#1 Bestseller?? (Writers in Lockdown) (Goodreads author blog)

I’ve long thought that it must be too easy to get to be a bestseller, since the shelves of bookstores are full of books touted as such.

Well, in some sense at least this is confirmed by the e-mail Faith Jones sent last week to the authors of Writers in Lockdown: A collection of short stories about the numbers from the promotion where the ebook was being offered for free. (I might have told you about that when it was on, but then again, “you” at this point is a very small number of people.)

At the close of the first day (just now) we have had 2,769 copies downloaded for free from Amazon worldwide and reached an Amazon.com ranking of #1 in Anthologies, #1 in Literary Anthologies, #1 in Fiction Short Stories and #49 in the Kindle store for all genres.

To sprinkle some reality flakes on this, no one new marked it as ‘to read’ yesterday on Goodreads or paid for a copy of the paperback, but you can now legitimately say you have had a No. 1 best seller in these categories (if only for one day, 15th September 2020) and your stories are being read on devices in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, India, Brazil, Japan, Spain, Mexico and the Netherlands.

This is weird, especially considering how it totally doesn’t affect the fact that I’m an absolutely beginner author nobody’s heard of.

Coming up: “God Is Alive” in After Dinner Conversation (Goodreads author blog)

(Original here on my Goodreads author blog.)

I’m really surprised at how much I’ve been getting fiction published in the last few months. I haven’t even been trying much; my success rate must be something like 50%. That is, considering I just had another short story accepted for publication.

This one was a story I considered a hard sell because it’s much more about making a philosophical point than about telling a story. Fortunately, I ran into After Dinner Conversation, which describes itself as follows:

Philosophical truth is discovered through intentional reflection and respectful debate. In order to facilitate that process, we have created a growing series of short stories, magazine, and podcast discussions, across genres, as accessible examples of abstract ethical and philosophical ideas intended to draw out deeper discussions with students, friends, and family.

After reading their submission guidelines, I immediately knew this was my kind of thing. I also knew this particular story would fit the bill (at least assuming they wanted philosophical questions in general, not just ethical ones like they said in some places). I sent it in and, just a couple of days ago, they accepted it with very warm words.

The short story in question is called “God Is Alive.” What does that mean? Well, it’s the opposite of “God is dead”… or the mirror image of it.

I’ll write more about this later.

On spirituality and supernatural experiences (Facebook conversation)

By Artturi Nurmi and Ville V. Kokko

This is a conversation I had on Facebook with Artturi Nurmi (I’m going to use his nickname “Aru” for short) that includes a number of interesting ideas. Some of them are probably a bit arcane, but it’s definitely interesting. The whole thing started with my posting the following video, in which mentalist and sceptic Derren Brown (allegedly) causes a “religious” experience to a non-religious person with deliberate manipulation.

YouTube: Derren Brown – How to Convert an Atheist

Aru

I watched this episode. As a theist with a number of supernatural experiences not induced by any kind of outside tricks, I can be sure that what Natalie experienced was in fact a genuine spiritual experience. Of course an atheist mentalist would give himself all the credit, but what I saw touched me deeply, because I’ve experienced such emotions myself. Certainly it was through Derren’s speech and actions by which Natalie could experience the power of God, which is ironic. An atheist can too unwittingly play for God who is all around us and within us, and that’s the greatest lesson of this episode. I sincerely hope that Natalie, like it seemed, didn’t buy into Derren’s belief system but trusted in her own, priceless experience.

Ville

It seems to me like they would both agree it was a spiritual experience and that it was not a supernatural one.

That makes me want to ask my usual question, why do people insist on linking the spiritual with the supernatural? Thinking of this after your comment, I realised that, as far as I have understood, you have previously linked what I was thinking of as supernatural with the transcendental. The transcendental in the sense of something that’s beyond concepts (to just put it really briefly there) does seem to have some kind of relevant connection with the spiritual.

This is really fascinating to me considering I’ve been wondering about that seemingly arbitrary link between spirituality and the supernatural. I don’t really know where to go from this observation, though.

I’m not going to explain what I meant above in much detail, at least at this point, because I’m more interested in hearing what you would have to say about that. What would you say is the connection between the spiritual, the transcendental, and the supernatural, for now using whatever definitions for those words you’re inclined to use?

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Arrivals (Goodreads author blog)

(Original here on my Goodreads author blog.)

By coincidence, I got two different things in the mail today that relate to my recent publications:

So there are my copies of Writers in Lockdown: A collection of short stories as well as the certificate and merchandise I got for winning second place in the 2020 Cosmos Awards writing contest. I’m looking forward to reading both Writers and The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom: Volume One – The 1930s.

Oh, and there was also this:

A cheque? I think the last time I saw one was thirty years ago, so I’m barely old enough to remember such a thing. It was kind of cool receiving this, but Americans, take my advice, don’t send cheques to other countries. Try something more modern, like seashells. (Or PayPal.) The bank is going to want a 30% processing fee for this.

Good thing the money’s not the important thing. This is still very cool.

Roskakatosten aarteet (Indeksi)

Tämä kirjoitus julkaistiin Indeksi-opiskelijalehdessä 4/2019, tosin tämä on editoimaton versio.

Kaikkea kirjoista kaappeihin ja pyykkitelineistä pesukoneisiin

Ylioppilaskylä on varsin laaja alue, johon mahtuu monta taloa, niin kuin jokainen siellä joskus eksynyt varmasti on huomannut. Laajalla asuinalueella on tietenkin myös monta jätepistettä ja roskakatosta. Yhdellä niistä on jopa erisnimi: Inspehtorinkadun, Kuikkulankadun ja Kuraattorinpolun risteyskohdan vieressä olevan jätepisteen kohta on joidenkuiden taksikuskien ja opiskelijoiden parissa tunnettu nimellä Siru siellä muinoin roska-astiassa olleen kirjoituksen mukaan. Mietityttää vähän, onko alkuperäinen Siru ollut henkilö, ja onko hän nyt ylpeä.

Siru.

Mikä sitten jätepisteissä (muissa kuin Sirussa) voisi olla niin kiinnostavaa, että joku aloittaisi kirjoituksensa puhumalla niiden määrästä? Lähinnä se, että missä tahansa ylioppilaskylän jätepisteessä saattaa juuri nyt odottaa jokin tavara, joka olisi juuri sellainen, mitä juuri sinä olet tarvinnut – tai ainakin niin jännä, että sen nähdessäsi tajuaisit tarvitsevasi juuri sellaisen.

Ylioppilaskylän jätepisteisiin ja varsinkin roskakatoksiin jätetään jatkuvasti yllättäviä määriä tavaroita roska-astioiden ulkopuolelle. Ei varmasti tule yllätyksenä, että tavara ei usein ole kovin hyväkuntoista, mutta ainakin osassa on selvästi aikomus lahjoittaa se eteenpäin kiinnostuneille. Tavaroiden kirjo on huomattava: tietenkin huonekaluja kuten pöytiä, tuoleja, sänkyjä, sohvia, hyllyjä, kaappeja ja ties mitä leuanvetotankoja ja kissan raapimispuita, mutta myös vaatteita, patjoja, mattoja, kirjoja, aikakauslehtiä, leluja, ruokailuvälineitä, keittiötarvikkeita, koriste-esineitä, työkaluja, elektronisia laitteita, elokuvia, tietokonepelejä, ruukkukasveja… Erityisen suosittuja jätettäviä tuntuvat olevan kuivaustelineet, tosin ne ovat yleensä ainakin hiukan rikki, mikä ei tietysti edelleenkään ole yllättävää.

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Writers in Lockdown suddenly released (Goodreads author blog)

(Original here on my Goodreads author blog.)

I just received word that Writers in Lockdown , featuring my fantasy short story “Scars”, has been published in paperback, with a Kindle ebook soon to follow. This was much sooner than expected. Either way, my thanks to the editor, Faith Jones, for planning and executing this book and letting me take part in it.

Writers in Lockdown cover

As the book’s description states:

Writers in Lockdown is an anthology of fiction short stories, not about the coronavirus itself but representing a broad range of genres and subjects, all written when their authors were confined at home during the first three months of ‘lockdown’, from late March to late June 2020. Fitting the something for everyone description, this collection should also be taken as an historical snapshot of creative minds across borders, still producing quality works of thought-provoking fiction during a time of global paralysis. When someone asks “What did you do in lockdown?”, well, 27 authors around the world combined to make this.

Links for buying it:

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08BVSVBZ1

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08BVSVBZ…

All right, now I just have to get to reading the book myself. I’ll write something about my own story later. I think it was the only fantasy story here.

Cosmos Prize winners announcement, and link to my story (Goodreads author blog)

(Original here on my Goodreads author blog.)

The First Fandom Experience website has now* announced the results of the Cosmos Prize contest, the one in which I won second place.

(*now = earlier, but I’ve been too preoccupied with my other life to write about it before now.)

The announcement can be found here: https://firstfandomexperience.org/the…

Here’s an archived version if that page is down in the future when people come here looking for a record of the beginnings of my legendary career: https://web.archive.org/web/202005072…

The First Fandom Experience presents the Cosmos Prize. This certificate is presented to Ville V. Koko [sic] for contributing the Cosmos chapter The Solar System United & Sympony [sic] of Armageddon and reimagining and revitalizing the history of science fiction fandom.

What the FFE people lack in getting names right, they make up for in praise:

We thank all of the writers for their incredible work on this contest. We asked a lot of them — to read the entirety of Cosmos, to re-imagine a cohesive conclusion to a wild story, to upstage the work of Edward [Edmond] Hamilton — and they delivered. The writing we received was a show of force, a joy to read, and did justice to the spirit of the contest. New technologies were invented, new heroes were born, and the Solar System was saved anew. Thank you for your time and contributions to the 2020 Cosmos Prize.

We chose the winning entries based on how creatively and thoroughly they digested the first sixteen chapters of Cosmos into a new and satisfying ending. Without spoiling anything, the winning entry tied together various threads of plot and character development, invented a new game-changing technology based on ideas previously established in the serial, and read like it could have been published in the pages of Science Fiction Digest.

My entry was not the winning one, of course, but second. Of those things mentioned, I think mine was mainly accomplished in the first one, tying together plot threads. In fact, here’s the feedback they gave me personally:

We felt your submission did a great job of building a new and compelling conclusion to Cosmos that was consistent with the characters and plot established in the first sixteen chapters. The development of the plot arc with Nardony [Narodny] and Stone was captivating, and you set a pace that kept us engaged throughout both chapters. The retrieval of Mea-Quinn’s [Mea-Quin’s] lost strategy to beat Ay-Artz, and the way you had the characters struggle right to the end of their own genius and innovation, was thrilling to read.

We also appreciated your deep synthesis of the plot events established in Cosmos to create your new ending. Your entry brought together many interesting loose threads from previous chapters in a satisfying way. We also respect the ambition of writing two chapters, which added depth to the conclusion of this epic saga.

I don’t disagree. So without further ado, here is the text of my entry as published on their site:

https://firstfandomexperience.org/the…

Archived: https://web.archive.org/web/202005230…

Notice that some of the paragraph formatting is messed up, as that may be a bit confusing. But then again, all the names are correct. Except for “Parlece”, because nobody knows which it’s supposed to be. And okay yes, I think I typoed “Narodny” once.

Make sure to read the original Cosmos , found here, as well to see how cleverly I made use of it. No? Oh, well.

Weirdly, yet delightfully, I think I will soon have another announcement of the “getting published” sort coming up as well.

Coming up: Writers in Lockdown (Goodreads author blog)

(Original here on my Goodreads author blog.)

(Darn, better write this quickly, since I accidentally posted it without text already.)

It’s been confirmed: my short story will be appearing in an anthology called Writers in Lockdown, comprised of stories written during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a fantasy short story based on a dark what-if scenario based on a great book by a friend of mine.

Stay tuned for more details later…

The Cosmos Prize (Goodreads author blog)

(Original here on my Goodreads author blog.)

Hello, my imaginary hordes of fans.

I took part in this writing contest: https://firstfandomexperience.org/writing-contest-500-in-prizes/

As the page (as of this writing but probably not for long) says:

Cosmos was an ambitious serial novel orchestrated by the staff of Science Fiction Digest (later Fantasy Magazine) beginning in June, 1933. The story of Cosmos spanned 17 chapters written by 16 different authors. Raymond A. Palmer drafted the plot outline and coordinated the work of the writers. The young fanzine editor was able to convince many of the prominent professionals of the day to participate.

You can read the entirety of the novel and explore the full history of the event at The Cosmos Project web site.

As you can imagine, making this all work was a major challenge. The results — not surprisingly — are a bit of a hash. Still, Cosmos represents an iconic event in the early history of science fiction fandom, and deserves remembering.

Even more than remembering, Cosmos deserves a better ending than it got. In this writer’s humble opinion, the final chapter utterly failed to capitalize on the potential of the installments that preceded it. Penned by no-less an esteemed professional as Edmond Hamilton, the concluding Chapter 17 — Armageddon in Space — seemed to ignore much of what came before. This has always bothered me. The Cosmos Prize is our attempt to right (or re-write) an historic tragedy.

And? My entry won second place, and will be published on the First Fandom Experience website!

It was a really interesting experience to read Cosmos in order to write about it. The serial novel contains a lot of different storylines from different planets, many of which kind of go nowhere once that planet’s inhabitants have joined the general plot. Bringing most of them into a relatively short two final chapters seemed like just the right kind of match for my creativity. My mind kept making connections between things in a very enjoyable process. The feedback I got from the judges also praised this aspect of my text(s). It was somewhat similar to how I’ve been writing my dissertation in a wholly non-linear way, putting cross-references everywhere. If you look at Cosmos as a whole that concludes with my two chapters, only chapter two of the original (my least favourite anyway) seems kind of useless for the overall plot, and I manage to refer even to that one.

There were also other interesting aspects to the writing process. I suppose my style was a kind of modern pastiche of the thirties style of the original, with some light irony and deconstruction about things like the universal translation device and gender roles. The old science fiction story also (unsurprisingly) used scientific or allegedly scientific ideas as plot elements or as points of interest, and it was fun replicating that in my own way. In a couple of places, I just used some modern ideas and presented them as something innovative in the setting which, though set a millennium in the future, is still based on thirties ideas. (When it mentions “computers”, for example, they are people.) Other times, I used actual scientific-ish ideas I happened to have knowledge of or made up myself. Not all of them are that legitimate, but that goes with the tone of the original.

I’ll post again when the results are announced on the website and the chapters are published there. Maybe I need to hurry up and build a website so that I can use this to promote it…

A Brush with Evil (Roy F. Baumeister)

Image by Miroslavik from Pixabay

There wasn’t much time. She was hungry, but her flight would be boarding soon. Sometimes flights just worked out so that you got nothing to eat all day, and she really wanted something. As luck would have it, there was a small place open near her gate. She stood in line and bought a bag of chips and a diet cola.

But all the tables in the small airport cafeteria were full. There was not a single free table. She’d have to share with someone who already had one.

She spotted a likely prospect: a reasonably well dressed man sitting by himself at a small table, reading a paper. Certainly he would not mind if she sat at one of the empty seats at his table and quietly ate her snack.

She sat down. They briefly made eye contact; he seemed to nod slightly and then went back to his paper. She was nervous for no apparent reason. She set down her diet cola, unwrapped the straw, inserted it in the slot, and had her first sip. Then another. Then she had a chip.

When her mouth crunched on the first chip, the man suddenly looked up from his newspaper. He looked angry, intent, alert, vaguely dangerous. He fixed his eyes on her, violent, like a predator seeing prey. And then, amazingly, he slowly reached out his hand into her bag of chips, extracted one, brought it to his mouth, and ate it!

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Orwell and the Virus (The Latest)

This post originally appeared on The Latest. (Yes, it’s a new one for a change.)

Politicians and dictators who like to rewrite reality find themselves in trouble when the actual reality is stark enough.

Declan Walsh writes in The New York Times about how you “can’t arrest a virus.”

According to him, the autocrats of the world, such as Russia’s Putin or Egypt’s el-Sisi, are resorting to their usual tactics in face of the current coronavirus crisis.

However, as these strategies are largely based on shows of force and variations of “Don’t contradict me or else,” they may be ill-suited for handling a crisis where you have to face up to reality.

The thing about forbidding people from contradicting you is that it’s essentially saying that reality is not allowed to contradict you. The ever-relevant handbook for this idea is George Orwell’s novel 1984.

Towards the end of the novel, a high-ranking member of the Party explains its ideology of Doublethink at a deeper level. This ideology is what dictators and cult leaders everywhere apply to control their followers and their thoughts, but, being satirical, Orwell’s Party is especially clear-sighted and explicit about how it really works.

The Inner Party member in this scene defends a kind of metaphysical idealism: the only thing that’s real is what people believe is true. This is the logic by which every autocrat really operates when they try to control things by controlling what people know and think: “Don’t contradict me or else.”

In 1984, the character claims that this makes the Party omnipotent. They can make anything happen, because they can make people think anything is true. There’s no matter of fact about how things really, objectively are, not when the Party controls both people’s minds and historical records.

So if some dictator now parades around his country and says that COVID-19 is under control, and forbids anyone from saying otherwise, is that going to make it so that it is?

Not really, no. But that’s kind of what they do, anyway. Taking reality humbly as it is is not their strength.

This is why Walsh states in his article that the autocrats of the world may find their power challenged by the crisis. Of course, the opposite may also happen, with the crisis giving the excuse to limit people’s rights.

A less serious version of the ignoring of external reality, yet a good story to make the point, is the case of Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson. He downplayed the threat of the virus first and boasted that he’s going to go on shaking hands with people, and now he’s in intensive care because of that same virus.

He may not actually have caught it from shaking hands with someone, of course, but the story pretty much makes the point either way.

Of course, a lot of the harm from this attitude falls on the weak, not the leaders themselves. President Trump has been exclusively breathing the fumes from his blazing trousers in place of oxygen for a long time, so this latest round of ignoring the evidence may not harm him – just everyone else in the US.

Tietoisuuden vaikea ongelma (Studia Varjomafia)

Tässä ovat muistiinpanoni epämuodollista Studia Varjomafia 4 -seminaaria 22.2.2020 varten.

Tietoisuuden vaikeaksi ongelmaksi kutsutaan sitä, miksi mikään aivojen tai muu fyysinen tapahtuma tuntuu miltään. Miksi ei ole vain fyysisiä ja kemiallisia ja niin edelleen tapahtumia, vaan on myös subjektiivisia tuntemuksia? Miksi aivosi eivät vain käsittele informaatiota, että tuolla näkyy jotain keltaista, vaan koet sen keltaisuuden keltaisena – ja ylipäätään on joku sellainen sinä, joka kokee mitään?

Monet ajattelevat, ettei tällaista ongelmaa olekaan, ehkä että se on jotenkin väärin asetettu. Minun harkittu mielipiteeni on, että se on todellakin hämmentävä ongelma. Tässä esitelmässä selitän, miksi. Se on pikemminkin niin vaikea ongelma juuri niistä syistä, joiden takia voi myös helposti sanoa, ettei koko kysymyksessä ole mitään järkeä. Tavallaan siinä ei olekaan, mutta se ei ole sillä tavalla, ettei sitä tarvitsisi edes kysyä, vaan siten, että vastaamisesta ei tule mitään.

Viime kerralla, kun pidin esitelmän vapaasta tahdosta, joku sanoi, että kvanttifysiikkaakan ei ollut niin vaikeaa ymmärtää. Mutta sillä kertaa minä olin sentään itse sitä mieltä, että asia oli aika selvä. Tällä kertaa minäkin olen sitä mieltä, ettei aiheesta saa oikein mitään tolkkua. Toisaalta se on sitä kiinnostavampi.

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All Sitting in a Big Room

This post originally appeared on The Latest.

Having your friends all on Facebook sometimes has a strange effect.

In a conversation, someone has pointed out to me that different people seem to use Facebook differently, and their expectations sometimes collide. So, I don’t expect everyone’s experiences will be like mine. But I’m probably not the only one to have noticed a certain strange effect.

Suppose you have an old friend. Suppose also you are not both on social media where you can easily keep in touch. And you haven’t talked or written to your friend in a while. You might feel like getting back in touch with them at some point.

Now suppose you and your friend are both on Facebook, where you could easily keep in touch. And you still haven’t talked or written to your friend in a while. But it’s not a problem. You could, you easily could. In fact, you “see” them several times per week or more. Because they’re active on Facebook.

Being on Facebook sometimes feels like sitting in a big room with all your friends seated around it. And ignoring most of them. Hey, maybe they’ll share something you like, so you “like” it. Maybe you’ll even start a short conversation. But that’s all.

I haven’t forgotten that different people do things differently. I’m pretty sure I used to be more active on Facebook, and I see people having more real conversations there. And, with some people, I still converse on Facebook messenger now and then.

So this isn’t any universal generalization. But it is something that can happen. I have all these old friends, and I don’t really have any contact with them because it’s so easy to have contact with them that I don’t actually get around to making the effort to have any real contact. They’re just a click away… and they stay behind that click.

This is especially pointed for me because I used to have a lot more of my social life online, even before Facebook. I used to be too shy to make many friends in person, and I stumbled upon a discussion board that happened to be stocked with great people and made friends. Now, most of us have moved to Facebook instead, and… I kind of have some contact with them. A little. Because now that I’m better at talking to people I actually meet, it comes much more naturally with them.

Well, things work in whatever way they work. For a change, this thing about Facebook isn’t some huge problem. All it takes is the will to actually make the effort. Facebook isn’t really making it impossible, just dangling the possibility in front of my nose.

Someday, when I’m less exhausted by millions of things in life, I’m going to make the effort to get really back in touch with old friends again.

Smart Systems: A Growing Nuisance

This post originally appeared on The Latest.

Machines and software that think they know what I want are not making my life any easier.

I finally got a “smart” phone not too long ago. One of the biggest differences to an old-style cell phone that I noticed right away was the autocorrect function. I could not type some perfectly legit words (or, often, longish Finnish word forms) in a message without having the device “correct” them. I had no way to type the word I wanted other than to type it, let it be corrected wrong, and then go back to revert it by hand.

At least there was a way to turn that function off, leaving only the much more helpful one where the device suggested words it guessed I wanted to type. Still, it only caused me extra trouble in the first place. Even figuring out how to turn it off was work.

Maybe some genius figured that statistically, I would make fewer errors that way even counting the incorrect corrections. But the “smart” errors tended to be worse; at least with ordinary typos, you can probably see it’s a typo, instead of some confusing (or hilariously embarrassing) non sequitur word. Also, you’re not forced to make the error.

Now, my phone still does that thing where it turns the image on the screen sideways for random non-reasons, but it takes me, well, longer than pressing a button would take to make it believe I actually want it turned.

Google used to be handy for finding stuff on the Internet (to say the least), but nowadays, it’s getting increasingly useless. I was pretty much fine with it looking for words that were like the one I entered, but right now, there’s a high chance it will return search results that omit one or more of the keywords I entered. And guess what? Those results are almost never what I want. There was a reason I entered the keywords I did.

(And of course Google has the option to put a word in quotes to make sure it’s searched for. But that also means it has to be exactly in that form.)

“Smart” systems that think they know what you want are no good if they don’t get it right. Even if they get it annoyingly wrong only a significant minority of the time, those annoyances may well negate the unnoticed convenience of when they get it right.

And it seems that we are trying too hard now. Judging from the amount of annoyance being caused, we should be making fewer things “smart” when we’re just getting stupid results from the attempt.

Adding to the same annoyance load are systems that are not so much smart as selfish. They’re not even trying to help you, but they have the same kind of effect of disrupting what you’re doing by doing something you don’t want. Think of pop-up windows on websites, or sites that foil your Google search by turning up as results when they’re not, like online dictionaries that don’t have the word you’re looking for.

A Real-Life Utilitarian Hypothetical

This post originally appeared on The Latest.

If someone says we should maximize overall happiness, does that mean we could torture a few people if it entertained a lot of people? I found a context where this question is not an absurd thought experiment: fireworks.

Utilitarianism is an ethical theory according to which what’s right is what maximizes the overall good, with good usually being interpreted as something like happiness and the absence of suffering. In practice, this is one principle people’s ethical intuitions follow. However, since it’s not the only one, it’s possible to come up with counterexamples that make it sound like utilitarianism is wrong. For example, is it right to maximize overall happiness in a way that is unjust?

One more concrete example is this: Would it be right to torture a few innocent people if it gave a lot of people a lot of amusement to watch them being tortured, if the utilitarian calculus (which doesn’t actually exist but is spoken of hypothetically by philosophers discussing utilitarianism) indicated that the pleasure of the large amount of people would add up to more than the pain of the few?

But really, that’s not exactly a real life example, is it? It’s just a thought experiment moving at the borders of what would be hypothetically possible, right? That doesn’t make it wrong, by the way. It could show that the principle of utilitarianism isn’t really right because it’s possible to get absurd results from it in principle.

There’s a law being proposed in Finland right now that would restrict ordinary people from using fireworks on New Year’s night. Reasons given for the proposal are that a minority of people, as well as many pets, experience distress from the constant banging on that one night; and that many people get injured using fireworks every year, even if it’s a small percentage compared to how many people use them.

A major side of this issue is clearly a form of the hypothetical thought experiment on utilitarianism. Is it right to subject a few people (and other animals) to harm on one night of the year if a lot of people get enjoyment out of it?

Of course, there are some differences. Actively and purposely torturing innocent people would be more wrong than doing it as a side effect of something that’s not meant to harm anyone. Also, another aspect of the fireworks question is the question of how much it’s right for the state to limit what people do.

Nevertheless, what I see as the central ethical question is the question of whether it’s all right to allow the majority to amuse themselves in a way that hurts a minority. That makes it a surprising real-life example of what seemed like an entirely hypothetical thought experiment. I’m sure there are other such examples as well.

In practice, the main sticking point with this proposal is likely to be tradition. People will likely want to go on doing something they’re used to doing. The usual reaction for anyone wanting to forbid anything that people are used to doing already is to treat the whole suggestion as all but absurd, and accepting any weak excuse as a defense of the tradition.

The Dependency Principle and You

This post originally appeared on The Latest.

A principle introduced by science fiction author Iain M. Banks in his fictional universe tells us something about ours as well.

I’m in the middle of reading the science fiction novel Excession by Iain M. Banks and just came upon a name for something that I have thought of before. It’s also a good name for something we need to remember if we want to think of our world through the scientific worldview.

Excession describes how the hyperintelligent artificial intelligences called Minds spend their leisure time playing with virtual universes of their own creation. This is described as incredibly intellectually stimulating and pleasurable, but there’s a danger in forgetting the real universe altogether.

The reason the Minds must not forget themselves like this is the Dependency Principle: No matter how much better the universe of your own creation is, it’s dependent on your physical existence in the base reality. If your physical form gets broken, your marvelous virtual reality goes along with it.

The same principle is demonstrated in the science fiction novel Heaven by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, where the argument that perfect virtual realities are just as real as reality is disproven when the destruction of one’s body in reality also ends that person’s virtual existence.

What does all of this have to do with the real world? As a matter of fact, the Dependency Principle is something people too easily miss when they think about the world we live in.

Consider the idea of making things happen with your mind.

It’s a perfectly real scientifically studied phenomenon that suggestion can affect one’s body physiologically. It’s really pretty unsurprising. If your mind is a function of what happens in your brain and body, as per the scientific worldview, then why couldn’t what happens in your mind physically affect what happens in your body? What happens in your mind is already happening in your body anyway.

But it’s a totally different idea that you could have some kind of telekinesis where you could affect things outside your body with the power of your mind – unless you reach out your hand and touch them, of course. Your mind is not over there.

Similarly, it seems to make sense to a lot of people that, say, a house where a murder was committed or people felt a lot of negative emotions could somehow still contain those emotions. But unless it means you feel the weight of its past because you heard about it, or the house bears physical marks of it that affect your mind, this is completely at odds with what we know about emotions.

(Incidentally, a house might also generate negative emotions because it generates infrasounds.)

Consider also the flawed argument that “conservation of energy” implies the possibility of reincarnation.

If you want to stay anywhere near the scientific worldview, remember the Dependency Principle: Thoughts, emotions, ideas, meanings are perfectly real, but they all depend on a physical basis. If you think they can just float in the air, you need to be a dualist.

The Mystery of Evil

This post originally appeared on The Latest.

Human evil is hard to understand not because the phenomenon is complicated but because of our mental blocks about it.

I had long been looking to understand the nature of evil in the sense of things of what humans do to each other and other beings. Then I came upon a single book that seemed to lift the veil and reveal what was making it seem like such a mystery. This book was Roy F. Baumeister’s Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty.

I don’t know how well I would have understood the point even by reading Baumeister’s book if I hadn’t come to it the right way.

I had recently read Niall Ferguson’s War of the World, a history of both the world wars. What stuck with me there was the dehumanization of others thought evil.

Basically, both the Germans and the Japanese were made to believe that their enemies were sub-human, which allowed them to commit atrocities against them. And then when the British, Americans, and others saw what the Germans and the Japanese had done, they thought they were subhuman monsters and started treating them accordingly – which just showed everyone was the same.

This was followed by Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes. This book had many startling insights, but what was most relevant for the current topic was the idea of the expanding circle of empathy, I think taken from Peter Singer.

Simply put: We don’t naturally feel empathy towards most people, let alone living beings. We naturally feel it only towards those closest to us, but culture can increase the scope.

Yet this doesn’t mean that we now feel empathy towards everyone. Just that the possibility exists.

This brings us to Baumeister’s book. The first insight I want to bring up is roughly what is popularly (not so accurately) thought of as “the banality of evil”. Evil things are often done by perfectly ordinary people who just don’t see the wrongness. Empathy is not universal.

The second part is even more important because it explains why we cannot understand the first.

Humans have strong psychological tendencies to (unconsciously) assume someone doing harmful things must be bad inside and have no understandable reasons; yet if we do something that harms another, we tend to downplay the harm and think it only a reasonable reaction to circumstances.

This creates an illusion where we’re totally different from the bad people, making it even easier for us to do bad things. The truth is that it’s easy to simply not care. That’s why we need ethical thinking. Thinking you’re a good person who would automatically shirk from doing anything bad is a delusion.

Since these are automatic ways of thinking, it’s hard to get this point, let alone apply it.

We are not saints. Those others are not monsters. We are all animals, like the tiger that kills to live without thinking about it, who also moralize others – and sometimes even have the sense to do the right thing ourselves.

Top 8 Ideas I Did not Write about in 2018

This post originally appeared on The Latest.

This is what happens when I had a lot of ideas earlier but am running dry right now.

These are ideas I was about to write about but didn’t. In some cases, this may have been for the better. You can also take this as a preview of what might be coming next year.

1. “Heaven and Infinite Greed”

Sort of para-theological. If people want eternal bliss out of religion, doesn’t that mean that they’ll not settle for anything less than an infinite good? Isn’t that pretty greedy? So basically, I’d be offending everyone except annoying atheists if I wrote this one.


2. “Flat Earth and Real Science”

After reading an interesting article about the beliefs of flat-Earthers, I started thinking about how their beliefs and ways of reasoning are similar to real science and how they are different. This could have been used as an interesting lesson about the nature of scientific knowledge. I wonder if it would have fit in 500 words.

3. “Why Is Belief so Important?”

Here we go questioning people’s deeply held beliefs again. Why is religion even about believing in the first place? Most people probably wouldn’t even understand the question. Much less in 500 words. No wonder I didn’t write this one.
 

4. “I Don’t Presume to Know, and You Probably Shouldn’t Either”

Another one about the basics of critical thinking. People are so quick to jump to conclusions based on what something sounds like. Well, don’t.


5. “Free Will and the Decision Machine”

This would have presented a thought experiment showing that the feeling we have that we could have done otherwise would be expected even if it was true that determinism was true in the world, thus arguing that determinism and free will are compatible… so basically, I was going to resort to writing about philosophy because I wasn’t sure what else to do.

6. “What Conservative Moralists Need to Finally Understand”

Which is basically this: “Liberals” have a different – normal, common-sensical, rational, but still different – view of how morality works, so you should stop accusing them of wanting to let people marry dogs. I was going to compare it to aliens or something because some people seem to have such difficulties even imagining this, unless of course they’re just building straw men on purpose.

7. “The Baby Problem”

There’s a real problem for humanity where some people learn complicated, important things, and then a new generation of babies is born that would need to be taught it all from the start but who also think they know better.
 

8. “How about a Real Frankenstein Movie?”

I don’t think any movie has made much of an effort to portray Frankenstein’s creature in a way that would attempt to follow Mary Shelley’s book. In fact, trying to follow the book more closely would give rise to all sorts of interesting challenges, like how to portray the extremely vague “science” with modern knowledge. I realized it was probably better for me not to write too much about this because I haven’t actually seen any of the existing movies.

Coming up in 2020

I hope everyone’s year has begun well. I couldn’t say whether mine has yet. It’s a work in progress. Looks promising, though. For this blog, I do have some ideas.

I haven’t been posting as actively as I used to for a while now. One reason for that is actually positive: this isn’t my only outlet for publishing writings any more. There was that weekly thing I did for The Latest, now over though I can still write something there occasionally if I want to. I’ve also had some writings published here and there, such as the student magazine Indeksi, and done a couple of oral presentations.

If you look back in the archives, you’ll see I’ve (re-)posted many of these things here as well. I plan to continue doing that.

In the meantime, my other major project besides my doctoral dissertation on free will is finding freelance writing work that actually pays. I need to get a career going on that suits me, and writing would be absolutely perfect. I also notice all the work writing here has paid off. Besides the practice, I can potentially find ideas here I can work into something publishable. I already did that with an article that turned into my first paid article, which I will (re-)post in the published format soon.

So the future I’m hoping for this blog is that you’ll soon start seeing re-posted articles that I have published elsewhere. I have a couple of existing ones I want to post soon. I also finished moving over the 500-word articles from The Latest, and they’ll run for the next few weeks. (Some might actually appear a second time because I was a little confused about the order in which I had been posting them.)

In the meantime, it may of course be that I happen to want to write something down (like this one) or write a Facebook post I think might as well be made into a blog one (like this one), so I might be writing directly here as well.

Just as an example: Al Gore

Look, just as an example.

I think human-made climate change is a huge problem that needs action.

I know that Al Gore was given a Nobel Peace Prize for raising awareness about it so well.

I’ve also heard a believable case that Al Gore was spreading disinformation; not that climate change isn’t real anything, but that what he was saying about it was misleading — not technically false, mind you, but still nonsense.

If that’s true, I denounce his actions. It’s as simple as that. He should have been honest. Just because it was otherwise for a good cause doesn’t mean it was okay. It’s not like it was the only option.

If you’re on the opposing side of some political issue from me, you’d probably want me to do this. You’d hate it if I excused people on my side for things like this.

So don’t you do it either, okay?


Things I left out from the above to be more snappy:

Obviously I don’t know a lot about this Al Gore thing. It’s just an example.

–Of course, if you’re on a different political side form me, you’ll probably think I do this anyway, because you and media you follow will likely make different evaluations than I and my media about who did what and how outrageous it was. But the example also shows that some cases are clear enough that one can and should criticise their “own” side.