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Showing posts from March, 2012


By now I have taught easily a dozen freshman-level college math courses.  In every single one that I have taught I have faced the brainwashing that students have received to rationalize the denominator of a fraction.  (I use the word "brainwashing" here loosely.  Clearly I do not accuse any high school math instructor of actually using brainwashing techniques.)  For those that aren't aware or don't remember, a denominator is irrational when it has a square root (or any other root in it).  For example, 1/√2 has and irrational denominator.  The denominator can be rationalized by multiplying this fraction by 1 in the form of √2/√2, thus making it √2/2.

The first thing that I find extremely ironic about this is that there are some fractions that simply cannot be rationalized.  This occurs when a transcendental number is in the denominator, such as π.  But, that aside, there is no mathematical reason for rationalizing the denominator.  There is no real benefit in doing so…

Adam Savage

"I believe that rules do not make us moral.  Loving each other makes us moral."

"I have concluded through careful, empirical analysis and much thought that someone is looking out for me, keeping track of what I think about things, forgiving me when I do less than I ought, giving me strength to shoot for more than I think I am capable of.  I believe they know everything that I do and think and they still love me and I've concluded after careful consideration this person keeping score is me."

True morality

I find his point about morality to be extremely valid.  If you're doing something because you're looking forward to some amazing reward that awaits you in heaven or because you're worried about going to hell, then you have no morality.  If you're doing the right thing because it's the right thing, that is true morality.

I believe it was Lawrence Kohlberg who listed five stages of moral development.  Obedience out of fear of punishment is the very bottom-most on his list.  Self-interest is the next highest.  So, in other words, according to Kohlberg (and you may or may not agree with him), obedience out of fear of a wrathful god or with the hope of receiving reward from god are at the very bottom of a person's moral development.  Certainly, not all religious people are at this stage.  I don't think Penn's trying to assert that.  But, it is true that most religions do teach that kind of morality.

At the very top of Kohlberg's list is the kind of mo…

Psychology of belief

Yes, I understand, it would seem more reasonable to post the introduction than the conclusion when introducing a series of videos.  However, I still think this is more appropriate.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching this series.  There were so many results and experiments that completely surprised me.  For example, I was shocked at how frequently people would go against their own intuition when they were surrounded by people who confidently gave incorrect answers.  I knew that the power of conformity was strong, but I didn't realize it was that strong.

Watching this series has certainly made me think about what I believe and why I believe it.  It has helped me become more skeptical.  A mathematician must be very careful when making an assertion, being able to defend any particular detail of its proof.  Sometimes I forget to do this in other areas in my life.

I recommend watching this series.  I hope that watching this conclusion will pique your interest and make you want to watch t…

You are loved

You are loved.  Yes, you--the reader.  How do I know this?  Aside from the fact that I assume you have many people in your life who love you, I know this because I love you.  Why do I write this blog?  I maintain this blog for many reasons.  It's therapeutic for me to voice my feelings.  It's a good way for me to keep people (who are interested) updated on my life.  I can vent frustrations here that I wouldn't normally discuss in my everyday life in in-person communication.  But, also because I love you.

I'm not the best at showing love.  In fact, I'm not even very good at understanding how best to express love so that you feel it.  I mainly express love in the way that I believe is best to express it, from my own perspective.  That is not to say that I express it in the way that I want others to express it to me.  I'm much more ego-centric than that.  I express it in the way that I think other people should want to have me express it.

Sure, I am arrogant.  I…

Do you really believe?

This is Richard Dawkin's talk from yesterday's Reason Rally in Washington DC.  He makes several good points, but the one that stuck out to me the most was when he told people that they should challenge someone when they say they're religious.  The example he gave is when someone says they're Catholic, ask them if they really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer that it actually turns into the body of Christ, or that the wine actually turns into his blood.  So, this post will be dedicated to me asking any of my reader base who are religious, do you really believe what your religions teach?

For those who are Christian (any denomination thereof),

Do you really believe every word of the Bible to be the word of god?  If so, read every word of the Bible and then come back and answer the question again.Do you really believe that a snake tricked Eve into eating fruit that made her suddenly unfit to live in the paradisiacal garden god had just made for her?Do you really b…


Conrad and I have talked a few times about adopting. In my own mind, it was always in the setting of after we had moved to a state where gay marriage was legal and then we could adopt as a married couple.

But, I just started looking into adoption (mostly just to learn about it, because I know there's lots to know on the subject).  As I was doing so, I came across sites about foster care, so I started looking into that.  I think that (assuming we can find an agency that will let gay people foster) it would be good for us to foster a child while we're here in Tennessee.

I found a website that has a list of children with their bios and some even have videos where the children are being interviewed.  So, of course, I had to read several of the bios and watch the videos.  I just want to love all of these children.  Children are so wonderful.  They're full of energy and love--they want to love and they need love.  And they each have their own personality.

The little bit tha…

Starve your fears

I just had a friend post the saying "Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death." on his wall.  I have heard this before--many times, actually, and I certainly believed it when I was a believing Mormon.  But, now that I look back on my life and see what it was like, I believe the opposite.

At the moment, I have no faith and no fears.  I do not fear death.  I do not fear the possibility that Christians are right and that there is a judgment after death and an eternal assignment at that time.  If that is to be, let it be.  I really do not fear for anything in my future, and there is nothing in my past that is worthy of fear.  I suppose, if I'm to be completely honest, that I do have small fears.  I worry about whether my students will like me or do well on their tests.  I worry about whether my parents will attend my wedding. But, these are minor fears that do not affect my life greatly.  I am still able to function fully well and press onward with confidence.


Each shall seek his own kind

For those of you who may not know, Mormons have 3 different heavens--the Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial Kingdoms.  One explanation missionaries sometimes give to people when explaining this concept of how God divides people among these kingdoms at judgement day is that people feel most comfortable around peers--thus the good people who kept all of God's commandments will be most at home with other people who did, in the Celestial Kingdom.  Those who were criminal won't feel comfortable with those who were upstanding because of a guilty conscience (or perhaps some other psychological phenomenon).  So, God sending criminals to a different degree of glory/heaven than the more righteous people is actually a mercy because they would feel more comfortable among their own kind than among people that had maintained a higher level of obedience.

This explanation always made very good sense to me, while I would teach it to other people or when it was explained to me.  I've act…