Archive for January, 2013

In defense of high school students writing dark things

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Recently, Vinnie made me aware of a student who has been suspended for writing somewhat dark poetry (

I think that if we proceed down this path, we are doing our children a grave disservice.

My suspicions are that people who write about the dark things going on in their mind.. suicide, violence.. are the people who don’t act on those thoughts. Getting things out on paper actually helps some of us clear them from our minds, and also gives us the ability to see them in context. That’s not even going into the freedom of speech issues involved. I think it would be very unhealthy for us to insist that high school students not talk or write about the darker sides of the things they think, especially since they are immersed in a culture of violence. [It still angers me that you can show someone getting blown into tiny pieces in a PG-13 movie, but not people having sex – even though pretty much all healthy people have some sexuality in their lives and normally it is a happy thing that does not hurt people, whereas very few of us are gunning people down and whenever it does happen it’s certain to be a tragedy]

I don’t have anything but intuition to go on but I’m thinking that people who bottle up their dark thoughts instead of facing them (possibly by writing about them) are far more likely to go postal.

In defense of intelligent design

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

I no longer believe in evolution as the sole force that created my genome.

Now wait. I am not necessarily saying that I believe that some aliens or God has swept down and created my DNA by compiling a few libraries (although I do think the reuse of code in DNA is suspiciously library-like) – I think that there’s a viewpoint that we’re not hearing from in defense of intelligent design.

The most likely source of intelligent design that I see is the organism that is running the code.

No, I’m not aware of any way I can edit my DNA. On the other hand, I’m not aware of any way that I can do any number of things that my body does and I take for granted, and I certainly don’t know what the limitations of individual cells in my body are. A cell is a very complex thing, far more powerful than I think we usually give it credit for.

I really have to wonder why we find it more believable that we were either created by a external force or evolved by flipping bits at random and seeing what happens than that we – a species who has shown the ability to understand machine language, write and debug programs, and research the world around us and use that information to make decisions – have been improving ourselves.

The idea of being evolved by flipping bits at random sounds kind of awful to me. What happens when you have a design implementation that accidentally sets the gain too high on pain receptors? One can imagine all sorts of random bits one would rather not experience being flipped. On the other hand, if we were designed, that brings the question up of who designed us? Some religious adherents would say we were created by God and God was, is, and always will be but we’re different somehow – okay, but how did God get to the lofty position of knowing how to code? (Face it, writing DNA and writing code are not that different..)

Lately, I think that I miss out on a lot because I don’t believe it’s possible. I have experimentally verified that what you believe controls what you experience. I have a feeling that if you have a completely unshakable faith in *anything*, you’ll experience it as true.

This isn’t that surprising, given that we really live in a world of information. Us I.T. guys understand intuitively that a arbitrary string of data could turn into a sound or a image – it’s not a big leap to see that it could also turn into a touch, or a smell, or a taste. Even the kinesthetic ability to know what position our bodies are in can be looked at as the exchange of information. While the physicists talk about matter and energy and the quantum guys talk about particles, to a I.T. guy it soon starts to sound like the most fundamental thing in the universe is not matter or energy, but information. This may just be a case of “to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail..” – but I don’t think so.

We are in Plato’s cave. Our minds have sets of rules that turn information streams into things we can map into our higher experience, like a blue ball or a furry puppy. Some sources of information behave like objects (like a blue ball) while others clearly have minds of their own (your coworker who keeps beating you at Quake). I can’t speak for anyone else here, but I have no way to know how that information is being mapped into the experience of anyone but me. For all I know, I might look like a dog in your view. Or the sky might be green. Or any number of similar things. All I can experience is my own reality. I don’t think this is built entirely out of my mind (I’m not a extreme solipsist) but I do think that my mind takes the data coming in and puts a spin on it based on my beliefs in order to build the experience I’m having in the “real world”.

In defense of my earlier comment, whether or not our genome is being edited by us to improve upon our current situation – and I have no reason to think it’s not – clearly the evolution of the way our minds think is something that is under our conscious control. When I was just coasting, doing whatever it seemed to make sense to do at the time, my life either stayed the same or got worse. Now that I’m constantly trying to improve the functioning of my mind and my experience, my life has been improving in all sorts of measurable ways.

Now, I’d like to bring out a side point here. We’ve all had the experience of seeing someone ignore data that did not agree with their personal beliefs. I think that at times there are things that are happening that we just can’t experience because we don’t believe in them. I am sure that the adherents to top-down creationism and to evolution find all sorts of data to back up their beliefs. I’m sure I’ve said before on this blog that every adherent to every religion finds data to validate their choice of religion – experiences it as being true. This explains why so many religions are convinced they are the one truth and everyone else is going to hell. You are deluded, but I am perfectly correct.

In my particular case, what I have is a meta-religion. I think that what I believe affects how I experience the world, and I’m in search of the best things to believe. I do not want to put my own experience above the happiness of others, so I don’t want to believe I’m the only person that matters – so I need a belief system that successfully integrates with the world I’m experiencing while giving me the flexibility to have the experiences I want to have.

Now, at times parts of me – especially the parts of me programmed from childhood with Christianity – argue with this view. However, it seems to me that if I am a top-down creation by God (and I’m not ruling that out, it’s just not my current working hypothesis) God granted me the freedom and handed me the experiences to learn all this, so *e must approve of the idea of me figuring out what I need to believe in order to have the life I want to have. *e has all sorts of opportunities to communicate with me the error of my ways and I am open to communication. However, I am skeptical that any message that appears in front of my eyes or in my mind comes from God – God is going to have to authenticate *self pretty carefully, because I have lived for a while in a universe that appears to have beings with hostile intent, not all of which are immediately visible and apparent.

What I find improbable in the extreme is that God created me to be *s slave. If you do postulate a top-down creator with omnipotence and omnicience in this frame, that creator would have any number of ways of communicating that concept to me, and *e does not seem to have done so. I do not see any signs that I am being discouraged from my current lines of spiritual inquiry. (This is not inviting all you out there to join in the fray by trying to convince me that I am – please, let’s keep this simple. Trust that if God does exist, *e can communicate with me without needing you, whoever you might be who are inclined to do so, quoting scripture of various religions at me.)

Looking at the Bible, it does not stand up for me as a source of sole spiritual enlightenment. There is signal there, but there’s also a awful lot of noise. I’m convinced one needs to be somewhat crazy to read it as the word of a supreme being. (Not that I’m saying I’m not crazy, because clearly from time to time I am)

If we were a top down creation, there’s one thing that stands out: Whoever created us must have been *very* patient. Even assuming that DNA is a compiled (binary) output and we are written in a high level language, *e still would have had to find or create the compiler for it. And whether we’re creating ourselves, or a top down creation, I hope we can all agree we are a work in progress. If you can’t imagine a life much better than this one (or much worse, for that matter), your imagination’s broken from lack of use.

Anyway, back to my original thesis. I think we are a product of intelligent design – and the intelligent designers were our progenitors, and are us. This does not mean I don’t believe in some sort of diety – the model I favor for this at the moment is that life sums – that together you and me are more than we are separately. But I’m also open to the idea that there are other types of beings than us humans and cats and dogs and dolphins, and that some of them might be much more powerful – both in a affecting-reality and a information-processing sort of way – than we are.