Sunday, 27 December 2015

All Power To Otherkin

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

Quick but mandatory disclaimer, I am not an otherkin myself. I just don't judge people for decisions they make about their lives that don't affect mine. If you don't already, you should try it some time. It's great! :)

TheAmazingAtheist recently made a video about otherkin. Basically these are people who either partially or entirely identify as other animals. There are of course nuances to this: some people do it out of a supernaturally-based belief in reincarnation, others simply recognize something within themselves that they only see in other animals. To me, this is quite intuitive. We're all animals, our brains are broadly similar, and we all have the same evolutionary purposes: survive and reproduce. It's easy to see how people can make the connection between the emotions and traits they see in themselves and those in other animals. As an atheist, I can't get behind the "reincarnation" aspect for those otherkin for whom this applies, but the rest isn't that hard to grasp.

TJ's video is very patronizing towards otherkin. Of course, this isn't that unexpected: a new or unfamiliar idea will go through stages whereby it is first ridiculed, then gains some acceptance, to which there is a backlash, then finally wider acceptance. Or it'll never get past the first stage. I think otherkin will become an accepted idea, but it'll take a while. Let me explain.

As a kid, I watched a lot of cartoons. One that I saw a lot of was Batman of the Future (Batman Beyond in America), a Batman series set in the future where Bruce Wayne has retired and he is mentoring a kid called Terry to take over from him. There is one episode where the kids at Terry's school (Terry being the new Batman) get genetic treatments to give themselves the physiological traits of other animals: fur, fangs, tails, wings etc. This is presented in the show as a school fad, and leads to problems for Batman, but the idea may not be far off becoming reality. We're already splicing genes. Who's to say we couldn't one day do this for real? Another interesting perspective on this is offered by the Orion's Arm project and their concepts of rianths, provolves and splices. In their fictional vision of the future, the modification of genomes is so easy, so uncontroversial and so widespread, that a panoply of different combinations of different animals and different levels of sentience and intelligence, ranging from a baseline animal of a particular type to hyperintelligence (orders of magnitude beyond human) exist without significant conflict or unease. Otherkin are the first step along this path. Supporting them is, in my mind, extremely socially progressive. It is to support an idea decades or even centuries ahead of its time. Far more importantly, however, defending the impetus of otherkin to be themselves is just a decent thing to do.

As I eluded to in my first paragraph, their views on themselves don't affect your life in any way. Nothing about their identities precludes them from being caring friends, hard workers, creative thinkers, motivated go-getters, and otherwise all-round decent people any more than does their skin colour, sexual orientation or gender identity. It is something that, with the right attitude, simply becomes nothing more than another eccentricity, just like your tendency to rant about drug policy while drunk, or my tendency to respond to everything anyone says to me with "yeh" and nothing more.

The only counter-argument to this worth even mentioning is that "if I choose to be friends or associate with this person who identifies as otherkin, people won't just shun THEM, they'll shun me as well", to which I say simply this: FIND BETTER PEOPLE. They're shunning of you is even less credible than their shunning of otherkin. This of course ignores the fact that there are an endless number of situations in which there is simply no obligation or need to even MENTION the fact that you have a friend or acquaintance like this.

There is a loftier message here: too often we get on with other people based on condemnation of others. I do not judge people for quirks or eccentricities they may possess that have no effect on my life, but still I have a bad habit of being suggestible in conversation, and I can end up building on another's bad-mouthing just so that we have SOMETHING to talk about. This speaks to my flaws as a conversationalist and a sheep in certain contexts, under certain pressures, and is something I'm constantly working on. I understand this allure, but we can still hold ourselves to an ideal where the judging of these people, either through our thoughts, words or actions is not something we should condone. We should get on with each other based on our interests, our philosophies, our feelings and our ideas, not on our qualms with others. This is the thought with which I'll leave you today.


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Islam and Terrorism

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I'm posting this as a reaction to a video by ghostofdayinperson. I say reaction because I've wanted to say something about this for a while, but how to approach it eluded me. The things she mentions in her video work well enough for this purpose. The topic in question is Islam, and the extent of its role in terrorist attacks around the world since 9/11.

I'm deliberately not calling this a "response" as this is quite an angry video. Vloggers tend to make a range of different types of videos, and occasionally something riles them up. Many people then pick on that video when there are more substantial and calmer ones out there. This is not one of those videos, so I want it to be clear that this isn't a critique of her position or the video. I don't know her position in detail. All I'm giving here is mine, using her comments as a framework.


Critics of this re-occurring claim by Muslims point to the terrorist attacks and the violent past of its adherents. One of the arguments you would've heard in our community back in the day, and gotten sick of, was that there are numerous contradictions in the Bible, giving rise to all the various interpretations and sects. The Qur'an shares much of the Bible's material and so is no different. In fact, the books don't even have to be contradictory. Human beings are complex: they can be peaceful one moment and violent the next, and these human qualities are captured in the stories. Most Muslims here in the West do not support the attacks and there are numerous examples of people speaking out about it: we are always challenged to give examples in situations like this, but since all you need to do to get page after page of examples is type "muslim reaction to paris attacks" into Google, I think we can skip that here. I will single out this TIME article if you're a special kind of lazy. Two interpretations, one religion. It's the interpretation put forward by groups like Al-Qaeda and Daesh that is the main concern.

Now, as an atheist, I know where ghost is coming from. Several people, myself included, argued vehemently against religion in general back in the day, and I stand by the vast majority of my views. When you put your faith in a religion, much of your worldview will derive from it, and since religion requires faith, having a worldview based on a premise that admits to requiring blind faith is something I find highly suspect. The deity is the most worrying part, as it gives people the imagined "moral authority" to carry out attacks like the ones we've been discussing. This is true of any belief involving imagined authority figures. In other words, Islam isn't "special". It also neither is nor isn't a religion of peace. This is a category error. As a religion in practice depends on the actions of it's followers, it is the followers who make it either a religion of peace, or the "death cult" ghost describes it as. When we weigh in on either side of this debate, we elevate one interpretation over another in our minds. This is the wrong approach. Instead, the first part of our strategy should be to support the adherents of the interpretation we prefer to represent Islam.

Some might ask "why would we support Muslims at all, we don't agree with their worldview?" Well, it's not going away anytime soon. However, we absolutely should make positive arguments about how rejecting religion and embracing things like the scientific method and open-mindedness as a means to derive your worldview allows you to begin from a premise free of assumptions counter to our everyday reality, on which you can construct a worldview designed to strengthen itself against rationality. We highlight the immense satisfaction that new experiences, the application of reason, and gaining an understanding of the, at times, extremely counter-intuitive reality of the physical world can give us. We also accept that any decline in religion will still take time and we have to address the issues of the present. The weeding out of the "evil" interpretations of Islam is something that has to come from within the religion, by the adherents. Any group more highly values the opinions of its own members than "outsiders". We must recognize that moderates are already going out of their way to condemn the terrorists because, apart from them committing acts universally recognized as abominable, the media attention this generates causes them to be feared, hated, and sometimes attacked themselves. We MUST sympathize with them on this point, further encourage them to speak out against the terrorists, but most importantly, we need to strengthen, not further erode, our relations with them. In my experience on YouTube, I think I can confidently say that the best way to destroy erroneous assumptions about a group or person, and to have them take your views seriously, is to become friends with them. I should also mention, I'm not thinking of this as a tactical ploy, it's a genuine attempt to get to know people so that hostilities die and a meaningful exchange of ideas becomes possible. You probably won't get them to renounce religion, but it's hard to hate an ideology your friend is a part of.


Plenty I've said above should make that untrue for me. There are almost definitely people out there who have very little understanding of the issues, and are defending Islam and Muslims out of knee-jerk sympathy, but I am going to make my position crystal clear: I will defend ANY Muslim who doesn't support the views of groups like ISIS on this issue. There will be things we disagree on enormously, but a Muslim who just wants to live their life in peace and not be associated with any of this shit deserves the basic level of respect that they can have that peace and lack of association. We too easily lose sight of the fact that innocent people get caught in our vitriol.


Among ISIS as well, yes, I at least am blaming the West too, because WE VERY CLEARLY PLAYED OUR PART IN THIS.

Imagine this as a game of chess. If you think only about your next move, your understanding of the situation will be this.



This ignores ISIS' strategy entirely. They want a global caliphate, and they are counting on us attacking them so that they can use the collateral damage to garner sympathy for their cause which they can use to recruit more members. ISIS' "chessgame" looks something like this:






We can see 2 things very clearly: first, ISIS are thinking several steps ahead, and second, we can see just how vital it is that we don't play into their hands by stirring up rhetoric about the evils of Islam, as we are just handing them more potential recruits and subjecting our countries to yet more terrorism. So yes, we the West are at fault. I'll say it again: WE ARE AT FUCKING FAULT! If atheists are really so much more rational, we need to accept this basic fact as not doing so means being embarrassingly outwitted by the very people we claim to be more rational than.

The "chessgame" above serves to demonstrate why I feel my approach is effective: this is about the supremacy of ideas. We need to be living, breathing paragons of the virtues of the West, demonstrating that we do not accept killing, we argue civilly, and we are open-minded and friendly, willing to accept anyone as our friend, and defeat our enemies on mental rather than physical battlefields.


Islam is not the problem. As I've said, that doesn't even make sense. The Qur'an, and the "divine authority" its adherents claim to get from it, are tools used by some to enforce select morals from the book on others. It is essential we understand these nuances and use it to target our criticisms, or we alienate all Muslims who don't want anything to do with these people, cause them to hate us, and wonder why we haven't eradicated religion yet.

It's not weak to be smart. Calling Islam in general the problem is just dumb and can ONLY result in us being ineffective and therefore weak. We are not denying the problem, we have a more nuanced understanding of it. We see the people behind the labels and the moves ahead of our own moves. We see a solution, while others are sleepwalking with silver platters to ISIS. I, through what I'm doing on this blog and on my YouTube channel, am seeking to be part of the solution. You don't need to be that, you can be indifferent if you like. Don't, though, be part of the problem.


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Atheist Response to CARM's "Questions For Atheists"

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

When I started making videos and writing blog posts, they mostly centered around my views as an atheist. As shocking as this revelation is, it's been a while. Since TJ made a video addressing questions posed to atheists by Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, I thought I'd do them as well to see where I stand now. Here's the article for the full list.

1. How would you define atheism?

First, I like the way this question is phrased. Not "what is the definition of atheism", but rather, how would I define it. I've written and talked endlessly about how people hold up definitions on pedestals and how this generates drama. WE define words. They're not just ethereally defined and we have to use them that way. What we're really arguing about is how the word SHOULD be defined, and I'm guessing people work in the concept of "the definition" to try and grant their definition more authority.

But anyway...

Atheism, to me, is the philosophical stance of not believing in any gods, or flat out rejecting their existence. There are qualifiers, some which act as independent stances as well, such as "agnostic" (not knowing whether gods exist), "gnostic" (knowing they do or knowing they don't, or claiming to at least), and "ignostic" (rejecting that the term "god" can even be defined adequately enough to even have a discussion about belief in or knowledge of them). I would describe myself as an ignostic, agnostic atheist: I don't believe in any gods, however I can't say for a fact they don't exist, but the definitions given for current gods are too disputed and vague to make an accurate assessment in the first place. Many people will use 1 of those words to describe themselves and reject the others. I accept all 3.

2. Do you act according to what you believe (there is no God) in or what you don't believe in (lack belief in God)?

By comparison, I find this question far less well phrased. I don't believe there is no god as I'm not a "gnostic atheist" (see above). My actions would have to derive from the non-belief, insofar as they actually can.

A lot of people at this point would make some statements like "atheism is a belief in the same way as not collecting stamps is a hobby", and while I agree, atheism shares one characteristic with beliefs: it informs the way you live your life far more profoundly than a non-hobby by virtue of religion's influence in society. Many atheists actively seek to minimize this influence and, when I started on YouTube, I leaned towards this point of view too. While I still think religion causes a lot of problems, taking the idea too much to heart has issues too. One of the main reasons the atheist community died was the massive rift that opened up after discussions about Islam became the dominant topic on YouTube. Because of the actions of some fundamentalists, and because things like 9/11, 7/7 and the Madrid bombings were still too fresh in people's minds, people went to town on Islam, and didn't shy away from painting all Muslims as terrorists or sympathizers. I couldn't go along with this, and neither could many others. My view is that while religion may cause more harm on balance than good, religion is still practiced by human beings with thoughts and feelings, and so  the best way to interact with them is on this level. Have conversations with them, get to know them, be honest about what you believe, and pay attention to what they believe too. In the end, we judge people on their character, not their ideas. Of course their ideas will influence their character, but character is responsible for actions, and they always carry more weight.

3. Do you think it is inconsistent for someone who "lacks belief" in God to work against God's existence by attempting to show God doesn't exist?

I have a few qualms with this question. First, I'm not trying to show that God doesn't exist. A complete lack of evidence points in the direction of that conclusion just fine. Secondly, I can't make any sense of the question. What does it mean to "work against God's existence"? The author is Christian so they obviously believe in God, but the question seems to presuppose God exists from the get go. Nevertheless I still can't fathom, even given the premise that the question presupposes God exists, how it could be viewed as inconsistent from ANY perspective to try to demonstrate he doesn't. It goes back to the question of whether you KNOW there is or isn't a god. In my case, I don't know, so it's perfectly consistent for me to test hypotheses until I arrive at some conclusion, if I ever do.

4. How sure are you that your atheism properly represents reality?

I'm going to give an answer that will seem at face value very interesting to the religious: 0%. I am not sure at all. I am also 0% sure God exists. I'm 0% sure Allah exists. I'm 0% sure Zeus, Apollo, Thor and King Kai exist. Going further, the question is unanswerable through empirical means. In the face of this total uncertainty, what do you do? Well, I disagree with Blaise Pascal: if you assume the Christian God exists just to maximize your chances of getting into heaven, what if there is a god, who's just as selective about the eligibility of his/her followers for admittance into heaven based on their belief in him/her? How could you ever possibly know who's right? Since most people inherit their religious beliefs from their family/friends/wider culture, are some people doomed to some version of hell through nothing other than accident of birth? No, I believe in living your life according to rules that are based on things which are DEFINITELY grounded in reality: empathy and logic.

5. How sure are you that your atheism is correct?

I fail to see any significant difference between this question and the last.

6. How would you define what truth is?

Here we go! As I said before, we define words. As such, truth is a word we've used to describe a concept we don't fully understand, so it follows that the term isn't well defined (you could say I'm "ignostic" about truth :D). However, I'm not going to dodge the question:

A statement can be logically true: 1+1=2. However, even this could be subverted. "2" is a symbol used to describe a concept: there is two of something. What if that symbol was changed to mean "three of something"? The statement is only true because the underlying semantic content is a tautology. That is to say if you have one of something, then another of that same thing, you have one of something and another of it.

The use of the word "truth" by human beings must also be taken in the context of their limitations. By the standards of a lie detector, you would be telling the truth if you were simply able to convince the lie detector that you BELIEVED what you were saying to be true. In addition, if you're telling the truth about something you saw happen, that depends on your vision, your memory, and, to really melt the brains, whether reality is as we perceive it.

This is why I can be precisely 0% sure of my atheism and the existence of any deity. We don't, and can't, know what truth actually is.

7. Why do you believe your atheism is a justifiable position to hold?

Finally, my maths degree comes in handy. Atheism is the "null hypothesis" on the question of the existence of gods. To prove another hypothesis, you would need to prove, as a minimum, the existence of the deity in question. Atheism is what we inevitably fall back on when that task fails.

8. Are you a materialist or a physicalist or what?

I will use CARM's definitions here:


A materialist atheist is someone who assumes that the physical universe and its properties are all that exist and that nothing exists outside of the material world, and this necessarily means that a transcendent God cannot exist.


Physicalism is the proposition that all that exists does so within the limitations of the physical universe and that there are no other kinds of things other than the physical and things derived from the physical realm whether they be forms of energy, motion, or thought.

Yes and yes, but with an important point. This view derives from science which is constantly evolving. What constitutes the physical world changes as science discovers something new. If we were able to show that a god exists, then the god, and everything they were capable of, would be a "material" or "physical" entity from that point on.

9. Do you affirm or deny that atheism is a worldview? Why or why not?

I think here a lot of atheists would end up conflating "belief" and "worldview" as there is vocal opposition to calling it a "belief". However, I have no problem calling it a worldview in that it makes a statement about the state of affairs in the universe: namely that I don't believe in any gods.

10. Not all atheists are antagonistic to Christianity but for those of you who are, why the antagonism?

I'd like to think I'm among the "not antagonistic" atheists. I won't shove my beliefs down other people's throat. If someone asks me what my position is I'll tell them, and I'm happy to talk in detail about these beliefs, but I'm not going to just go off on one whenever I feel like it.

As to why others are, I've been doing this long enough that I don't need to speculate. There are atheists living all over the world who have been marginalized by their more religious family members, friends, teachers, governments etc. Some are shunned, some are fired, and some are even executed. The antagonism is a reaction to, or even a defense mechanism against, this persecution. Even on the less horrific side of this scale, an atheist still has no chance of becoming US President, are still on similar footing to rapists in terms of how well they are trusted, and, as an unfortunate consequence of our activities on the internet, we have recently become stereotyped as intolerant and loud-mouthed.

My response to this is that people on both sides should make an effort to get to know PEOPLE on the rival side. As I said in my answer to question 2, character is what matters.

11. If you were at one time a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny His existence?

I'm not sure if I ever was. I was very loosely raised Christian in the sense that I was taught about heaven and hell, baptized, and that was about it. It wasn't an important part of my immediate family at any point. There were several events that led me away from Christianity.

The first time I ever properly understood death was when seeing it happen on an episode of Casualty when I was 6. I was with my Gran and I was so upset that I begged for my Mum to come back. I think I had the picture in my head before that it was a bit more like a video game: the moment of death would happen and you'd just sprout wings and fly up to heaven :)

The second was in high school when I was 14. I'd already gone over questions like this in my head but it crystallized when a substitute teacher took one of our assemblies and said "God has a plan for you" then shortly after, "God loves you". For me, the 2 concepts didn't fit. God's plan had to include people who never live to adulthood, people with debilitating diseases, and people born into extreme poverty. If he loved us, why would he EVER do that to anyone? It all unraveled from there: his "omni" character traits can't co-exist, the Jesus story doesn't make any sense at all, and there's no evidence for god. I'll come to that last one later as there's a question on it.

12. Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?

It's difficult. My instinct is "yes", but religion does provide some benefits for some people, and there's plenty of evidence of people not being very pleasant without it.

Religious texts tend to be contradictory. The result of this is that schools of thought develop as to which interpretations are true, and which passages are more important. Most schools of thought, especially nowadays, emphasize the positive parts ("love thy neighbour", for example). We do, however. also have the Westboro Baptist Church and ISIS.

For me, I think the major benefit of a religion-free world is the necessity of grounding your positions in terms of what can be proven to be real. If someone's arguing against genetic modification, we know it's not because they think we'd be "playing god".

13. Do you believe the world would be better off without Christianity?

It certainly has a dark past: the Crusades, witch hunts, the Nazis (sorry, "Gott Mit Uns" is pretty conclusive) and the aforementioned Westboro Baptist Church. My answer, I guess, follows the same path as the last question.

14. Do you believe that faith in a God or gods is a mental disorder?

If we're being technical, no. It's not in the DSM V. It wouldn't be anyway: it's a symptom at best. It might qualify as a delusion (you can thank Dawkins for that), but I don't agree with this either. A delusion is perceiving something we KNOW doesn't exist. As I've said above, God is unknowable, so he doesn't qualify.

15. Must God be known through the scientific method?

I guess the idea here is that the scientific method is used to verify his existence. Here's the problem: once probed far enough, most believers assert that god is in some way supernatural. Take a trait like omnipotence: how would you verify this? You could ask him to demonstrate his power, but how could we ever perceive, let alone verify, infinite power? That's assuming he'd agree to be our lab rat at all. That's the conundrum with God, in order to prove his existence, you would have to rule out ALL natural explanations for whatever "evidence" is presented. This alone is impossible, but verifying something infinite takes it to a whole other realm of unfathomably hopeless.

God's existence is asserted in a gap that is impossible to fill: the state of defining an entity whose traits are impossible to prove or disprove.

16. If you answered yes to the previous question, then how do you avoid a category mistake by requiring material evidence for an immaterial God?

10 steps ahead of you :) My philosophy, and the philosophy of most atheists I know, depends on being able to verify the material existence of something. Positing God isn't an achievement here, as he's every bit as impossible to prove as he is to disprove.

17. Do we have any purpose as human beings?

We evolved on Earth over billions of years. Processes don't have plans. We have to decide what we do with the time we have.

18. If we do have purpose, can you as an atheist please explain how that purpose is determined?

Let me pose a thought experiment to any religious people watching. Assume that there is no possibility whatsoever of getting into heaven when you die, you will instead be going to hell. There is nothing you could do or say to God to get him to change his mind. How would you live your life? What would you do? I'm not conflating non-existence of the mind with hell here, it's just so that you can more easily put yourself in our shoes. Because we don't believe in a god, our values and desires, which arise through the natural upbringing and environment of our daily lives, guide us towards what we want to do with our lives.

19. Where does morality come from?

It's a by-product of the human mind's ability to make value judgments. If someone hits us, we feel a sensation that we ascribe negative value to. Likewise, if we get a gift, we feel a positive sensation. The final piece of the puzzle is the observation that other people react in similar ways when they experience these actions. This is the blueprint for building morality. However, the nuances are very much up for debate. This will already be a very long post so I won't go into the nuances here, but I am quite drawn to the utilitarian views of ethics: namely that an action can be judged as good or bad in accordance with the pleasure (an umbrella term for all positive emotions) and pain (likewise for negative emotions) these actions bring.

20. Are there moral absolutes?

This is another question heavily involving semantics. To me, a moral absolute is a statement about the morality of an action that can be objectively true or false. For example, if the phrase "killing people is wrong" is an absolute, this would be a true or false statement. As I've already said, I believe these are simply value judgments. I would go even further; even for theists, there are no moral absolutes, as god's morality is still just his opinion. There is nothing about any of his traits that can transform a judgment into a fact.

21. If there are moral absolutes, could you list a few of them?

Even though my previous answer makes answering this question redundant, there is still more I could say. While I judge actions by the amount of pleasure or pain they cause, it's important to note that every action causes a different amount of pleasure and pain, and so there are actions which, while they are not absolutes, are ALMOST universally seen as good or bad. Helping the poor may be an example of a significant good, while genocide may be an example of a significant ill.

22. Do you believe there is such a thing as evil? If so, what is it?

If we're talking about an ethereal concept, no. If we're talking about an adjective to describe a person, that's a matter of simply choosing, or not choosing, to use the word. Personally, I do, as it's a simple and widely understood way to describe someone who is doing bad things for no redeemable reason. What I mean by this is that when a lot of people do bad things, they feel like they can justify it. For example, robberies might take place because the perpetrator is very poor or hungry. Rape might take place out of a misunderstanding of what constitutes rape. Even offense is simply caused by the fact that it's far too difficult and exhausting to please everyone, so we just have to be ourselves, follow basic "don't be a dick" rules, but otherwise simply risk that something we do or say will be offensive to someone. Someone who I would call "evil", on the other hand, is perfectly embodied by Heath Ledger's Joker: someone who commits crimes because it's fun for him, and he likes destruction and pain. Of course, this is an extreme (and fictitious) example, but you get the idea I'm sure.

23. If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that He is bad?

I've explained my standard so I'll just get into my opinion of God. This is a being that supposedly created us, and then couldn't understand that we would act freely. He seeks to impose rules on people that he knows will not follow those rules, he has killed people for it, he killed HIS OWN SON on behalf of OTHER PEOPLE doing it, this killing is one of the things he forbids, making him a massive hypocrite, and simply the fact that he created our ability to suffer AT ALL. This means he has knowingly created people who will mostly suffer in their lifetime, and the justification for all of this is "he has a plan". Yes, I think he's bad.

24. What would it take for you to believe in God?

If you're referring specifically to the Christian god, nothing. He is ill-defined, his traits cannot co-exist, and the possible traits are such that there is no way of proving his existence, as there is no way to rule out all possible natural explanations for his existence.

25. What would constitute sufficient evidence for God's existence?

I've addressed this. I find it interesting that the traits that God is meant to possess: omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence and omnipresence make it impossible for God's existence to be proven. It does however make perfect sense if you see it as a way for opportunists to make him immune to disproving.

26. Must this evidence be rationally based, archaeological, testable in a lab, etc., or what?

None of that will do any good if the god in question is supernatural, as these methods rely on naturalism.

27. Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer? Why?

In terms of how they will turn out in practice, not a clue. I think that an atheist society has the POTENTIAL to be safer though. First, all decisions will be based on things that can be proven (see the 3-person babies example above). Second, religion offers rules to follow. These rules are often far too simplistic, never change, and, most importantly, are aided by the moral weight of an all-powerful authority figure, so transgressing against these rules if you feel they don't make sense, is more difficult. It is especially a problem if we have no reason to believe this figure is all-powerful. An atheist society is free to explore exceptions to rules, and to change with the time. Finally, what few benefits might appear in a religious society (a sense of community, a sense of purpose, and the inspiration religion can impart) can be emulated by an atheist society if a concerted effort is put toward it.

28. Do you believe in free will? (free will being the ability to make choices without coercion).

The best answer I can give to this question is I don't know. Gun to the head, I lean towards no, so I'm quite comfortable saying that I don't believe in free will. The reason for these answers is that we don't yet know enough about how the human brain works to describe consciousness in the necessary detail to answer the question, but quantum physics is insufficiently well understood, so in a similar way that God is immune to being disproved by placing him outside nature, free will is impossible to disprove as things stand even within a naturalistic framework, as that framework is incomplete. I lean towards no because, without going to quantum scales, things have causes and effects. It's very possible that we could just be an extremely complex algorithm, following instructions in accordance with the state of our neurons and the stimuli we receive through our senses.

29. If you believe in free will, do you see any problem with defending the idea that the physical brain, which is limited and subject to the neuro-chemical laws of the brain, can still produce free will choices?

I see you've post-empted the answer to my last question :D

I don't believe in free will as I said. I don't see any reason why an algorithm can't create a sense of self, give that self self-awareness, and give it the illusion of choice. AI researches haven't been able to create anything like that yet, but I think it's only a matter of time.

30. If you affirm evolution and that the universe will continue to expand forever, then do you think it is probable that given enough time, brains would evolve to the point of exceeding mere physical limitations and become free of the physical and temporal, and thereby become "deity" and not be restricted by space and time? If not, why not?

You just made the sci-fi geek inside me very happy :)

So first off, I don't think this can happen by evolution alone. We are restricted by the possibilities of combining adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine (the 4 DNA bases). As our ability to manipulate ever smaller matter increases with our technological capabilities, and as our understanding of science grows, a human race resembling the 5-dimensional beings in Interstellar could be possible. There is a futurist, by the name of Ray Kurzweil, who believes that we could be capable of this before the end of this century. By the way, this guy works for Google, who take his predictions very seriously. 

Regardless of how long it will take, short of an apocalyptic event (I'm not talking about the Rapture here necessarily; a standard meteor, climate change or superbug will do just fine), we will reach a point where we're using technology based on science we can't even imagine today. However, this will still be within the physical universe as, by definition, everything that we can describe around us constitutes the physical universe. As for temporal, we currently understand time to be an inherent quality of the universe, although Einstein showed us that it is malleable if you're a fan of enormous speed. Maybe there's more to it and if there is, we'll understand it in time.

31. If you answered the previous question in the affirmative, then aren't you saying that it is probable that some sort of God exists?

It really depends what you call a god. If we discovered in the distant future that the laws of logic weren't absolute, only then would it be possible for the Christian god to exist. Short of that, THAT god isn't possible. However, if a god is simply a being of vastly superior ability and intellect, and again, if we aren't wiped out before then, we are practically destined to become that. Technology will keep marching forward, and humans will keep wanting to better ourselves. When we no longer have to restrict ourselves to the capabilities of our brains, then things get really interesting!


Tuesday, 1 December 2015

5madheathens and The New Breakfast Club

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

Before you do anything else, I would really appreciate it if you check out this YouTube channel. No, I'm not in any way involved with it. It's just a new channel that I've come to subscribe to. It's a collab channel in which 7 YouTubers upload videos talking about something. Most are remnants of, or channels springing from the ashes of, what used to be the YouTube atheist community, if you believe there ever was such a thing. This is the 2nd incarnation of a collab channel of this name, the 1st one being shut down due to drama that occurred on the channel. I don't know what happened, as I was never subscribed to that version of it. Paul (YouTube user "gothatfunk"), a member of the first incarnation, created the 2nd around the same idea but emphasized his unwillingness to let the new version succumb to drama. This is what I want to focus on in this post. I'm writing this from the perspective of someone who was in a collab channel.

Back in "ought-nine", I was in a collab channel called 5madheathens. This was a similar idea, except sticking to weekdays and focusing on mainly philosophical topics. Now, before I go any further, the channel did not succumb to drama. No-one, to my knowledge at least, fell out over anything to do with the channel. None of the others have uploaded videos recently, but, in my last interactions with everyone involved, we were all on good terms. I did learn lessons though, which I hope can benefit the new Breakfast Club, and anyone else who is likely to participate in a collab channel in the future.

5madheathens had a number of lineup changes during its existence. I came in on episode 32. The way our channel worked was that we would take it in turns to pose a question to the rest of the members, and we would then answer it on our set day. After it got back to the person posing the question, he or she would then give their own take on the subject and, usually, say something about the others' responses. When I joined the channel, the subject was "What Do You Fear". Now, due to the format of the channel, confronting each others viewpoints was pretty much essential. People would commonly express their own opinions by comparing them with others, focusing on how theirs differed from the others. This is where my greatest lesson will come from.

The standard of discussion was very high. The majority of times someone mentioned others, it was to praise the things they'd said. With the exception of the person who referred me (and I'm not watching all 100+ videos to see if there was a time) I'm struggling to think of a single instance in which my views were praised. They were mostly criticized. I must emphasize here that I don't feel like I was singled out, and I don't have any resentment towards any of the members for any reason. My intelligence, however great or small it is, is something that matters to me greatly. I think I was just the idiot of the group.

I had a look at some of my videos on the channel and the ones I saw were cringe-worthy. I was just shy of 20. I was still relatively new to YouTube, and I was very much in my "badly rip-off the dynamic and manic style of the most famous YouTubers" phase. It did quite well in terms of viewership but, as pop stars repeatedly teach us by example, highest numbers don't mean best. A lot of the discussions involved debating the meaning of certain words like "love", "lie", "life" etc. and I've never been that great at, or even interested in, semantic discussions. In fact, my question "how reliable is language" can be interpreted as a veiled challenge to this. Still, I didn't do that much better on the other questions either.

Because of all this, and I don't think I've mentioned this to anyone before, the later episodes of the channel were almost like torture. Because my intelligence mattered so much to me, as it still does, I became consumed with constructing responses that were more insightful. Mostly, however, this just led me to making really stupid comments: one of the worst was when we were talking about how often we lie. At the time, I was at university, I had very few friends there, and I wasn't that talkative in general, so even with my family, I didn't say very much. What I did was to be absurdly literal and take comments like "there's nothing on" (my brother was asking what was on TV) as examples, and, of course, I was called out. I got more and more disenchanted with the channel, but I don't think I ever said anything. The channel fizzled out before I did say anything, as most people were not in a position to commit to weekly videos.

So what's the lesson? On a collab channel based on sharing ideas, criteria that both 5madheathens and The Breakfast Club meet, there will be disagreements. All of the Breakfast Club members understand this premise. They will also have insecurities that could lead to them being too competitive about the level of insight of their views, too emotionally invested in a particular view that can be challenged, or they may even have triggers. The Breakfast Club, by its very nature, consists of diverse members (other than their loose affiliation with the atheist community), and so maximizes the extent to which these insecurities can generate drama. Depending on the personalities of the participants, they could get expressed very vocally, or in a more passive-aggressive way (you could argue my 5madheathens video "how reliable is language" is an example of this), or through silent seething until it all comes out at once.

I am excited about the future of the Breakfast Club and I want it to succeed. I hope nothing I've said here gives anyone the opposite impression. I'm writing this post to make the point that it may not be the ideas themselves that generate drama and so it's not enough to just agree to be civil. That's a good step of course. What's better still is to take The Oracle's advice: know thyself. Know what pisses you off. Know what you deeply care about. Know what traits you value and despise in yourself and others. And when it comes to your ideas, know your shit (my mistake with 5madheathens was a grammatical misunderstanding of this maxim: "know you're shit"), but not to the point that it becomes a competition.

Remember, none of you have simple minds.


Saturday, 21 November 2015

Why We Romanticize Nature

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I've posted less than normal due to overtime at work. Ah well.

You'll have heard people, when arguing about all sorts of things, say something like "That's not natural." It may be valid, it may not. Here's the question though: why do we appeal to nature to begin with? What do we find so brilliant about nature that we invoke it as an attempted all-encompassing shut down of our opponents?

Let me start with my "feel-good" answer:

Nature is essentially our mother, hence the phrase "mother nature". It made humanity's existence possible, it is almost without exception entirely responsible for our food supply, and it carved out the rocks and caves which we first used as shelter back in the day. It's not perfect though: it also created lions, tigers and bears, and, while we may find them impressive and/or beautiful, they can still kill us. Like any parent, it has its flaws, but we learn to appreciate what it did for us. We invest in it and so we end up putting it on a pedestal, explaining away its flaws and focusing on its achievements. Any alternative, therefore, starts out at a disadvantage by having to fight against this emotional bias.

This is a "feel-good" answer because it may be true for us as we reflect on it later, but there's a glaring issue: the fact that it requires this reflection. A better answer, I think, is found in its near synonymy with "normal". Something that isn't normal is unfamiliar, weird, unnatural, and not to be trusted. This makes it a very powerful emotional appeal in favour of something you like, or against something you don't.

What's the point of this post? If I ever use this appeal, unsubscribe, vote me down, whatever, because I'm beyond saving.


Sunday, 15 November 2015

New Shapeways Store

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

Some of you know about my other YouTube channel, AxyssTV. As a result of aiming to make music videos for my songs (as you can see from the one whole video I did manage to make it never really took off), I dabbled in 3D modelling. I discovered a site called Shapeways in the past year and I've become quite interested in the idea of producing models to print them. This has the potential to get me out of the rut that I've been in when it's come to creative projects and maybe give the Axyss project, now 10 years old, a new lease of life. Here's a link to the only model I currently have:


Nothing But Mind Games

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn.

There have been quite a few attacks over the last few years. An inordinate amount in the Middle East. A few in the West, one quite recently. The Joker was right, when it's not part of the plan, everyone loses their minds, and it's not "part of the plan" for attacks like this to happen in the West. What "part of the plan" really means of course is that when something horrific is a routine occurrence, we can't invest constantly in all of the tragedies, but when one happens in a place we think is safe, stable, even friendly, those 3 traits are suddenly challenged, so we react. This is what we're seeing with Paris: all the French flag photos, the scapegoating of Muslims, the people (Muslim and non-Muslim alike) condemning these generalizations, and the inhabitants of unstable countries outraged that an attack not in their region is getting so much more coverage than they ever will.

The other thing that'll happen, of course, is that those affected will want action. What I want to examine in this post is whether anything can actually be done?

We saw what happened with 9/11. 2 wars: one of which had nothing to do with the attack, both countries destabilized, both countries despising the US and providing a pretty handy narrative for would-be terrorists to recruit and justify THEIR actions.

The problem here is that it's not like WW2 where the enemy had a shared national identity and could only advance in physical space. A side effect of the wonders of the internet is that battles can now be fought in virtual reality. No I'm not talking the Oculus Rift. I'm talking YouTube, Facebook, Twitter. ISIS have said they want to "conquer the world" and this guess at their strategy is loosely adapted from the one you can find on Al-Qaeda's Wikipedia page

1. Provoke a western country into turning on Muslims.
2. Recruit from the inevitable backlash (since it's a generalization, many innocent Muslims will be affected, and some will do something that no longer makes them innocent).
3. Stage more attacks and attempt to destabilize Western countries.
4. Western economies will collapse trying to defend themselves and their neighbours and they install their caliphate.

Now let me be very clear. I don't think there is ANY chance of this happening. However, I'm doing my part here and now to make sure it doesn't come even close. There is no country to attack, no scapegoating that can simplify the issue, and no way of knowing who will be radicalized next. It's an ideological battle, and the only way to fight something like that is with an opposing ideology. No I'm not talking about atheism, a more moderate Islam, Christianity, or anything like that. I'm talking about not being a dick. The average person doesn't think that murdering people is OK, but they can be led to believe it's justified if they are given a strong enough reason to. We need to NOT GIVE THEM THAT REASON. We do this by NOT turning on the refugees, NOT talking about war, NOT demonizing 1.5 billion people, but instead going about our lives doing what we can to make people's lives better.

Talk to the weird kids in school.
Open up a dialogue with someone from somewhere very different to you.
Listen to what people say before, or even instead of, butting in with what you have to say. You can say your piece, just give the other person's perspective genuine consideration first.
If someone does wrong you in some way, respond in a considered, proportional way, and learn to forgive them in time.

They want us to think one way so we'll destroy ourselves. Let's think the other way so we actually improve the world.


Thursday, 12 November 2015

Gattaca of the Mind

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I'm responding in this post to one of my favourite YouTubers, Jim. Or as you might know him, noelplum99. He released a video on Monday called "Genetically Enhanced Intelligence - Major Concerns".

Near the end of the video, he cites an issue that could arise out of trying to ban the genetic manipulation of people pre-birth to make them more intelligent. This is as follows:

If one country bans the technology, there will be another that won't. That country will advance the intelligence of their population gaining an enormous intellectual, and by extension, creative and economic, advantage over their competition. The rest of the world will have no choice but to adopt the technology to keep up. Jim asks us what we think of this.

I responded in short form on his video. The comment is as follows:

"I love making videos about the future. I love it even more when my favourite YTers do :)

As to the economic superintelligent nations question, I'd probably need to explore it in a blog post or video, but my initial reaction would be that the genetic advances being made here wouldn't happen in a vacuum. They would occur side-by-side along with advances in computing and manufacturing. There are any number of ways it could go, but we could reduce the marginal cost of food production to near-zero, much like we've already done with most human knowledge, colonise (sic) other planets, upload our minds to a cloud, eliminate our need for food and water, or kill ourselves before any of this happens, or any logical combination of those things, all of which lessen or eliminate the threat or concerns posed by a superintelligent nation. The author, Martin Ford, argued for a basic income to solve the problem you identified in your last video about AI: the problem of what to do for money when all the jobs are automated, and this too could affect the fear factor of a "nootropic China"."

I have made some points already in this comment, but with this post, I'd like to contest the premise. I don't think we will face this issue. Not because I think we'll be destroyed before we get there, although it is a possibility. Not because I think "we will never be able to tamper with something as complex and powerful and SACRED as the human brain, nor should we". It is in fact because we will do exactly that, but under a different method, at a different pace, and for a (partially) different reason.

What Jim is getting at is essentially the plot of the film "Gattaca", without question my all-time favourite film, if it focused only on the brain. It's possible I'm misinterpreting, but from the way Jim explains it, it sounds like he envisions that intelligence will increase slowly. He says that we could only afford to be "one generation behind" the country that makes the first move. This is, of course, about genetic modification, and it is envisioned to be done to avoid falling behind.

GM brains. One generation. Don't fall behind. Circumstances, pace, and reason respectively. I would like to contest all 3. Here are mine.

Avatars. Doubling (potentially) each year and getting faster. Understand that which baseline humans could never understand, and to not fall behind AI.

Genetic modification is a very slow way of increasing intelligence. You modify the genome pre-birth and then wait for further advances. Dmitri Itkov of the 2045 Initiative has an alternative in the works. His Avatar program is intended to give humans a more durable, energy efficient, and all-round more capable body. We can use less resources, live much longer, phase out the need for transport, simplify how we gain energy, scale up our intelligence by orders of magnitude with each software upgrade, instead of slowly across generations, and, if there's something about being human you just can't live without, adding VR elements to it will make those things possible, and better if you like, while still inhabiting the avatar. That's also pace taken care of.

Whether it will pan out on that time scale is the big question. Ray Kurzweil thinks it will, obviously. Michio Kaku has doubts (around the 40 min mark). Of course, no-one really knows. I take Ray's view simply because it's possible, it's optimistic, and I'm also obsessed with understanding things.

What about the reason why? Well, think of what AI can do today. Watson beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy 4 years ago. I won't bombard you with more links here as they're all available on YouTube, but we have the Google cars and Tesla's competing Autopilot system, a facial recognition algorithm that is better than humans, an algorithm that can describe a scene, Asimo, BigDog, Siri, Google Now and Cortana. This is what we have now and we had nothing close 10 years ago. This is the beauty of Moore's law and the law of accelerating returns. We do have to assume the trend continues, and there are major stumbling blocks up ahead, but, as ever, I am optimistic. When I enter middle-age, I will be greeted by my robot equals and then superseded by them. In order to compete, I, and everyone else, will need to upgrade, and at that point, we better hope Dmitri Itkov didn't drag his feet. If he didn't, and we vastly increase our intelligence, imagine what we could achieve. Imagine what we could understand, that we couldn't hope to understand now.

Maybe I'm getting carried away with myself and it's all too good to be true. Maybe you're just a pessimist that watches too much news about ISIS and school massacres and pines for how things used to be (colonial, at war, poorer, sicker, more racist, sexist and homophobic and oblivious to the existence of transgender people, with no welfare state, unquestioning respect for authority, god-fearing literally, maybe a bit more social but that's it really). For the foreseeable future, time will only flow in 1 direction: forward. I choose to embrace it.


Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Day of the week from ANY date

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

Want a good party trick and don't mind it being a bit geeky? Learn to work out the day of the week from any date in history in seconds (with maybe a few hours practice once you know the system).

My job gets quite repetitive sometimes. To deal with this, I find ways to pass the time and, since my maths degree isn't really being used at my current job, I thought I'd find a way to squeeze it in there. I see birth dates all the time, so one easy thing to occupy some time is to work out the day of the week. Well, I worked out a system for doing it.

Before I go any further, let me just say that I'm not saying I invented it. There are systems out there. It's possible someone came up with the same system and I'm not even going to claim this is the best. I just worked this one out. Anyway:

Let's take an arbitrary date: 15/09/1990 (day/month/year).

Step 1: Work out a small number (0-6) for the day (15/xx/xxxx).

To do this, you take the day, divide it by 7, and your "day number" is the remainder. If you're not great at dividing, just keep subtracting 7 until you have a number under 7. If do this a lot, you'll eventually memorize them all.

The result in the example is 1: 15 divided by 7 is 2 remainder 1, or subtracting 7 gives you 8, then doing it again gives you 1.

Step 2: Work out a small number (0-6) for the month (xx/09/xxxx).

Americans and others who follow month/day/year will probably do this step first then step 1. The best way to get the month number is to simply memorize them but I will explain how I derived this system at the end for anyone who's interested.

January - 0
February - 3
March - 3
April - 6
May - 1
June - 4
July - 6
August - 2
September - 5
October - 0
November - 3
December - 5

09 is of course September so the month number here is 5.

Step 3: Work out a small number (0-6) for the year (xx/xx/1990).

This is the most difficult step. First, you need to memorize a few reference years. I will write down all the ones for the 20th and 21st centuries:

1888 (included to deal with years from 1900-1915)

It's no coincidence that these years are 28 years apart, and to find a reference number for a year earlier than this, you simply need to keep going forward or backward in jumps of 28. All of these reference years have a "year number" of 0.

To work out the year number for any other year, take the reference year immediately before your date and start counting up until you get to the year in your date. Add 1 to your year number for each normal year and 2 for every 4 years. Once you have your result, divide the answer by 7 again, and take the remainder.

For 1990, the reference year immediately before this is 1972. There are 18 years between the 2 dates, 4 goes into 18 4 times, so you end up with 22. Dividing this by 7 gives you 3 remainder 1.

You may complain that this is a hopelessly slow and/or complicated step, and you'd be right. It's easier, once again, to just memorize the year numbers, I included the complicated way above so that you know how to find the year number if you forget it:

Years removed from reference year - Year number
1 - 1
2 - 2
3 - 3
4 - 5
5 - 6
6 - 0
7 - 1
8 - 3
9 - 4
10 - 5
11 - 6
12 - 1
13 - 2
14 - 3
15 - 4
16 - 6
17 - 0
18 - 1
19 - 2
20 - 4
21 - 5
22 - 6
23 - 0
24 - 2
25 - 3
26 - 4
27 - 5

Step 4: Add up your total. There are 2 final steps that apply under certain conditions:

a) If your date is in January or February of a leap year, subtract 1.
b) A not-so-well known fact about dates is that centenary years (1700, 1800 etc.) are NOT leap years unless they are divisible by 400. To account for this, when going backwards through the centuries, add 1 for each centenary non-leap year, and when going forwards, subtract 1.

Neither of these additional conditions applies to our example date. So, what do we get?

1 + 5 + 1 = 7

To find the day:
-1 - Friday
0 - Saturday
1 - Sunday
2 - Monday
3 - Tuesday
4 - Wednesday
5 - Thursday
6 - Friday
7 - Saturday
8 - Sunday
9 - Monday
10 - Tuesday
11 - Wednesday
12 - Thursday
13 - Friday
14 - Saturday
15 - Sunday
16 - Monday
17 - Tuesday
18 - Wednesday

So 15/09/1990 is a Saturday!

So how effective is this technique? If you're working out all the steps the first time round, it will probably take about a minute, but it depends on your maths abilities. This is why I advise memorizing them, as it is much quicker. I can do any date this century or last in about 5 seconds now. It requires very little effort. Sometimes I forget to subtract 1 for the Jan/Feb leap year dates, and that's mostly because they're quite rare, but for the most part, that is a taste of what you could do. Know the steps inside out and I reckon, within an hour or two, you could be at the 10 second level. From there, it's diminishing returns, as you need to relentlessly focus on which steps are tripping you up.

For a lot of people, this is where we part ways. However, if you want to know how I derived my system, read on :)

OK so to start with, I looked up the day of the week for January 1st 2000. I thought it'd be as good a place as any to start. Turns out it's a Saturday. Trivially, each 7 day jump after that will also be a Saturday. What about February 1st 2000? This is a Tuesday. There is a distance of 31 days between these 2 dates and this amounts to 3 days of the week. This makes sense. A week is 7 days, there are 4 full weeks in 31 days, and then 3 extra days left over. This gives us the beginning of the method to derive the month number: take the number of days in that month, divide it by 7, take the remainder, and add it to the month number of the last month.

This isn't the whole story though. Take March 1st 2000, a Wednesday (1 + 3 + 0 = 4). 2000 is a leap year, and so there are 29 days in February in that year. The problem then is that, in most years, February 1st and March 1st would be on the same day of the week (28 divides EXACTLY by 7), but on leap years, March 1st will be a day of the week later. This gives us condition a) from earlier, and also the reason why, when it comes to year numbers, you add 2 for every 4th year you pass. As each reference year is a leap year (28 is a multiple of 4 and 2000 is a leap year), each 4th year is a leap year.

This allows us to assign arbitrary values to January 1st 2000: keeping the day number as is, just simplifying it to below 0-6 (by dividing by 7 and taking the remainder) keeps it very simple: 1st = 1. We are subtracting 1 because it's January of a leap year: 1-1=0. January is the first month so why make it anything other than 0? 2000 is a leap year, and a year familiar to most of us, so again why not 0. Without having to figure anything else out, we've assigned a final number of 0 to Saturday. To work out all other final numbers, we simply recognize that you can't get a number lower than -1 (January 7th 2000 = 0 + 0 + 0 -1 = -1) or higher than 18 (April 6th 2005 = 6 + 6 + 6), and count them along with the days of the week, repeating the cycle after each 7. I tend to keep the final number under 7 as well so I apply century adjustments after.

This leaves the year number and condition b). The year number is derived as simply as this: 365 days in a year. 365 divided by 7 is 52 remainder 1. 366 divided by 7 is 52 remainder 2. This gives us the 1 and 2 we repeatedly add to get the year number. As this number is kept between 0 and 6 (a range of 7 numbers), and adding 2 happens every 4 numbers, this cycle will repeat every 28 years (7 x 4 = 28) giving us the motivation behind reference numbers.

Finally, to derive condition b), take March 1st 1900, a Thursday (1 + 3 + 1 = 5). As 1900 is not a leap year (it does not divide exactly by 400), March 1st immediately follows February 28th, a Wednesday. In 1928, which is a leap year, February 29th would be the Wednesday and so February 28th would be a Tuesday. February 28th is 1 day of the week later in 1900 than it would otherwise be, and then so is every date for the 100 years including and immediately before Feb 28th 1900. This means we add 1 to bring our system into alignment. Using the exact same logic, we subtract 1 when going in the opposite direction.

And we are done! Thanks for reading.


Monday, 9 November 2015

I am a feminist out of protest

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

In my video "Feminism and Islam: A Better Discussion", I said that I try to take an objective view of the issues, to not associate myself too strongly with a particular point of view so that I can remain level-headed and not end up emotionally investing in the position. On that video, I was accused by one commenter of having a feminist bias. This post won't help dissuade people who agree with that viewpoint, but the title, at least I hope, should give you an idea that things won't be as simplistic as me just calling myself a feminist.

I won't lie: when I come across feminists on YouTube, I'm mostly pleasantly surprised. They are civil in terms of how they deal with the opposing side, they cite sources in their videos (a lot of the time the sources are obviously biased, but still, it's 1 step above the many that don't), and I have a definite bias to some out of the fact that I've known them for years (Laci being the most prominent example here). In contrast, anti-feminists, and I'm using the term here as a catch-all to describe anyone opposed to feminist arguments, have overwhelmingly been very aggressive, very personal in their attacks, have an obsession with generalizing (a video can never be about just 1 feminist, it's always about feminISTS), and do not even seem receptive to the arguments they are hearing. Of course, I won't make the same mistake they do. I am seeing a tiny subsection of YouTube. There are no doubt plenty of reasonable anti-feminists and very unreasonable feminists, but I've seen what I've seen. My "bias" is more one in favour of civility rather than in favour of feminism. I like nuanced arguments. I like videos where the videomaker is being civil. I like videos where the opponent is treated as an individual and not a label. I am "biased" towards these kinds of videos.

None of this has anything to do with why I'd call myself a feminist, I just thought I'd get that out of the way. I call myself a feminist for one reason only: I am in favour of gender equality. That's it. That's all "feminism" means. The rest is nuance.

What about the protest part? Well, this comes down to a tendency that has cropped up among both camps. People are rejecting the label "feminism" because, in their view, it has become associated with man-haters and/or "special snowflakes" who are offended by everything. Many of the people rejecting this label are in favour of gender equality, and so could quite easily call themselves feminists, but choose not to because of what they perceive to be a hijacking of the term. I have only one response to that:


Language is not decided by a dictionary. You don't need to just give up on a word once it's been co-opted by a group you don't approve of. You can always take it back. By refusing to use the term, you are contributing to the exact phenomenon that caused you to ditch the label in the first place. I absolutely refuse to do that. Feminism achieved great things back in the day. It got women the vote. It got them into the work place. Don't throw all that under the bus just because of what a TINY MINORITY of assholes are doing with it now. If you disagree with what they say, call yourself a feminist and disagree.

You will never be able to assume what positions I hold on various issues just because I use the term feminism. I disagree with many prominent YouTube feminists on a whole array of issues. I agree, to some extent, with a few positions held by anti-feminists and MRAs. None of this changes the fact that I support gender equality and so I will use a label that claims to champion this, and do my bit to ensure this definition is reflected. If anyone has a problem with that, too bad.


Sunday, 8 November 2015

JJ and the Dick

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn.

I'd like to be very serious if I may. Drama has erupted between 2 YouTubers I have a lot of respect for. One is someone I've been subscribed to for almost the entirety of my channel, the other is a more recent favourite. These, respectively, are JJTalkz and Richard "The Dick" Coughlan. Since getting up to speed on this drama involves watching nearly an hour of YouTube videos, I will simply link the videos down below, and give a brief summary in which hopefully I cover the most important points. Any and all evidence for claims available is linked in the videos so I won't relink them here.

The videos:
JJTalkz: Unsafe on YouTube (Sexual Harassment) (parts 1...
and 2)
Dick Coughlan: JJTalkz is a Paranoid Idiot *DRAMA ALERT*

In summary:
JJTalkz made 2 videos about sexual harassment she has experienced and known about in the community she is a part of on YouTube. 5 months later, JJ tweets twice about Coughlan saying that he thinks sexual harassment is OK (these tweets are available in Coughlan's video linked above). What Coughlan actually said is that in any community, there are opportunistic assholes who will take advantage of a certain set of beliefs to gain favour with the females in that group, and so, realistically, all a YouTuber in that community can do is persevere and try not to let it bother them. Coughlan was understandably not pleased at JJ for taking this to mean he "supports sexual assault". On her 2nd channel, JJ then makes a far more serious claim: that Coughlan has harassed several transgender YouTubers, and JJ is unwilling to name them, as they came to her in confidence with those claims.

This is an extremely depressing and ugly situation. I live in the UK, where a serious of scandals in the last few years have resulted in some of our most respected celebrities from back in the day turning out to be assault perpetrators and pedophiles (e.g. Jimmy Saville, Ian Watkins, and Rolf Harris). While none of these individuals ever had much of an impact on my life personally, I have learned from the scandal, and so I am committed to taking the claim seriously, should the evidence come forward. I have also, in a comment on the last video linked above, promised JJ to make this post here and to take it seriously, should the evidence come to light, and to pressure Coughlan to address the claims if they come forward.

I've been subscribed to Coughlan for 6 years. I've met him 4 times at his comedy gigs. He was incredibly nice to me and my friends, sitting down to drink with us after the gigs. I'd even found out later on that he was quite ill at the time. He is one of the most reasonable people I know on YouTube, going by the things he says in his videos. There are few people I have more respect for, and I would be devastated to learn that these claims were true, and perhaps because of this, I suspect they aren't, or are also misinterpretations. I refuse, however, not to be open to the idea.

At the same time, I feel for JJ's current predicament. It was ill-conceived of her to make that last video in which she made this claim, as she will only dig a deeper and deeper hole for herself the longer this goes on without the particular victims being named. She said in the comment section to her video that 1 of the victims is considering coming forward. I hope they do, as this is not something that can be left to last. Coughlan has been the victim of many claims, most having been found beyond any doubt at all to be false. This is nothing new for him, but I suspect that doesn't make it nothing to deal with. Even if it did, there is a precedent being set here, that someone can make a claim and then not provide specifics because the victims came to them "in confidence". Making such a claim is very serious and can destroy people's lives (the expression "His Name Is Mud" originated under similar circumstances).

I'd like to add also that I'm disappointed in JJ and in myself. I made a video in which I held up her recent video on atheism as an example of the kind of videos we should be making about atheism: ones in which we temper our criticisms by offering alternate solutions, in which we humanise ourselves by talking calmly about our experiences. I stand by this view of THAT video, but this recent drama casts a shadow over it. I was too quick to hold her up as an example of the good we can do, and for that I'm sorry. It's not a done deal: we all make mistakes, and I'm certainly hoping JJ learns from this, as there is still a lot of good she can do.

As for what I think should happen next...

This first paragraph assumes that the claims are misinterpretations:
I would encourage JJ to name the victims to Coughlan, and of course, to get the victims consent first. Having been on YouTube a while, I can say with complete confidence that most dramas that have erupted, even some of the largest, have been over misinterpretations. This can all be resolved if JJ, Coughlan, and the victims all come together to talk it out. As I've said, Coughlan is a very reasonable guy. I'm sure he'd be open to this if given the chance.

And if the claims are true:
There's no other option: they have to come forward publicly. I don't want to undermine the immense difficulty and fear involved with doing such a thing, but then it's important also not to prolong a potentially false assault claim: something which, despite anyone's views to the contrary, is taken VERY seriously. I'm not going to lie, there is a chance the claims will not be believed. However, I will link 2 videos that might give you some hope where this situation is concerned: one from outside our community, and one within. Claims like this ARE taken seriously, and you have my word, at least, that I will take them seriously, and I encourage everyone reading this, regardless of how they feel about anyone mentioned in this post, to do the same.


Sunday, 18 October 2015

Future Analysis: Doctor Who

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

Time to start a series to get me committed to posting in this blog. This one will look at the various futures presented in science-fiction shows, movies and books that I've read, looking at the world-building of their futures. I want to start with a big one: the longest running sci-fi series of all time, Doctor Who.

I am a fan of the show. I watch it every Saturday as it comes on, and I've been extremely impressed with Peter Capaldi's episodes so far, in fact, The Magician's Apprentice is probably one of my all-time favourites for it's shock opening and it's "AN-ACH-RO-NI-SMS". Nevertheless, in terms of technological progress, it is, without a doubt, the most pessimistic view of the future I've ever seen. Let me explain.

Doctor Who is not known for its consistency. This is a show that has spanned 50 years. Many episodes have been lost, and it's hard to know if anyone has actually seen every single episode. It would be a miracle if no episode ever contradicted its established canon at some point. In fact, the most recent writers are very aware of this: dismissing such concerns with such plot devices as "fixed points" and "wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey". As a result of this, any hypothesized future can be rewritten to suit the changing cultural context or to make up for any errors in future prediction. Pretty clever when it's the relatively near future. However, this series makes predictions about the extremely distant future: "The End of the World" was set in the year 5 billion when the sun expands having used up its hydrogen and destroys the Earth, "Utopia", another of my all-time favourites, was set in the year 100 trillion near the heat death of the universe, and, most recently of all, "Listen" was set even later still when all life in the universe had died out apart from the episode's main "villains", creatures that perfectly evolved to hide. We are supposed to believe, watching these episodes, that we will still so easily die, that the vast majority of alien creatures will have human-like intelligence, that our spaceships will be made of materials that can't fix themselves, that we will not have, even ignoring transhumanism completely, continued to evolve so we look EXACTLY THE SAME IN 100 TRILLION YEARS.

There are futurists, who are taken seriously, who believe that transhumanist technologies will overcome most of these problems in the next 50 years and possibly all of them in the next 100. Their arguments rely solely on computing technology advancing at just the rate it is now. Even if their timing was off, at worst, all this will be achieved by the 23rd century. In order for us to reach the year 100 trillion and to not have a solution for all biological diseases, not have amplified our intelligence, not have changed our physiology AT ALL, to not have progressed even a few decades in material science, and to not have the slightest clue what to do about the impending heat death of the universe, a second humanity, one which is completely identical, would have to have evolved separately on another planet and have got to our point of development just before this heat death occurs. I don't think I even need to explain how preposterous this is.

I would be mad to attempt to predict what the universe would look like in the year 100 trillion and expect it to be right. Nevertheless, I make a habit of engaging in pie-in-the-sky speculation so let's see what we can say. To start, there's a very good chance we would have died long before we ever get to that point. We face a lot of existential threats in the near future as it is: climate change, resource shortages combined with increasing population, loss of biodiversity, the fact that we are still a one-planet species so anything that impacts the Earth with enough force will wipe us out like we were Doctor Who's prediction of the year 100 trillion on Ray Kurzweil's whiteboard. But engaging in pie-in-the-sky speculation about how we'll die isn't necessarily something I find as fun so let's move on.

Regardless of the accuracy of the aforementioned Kurzweil's predictions, the singularity will definitely have happened by this time. Therefore, we will no longer be human as we understand it today. By the standard of current human beings, we will have become god-like: we will be many, many orders of magnitude more intelligent, we will have left Earth long before the sun destroyed it, we may even have harvested the energy of the sun completely long before it ever gets to the point of destroying Earth. If it is theoretically possible to circumvent the speed of light, we will have found a way. If M-Theory is correct, we may have even done an Interstellar and migrated to other dimensions. We could live literally however we choose due to manipulating computronium: a substance postulated by Ray Kurzweil in his 2005 book "The Singularity Is Near" that essentially describes the conclusion of advancing information technology, which is a substance that is solely dedicated to computing power. Something made of computronium cannot squeeze any more computing power out of that volume of material. Manipulating such technology could allow us to create a Matrix of our own choosing, a body of our own choosing, and even an intellgence, knowledge-base, sensory experience and memories of our own choosing. If we know everything there ever is to know, we could, for example, choose to disconnect that knowledge from our brains so that we continue to be enthralled by new information. Most importantly, if the universe's heat death can be overcome, and we can survive beyond it, assuming our species is still bio-techno-physiologically motivated to do it, we will have found a way long before we ever get to that point.

I'd like to leave you with one other thing that's bothered me about Doctor Who for the last few years. If time travel exists in this universe, and it's not just the Time Lords who have access to it (Captain Jack was a "time agent" and, as established in Torchwood, the spin-off, he is not the only one as James Marsters played Captain John), why can't everyone do it? Again, are we supposed to believe that it was only independently invented twice, and they could regulate it so well that only very few had access to it?


Futurama vs Transhumanism

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn.

I said this blog was going to discuss topics that I wouldn't want to make a video about, mostly because they're minor points or addenda to existing videos. This one, I could make a video about if I were still using my camcorder, but the logistics of filming it on my phone in 1 continuous shot make it impractical. It also wouldn't really suit the Blender animated format that I discuss embarking on in this video.

PBS Idea Channel released a video in June called "Is Futurama the Best Argument Against Transhumanism". I recommend watching it, but to give a summary, the video describes transhumanism, and Futurama's portrayal of the future as one in which there are many wonders of technology, but there are still issues faced by the characters, human and alien alike. It talks about how, despite having an abundance of modern gadgets that have inarguably changed our world, it IS arguable whether they have made us happier and more contented. As is typically the case with popular videos, the comments largely echo the views of PBS Idea Channel. However, I can't possibly disagree more with the conclusions.

To start off, Futurama was, at one time, one of my favourite shows. As a Simpsons fan, I readily jumped on the idea of having the same humour in a futuristic setting. My appreciation didn't even wane when the show was brought back after it's cancellation, with the one about the 3012 elections being among my all-time favourites. However, it paints a view of the future that cannot seriously be informed by an honest look at future trends. Like Back To The Future 2, which takes part 3 days from now, it seems to be far more informed by humour than dedicated futurology. People fly around in vacuum tubes, people still work as delivery boys, the only AI seems to be entirely encased in robot bodies, it is all based almost exactly around humans, buildings appear to still be made of 20th century materials, and elections don't seem to have changed at all (other than robots getting a vote, which is something I will mark to the show's credit). Other than my previous bracketed statement, all of those observations are contestable within possibly the next 50 years let alone 1000.

However, it's transhumanism that I'm focused on here. Transhumanism is necessarily about overcoming human limitations. From the arguments presented in the video, it doesn't appear as if PBS has actually grasped transhumanism at all.

He argues that we aren't significantly happier than we were in the past, despite our newer technology. I think there are a number of reasons for this. First, I would argue that the real purpose of technology so far is to show off the power of the human brain. We created it because we could. A secondary purpose is to make our lives safer. I don't think many people would seriously argue that technology hasn't made our lives safer, just imagine being on the plains of Africa 100,000 years ago and hunting lions with a spear. However, it is by looking back at this timeline that we also learn why we are not happier. We evolved to fight for our food, just like every other living creature. We are a product of the competitive drive of evolution. Let's not forget, evolution is a set of random changes occurring in the genome that the environment then weeds out depending on how successful it is at procreating. This is a dumb process that couldn't possibly account for idleness and lack of challenge. Technology, so far at least, has taken away challenge and provided much idleness. The result is that many yearn for the past which they see as "simpler" and "more social" despite it also being more hard work, more dangerous, dirtier, less tolerant, more violent and a host of other bad qualities.

There are 2 words that I want to highlight in the previous paragraph: "so far". Technological progress is not "finished". There are scientific questions we still need to answer, and there are further problems that technology will be able to solve. More importantly, technology will be able to solve problems that it itself created, leading to, in a moment of stunning irony, the conclusion that technology is "the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems". The most relevant problem to be solved here? The problem of happiness.

What PBS fails to grasp is that happiness itself is a product of the human mind. Transhumanism seeks to re-invent the human being in accordance with the continually progressing technology of the time. We can, in theory, engineer a better form of happiness. We can possibly even engineer out the ability for a human being to suffer without also, intentionally or otherwise, engineering out that which makes us most productive or most human.

How can it be that we won't just laze around doing nothing all day when we are continually happy? Simple. What happens when we are idle? How do we feel? We feel bored. Guilty. We are motivated into action by emotions that make us feel bad. We justify and even romanticize this because we have no alternative emotions to feel. What if instead we felt a tremendous urge to do something? That, along with this urge, came the motivation and energy to do it? Most of my inability to motivate myself to write here, to make videos, to do the learning that I strongly feel I want to do is caused by a lack of motivation and energy. This doesn't make me productive, it does the opposite. What we can essentially do here is turn a "negative" feeling into a biotechnologically driven "positive" adrenaline shot to our motivation and even a potential cure for depression.

This could be applied to all negative feelings. Physical pain could be replaced entirely with an extensive diagnostic network that could motivate you to seek "techno-medical" help whenever you sustain injury or the technology is corrupted or damaged. Sadness could be replaced by an urge to bond with other people, and the other person's brain could make it's owner attracted to that urge.

Make no mistake, this is an ethical Olympus Mons. There are so many angles to look at this and it raises so many questions about how we might approach designing a "transhuman template". Can we conceive of a set of emotions that don't inadvertently cause adverse behaviour? Is human behaviour and it's results so complex as to, even given a Kurzweilian view of the future, be impossible to begin to engineer a better alternative? It won't come as a surprise to anyone when I answer these questions with the ever humble and honest answer of "I don't know", but I wouldn't be a transhumanist if I wasn't optimistic about our ability to succeed.

What I would stress though is this. Let's not immediately give up. I have offered attempts at solutions because we do still suffer, and I want to see that suffering dealt with. The arguments that PBS presents against transhumanism fail because it is almost as if he believes that technological progress will just stop one day, as if we could stop people from designing a better human being. Our human brains, a product of imperfect evolution, have served us well in getting as far as we have and making sure we never just "stop", but it has caused an inexcusable amount of suffering along the road. It is not heady or unrealistic to consider that, given all we've achieved so far, we can't do a lot better when the design of that progress engine becomes intentional.


Saturday, 17 October 2015

The Flat-Earth Creationist's Story

ESSENTIAL DISCLAIMER: I myself am not a flat-earther or creationist. This story is hypothetical and seeks to demonstrate a point.


I love my town. I love the people, the warmth, the sense of community. We all attend church, like clockwork, on a Sunday morning, basking in the equally invigorating and pleasing warmth of our lord, God. The inimitable father who created our universe and our planet 6000 years ago. We tell the stories to our children, in our schools, imparting the wisdom of the bible, that they may use it to enrich and better their lives. But it always comes back to the church.

This is where I met my true love, Sally, and where we had our 3 beautiful children together. Every Sunday, we go to our favorite building in the town. We pray, we listen, we sing, and we talk about the stories that inspire and inform our daily lives. The stories have brought us so much joy, our experiences so great, that last week, I decided to record myself telling these stories, sharing my feelings about our lord, on the popular video site, YouTube. This is where the joy ends...

After the first video, I got a lot of comments from atheists. They called me stupid, ridiculed my stories, they said things like "who could believe this in the 21st century". I received death threats via my inbox. It was clear to me that they didn't want me there. They didn't want me talking about the things which brought such joy to me and my family. I began to wonder whether or not they were even capable of joy? Nevertheless, I persisted. It didn't take me long to figure out the nature of YouTube: a land with the law of the jungle where the strong survive, and the weak flee. I decided to be the strong. I decided to keep going.


It's been almost a year. I've made some friends on YouTube. Some of these friends, believe it or not, are atheists. They're no different to me or my wife: they work hard, they love their children, and they appear to get just as much joy from science and art as we do from the scriptures. This was not my initial impression, but one which I learned in my persistence.

A new family came to our town last week. They live right next door, so me and my family have been helping them with their furniture and telling them about the local amenities and so forth. On their first day, after a lot of the hard work had been done, we invited them for dinner, and I got to speaking with the father, Gerald, afterwards on our porch, in our garden. Over a beer, we discussed the church, and that's when he told me. "This isn't really for us. We don't believe in God." Only I was around. I had my few atheist friends online, but this is my first time ever meeting one in person. It was this point that I had a haunting epiphany:

My first few months on YouTube were traumatic at best. A majority seemed only there to belittle beliefs other than their own. I remembered the few discussions that we had about atheists among our town's community, and not a single one was positive. Gerald, and possibly the rest of his family, were about to endure what I endured on YouTube here in this town, and I didn't know what to do. I didn't even know what to say to him.


A month has gone by, and I'm pleased to call Gerald one of my best friends. Unfortunately, this is about the only positive news I can relate to you. Things are tense. Some of the town-folk have grown suspicious that they see Gerald and his family on the street, but never at church. I have come to respect Gerald's views, my fellow town-folk have not. Even my wife asks me about them, and I've done my best to dodge the issue, but I fear we don't have long left.

On top of this, I find myself more and more persuaded by what atheists are telling me the longer I spend on YouTube and with Gerald. Our views directly conflict on many fronts, but for me, it's not the science vs bible issue that I find to be the most relevant here. It's the human drama behind the scenes.

I am beginning to believe that I have lived a lie. My views were never significantly challenged throughout my life. My life itself fed on, depended on, the teachings of my church, and my religion. We bonded over the stories. Our many happy, memorable experiences all in some way came back to the church. Our beliefs brought us together. They made us happy. But I'm coming to believe that we had been lied to.

If there is one thing I would wish for people to understand about me and the people in my town, it is this: we are not idiots. We are not stupid people. We are happy. The stories give us pleasure. They give us something to bond over, to find our sweethearts, to tell to our children, to make them happy too. It's not that we can't understand science. It may not even be entirely accurate to suggest we don't want to. It's that we can't afford to. Gerald is about to find out what happens when you are seen as a threat to that happiness. I can't blame the town. I can't blame Gerald for trying to make a life for his family. All I can do is watch and despair for what his about to happen...


I've moved to the UK. Sally left me, she has custody of the kids. Gerald and his family have come along with me, not knowing what else to do. Also, I am an atheist. I can no longer believe, in good conscience, the stories that my town and my church used to teach me. The Earth is not 6000 years old. God did not create it. It is between 4 and 5 billion years old, and it started with the big bang. I'm still a little sketchy with the details of the exact moment of creation, but, as I understand it, even the scientists studying it are. I don't think you even need me to say, then, why I am in this situation.

I am not pessimistic. Many of my YouTube friends live here. I came here, not because I don't love the USA, but because, for people like me, we are most definitely safe. Me and Gerald saw a video of the 2010 elections when a liberal candidate said on national TV "I am not a man of god". This place will be more welcoming for now. I will make a new life here. I will find someone else to share my life with. I love Sally dearly. The pain is excruciating. Nevertheless, I can't go back. The joy, the warmth, the welcoming open arms were reserved for members of their community, people who see the world as they see it. I no longer do or can.

This is the end of my story, but know that I don't hate them. I don't fear them. I don't blame them. They only want what any other human being wants: to belong, to love and be loved, and to be happy. Maybe one day when their children, or grandchildren, who will interact with technology that I can't even imagine, who could possibly meet a stranger in another country in a way that would be no different to us than meeting someone for a coffee today, can meet and interact with atheists like Gerald, and now myself, they can turn the community around, that it is not threatened by the present, that it embraces the future. And yet, I wonder whether we can replace that joy, that sense of community, of togetherness? I, at least, will endeavor to try...