Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ideas That Have Helped and Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

It is said that Galileo recanted but muttered under his breath --"but it does move". Galileo had sinned against the Church. He had dared to indulge an independent opinion, a 'right' that Americans have sadly taken for granted. Whether Galileo was more fortunate than Giordano Bruno who was burned is a matter of debate. In England, Sir Thomas More was given the choice between conscience or King. More chose conscience and paid for it with his life.

Just as we moderns had grown complacent, a recent regime forced upon us an existentialist choice. Bush forever divided America. Those Americans supporting his regime are responsible for the choice they made; they are morally complicit in Bush's crimes of aggressive war and mass murder. Bush himself can and should be charged with crimes that are under US federal statutes punishable by death.

I may recant if someone has a gun to my head, but, like Galileo, I may be in danger of muttering audibly and thus defeating the purpose of muttering. At a time when the religious right either hires or creates phony 'think tanks' to promote creationist and/or 'intelligent-design' propaganda designed to pass muster with the likes of Sarah Palin, my views are entirely consistent with any religion based upon 'faith'. What the 'faithful' have forgotten is that 'faith' does not require proof or even meaningful sentences. Nevertheless, I still support the right of religious folk to espouse nonsense though, strictly speaking, a 'belief' is nonsense if logically impossible. Therefore, I believe it logically impossible to believe 'nonsense'. There is a difference between merely professing a belief and believing.

'Certitude' --the best word to describe the more militant fundamentalist churches --is inconsistent with faith. If one is 'certain' upon irrefutable proof faith, then, is not merely unnecessary but impossible. Coercion of any sort, including social pressure, is likewise incompatible with 'faith'. The word 'faith' connotes doubt. Those who are without doubt are without faith. Faith is what those who have doubts hang onto. Put another way --those who have 'faith' do not 'know' and those who 'know' have no need of faith. Faith is of all types. As a validictorian speaker at my high school put it: even the atheist has 'faith'. Some atheists have faith that there is no hell to be paid for 'denying' the 'religion' that many had tried to force upon them.

True religion by definition, cannot be militant and if militant ceases to be religion. A cult, perhaps, but not religion. There are no Christian soldiers. Conversions upon the point of a gun or sword 'don't take'! Even the fundamentalist baptist church I grew up in 'preached' that the acceptance of Christ must be chosen freely! Coercion or brainwashing is self-defeating, destroying 'souls' --not saving them. Like a bad vaccination, it doesn't 'take'. The excesses of both Protestant and Catholic faiths throughout European history are all the more tragic because neither side occupied moral high ground; all persecutions and horrific tortures were utterly baseless both logically and morally. Religion is a form of insanity in an individual and when shared among many throughout society --mass insanity. Religion has harmed humankind.

That brings up the matter of William Jennings Bryan, a self-professed 'fundamentalist Christian', who was, in many respects, a very admirable and honest person, perhaps a 'Ron Paul' of his day. But at Dayton, TN he supported efforts of the state to impose upon a curriculum a religious agenda. By definition, 'faith' cannot be imposed. Any oath imposed by law or coerced at the point of a gun or threat of excommunication is invalid. The very notion is self-contradictory. [See: Darrow, Darwin and Dayton] A more recent example is Sarah Palin who has a record trying to put 'creationists' on School Boards.

This is not a matter of faith. Certainly --for creationists, 'creationism' is not a matter of fact; they believe their theory to be fact. But 'creationism' is not subject to methodical verification as is the case with science. It is the process of verification that defines science --not the end result of either research or verification. 'Creationists' have forgotten that lesson --if they had ever learned it to beging with. Creationism is bad religion and even worse science. Both 'intelligent design' and 'creationism' are dogma --not science. Science is neither a body of knowledge nor a finite set of unchanging facts. It is, rather, a process by which meaningful statements, knowledge, sweeping theories are subject to rigorous empirical test. Both 'Intelligent Design' and 'Creationism' have harmed humankind.

The 'creationist' ideology espoused most recently by Sarah Palin is easily disproved. She believes the world is but 6,000 years old and human beings walked with or beside Dinosaurs. Simply, if we see the galaxy in Andromeda, 'creationists' are wrong! Andromeda has been proven to be some 2 million light years distant. We see Andromeda as it was 2 million years ago. If we can see it at all, 'creationism' is not only wrong, it is not science. Nor --because it is often coerced --is it faith. It harms humankind.

We can see Andromeda. In fact, I found Andromeda as a kid growing up in West Texas. I had nothing more than a good pair of binoculars that my uncle had given me and a star map. It is the only Galaxy that is visible to the naked eye. The idea that we are capable of discovering 'truth' for ourselves has helped humankind!

If we had discovered no other object, we must conclude, therefore, that the universe is at least two million years old. Of course, there are many more objects that are much, much more distant than Andromeda and they are easily discerned by the Hubble telescope, a bit more advanced than a simple pair of hand me down 7x35 binoculars duct taped to a half-assed tripod. With a bit of Trig and parallax, the distance to Andromeda can be determined even by amateur astronomers.

The 'creationist' position with regard to the teaching of 'creationism' in public schools is a straw man. Every curriculum I have ever seen teaches all science as theory. But creationism is not science and is not scientific theory. It has no place in a public school. Scientific theories are subject to proof. A religious 'creationist' would never subject any religious dogma to 'proof'. I believe that dogma has harmed humankind.

Because of the genius of our founders, people are free to act upon their religious convictions and may worship in whatever church they might prefer. But a 'religious conviction' must never be confused with a verifiable fact.

There are many things in which I have faith. But, I would hope never to make the mistake of trying to prosecute those do not share my faith. In the meantime, both of us are FREE to argue until the last red, dying sunset. It has been said that "... the Left -- from the beginnings of humankind -- has challenged us to think for ourselves, in both matters of reason and faith, while respecting those who have proven themselves advanced in studies or achievements in various fields:" I think that is our role. I respect those who profess a faith in 'good faith' but not those of 'bad faith' and its hand-maidens --dogma and superstition.

Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertolt Brecht addressed what it means to have integrity far more persuasively than any 'bible thumping' fundamentalist preacher that I had been forced, as a child, to endure. Both Sartre and Brecht addressed the issue of bad faith, essentially, the 'condition' in which an individual appropriates a false notion of self. Simply, those of 'bad faith' are not only lying to others, they are lying to themselves. Bertolt Brecht summed it up bluntly: "A man who does not know the truth is just an idiot but a man who knows the truth and calls it a lie is a crook". The photographer Richard Avedon was even more direct: "You cannot expect another man to carry your shit!"

I suspect that the GOP --as a whole --is premised upon 'bad faith', hence my antipathy. Moreover, I suspect that much of this is derived either from 'religion' espoused in 'bad faith' or GOP exploitation of religion to get votes. [Reagan and Bush Jr most prominently] To the extent that organized religion in America (especially the 'super churches' of the 'super fundamentalist evangelical movement) is but a mass manifestation of 'bad faith' the exploitation may be mutual.

One must not conclude that because of my views with regard to religion that I am immoral or amoral. I parted company with religion because I wished to be moral. Had I wanted to be immoral, I could very have remained in the church that my parents tried, in vain, to force me into. Since that time, I have shunned many another harmful cult.

Statistically, there is either no correlation between the espousal of religion and morality or none at all. Moral people may be found among atheists and agnostics. Therefore, one concludes, people do not seek religion because they wish to be moral. The histories of almost every organized religion is proof of that. Indeed, if people were inherently and naturally moral, there may have never existed a 'need' for religion.

I have been criticized for raising doubts among the faithful! I am in good company. Upon his conviction on similar charges, Socrates was forced to drink hemlock. He might have saved himself had he 're-canted' --a tactic favored by every 'establishment' including both Catholic and Protestant denominations. The tactic is a Faustian bargain in which one trades one's soul for one's life. Because he believed that "a man's soul is his self" [ the existentialist point of view ], St. Thomas More, like Socrates, refused the 'offer' that it was believed he 'could not refuse'. In Robert Bolt's great play "A Man for All Seasons", More tells his daughter, Meg: "...when a man takes an oath, Meg, he's holding his own self in his own hands. Like water and if he opens his fingers - he needn't hope to find himself again". That, I believe, is a good description of 'bad faith' as Sartre defined it. Later, when More is 'sold out' by the ambitious Richard Rich: "Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... But for wales ----?"

Another great existentialist play from the period is Jean Anouilh's Becket: ou l'honneur de Dieu. As the title suggests, Becket, having first served his King with distinction, found his 'honor' in the service of "God". To act contrary to that would have been, for Becket, the supreme act of 'bad faith'.

Forced to make the existential choice, Becket chose the honor of God above his duty to his King. Simplistically, he lost his life but saved his soul. Poor Galileo! He saved only his life. I saw both movies in the same year in which I heard Stokely Carmichael address an audience at Cullen Auditorium on the University of Houston campus. It was historic --Stokely Carmichael's promise to keep alive the revolution that the assassinations of RFK and Martin Luther King Jr the following year would end. With them, the 'dream' died. Carmichael electrified the audience when he proclaimed: "I do not need a law passed by the white man to tell me that I am free! I was BORN free! I AM Free!" I am of Native American descent and likewise free! I hold this nation responsible for the genocide it perpetrated upon my ancestors. I am not subject to unjust laws of any source and most certainly not those of a regime that was illegitimate in its inception and criminal in its execution.

JFK could have made the Faustian bargain with the Bush crime family that was even then, via the Sr Bush, directing the CIA effort against Cuba. RFK threatened the same people.

Recently, a BBC documentary established that RFKs 'killers' were most certainly the CIA. Martin Luther King, of course, represented the 'black' revolution that would have rocked the establishment. King's ideas have survived him and helped humankind.

If one's soul is one's 'self', then one may never hope find it in 'organized religion', a standardized journey through preconceived dogma. By definition, every individual must take this journey and experience it. Because it differs with each individual, it cannot become scripture. The 'form' seems always the same: the 'individual, in crisis, is given a choice: his life or his soul. It is no coincidence that this 'form' becomes the structure of almost every work of literature worth reading or watching.

At the heart of a growing divide between the secular quest for knowledge and the religious conservation of dogma are two contrary views of the universe. 'Particle' and 'wave' are just words to describe a 'noumenon' --as Immanuel Kant would have called things as they just are --before names are stuck on them, things NOT as they are perceived or measured but thing in the state of mere 'being'. Kant may have referred to it as a God's eye point of view though his view of 'God' is probably not shared by American fundamentalists.

The universe itself is the logical consequence of uncertainty. A 'particle' is the 'snapshot' we make of a 'wave'. Waves, by definition, are manifested only over time --a noumenal existence in motion. Certainly --Heisenberg's 'uncertainty principles' is verbally stated thus: a 'particle's position or its velocity may be measured at any given instant but not both at the same instant.' To use the photographic analogy, a 'particle' is a 'high shutter speed snapshot' of a wave; the 'wave' itself is like a 'time exposure' --a 'wave' at longer exposures, a 'particle' at much higher speed exposures.

I like the photographic analogy. My photograph of 'something' (a noumenal existence of some sort) that makes a looping motion as it moves from 'point' A to point 'B' will look like a SOLID object if my shutter speed is slow enough. The same 'object' making the same looping motion while moving from the same point 'A' to point 'B' will look completely different if photographed at 1,1000th of a second. Depending upon how quickly the 'object' is moving, my photograph might even suggest the shape of the actual 'object'. The faster my shutter speed, the closer I get to the actual shape of an actual object but at the expense of being able to determine its speed. By measuring the 'blur' against a known 'shutter speed', I might have determined the object's speed relative to the camera. A 'looping' object may describe a 'sine wave' as it moves. For example, we think of the moon as orbiting the earth. But because the earth is itself orbiting the sun, the moon's orbit about the earth is wave-like, weaving its way to and fro as the earth proceeds in its orbit about the sun.

Some orbits may be 'frozen' sine waves. In the Neils Bohr model, an electron is said to orbit the nucleus of an atom. But as both nucleus and electron are in motion, the 'orbit' is better described as a wave. Is it particle or is it wave? It depends on how you look at it. It is both depending upon how it is 'looked at' or, to use the analogy, how it is 'photographed'. Electrons are particles if their position is pinned down, but waves otherwise. At the quantum level, particles are just smaller blurs. One wonders if anything really exists at all. To use the photographic analogy again --what shows up on the 'photograph' depends upon the shutter speed. Slow shutter speeds make blurry photographs in which a small object may appear to be large and blurry. Specifically, a moving object photographed at a slow shutter speed is 'larger' in the direction of its movement. A very fast shutter speed will result in a smaller, sharper object. Both its location and shape are determined with greater accuracy. Similarly, Heisenberg's equation describes the relationship between the accuracy of a position vis a vis a velocity.

A precise determination of velocity can only be made at the expense of a precise determination of the object's position. As a very small child, I asked my father during a car trip how fast we were going. He replied that we were going 50 mph. I asked what that meant. He explained that we would travel fifty miles over the course of an hour. Being a kid, I shot back: "But how fast are we going RIGHT NOW?" That's what Heisenberg dared to ask: how fast is that particle going right now? He concluded that you cannot know both a particle's speed and its position at the same time.

The scientist must approach the study of the universe with the naivete of a child, daring to ask questions that are free of guile and preconceived notions. It was a child, I believe, who called Kant's 'noumena' a 'God's eye' view of the world. A jaded adult might lose amid a gestalt of prejudices and pre-conceived notions a perspective so fresh and transparent.

Over the course of an hour long trip, a car is a fourth dimensional shape that has manifested over the trip's duration of one hour. That 'shape' may resemble the line that is drawn on a map. Over the duration of an infinitesimal fraction of a second --a high shutter speed snap shot --the car's 'shape' will be the one you recognize as the object that sits in your garage.
Two astronomers –Hulse (a student) and his professor Taylor were studying a radio star pair at the huge Arecibo radio observatory in Puerto Rico (it’s 305 meters across). The star pair they observed was coalescing and the energy it was loosing during this coalescence was exactly as predicted by Einstein. They received the Nobel Prize in 1993 and from then on the skepticism evaporated and all scientists believed that, due to this indirect evidence, gravitational waves did indeed exist.

--Robert M. L. Baker, Jr;.Layperson’s Description of High-Frequency Gravitational Waves or “HFGWs”Lecture given at the Science and New Technology Special Interest Group at The California Club, Los Angeles, California, USA. October 17, 2006

Raymond Chiao remembers the day, during his childhood in Shanghai, when his brother built a crystal radio set and invited him to try it. "When I put the earphones on, I heard voices," he says. "That experience had something to do with my going into physics." Chiao has since become well known for his work in quantum optics at the University of California at Berkeley. Now he is preparing an experiment that, if it works (a not insubstantial if), would be the biggest invention since radio. Chiao argues that a superconductor could transform radio waves, light or any other form of electromagnetic radiation into gravitational radiation, and vice versa, with near perfect efficiency.

Such a feat sounds as amazing as transmuting lead into gold--and about as plausible. "It is fair to say that if Ray observes something with this experiment, he will win the Nobel Prize," says superconductivity expert John M. Goodkind of the University of California at San Diego. "It is probably also fair to say that the chances of his observing something may be close to zero."

GRAVITY TRANSDUCER would reflect incoming electromagnetic radiation (green) as gravitational waves (orange). The radiation must be polarized in a so-called quadrupole pattern.

--Scientific American - May, 2002 , A Philosopher's Stone
I like the description of 'gravity waves' as ripples in the fabric of space-time. There are on the 'innertubes' some very interesting GIF animations of 'gravity waves' that have been rendered in 3-D graphics programs. These are, of course, representations in two dimensions of a fourth dimensional phenomenon. Thought of in that way, such a craft is a time machine where 'time' is the apparent motion seen in the interference patterns of two dissimilar gravity wave fronts. One gets the idea. Upon Captain Jean Luc Picard's command --engage --the Enterprise would begin a journey in 'warp drive'. If such a craft capable of exploiting the interference patterns generated by two or more dissimilar wave fronts is ever built, inter-stellar travel will allow one to surf the universe, catching a gravity wave and soaring off into space.

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