"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

Open Thread 82.5

Open thread.

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732 Responses to Open Thread 82.5

  1. Well... says:

    My brother’s been replying to my emails with short, snide-sounding emails of his own. (Email is our primary mode of communication.) While my emails are all typed on my computer, it turns out he’s been sending his emails from his phone, where Gmail suggests canned responses to him based on what I’ve written. Those canned responses are what I’ve been reading. It seems noteworthy that they so consistently sound snide to me.

    I would argue this is a fail in a larger sense than just the AI.

    (Edit: put the last sentence on its own because it’s the main thing I meant to bring up for discussion here.)

    • Matt M says:

      Whenever I use the first recommended word on my iphone I end up getting stuck in a loop. I just checked now to see what it is and eventually I get to “you don’t have to do it again and again” and then it repeats itself…

      • Well... says:

        I’m not sure I understand what you mean. (I don’t have a smartphone.)

        My brother sent me a screenshot from his Gmail app. It shows my message filling most of the screen and then at the bottom are several tappable blue boxes with complete canned responses in them: “Oh, that’s great!” “Interesting, me too.” “Well, good luck with that!” etc. where each one might refer to a different sentence or phrase in my email. As he taps each one they are added to a reply email as text.

        • Matt M says:

          Ah, not sure about Android, but on the iphone when you’re text messaging, there’s usually three words it “suggests” based on what you’ve typed so far. So if I type “Where are you” the first word it’s likely to suggest is “going” and “from” and “now” make it as well. It’s generally pretty good at finishing words and sentences, but you can also use it “from scratch” and create some rather interesting results.

        • Charles F says:

          There is predictive text on pretty much any smartphone. When you’re typing a message it will show you the three words it thinks are most likely to come next. I find it often gives me the prepositions I need, and it figures out a lot of authors’ names so that I can save a couple seconds by tapping the suggested words instead of spelling them out.

          Gmail (or maybe the google inbox app) specifically, offers entire responses that you can tap and send. So I save the effort of typing, “Sounds good. See you then.” a bunch of times. I think the failure is that the more specialized they try to make the response, the more likely it is that it won’t quite fit and you’ll type something yourself to not cause confusion. But if they make sure to keep the responses generic enough that there’s a low chance of them not applying, they don’t have any sort of personal quality. Maybe the non-technical side of things is that for a good-enough ready-made option, we generally won’t put any effort into improving it, so general millennial complacency.

          (Edited: changed the last sentence a couple times)

          • Well... says:

            Yeah, I think it’s a combination of the devoid-of-personality thing, and the terseness that gets to me.

            I sometimes send text messages that way (“OK” “See you soon” “On my way” “No prob” etc.) but almost never emails. I feel like emails should have some personality in them, especially when they’re to close family members. Unless they’re short-range coordination-of-some-event emails, it comes off as dickish if the email is terse and devoid of personality.

            (My phone actually has pre-fab text messages I can select from or create my own, but no easy way to access them, thank goodness. Smartphones of course access them for you automatically, by scanning the content of the message you’re replying to or reading your own usage patterns. I’m guessing smartphones offer a way to turn this off, but few people seem to do so.)

          • Nick says:

            Yeah, I think it’s a combination of the devoid-of-personality thing, and the terseness that gets to me.

            This pretty much nails it in my opinion, because I think what bothers people most about this sort of thing is that it sounds exactly like the other person isn’t paying attention, or else like a facsimile of not paying attention (which people can totally do as a passive-aggressive thing). Imagine if all your in person conversations with your brother were like these email exchanges.

          • Well... says:

            @Nick:

            And now get this: turns out I was wrong, he says only one of the emails he sent me was canned. So now one of my closest relationships is a Turing test and I’m the judge, and what I come away with is that he’s really good at sounding like he wants to be nice about not giving a crap.

            The technology has advanced faster than our social conventions have adapted to it. I have no gracious way of saying “Please don’t write like Google auto-reply.”

          • Nick says:

            Well, that sucks. I’m sorry. I don’t know what norm can really fix a thing like that other than “be conscientious as hell.” I mean, did he really not realize his responses seemed terse and contentless?

          • Well... says:

            With our dynamic, it’s hard to tell whether he knew or not. You never can discount the uncontrollable impulse for brothers to be assholes to each other.

        • Incurian says:

          You should get a smart phone.

          • Well... says:

            Nope, it violates my personal ordnung.

          • Incurian says:

            You should change whatever that is.

          • Well... says:

            Do you have any reasoning for why I should do either of those things?

          • Incurian says:

            Smart phones are better than dumb phones.

          • Charles F says:

            @Well
            It’s been 5-10 years since the point where almost every reasonable person had a smartphone. So chances are you ordnung was developed based on information that’s 5+ years out of date. In order to decide whether it’s still a valuable rule, you should get one to calibrate for the changes in the smartphone market.

            (Or don’t, obviously)

          • Well... says:

            No, they’re worse.

            Name something a smartphone does that my dumb phone can’t, and you’ve just named something I don’t need or want my phone to do.

          • Charles F says:

            @Well
            Can you do encrypted messaging with a dumb phone? Is that something you care about at all? That and audiobooks are the two reasons I wouldn’t want to switch to a dumb phone.

          • Well... says:

            @Charles F:

            My ordnung is constantly renewed every day. The information’s as up to date as it can be.

            – Encrypted messaging: no interest. Even with a smartphone I doubt I’d go to the trouble to set that up anyway.

            – Audiobooks would actually be much worse on a smartphone, because the only time I have to listen to them is in my car where I have a CD player.

          • Charles F says:

            @Well
            That’s fine. Just playing devil’s advocate.

            But that does make me curious. Is it really literally reviewed every day? How detailed is it? Does it change often (are changes mostly additions or removals)?

            Feel free to not answer these questions as I don’t know exactly how to interpret “personal” in “personal ordnung.” And putting up details of your rules for public criticism might not be a fun thing.

          • Well... says:

            Might as well say, here are a couple universal advantages of dumb phones:

            – Way longer battery life.
            – Much lower cost and, if you can find a provider who doesn’t force you to pay for data if you don’t use any, lower monthly costs as well.
            – Lower liability, not just because of the lower cost but also because they can survive falls and dings better–and without having to buy any extra accessories like specialized rugged cases.

            The only universal disadvantage I can think of is that sometimes they have lower call quality.

          • Well... says:

            @Charles F:

            I guess I don’t mind talking about my ordnung. Nobody’s ever asked.

            Renewed daily = pretty much every day something reminds me about my technology choices and I spiral off thinking about them and assessing them. (That doesn’t necessarily mean I spend more than a few seconds in realtime, although I have; you can cover a lot of mental ground in a split second, especially if the main path is well-worn.)

            Changes are fairly gradual but both additions and removals happen. I would say it probably works out to something like 1 addition or removal per year.

          • Charles F says:

            @Well
            Is there anything in particular you’re optimizing for (especially things that you might not expect other people to consider)?

            And approximately where’s the cutoff for what can get considered? Is your car in any danger of falling out of favor? AC/Heat? Electric lights? Plumbing? Simple machines?

          • James says:

            I, too, don’t have a smartphone. I get a lot of teasing about it, which I can take in good spirits, but I’m not about to get one. I really like not being online 24/7. The web’s addictive enough when it’s confined to a desktop computer; I’m not about to start carrying a constant drip-feed of it, too.

            The only thing I really miss is maps. Saying “sorry I’m late, I got lost” is admittedly pretty embarrassing in 2017.

          • Well... says:

            @Charles F:

            It feels like there is something I’m optimizing for, but I haven’t spent much time trying to articulate it yet. I guess it’s some combination of the values and tastes that mostly inform my identity. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to sum it up in 2 words it’d be “live simply” but obviously there are a lot of nuances since I have a car, a computer, a house with central air, a cell phone, etc.

            Really, I think basically everybody does this “personal ordnung” thing, but most people aren’t as scrupulous about factoring in their technology choices in particular, and maybe most people don’t think much about their own values.

            There isn’t really a cutoff for consideration. I often mull over the idea of getting rid of my car, living without electricity, etc. and I’m always on the verge of getting a landline and tossing my cell phone, though obviously I haven’t actually done it. I think if I was single and childless I’d probably live much more simply than I do, but as Hank Hill said to Chappy-who-kills-his-own-meat-grows-his-own-food-and-poops-in-an-outhouse: “There isn’t a Mrs. Chappy, is there Chappy?”

            @James:

            Keeping a paper map in my car, being early to everything, and having a good sense of direction have pretty much eliminated the “Sorry, I’m late, I got lost” problem, but I do realize not everyone can do that. They still sell stand-alone GPS devices, right? I’d probably get one if I was bad with maps, punctuality, and directions.

          • John Schilling says:

            You should get a smart phone.

            Let me guess – you’re typing this post on a smart phone, and that was one of the three suggested canned replies.

          • Iain says:

            Let me guess – you’re typing this post on a smart phone, and that was one of the three suggested canned replies.

            The only relevant reply, too — the other two were some nonsense about paper clips.

          • James says:

            OK, now I feel like the paperclip jokes have passed their nadir of unfunniness and are now reascending the right-hand slope of the U-shaped funniness curve.

          • Yosarian2 says:

            >Audiobooks would actually be much worse on a smartphone, because the only time I have to listen to them is in my car where I have a CD player.

            I find it’s much easier to listen to audiobooks or music in my car with a smartphone. Just download them to the phone, plug it into the car radio with the audio jack, and hit play. Much easier/ faster/ more convenient then getting CD’s. Cheaper, as well.

            I had a flip phone until about 2 years ago, making me one of the last person to move up to a smart phone, and I have to say, I find it incredibly useful. The ability to pull Google Maps out of my pocket at any time. Much easier to communicate with people on the go. If I need to look up a phone number, I can just do it on my smart phone. In any number of situations when things go wrong, from my car breaking down to getting to a meeting and forgetting exactly where it is, to all kinds of other random weird unknowns, the smart phone has been a lifesaver. Even just being able to find out what restaurants are close to me and see some reviews of them when in a strange city adds a lot of utility.

          • Well... says:

            My car’s audio jack is very unstable. The signal I get through it is staticky and very soft, so I have to turn my speakers up all the way which also produces lots of hiss. CDs are way better. It’s unlikely this will change when I get my next car since I’m going to try and get an even older one that probably won’t have an audio jack.

            I simply don’t have a need for those other features often enough to make them worthwhile. How often are you so unfamiliar with your surroundings you need to look up restaurants or meeting locations? How often are you cast into chaotic situations such that you need to get directions and other info on the fly instead of looking it up before you leave?

            Not clear how a smartphone is better when your car breaks down…AAA/insurance-company-provided-tow service/your nearby cousin who’s a mechanic is going to be the same number no matter what kind of phone you’re calling from. How often does your car break down anyway?

          • andrewflicker says:

            I really enjoy Bluetooth using my smartphone in my car- the sync is always set up, so as soon as I turn my car in the phone is hooked up and it can play/resume whatever I want. I end up listening to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks thanks to a lot of commuting- my utility from this would go way down if I only took short trips.

            (And the old car thing’s a bit of a red herring- I drive an older BMW that didn’t even have a CD player, let alone bluetooth. I replaced the deck myself with an up-to-date model that had better audio controls, a CD slot, and built-in bluetooth- and looked good too, since I didn’t have to pick up whatever flashy awfulness was on sale at the shop)

          • How often are you so unfamiliar with your surroundings you need to look up restaurants or meeting locations? How often are you cast into chaotic situations such that you need to get directions and other info on the fly instead of looking it up before you leave?

            It may depend a lot on the details of your life.

            I (and my wife and daughter) just returned from our annual summer trip to Pennsic. We live in California, Pennsic is in Pennsylvania. We drive. The trip takes about a month, including two weeks camped out at Pennsic and visiting friends and relatives en route.

            My smartphone tells me what route to take. If I miss a turn, it recalculates almost instantly and tells me what to do–not so easy with a map. It tells me about how long it will take and shows where traffic is slow and takes account of that information in recommending a route.

            My wife does most of the driving. My smart phone functions as a WiFi router, which means that my daughter and I can be using our laptops, with an internet connection, while in the car. I can use it, either directly or via the laptop, to check for restaurants and motels as we are going.

            While at Pennsic I can use my smartphone to give me a current weather prediction for Pennsic. That matters, since there are occasional thunderstorms which can be a problem for my tent, especially if I’m not in it. Also, we want to pack with dry canvas, so knowing the latest prediction for the last couple of days of Pennsic tells us when we want to break camp.

            My smartphone does other useful things the rest of the year as well, but I think those examples show while, for me, it is a very useful device. Obviously that won’t apply to other people with very different details of life.

          • Well... says:

            @Andrewflicker:
            MP3s and streaming over Bluetooth are more convenient than CDs. But they’re not so much more convenient–nor is listening to stuff while I drive so important–that it would make a smartphone worthwhile. I often drive without anything playing at all.

            @David Friedman:

            It may depend a lot on the details of your life.

            Well yes, of course. That’s why it’s my personal ordnung.

            Though I also should say, I do occasional long car trips too, and have never wished I had a smartphone during them:

            – I love the feeling of looking at a route on a map, learning it, and taking it without looking at the map again. If I miss a turn, I find my way back (or around) using navigational skills.

            – I don’t consider access to the internet while on a car trip a good thing.

            – I look up hotels and restaurants ahead of time or else search for them by signs or by eye. Maybe I’ve missed out on a few nice dining or sleeping opportunities because of my lack of a smartphone. That doesn’t mean a smartphone would be worthwhile.

            – Maybe a smartphone would be a good thing to have for keeping tabs on the weather while camping. I go camping infrequently enough that it wouldn’t be worth it though.

            In sum, I don’t deny that smartphones do some useful things, but they don’t do anything I need or want my phone to do, and certainly they don’t do anything I’m willing to become a smartphone user (with all the associated costs, monetary and otherwise) to get.

          • Yosarian2 says:

            >Not clear how a smartphone is better when your car breaks down…AAA/insurance-company-provided-tow service/your nearby cousin who’s a mechanic is going to be the same number no matter what kind of phone you’re calling from.

            Eh. When my car broke down last month, the smart phone was really useful to me. My AAA membership had actually expired literally the day before my car broke down, but I messaged my wife and she was able to go online with her smart phone and renew our membership, so AAA would come and get me; she sent me our AAA number and their phone number. While I was waiting for them, I was able to look up information about and then call several garages to see if they would be free to fix my car while waiting. The first garage I called, the one I had used in the past would have gotten towed to if I hadn’t had more information, told me they were way backed up and had recently fired one of their mechanics; if I had gotten it towed there they wouldn’t have been able to even look at the car for days.

            And then more problems came up. I thought it was just the clutch that had went, but the place I had it towed to said it was the whole transmission and they didn’t do transmissions, so I had to have it towed somewhere else. I was able to look up a transmission place in the area that I’d never heard of before and get AAA to tow my car there (luckily AAA has a policy that if the first place they tow you to can’t fix your car they will tow you a second time.) While waiting for the tow truck, I was also able to look up details about car rentals and sign up online at a car rental place and get that all figured out so I would be able to get to work the next day while the transmission place worked on my car. Meanwhile the whole time I was sending messages back and fourth with my wife on the phone and planning for her to come pick me up and bring me to the car rental place after she got off work. The smart phone was so necessary to all of my planning and dealing with the situation that day that I actually had to go out and start my unmovable car to charge the smart phone a bit, heh.

            I mean, this was just one example, but yeah, overall situations like that happen often enough for the smart phone to be very useful to me.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            Name something a smartphone does that my dumb phone can’t, and you’ve just named something I don’t need or want my phone to do.

            Just this weekend…

            Navigated me to a place I’ve never been, on roads I’ve never driven, bypassing traffic jams on other roads that I have rarely driven.

            Played music I had never heard or heard of before, that a close friend told me that I may enjoy.

            Looked up the access code to unlock a rented house.

            Helped explain to a child how a kite works.

            Paid for groceries, for gasoline, and for coffee.

            Sent money to a friend to help cover the cost of the rented house.

            Shown a skyfield starmap that quickly identified every bright star in the sky, and outlined the constellations.

            Participated on a multi-user chat and conference call hosted on Discord.

            Responded to an emergency question from a lawyer at work, over an audited and encrypted and IT-legal-blessed method.

            Let the trusted people in my life see that I was safely on the road coming home.

            That’s in addition to the usual encrypted 1:1 and group messaging, taking and sharing and viewing photographs, being an alarm clock, reminding me to take my meds, …

          • Well... says:

            @Yosarian2:

            I don’t think I’ve had a car break down on me, ever. I’ve had flat tires, and I had a couple cars with brake problems but I just had AAA tow them from my driveway to a nearby trusted mechanic. I’m sure a legit breakdown will eventually happen to me, but I’m not going to spend all that extra money on a smartphone and a data plan just for that day. Most of the stuff you mentioned I could handle just fine with my dumb phone anyway.

            @Standing in the Shadows:

            Yes, it continues:

            Navigated me to a place I’ve never been, on roads I’ve never driven, bypassing traffic jams on other roads that I have rarely driven.

            I rarely do this. If I do, I look up directions first and memorize them. If there’s a traffic jam or other obstacle, I figure out my way around it—or just sit in the traffic jam, which usually isn’t such a big deal. (Like I said, I rarely do this.)

            Played music I had never heard or heard of before, that a close friend told me that I may enjoy.

            I can do that on my computer at home. No need while on the go.

            Looked up the access code to unlock a rented house

            I needed an access code to a house I was buying. I just called my realtor.

            Helped explain to a child how a kite works.

            I have no need to do stuff like that while on the go. In fact it’s an opportunity to get leverage: “If you’re really good today we’ll look up a video on how kites work when we get home!”

            Paid for groceries, for gasoline, and for coffee.

            I use a debit card or cash for these things. They seem to be accepted basically everywhere.

            Sent money to a friend to help cover the cost of the rented house.

            I can do that from my computer at home, though I’ve never had to. Definitely no need for it on the go.

            Shown a skyfield starmap that quickly identified every bright star in the sky, and outlined the constellations.

            I can look that up at home. In fact I’d rather just learn about it on my own time and then enjoy the night sky without an electronic screen glowing in my face. But it doesn’t matter much anyway because I’m almost never outside at night.

            Participated on a multi-user chat and conference call hosted on Discord.

            If I were going to do something like that it’d definitely be on my computer at home.

            Responded to an emergency question from a lawyer at work, over an audited and encrypted and IT-legal-blessed method.

            I would do that from my computer at work, possibly while connected through a VPN.

            Let the trusted people in my life see that I was safely on the road coming home.

            I just send a text message or call.

            encrypted 1:1 and group messaging

            I have no need for that.

            taking and sharing and viewing photographs

            My dumb phone can take photographs and share them; I’d rather do that on my computer anyway.

            being an alarm clock

            My dumb phone has an alarm clock. I can set as many unique alarms as I want.

            reminding me to take my meds

            My dumb phone could do that too. Very easy to set up a repeating reminder.

          • Jiro says:

            I can do that on my computer at home. No need while on the go.

            You can argue against any specific case by saying “well, I don’t need to do that specific thing”, but the smart phone is useful because of the cumulative effect of a lot of different things, each of which is only a minor inconvenience that you could, if you wish, avoid without too much trouble this one time.

            I love the feeling of looking at a route on a map, learning it, and taking it without looking at the map again.

            Why would you optimize your map usage for feelings rather than the length of time it takes you to use the map?

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            As near as I can tell, “Well” does use what is basically a smartphone, it’s just that it’s so large they have to leave it at home on their desk.

            That’s not an ordnung, that’s just liking to be at home, and doing things much more slowly, both for themselves, and for everyone they ever want to do something with.

            That’s their right, but it’s my right to not coordinate with or work with people who make working with them more annoying.

          • smocc says:

            And what Standing in Shadows does is become addicted to moderate gains in speed for a few tasks and then refuse to work anyone who isn’t as impatient as they are.

            [/snark] There’s no need for moral judgment on either side here. I also choose to not use a smartphone after trying one my sophomore year of college. I personally found that the costs* outweighed the benefits, but it’s not like I’m blind to the benefits, and I don’t judge anyone for using one (well, most people).

            * Costs include: even greater addiction to e-mail / other sites, getting lost more often by leaving without looking at the map beforehand, financial costs, etc. The only time I find myself wishing for a smartphone is when I’m waiting for an unreliable bus, but then I remind myself that nearly every human in history has had to deal with similar uncertainty and I remember that it’s a tiny problem that doesn’t really need a solution.

          • Well... says:

            @Jiro:

            You can argue against any specific case by saying “well, I don’t need to do that specific thing”, but the smart phone is useful because of the cumulative effect of a lot of different things

            Well yeah that’s my point when I say “name something a smartphone can do and you’ve named something I don’t need or want my phone to do.” I’m not denying that smartphones can do things! I’m saying I have no need for those things personally. I’m trying to give a better answer to “you should get a smartphone” than just “No, I don’t wanna.”

            Why would you optimize your map usage for feelings rather than the length of time it takes you to use the map?

            The difference in time isn’t large, especially if you factor in how often I need to use a map at all. But optimizing for how you feel is important anyway. It’s why people take scenic routes instead of quick boring ones; it’s why people make gourmet macaroni and cheese from scratch instead of Kraft from a box; etc.

            @Standing in the Shadows:

            An ordnung isn’t a short word for “manifesto declaring total cessation of modern technology usage”, it’s a representation of an effort to be deliberate about what technology I am willing to use or pay for.

            Pulling up information from the internet at home at my desk is a very different thing, technologically, from pulling it up in the middle of a conversation with a friend at a restaurant. An ordnung can easily be made to differentiate between the two.

            BTW, I’ve observed it’s usually smartphones, not dumb phones, that make working with people more annoying, even to other smartphone users. We dumb-phone users remember how to coordinate without needing to carry a powerful computer around in our pockets. Still, like smocc said, it’s not about moral judgment. It takes more than some annoying tech habits for me to shun somebody.

            But I am curious now…have you actually avoided interacting with people just because they have dumb phones?

        • Loquat says:

          Huh, so it’s a new Gmail thing. I was wondering why I was seeing canned response options on so many of my emails all of a sudden.

    • dg says:

      The feature is called Smart Reply Ray Kurzweil is involved.

      • Well... says:

        …of course he is.

      • Well... says:

        From your second link:

        More recently, he’s known for popularizing the idea of the singularity—a moment sometime in the future when superintelligent machines transform humanity

        The next two words are not “into paperclips”.

        • Nick says:

          Okay, not to single anyone out here, but we’ve all been making so many paperclip jokes the past few open threads I’m worried our brains are already being turned into paperclips.

          • Charles F says:

            Just read that story last night, after seeing it in discord. I recommend it. Very good characterization, interesting mystery, and pretty short.

          • eyeballfrog says:

            I’m 6 chapters into it, and at this point I’m assuming they’ve been captured by the SCP Foundation.

            I’m also not sure I should read on, as Arc is incredibly tiresome to read. There’s only so much “look how smart I am” “dialog” I can read before I stop caring whether he lives, and singular they drives me up the wall.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            same

            i think the dialogue was by far the worst part of the story. It’s good though.

          • Nick says:

            Huh. The early interaction between Arc and our protagonist was actually what drove me to read on, because I thought it was a really good imitation of obnoxious know it all people.

          • Toby Bartels says:

            @ eyeballfrog : The SCP Foundation would have better security.

      • Deiseach says:

        Okay, I can see the reasonable idea behind this: for a generic response (like “Okay see you Monday”) to save time and, for those of us who were too old to grow up learning to use our thumbs to type on those tiny phone keyboards, effort it’s a good option.

        Unfortunately, communications aren’t confined to simply “Hey Joe, want to meet up on Monday?”.

        I don’t know if improvements would be better or not; if they manage to make something that can convincingly write a reply along the lines of “Hi, Sally, great to hear about George’s new wellingtons, can you tell me where to find a pair in my size?” then there won’t be any need to actually read any of your messages any more, the machines can do it all for us and then AI AND PAPERCLIPS 🙂

        • andrewflicker says:

          Yeah, the gmail replies are mildly useful in a work context- I get hundreds of emails that need only a “Thanks, that’s what I needed!” in reply. Using them in a personal context seems quite strange to me.

    • gorbash says:

      When that feature rolled out, I sent one email using it and (I think) received one email using it, and then I think we all mutually decided it was rude and never used it again.

      (And this is weird, because Facebook Messenger has the ‘like’ button which serves a very similar purpose, and I use that frequently and it’s fine.)

  2. susanneah says:

    Yes, Gmail has “other powers” we mere masses are not privy to, and I’ve spent several months recently trying to de-louse myself from all Gmail’s intentional blights. Oh well, just have to work out how to live without email, given that particular ‘offering’ was obviously far too useful to the likes of mere mortals. peace, S

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      What’s a good alternative to gmail?

      It’s advantages are many.

      1. free (in dollars, anyway)
      2. it will be there for me in five years (unless I somehow get in their crosshairs, which is unpredictable)
      3. easy to use
      4. has enough social cachet that no one thinks I’m weird
      5. excellent anti-spam

      I don’t necessarily need all of these. I don’t mind paying for email if it’s a reasonable cost but if I go on vacation and don’t notice that my credit card has expired I don’t want to come home to find out that my entire email history has been deleted when my account got cancelled.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I have a OneAndOne (www.1and1.com) email account with my own domain. Not free, but inexpensive; I think I’m paying ~$40/year for two domains. The webmail sucks but you can connect with any IMAP Client (e.g. Apple mail).

        So

        1) Not free, but cheap
        2) OneAndOne has been around for a long time in internet years, and if they go away you can transfer the domain to another host. It uses IMAP so you can save the mail locally if you’re worried about them vanishing.
        3) It’s just using a regular mail program once you get through the setup.
        4) You pick your own domain name, so cachet is up to you (though all the really good ones are taken). Mine is my last name dot net.
        5) Anti-spam is not as good as Google’s but still very good.

        If your credit card expires they get on your case weeks before the bill is due.

      • Brad says:

        First, I like the flexibility of having my own domain. I can take that with me to whatever email provider I like without having to give everyone a new address. You do have to remember to renew the domain, but it is down to less than $100 for five years now. When I first registered mine it was $70 for two years and you had to fax paperwork to network solutions.

        The only thing I’d say is that you should probably go with a .com even if it has to be long and unwieldy. If you use something else people will type .com without even thinking and you’ll miss some mail. (Ask me how I know.)

        Second, run a full client to keep a backup copy of your email even if you generally check it through webmail. You should be able to set it up so it doesn’t mess with unread status or anything like that.

        With those caveats in mind, I’d take a look at fastmail. It’s $50/year for the version that allows you to use your own domain.

      • It’s best in my opinion to use email in your own domain (in my case, hosted by my web provider, Dreamhost); this looks more professional and doesn’t tie you to a specific provider.

        I’ve used Pegasus Mail as my mail client for over 20 years; it’s a bit archaic now, but most of the newer clients make it difficult or impossible to use proper reply format (interleaved replies beneath trimmed quotes, with quotes prefixed with “>” signs), and some don’t even let you send outgoing mail in plain text format without HTML bloat.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        To elaborate on what everyone is saying…

        If you want to replace gmail, first you should know what it is. It is really 3 separate things: (1) an email address; (2) an (IMAP) email server; (3) a web interface, and you can replace them piecemeal. If you want to be flexible, you should ditch first ditch (3), then replace (1), and finally, some day, maybe never, maybe only in an emergency, replace (2).

        (3) I’m not sure how most people use email. On computers, most people use the web interface. But phones are displacing computers and phones have special email apps. (Computers also have email apps. That’s what I use on my computer, but the app on the phone is more obvious and I think used by far more people.) The app presents a generic interface that would work with any IMAP server. It’s pretty easy to use. But there are some things it can’t do as easily and some things it can’t do it all. If that’s not what you currently use, you can experiment without losing anything.

        (1) Next, buy a domain, for $10/year, and set up gmail to handle the email from the domain. I don’t know about the cachet of your own domain, but then you can use anyone’s server and you don’t have to worry about its cachet, or how long it will last. You have to distribute your new address once, now, and but then you are in control and it is easier to change things in the future. People will slowly switch from your gmail to your new address, but they’ll go to the same place. By the time that you decide to leave gmail (or vice versa), all your mail will be going to the domain you control and it will be an easy transition.

        FWIW, you can buy spam protection separately from an email server.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          This is a really good summary. I’m going to spend some time investigating domains and then host it at Google for gmail, which means little change in workflow now, but that a future breakaway, if I need it, can be done quickly.

  3. bean says:

    Naval Gazing
    Network-centric Warfare, Part 1
    Series Index
    One thing I’ve been talking about doing for a long time is a discussion of sea surveillance, and it’s finally time to do so. However, sea surveillance isn’t the main topic, and I should not have sold it as such. Instead, the topic of interest is net-centric warfare, where sea surveillance serves as the source of data. This is because the trouble in taking, say, sightings of a carrier group into targeting for a missile is not just in the sighting but in the whole process between the sighting and the missile hitting the target.
    Net-centric warfare is often sold as being the next big thing in military affairs. This is not true, and it’s not even net-centric. Like several of my favorite things to talk about, net-centric warfare was in fact invented by Jackie Fisher, and it should instead be called picture-centric warfare.
    The basic insight behind picture-centric warfare (the name net-centric was an invention of Arthur Cebrowski, who fervently denied that it was an evolution of existing systems) is that when the battlespace is large, and the forces available are small, good information and communications can substitute for raw force. Before he became First Sea Lord and set about revolutionizing warship design, Jackie Fisher was commander of the British Mediterranean Fleet from 1899 to 1902. He faced three main enemies: the Russian Black Sea Fleet, and the French Atlantic and Mediterranean Fleets. He was strong enough to defeat any one of them, but could not stand up to all three if they combined. To be able to win if there was a war, he had to be able to defeat them in detail, and couldn’t simply attack one speculatively. However, he had a major advantage. If the French and Russians were to coordinate their attacks, they would need to communicate, and that would require them to use the undersea cable network controlled by the British. In fact, Malta, his fleet headquarters, was a key node between France, French North Africa, and Russia. Fisher convinced the mangers of the cable companies to provide him with copies of the relevant messages, and also set up a network to provide information from agents in the various ports. He then set up a ‘war room’ responsible for dealing with all of this information and turning it into a map of the Med. This system was obviously never tested in combat, but it went with Fisher when he became First Sea Lord, and played a critical role in the dreadnought revolution.
    The battlecruiser was the answer to the problem the British were having of finding the money to buy enough ships to deal with commerce raiders, enabled by Fisher’s new coordination of information (see the post on battlecruisers for a longer version). By drawing on the various sources of intelligence available to the British, including radio broadcasts, the knowledge of world shipping held by Lloyd’s of London, and the cable network, Fisher could detect raiders and vector battlecruisers onto them. Steam turbines were also an important part of this revolution, as they allowed high speeds to be sustained. This in turn gave Fisher an advantage when maneuvering his fleet against an enemy which did not have his central picture.
    This revolution was not without controversy. The movement of control from the commander at sea back to the Admiralty was in direct violation of longstanding tradition, and made Fisher many enemies. However, it worked well during WWI, allowing the British to hunt down most German raiders (most notably at the Falklands), and made possible the Battle of Jutland, although the miscommunication between Room 40 and the Admiralty cost Jellicoe the chance of a decisive victory.
    Both codebreaking and direction-finding were important sources of information, but only codebreaking was revealed to the public after the war. The British, due to their knowledge of the potential of codebreaking, were much more reluctant to use radio tactically, contributing to their difficulties at Jutland. They’ve continued to put much more emphasis on emissions control (EMCON) to this day.
    Jutland also saw the birth of tactical picture-centric warfare, with the use of plotting onboard Iron Duke. This was the simple idea of keeping track of all of the various units on a map, but there were serious practical problems. Jellicoe sometimes saw battlecruisers doing a reported 60 knots, or destroyers doing 4. At the time, each ship was reporting its own position based on dead reckoning, and the lesson that plotting needed to be relative to the flagship was an important one. The British signal difficulties, discussed in the Jutland articles, also contributed substantially to Jellicoe’s problems. Friedman, in Network-Centric Warfare, suggests that the reason for Scheer’s second encounter with the Grand Fleet was the lack of situational awareness brought on by a lack of a plot.
    WW2 saw both tactical and strategic picture-centric warfare developed even more. The use of strategic plots was vital to both sides in the Battle of the Atlantic, as the British tried to steer convoys away from U-boats, and the Germans tried to steer U-boats into convoys. The British system turned out to be better, and spawned many of the fields of modern management in the process. In the Pacific, the Americans used a similar system, and refined it to the point where American submariners sometimes complained that they missed Japanese targets because of poor navigation on the part of the Japanese.
    Airplanes were also a major change in strategic information-gathering. The Germans had used Zeppelins in the North Sea, but they were slow and badly limited by weather. Patrol airplanes, such as the American PBY Catalina, allowed patrols of much greater areas. This didn’t always work (most notably at Pearl Harbor, where the patrols weren’t in the right place), but it made it a lot easier for commanders to keep track of what was going on around them.
    The tactical plot, though, proved truly revolutionary. Before WW2, night fighting was considered extremely hazardous at best, due to the inability of commanders to keep track of the battle. Plotting allowed at least the initial salvoes of a battle to be properly aimed, and when radar arrived, it at least raised the possibility of keeping track of a battle as it progressed. The US created a dedicated space, called the Combat Information Center (CIC) tasked with monitoring all sources of data available to a ship and integrating them into a series of plots from which decisions could be made. Improved communications and sensors allowed all ships to maintain plots, as opposed to earlier tactics, where only the flagship had one. This paid dividends starting in the 1943 fighting in the central Solomon islands, when the US finally began to match the Japanese at night fighting.
    During the later half of the war, picture-centric warfare moved more and more into the air, and ultimately lead to systems like AEGIS. Coming soon, probably next week. I don’t expect to do anything of my own on Wednesdays for a while, but if anyone is interested in guest-posting, I can be reached at battleshipbean at gmail.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      Any thoughts on the John S. McCain collision? How many more Burkes have to bump civilians before we start assuming Russia or China is screwing with our navigation?

      • CatCube says:

        If Russia and China are screwing with our navigation and the navigators on our ships aren’t figuring it out, they should be fired for that, in addition to running into civilian ships.

        • Deiseach says:

          I saw this in the news and was very puzzled because tankers are big so how do you just run into one? Or let one run into you? Is it because now all navigation is done by watching readouts and not looking out windows, so nobody is physically on deck going “Uh guys, isn’t that another ship dead ahead?”

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Big ships turn really, really, really, really slowly.

          • Deiseach says:

            Big ships turn really, really, really, really slowly.

            I know oil tankers are really, really big and turn really, really slowly; I was in a training scheme with a guy who used to work on one and he said you need to bring your sandwiches when going up from lower to upper decks because it will take you that long to get up there. So it seems to me it would have been easier/quicker for the destroyer to turn, and if they didn’t, it must have been because they didn’t know the tanker was there until too late.

            That’s partly why I was surprised that something that big was not seen until they ran into it/it ran into them. Running at night with no lights in crowded sea lanes on the approach to a port helps explain a lot of it, but not all – this is not like a fishing trawler where the Navy ship would be on top of it as soon as they figured out that blip was another vessel, this is BIG OBJECT IN THE WATER TO OUR LEFT.

          • bean says:

            Big ships turn really, really, really, really slowly.

            If this was a collision between oil tankers, that might be a sufficient explanation. But one of the ships was a destroyer, and while my book on naval shiphandling doesn’t have firm numbers on turning circle and such, Burkes are quite maneuverable. Also, they should have a crew dedicated to making sure they know what’s going on around them.

          • Deiseach says:

            Also, they should have a crew dedicated to making sure they know what’s going on around them.

            Exactly. Otherwise it’s like that joke about the battleship and the lighthouse (this is one version online, I’ve seen others with different names and different nations):

            Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.

            Canadians: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.

            Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.

            Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.

            Americans: This is the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln, the second largest ship in the United States’ Atlantic fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. I demand that YOU change your course 15 degrees north, that’s one five degrees north, or countermeasures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.

            Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.

          • James Miller says:

            Can’t the navy just give their captains copies of this book?

          • Protagoras says:

            @James Miller, Looking at the price, I imagine they’ve already started doing that; I can’t imagine anyone but the government spending that much on a short book.

          • bean says:

            @James
            No, because that’s intended for yachtsmen, not people driving 9,000 ton destroyers. There are plenty of books for the people driving destroyers (I own a couple). I suspect they’re just not reading them.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @bean on books:

            When I was studying for my yacht skipper’s qualification, I was advised to buy and read A Seaman’s Guide to the Rule of the Road by J.W.W. Ford, which is apparently also the book used by Royal Navy officer cadets. Not sure if it’s also used in the US.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          My understanding is that at bare minimum a collision is a career-ender for the officer of the watch and the captain, at least in the surface warfare track. A junior enough officer who was officer of the watch might be able to get some promotions in another track, but they’ll never get a command or XO slot on a ship and will probably top out around Lt. Cdr. or Cdr. in a desk job.

      • bean says:

        Something is deeply wrong with our Surface Warfare community. Yes, Malacca is very crowded and vessels often run with no lights to avoid pirates. But the crew should have known that. I don’t think it’s the Russians or Chinese unless they have radar jammers, too. Hopefully they manage to get this sorted out before too long, but I’m not even going to try to defend the crew this time around.
        I will say that the Singapore Navy struck me as very professional when I was there, although their museum was really annoyed to get to.

      • hlynkacg says:

        So I read your comment and my first though was “Is this the Mandela effect? You mean the Fitz right?” but before replying I decided to check in with r/Navy, 5 injuries, another 10 behind the bulkhead and presumed dead. FUUUUUUUU…

        I don’t know how I feel about the fact that I’ve been out of the Navy long enough that this sort of shit is no-longer on my radar the moment it happens. This has not been a good year for DESRON 15.

      • bean says:

        How many more Burkes have to bump civilians before we start assuming Russia or China is screwing with our navigation?

        Wanted to expand on this. I don’t think this is likely, because it seems like a low-percentage game for them. Doing it once as a test might make sense. Doing it twice makes us much more likely to notice, and there isn’t much gain in wartime. Ultimately, it’s a failure of seamanship. Good seamanship can compensate for bad electronics, but the reverse isn’t necessarily true. Avoiding collisions at sea is fundamentally easy. If something is getting closer and not changing bearing, then it’s eventually going to hit you. You should probably change course to avoid it.

        • John Schilling says:

          You should probably change course to avoid it.

          Interestingly, and disturbingly, the 1972 Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea says otherwise. Per article 17, the ship with right-of-way “shall keep her course and speed”, unless and until “it becomes apparent to her that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action”. The intent is a good one, that we don’t want two ships trying to evade collision turning into one another, but that should still leave half an ocean for the “maintain course” ship to maneuver in so as to increase her clearance without waiting until it is “apparent” that the other ship is being steered by a blind man or a maniac.

          • bean says:

            All of this is true, and I didn’t want to give a primer on seamanship offhand. But when you’re a destroyer, and the other ship is a merchie, even if you have the right of way, there should be a big gap between when it becomes obvious that the other ship isn’t turning and when it becomes too late to avoid the collision. McCain’s crew screwed up badly, whatever else may have been going on. I might be inclined to show mercy if they’d lost every radar on the ship, as it was dark and I wouldn’t be surprised if the tanker was without lights. But otherwise, they have no real excuse.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Doesn’t ship size and propulsion take precedence over position when determining right-of-way, anyway?

          • bean says:

            Doesn’t ship size and propulsion take precedence over position when determining right-of-way, anyway?

            Not in this case. “Steam gives way to sail” is part of the COLREGS, and it’s unwise to ignore the informal Law of Gross Tonnage, but in this case, both were large power-driven vessels, and given that McCain got hit on the port side, it looks like she should have had right of way.
            (Law of Gross Tonnage says that if the other ship can run you over and not notice, you shouldn’t give them the chance. I’m pretty sure the tanker noticed when they hit McCain.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Looking at the convention, all powered vessels over 20 meters are treated equally, including sailing vessels using their auxiliary engines (which they really ought to be in e.g. the Straits of Malacca). The one relevant exception is vessels actively engaged in fishing, which get right of way over anyone not so encumbered. Otherwise, it’s all about relative speed and position.

        • CatCube says:

          I wonder if part of it is that electronics will cover for bad seamanship until things go really wrong. Just as an example (though I have no particular reason to believe this specific thing happened here) they start getting really lazy about lookout discipline, because all of the magic boxes will take care of looking out for other ships. So maybe you have a lookout, but don’t much care if he is using proper technique to see ships in low-visibility conditions.

          Or, from the aviation world, Air France 447, where the crew had a nose high attitude, low airspeed, and sinking altitude, and rode a stall 30,000 ft into the ocean. But because the plane’s electronics were supposed to make a stall impossible in cruise flight, they didn’t even consider what their instruments were telling them–except that the electronics that made a stall impossible had suffered a minor sensor failure.

          Sometimes modern technology will cover for a whole bunch of small sins, and allow for a really big one to develop. I don’t know what the right answer here is, admittedly.

          • bean says:

            This is precisely what I think has happened. Fully endorsed. Impressive though the electronics are, they haven’t stopped Port Royal or Guardian from grounding, nor the recent collisions.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I second Bean’s endorsement.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      How much do you know about the algorithms used by CICs to resolve various sensor datums into estimates, both historical and modern? (i.e. avoiding the BC at 60 knots or jumping about from moment to moment.)

      There are some fairly simple and highly effective signal processing techniques any good undergrad in robotics or EE learns (Kalman filters and their various modifications being the obvious one) but I’m curious about what the military has done–did they know about the same sort of thing, and if so when? What are the biggest signal-processing challenges here in practice? I am guessing that in more modern ships accurate and high-powered radar has greatly limited the need for large amounts of data integration (if my radar set picks your frigate up at 80nm in thus-and-such a heading, I really don’t care so much about taking the two spotting reports from a destroyer and my CAP–right? Or is this a “it doesn’t get easier, you just go faster” situation where modern CICs are expected to much more accurate plots covering much larger ranges?) For that matter, we’ve talked a lot about modern (AEGIS, etc) radars for anti-air and missile coverage–are they equally effective/accurate/highly ranged for surface combatants?

      For that matter, most algorithms really emit a probability distribution in one form or another; is that exposed to the chain of command or has it been decided that’d be too confusing / not make sense to non-mathematical experts?

      • bean says:

        How much do you know about the algorithms used by CICs to resolve various sensor datums into estimates, both historical and modern?

        Absolutely nothing. I’m an aerospace engineer by training, and don’t pay much attention to that kind of thing. Also, they obviously don’t publish textbooks on this kind of thing. There wasn’t anything on the technical details in Network-Centric Warfare, so I’m not sure where to start. I’ll check World Naval Weapons Systems to see if it has anything.

        All that said, you appear to be asking about two different systems, the radar and the combat system. I’m sure you can find references on radar processing online, and apart from electronic warfare, it’s pretty similar on the military side AFAIK. There isn’t nearly as much available on the combat system side. I may poke around my books a bit, but I doubt I’ll turn up much.

        Or is this a “it doesn’t get easier, you just go faster” situation where modern CICs are expected to much more accurate plots covering much larger ranges?

        Pretty much. You still want to take in all sources of data in case of problems with one system, and to make sure you don’t miss things. Most radar isn’t that good at classifying targets, for instance.

        For that matter, we’ve talked a lot about modern (AEGIS, etc) radars for anti-air and missile coverage–are they equally effective/accurate/highly ranged for surface combatants?

        Surface is a bit different, due to the radar horizon. Within that horizon, my understanding is that they are equally accurate. Past that, you start having to take data from offboard sensors, most likely your helicopter. hlynkacg knows a lot more about that.

        For that matter, most algorithms really emit a probability distribution in one form or another; is that exposed to the chain of command or has it been decided that’d be too confusing / not make sense to non-mathematical experts?

        Not normally. When CIC makes a decision, it is, AFAIK, displayed as certainty. Commanders currently have fairly serious issues with data overload, and displaying probability would make it worse. Also, the symbology isn’t really set up for more than the grossest estimates to be displayed. I think there are markers for ‘possible’ and ‘probable’, but I’m not sure how much they’re used.

      • hlynkacg says:

        It so happens that I do know a fair bit about this. Textbooks exist but the Navy expends a decent amount of effort keeping them out of the public domain. That said, the LeMond quote is apt in that modern surface combatants are generally expected to fill more roles and cover a lot more sea than their WWI & II counterparts.

        In regards to your questions, things like filtering and matching doppler to track are typically handled at the individual sensor/operator level who then reports their best fix to CIC. CIC integrates that into their own picture accounting for the limitations of the sensor. The closest thing to a probability distribution is Area of Uncertainty (AOU) which is presented to the end user as a circle/ellipse surrounding the contact. As confidence in the contact’s position rises the AOU shrinks.

  4. Nick says:

    Does anyone else hate it when friends you’re talking to in person are texting constantly? How about when your friends take forever to respond to your own messages? How about when both of those things are true? Seriously, someone find me a way to square these:
    1. My friends are constantly having conversations by text that are more important in the moment than the one I’m having with them, in person
    2. My friends take all day or more to respond to my messages, if ever
    …with this:
    3. My friends love and care about me and my feelings are defeasibly important to them
    …in a way that isn’t really depressing.

    Granted, I haven’t brought it up with them, so maybe I’m the one being a jerk here. To make this a little less about myself: what are the correct norms for group dates like meals and evening hangouts with the advent of messaging and the smartphone? Am I being overly harsh here if I think people shouldn’t be checking their phones during a group lunch? How about just banning burying one’s face in one’s phone?

    • Matt M says:

      When they are on their phones while talking to you, are you sure they are texting? Is it possible they are doing something else?

      (But generally I agree with your premise that a whole lot of people are guilty of 1 and 2 which makes 3 very questionable)

      • Nick says:

        I can recognize the motions: open the phone, swipe to respond to incoming text, type for a while, and tap to send. It’s pretty distinct, and I’ve seen it from the other side sitting beside them on the couch for instance. It’s definitely distinct from browsing the internet on the smartphone (which during a conversation is if anything worse).

    • Well... says:

      I haven’t had this experience with my own friends, but I’ve seen it first-hand with the family of someone close to me.

      I can tell you what I think the correct norms ought to be, but that ain’t what they apparently are.

      I don’t think you’re being overly harsh. I think it’s rude to have your phone out of your pocket or checking it more than about once per 1/2 hour if you’re hanging out with other people.

      PS. I think the best way to change this going forward is for people to teach their kids better phone etiquette, and also to expect visiting friends of their kids to follow that etiquette.

      • Vamair says:

        Just a thought: I think the norm that “text messages are of lower priority” makes more sense than the other way around. The advantage of the text messaging is that you can get almost all relevant context by reading the message history (and therefore less meaning is lost when you respond in a day as opposed to “the next minute”), while the advantage of meat-space communication is larger bandwidth, with a disadvantage of that the person you’re with can’t really do their own things while waiting for your response.
        That and I would like to have a way to say something to people that they can respond to at their leisure.

    • Charles F says:

      My thoughts:
      – I think if the texting came first, you shouldn’t necessarily privilege the person you’re hanging out with just because they’re in meatspace with you. Get your text conversation to a decent pausing point and say you’ll be unable to respond for a little while.

      – I’m generally opposed to checking your phone with any regularity once you’ve established an in-person interaction with somebody. One ongoing interaction at a time is the proper way to do things.

      – Taking a long time to respond to messages sucks, but it’s not necessarily reasonable to expect people to always be available even if they do care for you.* Even if it occasionally makes me feel sad or unvalued when I’m basically shouting into a void, I don’t prioritize responding to all my interactions equally and I guess I just have to work around it by finding more than one person to talk to, so usually somebody will be available.

      – Group interactions get far more leeway in by book with respect to checking out and using your phone, but it’s still not great, and anybody who does that while another person is stuck in meatspace surrounded by texting people is being very rude. Basically, feel free to disengage briefly while there’s a thriving interaction, if there isn’t a thriving interaction, try to start one back up.

      – People often respond well to the suggestion that people put their phones on the table and the last one to check theirs before the check arrives pays. But in a group where paying for a group lunch is any kind of a hardship, this would probably be overkill.

      – People don’t respond well to requests to modify their behavior in any way that doesn’t feel like a game, and asking for people to change what they’re doing to make you feel better doesn’t end well. (But maybe I’ve just been bad at this)

      *Edit: @Well brings up a good point about this, it’s accurate for me but YMMV

      • Well... says:

        Taking a long time to respond to messages sucks, but it’s not necessarily reasonable to expect people to always be available even if they do care for you.

        I think Nick was saying this expectation is (at least somewhat) reasonable given that his friends are constantly typing on/checking their phones.

        • Charles F says:

          That was 100% me typical minding. I’ve been told repeatedly that responding to me takes significantly more effort than responding to most people and people aren’t always in a position to do so even when they can respond to other things. Feel free to mentally remove that if you think you’re a more normal communicator.

          • Well... says:

            Nick will have to answer that one for himself.

            As for me, this was actually an issue my brother and I discussed wrt my emails–he isn’t as interested in or comfortable writing long thoughtful emails as I am. So, some of what I interpreted as Google auto-reply was actually him passively trying to say “I don’t feel like having a deep discussion” without actually saying it.

        • Nick says:

          I think Nick was saying this expectation is (at least somewhat) reasonable given that his friends are constantly typing on/checking their phones.

          Yeah, you have it right.

    • cassander says:

      >Does anyone else hate it when friends you’re talking to in person are texting constantly? How about when your friends take forever to respond to your own messages

      It seems to me you can detest one of those things but not both. We can have a social norm where we ignore texts when we’re in a real conversation, or a norm where we’re expected to respond to texts as rapidly as possible, but we definitely can’t have both at once.

      • Nick says:

        You can’t have both norms at once, but you can totally have both of these things happen to you at once.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        It seems to me you can detest one of those things but not both.

        If I understand him correctly, Nick is suspecting through logical inference that his friends prioritize rapidly responding to the people they care about…but that he is not such a person.

        Sadly I think Nick is right, and the answer, if feasible, is for him to find better friends. (At some point our host talked about how often this can be the right solution, though I can’t find the post.)

        But as to the actual etiquette question, I struggle here too–I absolutely like it when people rapidly and reliably respond to texts/IMs, and try to do the same for them. But this does sometimes imply I need to do so when around others, which has its own problem. I do try to be fair in my prioritization of people I care about, as a first pass (i.e. if I’m texting a good friend and around another one, either share attention well between them (apologizing to the local one or finding time when they’re otherwise occupied) or tell one or the other I need to excuse myself. (I do not always succeed.)

        • Well... says:

          @Nick:

          the answer, if feasible, is for him to find better friends

          I don’t know what your relationship with these friends is like–are they your very closest friends? just work buddies? etc.–but it might be one of those Abilene paradoxes where none of them actually like the norm but they all figure “all my other friends do it, I might as well too” and all it takes is for one of you to make a strong vocal stand against it: “Hey guys, how about we put our phones away and act like grownups?”

          If these are really close friends of yours, they might be either receptive to it or at least willing to argue about it but let the friendship survive. If they’re just work buddies or more casual friends, they might decide to stop hanging around you, but then you’ve only lost crappy friends, whom you should be ditching anyway.

          • iioo says:

            Many poor interactions are the result of people playing this game. In the game, looking at your phone is a strong move with no hard counters. The common response is to reciprocate if/when the phone-looker again becomes invested in the conversation.

            The romantic equivalent of the game has been the result of many thinkpieces over the years.

            Since honest conversations, analytical reasoning, and linking to essays are losing moves, the only options are to play the game and abandon hope of all but the most superficial relationships, lose spectacularly by addressing the game (will provoke contempt in some), find better friends, or organize to coordinate meanness against these norms.

          • Charles F says:

            In the game, looking at your phone is a strong move with no hard counters

            I think you’re giving it too much credit. People who are texting really are pretty boring, so it doesn’t require any effort to seem bored by them. Just start talking to somebody else, do a crossword, climb a tree, or do anything besides wait for them to reemerge, which makes it seem like you’re relying on them to provide the interestingness.

          • andrewflicker says:

            iioo- there may not be any hard counters, but I’ve found applying shame for being *so* interested in your phone is a workable soft counter. Remember, if the aim is to appear “cool” and disengaged, then framing the phone-use as extreme engagement can work well.

          • Yosarian2 says:

            Well, if someone is playing on their phone while you’re in person and not paying enough attention to you, one simple “hard counter” is to send them a message on their phone. There are polite ways to do this (“Oh, I saw a funny gif the other day, let me send it to you”) or funny ways (just sending someone a funny smiley face on Facebook messenger or google hangouts or whatever you guys use -will usually get them to chuckle, maybe send one back, and then usually after a few minutes everyone realizes how silly it is and put their phones away).

        • Matt M says:

          The simplest explanation is probably that the person (if hetero/male) is prioritizing communication with females (wife/girlfriend/prospect) over communication with male friends.

    • Yosarian2 says:

      In my experience, it is usually a very bad idea to take metrics like “How long did person X take to respond to my private message” or “why is person Y ignoring my facebook posts’ or whatever as a metric for how that person feels about you. There are far too many confounding variables. Plus your own perceptions warp your data; if you respond to person X quickly 80% of the time, and they respond to you quickly 80% of the time, you tend to think “I *always* respond quickly to person X, but he’s taking *forever* to respond to me today, he must be mad at me”; just because you tend to pay far more attention to the times when they don’t respond to you quickly while forgetting the times you didn’t respond to him quickly.

  5. stephenpeters says:

    My wife and I are excited to be moving to Boston this January for at least two years. We’re Australian and it’s our first time to America so I’m looking for guidance / tips / advice to maximise our USA experience. Does anyone have advice for Australians moving to the US? Any recommended Boston ‘must see’ locations / events / experiences?

    • smocc says:

      I will give you a general warning: Boston is a great city but moving in can be horrible, especially if you plan on having a car.

      You will get lost a lot. If you are living in the city, your car will get towed at least once. Worst of all, you will have to go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, which seems to have been refined over decades into the worst possible experience. (If at all possible, go the RMV in Boston, next to Haymarket. Avoid the Watertown one at all costs)

      Boston has a reputation for being rude. I would say that generally people are aggressive but friendly. Everyone just kind of assumes that everyone else is out to screw them over, but as soon as you present yourself as friendly people warm right up. My wife and I visited Toronto a while ago and there was something kind of unsettling about the public transportation. It took me a day to realize it was that the bus drivers weren’t yelling at us for not knowing how everything works.

      I say all this not to put you off of moving to Boston, but to warn you so you don’t get put off when you arrive. It’s a great city and a great place to live and I love it, it just takes some getting used to that is ultimately well worth it.

      • stephenpeters says:

        A great perspective that I hadn’t considered, thanks for taking the time. We’re leaning towards no car at this stage however we’ll make that decision once we’re on the ground and have an apartment. I hadn’t come across the reputation for being rude so I’ll keep it in mind as we get into the swing of Boston life.

        • smocc says:

          I guess after a warning I should give recommendations. However, I am a married grad student with a kid, so my recommendations aren’t exactly typical.

          – Visit the USS Constitution. She’s back on the water after some repair work, and she’s beautiful. I think maybe you need a passport to visit if you are not a US citizen though. Check beforehand.
          – Try beaches to the north. I have lived in Massachusetts for 8 years and never been to the cape. The north shore beaches may not be quite as nice, but you don’t have to die and be resurrected in traffic to get there, and the towns are great and quirky. My wife and I wandered into St. Peter’s Fiesta in Gloucester one year and have gone back every year since.
          – Go to Plymoth Plantation at least once. It is expensive for a tourist attraction but totally worth it.
          – See a hockey game. You should be able to get tickets to college hockey games for pretty cheap. If you go to Harvard home games you can usually find empty seats right at the ice, at least in my experience. Hockey is one of the most exciting spectator sports there is.
          – The aquarium is really good, and so is the Museum of Science.

          Also, take a trip across the country. The US is huge and varied and if you only visit the major coastal cities you will miss out on a lot of it. You won’t be able to see all of it, but it’s worth seeing at least some of the spectrum. I’ve had a few international friends take a train trip across and they all enjoyed it. Visit at least one National Park out west. I also highly recommend getting to a county or state fair, or a rodeo (doesn’t matter where.)

    • MereComments says:

      Native Bostonian here. I will second everything smocc said. Especially about the cars. I don’t know where you plan to live/work, but if you can work it out so that you can just rely on public transportation (specifically the four colored T lines, especially the Red or Orange lines), that would be ideal. That and a ZipCar account for trips outside the city is how I rolled last time I was living there (my wife is also a native, and has never had a driver’s license).

      Some cool places/events:

      – 4th of July on the Esplanade is one of the best 4th of July celebrations in the country.
      – The Rose Kennedy Greenway is my favorite “new” thing in Boston. Beautiful park that cuts through the center of the financial district and the North End.
      – The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a small compared to major museums like the MFA, but really cool. She was an early 20th century socialite who threw parties at her Fenway mansion. Per order of her will, it is set up exactly as it was at the time of her death. Also site of the one of the world’s most expensive art heists ever.
      – Definitely see a Red Sox game, even if you don’t like baseball. Sit in the bleachers.
      – Cambridge is just across the river from Boston, and has some of the best restaurants, bars, venues, etc, if you’re into nightlife.
      – I’m partial to the Arnold Arboretum, because I grew up around there. A “Tree Museum”, as explained in the Simpsons (It’s a large, beautiful park that showcases the various biomes of the area).
      – In fact, almost all the parks of the Emerald Necklace are worth seeing (the Public Gardens being the most obvious example).

      Don’t mind the rudeness of the natives. Smocc is right, we’re raised to think that if a stranger is being friendly to you, they’re either trying to scam you or are mentally ill. It can make it difficult for Bostonians who move elsewhere, or people from elsewhere who move to Boston. I think that’s changing as the percentage of non-natives increases, but it’s probably a good thing to know so you don’t take it personally if people seem “cold” or rude.

      (I have the opposite problem now that I live in Texas… “why are strangers trying to talk to me? Why are you doing this to me? I was being courteous to you by ignoring you and minding my own business!”)

      • stephenpeters says:

        To mirror my response to smocc, thanks for taking the time to write this. It’s humbling that someone on the opposite side of the world takes a moment to help a complete stranger.

        I’ve added all of above to my bucket list, especially the Red Sox game. Also keen to see the Celtics and Patriots live.

        Is there anywhere in the broader Massachusetts area you would recommend as a local?

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          (Source: Masshole born and raised out west in Northampton.)

          As a die-hard Pats fan…probably skip them. Football is really not that special live, whereas it televises incredibly well. If you’re a huge football fan, worth doing once, but don’t bother just to see what sports are like. (I actively prefer going to a decent bar with a bunch of cheering fans and a telecast or watching at home with my whiskey.) Pats tickets are also expensive even for football which is saying something.

          Red Sox games are much more fun. I’ve never been to a Celtics game but basketball is almost always great live and I don’t think they’d be an exception.

          As for other Massachusetts destinations…hmm. If you’re into American history, you’re living in and around it all over. There are a number of really cool historical sites that literally every kid who grew up in the state went to on field trips, and most were actually interesting if you’re into that kind of thing. If you like this, seriously, ask anyone you know in the city who lived in the state growing up for recommendations, we’ve _all_ done Lowell and Plymouth and so on. (They’re also, obviously, extremely kid friendly destinations.) I should point out that everything I suggest later in the post is also full of what is, by North American standards, ancient history. My hometown celebrated it’s 350th anniversary while I was in high school; small beer by English standards, but that predates our country by more than a century. I really like that pretty much anywhere I go in Masssachusetts, there’s likely going to be a memorial or museum to something about that old. You can wander about many of these places, and in my mind’s eye they’re all surrounded by lovely copses of trees and quiet college campuses. (I admit this is probably not 100% accurate.)

          Being as I’m from Western Mass, I think it’s really beautiful and a fun place to hang around. You might find it a bit more “who the fuck is this stranger?” [1], like Boston but more so…but leaf peeping is incredibly popular for a reason. Hang out somewhere out west in October in the woods, have apple cider (and go apple picking, and have cider donuts…). If you and your wife like the idea of a bed and breakfast in the middle of nowhere with plenty of peace and quiet and space, you can do that pretty much anywhere west of Springfield. (Vermont is also very popular for that and excellent. Cabins in the woods are also on offer.) If you can stand our winters, stick around for sugaring season; tour a maple syrup maker somewhere and taste literally everything you can make maple flavored. (God I miss maple candy.) For my money the Vermont syrup is the best. Note that if you think winter is Boston is bad, don’t go west, we get like twice as much snow and even worse windchill. There is fantastic cross country skiing to be done and mediocre but fun downhill. (I loved it as a kid but have been spoiled by Stevens Pass, Whistler, Tahoe, and the like.)

          Anywhere along the MA or Maine coast you can find incredibly cold but nice beaches (wonderful surf to play in if you can stand 55 degree water), overpriced but excellent seafood (shellfish of various kinds being the typical speciality, though there’s also cod of many forms.) Cape Cod is the canonical example here and it’s nice, but particularly expensive and can have pretty terrible traffic getting in and out–your call.

          These are all pretty standard tourist suggestions, but–yes, I’m a biased local–I think they live up to the hype. I am certain I am forgetting quite a lot of cool Massachusetts things because they don’t even stand out in my brain as anything other than normal life experiences that everywhere has. (They only come to mind when I realize that they’re not available elsewhere.) What I don’t really know is the life experience of being an adult in these places, and I’m sure smocc/MereComments have more to say about that than I do, and that’s important–the mechanics of living day to day and who you will interact with are incredibly important. But damned if I don’t have a lot of jealousy for all the cool MA stuff you’ll get to do soon!

          [1] Great quote from a Nantucketer who I think espouses the standard philosphy of old school New Englanders everywhere, responding to a transplant’s comments that at least her kids, whom she’d had since moving, were locals: “The cat may have her kittens in the oven, but that doesn’t make them muffins.”

    • SUT says:

      There are three peripheral locations where married yuppies tend to congregate and influence culture: North/west of Davis Sq, Somerville – think adjunct; Jamaica Plain – think physician assistant; and “Southie” – think account manager. The heart of Boston is pretty cool, but it’s like times square, you can’t build a social group there. Back Bay and Seaport are picturesque and elite. Cambridge is very cool and has heavy euro and asian presence of people and stores. But a transient and busy student culture will dominate over families in any affordable part.

      Boston has tons of meetup.com events, especially for leisure-sport and science-type activities. I would recommend attending these even if they are canned activities to find someone similar to you, then they will bring you into a specific community best for you. Ideas: Courageous Sailing or CommunityBoatingInc will teach you to sail and hang with other people who just got married and want to. Go up to Granite Links golf course in Quincy and take the wife for drinks and best view in the city. The national seashore (tip of cape cod) are world class beaches guarded by insanity inducing traffic jams; Hint – there isn’t a car on the road at 4am.

    • registrationisdumb says:

      The Omni Parker House invented the Boston Creme Pie, and they make a really great one. Fairly easy tourist thing to do.

  6. Tristan says:

    There were some shenanigans going on in the top bar of the site during last week, that seem mostly resolved now. However, we are still left with the “About/Top Post” tab as well as the old, more expansive, “Top Post” tab. I’m not sure this is intentional.

  7. Incurian says:

    How strong is the consensus against group selection in evolution? Could anybody here argue for it?

    • Thegnskald says:

      Complicated.

      The issue isn’t that group selection, as a layman might think of it, doesn’t happen, the issue is that group selection as a biologist thinks about it is a substantively different thing, and modeling evolution that way leads to incorrect intuitions.

      I had an email.exchange with Dawkins a while back discussing the issue, and ultimately it comes down to that group selection in the biologist’s sense of the term requires very specific and unusual circumstances. Suppose you have two groups of wolves, for example; for unspecified genetic reasons one group is at a local size maximum, and one isn’t. Suppose furthermore that increased size benefits the individual at the fitness expense of the group. The group at the local size maximum can’t get any bigger, the other can, so the increasing-size group might die off in favor of the other once their pack fitness decreases sufficiently – but strictly as a result of individual selection.

      The whole process can still be modeled as individual selection, of course, but in a certain sense dead-end evolutionary attractors can be treated as a kind of group selection. Other situations that can resemble group selection include circumstances where a pool of genetics produces a more flexible genome – the success of sexual over non-sexually species being one example of this.

      But the critical element of group selection is that individual selection is always the stronger force, and never turns off. Most group selection conceptualizations tend to discard individual selection to some extent, which is invalid. If an individual can be made better off by burning the group commons, they will. The selection happens at a group level when avenues of burning the commons are closed off.

      ETA:
      The standard model of selection now is genetic selection, rather than individual selection. This is, however, harder to explain and discuss; it is substantively easier to discuss individuals and groups than the fuzzier boundaries produced by allele selection, which can cross any arbitrary number of individuals. So I’ve used technically incorrect language here, which nonetheless should be close to conceptually accurate.

    • baconbacon says:

      Group and individual distinctions are semi irrelevant. Selection mostly happens at the individual level (either an individual reproduces or doesn’t, or a gene is copied and transmitted or doesn’t), but it gets murky at the margin of the definition (if I raise my nieces and nephews and help them survive then an identical copy of many of my genes will get passed on, but not a literal copy of my gene).

      The definition gets even murkier when you talk about selection at the level of the gene, because genes are transferred on mass* to the next generation. If you have a novel mutation that improves fitness then that potentially benefits the entire genome of the parent in terms of fitness, this is generally what people think of what they talk about group selection. This can work at the macro level as well. If a particular individual has mutation that makes them a better forager/hunter they can increase their fitness at the expense of the other members of their local group or they can increase their fitness at the expense of another group of the same species, or you can increase fitness at the expense of a different species, or you can have a mutation that increases the access to resources that no one is using and increase your fitness, and your group fitness at the expense of no one**.

      Long story short is there are very few situations where selection will happen strictly at the individual gene level, or at the individual level within a group. The most accurate approach is to look at it through an equilibrium model, where everything is interconnected and effecting everything else. A gene can give a short term benefit, say a longer neck allowing them to reach more food, but can push an animal into a niche which limits the long term fitness potential.

      *I am talking about sexual reproduction here, there are some large differences for asexual reproduction but most people are more familiar with sexual, or think about it in those terms at least.

      ** Theorhtically possible, but realistically those advantages will eventually lead to increasing fitness at the expense of some other organism.

    • baconbacon says:

      To continue my rambling thoughts

      The strongest case for group selection is the presence of sexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction means that if you increase your fitness you (probably) have to increase the fitness of your mates, and this works both at the genetic and individual level. If you look solely at the individual level then sexual selection is impossible to explain because the benefits of positive mutations are slashed in half while retaining many of the aspects of negative mutations. Why? Because you only transfer half of your genes to each kid. If you have a mutation that makes you a better hunter, which allows you to feed 10 kids and raise them to sexual maturity only 5 of those kids are going to have that mutation. If you were an asexual reproducer you would have passed that mutation on to all 10* of your offspring.

      Why does sexual reproduction exist then? Because mutations generally have diminishing returns. The more complex an organism is the easier it is to break it with a random change, and the less likely it is for a mutation to be a net positive. Sexual reproduction introduces variation with far less risk because you are (mostly) introducing genes that are proven to work at least in the general case but you get variation to try with novel combinations of those genes. Now it isn’t about one gene making you stronger, but about how all your genes work together to make you stronger. On the macro level you can have an analogous situation with social structure. Hive insects with one reproducing queen and many sterile offspring, or hierarchical societies with mating pairs at the top and members of the tribe/pride/group who rarely or don’t reproduce but who contribute to the well being of the whole in some ways.

      In the end you will probably end up with a semantic argument about what it means for individual vs group selection, and not really getting anywhere as there is little distinction for many complex organisms.

      *9.999999999999 depending on the mutation rate during reproduction.

    • US says:

      I highly recommend Samir Okasha’s book Evolution and the Levels of Selection if you’re at all interested in these topics.

      Edited: If you don’t have time for reading a book on these topics, this talk/lecture might be worth watching instead.

    • Tarhalindur says:

      How strong is the consensus against group selection in evolution?

      My impression, from when I was back in undergrad, is that said consensus is pretty strong. (That, coupled with the current state of funding/jobs in modern science, is a large part of why I chose not to head to grad school.)

      (I’m also pretty sure you’re touching on one of the two areas of science most likely to see a paradigm shift in the next twenty years or so, along with a cluster of ideas in nonequilibrium thermodynamics and information theory that look like they share a deep structure to me. Although “two areas” might be a misnomer there, because I suspect that one of the key features of the nonequilibrium information theory locus is the ability to predict biological evolution from first principles.)

      Could anybody here argue for it?

      *Puts on “If I’m right I’m a genius, if I’m wrong I’m a crank” hat.*

      My standing hypothesis is that there is a level of differential reproductive success where an individual’s traits (whether the individual is a gene, meme, or organism) is more likely to continue to the next generation by cooperating with other related individuals than by attempting to reproduce directly (with the exact threshold presumably determined by the degree of relatedness); when this threshold is crossed, the group to which the individual belongs effectively becomes an individual itself. That threshold has been crossed at least twice in biological history (the transition to multicellular organisms and the development of eusociality in, at minimum, certain insects) and I suspect a third time (the prokaryote-eukaryote transition); I’m not confident, but I really wouldn’t be surprised if an analogous process underlies the development of organic life from inorganic precursors.

      This diverges from the standard view of group selection (Thegnskald gave a decent but incomplete summary), but I think the standard view is wrong so…

      (Of course, the *real* win for an individual is analogous to defect/cooperate in iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma: stack the deck to get itself into the reproductive organs.)

      • Iain says:

        I don’t understand the difference between your view and the standard view. What new insight do you claim to be adding?

        Cooperation as a successful strategy is not a controversial idea — especially, as you point out, in the context of multicellular organisms and eusocial insects. The reproductive success of the worker ant is clearly tied to the reproductive success of the hive. If you want to take the phenomenon that applies to ants or the cells of your body and call it “group selection”, then, sure, “group selection” exists. But as you concede in your final parenthetical, this kind of group selection is a highly flawed proxy: individuals act on behalf of the group to the precise degree that this maximizes their own reproductive success, and no further. This can be quite high in termites or red blood cells, but is likely to be rather low in, say, antelope.

        Do you think that people are missing cases of true group selection outside of the obvious suspects? Because otherwise it seems like your divergence is just a matter of semantics.

        • baconbacon says:

          Because otherwise it seems like your divergence is just a matter of semantics

          Yeah, the whole argument is over semantics, it is all about what constitutes “individual” and what constitutes “group”. There is no natural distinction in complex organisms (especially sexually reproducing ones).

          Do you think that people are missing cases of true group selection

          What is “true group selection” outside of a semantic debate? A group is a collection of individuals, you can always abstract the effect on the group down to the individuals, but some definitions of individual here become so broad as to be of low meaning.

          • Iain says:

            Definitions are tools. There is no clear line in the territory between, say, desks and tables, but someone analyzing human furniture purchases would still find it useful to distinguish the two concepts.

            When discussing evolution, I think it is useful to distinguish between cases where the individual benefits from selfish action (a lion taking over a pride and killing all cubs who aren’t his) from cases where the individual benefits from altruistic action (a worker bee sacrifices her life to defend the hive). This distinction is pretty well-accepted, I think, but maybe Tarhalindur has a better way to look at it. (If so, the details did not really come across.)

            Alternatively, maybe Tarhalindur accepts the existing distinction, but thinks we are too biased towards selfish interpretations: see, for example, the competing explanations for stotting. In that case, you could reasonably say that we are missing cases of true group selection. A map is an abstraction of the territory, sure, but you can still point out when the abstract river is drawn in the wrong place.

          • baconbacon says:

            When discussing evolution, I think it is useful to distinguish between cases where the individual benefits from selfish action (a lion taking over a pride and killing all cubs who aren’t his) from cases where the individual benefits from altruistic action (a worker bee sacrifices her life to defend the hive). This distinction is pretty well-accepted, I think, but maybe Tarhalindur has a better way to look at it. (If so, the details did not really come across.)

            There are clear cases at the far edges, but the majority of selection (probably) doesn’t occur at these fringes. Competition within a species with limited and set resources is the easiest to investigate and explain (especially in a game theory sense), but much of evolutionary history occurs between species, or in the exploration of new, previously inaccessible resource. If you consider comparative advantage then an organism that has specialization within its group will experience benefits to a number greater than an individual for any positive mutation or beneficial combination of genes. This covers pretty much all sexually reproducing animals*. How do we categorize a mutation that provides terriffic benefits for the organism it occurs in and modest benefits for those within its local group? There is not clear distinction here in my view.

            *this might not be true of some sexually reproducing animals that I can think of, like snails, where both partners are hermaphrodites, but I haven’t though it through.

  8. tenoke says:

    After reading yet another article which mentions the phrase ‘killer robots’ 5 times and has a photo of terminator (and robo-cop for a bonus), I’ve drafted a short email asking the author to stop using this vivid but highly misleading metaphor.

    I’m going to start sending this same email to other journalists that do the same from now on. I am not sure how big the impact will be, but after the email is already drafted sending it to new people is pretty low effort and there’s the potential that some journalists will think twice before referencing Terminator in AI Safety discussions, potentially improving the quality of the discourse a little.

    The effect of this might be slightly larger if more people do this.

    • I usually reply to such things by posting a comic book cover of “Magnus: Robot Fighter, 4000 AD”, a ’60s Gold Key comic series. This is equally misleading to the other references, but is more obscure and thus more nerdy.

    • random832 says:

      Isn’t Skynet, at least, a classic AI risk scenario though? “Skynet concluded that all of humanity would attempt to destroy it and impede its capability in safeguarding the world”

  9. gorbash says:

    I send out a lot of event invites. People generally seem interested, but recently I’ve been struggling to get people to RSVP promptly. (ie, I sent out an invite four days in advance, and I received multiple attempted RSVPs the evening before the event.) This is a problem because my events are intended for a fixed number of players, and last-minute changes in player count aren’t good for me.

    I wrote this document: https://sites.google.com/site/theeventorganizationproblem/ and I’m thinking of adding it to my signature when sending out events. If you received an invite with this in the signature, would you be more like “oh, okay, I see where you’re coming from”? Or would you be more like “geez, chill, it’s just board games”?

    • andrewflicker says:

      Far too long and too math-y. Anyone likely to understand or care about it is not in the camp of unreliable-RSVPers that you’re worried about. Having run game nights before, I just use a variant of this phrase in the initial invite:

      This game requires EXACTLY 4 people- and I’ve invited a lot of you, so it’s first-come-first-serve and please don’t cancel or you might tank the entire night! If you’re interested, hit me up right away!

    • Eltargrim says:

      Frankly, I ignore email signatures unless I’m trying to find somebody’s address in meatspace. If you explicitly highlighted it, I would be sympathetic to your goal, but I would have a strong negative reaction, perceiving it as passive-aggressive.

      When I have people who are bad at RSVPing and/or attending my games, I take the following approach. I first bring it up to them, in person, that the uncertainty in their attendance is causing issues, and ask if there’s any way we could work together to get them to commit yea or nay earlier. If this doesn’t work, I stop inviting them to events where player count is important.

    • Charles F says:

      I read it, but I expect most people wouldn’t bother. My immediate reactions were 1) is it really so hard to have an extra couple decks/games in case of unexpectedly high turnout? and 2) why are the the things you actually want people to do buried under a page of CS jargon.

    • rlms says:

      Linking that at the bottom of an invite to an event is one of the most passive-aggressive things I can imagine. If you get annoyed by late RSVPs, I’d either just put “please RSVP 48 hours before the event if you want to come” in the invite, or “there are a fixed number of places, so if you RSVP late you might not be able to come”. That said, I don’t think RSVPing the day before an event you were invited to four days before it happened is that unreasonable. I’m not sure if there are any etiquette rules of thumb on this, but I’d consider sending invites out earlier if that’s possible.

    • cassander says:

      A good method I’ve found is to ask people to vote on one of two days to hold the event. Sometimes, a strong preference will be revealed, sometimes not, but the people who vote will usually attend.

  10. HFARationalist says:

    Discourage bias in rational discussions

    I’m thinking about some techniques to improve rational discussions.

    Here are my ideas:
    1.All rational discussions on a topic should ideally end with people agreeing or agreeing to disagree. If you have made a mistake, admit that you were wrong.
    2.Avoid fallacies. In particular there should be no ad hominem.
    3.Avoid intellectual black holes (8 intellectual black holes in Stephen Law’s book).
    4.Rationality, not rationalization/apology/view lawyering.
    5.Do not get personal/emotional.

    • andrewflicker says:

      Just a few thoughts off the top of my head:

      Re (1), how do you feel about Aumann’s Agreement Theorem?

      Re (2), how do you deal with the fact that different people have different lists of “real” fallacies, let alone the frequent need in conversation to (quite rationally) use an appeal to authority?

      Re (3), is this book free online? If not, can you link (not write here) a convenient summary?

      Re (4), you’re going to have a hell of a time getting people to agree first on definitions and second on characterizations. As an example, I know you try to engage rationally in these open threads, but frequently your posts come off as pre-arranged conclusions with shaky rationalization attached. But to you, (and presumably some others), they are soundly rational- and perhaps *my* arguments might sound like shaky rationalizations. This is a difficult problem, and I don’t think you can’t handwave it away with a rule like this (if you could, the other rules probably wouldn’t be needed!).

      Re (5), what if calmness is an emotion? What if open-mindedness is an emotion? etc.- you’ll have to define emotions first, and you’ll find plenty of argument from others about it. Personal is a whole ‘nother can of worms- quite frequently people become experts in a domain due to personal relevance, so by outlawing “personal” you’re frequently outlawing “original content”- not a good standard if you want an interesting and productive discussion!

      • HFARationalist says:

        For (1), agreeing to disagree mostly only apply to personal preferences and other ideas that turn out to be at least partly subjective. (e.g. Do you like cats more or dogs more?)

        For (2) I personally believe that what we should mostly avoid is ad hominem aka moralizing. I don’t want to hear people screaming “You are a racist!” or “You are a race traitor!” to shut down arguments. What’s even worse these days is that there is this obnoxious Blue Tribal Police. Hence I strongly suggest that we should always stay anonymous if we want any CW-related discussions done. I’m gagged here because my handle can be traced back to my RL identity by people who know me.

        Appealing to authority is unavoidable if neither people actually understand the material. For example if two non-biologists are arguing about evolution it is probably a good idea to tentatively accept peer-reviewed papers written by biologists until a biologist can join the chat and reduce the amount of woo.

        For (3) The book isn’t free online. However I strongly suggest that you buy it. It’s worth 12 bucks. Here is an old version of chapter 2. I think you will enjoy it. http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2011/12/believing-bullshit-chpt-2.html What it really says is that there are eight common intellectual black holes. Creationists and other irrational people love them. When you can expose them you become more rational. I haven’t found any nice summaries though.

        For (4) I admit that we sometimes have biases, mostly related to identity. For example I have a very strong antisexual bias. I do try to be objective on the sexual issue. However as an autist I inherently desire companionship less than the average non-autist. To non-autists desiring kids and spouses may be natural. To me it is unnatural.

        For (5) I concede that I need to be more careful on what emotions are. Calmness and open-mindedness are certainly good. By “not being personal” I need to clarify what I meant. I was talking about avoiding identity-related issues unless you are really rational. It has nothing to do with original content.

  11. Iain says:

    Is this open thread supposed to be culture-war free? The number says yes, but the post says no.

    • Eltargrim says:

      70 comments in and it’s fairly CW free. Err on the side of the numbers?

      • andrewflicker says:

        Man, if that’s the trick I’m going to start spamming every open thread with 70 nonCW threads right away. The non-CW threads are just so much of a relief from the constant culture war in the news / social networks / blogosphere.

        • baconbacon says:

          Perhaps just the existence of CW free threads is fostering a better atmosphere.

        • HFARationalist says:

          Shall we increase the amount of non-CW threads? Like only .25 and .75 should have CW. In non-CW threads we probably should ban all CW terms such as “racism”, “JIDF”, “c.uck”, etc unless these words are only used here so that they can be outlawed.

          By the way does creationism/theism count as CW? I consider the current CW to be Bluebrownsmanship.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I’d be very unhappy if theism were banned from half the open threads!

            Also, could we still say “cuckold” if we’re discussing Shakespeare?

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Le Maistre Chat I agree. So half of the threads should contain no bluebrownsmanship but can still contain Blue-Grey-Brown vs Red. Sounds like a good plan.

          • JulieK says:

            > By the way does creationism/theism count as CW?

            Around here, it’s not such a hot-button issue. I was going to attribute this to one side being so dominant, but that’s probably true as well at a site like nytimes.com, and the commenters there get much more into bashing the religious.

            > I consider the current CW to be Bluebrownsmanship.

            Assuming I’ve understood you correctly (but please try to avoid neologisms that no one understands), that seems to be correct. The animus that nytimes commenters direct at fundamentalists, over here is aimed at “SJWs.”

    • HFARationalist says:

      Yeah. Blue vs Red vs Brown with Greys trying to be referees isn’t something we want to have in every thread.

      • I know about the blue, red, and grey (gray?) tribes, but what is the brown tribe?

        • John Schilling says:

          I’ve used it to refer to Hispanics, who are as a group neither culturally Blue nor culturally Red. Not sure if HFA is using it in the same sense.

        • HFARationalist says:

          Browns are the secular racialists, fascists and Nazis. It has nothing to do with which exact race you are glorifying or bashing.

          I also use the “Dark Tribe” to refer to sociopaths and amoral people who attack societies. I really wanted to use “the Black Tribe” after the Black Pill however black is too strongly associated with a race to be used.

        • Brad says:

          An undefined neologism. A certain other recently no longer with us poster also liked to redefine the standard tribe usages.

          Just saying.

          • HFARationalist says:

            Maybe it’s just me with the old account? I’m Autistic Cat/Rationality Corner in case you don’t know. My old account got censored by WordPress so I had to make another one. I haven’t redefined the three standard tribes. Instead I added two more.

            Secular racialists and fascists aren’t really Red. Hence it does make sense to add a new tribe to accommodate them. I use Brown because it is the color of the NSDAP. I believe the Grey Tribe is between Blues and Browns but are strictly non-Red. Islamists count as Reds because they are just Reds of another culture. Ultranationalists of all races count as Browns.

          • onyomi says:

            I like “alt-right” and “ctrl-left.”

          • HFARationalist says:

            The problem here is that the Blue-Red divide is secular-religious while the Blue-Brown one is multiracialists vs racialists (I don’t consider reaction Brown). This is a completely different divide so Browns shouldn’t be some variants of Reds.

          • Brad says:

            A) you have define neologisms before you start using them. You instead just jumped in with four or five posts referring to the “brown tribe” without explanation.

            B) you don’t get to just come in a redefine usages that are already in common circulation because you think your system is better. Which is what you are doing here. Leaving aside brown, your red, blue, and gray are totally idiosyncratic. Go read ‘I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup’.

            Commutation is a team sport. Acting otherwise is both confusing and hostile.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The tribal colours were originally supposed to be a fast and loose way to differentiate “Coors Light-swillin’ good ol’ boys” from “latte-sipping urbanite elitists”, or something. I’ve never been a fan, because there are a lot of people who fall into neither category, as it turns out. But it still describes something that’s real: there are fewer white blue-collar democrats and urbanite blue-blood Republicans than there once were, but they still exist (some of the latter have gotten really good at pretending to be good ol’ boys).

            Quickly, it became a political affiliation thing, making it kinda pointless, because you could just say “left” or “Democrat” instead of “blue.” Adding more tribes that are just political affiliations doesn’t make sense, because either you could just say the political affiliation, or if using the original sense it’s not like there’s actual cultural groups being identified: as far as I know, there is no group of white nationalists that only listens to white nationalist music, etc. Some white nationalists are red tribe. Some are blue tribe.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Speaking of latte-sipping, who even drinks lattes? I thought the elitist thing was drinking espresso, or fancy brewed coffee, if you’re more hipstery.

          • Brad says:

            I see very few Americans drinking espresso. It may be too concentrated and bitter for our palate. Or maybe it is too quickly consumed.

            Anyway, I think the latte thing comes from the late 80s / 90s when Americans were first beginning to treat coffee as something one could be snobby about. It was inevitable that whatever was first was going to become passe, but the expression lives on.

            Today a latte, especially with some kind of syrup added to it, is associated with middle class women.

            At least in my neck of the woods.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It’s probably obsolete, and I as a blue tribe urbanite elitist etc have swilled plenty of Coors Light and worse, but doesn’t “Latte-sipping” just roll off the tongue better than “Espresso-sipping”?

            “Cold brew-quaffing” perhaps?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I endorse the idea that one never sees people drinking espresso because it’s gone too fast. It’s the entire reason I drink it: efficient delivery of caffeine, with some nice flavor covering it.

          • Brad says:

            At that point why not caffeine pills? Is that just too direct?

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Brad

            I’m sorry for the confusion. I shouldn’t have used the word “tribe” at all because though I knew what the tribes mean they evolved to mean ideologies and beliefs in my mind.

            As a non-cultural autist I probably should not make too many assertions on what I do not understand, such as tribes and cultures.

            I’m more into ideologies than groups of people.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Brad

            I take a caffeine pill before I work out, and sometimes I take them if I’m crashing, but there’s gotta be some kind of placebo effect with coffee.

    • dodrian says:

      As we know SSC is divided into two tribes: those that believe that only the X.5 thread is culture war free, and always so (Datists? Fivers?), and those who believe only the threads explicitly marked as culture-war free are culture-ward free irregardless of date (Explicitists? Scotters?). By failing to appease both groups Scott throws us into a different tribal conflict.

      I’m sharpening up my pitchfork for if and when any explicitists show up on this thread.

      • HFARationalist says:

        ^LOL this does not really matter.

        Instead I think the Blue-Brown divide is probably the most significant here. However as long as people stay rational (and non-Red because religion overcomplicates the issue between secular leftists and secular alt-rightists) we can objectively discuss all Blue-Brown issues. Non-Reds at least agree on rationality and objectively discussing Blue-Brown issues is just applied rationality. I can handle Browns but not Reds.

        One suggestion is that if you use an account here that may be traced back to your RL identity you should use another one when your views on the Blue-Brown spectrum is not purely Blue, preferably with Tor or VPN on. The email address you use for your Blue-Brown account should also be completely untraceable to your RL identity. You should also try to have a different style when you are talking about Blue-Brown issues. The Blue Tribal Police is on steroids now and they are pretty dangerous to rationality.

      • Brad says:

        Just as the commandment that certain threads be culture war free was revealed without warning, so too can it be withdrawn without warning. The Word of Scott is all. Down with numerologists!

        • dndnrsn says:

          It is known that interpretation trumps pronouncements from on high.

          Then Rabbi Eliezer told the Sages, “If the law agrees with me, then let this carob tree prove it,” and the carob tree moved 100 cubits (and others say 400 cubits) out of its place. But the Sages said that no proof can be brought from a carob tree. Then Rabbi Eliezer told the Sages, “If the halachah agrees with me, let this stream of water prove it,” and the stream of water flowed backwards. But the Sages said that no proof can be brought from a stream of water. Then Rabbi Eliezer told the Sages, “If the halachah agrees with me, let the walls of this house of study prove it,” and the walls leaned over as if to fall. But Rabbi Joshua rebuked the walls, telling them not to interfere with scholars engaged in a halachic dispute. In honor of Rabbi Joshua, the walls did not fall, but in honor of Rabbi Eliezer, the walls did not stand upright, either. Then Rabbi Eliezer told the Sages, “If the halachah agrees with me, let Heaven prove it,” and a Heavenly Voice cried out: “Why do you dispute with Rabbi Eliezer, for in all matters the halachah agrees with him!” But Rabbi Joshua rose and exclaimed in the words of Deuteronomy 30:12: “It is not in heaven.” Rabbi Jeremiah explained that God had given the Torah at Mount Sinai; Jews pay no attention to Heavenly Voices, for God wrote in Exodus 23:2: “After the majority must one incline.” Later, Rabbi Nathan met Elijah and asked him what God did when Rabbi Joshua rose in opposition to the Heavenly Voice. Elijah replied that God laughed with joy, saying, “My children have defeated Me, My children have defeated Me!”

          The .5 rule, having been established, should be taken as given.

      • rlms says:

        How does this fit with the Rightful Caliph divide (I assume most of those here are Alexandrians)?

      • random832 says:

        By failing to appease both groups Scott throws us into a different tribal conflict.

        I suspect Scott has been cultivating this ambiguity and these errors the past few weeks in order to get people to expend all of their culture war energy on arguing about whether a thread is culture war free rather than actually engaging in culture wars.

        • Charles F says:

          Is there a razor for “don’t attribute to an elaborate chessmaster gambit what can be explained by normal human laziness and inconsistency”

          • Nick says:

            Dunno, but there is a strategy for cultivating the appearance of elaborate chessmaster gambits no matter the outcome. 😀

            Machiavelli, almost a full century later, still held Cosimo and his family in awe—attributing both all good and all evil in recent Florentine history to Cosimo’s deep and ruthless machinations.

            Necessary disclaimer that I don’t believe Scott has deep and ruthless machinations in mind for us all.

          • Charles F says:

            What about an evil overlord rule to make sure most of your ulterior motives will be overlooked based on that and similar razors?

            “Never be effectively harmful when you can be ineffectively helpful”

            And the like.

  12. SteveReilly says:

    Does anyone have any experience with medical coding? If you do, and you don’t mind discussing it with me over email, could you let me know? Thanks.

  13. Brad says:

    Some companies have an “unlimited” vacation policy. Based on reports of people that work at such companies it ends up being a pretty fraught process. I can understand why companies want to do it though, carry over paid vacations can end up being a giant liability on the books.

    Do any companies have no paid vacations? It’d be basically the same as unlimited vacation policy in terms of clearing timing with your boss except there wouldn’t be the sense that anyone was being cheated or trying to get away with something because there’d be a direct money / time trade-off. Presumably they’d have to boost the nominal salary to compensate.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      I believe this arrangement is known as “contracting.” 🙂

      • Brad says:

        I suppose that’s true. But along with no paid vacation there’s also a different taxation structure, an overly complicated factor based test about who can qualify, and an general expectation that the position will be temporary.

        I was thinking as more of a tweak on the usual W2 employee relationship.

        Yes, it might take people aback when you tell them they get no vacation, but I a) I think by now most people are wise to the “unlimited” vacation thing and b) you’ll up with a higher nominal salary figure which people give more weight to than they probably should.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          A better term for this is “permatemp”, though I received 6 total paid days off per year (plus about 12 mandatory holidays) for the 6+ years I worked as a Biotech permatemp.

          No paid time off when I was working as a package handler at FedEx, but I only worked there a bit over 6 months.

    • Matt M says:

      You can also achieve this by offering a generous amount of days, a large amount of year to year carryover, and a 1:1 payout upon leaving the company, can you not?

      • Brad says:

        I think there are two problems with that. First, you end up having pay out at final salary instead of at the salary when the days were accrued. In theory you could do it the other but I think it is too much to track and no one does. Second, and this one I’m not as sure about, I think it ends up being an accounting issue when a company builds up a big vacation pay liability line item.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Yes, the big advantage of an “unlimited” paid vacation policy is that you don’t pay out any when an employee leaves.

          • Matt M says:

            Well, given the time value of money, if we assume that you have to pay a higher nominal salary to offset the lack of vacation, I think offering vacation (with payout) is still better for the company. Yeah, “carrying a liability” sucks. But having consistently higher operating expense kinda sucks too.

            It seems to me that “unlimited vacation” is a winner in at any company where there’s enough pride/fear/culture/whatever that employees wouldn’t dare take much. Elite level white collar work could probably get away with it. Blue collar unskilled probably could too. Any place where the people are terrified of losing their jobs and can be socially pressured into never taking vacation would get away with it.

          • andrewflicker says:

            I think it can also work in situations where employees need to complete specified projects in specified timeframes- so long as they do so on time, the employer might not care about vacation usage/timing along the way.

            But I think that sort of work arrangement is relatively rare. (Some research, some large/long software projects, carpentry, fine art, etc.)

          • Brad says:

            @Matt M

            Probably in the short term, but in the longer term it could hurt retention and recruiting. Unless your business is built around it (e.g. tournament model industries) constant turnover is a bitch.

          • baconbacon says:

            Unlimited vacation allows the employer to trade low value work for high value. Almost every company has periods of high value work, bakeries and retailers around holidays, software companies have big deployments, etc, etc. If you have a fixed vacation policy the employee feels (possibly rightly) that it is their vacation to use when they choose, this often causes friction when their ideal vacation time comes at a non ideal time. Unlimited vacation puts the power back in the managers hands to one extent, but also allows you to compensate with longer vacations during lower value times. You only got 1 extra day for your brother’s wedding because of a big project around that time? We can make it easier to take a long trip at another time of the year.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Yep, our company just got acquired, and now “Flex Time” is coming as of Jan. 1st of next year. I am curious to see how it’s going to work out in practice. If they try to use it to restrict time off, they’re going to lose people in a way that will hurt their bottom line, but wont’ become immediately apparent for 6-12 months.

    • tronpaul says:

      My understanding was that the big reason companies offer “unlimited” vacation days is that employees are more likely to take fewer days with an unlimited policy than with a normal policy. I’m having trouble finding any studies that back this up though, so it might just be antecedent I’ve picked up.

      If anyone knows of a study around unlimited vacation policies I’d love to read it.

      • Brad says:

        I think that’s true. And for the first companies that did it, maybe some employees thought they were getting a better deal even though they were getting a worse one. So fewer paid vacation days plus a reputational bonus, what’s not to like? But now the cat is out of the bag. I think everyone is aware that if you have two offers, otherwise equivalent, and one is at a company with unlimited vacation and the other has four weeks vacation with a ten week vacation accrual cap, the second one is a much better offer.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          If this is the case, why are the big Silicon Valley software companies, who battle each other fiercely for talent, all moving to unlimited vacation?

          I mean, my company moved to unlimited vacation, and I had the same reaction everyone here is having, so I understand the take. But still, I don’t think it’s as simple as you make out.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I’ve lived under “unlimited vacation” for, let’s see, about 7 years now. Net effect to me: Largely that I don’t get a few thousand dollars in accrued vacation paid out when I change jobs. I don’t really take substantially more or fewer vacations (well, I take fewer now, but that’s because I had a kid — during “unlimited vacation” time pre-kid, I was on about the same schedule).

            And it generally is nice that I don’t have to track vacation when I do take it.

            That’s speaking as an overpaid software dude from Silicon Valley. Honestly, I think that lots of the angst over “oh my gosh now nobody will take any vacation” stuff is overblown, at least for my set. Before unlimited vacation, the exact same people said the exact same things about how yes you accrued PTO but people couldn’t ever use it.

            (Oh, also, now it’s absurdly de rigeur for people to claim that they have a previously scheduled vacation that happens to be a few weeks after they start their new job, and since you have “unlimited vacation,” you have to pay for it, whereas in the old scheme of things, you would just say, “Well, you have to take it unpaid because you haven’t accrued PTO yet.)

            But, it’s hard to arrange to leave the job when you’ve just drawn your PTO down to zero, without being obvious about it. So most people who left jobs had a few weeks of PTO accrued, which used to get paid out. Now it doesn’t. I think that’s most of the attraction, really.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            I do not think it is remotely true that “all” of SV is moving to unlimited vacation.

          • MoebiusStreet says:

            @sandoratthezoo – From managing a software team, my observation is that most of the folks with kids burn their PTO specifically *because of* the kids, between needing to stay at home with them when they’re sick, or because school was out and they needed to be watched.

            (Don’t get me started on how, when I was growing up, my parents never felt like they needed to stay home to watch me.)

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            @MoebiusStreet:

            My daughter is too young for school yet, which is actually kind of ideal. Her preschool has a two week vacation in February plus some basically reasonable holidays, not the kind of bullshit that real schools have because they set their expectations back when everyone had a stay-at-home mom.

            I manage a software team too, and for the dad on my team who’s got an elementary-school aged daughter, yeah, he ends up away from the office a lot. Some PTO, lots of WFH.

        • pontifex says:

          Four weeks’ paid vacation would be a princely offer at any US company.

          Most software engineering jobs give 2 weeks. Some companies I’ve worked for have given 3 weeks PTO to people after they stay at the company for a few years.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Four weeks is well beyond the norm, for sure. But here in Silicon Valley, for the small-to-mid-sized companies that I’ve worked for, and back when vacation was not “unlimited,” the general stance has been either 3 weeks from day one, or 2 weeks for 1-2 years and then 3 weeks, with 4 weeks being at some absurd point like 4-5 years (bearing in mind that everyone changes jobs after 2-3 years).

        • pontifex says:

          Unlimited PTO tends to work well at startups. I mean actual startups, where the company is only 2 or 3 years old, and fighting to survive and establish itself. Not fake startups where the company is 5-10 years old but just hasn’t gone public for financial engineering reasons.

          If people trust one another, you don’t need any formal guarantee that you will get time off. At most of the startups I’ve worked at, I could take off a week or two, or even more, with just a few weeks’ advance notice.

          When the company gets bigger, and trust goes away, you need formal policies and procedures for things. And paid time off is one of those things.

          I think most of the really big companies in the bay area still have defined PTO days. At least Google does. Not sure about Microsoft and Facebook? I agree that if a big company goes to unlimited PTO, it is almost certainly for cost saving reasons, and almost certainly a net negative for employees.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Microsoft’s got defined PTO, but it’s not in the Bay Area. (Well, it’s got one small branch there, but its corporate culture isn’t formed there.)

          • pontifex says:

            Right, I wasn’t trying to imply that Microsoft was primarily a Bay Area company. More like a big company that also happens to have a Bay Area presence. I guess what I wrote was a bit unclear.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Roughly 24% of US workers are in firms that do not offer PTO:
      https://www.bls.gov/bls/ncs_fact_sheets/paid_leave_mock.htm
      There’s a definite split between part-time and full-time workers. You have roughly 90% of FT with PTO, and 40% of PT with PTO.
      https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-2/paid-leave-in-private-industry-over-the-past-20-years.htm

      PTO is a cheap benefit to offer full-time professional employees…well compared to actual wages. IIRC, you do not pay taxes on the vacation time you offer employees. And your employees aren’t going to take their PTO during busy season (and companies can black out those dates anyways), so the firm isn’t really losing the most productive time anyways. Like, summer isn’t peak efficiency anyways: might as well let employees take some time off since they already aren’t being super-productive.

      It’s a win-win situation to have some amount of PTO.

      Tacking back to unlimited PTO:
      Firms that usually offer unlimited PTO are in tournament-models or are desperately cash-crunched start-ups that cannot offer other benefits. Several big companies have either flirted with or implemented unlimited PTO, and rolled it back because their employees hated it (Kickstarter, Chicago Tribune…)
      The companies flirting with it are doing so because they want to ATTRACT employees, not get a reputation for being slave-drivers. Highly educated professionals are highly sought-after, and firms are in an arms race to see who can offer the best perks.

      Unlimited vacation isn’t going to expand unless companies can figure out a way to make it work for employees.

      Now, more likely are caps on PTO hours, along with single-use pools. For instance, my last job implemented a hard-cap and grouped together all sick and vacation hours into the same pool…while also reducing our annual allotment by 2 days.

      • Deiseach says:

        Several big companies have either flirted with or implemented unlimited PTO, and rolled it back because their employees hated it

        I have no experience with this particular version but looking at a suggested model online, it says “you need to give your supervisor two weeks’ notice” which is an absolute killer for making this work.

        Easiest way for this to work for an employee is “Hey, I’m finished and it’s the slack time of the year, can I clock off at three p.m.?” or “Crap, I woke up with a toothache so I have to go to the dentist, can I take tomorrow off?” Trying to fit “Well, I think I might need to make a doctor’s appointment sometime next month if I get sick, better pick a date at random and tell the boss two weeks in advance” is more trouble than it’s worth, and if you’re not getting proper holiday time it’s not worth it. I think rolling sick leave in with holiday leave is what would cause the most resentment, because if you’re genuinely sick you are not having a fun lazy time and using up holidays to cover five days out (if you’re really sick with, say, the flu) means you lose five days of your holidays for nothing.

        I did have a job where in addition to the paid holiday time we got mandatory time off and there was always a reminder from HR “come on, you haven’t used up your annual leave and you can only carry a couple of days over, take this time off!” People tended not to take that time because eh, busy at work, but it was good to know if you did suddenly need a day off for whatever reason you had this annual leave to use up separate from holiday time.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Mandatory time off is a pretty good idea. Hell it’s straight up necessary in accounting or finance roles. Someone who refuses to take time off is probably committing fraud!

          I don’t know how this specific 2-week rule works. But that’s standard for most PTO requests, I would think. I can’t just go up to my boss today and say I am taking next week off.

        • MoebiusStreet says:

          For my team, I give them a rule of thumb: give me a week of notice for each day you want off, beyond just a single day. So I’m OK with somebody saying they need tomorrow off for an emergency, or asking for two days the week after next or so. For a whole week off, I want a month of notice.

          This seems pretty fair to me: while I need to be able to plan tasks, I can accommodate lower-impact changes more easily, so I can pass along that flexibility.

    • achenx says:

      Depending on the line of work, that could be doable. The problem I see as it applies to standard white-collar jobs is that it sounds like “we pay you based on the time you are working”, which would make it awfully hard to get away with the “salaried and exempt from overtime regulations” game that most white-collar employees fall under.

  14. sandoratthezoo says:

    Marvel’s The Defenders. Spoilers follow, and I’m sorry, but rot13 is the devil’s tongue, I can’t cope with it.

    Spoiler space

    Spoiler space

    Spoiler space

    Okay, so I’m kind of frustrated. I like a lot of things about these shows, but they really seem to have a serious ongoing problems that… it feels like they don’t even understand are problems?

    I can’t conceive of how anyone thought that the show’s handling of Alexandra was a good idea. I mean, they spend the first five episodes building her up as this implacable menace, and then they unceremoniously murder her without any payoff at all. Why was Alexandra any more threatening than anyone who’s fairly wealthy and has dealings with organized crime? NOPE, NO ANSWER. Here’s Elektra. Who, by the way, is also a mess.

    For Daredevil, at the beginning of these series, it was okay to have villains who were kind of “guys who were pretty good at kung fu,” because Daredevil, at the beginning of this series, would get into serious fights with like half a dozen ordinary criminals. I mean, he’d win, but he’d get beaten up. And when your serious enemies are “guys who are pretty good at kung fu,” you also have a certain amount of leeway in their ability. Like, someone who is “pretty good at kung fu” can have an occasional lapse and get hit now and again by someone who seems less competent, and, okay, he’s just a guy who’s pretty good at kung fu. They make mistakes.

    But news flash, guys, you then added two super-strong characters, one of whom is totally invulnerable to harm. At that point you’ve got to up your game with your supervillains, which is not something that the show seems to have realized. The enemies are still “guys who are pretty good at kung fu.” Why can Luke Cage not just tear Elektra apart? Well, because mysteriously she seems to be able to injure him? Somehow? But when she hits any of the other characters, they don’t just fly apart? And Stick can still beat her in a fight? Is Stick someone who could take apart all four Defenders?

    The movies get this. They take a lot of care to show fights and villains that respect the established abilities of the main characters. You don’t see someone punch the Hulk and stagger him, then punch Scarlet Witch unless they’re showing the tragic death of the Scarlet Witch. The Netflix shows don’t seem to have figured it out.

    PS: Oh my god, the African Hand guy. If you’re going to mention that he can slow down your heartbeat (ie, something which might actually hurt Luke), and then he fights Luke, and then you don’t show him using his secret ability then Chekov is going to shoot you. WITH HIS GUN.

    • Charles F says:

      Spoiler space lines would be way more useful if there were a hide button at the top of the post. Maybe including some at the bottom too would help? So the lines right next to where one has to look to hide the comment aren’t really spoilery.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        I considered that, but the major spoilers are in the middle of the post, not the bottom. Hide button at top would be helpful anyway! And I’m past edit window.

    • MrApophenia says:

      Yeah, the Hand was a weird decision to make the central bad guys of the Defenders. “Hey, what have been everyone’s least favorite things about the Netflix Marvel shows?” “The non-Punisher half of Daredevil season 2 and every single thing about Iron Fist.” “What if we make the Defenders all about that?”

      Given that they were starting from that point, I thought it came out far, far better than I expected. But they didn’t need to make it about that at all! In fact, there has got to be some weird behind the scenes stuff going on with that, because both Luke Cage and Jessica Jones included fairly extensive setup for a different crossover bad guy plotline involving some kind of government/corporate/??? conspiracy to create superhumans. These folks were behind Luke Cage’s powers and Nuke in Jessica Jones, and the car crash and weird chemicals that gave Jessica Jones her own powers.

      And who else do we know who got their powers from a toxic chemical spill?

      I will almost guarantee this got changed to magic ninjas at some later point in production. Which is weird, because half of the characters really don’t work in that context at all, and spend pretty much the whole series commenting on how they don’t fit into this kind of story. (By contrast, Daredevil and Iron Fist can deal with weird conspiracy stuff just fine – you can kung fu scary government guys in black suits just as easily as scary ninjas in black suits.)

      But like I say, given all the above, I thought the actual execution was nowhere near as bad as it could have been. Put another way, it was noticeably better than Iron Fist.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        “What are some other least-favorite things from the shows?”

        “Enemies who can’t challenge Luke Cage!”

        “Villains who die halfway through the series and are replaced by ciphers!”

        “Daredevil’s friends bitching at him about being Daredevil!”

        Look, to that last point, I actually totally get it. It’s very realistic for Daredevil’s friends not to love him being Daredevil and putting himself in danger all the time. And I think that Deborah Wolf and Eldon Henson do a really solid acting job on it. But on some level, guys, you need to wrap that shit up, because we are obviously not going to be watching a show about Matt Murdock not being Daredevil. I’m done with that plotline. Let Daredevil be Daredevil, in the immortal words of Aaron Sorkin.

    • Witness says:

      My favorite part of Defenders was the length. All the other series’ dragged on longer than they needed to, this one was cut to an appropriate number of episodes to tell its story.

      It wasn’t a *great* story, even by comic book standards, but at least it wasn’t a *bad* story by comic book standards, and it provided enough closure on the Stick/Hand/war for New York side of things that we can hopefully move on to something better in future seasons.

    • Orpheus says:

      This show now holds the record for the shortest time it took me to drop a show, with an impressive 3 minutes.
      I could tolorate watching a stupid fight scene between people I don’t know and the stakes of which I do not understand. I could even tolorate the bad editing and the fact that said fight is in nigh total darkness. But the migrane inducing shaky cam? No way.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        The starting scene was super dumb. But in all fairness the show improves from there.

        I do wish that they’d invest in a few really impressive martial arts fights. Like, if the actors can’t manage it, bring some stunt doubles in and put the characters in masks. Just, like, one or two per show, really show us a well-lit, technically impressive martial arts scene involving Iron Fist or Daredevil. They went really heavy on martial arts for a show that doesn’t love showing us a clear martial arts scene. I don’t hate the fight choreography the way some people do, but it’s not a clear and obvious win. It can’t be that expensive to do a really good kung fu fight. I mean, Hong Kong used to do it on budgets of negative infinity dollars.

        • MrApophenia says:

          Clearly they can do it, too. The whole project probably exists today because of how awesome the hallway fight was back in, what, the second Daredevil episode?

        • Orpheus says:

          But in all fairness the show improves from there.

          I assume so, when you are at rock bottom it is hard not to improve.

        • Zorgon says:

          A friend of mine pointed out that one of the only real problems (as opposed to the official received opinion problems) with Iron Fist was that they constructed a Martial Arts Show around an actor who can’t convincingly pull off Martial Arts.

          And in retrospect it’s a huge shame. I mean, we have three heroes with very distinct combat styles:
          – Charlie Cox portrays Daredevil as a light-footed, acrobatic boxer with an emphasis on endurance and speed over raw strength, which is unusual for Dude Hero Shows.
          – Jessica Jones is presented as barely being capable of fighting in any meaningful way, just incredibly strong, so Kristen Ritter’s inexpert flailing becomes an asset. (Not to mention that her actual skillset is “PI in a sympathetically written show”.)
          – Mike Colter does a really good job of the Impassive Tank who just brings down extreme force on enemies that cannot meaningfully hurt him (for the most part) and does an equally good job of failing to respond to enemies that find ways to work around his abilities.
          Given these three, making Danny Rand another Light Footed Kung Fu Punching Guy was a huge wasted opportunity.

          My friend’s suggestion? Well, IF billed itself as an updated kung fu show (much as LC was updated blaxploitation) and kung fu shows have come along a huge way in the last 4 decades! Where’s the Gun Kata? Where’s the Wire-Fu?

          Iron Fist had an opportunity to be completely epic. Danny Rand is supposed to be at the absolute peak of martial arts skill, and he’s routinely outclassed by pretty much EVERYONE in his own show! Now, partly this is because Finn Jones can’t carry the martial arts as well as (the completely excellent) Jessica Henwick, but that’s at least partially because her sword skills take the show beyond the generic “Hollywood Martial Arts” that the producers hoist on Jones. This is also the reason everyone loved the Drunken Master character so much (and I was disappointed he didn’t show up in Defenders).

          Imagine how awesome Iron Fist would be as a show in which Daredevil-level Generic Hollywood Ninja Dudes find themselves facing off against an opponent that’s wandered over from an entirely different martial arts world; one where even Murdock’s brand of athletic leaping about is outclassed by an guy who treats gravity like a temporary inconvenience at worst and every piece of terrain as a prop for epic stunts. With the glowing fist mainly to demonstrate that he’s not even paying attention to mortal limits. It’s breathtaking to even consider!

          But no, we have to have the pretty-boy with the curly hair and the endless whiny bullshit about how hard it is to be in the 1%, so all that can’t happen, as Finn Jones just doesn’t have the physicality for it (or the patience for all that wire-work).

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I probably would have gone the other direction with Iron Fist and made him not so much wire-work as “a guy who just seems like everyone else is inexpertly flailing.” Like almost still in combat, with just a slight movement here and a push there tangling up his combatants. But yeah, basically, Iron Fist does not stand out from the plethora of other martial artists in the series.

    • Zorgon says:

      PS: Oh my god, the African Hand guy. If you’re going to mention that he can slow down your heartbeat (ie, something which might actually hurt Luke), and then he fights Luke, and then you don’t show him using his secret ability then Chekov is going to shoot you. WITH HIS GUN.

      I’m relatively certain this was cut from the big fight at the Chinese restaurant. Soweto gets momentarily overpowered by Cage, then comes out with a very deliberate looking one-two on Luke’s chest; Luke crosses his eyes for a moment and falls back. Then when we next see him, he’s fine again. My guess is the inbetween bit was something like “Luke gets Danny to punch him in the chest with the Iron Fist to restart his heart” and it was considered too goofy or broke up the flow of the (already very confused) fight scene.

      I can’t conceive of how anyone thought that the show’s handling of Alexandra was a good idea. I mean, they spend the first five episodes building her up as this implacable menace, and then they unceremoniously murder her without any payoff at all. Why was Alexandra any more threatening than anyone who’s fairly wealthy and has dealings with organized crime? NOPE, NO ANSWER. Here’s Elektra. Who, by the way, is also a mess.

      Well, it’s kind of interesting. There’s an early, very slow fight scene between Alexandra and freshly-revived Elektra; I got the impression there that she was supposed to be functional in a fight, but it’s possible that Sigourney Weaver just isn’t up to the level of physicality needed for full fight scenes in these shows.

      Still, the show’s excellent use of Madam Gao’s chi blasts was a very good example of how to give a non-combatant a genuinely worrying role for the heroes. I can only guess they thought they had a sufficiently intense character to make her frightening just through presence, a la Kingpin, but that had to be backed up with his hideous, brutal violence. There was just nothing similar for Alexandra; if the show had been twice as long they might have been able to pull it off. As it was, in all honesty it might perhaps have been better to kill her off sooner.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Yeah, I agree with you about Soweto, and I saw the same thing. It seems like something’s about to happen, then they just rush past it. But… how troubled was the development of this show that they had to do that late enough in the process that they couldn’t either omit the mention altogether or go back and make it work?

        I doubt that Sigourney Weaver could do the fight scenes, for sure. I’d have been okay with her payoff being incredible planning or magical powers or… something. But she just didn’t have any payoff. Alexandra is fundamentally “a rich organized crime boss who is more impressed with Elektra than she ought to be and who dies the first time someone actually just stands up to her.” That should have been obvious in the first draft of the script.

        I mean, I have more complaints. Murakami is exactly like Alexandra in that they seem like they’re trying to make him a big deal but he’s… not? They totally fail to pay him off. Also he seems like he can sort of hurt Luke Cage at least somewhat, and they make no effort to explain that.

        I just don’t get it. These don’t seem like incredibly difficult problems to resolve. They shouldn’t cost a ton of money — nobody’s saying “Now do a gigantic effects scene.” The production schedule doesn’t seem like it can be all that rushed — they do two 8-13 episode shows per year. The shows are a fairly big deal: they seem like they’re among Netflix’s biggest properties. Why does this stuff happen?

      • Deiseach says:

        Wait wait wait, back up a minute lads: they had an African character in this show and they called him Soweto?

        Is this a code name or nickname for where he comes from (like calling a cowboy “Tex” because he comes from Texas) or something, because if not that is the laziest piece of crap writing I have ever heard of – “What’s some kinda African name Americans might have heard of?” “I dunno, Soweto?” because:

        Soweto is a township of the city of Johannesburg… Its name is an English syllabic abbreviation for South Western Townships.

        It’s not even from an African language of any kind, it’s an English-language acronym. Please tell me even harried scriptwriters for a cheapo chop-socky but we gotta cut back on the chop-socky ‘cos we got criticism for racial stereotypes show did not think “Soweto – ah yeah, a perfectly cromulent native language personal name for a male African person”.

        • Zorgon says:

          It gets worse – he, along with all the major villains, is suggested to be centuries and possibly millenia old.

          • Deiseach says:

            That could work – a centuries old African character assuming a name like that because “Come on, it’s not like you guys would know, realise, or care about the incongruity in the first place anyway”.

            Poking fun at “Most Americans will have a vague idea of Soweto mentioned in connection with Africa so won’t blink an eye if it’s used as a personal name for an African character” is different from that used straight or cynically is different again from this used as literal “This is a Real African Name*, so it’s all good, right?”

            *A few years back there was some fun being had by the conservative faction in Anglican/Episcopalian circles about the Real African Term(s) being used by the more liberal/progressive wing as names for processes and concepts as the themes of conventions – indaba and ubuntu were the chosen ones. People were indabaing all over the place at Lambeth and there was lots of enthusiastic using of Real African Term by self-described Caucasian North Americans to demonstrate – well, it wasn’t quite clear exactly what; one lady seems to have thought of it as a cross between being sure to put out the recycling and buying Fair Trade goods 🙂

          • MrApophenia says:

            It isn’t made explicit about that character specifically, but we do get shown that one of the other ancient immortals changes names every couple decades, so in show it is probably safe to assume that actually is an alias. On the other hand, it doesn’t necessarily follow through that any of this occurred to the writers.

        • Protagoras says:

          His name is Sowande, which seems to be Nigerian. Probably also not his real name, since they’re immortal and seem to try to hide this partly by changing their names once in a while.

          • Deiseach says:

            His name is Sowande, which seems to be Nigerian.

            Oh good, that’s a lot better. At least they did make the effort!

    • drethelin says:

      Netflix/Marvel realized that 1: people will buy/watch any stupid shit as long as it’s pandering to them, and 2: comic books nerds are actually a big enough group to justify pandering to them, and so they’re ramping up the production of minimal-effort garbage. Good fight choreographers cost money, spending time revising a script to make sense costs money, getting good writers who know how to do snappy dialogue costs money. Special effects cost money too, which is why all of the defenders are melee fighters with barely any visually distinctive superpowers.

      • Barely matters says:

        Completely true.

        Also, they’ve realized that ‘comic book nerd’ is aspirational for a large segment of the netflix audience. The comic book nerds I know watched varying amounts of Daredevil based on the strength of the Hallway Fight, and ditched JJ, LK, and IF within a few episodes. The people I know who lose their shit over things like Buffy, Firefly, True Blood, etc, absolutely love the new marvel run, and are happy to think of themselves as ‘comic book nerds’ based on watching them.

        The prediction I’d make here is that if this reading is correct, we should expect a lot of the tropes that show up in Buffy/Firefly type shows to start cropping up in Marvel properties with increasing frequency.

        • Zorgon says:

          The comic book nerds I know watched varying amounts of Daredevil based on the strength of the Hallway Fight, and ditched JJ, LK, and IF within a few episodes.

          Not really my experience, especially with Jessica Jones. I think the dividing line on that one is whether people read Alias.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Catching up. tldr is that I enjoyed it as I was watching, but after being done it didn’t feel worth the wait.

      1. They acted like Alexandra could easily stand up to the other members of the Hand, but nope. I was waiting for them to try turning on her and find out that she had hidden, even on them, something for centuries, one last trump card. OTOH, a sudden unexpected death isn’t bad.

      2. They have Luke Cage fighting stupid. Both in his own show and Defenders (I forget his fight scenes in JJ, but I bet it’s there too), he does the incredibly stupid “pick up the bad guy and throw them” move. In nearly all situations, once Luke has grabbed you, he has done the hard part: grabbing you. Especially with people who are faster than him, which is nearly everybody. Once he has grabbed someone, flail them around like a rag doll, or squeeze until you break a wrist/ankle/arm, removing them from the fight for weeks.

      3. I noticed that we are getting a lot of mooks, and mooks are boring by default. Even using dialogue to say how nasty they are doesn’t make me excited. DD season 1 was amazing because I felt Matt was in danger even fighting one guy. He always tried to ambush.

      4. They planned on having Stick in this show more than a year ago, so it was probably always going to be about the Hand. And many times Stick’s stump was noticeably longer than his hand, which bugged me. With modern production techniques it’s not that expensive to erase it digitally.

      5. I’m still processing the ending, but apparently all they needed was the bomb. If Matt had died there would have been an emotional cost, but we didn’t get that.

      6. I don’t know if I’m old but dark fight scenes aren’t interesting at all.

      7. They changed the resurrection rules between DD/Defenders and Iron Fist. In IF, once you got the magic resurrection thingy, it kept on working forever. Now it seems they need to recover the body and do a procedure on it. On that note, Gao should have have broken her hip in a half-dozen places, like taking a punch from Jessica.

  15. Eltargrim says:

    Is anyone checking out the eclipse today? I’m well outside the total eclipse region, but I should still be able to observe ~50% coverage. A reminder to observe proper eclipse safety!

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I just got a really nice look at it through the clouds in SF — just at the right amount of cloud coverage that you could look at it with the naked eye without discomfort, but still clearly see the crescent of the sun. Since then, the clouds got lighter, which makes it worse.

      • Well... says:

        You might have just seriously injured your eyes.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Oh my god, people, are you all terrified of the sky on every other day? Have you never seen the sun through the clouds? Nothing about the eclipse shoots special laser beams of eye damage. If the sun bright enough to hurt your eyes, it will, you know, actually be uncomfortable to look at, and glancing at the sun for a fraction of a second doesn’t do anything bad to you.

          Yes, if you’re pretty close to totality, some people get tempted to stare at the sun despite discomfort. Just, you know, don’t do that. Be a responsible adult.

          • Well... says:

            In normal conditions, even fairly cloudy ones, your iris automatically contracts to let in less light and fewer UV rays. During an eclipse your eye is fooled into thinking it’s safe to open up the iris, and the UV rays flood in. That’s how it was explained to me anyway.

            As I understand it, if you’re actually in the path of totality, you can safely look at the sun without protective glasses during the 2-3 minute period where it’s fully blocked out by the moon.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I don’t know why people think that there’s some magic here.

            So, look, if you aren’t pretty damn near totality, the entire pupil dilation thing is pretty much a non-starter. If it doesn’t get noticeably dim, your pupils won’t dilate that much. If you doubt this, take a picture of your eye and look at it.

            If it is quite dark and you look at a bright object, you potentially have more exposure than if your pupils were fully contracted, sure. But that still won’t mean that you will somehow fail to notice that it’s too bright to comfortably look at. Your bedroom lamp is too bright to comfortably look at when you’ve been in the dark for a long time. Do you somehow imagine that something a thousand times more intense will be comfortable?

            The deal here is: the eclipse can be a compelling sight. You can, in fact, override your discomfort and make yourself stare at the sun if you want to. People get tempted to do that even though it’s uncomfortable. Those people can end up with damage to their retinas. But if you’re just aware that the sun’s brightness can hurt your eyes and are sensible about what you’re doing, you are no more likely to burn out your eyes than you are when you come out of a long tunnel or the sun comes out from behind clouds or you come out of a dark room into sunlight.

            In my case, as I said, the sun was visible through clouds that reduced its brightness such that it was comfortable to look at (at around 60% occlusion). I assure you that my eyes were undamaged.

          • Matt M says:

            Just kinda curious here, but if it’s no more dangerous than staring at the sun on a regular day, wouldn’t regular sunglasses work just as well?

          • Randy M says:

            Sunglasses aren’t for staring at the sun, but for reducing the incidental glare, right? If you have sunglasses strong enough to gaze at the sun, I expect they’d be fine to gaze at an eclipsed sun as well.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            …don’t look at the sun while wearing ordinary sunglasses.

          • Rob K says:

            My impression from hearing about this when I was a kid was that there was some sort of fooling of the eye’s defenses going on, but as best as I’ve been able to tell recently that’s not the case; it’s just that an eclipse is about the only reason (aside from certain controlled substances, I suppose) that you’d feel sufficiently motivated to stare at the sun for an extended time to need a warning.

          • Matt M says:

            Or if you’re that crazy dude in the movie Pi.

          • Aponymouse says:

            If you have sunglasses strong enough to gaze at the sun,

            … then they’re probably not sunglasses, but welder’s glasses or some such. The amount of light reduction needed for safely looking at the sun would make them absolutely useless for looking at anything else (except super-bright stuff like welding arcs). And if your sunglasses are useful as sunglasses, they’re NOT strong enough to gaze at the sun.

            …don’t look at the sun while wearing ordinary sunglasses.

            Depends on the number of sunglasses used. I stacked 4 reasonably dark sunglasses on top of each other today and it worked really well. The sun was comfortable to look at and I didn’t get a “burned in” image of the eclipse when closing my eyes – meaning there was less light hitting the retina than if I looked at, say, a light bulb directly (not that it’s a good idea). Proper sunglasses also block higher percentage of UV than visible light, so that’s also covered.

          • MoebiusStreet says:

            The amount of paranoia out there over this is staggering. I’ve seen people saying not even to take selfies of the sun behind you, because the reflection off the surface of the phone will blind you.

            Also, as a photographer, I’ve been seeing people cautioning you not to take photos of the sun, or at least not to do so with a long telephoto lens. But I take photos with the sun in-frame all the time. It’s never hurt the camera before, and as was said above, there’s nothing magical making this any brighter than the full sun.

            And regarding long lenses – well, any photographer should know that a *wide* lens gathers more light than a telephoto. Or, looking at it the other way around, the wide lens will focus a given part of the scene into a tighter area of the sensor. So the advice they’re giving here is precisely backwards.

          • John Schilling says:

            Turning the problem around, I frequently work with satellites whose sensors really will be damaged by even brief exposure to direct sunlight. The effort required to make sure the sun is never ever in their field of view even for a second is, well, pretty substantial. I guarantee nobody here is doing that in their daily life, with their eyes or their camera. Neither were paleolithic hunter-gatherers. QED, being able to look at the full-strength sun for brief periods with negligible harm is part of the design specifications for the human eye and for most consumer electronics.

            The potential for harm comes when some clever fool tells people that a tiny corner of the sun is being blotted out and this would be so wicked awesome if they could see it, but they can’t because the remaining unblotted-out portion of the sun is too bright. But they want to see the awesome, so they try real hard to see if they can make it out against the mostly-unblottted sun.

          • random832 says:

            The amount of paranoia out there over this is staggering. I’ve seen people saying not even to take selfies of the sun behind you, because the reflection off the surface of the phone will blind you.

            I’ve never seen this argument – what I’ve seen is claims that it will permanently damage the camera sensor.

    • dodrian says:

      I’m watching through a pinhole projector. We’ll be seeing about 70%.

    • bean says:

      In Nashville. Should see about 2 minutes of totality in an hour or so. Very excited.

    • Well... says:

      I found the best photo of the eclipse I’ve seen yet. It doesn’t have any of the annoying exposure issues I keep seeing in the photos accompanying the news stories. This is more or less exactly how it looks to the naked eye: [link]

      • MoebiusStreet says:

        I’d have been very disappointed if that was the eclipse I saw. That one was a big step down from the first and second generation.

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      My oatmeal box pinhole viewer worked well, image was pretty small, but nice and clear. I lived in a part of the country that didn’t get much of the earlier partial eclipses, so this was really neat. I think next I want to try to make a pinhole viewer that allows one to see sunspots.

    • Nornagest says:

      In Idaho Falls today. Totality passed over us about an hour and a half ago. Very impressive — and, unfortunately, very hard to photograph.

      The eclipse itself was impressive enough, but they don’t tell you about how odd it looks for the sky to dim without long shadows, or to see what looks like a sunrise in every direction during totality. And they definitely don’t tell you about how the temperature drops about twenty degrees.

      (No tower of screaming faces, no cursed brand.)

      • massivefocusedinaction says:

        I was just in a partial eclipse area. It was eerie to see light that was about the level of a heavily overcast sky, but also very hard (projecting distinct shadows) very unlike a cloudy day.

    • skef says:

      I drove down to the totality area from Portland early this morning. It was neat.

    • BBA says:

      I watched it from a motel in Salem, Ore. My dad brought a bunch of fancy camera equipment but I’m too much of an amatuer, and I don’t know how to capture the surreality of a dark sky while the sun’s shining. And totality – dusk, but with light on every horizon…wow.

      I’ve seen one other total eclipse before – on a cruise ship off Australia. It was early in the morning and the locale was already so unfamiliar that the effect was somewhat diminished. (Also, it was cloudy, which didn’t help.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      Saw the ~70% in New Jersey today. I also saw the annular in 1994. I think I’m going to head somewhere to see totality in 2024; there are some earlier ones in Argentina and the west coast of Australia, but that’s a bit far to go.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I drove down to Woodburn, OR to watch it in a park. My limbs were only covered down to biceps and mid-thigh because, you know, it’s August, and I was not expecting to feel like it was 40 degrees for the overwhelming majority of the partial.
      The totality was pretty amazing. I didn’t see stars, like some people claimed we would it was more like the very first part of sunrise, 360.

    • CatCube says:

      Unfortunately I had to work, so I saw it from Bonneville Dam, where it was only 98.9% It was actually interesting how bright it still was with only about 1% of the sun showing.

      Right as the eclipse reached its maximum, fish started coming up to feed in the forebay. It was fascinating.

  16. rlms says:

    Music theory effortpost 2: scales, chords, tonality
    (previous part here.)

    Previously, we looked at the most basic building block of harmony and melody, the interval. In this episode, I will try to explain the slightly less basic blocks of scales and chords.

    There are multiple ways to define a scale (both the concept and any particular one). The dictionary would say a scale is a set of notes, ordered by pitch. Another common approach is to say it is a series of notes separated by tones and semitones[1] (i.e. major and minor seconds), plus some other restrictions such as the total number of semitones having to be 12. Under this definition, we would say that e.g. the major scale is tone tone semitone tone tone tone semitone, with specific major scales such as C major and F# major named after their starting note. But this isn’t actually a very good definition! It begs questions like “why can we only use tones and semitones?”, “why does it have to span exactly 6 tones?” and above all “what do the notes in the scale actually mean?”. So I think a better definition is this: a scale is a tonic note, and specifications of qualities of all intervals[2] with reference to that note. This might sound complicated, but it’s not. Under this definition, we would define a major scale as a tonic, a major 2nd, a major 3rd, a perfect 4th, a perfect 5th, a major 6th, and a major 7th. You may notice that all these intervals are either major or perfect. This is no accident! If we change the major ones to minor, we get the natural minor scale.

    There is one problem with this definition. It implies that all scales have 7 notes (technically, are heptatonic), but many perfectly good scales do not! The most common non-heptatonic scales are major and minor pentatonic, and the 12-note chromatic scale. However, most non-heptatonic scales can be viewed as altered heptatonic ones, for instance the major pentatonic is the major (heptatonic) scale without the 4th, 5th and 7th, and the octatonic bebop (dominant) scale is the major scale with an extra minor 7th. The special cases that can’t be seen this way (e.g. the whole tone or the chromatic) are categorically different from the ones we want to analyse using our interval-quality definition.

    As well as embodying a crucial concept, this definition of a scale also contains one: the tonic[3]. It is not only a fundamental characteristic of all Western music except some edgy stuff, but also of almost all music anywhere where pitch is important. The tonic is the home note, the note that everything else is measured relative to, and the only completely consonant note. At a specific point in a piece, there can be multiple tonics at different levels of analysis; commonly there is the tonic for the whole piece (which defines the key it is in) and the tonic for the current chord[4].

    The tonic is the most important note at whichever level you are analysing. You can take the melody from any piece of tonal music[5], and it’s very likely it will begin and end on the tonic. If a tonal piece has a bass instrument, a lot of its time will be spent playing tonics. If someone asks you to sing long notes that fit with some tonal music, you will probably sing tonics (at least, that’s usually the most natural thing to do). If someone is supposed to play the tonic and they don’t, it stands out.
    We can define chords in a similar way to scales, in fact by our chosen definition chords and scales are
    essentially the same thing! Chords commonly have fewer notes than scales (typically three, in which case they are called triads), but not always; the scale C major has the same notes in as the chord C major 13th (often written Cmaj13). However, scales and chords differ in other ways, which can be seen by comparing other definitions.

    The most important difference is that in terms of use, scales are melodic (notes are played one after another) and chords are generally harmonic (all notes played at once). A scale is ordered, and a chord is either unordered or unordered except for a specified lowest (bass) note, depending on your point of view. A scale is made up of tones and semitones (2nds), a chord is made up of 3rds.

    Now that we have these concepts, what can we do with them? Firstly, we can describe a typical piece of tonal music as having a key (tonic note with an associated scale/chord that the piece probably starts and finishes at), a chord progression (a series of chords with tonic notes that change fairly frequently), and melodies (series of notes that draw the listener’s attention, and are generally chosen from scales associated with the chords of the chord progression[6]). We can then look at each bit of the ensemble that is playing the piece and give its role with respect to this framework. For instance, in a jazz quintet there might be a horn playing melody most of the time, and a pianist, guitarist and bassist outlining the chord progression and occasionally playing bits of melody[7]; a folk singer accompanying themself on a mandolin might sing a melody and play the chord progression; an orchestra might have the woodwinds playing one melody, the horns another, and the strings the chords; and a solo violinist might just play a single melody and leave the chord progression implied.

    Secondly, we can try to answer one part of the big question of “why does music sound like it does?”. Specifically, we can partly explain why it uses the notes it does: because those notes are from scales that fit chord progressions. This begs the question “why are chord progressions like they are?”, which will be answered in the next posts.

    See child comment for an experimental music theory puzzle!

    [1] Generally speaking. Some (e.g. the harmonic minor) use other intervals too.
    [2] All non-compound intervals; most of the time in music theory we don’t care about differences in octave.
    [3] Crucial concepts so far: notes, intervals, scales, tonics. Crucial concepts yet to come: chords, resolution.
    [4] Often, especially in classical music, there is a third level: the key of the current section, which might
    be different from the key of the whole piece.
    [5] More or less music that uses the idea of a tonic.
    [6] Specifically, a chord that defines (say) the tonic, 3rd, 5th and 7th will have associated scales that fill
    in the 2nd, 4th and 6th. Sometimes there is only one widely used scale that fits a chord, other times there are multiple.
    [7] The astute amongst you will have noticed I only named 4 members of the quintet! This is because drums play a purely rhythmic role, and I’m pretending that rhythm doesn’t exist until the post discussing it.

    • rlms says:

      Recently, I came across the International Linguistics Olympiad, and had some fun doing some of its problems. When writing the post above, I realised I could design a similar kind of problem based on the “popular music” naming convention for chords. So I did! It should be solvable by people with zero musical knowledge, but that could be challenging.

      Problem:

      Below is an incomplete table of chord symbols and the notes they represent. Fill in the blanks.
      Note: notes in parentheses are optional. A single question mark may denote 1 or 2 missing characters.

      C – C E G
      D – D F# A
      Fm – F Ab ?
      Dm – ? F ?
      A7 – A C# ? G
      Amaj7 – A C# ? G#
      Gm7 – G Bb D F
      C9 – C E ? Bb D
      D9 – D ? A ? ?
      Fmaj9 – F A C ? G
      D7b9 – D ? A ? Eb
      G13 – G ? ? ? A (C) E
      Gm11 – G Bb D F ? ?
      F13b5 – F ? Cb Eb ? (Bb) D
      C9#11 – C E G Bb D F#
      Dm7b5 – D F ? C
      Fmaj9#11 – F A C ? G ?
      D7/E – E D F# A C
      F13#11 – F A C Eb ? B D
      Gmaj7#5 – G ? D# F#
      E7#11b9/Eb – ? E G# B ? ? ?
      D6 – D F# A B
      Cm6 – C ? ? A
      Gmaj13 – ? ? ? ? ? (C) ?
      C7#9#5 – C ? ? Bb ?
      N.C. –

      Extra credit: notice the secret pattern (requires some musical knowledge)!

    • Well... says:

      Only basic chords are made of 3rds. 9th chords sound great without the 3rd (as two stacked 5ths, often used in rock), and then you have chords made from stacked 4ths (can’t remember what those are called! Suspended?).

      • rlms says:

        That’s true, you can add other notes in or miss some out. Stacked 4ths are quartal chords; sus chords can often be voiced that way but are defined as having a 2nd or more commonly 4th instead of a 3rd (although confusingly they occasionally do have a 3rd anyway).

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I was excited when I saw that you were starting this series; “music theory from scratch, for people who don’t play music or understand it” is something I’ve been looking for, for a long time.

      Unfortunately, I find your posts exactly as incomprehensible as every other explanation of this 🙁

      • Winter Shaker says:

        This should make it all perfectly clear :-p

      • Have you tried treating it like maths , and working through some examples?

        • Said Achmiz says:

          No—I don’t even have any concept of what that means, in this case! What would it involve? Where would I start? Recommendations of intro textbooks or whatever would be appreciated!

          • rlms says:

            You could try textbooks or something like these exams, but most resources you can find will probably assume you can read music or want to learn.

            Some alternative things you could try:
            Memorising the notes on a keyboard (i.e. this picture). Either this or learning to read music is probably a prerequisite for other things.
            Picking a starting note and an interval (e.g. Bb and a perfect fifth) and working out what the note that interval up from the starting note is (in that case Bb). I think my previous post only had enough information to let you do that for certain intervals (3rds, 5ths, 6ths) but if you look at a table like this one you should be able to do it for all intervals.
            Doing variations on the previous step: taking two notes and working out the interval between them; taking an interval and producing pairs of notes with it between them; taking a number of semitones and working out the ways it could be named as an interval etc.
            If you are comfortable with those things, inverting intervals.

    • Jugemu says:

      I feel like these posts are moving way too fast for people who don’t already know this stuff. I still don’t feel like I know what the purpose of an interval is or why they’re constructed the way they are.

    • James says:

      Good post.

      You kinda touched on this, but how much do songs (in a basically modern pop idiom) tend to stay within their scale? In a given melodic phrase, are the notes mostly taken from i) the current chord, ii) the scale associated with the current chord, iii) the key/scale of the current section (chorus/verse/whatever), or iv) the key/scale of the whole song? And are are the chords strictly taken from the scale, or do they sometimes contain notes not in the scale?

      I ask this as a songwriter who isn’t really sure what he’s doing. My songwriting technique (which I would describe as “hunt and peck”) tends to involve stringing chords together until I find something that sounds good. This tends to be roughly but not totally compatible with a particular key. For example, it’s not uncommon for me to start a phrase with a minor chord, cycle round a bit, and then come back to end up on the major version of the same chord (or vice versa). This sounds a bit weird, but enjoyably so. I’m trying to work out how common it is.

      I sometimes see this sort of thing described as borrowing from other scales, but I’m not sure how good a way of thinking about it that is. Seems like it might be better to just admit that the scale of a song might be a bit fuzzy/not totally rigidly defined.

      Any thoughts?

      (I have another question, about chords, but I’ll wait for a bit before asking that one.)

      • rlms says:

        Thank you!

        I would say that (ii) is most common. The notes in the chord are the most important notes of the scale, so (i) is also often true. Similarly, the current chord’s scale usually shares a lot of notes with the key of the song (or the key of the section if the piece modulates), so (iii) and (iv) are often true as well. And occasionally there are chromatic notes that don’t fit in any of those categories.

        The tonics of the chords in the chord progression usually come from notes in the key scale, but there are exceptions. In a piece in C major (for instance) you might see the odd Bb major chord, but the rest of the chords will almost always have their tonic in the C major scale. The other notes in the chord also generally come from the key, but it is not uncommon for them to be outside it. Usually, chords that are outside the key (technically, chromatic chords (rather than diatonic ones)) in either way are often in a related key. For instance, although Bb major isn’t in C major, it is in F major which is closely related (and furthermore Bb is the 4th in F major, an important note). Likewise, another chromatic chord you might see in C major is D major (which has an F# rather than F). That comes from the related key G major (and D is the 5th in G major). Complicating things is the fact that a key, especially a minor one, doesn’t necessarily correspond to one scale. A major key does really only have one related scale (in the context of pop), but a minor key has several. This means that you can use both the minor and major 6th and seventh (i.e. while in C major you would usually only use A and B, in C minor you can use Ab, A, Bb and B).

        Your specific example of ending a phrase with a major version of the tonic chord is very well known! It’s called the Picardy third, and certainly not uncommon in classical music. Wikipedia also lists modern uses by the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, but I’m sure there are more.

        I agree that viewing chromatic chords as borrowed isn’t always useful. If individual chords are borrowed, I think it makes as much sense to just say they are loosely related to the key. It’s certainly possible to have chromatic chords that definitely aren’t borrowed; for instance in C major it would be silly to try to view e.g. Db major through that lens, when the relevant fact is that it’s a semitone up from the tonic.

        • James says:

          Great, really helpful, thanks.

          Complicating things is the fact that a key, especially a minor one, doesn’t necessarily correspond to one scale. A major key does really only have one related scale (in the context of pop), but a minor key has several. This means that you can use both the minor and major 6th and seventh (i.e. while in C major you would usually only use A and B, in C minor you can use Ab, A, Bb and B).

          This part surprises me. I think I’ve always thought of “key” and “scale” as synonymous. So is this to do with the existence of the harmonic minor, melodic minor, etc. scale? Or is it something else?

          Your specific example of ending a phrase with a major version of the tonic chord is very well known! It’s called the Picardy third….

          Cool!

          • rlms says:

            I would say that there’s a difference (precisely the one you suggest, where there are 4 minor scales (natural, melodic, harmonic, Dorian mode) that could be used in a minor key) but possibly actual music theorists would disagree with me. My answer might be clouded by my jazzy perspective; jazz definitely has a concept of key, but the key only corresponds vaguely to the notes you can play.

      • Art Vandelay says:

        Pop songs often stick to the pentatonic scale of the key they’re in, perhaps picking out notes in the scale that are also in the current chord. This is obviously not a rule, but when I started working out some melodies to pop songs I like I was surprised by the extent to which many of them stuck to this formula.

        This can happen even when the chords are doing something unusual and keeps the song sounding pop-y. The song Pearl of the Quarter by Steely Dan has a weird, jazzy, chromatic, descending chord sequence in the chorus, C#m7 – C7 – Bm7 – Bbm7 – Am7 – Ab7 – Dm7 – C, but the melody sticks to the C major pentatonic–C D E G A/I II III V VI.

    • rlms says:

      Thanks, people who said I was going to fast! That’s very helpful. I’ll try to explain more about intervals below, and tailor future posts accordingly.

      Music is made up of various parts. Rhythm, timbre and pitch are some of the main ones. In terms of Western music and its accompanying theory, pitch is the most interesting one. Pitch is a perceptual property of sounds (or at least so says Wikipedia) that is physically the logarithm of frequency. Play some notes on a keyboard (there’s one here). They differ in pitch; they can be higher or lower than each other.

      Now, starting at the left-most white hexagon of the middle row of the keyboard, play a sequence of adjacent notes moving right (i.e. white black white black white white black white black white black white white etc.). Each note you play is a certain amount “higher” than the previous one, and each amount is the same. Physically, the ratio of frequencies is the same in each pair, but in terms of music theory we just say that the difference in pitch is a semitone.

      If instead of playing a sequence of adjacent notes, you go two steps each time (i.e. white white white black black black etc.), the pitch differences will be double. Unsurprisingly, double a semitone is a tone[1]. And in general, if you play any two notes there will be a specific pitch difference between them. That pitch difference is called an interval. For instance, the interval between C and E (see here)[2] is four semitones.

      We could just describe intervals by the number of semitones they contain, but we don’t. The reason for this (I probably should have mentioned this in the previous post) is that one of the main uses for intervals is describing scales. In the post above, I defined a scale as a tonic note (any random note on a keyboard) plus some other notes at specific intervals above it. For instance, we could say that the major pentatonic scale is the tonic, the note 2 semitones up, the note 4 semitones up, the note 7 semitones up, and the note 9 semitones up. This might be sensible if scales were just random collections of notes. But they aren’t, they are generally restricted in other ways. For instance, a tonic plus the notes 1, 6, and 17 semitones up wouldn’t be a scale, and although a tonic plus the notes 2, 8, 9, 10, and 11 semitones up might technically be one, no-one has ever played or thought about it until now.

      So we use the more abstract system mentioned in the previous post, in the same way that you would usually pose a physics problem by describing a mass under the effects of friction and gravity, rather than one under the effects of one force that behaves like this and another that behaves like that. This means we can specify most (heptatonic) scales with six binary variables rather than six numbers between 1 and 12. And practically speaking, if you have a bit of musical knowledge you can be even more efficient, for instance a musician could describe the Phrygian scale[3] as “the natural minor with a minor 2nd” which is a lot easier than specifying all 6 non-tonic notes and also a lot more informative.

      Another important thing I mentioned in the previous post but will reiterate here is the octave. If you look at the keyboard linked above, you will see that after 12 notes (7 white, 5 black) it repeats. If you play a note and then one 12 (or 24, 36 etc.) notes above or below (they will be in the same position in each set of 12) you will hear that they sound “the same” in a sense[4]. Twelve semitones make up an octave[5]. The octave gets its characteristic sound from its corresponding frequency ratio of 2:1. For music theory purposes, notes that are octave equivalent (a whole number of octaves apart) are usually also functionally equivalent; we don’t distinguish between them.

      I hope that was useful! If you have questions, please ask.

      [1] Why is the smallest unit of pitch difference a semitone, not a tone? I don’t know, but it’s probably the fault of some medieval scholar.
      [2] Below, I will briefly try to explain the naming system for different pitches, but it isn’t that important. I will try to explicitly name notes in these posts to give clarifying examples for people with some musical experience, but the music theory content should make sense without them (it will just be a bit more abstract).

      The white notes on a keyboard are named as the letters A to G (see the picture linked above). Things commonly start at C due to historical accident. If two white notes have a black note in between them it can either be called [lower note]# or [higher note]b (# and b pronounced sharp and flat). For example, the black note between C and D is C# and Db. If two white notes don’t have a black note between them, the higher one can be called [lower note]# and lower one [higher note]b, for example C is B# and B is Cb. Naming them in this way is necessary in certain contexts, but not in isolation. The general principle here is that the note one semitone above X is X#, and the one below is Xb. A note that isn’t a sharp or flat is called a natural.
      [3] Or mode, if you want to be pedantic.
      [4] If you can’t hear this, play two notes that aren’t a multiple of 12 semitones apart and compare.
      [5] The name comes from the fact that if you play successive white notes, the 8th one is an octave from the first.

      • James says:

        due to historical accident

        Note for newbies: get used to hearing this; it comes up a lot in music theory.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        That was really confusing :/

        Do you know of any sources on this topic that go way slower than this? And give, like, a lot more background and context for everything? I’m not asking you to slow down—other people are find this useful, it seems, so that’s cool—but I’d still like to try and figure this stuff out.

        • rlms says:

          Hmm. Which bit did you get stuck at? Did you get the idea of pitch (paragraph 1)? What about differences in pitch/semitones (paragraphs 2 and 3)?

          My knowledge of basic music theory mostly comes from word of mouth from teachers in the context of playing an instrument, so unfortunately I don’t have any good suggestions. You could try the AB Guide To Music Theory Part I (I remember it being pretty clearly written), but I think that might be too advanced even if it nominally starts from scratch.

          I’ll try to give some context/motivation (in the mathematical sense) here: Western music is made up of sounds (notes) with pitches. For example, if you look at a music visualisation like this one, the notes (blue/green rectangles) have different horizontal positions depending on some property you can hear. That property is pitch. There are lots of questions we can ask about a piece of music; one of the most interesting ones is “why are the notes the pitches they are?”. For instance, we might ask “Exactly 2 minutes into the first movement of Moonlight Sonata (the linked video), why is the left-most blue rectangle where it is rather than say slightly further right?”.

          Starting from absolutely no knowledge, there are various plausible approaches you could take to try to answer this question. Maybe some pitches (horizontal positions) just sound good and others sound bad. Maybe it depends what instrument they’re played on. Maybe it depends on how loud they are. Actually, it turns out that these hypotheses are wrong. Pitches don’t really have different qualities in isolation; you get musical effects from the relationships between them. This makes sense, since if you speed up a song it gets slightly higher pitched but is fundamentally the same thing.

          So we are considering relations between pitches. If we look at pitches as points on the horizontal line in music visualisation videos, one obvious relation jumps out: the horizontal distance between two pitches. There are other plausible ones — maybe it’s actually the distance squared or something — but it turns out that the obvious one is useful.

          Another thing you might notice if you were investigating that video without any background knowledge is that although frequency is continuous, the pitches actually used in music are largely discrete. This means we can represent the distance between two notes as an integer, and we can consider things like “the distance (interval) of length 7” and “the interval of length 23”. The idea of intervals of integer length has appeared from the thing we are studying in the same way that the idea of factors might if you just set out to investigate numbers and multiplication.

          Now that we have this idea of an interval, we can use it as a component in more abstractions. It’s not at all obvious which abstractions we should make. Given a piece of music and the idea of an interval, you might want to use it by e.g. looking at the interval between the highest and lowest note being played simultaneously at any time, or look at what the average size of interval, or any number of other things. But these avenues of investigation won’t be fruitful. It’s not actually too difficult to see this. If you start playing different intervals to see what they sound like (optional exercise: do this!) you will notice that they all have different sounds, but that one (the octave) is special: notes that are separated by an octave “sound the same”. This means that our highest-lowest interval and average interval size ideas probably won’t work, since we can drastically change those values by shifting notes by octaves without changing the the sound of the music that much.

          So a better approach is to build an abstraction of a note and a load of intervals that start there, or the equivalent abstraction of a note, an interval to another note, an interval from that note to a third, and so on. This abstraction is the idea of a chord (if the notes are all played at once) or a scale (if they are played one at a time)[1]. Another way to get to this abstraction is by taking the concept of a note, extending it into the concept of multiple notes, and then applying the concept of the interval to get “notes with intervals between them”.

          [1] Simplified for the purpose of easy explanation.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Thank you for the attempt! I do appreciate it.

            If you start playing different intervals to see what they sound like (optional exercise: do this!) you will notice that they all have different sounds, but that one (the octave) is special: notes that are separated by an octave “sound the same”.

            I tried this and it’s not true!

            That aside, the thing that confuses me the most about your explanations is… well, you seem to be treating this “Moonlight Sonata”, or music pieces in general, as if they were, I dunno… things that we just found in the desert, or something. Like, “hm, this fascinating natural phenomenon has such-and-such properties, I wonder why”, and so on.

            But… for example, you say we could ask:

            Exactly 2 minutes into the first movement of Moonlight Sonata (the linked video), why is the left-most blue rectangle where it is rather than say slightly further right?

            Isn’t the answer “because whoever wrote it, put it there”?

            Or:

            Another thing you might notice if you were investigating that video without any background knowledge is that although frequency is continuous, the pitches actually used in music are largely discrete. This means we can represent the distance between two notes as an integer, and we can consider things like “the distance (interval) of length 7” and “the interval of length 23”. The idea of intervals of integer length has appeared from the thing we are studying in the same way that the idea of factors might if you just set out to investigate numbers and multiplication.

            Ok, but… not to get into the realm of philosophy of mathematics, here… but number theory is the investigation of things that, in some sense, already exist as they are; no one decided that the factors of 12 are 4, 3, 6, and 2, for example. Whereas in a piece of music, what pitches are used are just… what pitches the composer decided to use. Right? (Or are you suggesting that music is “discovered”, plucked out of the Platonic realm in the same way that integers are??)

            (I don’t mean to be difficult; it’s just all very puzzling…)

            You could try the AB Guide To Music Theory Part I (I remember it being pretty clearly written), but I think that might be too advanced even if it nominally starts from scratch.

            Hm, is it this one? It says the format is “sheet music”, though…

          • James says:

            I tried this and it’s not true!

            A better way of putting the describing the octave relation might be to say that the same note in different octaves sounds the same with respect to other notes; changing a note’s octave doesn’t change its relationship to another note. For instance, a C in any octave will sound consonant with a G in any octave, and dissonant with an F-sharp in any octave. (OK, this only holds within limits—if the two notes you’re comparing are too many octaves away from each other then these consonances/dissonances become harder to hear.)

            Ok, but… not to get into the realm of philosophy of mathematics, here… but number theory is the investigation of things that, in some sense, already exist as they are; no one decided that the factors of 12 are 4, 3, 6, and 2, for example. Whereas in a piece of music, what pitches are used are just… what pitches the composer decided to use. Right? (Or are you suggesting that music is “discovered”, plucked out of the Platonic realm in the same way that integers are??)

            I’d say that music theory is weird because it’s describing a mixture of things that are discovered and things that are invented (without, in general, bothering to distinguish between the two). Some of the things under discussion are natural, scientific, near-mathematical laws, like how certain notes sound consonant with each other because their frequencies are in a simple ratio to each other (like 3:2 or 5:6). (There are psychoacoustic/physical reasons why this is pleasing to the ear, but it’s not worth going into right now.) Others are basically conventions of our particular tradition. Composers and writers sometimes obey these rules/conventions and sometimes toy with them.

          • rlms says:

            @Said Achmiz
            Regarding octaves, listen to this. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is played first times: the first time in unison (one note at a time), the second time in octaves (I put a copy of the notes an octave higher), and the third time in major thirds (I put a copy of the notes a non-octave higher). You should be able to hear that that the second version sounds like an embellished version of the first, but the third should sound completely different. Octaves often appear naturally if you are e.g. singing along to a song by someone of the opposite sex: you often will not be able to sing as high/low as them and will instinctively change octaves.

            “Isn’t the answer “because whoever wrote it, put it there”?” is a good question! One answer is “yes, but why did they put it there?”. You could look at what we are doing as a kind of science, where we are given some evidence in the form of pieces of music and have to analyse them to come up with a theory that can predict what future pieces will be like, or take pieces with missing bits and fill them in. Or you could view it as analogous to e.g. analysing poetry. Look at the third line of Ozymandias (“Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,”). Why does it end with “sand”? You could just answer that with “because that’s what Shelley decided”, but it’s possible to give more interesting answers like “because ‘sand’ rhymes with ‘land’ in the first line”, “because ‘sand’ is one syllable long so it fits the metre”, or even “because it makes grammatical sense”. Equivalent answers for music are less intuitively obvious — they require more theory to work them out — and usually more objective than interpretations in literary criticism, but they are the same kind of thing. As James says, some parts of music theory are just common conventions (analogous to prescriptive bits of grammar or specific rhyme schemes), and other parts are more universal/intrinsic (analogous to the idea of rhyme itself). My posts will mostly talk about the latter.

            Regarding that theory book, yes it’s that one. It’s not (just) sheet music, but it does have sheet music in. I’m pretty sure that it explains how to read music as it goes along. I don’t think you need to learn to read music to understand music theory, but it might help and I think you’d struggle to find a theory book that doesn’t include sheet music.

          • dodrian says:

            James’ comment really explains why I struggle with music theory.

            It starts off from a scientifically and mathematically sound basis, but then incorporates a bunch of fudges so that the science lines up with the practice.

            I was particularly thrown when I learned to count time – there’s no ‘0’ beat, and for some reason it took me a while to figure out how to read rhythms and knowing when to come in on a piece (I was fine copying others, I just couldn’t go from paper to beat).

            I’m looking forward to more posts from @rlms, as my theory knowledge is still pretty poor, but I don’t think I could have understood them this far without the practical experience of singing in a choir for a number of years. It’s only having the intuitive/practical knowledge of what to do that I’ve been able to appreciate the theoretical knowledge of why. All the non-musical subjects I’ve studied have the theory and practice work much more closely together!

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @rlms

            Regarding octaves, listen to this. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is played first times: the first time in unison (one note at a time), the second time in octaves (I put a copy of the notes an octave higher), and the third time in major thirds (I put a copy of the notes a non-octave higher). You should be able to hear that that the second version sounds like an embellished version of the first, but the third should sound completely different.

            Hmm. Nope :/

            @James

            For instance, a C in any octave will sound consonant with a G in any octave, and dissonant with an F-sharp in any octave.

            What does “sound consonant” and “sound dissonant” mean? Isn’t that just subjective…? Or are these technical terms for something?

            certain notes sound consonant with each other because their frequencies are in a simple ratio to each other (like 3:2 or 5:6).

            So, wait a second, is this actually true??

            Is there any research about this? Actually, now that I think of it, maybe that would be easier for me to digest—could you point me to some good papers on the subject?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The Twinkle demo is great!

            Said,
            An A note “is” 440 Hz. But no instruments produce pure tones. Instead they produce a mixture of overtones, a certain combination of 440, 880, 1320, etc, the exact mixture depending on the instrument. And it’s not just notes an instruments, but all sorts of natural sounds have this structure. So if you play a 440 A and also the next higher 880 A, your mind could interpret the extra 880 and its overtones as just different overtones of 440, that is, the “same” A, but played on a different instrument. This interpretation should happen naturally, without any exposure to music, because notes with overtones are natural, while chords are only produced by humans.

            Whereas, if you play 440 and also 660, that’s definitely two different notes. You could interpret it all as overtones of 220, the A below, but it’s obvious to the brain that the main tone is missing. The consonance of a pair of notes is the proportion of overtones that they share. I think people do generally hear consonance as good, but that might be from exposure to music designed around this idea. Birds don’t make chords, but they do use consonant intervals, from one note to the next.

          • rlms says:

            @Said Achmiz
            Hmm. Listen to this, where I’ve added a fourth version. The third and fourth versions should sound like a different kind of thing to the first version (they should also sound different to each other, but both be different in another way to the first). The second is the same kind of thing as the third and fourth, but it shouldn’t sound different to the first in the same way that they do.

            Consonance and dissonance are subjective, but relative consonance/difference of different musical things is agreed on widely enough for it to be a useful thing to talk about. It is definitely true that the characteristics of intervals come from frequency ratios! As far as I know, Pythagoras was the first known person to discuss it. See here for a table of intervals and frequencies, and here are some articles on it (1, 2, 3). But most stuff on this subject is written from the perspective of comparing different tuning systems, which might be confusing. The basic idea is that just temperament is the ideal, but instruments that use it can only play in one key well, so usually other tuning systems that compromise in some aspects in exchange for increased ability to play in different keys are used.

          • James says:

            What does “sound consonant” and “sound dissonant” mean? Isn’t that just subjective…? Or are these technical terms for something?

            They’re describing the perceptual, experiential qualities of the sound—in a nutshell, whether they sound “pleasant” or not—so in that sense, you could call them subjective. But they’re so widely shared that it’s not just a matter of taste, if that’s what you mean by subjective. The particulars vary, but I think the most consonant intervals (i.e. ratios) are present in pretty much all musical traditions. Certainly the octave (a 2:1 ratio) seems to be present in pretty much all musical traditions.

            So, wait a second, is this actually true??

            Yes, totally!

            Is there any research about this? Actually, now that I think of it, maybe that would be easier for me to digest—could you point me to some good papers on the subject?

            I don’t know about papers or research—it’s almost too fundamental to do research on. But here are some links:

            This page says a bit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interval_ratio
            And ‘Frequency and Harmony’ and ‘Tuning Systems’ on this page could be useful: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_and_mathematics
            A lot of ‘Tuning Systems’ is too technical, especially the parts comparing the details of different tuning systems, but it does have a table of ratios vs. interval names which may be useful for you to look at.

            Maybe I need to do my own effortpost on this, because it’s fascinating and makes music a bit clearer, and there’s one important part about it that never gets done right.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Douglas Knight:

            Ah, interesting!

            Ok, so if I’m understanding this right, what’s going on is basically a mixture of physics (acoustics) and psychophysics, yes? Like…

            But no instruments produce pure tones. Instead they produce a mixture of overtones, a certain combination of 440, 880, 1320, etc, the exact mixture depending on the instrument.

            This is because of the physical properties of instruments, right? And how sound works? That this is a pattern of what frequencies are generated?

            So if you play a 440 A and also the next higher 880 A, your mind could interpret the extra 880 and its overtones as just different overtones of 440, that is, the “same” A, but played on a different instrument.

            And this is a matter of psychophysics, presumably. (Have there been studies done on this? It doesn’t seem to be true, in my experience, so clearly this varies across individuals, but what’s the degree of variation? Is it correlated with culture, etc.?)

            Whereas, if you play 440 and also 660, that’s definitely two different notes. You could interpret it all as overtones of 220, the A below, but it’s obvious to the brain that the main tone is missing.

            Same question as above! (Also, has there been any research as to why our brains do this, or do it like this and not otherwise? (those that do, anyway) Because it seems pretty arbitrary, right? Why is 440 not the same as 220, or 660, etc., but 440 and 1320 are the same…)

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @rlms:

            Hmm. Listen to this, where I’ve added a fourth version. The third and fourth versions should sound like a different kind of thing to the first version (they should also sound different to each other, but both be different in another way to the first). The second is the same kind of thing as the third and fourth, but it shouldn’t sound different to the first in the same way that they do.

            I’m sorry, I really don’t hear/know what you’re talking about :/ They all sound similar-ish, but slightly different? But it seems like you’re expecting me to hear something more specific than that, which, well, I guess I just don’t follow.

            But most stuff on this subject is written from the perspective of comparing different tuning systems, which might be confusing. The basic idea is that just temperament is the ideal, but instruments that use it can only play in one key well, so usually other tuning systems that compromise in some aspects in exchange for increased ability to play in different keys are used.

            Whoa, you’ve definitely lost me. What’s a “tuning system”? What’s “temperament” or “key”?

            Well, thanks for the links! I’ll give them a read and see if they clear things up.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @James:

            I don’t know about papers or research—it’s almost too fundamental to do research on.

            What?! This is a non-trivial, indeed quite substantial, claim! (“Humans find such-and-such combinations of sounds more aesthetically pleasing than other combinations of sounds”, etc.) There’s no way there hasn’t been research on this. How can you know it’s true, then??

            Thanks for the wikipedia links. They are rather too technical to clarify much, I’m afraid.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The existence of overtones is a physical observation. For something to produce a sound that is anywhere near a pure sound, it needs to be tuned for it; it needs some resonance. But most things that resonate a frequency also resonate its overtones (or perhaps only the odd ones). Resonance has to do with lining up with the shape of the object. A wave that is twice as fast fits twice in the same space and thus also lines up with the same object. Different resonators vary in how much energy winds up in the different overtones.

            That a chord of two notes an octave apart sounds like one note is a psychoacoustic claim, but I motivated it from interpretation of the world—a variety of natural resonators are common, and chords are rare. There is a further claim that two such notes played not in a chord, but successively also sound “the same” that is harder to explain and might be a psychoacoustical consequence of the first, or might be

            These physical explanations do not single out the factor of 2, although I might be missing other physical reasons. Under this theory, if you play 220 and 660 together, they should sound like a single note. (And they do, to me, but I could be fooling myself. Or maybe I have a naive ear.) Under this theory, sounding “the same” is not transitive. 220 is the same as 440 and 660, but 440 and 660 are not themselves the same note. But musical convention singles out the number 2 and declares 220 and 660 not to be the same. And probably experience makes most people hear them as different.

          • rlms says:

            @Said Achmiz
            Yes, I wasn’t expecting that paragraph to make sense immediately, but if you read the links and sort-of-but-not-quite understand them then go back to it, it might make things clearer.

            @Douglas Knight
            I think the octave behaves differently to the other overtones simply because it is the first one — 2 is a special number in a lot of ways. The other non-power-of-two overtones shouldn’t sound like the same note, especially if you shift them by octaves (see here, ratios are 2:1, 3:1, 3:2 and 5:1). But I agree that 3:1 is very consonant, I think that’s partly because it’s an early overtone, and also partly because 3:2 (the more common version) is the second most consonant interval after the octave and all intervals sound more consonant if you add octaves.

          • James says:

            What?! This is a non-trivial, indeed quite substantial, claim! (“Humans find such-and-such combinations of sounds more aesthetically pleasing than other combinations of sounds”, etc.)

            Sure.

            There’s no way there hasn’t been research on this. How can you know it’s true, then??

            Well, from personal experience, and from the fact that everyone else’s experience seems to agree. It would be a bit like publishing a research paper showing that people find sugar sweet. Certainly it could be done, but it’s not exactly Nature-worthy.

            It isn’t primarily covered in papers because most of it has been known for centuries, longer than people have been writing papers! (I think Pythagoras was the one who noticed that frequencies in the ratio of 3:2 sounded nice, for instance.)

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @James:

            Here are 19 different articles/papers/etc. on the psychophysics of taste, specifically on what tastes sweet to people and why. The last 6 of those are, in fact, in Nature. The last one is literally all about “people find sugar sweet”. (They were taken from only the first page of search results on Nature‘s website.)

            Music seems like a much more interesting and complicated topic[1]! Surely there’s at least this much research about this stuff?

            That’s what I’m looking for: the theory. Otherwise none of it makes any sense; it’s all very arbitrary-seeming (possibly this is partly because I have no idea what people are talking about when they say “listen to this; doesn’t this thing sound the same as this other thing, doesn’t this third thing sound nicer than this thing here, etc.” I mean, there’s got to be some theoretical underpinning here besides “this sounds nice”, right?)

            [1] Meaning no offense to psychophysics researchers, of course.

            Edit:

            It isn’t primarily covered in papers because most of it has been known for centuries, longer than people have been writing papers!

            Well, people have “known” lots of things for centuries, right? And then we (i.e., scientists) investigated and found out that that some of them weren’t true at all! And others were. But we didn’t know that until we checked. So… has anyone checked?

          • James says:

            Here are 19 different articles/papers/etc. on the psychophysics of taste, specifically on what tastes sweet to people and why. The last 6 of those are, in fact, in Nature. The last one is literally all about “people find sugar sweet”. (They were taken from only the first page of search results on Nature‘s website.)

            Music seems like a much more interesting and complicated topic[1]! Surely there’s at least this much research about this stuff?

            OK, yes, there probably are such papers. But my belief that sugar is sweet doesn’t rest on them, and nor does anyone else’s. They come more from personal experience.

            That’s what I’m looking for: the theory. Otherwise none of it makes any sense; it’s all very arbitrary-seeming (possibly this is partly because I have no idea what people are talking about when they say “listen to this; doesn’t this thing sound the same as this other thing, doesn’t this third thing sound nicer than this thing here, etc.” I mean, there’s got to be some theoretical underpinning here besides “this sounds nice”, right?)

            Douglas Knight is giving the closest thing to a theoretical underpinnings that I’m aware of in this thread: that objects resonate at multiple frequencies, which are integer multiples of a certain “fundamental” frequency, so when two objects’ fundamental frequencies are related by a simple integer ratio, some of those higher-frequency vibrations (their “overtones”) will match and be at the same frequency. I don’t think the reason why this matching is perceived as sweet/pleasant is well-understood, but it may have something to do with stimulating the brain/ear’s object detection system. Frequencies that line up like this usually come from a single object in nature, so when two different sound sources have the right kind of frequency they can “trick” the brain, sorta seeming to meld into one source and yet remaining separate.

            Yes, that gets handwavy towards the end, but I think it’s the best we have.

            possibly this is partly because I have no idea what people are talking about when they say “listen to this; doesn’t this thing sound the same as this other thing, doesn’t this third thing sound nicer than this thing here, etc.”

            If you really can’t hear a difference in quality between the intervals people are describing as consonant and those they’re describing as dissonant, you might be amusic.

            edit: here’s some empirical work which may be what you’re looking for: http://sethares.engr.wisc.edu/consemi.html
            Note the curves of consonance and dissonance against frequency ratio/interval.

    • Zorgon says:

      Thank you for this series!

      Music theory, like electronic engineering, is one of those things I know a little bit about and have always wanted and failed to study in any serious depth. I appreciate you making my lifelong akrasia tension a tiny bit easier 😉

    • Charles F says:

      Firstly, we can describe a typical piece of tonal music as having a key […] [the melody’s notes are] generally chosen from scales associated with the chords of the chord progression

      So, this is something I’d be interested in hearing more detail about. I’ve been a bit confused for a long time about what a key really is. The simplest explanation to me has always been, “pick the key that minimizes accidentals, so it’s easy to read” and that often gets the “right” key (and matches with what you said about notes mostly chosen from that scale). But I’ve known a bunch of people who can just hear the key, like if I take a piece that was written in C, and shift it into F, they can tell what I’m doing. And I certainly couldn’t process fast enough to even get a general sense of relatively how often all the notes are being played, so I think they’ve got to be pattern-matching on something else.

      And what’s especially kind of odd to me is that most pieces have just one key that fits. I don’t know of any styles outside of twelve-tone melodies where notes are distributed so that multiple keys (or every key) fit pretty much equally well. Why would the music people normally come up with be clustered like that? Is it a case of our system of notation influencing the sorts of music we create or does the system naturally match what we would come up with anyway?

      Sorry if that’s kind of nonsensical, I really should just take a proper music theory class.

      (edited: clarity, formatting, expanded on a bit of it)

      • rlms says:

        I think you’re talking about a key signature (the sharps/flats written at the start of a piece of sheet music), which is different to the concept of a key that I’m talking about. A key signature is a notation device that uses the concept of a key to make sheet music easier to read, whereas a key is a property of the music itself. The idea of a key can be applied to music from before key signatures, or to music that has never been written down.

        A key can mean two slightly different things. If you say a piece is in a minor key, you are saying it is based around a minor scale but you’re not specifying the tonic of that scale, or any of the other actual notes that are used. If you say a piece is in the key of A minor (if you just said A, it would be assumed to be major) you are additionally specifying the tonic, and therefore all the other notes (because you can work them out from the scale). Key signatures come from the fact that major scales can be specified by the number of sharps or flats in them (if you say that a scale has 3 sharps you can work out what they are without being told)*, and minor scales can be got by shifting major scales (this is the idea of a relative minor). So most pieces only have one key signature that fits, and indeed a piece that stays in the same key does have exactly one correct key signature, because they are only ever in one key at once (apart from some edgy stuff) and each key has one corresponding key signature.

        The reason that people (a very broad group including Gregorian monks, Western classical composers, New Orleans jazz, Eastern European folk, Arabic classical music, modern afrobeat etc. but probably not Indonesian gamelan or most African drumming) make music that is in a specific key (for a slightly broader definition of key that includes scales other than the major and natural minor) is probably a combination of an innate human tendency towards that and consequences of the kind of music people happened to make in ancient Mesopotamia or somewhere. But the reason that Western music largely uses permutations of the major scale, and especially the two permutations that are the major and natural minor, quite probably involves notation. I think that alternate histories where people didn’t decide to start using key signatures in the 17th century, or started using key signatures in a different way, are plausible and would have lead to somewhat different music. Actually, you can probably hear those alternative kinds of music by listening to e.g. Eastern European music, since the alternate histories basically happened in non-Western-European countries.

        Regarding people who can hear what key a piece is in, I imagine they can hear the tonic and either recognise it using perfect pitch or in some other way.

        * Numerically there are 12 different major scales written as having either 0-6 flats or 0-6 sharps, 0 flats and 0 sharps both being C major and 6 flats and 6 sharps being F#/Gb major.

        • Charles F says:

          Thanks for the response.

          6 sharps being F#/Gb major.

          I think this is either a typo or we’re using different definitions. There are only five possible sharps as far as I know. I guess you could call the F in F# major an E# and not exactly be wrong, but as far as I know that’s not a thing people actually do.

          I think you’re talking about a key signature (the sharps/flats written at the start of a piece of sheet music), which is different to the concept of a key that I’m talking about

          I was, and they are technically different, but I think usually the key signature that you put on the sheet music matches the key that you’re talking about, precisely because the notes are mostly chosen from the scale based on your key, so choosing that key for the key signature minimizes accidentals.

          So I think despite being separate concepts, they usually are pretty closely linked. But still, sorry for equivocating between them in what I guess must have been an odd way.

          if you say that a scale has 3 sharps you can work out what they are without being told

          Typo? Eb and A (major) both have exactly three. (And they’re a different three)

          ETA:

          Regarding people who can hear what key a piece is in, I imagine they can hear the tonic and either recognise it using perfect pitch or in some other way.

          This trait certainly seems much more common than perfect pitch. (Though I’m pretty certain “can place a note on the chromatic scale” doesn’t imply perfect pitch.) So what are the other ways? And how would one hear the tonic?

          • rlms says:

            You’re welcome! Yes, we are using different definitions (and mine is right!) People do/should call the F in F# major an E#. Looking at the key signature is probably the easiest way to see why calling F E# is a good idea. Imagine that you had a piece in F# major, and you didn’t put a sharp for E in the key signature. Then you would have to put an accidental for every single E(#) (in the same way that you’d need one for every F(#) if you wrote a piece in G major without a key signature). So even though it’s weird, it makes sense. Another perspective is that a scale has exactly one of each degree of interval, and therefore exactly one of each letter name (because that’s how our naming system for intervals works). If you say that F# major has an F and an F#, you’re saying it has a diminished 1st as well as a perfect one (more clearly, if you say Gb major has a Bb and a B, you’re saying it has a major 3rd and an augmented one, but no 4th, which is wrong, so you call B Cb). The confusing thing is that while sharps/flats and black notes (or notes that can’t be named with letters alone) are mostly the same, they aren’t always. E# and Cb (and for that matter Fb and B#, which don’t come up in normal key signatures) are perfectly proper notes.

            Key signature and key are definitely inextricably linked (at least, key signature is inextricable from key; keys still exist apart from notation). But I think your confusion was partially caused by looking at them as identical: you can pick a key signature to write down a piece with, but the key is a property of the piece not the notation.

            A major has 3 sharps, Eb major has 3 flats!

            Edit:
            The tonic is usually pretty easy to hear (at least in the tonic chord). In modern popular instrumental music, it’s the note the bass keeps coming back to (it might be less obvious if you’re talking about a choir or something). If there’s context, i.e. you played the piece in C and then up a 4th in F, they will probably remember the old tonic when they hear the new piece and see that the new one’s different.

            Unless by playing it in C and then in F you mean that you play the same notes apart from the ones that differ in the key signatures, in which case the scales will be different which will probably be quite audible (because one of the scales will be “wrong”).

          • Charles F says:

            People do/should call the F in F# major an E#.
            [explanation]

            Oh, yeah. That makes sense. In my defense I think I haven’t ever actually seen a piece with an F# key signature.

            A major has 3 sharps, Eb major has 3 flats!

            Makes sense again. Thanks.

            If there’s context, i.e. you played the piece in C and then up a 4th in F, they will probably remember the old tonic

            I meant up a 4th with no context, and often with a piece they hadn’t heard before.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      By the way, rlms, since you’re doing a series of music theory effortposts on this splendidly nerdy blog, I would like to put in a word for the Jankó keyboard, the ultimate piano layout for rationalists 🙂

      Sadly very few of them in existence (despite a small but devoted fanbase developing prototype modifications of the basic idea), but it really makes explicit the relationships between the intervals in a way the regular piano keyboard doesn’t.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        The Janko keyboard is intriguing– I speak as someone who used to play piano and has small hands. A nine note spread was barely possible.

        I’m surprised no one is making an electronic version, but maybe 3D printing needs to be more advanced.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          I just tried to reply, and it didn’t post, so I assume the spam filter didn’t like all my links, so you’ll just need to google these: the Chromatone keyboard from Japan seems to have been generally available, though the world still awaits the Daskin keyboard and the Lippens keyboard to make it out of prototype and onto the market.

          Those are all subtle modifications of the basic Jankó design. I myself even have a Fröhlich brand Logicordeon – an accordion with the same keyboard, though annoyingly, one with only four rows, when you really need at least 5 to avoid awkward hand positions, but it’s the best you can get without having one custom-built at insane expense. Sadly, the whole thing seems to be just a bit too niche for anyone to be willing to invest the zillions to get it mass-manufactured and mass-marketed so as to become affordable to people who weren’t already devotees.

    • MoebiusStreet says:

      Coincidentally, I’ve been listening to a collection of old “Omnibus” TV shows featuring Leonard Bernstein explaining a whole bunch about music. One trio of these seeks to draw a parallel between music theory and linguistics, casting the tonality stuff you’ve discussed as linguistic phonology. So it’s interesting that you’d see such a parallel with your quiz at the end.

      But one of the things he points out is the jazz scale, which you’ve described as “the major scale with an extra minor 7th”. Bernstein explains this very differently. In his view, the note that belongs there is somewhere between the minor 7th and major 7th – one we can’t get to on an instrument that only voices discrete semitones such as a piano (and of course this goes back to Bach and the well-tempered keyboard). So the jazz musician fudges this by blending the minor and major notes, letting your brain interpolate between the two.

      Anyway, what you’ve covered so far is stuff I’ve already encountered in my not-very-successful attempts to learn to play guitar. I’ve since faced the fact that I’ve just got no talent in this area, and found I can express myself better in photography. But anyway, the bridge I haven’t been able to cross is how a scale implies a chord *progression*, or at least a set of them to choose from. I’m hoping you’re going to intersect with that topic in the future.

      • rlms says:

        That sounds interesting! Are they they on youtube?

        I think me and Bernstein might be talking about different things. It sounds like he is talking about blue notes/the blues scale, where notes such as the major 7th and the major 3rd are flattened for effect. I’m talking about the bebop dominant scale (if people say “bebop scale” without qualification this is the one they mean). Bebop scales are normal 7-note scales with an extra chromatic note inserted somewhere. The usual explanation for this extra note is that it makes the scale work better rhythmically: if you start on the 1st, 3rd, 5th or 7th (i.e. a chord tone) and run up or down then all the chord tones will be on strong downbeats, which sounds better. Bernstein’s explanation could be applied to some of the bebop scales, but not all of them.

        You sound pretty knowledgable for someone who claims to have no talent! I do plan to look at chord progressions (although I’d say that the causal arrow goes the other way; a chord progression implies a set of scales), so stay tuned.

  17. apollocarmb says:

    anybody know why I cant reply to posts after a certain point in a chain of replies?

    • baconbacon says:

      No one can to stop the nesting going on for ever, just reply to the same comment they replied to and it will end up in line.

      • Eltargrim says:

        Expanding on this, for the sake of clarity please make some effort to identify which post or user you’re replying to. @user notation is one option, as is quoting the text directly.

      • apollocarmb says:

        thanks

  18. Rock Lobster says:

    I’m looking to read through Plato. Any suggestions on translations? I don’t really have any problem with just doing Jowett if that’s what’s best or if it’s not quite best but optimal insofar as I wouldn’t have to make a bunch of decisions.

    Any opinions specifically on the complete collection edited by Cooper?

    • Urstoff says:

      Best to pick up individual works. Most Hackett/Penguin/Oxford translations are good. Grube/Reeve Republic is essential.

    • Protagoras says:

      Cooper has some of the better regarded translations, and they’re certainly much better than Jowett. It’s not my speciality, so something may have escaped my notice, but if there’s a better collection than Cooper I haven’t heard of it.

    • ResonantPyre says:

      I’ve also heard that the Cooper one is basically definitive. I bought it recently but haven’t read it yet. Buying one that has everything in it is so much nicer than having to hunt down a bunch of smaller collections or individual works.

      I have read Alan Blooms translation of The Republic which was excellent. It’s a very literal translation and is accompanied with many notes explaining certain translation choices or cultural references. The essay at the end alternatively summarizing and analyzing the book helps to place your own understanding of it in perspective.

      As a note of advice, when choosing between two translations which both have good reputations for accuracy, I recommend reading excerpts of both to see which translation flows better with you. This is particularly true with longer works where you want something that can keep your attention. Most of these works are available online, at least in part.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I own and love the Cooper complete works.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      I teach out of Cooper. Thumbs up.

      • sierraescape says:

        What is there to learn from it?

        • Nick says:

          Is that a rhetorical question? Or a Socratic one? Plato is one of the most common authors taught in philosophy classes. There’s a lot to talk about: his theory of Forms, his theory of knowledge, or his political philosophy, for three.

        • Philosophisticat says:

          Where else are you going to find out that the just man is seven hundred and twenty nine times happier than the unjust man?

    • Rock Lobster says:

      Thanks for the replies everyone. Sounds like Cooper strikes the best balance between good quality and me not having to stress out chasing down/deciding between a bunch of individual translations for each dialogue, so I’m gonna go with that.

  19. HFARationalist says:

    Theists, how much evidence is sufficient to convince you to abandon your current form of theism?

    Non-theists, how much evidence is sufficient to convince you to convert to theism?

    • HFARationalist says:

      In fact it is easy to convert non-theists to theism. Replicate some Old Testament miracles. Why was there almost no faith in that book? Because there is sufficient evidence to show that the Abrahamic God exists in the book such as miracles. However there is no evidence that the miracles in that book aren’t fictional.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Okay, so I come over to your house one day and am like, “Hi, HFARationalist, I’m here to convert you to theism. I have this staff. Now it’s a snake!”

        And, heck, let’s say I go beyond the Old Testament miracles and I patiently and conscientiously repeat the miracle a dozen times, letting you carefully test for all the various illusions that you might imagine could create this effect. I let you bring in any number of witnesses who attest to you that, yes, they see this too, you are not just suffering a psychotic break. You sleep on it and come to the conclusion that you can not see any way for this to happen according to how you understood the world to work yesterday.

        Are you in fact now a theist? Do you accept on this evidence that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god who is the ultimate moral arbiter and who it is rightful for you to sincerely worship? Or did you just add “plus there’s some as-of-yet unexplained way to turn staves into snakes” to your worldview?

        • HFARationalist says:

          If that happens I’m going to film the weird incident and then put it on Youtube. I will then ask you to see Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, James Randi etc and replicate the miracle. In the end this will be publicized and we will believe that there is something weird about the universe. It will certainly make Abrahamic theism much more likely than what it used to be.

          I don’t think theism requires any moral belief. Instead all I care about is whether there is some superpower humanity can not escape from that demands submission from humanity. If such a superpower exists we will have to submit for our own interests. That’s it. I don’t care about whether such an entity is omnipresent , omnipotent or omniscient as long as They/It monitor and can overpower humanity. I don’t care about whether such a superpower is benevolent or malevolent. All that matters is that we can’t evade Them/It.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Let me suggest that if we stipulate Christianity as something within shouting distance of true, their God is uninterested in you making a considered, amoral choice to submit to his authority. So to the extent that you’re taking “lack of staves turning to snakes in my living room” as evidence for anything, I don’t think it’s providing evidence for what you think it’s providing evidence for.

            I think everyone can agree that there is ample evidence that it is not true that there is an omnipotent (or just super-powerful) god-figure out there who is staying up nights fretting because it can’t figure out how to convince humanity that there exists a supernatural presence in the world.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @sandoratthezoo I believe that humanity should investigate all potential miracles because if there indeed exists a sentient entity stronger than humans and demand obedience from humanity we’d better comply as long as the sentient entity can force us to comply.

            The Abrahamic God isn’t an entity that is morally very lovable at all. In fact I would rather deal with many polytheistic deities instead of AG. It’s good that AG does not demand human sacrifice. However AG is still very deadly if He is actually real. Serving Him is just like serving a stronger form of Kim Jong-un or Stalin. There is no point in loving an entity that exterminated almost the entire human species in Noah’s Flood, has billions in hell/Gehenna/Jahannam and will cast billions into the Lake of Fire forever. In fact if a human dares to do what AG is said to do we will overthrow that human and put them on trial.

            It is as moral to love AG as it is to love Stalin or Kim Jong-un. I understand that you sometimes have to do so because you believe that can’t get rid of or get away from AG. However loving AG is certainly not a very noble thing to do…

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            You’re arguing against some construct in your mind, not something I said.

            You suggested that it was “easy to convert non-theists to theism.” Then you provided an assertion that it was in fact each to convert non-theists to “people who respect the authority of a dictator.”

            The claim of all major religions is not that their gods want people to “respect the authority of a dictator,” it’s that they want people to accept the benevolence and moral authority of their gods, to sincerely worship.

            It doesn’t seem like providing miracles would in fact cause you, at least, to submit to the moral authority of a god, or to sincerely worship the god. So presumably the god has no particular interest in showing you miracles, if they exist.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @sandoratthezoo AG can not claim any moral authority when He is one of the worst dictators who have ever existed assuming that AG is real.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            You’re still not arguing with me. I have made no claim about whether the Christian god is or is not moral.

            What I said is that the claim Christianity makes is not that their god wants you to believe in the existence of “some non-human highly powerful entity.” It wants you to accept the moral authority of God and love Him. If showing you a miracle will not serve that goal, then the hypothetical Christian God has no incentive to show you a miracle.

            You may be interested in whether God exists separate from whether you want to worship him (sincerely). But I see no sign in Christian dogma that their God cares whether you believe in him if such belief is merely “I accept the existence of a large amount of power that can be directed in a wide variety of ways.” In fact, it seems a bit like if God is interested in having you (sincerely) worship him, he would be better off not showing you a miracle, since you seem to associate that with lots of things that make you not want to worship him.

            Personally, I don’t think that this is a very interesting question.

          • HFARationalist says:

            Fine. However if there are no miracles then AG is not very likely to exist. In order to have moral authority one has to exist. By not hiding Himself and performing miracles AG will convince most humans that He exists.

            You may be interested in whether God exists separate from whether you want to worship him (sincerely).

            I agree. These are completely separate. In fact no matter how moral an alien is you are probably not going to kneel before it voluntarily.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Why would it be that if there are no miracles then the Christian God is unlikely to exist?

            You just got done conceding that, at least with respect to you, doing miracles would be at best neutral to his ostensible goals, and quite likely counterproductive. I don’t think that you’re necessarily terribly atypical in this respect. If doing miracles — at least very often — is a bad idea, why do you imagine that a hypothetical extremely (nay, infinitely) smart being would do them? Is it just because it would make your life more convenient?

          • HFARationalist says:

            @sandoratthezoo Why? Because if there are no miracles AG is not really more likely to exist than any other deity humans have ever worshiped.

            Furthermore AG is exclusive while other deities may coexist. Since there has been so many deities humans have worshipped assuming that they are a priori equally likely to exist AG is very unlikely to exist compared to other deities due to exclusivity.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            You’re massively shifting your goalposts because, my interpretation is, you’re uncomfortable with how irrational your position is.

            So, first of all, you started this off by suggesting that it would be easy to convince you to be a “theist,” stipulating the existence of a god. Your problem is that your implicit definition of “theist” is “someone who acknowledges the objective existence of powerful sapient forces that are not human.”

            And then you went on to suggest that since it would be easy to convince you to be a theist by that definition, and, implicitly, since people want you to be a theist, that is a decent bit of evidence that there is no god.

            The fundamental flaw in your reasoning is that nobody gives the tiniest shit about that definition of theist. What actual religious people care about is, “I acknowledge the moral code and moral authority of God.” Nobody has any incentive to convince you in the existence of powerful, amoral, superhuman entities. Thus, the lack of evidence of powerful, amoral, superhuman entities isn’t really evidence of anything.

            It’s like, suppose I said, “I don’t think that human beings exist. Human beings, if they wanted to, could quite easily construct a mile-wide swimming pool filled with 7-Up and cool-ranch doritos.” I mean, it’s true! We could! Heck, make it an olympic-sized swimming pool instead of a mile-wide swimming pool and there are probably millions of people who could make it with entirely their own resources without it even being a huge expenditure for them. But such a thing probably doesn’t exist. If it does exist, it’s extremely rare. Does that mean that humans don’t exist? What if I really, really, really want that particular kind of proof that humans exist? Well, sorry: humans don’t give a shit what I want.

            If you can find a religion which has an actual dogma that says, “Our god is interested in the acknowledgement of people who don’t actually worship him or her, and our god is can do miracles,” then I agree, we have good evidence that that religion is objectively wrong. But that religion is not Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam, or Hinduism, or theistic Buddhism, which are pretty much the only religions that matter in the world.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @sandoratthezoo Sorry if it seems that I’m moving the goalposts.

            The problem here seems to be that the moral-worship perspective most current theists have is completely different from the observation-trade perspective most current secular people have. There are people who care about a definition of theism similar to mine but with less cynicism, namely secular philosophers. In fact I only care about the possible existence of a powerful punisher because I care about my life. A deity who does not punish is a deity we don’t have to care about.

            For us the problem of whether a deity exists has nothing to do with morality at all. Instead it is an ontological (do deities exist?) and epistemological (can we know whether deities exist) issue. We are interested in discovering whether deities exist but have no interest in voluntarily giving up our lives to serve them if they do. If we actually discover deities we are just going to consider this a scientific discovery. That’s it. Hence we don’t really care that much if a superpower is a deity, an alien, an alien probe or anything else from a moral perspective.

            For you guys the issue is completely different. You completely ignore the issue of whether the particular deity or deities you worship is/are actually real (many philosophical arguments don’t really work here even if they can prove that deities exist). Instead you desire a relationship with the deity/deities and Their morals even though the deity/deities you worship may not actually exist.

            You said that people want to acknowledge the authority of God. However is your God (not just any arbitrary one) actually real? If your God isn’t real then the moral code you accept is instead the moral code of ancient believers of the God you worship and the moral authority is your interpretation of your scriptures. No one can have a relationship with a nonexistent being.

            I’m not uncomfortable with my position at all. Please show me why you think it is irrational. If it is I will concede that you are right.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            You’re suffering from a few misconceptions.

            First of all, I’m not religious and don’t have any particular stake in the question of whether god exists. I think it’s a kind of dumb, boring question. My interest here is in helping you understand that your postulates do not support your conclusion, in the service of generally increasing people’s ability to have conclusions which agree with their postulates.

            Second of all, I understand perfectly well that you’re abstractly interested in the question of whether a “deity” exists, independent of the moral polarity of said deity.

            But, you’re trying to argue from the motivations of god, except that the motivations of god claimed by actual religions aren’t convenient for you. So you’re arguing against a strawman.

            Approach your arguments like this: Stipulate that god, let’s say the Catholic God, exists. Now ask, “What benefit is there to god to create a miracle such that people believe strongly that miracles are possible.” Not what benefit is there to you, what benefit is there to god? Lather rinse and repeat for as many religions as you want.

            Or, you can short-circuit this. There have been a ton of people, way, way, way smarter than you or me, who have grappled with this question. Here’s the result of millions of man-hours of grappling with this question: there is no particularly good proof of god’s existence. It is easy to conceptualize a god who provides a world with few or no miracles. It is harder — but not impossible — to conceptualize a god who allows the existence of evil. The odds that you will add novel arguments to this debate are lower than the odds that you will win the lottery.

          • MrApophenia says:

            @sandoratthezoo

            Would you be willing to acknowledge that while accepting the moral authority of God is a pretty common definition of Christian theism, it isn’t the only one practiced by humans in history?

            If you can get someone to “one or more gods exist, they are unassailably powerful, and they want you to do some stuff or they’ll mess up your day,” you have reached the definition of theism practiced by many civilizations throughout human history.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Nope. I think this is basically wishful thinking of modern atheists.

            What is your example of a religion that has this kind of belief?

          • HFARationalist says:

            @MrApophenia I agree. This is exactly my idea of theism.

            @sandoratthezoo I think some ancient Semitic religions may contain some elements of that. Deities aren’t necessarily related to morality. Hence the problem of evil makes no sense nor can people attempt to use morality to shut up skeptics.

            Sorry for misunderstanding you before. I really appreciate your posts. They have given me ideas I didn’t have before. 🙂

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            You’ve got to do better than “I think that there are some ancient Semitic religions that have something like that.” This is the argument that you’re hanging your hat on.

            But, look, to save a lot of socratic method: as I said from the beginning, if you can produce a religion which postulates a god who is very powerful and active and is super interested in getting people to just, like, shut up and dig that mine over there or whatever, I’m happy to say that that religion has a belief set that is pretty easy to falsify. Without major contortions, it looks like that religion is Just Wrong.

            But whatever religion you produce is also not a religion that speaks to the beliefs of like 99% of religious people today. Maybe 99.9999% of religious people today. Maybe 99.9999% of religious people ever. So, like… what? What does falisfying that particular religion win you?

          • MrApophenia says:

            My understanding as a (possibly deeply misinformed?) layman is that the idea of theism you are describing is a relatively modern invention in human history, and that in many ancient religions throughout the world the relationship with gods was basically a transactional one.

            You didn’t worship gods because of their ultimate moral authority or philosophical goodness, you worshipped them because they could give your ship favorable winds if you pleased them or sink it if you pissed them off.

            I do remember reading a particularly striking example of this in the Mongul empire. The empire allowed surprisingly great religious liberty; conquered peoples were completely fine to keep worshipping their own gods, provided they prayed to those gods for the success of the empire. The Monguls believed in hedging their bets and getting as many gods in support of the cause as possible.

            I have read similar things about a lot of ancient religions – that basically you make a ritual veneration of Poseidon before you get on a boat, not because you think Poseidon is the ultimate truth giver of the universe, but because Poseidon gets cranky and sends storms to people who don’t give him props.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Sorry, I was probably too terse.

            Clearly the whole “omnibenevolence, agape, wonderful deep personal relationship with god” thing is to some degree an invention of Christianity and/or modernity. I’m not claiming that ancient religions were all modern Christianity with a thin gloss of paint.

            But I’m not aware of any religions which said, “Our god wants you to do a few mechanistic actions or provide lip service and only lip service, and will punish you in the material world if you fail him.” Like, the God of the Israelites might’ve not been a loving god, but he still was portrayed as the rightful god of your fathers, and he didn’t want you to say an arcane ritual, he wanted you to really worship him. My extremely loose understanding of the gods of the Norsemen might’ve wanted mortals to fight for them in Ragnarrok (is that actually true? I know very little about this), but they wanted genuinely brave fighters, not people who were coerced into holding a sword out of fear that they’d go to Hel instead. My entire knowledge of the Mongol religion comes from three fictionalizations about the family of Ghenghis Khan, but I don’t see anything about tolerating or hedging your bets about religions that suggests that this fundamentally very falsifiable view of gods was true there.

            I mean… This isn’t how the world works. If there are any gods, they don’t seem to reliably punish, in the material world, people who fail to uphold their tenets. I kind of imagine that any religion that had that as a belief would have a big problem with smart-aleck teenagers saying, “But look! God isn’t punishing me!”

          • Nick says:

            “Relatively modern” overstates your case a bit. Even if this conception of God only originated with Christianity, that’s almost two thousand years. And I’m not so sure about that anyway—consider the opening of Hesiod’s Works and Days, for one (Hugh Evelyn-White’s translation):

            (ll. 1-10) Muses of Pieria who give glory through song, come hither, tell of Zeus your father and chant his praise. Through him mortal men are famed or un-famed, sung or unsung alike, as great Zeus wills. For easily he makes strong, and easily he brings the strong man low; easily he humbles the proud and raises the obscure, and easily he straightens the crooked and blasts the proud, — Zeus who thunders aloft and has his dwelling most high.
            Attend thou with eye and ear, and make judgements straight with righteousness. And I, Perses, would tell of true things.

            And again:

            But you shall have no second chance to deal so again: nay, let us settle our dispute here with true judgement which is of Zeus and is perfect.

            Hesiod is some of the earliest Greek poetry we have, right up there with Homer. It’s hardly the refined classical theism you’ll find in authors of late antiquity and the middle ages, but it’s there.

            Xenophanes tended even more in this direction. He criticized Homer and Hesiod alike for making the gods too anthropomorphic. Lesher, the author of that article, notes in the following section that Xenophanes’ apparent monotheism (or henotheism, or something anyway) is not so clear cut, but concludes:

            On the whole, Xenophanes’ remarks on the divine nature are perhaps best read as an expression of a traditional Greek piety: there exists a being of extraordinary power and excellence, and it is incumbent on each of us to hold it in high regard.

            (emphasis mine)

            I was going to leave it with these two examples, but when was I looking for info on Xenophanes I came across this essay, which asserts the same theme about Socrates and Plato:

            To return, finally, to the charge that Socrates taught new divinities. In hindsight, we have to say that in some senses he did, and in some senses he did not. He was, apparently, quite willing to pay his respects to the traditional gods, Zeus, Athena, etc.; all evidence points to him being a polytheist. He agreed with Homer and Hesiod that these gods had bodies and would never die.
            But his image of these gods was far more exalted than the image of the gods which one gets from listening to a recitation of Homer and his tribe of god-talkers (theologoi) and storytellers (muthologoi). The gods of the Greek philosophers are perfect, wise, alien to any moral wrongdoing, and the source of good but not of evil among mortals. They are not jealous, they don’t get angry, they don’t send false dreams, and especially they don’t rape women. Good persons recognize the gods as their masters or superiors and carry out their orders, which are, essentially, to act justly and promote human virtue.

            And again in his conclusion:

            In Plato’s view, the gods are beings that have no difficulty perceiving the absolute ideals; the gods are not the standards of justice, beauty and goodness, but they are living beings who have perfect knowledge of these standards. Human souls between lives have greater or lesser difficulty perceiving these absolutes–it depends upon how much wisdom they gained in their previous lives; but every glimpse they gain of the absolutes, whether between lives or by philosophical reflection during life, helps to overcome the pressures that drag them back into the body. Until the human soul has lived a philosophical life three times in succession, it must be reincarnated; but when it has done so, it may join the gods for everlasting contemplation of the pure truths that exist beyond the heavens.

            So I think it’s fair to say that, in Western thought at least, while popular religion may be more transactional or superstitious, the more philosophically inclined will advance a more rarefied, but more familiar to the Christian, conception of divinity. I’ve seen people go as far as to say this is a real trend in theology (that recognition of the divine may begin in polytheism, but it trends toward monotheism), but I don’t how true that really is. I’ve been dying for years to check out Chemparathy’s An Indian Rational Theology to see just how far this can be taken in Indian religious thought, but I haven’t been able to get hold of the book.

          • MrApophenia says:

            @sandoratthezoo

            I mean… This isn’t how the world works. If there are any gods, they don’t seem to reliably punish, in the material world, people who fail to uphold their tenets. I kind of imagine that any religion that had that as a belief would have a big problem with smart-aleck teenagers saying, “But look! God isn’t punishing me!”

            You’d think, but it doesn’t seem to have been the case. Dan Carlin had a bit recently where he talked about a history professor telling him that in trying to figure out why various historical events happened the way he did, he was forgetting the historical impact of magic. “But… magic isn’t real.” “Yes, but they didn’t know that.”

            The point being that in all kinds of ancient writings, you see a bunch of instances where people take concrete, history-altering actions because a soothsayer or prophet told them to, or out of a need to placate a god.

            I was thinking about this more in context of what @Nick wrote about the more modern, philosophical worship of the Greek gods. I wonder if this is something to do with the same different types of people who today sort themselves into theist and non-theist? The type of people who have deeply felt relationships with the divine today existed back then too, and it looks like some of them had something a lot like what we think of as a modern relationship with gods.

            But there do also seem to have been lots of people who had what Nick describes as a more superstitious belief. What this looks like to me is people somewhat like myself, who don’t particularly care about a relationship with the numinous, but who were brought up in a world where it was just accepted fact that gods existed. They weren’t religious in the sense we use it today – but if you believe in gods, not in the sense of religious faith but in the way that you believe in weather or bears, you are going to change your actions accordingly.

            We see less of that now, because thanks to science, people like that mostly just don’t believe in gods at all anymore (at least in the developed world). Now it’s only the ‘relationship with the divine’ people, and everyone else just doesn’t worry about gods.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            @Nick: Thanks for the info.

            @MrApophenia:

            Clearly there was superstition and a belief in the supernatural for most of human history. But I think that you’re casting too wide a net.

            Ancient people weren’t blind to the world. They saw that the gods were not in fact lightning bolting everyone who was un-virtuous at the first opportunity. When they created religious beliefs, they created gods who were at least arguably congruent with the world around them. When they created gods who were consistent and fair, who would reliably punish the wicked and reward the virtuous (at least for some values of wicked and virtuous), they made sure that the rewards and punishments weren’t super easy to see — like Christianity’s heaven and hell or Hinduism’s reincarnation or (maybe) the Norse gods’ Valhalla. Maybe those gods also intervened in the world from time to time, but it wasn’t required. Not even the Old Testament God with all his smiting and miracles and such was there every day.

            And part of the way to explain a lack of consistency of the gods is to say that the gods are judging your internal virtue, not your external actions. Another way is to make the gods themselves whimsical. There are probably other ways.

            But, ultimately, I do not believe that there were a lot of religions that believed that gods:

            1. Acted miraculously in the real world.

            and

            2. Just wanted you to do simple, straightforward, not-all-that-difficult things.

            and

            3. Were thought to be relatively powerful and relatively straightforward, rather than whimsical assholes who just like fucking with you.

            Because those religions were really easy to falsify. “God wants you to sacrifice this animal. He doesn’t care if you are virtuous, he doesn’t care if you worship other gods as well, he doesn’t care if you think he’s a complete asshole and mutter curses about him under your breath, all he wants you to do is pick up this knife and kill this rabbit every seven days. And if you do do that, he’ll rain water down on your crops and if you don’t do that he’ll smite you with a lightning bolt.” I mean, someone is eventually not going to kill the rabbit, and then the whole thing kind of comes down! The competing religion one valley over where they still want you to kill a rabbit but they add that hey, God will also judge what’s in your heart, so if you kill the rabbit but rain doesn’t come, maybe you weren’t doing it right, that’s a religion that’s more congruent with the real world. It will tend to do better!

            I could see exceptions for things like… dietary rules. “God wants you not to eat the belladonna. He will smite the shit out of you if you eat it.” Well, yes, he will. But I don’t think that those generalized into whole religions.

            I think that my fundamental kind of skeptical nature about gods is coming through here, so let me point out that all of this is totally congruent with a belief that ultimately, yes there is a god. If you’re discovering god through his or her creation, then you pay attention to how the world works to discover how god works (and also maybe god tells you things, for sure).

          • pontifex says:

            I think HFARationalist is attempting to make the classic Richard Dawkins “God of the gaps” argument. Basically the argument is that humanity invented gods to explain mysterious things that happened in the world. But as science advances, the religious explanations are replaced by scientific ones.

            So the sun rises every day in the east and sets in the west– must be some guy riding a chariot, then. Of course, eventually we learned that it wasn’t. Science advanced, religion receded. Or, to give another example, in the middle ages, people didn’t understand why some people lived and some people died in the Black Plague. Must be God, then! Except then we discovered microbiology, and it all became clearer. So right now, we don’t understand consciousness– must be a God thing, then. Except, what if it’s not?

            This argument is a bit more nuanced than “hurr hurr theists are dumb idiots who think God rides a chariot every day to move the sun across the sky”. Which is sort of how the argument is coming out in some of HFARationalist’s posts, unfortunately.

            In my opinion, the big problem with the God of the Gaps argument is that it assumes that science will eventually take over all of religion’s responsibilities. But science doesn’t really tell us anything about morality. If you are a deist, you have a watchmaker god who creates the universe and then waits for you to discover its laws, not a god of the gaps. So it is a sort of strawmanning, I would argue.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @pontifex Why can’t we leave morality out of epistemological issues such as whether theism is factually correct?

          • pontifex says:

            > @pontifex Why can’t we leave morality out of epistemological issues such as whether theism is factually correct?

            First of all, I never said theism was factually correct. Just that I don’t see how science can fully replace religion.

            Secondly, this whole thread started because you asked what was necessary to convert people towards theism or away from theism. Obviously people are interested in morality, and obviously they view religion as a very important part of that. So some answer to these questions is needed to convert them towards it or away from it.

            This whole thread has basically been you saying “actually I view God as being more like one of the Greek gods, a non-moral entity who I interact with transactionally.” And other people responding that they don’t view God that way at all, so your arguments have no effect. The bottom line here is that if you want to coherently argue against something, you have to understand it at least a little bit.

            And you haven’t shown a lot of evidence that you really understand what the Christian (or Muslim, or Jewish) God really is about. Instead, you’ve constructed a lot of really great arguments against the ancient greek gods, who nobody gives a shit about any more.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @pontifex I agree. However we should not complicate an epistemological issue. I consider the very idea of confusing morality (or culture, race, ethnicity, whatever) with epistemology irrational. I basically dismiss irrational ideas here because we are rationalists and rat-adjacents.

            Speaking of morality AG isn’t just amoral. AG is what immorality is supposed to be about. If any human acts like AG they will be put on trial. They will be remembered as someone similar to Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Baghdadi. The very idea that AG or belief in AG can inherently make people moral is odd because AG is very immoral. If someone believes that they should believe that Stalin is a deity and without belief in Stalin (e.g. Joseph Stalin the Great created the world in 1000. He first created a rabbit. After shouting to the rabbit a land appears. Stalin called it Russia..Then he shouted at Russia. It began to expand until it reached the current size of Eurasia. Then Stalin walked into the sea. From the sea Africa emerged….) there can be no morality then it will be really odd. However when it comes to AG people actually claim that He somehow makes the world more moral. What the heck?

            As for polytheistic deities they are mostly better than AG as long as they don’t force people to sacrifice humans to them.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Seconding HFARationalist here.

          If the Christian god is real, you can make predictions based on that. Saints doing the sorts of things recorded in hagiologies such as continuing to preach after being decapitated or healing blindness with a touch would be convincing evidence of that.

          There are atheists who set impossible standards of evidence for the existence of gods but they’re idiots. If it seemed likely that a god existed there wouldn’t be any sense in denying that.

          • There are atheists who set impossible standards of evidence for the existence of gods

            “I could be hallucinating” , etc, apply to the (apparently) physical world, top. Blah blah selective demand for rigour , blah blah universal solvent.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I feel like sandoratthezoo covered this rather well above.

          • baconbacon says:

            “I could be hallucinating” , etc, apply to the (apparently) physical world, top. Blah blah selective demand for rigour , blah blah universal solvent.

            No, because virtually everyone* agrees on the basics of the physical world and arguments are about marginal things. If you and I watched a baseball game and we argued if a ball hit down the line landed foul or fair that is a disagreement. If I argue that it was foul and you state that it went over the center field fence then we have a fundamental disagreement on reality. If everyone else in the stadium watching agrees with you then I am either under an illusion of some kind, and flat lying, or witnessed a miracle.

            *unless literally everyone is a hallucination of mine, in which case I am basically god of the universe I reside in.

        • Iain says:

          Seconding sandoratthezoo. Beyond miracles, I would require a compelling explanation for not just the problem of evil, but the broader problem of hide-and-go-seek: why is it, o great omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god, that you put so much effort into covering up your own existence?

          • HFARationalist says:

            Why does a deity have to be benevolent at all? The three “Omnis” of Abrahamic monotheism involves worshiping of an extremely immoral deity, AG. If AG is omnibenevolent there would have been no Noah’s Flood.

          • Anonymous says:

            @HFARationalist

            an extremely immoral deity, AG

            You seem to be applying moral standards to the origin of those moral standards. Leaving aside the question of origin (because you can figure out a lot of morality from first principles, absent appeal to God), you are applying rules meant for *humans* to a *non-human*. You may as well complain that a liquid doesn’t behave like a solid.

          • Jiro says:

            you are applying rules meant for *humans* to a *non-human*

            He’s applying rules meant for a sentient being to another sentient being.

          • Evan Þ says:

            But are they meant for any sapient being? That remains to be shown.

        • I’ve never understood the argument, even in principle, for the abstractly omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God of Christian and Islamic theology. I can’t imagine any evidence that would persuade me to adopt such a far-reaching hypothesis. But a more specific and limited being with “merely” superhuman powers…yeah, I could buy that, given that certain sensory perceptions were delivered to me in a repeated and consistent manner.

          For example, if a booming voice in the sky told everyone in my city to assemble at the town square, and everybody did so (indicating that they too heard the voice), and this happened several times and couldn’t be explained by dreaming or mass psychosis, and the voice each time announced that it would do something like levitate semi trucks or cause certain people to spontaneously combust, and it did those things, then I would believe in some being (whether you call it a god, a spirit, an alien, etc.) with the capability to perform those specific things…with maybe the default assumption that the being was also capable of performing other feats of similar scale and seeming impossibility (such as causing tornadoes to form or causing cancerous tumors to multiply over someone’s body in a matter of seconds).

          As for what would constitute feats of “similar scale and seeming impossibility,” that would be a matter of judgment. Would I assume that the being could also move the Earth twice the distance from the sun? Not necessarily. Maybe the being is an alien with advanced technology that is very powerful, yet ultimately limited by some bounds. Maybe moving entire planets is beyond their capability. I would reserve judgment on this matter until I actually saw planets being moved without other obvious inputs of energy, and then I’d conclude, “Yep, OK, this being can move planets. Stars?” And then it tells us to look through our telescopes, and Sirius moves faster than light across the sky, and I’d be like, “Yep, OK, pretty strong indeed.” But OMNIPOTENT? Even with the moving of stars, maybe the being is some super-advanced, Kardashev-level II alien civilization that can move stars, but not galaxies. Maybe it can move galaxies, but not rewind time and entropy. Maybe it can rewind time and entropy, but can’t change the number of dimensions in the universe. Maybe it can change the number of dimensions in the universe, but not some physical constants. I’m not sure at what point you can safely conclude, through induction, that a being is literally omnipotent. That implies the ability to do things you can’t even imagine. And regardless of how many things it shows you it can do, there are probably a zillion things you can’t even imagine a being doing, and it remains an open question whether the being can do those unimaginable things…until the being actually does those things.

          I suppose if a being could change physical constants, that would be as close to “omnipotent” as to make the question of whether to call this being “GOD” with a capital-G a sematic exercise without practical import. I would probably start obeying the being’s commands out of fear even if it “merely” had the power to levitate semi trucks and cause people to spontaneously combust. That is about the level of the miracles of the Old Testament and Greek mythology. And I would have found those miracles to be sufficient evidence to convince me to believe in beings significantly more powerful than humans whom it would be wise to obey for one’s self-preservation.

          But I’m not sure how you go from there to “God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent.” I mean, the Christian God supposedly resurrected 1 person, destroyed 2 cities, sent a plague of locusts, gave one person superhuman strength, etc. All of that is nothing to sneeze at (if true), and maybe slightly more impressive than the feats of other gods, but hardly in a different league from what other gods were said to have done.

          Plus, Christians often forget that even if they convince people that miracles happen and that a powerful being of some sort exists, Christians still need to convince people that this being wants what is written in the Bible. When asked whether “I believe in God,” I often respond, “Does weird stuff happen? Yeah. Do I know which being, if any, is responsible for this weird stuff? No. Do I know what these beings really want of me? Not really. The Bible, the Quran, etc. are humankind’s record of what their gods purportedly want. I would have more assurance if God came to my town and told a bunch of us directly.”

          • Deiseach says:

            I would have more assurance if God came to my town and told a bunch of us directly.

            Where you have just told us if such an entity did, your response would be “Mmmm, not sure about that. Can you move the sun? Okay, yeah, great, but still not quite convinced. How about galaxies? Fine, I see that, but what about changing physical constants?”

            Sounds more like “I’m not prepared to follow any rules that I don’t already like, think correct, and want to follow” which is great, but not “If God tells me to do this, I’ll do it” 🙂

          • I’ve never understood the argument, even in principle, for the abstractly omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God of Christian and Islamic theology. I can’t imagine any evidence that would persuade me to adopt such a far-reaching hypothesis. But a more specific and limited being with “merely” superhuman powers…yeah, I could buy that, given that certain sensory perceptions were delivered to me in a repeated and consistent manner.

            Suppose some people come to you and say “A, B and C are true.” You are pretty sure that all three are false.

            They then provide you convincing evidence that A and B are true. Shouldn’t you now raise your subjective probability for C, even though no evidence of it has been shown? They have not only demonstrated that your confident view of the world was false, they have also demonstrated that they know true things you don’t know. That’s a reason to think it more likely that other things they claim to know are true.

            In this case, lots of people of various Abrahamic religions tell you there is one god and he is both omnipotent and benevolent. They then give evidence for omnipotence by doing miracles that should, on your previous view, be impossible. Shouldn’t you conclude that it is likely that your view of the world was wrong and theirs is right, hence likely that God is benevolent?

          • Nick says:

            But I’m not sure how you go from there to “God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent.”

            You don’t. Things like the argument from miracles and Pascal’s Wager (which are what your preceding paragraph sound a bit like) are modern inventions and don’t necessarily have anything to do with a term like omnipotent or omniscient. Classical and medieval arguments on the other hand were mostly metaphysical and mostly a posteriori, arguing from features of nature like cause and effect to the existence of a First Cause, or possibility and necessity to a Necessary Being, and so on, and from there to divine attributes like oneness, omnipotence, etc. These arguments are pretty incomprehensible without that metaphysical background, but philosophers defended them for centuries and they’re by no means dead.

          • Where you have just told us if such an entity did, your response would be “Mmmm, not sure about that. Can you move the sun? Okay, yeah, great, but still not quite convinced. How about galaxies? Fine, I see that, but what about changing physical constants?”

            Sounds more like “I’m not prepared to follow any rules that I don’t already like, think correct, and want to follow” which is great, but not “If God tells me to do this, I’ll do it”

            Oh, I would definitely follow the rules of a being that “merely” demonstrated the ability to move the sun. I would bend over backwards to do anything that that being wanted of me to escape that being’s overwhelmingly powerful (but not omnipotent) ability to punish me.

            But the one thing I wouldn’t do is believe that that being was literally omnipotent. (Although it might be in my interest to pay lip-service to that idea if the being cares about being thought of as omnipotent. And if the being had demonstrated the ability to read minds, then I guess I’d have to find a way to make myself believe that the being was omnipotent, despite my lingering misgivings that the being “merely” had the power to read minds).

          • Classical and medieval arguments on the other hand were mostly metaphysical and mostly a posteriori, arguing from features of nature like cause and effect to the existence of a First Cause, or possibility and necessity to a Necessary Being,

            Don’t you mean apriori?

            In any case, these discussions always follow a well-worn groove: it’s all about evidence, not argument, and evidence means 3rd-person evidence and none of that instrospective nonsense.

          • Nick says:

            No, I actually did mean a posteriori. The ontological argument is a priori and the obvious exception, but I consider cosmological arguments to be a posteriori, since they depend on features of nature. Most ancients and medievals would consider features like cause and effect or possibility and necessity to be known much more certainly than any particular evidence of the senses (for one, there’s no such thing as hallucinating cause and effect itself), and would say these stand even if everything we’ve ever sensed had been fabricated, but some at least still insisted that we only know of them in the first place through the evidence of our senses. My saying this may be an artifact of my having read Feser on Aquinas, though, because he’s made the point several times that in this sense Aquinas is a kind of empiricist.

          • I consider cosmological arguments to be a posteriori, since they depend on features of nature.

            I’d say they were abductive, and therefore still not the sort of aposteriori that people are looking for when they demand novel evidence.

            a kind of empiricist.

            You can be a kind of an empiricist and a kind of ratioanlist.

          • Nick says:

            I’d say they were abductive, and therefore still not the sort of aposteriori that people are looking for when they demand novel evidence.

            Fair enough. Its being of a different kind than evidence like miracles was part of my original point—but if you’re saying a posteriori was the wrong thing for me to say there, since that’s not the real difference between the two, then you’re right.

        • Jiro says:

          There’s no such thing as a true rejection. (Actually, this is the counterexample to “true rejection” that I often offer.)

          If you come into my living room and turn sticks to snakes, that won’t prove to me that there’s a God. After all, as you point out, that doesn’t prove that the being who turned the sticks to snakes has all the traits of God.

          But it’s certainly a good start. It answers one objection. If you could answer a couple more such objections, at some point I will believe there is a God.

        • MrApophenia says:

          It’s worth remembering that the staff to snake example is a particularly bad one for this purpose – it failed in the Bible as a miracle performed specifically for this purpose.

          (Interesting side note – the reason it failed was that priests of other gods showed they could also turn staves into snakes, which depending on your interpretation of the text meant either that it was a fairy easy illusionist trick that you could do without miracles, or that the writers at the time thought the Egyptian gods also existed but were inferior to the Abrahamic God, which is why his snake ate theirs. But I digress.)

          So yeah, staff to snake, not having it. But some of the more impressive miracles? Halt the procession of the sun through the sky, appear in a pillar of flame and start giving commands, melt a bunch of Nazis, sure, I am onboard.

          I probably wouldn’t become the modern version of theist where you worship god because you believe he is the ultimate good, but I would certainly get to the Old Testament stage of “Oh shit there is a being with Silver Surfer powers who has declared himself king of the universe and turns people to salt if they piss him off, better get in line.”

          • Evan Þ says:

            …or that the writers at the time thought the Egyptian gods also existed but were inferior to the Abrahamic God, which is why his snake ate theirs.

            I agree with this interpretation; cf. Exodus 12:12, where the LORD says, “…and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment.” The idea that pagan gods have some real existence continued even into early Christian thought, such as 1 Corinthians 10:20 (“the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God”), and Augustine’s City of God (where he points to the pagan gods’ despicable moral behavior in the myths as evidence they’re demons, without IIRC even considering the idea that they never existed at all.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Halt the procession of the sun through the sky

            Yeah, if the rotation of the earth stopped, and everyone in the world made note of it, and all the scientific devices, the observatoritories, the ISS, etc. all made note of it (and the world didn’t suddenly end in the resulting wind storm), that would be pretty convincing that a godlike power who could suspend the laws of physics was acting.

            God of Abraham? Well that is different.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Sure, but the question was theism, not Christianity.

            If I can convince you that Nyarlathotep exists that still counts.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @MrApophenia:
            Does belief that Q (of Star Trek) exists count as theism?

          • MrApophenia says:

            Following from discussion upthread, it probably depends on your definition of theism.

            I think if you respond to Q like Picard, probably not. I do think that if you believe Q exists and alter your behavior to try to stop him from meddling in your affairs, I have a hard time seeing the difference between that and any other culture that believes in trickster gods.

          • carvenvisage says:

            (Interesting side note – the reason it failed was that priests of other gods showed they could also turn staves into snakes, which depending on your interpretation of the text meant either that it was a fairy easy illusionist trick that you could do without miracles, or that the writers at the time thought the Egyptian gods also existed but were inferior to the Abrahamic God, which is why his snake ate theirs. But I digress.)

            Also consider the case of Ball v Jehovah, where the baalites agree to this test of their great empire’s religion, against a solitary old man who, a test which would prove both gods false under atheist assumptions, a test of which god is stronger, not which god is real.

            Then they procede to turn out hundreds of priests to -what, stand around and look stupid when the pyre doesn’t get light? To look like Eljiah bought them to a 1vs400 stalemate?

            No, obviously the baalites had extreme confidence in their god, so baal is real and just got 1v1ed in the shadow realm by Jehovah.

            And don’t forget then the stuff about being a jealous god and having no other gods but me.

            _

            So Jehovah of the old testament was a local deity who found the strength in megalomania (rules! rules! rules!, I am the only real god! I created this world!) to deal with some real nasty characters, and maybe we should worship him for displacing the likes of the original moloch, whether or not we also indulge his various delusions. -What are a few hundred commandments to follow in exchange for getting to not murder your children? If you don’t like the guy’s idiosyncracies he picked up in saving us all, where were you when the ascension war was on? -Would you have driven yoursel to madness and climbed into the arena with baal? With the gods of egypt? No? Then show some respect for the crazy old man!

            (yes? well, you probably would have been cast aside like so many others (could you beat, for example, mike tyson?) who must have tested the ancient gods, but good for you.)

            _

            n.b. I don’t actually recommend you convert to an abrahamic religion if you can’t 1vs1 mike tyson.

      • Well... says:

        In fact it is easy to convert non-theists to theism. Replicate some Old Testament miracles.

        In the Torah God continually has Moses perform miracles, provides miraculous phenomenon of his own (e.g. pillars of smoke and fire) and even makes personal appearances. The Israelites continually lose their faith and say it was foolish to follow Moses out into the desert.

        So, miracles might not do the trick.

        Pharaoh meanwhile is at first skeptical when he sees the miracles, but is then convinced; it is God who reaches into his brain and changes his mind for him, apparently so He can demonstrate His powers.

        So, if atheists continue to be atheists even after they see the miracles, it might just be God hardening their hearts to make some kind of point.

        • Randy M says:

          In the Torah God continually has Moses perform miracles, provides miraculous phenomenon of his own (e.g. pillars of smoke and fire) and even makes personal appearances. The Israelites continually lose their faith and say it was foolish to follow Moses out into the desert.

          So, miracles might not do the trick.

          Thus, a believer will believe that miracles won’t convince the unbeliever, despite the unbeliever saying that is precisely what he needs. The unbeliever, however, will not lend any more credence to the stories about disbelief in miracles than in the miracles that are found in the same scriptures, and so isn’t convinced that he would not be convinced.

          • Well... says:

            Exactly–but the unbeliever’s not being convinced might itself be due to a miracle. At least from the believer’s standpoint.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Well.. Maybe. However that can also apply to why people believe and disbelieve in Flat Earth theory and actually anything remotely related to religion, which is just everything.

            As Stephen Law said in his book, Believing Bullshit, a theory that explains everything and can never be disproven regardless of the result we see predicts nothing.

            If you do not allow your theism to be falsified, namely conceding that if certain events happen it is likely to be wrong then it does not explain anything.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        In fact it is easy to convert non-theists to theism. Replicate some Old Testament miracles.

        I’ve seen plenty of people, here and elsewhere, say that they’d believe they were hallucinating or being duped by aliens/magicians/mad scientists before they believed they were witnessing a miracle, so perhaps it’s not quite so easy after all.

        • MrApophenia says:

          Just one miracle, if you were by yourself, maybe.

          Perform some of the big ticket items in front of large crowds, repeatedly, and I think you’ll get people on board.

          Depending how communicative the deity in question is, they might not agree about which God it is or what it wants from them. But to steal a line from someone cleverer than me, atheism becomes untenable in a world where questions about whether gods exist are met with a lightning bolt chucked through your window with a note tied to it saying “Yes we do.”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Just one miracle, if you were by yourself, maybe.
            Perform some of the big ticket items in front of large crowds, repeatedly, and I think you’ll get people on board.

            I’ve come across people (again, both here and elsewhere) who said that even if they saw the Second Coming, they’d assume it was aliens playing a trick on us.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            a lightning bolt chucked through your window with a note tied to it saying “Yes we do.”

            I Don’t Call That Much Of An Argument.

        • Wrong Species says:

          If you have a choice between something being an illusion and being something that can break physics, then the former is just good Bayesianism.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            on the other hand, if you choose “illusion”, then you run the risk of being the character that looks extremely stupid to the reader

            and I don’t play that way

        • Chalid says:

          If you’re seeing lots of miracles, at some point you’ve got to update your priors and throw away the idea that you can trust what you thought you knew about physics, biology, etc. Which makes aliens/mad scientists/insanity/other explanations that fit into that paradigm less likely.

          If Catholic priests who had showed extraordinary devotion and goodness were able to heal and cast spells like D&D clerics if they were using those spells for good, and they claimed they could hear god speaking through them, then that would make me a believer. Not in an omni* god, but in the existence of something powerful and outside of physics that was worthy of praise.

    • baconbacon says:

      As a non theist I would have to say there probably isn’t any amount of evidence sufficient. I’m agnostic and I view the question as unanswerable. If god wanted to make himself known to me, that would be a possibility, but really how would I differentiate that from a form of psychosis (or on a milder level any of a number of emotional reactions). A god that can create the universe and life within it seems inscrutable to me, and I don’t see any way out of it.

      • HFARationalist says:

        Do you believe that President Trump is almost certainly real? A theistic deity is so powerful that it is easy for Them to make Themselves known.

        For example if a theistic deity suddenly make the sky green everywhere on this earth, shout that They will destroy North Korea at 12 PM today and then literally destroy North Korea at 12PM, making what used to be mainland South Korea an island, are you going to believe that such a superpower exists?

        • baconbacon says:

          You have packed an enormous number of assumptions into this. How would I know that what is revealed to me was god and not a trick/psychosis/natural phenomena? The only way to “know” would be to know of all possibilities in the universe and then have god revealed to me in an impossible way., ie a miracle.

          Of course this presumes that god created a universe that abides laws and yet those laws can be violated within the universe, which is a paradox without an obvious non semantic answer.

          • Deiseach says:

            The one who writes the laws can change the laws, otherwise we would never be able to write new laws and never be able to repeal old law. Objections like this one always seem to me to be the equivalent of “you painted your front door blue for three years in a row, therefore you can never decide to paint it green next year!”

            This is something that has often struck me about non-theists, there seems to be the underlying assumption in all their thinking that god/gods arise out of the universe as it is, and consequently are bound by it and its laws, see Dawkins’ attempt at a “gotcha” with “if the universe started off simply how could a complex god be there at the start?”. There really doesn’t seem to percolate through the idea that for those who believe in a Creator God, God is greater than the universe and it obeys Him, not vice versa.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Deiseach I agree that a deity who controls the universe can easily change its laws. This also applies to simulators in the simulation hypothesis. However do you have any evidence that your deity is likely to exist?

          • baconbacon says:

            The one who writes the laws can change the laws, otherwise we would never be able to write new laws and never be able to repeal old law.

            Man’s laws are not a good analogy for God’s laws (ignoring also the concept that God could unmake the laws, but in doing so would unmake the universe as we know it).

            My position is that god is inscrutable to me (and probably to man in general), analogies based on things within this universe don’t naturally extend to what is outside of this universe.

          • baconbacon says:

            @Deiseach I agree that a deity who controls the universe can easily change its laws. This also applies to simulators in the simulation hypothesis

            No it doesn’t. A simulator who changes the laws in creating a new simulation from one point of view.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Are we assuming that there is a distinction between God and the guy who created our simulation or are we just going to say the programmer can be considered God?

          • The Nybbler says:

            If he exists outside the simulation and can change the state and parameters of the simulation at will, he’s God.

          • baconbacon says:

            I’m agnostic about god’s existence, I am sure as heck agnostic about his nature.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      My current form? Just demonstrate that another religion makes more true truth claims and fewer false ones than catholic Christianity. Of course there is much disagreement on the definition of religious truth claims, as demonstrated by fundamentalists who think a young Earth is one of the most important truth claims, or Hindu nationalists who think it matters that the Mahabharata war was fought in 3102 BC.

      Rejecting theism, though, would be huge. I don’t think evidence alone could do it. Logical proof would be required too. Like:

      1. You show me overwhelming evidence that the the material universe has existed for infinite time.
      2. You prove that numbers aren’t real.
      3. You publish in a peer-reviewed philosophy journal an irrefutable argument that 1 is a coherent statement given 2.

      • HFARationalist says:

        Falsifying Catholicism or other tradition-based movements when the written scripture exists is in fact very easy. I will argue from a literalist fundamentalist perspective.

        Let’s start from your Biblical transliterations. Please show me how “Jesus” starts with a J when the name in “Hebrew” (lol the correct transliteration is ‘Ivrit) should be transliterated as some form starting with a Y such as Yehoshua or Yeshua. Please explain to us how the church translators invented “Enoch” when it is actually Hanokh. Please explain to us how the church translators invented “Moses” when it is actually Mosheh.

        Please explain to me how did the church change the Shabbat (no it is not “Sabbath”, church translators, even I can do a better job using a transliteration table than you, lol) to Sunday or why did it abandon Torah. How did it invent Trinitarianism and incorporated various polytheist festivals into Christianity while vandalizing polytheist temples? Why isn’t the church celebrating Biblical moedim (feasts)?

        You are dealing with an ex-fundamentalist familiar with literalist fundamentalism and some Hebrew words. 🙂 I’m not Jewish. However I know the Hebrew Alephbet so don’t try to pretend that your traditional transliterations that are horribly wrong are actually somehow correct.

        • Nick says:

          The truth or falsity of Catholicism does not depend on how we transliterate names. But even if it did, there’s good reason it’s spelled that way, namely it’s from the Latin form, which is from the Greek form, which you would have learned if you’d read the first sentence on Wikipedia. If you object to the gospel writers having spelled it Ἰησοῦς—well, that’s your prerogative, but the authors were fluent in Aramaic and Koine Greek, so good luck with that. The iota in Greek and onset i in Latin can totally be pronounced like a consonant, so indistinguishable from the English use of y. And the difference between J and I and the transition of the sound to /dʒ/ is an English phenomenon, which you would have learned if you’d read a few paragraphs later.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nick However this is a part of basic honesty that I demand from religious translators. Is this that much? Just get some Hebrew properly transliterated with a table.

            By not doing so they have shown that their tradition is more important than scriptural accuracy.

          • dodrian says:

            @HFA You seem to be insisting that modern translators of the Bible should use a modern Hebrew transliteration of the ancient Hebrew names. How can we know that a modern Hebrew transliteration would resemble the ancient pronunciation?

          • Nick says:

            It’s not a matter of valuing tradition over “scriptural accuracy”—churches have sponsored the translating of texts for centuries, for one, but this isn’t seen as contradicting tradition, nor would changing the transliteration of a name. Rather it’s a matter of practicality—changing the spelling of a word every time the pronunciation changes is impractical and arguably far more problematic than a prima facie misleading transliteration. We make this concession to practicality all the time, in every other pursuit, so why shouldn’t biblical translators?

          • HFARationalist says:

            @dodrian Then they can use reconstructed paleo-Hebrew or whatever. However it is clear that whatever they use it won’t be the traditional transliteration. I mean..unless you believe that “Yod” used to be pronounced as “Jod”.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nick By correcting these you can at least make your religion a bit more respectable. That’s for sure. If your sect can not even transliterate Chavvah correctly and instead absurdly use Eve how am I supposed to believe that you get the more important stuff right?

            Or shall we talk about “Babylon”? “Armageddon”? “Babylon” is just Babil in Arabic or Bavel in Hebrew which means it is identical to this “Babel” word in the Tower of Babel. However of course Christian translators use different words for “Tower of Babel” and the City of “Babylon” as if they are somehow not the same place. “Armageddon” is just the “Mount” Megiddo according to Wikipedia, not some obscure place no one has heard of in the Bible before.

            “Jesus” and “Joshua” are really just the same name however “Jesus” is shorter. Using different names and pretending that they aren’t the same certainly does not help us understand what the Bible says.

          • Nick says:

            We can translate it just fine; the point is that we don’t for the practical reasons I listed above. Your argument proves too much: you could just as easily make the argument that academic philosophy is not respectable because it still uses ‘Avicenna’ or that classics is not respectable because it still uses ‘Ajax’ and ‘Achilles.’ More fundamentally: this is not a commonly used criterion of respectability. You should be unsurprised that churches are not concerned about this, because almost no one else is. I’m sorry, but there’s no practical reason for them to try to please you about this, and I don’t think—for the very reasons I listed above—that this has any bearing on whether they do get the more important issues right, namely translation and interpretation of the actual text. I have translated the gospels (well, a gospel, plus some other New Testament stuff) from Koine Greek. Modern translations are fine. Great, even. I’m confident from comparing them with dictionaries and grammar aids and commentaries that they do a better job than I would have. This is not the problem you think it is.

            ETA: Apologies if I seem aggressive about this; I don’t mean to be rude or offend. Also added another example, sorry about the empty apostrophes.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nick I concede that you have a point. However it indeed messes up some materials simply due to mistransliteration such as the examples I mentioned.

            Furthermore allowing such traditions to persist without warning people that some of these transliterations are incorrect leads to fundamentalists basing their fundamentalism on a particular translation, especially the KJV, even believing that the translation is somehow more accurate than the original versions in Koine Greek. (Yeah I know the Masoretic version of the Tanakh is later than the Septuagint.) Some even try numerology on an English version. What are the churches going to do about these?

            Doctrinal issues of the churches are much worse than the issue of transliterations.

            I may be offensive as well. When I was a fundamentalist I was literally mad at almost the entire world for this or that reason, including being mad at almost the entire non-literalist fundamentalist Christianity for reasons including transliterations. No offense, guys. 🙂

          • Nick says:

            Churches do not get absolute power over who gets to interpret the Bible and how. We tried that a long time ago and Martin Luther happened. It’s unfortunate that people are so boneheaded as to perform numerology on bad transliterations, but churches shouldn’t really do anything more than tell people not to do that and why, because vastly more people will be vastly more confused when you insist on things like ‘Yehoshua’ and ‘Hanokh.’

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nick I agree. However churches can tell people what the correct transliterations are and let believers decide whether they want to use them or not.

            Believe me, there are actually people who actually get angry when one uses a correct transliteration. That’s my personal experience lol.

            If we can agree on these two posts we can declare the issue on transliteration over and move on to the issue of doctrines. 🙂

            I usually have the tendency to cause deadlocks on anything I believe is remotely problematic. However we can’t do that if we want to build a society. So I will back off.

          • Nick says:

            I grant that churches can do this, and if you ask someone who knows anything about it, I think they could correct one’s transliteration. I just don’t think most people value that very much.

            I’d be happy to move to the topic of doctrine, but I’m going to try not to respond for the next hour and a half—I have to get back to work.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            We can translate it just fine; the point is that we don’t for the practical reasons I listed above. Your argument proves too much: you could just as easily make the argument that academic philosophy is not respectable because it still uses ‘Avicenna’ or that classics is not respectable because it still uses ‘Ajax’ and ‘Achilles.’

            You’d have to say goodbye to history as well, judging by the number of references to “William the Conqueror” or “Charles II of Spain” I’ve come across.

          • Nick says:

            Yeah, my original example was going to be the name of a king, but I couldn’t think of any good examples. Charles II of Spain is a good one, though I’ve actually heard Carlos II as well (I think Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle used that?).

          • Evan Þ says:

            However it indeed messes up some materials simply due to mistransliteration such as the examples I mentioned.

            How does it mess things up, aside from a few people who don’t look at footnotes thinking that “Babel” and “Armegeddon” are strange never-mentioned-elsewhere places? Okay, you can argue that inconsistent transliteration is confusing, but at best that’s an argument for using another translation, not for changing any doctrine or deciding that theism is incorrect.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Christians Sorry for the rant. I used to be an extreme Messianic before I became an agnostic. What I wrote above is basically the standard “angry Messianic rant” militant Messianics like to throw at Greco-Roman forms of Christianity.

            Even after becoming an agnostic I’m still emotionally angry against Greco-Romanized Christians for a cause I no longer believe in.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Nick on Kings of Spain- there seems to have been a shift, possibly in the last 50-100 years, in the English-language press from using the English versions of the regnal names of foreign monarchs to using their local versions. So the current King of Spain is Felipe and the current King of the Netherlands is Willem(-Alexander), but historical kings of those countries by those names are referred to as Philip and William.

            The shift may have started with Kaiser Wilhelm (who was always Wilhelm, never William)- but at the same time, the Russian Tsar was Nicholas rather than Nikolai.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            “Even after becoming an agnostic I’m still emotionally angry against Greco-Romanized Christians for a cause I no longer believe in.”

            That’s bitterly funny. People are so goddamn vulnerable to each other.

            (I mean that you’re still vulnerable to early imprinting, and this is pretty typical.)

        • Deiseach says:

          Let’s start from your Biblical transliterations.

          Okay, going off the top of my head and look, ladies and gentlemen, without the aid of Google I will attempt to answer a question!

          Take the name of the Apostle John. That starts off in Hebrew, transliterated into the Roman alphabet, something like Iokannan or even Yokannan. Turn that into a Latinised version for the low-class Roman converts and you end up with Iohannes along the way. Bring that to Ireland and Church Latin ends up with something like Eoghan (Eoin in the new spelling). Zig-zag the other way in what will eventually become English and you get John.

          Oh, and Eoghan in the older pronunciation which is something like “Yone” gets turned, after Anglicisation, into Owen which is now a completely different name from John.

          I believe there were these guys named Grimm who did some work on how vowels or whatsit change?

          Languages change over time, particularly when you’re talking of spans of centuries and leaping from one language to another to yet another that don’t even have shared alphabets.

          All stuff you should already know, and really by now I’m getting a bit tired of the Logical Positivist schtick you do about “hur dur, I’m an autist, I don’t know from figurative language, all I know is maths and logic”. At least be honest: you definitely think you are Smarter Than The Average Bear and right now I am not inclined to believe anything you say about anything, given all the shifting usernames you’ve used on here and some other tics you display which remind me very strongly of another former commenter (not the late Sidles, he was less annoying).

          And before you start with your “I’m sorry you feel upset about my correct conclusions about religion” rejoinder, it’s not about religion, this has been building for a while with me reading your comments as I do fundamentally doubt your good faith. You like using your own little baked-up terms (e.g. Brown Tribe and Dark Tribe), shoving them by main force into contexts they don’t fit, and trying to steer discussions along the lines you think they should go to the conclusions you have already decided are the correct ones. Some propositions of yours have been outlandish and when called on them, you go “I can’t help that, I’m autistic, we autistics are so much better than non-autistics” and off we go for another spin on the merry-go-round.

          • HFARationalist says:

            I agree that languages change over time. However can’t we just use a reasonable transliteration such as Yohanan in your case? Since languages change let’s use the transliteration that do the best in represent ancient Hebrew in modern English (i.e. J isn’t pronounced as Y).

            Just do to Biblical names what we do to modern Russian names. 🙂

            As for the Dark Tribe I have actually changed my mind because of the discussion. SSC helps me a lot because you guys are among the few I trust for the purpose of rationality. I basically consider most people to be utterly irrational so that I don’t even want to listen to them any more.

          • bean says:

            However can’t we just use a reasonable transliteration such as Yohanan in your case?

            Why should we? Everyone’s mental references, along with all of Anglophone church history, uses the existing transliterations, and the transliterations are not considered theologically significant. (The translations are, but we have footnotes for those.)

          • HFARationalist says:

            @bean Even if it is not theologically significant that does not take too much time to do. I mean Sacred Name Bibles already exist anyway. Hell it does not take too much time for a pastor to correct them. Just tell the churchgoers that they are learning the correct pronunciations. I’m sure most will listen.

            I have seen these footnotes in some Bibles. However fundamentalists aren’t necessarily going to read them.

            I concede that non-literalist fundamentalists should be allowed to use traditional names if they want to. However they should be informed that more accurate transliterations exist and what they are.

          • bean says:

            Even if it is not theologically significant that does not take too much time to do.

            That’s not the point. The point is that when you talk about John, everyone knows who you mean. If you insist on using Yohanan instead, you will confuse people. Not confusing people without good reason is generally considered best practice. “The transliterations are theologically significant” would be a good reason.

            I mean Sacred Name Bibles already exist anyway. Hell it does not take too much time for a pastor to correct them. Just tell the churchgoers that they are learning the correct pronunciations. I’m sure most will listen.

            No. What will happen is that you won’t have Yohanan replace John. You’ll have Yohanan (John) replace John. This does take extra time. I understand why you’re postulating maximal correctness as a goal we should be working towards, but that’s not how most people work, and insisting that people fit your system (rather than the reverse) is just going to annoy people.
            Christianity is very large, and since the Reformation there hasn’t been anyone responsible for keeping groups from drifting out of line. Sacred Name is related to the Seventh-day movement, and definitely not part of mainstream theology.

            I have seen these footnotes in some Bibles. However fundamentalists aren’t necessarily going to read them.

            I would strongly suggest you get a better understanding of ‘fundamentalists’ before you say things like this.

            I concede that non-literalist fundamentalists should be allowed to use traditional names if they want to.

            My first response to this was ‘Who are you to allow us to do anything?’. Your continued unwillingness to stop talking like some sort of autistic supervillain is getting annoying. But I’ll be charitable and answer your point.
            You don’t understand literalism. Literalism is the basic principle that we should take the Bible as it is written. Except for the KJV-only people (who are silly), literalists are willing to use different translations. If that’s OK (so long as you pay attention to translation quality) why do we need to use accurate transliterations? A case could be made that we should instead use translations of the name, but I don’t see any reason to hang up on the sounds of the name.

          • Randy M says:

            A case could be made that we should instead use translations of the name, but I don’t see any reason to hang up on the sounds of the name.

            Let alone why it is more rational to get hung up on this. A name is just a mental hook. It isn’t intrinsically dishonest or even inaccurate to refer to a person or concept by a different phonetic sequence than that person or another group does.
            And I was kind of floored that this was the example of biblical inaccuracy that he led with.

          • rlms says:

            @Randy M
            If you aren’t convinced by that: Jonah got swallowed by a whale. But the Bible says Jonah got swallowed by a big fish. So the Bible seems to think whales are just big fish. Therefore the Bible is fallible. Therefore, the Bible was not written by God.

          • Charles F says:

            @rlms
            What reliable second source that isn’t the Bible says Jonah was swallowed by a whale rather than a big fish? Why is it more reliable than the Bible? Maybe there was no whale and God just found a really big carp to swallow Jonah.

          • Randy M says:

            Charles F–I think that’s the joke. It’s circular.

          • rlms says:

            “The first problem here is that “whale” is just our own modern interpretation of the Bible. For all we know, Jonah was swallowed by a really really really big herring.

            The second problem is that if the ancient Hebrews want to call whales a kind of fish, let them call whales a kind of fish.”

          • Charles F says:

            Yeah, I assumed everybody here had already read The Categories Were Made for Man, and felt like mentioning the other bit.

          • Deiseach says:

            I understand why you’re postulating maximal correctness as a goal we should be working towards, but that’s not how most people work, and insisting that people fit your system (rather than the reverse) is just going to annoy people.

            At this point, I am assuming HFARationalist is basically trolling and not one bit sincere in anything they say e.g. “I’m an ex-literal fundamentalist” – demonstrates, as another commenter shows, absolutely no knowledge of how Biblical literalists treat the matter.

            Anyway, why stop at transliteration into Hebrew? If you want maximal accuracy, you should be reading the whole thing in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament)! And go one better: we should all be celebrating Christian services in catacombs, not churches! (see below for why).

            As this joke site postulated back in 2005, that all vernacular translations of the Mass – including Latin – were not the real thing and were instead false snares and delusions!

            FACT: Latin is NOT the original language of the Church!

            It’s a VERNACULAR language that was foisted on the Roman church by Pope Victor I (A.D. 190-202), who was an AFRICAN priest–NOT a Roman!!!

            The earliest liturgies at Rome as described by St. Justin Martyr were in GREEK. But once Victor made the change in language, that OPENED THE DOOR a century later to a barrage of changes in the rite of Mass itself, from which the Roman Rite has NEVER recovered.

            This opening up of vernacular languages has led to the Church becoming a veritable Tower of Babel, full of all sorts of barbarian languages that were NOT SPOKEN BY THE APOSTLES. Was this what Christ intended when he prayed that the church be one? A hodge podge of incomprehensible barbarian tongues that were formerly used to worship fake gods like Jupiter? Die-hard Vulgate Pope John VIII even allowed Cyril and Methodius to translate the liturgy for the Slavs into Old Church Slavonic!!

            Wouldn’t you want to use a language that was actually spoken by the Apostles, rather than some barbarian language spoken by goatskin wearing savages? EVERY SINGLE BOOK of the New Testament was written in GREEK. Not Latin. Not Syriac. Not Coptic. Not Old Church Slavonic. And especially not English. This fact alone PROVES that these other languages are inventions of SATAN and CONDEMNED BY GOD.

            So whatever later so-called “Popes” may have said about the use of Latin, it IS NOT TRADITIONAL!!!

            And even further, linguists have shown that Nero–who is identified by some biblical scholars as the archetype of Antichrist in Revelation–spoke Latin. Do you really think God would want you to be using the Antichrist’s language–IN A CHURCH?????

            FACT: The traditional Roman Mass was celebrated in catacombs, NOT churches!!!

            Above ground churches are a LATE development in the Roman church which date to the legalization of Christianity by Constantine. They were NEVER part of the original Roman rite!

            So what was so wrong with the church going above ground? Above ground is where PAGAN temples were built. And in order to appease and “get along with” their new false-god worshiping neighbors, modernist Romans started to build unholy ecumenical shrines that confirmed and incorporated their wrong and idolatrous ideas. Don’t just take my word for it–just ask a Jehovah’s Witness–even they’ll tell you it’s true!!!

            The Pantheon for instance, was a PAGAN Roman temple which was reconsecrated as a church by Pope Boniface in A.D. 609!! Pagan building, Catholic building–what’s the difference, right?? Then in the reign of Pope Zacharias (741-752) another church was built on the ruins of a pagan temple and called “Santa Maria sopra Minerva”. Minerva was a Roman goddess–many Catholics DIED HORRIBLE DEATHS rather than offer a tiny pinch of incense to her. And yet their supposedly Christian descendants NAMED a church after her!!! Even the ecumaniacs at Assisi never did anything like this–put a false goddess’ name ON PAR with the Virgin Mary, Mother of God!!!!

            In accord with holy tradition therefore, we must reject any and all above-ground church structures, in accordance with the true traditional practice of the Roman church. Unfortunately, funding issues and zoning laws in our locality have so far prevented us from excavating new catacombs in our area, so we are temporarily headquartered behind the water heater in our basement.

            Either HFARationalist is a founder member of the Society of St Pius I or they are not sincere. I know which option I take there.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Deiseach I’m indeed an ex-fundamentalist of a very Jewish Christian sect who was obsessed with not only these wrong transliterations but also many other aspects such as lack of Torah observance, holidays and other aspects. I can show you my credentials if you want to.

            Hell I even proposed that we rename planets to 12 sons of Israel back then when I was a fundamentalist. LOL.

            One thing I admit is that I’m an optimizer. Regardless of what I’m optimizing for the procedure can sound really extreme to others. Using your analogy I’m just like a guy in the garden. If I want apples I will literally cut down all non-apple trees and fill the garden with apple trees. If I want peaches I will literally cut down all non-peach trees and fill the garden with peach trees. Please don’t blame me for cutting down pine trees. They fail to be peach trees and that is a problem. Regardless of what I support I tend to support a very extreme and uncommon version of it. Right now I support individualism. Of course this becomes absolute individualism and most libertarians seem too authoritarian to me for not rejecting non-state social authoritarianism. The same applies to rationalism. After I became a rationalist I of course began to shut out non-rationalists as being irrational. I’m not satisfied with the degree of rationality here either because there is still way too much liberalism and traditionalism floating here. However this is already one of the best places I can find that contain rationalism but not the Blue Tribal Police.

            I agree that I should curb my paperclip maximizer-like tendencies. So please let me know if this shows up.

          • bean says:

            I’m indeed an ex-fundamentalist of a very Jewish Christian sect who was obsessed with not only these wrong transliterations but also many other aspects such as lack of Torah observance, holidays and other aspects. I can show you my credentials if you want to.

            So you’re ex-Messianic? That makes some sense. You definitely don’t come across as having a good grasp of mainstream fundamentalism.

            Please don’t blame me for cutting down pine trees. They fail to be peach trees and that is a problem.

            See, I think this is where you have gone wrong, and will continue to go wrong unless you figure out how to counter this. There’s definitely something interesting about a perspective where you throw out all convention and just optimize for one thing. But a normal conversation with you goes as follows:
            (Deiseach comes across HFAR chopping down an apple tree.)
            D: Why are you doing that?
            H: Because it’s not a peach tree, and I want peach trees.
            D: Yes, peaches are good. But apples are good, too, and you’re chopping down a full-grown apple tree in pursuit of a peach tree which won’t be grown for decades. Maybe you should instead plant peach trees in that clearing over there.
            H: You clearly aren’t interested in peaches because you want to stop me chopping down this apple tree. Also, I’m autistic, so I’m going to assume that you don’t have anything to tell me.

            Translated into plain speech:
            Stop using autism as a shield from correction. Yes, your brain naturally runs to ‘no constraints’, and that sometimes takes you interesting places. This is not a unique ability, though. And it’s entirely untempered with any sort of understanding of the fact that you come off sounding like Captain Autism from a bad comic book. I don’t expect you to take that as a bad thing, but even from an internal view, it really seriously hinders your ability to convince people of anything. Someone who insists that if peaches are good, then everything must be clear-cut to make way for them is a maniac, or at least not someone who should have a voice in agricultural policy. Someone who makes a reasonable case that we should have more peaches might actually mean we have more peaches.
            I know that trying to convince normal people is hard, and letting the unfiltered contents of your mind splash everywhere is fun. But it’s also staggeringly ineffective. If you want your ideas to be taken seriously, then act in a way that makes someone who isn’t HFA take them seriously. That is not how you are acting.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @bean Yes, I’m an ex-Messianic. I was a very extreme Messianic when I was religious. Being a Messianic was also a good excuse to bash most humans because most humans believe in religions that aren’t sufficiently purely Hebraic. It also fits my philosemitism, intellectualism and autism well. Unlike more spiritual movements Messianism allows people to not be conformist to other people and dig deep into scripture and commentaries, learning actual words in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic, etc. It also satisfied my love for being unique.

            When I was a Messianic I was happy. When I dealt with Pentecostals due to modern “prophecies” I went mad. I was very unhappy and frustrated when dealing with spiritual people. Then I became secular.

            I don’t know enough about Greco-Roman derived Christianity because I simply dismissed it as being completely wrong, unscriptural and illogical. I just mocked it.

          • bean says:

            @HFA
            I would strongly encourage you not to simply say “ex-fundamentalist”, because Messianic has basically no relation with mainstream fundamentalism, and you don’t know enough about the later to discuss it intelligently. Deiseach classified you as a troll based on that, and it’s an understandable mistake.
            (I have serious theological disagreements with Messianic, but that’s an issue for another time.)

          • HFARationalist says:

            @bean Thanks! My arguments here are basically typical Messianic/Sacred Name/Hebrew Roots arguments. Basically I disagree about the claim that Catholicism is the standard form of Christianity due to it not being identical to Messianic Judaism which I still consider to be the least bad version of Christianity.

            All of the issues I have raised (names) and I haven’t raised yet (Torah and holidays) are standard Messianic theological concerns.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @bean As for cutting down apple trees in fact I’m pretty careful in not cutting down stuff I need. My extremism usually appears because my personal preferences are truly very atypical and I’m sometimes indifferent to others’ needs because I don’t have such needs.

            So it usually goes like this.
            HFARationalist is cutting down an apple tree.
            Deiseach/others (O): Why are you cutting down the nice apple tree?
            H: What’s the purpose of having apple trees at all. I eat peaches but not apples. For the sake of maximizing the amount of peach trees and hence peaches in the garden it is time to purify the garden of absurd, useless trees!
            O: I like apples. Many people like apples. Why not sell the apples to us?
            H: Oh I see! Irrational non-autists eat these sour apples. Rational people and autists on the other hand eat lots of peaches. The very fact that many humans eat apples at all is highly pathological. We should not just cut down this apple tree but also eliminate all apple trees from this planet. We need transhumanism to get rid of the pathological love of apples as well.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @bean So I apologize. Sometimes I indeed do not share the needs others have and hence do not understand them at all. Instead I may act in a way that appear to be very inconsiderate. That’s like a hypothetical talking cat trying to ban grains and sugar because cats don’t like grains and can not taste sweetness in general. You guys are like a bunch of humans or dogs trying to explain to me (the cat) why sugar is not completely useless and why I shouldn’t throw all the bread into the trash can. I may even complain that humans are so irrational that they consider that bland thing (I mean sugar) tasty and these funny bags of stuff (bread) food. From a feline perspective this is insane. To promote rationality I might even scream “Abolish sugar!” and “Abolish bread!”.

            Replace “sugar” by children or a bit of collectivism then you understand what’s going on. I really don’t like kids. I really see no need to get coupled and have sex. I really see no need to have collectivism. I really don’t need any of these. However others include some autists need them.

          • Deiseach says:

            Deiseach classified you as a troll based on that

            Not on that alone, look at the typical swerve they pull.

            HFAR: I’m an ex-fundamentalist so I know about this stuff

            Others: Nope, you’re making basic mistakes about things Fundamentalists believe

            HFAR: Oh did I say ‘fundamentalist’? Your mistake! I mean ex-Messianic Judaism!

            HFAR has an annoying tendency to do this rather than engage with a point or criticism raised by another. At this point, HFAR is reminding me very strongly of another person who was an instant expert on everything and the moment their assertions were challenged by others knowledgeable on the topic, they immediately swerved off to “that’s not what I said at all, I meant this instead”.

            Call me paranoid, but I think if these two are not the same person, they might be someone egged on by that person. Though I suppose it is possible, in a multiverse of all probabilities, that two separate and unrelated persons of that type (“I’m an ultra-rationalist autistic who knows everything about everything and I have the One Killer Theory that will explain everything, here let me shoehorn “Red”, “Blue” and other colour Tribes into it – see, I spek-a your language, now everyone must agree with me!”) found SSC by pure chance and decided to enlighten the heathen on here.

          • Deiseach says:

            All of the issues I have raised (names) and I haven’t raised yet (Torah and holidays) are standard Messianic theological concerns.

            But not standard Christian concerns, so I see no more reason I should take what you say about transliteration any more seriously in relation to Christian theology than I should take the opinion of a Shaivite about “But who is the shakti of Christ?” when discussing the theology of the Trinity.

            I’m not going to tell a Jewish person they’re doing the Sabbath wrong, because I’m not a practicing Jew and any comments I have would only be my uninformed opinion. Do you see what I am getting at?

            Early Biblical Christianity did not even have Popes.

            An alleged former adherent of a movement that, being the most charitable about its age, only came into existence in the 19th century is going to tell my denomination about who were and were not its leaders for the first five centuries. Yes, and The Trail of Blood is correct in its historiography that the only true Christians, descending from the foundation of Christianity, are a collection of early 20th century American Baptist churches.

            EDIT: Well, I didn’t think I was going to re-fight the Wars Of Religion when I logged in this afternoon, but there you go!

          • bean says:

            As for cutting down apple trees in fact I’m pretty careful in not cutting down stuff I need. My extremism usually appears because my personal preferences are truly very atypical and I’m sometimes indifferent to others’ needs because I don’t have such needs.

            Yes. This is very true. But what you really need to do is take the next step and start thinking of this kind of stuff before you stick your foot in it. You have a terrible and infuriating habit of equivocating between your preference and the True Rational Preference. I think you know this, although you probably don’t realize how annoying it is to people you are talking to.

            To continue with the fruit tree analogy, I personally can’t stand bananas. But I recognize that this is my preference, and not something universal, and I don’t think this means that we need to cut down all the banana trees and replace them with cherry trees (or pineapples, which probably grow better in that environment).
            Basically, if you can train yourself to recognize the validity of other people’s preferences, you will be able to do a much better job of convincing people of your own, and will be much nicer to talk to.

            @Deiseach
            I’m not quite so sure that HFA is related to the chaotic one. HFA has shown no interest in politics or victimhood games, and bint didn’t have quite the same reckless disregard for other people’s preferences.

          • Charles F says:

            Oh, and now I feel silly because apparently Scott mentions both bits. Oh well.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Deiseach No offense. I’m indeed not identical to whoever you are talking about. I like this place because it is a rationalist/non-Abrahamic one that is explicitly not controlled by a SJW echo chamber.
            I want to listen to both liberals and secular alt-rightists (even literal Nazis) but no offense, not too many religious conservatives. Basically I desire an objective conversation on race and other controversial issues backed up by facts without religion complicating the picture. My line is close to Sam Harris’ .

            Does that poster love cats, love science, not support SJ and hate sex? I think it is unlikely.

            @bean I agree. Let me keep my peach trees and others can have their apple trees. 🙂
            P.S. I actually like apples. However to keep the fruit tree analogy I still use apple trees to refer to something I don’t like or even understand. I understand human bonding just slightly more than the amount of understanding cats have for sweetness.

            There is a problem with the True Rational Preference (TRP). We need one more variable, people. Different people have different TRP. Maybe the TRP of most people involves finding a spouse even if this means they will have to conform to some culture. On the other hand since my desire for independent thoughts is greater than my desire for coupledom which is a very unusual preference. Hence my TRP involves staying single forever in order to be happier and more fulfilled. If sexual desires ever show up there is always masturbation and later, sex bots.

            I think I may have unknowingly somehow pressed Deiseach’s button and she feels that my ideals threaten to destroy everything she holds dear or something. No offense. I’m fine with you having your poetry even though I see no need for it.

          • crh says:

            You have a terrible and infuriating habit of equivocating between your preference and the True Rational Preference.

            To be fair, pretty much everyone does this. Or at least, everyone who doesn’t explicitly reject the very notion of True Rational Preference. It’s just more visible when the person doing it has weird preferences.

          • bean says:

            To be fair, pretty much everyone does this. Or at least, everyone who doesn’t explicitly reject the very notion of True Rational Preference. It’s just more visible when the person doing it has weird preferences.

            I don’t think it’s just a matter of preference weirdness. HFA is much quicker to jump to declaring something a TRP than most people. I dislike bananas, but I don’t consider it a TRP. I don’t want to engineer everyone to dislike them. It’s a quirk of my taste buds/brain, and if people like them, that’s fine. He would declare that this meant that bananas were objectively bad, and everyone should be engineered to dislike them.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Deiseach, FWIW, I used to have a Messianic Jewish friend; she harped on exactly these points as well. If HFARationalist isn’t ex-Messianic, he’s doing a very, very good job of faking it.

            (Her argument was that God really, really does care about getting His Name correct in Hebrew. When I pointed out that the apostles preached in Greek and as far as we know never lapsed into Hebrew, she didn’t really have a response.)

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Falsifying Catholicism or other tradition-based movements when the written scripture exists is in fact very easy. I will argue from a literalist fundamentalist perspective.

          Catholicism doesn’t accept a “literalist fundamentalist perspective” as true, though, so an attempt to disprove Catholicism from a LFP (unless you first argue that the LFP is the correct perspective) just begs the question.

          • HFARationalist says:

            I wasn’t begging the question. I believe LFP is the correct perspective when it comes to religion if you first assume that a particular religion is correct unless there are reliable contacts between a deity/deities of the religion and the faithful.

          • Nick says:

            You believe it, okay, but you have to argue that it’s the correct perspective, or no argument you base on it will be convincing to anyone who doesn’t already agree that literalist fundamentalism is true.

          • Evan Þ says:

            unless there are reliable contacts between a deity/deities of the religion and the faithful.

            See, Roman Catholics will tell you there are – e.g. Papal infallibility, and the infallibility of Sacred Tradition.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Evan That’s not something a prudent person can easily trust. Are Papal elections confirmed by miracles at all? No. So who knows what’s going on. Early Biblical Christianity did not even have Popes. Who decided that the Bishop of Rome is somehow connected to AG more than anyone else when Rome isn’t even a place mentioned in the Bible as the center of Christianity? A choice that is a bit more reasonable is the Bishop of Jerusalem.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @HFARationalist, I entirely agree. Nor do we even see more subtle signs of Divine endorsement, like ecumenical councils anticipating and condemning heresies in advance of their appearance. That’s the main reason I’m Protestant.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Evan I agree. However Protestantism isn’t accompanied by miracles either.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Who decided that the Bishop of Rome is somehow connected to AG more than anyone else when Rome isn’t even a place mentioned in the Bible as the center of Christianity?

            Jesus did: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mat. 16.17-19)

            For an ancient Middle Eastern king to give someone his keys implied giving them a large amount of authority — basically like the equivalent of a Prime Minister. (Cf. Isa. 22.20-4.) Also note the thee’s and thou’s in this passage: Jesus is giving this authority to Peter individually, not to the Church or apostles as a group.

            It’s also worth noticing that during the second century Roman supremacy was sufficiently well established for Irenaeus of Lyons to take it as a given in his Against Heresies:

            “Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner — whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion — assemble in unauthorised meetings, by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organised at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also by indicating the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those who exist everywhere.”

          • Evan Þ says:

            @The Original Mr. X, note that Jesus gives the same power to all the church two chapters later:

            Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.

            — Matthew 18:18-20

            And, @HFARationalist, okay, by your reasoning that means that Protestantism should be approached from a literalist fundamentalist perspective. As a Protestant, I’m willing to grant that.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @The Original Mr. X, note that Jesus gives the same power to all the church two chapters later:

            Yes: Peter, individually, is given the same power as the entire rest of the Church. I’m not seeing how this is supposed to be a strike against Catholicism.

      • crh says:

        2. You prove that numbers aren’t real.

        I’m interested in taking up this challenge, though I have no interest in the theological implications, whatever they may be. Before I can begin, I require a definition of “numbers”.

        • HFARationalist says:

          I agree. However what does “real” mean is also important. Are cats real? Is Florida real? Is SSC real? Is the General Theory of Relativity real? I’m sure that everybody should agree that cats are real. Florida is a more abstract concept. SSC does not exist as any physical entity you can touch. Instead it is just some data. The General Theory of Relativity is something humans speak and write down. However it does not occupy any space in the universe.

          Numbers are as real as the General Theory of Relativity. They don’t physically exist. However humans have invented them.

          • rlms says:

            Yes, no, no, yes respectively.

          • Deiseach says:

            Are cats real? Is Florida real? Is SSC real? Is the General Theory of Relativity real?

            Yes, no, no, yes respectively.

            Lemme work this one out *counts on fingers*

            Cats – real
            Florida – not real
            SSC – not real
            General Theory of Relativity – real

            Sounds legit 🙂

            Florida’s unreality reminds me of the lines from the Cordwainer Smith story “The Dead Lady of Clown Town”:

            An-Fang was near a city, the only living city with a pre-atomic name. The lovely meaningless name was Meeya Meefla, where the lines of ancient roadways, untouched by a wheel for thousands of years, forever paralleled the warm, bright, clear beaches of the Old South East.

            This is of course “Miami, Fla”.

      • Just demonstrate that another religion makes more true truth claims and fewer false ones than catholic Christianity.

        For sufficiently mundane definitions of truth. a multi-volume encyclopedia contains more truth than any scripture.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Rejecting theism, though, would be huge. I don’t think evidence alone could do it. Logical proof would be required too. Like:

        1. You show me overwhelming evidence that the the material universe has existed for infinite time.
        2. You prove that numbers aren’t real.
        3. You publish in a peer-reviewed philosophy journal an irrefutable argument that 1 is a coherent statement given 2.

        This seems to demand way too much. 1 implies that if the material universe that we know has a definite start time, that establishes that whatever caused it to come into existence must be a sentience that it would make sense for us to worship. It ignores the other possibilities, like, say,

        – the universe that we know was created by a sentience, but that sentience was destroyed in the process, and it therefore no longer exists and wouldn’t make sense for us to worship,

        – or the universe was set into existence by a non-sentient process that we can just think of as the outside-our-universe level of the ordinary laws of physics, as part of a process that really does stretch back infinitely, but that there’s no way from within our universe to verify that.

        …Or some other possibilities. Given how much we have yet to discover, the sensible position is that we do not know why our universe came into existence, but settling on the claim that it was created by a god is a classic example of privileging the hypothesis.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      As an atheist, I would be convinced by one of two things: divine revelation or a miracle.

      Someone saying that they had a divine revelation isn’t particularly convincing because, absent prophecies or other falsifiable information, there’s no way to prove it. But if I had one myself that would be enough.

      In terms of miracles my standards are a bit higher than the average person. I’d want more than a sandwich or a television faith healer. Something with the pizzazz of a medieval hagiology would be better.

      I wasn’t brought up with religion and haven’t seen anything which would convince me to convert. But I’d also like to believe that I’m not too stubborn to see something that’s right in front of my face.

      • Orpheus says:

        But how would you know that the divine revelation was indeed devine and not, say, you going insane/hallucinating/being tricked? If you can’t trust others, it seems to me you can’t trust yourself, either.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          The way I understand it, which may not be orthodox, is that revelation isn’t supposed to be ambiguous. Other people can and should be skeptical but if the one receiving the revelation isn’t sure then it’s definitely not real.

          That leaves open the possibility of delusions. But if I’m delusional then I won’t be able to reason myself out of it anyway. It’s a pointless thing to worry about because it can equally apply to any belief no matter how I came to hold it.

          • Evan Þ says:

            but if the one receiving the revelation isn’t sure then it’s definitely not real.

            Then what about all the people in the Old Testament who asked God for signs and were given them?

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Evan Why does that not happen in real life? Why don’t we see miracles?

          • Evan Þ says:

            @HFARationalist, perhaps because you’ve already concluded that while they’d make you believe in God’s existence, they wouldn’t make you trust in Him? So God wouldn’t get any benefit out of performing miracles per your requirements.

          • Orpheus says:

            @HFA some people say they do.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Orpheus I know. Many are lying. That’s why we need an objective committee to track down and analyze modern supernatural and paranormal claims.

    • andrewflicker says:

      This is a boring question. Few theists will be interested in re-fighting the same old wars, and most/all non-theists will have the same pat answers.

      Anyone want to instead speculate what evidence it would take to convince a non-deist into some form of weak deism, without it going into full-blown theism? Simulation arguments seem reasonable, but I’m struggling to come up with much else. Maybe Magicians-style discovery of magic as the “programming language of reality”? *shrugs*

      Going from deism to non-deism seems even harder to persuade.

      • dodrian says:

        I believe that was CS Lewis’ story. Raised Anglican, he became an atheist as a teenager. In his 30s he became a deist, then a few years later returned to Anglicanism. I think he writes about it in Surprised by Joy, but I’ve not read that one.

      • MrApophenia says:

        Mentioned this the last time this question came up on this board, but Carl Sagan proposed one at the end of Contact. (Spoilers for that book follow.)

        Gurl svaq na vagryyvtrag fvtany ohvyg vagb gur npghny fgehpgher bs zngurzngvpf. Fcrpvsvpnyyl, n genafyngnoyr zrffntr uvqqra qrrc va gur qvtvgf bs Cv.

    • Urstoff says:

      Depends on what you mean by theism. A sufficiently watered down concept of “deity” as bare cause of the universe or something would require less evidence than, say, the Christian god and all the baggage that comes with it.

      • HFARationalist says:

        I agree. For practical purposes I define a theistic deity in a way different from the standard definition. A theistic deity is a sentient being that has the following extra properties:
        1.A theistic deity has to overpower humans. Furthermore humans are incapable of fleeing from the theistic deity.
        2.A theistic deity has to demand that humans submit to Them.

        Basically a theistic deity is like Kim Jong-un and the universe controlled by a theistic deity is like North Korea. However in an alternative universe where the only nation is North Korea you’d better submit to Kim to keep your head. However a theistic deity can be much nicer than Mr. Kim.

    • Orpheus says:

      No evidence. I want a mathematical proof.

    • The Nybbler says:

      If God wants me to convert to theism, he’s going to have to present the evidence personally. I’m sure he’ll have little difficulty.

    • Salem says:

      It depends how much you want to pack into the word “theism.” It should be pretty obvious what kind of evidence I need to believe that there is a being named Odin, who can see the future and rides an 8-legged flying horse, or a creature named Yahweh who can summon plagues of locusts and manifest in the form of a burning bush. Just the usual preponderance of the evidence standard.

      But as to what further evidence I’d need on whether this Yahweh is natural, or supernatural, or a demon, or a god, or God… I’m honestly not sure what these words are getting at.

      I guess that’s why I’m an agnostic.

    • Mark says:

      Hmmm.

      I believe in God for the same reason I reject solipsism.
      The evidence that would get me to reverse my position would be evidence that these positions aren’t compatible with my happiness.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Could you elaborate? That’s so foreign from my own psychology that I struggle to imagine how your positions could possibly be compatible with one’s happiness.

        (It probably matters that I was raised Christian, and I still am.)

        • Mark says:

          Basically, Puddleglum’s speech.

          I was raised as a “common sense” atheist.

          I do have evidence for what I believe in, but it isn’t really objective. The belief is a framework that ties emotions to facts.

    • Protagoras says:

      For me, theism is close to a skeptical scenario. It’s not exactly one; I do believe that there probably are sequences of evidence which would convince me of theism. But I cannot easily specify what one would be like. The easy examples, like the old testament miracles you mention, would at present strike me as better evidence that I’ve gone insane, or been drugged, or some stage magician type is messing with me, or I’m in a simulation, or something. Again, I imagine there is some sequence of evidence such that it would favor theism over those sorts of options, but I don’t know what it would be. I expect it would be very long and complicated.

      • lvlln says:

        This describes my perspective pretty well. “I’m hallucinating” is a fully general argument against any claims of existence, with the sole exception of one’s own consciousness. Yet knowing how common hallucinations are in the world as I perceive it and knowing how much less common supernatural entities are in the same world, if I ever saw something that appeared to be evidence of a supernatural entity, it makes far more sense to me to conclude that I’m hallucinating than to conclude that a supernatural entity exists.

        I think I could be convinced that a being exists who is sufficiently godlike that it might as well be a god, and that it’s useful to treat it like gods get treated by other humans, through consistent demonstrations of miracles. Which I guess would put my belief in a god on about the same footing as my belief in my body – sure, I may be hallucinating that the material world exists and my body and brain are part of it, but I’ve found it’s really useful to behave as if such a hallucination were correct, and I could see myself taking the same approach to a god.

      • Urstoff says:

        Right, it’s hard to imagine what a good theory of the world and how it works that incorporated a deity would look like.

    • Well... says:

      When I went from atheism to theism it wasn’t because of evidence. Theism is upstream from rationality.

      • HFARationalist says:

        Is there enough evidence to support your particular version of theism?

        • Evan Þ says:

          The postulate that we can talk about concepts like “evidence” and “reason”?

          • HFARationalist says:

            Not really. The problem here is that nothing philosophical requires the Abrahamic God (AG). There might actually be a sentient being way stronger than humans and we can call that being a deity. Maybe we are in a simulation and there is a dude sitting in front of the computer who we should call a deity. However even if a deity exists They are very unlikely to be AG.

            Most AG-supporting arguments are very weak because it says a lot on whether there is a deity and says a lot on if AG exists what we can say about Him. However it usually does not say a lot about why AG exists if at least one deity does. This is actually very implausible for several reasons which I’m going to elaborate in the next post.

            (Which banned word have I used? huh I can’t post the reasons in this post without this post disappearing)

          • HFARationalist says:

            (Yeah the filter is weird. Let’s continue)

            1.T.h.e.r.e. a.r.e s.o m.a.n.y p.o.s.s.i.b.l.e. d.e.i.t.i.e.s. H.u.m.a.n.s. h.a.v.e w.o.r.s.h.i.p.p.e.d l.o.t.s o.f d.e.i.t.i.e.s. T.h.e.r.e m.a.y a.l.s.o e.x.i.s.t d.e.i.t.i.e.s h.u.m.a.n.i.t.y i.s u.n.a.w.a.r.e o.f.
            2.A.G i.s h.o.s.t.i.l.e t.o o.t.h.e.r d.e.i.t.i.e.s a.c.c.o.r.d.i.n.g t.o t.h.e m.a.i.n A.b.r.a.h.a.m.i.c r.e.l.i.g.i.o.n.s..

            So AG is very unlikely to exist as the only deity in the universe.

          • Well... says:

            I don’t think the Torah stipulates that YHVH is the only god, only that He is the mightiest and that His people should not worship any others.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Well.. I agree. However there are also Nevi’im (prophets) and Ketuvim(writings). I think the messages there do suggest that other deities do not exist.

            In fact it is much worse in Christianity and especially Islam compared to Judaism. The more intolerant your deity is of other deities the less likely that your deity exists unless you have very strong evidence to back up your theistic claims.

          • Well... says:

            Ketuvim and and Nevi’im have no authority in my view.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Well.. That’s fine. 🙂

    • MrApophenia says:

      Talked above about the relatively simple task of converting me to that old-time religion where you just don’t want powerful embodiments of natural forces to smite you.

      The modern version, where you actually love your god instead of/in addition to fearing them, is a tougher nut to crack. But I think you could do it. The method would be… well, actually, pretty much exactly what Jesus does in the story. Jesus’ followers don’t follow him because they fear his mighty super powers, they follow him because they think he’s a good person with a lot to teach them.

      Think about Thomas. Thomas didn’t believe Jesus could come back from the dead, which means he probably didn’t believe Jesus was literally a deity. Which also means he definitely wasn’t following Jesus because of the magic powers. He was following Jesus because he thought Jesus was right. He’d have followed Jesus in exactly the same way if Jesus was just a dude.

      So when Jesus does show up and prove he really did come back from the dead (and once again, you have a god being very chill about people asking to see proof, and putting up the goods – he literally lets Thomas stick a finger in the nail hole!), you know this is still true. Thomas was ready to accept Christ’s teachings as a completely independent question from whether he is god.

      So how could a god convince me of the value of their moral teachings? The same way as anyone else – by actually acting on their teachings, and convincing people of them with discussion, and basically being a good person.

    • Wrong Species says:

      What’s the best way to differentiate between having God-like powers and having the power to create God-like illusions?

      I’m assuming that a sufficiently powerful being counts as God. How powerful does it need to be?

      And is it even possible for us to differentiate between God as described in the Bible and a sufficiently powerful being that could mimic the God of the Bible?

      If God exists, then at the minimum he needs to be able to flip a switch in my head and make me believe in him without any kind of miracle, even if just for a minute. I wouldn’t know what kind of being I’m dealing with but at the very least I would know that it’s incredibly powerful.

    • Baeraad says:

      It’d take quite a bit to make a theist out of me, but it could be done. If a shining figure appeared in the middle of a major city, spoke to the masses and demonstrated, repeatedly, his ability to – for example – stop and restart the rotation of the Earth at will? Well, then I would feel very silly indeed. And probably try to find out if there was some way I could get on His Omnipotence’s good side, because I’d really rather prefer not to go to Hell, please.

      The key, though, is that the evidence can’t just be presented to me personally, because I don’t trust my own perceptions enough. I might have gone insane, after all. I’d want to see that other people of all stripes could also observe the same things and that they were reacting to it in believably human ways.

      And yes, I’m aware that I could theoretically be hallucinating other people seeing a phenomenon just as I could be hallucinating the phenomenon itself. However, if that were the case, it’d mean that I had already lost all contact with reality, so I might as well go with it. If I saw an isolated miracle that no one else noticed, on the other hand, I’d consider it reasonable to assume that my brain had simply glitched for a moment.

    • Is there no possibility that someone could undergo a paradigm shift without receiving any specific evidence? ie, just reframe what they know already?

    • beleester says:

      For me (and probably for other theists), I don’t think it’s a question of evidence.

      Here’s an analogy. Try asking a Bengals fan “How many times does your team have to lose to the Steelers before you admit they’re the better team?” (If you’re not a football fan, substitute any other sports team and their rivals).

      The answer is “No number.” Or perhaps they’ll admit it in a proud, “Our team sucks but they’re still our team” sort of way. It’s not about winning and losing, it’s about your culture.

      If you ask me “What are the odds that the Bengals will actually make the playoffs?” or “What are the odds that the Messiah will come and fix everything?” then I’ll answer honestly and say “Pretty damn low,” but I’m not sure that makes a difference to how I identify as a football fan or a theist, respectively.

      • HFARationalist says:

        Theism/non-theism is about epistemology, not culture. Either your deity/deities exist(s) or They do not. If you want to belong to a theistic community without actually having belief in the existence of theistic deity/deities the community worship you don’t actually believe in that religion.

        • beleester says:

          Tell a Bengals fan that they aren’t really a Bengals fan because they don’t expect to make the playoffs, then get back to me on that.

          EDIT: Sorry, that was unnecessarily snarky. To clarify, I believe in God, but I’m not sure that belief “pays rent” in that I can concretely specify a situation where I’d expect God to intervene in the world in a supernatural way. Where does that fit into your categorization?

          • crh says:

            A Bengals fan is someone who wants the Bengals to do well, which is orthogonal to whether they believe the Bengals will do well.

            Theism is not analogous to Bengals fandom unless you are defining “theist” to mean, “Someone who wants God to exist.” I think that would be a pretty non-standard definition.

          • rahien.din says:

            Maybe (contra Yudkowsky) beliefs pay rent not in the limited sense of constraining anticipations, but in the larger sense of constraining reactions.

            For instance : it would be weird to say that a belief in certain physical concepts “pays rent” by predicting the eventual heat death of the universe, and thereby constraining our anticipations. This is a state we could never, ever observe. Instead, these physical concepts “pay rent” by allowing us to be unsurprised when we observe their more immediate and mundane actions.

            What we are describing as a “culture” is (in some sense) a community’s shared set of reactions to life’s events. Theologic beliefs may have the effect of constraining reactions. In that sense, they can pay rent.

          • HFARationalist says:

            The heat death hypothesis is just a prediction. It certainly does not pay rent. However the physical theories people used to produce the heat death hypothesis do pay rent.

            Theological beliefs can pay rent though. People who absurdly believed Jesus (http://biblehub.com/mark/16-18.htm) and handled venomous snakes literally died which shows that Jesus isn’t there to protect them. I guess that falsifies Christianity or at least whoever that wrote Mark 16:18.

            http://abcnews.go.com/US/snake-handling-pentecostal-pastor-dies-snake-bite/story?id=22551754

          • rahien.din says:

            HFARationalist,

            The heat death hypothesis is just a prediction. It certainly does not pay rent. However the physical theories people used to produce the heat death hypothesis do pay rent.

            Well… yes. Exactly as I said.

            My idea is that* {constraining anticipations} ⊂ {constraining reactions}. Theological/religious/faith-based beliefs can pay rent by constraining reactions.

            Also, I don’t agree that snake-bites-the-pastor is an instance of Pentacostal theology paying rent. Sure, anticipations were constrained, but only inappropriately, by excising a very significant possibility of snake-bites-the-pastor.

            That’s an instance of this-idea-stole-my-rent-money.

            * In the manner of {9,14} ⊂ {9,14,28}

          • HFARationalist says:

            @rahien.din I think Christianity or at least Biblical verses written by whoever wrote the segment of Mark 16:18 has been falsified.

            Jesus did say that the faithful could handle snakes. Yet people who are really devoted enough to the point of literally handling snakes get bitten and die. What does that mean? No the problem is not just Pentacostalism. Instead the problem is Christianity. Following Jesus on these verses is literally life threatening.

          • Nick says:

            @rahien.din I think Christianity or at least Biblical verses written by whoever wrote the segment of Mark 16:18 has been falsified.

            Falsified how?

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nick

            Let’s see.

            14Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. 15And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
            16He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
            17And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
            18They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

            Hmm there are many who believe, right? Where are the devils getting cast out? Where are people speaking new tongues (no, glossolalia doesn’t count, everyone can do that), where are the people who handle serpants and do not get hurt (No I don’t recommend trying that at all! Don’t do it. It is stupid and dangerous.)? Where are the people who can drink whatever poison but still survive? (Again, don’t do it. Whoever wrote Mark was lying) Where are those who can heal whoever that is sick? (Again. Don’t try it. It’s a deadly lie.)

          • Nick says:

            Hmm there are many who believe, right? Where are the devils getting cast out? Where are people speaking new tongues (no, glossolalia doesn’t count, everyone can do that), where are the people who handle serpants and do not get hurt (No I don’t recommend trying that at all! Don’t do it. It is stupid and dangerous.)? Where are the people who can drink whatever poison but still survive? (Again, don’t do it. Whoever wrote Mark was lying) Where are those who can heal whoever that is sick? (Again. Don’t try it. It’s a deadly lie.)

            There are totally accounts of the apostles performing miracles. And there have been accounts of later miracles for centuries. But I’m not a Pentecostal, I’m not remotely committed to the belief that these things happen regularly—especially not when, as this thread shows, more people than ever wouldn’t be convinced even if a miracle occurred.

          • rahien.din says:

            HFARationalist,

            All you’ve demonstrated is that it is a mistake to treat scripture as an explicit statement of epistemology.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @rahien.din Then why do you believe in any part of the Bible at all? Who knows which part is to be taken literally?

            If a part of the Bible is proven incorrect and people simply claim that this particular portion isn’t literal then is this basically moving the goalposts?

          • Evan Þ says:

            Well, this specific passage of the Longer Ending of Mark can be safely thrown out without endangering the rest of Scripture:

            “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20. Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9–20 immediately after verse 8. At least one manuscript inserts additional material after verse 14…”

            (Myself, part of me wants to say that “these signs will accompany those who believe” doesn’t mean it’ll happen every team we pick up snakes; but mostly I’m fine with just throwing it out as a later addendum. At least in every English translation I’ve seen, the style takes a really abrupt turn between 16:8 and 16:9.)

          • rahien.din says:

            HFARationalist,

            Sometimes it’s pretty simple. Most Christians have no problem with blended fabrics and eating shrimp – they jettison much of the Levitical codes. A literal exegesis of Mark 16:18 seems easy to disregard, too. In a similar vein, it is impossible to disregard the simple, plainly-stated, foundational truth in Mark 12:28-31.

            But exegesis is not always easy. Here are my two guides :

            1. The Parable of the Good Samaritan. In particular, Richard Holloway’s sermon on this parable. Most people are taught that this parable is about hypocrisy, but that is false. It’s about having too much sincerity, and being unable to listen to wordless, gut-level compassion. When I am trying to understand scripture, I try to find where my compassion leads me.

            2. The idea of parable, in general. A story does not have to be literally true in order to contain truth. Was there once a good Samaritan who acted as the story describes? It doesn’t actually matter. Maybe the whole story is Christ’s invention. It is still a vehicle for an important truth. I’m willing to approach a lot of scripture from that standpoint. Rather than “Is this verse history or physics or biology or [something else that scripture isn’t]?” I ask “What can this passage teach me?”

            So on the whole, I ask what any particular passage can teach me, and try to be lead by my compassion.

            You will notice that within Christianity’s myriad denominations, you can very nearly shop for your exegesis of choice. Wherever you are led, there is probably a community whose set of shared reactions is one you are compatible with.

            Maybe your compassion has led you into something different than Christianity, or theism in general, and I think that’s okay. Certainly it seems like you’ve escaped some rather malign influences. Getting out from under that kind of woo is a very good thing and worth a lot.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @rahien.din

            If AG is actually real don’t expect Him to rubberstamp the churches lol.

            Nah it is you humans, the church people who decided that you could blend wool and cotton and eat pork. That’s your decision, not AG’s. Anyone who has read the whole Bible knows that AG would rather cast almost all humans to hell if only 20 people follow His crazy standards.

            If AG is real a Wahhabi-like movement will win, not traditionalists. I would actually be happy because strict anti-tradition literalists are who I used to be. At least the saved are much more likely to be my fellow autists who are hated by both tradition and liberalism.

            If AG isn’t real why are you a Christian at all? You are believing a false statement.

            AG is harsh. Believing in Churchianity (AGism-lite) is going to find you no favor with AG and harm your reasoning at the same time. Thankfully AG is unlikely to be real or we’d better cry.

            Do you know why I had malign influences? Autism + religion is likely to result in religious extremism. In particular literalist anti-traditional anti-cultural religious extremists such as Karaites in.Judaism, Messianics in Christianity and Wahhabis in Islam are likely to have lots of autists. I won’t be surprised if ISIS is more autistic than the general population. On the other hand the human tradition piled on human tradition sects are likely to be hated by autists. Hence autists in religion are usually harsh, unconventional fanatics.

          • Evan Þ says:

            it is you humans, the church people who decided that you could blend wool and cotton and eat pork.

            But see Acts 10:9-16 and Mark 7:18-19.

            (Yes, I know too many Messianic Jews try to treat the vision given to Peter just as an allegory of relating with Gentiles – but at the least, it fails as an allegory unless it works on the literal level too. Plus, that neglects Christ’s statement in Mark 7.)

          • rahien.din says:

            HFARationalist,

            I didn’t mean that you are malign – quite the opposite. If you were malign, you would still be living gleefully in the clutches of those weirdo fanatics. Autists are not malign.

            By “malign influences,” I meant the “prophetesses” and other weirdo fanatics, who tried to manipulate you, and from whom you broke free. I’m genuinely glad that you did!

            Anyone who has read the whole Bible knows that AG would rather cast almost all humans to hell if only 20 people follow His crazy standards.

            Only if you hold to a weird, hyperliteral, highly-motivated exegesis. You’re right – if one holds to that exegesis, then one is mistaken and confused.

            But… I don’t hold to that exegesis. If anything, Christ’s opponent on earth was religious legalism. What made this clear to me was Richard Holloway’s sermon on the dangers of religious sincerity.

        • James says:

          Theism/non-theism is about epistemology, not culture.

          People talk about it like it’s epistemic, but in fact it’s much more cultural than you might realise, as a literalist autist (no offence!) who is probably inclined to take people at their word when they utter things like “I believe in X”.

          • HFARationalist says:

            Then they don’t necessarily believe in what they claim to believe in.

            That’s just belief as cheering. That does not satisfy the definition of a theist.

          • James says:

            That does not satisfy the definition of a theist.

            Maybe, but consider broadening the sense of the word “believe” in the definition of a theist as “one who believes in God”.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @James From a rational perspective I don’t think we should do so. A person who claim that Christianity is factually correct for cultural, social, psychological or pragmatic reasons without actually believing in it isn’t an epistemological Christian, hence they don’t believe in the Christian woo. On the other hand a person who believes that Christianity is factually correct while supporting Satan IS an epistemological Christian and hence they do believe in the Christian woo even when they are morally completely against the morality of the Christian religion.

            One horrible thing about religious words is that they contain both epistemological assertions and moral codes. We have to separate them completely to simplify the issues.

    • Garrett says:

      Atheist here. My best friend’s a pastor. I’ve thought a fair bit about this question. I’d start with the following:

      What do you mean by theist and/or god? One of my first problems with most religions is that they tend to be either non-specific, self-referential, or self-contradictory about what they mean by a god. See other discussions about the triad of omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent frequently ascribed to the Abrahamaic god. Others become meaningless eg. “first mover” which is a finite description but which doesn’t provide anything useful to go on. So you’d need to provide a certain specificity.

      Generally, I’d put any kind of theism as a subset of the supernatural. So it would have to be something which clearly shows a break with the understood natural world. I’d have to rule out any illusions (David Copperfield has done some amazing TV specials!). But assuming that, it would depend upon the claims made. A near-omnipotent god (eg. Abrahamic) would be much easier to test for than one with limited claimed powers. Being able to repeatedly split the Red Sea 10-Commandments-style would be a good indicator. Claiming that you can make certain plants grow faster by singing to them would be less interesting.

      Then I’d ask what I’m supposed to do with this information. If all they want is for me to believe that, indeed, they can turn sticks into snakes and back again, well, they’ve convinced me. If they are claiming that they then have some moral superiority and that I should then kill the mail man because he’s an agent of Satan … I’m going to be far more dubious.

    • rahien.din says:

      I’m a theist and there is literally no evidence that could force me to abandon theism.

      This flows from my understanding of creatio ex nihilo, creatio non est mutatio. “Change” is a sequence of linked events, or, process acting on substrate, and it is what the world does. “Cause” in the divine sense is to bring the entire sequence into being, with no need of process, nor substrate. Being unable to distinguish between divine creation and natural causes is what Michael Tkacz termed the cosmogonical fallacy.

      The practical import is that God is equally imminent in each action/interaction within the self-consistent universe. It is insufficient to say “The universe is both apparently- autonomous and also imminently created,” because the universe’s apparent autonomous nature is the direct result of its imminent creation. Thus, it is equally true to say of any event, “God does it” and “A natural cause acting on a particular substrate brought this event.” For instance, why does Gatsby pine for Daisy? It is equally true to say “F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote him that way” and “Given the world he lives in, it is Gatsby’s nature to pine for Daisy.”

      This is also why it is false to claim that God can change natural law at some point in time. Creation is not change. To the extent that God changes creation, God alters the sequence and linkage of events. To the extent that natural law could change, the change itself is a mere feature of natural law.

      So to ask your original question is to ask what natural change would be so astounding as to disimply divine creation ex nihilo. According to my beliefs, that question doesn’t make sense. To ask it is to commit the cosmogonical fallacy. You could just as well ask, “How weird would a painting have to be in order to prove it had never been painted?”

      • HFARationalist says:

        Do you believe in a particular theistic religion?

        • rahien.din says:

          I’m Roman Catholic.

          I was raised Southern Baptist, but left that denomination due to my church’s particularly-suburban brand of anti-intellectualism. Via exposure to a lot of ideas and persons, I came to occupy a middle ground between atheism and Buddhism and post-Christianity. I met my wife, got introduced to Catholicism, found that it’s truly my best home, and converted.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        This flows from my understanding of creatio ex nihilo, creatio non est mutatio. “Change” is a sequence of linked events, or, process acting on substrate, and it is what the world does. “Cause” in the divine sense is to bring the entire sequence into being, with no need of process, nor substrate

        This is probably going to sound a lot like my response to Le Maistre Chat above, but…
        It sounds like you are smuggling in a pretty big assumption. You are defining ‘whatever caused the Universe to come into existence / continue to exist’ as God, without doing any of the hard work of demonstrating that that ‘whatever’ has any of the characteristics of what we normally mean by ‘God’, such as ‘is sentient’, ‘is worth our while praying to’ etc.

        Whatever caused the universe to come into existence may for all we know be completely non-sentient. We have, after all, identified the completely non-sentient process that causes the diversity of life, so it’s not as if the idea of an equivalently non-sentient cause for the universe is an a priori silly idea.

        • Nick says:

          This is probably going to sound a lot like my response to Le Maistre Chat above, but…
          It sounds like you are smuggling in a pretty big assumption.

          It only sounds like that because he’s not trying to give an argument for his position, he’s just explaining it. To give a full account of how one gets from common sense to a concurrentist view of causality would have required a much longer post. So it’s not that he’s defining the cause as God, or not doing any of the hard work necessarily, but none of that is going to show up in a short answer.

          Sorry if this seems like a real nitpick, but this is one of the things that always annoys me about these discussions: if it’s not clear from the beginning just how thorough we’ve been asked to be, anything less than exhaustive is going to sound presumptuous to someone or other. It’s an implicit, unintentional goalpost moving—the same problem that appears when someone asks for a proof of the existence of God, and you give them Aquinas’ or Avicenna’s or whoever’s, and they just say “But that doesn’t work, because it doesn’t prove it’s the God of Abraham/that God is good/that God is one/etc.!” Well of course it doesn’t, you didn’t ask me for that.

          Really, sorry. This has turned into a bit of a rant. 😀

          • rahien.din says:

            Thanks for this!

            Also, I was unaware that the way I think about this had a name. So thanks for that too.

          • HFARationalist says:

            Sorry. I shouldn’t have moved the goalpost. This thread was originally about theism/nontheism, not Abrahamic theism.

          • Nick says:

            HFA, this was directed at Winter Shaker, not you. You set the goalposts, not moved them. 😉 But this wasn’t really directed at Winter Shaker in particular anyway, just something I’ve noticed. I think it’s almost always an unintentional thing, and it’s something that’s kind of difficult to correct for in an active discussion where the topic naturally shifts anyway. It would be a different story if Winter Shaker had yelled at rahien.din or something, but they didn’t, so no enmity here from me.

        • rahien.din says:

          Firstly, Nick is exactly correct. Full stop.

          Secondly, to respond more in the specific

          You are defining ‘whatever caused the Universe to come into existence / continue to exist’ as God,

          You’ve kind of got it backwards.

          You haven’t demonstrated that that ‘whatever’ has any of the characteristics of what we normally mean by ‘God’

          Not sure why that would be relevant. The question very specifically references “your current form of theism.” I don’t have to address anyone else’s form of theism.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I don’t have to address anyone else’s form of theism.

            Okay, fair enough. But if by ‘there is literally no evidence that could force me to abandon theism, you really do mean ‘even if I were to be persuaded that whatever brought the universe into existence is in fact some mindless process akin to the laws of physics within our universe, no more aware of its own existence than the law of gravity, no more capable of *deliberately* creating universes that natural selection is capable of deliberately creating tigers, no more capable of being concerned about good and evil than a rock is, I would still continue to call it God and to call myself a theist’, then you are using those words in such a non-central way that it probably creates a lot of unnecessary confusion.

            Am I right in that supposition, that you just use the word ‘god’ to refer to however the universe came into existence, without any regard to whether ‘god’ is a sentience or a being or an entirely non-mindful process?

          • rahien.din says:

            Okay, fair enough. But if…

            Ech. If I was to be persuaded that God was a mindless, non-sentient, morally-vacuous process, to me this would constitute an abandonment of my theism.

            (By the way, in some sense that already happened to me, and sometime later it un-happened.)

            Am I right in that supposition, that you just use the word ‘god’ to refer to however the universe came into existence, without any regard to whether ‘god’ is a sentience or a being or an entirely non-mindful process?

            Nope.

            With respect to my personal theism, I think God is sentient, and entirely mindful, and loving. But neither do I presume that we could use those words to describe God in precisely the same way that we would use them to describe a non-God person.

            Even to me, that sounds mealy-mouthed and hand-wavy so I feel obligated to explain further : consider the word “exist.”

            Does God exist? In some sense, God definitely exists as the direct and immanent cause of each and every occurrence in the universe. But the self-consistency of the universe is such that God’s immanence is unnecessary to constrain our expectations about what will or won’t happen. God is causally-invisible to the degree that God is immanent. So, in some important sense, God does not exist.

            Or maybe “exist” is just the wrong word to apply to God – a valiant-but-quixotic approximation. It is neither correct nor incorrect. It has no connection with or relation to or resemblance with epistemology. It’s a complicated mirror.

            My intuition, then, is that these other concepts play a similar role. It is worthwhile and permissible to believe that God is sentient, mindful, and loving, but also a mistake to get too hung up on any apparent epistemological paradoxes that arise therefrom.

            Q. Which of the following tastes more like chocolate : the Riemann hypothesis, grande jeté, or middle C?
            A. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST GET OUT OF THE FUCKING CAR!

  20. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Is there a way to safely search this thread without getting spoilers of Gur Qrsraqref?

    I had to abandon thread when I saw discussion was happening.

    • Brad says:

      Use the ssc extension to block sandoratthezo (for now!). That’ll collapse his top level post on the topic and all replies.

      I kind-of wish there was a way to persistently collapse threads, but since chrome doesn’t let you install unsigned extensions anymore it didn’t seem worth the effort.

    • crh says:

      As far as I can tell there’s only one comment chain about ‘Gur Qrsraqref’. So if you start from the top and scroll down you’re fine as long as you stop when you get to sandoratthezoo’s comment, which helpfully starts with a spoiler warning. Then the next top level comment after that chain is here, so if you follow that link and scroll down you should be fine; just don’t scroll up.

  21. Orpheus says:

    So… the writers of Game of Thrones are really phoning it in this season, eh? I mean, did they all forget how water, cold and distance work or do they just not care?

    • Randy M says:

      I haven’t watched it yet (the entire series, I mean) but I understand that as of this or perhaps the previous season they have passed up GRRM’s works and need to devise much more of their own material.

      • Protagoras says:

        This is true, and there’s a tremendous amount going on in the TV show that will definitely not happen in the books (if we’re lucky and ever get the rest of the books). I suppose I should have expected this; the overwhelming majority of the departures from the books in the early seasons were changes for the worse (sometimes, but only sometimes, defensible for translation from book to TV reasons), which should have foretold that when there were no more books for the show to be partly based on things would go ill.

        • Orpheus says:

          This isn’t even what I am talking about. I am talking about small things, like people swimming out of lakes in full armor or spending nights in the snow without a fire and being non the worst.

      • John Schilling says:

        The lack of detailed plotting from GRRM definitely shows, and it’s part of it. As I understand, they at least had detailed notes from him for the last season, if not a finished book to work from.

        Another problem I see is that, with or without GRRM’s notes, they wrote themselves into a corner last season where Arya had been built into an unstoppable Terminator with a righteous mission of vengeance to kill pretty much every single one of the bad guys and Dany had been built into an angelic Genghis Khan, absolutely good and merciful and all right-thinking people want her on the Iron Throne and with all the right-thinking people plus three dragons behind her no one can stop her. But you can’t fill two seasons, even short ones, with just Good Guys effortlessly stomping Bad Guys, so they’ve had to throw in plot obstacles and character development that at this point seem utterly arbitrary to introduce anything resembling drama or conflict.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Arya being a crazy good assassin didn’t bother me. But the fact that she is a 5’1 teenage girl with a couple years of sword training that we barely see and was able to par with Brienne was absolutely ridiculous.

          But really the “girl power” is getting old. I can buy Brienne being a well respected fighter, although it does make me raise an eyebrow at how good she is. But the Sandsnakes able to fight off Bronn and Jaime? Yara Greyjoy able to hold off Ramsey? That strains credibility. But it’s Arya that completely breaks immersion. There is no possible way she could be that good.

          • onyomi says:

            See, this kind of thing doesn’t bother me because you merely accept as part of the universe that there exists a special Bravosi swordfighting style which allows a much smaller, weaker opponent to overcome a much larger, stronger one through agility, deception, etc. And we’ve also accepted that she just spent years studying fighting, among other skills, with a widely feared guild of magic assassins.

            It doesn’t bother me when the laws of our world don’t apply; it bothers me when the previously-established laws of their world don’t remain consistent or characters don’t act in a way that is plausible given what we know about their previous histories.

            Examples: Despite having supposedly spent all this time learning to be stealthy and knowing a clan of shapeshifting assassins is after her, Arya gets ambushed while walking blithely across a bridge in broad daylight. Upon receiving multiple stab wounds to the abdomen, she rapidly recovers quickly and completely, despite similar wounds having resulted in the rapid death of e.g. Rob’s wife in the same show, and there not being anything about Faceless Man training imparting you with Wolverine powers.

          • Wrong Species says:

            People in Westeros are the same as people on Earth. There’s only so much you can do to overcome your inherent disadvantages. Just to put this in perspective, the difference between her and Tyrion in height is comparable to the difference between her and Jon Snow and he’s short. Everyone seems to accept that Tyrion could never be a great warrior. And of course, she’s a woman. In our world, most competitions related to physical activity are dominated by men. Women aren’t just starting from a disadvantage. They’re starting from such a significant disadvantage that even the best of them wouldn’t qualify to get in the Men’s Olympics, let alone win any medals.

            For the sake of argument, let’s say that there is this incredibly secret fighting style known only among guild members and Arya learns it. Do we ever see her training for it? Is it ever brought up? I don’t think we even see Arya practicing her swordsmanship in Bravos(although I could be wrong on this). So when it’s just brought up all of a sudden as something we’re supposed to accept it’s incredibly jarring. And of course, it doesn’t look like she’s doing anything different when practicing with Brienne and no one makes note of her fighting style being unusual. They are just surprised by how good she is. So either Arya is some kind of a god which will be brought up later or the writers didn’t care about plausibility in the slightest.

          • Aapje says:

            What bothered me about the fight with Brienne is that Arya parried the attacks with Needle, including taking strikes full on the side of the sword. This only worked because Brienne was using a training sword. If she had a real sword, Needle would be flung out of her hands right away or broken (as Needle is too light to take a hard strike). So the fighting style that Arya used was quite inappropriate when wielding Needle, but she is supposedly only trained to use that effectively, not a real sword (that she could’t swing fast enough anyway) where that style would work.

          • Baeraad says:

            But the Sandsnakes able to fight off Bronn and Jaime? Yara Greyjoy able to hold off Ramsey?

            Hmm? The Sand Snakes were three against two, and Jaime had been established to be decidedly mediocre with his left hand at that point. Even then, they didn’t even win. So three crappy fighters (it’s pretty much been established at this point that the Sand Snakes are not very good warriors, they just think they are) against one crappy fighter and one really good fighter, ending in a draw? I can believe it.

            As for Yara and Ramsey, their fight got interrupted as well, didn’t it? And I don’t see why she couldn’t have held him off otherwise – they’re about the same size and they’re both experienced fighters. (not to mention she was properly armed and he wasn’t)

          • Iain says:

            For what it’s worth, this article by a professional fight director evaluating the realism of various fights in Game of Thrones gives high marks to Arya’s fight with Brienne:

            I still have mixed feelings about the water-dancing variant shown in Meereen in Season 5, but in her fight with Brienne, Arya thoroughly sells Syrio’s style. She knows exactly how to use a smaller sword against a larger one. Watch the fight closely: She never simply blocks Brienne’s sword, but always either beats it away or deflects it at an angle.

            I’m less bothered by Arya’s one-on-one prowess than Jon Snow’s repeated lack of consequences for being completely surrounded and vastly outnumbered. The writers keep trying to convince us that this time, he really might die. It’s not convincing, but worse than that, it makes Jon look like a giant idiot. One of the nice parts of GRRM’s writing is that mistakes have actual consequences. Jon Snow keeps making dumb decisions to raise the stakes, but never seems to get punished for it.

            (Also, I am old enough to remember back in the day when time and space existed.)

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, Jon Snow’s idiocy is getting very old. At some point you’re not an amazing hero for escaping impossibly dangerous situations you got yourself into with plot armor; you’re just an idiot with plot armor.

            I was hoping that Sansa’s little lecture was going to inspire him to become a little more savvy and therefore also develop somewhat as a character, but seemingly not so far.

    • John Schilling says:

      What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen raven?

      er, Westerosi raven. The Essos ravens aren’t even migratory.

      • Orpheus says:

        By a map I found on google, the distance between eastwatch and dragonstone is between 1500 miles and 2000 miles, so pretty damn fast, apparently.

        • Loquat says:

          I’m more impressed that Dany can ride a dragon that far and that fast when she’s just sitting on it bareback holding its back spikes with her hands. I mean, would it kill you to fit the damn thing with a saddle?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      At this point, I don’t think they care.

    • cassander says:

      The show definitely peaked from season 2-4, but, yeah, the increase in the level of “fuck it” in the latest season is still impressively dramatic. My theory for why the books are stuck is that GRRM has an idea of how he wants things to end, but has written himself into a corner, and doesn’t know how to get there from where he is. I was actually hoping that these seasons wold actually be better, as D&D got to the endgame and would be able to rely more on those GRRM notes.

      That said, I’m watching the early seasons again, and it’s fascinating to see the contrast. Just compare the Tywin/Arya scenes from season 2 to the Sansa/Arya scenes now. Where the hell did the guys that wrote that stuff go, and how can we get them back?

    • John Schilling says:

      Off the top of my head, major plot holes / idiot plotting in this season of GoT (not counting character development, which basically consists of turning everyone into kind of a jerk for no good reason)

      And yes, spoilers

      If you don’t count this season as already spoilt

      – Euron Greyjoy building the greatest fleet Westeros has ever seen, in maybe one season, in a backwater of thieves and pirates who define themselves by taking rather than making
      – Said fleet being able to intercept another fleet at sea in the middle of the night, and ram or board the enemy flagship before anyone has raised an alarm
      – Jon Snow and Sansa Stark not sending each other ravens with critical, need-to-know information like “Arya and Bran are back”, “Interim agreement with the Dragon Queen: Dragonglass weapons coming soon”, or “Heading to Eastwatch on vital mission; send reinforcements”
      – Tyrion Lannister not being aware that, with the Lannisters having run out of actual gold some years ago, Casterly Rock may no longer be the center of Lannister power
      – Highgarden being effortlessly taken in spite of being a castle, thus designed to hold out against armies, and held by people who know a Dothraki horde and three dragons are on call to break any siege. Blackfish Tully is spinning in his grave
      – Dothraki Horde + Dragon vs Lannister army was spectacular, but the tactics were annoyingly inept. And given the circumstances, Dothraki asshole, the Lannisters fought exceptionally well
      – Jamie Lannister being knocked off a horse on a shallow riverbank, sinking into water at least twenty feet deep, and either swimming far enough or remaining submerged long enough to not be promptly captured by the aforementioned Dothraki horde
      – The entire idea that Cersei Lannister is going to join Team Good Guy as anything other than a blatant traitor just because someone brought her a pet zombie for show and tell. Er, another pet zombie.
      – The entire idea that Peyter Bailish ever did join Team Good Guy as anything other than a blatant traitor
      – The implementation of plan “Get Cersei another pet zombie”, start to finish.
      – Yes, the bit with the hypersonic ravens
      – The King of the Dead conveniently having a set of spare anchor chains from the USS Iowa. Bean, did you even know they were missing?
      – Meta-plot-hole, Bran Stark being nigh-omniscient and telling nobody anything at all useful

      I have my issues with GRRM, but his plotting has always been tighter than this.

      • onyomi says:

        I don’t think team Dani are meant to be under any illusion that Cersei will agree to a temporary armistice for anything other than selfish/strategic reasons. But that raises the question as to why it’s necessary to convince her of the looming zombie threat. For their purposes, she only has to agree to a temporary ceasefire; she doesn’t need to care why.

      • Wrong Species says:

        – The King of the Dead conveniently having a set of spare anchor chains from the USS Iowa. Bean, did you even know they were missing?

        They were near a port. Why couldn’t there have been chains nearby?

        • John Schilling says:

          Because the “Iowa” crack wasn’t that hyperbolic. The largest ship ever built in Westeros might have used an anchor chain that size(*), if it used chain at all (not standard in e.g. the Royal Navy until 1817), and Hardhome is a wildling fishing village. It isn’t likely that anyone since the Doom of Valyria could make a chain like that at all, but if they could then that’s not the place you’d find it.

          If they’d used rope, no problem. There’s lots of call for rope even north of the Wall, and it is merely tedious to rebraid lots of small ropes into a few big ones. But faced with a choice beween “looks extra cool” and “isn’t utterly ridiculous”, meh, ridiculous always trumps cool when it is noticed, and they went with ridiculous hoping we wouldn’t notice.

          * 20cm links, which a quick search indicates would be appropriate for a 500-1000 ton ship.

          • Timothy says:

            We are seeing only the expanding fringes of the White Walkers’ realms. Who knows what level of industry they might have in their interior?

            And the Night King has the same visionary powers as Bran so he could have an inkling that hauling a dragon carcass from a lake was something to be prepared for.

          • onyomi says:

            There is a good aesthetic reason for the chains: undead have chains (Jacob Marley).

      • Loquat says:

        Regarding the anchor chains, I favor the idea that the White Walkers are Crazy Prepared – like, if they’d managed to use up all of their ice javelins without actually killing a dragon, they might have had a backup plan involving the chains. They didn’t need to implement it since the King rolled a 20 and one-shot a dragon on his first try, but it was there just in case.

        • onyomi says:

          It’s also possible they came back after acquiring the chains from some castle drawbridge somewhere. We don’t know how much time elapses between killing the dragon and dredging him up; the body would be well-preserved, perhaps, by the icy waters, and the white walkers certainly aren’t in a hurry.

        • eyeballfrog says:

          The alternate explanation I favor for the chains is that they’re made of ice. White Walkers seem to favor magical ice for most of their “tech”, so it wouldn’t be that unreasonable to make chains out of it.

      • Orpheus says:

        You forgot that Dany could have ended the whole Winter King problem by telling her dragon to breath fire a bit to the right. He was right there!

      • bean says:

        – The King of the Dead conveniently having a set of spare anchor chains from the USS Iowa. Bean, did you even know they were missing?

        Thanks for noticing that. I’ll alert security.

      • onyomi says:

        I do think a lot of the problems this season can be explained by a need to quickly level the playing field between Team Dany and Team Cersei, which started out the season so uneven.

        Basically, Dany had dragons, a Mongolian horde, an army of eunuch super-soldiers, Tyrion the very clever, Varys the espionage master, Dorn, Highgarden, and, in short order, the North (rightful heir to which is omniscient), while Cersei had uh, an unscrupulous scientist, a zombie bodyguard, Kings Landing, the divided Iron Islands, and the now resourceless Casterly Rock (the Freys having been murdered in the first episode).

        I can accept her being very clever and/or lucky as a way to balance this out and create some dramatic tension, but I don’t like how Tyrion and Varys have been so completely useless. Like, have they given her any good advice ever? And is there any way Tyrion wouldn’t have captured or recovered the body of Jaime, given the manner of his defeat?

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I don’t think Tyrion has given bad advice. He’s given pretty good advice, conditional on the Lannisters not having plot cannons.

          There’s a more practical way to work this: Randall Tarly turns on the Tyrell army in the middle of their march to King’s Landing, Dickon Tarly volunteers to lead the garrison at Highgarden and lets the Lannister forces in when they arrive.

          I actually don’t mind the bits with the Iron Fleet that much. Whatever, they built ships quickly and Euron is a better naval strategist than Yara, especially since her fleet is probably undermanned.

          The whole logic behind the “let’s capture a zombie and show it to cersei” plot is pants-on-head stupid.

          • Iain says:

            It’s kind of fun trying to reverse-engineer the plot of the books from the terrible decisions of the show. For example: Gendry reappears out of nowhere and somehow gets himself invited to go zombie-hunting north of the Wall. I have to believe that the zombie excursion is not in the plan for the book, but there must be some reason that the well-written version of the plot needs Gendry up north. Something to do with his royal blood? His history with Arya?

            (Similarly: if there is a expedition north in the book, of which Fishing for Zombies is a bastardization, what is its goal? Is the Horn of Winter going to be a thing?)

          • Rob K says:

            @Iain I love how much this reads like deep analysis of myths or religious texts.

            “Scholars have identified narrative elements in the HBO Script (HS) that appear to be derived from a postulated source referred to as the Martin Outline (MO), in which…”

          • Wrong Species says:

            The whole plot line of trying to capture a wight definitively looks contrived but the Dragon being turned is too big a plot point to have been made up. I’m not sure what Martins plan would be there.

          • Randy M says:

            Speaking of zombie dragons, did Dany’s dragons breed at some point, or is she down to 2 now?

          • Loquat says:

            To continue the scholastic analysis:

            One of the three dragons being killed and raised as undead seems important enough that it must have also been present in the MO, but given the established distance between Dragonstone and Eastwatch and the attention to travel time in the existing Martin works scholars believe the MO brought Daenerys and her dragons up north, likely to Eastwatch itself, before any expedition north of the Wall even began, possibly even with the purpose of supporting said expedition. Many theories have been offered on what the original goal of such an expedition could have been, but the prevailing opinion is that it relates to an artifact referenced in the existing works, the fabled Horn of Winter, said to be capable of destroying the Wall.

            The seemingly-random presence of Gendry on the expedition is also a source of controversy, but many scholars believe the trouble stems from the decision of the scriptwriters to merge the character of Gendry with that of his half-brother Edric Storm, a ward of Stannis Baratheon, whose life was requested by Melisandre for purposes of blood magic. This decision necessitated Gendry’s removal from the Brotherhood Without Banners and transportation to Dragonstone, resulting in a permanent rift between him and the Brotherhood. In the existing Martin works, though, Gendry remains with the Brotherhood and is even knighted by them, making it entirely plausible that a Brotherhood strike force would have brought him along.

          • Iain says:

            Ah, that’s an interesting point about Gendry. I had forgotten that he was still with the Brotherhood in the books. Maybe his inclusion on the zombie hunt was just an elaborate way to get him back together with the Brotherhood. On the other hand, the only real Brotherhood characters in the show are Thoros and Beric. The former is dead in the show, and the latter died in the book to bring back Catelyn Stark / Lady Stoneheart.

            It’s plausible that Beric will play in the show whatever role Lady Stoneheart is meant to play in the books, which implies that interactions between Beric and Gendry are worth keeping an eye on for clues.

          • Protagoras says:

            Dany’s dragons have not bred; she is down to two. I don’t know if Martin has gone into great detail about dragon biology and breeding habits anywhere, but there have been considerable hints that it’s all very strange. It’s not just the stone eggs that become live eggs with fire and blood magic, there seem to be many other ways in which they aren’t like natural beasts.

          • Randy M says:

            I asked because I had seen a discussion of the plot of the episode without it dwelling on what a huge loss the death of one of the three dragons seems like it would have been both strategically and emotionally. Team zombie isn’t just up one dragon, they have gone from 0-3 to 1-2, a pretty big shift, and on the other hand, these were pretty much Dany’s babies, at least from what I recall of the first 3-4 books.

            Did Dany on the show have an appropriate reaction?

          • Brad says:

            I was pretty shocked that the Night King was able to raise the dragon. I had thought I remembered from the books that dragons were some kind of ancestral enemy of the Night King (maybe the Citadel chapter?). Maybe I’m misremembering or maybe the TV people didn’t care.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            While we’re nitpicking, how was it so easy to kill? What credible threat does anyone pose to the guy now? He just casually chucked a spear at a flying, moving target and the dragon just dropped dead. What’s stopping him from doing this over and over again?

          • Brad says:

            Yeah, I thought dragon glass, Valerian steel, and dragons were supposed to be the hard counters to the army of the dead. But so far two out of three don’t seem to make much of a difference. Sure, the dragons helped in that fight, but no more so than if it had been a human army. And like you say it seemed pretty easy to kill one.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Bronn is secret undead; both he and the Night King have the ability to hit a fairly distant flying target with a relatively low-velocity projectile.

          • Loquat says:

            I thought dragon glass, Valyrian steel, and dragons were supposed to be the hard counters to the army of the dead.

            Well, kind of. The first two are the only known way to kill a White Walker, but of course you have to actually be good enough at fighting to actually stab one with it for it to work; the wielder still risks being killed by the WW and presumably raised as undead, plus there’s usually a lot of regular zombies in between any attacker and the WWs themselves.

            And I don’t think it has been established that dragons are a hard counter – it’s been hinted at, and the fire breath is certainly a powerful weapon, but it didn’t seem like the dragons posed more of a threat to the the dead in that fight than they did to the living Lannister and Tyrell soldiers at the loot train. I do believe it was established that the WWs wield magical ice weapons, so I’m willing to accept a direct hit with one could fell a dragon, and the presence of dragon skulls below the Red Keep suggests at least some things about dragons are mundane, so why not let them become undead?

          • AlphaGamma says:

            On shooting down dragons, the Dornish managed to kill Meraxes (one of the three Targaryen dragons used in the Conquest) with a scorpion bolt to the eye during the failed Targaryen attempt to conquer Dorne.

      • cassander says:

        You’ve left out the inherent idiocy of the idea of capturing a zombie in the first place, which was to prove to Daenerys that the zombies were real, rather than, you know, just flying over them and looking. Of sending the one person with the least amount of experience in rural environments or snow to run back to castle black (or eastwatch) with the vital information that they’re all about to die. ANd, not so much idiotic of the characters, but Sam’s entire trip to the citadel, where he fails to learn anything about fighting the wights, but does learn how to cure the small pox of westeros, only no one cares.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Ohhhhhh yeah. The rules of the world and the actions of the characters are now built around what’s most convenient for the showrunners, and any pretense that important and liked characters will bite it is gone. Even unimportant and liked characters.

    • Anon. says:

      D&D have always been hacks. Even in the early seasons it was obvious because every departure from the source material was for the worse. So now that they’ve run out of books to lean on, it’s just a mess.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        D&D have always been hacks.

        Amen.

        Even in the early seasons it was obvious because every departure from the source material was for the worse.

        I’d argue they did a good job in fleshing out more the characters of Robert and Cersei in S1 (though the latter did make it more jarring when she went full on babyeater later on as per the books), it was all downhill from there, though.

      • onyomi says:

        A few departures from the book I thought were improvements:

        The decision to have Arya act as fly on the wall for Tywin rather than Roose Bolton. Created a nice symmetry where she was indirectly learning strategy from him, while Sansa was indirectly learning court intrigue, etc. from his daughter, both of them the enemies of their house.

        The decision to merge Sansa with Jeyne Poole: if the show had had everything happening to Sansa happening to Jeyne instead they would have had to leave one of the main characters in the Vale doing nothing for a season while they developed a seemingly superfluous character.

        The decision to merge Arya with Lady Stoneheart. So far, in the books, Lady Stoneheart is a superfluous avenger, given Arya’s goals, and she swells the numbers of the resurrected dead in a way that cheapens the dramatic deaths the books are known for. If there’s a fifty-fifty chance any major character who is killed will get revived as a zombie, that weakens the impact of their death. The relationship of Brienne to her daughters is better with her being really dead.

        • The Red Foliot says:

          If there’s a fifty-fifty chance any major character who is killed will get revived as a zombie, that weakens the impact of their death.

          I haven’t watched the show, but the resurrection of Sandor “the Hound” Clegane was one of my few grievances with the books. He had one of the most compelling character themes in the story so it was a big disappointment that he died without it being pursued very far. I was looking forward to his confrontation with his brother before his death, but now that they are both zombies I feel like the dynamic has become puerile.

          Gregor’s death and zombification weren’t as bad. The death was epic because you could imagine this titan warrior succumbing to the one thing he couldn’t fight, and then the zombification led to a pretty on-the-mark one-liner by Cersei, giving it merit. But mainly, they didn’t disrupt Sandor’s character theme. Sandor would have still had to react to the knowledge of his brother’s death, and seeing his resultant character change would have brought closure to his theme. Gregor but not Sandor could have died without losing this opportunity.

          I guess the prolific amount of zombification going on is meant to give the sense they are in the end-times. I don’t think it’s a bad idea overall, but it has certainly been applied haphazardly with regards to Sandor’s character.

          • Iain says:

            The Hound is not a zombie in the books. He might be dead, but more likely he has renounced violence and is digging graves in a monastery.

          • Loquat says:

            The Hound isn’t a zombie in the show, either. He was badly wounded, his body clung tenaciously to life, and then someone found him and provided food and basic medical treatment so he could recover. If the books ever get around to verifying and explaining his survival, it’ll probably be much the same.

          • Deiseach says:

            As far as I can tell, the only logic the TV show plots follow is “Do we need this person to be alive for plot and/or coolness reasons?” If yes, then they survive being stabbed as full of holes as a colander or fatal diseases that reliably kill everyone who contracts it; if no, then a sneeze means they’re headed for their grave 🙂

    • lvlln says:

      John Schilling ran down most of the issues I have with this season, but I think the worst for me has been the whole Arya/Sansa conflict. The last few episodes they’ve been building this up as something likely to cause trouble, but I just don’t see why it’s even an issue. Why is Arya so paranoid about Sansa usurping Jon to the throne – S1 showed that she liked Jon better than Sansa, but she’s been away from Winterfell and her family for years, and she seemed quite happy to meet Jon again. Why is Arya so upset about Sansa’s letter asking Robb to bend the knee to Joffrey when she knows that it was coerced out of her in an attempt at saving Ned’s life? Doesn’t she recall seeing Sansa being shocked when Joffrey ordered Ned’s death, and fainting when he was executed?

      And what’s Sansa doing going to Littlefinger for emotional support from her arguments with Arya? It was already established the previous season that Sansa could barely tolerate him for either being malicious or stupid enough to let her get married to Ramsey, and the fact that he was openly wooing her was creeping her out. I just don’t see why she’d confide in him issues she has with her own sister.

      The incompetence of team Dany in order to level the playing field against Cersei has been very bad, but the Arya/Sansa thing has been just another level.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I don’t mind this plot, except that it’s so (apparently) minor. Where are the writers going with this? How is it going to play out? It seems like it’s just a way to get LF killed.

        Arya is batshit crazy and has next to no political experience. I doubt she has the ability to remember anything accurately, much the same way regular humans don’t remember life events accurately. She’s basically just a thirst for vengeance and some residual human impulses.

        • Deiseach says:

          Ugh, it’s the lazy “to maintain interest you need drama, and conflict is drama” reasoning, because plainly there is not enough drama already going on, we need to have Arya and Sansa at one another’s throats.

          I’ve seen the fans engaging in plot-holing work for this which is badly needed (e.g. Arya was playing the Game of Faces so everything she said and did in that scene was a lie), but I doubt the writers are thinking this deeply, it’s just “Everyone is (seemingly) plotting to backstab everyone else and nobody communicates with anybody else because that would be sensible and heaven knows sensible would never do”.

          I mean, Bran can supposedly see everything that happens, but him telling his sisters what is going on with Jon and Dany and the southern mission and by the way, our brother is doing his level best to get himself killed by the Night King? To quote the latest BBC version of the Musketeers:

          Athos: “If you’d told us what you were doing, we might have been able to plan this properly.”
          Aramis “Yes. Sorry.”
          Athos: “No, no, let’s keep it suicidal.”

      • John Schilling says:

        Why is Arya so upset about Sansa’s letter asking Robb to bend the knee to Joffrey when she knows that it was coerced out of her in an attempt at saving Ned’s life?

        To be fair, Arya doesn’t know this, she’s merely been told it by Sanasa. From Arya’s very out-of-the-loop perspective, Sansa’s known actions are consistent with Sansa toadying to whoever will let her live as a pampered princess while doing nothing useful either for the Starks or against their enemies. Compared to Arya’s own chosen path, difficult and painful but at least somewhat effective, there’s certainly the basis for familial conflict there.

        A conflict which Sansa, tutored in the Game of Thrones by the some of the best, er, most efficient players in Westeros, should have wrapped up in maybe half an episode and Brandon even quicker. But stories need conflict and drama, and this is all they’ve got left, so idiot plotting it is.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Arya seemed to accept Sansa’s explanation that she didn’t write the letter of her own accord but was pressured in to it. Her criticism of Sansa was that she should have done more to fight back against the Lannisters. But there is nothing she could have done to save Ned Stark or any of her family members. Even going off what Arya knows, it’s ridiculous for her to expect Sansa to do more than what she did. Of course, I can imagine some conflict but jumping straight to threatening to murder her sister was insane.

      • Loquat says:

        I feel like Arya may be assigning all her negative family feelings to Sansa here – she knows perfectly well it was their father who took them to King’s Landing in the first place, arranged for Sansa to marry Joffrey, and at one point explicitly told Arya that it was Sansa’s duty to side with her husband-to-be Joffrey against her. But he’s dead, so he gets to be the saint and living Sansa gets to embody all the bad Stark decisions Arya resents.

        • John Schilling says:

          Again being fair to Arya’s perspective, Sansa enthusiastically agreed to all of those decisions at the time, and for petty I-get-to-be-a-princess reasons rather than Ned’s pragmatic political ones. Sansa’s much harder decisions and more effective actions occurred out of Arya’s sight.

          • lvlln says:

            I guess I can buy Arya being bitter at Sansa for not struggling the way she herself did and just taking the easy way to survive in as much comfort as possible, at least from what she observed. In fact, highlighting that friction would probably be a good way to help us empathize with these characters more as humans with family problems rather than just pieces in the larger game. Where I stop following is Arya accusing Sansa of wanting to usurp the throne from Jon and making a dominance display implying that she could murder her.

            I think Arya’s being a revenge-hungry child with little political knowledge or concerns would’ve manifested itself better if she’d continued her journey down to King’s Landing to try to murder Cersei, rather than butting heads with her sister in a strangely paranoid and inappropriately extreme way.

    • random832 says:

      I saw an image today with an argument that around three days passed in the scene I assume you’re thinking of, and that this is actually consistent for both the travel times and the times it would take for the ice to freeze to sufficient thickness at a reasonable temperature.

      • Orpheus says:

        So John and co. survived for three days out in north pole temprature? No flipin’ way. They should all be Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining (not to mention John took a dip in ice water after that and somehow made it home… in wet clothes).

  22. onyomi says:

    In your mind/usage of the English language, is there any difference between what is “moral/ethical” and what you “should” or “ought” to do? Is there any difference between what is “immoral/unethical” and what you “should/ought not” to do?

    I am assuming most people share my intuition that most decisions in life (“vanilla or chocolate ice cream?”) are morally neutral. I also know people colloquially will say things like “you should get the chocolate” meaning not “it would be immoral to eat vanilla,” but “I recommend the chocolate.” But is that actually kind of subtly introducing a sort of evaluative element?

    Related, some, perhaps especially moral anti-realists, might use “should/ought” in a “means-ends” formulation: “if you want to go to jail, you should assault someone in broad daylight” (but most people don’t want to go to jail, and so shouldn’t do that); I, a moral realist, however, wouldn’t say that. I’d just say “you shouldn’t assault someone in broad daylight, regardless of your desired ends.”

    The reason I bring it up is I think some (myself included, in the past), seem to draw a distinction between “ought” and “moral” as a way of avoiding bullet biting (“if you’re starving to death, you should steal some food, but stealing food is still immoral”), but I’m thinking that is not a coherent position.

    • Randy M says:

      The reason I bring it up is I think some (myself included, in the past), seem to draw a distinction between “ought” and “moral” as a way of avoiding bullet biting (“if you’re starving to death, you should steal some food, but stealing food is still immoral”), but I’m thinking that they may be wrong to do so.

      I agree this is the wrong usage. What you mean to communicate is that, in this case, there is an exception to the broader principle. In which case, they are not condemned under it; if they should steal because it is the only way to stay alive in hypothetical X, then under hypothetical X, stealing is not immoral, granting whatever constraints you want to stipulate (no, you can’t steal just anything to sell it and procure food for later, etc.).
      You want to say it is still immoral in order to preserve the principle for the more typical case, but that should (heh) be phrased as an exception under particular circumstances, not as an obligation or preferable course of action that is nonetheless still wrong. If it is still immoral to steal even when the alternative is death, then one ought not to do it. If something is obligatory or advisable (the implications of should), then it must also be allowable.

      That said, the words should and ought (and their antonyms) are broader than morality in standard usage. The moral sanction or censure meaning is the default, but if specified it can be modified to be goal directed as you outline with if statements. “If you are hungry, then you should eat” isn’t a moral statement, but advice or description of an optimal path towards a goal.

      Sometimes this later usage is really more of a softening of tone of a moral judgement with the assumption that certain goals are obligatory. “If you don’t want to offend people, you should say please and thank-you.” for example.

      • onyomi says:

        I agree this is the wrong usage. What you mean to communicate is that, in this case, there is an exception to the broader principle.

        I agree, but I think in this case one should be okay with saying not only “stealing is usually wrong, but not blameworthy if there are strong extenuating circumstances,” but “you should steal if it is the only way to prevent yourself dying, because your dying unnecessarily is a greater moral evil than stealing.”

        Put another way, I think people like to split these hairs in order to preserve particular hard and fast “principles.” Libertarians are especially guilty, with the “non-aggression principle,” for example.

        But I guess what I’m arguing is that while it’s fine to say “stealing is usually wrong, but right in this case,” it seems incoherent to say “it’s wrong for you to steal, but in this case you should do it anyway.” I guess I’m arguing for a more case-by-case, holistic approach to moral judgment (part of why I’m an ethical intuitionist).

        Put another way does it even make sense to say “you should do [thing I think is immoral]”? “Should” implies something about your moral evaluation of the act.

        • Put another way, I think people like to split these hairs in order to preserve particular hard and fast “principles.” Libertarians are especially guilty, with the “non-aggression principle,” for example.

          I thought the accepted solution was that NAP was an inviolable absolute n the case of taxation, but flexible for everything else 😉

        • Randy M says:

          incoherent to say “it’s wrong for you to steal, but in this case you should do it anyway.”

          In case it was unclear above, agreed.

    • rlms says:

      Definitely. “you should do something” just means (to me) “doing something will help (or is necessary to) achieve one of your goals (which one should be obvious from context)”.