God’s Debris by Scott Adams

I was recently recommended Scott Adams' book “God’s Debris”, which may now be freely downloaded. This will presumably drive sales of the sequel, which is currently only available in paper form.

It’s a pretty short book, and very easily digestible. Turns out that Scott Adams isn’t just a terribly funny guy (via Dilbert), but he’s also an exquisite composer of thought experiments. He proposes a possible truth to the universe, ostensibly not as an explanation for anything but more to explore the issues involved. As someone occasionally on the fence regarding spiritual vs. reductionist beliefs, this is the sort of thing to swing me rather firmly towards the latter.

His descriptions ring especially true for reductionists that believe all things may be described by the sum of their parts. In his blog, Scott refers to humans as “moist robots”, which gives some sort of feel for the way he approaches the meaning of the universe in this book. His own views, of course, are concealed as unimportant.

Scott suggests reading the book with a friend and discussing the issues raised over a tasty beverage. I wish I had that luxury, so I’ll just say that I’ve read it (thanks Justin!) and hope that someone wishes to talk to me about it some time. As a philosophy to live by, it certainly fits in better than any other supposed explanation I’ve ever read. (Especially this one.) But the point is — I feel — that there’s really nothing we can do to validate any such claims and the best thing for everyone to do is live by a “religion of society”. If some people need fictions to adhere to such a philosophy, then that’s the way it goes.

Anyway, I promise I’ll stop being wishy-washy metaphysical. I’m just spewing thoughts into the ether while they exist in my head.


Living so long

I’ve recently been telling people that it’s my goal to live ‘til I’m 150. Imagine the coincidence that Scott Adams expressed living to a similar date. Hence, a reminder to write something.

I was mainly inspired by some of Ray Kurzweil’s writing which can essentially be summed up by saying that technology increases exponentially and it’s impossible for us to conceive what’s going to be around in 20 years.

Case in point: I don’t think the step from a 8MHz Mac Plus in 1986 with 1MB of RAM no hard drive, and a 9 inch black and white monitor to a dual-core 2.16 GHz iMac with 1GB of RAM and a 24 inch colour monitor was exactly anticipated. Well, Moore’s law would have predicted it (doubling every 2 years is an order of magnitude increase in 20), but looking back 20 years gives a better perspective — we’ve come a long way.

So anyway, living to 150 gives me heaps of time. What on earth am I going to do with it? I guess to start I need to make sure that my lifestyle is actually conducive to living so long. And, well, I pretty much have no clue. I’ve started exercising some, which my physio friend assures me (if I keep it up) is a big win when I get to about 50 and my body starts deteriorating.

Eating well is what bothers me. I must eat relatively well compared to some, but I still wonder. Do vitamin pills do anything, or are they passed through the body as placebos? How do I know if I get the optimal combination of proteins and whatever? Is a vegan diet with supplements better than a moderated omnivorous diet? How much attention should I spend on organic food?

Et cetera. So I’m really hanging out for the day that we can have sensors living in various parts of our bodies informing us of these sorts of things.

* BeepBeep * You need more potassium. Eat a banana.

Or whatever. I’m also waiting for built-in heart monitors and GPS receivers, which have moderate uses for tracking exercise, but most importantly EEG sensors that let you know the optimal times at which to nap (and whatever else they’ll be able to tell us).

I figure with enough optimism, there’s not too much we won’t be able to achieve before I’m dead. People express surprise that I want to live so long. I don’t really understand that. What’s the rush?

Religion vs evolution

This post came to mind months ago walking home one day, but I didn’t have the motivation to flesh it out at the time. The idea I’ll briefly discuss stems from when I read Dawkins’ book “The Selfish Gene” (which I should have summarised at one time but evidently didn’t — I read it after Daniel Dennet’s “Consciousness Explained”) wherein he essentially talks about how everything can be explained by how various evolutionary forces shape their creation.

Some trawling through the archives of Scott Adam’s “Dilbert Blog” re-awoke my idea, which I present below. There’s not much to it, really. I just found it interesting to muse on for a few minutes.

Religion seems like a mighty odd thing. I separate it into two broad components: the “supernatural” elements that help to “explain” things that we otherwise can’t; and (more importantly) various guidelines that help shape the behaviour of the religion’s followers. The question that I was thinking about was “why would groups of people believe all these crazy things in unison?”.

The explanation that someone just dreamed it up (probably believing it themselves) as a theory to explain something incomprehensible makes a fair amount of sense. I don’t think that covers everything though. Why would such beliefs be “evolutionarily stable”? That is, in a group in which half believed in God and in which half didn’t, what process would govern whether subsequent generations were more or less religious?

And here the social aspects of religion rear their head. It seems to me that when people embrace religious beliefs, with their associated “harm ye none” (in general)attitudes, their society or community is advanced due to the (generally sensible) guidelines given by their religious leaders. So now the religious half of the control group prosper due to their moral code, which just so happens to be independent of their belief in whatever precepts their religious holds.

To sum up the argument, the claim is that a group of religious people due to their community will tend to dominate. I feel I’m ignoring a host of factors here, such as the whole “meme” issue that religious thought propagates by affirming faith over reasoning — you can never really win a fundamental argument against such people. But I think it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that if religion of itself weren’t beneficial it wouldn’t exist.

That’s kind of the end of the story. I told you it wasn’t interesting. (Isn’t that what the internet’s all about?) I could now say that it’s a problem that religion is in decline, because the unwashed masses are no longer living unconditionally by tenets that they otherwise would (lest they be smote). And in the 21st century, what inducement can be made for them to do so?


Impossible Music Festival 2006

The radio station TripleJ in Australia does really great stuff. I don’t know how it compares to radio elsewhere in the world, but I like it a lot. They do a lot for the Australian music industry, such as support touring bands (how, I’m not actually sure…) and discover new artists (you might have heard of Missy Higgins). And provide free music to download, which is always nice.

(They’ve recently launched JTV, which runs mostly on ABC2, a digital-only free to air channel, which shows live recordings and other radio-type stuff that would be appropriate to actually watch. Check out the JTV website rather than hear me inadequately describe it, which even features “vodcasts” of some of their material.)

This year, JJJ’s repeating their “Impossible Music Festival”, in which they take votes for a whole bunch of live recordings they’ve taken, and then proceed to play only that live music over the course of an entire weekend. My highlight last year was Muse, who seem to be even better when left to their own devices — except on their official live album, Hullaballoo. I guess they’d get bored of playing the songs the same every time, or something.

In the hope of being able to listen to that recording again, I’ve voted. Included for your (perhaps lack of) interest, here’s my shortlist. Only ten were allowed, and JJJ doesn’t have a recording of the Pixies. In hindsight, I might have shuffled some choices around, but no matter.


The Dears on iTMS: Stupid

As much as I want to like the iTunes Music Store, it continually disappoints me. It’s really easy to buy music, yes, and it’s often quite cheap. But in the Australian version, there’s so much weird crap that leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

For example, I checked out the new “The Dears” album today, and look what I found:

Uh, great. Two of the same thing, one half again as expensive. What’s the difference? The first is a regular iTMS album at the normal price:

The second has an EP stuck on the end (note the track numbering):

So, I could either buy the album at $17, and buy the tracks to the EP individually at $1.70 each for a grand total of $23.80. Or I could skip the hassle and buy them all at once for $27.04?!?!

What’s worse, their first album is only available for $33.98, which includes their “Protest” EP. Why even bundle them together in the first place? The US store doesn’t, and lists the album for US$10, the EP for US$4.00.

It’s senseless things like this that really makes me wonder how incompetent the Australian iTMS people are, or whether it’s some stupid music labels thing. Don’t even get me started on how Sigur Rós is represented in the iTMS. The whole thing’s ridiculous.