Writing for The Latest

The Latest logoI’ll now be writing weekly opinion pieces for The Latest. I’ll post them here as well, including the three first ones from when I was on a “trial period”, but I recommend checking out the website itself too.

Site: https://thelatest.com/

My profile: https://thelatest.com/profile/1593


Wealthy Affiliate – A thinking person’s scam?

wealthy-affiliateI’ve been planning to start a more popular blog and see if I could get more readership — maybe even revenue from advertising. (I don’t like that it’s advertisements, but that seems to be the way to get money from views, and earning money from writing would be a dream come true.) Recently, I came across a website called Wealthy Affiliate that’s supposed to help with that kind of thing. There’s a free membership, but I was never so naïve as to think you’re not supposed to upgrade to the paid version. Still, you can at least try it for free.

At first, it seemed that reviews of the website were all positive — and credible. But now I’ve looked into it more and don’t think I will want to try it. So I can’t do a proper review as someone who’s tried out the site. You’ll find a million reviews like that online if you look, like I did. I also don’t have a definite opinion as to whether it’s a “scam” or legit or something in between. What I want to tell you is to point out some… rather interesting things I noticed about those reviews.

After all, if it’s a website about marketing your website, it ought to be pretty good at marketing itself, right? So how much can you trust what you read about it?

If you’re here to read the kind of stuff I usually write, you can read this as an exercise in critical thinking.

Continue reading

World of Warcraft notes: Pira- er, Combat Rogue changes in Legion

WoW Combat to Pirate 4

Image source: Me.

Today, we’ll take a look at the revamped Combat Rogue, now being changed to Outlaw. Combat Rogues didn’t really have a clear theme before, so we took the opportunity to give them a much clearer one. Which is, uh, some kind of swordmaster or brawler we guess. We definitely weren’t thinking of some other cliché when we made this.

  • Outlaw rogues are the unscrupulous scoundrels of Azeroth. Operating outside the law, they bend the rules and distort the truth to get what they need, and also they like to sail the seven seas with their outlaw maties plundering treasure and going “arrr” a lot, but don’t read too much into that. The archetype has been inspired by such classic works as the outlaw-themed book Treasure Island and the more recent Outlaws of the Caribbean movies.
  • To further emphasize the “swordmaster” theme we’re going for here, we’re giving Outlaws the ability Pistol Shot. They still don’t use guns as weapons, mind you, but every swordmaster has to be ready to pull out a hidden blunderbuss, right?
  • One of the new talents is Cannonball Barrage, which causes an invisible ghost ship crewed by invisible ghost outlaws to fire cannonballs at your enemies. This also totally goes with the swordmaster… um… yeah, anyways.
  • We looked for more p- outlaw related concepts and found “parley“, so that’s an ability now too.
  • The ability Blade Flurry is renamed “Dead Man’s Chest” for no particular reason. Its function remains the same, though its icon is changed to a Jolly Roger.
  • Outlaw Rogues get a permanent buff that affects their speech in a way similar to drunkenness, except that instead of going “hic” occasionally, they randomly spout “ARRRRR”. The buff cannot be dispelled, ever.
  • After the pre-patch launches, every Outlaw Rogue will immediately begin a new obligatory questline where they have been shanghaied by the outlaws of Booty Bay and wake up on an outlaw ship. Your organs have also been harvested, so you get a permanent appearance change as you now have a peg leg, an eye patch, and a hook in place of a hand (you get a choice of left or right). During the questline, you’ll also gain a cool and unique new pet: a talkative parrot that follows you constantly and cannot be dismissed.

…Well, maybe not quite all of that, but that’s about how it feels.

(See here for more accurate information about the Outlaw Rogue if you like.)

“The Machine” and the big problem with the continuity of consciousness

Existential Comics is a webcomic about philosophy — mostly about parodying philosophers and philosophical ideas for inside joke laughs, sometimes making profound observations. Perhaps the most profound comic is the first one, “The Machine”. I recommend that you take a few minutes to read it right now. Either way, I’m going to use it to illustrate an important question that it brings up.

The comic begins with the invention of teleporters that can be used to flawlessly teleport even people. However, some people think being teleported means death, and not without reason.

Existential Comics The Machine 3-4

If the teleporter takes you from one place to another instantly, without your passing in between, then what it really does is in at least some sense to destroy the original you and create a new one in the next place. If you don’t think so, what do you say to the two examples of thought experiments at the end of the panel above? But then, doesn’t this mean that when you teleport, you die and a clone is created in your place, one that thinks it’s you but isn’t because you’re forever dead? Continue reading

Can free will solve the problem of evil?

I recently read a good post on the problem of evil by another blogger. There was one thing I disagreed about, however, and I thought it deserved a reply long enough to be its own article.

As for what the problem of evil (or theodicy) is, I’ll just quote the mentioned article:

One of the many variations of the problem goes as follows: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” This is often contributed to the philosopher Epicurus, summarized by the theologian Lactantius. However the actual authorship remains debated.

The point remains, if God is an omnipotent being, then how does evil exist without God himself being at least in some form evil?

Well, I would put it as “god must not be perfectly good” rather than “god must be evil” if evil exists, but never mind that now. What I’m actually taking issue with is the discussion of one alternative solution to the problem:

The second issue is that many people claim free will, or more simply any human action at all, creates this evil. This is a sort of pessimistic view, but still a valid one. It claims that as humans have the ability to choose their actions, the result of those actions create the very evil itself, not god. I always found this argument to be curious just based on the fact that it uses free will to justify both evil and God. The discussion of God and free will has had an odd history, and for many people the Doctrine of Predestination pops up in their heads, but nevertheless it is a valid argument. To me it seems in many ways the existence of free will negates the omnipotence of God, and therefore changes the entire essence of God for so many defending it.

The question that sorely needs answering now is: What is free will? What are the options for what it could logically be — and do those allow god to avoid the responsibility for human evil? Continue reading

All the things you shouldn’t post on Facebook

So, these are the kinds of things that you apparently can’t post on Facebook:

  • About how you’re having fun or things are going great, because that’s just fake and bragging.
  • Complaining about how badly things are going for you, because that’s just annoying.
  • Ordinary things like what you had for dinner, or when you went to the gym, or what your child or pet did etc., because who cares?
  • Serious or political topics, because it’s supposed to be about socialising and telling your friends what you’ve been doing.
  • Dumb jokes and memes because those are too shallow.
  • Links to in-depth articles, because who has the patience to read that?
  • Any kind of photograph you took, because it will go under either “fake”, “bragging” or “uninteresting”, probably all three. Even if it was an interesting situation, you shouldn’t have been taking photographs because that officially means you weren’t really enjoying it.
  • Any given opinion, because someone will disagree, so they’ll find it annoying.
  • Your own blog posts because people won’t read them.
  • Complaints about the kinds of things people post on Facebook.

Would you jump off an analogy?

I think this strip is witty enough, in a changing the topic kind of way, but anyone taking this seriously as a counterargument would be missing the point [edited to add: see postscript], and I’ll use that to illustrate another point.

Alt-text: "And it says a lot about you that when your friends jump off a bridge en masse, your first thought is apparently 'my friends are all foolish and I won't be like them' and not 'are my friends ok?'"

Let’s assume “all my friends” are going to a party. It doesn’t make much difference. What I think the offscreen strawman should be saying in in the last panel would be:

  • “So literally every single person you know is going to this party? If not, why are you equivocating? Can’t your argument hold without your changing meanings of expressions in the middle of it but pretending we’re still talking about the same thing?”
  • “Are you going to this party because you’re thinking that some harm is going to befall everyone who doesn’t? Is that how you derive ‘I should go’ from ‘All my friends are going’? If not, what has what you just said have to do with this issue? Are you trying to change the subject?”
  • “Do you, in fact, understand how analogies work? That they stand or fall by the parts that are relevantly similar to the thing they’re an analogy of, not the rest of it?”

That last is the point I want to make. An analogy is illustrating a thing, let’s say thing A (going to a party because all your friends are going), by comparing it to thing B (jumping off a bridge because all your friends did so), by saying both have properties x, y, and z (doing something regardless of what the thing itself is like because your friends did). Of course, both things will have some further properties that they do not share (people jumping off a bridge would have to have a good reason to do so). If you’re looking at those features, though, guess what? You’re not understanding the analogy, or you’re willingly arguing back with sophisms that have nothing to do with the original point.

You can, of course, argue against an analogy by saying it does not hold. There isn’t a very good example of that for the “jumping off a bridge” argument, because if it’s used properly, it’s making the true point that it’s a stupid argument, more like revealing your own psychological weaknesses than giving a reason, that you should do something (at least if that something is not totally harmless) just because everyone’s doing it. (Calvin’s mom in Calvin and Hobbes uses a more effective analogy, although specifically in relation to smoking cigars: “Flatulence could be all the rage, but it would still be disgusting.”) I suppose a possible argument against this analogy could be “Jumping off a bridge would be harmful, this is neutral, so I can do this for no good reason.” But that would only work if it was neutral. You’d still be left with having said you want to do something for a bad reason. If that’s not your reason, then why are you using it as an argument? Why don’t you just say what better reasons you have to go? (If you actually meant “I want to be there because all my friends will be there and it’s going to be really fun to see them all,” then replying using the bridge analogy would be nonsense in the first place. But then the problem would not be with the analogy but with people not understanding it.)

When you come across an analogy, look at the relevant parts. The only thing you can do otherwise is confuse the issue. Even “winning” an argument like that would really be nothing but cheating. Missing the point of analogies and then being smug about it strikes me as annoyingly stupid, as being smug about being right when you’re wrong always does. I’m not sure how often people actually do that seriously, but there’s another and more important reason to understand how analogies work: that you don’t accept genuinely bad analogies and false equivalences, and that you can argue against them properly when you see them.

PS. On later reflection, I was partly wrong here. There is a way in which the strip’s treatment of the analogy could be meaningful. You could see an analogy between the judgement of “all my friends” about the bridge and the party or whatever, if it was about trusting their judgement whether to go. In that case, though, I’m not sure what exactly the situation could be. This doesn’t affect the point of the post, it just makes the example less apt.