Thursday, February 22, 2007

I feel like every day consists of being bludgeoned by my own stupidity. I can't figure out how to fix this. It's like searching for a handhold inside a glass sphere.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


This is something I told Jay once, I believe to demonstrate that rules sometimes feel truer than case by case evaluations.

Entropy always increases. Experiment after experiment confirms this. There are some very unlikely cases where randomness decreases entropy, but they're minimal enough to ignore.

So, let's say we do an experiment in the lab, and this one time, under these conditions, entropy actually decreases. We've got a few options:

1. Conclude something went wrong in the experiment--someone played a trick on us, perhaps. The second law of thermodynamics remains true.

2. Conclude the second law of thermodynamics is false.

3. Conclude the second law of thermodynamics is false in this one instance. The rule stretches very far, but not far enough to include this particular experiment, on this particular day, even though nothing was wrong with the experiment.

We're not forced to pick any one of them. Somehow though, 1 feels truest. It is more likely that the law is true and our experiment is wrong, even though we would properly allow that the latter may, with some very small probability, be the case instead.

It's as if we've attached truth probabilities to each scenario. Conclusion 1 has a 99% chance of being true. Two and three are .5% each. It is logical to go with the truest of the bunch.

Now. Where did those truth values come from? So far as I can tell, we just "felt" them. We "intuited" them. We can't smell or see the probability in any literal sense, and yet we know it.

This sounds mystical. It is mystical, to talk of feelings and intuitions as means of getting truth. It's not problematic.

If there were a non-mystical explanation for scientific truth that religion lacked, Richard Dawkins would be on surer ground--we might even grant him the leeway to be the condescending twit that he is.

But there isn't such an explanation, neither in his book nor any other. Indeed, it is not, as of now, clear how knowledge--scientific or religious--is possible at all. Plato's "justified belief" definition withered, and epistemology is currently in flux, with no clear front runner. Nor is it enough to say in layman's terms, "prove everything" or "always be skeptical," because that won't do for any but the most Cartesian solipsist. You should be skeptical to a point, and you should prove things to a point. But neither Dawkins nor most people demand that we prove, say, we are not brains in vats, or, say, that the future will resemble the past, or, say, that parallel lines will never meet.

My point is not that science is false, or unsupported. It is true, and robust, and I can believe that, because I believe that I can "feel" truth--somehow--that there's nothing wrong with saying it feels as if our experiment was probably a goof and it feels as if the second law of thermodynamics is true. But, given that, I can no longer say to the theist: "Only that which is proven can be believed." I am left with the lamer: "God doesn't feel true."

And my point is not that theism is true. My point is that it is not obviously false. And British evolutionary biologists could do with showing a bit more respect to those who disagree with them.

The I'm-Not-A-Patronizing-Prick Delusion

I'm serious--Dawkins is an ass.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Grandeur Delusion

SCOTT: I'm going to join the clergy.


SCOTT: Because Richard Dawkins is a prick.


Today, after some studying, Jay, Jacob, and I went rock-climbing. I hadn't been in, let's see, close to 8 years. I learned how to belay. Jacob and I argued moral realism vs. moral nihilism.

Fun day.