# Why I am an Atheist

There is a growing debate on the blogosphere on Atheism v.s. Agnosticism (or, heaven forbid, Deism). The lines of battle are set.

On Pharyngula, Atheist PZ Myers slums at accommodationists, almost as hard as he slams the religious.

On Evolving Thoughts, Agnostic John Wilkins claims for disbelief.

And on and on. Take a look at Rosenbaum’s latest Agnostic pamphlet. It is a nice read. For the lazy, there is Elliot Sobel’s video on FORA.tv. He makes it simple, which is the job of a good philosopher.

In short:

• a deist believes in god (whatever that is).
• an atheist believes that the is no god.
• an agnostic doesn’t believe either.

The bulk of the philosophical criticism against the “New Atheism” (by Sobel, Wilkins, Rosenbaum, Cristopher Schoen, and others – against Myers, Dawkins, et al.) is that no scientific evidence can possibly refute the philosophical theory about the existence of God. There can be evidence that certain beliefs are wrong (is the earth really 6000 years old? No way!). One can refute some religious views. But one just cannot refute the idea that god exists. Not scientifically, at least.

# Another proof that 0=2

Time for a math riddle. Haven’t done these in a while. Well, haven’t done any in this blog, when I come to think about it. OK. That was enough thinking. Let’s get down to biusiness.

Take a point on the complex plane. Take one which is on the unit circle:

$z=e^{i\theta}$

Now replace $\theta$ with $\phi = \frac{\theta}{2\pi}$. We get:

$z=e^{i\theta}=e^{2\pi\i\phi}$

Which by the simple laws of arithmetic gives us:

$z=e^{2\pi\i\phi}=\left(e^{2\pi\i}\right)^\phi=1^\phi=1$

So every point on the unit circle is 1!

As a simple consequence we get 1=-1. Add 1 on both sides and get 2=0.

QED.

Can you spot the error?

# Moses: A lesson in leadership

Happy Passover to all three readers of my Blog. Today, we shall read a sermon about great leadership at work, and of the relevance of ancient Judaism to our current political life.

These week we, Jews, celebrate the exodus – the miraculous escape of more than half a million Jews from slavery in Egypt. Their 40-years journey through the desert. Mount Sinai. The giving of the Torah. And the epitome of leadership: Moses.

Out of sheer sloth, I will assume that my readers are verse in the stories. For those who are not, take a look at wikipedia. What interests me is the great leadership shown by Moses (and his God). Through the first chapters of their tour of the Sinai desert, it becomes apparent that the people are not fit to be led by the great leader. They tire him by relentlessly asking to be fed, defended, and led. They show more interest in golden statues than in abstract deities. What Moses does in the story, reminds me of Berthold Brecht’s remark regarding the true followers of Moses – The governing party of the late German Democratic Republic:

The people had forfeited the confidence of the government and could win it back only by redoubled efforts.Wouldn’t it be easier to dissolve the people and elect another in their place?

Which is exactly what Moses does. The great leader takes his people on a 40 year travel, so as to rid himself of the bickering mob, and remould their children into a rough warrior-like tribe, capable of mass murder. The People is not fit – so he replaces it. A towering moral example if there ever was one.

Should I have dubbed this post  “a lesson in soviet-type leadership”?

This will be an interesting post, I promise. But before you read it, there is a poll I want you people to fill.

Suppose I give you 10,000\$ and one free week. What vacation will you plan? Take a minute and imagine it. What will you do? Where will you go?

# Is crime good?

No, it is not. Of course. But.

Take a look at Dennis vanEngelsdorp’s TED lecture:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Dennis vanEngelsdorp: a plea for bees…“, posted with vodpod

And here is my strange thought:

The extent of parasitic behavior (and predatory behavior is an example of such) is a very good measure of a population’s health. A prosperous population has many parasites. As a population’s health deteriorates, the predators and parasites are the first to disappear.

Can you use this benchmark for human populations? If so, it would probably mean that the more prosperous a human society becomes, the greater will be the amount of a-social behavior it can tolerate.  So, can crime be a measure for cultural success?

# Comfort Kills

My uncle is dying. In less than a month, he would probably be gone. The doctors say he’s dying from cancer. But, in truth, is he’s dying from fear and superstition.

It was almost two years ago that he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. A low-danger tumor. He was invited to schedule an operation. A simple operation. But my uncle panicked. He contacted a Chinese herbalist, who promised him that, indeed, no operation would be necessary. Those western doctors, she assured him, know nothing. All he has to do is keep a healthy life style and take her herbs. A year went by. His pains grew stronger and more frequent. The herbalist did some psychic tests and “discovered” that his tumor is shrinking. These are shrinkage pains, she told him. And he believed her for a simple reason: he was afraid of going through an operation. “It is risky”, he kept saying to everyone who would listen. “One can die from complications. One can go through an anesthesias and never wake up”.

It took the tumor months to grow malignant. It enered his spine, most of his abdomen, and both legs. The pain is now so excruciating that my uncle can barely speak. He has been given morphine, because no other sedative is strong enough to deal with the pain. But his Chinese herbalist convinced him that morphine is bad for his health (remainder: the man is dying!), so he takes none of it. Even now, when his only hope is experimental hypothermia combined with chemotherapy, he still clings desperately to a strange “healer” who promised him imminent cure with crystals.

As much as I would like to strangle that Chinese herbalist with my bare hands, as much as I loath her, I do not think that she is the essence of the trouble. If it were not for her, it would have been another healer, a UFO, or even a fatalist priest. The trouble stems only from this fact: that my dear uncle kept looking for comfort, where he should have been looking for a cure. The “western” way, with hospitals, and doctors, and operations, demands that he grows up to become an adult, and that he faces inconvenient truths (his mortality, his sickness). He would have non of that. He demanded comfort. He got death.

# Mascagni’s widow

For his 30th birthday, Pietro Mascagni bought himself a girl. It was 4 years since the premiere of his short opera Cavalleira Rusticana, which made him a celebrity by night. He was now director of the Scuola Musicale Romana, in Rome, and his status at the high society in Rome demanded something more presentable than a mistress. As lovely as she was, Anna Lolli was no more than that. He needed a wife. A presentable wife.

Elmira De Ville was 14 years old when she became the lady Mascagni. Her patrician, proud and destitute family was all to happy to marry her off to a man of considerable wealth. But the inferior musician was way beneath the dignity of young Elmira. She loathed him.

# Waste my blog

Both avid readers of my blog have surely noticed that I have been silent for a long time. I have been building a home, and have moved. You are most welcome to visit. And I need some net help.

When we built the house, we put the local soil (which we dug to build the house) nearby, in the thought of reusing it as garden soil. Unfortunately, it was all stolen by a contractor working nearby. So I had to pay for soil from the valleys. And guess what I got? Construction waste!

So here is my question: I have aluminum blocks (Itung), cement, and plastic sheets buried in the ground. Does anybody know what to do with soil rich in construction waste? What materials are toxic for plants and for trees? What materials can be left in the ground?

If I find any help, I promise to write an organized table here on this site.

# Some good takes on the baking catastrophe

Although they were posted nearly a year ago, they are just getting more and more relevant.

Welcome Bird and Fortune – SubPrime Crisis:

And – Bird and Fortune – Financial adviser:

Both are great. And, unfortunately, very true.

If you want a mathematician’s take on these matters, better look at Mark’s blog:
Mortgage basics 1
Mortgage basics 2

I hope I will have time to add a bit myself in the near future.

# A philosophy-of-science proof of the afterlife

Matt Springer has a nice (and very confused) take on the problem of scientific proof. Following him I have devised this amazing scientific proof to the existence of an afterlife:

There are two possibilities:

1. Proposition 1: There is no after-life. I do not exist after my death.
2. Proposition 2: There is an after-life. I would still exist after I die.

As Matt rightly spots, Proposition 1 is unverifiable. If you don’t exist after you die, then you cannot know it.
Hence, it is disqualified under the pretense of being unscientific.
Proposition 2, however, is verifiable, because if it were true, then I would clearly know that when I discover I have died and retain my existence. But if proposition 2 was false, then proposition 1, which is unscientific, would be true. But if truth is only scientific truth, then proposition 1 cannot be true.

Q.E.D.

Can you spot the errors?

# Brother, can you spare me a viable Economic Theory?

Prof. Robert Nadeau, through Scientific American claims that current economic theory is a severe (and irrational) hindrance to fighting global warming.
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=brother-can-you-spare-me-a-planet ).
The claim is:
1. Current (neo-classical) economics is based on false premises.
2. These false premises include this important premise: That nature is irrelevant to economic growth (and that natural resources are boundless).

Because the irrelevance of nature is a premise of Economic Theory, it is not surprising that it pops up as an outcome of Economic Theory. Given the type of models they work with, economists have to claim that fighting global warming is economically inviable. And when they do so, it’s a tautology – what they are actually saying is: “since we assume that nature is irrelevant to Economics, no action to save natural reasorces could possibly be cost-beneficial”. A claim which is, of course, absurd.

# More power can be much less

Some people I’ve been talking with have been wondering how an extremely mediocre person such as Ulmert got to be the prime minister of Israel. Well, it is nigh time I start writing on subjects I fully comprehend. So, I present to you another lesson in election theory – when can more power mean less power?

We’ll take an example from voting theory, because it is a nice example with interesting lessons, and it demonstrates several aspects of game theory. Suppose we have three people on a committee: Alex, Bob, and Chris. They need to choose between options a, b, and c. A very reliable method of voting is the simple majority vote. In this method, each committee member gives his vote to one option. The option with the largest munger of votes wins.

The trouble is, what happens on a tie? Say Alex votes a, Bob votes b, and Chris votes c. Then each option got 1 vote, and it’s a tie. How do you break a tie?

There are two obvious (and common) tiebreaker rules. The first is to define some option as the default. In case of a tie, that specific option wins. Slightly more common is to define one of the committee members as chairman – giving him the right to decide in case of a tie.

# The true, sad story of a data analysis expert

And then I was suddenly awake. It was the middle of the night, and something was wrong. Terribly wrong. I felt it in by bones. I felt it in the dark room closing around me. I was aware of a terrible inconsistency in the way I slept. It took me a few minutes to understand: the way I used to sleep was misguided. My configuration was terrible. All my inner organs were misplaced. My muscles were all strained. This was no way to sleep. I no longer knew the correct way to sleep. In fact, it dawned on me, I never did. It was always wrong. I didn’t know how to sleep. I never did.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, a thought nagged: “Man”, it said, “you were just sleeping a minute ago. You slept well last night, and you have done so for every night for thirty years now. Surely, you do know how to do that”. But the thought did not linger. I could not sleep. I did not know how to do so.

For a long time I lay down in the dark, squirming around in vain, looking for the correct geometric configuration, squeezing my body into impossible shapes, and running algorithm after algorithm in my mind. To no avail. Sleep evaded me. It took me an hour to give up. I stood up, exhausted, and suddenly, I had a revelation:

I am no data series. I do not need to an efficient data compression algorithm to sleep.

# Findings of the week

From Janne in Osaka – when does a political party become mindless?

And a study in the benefits of bounded rationality from the New York Times: sometimes, learning is costly, so it’s only for the environmentally challenged. Hey, damn it! We humans are environmentally challenged. Are we smart enough for it?

# Back from Hell, or the Wonders of Connectivity

The couple of avid readers I have (dear, dear people, what’s life worth without you?) might have noticed my month long silence. I wasn’t home. I was in Miluim. Military reserve duty.

I was in the Palestinian Occupied territories. It was hell, for all the wrong reasons. I should (and will) write about it soon. But for the time being, I only wish to remark upon the wonders of modern connectivity.