14 November 2015

Are all neurosurgeons crazy?

Reposted from http://recursed.blogspot.com

I'm beginning to think so, what with Ben Carson claiming that the pyramids were used to store grain, not to bury rulers and that he had a violent past.

So it's not really a surprise to see that walking Dunning-Kruger effect-man, Michael Egnor, claiming that humans can't be apes because "Human beings have mental powers that include the material mental powers of animals but in addition entail a profoundly different kind of thinking" and "Human beings think abstractly, and nonhuman animals do not".

I'm really curious to know how Dr. Egnor knows with certainty that nonhuman animals cannot think abstractly. I guess he is just egnoring all the research that suggests just the opposite. It's not like this is hidden stuff; Egnor could read, for example, the books of Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal.
Maybe not all neurosurgeons are this batshit loony. After all, another thing that Carson and Egnor have in common is that they are both creationists. Maybe that's the real problem. Maybe you have to be immersed in jeebus-juice to believe, like Egnor does, that "Human rationality is different because it is immaterial." I guess our thinking powers are just magic; all that neurocircuitry is just there for show.

1. Egypt’s pyramids were built by the biblical Joseph to store grain and were not, as archaeologists believe, tombs for pharaohs, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson, a neuroscientist, has said.
2. Michael Egnor is a neurosurgeon and creationist. He writes articles for the Discovery Institute (also known as Dishonesty Institute).

22 October 2015

Harassment and dissemination of pornography in a scientific conference?

I just became aware of an astronomy conference organized at Uppsala whose topic is Cool Stars. The home page looks pretty nice
but once we click on "about" we find a page that has two parts. The first part describes the subject of the conference.  But the second part,  which is more lengthy, is very strange.
Cool Stars gathers approximately 400 international experts on brown dwarfs, low-mass stars (from the pre-main-sequence through the asymptotic giant branch), solar physics, circumstellar environments, extrasolar planets, and astrobiology....
Cool Stars 19 is dedicated to a harassment-free workshop experience for everyone regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of workshop participants in any form. Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate in any workshop venue, including talks, poster sessions, and organized social activities. Workshop participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the workshop without refund at the discretion of the workshop organizers.  Click here to read our full anti-harassment policy.
What? Is this a conference in astronomy or on harassment/gender/sexual issues? Are they expecting participants to harass and be harassed? Are they expecting participants who insult others? Participants going around using sexual language? Sexual imagery? (Really? Are they expecting dissemination of pornographic material?) Something very very fishy is going on, otherwise why, on the front page of the conference, spend more space to talk about possible offenses rather than the topic per se.

But the situation becomes even worse. If we click on the anti-harassment policy we find a 3 page document that is clearly prepared in anticipation of a lot of trouble. Here are some excerpts.
Harassment includes, but is not limited to:      Verbal comments that reinforce social structures of domination related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, or religion      Sexual images in public spaces      Deliberate intimidation, stalking, or following      Harassing photography or recording      Sustained disruption of talks or other events      Inappropriate physical contact      Unwelcome sexual attention      Advocating for, or encourage, any of the above behavior.
Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.

Exhibitors should not use sexualized images, activities, or other material. Booth staff, including volunteers, should not use sexualized clothing/uniforms/costumes or otherwise create a sexualized environment.

If someone makes you or anyone else feel unsafe or unwelcome, please report it as soon as possible.

You can file an anonymous report using this form: http://goo.gl/forms/03OCO6CGMq  

You can make a personal report by:  Calling or messaging this number: (TBA). This phone number will be continuously monitored for the duration of the event. Contacting a staff member identified by colored LOC badges and workshop t-shirts labeled STAFF or LOC.
This report is clearly prepared with the mindset that there will be lots of trouble. Conference people are probably going to harass and be harassed, exhibit sexual imagery, insult, etc. What KIND of conference is this, I wonder? Filing anonymous reports is something that was done during some dark times, like the McCarthyist era, or during Hitler's reign, among others. I'm really surprised that some people are encouraging this. Of course, if there is, indeed, a problem, then actions should be taken.

But I wonder: Is there a problem? If yes, again I ask: what KIND of conference is this? Why do they expect so much trouble?

I'm closing this posting with a screenshot showing the format of the anonymous report:
In summary, there are three alternatives:
  1. Either this is a practical joke.
  2. Or this is a conference where lots of trouble (harassment, sexual abuse, pornography) is expected.
  3. Or this is just a normal conference and these pages were created amidst paranoia. 
Options 1 and 3 seem unlikely because they both (especially 3) convey extreme irrationality and we're in a university so we don't expect this. So option 2 seems to be the more likely one.

Or is it not?

1 October 2015

Christmas is already in the air: the funeral office magazine and julmust are here!

The summer vacations are barely over, but Christmas is already in the air. Quite early this year in fact. But how do I know that Christmas has already arrived in Sweden? Well, there are two things that give it away:

First, it's the Julmust.
The other day I went to the supermarket and saw that they were already selling Julmust, i.e., "Christmas Sap" or Christmas Drink. Basically, it's like coca cola, but much sweeter. Like coca cola, it also comes in diet version, with nutra sweet. Wikipedia thinks that  "Julmust is mainly consumed in Sweden around Christmas". So, this is indication no. 1 that Christmas is already here.

Second, it's the funeral office magazine.
Around Christmas time, the Funeral Office Association of Sweden sends us their magazine called "Memento". As I wrote before, several funeral offices in Sweden are uniquely interesting because they advertise their funeral products. Last year, the magazine came around Christmas time. This year it came to us a week ago. Summer vacations are barely over, but Christmas has began. Dying in Sweden is also quite unique. First of all, dying during the summer should be avoided at all costs. Second, people like to talk about death. Third, committing suicide is fine, people won't talk about it anyway. Nobody cares.

The magazine is promoting death and death culture. Let's look at some its contents a bit more closely.

Here is the cover. Below the title "Memento" you see the subject of its main article: "When sick children die". You can also see that the magazine is not free. It costs 70 Swedish crowns (about 8.50 US dollars)--it's not cheap! It is sent to us for free (lucky us!) well in advance the festive season. Come to think of it, however, there must be people who do buy the magazine!

On page 4 we see the photo of a luxurious coffin surrounded by flowers. The caption below says "the feeling of a summer meadow".

Page 6 has the photo of a Mohammedan cleric with spooky looks and then a vast graveyard full of Christian crosses. I guess this says that the magazine is politically correct. It's ok for both Mohammedans and Christians to but the magazine.

On page 7, here is again "Eulogica", a death management operations software. We also saw it in last year's issue. "A new generation program and services for the funeral industry". I wonder if it exists as an app so I can download it on my mobile and have some fun.

The article on page 8 is titled  "Some children may die but not mine""In barely six months a  four-year old developed cancer. Not until the very end could Jenny believe that her daughter could actually die". In this way, I guess, the magazine tells parents to support the funeral office industry financially because their children may die. Makes sense, in a business world.

Pages 14-15 are devoted to a "Graveyard for dreamers and cat lovers". It talks about a cemetery that you can visit when you're feeling romantic. And if you're a cat (not a dog!) lover, take your cat along, and have fun thinking about your burial place.

The article on pages 18-19 is an impressively original idea. It's an idea for a party. A party where you invite your friends to talk about death and how they would like to be buried. The article's author asks:
Isn't it a good idea to invite people to a party and talk about death and how they like to have their funeral?
What a great idea indeed! How come nobody had thought about it before? This magazine is a real treasure. This is why I can't find people to come to my parties. My themes are not good enough. But if we talk about death then I'll get many people over. A caption of a photo in the article says:
Sandwich with herring is good, but we would like to have real food for our funerals.
Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Would you like to be buried with only a sandwich? I have a further idea for the party! We could rent coffins and play dead. For example, we could place a bottle of vodka in a coffin and wait for one of our guests to be lured. When he/she (or it) gets in, we slam the cover down and nail them inside. We then enjoy having the person beg for his/her release. It's a real simulation of what a burial is. In the very spirit of the magazine!

Page 24 has a full-page picture of urns in many colors. An urn is a vase where you stuff the ashes after you bury a dead body. But these urns advertised here are called "NatureUrns" and they are approved by the "Green Burial Council". That is, they are ecological urns, they're good for the environment. Good to know, eh?

Page 26. Article about the burial of an 8-year old girl. 

Pages 13 and 29 contain advertisements of the hearses of Mr. Nilsson. Their unique feature is that they are environmentally friendly. We are informed that they emit only 117 grams of Carbon Dioxide per Kilometer and so they are Europe's best. But Page 28 advertises the hearses of Mr. Eriksson that are classified as "extra long". They burn 149 grams of Carbon Dioxide per Kilometer. That's bad. Sorry Mr. Eriksson, you lose.

Then there is a cartoon about various characters talking about their death wishes.

All in all, an excellent magazine, given to us for free, just in time for Christmas. I will enjoy reading it while drinking Julmust.

27 September 2015

Saudi Arabia's new law says that atheists are terrorists

Article one of the new law defines terrorism as "calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based".

Domestic “terrorism” is defined in the decree as “any act” (expressly including non-violent acts) which among other things is intended to “insult the reputation of the state,” “harm public order,” or “shake the security of society”. The terms are very broad, and and could be used to prosecute any criticism of the state, its king or officials, or the state conception of Islam.

Another article prohibits all protest, without qualification as to its message or intent, by outlawing “calling, participating, promoting, or inciting sit-ins, protests, meetings, or group statements in any form”.

Source: IHEU

Recall that Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and laws are whatever the king or the Sharia dictates.
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz whose decrees equate atheism with "terrorism" and ban criticism of the state
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz whose royal decrees equate atheism with “terrorism” and ban all criticism of the state


What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant