June 30, 2014

On agnosticism - a boring semantic analysis (warning: boring)

Until recently, I've always seen agnosticism as a bullshit label erroneously self-applied by smug assholes trying differentiate themselves from atheists in order to appear open-minded, when in reality they're just being intellectually disingenuous, refusing to embrace the rationale of atheism yet lacking faith which is the only valid excuse (if there ever was one) not to look at the issue critically, or simply refusing to acknowledge the fact that their position is equivalent in every meaningful way to atheism, hiding behind obnoxious remarks like "well you can't know".

The way I saw it, and the way pretty much anyone who has looked up the "proper" definition sees it, agnosticism is either the position that it's unknown or that it's unknowable whether any deity exists, and atheism is simply the negation of theism, meaning you're either a theist or an atheist depending on whether you actively believe in the existence of a deity, regardless of whether you're agnostic. Certainly this definition makes sense from an etymological perspective; the prefix a- means 'without' or 'not' in this situation, so if you're not a theist, well, you're not a theist, so by definition you're an atheist, and gnosis means knowledge, so gnosticism and agnosticism are not simply positions of belief, but of knowledge (or "belief of knowledge").

But a definition doesn't just have to be etymologically correct in order to be appropriate. If a word has a useful place in the common vernacular, and the concept it refers to has no synonyms, but the word itself turns out to be a combination of the Italian slang terms for 'nose picking', 'public' and 'fortune teller', you don't redefine the word to mean 'fortune teller who likes to pick their nose in public'. If it doesn't need a word, don't give it one.

Let's apply that logic to agnosticism. All atheists are agnostic except the ones who fail to understand the concept of an unfalsifiable hypothesis, and we don't need a word for people who fail to understand a certain concept. By and large, theists believe that it's up to their god whether or not it wants to reveal itself. If a creator deity exists, surely it's powerful enough that it could make sure to leave no trace of itself in nature. Any transcendent god has the power to reveal itself to all mankind or conceal themselves from it, and even if you believe in a pantheon of immanent gods, some of which aren't capable of that on their own, surely the pantheon as a whole can do it. I suppose it's possible that there once existed some obscure pagan religious ideas that contradicted this, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in modern times who holds such beliefs, so we don't need a specific label just for that. So whether you label theists as gnostic because they believe the gods can choose to reveal themselves, or you label them as agnostic because they don't believe mankind can attain knowledge of the gods unless the gods will it, they're all on the same side of the gnostic fence, as are atheists, so it's a fence we can safely tear down without losing anything of value. Though, many theological and philosophical concepts that are now obsolete (or never made sense to begin with) still have terms we can use to refer to them, so I guess you could use something like 'classic (a)gnosticism' for these two.

The popular definition of agnosticism describes a position that's actually held by people today, that's philosophically distinct from other forms of non-beliefs. I've identified three main categories of non-belief that I believe classify pretty much all non-believers (phrased in terms of monotheism for convenience):
  • Agnosticism: the position that there are no particularly compelling arguments for either belief or non-belief. There's no evidence for the existence of God, but there's also no way to prove its non-existence, so it's best to remain neutral.
  • Weak atheism: the position that the God hypothesis can be dismissed based on a lack of evidence, but there are no particularly compelling arguments beyond that for non-belief.
  • Strong atheism: not only can the God hypothesis be dismissed, but the very concept of God can and should be discarded. Many philosophical quandaries and paradoxes point toward God's non-existence.
Weak atheism is similar to agnosticism in all but its conclusion, but whether you dismiss or remain neutral towards a (from your perspective) completely baseless claim is a significant philosophical difference, so I think it's warranted to have separate terms for these positions. And yeah, I know it looks like I just hijacked the terms of weak and strong atheism, generally defined as "non-belief in the existence of God" and "belief in the non-existence of God", respectively, but the way I see it I merely improved them, since the end result is that they describe roughly the same things. While I rely on descriptions of actual, plausible philosophical positions, the established definitions rely on a slight difference in phrasing and don't really specify the actual positions that well. To determine where you stand according to my definitions, you have to ask "how do I feel about God as a hypothesis, and how do I feel about God as a concept?", rather than "how would I phrase my non-belief?" which is much more arbitrary.

ADDENDUM: None of this necessarily implies that agnostics are not atheists; you could simply define atheism as "non-theism" and consider agnosticism to be a subcategory therein, along with weak and strong atheism.

April 26, 2014

Abolish freedom of abortion (make it mandatory)

When people argue pro-choice, they tend to make an appeal to emotion and empathy, i.e. "a woman has the right to decide over her own body" or "every baby deserves loving parents that take proper care of them". I guess this approach holds some persuasive sway as a rhetorical tool, but intellectually it is utterly bankrupt.

See, these people you're arguing against believe that a fetus has the same value as a human being. They believe that ending the life of a fetus is equivalent to murdering a person with a family, friends, thoughts, beliefs, emotions and memories. They believe that life is binary, i.e. there's a sharp line between living beings and dead matter, with special weight usually given to human life which is "sacred". At one specific point in the pregnancy, a Human Being is created; the life switch is flipped from off to on. This moment is usually when the sperm fuses with the egg during conception, but some pro-choicers believe the same thing except said moment occurs sometime around week 20-24 when the brain "activates" or something. Some pro-lifers believe in the death penalty despite their "life is sacred" rhetoric, but that is a punishment for a person's actions - usually involving taking someone else's life - and what could possibly be more innocent than an unborn baby? To them, your position is that a woman's right to choose is more important than the baby's right to live. You're trying to convince them that women should get away with something that's equivalent to murder because they don't want to be inconvenienced by pregnancy for less than a year. You're trying to convince them that "unwanted" children should be murdered rather than adopted or put in some sort of foster home. See how that line of reasoning wouldn't work? It seems far more plausible to me that they'd embrace the rationale of "it's your irresponsibility that brought you this unwanted pregnancy, so it's your responsibility to deal with the consequences, and that's that!".

As mentioned, though, the argument from empathy still has some value, and that's because the underlying beliefs that support their pro-life stance are irrational, so you might as well try to replace one irrational idea with another. The way I picture the subconscious process playing out in people's heads, there's a vague set of irrational ideas based on emotion, pulling them into the pro-life direction, that can be summarized thusly: "it's a life! Can't y'all people see it's a life?". They see the life growing inside the woman and in their mind's eye they see the cute lil' baby it would grow into, and they see the child chasing a butterfly on a meadow in the summer, so full of life and excitement, and they see all that fading away as the abortion doctor mercilessly grinds up the baby and snorts it. Then there's one rational idea and two irrational ones pulling people into the opposite direction. There's the irrational idea that plays the same role as the idea that makes it easier to press a button that you know instantly kills some random dude halfway across the globe than to kill someone in person; there's an air of detachment. The fetus is just something that makes itself known by indirect signs such as a pregnancy test and a swollen belly. No-one has seen it, heard it or communicated with it, and vice versa. There's also the intuitive idea where you imagine the baby as barely being alive, barely knowing it exists, and you just let it gently slip back into nothingness. Then there's the rational idea based on the fetus' lack of cognitive functions, which we'll return to later.

I think those ideas (or at least the irrational ones) are present in pretty much everyone's psyches on some level; you see this for example when people who are staunchly pro-choice have an unexpected pregnancy and they feel really guilty about the idea of getting rid of it; at the very least, they let the fact that they are pregnant be a factor in deciding whether or not they should have a baby. And the role of the emotional appeal is to make it easier for people to accept the pro-choice ideas and push the pro-life ideas to the back of their minds, and make them shameful and unpalatable, for example by associating them with the oppression of women. But if you want to argue with intellectual integrity, to enlighten people rather than just further your pro-choice agenda, what you should instead do is confront the underlying beliefs that cause people to oppose your position, and convince them to look at the issue rationally.

Now, that may be easier said than done, because a lot of the pro-life people believe in something called the 'soul' that is, so to speak, "the real you", or the "essence" of your existence. It's immortal, it's separate from your material body, and all humans have it from the moment of conception. And that's what elevates all humans and fetuses beyond mere electrochemical processes, and life to something more than a biological mechanism. So to sell the idea of reproductive rights to those people, you'd have to argue against the existence of a soul, and the problem with that is that there's no consensus regarding what the soul does, how it works, how it interacts with the physical world etc. The soul as a general concept is an unverifiable hypothesis, just like the concept of God, and just like with God there's a whole bunch of arguments out there for why it probably doesn't exist and why you shouldn't believe in it, and I'm not going to bother rehashing them. If you believe in souls, just bear with me and suspend your belief for the sake of the argument.

First of all, life and consciousness are not binary; they're on a continuous scale. The first, single-cellular life on earth didn't have any inherent value beyond the particles around it that didn't happen to be part of a self-replicating process. Many insects have some form of moods, but they obviously don't have the same level of self-awareness, emotions, and other cognitive functions as humans do. Likewise, salmons are little more than biological machines that receive input from their senses and transform it into output, i.e. their actions and behavior. At least they feel pain, though, whereas an ant that has been chopped in half will carry on as if nothing happened, or at best slightly modify its behavior for practical reasons in order to be as efficient a half-ant as possible.

Wolves have more complicated emotions and relationships, but are still largely just instinctual beasts, and they have no sense of self. All great apes do, however, and some are even capable of abstract thought. Does this mean that great apes are somehow "superior" or "more valuable" than wolves, or are we humans just placing those traits on a pedestal to feel special? Well, I think you have to accept that the former is true if you want to posit that humans are more valuable than insects, or even inanimate objects. What's the loss if you kill an insect? It doesn't feel fear or pain as you kill it, even though it may produce self-preserving behaviors that make you think otherwise. You don't rob it of all these exciting life experiences that it would otherwise have, as it doesn't feel joy or excitement. It doesn't have any mourning relatives. A squashed bug is just an inanimate object that used to be animate. None of that is true for a wolf, but a wolf's desire to live is still just instinctual. Those experiences it was robbed of still only consist of living in the moment and acting mechanically on instinct. Its flock will mourn, but that mourning is also largely mechanical, instinct-based and predictable. "Wolf-friend dead. Initiate mourning process. Mourning process complete. Recommence eat-fight-fuck-shit-sleep protocol". A human's mourning is massively more complex than a wolf's, and the capability of abstract thought in chimpanzees enables them to have some of that complexity too. It puts them higher on the "consciousness scale", or "value of life scale". In summary, what I'm trying to convey here is that the same logic that can be used to justify that human life is more valuable than insect life can be used to justify that humans > chimpanzees > wolves > fish > insects. Got that? Good. Let's move on to killin' babies.

Well, I think I've pretty much already made my point. The brain doesn't start functioning until week 10, so up until that point abortion is less ethically questionable than stepping on an ant. The fetus is literally just an inanimate lump of flesh. Many important cognitive functions don't start (emphasis on start) to develop until the 20-somethingth week (it's surprisingly hard to find specific information about that on the internet) and the fetus probably doesn't qualify as conscious until at least its "late 20s" so to speak, so abort away all you want up until that point. No-one should be like "holy shit what am I going to do this is a really big deal" when they find out they're pregnant, because they have months until the ethical aspect of abortion even enters the equation, and they don't need to hear all this bullshit about how abortion is a "complex moral decision" clouding their ability to make a rational judgment. Whether you're pregnant shouldn't factor into your decision of whether or when to have children, other than on a strictly practical level, and if you weren't already planning to have kids when you find out you're pregnant, it's probably not a good idea to let a practical detail cause you to take such a huge decision on impulse.

Even after the blob of flesh has begun to develop cognition, are you really going to force someone to go through the massive inconvenience and bodily devastation of late-term pregnancy and labour for some instinctual beast with no abstract thought, sense of self, relationships or memories of past experiences, and less emotional complexity than the meat on your plate? If you're willing to let a pig die for a couple months' worth of meals, then surely the last couple months of pregnancy are a bigger deal than that? Hey, there's some of that "right to decide over their own body" reasoning. Turns out it does have a role in the debate, but only if presented within the proper framework of arguments, and only if the debate is about where to draw the line regarding late term abortion, rather than whether abortion should be legal at all.

On that note, I guess you do have to draw the line somewhere. It doesn't seem sound to allow abortion by shooting a gun up the vagina during labour, even disregarding safety concerns, for largely the same reasons that we have laws against murdering newborns. But the 20-24 week limit that seems to be popular in the western world is based on society's emotional attachment to the concepts of human life and innocence that the fetus represents (as well as the false dichotomy of "when does life begin?" that so many people have bought into), and has no place in the law book. If the fetus doesn't have any value in and of itself, shouldn't the pregnant woman's emotional attachment be what matters, rather than society's?

Pro-lifers like to argue that those fetuses being aborted would soon turn into innocent, cute lil' babies, and then eventually into fullgrown human beings, and you're taking all that away from them. But a being's potential for life - their potential to rise on the "value of life scale" that we discussed earlier - means nothing in this situation. Just like the fetus is at one point a being with the cognitive functions of an insect, the zygote is at one point an inanimate object that will eventually develop into a person, and the sperm and egg are at one point a dead collection of particles that we humans like to arbitrarily divide into two "objects" that will eventually merge into one "object" and then develop into a person. The sperm and egg are not inherently more valuable the moment after they merge into a zygote than before they merge, so it seems like every sperm and egg in our bodies is worth half a person. Every nine months you spend not being pregnant, you rob someone of their existence. Every time you masturbate, you destroy millions of half-lives. Oh, and that empty soda can you kicked around on the street yesterday? That matter could have been formed into a brain to generate a consciousness. But no, instead you just left it there and went home to commit genocide. You monster.

There must be value in potential life in some situations, though. Let's say some guy, as an adult human being, is put in a coma (or a cryofreezer) with barely any brain activity going on, but he's going to awaken in a couple of weeks. Wouldn't it be as ethically permissible to kill him during that time as it would an insect? According to the reasoning above, the person that will exist when he wakes up is right now just a potential person, just like the fetus that was aborted, or the soda can that didn't get turned into a mind. Well, the difference is that the coma guy used to be a fully-functioning person, with memories, skills, experiences, emotions and relationships. But wait, what about some loner with no family who suffered complete, irreversible memory loss as he was put in a coma, who hasn't done anything interesting in his life and isn't good at anything? Doesn't he have a right to live? Sure. Turns out it's not possible to be logically consistent in every way when dealing with life and consciousness - we'll return to that shortly - and which inconsistencies we accept or reject might seem somewhat arbitrary. Regardless, I think we all agree that living humans must have their existence protected (even if they're temporarily put in a coma), while I find the reasoning above sufficiently persuasive to dictate that the same protection should not be extended to fetuses until their mental development has reached a certain point where that alone is mostly enough to justify their legal rights. Some might say to err on the side of caution, which is usually a stance born of their misguided acceptance of the "when does life begin?" dichotomy; even so, I say to err on the side of individual liberty, because freedom doesn't need rock-solid justification; it is valuable in and of itself. Restrictions to freedom, however, does.

Sidenote: since consciousness is merely something that emerges when atoms interact with each other through billions of simultaneous reactions in your brain, there's no reason to believe that consciousness couldn't be generated just as well by purely electrical signals (just electrons moving around, rather than atoms and electrons), by a computer for example. It therefore stands to reason that once we can create artificial minds as advanced as those of humans, they should have rights like we do. But let's say you have a computer with a "consciousness program", and a macro that turns that program on and off a million times every second. You could as well imagine some kind of apparatus that does the same to a human brain, although I guess that process would have to be slower. Is that process equivalent to genocide just because technically the death of a human being (or human-equivalent being) occurred a couple million times? Let's even say every time the program was launched, the consciousness had different personality traits and a different lifetime of memories of relationships and experiences as well as a short term memory right up until the program was launched, so that it's for all intents and purposes equivalent to an adult human being, and they're for all intents and purposes different human beings. Still, nothing has changed about the world when it's over, and there's no reason to believe a mind was in great pain in between, since no mind existed for more than a millionth second. It seems like millions of deaths on paper could under very specific circumstances be an ethically neutral event. Just another example of real human beings justifiably being granted rights that an equivalent mind in certain situations doesn't and shouldn't have.

Now, all of this might seem unimportant to you if you're already living in a country with legal abortion up until, say, week 20. Even if there were no irrational "moral" (or legal) inhibitions regarding abortion up until whichever week is justifiable by cold, hard logic, surely the vast, vast majority of women have already decided by the 20th week whether they're gonna stick it out or not, and we have more important concerns to focus on than the small portion of women that change their minds after that. But there's a far greater injustice related to this issue that often goes ignored: financial abortion. The father's right to relinquishment of all parental rights and responsibilities as long as the decision was made before a certain point in the pregnancy, or if he wasn't informed of the pregnancy before a certain point. In less educated times (which I guess would be today, for most people) it would seem monstrous to financially force a woman to abortion by letting the father get away without paying child support. However, as we've established in this here article, there's nothing wrong with abortion up until the 20-somethingth week. Not even a little bit. If guys could have abortions, I'd get one every six months just to spite the people who think otherwise. Maybe I'd start a dead fetus collection. Spike 'em up on the wall. Put 'em in a blender, make a nice lil' milkshake (meatshake?). Hey, I think I just solved world hunger.

Anyway, now that we understand that the only thing that could stop a woman from getting an abortion is her own beliefs (or her own desire for a child), it doesn't make sense to force a guy to pay for nearly two decades for one night of what shouldn't even have to be considered a mistake (well, I guess STDs are still an issue), whereas the woman has months to get rid of the problem if she so chooses. I wouldn't say it's comparable to the atrocity against women that banning abortion would entail, but as long as adoption is an option, it's not so much that there's a vast chasm of difference in severity as that it's an apples and oranges situation. I know a lot of people would be outraged at even the consideration that paying child support could conceivably be worse than being forced to carry a baby to term, even when it's followed by adoption, but such a heavy financial blow (especially considering its duration) can do really bad things to you. Financial issues can lead to stress, which can lead to depression. If you're in a country without universal health care and you need some expensive treatment, you might die, or be forced to sell your house and live on the streets (which could happen even with free health care). Even if there's a system in place that ensures you don't have to pay if you're in deep financial shit, child support could eat away at your savings which might get you in trouble down the road. Maybe you won't feel the effects until you're living a depressing life in a shitty retirement home off a shitty pension and those extra $5,150 per year (that's the 2010 US average) could really have come in handy. I could keep listing scenarios like this all day, but in the end it doesn't really matter which is worse on average. Forced child support could be way worse, unwanted pregnancy followed by adoption could be way worse, but I couldn't give a fuck either way. The point is that it's really, really, really bad that financial abortion isn't widely available as a legal option.

As another side note before we move on, let's talk about vegetarianism. To be specific, let's talk about the moral stance that eating meat is wrong because it's wrong to kill animals. Certainly, I could see how one might take that stance regarding wild animals, but if the animal was raised captive and only exists because people eat meat, it doesn't really make sense. Disregard for a second the environmental effects of the meat industry and the negative health effects of eating too much meat, as well as the shitty treatment of a lot of animals raised for food, and just think about the idea that killing an animal for food is wrong no matter what. If a bull was raised on a farm with lots of green grass to run around on and a dozen cows to fuck indiscriminately, right up until it was fed into a meat grinder, what right do you have to say it should never have existed? If I could choose between nonexistence and living a good life up until my 20th birthday, then being ground up and put in a burger, I'd take life every time. Of course, we know that it gets silly pretty quickly if you assume the goal of creating life for the sake of life, what with the soda cans becoming minds and all, so I say a meat(/dairy) industry that treats animals well is at about plus-minus zero on the ethical scale. Except for the environmental effects. Oh well, close enough.

"But what if humans were being bred in captivity? Could you apply the same logic then?" Well, sure. You could partially counter that argument by saying that humans are more valuable because of emotional complexity and whatnot (all that shit we talked about earlier) and being isolated from the outside world could cause all sorts of existential pains, but I suppose theoretically if there was a way to determine with 100% certainty that a specific set of children were bred for captivity, kept in captivity and kept unaware of the outside world but treated well, and if this wasn't possible the world would be the exact same except those children wouldn't exist, that would be a moral grey area. But how would you make sure of all that? How would you make sure parents don't just use this as an excuse to take away their child's freedom, so that the world would be the same except a captive child is instead free, rather than nonexistent? How would you make sure they are treated as well as required at all times (especially considering their parents are probably fucked in the head)? And why should the intention of raising a child in captivity make it permissible, whereas children of normal parents enjoy the full protection of the law? Admittedly, this logic I'm using is somewhat arbitrary and could probably be turned against me in favor of vegetarianism, but as I mentioned earlier, it's not possible to be completely logically consistent when dealing with life and consciousness, and let's return to that right now. Let's discuss how:

EVERYTHING IS ARBITRARY.

Let's talk teleportation. You enter the teleportation chamber, then disappear and instantly appear in a teleportation chamber somewhere else. What happens is of course that some machine reads the relative positions of the atoms that make up your body, the information is sent to the other teleportation chamber while you are instantly disintegrated, and you're rebuilt. But is the person that walks out of the chamber really you? It certainly believes so, since it has your exact personality traits and memories right up until the moment of disintegration. Imagine you're instead rebuilt a couple centuries later. You cease to exist, but then far into the future your exact atomic pattern is recreated. Somehow that means you survived for all that time, but if some guy had decided to cancel the process and delete you from the machine's memory, that means you didn't survive? That doesn't make sense. It's not like you lived for all that time just because your information was stored somewhere. How can it be determined whether you survive or not by something that happens while you don't exist? One would have to conclude that you died when you disintegrated, and the copy is just that - a copy.

So does the teleportation have to be instant for you to survive the process? Well, it's not. It takes nonzero time for the machine to read the information (it has to travel from you to the detector), it takes nonzero time for the information to be transmitted, and it takes nonzero time to assemble the copy. Information can't be transmitted faster than the speed of light, and even if it could (worm holes, quantum entanglement (apparently not), or maybe some method we don't know of yet), what's to say it even matters whether the teleportation is instant? Our machines can never be infinitely precise so there will always be some delay, but let's say we have a practically impossible perfect machine with no delay, as well as a machine with a delay so small you couldn't even imagine it. Does it really make sense to say that one kills and clones you, whereas you survive the other, 0.000...001 seconds faster machine? What if the information was sent to both machines and two copies were made; does that mean the copy from the insignificantly faster machine is the "real" you? On that note, what if two copies are made in the exact same fashion? Are there suddenly two yous? What if you're never erased, so it's a duplication device rather than a teleportation device? You enter a room, a machine scans you but doesn't interact with you any more than, say, an airport scanner would, and then you leave, and far away a copy of you is made. None of that affects your consciousness in any big way. You are still you, and the copy is an entirely new mind that's not you. But if you're at the same time atomized, your consciousness is somehow "transferred" so that the copy is you?

Hypotheticals aside, there's no reason to believe that consciousness is written into the laws of nature (i.e. physics), any more than there is to believe that the laws of nature say something in particular about houses or street lights. They tend to be much more general and describe how matter behaves on a much more fundamental level, i.e. how macroscopic objects behave or how particles behave, rather than "if a macroscopic object made up of billions of particles has any of these 1050 exact particle setups, but not any of the other 1070 ones possible (some being off only by a handful of particles being slightly displaced), and particles move through it in these equally specific ways, something magical happens". Consciousness is just an emergent feature of a bunch of atoms being arranged in a certain way. There's no fundamental difference in terms of physical properties between a brain inside a living person and a brain with a knife run through it, or one that just stopped running because of a natural death. What about the computer with the consciousness program we talked about earlier - do the laws of nature say anything in particular about the computer while it's running that program, as opposed to while it's running other programs? It's just electrons moving around in different ways. What I'm getting at here is that since consciousness doesn't have its own chapter in the book of reality's laws, there's no way the persistent self would survive teleportation only if it happens in a set of extremely specific ways, for example instantly rather than with extremely small delay, or with at most 0.082357962859 seconds of delay.

Speaking of extremely specific, what if one atom in the copy is one femtometer to the left of where it should be - is that no longer you but someone else who appeared on the other side? Does your consciousness arrive like some sort of ghost at the other teleportation chamber, inspect the body it's supposed to inhabit, see that one particle is displaced, and vanish into nothingness, or go into standby mode awaiting a replica that's more faithful to the original? All the atoms in your body move around much more than that every millisecond, so one small displacement shouldn't change anything. But what about two? Five billion large displacements? Is there suddenly a breaking point where it's no longer you on the other side, but if one molecule was in a different position, it would be you? As per the preceding paragraph's logic there can be no such law detailing exactly which molecular arrangements are allowed in order for the copy to be you. So you could come out as another person, a mammoth, a rock, or even just a chaotic mess of particles (or no particles at all), and still be the same person. Using the same logic again, there could be no rule specifying exactly which version of you has to be transmitted. What if the information isn't gathered at exactly the same time as you're annihilated (which is practically impossible, by the way) but an attosecond before? If that's still you, extend that line of reasoning and it might as well be the version of you a minute, an hour or a year before being annihilated that's transmitted. How is it still you - the same person with one persistent consciousness - if all thoughts and memories from the intermediate time are gone? What if you are murdered in the meantime? You died, but you're alive.

Okay, so teleportation is a death sentence, but what about resurrection? Well, to resurrect you, some machine would have to scan you while you're alive to read the relative positions of every particle in your body, and after you die, the machine would reconstruct you. Sounds familiar? Yeah, it's the same thing as teleportation. The only differences are immaterial. Your corpse could be used for the reconstruction, but it's not the individual atoms in your body that create your consciousness; it's the pattern, the arrangement of atoms in relation to each other. Every atom in your brain could be replaced (they are, on a regular basis) and you wouldn't notice it.

It seems like the interruption of all brain activities causes permanent, irrevocable death. There's another possibility to consider, though: that merely the interruption of consciousness is sufficient. Certainly it's not out of mind's reach to imagine that if teleportation causes "death", despite the fact that the person walking out on the other end can't tell the difference in any way and can recall exactly what happened right up until the teleportation, then you also cease to be when you fall asleep, and the person waking up in the morning is a new consciousness. I can't come up with a clever hypothetical suggesting that that's the case, though, so we'll leave it alone for now. What we can say is that cryofreezing is just as deadly as teleportation - it is, in fact, pretty much the same thing as teleportation with delay. All your brain activities cease which is the same as death, regardless of whether your body is annihilated, and then an exact copy of you that just so happens to be made of the same atoms as you were wakes up somewhere some time later (same place unless the cryofreezer is moved, of course). What if you freeze and unfreeze very quickly? Ignore all the practical details and imagine you have a machine that can freeze you to just a few degrees Kelvin and unfreeze you and you're perfectly healthy, and that takes one second. And in that time, you cease to be and a new consciousness is born. Same thing if it takes one hundredth second. Skip the cryo part and just imagine that every atom in your body suddenly freezes to a standstill for a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a second. Eventually you get to such a short time interval that nothing that happens during it could possibly affect your consciousness in any way. It seems like there must be some law that determines exactly how long your mind particles can freeze without ending your existence, but as we've already discussed, there can be no such rule.

We don't even need to think about your atoms freezing. Consciousness is caused by electro-chemical reactions in your brain, i.e. particles moving around in a certain way. Certainly there are ways in which those particles could move without generating consciousness. If that were to happen for a second, or a zeptosecond, that'd mean your death. Again, there can be no extremely specific law governing exactly which molecular arrangements could follow one another in order for your consciousness to be the same from one moment to the next. This seems to imply that each consciousness exists for an infinitesimal amount of time, which is really the same thing as not existing at all.

The only sensible conclusion seems to be that consciousness is an illusion, or at least that the idea of a persistent self is meaningless (is there even a difference?). Nothing that ever happens to anyone matters because they won't get to experience the very next moment or anything beyond that, any more than they would if they died. Obviously that's not a very useful outlook on life as it reduces every ethical question and dilemma to "nothing matters, everything is arbitrary" (as I've noted a couple of times earlier in the article) and even makes murder and genocide permissible, but I don't know any way around it. It seems so abundantly clear to me that teleportation=death, but I can't very well accept that premise and not accept the logic behind it that leads to "nothing matters". If teleportation were possible, you'd have to accept one logical inconsistency or the other - either you'd accept that teleportation=death, abstain from it and pretend that consciousness is real, or you'd accept that nothing matters and everything is arbitrary so you might as well teleport, and you'd pretend that it even matters whether you teleport or don't teleport or jump off a bridge or whatever. Or you could just jump off a bridge, but nonexistence seems like such a drag so I wouldn't recommend it. Speaking of nonexistence, what if immortality were possible, by transferring your mind to a machine or something. Maybe chilling in a cryofreezer for a couple centuries until it's possible. On one hand, I realize that it's the same thing as achieving immortality without any interruption of consciousness, because everything is arbitrary and all that. On the other hand, I realize that transferring my mind like that would be the death of me. Then again, why even bother with immortality when nothing matters and consciousness is an illusion? They might as well shoot me and build an artificial intelligence and pretend that it's me. The world would be the same, and I would be no worse off for it.

Man, everything becomes so pointless and frustrating when you view the world through this lens. For all its inevitability and all its implications when it comes to abortion, treatment of animals, teleportation, immortality and consciousness in general, it's really not that useful for coming to any sort of conclusion; rather, it swoops in and drops a giant turd on the discussion. One thing I've found it's actually good for, though, is that it helps in dealing with the inevitability of death and such things. Death is everywhere and there's no telling when it will take me; perhaps it will come suddenly in the form of an icicle dropping from a roof, or as a deranged gunman who suddenly decides to shoot up a mall. Perhaps it will be time that finally gets me, creeping up on me slowly, giving me every chance in the world to dread it as I see it approaching but no hope of escape. In the end it doesn't really matter, because in a sense I'm a dead man already, in a world full of dead men walking around pretending to be alive. It might sound depressing and horrifying, but I find it can be a quite comforting notion if you apply it only to your fears and regrets and not to your goals and desires. There are so many things I won't get to experience because of my limited lifespan, but I can comfort myself knowing that there's no such thing as experiencing things. Immortality probably won't be invented before everyone currently alive is dead, but that's okay because immortality is meaningless. If my life goes to shit, well, you get the idea. On the other hand, I'm still going to enjoy life and strive to improve my existence in every way I can, because I'd still feel the pains of a crappy life even if such notions are meaningless, and I don't want that. I don't know if this makes sense to anyone else, but to me it provides a better answer to anxiety regarding the inevitability of death than "yo is gonna happen anyway so dun worry mang yanno w/e".

Another thing it's good for is that it would make for a pretty sweet end of the world scenario. Imagine that; humanity collectively losing its will to live because we all come to the conclusion that there is no self and everything is arbitrary and meaningless. Everything goes to shit at the same time, with society collapsing, people randomly deciding to stop eating because why bother, murder and suicide running rampant because why the fuck not, and people just wading apathetically through it all like it's nothing special. No pain, no sorrow, just indifference. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. Someone should make a novel about that. Then again, it doesn't really matter.

March 31, 2014

more on teh gay

Uggghhhhhh. I really don't want to write this article. I've already written an article on marriage in general, which I like to think of as everything that ever needs to be said on the subject and more. I could barely even muster enough give-a-shits to finish that article in the first place, because it just seems like it should be the mother of all non-issues. Consenting adults entering into whatever social contract they want and nobody else being able to even conceive of the idea that they have the capacity to give a fuck about it - especially the government. That's how it should be, but sadly we don't live in a world of should.

I tend to have a pretentious, dismissive, elitist attitude towards issues like this (at least internally), because where others might be all "we need to spread the peace and love and understanding and fight the ignorance", I like to see it as "beneath me" to discuss it (and this approach resonates more with me than their rallying cries ever could). It's completely uninteresting, there's nothing worthwhile to say about it, there's nothing to gain intellectually from contemplating it, and every argument is the same old rehashed crap that a fifth grader should be able to figure out, or a slight variation of the same basic appeal-to-emotion template. One side is wrong, bigoted and moronic and cannot be reasoned with because they don't value reason and logic, and the other is just throwing the same arguments over and over at them as if trying to break a solid brick wall of stupid by shouting it down. I'm not trying to put my lazy snobbiness on a pedestal, or claim that society would benefit from more people adapting this mentality, or diminish the efforts of those who step up to ignorance and try to effect change; I'm just explaining how I feel about it on a visceral level, and why it annoys me to no end that I'm actually writing this.

I guess the reason that I feel compelled to write about gay marriage again has to do with my idea of self-worth. The way I see it, if you don't at least have some basic conation to improve yourself as a thinking being, you're a worthless degenerate. I understand that not everyone has the time, ability or inclination to read philosophy, get politically literate or otherwise improve their understanding of the human condition, and I'm sure there are lots of more or less valid reasons for not reflecting on your life, your thoughts, other perspectives and so on, such as "I work 8-20 every day and have five kids so I don't have the mental energy to think about that" or "I have the finanical means to wallow in hedonism for every second of my life so fuck reality", but then you at least have to acknowledge that your opinion isn't worth much. However, if when presented with an argument or viewpoint that could change your own views and bring you closer to the truth, your default reaction is to disregard it, cling to your bigoted views and close off your mind from critical thought because it's more safe or convenient, and then keep spouting your insipid garbage loudly and proudly into the public discourse and proclaim "this is how things Should be and these are the dictates you must adhere to because this is what is Right and what is True", and even poison your children's minds with that bafflingly brainless bullshit, then how can you possibly justify your existence on this planet? If you actively resist every chance you get of intellectual development, how can you look in the mirror and claim to see someone who's a worthwhile addition to society? How can you justify all your self-limitations and intellectual cowardice to yourself? These people embody the essence of human stupidity and ignorance, and are both the root cause and enablers of every problem in our society. Bigotry, populism, dogmatic thinking, thought conformity that draws attention away from the real issues, moral panics followed by censorship and restrictions - a straight line can be drawn from all of these things right back to them. They are the fist in the face of progress, and I wish them nothing but grief. Fucking cattle.

And out of all the most shockingly stupid sentiments in the world, the stance against gay marriage is the most repugnantly retarded. How fucking mentally handicapped would you have to be in order to believe in this shit? How can these people exist that don't even understand the concepts of skepticism and critical thinking? I don't have the answer to these questions, but they keep bothering me day in and day out, and so I come here to unload all my frustrations with the stupidity of humanity on whoever comes across this blog during their wanderings on the web. An attempt at self-therapy, if you will. This article is exactly what I didn't create this blog to write about: an iteration of the same arguments you can find in a billion different places across the web, that every person who has even a passing interest in the issue should be familiar with. Prepare to be underwhelmed.

First off, the most infuriatingly idiotic arguments against gay marriage are the ones that have nothing to do with marriage. Some argue that gay relationships don't produce children and humanity needs reproduction to survive. It boggles (and saddens) my mind that these troglodytes have the brain power necessary to breathe. Last time I checked, no-one wants to create a law that forces gay people (and straight people, for that matter) to reproduce. What, do you think just because you're not allowing them to marry, they're gonna turn straight and start breeding like rabbits? No, you moron! They're going to keep being gay and having the same gay relationships, and the only difference is that it won't be called marriage. And besides, who the fuck wants there to be even more people on this already bloated planet? Soon, you'll have to eat your way to the supermarket because there will be so many people in the way that you'll have to create a tunnel. Maybe that's what they're planning. Maybe they want us to reproduce as much as possible because babies are greener than meat products from half a planet away. At least then their position would make some semblance of sense.

Continuing in the same vein, there's the argument that children need both a mom and a dad. Yes, there exist people that make this argument. Against gay marriage. Apparently, there are people who don't understand the difference between marriage and parenting, but still think they have opinions that are worth expressing. I think they should instead consider expressing their mindlessness by blowing their brains out. And the argument itself isn't even backed by scientific consensus. The most compelling article I could find in favor of it merely points out ways in which mothers' and fathers' parenting differs in heterosexual relationships, without addressing whether same-sex parents act the same way, or whether same-sex parenting yields all-in-all worse results. Meanwhile, this article (which agrees with the closest thing there seems to be to a consensus) cites research that does have an answer to that, concluding that "the gender of parents only matters in ways that don't matter". Besides that, no-one ever used the mom and dad argument against single parents. Go figure.

Next up on this painful parade of pathetic pleads to puerility is the God argument, i.e. "the almighty creator of the cosmos, who designed everything from quarks and leptons to planets, supernovas and black holes, is very concerned with a bunch of dumbass apes living on a speck of a speck of dust circling around a small (but not remarkably so) pebble within a heap of hundreds of millions of pebbles strewn across a field of billions of heaps. In particular, he's concerned with the classifications of intimate relationships between these apes. Only a certain kind of relationship may be legally recognized by the power structures these apes have created as having a certain name. That is His divine decree.". This is evidently a shitty argument, but even as an excuse for bigotry it doesn't hold up. Sure, you could argue that people with supernatural beliefs can be rational, skeptical and intelligent in areas not related to their faith, and so religious bigots can believe in stupid shit without being stupid shits. But no-one follows all the laws of their holy scripture. The bible says you can't wear mixed fabrics, and masturbation, contraception and sodomy are forbidden. Both the bible and the quran condone slavery, and the torah and bible say Sabbath-breakers should be put to death. Does anyone who's opposed to same-sex marriage argue in favor of these things? No? You just handpicked a couple of morals that don't apply to you but allow you to tell others how to live their lives? How very fucking convenient. The reason that bigots believe in their bigotry is clearly not because religious scripture mandates it; they just use that as a justification.

Another problem is that these dumbasses that use the God excuse don't even understand what they're opposing, because they don't understand that two different concepts can have a common name. Maybe that's what happened in Germany in the 30's: "we have defined the systematic extermination of everyone who are not exactly like us as 'multiculturalism', and we need multiculturalism because people must be allowed to be themselves, so we must exterminate everyone who are not exactly like us". In this case, the two concepts we must keep separate are the legal institution of marriage and the the ceremony and union tied to any specific religion. The former recognizes anyone who's wed in a christian, muslim, wiccan, pagan, hindu, taoist or secular ceremony, or no ceremony at all. It's just a legal contract between two individuals that has fuck all to do with Jehovah or Allah. If you're a christian bigot, you have your idea of what ceremony must be undertaken to be married under God, and the ceremony the hindus call marriage should be of no concern to you. It's just a ceremony, and it just so happens to fill the same function in their culture as marriage does in yours, but it still doesn't involve your god and so he can't have anything to say about it any more than he has about any non-christian religious ceremony. So if you think gays should be allowed to exist and do gay stuff, and you think hindus should be allowed to exist and do hindu stuff, then it doesn't make sense to say that hindus can't wed gay people. And if you think we should have freedom of religion and the state shouldn't discriminate in favor of the christian way of marriage, then where's the objection? At least be honest and admit that this has nothing to do with "protecting marriage" - you just want to limit gay rights in any way you can in order to make their lives miserable because you and your god hate homosexuality, not because you hate gay marriage in particular. The same goes for those who want to "protect marriage" from a cultural standpoint, because gays can already get together, have a ceremony and call their relationship a marriage, and the only difference is that the state wouldn't recognize it. This has nothing to do with marriage and everything to do with your hatred for gays and your desire to fuck with them through whatever legal means you can.

I mean, that's how it would be if these fuckwits understood how to use their brains in any sort of constructive manner, but in all likelihood they probably don't have the intellectual honesty to admit even to themselves that their position doesn't make sense and that they should either go full Westboro Baptist or back down completely. Either way, the underlying (nonreligious) reasons for their anti-gay beliefs are only superficially different. The people who are against gay marriage have an idea of what marriage should be, based on what it means to them, e.g. "marriage is about children" or "marriage is between a man and a woman", and the people who just hate "them fags" in general have their idea of what society should be like and how people should behave. Either way, the issue is that they have their ideals and they're putting them on a pedestal, and they have their offended sensibilities and their indignation and they're putting that on a pedestal and saying "this is how YOU have to behave and these are the things you can and can't do, and you will all bow down to MY will because I AM THE LAW". But that's not how a society should be run. People's indignation should be flushed down the toilet, not put on a pedestal. The law should protect people's rights, not their feelings or sensibilities. If you're offended by gays displaying their sexuality in public, or nazis promoting their hateful bullshit, or that douchy guy with sunshades staring at your cleavage like he's invisible, or that scientist in the middle ages discovering things that contradict religious scripture, or that naked geriatric running around in public with tits hanging low - that's your fucking concern. Not theirs. No-one should have the right to not be offended, made fun of, criticized, or exposed to shit they don't like.

I think the most disgusting element of all these anti-gay sentiments is not the one of deranged right-wing fundies saying there's a gay conspiracy to "recruit" people into faggotry, because at least they have the excuse of being misguided and insane. The worst fucking people are the ones who aren't even that strongly homophobic but just oppose gay marriage because it "doesn't feel right" or some dumb bullshit like that. They just kinda sorta don't-ish like the idea of two grown men getting together and having a serious relationship. It gives them a faint, vague, minute, slight sense of discomfort, and gays can still "unofficially" be together so what's the big deal? Yeah, who could have conceived of the idea that a ceremonial expression of everlasting love and loyalty in front of your entire family, that we're taught from a very young age is some great fucking end goal of life, might be kind of important to some people?! They have no sense of proportionality whatsoever. They think that as long as people have the most basic, fundamental rights of existence secured, their own feeling of comfort is next on the list of concerns. I'm sorry but it's not, and you're horrible, and fuck you, and I'm not actually sorry. Your comfort is not on the list. Any list that your comfort is on is a list I wouldn't use to wipe my ass because my ass has higher standards than that.

As an addendum, I should point out that pretty much everything I've said here in favor of gay marriage applies to polygamy as well. If you've been cheering me on from the sidelines up until now yet you're still beholden to the stone-age moral of "marriage is between a man and a woman, or a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, or any other combination of two but not three or four people", then fuck you. Fuck everyone who looks like you. Fuck your entire family tree. Fuck everything you stand for. Fuck your goals, ambitions, and childhood dreams. Fuck every thought that runs through your stupid head and every particle that runs through your disgusting body. You clearly haven't come by your pro-gay stance though rational inquiry; it's just a circumstance of your environment. It was spoon-fed to you by your parents, or your friends, or some writer or artist whose ideology you assumed in an act of teenage rebellion against your surroundings. If you were born 300 years ago you'd be in the front row at every witch burning or stoning or what have you. And you get to think of yourself as "progressive" or "enlightened"? Sure. I'm sure that's true in some darkly twisted alternate dimension where the stars shine black and HÃ¥kan Juholt can form a coherent sentence. Why don't you go there and stop ruining this dimension for the rest of us?