7 Quick Takes (6/8/12)

— 1 —

All the entries in the Ideological Turing Test are up, and I could really use your help bumping up the sample size.  Voting in the atheist round ends Saturday night and polls for the Christian round close Wednesday night.  Which means all will be revealed on Thursday morning.

If you’re visiting from Jen’s blog and aren’t quite sure what I’m talking about, let me explain in the next Take.  (Regular readers, skip to #3).

— 2 —

In a normal Turing Test, computer scientists try to write a program that’s really good at mimicking human conversation. They want one that’s so good that if you talk to it, and then to a human volunteer, you can’t tell which is which.

An Ideological Turing Test doesn’t challenge computers to imitate humans.  It challenges us to imitate the people we fiercely disagree with.  You have to understand human conversation really well to be able to write a program that mimicks it, and you have to understand your opponents’ arguments and thought processes really well to be able to write like them.  The Ideological Turing Test is meant to catch us making faulty assumptions about the people we’re fighting with.

So, in round one, atheists give honest answers to prompts and Christians try to blend in by giving the answers they think an atheist would right.  In round two, the roles shift and it’s Christians who are sincere and atheists who are shamming.  I need you guys to read the entries and make your best guess about the true beliefs of the author, so we can see how successful they were.  So pop back up to Quick Take number one and follow the links!


— 3 —

Whilst in England, I somehow missed being a spectator at the Cotswold Shin-Kicking Championships.  In which:

The sport of shin kicking is taken seriously around these parts, with contestants travelling the length and breadth of the country to turn up, stuff straw down their socks and kick each other to smithereens.

Shin-kicking judge James Wiseman gave us the lowdown on one of the simplest, but most painful, of Britain’s sports.

“The easiest way to describe it is it’s a bit like wrestling but with a lot of contact below the knees,” he said.

“The idea is really to throw the person to the ground, but to throw the person to the ground you’ve got to unbalance by kicking them first.”

The rules of shin kicking are very simple.  Kick your opponent to the ground and you win.  No throwing, tripping or pulling – the “fall” must be precipitated by a kick to the shins.

I’m pretty sure this is still morally superior to concussion and dementia-inducing football.


— 4 —

And speaking of physically punishing activities that have taken place in England, now or in the past, are you familiar with trials by ordeal?  Academic Peter Leeson has an unusual analysis of them that will be forthcoming in the Journal of Law and Economics.  Here’s the abstract:

I argue that medieval judicial ordeals accurately assigned accused criminals’ guilt and innocence. They did this by leveraging a medieval superstition called iudicium Dei. According to that superstition, God condemned the guilty and exonerated the innocent through clergy conducted physical tests. Medieval citizens’ belief in iudicium Dei created a separating equilibrium in which only innocent defendants were willing to undergo ordeals. Conditional on observing a defendant’s willingness to do so, the administering priest knew he was innocent and manipulated the ordeal to find this. My theory explains the peculiar puzzle of ordeals: trials of fire and water that should’ve condemned most persons who underwent them did the reverse. They exonerated these persons instead. Boiling water rarely boiled persons who plunged their arms in it. Burning iron rarely burned persons who carried it. Ordeal outcomes were miraculous. But they were miracles of mechanism design.

— 5 —

I know I mentioned this contest a while ago, but the NYT has finally reported on the result of their “What is a Flame?” contest, which challenged people to come up with an explanation of what a flame is that would be fairly accurate and accessible to an eleven year old.  (In fact, the judges were all eleven year olds).

— 6 —

In the general awesomeness category: Wendy Tsao makes plushes out of children’s sketches.

And the Monster Engine artfully redraws and exaggerates children’s drawings.


— 7 —

Finally, I appreciate everyone’s stamina in reading through the Turing Test entries.  When I’m tired, I like to kickback with a cosplay montage that’s also a lipsync.  Yay!



For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

"Well, I would love to know if you now believe that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered."

Go Ahead, Tell Me What’s Wrong ..."
"Any chance of you ever addressing the evidence that led you to accept the truth ..."

Letting Go of the Goal of ..."
""Wow, an unevidenced assertion from a religious dipshite. "Your quotes are the evidence and reason ..."

This is my last post for ..."
""Congrats on leaving your brain behind!"Comments like yours are why lots of atheists leave atheism. ..."

This is my last post for ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Waldo’s not supposed to be that easy to find.

    Also, if anyone’s interested about ordeals, suffice it to say that it was a German-Anglo thing which began to die out long before witch trials became all the rage.

    As a result of the General Council of 1215, several synods of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries published prohibitions in this connection. A synod held at Valladolid in 1322 declares in Can. xxvii: “The tests of fire and water are forbidden; whoever participates in them is ipso facto excommunicated” (Hefele, “Konziliengesch.”, VI, 616). The Emperor Frederick II also prohibited the duel and other ordeals in the Constitution of Melfi, 1231 (Michael, “Geschichte des deutshen Volkes”, I, 318). Nevertheless, there are to be found in Germanic code books as late as the thirteenth century, regulations for their use. However, a clearer recognition of the false ground for belief in ordeals, a more highly-developed judicial system, the fact that the innocent must be victims of the ordeal, the prohibitions of the popes and the synods, the refusal of the ecclesiastical authorities to cooperate in the carrying out of the sentence — all these causes worked together to bring about, during the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the gradual discontinuance of the practice.

    I’m no scholar, but judging by the larger article it seems the same regions which, post-Reformation, enjoyed a hearty witch burning had earlier suffered the trials by ordeal. Northern barbarian thing, I suppose.

  • deiseach

    The gentleman has managed to raise my hackles from the off by referring to it as a “mediaeval superstition” in tones of sniffy, toffee-nosed superority to those hicks back in the Bad Old Days. Granted, folk piety can degenerate into mere superstition, but it might have been more courteous to refer to it as “mediaeval belief”, as doubtless future generations three or four centuries by now will refer to the superstitious belief of Mid-Modern Man in “trial by jury”, that is, that it was an objective legal process and not one dominated by behind-the-scenes deals, horsetrading between prosecution and defense, dependent on who could afford to pay for the best lawyers and, of course, disportionately punitive to the poor and lower-class.

    Ahem. Putting aside his assumption that a cynical and unbelieving priest-class bymeans of their cunning priest-craft rigged such trials so as to generate a pre-decided outcome, modern trials by ordeal are still ongoing. I wish I could find the account, but I did read a year or so ago an online newspaper report of such a trial in India, where a woman went before her tribal council to answer some accusation (I think, though I can’t remember exactly, it was an accusation of adultery or other unchastity) and the form of the trial by ordeal was to hold a piece of hot iron and not be burned.

    The account was interesting, in that it mentioned that she was allowed to wear bindings on her hand and did not have to hold the hot iron very long, so (a) either this was how such trials became refined and reduced to a bare minimum by long practice, so that it was possible for the participant to have a good chance of coming out of it without injury and so be considered acquitted, or (b) in terms of the kind of attitude expressed by Mr. Leeson, that a cynical and unbelieving priestly class manipulates a credulous and superstitioius peasantry by rigging such trials for a pre-determined outcome (no doubt, dependent upon favoritism and bribery by means of ‘donations’ and ‘gifts’ to the temple by the participant beforehand).

    It may be unfair of me to judge Mr. Leeson’s article by the abstract of it, but then again, I can practice mind-reading as well as he, and it’s more likely that I – as a contemporary – can make a good guess as to his cast of mind than that he cansuccessfully read the minds of deceased clerics from four or more hundred years ago and judge that they rigged the outcome of such trials.

  • deiseach

    “Medieval citizens’ belief in iudicium Dei created a separating equilibrium in which only innocent defendants were willing to undergo ordeals. ”

    I would also disagree with such a sweeping generalisation. There probably was just as much chance back then as there is today of hard-necked chancers, gambling on getting away with it, willing to risk undergoing trial by ordeal on the grounds that, merely by being willing, they might not actually have to go through with it or that they might pull it off.

    After all, we have a similar modern superstition regarding the efficacy of polygraphs, which we know can be fooled by various means by the determined or sociopathic, and that can give false results for the innocent by means of being skewed by nervousness or panic. The same “white-coat syndrome” that results in elevated blood-pressure readings in doctor’ surgeries and hospitals may be equally at work in settings such as police stations or interrogation rooms.

    If you take from this that I am less than impressed by the notion of taking polygraph evidence as useful in trials, you may do so. I know myself that if I was hauled in by the rozzers to the copshop and strapped up to one of these devices to answer questions about my putative guilt for some crime or offence, I would be so flustered, my reactions would convict me of being Jack the Ripper. I distrusted the idea that they were impeccable and infallible even before I read G.K. Chesterton’s ‘Father Brown’ detective story, The Mistake of the Machine, I was dubious about them:

    “I’ve been reading,” said Flambeau, “of this new psychometric method they talk about so much, especially in America. You know what I mean; they put a pulsometer on a man’s wrist and judge by how his heart goes at the pronunciation of certain words. What do you think of it?”

    “I think it very interesting,” replied Father Brown; “it reminds me of that interesting idea in the Dark Ages that blood would flow from a corpse if the murderer touched it.”

    …“The method,” remarked the other, “has been guaranteed by some of the greatest American men of science.”

    “What sentimentalists men of science are!” exclaimed Father Brown, “and how much more sentimental must American men of science be! Who but a Yankee would think of proving anything from heart-throbs? Why, they must be as sentimental as a man who thinks a woman is in love with him if she blushes. That’s a test from the circulation of the blood, discovered by the immortal Harvey; and a jolly rotten test, too.”

  • And now for something completely different …