You Do Not Have Free Will

What is the first animal to come to your mind when I ask this question? I bet at least one animal comes to mind. But why did the animal you chose come to mind? Why did, say, a blue spotted salamander or box turtle or naked mole rat come to mind when I asked the question? You might reply that it is because it was the animal you chose to think about, using your own free will. But was it, though?

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Should (Consensual) Incest be Normalized?

House of the Dragon incest

If there is one sort of consensual sexual relationship that remains stigmatized in our more “open” and “sex positive” and “no kink-shaming” society, it is that between closely related family members (siblings, parent-child, cousins, and even second or third cousins). Interracial relationships are normal (which is a surprisingly recent development), gay relationships have become (relatively speaking) normalized, asexuality is not all that looked down upon (or, if we’re honest, even thought about very often), and so on. But consensual incestual relationships are not. Is there a good reason for continued disapproval of consensual incestual relationships?

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Is Ayaan Hirsi Ali Right About Christianity?

To the delight of many Christians and the chagrin of many atheists, the activist and (former) atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali has declared herself for Christianity. Some atheists and Christians seem quick to point out that her article does not explicitly say she accepts Christian doctrine about Christ dying for our sins, resurrecting, the hypostatic union of the trinitarian God, and so on. Her article is more about politics and resisting Islamism than spreading the Good News. She does say, in the last paragraph, that she attends church, which is likely a good sign that she does accept (or is coming to accept) the Christian doctrine. But is she right to convert to Christianity?

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A Defense of the Biological Basis for Intelligence

biology genetics neuroscience intelligence IQ

Intelligence Quotient, or IQ, is supposed to be a measure of a person’s ability to reason, see patterns, and make predictions. Yet IQ is quite controversial – a controversy ranging anywhere from IQ tests being inaccurate or biased and all the way to IQ tests (and anything concerning IQ) being immoral. Yet, even if there is no test that can accurately and reliably gauge an individual’s intelligence in some quantitative way, most people are aware of some ineffable sense in which some individuals are just smarter than the average individual (and vice versa with some people just being less smart in some ways than other people).

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New U.S. Constitution? A Proposal

I am born and raised in the United States, and so this post is going to take a U.S.-centric view, but the same ideas could be applied in other countries as well, especially if those countries are facing similar issues. The issues I speak of are the growing sense of political divisions and loss of trust in the government, leading to a loss of trust in the very ideas of democracy, liberalism, enlightenment values, free market economics, and civil liberties. Popular responses to this discontent takes one of two forms: the position that we need to overhaul the entire system (e.g., with a revolution), or the position that we ought to double down on what we are already doing. In this post, I would like to propose perhaps a sort of middle ground.

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The Case for Moral Nihilism

Does morality exist? What would it even mean to say that morality exists? And if morality does not exist, then how can there be moral progress (e.g., how can we say that it was moral progress to end slavery)? These are meta-ethical questions, in other words, not questions describing or prescribing what one ought to do, but questions concerning whether describing or prescribing what one ought to do is even coherent.  I will examine these questions, and more, in this post.

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Section 230: Should We Get Rid of it?

Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, known as the Communications Decency Act, contains the famous Section 230(c)(1), which consists of the 26 words that created the internet:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

You can see the full text of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 here (Section 230(c)(1) is on page 101). Why this is in the news lately is that a case before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) may be deciding whether Section 230(c)(1) ought to be upheld or disposed (namely, in the cases Gonzalez v. Google, LLC and Taamneh v. Twitter, Inc.).

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Ukrainian War One Year Hence

It’s been about a year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine commenced. I wrote an article about the mounting tensions literally the day before Russian forces crossed the border (or, at least, the border as it was at the beginning of 2022). I made some predictions in that post, and a lot of digital ink has been spilled as people balkanized into pro-war and anti-war positions in the world outside Ukraine. Here is a bit of a retrospective on this unfortunate conflict.

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Effective Altruism, Consequentialism, and Longtermism

Since early November of 2022, when the cryptocurrency exchange FTX went bankrupt, there has been growing criticism of a movement for which Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF), founder and CEO of FTX, was a sort of mascot: effective altruism. Broadly speaking, this is the idea that people should take a rational approach to charitable efforts, rather than a sentimental approach. Empathy can lead us astray, appealing to our cognitive biases, like the availability heuristic, recency illusion, mere-exposure effect, the streetlight effect, and others. A touching story about a single person can move us to act better than any statistics about the suffering of millions. As such, instead of following our emotions, we should seek to get the most bang for our buck with our charitable efforts, i.e., save the most lives and do the most good with our donations of time, money, and resources. This means that the problems we address, and the means of addressing those problems, should be considered rationally and scientifically, going based on what the numbers tell us will do the most good, even if it doesn’t immediately give us that fuzzy feeling we achieve from helping the single person with the touching story. Since the downfall of SBF, this philosophy has garnered some criticism, often with what seems like more than a hint of schadenfreude.

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Quantum Computers, Shor’s Algorithm, and Post-Quantum Cryptography

Want to know how quantum computers really work? And why they can crack our best encryption systems? And how we might combat this? In this post, which is from a paper I wrote for a cybersecurity class where I went a bit above and beyond the assignment, I will go over these things. This post is long, but if you are interested in this, you might find it rewarding.

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Is Value Neutrality Possible?

Objectivity, also known as value neutrality or impartiality, is one of the highest ideals of science. The principle behind it is that science studies mind-independent reality, i.e., that which continues to exist even if no consciousness is there to perceive or think about it. This mind-independent reality is devoid of all values – there is no such thing as “good and bad” or “useful” or “beautiful” when it comes to, say, galaxy formation or evolution by natural selection. A major criticism of science levied by critical theory is that value neutrality is impossible, even if we are to take the assumption that mind-independent reality exists and that mind-independent reality is value neutral. As such, instead of blinding ourselves to the values and biases that are inextricable from science, we ought to import the “correct” values into science (e.g., feminist science).

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The Impossibility of a Successful Leftist Revolution

A hallmark of conspiratorial thinking is that even disconfirming evidence can be interpreted as confirming the theory. If, for instance, all evidence points to an election having been fair, the theorist will think “aha! That’s exactly what the nefarious conspirators would have us believe!” thus demonstrating, in their mind, the truth of the theory. The Marxist critique of ideology (which, in the Marxist sense, means that part of the superstructure in which ideas that legitimize the current economic order are engineered), and more particular the cynical ideology of Slavoj Žižek, appears to be just such a conspiracy theory.

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Should We Trust the Mainstream Media?

Can’t find original source, but I got this comic from here.

A recent Munk Debates in Toronto on November 30 examined the topic of whether or not the mainstream news media is trustworthy (the debate is titled “Be it resolved, don’t trust mainstream media”). Douglas Murray and Matt Taibbi took the position that the mainstream media is not to be trusted while Malcolm Gladwell and Michelle Goldberg took the opposing position. You can read a transcript of the debate here. As debates usually go, nothing was really resolved, though an overwhelming majority of the audience seemed to favor the Murray-Taibbi position after the debate. As such, the question remains: should people trust the mainstream news media?

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Is Capitalism Evil?

Mark Fisher, the author of Capitalist Realism, famously said that “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” Yet capitalism is also the bogeyman for a lot of people, especially on the left, though if you go far enough to the right there is a loss of faith in capitalism as well. Just like the libertarian capitalist acolytes can find any way to make all of society’s ills out to be the fault of the government, everyone else have come up with no shortage of ways to lay all our problems at the feet of capitalism. Such intoxicating clarity has aided in simplifying the world for a great many people. But is capitalism as evil as they say?

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