Lessons from the 28th Silver Bullet

March 5, 2021

So, after talking about his 28th Silver Bullet (that I covered last week), Bob Seidensticker decided to put up some philosophical lessons that followed from it.  So let me look at them here.

The first is that a God that would do this or set this situation up clashes with our ideas of a perfectly moral or loving God (Seidensticker insists on saying that God is immoral and God doesn’t exist and there’s a contradiction in the Bible, which can’t all be meaningfully true).

Let’s start by agreeing that morality is a good thing. (It may seem odd that we must back up this far, but you’ll soon see that we must in this “up is down and eternal torment is good” environment.) Our best examples within society of honesty, compassion, selflessness, or any other moral trait are examples that are often highlighted for us to emulate. It’s not that we don’t know what is morally good. We do know; our problem is our inability to consistently strive for moral goodness.

Remember, Seidensticker is a moral relativist, so it seems odd for him to argue that we can know what is morally good when that would imply knowing that objectively, which we deny that we can know.  This is also problematic because it would suggest that the moral crimes of the past — slavery being the big one — are things that we do indeed just knew was morally wrong and we failed to strive for moral goodness, despite all the arguments made at the time that it was indeed really at least not morally wrong and even that it was morally obligated.  That’s a pretty brave statement to make and runs right into the same issues as “Atheists really know that God exists and are just rejecting it!”.  It’s never a good move to declare for no reason that you know people’s internal mental states better than they do, and especially bad to do so just to score an argumentative point against them.  His claim here is unevidenced and a pretty bad one given his own moral positions.  That shouldn’t engender confidence in his moral analysis.

Take a step back to the foundational idea of Christian salvation. Count the ways it offends our moral instincts.

  1. It’s a human sacrifice
  2. needed to satisfy God’s justifiable rage
  3. at humans being imperfectly moral despite the fact that he made them that way
  4. when he could just forgive any sin, like we do (and like he has done himself).

Now add:

  1. hell as eternal torment for our finite crimes.

For 1), it’s Jesus willingly sacrificing Himself for us, which is something that we tend to consider morally admirable.  For 2), it’s actually to pay off our sins from the claimed just consequences God has given us.  For 3), that we are morally imperfect doesn’t mean that we have to act immorally.  For 4), Seidensticker and many atheists constantly insist that God couldn’t simply forgive some people their sins — like Hitler — without there being some penance, so on the one hand they criticize God simply forgiving sins while here the argument is that He just should do so.  And 5) is the argument from last time:  the claim that no one deserves to go to Hell, which Seidensticker and others had considered long before this specific argument, so we aren’t really learning anything new here, are we?

Now, for most of this I don’t hold to the standard view that my previous paragraph uses as a defense.  I see Jesus as moral exemplar, making the ultimate sacrifice simply because it is right tying into our moral evolution from people who blindly follow moral laws to avoid punishment into people who do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do regardless of the consequences.  I also do lean more towards Hell as containing people for eternity because those who end up there will never repent no matter what, not as a sentence even for those who would or do repent.  So there are other ways to get around Seidensticker’s big issue here that don’t work out the way Seidensticker insists it would have to.  For a lesson from a Silver Bullet, things still seem remarkably open.

This justification for hell doesn’t just seem crazy, it is crazy. A savage because-I-said-so god might have worked for an Iron Age tribe, but today the flaws are too glaring. When Christians also insist that their brutal god is love, the delusion breaks. God can’t be both loving and the author of hell; therefore, he doesn’t exist.

(The Christian response will be, “But you haven’t proven that these are incompatible.” That’s true, but the burden of proof is not mine. An open-minded person, like I try to be, can evaluate Christianity’s claims, but when they don’t satisfy the burden of proof, we’re obliged to reject them.)

If you’re going to claim that there is a contradiction and that because of that contradiction you can say that God doesn’t exist, then the burden of proof is indeed yours.  You really do need to be able to demonstrate that incompatibility.  Especially if you want to insist that these are Silver Bullet arguments that everyone should accept proves God doesn’t exist on the pain of a charge of irrationality.  Seidensticker is making a common atheist “weasel” move of insisting that God doesn’t exist but when challenged on that claim retreating to “I don’t have to prove that!” and then immediately returning to insisting that they know that God doesn’t exist because of their great and wonderful arguments that, nevertheless, don’t actually meet the burden of proof to show that God doesn’t exist.

When I say that human morality is the standard, that’s simply because “moral” and “immoral” are words with definitions. If God’s actions match up with what passes for human morality, then he’s moral. If instead God’s actions would be called immoral if a human did them, then God is immoral.

Well, first, what human morality?  Seidensticker is a relativist, and even taking God out of the picture it is clear that Seidensticker and myself would have radically different secular moralities.  How can he use a relativistic morality to insist that God is immoral?  Especially since some theists would insist that what God does is moral just because it’s what God says is moral.  But if we accept that we humans are bound by some kind of human morality, why would God, not being human, be bound by that morality?  So Seidensticker either needs to talk about an objective morality or say that with Christianity our human morality is the same morality as God uses by definition (again accepting that there is only one morality).  But then it is clear that if God exists He knows what that morality is better than we do, and so using our intuitions to judge His actions seems a bit presumptuous.  So if God as we conceive Him exists, then this is morally right and we are just wrong about that, and if He doesn’t exist as we conceive Him then this is the least of the problems Christians would face.

So many of Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets hit this problem.  A Silver Bullet should be an argument that makes us give up looking for God at all and attempting to prove that He exists, because the argument so strongly establishes that God doesn’t exist.  But like this one, many of them would fall apart if someone could prove that God exists.  So all they should do is encourage people to prove that God exists, as that’s a way to kill the argument completely.  Seidensticker might say he welcomes such attempts, but there is no mistaking the fact that someone doing so would overturn a lot of Seidensticker’s notions and kill almost all of his arguments.  If I can still prove that God exists notwithstanding his Silver Bullets, the Silver Bullets aren’t as Silver Bullety as he thinks.

The second is about us having to not feel compassion for those in Hell while in Heaven, but of course my response showed that all you have to do is understand what is actually deserved and tailor your emotions to that.  If your emotions get in the way of that understanding, then as a Stoic I’m not all that concerned about losing them.

The third is that God suppresses free will:

God is hidden, which is odd because we’re told that he longs for a deep relationship with each of us. Christians rationalize this by saying that God making his existence plain would step on our free will. (No one else’s existence seems to offend our free will, but let’s ignore that.) We must freely give our love to God. But what kind of champion of free will is God if he must override your honest response to hell?

The answer is, of course, in line with my own response that He just needs to perfect you as a moral person, like He is, so you can understand morality properly.  So that’s not overriding a reasonable response to Hell at all.

And the last is a comment that Christians need to reconsider Christianity in light of arguments like his.  However, most of those arguments aren’t that strong and a lot of Christians have and come up with responses to them.  Seidensticker only rejects the idea that Christians already do that because he thinks that the only rational answer is to reject Christianity, but as someone who rejects having to prove his claims he really can’t insist on that.  I am only compelled to come to the same conclusion as he does if his arguments are indeed compelling, meaning that they demonstrate that God doesn’t exist.  That he refuses to accept that burden speaks volumes about his arguments and whether we really need to reconsider our position and align it with his.

Thoughts on “The Turning”

March 4, 2021

I’m going to spoil this movie big time right from the beginning, because the biggest problem with the movie is both the ending and how they could have even thought that such an ending might work.

In watching this, I watched both the ending and then, puzzled, went to watch the alternate ending including with the movie.  In watching these things, I never do that.  And the problem is that the two endings are so far apart that it’s difficult to see how the movie could play them both off properly.  The released ending has it that the main character is insane and is hallucinating all of the events in the movie.  The alternate ending has her and the children facing off against the presumably ghostly handyman and leaves us with at least the impression that they are not going to survive the final onslaught.  Now, obviously, these are pretty different endings, and the big risk here is that in order to make both endings seem like something that would have followed from the movie itself they’d need to make a lot of things pretty vague and ambiguous, which would make for a movie where we are more confused than scared (and everyone knows how much I criticize horror movies that confuse the audience).  But if it was carefully done, it could have worked, although again it would be difficult to pull off.

This movie does not manage to pull it off.

The movie opens with a scene of what we presume is the nanny trying to flee the house who is killed.  Soon after, we pick up with the new nanny arriving to take her place.  Spooky things happen — including things moving around and a creepy sewing room with a creepy mannequin or statue that seems to look at her when she’s in the room — and the boy — the two children are a boy and a girl, with the boy been teenaged and the girl being younger — adds weird and seems to have a crush on her that he sometimes tries to develop.  We also find out that her mother is in an insane asylum and that’s one of the reasons she needs money, I think.  The little girl has a morbid fear of leaving the house that is never really resolved, but leads to some odd cases.  The boy shifts from being nice to being a jerk and back again, expresses sympathy for the now dead handyman that most other people think was a jerk (and probably killed the previous nanny), and seems at times to be adopting the handyman’s personality.  This then builds until we get to one of the two endings.

The problem is that given the initial scene of a different nanny being killed that absolutely could not be a flashback, it all being inside her head makes little sense.  She didn’t know about the previous nanny then and if she had she’d have been much more concerned about all of this than she was.  So the inclusion of that scene only makes the ending they went with seem nonsensical.  While there is an interesting implication that perhaps the mother in the insane asylum was really the protagonist and not her mother, that’s not played with or developed enough to really work and make up for the clash with the beginning of the movie.  Also, it all being inside her insane mind makes all of the points about the handyman and all of the scenes where the boy seems to be talking to him and acting like him utterly irrelevant.  While the alternate ending is a bit of a Downer Ending, it’s also far more consistent with the movie as a whole.  I suspect they thought the “it’s all in her head” ending clever, but in order to pull off clever endings the movie needs to establish the meat of it so that it can really turn out to be clever at the end, instead of inconsistent.

And unfortunately the rest of the movie isn’t all that great either.  The scares are pretty prosaic, and outside of that most of the movie involves dealing with the children, who are annoying most of the time.  The little girl has moments of cuteness, but also moments of being annoying.  The boy is, of course, annoying by intent in order to build up the creepiness and threat.  So we spend most of the time watching annoying people do annoying things.  If this built to a proper ending this could work, and I will commend the movie for giving the boy a bit of a split personality which can generate some sympathy and work to make the possession/corruption angle work, but then the ending tosses it all away which leaves that as meaning absolutely nothing.

I can’t imagine watching this one again.  I don’t really care for any of the characters and any plot or character points that I did care about are tossed by the ending.  This one is going into my box of movies to maybe sell.

Could We Be Living in a Simulation?

March 3, 2021

P.Z. Myers, in his own inimitable way, is taking on the idea that some prominent people have at least expressed some sympathy for that we are more likely to be living in a simulation than to not be living in one.  He is forming his opinion based on a video by Sabine Hossenfelder.  As it turns out, I’ve taken on a video of hers before, talking about free will that was referenced by Jerry Coyne (so the two of them at least have her in common despite their sniping at each other).  And I think the same comments that I made there also apply to this video:  she feels free to opine on the topics without really understanding them enough to justify her confidence in her position.

Let me start with what the simulation hypothesis actually is.  She references Nick Boström’s argument, which as I understand it is actually this:  If it is possible to simulate a world with simulated consciousnesses, then a sufficiently advanced civilization will create such simulations.  But then each civilization will create one if not more simulated worlds.  This means that if these simulations are perfect, there will be a significant number of perfect simulations that the consciousnesses inside the simulation will not be able to tell are simulations.  Thus, if we take the total number of “worlds” like ours, a significant number of them will be simulated.  Thus, there is a significant likelihood that our world is, indeed, one of those simulated worlds.

She starts by dismissing one of the more common objections to the idea:

The point I have seen people criticize most frequently about Boström’s argument is that he just assumes it is possible to simulate human-like consciousness. We don’t actually know that this is possible. However, in this case it would require explanation to assume that it is not possible. That’s because, for all we currently know, consciousness is simply a property of certain systems that process large amounts of information. It doesn’t really matter exactly what physical basis this information processing is based on. Could be neurons or could be transistors, or it could be transistors believing they are neurons. So, I don’t think simulating consciousness is the problematic part.

The first problem here is that she assumes that it doesn’t matter what the physical basis for certain systems that process large amounts of information is, but then notes that it is a property of “certain systems”.  Which systems?  Well, for her, that would at least be the ones with brains, and obviously simulated people will not actually have brains, and may not have anything like neurons.  In short, we don’t know in any way that computers can be conscious, and so don’t at all know if we can simulate consciousness.  And obviously if we can’t simulate consciousnesses then we can’t have simulations of consciousnesses, which defeats the argument.  But let’s assume that she’s right and it’s not really that big an issue to assume that we can simulate consciousness.  Then since we don’t really know any way to tell if something is conscious or not except by how it acts, we run into the ruminations of Bear from .hack, wondering about when he would find that a game he was playing wasn’t going too well and would start over or restore a save, what happened to the world that he was leaving behind?  Was he abandoning that world to evil?  Or were those consciousnesses simply snuffed out?  Arguing that we could definitely create simulated consciousnesses raises a host of moral and philosophical issues beyond are we, ourselves, simulated consciousnesses (an argument could be made that presumably sufficiently advanced civilizations to create simulated consciousnesses are as likely as not to be morally advanced as well and so at that point would never actually create such a world, or at least a world where the inhabitants couldn’t tell, which would defeat the argument as well).

The second problem here is that we actually don’t know that it’s a property of systems that process large amounts of information, and in fact in line with the comment above if that really was the case then it seems like we already have many, many systems that would be conscious based on the amount of data they process.  Fortunately, we don’t think that it’s simply large amounts of data processing, but instead at a minimum making it be about the sort of information it’s processing, mostly self-aware information.  And even that is controversial.  So her comment that the most common argument doesn’t seem well-motivated.

But since she doesn’t think this is a concern, what arguments do she think works?

The problematic part of Boström’s argument is that he assumes it is possible to reproduce all our observations using not the natural laws that physicists have confirmed to extremely high precision, but using a different, underlying algorithm, which the programmer is running. I don’t think that’s what Bostrom meant to do, but it’s what he did. He implicitly claimed that it’s easy to reproduce the foundations of physics with something else.

Actually, no, he didn’t, because she misses what a simulation would actually do.  It would not be taking a set of natural laws and trying to simulate them, but would instead be creating that set of natural laws for the simulation.  So the simulation isn’t aping the laws we see, but is instead producing them.  In short, the foundations of physics just are what the simulation is producing by its algorithm, and so no reproduction is required or even occurring.

However, she could fairly argue that it we are talking about simulations then we are talking about simulating a “real world”, and so the system would still have to be reproducing the foundations of physics, which then would be the physics of the simulating world and not our own.  Sure, but the obvious issue with that is that what is important for the original argument is that we, from inside that world, think of it as a natural world with consistent natural laws, not that the laws that we experience are consistent across all real and simulated worlds.  So the first counter here is that we don’t have any reason to think that these simulated worlds will indeed try to reproduce the laws of the creating world.  As we saw with the video game example, a lot of life simulations deliberately do not attempt to simulate the rules of the world itself, but instead try to simulate worlds with other rules for various reasons.  This is also true for scientific simulations.  And the second is that if it’s actually difficult to simulate worlds with the laws of physics of an existing world, the simulation may well be simplified to take that into account.  So, then, we don’t have any reason to think that simulated worlds will necessarily have the same rules and laws as the simulating world, and so again from our perspective all we have are laws and rules, not reproduced laws and rules.

So she needs to shift, here, to an argument about it being too difficult to make a simulation that, from the inside, would really look like a natural world.  She does try to make that argument:

A second issue with Boström’s argument is that, for it to work, a civilization needs to be able to simulate a lot of conscious beings, and these conscious beings will themselves try to simulate conscious beings, and so on. This means you have to compress the information that we think the universe contains. Bostrom therefore has to assume that it’s somehow possible to not care much about the details in some parts of the world where no one is currently looking, and just fill them in in case someone looks.

The problem is that this argument is basically an argument from processing power:  we cannot build a processor powerful enough to do this all in real-time, so we need an algorithm that reduces those processing demands.  This, however, comes completely from her and not from Bostrom at all, as he only needs to assume that such a world can be built.  He doesn’t need to assume in any way how it is built.  And in Computer Science arguments from processing power are pretty poor ones, since we have seen time and time again that arguments that say “You’ll never get enough processing power to do that!” have been overturned by us either finding a way to get more processing power out of our computers or finding algorithms that greatly reduce the processing requirements or both.  Massive programs that used to require massive mainframes now run on small cellphones, and we are building massive computer systems to process even more demanding programs than we’d ever imagined possible.  Insisting, then, that a specific method will be required to deal with these sorts of issues is a pretty weak one from a Computer Science standpoint.

And as it turns out, her skepticism that that method will work is a bit misplaced:

Again though, he doesn’t explain how this is supposed to work. What kind of computer code can actually do that? What algorithm can identify conscious subsystems and their intention and then quickly fill in the required information without ever producing an observable inconsistency.

There are two problems here.  The first is that such systems already do exist, in video games and graphics processing for them with things like draw distance.  While they aren’t simulating an entire world of people, MMOs even do it for a large number of people with different perspectives.  So this sort of thing already exists in our existing simulations.  And while she can argue that they don’t do it perfectly, it turns out that it doesn’t have to be perfect, which is the second problem.  It’s certainly not true that our world is perfectly ordered and consistent.  Her own example of climate change and weather proves that even in our understanding things are far more loose than we’d like.  We assume that this is because we don’t know enough to make the proper predictions, but what if those really are just inconsistencies in the system?  What if the odd acausal nature of quantum mechanics is simply that the system can’t keep up or, in line with climate change, that it’s just not simulating things at that level until someone actually observes it?  As long as we don’t constantly see a large number of inconsistencies that we cannot explain, we will be willing to suspend disbelief and treat this like a real world.  So since it doesn’t have to be perfect, and we know that we can simulate things well enough that things that we know are conscious are able to suspend disbelief, in a simulated world that is far better at it we are much more likely to be able to suspend disbelief as well.  So this seems like far less of an issue than us being able to create consciousnesses at all.  If the simulation can create a consciousness, it can probably simulate natural laws well-enough to keep us fooled.

She concludes:

And that’s my issue with the simulation hypothesis. Those who believe it make, maybe unknowingly, really big assumptions about what natural laws can be reproduced with computer simulations, and they don’t explain how this is supposed to work. But finding alternative explanations that match all our observations to high precision is really difficult. The simulation hypothesis, therefore, just isn’t a serious scientific argument. This doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it means you’d have to believe it because you have faith, not because you have logic on your side.

The problem is that the assumptions are not on the side of those who believe it, but on her side … and the history of Computer Science has pretty much shown her assumptions untenable.  That doesn’t mean she’s wrong, but it does mean that we shouldn’t take her conclusions as seriously as she’d like us to.

Thoughts on “Ghost in the Shell”

March 2, 2021

So let’s start the second three-pack of science fiction movies that I managed to find.  This one starts with “Ghost in the Shell”, which is based on an anime that I think I have or had some episodes of but never actually watched.  It also had a bit of controversy, as a number of the usual suspects complained bitterly that Scarlett Johansson was cast as the lead instead of an Asian actress.  In fact, it’s quite possible that that controversy was the reason that it was included on an inexpensive compilation set instead of being sold longer on its own.  Now, one point people made is that the entire premise of “Ghost in the Shell” is that the outer appearances are indeed shells, and so even with a Japanese name there’s no reason to think that the shell was Japanese, even in the original media.  So the reaction was a bit of an overreaction from the start.  However, after watching it I think that a good point can be made that plot and character-wise the movie works better with a non-Asian lead, and that the people who were complaining didn’t bother to watch the movie first before complaining.

Anyway, let’s talk a bit about that initial premise.  The lead character is a shell, which means that she’s a brain put inside a somewhat biological and mechanical body.  She’s the first one to actually survive the process, but there do seem to be others that are out there as well, and shells are becoming, I think, big ideas.  She works as part of an organization that deals with criminals and other threats to society, which is the set-up for the action scenes.  However, she doesn’t have her full memories, which is a source of concern for her.  As far as she knows, she drowned and was revived and her parents were killed as well.  The plot, then, weaves between a corporate conspiracy, a terrorist threat, and the lead recovering her memories and the consequences of that.

One criticism that I’d make of the movie is that it tries to generate emotion and have the scenes rely on that generated emotion before it has done the work to establish the groundwork to legitimately generate it.  We find out fairly early on about her memory problems, but don’t know her well-enough to care about them while the movie clearly seems to want us to.  We find out about the terrible treatment of the shells that didn’t work, but we don’t know enough about the world yet to really feel that that was a terrible thing.  It implicates the doctor that might be a mother figure for the lead, and yet we really don’t know enough about the relationship to have that have a full impact, even as the doctor sacrifices herself to save the lead.  So it struck me as hitting the elements of the scenes so that we know what impact they should have, but not really managing to actually have that impact.  It was sort of a “Please feel emotions here!” which didn’t work out that well.

In recovering her memories, she discovers that her loss of memory was in fact deliberately caused by the corporation that built the shells.  It turns out that she was a rebel against the system and that her and her comrades — including a former lover who is the terrorist — were captured and then turned into shells, with her being the most successful shell (likely because of the personal interest the doctor showed in her).  She had left her mother — who is Asian — and her mother didn’t know what happened to her, which she finds out when she meets her after being given a hint to her past.  So, essentially, the corporation took an enemy and converted her to someone that helped to defend them by wiping out her entire past.  This is what makes having a non-Asian as the shell really work, even if it wasn’t intentional:  after all, if they were wiping out her history, why would they give her a shell that in any way resembled who she really was?  It would probably be a bit much to change the sex/gender, but changing the race to make her look nothing like the woman she used to be was the safer play.  I would have very much liked them to hint that the shell she got resembled someone who had a personal connection to the doctor — a sister, a niece, etc — that had been lost to explain the emotional connection the doctor had to the lead (and also hint that the doctor would have gone to great lengths to save that specific shell that she wouldn’t have done for others), but they didn’t really seem to make that move.  But, again, a non-Asian shell for the daughter of an Asian mother really works for the plot.

As I did with the last ones, I’m going to wait until the end of the pack to give my final impressions of the movies and to say whether or not I’d watch it again.  Next time is “Aeon Flux”.

The Scotties …

March 1, 2021

As noted last week, curling returned this past week with the Scotties, inside a curling bubble in Calgary.  The format was modified to include 18 teams and to drop the traditional page playoff format — 1 vs 2, 3 vs 4 for to start, with the winner of the 1vs 2 game going straight to the final and the loser playing the winner of the 3 vs 4 game for the final spot — and instead have the top team after the Championship Round (top four teams from each pool play the teams from the other pool to get the final standings) go straight through to the finals and have the other two teams play against each other for the final spot.  This year, Rachel Homan’s team got that bye by virtue of beating Kerri Einarson’s team in the round robin and both teams losing to Jennifer Jones’ team in the Championship Round.  However, Jones herself was beaten by Laura Walker in a tiebreaker and so she didn’t make the playoffs, and Einarson beat Walker to face Homan in the final for the second season in a row, and she ended up beating Homan for the second year in a row to remain Team Canada.

One thing that I noticed this year was the role that luck plays and can play in a game, with a number of missed shots that ended up doing really good things.  No one would have ever planned that, and they wouldn’t have made those shots if they tried, but I noticed a number of lucky breaks that turned ends and even games around.  There is a notion of missing the right way, which means that you bias your shots so that if you do miss you’ll end up doing less disastrous things, but that wasn’t really the case here.  It was probably a side effect of there being more misses in general, as the teams came in a bit rusty from not being able to play any pre-Scotties tournaments, even the normal playdowns.  Which made for some interesting if not necessarily technically proficient games.

Youth was served in this year’s Scotties, with a lot of young teams making it in, especially on the basis of the Wild Cards where how many games were played mattered and a lot of young teams played a lot of games.  Also, there were some young teams that made it in last year that might not have managed to pull it off again this year that got back because there couldn’t be playdowns.  It was interesting to watch those teams and a number of them through their experiences might be able to get back to the Scotties on a more regular basis.  It also made me more annoyed with the older and regular teams like Kerry Galusha and Suzanne Birt, as they are teams that tend to be middle-of-the-pack and so can upset teams so they get a lot of attention, but I personally wanted to see more of the younger teams.  Yes, the commentators did comment on them, but I felt that those teams got more attention than they should have this time around, especially since neither of those teams made the Championship Round.

At any rate, the curling that I could watch was interesting, although the schedule and my work schedule limited the time I could spend watching.  I don’t know how much of the Briar — the men’s championships — I’ll watch, and the World Championships for the women are already cancelled, so the next curling I seriously watch might be the Grand Slam games in April.

Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 28

February 26, 2021

So, after my painstaking work in going through his previous 27 entries, Bob Seidensticker has decided to add a 28th silver bullet argument.  This one focuses on the idea that people who end up in heaven will be aware, one presumes, of people who didn’t make it into Heaven, and thus are in Hell, and thus are suffering infinitely for their sins.  Some of these people will be loved ones.  The basic idea, then, is that it seems like no person that we would in no way imagine ourselves to be or that we would in any way want to be could enjoy Heaven knowing that others are damned to Hell, especially if those people were their loved ones.  The emotional reactions we should have, the argument claims, range from at least missing our friends and loved ones to being tormented at the thought of them being tormented.

Seidensticker lists a lot of theological reactions to this, which immediately strikes against this being a Silver Bullet argument for the same reason as many of the other purported bullets:  if there are a lot of theological responses, then it’s not an argument that you can essentially drop the mic on and walk away, as you have to deal with all of the theological responses first.  However, I think this one suffers from another common flaw in his Silver Bullets, which is that this argument cannot be the Silver Bullet argument because it relies on another argument being true first:  that the people who end up in Hell are not, in fact, people who deserve to be there.  If they deserve to be there, then any emotional reaction on our parts that suggests that they don’t deserve it would be a flaw in us, not in God or the idea of Heaven and Hell.  If as expected those who end up in Heaven are perfected, then we wouldn’t have those flaws and so wouldn’t have those feelings.  We would be able to properly assess the situation and, presumably, have the proper emotional reactions to them.

Now, I disagree with those theologians who say that we should look at the people in Hell with happiness for various reasons.  I don’t think that makes sense.  Their arguments tend to be emotional reactions the other way, where those in Heaven delight in being spared Hell.  If those who are in Heaven deserve to be there and those who are in Hell deserve to be there then all we could have is the more intellectual perception of that as fact:  we deserve to be in Heaven, and they deserve to be in Hell.  So we’d have a “calm passion” of understanding, not a hot passion of sadness or glee.

And this argument applies to loved ones as well.  While we might miss loved ones, in general we can and should understand if they cannot be with us for some reason.  And while we obviously would not want to see our loved ones suffer, being upset about them getting the punishment they deserve is indeed a huge flaw in us.  The parent lamenting the tough time their child is having in prison when they were legitimately convicted of murder is understandable, but clearly wrong.  So, again, once we have proper understanding and are perfected, then these things will not ruin our experience of Heaven, because we will be in a state where our flawed emotional states are, at least, taken away.

Now, some might argue that this makes us us not entirely human.  How can we live as beings that do not have emotion?  My answer is, of course, in my name.  I am Stoic-leaning, and so think that it is indeed true that more perfect beings do not have and are not susceptible to the whims of strong passions.  The main reason that Seidensticker and the people in his comment section find being that emotionless so disturbing is because they enjoy feeling those strong emotions.  Strong emotions feel good.  But that doesn’t mean that they’re right.  We can remain compassionate and merciful and caring without having to feel the extremely strong emotions that tend to accompany them.  And with that we would always in fact actually be merciful, compassionate and caring, without any risk of our emotions leading us astray.  While we might lose the pleasure of strong emotions, pleasure is not, ultimately, what makes life worthwhile.  And that would apply even more so in Heaven.  So we would never have pleasures that trump our virtues, and our path to the life and experience worth having.

Which leads to another argument:  what about Hitler?  If he repents, they argue, he could be in Heaven, while someone who, say, merely didn’t believe in God might be in Hell.  How can that be justified and how can can we be happy in a Heaven where that can happen?

To suss this out, we need to look at Virtue Ethics, because this argument depends on a clash between justice and mercy.  The argument is that justice clearly states that Hitler deserves to go to Hell if anyone does, but mercy is about pardoning people and rescuing them from the punishments that they clearly deserve.  So if God forgives Hitler, then who, in fact, could deserve to go to Hell?  And if God doesn’t or can’t, then He can’t be infinitely merciful either.  Yes, the actual arguments are presuming that Hitler will end up in Heaven for being at least nominally Catholic, but that’s not a safe presumption and if God can forgive what Hitler did, one would think that He would forgive someone who just happened to never be told about Christianity but was clearly willing to accept it once they found out about it.  So ultimately the argument, to be in any way sensible, has to boil down to a clash between justice and mercy.

Obviously, this again would be relying on another argument than the one Seidensticker claims is the silver bullet again.  But it’s worth looking at this from the angle of Virtue Ethics since the clearest way to do so is through that angle, since these sorts of clashes are part and parcel of Virtue Ethics.  After all, Virtue Ethics defines virtues like justice and mercy and compassion and so on and then asks us to go out in the world and act on them.  We thus immediately hit the issue of what we should do if one of those virtues demands on action and another demands a different action.

Obviously, we need a method to resolve such conflicts.  Perhaps that’s going to be a compromise position, where we’re a little less just and a little less merciful and some up with an ideal notion.  I don’t think that’s the right approach, though.  What I believe is that once we define what the virtues are, the proper understanding of them will show how they are always consistent with each other.  Thus, there can’t be any meaningful clash between them, properly understood.  So in this case, it’s entirely possible that what Hitler did was so bad that no repentance or act of contrition could spare him from his rightful punishment in Hell.  Thus, mercy could never demand it.  On the other hand, it is also possible that if he was properly repentant that he could indeed deserve mercy, and so justice could be suspended in that case.

But wait, you might ask, how can someone deserve mercy?  Isn’t mercy just ensuring that someone doesn’t get what they deserve?  Well, we can easily say that if Hitler arrived at the Pearly Gates and was still convinced that what he did was right and was completely unrepentant that he wouldn’t deserve mercy.  It seems clear, then, that at least a precondition for mercy is an acceptance that what you did was wrong and a willingness to make up for that.  Without that, then, you would not deserve mercy.  So mercy is not and cannot be unconditional.  So the question is if accepting that what you did was wrong and wanting to make up for it is enough to get mercy, or if there are cases where justice and other virtues can demand more from you, or make it so that the conditions required for mercy can never be met.  I lean towards the idea that mercy would trump the other virtues because it seems to me to be rather inconsistent to refuse to grant mercy to someone who is legitimately repentant and understands that what they did was wrong.  But I admit that the argument that there are some things that mercy cannot forgive and so that justice would demand that we still punish it is a pretty good one.

But does this apply to God?  After all, God is supposed to be infinite in all His properties, including His virtues.  So wouldn’t infinite justice imply that God always punishes actions to the level demanded by justice, and infinite mercy imply that God always relieves people of such punishments?  This returns to the comments above, as infinitely virtuous does not mean infinite in quantity, but instead infinite in perfection.  God would be perfect in His assessments of what is virtuous, including how to resolve potential clashes between virtues.  In line with my above analysis, that would mean knowing when mercy is the applicable virtue or when it’s justice.  And since I argue that we would be perfected in Heaven, we would know that as well, and so know who deserves Heaven and God’s mercy and who doesn’t.

You could reply that this depends on Virtue Ethics, but Virtue Ethics might not be correct.  However, the alternatives actually have an easier time with this because they don’t have explicit and individualize virtues to conflict with each other.  For them, for the most part, virtues are merely names for conditions defined by their overall moral project.  For example, in Utilitarianism mercy would be a name for a set of conditions where sparing someone from punishment provides a greater overall utility, and justice would be a name for a set of conditions where punishing them provides a greater overall utility.  Since these are all justified by utility, you are merciful when utility demands it and just when utility demands it, and utility cannot demand both mercy and justice by definition.  So, in general, properly understood, whatever we use to define things like justice and mercy, they cannot clash.  And so they cannot clash in a way that matters for the argument.

As noted, the main issue here is that this argument depends on other arguments being true.  Most atheists do think that no one deserves Hell — or, at least, that the people who Christianity says will end up in Hell deserve to be there — but that is indeed a separate and hotly contested argument.  This argument depends on that one, and so itself cannot be a silver bullet argument.

Seidensticker has made another post talking about takeaways from this argument.  I’ll make a separate post on that next time.

Thoughts on “The Sandman”

February 25, 2021

While I’m writing about this much later, I watched this over the Christmas break, and I was wondering, after watching it, what caused my reaction to the movie.  Did my heart just grow three sizes because it was Christmas?  Are these horror movies finally wearing me down?

Because this movie is terribly flawed and yet I found myself enjoying it anyway.

The big flaws all follow around what the movie is about … or, rather, that the movie doesn’t really know what it wants to be about.  Which, again, is something that I’ve savaged other movies for, but found didn’t bother me that much in this movie.  The movie itself focuses on a young girl whose father is killed by a monstrous creature who then has to move in with her aunt, who takes pornographic pictures for a living.  But other than it being shown at the beginning and being a minor complication in her being able to take the girl in, this really doesn’t come up again.  It provides a little fanservice at the beginning of the movie and then is completely ignored.  The girl herself has strange powers, which include summoning the titular monster “The Sandman” when she feels threatened, but the movie is unclear about whether she’s supposed to be a girl with powers that she can’t control that sometimes cause her to lash out and hurt people directly — she does it to the aunt’s boyfriend when he wants to kill her to stop the monster — or whether she’s the victim of otherworldly forces that spawn through her power, as “The Sandman” seems to be.  Also, there’s a shady organization that wants to capture her in order to use her powers, but they show up just  in time to be a complication and to bring the girl’s powers out again — and she and The Sandman wipe most of them out — but really don’t do anything than to hint that there’s more of a world out there that includes such powers but the movie really doesn’t do anything with it.

So, this is a movie that is so convoluted and so unclear in what it wants to be that I should by all rights dislike it.  And yet, as noted, I enjoyed it.  Why?  I think the reason is that it ties into two movies or sorts of movies that I also oddly liked.  The first is “Arizona”, where it comes across a lot like that and the other sorts of movies that you’d see on Lifetime or Crave in Canada where there’s just enough plot to get you through a couple of hours of light entertainment but for the most part the plot gets out of the way of the rest of the things that are going on.  This movie is quite like that, as the plot comes in just in time to create the next complication for them but then gets out of the way so that we can watch them get out of it.  Thus, this means that the plot issues end up  being like the ones in “Friday the 13th”, where we can see that they’re there but the movie itself doesn’t seem to care at all about them, and so by that it kinda chides us for caring about them, so we feel embarrassed if we worry about it.  The movie never makes these revelations seem important.  They just seem to happen to be the case.  So it doesn’t really milk it for drama and so make us have to pay attention to see if they pull that off, and so can just follow it along as a series of events that happen to get us to the next part of the movie.

However, the movie falls down on this in the credits scenes.  There are two of them.  The first one shows that after they lock The Sandman away the girl still has her powers … but we knew that her powers were independent of The Sandman so it’s not a surprise that she has them, and there’s no reason for us to consider her powers necessarily sinister from the movie itself, since most of the time the locked away Sandman was the killer.  The second one shows the researcher from the shady government agency bringing The Sandman to the agency to study, and seeing some grains of sand fall from the statue.  This gives the agency some importance and also focuses us on The Sandman whom the movie never really explained, meaning that both of them were too important for the lack of attention they had in the movie.  So those scenes are the only blemishes in a movie that seemed to be striving to make us not really care about the details and instead to encourage us to simply follow along and not think too much.  And it was pretty successful at that.

For all of its flaws, I still enjoyed this movie … but not enough to put it on my list of movie that I will definitely rewatch.  So it will go in the box of movies that I might rewatch at some point but really can’t say when.

First Thoughts on “Huniepop 2: Double Date”

February 24, 2021

So, like Shamus Young, I found the original Huniepop game strangely compelling.  It’s less of a surprise for me than for Shamus because I am a long-time fan of dating sims and Shamus isn’t.  Still, he was turned off by the seeming doubling-down on the anime sex elements while I was turned off by the change in girls and that none of them seemed interesting to me.  Still, when I looked it up to see what the mechanics were I was interested, as you indeed have to “double date” and try to get into a threesome with girls, but this means that you need to balance your “attention” between the two girls, which means that you have to switch between them before the one gets too tired where they are unusable for a number of turns before they recover.  They have different traits which means that they like different matches, and will get baggage later that impacts what you can or should do.

So how does this Match-3 gameplay actually work?  The two girls at a time and the stamina is itself kinda interesting, forcing you to balance your time between them and look for the matches each girl likes best and for stamina matches when you need to.  However, that the broken heart matches now exhaust them is terrible if these ever come up by accident, so removing broken hearts from the board is more critical than ever.  Except that while in the first game you got a number — 4 or 6, I think — of slots for date gifts which can do that and you could slot in your favourite gifts for your playstyle, here it seems like the gifts are per girl and you have to open up more than one slot as you go along, which is quite pedantic.  And you still have to build up sentiment to use them, and of course that has to be built up per girl, which just adds more playing around to the game when all I wanted to do was match some threes or more.  All in all the gameplay is a bit more fiddly and so I don’t feel it’s really taking advantage of the concept all that well.

Moreover, the dating sim elements seem to be added to a bit as well … except that I have very little interest in them because I have very little interest in any of the pairs I’ve discovered so far.  In the first game, you could focus on the girls you like, but here it has to be on the combination and that means that you have essentially two girls-worth of a combination of looks and personality to balance to try to gain some interest.  And for me almost all of the girls have pretty uninteresting or annoying personalities.  So I have no interest in talking to them, and little interest in dating them or doing anything for them, which is turning the dating sim into a puzzle game, and I’m not that interested in a straight puzzle game.

So far, it’s not that interesting to me, and looks like it won’t be a game that I can use to fill in a couple of hours when I have some time, which means that I’ll probably put it off for a while.  I like the concept, but the gameplay doesn’t take full advantage of it and the girls just aren’t interesting enough for me to bother.

Thoughts on “Annihilation”

February 23, 2021

Last time was “Tomb Raider”, and the last movie in that three movie pack was “Annihilation”.  Now, I do like Natalie Portman, and so I saw this movie a few times for relatively cheap and was tempted to buy it.  But the focus in the description on the all-female team — which the movie would have to justify if it wanted to make a big deal out of it like the description was trying to do — and the overall idea that Natalie Portman’s character was going in to find out what happened to her husband made me decide that the movie was probably not going to be very good.  I didn’t realize that the movie was one of the ones in the pack until I looked to see how long it was and realized who was in it, and so out of all of these movies this is the one that I approached with the most trepidation.

The movie doesn’t actually justify the all-female team that was sent in the second time, at least not as far as I recall.  But that’s okay because the all-female team isn’t really a big part of the plot either, so I have no idea what the description was going on about.  However, the movie fumbles things a bit with its framing.  Essentially, the movie is a collection of flashbacks.  The overall framing device is that Natalie Portman’s character has returned from the mission itself, and was the only one to return.  As part of this, there are flashbacks to her life with her husband to build up their relationship and give us an emotional connection to the two of them.  However, the main reason for a framing device where we are told about a disaster is to build in a mystery of what happened and how things ended up that badly.  But the world that they enter is quickly revealed as an extremely dangerous one that messes with their minds (although it isn’t clear why it does that).  So, yeah, we can pretty much figure out that all of the others will die and that the previous expedition was lost the same way.  The real mystery, then, is how her husband and how she managed to get back at all, which leads to the real twist of the movie.  But we didn’t really need that framing device to build that mystery, and neither the framing device, nor the flashbacks, nor the expedition itself actually set up for the twist itself.

And the twist itself is ambiguous (seemingly deliberately so) and not very interesting.  Towards the end, we find evidence that at least some of the creatures can duplicate people they come across.  One definitely duplicated her husband, and there is a duplicate of her that she fights, and the impression is that she defeats it.  Now, one of the reasons that she entered the portal into the other world at all was because her husband was falling ill and was clearly dying.  The video she sees showing the duplication of her husband has one of them essentially kill himself, which is implied to be the duplicate.  When she returns, the portal is closed and her husband recovers, but when she goes to see him he asks a question that the duplicate was directed to ask her, implying that he’s the duplicate.  But then there’s no reason given for why he was sick when the portal was open and recovered when it was closed, which would suggest that he was the husband and infected with something from the portal.  Maybe.  And then she doesn’t reply, but then hugs him, suggesting that if he’s a duplicate, she’s a duplicate as well.  But twists that are that ambiguous are at the very least very risky.  The best twists are the ones that we don’t see coming but completely understand and then kick ourselves later for not seeing it and not thinking of it.  So this twist is far too ambiguous to be interesting.  Now, you can have good movies with ambiguous endings, but those have to be pulled off very carefully to avoid the ending feeling unsatisfying.  “Annihilation”, however, doesn’t do anything to make this ending follow from what happened before or prepare us in any way for it.  So the ending comes across as more puzzling than interesting.

The rest of the movie is loose action, and so can’t save it and, again, doesn’t fit with the more artistic ending.

So, now that I’ve finished the pack, let me talk about whether or not I’d watch these movies again.

I wouldn’t watch Annihilation again.  The movie itself isn’t very interesting and is fairly slow-paced, and the ending is so ambiguous as to be confusing and unsatisfying.

I also wouldn’t watch Tomb Raider again.  The movie lacks an interesting and sympathetic main character because this version of Tomb Raider’s main personality traits are being arrogant and being reckless, neither of which make for a character I want to watch.  There were lots of elements that they could have used to make her more interesting as a person, and they didn’t use any of them.

I could potentially watch Arrival again.  The attempt at doing something like real science is somewhat interesting, and it might be nice to see if there are more hints at the future in the other parts of the movie.  However, it’s not that interesting a movie in and of itself.

Since these are all in the same pack, this means that it goes in my box in the closet to potentially watch again at some point instead of in the box to potentially sell at some point.

Next up … I have another three-pack of movies, and so will do the same thing for them as I did for this one.

Curling is back!

February 22, 2021

So when Covid-19 started to surge, curling essentially decided to punt on the year.  The World Championships were canceled, and the Grand Slam of Curling, which had two events left in the season running through April, decided that its next events were going to be the two that they had to cancel that they would play in 2021.  Of course, for various reasons sports in general and curling in particular are still challenging, so curling decided to create a bubble in Calgary and play all of the national events there, and the Grand Slam decided to get in on that action and have scheduled their two events inside the bubble as well.  That bubble is getting its first test this week with one of my favourite events, the event that I usually take vacation to watch, the Scotties.

Now, again, things aren’t all that normal at the event.  Things wouldn’t have been all that normal considering all the changes that happened after the season was canceled, but the situation and the bubble and all sorts of other things are making things a lot different.  To start with, normally to qualify for the Scotties each province holds playdown tournaments from which the winner emerges.  Due to Covid restrictions, that wasn’t possible in many provinces.  So the question became:  how in the world do we determine who actually gets to go to the Scotties?  This was left up to the provincial governing bodies, who in general decided to do things the easy way and simply send the team that they sent last year.  There was also an issue with the Wild Card teams, since in general the two teams with the most points where brought in to play a one game play-in to fill the final spot.  Bringing a team into the bubble  for one game really wasn’t going to work, so they decided to add another team and have three Wild Card teams for the entire tournament, selected by their points in the curling ranking system (yes, there is one, mostly used for Olympic qualification).  Except that there was a wrinkle there as well, as the rules say that in order for a team to be considered the same team for qualifications and for points, the team must retain three members out of four (which excludes their alternate).  So some teams that were at the Scotties last year and some of the higher ranking teams that could have been one of the Wild Card teams couldn’t go because, essentially, they weren’t the same team anymore.

And then there were a number of personal issues, as some teams had members who for various reasons couldn’t make it into the bubble for the tournament.  Krista McCarville’s team had two players were the long quarantines clashed with their jobs, and so Krysta Burns, the runner-up from last year, got Northern Ontario’s spot.  And the most notable in-game change is that Tracey Fleury’s team isn’t really her team anymore, as Fleury wanted to stay home with her child, and so Chelsea Carey, who had all of her team bail on her at the end of the season, is taking over as skip, necessitating the commentators having to constantly say “Team Wild Card Fleury, skipped by Chelsea Carey”.

And on top of all of that, provincial restrictions actually made practicing difficult.  After all, most sports and sporting venues were closed during lockdowns and under restrictions, and so the players couldn’t get into curling clubs to practice.  Many of the players, as well, are spread out across provinces — you can have one import on your team — and so couldn’t travel to practice together like they might have been able to do otherwise.  Of course, most of the time the teams then play a lot of tournaments in the fall to shake all of those issues out and to be able to practice together … except, of course, this real all of those tournaments were canceled.  So we have a lot of teams that normally would play a lot of games and practice a lot that haven’t actually managed to do any of that for this Scotties, which could lead to some somewhat random results, at least at the beginning.  On top of that, a lot of the teams that managed to get more tournaments in are younger teams coming out of juniors, which also adds a random element as they tend to be skilled but not necessarily strong at strategy.

The first weekend is over.  I haven’t managed to watch as many games as I would have liked due to the fact that since it’s in Calgary the late game starts right at the time I go to sleep, and Sunday is my insanely busy day so I was only half paying attention to the morning draw yesterday.  But here are my first impressions of the tournament:

1) We knew that the teams would have some foibles in learning how to make their shots again, that wasn’t helped by the fact that the ice has been changing a lot early on, due to things like humidity — the commentators were pointing out that the “pebble” drops of water that they usually use to add some grip to the ice were evaporating before hitting the ice because it was so dry — and differences from temperature and not having fans in the seats.

2) One of the games I watched more carefully was yesterday’s afternoon draw between Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges and PEI’s Suzanne Birt, which drove home the welcome attitude of at least some of the younger teams.  They’re just happy to be here.  Despite giving up some big ends to the extremely experienced Birt, they were laughing at their missed shots and really just seemed to be having fun.  And despite being down 6 – 2 with only two ends to go, the team came back to win that game 8 – 6.  They don’t really have any pressure since they aren’t expected to be as strong as the more experienced team and so can go out and just play.

3) Rachel Homan is playing while 8 months pregnant.  She’s done something like that before, but I was surprised that she did it at this time in this situation … but since they replaced Lisa Weagle with Sara Wilkes if she had they wouldn’t have had three returning players and so wouldn’t have been allowed to play.  There likely will not be a World Championships for the women again this year, so that won’t impact that should she happen to win.

4) So far, the matches I’ve been watching have shown some of the lesser known teams, which means that they’re teams that I don’t have any opinion on one way or the other.  I expect that to change when they get to the championship round later in the week and when the better known teams start to distance themselves from the field.

5) There was actually a Covid scare with one game canceled because one of the players wasn’t feeling well.  They believe that she actually had food poisoning and all tests came back negative.  But if you feel sick at all, they’re planning on punting games until they can be sure.  For me, personally, it means that there’s a game this morning when there wouldn’t have been (the rescheduled game).

So, curling is back.  And since I’m working from home and can see the TV from my desk, I’ll be able to watch it and still get my stuff done.