Copenhagen, days two and three

Saturday was a real marathon of speakers, and required making choices, so there was no way to see all speakers (I hope other people, who have seen the speakers I’ve missed over the weekend will write-up their experiences and impressions as well). It also required notes, since my brain can’t absorb and remember that much information all at once :-p

We didn’t manage to leave Kristjan’s place early enough to get to the convention in time for the first speaker, because we miscalculated how long it would take for 6 people to get ready with only one bathroom. So the morning turned a bit chaotic; but at least there was real bread and real coffee (gotta like a man who knows how to use a French Press!!) for breakfast. Also, I’m glad to note that this time, the conference had food, too: coffee and coffecake for morning snack, beer and buffet for lunch, and more coffee and cake for evening snack :-)

Saw a few minutes of Jens Morten Hansen’s presentation, but not really enough to have an opinion on it. The next speaker was Lone Frank* who in my opinion was one of the best speakers for several reasons. For one, her speech was more locally relevant to the European atheists (especially in contrast to the previous day, which was very heavily America-centric), and from my point of view it was simply a different method of dealing with a different kind of believer than what I’m used to from the US and its fundies and passionately bible-believing Christians; she spoke about the almost instinctive, unearned respect for religion, and for clergy and their opinions, and how this is dangerous and nonsensical, and needs to be repeatedly pointed out as such. And two, she made a pretty good argument why that European, fuzzy, feel-good individualistic religion (AKA “spirituality”) is a kind of “chronic infection” of the brain which we need to learn to treat and minimize and keep from doing damage to our societies, but which is incurable, because of the way our brain is wired for interpreting everything in social terms. And three, she started her presentation with this picture ;-)
The next presentation was by Richard Wiseman*, who is an incredibly funny guy. His presentation was mostly about woo and irrational beliefs in general, but the point of it was to show how people get their irrational beliefs, how their own brains trick them, and how attached people become to these beliefs, and he suggested some methods of teaching rational thinking without ignoring this emotional investment.
Rebecca Watson’s presentation was probably the weakest one. But then, I might be just biased, since it was pink and about tone. She called it “don’t be a dick”, but I think it would more reasonably be “sometimes, it’s not about you”. One of the most annoying habits of evangelicals and new Christians is that they insert their god into every possible conversation. There’s no point in atheists&skeptics becoming like them, but OTOH sometimes, when it actually is about you, I think being rude is perfectly reasonable. For example, while it’s an asshole move to break out into lecturing when a birthday kid is being told to make a wish, it’s entirely reasonable when planning one’s own birthday party to explained to concerned Germans you don’t believe in luck and superstitions, and therefore don’t care that the party is before your birthday instead of after. Similarly, it’s ok to explain the same to someone trying to stop you from walking under a ladder, etc. Also appropriate in my opinion is pointing out that “how very Christian of you” is not a compliment, just like “that’s mighty white of you” isn’t.
I was already very familiar with most of the stuff in Aroup Chatterjee’s presentation of Mother Teresa’s entirely undeserved image as a good woman, so what caught my attention most was the effect she and her PR campaign had on the reputation of Kolkata (Calcutta): while it’s a city plagued by poverty, just like all of India, MT managed to make the world think of it as just one ginormous slum full of starving beggars, and nothing else, disappearing the existence of a middle class and of wealth, culture, and infrastructure. He was very much complaining about how MT’s work made foreigners ignore Kolkata when traveling to India, for example.
The last two presentations were Richard Dawkins and James Randi. Dawkins’ presentation felt oddly generic. He talked mostly about the concept of selection at the level of the gene, and how that’s, in the end, the only level at which it happened. So, basically, “The Selfish Gene” material. Randi’s presentation was hilarious, and made a good point that even a PhD or two don’t protect against being fooled by charlatans, and how a lot of people seem to want to be fooled.

And then we went to have dinner. The speakers were provided a separate table, which I don’t think should have happened; the whole appeal of a dinner like that, after all, is to mingle with the speakers. The Trophy Wife joined us for a large part of it, and PZ towards the end, but all mingling really only happened right at the beginning, before people figured out that it was ok to sit down**. Food itself was ok, but not precisely spectacular (it’s actually depressing that my flight-food was better; ok, it was business-class for once, but still), primarily because it was a buffet. I did pig out on the fancy cheese plate and fruit that were served as dessert. yumyum. Afterwards, we went to another bar to continue our conversations, but were kicked out indecently early, at 2am. I did end up sleeping through all but one Sunday sessions, but that was because I didn’t get to sleep till way past 5am (stoopid internet…).

So, all I’ve seen on Sunday was Victor Stenger. He went relatively superficially through some of the “fine tuning” arguments. Physics is entirely beyond me, so all I’ve gotten out of that was that all these “precisely tuned” parameters are actually often within a range, and/or pre-determined by some other physical parameters/attributes. I really regret missing Michael Nugent’s speech, since apparently a lot of other people liked it, and it could have spared me the mild embarrassment of not realizing that I’d spent half the night talking to him, hehe. Anyway, the sightseeing afterwards unfortunately was cut short by extremely rainy weather; combined with the 24hr delay of my flight, this basically meant I haven’t actually seen much of Copenhagen, which is somewhat disappointing. Dinner was at a Thai restaurant that offered “octopus with holy basil”, I was tempted, but opted instead for the spicy red curry with duck instead. And then I finally got to see the by now famous Ørsted Ølbar, which is cosy and has decent beer, but shitty lighting that nearly put me to sleep. And then we got kicked out, and the last bar we went to mostly excited Rorschach and Ye Olde Blacksmith, cuz they could smoke inside :-p Anyway, that’s where we got into a conversation with Michael Nugent about how to create a more non-Englishspeaker-centric conference, i.e. involving more south and east European participants and speakers. A lot of really good ideas were bandied about, and I hope they will be able to implement a lot of them, over time.

Ok, this is waaaay too freaking long already. Hope no-one fell asleep while reading it!

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -
*I’m going to write a more thorough recap/review of my favorite presentations, because including them in this post made it WAAAAAAAAY too long and unfocused.

** interesting phenomenon, btw… all the people trickling in were just sort of standing around in the middle, while the seating-section was completely empty. Eventually, a couple pharyngulites realized the absurdity of the increasingly crowded situation, so we found ourselves a nice, big table. there was still some off-table mingling, but we didn’t have to stand in the way of everybody else. most other people didn’t sit down until the announcement was made, though…

20 comments on “Copenhagen, days two and three

  1. Unfortunately the one free space at the pharyngulite table was taken up by 9/11-truther, who had global warming denialist tendencies. Another proof that just because you’re an atheist, it doesn’t mean that you’re a skeptic or a rationalist.

  2. Rorschach says:

    Another proof that just because you’re an atheist, it doesn’t mean that you’re a skeptic or a rationalist.

    I was a bit surprised we had to break that piece of news to Michael Nugent…:-)
    And like Jadehawk I had no idea for half the night who the guy was….

  3. Jadehawk says:

    Unfortunately the one free space at the pharyngulite table was taken up by 9/11-truther, who had global warming denialist tendencies.

    I don’t remember that; I wonder, is this because I don’t remember the person, or because I don’t remember them saying stupid shit. who was it?

  4. Rorschach says:

    I wonder, is this because I don’t remember the person, or because I don’t remember them saying stupid shit. who was it?

    Kristjan pointed him out to me, he was sitting left of Sili, haggard looking guy who did not look like he belonged LOL. I didn’t talk to him though.

  5. Jadehawk says:

    is it weird that i’m severely relieved it wasn’t the American girl? :-p

    anyway, I think i remember seeing him, didn’t pay any attention to him though.

  6. Rorschach says:

    is it weird that i’m severely relieved it wasn’t the American girl? :-p

    She was nice, but as I said to you at the time, she had her own wrongness about her…:-)

  7. David Marjanović says:

    I knew it was a good idea to bring the bread :-]

    she made a pretty good argument why that European, fuzzy, feel-good individualistic religion (AKA “spirituality”) is a kind of “chronic infection” of the brain which we need to learn to treat and minimize and keep from doing damage to our societies, but which is incurable, because of the way our brain is wired for interpreting everything in social terms.

    So only sociopaths like us get to lose their faith? :-(

    The next presentation was by Richard Wiseman*, who is an incredibly funny guy. His presentation was mostly about woo and irrational beliefs in general, but the point of it was to show how people get their irrational beliefs, how their own brains trick them, and how attached people become to these beliefs, and he suggested some methods of teaching rational thinking without ignoring this emotional investment.

    Importantly, the movies in his presentation show him lying by implication to the audience and then demonstrating how he did it. For instance, he shows something levitating and moves its hands around it, especially above it, to prove it’s not hanging from a wire — and then repeats the whole thing as seen from a camera that stood farther away, so you can see he’s not standing, but lying on the floor, and the “levitating” die is in fact hanging from a black thread that is not “above” but “behind” the die, where he didn’t put his hands. People in general, and scientists in particular as Randi keeps pointing out, are not used to being actively deceived. They assume that the data are honest — difficult to interpret perhaps, but honest. Sometimes they aren’t.

    I was already very familiar with most of the stuff in Aroup Chatterjee’s presentation of Mother Teresa’s entirely undeserved image as a good woman, so what caught my attention most was the effect she and her PR campaign had on the reputation of Kolkata (Calcutta):

    Funniest part: as one should expect from all the poverty, India’s communist party is very strong there. The monument to Marx and Engels is basically a Hindu shrine full of flowers… similarly, I’ve been told, many Chinese worship Máo in temples and sacrifice things like oranges to him.

    I didn’t get to sleep till way past 5am (stoopid internet…)

    So you were still surfing when I fell asleep just 2 m away from you, maybe at 3 am? Wow.

    Physics is entirely beyond me, so all I’ve gotten out of that was that all these “precisely tuned” parameters are actually often within a range, and/or pre-determined by some other physical parameters/attributes.

    That’s almost all he actually said, knowing full well that physics would be beyond most of the audience. The one other thing I noticed, and which was news to me, is that it’s not possible to compare the strengths of the fundamental forces as it’s often done: when people claim that the ratio of the strengths of electromagnetism and gravity must be fine-tuned for atoms to exist and stuff, what they really mean is that the ratio of masses of proton and electron must be within a (not all that narrow) range. Oh, and, many claims of fine-tuning are based on what would happen if only one parameter were varied and all others kept constant; varying several at the same time would result in habitable universes much more often. He ended his talk (I think) by saying that on his website there’s a program which simulates just this; life as we know it would be possible in about 21 % of the resulting possible universes. Fine-tuning my ass.

    it could have spared me the mild embarrassment of not realizing that I’d spent half the night talking to him, hehe

    Though… another factor is that he didn’t wear his nametag. I fucking hate it when conference participants don’t wear their nametags at all (“I’m so famous that everybody knows my name, so everybody has somehow figured out what my face looks like, too”) or immediately take them off when the talk session of the day is over and they go on to hang out with conference participants and only conference participants for the next several hours.

    Personally, I kind of like running around labeled. It’s the greatest weirdness I permit myself in public. :-)

    Anyway, that’s where we got into a conversation with Michael Nugent about how to create a more non-Englishspeaker-centric conference, i.e. involving more south and east European participants and speakers.

    Mmmm, no, that conversation — which included the idea of holding such a conference in Poland in 2012; somewhere where it hurts, as… probably you said — was held in the Ørsted Ølbar. In the next one, you talked more about art and copyright and war.

    Ok, this is waaaay too freaking long already. Hope no-one fell asleep while reading it!

    To the contrary. You’ve been keeping me up for the past hour.

  8. David Marjanović says:

    She was nice, but as I said to you at the time, she had her own wrongness about her…:-)

    There was something wrong about Kristen? I didn’t notice.

    I didn’t notice the troofer guy at all.

    not “above” but “behind” the die

    Actually in front of it, I think.

  9. Jadehawk says:

    Mmmm, no, that conversation — which included the idea of holding such a conference in Poland in 2012; somewhere where it hurts, as… probably you said — was held in the Ørsted Ølbar.

    great, now I can’t even pretend that I wasn’t completely and utterly plastered during the whole evening ;-)

    Anyhow, Poland wasn’t my idea; that was Rorschach.

  10. David Marjanović says:

    “Completely and utterly” is exaggerated, though. You pronounced r the Polish way more and more often, and socialized in the second bar, but what you said stayed coherent, interesting, and AFAIK even original till you actually went to sleep (long after we had left the bar and gone home to… continue talking).

    Morning breaks at about 3 am in Copenhagen this time of the year.

  11. TrineBM says:

    Hello Jadehawks-blog!
    I commented on your (excellent) write-up in the endless thread (Stupid place to do that) and now can’t find my comment. Will search later and put here.
    Rorschach

    I was a bit surprised we had to break that piece of news to Michael Nugent…:-)

    (Does blockquote work here???)

    Yeah – I was kind of surprised about Nugents insistence on Atheism = skepticism as well. But I found him reasonably open to the idea that atheism does not equal skepticism.

  12. Sili says:

    I’m really sorry I didn’t get to hang out in the evenings. I obviously missed a good deal of Jadehawk awesomeness.

    The ‘troofer’ was right at the end, and if I did nothing else, I’m at least glad I seem to have kept him away from the rest of you. My impression is that he was there because his friends and contemporaries were growing increasingly religious as they aged, and he couldn’t understand why, so he wanted to get some ideas about how to ‘cure’ them. I think. I guess I shoulda pointed out to him that he was soaking up the woo in much the same way they did – just a different kind.

    What was wrong with Kristen? I wasn’t introduced to her, so I have no idea where she appeared from.

    Also, this is hardly long at all.

  13. Jadehawk says:

    nothing specific is wrong with Kristin; Rorschach just feels she shares with many (most? all?) American women some weird, undefinable quality that rubs him the wrong way :-p

  14. TrineBM says:

    Rorschach just feels she shares with many (most? all?) American women some weird, undefinable quality that rubs him the wrong way :-p

    Well, that could be taken as a grand, sweeping compliment to all European, Asian, Oceanian women.
    I’m not particular – I’ll take it ;-)

  15. Sili says:

    Ah well. I guess what little I heard of her voice did indeed sound a bit stereotypical, but since I didn’t actually hear anything she said, I’ll withhold judgement.

  16. Rorschach says:

    No no no, it wasnt that she sounded stereotypical, she was a really nice girl, but as i said to Jadehawk, she was like a robot somehow.Don’t know how to say it better….:-)

  17. Sili says:

    So we have Stepford atheists now? Spooky.

    Anyway – very rude of me to pass judgement.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    I’m really sorry I didn’t get to hang out in the evenings. I obviously missed a good deal of Jadehawk awesomeness.

    I can’t deny that. :-]

    No no no, it wasnt that she sounded stereotypical, she was a really nice girl, but as i said to Jadehawk, she was like a robot somehow.Don’t know how to say it better….:-)

    Well, she described herself as a Valley Girl, explaining why she says “OMG” all the time. Also, she had trained herself not to smile at people all the time, because that’s way overinterpreted in Germany (where she now studies) — smiling at everybody at every occasion (like… when greeting random strangers) was what she was used to from the US. Perhaps she overcompensated? The corners of her mouth naturally point downwards… and maybe you were subconsciously scared of her teeth, which reminded me of mine.

  19. Rorschach says:

    and maybe you were subconsciously scared of her teeth, which reminded me of mine.

    Ehm no, her teeth would have caused me no problem whatsoever, let me tell you.
    I need to smoke out of dad’s wife’s bathroom window now, will you excuse me !

  20. David Marjanović says:

    I knew it was a good idea to bring the bread :-]

    Of course I should have mentioned much earlier that I wasn’t the only one to bring bread. windy brought a very special bread from the Åland Islands — very dark, and tasty even though it’s sweet.

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