Common Sense

I’ve been reading, lately, a most intriguing perspective suggesting much of what our common sense tells us is inaccurate if not totally wrong. For one thing, so goes the thinking, consciousness must precede material existence. Which means, I guess, that when I’m unconscious not only does nothing outside of my dreams exist for me but the birds presently flitting about the feeder cease to exist altogether with my fall into unconsciousness.

Apparently the idea is that, since sub-atomic entities like electrons exist as both tangible particles and invisible waves simultaneously, at any given moment, what they actually are depends upon whether they’re being observed and if, when eyes are cast in their direction they are invisible waves one has to wonder about their very existence: electrons may be present when watched, absent when unobserved.

Which leads me to wonder whether or not the birds outside my window continue to exist after I doze off into one of my afternoon naps and then, when I wake, do the birds come back into existence or am I just seeing different birds. Anyway, if sub-atomic entities, of which the world consists, depend on an observer for their existence I guess it stands to reason that the presence of a conscious intelligence is required in order that there be a manifested world.

It all seems pretty counter-intuitive but, as I think about it, the notion of a world dependent on conscious awareness is pretty hard to disprove.

Easier Answers

According to the 19th century psychologist William James, man creates the world he inhabits. The path one takes, says Mr. James, may focus on ugliness or beauty, a man may choose to concentrate and relate to the Good or the Bad. The idea here is that faith is required: an acknowledgment of that which is beyond the empirical, outside the domain of scientific certitude: the realm of God and immortality.

Which seems to imply the need for perspective: that the natural world isn’t all there is, suggesting those in the ‘natural world only’ camp will have a much harder (impossible?) time maintaining an optimistic view of things, of remaining positive, of retaining and maintaining a high moral outlook.

On a personal level, to my mind, there is no doubt considerable energy is required, as our daily travails weigh upon us, to stay upbeat all of the time; even most of the time. Still, if it’s perspective it takes to stay on one’s preferred path I wonder if the only play is the metaphysical one. Mr. James suggests unless one is oblivious, we’ve already made our choice: skepticism in moral matters is an ally of immorality; who is not for is against, he says.

Answers to the big questions must have appeared much clearer back then.

Evolutionary Ethics and the Contemptible

There’s thinking these days that Biological evolution, natural selection, will result in ever increasingly capable survivors, generation after generation, better suited to exploit and thrive within their changing environment than were their ancestors in theirs. From the perspective of increasing prosperity alone, there appears little need, biologically, to embrace any sort of ethical stance. Cooperation between these increasingly fit beings will likely occur only in so far as personal interest is concerned. So, I’m wondering, is our evolutionary destiny to be increasingly inundated with assholes?

Yet, altruism does exist. Clearly humankind does embrace certain ethical standards. Generosity toward others certainly occurs; empathy is a true emotional response for many. There are those among us who make for a kinder, gentler society where cooperation means lifting everyone to a state of reasonable well-being. I have to wonder, in the next millennium, assuming humankind is still around, where the emphasis will lay; I have a feeling Friedrich Nietzsche would have had thoughts on this.

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Natural Selection

I’ve been thinking, lately, how natural selection manifests itself in myriad ways among plants and animals: adaptation to changing environmental conditions ensures survival of species. And, individuals with superior survival skills pass on their genes to ensure superior off-spring better capable of surviving and thriving in harsh natural environments.

It seems in some ways unfortunate similar evolutionary progress doesn’t happen among humans where mating practices appear to be pretty thoughtless with regard to what sort of off-spring might be produced, you know, in terms of the capabilities needed to deal with life. The less-able results of indiscriminate coupling are, of course, cared for by the more able and humane where as in the animal kingdom such unfortunate progeny would certainly parish.

Still, it seems to me compassion should rule the day. I do think virtuous behavior toward the less fortunate should be expected of thinking beings, but, being thinking beings, mankind might do well to think before passing on seed.

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Poetic Naturalism

I was reading the other day that what we are, when it comes right down to it (way, way down I might add) is ‘collections of vibrating quantum fields, held together in persistent patterns by feeding off of ambient free energy according to impersonal and uncaring laws of nature.’* Vibrating one-dimensional strings or sub-atomic particles organize themselves to form our senses and memories, record and qualify our experiences which are then interpreted in language containing personal pronouns which identify self and, voila, we awaken and become conscious of our individual selves.

It’s a great story, a believable narrative that answers a lot of questions about our unique natures and our reality as we conceive it. There are, of course, other narratives. On a macroscopic level our complex beings seek out and find entities beyond the physical that on occasion reach out and touch us, make us aware of the magic in a changing natural world; give us the capacity to embrace beauty, to love others than ourselves, give us courage in the face of adversity, offer a benevolent overseer to rule our very existence.

There are without a doubt other narratives as well. The question we need to ask is: which stories carry the greater validity, answers the most questions, accounts for nature as we know it. I must admit I’m often swayed by a well stated thought which leads me to embrace, for the moment, the ideas of poetic naturalism, seeing as how it is so convincingly backed up by theoretical physics.

So, for now I will embrace the beauty and complexity of a naturalistic view and set aside explanations requiring any sort of supernatural participant. At least until the next new, well-thought-out conception comes my way.

*credit to Sean Carroll for this wonderful summation.

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Our Tenuous Existence

I’ve been reading about the recent astronomical discoveries related to gravitational waves and it’s got me thinking about how very tenuous our existence is. Apparently, it’s been known for some time that the slightest variation in gravitational fields could send the earth cascading to its fiery demise in collision with the sun, or, shooting off into space where it’s very dark and cold; not exactly up-lifting scenarios.

I suppose the healthy thing to do would be to not pay a lot of attention to these abstract astronomical notions but the way it’s presented, for anyone with a penchant for SciFi, the vision is pretty terrifying.

I guess researchers have found evidence of gravitational ripples originating from the very beginnings of time and now believe they can actually hear such waves occurring from the collision of two black holes deep in space. If these waves are out there it may be just a matter of time until they get close enough to maybe raise havoc with our solar system.

Let’s hope our brave scientists keep looking, as they have been, I guess, for some time, for other worlds out there somewhere that have the capacity to support life as we know it. Any planets they find that might fit the bill will probably be too far away to do any of us much good, but the knowledge of the existence of such places is bound to provide a bit of peace of mind for us SciFi readers.

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Zombie Apocalypse

There sure is a lot of negativity in the news these days: gun violence, terrorist threats, economic inequality, ecological degradation; the list goes on and on. Some think the situation is so dire the collapse of civilization as we know it is immanent: apocalypse on the horizon, I guess.

In order to preserve the way of life we’ve come to know, the thinking goes, we must take these world-threatening issues and deal with them. We’re bombarded daily with ideas advocated by the powers that be or would be on how disaster might best be avoided. The solutions offered vary considerably but the goals are the same: to preserve our way of life as we’ve grown to love and tolerate it.

There are other thinkers, however, that believe the harder we try to solve the problem, to prevent the disasters we anticipate, the more quickly we move toward their realization. The suggestion is, I guess, that these dire problems we face are inherent within the paradigmatic social, economic and cultural structures that define our lives. If these innovative thinkers are right, I suppose we might as well suck it up, embrace the imminent demise of the world as we know it and prepare ourselves for a great leap into the unknown, remain open to the unimaginable and to seek a dramatically different reality than the one we now know.

I must admit I’m at a loss as to how to think about all this: if working toward solutions to potential disasters will only hasten the consequences they portend, I suppose I could just ignore the issues of the day all together, but that seems pretty irresponsible. I’ve been reading a lot about zombie infestations lately that I’ll bet have to do with glitches in bio-genetic engineering. Maybe this will be the new reality. I think I’ll start reading apocalyptic sci fi more seriously.

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Qualia

I’ve been making paintings, lately, as foci for meditation. The images in the paintings represent places in my familiar environs that have personal significance for me. What the bases of the deep feelings I have for these places is, is hard to explain.
I suppose reminiscence might be part of it. I’ve visited most of the places depicted in the paintings many times, so one might assume some of the significance the images hold for me has to do with remembered experiences, you know, feelings of nostalgia for an innocent past, even though I’m quite cognizant of the fact that past experiences are often stripped and cleansed of their reality.

Maybe the emotional responses I experience upon viewing the images in these paintings are a result of the physicality of place, the natural beauty, the richness of a supportive environment so favorable to my well-being. Or, perhaps, the significance of these represented places is due to my considerable imagination, whereby I bend the environs to suit my fantasies of an idyllic Shangri-La.

Or, maybe these images are important for no other reason than that they were selected by me and therefore received more attention than I usually pay to the world around me.

As I think about it, no one of the above explanations seems to capture the essence of the deep feelings the places depicted in my paintings elicit in me. The feelings I experience seem to be beyond rational explanation-ineffable, really; a result of my peculiar phenomenal consciousness. Which makes me a unique, special and, dare I say, magical individual.

But, perhaps the significance of these images for me is all explainable in terms of a combination of sensory input, memories, introspection and habit; not one but parts of all the above thoughts are involved; maybe it’s all about mind, not magic.

As much as I might like to recognize my individual uniqueness, it seems much more likely that I, and everyone else, might better be analogized in computational terms rather than thought of as metaphysical curiosities.

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Where am I (now)

I learned recently that modern science views the notion of ‘now’ as nothing more than an illusion.

Due to the lag time our sensory apparatus requires to acknowledge occurrences around us, along with the finite speed of light, what we are experiencing at any given moment has already happened. So, if the past is no longer and the future is yet to be and there is no ‘now’ then where, exactly, do I exist? If where I am, I only was I must have to anticipate where I really am.

I must say I find this a bit unsettling as I’ve been operating for some time under the assumption that ‘Eternity is Now’ given the nonexistence of past and future. So if ‘now ‘ is ‘past’ then I’m inclined to discount the idea of eternity.

But, cosmologists make matters even more confusing suggesting we may exist within an eternal multi-verse within which the ‘Big Bang’ that created our universe happened and who’s to say, they hypothesize, this big Bang thing hasn’t happened all sorts of times.

Apparently the ideas is that there are passage ways, ‘worm holes’, between these various universes that if we weren’t limited by our vision and movements due to the finite speed of light we might be able to find.

So, between not being here ‘now’ and being a minute speck within one of countless universes I’m thinking I may have to start again from the beginning and agree with that great thinker Rene Descartes that at least I know I’m thinking.

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The Singularity

I’ve been reading lately about the technological singularity. As I understand it, the TS is that point in time when artificial intelligence becomes self-generating, independent of human manipulation and progresses to an understanding of the nature of reality beyond anything now imaginable.

The idea is, as far as I can tell, that AI, in the not too distant future, will evolve to the point of being capable of superseding the limitations of human intelligence to such a degree that it will provide nearly limitless knowledge. Many of the presently undecipherable mysteries of our lives and universe will be understood.

One might even think of this super-intelligence from a religious perspective: a lifting upwards out of the abysmal darkness of ignorance into the shining light of revealed truth.  Sort of a scientific Rapture, I guess.

Assuming humankind will be integrated into this new super-knowledge, I wonder how people will react? Those of a religious nature, I imagine, will be busy re-interpreting their doctrinal sources and those of a more scientistic bent will probably be in rapturous awe. The dilemmas and anxieties humankind faces these days will be eliminated, easily solved, or reduced to triviality. Before long Newoman with her god-like immortality will be hard pressed to remember what the hubbub and to-do was all about.

Still, one has to wonder what new and unimaginable dilemmas will replace current concerns. Knowing the nature of humankind, it’s hard to believe there won’t be something significant to worry about.

The Rapture