Sunday, July 6, 2014

Extinction of languages

All over the world beautiful poetry has been written in a wide range of languages and indeed is still being written. Consider for example the modern poetry written in the Ket language.

One issue with the Ket poets, is strongly related to an concern about poets all over the world. That is: most of them are terrible, writing utterly uninspiring verse. And in the case of the Ket poets all of them are awful. That's not really surprising when you learn that there are only about 200 native Ket speakers and the vast majority of them have never written any poetry. The very few that do just happen to have very modest talent.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is very concerned about the well-being of children and in particular at the standard of poetry that they are being exposed to. For that reason the FSM is very much looking forward to the extinction of the Ket language and indeed many of the other 6,000 languages that are currently spoken round the globe. The next generation of children in the Ket region ( within Krasnoyarsk Krai) will be raised speaking Russian. It will open to them a much richer cultural experience.

It is quite simple, if you want children to grow up with top quality literature, then make sure they speak one of the big languages, where there have been many writers. Again, clearly in the big languages, most of the writers produce junk, but with the right filtering we can find the gems. In Ket literature, alas there are no gems to find. In the digital age, when a language dies, its literature can live on in digital form. But it will be largely ignored. So it has that in common with most writing.

One of the big problems with minority languages is that ideas don't face much competition. If you write a blog on any particular topic in the Ket language, then it is very likely that your blog will be the only source of information on that topic in the Ket language. If you write in English, then your ideas will face much competition.

When a writer is very confused about the difference between a myth and a fact, their ideas may not face much scrutiny in a minority language, but if he wrote in English there are up to 100 million tweeters he might have to battle with. When someone moves from reading in a minority language to reading in a big language, we shouldn't look at it as losing the wisdom of his ancestors, but rather he is switching from a reading a set of ideas that haven't been much scrutinized to concepts which have been thoroughly debated.

People are basically truth seeking. No-one sets out to believe a falsehood. Very often people attend religious service where they recite a creed. In their beliefs, there is public conformity but private scepticism is common. The internet is full of junk, but it also contains good information too. If you can read one of the main internet languages, then on any topic you'll be able to find much debate. The truth can't be hidden. People can attempt to drown it out with falsehood, but it is very difficult. Unless of course you are aiming at the Ket speakers. For them, when they have a mistaken belief, it is more difficult for their private scepticism to be a first step in their journey toward the truth.

One possible solution to the problem of having people insulated away from all human learning is for people to continue passing on their minority language, but then to learn one of the big languages too. The problem is that it takes a lot of effort to learn a language. Including the first language. If you learn a language before the age of 4 it is not effortless, but you are so young that you most likely will not remember the effort involved. The next generation of Ket children can learn Russian first and then English. So they will be able to communicate with a few billion people.

These days it is quite common for a couple to have different native languages and to raise children in a region where the child's native language is different to both parents. Again, it is not uncommon in such cases for the child to be unable to communicate effectively with their own grand-parents.

It is a good thing that people don't just risk producing inbred children by choosing partners within their own small group. As people travel further, the average distance between birthplaces of parents will be greater than it was. If we want grand-parents to be able to communicate with their grand-children, then the sooner we give up the minority languages the better.

People do indeed have a strong emotional attachment to their native language, but if we go through the pain of vanquishing the little languages, then the future generations can still enjoy speaking their native languages, but the language that they are attached to will be different to that spoken by their ancestors. Children will still grow attached to their first language, but if they have been lucky enough to have been brought up speaking one of the big languages, then the attachment will be to a useful language with more history and culture than any of the minority languages.

Just like with religions, it may seem that there are many languages currently spoken round the world, but there are much more languages that have already gone extinct over the past 60,000 years than are currently living. There is no good reason to resurrect a language that was spoken say 4,000 years ago. Similarly there is no good reason to prevent current languages from going extinct.

Today's lesson from the FMS: If you want future generations to cooperate more with each other and fight less, then it can only help if they can communicate. Letting the minority languages die will be a step in the right direction.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Winning a war without using violence

To help strengthen faith of my good Pastafarian flock I make prophesies from time to time. When they come true, you'll remember where you heard it first and your trust in the Flying Spaghetti Monster will grow:

One of the best things about future military technology is that it will remove the violence from war!

Let me explain. I'll start by looking back in time a bit. During the second world war there were plenty of incidents of genocide for example the fire-bombing of residential areas of Tokyo and Dresden. The supposed aim was to hurt enemy. The result was enormous civilian casualties. By modern standards, there was something very wrong with the mind-set of the military planners who organized the raids. But there was also a problem with the imprecise tools that they used. 

In more recent times, military targets have been hit with much better accuracy than before. Civilian populations are not seen as being part of "the enemy". For example in the 2011 US bombing of Libya, efforts were made to avoid civilian casualties.

How can we stop soldiers with violent intent from attacking us? Well, suppose we had highly mobile, fast robots that could restrain a man's hands against his will and bind his fingers, all without inflicting any injury or pain. 

If you have a base that's being attacked, then these robots can go out and stop the attackers without causing anyone harm. Some of the robots may be destroyed in the first couple of seconds. But they can be mass produced and are utterly replaceable. 

If there is a meeting of insurgents in a house, then a team of such robots could neutralize the threat they pose. Once everyone in the house is restrained the insurgents can then be taken prisoner. Again no-one is put in harm's way. It is then crucial to treat the prisoners really well and to help ensure their families are taken care of. If the household bread-winner is incarcerated, then the family will need some money. 

Lets look at what might motivate soldiers to attack us and in each case what can be done about it:

1: Some soldiers hate us, others just wish to protect their homeland from the perceived threat we pose. In each case by not harming them at all, we can show that we genuinely mean no harm. On the other hand if you kill a man, then it would be very natural for his entire extended family and community to feel threatened and to hate you. But if he can send home a message that he's in prison, but is fine and is being treated well, then there won't be the same visceral reaction as would have happened if news of his death had returned home. It is really important never to give them any reason to hate you. 

2: Conscripts and mercenaries will both give up if they are given the chance. If they have been constrained by robots and then taken to prison, then they have no choice. The challenge in this case is to find them well paying jobs when they are released, so they don't need to rejoin the foe.

3: There are soldiers who are motivated by religion. Some religions celebrate martyrdom. Having martyrs can really help some causes. On the other hand if you refuse to kill or even harm your opponent who seems to want to die, you'll make it difficult for him and his cohort to hate you. It takes enormous effort to hate someone who consistently treats you well. Religious fighters often say that they are fighting for an invisible supernatural being. But actually they don't take orders from imaginary friend they communicate with in their dreams, but rather they receive instruction from earthly religious leaders. So the key in this case would be to get the religious leaders to change the orders that they are sending out. How might we do that? We'll deal with it in the following paragraphs.

Very often in war, the aim is to get the opposing leaders to say the things that you want them to say. In 2011 in Libya, the Americans ( and others ) wanted Gaddafi to say to those around him that he would unconditionally give up power. Whatever Gaddafi was thinking was not important. It is what he said that mattered. On the flip side, the Americans didn't want him to say "I will remain in power". One way to stop him saying such a thing is to kill him. But that can be difficult and may involve many others being killed along the way.

Well, suppose Gaddafi is in a bunker, giving orders to his troops who are causing mayhem. How can we get him to change the orders that he's giving? With the right technology there might just be a solution.

Suppose we were to release many drones that are designed to look just like local birds. For example they could look like high soaring eagles that use thermals and gliding to cover great distances with minimal energy expended. They can recharge their energy by using power cables or even have solar panels that look just like tree branches. They can carry some of these 'branches', attach them to trees and then recharge in peace, without being noticed. The artificial recharging 'branches' could also generate power from the wind as they sway. Clearly if they are going to look like the branch of a tree then they can't rotate like a windmill.

The important payload of the drone-eagles are our insect sized robots, which roughly resemble spiders, flies and worms. The insect drones can get inside buildings and even bunkers, perhaps through the water or sewage pipes or indeed through the ventilation system. With our eagles and insects we can keep track of Gaddafi's location.

We send robot-flies into Gaddafi's room and then one quickly enters his left auditory canal, another in his right. There is no need to damage the ear-drums. Once inside, they they securely lodge themselves in place. One has a speaker, microphone and transmitter, the other has a small explosive. The speaker then tells Gaddafi "do as I say or the explosive in your ear will go off". At that stage Gaddafi is no longer a threat.

To ensure the there really is no need for further large-scale military action, we could place such insect-robots in the ear each member of his inner circle of commanders. Each will then do as they are told. 

So, we can see that with the right technology, wars can be brought to an end without violence.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Redundancy for taxi drivers

One of the best things about being the Flying Spaghetti Monster is that I know everything, including the future. Alas it does mean that for me there is no such thing as a “surprise” present. And when people pray to me, I know what they are trying to communicate to me before they do. But what should you tell the being (me) that knows everything? You could try asking me for something. But there’s no point really, because even before you were born I knew you were going to want it. You can’t add any new information to the set of all knowledge ( the FSM). I know everything, including what you are feeling and what you will feel. I know a lot more about what's going on in your brain than you do.

On the other hand, you can of course receive knowledge from the FSM. But when praying, you’ll never be sure if you’ve got some real FSM wisdom or you’re just talking to your own personal imaginary friend. Even if you go to the official reformed pastafarian website, how can you know that what you’re looking at isn’t just a fake. The answer is of course faith.

But if you want strong evidence of real wisdom, look for predictions and see if they come true. The FSM would like to take this opportunity to make some (infallible) predictions:

For over 100 years, taxi drivers have been a part of the culture in each city. In every region they are somewhat different, but there is much that they have in common with the global community of taxi drivers. And they have a shared future: redundancy. The vast majority of taxi drivers are going to lose their jobs in a few years. This will become clear to you all even before Nissan release their driverless car in 2020. The driverless car will be significantly safer than an old-fashioned taxi with a driver. And they will be much much cheaper. So here are some predictions:

1: By 2022 there will be some cities round the world with driverless cabs available.

2: By 2030 the number of taxi drivers employed round the world will be less than 20% the number in 2014.

3: Private car ownership will fall dramatically. Now in 2014 private cars spend most of the time idle. Just sitting there parked. The driverless cabs will be shared much more and so fewer of them are required.

4: The demand for city-center parking will collapse as people move to using driverless taxis

5: Eventually human driven vehicles will be banned from most roads.

6: The rate of accidents will be so low that countries will drop the requirement that passengers need seat belts.

7: The most common number of seats in a car will be 1, followed by 2. In contrast to 4 seat cars which will be rare. If you are travelling to work alone, why would you need a couple of empty seats?

8: Some cars will be hybrids that can run on rails like trams and then transfer onto regular ( old-fashioned) roads. The advantage rails is that they are more energy efficient.

Clearly I know when 3 - 8  above become true, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you, so I’ll let you guess. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Divine advice: boil water before drinking

We know what love is. If you love someone then you will be prepared to go to great lengths to keep that person from harm. However, we are also prepared to help a stranger, not because we love them, but just because we have human decency.

If you’re visiting a family in an underdeveloped part of the world and you see they are drinking untreated water then you will tell them that they should boil the water before drinking it. That is not an act of love. It is just a simple act of kindness.

Before the 19th century, scientists hadn't worked out that water sometimes contains dangerous microbes and that they can mostly be rendered harmless by boiling the water.

Throughout history, one thing that has been quite common and indeed still happens is that people claim to be messengers or prophets from God or even incarnations of God.
Suppose someone who lived before the 19th century claims:
1: to be a messenger from God
2: God is all knowing
3: God loves humans

then we can be pretty sure that the message will include the advice to boil water before drinking  it.

If God is all-knowing, then he knows that with a few simple words he can prevent millions of children dying painful deaths. If he loves us, then he will tell us to boil water before drinking it. That is what love is.

However, if the messenger does not mention anything about boiling water, then we can be pretty certain that at least one of the items 1,2 and 3 must be false.

Perhaps we could tweak number 3. We could redefine “love” to include:
“if your daughter is dying a painful death and he could easily prevent it, then he won’t.”
But that’s not what the word “love” means.
If a statement is only true when we redefine the words it contains,
then that statement is false.

So if you want to know whether your prophet is a true prophet of an all-knowing, loving god, then see if you can find his advice to boil water before drinking. If he doesn't mention it, then you can be pretty sure he’s a false prophet or God doesn't know everything or God doesn't love humans.

On the other hand, if some pre-19th century text does indeed contain the advice to boil water, then that is not proof that it has divine origin. I could simply be that someone noticed in time of disease that those who only drank tea or boiled water were unscathed. You don't have to be the Flying Spaghetti Monster to notice that.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Treat polar bears well, treat humans better

Suppose you find yourself, with a gun, at the edge of a small village, on an island off the north coast of Norway. There you see two young girls playing just outside their school. Then you spot a polar bear heading towards them. You know enough about the bears to recognize their hunting behavior. The girls are in imminent danger. It seems obvious, that you should shoot the bear to save the kids. Most would agree this isn't a tricky moral conundrum.

Now suppose you again have a gun and you're at the edge of a remote village, this time in Afghanistan. Again there are two young girls playing outside a school. You see a Taliban fighter heading towards the girls. Suppose also you have reliable information that that man intends to kill the girls because he objects to the education they are receiving. Again it would seem that the moral thing to do is to kill him, preventing the atrocity he's about to commit.

Let's go back to the polar bear in Norway. There aren't that many polar bears left. They are listed as being "vulnerable" to extinction. They are indeed reasonably intelligent, but not nearly as bright as the average human. With some study we can have much better understanding of polar bears than they will ever have of us.

So suppose it is winter in Norway, the bears are hibernating and we have some time to deal with the possible threat that will come to children in the village once the spring comes and the bears become active again. In this case we absolutely must keep the girls safe while at the same time we don't want to inflict pain or harm on the bears. By understanding bear psychology we can work out how to motivate the bears to keep well away from the village. If they do come in then we can scare them off, we certainly don't need to kill them.

One of the most basic ideas in reformed pastafarian morality is that we should treat polar bears well, but we should treat humans better.

Now lets go back to Afghanistan. Suppose we learn of a plot to kill schools girls, but we have many months notice, as the schools are currently closed for a long winter holiday. We find out that the operative who will carry out the attack is a young illiterate man whom already has 3 sons. He is in debt has has been promised that it will be cleared if he carries out the strike. Again with our superior education and access to information we should be able to have a much better understanding of him, than he has of us. If we kill him, he will become a martyr. His sons will grow to hate us, perpetuating the problem into the next generation.

The pastafarian solution is to absolutely protect the young girls, but it is so much better to try to understand the Taliban and work out how to motivate them not to commit their barbarous acts, rather than kill them. In so many ways the Taliban cannot compete with our sophisticated society. Though killing them is our failure and it is much more tragic than killing polar bears.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Film Protests

We are rather concerned that Pakistan is becoming soft on those who oppose religion. We've seen that someone can freely hold up a placard suggesting that having "no religion is better than Islam". The worrying thing is that the authorities seem to do nothing about it.
On the other hand it has been very pleasing to see the strong vibrant protests by pious Pastafarians against a recent film that insults the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It has been a great opportunity for the faithful to show how civilized we are. It has been pointed out that those who protest can't be angry at a film they haven't seen that actually they're just being obedient to the religious leaders who sent them out. But please see it from our point of view as local Pastafarian Holymen.

When a group of people together recite a prayer, they give the impression that they think the same. But on a question of faith, within a group of people who all seem to belong to the same religion, there will be a range of opinions. Some will be convinced that there is utterly convincing evidence, others will acknowledge to themselves that the evidence is somewhat underwhelming and then there will be those who belong to the Mother Teresa school of theology. She pretended to believe, but privately she was an atheist, ( in a letter not meant for public consumption she wrote "Jesus you are not true.").

So just as with the congregations, also for religious leaders there is a wide range of opinions some very significantly diverging from the official dogma. But religions can survive even if people don't believe in them. The key thing is that no-one admits they don't believe. Disbelievers must remain silent or indeed pretend to have faith and doubters need to feel that they are alone. As religious leaders, we're aware that the house of cards could come crashing down, particularly if people are allowed to be honest about their thoughts.  

When conversion away from the true faith is a crime, it can help to keep people in the fold. Though it is important to note that apostasy is actually not about what you believe or think, but rather about what you say. Lie detector tests are never used in apostasy cases to find out what people really think. If they were, then there would be too many defendants, including many senior Holymen.

For us Pastafarian Holymen, we know that we are just a few witty jokes away from becoming a laughing stock and that scares us. We currently have significant power and influence. Our place in society would collapse if people were allowed to freely debate religious ideas. Can you imagine what a disaster it would be if the major theocracies of the world were to up up being atheistic countries like for example Norway.

We all know that Religions can grow either by presenting ourselves as warm and fuzzy or by use of the sword. Pastafarians in our Pirate regalia we combine the two. Once we have significant power, the only way is down. Dominant religions tend to go through the following phases one after the other:

1: Blasphemy is a capital offense. It's the easy way to win an argument.

2: The executions are stopped but it is still illegal for anyone to disagree with religious leaders of the one true faith and it is absolutely strictly forbidden to laugh at us.We're terrified of humor.

3: Officially there is freedom of speech, but many forms of pressure are put on people to ensure that they never express their criticism. They can think whatever they want, but we tell them what to say. We write the creed, they recite it, obediently professing their faith.

4: Critics of the religion are ignored by the religious leaders. After we've realized that our protests are just drawing attention to those who oppose us.

5: The religion is ignored by society

6: The religion is forgotten. Just ask the Manichaens what it's like. You don't know who they are? Well, that's exactly my point.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Shut the Internet down

The Flying Spaghetti Monster has announced that the internet needs to be shut down immediately and not started up again.

As we all know the gift of faith in Pastafarianism is essentially belief in a set of extraordinary claims which (deliberately) lack extraordinary evidence. For faith to blossom it is essential to ensure that children and teenagers are never exposed ideas that oppose the one true (Pastafarian) faith. When the young have access to the internet they are exposed to all sorts of concepts. It makes it almost impossible to control their thoughts. Much evidence sugguest that when people grow up with the internet, most end up without religious faith. This looks set to be a tragedy, particularly in places in the world where faith leaders have significant power.

In the days before the internet, it was reasonably straight forward to protect children from blasphemous thoughts. Television stations wouldn't dare criticise the one true faith. There were indeed some philosophy books such as "A History of Western Philosophy" which promoted atheistic ideas, but fortunately they were long, dull and had been deliberately written in a style that ensured few would understand the simple ideas they contained. So although they appeared on some people's book shelves they were never read.

Contrast that with the modern world where the web is full of satire of religion. We see that things really have changed (for the worse).

For faith to survive it is essential that:
1: children are never exposed to non-pastafarian ideas.
2: those with doubts must keep quiet about them, they need to be encouraged to continue with pastafarian rituals to give the impression that their faith is strong
3: further those who are struggling with their faith must never found out that others are having similar doubts. Each person who is having difficulty believing must be persuaded that they are the only one.

None of this is possible with the internet and so the internet needs to be shut down.