Uncommon Sense

January 12, 2022

Another Book Recommendation

Filed under: Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 1:46 pm
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I am only part way through this one but it seems too good to keep to myself. If you, like me, are an atheist, then I think this is a must read book. The reason: well, the author says things exactly as I have been thinking them for quite some time, but almost never am I that blunt.

The book is “The Praying Ape: How Evolution Explains the Strange Phenomenon of Religious Belief” by Allan Lees.

Here is a taste.

Right out of the box, the introduction begins:
“There is one very curious fact about the human race that few people notice: alone among all the other animals on the planet, our species lives largely in an imaginary world. All other animals live in the real world, a world of predators and prey, of hunger and satiation, of inclement weather and shelter. We, on the other hand, see gods and goblins everywhere. We conjure “reasons” for events that are in fact entirely unconnected with our fantastical imaginings. We believe if we mutter ritual incantations and make suitable genuflections these actions will result in some gift being bestowed or some boon being granted by one or more invisible magical creatures for which there has never been the slightest shred of evidence and the existence of which would be contrary to everything we know about how the universe actually works.”

Later he says:

“While lamentable intellectually, it may be necessary emotionally for the vast majority of our species to indulge in this self-deception in order to be able to function adequately on a daily basis. Our minds may simply be incapable of dealing with reality in any meaningful way. Thus superstition, and by extension religious belief, may be a necessary mental crutch upon which most people hobble through life.”
“In conclusion, therefore, we can see that there are no viable arguments to be made for religion, regardless of whether one is pleading morality, utility, causality, or subjectivity. The only other potential argument would be from evidence but this is not a proposition available to religionists simply because there never has been any evidence in favor of whatever superstitious and supernatural beliefs have been invoked across time and place. No religion has ever produced anything even remotely approaching tangible evidence or even secondary or tertiary evidence of the existence of any form of invisible magical creature or “grand plan” or a plausible mechanism by means of which such a creature could create the universe in which we live.”

This book is highly recommended.

January 4, 2022

Life After Death—You Just Have to Believe!

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:41 am

An author I just read claims to “believe” in life after death, amongst a number of other things based upon his ability to “sense” electricity, but I am going to set that aside. In his diatribe about how consciousness survives death the author pointed out that “Researchers say there’s evidence that consciousness continues after clinical death.” This is true. But as someone who has gotten exercise from jumping to conclusions, I don’t think the author read the article closely enough, or based his thinking on what a “science writer” wrote interpreting those results.

Most of us think that when we die, the “light goes out” as when a light switch is thrown. One second you are alive, the next you are dead. The scientific findings showed, conclusively I think, that dying is a process that takes more time than we are inclined to believe. And, using “clinical death” as a standard of comparison is iffy at best. We have more than one definition of when a person is “truly dead,” in fact I think there are many. Why is this? Possibly this is because dying is a process that takes more time than we are inclined to believe.

It was not that long ago that burial crypts had bells installed in them because people interred in them “came back to life” and were trapped in those crypts. The bell was a way to signal for help.

Being dead and being in a deep coma are easier to distinguish today because of modern instrumentation, EKGs, etc. In the past, well, mistakes were made. Some of these were labeled “resurrections.” Here is a sure test. If you think someone is dead, wait a week and check again. I have heard of no accounts of people being resurrected after a week of time, except in horror novels.

It is extremely unlikely that consciousness survives death. I mean really, really, really unlikely . . . really! Think about it. Every night when you go to sleep you become unconscious. Why is that? You are alive, no? So, why do you lose consciousness? Where does your consciousness go? Apparently some physical part of your body has some maintenance or other to do to support being conscious the rest of the day. Having gone more than a whole day without sleep, I can attest to unpleasantness associated with that and would not want to have extended that experiment longer than one day.

It seems clear, from disease and injury studies, that the seat of our consciousness is our brains. Upon death, our brains, along with all other tissues of our bodies, decompose. That is a technical term for “turn to goo.” Our muscles no longer work and neither do our brains as their structures have turned to goo. A brain dead for any time no longer has the capacity to do what it did while you were alive, so how is one’s consciousness supposed to be supported? Where does it reside?

It seems to me that beliefs in consciousness after death are residuums of the belief in souls, which are manifestations of beliefs in an afterlife, which became the domain of religions. The soul provided a mechanism by which one could carry on after dying. But nature tells us over and over than “life continues after your death, it just doesn’t involve you.” Some people find this fact dismaying. I think those people need to get a grip on reality. Believing in things untrue get you nowhere. I am constantly surprised that people say that religious beliefs are “consoling.” How can something you know is not true be consoling. (Every time I hear someone say “I know <name of loved one here> is up there looking down upon us . . .” all I feel is sadness, that people cling to such beliefs.

December 19, 2021

The Illusion of Control

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:27 am
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There is a current Medium.com post entitled “Are You in Control of Your Mind? ‘No,’ Says Neuroscientist Sam Harris.” Which stimulated this post on human illusions. That article is part of the ongoing free will discussion . . . of course.

We all have these desires: desires for being sure, for being in control of our lives, for finding the true meaning of our life . . . and those are all illusions. Think about control. What does it mean to you? Think about being in control of your life, or being out of control of your life. What feelings are evoked?

People who have “lost control” of their lives, possibly for no fault of their own, possibly for indulging too much in illicit drugs, whatever are disparaged. They are pitied and often despized. We all tend to think, unlike the despised ones, that we have control over our lives, I suggest considerably more than what we really have. Consider that Stoic philosophy is based upon the claim that “we cannot control what happens to us, we can only control how we respond to it.” And this is a philosophy, currently undergoing a renaissance, that is over 2000 years old.

But we dreamily go through life, making plans, and feeling as if we are in control. How many people do you think, God-fearing Americans, planned on opening a small business and jumped through all of the hoops, had the right advisors, reasonable capitalization, etc. and opened their doors in the Spring of 2020? Boom, whap! The COVID pandemic shutdown crushes their dreams and their business slowly or quickly circles the drain. Were they in control of that? Should they have planned for that? Could they have planned for that?

Being in control of your mind is a fantasy. Nobody, not Newton, not Einstein, not Aristotle was in control of his mind. That is not what minds are for. For example, a common question is “where do thoughts come from?” Thoughts pop into your mind consciously seemingly at random. We do not know how these thoughts are created by why they happen seems evident. One job of your mind is to anticipate the future. Ordinary animals just wait for things to happen. Humans are constantly anticipating. I suggest that is what the power of imagination is for, and why it evolved (it helped us survive). We can anticipate events, at least things that might occur, and prepare to face them ahead of time, rather than simply react to what is happening now. (Those advising you to “live in the present moment” are suggesting that you throw away this valuable tool, rather than learn to harness it.)

So, your brain is taking in sensory information and whipping scenarios out so you can be prepared for what might happen. Do you really want to be in control of that process?

Similarly, someone calculated from the numbers of nerves involved in sensory activities the amount of information, bits if you will, that our senses pull in every minute. The amount is staggering. What happens to most of this information? It is discarded. For example, I am sitting in a chair as I type this. If I focus my attention, I notice the pressure I feel from the seat of the chair. I can feel the fabric of my pants against my skin. A couple of minutes ago, I noticed none of that. What happened to those sensations a couple of minutes ago? They were discarded. We can direct out attention . . . somewhat . . . which determines to some extent what sensory information makes it through the winnowing process but that cannot be an exclusive process. Overrides are built into the system, like when I cut my finger when cooking (I did this a couple of days ago) and boy, my attention got placed on that cut with no effort on my part (ow, ow, ow, ow).

And the flaw in almost all of the free will discussions is that they focus entirely upon conscious free will. But, our lives are dominated by unconscious and autonomic processes. Consciousness is used for a small subset of our activities. Philosophers shy away from addressing the idea of unconscious free will because that smacks of determinism to them. That sensory or other forces cause the unconscious “us” to behave in certain ways, which makes us slaves, robots to those data inputs. Our behavior is determined by whatever inputs come into the system. (“Determinism, determinism! . . . imagine this sung with “Fiddler on the Roof” bravura.)

But we know less of the unconscious functions of our brains than we know of our conscious minds. Why couldn’t our unconscious minds exert our will freely? Why does our will necessarily be conscious?

Consciously we create ideas that just don’t exist. Absolutes don’t exist. Perfect control of anything doesn’t exist (if you think it does, consult NASA, they will disabuse you of any idea of being in control of complex systems). Being sure doesn’t exist. Being sure is dangerous. And free will is not a “yes-no” question.

December 16, 2021

Equal Protection Under the Law

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion,Science,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 11:32 am
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Conservatives, especially conservative SCOTUS justices, would like nothing more than to repeal Roe v. Wade and turn the issue over to the states.

They are claiming this is the “democratic” thing to do.

Political cartoonists are our modern court jesters, but that doesn’t mean they play fair.

But this is not the issue. The issue is whether there is equal protection under the law. If this issue is detailed to the states the following scenario is very likely to happen. In one hospital, a woman receives a safe abortion, paid for by her medical insurance, and is released into the care of her family. Twenty miles away, a doctor giving a woman an abortion is arrested and charged with murder. So is the woman who hired the doctor to do the procedure, so is her husband for driving his wife to her medical clinic.

The difference? In the twenty miles separating the two facilities is a state border.

The federal government has stepped in over and over . . . and over, to make policies consistent across state lines to ensure “equal protection under the law.”

There are only a few issues over which it has demurred, e.g. capital punishment, although it has restricted the methods by which capital punishment can be imposed.

Surely the legality of the procedure is a matter of interstate commerce, no? Can a legal procedure in one state carry a death penalty in another?

Instead of turning it over to the states, we would be much better off to do what Canada has done; it forbade legislation on the matter, declaring it a personal matter, not a public matter. Canada has no laws, other than the health and safety laws governing all medical procedures, on the topic . . . none. And I just can’t believe that all Canadians are going to Hell because of their sensibility.

December 5, 2021

You Have Heard About It, Yes?

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:55 am
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Scientific reductionism, you have heard about this, yes? Mostly comments about it tend to be sneering disapprovals of this practice. Often comments talk about children unwisely breaking toys, trying to figure out how they work.

Yet, this process is wildly successful even so. And, somehow the critics always leave out the “rest of the story.” Take the effort chemists made to identify chemical substances, first reducing them to elements and compounds. Then elements were reduced to being collections of atoms. Then atoms were reduced to being collections of subatomic particles. Now we know that subatomic particles are also often collections of even smaller particles.

Critics say this approach causes us to lose sight of the majesty and beauty of nature. This is silly, of course. As a chemist I not only appreciate “the fall colors,” as deciduous trees leaves change color, from green to reds, yellows, and rust colors, but I find them even more beautiful because I know why they change color. Understanding the underpinnings of nature just deepens one’s appreciation of it.

But, the critics often lose sight of the entire process of reductionism: to break something down into smaller parts which can be understood, and then reassembled back into the whole which can then be understood. Just breaking things into parts may be interesting but it doesn’t solve real world problems.

The best analogy to this process I found is the process by which a professional musician learns a new piece of music. I will use the piano as an example, because that is the only instrument with which I am familiar.

When a professional pianist sets out to learn a new piece of music, the process begins with simple things, like fingering. Each note played is associated with a key on the keyboard and deciding which finger to use to press that key is called fingering. There are people who perform this service for busy professionals and some do it for them selves. Once the fingering is decided (although it may change with experience) the pianist breaks down the piece into small bits, typically phrases and measures. They start by playing a single bit, sometimes with just one hand and then the other, then both hands together. The goal is to get the notes “right,” which means the right note is played in the right sequence. Then the next bit is processed, and then the two bits are played together as once piece.

Now, this is an idealized process and I am sure every pianist differs from it as well as uses large parts of it. Once the notes have been learned, the reductionism phase is over and the assembly of the whole begins in earnest. The playing of smaller bits together isn’t so much reassembly, basically just stitching learned bits together, but can be looked at as part of the assembly process.

But then the real work begins. At some point a metronome is employed to be able to play the notes at speed. Once that is done, then more subtle effects need to be addressed, voicing and phasing. More time will be spent reassembling the piece than was spent disassembling it to learn the notes.

Now many professional pianists could sit down and sight read the piece from a score and to most people’s ears, it would sound adequate. Most of us would express amazement that such a feat were possible. But to trained musicians, that is not performance ready preparation. Just playing it over and over won’t make the playing any better. It needs to be broken down and reassembled to deepen the understanding of the music, and make the playing of it a creation of beauty.

Scientists do break things down into smaller bits. Ordinary objects are tremendously complicated. But they are not wayward children breaking their toys to find out how they work. They are performing part of a process where the understood smaller bits get reassembled into the whole, hopeful with deeper understanding then before.

The scientific process currently underway that exemplifies this is the search for the mechanism of abiogenesis, how life begins from inanimate matter. Life could have been imported here by aliens, we do not know this one way or the other. But if it happened through natural process, we may just be able to sleuth out that process. We know the basic facts. That life began early on this planet as monocellular life forms (like amoebae and such). Then close to a billion years of time elapsed before multi-cellular life forms happened, and then the theory of evolution accounts for everything after that point. So, the key questions are: how did the first monocellular life forms happen and how did these forms turn into multicellular life forms?

The first question has been broken down into parts: how did proteins form, how did cell walls form, how did the self-replicating aspect of the formed cells begin. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is working on the whole process because we understand so little about the smaller bits. And we are making progress. We are learning how proteins could form spontaneously. We are learning how cell walls can form spontaneously. We are starting to learn how self-replication began.

So, the anti-science people are still screaming “If God didn’t create us, then how did life begin? Science can’t answer that question, can it?” Well, science has not answered it yet, but whether or not it can is based upon trying to do it. How many people are trying? How much is being learned? We really just got started on this problem, a very difficult problem, but we are approaching it like many other complex problems, by scientific reductionism. Because if we can figure out how the parts happened, we might be able to figure out how the whole thing happened.

September 19, 2021

The Purpose of Human Existence

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:58 am
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I continue to write about this because I see questions galore on Quora and Medium about “the purpose of our existence at the material/physical level.” For some people just the miracle of our existence is insufficient, there must be a grand scheme behind the scenes that we are helping to fulfill.

Allow me to throw a bucket of cold water on this idea through a favorite tool of Albert Einstein’s: the thought experiment.

Here is how it goes: for a period of 24 hours, human beings disappear and leave no trace. Along with us disappearing, so does all of our superstitious claptrap: souls, ghosts, etc. . . . all gone, but for just 24 hours.

What purpose or purposes do you think would exist once we were gone? I suggest “all gone.” Of course if we left behind written records alien archeologists could decipher them and discern that we believed we had a purpose in the universe. When they stopped laughing, they would recognize that our species hadn’t really been around for long when it fell.

Before the 24 hours elapses and we come back, ask yourself: how would the rest of the universe be affected by our disappearance? I hope you would see that there would be no effect of any note on the rest of the universe.

Purposes are things we invent. We invent them for ourselves, as individuals, and sometimes we band together in groups around a shared purpose. Shared purposes can also be very large, such as winning a total war in your country against an invading force, but it takes a large number of people to shape that purpose and keep it going.

The desire that there be some outside purpose for the existence of humanity as a whole, is the wish for there to be some supernatural agent which will take responsibility, rather than us taking responsibility for ourselves, as it were. Which of these two beliefs is the child-like one? Is it any wonder that so many religions ask you to “become like a child,” because if you do, then you de facto accept a belief in the existence of that deity, all because you didn’t want to take responsibility for yourself and for a few people around you.

The seeking for a grand overall purpose for all this is an egotistical juvenile search. If you just look at your life openly you will see that you have many purposes you have created all by yourself: you have the purpose of being a good parent, for example, or an exemplary worker, or a purpose to make a shitload of money, or a purpose to be the best player at you local poker game, or. . . . If you have a goal and act upon it, you have a purpose. If you want a purpose, establish a goal and start acting upon it. Go around and tell people your purpose(s) and you may even find people who share one of them and will help you meet it.

Should you decide to search out the grand overall purpose of humanity, be sure to wear your diapers.

August 26, 2021

e-motion 2.0—a Documentary Review

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:14 am
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Jumping the Tracks and the Shark at the Same Time

I took two running starts at this documentary but neither time could I make it even one quarter of the way through. I was washed out on a wave of woo each time.

The film begins easily enough by making a few claims, through quotes, such as “The subconscious mind determines everything about us.” Well, no it doesn’t, but it is very close.

They then went on to state that “emotions control the subconscious mind” and again, no they don’t but they do impact it substantially.

Next they made the completely wild claim that “at the root of every illness is suppressed emotion.” So, their thinking is starting to be exposed: emotions control the subconscious mind combined with the subconscious mind determines everything about us (my emphasis), and they create a direct link between emotions and everything about us, including illnesses. Now, there are some truths involved here but they are extrapolated so far as to make them disconnected.

I am, for example, convinced that imagination is our super power; it is what makes us distinct from every other species. And it is not that other species do not imagine (I don’t know but suspect that some do), but we took that sucker and ran with it. And one thing we can do is imagine a stressful situation so vividly that we can get a bodily stress reaction from it. And that, if repeated a great deal, will lead to an illness. So, memories and emotion can lead to illness.

In the sport I coach, archery, we claim that our subconscious mind cannot distinguish between reality and a vivid imagining. (This is based in science. It seems that instead of interacting with “reality,” whatever that is, directly we create a simulacrum of reality in our mind and interact with that. So, imagination and reality are not at all distinct in our minds.) Where this comes into play in archery is that archers are taught to vividly imagine a perfect shot from their personal viewpoint, just before raising their bows to make each shot. I am of the opinion that this “visualization” is a set of instructions to our subconscious mind, which controls all of our physical movements, to “make it so.” All motion of our bodies, not just archery shots, is controlled subconsciously. You know this from whenever you had no training in some physical activity and had to do it consciously: driving a car, riding a bike, tying your shoes, etc. How’d that go? Clumsy, eh? We all are. We have to train our subconscious minds and then we can turn it over to them to do it effortlessly.

So, our subconscious minds control a great deal of our lives, but “everything”? (Otherwise, how do we train our subconscious minds to do things like tie our shoes?) That’s quite a stretch at best. And we still don’t know what a “mind” is, but most psychologists think we have a stack: we have our conscious minds, then our subconscious minds, then our unconscious minds, and at the bottom, our autonomic processes (heartbeat, gland secretions, etc.). Each “layer” is intermixed with the one’s next to it. Some think that the “subconscious mind” is really just an expanded mode of conscious mixed with unconscious mental activities and it is not really a separate thing. 9In archery discussions I use subconscious and unconscious interchangeably because the finer points are not needed for archery.) The mixing of “minds” (No, Spock, not now!) is evident from experiments in which the subjects exhibited mental control over things like their heart rate, blood pressure, and other “autonomic” things.

So, we don’t know exactly what a mind is, and there seem to be multiple minds with somewhat separate functions or abilities. For example, archers are taught to moderate their emotions because they do affect our subconscious behavior and archery shots are largely subconscious events. Get overly emotional and your shooting becomes erratic.

But, going from “some diseases” are caused by subconscious emotions to “all diseases” are caused by emotions, requires a bridge too far. We became much more proficient in fighting diseases when we discovered the germ theory of disease, that there are microorganisms, including viruses, that cause disease. (In the Age of COVID, does anyone argue against this any more?) So, are disease organisms manifestations of repressed memories?

Also, they jumped to “suppressed emotions” from “emotions.” They claimed that “good emotions” are expressed while “bad emotions” are suppressed. And the bad emotions build up over time and . . . disease. WTF? We obviously have memories of emotional events. Evolution has decided that there is something to learn from emotional events (like to avoid being eaten by the tiger, I don’t have to outrun it, just out run the others in my group) and those memories last longer than mundane memories.

And, we are just now starting to learn how memories are stored. If you thought little video stories are storied in this or that place in your brain, well, you guessed wrong. Memories are dissected. The visual parts are stored in the visual cortex, the audio parts, are stored elsewhere, as are the tactile parts, etc. The locations in the brain that possess the ability to process specific kinds of information are where those kinds of information are stored. When a memory is triggered, all the parts get reassembled (well, usually all of the parts do, but not always) lickety-split. The more often a memory is triggered, the easier it is to recall. So people who chew on events of the past find it oh so easy to pull up the memories of the things they cannot resist. Those who do not dwell on the past find it harder and harder to come up with those recalls.

None of these things were discussed, at least in as far as I got. The second try I stopped at the comment “Ninety percent of our energy is used to suppress energies from our past.” WTF?

I did get past the obligatory mention of vibrational energies and how they are linked to various parts of the body. Vibrational energies were the vogue in the woo-woo crowd of 100 years ago as the wave nature of light and whatnot were in open discussion because of all of the excitement surrounding Einstein and his posse of physicists. No mention of how these vibrational energies operate other than through resonance and the kind of energy is never mentioned, just “energy.”

So, as I said, a tidal wave of woo washed me out.

If anyone gets to the end I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on this . . . whatever it is.

Oh, btw, we do not yet know what an emotion is. One of the most promising theories is that these things are learned!

July 31, 2021

OMG, We Are That Stupid?

According to surveys and modeling by The Economist magazine, the single greatest predictor of whether an American has been vaccinated is whether they voted for Joe Biden or Donald Trump last November.

Is there a better sign that we have taken a public health issue, a basic nonpartisan issue, and politicized it?

Are we that stupid?

Yes, we are.

Of course, a massive dose of demagoguery was involved but that is the direction our politics have been turning for quite some time.

Where were all of the anti-vax people when we developed the vaccination scheme for our children? For example, here are the common vaccinations that U.S. children are supposed to get:
Hib (protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b)
Hepatitis A
Hepatitis B
Influenza (Flu)
Pertussis (whooping cough)
And for Chicago School Children
In addition to the above:
Invasive Pneumococcal Disease
I assume your local community will have similar standards.

There were anti-vax people before, some screaming “religious exemption!” but they were a very small minority, not 40% of the population.

While researching the Chicago school vaccination requirements I found that religious exceptions are granted. So I downloaded the form and lo and behold, they require documentation! Here are the relevant sections on how to fill out the form:
How to complete the Certificate of Religious Exemption to Required Immunizations and/or Examinations Form
• Complete the Parent/Guardian sections, which include key information about the student and the school the student will be entering, and the immunizations or examinations for which religious exemption is being requested. Provide a statement of religious belief(s): for each vaccination/examination requested.
• The form must be signed by the child’s parent or legal guardian . AND the child’s health care provider* responsible for performing the child’s health examination
• Submit the completed form to local school authority on or before October 15th of the school year, or by an earlier enrollment date established by a school district.
• The local school authority is responsible for determining whether the information supplied on the Certificate of Religious Exemption to Required Immunizations and/or Examinations Form constitutes a valid religious objection.
Religious Exemption from Immunizations and/or Examination Form Process:
• The local school authority shall inform the parent or legal guardian, at the time that the exemption is presented, of exclusion procedures, should there be an outbreak of one or more diseases from which the student is not protected, in accordance with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) rules, Control of Communicable Diseases Code (77 Ill. Adm. Code 690).
• Exempting a child from health, dental, or eye examination does not exempt the child from participation in the program of physical education training provided in Section 27-5 through 27-7 of the Illinois School Code [105 ILCS 5/27-5 through 105 ILCS 5/27-7]. A separate request for exemption from physical education, if desired, would need to be presented.

The key part of this exception in my mind is: The local school authority is responsible for determining whether the information supplied on the Certificate of Religious Exemption to Required Immunizations and/or Examinations Form constitutes a valid religious objection.

So, the anti-vax people seem to be signing up to be home schooling parents, no? Oh, goody, the transmission of ignorance codified.

There are Always Consequences
The state of Montana recently passed what they, euphemistically, called their “Human Rights Act,” which does not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or against trans children, but now protects a class of people who don’t want to get vaccinated, whether against COVID–19 or the measles. Yes, Montana’s “small government” Republicans have mandated by law that Montana’s citizens cannot refuse to hire unvaccinated people to work in their homes, or as caretakers for their elderly parents, or they will be in violation of the state’s human rights law. O . . . M . . . G!

Okay, let’s consider a hypothetical. Let’s say that a massive number of cases of leprosy break out in Montana and there is a vaccine. Who do you think would be first in line to get that vaccine? Those same assholes who passed this law and others like it under the false flag of “personal liberty,” which is a joke coming from the party that waved the flag of personal responsibility as a protection against government meddling in our public and private lives. Now they are employing government meddling to avoid having to recommend personal responsibility. That they consider COVID-19 and its variants to be basically a case of the flu, and a health basket case like Donald Trump pulled through it quickly telling them it ain’t so much, allows them to play fast and loose with the issue, milking it for political gain. But a nasty disease, such as leprosy, or one that makes your dick fall off, would have those very same Republicans trampling over other people to get their shots.

July 22, 2021

I-mag-i-na-ay-shun . . .

Filed under: Education,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:57 am
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Here is an excerpt from an interview of Brian Greene, a science populizer (specifically physics), on the PBS program NOVA:

NOVA: Well, for example, most people have trouble envisioning a fourth spatial dimension. Can you?

GREENE: No. I cannot envision anything beyond three dimensions. What I can do is I can make use of mathematics that describe those extra dimensions, and then I can try to translate what the mathematics tells me into lower dimensional analogies that help me gain a picture of what the math has told me. But the picture is certainly inadequate to the task of fully describing what’s going on, because it’s in lower dimensions, and in higher dimensions, things are definitely different.

To tell you the truth, I’ve never met anybody who can envision more than three dimensions. There are some who claim they can, and maybe they can; it’s hard to say. But it’s very hard, when your brain is involved in a world that appears to have three dimensions and is well suited to envisioning that world, to go beyond that and imagine more dimensions.

The discussion was about understanding Einstein’s view of physical reality, so I found this strange. Einstein was the inventor of “space-time” that is four dimensional “space” in which three of the dimensions are spatial and the fourth is time. Basically Einstein claimed that these four dimensions are interdependent.

Note that no fourth spatial dimension is mentioned.

It is easy to think in four dimensions. Imagine a small ball hanging in space. Its position is determined by three “dimensions” being up-down, left-right, to and fro and one can be time, it being 10:47 AM CST as I type this. We can add another dimension to make five: temperature. We can specify that this ball is 22.2 Celsius. We can add another dimension by adding color: the ball is blue. We are now up to six dimensions and you are having no trouble keeping up, right?

Trying to imagine four dimensional space would be quite a trick. If you have read the book Flatland, you have imagined one dimensional space (weird) and two dimensional space (intriguing but limited), and we all are quite versed in three dimensional space, but what about four dimensional space?

Uh, uh . . . has anyone ever succeeded at this? I would love to hear about them is they have.

July 3, 2021

On Montaigne, Truth, and Faith

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:42 am

I was reading an essay on Montaigne recently (here) and a couple of statements jumped off of the page.  As a scientist I find these to be disturbing. They show persistent misunderstandings about science fomented deliberately.

Here they are:

“In the secular world, science is often pitted as an alternative to religion. This is a category mistake — to believe in science is just to have a new kind of unfounded ‘faith’.”


“Science has its pragmatic benefits to humankind. Discoveries and technologies have allowed us to walk on the Moon and cure thousands of diseases, but we should not confuse the march of technology with a scientific idea of the ‘truth’. Even scientific thinking has its basis in doubt: the scientific method holds that theories are only true until disproven.”

Science is nowhere pitted against religion as an alternative, except in the minds of religious apologists. This is part of a classic straw dog argument. Set up a nonexistent situation and then show how false it really is. I have never heard anyone talk or write as if they held this belief. I have heard many people express enthusiasm about science and I can understand that theists might confuse this with the enthusiasms of some of the faithful, but this conclusion is just a case of projection of their “faith-based belief” onto science aficionados.

Similarly “we should not confuse the march of technology with a scientific idea of the ‘truth’” is quite mistaken. Science is not a quest for truth, in fact the concept doesn’t exist in science, except maybe in true-false questions in science education.

The idea of truth is an absolute. Absolutes have no place in science. In fact, I argue that absolutes do not exist. They are extensions in our minds that exceed any manifestation in reality. (Consider the temperature of “absolute zero” which we can get close to but not there.) The religious are fond of discussions of truth, because such claims are difficult to counter in ordinary discourse. Logically, one counter example destroys a truth claim, which is why so many apologists shrug off such counters as if they didn’t exist. Many fundamentalist Christians insist that the Bible is inerrant, yet there are hundreds of documented contradictions in the Bible. At one point Jesus got the name of the high priest wrong. Such examples destroy the claim of inerrancy, but the “faithful” ignore them because they are full of “faith.” They get to believe what they want to believe and their fellow travelers back them up in this attitude.

In short: science does not place itself as an alternative to religion, only theists do that and science doesn’t deal with truth. Theories are not “true” until proven “false.” Theories which are supported are considered valid, pragmatically, because we do not have all of the information there is to be had to make a truth judgment, and we never will.

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