Philosophy

Further Ruminations on the Appeal to Nature

Sometime back, I wrote a post about the Appeal to Nature fallacy. It is a fallacy that bothers me quite significantly; the main reason is because its assumptions and consequences are unspoken or, in most cases, never addressed.

For those who don’t know the Appeal to Nature (ATN) usually involves a dietary and medicinal claim that natural products are, directly or otherwise, better than artificial (read: man-made) products. Anytime you read the words “Natural”, “All Natural,” “Organic,” you are reading an Appeal to Nature; specifically, to nature’s goodness–I’ve never seen arsenic used in an ATN. Notably, it tends to rear its head in relation to conditions and diseases that our current medical knowledge is unable to address—Alzheimer’s and cancer being two examples among many. (In that light, the ATN might be considered the exploitation of severe emotional distress among those at the least rational stage of their life as they face daunting, perhaps hopeless, odds to make money, but that’s just the pessimist in me talking.) The selling of natural supplements is often marked as a way to give back power and certainty that psychological wellbeing demands; subsequently relieving cognitive discomfort, albeit at exorbitant costs (in relation to their benefit that is—except for a few, genuinely exorbitant price tags such as Stanley Burzynski’s supposed cancer cure which rings in at several hundred thousand dollars). From multivitamins to gingko bilboa, the ATN is a powerful train of thought.

However, despite its popularity, it is so full of holes, contradictions and—what really gets me—unspoken assumptions and conclusions. I’m not going to bother debunking it; that has been done many times; once here on this blog, and many other—far better—denunciations on the Internet (my favourite being Kyle Hill’s Does Mother Nature Always Know What’s Best). Rather, I plan on taking the ATN through to its logical conclusion.

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friedrich-nietzsche

Favourite Quotations from the Anti-Christ

I recently finished reading Nietzsche’s Anti-Christ, and my, oh-my, was it a great book! Granted, I only understood about half the book, and to top that embarrassment of,  had to look at the dictionary for half the words he used (thank god — sic — Kindle has a built-in dictionary), yet it was still a riveting read. I can’t remember the last time an atheist’s words were this memorable, beautiful, and powerful. Let me tell you, Nietzsche can throw a verbal barrage unlike no one I’ve ever read before. Below are some of my favourite quotes from the book in order:

1 – “The histories of saints present the most dubious variety of literature in existence; to examine them by the scientific method, in the entire absence of corroborative documents, seems to me to condemn the whole inquiry from the start – it is simply learned idling.

2 – “The ‘salvation of the soul’ in plain English: the world revolves around me.”

3 – “If any one were to show us this Christian God, we’d be still less inclined to believe in him.”

4 – “Such a religion as Christianity, which does not touch reality at a single point and which goes to pieces the moment reality asserts its rights at any point, must be inevitably the deadly enemy of the “wisdom of the world,” which is to say, of science — and it will give the name of good to whatever means serves to poison, calumniate and cry down all intellectual discipline, all lucidity and strictness in matters of intellectual conscience, and all noble coolness and freedom of mind.”

5 – “Man has had to fight for every atom of the truth, and has had to pay for it almost everything that the heart, that humans love, that human trust cling to.”

6 – “The fact that faith, under certain circumstances, may work for blessedness, but that this blessedness produced by an idee fixe by no means makes the idea itself true, and the fact that faith actually moves no mountains, but instead raises them up where there were none before: all this is made sufficiently clear by a walk through a mental asylum.”

7 – “Christianity remains to this day the greatest misfortune of humanity.”

8 – “Faith means the will to avoid knowing what is true.”

9 – “I condemn Christianity; I bring against the Christian church the most terrible of all accusations that an accuser has ever had in his mouth. It is, to me, the greatest of all imaginable corruptions; it seeks to work the ultimate corruption, the worst possible corruption. The Christian church has left nothing untouched by its depravity; it has turned every value into worthlessness, and every truth into a lie, and every integrity into baseness of soul.”

What’s your favourite quote? I can’t decide between 4 and 8.

mind reader

Mind-Reader

Neuroscience is one of the sciences most feeling the exponential progress of technology. With the invention of the fMRI machine, we can peer into the brains of people (and presumably animals). Each year, the tools and techniques we use to probe into the brain are doubling in their precision, finesse, and resolution (i.e., we can resolve more and more detail in less and less time), until eventually, some say between 2030-2040, we will be able to see all 100 billion neurons and their 100 trillion intra-neuronal connections firing in real-time in the human brain. As these technologies, and several others, increase our quantitive understanding of the brain, we have other technologies increasing our qualitative understanding, i.e., learning to decipher the organized chaos of the mind.

Scientists can mind-read words that a patient reads silently (note: this cannot be used yet to read what you’re thinking but only match up what your reading). And scientists have figured out a way to reconstruct movie clips that people were watching from their mind; as well as reconstruct the voices in other subjects heads. Laying the groundwork for mind-reading far in the future. (Though I do hope that Moore’s Law doesn’t allow those devices to become portable, though conceivably, even if they do, technology will be invented to keep out eavesdroppers–Norton BrainSafe? On special for only $999.99. In fact, just yesterday, an app named Silent Circle became available for iPhone and iPad that creates uncrackable peer-to-peer networks to call, message, and send files. [The app must still pass an independent security test which it will do soon, so grain of salt])

But I don’t want to get bogged down in technical jargon and scientific details. If you want to go in-depth on such subjects; chapter-four of Kurzweil’s ‘The Singularity Is Near’ is a well-to-do primer. (I imagine his new book, How To Create A Mind, will explore chapter four in even greater detail, but I haven’t read it yet.)

What I do want to explore are the things we might do with such technology once it becomes cheaper and more capable in the coming years. (We won’t have to wait until 2030 to fully take advantage of it, but it will take that long perhaps for the advancements of the brain-deciphering mentioned above.) I’d love to see this tech trained on animals. Just think of what we’d learn. We know that dolphins have a language; they have syntax and grammar, have been known to outsmart humans, and even introduce themselves to newly met dolphins. In reading Carl Sagan’s (amazing) book, Pale Blue Dot, he mentions that in flying to space, we discovered the Earth. It might be said, in talking with the first species, we will have discovered our humanity.

What will we learn talking to a chimp? Or an ape? Or our dogs and cats? Who wouldn’t want to know the width and breadth of their thoughts? How they think, why they think; do they have a capacity of choice, and if so (a safe assumption to make), how much capacity?

The story of civilisation is that of our increasing circle of compassion. That is, as our technology advanced, we became likely to view others as sub-human, and began viewing them –  properly no less – as equal, thereby laying the groundwork for new moral truths, and thus, more moral societies. We are moving beyond our evolutionarily endowed tribal mentality. (Though we are not yet out of the woods but we are, oh so close.) It only seems logical to extrapolate that this circle of compassion will expand, and indeed has already, to the denizens of the entire animal kingdom. Perhaps, on that day, resistance to the theory of evolution will stop? (Though that may be wishful thinking on my part.)

What animal would you want to talk to first? And why? I’m all for the dolphin, but let me know in the comments below.

is politics relevant?

Political Relevance

This is sub-chapter #10, of Chapter #3, Politics, of my ongoing rewrite and open editing process Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World.

Would greatly appreciate any feedback, corrections, criticisms, and comments. If you want the MOBI, ePub, or PDF, then please let me know in the comments—if you provide constructive criticisms in return, and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published.


POLITICAL RELEVANCE

A question I’ve pondered for many years and still cannot find a definitive answer for: Why is politics still relevant? Democracy was invented thousands of years ago in Athens. It was created at a time when humans didn’t understand a fraction of what we do today, in relation to what was happening around them. So philosophy was used to arrive at the most rational answer, and while that was great for the Hellenic epoch, it isn’t so adept at arriving at final and conclusive answers today, where the well-being of our societies often rests precipitously at the confluence of resource management, health, economic stability, and vibrance.

Stephen Hawking said in his latest book, The Grand Design, “Philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in Science…” And well, in a small way, he’s right. Traditional philosophies and science are no longer comparable in terms of their tangible contributions to society. Though philosophy is a useful and oft-times beautiful endeavor in thought, it is less meaningful (by meaningful, I mean practical) today than at any other time in history on hard-issues such as climate-change, pollution, population, food-production, and so forth. We must design or engineer ourselves out of these problems using the scientific method (not that philosophy cannot be involved in the thinking stage). In the same line of thinking, politics, invented in the time of philosophy, should be of waning relevance, as it is based on the same intuitions: namely, the human mind, which neuroscience has shown to be inherently biased, though more importantly, unable to impartially view and act upon information presented to one’s self, no matter the circumstance.

Yet its relevance seems to be in recent years rising. In 2012 we had elections going on around the world; most noteworthy being the recent American presidential election, which concluded months upon months of agonizing Republican posturing, talking points, ads, backstabbing, news coverage, debates, and the usual nonsense that accompanies the two-horse cacophony.

Talking point after talking point is endlessly thrown back and forth, with the candidates incessantly arguing which is the best way to do this and that—political whims and soundbites, little of which is based on fact or empirical evidence, but only designed to increase a politician’s popularity.

The same debate recently raged on in France during the 2012 election, where the new—now president—candidate Francais Hollande was campaigning on a platform to enact seventy-five percent taxes on millionaires, and when pressed on the futility of such a measure, even if passed, brushed those concerns aside, effectively saying it is a moral measure to tax a productive member of society ever more so, like a milk cow. And if you missed it, the futility of such a measure still made him want to do it because his mind was already made up. You’d have better luck teaching Germ Theory to a monkey, and luckily the measure was shot down in the closing weeks of 2012.

But the question remains, why is politics, as we know it today, still relevant in this modern society?

Politics is run on the whims and opinions of people, which can be and often are wrong and always are, at the very least, biased. It’s just as easy to believe in a lie as it is to believe in the truth, and it’s always easier to tell an easy lie than a hard truth, like the aforementioned French president, and almost every Republican frontrunner in the 2012 Republican convention, and maybe even Obama a few times. For the simple reason that lies stick easier than truths. Just look at the climate change debacle. The science has been settled for a while now, and all the new models and supercomputers dedicated to it, just refines and increases the accuracy. Yet, since the first Rio summit in 92, our politicians have accomplished next to nothing. There have been little stopgap measures here and there but nothing even close to substantive. We’veve elevated a position of power to almost mythical heights despite the majority of us almost expecting them to lie, and everywhere I go, people do nothing but complain about their leaders and representatives, yet are continually fooled into voting for another politico who happens to end up doing the same stuff, and if not the same stuff, different stuff that somehow wind up having the same outcomes.

Furthermore, on matters of the economy, health, education, and all things relevant to the modern world, the scientific method provides the means to answer these concerns without the inherent bias (at least significantly reduced bias). We can come to the best, most efficient conclusions using statistical analysis, experimentation, and peer-review using the scientific method to arrive at a suitable, efficient, and humane solution to today’s problems, so what’s with the pandering? Why so much politicking? Why such radically different solutions to the same problem that society has faced time and time again? Why aren’t they solved by now? And why are most of these solutions horrible to begin with?

It’s almost comical that in this modern age, we are using social tools invented thousands of years ago to discuss modern problems. Especially given the distrust of the people in charge by so many, whom we all suspect of lying in one way or another—especially when we have better more open tools and methods to solve it ourselves with greater effectiveness, more humanity, and zero bias thereby removing the favoritism so inherent in politics that contributes to so many social ills, which I’ll address in the next chapter.

The problem is two-fold, a misinformed populace, and the second, politicians live inside their own little bubbles, and you can’t evolve and update a system from within. It’s hard to think outside the box when you’ve spent years inside the box, and disconnected from the reality of those you are supposed to serve.

“The problem with always being a conformist is that when you try to change the system from within, it’s not you who changes the system; it’s the system that will eventually change you.” ~ Immortal Technique (Artist)

The first problem is far greater than the second. Politicians derive their power from us. There is a balance of power between the government and the people. Much like Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the market, there is an invisible hand of power.

Governments, time and time again, in all manner of differing governmental models, always end up doing everything in their power to distract the people they govern. Usually by way of freebies that the people themselves demand, while they diligently work behind the scenes to tip the balance of power in their favor. Maybe it’s by accident and they truly are shortsighted goldfish, but it doesn’t really matter why. It happens regardless, and it affects everyone.

On the other hand, people are usually so concerned with surviving the nine-to-five and enjoying the entertainment in their downtime whether it be feeding Christians to the lions or watching Honey Boo Boo and American Idol that there is no available idle brainpower to ponder the why for’s and the WTFs on the doings of their governments. I exclude no one from that second point, including myself.

Who takes the time these days to really research how their country is run? How many people actually want to? Who knows that much of the democratic process has been usurped, and how much of the power lies with the state? A few do, most don’t care. Perhaps they presume safety in numbers, and that this time is different; this time democracy will remain uncorrupted.

If this sounds like I’m complaining about you, you’re right. But I’m also complaining about myself. I am as much susceptible to this corrupting influence as you are, I just have more free time and have been lucky enough to have been raised to be curious, even on subjects I dislike, i.e., politics. There are few things I have more disdain for than politics—genocide, war, rape, and murder, though I think they are rooted in the misapplication of politics, so six in one, half-dozen in the other. We are so caught up in the hype of politics every few years. The media blitz, the promises, the demagoguery, and the activism, that we continually forget to ask the question, why is a politician so relevant in the modern world? I implore you to burden yourself with this question and those around you, when the subject of politics comes up.

 “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” ~ Emma Goldman (Anarchist)


Meaning of Life

Life

This is sub-chapter #8, of Chapter 2, Philosophy, of my ongoing rewrite and open editing process Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World.

Would greatly appreciate any feedback, corrections, criticisms, and comments. If you want the MOBI, ePub, or PDF, then please let me know in the comments—if you provide constructive criticisms in return, and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published.


LIFE

For thousands of years we’ve philosophized, proselytized, debated, and bickered over a Meaning of Life to apply to the human race as a whole. Yet, it seems to me that this is a question without an all-encompassing answer, and we fear admitting that because the notion of an unanswerable question is distinctly foreign and extremely uncomfortable. But I will try to make the case that there isn’t a meaning of life, because meaning presupposes purpose, and purpose presupposes agency—or God. After four-hundred years of searching, none of the events that was ever purported to God (or gods) ever turned out to be supernatural. (And we have good reasons to apply this to the moment of creation itself.)

Let’s start at the beginning. The Universe was created from an infinitely dense point of energy, in an event we have come to know as the Big Bang, which began the expansion of the Universe up until the present. Through all this, the Universe has followed a fairly predictable rule, repeating ad infinitum concordant with the laws of physics, and will predictably continue to do so until the heat death of the Universe, i.e., everything will be so far apart and so random that order (stars, planets, life etc.) will be impossible, and the Universe will be in thermal equilibrium (this is what timeless and formless looks like). This is also known as maximum entropy. The physicist Brian Cox estimates this will not occur for ten-thousand trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion years.

This predictable rule puts in doubt a grand Meaning of Life. This rule is the increasing complexity of matter and of objects composed of that matter—until we start bumping up against entropy that is. From hydrogen through to uranium and the ninety naturally occurring elements sitting snugly between, and to the molecules and objects comprised of these atomic structures.

This same increase in complexity is essentially, though not always, the same direction evolution has progressed in—from single-celled organisms to the fifty-trillion celled primate writing this long diatribe, pretending to be an intellectual.

So if everything around us follows a rather predictable rule based on the unchanging laws of physics, why or how, can there be a grand answer or meaning of life?

We long to be here for a purpose, even though despite much self-deception. None is evident.” ~ Carl Sagan

Life wasn’t magic, nor spontaneous, but given what we know, an inevitable outcome of the random complexity of the Universe. To give context and perspective; it is estimated that there are at least ten-billion Earth-like planets in our Milky Way galaxy alone. And the Milky Way is just one galaxy among an estimated one-hundred billion galaxies in the observable Universe, suggesting there could be trillions of planets with the potential for life. On top of that, we’ve found the building blocks of life in uncontaminated meteorites. (Two of the four nucleobases: A and G of the ATCG base-code that underlies the gene code of all Earthly life were found in the meteorites including other derivative nucleobases that exist nowhere on Earth). We should be perplexing ourselves over the odds of life not existing elsewhere, for surely there is life elsewhere, no matter how small the odds. There is simply no intelligent way of going around it. We exist, therefore, the odds are greater than zero, and the sheer immensity of the Universe guarantees that the results will be replicated elsewhere. Perhaps these other life forms also ponder the meaning of life?

To cut directly to the heart of the matter: life just is, and we just are, and there’s nothing else to it. Everything else simply springs forth from the self-importance we bestow upon ourselves—which I imagine morphed out of our evolutionary survival instinct. As survival waned in its cognitive necessity—as our intelligence was allowed to flourish into ego-centric philosophies. The Universe doesn’t operate on our needs or wants, biases and prejudices, or our hopes and aspirations. It just is, and we just are.

We are the cosmos made conscious. Life is the means by which the universe understands itself.” ~ Brian Cox (Particle Physicist)

To philosophize a grand answer or some central doctrine to life is meaningless. Furthermore, even were you to be convinced that there is an answer, how could you ever know if it was right?

We can try to make sense of the Universe, the ‘how’ and the ‘what,’ but the ‘why’ will always be out of reach. We can’t look into the Universe from outside. There is no absolute reference point. Even if we could, there’s no guarantee we’d find anything and we may just find more universes further pushing the question into obscurity, ambiguity, and nothingness. Why is but a human concept. An expression of our own agency, of our search for meaning, our subjective language, and not an inherent quality of this Universe. To assume a why elsewhere likewise presupposes agency. Some questions are without an answer.

Life, subjectively, is indeed a beautiful thing, though as far as I can tell, it carries with it, no objective meaning. The only meaning it has, is that which you yourself give it, as the astronomer Carl Sagan writes, “We are the custodians of life’s meaning.”

This question, or yearning to understand, exists because we have an innate desire, perhaps a need to be a part of something greater than ourselves. To stand for something greater than ourselves. This desire, since time immemorial, predominantly expressed in religion and in country (or city-state, tribe, and family), has persisted through the ages, an inherent part of our collective psyche.

It’s understandable why the ancients developed such an affinity with their religions and their creeds, their kings, queens, and allegiances but what else did they have in their lives? It was simply the path of least resistance in a violent, unforgiving world.

In today’s modern scientific age, this powerful desire need not be allayed to such traditional and ignorant roots. For fear of being taken out of context, ignorant here references to the dictionary meaning, ‘lacking in knowledge,’ and will be used as such in this book and not as the modern insult it has morphed into. (For all I know, I’m ignorant on everything I write about.)

We now have a vast scientific understanding of the Universe, of life, and while this knowledge may never be complete, it is at a point that we can explain and logically extrapolate where almost everything came from, how it came to be, and where it might go. Let us explore a different perspective, perhaps more worthy of our intellectual curiosity. Think back to the last time you looked upon the luminescent stars in a clear nights sky; picture them. Do you remember what you felt as you gazed upon those fiery points of light way back when? Perhaps a sense of wonder or amazement, almost spiritual in its reverence? If so, there is a very good reason for this feeling. And if you don’t feel anything staring at the sky, something might be wrong with you.

Everything that ever was, that is, and that ever will be, was created inside one of those stars. Every atom in your body: the hydrogen, the oxygen, the carbon, the nitrogen, the calcium, the iron, and the phosphorous that makes up the human being reading this page was created inside the fiery furnace of a violently mixing, rotating, and luminous sphere of energetic gas.

From these brilliant points of light in the heavens, the largest of which, in their explosive death throes, scattered their remains across the Universe, came the fantastic chemical array of which everything is built from. Their violent ends expanding the Universal (and non-sentient) toolkit, which formed yet more stars, and asteroids, comets, and finally planets. All of which endlessly mixed and roamed the Universe when by happens-chance, a tiny fraction of this kaleidoscopically arranged matter merged and mixed in unison to create an ordinary yellow star; our Sun, and formed the planets we know today. One of those planets began forming organic compounds (or received them via meteorites), which went on to become single-celled life that replicated, reassembled, and mutated trillions upon trillions of times until, finally, at last, it arrived at You.

You are literally made of star-dust and the stars are the gods of the Universe. Billions of small pieces of different stars and their matter. All of which has been smashed, re-arranged, combined and recombined, assembled, and passed down from generation to generation of stars, dust, rocks, and once upon the Earth, the never-ending chemical cauldron of volcanoes and oceans and landmasses combined with the energy of light, began one day to self-assemble into little cells, thanks to the majestic influence of that double-helix structure we now know as DNA.

Every atom in this Universe is connected to every other atom by way of the stars. We are a part of something greater than ourselves, and as such we have no need of inventing a meaning of life; we are part of this Universe, and it, us. That, you think, would be enough.

We likewise find life meaningful when we have seen that it is without purpose, and know the ‘mystery of the universe’ only when we are convinced that we know nothing about it at all.” ~ Alan Watts (Philosopher)

We are dust, borne of stars, and perhaps one day we can celebrate that instead of our ideologically irrelevant and invented metaphysical stories of existence.

I do not believe that this yearning we strive for is meaningless, merely misrepresented thus far and distorted to serve the needs of a few at the expense of the many, and guises itself as religion. (For the record: I don’t think religion was invented to distort this need, but rather was eventually hijacked to do so.) With that, I defer—for the second time—the concluding thought to Omar Khayyám’s masterpiece of literature, The Rubaiyat.

“No agony of any mortal brain

Shall wrest the secret of the life of man;

The Search has taught me that the Search is vain.” 

~ Omar Kkayyám (Mathematician)


Mt Olympus

Heaven

This is sub-chapter #7, of Chapter 2, Philosophy, of my ongoing rewrite and open editing process Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World.

Would greatly appreciate any feedback, corrections, criticisms, and comments. If you want the MOBI, ePub, or PDF, then please let me know in the comments—if you provide constructive criticisms in return, and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published.


HEAVEN

For a moment, let’s say the Abrahamic god exists, and that depending upon your earthly actions you will be met with a heavenly eternity. You lead a good life; you help the poor, you follow the 613 commandments, you love thy neighbor, and upon your fortunate death, you are received at the pearly gates.

How will you spend your first year in heaven? Re-connecting with loved ones, perhaps? How about your first decade? Long walks on Cloud Nine, picking the brains of Jesus, Abraham, Mohammed, Elvis, perhaps even the big G himself, exploring the vast sanctum of his infinite knowledge using the heavenly version of our own Big G: Google (God = Gòógle?)

How about the first century? Trying all the experiences you were too scared to do while you were a lowly mortal, only to find the thrill is gone now that Death no longer lingers close by.

What about the next thousand years, and the million thereafter? And then the billion after, and the next trillion? Then what? I guarantee you one day, you’re going to want to not be there. What could possibly make eternity fun?

If you have ever eaten more than five chocolate bars in a row—like I foolishly have—then you probably know what heaven will be like. The first one tastes amazing. By the second, your taste buds are a bit desensitized, but it still tastes good. Ditto with the third and  ditto a little more with the fourth. Finally you try a fifth one on for size, and it tastes like nothing. Just a bland paste as your mouth goes through the motions—add a sixth and you’ll want to vomit.

We all had this feeling as kids, and perhaps as teens for the sweeter-toothed among us, and even now for myself. But take that feeling, multiply it by a really, really large number, and you’ll get a taste as to how boring heaven would become. One day, it will be no different from death. Does the eternal darkness seem so scary now?

Many hold up the Near-Death-Experiences (NDE) as proof of an afterlife, but they are anything but. All they are proof of is the funny things that happen when a person’s brain receives faulty sensory information, or, embarks on the road to anoxia (oxygen death), as carbon dioxide creeps upwards, triggering dopamine-induced euphoric hallucinations.

There have also been several recent studies that have shown the rejection of evolution, and likewise, acceptance of Intelligent Design (ID) is closely correlated with existential angst. Namely, the fear of one’s mortality. In four studies, groups of people from all walks of life (including atheists and theists), were reminded of their own mortality and asked questions related to evolutionary theory and ID. After such reminders, all groups (even the most godless heathens) showed a tendency towards ID, and thus an afterlife. It was theorized this occurred due to a desire to find greater meaning and purpose, and evolution at first glance, seemingly provides very little. So belief in an afterlife is not at all correlated with its truth or validity, but rather in the hope it brings. That despair changed once people were told various ways of deriving meaning from what at first glance, appears to be evolutions nihilistic drive. It seems to me that people are only driven to such despair as they move from an edifice of externally derived purpose and hope, toward a self-derived edifice of meaning. Most people naturally pause in the chasm between these two separate cliff-faces, often looking back toward the safety and familiarity of ID instead of advancing into the indifference of evolution, little knowing that meaning would be theres to make as they will.

In another study, by the University of England, it was shown that belief in ID was highly correlated with one’s need of cognitive closure. That is, the need for definitive information no longer amiable to revision, as is ID, where the buck stops at God.

Heaven, at least as we have come to understand it in the West, seems as boring and unimaginative a concept as it is possible to conjure up, and seems to correlate highly with mortality, existential angst, and cognitive closure. I value the eternal darkness that is coming, for it reminds me to do all that I wish to do in this life here and now. (I also may never ever see that eternal darkness, but more on that in Future of Tech.)

“Yet if the transcendental world is vaguely assumed to be ‘timeless’ then we have to ask if we understand the difference between timeless existence and extinction, and I think the answer has to be that there is none.” ~ Simon Blackburn (Philosopher)


Explanation of God

God

This is sub-chapter #6, of Chapter 2, Philosophy, of my ongoing rewrite and open editing process Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World.

Brief Synopsis:

The book takes twenty seemingly random subjects, attempting however poorly, to thread them together in the process, attempting to make sense of the world we live in today. It is a very macroscopic worldview as the whole book fits into two-hundred pages, but aims to tickle the intellects of people just enough so they may go on to study more in-depth the subjects of their liking. The narrative attempts to abolish isolatory thinking, i.e., we so often talk, discuss, and debate topics in isolation and assume that the same points prevail in the real world where nothing exists in isolation.

Would greatly appreciate any feedback, corrections, criticisms, and comments. If you want the MOBI, ePub, or PDF, then please let me know in the comments—if you provide constructive criticisms in return, and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published.


GOD

For thousands of years, humanity has attempted to explain that elusive being called God, but the commonly accepted mental manifestation of Him today reeks of overcomplicated and distorted human ideals that a God simply would not have, and what we are learning in cosmology is seriously putting a dent in the deistic God (sometimes called the philosophical God).

Throughout much of recorded history, we’ve had gods, eventually culminating in the One True God of monotheism. The explanations for their existence seem clear in hindsight; to explain the unknowable to those who have never grown comfortable to the thought of doubt—which, admittedly is many of us, this author included—and give us purpose and meaning in this life.

We began with dozens, perhaps hundreds of gods who oversaw the myriad forces of nature such as Zeus, the Greek god of thunder and ruler of Mt. Olympus, and Anubis, the Egyptian god of the underworld. We now have the One True God with His angels to help govern His domain. Himself, an evolution of the concepts that attempted to tame man’s initial ignorance. So the next time a creationist tells you evolution is a myth, explain to him or her that religion has itself evolved from simple roots. As a matter-of-fact, Yahweh was originally the Israeli God of the Armies, evolving into the One True God around the time of the Babylonian Exodus, which seemingly explains the barbarism of the Old Testament…but I digress.

The modern incarnation of God is now—not necessarily always was—word-magic and misdirection in the name of politics and power. A mental manifestation crafted to satisfy our basic needs of closure and certainty, which subsequently evolved, for a few, into their base needs of power and control.

In today’s modern scientific age, there is a conflict between the scientific rationalism that has emerged over the last four-hundred years and the superstition that is slowly dying—well, in some parts of the world at least. Many debates, arguments, attacks, and various other means of communication have been devoted to the exploration, explanation, and examination of these two opposing, and seemingly immovable trains of thought. At first, I will attempt to discuss the philosophic God, or deistic God that created the Universe and then left it to its merry ways, then the theistic God. Normally, you’d think I’d discuss the Judeo-Christian God first, devolving him into the philosophic God, then attempting to do away with him too, but this book does not have Random affixed to its title for design purposes!

During any one of the aforementioned communications, the inevitable questions will arise: ‘Where did everything come from?’ or ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?

For believers, the inability to answer such questions may be tacit proof that God exists. For if there wasn’t a god to create the Universe, then from whence did it come? At face value it seemingly passes the rigor of logic, but digging past that shallow veneer shows it as nothing more than the aforementioned word magic. It leaves one pondering the question: a long time ago, in a land far, far, away, did ignorance become proof of God? Human intuition is simply not a reliable means of arriving at an objective truth. As discussed in the previous chapter, almost all the conclusions that we as a species have arrived at intuitively have turned out to be wrong: from Aristotelian Physics, to Newtonian Mechanics, to Euclidean Geometry, to plate tectonics and many, many others. Where our Universe came from is no different. To intuit an answer does not give it any validity. (Not that that means you shouldn’t try.)

So where did the Universe come from? Let us say God for argument’s sake. One should then ask the same question again: Where did God come from?

Many will claim that He just is and always has been using such words as timeless, uncaused, and infinite. Usually, this is where the discussion ends with the theist satisfied in his answer, little knowing nothing was answered. Otherwise known as the Cosmological Argument, or to philosophers of religion, a weak—and to some—wrong version of it.

The crux of the Cosmological Argument goes something like this: there must be something (God, unmoved mover, uncaused cause) that has within it the reasons for its own existence. Anything that does not contain such a reason within it is necessarily contingent on something that does, or something that doesn’t based on something else that doesn’t based on something else that does—hope that made sense. But then how is this different from the immaterial, non-sentient Quantum Field of Quantum Field Theory discussed in the previous chapter that invariably, and mechanistically creates localized somethings and nothings (that still add up to nothing)? It does not, indeed cannot, provide a basis or proof of God except to metaphorically describe that immaterial process as God, which all by itself invalidates all religions based as they are on a personal, caring, infinitely powerful, and intruding deity. But why so many people dismiss the Quantum Field because it cannot be observed, yet are unwilling to do similar with God, betrays a certain double standard.

“The first principle is you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” ~Richard Feynman (Theoretical Physicist)

And if God has always been, then why cannot the Universe always have been? Or if the Universe did indeed have a cause, then why cannot that cause have been natural as particle physicist Victor Stenger probes? Why immediately leap to the conclusion that it was supernatural? Having a God raises the exact questions as not having one. He then goes on to say in his book, The God Hypothesis, putting a twist on the classic existential question, “Why is there God and not nothing?

Merely postulating that God is the creator seems to be a sneaky method of subverting the question of where the cosmos came from without answering it and I believe that it was invented—in so much as you can invent an answer—for precisely this purpose. Even were Quantum Field Theory to have no say-so on the matter, how are we to say with confidence, that the Universe has not the reason for its own existence inherently within it? Or that the Quantum Field does not have the reason for its own existence within itself? (It does.) Most arguments that argue God assume inside the Universe and the Universe are the same thing, but the Universe from where we sit inside it, seemingly already violates, certain fundamental laws we take as inviolable!

For example: we know, due to Edwin Hubble that space-time is expanding and thanks to Einstein, the speed of light is the fundamental upper speed-limit of the Universe. No matter how close to the speed of light you travel, were you to shine a light in the direction you were traveling, the shining light would travel away from you at the speed of light. With a big enough telescope, looking in any direction from Earth, you would eventually come upon a distance or time (since they are intertwined), where you could see no further (right now this distance is blocked by the last scattering surface of the Big Bang, but the model still applies). The reason why is not that you’ve reached the end of the Universe, but that light from the other side of this fictitious divide has not reached you yet and never will. Stated scientifically, the objects on the other side of this divide are moving away from you faster than their light is racing towards you. Wait…What!? What’s actually happening is, though galaxies seem to be moving away from each other, what’s really happening is that the space in-between them is expanding, giving an illusion of movement. As you go out further and more space expands, more space expands in-between the more space. If you go out far enough, so much space is being created that the speed of light cannot travel the interceding distance. Similar to laying down an infinite railroad track in front of an incoming train so efficiently that the train never reaches the end, and the more you build, the faster you are able to build, until observers on the train can no longer see the end of the track and never again will. So while the speed of light is immutable, it does not bind its own inviolability to the Universe as a whole. As such, so many arguments for God are contingent on cause-and-effect to be applicable at the universal inception, though it is only an built-in assumption that causal reasoning applies before the Big Bang. Cause-and-effect, so relevant inside the Universe, does not necessarily bind itself to the Universe as a whole. In fact, according to Quantum Field Theory, down at the sub-atomic level, cause-and-effect doesn’t even exist. Things just happen; particles pop out of nowhere, annihilate with other particles and disappear back to nothing. Inside the Universe and the Universe are two different playgrounds, one doesn’t play by the other’s rules, so it is entirely unreasonable to equate the two, or to intuit from one onto the other. Concordantly, when accused of scientistic arrogance by a priest who claims that everything including the Universe is contingent (that cause and effect is fundamental), theoretical physicist Sean Carroll wrote, in response to the fathers theological arrogance “causes and effects aren’t really fundamental. It’s the laws of nature that are fundamental, according to the best understanding we currently have…

Quantum Mechanics as a scientific tool for understanding the world is one of the most successful, repeated, and accurate theories ever devised by modern science, and it does not give any of the arguments or conditions to validate the Cosmological Argument, except to say that is immaterial, mechanistic, simple, and non-sentient. For while cause-and-effect will always remain seemingly fundamental within the confines of the Universe, we know—to the best of our abilities—by the light example above, the lack of causality at a subatomic level, and the creation of energy from nothing (see chapter How, Not Why), that the Universe is not bound to the instantiated laws of nature within it.

“Knowledge is knowing the tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting in your fruit salad.” ~ Miles Kington (Journalist)

Moving onto the Judeo-Christian God, which is where a lot of earthly troubles manifest themselves, guised as religion. Before moving forward; I do not mean to insinuate that religious belief is fundamentally irrational, neither god belief, nor, to be fair, unbelief. But clearly two of the three options are wrong, and that’s why recently, there has been a struggle for the intellectual high-ground, which at the very least, is a vast improvement on past debates—shunning, burning, murders when religious institutions held sway, though this still happens in some parts of the world. But human beings, being mostly irrational and partly rational, often have difficulty separating their mental and physical worlds. While the majority of religious (and unbelieving) folk keep their beliefs to themselves, a minority (just as in every subject and field) feel the need to proselytize and otherwise harm society at large due to their belief, mostly in legislation, subsidies, and as such hold back the ascent of man. Though this is not to say they don’t do any good, but big picture, in my opinion, the bad outweighs the good. You don’t need religion to do good things, but you often do need religion to restrict the rights of others in areas of their own well-being: contraception, abortion, gay marriage to name but a few. With that said, moving on, and assuming a God exists for the following section. With our current incomplete scientific picture, there are really only two ways that attempt to explain the Universe. Let’s call this juncture the metaphysical fork in the road. There is the Theistic picture and the Deistic picture, henceforth called Options T and D, both of which attempt to use the Big Bang model to explain God. As you read through them, try to picture which would be more likely, and more worthy of omniscience.

Option T:

God, after waiting billions of years for us to evolve, sends His divine law through His human prophets 197,000 years after the appearance of modern humans. These prophecies are only transcribed into holy books—instead of just sending an unalterable or indestructible holy book—years after their prophets’ deaths, into our own changing, evolving, and context-specific languages. Then He subsequently sends updated prophecies, further sub-dividing those who did believe against each other as well as against those who don’t. These holy books are subjected to differing interpretations, in some cases, numerous mistranslations, and often, selective understanding leading to division, conflict, discrimination, agenda’s of power to use in war and genocide, along with the singular benefits of social cohesion to those who share a similar worldview and perhaps inner peace.

He commits to these holy books, laws and commandments that contradict basic human urges. He also claims to have created us separate from all other creatures, despite planting clear evidence to the contrary—DNA and fossils.

Through these actions, He limits these theologies to a geographic area of no more than a few thousand kilometers in diameter in the Middle East. There is limited or no worldly punishment for breaking His rules but immense personal reward to do so, byway of abusing the trust of those who haven’t broken the rules, often at the expense of others who have no voice or who have decided, through their own choices, to take no part in.

Option D:

He created the Universe and set within it, laws for it to be governed autonomously and without exception: gravity, electromagnetism, chemistry et al. We are forever subjected to these absolute forces, over which none have any control or any choice but to obey.

Neither can any one—or being—accidentally or otherwise mistranslate the intended meaning of such laws without volunteering for Darwinian de-selection, nor have they the power to place themselves above these laws, rendering all objects in the Universe which He created equal before the physical laws under every and all circumstances.

All are forever bound to these laws and they to us, and nothing can or ever will change that.

Which, T or D, is more worthy of an omnipotent, omniscient creator who would be, by the definition of the qualities we ascribe to Him, incapable of mistake? Which option is more compassionate and consistent with omniscient authorship?

Does T look like the reality created by an omnipotent, omniscient, and caring creator? Or does it sound like it was written of the people, by the people, and for the people to satisfy the peoples’ delusions of self-importance and closure? He makes mistakes. He sends three books instead of one. He sends His revelations to a few instead of to all, relegating revelation to hearsay—which would have removed any doubt forever and always. By doing it in the manner He chose, He shows a willful intent to cause the repression, subdivision, misunderstanding, corruption, and wars that inevitability followed. But He loves us, so to some, that somehow makes it better, betraying yet another imperfect human emotion.

And does not option D sound like the majestic masterpiece that the Universe actually is? The mind of a scientist is not needed to recognize the inherent beauty of the Universe or the fallacies inherent in option T; it requires only an open mind, one that is open to the evidence that is inherent all around us. The evidence that He put there, if we are to follow this conclusion through to its logical end.

Going further still, why does the Universe need a God for its creation? By demanding the Universe had a beginning (which it does only by our perspective of time, which, if you recall from high school physics is not absolute, but relative), then a personal God by simple extension of logic, must also have had a beginning at one point—unless, of course! God also has a One True God. The conundrum deepens! If He had no God of his own, how could his intelligence be instantiated? If He is formless, timeless, and causeless, then how can he be intelligent and have thoughts, intent, and purpose, which, by our definitions of them, require constant environmental and internal change? How did he go from zero to sixty, without first passing through one through fifty-nine. None of these questions can be satisfactorily answered.

Option T does not add up under any circumstances. It merely involves passing the buck to God without applying the same scrutiny to God as to creation. As David Duetsch writes in his book, The Beginning of Infinity, a good theory is an explanation that is hard to vary while still describing reality and all religious arguments fail this basic test, because they are too easy to vary, and all too often, fail to describe reality no matter which way they are varied. Though of course, they can describe reality by accident as sometimes happens. Not only that, but during discussions, the goal posts are often moved around and around, back and forth, this way or that way, bending inwards and outwards, all to rationalize why the Universe fits T and not D, or N (Nothing). It’s impossible to even have a basic discussion on this issue, for every time you do, the requirements and reality of the situation is changed to accommodate one side of the debate at the expense of the other—much as if one side of the debate is sitting on the train riding along the infinite railroad track from our previous example could never see the end of.

I remember when I was in kindergarten, I asked my friend, “What is one plus one?” To which he responded “two,” and I countered, “Wrong! It’s eleven” putting the two numeral ones together and feeling smug in the act. A few days later, I would ask again, and if he answered with “eleven” I said, “Wrong! Its window,” drawing the condensed equation inside an enlarged equal sign with a big, stupid smile on my face like I won some idiotic contest. The third time I asked, he said “window,” and I said “two.” First off, to my friend that I played this on, I’m sorry, but I was just a stupid kid—still am stupid sometimes. But if you are the victim of this prank, you cannot win arguing against this logic, yet this is the logic of theism, whether they know it or not, when they try to explain away or gloss over, the paradox of a loving God—or a God at all—with the scientific worldview instead of just recognizing the Universe for what it is, and that God simply is not required or even necessary. (It might still be possible, but to postulate God in spite of what we know today, and what we knew in the past, before all the evidence came to light in the last few decades is to not answer or theorize a good explanation to the question in the first place.) Last of all, just because something is logically valid, does not automatically make it physically valid. I’m often reminded of Zeno’s paradox: Achilles and a Tortoise are in a race, with the tortoise having a head-start. As the race begins, Achilles races to where the tortoise was, but the nifty little tetrapod had moved forward. So Achilles must race forward again, but by the time he reaches where the tortoise was, it has moved forward again. Thus Achilles never overtakes, let alone reaches, the tortoise. Of course, we know that this is merely a logical problem and not a physical one. Empirical—and modern mathematical logic—results would show any capable runner overtaking the tortoise in no time at all, and far surpassing it.

Merely postulating a creator, especially a personal one, adds a burdensome step to the equation, an unsolvable step no less, because of the number of unsubstantiated elements in the claim. Just like I’m adding this sentence, delaying you from finishing my book by a few extra seconds, yet providing no function of any kind, except to some book zealots who take comfort in that fact, because the value of their investment increased. (It would help if this sentence was the first sentence of this book, but then it’d make no sense.)

This brings me finally to a simple explanation of God. What we think of, as God, is simply the anthropomorphized Universe. The God of Spinoza, Einstein called it, after the philosopher Benedict Spinoza, who viewed the Universe and God as one and the same thing. Though I prefer to go one step further and call the latter a mistranslation. But be that as it may, out of one, sprang forth Religion, and out of the other, Physics. Same base, different explanations, one is mostly wrong and ignorantly self-propagating—if it left out the facts and tried only to explain human relationships, purpose, and morality would be one thing, but it tries and fails to make truthful claims about the Universe, and this is why science and religion are in conflict. The other started from the same base of ignorance, but was self-correcting with time and criticism, revealing ever more of objective reality, though never quite reaching it. But the difference between the two foundations seemingly, is semantic. God was a way to bring humankind in touch with the mystery of the Universe, in a way that our brains could understand, namely; a face, a name, emotion, and human-like qualities, but as history has shown us, that romanticized history and explanatory effect has—and continues to be—been woefully mistranslated and sometimes leads to social ills, usually in the form of institutionalized religion.

I believe we’ve gone beyond a need, or at least some have, of personifying the strange, immaterial, and counter-intuitive nature of the Universe. No longer is it rooted in word magic, deception, misdirection, and over-complications. By removing those anthropic layers, what remains is our beautiful, majestic, and seemingly infinite Universe, formerly anthropomorphized to fit our preconceived notions and assumptions—and perhaps evolutionary needs—instead of accepting it for what it is much as we have done since the dawn of civilization, and perhaps even farther back since the invention of language. The Earth was Gaia or Mother Nature. The sea was Poseidon or Neptune. Thunder was the wrath of Zeus or the might of Thor. Winter was Demeter’s sadness and on and on it goes. Each culture had its similar explanations, and each of them was subsequently wrong, or very occasionally, right by accident. Now the Universe is just our Universe.

The Universe is far grander, far more beautiful, and far more exquisite than the feeble mental construct we have of an aging white man who while perfect, infallibly exhibits our full range of imperfect emotions, lacks the foresight to see the ramifications that stem from His own judgments and decisions in regard to the human cost in lives, limbs, and lies—much as we have done to ourselves since the dawn of civilization. It is no great leap to say that the Judeo-Christian God was created in our image, rather than we in His.

This line-of-thinking doesn’t replace the meaning behind God, seeing as how we habitually personify inanimate objects and processes, but gives meaning to Him, or rather, It (the Universe), but elevates it above the aging 3,000-year-old (mis)interpretation removing the influence and subterfuge of religion as the middleman. Our creator is here for all to see, everywhere and always present, in every nook and in every cranny, in all our lives, making up our being, visible through a telescope and under a microscope: everywhere and anywhere you look in this grand design of our Universe.

It’s quite clear that the Abrahamic god was created in our own image, and institutionalized religion morphed, evolved, and wrapped itself around that false concept, capitalizing on the self-importance we exhibit, while in reality, we were created in the image of the Universe (see chapter How, Not Why).

Did God invent humanity? Or did we invent God?” ~ Morgan Freeman (Actor)

By Spinoza’s dictum, there is no distinction between the Universe and God, or at least, shouldn’t be. After all, if the original intent of a god (or gods) was to explain the unknowable, then its meaning is finite in its separation from reality, in a dynamic, knowledge-building society as is ours. We can see a clear progression in the meaning of God from before the common era, to now. At first, prior to the monotheistic religions, nature’s laws arose from nature herself, with Gods managing and keeping the chaos at bay (chaos was assumed to be the default state). Then around the Babylonian Exodus, God became the cause of everything, giving us a special place in his creation. Then Darwin came along and gave us the beautiful theory of evolution, though some then argued that evolution was divinely guided. Then Physics came along and through it; the Big Bang and Inflation, and God became God of the ever-evolving and decreasing Gaps relegated and demoted to ever-decreasing pockets of scientific ignorance. While there will always be more to learn, we can (and I feel need to) trump the psychological need for the Abrahamic god as an end all, be all to understanding our origins and our Universe. While it will never be possible to fully disprove God, with the vagueness and malleability of its attributes (a definition ofttimes cannot even be agreed upon). In that sense, perhaps the best course of action is simply to stop talking about it, him, or she in the context of creation and the Universe. Admittedly, I have not followed such a course. But science has given us an alternative and more plausible explanation.

How our Universe—an immaterial entity—was responsible for our creation, as accidentally inevitable as it may have been and the creation of all and everything that ever was, and came to be is nothing short of a beautiful mystery. We may never know why, but to say a god did it is a poor explanation.

For me, it’s a beautiful and humbling thought. We are part of this Universe and come from it, rather than in spite of it; something that religion claims man must know using the word ‘God’ instead.

A wise man apportions his beliefs to the evidence” ~ David Hume (Philosopher)

Something or Nothing

Nothing

This is sub-chapter #5, of Chapter 2, Philosophy, of my ongoing rewrite and open editing process Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World. Sub-chapters #1, #2, #3, and #4 can be found hereherehere, and here.

Brief Synopsis:

The book takes twenty seemingly random subjects, attempting however poorly, to thread them together in the process, attempting to make sense of the world we live in today. It is a very macroscopic worldview as the whole book fits into two-hundred pages, but aims to tickle the intellects of people just enough so they may go on to study more in-depth the subjects of their liking. The narrative attempts to abolish isolatory thinking, i.e., we so often talk, discuss, and debate topics in isolation and assume that the same points prevail in the real world where nothing exists in isolation.

Would greatly appreciate any feedback, corrections, criticisms, and comments. If you want the MOBI, ePub, or PDF, then please let me know in the comments—if you provide constructive criticisms in return, and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published.


NOTHING

  

What is nothing, and where did the something that we are and see all around us, come from? These are questions asked since our humble beginnings. Through the magic of modern-science, answers are finally being wrested out of the ether of space and time, and into something approximating language. Let us begin firstly, with a scientific controversy in 2012 relating to this very notion: the reception to the book, A Universe from Nothing, by the theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss.

There was a firestorm in some parts of the philosophic—and most certainly all parts of the theological—community due to Krauss’s book. The crux of the storm rested upon the assertion that Krauss made in regard to the nothing that a Universe can be born from—though as I discussed earlier, the Universe is still regarded as a different kind of nothing—the Quantum Field, derived from Quantum Field Theory. As close to nothing as we have we ever arrived—and maybe ever will. Quantum Field Theory describes how a Universe can arise from absolutely nothing: that is, no matter, no energy, no space or time, or anything of the sort. Just the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which precludes true nothing from ever taking place, mechanistically popping particles into existence, some of which go on to create conditions that birth Universes. Soon after its publication, the philosopher of science and theoretical physicist David Albert wrote a scathing review of the book in the New York Times alleging that Lawrence was misleading everyone because his book never addressed the basic question of how a Universe was born of nothing, because the Quantum Field is something, even if it isn’t comprised of matter, energy, time, space, or massless particles, and that the book does not mention where the Quantum Field comes from. 

But what if the nothing that we demand explanation of, to explain our origins, never actually existed? That is, a region devoid of fields, physical laws, matter, anti-matter, the Higgs boson, and everything else (presumably including God since by this definition He is most certainly something). What if semantics is the only thing being argued?

Maybe ‘nothing’ doesn’t, and never did, exist, and there has always been something, one-way or the other. 

The history of modern-science has had come with it, at every step, the uncomfortable notion that we have been wrong about almost everything we’ve had guessed at or intuited, particularly magnitudes bigger or smaller than our middle world (as Richard Dawkins calls it), but also many times, that on our scale. What makes the notion of ‘nothing’ any different? Here are some ancient and modern common-sense world views that have met the cruel fate of greater understanding: 

  • We are intelligently designed
  • The world is flat 
  • Stars are holes in heaven’s floor
  • Earth is the center of the Universe and Solar System
  • The aether permeates space allowing light to travel through it
  • Time is an absolute function of the universe (relativity did away with this)
  • The very small, atoms, obey the same laws as the very large, galaxies. Atoms obeys Quantum Mechanics, our Middle World obeys Newtonian Mechanics, and the very massive and fast obey relativity
  • Matter is solid (there is one thousand times more nothing than something inside an atom)
  • Space is a vacuum (empty space actually has a mass. That is, it weighs something and virtual particles constantly appear and disappear)

 

Our notion of nothing, to me at least, seems no different. It has been recently shown in this strange Universe we live in, by such physicists’ as Lawrence et al, in doing a rather ambitious experiment found that the total amount of energy in the Universe is zero. That is, the amount of positive energy (e.g. matter, radiation) is exactly cancelled out by the amount of negative energy (e.g. gravity), and cumulatively add up to zero, which sounds an awful lot like nothing (leading on from the premise in the chapter How, Not Why). This question, seemingly, is no longer philosophical at its core, and as Lawrence himself says, “Nothing is inherently unstable.” Though he refers, to the no-positive, no-negative nothing—or what we might refer to as the absence of all things. Though the mechanism by which that nothing transitions into an equally positive and negative Universe which still amounts to nothing is now beginning to be theorized and understand. Overall, the Universe does add up to nothing, but we are clearly in a localized region of something, exactly cancelled out by some other localized region of anti-something, all without violating the laws of conservation of energy. I find that nothing short of remarkable! 

One of the first Greek philosophers, Parmenides wrote in regard to the cosmos or existence, “It is.” And to pre-existence, or nothing as, “It is not.” However, the latter statement is self-contradictory. To say “It is not,” is to say “It is,” for you’ve contradicted that it is not, because you can think it in your mind—and you can’t actually think of nothing—and if nothing exists, it’s not nothing, but something. Put more simply, “Nothing comes from nothing.” From this, he takes the conclusion, one that I ascribe to, that there has always been something in one form or the other: whether that is universes bouncing in and out of time, randomly bursting into existence, or born out of the primordial soup of vacuum energy or black-holes is yet to be finalized. Today our best—though incomplete—theories suggest the Quantum Field is at the bottom of it all. Maybe that’s right, and I’m inclined to agree—not that my preference counts— or maybe it will be something else deeper down or further sideways. But it seems absurd to suggest, or demand, that for a theory to be ontologically relevant, it must explain why there is not nothing. We have only one Universe, which came from a singularity (neither of which is nothing in the philosophical sense), which gives us a sample of one something, and zero nothings. We have no proof of nothing, just a whole lot of something. (And anti-somethings.)

No matter which way, or how deep or far any theory goes, it will always be possible to probe one level deeper and say why this and not that? But just asking that question does not give it validity. This is not to say that it should not be disputed, or challenged, for this is where science thrives, but we must understand that our language muddles the issue here: the very word ‘nothing’ has no intrinsic meaning. There is nowhere in the Universe where there is truly nothing. Maybe by that admission alone, we’ll never know, but there’s even less fun in that. I recall recently on my blog, a theist lambasting Einstein for not accepting the conclusion from the premises of his Theory of General Relativity: that of an expanding or contracting Universe, which was contrary to the accepted Steady State Theory (SST) of the time. So Einstein added in a fudge factor, the cosmological constant, to bring his theory in line with the then-accepted SST. Of course, the intent was to show how Einstein (and by extension science) did not listen, or accept the conclusion of his theory, and therefore, is rooted in irrationalism and faith—little realizing that that proves how effective science is, even Einstein was overridden. Yet today, with our latest theories making predictions of the multiverse and Universe’s from nothing, physicists are vilified and accused of scientism for merely asserting the possibility that those predictions can be true. It seems, either way, the physicist is always wrong.

 

“Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Our common sense intuitions can be mistaken, our preferences don’t count, we do not live in a privileged reference frame.” ~ Carl Sagan (Astrophysicist) 


This will be the last post until after Christmas. Happy Holidays to all my readers and visitors, and a happy new year as well. Thank you for reading. Ciao!

Do we have free will?

Free Will’s Freedom

This is sub-chapter #4, of Chapter 1, Science, of my ongoing rewrite and open editing process Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World. Sub-chapters #1, #2, and #3 can be found here, here, and here.

Brief Synopsis:

The book takes twenty seemingly random subjects, attempting however poorly, to thread them together. In the process, attempting to make sense of the world we live in today. It is a very macroscopic worldview as the whole book fits into two-hundred pages, but it aims to tickle the intellects of people just enough so they may go on to study more in-depth any of the subjects of their liking. The narrative really tries to abolish isolatory thinking, i.e., we so often talk, discuss, and debate topics in isolation and assume that the same points prevail in the real world where nothing exists in isolation: such as the relationship between science and religion/society, fission with politics and economics, technology against government, and how they subtly, sometimes drastically, affect each other.

Would greatly appreciate any feedback, corrections, criticisms, and comments. If you want the MOBI, ePub, or PDF, then please let me know in the comments—if you provide constructive criticisms in return, and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published.


FREE WILL’S FREEDOM

Free will is a hard topic to approach, as it feels so real to us all. But like all things that do, you must approach it from an objective point of view—not an easy task, in this case.

The concept of free will is that you are the conscious driver of your actions—something that neuroscience is putting serious doubt on.

Elephant…

Now you’re thinking about an elephant. Surprise! Now think about that for one moment. An external stimulus, my singular word, has invoked a chain reaction of synaptic firings and re-wirings in your mind, that then created, or re-conjured from memory, the thought of an elephant, which magically appeared in your brain and without any effort of your conscious mind.

But the underlying mechanisms that created this orchestrated symphony are not, never have been, nor ever will be in your conscious control. They are determined automatically in the background by the mixing of your genes, external environmental stimuli, and the processing capability of your brain (brought into being by genes), which 24/7/365 invoke chemical reactions, electrical currents, and synaptic change in your subconscious and deliver to your conscious brain fully formed thoughts.

No man is an island 

Entire of itself

~ John Donne (Poet)

We are all born essentially tabula rasa, with—seemingly—only four things hardwired into each and every human being: drinking, eating, sex, and being social. Everything else is optional. We have to drink and eat to survive. We feel the urge to have sex, to procreate, as we lack the ability to turn our sex-crazed genes off—as I’m sure most men would agree. And we have the need to keep the company of other people. These are the basic necessities shared by all humans.

Moving into the subconscious: our subconscious minds are essentially tape recorders—does anybody remember these?—recording our every action, inputs, and outputs with the intention of spitting out a desired action absent slow conscious thought when required. This is why practice makes perfect. The consistent act of practicing a skill, be it physical or mental, serves to hardwire the synapses involved in your subconscious so that it can be called on command free of slow, deliberating thoughts.

It’s not like we ever have to think about walking or running, which are actually incredibly complex tasks. We simply think of the destination and our legs take us there. Just going through the motions while we daydream, converse, or take in our surroundings.

Freedom of will is the ability to do gladly that which I must do.” ~Carl Jung (Psychologist)

This is an evolutionary mechanism going back far before our lineage. Conscious thought requires energy, and our brains account for twenty-percent of our total energy usage despite only taking up two-percent of our body volume. On the African Serengeti where we evolved, energy was scarce. If we had to consciously think of every action we ever took, we’d have never made it off the African plains all those hundreds of thousands of years ago, and would’ve simply faded into the ether due to this paralysis of thought. Not to mention that something like consciousness does not simply appear overnight, but rolls in gradually over thousands or millions of years, accumulating the genetic baggage of millions of ancestors.

Your conscious mind is merely the tip of an iceberg, blissfully unaware of the multitudes of processes that take place in its subterranean abyss, creating an illusion of free will for you that gives you the perception of control you need to survive, nothing more.

You don’t need to think to beat your heart, nor to force your liver to function, or to tell that same liver to use the donut you just ate as muscle glycogen instead of storing it as fat. Nor do you control your white or red cell count, nor the pleasure center of your brain that addicts you to carbs, coffee, alcohol, and drugs. We don’t control when we get angry, nor at who, whom we fall in love with, or our irrational like or dislike of newly met—or not-yet met—people. We do none of these things, yet presume freedom?

Is a suffering addict exercising his free will of trying to quit when he relapses due to the overpowering impulse every cell in his body is sending him? He is merely the recipient of pain and overwhelming sensory information that is weakening the finite amount of will he has left—and will (i.e. the will to do things), believe it or not, is a finite resource. When he broke down, it’s not that he wanted to break down; he couldn’t help but break down. This happens to everyone at one point or another. In point-of-fact, salesman and supermarkets use similar tactics explicitly to exhaust your will so that you break down and buy more stuff, higher priced stuff, or higher-margin stuff in the supermarket. Ever wonder why milk, the most popular food-staple, is always in the back corner of every supermarket? Hint: so you have to walk past aisles of sensory-assaulting, not too mention, higher-margin goods.

Think about your current thoughts, whatever they may be. How did they get there? Did you think them up, carefully constructing them neuron by neuron so that you can make a decision or compare it to another thought that you constructed, or did they merely pop into existence? Because if it were the former, then you would have thought of them before you thought of them, as Sam Harris, author of Free Will, writes. They just popped into your conscious mind and you suddenly became aware of it. And it happens so regularly that we never think about it. A paradigm, by any definition of the word, and we all live in our own little paradigmatic universes.

From the day you were born to today, the thought processes in your head and subconscious were and are merely acting in response to external (environmental) and internal (genetic) causes, themselves recipients of bygone causes in minutes/days/weeks/years past. These provoke sets of electrical-chemical reactions that trigger dormant thought/s that interact with other thoughts in line with your bio-chemical makeup, which then coalesce into a grand mosaic of whatever it is you were thinking about at any given moment. We have no control over any of this.

In a 2008 experiment at Stanford University, a group of students had to decide whether to push a button with either their left or right hand upon seeing random letters popping up on a screen.

With complete certainty, scientists could say when the final decision toward action with which hand had been made and it was always before the student was consciously aware of the choice being made, in some cases by seconds. In seventy-percent of the cases, they knew which hand the student would use to push the button before the student was even aware they’d made a choice. That’s seven out of ten times that the scientists could say which hand a particular student would use before the student made the choice, or rather, before the students realized they made the choice, as it was already made and given to them—wrapped and presented in the illusion they consciously made it themselves.

It remains to be seen if this experiment can be replicated in everyday life as opposed to a binary simulation, but those results are so very convincing. The characters hadn’t even appeared on the screen when the subconscious decision for which hand to use was made. So when it appeared on the screen, the student felt like he or she was exercising free will to choose, but alas.

It’s a remarkable aspect of our brains that the multitudes of information, both external and internal, constantly bombarding our senses every second of every minute of every day can make us feel as if we are the conscious driver, and that we have some semblance of control. A beautiful illusion, and fortunately so, for we would all be literally insane were it not the case.

There is the defense that even though we do not control the full thought process of our brains that we can still deliberate, make choices, and determine actions from the thoughts that are presented to us. And that is true. Is this a small slice of free will? Perhaps. But then, considering that this is a tiny sliver of the cognitive processes that continuously occur in our minds, we’d need to redefine the definition of free will. Then again, locking someone in a distraction-free room to make a decision free of external influence does not negate the lifetime of causes that created the internal processes that shaped that person’s brain and behavior with which they will use to decide. So can it still be considered free? I say it doesn’t…but what do I know?

It’s remarkable that it escapes us all on an everyday basis. I am sure that when I have finished writing this chapter, I will go back to my delusion of being totally free, as I have so often in the writing and editing of this chapter. This is the power of, well, my brain at least.

Why did I write this book? I think I have some idea, but I’m pretty sure that idea is oversimplified and not indicative of the real reasons, but this is what I think it is. One day, my brother wrote a book; I felt strangely jealous and seeing how easy it was to self-publish. I had a thought to base a book on some of my blog posts, modified into book form, with additional content to turn it into a real book instead of a collection of boring posts.

That’s the extent of the causes that I am aware of, yet I can say with near certainty that it is much deeper than that. Why was I jealous of my brother’s brilliant book The Favor Men? Biased though I may be on the subject, I can’t say why; I just was. I was proud of him, I was happy for him, but I felt incomplete in a way, under-accomplished and outdone. Call it what you will. Without his book, I probably would not have written this book. That a-ha moment was planted in my brain by my brother, not by me; it interacted with a mosaic of other causes that produced effects that became causes in my brain, and this effect (book) was born.

I am the conscious driver in writing the book, influenced as my agency may be, but the inception of the idea was external to my brain. Had that external cause not happened, I may not have written this book, and you may not have bought it. Are you free to choose that which does not occur to you?

Why did I write this chapter? Well, in the process of writing this book, I read Sam Harris’s excellent book on the subject, Free Will, and while I was already of the persuasion that either we had no free will or it is extremely limited. I had blissfully forgotten that for many years until I stumbled upon Sam’s book. Imagine that! My brain did not remember that I knew that I didn’t have free will—awfully convenient.

We all know on some deep level that the Universe is run and ever affected by cause and effect. Every person knows that a door handle must be turned to open, a button pushed for it to function, and putting one foot in front of the other carries you forward. Yet we presume our physical brains, which function according to known physical processes (namely, electromagnetic and chemical), rises above this four-dimensional space-time, and are therefore not governed by it, rendering us essentially as gods.

Even if consciousness is more than the sum-of-its-parts, as I believe it is, does not necessarily make it free. For it is always at the mercy of the individual parts, as then seven-year old—now eight—Enna Stephens found out, when after having a tumor removed from her brain, could not stop giggling at everything, whether or not it was funny—everything became automatically funny and she could not help but to laugh. The manner in which the separate parts of the brain interact, both internally, and externally, from which the phenomenon of consciousness arises, does not allow causal escape.

Such examples of this causation—and/or correlation—include the presence of blue light decreasing suicides to zero at Japanese train stations. Does a blue light consciously make that Japanese citizen think that today is not the day to jump in front of a train? No…well, I hope not.

In some depressing statistics: some seventy percent of juveniles in reform institutions, seventy-two percent of adolescent murderers, sixty percent of rapists grew up fatherless, and teenagers from single-parent homes are 1.7 times more likely to drop out of high school.

Does a child abandoned by his father decide to consciously become a murderer or a rapist out of spite six to seven times out of ten? Hardly, it seems more likely that he or she loses the influence and guidance needed to make different choices that might have kept them in school and out of crime, of which they would have been simply been riding a different wave of causation.

In any case, it is not a one-to-one correlation of any of the above statistics that makes it seem so cut and dry, and there are always exceptions to the rule. They are merely examples and correlations. The variables, be they mental, physical, or external, number in the trillions, if not trillions of trillions, and there are any number of combinations that they could take. On this subject, so my intent is not taken out of context, children who grow up in gay households end up no statistically different from children who grew up in heterosexual households. It seems to be the absence of a father figure.

The fact of the matter is our brains lie to us. A simple fact of life if you are a human being (and I’m sure for any other creature with a brain). Here are but a handful of ways your brain tricks you:

  • Cryptomnesia

The inability of the brain to remember where an idea came from, so it pretends it’s your idea; quite possibly done several times in the making of this book.

  • Blind Spot

Everyone has a blind spot in each eye that the brain fills in, either with information from the other eye, micro-saccades, or with a best guess from the blind spot’s surroundings. Micro-saccades are the back and forth darting of your eyes accessing your surroundings (it does this several times a second, yet you never realize that either)

  • Social Conformity

Your brain reprocesses your memories to match present social pressures. In other words, it changes your memories to better fit in with your peers today, and neglects to let you know it has done so.

  • Confirmation Bias

A tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses:

“Confirmation bias is often described as a result of automatic processing. Individuals do not use deceptive strategies to fake data, but forms of information processing that take place more or less unintentionally.” ~ Robert MacCoun (Psychologist)

  • Motor Sensory Recalibration

Artificial delays were injected into a cause-and-effect study where a person had to push a button and observe a flash on a screen. The brain adjusted for the slight delay between the actions, making them appear simultaneous. Once the delay was removed, the subjects believed that the flash came before the button push. They’d time-travelled inside their own heads. The external event was perceived to have occurred before the physical action!

  • Memory Reconsolidation

The act of calling up, or re-accessing a memory changes it. Of course, your brain doesn’t tell you this. This is because your brain doesn’t record all the details of an event, merely a loose collection of thoughts and images that are re-stitched together when needed, thereby altering its loose initial configuration in light of present information—similar to social conformity.

  • Event Erasing

The act of walking through an open door can, in some cases, erase the cause of why you walked through that door, i.e., you want a glass of milk from the kitchen, and as soon as you walk through the kitchen door, you forget why you’re there. Your brain has decided for you that the separation of the two rooms nullifies any connection between them.

“I have by every thought and act of mine, demonstrated, and does so daily, to my absolute satisfaction that I am an automaton endowed with power of movement, which merely responds to external stimuli.” ~ Nikola Tesla (Inventor)

Our brains lie to us every moment of every day, and the world we see is pre-filtered, censored, watered down—and for good reason. If it didn’t do these things, we’d be crazy.

As Sam Harris writes in his own book on the subject, a book I highly recommend since he’s not an idiot like me (and he’s actually a neuroscientist), is that the first response to the above, at least at the dinner table, is that if I don’t have free will, why don’t I just lay down all day and do nothing? Well, go ahead and try, and see how long you last—keep in mind, all you’re doing is reacting (effect) to the person, or this book, telling you that you have no free will (cause)…

On the subject of crime, as it is often the second thing brought up at the dinner table, neuroscientists from Harris to David Eagleman, make the rather obvious point that it would not be something that would be tolerated if we all became aware of this illusion, and I am, for what little it matters, in agreement here.

Prisons would still exist, and criminals would be put there who pose a harm to others, but instead of using jail as a one-size-fits all approach for crime, rehabilitation would play a far more prominent role than the small role it plays today. Half of the US prison population are mentally ill (1.25 million people), compared to only forty-thousand patients in mental hospitals.

If we took account of this, our prisons might begin to look more like those of Norway, where they actually attempt rehabilitation of their prisoners instead of punishing them. Prisoners sent there have among the lowest re-offending rates (known as recidivism) in the world, at just twenty percent, as opposed to the rest of Europe at seventy percent, Australia at sixty-four percent, and sixty-seven percent in the USA. You can choose to punish people for their crimes or rehabilitate them, but to do both, seems to be asking too much of human nature. The former results in more crime…the latter in less.

“We still have to take people who break the law off the streets to have a good society, so this doesn’t forgive anybody. But what it means is we have a forward-looking legal system that just worries about the probability of recidivism, or in other words, what is the probability that this person’s behavior will transfer to other future situations? That makes a forward-looking legal system instead of a backward-looking one like we have now, which is just a matter of blame and saying, “How blameworthy are you and we’re going to punish you for that.” ~ David Eagleman (Neuroscientist)

It would seem that free will is illusory and for us mere mortals, it always was and is a cascading waterfall of causes and effects stretching back to conception that changes our mental and bio-chemical make-up, in turn affecting our physical and mental actions. And from all this, our brains simulate order out of chaos, giving us biological machines, a sanity that seems devoid in most other creatures that roam this little blue planet, providing us with the incredible gift of clarity. Look at that, the illusion of free will is a gift, and one that allows us to think and reason; well, that last part is my opinion, so you probably shouldn’t take it to heart.

This is not to say that we don’t experience and feel joy and anger, because we do all these things and more. We do have that sliver of choice, heavily influenced as it may be; it’s just not free. A choice, if already chosen by our subconscious (as shown in the Stanford experiment), is automatically accepted by us as if we did choose it! So saying that you have no free will, does not make you a robot, though on paper it seems too. These influences of ours are unique to each and every person, and give us the individuality that is inherent in all humans. I believe this is what makes us human and separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

“Men are deceived if they think themselves free.” ~ Benedict Spinoza (Philosopher)


Note: the book is fully sourced, but because of the writing program I use, the links don’t transfer over to WordPress. At the conclusion of the twenty chapters, I may throw up a post with all hundred-fifty+ sources, but the final book will have all the relevant sources in the proper locations.

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Exploring Meaning, God, and Science

This is a post I had on my other website that I replaced, so I am reposting it here, so it may live again…

A conversation between two friends on meaning, god, deism, the Universe, and a few tangentially-related subjects that sprouted off and grew wings of their own. It clocks in at 11,315 words long, but if you prefer the summary, read only the last two sections.

Enjoy, and we would love to hear anybody’s thoughts on the subject-matter.

Josh:

Hi Foo

Hope all is well with you. Congratulations on getting the book finalized and out there. I watched a video of a lecture today that I thought you might enjoy. The speaker has written a book onthe subject of how there is something from nothing. It touches on recent cosmology with some interesting history on thought and how it has led to todays understanding. My own thought is that he doesn’t really answer how something came from nothing, rather he re-describes “nothing” as a form of quantum something, which to my mind begs why is there a quantum something rather than nothing (perhaps straying into reductio ad absurdum territory). Anyway i thought you may enjoy it.

http://www.openculture.com/2011/09/a_universe_from_nothing_by_lawrence_krauss.html

Fourat:

Thanks, I appreciate it. It’s been a bit of a ride to get it finally finished! I had watched this lecture before, and I loved it. I devoted a chapter to it in my book. I love this question, and I have been thinking about it recently. I think the question is wrong to begin with. Nothing is a concept of our language and our mental constructs we use to express ourselves. Think of making a chair from wood. Before you begin to create the chair, does it exist? Of course not, but the raw material does, the potential for a chair to exist does (probabilistically speaking), and the energy (person) to assemble that chair. But in our day-to-day paradigms, we think we made the chair, and before the chair existed there was nothing. Nothing is an expression of our language, and not an inherent concept of the Universe. Might be a bad example, but I think it makes sense.

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