3. Webster’s video!

“Faith is pretending to know what you don’t know.”
Peter Boghossian

1. Did you know that if you click on the title above, News For Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 21st January‘, the post becomes easier to read?

There is evidence to suggest that most of our readers aren’t aware of that.

The speakers today: Steve, Mirko (twice), John August, Janet (from last week), Helmut, Mr B, and Uncle Pete. Ray didn’t turn up. And, according to Mr B, grasshopper Peter the Younger was in fine form today. Here is a lookalike of him, thanks to the person who took the time and trouble to send it in.

2. Finally! Thanks to  film-maker Peter Marjason, who made a documentary called “Webster’s Domain” in 1972, we can see the famous soapbox speaker John Webster in full flight. Enjoy!

(And thank you to all the grasshoppers who contributed towards having the film digitised!)

3. Steve Maxwell and Mr B will be at the Domain on Friday, Australia Day. From 2pm until 5pm, as usual.  The two men will be taking turns to speak on the Ladder of Knowledge. Mr B warns his regulars that he will be focusing on his main subject, ‘resilience’. His regulars have heard it all before, so they are welcome to stay away.

4. Who has tattoos, and why? Mr B was forthright.

5. The ‘Something Nice’ segment, to charm some and irritate others. From the Postsecret website.

6. Mr B demanded that all Australian employees be given the opportunity to take 4 months paid “Backpacker Leave”. Anyone should be able to take four months to travel and broaden their horizons, whilst receiving a wage, he argued. (Not including annual leave.) His grasshoppers disagreed with him.

He also said all employees should be given four months “Adventure Leave”, so that if they want to kayak an ocean, or climb Everest, or explore the Amazon jungle, they should be able to do so and still get paid. Again, his parsimonious grasshoppers disagreed with him.

Mr B then insisted that anyone who wants to write poetry should be given four months paid “Authorship Leave”. That’s because their work will enrich the soul of the author and it might enrich the souls of others. Again, he was met with disagreement. His grasshoppers kept arguing that it wasn’t fair that an employer should have to pay for such pursuits. The employer wasn’t going to benefit in any way, so why should they have pay? If the employee wants to write a book or climb Everest, they should fund it themselves.

Mr B then mentioned Maternity Leave . . .

His grasshoppers went silent.

Eventually, one grasshopper pointed out that Australia needs babies to maintain economic growth and to look after the elderly.

That’s when sparks began to fly! The group discussed over-population, immigration, the health of Australia’s environment, and the merit (or lack of) of economic growth. Some people argued that Australia can support a huge population, others didn’t.

Mr B is a pain when he’s testy.

Who knows what this is?

7. The Sleeping Beauty “Paradox”.
Beauty agrees to assist in an experiment. On Sunday night she is to be sent to sleep with a sleeping drug, then a fair coin is fairly tossed.
If the coin lands Heads she will be woken Monday morning and asked: “What is the probability that the coin landed Heads?” She will then be told the experiment is over.

If the coin lands Tails she will be woken Monday morning and asked the same question. Then she will again be given the drug, which sends her back to sleep and makes her forget she had been woken. She will awake Tuesday morning and be asked the same question again. She will then be told the experiment is over.

Beauty knows all this.

When Beauty is asked “What is the probability that the coin landed Heads?” what is the best answer she can give?

(She can’t tell if it’s Monday morning or Tuesday morning by any other way.)

Possible answer A: the chance the coin landed heads is 1 in 2. Beauty knows that the chance of any fair toss of a fair coin landing Heads is 1 in 2. Therefore, the answer must be 1 in 2. 
Put another way: if you were to ask Sleeping Beauty the odds of the coin landing Heads before the experiment began, she’d have to say 1 in 2. So why would she change her mind when she wakes up? She has no new information.

Possible answer B: the chance the coin landed heads is 1 in 3. That’s because there are three possibilities:
i) Heads, and it’s Monday morning, or
ii) Tails, and it’s Monday Morning, or
iii) Tails, and it’s Tuesday morning.
That’s two Tails to one Head.
 If the experiment were conducted twenty times, and Beauty were to bet a dollar on Tails each time she is woken, then assuming half the tosses are Tails she’ll be woken twenty times, and win twenty bets. With Heads, she’ll only be woken ten times, so will only lose ten bets. Twenty wins, ten losses. Wouldn’t that mean that upon waking, Beauty should assume that Tails is twice as likely? And that therefore, the probability that the coin landed heads is 1 in 3?

What do you think?

The creator of the problem, Adam Elga, argues that the correct answer is 1 in 3. Some philosophers agree with him; others differ. You can find their discussions in the magazine, ‘Analysis’. Or try Wikipedia.

Mr B believes he has figured out the “paradox” and will provide this scribe with the correct answer in time for next week’s news. Can you beat him to it? Can you leave an explanation in the comments section? Or leave your explanation as a Facebook comment?

8. Other subjects discussed:
– Uncle Pete gave us a great story of how he, as a boy, made chloroform. He nearly knocked himself out sniffing his results. The beaker fell, but it fortunately didn’t break.

– Helmut explained how matter came into being, and he questioned the idea that we are all made of star stuff.

– In the news today there was another example of a man being infested with tapeworms after eating raw fish. Mr B told his grasshoppers that the only way fishmongers and restauranteurs can ensure their sashimi  is parasite-free is to freeze the fish for seven days at below -21° celsius. (Figures vary.) Few restaurant chefs do that. Even the expensive ‘sushi grade’ the fishmongers sell is probably just a marketing exercise with ordinary salmon.
In Australia,  your sashimi is probably okay because farmed Australian fish is usually pretty clear of parasites. But if you’re planning on making your own sashimi, consider being on the safe side and freeze it for a week in your freezer first.

– We briefly discussed the legalisation of cannabis in California.

– The Australian government has allowed a South American fish, the Peacock Bass, to be sold in Australia as a pet. That fish is now ravaging rivers in Queensland. Did the government not learn anything when they stupidly allowed rabbits, cane toads, the prickly pear, foxes, camels, guppies, koi, deer and buffalo to enter Australia? Apparently not. What else are they not banning, but should be?

– Parents should be charged with child abuse if they produce fat kids by feeding them junk food.

– Related to the above, Mr B said that every student leaving school should know how to change a flat tyre, change a tap washer, change a light globe, and know how to cook a variety of healthy meals. As usual, this message didn’t go down well. Today it wasn’t just Uncle Pete who objected; a younger man explained that imminent technology will soon render those skills obsolete. Eg. 3D printers will soon be producing our meals, lights will last a million hours, and electric cars won’t have wheels you can change easily.

9. Our Facebook page awaits you, if that’s your thing.

It’s a numbat.

If you have lived in Australia for a while and didn’t know that, then you can’t argue that Australia’s human population isn’t having a significant impact upon the native wildlife.

If you live in Australia, when did you last see a numbat near your home? Or in the wild? Or a wallaroo? A quoll? A bandicoot? A ringtail possum? An antechinus? Compared to the concentration of native animals living in our bush two hundred years ago, Australia is bereft of wildlife. It’s a wildlife desert. Our native animals are being eaten by foxes, rats, dogs and cats. With an increasing population, it will only get worse.

But then, do you care?

Because many people don’t.