Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Posts Tagged ‘science’

Science Has Failed, Spirit Moves Through All Things

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 15, 2011

I have much to say, but nothing to add. Watch. What do you think?

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Posted in agnostic, Science | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »

Sex, God, Science and Music (Part One)

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 11, 2010

You say, “Don’t talk about Sex, God or Politics”. I say, “Why not? Let’s face it, we’re all interested in them”. Books I’ve dipped into recently include:

Sex At Dawn

“The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality”
Authors Ryan and Jetha say humans evolved in egalitarian groups that shared food, child care and often sexual partners. Apparently this is against the mainstream scientific opinion. They use primatology, anthropology and other fields to argue that humans are not naturally monogamous and thus we should ease up a little in our sexual mores.

Despite centuries of religious and scientific propaganda, the basic illusions underpinning the supposed “naturalness” of the conventional nuclear family are clearly exhausted. … We need to seek peace with the truths of human sexuality. Maybe this means improvising new familial configurations. Perhaps it will require more community assistance for single mothers and their children. Or maybe it just means we must learn to adjust our expectations concerning sexual fidelity.
~ p 308

Bonobo monkey and friend

Bonobo monkey. Apparently we’re related. The Bonobo is the hairy one.

I’d like to mention that in New Zealand we have pretty good welfare for single parents which has led to big social changes, and I would argue, good changes.

Sex At Dawn‘s approach also seems fairly propagandist to me, but the book finishes abruptly and the authors acknowledge they don’t offer many solutions. They do have a far-too-brief look at open marriages, swinging and similar. In my admittedly tiny sample size of people I know who’ve tried “polyamory” as it’s now called, all three couples found it too hard, and even damaging to the primary relationship. Ryan and Jetha suggest that the positive evidence of successful polyamorous couples is hidden, as we like to be private about that sort of thing.

Some of the book’s use of the evidence has been criticised too:

As a primatology/anthropology graduate student, I’m SO glad to see this review! Just reading through this book annoys me because of the vast amount of inaccuracies and flaws. The positive reviews genuinely confuse me so it’s good to see a more critical reader. ” (Sarah Soffer)

and

I’ve studied primatology, evolution, and especially evolution of sex, so this book infuriates me too.

I nearly did not buy it as it is so ‘wrong’ but seeing how so many people have been uncritically accepting all these weak arguments I felt I had to read as much as I could stomach and try to at least make people think more critically and hopefully look to the literature themselves.” (L. Saxon)

Even if they’ve over-interpreted the research, it’s still possible some of their conclusions may be true, they aren’t the first to suggest we should just loosen up and relax our ideas around sexual fidelity. But as for how to include that in my own life? That’s a hard one, and I’m not sure I want to include them. Regardless, it’s a well-written, entertaining and interesting read. What are your thoughts?

Thanks to HappyGirl for lending me great books relevant to my research, or just plain interesting. Hey! What about the science and music? Check out Part Two.

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Posted in agnostic, ethics, Judaism, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments »

God And Alien Life

Posted by spritzophrenia on October 13, 2010

A new, possibly Earth-like planet has recently been discovered. This seems to have slipped by the major news media. I can remember in the early 90s (?) when the first extra-solar planets were discovered. Now, we seem to have discovered tens if not hundreds. This is awesome!

Gliese 581 g, the planet discovered, is 20 light years from Earth with basic and essential conditions needed to support extraterrestrial life.

Earth-like exoplanets have been predicted for years by scientists in what is called the “habitable zone” around a star, but the identification and measurement of one has been called the beginning of a new era in the search for life beyond our galaxy.

Perhaps I should stress the words possibly Earth-like. Wikipedia notes Gliese 581 g has over 3 times our gravity, which I presume is still within the bounds of possibly allowing life. No giraffes, ‘though— I’m guessing any life there would be short and flat. Squashed elephants, anyone?

[Edit: See my update here.]

On Agnostic Forums this news was claimed by some to be a nail in the coffin for the “Fine Tuning argument” for the existence of God. I’ve been trying to get clear in my head exactly what a fine tuning argument claims. I think it’s something like this?

1. The existence of the universe is extremely unlikely
2. The best explanation for highly unlikely things is that a mind was responsible.
3. Therefore a mind was responsible for the universe.

The first premise is supported by most experts, for example Hawking and Mlodinow in their recent The Grand Design, where they spend almost a chapter on this question. It’s the second premise that I am mulling over. Is it always the case that we credit highly unlikely happenings to a mind? It seems intuitively right.

Eta Carinae Nebula

Eta Carinae Nebula

There is also an argument against fine tuning, which goes something like, “The universe is very unlikely, but we know it happened because we are here, therefore unlikely things do happen sometimes”. This latter kind of argument doesn’t satisfy me, it seems to be almost question-begging.

There were various comments on Agnostic Forums, a couple of which I’ll repeat here:

I would be very skeptical of any ‘scientific’ claims about ecosystems on extrasolar planets. So far we are nowhere near being able to determine an extrasolar planet’s ecosystem. Simply detecting those planets is a relatively new science. The only observational evidence we have that extrasolar planets even exist is the effect they have on the stars they orbit.

And,

If we are not alone in the universe, man made religions need to find a way to reconcile that fact with their core doctrines.

What do you think? If we found alien life, would that be a problem for world religions?

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The Firm | Star Trekkin’

Posted in agnostic, cosmology, god, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

Make Babies or Islam Takes Over?

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 10, 2010

Great local pizza and a bottle of chianti last night. At dinner I picked up a newspaper:

“European Christians must have more children or face the Continent becoming Islamised, a Vatican official has said.” I note that with their view on contraception, the Vatican is particularly keen on making babies anyway.

This ties in serendipitously with my recent posts. Quoting from a longer article on Snopes, who declare such claims “mostly false”:

babies!

“The falling fertility rates in large segments of the Islamic world have been matched by another significant shift: Across northern and western Europe, women have suddenly started having more babies … Immigrant mothers account for part of the fertility increase throughout Europe, but only part. And, significantly, many of the immigrants are arrivals from elsewhere in Europe, especially the eastern European countries admitted to the European Union in recent years.”

In short, the best demographers can do is make broad guesses about population trends based on current conditions and assumptions about how (and how much) those trends might be influenced by societal changes. Or, as summarized by [population expert] Walker:

“The human habit is simply to project current trends into the future. Demographic realities are seldom kind to the predictions that result. The decision to have a child depends on innumerable personal considerations and large, unaccountable societal factors that are in constant flux. Yet even knowing this, demographers themselves are often flummoxed. Projections of birthrates and population totals are often embarrassingly at odds with eventual reality.”

See also my humorous White People Need More Sex.

Frankly, the question of Islam and its relation to modernity is complex; I’ve read various commentators, both Muslim and not, both extreme and moderate. I particularly enjoyed Irshad Manji’s The Trouble With Islam Today. I’m not attracted to conservative Islam and I want to concentrate on other interests, perhaps I’ll write more fully in the futuretime.

This morning Romy sent me “Burn a Quran Day“, a tragical church parody ad:

I love it! For any Muslims watching, please remember this is a joke— a parody made by people who do not support burning of sacred books.

Also in the newspaper, thought reading machines are closer to reality. This is cool, and brings hope for severely disabled people, let alone the science fiction utopias of the future. Naturally there may be negative sides; if it becomes possible to read thoughts from a distance then Government spying on your brain may be possible one day. It may become impossible to have mental privacy— would any of us truly want our spouse to read our thoughts? All science brings with it the potential for both benefit and misuse, so concentrating on the positive, it’s a wonderful advance. Looking forward to the day when I can type at the speed of thought.

Even if a bigger Muslim population eventuates, if we encourage all peoples to live together in peace, there is hope. Please remember and publicise the 1st International Meal With A Muslim Day, next week. I’m not sure I can find someone in time, but at least if I can raise awareness, I’ve done my part.

Have a wonderful weekend.

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Posted in god, humor, humour, Islam, Science, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Physically Impossible?

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 19, 2010

Here, as promised, is Hugh Ross’ rebuttal of the ideas in Frank Tipler’s “The Physics of Immortality”. You might want to check the first post to refresh yourself.

It is hard to treat these FAP [Final Anthropic Principle] and Omega Point hypotheses seriously. In The New York Review of Books, noted critic Martin Gardner offerred this evaluation of Barrow and Tipler’s work:

“What should we make of this quartet of WAP, SAP, PAP, and FAP? In my not so humble opinion I think the last principle is best called CRAP, the Completely Ridiculous Anthropic Principle.”

Ross goes on to criticise the theory in two scientific areas:

Warning: Journalist does not understand what they are writing about.

Insufficient Memory

Tipler grossly overestimates the role of human memory and the future capability of computers. Just as computers cannot function with memory banks only, so, too, the human mind and human consciousness do not operate by memory alone. While remarkable advances in computer technology are taking place now, the laws of physics impose predictable finite limits on future computer hardware. As Roger Penrose has documented rigorously in The Emperor’s New Mind and Shadows of the Mind, these limits do not even permit the duplication of human consciousness let alone the fantastic capabilities Tipler Suggests.

Let me butt in here, by wondering what those currently engaged in AI research would think of that last statement? I’ve just read an intriguing book about the MIT research with Cog and Kismet, and what implications this has for human consciousness and God.

Expansion of the Universe

Tipler’s cosmic model on which his whole premise rests is now out of date. It depends on the universe possessing enough matter to force the universe into a future stage of collapse. But … measurements in 1999 and 2000 establish that only three-tenths of the mass necessary to force a future collapse of the universe exists. Moreover, the measured value for the space energy density term guarantees that the universe not only will expand forever, it will expand at an exponentially increasing rate.

Science aside, i’ll also note Ross’s objections to

Moral Perfectablity of Humans

Apparently according to Tipler, future computers will give everyone perfect morality by exposing them to game theory. “Consider, however, that if Tipler’s proposal were true, the better people comprehend game theory, the less propensity they would exhibit to commit evil. Unfortunately for Tipler, no such correlation is in evidence”. [Ross]

Relational Bliss

[Tipler] produces an equation to “prove” that this computer generated cosmic utopia will bring a woman to every man and a man to every woman capable of delivering 100,000 times the impact and satisfaction of the most fulfilling partner each can imagine in life as we know it. … Evidently, many people have never tasted any greater delight than what sexual experience can bring.

In an article for the Skeptical Inquirer, Gardner again brandished his satiric knives:

“I leave it to the reader to decide whether they should opt for OPT (Omega Point Theology) as a new scientific religion superior to Scientology – one destined to elevate Tipler to the rank of a prophet greater than L.Ron Hubbard – or opt for the view that OPT is a wild fantasy generated by too much reading of science fiction.”

~ Hugh Ross The Creator and the Cosmos pp 166,167

Tipler’s not the only one to make mileage out of quantum physics, but at least he’s a qualified scientist. I like this comment from Amazon so much, I’m going to repeat it:

Quantum Physics is the new magic. I’ve noticed from hanging out on philosophy forums online, that Quantum Physics is the new magic. There’s a quantum theory of consciousness, quantum this, quantum that. Everything can be proven with Quantum Physics. So some places have a sort of Godwin’s Law that you can’t use Quantum Physics as proof of anything — unless you yourself have a strong background in the subject. Of course, this doesn’t quite apply, as Tipler is a mathematical physicist, but his writings certainly remind me of all the Quantum Physics-as-magic posts I’ve seen written online.

Interestingly, some early quantum physicists speculated on how their theories might speak to our ideas about consciousness, but others in the same period (eg Einstein and Bohr) were equally opposed to these suggestions. Here’s some articles that helped me understand some of the ways people get quantum physics wrong:
* Chopra Mangles Quantum Mechanics – Again
* Wikipedia on Quantum Mysticism
* Quantum Quackery
* Far Out, Man. But Is it Quantum Physics?
* Thinking About Quantum Mysticism

I see at least two interesting things from Ross’s rebuttal. I’m not qualified to comment on the physics, but maybe the full range of human life can’t be modelled in a computer? And what about Ross’s contention that even with better education, we still display far too much evil in our lives?

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Posted in cosmology, God, Physics, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Mixed Nuts

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 16, 2010

Today’s Spritzophrenia Street is brought to you by the letter Orange, and the number Fish. It’s a wild, rollicking ride through what I’m currently reading, so lets get started.

The Laughter of God

I will argue that [science and spirituality] not only can coexist within one person, but can do so in a fashion that enriches and enlightens the human experience. Science is the only reliable way to understand the natural world, and its tools when properly utilized can generate profound insights into material existence. But science is powerless to answer questions such as “Why did the universe come into being?” “What is the meaning of human existence?” “What happens after we die?”

Meditation

continued…

One of the strongest motivations of humankind is to seek answers to profound questions, and we need to bring all the power of both the scientific and spiritual perspectives to bear on understanding what is both seen and unseen. The goal of this book is to explore a pathway toward a sober and intellectually honest integration of these views.

First, I should explain how a scientist who studies genetics came to be a believer in a God who is unlimited by time and space, and who takes personal interest in human beings. Some will assume that this must have come about by rigorous religious upbringing, deeply instilled by family and culture, and thus inescapable in later life. But that’s not really my story.

~ Francis Collins The Language of God (Free Press, 2006) p 6,7

We now move from the sublime to the ridiculous – but perhaps the ridiculous can be spiritually helpful too?

I believe that people who have a good sense of humor are usually intuitive people in general. Show me someone who has no sense of humor, and I will show you a very stiff, boring person with no insight whatsoever.

~ Warren Shiller quoted in Romy Shiller Who Knew (Trafford, 2010) p 32

Could a sense of humour mark the kind of intuition that helps along the spiritual path?

You may have heard the recent news that the bones of John the Baptist have allegedly been found. Barth’s Notes has an amusing piece— amusing because of the language and feisty-ness of the Bulgarian officials, who it seems need tourist dollars. Hence they’re eager to proclaim authenticity. The evidence seems pretty flimsy to me, see Rollston Debunks Stupid John the Baptist’s Bones Claim.

Sorry Bulgaria, writing as someone who is open to the idea that faith could be a valid way of life, “faith” in the face of clear evidence to the contrary is not faith— it’s dogmatism and idiocy.

Speaking of idiocy, Insane Clown Posse’s track Miracles. Thanks to Marty Atheist Climber for alerting me. Mysteries do not prove impossibilities, especially when it appears we aren’t to try and figure them out. I do like some ICP, particularly Let’s Go All The Way, but check these lyrics:

Water, fire, air and dirt
F**king magnets, how do they work?
And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist
Y’all motherf**kers lying, and getting me pissed

Bahahaha! While perhaps it’s a metaphorical point they’re trying to make, it does come across as celebrating ignorance. Even better, today Marty tweeted me the hilarious SNL spoof of the song:

Eat, Pray, Lust

Following on from the allegations about Eat, Pray, Love

Sex between gurus and disciples is common, sociologists and other experts say. The New Yorker magazine reported in November 1994 that female followers of deceased Swami Muktananda, the man who made Chetanananda a swami, had sex with them. Many devotees later left after learning about the sexual allegations.

~ from here.

I’ve had this in my notes for some time. Now I realise Swami Muktananda is the one who guru-fied Liz Gilbert’s Gurumayi Chidvilasananda (formerly Malti Shetty). Another book in my current pile is a biography about following a guru:

All of the people whom [guru Paul Brunton, alias P.B.] had chosen… as his disciples were singularly favoured. They were to be at the center of the salvation of the universe. There could be no greater honor. This was a universe as simply organised as a boy’s adventure story. I found a similar atmosphere when I read Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings years later.

[P.B.] is not an egregious example of a false prophet. The story I have to tell about him is not an exposé in the classic sense, although I have nothing against such exposés. Tales by insiders of what really goes on in these cults are not only fascinating gossip, they are instructive of the kind of world this spirituality builds. … I was able to observe, especially in me and my father and in Paul Brunton, the clash, the romanticism, and the ultimate tragedy of these attempts to escape the imperfections of the human condition. I was a direct participant, and I did not escape its consequences.

~Jeffrey Masson My Father’s Guru: A Journey through Spirituality and Disillusion (Harper Collings, 1993) p xiv, xv

Things Mistaken for Meditation

Another misguided notion about meditation is that it’s about becoming enlightened.

You can’t become enlightened. It’s not possible.

You can’t become enlightened for the same reason that you can’t come into contact with Truth: you’re already here, immersed in it. It’s like trying to become human, or searching high and low for air.

When we search for enlightenment, we’re like a fish searching for water or a bird seeking the sky. Enlightenment isn’t something you can pursue. And, anyway, you don’t need to, because it’s already right where you are. Meditation is not about straining or striving for some special state of mind. It’s about letting our habitual striving drop away and simply experiencing what’s present before we make anything of it.

~ Steve Hagen Meditation: Now or Never (HarperOne, 2007) p 21

I’ve begun a very basic practice of meditation, after I get up in the morning. I’ve been quietly pleased with my progress so far, no doubt this is the ‘beginners luck’ that most new practices enjoin. Perhaps I’ll report back sometime, if this blog is about searching for higher reality it will pay me to occasionally record such things.

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Which of the above tickled your buttons? Have a great day y’all.

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Posted in Buddhism, Christianity, cosmology, God, Hinduism, humor, humour, personal development, Science, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

The Physics of Immortality

Posted by spritzophrenia on July 26, 2010

I came across astrophysicist Frank Tipler’s The Physics of Immortality some time ago in a bookshop. Looked really interesting, if a bit wacky, but it contained way too much high-end physics for me to evaluate. I always wondered what exactly his conclusions were beyond some kind of g0d. Lucky me, Hugh Ross’s The Creator and the Cosmos has a summary.

According to Ross, Tipler (and co-author John Barrow) believe they can prove from physics that As we continue to evolve, we will become the Creator-Designer:

With [their “final anthropic principle”], the life that exists (past, present, and future) will continue to evolve with the inanimate resources of the universe until it all reaches a state that Barrow and Tipler call the “Omega Point”. This Omega Point, they say, is an Entity that has the properties of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience, with the capacity to create in the past. In other words, the Creator-God does not exist yet, but we (all life and all inanimate structures in the universe) are gradually evolving into God. When God is thus finally constructed, His power will be such that He can create the entire universe with all of its characteristics of design billions of years ago.

continued below…

In his latest book [at the time], The Physics of Immortality, Tipler proposes that evolution toward the Omega Point will occur through advancing computer technology. By extrapolating computer capability doubling time (currently, about eighteen months) some millions of years into the future, Tipler predicts that a future generation of human beings will be able not only to alter the entire universe and all the laws of physics but also to create a God who does not yet exist. Furthermore, we will be able to resurrect every human being who has ever lived by recovering the memories that once resided in each person’s brain.
Ross, page 165

Coincidentally, this stuff aligns with some science-fiction ideas I’ve been thinking about, and speculation in some other books I’ve been reading. Since Ross’s book Tipler’s published The Physics of Christianity.

I really like this comment from an Amazon reviewer:

Quantum Physics is the new magic. I’ve noticed from hanging out on philosophy forums online, that Quantum Physics is the new magic. There’s a quantum theory of consciousness, quantum this, quantum that. Everything can be proven with Quantum Physics. So some places have a sort of Godwin’s Law that you can’t use Quantum Physics as proof of anything — unless you yourself have a strong background in the subject. Of course, this doesn’t quite apply, as Tipler is a mathematical physicist, but his writings certainly remind me of all the Quantum Physics-as-magic posts I’ve seen written online.

I’ve since published a précis of Ross’s rebuttal of these ideas. But what do you think? Weird enough for ya? Comment below. You don’t have to be a physicist to have an opinion.

Posted in agnostic, cosmology, Physics, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Scientists Create Artificial Life – Double Yay!

Posted by spritzophrenia on May 21, 2010

Scientists have created the first ‘artificial life’. This is amazing and awesome news. Hopefully there will be many new and useful applications of this achievement over time.

Already there are strong words of caution from various quarters, suggesting we need to think very carefully about the ethics both of creating life and of the potential risks to the environment if an organism was released. Rightly so. This doesn’t mean the discovery can’t be used – but like many others I think our ethics are lagging significantly behind our science. Here’s a conservative christian perspective, but many non-religious ethicists are also cautious, as the BBC and other news articles show. Here’s a slightly snarky atheist point of view. And there’s a small part of me that says, “Life? Some artificial DNA into a cell equals life? Just what counts as ‘life’, anyway, let alone sentience?”

I’m also expecting both sides of the creation-evolution debate to use this discovery as a weapon. “Aha”, the atheist evolutionists might say, “this shows that life isn’t really all that special. A bit of chemistry and hey presto”. I have to say atheist evolutionists because there are in fact a number of theistic evolutionists, as I write about here, even though the young earth nutters are more vocal.

Whereas, the non-evolutionist creationists will say “It took $40 million and a whole lot of science to create life. All this proves is that intelligent design is needed. Besides, this is far from true biogenesis from non-living matter.” I do think they have a point.

So I say this latest achievement is inconclusive for either side, and award science a big “yay!” and ethics a big “yay!”. I look forward to seeing the progress that both make in future.

Posted in agnostic, Biology, Science | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Atheist Spirituality: Real Poetry?

Posted by spritzophrenia on March 5, 2010

A beautiful and moving vid for anyone, like me, with a background in or appreciation of Science. Or just of beauty.

I’m a regular reader of Santi Tafarella’s Prometheus Unbound. It’s relevant to my recent posts on atheist spirituality; I was going to partially quote, but I really can’t do better than

This Is What Atheist Spirituality Looks Like?

I kind of like the above video, but there’s also a part of me that feels the undercurrents of a hijack, not just of religion, but of poetry: scientists unweaving Keats’s rainbow and replacing it with, well, this. And notice the Christmasy church bell feel that starts the video is soon followed by the not so subtle anti-Platonic and anti-Kantian refrain of Richard Dawkins:

“There’s real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality.”

But if science is the poetry of reality, then what is religion and poetry, well, good for? What are they the poetry of? The refrain would seem to suggest an either-or, not a both-and: you’re either a science-literate person enmeshed in the poetry of the real (material) world, or a muddle-head living in Don Quixote Land.

But is life really this simple and easy to coherently integrate? Is it just the perversity of the theist and poet that makes things seem more complicated than they really are? At one level, of course, science is the poetic map of the material world, revealing the contours of its poetry. But at another level a philosophical question must always linger behind the empirical: why should the material world show itself to have any poetic contours at all? Why, in other words, is the material world a cosmos and not Shakespeare’s sound and fury signifying nothing (that is, a chaos)?

Afterall, the universe signifies or it doesn’t. Which is it? Chance can’t signify. Chance means zip. So where is the space for atheist spirituality and feelings of wonder except in the sublimation of chance and the illusion (delusion?) that the universe answers the questions we put to it with harmony and significations? But the atheist universe is a text without an author, so how can anything that is not an author—or the product of an author—signify?

William Blake called the universe without the human imagination a desert. I agree. But the chance universe, actually devoid of independent significations, births intentional ghosts by the billions who are full of significations (that is, us). Isn’t that interesting? The poetry is not in the blind mechanisms of the stars, but in ourselves, Horatio. And, well, how did we get here? 

Maybe there’s still room for religion and poetry after all.

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