Friday, February 29, 2008


I was raised non-religious, and I've struggled with an objective way to define morality that doesn't appeal to deities or ancient textbooks. The results of that struggle is an ethical system called Empathism.

The start of it came when I read an article which described how depraved the animal kingdom was. Murder, rape, assault, slavery, and child abuse occur in levels much higher than in human populations. Why are animals so immoral when compared to humans? If I could find the difference between animals and humans, I could find the reason for our behaviour.

Then I read an article about levels of consciousness. There are basically three levels:
  1. Awareness - All animals are aware of their environment at some level, whether it is through sight, smell or touch. All behaviours are driven by instinct and are reactions to their environment.
  2. Self-Awareness - A tiny sliver of animals possess self awareness, the ability to identify themselves as unique. Some primates, like orangutans, and maybe dolphins possess this ability. The main method to study this is to put red dye on the animal and place them in front of a mirror. If they touch the spot on their body (usually the top of their head), then it means they understand the animal in the mirror is them, not just another animal. They figure orangutans evolved this ability to prevent them from falling out of trees (clambering theory).
  3. Others-Awareness - The final level is when you become aware that other people are self-aware. Only humans possess this ability, which is often described as empathy. It is interesting that children under 4 or 5 do not possess this ability. For example, if you put an object on a table, put a screen in front of it so the child can't see it but you can, and then ask the child, "Can I see the object", the child will answer no.
I believe that the fact humans possess "others-awareness" is the reason for our moral behaviour. Deciding on ethical problems boils down to the golden rule (which is generally found in all religious doctrines): "Judge your actions as if you were the recipient."

Of course, it is more complicated than that. Some selfish behavioiur is required, or else you would die of starvation because you gave all your food away. But many ethical problems can be solved by applying this.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Liberal Deficit

Some viewer of CTV Calgary news emailed in saying Liberals have kept "us in the red", implying that Liberal parties tend to run deficits. Historically, this isn't always the case. While Liberal parties tend to fund social programs, they also tend to keep taxes high to pay for them. I've overlaid federal budget surpluses with Liberal governments. In the recent history, the Liberals have run large surpluses. In Alberta, the Liberals haven't been in power for 37 years. So what the heck was that viewer talking about? I would imagine it was just electioneering because Albertans vote on Monday for a new provincial government. Only Castro has ruled for more years that the Conservatives in Alberta.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Don't stop taking anti-stupid pills

A recent study found that placebos are nearly as effective as Prozac in dealing with mild depression.

Fine. But why would anyone think this means they should stop taking their anti-depressants? The study compared placebos (i.e., sugar pills) to anti-depressants, not nothing to anti-depressants. The doctors and researchers are still fairly sure that nothing still does nothing. This study reveals how powerful placebos are, not about how ineffective anti-depressants are.