Archive | June, 2012

June 30 (Saturday) Filipino Freethinkers Katipunan Meetup – Mooonleaf Tea Shop Bat Cave

Location: Mooonleaf Tea Shop Bat Cave (behind KFC, beside MyPlace).
Date: Saturday, June 30, 2012
Time: 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm
RSVP on Facebook

FF Katipunan Chapter is level-ing up this weekend! From a bunch of nomads wandering along Katips or inside UP, FF-K now goes to Moonleaf Tea Shop this Saturday for another awesome meetup.

Those who will be  missing Taft’s and Davao’s meetup today, feel free to join us tomorrow afternoon, 4PM, at Mooonleaf Tea Shop Bat Cave (the one at the back of KFC, beside MyPlace).  After the meet-up, we will proceed to Adarna Food and Culture in Kalayaan Avenue to attend their Independence Day Tertulia.

Here are the topics for tomorrow:
– Freethinking 101: What is freethinking? How do we apply this in our daily life? Is it really important?
– Conservation vs Development: How do we build our future without destroying our past?
– Topic Toss-up: Tell us what you want to talk about then let’s talk about it.

If you are not busy tomorrow or if you just want to be bum-mingly productive, you are welcome to sit with us.

PS: We don’t bite.Special thanks to Moonleaf Tea Shop for hosting this week’s meetup

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Filipino Freethinkers Metro Manila South Sunday Meetup!

A bunch of meetups this week! Besides the two meetups today in Davao and at Taft, our Metro Manila South chapter is having a meetup this Sunday at Alabang!

Be at the Union Jack Tavern at Festival Mall this Sunday at 4pm. Meetup officially runs until 7pm, after which there are usually drinks (if you’re not a minor). This week’s topics are very varied:

  • The pros and cons of stereotyping
  • Palatino’s abandonment of the government secularization bill: a result of cowardice or strategic accommodation?
  • Should marijuana be legalized?
  • How important is money to you?

If the other Metro Manila meetups are too far up north for you, try heading over to the South meetup this Sunday. You’re bound to make a few new friends.

Look at all those friendly faces

You can find the Facebook event here.

Posted in Meetup, Metro Manila South Chapter0 Comments

June 29, 2012 (Friday) Filipino Freethinkers – Taft Meetup. Cafe Noriter, Taft Ave.

Location: Cafe Noriter, Taft Ave. (On top of Tapa King)

Date: Friday, June 29, 2012

Time: 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm

RSVP on Facebook



We’ll be mixing it up this week so no pre-set discussion topics, but prepare for fun, thought invoking activities that will be sure to elicit inspired topics of conversation and get your creative freethinking juices flowing! We’ll be playing a number of our favorite board games, we won’t tell you which ones just yet just be on your toes.

After the meetup we usually have a post hang-out which usually involves dinner, drinks or both somewhere nearby.. If you’re not a meetup regular and can’t make it for the meetup but would like to go for the post meetup, please indicate on a post in the wall or comment so we can contact you. Got questions about the meetup? Contact us at:

09178220096 or 09178660898

* Newbies are welcome.
* Look for the FF sign (or the group of smart, sexy people).
* There is no required age, religion, philosophy, or IQ level.
* Discussions are informal yet intelligent (most of the time).
* You don’t have to talk; you can just sit in and listen.
* Please abide by the code of conduct.

Image from

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FF Davao Meetup – Friday, June 29, 2012

Date: Friday, June 29, 2012
Time: 7pm
Venue: 2nd floor Harley Blvd. Motor Cafe
Address: Juan Luna St., Davao City (opposite Better Components)
RSVP on Facebook

Location map (click to enlarge):


Main discussion topic: Religious freedom (which will then most likely segue into other issues like secularism, separation of church and state, Rep. Raymond Palatino’s proposed and now-dead Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act, and many more)

* Newbies are welcome.

* There is no required age, religion, philosophy, or IQ level.

* Discussions are informal yet intelligent (most of the time).

* You don’t have to talk if you don’t feel like it; you can just sit in and listen while enjoying your drink.

* Food and drinks sponsors will be highly appreciated 🙂

* Harley Blvd Motor Cafe closes at around 10pm but we usually transfer to another venue to continue enjoying our fellowship (and drinks) until way past midnight.

Image credit: Andy Uyboco

Posted in Meetup1 Comment

FF Podcast (Audio) 009: How straight allies can fight for LGBT rights

FF Podcast (Audio) 009: How straight allies can fight for LGBT rights

FF Podcast Episode 9 – How straight allies can fight for LGBT rights

In our 9th episode, Red is joined by our LGBT advocacy group to talk about how straight allies can help in the fight for LGBT rights, especially this week, UP Pride Week.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Media, Politics, Religion, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast 009: How straight allies can fight for LGBT rights

FF Podcast 009: How straight allies can fight for LGBT rights

FF Podcast Episode 9 – How straight allies can fight for LGBT rights
In our 9th episode, Red is joined by our LGBT advocacy group to talk about how straight allies can help in the fight for LGBT rights, especially this week, UP Pride Week.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Advocacy, Gender Rights, Media, Podcast, Society, Video0 Comments

Sexual Health Saturday- Next Weekend

Sexual Health Saturday- Next Weekend

Should anyone feel like a bit of sexual enlightenment over the weekend without necessarily having to take their clothes off, our friends at Sex & Sensibilities and Mulat Pinoy are holding an educational forum at the Filipino Heritage Library next Saturday afternoon, July 7. Unlike other RH related forums sponsored by the Catholic Church and its lay organizations, this one is actually open to women!

Seems legit.  

Details below, or sign up on facebook at

“Do you really know what sexual health is, both physically and emotionally?

The phrase “sexual health” conjures up images of condoms, teen pregnancies, premarital sex, HIV/AIDS, and the raging debates in Philippine legislation. But does the picture have to be an alarming one? Do you know how sexual health can (and should) matter in your daily life?

“Sexual Health: Why Should You Care?” is a forum organized by Young Public Servants, Sex and Sensibilities and Mulat Pinoy. The forum seeks to focus on different aspects of sexual health, and to emphasize its importance not just to women, but young people, to men, to parents, to society as a whole.


The forum will have four segments:

“Teeny Baby Bump” will discuss not only the increase in occurrences in the Philippines, but also the ways in which educational institutions and government agencies respond to the issue.

Controversial issues like LGBT rights and PLHIV (People Living with HIV) concerns will be explored in “Stigma and Controversy.”

Most people think of sexual reproductive health as a woman’s domain and thus, only a woman’s concern. But as the male guests in the segment, “Are You Man Enough? Men and Sexual Health,” will tell you, sexual health is every bit a concern for men, too.

And finally, how do parents talk to their children about sex? Is the idea of sex education in schools really unpalatable? Listen to what families have to say in “Sex Ed: Why It Needs a Parent’s Guidance.”


For further inquiries, contact:

Ana Santos

Web: Sex and

Email: [email protected]

Mobile: 0917-8207277


Regina Layug Rosero


Email: [email protected]

Mobile: 0917-8163500”

Posted in Advocacy, RH Bill0 Comments

If You Were A Pakistani Catholic…

Here’s a question to the Catholics who so vociferously decried Representative Palatino’s now withdrawn Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act (HB  6330). Would you deny your brother and sister Catholics in Pakistan the secular government that this bill was trying to secure? Would you refuse Pakistani Catholics the government that they were promised during the founding of their country?

In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims—Hindus, Christians, and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of the State of Pakistan

That was to be the promise of Pakistan, that it would be a Muslim majority country that had secular principles. Here we have a clear parallel with the Philippines: our 1987 constitution had declared ours a secular democracy albeit a Catholic dominated one.

And yet what is happening in Pakistan? What happens when the promise of secularism is treated as a sham by the religious majority? In Pakistan, Christians and Catholics are oppressed under the justification of a blasphemy law and Catholic politicians are murdered for daring to stand up to this oppression of religious freedom and human rights. And as reported by the Catholic website, Where God Weeps, during the floods in Pakistan on 2010, this climate of oppression against the religious minorities has made it so that the flood waters were diverted to the places where the religious minorities live.

In Pakistan at least, it seems that the Catholic church is keenly aware of how urgently secularism is needed to protect their flock and the other religious minorities in the country. Even the pope has spoken up to ask Pakistan to repeal their blasphemy laws.

History has shown that the practice of secularism, and not just lip service to it, is a good way of ensuring religious freedom. The actual practice of secularism makes it harder for those in power to oppress people with beliefs different from their own. That secularism in England arose from the mutual persecution between Protestants and Catholics should have taught the Roman Catholic church the value of secularism for religious freedom.

And yet what happens here in the Philippines? We have the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines misrepresenting HB 6330 as a bill that would ban god, as a bill against religious freedom when all it is a bill that reinforces the secularism demanded by our constitution. Meanwhile in Pakistan, a Catholic Bishop committed suicide in protest of blasphemy laws, in protest of the suppression of religious freedom, in protest for secularism.

One of the intentions of HB 6330 is to ensure that government offices do not represent one religion over another; to ensure that public servants won’t feel that they are beholden to a religion because of the religious displays or services in their work place and that the public they serve won’t feel that they are being discriminated against, however subtly or overtly, because of a difference in belief.

This is secularism, this is how religious freedom is preserved. By observing neutrality in government, by showing systems of belief or disbelief no favor over another.

It was mainly the loud and arrogant Catholic voice that brought about the withdrawal of HB 6330. These same Catholics are fond of citing the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do to you”. It makes you wonder, if they knew how the lack of secularism is hurting Pakistani Catholics, would these Filipino Catholics deny secularism to their Pakistani brethren as they have denied secularism to the minority believers in the Philippines?

Posted in Politics, Religion, Secularism9 Comments

Lessons Learned from the Proposed Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act

Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino has withdrawn House Bill 6330 otherwise known as the Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act, which seeks to ban religious images and ceremonies in government offices, “in response to the appeal and clamor of some of our members, constituents and supporters, various groups, institutions and the general public to reconsider the filing of such measure.”

While this is definitely sad news for the advocates of secularism, the fact that one legislator actually had the guts to file a bill like this in a country where the Roman Catholic Church holds considerable influence in politics is already an achievement in itself.

As Palatino said in a statement, “We are encouraged by the fact that despite the misunderstandings, the bill initiated relevant discussions on freedom of religion as one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.”

Religious freedom is a tricky issue because it is comprised of two principles incorporated in a single provision of the Philippine Constitution: Non-establishment and Free Exercise. In Art. III Section 5, the two sides of religious freedom are laid out as follows:

No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

The first part is the establishment (also called the non-establishment) clause. Jurisprudence has expanded it to mean beyond that of congress making laws that establish a state religion. In Ladlad v. Comelec, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that “it was grave violation of the non-establishment clause for the COMELEC to utilize the Bible and the Koran to justify the exclusion of Ang Ladlad.” Here there was no law made to establish a state religion and it was not even congress that was involved, but Comelec. With this jurisprudence (and possibly others), the (non)establishment clause was interpreted to encompass other government actions and not just those having to do with legislation.

As for the free exercise clause, the rest of Art. III Section 5 states: “The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”

Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Isagani A. Cruz wrote in Constitutional Law:

The right to religious profession and worship has a two-fold aspect, viz., freedom to believe and freedom to act on one’s beliefs.  The first is absolute as long as the belief is confined within the realm of thought. The second is subject to regulation where the belief is translated into external acts that affect the public welfare.

On the freedom to act on one’s beliefs, Cruz added:

As long as it can be shown that the exercise of the right does not impair the public welfare, the attempt of the State to regulate or prohibit such right would be an unconstitutional encroachment.

After reading the full text of the now dead House Bill 6330, I believe it needed some revisions because it seemed incomplete – and yes, unconstitutional. The entire bill was only four pages long including the two-page explanatory note, and the meat of the bill can be found in Section 4 where the heads of government offices, departments, and bureaus are empowered to ensure that:

(a) Religious ceremonies shall not be undertaken within the premises and perimeter of their offices, departments and bureaus, including publicly-owned spaces and corridors within such offices, departments and bureaus.

(b) Religious symbols shall not be displayed within the premises and perimeter of their offices, departments and bureaus, including publicly-owned spaces and corridors within such offices, departments and bureaus.

Section 4(a) does not need any revision because it does not seek to ban personal prayers but only religious ceremonies within the premises and perimeter of and publicly-owned spaces within government offices, departments, and bureaus – and not on public parks and streets since religious activities are not prohibited in these places. In Ignacio v. Ela, the Supreme Court ruled that:

Public squares, roads, highways and buildings are devoted to public use, and, as such, are open to all, without distinction. Incidentally to such use, religious acts may be performed in said public property… So long as the use of public property for religious purposes is incidental and temporary, and such as to be reasonably compatible with the use to which other members of the community are similarly entitled, or may be authorized to make, the injunction in section 23 (3) of Article VI of the Constitution is not infringed.

But as for Section 4(b) of Palatino’s bill, I think it should have been worded to disallow only large religious symbols from being prominently displayed in the halls, corridors, and yards of government buildings, and to allow government employees to place small religious icons on their own desks and cubicle walls – and especially to wear crosses around their necks.

Without clarifying the scope of the ban on religious symbols, the bill would be unconstitutional because it violates the freedom to exercise and profess one’s religious beliefs in ways that don’t impair the public welfare.

While I fully support Palatino’s intention of giving more teeth to the establishment clause, a religious freedom bill simply cannot violate the free exercise clause or any part of the Constitution for that matter. The fatal defect of House Bill 6330 gave our theocratic opponents a legitimate excuse to suppress it and prevented our country from reaching a significant legislative milestone towards a more secular government.

But as freethinkers, we get to learn from our mistakes as well as those of others with whom we share advocacies. And since the issue of religious freedom and especially the non-establishment of religion have now been brought to public debate, the proposed Freedom of Religion in Government Offices Act did not live and die in vain.

While we can wait for another legislator to file a similar bill in the near future, for the meantime we can also hope for a jurisprudence that would declare religious ceremonies and large symbols in government offices unconstitutional if we take the issue all the way to the Supreme Court.

The death of a single bill in no way spells the death of secularism itself.

So let us continue the fight.

* * * * *

Image by: Jong Atmosfera

Posted in Politics, Religion, Secularism2 Comments

FF Podcast (Audio) 008: The Palatino Bill Predicament

FF Podcast (Audio) 008: The Palatino Bill Predicament

In our very professional podcast that is also a video, Red, Pepe and Margie talk about Kabataan Party-List Rep. Mong Palatino’s withdrawal of HB 6330, or the “Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act.”

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Media, Politics, Religion, Science0 Comments

FF Podcast 008: The Palatino Bill Predicament

FF Podcast 008: The Palatino Bill Predicament

In our very professional podcast that is also a video, Red, Pepe and Margie talk about Kabataan Party-List Rep. Mong Palatino’s withdrawal of HB 6330, or the “Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act.”

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Image from

Posted in Podcast0 Comments

Rep. Raymond Palatino, Another Victim of Catholic Bullies

For people who purport to have monopoly on morality, the sheer lack of charity and grace of conservative Catholics never ceases to amaze. After days of relentless literal demonizing and threats of physical violence from this group, both online and offline, Rep. Raymond “Mong” Palatino of Kabataan Partylist has withdrawn House Bill 6330, the proposed “Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act.”

Several opinion pieces were dedicated in the past week to misrepresenting Palatino and his bill—accusing him of trying to “ban God” and questioning his motives by painting him as an atheist. Ignoring that these are completely irrational and fallacious objections, neither of these allegations is true. As Palatino himself expressed with utter confusion, how can you possibly “ban God”? His bill’s intentions were quite simple—cease government sponsorship of religion.

It is clear what this de facto state religion is. In his interview with Filipino Freethinkers, Palatino revealed that Protestants thanked him for his bill, saying that it will “level the playing field.” The conservatives who opposed Palatino’s bill were almost purely of the Catholic pursuasion, with a few token non-Catholics to puff up a false image of nondenomenational opposition to HB 6330. Protestants have very few icons apart from the Latin cross (without the bloodied human sacrifice) and some Islamic traditions are forbidden from having any images of living things altogether. And it is not only Catholic iconography that is at the heart of the matter here. It is simply a fact that some government offices underwrite Masses with public funds, in clear and incontrovertible violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

It is plain that the right of non-Catholics against coercion into sponsoring Catholic dogma is viewed by the government as unworthy of protection. Despite being completely unconstitutional, conservative Catholics are quite proud that they have total command of the Philippine government. Palatino is just another victim in a long list of casualties of Catholic bullying. It’s practically an institution in the religion. Again, conservative Catholics prove that intimidation and threats trump reason and logical argumentation. This should not surprise us as their entire belief system is based on fear and punishment.

Conservative Catholics are always quick to identify the “Almighty God” in the preamble of the Constitution with their own Yahweh. They use this as if it gave them carte blanche to propound every dogma in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They fail to realize that this god could be any god—even gods they’ll find ironically nonsensical. Secularism benefits everyone, especially the easily offended. But, since conservative Catholics purport to enjoy majority support, the Filipino people have been helpless to contest their interpretation of the Constitution.

The Bill of Rights in the Philippine Constitution exists to defend the rights of the minority from the mob rule of the majority. HB 6330 seeks nothing more but to concretize the spirit of the Bill of Rights’ Establishment Clause. And what other purpose could that clause have but to safeguard the rights of citizens against state sponsorship of a religion? The building of chapels on public grounds with public money and the presence of Catholic saints all over public property is undeniably unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the tyranny of the vocal conservative Catholic minority holds our society, and our legislators, hostage. This belief in the non-existent Catholic vote is the Filipino politician’s most popular superstition.

We have seen time and time again that a small band of demagogues’ interests are disproportionately represented in the government. They abuse the state and mold it to further their sectarian ends. The flagrant display of religious icons on public property is only the most visible symptom of sectarianism—there are, of course, much more systemic violations of secularism. Non-Catholics should hear this loud and clear: we do not have a government for the Filipino people, but for the Filipino Catholic. That we even needed HB 6330 only proves this.

There is still hope for those who seek religious freedom, however. As in every single culture war issue, conservatives always lose. It is only a matter of time till freedom from religious coercion will replace First Friday Mass attendance sheets. Until then, advocates of freedom of religion and freedom from religion cannot trust the government to fight for their Constitutional rights.

Report violations of the Establishment Clause to Church in State.

Posted in Politics, Secularism147 Comments

Turing’s Tremendous Talent And Trenchant Test

The Talented Mr. Turing

If you are reading this from a computer, then you should thank the guy below.

Alan Turing (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954). [Photo credit:]

His name is Alan Turing, and this 23rd of June marks the 100thanniversary of his birth. Turing was instrumental in the development of the modern theory of computation that serves as the basis for modern computer technology. He also laid down the foundations for the field of artificial intelligence. During the Second World War, Turing was also a critical figure in cracking the Enigma codeof the Nazis. Basically, he was both genius and war hero.

Despite these, when he admitted to being a practicing homosexual after the war, the British police had him punished for the “gross indecency”, a crime that is punishable either by imprisonment or chemical castration. Some historians believe his persecution to be one of the causes of his early death, a death that is to this day as laced in mystery as it is in cyanide.

It is indeed troubling that it was only less than a century ago that a law existed in Britain that criminalized homosexuality. What is more troubling is the fact that to this very day, similar laws persist in some parts of the world. Even in parts of the world where the law has moved past bigotry against homosexuality, there are still people who believe that Turing deserved his fate or that, at the very least, homosexuals like Turing do not deserve equal rights.

However, since it is Alan Turing’s 100th birthday, it would be more appropriate if we discuss things on a note of hope. After all, Turing himself lived his life with his head ever held high.

Alan Turing was among the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. His talent revealed itself from a very early age. However, his was not simply a genius (he was elected to a fellowship at King’s College at the age of 23) but also a powerful character. For example, on his first day of school at the Sherborne School in Dorset, he discovered that there was a general strike, which meant that all means of public transportation was cut off.

Although his house was more than 96 kilometers away from Dorset, this did not stop him, and he bicycled his way to school. He was only 14 years old then! It’s a small wonder that he grew up to be a world-class marathon runner, almost qualifying for the British Olympic team in 1948.

What set him apart from previous major thinkers was his way of attacking problems, which represented a fundamental shift in perspective. In this regard, Turing was the Galileo of the previous century.

Before Galileo, physics was grounded by the insistence that the workings of the natural world can be divined purely by rational thought; most of pre-Galilean physics was armchair physics. Galileo showed us once and for all that the scientific method the two Bacons (Francis and Roger before him) talked about was a creative mix of logical reasoning and careful experimentation and/or observation.

Come to science — we have lots of bacon here

One of Turing’s lasting contributions to scientific thought, to me, was his restating in a very practical and testable way many problems that have been previously regarded only in the abstract. Let me give just two of the many possible examples to illustrate this point. First, we consider Turing machines and second, we consider the Turing test. (For those who are more interested in Turing’s life than in his contributions, you may skip the next two sections without loss of appreciation for the succeeding ones.)


Turing Machines

Let us start with a fellow named Bertrand Russell. Aside from sex, sets and classes were old Bertie’s lasting interests. A class is basically a collection of objects with similar properties. In one of his studies, old Bertie analyzed the properties of what he called the “set of all sets” and the “class of all classes”.  This led him to the now famous Russell’s paradox. What is Russell’s paradox? Consider the class of all classes that do not belong to themselves. Does this class belong to itself? Mind effing, right?

Now, to avoid Russell’s paradox, some mathematicians and philosophers have resolved to be strict in their definition of sets and classes. They decided to call a collection of objects a set if and only if there is a clear-cut way of constructing it from scratch. This led them to restrict the number of rules one can use in arithmetic. And then along came Kurt Gödel who said that, roughly, such a restricted set of rules (what mathematicians and philosophers call a formal system) does not have the power to prove all true statements in arithmetic. He said this in his now famous Gödel’s incompleteness theorems. In other words, the incompleteness theorems imply that there are true statements in arithmetic that any formal system cannot prove.

All these are pretty abstract stuff. Enter Alan Turing and his Turing machines. Turing machines are abstract devices that can solve certain problems of arithmetic. Turing described the minimal requirements of his machine as follows: you have a very long (think infinitely long) strip of paper divided into cells, where each cell can contain a ‘0’ or a ‘1’, and a reader-writer that can read the content of each cell and print out a 0 or a 1 on an empty cell or replace the digit on a non-empty cell. However, since we have the benefit of computers, we can now think of Turing machines as simply idealized computer programs for solving specific problems.

Turing machines (think computer programs) are very important in mathematics and philosophy because they can be used to construct sets, which was the dream of philosophers and mathematicians. How? Think of the ‘0’ as a ‘no’ and the ‘1’ as a ‘yes’. If you want to construct the set of odd numbers starting from 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on, a Turing machine will give you the output 01010101…, meaning “No, zero is not an odd number; yes one an odd number; no; yes; no; yes; …”

A Turing machine is basically an idealized computer program.

Now for Turing’s punch line: you cannot find a Turing machine that can determine whether another Turing machine can solve a problem in a finite period of time or not. The problem with some Turing machines, you see, is that it can take them an infinite amount of time to solve a problem – in short, they can’t solve it. But how do we know whether a Turing machine can solve a problem or not? Perhaps we can build another Turing machine to tell us “Yes, this Turing machine can solve it” or “No, this bloke of a machine cannot.”

Alan Turing showed the world that we cannot have such a machine. For the sharp reader, you could see that this is intimately related to what Gödel said. Only, instead of being stated in a very abstract way, Turing placed it on firmer ground by giving us the image of Turing machines.


The Turing Test

Another example of Alan’s powerful insight is his restating the problem of intelligence, particularly the problem of artificial intelligence, in terms of what is now known as the Turing test.

To put things into context, note that Turing was very intellectually promiscuous. (Yes, it can have two meanings, and in the case of Turing both meanings apply.) He did not really care what “field” a certain study was in. If he was interested in it, he studied it. And so while studying math and philosophy (although he never considered himself a philosopher), he also studied computer science and artificial intelligence. His papers on computability laid the foundations of modern computer science.

He was also acutely interested in the very philosophical problem of intelligence. Some of the questions he wrestled with were, “What is intelligence? Can we ever build a machine that can ‘think’? How can we build a brain? How do humans understand anything?” However, Turing found these questions too vague and ill-posed. To formulate them in a way that is amenable to scientific scrutiny, he devised the Turing test.

Here’s how the Turing test goes. Our cast of characters contains three individuals: Person A, Person X, and Machine Z. Place each of these characters in an isolated room so that they cannot “see” each other. Connect Person X and Machine Z to Person A via a network. (Think the internet; imagine they are chatting via Skype or, if you are old school, via MIRC.) Person A then asks certain questions to Person X and Machine Z via the network. Turing said that we can conclude that Machine Z has artificial intelligence if Person A cannot decide with certainty which of his interlocutors is man and which is machine.

Will Schwarzenegger pass the Turing test?

Philosophers, being people who have nothing better to do, are still arguing about the validity of the Turing test. But one can easily see that Turing’s take on the problem of artificial intelligence was a gargantuan improvement on previous attempts.


Turing’s Bombe

History will always remember Alan Turing as one of the critical figures in the British success in deciphering the Enigma code of the Nazis. During the Second World War, the Nazis used a machine called the Enigma machine to encipher the codes they used in wartime communication (such as communications between German U-boats). As one can easily see, figuring out what the Nazis were talking about is important in anticipating their next move and therefore beating them. During the war, Turing applied his genius to the problem of breaking the Nazi cipher. To do this, he invented and helped in constructing several deciphering machines; chief among these is what is now known as the Bombe.

The Bombe. [Photocredit:]

The Passion of Turing

If you think that for all his achievements, Turing would be celebrated as a pride of the British people, then you’re wrong. Some time after the war, a burglary forced Turing to admit to the police that he engaged in homosexual activities, which simply means that he was enjoying himself. Apparently, many forms of enjoying oneself were illegal in 1952 Britain. For being a sexually active gay guy, Turing was convicted of ‘gross indecency’. And indeed, under the law of the time, homosexual acts were illegal in Britain. (Such unjust laws persisted in many parts of the Western world well into the twentieth century.)

For his “crime”, the police asked Turing to choose between imprisonment and “chemical castration”. He chose the latter; this involved being injected with estrogens that were supposed to lower his libido.

However, instead of being dejected, Turing continued to be a strong-willed individual, diligently carrying on with his many researches for about two years up until his death in 1954. Police investigations revealed that Turing poisoned himself with cyanide. However, some, including Turing’s mother, claimed that he was accidentally poisoned due to his own carelessness with chemicals. (Chemistry was one of Turing’s many obsessions.) This claim was spurred by the fact that a bitten apple was found near the site of Turing’s death. The police, however, never tested the said apple for cyanide.

The rainbow apple logo of Apple, Inc. is often incorrectly thought of as a tip of the hat to Alan Turing. If Steve Jobs was any cooler, he should have agreed that it was. [Photo credit:]

Turing’s Lessons

Alan Turing’s rich and colorful life is something we should all learn from. I believe we should all try to embody his rarely-equaled passion for learning and his voracious appetite for understanding new things. His strong-willed reaction to his persecution for being gay should also be inspiration to those who continue to fight against laws and societies that attempt to repress and suppress diversity.

During the previous years, many people have urged the British government to issue a formal public apology for the treatment of Turing after the war. However, Lord McNally’s reaction to such calls seems, to me, to be most appropriate:

A posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence. He would have known that his offence was against the law and that he would be prosecuted. It is tragic that Alan Turing was convicted of an offence which now seems both cruel and absurd—particularly poignant given his outstanding contribution to the war effort. However, the law at the time required a prosecution and, as such, long-standing policy has been to accept that such convictions took place and, rather than trying to alter the historical context and to put right what cannot be put right, ensure instead that we never again return to those times.

That means that Turing knew that his battle was against an unjust law, and he fought it by being who he was and by being proud of it. I therefore believe that the appropriate way to celebrate Turing’s centenary is to celebrate his achievements and his strength as well as the achievements of the LGBT community throughout the decades following Turing’s death. The mere fact that even some opponents of equal rights find Turing’s conviction unjust is already worth a little celebration.

Will you pass Turing’s test?

Here are a few of my humble suggestions on how to celebrate Turing’s 100th birthday:

  • Eat an apple (just be sure it’s not laced with cyanide)
  • Learn something totally new
  • Learn more about computers
  • Wear something colorful
  • Share the story of Alan Turing to a friend who has not heard about him

Posted in Science, Society1 Comment

June 24, 2012 (Sunday) Starbucks Anson’s Ortigas Meetup

Location: Starbucks, Anson’s, Ortigas Center, Pasig City (Across the Podium)
(Google map)
Date: Sunday, June 24, 2012
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm
RSVP on Facebook

Discussion Topics
Do atheists make LGBT Rights support difficult for theists?
Does religious freedom include freedom to inflict suffering?
Rep. Mong Palatino’s Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act
– Do we have a right to be fat?
– The Ethics of Casual Sex and Booty Calls

After the meetup we usually go for dinner and drinks somewhere nearby. If you’re not a meetup regular and can’t make it for the meetup but would like to go for the post meetup, please indicate on a post in the wall or comment so we can contact you.
Got questions about the meetup? Contact us at 0927 323 3532
* Newbies are welcome.
* Look for the FF sign (or the group of smart, sexy people).
* There is no required age, religion, philosophy, or IQ level.
* Discussions are informal yet intelligent (most of the time).
* You don’t have to talk; you can just sit in and listen.
* Please abide by the code of conduct.

Photo by Chris Sienna

Posted in Announcements, Meetup0 Comments