Archive for December, 2017

Philipse on Religious Experience

December 29, 2017

So, Chapter 15 examines religious experiences. Or, as it turns out, it doesn’t, because Swinburne, according to Philipse, uses the argument from religious experiences in a specific way for a specific purpose, and Philipse follows along with him here, and the result is that both of them are going to try very, very hard to avoid talking about specific religious experiences or their properties and instead focus on generalities. Suffice it to say that that isn’t going to work out very well for either of them.

Swinburne, according to Philipse, is attempting to use religious experiences to shift the burden of proof from theists to atheists. He does so by trying to appeal to two fundamental principles of rationality: the Principle of Credulity that says that we should trust that our sense experiences are giving us an accurate perception if we don’t have a defeater for that, and the Principle of Testimony that says that we should trust the reports of other people unless we have a defeater for that notion. Swinburne, then, will use that to argue that religious experiences — even rather vague ones — are experiences of the same sort and so should get the benefit of that trust unless the atheist can come up with a defeater, while Philipse will counter with the argument that religious experiences — particularly due to the nature of God — are too dissimilar from normal sense experiences for the principle to apply to them.

The problem is that both, in my view, miss what those fundamental principles do. The reason we hold these — as Philipse himself notes that Swinburne notes — is that without them we can’t have any basis for any knowledge at all. All of our possible knowledge is filtered through sense perception, and any possible way to have that verified independently relies on the testimony of others claiming to have had the same experiences as we had. So we cannot doubt in general our sense experiences or others reports, because if we do that we give up the very means we could use to verify them. Thus, we must start from a default of trusting them and only challenge them when we have a reason not to trust them.

The problem is that while we don’t distrust them in general, that doesn’t mean that we can’t or ought not distrust them in specific cases, or even that we don’t need to justify the beliefs and knowledge we claim given them. We can only extend this trust to things that follow uncontroversially from the sense experience itself. Swinburne attempts to put the experience and the interpretations of that experience into the experience itself — using the example of seeing a ship and having the interpretation that it is a Russian ship — but Philipse is right to point out that without some sort of defined traits that we could appeal to that interpretation won’t work; it has to be the case that someone could justify that that was a Russian ship by appealing to the qualities of the experience before we would accept that the experience really, in and of itself, is sufficient justification for it being a Russian ship. And yet, Philipse spends very little time in the chapter discussing what kind of experience or experiences might be considered experiences that would indicate a God. Instead, he spends most of his time trying to argue that religious experiences are so different from regular experiences that the Principle of Credulity simply cannot apply to them, and thus shift the burden of proof back to the theist. This is consistent with his general strategy throughout the entire book: shift the burden of proof to the theist, while at the same time arguing that no such proof is possible. Given his characterization of their necessary properties, it is difficult to see how we could have an experience of God that would count for him, and since he earlier eliminates logical arguments for the existence of God there doesn’t seem to be anything left. But it’s not a good argument to say that we should not believe that God exists because there is no way for us to know whether or not God exists.

That’s the real issue here. Both Swinburne and Philipse are required to come up with a way for us to know whether or not a religious experience would count as evidence and sufficient evidence for the existence of God. If we had a definition of what that sort of experience would be, then if someone had it or had someone else claim to have it then that experience would count under the principles of Credulity and Testimony just like any other experience would, and so Philipse’s attempt to rule out religious experiences a priori fails. However, those principles do not render Swinburne immune to the question “How do you know that your experience was an experience of God rather than an experience of something else?”. Just “feeling” that is insufficient for existence claims unless Swinburne wants to liken it to something like love … except that even then we know that we can be mistaken, and since we know that we can be mistaken Swinburne would still have to have an answer to someone who asks if he could be mistaken about that interpretation, even if it seems to be happening at the same time. So, in fact, both of them need to have a criteria for what sort of experiences would count as here. The theist needs it in order to present an experience as that sort of experience. The atheist needs it in order to be able to dismiss experiences that don’t meet that standard without falling into the trap of assuming that if it is an experience that purports to be of a God then it isn’t sufficient by definition.

I don’t think we’ve had all that many religious experiences that would count as that sort of experience, and think that the ones that we might have had often occur in circumstances that might make us doubt their accuracy. But we can’t rule out that we ourselves might have an experience that would count and thus provide sufficient reason for us, at least, to believe that God exists. Swinburne tries to argue that we already have enough of them, while Philipse tries to argue that we can’t ever have one of those. Both of them are incorrect.

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The Nonary Games: Final Thoughts on 999

December 27, 2017

So, I managed to get all of the endings in “Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors”, which effectively completes the game. Since this re-release is recent and I’ll be talking about the story — and what it might mean for the sequel — I’ll start talking about it below the fold:

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My latest vacation …

December 25, 2017

So again this year I ended up having a lot of vacation time to take, and so had pretty much all of December off. As usual, I had a long list of things that I wanted to do over that vacation. This time, however, I had less set aside as goals and more set aside as “these are things I want to do at some point”, and so get started on a number of things.

But, as usual, I didn’t get anywhere near as much “started” as I had wanted to.

As usual, curling got in the way. It curtailed my mornings if the early draw was interesting and, worse yet, completely took over the first two weekends of my vacation. Since this was when I was supposed to start writing a long Star Wars fanfic that I had been thinking about for ages, it kinda killed all of those plans. So much so that because of that and because of all my other slippages I ended up punting all of that to January, since the whole point of doing that on the weekends in that time slot was to get into the habit of doing that, which wasn’t actually happening.

The other big casualty of the lost weekends was, surprisingly, The Old Republic. I had planned to play it every weekend morning. I haven’t booted it up once my entire vacation. And with a long list of games that I want to play and with me returning to my limited schedule for gaming, it’s possible that I won’t continue playing it in the New Year.

And there were a number of other things that I didn’t really get around to. I was supposed to start working on small programming projects, and haven’t done that at all. I was supposed to do some reading for work — as I need to learn some stuff about OSGi and Kafka — and that has gone very, very slowly, with me reading only a couple of chapters, spread out as a couple of sessions over the entire month. I was supposed to watch movies every weekend evening, and haven’t really done that (the closest was one time where I watched “Age of Ultron” while playing “Virtue’s Last Reward”). And I’m not as far ahead on the blog as I would have liked.

So what did I do? Well, I did get a number of errands done, cooking homemade spaghetti sauce for myself for the first time, getting the truck completely ready for winter, and getting my eyes tested and new frames ordered. I did some cleaning that I’d been meaning to do for ages. I started a new Arkham Horror game in PBF. I watched a lot of Frasier (I’m almost finished season 8 at the moment). And I did get the chance to play a number of games, as that was the one thing that I did pretty much manage to keep doing on weekday afternoons.

I’ve gotten stuff done, certainly. But between curling and snow and a host of other things, I didn’t do as much as I would have liked, and wonder if I’ll have time to do those things when I go back to work.

The Tradition Continues …

December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the reader of this blog.

Don’t you mean the readers?

Nope, WordPress still says it’s pretty much just the one.

(Note: the second part of this tradition — my actual stats — should be out around New Year’s.)

Net Neutrality again …

December 22, 2017

So, the FCC in the United States has abandoned Net Neutrality, at least for now, and the panic has set in again. I was going to go through and talk about Net Neutrality because I have had sites — mainly “The Orbit” — crying wolf about the idea that sites like theirs might be blocked by their ISP — which is an odd claim to make considering that the original outcry about Net Neutrality was over “fast lanes” — and that we needed Net Neutrality to stop that, which struck me as odd. So I thought I’d go out and read up on what the issues were since things seemed inconsistent, and then talk about that … but, as it turns I’ve already done that. Twice. So I encourage everyone to read those posts for the issues around the “fast lane”, while here I’ll talk specifically about blocking sites.

There are essentially three places that a site can be blocked by an ISP. The first is at your end, when you request data from that site. The ISP can refuse to make that connection and thus deny you access to that site. There’s one issue here, though: you are paying for service from that ISP. If they deny you access to a site, they already have to have a reason or else they would be, at least potentially, violating the service contract. This is added to the fact that if they do that, customers complain bitterly. Typically, the argument here is that if an ISP is the only one available for an area, then it doesn’t need to care about that, but that doesn’t really apply in most cases. So if an ISP is going to do this, it’s going to have to be important to them to do so. They aren’t going to do that for a small site like “The Orbit”.

The second place they can do it is at the site’s end. This pretty much runs afoul of the same service contracts as the end user, only more so. This is especially dangerous because you might end up, say, blocking a blog from WordPress, and WordPress is a bit bigger than one customer or even a number of them, and they aren’t going to take it lying down. If they make a big enough fuss, lots of people will pay attention. Again, if they do this, they’d have to have a really good reason.

The third place they can do it is when they are an intermediary in the connection. So, say, Verizon hands off to AT&T in the core and then it gets switched back to Verizon for the end customer. Putting aside the fact that an ISP would be stupid to block a site this way if they didn’t block it for their own customers, there are already a lot of features that rely on ISPs treating packets they get from other ISPs as if they had originated it themselves, without adding extra restrictions. If an ISP suddenly starts blocking access to sites when the two end users are not their customers, those end users will complain to the other ISP, who will have to do damage control, and are likely to at least threaten to start inhibiting their services in retaliation. So even if an ISP blocks sites for their users, they aren’t likely to inhibit pass-through traffic.

All of this changes if they have sufficient reason, such as blocking problematic sites (child pornography being the obvious and uncontroversial example). Besides those cases, the most likely reason would be to give themselves a competitive advantage in some way. If they have a competing service, they can try to block their competitors so that they get more users than they do. Of course, all the other ISPs will try the same thing, which will only cause customers to be incredibly unhappy and likely refuse to use any of them. And the negative publicity will likely force regulations blocking that. They’re more likely to cheat with “fast lanes”, charging huge fees for access to it knowing that their service would, essentially, be paying themselves for that and so they’d break even, while other sites would run into problems with the cost and how to keep their site profitable having to pay for that. Again, note that ISPs are quite likely to respect each others’ “fast lanes”, so it’s sites like Netflix and any site that is independent of an ISP that will feel the heat there. But the issue here is not “fast lanes” or Net Neutrality, but is the fact that companies that own ISPs can and do also own content providers, meaning that they have a conflict of interest that they can exploit. We probably should focus more on dealing with consolidation rather than worrying about Net Neutrality.

As I’ve said in my previous posts, no one really wants Net Neutrality. What we really want is protection from unfair business practices. Net Neutrality is a “motherhood” statement that people are using to get that, but when examined closely that’s not really the way to go, since we can see benefits from not having Net Neutrality and the concerns people are pushing aren’t that credible.

First Thoughts on The Nonary Games

December 20, 2017

So, while browsing about a week or so ago, I came across “The Nonary Games”, a combination of the first two Zero Escape games. I talked about the philosophical point raised by the second one last week. Here, I want to talk about the game itself and not so much about the deeper issues.

The game combines what is essentially a visual novel with a gameplay system where, essentially, you are doing a series of Escape Rooms, which puts it firmly in the video game genre of Escape the Room. Supposedly, the physical escape rooms were inspired by the video games, but I came to the genre the other way around, which is why when I saw this game I wanted to give it a try as a more accessible version of the physical escape room. At any rate, in both games you wake up trapped in a room by a mysterious, gas-masked character, and you have to both puzzle your way out of the room and puzzle out what is the motive behind your abduction. There are a number of endings — most of the bad — and for the first game, at least, if you get the right endings and make the right choices you might, eventually, get to the true ending where at least most of the secrets are revealed.

I tend to play all games on Easy, and this game is no exception. The first game is much better on Easy, as you seem to get hints pretty much when you need them, while the second game often gives you hints way too early. It also forces you to select it on each room, which is annoying. In both cases, on Easy there is still some challenge to the puzzles while making sure that you don’t get completely stuck on a puzzle for too long. This fits in better with the physical escape rooms that I’ve done, since there you can talk to everyone and everyone can get ideas, so it seems more co-operative. Still, even on Easy, there are times when it is all about you, and times where your companions don’t chime it at all. However, the better rooms in the first one do seem like a collaboration, especially one where one person gets locked in another room and you have to ask her to look for or do things as you try to get her out.

I’m not that fond of the convoluted ways you need to trigger certain events and give certain dialogue options to get different endings. I’d rather it just be path-based instead, and if a dialogue choice drives a difference in the path it happens right where the paths split. The first game, at least, lets you examine the “Flow” of the game (the flowchart of the various rooms and endings) and skip to the right area, thus relieving you of the necessity of clearing rooms you’ve already solved again, which helps.

I liked these two games so much that I went out and bought the third one from Amazon, and I hope to soon get the True Ending in the first and an ending that isn’t “To Be Continued” in the second. They give a good facsimile of the escape room experience while allowing for a stronger story — and one that plays out longer — behind it.

First Thoughts on Frasier

December 18, 2017

So, I’m almost at the end of Season 4 of Frasier (I think I only have the finale left). So far, it’s pretty enjoyable. It’s definitely a smarter and more sophisticated sitcom than Cheers was, and that’s not just because Frasier and Niles are so pretentiously sophisticated. No, it in general avoids taking on the standard sitcom tropes, but instead focuses on humor built more around those pretentious and the clash between that and their father’s down-to-earth tastes, with a heaping helping of Daphne’s oddness thrown in. The best episodes, it seems to me, are the ones that aim more at than, and that rely less on Frasier doing something wrong and then trying to lie his way out of it. Yes, that’s consistent with Frasier’s personality, but it often seems to be a bit forced. Admittedly, a big part of the humour — even in those storylines — comes from how two educated psychiatrists can encourage their patients to find self-awareness but who, in general completely lack it themselves.

Still, even these plots often get derailed by lampshading. For example, in one episode Frasier meets a listener — right when he needs to feel that he’s doing good with his radio show as opposed to being in practice — who has a mask of his deceased wife’s face (because he’s blind and so that’s the only way he can relive that). Frasier accidentally drops it and the nose comes off. He spends the rest of the episode trying to reattach it, and as he’s leaving the man says that there aren’t a lot of people with Frasier’s integrity. Feeling guilty, he returns to confess, only to have the man say that he’s done that a number of times already, driving home the lesson — that Frasier will forget — that he really should have just come clean.

One thing about the show, though, is that it can be hard to watch sometimes because it likes to discuss and focus on real problems and issues, like Frasier having to have his father come and live with him when he can’t live on his own despite the fact that they don’t have a lot in common, or issues around getting older or dying young, and a host of other issues. If you’re in that age range and can see the potential issues, it can sap the comedy a little as you picture yourself in that situation and feel the weight of the problem. That being said, it tends to bring enough humour to lighten the mood for you at some point so that it doesn’t become oppressive.

One interesting thing I noticed is that despite the fact that Roz is played up as being incredibly promiscuous — and mostly unashamed about that — she almost never dresses that way. In general, what she’s wearing is professional and often downright conservative. While she is flirtatious, most of her promiscuity is an informed trait, and not something that she shows in the show all that often. It’s especially interesting in that despite that I have no problems believing that she is promiscuous and very successful at it, and it doesn’t break immersion at all. And it also allows her to be presented as a more nuanced character; she likes sex, but isn’t a simple sex bombshell, and makes it easier to accept when they go into other storylines with her like issues with the station, her career, or her family.

So far, it’s enjoyable, and is a lot harder to read through than Cheers was, which is a clear sign that I’m enjoying it more.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma in Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward

December 15, 2017

So, I recently picked up the Vita version of “The Nonary Games”, which includes two games: Zero Escape: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward. I’ll talk about the games themselves a bit next week, probably. But today I want to talk about part of Virtue’s Last Reward. Since the game isn’t that old, I’ll put discussion of it below the fold because it will contain spoilers.

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First Thoughts on Akiba’s Beat …

December 13, 2017

So, almost two years ago, I played a game called Akiba’s Trip, a little action/adventure/visual novel/RPG type game that I really liked, mostly because the combat was there but got out of the way pretty quickly, and the underlying story, while ridiculous, allowed you a lot of freedom to tolerate, embrace, or even further the madness through your character responses. I enjoyed it quite a bit for the small and relatively shallow game it was.

So when, recently, I was browsing and noticed Akiba’s Beat, I immediately picked it up. It’s not really a sequel to Akiba’s trip, but parodies JRPGs like Akiba’s Trip parodies … I think visual novels? Anyway, it builds in a dungeon/combat system similar to Conception II’s, with real-time instead of turn-based combat, packed around a ridiculous and yet formulaic JRPG story. So it has all the elements to really work in parodying JRPGs like Akiba’s Trip did for … whatever it was doing.

However, it pretty much falls flat.

The key to Akiba’s Trip was that it allowed you to set how you as player or you as character — or both — saw the world. Were you as goofy as everyone else? Just running with it? Or rolling your eyes at how nuts everything was? The game actually let you express that to some extent through your dialogue choices. Thus, your character wasn’t really defined, and was one that you could define as the game went along. And this was important for a parody game, because it allowed you to participate in the manner you preferred rather than being just an observer. Allowing you to participate meant that the story and game itself didn’t have to carry all of the humour or parody, by allowing the player to guide it in the direction that made sense and worked for them.

Akiba’s Beat, on the other hand, goes with a very set protagonist. About seven hours in, you have little dialogue or action choices worth mentioning. Thus, most of the time is spent watching the characters interact with each other without your input. Which means that that dialogue has to carry the humour and the parody. If it falls flat or gets repetitive — and it gets repetitive — you end up just wanting to skip what really looks like an interactive cutscene, with maybe a few times when you get to say something that doesn’t matter that much. By removing even pointless player interaction they end up putting a far greater burden on the existing story and characters, and they simply cannot lift that burden.

Don’t get me wrong; the existing characters aren’t bad, but as you might expect from a parody they’re pretty standard tropey characters. Which is fine. And the story itself is interestingly goofy. But it simply can’t carry what is supposedly about a 40+ hour game. For a game that long, you really need the player to buy into it, and by removing the personalization of the game they make it that much harder for the game to do that.

Another issue that contributes to this is that the combat is much more prominent, important, and takes up much more time than it did in Akiba’s Trip. The main story for each chapter is in the various dungeons, each of which are a few floors long and can contain various puzzles. The dungeons and combat aren’t bad, but they’re unspectacular, especially on “Easy” (which is how I always play games like this). Given that they are unspectacular and take up a large portion of the game, they turn into things that you have to do to get to the fun part, which is the story. And when the fun part drags, you wonder why you spent so much time in the okay part to get to another okay part.

I’ll probably pick this game up again and finish it, but for now it’s not on my top list of games to dedicate time to playing, and I have other games that I’d rather do that with than this one.

Roar of the Rings

December 11, 2017

So, this weekend was the “Roar of the Rings”, where Canada decides what teams it’s sending to the Olympics to represent it in curling. Considering that Canada has enough teams to pretty much fill out the Grand Slam of Curling — that draws teams from around the world — whose top teams are generally Canadian, as you might imagine there are a lot of really strong teams participating, on both the men’s and the women’s sides. But since I focus on women’s curling, I’ll talk about the women’s side only here.

Rachel Homan won the spot, beating Chelsea Carey 6-5. Carey had a double opportunity in the tenth to send it to an extra end, and didn’t make it. Homan, you could see in the replay focusing on her as the shot was taken, pretty much expected her to make that shot, and was surprised and, of course ecstatic when the shot was missed and she got the win.

To be honest, I was hoping that Carey wouldn’t win that game. Part of this was because Cathy Overton-Clapham joined her team at third to replace Amy Nixon, and I’ve never really liked her, partly because she played for a long time with Jennifer Jones and partly because she tended to be aggressive and often critical during games, which rubbed me the wrong way. She was much better with Carey in this tournament, but one worry I had was that both Carey and Overton-Clapham can be critical at times, although Carey is more self-critical and Overton-Clapham is more openly critical of the team at times. If things started to go wrong, if they started being critical the team could collapse. Yes, Amy Nixon was as passionate at times, but they’d known her longer and were less likely to just take it personally. And it was likely that something would go wrong because while they went undefeated in the round robin, they played poorly and got away with it. As I commented when I talked about the Boost National, that’s not good. Winning while playing poorly gives you less incentive to change your game, but the errors will catch up with you eventually. If Carey had squeaked out the win here, there was a good chance that she’d struggle at the Olympics. Given that after she won the Scotties she did poorly at the Worlds, history repeating itself was not unlikely.

The other playoff team, Jennifer Jones, was in the same situation coming in, and it hit her about half-way through. She started off with a win streak while not necessarily playing well, and then ended on a losing streak. I think she went 5 – 0 to start and then dropped her next 5, including the semi-final. However, if she had squeaked it out I would have had less concerns about her because she had the experience to correct it if things went south at the Olympics. However, given what happened here, that might still have been too late.

Homan was coming in relatively cold, and played poorly in her first two games, going 1 – 1. Then she went on a tear, winning her last eight games to win the spot. This ties into what I commented on at the Boost, where at least they knew that they had been playing poorly and needed to correct, and having the example of Val Sweeting who went 0 – 3 and was almost out of it before she had even won a game to look at, that Jones and Carey didn’t have because they were still winning. And since Homan has won a Worlds, she likely can handle the pressure of an Olympics.

One thing that I noticed about Homan’s team — which might indicate the future of women’s curling — is just how good at sweeping every member of that team is. Teams like Carey’s or Sweeting’s have a strong front end, but the thirds are older and not quite as good at sweeping. And, in general, this was fine, because the rocks that you really need to sweep well are the third and skip stones, and your front end does that. But Homan has two of the best front end sweepers in the women’s game — Lisa Weagle and Joanne Courtney — and on top of that Emma Miskew is pretty much as good a sweeper as any on the team, and Homan herself is pretty good at sweeping, too. They can sweep stones out of the rings if needed and Homan even jumps in to help herself at times. There were a number of shots made by sweeping, so maybe sweeping is more important for all members than it used to be. Jones has three solid sweepers on her team, but she herself can be a little weaker.

Anyway, congratulations to Rachel Homan and her team, and the next time I’ll talk about curling will be in the New Year.