Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

Common creationalist misconceptions.

This is a response to a comment on my blog awhile ago, which I just today had the time to tackle.  I’m chipping at some common Christian misconceptions.  This is not to say that only Christians make these errors, or they are the only errors.  These are just some that my dad made.

I said “They all say that” in response to the statement “I am right because God says so.”   It was said that they all say the sum of two and two is four as well.  That’s not a proper comparison.  Everyone agreeing that 2 + 2 = 4 is fine, because four is not mutually exclusive.  The four of the Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists, is all the same.  However, they all say that they act in accordance with the divine.  Their answers are mutually exclusive, so the fact that they all say they have the answer says that most, if not all, of them are wrong.  Consider, 150 men in room saying they are the President of Bolivia.  It is a mutually exclusive claim.  At least 149 of them must be lying, perhaps all.  Suspicion is warranted when “That’s what they all say.” applies to subjects to which there can be only one correct answer, but there are, instead many.

Next it was said that God demands worship in the Bible, so the real question is not which God is real, but is the Bible true.  True enough, but a bit misleading.  The Koran also claims to be the word of God, as does the book of Mormon.  The question is not “Which of these books is true?”  To ask that is to assume that one is, in fact true.   The question is, “Are any of these books true?”

Then it was said, creation demands a creator.  Yes, and no.  Design demands a design process.  Who is the designer of open source software?  Who provides the central, top down, single design vision? No one.  The developers are volunteers, they take the code and change what they feel like.  Changes which make the software fitter are kept.  When changes make the software less fit, they are removed, and the software continues to exist.  There is a design process, but no designer.  Natural selection provides this for life.

“The Bible is scientific, logical, and believable.”  No it’s not.  Talking donkeys, suns stopping in the sky, unicorns, etc.   Do not kid yourself.  If you chose to believe the Bible despite these things, that’s fine, but please don’t pretend that it’s logical.

“The only other explanation is atheism”  Several billion Muslims and Buddhists would beg to differ.

“If the world could be proven to be approximately 7k years old, then that would prove the Bible was true.”  I wasn’t aware the truth of the Bible was up for debate, and dependent upon scientific evidence.  If that’s so, the Bible is clearly wrong, case closed.  If the Bible is true regardless of proof, what possible point could there be in discussing proof?

The thickness of the dust on the moon.  *sigh*  This argument is totally bogus, and I will let this link do the talking.

The giant redwoods do have precursor species and have nothing to do with the flood.

Mount Saint Helen’s formations were ash, not rock, and have nothing to do with anything in particular with other formations.

Polystrate trees: first this then this, and finally this:  What percentage of the worlds strata reveals polystrate trees vs the percentage that doesn’t?  Then explain why an anomaly that appears less then 1/100 of 1% of the time says anything about how well the theory works in general.  If you accept the logic that the slightest irregularity destroys a whole theory, I have some Bible verses for you.

I need sources sited for fossils smelling like fish, and intact bone marrow, to research that.

“The funny thing is, of course, that “science” will try and keep coming up with something, anything rather than accept that the design was intelligent and that requires an Intelligent Designer”

Well, yes, that’s science’s job to describe things in natural rather than supernatural terms.  Once upon a time, everybody just knew that you got sick from supernatural forces, but science corrected that.  With time it will correct other things that people attribute to the divine.   And religion will will continue to fight any encroachment of its power over people.

February 10, 2009 Posted by | atheism, Christianity, Paranormal, Religion, Uncategorized | , , , , | 27 Comments

Power to the Sheeple!

Power is freedom from evidence. The more power a person has over others, the less evidence they need to back up their claims. Atheists like to imagine a world where everyone is rational and doesn’t surrender their power to some weirdo with an old book, but its not going to happen. People surrender their power because they can’t handle it. With practice anyone could learn to play a guitar or reason. But genetics decide if you are going to be jonny play-Hotel-California or Eric Clapton, and genetics decide if you are going to be a well-read pew warmer or someone truly amazing (and hot) like Rebecca Watson.

People need religion because whether to drink Coors or Miller is about all the empowerment they can handle. What atheism really needs to go mainstream is shrines and their ilk. A pretty little place with firelight where one can have a spiritual moment. Atheism needs to create a religion with all the extra bunk.

Is it in the spirit of atheism? Not at all. But people need some ceremony, some candles, some ego masturbation. Give it to them along with correctly presented truth, and they still get the truth. These people are going to believe things based on authority no mater what we do, so let’s make their dogma consistent with reality.

I mean the Bible, and therefore people who follow it, are right on with things like “Be ye kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other…” it’s just the places where it says things “Let’s beat our kids with sticks, stone to death disrespectful children, sexually active unmarried people, and homosexuals” that they run into trouble.

Heck, the whole book of Ecclesiastes is basically a bronze age apology for existentialism. (And makes points completely in conflict with the rest of Scripture.) In the end the real problem is that people aren’t capable of critical thinking. So, let’s make up religion that teaches critical thinking. Technically, the people running their mouths about critical thinking would be doing so because they were told to, but parallel it to people loving other’s because they have to. [As part of God’s non sequitur message of “Love me, or I’ll kill you”] . The fact that Christians attempt to love each other for reasons other than love doesn’t mean that people aren’t getting loved. Sometimes, rarely, the parts of the Bible about taking care of the poor are even followed. Good is done even though ultimately, blind faith in authority has equal potential for bad.

Basically: the fruits of critical thinking make people happy even if they get them by NOT critically thinking. So, we’ll start a church that teaches critical thinking as a command, giving the sheep a chance to be benefited by it without them actually developing the skills, because seriously, with people like Focus on the Family blowing 150 million a year on misinformation, who has the time to convert people one at a time?

Instead of missionaries, we can have ad executives. Instead of pastors we can have licensed therapists. It’ll be great. Who’s with me?

Doctrine to be announced.

November 3, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Paranormal, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Shrine of Godlessness.

It was a beautiful day in the Mosel valley, today. We’ve got sun only about every 4th day or so this time of year, and one must take advantage of it when one can. Finishing a wonderful late lunch of a dry chicken curry, we laid the youngster down for nap, enjoyed a bit of marital bliss, and a post bliss nap, then went for a walk in the “forest”.

Now, forest here doesn’t mean quite what you might imagine. It’s a fiercely “managed” forest, i.e., there are no trees in a certain age/size range because they have been logged out. Biodiversity suffers correspondingly, making it more like a park than a wild wood, but its a lovely, leafy still place to take a walk. Down the middle of it is an old cobblestone road. It could be 200 years old, or 2000, you never know around here.

When the hand is held at arm’s length, every finger between the sun and horizon is 15 minutes of day light. We got to the woods with a finger of of sun left in the valley. The sky was orange, and the trees gradually lost color, the vibrance of their brown of bark and green of moss gradually fading to navy and gray on their way to the black of silhouette. As I walked along the muddy cobbles I saw lights on the hill. It looked as if Christmas lights had been laid in a heap on the floor of small room, and the lights shown red and white out the arched door.

As we walked the lights seemed to grow brighter against the gathering darkness while they go closer. In the last of the sunlight I could see the tiny building. It was shrine to Heilige Maria, Mutter Gottes, Saint Mary, the Mother of God. The red and white lights I had seen where the candles on the floor shining through the red and white glass that held them. The keystone of the arch read 1877, making this shrine a century younger than the one up the path a few miles.

I am not a Catholic, I am not even a Christian, but out of respect for the beliefs of those who built the shrine I removed my hat as I walked in. The shrine was warm, still holding the heat of the day in its massive stone walls, while the warmth outside disappeared with the sun. The ceiling was low, and the interior cramped by the two small kneeling rails.

I knelt on the first kneeler, the air thick with the scent of hot wax. I stared through the wrought iron bars at the tiny icon of Mary, holding the wounded Christ. Religiously, neither meant a lot to me. I never met Jesus, despite 25 years of looking. The Protestants tell me that woman holding him is not so important either, though the Catholics venerate her. As art, it was fairly weak, a mass produced bit of old plaster in a dusty hollow in the wall.

But that’s not to say I didn’t feel anything. I felt the press of history and the warmth of candles in room lit the color of gold and blood by the flame sparkling through the crimson wax. A shrine is repository of dreams and desperation. Though “Danke Maria” was written in stone on the walls, mostly I feel the dark peace of those accepting that there was nothing they could do to cause or prevent something. Kierkegaard’s dread poured out on the terra cotta tiles of this little stone room.

As always, I liked it. It’s the feeling you have when you stop crying and you know you aren’t going to cry any more. It’s the feeling of accepting the unacceptable because the only control you have is how you choose to feel about it. And so ironically, the shrine worked. I rose from the kneeler, feeling hard and strong. No mater how much I wanted something to be true, I couldn’t make it true. But I can change things by my actions.

November 3, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Paranormal, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

God, what a meal.

A cynic, a compassionate atheist, a pragmatic Christian, and a fundamentalist Christian, all received an invitation to God’s banquet.  The cynic got there first, wanting the satisfaction of proving its non-existence before anyone else did.  He was disappointed to find a beautiful table set for four and full of all sorts of beautifully presented and delicious looking foods.

The pragmatic Christian, worried about propriety, figured that being too early might be a form of disobedience, but also worried that being late might have dire consequences, arrived merely respectfully early.

The compassionate atheist, fascinated and curious, arrived exactly on time.

The fundamentalist, breathless, arrived ten minutes late.  He had spent the ten minutes interpreting the various possible meanings of the statement “You are cordially invited by God to a banquet” before departing.

“Well,” said the Christian, “Isn’t everything so beautiful!”

“Its lovely,” agreed the atheist

“But what does it mean?” asked the fundamentalist.

“I see nothing!” spat the cynic.

The atheist grabbed a helping of mashed potatoes with a silver spoon, and looked around to see if anyone wanted more.

The Christian looked longingly at the mashed potatoes.  They looked delicious, but should he eat them?

“I see no mashed potatoes!” spat the cynic.

The fundamentalist gasped, “What are you doing?”

“I was invited to a lovely banquet which began at seven o’clock,” began the atheist. “The time is now seven oh two.  I am serving the mashed potatoes.”

“But who are you to serve the mashed potatoes of God?” asked the fundamentalist.

The pragmatic smiled. He had prayed about it and know knew they were to eat the potatoes. “We’re the guests of God, of course we can eat them,” he drawled, holding up his crystal plate.  The atheist dutifully spooned some on, still looking around for more takers.

“I find no pattern of mashed potatoes in Scripture,” the fundamentalist said suspiciously.

“I see no mashed potatoes,” the cynic insisted.

“What do you mean you see no mashed potatoes, they’re right in front of you,” said the atheist surprised.

“Ha!” cackled the cynic, “I thought you’d never ask.  God is an illusion, this is the banquet of God.  There is no God, therefore, there are no mashed potatoes.”  He leaned back triumphantly in his overstuffed and comfortable dinning chair.

The pragmatic Christian and fundamentalist, scandalized together, cried out “That’s blasphemy!”

Atheist, simply shook his head, and took another bit of roast duck.  “Whatever, Cynic.”

“I knew your free thinking would destroy in the end, Atheist.  You share these simpletons’ disillusion,” Cynic sighed happily.

“Cynic, I have always been more concerned with truth than with not believing in God.  I observe that I am in a magnificently appointed room full of delicious food.  To deny the existence of the veritably of the real merely to fit an existing theory is the antithesis of science,” Atheist paused, ” As such it is your department, and not mine.”

“Are you saying that you believe this is not some sort of illusion?  You fool! I’ll blacklist you!  I’ll end you.  You’ll never publish again!”

Athiest smiled warmly. “I’ve no doubt you could Cynic, you’ve alway held more public support than I in social affairs. Still, all the more reason to enjoy this now, while its in front of me.”  Atheist held some green beans out to Pragmatic and Fundamentalist Christian.

“Thank you, kindly” said Pragmatic.

“I’ll take nothing from your fated hands!” cried the fundamentalist. “Your kind are a cancer on this earth!  You have stolen the Holy food of God and you don’t even believe in him!”

Cynic’s bitter eyes picked up at the mention of cancer.  “Yes!  A cancer, thats what man is!  A festering carbuncle on the buttocks of the earth!”

“Oh, I agree, Cynic, I agree,” gushed the fundamentalist. “Man is filth. A disgusting aberration not worthy of this table of God.”

“I see no table,” growled Cynic.

“Nor do I, Cynic.  My mind could never comprehend the beauty of God.  He would never present my filthy sinning carcass with such splender.  This must all be an illusion created by my own mental filth,” said Fundamentalist piously.

“We are all filthy vandals,” Cynic conceded.

Pragmatic Christian had been listening with growing concern to this speech. “Uh, Fundamentalist, we are brothers, so I hate to correct you in front of our enemies, but what you are saying is wrong.  Man sins, yes, but he was created in the image of God. He is full of incomprehensible value and worth as a result.”

Fundamentalist laughed, a single explosive sound. “Ha! You and I brothers?  I share no parentage with you and your secular humanist plop.  The intrinsic, incomprehensible value of man?  The Bible says all men have fallen short of the glory of God. Fallen short, Pragmatic.  Who can comprehend the ways of God?  Clearly, this room is trap of Satan, a trap of pride and vain glory.  Man and all his work are worthless!”

“Worthless!” agreed Cynic.

“Come Cynic, let us leave this illusion of joy and return the true reality of suffering and pain.”

Cynic rose stiffly, offering his arm for Fundamentalist.

Tears welled in Pragmatic Christian’s eyes, “But brother, you haven’t even touched the food given to us by our Father!”

“For twenty minutes I have sat here, and God has not feed me one bite!” said Fundamentalist primly. “Unlike some people, thought I may starve, I will not presume upon God.”

“But,” began Pragmatic, “You cannot sit at a table God has layed in front of you and told you to go to and talk of starving.”

Fundamentalist smiled condescendingly. “Oh, Pragmatic, who are we to presume to take matters into our own hands? God will build what he wishes.  When we try to do God’s work for him, can’t you see we are usurping Him?”

Pragmatic sputtered, “But its right in front of you and He put it there for you to take!” to Fundamentalist’s back as he walked toward the door arm in arm with Cynic.

An awkward silence descended on the banquet hall.

“So,” said Pragmatic Christian.

“So,” agreed Compassionate Atheist.

“I’ve never really talked to an atheist before,” said Christian.

“I don’t often talk to pragmatic Christians either,” said Athiest.

Pragmatic cleared his throat, “I’m a little afraid of you, to be honest.”

“Yup, me too,” said Atheist around a bite of pheasant.

Pragmatic Christian was delighted.  “I am afraid you will corrupt my mind with your evil atheist ways, are you afraid that I will convert you to Christianity?”

Compassionate Atheist smiled gently before answering.  “Well, no.  I’m afraid of other things.”

“Like what,” asked Christian wide eyed.

“Oh,” began Atheist, “say, an Inquisition.”

“Oh, is that all,” laughed Christian. “We don’t do that anymore.”

Atheist nodded.  “Why is that Christian?  If God is the same today, tomorrow, and forever, why is it that you don’t do that anymore?”

“Well, because God never asked for that!  That was evil men who merely used the power of the Church for evil!” said Christian confidently.

“Ah,” intoned Atheist, “and what will keep that from happening again?”

“Well, that would never happen today!  My Christian leaders are working hard to seize political power so they make sure bad things like abortion and homosexual sex don’t happen.  I am sure they could prevent an Inqisition too when they run this country,” he said helpfully.

Atheist choked a bit on his merlot. “Uh, um..mmmm. Uh, Christian, why did the Inquisition happen again?”

Christian leaned back into the velvet chair, ready to tell a story, “Well you see the Church left its position of spiritual power and, pursuing a ends-justifies-the-means school of thinking, seized political power.  This power was used for good at first, but gradually, the level of power the Church had began to attract evil men who eventually…” he trailed off, his face a mask of betrayal and shock.

“You seduced me, Atheist, you used your evil demonic power to make me think evil of the Church!” Christian yelped. “At least I am not responsible for the Nazi’s!”

“I never knew the Nazis” said Atheist quietly.

“You lie, Atheist, you lie like your father the devil!” shouted Christian.

Atheist sighed.  This had happened before.  He mentally counted to ten and then back down. “Christian, Hitler claimed he would bring back traditional family values.  He was supported by Christians, and often used Biblical points of view to justify his position.”

Christian, realizing he was standing, sat back down. “Well, I’ve heard that before, but Hitler did so many un-Christian things, that I sort of forgot it. I’ve never understood how people who loved Jesus could support something so horrible.”

“Well, it has a lot to do with those two characters who just left, ” said athiest with a wry face. “A skeptic, which most Atheists are, would have investigated Hitler’s claims. It takes Cynic and Fundamentalist to manage a genocide.”

“Yeah, I thought you and Cynic were best buddies, but he seems to really hate you,” said Pragmatic Christian, side stepping the second half of the comment.

“Its all about skeptisim, Christian.  I believe in asking why, and trusting what I see over what somebody tells me.  Cynicism are often mistaken for being skeptics like me, but we have less in common than you and Fundamentalist.”

“Really?” said Christian, “I thought all you godless heathens were alike. Uh.. no offense.”

“Not at all.  Cynicism is about being mentally lazy, assuming that conventional wisdom is true.  Skepticism checks everything to make sure it is as true as it can be.  It looks at all the options and chooses the most likely one.  Skepticism never says that God isn’t real, only that he doesn’t seem very likely within the limited parameters that we can test,” said Athiest.

Christian looked puzzled. “But how does that make Fundamentalist and Cynic alike.  Cynic hates God, hates anything religious, anything spiritual, honestly, even hates anything beautiful.  Fundamentalist is convinced in the beauty and power of God. How come they get along so well?”

Athiest smiled. “Cynic believes that he can figure out anything by consulting what people all ready think.  He only uses the powers of his mind to look at established wisdom.  Fundamentalist believes that he can figure out anything by consulting what people think about his Holy text.  He only used the powers of his mind to look at established wisdom.  The only difference between Cynic and Fundamentalist is where they draw their inspiration.”

“I often thought something like that,” admitted Christian. “Fundamentalist is so concerned with what what has been said about the Scriptures, he often gets distracted from the message, arguing about dispensations and translations.  Neither one really thinks about what makes things true or investigates things.”

Now it was Atheists turn to look surprised.  “I didn’t know that you were that interested in asking why or investigating things, Christian.  I guess I sort of assumed that you were like Fundamentalist.”

Christian grinned.  “Well, you can’t interpret scripture without asking why.  The Bible is a very large book and a skilled charlatan can make it say anything.  We always have to check what scripture says against other scripture to make sure it all fits.  When someone says they have some new doctrine you can’t say ‘Ok’, no sir!  Paul compliments a group called the Bereans for being, as you call it ‘skeptical’.  In my church we call that ‘Being Berean’ and its a good thing.”

Atheist and Christian shared the last piece of pie.  Christian privately thought he had won a great victory for the cause of Christ with Atheist.  Atheist, in turn, found it delightfully ironic that the best Christians were the most skeptical ones. When the last morsel of pie was done, Christian turned to Atheist.

“Compassionate Atheist, what do you think of this banquet we have had.  Do you still not believe in God?”

“I don’t know, Christian.” He said. “I see a beautiful meal, but I never saw anyone make it.”

“But someone had to make this all!”

“Well,” Atheist said “I admit the mousse was divine, but I can’t say that God made this because with the test methods I have, the most reasonable explanation would not be God.”

Christian looked pained.”But if not God, who made all this beauty?”

“I don’t know Christian.  But I can agree with you that it is beautiful,” said Atheist.

“How? What is the source of beauty if not God?” cried Pragmatic Christian.

“I don’t know Christian, but I will enjoy finding out.  The joy of my life to understand mysteries,” said Atheist solemnly.

Christian looked shocked.  “But that is the joy of my life, to discover the mysteries of God. Surely, Atheist, it cannot be your joy to discover the mysteries of his Creation?”

Atheist chuckled, “Why not Pragmatic Christian?  Did you assume since I have never met your God that I saw all the world as a empty gray?  I love life.  I love to explore.  I found your statements about the intrinsic value of man deeply moving.  We agree on so much.”

Christian spoke quietly “I guess I did assume that about you.  Do you really see the world as thing of great of beauty to be explored?”

“I do,” said Atheist.

Then you are doing the work of God.  To bad you will burn in hell, dear friend, thought Pragmatic Christian.

“Well, I wish you luck, Atheist.  I hope we meet again,” he said aloud.

And I hope your “being Berean” delivers you from this madness before Fundamentalist seduces you or kills you, or Cynicism comes calling on the heals of disillusionment.  You’re much too valuable to lose, dear friend, thought Atheist.

“I’m sure we will, we have so much more to talk about.” said Athiest aloud.

July 8, 2008 Posted by | Paranormal, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I talk to the physical manifestation of the conceptualization of my wife (and get advice about asking her for advice)

One of my favorite concepts about the human mind is the idea of the human mind as an operating system for the brain, just as Linux is the operating system of the computer that I am writing this on.

This concept is a whole mental toolkit, with fascinating rabbit trails relating to almost any issue of the mind and brain. Mental problems, for instance, could be caused by single component hardware failure (traumatic brain injury), system wide hardware failure (biochemical imbalance), operating system failure (neurosis), or application failure (disorders that have limited “system wide” problems, but effect certain tasks deeply, such as phobias.)

Within the framework of popular computing, avatar has different meanings depending on context. The word is borrowed from Hindu, where it means the physical incarnation of a deity. In online forums, an avatar can be something as simple as a picture. This picture represents the user in someway. In 3D online games the avatar is the player’s body in the game’s universe (metaverse). Both of these qualities represent the avatar as a representation of user within the system.

However, unique to advertising, an avatar is a program which interacts with people. Often, avatars in the context of advertising are called bots. If you would like to talk to one, Ikea has famous avatar named Anna. In the first 2 cases, the avatar was a user of the system. Anna, however, is the system, or at least a part of it. So an avatar becomes any human faced set of code, regardless of whether the input and output functions of said code are controlled by a human mind, or a mechanical one.

Today, I was lying in bed after my wife had gotten up. I was not quite asleep, but neither was I fully awake, which, often as not, results in a unique dream state. (I should mention before I explain all this, that I am an extremely lucid dreamer. I often interact with people in my dreams with both me and the person I am dreaming about understanding that I am dreaming. This one was a little weird even for me, though.) I was simultaneously dreaming of speaking with Becky and hearing her real, non-dream voice from downstairs. I found this disconcerting and asked my dream wife what was going on.

Oh,” replied dream Becky, “I’m an avatar of Becky. The real Becky is downstairs. I represent every thing that you know about Becky, accessible through a normal conversational interface.”

So,” I asked “Technically you are me, in the sense that you are my memories of Becky?”

She frowned. “Yes, technically, I am you, or at least of you, but it’s best if you think of me as Becky, because if you think of me as you, then I cease to be an incarnation of everything you know about Becky and just become the form of Becky. I can’t provide you with her unique perspectives. I become a projection of yourself into Becky’s form, rather than Becky’s form projected onto your understanding of her identity.”

I get it,” I said “By having you as an avatar of Becky, it gives me a second way to access Becky’s mind when I need her perspective and she’s not available.”

Right,” said dream Becky “Of course, I can’t give you her real perspective. It’s not telepathy or anything. If she’s available, by all means ask her, but if you are deployed to forward base or something, you can ask me.”

I thought about this for bit. “But if you are the sum of everything I know about Becky, then I already have access to all the information that makes you. To access you, I need to be in a dream state, whereas to access your constituent data I only need to concentrate for a moment when fully awake.”

Well, first of all, I can provide you the information in a much more intuitive, conversational manner, “ she said. “Further, since a dream state is more relaxed, I can often give you more accurate information. If you deeply desire to do something that you need to ask Becky about, that desire will cause distress. When you access her/my data intellectually, your mind will color how you conceptualize Becky to bias the resulting conclusions to cause less distress. By taking the time to be relaxed enough to be in a dream state you get marginally less data mined information. Thirdly, I offer a unique service if you are mourning.”

What’s that?” I asked surprised.

She explained, “If something happens to real world Becky that makes her totally unaccessible, ie death or coma, I can provide a way for you to interact with her. In the coma example, I can provide you with the parenting advice you need to raise your daughter without Becky. When you hear of a deceased spouse visiting someone in a dream thats an avatar like me.”

So what you are saying,” I began, “is that anyone I know well, exists in two states. The real world state and the pretend state?”

She responded, “Pretend isn’t quite right. When you play Star Wars Battlefront you aren’t really a Storm Trooper. There is no reality in which you are a Storm Trooper, but the ones and zeros of the Star Wars Battlefront game are as real as you are. While I am not strictly speaking, real, the biochemical interactions that create and define me are real and objectively verifiable.”

And continued, “More correctly, all human beings react both with real people and with their avatars in their respective minds. When you and real Becky fight about something it is often because one of you does not meet the other’s expectations. I said one thing, Becky said another. You are angry because the real me outside your mind did not respond the same way as the real me in your mind.”

I was dumb founded. “So this explains why humans believe in an immortal soul even though there has never been any evidence of it? If something happened to real world Becky, I would still run into you from time to time. To the non-skeptical this would imply a visit from the afterlife.”

Exactly, “ she smiled. “It actually explains a whole a whole slew of paranormal phenomenon: ghosts, doppelgängers, messages from the afterlife, etc. And might even offer insight into mental illness. What do you think would happen if your own avatar was based off of a false concept of self?”

I thought about it. I really had no idea, though I agreed it was a fascinating question and worthy of further thought. “I don’t have any idea, Becky.”

Avatar Becky smiled coyly. “Then, I can’t either, silly. Time to get up.”

I woke up, and went downstairs to tell Becky how smart she/I is/am.

June 30, 2008 Posted by | Paranormal, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ruled by madmen

PART I

It is not hard for us as human beings to believe everyone is born with different capacities based on the organs which they receive. If you are born with long, strong legs, a slight build, and heart which responds well to aerobic training, you have the capacity to be a marathon runner. This doesn’t mean you will be a marathon runner, merely that if you chose to, you could be. Where as, if you are born squat, broad, stubby, and with skeletal muscle that responds well to resistance training, you have the capacity to be a Navy seal. This “navy seal” guy might really want to be a marathon runner. He might compete in many marathons and work out 6 days a week. He might become the best bulldog shaped marathon runner ever. But despite his drive, he will regularly get trounced by people who are more physiologically ideal for the task. Ditto if the bean pole guy decides to become a special forces member. Training can only improve our innate capacities; it can not create them. This is seen most clearly in women’s versus men’s athletics. Some women are better athletes than men, but in general women are smaller and weaker, so they compete with other women instead of men.

Evolutionary biologists believe consciousness is a meta organ. Consciousness is like man’s freakishly large brain, or upward pelvis. All have unique attributes that helps us to advance ourselves. Consciousness is not as clearly understood as the angle of the pelvis, however. Our understanding is largely gleaned from things which we understand better in other disciplines.

The brain is a very advanced computer. The mind is ALL the software on the brain at a code level. Consciousness is the operating system which allows the different parts of the mind to relate to each other. The mind presents us with an environment which is subjectively real, but objectively false. For example, when the mind is dreaming, one may dream of people who are long dead. This dream is real. The chemicals and electrical activity that the brain is experiencing during the dream are objectively real. The dreamer’s body responds in an identical way as if the experience were truly happening in that moment. But while the dreaming itself is real, the dream has no counter point in reality.

The consciousness is the buffer between the reality outside the mind and the reality within it.

A classical explanation of consciousness in self awareness. This self awareness is seen as the line of demarcation between man and animal. Realistically, however, consciousness exists as a gradient based on mental function. Higher mammals with advanced social structures, such as wolves, elephants, and chimpanzees, all experience symptoms analogous to mourning when a member of their social construct dies. Mourning is indicative of consciousness, because mourning expresses an inability to rectify the object reality (non-existence) with the subjective reality inside the mind where the loved one continues to exist. Memories of interaction with oneself and another imply a concept of self.

Back in the human experience, psychologists define sanity as a continuum of communication with reality. The deeper the communication with reality, the more sane the person is. In other words, the more effectively the consciousness divides the reality within from the reality without, the greater the person’s sanity. Very few people are profoundly mentally ill. The National Institute for Mental Health says that 1 out of 17 people suffer from serious mental illness. Using this left side of a bell curve, it might be reasonable to believe that around 1 out of 17 people populate the right side of the bell curve. These people represent what can be called hyper realists, who have profound and meaningful communication with reality. The remaining 15 people will fall somewhere between.

The most common manner in which consciousness fails to provide a buffer between the inner and outer realities is known as magical thinking. Wikipedia says magical thinking “…is nonscientific causal reasoning that often includes such ideas as the ability of the mind to affect the physical world, correlation equaling causation, the law of contagion, the power of symbols, and the meaningfulness of synchronicity …” More simply, magical thinking is the idea that things in the reality of the mind effect things in the reality outside the mind. Most people engage in magical thinking to some degree, despite the fact it is madness. Indeed, studies have proven a direct link between propensity to magical thinking and propensity to psychosis. (Eckblad & Chapman, 1983, and Thalbourne and French, 1995)

Within man’s social groupings there will be some truly mentally ill, some truly mentally healthy, and many retaining enough mental health to function normally in the reality outside the mind, but suffer from grievous disillusions in the inner reality. A simple example, again from Wikipedia: “31% of Americans polled expressed a belief in astrology and 39% considered it scientific according to another study.” So one out of three people believe magic determines reality to some degree.

Recall the example of mourning: the mourning process is a gradual reduction of distress as the inner reality learns to accept the death which the outer reality has already confirmed. However, perhaps a full third of the population does not feel the need to accept the outer reality of death. They choose to believe instead that death is not real. The loved one has not ended, but merely changed state and continues to live in an unseeable, unprovable reality called the afterlife. If pressed, the bereaved might admit why they believe so strongly in an afterlife: to believe something actively argued against by reality brings them less distress than allowing their mind to agree with reality.

The ramifications of this to man’s social groupings are enormous and terrifying. Man is a highly social animal who forms groups whenever he interacts with other members of his species. These groups will always have a leader. The leader will be the person who offers ideas which cause the least distress, and the ideas which cause the least distress will be the ones farthest removed from reality. To be very clear: The leader of most human groups will be the one who has the deepest internal mental illness, while exhibiting the greatest outer mental health.

A hyper realist will rarely be seen as a leader, for his grip on reality denies him the ability to provide simple answers to the complicated and interconnected problems which plague mankind. The truly mentally ill have an obviously insufficient grip on reality and are not sought to be leaders. As far as “the center of the bell curve” is concerned, the best leader is the one who grips as much reality as possible but has the most heartfelt belief in non-reality. He is the one who can provide simple answers. He is the one who can substitute correlation for cause and make trustworthy sounding fictions.

Imagine, a corporation on the verge of bankruptcy. The stockholders meet together to decide whom of the various executives available is the best candidate for the job. One candidate says, “I have analyzed our situation, I have consulted the world’s leading experts on our situation, I have run every number, and my conclusion is this: We can save this company, but it will be risky and difficult. We will have to do many unpleasant things and be very unpopular with certain groups of people, but I think we may be able to save it.” Another says “I believe in this company! I believe in America and the American system! The great people of this company have pulled together against adversity before and they can do it again!” Most often, the executive who states that it is his personal belief, and the personal beliefs of others, that will make the company work, will receive the job over the executive who takes an honest assessment of the risks.

In short, the cynics cry that we are ruled by madmen is not false, but reasonable and likely. People who are a little mentally ill (which statistically most people are) will be most pleased with a leader who appeals to their latent illness without alienating their overt sanity. Remember the opening line of this blog? “It is not hard for us as human beings to believe everyone is born with different capacities based on the organs which they receive.” It is however, hard to accept, that different consciousness will decide the capacities of a human as well. Some people are prone to be realists, some are prone to be mystics. A mystic might discipline his consciousness to accept realism, and realist might grow up in culture that values mysticism. We all have different capacities based on what we inherited. The humanist hope however, of a wise world, undistracted by beautiful fancies and noble lies, is not to be had anytime soon.

The best we can hope for is rule by realists rather than mystics. If history is any indication, this a rare and unlikely state of affairs. Thankfully, realists are up against, not other realists, but against people who think they can change the world by thinking about it. Realists will prevail eventually. Its just too bad the mystics have to take so many good people with them in their orgiastic self destruction.

May 6, 2008 Posted by | Paranormal, Politics, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A recipe for mass murder

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(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_thinking) For Wikipedia’s excellent article.

To quote Wikipedia (the compendium of all human knowledge) “Like science, magic is concerned with causal relations, but unlike science, it does not distinguish correlation from causation.” Magical thinking is an import step in the process to having a vibrant and mature mind. Sadly, most people never move on to logical thinking, but continue to add and subtract from magical thinking attempting to make a suitable world view.

A wise man once said to me, “You will have a world view, whether you chose one or not.” It’s true. There is no such thing as person without world view, there are only people with logical and systematic paradigms and people with illogical and asystematic paradigms, but every person operates from some paradigm. Our world view is the product of our method of thinking about our thinking, our meta-thinking, if you will. If one never puts a thought into how one thinks, one will think poorly. Thinking poorly, one will produce an haphazard world view. Owning a inconstant world view produces an inability to perceive others consistently, which in turn, will cause an inability to relate to others consistently. This (finally) is the definition of hypocrisy, so the magical thinker will always fail by the standards of his or her own flawed value system.

Substituting correlation for cause isn’t just bad science, it’s dangerous to the human spirit, and here’s why: When a person consistently substitutes correlation for cause they will come to believe that their thoughts have the power to effect reality. Virtually everyone in the US will be in a car accident at some point in their lives, some will be in many. Use the example to a logical thinker and a magical thinker, both whom have had the statistically unlikely situation of being in 3 accidents in 3 months.

The logical thinker asks why is this phenomenon happening? He gets online and studies accident statistics. He has his tires and brakes checked, he talks to his insurance company. He is unhappy with all these accidents and and investigates the way his actions effect him.

The magical thinker asks himself why this phenomenon happening to me? Instead of searching for cause he searches for correlation. He asks what was he was thinking or doing all 3 times. Finally finding a correlating fact, he then believes that this fact is the cause. He also is unhappy with all these accidents but having reached a false cause, he solves it with a false solution.

Now, the logical thinker has removed himself from the probability of another accident, but the magical thinker, not knowing the true cause, has not. We can see here that magical thinking is endangering his life. When he gets in another accident, however, magical thinking will endanger his spirit. Since, in his own mind, he removed the cause of the accidents, this 4th accident must have a cause not bound by normal cause. In short, the magical thinker now believes that this 4th accident is not a natural act, but a supernatural act. He is now making up his own religion as he goes.

But the magic thinker only thinks about his thinking when he is looking for a correlation in his own mind. He doesn’t think about the nature of this thinking. We know this because the magic thinker is an man of average inteligence and not a imbecile. If you asked him outright “Do you believe that you have the ability to determine the whether an even is natural or supernatural by how you feel about it?” He would say no, but regardless, that is what he is doing.

It is far too simple a step from believing that the things that happen around you happen with a supernatural cause to believe that you ARE the supernatural cause. From there comes the idea that what you believe is more important than what you do, and finally, the last step down the slippery slope: that you can change reality by the belief rather than action.

Further, since he doesn’t realize that he is his own god, he has no problem belonging to an established religion. And thats when the horrors start. Take one man that has been convinced that he has unique insight into the supernatural which outweighs and overpowers logic. Add a large and powerful organization which gives legitimacy to this belief by its size and also uses its organization to provide positive and negative reinforcements to certain key behaviors . Mix vigorously with social instability and suffering. Viola! A recipe for mass murder.

But how do we stop these people? It would seem that building a large and powerful organization with a rigid belief system is not the answer. (How well has Protestantism, originally gathered around protesting the the very real abuses of the Catholic Church faired? It has become that which it hated. The Church had her pogroms, the Protestants their massacres.) If logical thinkers built a church style organization I guarantee church like results: a beautiful teaching hidden inside a holy book which the followers are encouraged to read only when it properly sanitized and commentaried, and decades of apathy interrupted by occasional movements of inspiring love and frequent movements of hate, murder, and suffering.

We can’t reason with them, because they can’t reason. Believing their thoughts to be logical, they perceive logical thinkers to be not magical thinkers, but magical practitioners. Their organization and all of their friends tell them that their thoughts reflect reality. Thus when a logical thinker presents them with reality, they have but two possible paths to take. (1.) Turn their back on their entire world view or (2.) believe that the logical thinker is somehow twisting reality, making it appear to disagree with their organization. Of course, they take the second. The logical thinker is seen as a practitioner of a foul truth magic. As human beings, we have logic hardwired in from the womb. If you show someone the logical path, they can’t help but see it. Since the typical magical thinker/cult member/religious zealot (if you are a zealot and offended by that, perhaps you should examine your zeal) has been told by everyone they know that their path is logical, this sudden attraction to the “wrong” (logical) way can only be seen supernatural influence, ie, evil.

The only way I know out of this mess is by personal example. I be seek to be the very best that I can be and wait for people to notice how much I enjoy life. I hold my beliefs up to public discussion on this blog (and in other places) not for people to notice, for if I had to tell people how happy I am for them to notice, I must not really be that happy, but for constant review and evaluation, so that I can hold on to this little toehold of joy and freedom I have bought with my skepticism and my faith. The natural state of man seems to be to surrender his freedoms to a mob so he can be one of them. I don’t want to surrender the freedom of my mind, and I won’t, so I stand in public and say “Doubt me, please! Question everything I believe! Find the holes and the gaps that I am content with till I’ve nothing less than pure truth.” That is the plan of my life. The only way I know to fight the madness mentioned above is to follow that plan.

February 16, 2008 Posted by | Paranormal, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

telekinesis me

I ‘ve been writing a lot of serious blogs lately, about the divine and things like that. I enjoy doing that, but its been a while since I sat down and just sort of puked out the detritus that floats through my skull on any given day. My brilliant and beautiful wife said something about telekinesis (TK) today, which normally would have merely been funny, but I took a semester’s worth of algebra in 90 minutes today and my brain was still in analyze mode. So here’s the facts about normal energy:

An average very fit person (not a professional athlete, but someone is in peak physical condition for an amateur) can produce a continuous 300 – 400 watts. Lance Armstrong outputs 900W s (about 1.2 HP!) continuously, and the average employee is good for about 70 continuous watts before they feel like they are working hard. I am in good, but not excellent shape, so lets say I can produce about 200 W without getting blown out.

Assume telekinesis works as a field, and follows the approximately the same rules as electromagnetic fields. If I recall, EMF strength decreases in power the farther one is from the source in a manner something like this: If field strength at source = x, that the strength decreases as reciprocal of the exponent of the radius. Basically, if the strength is 200 W at 1 m, then at two meters (2 squared being 4) it will be 1/4 of that or 50W. At 3 m it would be 200/9 or 22 W. At 4 meters it would be 1/16 or 200 W or 12.5 W, and at 5 m it would be 200/25, which is 8 Ws.

So, if my TK abilities are roughly comparable to my athletic prowess, then I should be able to do anything with my mind that I can do with my body, making 200 W a good baseline. If TK dissipates over distance (like radio) then I run out of steam fairly quickly just by pure radial dissipation. 1 W equals 1 Joule which is the energy needed to lift about 100 grams 1 meter. My glass of water weighs about 550 grams and has to be lifted about an 4 cm to fall over, so it takes about a 1/5 watt to knock it over. So using the data in the previous paragraph, I lack the TK field strength to knock over a glass of water at around 32 m which is about 104 feet.

Compared to what you see in movies, that really sucks. At 100 feet, I can’t even pick up a loaf of bread, let alone a nemesis. Still, nothing in my apartment is more than about 14 m away so, I can still exert about 1 watt on anything. And from 2 meters away I can still exert 50 watts, so I should be able to make the bed witout bending over.
Still, you always see people in movies running one thing with their mind and another with their hands, like, mixing an omelet with their mind while flipping eggs with a spatula. I think there is a definite practical limit to that sort of thing. Unless TK gives you some greater multitasking ability, I think the number is actually going to be pretty low. When a human being plays an organ for instance, there are 10 fingers, 2 arms, and two feet being used as input/out put devices, for a total of 14 channels, plus the eyes are reading the music and the ears are hearing it. 16 channels. But its not really 16 separate tasks. It is one task that uses 16 separate I/O channels. If a race car could be made with a totally foot based driver input, a keyboard in place of the steering wheel, and HUD that projected sheet music onto the windshield, it seems very unlikely that the driver would win many races, or many recitals. Each task simply requires too much processing power from the brain. The 16 I/O channels are working, but brain is cannot observe and execute all the data it is receiving. Much of multitasking in the fact that so many of the tasks we do are unconscious. To take a single step requires the use of about 15 muscle movements, but we don’t think “Fire 13, Fire 6, release 12, Fire 7, release 13” etc. It like a program, we think “I want to go over there.” and the “walk program” executes.

Since TK is a act of conscious effort, I don’t think it would be that simple. I don’t think you could just look at a pan, turn your back and execute the “put a pan on the stove” program. Unless you’re blind, you need a lot of visual feed back to do things like, pour the milk for instance. Even blind people still need feed back on that task, they put their finger in the edge of the glass and stop pouring when it gets wet. TK is probably an I/O stream, but that doesn’t necessarily mean its accurate enough to no longer need visual or audio feedback. When I pour milk, I can feel the the container get lighter as I pour it, but the main input I have for that is the pressure sensing nerves of my fingers, and the pressure sensing nerves registering the lock condition of my forearm and bicep muscles. The muscle pressure sensing in only good for judgments like “almost weightless”, “very heavy”, and “heavier than light, but lighter than heavy”. The nerves in my finger tips are extremely sensitive, they can differentiate the pressure variable caused by single hair laying on soft cloth. But anything over about a pound and they simply report “heavy” to “painful” Why would TK be any better?

So, here’s the breakdown. If I had TK, it is too weak to much more than flick a switch at more than about 50 ft. Due to the likely lack of feedback acuity, it will function pretty much line of site within that 50 ft. Since I have to either see what I am doing or “TK fumble” till I find it, it seems it would be difficult to use the power surreptitiously. It also seems like if I am the only one who can do it, that I would not want to display the power particularly obviously.

So what could I do for a living? Well, the most obvious is Illusionist, but thats a really lousy idea. 99% of being a magician isn’t the workmanship, its the showmanship. Despite that what I was doing was really magic, a good showman could always show me up with cheap parlor tricks and better presentation. Besides, normal people are not the only ones who go to magic shows. If I was a fantastic showman, then I would be doing big shows. If I did big shows then some of the people in the audience would be other Illusionists, who with a professional eye would spot immediately that I was not using the same methods they were. This would either get me trouble or killed, if they take their business seriously enough.

I could become a pool shark, but again the same basic problem rears up. A good pool player knows exactly what the physics of a pool table is supposed to be. If when he plays me these laws of physics are broken, the result will probably be at the very least, a punch in the face. Since gambling on pool is technically illegal, I am already functioning in the underworld and the result good be significantly more than a punch in the face.

Since roulette is based on random movement, it seems that it would be a good way to go. However, casinos are NOT in the business of losing money, they are in the business of making money. Casinos are largest patron of of the software of face recognition. Any person caught “cheating” and by cheating I mean winning more than they put in, will be asked to leave. Their face is recorded and sold to the other casinos to put in their face recognition software. The casinos are actually very professional and courteous about this. The first time. The second time they scare you. The third time they tend to function barely within the law as regarding property protection.

So, realistically, there is probably no way to make income from it, unless you practice, a physical skill so much (say ping pong) that the minor adjustments you make with TK disappear into your overall skill. If that is the case, you don’t really need the TK. It would be a skill with no (legal) way to make money. Now, as far as illegal ways, there aren’t as many as you might think. Perhaps the first that springs to mind is cat burglar. Well, the difficulty there is, since you have to be at least 50 feet from what you are stealing, you have to already be a good cat burglar. You also have to stand at the scene of the crime, making it pretty difficult in court to say “I have no idea why that painting ripped off the wall and following me out of the museum I was lost in after closing time.” Hitman doesn’t really work either. If the police find a person shot and you were the last person seen with them and have no alibi for where you were, they are going to find you guilty regardless of whether you pulled the trigger with TK or not. The only way to get away with it would to again, be so good at your job that the TK didn’t really matter.

You can’t really use it as an athlete either. Say you could ride a bike outputting 200 Watts. Add your 200 Watts of TK and now you are really cruising. But since TK energy has to metabolized from the same food energy as normal physical exertion, you would blow out just as fast as if you were peddling with 400 W

So what CAN you do? Well you can fly, if by fly you mean raise with elevator like speed until you are tired. (How many flights of stairs can you climb without getting tired. Its the same thing, mass X distance X time) You could lock you house very securely when you left. (You could drop a bar accros the door from the inside.) You could amaze you friends with bar tricks. You could get chips, drinks, etc without leaving your spot on the couch. You could hang up peoples cellphones when they are being needlessly loud and stupid. You could trip uppity, attractive people. Women could zip dress backs without help. Men could unzip them without consent. You could change hard to reach light bulbs without getting a ladder. You could “haunt” a house. You could disturb and annoy pets and small children.

Pretty much, if TK was real it would serve as temptation to be petty and cruel but have few real applications to life. We know its not real because if it was, it seems that it would replace TV.

February 8, 2008 Posted by | Paranormal | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments