Monday, March 30, 2015

Gay culture: a tragedy

In the category of things I wish I had blogged about at the time, some years ago I saw the movie Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy.  It was a film about gay men, released in 2000.  It didn't get exactly good ratings, but we have a lower standard for gay movies.  Roger Ebert gave it 3/4 stars, saying, "It insists on the ordinariness of its characters, on their everyday problems, on the relaxed and chatty ways they pass their time. The movie's buried message celebrates the arrival of gays into the mainstream."

I'm not going to remember the plot details, but what I remember is my overall impression: This movie makes much more sense when read as a tragedy.

The movie portrays a group of friends, and they are absolutely awful to one another.  They should clearly break up.  However, the writer doesn't see it that way, and treats the near break-up of the group as the "conflict" of the story.  In particular, I recall that one of the friends leaves to make new friends--a group of heroin addicts.  Eventually he overdoses, and the friends all come together at the hospital.  They resolve to stay together, not because they are actually good friends to each other, but because gay people need to stick together.

On IMDB, you can find lots of people who liked the movie because it was exactly like their own life.  I get that people are happy to finally see a movie that sweeps away the stereotypes, but what we find underneath is just sad.

The more I think about it, the more this feels symbolic of larger things wrong with gay male culture.  People accept all kinds of abuse, basically because the alternative of leaving gay culture is worse.  And while lots of people know that something's broken, hardly anyone shows self-awareness of how they're part of the problem.

Many specific kinds of abuse are showcased uncritically in the movie.  There's rampant femmephobia, such as a bunch of bad dates, where the date is bad basically because they're too effeminate.  There are the body image issues, encapsulated in this quote:
All of the men in L.A. are a bunch of 10's looking for an 11. On a good night, and if the other guy's drunk enough... I'm a 6.
Perhaps the only thing missing is the constant complaining about how nobody else wants long-term relationships (then where do all these complainers come from?).  But you can find plenty of that theme in other gay movies.

I don't know if I am the right person to make this sort of cultural critique.  I've always been on the boundaries of gay culture, and I've been out of the dating pool for several years.  This is more something that affects my friends, and which pervades discourse among gay men.

On the other hand, when hearing from people who do personally deal with the problems of gay culture, I don't hear cultural critique, I hear self-pitying.  Like the character in The Broken Hearts Club, who complains that he's only a six in attractiveness, but doesn't even think about how he treats other sixes.  Without pointing to other specific examples, I see this theme repeated endlessly in popular gay media--fiction and nonfiction.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Even if capitalism has problems, consumerism is fine

I've heard a few people complain about "consumerism", identifying it as one of the evil consequences of capitalism.  For example of this mentality, see here:
People in consumerist societies live by the influence of advertisements, and often methodically buy things they do not need, and in most cases, cannot afford. This, in turn, leads to greater economic disparity, and despite having the most or latest products, consumerists have a feeling of unfulfillment due to spending a lot of money yet having nothing of personal importance.
Even as I agree that capitalism has some problems, I do not agree that consumerism is one of those problems.  Furthermore, consumerism mitigates economic inequality, rather than exacerbating it.

My problems with capitalism are summarized as follows:
1. Whenever returns on capital exceed economic growth (which is the typical state of the economy), capitalism leads to increasing economic inequality.  That's the thesis of Capital in the 21st Century, one of the most important books of our time.

2. As I've previously observed, even an ideal free market only optimizes for the sum utility as measured in dollars.  In the presence of economic inequality, this skews the market against poor people, who have a lower dollar-to-utility conversion factor.
My understanding is that "economic growth" is a measure of the rate of increase of consumption.  So if people consume more, that will lead to less inequality.  This is easy to understand if you consider the alternative to consumption: investment.  Investing money produces returns, and the people with the most wealth are the people who get the most returns.

It is true that I've previously expressed a desire to consume less.  However, that's partly a matter of personal taste, and it's partly a matter of labor politics.  I advocate reducing the 40 hour work week because I would rather consume my leisure time than have an increased ability to buy status goods.  In other words, I'm just favoring one kind of consumption over another.  Or put another way, I advocate that leisure time is allocated more sensibly, with unemployed people having less leisure (ie by being employed), and employed people having more leisure.

I think people who complain about consumerism might be trying to express a similar sentiment about not buying status goods.  But ultimately I feel they've botched the point with a poor understanding.

The consumption of goods is one of the most fundamental of goods in society.  If it happens to be true that capitalism leads to increased consumption, that would be one particular point in capitalism's favor.


I just wrote this as a personal reaction to things I heard "on the street".  However a brief google search revealed that many people have said things that are very similar.  I will look into these and post a follow-up if I find anything interesting.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Novels are a strange medium

Regular readers may have noticed that I stopped posting monthly updates about the novel I am trying to write.  I'm still writing the novel, at such a crawl that I may never finish.  That's fine with me.  However, I decided I didn't want to do further regular updates.  The updates make me feel like I'm fulfilling an obligation.

I'd still like to talk about fiction, without focusing on my writing in particular.  Specifically, I've become more aware of how strange novels are, and stories more generally.
I used to think that writing a story was like wandering an open street.  You could go in any direction you please, and see whatever you want.  Instead, writing a story is more like wandering an open galaxy.  You can go in many directions, but you have to build a space ship first, and the vehicle proceeds to limit your perspective.

I'm talking about some really basic constraints:

-You can't have too many well-developed characters.  And if you do have lots of characters, you can't introduce them all at once.

-Stories need a conflict and resolution.  You can have a conflict without a resolution, but it feels much weirder than it does in real life.  If you don't have a conflict, it's not a story, it's an essay.

-Pacing is counterintuitive.  We want to tell the details of the story which are interesting, and skip the details which are uninteresting.  For most stories, this requires zooming in and out a lot, but if you zoom in and out too much it feels jerky.

-Many novels have the conceit of a narrator character.  But why would a sensible person talk like a novel, or even write about their experiences like a novel?

-Vivid descriptions are a strange concept.  Why do we like them?  Do we all in fact like them?  Do descriptions need have anything to do with the rest of the story?

-A story has a beginning, which is disorienting.  I find it telling that in video games, which are often in second person, so many stories begin with the protagonist waking up or having amnesia.

-Readers don't automatically care about characters.  If you have characters do something important before readers care about them, then the readers might miss its importance entirely.

-A story has an ending.  The sheer weirdness of having an ending is most obvious when we see sequels to stories where a sequel wasn't originally planned.  It especially screws with character development, because how do you have a character achieve enlightenment repeatedly?

-Fiction can have a message, but is severely limited in its ability to argue the message.  You can't really say "X is wrong because people in my story did X and it led to bad things."  Actually, lots of fiction makes that kind of argument anyway, but I'd personally rather not.

Can you think of any other constraints in the novel or story medium?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

"Nothing is sacred" is cheap talk

I had an incidental disagreement on Tumblr the other day.  I said that atheists have the value that "Nothing is sacred".  Another person* replied that some atheists do in fact hold certain things sacred, and that's what makes atheist culture so racist and misogynist.

*I'd provide links and names, but the details aren't really important, and they're welcome to identify themselves if they wish.

I totally agree that there is widespread racism and misogyny in atheist culture, and that criticizing it is a worthwhile endeavor.  However, I disagree with this particular critique.

"Nothing is sacred" is just a slogan.  It has some meaning in the context of religion, where people feel that certain ideas are off-limits.  But when you get down to it, I'm really not sure what it means for something to be sacred.  Does it mean that people hold to the idea despite counterarguments?  Does it mean they don't like when people make counterarguments?  Does it mean that social pressure plays a role?  You could say that about every ideology ever.

And I'm sorry to say that this is exactly what atheists do sometimes.  They'll criticize anything, and if someone tries to defend themselves, it must be because they're holding the idea sacred, and off-limits from criticism.  So if I say that sexist jokes contribute to sexism, and cite studies saying the same, clearly the only reason I came to that conclusion is because I refuse to hold political correctness up to the bright light of science.

There's a major hearsay problem.  It's very easy to say that you know such and such person who just refused to see reason, and acted like you were wrong to even criticize them.  Yeah, I believe that's how you perceived the argument.  But that's practically every argument ever, from everyone's perspective.  I wasn't there, so I can't tell.

Yes, there are some cases where people hold a belief too close, and use "unfair" means to discourage criticism.  For instance, I've criticized Christianity for discouraging doubt.  But the critique must be precise to be valid! I needed to provide examples of specific Christian narratives which were contributing to the problem.  If I merely waved my hands around, saying Christians are so dogmatic, and this one time I met a Christian and they were just so offended when I gave them hard evidence against God, you could rightly dismiss it as cheap talk.

If you criticize atheists for holding certain beliefs sacred, you're just taking one of the lowest quality atheist aphorisms, and turning it around.  You're not helping.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Making sense of existence

This is part of my series on debugging the ontological argument.

In a previous post, I explained why existence is a meaningless predicate in First-Order Predicate Logic (FOPL).  If E(x) is a predicate that means "x exists", then E(x) is true over its entire domain, since the domain consists of exactly those things that exist.

On the other hand, even singing socks can think of things that don't exist.  What gives?

To some extent, we can understand "things that don't exist" with quantifiers.  For example, the fact that there are no monks singing chants in tight leather pants can be stated as follows:
$$\lnot \exists x F(x)\tag{1}\label{ref1}$$
where F(x) means "x is a monk singing chants in tight leather pants".  However, the logical language seems rather constrained compared to normal language.

This raises the question, is there some logical system that provides better ways to talk about things that don't exist?  Indeed, I will suggest two ways.

Second-Order Predicate Logic

Second-Order Predicate Logic (SOPL) is distinct from FOPL because we can now apply quantifiers to predicates.  For example, we can now have statements like:
$$\exists T ~\forall x ~T(x)\tag{2}\label{ref2}$$
This means "There exists a predicate T which applies to all objects."

Furthermore, we also have second-order predicates.  A first-order predicate takes a variable and outputs a proposition.  A second-order predicate takes a first-order predicate, and outputs a proposition.  In particular, let us define the second-order predicate S:
$$\forall F~ [S(F) \Leftrightarrow \exists x F(x) ]\tag{3}\label{ref3}$$
Basically, the predicate S(F) means "There exists some x for which F(x) is true."  S, in other words, is the existence predicate.   But it's not a first-order predicate, it's a second-order predicate.

We can now attempt to translate the DOA into SOPL:
$$\forall x ~[G(x) \Leftrightarrow P(x)]\tag{4a}\label{4a}$$ $$\forall x~ [P(x) \Rightarrow S(=_x)\tag{4b}]\label{4b}$$ $$\exists x~ G(x)\tag{4c}\label{4c}$$
Here, $=_x$(y) is the predicate that means "x is identical to y".  So \ref{4b} means "For all x such that P(x), there exists an object that is identical to x."

Unfortunately, \ref{4b} is tautological,1 and the conclusion, \ref{4c}, does not follow, and the proof is invalid.

The conceptual ontological argument

Another solution to the problem is to consider a larger domain.  Previously, the domain of the predicates was the set of all things that exist.  What if we expanded the domain to include some things that don't exist?  We can now define the predicate E(x) to mean "x is part of the old domain", or "x exists in the real world".  In our new expanded domain, E(x) is no longer true for every object.

This leads to a new version of the ontological argument, which I'll call the Conceptual Ontological Argument (COA):
$$\forall x ~[G(x) \Leftrightarrow P(x)]\tag{5a}\label{5a}$$ $$\forall x~ [P(x) \Rightarrow E(x)\tag{5b}]\label{5b}$$ $$\exists x~ [ G(x)\wedge E(x)]\tag{5c}\label{5c}$$
This proof is almost enough to prove that God exists.  We need just one more premise:
$$\exists x G(x)\tag{6}\label{ref6}$$
Premise \ref{ref6} does not assume that God exists, since recall that we are using an expanded domain of objects.  For the moment, let's call the expanded domain "foo".  So the premise of the argument is merely that God is foo.  But what does that mean?

There are in fact some constraints on what things are foo.  For instance, you cannot have a foo object which is both red and not red.  And maybe there are other unknown constraints.

One philosophical interpretation of "foo" is that objects which are foo are "conceivable".  Of course, the meaning of conceivability is extremely contentious among philosophers.  For example, in a survey of philosophers, they found that 59% of philosophers believe p-zombies2 are conceivable, 16% believed them inconceivable, and 25% said something else.  And if you look up conceivability, you find modern philosophical articles explaining all different kinds of conceivability.  This is a problem I cannot hope to solve!

Nonetheless, interpreting "foo" as "conceivable" provides some framework, however ambiguous, to understand the COA.  With this interpretation, the argument seems to say, if we can merely conceive of God, then God exists.  Isn't that interesting?

The objection I raise is, suppose we conceive of some object x.  x has all the properties we typically ascribe to God.  He created the world, he talked to a few prophets, he sacrificed his son, etc.  Last but not least, in our imagined version of the real world, this x exists in all his glorious ontological power!

It seems reasonable to conclude that the object that we are conceiving is in fact God.  But let's actually check whether G(x) is true.  If G(x) were true, then x would have all the perfections, and one of the perfections is that x exists in the real world (and not merely that x exists in our imagined version of the real world).  To check if this is true, we have to look at the real world and see if x exists.  Until we verify the existence of x, we can only say that x is very god-like, not that x is God in the sense of G(x).3

We're used to conceiving things, and the things we conceive of have exactly the predicates we conceive them to have.  But it is not true that given any predicate, we can automatically conceive of an object with that predicate.  In particular, it seems that we don't really have control over the predicates related to existence.

Here is another predicate H which may or may not be conceivable:
$$\forall x~[H(x) \Leftrightarrow \exists y [F(y) \wedge E(y)] ]\tag{7}\label{ref7}$$
Statement \ref{ref7} defines H(x) to mean "There exists in the real world a monk singing chants in tight leather pants."  This is an odd predicate, since H(x) just means the same thing no matter what x is. H is a completely sensible predicate, and has no contradictions.  But is H conceivable?  We cannot know, until we demonstrate the existence of the monk.

Similarly, in order to show that a god exists, we first need to show that a god exists.


1. In fact, \ref{4b} is equivalent to statement (3b') from the previous post.  It seems that going from FOPL to SOPL really didn't help at all.

2. A p-zombie is a philosophical zombie, a being which behaves like us but which does not have conscious experience.  It's not remotely relevant to ontological arguments.

3. One possible resolution is to simply reject the equivalence of G and God.  But the ontological arguments are only valid if we use the predicate G, so this amounts to rejecting the ontological argument.

Monday, March 16, 2015


I seem to have broken Disqus.  So for the moment, all comments are reverted to the Blogspot comment system.  Because of the way Disqus works, it now appears as if all comments from the past couple years were made by me.

I'm sure I'll figure out how to fix it soon enough, but in the meantime if comments are super funky that's why.

Incidentally, I also have another problem.  Someone told me that I'm missing the "subscribe by e-mail" option.  I could have sworn I had a widget, but it seems to have disappeared.  I can't add a new one because Blogger claims that I already have one.

ETA: Never mind I fixed Disqus, although the other problem continues.

ETA: There is now a link on the right that says "Subscribe by e-mail".  I had to add it manually because the default widget is broken.  Also at some point I accidentally deleted an HTML/Javascript widget and I can't remember what was in it.  Oh well...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

How masculinity is like a white Christmas

I grew up in Los Angeles, and every winter it would snow--but only in Hollywood in front of the movie cameras.  We Los Angeles kids, we didn't really know what snow was like, but we knew very well it was supposed to snow in winter.  Also: Santa Claus is supposed to exist and kids are supposed to believe in him, even though he doesn't and I didn't.

Masculinity is also featured prominently on the movie screen.  It's about being the protagonist, shooting everything up, and getting the girl in the end.

Sometimes movies show masculinity and snow simultaneously.  From upcoming James Bond movie, Spectre.

If you ask feminists, they talk extensively about toxic masculinity, which is a collection of expectations of men that hurt men.  Men must always want to have sex, they must never show emotion, and they must solve problems with violence.

I have a hard time believing that this masculinity actually exists.  Next you'll tell me that snow is real!  I'll have you know, I grew up near the movie studios and I've seen what their "snow" looks like close up.

So, given that the masculinity we're presented in movies is totally fake and doesn't affect anyone, I'm left wondering what the hell real masculinity is like.

Here's a thing I used to think about men.  Men are not supposed to care how they look.  They are supposed to generate a random number every morning, and use it to select clothes from a nearly identical line-up of unremarkable clothing.  It turns out, this is a total lie.  Apparently, being a man means dressing up in a suit and tie on special occasions.  People pretend that this is a "neutral" costume, like practically not a costume at all!  I find this such a bizarre belief, that I've begun to question whether my own belief in "neutral" clothing might in fact be equally bizarre.

Here's a thing I used to think about manliness.  Being manly means being a jock.  But then it seems really puzzling why geeks, who are like anti-jocks, are made up entirely of men.  Well okay, there are geek women too, but I've been told there are so few of the real ones that it would be economically impossible for geek culture to ever cater to them.  I sure can't see any way out of this paradox, it's as airtight as a whistle.

Here's a thing I used to think about masculinity.  Masculinity means wanting sex, or at least being expected to want sex.  Except... apparently this is not true of Asian-American men?  It's baffling that my whole life I thought I was expected to fit into one stereotype, but apparently I've really been expected to fit into a different one.  Only, since I'm half-Asian, I guess somewhere between those two?  Gee, I'm glad all these expectations are as fake as snow or they would be quite confusing!

One thing I'm sure about is that there's no point in aspiring to be any more masculine than I happen to be already.  It would be like believing in a religion without knowing what the religion believes in.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Destroying Tumblr with RSS

Let's say, purely as a hypothetical, that I wanted to destroy Tumblr as a medium.  What would I do?

My idea is this: People on Tumblr are stuck there, because it's the only way to keep track of their news feed.  If you have friends on Tumblr and want to keep track of them, it's the only way.  Unfortunately, the news feed does not let you track anything that isn't on Tumblr.  So at that point, you simply stop reading things that aren't on Tumblr.

However, there is another way to track people on Tumblr!  There's something called RSS, which is used by old-timers like me.  All you need is an RSS reader, such as Feedly, and then you add subscriptions to anything you like. 

For instance! If I wanted to keep track of the Hiveswap tumblr:
Then I simply go to the rss feed:
And then there's the option to put it into Feedly!  This isn't tech-geek level stuff, it's really simple syndication (RSS)!

RSS offers many advantages compared to Tumblr.  You can subscribe to blogs that aren't on Tumblr.  You can subscribe to webcomics.  The world is ripe for the taking!

The Tumblr news feed also offers a few advantages:
  1. What the hell is RSS?
  2. The Tumblr news feed is easily accessible.
  3. Tumblr doesn't keep track of how much you've read, so there's no anxiety over unread counts
  4. Tumblr lets you keep track of tags, which as far as I know, have no associated RSS feed.
  5. I've already subscribed to a lot of Tumblrs and it's too much work to subscribe to each and every RSS feed.
  6. What the hell is RSS?
So I'm thinking, purely as a hypothetical, that I need to find a suitable RSS reader, one which is so simple even a Tumblrite could use it.  Then I need to make a good tutorial/sales pitch to convince people to use it.

Does anyone have any suggestions?  Which RSS reader would work best?  How can I write the sales pitch?  What sort of pitfalls might a person encounter when switching from Tumblr to RSS, and how might I solve them?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

On Christian stereotypes

As we all know, atheists often get criticized and stereotyped as angry and militant.  This precipitates some fairly complex back-and-forth among atheists as to the value of anger.

Christians often get criticized and stereotyped as sex-negative.  What does that lead to?

According to Coyote,
I’ve seen a lot of Christians overemphasizing the greatness of sex as a way to distance themselves from the prudish stereotype, clearly nursing a wound without realizing how it got there.


When Christians talk about sex — not about sexual purity or sexual immorality, but about sex itself — many of them talk as if to desperately reassure themselves and everyone listening that sex is not always sinful, which usually (always) ends up with them glorifying and sanctifying it and calling it a “gift from God” [...]
This narrative was also supported by a church e-mail project, wherein Coyote e-mailed a bunch of churches to ask how they felt about asexuality, celibacy, and nonsexual marriages.

I don't know what I can say about this, since it was not my personal experience.  Though I was Catholic, I was mostly brought up with a secular sense of morality.  I was not particularly aware of sex-negative stereotypes of Catholicism.

But I think this is important, from an atheist perspective.  When we criticize religion, we hope to change society for the better.  But we don't spend much time observing how Christians really react to our criticisms.  We watch people how leave Christianity, and we listen to Christian rebuttals, but we don't pay attention to how it affects Christian cultures.

To me, it feels slightly uncomfortable to know that by criticizing Christianity, we are generating or contributing to stereotypes.  I am used to opposing stereotypes.

On the other hand, it's not as if our criticisms of Christianity are insincere or invalid.  Many varieties of Christianity have truly hurt people by making them feel ashamed of their sexual behavior.  While Coyote interacted with churches which proclaimed the glory of sex, the same churches often only approved of cisgender heterosexual vanilla marital sex.  These critiques may cause discomfort to Christians, but that is in the nature of social criticism!  It is impossible to effect social change without making some people feel uncomfortable.  It is impossible to effect social change without anger, without mockery, without disruption.

Likewise, when people criticize atheists for being too angry or arrogant, they are also being sincere.  I do not think people are wrong to criticize just because their criticisms generate atheist stereotypes.  I think people are wrong to criticize because the substance of those critiques is lacking.

Nonetheless, it would be helpful if atheist critiques were more responsive to actual Christian views on sex.

It's worth noting that "sex-positive" is sort of like "pro-life", in that there is no one who is "anti-life" and no one who is "sex-negative" (not including feminist reclamations of the term).  "Sex-negative" is a pejorative term used by sex-positive people for positions they disagree with.  People who we call sex-negative do not actually think sex is negative.

One possible view is that Christians think sex is too special.  Having sex with just anyone subtracts from its specialness.  It's so special, it must be a gift from God.  And since it's a gift from God, that implies that it must be exercised in ways that are to God's liking.  And any sexual diversity must be an aberration, because why would God give different gifts to different people, or in some cases give no gifts at all? 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Why are there so few asexual men?

This post was cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda.

In my analysis of the 2014 AVEN Survey of online asexual communities, I showed that only 12% of aces (aces = people on the asexual spectrum) are men. The fraction of asexuals who are men is similar.* Someone asked me why that is, and I thought I'd make my answer public.

*This particular datum hasn't been reported, but I have the data right in front of me, so you'll have to take my word for it.

Extant data

In a community survey of AVEN in 2008, 28% of asexuals were men. Another community survey in 2011 reported 13% of aces were men. A Spanish-language community survey in 2013 reports that 36% of asexuals were assigned male at birth.

These are all community surveys conducted online, and they only tell us about people in the various online communities. They do not tell us about asexuals or asexual-spectrum people in general.

However, there was also an academic study conducted in 2004, based on a national probability sample in the UK in 1994. In that study 35% of asexuals were men. In theory, this should tell us about asexuals in general, although there are many reasons to worry about systematic biases.


1. Asexuality contradicts certain ideas of what men are supposed to be like. For example, men might be expected to be hypersexual, or they might be expected not to talk about personal feelings. This may make men less likely to acknowledge that they are ace. Although I could also imagine a world where this makes men more likely to realize they are different.

2. People with penises might think they simply can't be ace. I mean, most of these people get erections, and rates of masturbation are generally higher. Even though these characteristics are compatible with asexuality, it may stop people from identifying with it.

3. Men are expected to initiate. So if you're an ace woman, you can expect lots of bothersome unwanted solicitations. If you're an ace man, you can just try not to think about it too hard.

4. Maybe it's really less common amongst men. Who can say?

5. There could be a networking effect. In the 2014 AVEN survey, non-ace people (i.e. those not on the asexual spectrum) were encouraged to respond. The non-ace respondents are not representative of the general population, but come from "near" the ace community (predominantly Tumblr). 17.5% of the non-ace respondents were men, which is somewhat more than the ace respondents, but still quite low.

The theory is that there are many spaces, such as Tumblr, which are for whatever reason more popular among women than men. Because the asexual community is made up mostly of women, they will gravitate towards those spaces, generating more of a presence, and attracting even more women.

6. Even if men are identifying as asexual at rates comparable to women, it could be that they're less likely to stay in the community for as long. Possibly they feel less need for the community because they have fewer problems to deal with. Alternatively, they experience more problems to deal with, within the community.

Further reading

For perspectives on the experiences of asexual men, I recommend the Asexual Archive, The Thinking Asexual, and some stuff I've written.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Video: Chain fountain

I just got back from March Meeting, the one of the world's largest physics conferences.  I thought I'd share one talk which used relatively basic physics to explain a surprising phenomenon:

Summary for people who don't watch videos: You have a long chain of metal beads in a beaker, and you let the chain fall out.  Rather than slithering over the edge of the beaker, the chain jumps out of the beaker.  It turns out the explanation has to do with the shape of the beads; when the chain is pulled out, geometry requires that the beaker gives the beads an extra kick.

I think it could be a neat science fair experiment for someone to design a chain which produces a larger fountain.  The chain needs to be made of long beads, whose mass is concentrated in the middle.  I'm not sure what you would make the beads out of.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

These things do not exist

This is part of my series on debugging the ontological argument.

In the previous post in the series, I explained why existence is not a predicate.  Or if it is a predicate, then it is tautological and meaningless.

However, here is a rebuttal in song form (song starts at 1:35):

My transcript:
Perfect circles, three-sided squares, and two nested pairs with just one number,
Isaac Newton's fourth law of motion, rivers and oceans on the moon,
Easter Sunday in the fall, and Pope John Paul the sixth or seventh,
Also the last digit of pi, or large dragonflies that eat baboons.

Or what about elves and unicorns, or cranberries grown with pairs of thorns,
Or trash double cheesecakes laced with thorns, these things do not exist.
And don't forget objectivity, and non-oppressive authority,
Or equal opportunity, these things do not exist.

I'm quite impressed with our little list, though I think we missed a thing or two,
So not to sound too over-rehearsed, but we'll sing more verses after this.

So what about life without suffering, or a moment when nobody's dying, or a
Flower immune from withering, oh these things do not exist.
Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, American nuclear arms reduction,
Women safe from my powers of seduction, these do not exist.

Or restaurants in California where you legally can smoke, or pitless peaches, orange celery, or heartless artichokes,
or Chia pets that look like Howard Taft or Howard Stern, the Antarctic Badminton League, or gasoline that does not burn.
Or lengthy treatises on existential thought by dinosaurs, or belly-button-flavored jello, Japanese conquistadors,
September 33rd or 50th or 91st, or flying submarines, or talking plants, or meatless liverwurst.

Or oceanfront property in Zimbabwe, Orthodox Jews that speak God's name Yahweh,
Truffles or mushrooms with vertebrae, these things do not exist.
Or cellular phones from 1910, or monsters in closets, or boogeymen,
or cigarettes without carcinogens, these things do not ex--

Eggs as large as Mars, cherry-flavored cars, ninety string guitars, immortal
armadillos, paint chip pillows, billion kilo cigarillos, real Fox News sans point of views, or fake tattoos held on with screws, or duct tape zoos, or argon shoes, or cheap canoes made from kazoos, or free shampoos from kangaroos,
twelve-handed clocks, magic beanstalks, woodless woodblocks, NASA space walks on Earth, or sock puppets made without any actual socks.

One-line sonnets, eight-legged snakes, and beer-flavored lakes in Minnesota,
Cat-scan goggles, monks singing chants in tight leather pants, and
Finally not least of all, an utterly exhaustive list of things that don't exist!
The above song was inspired by a lovely Dinosaur Comic.

If existence is not a predicate, how do any of the above statements make sense?  Read on to find out.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Floral Dodecahedral Space

Floral Dodecahedral Space, an original model by me.  The units come from Meenakshi Mukerji,  specifically, these are units from Flower Dodecahedron 3.  If it seems like I make a lot of stuff by Mukerji, it's probably because I have a lot of her books.

This model was inspired by cosmology.

See, I was reading a bit on the geometry of the universe, and one proposal is that the universe is shaped like PoincarĂ© Dodecahedral Space.  I have a lot of trouble understanding what the hell this geometry is.  I think it's the quotient group of SO(3) and the icosahedral group?  It's been a long time since I've taken group theory.

Anyway, I found this column from the AMS (academic access required) which attempts to explain it.  I'm not sure how successful the article was, but when I saw this image, that's when inspiration struck.

It's got something to do with Poincaré Dodecahedral Space?

My reaction was, waaaait a minute!  You can have 6 regular pentagons symmetrically arranged while sharing a single corner? You can put 4 dodecahedrons together at a single vertex??  How did I not know this!?

As it turns out, you can't really put 6 regular pentagons together.  The angles aren't quite right.  I think this has something to do with the fact that PoincarĂ© Dodecahedral Space is curved space, so the angles don't necessarily all add up.

Anyway, origami sort of exists in curved space too, because you can always fudge the angles a bit.  And that's the inspiration for my model, Floral Dodecahedral Space.