Useful Statistics: How to Not get Tricked by Numbers

If you were wondering where I was during the past two or three months, wonder no more!

My new title “Useful Statistics: How to Not get Tricked by Numbers” is now available on Both Amazon Kindle and CreateSpace!

This is an introductory book to statistics especially targeting crap that we see on social media. my favorite caption is “From tumblrite feminists to presidential candidates no one is safe from criticism!”.

Createspace link: https://www.createspace.com/5988397

Amazon Kindle link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AILMCBK

 

Cover ready

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New Book Published: “In Pursuit of What is Right”

Moral philosophy and answers to moral questions have always fascinated me. Part of it is because of living in an Islamic society that always claimed the likes of me (gays, atheists, liberals) were immoral, bad, wrong etc. This book was my wish, I wrote it to express myself the most, how I came to find reasonable answers for the sadistic nonsense thrown at me (at us) by the fundamentalists and fanatics.

I have tried to write for all those who may have the same problems, those who wish to find answers to moral questions in a logical way, and wish to see how we, human beings, have progressed towards these answers.

Find my book on Amazon Kindle: “In Pursuit of What is Right: The Progress of Moral Thinking (An Introduction)

Published: “The Small Handbook of Fallacies: A Guide to Exposing Nonsense in Everyday Life”

As in “Introduction to Logical fallacies: A More Organized Approach” I had mentioned, I was planning on publishing a small handbook on logical fallacies. Mainly designed for the younger generation (high school and early college), I most likely hope that it would be good for educational purposes. Some of the posts that followed the original one were to act as samples of this handbook. Almost two days ago I published this handbook in Amazon Kindle (KDP).

Here is the link to the finalized published “The Small Handbook of Fallacies: A Guide to Exposing Nonsense in Everyday Life“:

Copy of the link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Small-Handbook-Fallacies-ebook/dp/B00BMIST0M/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1362039374&sr=1-1&keywords=Handbook+fallacies

I welcome any review and criticism, and I shall work towards a better edition accordingly.

 

Sam Harris’ “Free Will” Book Review: A Kantian Critique of the Scientific Notion of “No Free Will”

In his recent book, Sam Harris (neuroscientist and the author of “The End of Faith”) has officially declared the notion of free will to be an illusion (Harris, 2012). He mentions studies that have shown one’s action can be determined some seconds before one is actually aware of them, and this goes against our notion of free will.

Needless to say, this has severe implications for judging people’s actions: If there is no free will, how can we hold people morally responsible for their actions? After all, if they have not freely chosen to do wrong (or right) holding them responsible will become meaningless. (This is not the basis of my argument in rejection of what Harris puts forward against free will)

Harris of course tries to justify why we do hold criminals (and people) responsible for their actions, but still, this can only mean that even we have no free will, and what we are doing is only a projection of our own illusion.

We could make two types of objection to this notion: One is the responsibility associated with each person is indeed different from morality of an action. Thinking about “how” a person has come to do a wrong doing does not change or reduce the wrongness of that action; it can only change the amount of responsibility of that person (Whyte, 2004). But of course Harris does not completely abandon this, as he argues that “Some criminals need to be incarcerated to prevent them from harming other people” (Harris, 2012). If harming people is wrong, then regardless of responsibility we incarcerate criminals.

The other objection, the more important one in my opinion, is purely from philosophical ground, particularly from a Kantian perspective. Kant argues that we understand ourselves from not just one physical standpoint, but also from “an “intelligible” realm of free human agency”, the realm of ideas and beliefs (Sandel, 2009). Just the fact that we are the only creatures that apparently is capable of having abstract thoughts is evidence for that. Ironically, Sam Harris’ thinking about free will is by itself evidence for his autonomous existence, not his heteronomy (i.e. being a slave to the nature). Mere object are incapable of abstract thoughts, and therefore there is no decision making for them, no argument, no responsibility and no morality.

To understand this better, we can have one good example based on one of the most famous philosophical statements of (probably) all times: Rene Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am)”.

By reading the simplest introductions to logic (for example “42 Fallacies” by Michael LeBossiere, 2011) we immediately seem to recognise there is an obvious case of begging the question here: If we want to prove that “I” exist, we should not have assumed the existence of “I” in our assumptions. If there exists an “I” to think, then we are going in circles trying to prove that the same “I” exists.*

But here we can have a defence of Descartes from that Kantian point of view: If the first “I” is the “I” that thinks and the second “I” is the autonomous I with freedom (of the will), then there is no begging the question. The second “I” is the one with both aspects of being: Both physical and rational. It is only obvious that only the rational I is capable of thinking about the physical I, however they may be inseparable.

Back to our subject, let’s consider the case of two murderers: One abused 12 year old boy that has been abused his entire life kills someone that has ridiculed him. And the case of a 40 year old man who murders his wife in order to marry his mistress. The difference between these two cases is the second “I”, capable of rational thought. The boy is almost without an autonomous “I”, acting only what was dictated to his mind based on his lifelong torture. But the man had developed that “autonomous” I, and that is the reason why he is held morally responsible for his actions, not the boy.

In the end, the argument becomes something like “Comprehendo, igitur liber sum (I understand, therefore I am free).” **

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* It has been said (Warburton, 1998) that Descartes was completely aware that “I think therefore I am” is in form of begging the question. The argument in fact is not supposed to be a logical argument, but a psychological fact: It is hard to think that there is no I that thinks. This criticism therefore is a straw man.

** Translation by a dear commenter (Karl) below.

 

References:

Harris, S. 2012. Free Will. Kindle ed. Free Press (A division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.). New York.

LaBossiere, M. 2011. 42 Fallacies. eBook. Amazon Digital Services. [Accessed on 14th March 2012].

Sandel, M. J. 2009. Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do?. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. USA.

Warburton, N. 1998. Thinking from A-Z. 2nd ed. Routledge. USA.

Whyte, J. 2004. Crimes Against Logic: Exposing the Bogus Arguments of Politicians, Priests, Journalists, and Other Serial Offenders. McGraw Hill Professional.

Book Review: “Lying” by Sam Harris

I got excited about the book the first time I saw it’s cover. Firstly, it is written by Sam Harris, who has shown in the recent years that has a way with words that could make the most trivial arguments into something worthwhile. Secondly, since I am by nature truthful, meaning normally I cannot lie even if I try, lying had turned into the subject of my lesser moral obsessions.

I always had in mind that there come times in which lying is a necessity. Although I’m not anything close to a good liar, I lied numerous times to my family in the middle east about my sexuality, something that I am still doing, and I made it believable. I had to make them believe it, because I was lying to save my own life: You may know that death is the punishment of having sex as a Homosexual in the world of Islam. And yet, we are always told “You should be truthful”, and it is never added in the end of this moral code that there are occasions that there would be no way but lying.

I got the book with hope that Harris could give a scientific explanation for our behaviour, and/or give a good argument in favour of a better moral code that includes these sorts of dilemmas. I was disappointed, but a part of it was the result of my expectations.

The book itself is not bad. It is in fact very simple, which is it’s both strength and weakness: Those who expect more will be disappointed, but the book in fact could be a very good guideline for ordinary people who seek to know why we have good reasons for our every day ethics and codes, in this case lying. Also, because it is simple, it can be easily used to teach teenagers both the moral of being truthful and how to reason to reach those morals.

For me, though Harris in some cases does make compelling arguments, the book was lacking in some answers, answers that in fact were the subject of my not so much trivial obsession.

Take the case of Anne Frank in the attic for example: If a Nazi German officer and his SS group are standing on your doorstep asking if you have any Jews in the house, and Anne Frank is hiding in your attic, will you lie to save her? Or will you tell the truth even though telling the truth could cost an innocent person her life?

Harris mentions the exact same example in the beginning of the book, but then changes it slightly into a case for a murderer and a child hiding in your home, in order to reach to two different points he wants to make. This slight change makes his point almost relevant: You should not lie, because something worse “may” happen.

Yes, in case of a one man murderer that may be true, but then again, something better could also happen. And, we know that telling the truth “will” create a great evil deed, in which we bear more responsibility than in case of lying. The case of a murderer is different with the case of Nazis, we can stand and defend the innocent against one murderer, but it is practically impossible to stand alone against a whole bunch of SS, ready to kill for the Reich.

If we lie, we know that we have done something to save a life, yes, we may have taken a risk, but that is better than being directly responsible in someone else’s death by telling the truth.

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Overall, Harris does not solve the important dilemmas. But he makes good and simple cases for those who wish to know why they should not say trivial lies, and why being a liar is nothing good in ordinary life.

Good Read: Agatha Christie, The Queen of Crime

I started serious reading at the age of 8. It might seem too soon, especially for reading crime and detective novels, but I was an only child and there was not much that I could do: In those days there was no facebook! The first book that I ever read was named after one of Agatha Christie’s short stories: “Wasps’ nest”, and it contained some other short stories from her as well as other writers. I remember after that I started looking for more of her short stories.

Then, I became interested in detective novels in general. I read so many of them, including “Moonstone” by Willkie Collins (which is the first of this genre), Sherlock Holmes (Obviously!), Marry Higgins Clark, and many more.

All of them are great, they have their own style, characterization and personas, and atmosphere; but never came a time that I could refuse reading one of Christie’s novels. The thing about her is, you may read many detective novels from others (such as Marry H. Clark) and be able to guess who is the murderer, just by knowing her style. But Christie is not so, the way she plays with the readers mind changes in different books. Look at The Mysterious Affair at Styles and then read “Ten Little Niggers” and “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd“. She goes back and forth not allowing the reader to get use to a style, while characteristics of her novels also change. Not only the reader would never get bored and can never guess accurately who is the killer, but also her style creates an extremely enjoyable book.

She is indeed the Queen of crime, and her novels and short stories deserve to be read, even after all these decades that have passed…