tommorris.org

Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.





Talking of wack jobs, have a look at this guy who's building an enormous Ark in Maryland. It's apparently going to "house a Christian school, Bible college, 1,500 seat auditorium, conference facilities, a Noah's Ark historical room, counseling center, and facilities for radio and television". And it's not going to have all the animal shit and piss of the original Ark. God truly works wonders.


What the religious left don't understand is that secularists - left and right - are correct. They're the only people who, in America, defend the First Amendment's Establishment Clause properly. Why isn't there anybody in American politics who is taking a satirical approach towards the fundies? There's so much for them to gain. People are pissed off about this vocal minority.



Alternative Views in Education

I sent the following email to my MP yesterday:

I'm writing to you regarding the introduction of the new "Gateway to Biology" syllabus being set out for GCSE students by the OCR examination board, which has garnered attention in the press (it has been covered by the Times, the Guardian and the BBC Education news website).

While some have been critical of the introduction of creationist theories in to the biological sciences, I do not think it goes far enough. I'd like to submit the following theories to the government to be considered for inclusion on the relevant GCSE syllabi.

1. The phlogiston theory of combustion.

2. The geocentric theory of planetary rotation - namely that all planets rotate around the Earth which is the centre of the universe.

3. The astrological theory of history - that the position of the stars at the time of one's birth can have a significant and predictable input on one's behaviour.

4. The "it never happened" theory of the Holocaust - that the gas chambers were used to delouse clothing, the piles of dead bodies found all died of natural causes, that there was no planned mass execution of Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and political dissidents during the era of the Nazi rule of Germany and that Hitler had no knowledge or input in the planning of execution of this non-event despite statements such as "I made it plain that they, this parasitic vermin in Europe, will be finally exterminated".

5. The phrenological theory of human psychology - that the shape of one's head is a reliable predictor of human psychological attitudes and dispositions.

6. The stork theory of human origins - that human babies are not delivered through sexual reproduction as in the rest of the animal kingdom but through the delivery of the child by a stork.

7. The Disney stork theory of universal origins - that all animals are delivered through the stork method of reproductive transport, as in (6).

8. The backmasking theory of popular music - that there exists within popular music, mostly in the hard rock and metal styles, Satanic and other messags of dubious moral status (examples include "My sweet Satan", "Kill yourself" and "It's fun to smoke marijuana") which can be revealed when played backwards, and that these messages have caused listeners of this music to do a number of tragic and criminal actions, including murder, suicide attempts and going "off the rails".

9. The Afrocentric theory of history - namely, that all of our scientific and cultural innovations have been stolen from Africa. According to this theory, the two most important figures in Western cultural history, Socrates and Jesus, were both Black Africans who subsequent historians have "whitened".

10. The hollow earth theory of geology - that the Earth is totally hollow. Connected with this theory is the theory that below California there exists a city named "Telos" which sends out psychic messages about peace and prosperity to anyone who wants to know (enclose $20).

11. The mesmerist theory of psychology - that one can mesmerise patients in to a state of hypnotic trance and cure them in this position. Now not used so much for serious medical illnesses, but to do yuppie luxury operations such as penis extension, baldness treatment and breast enlargement.

12. The homeopathic theory of chemistry - that ultra-high dilutions of substances in water can have a bigger biological effect than the undiluted concentrate of the substance. Taken to the extreme, it means dropping one drop of the substrate in to the Atlantic ocean, stirring and then drinking a glass of water from it.

13. The polygraph theory of psychology - that physical symptoms can be detected reliably in order to see whether or not the subject is lying.

14. The Time Cube theory of cosmology - described at timecube.com.

15. Scientology - the belief that a character called Xenu visited the Earth and brought millions of souls with us, packaged in to volcanoes which we can access through finding our Operating Thetans and uncovering secret memories about intergalactic walruses and Martian bishops driving steamrollers.

You may recognise some of these as part of government practice already - item 12 is being offered on the National Health Service, and proponents of item 15 operate a drug-treatment programme which is advertised on London buses. If the government is going to allow the OCR examination board to examine creationist theories of human and biological origins, it is only fair that these other, sort-of scientific theories get looked at as well. They have as much evidence and scientific support as the creationist theory.

We wouldn't want politicians, currently debating the future of schooling in Britain, to deny children access to these many failed sciences. With the slowing access and take-up of rigourous scientific education, economically-savvy students will also be able to find career paths offering professional services that rely on the above-mentioned theories to people who have absolutely no clue what's going on.

Seriously, we've got brains for a reason. Perhaps someone in government could exercise theirs so that the next generation isn't as scientifically illiterate as the current one. Then we might be able to free ourselves of the cycle of pseudoscientific humbug that led those faith-based warriors to blow up large parts of central London last July.

As a trainee academic philosopher, my specialism is in attempts at scientific justifications for teleological arguments, and my dissertation is going to be a study of the failure of this field to provide us with anything of merit. Many other people are working on this topic, to try and provide the next generation with the tools to fight against this intellectual rubbish. Please don't let the government ignore the work we are doing in favour of pseudoscience.


The Sun and MySpace. What the fuck? Two shit websites with nothing in common merge thanks to Rupert Murdoch. "Add this Page 3 girl to your MySpace friends". Pathetic. The whole thing is a joke. Still, it provides a nice response to those people out there who thought that Rupert Murdoch's purchase of MySpace wouldn't change anything. It has. It's made them act like ten year olds at News International. I like Murdoch's statement though: "This is a generation... talking to itself in a world with frontiers". But actually look, and see how the opinions work. The "MySpace generation" aren't doing anything, it's their older brothers and sisters who don't shrug their shoulders at RSS or XML-RPC. The whole idea behind this merger is terrifying.


Oh, for crying out loud. I get this enormous horde of loud foriegn students on the way in to London, and now I've got them on the way back. There are millions of them.


Live from the LSE

18:01: I have arrived. I've got three and a half hours remaining, but I'm in the lecture theatre, second row. Not exactly blog-friendly - they have wireless, but it's behind a complex wall, so I'm GPRS-ing. Watch for time-coded updates. The good stuff starts at 18:45.

18:09: The star of the show is here.

18:32: It's getting more exciting now. I've seen a few people - Jonathan Miller, host of A Brief History of Disbelief, is a couple of rows behind me. Norman Bacrac, who gave a great performance in debate at SPES a few months back, and who runs SPES, is also here. Only a few minutes before we set off.

18:41: So, here we are in the LSE Old Theatre, in the West End of London. The stage is empty, but in a few minutes, the broadcaster Melvyn Bragg will chair a discussion on "Thirty years of The Selfish Gene". Included in the discussion will be Professor Richard Dawkins (Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, author of The Selfish Gene and a whole series of books on evolutionary science), Daniel Dennett (Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University, author of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon and Darwin's Dangerous Idea), Sir John Krebs FRS (Oxford), Professor Matt Ridley and Ian McEwan (the author of Saturday and Enduring Love). If you wish to discuss this, please come and hang out at #freethoughtmedia on irc.infidelguy.com or send me an email at bbtommorris@gmail.com

18:48: Everyone's coming out.

"They are called genes. We are their survival machines."

18:52: Daniel Dennett: The View from Dawkins' Mountain

When Dennett read it this quote stuck out: "We are survival machines - robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment."

TSG changed his life on re-reading. Last June, took a trip to the Santiago island, Galápagos.

Is Dawkins "Darwinian Fundametalism"? Steven Jay Gould was right. A DF - "either you shun Darwinian evolution altogether or you turn the traditional universe upside-down and accept that mind, meaning and purpose are not the cause but the fairly recent effects of the mechanistic mill of Darwinian algorithms".

There is no compromise position. Evolution seems to be such a mindless and cruel thing!

"Orgel's Second Rule (Francis Crick): Evolution is cleverer than you are." This almost looks like a slogan for ID. If it isn't, how can evolution be cleverer than you are?

"mentalistic behaviorism": How can a gene be selfish? Treat it like it has a mind, and you can understand it - arms races, bargains, ploys, counterploys.

"A virus is a string of nucleic acid with attitude."

"A gene is a type not a token" - not a physical item, but "the potential near-immortality of a gene, in the form of copies, as its defining property". Genes are like words, or like novels or plays, or melodies. Genes are like memes, and memes are like genes. The information is what youre talking about.

"The hox genes are like the Romeo and Juliet memes!"

"On the tree of life, only one species has evolved that can understand that it is one of thefruits of the tree of life. It is human language, and culture, that has made this possible."

When Dennett read it this quote stuck out: "We are survival machines - robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment."

TSG changed his life on re-reading. Last June, took a trip to the Santiago island, Galápagos.

Is Dawkins "Darwinian Fundametalism"? Steven Jay Gould was right. A DF - "either you shun Darwinian evolution altogether or you turn the traditional universe upside-down and accept that mind, meaning and purpose are not the cause but the fairly recent effects of the mechanistic mill of Darwinian algorithms".

There is no compromise position. Evolution seems to be such a mindless and cruel thing!

"Orgel's Second Rule (Francis Crick): Evolution is cleverer than you are." This almost looks like a slogan for ID. If it isn't, how can evolution be cleverer than you are?

"mentalistic behaviorism": How can a gene be selfish? Treat it like it has a mind, and you can understand it - arms races, bargains, ploys, counterploys.

"A virus is a string of nucleic acid with attitude."

"A gene is a type not a token" - not a physical item, but "the potential near-immortality of a gene, in the form of copies, as its defining property". Genes are like words, or like novels or plays, or melodies. Genes are like memes, and memes are like genes. The information is what youre talking about.

"The hox genes are like the Romeo and Juliet memes!"

"On the tree of life, only one species has evolved that can understand that it is one of thefruits of the tree of life. It is human language, and culture, that has made this possible."

19:08: Sir John Krebs FRS: From Intellectual Plumbing to Arms Races

An intellectual plumber: "if anyone has leaks in their scientific thinking, Richard's intelligence and razor sharp analysis will detect the leak and carefully fix it for you".

River Out Of Eden: "Show me a cultural relatavist at 30,000 feet, and I'll show you a hypocrite."

The Selfish Gene was born out of a certain zoological environment. Dawkins on Communication: ethologists agreed that communication is the transfer of information.

Dawkins reframed communication from information transfer to manipulation. Examples: advertising, pornography, Keats' nightingale/hemlock.

An intellectual plumber: "if anyone has leaks in their scientific thinking, Richard's intelligence and razor sharp analysis will detect the leak and carefully fix it for you".

River Out Of Eden: "Show me a cultural relatavist at 30,000 feet, and I'll show you a hypocrite."

The Selfish Gene was born out of a certain zoological environment. Dawkins on Communication: ethologists agreed that communication is the transfer of information.

Dawkins reframed communication from information transfer to manipulation. Examples: advertising, pornography, Keats' nightingale/hemlock.

19:21: Matt Ridley: Selfish DNA and the Junk in the Genome

TSG: p. 47 (1 ed.): "Biologists are racking their brains trying to think what useful task this apparently surplus DNA is doing. But from the point of the view of the selfish genes themselves, there is no paradox. The true 'purpose' of DNA is to survive, n more no less. The ismplest way to explain the surplus DNA is to suppose that it is a parasite, or at best a harmless..."

1971: C-value paradox (C. A. Thomas): nuclear genomes vary 300,000 fold: transcriptome varies 17-fold.

1972: first mention of 'junk' in paper by Ohno, and lecture by Francis Crick at MIT: "What is all thsi DNA for: junk or an evolutionary reserve?"

1978: Skeletal DNA theory of Cavalier-Smith

1980: Doolittle and Sapienza, and Orgel and Crick coin 'Selfish DNA': "the natural selection preferred replicatiors within ths genome"

"This idea is not new. It is first sketched [in the Selfish Gene]".

Human beings have 3 gigabases, but marbled lungs have 133 gigabases.

Linked to cell size: parasites often minimise the unk to shrink the cell, ciliate dual nuclei allow big cells with small genomes. High metabloism animals have reduced a lot of the junk in their genome - bats and birds. Aestivating species with big cells for storing glycogen in the lungfish.

Big genomes go with small brain - in amphibia, the bigger your genome, the slower you are to replicate, so big brains take longer to grow and neurones are bigger, so we can't fit as many in.

A small fraction of our genome are actual protein coding genes. A slightly bigger chunk for functional DNA. 5% of our genome gives us everything we need to build a human body. 8% consists of retroviruses. 3% DNA transposons. 25% Long Intersposed Nuclear Elements (LINE) autonomous retroposons - these are the selfish genes, they just copy themselves. 13% SINEs. More than a quarter are introns, some simple sequence repeats, segmental duplications and miscellaneous.

LINE1 currently dominates about 17.4% of the human genome. Alu SINE is a 282bp sequence repeated 1m times - 10.74% of the genome. Actively peaked 40m years ago.

LINEs found in AT-rich, gene-poor areas. Older SINEs in CG-rich, gene-rich.

Junk DNA has spawned a bigger industry than coding DNA - junk DNA is used in fingerprinting (OJ Simpson and Monica Lewinsky).

45% of the human genome is made of selfish genes, but can spread at the expense of netural junk.

Selfish elements include unwanted aprasites to co-opted symbionts or somewhere in betweeen.

TSG: p. 47 (1 ed.): "Biologists are racking their brains trying to think what useful task this apparently surplus DNA is doing. But from the point of the view of the selfish genes themselves, there is no paradox. The true 'purpose' of DNA is to survive, n more no less. The ismplest way to explain the surplus DNA is to suppose that it is a parasite, or at best a harmless..."

1971: C-value paradox (C. A. Thomas): nuclear genomes vary 300,000 fold: transcriptome varies 17-fold.

1972: first mention of 'junk' in paper by Ohno, and lecture by Francis Crick at MIT: "What is all thsi DNA for: junk or an evolutionary reserve?"

1978: Skeletal DNA theory of Cavalier-Smith

1980: Doolittle and Sapienza, and Orgel and Crick coin 'Selfish DNA': "the natural selection preferred replicatiors within ths genome"

"This idea is not new. It is first sketched [in the Selfish Gene]".

Human beings have 3 gigabases, but marbled lungs have 133 gigabases.

Linked to cell size: parasites often minimise the unk to shrink the cell, ciliate dual nuclei allow big cells with small genomes. High metabloism animals have reduced a lot of the junk in their genome - bats and birds. Aestivating species with big cells for storing glycogen in the lungfish.

Big genomes go with small brain - in amphibia, the bigger your genome, the slower you are to replicate, so big brains take longer to grow and neurones are bigger, so we can't fit as many in.

A small fraction of our genome are actual protein coding genes. A slightly bigger chunk for functional DNA. 5% of our genome gives us everything we need to build a human body. 8% consists of retroviruses. 3% DNA transposons. 25% Long Intersposed Nuclear Elements (LINE) autonomous retroposons - these are the selfish genes, they just copy themselves. 13% SINEs. More than a quarter are introns, some simple sequence repeats, segmental duplications and miscellaneous.

LINE1 currently dominates about 17.4% of the human genome. Alu SINE is a 282bp sequence repeated 1m times - 10.74% of the genome. Actively peaked 40m years ago.

LINEs found in AT-rich, gene-poor areas. Older SINEs in CG-rich, gene-rich.

Junk DNA has spawned a bigger industry than coding DNA - junk DNA is used in fingerprinting (OJ Simpson and Monica Lewinsky).

45% of the human genome is made of selfish genes, but can spread at the expense of netural junk.

Selfish elements include unwanted aprasites to co-opted symbionts or somewhere in betweeen.

19:36: Ian McEwan: Science Writing Towards A Literary Tradition?

Voltaire on immunology - the only instance of a Frenchman who's come to England and been impressed.

We have a scientific literary tradition - TSG hasn't gone out-of-date.

The non-scientist has enjoyment in the spectacle of human ingenuity. We need to remember the people who get it wrong do us a great service. There is a magnificent literature in the history of science - "ingenuity propelled by curiosity".

Style: "Individuals are not stable things, they are fleeting". TSG clearly initiated a golden age of science writers: E. O. Wilson, Steven Weinberg, Matt Ridley, Dan Dennett (the memetics of faith).

Religion: we didn't think, in the seventies, that religion would be an issue - Galileo and the church.

Voltaire on immunology - the only instance of a Frenchman who's come to England and been impressed.

We have a scientific literary tradition - TSG hasn't gone out-of-date.

The non-scientist has enjoyment in the spectacle of human ingenuity. We need to remember the people who get it wrong do us a great service. There is a magnificent literature in the history of science - "ingenuity propelled by curiosity".

Style: "Individuals are not stable things, they are fleeting". TSG clearly initiated a golden age of science writers: E. O. Wilson, Steven Weinberg, Matt Ridley, Dan Dennett (the memetics of faith).

Religion: we didn't think, in the seventies, that religion would be an issue - Galileo and the church.

19:49: Richard Dawkins: Afterword

Is there any unifying philosophy? "I'm a lover of explanation... I suppose that makes me a reductionist."

"As for whether I'm a determinist - I'll let you know when I've decided."

"Most scientists would shudder at being described as philosophical".

"Genetics had to be digital for natural selection to work"

"There must be some things which theory tells us to be so"

What would have to be for life on another planet?

"Could it be two-dimensional?" Yes. "Could it be three-dimensional?" Probably not. Proteins provide the 3D executors specified by the 1D code.

Multi-cellularity, and many other things.

Does information have to be molecular? Memes, for instance. Darwinism requires accurate replicators - memes aren't accurate.

The title isn't great - can and has give rise to misunderstanding. Correctly locate the emphasis. It's not about "selfishness", it's about altruism. The correct word is gene.

Genes aren't deterministic in the way that's politically interesting. The gene is the unit.

Nice slight of Mary Midgley. ";->"

There are two types of selfish genes - differentaiotn between junk DNA.

Robert Trivers new book "Genes in Conflict". Intellectual heros: Bob Trivers, John Maynard Smith, George Williams and others.

Some people want to 'unread' it.

"If something is true, no amount of wishful thinking will undo it."

Is there any unifying philosophy? "I'm a lover of explanation... I suppose that makes me a reductionist."

"As for whether I'm a determinist - I'll let you know when I've decided."

"Most scientists would shudder at being described as philosophical".

"Genetics had to be digital for natural selection to work"

"There must be some things which theory tells us to be so"

What would have to be for life on another planet?

"Could it be two-dimensional?" Yes. "Could it be three-dimensional?" Probably not. Proteins provide the 3D executors specified by the 1D code.

Multi-cellularity, and many other things.

Does information have to be molecular? Memes, for instance. Darwinism requires accurate replicators - memes aren't accurate.

The title isn't great - can and has give rise to misunderstanding. Correctly locate the emphasis. It's not about "selfishness", it's about altruism. The correct word is gene.

Genes aren't deterministic in the way that's politically interesting. The gene is the unit.

Nice slight of Mary Midgley. ";->"

There are two types of selfish genes - differentaiotn between junk DNA.

Robert Trivers new book "Genes in Conflict". Intellectual heros: Bob Trivers, John Maynard Smith, George Williams and others.

Some people want to 'unread' it.

"If something is true, no amount of wishful thinking will undo it."

20:11: Fantastic evening. Drinks await.








LSE liveblog prep

I'm going to be liveblogging the event tonight at the LSE. I will be posting all the way through the event. If you want to follow along, here's how to do it. A blog post will appear here at around 6.30pm GMT which I will update throughout the event.

Once the event concludes, I will build the RSS feed. The post will not appear in your RSS reader until that point. There will also be a permanent OPML version which you will be able to download or include in your outlines. This will be built ASAP after the event. It will use minimal HTML, but otherwise nothing too fancy.

Appearing tonight will be Professor Richard Dawkins, Professor Daniel Dennett, Professor John Krebs, Professor Matt Ridley, Ian McEwan and Melvyn Bragg.


Rob Braun has an excellent article on why Darwin (the OS, not the nineteenth-century naturalist who, except the nuts, is generally admired by most people) failed. It's a shame. I had hoped that someone might do something cool with it.


Douglas Adams

In The Salmon of Doubt, Douglas Adams wrote:

I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

1. Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

1. Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

RSS (and podcasting) breaks this law. Most geeks get it. It makes sense. If you talk to normal people, they say dumb things like "why don't you just visit the website?". The answer is because it doesn't scale. But they don't understand simple things like that.

I suppose, since most people believe in bullshit like astrology and creationism, we shouldn't be surprised that they don't understand simple things like RSS.


Google Scholar results for Claude Shannon. First result has 10,227 citations (C.E.S and W. Weaver's Mathematical Theory of Communication). Search for William Dembski, and TDI has 62 citations, most of which are people explaining why it's wrong, or they're papers from fellow creationists (with titles like "Upholding the Authority of the Bible from the Very First Verse") - lots by one 'SC Meyer'. I can't see any papers in here from writers in information theory. Which makes that Isaac Newton quote a bit silly, doesn't it? Then if one searches for the PBSW "Meyer 2004" paper, it brings up one citation from Dembski. Rigorous science, right?