Friday, May 29, 2009

Space, Regarding Nothingness

There seems to be a lot of confusion about virtual particles with regard to ex nihilo.

Specifically, people seem to think that space is exactly equal to nothingness.

Just some quick points.

Space is expanding. So I guess it gains somethingness just long enough to expand and then becomes nothing again?

Warping space causes light rays to bend. They're travelling though nothing, which by definition can have no properties, but bending the nothing causes an interaction. Right.

Finally, empty space has an energy density. That's pretty impressive for a nothing.

So I guess the ex nihilo problem isn't virtual particles, it's that there's an entire ex nihilo energy density. (Which I believe is currently linked to dark energy.)

In reality, pure nothingness is very different from the vacuum. The vacuum is simply a backdrop for particles.

To test this statement, consider the first moments of the universe. By the Big Bang theory, it started as a singularity. Everything, including space itself, was packed into a single point. (Something that is normally impossible, but the Big Bang really did come from nothing.)

Shortly after, the universe is a finite size, and a very small size at that. What happens when the particles hit the edge?

If space is really nothingness, of course the phrase "space was packed into a single point" is meaningless, and they just kind of keep going. Whoosh. (This contradicts the idea that the universe is about 44 billion light years across, of course, since nothingness has no definite size.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


See, because evolution provides solutions, but creationists think the very idea is evil...see, ha ha, I'm so clever.

That is, solutions to adaptive problems, not trying to imply right off that evolution must be true...and evil as opposed to true, not true-yet-evil. Yeah. So clever.

That plus the Zerg. A case of evilsolution if ever there was one. But anyway.

This debate is wrong. Just...wrong.

I'm going to start, however, with something that isn't. From La Wik,
"In biology, evolution is the process of change in the inherited traits of a population of organisms from one generation to the next."
As has been noted before, the idea of evolution predates Darwin. Darwin, as noted below, just came up with the mechanism - natural selection. Indeed, the idea of evolution is kind of obvious. See animal husbandry.

"Evolutionary biology documents the fact that evolution occurs"
Actually, until very recently, only paleo-documentation was possible, which as you know is not very convincing to creationists...which means you should stop trying to use it. Gaah.

Similarly, if:

"Studies of the fossil record and the diversity of living organisms had convinced most scientists by the mid-nineteenth century that species changed over time. However, the mechanism driving these changes remained unclear until the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, detailing the theory of evolution by natural selection."

Then why do I keep hearing stories about evolution getting the Galileo treatment? Pick one or the other. You don't get to claim Galilean ethics when all your peers agree with you.

The stories are not matching up. Did Darwin come up with evolution by looking at Galapagos finches, or just natural selection? (Turns out, just natural selection; New Scientist) Was it broadly accepted, or not? It seems to depend on what the speaker is trying to prove. A classic symptom of politicized science.

"This powerful explanatory and predictive theory"
Um, predictive, eh? So these would be the kinds of predictions that I see brought up in evolution debates all the time. You know, the prediction that creationists are feebleminded idiots clinging to a security blanket, or the one about how creationists are evil bastards who are going to be responsible for an Inquisition?

Actually, I kid. In my mind, I make a distinction between predictions about the future and other predictions, which is not how the word is used by scientists. And indeed, evolutionary theory has made many predictions about what we'll find in the fossil record, and predictions about the similarities we'll find between mammal genomes. However, evolution does not, and basically cannot, make anything I'd actually call a prediction.

In fact, the predictions are about the patterns that shared genes conform to. Which as I just linked, turns out to be mostly wrong. Evolution is, right now, an explanatory theory. (Of course, the theory supported by that link won't be any more palatable to creationists.)

"Organisms will adapt to their environment." Okay. Using what strategy? Changing which genes? How likely? Which adaptive pressures are lethal? Which are not? You can bring up experiments on bacteria, but that's just animal husbandry, known since antiquity. This is the basis of the claim I will make that there is no technical context in which you need to know evolutionary theory. It explains things that have already happened. And that is all.
"it has become the central organizing principle of modern biology, providing a unifying explanation for the diversity of life on Earth."
Thankfully, they said something that's actually true. It's quite the relief. Hopefully they don't screw up too much further down.
"Simple organisms have therefore been the dominant form of life on Earth throughout its history and continue to be the main form of life up to the present day, with complex life only appearing more diverse because it is more noticeable."
An excellent example of poor thinking. What does 'dominant' mean? Hah, trick question - they're equivocating. They're trying to imply that humans are not dominant simply because they are less numerous. However, to most people, dominance is about power, and dominance due to overwhelming numbers is called 'dominating counts' not just 'dominating.' (New Scientist says 'dominating counts.') This is an intentional (if possibly not conscious) obfuscation of the facts. When questioned, of course they will say they always meant that single-celled life 'dominates biomass counts.' However, they know their target audience and they know or should know that 'dominant' is about power to them. They are intentionally implying that humans are puny.

Further, they are intentionally implying that the 'fact' that humans are puny is inherent in the data. It is not. Puniness or lack thereof is entirely an aesthetic call. Putting on the lens that scientists like to 'prove' humans are puny will quickly show how common it is.

The idea we are some people on a generally unremarkable planet orbiting a unremarkable sun during an unremarkable time in completely aesthetic. According to whose perspective is our sun 'unremarkable?' Ours. The sun really doesn't give a damn.

So. Scientists enjoy 'tearing down the illusions' by sustaining other illusions. They really need to stop that. As an example...

There is one unremarkable planet of an unremarkable sun in the middle of nowhere...except for the fact that this planet is entirely unique, as is by extension the sun. This apparently random planet is the only planet with consciousness ever observed in the entire universe. This apparently random weird ape thing - the one with only very fine body hair - dominates the entire planet, and by extension, is the most powerful consciousness in the universe. In a fight between a human's goals and basically any other goal - the humans win.

That's a pretty incredible height. Despite living for a tiny amount of geological time, with flaw-riddled bodies and pathetic muscles and making up a tiny fraction of biomass, human beings are the only species who hold the destiny of the planet in their hands, are the only species that may have an entire geological age named after them. That's some pretty incredible power multipliers over some scummy unicelled stuff. It's the vast majority and yet which of us can irradiate the entire planet? Which of us could, in theory, affect the climate at will? (Not talking about AGW. Am talking about solar mirrors.)

So. The data supports either opinion as that's all it is - an aesthetic opinion.
"They are produced by a combination of the continuous production of small, random changes in traits, followed by natural selection of the variants best-suited for their environment."
Actually, no. We don't know that at all. The small, random changes, when calculated out, do not accurately reproduce observed (and obviously necessary) rates of change. In fact, actual evolution can proceed extremely quickly compared to this standard. (Case in point; human brain size increase.) Further, phenotypes follow the punctuated equilibrium model, although genes tend to change continuously - the phenotypes only change significantly at tipping points, with long buffered stretches in between.

Similarly, there is at least one feedback that increases mutation during times of adaptive stress and decreases it during times of adaptive success. Considered a priori, this should be expected. If there is any way for genes to affect their own evolution, they will create the mechanisms to do so to their benefit. Some finches recently immigrated (ctrl-f 'real time') to a Galapagos island, causing significant beak size change in another species in one generation, coinciding with a gene-stressing drought.
"A substantial part of the variation in phenotypes in a population is caused by the differences between their genotypes."
Note that for the purposes of pure philosophy, this is not strictly true. All phenotypes are caused by the genetic code. Which particular phenotype is selected is determined by the interaction between genes and environment. The environment, alone, causes nothing, except in the sense that given an Earth, life arises spontaneously, or so it is thought.

So, rather, all possible phenotypes are almost entirely dictated by differences in the genes. To predict one in particular requires the calculation to involve the environment as well.

Consider the opposite. "Phenotypes would vary continuously over everything, except sometimes they're restricted by genes." Phenotypes are not somehow their own phenomenon, but rather and effect of genetics.
"For example, the human eye uses four genes to make structures that sense light: three for color vision and one for night vision; all four arose from a single ancestral gene."
Also strictly untrue. While rods are used for night vision now, the ancestral gene they're talking about was the rods, which were used for all vision. Similarly, what do you suppose colourblind people see with? It's not like red or green things are invisible to them.
"Another effect of these mobile DNA sequences is that when they move within a genome, they can mutate or delete existing genes and thereby produce genetic diversity."
I like this. "They can delete existing genes, and thereby produce genetic diversity." I'm not sure why exactly they give a crap about the exact mechanisms of mutation; for this debate, all you need to know is thermo #2. However, you certainly don't get new features by deleting genes, which means it always reduces genetic diversity, although if you're lucky it can make a new species. (More likely it deletes something important before the two variants cannot breed.)
"In asexual organisms, genes are inherited together, or linked, as they cannot mix with genes in other organisms during reproduction."
They do not, not can not. Sexual reproduction is the only known way to scramble the genome, not the only way possible. Frankly, unless this is wildly unrepresentative of the quality of evolutionist thought...well, it's not surprising they're failing to convince their opponents.

"Natural selection is the process by which genetic mutations that enhance reproduction become, and remain, more common in successive generations of a population. It has often been called a "self-evident" mechanism because it necessarily follows from three simple facts:
  • Heritable variation exists within populations of organisms.
  • Organisms produce more offspring than can survive.
  • These offspring vary in their ability to survive and reproduce."

They missed thermo #2.
  • Heredity. Something has to tell the next generation how to grow.
  • Variation. This instruction can't be perfectly followed or copied. Thermo #2.
  • Selection. Some imperfections will suck, but others will be awesome. This is feedback.
These reasons may be contained in theirs, but it's just too much work to look - especially if you're bent on proving them wrong. I guess if I'm saying that, I shouldn't use vague terms.
  • Selection. Some imperfections will hamper the ability of the inherited instructions to execute, and some will improve this ability. Since we're talking about something that has generations, one of the instructions is to create the next generation - that is, the concept of 'reproduction' is contained within the first so-called 'simple' idea.
I feel better now.

Evolutionists often confuse Creationists' objections to evolution with the rejection of the idea of natural selection. This is only exacerbated by the fact that stupid people can be Creationists too, and these people will sometimes reject the idea, because they don't have the cognitive resources to parse all the sub-modules of evolution. If they've decided to reject evolution overall, this means, as it does in children, that they reject everything within evolution. As long as they aren't committing any crimes, it's pointless to try to improve their granularity. Also, it's a bit cruel to debate people significantly stupider than you are, especially on TV. Honourable people don't do that kind of thing. (You're welcome to decide to be dishonourable, if that's what you really want. However, you can't make me decide that I really want to respond positively to the behaviour.)


So, if you want to know about evolution, for the sake of whatever you hold dear...don't go anywhere near an evolution-creation debate. Do not pass Dawkins, do not collect 200 soundbites.

Overall, these people are deceptive, self-righteously vindictive, and not even that good at debate. They think evolution is obvious and that most people agree with them. If it is so obvious, then I guess Darwin wasn't all that great, eh? Second, the fact is, rightly or wrongly, most people do not agree. Evolution is a highly contentious subject for people outside the field of biology, something you'd never learn of you spend all your time in the echo-chamber of Dawkins and people who don't realize he's a jerk; they use these prejudices to justify all kind of slander and villany directed against people who disagree with them.

Good lord, as if disagreement was grounds for anything but greater efforts at civility.

So, what's a good reason for believing in evolution?

First, let's talk about the system under which we take evolution as true. Then I will talk about how it is true.

Evolution is an empirical theory which is used to explain observations. At present, we cannot apply biological evolution directly, unless you count animal husbandry, which predates Darwin...just a tad. (Again, natural selection as artificial selection, the idea that if you have a random set of components you should save and develop the ones that work better, is a pretty obvious idea and while it's often linked to Darwin, it has been used since before history. Incidentally, if you know a good historian of philosophy, please direct me. I'm working very indirectly here, lacking the expertise I might wish.)

That is, evolution is not True, it simply Works. (Good example; see references to Newton in the New Scientist article.) If there is a second theory that can explain everything that evolution can, then there is no particular reason you have to choose evolution over it. Second, as there is exactly one technology which depends on evolution,* knowledge of it is almost completely unnecessary. If you want, you can completely ignore this idea in any technical context. (Talking to evolutionary biologists, without begging the question, isn't a technical context, but rather a social one. Trying to publish a paper which ignores evolution in one of their journals would be a pretty dense move.)

*(Specifically computer-aided design routines using reproduction and selection, but this could have been inspired by animal husbandry instead. Wasn't, but could have been.)

Because of this, talking about the metaphysical consequences of Evolution is also a pretty dense move. Certainly you can speculate, but only out of idle curiosity and entertainment, because Evolution is just a set of data. While it happens to be explained one way now, there is not one single guarantee that it will be explained the same way in the future, in which case you'd have to throw out every single metaphysical conclusion and start again.

Plus, of course, it is metaphysics. You can't build anything out of metaphysics.

As a result of these two facts, evolution is the absolute last thing you should hang an atheist crusade on.

But anyway, given that this is an empirical theory, what does it work to explain? Notably, not all of this was lacking from La Wik, but it was mixed with so much shit that I feel the need to filter it out.

My primary source is this, via this here. I found it a wonderfully detailed and clear article, including many bits of info I had never seen before, most of which I have yet to see again.

First and foremost; every single organism on the planet uses a nearly identical genetic code. (With handy chart.) We know which sequences of letters correspond to which amino acids. We can go out looking for organisms that use transcription factors that violate this code, and what we find is that they're incredibly rare. For me, this is the primary reason to believe in a universal common ancestor, and in addition to use evolution to explain the diversity of forms which use this basic, fundamental code. Which, again, is all of them. (Horizontal gene transfer would be impossible, otherwise.)

There's also, at that link, innumerable things like how you can tell reptiles and mammals are related because you can go into the fossil record and watch reptile jaw bones move and morph into mammalian inner ear bones.

Since this is the case,

Evolution does polish Her products. While it is difficult to disentangle genetic instincts from pure appreciation of beauty, most mammals have several universal-seeming traits of beauty and good design, including simplicity, elegance (solving problems efficiently and ingeniously) and sensory richness. Especially, the elegant

Nevertheless, we also expect many kludges, especially in recently-formed species, or during and immediately after rapid evolution, a condition humans fit extremely well. While I'm not convinced that we haven't just overlooked the function of the appendix....

The coccyx. Body hair, especially on women. Conflicting urges; jealousy and promiscuity. The desire to be accepted versus the desire to excel. The urge to relax and be lazy versus the need to procure food and reproduce.

(The reason our wisdom teeth don't work is because if you work your jaw as a kid, it gets bigger. Cooking and more complex food processing has made chewing easier, resulting in smaller jaws at maturity.)

All these things are easily explained by evolution. Either they are effective now, or they are the remnants of things that were effective in the past. Evolution, of course, has no overriding goal, and so logical consistency of drives is accidental at best. It's simply that organisms that are good at surviving are stable and thus continue to exist.

If any of the ancient divine hypotheses were true, I would expect to find urges that were adaptively neutral or negative, but clearly served some kind of religious or spiritual end. I find nothing but the exact opposite - it is easy, even trivial, to at least construct an argument showing any 'spiritual' or 'religious' urge to be in fact utterly self-serving.

There being one exception - psychologists repeatedly find that children and adults are psychologically healthier with what they call a 'spiritual' life. What, exactly, they mean I don't know, but it seems odd to me. (I would be very happy to find I cannot explain this urge in terms of self-servitude.)

Despite all this, I have some questions in case a biologist randomly stumbles on this article.

How does the cell know not to produce copies of broken genes, or to attempt to transcribe parts of junk DNA? Or, do cells end up producing a lot of useless protein strings? Shouldn't there be at least one genetic disease caused by treating a part of junk DNA as a gene?

If life arose spontaneously, then considering the size of Earth, it's extremely likely that it arose more than once. What happened? Why aren't there at least two cell lines?

Could a virus or bacteria with an alien genetic code really attack our cells? Wouldn't their proteins and ours just break?

Are the 22 amino acids the only possible amino acids, or should we expect aliens to use a different set entirely? If so, wouldn't this mean that we would be unable to digest their food, and they would be unable to digest ours?

I should first ask; I know that we higher organisms construct ourselves not out of elementary molecules, but out of pre-existing bits like amino acids and sugars and fatty acids. We cannot manufacture these ourselves; we rely on bacteria and plants to do it for us, then eat them. Doesn't this mean that any alien life, even one from our own planet using a radically different DNA code, would be inedible at best and, more likely, chaotically poisonous?

Now onto the more difficult problems.

What are the mechanics of sexual recombination? How does the cell manage to not snip genes a monomer or two off of where it should be, and break genes? How does it manage the inevitable typos? Speaking of which...
"Sexual reproduction helps to remove harmful mutations and retain beneficial mutations."
People say this all the time, but always expect you to take it on faith; nobody ever explains how. So, er, how?

How does DNA compute? In a computer, encoding is completely arbitrary. But DNA's transcription factors don't seem like they can have this flexibility. So, how does it work? Second, given this answer, is it really true that there are "1.4 x 1070 informationally equivalent genetic codes"? Wouldn't at least some of these be nonviable because the required transcription factors cannot be built out of our amino acids, or indeed violate physical law?

Of similar criticality is how, exactly, by what mechanism, genes code for proteins, especially considering that this is recursive - the decoding protein is itself encoded into the on Earth did this start up?

I hunger for knowledge.

Logical basis
Given 1000 processes, most of them will reduce the chance they will occur again, usually by using up reactants. However, if one of them increases the chance, no matter how small that increase is, eventually it will occur enough times to become perpetual. Let there be a hypothetical equilibrium-like situation where processes will have a 0.2% chance of occurring, all things equal. But what if one, when it occurred, increased the chance by 0.04%? Most processes have a 0.2% squared chance (0.0004%) of occurring twice in a row, while this process has (0.00048%). This seems small, but after only 2495 repetitions it becomes perpetual; the process's probability hits one.

...okay that's rather a lot. The probability of this happening is indeed miniscule. (It's a 2495-term product...if YOU want to calculate it... Graphing the log and using it to estimate order of magnitude, I got well over 1000 decimal places. There are only about 1080 atoms in the universe, and most of those are hydrogen.)

Right. So from this, plus the fact that life leapt at the chance during the formation of Earth, I can conclude either that the process is way way more likely that 1/1000 or that the increase is something on the order of 20%. The chances of RNA arranging itself by chance...miniscule. Hence, it must really really like to replicate itself.

The real estimate calculation is even nastier to do by hand, because in reality the process will never actually reach 100% chance of surviving, plus to actually spawn life it has to replicate. So every success actually spawns two chances to survive again, but eventually the chance to die stabilizes against the chance to live...if the population manages to survive that long. The odds will still be (something enormous) to one. Sure growth is exponential, but it's still probable growth; the death rate of proto-life is going to be enormous. there. Adding complexity is going to make it worse. In reality, the chain of events starts with that one really rare reaction, but leads to different reactions which have different optimum environments, which are going to become more stringent as the complexity grows, just as simultaneously the delicacy and thus half-life of the reactants decreases.

I can be sure they've basically exhausted any simple reaction that can do this, and probably pairs as well. ( Okay, so put all that shit in a test tube at massive concentration and see what happens! ... Oh wait, they already did. Several teams have tried and failed.
I can be sure, however, that they haven't tried to cook up the necessary probabilities on the processes, from which I can conclude that biologists, as a whole, are terrible at logic. (How can I be sure? Because it would have been widely reported. "Probability of life starting calculated to be X%, with Y% chance of surviving to form stable cellular life." Even journalists can understand that.)

The only solution is that it's not any of the known chemical possibilities.

But anyway, given a self-perpetuating process, any tiny error will suddenly cause a different process to self-perpetuate. Basically it will be molecular speciation. I would expect such a self-perpetuating process to be robust, simply because an error-tolerant process is more likely to survive, and indeed complexity, especially randomly sourced complexity, usually leads to redundancy.

And so, the fact that life leapt at the chance on Earth is actually a serious problem for Evolution, unless panspermia is true. While it could have just been a fluke - we hardly know anything about biogenesis - we at least have to consider that it was not. It's not a serious problem for universal common ancestor, because after the first serious go at life, bacteria are going to eat every other biogenesis event. However, if it's so easy, we should have figured it out by now, or at least found something similar in nature.

The other serious possibility is actually also problematic. Panspermia requires that life emerged and then a serious asteroid impact spread rocks across the galaxy or even intergalactically. While it's actually quite plausible to think of bacteria surviving in space like this, it once again puts the probability of biogenesis at 'high' because instead of leaping for the chance on Earth, it had to leap at the chance within rock-striking distance of Earth, which goes pretty far back in time very quickly. (It's similar to working out the size of the impactor in the impactor theory of moon formation. It has to be a certain size and a certain speed to reach Earth and not pulverize itself.) And, again, considering how fast Earth got life, the neighbourhood would have had to have been crawling with crawlies, and we should be finding more Earth-style life forms in places like the asteroid belt.

So go have a look, y'all.

I think biogenesis is a very elegant theory. It connects the elementary particles and the highest form of consciousness into a continuous, integrated process. Unfortunately it's also, given the evidence we have, very very unlikely.

Nevertheless, life did somehow occur on Earth. Given this, evolution is logically inevitable.

There has to be some way to pass on instructions on how to grow to the next generation, because where else are they going to come from? Since perfection doesn't exist, these instructions will randomly get corrupted, but part of the instruction is how the next generation should grow...and thus, evolution is inevitable given the second law of thermodynamics. Given this, what are now called mutations will sometimes improve survival to the next generation, and sometimes not, a feedback that will automatically cause organisms that 'fit' their attempted goals better, to survive better, causing Nature to equip Her creatures with the tools they need, and also causing changes in those tools over time, a process now called natural selection. So that is inter-species evolution, microevolution.

Now, the definition of species is an arbitrary concept, but however you define the boundaries, the mutational shifts will eventually cause a species or part of a species to cross the boundary.

The only way for microevolution to not imply macroevolution would be to dethrone genetics. Not all the information about the animal would be encoded by the genes; specifically, the information encoding which species the thing is. The genes would just be details about the organism, which would in turn imply that the genetic code isn't universal; the details would all be a function of the underlying species code. This species code would basically have to be stored off-platform; neither in the genes or anywhere in the organism, because otherwise it will also be subject to mutation, and thus selection.

If you want a concrete analogue to this hypothetical, go look at machine language codes on different chipsets. Many of the instructions are the same, (they look like 5BE1, which may do something simple like flip a bit or increment a memory address) but many of them are different as well. The machine itself would correspond to the species code, while the genes would correspond to the machine instructions.

But none of the evidence supports this; embryo growth appears to be entirely controlled by fragile, non-error checked* genes transcribed from the genome.

*(Indeed, as there's no 'right' or 'true' genome, you can't even coherently define error.)

I hate writing conclusions. You should draw your own, anyway. So here's some random biological tidbits instead.

Organisms often suffer catastrophic failures. Either many or most embryos self-abort. That isn't the mother rejecting the embryo (which also happens) - that's the embryo failing to divide, just dying in the womb or in the egg.

Two things. First, while for the vast majority of subjects evolution is just an explanatory theory...there is that one application. You can use random mutation plus selection to design circuits, antennas, and so on, and further these prove that evolution is smarter than you. The circuits had apparently independent loops with no apparent computation link whatsoever...yet failed to work when they were removed. The mutation+selection process was taking advantage of the physical quirks of the chip itself - it was no longer digital, but analogue-digital hybrid.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dennett Refuted in One Sentence

Plus several paragraphs that essentially just repeat the sentence in detail. I should mention that none of this means listening to the talk is only ironically useful. (That is, listening to find out what doing it wrong looks like, a type of consumption I engage in regularly.) I should also mention the sentence I reference is the last one.

You can't be mistaken about consciousness. It is the one thing with this quality, because it is known directly. As an instrument, you can indeed be mistaken about what the readings represent, but the reading itself is completely unmistakable.

"I'm going to shake your confidence that you know your innermost minds."
So, er, you do think something? And that thing is mistaken, apparently, according to some criteria? So, there's what you think, and what is? So, is Dennett trying to say that what you think doesn't exist? Because if it does, then you can't be mistaken about your innermost mind. If you're mistaken about it, it's not innermost. To clarify, if I ask you to picture an apple, you can be mistaken about picturing an apple. (If you think the lady was sawn in half, you can't be mistaken about thinking the lady was sawn in half.) The apple is an association and a label, but what you are picturing can't be mistaken relative to itself. You are picturing something, and if you describe it to me, assuming you're fluent in English, (aside from 'apple) you can't be mistaken about that description.

The charitable interpretation is literally that Dennett is denying the existence of consciousness, something that meshes poorly with his opening remarks.

Let me assume it isn't true. So, you mistake one conscious state for another. However, what did you mistake it as? This illusion cannot be mistaken; otherwise it's an illusion that it's an illusion, and you are mistaking the real thing for an illusion. As such, whatever feature of the world you decide is a level of consciousness you identify as indirect and suspect, it simply pushes this directness back a level. (Except when it pushes back forward a level.)
"A lot of people think there can't be a naturalistic explanation of consciousness."
And a lot of people like to confuse my explanation with a supernatural one. That's part of what gives me confidence in it; Dennett would say it's supernatural, yet a Christian would most likely call me out for scientistic bent. I'm obviously not trying to pander to any prejudice. ('Cept my own, which I volunteer to admit.)
Ending at 5:54, "The magic that can be done is not real magic."
No, Dennett, by 'real' in this case people mean the thing that they would really call magic if they saw it, rather than what they perceive as the cheap imitation. And indeed, do not 'real' magicians play up their act to make it as similar to real magic for all it is worth? It entertains by imitating, as opposed to music, which is entertaining because it is entertaining, not becuase people want to see what it is imitating, but can't. Try not to wander into linguistics, it isn't your field.
"Consciousness is a bag of tricks."
Something you cannot prove. As a philosopher, you shouldn't be saying it. Since, as you seem to be aware, people are easily fooled into believing what they want to be true, and you clearly want consciousness to be naturalistic, you should perhaps turn your analytic ability on yourself.

Ending at: 17:11

'Fooling you' is completely the wrong term. The brain is not fooling you, it is making an educated guess, and if you learn to introspect skillfully it will tell you it is doing so. It helpfully labels everything with a delightful cornucopia of labels, actually.

"How many engines on that Boeing? Right in the middle of the picture."
Consciously speaking, the middle of the picture is the juncture between the shuttle and the airplane. The geometric centre is irrelevant.

Again, checking my labels, I didn't even request knowledge about the engines, so, shockingly, it wasn't passed to me. Basically, I thought it was unimportant, my subconscious thought it was unimportant, and consciousness is expensive so we didn't waste our energies on it.

Come to think he mislead me. "It's so obvious and important." Well, actually, it's not obvious, because I didn't see it. Second, it's not important to me. Thus I checked for other things. (This kind of thing has happened to me before. Left to myself I'm just more efficient.)

Also from introspection, I notice that as I experience my conscious representation of the picture, parts of it are labelled for me as searched and not searched. Now that I know I need to check for this label, it will even be useful to me in the future.

Again, Dennett makes a fundamental mistake when he thinks about consciousness, but all his reasoning afterwards is actually pretty interesting.

"Philosopher Dan Dennett makes a compelling argument that not only don't we understand our own consciousness, but that half the time our brains are actively fooling us."
"Philosopher Dan Dennett sticks his foot in his mouth about consciousness, showing his misconception in Blu-Ray clarity, but does it in such a way that everyone is impressed."

Not being an expert on what information, exactly, is passed to my consciousness doesn't make me not an expert on consciousness, since consciousness is a consequence of that information being passed, not the information itself.


Like the last article, I was reading about paradoxes and now I'm writing about paradoxes. It's a straightforward and fairly predictable process.

I'm actually anomalously bad at these puzzles. My general academic success completely fails to predict my perfect failure rate. I even have to work hard to understand the solution once I know what it is. The reason for this is contained in this fact; I'm also anomalously good at remembering the solution once I've heard it. Since our academic systems rely almost entirely on rote, my memory leads directly to my high test scores, but confounds measurement of my 'true intelligence' - however you feel like defining that.

Surprise test paradox. I will assume you're familiar with it. I'm going to define surprise in binary; an event is either not totally predictable or it is totally predictable.

Logic professor says, "There will be a surprise test tomorrow at 3 pm."

The ultimate question becomes; is Prof inherently lying? Assume there is a test. Can it be a surprise test? Can the pupils know if there is a test or not?

Student thinks, "That is a contradiction. There cannot be a surprise test. Prof is lying."

Logic professor gives test at 3 pm the next day. Student thinks, "Well that was surprising." Ergo the student was wrong. But why?

Savvier Student thinks, "Either there will be no test or it won't be a surprise. There are no other possibilities. I cannot rule out either based on the information at hand. (For the sake of argument, guess 50% probability for each.) But now I've reached this conclusion, I cannot actually say with certainty that it won't occur, and thus it will be 50% surprising. Either there will be no test or it will not be 100% expected." When there is a test, Savvier Student is surprised.

Now this is a very interesting chain of logic that starts from true premises, contradicts itself, and then reaches a true conclusion. This is exactly the kind of thing our thinking machines cannot do, except by error. Also, it's exactly the kind of thing humans do all the time. I've seen many mathematical proofs that reach the right answer for the wrong reasons. (I did it myself just recently. Also, Copernicus' circular-orbit heliocentric system was strictly worse than Ptolemy's. Yet, they stuck with it at least long enough to find the elliptical orbit repair. Until then, the only reasons to believe Copernicus were irrational reasons. Which turned out to be correct.)

However, it's still wrong.

Final Student, nicknamed 'passing grade,'* "I do not yet know if there is a test or not. (They Accept their Ignorance.) So there are four possibilities; there is a test or there isn't, and for each of those I assume there is a test and I assume there isn't.

*(Hello, arrogance! How are you doing today? Remember, I'm playing the part of both the Prof and sir 'passing grade' here. Like when David Eddings' characters think of other of his characters as 'complex.')

"If there is a test, and I assume there is, it won't be a surprise and thus Prof's statement contradicts the facts.

"If there is a test and I assume there isn't, it will be a surprise. However, this is contradictory, because I would have to conclude that Prof was telling the truth, which leads me to conclude there is a test, which contradicts the facts as above.

"If there isn't a test and I assume there isn't, I'm right, but Prof's statement contradicts the facts.

"If there isn't a test and I assume there is, Prof's statement contradicts the facts, and I'm just wrong anyway."

"Of all the possibilities, not one can be true without Prof contradicting himself. This statement is meaningless. There is no possible arrangement of facts for which it is true."

Final Student realizes that they know exactly what they knew before Prof's statement. Prof may as well have told them that "Erobyhan," and that "Ionaycla." Final Student decides to assume nothing about tests tomorrow, exactly as they were before.

There is a test tomorrow. With no expectation to confirm or disappoint, Final Student is neither surprised nor unsurprised.

For this analysis, it turns out I don't even need to know if there is actually a test or not. There is no possible arrangement of facts for which the statement is true. It is, in fact, simply an abuse of English, and meaningless. A computer can't even entertain this thought; you cannot validly relate test, surprise, and time that way.

This apparent paradox depends not on the logic of the statement but on the expectations of the audience. As a result, it isn't much of a paradox; even written on a deserted wall the Barber Paradox is still a paradox, but if Prof utters this to an empty room, it is just gibberish. Also, it isn't necessary for the audience to form expectations from Prof's statement; they can choose to form them from anything they desire, rational or irrational, and indeed the paradox is only paradoxical if they make logical errors.

Alternatively you can define 'surprise' differently than usual, for example 'any event that isn't entirely predictable must be at least slightly surprising.' This 'surprise' then is the change of known probability, the jump when it goes from less to 100% when the event actually occurs. Then the paradox doesn't require an audience...but that seems, upon reflection, to be nonsense. Prof delivers the statement to an empty room, gives the test to an empty room, (handing out no actual sheets of paper) and yet a test paradox has still occurred? The definition, while handy in certain instances, fails the definition test; it flagrantly violates our intuitions of what 'surprise' is supposed to mean.

Similarly, if you flip a coin, and it comes up tails, are you surprised? How about heads? Nevertheless, lacking a better definition, I'll use this one as an approximation.

So yes Prof is lying. There is no truth of the matter about whether the test is surprise or not.

So here's my question; how does a human entertain, and indeed reason about, this concept?

For this kind of problem it can also be useful to examine what's actually going on. On Sunday, Prof says, "There will be a surprise test next week." In reality, surprise is neither binary, but rather a scalar, nor entirely logical. If the Prof not announced any test, it would be maximally surprising. If there's a test on Monday, it will be pretty surprising, on Tuesday it will be a bit less surprising, and so on until Friday when it isn't surprising at all.

Of course adding even more reality, Prof doesn't mean 'surprise.' Prof means simply that there is a test next week with roughly equal probability for each day. 'Surprise' is just shorter. And yes, end of Thursday, it won't be a surprise to see it on Friday.

What that actually means is that by the end of Friday, the actual test itself won't add to the student's knowledge of when the test is. But at the beginning of Thursday, the students can predict 'the test will be today 50% of the time' and so if indeed there is a test, their knowledge changes from 50% to 100%. This is usually accompanied by a sensation which is very similar to surprise.* (Of course a full surprise is 0% to 100%.) I think this will accord with your own experience; you don't much expect it on Monday, because the probability is still 20%. As the week continues, the probability rises. (The real world is a bit messier; there is some probability Prof was lying or forgetful, which is why it still feels slightly surprising even on Friday.) Further, you know that since Prof feels the same way, and is thus biased against Friday, most tests labelled 'surprise' will occur in the bucket Tuesday-Thursday, with only a small residue on Monday.

*(Hey X-phi! Go check this!)

Similarly, Prof will likely have experience in this, and know that most surprise tests occur in the Tuesday-Thursday bucket, and that students know this, and may try to use these expectations against them, causing a real surprise.

It may be worth noting that the students can't tell the difference between the Prof randomly choosing to test each day, like radioactive decay, and the Prof having thrown a die and decided on Sunday. To the student, the test having a 100% chance of occurring on Wednesday is identical to the Prof happening to randomly decide, on Wednesday morning, to have the test.

And, while we're looking at the actual process of things, this situation is logically identical to the Free Will versus Determinism situation. Assuming Prof thinks they unpredictably decided on Wednesday morning, Prof cannot tell the difference between it being an actual, unpredictable choice and it having been decided since the beginning of time. The supposedly opposed philosophies are, in consequence, identical.

By the way, it's good to know that, assuming Prof's choice was already decided since the Big Bang, it just means Prof is the Big Bang. They, that is, their personality, is a manifestation of the Big Bang's will, however you want to define 'will.' Prof's 'I' moves from their brain to that cataclysmic creation; it does not disappear.

Now onto something else entirely.

It's not terribly surprising that humans can state things which have no definite value of truth, such as Prof's. But it should be. It should be even more surprising that such statements are not immediately rejected as meaningless.

From everything we know about the universe, it is fully logical. It is in fact mathematical in rigidity. And, in math, if any contradiction is true, everything is true. Since not everything is true, we know that no part of the universe contradicts another. Yet, your brain is also made out of universe. Why can something that is made out of fully non-contradicting parts represent something that is contradictory, and indeed even reason about it?

I mean, how does that work? How do I arrange non-contradictory components in such a way as to make a contradiction? Okay okay, I'm only 'representing' a contradiction, and clearly the components do not contradict themselves...but encoding is arbitrary. What we've got here is a serious issue. Obviously, the component parts cannot contradict each other, and the processes they undergo must be similarly kosher, and yet the concepts they represent are completely out of the question. And yet further, the range of things that those components and processes could be representing is vast, some of which may not contradict.

Something seems to magically transform this soup of perfectly harmonious physics into a mess of ridiculous logic, and further one particular mess as opposed to others. What is it? (I think I might know. Maybe.)

Fallacy of Emergence

The title of this post is very much an example of availability bias. I've been reading about fallacies, and so now I have the urge to write about things which I can label with the word 'fallacy.'

Also a little bit about definition at the bottom.

The fallacy of emergence is this; the parts do not need the whole to be explained, but the whole needs the parts to be explained. Otherwise, dualism. Put another way, you can entirely describe any situation in terms of its elementary particles and their properties, which means adding a description of the emergent properties is unnecessary, thus extraneous, and thus must be an empty set. I've found that my definition of life* has a flaw; it finds that the species of Earth, in aggregate, is a living being. (For instance, it defends the goal of diversity.)

*(Living things can be assigned goals. I fixed this in my first article about Gaia, written after this one.)

However, Gaia requires the actions of the individual organisms to be explained. But, the actions of the individual organisms do not require Gaia to be explained. The concept of Gaia is a fallacy of emergence, and is completely optional, and thus arbitrary, and thus not real. And indeed, we cannot ever interact with Gaia directly, only with her elements. Problem being that life itself is also emergent.

And I can show that the only way for Gaia not be optional, and thus not real, would be for a Gaia situation to bestow properties. But the properties of Gaia supervene on the properties of the organisms;* Gaia would bestow properties upon Her organisms that cannot be predicted from their components.** This is a literal implementation of dualism, where Gaia forms a new fundamental substance with separate fundamental laws or properties. Logically this is actually quite possible; because of the infinite regression fallacy, fundamental layers are assumptions. If I were constructing a universe, I could easily assume new fundamentals made out of old fundamentals. However, we don't observe this in our universe.

*(If this is not the case, it is not a fallacy of emergence because it is not emergence; Gaia would just be some other, separate thing.)

**(This is more easily seen in a different concrete, electrons. If electrons could form emergent properties, they would in certain arrangements jag left when you expect them to jag right, and it would be impossible to reconcile this with their individual properties and their local space; you would have to take into account essentially incantation-like arrangements of electrons. Imagine a pentagon of electrons which has emergent properties. Usually the electrons would repel each other and fly apart, but the emergent properties would hold the pentagon together as it travelled through space as a particle in its own right.)

None of this is to say that the concept of emergence is useless. Quite the contrary. However, when using it, you should be careful to remember that emergent behaviours have no inherent existence and are merely a different way of looking at the underlying elements.

We can certainly define Gaia and indeed many similar concepts, and find that the components that make them up duly exist, approximately. We can even define properties that Gaia will have, and find interactions that carry out those properties, approximately. However, we need do neither, and indeed if you perturb those definitions slightly in just the right way, they'll still hold. This process is repeatable, and repeatable indefinitely, forming any definition of an emergent property from a perturbation of any other one. They have no objective standard and thus no objective existence. Or, put another way, you can easily find a contradictory definition to Gaia. (Which would require a conjugate definition to fully cover the situation.) For example, bowls. You can define bowls by shape. Also, you can define bowls by function, the function of holding liquid or granular solids. It cannot be both, because an upside down bowl does not have the function, whereas the concave bowl shape is not the only one that holds liquids. The definitions are contradictory. Because both are valid, neither is objectively true.

This is why my only criteria for a sound philosophical inference is that the premises can be found in reality. I don't require any particular definitions, and especially not the accepted definitions. Instead, I suggest you use any definition that is convenient, and simply make sure to note which definitions you're using. Also, as a philosopher, it is not your job to confirm that the definitions in fact match reality, any more than it is the mathematician's job to ensure that theirs match reality.

Certainly, generally speaking I don't see much point in pondering the workings of things that don't exist, but once you get in the ballpark, finding the logical relationships is often as generally useful as math is; while you may not find the definitions where you first thought, it probably can be found elsewhere, or perhaps a small modification effort can turn pure fancy into a cogent understanding.

Infinite Regression versus Causality

Because infinite regression is a fallacy, the fact that quantum mechanics isn't entirely deterministic should be completely unsurprising. You can construct any chain of causality like a proof; this cause happened and therefore there was this effect, and that effect caused a further effect...* But since infinite regression is a fallacy, the chain of causation must stop at the most basic levels. Why does an electron exist? Just because. It looks like physics will actually get more fundamental than this, but the logic is the same; why is the ToE or GUT true? Well, it just is.

*(This fact is equivalent to the fact that the universe is mathematically describable. Also applies to constructing objects out of particles; each particle is a premise and the properties of the higher-level thing are the conclusions. If you assume a bunch of H2O at STP, you conclude water. Also, to recap, to apply infinite regression either requires "And electrons are made of yet smaller electrons!"-type circular logic, or else positing every possible particle, and thus every possible property. )

Because electrons just exist, there is particular reason why some of its properties may be uncaused; using the physicalist existence axiom, existence is defined by interactions, which are defined by properties. When electrons decohere, the choice of state just happens. Again, there may be a reason* behind this, but then there will be no reason for the reason.

*(Talking pure physics here. Since you're reading this, you'll probably know I think it goes directly into spiffy stuff at this point.)

Locality is just a property of causality. The general principle is that you can be causally linked only with things you're directly adjacent to. To affect something distant you have to generate an adjacent projectile and send it to bump into what you want to affect.* Because locality is in fact a property of causality, when causality breaks down at the fundamental levels due to the infinite regression fallacy, locality must break down with it. In short; entanglement or something like it is inevitable. It will occur in all universes that follow recognizable logical laws.

*(And ultimately locality just refers to the set of things you can directly interact with, whether they happen to actually be what we think of as 'local' or not.)

(All this raises an interesting question; in the continuous approximation of physics, what does 'adjacent' mean? Naturally quantized spaces such as LQG elegantly solves the problem.)

My favourite story about this is actually semi-mainstream. It says all this in basically a different way; the information available to fundamental particles is limited, and so you can't specify the states of entangled particles independently, and so they have to spontaneously generate information when you interact with them. The article proposes that quantum physics is the realization of the law of excluded middle; that all questions are either yes, no, or meaningless: not questions at all.

Incidentally, the theory helps illustrate why I think information per se isn't really physical; it isn't conserved. It is created when the particle is measured and then, when it goes back to a superposition, it disappears again. Physical systems can represent information, and there can be information about them, but they are not information.

On the other hand;

The Schrodinger equation says exactly that the photon goes down both paths and interferes with itself. In this interfered state it then interacts with the detector. However, if you put a detector on one of the paths, it interacts with that detector instead, changing the situation. It seems pretty straightforward to me. Particles are waves that transfer energy stoichiometrically with other waves, and of course change during this interaction.

This same idea applies to the very beginning of the universe. At some point the chain of causality must simply end. The first event was a cause, but not an effect, which means it wasn't an event at all. Equivalently, it's meaningless to talk about 'before' the Big Bang, because there was no time there to be 'before' relative to.

Indeed, time without space is meaningless, as is space without time. The first is change without structure, the second structure without change.

"The spatialization of time is not something abrupt; it is a continuous process. Viewed in reverse as the temporalization of (one dimension of) space, it implies that time can emerge out of space in a continuous process. (By continuous, I mean that the timelike quality of a dimension, as opposed to its spacelike quality, is not an all-or-nothing affair; there are shades in between. This vague statement can be made quite precise mathematically.)"

Oh, good. I had suspected something like this ever since I realized that for causality to function at all, there needs to be an independent variable. Everything is described by f(t). It also suggests yet again that physics can grow organically, starting from a single axiom and repeatedly going through something like quantum collapse to form new laws, each time the lone axiom runs into a situation with an ambiguous solution. Problem being that if two different collapses happen to make a particular situation permanently ambiguous, and yet not subject to the infinite regression fallacy, the collapse will produce a new law, yes...but it won't be physics.

More Info & Application:

Like, News and Stuff

I updated my post about the infinite regression fallacy. I'm also considering that Godel incompleteness may be equivalent.

I would also like to say my landlord doesn't suck. I never see anyone else saying this, so I thought I would, just to be different. They've tried one underhanded thing ever, but it ended up not affecting me at all.* More often, the things they're doing are improvements or being lenient with me.

*(Even then, the problem wasn't them per se but the fact that power distribution is state-owned and thus it costs over ten dollars just for the bill. Per month.)

Anyway, the actual reason I started writing this was to say that I need to be extra sure I've got the infinite regression thing down, because I'm about to base several articles precisely on that pillar.

Universal Ethics

Taking together basic ethics and property rights from first principles, it is possible to define universal ethics. It is, unfortunately, very delicate, meaning (even more than usual) that you need advanced philosophical skills to avoid abusing the idea. In the end, these ethics justify multiple kinds of (what is normally) violence as self-defence. However, I've not found a succinct wording of the rule (there's only one.)

Because it is wrong to violate your control of your property, the only events which are morally valid for your property are the ones you value. Therefore, a particular inversion of the Golden Rule is true, a rule I once saw labelled the platinum rule. This isn't quite it:

Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

A priori I would expect it would be wrong of them to demand donations of you, even though it follows a naive reading of the rule. Why is the demand, in fact, wrong? The angle I like best here is the angle that this value of theirs (hey, I like cash, and you have cash...) overlaps your own values for your own stuff, and becomes a self-contradiction by requiring that their values can change your values, which would naturally mean, by symmetry, that your values can change their values, but then their values can change yours which can change mine just a mess, not logic.

Also, if you were morally constrained to follow this first approximation, it would be morally impossible to interact with anyone; practically speaking you cannot fully suss out someone's values before trying to have a conversation, and as such have to make assumptions about what they want. Even before this, looking at the logic, what if someone doesn't want to be spoken to at all? How can you find this out?

So. It turns out the libertarians are correct. Only negative rights exist, because all positive rights require that one person's values are allowed to set another's.

Do not unto others as they would have you not do unto them.

(This is still not exact.) As a first approximation, do not unto others as you would have them not do unto you. Until they inform you otherwise (ignorance is a defence) you can assume that humans are far more similar than different.

I said it was delicate. There's more, too; what about when someone doesn't want to be looked at, yet insists on walking down city streets? I don't want to get into value hierarchies right now, so the short answer is that first, ignorance is a defence, and second that this individual can't have both, and must value being outside more than being unviewed.

The idea is that you have your self, and your other possessions, and they should be treated according to your values, insofar as they can be so treated without automatically infringing upon the values of others.

Since it isn't useful to the general public anyway, perhaps I should stop trying to construct a soundbite version.

What is moral is to not intentionally contravene the values of others for themselves or their possessions, nor through neglect allow your actions to unintentionally contravene these values, noting that values that interfere, constrain, or are about the values of others are automatically invalid as moral values.

Also nice would be a single word that means 'moral values' to differentiate from the lay usage. Just use your spiffy hominid context-sensor for now. Values can still be values even if they don't work as moral precepts, even though I don't talk about that kind specifically.

In practise this works out nicely, in that usually people's values are other-neutral. In the donation example, there are many ways to become rich without extortion. In the second example, most likely the person who wants to be invisible doesn't want invisibility per se but rather has crippling low self esteem or is, in fact, ugly, both problems which are patched by invisibility, or by solitude, but could also be solved in other ways. These are means which illustrate a value, an end; the actual ends people hold are usually other-neutral. There's also marriage and similar, which is other-neutral to most individuals and looks for a matching other-non-neutral individual.

And, of course, most other-non-neutral values aren't valid, as they automatically lead to conflict between two individuals which can, in general, only be solved by violating one of the values - violence. Even if it is wanting the best for your kids, it's still violence to impose it on them. Your children are not your property.

Though this brings up another sticky, delicate issue, in that children must be a special case. The whole ethical framework depends on symmetry, and symmetry only provisionally applies to children, especially small children. For now, as I have no children of my own, I must leave the question unanswered, except to say that treating small children differently than adults is justified exactly to the extent that they are, in fact, scientifically, different than adults. Similarly, the difference in treatment must parallel the actual difference in properties and abilities. I don't think this will be much of a problem either, simply because children like being taken care of, with the addition that children can be convinced of just about anything by a parent, meaning parents can simply alter their values as needed.

But that's enough about what's right, I'm going to delve into what's wrong, specifically what it means in this framework if you violate someone's values. As far as I know, this is the only framework that automatically justifies self-defence, and needs no specific exception.

To violate someone else's values is to state that you don't value respecting other's values. By symmetry, you are, to them, an 'other' and as a result it cannot be immoral for them to violate your values - any of them. Again, there is some delicacy; using the logic thus far, you can happily murder someone for spitting on your shoe. I believe this can be fixed by appealing to further values, (you recoil from the idea of doing so; obviously following your own values would stop this kind of pathology) but until someone takes this idea seriously, I have no desire to fix it for them.

And here we come to something that gives me confidence in the framework's integrity; it has a place and purpose for forgiveness. To wrong someone is to lose your only right, but to gain their forgiveness, either through mercy or through reparations, is to regain that right. How would you like that, eh? In addition to 'how do you plead' at the beginning, every court would have 'and does the defendant grant their forgiveness for the sentence imposed?' If not, the defendent is welcome to offer additional reparations.

Section elided; how the framework interfaces very nicely with a justice system. Just know that from a bird's-eye view, our justice system can work perfectly in this framework, although the frog's eye view reveals that nearly every law is unjust.

To the politically sensitive: hello! This definition is the ultimate in pluralism. Because the only way to define ethics is from your values, what is ethical for you derives entirely from what you value, not from what other people value, regardless of all the usual considerations used to impose morality.

However, using this theory as a tool, I can now look at multiculturalism as well, and highlight one of flaws. Values differ somewhat between individuals, but the gradient shoots up between cultures. Without an agreement specifying how to translate actions across the interface, I can see from experience that, for instance, every Muslim expects multicultural infidels to act Muslim, while simultaneously their opposite expects the Muslim to act Anglo-Saxon. Using this framework as perspective, I can see that these ideas are not just rude, but highly evil.

Of course, with such agreements, a multicultural city can, theoretically, work like an oiled machine. If both value sets are intrinsically valid, the transformation between them should be possible or even trivial to figure out.

So I want to gain something practical from my morality. I actually started studying morality at a very young age, and I started with a single rule; pain is bad. Eventually I had to add too much, by my standards, onto this system to cover everything that seemed wrong, so I discarded it, but it was still a helpful stepping stone. What I wanted out of it I have, now, gained. If you complain when you feel wronged, the other party will, invariably, try to argue their way out of it. However, I now have an ironclad objective theory of ethics, which means that I can prove it, one way or the other, every time, instead of having to weigh one feeling against how I felt about doing something about it, which could be useful if I wanted to disentangle all my emotions in each individual situation.
This is especially important to me as I've found it is quite easy to simply impose my ideas upon the other person (unless they're in a government beaurocracy.) I know, from how it feels to contemplate this course of action, that I cannot rationally stop myself abusing this power without some objective technique.