Category Archives: society

A Mathematical Proof that Immortality is Moral

(Disclaimer: this is meant as a joke, not as serious proof.)

Premise:

1. There is at least a number N such that living for N years is moral.

2. If living for M years is moral, then so is living for M + 1 years.

From here we reason by induction:

3. Living for N years is moral  (because of (1)).

4. Living for N + 1 years is moral (because of (2)).

5. Living for (N + 1) + 1 years is moral (because of (2)).

6. Living for ((N + 1) + 1) + 1 years is moral (because of (2)).

7. Living for ((((….(N + 1) + 1) + 1)…) years is moral (because of (2) applied repeatedly).

Rearranging the terms from (7) we get:

8. Living for N + M years is moral, where M is any integer, no matter how large, and N is any arbitrary integer.

Therefore, it is moral to live for K years, where K is any integer which can be arbitrarily large. In other words, it is moral to have an arbitrarily large lifespan: for any number of years, it can be shown there is always a larger number of years for which living is moral.

QED.

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Should You Freeze Yourself?

A number of scholars from Oxford University have recently signed up to be cryogenically frozen after their death, which has sparked some debate on the feasibility and morality of cryonics. As you may know, cryonics consists of being frozen after your death, in the hope of being revived at some later time when the technology allows it. The manner of the desired resurrection varies between customers: some of them want to be thawed out as soon as possible, whereas others are just interested in living as uploads in a computer simulation. In this article I will tackle different issues concerning cryonics, one at a time.

Can it be done?

There is a healthy amount of skepticism regarding cryonics, some of it justified. There are two technical challenges to be overcome: freezing and thawing out.

If you freeze a lump of meat, the water in it will crystallize and destroy its cell walls. If this happens on an organism, this process will damage it to the point of making revival impossible. However, some animals have already found a way to solve this issue: tardigrades just overload their blood with glucose, which keeps the water in the system from freezing; frogs just spike their fluids with anti-freezing substances. Humans have learned from this, so much so that it is possible to cryogenically preserve someone while keeping their physical structure intact.

Summarizing, the freezing can be done and is being done.

However, thawing out is still an issue. Some progress has been made with small, simple animals, but mammals are still way ahead. Whether this will be possible at all in the future remains to be seen.

So, can it be done? Maybe. I’d place the odds at a very subjective 80%.

Cryonics Society

Cryonics Society (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is it rational?

Irrespective of whether it can be done, the question remains: should you? The answer, of course, depends on whether you want to live forever or, at least, for longer than you’d normally be capable of should you not freeze yourself.

If you want to have a normal lifespan and have no qualms about dying, cryofreezing is not for you. If you want to live more than that, it could be a good idea, depending on the risks you’re willing to take. In order to analyze this I will put any morality issues on hold and assume a completely selfish perspective. That is: is cryogenics a good strategy if my goal is to live more than my allotted lifespan?

A good approach is to consider the cost/benefit ratio, as well as the risk involved. The cost of cryogenics is quite low: around 30,000 dollars, which can be taken out of your life insurance. This is equivalent to around 30$ a month, which is probably less than what a normal person spends on beer. In this sense, the economic risk one incurs when signing up for cryofreezing is next to zero.

The physical risk to your person is exactly zero. That’s because you’ll already be dead when frozen: what else could possibly happen? I can, however, imagine a few horror scenarios:

  1. Being revived with no rights and used as a slave or for experiments by some race that’s not human any more and couldn’t care less about a contract you signed 500 years ago.
  2. Being uploaded to a virtual reality that is nightmarish by mistake or simply because whoever put you there thought it would be fun.
  3. Being revived with all kinds of physical problems and spending the remainder of your days in excruciating pain.

In this sense, plain dying may be safer: it can’t get better but it can’t get worse. Also, if you are like Buddha and believe life to be mostly about suffering, trying to live forever does not seem like a very wise attitude. But again, we are assuming the people who want to be frozen disagree with this view and actually like living.

So, is it rational? It depends on what you want. It involves considerable risk, given how hard it is to make predictions about the future. However, if you think nothing is worse than dying, the risk is almost zero.

Cryostasis

Cryostasis (Photo credit: kulakovich)

Is it moral?

Some people may argue that trying to live forever is immoral. I recently read a pretty obnoxious article in the Telegraph that said so: forcing yourself upon the new generations, taking up their resources, is just plain selfish.

First, a disclaimer: I don’t think the morality of being frozen is an issue, since we don’t do things because they’re moral but because that’s what we want. So if I want to live forever and I think freezing is a good option, I’ll do it, regardless of the morality of my choice.

That said, let’s take a look at the purported immorality of freezing oneself. The argument that doing so uses resources that could go to the next generation seems sound at first, but it has many flaws. The first one is that it can also be applied to people who insist on not surviving past their retirement age, getting expensive cancer treatments and heart transplants while the world struggles in economic turmoil. How can they be so selfish? Why don’t they just die and leave the Earth for the young, who deserve it more than them? I’m sure you can think of many counter-arguments to this, most of which will also apply to cryofreezing.

Also, the claim that frozen people will just take up resources belonging to the new generations is far from accurate. Once our technology allows us to thaw out and resurrect people, it is safe to assume it will also allow us to rejuvenate them. In this, case, frozen people will have young bodies and minds and will therefore be perfectly productive. Which means they will not just not consume resources belonging to other people, but will actually produce resources that other people will use. Finally, as our economy becomes more virtualized, the number of natural resources each person will consume is bound to decrease. The extreme example of this is a completely virtualized world where people live as uploads: in this case, the cost for society of keeping one person alive is extremely close to zero and getting lower every second, as computing resources become cheaper.

So, is it moral? First, whether cryonics is moral is irrelevant; but no, it is not immoral. And, given the crap that’s happening around the world lately, concentrating on a bunch of geeks that decide to freeze themselves seems a bit like completely missing the mark.

(Oh, and here’s a fun comic strip on cryonics)

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The Louder You Sound, the Better

A recent study by the University of Washington has confirmed what most rational people suspected for long: a measured rhetoric and a credible argument are no match for a boisterous remark. If you want to convince people, you just need to yell more than your adversary while looking more confident and free of doubt. This explains, among other things, why a seemingly endless stream of lunatics has managed to get millions of followers throughout the ages: if you’re crazy enough, you’ll be able to give your sweeping statements the fervor, passion and conviction only nutjobs are capable of.

The authors used twitter for their research. They originally intended to track economics pundits, but realized economic predictions had no deadlines and thus were hard to track. Instead, they used sports: they followed a number of different sports pundits and looked at the nature of their predictions, how confident they sounded (by looking at the kind of words they used) and the accuracy of their predictions.

Here’s the shocking result: predicting the outcome of every single game in the playoffs right will get you, on average, 3% more followers. Being loud and boisterous will get you 20%. So there. Stop bothering with the arguments and yell.

Sonic Super Villain

Sonic Super Villain (Photo credit: samlavi)

(Another interesting side not is that both aficionados and professionals scored lower than pure, dumb chance in their predictions. That is: if you want to know the result of the next match, it’s better to listen to a die.)

This research has finally given the motivation I needed to change the tone of this blog. From now on, I will CAPITALIZE WHAT I BELIEVE and end every post with a HELL YEAH! If people disagree with me I’ll tell them to SHUT THEIR PIE-HOLE because THEY DON’T KNOW SHIT. When I popularize science, I will make sure to say OUR THEORIES ARE RIGHT AND EVERYTHING ELSE IS BULLSHIT and, when I touch on politics, I’ll show my contempt for those LIBERAL PIECES OF CRAP.

Oh, and let me tell you, IF YOU DON’T THINK THIS IS A GOOD IDEA THEN SCREW YOU BECAUSE WHAT THE HECK DO YOU KNOW, YOU THINK YOU’RE BETTER THAN ME?

Maybe I’ll add some grammar mistakes too, for good measure.

It shows passion.

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The Transhumanist Wager

Some weeks ago, I saw a review of Zoltan Istvan’s book “The transhumanist wager.” It was a rave review and I was interested in the topic, so I got curious. Shortly after, Istvan himself contacted me and offered me a copy of the book, asking me if I’d like to review it. I accepted.

I have finally finished the book and am ready to give my verdict. However, I will also use the occasion to reflect on some of the philosophical matters touched upon in the book, which I believe will be of more interest to my readers than the book itself.

As you probably have guessed, “The Transhumanism Wager” is about transhumanism. More particularly, it is about the struggle between transhumanism, religion and (in the author’s opinion) our outdated morality. If you don’t know what transhumanism is, I’ll summarize the idea here: transhumanism is the belief that humans should strive to improve themselves and their bodies, using technology to better the human race and transcend its biological limitations, such as (but not limited to) death and aging.

Biocomplexity spiral

Biocomplexity spiral (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I consider myself a transhumanist or, at least, I am not opposed to many of their tenets. As I have argued elsewhere, I don’t want to die, mainly because I like living. If I was given the chance to go on living, I’d probably take it. If I could make myself smarter and stronger and faster and able to fly, I’d probably do it. I don’t hold my current form in such high esteem that I wouldn’t want to change it.

That said, I found the book to be lacking as a defense of transhumanism, precisely because it goes too far with it. The debate about transhumanism is presented as having two sides: in one, there are the smart and capable scientists that want to build a transhumanist world. On the other, there are the religious zealots, which hold the human body as sacred and do not want it to be changed. These religious zealots, on top of that, are portrayed in an extremely sinister light, which does not do justice to a great fraction of religious people out there.

The reason I don’t like this is that, by minimizing the opponent’s case, the arguments for transhumanism sound weaker. I would have liked to see several factions, each with good reasons for rejecting what the transhumanists had to offer. This way, I would have actually enjoyed reading all the (extremely long) philosophical discussions and speeches, which in this case were just too obvious to merit any further consideration. By only taking into account the religious arguments against it, Istvan made the transhumanist philosophy look naïve. That does not do the transhuman movement any favors.

There is something else that made me uneasy: in the book, transhumanism is equated with being in favor of social inequality and opposed to universal health care, for example. In the words of the author, “your freebies are over.” He actually goes out of his way to say, through the main character, things like: “if you offer no value, you will be eliminated” or “only people who can demonstrate their productivity will be allowed to reproduce.” I have two problems with this: first, I think these represent the author’s extreme right-wing views and have nothing to do with transhumanism itself, so mixing those two actually misrepresents the philosophy. Second, if what he was trying to do was convince people that transhumanism is not so bad, that’s a heck of a way to start: advocating eugenics and the state-approved killing of unproductive individuals.

Cover of the first issue of h+ Magazine, a web...

Cover of h+ Magazine, a web-based quarterly publication that focuses on transhumanism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, it was precisely this brutal ideology that made me want to keep reading the book. I found it at odds with my own beliefs but quite fascinating in its own right. Even though the tone of the writing seemed quite juvenile (I was actually convinced the author was in his early twenties until I found his webpage) the novel was easy to read. I was even excited at some points, especially when he delved into some subjects that have been touched upon in this blog and that I won’t reveal in case someone wants to give this book a go.

Istvan’s main point seems to be this: we are in a race against time to achieve immortality. We should devote every single resource available to this task. Any individual who does not contribute should be left to his or her own devices: we are in the middle of a battle against death and we cannot afford to waste any resources. Not doing anything is actually murderous, if you think about the amount of people who are being condemned to dying and who could be living forever. There is also another point that ties in with the former and which has Nietzschean resonances: every human strives to become the most powerful self they can. This is undeniable human nature. Moral rules are for the weak: for the transhumanist (his kind of transhumanist) there is only one imperative: become as powerful as you can, as fast as you can, through any means available. The first step for this is, of course, not dying.

The author has a utilitarian view of humans that would have horrified Kant: he sees them as means to achieve power and immortality, nothing else. The analogy he uses is comparing himself to a machine that tries to achieve a certain objective in the most rational way possible. Humans are just pieces in the game, variables to be considered. Nothing more.

Istvan’s idea seems to be that in such a Darwinian society, creativity would thrive and technology would advance by leaps and bounds. I am not so sure. Furthermore, I’m also not sure whether I would like to live in such society, even if it did advance that fast. There are plenty of examples of non-egalitarian societies and none of them seem like a great place to live. Believing that only talent (and not the ability to drink socially and suck up to people, for example) is enough to gather riches is naïve at best.

Istvan seems to have some understanding of science, though every time he speaks about physics (“you have to harness the power of quantum”) or mixes it with philosophy (when speaking about “quantum Zen”) I cringe a little. At one point he mentions a “photon generator,” which made me laugh out loud. I have several at home: they’re called “lamps.”

All in all, I found “The Transhumanist Wager” a fun read, though slightly embarrassing at times and lacking in serious philosophical discussion (in the sense that it lacked competing, coherent points of view). If you are a fan of transhumanism and the most brutal brand of capitalism, you might enjoy it. Even if you’re not, it’s still fun to read.

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Science Skepticism? Puh-lease.

It has lately become fashionable to become skeptical about science. It seems to be a sign of an open or critical mind to say things like “science is also a matter of faith.” Now, please don’t take this the wrong way if you’re one of the people who say this, but sentences such as the previous one show a complete misunderstanding of what science is.

First, a caveat: yes, science is kind of a matter of faith. You need to assume there’s an external reality. You need to assume this reality is regular, in the sense that it obeys fixed laws. I used to say that you also need to assume the laws don’t change with time, but I changed my mind: science would be perfectly possible in a universe where laws change with time. We would just have to figure out how they change.

Now, a caveat on the caveat: those are not statements of faith, but assumptions. This means that, unlike articles of faith, they can be dropped. For example, if one day we start seeing stuff behaves in a way that could not possibly be described in a mathematical way, we’ll drop the assumption of regularity and possibly stop doing science altogether. Similarly, if at some stage we receive some kind of proof there is no such thing as an external reality, we will also stop believing that. In fact, a lot of physicists today work without the assumption of an external reality, considering our laws just a way to make predictions of experiment outcomes (mental impressions) the connection of which to reality is a matter of faith.

So there: not faith, but assumptions.

Part of Image:Planetary society.jpg Original c...

Carl Sagan would be proud – not (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I would now like to show you is that being skeptical towards science is a lot more ontologically costly than not being so. That is: science is a building where all the parts sustain each other. You can’t reject one part while accepting the rest: it doesn’t work like that. Science is an immensely intricate, interconnected building. So your commitment to scientific skepticism will probably lead you much further than you’re willing to go.

Let’s see what I mean with an example. Imagine that I believe in telekinesis. Now, this may seem like a perfectly harmless belief to you: after all, all we need to do is to add something to what we already, know, right? Some kind of new force that can be used with our brains. It turns out, however, that believing in telekinesis ends up forcing you to reject science altogether. Let’s see how this plays out.

I’m going to take a scientific approach to this, to show that staying scientific is untenable. Of course, I could take an unscientific approach and simply say: my soul has powers and lifts stones and that’s it. In this instance, you complete rejection of science is obvious so I won’t give it further consideration. I’ll only point out that even those who completely reject science still expect their computers to work.

Brain scanning technology is quickly approachi...

Brain scanning technology is quickly approaching levels of detail that will have serious implications (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I believe in telekinesis. Let’s imagine a dialogue between me and a scientist to see what my harmless belief entails.

Me: Humans are capable of moving things with their mind.

Scientist: Well, there is nothing in the known laws of physics that allows for such a thing.

Me: Here’s the typical scientist arrogance again. Do you claim to know everything? Maybe there is a fifth force (let’s call it the T-force) which can be manipulated by the brain. That would explain telekinesis.

Scientist: But, if this T-force is strong enough to move macroscopic objects with the mind, how come it hasn’t been detected yet?

Me: Maybe most particles don’t interact with it.

Scientist: So how does the brain interact with it, since most particles don’t and we know for a fact that the brain is made of common particles?

Me: There may be a different particle in the brain that’s not present anywhere else.

Scientist: So how does it get to the brain? If it is not in inanimate matter, does the brain create it?

Me: Yes, the brain makes it.

Scientist: How can the brain make subatomic particles?

Me: Obviously, through some unknown process. Maybe through the power of thought.

I won’t bother going on, because the point should be clear. Science is not arbitrary: there are normally very good reasons for scientists to support a particular theory. Facts are stacked on other facts, creating a network where removal of any element would cause the rest to collapse. So why doesn’t it collapse, given that it would take so little? It doesn’t precisely because it would take so little: each single fact has been verified to extenuation.  Every time you question an established (emphasis on established) scientific fact, you are questioning an imaginable number of assumptions that go with it, which are also established scientific facts. Skepticism towards one leads irremediable towards skepticism towards every single one of the others. Whether you’re willing to go that far in your skeptical commitment, I guess, is up to you.

If you are, then I suggest you start acting consequently. Wonder at the marvelous coincidence that happens every time you turn on the lights; refuse to ride on an airplane or a car, both powered by the same laws you purportedly have no faith on; ask yourself where this webpage came from and how it got to your bewitched screen and, of course, refuse to use your mobile phone, lest its diabolic innards play tricks on you.

Like bloggingisaresponsibility says in his latest article (with which I actually not completely agree) beliefs and assertions are different things. If you are really skeptical about science, don’t just assert it but act accordingly. Only then will you realize the extent of you actual beliefs and, maybe, will stop riding the cheap bandwagon of science skepticism.

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Should We Ban Imports from Countries that Violate Human Rights?

As jobs continue to disappear in the industrialized world, many blame technology. They are partially right. However, there is another culprit: delocalization. Most of our products are now manufactured in developing countries, where human resources are substantially cheaper. This allows us to have greater purchasing power, since we can acquire goods that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive, were they made at home. That’s the story they tell us, anyway.

However, all this talk of cheap products being beneficial for the working class is deluded at best and an outright, deliberate lie at worst. The working class is disappearing precisely because of this: all of those jobs have left and been turned into precarious, nefarious ones in countries that would allow this. The people who relied on these jobs have gone on to unemployment or a lower-quality, lower-pay position. How do I know it is lower pay? The answer is straightforward: as jobs get outsourced to developing countries, there is less demand for workers, whereas offer stays the same. Hence, less pay. Also, the data shows I’m right (see below).MiddleClassGraphs_web_21

So yes, we can afford an iPhone, but not because it is made in China. If it wasn’t made in China but in the US and every single manufacturing job that’s been outsourced had stayed in the US, you would be paying more for your phone, but you’d have a considerably higher salary. Don’t be fooled: outsourcing only has one beneficiary. I’ll give you a clue:  it is not the working class.

There’s something baffling about the whole outsourcing conundrum. If I have a company in, say, Spain, and I offer salaries under the minimum wage, with no social security, I will go to jail. The reason I’ll go to jail is what I’ll be doing is against the law; it’s against the law because it’s considered immoral. However, I can start a subsidiary of my company in China and do exactly that, but to Chinese people. In fact, I can be even more brutal and, if I’m lucky and have friends within the Party, get away with polluting, exploiting and pretty much whatever tickles my fancy. Why do the laws of my country allow me to do this? Beats me. I thought human beings were the same everywhere; apparently, I was wrong. Spanish people don’t want to be exploited? Never mind! I’ll go to China and find someone who does.

The fact that a Spanish company (or a Chinese company that exports to the West) can do this puts companies who do the right thing at a disadvantage. Now, before we go into why good companies are at a disadvantage, let’s focus on what I mean when I say “the right thing.” To me, it is a combination of:

  1. Offering decent wages.
  2. Having reasonable working hours.
  3. Providing social security coverage and/or insurance.
  4. Not abusing their workers verbally or physically.
  5. Other common-sensical stuff I’m sure I don’t need to add here, like maternity leaves, etc.

    English: Wind power plants in Xinjiang, China ...

    English: Wind power plants in Xinjiang, China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now to why good companies are at a disadvantage. Let’s see: if I have a company that makes some product and wants to compete with the rest, I have a choice. I can either act immorally (exploiting workers in developing countries with working conditions that would be inadmissible in the West) and have a competitive edge; I can also act morally and lose it, since my products will be more expensive than those of the competition.

But careful! This does not happen because companies are evil: this happens because our laws are made in such a way that they pretty much enforce this behavior.

(Of course, let’s not be naïve. If we have the laws we have, it’s because they’ve been lobbied for by companies. So probably they didn’t have a drive to not be evil in the first place. Like Eric Schmidt said when confronted with his Google’s questionable tax-evasion practices: “we are proudly capitalistic. I’m not confused about this.” Apparently, for Schmidt “capitalism” means not paying the taxes that allow roads, hospitals and schools to be built.)

English: Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of G...

Way to go, Eric. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This situation was, until now, quite beneficial for Western companies. Only now they’re starting to realize it may not have been such a great idea. The Chinese, apparently, weren’t content with being exploited: they started creating their own businesses, using every single tactic from their Western counterparts and harboring the good will of their government, which enables them compete in even more favorable circumstances. This has resulted in the almost complete control of the telecommunication infrastructure market by Huawei, for example, which has strong ties to the Chinese government. Suddenly, Western companies are losing the edge.

This situation could be easily averted, though. It would be as simple as banning imports from countries which do not respect human rights or, at least, taxing them severely, so that employing people in sub-human conditions would stop being a good business decision. This way, manufacturing would go back to the West and jobs would be recovered. At this time of economic uncertainty, they’re sorely needed.

What would be reasonable conditions for lifting the ban/taxes and establishing a free market zone? Equal labor laws. It makes sense to have toll-free circulation of goods between countries with the same standard of living which treat their workers similarly. It doesn’t make sense to give the countries which do the wrong thing an unfair advantage. The recent attack against social welfare in Europe can be seen as the logical consequence of this: if countries like China do better, precisely because their workers are less protected, it seems logical to follow their steps in order to grow as fast as the Asian giant.

But this is a terrible idea: it aims to level the playing field to the lowest possible conditions. Shouldn’t be doing the opposite? Shouldn’t we be leveling the playing field so that all workers, Chinese included, had better conditions? Aren’t we going backwards? Who, exactly, benefits from this? I would argue not even the Chinese do. If China was not allowed to export to Europe unless it had better labor laws (and human rights, since we’re at it) the pressure on the government to make some changes would be huge, especially with the growing middle class and the amount of companies which depend on exports to the West in order to survive. This law would not only benefit workers in the West, but workers everywhere, by forcing their countries to treat them right or be left out of the free market zone.

Someone may question the economic viability of this. I would reply that this is not an economic argument: this is a moral argument. Companies should not be allowed to treat their workers unfairly. If they do, they shouldn’t be allowed to sell their goods, regardless of the benefits this may have for the economy. The economy, let’s not forget, is the people. And if the people cannot lead a dignified life, then the stock market can rise as high as it wants to. It won’t make a lick of a difference.

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Do We Really Need to Work?

Unemployment has been on the rise lately, pretty much anywhere. We could attribute this to the economic crisis, but economies (except for some parts of Europe) have been growing. Even those parts of Europe which haven’t been growing have shown an increase in unemployment that does not mirror the decrease in GDP.

On the other hands, jobs are getting worse and less well-paid. Small companies are closing down and being substituted by big conglomerates. University graduates see themselves working for a meager pay on low-qualification positions.

So what is going on?

Technology. Technology is going on.

Quarterly Gross Domestic Product (year-on-year...

Quarterly Gross Domestic Product (year-on-year growth in real GDP) and Unemployment Rate (simple monthly average) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the first machines entered the workplace, workers were promised this would lead to less working hours: after all, the machine would do the work for them! Technology would substitute human labor, so that people could devote their time to bettering themselves by contemplating the great questions. In this new paradise, robots would play the role of slaves in the classic world, whereas workers would be the new patricians.

This obviously has not happened. Even though automatization and optimization are at an all-time high and getting higher, workers still work long hours. In fact, if anything we now work more than we did before. The purchasing power of individuals has, at the same time, been decreasing for the last three decades. Some blame this on liberalization; some, on technology; some, on the fall of the USSR. I don’t know enough to have an opinion on the matter, though it is likely that it was a combination of the three.

Some people argue that automatization creates as many jobs as it destroys or more. This is of course a fallacy, one through which it is easy to see. The IKEA example is perfect: a small number of individuals produce huge amounts of furniture for the whole world, thus driving costs down. A significant fraction of the other furniture manufacturers go down. Jobs have been lost, without question. Not only that: the quality of the jobs has decreased. Working in a supermarket is not the same as owning a small food business. Not only the income is less, but the type tasks performed are a lot more automatic and less rewarding. Of course, with enough automatization even supermarket employees will be replaced. This is already happening in Japan. This will create jobs for whoever makes the virtual shop assistant and destroy a lot more.manufacturing

So we live in a bit of a paradox: our planet is producing more than it has ever produced, while people are getting poorer. Automatization makes some people very rich, while the others are kicked to the curb. As jobs get scarce, demand sinks and offer soars, we are only going to see more of this tendency: an impoverished middle class (if any) and a thriving upper class.

So where does the problem lie exactly? Our economy is doing fine, in the sense that we have the ability to produce more goods than we could possibly need. The problem lies in the need for jobs in a society were jobs are going to become progressively obsolete. And this tendency cannot do anything but continue: in twenty to thirty years, a lot more professions will disappear in the midst of virtualization and automatization. There will come a time when the great majority of the world’s population will be jobless. We will then either starve to death by the scores or realize we need a change.

The change, though, seems obvious. The problem is that technology makes jobs obsolete. So what we should do is get rid of jobs. Of most jobs, anyway. We make more than enough to sustain everybody – and I mean everybody – on the planet. Why don’t we? We could grant each person a minimum wage or a certain share of commodities (a house, food, electricity) which would be updated each year, as a function of the economic output. If people wanted more, they could work: either by starting a company or by learning a skill that hadn’t been made obsolete yet. Things could even work as in old-fashioned capitalism; with the difference that people would have their basic needs covered. Having all this available free time would produce entrepreneurs by the thousands and create vast amounts of wealth. It would also ensure people don’t accept undignified jobs just to be able to eat. It would make our countries safer, since nobody would have a need to steal in order to survive. It would make our society fairer and more relaxed. It would make people less stressed and give everyone a feeling of safety. It would ensure people pursue their passions instead of focusing on having enough to get through the day.

.jobs -- Cut To The Chase

.jobs — Cut To The Chase (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How would this be funded? Through taxes, of course. Or maybe the government could buy participations in its economy’s major companies and use the profits to feed its citizens. There are many ways this could be done, but of course it won’t be, because of the usual reasons. As long as we have a middle class, ideas like this will not be enforced. People do not want to be taxed.

However, I am confident this will happen, sooner or later. Not because people will suddenly see the light; not because the rich and powerful will decide to care about those less fortunate. No: it will happen because, if things continue the way they are, we will inevitably see such a spectacular rise in unemployment and poverty that the vast majority of the world’s population will be poor. It’s the only possible outcome, given the pace of technological advancement and the law of offer and demand. When that happens, we won’t have to convince the middle class: there won’t be any left.

Could we decide to do something before collapse? I personally don’t think so. By looking at the history of humankind, things have to get unbearably bad before they get better. So we will keep riding the wave of automatization and capitalism, oblivious to the cliff at the end, coming up with a hack after another until the inevitable crash. Millions of people will starve to death; violent revolutions will ensue.

A couple of old, bitter people will say “I told you so.”

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Don’t Think about Sex

We live in an age that’s obsessed about sex. We sell things with sex, we talk about it incessantly and it’s present in almost every movie. Porn is readily available on-line and anyone with an Internet connection and a bit of curiosity has seen a fair share of it.

So why does this happen? Why weren’t we so obsessed before? How have we turned into this debauc

hed society?

Or have we?

As I was reading “The Antidote”, a pretty fun book on negative thinking, I came across a sentence about sex: the more you try not to think about it, the more aroused you become. This happens for the same reason that someone forbidding you to laugh makes things even more hilarious; if I tell you “don’t think of a polar bear” you will instantly, well, do what you just did. Could our current obsession with sex be related to that?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sex and Christianity

So I started wondering about what the Christian obsession with vilifying sex has done to us. By telling us that even thinking about it is sinful, Christianity has spurred precisely what it was trying to avoid. Of course, the more you think about it, the guiltier you feel and the harder you try, thus making you think more about it. (It is also possible this was a clever marketing trick: force people into sinning and watch them come to church in spades).

Then I thought about how Catholic priests must be doing in that area and I understood a lot of stuff.

So we could see this craze about sex as being created precisely because of the taboo about sex that has been the norm in society for the last century.

English: US Secretary Gutierrez meets with Chi...

Chinese Minister Bo Xilai (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sex and China

However, I think that blaming Christianity for this is a little unfair. I live in China, were Christianity has a testimonial presence, and the taboo about sex is as great as in the West. Not surprisingly, the debauchery happening behind the scenes is pretty shocking too. Every month we see as scandal involving some government official and a bunch of young ladies. Most actresses in the country are known to have reached fame through borderline prostitution. In fact, some of them do prostitution: a couple of famous actresses are actually known to charge one million dollars per session. Bo Xilai, recently convicted for corruption, was one of the customers. The minister of transportation slept with the whole cast of the TV show “Dream of a red mansion”; after that, all of these actresses went on to have extremely successful careers. The minister himself ended up in jail for corruption, being responsible for the high-speed train crash that killed hundreds of people some years ago.

I don’t know if the same is true for Japan, but if it was it would explain a lot.

Buddhism

Buddhism (Photo credit: shapour bahrami)

Sex and Buddhism

One of the things that shocked me when visiting monasteries in Thailand was that women were not allowed to wear “provocative” clothes, with the argument that they would be distracting to the monks. I don’t know about you, but I have done maybe 100 hours of meditation in my whole life and I have no problem not getting distracted by a woman in a tank-top. You’d think that those monks, who supposedly are way closer to enlightenment, would have even less trouble not caring. Even if they did, couldn’t they make their arousal the subject of their meditation, just like they make pain? I suspect this idea that women shouldn’t mix with men in temples or that provocative clothes shouldn’t be worn around monks are based on ancient prejudices, rather than in logic. Crap, if you’re in such control of your emotions you don’t even fear death, a woman wearing a short skirt hardly seems like a challenge.

This image shows the coding region in a segmen...

This image shows the coding region in a segment of eukaryotic DNA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sex and Genetics

I know many people who haven’t been raised as Catholics, but they too seem to be obsessed about sex (though this obsession does seem to wane with age). Could it be that it’s just the way we’re programmed? After all, sex is the one thing our genes need us to do. The obsession, then, is thoroughly justified and will happen whatever you do. Of course, if you try not to think about it, the whole thing may get even worse.

What to Do, What to Do?

So what’s the healthy attitude towards sex? How should we approach it? Should we think about it all the time? Not think about it? Think about it but not attach to the thought? Write about it in our blog?

Fucked if I now.

(This post was inspired by livelysceptic’s recent series on sex).

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Time Dilation: It’s Not Psychological

Today I wish to debunk the supposed Einstein quote: “When you sit on a hot stove for two minutes, it feels like two hours. But, when you sit with a nice girl for two hours, it feels like two minutes. That’s relativity!”

I don’t know if he actually said that, but if he did, it seems like a remarkably dumb thing to say, since it has nothing to do whatsoever with relativity. Today I’ll show you that the relativity of time is real and has nothing to do with psychology. It will be challenging but, I think, extremely rewarding if you follow through, because you will be able to understand and derive one of the most shocking insights of any theory ever made.

It all starts with the two postulates again. Just as a refresher, here they are:

  1. Every system that travels in a straight line as a constant speed is described by the same laws of physics.
  2. The speed of light is the same at any such system.

Now all we need is a thought experiment with mirrors.

Imagine you have a photon (a light particle) that rebounds between two mirrors. Let’s say the distance between the mirrors is d. Now, if the mirrors are still it’s easy to calculate how long it takes a photon to go from one side to the other. Since the photon’s speed is c (remember, the speed of light) the time it will take will be distance / time or d / c. Let’s call this time “t1”. Everybody here so far? Good.mirrors

Now imagine these two mirrors start moving towards the right (look at the image above). In this case, the photon won’t go straight from one mirror to the other: it will follow a diagonal, like that in the picture. Therefore, the distance it will travel when it goes from mirror to mirror won’t be d, but a little more. I won’t do the calculations to keep things simple. All you need to see is that the time that goes by in this case is actually longer than if they are still. Let’s call this time “t2”.

And now comes the twist.

Consider this: for a person that’s traveling with the mirrors, the mirrors are perfectly still! Therefore, they will see that a photon takes t1 to go from mirror to mirror. On the other hand, a person that’s still and looking at it from outside will disagree: for them, the photon will take t2 to go from mirror to mirror! But the photons and the mirrors are exactly the same. It is the same situation. However, two different people moving at different speeds measure different times for the same event!

Did that just blow your mind or what?

That’s what it means that time is relative: people moving at different speeds measure different times for the same events. In fact, the faster things go, the slower time passes for them, as the fact that t2 is bigger than t1 shows. So what happens if the mirrors move towards the right at the speed of light? Well, in that case the photon would never reach the other mirror, so the distance between them would become infinite. This means that time freezes for someone traveling at the speed of light. That is, someone traveling at the speed of light appears to be frozen to us, outside. For them, time just goes on as usual!

I hope now you get a feel for the bizarreness of relativity and, especially, I hope I have helped you cast from your mind every idea of a psychological time difference. It’s not in the mind: it’s in the universe. Time is relative in a very, very fundamental way.

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Why E = mc2

If you’ve ever been outside your house without a blindfold, you know that E = mc2, in all probability thanks to the T-shirt industry. Whether you know what that actually means is another story; whether you know how to derive this result, yet a different one. By the end of this post you should be able to do both.

So what does it mean? Well, let’s take a look at the equation. What it says is that energy (if you don’t know what that is or think it is related to angels and mysticism, click here) is equal to the mass of a particle, times the speed of light (yes, that’s what c stands for) squared. The mass of a particle is actually tricky to define, but we’ll stick with this: a particle has more mass the harder it is to accelerate and the stronger the gravitational field it creates.

So E = mc2 just means that, if you increase a particle’s energy (for example, by making it move faster) by E, then its mass will increase by E/c2, that is, the particle will become heavier. Conversely, if you increase its mass by m, then its energy will increase by mc2.

That’s it, really.

Feel free to stop reading this if you couldn’t care less about the derivation.

Sunday Morning Kinetic Energy

Sunday Morning Kinetic Energy (Photo credit: St0rmz)

If you took physics in high school you’ll know that there’s something called Kinetic Energy. This kinetic energy is a measure of how much “movement” something has. In order to give energy to something, we do “work” on it: this means we exert a force along a certain distance. The higher the force, the more energy we give; the greater the distance, the more energy we give. In fact, the increase in kinetic energy we give a body is exactly equal to the work we perform on it:

ΔE = F Δx

Where the Δ sign means “increase.” So: the increase in energy is equal to the force you’re applying times the distance you’re applying it. If you still have trouble understanding this, picture yourself pushing a trolley: the more you push and the longer you do it, the faster it will go, hence the more energy it will have.

Now we need another concept: that of “momentum”. The momentum is defined as mv, that is, the mass times the velocity, and we write it with the letter p. It is also a measure of the amount of movement something has. If I’m pushing a trolley, its momentum will increase more the harder I push (more force) and the longer I push (more time). Hence I can write:

Δp = m v = F Δt

That is, the longer I exert the force, the more I increase the momentum.

Now imagine you have a trolley that’s traveling at, let’s say, 99.9999999999999% of the speed of light. And you keep pushing it. The energy and momentum you give it is determined by the formulae above: however, you’re not increasing its speed by any appreciable amount! So where are all this energy and momentum going?

Well, of course, they’re being used to increase its mass. Now, if we can find out how much the mass increases, we can prove E = mc2. Let’s do it.

A bouncing ball captured with a stroboscopic f...

A bouncing ball captured with a stroboscopic flash at 25 images per second. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now let’s imagine we push the trolley for one second. In this case, it will move exactly c meters, since c is the meters per second it moves. So, according to the formula for energy above, the energy I’ll give to it will be:

E = F c

Now, the momentum has also increased. Since the speed has not, only the mass can be different! We will call the increase in mass “m”. Also, the speed of the particle is c (the speed of light) or close enough. So we have:

Δp = m v = m c

And we know that the increase in the momentum was the force times the time. Since the time is one second, Δt is just one, so:

Δp = F Δt = F

OK, now we’re ready. We have:

E = F c

And

F Δt = F = m c

Now all I need to do is replace the F in the first equation!

E = F c = (m c) c = mc2

There you go!

I hope this wasn’t too much. I tried to keep it just about multiplication, but maybe some of the concepts (momentum, for instance) were a little alien. If you could follow the explanation, though, you have a rough understanding of why E equals mc2. That’s got to be worth something, I guess.

If not, sorry for wasting your time.

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