Atlas Shrugged Part 2 Review, Post-Production

Well, King of Ferrets, Inquisitive Raven, and I watched it and we can’t un-watch it. We paused at various spots to comment while I recorded the audio. I’ll eventually get around to editing, including taking out our silences, whether awkward or thoughtful.

One point I raised in the conversation was the stealing of cars, since there were many in the movie with “don’t take” written on them. Given that gas went up to $40 per gallon in the movie, it left me wondering: Who would benefit from auto theft? Where would the black market demand come from? On the other hand, I could understand selling them for scrap metal. Then my brother, who is a fan of the Grand Theft Auto series, enlightened me to another theft motive and the flaw in my thinking.

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The Truth

There’s a villain named Doc Scratch in Homestuck who got me thinking about what it means to be a skeptic or a scientist, as well as what it means to be human in an uncertain world. He is a nearly omniscient being who manipulates the cast into furthering his master’s goals. One of his big things is that he never flat out lies. He’ll tell “temporary lies” for the sake of jokes, which necessitates revealing the lie in the punchline. When he’s called out for “lies of omission,” he has a very good response:

Lies of omission do not exist.
The concept is a very human one. It is the product of your story writing again. You have written a story about the truth, making emotional demands of it, and in particular, of those in possession of it.
Your demands are based on a feeling of entitlement to the facts, which is very childish. You can never know all of the facts. Only I can.
And since it’s impossible for me to reveal all facts to you, it is my discretion alone that decides which facts will be revealed in the finite time we have.
If I do not volunteer information you deem critical to your fate, it possibly means that I am a scoundrel, but it does not mean that I am a liar. And it certainly means you did not ask the right questions.
One can make either true statements or false statements about reality. All of the statements I make are true.

(I’m amusing myself by duplicating MSPA’s antics. If you can’t read it, highlight it.)

We’re story tellers, not just to other humans, but to ourselves. We don’t record all the details of an event the way a camera would, we simplify it into a story where we mostly keep the details that we consider relevant while dumping minutiae. We put this story in our memory and when we call back that memory, we reconstruct it from those elements. Our biases color the interpretation, and we can easily drop details that contradict the story we want to tell each other or tell ourselves. We can also embellish by making up details to convince ourselves of the story’s trustworthiness. Recalling the memory can also change it.

Knowing that our memories are unreliable is one reason we need documentation. An experimenter’s memory may be distorted over time, but if his experiment’s results are recorded as they come in, self-deception from biased memory becomes less likely. Cameras are generally more trustworthy than eyewitnesses, and journals are generally more reliable than your personal recall.

Another aspect I want to bring attention to is the point about asking the right questions. Like Doc Scratch, the universe doesn’t “lie” by capriciously violating its laws to produce deceptive results. If we don’t control for a confounding factor in an experiment’s design, it’s equivalent to being sloppy in asking a question.

We aim to ask questions like “Does A cause X?” If, however, we know that B can cause X and don’t design the experiment with a to exclude B or hold B constant between experimental and control groups, we’re being sloppy and asking “Does A or B cause X?” without realizing it. When the affirmative answer comes in, we fall victim to the sloppy question because it remains possible the positive outcome was actually the result of B’s known influence, while A did nothing.

The universe isn’t malicious like Doc Scratch, but a lot of pseudoscientists are, and in effect, they use his tactics to allow us to deceive ourselves if we aren’t careful and self-aware. There are also plenty of people who don’t acknowledge the complexities of human experience and don’t realize they’ve been deceiving themselves while leading others down the same road. Science is hard work because we acknowledge the difficulty and complexity in asking questions of an uncertain universe. It’s the only way we can trust our results. Self-deception, on the other hand, is quite easy.

Game Concept: “Tutorial”

I had an amusing thought for a joke game. I think we can all say we hate forced tutorials, and I find it particularly annoying when you’re forced to go through the steps just demonstrated. The idea is to make a parody of such tutorials as well as overwrought and unnecessary game mechanics. It starts insultingly simple, telling you how to pick up an item. As it goes on, doing something “simple” involves following complex interacting rules that aren’t mentioned until you inadvertently violate them. Over time, the error messages get impatient with you: “You can’t alchemitize a silver weapon with a Pargon rune while your Lunar Orrery is in a waning phase! What’s wrong with you?!”

For naming conventions on game mechanics, I’d draw inspiration from MS Paint Adventures, including some shout-outs to it. I’d also probably poke fun at real games that overdo it.

Hanging Pictures

One of the old things I did with the original Doggerel series was provide a “helpful image” at the front of the post that had some humorous take on the subject matter or made some kind of reference I could link to. I stopped doing that after a while. Sometimes image searches just didn’t find what I was looking for. Sometimes I just didn’t feel motivated.

I’m thinking about picking that back up, and a little crowd sourcing might help… Though I again realize I don’t have much of a crowd at the moment. (Hi, Yakaru!) So, if you’d like to help, think about images to go with woo cliches as well as my existing Doggerel entries and drop a comment with a link. Don’t wait for me to write up the entry if you’ve got a worthy visual pun. The right image might encourage me to bump up a Doggerel on the schedule.

“Potential” People

I was reading the comments at one of PZ’s posts when I thought of this:

1. Anti-abortionists often ask the rhetorical question, “What if your parents had chosen to abort you?” to implicitly assert that abortion is wrong because a hypothetical past abortion would result in the non-existence of a fully sentient person in the present.

2. Many people are the product of premarital sex.

3. If the parents of these people had chosen premarital abstinence instead of having sex, they would not exist, therefore hypothetical past abstinence would result in the non-existence of a fully sentient person in the present.

4. Therefore, by the same logic, abstinence before marriage is immoral. And yet, belief that abortion is immoral quite often coincides with a belief that premarital abstinence is a moral obligation.

Of course, the “logic” is absurd and relies on a variation of the Historian’s Fallacy, viewing past decisions as if the participants had the same hindsight a person from the present does, instead of judging the decisions based on the information available to the people at the time they made their decisions. We do not have the luxury of being able to see into the future to see which sex acts will result in the next generation. This is the real world, not Star Trek: we don’t have people from the future popping in to inform us which decisions are the “right” ones.

All I know for sure is that the past and present contain real people. The people of the future are on much shakier ground. If the future’s fixed, the question is moot, since there’s nothing that will prevent them from becoming real. If it isn’t fixed, why should one possible future person have superior rights to another possible future person?

If the future isn’t fixed, every decision, not just abortion or contraception, has an impact on which future is realized. This would mean that if abortion is “murder” because it prevents a future person from developing, so would seemingly inconsequential decisions that end up doing the same thing. Staying home on a Saturday instead of going out and unintentionally meeting the woman of my dreams and thus potentially raise a family would have the same sort of consequences for potential people as aborting them. Even if you enter explicit intention into it, it gets into the problem in the opening of this post: Abstinence would be “murder” because it’s an act that would obviously prevent the development of potential persons.

Of course, a big part of the main debate is about whether zygotes/fetuses/embryos are “persons” or not, or about when in development they become persons, but that’s a different argument for a different post. This one’s specifically about the fallacious rhetorical value of the “potential person” argument.

A Simple Observation

Just a few minutes ago, my dad took a sip of Diet Dr. Pepper and started an impressive stretch of coughing.

Me: “Annoying when it goes down the wrong pipe, isn’t it?”

Dad: “When it goes down the wrong pipe, it means there’s no Intelligent Design.”

I like that my family can openly talk like that. A lot of atheists don’t have it as easy as I do.

Of course, it’s little biological quirks like that which challenge the notion that a super-intelligence designed the human body. There are so many things that can go wrong, and they range from small annoyances to potentially fatal. Thankfully, modern medicine has aided a number of them. I’d rather not imagine what it’d be like for me if I didn’t have my wisdom teeth taken out. I’ve seen an X-ray of an extreme case, where a wisdom tooth was nearly perpendicular to the back molar.

About the only argument I remember being offered to explain that evidence is the assertion of an incompetent designer, or an intentionally incompetent designer. Oh, yeah, and the idea of The Fall, which, if you’re describing an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent designer, still falls under incompetence or intentional incompetence, the latter of which contradicts the omnibenevolent part.

Another explanation I imagine, but haven’t heard asserted by a Creationist is a designer with very strange, incomprehensible motivations, instead of the human-like ones typically described. Of course, it similar to the “mysterious ways” argument in that it can be used to make the hypothesis unfalsifiable. If you can’t describe the god’s motivations, desires, and methods, you can’t make falsifiable predictions.