Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Actually, humans don't need to sleep. If you practice, you can survive without sleep. I learned of the secret technique when sleeping.

The theory is sound; If you accumlate enough sleep, you don't need more sleep. The typical novice approaches this by sleeping in preparation for not-sleeping. Clearly, this method is quite lousy !

The question is what is the best way to sleep. The secret is:
When you are sleeping, dream also that you are sleeping. Therefore, in a single moment of time, you have 2x the amount of sleep. Once that is mastered, when sleeping, you can dream that you are sleeping and dreaming of sleeping. In that case, 3x the amount of sleep is obtained.

It suffices to say that with practice, this method can be improved to infinity. One nap is enough to last you forever!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Killing Newborn Babies

According to this article, a paper has argued that “newborn babies are not ‘actual persons’ and do not have a ‘moral right to life’”. Their line of argument appears to be that babies are not appreciably different from foetuses, and therefore since it is acceptable to abort foetuses, it is similarly morally acceptable to kill babies.

The argument is interesting, though not particularly novel. Often there is no clear distinction between a state where an action is morally tolerable, and another state where the same action is clearly immoral. At what point does a baby acquire sufficient relevant properties such that becomes a human (which is immoral for us to terminate)?

However, I think that there are morally relevant characteristics between a baby and a foetus. Consider the “bodily rights” argument, where the right to abort is justified by the mother’s rights over her body; the foetus does not have a right to force the mother to carry it. However, we should note that this particular argument does not apply to the baby! The right to abortion should not be interpreted as the right to kill the foetus; the death of the foetus occurs as an undesirable side-effect. Therefore, a strict equivalence would not be to kill a baby, but instead to leave it unattended (and presumably perish).

However, one important distinction still exists. Most people find the death of the foetus to be regrettable, even those in support of abortion. The key is that abortion inevitably results in the death of the foetus. Abortion may be morally justifiable if the rights of the woman to her body are adjudged to be of greater importance than the foetus’ right to life. In the case of an infant, though, no such counterbalancing right exists to justify the taking of the infant’s right to life.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Channel Limit of Human Senses

I think it is interesting to conduct experiments to determine the channel limit of each human sense; that is, the maximum amount of information that can be conveyed by each sense. It is commonly said that 80% of the information we process comes from vision, which makes sense. For example, reading text is much more efficient than hearing text, which is more efficient than reading Braille.  However, the statistic itself is quite useless without knowing the information capacity of sight. 

Actually, in hindsight, I am beginning to doubt the 80% figure, as the visual channel is clearly much more capable than the other senses, not only in sheer capacity, but also in responsiveness. In contrast, taste and smell have poor responsiveness and poor differentiation ability. I am, however, very much interested in knowing the dynamic range of smell (the maximum and minimum concentrations detectable for a given substance). 

Why is this important? Most likely it is not. However, it is possible to develop special assistive devices to replace damaged senses by transmitting through the other still functional senses. The fundamental transmission limits of the senses should provide a useful guide as to the full potential of the assistive device.

Knowing the transmission capacity of each sense should also allow us to design better machine-human interfaces. I posit that an interface providing visual, aural, and tactile feedback would be better than one that provides the same capacity using only the visual channel. In particular, the additional sensory channels may be used to provide interrupts or higher priority signaling, as they may not use the same attentional channels as vision does.

Monday, July 16, 2012

On Capital Punishment

Regarding capital punishment, I can imagine a number of crimes so heinous that they are almost certainly unpardonable. Such black deeds can so shake our faith in humanity that we must instead draw the conclusion that these are the acts of no human, but instead of a monster. 

Human rights and protections should only be extended to humans. 

For those who universally reject the death penalty, they must be willing to forgive even the worst of acts. I do not believe that many have that capacity, only that they claim to.

Of course, the law is not, and should not be, determined solely on the basis of morality.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happiness Drugs

There are a certain few drugs that can alter brain chemistry, temporarily granting feelings of happiness and euphoria. The problem is that after a period of use, the body builds up a resistance to those chemicals, and the drugs lose effectiveness. A higher dosage is necessary to compensate for the acquired tolerance. There are two main problems associated with this. First, the acquired resistance persists, even after a long window of time. Second, frequent use of these substances produces the contrary effect of making you feel miserable when you're not on the drug.

I am thinking of a ridiculous but somewhat plausible idea. Let's consume pain-causing pills that simulate the chemical receptors associated with pain, in the hope that the body builds up resistance to the pain signaling chemicals. If the body's mechanisms work in a similar fashion, after a period of use, the body would be more tolerant to pain, even in the absence of the pain-causing drugs.

Similarly, let's create sadness-causing drugs. Then, after a period of acclimatization, by stopping the drug-regime, we would be in a state of anti-sadness (happiness?).

Monday, July 02, 2012

Suicide and Refusal of Life-Extension

What is the difference between the refusal of life-extension procedures and suicide? Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. By this definition, the two seem distinct. But is there a philosophical difference between an act that reduces one's potential life span from X to zero, and refusing an act that increase one's potential life span by X?

The idea seems to be that there is some natural life-span whereby it is immoral to willfully reduce, but perfectly acceptable to refuse to extend. This seems indefensible. If suicide is deemed wrong because it robs us of future choices (as per some arguments from liberty), then it is also wrong to refuse life-extension as it prevents us from enjoying the same future choices. If life is sacred (as per deontological argumenst) and has value in itself, then the loss of this life due to the non-adoption of life-extension procedures is also immoral.

Now, consider this thought experiment. Assume that one's remaining life span can be perfectly predicted in advance, and that that amounts to X years. Now, also assume that there exists some full treatment that can increase one's lifespan by Y years. One also has the option of taking a partial treatment that has a lesser effect, and extends life by only Z years, where Z is less than Y. Now, there are four people.

Person A refuses treatment, and lives X years.
Person B accepts partial treatment, and lives X+Z years.
Person C wants a partial treatment, but the center only offers full treatment. He accepts full treatment, but at the same time he swallows a poison that he knows will kill him in X+Z years time. He lives X+Z years.
Person D accepts full treatment. After X+Z years, he kills himself. He lives X+Z years.

If we accept that A is not immoral by his refusal of the life-extending procedure, then we must accept that B is not immoral by choosing a partial treatment. There is little practical difference between B and C; both live an additional Z years. Can we consider C to have committed suicide? While he has intentionally caused his own delayed death, his motivation is not to die, but instead to extend his life by Z rather than Y years. Therefore we do not consider it suicide.

What about D? Most would class it under suicide. But what are the philosophical differences between D and B,C? In all cases they do not want to live past X+Z years; the difference is only that D has made his choice rather late.