Conjecture


 

  •  Wars are much more expensive than expected (Rumsfield Principle)
  • Wars will take much longer than expected (McClellan Principle)
  • If you remove a despot, there WILL be a civil war
  • Cleaning the mess will take much longer, and cost much more than the war.
  • After you leave, there will be many people who hate you.
  • The folks you put in power will be corrupt and/or inept.
  • The war will empower and enrich profiteers
  • When a despot is replaced with democracy, people you don’t like will attain power.
  • Things will not go as planned.
  • Don’t make war in Afghanistan, it will be trouble.

Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal

The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensées, a collection of notes made towards the end of his life, that when making a life wager on the existence of God, belief in God is the best bet.  This is known as Pascal’s Wager.  Using the first formally structured decision theory and probability theory Pascal started from the proposition that reason and experiment cannot establish the existence or non-existence of God.  He developed the proposal that no matter the state of existence of God, it was a better bet to behave as though there was one.  In his other writings, Pascal expressed his belief that in comparison to other options, like stoicism, paganism, Islam, and Judaism,  the Christian faith is the only one that could be correct.  A corollary of Pascal’s thesis is “If it is impossible to know whether God exists, it follows that it is also impossible to know (in the case that God does exist) God’s expectations of us.” This corollary makes Pascal’s belief in the correctness of Christianity unsupported by his own logic.

Pascal’s wager has been attacked and defended by philosophers over the ages,  Voltare – treatied it as a proof, as opposed to a pragmatic analysis.  Denis Diderot, and J. L. Mackie point out that the same argument could be said about any religion, many of which each claim to be the only true path to salvation.  Richard Dawkins further challenges the scope of outcomes by proposing the possibility of a God who rewards honest search for truth, and punishes blind faith.  You see, taking these refinements into consideration, the decision matrix no longer supports Pascal’s clear odds.

My contribution to this discussion is to show that there is a third choice.  When the decision matrix is evaluated with my “third way”, it can be seen that this is the only sure bet.

Pascal’s original wager can be shown in a formal presentation as:

God exists (G) God does not exist (~G)
Living as if God exists (B) +∞ (heaven) −N (Pointless actions during life)
Living as if God does not exist (~B) ?? not specified
perhaps N (limbo/purgatory/spiritual death)
or −∞ (hell)
+N (none)

(more…)

Detail of the Pool of Knowledge by Ian Muttoo

Detail of the Pool of Knowledge by Ian Muttoo

John Locke in Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) states that everything we know is from experience.  He identifies two fountains of all knowledge – “the observation of external sensible objects”, and ” the internal operations of our minds perceived and reflected on by ourselves.”  As a society, we extend the personal experience by reporting the fact of occurrences upon sensible objects such as news of events, scientific reporting, TV, Radio, The National Enquirer, gossip, blogging, etc.  We also report the results of the internal operations of our minds, such as sermons, fiction, soap operas, symphonies, publications like Relativity, the Special and General Theory, and The Communist Manifesto.

Each of the sources of community experience comes with its own imprimatur and detractors.  The New York Times reporting is considered very factual by many, but political conservatives consider it to be “just a liberal rag”.  Those same folks believe that Fox News is “fair and balanced” while liberals decry it as “a conservative propaganda house”.

Educators have instructed their students to use “standard references” because internet sources like Wikipedia are not vetted by experts, and can contain information which is biased or conjectural.  Using internet sources other than institutional ones, like cdc.gov, census.gov and redcross.org is verboten.

I believe that the orientation to “standard references” in K-12 education is fatally flawed.  Much more important than factual accuracy in eighth grade reports is learning the skills to find and sift the truth in a information environment filled with spin and distortion. (more…)

The Supreme Court Building

The Supreme Court Building

If the test that former Supreme Court Justice O’Connor used to decide Establishment Clause issues relating to the separation of Church and State was:

“Encouragement”; i.e. did the State encourage a religion, and in doing so, made others not of that religion feel ‘excluded’;

Why, then doesn’t the concept of “marriage” (which is the religious ceremony piece of a civil union) violate the same Establishment Clause? Wouldn’t same sex couples feel excluded on the basis of a religious belief?

Perhaps the solution to arguments on same sex marriages is to remove the word “marriage” from the purview of government.  If the states and federal government only recognized civil unions, and left marriage to religious and other nongovernmental bodies it moots all the political arguments.

Under this regime, two Individuals who wished to be considered a unit for tax, inheritance, medical, child custody and all other legal and practical matters would enter a civil union.  This civil union could be “blessed” and become a marriage by whatever church, lodge, association etc. the parties may choose.  As far as the state is concerned, nothing except a civil union is required.  A marriage without an underlying civil union would have no force of law, and a marriage ceremony would have no effect on rights or privileges of the couple.  The governmental and legal benefits would accrue solely through the civil union.

This concept would simplify the law with respect to polygamy.  A person could be a member of only one civil union at any time.

The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence

Reading Carl Sagan’s “The Dreams of Dragons” is like reading an ancient polymath’s writing – Bacon or Voltaire proposing their best insights from renaissance knowledge. Sagan draws on 1970’s knowledge of the human brain and consciousness to propose a broad vision for what was known from “recent” researches from the likes of Bronowski, Dement, Eccles, Gazzaniga, Gould, Leakey, Minsky, Sperry and Von Neumann. Many of their researches were cutting edge at the time, but have been overshadowed, modified or overturned by new work by themselves and others.

humorous pictures It is cool to find an inside joke about uncertainty, and everyone gets it! Check out this from icanhascheezburger.com!

DodoWe have an endangered species list identifying organisms that are about to wink out of existence like the dodo and the passenger pigeon. Some of these should are listed because they are emotionally important to humans – like the bald eagle and the koala bear. Some folks bemoan the protection of the snail darter and the northern spotted owl when it interferes with an economic activity.

These lists are of limited value because they include only the organisms we know exist. The organisms we know of represent only a tiny fraction of those in the world, and hence only a tiny few of those in danger of extinction, so putting a few on a list from those few we know might make us feel better, but it is really myopic.

There is a good case for preserving biodiversity in all ecologies, as each organism fills an important place in the system. Arguments are made that minor players in an area (such as low populations of a specific creature) are not important because they don’t seriously effect the balance of the ecology. On a day to day basis, these organisms seem insignificant – the proportion of the photosynthesis, grazing, predation, parasitism, etc. in the ecology is just not significant enough to make a difference.

Recent research in the Census of Marine Microbes, part of the project Census of Marine Life, done by Mitchell Sogin at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, shows that in each sample of the microscopic life from a submarine ecology station there are always a few dominant microbe species in each sample but thousands more species that are present, but rare. Each ecological sampling point or station has an entirely new suite of rare microbes. (more…)

Throughout all of history, folks have tried to determine what it is that makes a person have consciousness. What is it that makes the light illuminating our mind with awareness of being?

No one has found a physical “thing” in a person that could be called a soul. In spite of the images in Harry Potter, Ghost and other works, no structure, vapor or essence has been identified as the soul or consciousness. I suggest that the reason is that the soul is an action, not a thing. In I am a Strange Loop, Doug Hofstadter makes a convincing case that human consciousness consists of a self referential strange loop.Lightbulb

I don’t think Doug completed his thesis. He left the nature of the strange loop as simply “something” within the cranium. The definition of a loop can be anything from a complete electrical circuit, anything round or oval that is closed or nearly closed, a curl or coil, or finally, a computer program sequence that repetitively executes a series of instructions. If one looks at a strange loop as an algorithm that recursively refers to both new input and itself, a clearer picture of what might be consciousness arises.

DesCartes said, cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”). He should have said “I think, and this makes me be”. Thinking is consciousness – while we are awake and aware the strange loop is the execution of thought. It depends on all the inputs from our senses, the state of our body and all the memories and associations or “tokens” we have developed through life.

(more…)

Since 650 AD, Jews, Christians and Muslims have crusaded, inquisitioned, jihaded and holocausted each other with a ferocity greater than any predator. Each believe they are the favored people of their God. Yet all serve exactly the same God.

CrusifixAmong the Christians there has been great bloodshed in the name of Christ – the Huguenots, the Cathars, the Knights Templar were all followers of the Lamb of Peace who were slaughtered in the name of fundamentalist belief.

Star and CrescentThe Shiia and the Sunni are at each other’s throats in Bagdhad today over which of the caliphs were true religious leaders.

Islam seeks “death to the Jews” and Christians, under Hitler tried to exterminate them.

Star of DavidEach of these religions envision man in “likeness to God”, and Ezekiel clearly shows the God of the old testament as humanlike.

My question and conjecture: What God of human sensibilities would permit such atrocities in his name?

How can men of religion countenance the slaughter of others who worship the same God?