Monthly Archives: November 2006

Speech Therapy

I’ve been to a few social gatherings in my time and at some of them speeches have been required. It’s an odd area because sometimes the people making the speeches are exacctly the kind of people who love making speeches and sometimes the people concerned have been forced into it.

I do love listening to a speech regardless of the quality because it’s usually entertainingly good or entertainingly bad. However if you are about to make a speech here are my two handy tips taken from real speeches that have gone well.

Tip one, for the person who makes a lot of speeches and does it well:
This one comes straight from the person I’ve seen make the most speeches in my life. He is famous for his speeches and always starts them with the same hoarey old line, “unaccustomed as I am”, which because it’s a lie and such an obvious one means he starts with a laugh every time. A good start is always important.

Tip two, for the person who doesn’t often make speeches and might be nervous.
Keep it simple and keep it short. If you’re stuck for a line that’s simple and short then you might like to use this one which was used at a wedding I attended and was the entirety of the only speech. First he went all out for making everyone quiet and so on. Then had somebody say, “pray silence for the speeches” and then he said, “ok everyone, lets get pissed”.

Note to American readers “pissed” in this context means “drunk”.

Bill is sick of being nagged

Bill, who’s sick of his nagging wife goes down to pub to meet with his mates for a couple of pints. After a while, one of his pals says, “What’s up Bill, – you look a bit down, mate”.

Bill explains that his wife has been giving him a real hard time lately – he hasn’t finished decorating the living room! When’s he going to get around to putting in the conservatory, decking and water feature as seen on TV? When’s he going to get up the guts to ask for a pay rise so that they can go on holiday? etc. etc. etc. Why, he said, if he knew who to ask he’d gladly pay to have her ‘disposed of’.

A bloke standing at the bar comes over and says – ‘scuse me mate – My name’s Artie – couldn’t help overhearing what you just said. You got a photo of the old bat by any chance?

Bill shows him a photo – who reacts – “Bloody hell mate – that’s one ugly woman. I’ll get rid of her for you for a quid!

Bill is so amazed that he hands over a quid and the photo just like that.

‘When and how will you do it?’ he asks Artie.
‘Tommorrow, when she goes into the supermarket.’

Sure enough, Bill goes to Tesco’s only to see Artie following his wife. In the Fruit & Veg section, Artie pounces and grabs Mrs Bill round the throat – only to be interrupted by a shelf stacker. Artie promptly throttles him. He catches up with Bill’s missus by the dairy produce and grabs her again by the throat. This time the Manager steps in. Artie throttles him too. He again catches up with the old bag and this time strangles her by the frozen foods and runs out of the supermarket.

The next day, in the local paper was the headline:
ARTIE CHOKES THREE FOR A POUND IN TESCO’S!

Working for a living

As I’m just moving at the moment and having some work done before I move in. And it’s revealed to me a very bizarre change that seems to have happened in the building world.

The thing is that there probably isn’t that much that changes in the world of workmen. This could of course be incredibly prejudicial, but I think it’s the case. I guess ease of access to electrical equipment and power tools have somewhat changed the job, but what I’m thinking of has totally revolutionised it. I mean to a tradesman this is the biggest thing since the portable radio, and all that meant was that they don’t now have to whistle which probably saves them a little bit on lip-salve and not much else.

The big change for them must have come with the invention of the mobile phone. This really must have altered the way that they work. Simply because now they can book in their next job while they are still doing their current one. It’s one of those technology situations where you suddenly realise “what on earth did they ever do before”? Did they have an answering service that they checked in on from time to time? Or did they only take calls in the evening?

I realised that the best way to find the answer to this was to simply ask them. But all of the people who are working for me said that they used to work for firms and be given jobs to do by the firm itself. So they had never worked as a sole trader without a phone. But then I wonder, is it not the mobile phone that has made it possible for them to quit their jobs and become a sole trader? It seems entirely possible.

Other things I have learnt from this moving experience:

1) Taking wallpaper off a wall where the wallpaper has had paint on top of it is really hard.

And

2) If you want to name your son after yourself then a really good name to have is Robert. I had two guys working for me at one point as a father and son team. The father was called Bert and the son Rob. It really helps to have two short names within your long name if you’re going to try and pull a stunt like that.

Jake Turnweed

Jake Turnweed was walking. What? Isn’t that enough for you people? No? Oh I’m sorry. I do apologise. I hadn’t realised that it was your story. So do go on then. Do continue. Write the next bit yourself.

Ummmm.

No? It’s not so easy is it.

But I don’t…

Oh don’t give me this “you don’t know what actually happened next” crap. He walked to school didn’t he.

“Jake Turnweed walked to school”

Oh very clever. Very smart. I’m not impressed you know. I have absolutely no reason to be impressed. For that transgression I’m not telling you the rest of the story. See if I care.

Four fonts walk into a bar

And the barman says, “Get out, we don’t serve your type in here”.

Hey don’t blame me, it’s not like I chose to write it in two parts

On Monday I started an article about Free Will called I feel like I just had to write this article. You may want to check that out before continuing here.

The problem of a lack of Free Will is one that happens in society. If we don’t believe in Free Will then how can we blame people for the things that they do?

The biggest problem with the theory of Free Will is everyone has the everyday experience of making decisions and being able to rationalise them. Now Scientists have proven that people will much of the times rationalise their behaviour after they have done something. It’s most likely that you’ve even seen direct evidence of this. One of the most interesting parts of a hypnosis demonstration is that they will sometimes ask somebody who is no longer under hypnosis why they were doing the things that they were doing. The answer is never “because you were telling me” to because they don’t remember that they come up with incredibly contorted rationalisations to prove that they had a perfectly good reason to do what they were doing. And apparently we do that all of the time even when we’re not under hypnosis.

So in reality we feel like we’re in control, which means that people feel like they are able to blame others for their actions. So how does society cope with this situation? It simply pretends that Free Will exists.

Right around the point that people think of determinism people usually recreate in their minds the idea of Laplace’s Demon. Pierre Simon Laplace believed in determinism and thought that if you took it to it’s logical extension there could be a demon who could work out exactly where every atom in the universe was and use that information to determine the future. Now there are two problems with the demon (other than the fact that it doesn’t exist).

The demon can’t know itself because to remember something it has to store it somewhere and the memory must take at least as many atoms as the thing it is remembering and to know if its atoms are affecting any other atoms it would have to remember the position of all of the atoms in its own mind which would require more atoms up until infinity.

Also it would need to know everything and calculate what everything was going to do next faster than the time it takes for anything to happen. Which because of the fact that something has to happen for it to be able to work out what is going to happen next means that things out in the universe would have been happening as well so it must be too late.

For added measure even if it could work out what everything was going to do it would be impossible for it to do anything about it faster than in the space of time where everything would have changed.

The point of mentioning this is that Laplace’s Demon teaches something important locally. It shows us that we can never know why we are making a choice. Because we never have all of the information.

Okay so what does all of this mean for ethics? How do we say to somebody that they need to be locked up for having done something wrong, when they can reply that they didn’t choose to do it?

The answer is that we have justice the wrong way round too. It’s a hangover from the ideas of Free Will that people have to be punished for the things that they have done. The correct way of thinking of this surely is that if somebody is a murderer the best way of stopping them from murdering somebody else is to put them in prison. It’s much harder for them to murder people from in there.

The biggest failing of the current system is the idea of diminished responsibility. Why is it right for somebody to be able to get a reduced sentence by claiming that they were temporarily unable to control their actions. I don’t mind losing this legal loophole. Because as far as I’m concerned I don’t understand why under the current system every murderer doesn’t claim temporary insanity. When the judge asks on what grounds surely they could simply say “well how often do you kill someone”? Frankly the only reason people don’t claim this all of the time is because they either think they can get off or they know they didn’t do it. In either of these situations they don’t want to have to say they did it, which is what you have to do if you want to claim temporary insanity. Sometimes people do admit guilt and don’t use the temporary insanity clause but those are the people who are actually truly insane.

The question you have to ask yourself at the end of all of this is the one I was attempting to answer in my first article, <a href="http://www.gamboling.co.uk/2006/11/free-willy.html
“>Free Willy, which is how much difference does all of this make?

In the end it comes down to a question of symantics. Understanding the issues around Free Will doesn’t allow you to act any differently (other than perhaps allowing you to use the word “demon” at a party without sounding like you’re into science fiction – although I’d probably advise you to avoid parties where describing questions of Free Will are likely to come up: “Why worry about having killed that hooker while high on drugs it’s not like you choose to do it”).

Essentially what’s the difference between being able to say that you chose to do something and the alternative which is knowing that you didn’t make the choice yourself but that nobody will be able to ever predict what choice you will make. A lack of choice does reduce us to the level of robots on the one hand but it doesn’t matter because. When we look at a robot we can know exactly what they are going to do next because we can find out all of the information that they evaluate and predict what’s going to happen next. But we can’t do that with humans because we would have to evaluate more information than we could understand fast enough to do anything about it and we would have to store it somewhere larger than all of the space we have for in our own brains. And we would have to do something about in less time than we have time to do anything. So what difference does knowing that Free Will doesn’t exist make? I think absolutely none, but you’ll have to decide for yourself.

I feel like I just had to write this article

Nick pointed out in a comment to Wednesday’s post Philtrum Filtering that Free Will could be an illusion simply because we make our judgments on the back of all of the conditioning that we have been receiving since we were brought up.

When I was writing about free will (in Free Willy) I was kind of skipping over to that bit to get to the next question which is that while patently free will technically doesn’t exist what do we do about the fact that we as a society have to pretend that free will does exist all of the time.

So lets prove that free will doesn’t exist first. To do this I will use the words of Douglas Adams:

Anything that happens, happens. Anything that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen. Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, causes itself to happen again.

Basically we can probably say that everything that happens happens for a reason. This may be disputed because things might be truly random. You will have to decide for yourself if you think that things are random (heh see what I did there) but it seems likely that things happen because other things caused them to happen. And that everything simply leads backwards to the big bang.

Just as a confusing aside it’s important to realise that nothing caused the big bang to happen. Religious people believe that they were made by God but that nothing made God. Scientists believe that they were made by the big bang (evolution is a local version of that because what made the first life-form?) but that nothing made the big bang.

Here’s a story that Steven Hawking told in his book A Brief History of Time:


“A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the Earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.
“At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.”
“The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?”
“You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”*

But religions tend to believe that God is the creator but nothing needs to create him, that he was always just there. Which is kind of cheating. Because if things could always exist why couldn’t we be like that too? Why did we need to be created?

In science it seems like they suffer from the same problem. The universe just kind of begins and everything flows from there. So what caused the universe? Well nothing. Science has a handy trick of spotting it’s own flaws and kind of paving over them. Only at the point of the big bang does time begin. And because if you want to use the word “cause” you need to have something that happens before something then to use the word “cause” you need time. And time doesn’t start until the point the universe starts. So nothing can “cause” the universe because something would have had to have happened before the universe and there isn’t any time for all of that – still following me? So basically they’re saying nothing created the universe it just happened which sounds similar and lets face it probably is. Except if you think that things in the future can cause things to happen in the past in which case well we have a whole load of other problems on our hands.

So armed with the idea that after the big bang everything that has happened has been caused by that we have to decide if there is any chance of intervention in the process. Can we actually choose a thing. If we “decide” to have toast rather than cereal for breakfast is it because we have actually chosen to have one rather than the other or is it that we have no choice? Since the whole history of the universe has lead us to the situation of preferring toast. The weird thing is that it’s probably the second one. Because the second one is the easier to explain. People even do it themselves, “I like toast rather than cereal because I sometimes feel queasy if I have too much milk”. And the alternative requires you to have something more in your body than a series of cells. Because there would have to be some kind of thing (a soul perhaps) which science has never seen or been able to find which makes you able to ignore all of the history of the universe and have something else for breakfast. It’s the fact that we don’t know or have ever seen it which leads us to believe that Free Will doesn’t exist.

For what this means for us you’ll have to check back on Wednesday.

* This is why in Terry Pratchet’s Discworld books the earth is sitting on a turtle. He always felt peeved at this story because surely the woman should answer “don’t be a fool turtles don’t need to stand on anything they swim”.

Several Six Word Stories

No money STOP Kill her STOP

I watch my dead body burning

Breakfast never came, I left home

In the beginning God was stillborn

[None of which, I’m sad to say, are a patch on Hemmingway’s effort:
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” – you can read a lot more examples in this article: Very Short Stories]