weirdly, fuel efficiency can be expressed as an area

Yesterday I saw someone joking online about how if you apply dimensional analysis to fuel efficiency, you end up with an area. Why? Because fuel efficiency is expressed (in Canada and Europe, anyway) as liters per 100 kilometers. The liter is a unit of volume, or length3. The kilometer is a unit of length. If you divide length3 by length, you end up with length2, or area. (Similar reasoning applies to American-style fuel efficiency expressed as miles per gallon.) Continue reading

The mystery of celebrity endorsements

In the photo above, you can see the famous basketball player Shaquille O’Neal endorsing Epson printers. He was undoubtedly paid a lot of money for that, because Epson believed that the increase in profits would more than offset the large expenditure. Companies pay big bucks for celebrity endorsements, so they’re obviously convinced that these endorsements are effective. Continue reading

Rationalizing Hell

Detail from The Last Judgement, Jan Van Eyck

Perhaps the most disturbing idea in Christian dogma is the notion of hell — a place of unending torment for the detestable souls who don’t qualify for a blissful eternity with God and the angels in heaven. Who are these horrible people who are condemned to agonizing, eternal punishment? Those who don’t believe in Jesus. That’s it. Merely failing to believe in Jesus means you are one of the loathsome vermin who must suffer forever, with no possibility of a respite, and not even the prospect of a welcome oblivion. Continue reading

ChatGPT narrates TSZ

By now, many of you will have heard of ChatGPT. If you haven’t, be prepared — you’re going to hear a lot about it over the coming weeks and months.

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence language model with an impressive ability to understand and generate humanlike text, drawing on a vast reservoir of knowledge gleaned from the internet. (It also makes stuff up, which can be a real problem.) It answers queries and can write stories, articles, computer code, and even (bad) poems. I don’t yet understand much about how it works, but when I learn more, I’ll describe it in the comments. Continue reading

Cockatoo intelligence and social learning

We’ve been underestimating birds for far too long. Here’s a great story about how Australian cockatoos have figured out how to open lidded trash bins and how the knowledge has been spreading through local populations via social learning. There are even regional cockatoo cultures which differ in which bin-opening technique the local birds use.

Crafty cockatoos master dumpster diving and teach each other

“Teach each other” is a bit of an exaggeration, but they do learn from each other. Continue reading

More arguments for the soul, examined

In the previous thread I examined (starting here) a couple of Richard Swinburne’s arguments for the soul, pointing out why I think they are flawed.

Because I find this stuff so interesting, I thought I would look for some more pro-soul arguments and open another thread to discuss them. This topic is important to a lot of people, particular those whose religious or spiritual beliefs invoke some concept of a soul or a soul-like entity. Continue reading

Did I lose my mind to science?

That’s the title of a new article at the Patheos website, which describes itself as “the world’s homepage for all religion”. The article is the first in a series by Ted Peters, emeritus professor of theology at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, who understands the threat that materialism (aka physicalism) poses to traditional religious views regarding the self. Continue reading

A Milestone (Millstone?) for Christianity in England and Wales

Results from the decennial census show that for the first time ever, fewer than half of English and Welsh citizens identify as Christian. The decline has been precipitous, as shown by the graph.

It appears that most of the Christians jumping ship end up in the ‘no religion’ category rather than converting to another religion. No data on how many of them still believe in a god or gods, or in a ‘higher power’. Also interesting that if established trends continue, the ‘no religion’ folks will become a majority in the not very distant future.

The graph comes from this BBC article.

Questions for Christians and other theists, part 8: the Trinity

One of the strangest doctrines in all of Christianity is the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine holds that there are three divine persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost — yet only one deity. Each of the three persons is fully God, and not just a part of God. A famous diagram known as the “Shield of the Trinity” compactly summarizes the idea:

Continue reading

Conscious Perception: Continuous or Discrete?

A short 9-page paper presents a model of conscious perception as a discrete process:


Time Slices: What Is the Duration of a Percept?



We experience the world as a seamless stream of percepts. However, intriguing illusions and recent experiments suggest that the world is not continuously translated into conscious perception. Instead, perception seems to operate in a discrete manner, just like movies appear continuous although they consist of discrete images. To explain how the temporal resolution of human vision can be fast compared to sluggish conscious perception, we propose a novel conceptual framework in which features of objects, such as their color, are quasi-continuously and unconsciously analyzed with high temporal resolution. Like other features, temporal features, such as duration, are coded as quantitative labels. When unconscious processing is “completed,” all features are simultaneously rendered conscious at discrete moments in time, sometimes even hundreds of milliseconds after stimuli were presented.

(H/T J-Mac)

Circularity in Eric Holloway’s proof

In a recent thread, commenter Eric Holloway links to an article in which he claims to have proven that halting oracles are logically possible.

The one-page article can be found here:

The Logical Possibility of Halting Oracles

I’ve taken a look at the article, and the proof contains a blatant circularity. That is, it assumes that halting oracles are possible in order to demonstrate that they are possible.

Eric’s proof depends on the construction of an infinite table (which he calls an ‘index’, for some reason) containing an entry for every possible finite Turing machine. The entry includes a specification of the machine in question and a “halting status” that indicates whether the machine halts or runs forever.

Another machine (the “search machine”) is set up that can search through the infinite table to find any particular finite state machine. If it finds a match, it returns the associated halting status. The search machine together with the infinite table thus constitute a halting oracle, according to Eric.

The problem is simple: To populate the infinite table, you need to know the halting status of each finite machine, and to get the halting status, you need a halting oracle. Eric thus assumes the logical possibility of a halting oracle in order to prove the logic possibility of a halting oracle.

It’s plainly circular.

There are additional problems with the article that we can discuss in the comment thread.

Algorithmic Specified Complexity in the Game of Life, revisited

In 2015, Winston Ewert, William Dembski and Robert Marks published a paper entitled Algorithmic Specified Complexity in the Game of Life.

The paper was a wreck. We examined it here at TSZ and found well over 20 substantive errors in it.

ID supporter Eric Holloway describes it as a “neat paper”. I describe it as an “abysmal mess”.

Eric has been touting the virtues of ASC here at TSZ, so now is a good time to reopen the discussion of this paper.

Christian List on free will

For many people, the idea of free will is bound up with the notion of “could have done otherwise”. By their lights, if only one future is possible for a person — that is, if the person cannot do otherwise — then free will is an illusion.

Philosopher Christian List — author of the recent book Why Free Will is Real — proposes an interesting species of free will based on the claim that while physics may be deterministic, behaviors at the agent level are not. Agents can do otherwise, according to List, and this is enough to ground free will even if physics is deterministic.

I think List is mistaken, but I’ll save my criticisms for the comment thread.

Readers can find List’s argument in this paper:

Free Will, Determinism, and the Possibility of Doing Otherwise

See you in the comment thread.

Moral luck

It’s Saturday night and you’re at a party.  You drink too much and foolishly decide to drive home.  On the way, you lose control of your car.  Then one of two things happens:

Scenario A

There is no traffic around.  Your out-of-control car careens across the left lane and into a ditch.  It hits a fence post.  The car is damaged, but you are unhurt.  The police come  and arrest you for driving under the influence.

Scenario B

A car is approaching.  Your out-of-control car careens across the left lane and clips the oncoming car, which crashes into a tree.  The driver and her two young children are killed.  The police come and arrest you.  You are charged with manslaughter.

The crucial difference between the two scenarios is sheer luck.  In scenario A, you were simply lucky that no traffic was around.  In scenario B, your luck wasn’t as good, and three people ended up dead.

You made the same irresponsible decision — to drink and drive — in both scenarios.  Is your moral culpability greater in scenario B than in scenario A?  If so, why?