Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

NHL Playoff Predictions: Summary

June 16, 2015

So, with Chicago’s win last night, my final record is a respectable 9 – 6. I aim to do better than a coin toss, and I definitely did that.

This was a hard year to predict. Series were a lot closer, in general, than I recall them being in the past. And yet, this was one of my better years. Go figure.

So, that’s it for hockey until October. Time to watch baseball!

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No One Knows What It’s Like To Be the Bad Man …

August 25, 2011

Latest Not-So-Casual Commentary, on evil protagonists in video games and why they aren’t there.

Theology, philosophy of religion, and everyone …

March 30, 2011

I’ve been commenting heavily on a post at Ophelia Benson’s site, and she’s suggesting that to avoid cluttering her site up we can talk about it here.  So, this is the post for that, if people want.

The thread on her site is here:

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2011/other-minds/#comments

Battleground God …

August 6, 2010

So, I tried the Battleground God game referenced at Pharyngula, and I made it through with only one direct hit.  According to their analysis of my performance:

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Congratulations!

You have been awarded the TPM medal of distinction! This is our second highest award for outstanding service on the intellectual battleground.

The fact that you progressed through this activity being hit only once and biting no bullets suggests that your beliefs about God are well thought out and almost entirely internally consistent.

The direct hit you suffered occurred because one set of your answers implied a logical contradiction. At the bottom of this page, we have reproduced the analysis of your direct hit. You would have bitten bullets had you responded in ways that required that you held views that most people would have found strange, incredible or unpalatable. However, this did not occur which means that despite the direct hit you qualify for our second highest award. A good achievement!”

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So, what was the one contradiction?

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Direct Hit 1

You answered True to questions 10 and 14.

These answers generated the following response:

You’ve just taken a direct hit! Earlier you agreed that it is rational to believe that the Loch Ness monster does not exist if there is an absence of strong evidence or argument that it does. No strong evidence or argument was required to show that the monster does not exist – absence of evidence or argument was enough. But now you claim that the atheist needs to be able to provide strong arguments or evidence if their belief in the non-existence of God is to be rational rather than a matter of faith.

The contradiction is that on the first ocassion (Loch Ness monster) you agreed that the absence of evidence or argument is enough to rationally justify belief in the non-existence of the Loch Ness monster, but on this occasion (God), you do not.”

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Well, I concede this … but it was a semantic distinction.  See, I think that it is rational to believe that the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist due to lack of evidence, but also that it is not irrational to believe that it does.  So, when I got to the second question, I essentially answered that the same way: there’s nothing rationally compelling about believing in the non-existence of the th — God, in that case — but nothing wrong with it either.  Looking at it now, that’s not how they were using the terms “faith” and “rational”, and so it triggered a contradiction even though that’s not how I meant it.

But, hey, it confirms that I’m a rational theist with well-thought out ideas.  Yay!

If you want to play, the game is here:  http://www.philosophersnet.com/games/god.php

A semi-permanent link to my results is, I guess, here? 

http://www.philosophersnet.com/games/bg_final.php?q1=dontknow&q2=no&q3=no&q4=yes&q5=yes&q6=yes&q7=no&q8=yes&q9=no&q10=yes&q11=yes&q12=no&q13=no&q14=yes&q15=no&q16=no&q17=no&bulletcount=0&hitcount=1&hit7=&bullet7=&hit9a=&hit9b=&bullet11=&hit11=&hit12a=&hit12b=&bullet12=&hit13a=&hit13b=&bullet13=&hit14=true&bullet14=&hit15a=&hit15b=&bullet15a=&bullet15b=&bullet16=&hit16a=&hit17a=&hit17b=&hit17c=&hit17d=&miss=&newtotal=491564&newhits=677371&newbullets=539323&newh7=9792&newb7=27070&newh9a=3708&newh9b=5996&newh11=22793&newb11=27114&newh12a=27908&newh12b=20588&newb12=40258&newh13a=27761&newh13b=20892&newb13=64459&newh14=160012&newb14=103787&newh15a=50283&newh15b=109745&newb15a=36294&newb15b=36801&newb16=203819&newh16a=50197&newh17a=21632&newh17b=104193&newh17c=27600&newh17d=13732&newmiss=87531&avhonour=8.02&avdistinction=45.94&avservice=37.98&avnone=8.14&avhits=1.38&avbullets=1.10

Another review of “What Darwin Got Wrong” …

May 7, 2010

Jerry Coyne seems to be rather kindly posting the reviews of “What Darwin Got Wrong” so that we can all read them in one place.  Or, at least, all the negative ones.

The latest is here, and is short enough that I can quote all of Coyne’s article.  I can’t access the full review, so I have no idea what else was said.

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“Crack evolutionary biologist Douglas Futuyma (from SUNY Stony Brook) assesses Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s What Darwin Got Wrong in this week’s Science.   It would be an understatement to say that the book doesn’t fare too well: the review is called “Two critics without a clue.”

These theories of natural selection work: they successfully predict research outcomes. John Werren predicted and experimentally confirmed that the first of two female parasitic wasps who lay eggs in a host insect lays a more female-biased brood than the second (2). No such prediction could be made without selection theory. Among countless other examples, the pattern of variation in DNA sequences that betokens a “selective sweep” of an advantageous mutation was predicted years before such data could be obtained. Natural selection theory makes successful predictions across a huge range of biological phenomena, and it inspires countless fruitful research programs. What more can one ask of a theory? Contrast that with the ludicrous analogy with which Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini end: “organisms ‘catch’ their phenotypes from their ecologies in something like the way that they catch their colds from their ecologies.” They helpfully explain that the similarity consists of there being both environmental and endogenous instrumental variables. I look forward to reading about the research that this formulation will inspire.

Mayr once wrote that “Evolution seems to be a subject on which everybody thinks he is qualified to express an expert opinion” (3). Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini show little familiarity with the vast literature on genetic variation, experimental analyses of natural selection, or other topics on which they philosophically expound. They are blithely agnostic about the causes of evolution and apparently uninterested in fostering any program of research. Because they are prominent in their own fields, some readers may suppose that they are authorities on evolution who have written a profound and important book. They aren’t, and it isn’t.

And he’s right.”

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Well, there are a few things there that I find a little suspicious.  I did manage to find a 1981 paper by Werren to try to figure out what Futuyma’s example meant, but I’m not all that impressed.  I’d have to read it in more detail to see if there is even really a full natural selection explanation there, but:

1) It doesn’t look like the answer followed from selection for itself.  It seems like there might have been competing theories that were all compatible with selection.  At which point, it’s hard to see why Futuyma would want to claim that this meant something about natural selection: Werren worked on a benefit model, formed a theory — amongst others — and it happened to work out.  It doesn’t seem like Werren was able to say “Well, of course!  If we apply the selection model, it all works out!”.  Which is kinda what we’d want to be able to say if we wanted to accept the claim that the prediction was the result of selection theory.

2) It’s also not clear that you couldn’t explain at least part of this without selection.  I certainly — as I stated in my comments on Coyne’s review — accept that selection can and does play a part.  But is it the only explanation?  Is it the big one?  Did other factors come into play?  Even in the paper, it isn’t clear if selection isn’t just determining who survives at the end, in which case there is no mechanism for the second or third or whatever wasp to “tweak” the sex of the eggs produced.  Which is what Futuyma seems to imply, and would be actually interesting.

And finally, note that here we are proposing a mechanism that has to include previous host detection and variable egg production.  Selection explains the population of these cases, but doesn’t explain the existence of that combination itself necessarily.  And as I said in my first post, it seems to me that that is what F & P-P want: explanations for the traits.  Explanations for frequency in a population, then, aren’t particularly strong examples.

(My post is here, if anyone wants to refresh their memory: https://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/coyne-on-what-darwin-got-wrong/ )

The final point is about “research programs”.  Selection, Futuyma comments, has fostered a lot of them.  F & P-P don’t seem interested in providing any of these.  Seemingly, this is a strike against them.

Now, I’m going to say that might have been better if they hadn’t tried to posit an alternative explanation.  Their supposed explanation is vague and rather odd, and it seems that lot of people focus on that instead of what else they said.

However, I do think that the calls for alternate theories or reseach programs miss the point.  I don’t think that F & P-P are after — and know that I am not after — that level of detail.  What I would want scientists to take away from the book — and hope that F & P-P want scientists to take away from the book — is at least a little doubt that you can explain every trait that has any genetic component by simply looking to benefit and, once finding one, declaring that the explanation.  And maybe to question whether that’s the right way to start.  If biologists and scientists doing evolution in all areas would reply: “Yeah, we know that already”, then I’ll shut up until I run into some that don’t seem to be doing that.  But I’d at least like to hear someone comment on that, and just on that.

I don’t need to have a research program to point out that even though it seems to be working so far, there might be big problems with an approach and it might be better to think about that now before you screw something up.