On Consciousness


“Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon: it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it.”

- Stuart Sutherland

Christians, Sex and Misery


‘Consider, for instance, the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is now the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. The virus infects over half the American population and causes nearly five thousand women to die each year from cervical cancer; the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that more than two hundred thousand die worldwide. We now have a vaccine for HPV that appears to be both safe and effective. The vaccine produced 100 percent immunity in the six thousand women who received it as part of a clinical trial. And yet, Christian conservatives in our government have resisted a vaccination program on the grounds that HPV is a valuable impediment to premarital sex. These pious men and women want to preserve cervical cancer as an incentive toward abstinence, even if it sacrifices the lives of thousands of women each year.

There is nothing wrong with encouraging teens to abstain from having sex. But we know, beyond any doubt, that teaching abstinence alone is not a good way to curb teen pregnancy or the spread of sexually transmitted disease. In fact, kids who are taught abstinence alone are less likely to use contraceptives when they do have sex, as many of them inevitably will. One study found that teen “virginity pledges” postpone intercourse for eighteen months on average—while, in the meantime, these virgin teens were more likely than their peers to engage in oral and anal sex. American teenagers engage in about as much sex as teenagers in the rest of the developed world, but American girls are four to five times more likely to become pregnant, to have a baby, or to get an abortion. Young Americans are also far more likely to be infected by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rate of gonorrhea among American teens is seventy times higher than it is among their peers in the Netherlands and France. The fact that 30 percent of our sex-education programs teach abstinence only (at a cost of more than $200 million a year) surely has something to do with this.

The problem is that Christians like yourself are not principally concerned about teen pregnancy and the spread of disease. That is, you are not worried about the suffering caused by sex; you are worried about sex. As if this fact needed further corroboration, Reginald Finger, an Evangelical member of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, recently announced that he would consider opposing an HIV vaccine—thereby condemning millions of men and women to die unnecessarily from AIDS each year—because such a vaccine would encourage premarital sex by making it less risky. This is one of many points on which your religious beliefs become genuinely lethal.’

- Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 10-11

26/iii mmxv


Anthropologies believe that man has known how to use fire for 500,000 years, but only learned how to make it himself 12,000 years ago.

Prior to 1962, sodomy was illegal in every US State.

The flag of Paraguay is the only current national flag whose obverse and reverse sides are neither identical nor mirrored.

Legendary Cuban Communist revolutionary Che Guevara was born in Argentina.

Until 1857, in the UK, a husband wishing to end an unhappy marriage could sell his wife. The cost was about £3,000 – roughly £223,000 in today’s money.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

Jackspeak


Ever been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea? Or maybe you have been told to show a leg, been taken aback or have been made to run the gauntlet?

If so, you have been using just a few of the thousands of slang words and phrases coined or adopted by the Royal Navy – the world’s oldest organised fighting service – over the course of more than 400 years.

Over the centuries, the jargon of the Royal Navy, known as Jackspeak, has contributed to the everyday English vocabulary.

Royal Navy personnel feel that part of its charm comes from its exclusivity, because the terminology used is only understood by fellow naval comrades.

Also, it is believed that the humour of nautical slang is an essential coping strategy for people dealing with the multiple uncertainties and dangers of war.

“The world is a navy in an empty ocean.” – Dejan Stojanovic

The range of slang used by the Grey Funnel Line (the navy) is both instructive and amusing. Whether you serve in the Green Death (3rd Commando Brigade, Royal Marines), or are a snotty (midshipman) or a pickle jar officer (a university graduate who can tell you the square root of a pickle-jar lid to three decimal places but cannot get the blooming thing off), there is a special name for everything that matters.

In addition, the whole spectrum of naval life is covered, from a horse’s neck (brandy and dry ginger) to buckets of sunshine (nuclear weapons), the rather charming putting the Queen to bed (affectionate term for the formal lowering of the White Ensign each evening, at sunset), and helioproctosis (a condition where a person, usually a toffee-nosed officer, believes the sun shines from his backside – from the Ancient Greek ἥλιος meaning ‘sun’, and πρωκτός meaning ‘anus’).

“The sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea.” – James Joyce, Ulysses

And at the end of a Naval career, one receives the Order of the Golden Toecap (redundancy), and swallows the anchor (retired from a career at sea).

Finally, to get out at Fratton is Royal Navy jargon for coitus interruptus. (Fratton is the last railway station before Portsmouth – home of one of Britain’s largest Naval Bases.)

Conversations: Expertise


Europa
When someone says that some opinions are more relevant than others, could that essentially exclusivist thought to be intellectual elitism?

Helena
That depends, what do they mean by more relevant exactly?

Europa
A more relevant opinion is one which has its base in reality, that is to say, holds more truth than another opinion. Now, I understand some might argue that this observation seems to render any doubt of more relevant opinions irrelevant, but isn’t there a danger of alienating a substantial number of people when expressing this exclusivist idea?

Helena
Yes there is, because that is the nature of exclusivist convictions. Now, this sounds bad, but consider the following: What does it mean to have a domain of expertise? – If we admit there are domains of specific knowledge, there are going to be people who express ideas that, say, make more sense than others within that particular domain.

Europa
Could you provide an example?

Helena
Consider a person who needs a wisdom tooth removed. Is this individual going to consult a dentist or oral surgeon, or should he take the advice of someone who suggested he should remove his own wisdom tooth using a brick and a piece of string?

Europa
So anyone with an expensive diploma will automatically make more sense than someone without one?

Helena
Absolutely not, remember the maxim we already discussed: a more relevant opinion is one which holds more truth than another opinion. In this example, the patient should not consider the alternative solution because it does not hold any truths. That is to say, in that particular opinion, there are no truths which realise a greater amount of human happiness and well-being in any way – not because it is uneducated.

Europa
If I follow your reasoning correctly, it is necessary to exclude some opinions (or at the very least ridicule them) in order to have domains of expertise which can further the cause of man – generate human happiness and well-being.

Helena
Quite so. And in this respect it is interesting to consider a question asked by Sam Harris, “Does the Taliban [or any religious fundamentalism for that matter] have a point of view on physics that is worth considering? No. How is their ignorance any less obvious on the subject of human well-being?”

See other: Conversations

Divorcing Morality from Reality


‘You believe that unless the Bible is accepted as the word of God, there can be no universal standard of morality. But we can easily think of objective sources of moral order that do not require the existence of a lawgiving God. For there to be objective moral truths worth knowing, there need only be better and worse ways to seek happiness in this world. If there are psychological laws that govern human well-being, knowledge of these laws would provide an enduring basis for an objective morality. […]

One of the most pernicious effects of religion is that it tends to divorce morality from the reality of human and animal suffering. Religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are not—that is, when they have nothing to do with suffering or its alleviation. Indeed, religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are highly immoral—that is, when pressing these concerns inflicts unnecessary and appalling suffering on innocent human beings. This explains why Christians like yourself expend more “moral” energy opposing abortion than fighting genocide. It explains why you are more concerned about human embryos than about the lifesaving promise of stem-cell research. And it explains why you can preach against condom use in sub-Saharan Africa while millions die from AIDS there each year. You believe that your religious concerns about sex, in all their tiresome immensity, have something to do with morality. And yet, your efforts to constrain the sexual behavior of consenting adults—and even to discourage your own sons and daughters from having premarital sex—are almost never geared toward the relief of human suffering. In fact, relieving suffering seems to rank rather low on your list of priorities. Your principal concern appears to be that the creator of the universe will take offense at something people do while naked. This prudery of yours contributes daily to the surplus of human misery.’

- Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 9-10

Herodotus on Egyptian Women


‘The Egyptians appear to have reversed the ordinary practices of mankind. Women attend markets and are employed in trade, while men stay at home and do the weaving! Men in Egypt carry loads on their head, women on their shoulder. Women pass water standing up, men sitting down. To ease themselves, they go indoors, but eat outside on the streets, on the theory that what is unseemly, but necessary, should be done in private, and what is not unseemly should be done openly.’

- Herodotus II: 33-37

Ancient Greek You Know (γ)


Learning about the Classics can enrich one’s life enormously. Indeed, for some, understanding Greek is a κτῆμα ἐς ἀεί, a “possession for eternity”. Interestingly, people tend to know more Ancient Greek than they think. Consider the following words:

ἆθλον – athlon meaning ‘prize'; athlete.

ἀντί – anti meaning ‘instead of'; anti, a preposition indicating opposition.

γράφω – grapho meaning ‘I write'; graphic, e.g. descriptive.

δῆμος – demos meaning ‘people'; demo, an example of a product.

δημοκρατία – demokratia meaning ‘democracy'; democracy.

διά – dia meaning ‘through; on account of'; diagonal, joining two non-adjacent vertices.

εἰρήνη – eirehneh meaning ‘peace'; Irene, common European name.

ἐκκλησία – eklesia meaning ‘assembly'; ecclesiastical, pertaining to a church.

νίκη – nikeh meaning ‘victory'; Nike, a type of missile; well-known brand of sportswear.

ὀφθαλμός – ophthalmos meaning ‘eye'; ophthalmologist, eye doctor.

παύω – pauo meaning ‘I stop'; pause, to stop or interrupt.

περί – peri meaning ‘about; around'; perimeter, the outer limits of an area.

φυλάττω – phylatto meaning ‘I guard'; prophylactic, a preventive.

See other: Ancient Greek You Know

Erroneous Priorities


People have different opinions. Now, interesting as this may be, learning how to determine the fact that certain convictions are actually ‘more relevant’, no discussion will ever have to be wearisome and pointless. – Relevant, that is, in the sense that ‘it has its base in reality’, i.e. ‘holds (more) truth’.

There are truths to be known about the world we live in, and since our opinions relate to that world, a number of convictions can correctly be labelled ‘irrelevant’ since they are not based in reality i.e. not related to a verifiable truth in any way.

Opinions and Issues

1.1. Fact:
Opinions can relate to issues i.e. a topic which can be approached from different angles.
1.2.1. Fact:
Concerning one particular issue: One can either do something or nothing.
1.2.2. Hypothesis:
There probably is an infinite amount of something.
1.2.3. Hypothesis:
There probably is only one kind of nothing.
1.2.4. Hypothesis:
There could be no such thing as nothing.

Human Well-Being and Problems

2.1. Fact:
Human well-being concerns objectifiable effects on consciousness.
2.2.1. Fact:
A phenomenon which negatively impacts the standard of human well-being is a problem.
2.2.2. Fact:
By default, a phenomenon which does not negatively impact the standard of human well-being is not a problem.
2.2.3. Fact:
It is true to say there are issues in society which can be identified as problems.
2.2.4. Fact:
By default, it is true to say that some issues cannot be identified as problems.
2.3. Conclusion:
The severity and number in which problems exist in society effect the total amount of human well-being and happiness in that society.

Problems and Solutions

3.1.1. Fact:
It is true to say that actual problems may be assigned different solutions which realise varying degrees of human well-being and happiness.
3.1.2. Hypothesis:
It is probably true to say that here are an infinite number of ways to solve a problem.
3.2.1. Conclusion:
There are solutions to problems which realise a greater amount of human well-being and happiness than other solutions.
3.2.2. Conclusion:
There are solutions to problems which are more relevant than others.

Problems and Priorities

4.1.1. Fact:
Actual problems have a degree of priority i.e. one problem is more relevant than another.
4.1.2. Fact:
The degree of priority of a problem is determined by the quantity of verifiable negative impact on human well-being.
4.2. Fact:
It is empirically true to say that one problem is more conducive to degrading human well-being than a another.
4.3.1. Fact:
The rate or amount of degradation with regard to human well-being is known as the scale of the problem.
4.3.2. Fact:
The scale of the problem determines its priority.
4.4. Conclusion:
Different priorities are assigned to a problem; these priorities can be misplaced in relation to the scale of the problem i.e. erroneous.
4.5. Conclusion:
Worse still, certain priorities are assigned to issues that are not actual problems. These priorities are erroneous.

On Hidden Truths


“When a thing is funny, search it for a hidden truth.”

- George Bernard Shaw