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Comments by SilentMike

Go to: Please post functional issues with the site here so that they can be addressed

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 4 by SilentMike

I also had the whole insane logging in with your Email problem. I used just about every I ever had and could not get into the site. finally in an act of desperation I checked  one last thing and found out that the new login email field is CASE SENSITIVE. So if anyone still can't get in that's probably it.

Oh and another thing as long as everyone is complaining. I use Firefox and it kind of sucks that I can't use the spell-check functionality in the new message text-box. Sometimes less it more. A normal text-box has many advantages.

I've been reading some of the comments here. There are a lot of users here who, like me, use alternative browsers. A lot of users who know their way around a computer and understand the idea behind hypertext tags. There are even some Unix folks here, it seems. This is supposed to be "a clear thinking oasis", A place where the intellectuals and geeks can also feel at home. This isn't the website of some tabloid. It's I'm not saying to take away the new functionality. I'm sure a lot of people like it. Maybe I'll learn to like it too. But maybe you can give us the option to have a little old-style text-box to play with if we want to.

avg_ls_inline_popup { position:absolute; z-index:9999; padding: 0px 0px; margin-left: 0px; margin-top: 0px; width: 240px; overflow: hidden; word-wrap: break-word; color: black; font-size: 10px; text-align: left; line-height: 13px;} avg_ls_inline_popup { position:absolute; z-index:9999; padding: 0px 0px; margin-left: 0px; margin-top: 0px; width: 240px; overflow: hidden; word-wrap: break-word; color: black; font-size: 10px; text-align: left; line-height: 13px;}

Thu, 06 May 2010 01:48:42 UTC | #467092

Go to: Chimps' emotional response to death caught on film

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 49 by SilentMike

I don't know. I just don't think it's that interesting really, unless you go and turn it into something it's not, like proof that chimpanzees are, whatever its supposed to prove. When you look at what the video actually is, you see one minute, out of context, from a bad angle. You can't really see much. They tell you that it's a dead individual and the other chimps are gathered around it, and then they go and one stays. As was mentioned before Elephants do that stuff to, and I believe we have better clips of them doing it, in the wild as opposed to in an enclosure.

The second video actually showed much more interesting behavior in my opinion. I'm generally perplexed about the reaction of the researchers to this. Maybe they have data that the films didn't show. Maybe they have insight that I lack. But in any case it isn't about the touchy feely stuff on grief etc.

I don't know maybe I'm not being a sport and I should just roll with it, but damn it I don't think it's that important.

Thu, 29 Apr 2010 00:00:00 UTC | #463791

Go to: Chimps' emotional response to death caught on film

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 47 by SilentMike

33. Comment #484268 by BryanFisher

Well since you already apologized I can't really get mad now can I? I'm sorry you're in pain. I hope you feel better in future.

I think we all know that this soul business is bunk, yes, but I also think some of us may have been a little hasty in being impressed (granted, some have also raised caveats). Whatever we may know about the emotional and social depth of the chimpanzee mind, we know regardless of this clip. This clip teaches us very little in fact and I find all the getting impressed and emotional about it disturbing. It's silly to attribute too much to a clip like that. I'm annoyed by it because it's in the level of the kind of attitude to animal behavior you see in the popular media ("this live ape is staying next to that dead ape, ergo apes have much emotional depth"). Quite frankly it doesn't prove anything of consequence as far as I can see, and I don't see the point of it. Why is it here? I'd expect it as the last bit of some popular news broadcast.

Wed, 28 Apr 2010 21:25:00 UTC | #463762

Go to: Chimps' emotional response to death caught on film

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 32 by SilentMike

20. Comment #484181 by Helena M
And others deeply impressed.

This is hardly news and hardly proof of anything. We already knew they do that stuff and we still don't know what exactly they experience. This hardly proves anything about a "soul" as the religious call it. The devout will claim this behavior can be explained by purely physical processes. They will be right. Point is, this also applies to our behavior. There's no point in trying to prove that chimps have a what we don't even have. There's no point in arguing whether that chimp is really sad or just reacting naturally, because being sad is just reacting naturally.

Does it have something to do with our feelings for a dead person that we knew? Very probably. Can this clip prove that therefore chimpanzees experience grief. Not really. There's probably much better evidence for that available even today. This clip may invoke strong feeling in us when watching it, but it establishes very little about the depth of chimpanzee emotions.

Tue, 27 Apr 2010 22:08:00 UTC | #463487

Go to: Lebanese march in Beirut to demand secularism

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 14 by SilentMike

Most likely scenario if Israel intervenes:

1) A shorts conflict.
2) Some dead Israelis, a lot of dead Lebanese.
3) A cease-fire forced on the parties.
4) A new international "solution" that purports to insure the security of Israel, The independence of Lebanon, and the disarmament of Hezbollah.
5) The complete and utter failure of said solution.
6) Distrust of international community in Israel driving populous even further to the right.
7) Disregard of international community in Syria and Iran continues and the carry on supporting Hezbollah.
8) People of Lebanon get screwed, again.

Same old story.

Sun, 25 Apr 2010 21:16:00 UTC | #462833

Go to: Lebanese march in Beirut to demand secularism

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 11 by SilentMike

Hezbollah has the rockets, the willingness to kill and to die, and the support of Syria and Iran, so I don't like their chances. But it's good that their trying.

If you want to secularize Lebanon, first you have to do something about the Tyrants from Tehran an Damascus meddling in their affairs. The true lords of Lebanon will never have it be a free secular state. That would not suite their agenda.

Sun, 25 Apr 2010 20:51:00 UTC | #462819

Go to: Review: The Genius of Charles Darwin

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 15 by SilentMike

This made me want to see the thing again. Damn it. I really don't have time...

Sat, 24 Apr 2010 00:12:00 UTC | #462255

Go to: Young and atheist

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 10 by SilentMike

Slowly but surely, north America is falling from grace into our clutches. Soon we will have dominion over the entire world. Praise be to Satan. Muhahahahahaha.

Seriously though, when do we get to see this happening in the Islamic parts of the world? That may truly be the beginning of the end of this lunacy. Once secularism is entrenched everywhere, we stop fighting about and killing for imaginary things (we'll still do it for real things like land and resources, but at least problems of that kind are possible to solve in a peaceful fashion).

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 00:52:00 UTC | #461185

Go to: Should Richard Dawkins be Arrested for Covering Up Atheist Crimes?

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 109 by SilentMike

This guy is as dumb as they come. I can't believe PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne actually wasted time responding to his drivel. Hell. I can't believe I wasted time reading it. It's like he tried for a perfect stupidity score, going for every stupid cliche that's worth some stupidity points. The excessive name dropping, the misquoting, the Nazis, the commies, the ad-hominems, the "Dawkins is a fundamentalist" jive; he didn't miss a single one.

Complete and utter waste of digital ink (and if Rory Fitzgerald happens to read this, I'm sure he'll be running to check if there's such a thing as digital ink).

Sun, 18 Apr 2010 22:47:00 UTC | #460808

Go to: Bishop 'blames Jews' for criticism of Catholic church record on abuse

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 5 by SilentMike

Oh come on! The Jews did it? Really? You're going with "the Jews did it"? That's just so dark ages.

Mon, 12 Apr 2010 12:59:00 UTC | #458426

Go to: Preachers who are not Believers

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 7 by SilentMike


Sun, 11 Apr 2010 21:47:00 UTC | #458217

Go to: Preachers who are not Believers

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 5 by SilentMike

Any chance of getting a single downloadable mp3 of this?

Sun, 11 Apr 2010 19:01:00 UTC | #458167

Go to: Richard Dawkins: The greatest show on earth live

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 22 by SilentMike

Well that was a very fun listen. lecture and interview added to my archive.

Sat, 10 Apr 2010 13:31:00 UTC | #457768

Go to: 'Sorcerer' faces imminent death in Saudi Arabia

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 31 by SilentMike

Wow. I believe we found something good about Islam. What a totally unexpected turn of events...

On a more serious note, clearly the death penalty is exaggerated. If they don't like that he's a con-artist (or sorcerer. Whatever) then they can just kick him out of the country.

Thu, 01 Apr 2010 17:04:00 UTC | #455003

Go to: Mississippi A.C.L.U. Rejects $20,000 for Alternate Prom

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 30 by SilentMike

31. Comment #475297 by Nunbeliever

Oh yes. Thank bluebird for that picture.

26. Comment #475266 by SilentMike on April 1, 2010 at 10:21 am

“Although we support and understand organizations like yours, the majority of Mississippians tremble in terror at the word ‘atheist,’ ”

Beware the Atheist!

Thu, 01 Apr 2010 10:37:00 UTC | #454809

Go to: Free Expression Cartoon Contest Winners Announced

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 44 by SilentMike

Winner is much better than runner ups (runners up? Damn you English language!). The best cartoons are simple ones. The others are too elaborate with a lot of text and/or detail. the second place one I would say isn't even really good.

Thu, 01 Apr 2010 09:44:00 UTC | #454775

Go to: Mississippi A.C.L.U. Rejects $20,000 for Alternate Prom

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 24 by SilentMike

“Although we support and understand organizations like yours, the majority of Mississippians tremble in terror at the word ‘atheist,’ ”

Beware the Atheist!

(Damned thing won't do hyperlinks)

Thu, 01 Apr 2010 09:21:00 UTC | #454767

Go to: Moral confusion in the name of 'science'

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 179 by SilentMike

172. Comment #475134 by Fionn

Great post.

Thu, 01 Apr 2010 09:05:00 UTC | #454755

Go to: Moral confusion in the name of 'science'

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 154 by SilentMike

It almost seems redundant to reply at this point and after all these people have weighed in. But I would still like my turn at the keyboard, to say (again) that I also disagree with Sam Harris.

Mister Harris

Thus, by starting my talk with the assertion that values depend upon actual or potential changes in consciousness, and that some changes are better than others, I merely assumed what I set out to prove. This is what philosophers call “begging the question.” I am, therefore, an idiot. And given that my notion of objective values must be a mere product of my own personal and cultural biases, and these led me to disparage traditional religious values from the stage at TED, I am also a bigot.

Sam Harris is not an idiot. He is a very bright scientist and philosopher and a powerful rhetorician. He is not a bigot for saying that what some Muslims do to women is wrong, and that pretty much all the "holy books" are pernicious mumbo-jumbo. I agree with him on these issue as I do on almost every moral statement he ever made publicly, but I strongly disagree with him, like many others here, on this "values are facts" point.

The first grievance I would like to take up with Harris is the false dichotomy he repeatedly invokes. If you disagree with him that values are facts then you must just be the worst kind of moral relativist that ignores the plight of the oppressed women in Islamic countries as they are abused by the men around them. That is not true. I personally hold to values and apply many them to other human beings. I believe strongly that every human being is entitled to freedom just by being human. Many people who disagree with Harris feel the same. Our problem, again, is with this "Values are Facts" thing.

The problem with what Harris is saying is that it isn't really very clear. Harris admits that he doesn't currently have the science of morality ready -the "facts" are not in yet- so we are forced to look at his argument as a purely theoretical philosophical one. Values, according to Sam Harris, are just fact about the "wellbeing" of a certain kind of living creatures.

So what is this "wellbeing" thing? A lot of the criticism Harris gets challenges this idea that "wellbeing" alone is important. Harris' reaction has been to expand the meaning of "wellbeing", to say it can apply to all those other options, that all moral ideas are actually about this "wellbeing" in one way or another, but are probably misguided because the idea of "wellbeing" is still not well understood. This little tricks leaves us with two options: Either "wellbeing" is a specific value asserted by Harris into his system, in which case the "Values are facts" statement is plainly false; or "wellbeing"'s meaning has been stretched so thin it can no longer be said to have any in which case Harris is simply stating something tantamount to "Moral is Moral".

The second option implies that Harris is saying absolutely nothing. But clearly he isn't. That's not what Harris is about. He want's to create social change. He wants a science of morality to emerge in which this holy grail of "wellbeing" will be discovered. And this I fear, since I believe that the holy grail is not there to be discovered. The science of morality can only discover facts about morality, about the way the brain is when were behaving according to moral principles, about the way it is when we're having a good or a bad time. Harris wants the moral scientists, the moral experts, to take that and formulate it as a "discovery" of the values that underline objectively correct moral behavior.

But the discovery isn't there to be discovered, and the "experts" will have to invent it, by inserting their own moral understanding into their science create that discovery. In Harris' world, this type of opinion would be seen as authoritative moral fact.

When you start pretending an opinion is a fact you allow yourself to do things you would never consider otherwise. One must only look at the religious demagogues Harris referenced in his TED speech (The pope, the ayatollahs that run Iran) for examples. I have values that I hold to strongly. My values may cause me to shoot a person attacking an innocent child with an axe, or condemn the abuse of women by fundamentalists everywhere, but I would be careful about acting, or even condemning to loudly in less extreme cases. If we find an excuse to convince ourselves that moral principles like laws of nature, that doing X is right and not doing X is wrong is like humans and lobsters sharing a common ancestor, we may very easily conclude the corollary that forcing people to do X is right whenever the act of forcing is not too costly. And that actually is wrong. Science isn't saying that though. Just me.

This small mistake that Sam Harris made, confusing between facts about morality and morality as a set of facts, it can have pretty severe repercussions. This isn't an appeal to consequences. Harris' point it factually wrong first, and ethically dangerous second. I made sure to make that point but it seems clear that Sam Harris would build a world where no one would. Because when values are facts we can just figure out what to do, and do it. No explanation or apology or argumentation necessary. Unless of course the moral algorithm says that those are the required actions.

Thu, 01 Apr 2010 00:00:00 UTC | #454609

Go to: The Greatest Show On Earth - Flea

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 36 by SilentMike

Ohhh, a chessmaster. That's like the second best ranking in a board game that's completely unrelated to the topic at hand.

Drawing on his extensive knowledge of biology, geology, fossils, radiometric dating, and more...

Extensive knowledge? A knowledge that somehow escaped all the experts from the relevant fields? Somehow I doubt that Chessy.

Sat, 27 Mar 2010 21:51:00 UTC | #453153

Go to: Happy Birthday Richard Dawkins!

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 147 by SilentMike

Time's a cruel bitch. She gets us all in her constant pace.

Happy birthday Richard Dawkins, and many more.

Fri, 26 Mar 2010 21:46:00 UTC | #452791

Go to: Shame on the National Academy

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 80 by SilentMike

78. Comment #472482 by NonLocality

Amazing how not a single sentence of that made any sense. So what if Dawkins guessed wrong? It is in the nature of a guess that it is often wrong. Why would you think that anybody even cares?

Thu, 25 Mar 2010 22:26:00 UTC | #452306

Go to: Richard Dawkins is more than a 'militant atheist': he's a magnificent writer who changed my life

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 21 by SilentMike

20. Comment #472362 by Will S

Richard Dawkins decides for himself of course, just like everyone else. But everyone is entitled to their opinion about the quality and importance of the different facets of his work. Personally I also like his writings on evolution best, though I also enjoy him on other topics.

Thu, 25 Mar 2010 18:41:00 UTC | #452210

Go to: Shame on the National Academy

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 72 by SilentMike

60. Comment #472355 by Paul Pelosi

I think that's a fair point about complaining too much. I'm split about the whole thing. I don't like the whole Templeton thing, but I'm not sure we should look to aggressive about it. We should make fun of them from time to time. They deserve it. Maybe members of the NAS should complain a little, just enough to make sure this doesn't happen again, and then leave them to throw their money away in peace.

Thu, 25 Mar 2010 17:46:00 UTC | #452187

Go to: Shame on the National Academy

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 53 by SilentMike

First thing I'd like to say is that I really and truly do not care who wins the Templeton prize. I just don't care at all. Furthermore, I think some people are giving this Templeton nonsense a bit too much attention.

However, if the president of NAS is a nominee for the prize and if that has something to do with NAS sponsoring the prize then I would say that there's a good reason for people to raise a stink about this. Not just atheists and rationalists who don't like the Templeton foundation. All people who care about matters of corruption. Because that's what it looks like.

Thu, 25 Mar 2010 12:30:00 UTC | #452043

Go to: Science can answer moral questions

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 142 by SilentMike

Sorry to come in a bit late with this. I got frozen out of the site yesterday for some reason. I would like to express my agreement with Russell Blackford. His posts here express my opinion, in some ways, better than my own.

If there's a lot of agreement on what we're aiming at, and a lot of information from science about how to achieve it, then there's a lot information gathered by science that gives us reason to act in certain ways, to support certain moral codes rather than others, and so on.

I agree with Sam on all this without having to make any spooky-sounding claims about how "values are facts". Nothing Sam said on that was at all convincing.


Thu, 25 Mar 2010 11:28:00 UTC | #452027

Go to: Science can answer moral questions

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 107 by SilentMike

100. Comment #471691 by nother person

I don't think that physical claims are assumption free. It's not a matter of substituting assumptions but of adding them. You cannot imply that moral facts exist as physical facts if they don't exist in the same frame of reference. If you need to assert that "Minimazation of pain" is ethically desirable as an added axiom in order for action A to be desirable then the claim "action A is morally right" is no longer a factual claim in the same way that "humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor" is.

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 21:31:00 UTC | #451615

Go to: Science can answer moral questions

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 98 by SilentMike

86. Comment #471519 by Jos Gibbons
93. Comment #471635 by nother person

I'm clustering my response to both of you because you made some of the same points.

What I'm trying to say is something that Sam Harris seemed to have side-stepped. It isn't that science doesn't have anything to say about Morality. It has plenty to say. Science explores the real world and it is the real world that morality applies to. It is also the real world that the moral impulse comes from. The reason that we are even here discussing these ideas is that we have the kind of real physical brains predisposed to think in moral terms.

However, when trying to actually figure out what is moral, you get into a bit of a bind. If you look at what is out there, then it's just what already exists, and it is meaningless to ascribe to it moral value. That's the naturalistic fallacy. When you are exploring morality you make two assumptions. The first is that people have choices. The second is that there is a metric by which some choices are better than some alternative choices. These are both assertions about the nature of things and both don't seem to work well with the nature of the physical world. This is what the religious talk about when they complain about atheism being void of moral content.

In order to discuss morality you need to just accept choice. You need to generate a model of reality where choice is an atomic entity (while in the physical world choices of human beings are explained by brain activity). You also have to assert some moral principle to act as your guide. No matter what your principle is, it's either an assertion or based on an assertion. And this assertion is always redundant if you drop ethics. You don't need it to explain how the world is, just to give yourself a foothold to explaining how it ought be.

None of this means that I don't have ethical principles, or that I do not believe in those principles strongly. It means that I am aware of the very real fact that moral claims are fundamentally different from physical claims, and that fact about morality informs my understanding and practice of morality, as such facts should.

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 18:55:00 UTC | #451542

Go to: Science can answer moral questions

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 84 by SilentMike

53. Comment #471424 by prolibertas

I actually answered the point you make in my original post. Even if individual choice advances well-being, surely the mere illusion of choice can advance it more, as the person that is fooled into thinking they have choice can be prevented from making the wrong decisions.

55. Comment #471431 by nother person

Hmmm... why? Do you think there is some 'objective morality' that exists apart from human minds?

No. The only reality is physical reality. Morality has to do with values. Humans decide to define X as a moral "right" and Y as moral "wrong". The universe doesn't care.

62. Comment #471443 by stanleygarden
50 Comment #471407 by RightWingAtheist

"I don't believe that Peter Singer is any more of a moral authority than the pope, just because he calls himself a biophysicist".


If you had to leave your children under the care and guidance of someone, you wouldn't care if it was The Pope, Peter Singer, Richard Dawkins or Sarah Palin??? Because this is exactly what came across from your ..rather silly statement.

I have several comments. First, You are replying to something I said not something RightWingAtheist said. Second, the spelling correction led me astray. Peter Singer is not a biophysicist but a bioethicist. I should read more carefully before approving. Third, your point is without merit. The fact that I would leave A with my children rather than B does not imply that A is a moral authority. I would rather leave children with an experienced sitter or parent over someone who is not. It has very little to do with that person's moral authority as perceived by me.

67. Comment #471460 by Jos Gibbons
Philosophers call that a felicific calculus. It is not a necessary component of consequentialist ethics.

That may well be. But if this is not the way then another method must be purposed.

Moral experts can outshine criminals... [etc]

I don't know about criminals and I don't know exactly what Sam Harris advocates. I'm finding issue with the presentation of his way of thinking. It is probably true that Sam Harris does not personally condone of some of the things I mentioned as possible consequences of his assertions. My point is precisely that a moral expert and a moral person are not the same thing. Knowing facts about morality and being moral are two different things. A "moral expert" can also be a criminal, and if he is then he would be judged as a criminal, and all his fancy degrees won't be much good.

1. Moral facts also say more nuanced things, such as “X is better than Y when Z happens”.

That's actually no better. Just more complex. Something like "If X is the desirable outcome than Y is preferable to Z as a course of action" is a fact about morality if X is an outcome deemed desirable due to some external ethical value. Another example is "X causes moral discomfort in most adult humans (or in most adult humans in modern developed countries)". This is a simple "fact about morality" that describes human moral tendancies.

2. Singer is not an authority

Agreed. He is not an authority and his ideas should be judged on their merit. The other part of that statement is a matter of opinion.

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 12:36:00 UTC | #451385

Go to: Science can answer moral questions

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 48 by SilentMike

46. Comment #471407 by RightWingAtheist

First, I kinda regret using the "T" word. It's a big word, and I shouldn't have done that.

But there is the problem still. If there are moral facts like there are physics facts what do you do about them? It is true that we are not forcing people to adhere to gravity, but gravity isn't about what you should do. Morality is about that. Gravity tells you what happens when you throw a rock on earth. Scientific facts about morality that I would agree exist might tell you what Sam Harris thinks about morality, or what I think, or what someone's reaction would be to a certain action they are witness to. Facts of morality simply state "X is right" and "Y is wrong", and to say that this is, like "Chimpanzees and Humans are genealogically closer to each other than either species is to baboons", just a fact that experts in the field get to decide on and you have to listen, is dangerous. I don't believe that Peter Singer is any more of a moral authority than the pope, just because he calls himself a biophysicist.

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 02:02:00 UTC | #451304