Religion and Money

Recently, despite the lockdown many churches in my country decided to perform the Easter ceremonies. All around the world one of the institutions that has been most stubborn in accepting the lockdown has been the religious ones. 

The pastor from Virginia

Why is that though? Is religion always destined to fight science? Many people say no. We used to say that nowadays religion is not opposed to knowledge and that knowledge and faith can co-exist, but here we are again, visiting a similar boxring. 

I think it can be summarised to the following. That preacher in Virginia said  ““I am essential,” he said when he decided to keep his church open, “I’m a preacher — I talk to God!”. 

I am essential. This hits the nail on the head for why the churches aren’t closing. They want to feel essential and insist that they are; that they are special and different not just from other businesses but other religions as well. In the process, they make a global problem all about them. 

You are going to wonder: Engineers, musicians, economologists, mathematicians, chemists, programmers, plumbers, bakerers no one can go to work and they can all make arguments about how they are essential to the well-being of society. They just accepted that right now there is something more important than then. Why is the church causing all that ruckus? 

I will make an argument that religion has decided to die on that hill for the following reasons:

  • There is a natural competition: Religion, science and art, all claim to ease human suffering, provide happiness or be places where humans are looking for answers. 
  • Religion acts like money as they are both faith based systems. Science and art is for religion the equivalent of counterfeit money, therefore it cannot easily tolerate them.

I will also make an attempt to identify  against science due to core differences in their core DNA, as well as philosophies in life.

Ignoramus

Modern science is based on the Latin injunction ignoramus – ‘we do not know’. It assumes that we don’t know everything. It’s the willingness to admit ignorance. Even more critically, it accepts that the things that we think we know could be proven wrong as we gain more knowledge. No concept, idea or theory is sacred and beyond challenge.

One difference between religion and science is that science assumes humankind does not know the answers to many of life’s biggest questions. Religion, however, assumes that the important stuff is already known. 

This is of the core distinction between religion and science. Science believes in progress, religion believes that we are already there. Science wants to explore, religion wants to stay home. Science is looking for answers in data, religion in the wisdom of a supreme being. Science believes (pun intended) that opinions should be scrutinised, current theories should be challenged and that people’s authority adds nothing: It’s only data that matters. Everything is accepted only after proof has been presented. Religion has at its core that the gospel shouldn’t be challenged, no proof is required only faith and it’s all based on the unchallenged authority of people who speak on behalf of God. 

Pay attention, religion doesn’t say that we know everything. It claims that we already know everything we need to know. The rest is either out of limits or no concern of ours. It doesn’t matter whether your discovery directly contradicts the existence of God. Your sin is that by looking for more answers, you declare the gospel inadequate. Does it make sense now why religion was so adamantly against, phenomenally, innocent claims like Galileo’s? You want to say that Earth is round and not at the centre of the universe? This is not included in the gospels, are you saying you are better than them?

Okay, fine. There are definitely points of contest. However, people don’t have to look for answers in only one place. Science may not include God, but certainly does not contradict him.  The fact that silver has value doesn’t make gold have any less value.  Why can’t we all just get along? The problem with religion is that it doesn’t act like a rare mineral, but it acts more like money and science, as well as art, is equivalent to counterfeit money: It threatens all money.

Money, money, money

Take a money bill out of your pocket and have a look at it. How much do you think is actually worth? Right answer is nothing. Money has value only because we believe it has value. From one point of view, you may call it a giant conspiracy. 

Religion is remarkably similar to money. It is important, because we believe it is important. They are both self-referencing systems. A church is a church, because we believe it is a church. It’s what makes us see a priest talking to god, instead of an old man talking to an empty room in archaic rhymes. If there is no faith there is no magic. Take a christian to a budhist temple. They may appreciate the intricacies of Asian art, take photos in front of a Bhuda, may even feel a sense of peace due to the tranquility that usually resides within these temples. However, they will not feel any of the devoutness or sanctity they feel in a christian temple. They will have respect, but no venerance. 

If you don’t believe in Buddha this is just a tourist attraction

Basically, all they will see is a nice place to have a lunch break, not a holy site. The faith is not there and thus the magic is gone. 

Time travel

There is a priest and a dentist who are friends going together in latin classes. One day on their way back home they time travel to Rome of emperor Tiberius in 20AD. The dentist was on his way to propose so he has an engagement ring in their pocket and the priest has some money. After the initial sock, they realise that at least they can speak the language thanks to their Latin classes and they try to make a living. 

Trip in time!

Very quickly they realise that thanks to their classes they can speak the language and they try to make a living. Soon, they realise a discrepancy in their ability to adapt to the new environment. The dentist’s engagement ring is made out of gold and a diamond, he is able to sell it for a hefty sum of drachmas. With that he opens up shop. Even though he lacks his tools, he is still able to offer his services. On a more basic level, but still it’s worlds ahead compared to what Athenians had available to them at the time. 

The priest has more of an uphill battle. He has US dollars in his pocket. In 2020 they are the most powerful currency in 480 BC it’s just paper. He tries to preach but with very limited success. People already have their religion and the idea of a single God seems plain ridiculous. He doesn’t really manage and to cope he tries to ask for tax exemptions and for the government to pay his salary but he is met with laughter: Who is this charlatan speaking nonsense about something called christianity? Having a profession doesn’t mean you are forsaking your duties as a citizen – Athenians take these things seriously. 

This is an example of how certain things have value, because they are rare or because they alleviate pain among others. Take religion out of context though and you are not left with much.

One fake money and ALL money loses value.

The thing with money is that there can be only one: You can’t have more in a country. Otherwise, it erodes the faith we have in our currency and, remember, money is all based on faith. Without it, all you are holding in your pocket are pieces of paper with complicated patterns. 

One of the most severely punishable offences is making counterfeit money. It’s one of the few ones that you get punished whether you are rich or poor. States don’t joke around with that. Stealing money, just means money changes hands in an illegal way. The money is still there. Making counterfeit money though, means potentially all money could lose its value. 

Aaaaand… no money has value now.

That’s the key: Money can’t afford to allow the existence of other money. It’s not euclidean geometry which has no issues with non-euclidean geometry, or statistics not having friction with jazz music, painters getting along fine with photographers. All of the above have merit on their own. Money doesn’t. It’s all based on faith and just like religion it cannot afford to make compromises.

Hang on you will say: There is not one type of currency in the world. There are around 150 countries that give or take each have its own money. How do different currencies co-exist? Short answer is that they don’t co-exist. Not really:

  • From the point of view of the average citizen – remember this is a faith based system – each country acts as its own separate bubble, where the currency is not really challenged. Just like a Christian pastor in Dakota, is not really bothered by a Muslim Imam of Cairo. They don’t compete over the same congregation. 
  • On the international level, these different faiths recognise the superiority of one currency supreme: The US dollar. So, it’s not like they are co-existing; it’s more like you worship Hermes, I worship Athena, but we all recognise the authority of Zeus. There is no religious equivalent to that since religions don’t have to trade, but if it did , there would be a similar pecking order. 

Just like  for governments money should come only from official authority, religion claims that knowledge should only come from the gospel. If anyone can print money, then our trust in them starts eroding, money stops being special, the line between currency and pretty paper becomes dangerously thin. So, there can be only one…

In the end is all about beating the competition

Hang on you will say. Can’t all this be resolved if religion simply reduced its portfolio? Nowadays there is still value in messages about compassion, empathy and communication. Humanity’s needs for a moral compass hasn’t really changed. Can’t religion say something like: I am here to give spiritual guidance and leave the material questions for the rest.

Well, it’s not that simple:If you have made claims that you have all the answers and nothing else is important, then anything else is a challenge to your authority and, let’s be honest, to your income. 

Furthemore, how would you present changes in the dogma? You have already written yourself into a corner by claiming holy origin to your gospel. What happened, God sent a follow-up? And in the end what would be your motive? If people are looking elsewhere for answers, it also means they are spending money in other places. Money that could have spent on you?

In the end it comes down to money and power. Beating the competition. When the Taliban invaded Pakistan they banned music, TV, dancing and education. Anything that can potentially ease mankind’s suffering or make them think about other things is a distraction. A potential competition. 

They recognise the competition

There is this old greek movie, where a doctor arrives in a remote village where, up until then, a woman who was something of a local witch has set up shop. There is a natural conflict between them, even though in theory there shouldn’t. However, each recognises its natural competition. 

Hipppocrates scoring 1-0

Since this text started about Coronavirus, we can wrap it up with Coronavirus. This pandemic signified a huge milestone for mankind. For the first time in its history, all humanity globally turned to doctors for its saving. The vast majority of governments declared that churches should close, but hospitals should remain open. After millenia of litanies, exorcism and prayers this is a big step forward for humanity. 

1-0

In the past, the best minds of the day worked on finding ways to give meaning to death. Today, our best minds work on preventing death. It took quite a long time but it seems that humanity finally realised that the ones who can save them are the ones dressed in white, not the ones dressed in black. Just like in the movies. It also means that after many, many centuries, that guy from Kos island scored Hippocrates scored a much, much deserved point.

Lets’ talk interface : Old cars and Crusader Kings 2

Maybe it’s better treating some video-games interfaces like web-browsers, rather than traditional video games’ interfaces. 

CrusaderKings2_hero

I had been meaning to write this for more than a few months now. I have made 2 drafts already and had 3 diagrams in Gliffy. I didn’t like either draft I made, but today I decided that enough was enough: Crusader Kings 2 , it’s you and me baby.

First of all let’s establish some foundation for this post:

  • Crusader Kings 2 is a great game.
  • Crusader Kings 2 is a reminder that hardcore can be popular.
  • Crusader Kings 2 reminds me of an old car.

Yeap you read right: An old car. Before you re-read a third time let me explain myself and the “old car effect”

The old car effect

In my family we have an Alfa Romeo 146. I adore that car, but , just like all Italian car it has issues with its hydraulics: In order to get the first gear on you have to get the stick through… the second gear. It sounds and it looks weird. but if you don’t do that, you can’t really put the first gear on to start your car.

It’s old but you still love it!

I do this procedure automatically now but if anyone else tries to drive that car he will have serious issues. Doesn’t matter what they tell me though: I still love that car.

See, almost all old-car owners have a certain number of tricks that they employ when interacting with their cars. Tricks that are hard enough for anyone else unfamiliar enough to perform. The car-owners however perform them automatically and they even ignore any inconvenience that it may cause them. It has become like a second-nature to them. They even love their old cars despite these pitfalls : That’s the “old car effect”.

Crusader Kings 2 in many ways reminds me of this effect.

Back button : The ignored hero of our browsing experience

You all know the “back button” on browsers right? Here is a back button as a reminder :

Back buttons are important for every node-like structure.  Let’s say that the internet is a node-like structure: Pages are nodes , links connect the nodes.

The back button allow you to add temporary vertices between the nodes, based on your history of traversing the diagram.

Let me put it in a less mathematical way: Try to browse the internet without the back button for 10 minutes. You will realize that even familiar web-sites feel weird and clumsy.

  • How do you get to the song you were previously listening on youtube?
  • How do you navigate to page no 2 of reddit from a specific post?
  • How do you get from 1 specific news article to another without navigating to the home page of a news website?

You will realize that don’t know how to get to every page, from every page. Sometimes there is simply no way to do that, at least not directly and ,even if there is, sometimes the way is not a common one: Sometimes the link to the youtube video you were previously watching is on the top of the recommendations sometimes is on the top.

So what all that have to do with Crusader Kings 2? Bear me with me we will do one more detour…

How is Crusader Kings 2 different than other strategy games?

Strategy games on their core are decision making games. Generally all strategy games try to put all the information needed for a specific decision on 1 screen. For example this is the city management screen from Civilization 5:

civ5_city_screen

All the information needed in 1 screen!

On the other hand  when you play Crusader Kings 2 you see something like this:

This is a character sheet. 

Crusader Kings 2 is a rather uniquegame: Its main element is its characters (Kings, lords, wives, bishops etc) , their traits and their relationships.  In a sense it is more of an RPG than a strategy. And what you see here is a practically a character sheet with all this information provided.

Each icon on the picture that you see is practically a link which leads to another character sheet. It’s a structure that reminds us more of the internet node-like theme rather than your average strategy game.

Crusader Kings 2 node structure

You know what else Crusader Kings 2 has unique compared to other strategy games?   You need to look on more than 1 character sheets to make up your mind. Just like you need to look in more than 1 page when you are browsing the internet. What does this mean in other words?

The information needed to reach a decision is not on just 1 screen.

character_selected_ifo

Crusader Kings 2 looks like this information-wise

So now we have established that:

  1. Crusader Kings 2 is different than other strategies
  2. The information needed to reach a decision is not on only 1 screen.
  3. Crusader Kings 2 has a node structure like the internet.
  4. Back buttons are important for anything that has a structure like the internet.

I am pretty sure by now you will have guessed what the issue with Crusader Kings is right?

Crusader Kings 2 doesn’t have a back button

TADA! FINALLY. After 800 words we have reached the heart of the problem. Crusader Kings doesn’t have a Back button. And it needs it. It badly does. Sure there is the equivalent of the Home button which is your character and there are some shortcuts but they cannot replace the functionality of the back button.

You don’t believe me? Load the game and try to get information on people participating on a conspiracy or a faction.

The weird thing about this is that I have never seen anyone else mention this. Crusader Kings players admit that there is a hard learning-curve with the game but I beg to differ: Once you have gotten you mind around inheritance of the game the rest is easy. It’s the interface the main enemy of the new player. The fact, you have to memorize every route between the nodes to get the information you need.

This is  why I mentioned  the “old car effect” at the beginning of this post: Crusader Kings 2 players remind me of these car owner. They have gotten used to the game’s inconvenience that by now they don’t even notice them. If you ask me it’s a shame: The game will become so much more user friendly with this tiny interface addition. Or maybe these inconveniences are what makes the veterans love the game even more: They make it unique.

I will just leave this picture here as wishful thinking XD

Wishful thinking XD

I played a game: BitCoin Billionaire

So I tried a cookie clicker called BitCoin Millionaire.

bitcoin

Coockie Clickers games are games well known for the addiction they cause for no apparent reason. People have tried to analyse it seriously on gamasutra  , it has attracted the interest of popular websites like buzfeed and it is the source of various jokes.

Coockie Clickers are games with the most basic and elegant core-loops. Clicking on the screen gets you money, which allows you to buy items, which allows you to get more money.  It sounds self-referencing doesn’t it? It is. But then , if you think about it doesn’t Diablo also have a very basic loop like that?

  1. Kill monsters
  2. Get stronger
  3. Kill Stronger Monsters
  4. etc etc…
Core-Loop

Picture from the “Compulsion Loop explained” article by Joseph Kim

The fun comes from a sense of completion, progress and fulfillment we experience by completing these basic tasks. Video games further enhance this feelings with positive feedback, like an increase in score, sound, images anything to convince you that what you are doing is worth your time.

You have other factors weighting in , for example unique items that are hard to get by, which give the player social status in the virtual communities but this subject is so big that I am going to have to tackle with it in another post entirely. For now, I will stick to the basic reward loop.

All these are based on Skinner’s box. Skinner’s box is an experiment carried out by B.F Skinner and demonstrated that a mouse, or any lab rat,  would decide to perform an action e.g to push a button if a reward was included. This is called operant conditioning. Interesting huh? What’s more interesting is that the machine learning method of Reinforced Learning was based on this principle. It’s funny how different fields tend to be connected. Most of the Game Design field is based on the principle of that reward cycle. If you are more interested in this subject, have a look at this 5-miinute video by extra credit:

Game Designers made an attempt to name this video-game variant of the Skinner Box  the “Compulsion Loop”, which is defined as

“Compulsion Loop: A habitual, designed chain of activities that will be repeated to gain a neurochemical reward: a feeling of pleasure and/or a relief from pain.”

Bear in mind, this is nothing formal or official but it’s quite practical and handy as a definition.

Now that we have gotten around our basic background we can now get back to our original subject. BitCoin Millionaire and Coockie Clicker’s success initially makes no sense but if you think about it they are the quintessence of this Compulsory Loop and their success was not random at all. It’s in this games that you can see the Skinner’s Box principle applied in such a clean, and terrifying,  way. I tried the game out of pure curiosity but in the end I got hooked for days. To that it helped the fact that you can play the game while watching a movie or listen to music. The constant tapping can have a surprisingly soothing effect. I was planning to analyze the game mechanics of BitCoin millionaire but once I started reading about this games I was surprised with the connections I found with the world of behavioral psychology  and it affects Game Design in general. To anyone dealing with Game Design I suggest them to give it a shot. Even if you are not hooked you will be able to get a glimpse of the basic principles of Game Design in their most elegant form.

Second Post

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Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was popularised in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.

Contrary to popular belief, Lorem Ipsum is not simply random text. It has roots in a piece of classical Latin literature from 45 BC, making it over 2000 years old. Richard McClintock, a Latin professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, looked up one of the more obscure Latin words, consectetur, from a Lorem Ipsum passage, and going through the cites of the word in classical literature, discovered the undoubtable source. Lorem Ipsum comes from sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” (The Extremes of Good and Evil) by Cicero, written in 45 BC. This book is a treatise on the theory of ethics, very popular during the Renaissance. The first line of Lorem Ipsum, “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet..”, comes from a line in section 1.10.32.

Hello world!

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was popularised in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.

Contrary to popular belief, Lorem Ipsum is not simply random text. It has roots in a piece of classical Latin literature from 45 BC, making it over 2000 years old. Richard McClintock, a Latin professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, looked up one of the more obscure Latin words, consectetur, from a Lorem Ipsum passage, and going through the cites of the word in classical literature, discovered the undoubtable source. Lorem Ipsum comes from sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” (The Extremes of Good and Evil) by Cicero, written in 45 BC. This book is a treatise on the theory of ethics, very popular during the Renaissance. The first line of Lorem Ipsum, “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet..”, comes from a line in section 1.10.32.

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was popularised in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.

Contrary to popular belief, Lorem Ipsum is not simply random text. It has roots in a piece of classical Latin literature from 45 BC, making it over 2000 years old. Richard McClintock, a Latin professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, looked up one of the more obscure Latin words, consectetur, from a Lorem Ipsum passage, and going through the cites of the word in classical literature, discovered the undoubtable source. Lorem Ipsum comes from sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” (The Extremes of Good and Evil) by Cicero, written in 45 BC. This book is a treatise on the theory of ethics, very popular during the Renaissance. The first line of Lorem Ipsum, “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet..”, comes from a line in section 1.10.32.