John Oliver Explains Net Neutrality

June 2, 2014

Pay close attention to what Comcast did to Netflix and how internet service providers within the United States operate just like drug cartels.

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Topics: Politics | 1 Comment »

Young Woman Murdered By Religious Fundamentalists

May 29, 2014

I’m really tired of religious fundamentalism.  Whether it’s here in the United States, over in the Middle East, or wherever.  I was just watching the Young Turks cover a story of a young woman in Pakistan being stoned to death in broad daylight in front of a courthouse.  And what was her crime?  She didn’t want to marry the man her father selected for her, so she went with the one she loved to the courthouse and they got a marriage license.  When they exited the building, she was stoned the death by her own father and family members.  The father then stood proudly over the young woman’s dead body and told onlookers that he had no regret.

Other than religion, what else can warp a person’s mind like that?  He was so demented by his faith, he lost all natural affection for his own daughter.  If that’s not evil, I don’t know what is.

This isn’t rare in the Middle East.  Just last year there were almost a thousand instances of this.  We don’t hear about it, but if you lived over there you’d hear about it happening three or four times a day.  Every now and then you’d go to town and see it happening in the streets.  Can you imagine going to get groceries and a man is pounding his daughter’s bloody face with a big rock because she loved someone he didn’t approve of?

Religious folks may tell you that their religion isn’t violent, but history tells otherwise.  Just read about torture methods used during the Catholic Inquisition throughout the Middle Ages.  Anyone who proposed new ideas or challenged their teachings was burned alive, boiled in oil, impaled, crushed, or maimed.  I was actually watching a documentary about the torture devices and just the illustrations were so graphic, I had to stop watching it half-way. I couldn’t take it.  I almost vomited all over my keyboard.

For example, one common way to torture a religious heretic was to place a heated box over a person’s mid-section.  Hot coals were placed on top of the box and a rat was placed inside.  Feeling the box heat up, the rat would desperately want out.  It’d begin by clawing at the box walls, but realizing it can’t escape, it would begin to slowly knaw through the person’s intestines, eating its way out through the person’s body.  This would take several hours.  Can you imagine?

Other people were tied to wheels and each joint in the arms and legs were broken.  They were then hung there in the middle of the street, spinning on this wheel out in the heat and people would come by and pelt them with rocks, spit on them, and kick them in the nose.

That’s what it was like just a few hundred years ago all over the world.  You question the government or the state religion and you’d end up like that.  So this treatment is not unique or new.  There are still countless people living with beliefs from the dark ages and it’s scary.

I’ve always wondered what degree religion plays in the hatred of gays.  Is it our ingrained fear of people who are different, or is it religion? I live in the heart of the Bible belt and one day I went for a walk with my older brother.  A bunch of rednecks in a big truck pulled up beside us and started yelling slurs and spitting at us before driving off.  “Fucking queers!”  “Fags!”  “Dick sucking faggots!”  We’re not even gay, but that sort of stuff goes on.  Thankfully nothing else happened.

In the end, what you believe in, what you worship, and what you do in your spare time is your business.  I couldn’t care less about any of it.  My problem is with all the hatred, the violence, the intolerance, the anti-science, the breaking up of homes and families, and on and on.

I saw a struggling Youtuber vlogging about how her religious parents kicked her out of her home because they found out she’s a lesbian.  She bums around from house to house, trying to survive.  Her parents want nothing to do with her.  Whenever she shares the story, she starts crying in front of the camera and I don’t believe she’s faking any of it.

I saw a similar story of a young man who refused to go to church because he didn’t believe in religion. At first they cut off his internet access.  That’s because his son created a vlog arguing for a woman’s right to choose.  It bothered the father’s conscience that the internet he was paying for was being used to promote views like that.   Later on the young man got older and he was kicked out.

Children who grow up in religious homes have very little freedom of thought.  They have to hide books they’re reading and keep their thoughts to themselves.  If they blog or have a Youtube channel, it’s important that their parents not see the content.  Many religious parents can’t handle the idea that their son or daughter is gay, or that they’re an atheist, or even that they hold liberal political views.  There are scriptures such as the the passage from Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”, and strict religious parents use that to enforce conformity on their children.  If they’re really strict, you’re likely to be beaten with a belt if you even question the beliefs. More likely, you’ll have to endure being preached to about God and the Bible, and that is unbearable.  Who wants to live in a home where that kind of drama takes place day after day? I’ve went through that and believe me, you learn to keep quiet.

As I got older, I only once shared a little of my views at the dinner table.  I got awful looks and my grandpa started preaching at me for an hour, telling me I was going to hell.  “How could you look at this universe and not believe in God?  You’re a fool!”  I just sat there and had to endure it.  I couldn’t get a word in.  It was a non-stop barrage of scriptures and, “How can you think that?”  Needless to say, I didn’t grow up in an atmosphere where you could have discussions or debate ideas.

Enough religion for tonight.  I’m going back to my physics studies.  This stuff depresses me too much.

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Topics: Politics | 5 Comments »

Having Faith In Things

May 28, 2014

In my last post, I mentioned that it’s important to have faith.  What sort of faith was I talking about?  I probably should explain.

There’s a lot of different ways I use the word “faith”.  The word has negative connotations these days due to its use by religious fanatics.  They use it to mean a blind commitment to things even when there’s no evidence or reasons to believe in those things.  That sort of faith is bad and it’s not what I mean.  I’m moreso thinking of a faith in yourself, a faith in others, and a certain type of confidence in the world.

I got to thinking about all of this as I was watching the video below on Youtube.  In it, Bertrand Russell explains what a philosopher is.  He points out that there’s many important questions which interest, and should interest mankind, but many are not yet amenable to scientific methods and inquiry.

To Bertrand Russell as well as myself, philosophy is informed speculation about matters which science hasn’t yet figured out.  Ideally, you go to the cutting edge of what’s known, study and become aware of all the facts, and then do your best to formulate questions which may or may not be answerable at the present time.

For example, the Greeks speculated that the world may be made of atoms.  They had no way of confirming this, but they went ahead and thought about the problem anyway.  Nowadays we have the means to confirm that the world is indeed made of atoms, but back then it was all speculation.  It’s important to speculate like that.  We must form questions, search for answers, and think, “If this is true, what would that mean?”  You clarify the question and think of ways in which it might be tested and confirmed.

I often speculate about consciousness and its relationship to the brain.  There are many confirmed facts which we know from neuroscience, but there are also many other questions which we don’t even know how to approach at present.  I’m willing to step out, speculate, and try to clarify the questions even if I have no idea how they might be answered.

I also like to speculate about the nature of space and time.  There are many areas of physics, especially cosmology, at the cutting edge which introduce mathematical theories to explain the universe but are not yet able to be confirmed.  For example, we may not be able to build particle accelerators with high enough energies to actually test the theories we’re working on, but it’s still important to think about and explore these areas.

quote-the-most-beautiful-thing-we-can-experience-is-the-mysterious-it-is-the-source-of-all-true-art-and-albert-einstein-296540

It’s important to have faith that other people, and even animals, are conscious.  It’s possible to believe that all other people around you are just automatons, zombies, just mindless machines with no inner subjective feelings of pain, joy, or other emotions.  There’s no way of knowing whether other people are conscious or not, but you become a rather nasty, self-centered person when you think everything revolves you and you only.  Morality and a civil society involves empathy, love, and concern for one another.  But if everyone around you is just a machine, similar to NPCs in a video game, then what does it matter what you do to them, say to them, or think of them?

Russell makes a very important point in this video.  It’s important to have vigor and passion for things, even if there’s no way to obtain absolute certainty in anything.  This isn’t the same dogmatic vigor of a religious fundamentalist.  It’s quite different.  You have to passionately pursue things even when you’re filled with doubt and uncertainty.  It requires courage because you’re not certain what the result will be.  This is best illustrated with examples.

Take love and relationships.  It’s important to love people.  To love others requires faith and trust in them.  If you’ve been hurt in past relationships, you can’t let that stop you from trying again.  That doesn’t mean you give up everything that you’ve learned from past experiences, but you’ll never know for sure how well things are going to turn out in the future.  There’s always uncertainty.  You have to be willing to get out there and do it again.

If possible, a person should be passionate about their work, even if you’re uncertain how things may turn out in the end.  With someone like me, there’s always a worry that your scientific research may end up being used in weapon systems.  For example, your research in genetics could end up being used to further bio-weapons.  That sort of thing happens.  But just because there’s a possibility the technology may be used in the wrong way, should all scientists quit their work and research, halting human progress?

Maybe you’re working on artificial intelligence and worry that the military is going to use it to create terminator robots which will eventually wipe out humanity.  Do we stop working on making smart phones and other forms of artificial intelligence?  You have to have faith that people will do the right thing with the technology.

Too much doubt will paralyze you.  You may lack confidence in yourself, or as is just as often the case, other people.  Don’t let cynicism cripple and enslave you.  It will leave you in a cage that you were never meant to live in.  Fear starts getting inside, and before you know it your life is boring and empty.

Faith doesn’t know the answer.  You don’t know how you’ll get there but you just somehow, deep down, believe that you’re going to find a way to make it.  It’s not a straight-line process.  There’s lots of dead-ends, failures, and wrong-headed approaches, but you keep at it.

path-to-success

A lack of faith is to try something a few times, fail, and then just throw your hands in the air and make excuses, complain, and give up.  Once that inner spark goes out, that inner belief that the world has new things for you, that confidence that you can achieve something new, once that flame goes out in you, you’re dead inside.  The world around you will slowly rot, and unless you get up and move, you’ll die with it.

That’s my main complaint against our school system.  Kids get this idea that they have to do everything right the first time.  All homework and test grades are based on doing everything correctly on the first go.  There is no re-takes, re-dos, and everything is recorded on a permanent transcript.  It’s a TERRIBLE thing to do to people.  It makes them afraid to deviate from the established path or try anything on their own.  And since they never gain any experience going through this process, they live their whole life thinking they have to do everything right on the first go.  You don’t.  That’s not how it works.  It’s perfectly normal to feel lost, to feel in over your head, and to have no idea what you’re doing.  That’s part of any creative process.

If you study the history of all scientific advances, there were people going in every which direction, trying all sorts of things, and then finally someone stumbles onto the right path.  They share their research, and then people start this process anew.

That’s why it’s important to have faith when it comes to knowledge as well.  You can never be completely certain if you’re right or wrong, but don’t let that stop you from sharing what you’ve learned.  If you have a blog, write about things which are on your mind.  You’re sure to write some very stupid posts, but the only people who are going to judge you are those who have never went through any sort of creative learning process of their own.  By necessity, any time you think about something which is new to you, you’re going to have lots of wrong ideas.  You’ll be confused and wrong about many things.  However, writing your ideas down either on paper or on the computer screen will clarify your thoughts and leave a record of your development.  That will also help you teach other people in the future.

Many of us also come from varied backgrounds.  I came from a very religious household and I have had to spend a lot of time sifting through what I do and do not believe in anymore.  In the past, I was always too busy working to think much about it all.  But as I had more free time to read books and just think about it all, I’ve changed a lot.  You’re sure to change as well.

Growing older, you learn a lot of things.  You come to learn that you don’t know as much as you once thought you knew and that knowledge is difficult to obtain.  Wiser people tend to lose confidence over time because they realize the complexity of all the issues.  Black and white thinking tends to turn gray and very few people are motivated to get on the soap box and preach beliefs they are not entirely certain about themselves.  The problem is that stupid people lack this subtle understanding of the issues.  Combine a badly informed person with a lot of confidence and you have a disaster.  Just turn on your television or listen to talk radio.  You may not be 100% certain that you’re right about different political issues, or scientific questions, or the nature of reality, but chances are that if you’ve read books and looked into the issues, you’re way more informed than most people who get their information from hate spewing political pundits, propagandists, and other ilk.  It’s important to share what you think.  I don’t recommend talking about issues you’ve never thought about or studied, but if you’re halfway informed, go out there and discuss the issue with people.  Share your ideas and remember that “success” picture I shared earlier.  Look at that squiggly line.  That’s how your ideas develop as well.

quote-the-whole-problem-with-the-world-is-that-fools-and-fanatics-are-always-so-certain-of-themselves-bertrand-russell-160424

There’s a balance in everything.  Avoid extremes.  Don’t be dogmatic and close-minded, but on the other hand, don’t be so full of doubt that you’re completely paralyzed and never do anything.  To some extent, you have to always venture out into the unknown, into a world you’re uncomfortable with.  That’s when you’re making progress and growing.  That’s the sort of faith I’m talking about.

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Topics: Philosophy | 2 Comments »

What Do You Believe In?

May 22, 2014

Just yesterday I wrote a big long post on society, values, and culture.  I didn’t end up posting it because I took a look at it and it was just me ranting about all kinds of things which are wrong with the world.  I stared at it, read it over a few times, and then thought, no, this is not what I’m about.

Why?  Have you guys ever saw blogs, or Youtube channels, or other online content, where it seemed the main goal of the content creator was to dig up filth and bring it to you each and every day?  That sort of thing gets a lot of attention but it poisons your soul.  You shouldn’t fill your mind with all the stupid things idiots are doing across the world.  Sure, you have to be aware of it to be informed, but don’t use that as an excuse to live in their muck.  Fill your mind with loving, interesting, beautiful things.  Find people who are creating inventions, art, and discovering new aspects of the universe.

With that in mind, I instead want to write about something more interesting — what do I believe in?  That’s a much more difficult question.  Without faith in something, you just die inside.  You’re empty and have no direction.  You just sort of drift through life, moping around.

The other night I asked myself what I believe in.  Just having to ask myself that question is kind of strange.  You can live life unconsciously believing in things, never critically examining your mind and figuring out what you’re all about.

So what does that question even mean?  What does it mean to believe in something?

It’s about finding something of value.  Something worth experiencing, worth knowing, worth doing.  If someone was to ask you, “What makes life worth living?”, you’d hold this thing up in the air and say, “This!”

At first I found myself saying, “Progress”.  I believed that it’s possible for us to understand this world and take control of our destinies.  We don’t have to accept the cruel fate nature has given us.  If we get involved, we can change our government, our world, and the way we do things.  We can create new inventions and make life easier and less tedious.  Sickness and disease can be defeated.  Even death from old age will eventually be conquered.

But while all of that is well and good, that doesn’t really answer the question.  All that is saying is, “Once we fix these problems, then life will be good.”  What does that new “fixed” state of existence look like?  And what about right now?  What is available to me right now which I can say, “This!”

That’s not easy to answer.  Most of my joy comes from learning new things.  The world is just really bizarre, especially the physical world.  As I get deeper into this quest to understand the nature of reality, I keep peeling back the layers and everything is just strange.  I find a lot of joy seeking answers to questions like why am I conscious, what is the brain doing, what is space and time, are there other universes, what is the physical world composed of, why does it all behave the way it does, is there free will, and things like that.  I get more joy from that than anything else.

My joy originates in taking an ordinary everyday moment and looking at it in a different way.  It’s a delight in the world itself.  You have to look at it without judgement and without fear, with a deep curiosity to know things as they really are.  Well, maybe that’s not even right.  You don’t necessarily have to care whether you “know” it or not.  It’s not a hoarding attitude where you feel rushed to get as much knowledge as you can, or experience all you can within your short lifetime.  It’s a very relaxed state of being.  When you begin to see it, being radiates and flows out of the world in such quantities, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, there’s more than enough of “it” to go around.

You have to disconnect yourself from the the noisy, random chatter in your mind and become the universe itself.  I’m not talking about meditation here, or maybe I am.  I’m not sure.  Your body and your life are just part of the drama which is unfolding.  There’s a disconnect of “self” and a connection with a totality of existence.  It’s fine if there is words and thoughts, but they have to be about this existence and what you’re experiencing.  They’re best if used creatively to either learn more about what you’re seeing, such as seeing beyond it, or examining the process which is unfolding.  In my mind, the words are like, “How did this happen?  What is this made out of?  How was it made?”  In other words, the thoughts disconnect you from yourself and connect you to a greater, more expansive, more timeless reality.  If you get far enough into it, you can just sit on your back porch on a lawn chair and look out onto your yard and the mind will go all over the place.  I’m not talking about your worries, how you’re going to pay the bills, or some fight you had with your girlfriend.  This is much deeper than that.  It’s not negative or depressing.

You look onto your backyard and think about all the insects and plants and how they evolved.  My mind is very “process” and “law” oriented, but if you’re an artist, maybe you’d imagine the insects and all their forms from different perspectives, like you’re “drawing” them in your imagination.  Even I oftentimes think about it from the perspective of an artist.  I think about all those little insects and their forms and I’m always left in awe.  If you’d given me a blank canvas to paint on, I could never have come up with any of them.  Look at those things!  Look at all those little legs and weird eyeballs.  You see a grasshopper jump and fly across the lawn and I picture all that went into making that moment happen.

grasshopper up close

The beauty is all in the details.  It’s about the complexity, the details, and just an appreciation of this “being” which is all around us.

I think of the physics involved, the air particles being displaced by the little wings, and all the tiny muscle movements within the insect’s body.  I think about what it’d take to simulate it all on a computer and am in awe of how much detail there is.  No computer today could even come close to simulating all the detail which would be involved.

I like learning the details because I have an engineer’s mind.  I think about building little flying machines and there is delight in understanding how to build them and going through the creative process of choosing how to build it.  It’s not like there’s only one way to build something.  Look at all the different types of flying insects and birds.  There’s many ways to build flying contraptions.

This utilizes your entire mind.  It’s not passively going through life without any thoughts.  You engage your creative mind as well.  At least, that’s how I do.  If you’re an artist, maybe you try drawing and creating your own insects.  Try to beat God at His own game!  (Good luck with that!)  Even if everything you come up with pales in comparison to the depth and complexity of this reality, you’ll feel great joy in taking part in the creative process.

My creativity comes from figuring out the processes involved.  I think about how to model it all within computers.  I’m big into simulations.  I like understanding what’s going on around me.  I have no other goal in mind, though that understanding could be used to build new things.

As I learn more and more, there are all these puzzles and problems to explore.  I have a set of choices on what I could spend my time studying and further exploring, and that’s a very creative process.  I could work to master this form of mathematics, or look more into what’s going on in these metals at low temperatures, or think about how I could model a low density plasma in universe simulation.  As I learn more and more, my ability to create and explore further grows.  Knowledge creates the ability to be creative.  At least in physicists and engineers. I could build it this way, that way, or this other way.  How accurate would this be?  How well would this do?  When would this work and when wouldn’t it work?  What limitations would there be?

There’s this expansion within you.  This bubble around you pops and you become aware of a world much greater than yourself which has always been there.  Its complexity, power, and elegance will simply overwhelm you and leave you in total awe.  You’re sitting there in a lawn chair in your back yard, a normal everyday event, but everything has burst into vibrant colors.  It’s profound.  What is all of this?

This isn’t anything in particular.  I can’t hold up any one thing and say, “This!”  It’s more of a way of spending your attention.  Your self dissolves into the world around you, like a sugar cube dissolving in a liquid.  Even the process of learning and creating itself feels like an experience which is happening.  It’s not like you squint your eyes and grit your teeth to make things happen.

But to answer my original question — what do I believe in?  Whatever it is, it’s all around us.  You may find it looking into the eyes of someone you love.  You may find it drinking a fine wine, or if you’re like me, creating computer simulations, trying to understand the mind, and wondering how everything came into existence.  But whatever “it” is, it’s not far from you.

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Topics: Personal | 4 Comments »

Illustris Simulation

May 8, 2014

Scientists from Harvard, MIT, Princeton and others have collaborated on the world’s largest and most detailed computer simulation models of the universe to date.  It’s called Illustris and it was simulated on the world’s fastest super-computer.  You should check out the results in this video.  Take a look at the galaxies and the surrounding dark matter.

Besides simulating gravity and hydrodynamics, it also models complex chemical processes in the diffuse gas, radiation, and magnetic fields.  It even takes into the account the formation of black holes.  Very cool.  I really like the music too.  “It’s not real, it’s just a computer generated fantasy!”

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Topics: Physics | No Comments »

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