Am I a Materialist?

Sometimes I wonder whether I, or any real scientist, can be considered a “materialist” any more. That is, do I really think that matter – chunks of solid ‘stuff’ – is all there is? Here is a quote from Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion which may help clarify (or further confuse) the issue:

We have this tendency to think that only solid, material “things” are “really” things at all. “Waves” of electromagnetic fluctuation in a vacuum seem “unreal”. Victorians thought that waves had to be waves “in” some material medium. No such medium was known, so they invented one and named it the luminiferous ether. But we find “real” matter comfortable to our understanding only because our ancestors evolved to survive in Middle World, where matter is a useful construct.

Now, perhaps my definition of “matter” here is too limited. Surely matter is more than the solid chunks our brains are programmed to understand, and must also include things like photons and gravity. Even then, though, there are weird exceptions that are certainly real but can hardly be said to fit into the label of “material”. For example, quantum entanglement allows two distant photons to be related to each other in a predictable way. But is the nonlocal connection between them really “material”? What about concepts like “memes” – cultural ideas that are passed from person to person? They are real things, which have effects on the material world of our brains and behaviour, and exist in material manifestations, but what about the meme itself? A pattern of information – an idea – can take material form, but is not itself material, is it?

We can broaden our definition of material to include anything that affects or interacts with the observable world. But then how are we any different than dualists, who say that there is an immaterial “soul” which affects (perhaps through the pineal gland), but is not really part of, the material brain?

I dunno. Now I’ve confused myself. Maybe it’s best to leave labels like “materialist” out of science and let the evidence lead us wherever it goes, whether it fits our previous definiton of “material” or not.

50 Things To Do To Stop Global Warming

Here is a list of 50 things you can do to not feel guilty about global warming. I think this stuff is pretty important, because seriously, we’re going to destroy the Earth. It might be sooner, it might be later, but pumping pollution into the air can’t be a good thing, so we should probably stop that.

Most of these are pretty obvious, but it’s good to have them all in one place. Some should be obvious but aren’t – like not putting your fridge beside your stove. I’ve never thought of that before, but…duh.

There is one thing they forgot, though:

Reality Television Secrets

So I TiVo’ed American Idol last night and watched it this morning. I discovered that, if you fast forward through the commercials and useless filler, you can watch a 2 hour episode of Idol in approximately 40 minutes. That means about 66% of the show is skippable. It’s not a good sign when you’re watching a show in which the majority of its material can be discarded without detracting from it. Why do I bother?

Still, I’m glad that this season there are TWO funny chubby guys. They’re always good to watch. And one of them is named “Sundance Head”, which is a pretty damn funny name. Though with a last name of “Head”, pretty much any first name is funny. If it were my last name, I’d name one of my kids Richard so he could be Dick Head. Another one would be Harold, so he could be Harry Head, which would become ironically hilarious when he inherited my baldness genes.

You know what show has even more filler though? Deal or No Deal. If you skip the crap, it’s approximately 30 seconds long (i.e., “I pick case #4! *FAST FORWARD* Ohhh, look, your case contained 2 dollars. Should’ve made a deal. *FAST FORWARD* Here are shots of all the models *FAST FORWARD* See you next time! I’m Howie Mandel! I’m mentally ill…isn’t that funny!?”)

I do find the fact that it’s popular pretty fascinating. I have a feeling it’s getting down to basic psychological principles; like the need to resolve uncertainty (i.e. what’s in each case), the reward that results from resolving it (i.e. opening cases), and the fact that people will keep watching what’s, basically, a person playing a giant scratch-and-win ticket, just for these little rewards. It’s sorta like rats pushing levers over and over if it will sporadically release a reward. In some cases, they’ll just keep pushing until they die. Perhaps people aren’t exaggerating when they say that reality TV will bring about the end of the world.

Nine Inch Nails Kickass "Viral Marketing" Stuff

OK this is pretty cool. A new Nine Inch Nails album is coming out pretty soon, and to promote it, a series of weird-ass web sites have popped up in relation to it, such as this one (click and drag), this one, and this one. There is a whole story emerging out of it, involving terrorism and drugs and corrupt governments and all that good stuff.

An image that recurs on these sites is the following:

A hand reaching down from the sky, or something.

Then, recently, an mp3 file appeared on the internet. Apparently, it was found on an abandoned USB drive in a bathroom at a NIN show. The file contained a brand new NIN track, along with some static at the end. The song can currently be heard here, but who knows for how long.

But the weird, and very cool, thing is that when you run the file through a computer program that allows you to see the “spectrum” of the static, you see this:

The same hand. Creepy.

Obviously this is all a marketing ploy, designed to draw attention to the new album. The web sites are created by a marketing company, and the mp3 wasn’t “leaked” at all; it was made to be found. But if an artist wants to draw attention to their work, this is the way to do it. Getting people involved and entertained by using the power of the internet to spread ideas that no individual could figure out (I’d never think to visualize the static like that). This couldn’t have happened a few years ago. I didn’t even know a new NIN album was on the horizon, but now I’m kinda excited about it, so the ploy is working. Good job, Trent.

As a side note, this isn’t the first time a musician has hidden images in sounds. Apparently Aphex Twin did this a while ago:

It’s his own face. Obviously. The dude plasters his creepy face on everything he does, even the music itself. It would be annoying if the music wasn’t so wonderful.

Anyway, just thought I’d share.

Anagrams

Rearrange my name, and this is what you get (from this web site, Sternest Meanings):

  • Mike Battista -> I’m a basket tit.
  • Michael Battista -> Blast it! I’m a cheat.
  • Michael E. Battista -> I am athletic beast.
  • Michael Evan Battista -> Hateable victim Satan.

Nice. I think I’ll just call myself “hateable victim Satan” from now on.

Also:

  • George W Bush -> He grew bogus.
  • Osama Bin Laden -> A damn alien S.O.B.
  • Justin Timberlake -> I’m a jerk, but listen.

Skeptiko

A new podcast, called Skeptiko, has just started releasing episodes. It’s about controversial scientific issues, and the scientific method. I’ve enjoyed the two episodes so far, so if you’re interested in this sort of thing, you can download the shows from the official site or the usual way through iTunes.

The reason I mention this is to follow up my review of Dean Radin’s book below. He was just on Skeptiko talking about the book and more. What I found quite cool is that the interviewer gave Radin several opportunities to put down “skeptical” critics – for example, by accusing them of fiddling with statistics in order to support their own agenda – but Radin did not go for it. Instead, he (rightly) pointed out that it’s a double-edged sword. Every scientist, consciously or not, is going to focus on the results and methods that support their hypothesis, which is why it’s good that there are proponents of both sides of the issue to bring balance.

Apparently Dr. Radin is now working on some research involving one of my favourite things in the world: chocolate. This place is where he gets the chocolate. I wish it was possible to taste things through a computer screen. If this research works out, I just might have to change my PhD dissertation to a replication of it. Of course, it will require constant sampling of the chocolate to make sure it’s still good. For science.