Answering Tricky Moral Questions and Responding to Cosmic Skeptic’s Answers

A friend asked me to take a quiz with ethical questions and see how my answers compared to Cosmic Skeptic. I did, and found that I disagreed with a lot of what Cosmic Skeptic said. This surprised me, since I have found myself agreeing with most things they have said in the past.


If you would like to take the quiz yourself, you can find it here:

If you think you might take the quiz, I’d suggest doing this before you watch my take or Cosmic Skeptic’s take to avoid us influencing you.

You can find Cosmic Skeptic’s original video here: []

Life with tinnitus

When your low pitch tinnitus finally stops and you only have to deal with your high pitch tinnitus.

Pacha Edits / When The Sun Hits That Ridge Just Right | Know Your Meme

I’ve been living with tinnitus (chronic ringing noise in ears) for at least a year. I want to talk a little about my experience and what I’ve learned because I knew nothing about tinnitus before and suspect many people might not either. There may even be some people who have never realised they have it.

First, tinnitus is not a disease. It’s the symptom or expression of something else that is wrong with the auditory system, which includes your outer ear (outside the eardrum), middle ear, inner ear and the auditory nerve connecting the ear to the brain. Tinnitus is often caused by noise exposure, but there are many other causes. In worst cases, it can be caused by a heart/blood disease or a brain tumour. If you are experiencing tinnitus, I’d recommend at minimum raising it with your general practitioner.

How The Ear Works | San Luis Obispo County, CA & Atascadero, CA
Credit to

I first noticed tinnitus in my left ear around a year ago. It manifested as a loud, rushing, pulsing noise in my left ear. It was more noticeable when my surroundings were quiet, like when I was trying to sleep. At first I thought it might be because I’d recently moved or was stressed, but when it didn’t let up after a few weeks I visited the GP. They said it might be due to ear wax build up and suggested I get a dewaxing liquid to drip into my ear. This would supposedly soften up the wax and help it drip out.

A few weeks later I was having the same issue so I went back. They cleaned out my ears with a water pump. A few weeks later it was still there, but I noticed a different ringing. I’d been concentrating on my hearing more than I usually do, and I noticed a high pitch ringing. It was fairly quiet, but once I noticed it, it was hard to ignore. I have no idea how long it had been there. Was it recent, or had I just been tuning it out? This was in addition to the louder, lower pitch ringing, but it was in both ears rather than just the left. Again, it was barely noticeable if at all when other noise was present, but was annoyingly loud when I was sleeping.

I remember asking my family to be quiet for a minute and listen. “Can you hear a high pitch ringing? No? Just me? Cool.”

My GP explained that we’ve ruled out the outer ear, but the problem may be with the middle or inner ear. They gave me a nasal spray to ‘clear out the middle ear’ (I paraphrase, I wasn’t sure on the science here). This didn’t help. My GP then referred me to an ear specialist who administered some hearing tests and ordered an MRI to look for brain tumours or other inner ear/brain issues. My hearing was fine (minus the ringing) and the MRI was clear. This was a pretty big sigh of relief, but didn’t offer an answer or a solution.

I’ve gotten better at adapting to the reality of chronic tinnitus. For a long time it affected my sleep, but I now have a routine of having some white noise in the room (with my dehumidifier or fan) or playing white noise through headphones or speakers to drown out the ringing. As long as I have one of these, my sleep is fine.

Recently, the lower pitch ringing seems to have stopped. I don’t know why but I hope it stays that way. I can only hope the other ringing stops eventually too, but for many people tinnitus is a chronic issue they deal with for their whole lives.

As for what caused it, I’m not sure. If I had to guess based on what I know now, the most likely candidate would be noise-induced hearing damage. From around the age of 18 to 22, I went clubbing a lot. Like 1 to 3 times a week a lot. I listened to a lot of loud music. At the time and after I never noticed any issues with hearing loss or tinnitus. I later counted myself as lucky. Could this be delayed onset of this exposure?

Another possible explanation is a game I play and love, Escape From Tarkov. This is a survival shooter with loud gunfights. I saw a post on Reddit several months ago which I thought was very well said. To paraphrase:

“Tarkov tricks you into having your volume turned up way too loud. Because most of a game will consist of you sneaking around trying to listen out for footsteps of enemies nearby, you will be inclined to turn your volume up. The sooner you hear your opponent, the more likely you are to win. But these periods of quiet are followed by explosively loud gunfights with automatic weapons firing at close range. The game prides itself on realism, which is great, but it means firearms are very loud relative to other sounds (more so than other shooter games).”

So it may be that my playing Tarkov (I started around 2 years ago) has in some way lead to my tinnitus. I’ve since been more careful about keeping the volume at a more reasonable level, even if it affects my gameplay.

There has been some talk about the possibility of being able to manage tinnitus with meditation/mindfulness. I’ve tried this a little with no success, but remain hopeful about one day being able to trick myself into enjoying the sound, or ignoring it, or something similar.

Finally, there are researchers looking at tinnitus and thinking about how to mitigate the symptoms. Stay tuned.

I’m running for Inner West Council!

Hello everyone! Today I’m excited to announce that this year I will be running for council in the Gulgadya/Leichhardt ward of Inner West Council.

One of the key factors I want to bring to the Inner West Council is to make sure that the non-human animals who we share this council with, both domestic and wild, are given the appropriate consideration when decisions are made in council. The companion and wild animals who we live with deserve a good life just as much as we do.

I also believe that my scientific background would be a good addition to council decision making process. We need to make sure that decisions which affect those who live in our council are made using evidence and reason to come up with the best solutions possible.

Please join me in striving to ensure the Inner West Council is the best possible council it can be for its residents, human and non-human alike.

If you have ideas or concerns, I want to hear from you! Please feel free to reach out at any time.

You can follow my campaign on my Facebook page.

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“Sentientism captures everything – it’s future proof” – My interview on the Sentientism podcast

Recently I had a great chat with Jamie Woodhouse on the Sentientism podcast where we talked about a lot of different topics (listed below). This interview was unique for me as Jamie asked a lot of questions I had never thought about the answer to before, in particular relating to my transition from Catholic to atheist. I hope you’ll enjoy the discussion.

We discuss (from the show notes):

Michael’s PhD (pending) in space mining, terraforming, colonisation and asteroid deflection

Effective Altruism. Earning to give to do good vs. doing good directly

Peter Singer’s TED talk

Leaving industry for a full time PhD and becoming an Animal Justice Party politician

Michael’s Morality is Hard podcast, blog and Vegan Space Scientist YouTube

Growing up Catholic and attending a very religious school

Taking the Christian god, hell and heaven for granted. Being told every day it was true

Struggling with the fear of death without an afterlife. The comforting fiction of heaven

The painful realisation at 19 yrs that “not any of it was true” and becoming an atheist

The centrality of our own experience and the difficulty of conceiving of not existing

Searching for meaning after religion. Exploring and identifying with utilitarianism and consequentialism

“The only things sentient minds can value are suffering and wellbeing”. Everything else we think we value is a means to an end or we’re tricking ourselves

Our common evolutionary history with other sentient beings

Panpsychism and whether atoms are sentient/conscious

If electrons are “conscious” it must be very boring and they’re still not sentient

Caring for companion animals but eating other animals as a child

Going vegetarian for environmental reasons, becoming more open to ethical veganism, then switching

Insect, digital mind and alien sentience

“Sentientism just captures everything and its future proof”

CosmicSkeptic grudgingly identifying as Sentientist: “The term has absolutely no wit about it”

Is Sentientism the only moral discrimination?

It’s a solid bet to focus on spreading good values, naturalism and expanding our moral circle, when we’re in a world of moral uncertainty and epistemological complexity

Are all human-caused problems due to poorly founded beliefs and/or moral consideration exclusions?

Veganism is becoming more mainstream, but more farmed animals and fish are suffering & dying

Plant-based & clean-meat animal product alternatives

Sentientist Politics. Representing non-humans in politics & law

Resisting animal agriculture industry resistance

Shifting incentives (subsidies, regulation, transparency)

Latent public support for ending factory farming & even slaughterhouses

Just Transitions for impacted communities – Iain M. Banks’ “The Culture” as a potential sci-fi post scarcity future

Does sci-fi help us re-focus on our core values and future potential

Longtermism & existential risk

If we can’t improve our values, let’s at least work to improve our policies, laws, regulations and behaviours.


Morality is Hard podcast episode 9 – Emma Hurst – Political change for animals

I’m excited to bring you the first episode of the Morality is Hard podcast in several years with the Honorable Emma Hurst, MLC.

The Honorable Emma Hurst, MLC, was elected to the NSW Legislative Council in 2019, the second member of the Animal Justice Party to be elected to NSW government. She is a registered psychologist and has worked for several animal protection organisations. Since being elected, she has been working on legislation to help animals in NSW. In our chat, we got in to some interesting questions and tricky issues, so I really hope you’ll enjoy the interview.

COI: I am also a member of the Animal Justice Party.

You can find this episode on Youtube, Soundcloud or on your favourite podcast app within 24 hours.


Emma Hurst’s Facebook page  

Emma Hurst’s website

Animal Justice Party NSW website 

The science of why stretching might not be what you think it is


Stretching can feel good and plays a role in increasing flexibility, but that’s about where the benefit ends. It plays no role in injury prevention, warming up or recovery. For most people, being more flexible seems to have no benefit for any situation they will find themselves in life. Stretch if you need to be more flexible for a specific reason or if you enjoy the feeling of stretching, but probably for no other reason.

When I think about fitness, I’m naturally drawn towards looking at evidence-based ways to improve most effectively with my time. One area I’ve become interested in recently is flexibility. I’ve never been particularly flexible (I was only able to touch my toes without bending my knees during one period of my life), and flexibility and range of motion is something that will likely become more important as I progress in sports climbing.

The conventional wisdom is that stretching can improve your flexibility (among other things). Recently it occurred to me to wonder what stretching was actually doing to make you more flexible. Some advocates of stretching suggest that your muscles are getting longer or more flexible over time. This doesn’t seem to be the case.

The answer seems to be mostly neurological. Stretching is likely just a controlled way of teaching your nervous system that it’s ok to stretch a little further.

Claims of the benefits of stretching include:

* flexibility

* warm up and injury prevention

* prevention/treatment of exercise soreness

* treatment of sports injuries and chronic pain

* performance enhancement (e.g. faster sprinting)

* it feels good

It seems like the evidence only supports the first and last of these claims.
It’s fascinating to me that as a child I was always taught to stretch before running as a form of warm up and injury prevention. More recently, I had the mindset that I need to stretch to prevent injury when working out. There seems to be no basis to this, and it makes me wonder where these ideas even came from.

I should note that there does seem to be good evidence to support ‘warming up’ as a form of injury prevention, but static stretching (e.g. holding a stretch for 5+ seconds) doesn’t constitute warming up. The best way to warm up seems to be dynamic movements and starting with whatever activity you’re planning on doing with low intensity and slowly ramping that up.

I hope you found this as fascinating as I did! I got this information from a few sources, but most of it is from this one review of the science of stretching from an Paul Ingraham of PainScience, who I’ve come to trust to be evidence-based. The author covers many other topics around the science of pain and fitness/health. They are long reviews, but are fascinating, engaging and well worth the read.

I used to hunt fish

I used to hunt fish. I look back on that part of my life with intense shame. I took fish out of their natural habitat with a metal hook and put them in a bucket until they asphyxiated to death. Even when I ate non-humans, I saw fish as just completely other to land animals. I would never have hunted a pig, even though I ate them. Why were marine animals different?

We have overwhelming evidence that fish can feel and suffer just like us. It’s time to put an end to the ‘sport’ of taking them out of their home and killing them for a fleeting sensory pleasure. No one deserves to die for our pleasure.

May be an image of body of water and text that says 'I FEEL PAIN FARM TRANSPARENCY PROJECT'



Someone threatened to kill me on a train so I thought about life and stuff

CW: assault, threats of violence

Yesterday, someone threatened to kill me on a train. Straight up, I’m physically unharmed and am safe now.

I was on a busy train in Sydney on my way to see my partner. I was sitting in front of a woman who was making various racial and other demographical slurs at passengers of varying levels of disgustingness, bragging to herself about how she’d beat the fuck out of them if any of them got off at her stop. I half turned and said something to the effect of “That’s enough ma’am.” I don’t know if she heard me.

A short time later, she answered the phone and started telling whoever she was speaking to about how disgusting various other passengers on the train were for their race, weight, sexual preferences and other traits. I turned around and said “Ma’am, that’s not ok.”

She started screaming at me. She got very close to me and yelled in my ear that she hoped I was getting off at her stop, because she was going to “bash your fucking head in”. I’m no stranger to death threats – I get them all the time online and shouted at me across the street for my ethical/political views while doing advocacy or political outreach. This was the first time I’ve ever actually felt like it was a credible threat of violence. It’s different when you can feel their breath on your ear.

I froze. I didn’t know what to do. I kept my head half turned to her, keeping her in my peripheral vision and trying to mentally prepare to defend myself. I didn’t know what she was going to do. Maybe I should have walked off or tried to de-escalate, but it turns out that’s easier said than done when your fight or flight kicks in (I can thank my shit evolutionary wiring for that I guess). All I could do was sit there and hope it didn’t escalate beyond screaming.

This went on for about 5 minutes until she eventually got off at her stop, continuing to scream until she was out of ear shot.

There were about 25 other people in that train car within eyeshot. Not one of them said anything during this altercation. One passenger got off at the next stop and said “Good on you for standing up for yourself mate.”

“Thanks mate.” Was all I could bring myself to hoarsely say back.

I felt stiff and in shock until I got off at my stop, got in my partner’s car and started crying.

My first thought after the woman got off the train was probably something like anger or frustration. Not one person tried to intervene? To take my side? Barely a word after for trying to stand up to everyone? What would it have taken for them to do/say something? Would someone have done something if she started hitting me? If she pulled out a knife? Started stabbing me? I wish I could say I thought the answer to any of these questions was definitely yes.

After taking some time to think about it though, I don’t think I blame them. That was a fucking scary situation. I would guess it was a combination of some kind of bystander effect and people just not wanting to get involved out of concern for their own safety.

I’ve always had this view that a good person will do something if they see something. If you don’t intervene in violence, assault or harassment, you’re complicit or something. That one Gillette ad comes to mind (“Bro, not cool”). But if I’m being honest, I genuinely don’t know if I will anymore. I want to want to, but I don’t know if I want to. I like to think that I’m happy to make sacrifices to do the right thing, and I want to be the sort of person who intervenes in the face of injustice, but holy fuck that was scary.

I’ve been in several situations previously where I’ve noticed this level of bystander effect personally. First was on a bus which was stationary at a bus stop. I saw two men outside beating each other up. I quickly called the police and told them what was happening and where. No one else on the bus moved or even seemed to notice/care.

Second was also on a bus where a man was drunkenly leering and making sexist passes at women. I told him to stop, then informed the bus driver what was happening and to keep an eye on him as I got off. Again, no one else seemed to care. Yesterday was different because my own personal safety wasn’t threatened previously.

Most people share this view that we should cultivate a society where people will intervene when someone is getting screamed at or assaulted in public, but how many people would actually act on that? Sure, most of us probably think we would, but when actually put in that situation, how many people would?

Serious question, how the fuck do we expect to cultivate a culture of intervening in the face of this shit if no one actually does it in practice? This isn’t rhetorical. How? Is the only thing we’ve cultivated a society of people who shame those who do nothing but sit in shame and do nothing when their time comes? Or am I just post-shock overreacting to an outlier?

How can we actually get people to stand up for each other in public? Just telling people to do it and then pretend that it’s trivially easy is not the right approach, because it’s not easy. It’s really fucking hard. What if we actually educate people (from school to the workplace) on how to stand up for others and what to do? How to de-escalate and how to stay safe while doing the right thing?

My writing this might be perceived as a ‘look how brave and good I am’ attempt, and I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that. But it’s not, and I don’t think I’m brave at all. I was fucking terrified, and I still am a little. If this happened again today, I might not say anything. Again, I want to want to, but I’m scared. What level of harassment or assault would it take for me to do something now? I don’t know.

They say talking about scary things helps, and writing is my favourite form of communication. It feels a little better to talk about this in a public space too. Thanks for hearing me out.

tl;dr Someone screamed at me for 5 minutes on a train and threatened to kill me for asking them to stop making racial slurs, but none of the other 25 passengers in my car did anything. We need to do better at not just shaming people for doing nothing to intervene in the face of harassment/assault but educate them on how to do it, because it’s not easy.

Edit – A friend convinced me to report the incident to the police, which I have (thank you).

Podcast recommendation – Self-Improvement and Research Ethics with Rob Wiblin and Spencer Greenberg

This was one of my favourite podcast episodes of all time. Not just in terms of the content (which was great), but also the quality of the conversation and how engaging it was. Both speakers were making their case, respectfully disagreeing where relevant, and even coming up with counterarguments for their own views. Well done Robert Wiblin and Spencer Greenberg, keep it up.

The main topics were on the best strategies for improving ourselves (a lot of science-based conversation in a field often with little science), the sorts of things humans value and why, and the shortcomings of research ethics. If you’ve never thought about any of these things, I strongly encourage you to listen.

For what it’s worth, I agreed with Rob Wiblin on the values argument (humans really only value avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure, and if they think they value something else they are tricking themselves or using it as a proxy for suffering/pleasure).