatalists argue that there is negative utility in having children. What might this science of morality say?

We can model the scenario but we can't really say 1 side is right and the other is wrong as things currently stand. Let me explain.

We'll model what we know to start with. Conception doesn't immediately produce a non-zero utility human, but 1 develops in the womb. Conception with intention to carry the child could be seen as a positive utility action as, after the 9 month incubation period, a child is born with non-zero utility b (for birth). This could very simply be modelled as:

C = b

However, we also know for a fact that the child will eventually die. The parents bring a child into existence knowing it will die. If they are responsible for the positive utility of their birth, they are also responsible for the negative utility of their death, as we can't be selective about which events they are responsible for. However, it's unlikely that the utility after birth will be the same as the utility before death. We need a variable d for death, but we also need one to represent their lifetime utility change (l). Modifying the equation we get:

C = b + l + d = 0

The three variables will always add up to 0 as, because the human being created always dies, their final utility will always be 0. b is always positive, l could be positive, zero or negative, and d is always negative. The act of creating a new human being, then, is a zero utility action and so is neither right nor wrong.

One thing we've not considered is the utility change that the new human will bring about in others. However, as I said in the abortion scenario, this is completely unpredictable. Positive and negative utility change, therefore are treated as equal probability and so the expected change still adds up to 0. We will never be able to predict this change, so this is the fairest way of modelling the scenario.

Well, that's all for now. There are many more scenarios to consider, but this is just a taster of how we could use utility to quantify morality. Any questions or criticisms are encouraged and welcome.