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Friday, November 28, 2014

Fiction: A Most Unusual Find Indeed: Conclusion - Part V

The hunt went well. Only a few hours planetside and we’d bagged all three of our test subjects with no interference from local authorities. First was the old man.
We found him begging in the streets, not quite all there, we think, but good for a first test of the relics’ power. We’ll see how he does, and use what we learn for the next subject.
Then there’s the girl. We found her foraging for local foodstuffs in a rain forest on the planet’s eastern hemisphere, just on her way home when we caught up with her.
Feisty little blood ferret.
She should do well as a soldier, given the trouble she gave our extraction team — twisted and nearly wrenched off the arm of the one subduing her, knocked a crack unarmed combat specialist unconscious — we’ll keep her under observation before implantation as she matures.
We’re Kai’Siri. We like scrappers.
The last one, the boy, just into his teens. Perfect for training, conveniently malleable at this time. We’ll put the second relic in him. The girl we’ll test next and keep for last. I’ve recommended we do that to let the technology for the hypershard control-systems mature, with the best we can build going to her if the others fail or turn on us.
I’ve been given access to the implantation protocols, and clearance to observe the old man. Well, not that old really, just in his late thirties, but aged beyond his years by a harsh life on the streets. I’d be careful with him, though, he’s a smart one. Almost managed to evade the extraction team — black ops specialists for urban environments, until we finally caught up with him.
As first test subject, he’s probably the most dangerous — lots of life experiences in his years — but also the best pick given the odds of finding many more of his species. Damn difficult to pick out that fraction-of-a-percent in genetic variation from baseline humans with sniffer handsets in a crowded city.
He’s lying on the operating table now, the Dunar field manipulators lowering the relic into position, barely tangible, as it slips through flesh and bone into the brain. His face contorts a little as the ‘shard slides into place, interface points stimulating parts of the brain as they pass through.
Implantation complete. The aged Wavetouched’s facial contortions cease as the ‘shard reaches the optimal interface location in the brain.
The strange quasi-matter co-exists with his cerebral tissue and awaiting the activation signal from our control system, linked with the ‘shard through neutrinocom. He’ll be sleepwalking the whole time, body active, mind asleep, fully under our control. We’ve decided to call him the Fractus, for his fractured mind. That’s the one reason we want to be careful here…He could be…problematic if he ever woke up.
Activate. Hypershard now online. The Fractus rises…. His eyes open, leaking a flickering, pale greenish light, arcs of greenish cold fire flowing across the skin. The fire, on both his skin and from his eyes, subsides as the control system compensates for excess power consumption. In seconds, he stabilizes, and stands fully upright, awaiting his first mission.
We’re already well underway to a colony world of the Giants, a world so well-defended that conventional military craft have trouble overcoming resistance. This time, though, we have a weapon they can’t stop.
What will our test subject do?
He will do nothing less than cause a mass-extinction event, the first our target world has had in millions of years. He shall be our Giant-slayer, a god of death given flesh, our first bringer of the End for our enemies.
He will usher in a new age of warfare…and of the victory of the Kai’Siri race!
I, Akarmiin Piruuta, Special Agent of the Order of the Orugruuta guarantee it. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

MetaCognitions: 2014.11.27

I think that it’s necessary that we question within reason those claims extraordinary or important to us, and especially when those claims unfairly support our own or others' ideology and belief-systems, however ill-suited we may feel at the time to bother with it.

Given the power and pervasiveness of human bias (my own included), we should not be too credulous or too obstinate regarding what we accept as true when our personal affirmation or denial of a claim speaks too clearly to our own prejudices and inner narrative and not to evidence and reason or the lack of such for the claim.

Carl Sagan popularized the phrase “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” and Christopher Hitchens is credited with his dictum, “What may be asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence,” both noting that the burden of proof for a claim lies always with the one making it.

This is because it is rationally impossible to definitively prove a particular claim false with a limited data set. There is always going to be data we don’t currently have available to us, as we simply cannot gather infinite data in a finite span of time.

There is a balance that must be struck in effectively arriving at more reliable knowledge claims, and so we must satisfy ourselves with the best evidence we can get at the moment, recognizing that we shall always overlook much of what data can possibly exist no matter how diligent we are.

What do I mean by questioning within reason? Nothing arcane or obscurely philosophical; merely that when it’s brought to our attention that there exist good or poor reasons to accept or reject a claim, to consider those reasons, and to weigh them in balance with the claims they are intended to support and, to paraphrase David Hume, “...proportion our belief to that evidence."

It’s something I struggle with daily, as my own…psychology…makes me somewhat impressionable despite seven years of identification and development as a skeptic. I don’t always win these struggles, but even if perfect, consistent skepticism is unattainable in practice, I think it’s an ideal worth striving for and approaching ever closer.

What’s at the end of the journey? When should I laud myself for finally arriving at it?

Never...

…Never, because there is no final destination, just a road that winds ever onward. But things have gone far better than I’d have expected in late 2006 through mid-2007, and that’s something to be thankful for.

I don’t need magic. I don’t need to supplement reality with anything outside of it to make it “better.” There is magic enough in the real world.

I have that real word, no, a universe, perhaps even a multiverse, and all of you to be thankful for as well, and that resonates deeply with me, the part of me which stirred our species’ ancestors on the plains of Africa millions of years ago, the part which survives in our species still.

It is the spirit I believe in(...and the only one I may partake of, without medical complications! ;-) ): the human spirit.

Thank you, my friends and readers, whatever you believe.

So very, very much!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fiction: A Most Unusual Find Indeed: Part IV

Two bodies lay motionless in the room, the scorchmarks of a hand laser marking their foreheads like macabre bindi, looks of utter surprise frozen on their features as a team of paramedics prepared them for spacing. In the burial traditions of my people, the dead are jettisoned into the local stellar primary, necessary to utterly destroy the bodies to the molecular level, and prevent the return of their troublesome spirits to the world of the living.
Silly that even a rationalist society as my own still has superstitions.
The woman was lucky. She died in less than a second as coherent light drilled a hole through her brain. The man a bit longer when he tried to avoid my aim, but to no avail. He lived just long enough to prolong the pain as the light burned a half-second longer through the thicker part of his skull, the steam of vaporized cerebral fluids escaping through the hole.
I am Special Agent Akarmiin Piruuta, and the discovery they made will win this war for us, but these two have been watched for a while, and they had to be eliminated. Silly academics. Sooner or later their sense of ethics would get the better of them. But they had to die. Orders from higher up — from the Exarch himself. As the youngest operative of the Order of Orugruuta on this installation, that duty fell to me. I must prove myself.
Tricking the late Instructor First Rank was easy, tricking his student was even easier, and getting them to take their cargo directly to this base was brilliant if I do say so myself. Scientists are so gullible. Gods of ancient Sirug, never let me be taken so easily! Of course, posing as a research student was the fun part. I’m called into my Coordinator’s office to discuss the new project…
The datacomp that Samdrumani kept her notes on is in my hands now. Easy enough to get the encryption key when you spike someone’s nanocotics.
“Ma’am. The targets have been dealt with, and we are ready to proceed with the next phase. The weapons and all of their data belong to us.” I hand over my dataspike, and my Coordinator inserts it into her handcomp, a hologram tailored to look like a dead Terran philosopher,Ariztotl, or somesuch, projected above the touchpad, looking rather sagely as he goes over the essential points, changing to a hologram of Samdrumani when her journal files are accessed. Damn, that’s creepy, seeing the face and hearing the voice of the woman I’ve just killed, even if it is a recording.
The recording ceases. “Agent Piruuta, I’ve received word from the Exarch, and he sends his congratulations on a mission well done. He wishes to continue with this project, so you are ordered to Sacred Terra to acquire testing subjects, three in number we’ve identified and kept under surveillance, that new species of humans who shall prove perfect for what we have in mind. They will serve as the housing for our weapons,” — she hands me the dosier of a boy barely in his teens, that of a girl just reaching adulthood, and of an older man in his thirties — “Any questions?”
A smile crosses my lips, canines just barely showing in predatory anticipation.
“Only, one, Ma’am….When do I depart?”
To be continued…

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Independent Thinking: The Dangers of Protesting a Wee bit Much

Who doesn’t want to think of themselves as independent thinkers? Perhaps those who more value obedience to authority, I suppose, but many pride themselves on their individualism, and this is not necessarily a bad thing but also not a good thing when done without integrity and introspection. 

For we are often tempted to congratulate ourselves overmuch, and some of us protest a bit much about what wonderful independent thinkers we are in discussions with others. No one is immune to being taken by charlatans and frauds, especially those we are prone to agree with for their pandering to our biases and values.

I identify as a skeptic, and this means I hold certain intellectual virtues as worthwhile to cultivate and improve upon. I do not here, and have never on this blog or any other venue claimed to be especially rational or objective, and certainly not a stranger to deceptive ploys. There are times I’ve been fooled, and those were times when weaknesses in my skepticism were in play. These have been valuable lessons for the future. I find no reason to laud myself overmuch on skeptical thinking as this opens the gates to deception by myself and others. I must always consider that I can be fooled.

Independent thinking, when it’s actually being exercised, is a wonderful and valuable thing in my culture. It is hardly at work, however, when you believe everything you are told by those who agree with you along partisan lines, simply because what they say is prefaced or appended by the incantation of the magical phrase, “check my facts.” 

There’s a bit of a rhetorical trick with that phrase, and it is meant to preempt skepticism and actually bothering to check the facts. Its utterance renders the speaker more seemingly trustworthy, making us vulnerable to credulity and exploitation, particularly by partisan media outlets which have been polishing their technique and manipulating their audiences for decades since the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine during the 1980s.

That goes for all partisan ideologies.
And “checking the facts” does little good if you only check them on sources that you’ve been manipulated for years into trusting because you’ve told that only they speak the truth. Or when you’ve been told again and again that those guys on the “other team” can’t be trusted and are out to get your money, or your vote, your children, your rights, your guns, your bibles, or otherwise ruin the country for their own nefarious purposes.

*twirls mustache* *cackles diabolically*

That’s the problem with “Team Spirit” ideologies of any sort, and when it comes into play one’s status as a smart, self-actualized thinker is in danger, if not compromised beyond hope. 

Hubris, the Dunning-Kruger effect, and gullibility along ideological lines is dangerous. Glomming a bit too much on what a wonderful and great independent thinker you are sets you up for a fall. None of us thinks of ourselves as extremist, even and especially when inclined to think that more of any partisan leaning is actually a virtue. We almost all of us think ourselves the moderates, the sensible ones.

We must acknowledge our biases, our weaknesses, and our vulnerabilities, understand them as best we can, and take real steps to offset them, seriously considering when those who enjoin us to trust and believe them, as they have for years on our favorite media outlets, might not have our best interests in mind, just our ad revenues, our ratings, our corporate sponsorships, our votes in the next election, and sometimes, our lives.