Friday, 30 November 2012

Palestine as Non-member Observer State at the UN

I couldn't find the list in any press article, so I thought it would be interesting to post it here for people who is curious. The original link is:

The list is this, cut from the above document:

I'm not giving any opinion about that. I know better. I'm just spreading the dataset as it is.

Update: And here is a much more visually appealing list of the voting countries that arrived via Facebook:

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Short Sight

You probably heard about the British Spitfires which might have been found in Burma. The BBC article is here:

Apart from thinking that this is really cool, I have very few to add to the article as history is definitely not my area of expertise. However, when I was watching the news being given in the BBC channel on the TV, I heard the guy who was giving the news add a "funny" comment at the end saying that if they don't find the planes in the excavation that could turn out to be a "wild goose chase". According to the site Oxford Dictionaries, the definition of a wild goose chase is:
  a foolish and hopeless search for or pursuit of something unattainable
    | physicists searching for the hypothetical particle may be on a wild goose chase
Now, if I forgive the reference to foolish physicists in the example, we still see that the reporter implied that if the planes are not found, then the whole project, which apparently took 16 years up to now, can be dismissed as a foolish thing.

I cannot imagine a comment more stupid and more short sighted than this. Even if the planes are not there, the whole search generated a lot of things that by now means are foolish. Would you like me to enumerate some?

1. To start with, the amount of historic information collected during the search was already something to justify the project. Yes, historic knowledge is important. Even about those Spitfires.

2. Many people were involved in the project. These people learned (although for a lot of people today learning has no value at all...) and were employed (this is for those who worship the Market). 

3. Contacts had been established between people of the two countries. Political, cultural, scientific. If you don't think that this is good, I cannot convince you. 

4. Techniques were developed. Don't be a fool to say that they only used techniques that already existed. As a scientist I can say for sure that no technique is perfectly adapted to everything. You have to develop it to use in your area.

Well, if you read the article, you might be thinking that I am being unfair with that particular journalist as the expression is repeated in the article and it's said that "Project archaeologist Andy Brockman accepted the search for the aircraft shipped in for the war with Japan could turn into a wild goose chase". I don't know how accurate this is, specially because I know how journalists misquote scientists with probability one, but if he really admitted that, he is also wrong. That would be said, as he is a main scientist in the project...

The mastermind of the project is a man named David Cundall, which is described as a farmer and aviation enthusiast. The person who is financing the project is a Russian games company named . Of course they will claim any profits that comes from a successful end, but I don't think this is wrong in any way. At least, they are creating things (knowledge and passion, if you haven't noticed already) that will last and illuminate much more than, let's say, a bridge or a skyscraper. 

Friday, 23 November 2012

All Religions Cannot Be Right

It became politically correct among religious people in the last decades to assume a rather ecumenical point of view. Given that it's accepted today that belonging to a different religion doesn't make anyone worse than you, a conciliatory position where every religion is seen as simply a different path to the truth, a different way of looking to the same reality, has been widely adopted by almost every well schooled believer.

The problem with this position is very clear: it is completely inconsistent, unsustainable and is not even really believed by those who profess it. 

It's very usual to hear that all gods in all religions are different representations of the same one. Allah and Iaweh are the same and both are Jah. That's easy to agree... for those who are monotheists. What about the polytheists? Well, you might argue that all polytheist religions have a main god, for instance Zeus, and it is that main god which is really the one and only. That would be a very nice explanation for a monotheist, but the polytheist might simply disagree! What if the polytheist says that there are four equally important gods? The monotheist will say that they are all facets of the one and only, but again, this simply is a reinstatement of the argument: the polytheist is WRONG in its interpretation and we know better. You might not perceive it, but you are plainly saying that the other religion is wrong when you bend its interpretation to fit yours!

The smart believer might say that they all might be right at the same time and that the inconsistency is a mystery only for us, mere mortals. There is nothing I can argue against this point of view, except that its simply useless as any argument can be answered by the same mantra "that's a mystery that we mortals cannot understand. Ever." I don't want to waste more time with that.

The smart AND science-inclined believer will say that in quantum mechanics you can have things like the Shroedinger cat, which is both live and dead while nobody observes it. If nobody observes any god, then all might exist, right? Well, if the definition of the gods provide no way whatsoever to do any kind of observation about them, what's the difference of existing and not existing in practical terms anyway?

Things seem to be getting too complicate, so let's simplify the discussion a bit. There is one thing that should be observable. Consider the issue of the afterlife. Most religions have good and bad places for those who, respectively, behave or misbehave according to the standards set by their particular religions. It is possible to argue that the real picture of how these places are is a question of pure interpretation, but it is much more difficult to agree upon what deeds will take you to one place or another. It is simply a fact that there is a disagreement here and, no matter if you think that your belief is more reasonable, this only means that you are saying that the other is wrong. Simply wrong.

So, if not all religions can be right, which one is? Welcome to the problem that originated science. If not all explanations for something can be right, how do we choose among them?The core idea is observational evidence. Only objective evidence can take out the subjectivity of each different explanation. Yes, there are many subtleties. We can talk about that in another post.

If you look at evidence, there is one thing which is very clear. Contrary to general belief, there is plenty of evidence that no religion is right. Actually, there is plenty of evidence that no observable version of god exists. About the non-observable ones, they don't affect our lives in any noticeable way, because if they would, they would be observable.

To finish, just one comment. Does it mean that we must laugh at religious people? NO, NO and NO. First of all, the fact that someone is wrong about something doesn't make this person less respectable. Second, people have all the right to believe in wrong things if they want to (that's called freedom of thought for those who forgot) and nothing justifies offending or acting in any non-respectful way. Respecting people is a moral issue, not a technical one. People have reasons to believe in whatever they believe. You might not know, but you also have yours. And they might be wrong.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Market: The Rise of a New God

There is something happening slowly during our lifetime, something that happens from time to time in history. It's the end of an era and the beginning of another one.

Anyone who has ever studied literature was probably able to appreciate in a very clear way how history is cyclic. Each literary period is associated with a historic period and we can clearly visualize how humanity oscillates between periods of anthropocentrism and theocentrism. It's also true that when I say "humanity" I am basically referring to "western civilization" as the eastern part of the world didn't quite follow the same historical periods.

Anyway, the dichotomy is very clear and very real. The great classical period, in which the Greek gave us the gift of science and critical thinking, was followed by the regrettable Dark Ages, in which the Church gave us the Inquisition. Then, we were compensated by the Renaissance, which brought us our science and maths back (thanks to the Arab world, by the way). It's not wrong to say that until some time ago we were still living the last part of the Renaissance, but we are now entering a new period of "darkness". This one is theocentric too, but dangerously disguised as an anthropocentric one.

The period we are entering now has as its main characteristic the uncritical acceptance that there is an entity called "The Market", which has as one of its incarnations "The Almighty Economy", to which we owe our allegiance and which will bring us peace and prosperity. If you are against the Market or against the Economy today, this is as heretical as it was in the Dark Ages to be against God (meaning, Iaweh in those days). 

The parallel doesn't stop there. In the same way as nobody really knows exactly what God was, nobody really knows what the Market is. Still, it became an act of faith to ascertain that if we live by the Market, then we are doing well.

The real deal is that there are indeed some groups to which the Market is a good thing. The first, of course, is the one which really gets something from it. These are the businessmen. The class that earned the right to influence the government after the French Revolution. I reckon I'm just throwing a stone here without really giving the full set of arguments. I will correct that on a later post. Right now, you need only to think about that.

The other group is obviously the government. First of all, part of the money always go to the government. Second, the Market serve as a credible excuse for every kind of abusive and repressive measure. You can see an example of this if you read this article

Consider this paragraph:
The prime minister outlined plans to axe equality impact assessments at the CBI conference, saying new government measures needed to be "tough, radical and fast" to help British business compete in the global race. He said "faster government" was one of the key steps Britain needs to take to thrive – "in this global race you are quick or you're dead", he said.
The "race" referred to is the one set by the Market. It is very clear that the UK Prime Minister is trying to gather more decision power and minimise the influence of the rest of the population and using as an excuse "The Market". The problem is that many people will say "Oh, of course, his right! Save the Market!"

However, what is behind this is something extremely dangerous. If we praise the Market above everything else, we are accepting that It is above people. Do you really think that the GDP is a good measure of quality of life? Well, GDP is used as an all-encompassing measure of the healthy of the local Market for the countries.

The amount of absurd ideas that rely on the "better for the Market" excuse is so large that I will analyse them in other posts. This one is just intended to be a reference and a warning. Forget about Zombie Apocalypse, there is another entity wishing to eat your brains... 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Imported Posts

I'm in the process of unifying all my blogs into this one, so I have imported all posts from Skepsisfera (my first blog) and The Multianalyst (a more recent, but short-lived one).

You will notice the huge amount of posts if you go to the past and some of them will refer to those blogs, but they will soon be deactivated.

If you feel like, browse around these old posts, there are interesting things hidden in there. ;)

Thursday, 15 November 2012


I've been to Liverpool last weekend. The city is nice and modern, but of course the main attraction was the history of the Beatles. It was interesting to have an insight into their lives and how everything conspired for them to became the phenomenon they were. It also helped to understand much better what is behind some of their lyrics.

This was just an introduction to what I really want to write about, specially after I've read a comment in the Internet by someone who said that Imagine is "the most overrated song of all time". We have to take into consideration that many comments in the Internet are written by people who are not ashamed of making their ignorance public. So I decided to write a post to explain why Imagine is a brilliant song and how brilliant it is. I'm going to warn you from the start that I'm analysing the LYRICS not the AUTHOR. I'll talk more about that as we proceed. Let me reproduce the whole lyrics here, so you can have a reference to what I'm going to talk about:

by John Lennon

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Let's get to the analysis.


Start by the title. "Imagine" is the artist's equivalent to the scientist's "Think", but much more poetical and appealing to a larger audience. It looks like it requires a lesser effort, and that is true if you don;t take it too seriously. We can all imagine things and disconnect them from our day-to-day reality. That's not difficult. When we connect them, that's the tricky step...

Back tot he title. Note that it is not an order or a command. It's a suggestion. The tone of the music is not one of "I know the truth and I'm telling you, so believe it now!", it's more like, "Look, these are some conclusions I reached. Think about it for some time. Just think." We all know that people should reach the conclusions by themselves, right? Remember Russell's Question Everything? Never trust another person's conclusions. Try to reach them by yourself. Even about this music.

Just for completeness, some people say that the melody of the song is not great. I don't have enough expertise to analyse the technical content of this criticism, so I will not. Anyway, I'm not interested in the melody here, only the words. The lyrics itself has a very simple structure. Three blocks of 5 verses and the chorus. The overall organisation of the 3 blocks is, however, far from arbitrary.

Without diving too much into the blocks right now, let us analyse their general structure. The 1st, 3rd and 4th verses consist of propositions, the things the song asks us to imagine. The 5th verse is a proposed consequence of these 3 previous things. The 2nd verse holds the key for the organisation of the blocks. In each one of them, that verse sets the difficult of imagining those things could really happen. This difficulty increases from block to block:

It's easy if you try < It isn't hard to do < I wonder if you can  

Each block then requires an increasing intellectual effort from the reader to visualise, or even accept, the 3 propositions (never mention practice them!). There is also an increasing danger for the dominant classes here. Things in the 1st block are almost harmless, in the 2nd they already defy power structures that have been used since the dawn of man to manipulate the masses and, in the 3rd, it challenges the structure of the whole society and even deep human feelings and instincts! This cause also an increasing level of fear in the general public.

On the bright side, the possible benefits for the humanity increase with the blocks:

Living for today < Living life in peace < Sharing all the world

The graph below is a summary of this structure (I know, I'm not a designer, I'll improve the infographic with time...):


Right. Let us analyse each block in more detail now. The aim is to understand the meaning of each one.

First Block: It's easy if you try

The sequence of reasoning is:

There's no heaven / No hell below us / Above us only sky => Living for today

In each one of these blocks you can have a shallow and a deeper interpretation. Here, the shallow is that Lennon was a drug addict and irresponsible guy who did not want to take responsibility for his actions. He wanted just to enjoy the present without thinking about the consequences in the future. Note that the shallow interpretation is an ad ominen attack, one of the most common logical fallacies. Of course, I could have rephrased it without attacking Lennon himself, but I wanted to highlight this way of looking at it as it's the most common way of criticise it. You can say that this was actually the message he wanted to pass on, no matter what he was or did.

There is, however, a deeper interpretation of this block. Many people spend their lives worried about rewards and punishments, heaven and hell. Some religious people take it literally and behave in a somehow "good" way only for the hope of going to heaven or the fear of being sent to hell (literally, not metaphorically). Many of them are so obsessed with that that they forget the amount of wonderful things they can do  and see during their lives. Without these concepts, people would concentrate on doing good simply for good, avoiding doing wrong for personal moral and enjoying the things that life, and not afterlife (or after retirement), can provide. They would live for today.

An increasing number of people, even religious ones, don't really believe in physical heaven and hell nowadays. The idea of enjoying life (yes, responsibly) instead of holding hypocritical moral concepts is also widespread now. As the song says, once you try it, it's actually easy to understand the concept.

Second Block: It isn't hard to do

A more challenging reasoning comes in now:

There's no countries / Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion too => Living life in peace

The shallow interpretation here is the sight of an atheist and anarchist. A person without beliefs and moral strength to fight for his/her ideals. A lazy and passive human being. In fact, everybody knows that you should die for your country and that religion preaches peace, right?

Ahem. Here the lyrics identifies the key factor of wars. Of course, there are triggers like shortage of resources, but what is that thing that makes people kill each other instead of reaching an agreement? That's ideology, of course, and here the song provides two of the strongest examples: religion and patriotism. Both of them can make a normal person kill someone who never did any harm simply because it belongs to a different group and, at the same time, defend a murder or any other criminal simply because they are in the same group. Illogical, amoral, but true.

Both patriotism and religion ask for your own sacrifice. Nothing wrong if you are defending people you like against evil ones, but deeply wrong when you are just defending the rulers' interests. The same about killing a human being that you don't even know! If you don't have these reasons to kill or die for, peace becomes easier. It's not hard to understand that.

An apart is necessary here. Note that I didn't use the word nationalism, I used patriotism. You might be deeply annoyed by this, but the truth is that patriotism is used as a way to control the masses as much as religion. It is actually much more dangerous, because it looks not only reasonable but obvious. It's much easier to find an atheist than someone who's willing to admit that patriotism might not be that rational after all. This is a lengthy and complicate discussion. One that is dangerous as well as it threatens the power of rulers. I will leave it for another day, but notice how the song touches more delicate points now.

Third Block: I wonder if you can

Then, the real difficult one:

No possessions / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man => Sharing all the world

Communist threat detected! This is even old fashioned now, but still in the mind of many people. There's not much to talk about this shallow interpretation, so I will proceed to the deeper one.

The level of intellectual effort here is so high that I must admit that I myself don't believe this would ever happen. I can't imagine myself sharing everything. I like my belongings and I worked hard for them. Some attempt to that was indeed tried with the Communism, but seems to have failed. Chinese communism is a bit different.

Anyway, if you can visualise that, you might admit that a world without possessions would hardly have problems of greed, envy and hunger. Either everyone is fed or no one is. Probably people would grow ever detached from material things and desire them much less. Who knows? But surely it would be a paradise if everyone would share everything. You could have access to anything anyone would.

I know... it's difficult. I can't see that happening. I don't even want this to happen while I'm alive as I know I would not adapt. But surely would be great.


The chorus address the most common criticism to the whole lyrics: a dream that will never come true. The lyrics answer is "yes, that's a dream, but if enough people dream that dream, it might become reality."

Notice that there is no call to arms. There is no imposition to believe or to act for the cause. It presents a hope that the reader will realise that what the song says is true. That's one of the main attitudes of any critical thinker. You never force someone to believe in you just because, you want people to realise things by themselves because, in this way, the conclusions are in a more solid ground.

The chorus also doesn't say that you are a stupid if you don't believe in the music. It doesn't offend you or make fun of your way of thinking. Those would also be fallacies and the whole lyrics try to avoid falling into these pitfalls. The chorus is, itself, an ode to tolerance and hope.


You may argue that I'm over-interpreting the lyrics and that even Lennon did not believe in most of my "deeper interpretations". It doesn't matter. Lennon might not have lived in the way the music preaches, I certainly don't (and don't intend to), but the correctness of the whole reasoning stands in spite of this. Be careful with the logical fallacies!

So, I hope you can now appreciate how brilliant Imagine is. According to Lennon, it was inspired by a poem whose author is... Yoko, of course. That seems reasonable, as Yoko apparently changed a lot the way Lennon used to think.

The important thing is to understand that it doesn't matter if Lennon was neither atheist nor shared his  huge amount of possessions with all the world. Few of us would. That doesn't prevent us of understanding that Lennon contemplated something important and immortalised it in a way that all the world could see it. If he actually understood what he saw, that's not a question I'm interested in. The reasoning is there. If it came to be by intellectual effort or by shear luck, who cares?

Friday, 9 November 2012


I think I will never get tired of posting this just as a reminder.

10 Strategies of Media Manipulation

Starting with an infographic of Chomsky in Spanish. I'm not going to translate it. If you're reading this, you are on the Internet, so you can warm up your brain to read this blog by translating it by yourself.