Friday, December 02, 2005

SETI, Limbo, Walmart and Will

I know many of you wish I'd stick to venture capital stuff, but sometimes the superstition just piles up, and I can't help but vent. Here's what came in today's news feeds...

1) George Will opposes Roe v. Wade and other judicial defenses of our Constitutional right to privacy, citing U.S. Judge Raymond Randolph...
Since 1973, the privacy right has, as Randolph says, "morphed." Now it means personal autonomy - everyone's right to do whatever he or she pleases so long as others are not harmed.
And what is wrong with that? If we're not hurting anyone, why on Earth should government--or for that matter any institution--restrict us from doing what we want? George, please take 10 minutes to read Smullyan's dialogue between God and a mortal (from Hofstadter's Mind's I), and tell your friends about it.

By the way, I'm not trying to provoke the very complex debate on whether a fetus counts as an individual who shouldn't be harmed. George isn't even making that argument. Instead he is evoking the moralistic position, with an air of self-evidence no less, that actions can be evil and worthy of punishment even if they don't harm anybody. Of course, you have to think like George if you believe that blasphemy, idolatry, homosexuality and pre-marital sex are all evil.

2) Store Manager turns Walmart opening into a revival.

3) Vatican holds summit on Limbo. Where do the unbaptized babies go? What about all the other good people who never had a fair chance to embrace the New Kingdom? Someone needs to decide!

3) Intelligent Design proponents seek credibility by asserting the scientific equivalence of ID and SETI. After all, IDers see a Creator behind earthy complexity, just as SETI presumes that any complex signal in space implies intelligent life behind it. Wha? SETI is listening for clearly artificial sounds, not just the sonic, astronomical equivalent of eBay's Virgin Mary grilled cheese. Here, SETI researcher Seth Shostak has to defend his scientific credibility and spend valuable time debunking the ID camp's ridiculous excuse for logic.

Unfortunately, this morning's news feeds suggest that SETI needs to take a back seat to SeTI: the Search for Terrestrial Intelligence.


  1. Completely agree with you on the "You aren't doing anything wrong, if you don't hurt anybody or anything else". It's very much in keeping with the way of life in the Netherlands here.

    I'm allowed to do and say anything I want, as long as I don't hurt people or break the law, and if I show respect for others.. (the principle of solidarity in diversity) There are of course some tensions - since people don't often come to agreement easily, and 'have' to be convinced (the famous polder model), but hey, once it's decided, implementation is at breakneck speed..

    Which goes to show -

    1) When other countries worry about allowing gays to marry, here we have gay divorces..

    2) When other countries worry about allowing abortion, we have elaborate sex education in schools (at a fairly young age) and one of the lowest incidences of teenage pregnancies in the world

    3) When other countries worry about being "pro-life", we have the groningen protocol that gives the terminally ill, their families and their doctors the right to end life humanely, while keeping the dignity of those who have to make that terrible choice.

    There is sooooo much the world could learn from the Netherlands, if they just bothered to look!!! By the way, I'm Indian, and live in the Netherlands..

    Right.. that was my rant of the day!!! :-)))

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  3. Please stick to venture capital. When you get outside that, you start to sound uninteresting. Optionally, please create a VC topic only feed like Fred W.

  4. Arun,

    The Netherlands sounds perfect for me, except that I'd miss Silicon Valley too much. But I wish that George Will would spend some time there.

    My site statistics actually point to heavier traffic on the personal posts. But in any event, look around: I have neither sponsors, AdSense, nor paying subscribers, so I think I'll just keep blogging about whatever the hell I want. But thanks for playing!

  5. Warning: tangent
    I agree with you, except where it appears you suggest that it is incorrect "that actions can be evil and worthy of punishment even if they don't harm anybody."
    American law recognizes many things as wrong and worthy of punishment even without harm. (Obvious example, attempted murder)
    Perhaps you chose 'evil' instead of 'wrong' carefully, but I think the same truth applies to any conception of evil. If an act is believed to be evil, then the expression of will to meet that end will also be evil.
    That aside, I really enjoyed solving the handshake puzzle a couple of days ago.

  6. Anonymous4:45 AM

    Re: Item #3[a] (Unbaptized Babies - Summit on Limbo.)


    With the Church's direct connection to God, they could have easily created a feedback loop with Him and measured where these innocent babies end up. With 700 years of data, it could put a quick end to the debate.

    Unless, of course, the real purpose of the summit was a boondoggle where priests could meet some really cute choir boys.


  7. David, hello.

    Opposition to gay marriage, for example, flaired up when Canada became the 3rd country to constitutionally recognize it as an equality issue. Interesting thing is the conservative opposition is still opposing, but refuse to say how they would override constitutional charter rights and freedoms awarded by the courts.

    No one is harmed, and once the legisation was passed, and the sky didn't fall, the whole thing disappeared from the radar screen. Fear mongering falls short in a well-informed society.

    BTW, SeTI is an extraordinary project.

  8. As usual, the ID people are unable to parse any kind of nuance whatsoever.

    What I gather from reading Seth Shostak's article is that a SETI signal would have a clear intention behind it. The signal's very simplicity, and the fact that it's in a context where it can't be explained by astronomical phenomena, would imply a kind of focused intention that is not seen in nature (outside of human activity). Thus, an intelligence somewhat similar to our own.

    Life doesn't seem to have any intention, other than...well, making more life. It's pretty messy.

    The ID people don't even follow their own beliefs to a logical conclusion. If you really examine how life works, the God that created it would have to be sort of insane and sadistic.

    What I'm wondering is: what if all the ETI's out there are listening (like we are) rather than sending (like we hope they are)? I guess it's kind of a shot in the dark anyway....

  9. Someone should come up with a mystical explanation of some other phenemenon, say gravity, and then propose it as an "alternative" to the current scientific model. Then launch a public relations campaign to have it taught alongside the scientific theory in science classrooms.

    Perhaps a stunt like this would make the absurdity of the ID argument more clear to the public