The Call’s Gnuz & Lynx Roundup | A Big Question

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I was going through my collection of podcasts from earlier this year, and one of them was The Skeptic Zone Ep. 381. It was near the end of the show, when the host, Richard Saunders, was at a local Skeptics in the Pub event, and posed the question (I’ll quote him here as best I can): “If skeptics had a magic wand to make people see things our way, would we do it?” I recommend the episode, dating from February 7 of this year, for the full discussion and the responses he got at the event.

My own answer to Mr. Saunders’ question?

*Drum roll*

No. No, I would not.

It would be easy, it would be simple, and the world might even be a better place. Maybe.

But the cost?

Even if the magic wand turned everyone into better critical thinkers, and there was a true golden age of skeptical thinking encompassing the entire human race, there would be a heavy moral cost, as I am not a believer in the idea that the end justifies the means. Waving the wand would be expedient, but in no reasonable moral system I am aware of would expedience be a good gauge of moral virtue. And no, I do not consider Ayn Rand’s Objectivist ethics a reasonable set of ideas: it may be summed up in only five words: “It’s all mine, pathetic loser!”

There is the question of the ends being corrupted by the means used, and waving the wand would be akin to the tactics of the Mule, a character in Isaac Asimov’s novel “Foundation and Empire,” whose power was to tweak peoples’ minds to make them feel and do whatever he wants as though it were their own free will. Waving the wand, whatever the consequences (and they may not necessarily good ones despite the immediate results) would be a violation of the right to autonomy, in this case the autonomy of belief.

Also, whether power corrupts, and absolute power does so absolutely, or it is simply that power tends to attract the corruptible, I do not trust anyone with that kind of power, including myself. The ethical cost and temptation to abuse it is too great. And what if, after waving the magic wand and making everyone see things my way, what if it turns out that I’m wrong?

So my answer is no. It is too morally costly. And I can be wrong. This is something to consider when more invested in the reliability of a process of gaining knowledge than in the conclusion that results. I can be wrong, and so, at some point, has every alleged authority ever cited been. In keeping with Feynman’s dictum, I can be fooled, and so can even the most skeptical in the right context, for I, like most of humanity, am the easiest one to fool.

To just magically change someone else’s mind is inherently coercive, even if they agree with the change once it’s done. But to change another’s mind on the strength of the evidence and reasons given for it is not by any valid standard coercive, no matter the conclusion reached. Not even rejection of a particular set of formerly accepted claims. Not even acceptance of formerly rejected ones.

Evidence alone cannot coerce a change in belief as it is a matter of the subjective willingness to accept it, and the same for reason, as it must be subjectively accepted as valid to be of use. Certainly, one can say that they found the evidence for a case compelling, but it would be a fallacy of equivocation to equate that with saying that presenting evidence is somehow a violation of one’s own consent. That is simply another way of saying that the evidence and reasoning offered were sufficient to sway one’s opinion. One must value reason and evidence in order to accept them as worthy of changing one’s mind.

And not everyone does accept these things. So the process of skeptical inquiry and outreach is messy, effortful, and never quite as effective as many would like. But it is successful often enough and worth the work invested when it is done using still fallible but reliable and ethical methods.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

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Ra-Men Special with SAnal Edamaruku

AronRa chats with Indian rationalist and secularist Sanal Edamaruku, on his work combating superstition in his native country and the enemies it’s made him over the years with some very powerful people.

Caturday’s Astrophenia | 2016.04.16

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This week I’m engaged in working on my study skills and putting them to use at the same time, and we are still getting Rickmeister Fluffington used to my parental unit and to Gorgeous, the most sedate and least scary cat in the house. Ricky is getting on wonderfully with Eccles, which is good given Eccles’ aggressively kittenish playfulness. No jumping on other cats’ heads or attacking fluffy tails for you, Doctor Eccles! The objective of the next week is to get pictures of Ricky trying to hide, either behind the couch, or in my spare room, amusingly in plain sight while thinking himself invisible. He reminds me of old Rocky, who used to try his cloaking device technique of jumping onto my desk and slowly creeping up to me, which of course never worked:-)

I know that officially I’m supposed to be on a self-imposed spring break until the next study semester, but preparation is needed. I must catch up with practice on earlier material, lots of immersion in the subject, including speaking the language(s) however badly at first. Learning languages is not easy, especially three of them, and you cannot succeed if you are not willing to accept and exploit setbacks. It’s important to use “break time” to ready myself for more advanced material, to make demonstrable progress whatever the subject once study officially resumes. It’ll be fun, and it has been so far.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Close up of the Bubble Nebula

Lucid Dreaming

Cancri 55 e: Climate patterns on a Lava World

Auroras and the Magnetosphere of Jupiter


Lapland Northern Lights

A Green Flash of Spring

Cassini Approaches Saturn

The Comet and the Star Cluster

Combined Solar Eclipse Corona from Earth and Space

Orion in Read and Blue

Full Venus and Crescent Moon Rise

Mercury and Crescent Moon Set

Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transit System

Image of the Week: Evaporating Peaks in 3D: Pillars in the Monkey Head Nebula

Weekly Astrognuz:

Bigelow and ULA Partner to Launch Commercial Space Habitat by 2020

KELT-4Ab is a Jupiter-Like Planet Orbiting in a Triple Star System

NASA Invests in Two-Dimensional Spacecraft, Reprogrammable Microorganisms

NASA Discovers 72 New Asteroids Near Earth

Robert De Niro Defends Anti-Vax Documentary, Parrots Long-Debunked Claims

Video: Two Years of NEOWise Asteroid Data

Hawking Supports Tiny Spacecraft to Alpha Centauri

Three Jupiters: A Jupiter Analog Orbits Another Star

Space Images: The Great Divide

Pluto Reveals More Secrets

The Laws of Cosmology May Need a Re-Write

Rogelio Bernal Andreo Photo of Faint Wispy Dust Between the Stars

A Space Spider Watches over Young Stars

April 12, 1961: The First Human in Space

Three Jupiters: Young Rogue Exoplanet Found in Sun’s Galactic Neighborhood

Saturn Spacecraft Samples Interstellar Dust

Big Picture Science Radio Show | Surfeit of the Vitalest 

xkcd: Stargazing

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Fractals of the Week | Come Halley or High Water!

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This week, I’ve a few pieces done using the math of Edmund Halley, of comet fame, whose method for finding square roots bears some similarity to Newton’s method, but which can produce images of wholly different character. A few years back, I found such math challenging to work with, but with time I’m increasingly satisfied with the results. Here are two of them:


An alien spider at the center of its web? Maybe. It’s currently untitled, and this piece like the next does not make use of quasi-3d orbit trap settings. Both of these use only the limit set, brought out by the color mapping of each piece to best effect. Well, best out of a series of attempts using a coloring randomizer, and selected from those that didn’t make the cut as either too pixelated, or too garish. Many of you are aware that I tend to avoid colors that one might find on a psychedelic black light poster from the 1970s. That is, unless requested to do otherwise for commission work.


This one is a bit more anthropomorphic, perhaps suggesting a face, or a badly drawn ancient medical diagram of an absurdly over-muscled human figure. I was less displeased with the coloring for this one, and I think I’ll keep it in my archives. I’m currently updating the file addresses of all my pieces, from the very first set of image folders to the very most recent. It’s coming along quickly, and perhaps once finished, I’ll have time to improve on this piece, as I intend to do for my more interesting early pieces, themselves far too small to make good prints, but otherwise decent.

It pays to revisit old apps with not-so-old ideas. Now then, I have cats to attend to. May you all have a beautiful time of what remains of the week, and I’ll see you sometime.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

All JPEG, PNG & GIF images in this post are original works by the author, created via a variety of apps and unless otherwise stated are copyright 2016 by Troy Loy. I hereby permit the free, noncommercial use of these images, with proper attribution or a link back to the original source. Thank you!

Gods of Terra | Suthidruu Weaponry & Notes on ‘Paradise’

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Suthidruu speech consists mainly of piping, whispering, and slurping sounds that resemble the playing of alien flutes combined with less pleasant sources. It joins with olfactory cues for nuance and grammatical detail, and these cues increase in intensity with the level of emotional arousal of the speaker. Typical scents emitted can be nauseating to humans, but are usually only faintly so unless the being is being shouty or screaming.

Audible sounds are spoken in a variety of meters. Suthidruu use these sounds to arm and calibrate their weaponry, as much of it is voice-controlled.

Shipboard weaponry:

The upload cannon is a horrible weapon used in Last Rites ceremonies for doomed species. It is a series of turret-mounted remote brain-scanners of incredible power and precision, standard issue on all Suthidruu combat craft. Batteries of this weapon copy brain patterns as they destroy the brains of entire planetary populations. These patterns are then sent to the virtual world of a dying Matrioshka brain known as the Labyrinth of the Machine Goddess, located in a distant, long-forgotten galaxy. Upload cannons work only on beings with electrochemical central nervous systems. They have no effect on unconventional brain substrates, nor pure machine intelligences. But these are not considered to be living things in the Elder Worms’ theology. Uploaded minds then reside in the Matrioshka brain’s circuits as semi-aware shades, or data-ghosts.

Personal weaponry:

The species’ main personal armament issued to all acolytes, the flutecaster, resembles an oversized flute with multiple pipes, and it is a miniaturized version of the upload cannons used by their vehicles, and unless shielded from the effects, the results of a direct hit are almost invariably fatal. Brain patterns thus stolen are uploaded to the vessel the warrior is stationed on, and from there uploaded to the Matrioshka brain.

The Labyrinth itself is in a state of slow decay, with uploaded mind-patterns subjected to glitches of various surreal sorts and even random deletion due to broken down machinery. Paradise here does not resemble anything sane. A good analogy would be something like a Salvador Dali painting combined with the more bizarre works of Heironymous Bosch. This is as it has been for billions of years.


It remains to be seen what the reaction of the Suthidruu would be if they realized the true nature of the afterlife they send their victims to. They shall only have a chance to find out, though, once they’ve extinguished all other life in the Cosmos and having finally earned ‘salvation’ thus, end themselves in an orgy of species-wide mass suicide. There’ll be hell to pay.

13 Word Story: Here, Kitty!


What if, in some future era, owning animals of any sort, especially pets, were a crime punishable by death? As a cat owner, this is of some concern to me, as I would hate to be separated from my beasties, Gorgeous, Mr. Eccles and Ricky. This is a tale from such a world, where humans are separated by law from all animal contact. Here too is a tale of a girl who risks her life for the animals she loves and cares for.

Tf. Tk. Tts.


Project Logicality | Zikky the Imp & The Inconsistency Fallacy

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Objects-of-faith themselves are now outside the scope of my blogging. But arguments regardless of original purpose are fair game as they are logically testable. Thus do they open themselves to meaningful critique.

First, the laws of logic demand consistency in their use. You do not get to cherry-pick what reasoning supports your conclusion nor dismiss as silly or absurd what doesn’t. Absurdity is often claimed through the use of disingenuous rhetoric. The claim that actual infinities are impossible because they lead to absurdity are a case in point. Asserted most often by Dr. William Lane Craig, the claim is easily falsified merely by consulting a book by any professional mathematician who regularly works and writes on set theory. The fact that infinities can lead to absurdities in certain arithmetic operations does not prove their actuality impossible, only that you cannot perform those operations using infinities. There is dangerous equivocation to be committed by toying with the semantics of words like ‘actual.’ There is much difference between ‘actual’ in a physical context, and ‘actual’ in a mathematical one. Also, if you declare actual infinities impossible, you must declare all actual infinities impossible including those that favor your argument. You do not get to invoke nonsense, such as ad hoc ‘qualitative infinities’ to save your claims from your own line of reasoning. This is why I refuse to debate apologists; I’ve little patience with dishonest argumentation in a debate partner, and I find it annoying and frustrating. The trouble here is, they just don’t seem to know, or possibly know and don’t care. It matters little. That’s bad for keeping my stress levels down, so no.

Onward, then…

So, let’s say there’s a mischievous imp. We’ll call him Zikky. Zikky (not to be confused with Zippy of pinhead fame…) is a very special sort of imp, a Cartesian demon. He’s a diabolical master of illusion and delusion who can make anyone see and think whatever he likes them to. He’s a virtuoso at mucking with peoples’ heads. He can create whole, self-consistent virtual worlds in any and all minds he wants to. For all functional purposes these virtual worlds cannot be told from ‘the real thing.’ Let’s assume an agnostic position as to whether Zikky really exists. Let’s also assume he has a following, a fan club who idolizes their hero and collects his trading cards.

Despite those pesky doubters who require his existence be shown to some reasonable standard of logic and evidence, Zikky’s fans claim that those are all completely irrelevant to his existence. ‘We don’t need evidence, or logic,’ they say. They also argue that there is both rational and empirical evidence for this; supposedly self-evident reasoning and evidence throughout the natural world. Many of his fans say they’ve met and talked to him personally at conventions. And there is the allegedly rock-solid proof of personally signed Zikky the Imp collector’s cards. Hmmm. It looks as though they are trying to have their chapattis and eat them too!

Fallacy! But while the fact of a fallacy doesn’t show a claim false, it does show that a claim does not follow from the arguments given. Throw those arguments out; they’re at cross-purposes, and so no good!

Relevance works both ways, not just in one direction. If X is relevant to Y, then Y must be relevant to X. The same for irrelevance. They are symmetrical. There is a causal chain that necessarily links both ways even when moving in only one direction.

So if logic and evidence are irrelevant to Zikky, then Zikky is irrelevant to them. Just as you cannot absolutely disprove Zikky’s reality using reason or facts, you also cannot use them to show that he’s real. After all, he’s a master of fiddling around with peoples’ minds not bound by any natural laws. How could anyone possibly know? How would a world with or without Zikky in it appear? No conceivable observation, no knowable brute fact, is inconsistent with either possibility. It cannot be tested, and philosophically, it’s not useful in any practical sense. Whatever you perceive looks and feels real no matter what’s perceived. So it doesn’t really matter whether Zikky exists or not.

Sure, the arguments for his reality are fairly weak on their own, but what if we offer them together to make our case? Can we prove our case with reason alone, using allegedly true premises and a lot of quotations as our evidence? But in fact, while argument is useful to explain evidence, it cannot substitute for it, even with supposedly true premises. Especially in formal logic, determining the actual truth of the premises is the hardest part of evaluating any argument, however valid we find its structure. It’s easy to bamboozle with out-of-context quotes and dubious factoids.

That’s why science uses logical argument in its explanations for natural and human phenomena, and carefully gathered evidential data to support those explanations. Logic alone, outside of a context of maths or pure logic is empty. For claims about anything existing in the real world, you need the data to show it. That’s what counts. Reason serves to organize and make sense of the data, but it cannot replace it. This should not be news. It’s been obvious since modern science began, and our reasoning and data-gathering have only gotten better over the centuries. Science no longer adheres to the naive overconfidence in pure reason of even a few hundred years ago. If the data don’t support it, it’s of no scientific use. No matter how persuasive the reasoning, or rationalizations, as the case may be. That’s why we’ve moved on.

It’s why science has made genuine progress, while apologetics and pseudoscience have not. If there’s no actual data supporting one’s claims, if one’s forced to make a case using the same fallacies dressed up, retooled, and rebranded with questionable data points, then they’ve not come very far at all.

Good luck convincing anyone who doesn’t already accept those claims, no matter their nature. Any fallacy, formal or informal, is enough to disqualify an argument as reliable support for any claim. But the inconsistency fallacy is among the most obvious, and among the most egregious.

Avoid it whenever possible. It will save you the effort of making up excuse after excuse to explain away those same inconsistencies.

Tf. Tk. Tts.


Philosophy of Religion: Lecture 25: Evidence is Irrelevant to Faith

The God Distraction, Chapter One: Arguments

The Big Questions of Philosophy: Lecture 3: How Do We Reason Carefully?

Fractals of the Week | “Labyrinth, When the Stars Fell”

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This week, I have a few pieces that were really fun to play with, from reconditioned older parameter sets given new life. I’ll be a bit minimal on introductory text, as we are busy getting the new cat used to the home, and especially the other cats. I’m taking pictures tonight if I can get Ricky to stay still and not run away from the camera!

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Starfall on the Labyrinth World

This one was interesting to work with, combining Sierpinksi, Mixpinski, and Mandelbox into an odd hybrid mishmash, but one that worked well. Among the things it suggests to me are the walls of a sort of alien hive, though not Xenomorphs, but something stranger, like maybe Hounds of Tindalos, which show a marked preference for angles, especially those of time. It would certainly be a place where they could easily get to any victims who wandered in, given that the Hounds can use angular surfaces to attack. This also has evoked a resemblance to a city seen from a Goblin King’s eye view, with labyrinthine walls and bluey glowing pits or maybe meteorite craters, for goblins to toss their stuff. My friend Jason Avery gets credit for the title.

Clearance for Launch

This piece uses a similar set of parameters, the inputs used to tweak the math which generates the final image’s appearance. It zooms in, or magnifies the image much more than the previous piece. The somewhat prosaic title comes from the image of a starship taking off from a spaceport. But what’s going on with it?

The glow effect could show a mix of things going on, but whatever it may suggest, that’s a lot of light being thrown about, whether the daylight of an extremely nearby stellar primary, the fiery reaction mass of spacecraft in liftoff, perhaps a spaceport in the process of exploding in a very nasty way while evacuees desperately try to escape from impending disaster, like a gargantuan solar storm. What you see is up to you!

All JPEG, PNG & GIF images in this post are original works by the author, created via a variety of apps and unless otherwise stated are copyright 2016 by Troy Loy. I hereby permit the free, noncommercial use of these images, with proper attribution or a link back to the original source. Thank you!