From the year 2014

The problem with “Muslim religious extremists”
in Politics

Whenever an Islamic extremist blows something up, or threatens to blow something up, or threatens to do any other act of terrorism, the headlines always include the term “Muslim extremist” or “Islamic terrorist” or some variation of those. Liberals have a problem with this, and it is often difficult for people who are not liberals to understand why. There actually is a reason, although it rarely gets discussed in a detailed or nuanced way. It has to do with the psychology of conversation, the way people understand language, and the radically different way that liberals and conservatives think about the cause of terrorism.

What it is like to be a cat
in Philosophy

I feel the most like a cat when I wake up late on a weekend. I roll over onto my side, fidget a little, and dab, dab, dab fluff the pillow. What is interesting about my behavior is that I’ve seen almost exactly the same thing in cats. In fact, there are a large number of behaviors that seem conscious and willful and “very human” that are actually completely stereotyped across a wide variety of mammals. This suggests that these behaviors could be primarily driven by biology, and not willful or conscious at all; and it opens up a number of questions about our own intuitions about will and consciousness, and how reliable they are.

Alright, so you were a fucking virgin! That’s not the point!
in History

The Tudors is a brilliant television show about King Henry VIII, who reigned England from 1509 to 1547. King Henry VIII was a vibrant and scandalous figure, with many wives, many vices, and a personality as grandiose as that of any monarch. A great subject for both biography and fiction. The television show, as you might expect, gets some things right and some things wrong. You can see discussions about many of these things all over the internet. But there is one little tid-bit that I have not seen discussed other places: a passing exclamation that King Henry made during an argument…

The redemption of Smaug
in Culture

I am afraid I am unable to reveal how the following manuscript fell into my possession. Ever since the initial anthropological work done by J.R.R. Tolkien on Middle Earth and the life of Smaug, almost 80 years ago, it has been almost impossible to publish research questioning the perspective that he laid down in his work. However, the following letter, transcribed here from a document found locked in a chest that was originally part of the treasure hidden under the Lone Mountain, completely undermines the dominant theoretical depiction of Smaug as nothing more than an evil and greedy creature.

Why do conservatives hate Obamacare?
in Politics

This is a rough transcript of a conversation that I had with the man sitting next to me during a flight from North Carolina to Dallas. The main described himself as conservative, and I just couldn’t resist: I had to bring up Obamacare. Now, I’m not saying that all conservatives are exactly like this guy, or even that all conservatives dislike Obamacare. However, I do think this conversation illustrates one of the biggest factors in conservative resistance to the Affordable Care Act… in a fairly dramatic way.

On Brendan Eich and anti-anti-gay bullying
in Politics

In case you haven’t heard, the story goes like this: Once upon a time there was a man named Brendan Eich. He co-founded Mozilla, the company first behind the Netscape browser and later behind the Firefox browser, and was one of the originators of the Javascript programming language. He also donated a bunch of money to the California Proposition 8 campaign, which had the goal of making gay marriage illegal in California. Recently, he was appointed to be the CEO of Mozilla. All hell broke loose, people protested, and he ended up resigning. The question of the day is: was he unfairly bullied out of office for his anti-gay beliefs?

Some of your religious beliefs might be stupid
in Religion
Flying Spaghetti Monster

Based on the title, you’re going to assume that this is just another religion-bashing article. It isn’t. This article is about finding a way to deepen your faith by understanding that many people have faith, and not everyone agree with you. This means that one of the projects of faith should always be to understand your own relationship to the truth, as a human being who is flawed. In the end, that means that if you believe in God, the first step to deeper faith is understanding that your beliefs might be stupid.

Do you believe in a higher power?
in Dialogues, Religion
High as in up? Or high as in big?

I. Foititus: Do you believe in a higher power? Didaskalus: Higher? In what sense? Foititus: Do you believe in a power greater than yourself? Didaskalus: Absolutely! Gravity. Electromagnetism. That force that holds protons together in the nucleus of an atom… Foititus: No, I mean do you believe in a will, or a consciousness that is […]

Art-naming becomes a psychology experiment
in Personal Stuff

I added my newest digital painting to my DeviantArt profile under the title “Migration”, although I wasn’t totally satisfied with that name: Migration by GregStevens on deviantART So, I decided to turn to social media to help me find something better. I posted the image to my Facebook profile, with this comment: “I have not […]

Does science explain the origin of the universe?
in Dialogues, Religion, Science
The universe

I. Foititus: Which does a better job of explaining the origin of the universe, religion or science? Didaskalus: Neither. Foititus: You surprise me, Didaskalus! Knowing you as I do, I was certain that you would choose science! Didaskalus: Hmm… maybe I misunderstood your question. What sort of explanation do you think that science has for […]

Everything happens for a reason
in Dialogues, Philosophy
These are things that have a purpose.

Didaskalus and Foititus discuss what it means to say that everything happens for a reason, and whether it is true. Understanding what people really mean when they say that “everything happens for a reason” requires peeling back some layers of meaning, understanding different types of “cause”, and understanding how causes work in large and complex systems.