Category Archives: Ya wanna be an intellectual…

A place for ideas from which history shall be made.

You Can Relax Concerning the Doomsday Argument

Well, you can relax a little.

The Doomsday Argument has a very dramatic name.  Even it’s sometimes alternate name, the Carter catastrophe (after its first proponent), is dramatically tragic.  However, this tragedy is falsely earned.

The short version is that, statistically speaking, there is a likely end to our species around 1.2 trillion humans born (you and I are about the 100 billionth humans born).  This is of course some distance off into the future, but it is an end nonetheless.

It is easy to see why this would seem like a tragedy to the namers and contemplaters of this argument:  The end of the human species!

There are some pessimistic, even cynical, folks who would cheer this tragic end.  Sad little monkeys.

But fear not intrepid reader, this is not necessarily the tragic end it at first glance appears.

Evolution.  Marvelous machinations.  If the end of homo sapiens falls somewhere in the next 1.1 trillion members, we can also imagine that homo exim will arise during that period.  Nothing lives forever, but so many things do create viable offspring.

If any of this turns out to be true, then the Argument is correct in predicting the end of our species, but it is laughably wrong in its assessment of that outcome.  Let’s just hope we evolve into something more interesting than Morlocks.


Trolley Dilemma Refined

I once had an on-line conversation concerning the Trolley Problem where my interlocutor made an attempt to leap through the horns of the dilemma.  His stance was simply that doing nothing, not getting involved, was the most moral position because he could wash his hands of any deaths which resulted.  Let us leave aside the moral problem of refusing to get involved (I’m looking at you, eye-witnesses who won’t talk to the police) and test a slightly different version of the problem.

I present for you a version of the Trolley Problem with narrowed horns.

You are walking along the sidewalk when a distinct ka-chunk sounds and you are stopped in your tracks as a monitor comes to life to reveal the following situation.

You have actuated a plate in the sidewalk which has aimed an approaching train at a group of, say, five persons, who will all be killed if the train reaches them.  If you step off of the plate on which you are now standing you divert the train back to the former track where it will in fact kill one person.

What is your decision?

This modified version of the problem can be further modified in all the usual ways the former Trolley Problem has been modified (number of persons, status of persons, &c) for testing further moral nuance.  I trust though that this version will eliminate at least one avenue of attempted escape for those who would rather not contemplate the epically tragic and thus flee between the horns of this dilemma.


Use -min to Indicate One-Who-ness

First I should say that this is not meant to solve all the issues.  This is just one piece in a larger framework, a piece which is both linguistically relevant and an improvement easily accessible to native and new speakers.

Currently, we take a person who chairs and we call that person a chairman or (if we are confronted with gender) chairwoman or chairperson or some other ad hoc well-intentioned solution.  They usually sound clunky by comparison.  Kludgy.  Inelegant.

And that doesn’t even address the pluralization issue.  Chairman, chairmen, chairwoman, chairwomen, chairperson.  Confused?  Let’s simplify.

Most folks never actually articulate chairmAn or even less so chairmEn.  It’s softened to something more like chiarmIn (like chair-in with an m).  So let’s just roll with that.  We can use it as a non-pluralizing noun (like sheep or fish) so that it’s one chairmin, two chairmin, red chairmin, blue chairmin.  If we move forward with this -min suffix as both gender and number neutral we get a host of words such as follow here:

  • chairmin
  • spokesmin
  • ombudsmin
  • foremin
  • linemin
  • businessmin
  • fishermin
  • congressmin
  • longshoremin
  • newspapermin
  • upperclassmin
  • salesmin
  • policemin
  • marksmin
  • Scottsmin
  • clergymin
  • draughtsmin
  • weathermin
  • aldermin
  • garbagemin
  • militiamin
  • horsemin
  • stuntmin
  • groundsmin
  • highwaymin
  • middlemin
  • freshmin
  • herdsmin
  • helmsmin
  • laymin
  • trashmin
  • crewmin

You get the basic idea.  Take it forward:  the suffix -min is gender and number neutral and means (roughly) one who.