Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Twitter MMORPG: First impressions

The last time I played World of Warcraft was in 2004 during a beta test. I became addicted but somehow managed to resist the temptation to get a subscription. Years previously to that, I had played MUDs like Legends of Cosrin and Achaea, and have dabbled in other more modern MMORPGs in the vein of WoW. I therefore took to Twitter, one of the most popular MMORPGs of the moment, quite easily indeed.

Character creation is quite simple when compared to other MMORPGs. All that is required is a name. Following this, options for how your character looks are really only limited by your imagination. Having to provide your own graphics might be seen as a cheap option by the developers, but it gives the game of Twitter real charm and allows proper personal touch on the players’ part. Much the same goes for class/profession choices.

At first, as with most MMORPGs, the world you're presented with is vast and rather confusing. Going against the trend, Twitter does away with any sort of tutorial. Such a move seems risky as it is up to the player, lost and with little knowledge of how to interact with their new world, to discover for themselves the controls, objectives, and fun of the game. Apparently this puts off many new players, but it didn't faze me. This challenging start is arguably rather fun.

Your quest is simple: "What are you doing?" I have to congratulate the developers on their choice of such an open-ended, seemingly endless quest that should guarantee the return of players for years to come. Side quests can be done, with a little imagination and input on the players' part. This player generated content is arguably some of the best stuff in Twitter.

Levelling up has similarities to classic MMORPGs but also many differences. Experience is measured in 'Followers', the amount of Followers you have indicates your level. The game does not inform you exactly what level you are, but I imagine my current Followers amount of 37 is something over level 3. There is seemingly no level cap; I saw one character called @stephenfry who boasted a Followers amount in the hundreds of thousands. He must be way beyond level 100. This lack of a level-cap is another reason people are bound to keep returning to Twitter.

Gaining experience is still something I am learning, but it seems that going out into the world and ‘Following’ others generates a bit of experience. I am yet to find a way of increasing my level reliably quickly. Perhaps I am just not as good a player as the likes of @stephenfry, and probably never will be.

WoW is controversially subject to abuse in the form of players paying chaps in China to level up their characters for them whilst the account holders are at work etc. So far, Twitter has not fallen foul of the same problem. This is probably due in part to the fact that it can be played anywhere from most devices that have internet access. You can even play by SMS!

I shall keep returning to play Twitter, creating as much of my own content as possible in the hope that this might increase my level. If not, no matter, it is fun enough once you get past the admittedly steep learning curve, and can absorb you for hours.

One concern is regarding its free-to-play status: with no adverts, no subscriptions, and no virtual consumables like clothing and mounts, it’s hard to see how Twitter can continue to exist in its current form. That said, the introduction of any such money making schemes will surely damage the whole feel of this excellent MMORPG.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ectogenesis and abortion

I am supposed to be writing an essay on HIV and confidentiality at the moment, but the argument is starting to give me a headache. In an attempt to stick vaguely in the bioethical mindset I decided to write a bit about what I might do dissertation-wise.

Early on in the course here at Manchester, it became quite clear that the abortion debate was won. If you have any regard for a woman, her bodily integrity, and her capacity to make decisions about her life, you will most probably be in favour of abortion in some circumstances. To be completely anti-abortion is to miss the point of the debate entirely. There are many reasons why a woman could choose to have an abortion, from something serious and life-threatening brought on by a new medical condition during pregnancy, through to a significant change in circumstances involving finances or family perhaps, to a simple change of mind. Those who allow abortion on medical grounds might not allow it on more trivial grounds. Some would always advocate abortion, if the woman so chooses it. Those who will not allow abortion at all condemn some pregnant women to deaths they need not be subject to, deaths that could be avoided by aborting the foetus.

Some may not quite understand what they are condemning when they condemn abortion. The morning after pill is a form of abortion if a conception has occurred; it induces a period even after an ovum has been fertilised. This sort of ‘contraception’ is permitted by some who would condemn more interventionist abortions. However there are still others who condemn even this.

It is common knowledge that the Catholic Church condemns the use of contraceptives like condoms that prevent fertilisation in the first place. It is groups like this that readily condemn ‘contraceptives’ like the morning after pill.

I said earlier that the debate was won regarding abortion. I realise this is a hastily made and seemingly unconsidered statement, but in all accounts above, any condemnation of the woman’s decision to use barrier methods, take the morning after pill, or abort her foetus must come from how one sees the embryo/foetus. Those that condemn these actions do so because they see this entity as of equal value to the woman carrying it. Clearly one’s opinion of the point at which the value of the embryo/foetus becomes equal to that of the mother affects which actions one would condemn. I am of the opinion that valuing any life is a difficult problem as it raises all sorts of difficult questions as to where the value comes from and how that value compares to the value of other life.

To get around this is simple and it depends on a definition of personhood. I am certainly not going to go into it in depth here but John Harris’s The Value of Life does all the work. It is a fascinating read and outlines a theory that has lasted nearly 30 years, despite some people’s best attempts to dismantle it. The essential nugget of usefulness here is the simple notion that a person is a being that is aware of itself, can communicate this awareness, and is aware that it is aware. Most humans are the sorts of creatures that possess this low threshold capacity, and there are probably a handful of higher primates, and perhaps a couple of elephants that are persons. More importantly for Harris is the capacity for a person to value their own life, and this is how we identify persons and hence the most valuable lives. What this simple and horrendously brief definition of personhood should show is that embryos and foetuses are not the sort of entities that are persons, just in the same way as trees and mice are not persons. It is not the difference between humans and plants & animals that is important, but the difference between persons and non-persons.

Personhood theory, by demonstrating what is and what is not a person, does not then give us a blank check to treat non-persons in whatever way we wish. It merely helps in an assessment of what is more valuable. So, in the burning building scenario, where you can rescue a tray of a thousand frozen embryos or a woman in her 30s, the answer should be a no-brainer. The Catholics, by their value system, should rescue all the embryos. A personhood theorist, who realises the woman has the capacity to value her own life whilst the embryos do not, would rescue her in a flash (but perhaps only after asking if she wanted to be rescued!).

So why all this stuff about abortion? Well, I often hear people who share the disposition towards embryos that Catholics have cry, “But embryos have the potential to become persons, does that not count for anything?” It is easy to say that it does not, at least when dealing with tiny clumps of cells.

My feelings, or intuitions, change somewhat when dealing with third trimester foetuses that share all the capacities of a neonate but are trapped inside a person. It seems a cruel bit of luck that the third trimester foetus can be justifiably killed when the new born baby seemingly cannot. The only bit of argument that supports my discomfort at abortion of third trimester foetuses is probably something like the potentiality argument, an argument that is easily dismissed. I probably feel that the entity in question is so close to fulfilling its potential to be a person that there is something wrong with the abortion. That said, I can see that it is not a person by the standards laid out above, and, so long as it resides inside a person, and that person chooses as much, it can be killed.

Such a position is satisfactory but for the obvious implications for neonates. As they share the same capacities as their third trimester counterparts, they are not persons, and although personhood theory is not at all trying to advocate the wanton destruction of non-persons, it seems that to be as indifferent about a neonate’s death as that of the pet goldfish is somewhat out of kilter what our intuitions scream.

I wonder then what happens when we take out normal motherhood from the moral equation. Consider that instead of using a biological internal womb, all women either have the choice or must use an artificial external womb. This is known as ectogenesis, where, conceivably, after conception an embryo is implanted in an artficial womb and gestated there. A short Google search will show that science fiction is not so far from becoming science fact. In the latter case, where only artificial wombs can be used for whatever reason, would the abortion of embryos be justified?

The answer is not that clear. At first blush it seems to me that abortion would be at least wasteful. Given the fact that the woman’s body is unaffected by the gestating foetus, killing it for whatever reason seems problematic. Perhaps there are parallels in the amount of say men currently have in the abortion of their partner’s foetus, though I expect objections to this are more to do with disrespect of her autonomy than concerns about the foetus. It might be worth considering surrogacy arrangements in different countries, as, off-hand, I believe the law here effectively has the prospective parents adopt the baby from the surrogate, although I would have to check. I do know it has caused quite a few problems. Consider what happens when the surrogate decides she wants to abort or perhaps keep the child.

Back to ecto-world: I keep thinking that there is something to the debunked potential theory. Harris would say it is ridiculous to treat anything as what it potentially might become. I don’t treat you as dead just because you will one day become so. In the same way it is ridiculous to think of treating a foetus as a person just because one day it might become one. I do think though that there is an inherent difference in these two situations. There is something about benefit, in that it is beneficial (to the foetus at least) to treat the foetus as a person, whereas it seems unbeneficial to treat a person as if they were dead. It is here that my curiosity lies. Perhaps it isn’t the potential we are concerned with, but it is in fact the possible, or moreover, the probable consequences of the continued development of the foetus.

Consequentialist’s and utilitarian’s alike often talk in terms of foreseeable consequences and it seems to me, at least in ecto-world, that the foreseeable consequences of not aborting an embryo/foetus is a person. In some abstract way, this seems to be beneficial for future people, but I shan’t delve too far down that road here.

This blog entry has become horrendously long, but I got to where I wanted, which was a summary of the reasoning behind a concern for non-persons whose foreseeable consequence of continued existence is personhood. I think there is something in this. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bloggy meanderings

I haven't blogged in well over a year which guarantees one thing: I have certainly not bored anyone. Is absolute lack of content boring? It doesn't matter. Nor does it matter why I haven't written anything in so long.

I guess this post marks the start of another set of posts over the next few weeks. I imagine it will serve mainly as a springboard for ideas I will be using in essays and my dissertation. Expect also general bloggy meanderings regarding other stuff, which will in all likelihood be interesting only to me at some point in the future.

Hopefully a year of exposure to bioethics, law, and a little bit of argumentation will make subsequent posts a little juicier, and perhaps also a little tastier. Time will tell.

Those who find their curiosity piqued can follow me on twitter, leave comments and generally try to get my attention. Otherwise, passively read or simply ignore.

Next post: ectogensis and abortion.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

unsceptical, unscientific unreason

Following on from reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, I decided to learn more by visiting his official website. Some brief browsing has given me the sneaking suspicion that this is a haven of freedom of speech and freedom from religion.

A quick scroll reveals links to important resources online championing reason and logic, such as the complete work of Darwin. It is also the place to visit and discuss these important human virtues with a bourgeoning forum, copious comments and a lively chat room. The first thing to catch my eye here was a film wittily entitled The Four Horsemen; a 2 hour, in-depth, lively discussion between 4 prominent and active atheist/writers namely: Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and, my new pin-up, Richard Dawkins. The film is free to view on the website and so I took full advantage.

It was fascinating, consciousness-raising and poignant.

Witnessing men of their intellectual calibre, wisdom and zeal was a pleasure. Hearing their extended arguments in favour of atheism was thought-provoking. It is a film I would encourage anyone to watch, whatever their opinion of existence, because these atheists deserve to be heard; they are genuinely concerned about unreason and its consequences for civilisation. The thought that has stuck with me since watching the film centres on this concern - a vision of the future where reason and secular civilisation loses out to religious theocracy after some sort of nuclear exchange. A bleak vision indeed, I think you'll agree.

I hope for the sake of humanity and civilisation that this does not turn out to be the case, but I am now more worried about the conflicts that religion is so inexorably woven into than ever before.

Secularists, humanists, atheists and others need to be more critical of religion and more vocal in all forms of media. Ignorance and appeasement doesn't address the fundamental difficulties religion inflicts upon the world with its indoctrination of children, its claims over "holy" land, and the wanton murder of tens of thousands of innocent people. The arrogance with which each religion claims to be right in all things, all other beliefs being wrong, because of "faith" in some form or other (unsceptical, unscientific unreason) is a genuine threat to freedom and reason.

I don't seek to offend when I link to this video and explore my deepest concern that it has raised, but if I do offend, I cannot apologise. Atheism is my "belief", a belief that gets no respect from the religious, who expect a great deal of automatic respect for their religious beliefs. This respect is expected to be of such a quality that important searching questions are treated with offence and reasonable criticism with contempt, yet all the while great questions are asked of atheists and criticism is piled on in the highest order. Thankfully an atheist is glad of these questions, enjoys the debate and greets criticism, not with contempt, but with further enquiry and deeper discussion.

Our world has only benefited from logic, reason, and the unwillingness to accept the unknown as unknowable. Science gave us medicine and the internet, and so in turn it has provided increasing health and longevity, freedom of speech and expression and the first steps to a real global community. If the unknown was left as unknowable, would we have such things? I think not.

Science has further to go, more questions to answer and more questions to ask. There is more to be discovered. Reason and logic will take us there, blind faith will not.

These discussions need to be had, more often and more openly. So I, like Dawkins, beseech religious sceptics to be more openly critical and analytical of the religious where it is possible, and I ask that the religious simply engage and try not to be offended, as surely you must agree that these deep discussions are important ways of exploring your belief and extolling what you actually believe for yourself and others. If it is too deep a test, perhaps you are as sceptical about religion as reasonable and logical people across the globe and are unwilling to risk losing your religious life-crutch. I say try out scepticism, reason and real questions, they are far more powerful and effective than any prayer or ancient piece of fiction will ever prove to be.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

ecstatic to embrace logic

Belief is a controversial topic but it is one that should not be ignored. It deserves discussion at length, whenever possible, and it should be challenged in all its forms. I recently gave my beliefs a good old think about and considered the beliefs of others, at length. This was due, mostly, to the incredibly important book The God Delusion
by Richard Dawkins, which I recently finished reading.

For those of you who have not heard of him, Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary scientist, chair for The Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, and a popular science writer. He is also a staunch atheist and Humanist with strong views against religion. It is these personal positions of his that he explores in the book.

I shan't go into great detail as to what the book contains, all I shall say is read it, and read it soon. It is a fascinating and compelling treatise on belief and its implications for humankind that is written very well remaining very accessible despite its academic bent. Dawkins' arguments are well formed, explored, and evidence based and I couldn't help but nod enthusiastically throughout the book. He spoke to me and raised my consciousness on many levels.

Having finished the book, I can now feel happy in describing myself as an Atheist. Before, I guess I was a closet atheist using a coat of agnosticism to hide it. I felt that belief in belief was a good thing, and despite despising organised religion in all its forms, I was willing to accept that some people can believe in a force we generally call God. I myself was open to the idea, but to be completely honest had not really thought about it enough.

Now that I really have thought about it, God is nonsense, a shrug of the shoulders, the most improbable theory of existence. The theory of evolution, coupled with other scientific theories satisfies so many questions. Yes, there are gaps, and the religious enthusiasts throughout the world will evoke God to account for those gaps, but the gaps slowly but surely get filled with scientific discovery, logic and reasoning.

Dawkins has helped me to realise I don't need religion to be moral, happy or inspired and so, I don't need it at all.

I am ecstatic to embrace logic, rational thought and scientific evidence whilst reacting quite negatively to lies and nonsense. I am thrilled to call myself an Atheist.

The God Delusion is a book I would recommend highly to people from all walks of belief, especially the intelligent sceptics (religious or not). It is worth the read, if for nothing else, the section exploring the indoctrination of children, something that now worries me greatly.

If the idea of atheism interests you, Dawkins' official website is a good place to start. I am going there now to watch a recent debate he was involved in.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

What is David Cameron doing?

What is David Cameron doing?  Or should I say, David "Webcameron"?

The leader of the conservative party recently launched a blog cheesily named Webcameron.  It appears this is what he believes will get through to disaffected members of the public who don't know who to vote for or don't care enough to vote.  The blog is peppered, even in its first days, with short clips of Dave talking, washing up, talking, feeding his kids, and talking.  I have watched the videos and I must congratulate Dave on appearing as normal as he can whilst avoiding the statesman image.
He clearly wants to be everyone's mate.  But is this a good thing?

I personally think its a cynical marketing ploy by the conservative party and I find Dave, despite his obvious warmth and good-humour, simpering and irritating.  Just watching the clip of him at the sink for a second time, and you can sense the loose scripting and staging that went into this scene.  Why is he introducing Webcameron whilst washing up?  To appear as normal as possible, I am sure, and yet this just removes him further from the people he wants to vote for him.  He is trying, so desparately hard, to look like a dad, a pal, and a funny-guy, but in trying, all he achieves is a simulation of these aspects he believes he has.  Of course, he is a dad, and he probably does have some friends, and maybe some times people laugh at his jokes instead of his ridiculous forehead, but first and foremost, in the eyes of the British public, he is the leader of the conservative party.  This blog thing he is trying, quaint and quasi-democratic as it is, can't work, at least not in its current form.  I don't want to watch Dave taking a shit whilst absent mindedly chatting about nuclear power or masturbating furiously whilst harping on about the days under Thatcher.

Politicians aren't normal, and simulating normality whilst preaching your policies is nauseating.  I don't want to be patronised but instead want our politicians challenged in open forums about their policies and views.  Blogs, as we all know, are inherently biased due to the intent behind their existence.  Dave's blog is a vote making machine and little more, so try not to get roped in by this modern twist on a tired and cynical theme.

I won't be happy until I have seen him mime along to the theme to Titanic on Youtube, all done up like Celine Dion, forehead glistening, then he'll get my vote.

Monday, September 18, 2006

easier to make mistakes

Student Doctors.

That is how me and my fellow medics, or should I say, my colleagues and I, are known now.  We have also been described as young professionals!

The day we were told this was probably the start of the rest of my life, a watershed moment if you will, where it suddenly dawned on me what is actually going to be involved in this career known as Medicine.

Before long, the enagaging and capable staff at Hope Hospital were detailing our new responsibilities as Student Doctors.  We are supposed to know stuff now, and will soon be moving about the wards taking histories, performing physical examinations and generally getting in everyone's way in order to advance our career.

I guess, in some ways, I was getting a little anxious about this, being treated like actual Doctors and all, so in some ways it was a relief to see that, at Hope at least, the 3rd year medics' NHS badges state that we are Medical Students.  It will be easier to make mistakes and learn from them with a badge that says Medical Student; I think people expect great things when they see the word Doctor on your person.

As cool as it would have been to have an ID that said Student Doctor, I feel like I have space to learn.  My clinical experience at the moment is essentially nil, so it would be very presumptuous and highly inaccurate to describe myself as any sort of doctor.  That said however, before long I will be doing a lot of what junior doctors do, albeit poorly and with massive inexperience, but taking histories, drawing blood, suturing wounds, and examining patients all the same.  It is going to be a rollercoaster of a life experience, and if the last week is anything to go by, I am going to be a very busy and very tired young chap indeed, but it's gonna taste great!

Expect a little more on this ride of mine as time goes by.  Confidentiality is going to make it hard to give you all the gory details, but I shall use my discretion and artistic license.

Essentially fatigued but utterly happy, I bid you all adieu.