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Snowflakes, or Oh, No! Not Again!

A discussion about humanity and progress in one of the discussion threads inspired an epiphany. (Which is totally cool!) Add to this the fact that I'm currently listening to an audio book of Sir Terry Pratchett's Hogfather because it's the holidays, and well... I do that kind of stuff, and we have today's winter holiday-ish topic.

I think philosophy and belief is an important part of being human. Although some people are capable of living without it to varying degrees, I've watched these same people cross their fingers when rolling dice. (D&D players are among the most superstitious when it comes to dice.) I'm not making that statement because I think that Atheists are bad or wrong. (They aren't.) I'm merely making the observation that human beings need belief. Again, if you've read the scientific studies on perception you'll understand what I mean. We're hardwired to create patterns for ourselves whether or not the pattern is actually there. Frankly, we'd be in serious trouble within minutes without it. So, this ability to see patterns is important to survival.[1] However, like anything, moderation is key. Perceive too many patterns that aren't there and well... it's a sign that something is wrong. 

Ultimately, I feel we each need to find our comfortable place in regards to belief. There's not one solution for everyone, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Where we often get into trouble is when we insist that everyone must think exactly the same--or be thought stupid, or delusional, or made to starve, or be jobless, or dead. History has shown that the insistence that everyone not have religion is just as deadly as insisting that everyone have a specific brand of religion. Thus, I believe that it's fanaticism and absolutism that is the problem, not religion or belief.

Anyway, I like what Sir Terry Pratchett had to say about belief in Hogfather:

Death: Humans need fantasy to *be* human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape. 
Susan: With tooth fairies? Hogfathers? 
Death: Yes. As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies. 
Susan: So we can believe the big ones? 
Death: Yes. Justice, mercy, duty. That sort of thing. 
Susan: They're not the same at all. 
Death: You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some, some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged. 
Susan: But people have got to believe that, or what's the point? 
Death: You need to believe in things that aren't true. How else can they become?

And now we get to the mystical snowflake epiphany part of my essay. My personal philosophy or belief is that life is about education. This ties into my beliefs about mistakes.[2] Therefore, because I try to be careful of repeating mistakes it means that I often see repeating patterns of behavior within myself and others.[3] I've always seen it on a more personal scale.[4] I never thought of it on a macro scale before--that humanity as a whole repeats patterns until it learns the associated lesson. That thought makes me feel better about seeing this renewed fascination with things that went out of fashion after the Gilded Age ended. I can only hope that, like snowflakes are unique in pattern, our repetition of previous mistakes is varied because it marks that we've learning something as a whole. Go us.

Mind you, I do believe that everything cycles. Winning out and making forward progress isn't guaranteed. There are no guarantees in life other than death. However, sometimes sideways progress is what's needed--a more thorough understanding of the repeated problem, and that gives me hope for humanity.

I'm not sure that makes sense outside of my own brain. (Sometimes my husband says he has to pull a Jackie Chan to catch up to my train of thought.) Nonetheless, it was (for me) a nice winter holiday thought--a light in the darkness as it were. Thanks, y'all. It was a nice wrap-up for me.[5] I hope you got something out of all this. I sure did.

Happy Hogswatch, everyone--or whatever form of winter holiday you celebrate or don't. Or something.

--------------------------------------------

[1] I'm talking about the evolution of sight and perception. Blindness doesn't mean instant death. I know. However, I did most of my studies in perception during a time when sightlessness wasn't an aspect of the studies performed. That may have changed.

[2] Nobody is perfect for a reason. The way I see it, we're designed that way. You see, mistakes bring experience, and experience brings wisdom. So, I try not to sweat making making mistakes. There are a couple of personal rules that go with that. The first being that one must admit to the mistake and own it before one can learn from it. The second being that it's important to try not to repeat the same mistake. Be efficient. Be smart. Try to learn from it the first time around--if you can learn from others' mistakes and skip that particular mistake altogether? W00t!

[3] And that's why my characters will repeat behaviors. The smart ones learn and respond differently.

[4] Which is why I enjoyed the film Defending Your Life so much. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defending_Your_Life

[5] However, I haven't gone over yesterday's thread yet. Ha! With ninety comments appearing overnight, I'm hoping it isn't evidence of a smoking ruin.

107 Comments

1:

[2] Yes, I try and learn from others' mistakes too. Failing that, I try to avoid wasting time by making the same mistake twice when there are so many new and original mistakes waiting for me to make them for the first time!

2:

Hehehehehe. Exactly. Make a broader range of errors. Be wise like Yoda. Or something.

3:

Personally, I think we have to believe in spirals, which is what you get when you have a circle (which comes back on itself, going forward in time, so that things spiral forward in time. Otherwise, what would be the point in learning anything? If you're never going to see something again, learning is a waste of time, isn't it? Did anyone see this problem in school?

Thing is, reality doesn't cycle, although we see similar patterns. Yes, politically we're looking like we've got 1920s presidents here in the US, but we don't have Weimar Germany and Soviet Russia to scare the crap out of us on one side, and we do have China, Japan, and Korea on the other messing with our definition of who the "smartest" ethnicities are (and they aren't the yellow peril, either). And, oh yeah, a black president elected by enfranchised Latinos. So, in other words, it's not a repeat, it just looks similar because we've got some legislative jackasses who want it to be similar

Then there's the inevitable black swans. Personally, I'd love to create a Hindu-style religion worshipping Eris, the five-armed Emergent Goddess of Chaos, who rides a black swan, and holds a golden apple in one hand, a pentagon in another, and a d20 in a third (possibly Her fourth hand is thumbing Her nose at the world, while her fifth hand is petting a cat). Sacrilegious yes, but it makes the point. Things change, unexpectedly, radically, and irrevocably. When the Principia Discordia came out, the concept of a blog and tweeting wouldn't even have been a bad joke, it would have been so strange that even the stoners writing the thing would have thought it too bizarre to print. Nowadays, we're trying to figure out how to make our internet survive the apocalypse, and I'll bet we at least partially succeed, for the next apocalypse anyway.

That's the problem with the future. It won't exactly cycle, and as a result, we really don't know what's coming next. Certainly there are apparent cycles, and sometimes there are real repeats (everyone who is born dies, for one thing), but then Ol' Mother Eris blesses us with something new and different, and what we thought was a nice linear circle turns fractal for a bit. After a while, we figure out where the new curves lead and start seeing them as new cycles, but we know that she'll bless us again whenever she feels the urge. That's life, and you might as well eat a hotdog (it being Friday) and enjoy.

4:

Other things lacking in the universe are "meaning" and "importance".
As for other beliefs of a religious kind, I believe because I choose to believe and I also believe that if I am not correct now, I will be. Someone who shares my delusions!:
http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/prisco20120819

5:

Hey ! you forgot that "DEATH SPEAKS IN CAPITAL LETTERS".

And I didn't log in for 3 days and just found that my former post made you write a whole text, I could be some kind of muse ... http://www.oglaf.com/blank-page/
have a good hogswatch day

6:

Thus, I believe that it's fanaticism and absolutism that is the problem, not religion or belief.
Sorry but I really must disagree with that.
Simply because all religions are based on a criminal act - blackmail.
Also, inter alia ...
All religions kill, or enslave, or torture, and the bigots are the true religious believers.
A short, very short reading of history should point this one up.
All religions have been made by men, which might interest you as a female?

BTW LURVE heteromeles' proposition of the goddess "Eris" ......


7:

[4] Which is why I enjoyed the film Defending Your Life so much.

I think the movie has flaws but it does have some interesting ideas.

8:

"Simply because all religions are based on a criminal act - blackmail."

Wrong.

9:

Please expand on that comment. Or retract it.

Hint: I don't consider flat contradiction with no argumentation to be a constructive use of the discussion system on this blog ...

10:

"Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some, some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged."

Wrong approach.

Justice, mercy and rightness are wholistic concepts that can't be determined by reductionist methods. As such, they exist outside science and are not "scientific".

Which is NOT the same thing as being unimportant or meaningless.

11:

Cipher: Others do not believe as you do.
Morpheus: My beliefs do not require them to.

To summarize, with merciless editing, I believe this:

The multiverse is comprehensive, so complex things are more common. That causes the future to affect quantum probabilities in the past, which turns the universe into a giant computer that is trying to efficiently use probability manipulations to increase the order of the whole over the entirity of eternity.

Many of us sometimes see these probability adjustments as "synchronicity" and atribute all kinds of things to them. Others, who are either very
on-track or very insignificant never see them. That's OK.

That entity is manipulating mankind first to become more powerful and then to take over the entire universe and reverse entropy. Intelligence, technology, and organization magnify the entities efforts, so they are being cultivated. Cooperation is inevitable. Willing cooperation is recommended.

Morality and justice are human inventions. If we want them we must do them ourselves.

12:

He was making a sweeping generalization about *all* religions. Hence by naming one that does not "blackmail" eg modern Asatru, his thesis is disproved. Or, if you don't like my example, try Buddhism, or any number of pagan/wiccan belief systems.

13:

There is no multiverse.

See "Are Universes Thicker Than Blackberries" by mathematician Martin Gardner.

14:

"There is no multiverse."
A minority opinion in modern science.
The concept of the multiverse crops up in at least 4 different areas of science.

15:

I've got to disagree about Buddhism, because there is some blackmail in many sects of that religion. The blackmail is typically along the lines of "your chance of being reborn human is so infinitesimal (or your reincarnation in hell will last billions of years) and therefore you gotta strive for liberation with all your heart, soul, and wallet."

I think all organized religions spawn sects that become coercive. Certainly we see it in some forms of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Shinto and (I believe) Taoism. This doesn't mean that "The" "Religion" therefore has these traits, let alone all religions. Certainly Jesus, out-of-work carpenter that he was, would have been more at home with Buddha in an Occupy camp than in a cathedral, and the Sanctuary movement (which was ecumenical) voluntarily works with the poor and illegal, because they think it's the right thing to do, whether they're in a cathedral, a storefront church, or a synagogue.

Still, I agree that not all religions blackmail. Wicca tends to be exclusionary rather than missionary, meaning that if you don't actually have a calling to become Wiccan, most covens don't want you, and chary people stay away from the covens that do take all comers.

16:

I disagree with your assessment of Jesus.
Consider the incident where he trashed the financial services dept of the temple. There were no temple guards? Or did he have enough armed men to prevent any counter attack? Note that at least one of the disciples carried a sword, which was a pretty high class weapon.

17:

"Hey ! you forgot that "DEATH SPEAKS IN CAPITAL LETTERS"."

Very true. Oops.

"And I didn't log in for 3 days and just found that my former post made you write a whole text--"

Heh. I'm sneaky that way.

18:

Somewhat off topic but since it is almost your last day I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book. Your topic was indeed audacious, writing about the troubles can often been seen as either patronizing or ignorant. However, I think, from the point of view of an Englishman not directly involved, your book seemed to walk the fine line.
I liked the book for humanizing the rage that people feel as a result of the perception of unjust treatment. The fact that it involved the Fae was almost secondary.
I wonder whether, had this been published 15 years ago and I had read it then, I would have had the same reaction. The information released in the last 10-15 years concerning the involvement of elements of the British state in the various organizations involved in the conflict has certainly changed my attitude.
I have also enjoyed the posts and agree with you about the glut and general tedium associated with fantasy; particularly both urban fantasy referencing vampires, zombies, werewolves or boy wizards and pastoral, feudal fantasy which seems to be some form of throwback wish fulfillment. I exclude Patrick Rothfuss and Jim Butcher from this and a few others (you mentioned Nancy Collins). If I wanted to live in a feudal state with forelock tugging I would emigrate to North Korea or perhaps Scotland after Alex Salmond gets his way - Englishman exits stage left pursued by bear.

19:

"All religions have been made by men, which might interest you as a female?"

Oh, sure. And that's why I'm not a member of any established religion. [shrug]

20:

"Somewhat off topic but since it is almost your last day I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book. Your topic was indeed audacious, writing about the troubles can often been seen as either patronizing or ignorant. However, I think, from the point of view of an Englishman not directly involved, your book seemed to walk the fine line."

Thank you very much.

"I liked the book for humanizing the rage that people feel as a result of the perception of unjust treatment. The fact that it involved the Fae was almost secondary."

Yes. :)

21:

I believe Jesus used a whip when overturning the money changer's tables in front of the temple, which (at a guess) was an ad hoc and non-lethal weapon. Also, the sica that Judas Iscariot may have carried was an assassin's knife (if you believe that Iscariot meant he was part of the sicarii, which is questionable), and very different than the legionnaire's gladius.

Given some of the comments I've heard about Occupy, I still think Jesus would be more comfortable there than in any cathedral. It's always worth (re)reading the New Testament if you disagree.

22:

Concept or not, the multiverse is by definition a non falsifiable hypothesis.

Which makes it an unscientific concept.

You may as well claim that angels are responsible.

23:

So, it's a bit like the non-testable and hence unscientific notion of consciousness?

24:

It's true that we haven't developed a notion of consciousness that is scientifically verifiable. But so what? We know we are conscious; that fact is obvious to us all. The existence of multiverses is far more conjectural.

The traditional Buddhist form of oppression goes, "It's terribly sad that events in a previous but unverifiable life have caused you to be born into the CrappedOn caste, with a duty from birth of taking any crap we choose to send your way without complaint. Should you fail this duty, you will accumulate additional karma which will make subsequent lives very unpleasant, while our draconian system of justice will make sure your next life is reached expeditiously."

25:

That's actually Hinduism.
Buddhism denies the existence of such a soul or anything of a permanent nature.
Additionally, Karma just means that actions have consequences that continue through time and through other beings.
"In Buddhist phenomenology and soteriology, the skandhas (Sanskrit) or khandhas (Pāli, aggregates in English) are the five functions or aspects that constitute the human being.[a][b] The Buddha teaches that nothing among them is really "I" or "mine"."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skandha#The_five_skandhas

26:
All religions have been made by men, which might interest you as a female?

Apart from The Foursquare Gospel, Christian Science, Shakers, ...

27:

... and Theosophy, Spiritualism.

28:

An Indian friend once told me that Karma simply means "duty". He was fully conversant with both languages, so I tend to believe him (or at least believe that at least some Indians think like that).

Buddhism and Hinduism have a relationship not entirely unlike Christianity and Judaism; the newer religion in each case used an earlier religion as its starting point.

29:

True, and the other factor being that Buddhism often prospered by adopting some of the indigenous belief systems eg Tibetan Buddhism and Bon.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bon
I have a preference for Buddhism + Taoism = Zen

30:

completely off topic, but just wanted to thank Stina for some great posts and generating excellent discussion. I hope to see her in the discussion threads frequently in the future.

And thanks Charlie for inviting her.

31:

I once read a book called Thank You and OK by David Chadwick, who went to study Zen in a monastery in Japan. He went looking for enlightenment and found the Japanese funeral industry. It was a good read, but sometimes the monastery seemed like the Fool's Guild in Discworld, i.e. an institution devoted to not getting the joke.

32:

Except there's nothing to get, and nothing to not get :-)
Meanwhile I strive for a better class of illusion.

33:

@6
Presumably all religions were made by the Deity, whatever gender one ascribes to that. Personally I consider it very parochial to assign animal rutting organs and human familial relationship psychology to something supposed to have such transcendent properties.

And as a generality I like your idea about religions using blackmail. Religions experience evolution, and only the most aggressive and repressive ones have really thrived broadly. Reasonable systems of belief have historically been marginalized and confined to niche environments. The dominant religions are indeed aggressive, unreasonable entrapment systems for the service of a professional Inner Party. That's the largest shark.

But that doesn't mean we need to be unreasonable back, except in self defense. In a scientific era it is only a matter of time. When all was ignorance, all that mattered was the design--belief was an art form. Doctrine was bent to match desired effect. That won't continue to fly. They will improve. Keep the faith.

@22
in "The Beginning of Infinity" David Deutsch says
"Quantum interference phenomena constitute our main evidence of the existence of the multiverse...
[The multiverse]is the only known explanation of many phenomena and has survived all known experimental tests...You need look no further than what a Mach-Zehnder interferometer does to a single phonton: the path that was not taken affects the one that was."
He takes apart the other interpretations and the philosophies on which they are founded. If one of those epicycle using non-explanatory interpretations (such as the Copenhagen) were proven true, the multiverse would be falsified, but since they are behind the curtain...

34:
When all was ignorance, all that mattered was the design--belief was an art form. Doctrine was bent to match desired effect. That won't continue to fly.

Hmm, well, science is a tool; it can be bent to all sorts of uses. What's to say new religions won't be designed with modern knowledge of psychology, modern techniques like A-B testing and so on, the better to service that professional inner party? A darker turn on the Cow Clicker genre...

35:

My comment @ 6
Meant that AFAIK all religions are to some extent for the benefit of men over women, they are carefully-constructed power dominance structures.
What astonishes me is the way many women get down and swallow this (sexual innuendo deliberate) so see any RC-brainwashed womwen (e.g Christina Odone eeeuuuwww).
Yes, Stina @ 19 - precisely, thank you.
@ 26 - subsets of christianity - which was made (certainly after Nicea) entirely by men, having purged the nasty female bits, like the gospel of Magdalene, oops.

Dirk @ 12
Bhuddism doesn't blackmail?
Oh come on! Look at the behaviour of bhuddist priestly power-structures in Sri Lanka or Burma.... or 16thC Japan (!)

36:
completely off topic, but just wanted to thank Stina for some great posts and generating excellent discussion

Seconded. Thank you. Hope you visit again (assuming we weren't too massively annoying ;-)

37:

"What's to say new religions won't be designed with modern knowledge"

They will, but hopefully they will also be designed with modern wisdom, standing on the shoulders of giants by learning from what they did wrong and why they did it. They would have to be just as strong, but not as wrong. Just as stable-but-static heirarchy can be built into any institution (very broad word, that) so can other characteristics, perhaps with superiorily (!), resiliently flexible ways that don't include an inner party.


38:

@35 "What astonishes me is the way many women get down and swallow this." Certainly true of Christianity. The following is at risk of sounding misogynistic but it is based on real experience and meant in love. They not only swallow it but they are the main proponents of it for a couple of reasons.
(1)Paul says that if you marry an unbeliever you will both go to heaven together, so its a way to spread the message. So many of the pagan European kings who first made their nations Christian did so after marrying a Christian. Constantine included.
(2)I can see where women would sign off on everybody trying to emulate a guy who is willing to be tortured to death for them. Good example guys, be like that.
I don't see Islam (the second largest shark) having that advantage, so I guess they have to use other means of...persuasion.
(3)I think women tend to be nice and Christianity is ostensibly about being nice. They don't notice what the bait is attached to. It just has to be better than the alternatives, not perfect.

Good luck in the bible belt finding a wife who isn't either (1)just trying to bring you around to Jay-zus (openly or secretly) or (2) a bar fly. No human beings here, everyone is beholdin to a higher power. This is because of the way the religious leaders have engineered things. If you are not in the flock you seem to be encouraged to become MORE evil and wild so you can serve as a boogie man or example of how you hit bottom when you backslide. Being a decent unbeliever is not allowed, black or white only. It isn't intrinsic to the nature of women, but to the way they are being used by full time master manupulators who work on the Sabbath.

So only the believers breed. Men see this and do what is necessary, but once married they watch football on Sunday while the wife goes to church. Unless they are trying to network with the ubiquitous chamber of commerce.

Generalizations, genaralizations all.

@36 Thirded, but please after giving us a science fiction novel. Discussion in previous thread made me decide to start with Pam Sargent. From what I read she seems to be a feminist Writer, not a Feminist Writer like Joanna Russ. I have missed most of a whole segment, but will soon need new supplies.

39:

Presumably all religions were made by the Deity, whatever gender one ascribes to that.

I tend to take the view that religions were made by human beings, for their own purposes: exposition, story-telling, providing a framework for explaining natural phenomena (in a pre-scientific world), providing a framework for enforcing social norms, and so on.

But then, I work on the assumption that the perception of the existence of a deity is just a cognitive bias to which us primates are prone. Our theory of mind -- which underpins our consciousness -- leads us to apply the intentional stance pretty much indiscriminately to all phenomena around us, including natural phenomena with no intentional cause; we then deduce the existence of an intentional, causal agent, even where no such mind exists.

This isn't atheism so much as a dismissal of all human accounts of the perception of deity. I can't definitively disprove the existence of an intentional first cause; however I think the probability of it being remotely conscious in human terms, much less interested in where we stick our reproductive organs or what meat we eat, is approximately zero.

40:

They not only swallow it but they are the main proponents of it for a couple of reasons.

You missed a critically important reason why Christianity appeals to women: its original spread throughout the Roman Empire circa 100AD-300AD, as a syncretistic heretical embrace-and-extend sect of post-second-temple Judaism, worked on the basis of its appeal to slaves.

"You're a believer so you're going to go to heaven, while your owner gets their due deserts" is a powerful message! In particular, the focus on belief provides the slave with a token they can hang onto whatever happens to them -- the owner can't deprive them of the contents of their own mind.

Now consider that the status of women in many historical societies (and some still extant -- e.g. parts of Afghanistan) was and is tantamount to slavery. And that this is a religion that promises that if you only believe, and submit, you'll be rewarded with eternal bliss after you die ...

41:

Sift the universe fine enough and there'll be no trace of DNA or any other organic molecules, or even atoms.

You might be left with some string. Or, with a fine enough sift, not even that.

Sifting is not a good mechanism to prove non-existence.

42:

You don't even need that fine of a sifter; one that would pass molecular gases is still fine enough that there will be no trace of DNA or RNA for sure, and probably no trace of proteins, heavier hydrocarbons (eg Octane), carbon in certainly its graphite and diamond allotropes, and quite possibly as buckyballs...

43:

I agree that justice is, if anything, an emergent property, but it's also very subjective. Most real conflicts in the world are not between justice and injustice, but between two or more different understandings of what justice requires.

44:

Justice and mercy may be holistic, ie built up rather than disassembled, but that doesn't make them unscientific. You'll be telling me they can't be measured next.

45:

Women in antiquity were heavily engaged with religion. Imagine ancient cities pulsating with women communally concerned to attract the the attention, favour and protection of the gods and goddesses. Glow on the horizon sort of thing. This was important work, preserving their communities and families.
And there was some social mobility. Women married up, exslaves could achieve social prominence, aristocratic familes declined and died out.
I doubt many highly educated high status men brought up pagan freely converted. But their Christian wives would have thought it critically important that their children become Christian. And then you have highly educated men ready to defend Christianity intellectually, promote it and to become Christian community leaders.

46:

I think you can't get away from absolutism, it will always be needed to a small degree. When something is wrong, it's wrong, it's everything else about the situation that is negotiable.

47:

But wrong isn't absolute.

Saying "a tomato is a vegetable" is wrong for certain values of wrong. Saying "a tomato is a bow-string girder bridge" is also wrong, but it's on a whole other scale of wrong!

48:

Here it is useful to distinguish factual wrongs from moral wrongs. If a fact is wrong, and all parties are dealing in good faith, then evidence can be presented that will eventually convince people (this usually doesn't work, because people usually aren't arguing in good faith, but sometimes it does).

To say that something is morally wrong is to evaluate it by some sort of moral code. Since different people follow significantly different moral codes, argument is likely to follow in all but the most trivial cases.

49:

You can finish the question somewhat though. You might consider the phrase "killing is wrong" to be naive (or not), but "killing someone whom you do not know for no gain to anyone anywhere is wrong" is starting to look pretty ironclad. That is the form of correct absolutism is was trying to point out.

50:

"[Humans ]apply the intentional stance ... to all phenomena around us, including natural phenomena with no intentional cause"

The fact that this cognitive error sometimes leads to a belief made does not mean that all such beliefs stem from that cognitive error.

My belief in a Deity like intelligence stems from a more multi step reasoning about phenomena, not from simple attribution of intent to them. The phenomenon I have seen is that causally separate events seem to influence each other. Reluctantly I reasoned that the only way that could be done is if something vast was actually capable of calculating the results of the butterfly effect. The simplest way for it to do that would be for it to actually sense everything directly. If it is calculatingly aware of everything it has to be pretty smart.

I had been a superdeterminist and an athiest, and my world view was pretty shaken up. I absolutely felt I had to figure out what was going on and reconcile everything so I could go on with my life on a firm footing. So I did some library research and eventually concocted a detailed metaphysical theory.

I've heard the arguments about how so many things happen that constant unlikely coincidences are inevitable, but I am not persuaded. Here's a small example though. What are the odds that the moon would be exactly the same apparant size as the sun, making perfect solar eclipses possible and thus Einsteins theories verifiable?

Anyway, you will be assimilated.

51:

My initial thought here was "what about 'death cults'?" After an hour or so wandering through Wikipedia, I came t the conclusion that these split into 3 categories:-
1) Groups who could more accurately be called "suicide cults", since they didn't murder anyone other than their own children (eg Jonestown).
2) Murder/robbery groups, such as Thuggees.
3) Urban legends.

I'd suggest that possibly #46 should read "...When something is morally wrong, it's ..."

52:

The Aztecs seem a notable omission in your list of "death cults".

53:

Stina, I'm reminded of another Discworld book, Feet of Clay. Dorfl professes aethism because the existence of a god or gods is unproven; when one of said gods whacks him with a bolt of lightning for uttering such heresy, Dorfl says something to the effect of "Not That Way. It Has To Be By Rational Argument."

At which point - there's always that type - several religious leaders suddenly looked very interested ;-)

54:

Btw, this "we're here to be educated" has been done many, many times before; perhaps most notably in popular fiction by Richard Bach's "Jonathon Livingston Seagull" and "Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah".

Well. It's nicer than the sort of quantum suicide that whittles away at you until you're an unthinking vantage point adrift in a sea of white light, white noise for eternity.

55:

Aztecs and death cultism:-
1) Ritual sacrifice, suggesting that the priesthood gained power through human sacrifice (or actually believed their theology).
2) Most accounts suggest that at least some of the "victims" believed that they were being honoured.

That doesn't seem to meet your "killing someone whom you do not know for no gain to anyone anywhere is wrong" test?

56:

I think I can get along with the notion that the astec sacrifices were morally wrong, and that those who thought otherwise were wrong.

57:

Aztecs, to oversimplify a bit, thought that their human sacrifices powered the sun and made life possible.

see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_religion#Sacrifice

58:

but this raises the propositions that are "not even wrong"

59:

Which implies that sunlight kills vampires through a variety of force-feeding.

60:

Exactly; you and I might feel that human sacrifice is wrong, but because of their belief system, the Aztecs felt that it was not only right, but an honourable death.

61:

completely off topic, but just wanted to thank Stina for some great posts and generating excellent discussion. I hope to see her in the discussion threads frequently in the future.

You're welcome and thank you. This was a lot of fun.

62:

Hope you visit again (assuming we weren't too massively annoying ;-)

Y'all weren't annoying at all. I just needed a day off. This was a lot of work.

63:

Thirded, but please after giving us a science fiction novel.

I'm afraid you may be waiting a while on that one. I've got no less than three fantasy novels planned so far. [shrug]

64:

Stina, I'm reminded of another Discworld book, Feet of Clay.

That was a wonderful book. I liked Dorfl quite a bit. He was fun.

65:

Btw, this "we're here to be educated" has been done many, many times before; perhaps most notably in popular fiction by Richard Bach's "Jonathon Livingston Seagull" and "Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah"."

Yes. It has, hasn't it?

"Well. It's nicer than the sort of quantum suicide that whittles away at you until you're an unthinking vantage point adrift in a sea of white light, white noise for eternity."

True. At least I think so.

66:

Stina, in "skip that particular mistake altogether? W00t!" what is "W00t"? An example of a mistake, a very obscure smilie, an acronym, a computer transliteration of a character that the blog software misinterpreted, a secret code, or some kind of test to see if we were paying attention?

67:

Charlie @ 39 & 40
Made, quite deliberately by (men) humans for purposes of power & control, actually. Exception: "prophets" who are always (usually?) candidates for the asylum, or serious medical intervention.
And the "reward in heaven" is, just what I stated it to be: - blackmail.
This is the first resort I notice ... someone who used to be friend, started to try to mock me the last time I met her ..."When you wake up (after death) and Jesus looks at you sadly, Greg, you'll ... : She didn't get past that point, because I just said "Liar".
Also, you said: " I can't definitively disprove the existence of an intentional first cause;"
But, however, alternately & contrariwise ...
You can postulate that "No god is detectable, by either direct or indirect means" & invite the believers to prove you wrong [ i.e. a falsifyable proposition ] whilst, in the meantime, the proposition stands.
I have never found anyone willing to take this one on or up - the weaselling and wriggling gets unbelievably inventive from the lying bastards at that point!

@ 48 & others.
Careful.
The moment you use the word "moral" you will find the blackmailers will arrogate it to themseleves - in that only religious morality applies, or that "Morality MEANS religion" (their religion, of course)
This happens every single time in public debate.
As usual, the religious are lying, except that that they really actually believe this shite ....

RD South @ 50
The simplest way for it to do that would be for it to actually sense everything directly
IN WHICH CASE IT WILL BE DETECTABLE, won't it?
Your proposition fails at the very first hurdle.
That mutual communication MUST be detectable - & nothing showing on the radar at present.
Oops.

68:

W00t/Woot/WOOt == a geekish exclamation of joy. Think "Huzzah".

Folk etymology is that it came from D&D as an abbreviation of "Wow! Loot!", and then migrated into the computer gaming world, and then geekish culture in general.

69:

(I now have an image of a 2080 House of Lords with a group of grey haired folk stamping their feet and all shouting "Woot" after a rather good speech).

70:

as do the modern day Templarios in mexico which have been described as a death cult - altars decorated with body parts etc.

reading abotu some of the more extream groups in mexico did make me think of some of the opposition cults in the laundryverse

71:

My Google-fu, Wiki-fu and self-admittedly rubbish Spanish come up with 3 main categories of hits for Templiaros:-
1) Castellan for Knights Templar
2) A luxury hotel in Mexico
3) A Mexican drugs gang.

72:

Well, the Knights Templar have been out of business for a while and altars full of body parts would look out of place in a luxury hotel, so by process of elimination ...

73:

Er, I was suggesting that none of the 3 categories are likely to do pretty much anything without some form of self-interest involved which kind of fails our "death cult test".

74:

Jay @72
Are you really sure about that?
According to several people (notably Katherine Kurz) the "poor knights of the Temple of Solomon" are still with us ....
It was certainly noted at the time, that the only place they were genuinely persecuted/stamped on was France, bacause Philip le Bel wanted all their money.
Elsewhere they were either paid off, or assimilated into "the Hospital",
Or, to visit somewhere close to Charlie, anyone going to Roslin Chapel, who is versed in christian symbolism is going to get their head messed with.

75:

There have been all sorts of rumors about the Templars' survival, and for all I know one might be true. Still, 700 years is a long time, and the few institutions that have survived from that period have changed greatly, most of them beyond recognition.

76:

"The simplest way for it to do that would be for it to actually sense everything directly
IN WHICH CASE IT WILL BE DETECTABLE, won't it?"

No, for at least two possible reasons:
a) Quantum Non-demolition Measurement ie measuring without interacting physically
b) If we exist in the Mind of God we could no more detect it that a character in one of your dreams can detect you.

77:

Dirk @ 76
Please grow up!
a] Not so, there is still the QM interaction.
Otherwise, by your argument Quantum computers won't & can't work.
But we do know that entanglement occurs.
Game over.
b] And does branch, falling in the forest, with no-one present, make a sound?
Really! Fairy-tales for frightened children.
Did the past happen at all?

78:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elitzur%E2%80%93Vaidman_bomb_tester#Experiments

"In 1994, Anton Zeilinger, Paul Kwiat, Harald Weinfurter, and Thomas Herzog actually performed an equivalent of the above experiment, proving interaction-free measurements are indeed possible."

79:

"Not so, there is still the QM interaction."

The interaction cannot be detected from the object being examined because it sees no interaction. Experimentally objects have been imaged without photons impinging on the target.

As for your second point, replace "dream" with "simulation" and the argument still holds. An entity running in simulation cannot necessarily detect the computer running it.

80:

Greg! Please stop spreading the old Rosslyn chapel rubbish. It's a perfectly normal rich mans folly with baroque internal decoration that uses lots of 15th century Christian symbolism. Remember the late medieval catholic faith is not the same as the 20th century catholic faith or the protestants or suchlike.
We'd see a lot more well decorated collegiate chapels if our ancestors hadn't painted them over or broken them up.

81:

guthrie
Yes, but it's highly enteretaining rubbish!

dirk @ 79
Yes, but if "objects have been imaged, without photonic direct interection, there still must have been some interaction - because an image was obtained.
So, it is still (indirectly) detectable, like I said in the first place.
My proposition says "directly OR indirectly detectable" or did I forget to include that bit originally?
If so, then my bad for not stating testable principle clearly enough. OK?

82:

Not - the object being imaged cannot detect the interaction because it does not see any photons.

83:

A sift just separates items of different size. So a finer mesh will simply separate atoms from smaller items.

84:

Dirk @ 82
So?
The object being imaged cannot detect - BUT the detection itself still takes place - a result (a detection of the object) occurs.
So it is still (indirectly) detectable, isn't it?

See what I mean about wriggling - and this is nowhere nearly as inventive as the real religious get, mainly because they are lying bastards, whereas Dirk is engaging in an honest disputation (I hope )

85:

Yes, but if God is doing the non demolition measurement on you there is absolutely no way you could detect it because *nothing* physically impinges upon you.

86:

Dirk
Please grow up?

This is identical in essence to the "branch falling in an empty forest" question, isn't it?
If there is no observer, do ANY events occur?
If you answer "No" to that question, I think the label is "solipsist" (?)
And no meaningful discussion can be had.

Ref. to "Zen & the Art of..."
Where "Phaedrus" hears a bhuddist teacher stating that the A-bomb explosions in Japan were an illusion.
Err .....

Also, third-party observer CAN make a detection, can't they - you can't detect, but someone else can.

87:

My sister-in-law, who is an archaeologist, tunes her google searches to exclude any pages which use the word "Templar" as they are usually total gubbins. Although there obviously really was such an organisation and there are mysteries associated with them, the whole area's so full of rubbish it's probably better left well alone as a serious subject.

I'm in total agreement with Greg that it's fairly entertaining rubbish as long as it's unconnected with the real world. As a source for fiction it's been so overdone by lazy conspiracists and hopefully there'll be less of that in the recent future since the Utoya atrocity.

88:

@ 87
One could indeed construct a good conspiracy on the basis that (in Eggland) the principal land in London belonging to the Temple was taken over by the lawyers.
There's a column with their emblem, two knights on one horse in the middle of Temple yard, now (!)
If one really wanted to tke over the world, what better method - an international conspiracy of lawyers!
There are quite a few "Temple" remnants around as round churches, giant medieaval barns, place-names etc, as well .....
Some of their symbolism was, quite deliuberately, resuscitated by a. n. other "sceret society" - the Freemasons. But I think I don't want to go there, or not right now, anyway

89:

In any event, all I was originally saying was that I didn't think that the Knights Templar (as historically described) were a death cult.

90:

"Dirk
Please grow up?
This is identical in essence to the "branch falling in an empty forest" question, isn't it?"

Gregg, please stop your pathetic condescension towards someone who obviously knows a lot more modern physics than you. Interaction free measurement is an EXPERIMENTAL FACT.

So stop claiming that one "proof" of the non existence of God is the fact that nobody can detect such an interaction. We can do interaction free measurements on a lab bench FFS.

91:

Well, if you want real conspiracy see what the Knights of Malta are up to. Ask Charles what I mean if you don't know.

92:

True this; Web search for "passive radiation scanner", and keep reading until you find some of the technical reports on how they work.

93:

Interaction free measurement would be more like detecting radiation without any radiation hitting the detector.

94:

Baby steps man, baby steps; Greg's having enough difficulty with the idea of passive detection in the first place.

95:

paws
Stop it!
My first degree is in Physics - I do know what I'm waffling about!
Where did I say that the interaction was direct?
I accept that the object being detected has no direct interaction with the measuring quantised particles.
BUT there IS an interaction, elsewhere - isn't there?
So, there is actual indirect sensing of the (non) interaction (or action, if you prefer).

Oh, and I suppose I'd better restate the proposition, just to clear things up, since people are desperately trying to wriggle out of it...
here goes:
Begin Quote]
1. No “god” can be detected.
{ - even if that god is supposed to exist. }
Not detectable directly or indirectly. No events or causations exist that are not explicable in the normal course of natural causes and random occurrences. This includes, most importantly, the information-flow that must pass to and from any "god", so that he, she, it, or they can themselves observe, or intervene in "their" universe. If there is any god around, then that information-flow will also be detectable. Where is it?
Please note, even if only for the point of argument : - NOT "God does not exist". That is the viewpoint of the committed atheist, who believes an unprovable(?) negative, with as much evidence, or lack of it, as any deist believes in any sort of god.
End Quote]

And since BigSkyFairy cannot be detected ..
directly, indirectly, actively or passively, his/her/its/their existence is irrelevant & unimportant.
Which turns one into a "Dawkins" 99% atheist, awaiting evidence, but, in the meatime assuming that BSF doesn't exist, for lack of evidence.

96:

"If there is any god around, then that information-flow will also be detectable. Where is it?"

Quantum imaging means there is an information flow in only one direction. If you are being imaged in such a manner, or indeed the entire world/universe is, then there will be no detectable means of determining it. The object being imaged cannot, under any circumstances, detect that it being imaged. So if a hypothetical God is using such a method to take a look at you, you will not be able to know that it happening no matter what you do. Hence the fact you cannot "detect" God doing this is no disproof whatsoever.

97:

No “god” can be detected.
Which proves that no-one has a working "God detector" yet.

A bit like quarks in the 1950s, or bosons more recently. See where I'm going with this?

Absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence.

98:

I'm not a scientist, but I read a lot of pop science. (I have a BA in psychology and my only hard science is the first year of undergrad physics and chemistry up through organic.)

I believe in the BSF because of patterns, which cannot be detected directly. You can only show pieces of the pattern. For example, you cannot detect the evolution of humanity from unicellular life, but you can find individual transitional organisms and you can actually show natural selection happening in short lived populations and connect the dots.

The equivalent in BSFism of demonstrating merely the process of evolution (as opposed to showing the entirity of it) would be demonstrating that probabilities separated in time and space affect each other. From what I can understand I think Alain Aspect's experiments around 1982 may have shown something like that is possible.

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

Entanglement, some of the posts call it, but I think that's a consequence of something more general called non-locality.

99:

Here is a good, simple, explanation of most Quantum stuff:
http://dhushara.tripod.com/book/quantcos/qnonloc/qnonloc.htm

100:

Oh dear.
But, but, but ...

There is still detection, elsewhere, isn't there?
Or you would not be able to make the measurement, of non-directly-interacting quantum events, would you?
What part of "INDIRECTLY" don't you understand?
I'll repeat that for RDSOuth @ 98: what part of indirectly don't you understand?

Other example: a lot of evidence for evolution is indirect, isn't it? But evolution is a fact, isn't it?

I am also quite aware of the:
"absence of eveidence != evidence of absence" argument, or in this case, non-argument.
However, as our detectors get better & more sensitive & covering wider spectrums, the "visibility" of any BSF gets LESS, does it not?

From massless particles, such as photons, through the much-harder-to-detect very-low-mass-particles (neutrinoes) up through all the layers, and all the increasing complexity (such as "Life") up & out to other stars, other galaxies, to supergalaxy-clusters far off in deep time & space ... no BSF.
Note that emergent/integrated phenomena are allowed in this detection scenario.
There is still no BSF, at all, anywhere.
The reasonable assumption is that it isn't there, at all.

I've heard & seen ALL these fake "arguments" before, & you haven't even started on the "parallel universes/higher Branes" tosh that I've heard from some brainwashed religious believers ...
But, for BSF to have any effect AT ALL in this universe, there must be some "physical" (remembering that matter & energy are interchangeable) presence in this universe, & that any information flow must be percievable, somehow, if only indirectly.

So far, nothing.
If you want to claim that it exists, fine: all you have to produce is some POSITIVE EVIDENCE, at which point my postulation/proposition collapses completely.
However, handwavium won't wash - evidence is required.
None so far.
OK?

"BSF might be hiding in here ..."
Well, fine, produce something to show that it is, rather than:" ... it might, because I want it to be so"
Your call:
Produce some positive evidence, or go away.
Fair do's?

101:

"There is still detection, elsewhere, isn't there?"

Obviously - by the experimenter aka "god".
But nothing internal to the system being observed can detect anything at all.

102:

Internal to the WHOLE SYSTEM?
In which case, how were the non-interaction detections performed, other than indirectly, and from another "viewpoint!?
You have just contradicted yourself.

103:

Greg, the "thing" being imaged cannot detect that it is being imaged because no photons, or any other "influences" impinge upon it. The "thing" can be of arbitrary size. If you don't understand that then I can't help you, other than to advise you to read up on the subject.

104:

SO?
The individual thing cannot detect.
So what?
Detection is performed elsewhere, isn't it, otherwise your experiment will have a null result.
Detection elswhere counts as indirect, doesn't it?
An IMAGE IS PRODUCED - you said so yourself.
Production of that image is an act of (indirect) detection, isn't it?

I think we may have a semantics problem here.

A N Other problem, if you are determined to talk about not very sensitive quantised labaoratory detections, but humans sensing BSF.

We cannot personally detect QM interactions - all our own detection apparatus is classical. That is bulk, aggregated signals, where individual QM effects have been smeared out by that aggregation.
Which means that your entire QM argument for non-directly-interactive detection is 150% irrelevant, since for a human to individually detect BSF, a classical interaction (even an indirect one) must occur.
Game over. AGAIN.

105:

Happy New Baktun!

http://news.yahoo.com/mexicos-maya-heartland-greets-dawn-era-134951963.html

I believe some scientists might point out that
many experiments isolate individual particles. The "classicalness" of the detector is meaningless.
Unless classicalness and unclassicalness is a magical justification for insisting that some things are just inexplicably mysterious and that's the height of reason. Schroedinger's equation works up to here and then we switch. Beyond that things are crazy.
Don't even look at it. I am the great Oz.

106:

Happy Solstice Day.

And thanks for the link.

I'll agree that some experiments are designed to isolate individual sub-atomic particles. Back at the original "Then take ... particle of justice or mercy. And ... be judged." argument, to detect particles of justice, mercy, or Dog, you first need a theory which tells you what type of particles they are, then you need to design and construct a detector for those particles. Greg may take this as a statement that Dog exists; it isn't. It's only a statement that the existence or otherwise of Dog has not been proven.

107:

paws
Agree.
I (merely) claim that "dog" is not detectable....
To prove me wrong, do some verifyable detection.....
In the meantime, I will ignore any claims regarding dog.

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