The Alexandrian

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Had a familiar discussion today about whether or not the millennium started on January 1st, 2000, or on January 1st, 2001. (Spoiler Alert: It was 2001.)

General rule of thumb: You can tell what millennium / century / decade you are in by taking the relevant digit and rounding up.

For example: What decade is the year 39 AD in?

  • Decade 1: 1-10
  • Decade 2: 11-20
  • Decade 3: 21-30
  • Decade 4: 31-40

Or you can treat 39 as 3.9, round up to 4. 4th decade.

Same thing with centuries: What century is the year 1675 in? The 17th century. Because 16.75 rounded up is 17.

What century is the year 1600 in? The 16th. Because 16.00 rounded up is 16.

Same thing with millennia. 2000 is in the second millenium (2.000 rounded up is 2). 2001 is in the third millennium (2.001 rounded up is 3).

St. Anselm of Canterbury - English Stained Glass (19th Century)Anselm’s ontological argument, which appears in his Proslogion, is frequently misunderstood. For reference, the argument basically breaks down like this:

  • God is a being than which none greater can be imagined.
  • A being that exists as an idea in the mind and in reality is, all other things being equal, greater than a being that exists only as an idea in the mind.
  • Therefore, if God exists only in the mind, we can imagine something that is greater than God (i.e., a God who exists in reality).
  • And, therefore, God physically exists in reality, not just as a concept in the mind.

This thing gets trotted out on a fairly frequent basis by Christians who smugly think they’ve made atheists look foolish by proving that God exists. And you’ll just as frequently see atheists respond to this by claiming that Anselm’s argument makes no sense because he’s presupposing the existence of God. He’s just begging the question!

In reality, everybody involved in that discussion is radically misinterpreting Anselm’s intent.

Anselm’s argument presupposes the existence of God because he was dealing with a very specific ontological question of whether or not God was possessed of a physical reality or if he existed only in the human mind.

He argues that God must exist physically and not just in the mind, because God must be greater than any alternative we can imagine (by definition). And if he existed just in our minds then we could imagine him doing that AND physically existing, and therefore he can’t exist only in our minds.

But the entire argument is based on the supposition that God (as defined as “thing which is greater than anything else we can imagine”) actually exists. As such, it can’t tell us anything about the actual existence or non-existence of God. Only that, if God is a thing which is greater than anything else we can imagine, then we can be absolutely certain he doesn’t just exist in our minds.

Similarly, one could say, “Let us accept that a Star Destroyer is the coolest ship that we could possibly imagine. Do Star Destroyers physically exist or are they only imaginary creations of our brains? Well, a Star Destroyer that actually existed would be much cooler than one which is only imaginary. And since we can imagine a Star Destroyer that actually exists, it therefore follows that Star Destroyers do physically exist, by definition, since Star Destroyers are the coolest ship that you can possibly imagine.”

If you already accept that God / Star Destroyers actually exist and you’re simply trying to put some boundaries on what that existence means, this argument is useful. But the minute you try to use this argument to “prove” that God and/or Star Destroyers actually exist, you’re left with a meaningless tautology.

Anselm's Star Destroyer

Anselm’s Star Destroyer

Rachel Dolezal

A couple days ago I read a few articles on Rachel Dolezal and came to the conclusion that she was suffering from some form of body dysmorphic disorder and I thought it was very sad that this mentally ill woman was being pilloried.

But then I stumbled across, back-to-back, Mike Huckabee attacking transgender people as being imaginary and some random people accusing Caitlin Jenner of being mentally ill and suffering from… body dysmorphic disorder.

And I began to suspect that I may have made a mistake.

Then Dave Chapelle uttered some words of wisdom: “The thing that the media’s gotta be real careful about, that they’re kind of overlooking, is the emotional context of what she means. There’s something that’s very nuanced where she’s highlighting the difference between personal feeling and what’s construct as far as racism is concerned. I don’t know what her agenda is, but there’s an emotional context for black people when they see her and white people when they see her. There’s a lot of feelings that are going to come out behind what’s happening with this lady. And she’s just a person, no matter how we feel about her.”

Dolezal is just one person and her personal experience doesn’t deserve to be held up as the one-grand-truth on this complicated issue. But now I’m looking at progressives who would fight tooth and nail for a person’s right to choose their gender identity and to celebrate their sexual orientation while simultaneously condemning a woman for making a choice about her racial identity, and I find myself wondering whether that’s really just outrageous hypocrisy.

Having just been practicing that hypocrisy myself, I rather suspect that it is.

Self-Driving Car

I want a self-driving car so badly it hurts.

But there’s one frequent claim I often see from proponents of self-driving cars: That they’ll usher in an era of autonomous taxis which will cause the personal ownership of automobiles to drop off a cliff.

That’s possible. But I think it very unlikely. I think we’ll see a dramatic increase in the number of single-car families, but it won’t be because they’re ordering autonomous taxis (although they may from time to time). It will be because they’re able to time-share a single vehicle without needing to physically be in the same place.

The argument for autonomous taxis and the abandonment of personal vehicle ownership hinges on the appealingly simplistic vision of “cars waiting in parking lots”. Since each of us only need our cars for a narrow slice of each day, it would make more sense to essentially share vehicle time with other people. The economic logic of this will mean that using autonomous taxis will be so much cheaper than owning a vehicle that people won’t do it.

What this analysis ignores, unfortunately, is that a significant majority of vehicles are used to commute to and from work. And the majority of those commutes happen at the same time for the vast majority of people. The fleet size required to support those commuting needs will be large enough that the businesses involved won’t see any substantial economy from the communal model, which means the costs won’t be significantly lowered compared to owning your own vehicle.

If you’re looking for the tack-on effects of autonomous vehicles will be, my prediction is the second great suburban sprawl: When commuting means napping or watching TV or reading or working or otherwise being entertained/productive, the commuting times people will be willing to accept will increase significantly. That’ll push development further out from the city centers.


Mini-Adventure 1: Complex of Zombies - Justin AlexanderPheasants are really stupid birds. They’ll go into a potato patch, dig up a potato, and start eating it. But if anything distracts them enough to make them look away from the potato, they’ll drop the potato. “Ugh!” they say. “Someone’s been eating this potato!” And they’ll move along to the next potato until… “Oh! Gross! Someone’s been eating this potato!”

You end up with a whole line of potatoes with one or two bites out of them.

In my personal little headcanon I like to imagine zombies do the same thing: “RAWWWGGHHH!! DELICIOUS FLESH!!!! MUAAARGHHH… Oh. Gross. This one’s dead. Let’s get another one.”



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