Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Medicine And Metaphysics

I have oft lamented the state of medicine in the United States. I find that when it comes to moralizing, the US is #1 in the world. There is so much moral baggage wrapped up in care in this country that Hippocrates must be spinning in his grave.

What do I mean by moralizing? There is a deep thread of what people "deserve" and what is "right" as opposed to what reduces suffering. For example, pain killers. Women complain less, but receive less medication when they do complain. That means that women are receiving fewer prescriptions for more pain. Why? Because women complain. And even if they are in pain, they deserve the pain because they need to "toughen up."

It is not just women. It is everyone. Doctors are fanatical about pain killers, even when a person is in obvious pain. Why? Because they don't want to give people "hits" of fun stuff. Compare pain killers to antibiotics. There are known, significant dangers to antibiotics. They can cause massive digestive problems, are breeding scary things like MRSA, and can trigger lethal allergic reactions in a significant percentage of the population. Do you see doctors withholding antibiotics? Nope. In fact, doctors are so free with them that their overuse is one of the issues causing the quick evolution of things like MRSA. There are fewer concerns because antibiotics are not fun.

Obviously, they all will couch their reticence in terms of avoiding addiction, and this does truly have a great deal to do with it, but the rest of it is a belief that having fun with drugs is "bad," and that whatever pain the patient is feeling cannot be real. This is one of the biggest issues with male doctors and female patients. Because remember, women are not actually in pain, they're just complaining.

The root is a disconnect between our knowledge of someone else and the reality. The reality is something we cannot know. I can never be in someone's mind. Our language encourages us to feel like we can, and we have mirror neurons that help us "feel" someone else's emotions. But mirror neurons can only mirror what they sense, which is behavior. So if someone happens to be stone-faced, there is nothing to mirror, and thus we cannot feel their pain as Clinton so famously said.

I have actually heard multiple doctors tell patients in regards to pain killers or other "fun" drugs like Valium, which is non-addictive, that a certain dose works for him, and as such must obviously work for the patient. Subtly saying that if the patient says otherwise, the patient is lying. This is not specific to men, but most of the people who I've seen display this hilarious bias have been men.

In an absence of information and behavior, our own biases and emotions fill the gaps. And frequently, even if we are seeing behavior, our extant biases will affect our interpretation of that behavior. I have not experienced pain of a magnitude to require twenty oxycodone, thus that pain does not exist.

I don't mean to harp on men, but their behavior is the worst. For example, a study came out showing that men more so than any other group, if they had never experienced sexual abuse, either believed that accusers were lying or that whatever happened didn't actually cause any harm. Only the men who had experienced sexual abuse believed it to be real.

I focus on men, there, but my point applies to everyone. We allow morals and a belief that I know what you are thinking! to infect our medical treatments. I know! I know your world! I know what you deserve! Because my world and your world are the same! That means that whatever ridiculous way I view the world is the right way and applies to you!

This is a wild disconnect between reality and this metaphysical world that these blithering idiots want to believe exists. Other minds do not exist. My mind does not exist to you, and your mind does not exist to me. To base beliefs on anything but behavior, on empirical evidence, is grasping at the nether. To base medical care, where other people's well being is dependent on you, on anything but rigid empiricism, is cruel and, I would argue, borderline criminal. A doctor who believes that he or she knows what another persons' world is like can be accurately described as evil. They give primacy to their worldview over the empirically verifiable care of another person.

I'm not entirely sure why, but this moral/metaphysical thread is woven more tightly through American medicine (I am obviously ignoring third-world countries, like Islamic countries where only men can be doctors, and men cannot directly look at a woman's vagina, thus necessitating exams through a mirror). Look at the jack-off pharmacists who will not provide Plan-B pills or even correct medical advice involving possible abortion or birth control. Doctors who will not discuss condoms. They don't give two shits about the actual care of the patient. They care about maintaining their worldview's consistency by forcing it on others.

It's so easy to moralize from a high horse. That is why it's always so immensely satisfying when they fall off. I'm looking at you, drug-addicted/gay/secretly-pregnant/infidelitous Republicans!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Long Discussion On Personhood

I had a long argument on Facebook with a friend who is a closeted pro-life advocate. I thought enough useful stuff was said to warrant getting it onto the web. Names have been changed.


I don't really know how I feel about prop 26 for Mississippi. In truth, it's the real question that has to be answered to solve the entire debate about abortion. I have three real perspectives on personhood.

First, personhood could be an artificial construct imposed by society and therefore flexible in it's application. Thus, whatever the social contract dictates is legit despite personal conjecture (because humans create and apply the idea of value). I find in the real world this view isn't really picked up that much, but the real world also doesn't critically think.

For my second and third view, I assume personhood as a reflection of reality. The first and most obvious quality is life at conception where the indefensible ought be protected with laws and rights endowed to all citizens. I'm sure we're all familiar with the pro-life ideas. That is rough to swallow at first, but if it is assumed to be true then all the scary consequences that follow suddenly make sense (no abortions, restrictions on birth control etc) even if we don't like them because it makes our lives more difficult.

The second quality of innate value would be a cognitive value that is fundamental in all things that are sentient or self aware. This one seems to be the one I find pro-choicers take in most cases. I'm not sure when babies can form cognitive thoughts, as I'm not even sure what the nature of cognitive function is, but I'm relatively convinced it wouldn't be at conception.

Most other arguments I hear are typically incoherent or downright silly so I didn't mention them. I just hope we come to a consensus so that lil bitches like me and congress can stop wasting time on this argument.


The problem is that it is not an argument. One side is rational, the other is not. It's like the evolution "argument." How can it be called a debate when one side says "My reasons are A, B, and C." While the other side says "Nuh unhh! You're wrong because my god says so!"

It can't be, because it's not. This "argument" has nothing to do with ethics. It is irrationality clashing with rationality, and there is absolutely no solution and there never will be. All that can happen is either the rational win, and we continue to move forward as a functioning Western nation, or the irrational win, social evolution takes over, and our society falls from grace.


Well thats more my point, personhood in and of itself. I think the only "real" solution to this that is nearly proveable is that value is a thing that exists only in humans. The value of human life won't stop the sun from exploding because it cares we exist, it's something we bestow upon ourselves. Now, granted I'm wrong I put up the other two scenarios, and I admit Mississippi's prop 26 is complete hocus pocus Christian right wing propoganda, but ultimately I think this is a real question. It's a question we as a society ought to answer as well. We legaly need to draw a line in the sand so people can stop bitching.


Ok, I think I see what you're getting at. But that is an ethical question, and this is not an ethical debate. They are not actually asking the question in a more lucid way than how we are already doing so for our legal definition of a person. Truly, the genesis of their argument, dating back to the early twentieth century, has nothing to do with fetuses, but with the oppression of women.

Most states define a person, essentially for the purposes of determining if a murder has taken place, as a self-sufficient, viable baby that has gone through birth. Anything before that is not a person, but, for lack of a better term, the property of the mother. While there has been a little muddying of the legal waters over the years, this definition holds up pretty well. We have a definition that works.


Concerning your original post: I'm not seeing an argument here. I'm seeing vague philosophical statements circumlocuting something. As Aaron pointed out, what you're grasping for is a clear cut definition. And we already have one. In the grand scheme of things, the idea of being against abortion because of "moral" reasons of "thou shalt not kill" is relatively new. The origins of the anti-abortion movement was rooted in "if we let women have abortions, they'll become promiscuous". It had NOTHING to do with saving the "life" of a blob of cells. I fail to see how a party that only seems to be concerned with the preservation of life when it comes to fetuses can call itself ethical. (I will refrain from using the word "moral" because I don't think that concept holds water.) If you are pro-life, then you must also be against capital punishment, and you must be VEHEMENTLY anti-war. And last but not least, you must be most concerned with viable life, that is to say, the life of the mother. And none of them are.


My original statement was that we need a clear legal definition of personhood. Regardless of the religious rights motives its a real question to ask. Also, the original 3 perspectives were my points of view of how we might define life as valuable and thats all. I have no defined view. I just agree for a definition of personhood. If the current definition is baby is spit out vagina I find that unsatisfactory to the idea that humans have innate value. But then again, maybe it dosnt.


Actually, baby spit out of vagina isn't the definition. Birth means a viable baby leaving the mother, and that can include caesarian. That's the reason why no one either legally can, or is willing to, provide an abortion past 24 weeks. After that, in some cases, the baby is viable. In most cases, it isn't, but we have hedged our bets.

This legal definition has been working just fine for a long time, probably because it is such a large hedged bet. Truly, many ethicists argue that a baby doesn't even become a "person" until some time very close to, or possibly even after, natural birth. The only ethicists of which I'm aware that vehemently argue otherwise are all explicitly religious.

The attacks on this definition come not from legitimate concerns in the area of jurisprudence or ethics, but from fanaticism. We have no reason whatsoever to change the definition, unless, as you pointed out, we believe facepalm nonsense. Our definition works in the only way a definition can ever work: in practice.


So my question to you Aaron is why does viability satisfy the legal status of a person? I assume that by viability you mean the ability to live physically seperate from the mother. Do you think this is just a common agreement of society that the line in the sand is physical independance from the mother?


It satisfies it because other definitions result in practical problems for society. Putting value earlier has problems: when a mother's health is in danger, rape pregnancy, when a child is guaranteed deformities or mental retardation, or making illegal any behavior that increases the risk of miscarriage.

Putting it later also has issues. We have child labor, mistreatment and abuse, or psychological issues for the children after they attain "personhood." For example, back in the day, say 100 years ago, children were frequently not named until their 3rd birthday. They were not counted as people nor as part of the family because so many children died young. Just imagine the psychological damage to those poor kids.

There are no such issues with placing the laws at the viability of the child. Dangers to the mother's health are either already set or have been eliminated. Rape pregnancy is already either aborted or accepted. Developmental issues are known and either aborted or accepted. And miscarriage is fleetingly rare.

This placement also makes good common sense. When is a child a separate person? When it is biologically separate. This isn't an arbitrary line drawn by society, it's the only line that makes practical sense.

We cannot know what's going on inside the "mind" of a fetus. Acting based on ignorance is just plain ridiculous. We may as well assume that all babies can telepathically communicate à la "Look Who's Talking." It is identical.


I understand this argument, but the line is drawn on a cost/benefit scenario except for the part that a relys on physical separation. While you say the line isn't arbitrary, and maybe arbitrary is a bad word to use, the outcome is based on social implications. The aggregate good is maximized by this definition. But this definition is only true when we presuppose the value of a life is determined by its effects on the social contact. I'm ok with that line of thought. However, that leaves me with no defining trait of what makes people have value. Thats ok too as I am hard pressed to believe in absolutes, but accepting this definition means the value of a life is determined by its role in society.


While I think many people would admit that this perspective is inherently utilitarian, I don't. I am not actually making positive statements about the inherent value of a human. I'm saying that "inherent" or "transcendent" value is metaphysical, which is nonsensical.

We cannot act upon, nor can we even discuss, nonsensical transcendent values. Moreover, these values, if they are to mean anything, must be empirically applicable to the world. If application of these values results in widespread societal problems, how are we to say that they are fundamentally correct? We cannot.

In the same way that neutrinos are not seen, only experimentally confirmed, ineffable ethical truths must be applicable in some effable, empirical way. The final judgment, even if we assume transcendent values, must be application.

So, again, I am not saying that society or aggregate good determines value, I'm saying that even if transcendent value exists for a "person," we must experimentally determine that value via application to the empirical realm. Thus, if someone argues that an unborn fetus is a person, even though we have no experimental way to test that statement, and the consequences are widespread societal problems, there is no way to argue that it is somehow ethically "right" because that sends us back into an ineffable, metaphysical realm.


I am not determining the value of a life vis-a-vis society. I'm arguing that an unborn baby isn't actually a life.


I shall define personhood as I use it to mean a human worthy of legal protection. I completely agree with you about the ineffability of innate value. If we are to expect value to be a human construct then everything you are saying makes complete sense. However to be clear, and I assume this is implied, unborn babys are alive just not people like you and me in the way an acorn is not a tree. But isn't that like saying a toddler isn't as human as a middle aged man? A newborn baby still needs parents to feed it, so this "viable birth" is still dependant on others to live. I only probe because I find most points of view that are coherent, like yours is, boil down to a version of the there initial axioms I mentioned. I have no concrete pov which is why I keep asking questions because people with concrete views have reasons. I think this post may seem like a tangent but my co-workers are blasting bachata and its hard to concentrate lol.


"unborn babys are alive just not people like you and me in the way an acorn is not a tree."

That's an acceptable analogy. An acorn is not a life. It is the basic programming that can enact itself to form life. When exposed to the necessary environment: dirt, sun, water; it can grow into life, but as it is, it is not life.

An unborn baby is best understood as an organ of the mother. If we accept an unborn baby as alive because it is an organomechanical "thing" that takes in chemicals (food) and puts out other chemicals (waste), than every organ in every body counts.

"isn't that like saying a toddler isn't as human as a middle aged man?"

Not even remotely. A toddler is able to interact, express, manipulate, communicate, and do all of the other things that we consider part of life, just as the man. A fetus cannot. A zygote certainly cannot. To say that something is alive, much less a person, requires us to be able to measure that quality. We cannot. If it does not walk like a duck or talk like a duck, it's not a duck.

"A newborn baby still needs parents to feed it, so this "viable birth" is still dependant on others to live."

So are we all. I would not do well without farmers, firefighters, and doctors. The difference is that I can seek out the help. When left alone, basic functioning still takes place. My heart still beats, my lungs still breathe. I can project my internal environment into the external world. If I removed a fetus from a mother and placed it on the ground, it would die quite quickly. Remove me from society, and if the guttersnipes of 19th-century Britain are any indication, remove children as young as 4 from society, and we stand a chance at survival.

My response to your comment was predicated on the nature of your post. It was primarily non-substantive, but you expressed interest in the question of what constitutes a person and ethical considerations therein. I argued that if this is truly in what you are interested, you should be against Prop. 26 because it has nothing to do with that. It is irrationality clashing with rationality. The answer you seek will never be answered by these people.

I then said it is also a misdirected quandary. There is no question. The question has been answered as effectively as it could ever be, because whether we accept transcendent values or accept the subjectivity of morals doesn't matter. The morals must always come back to application, and it is absurd to argue that applied morals could ever result in suffering, as Prop. 26 will do if passed. I would not be surprised to hear that 100% of secular ethicists, when surveyed, expressed disagreement with Prop. 26.

But, again, true ethical considerations are not the concern of these people. They are religious fanatics, and they do not care about pain, suffering, metaphysics, linguistics, or any other subject we have just discussed. They care about forcing their baseless, nebulous beliefs on others. The fact that this "question" is being asked in the fattest, stupidest, most religiously fanatical area of the whole of the Western World is not at all surprising.


While I'm certainly not for prop 26 because its simplicity leaves out considerations for so many things and lacked what a discussion of personhood really means, I do think the concept of personhood should be a real discussion. The religious people who drive "Concieved in Rape" busses require you to be Christian to agree in their point. I am not, so I don't. As I've mentioned previously I have no concrete perspective, but at some point in my life I've beleived in all of the three propositions I've stated.

I have reasonable doubt in all directions when thinking about any of these topics because they all are ultimately coherent. You made mention of this point:

"An unborn baby is best understood as an organ of the mother"

I don't really agree. Physically it has it's own set of DNA and goes through growth patterns. If anything, it's probably best understood as a parasite of the mother if not a unique human being. Due to this, if we accept foundational ideas of our own social contract such as: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." So basically if you read this literally with men being humanity an embryo really is a human in its earliest stage of life. Thats where people get caught up, is the embryo being a unique organism. The start of a new life. And, if we are to assume an embryo is a human we must assume that since they cannot speak for themselves it is our job to do so on their behalf.

"So are we all. I would not do well without farmers, firefighters, and doctors. The difference is that I can seek out the help. When left alone, basic functioning still takes place. My heart still beats, my lungs still breathe."

This presumes life is deserving of legal protection assuming it can function on an internal level on its own. However, what about people who rely on machines to live, who take pills when they are sick, or who need assistance living? Does this hinder their rights for protection because the way they need help is different? This would all make sense if the embryo was simply a parasite until viable. And maybe it is, but it's hard for me to find that true. Just because the embryo can't ride a bike or give a high five dosn't make it any less deserving of legal protection if we assume that all life is created equally and that those legal protections are unalienable. While I understand Roe vs Wade decided the term "person" didn't mean fetus (as this is where viability with exception of the mother's health comes into play) I don't necessarily agree with that.

I understand that you are saying a "seprate" life is created when it becomes viable to sustain itself without the mothers help. You've definately explained why its socially better to allow abortions up to a certain stage in reproduction on a practical basis (which I beleive you stated as a condition for a working definition of personhood), but if that social benefit is bought at the cost of killing younglings (pardon my Star Wars reference) then all the negative backlash that may come from life at conception might be justified.

Randomly, in regards to prop 26 I saw on Rachel Maddow tonight that the numbers for/against prop 26 in the latest polls show 45/44 for and against. If it does pass, then this discussion will get a whole lot bigger as it probably will immediately be blocked by the courts until it rolls up to the supreme court to be the new Roe vs Wade of our generation (which could seriously backfire on those people in Concieved in Rape bitches).

The idea of personhood has always intrigued me because it seems like the answer should be black and white but always ends up being various shades of gray simultaneously at the end of these conversations. At least to me...


"If anything, it's probably best understood as a parasite of the mother if not a unique human being."

That phrases it in even more negative terms than mine. We have no reason to assume anything about its nature. We don't even "know" its potential. It may be destined to miscarry. If we cannot even be sure of its potential, the nebulousness goes ever deeper and laws become an even worse idea. Not only does it not look or quack like a duck, it may very well turn out to be a badger.

"The religious people who drive "Concieved in Rape" busses require you to be Christian to agree in their point."

Yes, but if we accept the value of an embryo as a pukka human life, that is the necessary result, regardless of religious creed. If an embryo is a human, than whether it is the result of rape or not doesn't matter. We are putting the pain of a human who is demonstrably a person below the potential of a duck that may be a badger. That is absurd.

"So basically if you read this literally with men being humanity an embryo really is a human in its earliest stage of life."

First, I'm not sure what point you are trying to make with this quote. If we read it literally, as it was intended, slaves and women don't count as people.

Second, I ask you to return to your acorn analogy. It is potential. It is genetic code. To call that a life reduces the term "life" to meaninglessness. We are one step away from calling sperm and ovum similarly because, just like the fertilized egg, all they require is the correct environment to grow. Then we may as well call stray carbon compounds life, because it is one environmental trigger away from forming RNA.

I won't quote your next paragraph. I will simply address it point by point.

It's not that human life is "deserving" of legal protection at that point, it's that for society, and thus laws, to function, we must protect the substantive, constituent elements of that society. What I'm arguing is that active humans are demonstrably, experimentally, empirically verifiable as living, feeling entities. They are active gears in society. An embryo is not nor could it ever possibly be. We must make laws for the active elements of society. We cannot make laws for ineffable, undetectable, "things" that may or may not exist outside of perception.

A person on a ventilator has empirically shown themselves to be a person. They have acted, spoken, done, and all of the things that we take to mean "person." An embryo has not. A better example would have been the Terry Schiavo case, where the very same wingnuts we are now discussing tried to "save" her. She was braindead. She was not a person. She was a body being kept alive with machines. The laws did not protect her because she was not alive. They tried to change the laws, but luckily, cooler heads prevailed. She was not a person, nor is an embryo. But even there, the body had once shown that it housed a person, Terry's earlier life, so people were reticent, and I understand that emotionally. But appreciating someone's emotions and passing laws are two very different things.

That gets to my positive statement about what a person is. A person is an abstract construct that we create based on differing behavior between humans. A person is something that doesn't exist in any coherent sense of the term. A person is contained within a body, and the only way that we can make the assumption that an abstract entity exists is through experiment. If I tell you that a rock is intelligent, even though it will never respond, there is no way that you can positively argue with me. All you can say is that there is no reason to believe that an entity is housed therein.

Whether you agree or not is immaterial. There is no logically, linguistically, or empirically coherent way to define a person that includes an embryo. Compliments of science today, we now have a deep understanding of neurology, so we can be assured with essentially 100% certainty that no pain is felt, no thoughts are thought, and no action could ever be enacted.

"but if that social benefit is bought at the cost of killing younglings"

If, yes, but we aren't. If that statement is made it must be backed up with evidence, of which there is none. No suffering is happening. No babies are buried.

"the answer should be black and white but always ends up being various shades of gray simultaneously at the end of these conversations."

I think that it is black & white. A "person" is someone who acts like a person. It's the reason why I'm very icky about the prospect of killing chimpanzees and orangutans. They ACT like people sometimes. Or that dog who saved his friend from a highway in Chile. When behavior becomes so person-like, I get concerned. But an embryo in no way could ever be a person, because it is not. A person is an actuality, not a potentiality.


"That gets to my positive statement about what a person is. A person is an abstract construct that we create based on differing behavior between humans. A person is something that doesn't exist in any coherent sense of the term. A person is contained within a body, and the only way that we can make the assumption that an abstract entity exists is through experiment."

Thats the kick! So your view rests on the idea that personhood is an abstraction that we create. And, therefore, its value is determined by society. In such, the second part of that "all men are created equal" speach becomes relevant: " That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." This phrase basically says society is what makes up and enforces these social truths. If we all vote and say "when it is viable it's good" then thats socially black and white. It's different when the supreme court says it because thats the opinion of 9 or less people.

However, your opinion is solidly an opinion just like mine are. There is no reason to consider an embryo not a person physically. That is about as empirical as you can get. Its the "value" we add on after the fact that might make us think differently. I'm not arguging your point of view is wrong by any means, I'm saying that it's not at all less coherent to say human life starts at conception and should be protected or that a person comes to be when they first begin to be cognitive. The last two I just mentioned though rely upon an absolute axiom that people tend to accept, that human life innately has value.

If I am correct, you are not presupposing this because it boarders on the metaphysical (or at least approaches the subject of the metaphysical). But for a lot of people who assume life innately has value, the idea that life is an abstract construct is waaaaaay over the heads of people in this nation (although that certainly dosn't make it incorrect). And, if life does have some sort of innate value seprate from a social context we would need to figure out why. Life at conception assumes that all humans from start to finish have value. Life from consciousness assumes that once there is a working "mind" they become a person (and life at conception is even less metaphysical than life at cognition).

Thats more the reason why it's not black and white for me. Because innately I feel as if human life is important, and has some sort of intrinsic value. The rational side of me has no proof. I can't put 10 grams of human value on a scale. Therefore, it could be that our value is dictated by the people in our society. Our "personhood" is a measure of whatever society makes it. Viable birth, life at conception, life at 21, its all what works best for society as a whole.

However, there is so much people don't (and maybe just can't) know about this life and universe that I would never rule out that maybe human life really is more valuble than that of a pig or rock or molecule from a third person perspective. But, if it is we should know why. Thats why I always think about those other two options too, because they both make coherent sense too.

What a book we are writing, lets publish this.


This isn't a book. This is two white guys arguing about something, and I don't mean this in a mean or hurtful way, they have absolutely no say in. Aaron is pro-choice, which is all well and good. Steve is closeted pro-life, but doesn't want to be lumped in with religious assholes (understandably). But the fact of the matter is, this is the ONE thing in which the voice of a white male should carry no weight. You don't have the right to interfere with the body of any female. If she doesn't want your baby, leave and find another female willing to procreate with you. End of story. I know this must annoy the shit out of many men (white ones, in particular, who are used to being heard and having their opinions be the only ones of worth), saying they have no voice in the matter, but welcome to the world women and minorities had to live in for CENTURIES. And, to be fair, as the pay disparity becomes more and more a thing of the past (we aren't quite there yet, I know, but that day is coming soon), a man who wants nothing to do with the baby his partner chose to keep should be legally free to walk away - no financial or emotional obligation.


On your first paragraph,

I am not talking about social constructions or socially constructed value. I'm talking about it in an ineffable almost Wittgensteinian sense. It is the same way that we create colors or "feel" someone else's pain. The word evolved from use in trying to explain our inborn, intuitive assumption about the existence of other minds. I assume that a human has a mind, why? Because of behavior. It's the only thing that I can see and the word and concept arose from the empirical world.

Again, this isn't a positive argument, but an argument of non-choice. It is the only non-arbitrary way to determine what makes something else like "me," whatever me is. If something else acts like me, then it must be like me on the inside. If we accept other ways of determining this, such as social constructions or dogma, we accept nebulousness, which is the antithesis of philosophical inquiry.

We say "when it's viable, it's good," we're saying that because any other statement results in problems, not because of inherent truth behind that statement.

On your second,

"There is no reason to consider an embryo not a person physically."

I see every reason to do so. It does not look, act, sound, or in any way appear as either human or an abstract entity based on behavior. Again, if we try to call a clump of cells a person because of potential, it's a slippery slope and there are many things that we can call people.

Even if we accept the validity of all opinions, only certain opinions can fly as far as law is concerned. Assuming the value of an embryo assumes the existence of humanity past the point of experiment. This means that this opinion is predicated on non empirical grounds. Laws, though, must always apply to the empirical realm. That means that, ideally, laws are grounded in the empirical realm.

Yes, what I say is an opinion. But by that point, all words are opinions and a declaration about the existence of reality is also an opinion. You dance very close to skepticism. When we use a word, we must achieve a definition that is functionally accurate, useful, and refined. Using the word "person" to define a non-sentient clump of cells pushes that word into uselessness.

I am a person. Why? Because I am using the word "person" to define an ineffable concept that is based on what I feel "inside." I say this because I am not my arms, legs, organs, and meat. I am contained somewhere inside. I then assume that other things have similar inside worlds. The only way that I can determine that is via experiment. All experiments show that an embryo has no internal world. Therefore, it is not a person.

Now, should we value things that are not people? Perhaps. Are you a vegan? Do you avoid stepping on ants? If a wasp was stinging you, would you not kill it? All of these things can demonstrably suffer pain.

If you can say yes to these things, my argument loses some power, but then I would counter saying that eventually, the applications of value become so widespread that the concept of value itself loses meaning.

On your third,

"life at conception is even less metaphysical than life at cognition."

I assume that you mean "person" and not just life in general.

Not at all. One is based on a clump of cells that might or might not become a person. The other is based on measurable behavior. Modern psychological research is explicitly based on this paradigm. No psychologist assumes the existence of an internal world, all they assume is that there is behavior that can be coded. This is taught in Psych 101.

On your last two,

"Because innately I feel as if human life is important"

That's totally fine. That is not a foundation for laws, though. Laws are real-world, their rationale should also be real-world. Prop 26 is a law based on a bunch of uneducated people's metaphysical opinions.

"However, there is so much people don't (and maybe just can't) know about this life and universe"

Also correct, but we know, without doubt, that there is nothing inside of an embryo that could count in any linguistically or logically useful way as a person. Saying that a "person" is an entity that behaves as such is not necessarily the absolute truth; that would be a positive statement that I am not, in this case, making; but it is closer to the truth than other applications of the word because it has fewer logical consequences and the strongest delineations.


" I don't mean this in a mean or hurtful way, they have absolutely no say in."

Maybe, but I don't think so. It takes two to make a baby, and this is a question about a definition of personhood. I think thats something everyone should be involved in. The fact the embryo is woman-exclusive dosn't change that fact it just means women shouldn't be ignored in the conversation. Equality is about being equal not about woman having more of a say over something than men do or vice versa.

I tend to stray away from behavioralism when talking about this stuff. If there was a robot that did everything a human did and looked like a human, would you call it a person? Maybe we should, but it has no human DNA. Value, as I am using here, I shall define as a level of worth greater than that of something else. Prop 26, while created by inbreds, will have a huge affect on our legal system nationwide if it passes. It will jump to the supreme court where it will challenge the view that the fetus is not a person, and will likely issue a legal definition for what person means. The empirical part about is that the embryo quite seriously a human with its own dna that so happens to be in a parasitic relationship with the mother. So, it's completely reasonable to argue that an embryo is physically human and that the basis for legal protection should apply to all humans. That is a secular argument, not a hocus pocus I sprinkled some soul dust on your baby argument.

Behavior is the only thing that can tell us what someone is feeling, but I can still feel things when behavior isn't there. After 10 weeks the kid starts brain development. While I doubt it could use a calculator its stuff like that which gives me pause.

Donna: I'm not actually pro-life at all. In fact I probably have a much more depressing take on the whole thing than you think. But, I'm always open to the idea that I'm wrong and like talking about the subject with people who have informative things to say. In fact, this has been some of the best thought provoking discussion I've had in a long time and I'm quite enjoying myself.


But I thought you were pro-life. Everything you've said pretty much is loosely draped over the fact that you are. You've even said it to me in the past that you are. Maybe you've since changed your mind? In fact, I remember being confused as to how someone with a background in philosophy who identifies as an agnostic could possibly be pro-life. I recall thinking it had to do with early religious programming you had as a child, just something you've had trouble letting go of. I also can't see how someone who supports equality, and who therefore must also be a feminist, could assert that he has a say over a woman's body. I understand you believe this is a question about personhood, but once you've parsed through all the philosophical pop-phrases, it comes down to the fact that you want a say in whether or not a pregnancy is terminated.


Well the reason I disagree with you is because the fact that if affects women dosn't make it a decision to be made by exclusively women when another person is involved. If the embryo is a human you are involving two people, as a consequence you are burdened with responsibilites you may not want. This is, of course, if you consider an embryo a person which you don't. But, its not unreasonable to do so if you equate humans with persons.

No, I am not pro-life. I'm pro-nothing I have no super clear view. I have been pro-life in the past. However, if you ask me today, my current view is that unless there is some sort of external force elevating the status of humanity with equality for all then this discussion is ineffective as personhood is a social construction where value is determined by society. So, effectively, whatever society says goes. As Aaron said earlier, I dance very close to skepticism. I can not know the answer to something and be comfortable with that fact.


"If there was a robot that did everything a human did and looked like a human, would you call it a person?"

It depends on what is known about the underlying functionality. If I talked to the programmer and he was able to explain all of the underlying equations, than probably not. But if I just found a robot, and it acted like a person in every way, you're darn-tootin' that I would call it a perons. It was a cog in the world's machine.

Not to geek it up too much, but Data in Star Trek was a person. The lack of DNA does not negate the existence of underlying quality, because I can experiment and determine that there is something, ineffable though it is, there.

"The empirical part about is that the embryo quite seriously a human with its own dna that so happens to be in a parasitic relationship with the mother."

An acorn is not a tree. An embryo is not a human. There is no stronger delineation possible aside from saying that a rock is not a human.

As such, it is not at all reasonable to argue that the embryo is physically human. It might be genetically human, but genetics do not make a human. Enacted genetics make a human. Just the same as computer code does not make a program; compiled computer code makes a program.

"I can still feel things when behavior isn't there."

Yes, but that is you inferring what may or may not be there. And when inference comes into play, errors occur because we are, consciously or not, projecting our biases onto whatever we believe exists. Again, to mention the Terry Schiavo case, some of her family believed that they were somehow communicating with her. Doctors assured them that this was not the case. It didn't matter. They FELT that something was there. After she died, an autopsy revealed that over half of her brain had liquified. There was nothing actually there, even though they felt it.

"After 10 weeks the kid starts brain development."

Nerves do not a person make, nor joints and bones a skeleton. I can appreciate your reticence, and many in the medical community share the same reticence, which is why few-to-no doctors will do abortions past 22-24 weeks. There is still no evidence to indicate that a person, even in some proto-functional state, is there, many feel that by that point, the possibility is there.

But again, things that give us pause, or make us feel icky do not constitute the firm building blocks of laws. Using that justification validates any law for any reason.

About Donna's Comment:

I firmly side with Donna. Equality means having a say over one's own body. Would you like a law that forced you to have sperm removed from your body if your wife demanded it, and then forced you to stick around?

Baby production is 99.9% the work of the female, as such, the only law that makes any practical sense is one where absolute primacy is given to the female. It is an unfortunate reality for any man with visions of bouncing babies in his mind: a woman doesn't need a man to produce a baby, but a man does need a woman.

And, I think importantly, this isn't a bad thing. All a man has to do is find a woman who wants to start a family. Boom. Problem solved.


"dosn't make it a decision to be made by exclusively women when another person is involved."

There is no other person involved. The man was involved in the insemination, via sperm, but the actual baby production is 100% female. And if the embryo is a person, then a woman has responsibilities, but there is no way to coherently call it a person.

And, as we see with the religiously-minded, when our conception of a person, and thus of what we should value, is based on ignorance and projection of what might or could be, our biases come into play. The worst of racism, sexism, and misogyny are given fertile ground.

From that, we have the absurd statement that women impregnated by rape MUST go through with the pregnancy. Or that unwanted pregnancy is divine judgment for being a slut.

"its not unreasonable to do so if you equate humans with persons."

Yes it is. Equating humans with persons is incoherent, since if I could upload my mind, intact, onto a global network in the future, I am still me. I am still a person, even though I am completely free of anything related to a human.


"An acorn is not a tree. An embryo is not a human. There is no stronger delineation possible aside from saying that a rock is not a human."

What about this analogy? An acron is not a tree, but it is a plant. An embryo is not a man, but it is a human. I, regardless of abortion or not, have always viewed an embryo the most basic structure of a human. It's unique combination of dna makes it alive and unique. Because of this we then ask the question is it worthy of legal protection. I understand how from your perspective thats not satisfactory, but its also black and white to say human = person. Thats why the prop 26 definition is so simple but has HUGE problems for women and science alike who enjoy the current legal itteration of viability.

To be fair, if I knew Data for real I may have a fondness for Data but wouldn't consider him human most likely or even deserving of rights. We don't give animals rights either because we are in the race for our own species. I find this highly hippocritical, but commonly accepted. But, I can see how the walk like a duck talk like a duck thing would as a consequence leave Data a person.


I am going to be an ass and really break up this serious conversation. How about this analogy? "An acorn is not a tree. An embryo is not a human. But you can eat both of them." Think about it.


‎"There is no other person involved."

For clarity, the other person would be the embryo. And you can coherently call it a person if human = person.

"Equating humans with persons is incoherent, since if I could upload my mind, intact, onto a global network in the future, I am still me. I am still a person, even though I am completely free of anything related to a human."

This is why I think the definition of personhood is important, because what it means to be a person is the real core of this entire debate. Personhood as viewed by any perspective is dependant on what a person means to you. A pro-life secularist or religious nut ball would think everything you said is crap (it's not) just as you think religious nut balls are crap.

It is coherent to say if a human = person then the embryo is deserving of protection. Thats coherent, it just dosn't mesh with your perspective very well.


"An acron is not a tree, but it is a plant."

No, it's a seed. A seed is something that can, if planted, become a plant. A seed alone does not grow, it does not photosynthesize, it does not change color in the fall. It is not a plant.

"but its also black and white to say human = person."

Not at all. I see more shades of grey in that than in "behavior=person." For example, imagine a giant blob of cells that, through an environmental fluke, developed into a 180-pound pile. The DNA is human. It should be human. Is it? Or my mind on a network example? Am I no longer a person?

"have always viewed an embryo the most basic structure of a human."

That is, at its root, metaphysical and borderline spiritual. Most basic how? Structure? How is a human constructed? Again, that's all fine, but it is not suitable material for a law.

"To be fair, if I knew Data for real I may have a fondness for Data but wouldn't consider him human most likely or even deserving of rights."

Than I would argue that your moral compass is so twisted as to be cruel. You would assign more value to something that is nothing more than a few stray strands of DNA contained in four cells, than to a demonstrably feeling entity that can suffer at your hands. That, for lack of better words, is fucked up.

"And you can coherently call it a person if human = person."
"Personhood as viewed by any perspective is dependant on what a person means to you."
"Thats coherent, it just dosn't mesh with your perspective very well."

It does less than simply fail to mesh with my worldview, human=person is internally and fundamentally incoherent. Ask anyone whether they feel that they are still themselves after losing an arm, and they will say yes. Two arms? Legs? Body? Different DNA? 100% of people will say yes. Or look to my above examples.

That metaphysical conception of a person is based on my own internal world and the assumption of other people's internal worlds. The position that I am positively arguing for practical application is based on behavior, since it is the only position tenable via evidence. A person is an entity that behaves like a person. What does that mean internally? Nothing. It only has meaning externally, just like laws.


Than I would argue that your moral compass is so twisted as to be cruel. You would assign more value to something that is nothing more than a few stray strands of DNA contained in four cells, than to a demonstrably feeling entity that can suffer at your hands. That, for lack of better words, is fucked up."

People eat meat, even beef. To do so we need to kill animals, many of which endure very harsh lives in factory farms. But, it is allowed because they are not human. Our species is set up to exist for itself. Humans are seriously selfish creatures. That is the hipocritical perspective I'm viewing it from.

Human = person is completely coherent. The reason it is coherent is because you can empirically identify it as human. As far as what you said about a 180 pound blob, thats a great counter argument to the idea but if I said "yes" what would you respond with? You innately "feel" that perspective is wrong. But if you assume the initial conditions it is still coherent.

"That is, at its root, metaphysical and borderline spiritual."

Not really, because if you had to trace a living organism from start to finish you would start at the point it was concieved. You can trace that organism back to conception before it is no longer that unique organism. The sperm and the egg lack the dna needed to actually be a human. In their combination you have a definate starting point. Nothing about that is metaphysical, its just the start.

"As far as what you said about a 180 pound blob, thats a great counter argument to the idea but if I said "yes" what would you respond with?"

And a counter argument would be that it is human if it follows a generic growth trend common to all humans.


Yes. But there are many people who are vegans for precisely that reason. I am assuming that, since I have seen you eat meat, you eat meat. Again, you are ascribing lesser value to something that can demonstrably suffer at your hand. That is a wildly twisted moral compass. Admitting hypocrisy is the antithesis of philosophical inquiry, which leads me to believe that you have no interest in actually answering the question and are simply trying to validate your extant belief.

I do not posit that because I "feel" that the blog is not human. I posit it because admitting it results in a reductio. If you do say yes to the blob argument, that means that your conception of both human and person is actually DNA. So, what DNA? At what point does change in the DNA code result in something that is non-human? What perfect DNA should hold up and say that this specific code means "person."

"you would start at the point it was concieved."

Why? Now I can accuse you of "feeling" something is right.

"The sperm and the egg lack the dna needed to actually be a human."

No they don't. A woman can, through the wonder of laboratory manipulation, fertilize an egg with her own DNA. They both have complete genomes, but they exist in a mechanism that takes half of each. Just as the combination exists in a mechanism that then enacts that code into a full human.

You can argue that the resultant DNA is unique in comparison to both parents, but every sperm and egg starts off with slightly different DNA, both from each other and from the parent. Take an egg, nail it with a dusting of cosmic rays and you have unique DNA.

"And a counter argument would be that it is human if it follows a generic growth trend common to all humans."

This evinced an inherent circularity that I had missed. This argument essentially said "It's human if it grows like a human." That still fails to answer what a human, much less a person, is. The DNA argument is entirely void because the concept of human existed long before DNA was discovered.

We are left with "A human is human because it has human DNA." And, "Human DNA is the DNA of a human."


‎"This evinced an inherent circularity that I had missed. This argument essentially said "It's human if it grows like a human.""

I disagree. Humans develop in a very specific way. The process can actually be falsifiable. For example, you can say its false that the heart develops two weeks after conception. Could it happen? I guess so if the growth is accellerated, but in the norm there is a defined process that the fetus goes though. As long as it conforms to the general guidelines of what we have previously observed you can be highly confident it is human. Just as teenagers go through puberty...

"No they don't. A woman can, through the wonder of laboratory manipulation, fertilize an egg with her own DNA. They both have complete genomes, but they exist in a mechanism that takes half of each. Just as the combination exists in a mechanism that then enacts that code into a full human."

Like cloning? I have a wierd view on cloning that you really are the same person as your clone unless you assume cognition as the definition of human life. But its a wierd theory. Otherwise I don't get this.

"Why? Now I can accuse you of "feeling" something is right."

I'm basically saying the start is the start. It is circular, but all true arguments basically are circular.

" Admitting hypocrisy is the antithesis of philosophical inquiry, which leads me to believe that you have no interest in actually answering the question and are simply trying to validate your extant belief."

I don't think so. I like to be right. However, I'm always plagued with doubt. I mention the hipocracy because everyone is hipocritical to some point if they eat meat. I'm not saying I would punch Data in the face either, more that if I had to save a human or a robot from falling into a well I'd pick the human. Just like if I had to drop a cat or a human into the well it would be a cat.


Yes, humans develop in a specific way, but what a human IS is determined by the end point. The developmental argument does nothing to determine what a human is, only that once we know what a human is, we can then track its development. You mention guidelines, by what model do we determine the guidelines?

Not like cloning. As in, they can take a woman's DNA and turn it into sperm and then inseminate an egg with it. Epigenetic factors come into play resulting in a unique genome. Although they haven't do so yet, the reverse will eventually be true, turning a man's cells into an egg.

All logically true statements are circular, pragmatically true or practically true statements are not. In fact, for a statement to be pragmatically true, circularity is impossible.

While I agree most people are hypocritical about things, the goal of a philosopher is to not be hypocritical about anything. I am not hypocritical about eating meat because I only care about animals that behave in particular ways. I would never consider eating chimpanzee meat, though.

And this statement about Data is much less extreme. Here, you do not negate that you might support laws giving sentient robots rights.

And maybe it's just me, but if I had to save the only sentient robot in existence or a person, I'd pick the robot.


Well, I'd probably support rights for Data like I'd support rights for animals. When robots seek equality then at that point society can come to terms and decide if thats the right thing to do.

Human development can be tracked based on the embryo's gestational age and it's correspondance to normative growth patterns. Anyways Jill is kicking me off so I can see a movie with your bfgf. Peace!


Yes, but the phrase "human development" presupposes our ability to use the term "human." What is a human?

Also, Data did seek rights. It was in season 2: The Measure Of A Man.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

On Personhood And Oppression

I have been only somewhat following the Personhood spat going on down in ol' Mississip. In general, I don't worry much about them seeing as they are the fattest, dumbest, most religious area in the whole of the Western World, so I come very close to seeing it as worrying about what a bunch of crazy homeless people choose to do.

What I have noticed online, though, is a large contingent of commenters who try lines similar to this:

"While I agree that a person begins at conception, I do not agree with Prop 26. I think that there are grey areas to this debate and it cannot be black & white."

Perhaps. I will give, at least for now, that the concept of "person" has some grey areas, but what people like this are oh-so-politely advocating is not just a definition, but oppression. They are arguing that women should be forced to give birth because the fertilized egg is just as good as a person. They believe this to be righteous, and for the sake of this post, it doesn't matter.

Regardless of the moral rectitude of the oppression, it is still oppression. These people, with their milquetoasty language, try to butter over the fact that they seek, or believe it is right to seek, control over a woman's body. That is black and white.

Ignoring that calling an embryo a person reduces the term "person" to uselessness, I will not abide this. You seek the oppression of certified people for the sake of potential or hypothetical people. That is stupid. And even if it wasn't stupid, do not be surprised when those same people you seek to oppress rip back control of their bodies either through illegal birth control, back-alley abortions, leaving, or all-out violence. Because, then, it doesn't matter how righteous you are.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Trademarks Do Not Exist For The Company

I am growing increasingly disapproving of Apple. I've never liked their product model: exercising direct control over every stage of interaction; but it was just that, a personal preference. Lately, though, they have turned into the bully-like Goliath that they supposedly stood against in its early days.

The number of lawsuits filed by Apple continues to skyrocket, and they are also filing lawsuits that are flat-out stupid. For example, they recently filed a suit against a small German cafe called Apfelkind (translates to Apple Kid or Apple Child) for infringement. I have presented both logos below for your consideration.

NO ONE would mistake the two logos. Trademark law exist explicitly to help the consumer, not the company. It does not give a company absolute control over some image. Apple does not control all images of apples everywhere! And, importantly for my opinions of the company, trying to do so cements their position as a belligerent piece of crap.

In case someone from Apple is reading this, let me educate their dumb self. Trademark law is intended to protect people from buying something from a company other than they think they are. It is entirely consumer-oriented as a protection to stop them from being scammed. It is not AT ALL a protection for companies.

For example, Apple has a trademark on their permutation of the apple image because if I see that image, I believe that I am buying an Apple product, which I want. It is my perception that is important and needs to be protected. Because in this equation, I am the one who is harmed the most. Apple, at most, is out a single sale. But I am deprived of significant funds which are much more important to me than to Apple. I am absolutely harmed while Apple is only theoretically harmed.

That's why trademark law has the "idiot in a hurry" litmus test. If, upon inspection, an idiot in a hurry would not mistake the two trademarks, there is no danger to the public, and as such, the suing trademark holder can go screw.

And that is exactly what I am saying to Apple. Go screw. Any company that would bully a small German cafe that caters to parents is a company with which I want no part.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Death Of Our Heroes

I have always semi-idolized Steve Jobs. The wild success of Apple, and some of his more trenchant statements indicated to me that he explicitly understood the principles that made Apple great.

For example, he was constantly referring to products as magical and beautiful. I believed that he knew that this meant attraction and minimalism. Magical meant that the design elicited interaction. The look and feel made people desire contact. Anyone who has ever caressed an iPhone 4 knows this feeling. Beauty is focus in design. No gew gaws or addenda. The perfect product is what it is and nothing more.

I also always assumed that Jobs knew that what made Apple successful was not the ideas, but Apple itself. It was the machine that generates the ideas that is valuable. This is why Apple rarely sued. It was also why they kept things so secret, because they knew that as soon as their ideas were out, people would start to copy them.

Sadly, it appears that Jobs was not explicitly aware of the latter, which makes me question my assumption about his knowledge of the former.

Gizmodo is reporting about a part of the Jobs biography where he fumed about the "stealing" of ideas for Android and wanted to see the OS destroyed. This wildly contradicts his earlier, wiser statements about "great artists" stealing. In fact, he directly said "I want you to stop using our ideas in Android," to Google CEO Eric Schmidt. He focused on the ideas instead of the implementation of those ideas.

For example, long after the iPhone came out, Nokia, LG, Microsoft, and Sony had not conjured up a legitimate response. Even if Apple had provided a blow-by-blow description of the iPhone as they designed it, they still would have been alone on the market for over a year. A year! If anything illustrates the importance of the implementation and not the idea, it's that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Technology World Without Steve Jobs

Many people are asking what the world will be like without Steve Jobs. Many people are saying that everything is fundamentally different. This is, of course, stupid.

Obviously, it would be equally stupid to disparage Jobs. He was a consummate artist and Apple is as much a corporeal manifestation of his internal world as it is a company. But overly exalting Jobs ignores reality. No one exists in a vacuum. Everyone is a reciprocal entity.

In much the same way as the world of philosophy, a thinker's viewpoint as much represents sentiment of the time as it does his or her own, unique thoughts. They exist together. One does not guide the other. The thinker and the world, the creator and the created, stumble into the future together.

The whole of the market is like a giant game of Ouija, where thousands of hands are guiding things. Not seeing the forest for the trees, looking at things in a quantum way, leads to an inaccurate perception of history as a linear narrative. This person caused this, this person caused that.

For example, do you think that if Newton hadn't come around, the truths of gravity would have never been discovered? If Watt hadn't invented his steam engine, do you think that large-scale steam power would have never been created? Of course they would have. Gravity would have been formulated, steam power would have created the industrial revolution. Aside from large-scale structural differences, the world would look fundamentally very similar.

Great inventions have a weird habit of being invented at the same time, independently, by completely isolated groups or individuals. It's amazing how few people realize this. If the telephone was invented by multiple people, all within a month of each other, why do we hold up Alexander Graham Bell as some shimmering example of human ingenuity?

I admit that many artistic achievements would never have happened if not for singular people. Same goes for stories, or movies, or songs. But in creations bound by a physical reality or the needs of a physical reality, certain attributes of any creations are necessarily guided by the nature of the time. The computer and technology world would not look exactly like it does if Apple had never been around, but it would certainly be recognizable.

This perspective is never popular since it reduces our heroes. It forces us to recognize that no matter how great a person might be or have been, the world would have chugged along perfectly well without her. It also reduces us and our fantasies. We all have fantasies of being someone of great import, but if people are only ever important vis-a-vis other people, and not in regards to some grand, cosmic standard, how can we maintain that fantasy?

Truly, western culture specifically seems obsessed with the heroic, singular person. Look at Ayn Rand. Her philosophy and explicit formulation of a person as a heroic entity is the absolute manifestation of this ideal. Again, we see this in the modern right-wing movement. One hundred years ago, at least those who thought they were the elite were actually the elite: robber barons and whatnot. Today, it's Mississippi.

We can see it again in the wholly Western focus on lost civilizations. Why are we so obsessed with Atlantis, Lemuria, Mu, and their ilk? Because all of them were "advanced," even beyond what we have today. It is yet another thread from the underlying belief that great things can happen in a vacuum. All it takes is that "spark."

Did Steve Jobs and Apple change the world? Yes. Would the world have changed without them, simply in a different way? Also yes. His mark is indelibly placed on this planet, which I consider the goal of life. As the world was shifting, he molded part of it to suit his vision. He etched "Steve was here" into the sands of time. But to say that the world would still be in the technological dark ages without him is absurd.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

New Design House

I'm starting a new design house. I specialize in web design, brand design, and brand management. My prices are very competitive and I work incredibly quickly. If you want a solid brand, and a website that is mostly devoid of fluffy Flash and Javascript, thus concentrating on the actual, I dunno', content, hit me up. Check it out at

Friday, September 30, 2011

Chrome To Surpass Firefox

Can it be true? Can the browser that nobody asked for actually be on its way to market dominance? I hope so, but not because I like Chrome.

Indeed, I don't like Chrome. I have nothing against it, but Firefox is just so the bomb. I love Firefox. It freed me from the tyranny of mediocrity that was Internet Explorer for most of 2000's. And now that I think of it, I do have something specifically against Chrome. Namely, it's more closed than Firefox.

I don't mean closed in the hippy, open-source sort of way. I mean closed in that Firefox has a gargantuan amount of plug-ins and add-ons that Chrome does not because developers are given greater access to the core functions of Firefox. This allows me to browse with such unbelievably amazing toys as Javascript-blocking software NoScript. Once you have used this program, you can never go back. Chrome does not have this.

I'm not entirely sure of this, seeing as I've never programmed for either browser, but I think the way that it works is that in Firefox, when a page loads, developers can program add-ons that analyze the code before it ever reaches the renderer. Thus Javascript is stripped out at a very early stage. In Chrome, developers have had to cobble together a solution whereby the renderer receives the page, Javascript and all, but then runs code from the developer first, which then renders out all of the offending Javascript. Inelegant to say the least.

I have heard conspiracy theories about this. Namely, since Google is a huge advertising company, they don't want to produce a browser that can easily block their advertisements. I don't think that this is true. Google is primarily concerned with creating an elegant, end-to-end experience for a user, and if a user doesn't want to see ads, then the user doesn't see ads. Trying to force the user to do so will simply push them away from the browser completely.

One thing that I do like about Chrome, though, is the "sandboxing" of each tab. It's great for stability and amazing for security. But if I was going to make the jump to a third browser, I would jump to Opera. Now THAT is a fast browser.

But as I said! I hope that Chrome pushes into second place. One: I used the most recent Internet Explorer and thought that it was pretty good. Microsoft has finally been scared into action. Likewise, I hope that this scares Firefox into action. While Opera has been a source of near-constant innovation, their perpetually small market share has meant that the pressure they exert remains small. Chrome, on the other hand, has been small in innovation, big in market pressure. Firefox will have to respond with a big push, both in design and usability. And while I do not plan on ever leaving Firefox, I look forward to their response to Chrome.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Facebook Is Doing It Right

Facebook will be launching a major redesign of their profiles in the near future. As always, users are flipping out. I think that Facebook has figured out precisely what they need to do to avoid becoming another MySpace.

From the late 1990's up to the Facebook/MySpace battle, we saw the launch of dozens of social networks, most long forgotten (remember Don't worry. No one does). MySpace was the first one to really take the world by storm because its focus was on the profiles and direct interpersonal behavior. Social networks before MySpace had generally focused on creating group areas, games, and chat rooms. MySpace took what people had been doing on Geocities for years and systematized it.

But like all of the other social networks, MySpace got boring. It stayed the same, and I think that's why people ditched it. People have moved from network to network for the same reason that they change clothing. They like change. They might complain when it is forced upon them, but that constant updating is the only thing keeping them from jumping to an upstart competitor.

Analysts have been falling all over themselves in attempts at illuminating the drivers behind Facebook's rise and MySpace's fall, but I think that it's easy. It had absolutely nothing to do with the functional aspects of the service, it was entirely in the personality of the service. MySpace was glittery chaos, while on Facebook, no matter how trashy or horrible a person is, their profile is neat, trim, and organized. The whole service feels more professional.

But Facebook, I think, was a transitional service from the chaos of Geocities and MySpace to something more refined. Now that that role has been fulfilled, Facebook is in very dangerous territory. Facebook is explicitly aware of this situation, though, which is something MySpace certainly was not. Their frequent updates, strict image control, and constant refining of the user experience keeps them safe. Their personality remains refined, youthful, high-tech, and integral to a web-based life.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Does It Mean For Something to Exist?

I've discussed this one before, but my thoughts have evolved to the point of needing a new post. What is existence? What does it mean to exist? The study of this nonsense is known as Ontology and it's officially a branch of metaphysics. It's not a question many people ask, because, why bother? I do ask the question because it bears on many other areas of inquiry, including very important areas such as epistemology.

I would recommend reading the Wikipedia entry on Ontology, as it will help explain the various areas of study and thus provide you with the foundation to criticize my ideas.

Basically, in discussing being, we have three aspects of existence that play different roles: intuition, sensory experience, and language. They are of equal importance.

First and foremost, existence is linguistic. "To exist," are simply words and the meaning of those words is how they are used.

I think that language is fundamentally representative. It always represents something to the user of those words. Even words such as "oh shit," represent internal states. The word itself evolved from external usage between people, but it is used to represent something internal. For example, "I am scared" represents to the user an internal state that is inaccessible to those hearing the word. From the listener's perspective, the phrase "I am scared" represents a series of behaviors: hiding, cowering, sweating, etc.

As would be expected based on this model, I think that most words are a mixture of internal and external representations. I also think that this very mixture is the reason why the term existence is so contentious and hard to nail down. In conversation, our intended use frequently vacillates between an internal sense of what the word means and the external reality to which it must be tied when being spoken.

I think that existence has two types, real existence and metaphysical existence. I use the term metaphysical when referring to a concept that seems true yet is outside our ability to know.

For example, I climb a ladder, place a ball on top of a book shelf, and then get down. I can no longer see the ball, detect any shadows, or in any way know that the ball is there. For the sake of this argument, you shall be an omniscient third person, and the ball is actually on the book shelf. From my perspective on the ground, does the ball still exist?

Yes and no, and this is the root of our problems with the word. In reality, it does not exist. It only exists when I sense it, and even then, it only exists insofar as I am sensing it.

Continuing the example, let's say that I see the ball. Does the ball have texture? Metaphysically yes, but realistically, no. Let's say that I am touching the ball (*giggle*) with my eyes closed. Does the ball have color? Metaphysically yes, realistically, no.

This segues into the final element of the gestalt of our conception of existence: intuition. Intuitively, the ball is still on the book shelf. This intuition is called object permanence and it is something that we learn at a very young age. This intuition becomes one of the underlying principles upon which the framework of a human perspective on the world is built. Basically, the rule states that "there are things that exist that I do not currently sense."

For example, "there exists a planet that is covered entirely with frozen methane, under which is a liquid sea of methane where bizarre life forms swim about". This statement is either true or false. We can never know if it is false, and we only know if it is true if we find the planet. We then use intuition to say that the statement was always true. It was metaphysically true, which is completely useless. The complete intuitive concept is that "there are things that do and do not exist which I do not currently sense."

This sense is entirely internal. It is ineffable. I cannot explain the intuitive sensation about the existence of things outside of sensation, but this is identical to being unable to explain the sensation of hunger or the color red. But like we want to use red as though we are communicating our internal state, we are driven to use the term "exist" in the intuitive metaphysical sense. Other people accept this nebulous usage because (assuming the existence of other minds and their similarity to my own) we all have the same intuitive sense of things existing outside our sensory sphere.

These things do not exist! There is no way that they exist. They might eventually exist once we sense them, but they do not when in a Schrödinger's cat state of indeterminate existence. Truly, the famous cat thought experiment was created specifically as physicists dealt with the ramifications of understanding that things do not exist until we sense them.

Thus, the intuitive sense of things existing separate from sense or language is explained as a wavefunction of probability in modern physics. The wave collapses into a determined state (exist/not exist) only upon an observation. This is the nature of reality. Nothing exists unless I am sensing it, and even then it only exists insofar as I am sensing it, be it with sight, hearing, smell, or touch. Beyond that is intuition about the nature of reality that we learn as a child. Beyond that intuition is a word that means only how we use it, and we can only possibly use it to describe things to which all users of the word have access, namely, empirical reality.

Excitement For Windows 8

I want a tablet. I think that they are unbelievably cool. But, at the same time, I can't bring myself to buy a big cell phone. I already have one of those, and its screen is over 4". That IS a tablet. Cell phones are also a fantastic toy, because like a computer, it is a toy with legitimate uses beyond being simply a toy. It's very easy to rationalize the purchase of a bad-ass cell phone. It is not similarly easy to rationalize the purchase of what amounts to a more-bigger cell phone.

But Windows 8 makes this prospect different. The boot time on Win8 appears to be nearing the instant-on nature of current tablets, although will likely never actually get there, and having a tablet mode or something similar would allow Win8 to extend the battery life to something beyond the few hours possible on most super-lite laptops. Moreover, since the OS is the same, I will be able to do actual work on a Win8 tablet.

It also prevents ridiculous artificial restrictions on tablets. For example, various tablets try to market themselves as nearly-computers, but most of the media websites that would be best-suited to the tablets: Hulu, Spotify, etc.; are blocked by the media companies. It turns tablets for the majority of people into glorified e-readers.

Granted, I think many of the problems with tablets has to do with the app development. There's very little heavy-hitting software available for cell phones or tablets, and I'm perpetually puzzled as to why. Android and iOS are HUGE markets. There should be tons of things for power-users, yet the bulk of the market is dominated by super-small little developers. Is it raging arrogance on the part of the big companies? Is it something about the phone/tablet market? What?!

Regardless, Win8 eliminate all of these issues, at least for me. I'm not saying that I would ever get a tablet. I might opt for a super-thin laptop. But at least this makes what is arguably one of the coolest things to be perfected, like, ever, a reasonable option.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

X-Men First Class And My Issues With Comic Book Movies

I just saw X-Men First Class. I liked it. It was well-directed, stylish, and some truly excellent performances. But I would never watch it again.

A great review of a movie explains perfectly why the critic did or didn't like said movie. For example, Roger Ebert's review of Dark City made me go back and watch it again, and it is now one of my favorite sci-fi's. My partner, Danielle, ruined the movie Aladdin for me by asking where the hell the narrator/salesman from the beginning of the film went.

Likewise, a great review, by whom I've forgotten, for the first X-Men ruined the film for me and further drove home the importance of keeping comic book worlds and the real world separated. Basically, the whole use of mutation as an analogy for racial undertones and bigotry is just amazingly stupid. Fear and hatred of black or Asian people is wrong because they're just people, they just look slightly different. Fear and hatred of someone who can level whole cities with their mind is very, very legitimate. Even mutants should be terrified of other mutants.

As it is with X-Men First Class. They place the movie during the early 1960's and have the X-Men stop World War III by being the actual reason the Cuban Missile Crisis didn't come to guns. First problem, this opens up a metric-crap-ton of historical inconsistencies, but disregarding those, there are issues on the story's own terms.

For example, people don't know about mutants? How did WWII even happen? You're telling me that not ONE of the people that the Nazi's massacred wasn't a mature mutant? There are just now, spontaneously, millions of mutants? And ALL of them are in hiding? No. I'm sorry. Some of them would turn into superheroes and some into supervillains. And that logical requirement works just fine in comic books, because that's what comic books are: heroes and villains.

It is impossible to shoehorn in comic book logic (I refer to as a cause-&-effect system) into real-world logic. It was the reason why I found both new Batman films insufferable. Batman Begins took itself gravely seriously, and its climax centered around a microwave gun that magically doesn't effect the 80% of the human body that is water. It was stupid.

First Class isn't that stupid, but every second of the movie has logical issues with its setup, logical issues that I just couldn't get past to fully enjoy the film.

I think the reason why my favorite recent comic book film is Iron Man is that the director, Jon Favreau, understands the nature of comic book movies perfectly. When interviewed about the upcoming Avengers film, he said he didn't envy the producers of that film since they had to try to merge the technological world of Iron Man with the magical world of Thor. He said that comic book movies have to operate in their own worlds, disconnected from others, for them to work. Why so few directors understand this is beyond me.

It's not just comic book films, though. It's all of Hollywood. When critics refer to jarring shifts in tone, usually in a derogatory sense, they're frequently referring to shifts in cause & effect. For example, a movie that was borderline unwatchable for me at times was the 2008 film Hamlet 2. There were scenes of slapstick C&E, scenes of real-world C&E, scenes of uplifting teen drama, Saturday Night Live, and genuine attempts at pathos. None of these can live together in a film.

As a filmmaker, you must know precisely in which universe of cause & effect your movie is going to live. All characters must then follow that system. You can't decide that you want some drama, and suddenly have everything shift to a dramatic system in hopes of wringing out a tear or two. You'll end up like Family Guy, which, regardless of its quite genuine humor and inventiveness, is horribly written.

As a writer, this is difficult, which is probably why so few do it. You must think out the complex network of effects that any event in your story would have within the world that you've chosen. This is the reason why so many super-dramas are very tightly scripted. They only write a few characters, and what they do, who they are, and where they live is highly limited. It allows the writer freedom to concentrate on the characters about which they actually care, and not have to worry about potential inconsistencies and plot holes involving hypothetical outside variables.

Unfortunately for those lazy writers that don't want to do go through the trouble, this is what makes good writing. Without it, you may as well not bother. Stop clogging up the gears of movie production with your shitty scripts and make room for story tellers who have something worthwhile to say.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Netflix Subscribers Abandon The Service.

I find the large exodus of customers from Netflix following its price increase to be of immense interest. I've been ranting for over the past ten years that media is actually worth very little. What has been valuable has always been the medium by which the media is transmitted. Television shows weren't valuable, television itself was.

In this day and age of nearly limitless claims on our attention, no company can safely say that their media is so valuable that people would seek it out. Obviously, that is not the case. Take, for example, me. I pirate. I pirate just about anything that I want to see, which is very, very little. I haven't "stolen" a movie for over a year. The few movies that I have watched I've done so through my Netflix account. Piracy isn't the issue, it's something else.

We can argue about what's causing this, but that's an academic issue. People are, for whatever reason, assigning an ever-decreasing value to movies and television. But even I had no idea how far that had gone. The huge drop in subscribers confirms that it is much further along than I think anyone had initially assumed.

When you think about it, the price increase was actually rather small. As a function of percentage, yes, the increase was very large. But in absolute numbers, it was small. Most people are paying an extra eight dollars per month. If we place the average American household income at $50,000, that means that for 70% of American families, that increase is almost invisible in the grand scheme of their budget.

Yet, still, we are seeing an ever-growing customer loss. While those in the media industry would like to believe otherwise, I think that this confirms what basic economics would tell them: the value of media is approaching zero. ECON-101 will tell anyone that the cost of something will drop to the marginal cost of producing a copy of that thing. With data such as movies and music, that marginal cost is, near as makes no difference, zero.

Netflix is unfolding as a massive economics experiment, one that doesn't bode well for the traditionally modeled media companies.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Bartz Fired And Yahoo! For SALE?!

Carol Bartz has been fired from Yahoo!. I liked Bartz. I had high hopes. Understandably, then, this is a bit of a disappointment.

I think that Bartz should be somewhat happy about her performance, even though she was eventually fired. She was brought on as a kick-ass manager and she did kick-ass manager things. She trimmed about a metric ton of fat from the company, jettisoning winning properties like Geocities. But she also failed to bring in a clear vision for the company. Was Yahoo services? Was it content? Was it web-applications? Yahoo! does all of these things in a very disconnected way.

Yahoo!'s services are great. I like Yahoo! Mail, I love MyYahoo!, but that's where the goodness ends and the mediocrity begins. Yahoo!'s apps are terrible. They bought Konfabulator for widgets... and did nothing with it. Yahoo! Connected televisions are slow and buggy, and even if they weren't, customers seem to be less than thrilled.

Yahoo!'s content is hopelessly hosed. They want to dance the line between inert and edgy, trying to be cool while not insulting anyone, thus appearing hip only to people over the age of 65. In the age of websites like Gizmodo, Engadget, and countless smaller sites that will not mince words, the old maxim of "insult no one," forced upon mass media by the FCC, fails miserably. Instead of realizing that the world is growing up, and thus daring to use naughty words, Yahoo! has been left behind, stuck in the same weird, existential hell in which other Internet old guard like Cnet are trapped.

For evidence of this shift, go to The audience for Yahoo! is basically flat for all age groups except for 65+, which is highly positive. Same with Cnet. Compare this to a youthful website such as Gizmodo. It is essentially not read by anyone over the age of 40. Even the New York Times is younger than Yahoo!'s audience. Yahoo! cannot pretend to be hip, it has to actually be hip. And being hip means pissing people off.

Regardless, listing the ways that Yahoo! has failed achieves little. It's how Yahoo! can still succeed. They are the fourth largest website on Earth. They are third in the US, behind only Google and Facebook. They have massive reach. They have four major resources that I see: MyYahoo!, Flickr, Yahoo! Pulse, and Mail/Messenger. They have two minor resources, Finance and search.

Yahoo! needs to start with their major portal, MyYahoo!, and generate as much value as possible for the end user. Value comes from integrating all of their tools as easily as possible onto a single page. Facebook, Flickr, Pulse, eBay, news, live video. Integrate Yahoo! shopping into the home page as a service and sell it on the back end as a product, just like Google's search revenue. Don't rely on companies to develop MyYahoo! content, do it yourself. Make it graphical and compelling. Hell, sell the development of MyYahoo! content.

Use Flash and HTML5 to make content boxes dynamic. It allows people to visit other sites and read news without leaving their portal page, which keeps them on your services longer. It also gives you significantly more vibrant versions of mail, messenger, and video.

Fuck your own services! If customers are using other things, let them use them. Develop high quality YouTube, GMail, and MSN boxes. Do EVERYTHING that you can with others' products. Do this because no matter how much you do, you will be able to do more with your own. Always develop, always innovate. If you are not releasing a major update once per year, you're dying.

The goal is to turn the MyYahoo! page into an "app" that people leave on for all of the time that they are at the computer. Facebook is already this for many people for social reasons. Yahoo! can become the flipside of the coin, being the portal through which people find things to share via the social connections.

Flickr is still the premier place for pro photographers. The service has stagnated almost entirely with no updates whatsoever for months, and no major updates for years. Design Flickr Apps, push Flickr integration with digital picture frames, and push Flickr onto cameras. Flickr is integrated absolutely nowhere else in Yahoo!. WTF?! You want Flickr everywhere. Make it easy to do whatever the hell a user could ever want. They still, STILL, do not have an Android app. That is pathetic.

Yahoo! Pulse will be great once they integrate it into MyYahoo!. Until then, it's a wan rejoinder to Facebook and does little to attract people to Yahoo!.

Mail and messenger are still strong platforms for communication. Again, with better integration between Yahoo!'s other services, it encourages users to use Yahoo!.

Finally, Yahoo! cannot succeed with the detached, mathematical advertising of Google. Google does it better and will win. Instead, Yahoo! needs to follow the lead of Gawker media, where they heavily integrate ads into the overall experience. Yahoo! needs to work closely with advertising partners to develop compelling pieces that are both prominent but not intrusive. The era of the ad-blocker is coming, and soon no one will see any ads ever.

Make ads a choice. Make them desirable. Think about all of the ads that are viewed willingly on Youtube. For example, have a list of "See This Week's Fliers." Companies buy a spot on the list and can also buy a "featured" position that is always at the top. The remaining list is sortable by most popular, most recent, or by category. People click on it and a big, Yahoo! designed (or customer, just so long as it looks good) flier made from ANYTHING OTHER THAN PDF appears through which the user can peruse. This provides excellent advertising data and reveals user engagement. Integrate the same user-optional advertising all throughout the site.

Finally, some of Yahoo!'s content is good. Finance has good user engagement and a decent reputation. Sadly, they are doing little with this. Other financial websites like MarketWatch and Bloomberg are blowing Yahoo! out of the water. The same goes for Yahoo!'s OMG! and Shine pages.

Basically, I think that Yahoo! should ditch the branded names scheme and create entirely new .com addresses. For example, AOL has TMZ for gossip. It is a standalone entity owned by AOL. Yahoo! needs to do this with ALL of their content immediately. Build other brands that you can then integrate into your parent brand. Don't try to grow the parent brand beyond its boundaries. OMG! and Shine are already entrenched and have good readerships, but they need much more. They need to start spewing content. Gadgets, clothing, politics, cars, environment, science. If they're not producing original content, they need to partner with someone who does.

Yahoo! can grow, but it will require significant investment in new, productive talent.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is The Uncontacted Amazon Tribe Dead?

If so, perhaps this will make us finally, FINALLY, FINALLY, realize that our drug laws are mind-meltingly stupid.

Do you want to know who killed that tribe? We did. Because we're trying to stop something that will never be stopped, and in doing so have created a massive, multi-billion-dollar market for drugs that makes these barbarous monsters unbelievably wealthy. We make the game so profitable for them that we have whole towns being wiped out in Mexico, and people who aren't even aware of the outside world are being killed for something that they can't possibly understand.

WE KILLED THEM. Legalize drugs! Legalize all of them! Pull the rug out from under this ridiculous industry! Don't do it for taxes, or because you simply can't afford the police anymore. Legalize the drugs because it's everyone's right to ingest whatever they damn well feel like! The pursuit of happiness does not restrict chemical happiness! And it never will, whether we try to do that or not.

People do drugs. We love nicotine, and caffeine, and alcohol just as we love cocaine, meth, and heroin. People will always do them whether we want them to or not. We will not stop them. Ever. Are the people that do drugs stupid? You're darn-tootin' they are! But that doesn't matter. I think people who drink are stupid, and smoke, and eat McDonalds. But that doesn't stop them from having every right to continue on drinkin', smokin', and gettin' fat.

Legalize drugs. Stop the bloodshed that is happening on our streets between drug gangs. Stop the wholesale slaughter of people in Mexico, and stop the deaths of people who are about as innocent as can be found on planet Earth. This is in the power of the Western World. No one else.