Space isn’t big enough for: God

Yes, you heard it here first.  As infinite as outer space is, and as powerful and willfully teeny tiny any god can be, there is no room for it.  Or him.  Or her, as the case may be.

The further we look, the more galaxies we find.

Are you shocked?  Are you a true believer who also has dreams of seeing humanity colonize the big bang?

Then, consider this.

 

God, or gods, or powers that be, are fine and dandy when you need to explain the unexplainable to those who can’t handle much explaining.

God is great for kids.  God is great for people who don’t have time or energy for deep thoughts.  God is great for trying to keep families together, especially during times of crisis when everything seems to be going wrong.

On Earth, that works fine.  There is time for those kids to grow up and find their own answers.  On Earth, even if every last possible thing goes wrong for a family, they still have themselves, and at the very least they still have air.

Those don’t come free on the moon, or anywhere else in space.  There is no time for anyone to pray that a solar flare might miss.  The stakes are much much higher than they ever have been for the human species.  Anyone who thinks they can mitigate the risks by taking time out for prayer is fooling themselves.  And by association, increasing the risks for everyone else.

To be clear, if a Moonster (or Lunite?) wants to pray on their own time, and invoke a deity on the sly, that’s their business.  It’s not like god will be outlawed.

But anyone who is hoping that the almighty intervene in lieu of doing actual work to protect the colony, that’s what this is all about.

The colony is going to be filled with the smartest people this planet can collect.  And if they can’t make it on their own, then there isn’t a god on Earth who can make up the difference.

Strike me now if I’m not telling the truth.

Amen

 

Archaeological Sexism

This is one of my favorite sculptures in the whole world.  It’s elegant, minimalist, hopeful, and ancient.

If this sculpture says fertility to you, then you've been in the field too long!

This museum calls it “Stargazer.”  It’s a perfect name, because it’s a figure looking straight up.

It might be a woman because there’s a triangle where the “legs” meet, instead of junk hanging out.  But it could also be sexless.

Other museums call these sculptures a “fertility” figure.

What the heck?

This is yet another case of MALE archaeologists ascribing a name to something that means absolutely nothing related to the figure.

Sure, you can make up a great story about how hordes of men would dance around dying embers late at night, lustfully shouting up at the “pregnant moon,” drinking to excess.  Once their adrenaline and testosterone reached their summit, they would run into the night pouncing on every available female they could find in order to spread their seed.

Maybe not.

Maybe it was simply a wonderful testament to the wonders of the universe, appreciated by people who had discovered farming, rudimentary laws, and had several good harvests in a row.  Maybe it was their way of saying “thanks” to the universe.

Is this getting a bit too extreme for the #MeToo movement?

Personally, I don’t think so.  After all, we are projecting our biases onto objects that should be neutral at best.  By calling this a fertility figure, the young people who see this in the museum are going to get a little bit of that macho bias implanted into their brain.  And that’s a bad thing.

So, the next time you look up at the stars, think about your brothers and sisters who were doing the same thing 5,000 years ago.  Then invite an archaeologist over for some tea.  I have a feeling those are some very lonely guys.

 

Ptolemy Was Right

Did you hear about big broohaha back in 1540?  It was so big that people started using the word “revolution” to describe anything that upset everything.

Or some guy playing with his toys.  Either way, nice picture.

Yes, this guy named Copernicus turned the world inside out by telling everyone we weren’t the center of the universe.  It was a big deal.

Except it wasn’t.  A big deal, that is.  Not in real terms.

First off, it wasn’t the first time that someone else suggested the idea.

Secondly, nothing changed.  Sure, people thought they were going to fly off the surface of the Earth because it was moving so fast, but they didn’t.  Sometimes I wish those sorts of people would, but that’s another post.

Most importantly, as students of behavior, there is no “right” or “wrong.”  There is only behavior that can be measured with respect to a purpose.

Ptolemy’s ideas that the Earth was the center of the solar system was a perfectly good idea.  It sufficed for many things, in fact, most people don’t care, even today.  And he gave it to us around 150 AD.

But for those people who really want to understand the universe, it wasn’t good enough.  Models putting Earth in the middle were complex.  Way too complex.

So a better idea came along.  It wasn’t the first time people presented the idea, but now it made more sense, because the better theory explained nature more efficiently than before.  Clock makers, astronomers, and physicists were all much happier.

So what?

When someone has a crazy theory, we shouldn’t simply dismiss them as “wrong.”  If that theory works for them, if it makes them happy, then fine.

However, if we have a question that our theory addresses more efficiently, or if our theory satisfies our purpose better than theirs, then our theory is “better” for us.  It is not necessarily better for them.

So the next time you hear someone fighting it out over their different theories of nature, sit back and relax.  You’ll know that they are both right.  Try and enjoy the spectacle.

That is, unless they are politicians fiddling with your future.  In that case, you should worry.

And that’s always right.

 

Tuning the Turing Test

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Let’s begin with the world’s greatest sci-fi movie: 2001.  This is from Piers Bizony‘s book on the making of 2001 A Space OdysseyIt's Eye-Conic.  Sorry.

Marvin Minsky had no problem understanding that the emptiness of 2001’s dialogue was intentional:

” … And after the momentous statement that the monolith must have been deliberately buried, one of the astronauts says, “Well, how about a little coffee?”  Kubrick’s idea is that the universe is too majestic for short sighted people.”

Trying to understand an “intelligence” that is much greater than our own is going to be a tough job.  Drinking a cup of java while pondering that gulf might be appropriate.

Which brings us to Alan Turing, the godfather of the modern computer.  He suggested a simple test to determine “intelligence.”  He didn’t define the term either, by the way.  What he said was put a person in a room and let them interact with a human, or machine, in a limited way (like through text only) and let them ask questions.

Today, this remains the best test we have of machine intelligence.

Here’s the problem.  What kind of person are you going to put in that room.  For instance, if you put my mother in law, she’s likely to think that the navigator voice in the GPS is already intelligent.  You should see the conversations they have while we drive along.

If you put some genius, like Doug Hofstadter or Doug Lenat in that room, chances are they can ask one question and game over.

So, next time you think of the Turing Test, also consider who you are going to put in that room.  If you’re scientifically oriented, then you want a “standard” human.  Good luck!

In the meantime, I’m going to get some coffee.

Valuing Your Virginity

Virginiest of them all.

I came across a wonderful post written by a talented young woman today, and must salute her courage.

She made a point about being a virgin, and how that was a gift she intended for her future husband.  It’s a wonderful sentiment, its value is certainly recognized by society, and almost every culture and religion reinforces the idea.

But it’s misplaced.

To understand why, let’s go back a few years.  Back when the term was first used, almost a thousand years ago.

Society was climbing out of the dark ages, and needed more ways to help categorize people as life became a bit more complex.  Every time a holy book needed to be translated, it didn’t hurt to update the fundamental concepts with new terms.  That’s why, for followers of Christianity, Mary the Mom of Jesus eventually became Virgin Mary.

Over time we started valuing the concept of “virgin” itself instead of the more fundamental concept those translators were trying to describe.

What was that fundamental concept?  It’s the same thing our courageous young lady wants to give to her husband.

It’s the gift of commitment.

It’s a way of telling someone that you are willing to stick by their side, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do you part.

Our young warrior (for that is what she is) worries that she will be inexperienced, or incapable of adequately pleasing her husband in that way.  Nonsense.  This is what she’ll need to keep him happy, and it’s what he will need as well.

That’s the value of “virginity” and it has nothing to do with sex.

As for the greater questions she raises about pornography and how it hurts young men and society, I may have covered that already.  If not, let me know.

 

 

Humanity versus Gaia

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There was this guy , see, and he said this crazy thing.  It was crazy because he said Mother Nature was real.  Really real.  He gave her a name.  And old name.  Gaia.

Here’s where I’m coming from.  If this Gaia gal is real, and she really is Mother Nature, she ought to be, like, the toughest chick ever invented.  Like, she’s got it all.  Earthquakes, clouds, tidal waves, volcanoes, right?

She’s also got close to forever to do her stuff.  She’s not in a hurry, right?

So, here’s my what if.

What if Gaia wanted to off someone?

Not just anyone, like, any ONE, but us.

All of us.  Man us.

It’s not like she’s gonna get out a tidal wave and wash us all away.  Or get a massive volcano going.  Or maybe order out for an asteroid.  Maybe she will.  Maybe she did already.  I dunno.

I was thinkin.  Maybe she might do something sneaky and slow.  Like figure out a way to get us all to stop having babies.

Or have us passing a disease that’s so evil it turns our own weapons into its weapons.

I dunno.  I was just thinkin.

What I was really really thinkin was that, if I was gonna get into a fight, the LAST person I’d wanna fight would be this Gaia chick.

I know she’d fight tough.  I know she’d fight dirty.

I’d be outnumbered.  And she can’t die.

There’s one more problem.

She always wins.

 

How About Coffee?

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Quoting another source semi-verbatim isn’t my style, but with the proper citation and it being only a little bit of quoting, we should be able to swing this by the legal department.  If there’s a problem, please ask nicely and this post can be modified.

But there’s a reason it’s worth quoting, it’s great writing and speaking.  The text is from Piers Bizony‘s book on the making of 2001 A Space Odyssey.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in aviation, space, movies, science fiction, science, anything technical, or anything having to do with behavior.  I fall into 5 of those categories.  You’ll want to buy it because it’s too good to share.

First, paraphrasing only slightly, we have Marvin Minsky, the expert from MIT advising Kubrick who had no problem understanding that the emptiness of 2001’s dialogue was intentional

” … And after the momentous statement that the monolith must have been deliberately buried, one of the astronauts says, “Well, how about a little coffee?”  Kubrick’s idea is that the universe is too majestic for short sighted people.”

Now, here’s the good part where I’m trying to be as faithful to Bizony as I can;  Kubrick’s wife, Christiane, speaking about her husband’s intentions.

“Stanley thought we are always falling behind our scientific and technical achievements.  We are very good at making more and more things – but to do what with?  We haven’t kept up, psychologically and philosophically.  We are not profound.  We are still getting away with the most boring entertainments.  We are shallow, and we know it.  We suffer from it.  The choices we make are not satisfying.  Our sins are all of omission – of not doing the more interesting things that we could do.  There is a lethargy, a lack of energy and concentration that prevents us from reaching the key point where we are as creative and perceptive as we would really wish to be.  We are in the terrible position of being smart enough to know that we are not smart enough.  For instance, we still can’t imagine, “What is God?”  So in 2001 we see fantastic tools of communication.  People can speak over zillions of miles, but nobody has anything to say.  So we pretend.  We live in a little world of nonsense and send each other funny photos and cute stories, with this enormous technology.  “Happy Birthday,” and so on, when nobody seems to care, or react.  It’s very melancholy – although two things we really can do.  War and pornography we’re good at.”

Bizony then distills much of Kubrick’s angst.

 “2001, so optimistic on the surface, is in fact a morally complex movie.  Either we will bore ourselves to death while our machines sneak in through the back door and take over; or else we will blow ourselves to hell, our modern minds still compromised by an instinctive taste for aggression.  It seems we have to keep fighting to survive.  And we have to stop fighting to survive.”

page 421, Piers Bizony, The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, published by Taschen, 2015

PS – For goodness sake, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, please do both of those first, and as soon as possible.

 

Supply Our Own Light

I study behavior.  I want everyone to study behavior.  It’s necessary for us to succeed as a species.  Strangely enough, Stanley Kubrick said the same thing.

“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this, and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death, then our existence can have genuine meaning.  However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

Studying the universe in all aspects is also part of behavior.  Our knowledge of the universe, how we go about acquiring and treating that knowledge, and our feelings about the universe are all human behaviors.

One of the most difficult things we must overcome in understanding behavior is detachment, removing ourselves from the equation.  We must have no feelings, no passion for our subject.  Whatever happens, happens.

We know that people mistreat animals, other adults, even children.  Yet as students we must take a deep breath and consider all the possibilities.

We watch as someone rises to power, corrupting government and the economy so that he amasses great wealth in a short period of time, without benefit to society.  We must stand by and learn, knowing that this has happened before.  Like stress in tectonic plates, these will also be relieved someday.

A despot secures his power, removing hard fought liberties from his nation.  We must take a deep breath, re-read our histories, and apply this new knowledge to our preparations for the future.

Kubrick was right, not only for technically conquering the vastness of space, but also for understanding behavior in all its forms.

We must confront the universe without passion, without preconception.  In order to explore the universe of behavior, we need only one thing.

We must supply our own light.

 

****  Boring Notes Follow ****

This quote is from the last few lines of page 508, Piers Bizony, The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, published by Taschen, 2015.  The book doesn’t indicate where Mr. Kubrick’s quote was taken from.

Quoting another source semi-verbatim isn’t my style, but with the proper citation and it being only a little bit of quoting, we should be able to swing this by the legal department.  If there’s a problem, please ask nicely and this post can be modified.

But there’s a reason it’s worth quoting, it’s great writing and speaking.  The text is from Piers Bizony‘s book on the making of 2001 A Space Odyssey.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in aviation, space, movies, science fiction, science, anything technical, or anything having to do with behavior.  I fall into 5 of those categories.  You’ll want to buy it because it’s too good to share.

By the way, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, please do both of those first, and as soon as possible.

 

PETH

There’s a group of extremists who practice guerrilla warfare against those they feel treat animals unethically.

They throw blood on those who wear fur.  They terrorize researchers who run experiments on mice.  I’m sure there’s many other things that they do, but that’s not my point.

My point is that we have to get these guys to expand their horizons.  People are animals, too.  Hasn’t anyone taught them that?  People, according to most people, are even more than animals.  We have souls.  And bank accounts.

If the people who are against the unethical treatment of animals are truly on the side of animals, then why don’t they include people in the mix?

Here’s their dilemma.  If they DON’T include people under their protective umbrella, they are then admitting that PEOPLE are special.  People are different than animals, perhaps even better.  That explains why animals need a special militant arm of defenders.

If they DO include people under their ethical treatment umbrella, then they have a whole ‘nother dilemma.  THAT dilemma would mean they have to start DEFENDING people against unethical treatment.  This would include harassing people based on their own research.  It would include children who are being slowly tortured by people who should never be allowed near them.  It would mean that they could even target politicians who put personal gain ahead of their constituents.

Will this happen?  Will there ever be an organization that is dedicated to the ethical treatment of people as well as animals?  It’s a nice thought, but I doubt it will happen.

There’s a good chance that the members of such groups are in them only because it gives them a mission that seems righteous.  Talking to one of them and challenging their belief system amounts to challenging someone about their religion.

And I’ve already learned, no one likes to be challenged.

Maybe that would be unethical.

 

Heaven Can’t Wait

There’s a whole lot of smart guys telling the rest of the world that religion is a whole bunch of hooey.  Let’s not worry about that.

Instead let’s dwell on the good stuff religion does.

Keeps us together.  Helps maintain some level of respect for each other, and reduce the amount of violence we heap on each other.  Those are all good things.

There’s one big problem every big religion faces.  Getting members motivated to do good, and avoid doing bad.

In psychology this is reinforcement, positive and negative.

In many judeo-christian religions, the biggest positive reinforcement is called heaven.  It’s a place good souls go after the body dies.  Other religions have happy places as well, all with slightly different amenities.

As far as I can tell, way back in the beginning, christianity didn’t emphasize the negative aspects.  It was some centuries before they began talking about hell.  Even more centuries to imagine the idea of purgatory, hell’s waiting room.

Heaven.  Hell.  Whatever you want to call them, you can’t have a good religion without them.  If people believed that there was no heaven or hell, then they would damn well do as they pleased.  We’d be living in anarchy.

Therefore heaven has to exist in order for a religion to work.  Hell also has to exist in some form, but not as importantly as heaven.

Here’s the fun part.  Heaven and hell already exist.  They are real.

And they are both right here.

My actions, your actions, everyone’s actions create ripples throughout society.  They create a disturbance within the force of nature.  They slightly alter the course of humanity’s future.

If you’re a good person, your memory, your actions, your “soul” does remain among the rest of us in the form of what you’ve left behind.  You exist in the sense that we all remember you, respect you, and retain a small part of you long after you are physically gone.

Heaven is right here on Earth.  You live on in the sense that part of you lives on within me.

So the next time you hear someone say religion is bad, or argue that religions shouldn’t exist, remember this.  You’re already in heaven, and they aren’t.  Sit back, be good, and enjoy eternity.