A Choice of Two Creation Stories: Cosmos v. The Book of Genesis

Although the new documentary series Cosmos is a science show, it can also be seen as a creation myth.  It tells how the universe was created and how people came about.  This puts it in direct competition with all other creation myths, such as The Book of GenesisCosmos represents the creation myth of 2014.  Trying to find a date for when the Book of Genesis was written is very hard.  We don’t know when or who wrote it, but there is great speculation, both by scholars and the faithful.  Unfortunately the faithful have come up with endless theories to when The Book of Genesis was written and by who.  Some of them are very creative, but they are all self-serving, in that they are meant to validate a particular view of religion.  Let’s just say The Book of Genesis was orally created thousands of years ago, before written language, before history, before science, before philosophy, before most every kind of systematic form of learning that we know today.

For-Cosmos

My point here, is we’re constantly creating stories to explain reality and our origins.  Three thousand years from now, the science of Cosmos will seem quaint – maybe as quaint as The Book of Genesis seems to most educated people today.  And maybe there will be a small segment of the population that clings to the ideas of Cosmos 2014 because it rationalizes some idea we treasure now but is rejected in the future.

Young Earth Creationism is the idea that reality has only existed for about 6,000 years and any suggestion that anything is older is a challenge to their theory.  Basically, these believers do everything possible to rationalize that The Book of Genesis is literally true, even though its full of internal inconsistencies.  They believe Moses wrote the first five books of The Bible around 1445 BC, even though Moses is a character that comes generations later.  They’ve even come up with an idea of how Moses could have done this, The Tablet Theory.

Cosmos is based on science, and science claims to be based on directly studying reality.  Because science is logical to most people, people with opposing creation myths like the young Earth creationists, now attempted to be scientific.  Sadly, their pseudo science is pathetic.  Both sides will reject the myth label, and insist their story is the actual explanation of how reality works.  That puts them into direct competition for the hearts and minds of citizens of the Earth.

Trying to understand how many Americans believe young Earth creationism is hard, but here is one study, “How many Americans actually believe the earth is only 6,000 years old?”  Tony Ortega estimates this is around 31 million.

The new Cosmos will be seen in 170 countries in 45 languages, but how many people will accept it as the best possible current creation story is hard to calculate.   Neil deGrasse Tyson is the new Moses of science, and he claims the universe is 13.8 billion years old, and instead of structuring his story around 6 days, uses an analogy of the 365 day calendar to picture how 13.8 billion years would unfold.  The image is our modern world since the Renaissance would fit into the very last second of that imaginary year is just bind blowing!  One year has  31,536,000 seconds, so this creation myth is quite complex. 

The Book of Genesis, a single chapter in one book, and is merely a few thousand words.  To understand those 13.8 billion years Cosmos covers you’ll need to read hundreds of books just to get the basic ideas how how things works, and thousands of books to get a fairly accurate picture.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t at least one scholarly book for each of those 31,536,000 representational seconds.  Maybe the faithful prefer The Bible for their explanation of reality because it’s requires reading only one book.

For most people, watching the whole series of Cosmos will only be educational in the vaguest sense.  Fundamentally, it will just be another creation story to accept or reject unless they study more science books to dig into the details.  I’ve often wondered just how many science books an average person had to read before they could claim they have a decent sense of scientific understanding.  To get some idea of the variety of science books available, read Gary’s Book Reviews at Audible.com.

Fans of the new Cosmos after finishing the series could read ten of the best popular science books on cosmology and still not understand much.  It’s a shame that K-12 schooling isn’t structured so children end up recreating the classic experiments of science.  Educating a scientific mind might be beyond reading books – it might require a series of AH HAH! moments of doing actual experiments.

Cosmos is a magnificent television show, but it’s only a beginning.  I’m sure the producers only expect it to inspire rather than teach.  It is Glenda telling Dorothy that the Yellow Brick Road exists, and viewers need to follow it to discover the real meaning of science.

The Great Books of Science

Encyclopedia Britannica has Great Books of the Western World – 60 volumes of the most influential writing in history.  This set was inspired by the 1909 idea of Harvard University and their Harvard Classics.  Which is also imagined in Harold Bloom’s Western Canon.  What we need now is The Great Books of Science series.  It doesn’t have to be an actual publication, but a constantly updated list of the best 100 books to read to understand science.  Science books get dated quickly, so the list needs to be constantly monitored and revised.  The editorial board needs to be scientists, or at least popular science writers of great experience.  Here are some attempts of coming up with such a list of science books.

As you can see, I didn’t find that many lists, so it’s a great project waiting to happen.  There’s many more lists of great science fiction books than science books, which is sad.  I love science fiction, but shouldn’t real science be more popular?

JWH – 3/13/14

Can 20th Century Dogs Ever Learn 21st Century Tricks?

We moldy holdovers from the 20th century must admit now that it’s 2014, that the 21st century is much different from how things used to be in our Leave it to Beaver days.  Young people born in the 1990s will have a hard time even understanding our old ways.  And why should they?  As a writer I should spend less time focusing on the past because more and more of my potential audience will have no understanding or connection to it.

On the other hand, I don’t think I can ever become a post post-modern, or whatever we should call a 21st century individual.  I just can’t move my head into the Twitterverse, and have a hard time even using Facebook, which evidently is becoming passé with the younger generations because they’ve already moved on to newer technologies that I don’t even know the names of.  Even more, I really can’t imagine myself wearing Google glasses, or modern fashions.

trans-human 

But I have changed a lot.  Is that even interesting to the 21st century citizen, that a 20th century person is adapting?  If I live to be 100, I’ll have spent roughly half a century in two different centuries.  How long will it take to become a completely 21st century person?  Is it even possible to catch up?  Will 20th century folk always be on the trailing edge of 21st century living?

In history and literature, the term modern means early 20th century, and by the time I was born I was growing up in a post-modern era.  That kind of talk is completely alien to a true 21st century mind.  What do they call their post post-modern lives?

In the world of science fiction, we talk about post-human cultures, and post-humans and trans-humans.  We expected genetics and other cyber technologies to transform humanity into something new.  However, we thought they’d be physically different, but what if that’s not true?  What if merely growing up in a high tech culture makes that generation significantly different?  Hell, us baby boomers growing up in the 1960s thought we were significantly different from our parents who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s.

Would it be possible for a 20th century person to catch up and even surpass a child of the 21st century?  I have 50 years of wisdom and knowledge they don’t – won’t that count for something?  I also have 50 years of reading science fiction and thinking about the future that should give me some kind of edge.  But is thinking about the future of equal value to growing up in the future?  I don’t know.

When I sat down to write this essay I intended to write a completely different essay.  It was originally called “How New Technology Changed My Old Lifestyle.”  But as I wrote the first few sentences I realized the more interesting question is:  Can my older mind catch up with newer thinking?  And if I’m having a hard time, how do the Gen X and Millennials feel?  If must be confusing for a Millennial (Generation Y) to think of themselves as the cutting edge generation and realized they’ve already been surpassed by the latest crop of youngsters, which some people are calling the New Silent Generation or Generation Z.  Hey, it’s a bitch getting old, get used to it.

And even though modern teens walk the tech walk, and talk the tech talk, do they even have a clue as to what the fuck is going on?  Is living in virtual worlds almost 24×7 of any real value other than hiding out from the real world?  Did rock music and dope confer anything special on us baby boomers that made us more savvy about reality?  Is being hip a real survival trait?  Can you transform the world into a better place with just smartphone smarts and social media savvy? 

I think the real trans-human mind will think with scientific clarity that requires seeing with statistics and math.  The real power minds of the 21st century won’t be Twitterers, but data miners.  Talking in 140 characters only leads to snippy gossiping skills, if you want to conquer the world you’ll need to be able to digest petabytes of data at a gulp, and convert it into  graphics that show visual insights that transcends text.  In other words, if you’re only nibbling at tech, you won’t get far.  It’s the super-geeks that will inherit the Earth.

To answer my title question, yes, it’s possible for baby boomers to excel in the 21st century but only if you ignore the glitter of tech glamour, and go deeper.  In every generation it’s the folk that can tell shit from Shinola that succeed.  Technology is transforming how we live, but I’m not sure it’s transforming us in how we think.  People still think the same stupid stuff, but just say it in 140 characters or less.

Probably the real 21st century citizens have yet to emerge.  And all the tech we’re seeing is a kind of churning of digital conversions, transforming culture more than people.  Does it really matter that you watch TV shows via broadcast TV, cable TV, or Netflix TV?  19th century people would feel superior to me because I’m not smart enough to hitch up a team of horses.  I’m thinking the difference between old humans and post humans are whether or not they can comprehend what David Deutsch writes about in The Beginning of Infinity, which is the ability to effectively evaluate knowledge.  Sadly, I’m just as far from understand that as I am at understanding the Twitterverse.

JWH – 1/8/14

Reality is Not About Us–Philosophy in a Photograph

Sometimes I get very philosophically excited by a picture, but I find it very hard to put my reaction to it into words.  The whole picture is equal to a thousand words kind of thing, but for me, some pictures could generate a hundred thousand words, or even millions. 

Here’s a photo I found and sent to several of my friends.  It’s a dragonfly covered in dew.  Philosophically, I’m fascinated by the idea this reality wasn’t meant just for humans, and reality is experienced by an infinity of minds perceiving it in infinite ways.  This is one of the many reasons why I don’t believe in God.  God is too small of a concept to encompass all of reality.  God is too anthropomorphic, to human self-centered, to be a meaningful hypothesis when you study all of reality.  The reason why I embrace science is because science is a better tool for understanding the truth about reality, even though I know that even science is too puny to do the job completely.  Science just handles big numbers far better than theology.

dragonfly-color-intense

Our human senses are so limited when it comes to looking at reality.  For example, look at this second photograph of the same image, taken from the photographer’s web site.  This is from Martin Amm Photography, and is color corrected differently.  The first picture had been color saturated to make it more intense.

dragonfly-in-dew-original

Now don’t get the idea that the second photograph is the way the dragonfly really looked at the moment the camera snapped the picture.  First off everyone sees things differently, and everyone’s monitor color calibrates differently.  But even back in the reality from which the photo was taken the photographer saw the dragonfly differently from what he photographed, and the birds nearby waiting to eat the dragonfly saw it differently too.  And the insects on the same branch saw the dragonfly completely different too.  There is one huge reality, but all the beings in it see it differently, in an infinite number of ways.

To begin to understand how complex seeing is, and I mean beyond just the tiny window of visual light that humans use, we have to study the electromagnet spectrum.  On a recent PBS NOVA, “Earth From Space” they had a scientist report that if the electromagnet spectrum was measured from New York to Los Angeles, then the part the human eye sees with would be the size of a dime.

Size matters.  Our view of reality is distorted by our size and the size of our senses.  When humans invented the concept of God, our awareness of reality was much smaller, and we pictured God as being the biggest thing we could imagine.  All our cherished concepts, God, heaven, hell, love, hate, justice, good, evil are measured by human scale senses.  As human minds progressed beyond theology into philosophy and then into science, we saw the reality around us expand further and further.  At one time God was the biggest thing we could imagine, and then science gave us the universe, an object whose size is beyond our best imaginations to fathom, but it can be measured.

I use the word “reality” to label everything rather than the word “universe” because scientists are now speculating that our universe might only be one of an infinite number of universes.  When I say “reality” I mean the whole she-bang, and not just the big bang.  When I say the word “God” isn’t a big enough concept to convey reality I’m  not just being an atheist, but I’m making a philosophical statement about numbers, size and reality.

Humans generate ideas constantly, but most of our concepts don’t hold up against reality.  Take the concept of heaven.  Many people believe when they die they will go somewhere else, somewhere beyond reality.  Where is heaven?  How big is it?  How far do we have to go to get there?  How many people are there?  How many animals?  What about plants and insects?  What about intelligent beings from other worlds?  Does the dragonfly above deserve everlasting life too?  Reality is huge, but how big must heaven be?  If everything in this reality gets to live again, how big must heaven be?

By one estimate, over 107 billion people have lived on Earth, and that doesn’t count Neanderthals and earlier forms of hominids.   Is heaven and hell crowded now with all those people?  What about their favorite pets? What about all the billions to come?  Just how big is heaven?  Heaven is described in The Book of Revelation and even given with measurements.  Depending on we interpret the ancient measure, heaven could a large shopping mall about the size of Australia.  Did you know the Bible describes heaven as a building, and living in heaven would be indoors?

See what I mean when I say our concepts about reality are too puny to be realistic.  People who study Zen Buddhism are taught to look at reality without using all their bullshit concepts.  If they say something stupid they are caned about the head and shoulders.  If we had a Zen master walking behind us all day, we’d get whacked in the head constantly.  We’re always bullshitting ourselves.

It’s very hard to use words precisely.  We have so many bogus words.  We have too many words that distort our view of reality because of their anthropomorphism.   I find it helpful to stare at photographs and try to forget the words.  Or just stare at reality and try not to explain what I’m seeing.  But that’s a failure too.  You see, we do have a sixth sense, one that the dragonfly doesn’t have, and that’s language.  We see with words.  Learning to use the correct words, without distorted concepts, is a way to focus our inner sight on reality.  We can see reality, in our limited fashion, but we must wash the bullshit off our eyes first.

Does this begin to show you why I got excited by seeing the photograph of the dragonfly?  I’ve written about a thousand words now.  Tomorrow I could write a different thousand words on meditating on the same photograph.

JWH – 6/27/13

Is Dieting a Test of Free Will?

Ever since I read The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker I’ve been obsessed with the concept of free will.  I’ve read enough books on brain studies in recent years to doubt the existence of free will.  Now I’m not saying we’re all robots, but I question whether or not we’re making decisions on our own, as if we were independent souls sitting in our heads driving our bodies around, and making impartial decisions based on weighing all the evidence and facts.

red-pill-blue-pill-matrix

I remember a freshman philosophy course I took in 1969 and my professor challenging us to come up with an example of free will.  That class inspired many arguments between me and my friends.  Free will is a philosophical concept that few people think about in normal life – mostly because it feels like we do make our own decisions so why even ask about free will.

When Neo makes his choice between the red and blue pill in the film The Matrix, is that an act of free will?  If he’s the One, wouldn’t that make him born to take the red pill?

Everyone assumes they have free will and they are acting on their own volition, but the older I get the more I assume that’s just an illusion.  So I’ve been wondering if I can come up with a test for free will.  I think I’ve found one with dieting.  Our bodies and hunger represent the power of nature and the hardwired programming of genes.  The need to diet comes from our environment, where we constantly learn that fat is sexual unattractive, unhealthy, and like Pavlov’s dog, we’re constantly conditioned that being fat is bad.  Without that nurturing my nature would run wild.

If we have free will we should be able to evaluate all the outside data and decide to diet and lose weight because of its own philosophical merits.  Then why do so many people have trouble dieting?  Is it because our bodies, genes and physiological wiring program us to eat and free will can’t overcome that?

I started a diet today and at this very moment my body is already nagging at me to eat something fun.   “What a puss,” my mind tells my body.  I say no, it says yes.  If I can keep saying no, is that proof of free will?

Now there are two factors here:  free will and will power.   Scientists are throwing water on the concept of will power too.  And what’s the difference between free will and will power?  Deciding to diet might be an act of free will, but failing to diet might be a lack of will power.  And if I succeed in losing weight is it really because I have free will, or has outside stimuli overcame my genetic programming and reprogrammed my eating habits?  Where is the me in all of this activity?

Or is it a case of “I diet, therefore I am.”  (I wish I knew the Latin equivalent to cogito ergo sum that includes the word diet.)  Is thought good enough to prove the existence of free will?  Without thought I’d just eat anything I wanted and never think to lose weight.  However, all those thoughts about losing weight come from the outside world.  If I really had free will, wouldn’t it have been my idea to lose weight? 

But who comes up with original ideas???!!!  Einstein and the theory of relativity comes immediately to mind.   Imagining the concept of space-time had to be an act of free will.  Do we discount the billions of years of cosmological and biological evolution that produced Einstein as not part of the equation, or is Einstein’s discovery of space-time really the universe’s act of free will?  Einstein couldn’t have made his discovery without a long history of other scientists and thinkers.

When I choose to diet, is it my decision, or society’s?  Like Neil Armstrong’s “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  Can we ever separate our will from the world’s?  The urge to eat is genetic.  How much I want to eat is probably genetic too.  Choosing to eat between steak and veggie burgers would seem like a free will choice, but is it?  If I had never read about vegetarianism would I ever considered the choice?

That’s the weird thing about asking ourselves if we have free will.  Genetics might be our hardwiring, but the environment seems to be doing all the software programming, so where is there room for free will?  Would that be self programming?  Even if I could write my own personality programming, wouldn’t the “free will” writing the programming been created by outside programming or genetics?

If I really had free wouldn’t even the urge to eat be my choice?  Is thwarting the urge to eat free will, even thought he idea didn’t originate with me?  Is free will the ability to choose among the various outside impulses we get from society?  Society tells me not to eat, but advertising on TV is doing a major brainwashing job to get me to eat.  Every time I see a Sonic commercial I want one of their shakes.

Dieting is a test of will power and maybe even an example of free will.  It’s a shame I always flunk it.

JWH – 12/15/12

The New Normal (NBC)–Now and Then

The New Normal – I love the title of this NBC show that premiered back in September, it says so much.  Makes you ask, “What was the old normal?”  Is there such a thing as normalness?  Having grown up back in the 1950s during the Leave it to Beaver and  Father Knows Best normalcy, I can remember a long parade of new television seasons where Hollywood tried to capture the new normalness of the American family every Fall for a half century.

(Some of the more famous shows about the American family from the last 50 years were My Three Sons, Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Brady Bunch, All in the Family, The Waltons, An American Family, Good Times, Little House on the Prairie, The Jeffersons, Eight is Enough, Family Ties, The Cosby Show, Our House, Married with Children, Full House, My Two Dads, thirtysomething, The Wonder Years, Roseanne,  Life Goes On, Family Matters, The Simpsons, Home Improvement, My So Called Life, South Park, That 70′s Show, The Sopranos, Family Guy, Freaks and Geeks, Malcolm in the Middle, Grounded for Life, Two and a Half Men, Weeds, Big Love, Jon & Kate Plus 8, Breaking Bad, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Modern Family, Parenthood)

new-normal-2

But were Ward, June, Wally and the Beav ever a normal family?  ABC, CBS and NBC painted America as if everyone were WASPs (white Anglo-Saxon protestants)  in the 1950s, and even though my family was just as waspy, George, Virginia, Becky and Jimmy looked and acted like nothing we watched on TV.  America wasn’t lacking in people of color or various sexual orientations back in that black-and-white TV era, television just didn’t report on their normal day-to-day lives.  Some of those old gay couples getting married today were together back during the old normal.

TBDLEIT EC040

My parents were on the ass end of middle class, drank enough to be called alcoholics, fought and smashed things like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and my and I sister ran wilder than any switch or belt could control.  Although television didn’t chronicle my family or anyone I knew, I think it did influence American society, and may have even shaped us.  TV showed us there was no such thing as normal.  Have you ever seen your family on TV?

Conservatives might swear to God that television news is biased to the left, and shows like The New Normal and Glee are propaganda for the liberal lifestyle, but television news reporting and fictional shows have always trailed the changes in society – they have never led the way.  Television has always been the fantasy of how we want to live.  I think America has always wanted television to chronicle the countless types of people that we are, and the accidental byproduct of all this voyeurism was that we have adapted to diversity.  Real life strangers would flair up your xenophobia, but put that same subculture or ethnic group on TV and they became endearing.

Real life and television life seems to have some kind of reverb going, with television echoing changes in society and stimulating society with its feedback.  The New Normal is about two gay men, Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and David (Justin Bartha) hiring Goldie (Georgia King) to be the surrogate mother of their baby.  This arrangement is far from new in the real world, or even on TV, but it’s taken for granted normalcy is a way to convince all those Americans who haven’t gotten the memo, that this is the new normal.

I find The New Normal just as comforting and pleasant as Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best or The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet back in 1958.  These happy families, both then and now, make me feel good and wish all families were just as happy.  Like Modern Family, to which The New Normal is often compared, these and other feel-good liberal shows are designed to make us feel better about life in America in 2012, they are our Sunday School classes about how to be good people.  Our economic lives might suck, but at least we’re evolving as accepting and empathetic beings.

Sadly, this doesn’t work with everyone in our polarized society.  We’re still fighting the war between extreme religious belief and the Enlightenment.  I wonder what Descartes, Bacon,  Locke, Voltaire and Rousseau would make of our modern times, and what philosophical issues would they make out of our television shows?

father-knows-best

That’s the thing, I don’t think television initiates social change, but soothes us to accept it.  Many Americans don’t like gays or gay marriage, but as a whole, those attitudes are changing.  Last October, GLAAD released a report showing the 2012 television had the highest percentage of gay LGBT characters ever.  Not only are there more gay characters on TV, gay characters are finding more fans, and even the hateful grumpy people who protest their outrage are becoming fewer.

Television makes us comfortable with new ideas.  Television is an agent of integration, and I don’t mean that in just the racial integration sense, but in the integration of all change that’s going on in society.  Television is the spoon that stirs the American melting pot.

Television has been programming my social awareness since the 1950s, and it’s fascinating to contemplate all the changes the TV has made to America in the last fifty years.  If we had a time machine and could go back to 1962 and convince NBC to show The New Normal to America back then, how would it have been received?  Of course the show would be seen as a kind of science fictional view of the future.  There’s more new to The New Normal than two gay guys living together, and besides they did have gay people in 1962 so it wouldn’t have been a totally new concept, but they didn’t have surrogate mothers, or iPhones, video games, an African-American president, global warming, etc.  Change is relentless.

Remember, 1962 was before the sexual revolution of the 1960s.  The pill had just been released a few years earlier and it still hadn’t made it’s social impact.  If you watch The New Normal it has an whole spectrum of liberal ideals integrated into the show that would have been overwhelming to the “normal” people of 1962 to digest.  On the other hand civil rights and feminism had already begun by 1962, so maybe the viewers of 1962 would connect the dots between then and now.  And even though America was a technological giant in 1962, I just don’t think those 1962 TV viewers had any clue as what computers would do to our society.

Today we have hindsight to see how far we’ve come.  All too often we judge the citizens of the past by the morality and political correctness of today, but let’s reverse the tables.  How will people fifty years from now look back on us in 2012 and will they judge us harshly?  I’m sure in 2062 there will be a sitcom that’s the equivalent of The New Normal, and if we could see that show today, how would we react?

Liberal education marches on.  Will we ever reach an end and be perfectly enlightened?  I’m sure the seeds of future liberal standards of political correctness exist in our day-to-day life now.  Our treatment of the environment and animals will horrify our descendants.  Our polarized politics and fundamental religions will make the people of 2062 scratch their heads in amazement wondering how we could have been so irrational.  Our wasting of natural resources will be judged criminal.  But those are the easy issues.  What are the harder ethical issues we can’t discern with our quaint old-fashioned minds?

What will be the next new normal?

JWH – 12/10/12

Rethinking the Great Books of History

I am listening to “Books That Have Made History:  Books That Can Change Your Life” from The Teaching Company, taught by Professor J. Rufus Fears and I’m wondering if the “classic” books of history are being oversold.

great-courses

I’m a life-long bookworm.  I got my degree in English Literature.  I study books about books, such as those by Harold Bloom, and I even study the Bible as literature although I’m an atheist.  I wish I had the time to master the great books.  And I started listening to these lectures expecting to expand on my knowledge of the great books of history.  However, Dr. Fears is making me think otherwise.

Books That Have Made History is a popular course for The Great Courses, but I think it has a fatal flaw.  And I’m not the only one to criticize this series, just read the customer reviews at the site.

Dr. Fears approaches these 36 lessons with the assumption the greatest books of history have great moral lessons to teach.  He expects great books to explore and answer four questions:

  • Does God or do gods exist?
  • What is fate?
  • What do we mean by good and evil?
  • How should we live?

Dr. Fears teaches these books with a firm belief in the answers.  He teaches each title by fitting them into his own theological beliefs.  In his opening lecture he discusses Dietrich Bonhoeffer and how he was imprisoned by the Nazi’s and hanged on April 9, 1945.  Dr. Fears said Bonhoeffer and the judge that sentenced him to die both read and studied the same classic books of history, and asks:  How did they come to such morally different conclusions?

Dr. Fears assumes the great books of history have answers to the great questions of history.  I think he’s wrong. 

Dr. Fears assumes there is a God, there is good and evil, that we’re expected to live by definite rules, and we have a fate or destiny in our lives.  I think he’s wrong.

Dr. Fears refuses to believe that the universe is accidental, that there is no good or evil, that there are no moral laws embedded in the universe, and the universe expects nothing from us.   I think he’s wrong.

Dr. Fears advocates The Iliad was the Bible for the ancient Greeks like the Christian Bible is for the western world, and that Homer was a singular real person.  I disagree.

Dr. Fears believe Moses was a real historical figure and there’s amble historical and anthropological evidence to support his story.  I disagree and even think many Jewish scholars disagree.

Now my point is not to say I dislike this lecture series because I disagree with the professor.  I’m asking why we should read the great books of history?  If they exist for the reasons Dr. Fears suggests, then I say, let’s forget them.  I’m dead tired of trying to puzzle out truth about reality from ancient thinkers.  I’m willing to read their books to understand the evolution of mankind and its history, but I have no interest in acquiring their beliefs.

Dr. Fears believes studying these books are valuable and relevant to teaching modern people how to think and act.  I think that’s wrong.  I think that’s why our world is confused and full of conflicting belief systems.

Great books make you think about life and reality, but they should give no answers.  Explicit answers are dangerous.  We live in the 21st century and we need to study the moment.  Now it’s actually impossible to study the current “now” in books, since books take years to write.  But for example, if you are studying cosmology, anthropology, or geology, or another other science, you really need to be reading books written in the last five years, and no more than 10 year old.

History and biographies can have a trailing edge of maybe 25 years, but that’s because some topics don’t get written about all that often.

If you’re studying the great books of history, I believe they should be read as primary sources to supplement current historical research.  Your research efforts should go into studying how and why they were written in context of their times, and not use them for acquiring personal beliefs.

This represents a schism in approaching reality.  If you believe that science has been the only consistent human endeavor to answer questions about reality, ancient knowledge will only be superstitious beliefs and endless philosophizing.  If you believe in God, then ancient writings are a goldmine of potentially revealed secrets.  Books That Have Made History falls in the later category.  My thinking falls in the former, so these lectures have little value to me.

However, they do make me ask:  Should or can we write current books that summarize good and ethical behavior for people to study?  If people are wanting to read books about how to live their lives in a “proper” manner, can’t we come up with something a little more current and based on contemporary knowledge?

JWH – 9/12/12

Why Humans Won’t Be the God of Robots

There’s a scene in the film Prometheus where an android asked a human why he would want to meet his maker?  The human replied that he’d like to ask his maker why he made him.  So the android said to the human, “Why did you make me?”  And the human replied, “Because we could.”  And the android then asked, “Will that answer be good enough for you?”

Science fiction has always loved the motif of man being the God of robots and AI machines – but I don’t think that will be true.  Not because artificial intelligence can’t exist, but because of how AI will evolve.

Please read “’A Perfect and Beautiful Machine’: What Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Reveal About Artificial Intelligence” by Daniel C. Dennett at The Atlantic.  No really, take the time to read this essay, if you are at all interested in artificial intelligence because this is an elegant essay about how AI will evolve.  It’s also a unique comparison of Charles Darwin and Alan Turing that observes concepts I’ve never read or thought about before, especially about the nature of evolution.  But for those who won’t take the time to read the article, I’ll summarize.  Darwin’s theory of evolution, according to Dennett, proves that God or an intelligent designer didn’t create life on Earth.  And Turing, with his Turing machine, proves that computers can produce creative output with no intelligent mind at all.  What I get from this is simplicity can produce complexity.

But back to AI and robots.  For a long time we’ve thought we could program our way to artificial intelligence.  That once we learned how intelligence worked we could write a program that allowed machines to be smart and aware like humans.  The belief was if random events in physics, chemistry and biology could produce us, why couldn’t we create life in silicon by our own intelligent design?

The solution to AI has always been elusive.  Time and again we’ve invented machines that could do smart things without being smart.  Machine self-awareness is always just over the horizon.

What Dennett is suggesting, is artificial intelligence won’t come from our intelligent designs, but from programs evolving in the same kind of mindless way that we evolved out of the organic elements of the Earth.  That humans can create the context of AI creation, that humans can be the amino acids, but they can’t be the designers.  The programs that produce AI need a context to evolve on their own.  In other words, we need to invent an ecosystem for computer programs to develop and evolve on their own.  How that will work I have no idea.

This means we’ll never get to code in Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.  It also suggests that complexity doesn’t come from complexity, but the creative power of non-intelligent design.  There’s a lot to this.

I’m also reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer and it discusses how creativity often comes from our unconscious mind, and through group interaction.  Often creative ideas burst out in an Ah-Ha! moment after we have digested the facts, chewed them over, worried, given up and then forgot about the problem.  We are not even the God of our own thoughts and creativity.  That intelligent design is the randomness of evolution.

lehrerimagine

Time and again the Lehrer book talks about creativity coming from process and not an individual expression.  If you combine what Dennett and Lehrer are saying you catch a whiff of spookiness about unconscious forces at play in our minds and life in general.  Conscious thinking become less impressive because it’s only the tip of the iceberg that surfs on the deep waves of the unconscious mind.  Evolution is a blind force of statistics.  Is creativity just another blind force like evolution?

If Dennett is right, our conscious minds will never be powerful enough to conceive of an artificial mind.  And Dennett also says that Charles Darwin by coming up with the theory of evolution indirectly proves that a God couldn’t have created us whole in a divine mind.  If you think about all of this enough, you’ll start seeing this is saying something new.  It’s a new paradigm, like the Copernican revolution.  We’re not the center of the universe, and now conscious thought is not the crown of creation.

[I didn’t write this.  Thousands of books that I’ve read did.]

JWH – 6/28/12

Does Science Fiction Hurt Science?

Science is under attack in America today.  There are more anti-science people than scientists.  And by scientists I mean anyone who accepts science as the best method for understanding reality, not just working Ph.D. scientists.  I just finished a book Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway and they carefully chronicle how fraud science is being used in politics to attack real science.

Most people have no idea how real science is conducted and communicated, thus it’s very easy to corrupt the general public about scientific knowledge.  Real science is done in peer reviewed journals and is rather plodding.  Popular science writing takes real science and tries to explain it.  This is the first level where unscientific noise enters the equation.  Most people do not read peer reviewed science journals so they must depend on textbook and popular science writers to explain science to them.

The third level down are writers (like me) who take what they’ve read in popular science writing and further spread the ideas or use the ideas in some applied political or practical fashion.  This is were a lot of imprecise and unscientific noise gets spread to readers in general.

I’m a life-long science fiction reader.  I spend a lot of time writing about science fiction and its history.  I grew up thinking science fiction promoted the study of science.  Now I’m not so sure.

Anyone can introduce a meme into the social network.  And they can claim the meme is scientific.   99% of Ph.D. climate scientists say global warming is happening, and it’s caused by humans, but if one non-science person who is good at communicating can convince a large group of people that global warming is a fraud, it will be believed, even more so than by the Ph.D. scientists.  The scientists have billions of dollars of the latest technology systematically researching the problem on a worldwide scale, and one person, with no expertise and equipment, but with good communications skills can destroy all their effort.  Ideas are more powerful than science.

We live in a world of seven billion gullible people who’d rather believe what they want than the truth.  People are self-delusional.

Science fiction is a powerful art form that generates non-scientific memes.  Is that good or bad?  Should we worry.

angels

Thousands of years ago some human came up with the idea of angels and the meme has existed ever since.  In more recent times science fiction promoted the idea of faster-the-light traveling spaceships.  Is a warp drive any more real than an angel?  Battlestar Galactica had warp drives and angels.  I thought the show was a lot of fun, but I don’t believe in either, but many people do.  Create an idea and the believers will come.

battlestar-galactica-backgr

The innocence of science fiction corrupting minds with junk science depends on fans knowing that science fiction is just for fun.  I’ve argued this point before and some of my friends exclaim that it’s obvious that people know that science fiction books and movies are just for fun.  I don’t agree.  I think some people want to believe that their favorite science fiction can come true.  That the future of mankind includes galactic civilizations, time travel, downloading minds into clones and computers, and so on.

I think great science fiction takes real science and dramatizes it in ways that make readers speculate about the future.  The Time Machine by H. G. Wells is a good example.  Wells used the idea of evolution to speculate about descendants of Homo Sapiens and the extinction of our race and the Earth.  The time machine was merely a gimmick to let the reader visit these speculations, but it’s that gimmick that’s stuck with the popular mind.

Other science fiction throws out far out ideas just to see what people will say.  There’s nothing wrong with fun speculation, unless people consider it science.  Take for instance the current film Prometheus which I’ve already written about.  What’s dangerous is if some people actual start believing that aliens visited the Earth and helped humans develop civilization.  Prometheus is only a continuation of 2001: A Space Odyssey back in 1968 and that led to Chariots of the Gods type thinking.

Now this kind of fun pretending is fine as long as you don’t think it’s science.  Science has a huge problem in America.  Few want to study it, fewer still want to accept it, and many want to corrupt it.  I have to ask if my favorite art form is contributing to undermining scientific thinking?

According to this recent Gallop Poll, 46% of Americans believe God created man in the last 10,000 years, according to Bible history.  Science is competing with that kind of thinking.  Does it help science to have science fiction generating all kinds of nonsense ideas too?  If you understand science, science fiction is fun, but if you don’t, how can you tell if the ideas are real or crazy?

Follow the link to the Gallop Poll and read the statistics about Americans and their beliefs.  They’re closer to fantasy and science fiction than science.  In fact, people who pursue scientific thinking makes up only a tiny fraction of the population.  We all depend on science for medicine, cars, airplanes, computers, weather prediction, etc., but few of us study how it works.  Scientists are the magicians of our times, and few understand how their magic works.

I’ve read popular books and magazines about science all my life.  I think of myself as an advocate for scientific thinking, but I’m far from a disciplined scientific thinker.  Science is a very misused word.  Our society is full of junk science, fraud science, pseudo science, fake science, and an emerging category I’m calling zombie science.

Some computer viruses take over personal computers and turn them into zombie computers to attack other computers and create massive denial of service attacks.  Conservatives waging a war on science and environmentalism have developed fake and fraud science to inject into people’s minds to spread zombie science.  They are taking over people’s minds to create a denial of science attack with their anti-science science.  This is very diabolical, but impressive.  Read Merchants of Doubt for the details.

What I’m asking is in this war on science, is science fiction helping or hurting?

Don’t just toss this idea off.  Think about it for awhile.  Everybody has a map of reality in their heads.  How functional or accurate that map is depends on how well it corresponds to actual reality.  That’s what science is about, validating the input of our senses.  It’s extremely easy to program humans to believe anything.  Not only can we be brainwashed but we all actively promote self-delusion.  Scientific thinking is an extremely hard discipline to pursue, much harder than Zen.

Remember Cypher in the film The Matrix, when he sells out to Agent Smith?  Cypher is willing to accept a delusional world because it gives him what he wants.  Most humans do that.  I wonder if our love of science fiction is like steak to Cypher?

People will dismiss this idea.  They will say only an idiot will believe the stuff in science fiction, that science fiction is only books you read for fun.  Well, how many people believe in the Bible?  It’s only a book too.  Don’t get infected by zombie science.

JWH – 6/23/12

I am a Scientist

I am a scientist.  Now that’s hard to explain since I don’t have a Ph.D. in a scientific discipline and work doing science experiments.

When most people say they are something, they are referring to a religion.  I’m not religious.  I’m an atheist, but I don’t like of thinking of myself in terms of what I’m not.  I am a person that believes science is the best cognitive system for explaining reality.  Period.  I’m not sure if there are any other contenders.  I’ve written off religion, so what is there?  Philosophy and art?  Scientists used to be called natural philosophers because they studied nature.  It wasn’t until the 1800s that they began to be called scientists.

For years now I’ve been wondering if philosophy had much to contribute towards our knowledge of reality.  I argue about this with my friend Bill who says no, and I defend philosophy with a maybe.  Now The Atlantic has a wonderful article on this very subject, “Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?

People claim they want to know the truth.  As far as I can tell, science is the only system that has any justification for providing the truth, all other intellectual systems fail in comparison to science.  That’s why I say I’m a scientist.  I believe in science.  I put my faith in science.  However, science isn’t a philosophy or religion.  It’s a system for testing reality and developing a consensus about the results.

Currently, I don’t think science can answer all our questions.  Aesthetics and ethics are two such areas outside of the domain of science, at least for now.  Mathematics is the tool of science, and its own discipline.  Mathematics is the only abstract cognitive system that works well with reality, and thus provides a tool to science.

Religion has no relationship with reality.  It’s purely based on abstract ideas, all theoretical.  Many religious people attack science, or refuse to believe or accept what science has learned about reality.  Philosophers try to embrace science and keep their favorite abstractions.  They hope to connect ideal forms with reality, but that is very hard to do.  Justice is a philosophical concept, as well as a religious concept.  People naturally want justice.  It’s a deep seated desire.  But there is no justice in reality.  If a gamma ray burst hits the Earth and life on this planet is sterilized, does that reflect some kind of justice?  The best we can do is create ethics and laws based on what the consensus of the population wants.

Right now philosophy can claim some value in logic, rhetoric, aesthetics and ethics.

There are two kinds of people on this Earth.  Those who recognize reality, and those who live in fantasy.  But even the fantasy believers accept science to a degree.  How can you get on an airplane or go in for brain surgery without accepting science?  Our houses, cars and gadgets are all products of science.  The food we eat exists because of science, as does the medicine we take, the clothes we wear, and most everything else we come into contact with in our daily lives.

Science won a long time ago when it came to explaining reality, it’s just most people haven’t realized it yet.

When it comes to explaining how things work, science is the only legitimate tool we have.

JWH – 4/24/12

Understanding Reality

Think about cockroaches.  How much do they know about reality?  They have compound eyes that see the world poorly.  They can sense vibration, and they have a sense of touch.  Do they smell and taste the world around them?  I don’t know.  Cockroaches are little biological machines that eat and replicate.  They survive.  Between roaches and humans is an array of animal life with ever improving senses that understand more of reality.  To get some idea how an animal thinks watch “My Life as a Turkey.”  Humans do not have an exclusive hold on consciousness, but our consciousness lets us explore reality far deeper than any other creature we know.

I tend to doubt animals understand their environment in a conscious way.  They react to it, and even develop rudimentary calls that can be language-like that can relate to others of their kind about locations, events or things in their environment.  But I don’t think they ever ask:  who, what, where, when, how and why?  Maybe some higher forms of animals might pine for who, what and where, but I doubt they cognitively ask.

I believe we have a number of cognitive tools that help us analyze, map and understand reality.

Language

Words let us break down reality into parts.  Grammar lets us describe actions with nouns and verbs.  The origin of language let us work with who, what, where and when.

Theology

Theology introduces abstractions that attempt to answer how.  Theology was our first tool that lets us ask why are we here.  Unfortunately, theology is all based on imaginary concepts.  Theology distorts reality.  Theology lets us think we see things that aren’t there.  Theology has imprisoned humans for tens of thousands of years in a pseudo-reality.

Philosophy

Philosophy introduced rhetoric and logic and attempts to understand reality through deduction.  Sadly, philosophy was tainted by religion and sought to reconcile reality with ideal forms of the mind.  It took philosophy centuries to throw off trying to make reality shoehorn into a preconceived concept.

Mathematics

We started counting with language and commerce, but mathematics came into its own with philosophy.  At first mathematics was used in philosophical interpretations of abstractions and ideal forms, but eventually we applied it to analyzing reality.  It became our first tool where consensus and validation was important.

Science

Science is a system for testing reality.  Answers only count if they are consistent, reproducible and universal.  Mathematics became the cognitive tool of science.

Technology

Technology allowed us to expand our senses.  Telescopes and microscopes see further than our eyes.  Other technology allowed us to look into the reality where our senses can’t perceive.

The first three cognitive tools we developed, language, theology and philosophy often distort reality, or create illusions and fantasies.  Most humans never get beyond those three tools and even though they perceive reality far greater than a cockroach because of their superior senses, language, theology and philosophy often just confuses their minds.  Our brains are so powerful that they let us see what we want to see.  Our minds can override our senses and alter reality.  Theology has always been more powerful than any drug, especially combined with the power of our imagination.

The Limits of the Mind

Math, science and technology have expanded our awareness of reality out to infinity in all directions, including time.  How much of this reality humans can comprehend is yet to be determine.  Most humans on planet Earth cannot get beyond theology which blinds them from seeing true reality.  Most religions have incorporated bits of philosophy to make their religion logical and understandable by rhetoric, but its foundation is based on illusion and quicksand.  In recent years theology has even attempted to incorporate science but its been a pathetic failure.  Those people whose only cognitive tool for understanding reality is theology cannot comprehend how science works, if they did, it would destroy their theology.

There are many other tools for understanding reality, such as art, literature, history, journalism, poetry, drama, etc.  They are all subjective, but they have their pros and cons.

JWH – 3/6/12

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