Riker's Mailbox

Friday, May 30, 2008


Oh yeah, I never followed up on my most recent jury duty experience!

I have revised my conclusions. Jury duty is not actually answering machine practice,* it's Government-mandated Surfing On The Internet Via Government-Provided Wireless Access.

I sat in a large lobby known as the Jury Assembly Room,** and spent five hours of an unpaid workday reading web pages. Go Justice!

In other news, I got a new car. I'm in love with it. 2001 Saab 9-3. Five doors, five gears, black on black:

Her name's Carla. There's a story behind that... maybe later.

* - sometimes it still is.
** - that was remarkably similar to an airline terminal, but with way less security, and way cheaper snacks.


I took part in the hardest debate I've had in ages yesterday evening. The funny thing about it is, it was not a debate with a believer, it was with an atheistic agnostic.

This opponent of mine is a good buddy; he's just really tough to argue with. He spends so much time aggressively nitpicking semantics and other details that the person speaking to him never gets to present a coherent statement.

It's like door-to-door salesmen trying to sell their respective encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners to each other, only the vacuum cleaner salesman's pitch consists of knocking his opponent's encyclopedias out of his hands.

Anyway, the primary point of contention boiled down to this: I'm a naturalist, and he's a scientifically-minded nonbeliever who insists on reserving space for the supernatural.

Here's the argument that came to me in the shower this morning.*

Everything that has ever been believed to be supernatural, has remained supernatural right up to the point at which it became scientifically understood. Sounds almost too simple to need to be put into words. The point is, we've never once found anything in nature that, once we learned a certain amount about it, determined that it was actually a supernatural phenomenon. It just doesn't work that way. The progression, for every phenomenon in recorded human history, has been from supernatural to natural... never the other way. So, why is it reasonable to keep insisting that something truly supernatural must still be out there? Isn't it more likely that it's all 'apparently supernatural' phenomena that just haven't been understood yet?

If the 'supernatural' set has been diminishing since its inception, and nothing has ever transitioned into it, don't you just take a step back and say, "Okay, this isn't a sound hypothesis after all."?

I see a string of zeros trillions long, and I make the presumably safe assumption that it's probably more zeros to come. He looks at it and says, "well there's gotta be a 1 at some point..."

He says that looking at the information out there and defaulting toward the negative "there's nothing supernatural" is equally as ignorant as any believer of any specific faith arguing for the existence of their god.

But when the score is Natural: Countless to Supernatural: 0, how much more evidence does one need before a natural assumption is seen as the more appropriate conclusion?

* - Just in time to be a day late... nice work there, Kev.

Monday, May 12, 2008


While not explicitly atheist in nature, it's a topic that runs in a similar vein; something worth rejoicing over in the net news today -


An accomplished physicist is making a career change; he's running for public office. His motivation is to be part of a movement to restore evidence-based decision making to the political system.

I've been a fan of the idea of technocracy for some time now, but I never thought I'd hear about the apparently active and healthy political movement advocating it. As a scientist might say, "Cool beans!"*

* - not an instruction to reduce the kinetic energy of a legume sample.


I talked about jury duty before. Here. I didn't have many kind things to say at the time, mainly because my service consisted of listening to answering machine messages for a few weeks, then being thanked for my service.

Well, It's a couple years later, and I'm typing this from the Jury Assembly Room in the Orange County West Courthouse. Maybe now I'll have something to type about.

It occurred to me in the shower* this morning that our only two civic responsibilities as U.S. citizens consist of selecting people from the middle masses and relegating them to opposite ends of the demographical spectrum... voting leaders to one side and criminals to the other**.

Of course, it helps to be close to one of those ends in the first place. Either way, I'm finally*** going to perform the second sacred duty of citizenship, and maybe I'll have something exciting to report once I'm looking back from the other side.

I wonder if they're going to try to make me put my hand on a bible?

* - as it almost always does.
** - maybe we're all criminals, and we're deciding which ones get carte blanche and the task of figuring out how to pay for everything, and which get a cinderblock studio apartment with everything paid for.
*** - well, maybe not.