3D Street Art  

Posted by Ryan Sproull

This guy is standing on a piece of street art:

Here is the same street art from another angle:

But this one is my favourite:

Michael Crichton Strikes Back  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park and famous climate-change denier, has done something hilarious. He's put someone he doesn't like into his latest book. As a child rapist. (That's a person who rapes children, not a child who rapes people.)

In March this year, New Republic columnist Michael Crowley wrote a cover story about Crichton, whose fi-sci propensities saw him chatting with George W. Bush about climate change. The meeting had been arranged, unsurprisingly, by political genius Karl Rove. Apparently Bush found Crichton's 2004 book State of Fear a real page-turner. State of Fear suggests that global warming is just a theory, like various other liberal plots.

Anyway, poor old Michael Crowley is a bit worried about "Mick Crowley", a Washington journalist, child rapist, and character in Crichton's latest book, Next. Haha, fair enough. After all, let us not forget poor old Billy Velociraptor, the kid who picked in Crichton in high school.

Whiz Kids  

Posted by Ryan Sproull

God, I loved this show when I was a geeky little 7-year-old.

Basics - Choice II  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in , ,

You can choose to do what you want,
But you can't choose what you want to do.

Got it? Sweet.

Now, if it is so plainly obvious that we do things for reasons and that we don't choose our reasons, why is there still this idea of "free will" out there? This idea that somehow there is another element in the mix that is magically exempt from the situation, hovering spiritually above all of the reasons untouched, and choosing without being pushed around by circumstances?

Well, for one thing, there is the uncertainty of the future. Until something has come to pass, we don't really know for sure what's going to happen. The same goes with choices, our own choices included. Until I act, it certainly feels like I could act one way or another. That feeling of uncertainty gives me the feeling that there is something undetermined about the whole thing.

In a sense, it's true, because until the moment of choice occurs, I don't really know what kind of factors will be influencing me. I might suddenly remember something and act wildly differently from how I expected I was going to. But all that comes down to is not being completely certain what reasons I'll have at the moment of choice. I don't know what I'll choose because I don't know what reasons will be determining my choice at that moment. But that doesn't change the fact that it's the reasons that determine the choice.

Then there's the feeling that I could have acted differently. After making a choice, I have the ability to imagine what the outcome might have been, had I acted differently. I chose to shower this morning (honest), but I can imagine what it might be like to be sitting here at work smelling a bit like an IT helpdesk. And my imagination of the sequence of events begins with imagining what it would have been like to choose not to shower. But this ability to imagine does not make the world a magical place where I can choose to act one way when my reasons are all in favour of the other way. I don't like smelling like a role-player. I could perhaps imagine a situation where I do like smelling like a role-player and thus made the choice not to shower, but the fact remains that, in the world as it is, I prefer not to, and so I choose to wash.

And finally there's the fact that people don't like the idea they're not in charge. It's offensive to our egoistic sensibilities. But even the objection, "But I am in charge," is based on not quite getting it. You are in charge. You are making choices. But everything about being "in charge" and making choices is based on having some way of acting that you prefer. It makes no sense to talk about being in charge of your actions and your fate by being separated from your reasons for acting one way or another. If you really did become "free" in this sense of freedom from reasons for acting, what would you do? (Oh? And why would you do that?)

That's not the only reason people avoid acknowledging the nature of choice. Another is that there are a number of other concepts and social norms that are based on the fallacy of free will. People tend to have emotional attachments to what they've been brought up with. And if you've been brought up being told the following things, you don't want them undermined:

  • People who do bad things could not have acted differently, given their circumstances.
  • People who do good things could not have acted differently, given their circumstances.
  • The cause of a crime may extend further than the person of the criminal him/herself - "good" people maybe causally related in some way.
  • People who "choose to be poor" or "choose to work hard and become wealthy" could not have acted differently, given their circumstances.
  • In short, blame and praise go out the window.

And we like blame and praise. We like to be able to point the finger at others and compare them unfavourably with ourselves. We like to relieve ourselves of any (causal) responsibility for those around us by assuring ourselves that everyone is responsible for their own choices. And we like to feel angry. Apparently the brain chemistry of anger is similar to happiness. Fair enough. It had its functions back in the days of primal this and that.

And so all of this comes around to the structure and functioning of society and how we understand individual responsibility, guilt, reward, punishment, blame and virtue. Which I'll write about tomorrow.

Basics - Choice  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

Blogs, being essentially autobiographical, are complicated forms of masturbation. So allow me, if you will - all three or so of you - to do something I haven't done for a while. That is, write something I want to write.

I want to explain a few of the basic principles that underlie my social and political views, as much to set them straight in my own head as anything else. Almost everything I think or say about anything in history or current events finds its basis in these fairly simple ideas, so they're worth getting straight.

The natural beginning, for me, is with choice. All humans can do is choose and act, choose to act, in one way or another, and so it makes sense to take a close look at what exactly this entails. But in the same way that a study of mental health begins with a look at mental illness, it's convenient to start with a pernicious misunderstanding that is as old as civilisation: free will.

I mean something specific by "free will". I mean the doctrine or belief that the following statement is not true: "All of our decisions are determined, ultimately, by factors outside of the decider."

So I don't mean that free will is being able to make a decision without a gun to your head, and I don't mean that free will is the absence of having some kind of omnipotent Fate controlling everything. I simply mean to say that all choices are determined, ultimately, by factors outside of the control of the chooser, and that people who deny this refer to a vague thing called "free will".

How the notion of free will arose is not extraordinarily important here, except to note that it was once useful and now has become a hindrance. If it was not once useful, it would never have evolved in human thought; and if it was not now a hindrance, I would not be compelled to write about it.

Defining free will is difficult because it is nothing more than a term used to avoid the truth of my assertion. Defining "choice" or "decision" is almost as difficult. Consider the dictionary:

choose. v. 1. pick out as being the best of two or more alternatives.
pick. v. choose from a number of alternatives.

Thanks, Oxford University Press.

Of course, the same criticism can be made of every word in the dictionary, that they are almost all defined in terms of each other (though it's always entertaining to look up definitions of colours). But a definition that is so completely circular as "choose means pick and pick means choose" is particularly useles in taking a good look.

So in the same way as "red" is defined as "of a colour as of blood or rubies", we have to turn to concrete experience in expressing what exactly it means to "choose".

Don't worry. Here's one I prepared earlier:

To choose is to act one way, rather than others, for reasons.

Sounds fairly simple, doesn't it? And it is, of course, which is what makes it so difficult to define. But here we have, I think, a definition of choice that conforms to everyone's experience of what it is to choose.

To choose is to act. Some may argue that one can choose now to do something tomorrow, and so the choice is distinct from the action. Fair enough, but it's worth pointing out that when tomorrow comes around, one may choose not to follow through with today's intention. And since I'm eventually going to bring all of this around to things like personal responsibility and the justice system, let's hope that the intention to act a particular way is far less important than the action itself.

To choose is to act one way, rather than others. It's only a choice if there were other perceived options available. Thus the phrase, "I had no choice!" And thus the response, "Well, yes, here is a list of other things you could have done."

To choose is to act one way, rather than others, for reasons. To put it another way, for any action that is choice, it is intelligible to ask of the agent, "Why did you do that?" It doesn't matter whether or not the agent (that's the decider) knows his reasons. The point is that if it were not a choice, the question, "Why?" would be inapplicable. Because every choice is made for reasons.

Now, I'm always interested to hear people's alternative definitions of "to choose", but as far as I know, this one fits everyone's experience. Other definitions most often either do not, upon examination, accord with people's experience; or they are circular in some manner more subtle than the dictionary.

The next question is, what are "reasons"? Simple: "reasons" are anything that influences the choice. Anything that influences a choice can be part of an answer to the question, "Why did you do that?" The most obvious and common reasons are what I call values. Values are sets of criteria for evaluating the preferability of options. But that's not super important right now.

Is there anything other than reasons that influence the outcome of a choice? No, by definition. By my definition, I know, and that might seem like I'm performing some sleight of mind. But it still seems pretty obvious that anything that can be intelligibly and accurately used in an answer to the question, "Why?" is something that influenced the choice.

So, the final and most important question. Do we choose our reasons for acting one way rather than another? The simple answer is no, we don't. Here's a slightly more complex answer.

Take any given reason for acting one way rather than another. Did you choose to have that reason influence your choice? If not, its influence was outside of your control. If so, then we must look at the choice you made in choosing to be influenced by that reason. If it was within your control, it was your choice. If it was a choice, you had reasons. Did you choose those reasons? If not, its influence was outside of your control. If so, then...

And so on. Ad infinitum. Really, it's a bit hard trying to imagine what it would be like to choose a reason for choosing something else. But consider the influence that nicotine addiction has on the smoker. You ask him, "Why do you smoke?" He may say, "I want to" or "I am addicted" - they amount to the same thing. Now he stops smoking. You ask him, "Why did you stop?" He says, "It was expensive and unhealthy, and I'm broke and sick." Months later, you run into him again. He is wealthy and healthy, but not smoking. "Why do you not smoke?" you ask. He says, "I do not want to" or "I am not addicted" - again, they amount to the same thing.

So that's an example of an influence on your (future) decisions being within your control. When you choose to start smoking, you are choosing a course of action that will provide a reason to smoke in future. When you choose to quit, you are choosing a course of action that will remove that reason to smoke in future. But if you keep asking questions, you hit reasons that were not chosen. Why stop smoking? To save money. Why do you want to save money? To spend on a holiday. Why do you want to go on holiday? To enjoy the sun. Why do you want to enjoy the sun? Well... I just do. I didn't choose to enjoy the sun. I just do.

Ultimately, all of your reasons for acting one way rather than another are outside of your control. And since reasons are the only things influencing choices, they are the only things that determine those choices.

And so choices are ultimately determined by factors outside of the control of the chooser.

All of this can be summed up more succinctly:

You can choose to do what you want,
But cannot choose what you want to do.

More on free will and the implications of its nonsensicality later, probably tomorrow.

Attention: Ladies  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

There are 2300 more women than men in New Zealand in the 25-30 bracket, and that's not even counting all those hot illegal immigrant chicks. This is apparently a Big Problem and worthy of pages of newspapers and the like.

I have taken it upon myself to solve the problem, so that newspapers can once again turn to informing us about war criminals given the thumbs-up by the Deputy Prime Minister and the thorough corruption of the National Party's higher levels.

Of course, the problem gets worse every day. Men around my age are more likely to die from accidents, suicides and violence than most other groups. To further exacerbate things, guys my age are far less likely to be thinking about settling down with one person than girls my age. After all, if all goes according to plan, my fourth wife was born today.

My solution is a temporary one, it's true. But what I'm proposing is this. I will take the troubles of, say, 30 attractive, intelligent 25- to 30-year-old women upon my own shoulders. They can all date me at once. And then there's only 2270 ladies left out there to worry about. I'd do more for Queen and Country (not the Queen personally, as she's out of the age bracket and is, I understand, taken), but there's only so much one patriot can do.

I know, I know, it's a radical suggestion, but in this day and age of such perverted demographics, we have to come up with something. Things are getting urgent.

I'll take a few of the 30-pluses too, if you like. That's cool.

Be Adequite  

Posted by Ryan Sproull

Give her a break. For a start, she left school to pursue acting, so yes, she's not an academic.

She misspelled or typoed "adequate". Signing the letter off "be adequate" was a nod to Altman's amusing habit of saying, "That was adequate," after he was satisfied with a scene he was directing.

The "12st" book is not a hilarious misspelling of "12th". She is referring to the book of Alcoholics Anonymous's 12-step programme.

Et cetera.