Class Warfare Blog

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.”

February 16, 2020

A Little More On Consciousness

Filed under: History,Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:38 pm
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In a blog post (on broadspeculations.com) whether the “hard problem” of consciousness could be differentiated from the “soft problem” of consciousness, the author felt that the dichotomy was unnecessary and the main question was simply “Why am I aware?” I made a comment which I have paraphrased here:

As to “Why am I aware?” I have to believe it has to do with the evolutionary benefits of having an imagination. To benefit from an imagination we need short term memory and the ability to keep a number of things “in mind” while we do the modeling that imaginations allow us to do and survive thereby (Is the wind rustling the grass or is that a predator sneaking up on me? These are two scenarios. Long term memories are also helpful but are not at the crux of the matter.) I believe this leads logically to some form of awareness of oneself as me, myself and I am a player on the stage of my consciousness. That predator may attack me or one of my family or …

I want to expand upon this a tiny bit here.

The common example of the role imagination plays in our survival of the “predator in the grass” scenario was not created by me and I don’t remember where I first encountered it. But compare the differences in responses of a typical prey animal and a human being. The prey animal hears a suspicious rustling in the grass and immediately stops what it is doing and becomes hyper vigilant. It may stand taller (to get a better view) and prick up its ears (to hear better) and swivel around (to see what is happening in other directions). But if nothing happens in short order, it goes back to what it was doing. I have seen this interaction filmed many, many times. The stalking predator seems to have learned how much it can get away with without spooking the prey, so it performs iterations of: stalk, stalk, stalk, freeze . . . repeat. Since a great many of the times, the prey figures it out and high tails it out of there and the predator goes hungry, this approach works often enough that both species pass on their genes and survive. It is not a bad survival technique

But consider the advantage the human has. He/she hears the rustling in the grass, knows that it could be a predator which it cannot see or just a zephyr of wind. Since the penalty for a misjudgment can be severe, the human moves away from that spot, making him-/her-self a less likely prey. The cost of making a mistake in the case of there being no predator is tiny compared to the cost of making a mistake and there is a predator there.

All of these scenarios play out in human imagination. We create a simulacrum of reality in our mind and we can run experiments in it. (Imagine . . . our own personal Matrix! Pun intended.) In order to run such experiments effectively we need both long and short term memories available to us. Just observing the family dog, I am quite aware that he possess both of these memory capabilities, so us having them is no big thing. The imagination function, however is quite different. In order to make the little plays in our heads that help us evaluate the merit of various courses of action, we need to keep in mind quite a few things simultaneously. We need to know what kinds of predators might prey on us. (Being attacked by a killer field mouse would frighten no one.) We need to know something about their stalking patterns. We need to have in memory other times the wind blew the tall grass around. If we have a hunting partner or family member with us, we need to have those characters there, too. So, imagining them as well as ourselves is all part of the process.

So, a sense of self and of others, at least as a form of labeling in these imagined scenarios seems reasonable.

And the characters in our little mind plays would not all have the same degree of knowledge associated with them. We would know a great deal more about our self than about them just because we are always present and they are not.

All of these aspects of imagined scenarios leads, in my mind, to a sense of awareness of us versus anyone or anything else.

These boundaries are not at all sharp, though. I am reminded that it is likely that the idea of ghosts/spirits arose from the fact that we observed our relatives dying and being dead and buried and then we dream about them; they seem to be alive again or still. Since they are not visible when we are not asleep, we assumed they were in some sort of spirit realm or that they were now invisible or. . . . The belief in spirits of this type seems to have been universal in primitive cultures.

I will be fascinated to learn, if we can, how imagination developed as an emergent property of brains with sufficient neural connections., as that is where I think the bridge to understanding consciousness begins. And, as always, I could be dead wrong!

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?

May 25, 2019

Why Are We Here?

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:51 am
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Over at TheCommonAtheist Jim has a post (Contemplating Existence—The Why is in Asking) about how questions tend to hijack our attention. When I read it I was in the process of working on this post on a particular deepity I encountered. Here it is:

The most important question a human being has to face … What is it? The question, Why are we here? —Elie Wiesel

Now, to call this a deepity probably stretches the definition of that word. What I am saying is that the statement sounds profound but in reality is meaningless.

The most important question a human has to face? Really? Why do I need to face this question? If I answer it, what value do I reap? Has anyone ever answered this question?

Basically, I think this question has never been answered by anyone and may not be able to be answered. As such any answer currently has to be produced by our imagination at best. And, if we do actually answer the question, it may destroy our mental balance in a way that is destructive (such as in the movie Prometheus).

Jim’s point (do read his post) is that such questions hijack our attention. To quote his post “’Questions trigger a reflex in humans known as ‘instinctive elaboration,’ that is when someone asks you a question, the question takes over the brain’s thought process and you feel compelled to answer—and make it a good one.”

I suggest that this question is a loaded one and I don’t mean loaded with meaning. I think that it is asked because it cannot be answered. If you ask yourself this question, do you yourself come up with an answer? No. But many others have come up with an answer and you might want to ask how. Hint: What do religious apologists use to fill gaps in our knowledge? God! He isn’t called the God of the Gaps for nothing!

Let us say you do come up with an answer. How is that the most important question you ever have to face? Does the answer feed your family? Does the answer protect you from harm? Does the answer help you get or keep a job? Does the answer serve you in any way in the here and now? The “god” answer doesn’t actually serve you, but it does serve proselytizers.

Now I am not saying the theists sit around in their bunker in the Colorado mountains thinking up questions that hijack our attention and which point to their god. Far from it. It is, I suggest, the sense that they have an answer to this question and you do not and because for them the answer is god, they think that the question will lead us to the same answer. But it does not.

Any number of movies and now, television shows, have addressed the idea that we were either created from scratch or genetically modified from existing primate stocks by some powerful alien species. If we were to discover this “fact” what do you think the response of the world’s religions be? Would they say “Our bad, guess we were wrong.” Or would they tear their garments, gnash their teeth, attack the evidence, and declare that this is the end of the world? How would devout believers respond . . . really? Acceptance? Denial? Violence?

Any number of “authorities” apparently have claimed that if we had evidence of the mere existence of intelligent aliens, that we should keep that knowledge secret because “the people” would panic. Imagine if we had evidence that we were created or transformed by the actions of such a species?

The people asking this question and similar ones think they know the answer already and that such a scenario could not play out, because, well, faith. I suspect that faith would crumble to dust in short order if such a scenario did play out. Consider all of the hubbub at web sites like Answers in Genesis and The Institute for Creation Research and their myriad ilk who have already claimed that there is no intelligent life anywhere else in the universe. (And they know this because . . . we’re special? Hint: It ain’t in scripture.) The same lovely folks spend a considerable amount of their time throwing shade on the theory of evolution and the fact of evolution as well. (Hey, theists abiogenesis and evolution at least don’t involve aliens!) Imagine how they would react if it turned out that a god did create us . . . and it wasn’t their god! It would be ten times worse than if it turned out to be aliens.

I also suggest that if theists weren’t asking this question, no one else would. Philosophers would find the question ill-defined and avoid it. (Only philosophers of religion would consider it.) Ordinary people would see no benefit to such a question and if it were brought up at a dinner party, they would shrug and change the subject to something more meaningful (the weather, sports, politics, etc.)

 

May 21, 2019

The Direction of Biological History

Filed under: Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:59 am
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Many simplistic people characterize evolution as having a goal, namely us, as we . . . obviously . . . are the pinnacle of evolution. Ah, to which supposition I offer the Fainting Goats. If you are not familiar with said animals, here is a video showing How They Got Their Name (Fainting Goats Video). Basically, if startled, their muscles tend to lock up and if they were moving when this happens, they fall over, hence it appears that they “faint.”

According to Wikipedia “The fainting was first described in scientific literature in 1904, and described as a ‘congenital myotonia’ in 1939. The mutation in the goat gene that causes this muscle stiffness was discovered in 1996, several years after the equivalent gene had been discovered in humans and mice.[15]

According to the dictates of natural selection, this makes these defective goats “easy prey” and they should all be gone by now, no? So, why are they still around? The answer is simple: humans. We “like” them enough to protect them. For the same reason, the most common bird in the world is the chicken. We “like” them enough to make sure their population has expanded to gigantic proportions.

So, a possible evolutionary strategy, that didn’t exist before, is to “survive by being liked by humans.” You may actually possess many attributes that would make you nonviable if you were merely subjected to nature, but if you are liked by humans, you get to survive and carry on your genes. (As Exhibit A I give you the Westminster Dog Show.)

By this answer alone it should be clear that evolution has no purpose, no divine plan, no pre-conceived end product. If one acquires a mutation that allows one to survive better, one survives better (on average). If one acquires an “easy prey” mutation, one doesn’t survive better in nature. It is that simple.

Nature didn’t forsee that some species would take the route that computer companies took when those companies were designed to be bought out by Microsoft. So, in effect, we have hijacked any “original purpose” of evolution, had one actually existed. Our food plants and animals dominate the biosphere. Period.

 

April 21, 2019

My Easter Message: Anti-Indoctrination Laws

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:02 am
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Currently there are folks who are promoting anti-indoctrination laws in several states. Apparently these are laws to make sure that the theory of evolution is not taught as if it were valid scientific theory (It is.) and it does not concern at all the various efforts of churches to indoctrinate the children of the church’s members.

Every church does this, that is they “teach” their doctrines to kids to young to understand them. No one waits for the age of consent or any point in time at all. It all begins at birth. In church nurseries for kids too young to attend services are kept in a nursery (and so their parents can attend services). These nurseries will have Noah’s Ark toys (stuffed animals, too, none of them being cute ones who got drowned) and age-appropriate children’s books full of Bible stories.

This came to mind as I was in a small shop where the proprietor was listening to a foreign language program (on a cell phone), a language I do not posses, and while I was doing my business a children’s choir broke out in “Jesus Loves Me” . . . in English. I found myself fully capable of mentally singing along with the children’s voices even though I have had a lifelong problem hearing and remembering song lyrics.

Here is a short version of that song’s lyrics (all repetitions left out):

Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong

Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me,
for the Bible tells me so

Jesus loves me still today,
Walking with me on my way
Wanting as a friend to give
Light and love to all who live

Now, if you were to give a devoted Bible reader a Bible and ask them to find where in the Bible this message is delivered, would they be able to find it? If you were to give a non-believer a Bible and asked them to read it, would they come to this conclusion?

This song essentially delivers a message, rather a conclusion, one might get from reading the Bible. These messages serve a number of functions, one of which is that it is not necessary to read the Bible, all of the important messages have been packaged for you and delivered before you have an IQ.

By associating such catchy tunes with the carefree state of childhood, one immediately taps into nostalgia and good feelings every time that message/song is replayed. For the few seconds I was singing along (in my head, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket out loud) I had very positive feelings and I am a confirmed atheist.

Get them young before they start thinking for themselves, then when they do argue against that practice vigorously. If that is not an indoctrination program, I don’t know what is. And, of course, anti-indoctrination laws are needed because . . . evolution. Sheesh!

October 3, 2018

Creationist Follies

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 1:41 pm
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Creationists aren’t interested in evidence as they “have faith” … at least until the slightest glimmer of hope some evidence supports their position and then it become full bore “I told you so!” artists.

The anti-evolution strain of this sect is especially active. I wish they would use some of that energy to understand what the theory actually is and what the evidence is but that wish is rather stupid. It is me asking them to look for themselves for why they are wrong. This is not something they are wont to do and this is not surprising. I don’t find that task pleasant, either.

One of the more troubling examples of their ignorance is the recent trend to try to poke holes in evolutionary science. Currently I have seen any number of tropes about why evolution transformed us from hairy ape-like creatures to hairless ape-like creatures. They bellow “Why did we lose our fur?” Explain that evolution-tards!

<Sigh>

Okay, allow me. (And I am no expert, just an avid science-type, so feel free to pick this apart.)

Humans benefited mightily by losing their fur and the creation of wall-to-wall sweat glands. If you look no farther way from you than your dog, you will see the life of furred animals, predator and prey alike. Your dog can run like the wind, for a few minutes, and then they drop to the ground and pant like crazy. The reason? Other than a little sweat through their paws, they have no other way to get rid of excess heat.

Humans, on the other hand, when they moved out onto the savannah (possible due to Climate Change?) benefited mightily from the loss of fur and the proliferation of sweat glands.

You may know that cheetahs can achieve 70 mph in short bursts. All predators have to be fast or quick, but that exertion of muscle energy generates heat which has to be leaked into the environment. Humans, with their sweat glands all over their skin and the absence of fur that allows the air to carry away the evaporated water (evaporation takes a lot of heat and converts it into potential energy—it is cooling, Creationists) which gives them not great speed, but great stamina.

Let’s use a current marathon runner as an example. The record holders can run just over 26 miles in about two hours. Let’s call that 13 miles per hour. Any deer or antelope can easily do well in excess of 13 miles an hour. But they have to stop and rest after just a few seconds, by which time the human hunters have caught up and spook the game into sprinting away again, which it does. But then the humans catch up again. Spook, run to ground, spook, run to ground. In the end, the deer or antelope is exhausted and the human hunter can walk up and cut their throats with a knife.

This is how human hunters dominated the savannah in early Africa. We ran our prey to ground. And we could keep it up for hours because of our loss of fur (which prevents breezes from reaching the skin) and our multitude of sweat glands. This form of hunting was observed well into the 19th century in the form of hunting Native Americans. It is well documented.

So, “Why did we lose our fur? Where’s the answer Evolutionists? You now have your answer. next question, my ignorant friends.

August 2, 2018

Evolution Disbelief: Understandable … But Why?

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:36 am
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It is clear that a rejection of the theory of evolution, the cornerstone of all of biology (and other sciences) stems from religious beliefs. The question I have is: why? There are some who put all of their chips on the table (All in!) regarding this issue. They say that “if evolution is true, then Christianity is false.” This does not necessarily follow but clearly if the theory is correct (and it is as correct as a theory can be at this point in time 150 years after its first exposition) then parts of Christianity are incorrect, but there are more than a few biologists who use the theory almost daily and are also Christians.

In this argument, I think they flaw is in the “all in” attitude, making much more at stake than there really is. (This is a common ploy—over exaggerating the danger of <fill in the blank> to. Consider the early environmentalists claiming that we are destroying the planet, which is ludicrous; we are just destroying the ability of our planet to support a large population of human beings. The planet will be fine, no matter what we do. [Hint: Subduction cures all damage to the crust over time.])

In reality, most of the religious do not know enough to understand the theory in order to have an opinion. Their opinion was handed to them by their religious leaders.

But do you go to a car mechanic for medical advice? To a dentist for financial advice? Why would anyone take science advice from a cleric?

I think there is a healthy dose of wish fulfillment involved her. As much as some Christians go around preaching Christianity as the way to eternal life, according to them, everyone gets an eternal life! The only question is do you want to got to Heaven to spend all of that time or do you want to go to Hell?

Most Christians have only the vaguest idea of what Heaven will be like. I haven’t yet met one who could talk on the topic for more than a minute or two, even though they could describe their most recent vacation for hours if you would let them. So, I don’t think it is the attractiveness of Heaven that is involved, rather the fear of Hell.

Here’s the conundrum. If, as the clerics are saying is true, that the Theory of Evolution directly contradicts divine scripture, that if that theory is true, then scripture is false, why hand only scripture. The motivating factor is the avoidance of hell and you could avoid it big time … if it just didn’t exist.

I suspect that the idea of pursuing those thoughts is just too scary for most, that the warm, fuzzy ideas of Heaven and Hell (Warm?) are too familiar and besides everyone assumes they are going to Heaven, so everything is cool.

A moments thought would dispel such myths. Think back on the most pleasurable five minutes of your life. Now think of an eternity of that feeling. Boring bordering on torture! (Realize that the logical extension of just getting “some peace and quiet” is called solitary confinement which is coming to be recognized as a form of torture.) Variety is the spice of life, no? I suspect many people think their life will just continue as it has but will be much, much better. Your kids will be good looking, do well in school, taxes will be low, etc.

If you think about it, both Heaven and Hell sound like places of torture. (I just remembered the episode of The Twilight Zone in which a gambler thinks he has died and is in Heaven. There are casinos in Heaven (of course) and he wins easily when he plays. What a life. Then he twigs to the fact that not only does he win easily, but he never loses. There is no skill involved, no risk, no reward, and no pleasure. He questions his host as to why Heaven would be this way and his host comes back with (I am working from memory here) “Why do you think this is Heaven?” (Bwah, hah, hah!))

Any pleasure, ecstasy, carried to extremes creates dullness and apathy … at best. But Heaven will be different … right? Let’s ask the guy who gave us the good science advice!

 

July 13, 2018

The War on the Theory of Evolution

In all of science there are just two areas that are in major dispute in society. The dispute over the reality of Climate Change is fueled by people making money in ways that exacerbate the problem and who do not want to change because, well, they are making a great deal of money through those activities. The dispute over the validity of the Theory of Evolution in biology is fueled by theists who claim their religious ox is being gored. This is about the latter more than the former, but also about magical thinking in general.

Interestingly enough, wisdom can be had in the words of someone who suffered no little mental and physical discomfort from the theistic opposition, Galileo Galleli:

I should have added only that, through the Scripture cannot err, nevertheless some of its interpreters and expositors can sometimes err in various ways. One of these would be very serious and very frequent, namely to want to limit oneself always to the literal meaning of the words. . . .

Thus, given that in many places the Scripture is not only capable but necessarily in need of interpretations different from the apparent meaning of the words, it seems to me that in disputes about natural phenomena it should be reserved to the last place.” (Galileo Galleli in a 1613 letter to Benedetto Castelli)

Those who argue against the Theory of Evolution are showing up to a gun fight with a knife and behave accordingly. They whine and criticize and nibble around the edges but eschew engaging fully (they know they cannot win because their rich backers would be backing actual research if they thought there was any chance of their position being supported by that research–the creationists/intelligent design folks no no (zero, zip, zilch) research). The attempts to establish the validity of Jewish scripture via science (by Christians!) are pathetic at best and disingenuous and harmful at least.

You may wonder “What’s the harm?” The harm is that if one engages in magical thinking about nature, when Nature Herself provides a wonderful, neutral referee, then what are the consequences of accepting such magical thinking in society at large. As just one example, our President just claimed that under his stewardship, our Gross Domestic Product* (GDP) has doubled.

Mr. Trump was elected in November of 2016  and began to serve in January of 2017. The GDP of the U.S in 2016 was 18,624.48 billion dollars. The GDP for the year 2017 was 19,390.6 billion dollars, a 4.114% increase over the previous year. The GDP for 2018 hasn’t yet been determined (year ain’t over, yet) but even if extrapolated to today, I can’t see it would reach a 100% over 2016, which is what would be necessary to achieve a “doubling,” maybe 106% of 2016, but not 200%.”

Now, you could argue that Mr. Trump misspoke or was misinformed, but here is the problem. Should not Mr. Trump know that a doubling of GDP in a year or a year and a half is batshit crazy magical thinking? Shouldn’t he know that before making the claim, not as Donald J. Trump, but as the Fucking President of the United States? (FPOTUS?)

Mr. Trump’s supporters may believe his every utterance and that is on them for believing in magical thinking, but we cannot afford to have a President who does.

Plus, while we are blathering on about the myriad piles of verbal bullshit created out of the fevered mind of this president, his minions are doing serious damage to our democracy. They currently are packing the federal courts with people they like, people who believe in magical thinking and by the time you find out you do not like those thoughts, they will be installed on federal judiciary benches with lifetime appointments (to immunize them from political pressure, which has already been applied and vetted).

* Gross domestic product (GDP) is the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy less the value of the goods and services used up in production. GDP is also equal to the sum of personal consumption expenditures, gross private domestic investment, net exports of goods and services, and government consumption expenditures and gross investment.

 

December 18, 2017

Where Do Thoughts Come From?

Filed under: Philosophy,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:31 am
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My free will post has suggested a couple of follow-ups. One such topic is the illusions of consciousness. A common manifestation of one of these is the general idea that we control our thoughts, that we create our own conscious thoughts, well, consciously.

It ain’t so, I am afraid.

Any one who has spent time learning to meditate can attest to this. Part of meditation is clearing one’s mind of thoughts, to experience some “peace of mind,” as it were. This is a bitch, if you will excuse the expression. Our consciousness essentially bubbles with unbidden thoughts. If we create them, why can we not just turn them off?

The simple answer is we can’t because “we” do not create them. The obvious question then is, “Well, then who does?”

I do not know and I do not think anyone else knows, but I can hazard an educated guess. It all stems from imagination. Imagination seems to be a mental ability that manifests itself in us creating a simulacrum of reality in our heads and then we can “imagine” or basically do experiments in that imaginary world with no real repercussions if “mistakes are made.” This ability leads to a much greater ability to survive and pass on our genes, aka evolutionary success. Consider an animal operating on instinct, that is hardwired mental programs. We are out of the African savanna, where humans evolved to our current form, and there is tall grass with a rustling in it a bit of a ways off. It could just be a gust of wind, or it could be a predator, moving through the grass coming their way. The animal becomes more alert, using vision and hearing to detect clues as to what it is. If there is no further disturbance, they go about their business. Predators, of course, learned from this behavior, learned to advance toward the prey stealthily … and then stop from time to time in utter stillness, to get the prey to ignore the stimulus of its approach. The prey animals, if they see or hear certain stimuli run away (the response is “fight or flight” and prey animals are better at the latter).

When we developed imagination as a mental tool, then we had more options. For one we could imagine that the disturbance was due to a wind zephyr and then imagine it was due to a predator. The consequences of the disturbance being due to a predator are far worse, so adopting a strategy of moving off now would be the most prudent. (This, of course, led us to believe in unseen movers and shakers we called spirits, demons, gods, etc.)

Now, if we were thinkers only in the conscious sense, we would have to stop what we were thinking, analyze the situation, run a few simulations through our imagination, and then act or not on what we learned. If this were the basis of the mutation/adaption that gave us imagination, we would have ended up in the bellies of predators too frequently and that mutation/adaption would have proved “non-viable” because it is too slow. Instead, our subconscious mental processing power kicks in to create all kinds of such things at a rate much faster than we can do consciously. (Remember, subconscious mental activities are the “fast” in Kahneman’s Thinking: Fast and Slow.) So, the subconscious “us” has the job of rapidly exploring myriad scenarios and alerting the conscious “us” if one of them reaches “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!” levels.

We have evolved to generate thoughts that correspond to real reality and imagined reality. So, these come at us fast and furiously. Most of these subconscious thoughts that leak into our conscious are ignored as they carry little weight. If something is really serious, we get signals we cannot ignore, including heart palpitations, sweating, panting breaths, etc. As I mentioned, we do not have much, if any, conscious control over our bodily functions.

Some of us are better at this and some are worse. If we are better at generating images, thoughts, patterns, etc. then we find meditating more difficult, because of the sheer volume of such things flitting about. If we are less imaginatively energetic, meditation comes easier. (One is not necessarily better than the other, just different.)

I suspect an individual’s creativity comes from an ability to access that river of thoughts and images and feelings that are running through our brains subconsciously. Those people will have more options for artistic expression or really any other form of expression.

This is all quite speculative, of course, but I suspect there may be a grain or two of truth in it. We will see as currently we are learning a great deal more about non-conscious modes of thought. (Thank you, inventors of brain scanners.) But do keep in mind that we do not yet know how memories are storied, a basic function of our mentality, so we are just at the beginnings of understand such subjects. We might even get a handle on whether there is such a thing as free will.

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