February 1st, 2010

Unconsidered Thoughts: Sick vs. Ill

Subjectively speaking, is it worse to feel ill or to feel sick?

Such are the thoughts that occupy my brain when not utilized.

January 15th, 2010

Question – Greatfully Human?

Question Mark

Like many other people who enjoy superhero stories, I’ve often thought about what superpower I’d like to have. Some of my favorites include intangibility at will, psychic powers, and rapid regeneration. But there’s one that rises to the top every time my imagination treads this path – the ability to heal others.

But then I think some more about it…

What would life be like if I had that ability? I would feel compelled to heal as many people as possible. I’d feel guilty when I rested or took any time for myself because I’d know there’s someone I could be helping. Since there’s no shortage of sick and injured people, how would I prioritize who I help first? Those closest to death? Those nearest to me? Those in an area where illness is most concentrated so I can help the greatest numbers? Would people hate me because I didn’t get to their loved one in time? I’ve not come up with good answers to these questions.

It makes me glad I’m merely human. Sometimes it’s important to appreciate the things you don’t have.

What about you? What are your dream superpowers? Would you feel strongly motivated to do the most good? Would that responsibility be too much?

Speaking of superhero stories, there are a couple of excellent podcast novels that explore the genre in interesting ways. The first is Brave Men Run by Matthew Wayne Selznick. It’s the most realistic depiction of what the world would be like if super-powered humans began revealing themselves told from the perspective of high school aged boy just coming into his own. The second is How to Succeed in Evil by Patrick E. Mclean. This podcast novel had me laughing out loud more than I have listening to any other novel yet managed to be quite thought-provoking at the same time.

Did I mention both are available for free? Seriously, give them both a listen – they’re well worth it.

January 11th, 2010

The Fundamental Axiom of Experience

Einstein famously said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I believe one of the reasons this quote is so famous is because it hits upon a fundamental truth – past experience is a good predictor of future experience. Put more formally, inductive reasoning is conditionally valid. The condition being that any conclusion drawn from inductive reasoning can be thrown out if enough conclusive counter examples are found.

How does this work in everyday life? It’s fundamental to our everyday functioning. When we get hungry, we eat because past experience has shown that eating satiates hunger. We expect our future behavior of eating to have the same outcome as our previous experiences of eating. When we drive, we press the gas pedal to accelerate. Why do we not hit the brake pedal to accelerate? Because past experience has proved to us that braking decelerates the car. Inductive reasoning is so fundamental to our experience that Einstein uses the rejection of it, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” as the very definition of insanity.

What I find interesting is that this axiom of experience is rationally unfounded. The Scottish philosopher David Hume pointed this out in An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Thus the fact that we all accept induction as valid makes it an article of faith (defined as belief without rational justification). I believe that induction qualifies as an axiom (often called a postulate as well) – a simple claim accepted without proof on the basis of being self-evidently true.

Axioms function as starting points upon which other statements can be logically derived. For instance, in geometry, one of Euclid’s axioms is that a straight line segment can be drawn connecting any two distinct points. This is not proved via geometry but instead used with other axioms to derive all of geometry. Similarly, induction serves as a starting point for or experience of reality. It cannot be proven by experiencing reality, but can be used to understand our experience of reality.

Thus I call inductive reasoning the fundamental axiom of experience. This has some interesting implications which I hope to explore in future posts. What do you think?

January 5th, 2010

A New Decade…

the radio plays the sounds we made and everything seems to feel just right. The Aughts are over and looking back on them, it was a damn good decade for me personally. I earned two college degrees, discovered what it is I want to do with my life (even if I only did it for four years), landed a lucrative job, worked my way out of my short-term debt obligations, and bought a home. I rediscovered the benefits of exercise, moved to a new state, and met some amazing friends. Most importantly, I married the love of my life.

Looking forward to The Teens, I expect things to only get better. I’m going to continue my exercising and plan on being in the best shape I’ve been since my high school years. Another goal is a retirement of sorts. As I mentioned, I know what I want to do with my life. The trouble is that I’m not doing it. There are many reasons for this, mostly financial in nature. If current trends continue, I will have secured at least a decent standard of living for my full retirement later in life and eliminated most, if not all, of my debt obligations. I have a goal of retiring from banking by the end of the decade and enter my second career – teaching collage mathematics.

This also happens to be a perfect time for Jess and I to plan the next phase of our life together. Very recently, we finally dragged ourselves out from underneath the mountain of credit card debt we buried ourselves under during college which opens up new opportunities. Since then, we’ve been having serious discussions on how we want to live. We’ve made some decisions but they’re not all final, some of them are private, and it’s too early to talk about them on a blog. Hopefully, some details will be forthcoming.

While I’m working to make the next ten years better than the last, I’m wishing you a great decade as well!

Read the rest of this entry »

January 4th, 2010

My Year of Walking

Happy New Year (and a few days)!

My Walking Shoe

As most of you already know, I achieved my primary exercise goal for 2009. I walked 1,000 miles. My average pace was about 4.2 miles per hour. I also achieved my secondary goals of doing over 10,000 push-ups, 20,000 crunches, and 10,000 back exercises (it’s kind of like a reverse crunch where you lie on your stomach and arch your back). This, of course, has changed me. I have much more energy throughout the day, feel less stress, and built up my muscle tone and strength. Surprisingly, I only lost about 10 pounds. I’m not too worried considering first that weight loss wasn’t part of my goal and second because I put on some muscle weight, I lost more than 10 pounds in fat. In short, I am much more fit today than I was at the beginning of the year. Thanks to my friends, family, and twitter pals that gave me encouragement. Your support helped me get out there on the difficult days.

It’s time to set up my physical goals for 2010. Once again, my main goal will be 1,000 miles, but limiting myself to walking was a bit boring. Instead, I want to travel 1,000 miles under my own power this year. Right now this plan includes walking, running, and cycling. I may add swimming to this list as well. With cycling in there, 1,000 miles is much easier to achieve, so I’ve limited the number of cycling miles that contribute to the goal to 300. That means at least 700 of them will be on foot. I’ve also doubled my secondary goals from last year to 20,000 push-ups, 40,000 crunches, and 20,000 back-crunches. In addition, I’ve going to add a weight lifting goal. I’m not sure what the particulars will be, so I’m just starting off with 60 minutes of lifting with free weights a week until I get comfortable with a routine. This will allow me to set a realistic annual goal eventually. For the fun of it, I’ve also tossed in 30 minutes with Wii Fit a week.

I hope 2010 is your healthiest yet!

September 8th, 2009

Calling Idiodicy By It’s True Name

This is a must-share video I found through this Bad Astronomy post (which I found via this Twitter comment). It shows a politician calling a spade a spade.

Thank you Barney Frank.

August 8th, 2009

Math-Type Nerd

What Be Your Nerd Type?
Your Result: Science/Math Nerd
 

(Absolute Insane Laughter as you pour toxic chemicals into a foaming tub of death!)

Well, maybe you aren’t this extreme, but you’re in league with the crazy scientists/mathmeticians of today. Very few people have the talent of math and science is something takes a lot of brains as well. Thank whosever God you worship, or don’t worship, so thank no deity whatsoever in your case, for you people! Most of us would have died off without your help.

Musician
 
Gamer/Computer Nerd
 
Social Nerd
 
Literature Nerd
 
Anime Nerd
 
Artistic Nerd
 
Drama Nerd
 
What Be Your Nerd Type?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

This quiz has been floating around Facebook for a while, but doesn’t display there nicely. I thought I’d put it here for your amusement. I think it turned out pretty accurately.

August 7th, 2009

Health Care Isn’t Working: A Case for Change

With all the media coverage of the health care reform bill and the conflict between the two sides I found myself asking this question, why do we need health care reform? When I ask myself that question I feel it is my duty to then education myself on the matter and that is what I did.  Let me give you a quick run down of facts that I gathered from various places such as, the National Coalition on Health Care, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Economic Policy Institute.

  • The average annual premiums for family coverage increased $5,791 in 1999 to $12,680 in 20081
  • During that same period, the average annual worker contributions to the premium increased 120% compared to an increase of 44% in inflation and 29% increase in wages2
  • According to the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust, insurance premiums are increasing at a rate of 4 times the rate of wage increase2
  • 2.7 million fewer people under the age of 65 had employer provided health insurance in 2007 compared to 2000 a 5.4% decline3
  • The U.S. population saw a growth in the number of people who had a health care burden in excess of 10% of disposable income from 15.8% to 19.2%3
  • In 2000 5.7% of total compensation was spent on health insurance premiums by the end of 2006 the spending amounted to 7.2%, all while wages fell 2.5% as a share of total compensation3

After reading all these facts and figures and the other accompanying material I quickly realized exactly why we need reform, the question is what is the “right” reform? Is it a one-payer system, an overhaul of the current private system or some hybrid?  I don’t have an answer to that question but what I do know is that what we have now isn’t working.

References:

  1. Kaiser/HRET Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Benefits, 1999-2008
  2. National Coalition on Health Care – Facts on Health Care Costs 2008 (pdf)
  3. Gould, Elise – The State of Working America pg 335, 336 & 348 (pdf)
July 31st, 2009

Godfree vs. Godless (or How Night Became Day)

I’m a bit of a definition junkie. I think it comes from studying philosophy. It seems that most of the big questions are difficult to answer because the terms involved turn out to be so ill-defined. Thus much of the efforts in philosophy is not really aimed at answering the big questions, but precisely defining the words and concepts in the question. If that is achieved the answer usually falls right out.

So I’ve recently been thinking about the term “Godless” – often used as a derogatory term for agnostics and atheists. Literally it means “without god” but carries with it a very negative connotation. It suggests non-believers lack something or are missing something desirable. Think of the term ‘penniless’ for comparison.

That doesn’t accurately describe an atheist’s feeling on the matter at all. We do not feel like we are lacking anything for we don’t desire a god at all (such would be pointless as they are almost certainly fiction). I wanted a better term and found it in an unlikely place.

It turns out, couples who do not want children are in a similar situation. They are often described as being ‘childless’ though they don’t feel they are lacking anything. Thus they’ve adopted the term ‘childfree‘. Similarly, I’ve been using the term ‘godfree’.

Strictly speaking, ‘Godless’ and ‘godfree’ mean the same thing: “without god(s)”; though the capital ‘G’ implies monotheism and the lowercase is exclusive of polytheistic deities as well. Yet they have different connotations. Being something-less means one is without something desired. Being something-free means one is without something undesired. People who do not want caffeine in their soda will drink ‘caffeine-free’ soda, those who want children but are unable to have them are ‘childless’. Atheists, by and large, do not want any gods and do not have any. Thus the term ‘godfree’ is more appropriate.

It has occurred to me that precisely defining these terms in this way has a very interesting consequence. To understand it, you’ll have to adopt my point of view for a moment. Go ahead, it won’t hurt… There! A little uncomfortable, I’m sure, but you won’t have to wear it long. Now notice that there are no gods. Good. What’s that mean for religious people? They are without any gods for none exist but they desire a god (or gods). Which term, ‘Godless’ or ‘godfree’ is more appropriate? Using the definitions described above, you’ve guessed it….

…Religious people are the Godless ones! :)

Thanks for reading whether you’re godfree or Godless.

July 29th, 2009

Fifteen Books

Scott posted one of those “learn more about you” questions on his blog and I decided to participate. This one is relatively simple:

Rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

  1. Dune by Frank Herbert – Utterly compelling story that’s stuck with me
  2. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – Another compelling story with a definite dark side
  3. Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson – To call this one thought provoking is an understatement
  4. Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – Taught me that reading can be extremely fun
  5. Watership Down by Richard Adams – Who new a story about rabbits could be so dramatic
  6. Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous by George Berkeley – Taught me that the obviously absurd may not be as absurd as first thought
  7. Meditations of First Philosophy by René Descartes – I learned that doubt is one of the best tools we have to create knowledge
  8. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan – I for one welcome our new corn overlords
  9. Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov – Read these so long ago that I’ve forgotten much of thier content, but I remember the love I had for them
  10. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – This has been read to me at least twice in my life. The level of intimacy created by such an act is profound
  11. Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien – These were also read to me
  12. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – First classic that I choose to read
  13. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins – Helped me refine my theological thinking and enabled me to be more out about my atheism
  14. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – Reminded me that just because it’s Christian doesn’t automatically make it foolish
  15. Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter – Felt like I was in the presence of a genius the entire time I read it. I wish I understood more of it

And I thought 15 would be difficult to come up with. They are listed in a very particular order – the order in which I thought of them. The downside is that since coming up with these initial ones, I keep thinking of so many more that have impacted my thinking. If these were listed by importance, I’d definitely have to include “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for His Hat” by Oliver Sacks, “Rethinking Life and Death” by Peter Singer, and “Utilitarianism” by John Stuart Mill. These books along with a few others in my list helped me rebuild a worldview after freeing myself from religion.

I’m sure there are so many others that slipped my mind today for whatever reason. What’s your list?