Sunday, September 28, 2008

John Adams

I've started watching "John Adams", the HBO series. I'm renting it from Netflix.

Initial thoughts after the first disc:

1) In times of real crisis, smart people are forced into politics.

2) Nothing we are facing today is a real crisis. We have a lot of pseudo-intellectuals proclaiming doom from the highest mountaintops but those are just molehills compared with what John Adams was facing.

3) What a shame that our government has become what it is after its modest beginnings. What a shame that we as a society feel that tax money and government interference is necessary to solve every individual case of poverty or mismanagement. This is not what a government ought to be used for. We (the people) surely ought to be able to fund all the welfare we'd like without actually taxing ourselves and getting the government to do all the work for us. It's probably the worst way to do welfare, given the government's track record on efficiency.

But I'm not too concerned about it, because we aren't in a real crisis.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

On religion

My personal feelings on the subject of God And All That:

There's no proof, but there are some things that strike me as needlessly suspicious.

First, though, I'll explain why randomness is incredibly important. If there is no randomness in the universe, then the universe is deterministic: given the laws of physics and given the current state of things, the end result is predetermined. Free will is non-existent. In this case, soul and God and all that seem fairly irrelevant anyway.

However, if we can somehow prove that something, anything, on any level, is truly random, then determinism is ruined and free-will has a chance. There is no way to predict what the universe will do next provided that something in it is random -- that given the state and given the laws, there is no way to predict what this one random thing will do next.

Now consider pi.

Maybe that's a strange basis, but the simple ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter results in a mathematical number with no pattern and no resolution. It seems to be the mathematical equivalent of "random" -- if you take a sample of any million digits of pi, you'll find that each of the numbers 0-9 appears about 100,000 times each, as you would expect if they were being generated randomly.

I'm not sure that this proves anything but I call it "needlessly suspicious", that we can look at a circle and find proof of limitless precision in a number that you can calculate to as many digits as you like with no patterns and nothing but mathematical randomness in the digits. To me, it feels a bit like the universe has held its finger along side of its nose and given us a wink.

I've also always thought that human memory was suspicious. The ability to remember things is still being studied with some surprising results. I've generally thought it was suspicious, how much we can remember and I've never really bought the theories I've read for how we can store what we do.

My personal theory is that we never truly forget anything. I've been driving down the road before and seen an intersection that recalled a dream I had some years prior, the kind of dream that you wake up and forget immediately, and here I was remembering it in detail based on a visual cue. The question of a soul really comes down to whether or not there is more to us than meets the eye and I've generally felt that human memory was a suspicious hint that there is more to us than meets the eye. The fact that more detail can be brought up under hypnosis adds further suggestion that the problem is not what we can remember, but rather, our ability to reach it.

However, this isn't to say I would suggest anything "supernatural". I've never liked that word. Or "paranormal". There is no such thing as supernatural or paranormal, there are only things explained by science and things which science has not yet explained, but eventually will. If consciousness is indeed a projection into this universe from somewhere else and if there really is more to us than can be gleaned from our atoms then it's still science. It's just a question of theory and evidence and proof, all of which may be beyond us for a long time yet.

But just because something hasn't been entirely figured out doesn't mean it's "religion" as if that was some counter to "science". The root of religion could be thought of as theory, in this case trying to explain the phenomena of consciousness. People rising from the dead and transmuting water into wine and cloning bread, that's just stories and deals with the OTHER part of religion, the philosophical part. That part is interesting too but it's not of great interest to me. The real root of religion is the theory of what it is we really are and what, if anything, it all means. It's a question for science, but it's currently too far beyond science to be able to answer it with any certainty whatsoever. We aren't even sure what the properties are of the type of matter that accounts for the majority of the mass of the universe. We have a long way to go before we can really say anything about the scientific questions being posed by religion.

There are still some truly huge questions about the nature of the universe which science has yet to answer. Maybe when we know more about the universe, we will know more about ourselves. It's far too early to take on the mantle of atheism as if it was scientific fact. You might as well be touting aether theory or the idea that the sun orbits the earth. Those were perfectly valid at one time but lack of evidence to the contrary sometimes just means the evidence hasn't been found yet.