Monday, March 22, 2010

The almost universal declarations of the pundits indicate the Republicans are rejoicing at their amazing success in the November elections. After all, they endlessly repeat that the American people are totally on their side and utterly reject everything Obama stands for. I think the Republicans may well wake up after the November elections are actually held and find that the American people are divided on these issues and that the Democrats are still in power and may even have made some modest gains. Gains are not likely but I simply don’t see the Republicans succeeding with their hysterical attacks and exaggerations.

I used to despise both parties equally, but in the past three decades the Republican Party has steadily become more and more extreme, more convinced that the demagogue is the true voice of the American people. This has become so fundamental to the Republicans that they have begun to purge their party of those not regarded as sufficiently extreme. It has been pointed out out that Ronald Regan would be purged under the draconian standards considered acceptable to party loyalists today.

I said it during the first term of Bush Jr. and I will repeat it now. The Republican Party, if it is not to become a forlorn memory replaced by a less fanatic new political group, must put its extremists back on the extreme wing and return its base to those voters who are center right. When Members of Congress shout out epithets and make wild accusations as a regular part of their interactions with the public, it is time for a serous change.

The Founding Fathers, as a whole, hated the idea of parties and partisan politics, but however undesirable, they proved to be inevitable. Only George Washington himself could stand above such nastiness. As soon as he retired the demagogues took over. Adams and Jefferson split over the vulgarity of campaign politics and remained alienated for years. Adams’ wife never forgave Jefferson, even after her beloved husband had done so. It is true that things were even more nasty in those early years than they are now, but the Bookings Institute and another think tank, whose name escapes me, researched the matter and concluded that Congress is more antagonistic and acrimonious today than it has been since the 1890’s. Sounds right.

I am not saying that the Dems have gotten any better than they were when I damned both parties. I am saying that the Republicans have begun to sound more like the John Birch Society than one of the two parties who represent the voters. My enemy is extremism. When any party becomes extremist, it becomes my enemy. Add to this the incredible hubris of the Republicans and I believe that the gods will not tolerate or reward such behavior. The American people are divided on the issues today. Many are going to extremes and are terrified of the future. Yes, that is true. but for the Republicans to declare that therefore all Americans hate the Democrats and love the Republican efforts to neuter governnment is to ignore the rest of us. Note to the Right: I am an American too. You can declare members of your party who dare to disagree with you to be Republicans in Name Only, but you can’t take our citizenship away because we aren’t right wing extremists.

It is hubris, overweening arrogance which offends heaven. Believing your own propaganda is not an effective long term strategy. It sometimes works for the short term, but eventually it brings you down. Nixon fell because of this error and Bush and Cheney destroyed their hope of a positive legacy in history in the same manner. It is possible that the panic and fear mongering will work in November, but it is also possible that enough of the American people will tire of being told to panic and despair that it will backfire.

Health care may yet be Obamas’s Waterloo, but it is entirely possible that he will turn out to be the Duke of Wellington. .

Friday, March 19, 2010

Since I stopped to eat and rest a bit, I feel better and just can’t resist the following.

Flash from the last Glen Beck show: Some unknown, unnamed blogger said that his cousin’s wife’s third child's spouse saw President Obama washing his hands in the men’s room at some place he didn’t mention the name of. Oh! My! God! This is clear proof that Obama is a Natzicommie fascist who is plotting to conspire to create a Gestapo Bathroom Police State to take away our God given rights to choose whether to wash our hands or not after we pee in the privacy of our own bathrooms! Oh! My! God! It's proof. It’s absolute undeniable fact. Did you know that Hitler was obsessed with clean hands? Hitler! It’s true! Look it up!

Flash from tonight’s Glen Beck show: Some other unknown, unnamed blogger said that his wife’s brother's buddy from some war’s aunt’s daughter’s best guy friend saw President Obama leave a men's room without washing his hands! Oh! My! God! This is the best evidence ever that proves that Obama is a Commienatzi Muslim terrorist! He’s spreading disease among the American people The word, people is BIOTERRORISM! Yes, that’s right, BIOTERRORISM! Our president is a traitor, a terrorist! A natzicommiethugee! Stalin was into bioterrorism. Stalin! It’s true. It’s a fact! Look it up, people. It’s the truth!
Bekka-chan's comment on how hard she was hit by the movie "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" made me think of my beliefs of human free will. Most go to one polar extreme or the other [surprise, surprise!], either declaring that we have no free will and are simply biochemical robots or that we can choose whatever we like and are fully accountable for everything we do. This tendency to think in extremes has caused much grief in human history and, I think, helped to lead Hegel into his thesis, antithesis, synthesis view of history.

The fact remains that people do horrible, even unthinkable things, if they feel peer and superior pressure to do so. Yesterday, the L A Times reported that a French “reality show” was actually a psychology experiment repeated on national television. Participants were told to more and more severely electrically shock a man [actually an actor] until he died. Sounds impossible? Sadly, in both the original American experiment and in the television program, most participants did what they were told to do and willingly committed murder. In fairness, in the experiment, and I assume in the program, the participants were not told to actually kill the individual they were shocking, but they did hear him pleading for mercy and showing signs of major damage from their actions. Clearly, they should have seen that the man was near death and stopped--but they didn’t.

Much of the basis for Original Sin lies in the assumption that Adam and Eve had free will and abused it to decide to defy God’s will. The Greeks certainly believed in moira, or fate. The website,, refers to the Fates in this entry:

The ancient Greeks believed in Fate. They said there were three sisters of fate, the Moirae, tripple [sic.] Moon-goddesses robed in white, whom Erebus begat on Night. They were not the children of Zeus, but parthenogenous [sic.] daughters of the Great Goddess of Necessity, against whom not even the gods contend.

Yet the Greeks, for all their fear of Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, believed in free will. It was not that you could decide your course and control your fate entirely, but you could control how you faced your fate. The hero, the great man so important to Greek thinking, earned respect by struggling nobly against the impositions of the gods. He might not be able to change his fate, but he could refuse to meekly submit.

This places the belief in free will at the very foundations of our culture, both Greek and Judeo-Christian.

My own beliefs have developed over my life. when young I insisted on a more Judeo-Christian interpretation than Greek. Now I find myself much more in agreement with the latter. the evidence had=s compelled me [fate?] to acknowledge that we are biochemical robots, that we are another form of ape. Yet, I insist that we are apes plus, biochemical robots plus. Plus what? Plus free will. Call it intelligence, call it options, call it defiance of the gods.

Much of literature takes time to condemn man as a herd animal, as a member of the flock. But man is not a sheep, not cattle. We are apes. We are members of a troop. As social animals we feel not merely pressure, but biological and psychological needs to fit in. This is not limited to our experiences in high school [I was a loner--that’s a sort of group which, then again, isn’t a me to take the odd path. Must be my fate].

Still, how is it that some members of our troop gain authority to be the deciders for the rest of us? The answer is complicated, but well known to us all. We know who the leaders are, we help to publicly decide them in elections. But even the chosen have followers and deriders. This means that we also decide personally and privately who to trust and who to deride. There are those who choose to trust Fox News as their provider of facts and even as their leader in thought. As for me, I don't fully trust any source, but I refer to Fox as the Fox Propaganda Channel. And I’m not joking.

The problem with choosing someone or some group to lead us is that this means we have surrendered a portion of our free will, and remember that I find free will very restricted to begin with. That is not to say that doing so is a mistake. We operate on auto pilot for most of our lives because this is necessary. Imaging using free will for every single decision. The alarm goes off, do we choose to turn it off or to let it ring? Having decided to turn it off, we much decide which are to use to reach over to hit the sleep button...uh oh, should we turn it off or hit the sleep button? By the time we decide all of our choices, we will probably be too weak from starvation to get out of bed, which, of course, nearly eliminates free will.

The problem arises when we use auto pilot so much that our free will becomes atrophied from lack of use, like muscles that are never exercised. This is even easier to allow because we are not only biochemical apes, who can think and make choices but often don’t bother; we are also animals who are deeply emotional. When we do make choices, most of them are made not from thought, but from emotional response. Consider one of the most compelling and dominating choice we make, our religion. Ask individuals about this choice and most will assure you that they carefully decided this. Press for details and you will quickly realize that the “thought” that went into this decision was almost entirely emotional. Actual thought came in after the decision was made, as rationale for a choice already confirmed. This is why I insist, as I have since high school, that the only honest intellectual position in religion is a sincere agnosticism. Religion, even atheism, is about faith and emotion, not about rationality. Even the fundamental evangelical atheists who hate religion so bitterly are clearly being emotional apes, not thoughtful human beings in their hatred. Yes, I mean Hitchens and Dawkins--they sound more like Falwell and Robertson than like intellectuals when they rant against the evils of religion. The bitter sweet irony is that they have deluded themselves into thinking they are coolly rational on the subject!

For anyone who doesn’t know me, I suppose I must add that referring to these men as emotional apes is not an insult. We humans are all emotional apes -- You, me and the guy next door. It is what we are. We are also, to a very small degree, thoughtful human beings who can think and can utilize their limited free will. Also note that the very term “human being” incorporates the emotional ape base and the tiny, but potentially significant bit of intellect and free will at the top of the pyramid that is humanity. Finally let me add that any time anyone says ‘All humans...” you know they are talking about themselves. When Freud said everyone wanted to murder his father and marry his mother, he said a lot about Sigmund Feud, and almost nothing about the rest of us.

I’m getting disoriented so I’ll wrap this up. Most of human evil is done from blind obedience and a desire to fit in and do what is expected. From the experiment above to the infamous prison experiment in which college student played out the roles of brutality and resistance expected of them in a role play situation [see:], we humans surrender our free will to fit in, to be a part of the troop. This is not all bad, we are social animals and must fit in or become sociopaths, but it can quickly become a horror of Nazi extremism and murder. What is needed is what I always say is needed, balance. Homeostasis, the Vital Balance [Thank you, Karl Menninger]. We must fit in or become sociopaths, yet we must not fit in so well that we lose our thin and precious overlay of humanity.

Fate, moira, kismet, destiny, karma--they sharply restrict, but do not negate our free will. Unless we let them.
From Science news March 13,2010:

Lisa Grossman reports that when participants are asked to either make the American Sign Language gesture for a word [say "drink"] or to pantomime taking that action [in this case, a drinking from a cup], different parts of the brain are active for the gesture and for the word. In other words, there is a difference between word and pantomime, even though the actions are identical. Specifically, brain scans of deaf participants who are fluent in American Sign Language show the different areas of the brain are active depending upon whether they were told to “say” the word or to make the pantomime.

This makes me think of the case of the supposed thinking ape, Koko. Koko, a gorilla, is often presented as having mastered American Sign Language and as speaking at an almost human level. Steven Pinker, however, points out that when humans who spoke ASL watched videos of Koko “speaking” they saw far fewer words and a lot more random gestures than the usual observers, who had been trained to recognize ASL gestures, but were not actually considered to be fluent.

It seems to me that the usual observers of the gorilla were poorly trained and not competent to judge when actual words were being used and were subject to the Clever Hans syndrome in which observers eager to see animal intelligence interpret every action by the animal in the best possible interpretation--best possible for their prejudice.

We humans have a strong tendency to see what we want to see, negative or positive. It is hard to be objective about any area in which we have a strong emotional interest. Consider Blondot [sp.?], in the early 20th century this famous and competent scientist became convinced that he had discovered a new ray [similar to the recently discovered x-rays]. His evidence was thin, mostly observational, mostly observed by him. As I recall, at one point he declared that the change in the color of a flame caused by the presence of the rays was so faint that only those who believed in the rays would be able to see it. Not totally out of line, after all, that statement is just a variation of my point that we see what we want to see and don't see what we dislike. But if not totally out of line, it was unscientific and came down to special pleading.

Another case made famous by Stephen Jay Gould is that of Thayer. A brilliant career in biology, which included insight into biological and military uses of camouflage ended with tortured arguments about how every single color scheme in nature was camouflage, and only camouflage. No sex displays, no species recognition, just camouflage.

Thus, we have those who see everything Obama does as socialism, even though nothing he has done matches the definition of socialism, and the contrasting views of the Tea Party Patriots/Tea Bagger Dolts. Life with humans is a mess. I can't help but think that every Utopia would work perfectly, if only we could keep all people out. Sort of a riff on Groucho Marx--I wouldn't join any Utopia that would allow me as a member.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Just finished reading Future Americas --16 stories, some had interesting ideas, none so great as to be worth comment, Although turning the dying into trees to live another life as part of the restored environment was unique. It is raining, and my piza is ready. Be back!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Smithsonian, March 2010:

In an article about Ardipithecus ramidus, Ann Gibbons [good name for the author of an article on apes] states the well known fact that...“the gold standard for being a hominid was upright walking” Was is the key word since it is not universally accepted that Ardi was a hominid. She certainly seems to be based on the upright stance and her teeth, but maybe not. What interested me most was what I had not found in any article, the odd case of Oreopithicus. Oreopithicus was found some years ago and was a big shock. Clearly an ancient ape, it was bipedal. Supposedly impossible. As I recall, it was then argued that Oreopiticus was an exception that proofed the rule.*

The explanation I remember was that it was an island ape and island species are often peculiar in their adaptations, being much more extreme and varied than their mainland cousins. I looked up “Ardipithecus ramidus, bipedal, and Oreopithicus.” I found quite a few articles, the essence of which was that Oreopithicus bambolii might have been bipedal.

Either way, human evolution is far different than presumed. A recurring tale which goes back as far as Darwin. The assumptions made about our own evolution have proven wrong again and again. Lest any creationists take pride in this, let me remind them that it is Science, not superstition which has repeatedly found the errors and corrected. them.

For example, a species was once identified as Hesperopithecus was much debated about a century ago. It turned out that the supposed Nebraska Man, who had been identified by a single tooth, was a species of extinct pig. Oops! However, again I point out that the error was found and the correction made, by scientists. Science is such an amazingly useful tool because it is a tool which works. Again and again, it has shown itself to be self correcting. Exactly the opposite of the accusation made by creationists that science is just a another form of belief and has a dogma which may not be questioned. Science always questions, and is always open to new proof. It does require proof, which is consistently absent in the hearts and minds of creationists. Also in their arguments.

*We often hear the irrational and disturbing phrase “This is the exception which
proves the rule.” This makes no sense at all. I read somewhere that the original phrase was, “This is the exception which proofs the rule.” Proof is the old word for testing. Today it is remembered primarily as the identifier of the alcohol content of an intoxicating liquid, as in , 80 proof. Is the etymology actually “proofs” not “proves”? I don't know, but it makes sense and I like it, so I use it.

Final note: Interested in Nebraska Man? Try this address:

Alice In Boringland

Just watched Alice In Wonderland. Many of the characters were great, as with make up. Unfortunately, the story was slow and the plot was stale. Occasionally the 3D action was reminiscent of Bwana Devil--from the old days of red and green 3D paper glasses with spears poking at the audience for no good reason. I am glad I went to see it, but it was disappointing.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Finished reading the Mammoth Book of Golden Age Science Fiction, and guess what? The next story was a Time Travel tale...well, no one traveled in time, but they filmed the past. Having just grumbled about the inability of mathematically inclined sci fi authors to imagine a world without slide rules, I must give the author of the last tale credit for a remarkable prediction. The last story in the book was With Folded Hands by Jack Williamson,in which a character declares that his discovery makes possible, “A... drive which makes possible apparent speeds many times that of light -- by means of... deformation of the continuum”, While conceding the absolute speed limit set by the constant of the speed of light,some physicists today dream of traveling from place to place faster than light can travel the same distance, not by exceeding light speed, but by deforming the space time continuum so as to make the distance traveled much shorter. Since the story was written in 1947, that’s a pretty impressive prediction.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Back to time travel... Having read “How to Travel Through Time” by Sean Carroll [Discover, 2010] I was pleased to find a new time travel novel by Willis [Blackout, see entry below]. Naturally, she deals with many of the same issues as Carroll. That is, can one change the past? If not, does this eliminate free will? Or can one go back in time and obviate an undesirable future? I made notes as I read Carroll's article, so I'll just go through and comment on them.

Carroll says: "If physics is not an obstacle[to time travel], however, the problem could still be constrained by logic. Do closed time like curves [physics talk for time travel] necessarily lead to paradoxes?"

The classic example is called the Grandfather Paradox. If your grandfather was an abusive brute, you might get angry enough at what he had done to your father when he was a child to get into a time machine, go back, and shoot your young grandfather before he met your grandmother. This ends the abuse before it happened. Only it would mean that you don’t exist. If you don't exist you can’t go back to kill your grandfather. That means that he will meet your grandmother and your father and you will be born which means you will go back and kill your young grandfather to be, which means...

Some resolve this by stating that if you go back in time, you are going to an alternate universe. Whatever you “change” does not affect your original universe. [This is a variation on Everett’s Many Worlds Hypothesis.] Others say this shows time travel is impossible. Some say that it proves that there is no free will and what must be must be and cannot be changed [que serra, serra]. I believe that all supposed paradoxes; from Zeno, Achilles, and the hare to time travel; are all misuses of language. Paradoxes are impossible, we think they might exist only due to our poor understanding of the facts.

Carroll later states: “In the usual way of thinking, the laws of physics function like a computer. You give as input the present state, and the laws return as output what the state will be... This ability vanishes as soon as someone builds a time machine and creates a closed time like curve.” in other words, the old anti freewill argument which was destroyed by the random nature of quantum physics. Random events, even at the quantum level mean that even knowing the exact state of every particle in the universe and the totality of all forces acting upon them, you cannot predict exactly what the universe will be like in the future. This drove Einstein to an obsession to disprove quantum physics. He and Neils Bohr spent decades debating the issue, with Bohr triumphing time after time.

Please be aware that I am skipping most of the article for the sake of focusing on the points which interest me, but what I am ignoring is also interesting. Carroll comes to the conclusion that if time travel exists, “We would therefore have to abandon the concept of determinism...We would also have to abandon free will...”

I disagree on both points. Determinism had to be abandoned when quantum uncertainty was discovered by Heisenberg. It is long dead. As for free will, this is what interests me the most. I have spent several decades gnawing at that problem.

I believe that the following scenario is much more realistic than the classic Grandfather Paradox:

Let’s assume time travel is possible. You do go back to kill your young grandfather to be. When you point the gun at his back from your ambush, you just can’t do it. You are not a murderer, not even of this awful man. You go back and nothing has changed.

Doesn’t this deny free will? You can go to the past, but you can’t change it. What happened has happened and must happen. This is a form of determinism, but one which applies only in the limited purview of time travel. But I still insist upon free will as an active force. Carroll insists upon logic as denying free will in such a case, I say he is limited to the narrow and constricted view of reality which appertained prior to Einstein's theory of relativity.

Let’s look at a classic and often repeated gedanken experiment, a thought experiment. There is a train traveling along. In the exact center of one car is a light bulb. At each end of the car is a sensor which, when the light is turned on, will open the door at that end of the car. There are two observers to this experiment. One is traveling along in the car, the other is standing still outside the car as it goes by. The light is turned on and the doors open. The observer in the car says both doors open at the same time as the light traveled the same distance and at the same speed. The observer outside the car insists that she is wrong, the door at the rear of the car opened first because it was moving toward the light beam, shortening the distance it had to travel. Since the speed of light is constant, there can be no other conclusion. Logically, using the classic Greek logic of Carroll, they cannot both be correct. The statements of fact are mutually contradictory.

But they are both correct, This has been proven in experiments. Impossible? Not in a relative universe. Each observer is correct, in his or her frame of reference! To the observer in the car the doors opened simultaneously, but to the observer outside the car, the rear door opened first. Reality depends on where you are standing relative to the experiment.

The same situation applies, I believe, to time travel. To the future observer, you are without free will, you must do what you have always done in his past. He sees your actions as completely and totally determined. You are only a robot doing what has been done and will be done and always was done [as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be].

This is true for you only as long as you are in the future, but when you go to the past, your future now includes what you will do in the next few minutes, your now is September 7, 1956 or whenever you have traveled to. In other words, you have choices. You make them using your free will. From your framework this is true and as real as your lack of free will is to the future observer. This is logically contradictory only in a pre relativity world.

Well, took me along time to get to this but there is my answer, summed up in a very brief and simplistic summary.

I am feeling light headed from all this typing and editing. I am done for the day! Back to my sipper full of coke and The Mammoth Book of Golden Age Science Fiction!

Note: at least one physicist is attempting to create a time machine by using laser beams to create a twisting of space time [so far theoretically possible] in a manner similar to the "frame dragging" which occurs when water spins and swirls down a drain. In this case, of course, the frame is not the water but the space time continuum. Other physicists insist that the power to create such a distortion would requite a couple of cosmic strings, left overs from the big bang which are as thin as a proton but vastly long and heavier than neutronium. Said physicist intends only to create a communication device which can send a few photons into the past. But photons can contain information and the paradox remains.

PPS: If interested look into “light cones”. They get really messed up with time travel.
From a response to Bobby in regard to stories he's reading: HP Lovecraft stories, used to scare myself silly with these when I was a kid, but finally realized that Cluthuloowoohoohoo couldn't come back until someone said his name three times and no one can say that god awful name! Now I scare my self with the YmmyNummyTummyCron a book of great and fearsome evil--recipes for pie crust made with lard, fries in animal fat, home made bacon, extra salty, etc. It scares my oldest daughter [who lives with me and is aware of my diet] and my doctor, anyway.

Imagine the horror if Cluth... [more consonants and a couple of vowels--I never could even spell the name, much less say it] had a name like Sam or even George. "George Bush, Jr.; George Bush, Jr.;" no I won't say it the third time. He might bring cheney back with him.

Back to reading [also to Bobby]:

My world stumbles on! I am almost finished with "A Secret History of western Sexual Mysticism" or something like that. My mind is reeling with antinomianism, spiritual marriage and other weird stuff. Say you're getting married, can I recommend a spritiual marriage. Its just like ordinary message except that the male never, ever reaches climax. this energizes your mystic sprit to rise above worldly limits to attain union with the godhead. It's not that I hate you, I just want someone to actually try this out and make a report. Purely scientific interest, of course.

And today:

Just finished reading Blackout. Connie Willis' latest in her sometimes superb time traveling series. [To say Nothing of the Dog is as good as Pratchett's best for a series of laughs. And Doomsday is a painfully beautiful examination of the reality of history.] Then read Between Planets--once a favorite when I was a kid. Not bad , even now. Though the insistence on slide rules as essential equipment in the far future is amusing in our world, but mathematicians has reason to love them so I can forgive their inability to imagine a world without them. Finally am on the last novella in the Mammoth Book of Golden Age Science Fiction. Some quite good, some less so, but all needed to be read in view of 1940's and 50's scientific understanding.
Heard about the straw poll at CPAC? The home hive of the neocon "we hate anything the dems or liberal do" movement gave us a surprise. Ron Paul won the unscientific but not insignificant vote on who should be the next presidential candidate for Conservatives. is it possible the libertarian wing of the republican party is not dead after all?

A few years ago I had an argument with my youngest daughter, the only other family member interested in politics. Her point, as info is declassified, we will see that torture was necessary and did save us. My response, no my dear, we will see that torture hurt us and the government used "classified" to cover us its failures. Cheney's famous memo that would prove torture worked was finally released. It proves that by torturing Zubaida [spelling?] we got info which allowed us to travel back in time and arrest Padilla even before Zubaida was arrested, much less tortured. Wow! the necromancer's had it right, torturing people gives you magic powers!!