Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Mathematically it seems that aliens are not as advanced as us.

Technology progresses exponentially.  As we gain better technology, the speed at which we can improve our technology becomes faster.  Over the first 200,000 or so years humans developed chariots, crossbows, catapults, aqueducts, etc.  In the next couple of hundred years (a thousandth of the time that humans have been around), we invented cars, television, space rockets, etc.  Over the next few years, we invented the internet, voice activated smart phones, self-driving cars, etc.  We're quickly heading towards the technological singularity.

For the future, the exponential trend means that we could advance as much as we did in the last ten years in the next five, which is mind blowing.  If the trend continues, it means that in about 2030, we could advance just as much in one year, and by 2040, we could have robots which can build better robots than themselves, leading to an infinite loop of improvement, and the singularity.  That is just if the trend continues at its current rate.  It may take longer, but it won't stop, and I'd be very surprised if it hasn't happened by 2060.

From then on the world could be very different to what it's like today.  We will have optimized everything that we can.  Our meat based bodies will be replaced by a more durable, efficient material.  Consciousness may even be generated by machines, meaning that even our minds wouldn't need to be meat based.  Our existence will probably be in a simulated world, or we could plug-in whenever we wish.

You may be skeptical, and say that my timelines are too short, and that won't happen for the next thousand years.  You'd be very wrong, but it doesn't matter :)  What matters is that it's a very short period of time relative to the age of the universe.  14 years is a billionth of the age of the universe, and 1,400 years is a ten millionth of the age of the universe.

So, hypothetically, if there was an alien race that was more advanced than us, it's very unlikely that they'd be just a little bit more advanced.  If they developed just 1 percent faster than us, they'd already be 10 million years ahead.  If we can get to the singularity in fifty years, then 10 million years is just mind-blowingly, ridiculous.

But I don't think they exist, and my reason is simple mathematics.  The goal of an advanced civilization would be to generate as many happy minds as possible.  They would not only use their technology to make their life forms as happy as possible, but they would also make as many life forms as possible.  The reason would be to increase the probability that one is a happy life form, and to generate as much happiness as possible before their universe ends (unless they've figured out that that won't happen, or found a way to prevent it).

Now, given the millions of years that they've had to do that, they should have had time to generate a few billion times the number of life forms that we have on planet Earth, making the probability of being a less advanced life form very, very small.

The next thought that comes to mind is, well, why would we be the most advanced?

Maybe it's just that simple, that no beings have ever reached the singularity, and we're going to be the first and most intelligent.

Alternatively, maybe no life form has ever survived the singularity.

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Sunday, 12 February 2017

My Two Cents about Bad Presidents

To me there is one tiny positive element to presidents like Trump, Zuma and Mugabe getting into power:  It highlights the fact that the typical implementations of democracy are seriously flawed and can produce a great president for one term and an irrational, dangerous president in the next.  Even Hitler was apparently elected democratically.

So while we may wish for Trump, Zuma and Mugabe to be replaced, we don't have any assurances that the next leader won't be a Hitler, unless we actually change the system that brings them into power.  I'm no expert on politics, but I know a thing or two about systems, and this is the kind of system I'd like to see.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

6 Ideas to Reduce Extremism

It seems like all of these senseless, extremist murders are carrying on without much being done about them.  I find it very  frustrating.  The following is a list of things I think should happen to reduce extremism:

1.  Every child should learn critical thinking at school.  This will teach them to challenge what they're being taught, and understand how their minds can deceive them, e.g. basing their beliefs on emotions, rather than logic and evidence.

2.  We need a new kind of social network; the opposite of a dating site, where instead of being matched with people like you, you're matched with people who are completely different to you.  In Facebook and Meetup we join groups with like minded people, and we keep contact with those people.  We need to diversify, and make friends with people of different races, languages, sexual preferences, etc.

3.  We need to invent better technology to overcome language barriers, e.g. gadgets like Pilot.  Facebook does an okay job of translating foreign languages, so people can type in their own language and others can read it in theirs.

4.  We shouldn't have schools based on specific religions.  Now, I know you're thinking "But my religion is the one true religion and we should get rid of schools that follow other religions, but not mine."  My counter argument is that is exactly why there shouldn't be specific religious schools;  No-one is going to learn about your religion if you're isolating it from the rest of the world.  It would be better for all schools to teach about all the major religions, covering evidence for and against them, and then the children can use the critical thinking skills which they learned at school to decide, based on the evidence, which is the right religion and obviously they'll choose yours.

5.  The use of intellect, rather than bombs.  The group, Anonymous, showed us an example, where they disabled extremist websites.

6.  We need a democratic way of making changes in other parts of the world, not just in our own country, e.g. Democratic Intelligence.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Monday, 30 May 2016

Why I Am Passionate About Critical Thinking

If I were to spend all my time promoting one change in the world, it would be for all children to learn critical thinking.

If you don't know what critical thinking is, you may wish to read my blog post on critical thinking first.

I think of critical thinking as the foundation of knowledge.  While not all knowledge requires critical thinking, like learning a language or perhaps art, other important subjects like science and medicine would be complete nonsense without it.

Maybe I should start by painting a picture of what I imagine the world would be like today if critical thinking did not exist...

If critical thinking didn't exist, no product would ever need to be proven, so one could sell anything, no matter what it is, regardless of whether or not it worked.  One would simply have to advertise it.  Any old piece of junk could be considered a working vehicle.  You pay your hard earned money for it, and if it doesn't fly, you simply don't have enough faith.  Medicine would consist of pills containing nothing but coloured water, and if you died while taking them, well then maybe they just didn't work for you, because some people who took the same pills were actually still alive.  We would all be members of cults, knocking on the doors of the evil, lost infidels (everyone who is in a different cult) day and night.  On the plus side, at least no-one would ever leave our cult, so we would never have to stone them to death or blow them up for doing so.  We might or might not believe in global warming, depending on which side of the debate we'd have heard first, and if we did, we would have believed it was caused by aliens and the only way to stop it was to pray to Deity Bob, or give all of the money we earned from our job as armpit hair reading fortune tellers to one of Deity Bob's infallible priests.

Actually this doesn't sound much different from some of the crazy things going on in the world.  I imagine a world without critical thinking to be the one that existed just a couple of centuries ago.  Medicine was just water (homeopathic), and doctors didn't really cure people.  They didn't even know what germs were.  They did crazy things like drain people's blood to try to cure them.  Sickness was blamed on evil spirits.  It was common for women to die giving birth, or for the baby to die, and therefore the average life expectancy was 30 to 40 years.  Women were tortured and burned for supposedly being witches, and if you dared disagree with a holy book and say the earth was not the flat centre of the universe, then you were in serious trouble.  None of the vaccines we have today existed, so people had to worry about dying of smallpox, or contracting polio.

Being a critical thinker, I'll also consider the negative side of critical thinking, like perhaps it's more fun to believe in aliens, conspiracies and flying spaghetti monsters, and forming social groups with equally deluded individuals and then going out and protesting against things that don't exist.  Perhaps some people enjoy living under a rock.  Or perhaps some people have a concern about morality.  There are many religions which provide their own version of morality, promising extreme and eternal torture to those who do not follow these moral rules.
Critical thinkers tend to eventually agree on most things, because they're all using the same, effective method to arrive at their conclusions.  If we were all perfect critical thinkers, we'd eventually find ourselves uniting in thought about deities and religions.  It does mean that eventually only the single, evidence based viewpoint would remain, eliminating all other moral rules.  I don't see that as a bad thing.  The vast majority of people consider their actions to be justified.  Even Hitler probably considered himself to be an extremely good person, justifying his actions based on his beliefs.  If we were all critical thinkers, it would mean that we would be honest with ourselves and we'd have to justify our actions based on reality.  I have personally learned to see other living beings as myself, in the same way that I am also my past and future self, which I think, is a better moral compass than simply fearing the ramifications of not following a set of rules.

In a future where critical thinking is taught in every school, I believe that extremism could disappear.  I like to think we would move away from left wing and right wing governments towards systems that work based on testing, simulations and evidence.  We could be united across the globe and find much more in common with our fellow living beings, perhaps even finding that country borders no longer matter and that war is simply stupid.  Homeopaths, psychics and other deceivers would find themselves out of the job and we'd have purely evidence based medicine and vaccines that we can use to eradicate the world of some diseases.  We would no longer fear things that don't exist, or protest against conspiracies that never happened.

Well, that's my ideological dream.  For now I'm just happy that none of my Facebook friends have shared "Spirit Science" and Deepak Chopra posts in a while!

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Saturday, 7 November 2015

Ideas for anyone who is convinced about beliefs that others disagree with.

I have noticed that many people are convinced about beliefs, even though others are equally convinced of beliefs that contradict them.  They all have their evidence, so you're not going to change their view by arguing with them.  Each person has to examine their own thoughts.  Here are some ideas.

Consider why others disagree with you, and try and understand their point of view.  Are they just as convinced as you are?  Do they think they have just as much evidence as you have?  Have they taken as much effort questioning and trying to disprove their beliefs as you have?  Do they have the same beliefs as their parents, or did they arrive at their conclusions through independent research?

Be honest with yourself.  Dig deep and consider whether your goal is really to know the truth, or just to protect your beliefs?

Truth is stronger than a diamond.
Truth is stronger than a diamond.  No matter how much you question or test it, it will remain unchanged.  It does not require constant affirmation or faith in order to exist.

Try to disprove your beliefs.  If you only try to prove, but not disprove your beliefs, you will believe anything.  Anyone who tries hard enough to find evidence for their beliefs will find it, regardless of what that belief is.

Search Google for counter-arguments.  There is no need to be afraid.  If those beliefs really are true, then the stronger evidence and answers that you find will verify that, and increase those beliefs.  If the beliefs are not entirely true and you find evidence against them, or logical problems, then you would have been better off without those beliefs in the first place.

Read books on critical thinking.  Learn about cognitive dissonance and how it affects your thinking.  Learn about logical fallacies, overcoming cognitive biases, open mindedness, the scientific method and double blind, randomized, controlled trials.  Read about persuasion and cult tactics.

Get away from everything that influences your beliefs for a month.  Travel to another country and spend your time with people who have completely different beliefs.

Never stop learning.

Books to read to improve thinking skills
YouTube channels to improve thinking skills

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Sunday, 11 October 2015

List of YouTube channels to improve thinking skills

In an earlier blog post I listed books that can help to improve thinking skills.  I find that disagreeing with people hardly ever ends well, and often leads to people feeling even stronger about their beliefs, having put so much effort into defending them.  So I prefer to just share information and hope that people will arrive at better conclusions by themselves.

Perhaps some people would like to improve their thinking by watching videos, so here are a list of YouTube channels which can help to improve your thinking skills:

QualiaSoup makes easy to follow videos, often related to thinking, like his Critical Thinking and Open-mindedness videos.
Kevin deLeplante uploads lots of  critical thinking, logic and fallacy related videos.
Julia Galef is president and co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality.  She uploads a short video once a week or so on something interesting.
James Randi Foundation.  James Randi is a magician, who understands how our minds can be tricked and likes to share information about critical thinking.
Bo Bennett has a channel listing a number of critical thinking related videos.

Interesting videos

Dr. Michael Hewitt-Gleeson teaches the CVS2BVS switch.  This is a very simple, but effective strategy from his free PDF book, Software for your Brain.
My video on critical thinking
Edward de Bono's thinking course

Other channels that may be of interest

Science Literacy (A new channel)
Skeptic Magazine
TED (Interesting talks)
Massimo Pigliucci (A philosopher)