Scientology – my main problem

August 2, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve written or even thought about Scientology, but just today I read a post over on My Scientology Blog, which was actually the response to some questions asked by a reader. One line really jumped out at me when I read it and it was the following:

The tools we have in Scientology don’t require belief in order to work.

My main problem with Scientology has always been that it categorizes itself as a religion and yet claims that you do not need to believe anything to be a part of it. So, how can it be a religion when we get the definition of religion from any dictionary it always contains the aspect of belief.

Religion:

1. beliefs and worship: people’s beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities, and divine involvement in the universe and human life

2. system: an institutionalized or personal system of beliefs and practices relating to the divine

3. personal beliefs or values: a set of strongly-held beliefs, values, and attitudes that somebody lives by

From Encarta Dictionary.

If Scientology was openly a Self-Help system, a set of products for bettering yourself, or even agreed that it’s comparable to Psychology and Psychiatry I wouldn’t have any qualm with it. The rub comes with it claiming it’s a religion, by this definition Science is a religion and so pharmaceutical companies are religious entities.

I just have to sort out a set of questions I can pose to a Scientology that will make them contradict themselves.

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Surfing Wikipedia

July 22, 2009

I have just returned from a trip to Düsseldorf for work and I didn’t have any chance to post anything whilst there or even do much of surfing the internet. I managed to get a lot of artwork done and at some point I’ll be posting it, but I do not have time at the moment to do such things.

For the moment I’m going to go on about something that I find quite interesting, mearly because I get trapped by it quite a bit and end up wasting hours on Wikipedia. I’m being lazy so I won’t give it any kind of introduction I’ll just dive right in to my story. When due to fly back from Germany I realised that I didn’t know what Low Pressure meant in terms of weather systems and so I went about trying to find out. What I find facinating about this is that I can easily get lost in the swamp of information that is Wikipedia.

Generally when I’m Browsing Wikipedia, I will follow a link on a page if I don’t know what it is and it seems interesting enough to persue. Here’s my journey in Meterology.

Meterology – As we all know, or should know, Meterology is basically the study of weather, which is to say that it’s not just the study of when it will rain, shine, etc, but also the study of Meteorological phenomena including, but not limited to storm formation, tornados, etc. What one may not know and is that most of this all takes place in the Troposphere

Troposphere – This is the part of the atmosphere you live in extending between 4 miles (over the poles) to 12 miles (in tropical regions) above the earth. It contains over 99% of the atmosphere’s water vapor and 75% of it’s mass.  The border between this layer and the Stratosphere (which we all know of because it’s where aeroplanes fly and it’s where most of the heat gets trapped by the ozone layer) is called the Tropopause which is a temperature inversion.

Temperature Inversion –  I’ve never heard of this before and it turns out to be quite simple, though probably a lot more complex when it occurs. Inversion is just a difference from the regular way atmospheric properties change with altitude. So normally you get temperature decrease with altitude, but in some situations you get temperature increasing with altitude, as in the tropopause because in the Stratosphere temperature starts to increase with altitude. Inversion can lead to nasty pollution like smog getting trapped here and at low altitudes causing health issues, as happened in London in 1952 (I’d love to go off on a red herring about the London 1952 smog but it didn’t occur during my original search). Inversion can also surpress convection which if broken can lead to violent thunderstorms, but most interestingly Inversion can result in Freezing Rain.

Freezing Rain –  As rain falls, if it passes through air that is below freezing the raindrops become supercooled (which is when a liquid or gas goes below it’s freezing point without becoming a solid). When these supercooled raindrops impact a surface they freeze which can give trees a glazed look, cause branches to break under the weight and effect the flow of air over an aircraft.

You can see I’m incredibly off track already, but I want to finish with Warm Fronts which can be the cause of freezing rain.

Warm Front – I’ve often heard the term though I’ve never really known what it is, a warm front occurs when a body of warm air moves towards a body of cold air (potentially with a below zero temperature). The warm air doesn’t have the density to mix with the cold air and so it drifts above it, which causes the warm air to expand and cool forming clouds (high cirrus). As more air cools in this region and forms clouds they thicken into cirrostratus and altostratus and once they have reached 2,500km from the earth’s surface rain can begin to fall from the nibostratus clouds.

I don’t know the names of the clouds but there aren’t any direct links in Wikipedia and it’s at this point that I realise I still don’t know what Low Pressure really means in terms of weather and I give up for another day. Maybe I’ll find out what Low and High pressure really mean for weather one day, but for now I’m off to bed.


Game Theory – The Prisoner’s Dilemma and Golden Balls

May 14, 2009

It’s hard to come in contact with Game Theory without coming across The Prisoner’s Dilemma which is a non-zero-sum game played between two people who are seemingly pitted against eachother. The following is the form in which I was introduced to The Prisoner’s Dilemma recently:

Alice and Bob are gangsters in the Chicago of the 1920s. The District Attorney knows that they are guilty of a major crime, but is unable to convict either unless one of them confesses. He orders their arrest, and seperately offers each the following deal:

  1. If you confess and your accomplice fails to confess, then you go free.
  2. If you fail to confess but your accomplice confesses, then you will be convicted and sentence to the maximum term in jail.
  3. If you both confess, then you will both be convicted, but the maximum sentence will not be imposted.
  4. If neither confesses, you will both be framed on a tax evasion charge for which a conviction is certain (but the sentence is not great).

There are then two possibilities for each gangster, either to cooperate with the other gangster, or to betray the other gangster. This for quite some time confused me as I wasn’t sure if cooperate was to cooperate with the police, or to cooperate with the other gangster. We can now build the following matrix for The Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Coop Betray
Coop
Short
Short
Free
Max
Betray
Max
Free
Long
Long

I’ve used the terms ‘Free’, ‘Short’, ‘Long’ and ‘Max’ to give you an idea of the length of time they will stay in jail for, the only one that needs explanation, I would hope, is ‘Free’ which means they spend no time in jail at all and only occurs if they Betray (Confess) and the other party Cooperates (Stays quiet).

The Dominant Strategies are marked in bold and contrary to what we would like to think, the rational solution is always to betray humanity even though you’d both get a shorter sentence if you both cooperated. This is because if I know you’re going to Cooperate I should always Betray you, that way I get off free, it is my best strategy. It must be noted that this is based on a one off game where we will never meet again and probably have never met in the first place, it makes it more interesting if you change things to say that both parties know eachother and therefore have a reason to cooperate.

I won’t go in to the specifics as I want to talk about Golden Balls which is very interesting, but you can make both players of The Prisoner’s Dilemma have cooperation as their dominant strategy by repeating the game indefinatley. This way if I betray you this time I know you’ll betray me next time and we’ll both just end up betraying each other, so, to save this happening, we both cooperate forever.

After looking in to The Prisoner’s Dilemma a bit more I discovered what most people call a real-world example of The Prisoner’s Dilemma in the final round of a gameshow called Golden Balls. This was a TV game-show that aired on ITV in the United Kingdom in 2007 and was hosted by a comedian called Jasper Carrot. The main workings of the game are unimportant, what matters here is the final round. Each contestant, of which there are two, chooses a ball, either Split, which means they try and split the money or Steal which means they try and steal the money. There are three outcomes as follows:

  1. Both players choose Split:- The winnings are split equally between them.
  2. One player chooses Steal, the other Split:- The player who Stole gets all the money.
  3. Both players choose Steal:- No-one gets any money.

To compare it to The Prisoner’s Dilemma, (1) is the same as both gangsters cooperating and getting a short sentence, (2) is the same as one gangster choosing to betray the other and the other gangster cooperating and (3) is the same as both gangsters betraying eachother and both getting a long sentence. From this we can build a simple table that gives payoffs of 100% for winning all the money, 50% if they split the money and 0% if they don’t get anything.

Split
(coop)
Steal
(betray)
Split
(coop)
50%
50%
100%
0%
Steal
(betray)
0%
100%
0%
0%

The problem is the same as The Prisoner’s Dilemma except it is not quite as pure. This is a one time thing, but the players are in the same room, in fact, they’re looking right at each other, their friends and family are watching and they are given the opportunity to convince the other person of their intention to either Split or Steal. There is more at stake than some money, their reputation amongst all people for one. On top of all of this they have been playing a game for the past half hour and have had the chance to betray eachother already, this is not now a case of a pure game, this is now a case of a sub-game.

The best and most amusing example of this follows in this youtube video. I think, more than anything, this video explains The Prisoner’s Dilemma and why it’s a dilemma and causes so much pain and heartache for so many economists, philosophers, psychologists and humanitarians around the world.


Game Theory – Nash Equilibrium

April 24, 2009

In my last post on Game Theory I started by introducing Game Theory and the Matching Pennies game. In this post I’m going to explore the Nash Equilibrium to try and further my knowledge about Game Theory. In a game of two or more players where there isn’t a definative winner and looser the two players might be able to find a middle ground. This ‘middle ground’ might be described as the Nash Equilibrium, it occurs when all the players in a game are getting the best payoff for the move they make (i.e. no player can benefit by deviating from his strategy).

An example of this can be found in a Game where a couple who fail to make a decision about what to do in the evening get split up and so they each have to decide which event to go to. It just so happens that each person in the couple has a favourite activity which they may have wanted to do in the eveing. The man favours going to watch sports and the woman favours going to the cinema. If the man chooses to go to watch sports then he is getting the most enjoyment out of the activity and likewise, if the woman goes to the cinema she will get her best payoff.  If they meet then the woman will enjoy the sports slightly and the man will enjoy the cinema slightly, however, if they fail to meet then they will both not enjoy the activity.

Following is the payoff table for this game.

Male
Sport
Male
Cinema
Female
Sport
+2
+1
0
0
Female
Cinema
0
0
+1
+2

Here you can see that there are two Nash Equilibrium for this Game if either player knows what the other person is going to do. If the Male knows the Female will go to the Cinema it is in his best interest to go to the Cinema as well. This simply shows what a Nash Equilibrium is and it requires that each participant knows what the other persons best payoff is and so what they are going to do.


Game Theory – An Introduction

March 27, 2009

Game theory, as with most logical and mathematical disciplines has interested me for a long time but until recently I haven’t had time or the motivation to look in to it very far. On my reading list from Christmas I have a small introduction to Game Theory. So far it’s been really quite interesting, I’ve lost the plot a few times and not understand one of the very basic concepts because of some of the wording, but it’s got all the information and there are no hard to understand formula.

Game Theory then, from what I understand of it so far, is the maths that can be used to determine what a ‘rational’ thing (or things) would do in a given situation. It’s applied across the board from the decisions animals and insects make and why they should make one decision over another all the way to what I should do in a game of poker.

In a basic game like Matching Pennies you can explain the very basics of Game Theory. The game involves two players, each has to choose either Heads or Tails on a penny and when they reveal their choice the first player wins if both pennies are the same (Heads, Heads/Tails, Tails) and the second player wins if the pennies are missmatched (Heads, Tails/Tails, Heads). It is known as a Zero-Sum Game because one player wins and the other player loses, i.e both players ‘payoffs’ are balanced, I win, you lose, visa versa, or a draw occurs in which all players get 0 payoff. A Zero-Sum game is therefore a game of pure-conflict, to maximize my payoff I have to try and make you lose by winning and visa versa. You could change Matching Pennies so that it was no longer Zero-Sum by giving some of the options benefit for both parties or the opposite. If we say that anything with a Tail in it means that both players win then it might be beneficial, if you know your opposition will play Heads, to always play Tails.

Game Theory is used to demonstrate what the best strategy is for both players, should the first player always go Heads, choose Heads two-thirds, one-half, one-quarter of the time, or maybe not at all? A decision matrix can be drawn up for the Matching Pennies game whereby if you win you get 1 and if you lose you get -1, that way the payoffs are balanced at a round 0.

Player 1
Heads
Player 1
Tails
Player 2
Heads
+1
-1
-1
+1
Player 2
Tails
-1
+1
+1
-1

In the top left you can see that if both player choose Heads then player one gets +1 and player two gets -1. We can understand from simple common sense that there isn’t really a best strategy unless you know what the other player is going to do, so I’m best off choosing Heads/Tails with an equal probability of 50%. This is called a mixed strategy as opposed to a pure strategy which will determine what a rational person should do in any situation of a Game.

Game Theory seems like it could be very useful in lots of situations where one should make a decision, the more I think about it the more I believe I’m going to start pondering options I take in terms of Game Theory.


The English

January 25, 2009

There are two books about the English that I really love, one I have just finished and the other I read quite a while ago. The was Watching the English by Kate Fox and I’d suggest anyone English reads it to get a sense of how obsurd we really are, a feeling of dread from some of the obsurd things we do and to just laugh at it all. I’d also suggest anyone foreign reads it as it’s going to shed a lot of light on why we’re such a bizarre set of peoples. From how and why we queue, to how and why we say sorry if someone else bumps into us. These are small things I’ve always wondered and was too English to ask (not really, but it goes :). The second is the one I’ve just finished and is called Queing for Beginners, it’s less for the foreigner looking to find out about the bizarre species known as the English and more for and English person who just wants to find out a bit more about our past and what makes us English. What’s the history of commuting, why do we give up our seats, when was the first time someone got into a fight because a youngster didn’t give up their seat (this last one is far earlier (early 20th century) than one would have imagined, what with us all complaining that the country is going to the dogs because the youth won’t give up their seats anymore). I don’t have any other books about the English on my list to read, but I look forward to finding some, at the moment my love is for books about Music, recently having bought Musicophilia and seeing lots of books like This is your brain on Music (I think it’s called).


Bipolar

November 10, 2008

Recently I’ve been reading about Bipolar Disorder and the medication taken for it. It’s a facinating subject looking at all the side effects and the decisions one must make with something like Bipolar. However much I may feel at times like my life is at an end it’s hard to really understand what it’s like to have something like Bipolar. It’s also hard to talk about it without feeling like I am going to offend someone by calling it a disorder, a problem, or an illness.

Where the rest of us may take medication ones or twice a year because we feel a bit low, someone with Bipolar will take 4 or more tablets a day for something which makes them feel low, high or generally squiff without warning. The medication can do the same thing, causing weight gain, movements or even anxiety, but at the end of the day it seems that this is what these people really need to live the same kind of lives that we all take for granted.

One of the ones which seems to worry a lot of people more than anxiety or any of the other side effects is weight gain. Something which many of the drugs cause, Lithium probably being the worst but also being very effective at what it does. I found out recently that there are only two drugs that do what Lithium does (including Lithium). Lithium and Depakote are both mood stabilizers for treating both manic and depressive stages of Bipolar.

For more on Lithium see Wikipedia or/and Bipolar Beat

For more on Depakote see Wikipedia or/and Bipolar Beat