Thursday, April 28, 2011

Episode 28 - Diplomatic Immunity

The latest episode is great and you can download it now.

This week we have a lot of fun talking about some very serious stories: the impending royal wedding (sigh), cremation and having children via genetic testing using PGD and CVS.

Additional: You won't be hearing from us until Thursday May 5th, so we'll use this opportunity to tell you to make sure you go out and vote!

Further Additional: We apologise for any offence we may have caused to Girls Aloud and do not condone any violence towards Cheryl Cole. We know the girls tune in every week and don't want them to stop just because of some bad jokes...

Friday, April 22, 2011

"Free Will debate - the aftermath" the aftermath or The AfterAftermath.

Hello everybody that enjoyed/was infuriated by/accidentally stumbled upon our debate.  John responded to a few more points and expanded a bit (exactly which parts of him were expanded I think we know but let’s not go there). I’m more than happy to join in. Let’s go...

   “Trevor may argue that there may be a universe where knowledge is possible without causality, but I'll leave that burden with him.”

   Never did, never would. My house is filling up with beaten-up straw effigies. I invite John to come over and clean up the mess.
   “It appears that the map is being conflated with the place. ... I was arguing that the thing the concept was based on was determined and not free, not arguing that the concept of free will doesn't exist.”
   Again (I believe we did cover this in the debate but in little separate chunks rather than as a cohesive whole) the concept of “I think therefore I am” is about the entity or object doing the thinking. If it can assert its own individuality then it is an intellectual entity (they may be lying but you can know this about yourself). It doesn’t matter what concept the person is thinking about and how true it may or may not be. I may believe that a race of all-powerful giant alien kittens are hiding behind all the mirrors, awaiting the order to strike. However much of a twat that may make me I am still an entity (en-twat-y?) making that insane claim.

   The intellectual nature of the concept of self and/or free will was never my point. It – as an idea – may be true or false but if it’s being actively considered by a consciousness then that seals the deal until better evidence comes along.

   There were many more side roads down which we could have wandered, had a little fight, almost fall in a canal then clamber back to the main street (I’m making the debate sound like a Stag Night in Amsterdam with an aggressive drunk - sorry). One of them is an article in the last issue of The New Humanist in which Nicholas Humphrey defends his book “Soul Dust” by pointing out inadequacies of neuroscience and its assumptions about the brain.

   Another is something which occurred to me to use but I didn’t want to. If you’re reading this then you are one of the die-hard argumentative types and I salute you. Here is the argument, please don’t abuse it.

   The determinist idea that if you rewind time and replay it the universe cannot behave in any other way than it did seems like a tautology. It’s not really saying anything meaningful. In fact (and I don’t want to believe this but it occurred to me so I must) it may not be true.

   Particle physicists insist that the strange behaviour of sub-atomic particles can never translate to the macro world of our experience. We can view two things happening at once in this realm, or things appearing to go back in time or things being so uncertain it is impossible that it could ever be repeated. It actually may be conceivable that on a universal rerun a subatomic particle might behave differently for no other reason than its massive uncertainty. These things translate to no effect, apparently in our universe but we can now measure the sub-atomic. If we make some physical event contingent upon the measurement (like Schrodinger’s Cat living or dying) then the fixed events can be randomly changed even with none of the variables being altered.

   Of course this is only worthwhile as a thought experiment unless somebody actually invents a universal rewind machine but the more simplistic religious types may try and use God to fill in the blanks (don’t you hate it when they do that?). Whether you use God, Doc Brown or The Doctor to travel back in time it remains as theoretically plausible that our universe might hurtle along one of its many other possible courses.


   Didn’t we start all this by talking about free will? It’s amazing where such a simple argument may take us. The determinacy or otherwise of our universe still decides nothing about free will – it’s just an interesting diversion.

   The weight of John’s argument rests in denying something we all experience and in proving something counter-intuitive – that free will is outlawed from the universe. My job is only to suggest that physicality is not the entirety of existence. His argument that because we can neither prove nor disprove it, it must be false is arbitrary. It gains respectability from my side of the argument having been pointlessly and thoughtlessly appropriated by wishful dreamers trying to hope their religious texts into actuality.

   Who would have thought that John, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and others have God (and the many piss-poor attempts to argue “him” into existence) to thank for bolstering their position? 

   I hope John doesn’t remain too down on our performances. In an hour long debate that was – let’s not forget – broadcast live, I think we did rather well. It could have gone so much worse. For those of you wanting some “car crash radio” I have yet to have had any kind of full absence seizure or hypoglycaemic nonsensical rant on air. And failing that, stay tuned, there’s a car crash coming (or at the very least a car park dent) and I can’t wait.

Free Will: The Aftermath

Always one to indulge in a post-mortem, I've been thinking a lot about last night's debate.

Trevor did well. He was under no obligation to put forward an argument for free will, he simply had to undermine my argument. I was hoping he may offer some kind of positive argument but, alas, no other philosopher has managed it and so perhaps it was an unrealistic expectation.

I'm very critical of myself and was annoyed that I didn't challenge a couple of Trevor's statements. So I'm going to do it here and perhaps Trevor could entertain me in the comments or another blog post.

Firstly, Trevor's characterization of my argument as a purely materialistic/reductionist one is slightly off. A causal universe is a prerequisite of the epistemology that I believe we both subscribe to. Whether our universe is purely physical or physical and "something else" then causality is required for inductive reasoning, experience and knowledge. Therefore, even a universe with ghosts and souls must obey the rules of causality if we are to have knowledge of it. Trevor may argue that there may be a universe where knowledge is possible without causality, but I'll leave that burden with him.

Secondly, and more importantly, I think there was a bit of talking past each other which I didn't identify at the time and I failed to articulate a response. Trevor said that we believe in many non physical things such as abstract ideas and concepts and so to dismiss free will seems silly. However, this argument makes a mistake that is common to many transcendental arguments and attempts to compare apples with oranges. It appears that the map is being conflated with the place.
I do not deny that concepts and ideas exist. In fact Trevor even agreed with me when I said they were contingent on the physical. I do not deny that the concept of free will exists too; I even agreed it is something we all perceive. However, we were not arguing about the existence of the concept, but the nature of the physical thing it is contingent upon. Perhaps "does free will exist?" is a bad way of debating this and we should have instead debated whether "the will is free". I was arguing that the thing the concept was based on was determined and not free, not arguing that the concept of free will doesn't exist.

This was the first time I have debated the topic of free will and I can safely say I have taken a lot away from it. Perhaps in the future we may wander back on to the topic and have a more constructive discussion.

866 downloads and counting.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Free Will Debate Now Available

You can now download the Free Will Debate here.

It'll be available on iTunes on Friday 22 April 2011. John Stabler and Trevor Williams go toe to toe in a battle for the freedom of our minds. John wants us to believe that we are nothing but meat machines and slaves to causality. Trevor seeks to save us from nihilism and an amoral reality. Listen in and give us your opinions on our facebook page

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Episode 26 - John Snow

The latest episode of the podcast is now available for all you luddites who haven't worked out how to listen live yet. I know the title is a little more abstract than usual, but you'll need to listen to it to understand. Download it here.

This week we talk about assisted suicide, gays snogging, immigration, burquas, Ian Tomlinson, kettling and lots of other high-brow stuff. Check it out now.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Free Will Debate

Are you a hard determinist or a compatibilist? Maybe you’re a libertarianist and didn’t even know it. Although you may have never given it a moment’s thought (and let’s be honest, you’ve been busy, haven’t you?) you’ve probably got an opinion on free will.

It’s not all dry theory and pointless pseudo-intellectual masturbation over the exact meaning of this word or that word (although there may be some of that). When you make a decision or a judgement are you doing it as a result of all the causal influences that have impacted upon you (“I’ve decided that this guy is talking crap because my background has led me to believe that this much bullshit on one page cannot be an accident.”) or because your personality just damn well says so (“if this guy writes like a dick and quacks like a dick ... he’s a dick.”)

You fall either into or between (and perhaps without even realising it) one of several categories. Look, I can prove it with a graph...

free will
See? If you can’t work out which one of these you are then print it out and throw a dart at it (I would suggest taking it off your printer first but whatever works for you). Then bring along your point of view and listen to a debate between a Hard Determinist locked -in-place clockwork humanoid who has no choice but to obey the commands in his head (John) and a free-wheeling goofy hippy type who desperately wants his free will to be true (Me, Trev). Moderated by the charming and righteous Steve, someone will win and it'll be Steve who CHOOSES (see what I did there?).

It should be happening on Thursday 21st April at 8pm ... but then maybe we'll decide not to (okay, I'll cut it out now).


Episode 25 - Buddha And The Good Book

Steven has best man duties to perform and so was unable to do the podcast this week, so John and Trevor take full advantage of the fact. Download the newest episode here.
This week we discuss the immorality of Karma, the explanation for David Cameron's translucent skin, AC Grayling's newest book and hatred towards topiary from fundie Christians. I'm sure you'll all enjoy it!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rationalists Roadshow Exposes Charlatans

This is the kind of front-line work I like to see being done to help demonstrate how easily people are fooled and manipulated by fakes.

Con-men are able to convince uneducated, superstitious people in poor rural areas that they have supernatural powers and are able to heal the sick; for a price, of course!

via Skepchick

Friday, April 1, 2011

Why Karma Is Immoral

I wrote this article because I was fed up with people spouting BS about harmless beliefs and how vocal skeptics were being "mean". Grow up and get rational people.

What's wrong with Karma? It's seems pretty harmless doesn't it? It's just about good people being rewarded and bad people being punished. What's wrong with cosmic justice?

On first inspection, Karma seems to be something we would want to have governing reality. When we see somebody doing something bad we don't want to see them get away with it; we want to see them punished. When we see people who perform good deeds get rewarded we say things like "she deserved it" or "it couldn't happen to a more deserving person". For those who don't know exactly what Karma is about; basically it is the belief in a cosmic force that conspires to even the playing field, to make sure good people receive rewards later on and bad people are repaid the misery that they inflict on others.

I think everybody agrees we should try and make the world a fair place and we all want to see justice being done. What is fair and what is just is a whole separate philosophical debate and I'm keen to keep clear of it. But as a system of justice, how does Karma hold up? On the face of it, good people being 
rewarded and bad people being punished by an all-seeing and fair judge seems like a good idea. But if you follow the idea to its logical conclusion you are left with a grotesque and immoral system that punishes people for crimes they were not responsible for.

Let's start with a murder; Bill kills Jack. Bill is now a murderer and is considered a bad person. A few days later, Bill is killed by Jill. You could say that Karma has worked its magic and Bill had paid the price for his crime. But the interesting question is whether Jill is an instrument of justice, in meting out the punishment, or is she also a murderer? Will she soon be the target of cosmic retribution by another assassin? If not, then should she be put in prison? She was carrying out a just and deserved punishment and to punish her for doing so would seem to unbalance the scales again.

And what about good people that have bad things happen to them? Jack was a very nice guy and had never wronged Bill, or anyone else for that matter. Why did he deserve death? One way this is solved by proponents of metaphysical Karma is to say that he was being punished for something he did in a previous life. If, for the sake of argument, we accept that reincarnation is true, it still doesn't help develop it as a moral system except hide the evidence behind closed doors. If Jack has no memories of his previous life then in what sense was it "him" who comitted the crime? What strange concept of an immortal soul involves poor memory? Just like Christianity's Original Sin, people are being punished for something that they can't be held responsible for.

And the absurdity continues: a woman is raped. If Karma is true then we must say that she deserved it. Not only that, but we must now say that the rapist is simply handing out justice and should not be punished, perhaps even praised. Maybe, in a previous life, the rapist was wronged by the woman and this is simply balancing the scales. If so, it would be unfair to punish him in any way because we would be interfering with the cosmic order and would perhaps end up being punished ourselves. In a world of Karma it is not possible to tell the difference between an original crime and just retribution.

So people who truly believe in Karma should be calling for the abolition of prisons and advocating letting the cosmic judge sort everything out instead. I'm sure it would save the tax payer a lot of money, but would the believer want all those criminals on the streets? And even if we take the position that human actions should be excluded, for the sake of maintaining free-will, the believer must still say that people born with disabilities deserve their lifelong pain and suffering.

Perhaps you could even overlook the immorality of the whole victim-blaming concept if it was demonstrably true. But in this reality good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people in proportions that match an uncaring, indifferent reality. There is no evidence for Karma, and we should be glad because it would be a terrible world to live in.

Should we be telling our children that they deserve the suffering they endure, promoting nonsense such as Karma and Original Sin? Or should we empower them with the knowledge that the world is indifferent but, being agents of change, they are the ones who can make a real difference? I think teaching children immoral ethical frameworks is damaging to human society and it is about time we stopped with the bronze-age superstitions. Don't tell me there's no harm in it.

Episode 24 - What We Think About Telly

The latest episode is now available for download.

We spend a lot of time critiquing some of the high-brow programming that has graced our screens, including The Bible's Buried Secrets, Wonders of The Solar System and Everything & Nothing. We see the return of Trevor and our new feature, Guess The Year, before discussing some of the other nonsense we've been seeing in the news.

Note: We are aware that some Apple users were having problems listening to the stream where the P2P Radio software connected okay, but it wouldn't play in a media player. This will be fixed in future shows because we'll be adopting an MP3 format instead of OGG/Vorbis.
If you experience any problems connecting to the stream then please post here and we'll try and help you out.