I am moving to FreethoughtBlogs

FreethoughtBlogs is doing a big shuffle, with many new people joining the network.  Still other members are leaving (amicably) to form another atheism & social justice blogging network, The Orbit.  As part of this, A Trivial Knot is moving to FreethoughtBlogs.

A Trivial Knot – the new location

New RSS feed

I will look fondly upon my time at atrivialknot.wordpress.com, when I’ve written some of my best material (so far).  This will not be the last post of this blog quite yet.  I have to tie up a few loose ends (mainly posting a “best of” summary) later.  But please update your bookmarks and RSS feeds.  And sorry for the ads, I don’t like them either.

Anti-philosophy in the atheosphere

I just got done writing two posts which explicitly apply philosophy to the practical issues of gender and orientation. Meanwhile in the atheosphere, PZ Myers wrote two posts defending philosophy as a field, to the disagreement of many commenters. Anti-philosophy sentiments in the atheist movement are nothing new, but I continue to find them strange since the atheist movement is more dependent on philosophy than literally any other social movement I know of.

A lot of this has to do with what people consider to be the central example of philosophy. My central example of philosophy is modern analytic philosophy, particularly 20th century philosophy of language and logic. Most atheists, on the other hand, seem to think the central examples of philosophy are anti-scientific skepticism and religious apologetics.

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Models of gender that aren’t based on self-identity

One model of gender is that you are the gender that you identify as. This is a great model because everyone gets to be the gender that they want to be. It is, by definition, desirable for people to get what they want.1

Many people express concerns about the self-identity model of gender. What if someone abuses it? What if someone disingenuously claims to be a woman, not because they want it, but for some strategic advantage? I don’t think this is much of an issue, since empirically this does not appear to happen very often, if at all. But the concern is noted.

I think a far more common issue is when someone is deciding what gender to identify as. You can’t use the self-identity model as a guide when your self-identity is precisely the thing in question. When the self-identity model works, it defines what is desirable, and that is well and good. But it’s necessary to find at least one other model to supplement it so we can understand what it is exactly that we’re desiring. Here I will briefly describe a few alternative models.

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My beetle is an elephant

This post was cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda.  Yes, I finally found a way to pass off straight-up analytic philosophy as ace blogging.

Sciatrix once created an influential metaphor for attraction: it’s like everyone has an invisible elephant that only they can see.  These invisible elephants are apparently very important in society, but hardly anyone can be bothered to describe them because it’s assumed that everyone has their own elephant and can see for themselves.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, once described a thought experiment: Suppose that everyone has a box with a “beetle” inside it, but each person can only see their own “beetle”.  Wittgenstein argues that when we talk about “beetles”, we are only referring to that which is in the box.  It doesn’t matter if the boxes actually contain different things, or if the things change over time, or if the boxes are actually empty.  (watch this video)

That feeling when philosophical thought experiments become directly applicable to your daily life.

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SJWs, and those who mock them

One of my Facebook friends follows a page devoted entirely to mocking Tumblr SJWs (social justice warriors). There are many such pages on the internet, basically functioning as humor pages. I present an example purely for illustration purposes:

A5w9egCSee footnotes for transcript.1

Many people who follow such pages don’t think of themselves as opposing social justice. Rather, they oppose “SJWs”, who are supposedly a subset of social justice advocates so extreme that they cross into the absurd.

I think following these anti-SJW sites is unwise. Of course, people aren’t even trying to follow the rule of wisdom, they’re following the rule of funny.

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Learning by blogging

I’m not sure if I’ve ever admitted this on the blogs but… I was a really good at physics in college. This is like six years ago, and college courses aren’t very much like the real world, so it’s all water under the bridge now. But I never got so much as an A minus. I was consistently an outlier on tests. And I never really needed to study, because I got enough out of attending lectures.

Lectures are often derided as one of the least effective methods of teaching, since they involve no student participation. In retrospect, the reason I got so much out of lectures is because for me, lectures were participatory. Professors would solve problems on the board, and my practice was to solve the same problems in my notes, one step ahead of the professor whenever possible. Not everyone can keep that pace, so I’m not exactly offering this as advice to students. I was simply thinking about how participation is paramount to learning.

What makes blogging so valuable to me is that it is a kind of participation.

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Mental health should have been on the agenda

I read skeptical writing for over a decade. During that time, I should have been educated about the social issues surrounding mental health and disability. It should have been common knowledge in the skeptical community. It is outrageous that it was not.

I say this as a person who does not have any mental health issues, or disabilities of any kind. And I am still rather uneducated about mental disabilities (so please correct me on anything). To the extent that I know anything, I primarily learned about it through my participation in social justice activism, and through my boyfriend, who has a mental disability.

I list three major reasons why I think mental health should have been a major skeptical topic:

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Report: First observation of gravitational waves

Today, the Laser Interferometry Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) reported the first observation of gravitational waves. You can read about it in The New York Times (warning: autoplay) or on Sean Carroll’s blog.  (ETA: also see the explanation in comic form.) I went straight to Physical Review Letters.

As an undergrad, I did some work on LIGO. Specifically, I was a data analyst looking for exactly the kinds of gravitational waves here observed. Anyway, I’m happy to play the role of your local expert, providing some context and answering any questions.

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