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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

And Now For Something Completely the Same

Well, you knew that Fred Phelps was going to protest at Heath Ledger's funeral, didn't you?

Honestly, this nation needs billboards that say, "Phelps. A National Turd."

Creationist morons want the military to spend more on parapsychology and remote viewing.

Remote viewing could just as easily be called “enhanced instincts and intuition” or maybe “unconventional internal perception.” Remote viewing is the ability to use and improve the “sixth sense” that most or all people reportedly have to some degree.
Remote viewing has reportedly been used successfully in many intelligence and reconnaissance efforts but its use has been limited.
The official remote viewing program was variously under the control of the CIA, Army Intelligence and Security Command, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Air Force in the ‘70s, 80s and early 90s. Project STARGATE was only the last of a series of code names for an effort also known as SCANNATE, GONDOLAWISH, GRILLFLAME, CENTERLANE and SUNSTREAK.
Remote viewing is a skill that seems impossible, beyond belief. [Um, yeeeaaaahh! Excuse me, you're a grown man?] However, remote viewing experts say years of research and practical application of remote viewing in real-life operational settings have proven that it works and works well. That which is not known can become known.

Oh, quite. By all means, let's throw our tax dollars in the toilet because all of the "evidence" for parapsychology isn't "in yet." We can think of no less than an infinite number of crackpot ideas for which the "evidence isn't in yet."

How about some billboards that say, "Fairies. Given them a chance." Well, frankly I wouldn't put anything past Clear Channel. Well, hell, I'll just grab a Tarot deck and nail a Pentagon contract! WTF?

But naturally when it comes to how evolution shaped the eye (over 40 times independently in nature), or homologues we've found in the genes that constructed the bacterial flagellum, or digestion in cows, suddenly "what is not known" can never become known. We'll never be able to answer it, so obviously, the answer is - Goddidit! No "molecules" to milk, people.

Well, that's news to farmers everywhere. (It's not a widely-known fact that rural farmers, at least in Minnesota, have less of a problem with the theory of evolution than do suburban dwellers for whom milk only comes from the grocery store.)

Oh, and abortion may cause cancer in rats. Stunning news, no? Proves that abortion causes breast cancer? Not really. You see, rats don't have breasts. The thing is, it's true that scientists can be wrong - especially isolated, politicized, conspiracy theory spouting Lone Rangers with an agenda.

Business as usual, folks. Which means, ironically, we're winning. :-) (Photo: Ray Comfort in “The Way of the Master” before he lost his own banana argument.)

UPDATED: Um, Ray Comfort invited atheists to his party at his blog, so I went, but my question about why other Christians have accused him of "false teaching" hasn't appeared yet. Oh, well. People shouldn't have accused me of "worshipping Satan." Moi?

In other exciting developments, Kucinich is nicer than Hillary. Blaaaaaah. I also predict that Tuesday will follow Monday. What are the chances?

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Bohemian Survival Guide

I just upped my pre-tax contributions to my tax deferred annuity savings plan. Yes, you read that correctly - upped them.

Whatever your financial situation, I recommend that you cough up even a little money each week and put it away, then hunker down for the long term.

Here I was, taking stock of my monetary worth and thinking that I didn't have much to show for myself at age 42, only to feel the chill up my spine when I added up the figures and realized how much better off I am than what I've been reading about the "average American." (I always put that in quotes because I don't believe it exists, any more than the "mainstream" exists, but don't get me started on that.)

Here I am, clothes on my back from thrift stores and gifts, no furniture except a couple of old pieces from my family, a few momentos, books galore (the only thing I really enjoy buying, aside from notebooks and writing utensils), some tapes, CDs, and DVDs, and accumulating student loans - and liquidity from a $38,000 duplex I bought in the 1990s. Not much, but jumpin' jimminy, I didn't realize how much money I had invested over the years. You know what financial advisors say about, "Don't buy a latte every day, invest that money instead - invest even $3 a day, you'll be better off." You know what? Do it. They're not kidding.

In the 1990s I was making $5 - $6 an hour - and I still socked $35 a week away for my 401K. My financial advisor adored that. The balance blew up with the dot-com bubble and burst. I kicked myself for not playing the market when I knew that was going to happen, but I grit my teeth and rolled it into another account, forgot about it, got my first well paying job, and continued to make contributions to other accounts as I changed employers several times. Now that I've added it all together, I've realized that all those stories about little old ladies who never made that much yet saved a million dollars aren't so far-fetched after all. I haven't saved a million, but I don't see why I can't - and I don't see why anybody else can't, either.

Invest your money. I don't know how to say this strongly enough. Here I was, trying so hard not to succumb to the messages from the media to have nice things, to buy nice furniture, expensive clothes, etc., as if those things were some sort of investment. I know better and yet those messages were working on me, making me feel bad for having second-hand furniture that became threadbare and misshapen, for not living up to the standard of friends and co-workers, for having a messy, cramped house strewn with books and papers, for picking up pennies on the street and keeping them in a jar (people literally toss pennies out of their pockets!), for scanning the newspaper for something cheap or free to do over the weekend, for working in the liberal arts where the pay is low.

Now I realize what I was not spending my money on - and that those things are not really worth having. What was worth having? Free things - like trips to the museum, the Sinfonia, discounted tickets to plays (because I work in the liberal arts), bike rides, libraries, watching "Mystery" on PBS, going to the beach, UTorrent movies, neighborhood Spanish lessons, dinner parties, good books, and participating in an archaeological dig. These were worth doing. In fact, these have been invaluable experiences, nothing that money could buy.

I'm still in debt - one of my goals is to completely become completely debt-free. However, going into debt for higher education, a new laptop (I made my old one last twelve years), and a few life-changing trips abroad were decisions that I don't regret making, because they opened up opportunities for me. I've been living like a beatnik but saving like a miser and even when I wasn't going to school I was studying a foreign language (French, Arabic, and Spanish) and reading about science - and now I see the benefits from this.

So here's how I did it:

-Again, invest your money. Sock away something, it doesn't matter how much - but as much as you can. Make coffee in the morning, and bring your lunch to work. If your employer offers you matching funds, take it!

-Cook from scratch as much as possible. You save more money, eat healthier, and get more exercise (cooking is work) this way. I usually cook in bulk during the weekend, and have leftovers during the week.

-Turn off the television. TV only makes you feel bad about yourself - and paranoid about "crime." It only exists to make you want to buy things to lessen your fear/shame/guilt. If you do watch television, select your programs carefully, and mute all of the commercials.

-Spend as cheaply on furniture as possible. I got my stuff from the flipping alley - there was nothing wrong with it. I can't believe what people throw away. When it rips or the cat scratches it, throw a nice sheet or blanket over it. When it breaks, repair it or throw it out and find another cheap piece. It's just furniture.

-Have a public area and a private area in your home - don't let visitors pressure you into giving them the "house tour." What your bedroom looks like is none of their business. This is a new phenomenon and frankly, it disgusts me. (There was no way I would have given the "house tour" to anyone when we were sleeping on a futon on the floor next to the Franklin stove during the winter.)

-Invest in your continuing education. Not only for the "piece of paper," but for the contacts you make and the new situations in which you will find yourself. The higher your educational level, the more you will venture out of the classroom (and away from these infernal evo-creo "debates") and into open-ended situations in which you'll encounter the unknown. You very quickly find out what works and what does not, what is true and what is not, who is worth listening to and who is not, when you need to learn and do research on your feet.

-Turn down the temperature and wear layers during the winter. I used to close up all but the front room in the upstairs of my old house. If I was cold I would go to the library or a coffee shop to enjoy the rare latte I wasn't having every morning anymore.

-Not everyone can live without a car, but everyone can go on a car diet. If you look at driving a car as somewhat like eating, and ask yourself if you need to put on the calories from driving that you could have burned while walking, it's not such a foreign idea.

-Give to charities that you believe in. That old saw about “what goes around comes around” is true, too. And write your legislators to fund the programs that we need in this country, before the robber barons take over completely. Neutral, universally good organizations like the Boys and Girls Club didn’t receive their funding in recent years because it’s all going to “faith-based initiatives” who are mismanaging the largess they’ve suddenly received, because they don't know any better.

-And since you're reading this, it should go without saying that you never, never, never give a red cent to "prosperity preachers." Sure path to failure, folks. If there is any “Darwinian conspiracy” it’s those prosperity gospel hucksters, and they know it.

(Shimmies to Dispatches from the Culture Wars)

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

This is Our Only Home

I think I could turn and live with animals, they're so placid and self contain'd,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the earth.
-Walt Whitman

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Answers in Genesis Porn

Oh my shimmies, I just took a gander at the Answers in Genesis pew-reviewed journal. Ohhhh, dear me. I think I said something earlier about unintentional humor from sincere but pretentious dorks?

By all means, check out the abstract from “Catastrophic Granite Formation: Rapid Melting of Source Rocks, and Rapid Magma Intrusion and Cooling.” For more than one reason, it’s hot stuff:

“Rapid segregation, ascent, and emplacement now understood to only take days via dikes would have been aided by the tectonic ‘squeezing’ and ‘pumping’ during the catastrophic plate tectonics driving the global Genesis Flood cataclysm.”

Bwahaha – “squeezing” and “pumping,” eh? Translation: In other words, in a consummation that lasted for days (like that of some rodents), the earth thrust and ejaculated a cosmic “flood” of sacred magma after having received the, er, sacred shower.

*Leans forhead into hand*

Oh, the unintentional porn written by repressed prudes!

UPDATED: Bing from Happy Jihad's House of Pancakes stopped by to remind everyone about the Answers in Genesis Contest! Why do real science when you can make up your own? Why follow sound methodology when you can just pull nonsense out of your ass and pretend to be a real scientist? Go on over to Happy Jihad's House of Pancakes and read the writers' guidelines for Answers in Genesis, and submit your own crap!

Think how happy the folks at AiG will be, to see that they're not alone in do-it-yourself crackpottery! Imagine their joy at seeing heaps of submissions that sound sciency and use a lot of big words. We're stickin' it to the man, brother! Take that, National Academy of Sciences! Then the good folks at Answers in Genesis can sit back, turn on the Home Shopping Network, enjoy a homemade heaping of Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise, and wash it all down with a nice hot cup of Now-Shut-the-Hell-Up.

(Face it, that's precisely how William Dembski's "Overwhelming Evidence" website has lasted as long as it has. And now that the evolutionary trolls have been kicked out, it looks like that playground is going to collapse soon. Oh well - another evolutionary dead end for the anti-evolutionary Dr. Dembski. You'd think he'd figure it out...)

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The Amazing Criswell Predicts!

Does anybody remember Plan Nine from Outer Space? That hilarious cult film by Ed Wood which tries so hard to scare its audience, but collapses under its own unintentional hilarity and absurdity? Well, that's precisely what I think about creationists - trying so hard to be someone they're not, trying to look like scientists and making fools of themselves, inspiring laughter (of the wrong kind), yet enabled by breathless, credulous reporters and cable news show talking heads employed by a mass media market that itself is increasingly clueless and oafish in this era of blogs and YouTube.

Plan Nine from Outer Space had as its special guest star the Amazing Criswell, a radio announcer who delivers these gems of wisdom at the beginning of the film:

Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.

Man, that's deep! But deeper still is Dembski's crystal balls - I mean, his courageous call for scientific predictions of intelligent design theory!

My friends...

Can your heart stand...

the shocking facts...


quote-miners from outer space?

(Shimmies to Afarensis)

In the meantime, here are my perfectly hum-drum predictions for intelligent design theory and beyond:

1. "Darwinism" predicts that intelligent design will be put out to pasture and that the upcoming gaggle of (truly young instead of faux-young) creationists will continue to start from scratch and cite only contemporary "Darwinists" and each other for their crackpot ideas, just as this group at UD does, with little or no citation of Gish, Henry Morris, Muncaster, Buckna, John Klotz, and all the other "dignitaries" of creationism that few people remember because they make no lasting contribution.

2. The names above will only be remembered by the "Darwinists" in their books and papers for the same reason. (Who remembers Immanuel Velikovsky today?)

3. Creationism will continue to contribute zippity-doo-dah to science.

4. Future creationists will blame "global warming denial" on "Darwinists," just as they do today with eugenics.

The Great Criswell has spoken. Who was that veiled man? Where?

What color is his/her underwear?

UPDATED: If you want to see refrigerator repairmen (they're always men, creationism is a good old boys club) pretending to be scientists, follow this link.

"[Richard] Owen says my book will be forgotten in ten years." -Darwin to J. D. Hooker, 1860.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Cognitive Research into Belief

Okay, here at last is a summary of Sam Harris's paper, "Functional Neuroimaging of Belief, Disbelief, and Uncertainty." As you will see, research in this area is groundbreaking, painstaking, and not going to reveal earth-shattering insights. Scientific knowledge is advanced by conducting carefully crafted tests, recording observations, and solving specific, specialized puzzles, and drawing provisional conclusions. The accumulation of the resulting data and conclusions make up what is called "the mountain of evidence" which is described by evolutionary theory.

(Evidence doesn't "prove" evolution - evolutionary theory (as does any theory) describes the evidence and provides a conceptual model for it. Man, if I could just correct that one misconception I would die a happy person!)

So don't expect too much from Harris's work, though I think it is very important. What Harris did was to subject 14 right-handed native speakers of English, with no history of psychiatric or neurological disorders and who were not taking any medication at the time, to a series of short statements that they viewed from a video-goggle display worn over their eyes while their brains (specifically the pre-frontal cortex) were being scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The statements consisted of mathematical, geographical, autobiographical, religious, ethical, semantic, and factual assertions. All statements were designed to be clearly true, false, or undecidable. For example:

Mathematical: (2 + 6) + 8 = 16 [true]

Geographical: Wisconsin is on the West Coast of the United States. [false]

Autobiographical: You had eggs for breakfast on December 8, 1999. [theoretically knowable, but unable to be decided]

Religious: A Personal God exists, just as the Bible describes. [true or false depending on belief]

Jesus spoke 2,467 words in the New Testament. [theoretically knowable, but unable to be decided]

And so on.

Read his Experimental Design section carefully. Some people took issue with Harris's decision to have his subjects review their responses and flag any that the subject felt were erroneous or was not sure about. Harris removed these responses from the analysis. I agree with Harris's method, and don't think it affects his experiement, but some bloggers do not agree and think that it skews the results. These people are probably more qualified to judge than I am - however, my response is that (as theirs surely would be) the way to really know is to conduct more tests, on wider selections of the population, utilizing various methods.

Harris states in his Discussion section:

Several psychological studies[9-11] appear to support Spinoza's conjecture[12] that the mere comprehension of a statement entails the tacit acceptance of its being true, whereas disbelief requires a subsequent process of rejection. Understanding a proposition may be analogous to perceiving an object in physical space: We seem to accept appearances as reality until they prove otherwise. Our behavioral data support this hypothesis, in so far as subjects judged statements to be true more quickly than they judged them to be false or undecidable.

For example, a nonreligious person reading the statement, "A Personal God exists, just as the Bible describes" would first accept the statement as true, then reject it, and the religious person would, upon reading the statement, "There is probably no actual Creator God" would likewise accept the statement as true, then reject it. What is established here is that any statement is first accepted as true by the brain, then subsequently rejected if the subject does not believe it to be true.

Harris discusses the limits of fMRI briefly.

fMRI studies in general have several limitations. Perhaps first and most important are those of statistical power and sensitivity. We chose to analyze our data at extremely conservative thresholds to exclude the possibility of type I (false-positive) detection errors, reducing our susceptibility to the problem of multiple comparisons. This necessarily increases our type II error (false-negative rate). Thus, we may have failed to detect activity in additional brain regions involved in the formation of belief states. Furthermore, in whole-brain studies such as these, the analyses implicitly assume uniform detection sensitivity throughout the brain, though it is well known that several brain regions, including the orbitofrontal and rectal gyri, show reduced magnetic resonance signal in the low-bandwidth fast imaging scans used for fMRI because of the relatively inhomogeneous magnetic field created there. Thus, false-negative rate may be further increased in these brain areas.

Here are his conclusions:

Mean reaction time differed between belief and disbelief. Disbelief > belief mean reaction time.

Mean reaction time did not differ significantly between disbelief and uncertainty; however, disbelief > uncertainty.

Harris correlates belief, disbelief, and uncertainty to activity within specific areas of the brain. (Not being versed in brain anatomy I can't tell you what this exactly means, which areas overlap or don't, ect. You'll have to read that and judge.)

He sums up his data thus:

The results of our study suggest that belief, disbelief, and uncertainty are mediated primarily by regions in the medial PFC, the anterior insula, the superior parietal lobule, and the caudate. The acceptance and rejection of propositional truth-claims appear to be governed, in part, by the same regions that judge the pleasantness of tastes and odors.

These results suggest that the differences among belief, disbelief, and uncertainty may one day be distinguished reliably, in real time, by techniques of neuroimaging. This would have obvious implications for the detection of deception, for the control of the placebo effect during the process of drug design, and for the study of any higher-cognitive phenomenon in which the differences among belief, disbelief, and uncertainty might be a relevant variable.

"The acceptance and rejection of propositional truth-claims appear to be governed, in part, by the same regions that judge the pleasantness of tastes and odors." I wonder if certain tastes and certain odors correlate with belief in certain truth-claims? Perhaps not.

I can't help but wonder, though, when I look at Harris's work (and I'm engaging in some really shameful speculation here, based on my completely subjective and anecdotal experience) at the taste in music, poetry, and art that creationists have, being that this stuff truly repulses me. It's not only that I find the dogma of creationism laughable; it's also my experience that I find creationists' tastes to be (aside from their liking Mozart or Chopin) largely kitchy and crass. When I see the crap they produce, I know something is wrong - and even if I believed every word they said, I couldn't stomach the way that they say it! Is there a connection between pseudoscience beliefs and sentimentality?

It's brain-food for thought.

(In other words, I would also die a very happy girl if I could get it into Ken Ham's followers' heads that they can come to my blog and type until their fingers fall off the "peace you will feel" if I were to believe in God, as they have been in response to my "Ken Ham's Museum Opens to Closed Minds" post, but they can't can't can't ever make me like the shitty art that they produce! Gaaa! ) ;-)

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Attention, Creationists!

You're driving me nuts! All over the internet you are confusing Information Science with Information Theory, and using the two interchangeably. Hello, these are two completely different areas of research and study. Do you think you have a right to confuse yellow with purple? Would you please stop it?

This is my future field, Information Science. (It is not William Dembski's field. It is mine.)

And this is Information Theory. (And though he claims to be an expert in it, this is not William Dembski's field, either. Selling William Dembski's books to people taken in by William Dembski is William Dembski's field.)

Okay? Can we at least get our definitions straight?

If you want a really good introduction to Information Theory, check out Mark Chu-Carroll's post on the matter. As he concludes, the argument of the "impossibility" of the creation of new information becomes transparently fallacious.

So - what happens if I take a string in very non-compressed format (like, say, an uncompressed digitized voice) and send it over a noisy phone line? Am I gaining information, or losing information?

The answer is: gaining information. Introducing randomness into the string is adding information.

"AAAABBBB" contains less information than "AAAABxBB".

The way this is used to refute bozos who claim things like "You can't create information" should be obvious.

Shimmies to Good Math, Bad Math

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