Quality Webcomic Nerdiness

I love it when comics are both intelligent and fun. One of the first things I do when I wake up is read webcomics – it makes for a good transition to consciousness. And Today’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is particularly relevant to last month’s discussion:

First thought: that could totally have been my high school.
Actual first thought: Blurg… (read: Where’s my coffee)
Second thought: Wait a minute, 0^0 is a complicated question! It’s not necessarily 1!

But before I got too far up on my high horse about knowing that 0^0 is poorly defined, I looked at the scroll-over bonus panel:

And this is why I love SMBC.

Philosophy Referee Signals

Ok, I love it when I can combine my passion for discussing philosophy with my interest in sports. Check out these philosophy referee signals:

I think I’ll enjoy this most during public debates – I can just see my friends and me gesturing wildly from the back of the auditorium.

Can you think of other signals that would be useful?

Skepticism in Action: Katie Couric Investigates the Sillies

We must be on our guard when people are making misleading medical claims to children. Fortunately, Katie Couric has the courage to investigate and expose the lies. Watch her expose the so-called cure “Shake the Sillies Out”:

It’s a song you’re probably familiar with. “Shake your Sillies Out” is easy to learn and adorable to watch. But according to new research, there’s only one problem: It doesn’t work.

Watching her interact with the kids was priceless: “What would you do if I told you that those things don’t work? In fact, there is zero scientific evidence that you can [dramatically puts on glasses] jump your jigglies out, squiggle your squirmies out, or even wiggle your waggles away. You’re living a lie.”

Now, if only we could get the mainstream media to report like this on real scientific quackery…

Thinking Meat?

If other intelligent life DID find us on this small blue-green planet, what would they think? After I posted the Morning Links about our material and deterministic minds, a friend sent me a link to this charming short story: “Sentient Meat“.

So who made the machines? That’s who we want to contact.

They made the machines. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Meat made the machines.

That’s ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You’re asking me to believe in sentient meat.

I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in this sector and they’re made out of meat.

My favorite part comes a bit later:

So… what does the thinking?

You’re not understanding, are you? The brain does the thinking. The meat.

Thinking meat??? You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat???

Yes, thinking meat ! Conscious meat ! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal ! Are you getting the picture?

Omigod. You’re serious then. They’re made out of meat.

Of course, in a sense we ARE machines, just biological machines. As T-Rex described it in Dinosaur Comics, each of us is a “machine that turns FOOD into IDEAS!”

(slightly shrunk, click here for the full-size, less-fuzzy comic)

It’s All Causation

Until we come up with a coherent idea of what we mean by causation, I say teachers should accept this on tests (via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, one of my favorite webcomics):

It reminded me of the Simpsons episode “Much Apu About Nothing” in which Apu is finally taking the citizenship test. I couldn’t find a YouTube clip, but at least I found the quote I was looking for:

Proctor: All right, here’s your last question. What was the cause of the Civil War?
Apu: Actually, there were numerous causes. Aside from the obvious schism between the abolitionists and the anti-abolitionists, there were economic factors, both domestic and inter–
Proctor: Wait, wait… just say slavery.
Apu: Slavery it is, sir.

Or perhaps we could learn to phrase our questions better.


This is what happens when you fish for a pep talk from a mathematician

ME (whining at being unable to accomplish something): “Ugh, I feel so useless and pointless.”

MATHEMATICIAN: “Aw, you’re not pointless! You have lots of points. An infinite number, in fact.”

Morning Links: XKCD and Free Will

Checking my morning links, I saw two reactions to hearing that the mind is the result of physical matter in a deterministic world:


(Alt-text: “Socrates could’ve saved himself a lot of trouble if he’d just brought a flashlight, tranquilizer gun, and a bunch of rescue harnesses.”)

Or this article from the NYTimes finding that subjects who were reminded of deterministic arguments about free will were more likely to cheat on a test:

In a follow-up experiment, the psychologists gave another test in which people were promised $1 for every correct answer — and got to compile their own scores. Just as Dr. Vohs and Dr. Schooler feared, people were more likely to cheat after being exposed beforehand to arguments against free will. These people went home with more unearned cash than did the other people.

This behavior in the lab, the researchers noted, squares with studies in recent decades showing an increase in the number of college students who admit to cheating. During this same period, other studies have shown a weakening in the popular belief in free will (although it’s still widely held).

Or you could go with Daniel Dennett’s approach in Freedom Evolves – No need to panic; we still have the important types of free will even in a deterministic universe. Of course, I can’t exactly imagine Dennett panicking in any context.

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