Thursday, November 1, 2012

On picking and choosing your traditions

We had a pretty uneventful Hallowe'en Chez Wolfboy. A couple of kids came by, we gave them some toffees and they went away neither us or them any the richer for the experience (unless you account for enrichment by toffee, I suppose).

Earlier in the evening we'd taken the childer to some church's alternative un-Hallowe'en do in order to satisfy my wife's curiosity. It was all right, well attended by a wide sampling of the local community and obviously entertaining for the children if their parents could afford the variety of rides and bouncy castles etc. on offer. The insistence on ignoring Hallowe'en even as it filled the streets around us was a bit strange though.

I don't hold with the idea that Hallowe'en is in some way an "evil" festival. It makes more sense to consider it a shadow of Easter - the acknowledgement of death and decay that mirrors the celebration of life and rebirth. I do think that there are some problems with the way it's observed here in New Zealand though.

Firstly (and most obviously) it's the wrong time of year. This is a problem it shares with all our church-derived holidays. They began life as pagan seasonal holidays before being co-opted by Christianity, but since the church ignores their seasonal nature in favour of having a unified calendar around the world we antipodeans end up celebrating all our seasonal festivals in anti-sync. Hallowe'en has a logical psychic resonance as an autumnal festival - acknowledging the decay that is necessary for renewal and honouring Death as a mirror to Easter's birth-feast in the spring.

Secondly, I think we've picked up the wrong tradition. In Scotland, where I spent my childhood between the ages of 6 and 13, there's a tradition known as guising. Guising is almost the same as trick-or-treating - you still dress up and go call on the neighbours - but with a crucial difference. In order to get a treat, a guiser needs to do a "turn" - sing a song, tell some jokes, recite a poem, whatever. This turns the festival into a real community event - you spend time in neighbours' homes, entertaining them (often badly, but still).

It's kind of a mystery to me why (given the mass settlement of NZ from the UK) we ended up with the somewhat thuggish and extortionist American version instead.

I want to bring it back - who's with me?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Magic: Part 3 - What it is (yo).

Holey schist this one took a long time to write! I'd like to say that was due to the quality of Deep Thoughts Being Thunk, but it's actually more to do with balancing work, and other stuff I'm trying to achieve, and other house-dwellers' internet needs. That and Dwarf Fortress*.

Last time, I talked about how humans live with a gap between perception and objective reality. The result of this is that humans by and large operate using a picture of the world (which is often largely constructed from assumptions based on past data) rather than direct perception of the world itself. This is what we call a "worldview".

It's tempting when thinking about worldviews (especially those of ancient or foreign people) as groups of beliefs that people can somehow "get past". While worldviews can and do change over time, and some elements of them may be open to doubt or question, for the majority of people most of the time their worldview is the totality of the world-as-it-is for them at any given time. So when we talk about (for example) ancient peoples sacrificing members of their communities in order to ensure divine favour, we are talking about the literal truth of the universe as they understood it - it's not enough to say they "thought" that they needed to do this, from their perspective they literally did.

This is still the case - unless some aspect of objective reality directly and constantly contradicts an aspect of a worldview, that worldview will represent its bearer's entire picture of reality. That's how come we're mostly OK with doing things like using an entirely fictional commodity as a medium of exchange - we all agree that it's real, so it is. Because of the odd relationship between our minds and our bodies, this can even bleed into the "real world". For example, superstition can actually make you better at doing stuff.

More perniciously, this can make us subject to suggestion. If an idea can be introduced into your worldview without you necessarily noticing it***, it can become a part of your picture of the world. If it can be introduced to many people simultaneously, the chance of any one of them having a dissonant reaction and rejecting it is greatly diminished.

When I use the term "magic", I'm referring to any technique that takes advantage of this feature of the human mindscape. This can encompass self-programming or de-programming techniques like meditation, prayer or visualisation, as well as techniques for influencing others like advertising, public relations, art, politics or culture jamming. The reason I talk about this stuff in terms of magic, is because I feel like there's something to be gained by seeing all of these tricks as belonging to the same set.

Also, on the perceptual level it can be valuable to have a magic "lens" or framework to look at things through. Humans like narratives, and understanding situations in terms of the shift in power from individual to individual (for example) can be a constructive additional tool in narrativising a situation without necessarily compromising the facts.

Two people (one of whom has a very painful past) get into a relationship. They truly love one another. After enough time for it to be particularly painful (say, 6 months to a year) the one who was hurt betrays the other. They then move on in their own life with confidence, leaving their erstwhile partner to recover in turn. This is a typically human situation, in that it doesn't really make any sense. Why betray someone you love? If you no longer love someone, why not simply leave?

One magical way of narrativising the situation would be to see the hurt one using the other as Sacrifice in a long-running ritual that transforms them personally from Hunted to Hunter - from Prey to Predator. In this conception, the love and betrayal are necessary elements to charge the ritual and make it fully effective. The facts remain the same, but the meaning has changed.

Magic can give us language to talk about the ways that our actions and beliefs can change us, and (if you're good at it) can let you have a certain amount of conscious control over those changes.


* My current bugbear is digging wells. It's a process that rarely happens without cockups or fatalities at this point. Current scheme for this fortress is to pump water out of the river - it'll require building an elevated pumping-platform, but it should prevent my water supply from re-stagnating, and avoid the risk of pressurising my well and flooding all the lower levels of the fortress.

** So long as it's stuff you have some degree of conscious control over - there's no evidence that it has any particular effect on pure luck.

***  "Occult" derives from the Latin verb "to hide" - this is important.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Magic: Part 2 - Perception and reality

In my last post, I finished up like this: "Magic, in the sense that I want to talk about it means the art of understanding and manipulating the relationship between perception and reality."

There's a sentence that needs unpacking, if ever I saw one. I'll start with the second half first - the relationship between perception and reality.

It's not too hard to accept, if you look at it rationally, that there's a gulf between objective reality* and our perception of it. Starting at the most basic level, our senses are attuned to a very specific (and, cosmically speaking, quite small) spectrum of data: we can only hear at best between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz** (and this degrades as we age); we can see only a small range of the available radiation spectrum (visible light) and feel only a tiny range outside that (heat); our chemical sensitivity (taste and smell) is negligible compared to many other species; and because we lack whiskers or electrical sensing mechanisms, our sense of touch pretty much ends at our skins.

On top of this, our brains only have a limited "pool" of processing power to apply to the task of processing and sorting the sensory information that's available - and it's the same pool of processing power it uses for thinking and telling the body to execute voluntary movements. To save time and power, we have a bunch of cognitive shortcuts or "filters" in place to fit incoming data to pre-determined patterns and interpret it in light of pre-determined principles.

For example, if you look at this: probably don't need to stop and figure out what that particular arrangement of wooden pieces is for. You see a shape that corresponds to the label "chair" and your pre-existing filters helpfully fill in all of the information you might need about what a chair is, what it's for and any particularly potent memories you might have related to chairs in general or chairs of this general design in particular.

This is a mostly-good-enough solution. It does save time and energy and vastly improve our survival rates*** but that doesn't really change the fact that most of what you see when you look at the picture above is not the chair-that-you-see, but rather your ideas-about-chairs made manifest.

Most people probably don't feel especially strongly about chairs, but if you did, you can see how easy it would be for your ideas-about-chairs to be strongly coloured by that depth of feeling. in fact (because ideas are sticky, and tend to cohere to one another in strange ways) chairs might become a symbol for you of all of those strong feelings.

Magic operates in this space of "ideas-about-things" and the feelings and sub-concepts that attach to those ideas.

*Assuming there is such a thing - but that's an argument for another time...

** This is less than it sounds like, because an octave is double the original frequency - so from concert A to the next one is a gap of 440 Hz, while the gap to the next A up the scale is 880 and the one after that is 1760 (and so on and so forth).

*** You don't need to stop and think to decide that stepping out of the way of a bus is a good idea, for example.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Magic: Part 1 - "Not Magic"

Right. Now that I've done with silly media-fiddling for a bit, I'd like to talk about some other things I find a bit more interesting. First though, I need to talk about magic. If you want to know more about what I'm talking about, you could do worse than reading this, this, or this. There's also a book called the Disinformation Book of Lies which is about 50/50 helpful/unhelpful, but is interesting enough to be worth a read regardless.

One of the difficult things about discussing magic is that people tend to use the term to mean very different things. If you went and read any of the links above you'll have a sense of the direction I'm heading in with this, but it's still worth clarifying.

Some people use the term in a religious sense - a meaning that's often analogous to the more mystical conceptions of prayer. These people often continue Aleister Crowley's convention of using the spelling "magick" to distinguish between their practice and stage magic. I think this is a false dichotomy, as the kind of magic I'm talking about has more in common with stage magic than you might think.

Aside from that, I think this definition is about halfway right. The primary problem is that in thinking of magic in a spiritual or religious sense (as opposed to, say, a practical or political sense) there's a tendency to follow on from that into constructing yourself a colourful cosmology and/or complex moral dogma - and from there you simply start building yourself a new and temporarily more interesting Black Iron Prison to live in.

People of an aggressively atheistic persuasion, on the other hand, tend to use the term "magic" to label beliefs or practices they consider to have no logical grounding. Again, this contains a flash of insight into the way magic works, but because it's couched primarily in a dismissive mode (and thus contains precisely the kind of cognitive bias that a good skeptic should be striving against) it's ultimately self-defeating. There is indeed a cognitive error known as "magical thinking", and it is indeed related to the actual practice of magic - but it's not the same thing.

Magical thinking is the habit of building non-existent causal links between things in your mind, particularly when those causal links prevent you from challenging your own values or assumptions.

An example:
I take a folk remedy for a minor ailment, that ailment clears up and I therefore assume that the folk remedy is efficacious. The problem in this case is that because my ailment was so minor, it might well have cleared up by itself, and though the remedy might have made me feel better at the time, there's no evidence that the remedy in question is more effective than any other placebo. If I were aggressively anti-scientific in my outlook, then it would be very tempting at that point to decide that people who decried my remedy of choice had some other agenda or had been deluded by some sort of conspiracy.

Another example:
Something bad happens to someone I love - perhaps a medical emergency of the sort that sometimes happens without being predictable. The plain truth is that sometimes awful things simply do happen out of the blue to people who do not even remotely deserve them, and that those things are quite often nobody's fault*.

It is tempting however, to go looking for contributing factors - and the ones that are most often seized on are those with some sort of temporal relationship to the terrible event in question. Something that happened immediately before the event is a good candidate. I might then go on to become a crusader against the thing that I have decided "caused" my loved one's accident**.

So if these things aren't magic - what is? Magic, in the sense that I want to talk about it means the art of understanding and manipulating the relationship between perception and reality.

And we'll talk more about that next time...

*I suppose if you buy into the convention of referring to the-world-untamed as "Mother Nature" you could blame her, but she is a somewhat unsatisfying object of anger.

** The same impulse comes into play when loved ones misbehave in ways that aren't foreseen: cf. school shootings in the US and the corresponding panics about heavy metal music and violent video games.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ninjahobo pt 2 - Mr. Finch...

Right. I can't get on to the other things I want to talk about until I finish this, 'cos that's how my brain works.

So: Mr. Finch....

Well, I actually have fewer problems with him than I do with the Ninjahobo. For one thing, he at least looks right. My concern is mostly about his motivation.

In the original show, Mr. Finch is a millionaire genius who built a computer supersurveillance system for the US government and left himself a backdoor into it for entirely altruistic reasons.

The bit I have a problem with here is the altruism. It's not that I object to altruistic characters, it's just that government supersurveillance =/= altruism to my mind. Moreover, what kind of altruistic and naive genius (he'd need to be very naive to build a system like that for altruistic reasons) would then hire a ninjahobo? Surely there are more competent and functional individuals he could employ to be Batman for him? Bear in mind that he's very very rich - now money may not buy everything, but it'll surely buy you a very competent and discreet mercenary who isn't drunk and homeless - and buy their continued silence, for that matter.

No. Mr. Finch is not entirely altruistic. I don't know that his precise motivations matter - he may be a well-intentioned extremist, have a vendetta against some particular criminal organisation, or have a sort of classist hatred of criminals as "scum" - but he's definitely got an agenda. That agenda is why he goes with Ninjahobo - he wants someone who won't ask too many questions about why he's doing what he's doing, someone he feels he can manipulate reasonably easily.

"Manipulate" is the key word here. We've set up the kind of character in the refigured Ninjahobo who isn't really going to want to be Batman. He wants to be left alone to drink himself to death, and he's not afraid to seriously hurt people for that to happen. Now the original Ninjahobo Refuses the Call, to be sure - but our Ninjahobo would probably refuse it utterly. So how would Finch go about getting him onside?

Well, I think he'd probably engineer all the situations that Ninjahobo gets into until he agrees to start being ?Batman-for-hire. That first fight on the train? Set up by Finch. The situation immediately after the first refusal where Ninjahobo is made to believe someone's being murdered next door? Our Finch would have him eavesdrop or walk in on a real murder (or attempted murder) and see how he reacts. After he's gauged Ninjahobo's skills, he'll offer him money to do what he's already been doing.

This isn't too much of a stretch for a guy who builds computer supersurveillance systems, after all.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fixing Mr. Ninjahobo!

OK. Just let me say this upfront - this is entirely pointless. I'm being self-indulgent here. There is less than 0 chance that J.J. Abrams will read this and fix his shit. However, a Facebook friend of mine recently ran a longish series of notes about the things he'd fix in Star Wars given the opportunity* and I spent a pleasant 3 hours over Wellington Anniversary Weekend playing Prime Time Adventures, so I'm kind of in a "Let's fix fictional shit for fun!" kind of mood....

So just to recap, the thing I want to fix is Person Of Interest. Specifically I want to turn it into the "Murderous Ninjahobo" show that the first ten minutes of the pilot episode appeared to promise.

The premise of the actual programme is that an eccentric billionaire has built himself a backdoor into the surveillance system that he built for the US government. This backdoor provides him with a list of individuals who will either commit or be the victim of a violent crime some time in the near future (up to a month). He employs a broken-down ex-CIA/Special Forces man to be his agent and track these people down with the intention of stopping whatever crime was going to happen. I see no need to change this basic outline.

First thing to fix is obviously the central character, I think his name is supposed to be "Reese" but I'm going to call him "Mr. Ninjahobo" anyway. The main problem here is aesthetics. It turns out that Jim Caviziel (who plays Mr. Ninjahobo) looks really good with a full beard. It brings out his cheekbones, and gives him an "interestingly starved visionary ascetic" kind of vibe. This is exactly the kind of look we want in a protagonist who is insane enough to take on 10 opponents simultaneously (though more of that anon).

The original programme had him lose the beard within 15 minutes, I say he should keep it - and his hobo clothes as well. Quite aside from the fact that the beard suits him, homeless people are ubiquitous enough in many American cities to provide a pretty good cover - like dressing as a maintenance person or minor menial servant to get into someone's household.

The next problem with Mr. Ninjahobo is one of attitude. Ninjahobo is tormented by the loss of his lover, and it was this that started his drinking and vagrancy. This is an alright motivation, but actually not a very interesting or compelling one. Or rather, for it to be interesting and compelling, we need to care about Ninjahobo and his lover, and we're not really given time to do either - it's just taken for granted. Thing is, Mr. Ninjahobo doesn't actually need an external reason to lose it. He's worked successfully for both the CIA and US Special Forces, which means that he's almost certainly done some gut-wrenchingly terrible shit in the name of his country. That can and does drive people to drink even now. So we scrap the dead love interest, and have him drink simply to forget all he's done.

Which brings us  neatly to our next point - Mr. Ninjahobo's drinking. The initial fight that had me thinking that this show was going to be about a murderous (or at least lethal) ninja-hobo takes place while Mr. Ninjahobo is on a train, and near passing-out drunk. It's mentioned in his later conversation with Fincher (the eccentric genius) that he's been drinking solidly like that for at least a couple of months. That suggests someone who has totally lost control of his habit, and is on a steep downward spiral. However, the programme has him magically clean up as soon as his life has "purpose". Now for one thing, this is not particularly realistic, but I'm actually totally willing to sacrifice realism for an interesting story. Trouble is that the miraculous recovery presented here isn't an interesting story.

If Ninjahobo has to kick the booze (which he might, in order to become the kind of employee that a mad scientist might want) then let's have him take his time over it, and actually sweat it out. This would give him a genuine flaw (as opposed to soft-focus dreams of "happiness" in between planning and action sequences) which might lead to interesting conflict with his employer. It would also inject a much-needed sense of risk into the action scenes: "Precisely how impaired (either by booze or by withdrawals) is Ninjahobo going to be in this particular fight?" If we have him slip up every so often - dumb mistakes that someone of his caliber ought not to make - that'll serve to reinforce the sense that this guy Does Not Have His Shit Together.

The final problem with Ninjahobo is his lethality, or rather the lack thereof. Now, I have it on good authority from my martial-arts-practising-actually-getting-into-fights-occasionally friends that it's not impossible for someone to fight off 10 opponents without seriously injuring or killing any of them**. They also said that you'd need to be willing to get hit a lot to try it. That means that Mr. Ninjahobo, while he doesn't necessarily need to kill people all the time, is the kind of person who's willing to take a beating to prove the point that he's tougher than someone. He's also probably (according to my informants) trained in the sort of martial arts that mainly rely on you being in pretty good shape, rather than on having a hell of a lot of fancy techniques up your sleeve.

When we see Ninjahobo fight, we shouldn't be seeing someone technically and carefully incapacitating people without hurting them. We should be seeing someone who fights to win, and doesn't really care if he gets hit a lot on the way past. Broken noses and arms, maybe ribs, maybe knees - not black eyes. Ninjahobo should also collect a lot of passing hits (especially considering the whole drinking thing) but is probably good enough to mostly avoid anything crippling.

So, instead of a clean-cut suit-wearing military man, I'm thinking Mr. Ninjahobo should be a genuine bum. He should be desperate and (at least at the beginning of the series) hard-drinking, but still lethal as a result of sheer muscle memory and experience.

Right. I feel like this has gone on long enough - so I'll postpone fixing Mr. Finch for next time.

*The list of things I'd fix about Star Wars is too extensive to interest basically anyone, including me.

** Assuming you don't think a broken nose or two count as "serious".

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Murderous Ninja-Hobo Show! Or not...

So, because we were up late for baby-related reasons, the wifey and I checked out the first episode of a new show on TV1 - Person Of Interest

It started, promisingly enough, with the protagonist (ex-special forces/secret agent chappy haunted by the death of his True Love) getting harassed by young thugs on a train, and beating the crap out of them despite being nearly-passed-out drunk - sort of like an unarmed American Zatoichi with drunkenness instead of blindness. I was pretty stoked at the idea that I was going to be watching an hour of murderous ninja-hobo TV. That would, after all, be a fairly unique premise - or at least an interesting reimagining of the "Man With No Name" cowboy/samurai archetype for an almost-totally urbanised modern America.

The first warning sign came when he was at the cop-shop getting booked, and it turned out all the punks who'd been hassling him were there too. So he's not lethal, and in fact fights large groups of opponents without seriously injuring them? So we're in superhero-land? Ah well, this still might go somewhere interesting.

Except that after initially Refusing the Call, his first act was to book himself into a hotel, off his hobo beard, and change into fresh non-filthy clothes. This had the effect of instantly making him less interesting. The actor playing Non-murder Non-hobo actually has a pretty bland face when not bearded, and the lack of his distinctive hobo-plumage strips away the last shred of interest his appearance had.

My certainty that this is going the wrong way is finally confirmed when, as soon as he has "purpose", the main character's drinking problem disappears. Firstly, addictions Do Not Work Like That, and even assuming that his drinking was just supposed to be problematic rather than chronic, the show has just dodged another opportunity to add depth to their main character. Obviously his Dark Past is supposed to be enough. It's not even like your main character can't be plausibly lethal and an alcoholic.

Oh well. I suppose if I'm up late in future, Person Of Interest has a cute enough rest-of-the-premise (people using a backdoor into a pervasive government surveillance network to play superheroes) that I might watch it. But it's not the Murderous Ninjahobo Urban-Man-With-No-Name that I was promised*.

* Yes yes, I realise J. J. Abrams & Co. actually promised me nothing of the sort. I still hate it when something has an interesting first five minutes then has all of the points that would make it actually unique stripped out in the next ten.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Talking about God (for fun and profit?)

...and we're back! So before I forget, Hairy Eczema and Flappy New Ears to all!

I was recently prompted to do some thinking about God as a result of a piece of debate I was included in on the mighty Book Of Faces. Specifically the thinking I needed to do was about Richard Dawkins' arguments about the non-existence of God, and my problems with Richard Dawkins (and, by extension the people who most commonly argue with him).

Strangely enough, my issue with Dawkins isn't his aggression and regular use of mockery (though I think these are unhelpful) - I object more to his conflation of spiritual and religious thinking with the power structures that tend to grow up around religions over time. Dawkins' opponents seem to me to suffer from a very similar problem. They seem to be stuck in a rut of attempting to defend willfully illogical ideas and corrupted institutions quite uncritically, when it seems to me that by sacrificing some of those more superficial trappings of their religion, they could still salvage the core more or less unscathed.

Now, Richard Dawkins does provide a pretty solid mathematical argument for the probable non-existence of God (or at least an argument that suggests most of the things commonly said about God are wrong)*. This is not necessarily fatal for theists/not-totally-materialists though - Alan Moore, for example, cheerfully admits that the god he worships was probably a sock puppet. More problematic (were it true) is the harm that Richard Dawkins claims is caused by the very act of belief.

He puts the Crusades, the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, and the various horrors of ultra-orthodox Shariya law*** (amongst many many other things) at the foot of "belief" on the grounds that only by believing in some god could we justify doing such awful things to each other. Unfortunately for Dawkins' argument, humans are quite good at justifying doing awful things to each other on irreligious grounds as well.

I think that most of the stuff that Dawkins (and those who agree closely with him) wish to blame on religion can be more accurately blamed on religious leaders and organisations who are more interested in maintaining their own position of power than in the teachings of their various faiths. The reason this rings true for me is that  you can see the same kind of behaviour by power-elites who exist outside of religious groups - it seems counter-intuitive to me that there's really something magical about religious belief that totally switches people's brains off. Power-worship seems like a far more likely culprit.

Which brings us to Dawkins' detractors. My problem with churches is that they seem to me to be primarily organisations of social control. The spiritual core of most religions is self-improvement along various lines, but this has little to do with the daily machinations of, say, the Catholic Church.

I spent 4 years doing a job which required me to listen intently to a minimum of one church service a week. I was recording them to be broadcast, which meant I had to pay much closer attention than many church-attendees (I suspect) in order to catch any verbal slip-ups so they could be corrected. The thing that struck me was the disconnect between the words of Jesus quoted from the Bible, and the interpretation applied by the church people. The words of Jesus seemed to me to place the power of his message directly in the hands of his Disciples, and by extension his followers. The standard church interpretation, however, claimed that he'd empowered the organisation, rather than the people.

My point is, that the best defense a Theist can take to Dawkins' mathematical info-theory argument, is to abandon some of their dogmatic points about God and the organisations that humans have built up around him. This would result in an infinitely less rules-lawyer-y approach to spirituality****, and make them essentially immune to arguments from the likes of Dawkins. For example, the Dune books provide a good example of what an omniscient being would need to look like for their existence not to violate human free will. Not that all spirituality needs to come from 70s science fiction, but it does provide a blueprint for thinking outside the box about this stuff.

The only problem with my suggestion, as far as I can see, is that by sacrificing dogma and their big Clubs O' The Saved, theists lose the ability to claim that they have a particular right to tell people what to do. And there, I suspect, lies the rub...

* I'm not going to go into it in the main text of the post, because understanding it properly requires being a maths-nerd of the kind which I am not, and because explaining it properly would cause me to ramble even more than is usually my wont. If you're interested, Richard Dawkins explains the relevant bit of information theory in more depth than I can be bothered to here.

A rough summation of his information-theory argument for the non-existence of God goes something like this:

  1. A thing's "informational content" is the amount of bits of information we'd need to make a correct guess about its existence and attributes in the absence of any other context that would explain it for us**.
    1. Therefore, the higher a thing's informational content, the less chance we have of making a correct statement about it without the addition of some provable information.
    2. There's a mathematical formula for precisely how much each bit of information reduces our uncertainty if you want to follow the link, but it's not actually necessary to understand the point of the argument.
  2. Some Theist philosophers have argued that God has an infinite informational content. This is also a potential consequence of interactions between some of the attributes traditionally ascribed to God by Theist philosophers.
  3. You have an infinitely-small (functionally zero) chance to make a correct statement as to the existence or attributes of a thing with infinite informational capacity unless you have an infinite number of bits of information about it.
  4. The possibility of God's existence (or at the very least anybody's ability to make a correct statement about God's existence or attributes) is infinitely-small - functionally zero.
** A neanderthal might find a computer pretty mystifying, but modern people have enough other contextual information for even reasonably un-computer-literate people to know that they're reasonably common in the First World at least, and have some idea of the things they can do.

*** I'm pretty sure that we only ever hear about insane applications of Shariya law in the West - honour-killings and all that madness. I don't know of any sane applications of it (and can't be bothered trawling right now) but I'm pretty sure that if they exist we won't see 'em on the News.

**** And precisely how could a more adaptive spiritual approach possibly be a bad thing? Sure, people will come up with crazy new prejudices to replace the old ones they've abandoned, but they do that with economics and politics already, so why the hell not?