Archive | May 2014

Heroes, Not Superheroes

Here is a superpower:

  • “To have done not that which you have done.”

Does anyone have this superpower? No, because it is necessarily false by virtue of entailing a logical contradiction.

We can detect this a bit better when we put “have done” into X, such that the superpower becomes:

  • “To X and not-X.”

“But surely,” you might say, “you can have done something, but then do something differently, in a similar situation.”

Sure! But that’s not a superpower. That’s very mundane.

e.g., “I paid too much for a bad sandwich yesterday; if confronted with a similar situation, like at the same restaurant, I will do differently.”

But what about an identical situation?

Well, then we’d be back talking about superpowers, because the only way to undergo a completely identical situation would be to rewind the universe somehow and go back to the exact same circumstance…

… including myself reverting to that which was inevitably prone to make that sandwich mistake! After all, by rewinding, I have lost that which enabled me to see that I would be making a mistake at all.

The point of all of this is that there are three very different “abilities” at play.

  • The first power, a superpower, is to have done not what you have done. This is necessarily false because it is a contradiction. Nobody can have this superpower, and as such, we hesitate even to call it a “power.” It’s a “nothing.”
  • The second power, a mundane power, is to do something differently than what I have done, in the future, in a similar situation (I say “mundane,” but that is not to imply that this is always easy).
  • The third power, a superpower, is to rewind the universe and relive a past experience exactly (which would require losing my memories of having gone through it in the first place, obviously dooming me to repeat any errors).

    We humans cannot do this because we cannot rewind universes. But even if we could, and ourselves were swept up in that undoing, we’d be nonetheless doomed (that is, blessed) with the same reliable “who I am dictates what I choose” rule, and make the same choice “again.”

A False Superfreedom

Libertarian free will is, roughly, “true causal independence in some sense,” and is something nobody has. It is the perceptual result of being surprised at unexpected behavior, plus having an imagination that dreams up hypothetical and counterfactual situations.

(More exploration: Why is libertarian free will so popular?)

Libertarian free will advocates have a remarkably hard time articulating their doctrine in a both positive and coherent way, which is a symptom of it being an ambiguous perception lacking a positive and coherent definition.

They try, though, and one of their attempts is this: “The ability to have done other than what you have done.” This is often cloaked for brevity and obscurity within, “To do otherwise.”

But as we see above, depending on how this is understood, this is either a false nothing, a mundane thing compatible with determinism, or a cosmic superpower that, when exercised, still fails to “get there.”

One thing we know for certain: We cannot actually do false nothings or have false nothings, regardless of any ungrounded invocations of possible worlds.

In other words:

  • We can’t do otherwise.
  • But we can imagine having done otherwise (and this is a useful imagining).
  • We can, tomorrow, do otherwise than what we did today, even if many things are circumstantially similar.

That’s all we need to affect ourselves, in a recursive way, and develop our knowledge, wisdom, skill, charity, ambitious projects, and all manner of other virtuous things.

It’s also all we need to be held responsible for decisions both bad and good, and for others to endeavor to fix or encourage us accordingly.

For us Christians, the Biblical solution to freedom & sovereignty is compatibilism through the “heterophroneo.”

The fact that we use open language to discuss the future doesn’t mean that the future is open. That’s because we use open language about the past, too.


Memetics Pt. 4: Short Towers + Secret Gnosis

In the first two videos on memetics (see schedule below), we talked about how truth — and other things we like — may not be decisive when it comes to the “spreadiness” and “stickiness” of certain ideas. In other words, “goodness” does not necessarily yield “fitness.”

In the third video, we talked about how some of the neuropsychological patterns that drive our decisionmaking can prompt and prevent virulence and resilience (“spreadiness” and “stickiness”). In that video, we focused primarily on loss aversion.

In this video, we’re going to talk about another such pattern, called secret gnosis stimulation.


We’ll find out why having and enjoying “hidden knowledge” can make you feel privileged, validated, and “rooted” to your local “tower,” even if it’s not tallest. This “hidden knowledge” often takes the form of esoteric or counterintuitive claims that can be convincing when internally consistent, and/or without a competitor recognized as viable.

We’ll also discuss several specific case examples of groups of people who are rooted to false conspiracy theories. Controversial!

Secret gnosis stimulation is very effective here, too. … It gets you locked into conspiracy theories when the body of [apparent evidence for the conspiracy] is dwarfed by reality.




Kicking Baal Out of Schools

You live in the United States. In the Constitution, it says that congress can make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

One of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, described this amendment as a “wall of separation between the church and the state.”

You go to a state-run public school, which must conform to this Constitutional maxim.

First Day of School

It’s your first day at this school, having arrived in a new town after moving.

You get on the bus and are driven to school. The bus parks, but the door hasn’t opened yet. The bus driver is sitting there, silent.

A student in the very front stands up. She is wearing a strange conical hat.

“All who worship Baal Hadad as master and lord, raise your hand in reverence!” she shouts. All of the other children raise their hands and look around.

Several notice that you’re not raising your hand, and begin to whisper and murmur to one another. Soon, everyone is talking about you, and looking at you like something is completely wrong with you.

You really want to leave. Why isn’t the bus driver opening the door? You stand up and walk hurriedly down the aisle.

“Let me off,” you shout at the bus driver.

“Of course, you’re not captive,” says the driver, and opens the door for you.

But Soon…

You go to your first class. The bell rings for class to start, but the teacher is sitting silently at her desk, reading.

Like on the bus before, a student up front, wearing a conical hat, stands up and addresses the students.

“Let us now sing praises to Baal Hadad, king of the heavens!” he shouts.

He begins to sing. The other students join him. You don’t want to be a part of this.

You get up to walk to the teacher, who is still reading silently. As you do, the other students stop singing, and stare, aghast that you would interrupt the worship. They give you horrible looks and scoff.

You ask the teacher to be excused.

“Of course,” the teacher says, and gives you a pass to read in the library until the lesson begins.

You come back 10 minutes later, and the teacher has already started teaching. You rush to take your seat.

This happens in several subsequent classes. Sometimes singing, sometimes a creed recital, sometimes a prayer, sometimes a “meditative moment of silence.”

Similar things happen at lunch.

You go to an assembly. Same thing.

Each time, no school faculty is directly involved. They just sit silently while the students lead the Baal-worship. And each time, when you ask to be excused, you’re allowed.

Legal Action

This is a horrible state of affairs that clearly violates that “wall of separation” of which the Jefferson wrote. This town of Baal-worshipers is transparently and cynically incorporating Baal-worship into their public school system by using a “back door” of “periods of inactivity” + “student-prompted actions.”

You decide to hire a lawyer and try to put a stop to this.

The resolution is that if public school faculty has reasonable knowledge that a student plans to perform religious rituals for reasons other than pure, curricula-driven education, they have to stop it. Otherwise, they are giving official permission, even if it’s veiled under the auspices of “faculty passivity” and “student freedom.”

The Supreme Court hands down this decision.

To violate this decision is to violate the Constitution.

The Social Aftermath

The incorporation of prayers and worship and creeds to Baal disappears at your school.

Now, instead of getting dirty looks from students for asking to be excused, you get dirty looks from students and their parents.

They blame you for “kicking Baal out of schools” and falsely complain that the school has “banned prayer.”


State-run institutions should not be complicit in the worship of deities, because not everyone believes in those deities.

As Christians, we should be passionate about making sure that everyone is treated with charity and equity, and not attempt to force our beliefs on others through state-run institutions.

Prideful shows of allegiance, intimidating social pressure, and ostracism do nothing but sow resentment and discomfort in non-believers. This is trivially obvious when you craft an imaginary situation in which you’re in “their shoes.”