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Posted: 15 April 2005 04:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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Peregrine:

Thanks for the comment.  I didn’t mean to give the impression that I am dismissive of my fanciful thinking, just that I recognize that such huge intuitive leaps ought not be translated into instructions for living without at least a little academic due dilligence. <g>

I’m not sure that I am quite on board with the notion of energy being intelligent, per se.  I think that the potential for intelligence probably arises where patterns are capable of forming, and having both some amount of longevitiy, but also some amount of meaningful interaction with other patterns.  In that sense, when there is both energy and medium, (such as is the case in the universe) those most basic conditions are present.

Another thought that I have often had, as long as we are on the subject, is that what we think of as intelligence, is actually a phenomenon that is repeated at many levels of the universe from the extremely microscopic to the extremely macroscopic, and to a truly detached observer, zooming in and out might be like zooming in and out of a fractal.

As a cautionary note, for better or for worse, this kind of thinking sometimes leads me to wonder at the “character” of nations and corporate “entities”.  As highly patterned collections of highly patterned beings, they very well might actually take on some of what we consider to be the “emergent” properties of mentation that people seem to view as provincially human by default.

I agree wholeheartedly that the what if kind of mindset is precious, and should not be crushed.  There is a fine line between being a comitted rationalist, and going overboard and risking damage to such a basic and dear part of what it is to be human.

Keep thinking, and keep wondering.

-Matt

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Posted: 15 April 2005 05:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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Speaking of flowery thoughts, Susan, even I can get one or two on occasion.

A dream recently taught me something about how religion, of all things, can enhance life meaning. I remember waking up at three in the morning. My bedside radio was quietly playing Slavic music. I’d been having a dream for what seemed like a long time and when I woke up I felt confused. How was that out of the ordinary?, one might ask.

Although the dream itself has of course left my memory, I remember feeling mentally bifurcated. That is, I felt as alienated as ever from the Catholicism of my boyhood, but at the same time I felt a deep potential appreciation for religion itself.

All I remember about the dream was that it consisted of strong appreciation of religious celebration. The Eastern-European music coming from my radio caused me to assume that it was some wee-hour Chanukah celebration, since it was mid-December. Part of the reason I don’t remember the dream is that nothing actually took place in the dream, except for a deep feeling of peace associated with Jewish ceremony. It opened my eyes to the potential of a religion that does not engage in mind control and other abusive tactics.

Dave

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Posted: 15 April 2005 06:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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Matt, I like that image of fractal intelligence.  And I like your reference to a truly detached observer.  Detachment is difficult for many people to experience, and very often the necessary key to grasping a concept.

I don’t view fanciful possibility thinking even remotely as instructions for living.  I think of it much more similar to a rubber band… sometimes we have to stretch our minds a bit before they can be effectively used.

There is a big gap between Susan’s dancing spirits and absolutely nothing.  Many people who are grasping for answers as they move away from religion too often get stymied with the idea of absolutely nothing.  That cripples their ability to let go of comforting beliefs.  If it takes fanciful thinking to open their minds to a universe full of possibilities, then rational thinking can evolve naturally, at least to some balancing degree.  Considering our current culture, there is much more to gain than to lose. 

In my view, creative thinking and rational thinking are dependent upon each other.  Rational thinking is the dedicated work of science, but creative thinking is the inspiration factor.
Perhaps that is just another way of viewing your fractals?


Dave, you said:

It opened my eyes to the potential of a religion that does not engage in mind control and other abusive tactics.

I would define that religion as spirituality, combined with the celebration and ritual that seems to nurture us as human beings.  I think many of our pre-Christian ancestors were very adept at practicing that religion.


To both of you:  Your flowery thoughts reassure me that the softer side is not lost when committed rationality is the order of the day.  Thanks.

Maggie

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Posted: 15 April 2005 07:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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Maggie:

Yes, the detached observer is important.  Of course, I strongly doubt that there is truly such a thing as a detached observer, but we can do our best to create one as a sort of construct.

I know that you don’t want to go writing holy books filled with rules based on fanciful insights, I guess I am just succumbing to the disclaimer ridden nature of my culture, and making sure that someone does not try to twist my musings to mean something that they don’t.

You are pretty much dead on with respect to reason and creativity (at least IMHO).  Reason without a motive (which is often creativity) is a dead thing.  Reason is a tool, and must be brandished with a purpose.  Similarly, though, creativity without reason can run amok.  You are also right to wonder if this might be another aspect of my fractaline perspective on the subject.  If we look at subatomic particles, or single celled organizms, or humans, or galaxies, we find replicating patterns.  We also find agitating forces (chaos/creativity) and limiting forces (reason/gravity) which oppose each other, but work together to produce what we think of as reality.  Many (though by no means to an exact degree) of the ways that these opposing forces interact are very similar causing the “shape” or “flavor” of these interactions to be recognizable as being of a type.

In people, these two potentials sometimes wind up pronounced in one person, leading to someone that we might think of as a genius.  More often, it seems, people tend to be stronger in one or the other.  As long as there is mutual respect, teams consisting of both types of people can accomplish wonderful things because of the complimentary nature of such a pairing.

I love this stuff!  If only this message board served coffee, I would be in hea. . .  Well, a really nice place. <g>

-Matt

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Posted: 15 April 2005 08:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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[quote author=“Conservative Atheist”]‘Scuse me while I plug my laptop into the wall plug to connect with God. 

My battery God seems to be running down .....seems to be pretty un-God-like to me! ;>)

Maybe God is just a super “energizer bunny”?

I guess that I was pretty flippant in the above post………probably because I did not think that the original post by fencesitter was serious.  Now, it seems to me that it may have been sincere after all, and I will try to offer a more considered response.

Could….. God = Energy?  Or God = Entropy? Or God = E = mc^2?

Although they cannot prove it, (as a fundamental assumption) most scientists believe that the universe operates by an immutable set of rules, laws or principles that can be expressed in the language of mathematics.  They believe that those rules operate consistently throughout the universe and do not change by location or time. Most assume that these rules are ultimately understandable by humans and accordingly devote their lives in the attempt to gain such understanding.  They further believe that, if fully understood, these rules could be used to accurately model and predict the behavior of the observable universe.

Thus far, there is encouraging evidence that these assumptions may well be valid.  We have developed a pretty good understanding of a number of the rules.
 
For example, Maxwell discovered the relationship between electricity and magnetism. Thanks to Einstein, we understand gravity, space-time, and the relationship between matter and energy.  Heisenberg gave us quantum mechanics.

However, our knowledge is still uneven, disconnected, incomplete and somewhat spotty.
While much is understood and our understanding is growing exponentially, there is still much that remains unknown.  Is the universe finite or infinite? What is the nature of dark energy and dark matter?  What happened at moment of the “big bang”?  What preceded that event?  What goes on inside of a “black hole”?  Etc.  Etc. Etc………..
 
Furthermore, knitting of the various pieces of our understanding together into a unified “theory of everything” has thus far eluded our most brilliant scientists.  We cannot yet connect all of the dots.  Like the 8 blind men, we understand a number of very interesting things about various parts of the elephant but, cannot not yet fathom the whole.

Many religions (like the Inuit) attempt to find evidence of God in the gaps.  “What is beyond our mere mortal understanding must be God’s work!”  Or, to quote The Champ, “Where are the bones?” 

However, the gaps are being rapidly filled by new scientific discoveries every day. 

Suppose for a moment that human scientific knowledge were to eventually progress to the point that we have successfully filled in all of the gaps and connected all of the dots and know exactly HOW the universe works.

At that point, will we know the mind of God as the mathematician who wrote the rules?  Will we be omniscient?  Will we ourselves be Gods?  …………….Or, will we understand that there are no supernatural forces and that the God of the gaps does not and never has existed?

My guess is that it will be the latter…….. God will not be found in the rules or their mathematical representations. 

If so, will religious belief finally cease to exist?

I don’t think so because we will have not yet answered or even addressed the question of WHY the rules exist.

Philosophers and theologians would be best served by focusing their attention on the question of WHY rather than trying to find God in either the dots or the gaps of human scientific knowledge.

No…..God does not equal Energy, Entropy or E = mc^2!

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Posted: 15 April 2005 10:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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CA:

You raise a good point, and one that has kept me awake many a night.  In that hypothetical future in which mankind has teased out a unified theory of everything, what will we believe about the nature of being?

I think that the true ultimate question is this:  “Why is there anything as opposed to nothing?”  God, cosmology, evolution. . . None of these things give us an answer, and, for me at least, none of these even has an obvious way of delivering an answer anytime soon.  Perhaps the answer is beyond human comprehension.  Perhaps the answer is beyond all comprehension.  Perhaps our universe is one giant attempt to understand it.  Intuitively, I suppose that there must have been, at some point in reality, a truly spontaneous event.  Everything that we know must be the product of such an event.

For me, this is my spirituality.  The fact that my tiny meat brain can even phrase the question fills me with a sense of wonder, almost as if in the very asking I am resonating with a lingering “why” the casts its echoes across the whole of the universe.

In a way, I guess, this is what frustrates me the most about fundamentalists.  The fact that most of them don’t seem to be comfortable with this question, or answer it in the most dismissive of ways.  Perhaps this is the true nature of dogmatic belief systems.  As humanity developed sufficient mental prowess, the contemplation of this question became possible, inevitable even.  Perhaps this is the true abyss that is echoed in various beliefs of hell.  The fear of hell would be a fear of the return to this nothingness that seems as though it ought to be instead of what is.  That hell was too terrifying, though, and so it too had to be populated, because even demons seemed better than the emptiness.  In a very literal way, then, a dogmatic belief in God does protect one from the abyss.  As for me, I don’t fear the abyss, I intend to shine the brightest light upon it that I can summon, and either chart its edges, or marvel at its darkness.

-Matt

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Posted: 16 April 2005 01:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
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[quote author=“Conservative Atheist”]
No…..God does not equal Energy, Entropy or E = mc^2!

Wow!  After such an knowledgeable and well expressed post, I was startled to see such a statement.

So you know this is true?  You have proof?  Please don’t discredit your intelligent insight with such a scientifically dogmatic statement.  Someone might read that as an established fact rather than a personl (though reasoned) belief.

I personally would much rather concentrate on accepting the mystery as the manifestation of those naturally occurring laws, and peer into that abyss with wonder.  With god out of the equation, I have no need to understand why.  It would be sufficient to merely marvel and “be”.

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Posted: 16 April 2005 03:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]  
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[quote author=“fencesitter”]SkepticX - Glad we’re sort of on the same page. I was quite content to think that there at least must be a creator since something can’t come from nothing. Now I think… who knows. Do you fear death? Not what happens after death, but the act of dying itself? Yes we are dying as soon as we are born, but do you feel any fear towards the very end of you? Another question I have for you is, do you feel you have a purpose? If not, then how do you choose to live your life? Ever so curious.

I fear the event of death as any healthy human does (self-preservation), but what really scares me is what doesn’t happen afterword. It’s an unknown, but there’s no valid reason to believe we exist in any way other than in the memories of others after we die, and the idea of my own non-existence is very troublesome for me, to put it mildly.

Purpose is something we all have to manage for ourselves. Believers no less so than non-believers—they’ve just gone with a popular, established strategy. They’re fooling themselves (as with so many other things) by pretending this purpose they’re often so proud of is really any different than the prupose a non-believer has come up with through the natural course of life (i.e. ideally being true to one’s own nature).

It’s very much the same with morality and ethics, and I’d argue that by taking up these issues personally, we have the capacity to do far better than by ordering our morals, ethics and purpose out of a millennia-old catalog.

As for me, I’ve always been very people-oriented and have no sense of “standard” ambition. I like to play music (trombone), think and analyze (“contemplate my navel” as my mom calls it), and interract positively with other people (including arming those less inclined to do so themselves as best I can against nonsense). That’s pretty much what I’m about.

Byron

[ Edited: 16 April 2005 04:16 AM by ]
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Posted: 16 April 2005 04:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]  
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[quote author=“Rasmussen”][quote author=“Nietzsche”]God either means what religious people say it means (the big guy upstairs who is going to kick your butt someday) or it means absolutley nothing.

I realize that my concept of god is way too flowery for you, man of science that you are, but do you really mean what you wrote up there?  That either God is the God of organized religion or he can’t exist?


First—excellent post!

Not to speak for Nietzsche, but I’d suggest he meant (or, the valid form of the argument is) that if “god” doesn’t mean what believers say, the whole supernatural paradigm is meaningless.

But as you so colorfully and effectively illustrated, there’s plenty of meaning to be derived from the cosmos—the natural world. Appealing to the supernatural only cheapens it, diminishes it (and therefore us).

Byron

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“We say, ‘Love your brother…’ We don’t say it really, but… Well we don’t literally say it. We don’t really, literally mean it. No, we don’t believe it either, but… But that message should be clear.”—David St. Hubbins

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Posted: 16 April 2005 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]  
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[quote author=“ConservativeAthiest”]Although they cannot prove it, (as a fundamental assumption) most scientists believe that the universe operates by an immutable set of rules, laws or principles that can be expressed in the language of mathematics. They believe that those rules operate consistently throughout the universe and do not change by location or time. Most assume that these rules are ultimately understandable by humans and accordingly devote their lives in the attempt to gain such understanding. They further believe that, if fully understood, these rules could be used to accurately model and predict the behavior of the observable universe.

This may have been a reasonable description of the state of scientists’ beliefs at the middle of the last decade.  But things are a little less settled now.  I offer just a few examples of “questions” arising.

Stephan Wolfram (creator of Mathematica) rails against math as usual (i.e., the calculus) in “A New Kind of Science”.  He argues for a discrete basis for the universe and attempts to demonstrate how cellular automata operating under (as you say) simple laws can lead to complex forms and behaviors. The problem here is that all of our conventional mathematical tools are useless in providing a means of adequately describing the universe. Seems ironic that the man credited with making higher math accessible to even non-mathmaticians should now claim that math is irrelevant to understanding the universe!

Stuart Kauffman, a theoretical biologist, suspects that the universe is almost imperceptably non-ergodic.  Using a scheme somewhat related to Wolfram’s cellular automata—called Boolean networks—Kauffman argues that order emerges from the interactions of complex networks and that there is a forward (though not teleological) drive that counters the entropy law.  This would seem to imply that there might be law-like rules, i.e., they operate in a non-changing way for all time and space.  But this law-like character is just a result of our being unable (as yet) of measuring the change. See Kauffman’s “At Home in the Universe”.

John Barrow has written an excellent review of the “constants” of nature. Constants such as G, the gravitational constant, or Planck’s constant, h, are becoming suspect for real constancy under some theories of cosmology being worked out today.  See, “The Constants of Nature”.

Another intriguing possibility is offered by a young theoretical physicist, Joao Magueijo, who has offered an alternative to conventional (if such a term can be applied!) string theory as a TOE (theory of everything).  He raises questions about the speed of light - claimed to be a constant via Einstein’s relativity theory.

So, there seems to be some questions about the laws of nature and the use of mathematics to adequately describe those laws.  Of course that doesn’t mean we can treat these as laws (and constants) as long as they produce usefull predictions.  It just means that we seem to be far from having something approaching a complete understanding of how the universe works.  Its food for thought anyway.

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Posted: 16 April 2005 04:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]  
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[quote author=“tyhts”]All I remember about the dream was that it consisted of strong appreciation of religious celebration. The Eastern-European music coming from my radio caused me to assume that it was some wee-hour Chanukah celebration, since it was mid-December. Part of the reason I don’t remember the dream is that nothing actually took place in the dream, except for a deep feeling of peace associated with Jewish ceremony. It opened my eyes to the potential of a religion that does not engage in mind control and other abusive tactics.


What that sounds like to me is that you isolated the sense of human interconnection religion can provide its flock. The connections between us are inherently extremely powerful (we’re a social species with a hyperactive brain after all). Paradoxically that’s why religion is also so deeply, profoundly self-destructive to us.

It appeals to believers through that very power and then, when they’ve taken the bait, religion shuts the door of the trap behind them, closing them off from experiening it beyond the isolated community of fellow trap-mates.

Byron

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Posted: 16 April 2005 05:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]  
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[quote author=“nyx”][quote author=“Conservative Atheist”]
No…..God does not equal Energy, Entropy or E = mc^2!

Wow!  After such an knowledgeable and well expressed post, I was startled to see such a statement.

So you know this is true?  You have proof?  Please don’t discredit your intelligent insight with such a scientifically dogmatic statement.  Someone might read that as an established fact rather than a personl (though reasoned) belief.

Of course that is my personal opinion.  It is based primarily upon the observation that historically, whenever we have developed a scientific understanding of something (e.g. the northern lights worshiped by the Inuit) we have not attributed the phenomenon to the God of that particular gap.  Rather, we have concluded that it is that natural outcome of applying the rules of nature.  As a result, the Gods of the gaps have steadily atrophied over time. 

Whereas, many gaps still exist, I see no reason that this historical trend should not continue indefinitely which does not bode well for gap Gods.

I did not say that God does not exist (although that is my personal opinion) but rather that if he/she exists, he/she will not be found either in the natural rules/laws that we understand or in the gaps of our scientific understanding.

Rather, the place to look is in the area unexplored by science……. which is the question of WHY. 

[quote author=“nyx”]I personally would much rather concentrate on accepting the mystery as the manifestation of those naturally occurring laws, and peer into that abyss with wonder.  With god out of the equation, I have no need to understand why.  It would be sufficient to merely marvel and “be”.

Whatever floats your boat!

However, I think that even if all of the natural laws were fully understood, the curiosity of man would still be asking the question; “WHY?”

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Posted: 16 April 2005 05:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]  
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It appeals to believers through that very power and then, when they’ve taken the bait, religion shuts the door of the trap behind them, closing them off from experiening it beyond the isolated community of fellow trap-mates.

Byron, you’re exactly right. My dream allowed me to experience certain feelings without the negative religious baggage.

But what about Judaism? That religion, it would seem to me, excells in allowing—even encouraging and assisting—its practitioners in their exploration and understanding of the world.

Dave

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Posted: 16 April 2005 05:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]  
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[quote author=“Anonymous”]So, there seems to be some questions about the laws of nature and the use of mathematics to adequately describe those laws.  Of course that doesn’t mean we can treat these as laws (and constants) as long as they produce usefull predictions.  It just means that we seem to be far from having something approaching a complete understanding of how the universe works.  Its food for thought anyway.

I fully agree that we are a long way from totally understanding the natural laws of the universe.  Many questions remain to be answered and many more will be raised in the future.  I expect it is highly likely that, as we learn more, our current understanding of these rules will undergo significant change. Furthermore, I have little doubt that our current tools and language (e.g. mathematics) are inadequate to derive and fully express the complexity of nature.

However, I see none of these as insurmountable impediments to our continued progress toward a much fuller (if not eventually full) scientific understanding of the rules.

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Posted: 16 April 2005 06:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]  
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[quote author=“psiconoclast”]CA:

You raise a good point, and one that has kept me awake many a night.  In that hypothetical future in which mankind has teased out a unified theory of everything, what will we believe about the nature of being?

I think that the true ultimate question is this:  “Why is there anything as opposed to nothing?”  God, cosmology, evolution. . . None of these things give us an answer, and, for me at least, none of these even has an obvious way of delivering an answer anytime soon. Perhaps the answer is beyond human comprehension.  Perhaps the answer is beyond all comprehension.

That is exactly the point.  The WHY question is not within the realm of science which does not even attempt to ask the question or find an answer.  Science will not and cannot provide the WHY answer one way or the other. 

WHY is strictly in the realm of philosophy and/or theology which does attempt to answer the question but has not and almost certainly cannot either.

However, not having an answer or even the prospect of an answer has not and does not prevent man from asking.

It seems to me that a question with no reasonable possibility of an answer is one that best be withdrawn.

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