The Boston Bombing – A Lesson In Blowback

May 16, 2013

We’ve all been mourning the lives that were lost in this recent Boston marathon bombing.  Now that everyone’s calmed down, it’s a good time to ask why Tsarnaev did what he did.  We now know the answer.  After detonating the bomb, he was on the run for a while, eventually ending up on a boat.  There the police and swat forces gunned him down, and as he was lying there, badly wounded, he grabbed a pen and wrote down his motivations on the wall.   He scrawled out that his brother is now in paradise and that these deaths were “necessary collateral damage” for all the deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  “When you attack one Muslim, you attack all Muslims.”

When Tsarnaev was taken to the hospital, U.S. interrogators asked him why he did it, and he told them the same thing — it’s about all the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now I’m not here to justify this man’s actions.  I find them atrocious, but I want to help you get into his mind.  He wasn’t poor.  He wasn’t without opportunity.  He was going to a prestigious school on scholarships and could’ve lived a nice, comfortable life.  So why would someone in his position do something like this?  Well, how many innocent civilians died in the Iraq war alone?  Brace yourself.  The Associated Press estimated there were over 110,000 civilian casualties alone!   The Lancet survey, a peer-reviewed study, totaled the death count at 654,965.  That’s 2.5% of their total population!

Do we honestly think that we can kill that many innocent people and just walk away with no consequences?   Iraq never did ANYTHING to us, at all.  They weren’t even related to the 9/11 attacks, despite what a bunch of ignorant people watching Fox News may have thought.  People have no idea how badly they hate us in the Middle East, and it’s not because of our “freedom”, or how “rich” we are.  They hate us because we’re over there building bases, stealing their oil, and blowing their civilians to bits with bombs.  And what justification do we have for all of this?  Supposedly they had weapons of mass destruction, but did they really?  No.

I can remember Ron Paul talking about this in the 2008 election.  Watch this next video.

But listen to the crowd.  People don’t want to hear the truth, and when they do hear it, Rudy Gulianai exclaims, “That’s absurd.  I haven’t even heard of that idea!”  and the crowd roars in applause.

Do you have any idea how much money we’ve wasted on these wars?  According to a recent study published by Brown University, we’ve spent somewhere between $3.2-4 TRILLION dollars on the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.  A new 2013 study puts the total $6 trillion.  Oh, what is this?  Pakistan?  We’re at war with Pakistan?  Oh yes!  The Nobel Peace Prize winning Barack Obama got us involved in that one, but we don’t hear too much about it.  He’s too busy doing late night talk shows, smiling away, cracking jokes!  “Awww, he’s holding Michelle’s hand!  He’s so wonderful!  I love Obama!”  *crowd swoons*

Think about how many people we could’ve sent to college with that money.  We could’ve repaired our failing infrastructure.  That could’ve taken care of people’s medical bills.  How many research projects could that have funded?  But no.  All we got for all that spending was a lot of debt, a loss of respect and standing in the world, and a whole lot of people in the Middle East who are mad as hell at us.

Go on America, go back to looking up Kim Kardashian’s skirt.  Go back to worrying about Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, and whoever else is being talked about.  Keep your head in the sand.

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Happy Mothers Day

May 12, 2013

Did you all visit your mom today?  Here’s me and mom, and well, my older brother felt he should sneak Meanus into the picture!  I’m actually wearing glasses, though I oftentimes wear contacts.  I’ve found myself wearing glasses more and more as  I can read easier with them, and my eyes won’t dry out.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s a picture of me and my brothers with mom.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Can Quantum Gravity Explain Free Will?

May 6, 2013

A few months back I shared videos from the CERN physicist Dr. Russell Stannard, who did not seem to feel free will or consciousness could be explained by quantum physics.  However, not all physicists agree with him, so I want to share another side of the story.

Before we get started, you may be wondering what quantum physics has to do with free will and consciousness.  Well, quantum physics describes the world as a superposition of possibilities governed by these wave functions.  All these different things are possible, but we can calculate that some outcomes are more likely to happen than others.  If you’re controlling your thoughts and mind within your brain, somehow “you” are involved in making the quantum wave function collapse, leading to certain outcomes as to opposed to others.

I’d like to introduce you to the renowned physicist Dr. Roger Penrose of Oxford.   He is a mathematical physicist famous for his contributions to general relativity and cosmology.

In his 1989 book The Emperor’s New Mind, Penrose offers a proposal to modify the laws of physics so that we can better explain consciousness.  He says that we must bridge classical mechanics and quantum mechanics with what he calls “correct quantum gravity”.  In later works he’s argued that consciousness may be the result of quantum gravity effects within the brain’s microtubules.  An interesting idea, but has anyone actually got in there and done the physics, modeling the neurons to see if the idea is plausible?

MIT physicist Dr. Max Tegmark responded in a paper in the Physical Review E, working through the calculations and reported the following.

Based on a calculation of neural decoherence rates, we argue that that the degrees of freedom of the human brain that relate to cognitive processes should be thought of as a classical rather than quantum system, i.e., that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the current classical approach to neural network simulations. We find that the decoherence timescales (∼ 10^−13 − 10^−20 seconds) are typically much shorter than the relevant dynamical timescales (∼ 10^−3 − 10^−1 seconds), both for regular neuron firing and for kink-like polarization excitations in microtubules. This conclusion disagrees with suggestions by Penrose and others that the brain acts as a quantum computer, and that quantum coherence is related to consciousness in a fundamental way.

- MIT physicist Max Tegmark, The Importance of Quantum Decoherence In Brain Processes

What does all that mean, in English?  Basically he’s saying that considering all the noise within the system, the conclusion is that it’s very unlikely the brain is doing quantum computations.  For instance, say you went to build a computer that did its calculations on individual atoms.  To do that, you’d need to use quantum physics, but here’s the problem.  Unless you can keep the insides of that computer at pretty much absolute zero, random vibrations, heat, and other “noise” will destroy the information that’s being used to do your calculation.  Memory would always be corrupted with random garbage.  You’d ask the computer to calculate 10 times 5 and you’d get random answers.  Random noise would jiggle all the atoms and the calculation method would fail.

The noise destroys the information in a way that’s similar to an old radio getting noise as you’re trying to listen to your favorite station.  If something obscures or destroys your radio signal, you just hear fuzz.  Thoughts require information to hold onto itself within the brain, but it doesn’t seem that “thought” information is being stored down at a quantum level, which deals with matter at nanometer scales.  It’s too noisy and chaotic down there and the physics just doesn’t seem to work out.

To say that we can model all the brain’s processes with classical physics means that all that quantum weirdness doesn’t apply at the scales we’re dealing with.  Like if you’re in the lab doing an electrical experiment with wires, resistors, and batteries, you can always use Ohms law to calculate the currents.  There’s no “free will” in the circuit.  Electrical currents don’t just randomly jump around and do whatever.  Tegmark is saying the same applies to our brain.  It’s deterministic.  No free will.  And if you try to bring in quantum physics to give us “freedom”, there’s no way that could work because all the information is destroyed at those small scales.  You’d “will” to move your arm but the information you “injected” into the system is immediately destroyed by random noise.  Your brain would have to be at absolute zero, made of completely different stuff in order for that to work.

So, I tend to agree with Dr. Tegmark.  I don’t think it works out, but Penrose is a fascinating man to listen to.  I really enjoyed this next interview with Robert Kuhn.

If you follow my blog carefully, you’ll hear him discussing the same sorts of things I’ve been talking about on here for quite a while.  Most physical processes in the universe do not create consciousness.  In fact, we’re not conscious of most of the activity going on within our own brains!  Consciousness, that subjective feeling of seeing colors, tasting things, hearing sounds, perceiving the flow of time, the feeling that you’re within a body, etc, all happens within the outer “bark” of your brain, a thin layer of neurons on the outside of the brain.  This is called the neocortex.  So the question is why are those neurons special?  What are they doing?

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Topics: Philosophy, Physics, Psychology | No Comments »

Are You Happy?

May 3, 2013

I propose that we don’t know what we want and one of the worst things that could ever happen to us is to actually get what we desire.

I’m not sure how to phrase this, but when I look back on my life as a younger man, I had all these desires of who I wanted to be and what I wanted out of life, and it’s all so comical and ridiculous.  I’m grateful that I didn’t get what I was after.  The world has led me to a much deeper and interesting place, but I had to learn to open up and stop telling it what to be.  The world is much more interesting than any of the ideas I’ve had of it.

When I’ve felt most alive, I was only vaguely pursing anything.  In my case, there has been this opening up to the universe, studying and learning, eventually leading me to physics.  I look at it and just marvel at the complexity and the mystery.  The more I immerse myself in it, it sort of engulfs me and it carries me to some new place.  Opportunities present themselves which I never would have imagined for myself ten years ago.  I simply keep observing and follow the cues, letting it unravel this bizarre story of its own making.

Change is magical.  I look back on my past and all the hard work, writing boring business software, living like the guys in Office Space, and wonder why I didn’t do all of this earlier.  What is that saying?  Hindsight is 20/20?  I guess I was always hoping to earn enough money to escape the normal 9/5 drudgery most people get trapped in, but you know what?  I didn’t need to escape.   I needed to change.  But I was so sure I knew the best road for me.  After all, I had sat down and thought about it very carefully, and after due consideration, I decided that that was the best road to be on.  In truth, I had no idea what would make me happy.  I had no idea what the world even had to offer.

Maybe I can try to define what I think of happiness.  Since we can never leave the world, to be fulfilled in this life, we have to learn to love the world with all its faults, stupidities, and ugliness, just as true lovers learn to accept the faults in their partners.  We have to commit to this world.  We must attach to it, emotionally, physically, and intellectually.  It’s all about being here and now in this life.  We’re attached to the people in our lives, our families, our friends, our communities.  That seems to me to be the path to happiness in this life.

I don’t think this is necessarily an emotional feeling of joy, because as Slavoj Zizek points out, we oftentimes have to experience pain during this process.  It’s about being genuine, living by your ideas and ideals.  Something to that effect.

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Topics: Philosophy, Psychology | 1 Comment »

I Enjoyed Sam Harris’ Q&A

April 29, 2013

I’ve always liked Sam Harris.  He recently asked his twitter followers for questions and I’d like to repost some of his answers.  I deeply agree with them.

If the self is an illusion, who or what is witnessing that illusion?

Consciousness.

What’s your opinion of panpsychism? A technically valid theory or scientifically impossible?

Possibly true, but probably unfalsifiable—and, therefore, probably vacuous in scientific terms. Is the sun conscious? There’s no reason to think so, but would I expect the sun to behave differently if its processes of nuclear fusion were associated with subjectivity? No. So, even if panpsychism were true, I would expect it to be undetectable.

Do you think that truth has value in and of itself or is its value derived from its affect on well-being?

This is actually a very subtle question—and my answer is pretty easy to misconstrue. But I think that (ultimately, when we get very clear about what we mean by these terms) truth is a slave to well-being. Which is to say that anything you can say about the value of knowing the truth (e.g. it’s so interesting, so useful, so beautiful, etc.) translates into a claim about the well-being of conscious creatures.

Does your stance regarding free will affect your actions from day to day, or are its implications strictly societal?

My view about the illusoriness of free will makes it easy to let go of anger/hatred. I occasionally get angry, of course. There are people who behave in ways that I find despicable. But I can (ultimately) see their behavior as impersonal—even when it is directed at me personally. That doesn’t mean that I suddenly become trusting of everyone. I know that certain people can be counted upon to misbehave. But so can grizzly bears. We can fear grizzly bears and take steps to protect ourselves from them, but it makes no sense to hate them.

How do you define the secular spirituality?

Self-transcendence without divisive bullshit.

If, as you say, science is to be the main arbiter of morality, do you still see a useful role for philosophy in this area?

I wouldn’t separate them. Our truth claims should be guided by reason and evidence. There is no clear line between (good) philosophy and science.

Anyways, you can read his entire Q&A here.

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