Portland: Day 2

The Big Event yesterday was my two-hour session with the 120 students in Peter Boghossian’s “Pseudoscience” class at Portland State. I lectured for an hour, and then there was a question-and-answer session. The students had some good questions. Peter also teaches an “Atheism” class and a separate “New Atheism” class, both of which are wildly popular: they have to turn students away. That’s a good sign, and most of the students are either nonbelievers, doubters, or simply want to learn more about the nature of modern nonbelief.

Peter took this photo of me lecturing (I’m showing the genetic data that refute Adam and Eve as our sole ancestors):


Afterwards we went to lunch, and I noticed, as we ate outside (it was a glorious day), that many more young people are tattooed here than in Chicago. Peter noticed that out waitress had a tattoo, too, and I asked her if I could photograph it:


Portland outfit: flannel shirt and clunky shoes:


Three archetypal Portlanders (the locals love their smartphones!):

IMG_0992 (1)

I’m staying two nights in The Ace Hotel, a lovely old place that is a refubished old building. And, in line with Portland culture, there are drawings over my bed:
Ace 1

My cute sink (the shower is down the hall):

Ace 2

Peter took me to the hotel last evening in an Uber car—my first ride in one, and it was terrific (also prompt and much cheaper than a cab). He noticed that the final tab (you don’t tip with Uber) was the Devil’s Number—an appropriate fare for two militant atheists. Coincidence? I think not. . .


Tonight at 7 I talk on Free Will for the local Center for Inquiry. The information is here, so come if you’re in the area and have the time. I’m not sure if they’ll be selling my books, but if you bring one you’ve already bought I’ll be glad to sign it.

Party tomorrow!


  1. John Hamill
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Could anyone point me at the data Jerry is presenting here? If there is an accompanying explanation for a non-geneticist, so much the better.

    Any help would be very much appreciated!!

  2. Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    “many more young people are tattooed here than in Chicago”

    It’s not just the *young* here that are tattooed. I’ve been struck by the ubiquitous skin art in the Pacific NW and commented on it frequently when I first arrived here. On occasion I go to a Korean spa, where women of all ages bathe au naturel. When I go, I tally the frequency of tattoos. Most women have ink here. Though, it may be that those with ink also frequent the spa. Regardless, it’s a feature of the area, not restricted to the 20-somethings.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      I find more young people than not are inked here (in Ontario, Canada). I went to an Apple Store and the guy who helped me was inked with Christian slogans (a Chi Rho) and some Latin: missio dei which made me think of the Blues Brothers. I was scared he’d see me for the atheist I am and give me crap service as one atheist email popped up on my iPhone after another. 🙂

      • rickflick
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        I think you should take a “hit” for the cause. Accept the risk of bad service and blatantly mention you happen to be an atheist LOUD enough so people at the next table can clearly hear. Be more principled! (I’m so good at giving advice I wouldn’t take).


        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          No way man, he was switching out my iPhone because the wifi wasn’t working properly (I suspect the radio was detuned). I suspect it was at his discretion to do so because the iPhone passed all the tests they run…..now if he had asked if I were an atheist or if I had an atheist tattoo he asked me about, I would have no problem saying I was an atheist.

          But I didn’t feel like provoking him because I wanted to get what I wanted to get. Eye on the prize. Yes, I’m a bit machiavellian when I need to be.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

            the wifi wasn’t working properly (I suspect the radio was detuned)

            Hmmm, while I’m not a physicist, I’ve had to do enough instrumentation debugging and so on over the years (“What do you mean you need a technician? We need that stuff working tomorrow at the latest, and there are no helicopter seats for at least 4 days!”). That sound to me like you’ve been on the receiving end of technobabble.
            Radio transmitters – and reception tuners too – have been controlled by mixing very precisely controlled oscillators driven by crystals with drifts down in the parts per million ; by the time you add in temperature correction coefficients, you’re pushing the parts per billion (your pocket computer doesn’t have thermometers to provide you with data). As the saying goes, “contains no user serviceable parts,” for “user” up to “technician with a toolbox”.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted April 22, 2016 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

              Actually, no one fed me a line of techno babble. I arrived at the conclusion myself given how the wifi radio would randomly disconnect at various locations (no pattern). I’ve seen it happen in other devices as well where the frequency drifts. I’d expect the engineers to have a spec and mine probably went out of spec. I had a BlackBerry that refused to connect to my work wifi but connected everywhere else. I come from a family of electronics people so have learned most of this from osmosis.

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted April 24, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

                Given the costs of having a “technician” manually fiddle pots or trim capacitors (which I’ve had to do often enough myself to tune circuits), compared to the costs of including comparison systems and software-controlled tuning, I still don’t think that “re-tuning” the system (oscillator, antenna, or the coupling between them) was what was going on. But I’ve left the wonderful world of tweaking electronics behind for long enough to not know how things do operate these days. When I moved companies in the 1990s, I left the 1960s behind and with it worrying about discrete components or even single logic gates in a DIL.
                Modern electronics is a mystery to me. But the absence of tools like oscilloscopes and signal generators in modern instrumentation labs suggests that people don’t do that sort of thing these days.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 24, 2016 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

                It’s pretty simple: Apple buys a board with a wifi radio on it that is manufactured to fall within a certain frequency spec. My iPhone could still be in spec but at the edge of the spec making it drop wifi sporadically. I’ve seen this happen a lot with devices. It’s a cheap part on a cheap board and I’m sure the QA is consistent enough but not so stringent that defects aren’t going to happen or that situations where a router is on the outer limit of a spec and a radio in a device is on the outer limit the other way won’t happen.

    • eric
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think the prevalence is limited to the northwest region. My personal experience is that the odds are better than 50/50 of finding ink on anyone born in the US after about 1976, excluding only those not old enough yet to have one.

      • Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        To my surprise, at the north Seattle Korean spa, I spied a fair number of butterflies and Tweety Birds gracing the over-50 derriere.

        I’m inclined to think that covert ink is, indeed, as common as you suggest.

        I have an on-going bet with myself to see if I can escape my stint in Seattle tat-free. My money has been on side of the cultural influence overpowering my sense of free will on the matter.

  3. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    (you don’t tip with Uber)

    I’m told that experienced Uber users do tip. The drivers aren’t supposed to ask, but if you offer a tip they’ll take it, and it can be to your advantage to do so.

    Just as passengers can give ratings to drivers, the drivers also give ratings to passengers. Given a choice, drivers will prefer to pick up passengers with high ratings, and tipping is one way to boost your rating.

    • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I hear they rate us with $ signs.

    • gluonspring
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

      Personally I loathe tipping culture everywhere it occurs. It’s a disease. Even when a company goes out of it’s way to discourage tipping, as Uber does (they explicitly say you need no cash to ride, that tips are not needed, and then they provide no way to tip through the app), tipping culture pressures everyone into doing it anyway. Pox on tipping culture. Figure out what something is worth (that is, what people will pay), charge that price, and be done with it. Tipping converts every routine transaction into some kind of weird social experiment.

      Lyft at least doesn’t put the rider into this weird bind. Lyft builds tipping into the app. Since cultural pressures will force me to tip anyway (and damn generously too!), that’s a HUGE advantage of Lyft over Uber. If you want to tip an Uber driver you have to do it with cash, which ruins the entire Uber experience.

    • Posted April 23, 2016 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      Uber’s new settlement with drivers makes it clear that tips are not included. From today’s LA Times:

      Drivers will also be able to solicit tips from riders and Uber will make it clear that tips are not included in fare prices.

      And, seeing the pictures above, but having never been to Portland, Portlandia seems to have nailed the local attire!

    • paulsw11
      Posted April 24, 2016 at 2:08 am | Permalink

      In the Uber customer settings you can allocate a specific percentage as a default tip, so it is automatically paid. One of the many benefits of using Uber, is that no cash changes hands in the car.

  4. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    No one is quite sure of the origin of the phrase “Coincidence? I think not”, though what sounds like the best guess is the old “Get Smart” TV show.

  5. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    There’s a QI where they debunk – or otherwise refute – how the number 666 is the devils number. I forget the details and don’t have a link, sorry.

  6. Richard Portman
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Dr Coyne, it looks almost as as if you are sporting an awesome face tattoo at the lecture! Not a bad look 🙂

    • merilee
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      Looks like the atheist has been struck by lightning- lol

  7. merilee
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink


  8. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    The idea of different kinds of atheist classes is totally awesome. Next step: a department of atheism!

  9. Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Portland seems to be the Berlin of the US.

  10. Christopher Bonds
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Nice to see some shots of downtown Portland, a city I know well. My late sister-in-law has a building named after her–the Gretchen Kafoury Commons.

  11. Posted April 22, 2016 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Will Jerry’s lecture be available online anywhere?

    • Posted April 23, 2016 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      It was taped, but the guy who taped it wasn’t sure that it actually worked. I’ll let you know if it ever gets posted.

  12. Kevin
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    666 The beasts riddeth within. Ha

  13. Graciebaddog
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    I usually throw the Urber driver a buck or two. Depending on local factors he made made less than 3.75 on your fare. It’s easy for those guys to net less than minimum wage after fuel etc. Uber’s main competitor Lyft recognizes this and allow tipping in the app so you don’t need to hand the drive cash.

  14. Charles Sullivan
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    You mentioned, PCC emeritus, that Peter Boghossian claims that morality is objective. This strikes me as odd because he also has claimed (on Tw*tter) that he rejects metaphysics. David Hume rejected metaphysics also; “Commit it to the flames,” Hume said.

    But Hume thought morality was NOT objective, but subjective: When we say something is wrong, or it should not be done what we mean is that we have a strong feeling of disapprobation or disapproval toward that action, according to Hume. Since these feelings are subjective, then there can be no objective truth to moral claims. It’s much like matters of taste: Is chocolate ice cream better than vanilla, objectively? Obviously not.

    Furthermore, there is no such thing as “wrongness” than can be measured or detected in the empirical world, says Hume

    Now Hume was happy that we, as a social species, have empathy for the suffering of others. He called it “fellow-feeling”. And he thought that this feeling was central to morality. If only Darwin had preceded Hume.

    But he also believed that moral judgements are nothing more than expressions of feelings or desires, and feelings and desires cannot be true or false in the way that moral judgments are supposed to be true or false.

    I am curious how Pete reconciles this. But I will leave you with a profound quote from David Hume: [Long and I apologise, but it’s Hume}

    “Take any action allow’d to be vicious: Wilful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In which-ever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You never can find it, till you turn your reflexion into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact; but ’tis the object of feeling, not of reason. It lies in yourself, not in the object. So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compar’d to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind[.]”

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