Saturday, June 30, 2007
I have intentionally avoided studying this topic because of the ungratifying nature of it's conclusions. Studying what is know about the universe is like watching all three movies of the lord of the rings series and having the screen go black right when Sam and Frodo get to Mordor- The End. No solution. No payoff.
But it's worse than that. It's like being a blind person who has no concept of sight trying to study high art with metaphors like "sound" and "smell".
The first third and last third of the book are mind-bending entertainments. The middle third was tedious for me. As I came to the end I pondered what I have gathered from turning these pages over the hours. It was enriching, if only to help me understand the current state of thinking- not the universe. And as I turned a page I was thinking about the silliness of the explanations in the book and was happy to read Davies' conclusion, and synopsis of the current state of beliefs:
"At the end of the day, all the approaches I have discussed are likely to prove unsatisfactory. In fact, in reviewing them they all seem to me to be ridiculous or hopelessly inadequate: A unique universe which just happenes to permit life by a fluke; a stupendous number of alternative parallel universes that exist for no reason; a pre-existing god who is somehow self-explanatory; or a self creating self-explaining, self-understanding universe with observers, entailing backward causation and teleology."
A lecture by Davies covering much of this can be see at the beyond belief conference session 5
But still in all this mix is the anomaly of consciousness. Davies points out the evolution of the universe from inflation to plasma to the formation of particles to gases and stars and higher elements and planets. He notes that the existence of life and consciousness can be considered just a further devlopment of the evolution of the universe. And so far I can't see any reason to believe that consciousness is a result of computatioational power. There's a missing element. But it seems abundantly clear that all conceptions of a non-physical soul independent of the brain are losing even more credibility in neuroscience than ever before, and psi research is basically dead. It is tempting to think that consciousness is a primary constituent of the universe "all the way down to little quarks" as Ken Wilber would say.... but it just doesn't seem like there is good evidence that anything without neurons can be conscious, or that information can be transmitted from one mind to another without going through a synapse first.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
This is really brilliant. I would like to see someone use this process to evolve something unique such as a better chess algorithm. I can imagine how it would work. Start with a primordial algorthm and have it play another chess program at very weak strength. Make mutations of the algorithm and have the established program increase it's strength slightly when the evolved algorithm wins. This would take quite awhile, but perhaps its possible to evolve a chess algorith stronger than any one which has been established. The power of natural selection.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Kim was a guest student of physics at Hanyang University from the age of three until he was six.. At the age of seven he was invited to the United States by NASA.. He finished his university studies, eventually getting a Ph.D in physics at Colorado State University  before he was 15. In 1974, during his university studies, he began his research work at NASA and continued this work until his return to Korea in 1978.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Monday, June 18, 2007
Another excellent debate. If you can't watch the whole thing I suggest watching Sam's opening salvo which is priceless, and his ending. He was in top form.
Like the Reza Aslan debate, the moderator ganged up on him. Hedges has a few good things to say, but sort of like the Andrew Sullivan debate, Hedges isn't always arguing with Harris' opinions. Harris brings objective stats such as poll data of Islamic opinion about suicide bombing which shuts him down.
After these Harris debates I like reading the message boards because they always tell the tale. People agree with Harris in about a ten to one ratio so far from what I've read. He has obliterated his entire field of opponents. And so has Hitchens, each in their own way. The facts are on their side so heavily that they don't have to perspire.
Of special interest in the beginning is where Sam brings up Sai Baba and explains that he has over a million followers, many of whom are western educated college grads. They believe fervently that he is a miracle worker. Despite this, he can't even raise enough interest in our society to get an hour special on the discovery channel. But you take a guy from thousands of years ago in a prescientific society with no contemperaneous accounts and conflicting records of his life and somehow people find this compelling.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Briefly the game will be Creationist versus Scientist. The Scientist’s goal will be to gain 30 credibility points, which ends the game. The Creationist’s aim will be to gain as many credibility points as possible before the Scientist wins.
The full match will be two games, with the players playing once as Scientist and once as Creationist with the winner being the player with the highest aggregate credibility. The Scientist player will gain points by publishing papers and books. The Creationist player will gain credibility by getting religion into schools or interfering with the Scientist’s cards.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
Finished this little book this morning. Sagan's command of language was so good that a transcript of his lectures, including the Q&A, make for perfect paragraph forms straight from transcription. There seems to be an adage that certain brilliant scientific minds are bad writers or lecturers. I don't know if this is true. Seems to me that the exceptional ones were extraordinary writers and orators.
A whole generation grew up being mesmerized by the COSMOS series. My family would watch nature shows on PBS nearly every night when I was a kid and I remember seeing these, not fully comprehending the shows but drawn like a magnet to Sagan's charismatic sagacity. I think if it weren't for growing up on PBS nature shows, I wouldn't have been encouraged to care about much of what I am interested in today. Last week I personally thanked my dad for this. A new poll shows that 44% of Americans believe that evolution is certainly or probably false. And 2/3rds of Americans believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old.
The stupidity of this is carried further by the obvious discrepancy inherent in the numbers. I am certain that had these people watched PBS each night and filled their dreams with the fossils, the stars, the savannas and time lapse jungle photography they would not be this way. The world would be different. They would not have reached their 20th birthday still entertaining the idea that the bible is the word of Almighty God.
In the book, there is a Q&A section which made me laugh out loud at one point. It's commonly agreed upon that religion Q&A's are generally dumb, and filled with sophistry, endless regresses, pointless and intentional illogic and nervous attempts to stump someone way more up on the issue that you are. It is embarrassing to listen to half the time because the level of the questions reveal the towering precipice between knowledge levels. I think that religion stunts intellectual growth. It takes otherwise intelligent people and unnaturally cordons off the intellect like a gnarled bonsai tree mulling again and again on the same tired ground without spreading the roots a millimeter. The audience member's questions remind me of a child arm wrestling their father and the father pretending that there is a fairly equal level of arm strength.
Here Sagan shows his wit and charm. Late last night I was drifting off and had to read it 3 times before I realized I wasn't missing anything:
Questioner: What is your opinion on the nature of the origins of life in the universe
CS: I'm for it!
A meaningless question asked seriously and a symmetrically meaningless answer shot back instantaneously.
In the recent faith and science conference, Ann Druyan (Sagan's widow) gave some remarkable talks which can be seen on youtube. She seemed dismayed that Harris and Dawkins were so ascerbic to the religious whereas Sagan's method of dealing with them was less confrontational.
But let me remind you, it's been 27 years since COSMOS, it's been over 30 years since Selfish Gene, its been over 100 years since Darwin.
And in the most powerful nation on earth, the center of technological advance, half the population does not think that evolution is true. Something has gone terribly wrong.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
I never thought I'd see the day when an atheist went on a radio talk show to debate against a Christian conservative and a pastor and have them nearly lay down for his arguments row by row. In this debate you will find fresh witty off the cuff comments by Hitchens followed by silence. You can just hear Hewitt's mind thinking "but shit, I just took a commercial break, c'mon pastor say something, get us out of this one." It's an overwhelming victory. It's such a strong performance byb Hitchens here that ultimately the pastor says that he is grateful for Hitchens because he forces Christians to use their brains and that their doctrines may have to evolve. Hitchens just lays silent for a moment and lets the pastor undermine his entire faith. Also in the debate you hear some statement by the Christians which reveal their comnplete and total lack of understanding of evolution and any scientific rationale behind human nature. They claim to believe in an old earth, but they really don't get the implications of their beliefs at all, nor is it evident that they have ever once thought deeply and honestly about it.
My favorite part was where the "Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin were atheists" argument came up and Hitchens says the following piece of deafening book slamming brilliance that just ends the argument altogether:
"If you want to point out to me a society that went into famine and dictatorship and mass war and torture as a result of adopting the principles of Lucretius and Spinoza and Einstein and Jefferson, and Thomas Paine, then we'd have a level playing field."
End of discussion. In many ways, he adressess some points more effectively than Sam Harris. Hitchen's unabashed audacity provides welcome cover for Harris. Hitchens takes the bad cop role willingly, leaving Harris free to not be the "baddest" bad guy in town.
part 3 http://boss.streamos.com/download/townhall/audio/mp3/79afc6d8-c1ea-4df5-9594-460b8fc8cb1c.mp3
part 3 is the best
Saturday, June 02, 2007
Louie Savva speaks about his journey from belief in the paranormal to studying it and coming to the ultimate realization that it doesn't exist and that life and the universe and everything is completely pointless.
I strongly suspect he is correct. My experience is very similar, though I didn't study psi in a lab. I dedicated my life to the spiritual quest, and thanks to my curiosity delved into the knowledge base necessary to convince myself that there is at least no rational reason to suspect anything paranormal anymore. The evidence for the paranormal follows along the same exact lines as the evidence for everything else like it- big foot, loch ness, alien abductions etc... Intercessory prayer for instance doesn't seem to work. I was once a huge fan of Larry Dossey's work on this subject and it is interesting that Dossey's 2 favorite pieces of evidence for the validity of intercessory prayer have been debunked and discredited (the Byrd study on coronary care patients and the faked Korean study on fertility). And this was before the giant Duke study which basically once and for all stuffed the petard right through the heart of the matter.
I think what is telling about the prayer studies is how much of it seemed to offer promise and hope that it would work, only to lead to the conclusion that it doesn't. It makes you realize that all of psi research is this way- compelling pieces of data, mostly poorly done, which add up to nothing.
I went through the same period of radical confusion as Louie after I decided that life had no purpose. I didn't know what the hell to do with my life. My case is far worse than Louie's I think. He has many doors of opportunity with his face recognition and PhD, and just doesn't know where to go from here. I had no opportunities and no idea which uncompelling route to take. I spent several months at one point during my crisis hoping that I would die in my sleep.
But you never admit these things during them. You wipe it from your memory later. 30 years of belief in illusions has taught me more than anything else in this world that I am an animal with no recognizable freedom of will. I am a puppet. An animated carcass shitting and pissing and blabbering completely meaningless jibber jabber into the atmosphere- a faithful contributor to the water cycle, a consumer of animals, and a payer of student loans.
I am merely an observer. I think I've lost the ability to take a participatory life seriously enough for it to be genuine. I disbelieve in the authenticity of my own human experience.
I am a ruined human being. Reading that would make people instantly assume that I am depressed. Actually I am in quite good spirits. But since I consider the the term "human being" synonymous with "delusional primate puppet", I don't see being a "ruined human being" as being a bad thing necessarily. But I am mostly immune to the illusion, with all it's highs and lows. I find observation fascinating, and will die having lived a pointless and silly existence like every other living thing on the planet.
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