Libertarianism versus Determinism


‘So, a lot of us figure that our thoughts and actions are free. But, most of us also believe that every effect has a cause, and that everything that happens now, in the present, is the necessary result of events that occurred in the past. This view is known as hard determinism. And [many people would argue that both can be true]; that many of your actions are free, and that the world is governed by cause and effect.

But, it turns out, you can’t rationally hold both views. Because, traditionally, libertarians have defined free actions according to what’s known as the Principle of Alternate Possibilities. That might sound like the plot device for a sci-fi show, but this principle says that an action is free only if the agent – that is, the person doing the thing – could have done otherwise.

So, truly free actions require options. Determinism, by contrast, doesn’t allow options. It holds that every event is caused by a previous event. Which means that an agent can never have done anything other than what they did, and therefore, they are never free.’

– Green. H. (2016, August 15) Determinism vs Free Will: Crash Course Philosophy #24

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Atomic Theory


‘[…] when atomic theory was first proposed, it sounded pretty crazy. And yes, we call it ‘Atomic Theory’, using the scientific definition of theory, which is “a well-tested set of ideas that explains many disparate observations”, not the colloquial definition of theory, which is “a guess.” But luckily there’s no-one running around any more saying “atoms are just a theory.”

But it wasn’t that long ago that people were running around saying that. You want to know who settled it for good? Einstein! Atoms had been postulated for a long time by the 20th century, but it wasn’t until Einstein mathematically proved the existence of atoms and molecules in 1905 that the matter was truly settled. And you thought Einstein was all about relativity and E=mc2, he also proved atoms exist! Continue reading

Unless you are the Mongols


The Mongols are a civilization that are known for being the exception to many historical phenomena.[1] Listed below are some of the most important of those exceptions in a generalised form:

  • Nomads: The downside is that you have to move around a lot because your herd always needs new grass, which makes it hard to build cities, unless you are the Mongols.
  • Civilization: Certain conglomerations of humans are seen as civilizations, where as, say nomadic cultures generally aren’t. Unless you are, say it with me, the Mongols.
  • Early Cities: The city-state period in Mesopotamia ended around 2000 BCE, probably because drought and a shift in the course of rivers led to pastoral nomads coming in and conquering the environmentally weakened cities, and then the nomads settled into cities of their own as nomads almost always will, unless, wait for it, you are the Mongols.
  • Persian Empire: Let’s start with the Persian empire, which became the model for pretty much all land-based empires throughout the world. Except for, wait for it, the Mongols.
  • Silk Road: […] with the growth of the Silk Road, the nomadic people of Central Asia suddenly become much more important to world history. Much of Central Asia isn’t great for agriculture, but it’s difficult to conquer, unless you are, wait for it, the Mongols.

“A tiger wearing a bell will starve.” – Mongolian proverb

  • Early Christianity: Both Herods ultimately took their orders from the Romans, and they both show up on the list of rulers who are oppressive to the Jews, partly because there’s never that much religious freedom in an empire, unless you are, wait for it, the Mongols… or the Persians.
  • Early Islam: It’s common to hear that in these early years Islam quote “spread by the sword”, and that’s partly true, unless you are — wait for it — the Mongols.[2]
  • Dark Ages: [The Abbasids] hailed from the Eastern, and therefore more Persian, provinces of the Islamic Empire. The Abbasids took over in 750 and no one could fully defeat them; until 1258, when they were conquered by, wait for it, the Mongols.
  • Islam in Africa: Until then, most of the people living in the East had been hunter-gatherers or herders, but once introduced, agriculture took hold, as it almost always does. Unless, wait for it, you’re the Mongols.
  • Imperialism: So by the end of the 19th century, most of Africa and much of Asia had been colonized by European powers. […] Notable exceptions include Japan, which was happily pursuing its own imperialism, Thailand, Iran, and of course Afghanistan. Because no one can conquer Afghanistan, unless you are, wait for it, the Mongols.
  • World War II: So, not to sound jingoistic, but the entry of the U.S. into the war really did change everything, although I doubt the Nazis could’ve taken Russia regardless. No one conquers Russia in the wintertime, unless you are, wait for it, the Mongols.

“A donkey that carries me is worth more than a horse that kicks me.” – Mongolian proverb


[1] Green. J. (2012) Crash Course World History

[2] Actually, as usual, the truth is more complicated. Many people, including the Mongols, but also including lots of people in Central and East Asia, embraced Islam without any military campaigns.

The Natural-law Argument


‘Then there is a very common argument from natural law. That was a favourite argument all through the eighteenth century, especially under the influence of Sir Isaac Newton and his cosmogony. People observed the planets going around the sun according to the law of gravitation, and they thought that God had given a behest to these planets to move in that particular fashion, and that was why they did so. That was, of course, a convenient and simple explanation that saved them the trouble of looking any further for explanations of the law of gravitation.

Nowadays we explain the law of gravitation in a somewhat complicated fashion that Einstein has introduced. I do not propose to give you a lecture on the law of gravitation, as interpreted by Einstein, because that again would take some time; at any rate, you no longer have the sort of natural law that you had in the Newtonian system, where, for some reason that nobody could understand, nature behaved in a uniform fashion. We now find that a great many things we thought were natural laws are really human conventions. You know that even in the remotest depths of stellar space there are still three feet to a yard. That is, no doubt, a very remarkable fact, but you would hardly call it a law of nature. And a great many things that have been regarded as laws of nature are of that kind.

On the other hand, where you can get down to any knowledge of what atoms actually do, you will find they are much less subject to law than people thought, and that the laws at which you arrive are statistical averages of just the sort that would emerge from chance. There is, as we all know, a law that if you throw dice you will get double sixes only about once in thirty-six times, and we do not regard that as evidence that the fall of the dice is regulated by design; on the contrary, if the double sixes came every time we should think that there was design. The laws of nature are of that sort as regards a great many of them. They are statistical averages such as would emerge from the laws of chance; and that makes this whole business of natural law much less impressive than it formerly was.

Quite apart from that, which represents the momentary state of science that may change tomorrow, the whole idea that natural laws imply a lawgiver is due to a confusion between natural and human laws. Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were, you are then faced with the question “Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?” If you say that he did it simply from his own good pleasure, and without any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a reason for giving those laws rather than others — the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it — if there were a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary. You really have a law outside and anterior to the divine edicts, and God does not serve your purpose, because he is not the ultimate lawgiver.

In short, this whole argument about natural law no longer has anything like the strength that it used to have. I am traveling on in time in my review of the arguments. The arguments that are used for the existence of God change their character as time goes on. They were at first hard intellectual arguments embodying certain quite definite fallacies. As we come to modern times they become less respectable intellectually and more and more affected by a kind of moralizing vagueness.’

– Denonn. L.E., Egner. R.E. Ed. 1961. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell London, United Kingdom: George Allen & Unwin (1962) p. 587-589


Bertrand Russell delivered the lecture Why I am not a Christian (of which this is an excerpt) on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall.

Question My Findings, Please?


‘Science is all about not fooling ourselves. A good scientist wants other scientists to try to poke holes in their ideas. It’s disappointing to be wrong, but if we are, we want to know!’

– Plait. P. (2015, August 6) Exoplanets: Crash Course Astronomy #27

Herding versus Agriculture


‘Herding is a really good and interesting alternative to foraging and agriculture. You domesticate some animals and then you take them on the road with you. The advantages of herding are obvious. First, you get to be a cowboy. Also, animals provide meat and milk, but they also help out with shelter because they can provide wool and leather.

The downside is that you have to move around a lot because your herd always needs new grass, which makes it hard to build cities, unless you are the Mongols.

But anyway, one of the main reasons herding only caught on in certain parts of the world is that there aren’t that many animals that lend themselves to domestication. Like, you have sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, horses, camels, donkeys, reindeer, water buffalo, yaks, all of which have something in common. They aren’t native to the Americas. The only halfway useful herding animal native to the Americas is the llama. […]

Most animals just don’t work for domestication. Like hippos are large, which means they provide lots of meat, but unfortunately, they like to eat people. Zebras are too ornery. Grizzlies have wild hearts that can’t be broken. Elephants are awesome, but they take way too long to breed.’

– Green. J. (2012, January 26) The Agricultural Revolution: Crash Course World History #1

Why did Agriculture Happen?


‘So why did agriculture happen? […]

Historians don’t know for sure, of course, because there are no written records. But, they love to make guesses. Maybe population pressure necessitated agriculture even though it was more work, or abundance gave people leisure to experiment with domestication, or planting originated as a fertility rite – or as some historians have argued – people needed to domesticate grains in order to produce more alcohol.

Charles Darwin, like most 19th century scientists, believed agriculture was an accident, saying, “a wild and unusually good variety of native plant might attract the attention of some wise old savage.”‘

– Green. J. (2012, January 26) The Agricultural Revolution: Crash Course World History #1

Advantages and Disadvantages of Agriculture


‘All right, […] let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of agriculture.

Advantage: Controllable food supply. You might have droughts or floods, but if you’re growing the crops and breeding them to be hardier, you have a better chance of not starving.

Disadvantage: In order to keep feeding people as the population grows you have to radically change the environment of the planet.

Advantage: Especially if you grow grain, you can create a food surplus, which makes cities possible and also the specialization of labour. Like, in the days before agriculture, everybody’s job was foraging, and it took about a thousand calories of work to create a thousand calories of food, and it was impossible to create large population centres.

But, if you have a surplus, agriculture can support people not directly involved in the production of food. Like, for instance, tradespeople, who can devote their lives to better farming equipment, which in turn makes it easier to produce more food more efficiently, which in time makes it possible for a corporation to turn a profit on this ninety-nine cent double cheeseburger. […]

Some would say that large and complex agricultural communities that can support cities and eventually inexpensive meat sandwiches are not necessarily beneficial to the planet or even to its human inhabitants. […]

Advantage: Agriculture can be practised all over the world, although in some cases it takes extensive manipulation of the environment, […] irrigation, controlled flooding, terracing, that kind of thing.

Disadvantage: Farming is hard. So hard, in fact, that one is tempted to claim ownership over other humans and then have them till the land on your behalf, which is the kind of non-ideal social order that tends to be associated with agricultural communities.’

– Green. J. (2012, January 26) The Agricultural Revolution: Crash Course World History #1