Uncommon Sense

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
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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
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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?

September 15, 2019

More on Meaning

In a recent post I said this: “I suggest that ‘meaning’ doesn’t really exist. Whenever someone asks ‘But what does it all mean?’ they are asking for a comforting story to wrap around events that makes them feel ‘better.’” That this opinion irked John Branyan is to its credit, I think, although I may have been too subtle; “doesn’t really exist” refers to the common understanding of the term. I offered a better definition of the term in my quote, so it “exists” to that extent.

People make good money dispensing “meanings” and I am not just referring to the religious. Our current political commentariat is riddled with people who are constantly telling us what really is going on, what this or that really “means.” We end up feeling as if we understand the political situation and thus feel more in control of our lives.

“Wishful thinking spill cleanup on Aisle 8, Please!”

As further evidence for my opinion, please consider . . . dreams. For all of human history (and I must assume the rest of human existence), people have felt and claimed that dreams “mean” something. Kings and other potentates took major actions based upon their dream interpreted meanings. An entire cottage industry, sometimes breaching over into academic psychology, was created to help people decipher the meanings of their dreams (and has done so for thousands of years).

But we have come to the realization that dream sequences are cobbled together from our very own memories. People have actually exerted some control over what occurs in their dreams (I have done this myself). Dreams seem to play a role in reinforcement of the memories we feel to be important and the pruning away of memories not thought to be important. A hypothetical process for this is for memories to be replayed in a dream and our emotional state is monitored by a subsystem. If there is a significant emotional reaction, the memory is kept, if not it is pruned. Pruning is quite important as it provides capacity for future memories. (Memory pruning has been observed as has memory reinforcement but this entire process is not fully understood as of yet. We are also aware that memories are very, very malleable and change more often than not.)

So, what do dreams mean? They mean absolutely nothing. The fact that people did and still do think they have “meaning” is evidence that “meanings” are what computer science calls “vaporware,” which is software for which there is marketing material, but there actually is no code operating.

If you want there to be meaning in your life, you need to create it. (You certainly do not want to leave this exercise to others, just as those who fear the biographies that might be written about them, often rush to get an autobiography into print.) This is a fiction writing exercise which creates a comforting story that you can wrap around the events of your life. It also has to ring “true” to your inner ear, so you can’t bullshit yourself in a major way, but minor exaggerations are always acceptable.

If the meanings most people think are real actually were real, the odds are we wouldn’t recognize them anyway. In a fit of retrospection I reviewed all of my speculations regarding why “so-and-so did what.” Somebody at work, for example, did a thing. On the way home or at home I would speculate upon why they did that thing. In reflection, I could not remember a time when my speculations were right (and I do enjoy being right so if I had been I am sure I would recall that). I was “oh-fer . . .. many” in this regard. After that, for many years, I continued to speculate as to why “so-and-so did such-and-such” and to date I have been oh-for-a-zillion, I think. I also tried to check on how good others were on determining the rationale or motivation for others’ actions and I didn’t find anyone any better at that than I was, which was abysmal. “Meanings,” as others claim them to be, seem much like reasons to me and as such are as opaque to others as I found them. This means we have no way to check whether another’s “meaning” is valid or even coherent. No fact-checking here, so I have very low expectations regarding what anyone says about the “meaning” they find in X, Y, or Z. I accept that they said something. What they believe and what is actually the case is not readily available.


September 14, 2019

We Can’t Trust Our Senses! . . . Really?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 8:57 am

I have pointed out that we carry around in our heads a mini Matrix-like simulacrum of reality. This mental construct is how we make sense of the world around us, actually it is how we perceive the world around us in an effort to survive. As a recent Scientific American article stated:

“The deeper truth is that perception is never a direct window onto an objective reality. All our perceptions are active constructions, brain-based best guesses at the nature of a world that is forever obscured behind a sensory veil. Visual illusions are fractures in the Matrix, fleeting glimpses into this deeper truth.

“Take, for example, the experience of color—say, the bright red of the coffee mug on my desk. The mug really does seem to be red: its redness seems as real as its roundness and its solidity. These features of my experience seem to be truly existent properties of the world, detected by our senses and revealed to our mind through the complex mechanisms of perception.

“Yet we have known since Isaac Newton that colors do not exist out there in the world. Instead they are cooked up by the brain from mixtures of different wavelengths of colorless electromagnetic radiation. Colors are a clever trick that evolution has hit on to help the brain keep track of surfaces under changing lighting conditions. And we humans can sense only a tiny slice of the full electromagnetic spectrum, nestled between the lows of infrared and the highs of ultraviolet. Every color we perceive, every part of the totality of each of our visual worlds, comes from this thin slice of reality.” (The Neuroscience of Reality by Anil K. Seth)

The reason I bring this up is that materialists, like me, are often challenged by people who are fans of the supernatural that our perceptions are flawed and that something could exist outside of our ability to perceive.

Yeah, “Cleanup of wishful thinking on Aisle 5, please!”

As mentioned above something as profound as color is a mental construct. It only exists in our heads . . . in that fashion. Other animals “see” differently. Some insects see myriad colors, well into the ultraviolet part of the EMR spectrum. Some animals see in duotone, others in black and white.

Sepia duotones were common in the early days of photography.

I have been a fan of black and white photography for half a century and I remember seeing quite a few black and white movies on television as a child, but now with color movies being so dominant, black and white movies seem bizarre somehow. Interestingly enough, the original design of our vision (designed by evolution, not some supernatural designer) was for duotone vision. For those of you who do not understand “duotone” it involves two colors against a white (or single color) background. Photoshop has an “action” to create duotones from black and white photos and you can have great fun creating these. But they pale in comparison to full color photos (see the example photo of one of the first photographic duotone varieties).

The reason we know that we were originally designed (by evolution!) for duotone vision is apparent in the color receptors in our eyes. We have two dominant color receptors. For full color we would need three (just like the RGB—red, green, blue—color monitors/TVs). The two primary color receptors in our eyes are quite different in the color of light they respond to, but the third is clearly a mutation of one of the other two. (There is DNA evidence for this.) The color it responds to is very close to the one which it is a mutation from. But this is enough difference for our brains to interpolate “full color” from the information. If our eyes were computer monitor aligned, that monitor would not be a red-green-blue monitor but a red-green-“bluish-green” kinda sorta monitor. So, basically we got “full color” vision by accident. And, if we had not, we would think that duotone vision was “normal.”

Now, can we “trust” our senses? Of course we can. We can trust them to be what they are. But if you think that what we observe is a direct portal to reality (whatever that means) you are mistaken. We need to understand what out senses are . . . really are, not just what we assume they are.

Scientists have tackled many parts of this issue. For example, when you see a Yellow Banana™ (Ray Comfort) and you describe the color as “yellow” and I see it and say “Yes, it is yellow,” have we just been trained to use that word (yellow) for that color or do we actually perceive the same thing? Rest assured that we do perceive the same thing (brain scanners are wonderful tools) and you are not seeing green and calling it yellow and I blue and calling it yellow, or some other misperception. So, we all seem to be taking in the same information and treating it the same way. So we agree on what out senses “tell us.” Actually our brains interpret the information in the same way. (Normally . . . there are variations enough due to the sheer number of us.)

In addition, we have invented myriad instruments to extend our senses, including ear trumpets, telescopes, microscopes, radio telescopes, eyeglasses, laser interferometers, etc. We do not just depend upon our hard wired senses to acquire “sensory” information. And we have coherent interpretations of what our instruments perceive. (When scientists “measurements” conflict, they hungrily chew on those data because they may be the source of new learning.)

And we just do not perceive “supernatural” phenomena. If we did, then they would be “natural.” For supernatural mental constructs, such as gods, to affect us, they must affect reality, and so they, or their effects, should be observable. They are not observable and sometimes when we have looked and looked and looked, the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. The simplest explanation for why there is no evidence for the existence of gods is they do not exist.

To claim that a god exists outside of time and space (whatever that means) is a desperate claim that puts a god where it cannot be perceived. But it also puts a god where it cannot affect reality. In this we can trust our senses. Anyone claiming that we cannot is building fairy tales out of whole cloth.

Oh, This is a Really Bad Idea

Here’s the blurb announcing a new video game! Hurry, hurry, read all about it. . . .

“The newly released Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is an open world survival game where you control a group of “hominins” – our first ancestors – and explore, expand, and lock in new knowledge so your “clan” can evolve. It takes the players from 10 m years ago, and the common ancestor of both chimpanzee and hominins, to 2 m years ago, when you can play as an early version of Homo erectus. The aim of the game is ultimately to evolve to the point when humans began to leave Africa.”

* * *

No matter how much time is involved in the virtual world that has been created, the amount of time in our world that this game takes will be in hours and days, not millions of years. That will leave a subliminal impression. But, too many people now have the impression that evolution should be visible now to us, when in fact it is glacially slow, in fact evolution makes glaciers seem really, really fast. While the process is continuous (some people think that evolution stopped because it had the objective of creating us) being so slow makes it essentially invisible to ordinary observations.

The vast majority of events (mutations, etc.) are either neutral or detrimental, so such a game has to accelerate in the player’s minds the actual causes of positive changes. And the phrase in the blurb “you control a group of ‘hominins’ – our first ancestors – and explore, expand, and lock in new knowledge so your ‘clan’ can evolve” seems to indicate that the game developers do not even have even a foggy notion of how evolution, a mindless unguided process, works. The earliest point at which human “knowledge” might affect our evolution is right about now where we have the ability to modify genes in human embryos. Or possibly, our ability to control our environment will affect our ecological niche and we will adapt over long periods of time to that. (Those who think we can “evolve” to adapt to climate change or our strange new diet are smoking something barely legal.)

Hey, maybe it is part of a Christian misinformation campaign to discredit the theory of evolution. That might explain the existence of this “game.” Hey, if evolution can be guided, then there just has to be a “Big Guider in the Sky,” right?

Sometimes a Blurb is Enough, Part ???

Filed under: Religion,Science,Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 7:35 am
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I see a great many books recommended by Amazon.com based upon my reading tastes (as indicated by my searches and purchases, I assume). This one caught my eye: Genesis and the Big Bang Theory: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science and The Bible. This is the blurb accompanying that title:

A ground-breaking book that takes on skeptics from both sides of the cosmological debate, arguing that science and the Bible are not at odds concerning the origin of the universe.

The culmination of a physicist’s thirty-five-year journey from MIT to Jerusalem, Genesis and the Big Bang presents a compelling argument that the events of the billions of years that cosmologists say followed the Big Bang and those of the first six days described in Genesis are, in fact, one and the same—identical realities described in vastly different terms. In engaging, accessible language, Dr. Schroeder reconciles the observable facts of science with the very essence of Western religion: the biblical account of Creation.

Carefully reviewing and interpreting accepted scientific principles, analogous passages of Scripture, and biblical scholarship, Dr. Schroeder arrives at a conclusion so lucid that one wonders why it has taken this long in coming. The result for the reader—whether believer or skeptic, Jewish or Christian—is a totally fresh understanding of the key events in the life of the universe.

* * *

Why the author had to go to Jerusalem on his “thirty-five year journey” is mysterious. The creation didn’t take place there, Genesis is available on the Internet as are several tons of discussion of it, so. . . ?

I have not yet read this beast, but it is a common approach of apologists to establish a correspondence between what we perceive as reality and their scriptures. Since their scriptures have a poor track record in such comparisons it is easy to scoff, but I decided to give this a go. I will report back.

Of course, there are a few minor foundational issues with all such comparisons. While one may establish that the order of the steps of creation as described in scripture is the same as actually occurred, in scripture the process by which they occurred is magic, something that has never been observed. As a colleague of Daniel Dennett put it (approximately) is that “real magic is fake and fake magic is real.” And any sort of physical explanation for a manifestation of nature must include not only the event but the process by which is occurred and “God did it” is not so much an explanation but an admission that one doesn’t know why or how it happened. And, it would be much more convincing if the scriptural account differed from reality and later, our view of reality had to be corrected due to mistakes being made and it came into alignment with scripture. This never happens. More often apologists claim that scripture corresponds with reality perfectly and then we find errors in our picture of reality and this is followed by some other apologist claiming that scripture was in perfect agreement with the new reality. (Note that Christian scripture corresponded exactly with Babylonian cosmogony and then Aristotelian cosmogony and then modern cosmogony (apparently), all three of which are vastly different. But I get ahead of myself. As I said I will attempt to read this book and report back.

For those who object that Yahweh “speaking” the universe into existence shouldn’t be characterized as magic, I offer this definition: magic (noun): the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. If the scriptural creation account is not mysterious and didn’t involve supernatural forces, then it was a natural thing and we don’t need a god to account for it, so scriptural creation is magical, almost by definition.

September 11, 2019

Socialism Bad, Capitalism Good

I am not going to state anything novel here but will reinforce things already said. Currently there is an aspect of our political discourse that is summed up by the title of this post. It is, of course, false. What the “defenders of capitalism” are arguing for is the status quo in which we have a quasi-capitalist system, but one that protects the rich and screws the poor.

Think back on the Great Recession of 2008. If you are a pure capitalist, then a great many financiers, bankers, investors, and brokers should have lost all their money (everything but the bare minimums allowed in bankruptcy proceedings). Through greed they backed the wrong horses.

But the word “bailout” then comes to mind. To coin a phrase “there are no bailouts in capitalism” just as “there is no crying in baseball.” If you have taken college-level courses in capitalism, nowhere will you find governmental bailouts as a structural part of capitalism. These sweet deals are brokered by rich people with the people who serve them to protect their wealth.

It was argued that “we couldn’t let such-and-such a bank or insurance company fail.” Wha? Failures is what capitalists brag about. It is what keeps them sharp. It is the leading edge of “competition.” Without failure, just what is capitalism? All of those people should have failed and learned from the experience . . . or not. So, what did they learn instead? A sucker is born every minute?

So, when you hear anti-socialist rhetoric realize that it is from the wealthy, or paid for by the wealthy, to protect the good deal they have going, nothing more and nothing less. And this is actually rebounding upon the rich. Younger Americans hear the anti-socialism rhetoric and they think “Ah, this is what we need to counter those greedy ass hats.” The young are embracing socialism more and more as the rhetoric against it is ramped up. And the harder the rich squeeze the poor and middle class, the more these younger Americans are embracing some form of democratic socialism.

They also aren’t stupid. They see countries like Sweden which are capitalist, just not capitalist as we are. They have a form of democratic socialism, in which the inherent negatives associated with capitalism are suppressed. The government acts on behalf of the people and offers basic services that seem to be the norm in civilized countries. They recognize, as do all thinking people except captured economists and bought politicians, that capitalism is self-destructive unless it is controlled significantly. In this country, the wealthy have turned phrases such as “government regulation” and “unearned income” into either non-terms or epithets. Why would they want there to be no controls on capitalism? Because in this country, when things go well, they profit enormously, and when the crashes inevitably happen, their paid-for politicians step in and the “public” bails them out. This heads I win, tails you lose system benefits only the wealthy, so their support of it is no surprise. The actual surprise is the support existing in the general population for this robber baron mentality.

September 7, 2019

Beware of Throw Away Lines

I am working my way through Daniel Dennett’s book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking and I encountered this:

Live is amazing. When you think of the billions of solar systems that are most certainly lifeless, it is amazing that there is any way of being alive at all. (Chapter 38)

Now, Daniel Dennett is my favorite philosopher, possibly because he eschews the normal jargon rich representations of philosophers for ordinary language, thereby becoming a public intellectual, with all of the negatives that are associated with that position. So, I am not sure why he was saying such a stupid thing.

He seems better educated and more knowledgeable than I, and I am sure he is aware of the basic facts. There are now estimated to be about two trillion galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. This means that there are at least  200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 “solar systems” or thereabouts. Of these, we have explored exactly one and that one only partially. So far,

Solar Systems Explored = 1 (kinda sorta)
Solar Systems Which Contain Life =1

I call that a 100% hit rate. This means “not rare,’ “not uncommon,” “not unusual,” etc. so far anyway.

Will life prove to be rare elsewhere or not, that is whether life can be found in other solar systems, is entirely unknown. Not only that but we don’t have a way of expanding our knowledge much at all. Even were we to develop the technology to explore other solar systems in our neighborhood of our galaxy, we would still have a very parochial sampling. Other galaxies are, well, far, far away.

Q: So, is life rare? A: We do not know.

Q: Will we encounter life on other planets? A: We do not know.

Q: Will billions of solar systems found to be lifeless? A: We do not know.

We suspect that with 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 solar systems a few billion (0.00000000000000001% or so) might be lifeless, certainly, but that does not warrant “When you think of the billions of solar systems that are most certainly lifeless it is amazing that there is any way of being alive at all.” because one could also, based upon probabilities, say “When you think of the billions of solar systems that are most certainly full of life. . . .”

This was a throwaway line, a poor one at that, used to make life sound as if it were unusual (and, as always, us special).

Q: So, is life unusual? A: We do not know, but certainly not on this planet.


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