Learning by Perturbation

phases of matter

Last week, I wrote two blog posts about the danger of breaking promises and the downside of comforting yourself for doing necessary evils.  Both posts were written from a pretty Lawful (in the DnD sense) point of view, so I wanted to make sure I mixed in some other perspectives.  After the news broke about the NSA wiretapping, Moxie Marlinspike wrote an essay explaining why "We Should All Have Something to Hide" and thus are all threatened by increased surveillance.His essay ended up arguing … [Read more...]

The Ideological Turing Test — Freud Edition

sex and death

Well, the commenters -- and arguably culture in general -- seemed particularly interested what Freud termed the two essential drives: Sex and Death.  Thus, the two questions in this year's Turing Test will be focused on:Polyamory - Is there any reason that marriage (civil and or sacramental) should be limited to the union of two persons? If your answer depends on religious revelation, could people outside your tradition reasonably disagree, or does your argument depend on truths that almost … [Read more...]

The day I went to work with my dad, dressed as my dad


I love my professor parents, from whom I have inherited many wonderfully things -- both genetically and environmentally.  And I caught on early to how good I had it, as this conversation from when I was four or so shows: Me: Daddy, you have a big nose.Me: When I grow up, I want a big nose, too.Mom: (sotto voce) You may just get your wish. … [Read more...]

My Week at Rationalist Summer Camp [Sequence Index]

Giving my Harry Potter genetics talk at camp

After spending a week at geek summer camp (not that one!) in July 2012, I never got around to assembling the index post for all the blogging I did in response to the workshop.  But, at least I'm just sneaking in ahead of this year's workshop.  I still think the best summary of CFAR's workshops is the one I posted last year: This is the kind of summer camp where, before you go, they send you and two close friends a detailed survey, so they have a baseline to assess the impact of the camp on you i … [Read more...]

7 Quick Takes (6/14/13)

Lego figures

--- 1 --- Since I've had two posts this week (and two more scheduled for next week) on oath-keeping and rule-breaking, I have the perfect excuse to include the Tony Awards performance from Catch Me If You Can: Norman Leo Butz in "Breakin' All the Rules"--- 2 --- Father's Day is coming up this Sunday, so, if you're planning to join me in giving the gift of stealth compliments to your friends' fathers, you'll need to set aside time, ASAP.  I'm not doing too many this first year, so the siz … [Read more...]

A Dicey Way Out of Dilemmas

"Rock, Hard Place" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

In response to yesterday's post on breaking promises, KristeninDallas made an alternate suggestion: I'm not saying he should keep his promise, but I am saying he should feel at least a little bad about breaking it. We seem to have this need to rationalize everything and figure out the best choice and then pat ourselves on the back/ let ourselves off the hook when we make it. When we're choosing between two clear goods, the pat is well earned. But when choosing the lesser of evils, I think we … [Read more...]

A terrible consequence of consequentialism

pinky swear

A few weeks ago, in The New York Times Magazine, the Ethicist column gave some terribly unethical advice.  A doctor wrote in with this dilemma: Years ago, I saw a young patient with headaches, who disclosed — reluctantly — that he had committed a serious crime and that somebody else took the fall for it. I believe he was telling me the truth (his headaches soon resolved after the confession). Before his admission, I assured him that whatever he told me would not leave the room. Later, without gi … [Read more...]