Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Sum of all Religions

Religion (Photo credit: Rickydavid)
As I look around the Earth in this time, with not much time left for myself relative to the great age of this planet, I have become very sad. I suppose the sadness could have merely resulted from mental processes, such as decreasing neurotransmitters of various kinds, so that I can be labeled with some psychiatric term of depression or generalized anxiety or whatever. After all I have family, I have grand children that give me occasional happy times. But I think my sadness is a result of the information bombarding me from every direction as I grow older. Much of that information is of a oppressive, socially pathetic nature.

I think about religion in a general sense, mainly because I have no religion of my own. This was not my own choice, however. I was raised in many, mostly Christian religions of various denominations, resulting in a kind of confusion and annoyance that there was so much reliance on magical thinking. My childhood was very bleak at times which taught me that magic never works, and that merely praying for things to get better was no different that waving magic wands about. It always failed.

I read the Bible, regardless, thinking that it might be that I have not studied it sufficiently, and that God would not respond to me unless I found just the right combination of thoughts and words to make my prayers worthy. Unfortunately for religion, I found only a vast number of illogical, magical incantations in all those words, as if the authors (so many, not just God himself) were sickened by fungus or other diseases that effected the mind. I suppose if I were building temples some of that information may have been instructive, but otherwise it was like listening to insane people who fear every little thing.

Not only one Bible (i.e. the King James Version), I also read several others in a special version, The Parallel  Bible, that involved four parallel translations so that more modern languages could be compared with the flowery and somewhat arcane language of King James. Many times the previous Latin, Greek or other ancient languages were translated differently by different monks and scholars so that the passages were very differently interpreted. 

One very pronounced problem, though, was that I had also read many history books and literature from before the Christian era -- from India, Sumeria, Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, China and so forth. All of those cultures also had their own religions (most labeled as Pagan by Christians) but in any case all having various versions of the Creation of the World, of Man, and of all the other things around us. There was a great variation, of course, but also a kind of similarity between many of them, such that the stories in the Bible seemed as though they were re-described variations on a theme. The Bible was not primary, and was not unique. It was just one collection of stories among thousands.

Therefore, since I could not just concentrate on one work of literature by tearing all the others out of my neural connections, it was impossible for me to believe in one religion at the expense of all the others. Each claimed to be the only "true" religion and all the others "false", which is logically impossible. Also, if one tries to believe the angry-voiced, shouting preachers from the American farmlands, it gives the impression that God hates everything and everybody and wants to destroy it all. At the same time, the same angry-voice preachers shout that God loves everybody, and had his son tortured and murdered for some unknown reason, which is supposed to save all the rest of us from merciless destruction in the Apocalypse.

Whatever. I could never allow this to influence my professional life, which involved computers and logic in such intricate detail that I could never give credence to magical thinking ever again, no matter what the consequences. This proved to be fine so far as employment was concerned, but resulted in great strife so far as family and social aspects of life were involved. Most (and I do mean the great majority) of people around me were aghast that I had no religion -- that I was devoid of belief. 

That word -- belief -- is the kicker. In my world of digital computers and even analog electronics, belief does not mean anything. Things either work or they don't work. If they work I get paid, if they don't work I get fired. It is as simple as that. Belief doesn't cut it -- only absolute proof is good enough.

So, I learned to treat the entire world as a collection of Dynamic Data. All the pieces in ever-changing data could potentially be true but could equally be false, at any given time. Until each point in a set of data is tested against all the others, the truth or falsehood thereof could not be determined. It is not possible to "believe" that a particular bit of memory is a "1". I have no idea unless I look and see at some moment in time. It might very well be a "1" at the moment I look, but become a "0" immediately after, so my belief would not be accurate. Belief is meaningless in such collection of data. 

A computer could  never have a religion. And it is not because it has no soul. It is merely because blind faith does not work inside a computer. All things are possible to be right or wrong in a particular context, but could fail at any moment. The computer must always assume that -- all data could be false because of a failure in its electronic components -- and that only an outside agent, such as a human or even  some  collection of other computers, can determine that any individual computer is operating correctly.

I could just as well have errors in my brain which cause me to judge the events in the world incorrectly. I have to assume, at all times, that I might be wrong about everything I know. My memory might fail, my vision might fail, my entire consciousness might fail -- at any moment. 

I have no way of determining, all by myself, whether or not that I am tied to a hospital bed, imagining all this. So how could I ever have blind faith in anything, let alone in a self-referential religion with no means of testing its truth or falsehood? All my current knowledge, of science, of philosophy, of all the people I know, is just the sum of all my experiences as well as the sum of all religions - of all belief systems that ever existed. And I could be wrong about everything. And so can everyone else.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Killing Or Culling

The most obvious problem with the world is the number of humans who rule over it. If there was any way to magically reduce that number without some kind of holocaust or apocalypse it would have already happened. There are not many who would simply murder everyone indiscriminately, however there are a few -- people who want to nuke everything instead of solving the difficult underlying problems. There are also people to whom eugenics stills rings attractively.

The modern political parties are composed of many different mindsets, some based on religion, some based on money, some based on the environment, some based purely on military power, etc. Almost all roads lead to money, since almost nothing can be accomplished it, or without some kind of economic system. Of course a barter system could be established but that requires massive exchanges of physical items, with all the attendant energy needs and immense labor. This works for many of the rich countries possessing coal, oil, gold, industrial metals, gems, foods, and so forth.

The US has huge amounts of agricultural products that we trade around the world for whatever things we want. This depends on technology in the current age, which in turn depends mostly on oil and coal. Our huge amounts of coal may be of some comfort to us, however the amount of oil in the world is becoming more technologically and economically difficult to sustain. There is also a lot of methane gas to burn in somewhat cleaner ways, although the sustainability of those gas fields are not much more stable than petroleum.

Ecological problems from the use of fossil fuels and overproduction of mono-cultured foods can be ignored for the sake of graphs and corporate profits, yet there are no possible ways to extend those graphs and profits indefinitely into the future without a tragic, apocalyptic crash.

It is not a problem that can be solved in time with our infinitely increasing population. The people in power, especially those with vast personal wealth, will try to hide from the problems, in villas and private islands with guards and roadside weaponry for as long as possible. After that becomes a useless technique, itself doomed to exhaustion of resources, then only the deaths of the majority of Earth's people can result, including many of the less protected wealthy in the worst areas.

Science did not invent human suffering, however it has been both the bearer of great relief and the bearer of great suffering, always unintended, always with a polarity in both the directions of good and evil. Weapons seem to always come first, either for hunting or for battles with other humans. Peace is attained for a while, during which more knowledge is gained, more weapons invented, more wars, and then, hopefully, more peace. 

In this century, the 21st in our manner of counting time, we shall know in which manner science will bring about the apocalypse, or more hopefully, a readjustment of our relationship with the other inhabitants of Earth. Wealth will not help you because you cannot take it with you. Religion seems only to fan the flames of discord and offers little but prayer as a solution to profoundly difficult problems. One can always hope that God will grant personal miracles, preventing a plane wreck from harming a single surviving child for instance. If God was so inclined, it would have been far less gruesome to prevent the plane wreck entirely. After all, God is supposed to be omnipotent and all that.

The biological function of the entire Earth is difficult to measure in total. Since we cannot possibly visit every high pressure subsurface location on the planet we can only estimate the effects of all human activity on the chemistry that supports us. We seem to think we can just adapt the way bacteria adapt, after all we were able to travel to the Moon and back alive. This may be true but bacteria have been in all the locations of Earth that we can never go to. Bacteria can adapt very rapidly because their cell division is usually far more rapid than more complex organisms like us. With each division comes the possibility of change. Change allows adaptation, even to extremely harsh conditions. We can only have generational babies every 16-20 years or so, allowing much slower adaptation to altered chemistry.

Also, much evolution results in the extermination of the species which were not so lucky. Even if a species survives it might only be due to a small number of lucky individuals to survive any severe changes, much like the survivors of pandemics like flu, small pox or bubonic plague. There are also very bad trade offs in such survival, for instance the sickle cell blood adaptation to malaria parasites.

The faith we have in science to solve all the problems we cause ourselves using science is a whimsy. Science is only a tool like a shovel. A shovel can dig a grave just as easily as a ditch. I intend to use it as a constructive tool for as long as I am around. But I don't pretend that I can prevent the apocalypse or stave off mass starvation of humans and other animals.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Recognize Everything Always

In the world of wire and wireless things, information is being shoveled around in astounding amounts. This also includes devices which interface "beneath" the web, using IP but not HTTP, so that transactions between machines can be optimal for that pair or set of machines involved, and can be composed of data like video streams, audio streams, telemetry, meta-programs and so on. 

But the state of all things on all wired and wireless signal networks is from such an enormous quantity of data that the usefulness of it is very low. You cannot recognize everything at once, all the time. A human mind is good at making a story from the random puffs of data that enter via the eyes and ears and all other senses. The story cannot be the simultaneous stories of all possible paths of analysis. Some smaller set is always used for the useful stories about the world of information.

Big Data is a phrase that means a lot of different things; it depends on the point of view used to refer to the Big Data. Storing it is a whole complicated pack of dogs. Correlating it is the job of a pack of genies who can create other genies to help them. Reaction to it requires accumulation of experiences regarding what happens when certain patterns in the combinations of correlations occur. Delegating each sub-combination to a another reactor might go for very deep levels because of the huge number of states each sub-combination may itself consist of.

In concrete terms, use Laptops with 8 processors as a unit. An entire laptop is sometimes loaded with enormous amounts of data, although it has only 8 processors. Each of the 8 processors may also subdivide certain data into sub-processes that are either emulated by the 8 processor system as a whole in a multitasking manner, or are hardware like graphics cells that can process hundreds of data nodes in parallel, perhaps 128.

In another construction of machinery, such as a forest of server nodes, the actual number of unique processors can be in the millions. This can take some problems and solve them in seconds instead of years or centuries. Such machines are not without cost, since there is a tremendous complexity in assuring all states in all the processors is synchronized as well as parallel executed. If there are trillions of nodes, it may take weeks to load all the states of each node just to get ready to start solving the original problem.

So, if the number of humans on the planet is in the billions, and there are billions of cameras in cell phones, millions of CCTV nodes and web cameras. Each has a huge amount of data, perhaps mostly useless. There are huge numbers of comparisons made amongst the mountains of data by the billions of computer operations it takes. There are trillions of unique comparisons necessary to process just the nodes, and each node has gigabytes of data. Assuming intelligent compression of all that data is made (not so far) then it might take far fewer nodes to process it all later.

I imagine there may actually be agencies that collect and sift this Big Data, using a myriad of tools to help harvest and gain whatever advantage it gives them to catch crooks or keep us less than free, whichever is closer to infinity.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Finite Sadness

I observe the world with decreasing numbers of seconds before me. The world will go on for a very long time after my last second, which is good for those who remain and at least a small comfort when considering the fate of my descendants. I know the world will not end because of humans, even if we used all our nuclear weapons at once and spread every toxin we have created to every crack and crevice of Earth's surface and to every drop of water in the oceans.

Yet merely because bacteria are tough enough to survive the most obscene destruction our demented minds can conceive it is not a permanent comfort. It does not excuse us from the horrors that humans are capable of. Sharks may be ruthless and unrepentant killers, but that is their method of survival. Only a few animals besides humans kill for the fun of it or for ritualistic purposes. 

Wild dogs will kill each other and their pups, like many other animals, and it seems to be merely for spite. Yet, looking more closely at their lives, however, it is much more related to the cruelty of their environment and the genetic warfare that goes on endlessly. Humans are conscious of their actions in ways that other animals cannot be, and we can choose whether to be needlessly cruel or not. 

It is a terrible thing, but most of us are cruel in at least some ways, such as vaporizing ants with magnifying glasses and certainly by our crass methods of harvesting fish and other meat sources. We might pick out a few edible fish from trawler nets and throw away tons of "inedible" stuff that dies because of pressure changes or other trauma suffered thereby. Cruelty is our way of life, even if all we do is torture plants. I cannot tell you how a plant feels or if a forest suffers the loss of friends.

Nature will get us in the end, of course, since all previous species have all gone extinct. There may be a few leftover species that are unchanged from prehistoric times, like tube worms, horseshoe crabs, nautiluses and other primitive lifeforms. If humans are able to survive all future catastrophes as well as sharks (which have nearly met their match as we drive them to ever-shrinking numbers) then perhaps we might be around a hundred million years from now. Yet, we might escape the Earth and travel to the stars, but whoever remains behind will eventually succumb to the unavoidable calamities befalling all planets -- heat death. Heat either overwhelms us or leaves us utterly frozen, one or the other.

We blame the Sun for our current climate problems, but we really know it is our own fault. It doesn't matter, really, because after any person is dead their problems disappear with them. Eventually, when all of us are dead, those problems will belong to someone or something else. If one believes in magical things, and that there is an afterlife, then perhaps we are supposed to be punished for the terrible things we do. Yet, like hanging a man who tortures and murders children, it may rid the world of one monster but does not return the innocent children to their mourning parents. Just because we burn in Hell because we burned down our home planet does not fix the planet.

I am not convinced of the reality of the afterlife, at least not in such a black and white way. I almost feel completely devoid of religion, but that does not mean I feel free to commit terrible acts with no fear of retribution. I just don't have such desires. I don't want to murder people or steal things,  regardless of whether some God exists or not. Yet, despite their supposed belief in God, some people have no empathy whatsoever, no regard for the vast pain and suffering they might cause.

So religion is not the issue. It is just a reaction in my own mind, a sadness that visits me whenever it wishes. The sadness comes and goes whenever it likes, but someday it will have no one left to visit, or no one left that cares. I can try to ignore it, to just don't worry, be happy. That is OK for me, but it is not enough when I think of my grandchildren. I worry for them, and I am not happy about the world I will leave them.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Things That Require Gods

Throughout my life -- which in the very early years involved believing pretty much everything adults told me -- I could not help but assign all causes for everything to mysterious, unknown forces despite my education in the ways of science. I always heard people claim that God did this or God did that, but every time I looked into the underlying aspects of all those this-and-thats I could not find a mechanism that would require anything more than natural forces, chemistry and physics. That is except for one this-or-that -- my own inner world.

Consciousness itself seemed inexplicable, and in most cases still seems that way to me. All the mechanical pieces to life, including the complexity of life molecules and their utterly chaotic interactions, still seem to be a bunch of space-time coordinates, electrical charges and other atomic forces that move molecules around. They all had rules and symbols and could be computed to some degree.

Recently computers have been able to model a single, relatively simple bacterium. This is an astounding feat so far as computer science is concerned, even though some of the model is constructed by arbitration -- by human intervention -- just to make the computation simple enough to work on machines of an economically sound kind. To actually start from a DNA molecule and a bucket of construction atoms to divide into two bacteria via the chemical interactions implied by the sequence of base pairs -- that still seems beyond computation. The sheer number of interacting parts is too great to be digitally processed without planet sized computers. How many atoms exist in a single bacteria and the minimal environmental soup required for it to survive?
It does seem that given a complicated enough computer which has the power and capacity to carry out every single atomic interaction necessary to make an entire bacterium work and reproduce, it should be possible to do. But one must be willing to throw enough money at the problem. Whether that would be worth the money I don't know.

To construct the awareness that any life form has of itself as well (which seemingly comes automatically to living things with their biochemical processes) seems far more difficult. I cannot list the steps required, nor even know what the elements are. What is a single molecule of consciousness? Is it the regular atom itself? Is it just an illusion that I feel things and think of myself as being separate from the atoms I swim in?

In animals, even those with very complex brains, consciousness seems to be present but does not seem very flexible. I often wonder if a lizard actually knows that it is awake. Does it merely react to the environment like a machine? A dinosaur might be able to stomp my entire house to the ground with great ease, but I doubt that it could understand the concept of any symbol. 

Dinosaurs had no need for symbolic thinking, they merely needed good senses to locate the source of the next meal, huge muscles and teeth for rendering it to swallow sized chunks, and needed social skills for the ability to mate and care for its offspring.

Some animals can somehow give birth to offspring which can survive in a brutal world without protective parents, but those animals must still somehow mate, even if in a kind of haphazard manner.

The oceans are a kind of modern dinosaur world. Fish and even marine mammals can sometimes be very cunning. Dolphins and whales certainly have larger brains than we do. Yet so much of their physical and mental efforts are dedicated to survival in a world of such big teeth that any symbolic consciousness is not very noticeable. The whales do sing, and they understand the songs, so something is going on in those big skulls -- just not high technology. 

However harsh the environment for animals might be, though, each animal must have at least some modicum of intelligence and consciousness, at least in the form of basic awareness if not self-awareness. An unconscious sort of "sleepwalking" may comprise many animals' minds. It is hard to know those things without being that animal and seeing for yourself.

A bacterium is a very complicated thing to model, for sure, but it pales in significance compared to the complexity of human beings and our utterly insane and unpredictable habits. What computer program could ever hope to physically and mentally capture the essence of human consciousness, with all our pains and pleasures, fears and wishes, delusions and inspirations. It may someday be possible to model that -- perhaps with quantum computing or whatever. It is not possible now, nor will it be for decades to come in all likelihood. The most complex androids are barely more conscious than a toaster, although some are very cleverly constructed, much like the Mechanical Turk in the 1800s, and thereby can fool a human for a few seconds. I suppose some are made pretty enough for some desperadoes to actually fall in love with them.

The only thing that is for sure is that the Universe (of all universes), however it works, has modeled such processes perfectly. Those laws of physics are keeping us all conscious, at least for the time being. It has happened on one planet, Earth, which may be a very rare place. But with so many trillions of other places to try life out, I can't imagine that this planet is the only one to sprout living things.

Of course I cannot prove that life exists anywhere else since I cannot travel anywhere else. The same is true of trying to prove that a single God created all this stuff just for the sake of one ape-like being with nasty habits. Who can prove such a thing when one must always resort to faith only, never presenting evidence.

It is not really necessary to drag Gods (however many might exist) into these arguments should any disagreement ensue. These words are only the concerns some nasty ape-like beings who live on this Earth, wondering how anything at all can exist. If we are wrong, so be it. No other animals on the Earth seem to ever ask such questions let alone come up with any possible explanations. And God is not even on speaking terms with us, except possibly with those suffering from mental illness.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Dark Puzzle

Black holes may constitute all dark matter
Black holes may constitute all dark matter (Photo credit: girl_onthe_les)
Despite the appearance of the Higgs Boson earlier, there is still a great deal of difficulty for physicists in describing all phenomena in accordance with the so-called Standard Model. Lately it has become commonplace to regard the matter we cannot see but "know is there" -- Dark Matter. As mysterious as that sounds, as if it were Darth Vader land, there must also exist Dark Energy as well.

I am not so certain about the mathematics, being that it requires supercomputers to resolve all the measurement and sensor data, so all I can do as a normal human is to imagine scenarios where the Dark stuff is involved. I do not count the Higgs particle as Dark, because it was something we could detect only in abnormal conditions; it was not just the everyday stuff throughout the Universe.

Anyway, even the speed of light, c, seems an arbitrary "Dark" thing, since the actual measured speed of light is a definite value but why that is remains unknown. Light travels forever, as wave packets called photons, through the "empty" vacuum of space, most of the time. A photon can be absorbed by atoms along the way, although much of the time the photons will simply be re-emitted at some other frequency. But the paths that photons take are so straight that only the bends in space caused by gravity or refraction have any effect.

When trying to envision a particle of anything that has mass as pushing its way through a thick syrup, so that the larger the particle the more resistance and viscosity, I must sort of translate the scene from the waves into little balls of various sizes. This cannot be how physics really is, only a particular fantasy image trying to analogize it. Things that are so fundamental cannot really be modeled by things that are so complex. It would be like trying to model Lego blocks using planets and stars.

The laws of physics are not real in the sense that a book is real. Those laws are the descriptions of whatever is happening out here in the real world -- outside of the mental world in the book's content. The laws of physics could be entirely false, so far as our book has them written, yet the world would go on as usual. The world is real, and it works however it works, whether we understand it or not. Because gravity behaves in such-and-such way with matter and time, all the rest of the Universe now exists. It matters nothing whether we really understand how that could ever work -- it does work and here we are.

One cannot say, 'Since I don't understand how the Universe could ever exist, therefore God created the Universe'. That doesn't make any sense at all. Invoking other unsolvable puzzles is not an acceptable way to solve puzzles.

We are all living together in this gravity well of Earth, in the gravity well of the Sun, effected by the gravity wells of all the other bodies in the solar system and ultimately by the gravity well of our entire galaxy, dark matter and all.  Although the inverse square of the distance makes the effect of gravity very tiny from long distances, it has whatever teensy effect it has, but sometimes only as much as a single proton might have upon the whole Earth. But the chain reactions of all matter spread through space as an invisible glue must then tie all the Universe together, as tenuous as that might be.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

The Equation

Everyone is aware of the various mathematical operations that define the physics of the world around us. Einstein came up with E=mc2, defining the equivalence of matter and energy. Yet no one really knows what matter or energy really are.

There is also an overall pattern in the Universe. This pattern is best seen when draining water down a drain -- a spiral. It also appears in tornadoes, hurricanes, major storm systems, various ocean gyres, in our own Solar System, which lies embedded in one of the spiral arms of our galaxy. The galaxy is then in a swarm of other galaxies caught up in a flow, which has eddies and rapids like a river.

In math, one can produce a complex number Z, and produce another complex number Z'. Then operations on this can infinitely propagate Z' = Z2+Z until  -4.0 < Z' < 4.0. Using the x and y coordinates for Z.x and Z.y (with 0 in the center of a graph), one can plot the color of each point on the graph. The color is formed from the number of iterations of Z'= Z2+Z possible before it hits a limit.

This will produce the Mandelbrot Set, a fractal shape which is self-similar at different scales. And with various forms applied as warps to the x,y space an infinite variety of forms can be made.