Friday, 29 April 2011

Holiday In The Algarve (2): That's A Lot of Entertainment for Fifty Euros

Okay. I locked my keys in the boot of my rental car. On the westbound side of the A22 at the Lagos service station. That was me. I was That Guy.

I am getting a smartphone next time round. This is because someone had one and looked up Budget's number with it. Thank you very much sir. I got a number for their operations people and after a call in simple English to them, I had call from someone at the local Budget office in Lagos. Fifteen minutes after that, a rental rep was with me and after looking at the car - which was securely locked and window-closed - decided it needed a replacement key. The spare keys for Budget's cars are held in their Lisbon office. Mine would be down the next morning. In the meantime they let me take another car and I kinda got on with my day. Did I mention that all the personal clutter I needed was in the boot? No. Okay. It was.

The next morning, I met them at the service station, bright and early about 09:45. The Budget rep had the key, slid it into the lock, turned, and .... nothing. After a few more tries and phone calls they found out that, actually, there was a problem with the tumbler: it was busted. Mmmm. Time to call the professionals. Twenty minutes later, the Man With the Motorway Service Van arrives. There's some discussion, much arranging of coat hangers, and then he produced two small inflatable air bags, an old glove and a screwrdriver.

Put the glove over the gap between the door and the roof at the corner, and slide the screwdriver down gently no more than a couple of millimeters. In the tiny gap thus created, insert the edge of the first air bag as far as it will go. Pump up the airbag. In the larger gap thus created, slide in the next airbag and pump that up. In the even larger gap thus created, shuffle more of the first air bag in and pump it up again. You will now have a surprisingly large gap between the door and the bodywork through which you can put those coat hangers and attempt to poke or pull something. Oh, and no dents or scratched paintwork.

You don't want to be trying to prod at buttons with a coat hanger. It's one of those fiddly, muscle-control things that makes an on-looker feel twitchy. Eventually the two of them managed to pull the door handle up and presto! We're in! Key in ignition...vrooom. Boot open and we're all on our way. It cost me fifty euros for cash - but then there was an ATM in the service station - and for my money that was a lot of entertainment for fifty euros.

What struck me was that the Budget rep knew the supervisor of the motorway service station, so there was no problem about leaving the car there overnight. He had been to school with the man who owned the company that came along to break in to the car. What's that like? To work somewhere you've been to schoool with the guy who does this and the gal who does that? I don't think I have ever met another graduate of Exeter University since I left, let alone anyone from my many schools and colleges.

Now for the endoresement. If you're going to Portugal, rent Budget. They were utterly helpful, didn't once look at me like I was some kind of idiot, and didn't mention extra charges for their service. And quick. They were quick.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Holiday In The Algarve (1)

The holiday was eight days in the Algarve, on the south-west tip of Portugal. BA scheduled flight from Gatwick to Faro, rental car (Budget) from Faro to Silves. Clothes, books, Bose headphones, laptop, camera and other junk packed into one piece of hand luggage and a small courier bag. I stayed outside Silves in a village called Santo Estevao - turn left briskly across the N124 up a single-lane track just before a fairly blind corner - in a farmhouse run by Les and Mary Cave, who were excellent hosts. The room looked like this...

and the views from my window and breakfast table looked like this...

I had a minor adventure (positive spin time) which is the subject of another post, and then spent most of the time on various beaches. I went to Praia de Luz, because it was a name I knew and on the south coast, but I stayed there long enough to a) walk around, b) buy some water, bread and cheese from a supermarket, c) get an espresso in a beach-front cafe, d) leave. It's where the crowds go.

It was week two of an official heatwave, which I brought back with me to the UK (did you believe the Easter weekend?), and the sun down there is hot enough to tan you pretty thoroughly without too many hours in it. Various other posts about beaches, food and other stuff will follow.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Christopher Christian - R.I.P.

My friend Chris Christian died on Easter Saturday. He had been suffering from the complications of a cancer that was first diagnosed and treated in late 2003, and for which he had been taking various drugs and chemotherapy since.

I met Chris through a university friend, when he was living in the same flat in St Margarets, in south-west London, as my friend's older brother. Chris was tall, slim, with a beard and a slightly wicked smile. He was into trains, buses and many other things nerdy, and oddly into jazz-funk-and-soul. He made a number of trips to India to travel on its railways, and when younger and single was not averse to a weekend of track-bashing. I had no idea there were people who hung around military airports monitoring the flights in and out and publishing the results until one dinner party in the mid-80's.

He had a long career as a chartered company secretary in the bluest of blue-chip companies, and as the lawyers moved into the company secretary's role, Chris studied for and passed a law degree at evening college. Like everyone else, he suffered a short period of redundancy in the nineties before joining EMI, where he stayed until the end.

Chris is survived by his wife Sandra and son Peter. Everyone who knew him will miss him.

Friday, 22 April 2011

The Art of Philosophical Name-Dropping

One of the books I was reading on holiday was A N Whitehead’s Process and Reality. It’s part of my catching-up-with-metaphysics reading program. There was a really neat quote I liked and wanted to use. It then struck me that quoting A N Whitehead (unless it’s the “western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato” quote which everyone knows) is one of those ways you scare people with the implied level of your erudition.

The first rule is: leave the Big Names alone. Say you're reading Aristotle, Plato, St Thomas Aquinas, Locke, Hume, Kant, Descartes, Russell and that ilk, and you will just look like someone who hasn't got past the starting line. If anything, admit to never having got past the first fifty pages of e.g. The Critique of Pure Reason or the Prior Analytics. This makes it look like you don't need to try that hard.

The second rule is: you need to be careful with the attempt-to-impress-with-erudition. Dropping Whitehead’s name can mean you’re slightly cranky or working in a backwater. Hegel is a real danger zone. More people speak reasonably fluent Hegel than you might think. Very, very few people now speak Schelling or Fitche. Lots of people speak Sartre, quite a few speak Heidegger, and to judge by the availability of The Phenomenology of Perception in cheap paperback, quite a few speak Merleu-Ponty as well. Jaspers and Husserl are and will remain safely and impressively obscure.

Here are some simple but effective substitutions: instead of John Stuart Mill, mention William Whewell; Norwood Russell Hanson instead of Karl Popper; Henri Bergson instead of William James; Spinoza for Descartes; W V O Quine for A J Ayer and Michael Polyani for Paul Feyerabend.

Mention F H Bradley and someone may attempt to blow the dust off you. Mention Lucretius to anyone under sixty and they won’t know who you’re talking about, anyone over sixty may well have translated passages in Greek classes at school. Leave Nietzsche and Schopenhauer alone: they attract a fanatical following. Don’t go near Marx – he wrote a lot and you will be expected to know every line. Engels is okay – especially as you can plausibly restrict your reading plausibly to the classic Condition of the Working Class in England. People who name-drop J L Austin are Americans trying to look clever. Quite a few people speak fairly fluent Wittgenstein and he’s not much fun to read. If you really have read Charles Saunders Pierce, you will never need to prove yourself as a philosopher in any other way.

My personal bombs to drop? Michael Polyani and Gaston Bachelard. You can safely say that “everything interesting and true about post-modernism is in Polyani” and Bachelard is charming and interesting to read. The Poetics of Space is a classic – everybody’s heard of it, very few have read it.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Holidays - The Departure

I don't really do holidays. My idea of the perfect holiday is to arrive at the hotel, be put to sleep by the gas that knocks Patrick McGoohan out at the start of The Prisoner, sleep for thirty-six hours straight and spend the next week lying in the sun getting less groggy. I don't think Kirker do that.

What I really can't do is the flights. Now, there's a huge difference between travelling on business and travelling on your own dime. On business, if anything goes wrong, you just make other arrangements and expense it. I have done that a few times. Also, you tend to travel on flexible tickets, so it doesn't matter if you miss the flight. On your own dime, that flexibility runs to, what, maybe half your monthly disposable income? Plus, holiday destinations usually don't have five or six flights a day like Paris or Berlin.

Which means that the most stressful part is getting to the airport. If anything goes wrong, you're stuck at the airport with nowhere to go for a long while and that's assuming there's a spare seat on the next plane. Plus you're out the fare. Travel insurance might cover that, but it can't get you a seat on a full plane or fly a plane on Wednesday when the next flight is Saturday.

You can't forget anything either. You can just make it through a normal working day if you forget your wallet or entry card or train ticket. Then you have to turn back. But you can turn back. Forget your passport, check-in card, itinerary, taxi reservation, driver's licence, credit cards... and you can't get through the airport. You might just bluff your way without the credit card by calling your bank at the other end, but if you fail, you're not going to be eating for the trip. Do you have any idea how often I check that I have these things? When I pack. An hour after I pack. In the taxi, witing for the train, in the departure lounge. It's as if I do not at that point believe in the permemance of objects: paperwork can vanish, just on its own. Even if you never opened the case.

Which is followed by the bit where you go through the airport. My airport experience has been getting better, but only because 1) I check-in online, and 2) I don't carry a large suitcase anymore. All that security theatre doesn't take up as much time as I keep thinking it might. European flights are manageable.

So now we're inside. And there's the bit where your plane is delayed on the inward journey, and the bit where you queue to get on the plane. To walk down a zig-zag chute to take a bus to a plane parked in a far distant corner of the airport. And the pilot tells you there isn't a runway slot for half-an-hour. And the child cries or yells for two hours straight, or the asshole in front of you slams their seat back into recline before the seat belt sign has even faded. I'm tall-ish, I have long legs, and a thirty-two inch seat pitch is too short for you to recline and me to feel comfortable.

On arrival there's the question of the weather. A country that used to be known for unbroken sunshine and gentle breezes has a week of gales and showers, weather they have not seen since old Uncle Jose married Aunt Maria, and that was before television. Yeah. Right. Everywhere I've been, they haven't seen weather like that since Uncle Jose married Aunt Maria. I'm the Wolfgang Pauli of weather?

And then, finally, I'm there and unpacked. And there's me. And a place I don't know, where I know no-one. For a week. I still haven't worked out exactly what state of mind I'm in when I do that. Some of it is a presence-in-the-place, and some of it is denial-that-this-is-all-there-is. Because where I really am is with-me-in-a-different-place. And that's only half a holiday.

The other half is where you get to be someone else for a week.

Monday, 18 April 2011

It's The Pianists That Made The Jazz Great

For me, the high period of jazz was between about 1945 and 1970 - roughly between Charlie Parker's first be-bop album and Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. I'd like to sing the praises of the pianists, all of whom I can't name, but some of whom I can. Wynton Kelly, McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Bobby Timmons, Cecil Taylor, John Hicks, Thelonious Monk and Horace Silver. To name but maybe a third of them.

I'm going to frame this. Think about when, say, Miles or Coltrane or Cannonball or Shorter or any of the other superstar virtuoso frontmen stop and the pianist takes a solo. Do you notice any real change in the quality of music? McCoy Tyner could complement Coltrane's fierce soloing, just as Wynton Kelly could swing with his very own joy, contrasting Miles' more brooding, intense playing. You notice the difference in style, in voice, but not in quality. Or to put it another way - these guys could keep up with the best extemporising musicians of the twentieth century. You and I and your music teacher and the kid who won the Leeds Piano competition would not have a chance. Some were composers in their own right: Zawinul, Timmons, Taylor, Monk. Some had the technical skill and background to head all the way over to European avant-garde music: Taylor, Hancock, Corea.

I'm actually going to say this: without these pianists and others, the jazz of that period would have been good and sometime great. With them, it was great and sometimes timeless.

Would Kind of Blue have been the same without Bill Evans' floating chords? Here they are in Blue In Green.

Would You Gotta Have Freedom be what it is without John Hicks' piano?

Would My Favourite Things be one of my favourite things without Tyner's chords?

And here's Cecil Taylor being, well, pretty mid-Twentieth century avant-garde, except with a touch of swing and blues...

Friday, 15 April 2011

Things I Saw Where I Lived and Walked: Part 15

Bushy Park in winter, a gravel-pit yacht club one summer Saturday afternoon, a beach in Devon name unknown, the backyard of a friend's house in Topsham. All 1980's except the back yard, late 1970's.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Jung, Pauli, Myers-Briggs And Being Plain Normal

There's a very well-known psychological inventory called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It's used a lot. At The Bank they like the "colours" questionnaire, which is a simplified Myers-Briggs. Myers-Briggs is based on the ideas in Carl Jung's book Psychological Types. People therefore think Myers-Briggs is very profound.

I've just finished reading a book called 137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession by Arthur Miller, which is about the professional relationship between the physicist Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung. Pauli went to Jung for analysis, stopping but continuing a correspondence with Jung about his dreams between 1932 and his death in 1958. This reminded me that Jung was a Viennese in the early twentieth-century. His psychological types were not based on studies of thousands of regular Joes and Joannas like you and me. Psychologists didn't do that then. Jung based his thinking on the people he hung out with and saw in his therapy sessions. Now here's the thing: Carl Jung wasn't an academic psychologist based in Manchester. He hung out with some of the best minds of the twentieth century, and that means some of the best minds ever, anywhere. People came from America to be cured. When he and Freud traveled to the USA, their visit was on the front page of the newspapers. You needed to have serious money to do therapy with Dr Jung - or be seriously well-connected in the intellectual and cultural world. So when he talked about overly intellectual people, he wasn't talking about the data-bashers in the basement, he was talking about some of the greatest physicists who ever lived. He was thinking about people at the far upper extremes of the Bell Curve (he never saw people at the lower end of the Curve).

Those profiles aren't about and don't apply to you and me. We're smack in the middle of the Bell Curve. We may do some things better than we do others, but we don't do anything really, really well, and we don't screw up really, really badly. (Well, you didn't anyway.) But trainers, psychologists and recruiters use the Myers-Briggs test and solemnly tell some people that they are ISTJ's and others that they are ESPN's.

Whereas what they really are is people who did better at Maths or Fine Art than they did at football or cooking. Let me put this into perspective. You ran faster than the Fat Guys and the Nerds in the class, and you made it into the school team, which won the regional finals. That makes you a better runner, and possibly gave you more practice in self-discipline, than the Fat Guy. But you're not a contender for the British Olympic team. They're the guys with the talent and self-discipline that's so extreme it does speak to something in their psychological make-up. When you go out into the world of work, some of that self-discipline and ability to practice and defer instant gratification will help you on your way - but it isn't going to distort your life. Or try this: perhaps you drank more than some of the other guys at university, but you didn't drink like I did and you didn't go on with it into your late thirties, so that your breath smelled of last night's whisky the next morning on the train. Every weekday. That's how you know you're not a screw-up either, and I am. The odd hangover doesn't speak of your character, but years of morning whisky-breath do. Most of the differences between ordinary Joes and Joannas aren't about their psychology, but about the long-term effects of small differences in their skills, when magnified by the distorting mirrors of job market and economy.

The kind of qualitative questions that psychological profiles are based on work best when dealing with extremes (well, duh!) and that's what Jung was doing. Try to apply it to regular folk and the meanings get blurry because the differences are smaller. We're all a little bit this and a little bit more that. Jung was looking at people who were a whole lot this and very little that.

It doesn't help that stereotypes get in the way. That Seven Dials, he crunches numbers and writes code, he must be a rational decision-maker and fact-based and non-intuitive. Whereas I'm almost the exact opposite. The most coldly calculating people I've run across are innumerate. Artists must be intuitive and mathematicians rational - whereas both are creative. And creativity is not what the un-creative think it is - it's mostly hard work and lots of background reading and research. Nobody just has great ideas in a vacuum - but people who never have ideas think that's how it must happen. In other words, a lot of the time, the people doing an inventory-type profile don't even really understand the words. It's even entirely possible that the people who put it together don't either.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Never mind World Peace... how about a standard data type and format for dates?

It's an utterly lost cause as the code to handle dates will be buried deep inside the database engines. Every major application seems to handle dates its own way. This makes moving the damn things around a real pain.

SAS: dates are integers. Day Zero = 1/1/1960. Date arithmetic is simple, but date functions sparse. Date formats are pre-historic.

Oracle: dates are… really complicated, but to_date(date_string, format) and to_char(date, format) are really powerful. Date arithmetic is simple and there are some useful date functions. Date formats are whatever you want them to be.

Teradata: dates are (year-1900)+month*100+day. Date functions are few and date formats are… there’s one. Date arithmetic is simple if you don’t try to be clever.

Excel: dates are integers. Day Zero = 1/1/1900. Date arithmetic is simple, and format(date, formatstring) in VBA is really powerful.

ANSI SQL supports add_months(date, +/- n) which is reasonably useful.

None of them handle week numbering (YYYYWW) consistently well at the turn of the year. This year gets some really odd things in Oracle.

I'm guessing other databases have their own quirks.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Naivety of the Intellectuals: Collini on Offence

There's a review of a book by Stefan Collini called That’s Offensive! Criticism, Identity, Respect. He's discussing the way that people take offence at criticism and especially the way that western liberals ease off on minorities out of "respect".

Here's what the reviewer thinks is the central passage: “Where arguments are concerned—that is, matters that are pursued by means of reasons and evidence—the most important identity we can acknowledge in another person is the identity of being an intelligent reflective human being.”

This is not even wrong. People who get upset because you make a joke about their prophet or their product are not engaging in an argument - an exchange and mutual examination of views where both parties are prepared to alter those views if the criticisms are good enough. They are engaging in a dispute - which is about prevailing against the other side. You publish cartoons about my prophet, I claim offence and disrespect and threaten to kill you and burn down your offices. I have no intention of listening to arguments about free speech - I want you to back down, never do it again and I want all the publicity I can get to re-inforce my standing in my community. I can do all that and be an "intelligent, reflective human being" as well - my very grasp of PR and TV and my ability to use your liberal values to my advantage prove that. You're the dummy who can't see what I'm up to.

If I may paraphrase: the most important identity we can acknowledge in another person is the identity of being someone who wants something. If they are prepared to compromise, horse trade and dicker to get it, then we can do business, and if they are not, then we have to be prepared to call their bluff, tell them to go to hell, steer around them or call out the riot police.

The reviewer then summarises: "The related point, which Collini also touches upon, is that if one decides to criticize a culture or a tradition or a work of art, doing so is not an act of Western arrogance. Criticism is not Western or Eastern or Christian or Jewish, and those facing criticism—and those societies and cultures facing criticism—should respond in a spirit of openness about truth. To withhold criticism from certain communities or religions is, in Collini’s word, a form of condescension towards them. It denies these groups the ability to engage in constructive dialogue, and to fortify their own values. In the final analysis, everyone loses."

The actual position is this: if one decides to criticise a culture or a tradition or a work of art, one first needs to understand what one wishes to achieve by doing so and if one cares about the response from the spokesmen for that culture, tradition or artist. One then needs to decide if they are likely to exploit the criticism for publicity, ignore it or make death threats. It may be that your criticism will actually recruit for their side: there is, after all, no such thing as bad publicity (unless you are a badly-behaved corporate giant). Having decided it is worth doing, tailor your criticism for the best audience: to borrow from soccer, you will not going to win friends criticising the team, but you can never make enemies slagging off the manager. And bear in mind that there is a possibility that everyone from the man at the top to the woman who washes his cook's clothes, knows the whole thing is a scam.

To withhold criticism from certain communities or religions can be condescending, but it can also be a useful energy-saving tactic. We cut crazy, dangerous or dysfunctional beliefs so much slack because we don't want to get involved with a bunch of crazy, dangerous or dysfunctional people, and then only when we can insulate ourselves from them. This lets the crazy people identify and advertise themselves and so create their own ghetto, rather than us having to do it for them. Less competition for us, less competition for our children. And the crazy, dangerous or dysfunctional people don't really want to be the Responsible Adults – they want some feed from the trough and to be left alone in their fantasy worlds. When they get it, they go away.

An analysis of the concept of offence won't give newspaper editors, politicians, local government officials and university administrators a spine when it comes to threats from extremists. If you think you're going to be sued and lose, or dismissed, disciplined or sent to Siberia by management, you're not going to stand up. You're going to back down. A fish rots from the head, and an organisation collapses from the top.

Monday, 4 April 2011

The Intimate Relationship, The Hygiene Fallacy and Polite Lies

The idea of an Intimate Relationship (TM) pushed by therapists, counsellors and assorted mavens, is itself a fantasy of childhood dependence and security translated to the adult state. Children need their parents to do things like hug them when they come home hurt - they need hugs because hugs release Good Hormones that counter-act the Bad Hormones released by what the Mean Kids did. Lectures won't cut it. If this didn't happen to you as a child, you will be trying to fill the emptiness it leaves for a large chunk of the rest of your life. The Intimate Relationship (TM) is an attempt to do this impossible thing. It doesn't do it because it works on the wrong stuff. I don't need your sympathy and I don't need your understanding: I need to know that being around people can be fun and won't leave an empty taste when I take the train back home all on my own. I need to know those good times aren't just a one-off. If people aren't fun, what's the point? I can be miserable on my own and if I want hours of adult negotiation and compromise, I can get that at work.
The Intimate Relationship (TM) is an example of the Hygiene Fallacy. The Hygiene Fallacy is supposing that you will do Good Stuff by not doing doing Bad Stuff. There are managers who put not making mistakes first - as a result they never do anything valuable. Therapists and psychologists hear an endless stream of people moaning what's wrong with their lives, and assume that everything would be all right if those things weren't wrong. Unfortunately, you can be in a relationship with honesty, compassion, respect, understanding, trust, communication and compatibility, and it can be as dull as ditchwater.

This is because hygiene factors are things that people give as a reason for dissatisfaction: the staff toilets don't work, the pay is too low, he keeps lying to me, she plays all these games, we can't talk, I feel invisible. These things may be wrong, and one may be the final straw. Get them right and you won't make the staff productive or the relationship zing. To do that, you have to do Good Stuff. It turns out that if you do enough Good Stuff, a lot of the hygiene irritations fade away. Now go find a guru to tell you about the Good Stuff in a good relationship. You won't find much, and that's for a reason.

What makes a good relationship is: sex, having fun and doing off-beat things together, or not doing anything together because, well, who cares because you're together. In-jokes are good, as is a generally up-beat attitude. Compatible energy levels and cycles are good as well, so you slump together and are zippy together. The bit where she walks in the room and you feel better? That's important.

You knew all that. And you know as well as I do that the Daily Grind (work-eat-sleep-commute) grinds it down after about a year. Children kill it. Even without kids, your energy cycles get out of sync, you stop having sex, and that's it. The rest of your life is all about housekeeping, time management and damage limitation. I see very few up-beat couples these days - mostly they look irritated and tired. Why would I want to join them? I've been cooking my own food and ironing my own shirts ever since I left home, I don't need help with daily life, and if I did, I'd hire a cleaner. Of course, if you have a lot of money and don't have to work six days a week to get it, if you have a lot of useful connections, if you have nearby family to baby-sit the kids, if you have a lot of friends and places to go at the weekends - then it can be different. But back in our real lives...

So if you stay for the Good Stuff, you'll be gone in a couple of years and you won't have children. When people didn't really have a choice about marriage and children, the mavens could afford to be honest. Now we have a choice, they can't. So the importance of fun is either passed over in silence or translated into empty new-age jargon like "passion" or "joy", and the life management stuff is played up as "adult" and "mature" and bringing the rewards of "intimacy".

Let me be blunt. "Intimacy" is a crock, like "happiness". It's the consolation prize, and while it's better than being in an abusive, indifferent or mis-matched relationship, so is living on your own.

What do I want from a relationship? Good conversation. Sex. A fellow-conspirator. Someone to do stuff with, from movies to cooking to holidays to hanging out. Someone who is going to make my life more fun or interesting when they are in it, and who is under no obligation to stay when the moment is over.

And if your inner therapist is itching to ask "why are you so frightened of intimacy, of sharing yourself" the real answer is this: because I have a short attention span, because I get bored real quick, and because the chances of you and I having anything much in common to have fun over are, to a first approximation, zero. It's not that I'm frightened of sharing myself with you, it's that I'm frightened you'll bore me, and I won't be able to get away fast enough. But I'm too polite to tell you that, so I make self-deprecating noises that you and the therapists interpret as low self-esteem or far of intimacy.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Free-Will vs Determinism: The Hidden Trap

There's an article about some work by experimental philosophers in the New York Times on 3QuarksDaily. It's one of the usual suspects: do we have moral responsibility in a deterministic universe? Apparently if you ask a lot of people, they will say 'no' if it's about the abstract question, 'no' if it's about cheating on taxes, but seventy per cent will say 'yes' if you're going to kill your wife so you can live with your secretary. I'm not sure what this proves, except that a lot of people aren't very good at conceptual thinking, which we already kinda knew.

Anyway, I found myself muttering, the trick is in the question. If it's a determinist universe, it can't have human beings in it. Because human beings have free will. It's not up to me to prove that free will or moral responsibility makes sense in a determinist universe, because they don't, but then neither does the concept of human being make sense in a determinist universe. It's for the determinist to construct a concept of a human being without free will that we recognise as human.

Because what does anyone mean by "determinist"? What it can't mean is that "living beings have no free will" because then the whole thing dissolves into a tautology. However, I think that's exactly what ordinary people and a lot of philosophers do mean. There's Laplace's idea of the Universe as a giant clockwork mechanism, which amounts to saying that the solutions to the equations of motion of any given ensemble of particles are given by analytic functions (which are identical with their Taylor series and therefore can be calculated at any point when it is known at one). You can only prove that if the True Equations of Motion only have solutions in analytic functions, and I'm going to go out on a limb here and say you can't do that for a set of equations of motion consistent with the current known laws of physics.

I'm going to say this: the determinist can't provide a coherent account of what a morality-negating, free-will removing "determinism" might be, without making free will depend on ghosts, spirits and immaterial consciousness to provide free will. In other words, they can't equate "determinist" with "material" and then claim free will is ruled out by the material bit. They have to explain how there can be free will in a material universe (or how even spooky stuff is determined) and then how that kind of universe is ruled out.

Like CJ Craig says: deny the assumption in the question.

As for "experimental philosophy" - stayed tuned