Atheism's holy cow

To be atheist, as opposed to agnostic, is to find predictability and comfort in the belief that the prime constituent of the universe is matter. In this view, consciousness is an emergent phenomenon that arises from matter that has accidentally been organized sufficiently.

Belief in a materialist universe offers an illusion of metaphysical certainty. There's comfort in believing that our current scientific understanding is substantially complete, and substantially correct. That all that's left to work out are kinks and details. The belief suggests what is to be valued, and provides purpose: science, knowledge, technology, experimentation. The atheist points to the many successes of this process as evidence that brightness lies this way.

What the atheist gets from the materialist hypothesis is much the same thing that the Christian gets from God: answers of a firmness that otherwise could not be obtained; a metaphysical framework on which to build life, and find meaning. Much like Pascal rationalized the irrational using Pascal's Wager; or like Thomas Aquinas did the same with his five proofs; so the atheist does this using Occam's Razor - an excuse to believe that which has no proof. Like with a person who is religious, what compels the atheist to defend materialism so ardently is not ultimately reason; it is fear of losing the entire foundation of that which he's built.

The atheist fears that allowing investigation of a non-materialist hypothesis threatens to undermine science, and to impede the holy grail of technological progress, which the atheist believes is our main worthwhile goal. Anything doubting the materialist belief is seen as supportive of the religious; and anything religious is seen as a source of evil, backwardness, suffering, and darkness. Therefore, any suggestion of a non-materialist hypothesis is met with extreme prejudice, since it's perceived as threatening to the one thing which the atheist considers holy.

The atheist values investigation - but a non-materialist hypothesis is the one area he will not willingly investigate. You are either with us, or against us; and if you doubt the universe is made primarily of matter, you are against.


The water-efficiency of dinosaur foods!

I'm happy to find out that dinosaur foods - eggs and chicken - are actually by far the most water-efficient sources of protein! Way more calorie-water-efficient than mangos and asparagus, too! Yay!

(Now if only the poor dinosaurs weren't put through lives of absolute torture by the meat industry :-/ )

Source article in LA Times:

From steak to mangoes, here are some water-hogging foods



I invite you to read this post by Anna, a sex worker in Portland, Oregon. Excerpt:
Before I started escorting, I often just didn’t eat on my days off (I worked in a kitchen and was allowed to eat whatever I wanted at work, so that was helpful). I often didn’t have $2.50 to ride the bus. I don’t mean I just didn’t have any cash on hand, I literally didn’t possess two dollars and fifty cents, nothing in the bank or anything. One time my bike got a flat tire and I didn’t have the $4 to buy a new tube and I didn’t have $2.50 to take the bus to work even just one way so I had to walk the 12 miles round trip to work and back for a couple days until I got paid.
This is an adult woman; gainfully employed, in a minimum wage job; without children; without apparent alcohol troubles, or drug habits.

After doing lovely work like scrubbing toilets all day, 90% of her income would go for rent and taxes.


Lack of fictional distance and American insanity

I beg your indulgence for being a bit tongue-in-cheek.

It stands to reason that most Americans are partially insane. Everyone, except Americans, agrees on this. (For Americans themselves, it is of course just "normal". As anywhere, their insanity is their Tuesday.)

Far be it from me to suggest that the US is the only, or the most, insane country in the world. That's probably Saudi Arabia. Or lately, ISIS, if anyone recognized them as a country. But the US insanity is peculiar. It is so markedly different, in a hard-to-nail-down way, from insanities we see elsewhere.

The question is the nature and cause of this insanity. And of course, I wouldn't be writing if I wasn't itching with a theory.

For most people in the world, who consider Americans to be generally crazy, the stories in TV and movies happen in a clearly different, far-away land. For people in the US, though, those stories happen at home. There's no distance.

Due to this reduction in fictional distance, everything that appears out of the ordinary is immediately suspected by Americans to be, potentially, like the worst thing you've ever seen on TV. For citizens, this leads to paranoia about serial killers lurking around every corner. For cops, it leads to trigger-happy behavior we're reading about constantly.

It is of course impossible to talk about American irrationality, and not mention the brainwashing aspect of American "news". But I suggest it's not just the "news". It's the fiction. All of this stuff that America exports, that makes up $500 billion of US GDP.

Our subconscious doesn't distinguish between fiction and news. And it's the fiction that's constantly creating the association between typically American living and working environments, and images of gun fights, car chases, sociopathy, drugs, rape, and murder. These images affect how we perceive real risks.

Citizens of most other countries have the privilege of not having their living and working environments marred with associations like this on a daily basis. We watch the same stuff, but it happens elsewhere. The Bates Motel resides in a fictional California, not potentially down the road I drive by every day.

Americans don't have this privilege. They are being primed every day, in every way, on every channel.

When a big budget movie is showing a city being destroyed - whether by nature, or aliens, or zombies - it's hardly ever Shanghai. It's almost always New York, or LA, or Chicago, or San Francisco. Does that not suggest why a larger fraction of Americans than probably any country in Europe seem to constantly be contemplating total social collapse in a handful of years as something to plan for? As a real possibility?

Have you seen much of Breaking Bad? What's your first, immediate thought about Albuquerque?


Non-24-hour living

As far back as I can remember, I always had trouble getting up in the morning... and no trouble staying up during the night.

During the years I went to school - and the brief time in my late teens when I actually worked in an office - having to get up in the morning was, without exception, horrendous. It was due to the experience of these years that I thought I hated mornings, and it took me a while to realize I really don't. I actually love being up and alert when the sun is rising, with the streets still calm as night, when nobody is yet up. I really don't mind getting up at that time, either. I just absolutely can't handle a 24-hour sleep cycle.

Early in my twenties, I started to become less dependent on other people's schedules, but I still tried to keep a 24-hour sleep cycle, because that's what you are supposed to do. I would still try to get up at about the same time every day, but the time kept slipping. Getting up at 10 am turned to getting up at 10:15, then 10:30, 10:45, and so on until I was finally getting up at 5 pm, and going to bed when the sun rose in the morning. I struggled against this tendency; I used alarms, I guilted myself to get up earlier, but I was never successfully able to turn the clock back. Always forward. When the cycle came around so I was getting up at 6 pm again, I pushed myself the following few days to stay up much longer, so that I would skip a day and begin waking up again at a reasonable hour. Always, I wished this time around I could start sticking to a reasonable schedule. But again, getting up at 7 am turned to 7:15... And then 7:30... And so on, until it was time to skip a day again.

I failed to stop the slippage at either end of sleep. If I tried forcing myself to get up at a consistent hour, this became increasingly difficult until my eyelids felt like cinder blocks, and it was impossible to honor the alarm. If I tried to make myself fall asleep at the same time each night, I would increasingly just toss and turn in bed.

A few months ago, I thought to myself, what the heck. I had always tried to keep a 24-hour sleep cycle. It had always been a struggle, and in vain. But by now, I'm no longer tied to nearly anyone else's schedule - and I'm far from anyone's judgment. So why not let myself stay up however long I want, until I feel like sleep; and then sleep for however long I need?

For the past few months, the result has been a close-to-25-hour sleep cycle. My wake-up time shifts by about 1 hour, on average, per day. For the first time in my life, I'm neither tossing and turning in bed, nor waging a "get up!" war between spirit and body. I'm rested and relaxed, and never groggy after I wake up. Throughout the day, I feel like I'm at full capacity. This is what a smooth experience feels like.

The negative, of course, is that for a good portion of the month, I'm sleeping through the day when other people would expect me to be up.

A known condition that fits these symptoms is Non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder. I have not yet sought a diagnosis, so I cannot claim that this is what I have. However, the article states: "The disorder is an invisible disability that can be 'extremely debilitating in that it is incompatible with most social and professional obligations'." That is approximately right. One could argue I'm fortunate to have a life and work situation that allows me to accommodate this condition. But the truth is, this is not coincidental. I have never been free of this tendency. I built my life and work situation around this. Chances are that I would not have made the same life choices if I didn't have what felt like a biological requirement to not get locked into a fixed work day.

It is a condition that limits. It does not help me to have it. I have worked my way around it, at some cost.


Fair and unfair agreements

In economic terms, an agreement can happen where both parties extract value from the arrangement. A fair agreement is where both parties extract proportionally similar value. An unfair agreement is when one party has few alternatives, so the other party can negotiate terms such as to capture most of the value.

If you deal fairly with people, you will offer them agreements that provide them with proportional value. You will do so even when you could negotiate them into terms that are much better for you than for them.

Walmart could be considered an entity that extracts all the value in their agreements with employees, because the counterparty has very limited other options. These are consensual agreements, but they aren't fair. Making such agreements is legal; but that doesn't get you off the hook as a scumbag.

Many countries have legal requirements which attempt to ensure that certain types of agreements - especially in employment - are not only consensual, but fair. This is a form of state coercion which I've come to think is necessary, and welcome. Employment is an area where allowing people to be scumbags has especially detrimental results.

But employment isn't the only area where an agreement, or a mutual promise, can be unfair.

People cheat in lose/lose situations

The internets are full of condemnation for cheaters, and I often feel like I'm the only person tilting at the windmills of hatred against them.

Cheating is wrong. It's not the upstanding thing to do. It's an attempt to eat your cake, and have it too. If you're in a relationship where you're going to cheat, then you shouldn't have entered it in the first place. If you desire to experience intimacy that the rules of your relationship do not allow, there are two proper and upstanding alternatives: either to abstain, and reject temptation; or to confront your partner, and let the chips fall where they may. This could mean ending the relationship, or relaxing the rules.

(Or often, relaxing the rules, and then ending. That's how open relationships acquire a bad reputation; when closed relationships make their last-ditch efforts to save themselves by opening up, and can't.)

The thing is - when people cheat, we tend to judge them way too much. We vilify the cheater, and exaggerate the harm done to the person who was cheated on. We maximize their victimhood, and minimize what they did to help create the situation. Cheating is only ever seen as the cheater's fault.

I argue that the way most people set up their expectations in relationships makes it inevitable that someone will either cheat, or be tempted to. Further, even when temptation is repressed - when cheating doesn't actually happen - the fact that there's repression is a cost. It's a lost opportunity for someone to experience something beautiful.

If you're in a monogamous relationship, the first thing you should notice is that you're extorting your partner. Monogamy is a form of blackmail. Your partner loves you; but you don't love them back freely. The only way you will love them is if they do not love anyone else. Your partner has a burning need to be with you; but the only way you'll grant them this is if they agree to abandon other needs they have. You will not allow your partner to fulfill all their desires. You will not allow them to fully express themselves.

The most common response is that this is fine, because people agree to it. That marriage vows are entered voluntarily. But to suppose that this is fully voluntary is wishful thinking. There is pressure from peers and family; from churches, colleagues, and employers; from the state; pressuring people to at least appear to pursue a traditional, heterosexual, monogamous lifestyle. Even heterosexual monogamous people who decide to merely not have children can be treated as social pariahs. We are only now, and only in select countries, on the road to marriage equality for people with same-sex partners. For people with multiple partners, widespread acceptance is a long way down the road.

It takes unusual guts and self-awareness to go against this pressure, especially at a young age when a person still needs the support of others. Now add to this that a young person getting married doesn't necessarily yet understand themselves, or know what they can and cannot repress in the long run; add to it that the most valuable thing which they know they want - the love of their partner - comes dependent on a monogamous promise; and it's hard to argue the decision isn't made under duress.

There are certainly people who take shitty actions for no reason. In most cases, however, people make shitty decisions as a result of shitty circumstance. What hurts the most when you're being cheated on is the lying, the betrayal; but the main reason the person is lying is that what they have with you does mean a lot to them. There would be no reason to lie, if honesty didn't lead to losing something they value.

So then why cheat, in the first place? Well, because they don't only love you. They also love, and/or need, something else. In the situation they're in, there's no honest course of action that would allow them to have both. Either they lose you; or they lose the other something. It's a lose/lose proposition for them.

Cheating is what people do to delay an inevitable loss. For a while at least, as long as they can hide it, they can have both things they want - which they believe they could otherwise never have.


Self-confidence and crazy men

People value men based on self-confidence we project. The thing is, a man without self-confidence isn't perceived as weak. He's perceived as scary.

Statistically and physiologically, men are a gender of anger and violence, much more so than women (who are dangerous in more subtle ways). If you lack self-confidence, it sends a signal that you don't know what to do with your raw power. You're prone to misuse it, you're prone to act out, you're prone to do something dangerous - hurt someone or yourself, potentially - because you aren't at ease with yourself.

A confident man is attractive because he projects safety. Not just safety from others, or safety from external circumstance; but safety from his own whims and impulses. If he's self-confident, it means he's more likely to respond appropriately to situations. It means he's less likely to lash out; less likely to be a source of harm.

Being attractive, as a man, is largely about assuring a woman that you aren't crazy and dangerous.


Rest in peace, victims at Charlie Hebdo

A thought in light of yesterday's killings in France:

People do not deserve to be mocked, but ideas do.

Organized religion - uniting under the umbrella of a sacred belief - is fundamentally a dangerous and harmful idea. Even when the people involved do charity, and do not bomb and shoot.

Ideas kill people. But unlike people, ideas can't be killed. Mocking them intelligently is the best we can do. Don't let that go.

Voices like the following will protest:

Why is organized religion such a bad idea? Some people use religion for different purposes. For some it's a guiding light or it's just a moral compass. Organized religion is about as harmless as can be. It's the people who contort the idea then turn a harmless religion into corrupt propaganda for a senseless cause that harm the image of the religion.

Organized religion is like a man using a gun to shoot. When organized, religion is the gun.

By banding together under a cause, you are that gun. You become part of it. You're making yourself available for people who are going to use it to shoot.

Be a person, first and foremost. Don't be a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Christian, or a Jew. Don't be a Republican or a Democrat, a German or a Frenchman, or a Shia or a Sunni.

Cherish whatever beliefs you want. Support a cause, if it's worth it - but be prepared to abandon it when it's misused.

Think for yourself, and just be you. Identifying with a system of ideas is harmful.


Study: Sweeteners cause diabetes through changes in gut flora

I previously wrote about my experiences with glucose intolerance:

A study has now found:

Diabetes: The Sweetener Paradox

[T]he scientists adjusted the drinking water of the animals by adding the maximum recommended daily consumption dose of saccharin, aspartame or Sucralose. The control animals drank sugar water or unsweetened water. After eleven weeks, the researchers repeated the glucose tolerance test – with a clear result: during the experimental time period, all sweetener-drinking mice developed glucose intolerance, whereas none of the control mice did.


[T]he researchers administered high dosage of the broad-spectrum antibiotics ciprofloxacin and metronidazole, which act on Gram-negative bacteria, to both the leaner and obese animal subjects. During the antibiotic treatment, the animals continue to drink sweetener-containing water. Already after four weeks of therapy the researchers were barely able to detect glucose-intolerance test differences between the fatter and leaner animals drinking sweetener and the control animals. [...]

"These results suggest that the sweetener-induced glucose intolerance is caused by changes in the gut flora and the different proportions of its bacterial representatives”, the study authors conclude.

A further test was used to confirm this assumption: the scientists transferred the bacteria of the gastrointestinal flora of sweetener-drinking mice to microbe-free control mice. Already six days after the faecal transplant these mice were also suffering from glucose intolerance.

Original publication of study (Nature, September/October 2014):

Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota


Vitamin D-3 test results

I previously posted how:
As of December 19, 2014, I have been targeting a Vitamin D-3 intake, in pill form, of 7,000 IU per day, for over two months. My other sources of Vitamin D-3 ought to be negligible (little or no exposure to sun). My D25OH test results have been as follows:

Sample DateResultAverage Daily Change
October 8, 201427.15 ng/mL/
November 12, 201449.71 ng/mL+0.64 ng/mL/day
December 12, 201458.71 ng/mL+0.30 ng/mL/day

I have three hypotheses for why the average daily change has dropped off towards the third test:
  1. Body adjusts. Perhaps the body makes use of more Vitamin D-3 when more is available in long-term storage. This would be excellent news - it would mean a person can continue to take a consistent amount without worrying too much about overshooting the 60 - 80 ng/mL range. As long as the intake is within reason, the body will use more if more is available.
  2. Pill inconsistency. Perhaps reported pill content is unreliable. All my intake of Vitamin D-3 has been in the form of pills from GNC, but the pills have come in a variety of different form factors. I began with 7 x 1,000 IU per day; then I had to switch to 17 x 400 IU because a larger pill was not available locally; then I switched to 1 x 5,000 IU + 2 x 1,000 IU when Jana returned from a trip to the US, and brought a supply from GNC there. If pill content is inconsistent and unreliable, that would be bad news; staying in the 60 - 80 ng/mL range would require frequent blood testing.
  3. Daily variation. Perhaps there are daily fluctuations in metabolism that might cause results to vary by a large amount, depending on when the sample is taken.
I'm leaning towards either the first or the second hypothesis. Of the two, I'm very much hoping for the first. For now, I'm continuing to take 7,000 IU per day. In January, I plan to do a 4th blood test. I'll be able to take my daily 7,000 IU in the same form factor as between the 2nd and 3rd test, so my intake should be consistent. The results of the fourth test in January may then provide further evidence. If average daily change drops further, that will speak in favor of hypothesis 1 - the body is using more as it gets more. If average daily change remains the same as between 2nd and 3rd test, that will be in favor of the second hypothesis - pill content may be unreliable. If daily change returns to what it was between 1st and 2nd test, that would suggest hypothesis 3 - large daily variation.

I should note that my average mood and enthusiasm have improved consistently with D25OH blood level. There are differences from day to day, but I now feel much more enthusiasm for work and general activity than e.g. last month. Since this is not a blind study, it continues to be impossible to rule out placebo, but the improvement has been consistent with my long-term level climbing up.

Edit - February 15, 2015:

I have continued to take Vitamin D-3 in the same form factor at 7,000 IU per day, and got tested again. Updated table with latest results:

Sample DateResultAverage Daily Change
October 8, 201427.15 ng/mL/
November 12, 201449.71 ng/mL+0.64 ng/mL/day
December 12, 201458.71 ng/mL+0.30 ng/mL/day
February 13, 201571.35 ng/mL+0.20 ng/mL/day

This seems to support hypothesis 1 - the body adjusts, which is good news.