The Evolution Of Our Eyes

If evolution by natural selection takes place in gradual, step by step modifications and improvements over time, then how could something as complicated as the eye have formed?  After all, what good would a quarter of an eye be?  Wouldn’t the eye be an all or nothing kind of thing?

In this short video, learn for yourself how eyes have evolved in various species across our planet.  (In fact, eyes have evolved many different times along several different lines. Not all of us living beings on planet Earth use the same “model” of eye).

Why Do You Get Up In The Morning?

It’s passages like these that make me love Richard Dawkins,

After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked – as I am surprisingly often – why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn’t it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?

The poet Kathleen Raine, who read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, specializing in Biology, found related solace as a young woman unhappy in love and desperate for relief from heartbreak:

Then the sky spoke to me in language clear, familiar as the heart, than love more near. The sky said to my soul, ‘You have what you desire! ‘Know now that you are born along with these clouds, winds, and stars,
and ever-moving seas and forest dwellers. This your nature is. ‘Lift up your heart again without fear, sleep in the tomb, or breathe the living air, this world you with the flower and with the tiger share.’

– Richard Dawkins, Unweaving The Rainbow

The End Of God?

This is probably one of the best BBC documentaries I’ve seen.  It first goes into the historical debate between science and religion, and the conflicts there have been.  Next they get into the brain and show how scientists have created a helmet which artificially induces 80% of the people wearing it to have transcendental religious experiences.  Using magnetic fields, they can induce activity within the temporal lobe, giving the wearer a feeling that a greater presence is there in the room with them.

They also talk about what actually happens in meditation and how monks can lose their sense of self.  They show how during deep meditation, blood flow to the parietal lobe greatly decreases.  That area of the brain is a core processing center for our sense of self, our environment, spatial relations, and the processing of time.  Remember how I’ve been telling you guys about my studies into how our brain processes space and time?  That area is core to linking our mental objects together into a spatial orientation and processing the information.  Decreased activity there is basically like your limbs of your body and your orientation to your environment just fading away.  But the thing is, during this sort of meditation, not all brain activity has ceased.  The other areas are still active; so if say the music in the room continues to play, you still hear it and derive the pleasures from it.  I guess you could say it’s almost as if  you’re floating in some timeless expanse, floating in the melodies, everything being connected like a great ocean.  The areas of the brain which divide the world up into objects and their relations have went temporarily dormant.

So what’s this “fading” of the self like?  What is this “nirvana” Buddhists speak of?  Well, what sort of brain functions are being lost?  Let’s examine.

Within the parietal lobe you find various areas such as the lateral intraparietal (LIP), which makes various objects in the environment pop out at you.  It gives you an awareness of the things around you and their general location, based on incoming information from your senses.  The ventral intraparietal (VIP)  serves a similar function, taking information from the senses and forming a sense of space.  The anterior intraparietal (AIP) is particularly geared around consciousness of the geometric shapes of objects around you with the express purpose of grasping them with your hands.  Our hands are very important to us and we use them a lot.  We have special brain areas dedicated to grasping things.  Other areas within the parietal lobe are in charge of our sense of navigation and route planning (how to move and orient the body to get from point A to point B).

These are the sorts of brain areas which have went dormant during meditation, hence they lose their sense of space and time.  Their sense of having a body with limbs in relative positions within an environment has gone away.  They are correct when they say that they felt dis-embodied.

I’ve been reading a book called The Essential Bohm all day today.  It’s a collection of the works of David Bohm, one of the world’s most famous quantum physicists.   He was one of Albert Einstein’s best friends and at one point, I believe, was one of his assistants.  They collaborated greatly on quantum theory and relativity research.  Bohm was also involved in the Manhatten project, though was denied a security clearance because of his communist leanings.  But anyways, he was involved in this same sort of research, studying neuroscience.  On his Wikipedia page you find this:

The holonomic model of the brain

Bohm also made substantial theoretical contributions to neuropsychology and the development of the holonomic model of the functioning of the brain. In collaboration with Stanford neuroscientist Karl Pribram, Bohm helped establish the foundation for Pribram’s theory that the brain operates in a manner similar to a hologram, in accordance with quantum mathematical principles and the characteristics of wave patterns. These wave forms may compose hologram-like organizations, Bohm suggested, basing this concept on his application of Fourier analysis, a mathematical method for decomposing complex waves into component sine waves. The holonomic brain model developed by Pribram and Bohm posits a lens defined world view, much like the textured prismatic effect of sunlight refracted by the churning mists of a rainbows; this view is quite different from the more conventional “objective reality” model. (Pribram held that if psychology means to understand the conditions that produce the world of appearances, it must look to the thinking of physicists like Bohm.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bohm

It gets even better though.  In the program (found below), they showed that nuns in deep prayer lose blood flow in these same areas of the brain.  It’s likely that all religious experience comes from the same changes in brain activity. All these people from different faiths are having the same experiences, they’re just inducing it by different means.

It’s amazing how when you study science, it all ties together.  The more you study it, it’s like you’re always being handed more and more jig-saw puzzle pieces, and they all start snapping together.  At first each subject you study is its own thing, seemingly disparate from the others.  With time though, it all comes together.  Math, physics, neuroscience, religious psychology… who’d have thought they’d snap together so well?  But that’s what real science does – it ties everything together.

In the last segment they talk about feelings great thinkers have had when they felt a “oneness” in the elegance of the laws of our universe, and even in the sheer improbability of our own existence.  I’ve talked it up enough.  Watch it for yourself  🙂

Politics Is Becoming A Circus

After seeing Sarah Palin near well become our vice president, I thought that America’s stupidity couldn’t possibly get any worse.   During the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, I thought I’d seen it all.

She was arrogant, stupid, and thrown off balance by simple questions.  Katie Couric asked her, “What publications do you regularly read?”  She basically replied, “Read?  Oohhhhh.  I read em’ all.”  And it definitely shows, doesn’t it? *rolls eyes*

She’s a beautiful woman who they hoped would infuse energy into the Republican party.  She’s beautiful alright, but her head’s full of air.  I don’t think anyone could anticipate how badly she’d perform.  I think the McCain campaign realized their mistake not long afterward and tried to salvage things the best they could.  They tried to prep her for the interviews, but she was beyond help.  She improved a little, but overall they failed.  She started to jumble up all the political one-liners Karl Rove was giving her, and it was an absolute disaster.

You’d think those interviews would’ve destroyed her political career.  You’d think she would have been silently brushed aside and never heard from again.  But what happens?  She becomes a top news contributor at Fox News, has interviews near every day on all the top news networks, and has millions of people following everything she says.  Even liberal networks cover every little thing she does.

The people of this country must be really dumb.  When I walk around the store buying groceries, I can’t help but wonder to myself, “Are these people I’m seeing Sarah Palin supporters?  How about that woman over there? Or that guy over there?”

And get this guys, the stupidity seems to be multiplying.  Now we have a woman named Christine O’Donnell, whose stupidity trumps even that of Palin.  Behold the Republican nominee for state senator of Delaware!

To her, evolution is just a theory with no evidence to back it.

Well, as the senator from Tennessee mentioned, evolution is a theory and it’s exactly that. There is not enough evidence, consistent evidence to make it as fact, and I say that because for theory to become a fact, it needs to consistently have the same results after it goes through a series of tests. The tests that they put — that they use to support evolution do not have consistent results. Now too many people are blindly accepting evolution as fact. But when you get down to the hard evidence, it’s merely a theory. But creation — well, creationism, in essence, is believing that the world began as the Bible in Genesis says, that God created the Earth in six days, six 24-hour periods. And there is just as much, if not more, evidence supporting that.
– Christine O’Donnell

Here’s some more quotations from her,

“It is not enough to be abstinent with other people, you also have to be be abstinent alone. The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery, so you can’t masturbate without lust.”

“God may choose to heal someone from cancer, yet that person still has a great deal of medical bills. The outstanding bills do not determine whether or not the patient has been healed by God.”

“A candidate said several years ago, ‘I’m not concerned the reason you vote for me as long as you vote for me.'”

“If we as a nation tolerate sin, generations to come will reap the effects of that. For example, we took the Bible and prayer out of public schools, now we’re having weekly shootings practically.”

– Various quotations from Christine O’Donnell

What about the 12 year old boy who committed suicide because he felt guilty for masturbating?  How can people saying such stupid things possibly get political support?

I guess Christine wants us to go back to faith healing and praying to God for miracles.  She’s definitely not going to be a supporter of scientific research, I can assure you all of that.

She tells everyone it’s always a “sin” to lie, then believes she can tell her constituents anything in order to get elected.  And apparently, because we’ve ruled it unconstitutional to force kids to partake in religious events in public schools, we’re on our road to weekly school shootings.  You’re either a Christian or you’re obviously a murdering scumbag with no hope of any sort.

This nation is becoming what you find in the movie Idiocracy.

If these were small fringe groups with very little support, I wouldn’t even be talking about it.  But sadly, Sarah Palin may well run for President in 2012 and she may even win.  It’s scary.

I wonder how long before this becomes a real TV show.

I love Woody Allen

I don’t watch many movies but I do love Woody Allen’s work.  His latest film You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is about a woman whose marriage falls apart, leading her to seek comfort in the supernatural.  I haven’t yet had the chance to see it yet, but I plan to.

The New York Times interviewed Woody, asking him questions about topics covered in the film.  I just love the guy.

“To me,” Mr. Allen said, “there’s no real difference between a fortune teller or a fortune cookie and any of the organized religions. They’re all equally valid or invalid, really. And equally helpful.”

Q. The ideas of psychic powers and past lives, or at least people who believe in them, are central to your latest film. What got you interested in writing about them?

A. I was interested in the concept of faith in something. This sounds so bleak when I say it, but we need some delusions to keep us going. And the people who successfully delude themselves seem happier than the people who can’t. I’ve known people who have put their faith in religion and in fortune tellers. So it occurred to me that that was a good character for a movie: a woman who everything had failed for her, and all of a sudden, it turned out that a woman telling her fortune was helping her. The problem is, eventually, she’s in for a rude awakening.

Q. What seems more plausible to you, that we’ve existed in past lives, or that there is a God?

A. Neither seems plausible to me. I have a grim, scientific assessment of it. I just feel, what you see is what you get.

….

Q. Were you prepared for the firestorm of media coverage you set off by casting Carla Bruni-Sarkozy in your next movie, “Midnight in Paris”?

A. I was very surprised at the level of journalism that occurred in relation to her. She has a small part in the movie — a real part, but it’s a small part. And I shot with her the first day, and then all the papers said she was terrible, and I did 32 takes with her. Of course I didn’t even do 10 takes with her. This was just a magical number that some guy created in a room. Then they printed that her husband came to the set and was angry with her. He came to the set once, and he was delighted. He felt she was a natural actress and couldn’t have been happier.

Q. That would make a good blurb for the movie poster.

A. For some reason, the press wanted to say bad things about her. I don’t know if they had something against the Sarkozys, or it was a better way to sell papers. But the fabrications were so wild and so completely fake, and I wondered to myself, Is this what happens with Afghanistan and the economy and matters of real significance? This is a trivial matter. That’s a longwinded answer to your question: I was not prepared for the amount of press that was attached to the picture because of Madame Sarkozy.

I love Woody’s honesty.  This sort of thing goes to show you the quality of journalism within the mainstream media these days.  They didn’t even bother sending someone down to talk with Woody, or inquire with others involved in the film as to how good an actress Carla Bruni is.  Instead they just make things up and publish it, without the least concern for factual accuracy.  This is why I don’t even take the news seriously.  I agree with him regarding the media’s coverage of the wars and our economy.  I can’t help but think that most of it’s all made up.

As for life and death, I sympathize strongly with his position, but when I hear top physicists like Dr. Stephen Hawking advocating that all possible universes exist simultaneously, I find myself standing back a little thinking, “I’m not really sure what’s going on with life and death.”

If Hawking is right, then when I die, in a weird way I still exist.  Every possible Jason still exists and has always existed.  I remember having a crush on a girl in high school.  Maybe in a parallel universe I end up marrying her, we live together in some suburban household, I work some computer job, and that’s what my life is.  I guess that possible universe exists right now, and has always existed.  How I would get there and experience it (or even if I’d want to), is a mystery to me.  But apparently, somehow, it may well exist.  If that’s so, then I really have to rethink what it means to be alive.

I’m becoming pretty knowledgeable in physics, but I’m still nowhere near knowledgeable enough to know whether Hawking is right or not.  I haven’t studied M-theory at all.  I have a feeling that when I get around to studying all of it within the next few years, I still won’t know what to think of it one way or the other, but we’ll wait and see.

The idea that all possible universes exist concurrently is so bizarre to me, I can’t even wrap my head around it.  I can’t even understand half of what’s going on here on planet Earth, and I certainly don’t even remotely understand this universe, much less all the other possible universes.  I’m certainly not religious, but if you are to ask me about life and death, I’ll have to reply, “I have no idea.”  My position on many of life’s difficult questions is simply, “I don’t know.”

That whole train of thought leads to such incredible conclusions and you’re bound to go insane thinking about it all.  If all of these possible realities exist, the question still remains – why am I experiencing this world as Jason, in this body, in this universe, at this time?  I don’t know.  Have I lived before this?  I don’t know.  Will I live again?  I don’t know.  I just don’t know.  I don’t understand why my consciousness exists in this body.  Why am I experiencing this time-line of all possible time-lines?

I have been entertaining an idea that when matter comes together in certain patterns (such as our brains), somehow consciousness can operate within it and we live as long as that structure holds.  If I was to develop lesions in my brain, whatever areas are damaged, I lose various degrees of consciousness.  Whatever consciousness may be, it’s very tightly tied to my physical existence, particularly my brain.

Just thinking about it and observing, as a baby grows in the womb the brain seems to develop consciousness gradually.  That’s what happened with me.  I just sort of woke up one day, just as I do every morning, and was here.  I don’t see why it couldn’t happen again, even as a different sort of creature in a different universe.  The thing is though, if all possible universes exist simultaneously, then my brain (and all possible variations of it), has always existed and will always exist, and it never came into existence at some time.  That whole theory falls to the ground.  *Shakes head and throws hands up in the air*  I have no idea.  I’m an agnostic when it comes to questions about life.  I know the bodies we live within evolved; outside of that, I don’t know how or why consciousness enters them.