Category Archives: Book Related
Blog post with content related to the book’s themes.
This post suggests a new way to think about yourself.
According to science, our thoughts are the result of chemical reactions in our brains, mediated via cells called neurons and the connections between them.
I advocate that everyone get to know this complex physical system. I call it a “thought generator”.
When you wake up tomorrow, try to understand what your thought generator is doing. Try to “watch” the thoughts as they roll through your consciousness. Are these thoughts positive or negative? Confident or afraid? Social or anti-social?
“Watching” your thought generator at work is one way to become more aware of what you are as a person: a complicated amalgam of conscious and unconscious actions that define your life experience. The value of this exercise is realizing there is a lot of “you” that you don’t control, but you can try to watch and learn from this complicated “you”. This exercise will bring you closer to the spiritual journey that is your life.
President Obama opened his speech at the Interfaith Prayer Vigil after the Newtown tragedy with a quote from 2 Corinthians 4:16 of the New Testament:
“…do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away…inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”
In “Embrace The Infinite”, I include several quotes from the New Testament, but not this particular one. However, it fits the themes of the book very well. I annotate this quote below.
“…do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away…
[and actually physically wasting away, for everything that you see in this world, all that is seen, is transitory and will be gone someday…]
inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
[our spirit is renewed. We are renewed by faith…]
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
[Eternal, because the unseen is eternal and untouched by physical boundaries. In eternity lies the glory…]
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
[Yes, the physical material world is decaying around us. The unseen, of which patterns are an example, do not occupy time or space but exist outside of them, hence their eternal nature. The unseen is our clue to a world far more glorious and perfect than the material world.]
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”
By faith shall we live. By faith and prayer shall we find our path to joy. Ask yourself this: what is your legacy from God?
This post will either change your life, or leave you cold.
The idea is simple: “worship something”. If you believe in God, worship God. If you are an atheist, worship is still possible.
I want to describe two things that appear to be different, but are in fact very similar. So similar in fact that they may be indistinguishable. As a scientist, when I find two things that are nearly indistinguishable, I tend to think of them as nearly the same.
Thing 1: worship God. If you believe in the divine creator, then to worship Him/Her is not an issue. We all understand that. (The “bone of contention” is whether there actually is a divine creator.)
Thing 2: worship a principle or idea. This may seem odd to you. What does it mean to worship an idea? I will only explain it this way: if you have the right attitude, you can do it.
An atheist will mock you if you worship God. “But there is no God”, they say. “You might as well worship the tooth fairy.”
Then tell the atheist you worship the idea of Love. Tell the atheist you worship the idea of a Humanity that is worth sacrificing for. You worship the idea of Human Dignity.
Even our atheist cannot tell you that these ideas do not exist. This atheist can still mock you for doing something so silly as to engage in worship. But now it is no longer a matter of evidence, or facts. It is a matter of attitude.
I conclude with this thought: although worshiping God and worshiping an idea are certainly different things, are they really that different in practice? If your heart is capable of worshiping noble things, does the exact nature of that noble thing really matter?
Here is the content of a recent comment I made to an article about creationism:
An important idea has been lost in this debate: that creationism should not be taught as a science. I would agree that creationism as I understand it is not science. That does not mean creationsim is incorrect. It is overreaching to suggest that the current scientific understanding defines all truth and all possible truth. There may well be truths that science has not yet discovered and that are relevant to our place in the world and the meaning of life. Atheists and others can have an opinion about what defines truth, but they must realize it is just an opinion. Scientific knowledge is provisional. It depends on the evidence at hand. To suggest that science defines “the final word” is to misunderstand what science is. My solution to this problem is: don’t teach creationism as a science. Teach it as a belief system. It is a belief system distinct from science. There is room for belief systems that are not based on current scientific thinking. In fact, such non-scientific belief systems may be essential.
-Anthony Mannucci (http://embracetheinfinite.com)
The article is at:
“BERGSTROM: US needs to accept evolution once and for all By Brett Bergstrom”
This post delves into the questions of God’s existence, science and faith.
The debate between science and religion often rests on the question of scientific evidence. Those with faith believe in the power of an almighty God affecting our lives. Atheistic scientists question the existence of such a God, in particular citing the lack of scientific evidence to support God’s existence. Is this lack of evidence a concern for those with faith?
Let’s consider for a moment the possibility of scientific evidence of God’s existence. What form would this evidence take? Let’s consider the scientific perspective here.
If God exists, and exerts His Will on the world, then scientifically we must expect that God “moves molecules.” We consist of molecules, and everything that surrounds us as well. With scientific instruments, we can detect these molecular motions. If God is causing molecules to move, then our instruments ought to observe molecular motions that do not obey the prevailing laws of quantum physics. Yet, such observations have never been reported to my knowledge. This lack of scientific evidence does not prove the absence of God, but certainly makes it harder to argue for the actions of God.
Yet, when a person of faith believes that God has acted in this world, he or she is saying precisely that molecules have been moved by God’s will. Yet, I would venture to say that this person of faith is not concerned with this scientific perspective. It is as if the believer is ignoring the molecular basis of the world, a basis that is well established and reaffirmed countless times every day. Our high technology society is completely dependent on the reliable action of Natural Law.
Conversely, if a scientist observes molecules move in such a way that is not consistent with Natural Law, the scientist would not thereby conclude that God has acted. Rather, the scientist will assume that Natural Law as currently understood is incomplete, and must be supplanted by revised Laws. The scientist will then collect additional data to try and discover these revised Laws. We can guess that if the observed inconsistency is caused by the action of a willful God, the scientist will not be successful in discovering a set of revised Laws.
Although science is still evolving and full of discovery, there are many reasons to believe that Natural Law is being left intact and not violated on a regular basis, as God needs to do. However, a religious person believes in God even though Natural Law remains intact. This apparent discrepancy is because the faithful do not consider the molecular basis for God’s actions. Religious belief does not require empirical evidence. The molecular basis for God’s Will is not explained, nor need it be, according to the faithful.
I conclude by suggesting that religious faith is not about the material world, but something else. That may lower its legitimacy in the opinions of many, but if we ignore the molecular basis for God we can leave religious belief intact. If we try to impose the molecular basis of God as a scientist would, we reach a logical contradiction: that the world of molecules is governed by Natural Law and is also not governed by Natural Law. The final question I leave you with is this: is there such a thing as a “non-material world”, where the laws of physics do not apply? How real is such a world? Should we pay any attention to it?
This post is about using the scientific method to replace religious dogma. Those who disavow dogma have their reasons: blindly embracing religious edicts can lead to human strife and conflict. Unfortunately, things are not so simple.
Replacing religious dogma with knowledge based on the scientific method is an “apples and oranges” replacement. Scientific knowledge does not provide the answers to questions addressed by religion. What of the “dogma” of human dignity and worth, which is at the foundation of many religions? The scientific method provides little guidance here.
Conflicting religious dogmas are definitely a source of strife. Your religion may hand down truths that conflict with my religion. These conflicts cannot be resolved by logical debate, and thus may persist for a very long time.
Yet, eliminating human conflict using the beautiful evidence inherent in science cannot succeed. Attempts to replace dogma are often based on “self-evident” moral codes: it is “obvious” that harming others is bad. Why can’t all moral codes simply be based on the golden rule: treat others as you would yourself? Well, that rule is also dogma, albeit a positive one it seems. It is certainly not derivable based on evidence of a scientific sort. The application of this rule in real life is not always straightforward and unambiguous.
The inability to fully escape dogma is not an invitation to throw reason to the winds, or to embrace irrationality in its ugliest aspects. We simply must have realistic expectations, and work steadfastly for what we believe in.
The scientific method has had enormous influence on human life. Since its inception in modern form about 400 years ago, the scientific method has become ever more dominant in our culture. Not least it has brought us science itself, which has led to enormous advances in technology and human longevity. It is not surprising that some seem to worship The Method in their lives.
How and when do you use The Method? When should you get along without it? The Method is a proven way to gain knowledge of our physical world. The cycle of hypothesis (educated guessing), testing the hypothesis (experiments), and thus confirming or rejecting it (interpreting and thinking), is forever etched in our minds and hearts. The Method works so well because Nature invariably works in logical ways. The Method is well suited to learning about Nature because of the way Nature behaves.
Yet you can live your whole life without ever using or thinking about The Method. Perhaps you are one of these “non-users” who scoff at the seemingly cold logic embedded in The Method. Using the scientific method is practical, yes, but might not contribute much to your immediate happiness or success.
Understanding and applying The Method will bring you power. Apply it to your own life. Form a hypothesis about what you will do tomorrow, or where you will be in your life one year from now. Form hypotheses about those around you, colleagues and friends. How will they act or react to something you might do? Wait a little while and compare your hypotheses with experiment.
Understanding the limitations of The Method will bring you wisdom. The Method applies to the physical world. What about the spiritual world?
Don’t get me wrong: I love The Method. It is part of my professional life as a scientist. I make a living with it. Yet, my intimacy with The Method has led me to become familiar with its limitations. I can pose certain questions that I cannot answer using The Method. These hard-to-answer questions are not “meaningless”, any more than Love and Dignity are meaningless.
If you don’t use The Method at all, I recommend you try it. Let in a little logic to your life, and connect more directly with the awesome forces of Nature. Yet, if you believe The Method “rules all”, it’s time for a little introspection about what you truly value in life.
You will live out your destiny, no matter what.
Science would seem to be the most logical and unemotional activity that a person could engage in. We calmly and dispassionately set up our experiments, analyze our data, and reach our conclusions that either confirm or refute our hypothesis. We also do many things, like develop tools and instruments, that do not directly address a hypothesis.
How could something so logical be tied to emotion and passion? But consider this: if you know a successful scientist, you might find that he or she works long hours and thinks a great deal about what he or she is doing. One might say that scientists are consumed by what they do. They might even appear to be passionate. Passion about something logical? What gives?
Passion is a driving force in science. For many scientists, the passion arises from the connection we make to the physical world. The connection feels strong and profound. Logic is the common language that unites us with the world we study. Logic is something humans understand deeply. It pervades the fabric of our thoughts, from the most mundane to the most exalted. The thrill of science comes from seeing how logic does its magic in the world. The language of logic that nature speaks creates amazing structure and beauty in the natural world.
A scientist may be sitting alone, ruminating on ideas and concepts about a particular thing such as the aurora borealis or a thunderstorm. There is something exhilarating about knowing that thinking can reveal new truths about the world around us. The reason this can happen is logic. By thinking I can learn a great deal about something I have never experienced. I can even learn about something that has never existed. By thinking, I can create something new in the world that is not at all obvious that it could be made. The reason this can happen is logic itself: by understanding logic, and starting with a few assumptions, new things come to be.
Connecting to such a powerful thing as our physical world feels amazing. It feels miraculous. It instills passion. So the long days and nights, and feelings of despair and exhilaration continue.
In my last post (“The Limits Of Reason”, April 29) I discussed how reason is like a transportation device: it takes you from point A to point B. The points I refer to are the parts of a logical discussion. Reason begins with an assertion or statement, which is often arrived at without the use of reason. Given a set of assertions or statements, reason can work out their logical implications. However, reason itself is not “self-contained”. If we trace the logic of a discussion back to its source, we will find there are assertions and statements that are arrived at without a logical process.
What is the source of these “core” assertions? By core assertions, I mean the statements one starts with that form the foundation of the logical discussion.
Before answering that question, let’s relate this to science. As I state in my book, the scientific method starts with a hypothesis that is verified or refuted by experiment. How one obtains the hypothesis is not specified. In many cases, it is a guess (usually a well-educated guess). This very point has been made by the physicist Richard P. Feynman, one of the world’s preeminent scientists.
Now I’ll answer the question. Whether the assertion is related to science or other endeavors, the source of our most fundamental assertions is emotion. Believe it or not, this is also true in science. Scientists have been very successful believing in the simplicity of nature. They have unlocked key mysteries about quantum physics and fundamental forces by asserting that the answers must be simple and “symmetric”. Aesthetics, our emotional perception of beauty, plays a role also.
Finding a simple root cause that explains complex natural phenomena is emotionally satisfying. Belief in simplicity and aesthetics has led to scientific success. If our emotional orientation toward simplicity had not existed, we might have been less successful as a scientific species. A species with a different emotional makeup than our species might never have been successful scientifically.
Emotion is what delivers the core statements upon which logic is based. Emotion (including aesthetics) plays an important role in the progress of science. In the most fundamental scientific questions, emotion is an indispensable guide.
How do you feel about that?
Posted in Book Related
Many individuals reject religion because it requires faith in things that cannot be proved. For many, the alternative to religion is “humanism” based on embracing reason. Reason and evidence can form the basis of a worldview that does not require faith.
But is this really true? Can humanism based on reason replace religion? Let’s consider what we mean by “reason”. It certainly seems reasonable to based one’s world view on reason. Reason is logical and basing our lives on logic permits us to avoid extremist viewpoints.
However, logic is no replacement for religion. Religion is about who we are and what we value. It is about the assumptions that motivate us in a fundamental way.
Logic, on the other hand, is more like a transportation device. With logic, we can start at some point A and get to another point B. A and B are not physical locations, but points in a journey of ideas and reason. Logic provides rules that allow us to combine ideas to get new ideas and insights.
Logic does not provide the starting point. If my ideas start here, logic can help my ideas get to there. But I can have ideas that are starting points. Logic and reason cannot help me with the starting points. There will always be ideas and thoughts that I simply have to accept, that I cannot derive from other ideas.
Many of the fundamental questions that religious people think about are ignored by humanists. Fundamental questions about why the universe exists, or what one should do within this universe, can be ignored. Pondering such questions might not help you in your job, or help you reach material goals. People who believe in the primacy of reason are well advised to steer clear of such imponderables.
There are those who will ask such difficult questions. The humanists will respond by saying “we don’t need to ask those questions, nor do we need to answer them.” Humanists are happy to ignore questions whose answers cannot be verified using logic. Yet, we cannot be sure such questions have no answer or meaning. I am not afraid to ask such questions, acknowledging that the answers may never be fully available. I am willing to consider questions that cannot be answered using reason. Certain questions about life may well be worth thinking about, even if the answers will remain elusive during our lifetimes.
Posted in Book Related