Class Warfare Blog

October 18, 2019

The “Limits” of Our Understanding

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 1:30 pm
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I am reading a book whose subtitle is “The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning.”

I just got started so I don’t have much to say about the book, yet, but I did have a reaction to the use of words. In the introduction the author, after much dissembling, talked about how every measurement is inexact, that they only go so far. But then the word used became “limited” as what we do know and can measure is “limited” and inferring that what we can know is limited. And then, of course, the author wonders what those limitations are. But phrases are then used like “The ultimate truth is elusive, a phantom.”

I am girding my intellectual loins to read this book, so we will see how I evaluate it when I stop (finished or not). There seems to be more than a little bit of Platonism in the language used so far. The idea of an ultimate truth, in itself, is disturbing to say the least as this idea has only been used by charlatans claiming to know a “truth” that we do not possess and then trying to extract something from us in order to share that “truth.”

Let’s talk about the limitations of measurements to begin with. I used to stand in front of a lab class and ask them how long the lab bench was. People guessed that it was maybe 20 feet long. I responded that that was a good start. I pointed out that the floor had vinyl tiles on it, each of which was 12 inches/1 foot in length and with a little counting we came up with a better measurement. Then I provided a meter stick (Hey, we’re talkin’ science here! You were expecting a yard stick? Go to the hardware store!) And they were able to get an even better measurement from multiple uses of that instrument. Then I pull out a steel measuring tape, and voila an even better measurement!

Finally, I suggested we could walk over to the physics department and borrow a laser interferometer which could measure lengths to a fraction of a wavelength of light! And I asked them what we would find. They all assumed “an even better measurement.” And I said, “Uh uhn. What we would find is that the far edge of this bench is not parallel to the near edge and that we would get different measurements depending where we took the measurement. And even if the two edges were perfectly parallel, we would find that at the realm of wavelengths of light, that the edges were neither perfectly smooth nor perfectly flat and we would start having problems deciding where the bench began and where it ended.

Measurements are necessarily inexact, but it is rare that this is due to our inability to measure accurately. It is usually due to misconceptions, for example that the bench in my teaching lab had a “true length.” The same thing goes for things like atoms. Atoms have no exterior surface, so how do you measure their sizes (from . . . , to . . .)? Even the idea of a perfect object, a Platonic “ideal,” is completely unreal. It is an idea we can have but we cannot create. And can we know the ultimate truth? about anything? Well, basically, my response is “You want the ultimate truth? You can’t handle the ultimate truth!”

This book’s topic impinges on recent posts of mine regarding the nature of reality and how our senses and brains create it for us. We are curious by nature—hardwired in, it is. So, we take things to extremes in our imaginations (because “Enquiring minds want to know!”), but if we start thinking those extremes are real, then our only future is one containing a great many rubber rooms.

Let me give you a ‘for instance’ from the history of science. It was Isaac Newton, in our western tradition, who “discovered” that the force of gravity showed fidelity to an inverse square law, that is the force was inversely proportional to the square of the distance of separation of the attractive bodies. In math, for two gravitationally attracted bodies, say you and the Earth, it looks like this F = k m1m2/d2. The distance, d, is between the two centers of masses of the two objects and the little m’s represent the masses of the two bodies. The proportionality constant, k, makes the units of measurements agree with one another. So, this was in the 1600’s. How well do you think that Newton’s estimate of an exponent of exactly 2 was measured? Could it not have been 2.01 or 1.98 or 2.00002 or 1.9999997? Well, it could be, but this is not how science works. Scientists find that in many, many things, simple integral exponents like 1, 2, or 3 show up quite often, so if the data indicate it is very close to “2” we assume it is “2” for the time being. This has been checked and the exponent is 2 to about eight decimal places . . . so far. As long as Newton’s law of gravity gave us good answers to our questions we used it. When it stopped giving good answers, then we look further into the rule to see if there are limitations to its application. (Einstein’s theory of gravity got props for explaining things that Newton’s theory could not. This does not mean that we stopped using Newton’s theory, we just became aware that there are preconditions for its successful use.) In this fashion we do not need perfect information to proceed. We proceed from the imperfect to better.

Could we ever determine that the exponent in Newton’s equation is “exactly 2?” I suggest that we cannot as we either end up having to expend so much effort to get the next few decimal points, only to end up with there being more to check, or we find out, like the length of the lab bench, that our question becomes incoherent.

So, are there “limits” on how well we can understand things. Absolutely, but these are not philosophical limits or necessary physical limits. And these limits are not necessarily from without (except, consider Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle) they often as not come from our misperceptions of the actual situation we are in. You name the problem and I can give you a long list of potential limitations to us acquiring an answer. For example, consider the question: What is “dark matter?”

Here are some potential limitations on our being able to answer this question:
• The experiments needed are very expensive and no organization will fund them.
• Global climate change creates an existential crisis and we end up spending all of our energy on practical questions.
• Aliens visit us and destroy the planet.
• We develop an AI that metastasizes, takes over the planet, and exterminates human beings.
• Through genetic manipulation, we create a super plague that wipes out humanity.
• We discover that the universe is different from what we thought is was and neither dark matter nor dark energy are needed to explain anything (this is the same as “nothing to explain” and trying to explain things that do not exist, well that is better let to theists).
• An alien invasion involves us being genetically manipulated by viruses, lowering our IQs dramatically because they want us as meat animals.

Speculating as to whether our ability to understand science is “limited” is possibly entertaining (sells books, even) but is likely to be as wrong as all other speculations about the future. Plus, if our ability to understand “the natural” is limited, consider then what limitations might be on our ability to understand the supernatural. (Yes, I believe there is a religious context behind such discussions of the “limits” of science.) The only way to find any such limits to applicability of any science is to attempt them, over an over; it is by doing, not thinking that such things are found.

I am reminded of my ex-wife who was a biochemist and who had gotten a job at a plastics firm. She was assigned to a workgroup and the leader of that group told her they had been working on a problem for the better part of a year and gotten nowhere and wondered if she had any insights. They were trying to come up with a solvent for a new plastic. She said she would think about it. She went into her lab and took samples of the plastic and then took down bottles of every solvent there and added some of the plastic and some of the solvents in small glass vessels. Within a couple of days she had found three decent solvents to continue testing. Her supervisor was looking for a solvent which could theoretically meet their needs. She was looking for a solvent that could actually meet their needs.

This, by the way, highlights the differences between philosophy and science. The scientists have nature to settle disputes, philosophers only have each other.

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October 17, 2019

Oh, My Poor Language!

Filed under: language — Steve Ruis @ 9:33 am
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A recent headline in The Guardian stated “Arizona home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright before his death sells for $1.7m.”

Now I am somewhat of a fan of architecture and I know of Frank Lloyd Wright, but weren’t all of his houses designed before he died (his homes were the ones he lived in)? Surely, it would have been the looked for evidence of the supernatural were he to have designed one after he had died.

In the text of the article it became clear that this was “the last home” designed by Mr. Wright. Could not the headline writer have written “Frank Lloyd Wright’s last home sells for $1.7m?” Or if it was the last house he designed (surely not) it could have been “Last house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright sells for $1.7m?”

Seems the English language has fallen upon hard times.

WTF? In This Corner . . .

In this corner we have bigotry and hatred . . .

A U.S. District Court judge in Texas has overturned the protections written into Obamacare for transgender people, ruling they violate the religious rights of healthcare providers who hold religious beliefs that oppose the existence of transgender people. (WTF? “Oppose the existence . . .”)

And in this corner we have the Constitution of the United States of America . . .

(First Amendment) Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; . . .

(Fourteenth Amendment) No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

“Obamacare” refers to a law passed by Congress. This federal judge has decided that it is okay for individual “healthcare providers” to deny transgender people health services because of “religion.”

How is a healthcare employee practicing their religion while doing their job? Answer: they are not (formally or by the law). The religious can say that their religion informs them every minute of ever day (Jesus told me to choose the corn flakes this morning!) and I do not doubt that there are some folks like that. But what part of their secular job is exercising their religion? Answer: no part (formally of by the law).

How about “when taking a secular job, perform the duties of the job or seek employment elsewhere.”

So, the federal government is not allowed to go into any church activity and say “this is not allowed” but apparently Christians are allowed to tell the federal government which secular laws they will obey and which they will not.

So, what would Jesus do, Christians? Jesus healed sinners. Jesus healed lepers! Modern Christians apparently do not measure up to that standard. Would not the kindness of a Christian healthcare provider possibly help transgender people “see the way?” In what way would a Christian be diminished by helping a transgender person regain their good health?

Do not Christians oppose the existence of Muslims? What about divorcees? What about people who wear garments of mixed fibers? Where does one draw the line? How about “when taking a secular job, perform the duties of the job or seek employment elsewhere.” If your religion does not recognize gay marriage, do not get a clerk’s job (aka powerless job) processing marriage licenses in a state that has legalized gay marriage. If your religion claims that animal blood makes you unclean, don’t get a job as a butcher. If your religion says that people of color are abominations, don’t take a retail job of any kind. If your religion says that you should serve only Christian people, get a job at a church . . . if they will have you.

October 11, 2019

Something is seriously wrong with this system.

Filed under: Economics,Politics,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 10:04 am
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Over at the Naked Capitalism site there is a significant post on the costs of healthcare insurance—Wolf Richter: How Employees & Employers Get Bled by Health Insurance.

It is no secret that the healthcare insurers figured out that union-negotiated healthcare insurance was a spigot to tap the wealth of the nation so as to flow into their coffers.

The unions thought that they were negotiating a “fringe benefit,” a non salary-based benefit and that this would make sense for one and all. Everyone needed access to healthcare services, so making it a fringe benefit made sense. It also allowed a larger “purchase” to be made, thereby holding down the costs.

But insurers recognized that the prices they charge were made invisible to the employees and so they used the specter of employee unrest to jack up prices wholesale. Even employers were caught off guard.

Here’s a taste of the article, check out this graphic. It covers only a 20 year span, in which healthcare “costs” increased at a substantially higher rate than, well, anything else. (Why? Because there was no one in charge?)

As a contrast to this consider the school textbook market. All states buy textbooks for their schools. Some states, like Texas and California, are so large that textbook publishers cannot lose sales to those states, so they cater, fawningly over the states with the most buying power. Imagine if there were one giant healthcare insurance customer. Imagine the buying power. Imagine the ability to oversee this entity (as there will be only one customer, with only one suite of paperwork, one set of reports, etc.). Imagine the pressure on drug manufacturers and all of the rest to make sure they get their piece of the pie.

Can’t possibly work, you say? Well it is working . . . in numerous places around the globe . . . and even right here in River City. In the form of Medicare and the Veterans Health Administration.

 

 

 

October 4, 2019

More on the “Reality” of Our Senses

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:45 pm
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A recent magazine article in Quanta magazine addressed some fine points most of us are unaware of regarding our vision (Your Brain Chooses What to Let You See, <sub> Beneath our awareness, the brain lets certain kinds of stimuli automatically capture our attention by lowering the priority of the rest.).”

There are a number of fascinating limitations on our ability to “see,” that is to take in information through our eyes and process it. Consider these snippets from the article:

“Scientists have long known that our sensory processing must automatically screen out extraneous inputs — otherwise, we couldn’t experience the world as we do. When we look at our surroundings, for instance, our perceived field of view holds steady or moves smoothly with our gaze. But the eye is also constantly making small movements, or saccades; our visual system has to subtract that background jitter from what we see.

“Automatic suppressive types of mechanisms take place … through large swaths of the brain,” said Richard Krauzlis, a neuroscientist at the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. “Basically all over the place.”

“And automatic background subtraction, it turns out, can also manifest in intriguing, unexpected ways. Take a counterintuitive finding that Tadin and his colleagues made in 2003: We’re good at perceiving the movements of small objects, but if those objects are simply made bigger, we find it much more difficult to detect their motion.”

What a lot of people don’t realize is that the sheer amount of information available to our senses would swamp any brain, supercomputer, quantum computer, you name it. So, we necessarily must dump a very high percentage of the information (bits and bytes) coming in because we have neither a way to store it nor process it. (Read the book The User Illusion by Tor Norretranders if you are interested in this topic.)

Apparently there are many, many mechanisms used to sort and prune away superfluous information. One of those is that our eyes actually have a very small cone of focus (<10°) in which our vision is sharp and detailed. Visual acuity declines by about 50% every 2.5° from the center up to 30°, at which point visual acuity declines more steeply. Consequently, our visual sense flits about, usually caused by something moving. Our attention brings the moving thing center stage where we can see it clearly. This is why TV screens in a bar or another room keep pulling on our attention. The flashing lights simulate things moving, so our eyes flick there . . . over and over and over.

The light entering our eyes, as I have mentioned, is taking 3-D information and projecting it upon a 2-D surface (the retina) losing the information from the 3rd dimension. Well, and the optics of the eye flip the images upside down and . . . and . . . well, suffice it to say, a fair amount of “post capture” video processing needs to occur.

I recommend the article to you if you are interested in how our senses do not (and really, cannot) detect “reality.” And, those who are alarmed at how much our senses fail to detect “reality,’ well, I think they doth protest too much.

Our senses can be trusted to be what they are. In that they are quite trustworthy . . . flawed but trustworthy. And just because we are not immediately aware of what is going on, that doesn’t prevent us from actually learning what is going on, so as to appreciate it for what it is and not just what we think it is.

 

October 2, 2019

A Consequence of Getting Old

Filed under: Culture — Steve Ruis @ 11:38 am
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I had a very good friend, dating all the way back to undergraduate school. We had an ongoing “distance relationship” cemented by a mutual love of the S.F. Giants baseball team.

We would email back and forth several times every year about the Giants or my friend’s trips abroad and to Spring Training games in Scottsdale, Arizona. He seemingly went to Spring Training every year. He asked me to come along one time and I explained that going to Spring Training was on my bucket list but I just couldn’t justify the expense at that time. He wouldn’t hear of it and offered to pay my hotel fees and he made it happen. He did this twice! We had a great time both times and those memories will live with me forever.

Recently I sent my friend an email, about baseball of course, and thought nothing of it when I didn’t get a reply (we both are busy people and not every email gets answered). But I started to wonder as I hadn’t heard from him, I thought, in quite some time. So, I sorted through my Friends and Family emails and found four emails I had sent that had not been answered. So, I sent yet another email and a snail mail letter to his address. I got no response from either … until I got an email from the executor of my friend’s estate, to whom my letter had been forwarded. I assume you saw that coming but I did not. My friend had died of a heart attack more than six months earlier.

So many memories came flooding back. “He was too fricking young!” I thought. He was younger than I. <sigh> And I didn’t notice his death until more than six moths afterward.

Today I was talking with a colleague who lived in Arizona and I commented that he lived close by another colleague of ours, Stewart Bowman, and was informed that Stewart had died about six months ago. Stewart was younger than I also.

The writing is on the wall.

I am ready to die, but if I have a few more years, there is still much I want to do and part of that is to make all of the arrangements needed to take care of my situation when I do. There are several books still waiting for me to have the time to produce them. (Yes, they are written already.) Lots of things are still lined up on my “to do list.”

Invariably in such events I think about what I will be leaving behind. My baseball friend, for example, had a massive vinyl record collection (stored in “bookcases” I made for him) and a large stamp collection as well. Since he had no living relatives, all of that will be disposed of somehow and so whatever material wealth we collect gets dispersed upon our death.

We live on in the memories of all who knew and loved us. I expect those who will remember me after my death will also pass on and then even that aspect of “life after death” will dissipate. I have a small archive of published works that will still be available for quite some time after I pass, but eventually those will pass away as being obsolete or uninteresting.

I wonder if those people who believe in some sort of conscious afterlife think about observing their memory slowly, or rapidly, fading away to nothing? I wonder what those people think they will be doing in that afterlife. I was a teacher for 40 years and have followed that with a decade and a half of education content production and coaching. I like helping people. Nothing gets me more energized than someone telling me that I have helped them. In Heaven, no one will need help, no? So, what do people do? Sit around and watch cable TV reruns? Some claim that they will be blissed out just being in the presence of their god, but the sheer repetition of that seems to undermine the effect. If it doesn’t and there is some sort of “Bliss Effect” operating, then Heaven is sounding closer to 1984 than some form of ongoing bliss.

Thankfully, I don’t need to worry about that. One of the joys of atheism—No Heaven, No Hell, No Worries.

September 26, 2019

In the Beginning . . .

Filed under: History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:31 am
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No, not that beginning, the beginning of this current iteration of the Class War, silly!

There have been many prior iterations of class wars, but the focus of this blog is on the one currently going on in the U.S. (There are others going concurrently, but they have different parameters.)

Some Background
This class war has its roots in World War 2. We were still climbing out of the Great Depression (a feature of capitalism, so you just have to take it on faith that our version of capitalism is the bestest, mostest of all economic systems). The mobilization for WW2 expunged the last remains of the depression, but that depression was still in the minds of our leaders.

Of all of the major participants in WW2, our country was the only major country which didn’t get bombed back to the nineteenth century. Russia, England, France, German, Japan, and Italy featured mostly smoking ruins as industrial areas. So, economically, we were poised for good times. Then, when you realize that we lost far, far fewer men than other countries (Russia still sees a demographic hole from their WW2 losses) we also had more able-bodied workers available post war. Happy days were, indeed, here again.

And Then . . .
So, for Americans the post-war period was boom time in Levittown for quite a while. But, of course, things couldn’t continue to go that way forever. The other countries would recover. So, from 1959-1969 manufacturing corporations (remember them?) averaged a fantastic 24.6 percent profit. But, over the next decade (the 1970’s) their average profit margins would “fall” to 15.5%.

Now, if you were offering a stock portfolio right now with a built-in 15-16% profit margin, do you think you would get an “takers?” You bet your bippy you would! You’d have people lined up to sign up to buy shares in that fund.

So, what was on the minds of corporation executives, movers and shakers, of that time. Obviously they did not want profits to slide further. It was clear that there was foreign competition where they was little to none post-war. It didn’t take a genius to see what was happening was coming. But many U.S. corporations had gotten fat and lazy over the period and they needed to get a better game on. (Think about the cars being produced, telecommunications (such as they were), etc. We were soon to be left in the dust because of all of the bad habits we had picked up.)

What To Do, What To Do . . .
So, what were these business people to do? Should they seek out union leaders and enroll them in partnerships? Should they call up W. Edwards Deming and consider his ideas for producing goods? Should they modernize their production processes? They did none of these things as a major directional effort. Instead they decide a class war was a good idea.

This was launched/amplified by two major contributions. One was the infamous Powell Memo. (If you are unaware of the Powell Memo, Google it up and read it. It is a war plan.) Ronald Reagan passed out copies of this memo to his cabinet members at his first cabinet meeting, although by then the memo had already had a considerable impact. Lewis Powell, the author, was rewarded with a Supreme Court seat. Not bad for a former corporate lawyer for the tobacco industry. As a consequence of the Powell memo, between 1968 and 1978 there was a fivefold increase in the number of corporate public affairs offices in Washington, D.C. In 1971, only 175 corporate lobbyists were registered as representing corporations. By 1982, that number was 2500. Do realize that just prior to this point, engaging in politics was considered a distasteful practice by most CEOs.

Then there was the economic foundation laid for the Theory of Maximizing Shareholder Value, with increasing the value of a corporation’s stock being the only true purpose for the existence of a corporation. Before this ridiculous assertion, corporations had multiple raisons d’être. Sears Roebuck, for example listed three major stakeholders in their corporation: “the customer, the employee, and the stockholder.” The holders of stock were considered to be last, not because they were not important, but because the value of their investment in the company was dependent upon there being satisfied customers, which could only be created by satisfied employees.

This was considered “normal” in business circles in the 1960’s, for example. Labor unions were looked upon with something less than disdain, some were even considered to be an asset to the corporations their workers served.

The rather bogus argument made for “shareholder value” being the only valid goal of a corporation grew by leaps and bounds because the plutocrats decided that the way for this to grow was to ensure that CEO’s were compensated with stocks. That would result in CEO’s paying attention to their stock listings above and beyond anything else. This was “sold” as giving the CEO a stake in the game, so he would serve the interests of “the company” better. (Right. Look of the Law of Unintended Consequences and then consider the Law of Intended Consequences.) What this did was it tied the remuneration of the CEO to that of the shareholders to the exclusion of everything else.

All of this fueled the financialization of the American economy, which elevated an activity that produces nothing tangible to the most important part of our economy! Recent studies have shown that the stock market, and all of the other aspects of the financial sector, is a negative drag on the economy. Surprise! Producing nothing and extracting rents from “the system” have no positive benefit to the country. Who would have thought?

Consequences of this “decision” to wage a class war rather than deal directly with the shortcomings of American corporations are many and important. For one, our manufacturing sector has been sliding lower and lower for decades as we export more and more manufacturing jobs to cheaper wage countries. We are still a major manufacturing country, but we have fallen far, indeed.

Then we have decimated the middle class of Americans over and over, which has created a lessening of demand for the goods and services it could have been clamoring for, if it had the disposable income. The middle class has shrunk and shrunk, not in its “size” as that is adjusted with the population, but primarily by the attributes one could claim for being in that segment of the economy. Middle class wages have been stagnant for over forty years, yet the costs of housing, health care, and a college education have skyrocketed. Conservatives boast that a new, large LED flat panel TV set is far cheaper than a CRT tube TV set of forty years ago, so the poor and middle class have “nicer things” than they did before. These arguments are true, but they are almost irrelevant. Families have less disposable income now than they did in the 1950’s, even with a second major wage earner being added to the family since then. (Elizabeth Warren pointed this out in a book written in 2003 “The Two Income Trap.”) Conservatives had been adroit at making huge tax transfers onto lesser earners. While Ronald Reagan got a large tax decrease for the wealthy, but the decrease the middle class folks got was offset by an increase in Social Security taxes. President Trump has continued the GOP parade by giving large permanent tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations and small, temporary tax cuts to the middle class. Democrats and Republicans alike have contributed with similar efforts in between those two events. Since both major parties have their hands in corporate pockets, they have been serving their interests rather than “the people’s” for quite some time.

But Where Does It All end?
So, that’s how it began and we are left to figure out how it will end. Right now the monied elites have won the Class War and can choose to just sit on their position for quote a long time. Soon, all of this will become “normal” to those born in this century. I do not see the plutocrats doing only this, as they seem to continue to try to press their advantage, as they see it. This tendency to step on the necks of the defeated may just be enough of overplaying their hand that the backlash, and there is always a pendulum swing coming back, will be more vigorous that they figure.

We can only hope.

 

September 24, 2019

The Fermi Paradox and Other Aspects of Wishful Thinking About Aliens

Filed under: Reason,Science,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 12:17 pm
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Famous physicist Enrico Fermi once uttered something along the lines of “Well, then, where are they?” in a discussion of the possibilities of there being alien life. Fermi’s exact quote is uncertain, but the gist of it is plain. Since there are so many other places in the universe in which life could develop, why haven’t we been visited by aliens at this point?

Let’s look at this because there is so much bullstuff circulating.

Let’s consider time first. A recent Netflix documentary discussing this topic pointed out that the universe was 14-15 billion years old and the Earth was about a third of that old, 4.543 billion years old. So, there has been plenty of time for aliens to have visited us. WTF? No!

If aliens had visited us 2 billion years ago, how would we have any record of that? Maybe if an enduring alien spacecraft had crashed here and avoided being subducted below ground, there might be such evidence, but that is a rather far fetched scenario. We need to be reasonable and consider that Homo sapiens have been around for probably less than 300,000 years. Any prior visitation would not be noted in any way. We also have had a written language for less than 10,000 years, so any prior visitation could only have been recorded in the form of petroglyphs or cave paintings, and there are some rather bizarre figures that could represent such visitants, but I don’t see any consensus in the scientific community as to whether these are factual representations or imaginative ones.

And, it has only been in the last couple of centuries that we have had the means of recording images of such visitants and the images we have suggesting that possibility are of relatively low quality. Recently, some higher quality recordings have led to the possibility that we have, indeed been visited, but that enquiry is still going on.

So, when it comes to time . . . we have been in a position to document such a visitation for a few hundred years out of the 15 billion years of the universe’s existence, a very tiny (tiny!) fraction of the time involved. So, the time factor is quite disfavorable to the argument that we should have seen something by now.

Also, as a factor of time, have you seen the tiny blue dot illustration? Here it is.

The tiny blue dot represents how far radio waves (and TV, etc.) could have traveled since their invention here. Aliens traversing this blue zone would be able to pick up those signs of intelligent life. Again, this is about 200 years in time, 200 light-years in space. Look at how small that zone is compared to the volume of the entire galaxy. Prior to that time or outside of that space, those aliens would be looking for “signs” of life as we are doing now: indications of water in its liquid form and things like carbon dioxide or methane in planetary atmospheres. These searches may turn up “signs” but no conclusive proof of intelligent life.

Now let’s talk space. Clearly any aliens in other galaxies are just too far away to consider making a trip here. Our closest neighboring galaxy is the Andromeda galaxy which is 2.537 million light years away. If these aliens could travel at the speed of light, they would be entertaining a trip of two and a half million years . . . one way! If they could do 1000 times the speed of light, they would still be looking at a 2500 year journey . . . one way. So, intergalactic aliens should be considered to be completely isolated by time and space (unless wormholes of some other similar phenomena are proven to exist).

So, how about aliens inside our own galaxy? With hundreds of billions of stars and trillions of planets in our galaxy, surely . . . surely what exactly? Our galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy, is 105,700 light years wide. Traveling at the speed of light, currently thought to be impossible, would require 100,000+ years to go from one edge to the opposite edge, but let’s assume that “our aliens” are not that far away, that they are at least on our side of the galaxy, so their trip would be less, less than 50,000 years at the speed of light. Let’s be honest. If the trip takes more than a decade or so, what benefit would there be in making it? Trade is out of the question as the distances are too far. Trading technology with a less advanced species, again hardly worth the trip. So the only motivation would be a voyage of exploration, or maybe a desperate attempt to find a new place to live. Excluding the latter, because it would be problematic in the extreme (I would venture that those aliens no one wants to meet), let’s consider a voyage of exploration/discovery.

It doesn’t seem plausible that on such a voyage there would be just one stop, here. If I were planning such a voyage, there would be many stops, amplifying my chances of encountering something new. This would go a long way towards justifying the cost of such a voyage. Even if profit or money were not involved (say our aliens are a hive mind, to which such things would be incomprehensible) the amount of effort to be put into the creation of such a ship only to send it off on an “iffy” mission, possibly to be never seen again is an additional barrier to such a voyage. Think back on how many billions of U.S. dollars were expended sending astronauts to the moon, just 250,000 miles away. Imagine what would happen if President Trump were to announce an ambitious new project to explore some of the rest of the galaxy. The projected budgets surely would go into the trillions of dollars and the howls of fiscal irresponsibility would be heard on the moon.

So, the answers to the Fermi paradox seem rather straightforward.

  1. They came but were too early to see anything promising.
  2. They came and met some sapient Earthlings, but those Earthlings had no way of leaving an enduring, credible record of their visit.
  3. They came but we do not count the reports of their visits as being credible “alien encounters.”
  4. They are coming but haven’t gotten here yet.
  5. They looked for places to go, but outside of the tiny blue dot, there were only vague signs of life, certainly none of intelligent life, so we were just one of myriad possible sites to check out and they chose other places to visit.
  6. They considered coming but nixed the idea as there was no “upside” in the form of trade or technology transfers to warrant the trip.
  7. They have taken such voyages but we are too far away to travel here or to even communicate via EMR signaling.
  8. We were so far beneath them that visiting us would be the equivalent of us trying to communicate with a slime mold.
  9. They were planning such a voyage but the early cost overruns were too scary and they backed out of the project. (They are more advanced than us, remember.)
  10. They were on their way but had an accident and had to limp home.
  11. And, of course, the old tried and true opinion of many theists: “They don’t exist; we are alone in the universe, because . . . we . . . are . . . special!”

Of course, there is also the “Ancient Aliens theorists” conjecture that they came a long time ago and jiggered with our DNA to help create another sentient species in the galaxy. Would you want to meet such a species, one that would take such liberties with lower life forms, to whom we would surely still be a lower life form?

September 20, 2019

So I Do Not Have To

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:49 am
Tags: ,

Rewire News has posted a review of The Family (Almost-Blockbuster Netflix Series ‘The Family’ Exposes a Christian Network Whose God is Power). I got through two of the episodes but have been resisting viewing any more. The sanctimonious surety exposed that these people think they can do what they are doing because the “are right” makes me want to gag.

September 18, 2019

More on Senses (Can We Trust Them?)

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:35 am
Tags: , ,

This topic struck a nerve, to some extent, And, it may be a manifestation of “the green car effect” but having written recently about whether we can trust our senses, I ran across the following book. Here are the title, author, and Amazon.com’s blurb for that book:

The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes by Donald Hoffman

Can we trust our senses to tell us the truth?

Challenging leading scientific theories that claim that our senses report back objective reality, cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman argues that while we should take our perceptions seriously, we should not take them literally. How can it be possible that the world we see is not objective reality? And how can our senses be useful if they are not communicating the truth? Hoffman grapples with these questions and more over the course of this eye-opening work.

Ever since Homo sapiens has walked the earth, natural selection has favored perception that hides the truth and guides us toward useful action, shaping our senses to keep us alive and reproducing. We observe a speeding car and do not walk in front of it; we see mold growing on bread and do not eat it. These impressions, though, are not objective reality. Just like a file icon on a desktop screen is a useful symbol rather than a genuine representation of what a computer file looks like, the objects we see every day are merely icons, allowing us to navigate the world safely and with ease.

The real-world implications for this discovery are huge. From examining why fashion designers create clothes that give the illusion of a more “attractive” body shape to studying how companies use color to elicit specific emotions in consumers, and even dismantling the very notion that spacetime is objective reality, The Case Against Reality dares us to question everything we thought we knew about the world we see.

It’s a frickin’ conspiracy that is what it is!

Uh, no. I have not read this book and probably will not and while the author may not have written the blurb but there are a number of things disturbing about it. For one “Challenging leading scientific theories that claim that our senses report back objective reality . . .” WTF? What “leading scientific theories” are these? I am aware of none of these. The literature on optical illusions goes back a couple of millennia at least, so I don’t think anyone was going to make such a claim in the face of those. And just what the heck is objective reality? Philosophers talk about such things, but scientists? Scientists are forever devising replacements for our senses to expand our observation capabilities. Why would they be looking for those if our senses were thought to portray “objective reality” all by themselves?

“Ever since Homo sapiens has walked the earth, natural selection has favored perception that hides the truth and guides us toward useful action, shaping our senses to keep us alive and reproducing.” If you take “hides the truth and” out, this is quite correct. But scientists aren’t interested in truth, not even a little bit. And evolution did nothing to hide anything, certainly not “the truth.” Anything that did happen that increased our reproductive success was kept and anything that did not was not. It was not about perfecting one’s senses or hiding the truth or whatever. This is deceptive use of language, making evolution out to be a villain which is “hiding the truth,” the truth of a revealed god, perhaps?

“The real-world implications for this discovery are huge.” No they are not. Don’t be silly. We have known much of this for quite some time. Have you noticed people going crazy in the streets? The stock market in turmoil? (Check that, the stock market is always in turmoil.) Animals retreating into the hills? Babies crying continuously?

People, this is all quite simple. All animals perceive the world around them. This is a requirement for the ability to move. All of these perceptions are limited. Eagles have much better visual acuity than do humans. So effing what? Whatever our visual acuity is, it will not be perfect. Our ability to distinguish different pitches of sound provides us with the ability to communicate vocally. But bats and dolphins hear quite different kinds of sounds. So what? Whatever that ability, it will be limited by the mechanism used to transmit the physical stimulus (compressed waves in the air) into signals our brains can deal with. We cannot hear high pitched sounds and very low pitched sounds, but other animals can. BFD. None are perfect.

And for every sense we have, our brain has to come up with some kind of system to codify them, just as we do socially. (We have an Orange Alert for Southern California! Shoppers we have a Grocery Department Special on Aisle 7!)

There is no real or imagined sensory input system that reveals whatever the heck objective reality is. So, yes, reality is a matter of opinion. We spend a great deal of time interacting with other people and sharing our realities, only to find ourselves perplexed as to how some people just can’t see the truth right in front of their faces. This also is why we have so many people who believe imaginary supernatural beings and events are “real.” If their reality were not subjective, would they still be able to cling to their fantasies?

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