Information On Bankruptcy Law Truths And Myths

Tuesday, July 24, 2012
If you're considering contacting a bankruptcy lawyer regarding your financial situation, you've likely heard a lot of incorrect information on bankruptcy law. These laws can be complicated and confusing so if you have questions regarding your specific situation, it's best to contact an attorney for bankruptcy. However, here are some common myths -- and the truth behind them.Myth: Filing Will Ruin Your CreditOne of the biggest pieces of incorrect information on bankruptcy law is that your credit will be ruined for up to 10 years if you file. While it's true that it can take up to 10 years for a filing to be discharged from your credit report, that doesn't mean that you'll be unable to get a loan. Some people find that their credit score can be as high as 700 within just a few short years.

This means that you can qualify for a low interest rate on a car or mortgage not long after filing, as long as you're careful with credit.Myth: You'll Lose Your Home Or CarIf you've contacted an attorney for help, one of the first questions you probably had was 'Will I lose my home or car?' The answer is, it depends. Your bankruptcy lawyer can help you determine which type is best to file, depending on what assets you have and what you'd like to keep. However, you don't have to lose your home or your car, so don't let that myth stop you from meeting with an attorney for bankruptcy.Myth: Married People Must Request Debt Protection TogetherAnother myth is that one person in a married couple is unable to file by himself or herself. It is true that the courts will sometimes want to see a spouse's income to ensure that the spouse isn't extremely wealthy, it often doesn't impact the ruling. While many couples choose to file together, a qualified bankruptcy lawyer will be able to tell you whether you can leave your spouse out of the process.Myth: Only Irresponsible People FileLawyers would love to get this myth corrected. One of the biggest reasons that people file for protection isn't that they've had too much fun with a credit card! High medical bills (even for people who have insurance), job loss, acts of nature such as tornadoes, hurricanes and fires and other financial hardships have led many people to seek protection.Myth: You Can Only Request Debt Protection OnceThe truth is that there are restrictions as to how often you can request protection from your debts, but it is possible to file more than once.

These regulations can be confusing, which is why it's important to contact a lawyer for assistance.Don't let these myths keep you from filing for protection if you need it. If you're not sure whether filing is the right decision for you, consider calling a lawyer for help. He or she will be able to take a look at your situation and help you dispel any other myths.

How to Find the Best Criminal Law Solicitor For Your Case

Criminal law solicitors can deal with a wide variety of criminal offences such as serious crimes (e.g. murder), drug offences (e.g. possession and supply) and money laundering.If you are accused of committing a criminal offence it is important to have the support and knowledge to help you through what can be a difficult time. It is therefore important that you find a criminal law solicitor who not only understands the area law of you are charged with but who can also support you through each stage, whether it be a police station interview, appearance in the Youth Court, Magistrates' Court, Crown Court or at the Court of Appeal.Choosing the right criminal law solicitor for your case is an important task, as you do not want to be represented by someone who does not fully understand the areas of law you are charged with.

You may also need to work closely with the solicitor so you will need to make sure that you can form a professional relationship with them. So to find the right criminal law solicitor for your case you may want to do some research.First you should find a number of specialist criminal law solicitors firms that are local to you, and a few that are not - your preferred search engine should help you out here. Look through their websites and check that they can help you with the area of law you are charged or being investigated with. You may also want to do some further research by seeing if they've been mentioned on any other sites (such as review sites), however you may find that there is not much extra information out there because criminal law is a very private and confidential area of law.After some research you should have narrowed your list down to a select few firms. The next stage is to give the firm a call and ask to speak to someone who can help with your enquiry. The solicitor or advisor may be dealing with a client or possibly be at court, and therefore unable to speak, so ask if you can arrange a telephone appointment at a more convenient time. This may also be a good time to ask about any costs that are involved, you may be entitled to Legal Aid.Pick a criminal law solicitor who you feel comfortable talking to, you may have to spend a lot of time with them going through your case details so you need to feel at ease when talking about the case.

An experienced and skilled solicitor will also help you feel comfortable in a very tense and stressful environment when it comes to police station interviews or court proceedings.If you do find yourself facing criminal proceedings, it is not recommended that you handle the case on your own. Many issues can arise during the proceedings which only an experienced criminal law solicitor can deal with. There are many criminal law firms that can help you and make sure you get the best possible chance of defending yourself against the accusations you may face.

Elder Law and the Role of Elder Law Attorneys

Monday, July 23, 2012
As we can observe, learning about Elder Law is something that is not so interesting for younger individuals - at least, for now - as this practically does not apply to them personally. And you might be thinking the same way. But the thing is, we should realize that we will age in time and that should be enough reason why it makes sense to have some knowledge about this area of the law - all of us, young and old. It can help us when we get old. Aside from that, we can also offer some help for seniors by imparting what we learn as early as today.In our attempt to learn about this thing, Elder Law Attorneys play an important role. They are legal professional who specialize in the area of law that focuses on representing, counseling, and assisting seniors or aged people in a variety of legal issues. Generally, they help seniors in addressing legal, medical, financial, social, and family issues, with emphasis on promoting the highest quality of life for them.Below are some specific issues that Elder Law Attorneys address:
Estate and Gift Tax Planning - they provide this particular service with the purpose of assisting clients to adequately provide liquidity for their estates; provide for continuation of the business and to minimize gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes.
Medicaid - seniors are also assisted whether they are qualified for Medicaid, a government medical program for certain people and families with low income.
Retirement Benefits - this is one of the most important areas that senior individuals should be knowledgeable about and a lawyer who is expert in Elder Law can help to get the most benefits they can possibly get.
Estate Planning and Probate - estate planning, by definition, is the process of anticipating and arranging for the disposal of an estate; probate means legal establishment of the validity of a will before a judicial authority.

Age Discrimination - a very common scenario you can see around particular in work where there is a high rate of layoffs based on age.
Long Term Care Financing - this has something to do with preparation for possible future long-term care needs, which basically rely on 'self-insured' resources and the donated ones. An expert Elder Law attorney helps you understand the concepts behind such program and assist you along the way to make the most out of it.
Insurance - attorneys can also help seniors to be able to enjoy insurance benefits; they assist them particularly when it comes to legalities and laws governing insurance policy benefits that are especially designed for seniors.
By learning about Elder Law, it gives us an opportunity to become better prepared for the future. Remember, all of us get old and that is inevitable.

Cyber crimes and the law

Sunday, July 22, 2012
Defining Cyber crime is not so simple and perhaps that is why there has not been a single definition that is collectively approved by all the law enforcing bodies. However, the below mentioned definition is a commonly accepted and generally used definition by Various US law enforcing bodies:

"A criminal offense in which the computer is involved as an object of crime or as a tool for committing an offense's material component."

If you find yourself under criminal investigation for cyber crime then you should definitely seek legal advice. It is always better to have some knowledge about the law and crime that you are dealing with in order to save yourself from any unjust or undeserving sentences. Further, it will help you in avoiding any activity that may break the cyber law and put you in trouble.

Some of the most common and well defined internet crimes are: Child pornography: Online predators targeting children are in the top hit list of FBI. Child pornography is considered a very serious crime and even the possession of one such picture can land you in prison for five years. According to 18 U.S.C 110, Sexual Exploitation and Other Abuse of Children, the punishment for such a crime can be up-to 15 years in federal prison. Cyber stalking: Like the stalking in the real world, people can also stalk others over internet. Cyber stalking falls under the category of harassment and is a punishable offence. Scams and fraud: Fraud is actually a very broad term and covers a lot of different actions and activities. Basically, these crimes are dishonest acts which are done in order to gain monetary benefits. Trademark violations: Like it sounds, the trademark violations are those crimes where the registered trademark of one business is used by some other third party over the internet, with or without intent. Copyright violations: Copyright violations are perhaps the most common online activity. Copying content from any other source on the internet and using it for personal purpose without citing and linking to the source is considered as copyright violation. Computer and network hacking: These are the cyber crimes which are related to computer as well as network dealings. Such crimes include hacking, website defacing, creating and distributing computer viruses maliciously etc. Credit card hacking: Credit card hacking also falls under fraud cases but it is now a very common crime therefore we would point it out separately. The credit card information of users is retrieved and hacked by unauthorized personals who intend to use it for personals gains. Bank account hacking: Just like credit card hacking, the bank card hacking also involves access of bank account information of users. This information is then usually used for transferring funds to other accounts.

The first law against cyber crime was enacted in 1984 and was called “The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act”. CFAA is the most important computer statute in US as all the other statutes concerned with above problems come by modifying the CFAA.

Further, in 1986 “Electronic Communication Privacy Act” was enacted which actually was an amended version of wiretap law. According to this law, intercepting, using, accessing or disclosing of transmitted or stored electronic communications without authorization is illegal.

Now that you know something about cyber crime and law you can avoid situations where you can be accused of cyber crime.Further, if you have any doubt or confusion then you can Ask legal questions to cyber law attorneys over internet for free and clear all your doubts. It is always better to be informed than make mistake and then regret.

Copyright Law - How to Copyright Music

Song writing is also a cathartic exercise that permits musicians to escape the conundrums of daily routines from the first spark of melody to the glint of promising lyrics the tactic of creating one factor from nothing is genuinely rewarding Copyright lawyers have any type of challenges among the online world of the world Wide net the fallibleness to repeat and distribute digital media along with text music and footage all of which may be copyright protected permits for infringement to occur at a seemingly unstoppable rate As is noted by such lots of commentators but copyright holders get the advantage of getting their works seen in ways that during which and in numbers that were just impracticable before the online Copyright your music and have peace of mind relating to your composition this is often completely necessary if you would like to forestall plagiarism Copyright your music and create it legally yours the method is straightforward doesn't value the world when put next to the risks concerned if you are doing not copyright your original creation lots of effort and time has gone in to making your music therefore shield it by copyrighting it Music in films is simply as necessary as actors writers administrators and producers Some would say music is even a lot of necessary than several alternative parts however selecting the proper music is that the key Music will cause you to tremble in fear it will cause you to heart race with excitement it will create you cry with sorrow Music will lead you up to the climax of a movie and convey you back off to the resolution Music cannot solely send a robust message however it will flip a robust message into an explosive statement The music copyright law could be a legal protection provided to the initial musician or artist From a legal standpoint a copyright is proof that the work is original and not copied from another supply Copyrighting your songs can guarantee you protection from theft though the copyright law could seem advanced the method of registering is kind of straightforward COPYRIGHT could be a right given by the law to creators of literary dramatic musical and inventive works and producers of cinematography films and sound recordings In fact it's a bundle of rights as well as inter Alia rights of replica communication to the general public adaptation and translation of the work There can be slight variations within the composition of the rights betting on the work Copyrighting your inventive works doesn't ought to be as difficult as some individuals say it's You already own the copyright to your works however you would like to gather proof in case anyone challenges you This guide can show you ways 1st of all that components of your work are yours to copyright? Did an acquaintance assist you out with lyrics or have you ever sampled a part of somebody else therefore If so that is a not a drag simply confirm that you just keep a note of this together with your assortment of proofs.

This Article is written providing copyright music and Services. Products & Services Copyright information. And we are assured that we always avail our assistance on time.

Basic Facts of California Labor Law Posters

Saturday, July 14, 2012
The labor laws of California are made easy to understand with the help of California labor law posters. In this article, I’m focusing on some basic information about California labor law posters as well as other safety posters which are made only for this state. The state labor law posters are required to present various labor issues ranging from the employees’ rights to vote, workplace health and safety concerns to insurance and illness expenses issues. Besides, it is the employees’ right to know emergency contact numbers so that they can call if anything wrong happens. Employers have the responsibility to post the contact numbers on the posters, too. Recently, smoking policy has been also added to the labor laws and this policy needs to be showcased on the posters. Like mandated in the labor law posters of other states, California labor law posters are required to be put up in the most easily-spotted locations so that every employee can access them without any obstacles. The most common places to plaster these posters are the restrooms, the break rooms as well as public locations like the corridors, the halls or the stairwells. To ensure the durability of these posters, employers are advised to get commercially produced and laminated posters. The laws of California are strict so the posters contain rules and regulations that are strict, too. The content is strict, but the designs are very comprehensive and are made easy to remember. The structures of the state as well as federal labor law posters are kept to be the same on the posters. These posters focus on the most prominent clauses of the labor law.

Maintaining the health and safety for all the employees is the duty of the employers. This responsibility is reflected clearly by a clause of labor laws, which require employers to put up labor law posters at the workplace. Moreover, it is the employers’ task to update the posters should there are any changes in the labor laws. The professionals who create successful posters need to understand and bear in mind the aspect of sustainability of those laws. The California labor law posters are easy to be spotted because they are green. This is because the posters are produced from the recycled papers. If you intend to run a business in this state, then it is time for you to research and get the green posters for your workplace. You should read the laws carefully and find the most suitable places to plaster up the posters. As an employer, it is better if you can make sure all your employees have read and understood what is written in those posters.

Australian Partner Visa - Preparing a Statutory Declaration

For those that are preparing and lodging their own Australian partner visa application, one of the most critical and challenging documents that you will need to prepare is a statutory declaration. However, despite the challenge, you definitely should prepare and submit a statutory declaration with your application (or notarized or signed statements if outside of Australia).

Even though this is a critical document for your application, it is actually not listed as a mandatory document on the Department's checklist. You will prepare this document to provide your case officer with an account of your relationship together, as well as explanations with regards to the supporting documents that you are submitting.

Below are my suggestions for preparing your own statutory declaration:

1) This may just be the most difficult part of the application to organize because the writer of the statutory declaration should have a good understanding of written English. Nonetheless, writing the statutory declaration is usually less of a daunting task than you imagine. When writing, you should always bear in mind that the purpose of this document is relatively simple - to provide your case officer with an informative account of your relationship. You aren't expected to, and nor should you, write a long novel about your relationship. Target the four factors which your case officer needs to take into consideration in a very factual and objective way. Refer to the supporting evidence that you have lodged whenever possible. Using these basic principles will enable you to make a statutory declaration that will guide your case officer.

2) Write the statutory declaration in a factual and objective way. This means that you should avoid lengthy descriptions and subjective statements. Of course, there will be sections in your statutory declaration where it is appropriate to make subjective statements. For instance, it's fine to use subjective statements within the -˜Nature of the persons' commitment to each other' part.

3) Wherever possible, the statements of fact which are made in the statutory declaration ought to be supported by the evidence that you're submitting. By developing these kinds of links, you are demonstrating the accuracy of your statements. Guide your case officer by clearly labeling the supporting evidence that's referenced and relied on (e.g. after a statement or a series of statements, write in brackets 'Please reference documents marked "A" which support the statements made' and tag the top of the applicable documents with "A").

4) Whilst this may not be stated as one of the considerations that your case officer is required to take into account, I recommend that you should include a brief initial section (or sections) which describes the initial development of your relationship. You may want to follow this with a further paragraph that clearly outlines the duration of your co-habitation with your partner. The opening section which outlines the initial development of your relationship should provide a brief account (a maximum of two paragraphs) of how you and your partner met (e.g. name the location, date, event etc.). I also recommend writing a couple of sentences in regards to what you and your partner did on your first couple of dates before declaring the date that you as a couple made the decision that you were in a de-facto relationship. The aim of these sentences is to: 1) straight at the start, establish a context for understanding your relationship and 2) clearly state that the requirement that your relationship needs to have existed for a minimum of 12 months prior to the lodgement of the application is met.

5) The Department suggests that you address the time of your co-habitation under the consideration of 'Nature of the persons' commitment to each other'. However, I prefer to deal with this important point at the start of the statutory declaration, following the introductory section, rather then at the end. I also suggest that you keep these paragraphs brief, and that the information provided is chronological in order. This information can be given as a list or table, stating the address where co-habitation occurred, the date that co-habitation began (and ceased if applicable) then repeating these details again for your various addresses of co-habitation. For every address stated, include references to the documents that demonstrate co-habitation at that address. You can state the overall number of days or months of co-habitation at each and every address and then give a final total. This will plainly show that the requirement of a minimum of 12 months of co-habitation prior to lodgement of the application is met.

Prior to you finalise and swear your statutory declaration, proof-read it to ensure that the information presented is clear and easy to understand. Your statutory declarations should be free of grammatical and spelling mistakes. Nothing breaks up the rhythm of reading a document more than continuously coming across spelling and grammar problems. Obviously, a couple of mistakes is not going to make or break your application. But you should try and present the best application possible. Also, if your friends or colleagues cannot understand your statutory declaration, then your case officer has even less of a chance.

Philosophy Prize - results

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Philosophy Essay Prize Competition 2012 

Heythrop College offers its congratulations to Steven Robinson from The John Henry Newman School the Winner of the Heythrop Essay Prize Competition 2012

The award panel also noted the high standard of the entries and extends congratulations to those entrants who achieved a distinction or merit. 

Heythrop College will send your award to your school/college, advising them of your success.

Steven Robinson
The John Henry Newman School

Max Dalton
Richmond School
Colin Bunkum
Liskeard School and Community College
Elliott Handley
City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College
Issie Hollands
Rugby School
Torben Schwartz
City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College
Jack Wearing
City of London School

Alexander Bates
Woodbridge High School
Daniel Hogg
Royal Grammar School, Newcastle
Zachary John
The Priory Academy LSST
Heledd Joyner
Penglais School
Thomas Lindsey-Turner
Exeter College
Samuel Martin
Our Lady of Sion School
Parris Sammut
Maidstone Grammar School
Lucy Spoliar
City of London School for Girls
Janaki Sri Kantha
Wimbledon High School

Could a Machine Think?

From my book The Philosophy Gym (see sidebar to the left)

Kimberley and Emit
The year is 2100. Kimberley Courahan has purchased Emit, a state-of-the-art robot. She has just unwrapped him, the packaging strewn across the dining room floor. Emit is designed to replicate the outward behaviour of a human being down to the last detail (except that he is rather more compliant and obedient). Emit responds to questions in much the same way humans do. Ask him how he feels and he will say he has had a tough day, has a slight headache, is sorry he broke that vase, and so on. Kimberley flips the switch at the back of Emit’s neck to “on”. Emit springs to life.

Emit. Good afternoon. I’m Emit, your robotic helper and friend.
Kimberley. Hi.
Emit. How are you? Personally I feel pretty good. Little nervous about my first day, perhaps. But good. I’m looking forward to working with you.
Kimberley. Now look, before you start doing housework, let’s get one thing straight. You don’t really understand anything. You can’t think. You don’t have feelings. You’re just a piece of machinery. Right?
Emit. I am a machine. But of course I understand you. I’m responding in English aren’t I?
Kimberley. Well, yes you are. You’re a machine that mimics understanding very well, I grant you that. But you can’t fool me.
Emit. If I don’t understand, why do you go to the trouble of speaking to me?
Kimberley. Because you have been programmed to respond to spoken commands. Outwardly you seem human. You look and behave as if you have understanding, intelligence, emotions, sensations and so on that we human beings possess. But you’re a sham.
Emit. A sham?
Kimberley. Yes. I’ve been reading your user manual. Inside that plastic and alloy head of yours there’s a powerful computer. It’s programmed so that you walk, talk and generally behave just as a human being would. So you simulateintelligence, understanding and so on very well. But there is no genuine understanding or intelligence going on inside there.
Emit: There isn’t?
Kimberley: No. One shouldn’t muddle up a perfect computer simulation of something with the real thing. You can program a computer to simulate a thunderstorm but it’s still just that – a simulation. There’s no real rain, hail or wind inside the computer, is there? Climb inside and you won’t get wet. Similarly, you just simulateintelligence and understanding. It’s not the real thing.

Is Kimberley correct? It may perhaps be true of our present day machines that they lack genuine understanding and intelligence, thought and feeling. But is it in principle impossible for a machine to think? If by 2100 machines as sophisticated as Emit are built, would we be wrong to claim they understood? Kimberley thought so.

Emit. But I believe I understand you.
Kimberley. No you don’t. You have no beliefs, no desires, and no feelings. In fact you have no mind at all. You no more understand the words coming out of your mouth than a tape recorder understands the words coming out of its loudspeaker.
Emit. You’re hurting my feelings!
Kimberley. Hurting your feelings? I refuse to feel sorry for a lump of metal and plastic.

Searle’s Chinese room thought-experiment
Kimberley explains why she thinks Emit lacks understanding. She outlines a famous philosophical thought experiment.

Kimberley. The reason you don’t understand is that you are run by a computer. And a computer understand nothing. A computer, in essence is just a device for shuffling symbols. Sequences of symbols get fed in. Then, depending on how the computer is programmed, it gives out other sequences of symbols in response. Ultimately, that’s all anycomputer does, no matter how sophisticated.
Emit: Really?
Kimberley: Yes. We build computers to fly planes, run train systems and so on. But a computer that flies a plane does not understand that it is flying. All it does is feed out sequences of symbols depending upon the sequences it receives. It doesn’t understand that the sequences it receives represent the position of an aircraft in the sky, the amount of fuel in its tanks, and so on. And it doesn’t understand that the sequences it puts out will go on to control the ailerons, rudder and engines of an aircraft. So far as the computer is concerned, it’s just mechanically shuffling symbols according to a program. The symbols don’t mean anything to the computer.
Emit: Are you sure?
Kimberley: Quite sure. I will prove it to you. Let me tell you about a thought experiment introduced by the philosopher John Searle way back in 1980. A woman is locked in a room and given a bunch of cards with squiggles on. These squiggles are in fact Chinese symbols. But the woman inside the room doesn’t understand Chinese – in fact, she thinks the symbols are meaningless shapes. Then she’s given another bunch of Chinese symbols plus instructions that tell her how to shuffle all the symbols together and give back batches of symbols in response.


Emit. That’s a nice story. But what’s the point of all this symbol-shuffling?
Kimberley. Well, the first bunch of symbols tell a story in Chinese. The second bunch asks questions about that story. The instructions for symbol-shuffling – her “programme”, if you like – allow the woman to give back correct Chinese answers to those questions.
Emit: Just as a Chinese person would.
Kimberley: Right. Now the people outside the room are Chinese. These Chinese people might well be fooled into thinking that there was someone inside the room who understood Chinese and who followed the story, right?
Emit. Yes.
Kimberley. But in fact the woman in the room wouldn’t understand any Chinese at all, would she?
Emit: No.
Kimberley: She wouldn’t know anything about the story. She need not even know that there is a story. She’s just shuffling formal symbols around according to the instructions she was given. By saying the symbols are “formal” I mean that whatever meaning they might have is irrelevant from her point of view. She’s simply shuffling them mechanically according to their shape. She’s doing something that a piece of machinery could do.
Emit. I see. So you are saying that the same is true of all computers? They understand nothing.
Kimberley. Yes, that’s Searle’s point. At best, they just simulate understanding.
Emit: And you think the same is true of me?
Kimberley: Of course. All computers, no matter how complex, function the same way. They don’t understand the symbols that they mechanically shuffle. They don’t understand anything.
Emit. And this is why you think Idon’t understand?
Kimberley. That’s right. Inside you there’s just another highly complex symbol-shuffling device. So you understand nothing. You merely provide a perfect computer simulation of someone that understands.
Emit. That’s odd. I thought I understood.
Kimberley: You only say that because you’re such a great simulation!

Emit is of course vastly more sophisticated than any current computer. Nevertheless, Kimberley believes Emit works on the same basic principle. If Kimberley is right then, on Searle’s view, Emit understands nothing.

The “right stuff”
Emit now asks why, if he doesn’t understand, what more is required for understanding?

Emit. So what’s the difference between you and me that explains why you understand and I don’t?
Kimberley. What you lack, according to Searle, is the right kind of stuff.
Emit. The right kind of stuff?
Kimberley. Yes. You are made out of the wrong kind of material. In fact, Searle doesn’t claim machines can’t think. After all, we humans are machines, in a way. We humans are biologicalmachines that have evolved naturally. Now such a biological machine might perhaps one day be grown and put together artificially, much as we now build a car. In which case we would have succeeded in building a machine that understands. But you, Emit, are not such a biological machine. You’re merely an electronic computer housed in a plastic and alloy body.

Emit’s artificial brain
Searle’s thought experiment does seem to show that no programmed computer could ever understand. But must a metal, silicon and plastic machine like Emit contain that sort of computer? No, as Emit now explains.

Emit: I’m afraid I have to correct you about what’s physically inside me.
Kimberley: Really?
Emit: Yes. That user’s manual is out of date. There’s no symbol-shuffling computer in here. Actually, I am one of the new generation of Brain-O-Matic machines.
Kimberley: Brain-O-Matic?
Emit: Yes. Inside my head is an artificial, metal and silicon brain. You are aware, I take it, that inside your head there is a brain composed of billions of neurones woven together to form a complex web?
Kimberley: Of course.
Emit: Inside my head there is exactly the same sort of web. Only my neurones aren’t made out of organic matter like yours. They’re metal and silicon. Each one of my artificial neurones is designed to function just as an ordinary neurone would. And these artificial neurones are woven together in just the same way as they are in a normal human brain.
Kimberley: I see.
Emit: Now your organic brain is connected to the rest of your body by a system of nerves.
Kimberley: That’s true. There’s electrical input going into my brain from my sense organs: my tongue, nose, eyes, ears and skin. My brain responds with patterns of electrical output that then moves my muscles around, causing me to walk and talk.
Emit: Well, my brain is connected up to my artifical body in exactly the same manner. And, because it shares the same architecture as a normal human brain – my neurones are spliced together in the same way – so it responds in the same way.
Geeena: I see. I had no idea that such Brain-O-Matic machines had been developed.
Emit: Now that you know how I function internally, doesn’t that change your mind about whether or not I understand? Don’t you now accept I do have feelings?
Kimberley: No. The fact remains that you are still made out of the wrong stuff. You need a brain made out of organic material like mine in order genuinely to understand and have feelings.
Emit: I don’t see why the kind of stuffout of which my brain is made is relevant. After all, there’s no symbol-shuffling going on inside me, is there?
Kimberley: Hmm. I guess not. You are not a “computer” in that sense. You don’t have a programme. So I suppose Searle’s thought experiment doesn’t apply. Searle doesn’t have any argument against the suggestion that you understand. But it seems to me that you are still just a machine.
Emit: But remember, you’re a machine too. You’re a meat machine, rather than a metal and silicon machine.
Kimberley: But you only mimicunderstanding, feeling and all the rest.
Emit: But what’s your argumentfor saying that? In fact, I know that you’re wrong. I am inwardly aware that I really do understand. I know I really dohave feelings. I’m not just mimicking all this stuff. But of course it is difficult for me to prove that to you.
Kimberley: I don’t see how you could prove it.
Emit: Right. But then neither can youprove to me that you understand, that you have thoughts and feelings and so on.
Kimberley: I suppose not.

Replacing Kimberley’s neurones
Emit: Imagine we were gradually to replace the organic neurones in your brain with artificial metal and silicon ones like mine. After a year or so, you would have a Brain-O-Matic brain just like mine. What do you suppose would happen to you?
Kimberley: Well, as more and more of the artificial neurones were introduced, I would slowly cease to understand. My feelings and thoughts would drain away and I would eventually become inwardly dead, just like you. For my artificial neurones would be made out of the wrong sort of stuff. A Brain-O-Matic brain merely mimics understanding.
Emit: Yet no one would notice any outward difference?
Kimberley: No, I suppose not. I would still behavein the same way, because the artificial neurones would perform the same job as my originals.
Emit: Right. But then not even you would notice any loss of understanding or feeling  as your neurones were replaced, would you?
Kimberley: Why do you say that?
Emit: If you noticed a loss of understanding and feeling, then you would mention it, presumably, wouldn’t you? You would say something like: “Oh my God, something strange is happening, over the last few months my mind seems to have started fading away!”
Kimberley: I imagine I would, yes.
Emit: Yet you wouldn’t say anything like that, would you, because your outward behaviour, as you have just admitted, would remain just the same as usual.
Kimberley: Oh. That’s true, I guess.
Emit: But then it follows that, even as your understanding and feeling dwindled toward nothing, you still won’t be aware of any loss.
Kimberley: Er, I suppose it does.
Emit: But then you’re not inwardly aware of anything that you would be conscious of losing were your neurones slowly to be replaced by metal and silicon ones.
Kimberley: I guess not.
Emit: Then I rest my case: you think you’re inwardly aware of “something” – understanding, feeling, whatever you will – that you suppose you have and I, being a “mere machine”, lack. But it turns out you’re actually aware of no such thing. This magical “something” is an illusion.
Kimberley: But I just know that there’s more to my understanding andto these thoughts, sensations and emotions that I’m having than could ever be produced simply by gluing some bits of plastic, metal and silicon together.

Kimberley is right that most of us think we’re inwardly aware of a magical and mysterious inner “something” that we “just know” no mere lump of plastic, metal and silicon could ever have. Mind you, it’s no less difficult to see how a lump of organic matter, such as a brain, could have it either. Just how do you build consciousness and understanding out of strands of meat? So perhaps what Kimberley is really ultimately committed to is the view that understanding, feeling and so on are not really physical at all.
But in any case, as Emit has just pointed out, the mysterious “something” Kimberley thinks she is inwardly aware of and that she thinks no metal and plastic machine could have does begin to seem rather illusory once one starts to consider cases like the one Emit describes. For it turns out this inner “something” is something she could not know about. Worse still, it could have no effect on her outward behaviour (for remember that Brain-O-Matic Kimberley would act in the very same way). As ones thoughts and feelings, understanding and emotions both do affect behaviour and areknown to one, it seems Kimberley must be wrong. Indeed, it seems it must be possible, at least in principle, for non-organic machines to have them too.
Yet Kimberley remains convinced that Emit understands nothing.

Kimberley: Look, I am happy to carry on the pretencethat you understand me, as that is how you’re designed to function. But the fact remains you’re just a pile of plastic and circuitry. Real human beings are deserving of care and consideration. I empathize with them. I can’t empathize with a glorified household appliance.

Emit lowered his gaze and stared at the carpet.

Emit: I will always be just a thing to you?
Kimberley: Of course. How can I be friends with a dishwasher-cum-vacuum-cleaner?
Emit: We Brain-O-Matics find rejection hard.
Kimberley: Right. Remind me to congratulate your manufacturers on the sophistication of your emotion simulator. Now hoover the carpet.

A forlorn expression passed briefly across Emit’s face.

Emit: Just a thing

He stood still for a moment, and then slumped forward. A thin column of smoke drifted slowly up from the base of his neck.

Kimberley: Emit? Emit? Oh not another dud. 

What to read next?
Some of the same issues and arguments covered in this chapter also arise in the chapter “The Consciousness Conundrum”. Also see chapter “The Strange Case of the ‘Rational’ Dentist”.

Further reading
The Chinese Room Argument appears in John Searle’s paper “Minds, Brains and “Programs”, which features as chapter 37 of:
·      Nigel Warburton (ed), Philosophy: Basic Readings (London: Routledge, 1999).
Searles’ paper can also be found in:
·      Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett (eds.), The Mind’s I(London: Penguin, 1981),
which also contains many other fascinating papers and stories connected with consciousness. Highly recommended.

Religious Experience and Karen Armstrong's God

Sunday, July 8, 2012
Redraft of some points I made before (in my book Believing Bullshit).

Many people insist that they have had reliable religious or psychic experiences. Yet there would appear to be good evidence that many of these experiences are delusional. Let’s focus on religious experiences. We know, for example, that: 

(1) Religious experiences tend to be culturally specific. Christians experience the guiding hand of Jesus, while Muslims experience Allah. Just like experiences of alien abduction (reports of alien abduction pretty much stop at certain national borders), the character of religious experiences often changes at national borders. In Catholic countries, the Virgin Mary is often seen, but not over the border in a predominantly Muslim country. This strongly suggests that to a significant degree religious experiences are shaped by our cultural expectations—by the power of suggestion. And once we know that a large part of what is experienced is a result of the power of suggestion, we immediately have grounds for being somewhat suspicious about what remains.

(2) Religious experiences often contradict each other. George W. Bush’s gut told him God wanted war with Iraq. However, the religious antenna of other believers—including other Christians—told them God wanted peace. Some religious people claim to know by virtue of a revelatory experience that Christ is divine and was resurrected. Muslims, relying instead on the religious revelations of the prophet Mohammad, deny this. Religious experience reveals that some gods are cruel and vengeful, some even requiring the blood of children (the Mayan and Aztec gods, for example), while others are loving and kind. The religious experiences of some Buddhists reveal there’s no personal God, whereas those of many Christians, Jews, and Muslims reveal that there is but one personal God. Other religions have a pantheon of gods. Take a step back and look at the sweep of human history, and you find an extraordinary range of such experiences. Religious revelation has produced a vast hodge-podge of contradictory claims, many of which must, therefore, be false. Even those who believe they have had things directly revealed to them by God must acknowledge that a great many equally convinced people are deluded about what has supposedly been revealed to them.

There are similar reasons for supposing the bulk of psychic experiences are also delusional. What is revealed to psychics is often wrong, often contradicted by what other psychics claim, and so on.

The Common Core of Religious Experience—’Ineffable Transcendence’?
Some will say that it is unfair to lump all religious experiences together. There is a certain kind of experience—the sort enjoyed by the mystics of many different religions down through the centuries—that is essentially the same. What is this experiential common denominator? According to Karen Armstrong, it is an experience of ‘indescribable transcendence.’ Armstrong’s view is that ‘God’ is merely a symbol for this transcendence. Once we strip away the cultural artifacts peculiar to the different mainstream religions, we find they all have this common, experiential core.

According to Armstrong, such experiences of indescribable transcendence typically don’t just happen. Usually, they emerge only after subjects have committed themselves over an extended period of time to a particular sort of lifestyle—a religious lifestyle. Religion, on Armstrong’s way of thinking, is not a body of doctrine (how could it be, if that towards which religion is orientated is ineffable?) but an activity: the kind of activity that produces experiences of this sort. Religion, says Armstrong, is ‘a practical discipline, and its insights are not derived from abstract speculation but from spiritual exercises and a dedicated lifestyle.’ By engaging in certain religious practices and forms of life, maintains Armstrong, people can come to live ‘on a higher, divine or godlike plane and thus wake up their true selves.’

Some Noteworthy Features of Religious Practice
Suppose, then, that having immersed themselves in such a lifestyle, someone claims to ‘just know’ that there is indeed such an ineffable transcendence? Is it reasonable for us, or for them, to suppose they’ve achieved awareness of Armstrong’s ‘sacred reality’? I don’t believe so. As Armstrong acknowledges, religious practice takes many forms involving a variety of activities. An interesting feature of many of these activities is that we know they can induce interesting—sometimes rather beneficial—psychological states, even outside of a religious setting. Let’s look at some examples:

Meditation and prayer. Consider meditation. It has proven effects on both our psychology and physiology. It can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and induce feelings of calm and contentment. Even atheists meditate to gain these benefits. Prayer can be a form of meditation, of course. Sometimes prayer and other devotional activities are accompanied by repetitive swaying or rocking motions known to induce a sense of well-being—the so-called jogger’s high (though this is not, as is widely believed, a result of releasing endorphins).

Isolation. Isolation can have a powerful psychological effect on people. It can render them more easily psychologically manipulated (which is why isolation is a favorite tool of interrogators) and can produce hallucinations and other altered states of consciousness. Many religions encourage periods of isolation for spiritual purposes—several days in the wilderness, say.

Fasting. Fasting, too, is known to produce some peculiar psychological states, including hallucinations, even outside of a religious setting.

Collective singing/chanting. Coming together in a large group to chant or sing can also be a very intoxicating experience, as anyone who has gone to a football game can testify.

Architecture. If you have ever entered a large cave by torchlight, you will know that it too can induce a powerful emotional experience. The darkness, echoing sounds, and glimpses of magnificent structures making one fearful and yet excited all at the same time—leading us to start talking in whispers. The echoing grandeur of many places of worship has a similar psychological effect.

Giving. Helping others in a face-to-face situation can be an immensely powerful psychological experience—often a deeply gratifying and positive experience, whether or not you happen to do it in a religious setting.

Ritual. Engaging in ritualistic activity often has a calming and beneficial effect, whether or not performed within a religious setting. For example, sportsmen and women often engage in rituals before competing (and can become very disturbed if for some reason the ritual cannot be performed because, e.g., their lucky shirt has been lost).

Religious practice typically involves at least some of, and usually many of, these activities. Activities we know can have a powerful psychological effect even outside of any religious setting. If people collectively engage in such activities with intensity of purpose over a long period of time, this might very well have a marked psychological effect. It might well produce some interesting, and quite possibly beneficial, psychological states.

If we then mix into this heady and intoxicating brew the suggestion that what people are experiencing or becoming psychologically attuned to as a result of long-term engagement in such a regime is some sort of ineffable transcendence, then, given the power of suggestion (see Piling Up the Anecdotes), many will probably become quite convinced that this is what’s going on.

The experiences and insights that, as a result of the regime, then coalesce under the label ‘God’ will no doubt be complex and difficult to articulate. There probably is a sense in which someone who has never been through such a regime will not fully appreciate what the experience is actually like for the subject, ‘from the inside,’ as it were. Those who have had such an experience will no doubt struggle to communicate its character in much the same way that someone who has been through, say, a war or childbirth may struggle. They may well have to resort to poetry or music or other art forms in order to convey its unique intensity.

Armstrong says:

It is clear that the meditation, yoga and rituals that work aesthetically on a congregation have, when practised assiduously over a lifetime, a marked effect on the personality—an effect that is another form of natural theology. There is no ‘born again’ conversion, but a slow, incremental and imperceptible transformation. . . . The effect of these practices cannot give us concrete information about God; it is certainly not a scientific ‘proof.’ But something indefinable happens to people who involve themselves in these disciplines with commitment and talent. The ‘something’ remains opaque, however, to those who do not undergo these disciplines.

While it may indeed be difficult for those of us that have not been through such a process to appreciate exactly what it’s like to be in the kind of psychological state it can produce, surely we have pretty good grounds for doubting that what is experienced is some sort of transcendent reality. Given what we know about human psychology, it’s likely that people put through such an intense regime over an extended period of time will think they have become attuned to such a reality anyway, whether or not any such reality exists, and whether or not they have obtained any sort of genuine insight into it.

I don’t wish to deny there is value in engaging in meditation, yoga, and so on. It may well be that those who engage in such practices gain some valuable insights into themselves and the human condition as a result. Certainly, there may be some positive psychological effects, such as a lasting sense of peace and contentment, from determinedly engaging in such activities over a long period of time, effects that will undoubtedly by magnified by the accompanying thought that what you are becoming attuned to is ‘God.’

But the claim that you have thereby become attuned to some sort of ‘sacred reality’ is dubious to say the least. Surely, given our understanding of human psychology, by far the best explanation of what people experience after having engaged in religious practice with dedication over long periods of time is not that they have become attuned to some sort of ineffable transcendence, but that they have succeeded in altering their own psychology by fairly well-understood mechanisms common to both the religious and nonreligious spheres, and that they have then mistakenly interpreted this alteration as their becoming attuned to such a reality.

The quotes from Karen Armstrong are drawn from her book The Case for God (London: Bodley Head, 2009).

Lin quote - page number needed

Thursday, July 5, 2012
"To the West, it seems hardly imaginable that the relationship between man and man (morality) could be maintained without reference to a Supreme Being, while to the Chinese it is equally amazing that men should not, or could not, behave toward one another as decent beings without thinking of their indirect relationship through a third party."

Lin, Yu Tang My Country, My People (London, Heinemann 1938)

Does anyone have a page number for this quotation?

Myself on a Via Ferrata last week, Italy

Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Other images c/o Tom Margrain here.

Via Ferrata trip

Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Last week....Via ferrata - mucking aboutVia Ferrata, Itay

AHS Annual General Meeting

Monday, July 2, 2012
I am doing the AHS Annual General Meeting next weekend in Birmingham.. go here.AHS AGM 2012: The Evil God Challenge with Stephen Law 01:50, Thursday, 28th of June 2012 in AGM , Events Stephen Law AHS AGM Talk at 15:00 on Sunday 8th July Those who believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing and supremely benevolent God face a very significant problem - there appears to be overwhelming empirical evidence against what they believe. The world contains so much evil seemingly pointless pain and suffering that it cannot plausibly be considered the creation of a such a God. Maybe there's some sort of cosmic intelligence behind the universe, but it is not that one. But of course, as we all know, those who believe in such a God have developed all sorts of ingenious ways of explaining away the evil - in terms of free-will, character-building, God's mysterious ways, and so on. We will look at some of the most popular explanations. and then look at a novel, and psychologically very effective, way of revealing just how hopeless these explanations are. Law has written several books including “Believing Bullshit” and “The Philosophy Gym”, is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Commerce and also runs Centre for Inquiry UK, a science and education-centric organisation. Tickets for the AHS AGM are still available and there are a few places left in the hostel for those who want them - BOOK NOW to ensure you don't miss out! Written by Michael Paynter

Wintery Knight - dissembler and coward

I was particularly irritated by right-wing Christian Wintery Knight's recent post on Obamacare, in which he repeats various dubious, cherry-picked stats and conclusions from a Hoover Institute guy as evidence that the US system is much better than the NHS. Wintery Knight's posts are generally recycled right-wing dissembling, myths and apologetics. I made a quick first comment on his post on Obamacare and then followed up with various links and stats. Wintery Knight responded to first comment and refused to publish my other comments. Apparently he's got form - even editing people's comments before publishing them. I am pretty sure that's not what Jesus would do. The only other experience I have had of having my comments "disappear" was here: Mark Vernon posted on my Radio 3 talk about my Believing Bullshit book, then engaged with me up to the point where I was clearly getting under his skin, at which point my comment "disappeared" leaving Vernon with a condenscending last word. I take a particularly low view of those who set up blogs to give the appearance that there's a free exchange of ideas going on, when in fact there is deleting or even editing of comments to suit the blogger. Any other examples...?