Santa Claus exists, and so does the Easter Bunny!

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Posted by Cynic | Posted in Awake, Cynicism, English, Language, Philosophy, Religion | Posted on 31-12-2012

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Most people don’t enjoy lying, and even with good intentions, lying to children still doesn’t seem quite right. So how can you tell a kid that Santa does exist and remain truthful? It’s surprisingly easier than one might expect, and certainly makes more sense than to deny his existence.

First, it helps to understand the different ways in which we understand ‘existence’.

The first and most obvious is physical existence. The chair you are sitting on either has a physical existence or it does not, in which case you wouldn’t be sitting on it. This is in some ways rather uninteresting, unless you like arguing simply for the sake of arguing, in which case it provides a never ending source of argumentation bliss.

A second, and perhaps more interesting way that we understand existence is in terms of non-physical existence, such as when you have an idea, or your teddy bear has a cute name. You can quickly examine how people talk about these things in these simple examples:

I have an idea.

The implicit assumptions are that there is an idea that exists, and that you possess the idea.

My teddy bear’s name is Kant.

Again, the teddy bear possesses something, a name. But in order for the teddy bear to possess that, it must necessarily exist.

Now, it is pretty much trivial to change the name of your teddy bear from Kant to Immanuel. Naming is a specific case of something called an “expletive performative”, that is, the act of doing so makes it so. When you name your teddy bear, poof! It’s name is what you just gave it. Your naming made it so.

The idea of non-physical existence isn’t a radical notion, and has many examples that are firmly entrenched in society and law. The entire concept of intellectual property (IP) relies on this. Copyright and patent law assume “intangible assets”.

For example, Disney “owns” Mickey Mouse. But for Disney to have ownership, Mickey Mouse must have some kind of existence, i.e. non-physical or intangible existence.

So it should be relatively obvious that we do have another sense of the word “exist” for non-physical things.

Then how does this relate to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy? Pretty simple. They all exist. Just not as physical entities. Sure, there are physical manifestations of them. You can see a physical manifestation of Santa at the mall around Christmas time, or on a TV Christmas special, or perhaps in a Santa Claus cookie. Are they still Santa? Certainly. As manifestations of the idea of Santa.

Substitute in there Mickey Mouse or some other “fictional” character and you can get the same result.

So, yes, there is a Santa Claus. And yes, Santa Claus does exist. When you’re a very small child, your initial reaction is to assume that Santa is a physical entity, which is natural enough. Later, we often drift into disbelief. However, as thinking adults, we can grasp how Santa does exist, and how we can use the idea of Santa to make this world a better place.

For those that are wondering, yes, I believe in the existence of leprechauns, pots of gold at the end of the rainbow, unicorns, fire-breathing dragons, talking dogs, and yes… there most certainly is a God.

The question really isn’t about whether these exist or not – the question is about what you do with their existence. Do you help make the world a better place with them? Or do you retreat into some flavour of cynicism and piss on everyone else’s parade?

Peace,

Ryan

GMOs are Bio-warfare: Let’s call them what they are!

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Posted by Cynic | Posted in Language, Logic, Politics, Wikileaks | Posted on 06-01-2012

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I wish people would stop calling the toxic biological weapons, which¬†Monsanto, Pioneer, and other “GMO” companies create, “GMOs”. They’re not. They’re bio-weapons. It’s bio-warfare.

Here are just a few links to information about the insanity:

http://www.activistpost.com/2012/01/leaked-us-to-start-trade-wars-with.html

http://www.naturalnews.com/034246_BASF_GMOs.html

For that last article, BASF is one of the companies that IG Farben was split into after WWII. IG Farben ran Auschwitz. Need I say more?

There is a tonne of information on this stuff. Search for it. It’s toxic. It’s bio-warfare. Let’s call it what it is.

Peace,

Ryan

 

On Propaganda and “Cun Map”

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Posted by Cynic | Posted in Language, Logic, Philosophy | Posted on 07-04-2011

Puppy and KittyMy wife and I had a funny incident today. Her nickname for me is “cun con” (Vietnamese for “puppy”), or “cun” for short. She also teases me about being fat (“map”). I always protest and it’s a fun game we play.

Today though, she said, “cun map (fat puppy) will get some more work done,” to which I responded, “Yes. Cun map will…” Well, she started roaring in laughter. “My brainwashing has worked!” I had to laugh.

But it demonstrates a simple, innocent example of how propaganda works. Constant repetition, irrespective of truth value, eventually wins out.

Now, there’s nothing sinister about “cun map”, and it’s just part of how my wife and I tease each other in a fun way. There is no hidden agenda or malicious intent to deceive.

However, that’s not par for the course for propaganda. There usually is a hidden agenda and an intent to deceive.

I’ve been vocal in some places about my disgust with modern media. Rather than reporting news, it seems more like entertainment for sadists. It’s as though they wish to eradicate any remaining vestiges of hope in people. Constant bombardment of news stories about “terrorists” that include students protesting tuition hikes and education cuts amount to nothing more than fear mongering. Labeling a lone gunman a terrorist further dilutes the meaning of the word “terrorist”, with the term basically being meaningless, but having an incredibly horrible connotation associated with it that is now something they can apply to anyone for any reason. Hacktivists that protest some injustice are also “terrorists”.

But therein lies a more insidious form of propaganda: Altering the meanings of words. That in itself is a long discussion. The crux of the problem is that when you begin to confuse meanings, you run the risk of creating logical contradictions. Given any single logical contradiction, you can derive any conclusion at all, no matter how insane.

For example, take the labeling of students at a protest as terrorists. Well, terrorists belong in prison. Students are terrorists. So, students belong in prison. While that’s a very short and unsophisticated example, it is completely accurate. What’s worse, is that bad logic actually happens in reality.

I’ve also been in discussions about how the modern media is all but completely illiterate. It is common to see some reporter discuss issues ¬†that the reporter clearly doesn’t understand. More than simply abusing the English language with horrendous grammar, spelling errors, and misused words, it is increasingly common to hear reporters delivering wrong information.

I don’t believe that propaganda is necessarily intentional on the part of the orator though. It seems reasonable to me that propaganda can be a product of an environment that pushes agendas. That is, a society or culture in itself can have a sort of agency in the same way that we would talk about a corporate agent (in the philosophical sense of the word).

Now, instead of a society/culture that pushes fear on itself, wouldn’t it be wonderful to instead have positive messages pushed?

Propaganda in itself isn’t an evil thing. It is a tool to alter perceptions of reality, and can be used for positive or negative purposes. It is unfortunate that it is almost exclusively used for negative purposes, but it doesn’t need to be that way. It is possible to constantly repeat positive messages and alter reality itself by doing so.

Remember what your mom used to tell you, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Basic Tools in English

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Posted by Cynic | Posted in English, Language, RFCs | Posted on 11-01-2011

Well, that’s a big topic, and I really only want to consider a few things that pertain to globalization. Specifically, those in RFC 2119:

1. MUST   This word, or the terms "REQUIRED" or "SHALL", mean that the
   definition is an absolute requirement of the specification.

2. MUST NOT   This phrase, or the phrase "SHALL NOT", mean that the
   definition is an absolute prohibition of the specification.

3. SHOULD   This word, or the adjective "RECOMMENDED", mean that there
   may exist valid reasons in particular circumstances to ignore a
   particular item, but the full implications must be understood and
   carefully weighed before choosing a different course.

4. SHOULD NOT   This phrase, or the phrase "NOT RECOMMENDED" mean that
   there may exist valid reasons in particular circumstances when the
   particular behavior is acceptable or even useful, but the full
   implications should be understood and the case carefully weighed
   before implementing any behavior described with this label.

5. MAY   This word, or the adjective "OPTIONAL", mean that an item is
   truly optional.  One vendor may choose to include the item because a
   particular marketplace requires it or because the vendor feels that
   it enhances the product while another vendor may omit the same item.
   An implementation which does not include a particular option MUST be
   prepared to interoperate with another implementation which does
   include the option, though perhaps with reduced functionality. In the
   same vein an implementation which does include a particular option
   MUST be prepared to interoperate with another implementation which
   does not include the option (except, of course, for the feature the
   option provides.)

Well, that just about says it all. Or, actually, not quite.

Trying to get some editors to use those, or rather to not ban them, can be trying. While modal verbs in English can be difficult for non-native English speakers, you simply cannot get around using them unless you wish to alter the meaning of a sentence.

This is particularly important for technical discussions and documentation. RFCs are there for a reason, and anyone working in tech needs to know them or at least how to use them when relevant.

RFC 2119 differs from most in that it sets forth some terminology for all RFCs and how they communicate information. “Should” is unambiguous and clearly defined. Similar for “may” and “must”. Those that wish to participate in technical fields in English need to know RFC 2119 and understand it. If they do not have sufficient English language skills, they need to develop them.

While making things accessible to everyone is a noble goal, there are times when you just have to set minimum standards and say that those that do not meet the minimum requirements just aren’t invited to the party. This is particularly poignant in globalization. While simplifying your writing is a good thing, there’s such thing as too much of a good thing, and that’s bad.

Bastardizing meanings for the sake of making content more accessible works in some contexts, but not for tech where very often meanings must be precise. For example, the statements:

If you notice anything abnormal, turn off the power.

If you notice anything abnormal, you should turn off the power.

If you notice anything abnormal, you must turn off the power.

If you notice anything abnormal, you may turn off the power

None of them are similar.

The first is an imperative. The next three are statements. “Should” indicates weak obligation. “Must” indicates strong obligation. “May” indicates permission. None may be used as substitutes for each other and maintain the same meaning.

Those state affirmative cases for turning off the power. However, consider the negative cases and how they compare:

If you notice anything abnormal, do not turn off the power.

If you notice anything abnormal, you should not turn off the power.

If you notice anything abnormal, you must not turn off the power.

If you notice anything abnormal, you may not turn off the power

As above, the first is an imperative, the second is weak obligation, the third strong obligation, while the last is permission to not turn off the power, which interestingly enough, is not the opposite of the positive case above. After all, you cannot have permission to do “nothing” in the sense that granting permission requires an object of that permission, i.e. permission for what? “Doing nothing” at work is still doing something. Think of it as the difference between zero and null. Or think of it in Heraclitean terms: “Being is and non-being is not.”

In each case, meanings are distorted by swapping them out for another. This is a loss of information (meaning) and not acceptable where precision is required.