Monthly Archives: November 2009

Opportunity

With doubt and dismay your are smitten
You think there’s no chance for you, son?
Why, the best books haven’t been written
The best race hasn’t been run,
The best score hasn’t been made yet,
The best song hasn’t been sung,
The best tune hasn’t been played yet,
Cheer up, for the world is young!

No chance? Why the world is just eager
For things that you ought to create.
Its store of true wealth is still meager
Its needs are incessant and great,
It yearns for more power and beauty
More laughter and love and romance,
More loyalty, labor and duty,
No chance–why there’s nothing but chance!

For the best verse hasn’t been rhymed yet,
The best house hasn’t been planned,
The highest peak hasn’t been climbed yet,
The mightiest rivers aren’t spanned,
Don’t worry and fret, faint hearted,
The chances have just begun,
For the Best jobs haven’t been started,
The Best work hasn’t been done.

-Berton Braley

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The Case Against God

This is my opening for my debate on the existence of God at tomorrow’s philosophy meetup:


10 minutes is not much time to present an argument against a belief central to the philosophy of the majority of Americans. To show that God isn’t needed, I must not only offer an argument against his existence, but also *for* all the things that God means to people:

  • A guide to morality.
  • A justification for the laws of nature.
  • An explanation for the variety of life on earth.
  • A validation of human knowledge.
  • And optimism for the future of humanity.

My opponent on the other hand, can simply say, “God says it is so, and thus so it is.” But as H.L. Menken said “There is always an easy solution to every human problem–neat, plausible, and wrong.”

The conclusions we reach about the existence or nonexistence of supernatural entities are not philosophical primaries. Rather, they are derivatives of our premises about the basic nature of the universe and our ability to know it.

To present an alternative to a theistic worldview, I am going to present two opposing positions on what I consider the fundamental question of philosophy. The side you take on this issue (which everyone does, whether they are aware of it or not) plays a critical choice your life.

What is this critically important issue? It is the nature of the relationship between consciousness and reality. The central question on this issue is whether consciousness is the agency of perceiving reality, or the agency of creating reality.

I believe that once you understand that consciousness has the power to perceive and identify, but *not* to create reality, a naturalistic worldview follows automatically. If however, you assume that consciousness is an entity that can create reality, then emotionalism becomes your epistemological method, and no further understanding of reality is possible. Continue reading “The Case Against God” »

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Five tips for improving your communications skills

How good are your communication skills? How often do you feel that misunderstandings get in the way of your personal relationships or your career? Do you ever avoid talking to people because you don’t know how to express what you feel, or because you are afraid that you will be misunderstood?

What if you could dramatically improve the effectiveness of your spoken and written communication? Would it increase your confidence when speaking to coworkers, friends, and romantic interests? Would you take more chances if you could speak directly to someone’s mind, almost as if you had a telepathic connection with your listener?

The problem with most people’s communication skills is that they think that it is an innate talent. They think that if you’re not a smart, good-looking extrovert with a good voice, you can never be a great communicator. It’s true that these things help. But just because you’re tall and have strong legs doesn’t mean that you can win a gold medal at the olympics. And even if you are short and weak by nature, doesn’t mean that you can’t double or triple your performance. Of course, no workout will make you two feet taller. But unlike your body, your brain is very flexible.

You might think that speaking is something we learn automatically, and don’t have much control over. It’s true that we learn how to talk automatically and subconsciously, just like we learned to run automatically. But, just as a trained athlete can run faster and longer than an amateur, so can a conscious effort to improve your skills vastly improve your performance.

I’m going to share some of the things I learned with you as a kind of test. If my ideas are any good, you will remember most of what I said. After you’re done watching, please leave a comment to let me know how I did.

The five tips are: less is more, use examples, no distractions, repeat, repeat repeat, and five or less.

One: Less is more.

Paying attention is hard. It takes an effort to follow what someone is saying. Don’t make that effort any harder than it absolutely has to be. Keep it simple. Keep it short. Keep it focused.

Long and unusual words take longer to recognize than smaller and more familiar words. Many people use a stilted academic tone when they have something important to say. Don’t do it. Don’t say comprehend, say understand, or follow, or just get. Don’t go on an harangue, tirade, or diatribe, go on a rant.

Same goes for sentence and paragraph size. Ditto for analogies and figures of speech. They need an extra mental cross-reference. Just say it. Don’t give me a piece of your mind. Just say it. And whatever you do, cut it out with the likes and the umms, and the you know. You need to take mental breaks when speaking, but just practice making them silent. Your perceived competency will immediately go up 50%. Yes, I just made that number up. Here’s another made up rule: if your finished work is not 30% shorter than your first draft, it’s too long.

Two: Use relevant visual examples.

Your brain is just a big network of triggers made up of images, sounds, tastes, and sensations. If you want me to remember what you said, you need to tie some of those triggers to what you just said. Use examples I know. If you want us to go out for sushi, remind me of the smoked salmon we ate last week. Yes, examples are not just for English class. See? That’s another one.

Good examples are about important things your audience is already familiar with. Don’t talk to young people about how you applied conflict resolution to your mother in law. Talk about your parents. Talk about shiny, fast, loud, dangerous, smelly things if you want to create strong mental triggers to your message.

Three: No distractions.

“Cue words” are concepts that can trigger emotional responses that block rational analysis. For example, democracy, Obama, guns, abortion. Just by saying those words, I’ve triggered a whole cascade of mental activity. Regardless of your political orientation, your mind is now busy trying to classify me into friend, enemy, or maybe just trying to think of something intelligent to say about them. Don’t distract me by mentioning things that trigger distracting emotional responses, or words with a whole host of irrelevant connotations. I’m not saying that you should not talk about controversial topics – just don’t distract the reader with them unnecessarily, even if you think he sides with you.

Four: Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Repetition is crucial to forming long-term memory. You’ve heard this before: say what you’re going to say, say it, then say what you said. Here’s an advanced trick: you can improve memorization by using spaced repetition. Make your point then repeat it with increasing intervals of time between each repetition.

Five: Five or less.

Most people can only keep a limited number of ideas in their immediate memory at once. Once they exceed that number, they are going to forget some of the things they learned. For most people, that number is five. So regardless of the topic, organize your presentation or argument so that you never list more than five items for any given category.

The five tips are: less is more, use relevant examples, no distractions, repeat, repeat repeat, and five points or less.

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I've moved to Facebook

If you used to be a regular reader of my blog, you may have noticed my lack of activity here.  I’ve decided to stop updating my personal blog and post short updates to my Facebook page instead.

Though most of my traffic now is random Google searches, Feedburner claims that I still have 100 subscribers to my feed.  If you’re reading this, I’d like to know how you came across my blog and what you thought of it while it was active.

I’m going to try to be more active on my tech blog.   Also, have you seen my One Minute Cases?

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Developing countries don't need aid and democracy: they need to be re-colonized by Western ideas

Reposting this from Facebook:

The material and social progress of post-Enlightenment European civilization stands in stark contrast to the rest of human history. No other culture has created such dramatic and widespread progress in such a short time.

Those who wish to export the material success of the West to the rest of the world must first recognize the causal link between the moral-political foundation of the West and the material progress it makes possible. Moral and social relativism (multiculturalism) and political pragmatism has led to attempts to import superficial political and material Western forms while rejecting their philosophical basis. As demonstrated in post-colonial Africa and India, Southeast Asia, Soviet Russia and Maoist China, such attempts lead to bloody failure when the industrial power of Western forms is directed by traditionalist values.

The superhighways of the West cannot be build over the swamps of tribalism, traditionalism, and collectivism. They must first be drained and replaced with good ideas from the ground up. This does not require a wholesale abandonment of native culture, for they are neither all bad nor are Western ideas without fault. What is required is a ruthless rational examination of the philosophical basis of Western success and an intellectual re-colonization of the non-Western world.

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An Objectivist wedding ceremony

Here is the text of my wedding ceremony earlier this year.  I was not able to find any appropriate ceremonies for me, so I wrote my own.  I’m posting this for those looking for a wedding ceremony inspired by Objectivist ideas.

(The only thing missing are some readings contributed by our friends and family.)

Introduction

Welcome friends.

We gather here today to mark the marriage of Sarah and David. They have invited us to witness their partnership so we may know the nature of their bond and to respect, honor, and celebrate their union.

Prudence will indicate that bonds so total and everlasting should not be entered lightly, and not without due consideration and full knowledge of the commitment they entail. But when two people recognize that they are each other’s highest value, and that their individual happiness depends on each other, it is their sacred right to enter into the partnership of marriage. And so, a decent respect for their friends and family requires that they should declare the reasons that impel them to join and celebrate their marriage.

Continue reading “An Objectivist wedding ceremony” »

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