Del Potro and the not so Bad Life of being Not the Best

Juan Martin del PotroI was watching the Rafael Nadal versus Juan Martin del Potro tennis match in the Wimbledon Quarterfinals when it occurred to be just how good is del Potro, this despite the fact he is not the best. I started to consider the life of the people who are exceptionally good at their chosen profession but are not the best. It’s not so bad.

Del Potro has never been ranked higher than fourth in the world of professional tennis. He won the 2009 U.S. Open but that is his only victory in what are considered the Major events of tennis. He has defeated all the best players in the world from time to time but has a losing record against the three men considered the finest of his generation: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal (listed in alphabetic order to avoid anyone chastising me).

Del Potro is better at tennis than I will be at anything in my life. He is better at tennis than the vast majority of people will be at anything they attempt. He works harder at his craft than I have ever worked at anything in my life. He works harder than most people. For all his efforts he is not even a consideration when ranking the best tennis players of all-time or even of this generation.

Despite not being able to attain the pinnacle of his profession he has managed to earn over $21 million in prize money and certainly a substantial amount in endorsements.

What separates del Potro from those who are considered the greatest? It’s impossible to say. His mental toughness, not quite enough accuracy, his physical conditioning, his strength? There are no answers here. The difference between del Potro and those considered the greatest is so small as to be undetectable, but it is there nonetheless. This means he will never be spoken of in the same terms as those others. This is reality.

Throughout the history of sport people like del Potro have always existed. Players of such tremendous skill and ability that bench warmers like myself can never truly understand exactly how good they are at their chosen profession. Even if they are not the best.

This is where I delve into philosophy. Is that so bad for del Potro? Maybe not being under the same microscope the greatest must face is in some sense its own reward. He has achieved great and wonderful things for which he should be immensely proud.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best. I want to be the best writer in the world. It’s virtually certain I will never be so. That’s ok, I’m of the opinion the attempt is of vital importance to happiness. Success is wonderful. Failure is painful. Happiness is the goal.

I’m willing to guess in many, if not all, ways del Potro is just as happy as the other, better, tennis players. Good for him. In the end no one keeps score. You’re dead. How much did you enjoy yourself whilst alive?

Tom Liberman

Of Physical and Metaphysical or an Examination of God, Love, and Tables

metaphysicalAs an Atheist I think about the nature of god as described in various religions and by those who are true believers. One of the issues that comes up is the nature of god as both physical and metaphysical or otherwise described as natural and supernatural. There are things in this world we can detect and there are things we cannot. There are things that exist in a physical way and things that are merely constructs of the human mind.

I’m going to start with the obvious, a table at my side. It is a physical reality in this world. We can see a table, we can set things upon it and see they stay where they were placed. We can measure the length of the table, we can weigh the table, we can chip off a piece and put it into a spectroscope and make many physical determinations as to its base nature. A table is made up of particles that can be detected in a variety of ways.

Now to the less obvious. Love is a word we use to describe a sensation we get from chemical and biological reactions in our body to various stimuli the world provides. We cannot detect it with scientific instruments nor measure it in any way other than description. Numbers are likewise human constructs which have only a metaphysical presence in this world. This is not to say that love and numbers are not extraordinarily useful in this world in which we live. Both allow us to communicate and understand one another. Both allow human society to function at levels it could not without them. They exist but as human constructs, not as physical entities.

If all humans were to be eradicated there would be no more love or numbers. It is the argument about the tree falling in the forest if no one is there to hear it. In the physical world the tree exists and the sound waves created from its falling and impacting on the surrounding terrain can be detected, even if there is no one there to make such measurements. If no one is there to express love or talk about numbers, they simply don’t exist. They are not available to be measured. The table still exists even if there is no one to see it. It is there in a way love and numbers are not.

The problem with a deity is that it is largely agreed we cannot detect it any way. This is a more modern attribute assigned to an all-powerful entity but is a natural outgrowth in our scientific ability to understand the nature of things. The greater our capability to see the hidden the more god must hide, simply because such an entity is a construct of human minds. It is equivalent to love and numbers. Useful, certainly, but not physically real.

A deity can no more inspire people to write a book than the number zero can inspire Stephen Hawking to write a paper on black holes. The number zero comes from humans, not the reverse and the same applies to god. Both are metaphysical.

Those things that do no physically exist are simply constructs of the human mind. Sherlock Holmes certainly has an existence but it is not physical. We can talk about Sherlock Holmes in the same way we can talk about god and people know to whom we reference. Communication is impossible without these constructs.

We cannot, or at least in my opinion should not, assign physical characteristics to things constructed by the human mind. Those things come from us, they don’t have an existence outside those we’ve assigned to them. They cannot take action upon the physical world. We cannot rest a cup of coffee on god’s shoulder nor can we put a glass of water upon love or an infinitely long list of numbers.

That which we construct in our minds as non-physical cannot interact in the physical world. This seems self-evident to me. The number zero cannot feed me physically.

God can, and most certainly does, exist in the minds of many people. People have done and continue to do many things based upon that metaphysical construct. This is unimportant.

God is not physically real and can have no influence upon this universe, this galaxy, this solar system, this planet, or me. Any such influence is undertaken by people who assign attributes to such a deity and modify their own behavior accordingly.

Tom Liberman

The Red Hen and Masterpiece Cakeshop

Red Hen Masterpiece CakeshopRecently the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was asked to leave a restaurant called the Red Hen because they didn’t like her political ideology as expressed in her job. Before that a bakery called Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to make a wedding cake for a homosexual couple because of their sexual orientation.

The two stories are intertwined in an interesting way for this Libertarian. The battle lines have been drawn, as they say. For me the two cases do not present any sort of ethical dilemma. As far as I’m concerned, the ownership of both The Red Hen and Masterpiece Cakeshop have every right to serve, or not serve, who they want as long as they do not run afoul protected classes. Neither homosexuals or political appointees are guarded by the Constitution, so far. From a legal standpoint, I support both businesses.

From a professional perspective and from a human level I would not have done the same if I was the owner of either the cake shop or the restaurant. I think if I am going to start a business of any sort, I should respect both myself and my customers, regardless of their sexual orientation or political philosophy. From a personal standpoint, I oppose both business owners.

It’s really that simple for me. I don’t have to think much about it. I don’t have to worry about my political ideology or my personal distastes. I have a job and I try to do it as best I can regardless of other factors.

I’m aware we can get into nuance here. What if a group of Nazis wanted to have a birthday party at my restaurant? Would I allow it? Particularly if they were going to display paraphernalia supporting hatred of Jews. I’m actually of the opinion that I’d have them although I’d probably require modest, rather than overt, displays of their beliefs.

If a person with a white supremacist or a rainbow tattoo wanted to dine at my establishment I think I’d have no issue and attempt to serve them the best meal possible. I think we’d all be better off if we treated each other fairly and with decency regardless of personal convictions.

Now, if the same person was loudly and belligerently expressing their hatred of Jews or heterosexuals while dining, I’d feel within my rights to ask them to please express their beliefs in a more subdued fashion. If they refused, I’d consider asking them to leave. As long as they were polite and treated my business with respect, I like to think I’d keep any problems I had with their philosophies to myself.

Certainly, many of the people who I helped with software development were of deeply held religious beliefs. I’m an Atheist. I didn’t let that stop me from doing the best job I could. So, I have some evidence to support my convictions as expressed here.

I do find it extraordinarily interesting that, to some degree, those who support Masterpiece Cakeshop are opposed to Red Hen and vice-versa.

I think this is where critical thinking and a consistent philosophical outlook can make the world a better place. Where everyone gets to have their food or cake and eat them too. A boy can dream.

Tom Liberman

Landon Donovan should Root for Anyone and So Should You

Landon Donovan MexicoThere’s an interesting story in the world of sports involving Landon Donovan starring in a commercial that urges United States soccer fans to root for Mexico in the 2018 World Cup. There are fairly many people angry at the former star of the United States Men’s National Team and about an equal amount supporting him. I think this story has implications for all of us beyond sport that speaks directly to my Libertarian sensibilities.

The gist of this situation is relatively simple. The soccer, I’m going use soccer throughout this article rather than futbol, team from Mexico is the traditional rival of the U.S. team. The fans of El Tri include a number of hooligans and they have engaged in disgusting and distasteful displays against the U.S. team in the past. There is a great deal of animosity between the two teams. Because of these facts those who dislike or even hate the Mexican team feel betrayed by Donovan and his support for them.

On the other side is the simple reality that the U.S. team didn’t qualify for the World Cup this year leaving fans without a team to support. Mexico is our neighbor and many people who live in the U.S. can trace their heritage back to Mexico. These are reasons enough for many to embrace Mexico and wish them well in the World Cup.

For me, it’s not a difficult question to answer. I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan and as such my feelings toward the Chicago Cubs is quite similar to many fan’s thoughts for the Mexican team. In the 2016 World Series I was most decidedly not rooting for the Cubs, darn it all.

Those who are lambasting Donovan might think this means I’m on their side in this debate, they’d be wrong. The most important factor in all of this are the concepts of liberty and freedom. I should root for and against the teams I want, and so should you. I have no say in your decisions. Whether or not you root for Mexico hurts me in no fashion and is none of my concern. Just as it was when my sister was rooting for the Cubs to break their long drought.

This simple understanding of freedom goes far beyond sports. If a PGA Tour player or a NASCAR driver doesn’t want to visit the White House when President Obama is there or if an NBA or NFL player likewise chooses not to go when President Trump is in residence, that’s their choice. It’s not my decision and I absolutely should do nothing to coerce anyone into adopting my position.

It is the same for whom you should cast your ballot. It is the same for how you choose to listen to the National Anthem before the game. It is the same for who you decide to marry, what gender your decide to be, which bathroom you use, or what chemicals you put in your body. Our lives would all be better if we stopped worrying so much about what other people are doing.

I respect your freedom to decide matters as you desire. I’d certainly appreciate it if you’d do me the same courtesy.

Tom Liberman

The Subtleties of Racism as Demonstrated by Yadier Molina

molina and lovulloHere in baseball land St. Louis there was an ugly incident between beloved catcher Yadier Molina and Arizona Diamondback manager Torey Lovullo. I’d like to use the reaction to the situation to examine the idea that there is nuance to racism. I’m not talking about Lovullo or Molina but those who are commenting on the story.

Many people are calling Molina a thug and worse for his reaction. It’s my opinion the vast majority of those doing so would be defending, say, Roger Clemens if he reacted to the words in the same way. They’d be calling Clemens a stand-up guy who had every right to react to the ugly words in a physical way. Many are defending Molina and it seems likely some would be less vociferous of their defense of Clemens in similar circumstances. That’s the version of racism I’d like to talk about and why it’s such a difficult word to raise in these situations. There are levels of racism and we tend to incorrectly categorize them as all the same.

If my hypothesis is correct, that the race of the player is a significant factor in the perception of events, then that is racism but a very subtle version of it. It’s not someone out in the streets chanting all people of a certain race are criminal thugs who should die. I think the people who are calling out Yadi and would not call out Clemens are not racists in the classical sense, but they are exhibiting an opinion on which race bears a factor. They are guilty of a subtle and relatively common form of racism.

There is no question we all have particular biases. I think it’s possible because I’m a Cardinals fan I’m more likely to justify Molina’s reaction in this situation than Javier Baez of the hated Cubs. I like to think that I’d support Baez should an equivalent bruhaha occur between him and the manager of some other team. Perhaps I wouldn’t. That’s my point. It’s easy to throw around the word racist in situation like this when it’s not truly applicable.

It’s not easy to come up with a word to describe those lambasting Molina who would not do so should it have been Clemens. As I said, I would not call them racists, but I absolutely think that race is a factor in their opinion. For others its not race but team based, they hate the Cardinals and are eager to find fault in the behavior of the team or its players.

The reason I’m writing this blog post is because I don’t think these reactions rise to the level of racism but I’m struggling to name it anything else. I don’t think it’s fair, given the current understanding of the word, to use it.

We are all guilty of racism on one level or another. Most people know it’s wrong to think this way and imagine they don’t.

I’d love for people to examine their own opinion of this incident and see if they think they are being influenced by race. Does me pointing it out make them think twice? Reconsider? What if someone was posting hate about Molina and read this, examined their heart, and said, yeah, that Tom’s got a point. I’ll have to change my mind on this one. That would be great.

Tom Liberman

There is a Last Number and also Infinity

InfinityI’ve decided while the concept of infinity exists so does a final number. Full disclosure: I’m not good at math and I’m hardly a mathematician. That being said, the subject of infinity and numbers proves to be an endlessly fascinating subject for me. I assert that infinity and a final number can coexist. Any mathematicians care to tell me the depths of my stupidity? I’ll be reading the comments.

It would seem at first glance the two concepts are incompatible. If there is a final, last number, then infinity cannot exist and vice versa. Here’s the factor that existing theory, in my opinion, fails to take into account. Neither numbers nor infinity are real. That is to say they are both incredibly useful constructs but they don’t actually exist. In the same way the words you are reading don’t really exists, that emotions like love and hate don’t have physical form.

Sure, we feel love. I’m not denying we have emotions. Nor do I pretend the words I have written and you are reading don’t have meaning. I’m just saying they only exist as constructs of the human mind that help us organize our world in convenient ways. Words are merely jots on a page approximating sounds. We give those sounds meaning in the same way we give letters and groupings of letters meaning they do not actually have.

Numbers are wholly constructed to make life easier to understand and move through. Time is likewise a human construct that simply does not actually exists in a physical way. You cannot weigh an emotion, a number, a word, or a unit of time. These things are all incredibly useful. We would not have the world we live in without these constructs but they are simply that, constructs.

If numbers don’t actually exist, which is my assertion, then the last number is simply the largest number we have so far named. Certainly, a larger number can be imagined but until that moment; it does not exist, even in a constructed fashion. Currently we can say that Graham’s Number is the largest number in the world. That being said, the concept of infinity is also a human construct and exists as such side by side with Graham’s Number.

Pi does not really exist and therefore the last digit of Pi, base 10, is the one we have most fully calculated. Thus, Pi has a last digit but is also infinite.

What are the practical implications of my hypothesis? Nothing, really. The world is the same whether or not we consider numbers to be real or simply constructs. My life does not change nor does yours. However, once I accepted this idea, that time, numbers, words, and emotions are merely names we associate with constructs in order to make our world more orderly, the less importance they have. They are tools to be used to achieve results but I need not worry about their bounds or origins.

Who created the numeric constants of the universe? Us, simply because they don’t actually exist.

Tom Liberman

Immediacy of Consequence and Faith in the Improbable

faith-and-reasonWith the plethora of stories involving things along the lines of Flat Earth I’ve been thinking about why people are willing to believe certain things on faith while being much more pragmatic in other areas of their life. For example, the belief in alien visitors is, so far, a faith-based ideology. Whereas the belief in the chair you are sitting in is based on strong physical evidence.

I understand people make what they think are rational arguments for a Flat Earth, Pizzagate, Aliens, and many other theories; but the evidence for these things is universally lacking. Those same people would look at you quite askance should you tell them there was a comfortable chair ready for them to plop down into right behind them. They would look for said chair and confirm visually that it did exist. They might reach their hand or foot through the area to confirm nothing was actually there. They would then dismiss your assertion and refuse to sit.

Why are people much more likely to believe fanciful accounts of a Flat Earth but universally unwilling to believe something about a simple object in front of them? I believe the answer is the immediacy of the consequence associated with the belief. A more immediate and greater penalty for the belief inevitably leads to a sounder thought process.

Should you believe the person claiming the chair is actually there and sit down, you face a rather painful and embarrassing fall. Should you believe the Earth is flat you risk no physical harm although you might face some ridicule. Many enjoy the ridicule. They enjoy coming up with improbable or impossible arguments to prove the attacks of September 11th against the World Trade Center and other targets were actually orchestrated by some conspiracy minded organization aside from the actual perpetrators. Such improbable beliefs actually set them out and give them a sense of individuality. They actually feel smarter and better about themselves for refusing to be fooled, even though they are actually quite stupid.

Belief in such things entails no immediate risk. Belief that aliens are secretly directing our actions doesn’t really change your life in any tangible way. You still go about your daily business in pretty much the same way you would if the notion was false. There is no immediate punishment for such beliefs.

However, if someone tells you that the car you are planning on purchasing is a fantastic car, most people will not accept this advice. They will do some research to make certain the automobile meets their desired needs. The same goes for any major purchase. The more money you are planning on spending the more likely it is you will spend time in pragmatic research to ensure the product is exactly what you need.

Many people are happy to spend a few dollars on a product advertised as a miracle drug without much thought. Scam artists rely on this facet of human nature. Imagine a group of 100 people was asked to spend five dollars on a product that guaranteed fresh breath. I would guess at least half would do so. However, if the same product was offered for five hundred dollars I suspect only a few people would be willing to make the outlay.

Where do you think you fit in on this scale of faith? I would guess most people, myself included, consider themselves pragmatic thinkers requiring good evidence. I think most people would be wrong.

On the Bell Curve of Faith Based Thinking where would you put Yourself?

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Tom Liberman

Sorry to say but Connie Yates and Chris Gard are Evil

yates-gardPeople who do horrible things to other people are evil. Connie Yates and Chris Gard are stealing a bunch of money from people and using it to allow a zombie baby to take up space and resources in a hospital that could be used to help someone else. That’s evil.

They are parents and they love their child, Charlie, that I don’t deny, but they have let that love become twisted into something horrible. Something that borders on, and in my opinion, crosses into a realm we call evil. Those who support them are not just enabling this situation but contributing to it.

Charlie was born with a terrible disease that left his brain destroyed. He is unable to breath or move. He is blind and deaf. Even if the cause of this tragic disease could be treated, and it can’t, his brain is dead. He is simply a lifeless zombie. I can only hope Charlie doesn’t have nerve activity and he is feeling no pain. Still, there is tremendous pain being intentionally inflicted by Yates and Gard playing to people’s heartstrings with the impossibility of the boy’s recovery. They are stealing money from people, not for themselves, but for doctors offering an experimental treatment that will do nothing to reverse the brain damage.

One of the most fundamental issues of this situation is the reversal of normal morality. In many cases it would be immoral to allow a sick child to die. If the child had a disease which can be cured, it would be despicable to place that child in the woods and allow it to die. This was done throughout history but medical care has improved to the point where children who were doomed to horrific lives until a few hundred years ago, can now live full and fulfilling lives. Thus, when we hear about a sick child whose parents are trying to get medical care, we are predisposed to think of them as heroes and those who are opposed as villains.

In this case it is the reverse. Keeping Charlie alive is the immoral act. The professionals at Great Ormond Street Hospital are the ethical and kind players in this story. The judges who have made their rulings are moral.

What I’m saying is brutal. It’s not nice. I’m not a nice guy. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll be happy to confirm I’m often times quite a jerk, quite forceful, when it comes to putting forward arguments. Be that as it may, what I’m saying is true. Keeping Charlie alive is the immoral act. That’s the bottom line. The parents are engaged in behavior that I can only describe as evil.

There are a number of people in Social Media and other places who supported and continue to support this behavior. They encouraged the parents to take money from many people for the pursuance of an immoral act. They encouraged the people to keep poor Charlie on life-support for the last ten months when they could have ended this entire ordeal, and saved a huge amount of pain and suffering. Those who support Yates and Gard are contributing to the evil.

If that’s you, I won’t apologize. Get your act together.

Tom Liberman

I am a Strange Atheist

atheistNot that I’m a strange person, which I am, but the more I encounter other Atheists the greater struck I am by how I came to be an Atheist. I’ve rarely run into an Atheist who wasn’t religious first. Someone who found that what they were being taught didn’t correspond with their experiences of life. I wasn’t necessarily born an Atheist but I was raised in a largely non-religious household. I was never religious and I never believed in a god.

I thought today I’d talk about my experience in coming to Atheism. As I said, I was born in a non-religious family. My mother dabbled with Buddhism but there were no religious ceremonies in my house and I never went to any sort of religious service. My parents were divorced when I was very young and my father married an Orthodox Jew. So, there was a lot of religion when I was over there every other weekend, but I wasn’t asked to take part for the most part. I read the section during the Seder reserved for the young boy of the family, the Four Questions, but that was pretty much the extent of any indoctrination.

I never even really thought much about religion growing up. I suppose I called myself an Agnostic because I didn’t really want to tell anyone there was no higher power. People seemed so sure. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that I started to learn about Critical Thinking, Ayn Rand, Libertarianism, and that sort of thing. Up until then I pretty much stuck with the Agnostic line.

One day I asked myself why I didn’t believe in Zeus at all but was willing to accept the idea that god might exist. So, then I was an Atheist and I’ve been one ever since. I didn’t come to it by studying the bible and many of the logical problems therein. I think that makes me rather unusual. I’ve learned in the ensuing years about all sorts of issues with the bible but not until after my epiphany.

My knowledge of the bible, the koran, and the torah is pretty weak. I’ve learned a fair amount simply by having to perform research in order to counter particular religious arguments and by watching more well-versed Atheist discuss the subjects.

I think one of the important things about me being an Atheist is that I simply cannot believe in god or whatever. It’s not really a matter of choosing to believe or not; I don’t, I can’t, I’d be lying if I said anything else. To my way of thinking there is clearly no higher power. The various interpretations of that higher power don’t make any sense and are largely filled with vile stories of awful atrocities committed by said deity. If your god revealed himself to me in some undeniable way, I’d tell it to bugger off, I want no part of you. Frankly, I’d assume it was some jerkoff alien with sufficient technology to be indistinguishable from magic trying to yank my chain.

Life hasn’t been tough as an Atheist. I don’t think I’ve ever faced discrimination or ostracism because of Atheism, or Agnosticism from when I was younger. I’ve never had a friend refuse to talk to me or associate with me because of my thoughts. And my thoughts were not secret. I went to college in Idaho and many of my good friends were very religious. Some of my great friends even today have quite strong faith.

I’ve definitely faced ostracism but mainly because I’m a socially awkward fellow, I don’t blame my lack of religion, just my lack of social skills.

That’s pretty much it. I’m not trying to convince anyone to be an Atheist. I’m not complaining or bragging.

Tom Liberman

Steve Harvey and the Message vs the Delivery

steve harveyI just read an interesting story about entertainer Steve Harvey and a memo he released to his staffers. It’s getting a lot of bad press. What I find fascinating is that his basic message is perfectly reasonable. It is the delivery that gives rise, and reasonably so, to the criticism.

That difference between the message itself and the manner in which it was delivered is what I’d like to examine today. Let’s pretend we are on the receiving end of the memo in question. Let’s imagine our reaction depending upon the way it is written, rather than the content. We are an employee of Harvey or perhaps a perspective employee reading the memo in the news. How would we react? What actions would we take depending if we heard the basic premise or, instead, read the actual memo?

Now, as to the memo itself. Apparently, Harvey is often approached by staff while in his dressing room and during his time in the makeup chair. These disruptions make it difficult for him to focus on his job and cut dramatically into his free time. That makes perfect sense to me. When you are the lead talent on a television show, it’s important to manage your time properly. You can’t have unscheduled meetings throughout the day or you will find your performance suffers. Harvey is completely right about this.

Yet, his message repeatedly states the same point over and over again. He starts off in an extremely friendly tone but quickly degenerates into all capital shouting including threats of removal for as much as opening his dressing room door.

The first five paragraphs of the new rules basically list the same rule five times. Please don’t do A. If you do A, I will be angry. Don’t do A. If you do A you will be punished. Has anyone ever sat you down and told you the same thing over and over again? It’s incredibly condescending and annoying. The entire message could have been delivered in short but coherent memo not more than three paragraphs long. It could have been sent in a polite fashion or perhaps a firm fashion. That would be up to Harvey to decide.

It’s so fascinating to imagine myself on the receiving end of such a memo and my reaction to it. I’d like you to do the same. Let’s say you actually get the ranting, repetitive, all cap filled memo. If it was me I’d be thinking about a new job. The person who wrote it is clearly unstable. The person who wrote it most likely has anger management issues. It’s clear to me the person who wrote this doesn’t have impulse control and working for such a person is a nightmare. Even if I desperately needed the job, I’d immediately be putting my resume out there. I’d certainly think twice before taking a job for the person who wrote that memo. I would imagine anyone working for Harvey pretty much lives in constant fear of a mercurial and autocratic maniac.

On the other hand, if someone simply told me that Harvey doesn’t like being approached while in his dressing room or during makeup, I’d simply shrug my shoulders and say it sounds pretty reasonable. I’d go about my day without as much as another thought.

Now, maybe I’m fooling myself. I don’t actually work for Harvey. But the stark difference in the reaction I think I’d have is profound. If you are angry about a situation and thinking of writing a memo, I’d urge you to think about the situation. What impression do you want people to have of you?

It’s much more than the message itself, it’s the manner in which it is delivered.

Something to consider at least.

Tom Liberman

Is Discussing an Unanswerable Question a Good Idea?

philosophy-discussionYesterday on Facebook my friend posted a philosophical question about the nature of reality and I replied with a long post. He responded this morning with another interesting question. Is it worth discussing at all?

It’s a good question. The original query is largely unanswerable. Yes, we might be living in the Matrix but there is no empirical way to determine if this is true. Perhaps we are living in the Matrix or some other construct. On the other hand, maybe the evidence we gather with our senses and repeated trials is real. Arguments can be made endlessly but, in the end, neither side can prove their point.

So why bother with the argument, or dialectic, my friend asks?

Why indeed.

If the question cannot be answered, isn’t it a waste of time and energy to discuss it at all? Shouldn’t we move on to something more productive?

This time there is an answer to the question and one that is emphatically true. Yes. We not only should, but essentially must, have such debates. This despite the fact we are aware there is no final answer.

The first reason such debates are useful is because they exercise your mind in the same way a physical workout exercises your body. Riding a stationary bike, lifting weights, participating in a yoga class; all these things make you stronger and better in any number of ways. I’ll not diverge into a discussion of cardiovascular health, I think we can all accept the idea that physical exercise is a good thing.

This training of the mind helps you analyze situation through critical thinking and contributes greatly to your ability to find resolutions. In this case there isn’t one, but frequently in life when presented with a problem, there is a correct solution. It is imperative to think through any obstacles and derive a resolution. This behavior will help you navigate life successfully.

Another reason to engage in such civil discourse is to practice having disagreements without resorting to name calling and general rudeness. People are going to disagree with you on a fairly regular basis. We see all too frequently today an immediate and angry descent into attack dialog. Anyone who dares disagree with me on any point is the enemy. They must be ridiculed and destroyed! This sort of behavior is being exhibited virtually everywhere you look, and it is leading to unthinkable divisions in this nation and the world as a whole. When people can no longer disagree with civility, we are in trouble.

Another reason to have such discourse is that it teaches you to listen to ideas that you might not have considered. When we just shout at each other, there is no learning going on. When we engage in the back and forth of discussion we sometimes learn new things, we sometimes change our opinion, and that’s a good thing. New information doesn’t always change an opinion but sometimes it does. It’s important to get into the habit of listening to those who oppose your point of view, not just to avoid angry confrontation, but to actually increase your own understanding of the situation.

The answer to my friend’s question is simple. Yes. Have the discussion. And maybe a tumbler of Booker’s bourbon while you’re at it.

Tom Liberman

How do We know there is an External World?

kant-external-worldA philosophically minded friend posed an interesting question on Facebook about the External World that I’d like to take a moment to examine.

I’ll try to summarize his basic question in more layman terms than he used. As we live our lives certain things happen to us. We react to these events as if they are external to our own imagination. At its simplest level; when I set a cup of tea down on the table and it doesn’t fall to the ground, I learn something. My behavior is modified. In the future, I confidently set that cup of tea down on the hard surface knowing it will not fall and make a mess.

This could be something I’m making up in my mind. There are almost endless possibilities. First among these is that cup and tea simply don’t exist at all. Another possibility is that both exist but I’m living in some sort of controlled environment where the cup levitates at level equal to the height of the hard surface upon which I thought I set it. I’m sure you can think of many other explanations that indicate my conclusion, that a hard surface supports a cup full of delightful oolong tea, is false.

This is a question examined quite thoroughly in The Matrix, a movie my friend enjoys greatly. In that movie, external reality did not exist at all. Everything was internal to the electronic signals coursing through the brains and bodies of the imprisoned populace.

That is largely my friend’s question. I shouldn’t say just his question; for it is something philosophers like Kant and Descartes spent considerable time and energy examining.

The response to that I find most appealing is: Any answer is irrelevant and the question itself is an exercise in mental gymnastics. It’s not wrong to engage in healthy exercise for the mind or body but we get about as far as if we ride twenty miles on the stationary bike. The tea mug stays on the table because that is the reality in which I live. The tea cup will always stay on the table and no amount of doubt will change that fact. I admit any of the alternate explanations listed earlier are possible, I just don’t care. I’m putting the tea cup on the table regardless. Everything I do in my life is based upon experience driven repetition. I know behaving in certain ways will return the desired result. My goal is achieved.

I suspect my friend will not like that answer. He will demand proof these external events that I think I’m witnessing are actually occurring.

He suspects, or at least I believe he suspects, the world is not as we see it. That some external agency, be it machines as in the Matrix, aliens as in They Live, or some other force, controls our lives. Makes us imagine we are seeing and doing things when in fact we are not. He might believe our lives are some sort of mix or reality and illusion created by this external force. He might think these otherworldly things are placing obstacles and rewards in front of us like scientists with a group of mice.

He will dazzle you with philosophical terms and rail against the seeming impossibilities that occur around us on a daily basis. Let’s say you see three cars in a row going the other direction; one a Porsche, one a Lamborghini, and the final one a Ferrari. This is all but an impossibility from a statistical standpoint. You can name any three makes and models of cars and the chance those exact three will be the next three to pass in the other direction is highly unlikely. And yet, every moment on the road, three particular cars pass in a configuration that is all but impossible.

Impossibilities are not an indication of an external reality beyond our perceptions. They are simply the natural course of random events taking place, as they always do.

That, I think, is the answer my friend hopes to find. Impossible is happening all the time. We must not confuse this for external influence on our lives. We must learn to distinguish improbably normal from impossible.

In conclusion, my answer comes in two parts.

  1. It doesn’t matter.
  2. It’s not as weird out there as you think.

Mozart vs Salieri Talent or Hard Work

mozart_and_salieriI was browsing through YouTube when I came across a clip from the movie Amadeus where Mozart plays a piece written by Salieri without any effort and then improves it within seconds. In the comment section below, someone mentioned how talent is better than hard work.

A number of other people immediately lambasted the original poster saying that talent was nothing more than a lot of hard work. I thought I’d examine the idea here today.

Let me relate a personal story. I was a pretty decent athlete as a young fellow. I had excellent hand-eye coordination, was moderately strong, and had decent foot speed. I loved sports and dreamed of becoming a professional athlete. In sixth grade I was playing flag football with some other kids and doing quite well when a talented athlete took the field. He literally ran circles around me. No matter how I tried I was unable to grab his flag. He was faster, quicker, and plain better. Not by a little either.

It was then the realization dawned upon me that I was not nearly as good as I imagined. I suppose this happens to almost everyone as they progress in their chosen field; athletics, music, sciences, writing, or anything else. As you get better so too does the competition. Hard work can only take you so far in this world.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge advocate of hard work. The superstars of the world combine both hard work and talent. Hard work will get you many places in life that talent alone will not. Plenty of talented people don’t work hard and fail to succeed. I’m just pointing out the reality of talent. You know it when you see it and you can’t get there by hard work.

What’s the lesson in all this? I think it’s important to understand your limitations. It’s fantastic to reach your maximum potential through hard work, study, and practice but it’s also good to recognize there are things beyond you. Understand these things you will never achieve, playing shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, are not personal failures. I just didn’t have enough talent to play major league baseball. That’s reality.

If I had worked harder I certainly could have done more with my athletic talent but I moved on to other things. I like to think I’m a pretty good writer and I work hard at that. I study the structure of good writing. I practice my craft regularly. I hope that I will enjoy success. That’s a good model to follow in life.

Do the things you enjoy doing. Work hard at them. Study and understand the best way to perform these things. But understand sometimes someone else is just better than you. And that’s ok. And so are you.

Tom Liberman

Shayrat Air Base Launches Fresh Attacks Undeterred

Shayrat-Air-BaseSigh. Double Sigh. Triple Sigh. It’s a mess. A big, horrible, horrific, terrible, nightmarish mess. Syria. The Syrian Civil War rolls along. Long before Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical weapon attack on Khan Shaykhum on April 4, 2017; over 300,000 died in the war. Many of them children.

The images of the terrible chemical attack somehow managed to touch the sensibilities of those who were completely oblivious to the hundreds of thousands dead prior to that.

President Trump launched a supposedly devastating attack on the Shayrat Air Base which “severely degraded or destroyed” the base according to the United States military. So degraded and destroyed were they that Assad ordered and carried out raids from the base within 48 hours. According to sources not the United States, the military base was lightly damaged and, because the Syrians had warning of the impending attack, almost no planes were lost and there were few casualties. The majority of the Tomahawk missiles missed their targets.

Sigh.

Our political leaders told us there would be an immediate change in Syrian policy.

Sigh.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced they will deploy more air defense systems in Syria to counter future threats.

Sigh.

I get it. Assad is a horrible person. Using chemical weapons is awful. But what do we hope to accomplish? What possible good can come from this attack? What possible good can come from almost any action we take? If we somehow overthrow Assad does anyone imagine things will be better? Those that take over will somehow be wonderful humanitarians?

Why are we there? Why the drumbeat to war? Our interventionist policies have wrought nothing but horror throughout the Middle East, horror for the inhabitants of those countries, and horrors for innocents all over the world.

It’s nauseating to do nothing while terrible things are happening in this world. I get the urge to punish wrongdoers. I understand the rage at the inhumanity of Assad and his allies. I just don’t see anything good coming out of an intervention in Syria. Nothing.

If the action you’re taking isn’t going to do any good, aside from making you look like you’re doing something when you’re not, maybe you should think about not taking said action.

Just a thought.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy all About Freedom

Lots of Hate for Julia Stephenson on Being Too Beautiful to be Faithful

julia-stephensonIn case you’re not fully aware, the Internet is filled with people willing to express their opinion. In the case of Julia Stephenson that opinion is almost universally negative. Stephenson wrote an article for the Daily Mail in which she lamented her physical attractiveness led to unfaithfulness and the end of her marriage.

As you can well imagine, the comments generally lashed out at her for not being particularly attractive and for laying the blame of her failed marriage on her beauty rather than the choices she made.

I decided I’d read her original article and get a feel for what she wrote. Not surprisingly the headline summations don’t really tell the real story. Yes, Stephenson blames her blossoming and the attentions of handsome men for the end of her marriage but she also accepts responsibility for it.

What’s interesting to me is the complete lack of objective reality that most of those commenting display. Someone who is good-looking is absolutely going to have more temptations to be unfaithful than someone who is less attractive and those temptations will be with people, well, more tempting.

I’d recommend reading Stephenson’s original article all the way through for it is not nearly as shallow or delusional as the headlines suggest. However, what I’d like to address is something called the Moralistic Fallacy. This fallacy is behind much of the criticism of Stephenson.

The idea is:

It is wrong to leave your spouse because someone else more attractive is suddenly available. Therefore it does not happen.

The only reason Stephenson left her husband is because she chose to do so. Her blossoming, gaining confidence, and having men of a social station and appearance that never before looked at her giving her attention had no bearing on her choice to end her marriage and engage in a series of short-term relationships.

This is simply people pretending that reality does not exist because reality is unpleasant. Certainly Stephenson chose to end her relationship and bears the responsibility for doing so, which she admits in her article. But it is clear that when suddenly presented with opportunities not available earlier, we all face difficult temptations. Certainly some resist, many do not.

I’m saying it’s absolute nonsense to pretend that changing circumstances do not influence behavior.

Stephenson left her husband for several reasons. One of which is that she had new opportunities available to her that she did not when she married him. It is not the only reason, of course. But it is certainly one of them and to pretend otherwise is to engage in a Moralistic Fallacy.

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
April 2017 Release: For the Gray

Debbie Reynolds is not with Carrie Fisher

debbie-reynolds-carrie-fisher-minShe’s not. Debbie Reynolds might well have believed when she died she would be reunited with her daughter but she wasn’t. There’s a lesson here. For all of us, Atheist or no.

Debbie Reynolds was with her daughter. She raised Carrie Fisher to be the woman she became, flaws and all. She was with her every day of her life and she made a difference. She influenced Carrie Fisher. She shaped her. Carrie Fisher was her own woman but she was also a product of those who influenced her, and Debbie Reynolds was one of the most important.

You are a product of your life’s experiences but you are also your own person. You make your own decisions. We make your own way in this world and yet all those decisions, all those results are based to some degree on our friends, our family, our mother.

I’m an Atheist. I know there is nothing after life. There is nothing. Carrie and Debbie have not been reunited. Some might consider me a cold-hearted bastard. Perhaps I am. That doesn’t stop me from knowing that Carrie and Debbie are bound together, as are we with those we love. Those we admire. Those who influence our decision.

Does it make you feel better to think that Reynolds has been reunited with Fisher? Why?

Such fantasy does not soothe me nor will it ever.

Life is what we have. Make the most of it. As did Reynolds and Fisher.

That is what I conclude from events of the last two days. Life is what we have. Live it.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

Tim Tebow and the Power of Self-Delusion

tim-tebow-patriotsThere’s an interesting story in the sports world about a fellow named Tim Tebow that is drawing a considerable amount of attention.

First a little background. Tebow was a star quarterback in college although his skills did not translate very well to the NFL. Many people predicted that, for various reasons, he would never make it as a quarterback in that league.

He was drafted in the first round by the Denver Broncos well above where scouts had rated him to be picked. His performance with the Broncos was statistically poor although the team won games with him at the helm and went to the playoffs. Eventually he was replaced by Peyton Manning and tried to gain employment with various other teams. It is this part of his story that garners my interest. Tebow was eventually signed by the New England Patriots who are quarterbacked by Tom Brady. Brady is considered by many as one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history.

In excerpts from his soon to be released novel Tebow expresses the idea that he thought he was going to be the quarterback of the future with New England. That he would learn from Brady, take over the team, and lead them to Super Bowl championships. Most people who watched Tebow play and practice consider this opinion delusional. By almost all standards of evidence they were correct. Tebow was cut by the Patriots in the preseason proving those doubters correct. But there’s more to it than that, I think. That’s what I want to examine. Is there something to be said for boundless optimism even if the evidence strongly negates hope?

It’s good to be confident in your abilities and to take on challenges that seem beyond your current skills. People who have this delusional belief in self often end up succeeding where those of a more grounded nature, me for example, would never even make the attempt. Of course, they end up failing spectacularly as well. That is the more general result of taking on a challenge that is beyond your skills.

It’s clear Tebow’s dreams of becoming a great quarterback and winning Super Bowls, just as his chances of being a major league baseball player, were and are extremely unlikely. But the idea of being a player in the NFL was not. He was a player in the NFL. He had high goals but went about achieving them by working at lower level goals. Making the team. Learning the offense. He’s a hard worker. He doesn’t quit easily.

I write my novels and I work hard at it. I’ve written nine. I dream of my books selling millions of copies. I dream of movies and television shows being fashioned from them. Those dreams are about as likely as Tebow’s Super Bowl dreams. But I won’t quite writing. I’ll keep trying to become a better writer. I’ll try to write better novels. I’ll try to promote my novels and my blog.

Dream high but act realistically. Work hard but have alternate plans in case of failure. People who have delusions about their own abilities often succeed beyond all realistic expectations.

You never know, sometimes that self-delusion might somehow result in amazing success. Some of the greatest stories in history were made by people who were more than a bit self-delusional about their abilities.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

The End of Money

money-is-meaninglessYesterday I explained why I dream of a world with 100% unemployment and today I plan to explain how the End of Money will play a part in this process.

First it’s relatively important to understand the concept of money. Basically we use money in three ways.

As a Medium of Exchange, as a Unit of Account, and as a Store of Value

In essence we can trade things that are largely valueless for things with value. A piece of paper, a coin made of a metallic material, whatever, for things of intrinsic value like food and supplies. We can measure our wealth with stored assets, the worth of our business, etc.

It’s my opinion that eventually there will be no need for money. There will come a point when energy is largely limitless and free and with that comes the ability to manufacture and produce for a drastically lower price. When we can grow endless crops and transport them all around the world for virtually nothing there is no need to have a price on food. When fabricators in your house can create virtually any item you might want quickly and with only the need for raw materials there is no need for shopping or for goods at all for that matter.

Yes, I’m a Utopian.

The point is once we don’t need to buy things, when things are readily available for everyone, then there is no need for money. As a Randian Libertarian I’m of the opinion that money has served a valuable purpose in advancing society to the point where it no longer needs money. Money is one of the rewards for achievement and we want to encourage achievement. Eventually it will be an obsolete reward. The reward for achievement will simply be the great joy it brings us. When we accomplish we feel good about ourselves.

Some people will have robots to tend their perfect lawns and others will work on their gardens themselves simply for the great satisfaction they get from doing so. I will write my books not to make millions but to bring myself happiness and hopefully to entertain others. I will create and play in role-playing games for the enjoyment of doing so, not any financial gain.

This is a truer ideal than doing something for money. Money is certainly necessary today when there isn’t the abundance that is coming. Money is not evil or wrong. It’s just not the point. It’s ancillary to why we do things, why we achieve.

Imagine a world in which people can largely have whatever they want. Some people will want yachts and fancy houses but those are merely manifestations of the accumulation of wealth. When we no longer need wealth, we will be free to focus on the things that are truly important. When we have true and simple comfort then fancy becomes less valuable. We will focus on relationships with family, friends, and lovers. We will strive for achievement because we know it will bring us happiness. That will be a world indeed.

I suspect I won’t be alive to see it. But it’s coming.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

My Goal is 100% Unemployment

unemployment-is-goodYep. That’s the world I want to live in. A world where no one has to work.

Now it’s important to define what I mean by work. Work is what we do to make money. Not labor we perform. I’m a big believer in doing things, achieving things, building things, and general accomplishment. I think those are the things that make us happy. That being said; I think the general idea of unemployment is completely backwards. Economists, real ones and the armchair version that posts on Facebook and comments sections of news articles, are all wrong. Completely and totally wrong.

100% unemployment is the goal we need to seek, not 5% or whatever economists call healthy. We need machines to do all the work. We should be thrilled when they take away our jobs.

Imagine a world in which machines do all the labor and people are free to do as they please, that you have eighteen hours a day to be with your family, to be with your friends, to pursue your hobbies. What would you do? Work? No. Achieve at a never before seen level? Yes.

Again, it’s important to distinguish the idea of work from the idea of accomplishment. If I didn’t have to work I wouldn’t sit idly eating food. I’d go to the gym more often. I’d write more novels. I’d play more video games. I’d play more Dungeon and Dragons with my friends.

The question on your lips is one with which I’m familiar. Who would make the video games? Who would get the food?

It would be a combination of automated robots and people who like doing those things. There are many tens of thousands of people out there working on video game projects because they enjoy it. They release them as Open Source Freeware. Just as my novels would be free for all to enjoy. Farmers largely enjoy their labors. They love growing the food and knowing it is feeding people. It gives them great fulfillment, as well it should. Sure robots would do a lot of that but there are plenty of people in this world who love  doing things. Not necessarily working but achieving.

When people are free to achieve all day long why would you imagine productivity would go down? I’m going to write about the End of Money tomorrow but for the moment imagine you don’t have to make money to survive. Would you just sit around all day doing nothing? Perhaps a few among us would do so but I think the vast majority would use that free time to pursue productive ends. They would learn new languages, gather with friends to make music, improve their bodies and minds.

Imagine a world with 100% unemployment. I do.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

Friendship vs Politics

friendshipIt’s been a rather awful political season and I’ve seen any number of friendships tested because of political differences. I’m a Libertarian so that means most of my friends think I’m an idiot. And, obviously, most of my friends actually are idiots! 😉

So I’m pondering the nature of friendship.

It’s one of the most important concepts in human history. It is friendship that binds people together. Friends find one another and choose to stay together. You are born to a family but you pick your friends. You pick them. Over the course of your life you keep some and lose others. In this modern age of communication it’s possible to maintain friendships with no concern for physical proximity.

These good friends will be with you for the bulk of your life. They help you overcome adversity. They go forth on adventures with you. They work with you and help you succeed in every aspect of life. In many ways they are more important than family. I think it can be argued that your friends are the most valued and treasured things in your life. More than anything else.

Aside from physics and a bit of biology; friendship built this world upon which you reside. Friendship created virtually every thing you value. Friendship.

Politics? Whatever.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray