Monday 31 October 2011

Do a Good Deed Today

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Pearls of Wisdom: How to Have an Argument

Intuition says that, whether you want a blazing row or a genteel debate, arguing is an easy thing to do. Intuition is wrong. Many, many people can't argue, and for a keen arguer, it's the most frustrating thing in the world trying to debate something with them.
Oh, anyone can shout their opinion from the rooftops, and anyone else can shout a different opinion back. That's not an argument, that's a shouting contest. The person with the loudest voice, or who gets fed up last, wins.
On a slightly more sophisticated level, both (all) parties attempt to give justification for their views. This is what you might call a proto-argument: getting there, got the basic principles, but it doesn't really work. The thing is,
  the other person also has justification for their view.
You see, the aim of an argument is not merely to make your opponent stop talking, but to convince them. Once in a blue moon, possibly, someone changes their mind simply from hearing the justification for a view they don't hold.
To really get anywhere, to have a good, satisfying, fulfilling argument, you need to address not merely your own argument, but theirs. By giving your own views and reasoning, you at best show that there are two different opinions to choose from. They're not just being obstinate, it's mathematically unsound to change your beliefs without evidence against them. To change a mind, you have to show not only that your view is valid, but also
  that theirs isn't.
You need to find the hole in their argument. If there isn't one, they may be right.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Reader Response Question of the Week: Sci-Fi and Vampires

What do people think of the idea of a novel about scientifically plausible vampires?
I'm talking humanoid - externally indistinguishable, or very nearly - creatures, though mentally, emotionally and culturally very different. Immortal blood-drinkers that reproduce by turning humans into vampires. Based on more-or-less theoretically plausible science: I don't claim it to be absolutely adamantine, but firm enough to stand on, with care.
I welcome all thoughts and comments.

Friday 28 October 2011

Why an Embryo Isn't a Person

I am given to understand that the main objection to intentionally destroying an early embryo - be it stem cell research, emergency contraception, or whatever - is the argument that a fertilised egg has a soul and should be considered a person.
I shan't make any arguments for or against the existence of souls - I wouldn't change anyone's mind, and it's not necessary for my argument.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Writing Tips: let them be themselves

Characters are pretty important when writing fiction, and as the author, you often get very close to them - the number of times I've made myself cry over what's happened to my creations - but like an overprotective parent, you have to learn to give them their own space.

Walls Have Eyes

...and they're watching you. I've sat at the bus stop every weekday after lectures for over a year but I've never spotted it until now, and now I can't but see it.

Monday 17 October 2011

Reader Response Question of the Week: Teething

Any chance we can actually get a response this time?
Does anyone know a good cure for teething pains? My wisdom teeth are giving me hell.

EDIT: I've found the cure. Ice-cream is the cure.

Saturday 15 October 2011

It's the Thought that Counts

Many of the telephone boxes in Newcastle are red.
My international readership may need some explanation here. The red telephone box is something of a British institution, and people are very fond of them, but they are sadly an endangered species these days, having been largely driven out by plain, square, BT branded phone boxes. Here's a picture of that dying breed:

Oil and Water and the Arrow of Time

As you may well know, time is just a dimension like the three spatial ones, so it's odd that we have to keep going in the same direction. The rule, apparently, is that time goes in the direction where entropy, or disorder, increases - e.g. when you spill something it goes all over the place instead of landing in a neat pile, or when you drop a piece of toast there will be some butter on the bread and some on the floor (this is the real reason it lands butter side down), or when you pour two liquids into the same container they eventually mix evenly without being stirred.
Oil and water would appear to contradict this rule. Pour them together and they stay apart. Shake them up into an emulsion and after a time they will separate, the disorder actually decreasing.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

A Fundamental Law of Nature

Given any subject with more than one opposing view, people will always believe that the majority of the proponents of their view are reasonable people, whereas the majority of proponents of the opposing view(s) are militants, haters, bigots or just opinionated idiots.

> It is normal for someone to assume that that the majority of people who agree with them think and talk about it as they do, and equally natural to consider your own views and ways of expressing them to be reasonable.
> The people on any side of the debate who grab most of the limelight and make most of the noise are the haters.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Why Atheists Need to Stop Demanding I Prove the Existence of God

First off, the majority of atheists, I believe, have no beef with my belief - Christianity, if you're interested - they just think I'm wrong. That's fine, because I have no beef with their lack of belief, I just think they're wrong.
I'm addressing the minority who refuse to accept that my belief is valid or allowable unless I prove it to their satisfaction. I'm not asking you to believe in God, I'm asking you to let me believe in God.