Class Warfare Blog

October 19, 2020

Intelligent Design . . . Right . . .

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:31 pm
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Some claim that all order in nature is due to them being designed by some sort of intelligent designer. Here is an example.

This photo isn’t of an abstract painting. It’s a portrait of the crystals that form after two amino acids — L-glutamine and beta-alanine — were heated in a solution made of ethanol and water. One of the compounds, L-glutamine, is a building block for proteins and ensures that the immune system can function. The other, beta-alanine, helps with muscle endurance.

Look carefully. This phantasmagoric image was created by amino acids forming crystals all on their own.

Nature is self-organizing. This is not an article of faith. It is an observation.

Photo by Justin Zoll of Ithica, New York.

October 11, 2020

The War Between Religion and Science

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:03 pm
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Plenty has been written on this topic, including by me. It is interesting as there really isn’t anything that can be called “religion” or really “science” for that matter. There are not real things.

Science is what scientists do, a set of behaviors and thoughts, maybe. At best it can be considered a culture. Religion is no one thing. The Cargo Cults and the Catholic Church have very little in common.

In his book, Religion Explained, Pascal Boyer makes the point that religions use ordinary mental processes (he actually uses the phrase “hijacks normal inference systems”) that were designed by evolution (for other purposes).

To vastly oversimplify this, consider the scheme of System 1 and System 2 thinking invented by Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow was his landmark book). Type 1 thinking is fast, intuitive, emotional, unconscious thought. The Type 2 system is slow, calculating, analytical, conscious thought (think math problems). The big difference between Type 1 and Type 2 thinking is that Type 1 is fast and easy but very susceptible to bias, whereas Type 2 is slow and requires conscious effort but is much more resistant to cognitive biases.

Religion uses the Type 1 system. Science uses the Type 2 system.

We have evolved both kinds of thinking for very good reasons. For example, if you hear a grizzly bear growl very loud behind you, you do not want to be cogitating over which species of Ursus that growl might belong to, you want to be skeedaddling as fast as possible. Similarly, if you want to master the game of chess, or design a self-propelled vehicle, or a computer, intuition won’t get you very far.

These two systems really can’t war with one another.

If I may quote Boyer: “The religion-versus-science debate took a special turn in the West because of the existence not only of doctrinal religion but of a monopolistic doctrinal religion that made the crucial mistake of meddling in empirical statements of fact, providing us with a long list of particularly precise, official and officially compelling statements about the cosmos and biology, supposedly guaranteed by Revelation, that we now know to be false.” (page 320)

This is the equivalent of the meme “I found your nose . . . it was in my business again.”

But having lost every single disagreement between religious facts and scientific facts has resulted in the religious retreating into their Type 1 thinking zone, saying that religion addresses a special domain of human existence. (The touchy-feely zone? The Twilight Zone?)

Actually there is no war. The religious drifted out of their lane because of ignorance, and got smacked around for it. There is no contest here, so there is no war. The lanes are not race lanes.

Interestingly I see many, many questions on Quora addressing such lane changes, so the “faith” of religion encourages Type 1 thinking in that it “feels right” intuitively but ends up with still many religious practitioners trying to start the car they took the engine out of last year. It is too much trouble to lift up the hood of the car to find out why it wont start, that would involve Type 2 thinking and that is discouraged in all religions. (Curiously Type 2 thinking is allowed in “church fathers” and other intelligentsia (apologists, etc.) as long as they are on a leash, a leash that is held by the church.)

September 9, 2020

How Big?

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:33 am

This sounds like the beginning of a fisherman’s joke but actually I want to impress upon you the vast size of the universe.

* * *

There are about 6,000 or so stars that are visible with the naked eye, and the vast majority of them are within about 1,000 light-years of the Sun. Stars dim quickly with distance; from even 60 light-years away, the Sun would fade to invisibility.

In the extreme, that is in the very darkest conditions, the human eye can see stars at magnitude 6.5 or greater. Which works about to about 9,000 individual stars. Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, is 8.6 light years distant. The most distant bright star, Deneb, is about 1500 light years away from Earth.

Now consider that our galaxy, the Milky Way is about 106,000 light years across, so what we can see rpresents a disk only about 1.5% of the diameter and therefore about 0.02% of the area of the “disk” which is our galaxy.

Now consider this. The image below is the first Hubble Deep Field image that was cobbled together from 342 separate exposures. In it over 3000 galaxies are able to be counted. That is cool, but more importantly you need to consider how much of the night sky this image represents.

Several hundred never before seen galaxies are visible in this ‘deepest-ever’ view of the universe, called the Hubble Deep Field (HDF), made with the Hubble Space Telescope. Besides the classical spiral and elliptical shaped galaxies, there is a bewildering variety of other galaxy shapes and colors that are important clues to understanding the evolution of the universe. Some of the galaxies may have formed less that one billion years after the Big Bang.

Imagine, if you would, a circle in the sky around the Earth. Divide that circle into 360 degrees as we are wont to do. Make another circle at right angles to that circle and divide it the same way. Right at one of those circles, you can now make little squares that are “one degree by one degree” in size. This is not a small area in the night sky. Consider that the full Moon occupies only a little over one half of a degree (the Sun, too). So, as we are also wont to do, we break down each degree into minutes, 60 minutes = 1 degree (and we go farther to break each minute down into seconds, but we don’t have to go there now). So, the widths of the Moon and Sun take up a little over 30 “arcminutes” of space in the sky.

So, how big was the “field of view” of the first Hubble Deep Field Image?

It covers an area of 2.55 x 2.57 arcminutes.

If you do the math, we now believe that there are trillions of galaxies in the universe, each with billions of stars and more planets than stars.

Because the universe has been expanding during its entire existence, it is not just it’s age in light years in radius (14.8 billion years of time would create a universe 14.8 billion light years in radius if space were not expanding). According to current estimates, the “visible” universe is actually about 46 light years in radius, again due to the ongoing expansion of the universe. Beyond that we cannot see. So, the unobservable universe may have even more stuff or even different stuff or even no stuff in it. We cannot tell, but possibly we can make some inferences, we are still new to this game. Remember that about 100 years ago, we thought that the Milky Way galaxy was the entire universe!

When people talk about what else there is in the universe, other than what we can see from our back porches, consider how much of this we have actually studied.

This view of nearly 10,000 galaxies is called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The snapshot includes galaxies of various ages, sizes, shapes, and colors. The smallest, reddest galaxies, about 100, may be among the most distant known, existing when the universe was just 800 million years old. The nearest galaxies – the larger, brighter, well-defined spirals and ellipticals – thrived about 1 billion years ago, when the cosmos was 13 billion years old. The image required 800 exposures taken over the course of 400 Hubble orbits around Earth. The total amount of exposure time was 11.3 days, taken between Sept. 24, 2003 and Jan. 16, 2004.

August 21, 2020

Is the Strong Nuclear Force Label Akin to the Names Given to Dark Energy and Dark Matter?

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:48 pm
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In physics it is standard operating procedure to give things a name before they are characterized, discovered, or found. So, when it was discovered that the expansion of the universe seems to be accelerating, the cause for this acceleration was given the name “Dark Energy.” Dark” because we cannot see it and “Energy” because it requires energy to accelerate bodies away from one another that attract one another (due to gravity). So, what is this dark energy? We don’t know. How does it work? We don’t know. How can we find it? We don’t know. The label “dark energy” is a placeholder. Whether this becomes the name of what is finally discovered remains to be seen.

In 1919 when Rutherford “discovered” the proton, something seemed amiss because the masses of the atoms were too high to consist of just protons and electrons. Something else needed to be there and in 1932, Chadwick, in Rutherford’s research group, discovered the neutron and all of the mass problems were solved. This was a monumental set of discoveries that made sense of all of chemistry and the periodic table, along with myriad other things.

The remaining fundamental question was what held these neutrons and protons together in an atomic nucleus (Rutherford had shown that almost all of the mass of an atom was concentrated in a tiny central location he called a “nucleus.”). The problem was that the protons were positively charged and at the distances apart they were, should have flown apart at high velocity. And they do, except when they get as close as they do when “fused” together to make atomic nuclei. So what caused this massive repulsion to become a massive attraction at very, very short distances. Well, the physicists did what they always did, they invented a new force called the “Strong Nuclear Force.” “Strong” because it overcame a massive electric repulsion, “Nuclear” because it only occurred in nuclei (apparently), and “Force” because it had to be an attractive force to overcome the repulsive force.

This is an illustration of what an atom looks like. You can see that at this level of magnification, the nucleus is still too small to see and, well, the electrons are even smaller.

So, what is this strong nuclear force? We don’t know. How does it work? We don’t know. How can we find it? We don’t know, except that it only operates in atomic nuclei or similar situations. We call it a “fundamental” force of nature because we cannot figure out what it is in terms of other things already understood. (There are quite a few things like this. For example, what is electric charge?)

If there is such a thing as a strong nuclear force, I should suspect that we should find small numbers of neutrons linked together like the protons and neutrons in atomic nuclei are. In fact, it should be easier to make clumps of neutrons because there is no positive-positive charge repulsion to deal with as there is in ordinary atomic nuclei.

So, I went looking for such things and found this reference on Wikipedia. (I know it is not necessarily the best source, but it is better than nothing.)

Here are the references to small numbers of neutrons being bonded like atomic nuclei:

  • Mononeutron: An isolated neutron undergoes beta decay with a mean lifetime of approximately 15 minutes (half-life of approximately 10 minutes), becoming a proton (the nucleus of hydrogen), an electron and an antineutrino.
  • Dineutron: The dineutron, containing two neutrons, was unambiguously observed in 2012 in the decay of beryllium-16. It is not a bound particle, but had been proposed as an extremely short-lived resonance state produced by nuclear reactions involving tritium. It has been suggested to have a transitory existence in nuclear reactions produced by helions (helium-3 nuclei, completely ionized) that result in the formation of a proton and a nucleus having the same atomic number as the target nucleus but a mass number two units greater. The dineutron hypothesis had been used in nuclear reactions with exotic nuclei for a long time. Several applications of the dineutron in nuclear reactions can be found in review papers. Its existence has been proven to be relevant for nuclear structure of exotic nuclei. A system made up of only two neutrons is not bound, though the attraction between them is very nearly enough to make them so. This has some consequences on nucleosynthesis and the abundance of the chemical elements.
  • Trineutron: A trineutron state consisting of three bound neutrons has not been detected, and is not expected to exist[citation needed] even for a short time.
  • Tetraneutron: A tetraneutron is a hypothetical particle consisting of four bound neutrons. Reports of its existence have not been replicated.

So what can we learn from this? Well neutrons are not like protons as neutrons are unstable when isolated whereas protons are very stable when isolated. And while neutrons and protons can be fused together in great profusion, neutrons and neutrons cannot be so fused. So, why does the “strong nuclear force” work in ordinary nuclei but not when just neutrons are involved, which should be easier to bond together?

I am not well educated in this area, but I am suspicious of the strong nuclear force. It sounds like a placeholder concept, to be used until we figure out what is going on.

I favor, right now—as I said I am not very knowledgeable in this field—this view: we do not know why the energies of electrons are quantized in atoms. We know that they are, but not why or how. I think that atomic nuclei are held together by another quantum effect. Simply, when they are fused together, some of the mass of the particles is converted into energy and radiated away (fusion energy). Without that mass, there is not enough mass for the nucleus to exist as separate particles anymore and so there is a quantum restriction on those particles existing. If they don’t exist, where are they? Well, that nucleus is a new single particle made from neutrons and protons, not of neutrons and protons.

I have asked a number of times, if some “mass” is turned into energy when nuclei are fused together, where does this mass come from? Are there lighter neutrons in the nuclei? Lighter protons? Are their other exotic subatomic particles that are involved and they are converted into energy entire? No answer has been forthcoming.

Recently I read that researchers have finally figured out what the constituent substances in a proton are. There are three quarks, but they make up less than 10% of the mass of the proton. The largest fraction of the stuff of protons is “mass energy.” What confines it from getting away I do not know. But think about this. If the protons and neutrons are fused together, maybe they make up a new single particle, containing all of the quarks and other denizens in various energy levels, but some of the mass energy leaves to make the “fusion energy.” There is no mysterious short-range force holding the neutrons and protons together because there are no neutrons or protons there. Just as a proton doesn’t fly apart because of its charge, this single particle doesn’t fly apart because of its charge. There is only one particle, so there is nothing to fly apart.

When energy is added to some nuclei, there is enough mass to make other stable sets of particles, allowing pieces to fly apart (nuclear fission). This additional mass that is added is often in the form of neutrons or even electrons.

Now I am not saying that this is all there is to it. There are many, many details. But quantum restrictions keep electrons from flying apart in atoms and even restricts their energies inside of the atom. (These restrictions are not totally fixed. Under extreme conditions, the energies are different, but they are still restrictions and of the same type.)

This model doesn’t require an amazing force that only operates under very, very short distances and is very, very strong. If there were such a thing, every time two neutrons bumped together, they should stick together until there were whole planets of neutronium, and it is fairly clear that they do not do this.

Yeah, I am probably wrong, but it sure is fun speculating.

July 15, 2020

How Long Does It Take Life to Develop Complex Forms?

Life on Earth began sometime around four billion years ago but then things were rather boring for a long time and then . . . Kaboom! The Big (Life) Bang occurred.

Just half of a billion years ago, life was composed of individual cells occasionally organized into colonies, aka monocellular life forms. No plants, no animals, no much of anything. But then quickly, over roughly 10-50 million years (realize that 10 million years is just 1% of a billion years) we got what we now call the Cambrian explosion. From that came . . . everything else that has ever lived.

Acknowledging that the majority of all species evolving over the last half billion years went extinct, it basically shows that complex life only needs about a half billion years to evolve from simple lifeforms.

So, for those (and I was one) who used the span of all life on earth (~4 billion years) as the time scale need for life to develop elsewhere, we were wrong. It took very little time for single-celled organisms to develop but then they evolved very little for ~3 billion years . . . and then all Hell broke loose.

What were the causes of the Cambrian explosion? Answer: we don’t know. Was it aliens seeding the planet with complex lifeforms to evolve further? Answer: we do not know. Did God do it? Answer: Define God, then “no.”

But if the causes were all natural, there is now a considerable range of possibilities for the planets we are now observing orbiting other stars. If all the conditions are available for single cell organisms to live and for a Cambrian Explosion-type event to occur, the amount of time could be as little as half of a billion years or even less. If the conditions for a Cambrian Explosion-type event aren’t available, single cell life could continue, as has been proven, for many billions of years with little evolution. (Evolution as we know it requires that various traits be able to be passed on and with asexual reproductions there is only one process and that is making identical copies of oneself.) And, of course if neither set of conditions exist, lifeless planets may abound.

The fascinating thing, in my mind, is that many of these questions may get definitive answers in short order. Unfortunately I will not be around to hear them, but I suspect that knowing these answers will be “a good thing.”

July 9, 2020

Trump Wanted Closed Borders . . . And Now He has Them

By mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic President Trump has gotten an unintended benefit: closed borders. Of course, the borders are being closed by the other countries involved and not Mr. Trump’s administration, but a promise is a promise. Mexico has closed its border with the U.S. . . . to prevent the spread of the disease that is raging in the U.S. but not so much in Mexico. Canada has closed its border with the U.S. . . . to prevent the spread of the disease that is raging in the U.S. but not so much in Canada. The EU has closed its “borders” with the U.S. . . . to prevent the spread of the disease that is raging in the U.S. but not so much in the EU.

Mission Accomplished, President Trump, Mission Accomplished . . . say it now. . . .

From today’s The Guardian:
“Canadians have spent the past three months in isolation, away from businesses, friends, families and schools,” said Lori Turnbull, a professor of political science at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. “They’ve done all this to make sure that they survive the public health crisis. They don’t want the border to open and have Americans bring it up here. The contrasting pandemic experiences of the two countries aren’t just a result of luck or geography: experts point to widespread access to healthcare in Canada, as well as high levels of trust in government and public health officials.”


June 4, 2020

It is Time for Intelligent Design Advocates to Pony Up

Filed under: Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:58 pm
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Let’s stop fooling around and take the ID advocates seriously. I have a series of questions I want the IDers to answer, so I can fully appreciate their theory.

  1. First, I would love to hear anyone supply a clear outline of ID theory, the complete theory. All I hear is arguments about design and complexity, but there are few other processes needed to make ID Theory complete.
  2. So, let’s say an Intelligent Designer exists and comes up with an intelligent design. That design is still “on the drawing board” as it were. How does this design get implemented?
  3. What are the processes by which the design is put “into production?”
  4. And who the heck is this intelligent designer, inquiring minds want to know? Are vastly superior aliens messing with us?
  5. How often are designs implemented?
  6. When did these design implementations first happen in the past and are they likely to continue into the future?
  7. If the Intelligent Designer just implemented his designs during a tiny window in time in the past, why did he limit himself so? How could he possibly know that other designs might not be needed (maybe advanced human fighters would be needed to fight aliens invading from outer space, for instance)? I mean how could this incredible designer know what will be needed millennia into the future?
  8. Provide a few dozen examples of designs and why they were needed to be the way they are to make the world work as it does. Please include a couple of virulent disease organisms, like the COVID-19 virus, on your list as that would be quite relevant at this time. Surely these are available if you have been studying this for decades as you insist.

C’mon now, fill out your “theory,” otherwise you are just whining about whether this or that was deliberately designed or not and not promoting an actual theory.

Why Science Hasn’t Stamped Out Religion

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:42 am
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I was reading a piece on the Vridar blog site and Neil Godfrey wrote this (in 2013): “Religion has not gone away since the end of the Europe’s religious wars and the ensuing Age of Enlightenment. Indeed, scientific advances and the rise of secularism may even be largely responsible for religious revivals.”

One part of the reasoning behind this statement jumped out at me. As opposed to science, religion puts no intellectual demands on its proponents. Scientists are asked to explain themselves, and argue, and think . . . really, really hard. Religionists, to the contrary, are given warm “There, theres” and are not asked to think. They are not expected to answer or ask questions. They do not have a final arbiter of what is right and wrong as natural scientists have in nature.

As a college professor, I saw a great many students over the years, almost all of whom had selected a major course of study. Since the science courses I taught were not something that other students took to meet a breadth requirement or “for fun,” I tended to see the same types of students. And didn’t encounter students who were majoring in far flung intellectual pursuits. But I did meet and work with colleagues from all over the college. And one could see clear divides in those folk according to their chosen fields of study.

For one, there is a simple dichotomy between scientists and non-scientists that breaks along the lines of, what should I call it . . . social skills (?). Science types, often referred to as “geeks,” often lacked social skills one could observe elsewhere and it is my opinion that science attracts people with poorer social skills because the topic addresses and studies things and not people. (Things can be pinned down, people are inconsistent, variable, and often cantankerous.) Study science and you have fewer people to deal with and more things/facts/etc. (Yes, I know these are broad characterizations. There are many, many exceptions. I myself am a scientist who is suave as hell and comfortable in the company of a wide strata of society. And I need a tongue-in-cheek emoji here.)

Another fault line between scientists and non-scientists is math. To learn math, you must master, to some extent, abstract thinking. This makes a clear line between those who faired well in math (I wasn’t that good, just persistent.) and those who did not.

So, to make an argument or address a problem scientifically, you have to pull non-science types into a realm in which complex arguments, math, and foundational knowledge all are involved in complicated fashions. (Look at how complex environmental issues are often described with simplistic and, at root, misleading explanations. Global atmospheric warming was attributed to the Greenhouse Effect and greenhouses work primarily by not allowing warm gases to escape the house. This is not the mechanism of climate change as we are experiencing it now.)

On the other side of this divide, the religionists are told “There, there . . . all will be well” and other nonsense like “The blood of Christ will protect you in the pandemic.” (The latter led me to wonder where I can get me some of that shit.) It may be nonsense, but it is simple nonsense, making no intellectual demands and offering many reassurances, albeit vacuous ones.

I do not claim that all of this plays out consciously through free will. In general I think most of us drift in the currents of our lives (me, especially). But those unable to accept the complexity of real problems set in a real nature are subject to those more than willing to provide fantasy solutions set in a fantastic nature which are less demanding. All you need is faith and there are no real tests of that any more.

May 28, 2020

Climate Change . . . Have We Been Too Optimistic or Too Pessimistic?

Some enterprising climate scientist went back to the early days of climate modeling and put the actual data involved into the models instead of the hypothesized data we used back then (we didn’t have all the data needed so we made up “reasonable” estimates). What they found was that those models were very close to being spot on. Their deviation from actual values of climate change parameters was mostly due to the faulty inputs, not the models themselves. Climate change opponents at the time were scathing in their “reviews” of the climate change model predictions as being premature, not capable of being done, being pie in the sky wishful thinking on the part of the scientists. Of course, the critics that were most prominent could barely spell climate change, let alone had mastered any of the intricacies.

As time went on the models were revised and we found a data consensus (based upon data from different sources indicating the same things). But for the critics, the predictions were “overblown,” “too pessimistic,” and neglected advances in technology that would mitigate much of the changes. Again, most of these objections were not science-backed, just economics-backed, aka they said “we are making too much money to change for you airy-fairy science types.”

Now we are finding out that the dire predictions we have been hearing for the past couple of decades have been far too optimistic, that is not pessimistic enough. More than a few effects of climate change that were predicted for years or decades in the future are happening now.

In short order, I expect the climate change deniers to start saying “How could we have known?” and “Who would have predicted this?” Assholes . . . greedy assholes.

If Reality Were a Simulation, Could It Be Possible to Alter the Past of the Simulation?

Filed under: Philosophy,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:47 am
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I answered the question in the title of this post on Quora and I wanted to share it with you to see how you might respond to my final question (If you were an all-powerful deity, what would you do first?).

Here’s my answer to the question (slightly edited).

* * *

Sure, the simulation is stored as files and those files can be edited or overwritten. You could even retroactively change the rules involved.

Basically, if you believe in an all-powerful deity, what we have is the equivalent of a simulation. Such a deity could have created our reality 15 minutes ago, providing each of us with false memories leading us to believe what we believe now. Would we know any better?

If I were such a deity in our current reality, here are the first things I would do. First I would uncreate Satan, the Devil, Lucifer, etc and wipe the memories of these entities and their domains from human memory. Then I would adjust human free will, leaving 99+% of it intact but removing the Will to do Evil. Nobody would be inclined to do anything evil from that point onward but we would be free to prefer vanilla over chocolate, choose Toyota over Chevy, even so far as to freely choose to put pineapple on a pizza.

There are many, many things such an all-powerful deity could do … but hasn’t, at least to our knowledge.

If you had such power, what would you do first?

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