Friday, June 8, 2012

Repulsive Force

I was reading an article about creationism recently, and it contained a novel statement of why creationism is not science: Science requires nothing to be taken on faith.

I so love this statement as a definition of science, because it excludes the possibility of any reconciliation between faith and science.  By this definition, they are mutually exclusive.

In another article, I read that people who understand evolution tend to embrace it, and among those who do not embrace it, most simply do not understand it.

Putting the two notions together, I have this insight:  There is an attractive force between understanding and science -- the more you understand science, the more you embrace it.  And in contrast, there is a repulsive force between understanding and religion -- the more you understand religion, the more you let it go.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

prayers vs curses

Are curses as powerful as prayers?  Put another way, if I pray for person X's health to get worse, does my prayer counteract another person's prayer for X's health to get better?

I suspect there are some who believe in the power of prayer, who would say that curses do not work, that they are ignored.  My question to them: why would prayer work and curses not?  Or maybe a more interesting question: what exactly is it that distinguishes a curse from a prayer?  If a prayer fails, doesn't that indicate that the wish contained in the prayer was counter to God's plan?  Could a curse be defined as a prayer that doesn't work?

Today's idea: if curses don't work, then neither do prayers.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Idea about Human Life

The idea in this post relates to abortion, though please don't jump to any conclusions about how I feel about abortion itself.

The idea is this: the definition of when life begins is religious in nature.  The distinction between human life and all other life is also religious in nature.

That is the beginning and end of the idea, but it has many implications.  I for one am not religious, and so, because of my idea, I don't think I'm qualified or even all that interested in defining the beginning of human life.  Another implication is that any law or amendment on the subject must necessarily be religious in nature, giving the boot to the notion of separation of church and state.  Indeed, there might be a further corollary on the subject of church and state that I might ponder in a future post.

The idea draws from two sources in my background.  First, as a kid, I came across a medical textbook on the subject of embryology, in which chicken embryos are studied in lieu of human embryos because they are in most ways identical at early stages.  Years of thinking about that book led me to conclude that the distinction of human life from others is a function of our arbitrary classification system.

Second, I have some experience with information theory, and I believe if you consider primarily the laws of entropy, sperm and egg are both already alive prior to fertilization, i.e. fertilization itself does not represent a special moment vis-a-vis life.  An alternative and equally (I say) arbitrary moment would be the moment at which the embryo can be distinguished from a chicken.  If these two moments seem significantly different to you, perhaps you are religious.

Here is a devil's advocate argument I thought of:  one phenomenon that distinguishes species from each other is that members of different species cannot mate.  Consider dogs and wolves, for example.  All dogs are of the same species, and they can all mate, regardless of breed.  In contrast, dogs and wolves cannot mate; they are of different species.  Therefore, one could view fertilization as a gateway to specieshood: if fertilization is successful, then congratulations, the product of fertilization is a member of our species.  Thus fertilization is the obvious beginning of life, no religion required.

Now now devil, I have a counter point or two.  For one thing, you have not explained what's so important about the moment you can classify a creature's species.  If you say it's important because members of a species can mate, then you have entered a circular argument, since that is part of the definition of species.  If you argue that, well, the human species is more important because of intelligence or some other thing we normally have, I point out that the chicken embryo has all the same bits as a human embryo for a long time, so those human things must come later.  Ah, you say you're a Darwinist, believing that evolution drives a species to maximize survival, and Darwinism is decidedly non-religious.

Ah, the argumentative demon has made a spectacular point.  But I'm excited to point to my Hall of g'Fame, one of whose members has demonstrated a few things about Darwinism that are largely unknown.  Darwin lived before the discovery of the gene.  In the theory of genetic evolution, the gene is the agent singlemindedly pursuing survival, not the species.  Darwinian evolution, as a scientific theory, has been supplanted, in fine scientific fashion, by a better theory.  In genetic evolution, our species is no more important than our subphylum (vertebrate), genes don't care.  If you're still a Darwinist, despite that theory being wrong, then I might say you are religious.

And let's not forget that at one time in the not too distant past, there were two intelligent species on this planet (homo sapiens and homo neanderthalensis).  I wonder, if they had survived, if we would have two separate bill of rights?

I guess another way to state the idea is: religion is the underpinning of rights. If Thomas Hobbes were alive, he would certainly leave a comment in opposition, so my readers will have to do so in his place.

Monday, February 27, 2012

We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own

"We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own."  Raise your hand if you recognize this quote?  I was thinking it might be a slogan for Facebook.  For the last year or so, I've been struggling to explain to my friends why I have never joined Facebook, and I think with this quote, I have finally found an illustration.  A more complete quotation is: "We are the Borg. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile."1  Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it, and those who fail to learn the future are doomed to, uh, well, doomed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Silver Rule

Do you become upset when you treat people the right way, and they do not treat you the same?  Doesn't the Bible say people should treat you the way you treat them?  No.  That's backward, and I call the backward version the Reverse Golden Rule.  The Bible's actual Golden Rule says that you should treat people the way you want to be treated, and that's the end of the rule, there is no reciprocation.  The Silver Rule is the unstated corollary to the Golden Rule, which is, "Do not expect people to treat you the way you treat them."  The Silver Rule could bring a little more peace to the world.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Without Representation

Graduates of US high schools may be familiar with the slogan "taxation without representation," a phenomenon considered so repugnant by the legendary colonial Americans that war was waged over it.  I propose that we're there again, but this time the taxation is not really the disturbing part.  The disturbing part is that the citizens of the Great Experiment no longer have any representation at all.

What do I mean by representation?  If you think hard about that word, it comes to you that it means having someone who stands in for you, by virtue of being able to think like you, or act like you, or act as you would wish to act.

The design of representation in our US republic is based on one very fundamental assumption: people in a geographic region share common interests, and those interests can be identified and represented by a single individual.  I assert that this assumption, while probably true during most of last two centuries, is now perfectly false.  For various reasons, my neighbors and I have no common interests at all.  Many of us work from home for companies around the world, deriving our income from clients around the world, paying taxes according to arbitrary geographic circumstances.  In our leisure time, we may root for the same sports team, but just as likely we may root for a team and even a sport from the other side of the globe.  We are not listed in the same phone book, as we do not have home phone numbers, and our cell phones have different area codes.  Indeed, the new meaninglessness of "area code" could have been my opening argument!  Almost all of my snail mail is junk, my bills arrive to my email inbox no matter where I happen to be in the world.  The Netflix envelopes will probably be the last valuable bit of snail mail, before its total demise.  You get where I'm going.  It's not that I'm all that different from my neighbors, it's that my neighbors are arbitrary, and our neighborliness is the very least relevant property on which to base a representative system.

Feel free to debate me on the above arguments, as my friends readily do, but now let me skip to the idea of this post:  a new principal for representative government, based not on where we happen to get our Netflix delivered, but based on stuff that matters to us.  The idea applies to the House, as I haven't really thought about the Senate yet.  We begin a new voter registration system, available by paper but also online, where each 18-year-old citizen registers, not for a political party, but for one or more special interest groups.  Any special interest group can apply for inclusion in the system, with some minimal requirements similar to signatures, but much easier to get.  Perhaps just a $10 registration fee to keep away the spam.  Each voter can register with any number of special interest groups.  Yes, as many as you like.

On a regular frequency, even more often than the current census period, the 435 seats of the House are apportioned this way:  On a given day at midnight, the special interest group with the most registered members gets the first seat.  Next, a well-written computer program removes all the members of the top SIG from all the rest of the SIGS.  At this point, the members of the top SIG are represented by 1 seat in the House, and no more, because they are removed from the remainder of the process.  After removing those members, the SIG with the next highest total membership gets the next seat.  It's members are removed from the remainder, and so on.  At the end, you have 435 seats apportioned to 435 special interest groups, but note that each SIG has only 1 representative.  So for example, a SIG like Teachers of America will have 1 representative, and only 1, they will not be able to contribute to the campaigns of 150 Congressmen and get their own voting block.  Indeed, the representation would be diverse, as diverse as possible with 435 seats, not nearly as diverse as the real USA, but still much better than the current diversity of the House.

After the apportionment, each of the 435 SIGs would appoint their representative using whatever method they see fit.  The country as a whole would not participate in the process, only the voters that are registered with a given SIG.  Of course, a person could register with all 435 if one wanted to.  But a given SIG may or may not hold an election to choose its representative, so joining a SIG in order to sabotage it may not work.  The check-and-balance in the system is this: if a SIG becomes spammed by new members, it can select a representative using a caucus system, or by selecting Nobel winners, or by astrology, whatever.  And if that SIG starts to behave badly in its selection process, then its core members can simply de-register.  If enough voters abandon the SIG, it will lose its seat in the House.  Indeed, registration with the SIGs would replace voting as the individual enfranchisement.  You will register with only the SIGs that act the way you do, or act the way you would wish to. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Disney World Opening Day Idea

I originally sent this idea to the guys at this Microsoft research project, in time for the 40th anniversary of Disney World opening day some years ago, but no one received it or read it or thought it was interesting, there being no moonsters at Microsoft apparently.  The idea is simple: invite everyone who was present on opening day at Disney World to scan+email their photos from their special day to this project.  The researchers would add an additional dimension to their software: using sun angles, compute the approximate time of day of each photograph, and create a 4D panorama of opening day, to be used by Disney as a promotion for the 40th anniversary of the park.  With the 4D panorama, you could pick a place in the park, and then hit play, and people would flow past as if you were there.  Or you could pick a time of day and take the normal 3D tour through the park at that time.  Or stop at any point and press play, to watch people flow by, then pause time and continuing moving through the park.  Or set a walking speed, and let time flow as you move through the park at your walking pace.