Tuesday, December 25, 2012

merry kraussmas


Every atom that makes up all that we are, once spent billions of years drifting across the vastness of space.  Long before there was any such thing as a year, before there was time, as we know it.  Born from the explosion of a star, propelled across an immeasurable distance, to eventually coalesce around our Sun, to form this planet, and all that's on it.

Ego really is such a delusion.  Siddhartha couldn't have known just how right he really was.

or, as Krauss put it,
The amazing thing is that every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements - the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution - weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way they could get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.
  • "A Universe From Nothing" by Lawrence Krauss

Funny how there's this impulse to put an almost religious significance to it. It really is amazing, how learning the complexities of how things work just blows anything religion proposes out of the water.  Reality is just so far beyond anything we could have imagined.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

civilization

How is government mysterious, exactly?  Who doesn't understand how it works?  Sure, but have you ever thought about the fact that government is not a thing?  It is not even a "they" really?

It's more like a concept.  It's this incredibly intricate latticework of systems.  Interwoven with people.  On all different levels, cooperating to make it work.  From the President, and senators, all the way down to the workers building roads, or collecting trash.  It doesn't exist, without all of that, and so far removed from the people who originally enacted it.  People who just had these ideas of how we, as a society, should work together, for the greater good.  For us, as a species, to best survive and flourish.. and that somehow takes on a life of its own, that we all have to figure out how to work within, just as if it were a physical system of nature.

It's something that happens, everywhere there are people.  We've created these systems of cooperation, which grow more and more elaborate, as we carry them on, usually without question.  Different people have had different ideas of what would work best, but really, we're all trying to do the same thing.  Same as any other animal, same as any other life form.  It's all about who just happens to have the better way of going about it.

red (white) and blue

I've been a lot more political lately.  I don't know why, but seemed to start with paying attention during the months leading up to this last election.  Now I suddenly find myself paying attention to all of it.  It's weird.

...but I have some thoughts.  One thing I keep coming back to is the partisanship.  Democrats and Republicans, and all the other labels that fall more towards the red or the blue.  All the details and meaning to why people seem to fall into one of these two categories   As for people who think they don't.. I think they usually just have some underlying reason for not realizing that they do.  Some people are even on the wrong side I think, too.  Some other association that blinds them to how it goes against their natures.  For the most part, though, I think the differences are clear.

One dichotomy that's come to mind recently, is how one side seems to think more adversarially.  That is, us vs them, way more often than the other side does.  Instead of cooperatively.  Standing off, instead of joining in.  Even in terms of the government, wanting it to be small, and inneffectual, as if in poor grasp of the concept that government is part of us, not them.  It's outside our familiar circle of understanding, though.  It feels beyond us, mysterious in how it works exactly.  Not safely, us.

Yet, close enough to us, that when looking further, beyond, to all the other nations around us, this one side, suddenly wants government to be big.  Big enough to fend off the entire rest of the world, if we have to.  How adversarial is that?  I think I'll call this side A.  The other side B.

A. favors tradition, religion, status quo, wealth, power, domination.  They all too often racist, sexist, homophobic, segregating, standing off, protecting themselves, afraid.

B. favors education, science, progress, charity, compassion, equality.  More often cultured, fair, accepting of differences, inquisitive, cooperating, joining in, protecting each other.

I could go on and on, I could easily slip into more prejudicial terms.  I just find it amazing how all these elements tend to go together.  And how one set is so clearly superior to the other.  It almost looks like a branching of our genealogical tree, with one side looking like it might be going the way of the neanderthal.

Course, I'm biased, though.  I'm not on the selfish bible-thumping materialistic greedy impractical scientifically illiterate redneck side.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

pardon my optimism, but...

i think a lot about where things are going.  not in the abstract philosophical sense, but all the different elements that make up our societies.  politics, entertainment, logistics, ideas, and ideals.  you can see a lot of it being tracked on different web sites, as what's 'trending.'

it's not just what's popular, or best selling, but trending.  that is, the emphasis has changed, to focus on the velocity, not just the position.  it almost seems like an evolutionary step, what would seem to be the more pragmatic way to go.  given an intellect sufficient to succeed at making predictions.  is that more the case, these days?

you can see it especially in the younger generations, sites which cater more to their demographics.  for example, atheism.  i've seen a lot of references suggesting that it is increasing, gradually, up to 10-20% or so of people, these days.  still, a drastic minority, if you're lumping all theists together.

reading comments by younger people these days though, you'd think atheism were the norm, by a sizable margin.  Much the way it appeared that Obama would win by more of a landslide than most polls seemed to indicate.  It seems that the internet is tracking people so effectively, it can be the best way to figure out where society is going, in all sorts of ways.  people who aren't on the internet?  these are the people who are becoming less and less relevant, and will basically die out.  like going back a few hundred years, people who don't learn how to write, or going back hundreds of thousands of years, people who didn't learn how to speak.

It occurs to me that this might just be what humanity does.  Efficiency of communication may be a key part of that, but this could even be the same biological imperative that protected us from the elements, way back when cavemen were trying to figure out how to get a fire going for the first time.  I'd even bet that there were other people there, yelling and fighting, to stop them from doing it.  (aka filibustering?) People who couldn't get past their primitive fears, and couldn't imagine how change could possibly be a good thing.  This could even be related to imagination, at its pinnacle, the spark that gets innovation started, but something a great many people have very little of.

I think humanity is naturally progressive. We have to fight for it, every step of the way, but we've been taking one step after another, ever since we left the stone age.  It would be comical that there are so many people that are against it, if it didn't get so brutal.  These are people who are essentially against progress. It is, by its very definition, the losing side to be on.

It's interesting that despite our entire history of social evolution, this sizable segment of anti-progressives seems to remain.  As if there's code in our DNA, that never gets weeded out.  Maybe a certain equilibrium is actually beneficial to us, as a species.  That is, there could be a direct correlation between this mental deficiency in a significant subset of society, and their capacity to either help us survive, or proliferate - more than we would without them.

Numerous possibilities there, really, but I'm more interested in a larger issue here though, the premise that we do socially evolve.  Not just genetically, physically, but as if there's a fundamental mechanism for social progress built into us, as well.  We've been doing it forever.  If you think the 1950's were bad, just imagine what the 1450s were like.  I think it's pretty clear, this social evolution is an inherent part of being human.

It's something we've always had to fight like hell for, though.  There's always been conflict, and setbacks, but overall, as a species, we keep going forward.  Maybe needing to fight for it is part of what keeps it going, or makes it more effective, but it's a fight we always win.  Just tends to take a few thousand years.