Relative Morality and Basketball

Hello skeptics and science lovers,

Today I am going to be making an analogy between moral relativism and the NBA draft, to try to demonstrate how almost nothing can be absolutely immoral. But before I do this, I am going to have to explain the NBA draft to some of the less sporting readers.

In the NBA draft (wiki page here, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Basketball_Association_Draft), the 6 teams with the worst records for the whole season get put into a draft lottery. I’m not going to explain the exact way it happens, but the odds of a particular team getting drafted (which is determined by their win-record) happens in a descending order, with the worst team having a 25% chance of getting first pick, and the 6th worst team having a 0.5% chance of having first pick. The net total of all the odds is 100%.

I now need to talk about likeliness and unlikeliness. In mathematics, there is a scale of likelihood which ranges from ‘certain’ at 100% to ‘impossible’ at 0%, with 50% being the medium. Anything above 50% on the scale is considered ‘likely’, and anything below 50% being considered ‘unlikely’. That’s basic chance in mathematics. This is just a very crude scale though, which is important in moral relativism. Luckily though, we can apply a more knowledgeable process to find out odds. Instead of putting things into two categories, likely and unlikely, we put them on a spectrum. Once they are on this spectrum we can choose the ‘most likely’ option. It’s not necessarily ‘likely’ but it is the ‘most likely’.

Lets apply this crude chance to the NBA draft. Overall, it is ‘unlikely’ that the worst team will get the first pick, as their odds are only 25%. But it is still considered the most likely option, because it is more than any of the other possibilities. Because it is the most likely possibility, it is still considered ‘most likely’ that the worst team will get the first pick. This ‘most likely’ is important.

At this point you may be thinking “What does anything about this have to do with moral relativism?”. Well, its time to find out. If we exchange ‘likely’ with ‘moral’, and ‘unlikely’ with ‘immoral’, it is easy to see that chance and relative morality are quite similar, and it is also easy to see that absolute morality isn’t a very versatile option.

If we exchange ‘likelihood’ with ‘amount of pain caused’, you have a relative morality spectrum. at one end, you have things which are certainly moral, they cause absolutely no harm at all. At the other end, you have things which are definitely not moral, things which cause only harm.

Obviously, a lot less things fall at the ends of the spectrum in morality than they do in likelihood, but the analogy is the same. From this, we can also see that an absolute morality breaks down. In absolute morality, there is a clear division line between ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’ things, which fall on either side of the spectrum.

If we apply the NBA draft to this situation, there is nothing ‘moral’ which can be done by somebody who employs absolute morality. Every single option results in something which is immoral to the absolute morality champion. If you use absolute morality, then what in the name of Zeus are you going to do? Curl up in a ball as your brain goes in to shut down? Doing nothing is the answer whenever I ask a Christian about the ‘killing 1 to save 100’ problem.

If we use moral relativism, there is an easy way out of the situation. We pick the 25% option, because it causes much less harm than the 0.5% option. In moral relativism, there is no ‘right or wrong’, like there is only ‘likely or unlikely’ in crude chance. We can apply the more knowledgeable option, and put our options onto the moral scale. By taking the 25% option, it is not necessarily ‘right’, but it is the ‘most moral’ of all the choices, so it is the choice to take.

By applying the spectrum of chance, instead of two pigeonholes, to morality, we get moral relativism. Moral relativism is a much better option than absolute morality, because it never runs into any paradoxes under any situation, there is always some way which causes less harm than another.

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The Madden Curse

Hello skeptics,

Today’s post is about the Madden curse associated with NFL, and some possible mechanisms for it, if any, but first, a little background on Madden and the Madden curse. Madden is one of the most popular sports games sold in the world, it is the official video game of the NFL and is produced every year by EA sports™. The game is named after the great John Madden, who is a hall of fame player and coach, as well as a commentator, one of the most famous players ever. It has been sold since 1993 on various platforms and has sold over 85 million copies. Every year, a succesful player from the previous year is selected to be shown on the front of the box, on the disk, the cover screen, everywhere. It is a big deal to be on the Madden cover, both for good and bad reasons.

The Madden curse pertains to that video game. The Madden curse is the belief that any player who is shown on the front of Madden NFL is going to have an injury or suffer some other terrible outcomes. While it is true that about half of the athletes on the cover have experienced downfalls of some sort, this is due mainly to a few reasons.

The first, and often most talked about reason why there appears to be a madden curse, is regression to the mean. Any player who features on the cover of madden has probably had the best season of their career, they got picked out of thousands of players, so they have had a pretty stellar year. It is expected therefore that the player probably won’t go as well the next year. If you break the passing yards record one year, odds are against doing it again next year.
We see this in all sports, when Usain Bolt broke the record for the 100 m sprint, nobody expected him to break it again the next time he ran. He didn’t. But nobody attributed this to the fact that he got in all of the papers the next day, they just said, “Well, you can’t expect him to break 2 records in a row”, and that was that. So we can’t just say it’s just regression to the mean, there must be something else psychological going on.

What makes the Madden curse different from Usain Bolt is that there is a lot of time and talk. When Usain Bolt broke the 100 m sprint record, it wasn’t long before his next run, a few days, maybe. That’s not enough time for a lot of hype to spread. In football, on the other hand, there is a break of about 5 months between the madden box being announced and the start of the season, and then another six months of playing time after that. That’s a long time for people to talk about the madden box, and a lot more time for the player to get injured or have a re-drawn contract or get cut or have a bed game of some sort. So there is huge magnification going on there. But there could still be more.

It could be that players are getting jealous of the madden cover superstar. Football is a rough, contact sport, and injuries do happen. There is also room for some bounty or targeting of players to go on, as we saw with the bounty system scandal surrounding the saints recently, so players could easily be going out for specific players to injure, or protect. If it’s a quarterback, then more linebackers will blitz him, he will be rushed with his throws more, he will get sacked or knocked down more often, and he won’t have a s good a game. If it’s a receiver, they will get double coverage manned up on them, so they will catch less passes, and get tackled more. If it’s a running back, linebackers will blitz. If it’s a defensive back, then quarterbacks will throw away from them so as not to get picked off, and they will be assigned better blockers.

The madden curse is yet another one of those superstitions which could have some possible real mechanisms, but which is really just a myth which continues on in society today.

Quantum theory and the start of the universe

Hello, skeptics,

The inspiration for today’s post comes from a book I have started reading entitled ‘god actually’ by Roy Williams, an Australian author who claims to be able to show that god probably exists. It provides some interesting points (I said interesting, not valid) on why god should be taken seriously. I will be basing blogs on this book for the next few weeks while I read through it. I will use one quote from this book (this quote was taken from Paul Davies for use in this book.) to start my investigations.

“Invoking an infinite number of other universes just to explain the apparent contrivances  of the one we see is pretty drastic, and in stark conflict with Occam’s razor (according to which science should prefer explanations with the least number of assumptions). I think it’s much more satisfactory from a scientific point of view to try to understand why things are the way they are in this universe and not to invent imaginary universes to do the job.”

There a few things I have to say about this quote, and I may have to spread it over a few posts.
This book also states that there is no proof of a possible multiverse. This is true in the strictest sense, we have no definitive proof that multiverses exist, (we have no definitive proof that atoms are the way we think they are either) but we can make inferences from other observations.
I will also say that we cannot ever know what actually caused our universe to be created, because it is before time was created, and science cannot deal directly with that.
Lets look at this with quantum chance. I have blogged before that there are infinite ways that something can exist, and one way that nothing exists, and this means that something must  occur. scale this up, not only to one universe, but to more than one universe, (if it is certain that one universe must exist, then in this instance, it is also certain that infinite universes must exist) it means that this first spawned universe must also invoke other universes, and an infinite amount of universes must exist.

I will do a little flow chart to show the possible outcomes.

Even if it is very unlikely to happen, when you have infinite universes, they are all going to happen.

Multiverses will always result in some form of intelligent life, and instead of these multiverses being made-up figments of our imagination in a desperate attempt to show that humans can come to be about without a god, they are, theoretically, an essential part of theology and science.

That is all for me today, I will continue this topic tomorrow. I will leave you with a quote from  Douglas Adams, “Yes, I think I use the term “radical” rather loosely, just for emphasis. If you describe yourself as “atheist,” some people will say, “Don’t you mean ‘agnostic’?” I have to reply that I really do mean atheist, I really do not believe that there is a god; in fact, I am convinced that there is not a god (a subtle difference). I see not a shred of evidence to suggest that there is one … etc., etc. It’s easier to say that I am a radical atheist, just to signal that I really mean it, have thought about it a great deal, and that it’s an opinion I hold seriously.” Douglas Adams, English Author and atheist of some note.

More on quantum mechanics

Greetings and salutations to all intelligent people in the meta-nation which is the internet.

Yesterday I made a blog about Schrödinger’s cat and the implications it has for quantum mechanics. Today I would like to talk about a more extreme Schrödinger’s cat experiment where the lowly cat is replaced for an actual scientist. This seems like a very crazy experiment to conduct and it is, because the scientist will most likely die, but maybe, just maybe, he will survive and live to test more stuff another day.

To find out why this experiment would ever be done, I will explain to you one explanation of the “one photon acts like a lot of photons” experiment that I talked about last time. The leading interpretation at the moment is that when something happens, say, a photon goes through a slit, or a radioactive atom decays, or you decide not to use conditioner in the shower, all of the possible outcomes are achieved with their respective wave functions, and these happen in different universes. What is interesting is that when something like Schrödinger’s cat happens, there is one universe in the multiverse where the cat dies almost instantaneously, and another universe where the cat does not die at all, and this happens with everything that happens in the universe, and other universes, and more universes. What this conjures up in my mind almost instantly in a tree, and I think it helps describe this well.

Probability diagram

A probability tree which shows well how this interpretation of quantum theory works

Imagine the world as it is now, there are two possibilities right now, you can continue to read this blog, or you can log off (which would be very rude) There will be one universe where you log off, this is universe A, and one where you continue reading, universe B. Now there are two ‘parallel’ universes. There will now be two choices in universe A, you decide to log back on, because you realize how rude what you did was, and one where you stay logged off. in universe B, you have two choices, you stay logged on because this is completely riveting stuff, and one where you do finally log off.

The universe that we do end up being in will be one of those possibilities, hopefully the one where you stay online. But that does not mean that the other universes do not exist, they still exist, but you and I cannot ever get back to that other universe. This explains the ‘one photon acting like lots’ experiments. It also means that occasionally, unlikely things will happen, like the cat not passing away. It also means that out there, in the multiverse, there is a universe where I am having a conversation with Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley.

That’s all for today, I will leave you with a quote from Michio Kaku, ” In fact, it is often stated that of all the theories proposed in this century, the silliest is quantum theory. Some say that the only thing that quantum theory has going for it, in fact, is that it is unquestionably correct.” Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, co-founder of string theory, a futurist and a popularizer of science.

The wonderful world of quantum mechanics

Greetings to all thinking people out there,

Today I am going to be blogging about the thought experiment first pondered by Erwin Schrödinger, and was later to become known as Schrödinger’s cat, and the implications it has on quantum theory. Keep it in mind that when Schrödinger first proposed this experiment, it was actually meant to be an argument against quantum mechanics, rather than the explanation of quantum mechanics in large-scale objects.

Right, Schrödinger’s cat. Take a cat, put it in a box which has enough food, water, and air for it to survive indefinitely under normal circumstances. Along with the cat, in the box, you place a small amount of radioactive material which on average will decay once every hour. (This does not mean that one atom will decay every hour, it means that on average, one atom will decay every hour. If you run the experiment multiple times, sometimes it will decay almost straight away, sometimes it will never decay.) Once you have done that, you install a Geiger counter which, upon detection of the decay of an atom, will smash the flask containing the poison, thus killing the cat. You then proceed to seal up the box so that no observations of the interior of the box will occur.

Schrodinger's Cat

It's OK kitty, I would never think of harming you for science.

Now everything is set up, I’ll let you take a guess as to what will happen. Because of the uncertainty principle, where until observation, there is a superposition of all possible states, the wave functions of all of the possible outcomes will be bouncing around inside the box, but untill they are observed, they all exist at once. There will be the wave function of a living cat, the wave function of a dead cat and the wave function of the cat that is not yet dead but has already taken the poison, so amazingly, the cat is both alive and dead!

Of course, you can never actually see this superposition of states, because as soon as there is an observation of this superposition, the wave functions collapse into one, and this will be either an alive cat or a dead cat.

At this point you may be asking, “You believe in this but you don’t believe in psychics?”, I know one of you will because my mother asked this same question while reading over my shoulder. Well, mum, there is some proof for all of this.

Imagine a soccer player shooting lots of balls at a goal, with a brick wall with a gap in the middle of it (about the width of a soccer ball) in front of him. If you were to predict the result of this experiment, you would say that all of the balls that got through to the goal to be in a small cluster right in the middle. Well, this experiment has been conducted with a beam of photons, and it is not as you would expect from particles, but more what you would expect from waves, some splay right of right and some way out left, all because the particles are interfering with each others waves, essential to Schrödinger’s cat, and you can make some probabilities as to what the possibilities are of a photon hitting a particular part of the ‘goal’, say, 1 in 1000 will hit wide right. What is amazing is that this holds up even when you just shoot one photon, meaning that this particle is interfering with itself because it takes every possible outcome, and then collapses into one when it is observed.

That’s all for me for now, this is a very interesting topic and I will definitely be blogging about it again. I will leave you with a quote from Albert Einstein, “I cannot accept quantum mechanics because I like to think the moon is there even when I am not looking at it.” Albert Einstein, possibly the most famous Jewish, German-born American Citizen ever.

An argument from beauty

Today, I had an Ethics and faith lesson with our school father (I go to an Anglican school) and he reminded me of an argument that I have been hearing for a long time. It’s actually three arguments, the first is, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, the second is “Why do humans and other animals exist?”, and the third is “The earth is so beautiful, it can’t have happened by chance.”His answer to all of these questions is that there must be a supreme being or god who designed it intentionally for us, so it is beautiful and appealing to us. All of these arguments are of the kind ‘post hoc, ergo propter hoc’, and I have covered that in my brief of logical fallacies which can be found on the home page. I will answer these questions in my blog post today.

The first argument, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” This can be explained easily with chance. Simply, there is only one way in which there is nothing, null and void, but there are infinite ways in which something can exist, and seeing that 1/∞ = 0, (1/2 = 0.5… 1/10 = 0.1… 1/100 = 0.01) it just has to happen. No god is needed to explain everything because something must happen. It would be more surprising if there was nothing, and we would need to have a god to explain it, but there would be nobody around to ask the question, and that leads me to the next argument.

“Why do humans and other animals exist?” This is the second question asked by my Ethics and Faith teacher. He says that there must be a god who put life on a planet to explain this. There isn’t a need for this. It has been estimated that there are about 150 billion galaxies in the known universe. There are also anywhere from 10 million to 200 billion stars in a galaxy, I will take an average of 100 billion stars in a galaxy. That comes out at about 15 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 (15 000 billion billion stars.) That means about that many rocky planets, so that means a lot of possibilities for life. The odds are slim for an individual planet, but with that many dice-rolls 10 heads in a row is not un-common.Once there is some sort of self-replicating organism, then evolution takes over and does its thing.

Now, the third argument. “The world is so beautiful, this can’t have happened by chance.” First of all, yes there is beautiful things like rainbows and forests and mountains, but there are equally bad things like some fish species or snakes or spiders and other animals which may kill you, not to mention all of humanities problems. There is as much beautiful stuff as there is not beautiful stuff. This is because the definition of beautiful is ‘the top 50% of things in the world on a scale of beautifulness’. There will always be beautiful things. But just for my teachers sake let’s try and explain why some things are so beautiful. Our subjective grading of what the most beautiful things are is taken from a data set of one.

Say the world was a little less beautiful than what it is, we would still think of the most beautiful things as ‘the most beautiful things’ and the least beautiful things as ‘the least beautiful things.’ If the world was a little more beautiful than what it is, we would still have the same titles for the most beautiful and least beautiful things. We get used to what is beautiful and what is not because we grow up in our world, not another world.

What I’m essentially saying is that things are the way it is because they are the way they are, and we wouldn’t be asking these questions if the world was different. I will leave you with a quote from Richard Dawkins, “The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the existence of organized complexity.” Richard Dawkins, Evolutionary biologist, skeptic, atheist and author of some note.

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