Consciousness Is Not A Brick Wall

I don’t pay a lot of attention to a certain well known quack who argues that atoms are conscious. However, I ran into a philosopher who mistakenly believed the nonsense about consciousness being needed to cause a wave function to collapse.

Physicists have mathematical models describing what happens at the quantum level which make very good predictions, but these are models, and not reality. The wave function that is a solution to the Schrödinger equation describes the behaviour of particles at the quantum level, but what happens when we go to try and measure a particle? We have an interaction between the wave function that describes the particle, and the wave function that describes the particles of the measuring instrument. Why yes the observer affects the observation, but a brick wall would do just as well.

I am not a foot soldier in your war

I’ll likely lose more followers in the shallow world of twitter– I already have– but I have never been one to join sides. I’ve always been a great believer in Mark Twain’s ‘Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.’ Perhaps the partisanship I see from some atheists is an import from the partisanship of U.S.politics? Perhaps it is because I am older (I do have two young grandchildren after all), and less passionate; at least I choose my battles more carefully.

At the risk of Gowdining myself, if I had not known Hitler painted in his youth, and had I as a child seen a painting of his, would I have rejected his painting as evil? I will concede they are not great paintings, but there is a ‘what if’ here .Going less extreme, what of other groups? Is everything as stated from one group evil because they are known as a hate group, or at least proclaimed by one side or another as a hate group? To someone like me, the answer is no since maybe I don’t know a group is supposed to be evil, or sometimes I don’t care. Truth is truth no matter who utters it.

I criticise ideas not people. What’s worse, I will criticise anyone regardless of the group they are in. This is hard to do in written media and impossible on twitter. (I wish more atheists would learn ‘The principle of charity’.) This puts me in the position of having friends in various groups who I admire, but the groups themselves seem to be at war. To those groups Ican only say — “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster…” (Nietzsche) Critising ideas is one thing, parody, dogged nitpicking of people without constructive criticism, is just as evil.

I continue to reserve the right to disagree with people, and sometimes vehemently. If you are an atheist, or even a theistic secularist we can agree that religion has no place in government and education, but anything else will have to be negotiated on a case by case basis. You are just going to have to accept that I might agree with you on one thing, but not another.

I am not your foot soldier in your war.

The Mind counter-Virus

I’ve always despaired at the inability of atheist/skeptical blogs to make any difference in the crazy nonsense people believe and even my own blog sub-title reflects that despair.

At the last skepticamp here in Ottawa after I had given my talk on propaganda I was asked by a member of the audience if perhaps the techniques of propaganda could be used for good instead of evil. I pointed out that the problem with that was “who gets the choose what is for the public good?”. Yet the question has haunted me. Recently at our local Unsermon one of the regulars wondered if we couldn’t somehow use propaganda techniques to teach people how to become critical thinkers? In the process they’d become immune to propaganda, much like a computer anti-virus to remove malignant computer virus.

I love the idea but sadly I don’t see how it could possibly work.

One of the techniques of PR (a modern name for propaganda) is “hero worship”. That is, one is more likely to believe and accept the ideas of a famous person and that to me directly contradict the ideals of critical thinking. Maybe all we can do is to encourage more science education.

I’d love to hear other ideas.

Logic in the comics

It’s not often I glance at the comics but Saturday’s comic (February 9, 2014) in the Ottawa Citizen nailed one logical fallacy. In “Get Fuzzy” (http://www.gocomics.com/getfuzzy/2014/02/09) the cat shows the headline “Vet says number of cats in U.S. on rise” and makes the claim that this means cats are more popular than dogs. The dog retorts “By your logic, mosquitoes and bacteria are the most popular pets in the U.S.!” The ad populum fallacy debunked in one swift move!

The Church Dude

A group of us through CFI Ottawa got together to watch the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate. Somehow one of the guests, I’ll call him Tony, was an Evangelical christian going to seminary. That was not really a problem as Tony was not trying to convert anyone, at least during the debate and I found myself agreeing with Tony on many things. Tony was as aghast at Ken Ham as the  rest of us and pointed out that most Christians including his branch agreed that evolution was a fact. He was also against dogma, but aren’t we all? Or was he right and most atheists are dogmatic?

After the debate was over and we had some local discussion, that’s when Tony began making his views known. I had thought perhaps he was a Realistic Christian, that is he was an atheist but took many of the good ideas of Christianity into his belief system. It quickly was obvious I was mistaken. He told us he came to his views from personal revelation, he used to be an atheist, and perhaps string theory with its 11 and a half dimensions was somehow where a God could be found. 

The tragedy was his unwillingness to listen as I tried to explain to him why he was illogical, self revelation is not convincing, he used to be an atheist (statement of conversion fallacy) and the misunderstanding of physics. Meanwhile he began to try and convince another young couple that perhaps they did not know and maybe there was a God as he ignored me.

Isn’t part of being dogmatic the unwillingness to listen? 

 

 

 

Klaatu– Little Neutrino by anonymous

(I did not write this but I was asked to post this for a friend anonymously. It tells the story how one person found their way out of religion. Personally, I found it a powerful read.)

You most likely have had the experience of a song hitching a ride down your own venue of memory lane. Some experience it through very emotional moments in their lives: first kiss, first car, new job, proposal and the like. Others have to piece together the journey a song has taken with them. Sometimes it starts with a silent moment of “where did I hear that before?” and memories start flitting by. You could almost say that’s what happened to me with one song in particular. But not really.

For this entry, the song that followed isn’t one about a great emotional loss, new love of another or betrayal of some sort. It’s a song about science. It all started in tenth grade in my science class when a teacher, one of those teachers who was all about making learning fun brought his A-track and played us a song. It’s called Little Neutrino by the band Klaatu.

From there the teacher went on an hour talk about neutrinos and how cool they are. He talked about how there is over 65 billion neutrinos are currently going through your fingernail each second. He mentioned the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) – how it was two kilometres deep in the earth’s crust with the purpose of detecting solar neutrinos.

At the time it was the song that captured my interest, and from there I listened intently to the commentary of the teacher. To this day the information is still locked in my brain.

The melody of the song was haunting in a sense. It was four distinct notes that stayed stuck in my mind. When I got back home that day I found out what notes they were and seared it into my mind. It was a song I wanted to go back to for later. Our house didn’t have Napster on it, and by the time I got home I had forgotten the name of the song, just that it had to do with neutrinos. Hotbot, an internet search engine of the past, wasn’t yielding any results and the song like so many others got lost due to life happening.

I was a science fan, but just from the television with the Discovery Channel and a few French documentaries. I was heavily indoctrinated at the time, and science just didn’t seem to be the venue I should go in. It wasn’t (gasp) important enough as I was working too hard to be selected by the god I was raised to believe in to enter Paradise. I sort of cringe remembering I tried to place a magazine with that same science teacher. I got told no, and I get it now; the amount of pseudoscience and outright misrepresentation of science by the writers of that magazine is shocking. That was all done to further the goal of having at least one more follower. But I digress.

It wasn’t until years later that I was reintroduced to the song. Until then, lots had happened. I was kicked out of my house for not being an obedient god fearing youth, later on got kicked out of the faith and shunned, and found myself trying to survive and the little amount of friends I had. At the time I really didn’t know how to connect with people. I was a drifter.

Those few whom I talked to were other drifters. One of them was a guy you’d probably consider a hippy who never grew up. He and I talked all sorts of nonsense, trying to understand the world around us to no avail. What we did have in common was the like of music from the 60′s and 70′s. One day, after having had coffee, I mentioned to him about a song that was really “Hippy shit” music – not the mainstream music you’ll hear on classic rock stations.

“It’s a song about neutrinos. I don’t remember the name of the song or who made it, but that’s the deepest I can go in my memory for real hippy shit. Do you know of it?” He chuckled to himself. “You’re talking about Klaatu. I know all about that band. I used to sell them their ‘inspiration’.” I didn’t ask, but got the gist.

He passed me the CD he had of it and when I got home I played it on my computer straight away. Those same four haunting notes filled my ears once again. Oh my goodness, that’s it!!

I put the song onto my mp3 player and returned to listen to it whenever I felt nostalgic. Not much of my youth do I allow myself to go back on as it was a trying time for me, but a song, I felt comfortable with.

 

A few years later, I come around to the whole thing of religion and realize it’s not for me – never had been. I was taught the world was 6000 years old and that I was to devote my life to preaching the word of god to the masses – something that at the time made me feel like Superman. Now being stuck forever as a Clark Kent, I decided that my dingy life couldn’t stay on the same course or I would be so depressed that I would stagnate and rot.

In questioning, I joined a local skeptics group. It was nice, made some friends and got a little social circle I had never achieved yet in life. The people of the group came from all walks of life. The perfect place to become uncomfortable as hell when it came to my ego… By that time, I was unemployed, had my High School diploma, but nothing substantial. Fertile grounds for my sense of self-worth to feel challenged… Sort of a “Well, it’s about time I show the world what I can do.”

The High School diploma I had would have only gotten me so far - probably a bit of college – nothing substantial. I had to up my grades from High School. I took math as my first course. It was like my brain hit a brick wall. “What? What is this thing you call logic?” I poured my guts out at my fears of dropping out of school to the skeptic group I was a part of. Damn it, I wanted to do something with me life! One of the members asked me if I needed a tutor in math, and that he was willing to help. A wholehearted “YES!” from me and we met up at a local pub the next week or so later.

I didn’t know that much (still don’t) in the ways of science, but after going over the math and then having a pint, I decided to talk causally about things I knew of the world of science. I told him the story about how my science teacher in tenth grade played a song for us called Little Neutrino by the band Klaatu and how there was this really cool thing over in Sudbury that detected them. I got the same chuckle my self-proclaimed hippy friend gave me years ago, that knowing chuckle. I didn’t know it, but I was being tutored by one of the physicists who helped build one of the parts of the SNO. I was floored. It was strange to see these past events associated to yet another new positive experience.

That piece of memory lane is definitely something I like going back to, now. The first time I heard the song, science meant so little. The reality that was right in front of me was veiled by dogma. Years later I was trying to find meaning and it came up again and held relevance. Not too long ago, it held an more significant meaning as I start to carve my niche for myself and my personal goals set for life. So much that even now, when I was listening to that very same song one day on the bus, the idea to write it down and share it here came to mind.

The theme of this blog is memory lane. Sometimes it’s nice, sometimes it’s a difficult place to wander. But like a car ride, if you have just the right type of music playing, it can make the journey so much better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dirt on bags

A dental office visit had me watching a few minutes of a talk show on the waiting room television. As I watched, the host talked about how dangerous bacteria was from reusable cloth grocery bags and showed the bacterial count taken from a swab test of an audience provided bag. Why was a swab test not also  done on clothes worn by an audience member and compared to the reusable bag as a control? — bacteria and viruses are on many surfaces not just grocery bags. The answer of course was this was day time television and not a science show. Those of us who have winter and snow must surely be at risk from our winter coats as well. Public health authorities are continually telling us to wash our hands and cough into our elbows to reduce the risk of infection since we are all touch our faces after touching potentially infectious surfaces. What makes a grocery bag more dangerous than a door knob or an uncovered cough? Why are public health authorities not raising the alarm about cloth bags?

The recent paranoia about bacteria on grocery bags appears to be as a result of a study done by Klick and Wright of the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Law & Economics in 2012. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2196481## With financial support from “Property And Environment Research Center.”  http://perc.org

The paper was neither peer reviewed nor written by epidemiologists and many errors were pointed out by critics, including the Department of Health for San Francisco. http://blogs.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/SF-Health-Officer-MEMO-re-Reusable-Bag-Study_V8-FIN1.pdf and http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/16/is-san-franciscos-ban-on-plastic-bags-making-people-sick-perhaps-not/

Major mistakes made included assuming all cases of gastrointestinal bacterial infections were from people actually using the cloth bags in the first place and not properly separating other causes such as campylobacteriosis from e-coli. (The health memo is a good read.)

It also appears the paper was supported indirectly by the plastic industry itself. http://www.bagmonster.com/2013/03/study-claims-reusable-bags-are-deadly-scientist-disagrees.html and http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Property_and_Environment_Research_Center

There has been one case of a disease spread from a dirty cloth  grocery bag. The culprit was traced to a reusable grocery bag. http://www.nbcnews.com/health/reusable-grocery-bag-carried-nasty-norovirus-scientists-say-761983

Any article of clothing or bedding used by anyone infected with a  norovirus could be a source for the disease. Common sense is to wash anything that has come into contact with an infection.

My conclusion is unless you are in the habit of letting raw chicken juices soak into your cloth bags and never wash your food carefully before preparation, you really have nothing to worry about with a cloth bag.