Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The First Genocide


Whatever happened to all the Neanderthals? The question is asked again and again by those who study or even have just a passing interest in those who simultaneously preceded and took a different path than the ancestors of modern humans. The ideas that we desecnded from them directly or interbreeded with them are slowly being eroded by newer evidence, both archealogical and genetic, and slowly a grim truth is being accepted as to why their disappearance coincides with a territorial expansion of our ancestors that enveloped land once theirs. I wrote earlier about the recent book, "Before the Dawn" by Nicholas Wade, but some thoughts have been lingering with me regarding a particularly unnerving mid-portion of that book which dealt with some of man's darker behaviors, as well as some thoughts on the final fate of the Neanderthals.

The Neanderthals

The Neanderthals were very much like us, but also very different. Based on skeletonal remains that have been found, they were generally between five and five and a half feet tall, slightly shorter than average by today's standards, but a bit taller than the anatomically modern humans (or cro-magnon) living at the time. It is believed they had low, sloping foreheads, no chins -same as chimps today- and a good deal more muscle, weight, and strength than even we do today, despite their stature being lower than our own is now. Dressing an ancient, anatomically modern human in the clothing we have today would allow them to blend into a crowd, but doing so for a Neanderthal wouldn't keep them from drawing stares, or so the saying goes.

The Neanderthals used stone tools about the same as those of our ancestors up until about 50,000 years ago. These included axes, cleavers, and other cutting implements made of flaked stone, and probably a good deal other tools made of more perishable materials like wood, and animal hides which haven't survived into modern times. On the topic of perishability, they also almost certainly built shelters, but because of this quality, little remains and mostly they have been associated as being "cavemen" due to this type of place being the most common residence their settements have been found intact.

They were able to control fire, a big technological advantage of the ancient world unique only man and his close cousins. Also, some primitive works of art have been found in their dwellings, though it is open to debate as to whether they themselves were the creators of it or not. Like many tribes living in foraging or limited farming societies today, it is possible that much of what they made would not survive the ravages of time leaving us with limited information in this regard, to say nothing of the immaterial artifacts; their culture, language, and knowledge of the plants and animals on the land they inhabited. All of this we lack true evidence of and can only infer. In a similar way, stone-age tribes living today would not leave much behind to be analyzed.

In terms of other qualities that we generally associate with humans, they appear to have lived in small groups, stored up food as a safeguard against lean times (though not to the extent of the cro-magnons living at the time), buried their dead, and cared for their injured. The burials are inferred from what seem to be grave sites dug in the earth, in some cases with flowers or even jewelry that appear to have been placed there purposely. Their caring for their injured comes from skeletons showing very bad injuries that would've crippled or likely meant death for their victim had they been alone, but have instead healed over, implying that other, healthy members took care of them while incapacitated.

One of the most important unknowns is what type of linguistic ability they had. Much conjecture has been made based on what skeletal remains have been found. Most believe their ability to make sounds would have been greater than that of modern day primates, but not of the same level as our own, though Neanderthal bones for specifically the purpose of creating many sounds have been discovered, and again new genetic tests have shown they possess some of the same genes for language that we do. If they had lacked even the ability to use a language as complex as our own, it most certainly would've been a detriment towards the interbreeding of the two species, being a large obstacle to effective communication between two groups who would've almost certainly already had different languages to begin with.

Judging from where their remains have been found, they lived mostly in Europe but also in parts of the middle east, Isreal and the like. The middle east sites even suggest Neanderthal populations "moving in" after earlier settlements of cro-magnon, which in turn hints at early conflicts between the two ending with the retreat and displacement of the cro-magnons back into northern Africa by about 100,000 years ago.

The Cro-magnons

Recent genetic testing has led many to believe that by about 50,000 years ago, the early forerunners of modern man, the cro-magnon, appear to have whithered to mere 5,000. From this small number, it seems all humans today emerged. That those alive today are desended from Neanderthals or a hybrid mixing of them and cro-magnon has also been more or less put to rest by genetic tests on Neanderthal DNA extracted from old samples revealing a distinctly different genetic signature. If Neanderthal and cro-magnon mixed at all, it certainly wasn't widespread.

Because they were using roughly the same set of tools, techniques, and technologies as the Neanderthals, and because they were smaller in size and strength, it appears they were at the time being boxed in by the Neaderthals, unable to get out of Africa. When they finally escaped Africa, their likely point of exit was the Gate of Grief in the southern part of the Red Sea which would've had a much lower water level at that time, thus allowing them a release from Africa without having to go through territory occupied by the Neanderthals.

This wandering of people into unknown land was no expedition out looking for adventure, but rather a slow expansion with people striking further into the unknown only as they managed to safely populate a new area not far away from land they already knew. After crossing the Gate of Grief, they appear to have spread along the southern part of the Arabian penninsula until they reached India, at which point different groups would've split ways, some going into Asia, some south into the areas of modern day Indonesia and Australia which were connected largely by a landbridge at the time, and some going back northwest towards Europe, once more re-igniting the the conflict with the Neanderthals.

If there's one thing which can be proven without much doubt, it's that Neanderthals did very little innovating to the set of technologies they had. Progress and improvement were almost non-existent. The cro-magnon, by contrast, began making better tools, including barbed arrowheads, fishhooks (implying advancing fishing techniques), sewing needles, and art that was unequivocally their own. Most of the Neanderthals would have had none of these things.

In addition to this, the cro-magnon were better able to adapt and exploit their environments, (as mentioned before) stored more food for lean seasons, and lived together in generally larger groups than did the Neanderthals. The latter of these is of particular importance, because it would now mean that the groups of cro-magnons would outnumber the Neanderthals they encountered.

Warfare on a "small and primitive" scale

In pondering how conflict between the two species went down, it's instructive to look for a second at how the so called "primitive" societies of today do so. Hunter gatherer groups such as the !Kung San of Africa, the Dani of New Guinea, and low-stage gardeners such as the Yanomamo who live in the jungles of South America all practice nearly constant warfare. Though in the past, the concept of the "noble savage" who lives at peace with himself, with nature, and with other tribes similar to his own was generally accepted, a more realistic portrait of such peoples has recently emerged. Tribal peoples can be very brutal, and some very often engage in warfare.

While what occurred between the cro-magnon and Neanderthals would've been a conflict between two different species, it strikes me that the territorial qualities of different animals tends to come when they have more to fear from their own kind than of others. In addition to the tribal societies that have remained into modern times, there is one other animal that practices a very similar style of warfare to tribal men; the chimpanzee.

Like the anthropologists who first observed many of the tribal societies after their first-contacts in the 20th century, those who first observed chimps thought them to be peaceful, unassuming, and non-violent. These preconceptions were shattered by the research of Jane Goodall who witnessed and recorded some chilling altercations between rival bands of chimps.

Though they often stick to their own territory, chimps occassionally will band together and move silently into that of opposing camps. Their behavior is described as being strange while they do it, different than normal, tense, nervous, very alert. They spend a lot of time listening for calls from individuals of the rival band, sniff around a lot, and otherwise pay very close attention for anything that might lead them to isolated members of the opposing camp. They generally only attack if they're able to find opponents whom they out-number by about three to one or more (two to hold down the opponent, one to bite, hit, smack, and otherwise beat as closely to death as possible before retreating).

Though many animals fight with one another, chimps and humans seem to be the only ones who have decided that it's smarter to annihilate your opponent rather than risk their recovery and retaliation, and consequently adopt this as a strategy. Tribal humans engage in warfare similar to chimps. They engage in raids into enemy territory, though the manner in which they do so certainly involves more organization. They generally do so at night, often times right before dawn perhaps so their opponents will not be able to retaliate while it still is dark. The goal in the end is roughly the same, kill only a few of the enemy and then escape before they can mount a counter attack. While tribal people do occassionally fight in the open at scheduled times, and some have pointed out that fighting can at times seem more like a sport which can get called off due to rain, the overall facts that they fight regularly, and fight specifically to kill, mean that even though the casualties might be low in given encounters, they add up. The end result is devastating. In some tribes, warfare accounts for 30% of all deaths in their population. Imagine putting numbers like that to our own civilizations of millions and billions and just how destructive constant and deadly such warfare is to peoples of such small numbers comes much more clearly into focus.

The First Genocide

So what exactly was it like when the cro-magnons met the Neanderthal in a conflict that ended with the latter's death? We'll never know for certain, but while it's not impossible that tribes of the time could've rallied others to fight with them against outside aggressors, it also isn't entirely likely either. Like modern day tribes who engage in warfare, it probably often took the form of silent raids conducted in the dark. It was most likely fought between primarily those on the furthest outposts of their respective groups.

In addition to the violent way some tribal groups resolve problems amongst themselves and rival groups, another common way to do so is to simply get up and leave, taking those along who want to go with you. As larger groups would've had more disputes, and the land and subsequent ability to live on it at the time could only sustain so many, people of given tribes probably had to split off and strike into the unknown whenever a group became too large and unmanageable, and the land no longer able to sustain such a large number. "Pioneers" so to speak, who were living on the fringes may not have been able to retreat back without facing hostility from their own kind. The first Neanderthals to encounter cro-magnon settlers might likely have been living in the same kind of situation.

Imagine going into unexplored territory only to discover that a group of Neanderthals is already living there. Afraid to go forward, but unable to go back because behind you, those of your own kind are a more formidable foe. Cro-magnons did in the end have better weapons and higher numbers. All in all, the conflict was probably very one-sided, just as is almost every conflict documented when one group of people which has superior numbers and technology encounters another group whose land they want. One thing it wasn't, was rapid. The process took about 15,000 years with the end result being no more Neanderthals in Europe only by 34,000 years ago. Considering how long it took europeans to completely spread into Australia and North America, 15,000 years is glacial-speed.

The size and strength of the Neanderthals served them well against the ancestors of modern man for quite some time, but in the end cro-magnon persisted. In addition to higher intelligence, and better technology, cro-magnon was able to out-live and out-breed the Neanderthal. That cro-magnon could live to the age of 60 years compared to Neanderthal's 40, meant a lot more accumulated knowledge to serve their kind. The Neanderthal's greater size in the end meant it required more food to survive when compared to cro-magnon who could subsist on less.

* * *

I remember a friend telling me once that he thought some Neanderthals might've managed to eck it out much longer, that some even made it to the middle ages, and that stories of beast-men and grendels killed by Beowulf weren't just fantastical tales, but might simply have been exaggerated ones of creatures that were real but whom they couldn't understand. While it's interesting, given the dates we know for certain, this doesn't seem too likely, and surviving the onslaught of primitive man only to be killed by the steel of medeval Europe doesn't sound too appetizing either. Another group of hominids representing a different branch from cro-magnon and Neanderthal managed to live safely in the remote isolation of an island called Flores in Indonesia up until about 13,000. Considering that this group only managed to survive so long by being far removed from our ancestors, some of whom were just beginning to domesticate crops and create agriculture at that time, and that Neanderthals in general were unable to even withstand people without this advancement, makes it seem a bit far-fetched to think they made it to the middle ages.

Depending in how human one considers them to be, the fate of the Neanderthals could very well be considered the first genocide, the intentional destruction of an entire species. Humankind destroyed its closest relatives long before we ever existed. In defense of ancient man, he probably did so out of some degree of survival, and perhaps lacked the ability or foresight to empathize with an intelligence such as the Neanderthals, however similar it was to his own. As for the Neanderthals, I'm sometimes left wondering how close to us they actually were. They almost certainly were aware of themselves and their existence, but I wonder if they knew what was happening to them as it did. Did they realize they were dying, and eventually would cease to exist? In another way, what happened to them represents a very grim portent of how human history would play out again and again as societies and civilizations would exterminate each other for future millenia to come.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Some nice pictures

Astronomy picture of the day.

Also, check out this picture of regular and superconducting cables for 12,500 amperes used at LEP compared to those used at the Large Hadron Collider.

Also be sure to check out pics of the LHC on The Big Picture.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Carl Sagan ft Stephen Hawking (Cosmos Remixed) Auto-Tuned


OK, I haven't seen auto-tuning used like this yet but it's a really great idea. I know I just posted another video but I thought this was so good that it deserved a spot here on the Universe Think Tank as well.

The Evidence For The Big Bang In 10 Little Minutes


This is a really good primer, I think.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


If you took a piece of thin paper, say 0.35mm thick, and folded it in half, it's now about 1mm thick. So without using a calculator, how thick do you think it might be if you fold it 40 times? 10 meters? A mile? Just try to imagine it without doing the math.

A) 1 meter
B) 10 meters
C) 1 Kilometer
D) Distance from Earth to Moon
E) 1 Light Year

What do you think? No cheating!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Before the Dawn

A book review I wrote for my own blog.

Book Review: Before the Dawn by Nicholas Wade

While not as all-encompassing as Jared Diamond's Third Chimpanzee or Richard Dawkins's Selfish Gene, I must say that this book left a very deep impression on me. As someone who has been interested in the unrecorded prehistory of man for a long time, I found this book to be something of a welcome update of what was started by the two titles I mentioned earlier. The Selfish Gene was published in 1976, The Third Chimpanzee in 1991. Since the mapping of the human genome in 2003, the results of many new studies have been released, shedding light onto what were once murkier areas in the gaps of what we know of the gene's influence on man and man's prehistory respectively. I really recommend this book for anyone interested on the subject.

The first couple of chapters consist of an introduction and then quick summarization of what would be a basic anthropology course. A highly accurate visual system was needed to help judge distances between trees properly and safely make leaps, such that nearly all primates view the world more or less exactly as we do. Opposable thumbs for a good, strong grip on branches and boughs of many sizes and shapes. Bipedal movement allowing a farther, more commanding view, the ability to carry things while moving, and also just a more energy efficient way of getting around when compared to the knuckle walk which was the common mode of movement before.

It is the following chapters, however, where the book really separates itself from the others, and while it does draw on past disciplines like archeology and paleolinguistics -again Third Chimpanzee but also Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel- for some of its historical conclusions, the recent genetic findings are what really distinguish it. An early example, the approximate dating of when humans first began wearing clothes, demonstrates how we can learn what was never before possible, provided we ask the right questions.

Dating the Development of Several Uniquely Human Charateristics

The louse, a parasite which cannot survive more than six to eight hours away from the warmth of a human body, was once confined to the tiny island of hair on the human head for a period of time between when man lost his body hair and began wearing clothing. This advent, it seems, gave rise to the body louse which had adapted its claws specifically to grasp clothing. By comparing either the Y chromosomes on males -which are passed unchanged and directly from fathers to sons- or mitochondrial DNA -passed unchanged from mothers to daughters- geneticists can now to come up with an approximate date for when species split into new branches. In this particular case, DNA from the body louse and the regular louse were both analyzed, showing a split of the two branches about 72,000 years ago, thus giving scientists that approximate date for the adoption of wearing clothes.

There were several other interesting revelations as well. An obvious next question might be to ask about the loss of body hair. A few possible reasons are given as to why it might have happened -the need to sweat to cool down the body, ridding oneself of parasites, preferences in sexual selection- but one thing that might be a little more certain is that darker skin developed from this advent as protection from the sun's ultraviolet rays which destroy folic acid, an essential nutrient. While our forebears' skin was almost certainly pale originally, as it is in chimps, dark skin would have been necessary to survive in the African sun without body hair to protect oneself. The melanocortin receptor gene which regulates skin pigmentation provides the key. By dating the divergence of this gene towards darker skin, an approximate date of 1.2 million years ago seems to be when humans lost most of their body hair.

The original ancestral population of humans who left Africa would've almost certainly had black skin. Paler skin confers an advantage to colder climates because it lets in more sunlight and allows for better synthesis of Vitamin D. It appears to have come about much later, after humans had left Africa and some were living in far colder temperatures to the north which would become even colder during a glacial period 20,000 years ago. The emergence of lighter skin, which occurs in both Asians and Europeans, developed twice, each time independently of the other.

New Data on the Human Diaspora out of Africa

Genetics have also allowed scientists to estimate that the approximate size of the original human population in Africa when some finally began their exodus out of the continent was about only 5,000, and that this occured about 50,000 years ago. From that number all people on this planet have emerged. Unlike previously believed, humans appear not to have taken the northern route out of Africa past Egypt and through the Fretile Crescent, but rather to have gone across the lower portion of the Red Sea which would've been about 100 feet lower at the time. The reason for this, probably would've been that the Fertile Crescent was already inhabited by Neanderthals who would've provided fiercesome competition for the early ancestors of man, and consequently had boxed them in, unable to leave Africa until that point.

Testing the genetics of modern societies shows that people in general have had a tendancy to live, marry and raise children in about the same area, a trend that has continued to this day but was even more pronounced before 100 years ago and the advent of modern transportation. From this data, early man seems to have crossed the Red Sea, then the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula to India, then continued southward on landbridges existing at that time and primitive boats to Australia, populating on the way what are now some the Pacific Islands, the Phillipines, and New Guinea. The Australian Aborigines, New Guinea Highlanders and jungle dwelling Negritos of the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Adaman Islands appear to be the closest relatives of the Khoisan, who themselves represent one of the longest, most ancient branches of DNA amongst humans who stayed in Africa.

The primitive technology of early man was comparable with that of the Neanderthals, and due to that groups larger body size and stronger muscles, they would've made more than a formidable match. But the forebears of modern humans had a capacity for higher intellect, and perhaps coupled with their ability for more advanced language (a subject the book dwells on much more extensively), eventually were able to shape for themselves a more successful package of subsistence, environmental adaptation, weapons, and other artifacts. Thus the long struggle between the two began to turn against the Neanderthals as modern man began to slowly expand his territory, occupying more and more space that once belonged to Neanderthals until their extinction.

The question of whether humankind's early ancestors mixed and interbred with the Neanderthals has long vexed those who study them, but now at last seems to be finally getting put to rest. By extracting and examining a small sample of DNA from a Neanderthal specimen, a team from Munich managed to show that extremely little to no interbreeding occurred between the two species.

Some Final Considerations on Man's Evolution

In light of what new, genetic testing has taught us, the book makes many conclusions along the way to its destination. Of these, the most important is the thought that modern man has continued to evolve on the genetic level even since leaving Africa and all the way up to the present. It has long been generalized that the most important changes occurred before 50,000 years ago, at which point, man became "anatomically modern" and has remained in a state of genetic stasis ever since. This argument proceeded from the idea that man hasn't needed to adapt any further to his environment. But to assume this would be to assume that no other kind of strife plagued mankind up until today, and that no other accustomization was necessary.

The book delves further into the idea that mankind didn't just need to be "anatomically modern" to scale the heights of today, but also "behaviorally modern". In examining this, one has to consider that many aspects to the behavior of man had to be adjusted (the ability to trust others and consequently work with them, give up the individual freedom that a state of nature provides, adjust to sedentary life, etc...) One also has to begin considering how and what genes have an influence on these behaviors. Genes don't just determine physical characteristic like strength, height, skin, hair, and eye color, but also things like susceptibility to diseases, level of aggressive behavior, propensity to lie to others or cheat on one's partner, things some of which have traditionally been more associated with psychology than biology.

That mankind hasn't ceased to evolve on the genetic level might be most evident in the world of difference between how we lived 50,000 years ago and how we live now. How we shall proceed to evolve into the future might just depend on to what extent we are willing or able to harness genetic manipulation to further achieve our goals.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Questions from Andrew

Questions from Andrew

I feel like the metaphor of a cat dying or not is so fucking dramatic that I lost the point of what it was trying to say. If you say that looking at something makes electrons bounce and changes things I understand that but once you make some metaphor that makes me believe my eyes have magical powers that can kill cats I don't understand it anymore.

I'm sorry the metaphor was lost on you, but the whole point of making a metaphor is to try to relate the general idea of something hard to grasp (quantum mechanics) to something easy to grasp (a cat in a box). Worrying about the electrons in the cat is totally missing the point that it's a metaphor in the first place.

So the very act of measuring something or looking at something changes that things electrons. That's it, right?

It's more like the very act of measuring something about an electron changes some other property of that electron. But this is getting into too much specifics I don't really know. The only thing you really need to understand, and incidentally, the only thing I can say with any confidence, is that when scientists make measurements or observations on the quantum level, they affect the very thing they are trying to measure in some way.

How does this have ANYTHING to do with fate? Or universes branching off or cats being alive or not?

Because it has to do with unpredictability. The entire universe is made up of tiny particles playing by the rules of quantum mechanics. At any given time a huge number of events (interactions between particles or whatever) are taking place. The outcome of each of these events ultimately leads to the outcome of larger events.. things that we can witness with our own eyes. What you consider a small and meaningless event is just part of a never ending cascade like the butterfly effect.

I ask this because what's a few electrons? That's my FIRST impression. So a few electrons bounce around. Not much will change, right? If I dump water outside my door into the grass, not much will change in my fate or anyone else's, right? Maybe that grass will live to see another day but that's about it. So again, the point I don't understand is that how does this quantum level interact with people's fates and cause universes to branch off?

Again, EVERYTHING is made up of these quantum interactions. See above answer.

Also, what does the electrons being bounced around by us looking at it have to do with a cat being both alive and dead before we change its electrons by looking at it?

The cat is a metaphor, it's electrons don't have anything to do with anything. See first answer above or read on to last answer.

Are electrons both one thing and another and our looking at it makes it on thing or another? The quantum level is both what and what? If alive and dead are supposed to be A and B, what are A and B supposed to represent on the quantum level? I asume the alive and dead thing was just some thing used for the metaphor. Also, if A and B can't normally exist at the same time like life and death then how is that so? What makes quantum mechanics so special? Just because it's small?

Now this is the best question you've asked so far. And unfortunately, I don't really know too much about it. Read about the uncertainty principle for more information.

Also, how do we know it's both? What's the evidence for that? What reasons do we have to believe in that?

Again, I don't know the details, but I believe we know about these things from experiments. Maybe I'll look it up sometime, but not today.

This cat idea is a terrible fucking metaphor because it's trying to relate to us some idea about electrons but cats are made up of trillions of electrons and changing a few from observation won't do dick, right?

Thinking about the electrons of the cat is totally missing the metaphor. The cat being alive or dead represents something with two possible states. Until observed, both are true. Of course this isn't actually true for a real cat, but that's because it's a metaphor. Don't worry about electrons.

Cosmologists and Evolutionists

Scientists in both fields of Cosmology and Evolutionary Biology are for the most part non-believers, I would wager. However, I think I have noticed a suttle difference in the atheism of these two disciplines. Many of the evolutionary biologists seem to be hard-nosed 7's on Dawkins scale of disbelief. PZ Meyers comes to mind. Hell, Dawkins said he's a 6 in the book but then said he was a 6.9 on Bill Maher. There seems to be much more strife there. A lot more friction.

Then you got Hawking and Kaku and Greene that, while not prescribing to Christianity...and probably atheists as well...the way they go about is different, I feel. They're a little bit softer and less strident than their biologist friends. 

I just wonder if this has anything to do with what they study. Perhaps looking at the different scales of things makes a difference. Look at the grandeur of the universe, the Big Bang, and the uncomprehendable quantum world. ....Then again, maybe the biologists get that same feeling from studying fossils and DNA. I don't know but yes you can definitely take a look at people like Hawking and Einstein and Greene and notice some difference in their attitudes compared with that of PZ Meyers and Dawkins. 

I like the strident nature. I am strident myself at times but I am simply noting a difference I see.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Also, what does the electrons being bounced around by us looking at it have to do with a cat being both alive and dead before we change its electrons by looking at it? Are electrons both one thing and another and our looking at it makes it on thing or another? The quantum level is both what and what? If alive and dead are supposed to be A and B, what are A and B supposed to represent on the quantum level? I asume the alive and dead thing was just some thing used for the metaphor. Also, if A and B can't normally exist at the same time like life and death then how is that so? What makes quantum mechanics so special? Just because it's small? Also, how do we know it's both? What's the evidence for that? What reasons do we have to believe in that?

This cat idea is a terrible fucking metaphor because it's trying to relate to us some idea about electrons but cats are made up of trillions of electrons and changing a few from observation won't do dick, right?

Maybe I Get It

I feel like the metaphor of a cat dying or not is so fucking dramatic that I lost the point of what it was trying to say. If you say that looking at something makes electrons bounce and changes things I understand that but once you make some metaphor that makes me believe my eyes have magical powers that can kill cats I don't understand it anymore. 

So the very act of measuring something or looking at something changes that things electrons. That's it, right? 

How does this have ANYTHING to do with fate? Or universes branching off or cats being alive or not?

I ask this because what's a few electrons? That's my FIRST impression. So a few electrons bounce around. Not much will change, right? If I dump water outside my door into the grass, not much will change in my fate or anyone else's, right? Maybe that grass will live to see another day but that's about it. So again, the point I don't understand is that how does this quantum level interact with people's fates and cause universes to branch off?

OK, maybe I don't get it...

Quantum Mechanics (again)

So is the Schroedinger's Cat thing just a way to explain quantum mechanics?

Me: Yes. Like I said before, it's a metaphor.

If you consider universes branching off and shit I could see that the coin is both heads and tails when you take that into consideration but in the our universe isn't the coin one or the other?

No. It's both in just one universe until it is observed.

Also, yeah, when anyone says that everything has been predetermined since the Big Bang they're making a bold claim. It feels like, even if no one knew anything about quantum mechanics, they would still not know shit, I feel. It's just such an assertion without much proof to back it up. It's like an gross extrapolation of good some good science to the point that it's been extrapolated so much no one knows their ass from their elbow anymore.

I've never actually met anyone who claimed this by the way.

How does observing it affect it? Why is an observer so important? If a dolphin or ant observed something, would the same thing happen as when a human did? Why would these things on a quantum level "choose" to act differently when being observed? How would they "know" they're being observed?

This is where the metaphor breaks down. You can't "look at" something on the quantum level with a microscope. Imagine we can't see the cat but we want to figure out if it is alive or dead. There might be some other technique that will give us that information, like if we drop a bird into the cage. If the bird dies the cat is alive, but if it flies away the next time we open the cage, the cat is dead. You can see how this would have an affect on the cat, right? Scientists have to go through indirect observation to "see" things on the quantum level, and no matter what method they use, these observations change things (there is no work around).

Is it the external fact that our eyes have gazed upon that thing that changed it or is the internal subjective factor that us comprehending whatever we see that makes the cat dead or alive?

It is the external act of observation (see above).

Ah, I think I just thought of something. So this is about ...if the cat's quantum level were directly linked to his being alive or not ...and if we're talking about the observer changing the quantum level ...the if we look at the cat, that will determine its fate?

You're taking the metaphor too far. This doesn't work for a real cat.

Wouldn't it depend on which universe WE'RE in too? Not just the cat? In one universe the observer observes the cat alive and in one universe the observer observes the cat being dead. I feel like that has nothing to do with with the actual observer but everything to do with what universe the observer is in.

The universes are the same until the observer makes the observation. Then it creates a branch (supposedly).


(In reference to Schroedinger's Cat)

In other words, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time until
it is observed. Then it becomes one or the other. The act of observing
changes the state of the observed thing.<br>

My reply:

Is it the external fact that our eyes have gazed upon that thing that changed it or is the internal subjective factor that us comprehending whatever we see that makes the cat dead or alive?

Ah, I think I just thought of something. So this is about ...if the cat's quantum level were directly linked to his being alive or not ...and if we're talking about the observer changing the quantum level ...the if we look at the cat, that will determine its fate?&nbsp;


Wouldn't it depend on which universe WE'RE in too? Not just the cat? In one universe the observer observes the cat alive and in one universe the observer observes the cat being dead. I feel like that has nothing to do with with the actual observer but everything to do with what universe the observer is in.&nbsp;

Am I wrong?

A reply to Mike's reply

Thanks for the reply, Mike.&nbsp;

So is the Schroedinger's Cat thing just a way to explain quantum mechanics? It's just a teaching tool, right? It's not really saying anything about a real cat being alive or dead in a box, right? The same thing with your coin analogy, right? If you consider universes branching off and shit I could see that the coin is both heads and tails when you take that into consideration but in the our universe isn't the coin one or the other?

Also, yeah, when anyone says that everything has been predetermined since the Big Bang they're making a bold claim. It feels like, even if no one knew anything about quantum mechanics, they would still not know shit, I feel. It's just such an assertion without much proof to back it up. It's like an gross extrapolation of good some good science to the point that it's been extrapolated so much no one knows their ass from their elbow anymore.

And my last questions for now:

How does observing it affect it? Why is an observer so important? If a dolphin or ant observed something, would the same thing happen as when a human did? Why would these things on a quantum level "choose" to act differently when being observed? How would they "know" they're being observed?

Free Will and Quantum Mechanics

On the level of the brain, neurons are firing constantly and there is a lot going on. Imagine that you had the universes most sophisticated computer. If you could simulate every particle exactly in a system surrounding a single person, you would in theory be able to predict what would happen to that person and what 'decisions' that person would make. If you believe this is true, you are a determinist. This is what people mean (I think) when they say that free will is an illusion: Everything is determined based on molecular interactions that are part of a long chain of events set in motion since the big bang over which we have no control.

This is incorrect, however, because of quantum mechanics. On the quantum level, things are not predetermined. In fact, until they are observed or measured in some way, they aren't determined at all. It is because of this that I think the whole 'free will is an illusion' argument is bullshit.

Consider the following as a metaphor for something on the quantum level.

Let's say there is an event with two possible outcomes, like a coin toss. You throw the coin in the air and it lands in a bucket. Without looking at the coin, is it heads or tails?

The Schrödinger's cat thought experiment is saying that it is both (again, its a metaphor. It isn't actually both, but something on the quantum level would be). It is both heads and tails until someone looks into the bucket. The very act of observing the coin has the effect of making it either heads or tails. This is because when we measure things on the quantum level we affect them directly.

Some people think that as soon as you look into the metaphorical bucket, there is a branch and two universes are formed. In one universe the coin is heads, and in another, the coin is tails. This theory says that everything that can happen, does happen in some universe.

Please let me know if I got something wrong here or if you have any more questions.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Free Will

There's a lot of talk about the nature of free will as it pertains to quantum mechanics, etc.&nbsp;

If the universe is causally closed then there is no free will. Determinism reigns.

If quantum mechanics randomness is true, then indeterminism rules.&nbsp;

The thing is...so ...what is the thought process here? What does this have to do with our brains directly? Let me try to point out the timeline. So there's a bunch of tiny particles coming together either randomly or not and you have to take into account things happening on the quantum level. Then there's the particles that make up our brains. However, what do these particles have to do with our choices in the world? These particles don't have a mind of their own. It's kind of a sum is greater than the parts type of thing, isn't it?&nbsp;

What in the living fuck do these random particles coming together in a causally closed world have ANYTHING to do with me deciding to have cheese on my hamburger or not? I really do not get this whole free will discourse in the slightest. Do you think that I just have the illusion of free will? What does "causally closed universe" have anything to do with my personal preferences and tastes? Sure, I'm human and I prefer eating beef to eating coral and perhaps the universe "decided" that preference for me but other than that, what does all this talk of free will and its non-existence have to do with me choosing to do what I want? I often feel like I'm choosing to do what I want. Is the "what I want" part the thing that's "causally closed" ? Someone please explain this to me.&nbsp;

If you don't believe in free will but then all of a sudden got it what in the fuck would you do differently from now?

Schroedinger's Cat

How do we go from not knowing something to a cat being in a state of quantum superposition?&nbsp;

Just because I haven't observed something doesn't make it alive or dead. It just makes me unaware of it. My observance on things isn't in and of itself a kind of god. I don't get this at all.&nbsp;

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Questions

Somebody help me out.

1.) Why is going faster than light impossible? There's no work-around?

2.) How exactly could there be other universes? How does that work?

3.) When they explain M-Theory on documentaries, they also show these sheets rippling and these sheets represent different universes. I just want to know what is that space in between the sheets? Is that the intergalactic medium again? Some sort of hyperspace medium void thing? What is that supposed to be?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Martian Landscapes

These are incredible.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Will E.T. Look Like Us?

First watch the video. I'll wait.

My reaction? FACE PALM. This is a horrible argument! He says that because we are so rare, that it would be statistically impossible for intelligent life to form on another planet that is also a bipedal primate.

So after the evolution of hundreds of millions of species on earth, only one of them turned into a bipedal primate. And in the blink of an eye (in evolution time) that species became intelligent. Hmmmm. Could the two be related? For all we know bipedalism is a prerequisite of intelligence!

Look at it the other way. One could argue that bipedal primates are rare because we are the only ones, but we are just the first ones. Isn't it also clear that the first became intelligent, and we haven't been around long enough to see any more show up? The first of anything is rare by definition!

Here's a thought experiment. What prerequisites could there be for intelligent space faring life that we could communicate with. Let's assume a planet like ours with similar foundations of life (carbon based, etc).

1. It will NOT be underwater. Why? Because they can't use fire. Without fire there isn't anywhere to go. Feel free to speculate why I could be wrong here, but I just don't see it happening.

2. Next we need a species that can manipulate objects with great versatility. Candidates include primates, some birds, and elephants (dolphins and octopi don't count: see #1). Birds use their beak and legs, and elephants use their trunk. Two arms with many digits each makes more sense economically. Am I biased? Of course, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong.

Evolutionary Biologist Ernst Mayr said: “Nothing demonstrates the improbability of the origin of high intelligence better than the millions of phyletic lineages that failed to achieve it.”

But this is looking at it all wrong. Intelligence isn't a goal of evolution. There is no goal! You can't fail without a goal. Intelligence is just an arbitrary feature of a single species. You could pick any species out there and find something unique to it that has never evolved in any other species and say the exact same thing (and it would be equally meaningless).

Anyway, my money is on E.T. to be a biped a lot like us. It won't necessarily be a primate, though. It could be amphibious, or nocturnal, or have a pouch like a kangaroo, or a number of other details, but I think the chances are a lot higher than this guy says that it will be bipedal with two arms. And to be sure, I'm not saying it couldn't be something else. In fact I think it's fun to ponder the other possibilities.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Consciousness = Intelligent thought or just feeling?

I have come to think that consciousness is a lot more simple a thing than we think.

We think, we solve complicated problems, we realize we are alive and we feel. Not all animals share all of these things with us but I think we all share the most important thing. Feeling. Not talking about sadness or happiness, but actual input through our senses.

Wouldn't it be safe to assume that if a living thing "feels", than it must be conscious of that feeling? What does higher thought have anything to do with sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch? Isn't problem solving and all thought just a way of organizing all of the basic input from our senses? Even if you lost all ability to think at the high level that you do and lost all knowledge, wouldn't you still feel the pain that comes from the prick of a needle?

I think that consciousness should be based on if an organism has sensory input or not, and if that input is received by a central nervous system or what have you. Because isn't that all you would need to know if something was feeling the world around them or not?

You are a living organism that takes in at least one or more kinds of sensory input. There you are. You should need no more than that. Something is there to feel it. There should be nothing special about the sensory input of humans compared with other animals. What is feeling all that input? A soul? Whatever it is, it's you and it's everything else that has the senses that you have.

NASA did land on the moon

"Four men can keep a secret if three are dead."

@AstroPriest Nixon couldn't even bust into a filing cabinet without everyone finding out.<br class="khtml-block-placeholder">

from my Twitter account

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

New Podcasts Entries Up


Four new entries up. The topics include:



Ontological Irreducibility


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Time Travel

So I was watching Terminator Salvation the other day and found myself actually laughing a bit at one of the plot points involving time travel, when it dawned on me that I probably have a stranger way of looking at the concept than most. Exactly what does time travel entail? Is it even possible, and if it is, how exactly does it work?

It's all theoretical of course, and no one can really tell you how it works because it's never been done before (well who knows maybe there really are time travelers out there but who would ever believe them anyways), so about all we really have to go on is just hammering away at the logic of the subject, what might or might not actually be possible. For however much I'd like to try and keep this note grounded in science and logic, I can't help but think it's gonna veer more towards the movies as much as anything else, but in the end, hasn't time travel fueled more science fiction plots than serious discussions anyways? And after all, an hypothetical example is about the only way we have of demonstrating our points since this, it would seem, is pretty untestable.


First, I suppose the question of whether or not its even possible should be explored. Most books and movies have a habit of creating some kind of a plot device or another to explain away the problems posed over how it'd be possible to travel through time. This can take the form of say a flux capacitor (Back to the Future series), a magical ring, book, talisman or spell of sorts, or whatever kind of special time machine the writers have dreamed up. Superman even flew around the world and made it spin backwards in his first movie to achieve his time altering goals, though I'm pretty sure that would just cause a whole slew of natural disaster that'd kill everyone on the planet, not turn back time...

As far as distorting time goes, we know that the faster someone is traveling the slower they age. For example, if someone gets into a plane that travels twice as fast we are spinning on this planet, it will reach the same place in half the time (24 hours could have expired for the people who stayed on the ground, but for those in the plane only 12 hours would have passed). Alas, this is not distorting time in a big way. What benefit could you get from this other than to slow aging slightly, and even then you'd have to spend all that time on a craft of some sort moving faster than everyone else which would be boring as hell most likely. Even if you got on a space craft and returned after what would be a short period of time for you but years for everyone else, what gains would one get? Perhaps the sick could be put on such a ship in the hope they could return much later in the future when a cure were available though it might end up being merely a costly gamble. Anyone curious enough just wanting to see the future could do so this way, but they'd miss out on everything in between including the lives of family and friends who stay behind. I suppose you could age wine faster in this way, but it'd be a pretty stupid way of doing it.

In terms of a serious, scientifically possible way that would make time travel a reality though, the closest I've seen to it comes from the idea that black holes have a gravitational power so great that they can actually suck in and distort time. Nothing else I've ever heard of can distort time in quite this way. Even this has been used as the plot device for at least a couple of movies involving time travel: "The Sphere", and the recent "Star Trek" reboot which featured a younger version of Kirk and an older version of Spock who gets sucked into a black hole and back into time.

Paradoxes and Alternate Timelines

I suppose the real meat of the topic, however, is answering how time travel could actually work assuming it is even possible, and can time even really be changed? As far as I can believe, the idea that time can be changed is barely even conceivable. The word we need to define right now is: paradox. To put things quite simply, how can something be and not be at the same time? Sometimes you really can't have it both ways.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that you have a time machine. Creating a paradox would be as simple as say: Going back into time and killing yourself at a younger age so you'd never exist beyond that point in time. This would be a very glaring paradox, because if that were the case then how on earth could you have been around to go back into time and do it in the first place? If you subscribe to the "Back to the Future" way of thinking, I'm pretty sure that Doc Brown is telling you right now that this would have to be one of those events that'd destroy the entire universe. Some might ask, "Who would ever want to do that anyways?", and I guess the answer would have to be: "Someone who'd want to destroy the entire universe might wanna do that", but keeping in topic with this note...

Where does the phrase alternate universe come in? I suppose now would be the time to introduce it. The idea behind an alternate universe is simply that you've made what was once a possibility that didn't occur into a reality into one that did, and that there are now quite simply put, two realities (or alternate universes). I have a lot of problems with this idea that there could be multiple universes out there for every single possibility. Despite the fact that its stirring and cheerfully hopeful to think that we could right the wrongs of the past and make new choices, aren't there just too many possibilities out there at the end of the day? Wouldn't there not only have to be an alternate universe for the World War II never occurring, but also one for me buying a Coke this morning instead of tea? I suppose, in the end, one would have to say that only the possibilities that someone was really willing to put the effort into to go back in time and change would create alternate realities (unless of course going back to change their breakfast this morning were that important to a person and they actually went back and did it).

Putting aside all the problems I have with there being multiple realities let's assume now for the sake of argument that you did go back in time and kill yourself. Wouldn't you then have created an alternate universe where you no longer existed from that point on? Assuming for a second, that time is now recording a new version of events splitting away from the old (by the way, Doc Brown drew this on a chalkboard in the middle of Back to the Future Part 2), what happens to the old version of events you once knew? The one where you gained access to a time machine and decided to go back and kill yourself.

For starters, I'm pretty damn sure that if it is even possible to go back into time and kill yourself, it wouldn't mean that you never existed to go back and do it. This after all would be a paradox, and I think quite impossible. So then assuming we've created a new alternate universe by doing this, doesn't time as we once knew it still have to be out there somewhere, floating around, and not the reality as you know it anymore, but a reality nonetheless that must still exist in some shape or form because if it didn't a person could never even have existed to go back and kill themselves in the first place? Does this mean then that everyone who stayed back in the reality you once knew, and didn't go back in time with you, does this mean they're all still out there living their lives as if you disappeared when you went back in time? It would seem to me that it would have to, if I believed this were all possible (which I don't, by the way, more on that later). What then would be the ramifications of all this then?

A lot of people seem to think it would be a great idea to go back into time and take out Hitler when he was still young and vulnerable, if it were possible. Seems noble enough, his actions later caused an incredible amount of death, misery, and hatred. Who wouldn't want to go back and change that? But let's think about this again... if we changed things so that Hitler never was able to do what he did, well then we never would have even become upset about it in the first place, and thus never even resolved to go back and change things. Assuming that we could go back and change things and that this would create an alternate universe, wouldn't this mean that everyone who stayed behind and didn't travel with us back in time would still be out there, in the version of history where Hitler did do what he did, still bitter and wishing they could change things? Perhaps they'd be forever separated from those who went back in time and would assume the whole thing failed even if it succeeded. It seems to me that only those who actually went back in time and did the deed would be reaping the fruit of their labor. This by the way was the plot point that made me laugh to myself when watching Terminator Salvation. Seeing John Connor get all riled up and desperate to save Kyle Reese (his father whom he sent back in time from the future) kind of didn't make sense to me, because assuming that even if the machines killed Kyle Reese wouldn't John Connor simply go on existing anyways?

The way things were "Meant to be"

There is one other possibility for how time travel might work, and it doesn't include the possibility of alternate realities or even changing time for that matter. The idea behind it all, is that the version of events as we know them, are the only reality, and that any kind of time travel is simply a part of it all. To put things simply, there is a fate for us all, and there's no way to change it. In keeping with the way this note has been written, the movies: "Sphere", "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban", and the TV series "Gargoyles" all used this form of timeline.

Perhaps the easiest way of demonstrating this concept is to take directly from "Sphere". In it, three scientists discover a spacecraft deep under the ocean and while exploring it, discover that it was made by the U.S. military in the future, got sucked into a black hole, crashed in the ocean, and nobody survived. At one point, one of the scientists turns to the other as says simply, "We're all gonna die down here, you know. If we lived to tell people about this, the military wouldn't have launched the ship in the first place. It would have done something to stop it all from happening. We're not meant to make it out of this and warn them..." Thinking about what this all means, while time travel is possible, changing things isn't. Things are all connected, and all is (for lack of a better way of saying it) meant to be.

Kind of a frightening thought in a way. We can't change things, we're at the mercy of fate. Though I suppose that since we've no way of knowing anyways it all amounts to about the same thing when it comes right down to it. But assuming it were all true and we could travel through time, then we would know for a certainty how things were meant to turn out. We couldn't change anything, but we'd know at least. We would know, for example, that going back in time to try and kill Hitler would end in failure, because history has been written, we see the outcome, we know he lived to do what he did. In the end, it really seems to me that this method of explaining things is the most likely. I honestly believe it precludes paradoxes, although it certainly has its share of detractors or those who have never thought about it, or just can't comprehend it.

The Terminator Movies

I'm putting this in here as a bit of an after thought, might seem a bit excessive to dedicate a small section to this, but its still fresh on my mind right now and I feel like getting into it. One example I failed to mention earlier was the first "Terminator" movie. You could say it followed this "one timeline" kind of philosophy as well. There was no changing the future, everything was meant to be. Reese was always meant to go back and father John Connor. It is usually at this point that people begin to ask: "But how could Reese have been sent back in the first place by John Connor to father... John Connor? How could John Connor have known? Isn't that a paradox?" I suppose the only answer is: "He knew to do it because he knew how the past turned out and that he was meant to do it." You might say that if a future version of yourself showed up and talked to you one day, that you'd know your destiny would be to one day be in the shoes of the person across from you, having the other side of the same conversation with your younger self. Again, you'd just know it was meant to be.

Getting back to the Terminator movies though, one might also ask why the machines didn't see the whole endeavor of sending a terminator back in time to kill the Connors as being doomed to failure. Them being such smart, aware, thinking machines and all, shouldn't they already have known how history turned out? Perhaps even the machines didn't know how time travel works, although that kind of makes them look stupid when you think about it. But then the second movie managed to explain this fairly well by showing that the first terminator to go back was actually the basis for the Skynet computer that ruled the machines. And so the machines would therefore have known they were meant to send back their terminator to fulfill this. The second movie would go on to include its main characters attempting to change the future and then end in a pretty ambiguous way so as to leave things open as to whether they succeeded or not. The first two movies were the creation of James Cameron, and while I can never entirely be certain if he intended to keep with this formula of time being monolithic, unchangeable, and fated, the fact is we'll never know (although an alternate ending of that movie suggested otherwise). The third movie tore down any possibility of with the "one timeline" theory with their whole: "You only delayed Judgement Day" schtick and, well, the rest is history. Kind of weird how the series as a whole is inconsistent in its ideas, though I suppose its bound to happen when you change creators mid-way through. For all the ideas time travel is worth, there really is no way for us to know how exactly it works, and putting how I think it actually does aside, I still enjoyed "Back to the Future", "Star Trek" and whole bunch of others whose ideas on time travel I had trouble believing.

Consciousness and Life

To understand my view of consciousness, you first should know what Biological Naturalism is, as this is the closest view to mine that I've found. I used to think I was a materialist, but materialists deny the existence of a non reducible property of consciousness. Meanwhile, there is dualism. I haven't been a dualist since I was a kid. Dualism is hard to justify when one does not believe in the supernatural.

Biological Naturalism states that consciousness is a biological property, like digestion or photosynthesis. But unlike those properties, it is ontologically irreducible.
Solidity can be ontologically reduced to molecular behavior and consciousness cannot be reduced to neuronal behavior. To put the point more precisely, in the case of solidity the fact that we can give a complete causal explanation of solidity in terms of micro physical processes leads us to say that solidity is nothing but a certain sort of microphysical phenomenon. Causal reduction leads to ontological reduction. But in the case of consciousness we are unwilling to make the ontological reduction. Consciousness is entirely caused by neuronal behavior, but all the same we are unwilling to say that consciousness is nothing but neuronal behavior. (Searle 2004, Biological Naturalism)
So to understand where I begin to differ with Searle, consider the question "What else is an ontologically irreducible biological* property?"

... pause for effect ...

If you answered "life" then maybe you already know where I'm going with this (If you're totally lost I recommend reading some of Searle's work). Bells rang in my head when I made this connection, and I'm sure I haven't been the first. Not only do life and consciousness share this rare quality of being ontologically irreducible, and being physical properties (as opposed to epiphenomenal phenomena, like a rainbow or a sunset), but they alone also share something else that is very important: replicators.

Life is a medium of physical replicators (in the case of life on earth, genes). Replicators, in the sense I use the word, undergo copying, selection and variation. Consciousness is, and I think should be defined as, a medium for memetic replicators. A meme, in my definition, is anything that is imitated. Memes, like genes, undergo selection, variation and copying.

This theory puts a lot of the puzzle pieces into place and answers the following questions. When did consciousness first emerge? Are animals conscious? Can computers become conscious?

The first two can be answered together. As soon as animals develop the higher brain functions necessary for imitation, they contain a rudimentary form of consciousness. When a bird hears a song from it's same species it may imitate the song, copying the meme. It may miss hear, or simply make a mistake, introducing variation, and through selection, only some songs will persist over time. This rudimentary consciousness is like looking on the ancient earth at replicators first evolving. It took billions of years for life to develop into a state with so few mutations as we have today. At the start, mutations were most likely frequent and extreme, as they are with many memes. But as some genes developed to produce proteins that repair DNA, some memes produce ways of maintaining themselves as well (language, writing, and eventually electronic storage, for example).

Currently computers and machines are used to copy memes, but the variation and selection is still almost exclusively done in the brain. You could think of these memes stored in a computer as an equivalent to viruses. Viruses are not widely considered alive, despite having genes and undergoing selection. Similarly, media can contain memes, but the variation and selection is not yet done by computers. I disagree with Susan Blackmore's prediction of "temes" as a new replicator, because I do not believe memes need be in a biological brain. What she calls temes I call memes that exist entirely in computers.

When computers start to not only copy, but select and vary memes, whether intelligently or not, they will on a certain level become conscious. This scares a lot of people, and perhaps it should. Memes existing entirely in computers would have protection from mutations in the way that they do not have in the human brain. It is like we are witnessing the transition of simple replicators to single celled organisms, in that the level of self sustainability will dramatically increase. Why should we be scared? Because we don't see any self sustaining replicators outside of cells anymore. The success of the cell eliminated all the competition.

My Podcast

Philosophy and Science

http://andrewbushfilms.com/podcast/Podcast_AJB/AJB_Podcast/Entries/2009/9/5_A_Chat_with_Ryo_Kuroiwa.html<br class="khtml-block-placeholder">


Monday, August 24, 2009

In the Year 2525

One of my karaoke songs.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Carl Zimmer: The Dark Matter of the Human Brain

My favorite book so far this year has been Carl Zimmer's Microcosm. If you're like me and you're endlessly fascinated with genetics, evolution, and biology, and you aren't afraid of something on the technical side, you'll love it.
Carl Zimmer is one of the best science writers out there. Recently he wrote a nice little article about the glia, the most abundant cells in the brain. Scientists don't fully understand how they work, but recently they are finding out more and more. Check it out here.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Come on...

you lazy fuckers. Post at least one post this year! Sheesh! Also, some questions:

1. What exactly are strings (in String Theory)?

2. What are they made of?

3. I suppose that eventually we'll find something even smaller than them, right?

4. If we knew the Theory of Everything...how would that affect everyday life on Earth? How would it affect the way/rate things are invented?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

Some ideas on Abiogenesis

If all this stuff was floating around after the Big Bang, how exactly did the Earth "catch" all that was necessary for life to form? 

Was all this stuff just floating around in space just waiting to be caught by planets?

Some Ideas

My father always says that he thinks there might be something to evolution but he always wonders how those first cells got there to evolve in the first place. This is kind of his reasoning for God. Here's a video explaining a good theory for Abiogenesis, or explaining the origins of life by natural means...

To me (so far) the order goes like this...

1. Big bang. (which might have been a continuation of collapsing White hole. There might not have been a "beginning" ever. It's hard to wrap your mind around but the universe might truly be eternal...in some way or another.

2. From the Big Bang comes a shitload of dust, gases, etc and all the molecules and shit that eventually form together to build life.

The question at this point is how did the Big Bang allow for physics and reality to come into being in such a way and how did all of the molecules, gases, and atoms get here from the Big Bang? How did the Big Bang ("allow for") for this "creation?" The best explanation I can come up with concerning this is that "that's just the way it happened (universal evolution). It's easy to see that these things in this video could make life but then it goes back a bit further...how do these molecules and atoms and the Big Bang relate? It'd be interesting if there was some way to trace this "data" to back before the Big Bang to whatever that universe was before this one before its Big Crunch into a black hole and then that black hole turning into a White Hole (which is our Big Bang) and thus creating the universe we know. (Also, it'd be interesting if there were any theories on how universal laws and physics could be different iin a different universe.

3. The planets and star systems form and then the building blocks for life started in some way similar to what's being described in the video above.

There's even theories that comets could have brought life here from another galaxy.

Friday, March 27, 2009

With or Without

You know how they always say that the universe was the size of an atom at the time of the Big Bang? I always wondered if that dot included the intergalactic void. Did the dot just include the matter or all the matter and all the space in between? If it included the void, where was this dot existing if there wasn't even a void? If it did not include the void, does that mean the void itself is older than the universe? Does the void connect to other dimensions? Does it act like a server for that sort of a thing?

Also, if space is expanding this is implying that the void "is" something and also that it has some kind if boundary. What would this "wall" consist of? Also, if this is so, are there any theories about what's outside this universal limit? The way this is always described makes it sound like the space for galaxies to move away from each other is always increasing. I was wondering if the galaxies themselves influence this expanding of the void. Are they stretching the boundary?

Any ideas?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Clearing Up the Confusion About this Blog

The atheist-theist debate is only the recent theme for this blog. The main purpose of this blog is for the discussion of certain scientific topics such as quantum physics, evolution, etc. and the philosophical implications therein. I am sorry if there was any confusion.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ping-Pong With the Devil

Haven't posted here in a while and Andrew gave me a little nudge. Sometimes that's all I need.

The topic of the day, of the week, of the ever at this blog is the whole atheist-theist debate, which explains in a way why I've been so long in posting here because you see, quite frankly I'm sort of tired of that ping-pong table. It's a ball that can be batted back and forth a lot without resolving anything and ultimately it's something one either gets or one doesn't, and where you go from that moment of getting it depends on which side of the fence you come down on. Either way you're pretty unlikely to be convinced otherwise at a later date so it's a personal decision of great consequence. It's ping-pong with the devil, you see: if you win you get to walk away from the game and if he wins he gets your soul, but the funny thing is he's got you thinking you have to win on points when the truth is you can get what you're playing for just by putting down your paddle.

Beliefs have an enormous effect on how one perceives the world around them. It can be useful to slip on, or into different beliefs to see how much of the world they provide a good explanation of. Science is of course great for this because of the fantastic detail with which it allows the world to be described, however it is all too easy to get so lost in the minutia of any one given sub-discipline that one loses awareness of it's context within the whole, which is inevitably of a cosmic nature and thus (by any scientist's own admission) ultimately not fully describable by rational means. Offering a full description of reality would mean the end of science in many ways, for a perfect description of the cosmos and everything in it could never be improved on. Thus awareness of a truly cosmic context cannot be attained through rational, scientific means. It is, however, very much open through an a huge profusion of traditions some of which are demonstrably older than history; anyone who follows one of those systems far enough will almost inevitably come to understandings of the universe that are remarkably alike.

Neither set of beliefs is complete in itself, of course. Nor are belief-sets of any other nature. This is why it is useful to have an open mind, exposing oneself to as many different systems of belief as one can in order to synthesize one's own understanding. It's also necessary to have discernment; you have to be able to tell truth from lies, because as complex as the universe is the situation is further confused by the addition of numerous (indeed, an infinitely greater number of) lies into the equation, many of which strongly resemble the truth. The problem with a lie is, it'll lead you down the wrong path, staring into your own reflection when you should be paying attention to the world around you; the bigger and more subtle the lie you swallow, the further you go, and the longer you're led astray, very likely to your doom should you follow it long enough.

Now, on one side you've got people saying that the universe is, essentially, the living mind of God, and thus (with the understanding that all is mind and thus all mind is one) a cosmic context that is necessarily accessible both to any human but to every particle of creation (though understanding it requires suppressing normal ego and consciousness, leaving behind language and even memory, and allowing oneself to experience oneself as part of the flow of the cosmos, rather than an isolated pocket of awareness around which the cosmos just happens.) On the other, are those who say spirit and matter are separate, or even that spirit does not exist at all and there is ultimately nothing to the history of the universe save deterministically random reconfigurations of matter. As a result the only valid tool for understanding the cosmos is reason, a careful and painstaking practice that has unearthed the treasures of technology from the logos even whilst casting a heavy swath of suspicion on any attempt to come into contact with that logos itself.

Those who take the atheist tack generally charge that anyone following the mystical path is chasing illusions and refusing to deal with the reality that's there before them. The mystics shoot back that if you stare at nothing but the muck, you shall remain forever stuck in it. Undei no sa jyanai ka?

Me, I'd go a step further and say the whole concept of materialism as a detailed philosophy - and also it's predecessor, the monotheistic tradition - was unleashed specifically to keep people from trying to contemplate things from a wider perspective, and achieving it's goals with increasing success as time goes on I might add. Think of it as a gigantic historical con job whose purpose has been nothing less than epic mind control of a (dare I say it?) Biblical scale lasting for an entire age of humanity. So my argument isn't one of Episcopalians vs. Darwinists, nor is it between Catholicism and Behavioural Psychologists. It's this: either everything is spirit, or it isn't. And if it is ... what then? A lot of things jump out in very sharp relief if one contemplates this question long enough; a lot of questions resolved; a lot of mysteries, explained. Things that before one would go out of their way to notice become a part of the expected background of things.

And as for the atheism debate? As it recedes into the past, it's significance dwindles to that of a lesson learned, though who can say which way of learning that lesson is right? Not me, that's for sure, but I'll tell you this much: a lot of people wouldn't answer that way, and you might want to think why that is.

Hey, look at that. You got an essay out of me ;)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Space Burial

Space burial is a burial procedure in which a small sample of the cremated ashes of the deceased are placed in a capsule the size of a tube of lipstick and are launched into space using a rocket. As of 2004, samples of about 150 people have been "buried" in space.[citation needed] 

Full body burial 

To date, the notion of sending an intact human corpse into outer space for burial is simply too expensive and complex to be feasible. 

Launched to Earth orbit on April 21, 1997

Gene Roddenberry (August 19, 1921 - October 24, 1991), creator of Star Trek.

Gerard O'Neill (1927-1992) space physicist.

Krafft Ehricke, (1917-1984) rocket scientist.

Timothy Leary, (October 22, 1920 - May 31, 1996), American writer, psychologist, and drug campaigner.

[edit]Buried on the moon on July 31, 1999

Dr. Eugene Shoemaker, 

And more...


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Turek VS Hitchens

This debate is pretty good. Theism VS Atheism. Turek VS Hitchens. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Good Conversation

Dawkins and Coyne talk about God and the Universe. I don't believe or agree with Coyne necessarily but he is the best I've seen at explaining his faith.