Too many thoughts, too little time

Third Gender

One of my favorite bloggers recently wrote this post about words to talk about gender. I want to talk about one thing that people brought up in the comments; words for people who identify as a gender besides male or female.

First, let me clarify what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about people who identify as multiple genders (although I am talking about some of the genders they might identify as). I’m not talking about people who are Agender, either gender averse (actively doesn’t like being identified as any gender) or gender indifferent (don’t understand gender as a concept and has no real personal opinions about gender). I’m talking about people who have a strong gender identity towards a gender that is not male or female. I will also be using “third gender” to mean “the list of genders that does not include male and female”, and I will be considering many common gender identities, such as gender fluid (of which I am), bigender, or agender, as being many genders or no gender, and therefore will not be on the list.


The most basic option is this; there is one, singular third gender that everyone who identifies as something other than male or female identifies with. These people could come together and form a new gender role with new pronouns and everything, and everyone who had previously identified as a third gender would switch to this. I find this unlikely, for a variety of reasons, but most of all because having three genders would be surprisingly arbitrary in a way that having two genders isn’t; you’d need a good explanation for why three genders would exist, and it would have to be stronger than the (false) argument for why two genders exist, which despite being false, is pretty strong.

\lim_{number\ of\ people \to \infty} (number\ of\ genders) = 1


The next option is that there are a small number of third genders; more than one, but not a huge amount. I think that a decent (but arbitrary) line to draw is that, if this option is true, that at some point, the number of third gender people you ask about their gender and the number of third genders you hear about no longer correlates. For instance; if you ask one person, you’re guaranteed to only get one third gender, but if you ask ten people, you will probably get more than one (assuming there is more than one). This option says that at some point, asking more people will never get you more genders. This can be mathematically stated as follows: as the number of people you interview about their gender goes to infinity, the number of genders you catalogue goes to a finite number. Note that this is not possible in real life; we can’t actually interview infinite people, but it works as a model.

\lim_{number\ of\ people \to \infty}(number\ of\ genders) = finite\ number


The next option is that we have a medium number of third genders; the number of third genders is infinite, but every time you ask a new person about their gender, it becomes more and more likely that they’re a gender you’ve already catalogued. This is also most easily put mathematically; as the number of people you interview about their gender goes to infinity, the number of genders you catalogue also goes to infinity, but the ratio of the number of genders you catalogue to the number of people you ask goes to zero. This would allow for systems like the number of genders being the logarithm or the square root of the number of people you interview.

\lim_{number\ of\ people \to \infty} (number\ of\ genders) = \infty

\lim_{number\ of\ people \to \infty} (\frac{number\ of\ genders}{number\ of\ people}) = 0


The final option is that there are a large number of genders; the number of genders is infinite, and while some people may share the same third gender, every time you ask a new person they’re just as likely to tell you about a new third gender. Once again, this is easiest to state mathematically; as the number of people you interview about their gender goes to infinity, the number of genders you catalogue also goes to infinity, and the ratio of the number of genders you catalogue to the number of people you ask goes to a finite number. This finite number is probably less than 1; though it is technically possible for a large number of people who identify as multiple third genders to push this above 1.

\lim_{number\ of\ people \to \infty} (\frac{number\ of\ genders}{number\ of\ people}) = finite\ number


These are, I think, four good categories for dividing up the possible ways third genders could work; note, however, that some of the results are unintuitive; for instance, option four could have the number of third genders be \frac{number\ of\ people}{10^{100}}, rounded up, which would be a much smaller number of third genders than option two could be, if the number of third genders was 1000. There may end up being different ways and even better ways of dividing up the ways that third genders could work; however, I think this is a good way nonetheless.

Respect For Weird Identities

This has been an interesting week, for sure, and there has been a lot of talk about some of the “weirder” identities that exist on the internet, so I thought I’d write down my opinions on the subject.

This post has been in my head for a while, but what really made me decide to finally write it was this post on tumblr (the blog I reblogged it from is excellent, you should follow xer). Apparently some people identify as ecosexual, which means quite simply that they experience either sexual attraction to the earth, or perhaps are merely turned on by being in nature – the distinction isn’t quite clear, and it may in fact be both.

This shouldn’t be weird. Humans have so many sexual orientations and sexual kinks that this one shouldn’t be a huge outlier. These people aren’t bestiaphiles; their manifesto clearly states that “we are all part of, not separate from, nature”, and the extent of their sexual acts with nature involve skinny dipping, hugging trees, and talking to plants. So why is their such hatred and ridicule of these people?

Outside of the MOGAI (Marginalized Orientations, Genders, And Intersexes) and broader SJ (Social Justice) community, I would expect these people to be ridiculed. They are outside of the norm, and thus they are “weird” and should be punished for their weirdness. But the people who wrote the post on tumblr who ridiculed these people are part of the SJ community. Why has our community decided that we should start to deride people with weird sexual orientations? I mean, it’s the O in MOGAI. It’s the + in LGBT+.

We are still heavily prejudiced. Humans are really bad at accepting everyone, and when we manage to become accepting of the more traditional MOGAI, we haven’t actually become accepting of everyone. We’ve become accepting of a certain subset of people, not all people. This is why you often see massive hate directed at cisgendered heterosexual people, even though you can’t tell what orientation or gender someone is at a glance and therefore have no way of knowing if someone is actually cishet or perhaps in the closet. This is also why you see many feminists hate on trans women, LG activists hate on BT people, LGBT people exclude Asexuals, and the MOGAI community derides Ecosexuals and Otherkin. If they weren’t on your mind when you joined the movement, they seem like dangerous others who are about to invade your group.

These are all the same kind of discrimination; the discrimination of the other. Humans are really good at forming groups of people that we consider our ingroup, and to these people, they can do nothing wrong. And then there’s the outgroup, people who suck and are never right. This is why the wonderful woman at my school who I talked to about politics two months back refused to listen to any arguments in favor of Bernie Sanders because he was a man, and who wouldn’t hear anything against Hillary Clinton because she was a woman. (And yes, she admitted this stance – I’m not making a strawman out of her.)

But we can’t hate people because of their orientation. We can look at people and we can say, your orientation gives you privileges that my orientation doesn’t have, and we can say that certain genders suffer more than other genders, on average. But it’s immoral to condemn the members of a specific orientation because you think the orientation is stupid, or because you think they experience different difficulties than you do.

In regards specifically to otherkin; here are some good points to their defense. But even if none of those things are true – even if otherkin are making it up, even if they are crazy and stupid and trying to score oppression points, the correct action to take, the only moral action to take, is to leave them alone while protecting their rights.

When I was young and stupid, I used to believe that transgender was really, really dumb. That they were looking for attention or making it up or something along those lines.

Luckily, since I was a classical liberal, my reaction to this mistake was – to not bother them, and to get very very angry at people who did bother them. I got upset with people trying to fire Phil Robertson for being homophobic even though homophobia is stupid. You better bet I also got upset with people trying to fire transgender people back when I thought transgender was stupid.

And then I grew older and wiser and learned – hey, transgender isn’t stupid at all, they have very important reasons for what they do and go through and I was atrociously wrong. And I said a mea culpa.

But it could have been worse. I didn’t like transgender people, and so I left them alone while still standing up for their rights. My epistemic structure failed gracefully. For anyone who’s not overconfident, and so who expects massive epistemic failure on a variety of important issues all the time, graceful failure modes are a really important feature for an epistemic structure to have.

Civilization didn’t conquer the world by forbidding you to murder your enemies unless they are actually unrighteous in which case go ahead and kill them all. Liberals didn’t give their lives in the battle against tyranny to end discrimination against all religions except Jansenism because seriously fuck Jansenists.

(from In Favor Of Niceness, Community, and Civilization).

Nonbinary Troubles

This post is a list of my gripes about being nonbinary, and will probably be written in an angry tone. If you have done one of the things I’m complaining about, please do not think that I’m angry at you. And it’s totally fine to skip this post if you think reading it will not be a positive experience for you; that is not something you should feel bad for.

I: My Identity.

Many of the words describing nonbinary genders are very vague, and while I don’t fault anyone for identifying with a specific label, or having specific definitions associated with each label in your mind, you have to recognize that no one agrees on the definitions for all these labels, so I will explain my identity descriptively.

I was born with what appears to be mostly male biological features (1). I was assigned to the male gender upon birth. About 1/4 of days I consciously identify as a male (a cisgendered male, you could say). About 1/6 of days I consciously identify as female (a transgendered female, you could say). The rest of the days of my life, I don’t really notice my gender specifically. Whether we want to call this days of being genderless, or agender, or whether you want to consider this days of being male-by-default, or perhaps I’m just not very observant, is up in the air. I might update this as soon as I can figure out which one it is.

When gender is expressly mentioned – in almost any discussion – I usually become aware of how I’m identifying on that day. I don’t think I’ve ever felt both genders at the same time, or a third gender, or only small amounts of a single gender. The label I use for myself is genderfluid, and that’s what I’ll use for the rest of this post. If you think my identity is best described by a different term, please just mentally replace genderfluid with that term, and please also comment with that opinion. I am interested to hear from people about this.

II: Rants.

The most annoying part of this genderfluidity is the self doubt. On days when I identify as male, I wonder whether I’m merely stupid and pretending to be genderfluid. On days when I identify as female, I wonder if I am actually a trans woman, and I would be happier if I just spent my entire life as female. This is by far the most annoying thought that I never can get out of my head. This is also why telling people who have identities such as this that they’re making this stuff up is particularly damaging. We’re already thinking that we’re making this shit up – we don’t need your help. We’ve already considered that we’re crazy, and determined that we’re not just making it up for attention.

Another thing that I just can’t shake is the fact that I will never be able to really present as a woman in public. If I want to drive, or if I want to go to a bar, or a miscellany of other things, I will have to account for the fact that my ID says that my sex is male. I can’t order a drink at a bar while presenting as a woman. If I’m pulled over by a cop, I will be immediately outed by my drivers license. People who are transgender but identify as male or female have this problem to an extent, but they have an eventual solution. Most states allow people to change their official sex; no state allows people to mark down nonbinary genders on documents.

This is part of a larger rant, and that is that there is no end game for me. I can’t transition, because then I’d still spend a lot of my time in the wrong physical body. I mean, I’m hoping every day for a superintelligent AI explosion, because it’s the only way medical technology will possibly advance fast enough for me to wake up every day and choose my gender based on how I feel.

As another thing, I’ve seen a lot of posts on tumblr that talk about positivity for certain genders. Often, people will comment that to be inclusive, they should express that positivity for all people, rather than for a specific gender. The argument against this is that every gender can have their own posts! Which is great in theory, but when 49% of the population is one gender and 50% of the population is another and 1% is something else, it means I will never see a positivity post specified towards me. I have seen male positivity posts and female positivity posts  thousand of times. I have – once – seen a nonbinary positivity post. The solution to this is to stop segregating your positivity by gender. I understand the intention behind this, and I don’t think that you intend to hurt us, but you’re throwing us under the bus (2).

Lastly, I really want people in the MOGAI (Marginalized Orientations, Genders, And Intersex) community to stop excluding people who seem straight, cisgendered, and endosex. Yes, it’s not their community, but when you yell at someone who seems like they’re this identity, you could be yelling at someone who is still in the closet. We really should not make people come out of the closet to participate in our communities, and if we have to let in straight, cis, and endosex people to do this, then we have to let straight, cis, and endosex people in.

III: Thanks.

If you’ve read this, thank you. It means a lot to me.

Here are some footnotes I didn’t want to include in the body of the text:

1) Some people dislike the term “male biological features,” but I think arguments against it are usually based on gross misunderstandings.

2) I wonder if mixed race people feel thrown under the bus when similar arguments happen on posts about race. I know that I often feel this way with posts about judaism.

Four Amazing Science Fiction Short Stories

This post is a list of four of my favorite stories that fulfill the following the requirements:

  1. They are in the genre of speculative fiction, and they’re closer to science fiction than to fantasy.
  2. They are short stories, meaning there’s no huge time commitment to reading them; you should be able to do so in one sitting.
  3. They’re available for free on the internet.

I – The Witching Hour

I meant to post a link to this last november, for reasons that will become apparent once you read this story. It’s basically about a post-post-apocalyptic world, where humanity is finally starting to rise from the ashes, with a whole new mythology and religion built on the weird remains of our world, and how they interact with some of our technology.

This is written by one of my favorite bloggers, so the rest of the stuff on his blog is pretty interesting too; some of it fiction, most of it nonfiction.

II – Message 625

This is a story told in the form of a comic; the page may take a while to load, because it’s basically one giant image. While this could have been released as a webcomic, with a section coming out every week or something, the author posted it all at once. It’s the story of someone who is writing part of the user interface for a stasis pod, but it’s a whole lot more than that. Unfortunately, I won’t spoil the rest of it for you.

Once again, this author has posted a lot of stuff on their website; when you click through, you’ll see that this is #221, which means they’ve written 220 other webcomic/short stories about various things.

III – Valuable Humans In Transit

This is the story of an asteroid hitting the earth. No more spoilers. This is one of the shortest, but it made this list because it’s awesome.

I only chose one story by this author, but this page could have ten of his stories. He’s also written two full length science fiction novels, one (Fine Structure) which has some of the best actual science* I’ve ever seen in a science fiction story, and the other which I think is one (Ra) of the coolest science fiction stories centered around computer science I’ve ever seen.

*By science, I mean “application of the scientific method as a way of uncovering mysteries instead of zoom and enhance look there’s the answer”, not “has the same physical laws as our universe.”

IV – SCP 294

This story needs the greatest explanation. This is a piece of fiction. The entire website, with the exception of a few pages, is a work of fiction. The entire website is a fictional database of objects, people, and creatures that are supernatural in some way. Imagine if the Watchers from Buffy had a website, or if the hunters from Supernatural had a wikipedia. This “story” is the file on one of the objects in this fictional universe, and by following links in this work, you can explore a really weird and cool universe of supernatural objects.

Be warned; some of the stuff on this website is very disturbing, although this entry isn’t.



Emily Howell can’t see. She can’t speak English, or at all. She can’t understand anything you say. She can’t run, walk, or even move. She can’t taste food or feel warmth. She has no arms, nor legs: no digestive system, no lungs, no heart. Her brain is made of metal and electricity rather than of neurons and synapses. And yet, she can compose classical music.

For decades we have imagined artificial intelligence and robots as pseudo-humans. As people, made of metal and electricity, maybe, but people nevertheless. Maybe they are less creative than humans, maybe they can’t feel love, maybe they want to kill us, maybe they are much smarter than we are. This type of artificial intelligence may come. But they will not be the artificial intelligence that will arrive first. Emily Howell will only ever experience a negligible fraction of the human experience. But she and her kin will change society forever.

It’s already happening. Go to the nearest grocery store and look at the checkout aisles; you’ll see a dozen stations that are operated by a simple AI and overseen by a single human. Google has already built a self driving car, and every major car manufacturer expects to have a self driving car on the market by 2025; 4% of the workforce drives automobiles for a living, and who knows how many more have moving things around as part of their job. Lawyers, once a highly demanded and prestigious profession, are less in demand than ever, in part because of a growing number of people going into that possession, but also because most of a lawyer’s job is reading documents looking for a single piece of information or discrepancy; something that a computer can now do in a hundredth of the time with twice the accuracy. And robotics is finally conquering the difficulties it has struggled with for half a century; robots that can see, follow instructions, understand English, and manipulate physical objects have already been built.

Every job is at risk for becoming worthless with the advent of this new technology. Whether you’re a highly educated intellectual, an office worker, a blue-collar worker, or a creative savant, your job can be done at ten times the speed for one-tenth the cost in quite possibly less than ten years. And this will massively impact the way our society works.

In classical economics, we are told that the price of an object is determined by supply and demand. However, except for in specialized markets, such as stock markets, or for objects with a very small supply, we rarely see supply and demand directly. Often, prices are more accurately determined by the amount of work people have to put into an object; how much the stable worker is paid to milk the cows or gather the egg, how much the overseer is paid to watch over this worker, how much the farmer is paid for what is grown on the farm, how much the truck driver is paid to move the produce ­– which includes a chain of production involving the driver’s higher ups, the manufacture of the truck, and gas prices – how much the person baking your bread is paid, how much the person scanning the bread and putting it on the shelf and the cashier, and all of their higher ups are paid – and all of that is factored into how much the bread costs. Sure, if there’s a high supply the cost may go down, and if there’s a high demand the price may go up, but on average what is sold must cover the costs of all of that labor.

Now what happens if AI and robots do all of that labor for free? Suddenly those who own the robots have no need to hire any of these people; they will get what they want regardless of the economic status of the common people. And prices will become nonexistent; if money were given in exchange for said product, to whom would the money go? There’s absolutely no reason to need to pay anything in exchange for these AI created products.

There will be the ultra-rich; those able to buy the robots and AI before the production line ceases to exist. Below them will be the technicians, if they manage to not build something that can do their job of looking after the AI and robots. There will be the vestiges of the service jobs; maybe robots can do anything they can do, but the rich will probably still cling to human maids and butlers for a variety of reasons. On the bottom rung of civilization will be the 99%.

Perhaps you are confident that the richest 1% will be generous and share the benefits of this amazing technology. Well, even if you deny the numerous studies showing how little empathy people who become rich have for the poor, and you claim that humanity has changed since this exact scenario happened in the medieval era, you can’t deny that this is the exact same problem we have with world hunger today. The world produces enough food to feed everyone in the world, one third of this food is never eaten, and yet one eighth of humanity is underfed. Why? Because the first world countries can’t give enough of a fuck to give the wasted food to those who need it. There are even laws against supermarkets and restaurants giving unsold food to the homeless in some first world countries.

I do not truly believe we would reach this point; unemployment would be driven higher and higher, and finally the entire system would crash, leaving us with the worst depression in all of history. The AI would do what jobs they could, but the revolution would have essentially stopped before it could get started; people would starve, lose their property, and riots would fill the streets. Then we would reach a revolution – and I’m not even sure it’s a revolution we can win. Revolutions in the past have always succeeded when the people in charge can no longer afford the losses, the losses of their soldiers lives, the losses of productive citizens, or when the soldiers step down to avoid killing their brethren. But with mechanized production lines and AI soldiers, I’m unsure these conditions would ever be met.

So how do we avoid this point? We must not allow those who could replace us with robotic AI to do so with abandon. The solution that liberals currently endorse is shortsighted and idiotic. When people are threatened to be replaced, there is often talk of having the government force the company to keep these people on. But if the company could replace these people for cheaper, but instead use them because the government tells them to, what is this besides a welfare check that requires people to do eight hours of work before they receive it? Why not allow the companies to replace them and tax the difference?

This is beneficial because it allows the people who would have been laid off to receive a large portion of their pay, but gives them the freedom to seek out education and better themselves; it is a welfare check that allows people to actually be productive in their lives, rather than providing them with the economic equivalent of digging ditches to merely fill them again.

The reason we do not do so is because our society is built around the concept of work. If you don’t work, you’re a bad person. If you don’t work, you don’t deserve food or a house. And this was a useful rhetoric when humanity was truly scrabbling at he dirt, trying to survive. Now, however, we have more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet, and more than enough houses to house everyone twice over. We must let go of our focus on work. We must allow people to live without forcing them to work; because we are entering an era where there will literally be one job for every ten thousand humans, and we must allow the other nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine humans to survive.

Some people disagree with a basic income guarantee – an annual salary that is given to anyone simply for existing – on the grounds that we don’t have the money to do so. But we pay everyone for their job – if we no longer have to pay anyone to produce objects, then we have a lot of money that no longer needs to be given to people to do their job. And we can instead split this money up amongst everyone.

Current numbers suggest that under this system the US could pay everyone around $35,000 every year based on the money we used to pay people for jobs. Add in the $6,000 we could already give everyone because of the US welfare budget, and that’s $41,000 per person.

That’s twice the US median income. And in case this seems far less than what you make, and you don’t want to give that up, remember that you take this pay cut in order to never have to work a day of your life again. That book you’ve been meaning to read, the trail you’ve always wanted to hike, the art form you’ve always wanted to learn, the math problems you’ve always wanted to solve, or the sport you’d love to play are now all legitimate options. You’re no longer held back by society to do something that’s productive.

If you’re worried that you’ll not have enough money to do any of this, keep in mind two things; people with more time on their hands actually spend less money ­­– cooking is cheaper than going out to a bad restaurant, but we go to bad restaurants because cooking takes longer. Plus, now you’ll finally have time to learn how to cook properly. And remember how much of what you buy is actually based on the cost of the labor it took to make it? Now all of the stuff you want to buy is much cheaper than it is today.

Eventually, the prices will be small enough, the supply large enough, and the populace will be happy enough that there will be no need for explicit money. This is paradise; a lifetime to do whatever you want; swimming in Hawaii, skiing in the Himalayas, making obscure mechanical machines, reading a book in your seventh language, and al of our physical needs are taken care of.

Our culture will be forced to change. We currently live in a culture where work is a norm, and expectation. Much of the super rich still work, whether they run a charity or sit on a dozen boards of directors. Much of our political rhetoric is based on the idea of those who work harder being worthy of a better life. There’s prestige that comes with having a high paying job – what will the world be like without such a social ladder? It may be different in ways we can’t expect.

But this change is coming. It may not be coming fast, but it is coming; and the closer we get to it, the better we can predict what it’s like. We can’t stop it, but we do get some choices in how it manifests. Will we be living in a world with a 1% that lives like gods, and a 99% that has to reinvent the wheel in a polluted and wasted earth? Will there be a violent revolution that just barely succeeds? Or will we transition into this new society with grace and poise? It’s impossible to know for sure.

But someday, we may indeed find ourselves in place that some have hastily called utopia.


If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy:

Humans Need Not Apply:

Also, many of the blog posts on touch on similar issues to the ones above, but they’re scattered throughout his writing and there’s no singluar post that I think should be linked.

Linguistic Prescription and Description

This post basically has no coherent structure; but it’s about the usage of language and so I figured I’d put them all in one post.


In linguistics, there’s this dichotomy between description and prescription; and they basically are different ways of talking about language. Most people have only ever been introduced to linguistic prescription, which is a shame because descriptivism is how most of language and linguistics works in practice.

Prescriptivism is when people make up rules for language, and strict definitions for words, and say that these words can only be used in this specific way. Descriptivism is when people pay attention to the ebb and flow of connotation and vocabulary, and attempt to define words based on what people really mean, not on what they think people should mean.

I am a descriptivist; and there are many reasons why you should be to.

Let’s take a prominent example; do you remember the time that they changed the meaning of literally? Even Aaron Sorkin ranted about it.

Every single person who complains about this being added to the dictionary – all of these news articles, all of the people who you meet in the street, even great writers – don’t understand what a dictionary is. Dictionaries are not arbiters of definition and meaning. All dictionaries do is record how people use words. That is, dictionaries are descriptivist, not prescriptivist. This is the 18th and 19th way words can be wrong, by the way.

English is a constantly evolving, and dictionaries do not reflect fact, nor are statements of ways words should be used. They are books that are compiled to keep records of how words are used. That’s why dictionaries include “ain’t.” (And if they don’t, they’re a bad dictionary.) That’s why Urban Dictionary is quite possibly one of the greatest linguistic resources of all time.

The reason people believe this sort of thing is due to the way we teach kids about words. Teachers have rules about how words can be used, and it’s wrong to use words in different ways. So we have this idea in our head that is very prescriptivist; that words have a prescribed meaning, and no one can change them.

This is not how words work.


Let’s start with something I find aggravating. Foreign languages often lend words and names into English. If you’re someone who pounces onto someone else for mispronouncing a foreign word the way it’s usually spoken in english, you’re an idiot. The most prevalent times I see this is in names; let’s take, for example, the name of Van Gogh.

If you’re American, you’ll probably say “Goh.”

If you’re English, you’ll probably say “Goff.”

Neither of these are wrong. They’re both accepted and understandable, and standard in their english dialect.

But neither of these are also the original dutch pronunciation. And this is why people who correct others about pronunciation of foreign words get on my nerves; often, their correction isn’t even correct.

The original dutch pronunciation has the same vowel sound as “Goff”, but the consonants at the beginning and the end are both consonants that aren’t found in english; the “g” is a voiced velar fricative, and the “gh” is a voiceless velar fricative (okay, this one is actually found in scottish dialects of english; think loch).

And you know what? Even if you’re 100% correct about how that word is pronounced in the foreign language, that doesn’t matter. People pronounce things differently. There’s no foreign language in which there’s no varying accents based on place; and there’s always the fact that foreign languages also steal words from other languages; there’s the english “Vindaloo”, which refers to a dish in Indian cooking, but which is ultimately a derivative of the portuguese words “vinha d’alhos”, meaning “wine and garlic”.


Graphics Interchange Format. You may pronounce it however you want. Every single argument in either direction is stupid.

“But, graphics starts with a hard ‘g’ –” Yes, that’s true, but the ‘s’ in Laser (technically LASER) stands for stimulated, so unless you pronounce “laser” with a soft s, or pronounce stimulated like ztimulated, this is a stupid argument.

“But the person who invented it pronounces it with a soft ‘g” – ” Yes, that’s true, but creators of new words don’t get to dictate how they’re pronounced, the people who say them do.

I’ve also heard from my girlfriend that she’s suffered through an argument where two people have debated the correct terminology for what is known as a soft drink.

It should be obvious by now that there is no correct answer. But nevertheless, this should be addressed. The two main arguments were apparently arguments from etymology; one person claimed that it should be soda, because of sodium bicarbonate, and the other claimed that it should be pop because of the sound it makes.

This is incredibly stupid. Etymology is not the arbiter of words. Words change meanings, and many things have multiple words! Should you use Cows or Beef or Cattle or Bovines or Bos Taurus to refer to the animal and meat? Guess what! They’re all valid, and often have different connotations, but nobody in their right mind thinks that Cows is a better term than Cattle because Cows comes from the Proto Indo European “Gows” and Cattle comes from the Proto Indo European “Kaput.”

If you can understand what the other person is saying, they’re speaking an acceptable form of english – no ifs, ands, ors, buts, or butts.

Seriously, don’t be a butt; be a descriptivist.


Okay, seriously, why do I dislike prescriptivism so much?

It’s not always wrong. Sometimes it is useful! But the problem is that anyone who has ever gone to a school has been taught in a completely prescriptivist fashion, and it’s not the only way to look at language. And in fact, as this post has pointed out, there are many ways that this prescriptivist viewpoint leads people – including professional writers – astray when talking about language.

Linguistic prescriptivism is very useful – anchors on british news channels are taught a very prescribed dialect of english that allows them to be understood not only everywhere in the UK, but also all around the world. It was used to resurrect Hebrew from the dead, and scholars have used it in an attempt to keep documents readable by many people throughout the world, but also into the future.

However, linguistic prescriptivism is also associated with linguistic racism and culturalism, and attempts at censorship. It’s used to discriminate against people who talk differently, or to keep people from speaking on a topic because the words they know how to use are banned, or mean different things.

We need a balance; sometimes we need prescribed words. But sometimes we must let go of our words, and let them mean what they already mean, and to find new words if we have to.

The Problem With Interstellar

Spoilers for the movie Interstellar, by the way. If you don’t want that movie spoiled, don’t read on.

This is not a post about the science of Interstellar.

This is a post about the writing and narrative of Interstellar.

This is, as far as is important to this discussion, the plot of Interstellar.

Cooper is a retired NASA pilot. His daughter, Murphy, has weird, physically impossible gravitational disturbances in her bedroom. They decode the gravitational disturbances and use the coördinates within to find NASA’s new secret base. Cooper joins the secret NASA program to try and colonize a new planet because Earth is for some reason collapsing. That’s not important though; what is important is that the planets they’re going to colonize are through a wormhole that opened a path to a black hole system with a bunch of planets around it. This wormhole is theorized, by the characters in the film (like literally there are lines that say this), to be created by some sort of being that can control gravity, and maybe even travel through time. Before they go through, one of the gravity beings appears, but it just looks like a blob of distorted light. They go through, do some shenanigans on some of the planets there, fail a couple times, and then, on the way to the last planet, Cooper decides that the best way to help humanity is by sending a probe into the black hole to collect more data on how gravity works. And he decides that he should be part of this probe.

Everything that has happened up to this point in the movie, good science, bad science, whatever, is narratively satisfying. But then this happens.

He falls into this black hole. And then he wakes up, saved by the gravity/time beings, and finds out that he was the one who sent the gravity disturbances with the coded coördinates to his daughter’s room, and he is the gravity being that the people on the ship saw. He also sends her the gravity data from inside the black hole, so that she can rescue humanity off of the dying earth and bring them through the wormhole. Then, he’s suddenly outside of the black hole again, on the other side of the wormhole. He meets up with his daughter, who is on another spaceship from earth to go through the wormhole, and who has aged much faster than him due to him being close to a black hole (real science).

The problem with this is that we never see the gravity/time beings. We never hear about them again. They do absolutely nothing except appear at random times to facilitate plot events that would have gone horribly wrong without them; besides that, they don’t do anything.

That’s basically the classic Deus Ex Machina. And it’s very narratively unsatisfying, because it turns the narrative from one of human struggle and love and perseverance in the face of death to one of “these magical beings will give you a happy ending if you are lucky enough to be the protagonist.”

Let me rewrite the story now, to explain how you could keep the plot mostly the same, but give humans all the agency instead of making them damsels in distress (and also coïncidentally fixing the second weirdest physics problem in the movie).

1) Murphy no longer gets gravity messages in her room. Now, Cooper is contacted by Secret NASA and offered a job. Murph can still sneak into his car and visit the facility.

2) The wormhole can still be there for unknown reasons; that’s unimportant. We can even have the speculation about who sent it; but the wormhole is the only unexplained gravity/time thing.

3) Cut the gravity being/cooper part. That was unnecessary; literally just cut that scene.

4) Have Cooper not decide to leave the ship randomly; instead, have the ship break apart (which would be totally legitimate, given things that happen that I’ve skipped over.) While he’s falling toward the black hole, have him try and use any remaining propulsion to avoid hitting the black hole; he tries, but his orbit isn’t stable and he’s quickly falling in, meaning that time will travel slower for him. Fade to black, with him having the same emotional moment over memories of murph, instead of over a gravity window, through a bookshelf, to her.

5) Now we have the same flashback to earth, except that Murph figures out the gravity equations on her own because she’s brilliant and she wants to see her father again, even though he’s abandoned her on earth. Also, fix the scene with Dr. John Brand and his giving up – I had no idea what was going on, and even though everyone else I saw it with knew exactly what was going on, they all knew that something entirely different was going on.

6) She uses her gravity knowledge to build another spaceship that can take humanity through the wormhole. When she does so, she can see that Cooper’s part of the spaceship is falling towards the black hole, and using her new gravity physics, she pulls him out. But by this time, she’s very old, and by the time they finish rescuing him, she’s on her deathbed. Cue the same scene that happens at the end of the movie, and he can still steal a spaceship and go on ahead of humanity to help Amelia found the new colony.

This is literally the same plot; except there’s no deus ex machina. Even if there is deus ex machina, it’s still humans saving other humans, not mysterious beings of gravity and time saving humans.

Sure, there’s still the question of where the wormhole came from. Maybe someone smarter than me will be able to figure out how to fix that loophole; if you know how, you should leave the first comment.

PS. Also, some of the dialogue was just poorly written, but I’m not going to rewrite specific lines.