Je Suis Charlie

January 8, 2015

A group of radical Islamist extremists went into the offices of the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing twelve of their staff members.  Angry over a satirical cartoon depicting their prophet Mohammed, they armed themselves with AK-47s and gunned down all the cartoonists and several others while exclaiming, “God is Great” and “We have avenged the prophet”.  They then made their getaway and are still on the loose.

The image below says, “We are Charlie”.  We all stand in solidarity against men like them, trying to silence free speech through violence.  There’s no place for these kinds of people in the modern world.


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Peace In Unchanging Things

December 28, 2014

The other day I found myself reading Spinoza’s Ethics and I came across a quote which really jumped out at me.


He argued that we should only attach ourselves to things which are eternal and incorruptible, the best thing being the laws of nature.  He looked around him and saw that all things on Earth decay, all empires eventually fail, and that we all age and die.  He says, “Look at how much pain we have by attaching ourselves to fickle individuals for love.”  But the laws of nature felt different to him.  He would look up to the stars and imagined that there was this eternal clockwork running the universe and that it was eternal and unchanging.  He put his faith in that.

Considering the information available to him at the time, I can see why he thought the way he did.  He saw the universe as this pristine, unfailing machine, always in operation, eternal and unchanging.  When you compare that to anything we humans try to build, just the idea of being a part something that is truly eternal can be calming.  Unfortunately it’s just a thought.  We’ve learned more about the universe since then, and we physicists don’t really see the universe in that way anymore.  If Spinoza knew all of the physics and cosmology we do today, I don’t think he’d find the same peace in that line of thought.

High energy physics along with cosmology is leading us to something physicists call eternal inflation.  Basically, an infinite number of bubble universes are coming in and out of existence, all with different laws of physics, and every possibility can happen or will happen an infinite number of times.

With this in mind, what does it mean to believe in the laws of nature?  That anything is possible?  That all things are happening or will happen?  I don’t know.  It’s not exactly comforting because there are bad possibilities along with all the good ones.  Every possibility, mundane or profound, horrible or beautiful, it’s all happening over and over and over, an infinite number of times.

Quantum field theory, which is our most accurate description of physical reality to date, represents all the matter composing our world as vibrations (excited states) of these fields which interact with one another.  Universes can essentially come out of the void, from nothing.  When physical matter is created, that has a positive energy balance and the gravitational fields in the space between the matter has negative energy.  If you add up the gravitational field energy with that of the physical matter, you get a zero energy balance, so it all works out.

The same idea applies to motion.  For every chunk of matter spinning one way, there is another chunk of matter spinning the other way.  If there is a galaxy spinning clockwise, there’s another equally massive galaxy spinning the other way.  Electrical charges also work this way.  For every positive charge there is a negative charge.  If you add them all up, you get zero net charge.  For every this there’s and equal and opposite that.  A yin and a yang.

Considering all of this, I suppose you could argue that all of this may be eternal, but incorruptible?  Everything seems very transient and ephemeral to me.

I have more to say about all of this, but I’ll have to write up another post.

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I’m An Agnostic

December 2, 2014

I consider myself an agnostic.  I don’t know whether God exists, what forces created our universe, or how it all began.  I don’t know if those ideas are even relevant to the universe and what it is.

I wanted to share two videos from two prominent thinkers of our time.  This first video is the Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind discussing his agnosticism.  Considering he’s one of the founders of string theory, a scientist at the forefront of our knowledge of cosmology and the universe, you may expect him to take a really strong stance like, “We can explain how the universe began without needing a creator.”  But you don’t see him doing that.  He has no idea if this universe had a creator or not.   He feels we humans probably lack the intelligence to even ask the right questions to begin with.  Our minds can’t even comprehend what this universe actually is.

In this next video, the naturalist David Attenborough gives a really interesting analogy.  He explains how he often would encounter termite mounds and would open the top.  Since the termites lacked the sense organs, they had no way of knowing he was even there.  He feels that our position in the universe is similar.  There may be all kinds of things going on around us for which we lack the sense organs to perceive.  There may even be intelligent entities watching us without us knowing.  How would we know?  We’re like the termites.

If you combine the positions in these two videos, you can get a good idea about how I feel about these sorts of big questions.  I simply don’t know.  There are some things I know and other things I don’t know.  Some things I’m more sure of than others.  That’s about all there is to say.

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The Artful Dodger is Enchanting

November 25, 2014

Imagine if you were a poor orphan roaming the countryside.  You have no money and no food.  All you have is a deep desire to make a life for yourself in the big city.  Who would you hope to run into by chance?  Why the Artful Dodger, of course!

This puts me in the mood to sing.  Good thing none of you can hear me right now.

Consider yourself at home.
Consider yourself one of the family.
We’ve taken to you so strong.
It’s clear we’re going to get along.
Consider yourself well in
Consider yourself part of the furniture.
There isn’t a lot to spare.
Who cares?.. What ever we’ve got we share!

If it should chance to be
We should see
Some harder days
Empty larder days
Why grouse?
Always a-chance we’ll meet
To foot the bill
Then the drinks are on the house!
Consider yourself our mate.
We don’t want to have no fuss,
For after some consideration, we can state…
Consider yourself
One of us!

When I was watching Oliver!, it reminded me of the poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty.


“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I hate to make this into a political discussion, but illegal immigrants shouldn’t be treated like trash or fired upon by rednecks with guns at our borders.  Real freedom is about finding a place for people who show up on our shore, and working out a way to for all of us to live here.

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Million Dollar Baby

November 23, 2014

A Canadian couple recently decided to take a vacation to the United States.  Being aware of our healthcare system here, she bought insurance from Blue Cross before leaving.  The woman was pregnant but wasn’t due for nine weeks.  After consulting with her doctor, he gave her the ok that she’d be fine.

A few days after getting here, her water broke, and she ended up having her baby earlier than expected.  Both her and her baby had to remain in intensive care for several weeks.  They’re both fine now, but then the family got a bill for $950,000 from the Hawaiian hospital.  Blue Cross then weaseled their way out of it by saying, “Oh, she had a preexisting condition.  We don’t have to pay.”

Her Canadian doctor back home wrote Blue Cross saying, “No, she didn’t have any sort of preexisting condition.  I checked her out before she left.”  Did the listen?  No.  They don’t want to deal with it.

The rest of the world just stares at us and thinks, “Americans are insane.”  Ana of Young Turks tells a story where she went to Spain and twisted her ankle.  She just visited the hospital there and they took care of her, no questions asked and no bill.  And like I said in my last post, those countries spend half as much as we do, and that’s how their healthcare system works — you just walk in and they take care of you.

Like Ana, I wouldn’t recommend any foreigner to vacation here.  If you get sick, it will totally destroy your life.  You’ll get a massive bill you could never pay, and it’ll wipe you out financially, taking everything you have.  Your home, your savings, and everything else you own is at risk the second you step into our border.  It’s not worth it.

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