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:

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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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What is normal: An analytic approach

This post has been cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda.

In an earlier post, I touched on a particular problem: not only do I not conform to what is “normal”, it is far from clear what “normal” is, or if “normal” even exists.

I think this is particularly a problem for aces. Aces must often identify what is normal in order to resist it, but at the same time they don’t have direct experience with what is normal. If aces are too confident in their perceptions of the normal, this could lead to offensive views of allosexuals (e.g. the notion that allosexuals are constantly horny). If aces are insufficiently confident in their perceptions of the normal, this can lead to crippling self doubt. So here I outline my analytic approach to the problem.

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Oh, politics

Election media coverage, that carousel of drama, has recently led to public discussion of superdelegates in the Democratic Party primary elections.  The story is that even though Sanders beat Clinton in New Hampshire by a landslide, Clinton somehow won more delegates anyway.  That’s because some delegates are decided by popular vote within their respective precincts, while other delegates, known as superdelegates, are chosen by the delegate alone.

Paste magazine has a good explanation of the entire process and its application to current events.  Basically, the superdelegates don’t have nearly as much power as it may first seem, because if they went against the popular vote, enough voters would object that it would throw the general election.  Furthermore, superdelegates have not actually voted yet, and have only made non-binding promises on who to vote for.  Many superdelegates have not made any promises at all, so counting the promises amounts to selection bias.

However, I want to point out one aspect of the Paste article which is absolutely ridiculous.  Note the article’s title is “After Sanders’ Big Win in New Hampshire, Establishment Figures Want to Scare You with Superdelegates. Here’s Why It’s Bullshit”.  Okay, but who are these establishment figures, and where are they trying to scare us?

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Evolution is an asshole

If evolution were a person, that person would an asshole. That person is literally Hitler. More than ten thousand Hitlers! Evolution wants us to be “adaptive” and “fit”, but why should I want that? Why should I want evolutionary adaptability? At best, evolutionary adaptability aligns with my interests, and at worst, adaptability amounts to cooperation with an evil and uncaring god.

So when someone suggests that being asexual or GLB isn’t evolutionarily adaptive, my response is “So what?”

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Judgments by source should go alongside judgments by merit

Sometimes in social justice discourse, people evaluate arguments based on the person who is making them. For example, if a person argues that racism is not much of a problem today, and that person is white, we might choose to disregard that argument.

Many critics think this leads to an incoherent epistemology.  I emphatically disagree. Fallacies be damned, there are many practical reasons to care who is making an argument.

On the other hand, I have certainly observed some… excesses. For example, in some cases, a person is assumed to be white, cis, male, heterosexual, based on the thing they were arguing for.  In some cases, this assumption turns out to be incorrect, which creates a whole distraction.  I will not comment on whether this pattern is common or uncommon, but instead outline an approach that people should be taking instead.

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