It’s not scientifically possible. *You* are not scientifically possible! (Feeling Pinkie Keen)

[Insert Lord of the Rings “walking
around Middle-Earth” music here.]

It’s February 11, 2011. Bruno Mars’ Grenade is back on top song duty, and I think I already said everything I have to say about it. The top movie this weekend is Just Go With It, a romantic comedy and remake starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, so that’s four strikes against it out of the gate. I haven’t seen it–hadn’t even heard of it prior to writing this article–and feel absolutely no regret for that.

In real news, social media-organized protests in Tunisia and Egypt lead to the dissolution of the ruling party and resignation of the president, respectively, and a new protest begins in Serbia. Activision Blizzard announces they’re done making Guitar Hero sequels, provoking a resounding cry of “meh,” and George W. Bush cancels a trip to Switzerland amid calls by Swiss and international activists to arrest him for war crimes as soon as he steps off the plane.

On TV we have one of the more controversial episodes, Dave Polsky’s debut effort “Feeling Pinkie Keen.” It’s a fairly straightforward premise: Pinkie Pie is being weird, and Twilight Sparkle puts on her scientist hat to investigate. She is deeply skeptical about Pinkie’s claim to predict the future with various twinges and twitches, and sets out to test it. Her efforts are repeatedly frustrated, however, by successful predictions on Pinkie’s part that seem to inevitably result in Twilight suffering comedic injury, from getting flattened behind doors to taking an anvil to the head.

This is unquestionably a deeply flawed episode. Structurally, it suffers from the essentially random hydra attack in the third act. It’s set up in terms of establishing that Fluttershy is in the swamp and that Pinkie Pie has premonitions of “a doozy” happening there, but it doesn’t have any particular resonance with the main conflict of the story; there’s no thematic reason to have a hydra attack as opposed to any other kind of crisis. Twilight is also badly out of character throughout the episode–she has her moments of being Ms. Know-It-All, but nowhere else in the series is she this outright and openly contemptuous of one of her friends. From a story perspective, it’s necessary for her to act this way. Cartoon slapstick only works if the victim is unsympathetic: Wile E. Coyote’s injuries are only funny because he’s an arrogant bully who wants to kill and eat the innocent Road Runner. It’s a general rule, however, that if your story requires a lot of out of character behavior, it’s the story that needs changing.

More to the point, cartoon slapstick falls well on the cynical side of the cynicism-sincerity binary we’ve been developing. It requires that there exist people who deserve to have anvils dropped on their heads, which is quite a bit harsher than most people’s views on real life, let alone the cleaner, brighter world of My Little Pony.

So, given a structurally flawed, out of character, and tonally inappropriate episode, what’s the main complaint in the fandom? Why, that it’s anti-science, of course!

To be fair, that’s a legitimate complaint. Pinkie’s claims have all the trappings of the usual claims of “psychics” in real life–broad, vague terms like “something” and “soon,” “you don’t believe because you don’t understand,” and the way her abilities evaporate the moment she’s put in controlled, laboratory conditions. There’s a spectrum of such claimants, from outright frauds and con artists to people whose need to feel special leads them to mistake everyday coincidences for special powers, but regardless, their claims can and do cause real harm by leading people to base their decisions on unreliable information, because in real life, psychic powers have repeatedly failed to work after repeated attempts (particularly throughout the latter half of the twentieth century) to prove their existence.

Thus, if the episode were honest, well-constructed, and actually trying to make Pinkie Sense an equivalent to real-world psychic claims, it should have ended either with Pinkie learning a lesson about coincidences and Occam’s razor, or ambiguously, with both Pinkie and Twilight satisfied with their position and agreeing to disagree.

The episode can also be read as anti-atheist, both insofar as the atheist and skeptic movements are allied, and also because Twilight’s final embrace of “belief” results in a literal visit from God–Pinkie Pie predicts again that “something” will fall, and Celestia herself descends onto their balcony without explanation to accept Spike’s letter. Given that the episode already quotes the “Derpy Hooves” meme in the form of having a wall-eyed Ditzy Doo working as a clumsy deliverypony, it seems quite likely that this is a deliberate reference to the “Celestia is God” meme. Twilight’s out-of-character depiction is also typical for a fictional atheist: angry, contemptuous of believers, and self-deluding; once she embraces Pinkie’s abilities, she becomes happier, friendlier, and more fun.

This is an obnoxious stereotype, which unfortunately has not been helped by the existence of a minority of atheists who are angry, contemptuous of belief and believers, and motivated by a delusional belief that belief without evidence is inherently harmful and morally wrong (a claim for which they provide no evidence, so we can add hypocrisy to the list, too). Most of us are, of course, no better or worse than anyone else, aware of the fact, and willing to live and let live, but for precisely that reason we’re far less noticeable than the shouty minority. Converting a dogmatist isn’t likely to change them much–they’ll just obnoxiously demand everyone around them conform to their new dogma–so, if it wanted to be critical of specifically the New Atheists or what Philip Sandifer calls Big-Ass Science, as opposed to throwing around tired stereotypes bordering on religious bigotry, the resolution really ought to be either the ambiguous one I described above, or for Twilight to accept that Pinkie Pie is wrong, but having fun and not actually hurting anyone, so why not let her just be weird?

The problem with both reads, and the proposed fixes to the episode that result from them, is that they all require Twilight to be right. Pinkie Sense needs to demonstrably not work, just as psychic powers in the real world don’t work; otherwise, Twilight is a caricature of a skeptic. In the episode, however, Pinkie Sense is real, which results in the episode coming across as a wish-fulfilment fantasy by someone who believes in psychic powers or something similar, and dreams of a world where they actually and obviously work, so all those meanie-pants skeptics and scientists get beaten over the head with anvils because of their unbelief. Read that way–which, again, seems the most natural read–the episode is even more mean-spirited than it already appeared, and even less of a fit for the series as a whole.

All of this assumes, however, that we read it as straightforwardly taking one side or the other in a simple, two-sided conflict between Team Skepticism and Team Woo. The episode can be partially redeemed if we consider the possibility of taking an intermediate position–alas, I can do nothing for the characterization, structure, and tone, but perhaps the theme can be salvaged. There’s good reason to try–first, because there’s not enough good or even mediocre art in the world, so any approach that gives us more is a good approach, and second, because Polsky’s next episode is all about finding middle ground in a seemingly polarized, two-sided conflict, so it’s possible there’s grounds for doing so here.

First, if we are going to attempt a redemptive reading we can start by rejecting the assertion that Twilight represents an atheist position. The issue there is simple: all ponies are atheists. There has never been the slightest hint of there being any form of religion in Equestria, fan memes notwithstanding; Celestia and Luna are immensely powerful entities, but they are the physically present heads of state and government, not gods, and the reactions of other ponies toward them are not worship or any kind of spiritual experience, but typical rituals toward a monarch. The key here is their physical presence; you can’t just walk up to a god and say hello. At the very least you need to undertake some arduous quest to reach a remote physical location like Mt. Olympus or Kadath in the Cold Wastes; more often, communication with the gods is only possible by spiritual means.

If all ponies are atheists, then this is really an episode about doubt regarding physical phenomena. The most obvious comparison is of course to psychic powers, but as I said, the single most important fact about real-world psychic powers is that they don’t actually exist. The episode gives us every reason, however, to believe that Pinkie Sense does work. While they do contain a lot of vague terms, Pinkie’s predictions are actually fairly specific in terms of time frame–the events she predicts occur within hours of the prediction, and frequently within seconds. “Something is going to fall in the next day” is a very vague prediction–lots of things fall in a day, so it’s a very safe bet. “Something is going to fall in my presence in the next ten seconds” is a much more specific prediction, and one Pinkie successfully repeats enough times in the course of this episode to suggest that something is going on.

Of course, that something is not necessarily what Pinkie thinks it is. Twilight is right to investigate cautiously, because the fact that Pinkie’s tail-twitches correlate closely with falling objects is not in and of itself proof of anything. However, rejecting outright the possibility of any connection and insisting that it’s all coincidence, repetition after repetition, is neither science nor skepticism. To give a real-world example: Psychic powers don’t exist. You can’t predict the future. On the other hand, it’s fairly well-documented for people to get odd tinges and pains, especially joint pain, shortly before a storm. There’s no magic at work here, simply a physiological response to a change in air pressure, temperature, and moisture, but the only reason we know that is because somebody saw the correlation and looked for a connection, which we now understand well enough that you can get an “aches and pains” forecast at most weather sites. If, however, the response of scientists had been to insist that the correlation must be coincidence and to refuse to look for any kind of connection, we still wouldn’t understand what causes those twinges, and we wouldn’t be able to warn sufferers that there’s probably going to be a storm tomorrow, so they should keep painkillers handy.

In the real world, scientists investigated claims of psychic phenomena. Some of those scientists believed the phenomena were or might be legitimate; others were actively trying to disprove them. The results of their collective effort was that we now know that, for instance, people who claim psychic powers are no better than random chance at guessing symbols on hidden cards or predicting which of several random colors a computer will flash next. Pinkie, on the other hand, repeatedly performs succesfully. A good scientist would respond by noting that something unusual is happening in the data, and seek for a reason why, which Twilight almost spends all of three seconds doing in her basement lab (which lab is, credit where credit is due, completely awesome).

Throughout this episode, Twilight is consistently a terrible scientist and a terrible skeptic, to the point that she really doesn’t qualify as either. She has a strong preference going in for what she wants the outcome to be, and repeatedly ignores or discounts data that doesn’t fit her desired outcome. In short, she behaves less like a skeptic and more like a conspiracy theorist pretending to skepticism, also called a denialist after the most prominent examples in the English-speaking world, who deny the overwhelming evidence for global warming, evolution, or the effectiveness and safety of childhood vaccination. Twilight is a pitch-perfect denialist, ignoring the evidence in front of her face even when it would require absurd amounts of planning and coordination to fake (this particular conspiracy would require, at a minimum, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Ditzy Doo, and a hydra to cooperate), treating everyone who doesn’t share her delusion as a weak-minded fool for buying into the lies of the imaginary conspiracy, and generally being a hostile jerk to everyone around her. Read as a conspiracy theorist, even her out-of-character jerkassery makes sense; a lot of real-life conspiracy theorists are perfectly nice people until you dare to question the Secret Knowledge they have built their identity around. (The similarity to the way geeks respond when you criticize their favorite media is no accident; most people respond with hostility if you challenge a fundamental element of their self-image.)

Twilight’s letter at the end, if we read her as a recovering conspiracy theorist, again makes sense. The common element between the conspiracy theorist and the scientist is the need for life to make sense and be understandable, the need for organizing principles under which all knowledge can be filed. Unfortunately, there are limits to this approach. Some things really do have to be believed in, at the very least those things which stop existing if not believed in, like money, laws, and morals. (In the business, we call these social constructs.) Her letter thus does take a stand against an extremist pro-science position that all of everything is most easily understood by means of Science! (this position pretty much always regards science as having both capital S and exclamation point), but it is hardly equivalent to a call to abandon reason and embrace superstition and woo. It is simply acknowledgment that not every phenomenon that occurs is necessarily going to be within her personal scope of understanding, and sometimes she just has to let it go and leave it for other people to study with other tools.

Is this the intended or even the most likely reading of the episode? No. The most likely reading remains the wish-fulfilment fantasy of a frustrated believer in whatever it is that Polsky believes, and a bit of a revenge fantasy directed toward whichever skeptics pointed out that his beliefs aren’t objective facts. But this is ponies, and we’re bronies; it’s worth at least trying to read the episode in a more positive way and get what good out of it we can.

Next week: Pride, performance anxiety, Icarus, and varicolored explosions.

23 thoughts on “It’s not scientifically possible. *You* are not scientifically possible! (Feeling Pinkie Keen)

  1. Polsky is an atheist that believes everything can be explained by science, and wrote this as a silly slapstick episode about how you have to be willing to trust your friends, even if they have different beliefs than you.

    It was meant to be religious tolerance, as written by an atheist.

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  2. In that case it was rather an astounding failure. However, it was wrong of me to try to read into Polsky's beliefs her. All I can say is that this was an early article and I was still learning (as I still am).

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  3. Hmmm, you know I'm curious. Does the knowledge that he is an atheist and not a believer engaging in childish revenge change your analysis of the whole episode at all?

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  4. It changes the bits where I speculate on Polsky's worldview, certainly, but I shouldn't have done that to begin with.

    Honestly, I think it ultimatley strengthens my argument that the point is that Twilight and Pinkie are *both* wrong, Pinkie for her disinterest in exploring how her ability actually works and Twilight for refusing to see a genuine phenomenon because the explanation associated with it doesn't fit with her worldview.

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  5. Am I really being told here, that knowledge holds no intrinsic utility? Is this really a thing that is being said? Or is it merely that your saying you can hold a belief without it affecting decisions?
    There are things that can be said about the angry atheist sub-group, that you didn't before that line, but that's actually sort of hateful.

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  6. I hope you're not being told that knowledge holds no intrinsic utility, because I didn't write that knowledge holds no intrinsic utility. I'm really not at all clear on which line you're referring to.

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  7. Although actually, thinking about it, the claim that knowledge has intrinsic utility is prima facie absurd. Nothing has “intrinsic” utility; utility is always to a person for a purpose. Since any given fact is eventually going to be useful or at least interesting to someone, it's good to have as much knowledge as possible as available as possible, certainly. So, on a societal level, science and scholars and libraries and universities and such are Very Good Things.

    But on an individual level, there's knowledge I find useful and interesting, and then there's knowledge I find deathly boring and don't want to learn. (Anything sports-related, for instance.)

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  8. Left off my last sentence there by mistake:

    So for me, that knowledge does not have utility, though I know people for whom it does have utility and therefore am glad somebody somewhere knows it.

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  9. If your going to try that, you could at least try to use the argument against something that isn't valued for its own sake. You can't make the claim that utility is always to someone for a purpose, for that violates one of the base definitions of utility, especially those as used by utilitarians. Also, Knowledge, above and beyond simple factoids, its valuable for its own sake.

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  10. Left off a bit there too, wish this had comment editing.

    If your not going have anything with intrinsic utility, every ethical system in the world falls apart, because something has to be valued for its own sake, be it life, freedom, virtue, etc.

    As to the what line, “a delusional belief that belief without evidence is inherently harmful and morally wrong” aka, a wrong belief that doesn't do this must a. inform not other beliefs or actions, b. also be under an ethical system that does not value knowledge

    And your comments on the ending portion, “Her letter thus does take a stand against an extremist pro-science position that all of everything is most easily understood by means of Science!” I think you'll find that the best way of knowing something, and perhaps more importantly, knowing that you know something, is science. Ease is irrelevant in this.

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  11. Totally with you about comment editing. Blogger kinda sucks that way.

    Utility is a quantification of preference–if doing A is preferable to doing B than A has more utility than B. Preferences are inherently subjective and vary between individuals, and therefore the same applies to utility. It is possible to aggregate preferences, of course, and determine something's average utility to a group of people, but there's no basis for saying that aggregate utility for a group has more or less moral weight than individual utility. To give a very simple example, the utility of a brownie is a lot lower to a person who doesn't like chocolate–but the same principle applies to everything from simple, concrete goods to abstractions like freedom and knowledge.

    “Knowledge is valuable for its own sake.” Really. There is absolutely no subject whatsoever that you're not interested in? I suppose it's possible, but you'd be the first person I've ever met for whom that's true. Again, the value is not located in the knowledge; it's assigned to knowledge by people, and different people assign value differently.

    “If your not going have anything with intrinsic utility, every ethical system in the world falls apart, because something has to be valued for its own sake, be it life, freedom, virtue, etc.”

    Not true. My own ethical system is based on the assumption that the value of a thing is not a property of that thing, but a product of how I perceive that thing. Others' values may not be the same as mine. I will act in accordance with my values, other people will act in accordance with theirs; this naturally means that I will find myself allying with people who have compatible values and conflicting with people who have incompatible values.

    This is hardly the only ethical system which doesn't require some things to have inherent utility. It's trivial to construct a deontological ethos that has no notion of utility at all. Compassion ethics also doesn't require anything to be valued for its own sake, since it's based purely on emotional responses.

    “As to the what line, “a delusional belief that belief without evidence is inherently harmful and morally wrong” aka, a wrong belief that doesn't do this must a. inform not other beliefs or actions, b. also be under an ethical system that does not value knowledge”

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  12. You are conflating “belief without evidence” and “belief contrary to evidence.” You are also assuming that the set of things about which it is possible to have beliefs is identical to the set of things about which it is possible to have knowledge.

    Truth is a symbolic structure or model that accurately corresponds to or signifies the physical properties of material objects. In other words, a given statement is true when it accurately reflects physical reality, and false when it does not. But what about statements that don't try to signify the physical properties of material objects? “Brownies are good” does not have a truth value, because goodness is not a physical property; it is neither true nor false.

    It is thus entirely possible to have beliefs which are neither true nor false, and there is no evidence that such beliefs are harmful. Indeed, quite the opposite; it would be impossible to get through the day without believing that some things are better than others.

    Put another way: Brownies aren't good, I (and many other people, but nowhere near all people) perceive them as good. It's thus impossible to have knowledge of whether or not brownies are good, but nonetheless believing that brownies are good is helpful to me when I go out shopping.

    This gets even more important when dealing with social constructs such as justice, freedom, nations, money, and so forth, which only exist because they're believed in. Such things can be known only after they are first believed in, and thus a world in which know one believes in anything without evidence before hand is a world entirely devoid of them.

    The best way of knowing something absolutely is science, no question there. However, in those areas of life regarding which knowledge is impossible because they're not about the physical properties and behaviors of material objects, science is useless, and understanding must be achieved in the absence of knowledge.

    For example, science is useless in distinguishing right from wrong, because “rightness” is not a physical property and cannot be empirically determined. Rather than following the scientific method to gain knowledge of morality (which is impossible), one acquires an understanding of morality by using a priori values based on personal preference, upbringing, and social pressures to construct a framework within which to make decisions.

    tl;dr: I am an atheist who loves science. However, I am a strong proponent of Gould's “non-overlapping magisteria” view, which sees science as being of unparalleled power as a tool of discovery in certain areas, and entirely useless in others. Specifically, science can answer any “is” question, but it is useless for determining “ought.”

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  13. own ethical system

    Then your own ethical system has placed inherent value on your perception of a thing. If I may use your own statement against you, to what purpose does your perception or emotional attachment of an object serve. The point I made, which you tried a neat little end around, is that you can't do an infinite regression of x thus for y thus for z.

    You are conflating “belief without evidence” and “belief contrary to evidence.” You are also assuming that the set of things about which it is possible to have beliefs is identical to the set of things about which it is possible to have knowledge.

    You are correct that I improperly connected the two, which is where you might find me and your previous subjects of ire differ. You might also find that belief without evidence, if used to inform anything meaningful, is like adding a die roll to whether your decision is proper. Since its actually pretty damn hard to not hold a belief about something, in absence of apathy, reducing the effect on decision making is the more reasonable goal and lack of doing so actually a serious ethical failure in positions of responsibility.

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  14. Brownies aren't good, I (and many other people, but nowhere near all people) perceive them as good.

    Are you believing that something is better than something else, or are you believing that you prefer something over something else? One of these is perfectly accurate so long as you can judge yourself correctly, one of these needs at least a minimal argument to back it up.

    Not entirely sure where learning morality came in? We're talking about judging people for judging people for beliefs that are perfectly relevant to the natural world.

    tldr; I like to pretend I'm utilitarian in the vein of Mill. There are multiple definitions in play for utility which I tried to point out by using inherent utility vs expected utility, though both have their place in the discussion.

    Perhaps more importantly to the discussion, though I do tend to follow that voluntary criticism shows a certain love for the subject, I haven't stated that I did like it. Even if this does feel like one of the weaker articles, with the commentary on the writer, I really liked the alchemic series.

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  15. Then your own ethical system has placed inherent value on your perception of a thing.

    Nope. The value is put there by me; that's the opposite of being inherent.

    If I may use your own statement against you, to what purpose does your perception or emotional attachment of an object serve.

    It serves whatever purpose I want it to serve. Like value, purpose is entirely subjective.

    The point I made, which you tried a neat little end around, is that you can't do an infinite regression of x thus for y thus for z.

    I don't need to. Value is not universal; each thing has a value-to-Froborr assigned by Froborr and a value-to-Gorgey assigned by Gorgey (as well as a great many other values, one for each observer). It is possible, for purposes of doing economics and the like, to aggregate the values we all assign it, but that aggregation is purely descriptive and has no prescriptive power.

    You might also find that belief without evidence, if used to inform anything meaningful, is like adding a die roll to whether your decision is proper. Since its actually pretty damn hard to not hold a belief about something, in absence of apathy, reducing the effect on decision making is the more reasonable goal and lack of doing so actually a serious ethical failure in positions of responsibility.

    You assume that there is some external standard against which actions can be judged to be correct or incorrect. Such a standard would have to be universally observable–that is, all conceivable agents would have to be able to access the same standard. The only thing that fulfills that requirement is material existence itself, which is identical to the set of material properties of physical objects.

    It thus follows that there are two separate categories of statements or beliefs: Those which are about the physical properties of material objects, and must be weighed against the external standard of material existence, and those which are not, and therefore have no standard against which to be weighed and must all be regarded as equally true and valid.

    Put another way: There is no conceivable experiment which can distinguish goodness from badness, and therefore a statement that something is good or bad cannot be true.

    Taking any action requires believing a mixture of both types of statements. That is unescapable. You can either fret about it endlessly, try and fail to find a universal standard for value, or accept it and move on.

    Are you believing that something is better than something else, or are you believing that you prefer something over something else?

    These are the same thing. Since “good” is an attribute assigned to an object by perception, not a property possessed by an object, “X is good” and “I perceive X as good” have the same meaning, and are both actually statements about the perceiver, not X.

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  16. Not entirely sure where learning morality came in? We're talking about judging people for judging people for beliefs that are perfectly relevant to the natural world.

    My point was to use morality as an example, a case where the claim “belief without evidence is wrong” completely breaks down because there can only be evidence of physical phenomena, and there are broad swaths of human thought that have nothing to do with physical phenomena.

    Psychic powers aren't within such a category, true; they plain and simple don't exist. So if someone's claiming to be psychic and offering me advice on a particular decision, listening to them won't increase my odds of getting the result I want from the decision.

    But (and this is key) the definition of the “right” results is entirely a matter of perception. What I want the outcome of the decision to be may not be the same as what another person wants it to be; from that person's perspective, the outcome of this particular decision might have been better if I had listened to the psychic.

    More to the point, neither of these perspectives is inherently superior or more true than the other. I'm a moral relativist in the same sense that Einstein was a physical relativist: I don't believe in the existence of a privileged moral reference frame.

    I like to pretend I'm utilitarian in the vein of Mill. There are multiple definitions in play for utility which I tried to point out by using inherent utility vs expected utility, though both have their place in the discussion.

    Ah, Mill's utilitarianism! Elitist garbage. ;) Bentham's formulation is better, but runs headlong into the Repugnant Conclusion.

    I'm a moral relativist, as I said. I'm not amoral; I have a personal moral reference frame which I employ to make judgments and assign value. However, this has no bearing on what is right or wrong in another moral reference frame. As in the Theory of Relativity in physics, it's not that your mass “seems” higher as your speed increases, or that mass doesn't exist, but that mass is in part a function of speed. Likewise, it's not that morality “seems” different to people with different values, or that morality doesn't exist, but that morality is in part a function of values, which are entirely subjective.

    Even if this does feel like one of the weaker articles, with the commentary on the writer, I really liked the alchemic series.

    I agree, this is one of the weakest articles thus far. If I were to revise it, I would use it to introduce the concept of implied author, and criticize the implied author rather than Polsky, since this is a clear case of the implied author's beliefs differing from the documented beliefs of the writer.

    I'd still include the harsh criticism of the New Atheist position (they know what they did!), but I'd probably make more effort to detail exactly why their core premise that “belief without evidence is wrong” is obvious buncomb.

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  17. It serves whatever purpose I want it to serve. Like value, purpose is entirely subjective.

    Purpose is literally the opposite of subjective, used in this sentence it is an objective to be reached, which then must be justified with a reason, because it gains me/you/everyone x. While these may be informed by experiences (because it stopped y and I'm afraid of y), it is still an abstract thing, which may be defined so that others can discuss it. This claim of subjectivity merely serves to stifle all discussion regarding a thing.

    and those which are not, and therefore have no standard against which to be weighed and must all be regarded as equally true and valid.

    I can reject such a situation out of hand, in the same way I can reject solipsism, or determinism. As a practical matter. If this is true, there is no point in having such a discussion, except as intellectual masturbation, which while nice, gets you nowhere, and can't help you discover new things. I can be correct and working on things that matter, perhaps in the wrong way, or I can be wrong, in which case I have lost nothing, except perhaps some pride, and time spent in vain, except that all time is thus spent in vain, so I have not failed at spending my time any better.

    These are the same thing. Since “good” is an attribute assigned to an object by perception, not a property possessed by an object, “X is good” and “I perceive X as good” have the same meaning, and are both actually statements about the perceiver, not X.

    Okay, so naturally given the definition of the word good, I want to make “good” decisions, in fact I want to make the “best” decisions, how does this help me do that? I can now upon seeing something I define as “bad” change either it, or my definition of it, how does this help me narrow down the possibilities such that I may make a meaningful decision?

    Benthams formulation is worse than the older Epicurean style as it is strictly hedonist.

    Okay, don't use physics metaphors, I actually know what those words mean quite well, and they don't mesh with your actually appearing to say. Its cute, but hurts you, especially when you use, however jokingly, elitism as a way to dismiss something out of hand.

    But, continuing the metaphor, mine and yours reference frames are clearly out of alignment, why should I bring mine closer to alignment with yours? In fact, as you comment on both mine and another groups position, why should I care about your position at all? Normally it's so that all points may be considered so a better decision be made, but your point is that the decision is worthless.

    With regards to your criticism of the new atheist position and “belief without evidence is wrong” completely breaks down. The statement has an implied context, with regards to being in an atheist group, and in your article, as being about a claim of existence, and on the outer fringe, moral claims justified by the claim of existence. To argue against it here, is in my eyes to set up a strawman against that statement in general, when you could argue against that in a more specific post, that removes it from the context of arguing about reality. Or, you could argue points from the more relevant cultural relatavist position, where the new atheist movement really is rather elitist, and condemns people morally and intellectually, in a lot of cases unfairly for believing, when often thats not the case. Or you could argue that like twilight irrationally raging at pinkie for everything going wrong, that the new atheist movement blames religion for so many flaws found naturally and making unfounded claims that some tragedy or event or progess is solely the fault of someones faith.

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  18. Purpose is literally the opposite of subjective

    Something is subjective when it exists in the mind of the observer. Purpose exists entirely in the mind of the observer; the purpose to which I put any given thing may be different from the purpose to which you put it.

    it is still an abstract thing, which may be defined so that others can discuss it. This claim of subjectivity merely serves to stifle all discussion regarding a thing.

    Well, no, the point was not to stifle discussion so much as to respond facetiously to a question so broad as to be unanswerable. A more serious response would be, “The purpose to which I put my perceptions and emotional attachments varies greatly depending on the situation.”

    As a practical matter. If this is true, there is no point in having such a discussion, except as intellectual masturbation, which while nice, gets you nowhere, and can't help you discover new things.

    Actually, you can learn new things from discussing questions which have no universally true answer. Specifically, even if the subject of the statement is not a material entity, the speaker is, and therefore the content of the statement and the way in which the person makes it can provide evidence to discover things about the speaker.

    Okay, so naturally given the definition of the word good, I want to make “good” decisions, in fact I want to make the “best” decisions, how does this help me do that? I can now upon seeing something I define as “bad” change either it, or my definition of it, how does this help me narrow down the possibilities such that I may make a meaningful decision?

    A good decision would be one in keeping with your values that produces results you like.

    So, basically, the same way everyone ever has identified which the good decisions are.

    Benthams formulation is worse than the older Epicurean style as it is strictly hedonist.

    Bentham's formulation has the advantage of recognizing the key importance of individual, idiosyncratic emotional response in determining the good, as opposed to Mill's attempt to declare some goods inherently higher than others, with the highest goods being suspiciously similar to the things he enjoys most.

    Okay, don't use physics metaphors, I actually know what those words mean quite well, and they don't mesh with your actually appearing to say. Its cute

    It's been a few years since I studied physics, but I don't think the analogy is that far off. Also, could you be more patronizing? Thanks.

    But, continuing the metaphor, mine and yours reference frames are clearly out of alignment, why should I bring mine closer to alignment with yours?

    I don't know. Why do you think I want you to?

    In fact, as you comment on both mine and another groups position, why should I care about your position at all?

    Personally, I find this sort of thing interesting, so I comment on it in the hopes that others might also find it interesting.

    But, continuing the metaphor, mine and yours reference frames are clearly out of alignment, why should I bring mine closer to alignment with yours? In fact, as you comment on both mine and another groups position, why should I care about your position at all? Normally it's so that all points may be considered so a better decision be made, but your point is that the decision is worthless.

    Why would the decision be worthless? Worth is another word for value, so the decision is only worthless if you perceive it as such. I don't see it as worthless at all; it's important to me to act in accordance with my values, so I try to make decisions that match them.

    Or you could argue that like twilight irrationally raging at pinkie for everything going wrong, that the new atheist movement blames religion for so many flaws found naturally and making unfounded claims that some tragedy or event or progess is solely the fault of someones faith.

    I like that one. I should have gone with that.

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  19. Purpose exists entirely in the mind of the observer;

    Conceded on purpose, it was a reach anyway. But plenty of things exist in the mind that aren't subjective.

    Actually, you can learn new things from discussing questions which have no universally true answer.

    That is both true, and not the point. If all I valued was learning I could do so more, and in a more fulfilling in the arbitrary environment of a game.
    Maybe its just a matter of how I was introduced to ethics, but however interesting psychology is(very), that's not why I care about ethics and morality, at all.

    It's been a few years since I studied physics, but I don't think the analogy is that far off. Also, could you be more patronizing? Thanks.

    I'm being patronizing because that's what it appears your doing when you start like that. Hence the comment on elitism.

    Why would the decision be worthless? Worth is another word for value, so the decision is only worthless if you perceive it as such. I don't see it as worthless at all; it's important to me to act in accordance with my values, so I try to make decisions that match them.

    Because I distrust my natural values and those absorbed during my formative years? Because I want to be able to judge which set of values I should follow, of the multitude open to me?

    Bentham's formulation has the advantage of recognizing the key importance of individual, idiosyncratic emotional response in determining the good, as opposed to Mill's attempt to declare some goods inherently higher than others, with the highest goods being suspiciously similar to the things he enjoys most.

    You realize Mills includes that, and the part you dislike has a history beyond that, specifically the Epicurean hedonism I referred to before?

    I like that one. I should have gone with that.

    Well its both surprising and nice that I didn't muddle my words enough that the original point came through in some manner. Even through this

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  20. But plenty of things exist in the mind that aren't subjective.

    That doesn't make any sense to me. If something exists only in the mind, it doesn't have an external object and therefore can't be objective.

    Maybe its just a matter of how I was introduced to ethics, but however interesting psychology is(very), that's not why I care about ethics and morality, at all.

    It's not why I care about ethics and morality either, but that's not what you asked. You asked what the point of discussing ethics was, and I told you the main reason I do it.

    Actual morality, however, is not about discussion, it's about action.

    Because I distrust my natural values and those absorbed during my formative years? Because I want to be able to judge which set of values I should follow, of the multitude open to me?

    That's your prerogative, of course. I've changed my own values at times, too–there was a time at which I would have agreed with much of what you say here.

    However, by what standard do you judge your values? Mills' utilitarianism? But what led you to pick that as the standard, if not your values at the time you picked it?

    You realize Mills includes that, and the part you dislike has a history beyond that, specifically the Epicurean hedonism I referred to before?

    He really doesn't. By suggesting that some goods are objectively better than others, he immediately excludes from the discussion the views of anyone who values the “lower” goods highly, to the point of denying their existence–he claims that anyone who has extensive experience of intellectual pleasures, for instance, considers them superior to nonintellectual pleasures. Um, yes, there's a correlation between people who like intellectual pursuits and people who spend a lot of time on intellectual pursuits. There's also a correlation between people who like mountain climbing and people who spend a lot of time climbing mountains; does that mean mountain climbing is a higher good than any other?

    And yeah, there's historical precedent for Mill's claims, but there's also historical precedent for claiming self-flagellation as the highest good. Like every other philosopher in history, Mill picked his arguments to support the conclusions he wanted to support, and argued against the arguments that led to conclusions he didn't. Since there's no external, objective standard against which to judge these arguments, but his philosophy requires a standard, he picked one that matched his preferences and then tried to persuade himself it was universal, external, and objective. It's no different than what Plato, Kant, or Muhammed did, really.

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  21. “…and motivated by a delusional belief that belief without evidence is inherently harmful and morally wrong”
    This is a common stance which completely ignores that the very definition of the word 'belief' is to accept something as fact without having any proof for it.

    As for this episode, with all other quibbles aside, I love it because it is one of the very few shows from any genre that managed to piss off both theological camps – atheist and christian. A truly laudable achievement, in my eyes.

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  22. I don't think that's really the definition of belief, though. It is possible to have a belief which is thoroughly supported by evidence, a belief which is inconclusively supported by evidence, a belief which is unsupported by evidence, a belief which contradicts evidence, or a belief regarding which evidence is irrelevant (that last is a normative belief, all the others are positive beliefs). It is also possible to doubt some or all of one's own beliefs, without actually ceasing to believe in them. “Belief” is simply the opinion that a statement is true; it can be strong, weak, certain, uncertain, evidence-based or not.

    And you probably didn't mean it that way, but it sounds like you're implying that atheists and Christians are the only two theological camps, or even that either of those is a single, coherent and cohesive theological camp. It's much more complex than that.

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  23. It would have been nice if this episode had gone a different way; if there was found an actual explanation for Pinkie's ability, and both of them had learned a lesson; Twilight in using actual science to study something you don't understand and in trusting your friend, and Pinkie in, well, trying to understand why something works so when it fails you can fix it (it would have been cool if her Pinkie Sense had failed at some point and she had to look to Twilight for help). There is magic in this damn universe, it should not be hard to say 'Well, maybe it is a kind of magic', in fact that should be the first conclusion the both of them come to. Anything else makes very little sense.

    – Only some Stardust

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