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Humans Aren't Rational
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5th-Dec-2009 04:01 pm - New blog
My blog moved again. The new blog is here:

http://humansarentrational.blogspot.com/

The posts that I posted between this Livejournal blog and now I've archived here:

http://humansarentrational.wordpress.com/
25th-Apr-2009 10:31 pm - New blog
I will likely be posting all new posts to my new blog, hosted on my webserver:

http://convert.adamrichard.org

I've also imported my LiveJournal posts to that blog. But the import wasn't of great quality, so I would recommend reading and posting comments for past entries to this LiveJournal blog.
14th-Mar-2009 08:32 pm - Misplaced morality
Though of course the environmental movement is mostly a good thing, there is the potential of falling victim to a particular type of pride, which I, at least, have sometimes done. I'm referring to the tendency to label any eco-friendly/organic product, anything natural, anything sustainable, as morally praiseworthy - and anything corporate, anything industrialized, anything artificial as morally evil. Of course the former are frequently helpful, and the latter often harmful - but it is a grave mistake to judge industrial society and praise the Earth.

The fallacy can be seen by considering the underlying ideology involved in the making of this distinction. What is this type of environmentalist really saying? That they want to take regular modern life, replace all their material possessions with eco-alternatives, and with intelligent application of technology and intelligent purchasing decisions, we would avert the environment crises and - be good. Humans are great and our intelligence can solve our problems, if we would just stop being idiot, passive consumers, and once we stop being idiot, passive consumers and make intelligent purchasing decisions, we are - good. You know you've heard people talk like that. This has ever been the great error of secular humanism, and if we don't soon see it as an error, it may be our downfall.

For how can it be that mere intellectual changes in one's life, with no inward change and no sacrifices, make us better morally? Consider switching to hybrid cars or wind power. The assumption is that you want to keep driving a car and using electricity, but if you buy these instead, you'll be doing less harm and thereby be morally and/or spiritually cleansed. But hybrid cars and wind power are worthwhile precisely when they save more money overall than the alternatives - and then how is one's purchase of them benevolent? Or at least, they might cost a bit more, so people who can afford them buy them, and those who can't don't - but are those who can afford them really giving up much? In most cases, I doubt it. But if something takes little effort, how can its doer have merit? In other words, hybrid cars and wind power are not universally morally good.

Instead, I propose that there are only 2 things which, if done by everyone, could probably save the environment. But - they involve a moral change in yourself.

1. We need to stop being greedy - that is, stop consuming luxuries for ourselves. What's a luxury? More than you need, which is bought for your own enjoyment. "But isn't this just a matter of degree, and doesn't it ideally mean buying nothing?" No - you can buy things for the benefit of others, and that's not greedy. "What about survival? Isn't survival done for oneself?" Wrong - you can choose to survive for reasons other than your own happiness. "Doesn't this mean never enjoying anything, if you can never treat yourself to products?" Wrong again - there are lots of enjoyable free things or things that come as a package done for some other reason than your happiness. So, would buying a hybrid car (or any car) be a selfless act? Maybe. Maybe not. That's my point.

2. We need to stop caring about how we appear to others. This inherently causes resources - whether time, money, etc. - to be spend towards something that is ultimately meaningless. An obvious example is fancy clothes worn to impress others. A less obvious example is a strict adherence to ritual done to avoid social stigma. But supposed "natural" things can apply too, can be done to impress rather than out of true care for nature. Is spending resources to plant and maintain a flower garden done to make others happy at the flowers' appearance, or to receive praise from others at the beauty of the flower garden? Maybe the former. Maybe the latter. That's my point.

(Voluntary human extinction might also be needed to save the world, but it's hard to tell. If people only had children selflessly and when it is ethical to do so, rather than because they want to have their own children and/or a family life, would there be few enough people in the world? There might well be.)

So we shouldn't judge others when they do things that appear good or bad, which might not be. We need to change our lives rather than our shopping experiences to become good, though changing our shopping experiences can be beneficial. If resources are being spent out of true concern for others, you needn't feel guilty about spending them. And rationalism is better than post-modernism.
31st-Jan-2009 04:09 pm - Livejournal Ads continued
I ended up subscribing to Livejournal Paid Service for a year. I figure I can't blame them for needing to make money, and they do have the right to change their service when they want. Anyway, you shouldn't see ads on my blog anymore. Let me know if you do.

I also rented a web hosting service with webcs.com. It's hard to tell how good their service is yet - I'm still setting things up. They certainly don't understand grammar, from their automated messages. My website is now at http://www.adamrichard.org. I primarily got it to get my own email address and avoid ad-supported (and possibly data mining supported) email services like GMail and Hotmail.

My blog will also probably move to my web server someday, probably to the URL http://convert.adamrichard.org, and I'll probably leave LiveJournal in the long term. It takes some effort to migrate though, so I don't know when or if it will happen. I might also stop blogging now that I have a job and people to talk to about philosophy.
22nd-Jan-2009 02:03 pm - Livejournal Ads
I noticed that LiveJournal has started putting ads on my blog, despite the fact that I haven't chosen the ad-supported option, which pisses me off. I'll probably be looking seriously into moving my blog, website, and email to a web host provider soon, with a new domain name, if I can find a good web hosting service. If anyone knows of a good, fairly cheap (< $10/month), ad-free web hosting service in Canada, let me know. I seem to be having trouble finding one.
20th-Jan-2009 11:26 pm - Organ donation
People are dying because they can't get an organ transplant. Sickeningly, hospitals can't use the organs of people who have just died without their prior consent when they were alive. This is stupid because a dead body does not belong to the dead person. It's just a lump of flesh that could save lives. The law should make organ use the default, and require people to explicitly say when they don't want the organs from their dead body used.

This issue is especially dire because there is only a short interval of time after someone dies in which their organs can be transplanted. If the person is unconscious from a sudden accident and that interval of time has to be spent contacting their relatives to find out if a transplant is acceptable, it may be too late anyway.

Given the current unjust law, we have a moral imperative to ensure that our consent is explicitly known. This is done by filling out an organ donar card and keeping it in your wallet, as well as telling your family members that you're an organ donar. You can download and print such a card from the following website, if you live in Canada:

http://www.organdonations.ca/donorcard.htm

I implore everyone to do so.

By the way, it's also important (though less so than the above) to have a will and a Living Will (the latter of which tells doctors what to do if they can't save you, but could keep you alive as a vegetable for a while longer).
16th-Jan-2009 09:08 pm - Baking bread
http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Simple-Whole-Wheat-Bread/Detail.aspx

Very good bread made with basic ingredients and a simple recipe. The ingredients cost about $2-4 with organic flour to make 3 loaves, which is still about 3 times cheaper than buying it in the store. And I like it much better than any bread I can find in any store or market (but maybe only because it's fresh).

Baking bread is especially efficient in the winter, where the heat from the oven isn't wasted.

It's not hard to make bread either, and slightly fun. I don't recommend a bread maker, because most people's I've heard from wrecks the bread about half the time. You only have to knead it for about 5-10 minutes anyway, which I don't consider much effort.
12th-Jan-2009 10:01 am - Dream
I had kind of a weird dream a few nights ago. I dreamt that I had died and went to heaven, or what I thought was heaven. But I was building this heaven out of tiles of my own beliefs or something, so that it consisted entirely of my own logically self-consistent (and seemingly circular) beliefs. They were gradually making me less happy. Then I decided to ask the guy who was supposedly God some challenging questions, but he didn't like it when I did that and got angry at me. But then I got him to answer the same question in 2 contradictory ways. I concluded that he must not really be God, since God doesn't lie, and therefore wouldn't give 2 contradictory answers. Which meant that I was really in hell - a hell that I had created for myself out of my own obsession with my self-contained beliefs, and were not the basis of a religion with any substance.

I wonder if this means I'm going to hell. I'm not usually superstitious, but I felt like that dream meant something, that I should repent in some way or change something about myself.
I discovered that when meat and dairy products are labeled "certified organic" in Canada, it means more than merely a lack of harmful chemicals used in raising them. Farms that sell certified organic meat and dairy also have to abide by minimum standards for the animals' welfare, including giving them adequate space and fresh air; they're breaking the law otherwise.

http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/cgsb/on_the_net/organic/index-e.html

This is significant to people like me who believe that all plants and animals are sacred and have intrinsic value. Modern farms which supposedly produce most of the products found in grocery stores, called factory farms, consist of raising animals in very enclosed spaces - placing them right next to each other - as well as giving them harmful chemicals, overmilking cows, and various other activities that improve the bottom line but cause suffering to the animals. To (most?) people who believe animals aren't important compared to humans, there's just the health and environmental issues of having harmful chemicals in your food. But for believers in animal rights, supporting factory farms is immoral, and I'm happy to find that by buying certified organic products I can probably avoid doing so.

For vegetables, certified organic primarily means no pesticides or herbicides, which I likewise consider immoral since unnecessary killing is immoral. So I think I'll buy almost exclusively certified organic food from now on.
5th-Jan-2009 08:53 pm - Pascal's Wager is misunderstood
I've been reading through chapter III of Pensées by Blaise Pascal, which contains the origin of Pascal's Wager. People seem to suppose that Pascal's Wager goes something like this:

1. If I believe in God and I'm right, I'll gain infinite happiness.
2. If I disbelieve in God and I'm right, I'll gain only finite happiness.
3. Therefore, as long as there's some chance of God's existence, it's rational to believe in God.

The document does contain text that goes something like that (section 233 of Pensées). But if you take it in context, I don't think that's what Pascal meant. I think that particular section was spoken in a mocking, tongue-in-cheek sort of way, and that Pascal did not seriously believe based on that argument, or expect anyone else to.

Rather, it seemed, from the surrounding text, that his point was twofold.

1. To show people that it's rational to seek the truth, and that it's irrational to sit around lazily as if religion doesn't matter, whether or not you believe in it.

2. To show people that it's rational to seek virtue, rather than the temporary pleasures of this world, whether or not you believe in a God who will reward you. If you seek virtue as an unbeliever but it turns out God exists, you might gain infinite happiness; but if you're wrong, you won't lose much. He was mocking hedonism without thought of the eternal as utterly irrational.

This reasoning actually makes quite a bit of sense. In fact, in light of it, I'm not sure there's as much point in me wanting to be an atheist anymore, unless I could be completely sure there's no God, which seems impossible. As long as God might exist, I should still act virtuous just in case, which means I can never (rationally) have the complete freedom that I desire. (However, there are still particular morals of Christianity that it would be nice to discard as not following from anything.)

But there is still a significant flaw even with this reasoning. The dichotomy between a certain God or physicalism is false; Buddhism has a chance of being true, for example. Maybe the real God or the real ultimate reality will punish Christians forever and reward people based on some criteria other than virtue or belief or whatever you happen to believe rewards people.

Which makes it all the more important to continue trying to convert to everything. In fact, that seems to be the most important goal in life.
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