Excerpt From The Atlantic, April 1998

I came across the following snippet while doing some research on Ed Fredkin’s digital physics:

Among the scientists who don’t dismiss Fredkin’s theory of digital physics out of hand is Marvin Minsky, a computer scientist and polymath at MIT, whose renown approaches cultic proportions in some circles. Minsky calls Fredkin “Einstein-like” in his ability to find deep principles through simple intellectual excursions. If it is true that most physicists think Fredkin is off the wall, Minsky told me, it is also true that “most physicists are the ones who don’t invent new theories”; they go about their work with tunnel vision, never questioning the dogma of the day. When it comes to the kind of basic reformulation of thought proposed by Fredkin, “there’s no point in talking to anyone but a Feynman or an Einstein or a Pauli,” Minsky says. “The rest are just Republicans and Democrats.” I talked with Richard Feynman, a Nobel laureate at the California Institute of Technology, before his death, in February. Feynman considered Fredkin a brilliant and consistently original, though sometimes incautious, thinker. If anyone is going to come up with a new and fruitful way of looking at physics, Feynman said, Fredkin will.

I couldn’t help but notice a parallel in my debates with atheists. I’ve never fit squarely into one camp or another when it comes to “theists” vs. “atheists.” I get hated equally on theist and atheist blogs. I mean, I believe in God, so that puts me squarely in the “theist” camp, but I also “believe in” science, logic, reason, rationality, critical thinking, skepticism, the art of questioning and a whole host of other things “your average theist” often eschews. It seems to me that most (a)theist debaters are as Minsky describes: polarized automatons following their respective dogmas. No wonder philosophy of religion is essentially a quagmire, and (a)theist debate seemingly intractable. Most (a)theists simply align themselves to pre-established positions and seem to do little critical thinking of their own.

What Is Reality: Reviewing The Grand Design, III

After the general patterns established last chapter, I was surprised to see a change of pace in Chapter 3. One might get the impression that scientists drawing a dichotomy between natural and supernatural explanations are headed inexorably towards a declaration of scientism and a denigration of religion. That wasn’t the case here, well… at least not as explicitly as in some other books of similar nature. Of course, we’ve still got five chapters to go.

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The Rule Of Law: Reviewing The Grand Design, II

Chapter 2 of The Grand Design is titled The Rule of Law, and the authors give us a brief history of the concept of natural laws. If nothing else, it was an excellent vacation from what would have been an mundane bus ride otherwise. It was a good chapter, with a little bit of everybody: Aristarchus, Ptolemy, Aristotle, Galileo, Epicurus, Pythagoras, Democritus, Kepler, Newton, Descartes… even Thomas Aquinas and William Dembski get a brief mention [okay, I’m kidding about Dembski, and that’s no offense to him]. The authors gave a valiant effort at summarizing the history of natural law in a few pages, and they do a mighty fine job if you ask me.

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Reviewing The Grand Design, I

So I picked up the new Hawking / Mlodinow book, The Grand Design. I have a feeling this book will generate much discussion on (a)theist blogs, so I want to be sure I’ve read the arguments in earnest. Thus, a new book series [no I haven’t given up on reviewing The Atheist Afterlife, either].

As far as the aesthetics go, well… it’s a nice book: hardcover, 6×9″ format, with black-and-white and full color illustrations interspersed throughout on quality, encyclopedia-feeling stock. I guess that’s why they charge $30.00 for it! Personally, I prefer the utility of a trade paperback; the last thing I want to do is muddy this thing up with highlights and notes. The book is only about 200 pages long, so I figured I’d devote a post to each chapter, and then follow those up with a cohesive review. In this first installment, we’ll discuss chapter 1, which serves as a short introduction.

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On So-Called “Vacuum” Fluctuation

I'm going to put off further development of the CCH's competitor in favor of this short post about so-called "vacuum" fluctuation.

Furthermore, the uncertainty principle implies that a particle can never be at rest, but is subject to constant fluctuations even when no measurement is taking place, and these fluctuations are assumed to have no causes at all. In other words, the quantum world is believed to be characterized by absolute indeterminism, intrinsic ambiguity, and irreducible lawlessness.
David Pratt, Consciousness, Causality, and Quantum Physics

In recent attempts to mitigate the apparent necessity of the Unmoved Mover, D has posited creation ex nihilo as a viable alternative:

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Asteroids, Cathode Rays & Requisite Knowledge, II

Image source: tutornext.com

Yesterday we talked about asteroids, and the fact that “there’s no evidence for X” type claims are often made amidst the very evidence being denied. We also discussed the interesting truth that an unjustified claim is not necessarily untrue. Today, let’s continue with another example from science’s history to discuss what counts for evidence, when our beliefs are justified, and the extent to which we can lean on either as an epistemological security blanket. Let’s discuss cathode rays!

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More Attempts At Defining Consciousness

Well, I’ve run into some unexpected difficulty getting my hands on a certain article, so the article I wanted to post yesterday is going to have to wait some more. This afternoon I’d just like to offer the following to see how people of varying worldviews react, and if anybody can add anything or make any other valuable suggestions.

A few posts back I took a stab at defining consciousness:

While I hesitate to speculate on what consciousness is, I feel fairly confident in asserting what consciousness does, or what its characteristics are: consciousness affords the abilities to feel, to know, to create, to express intent and to choose. Consciousness also affords the ability to manipulate objective matter via choice

Something elemental, like wind, can certainly manipulate objective matter, yet it presumably does so independent of any choice or consciousness. For what it’s worth, I’m currently unsure to what extent I’d claim that consciousness is analogous to soul / spirit, but I believe that regardless of the distinction, any demonstration that consciousness is anything else besides a mere product of neural transactions has [the conventional cerebro-centric view of consciousness] dead in the water.

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Reader Poll: The Optics Of Rainbows

Today's post is just a quick one for the physics and optics students out there, who are welcomed to freely speculate. Actually, everyone is freely welcomed to speculate! Also, I'd really appreciate any links to people, websites or books that can provide useful information, so if anything comes to mind, by all means share!

I'm trying to get some kind of consensus on a recurring question I've got. We perceive rainbows because of a neat little process called chromatic dispersion by which white light refracts through water droplets in the atmosphere. The white light actually refracts twice: once upon entrance which separates the light into its constituent colors, and again upon exit which amplifies this separation. When a terrestrial observer sees a rainbow in Earth's atmosphere, what they're really seeing is the separation of incoming white sunlight into the familiar colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

My question is: if Earth were enveloped by a "shell" of solid water, would this affect the rainbow-creating process? Would terrestrial observers on Earth still be able to see rainbows?

The Video Game Incident

It so happens that a single claim forms the entire foundation upon which nearly all varieties of theism must inevitably be built: the claim that consciousness can exist outside of a material body. Although the claim is a necessary component of nearly all religions, we should note that it is not necessarily theist, as there are atheists who accept the existence of metaphysical entities.

As far as traditional monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam or any derivative thereof) are concerned, we can safely say that if no spirits exist and consciousness cannot exist outside of a body, then their key claims are either false or severely distorted (Ephesians 6:12, Luke 3:22 & John 4:24, as examples).

Most skeptics and rationalists are familiar with the difficulty (note: not impossibility) of proving a negative. While it’s certainly difficult to prove the materialist’s claim that there is not a ghost in the machine, what’s less difficult and also theoretically possible is proving or at least supporting the claim that consciousness can and does exist outside physical bodies. Let’s refer to this claim as the immaterial consciousness hypothesis, or ICH for short [NOTE: the TMC introduced here envelopes the ICH. In other words, the ICH represents a deprecated term that has since been modified. I explain the reason for the change here, and I apologize for any confusion].

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Are We Alone In The Universe?

In general, I take a non-committal stance on the question of extraterrestrial life. Like nearly every other question entangled in religion and metaphysics, the question of humanity’s role in the universe is inevitably muddied by pop culture, mass ignorance of science and ulterior motive. It’s fine if UFO enthusiasts and little green men supporters want to believe that carbon-based biogenetics also happened to evolve metazoa capable of traveling to Earth in mechanical craft ala Newtonian means, but don’t say the facts of astronomy, physics or statistics support it!

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