Category Archives: science

The Insight of Neil deGrasse Tyson

Responding to this page at openculture.com:

“Neil deGrasse Tyson Lists 8 (Free) Books Every Intelligent Person Should Read”

Anthony Mannucci says:

And yet, there is something missing here. We need a new religion that takes into account all the knowledge that is displayed in these volumes. This new religion should be based on the current scientifically-derived origin story of the human species: big bang through evolution. (This story could change, but for now it’s the best that we have).

None of the books cited here provide such a perspective. A religious perspective is needed because of human nature. One cannot avoid some measure of faith in the conduct of human affairs. Science does not supplant what religion provides.

I’d add the following:

None of these books explain why ISIS destroyed the ancient Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra. Do these books explain the rise of Nazi Germany? The Bible is included in this list to show that it’s easier to be told what to think rather than to think for oneself. What explains the passion and activism of those seeking to destroy other cultures? NGT is an inherently rational human being who expects a rational world. Unfortunately, a rational world is not required by, and is in conflict with, the scientific genesis story that he himself believes. Human evolution was not guided by a rational hand or a rational plan. The human nature that exists today is here because it survived very difficult and harsh conditions. Human nature is defined by its survivability, not by its rationality.

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In difficult times, I turn to God

I am going through some difficult times right now. I won’t explain the specifics. There is no need to.

In difficult times, I turn to God. Another word for God is Vahhd. This is a word I invented. You can find its definition in the book.

I pray to Vahhd. Vahhd is natural law. It is the power that surrounds us at all times, and in all places. It is the power the governs everything, to which nothing is hidden. Vahhd rules all.

I need guidance. I need understanding. Guidance and understanding will take me through these troubled times. I need God’s love. I place my fate in God’s hands.

I know that what will be, will be. I surrender to it. In this surrender, I find comfort.

Praise be to Vahhd.

 

Worship, worship, worship

Here is my prescription for you: worship. Let’s call it the “Big W”.

Without religion, why would you have the Big W in your life? Yet, I believe the advantages of having worship in your life are immeasurable.

Life is easier when worship is a part of it. Worship causes you to change your feelings of self-importance. You accept that your importance, and your powers, are limited. By the way, they are limited. They really are.

Worship forces you to think about your relationship to the world around you. What influence are you having on the world? Is it a positive one? Could it be?

My interest in religion has less to do with the supernatural than it does with worship. I don’t much care for, or need, the supernatural. I do need to put my life in perspective. Worship.

The Big W. How can you get there?

 

Scientific mind, artful mind

In my previous post, I referred to Richard P. Feynman’s attitudes towards science and math. I would like to bring back Feynman’s memory. Feynman held interesting opinions about how scientists are treated in our society. It seemed to be a sore point with him.

Feynman has written many times about how our culture appears to respect the artist more than the scientist. It seems to me that this was a source of constant frustration to him. If true, should we be surprised?

Consider the goals of the artist versus those of the scientist.

The artist seeks to create feelings in those who view his or her art. There may also be an intellectual connection to the art, but the main purpose of art is how it makes you feel.

The scientist seeks to learn how nature works. Science is far more intellectual than emotional. Science is often supported for its practical benefits. There is a practical connection, but for most people not an emotional one.

Great art can make you feel happy, uplifted, centered, curious and validated.

It is perhaps surprising that great science can bring these feelings also. Generally it is only scientists who experience these feelings from science. Most people have a very limited emotional connection to science.

As a scientist, I am one of those people who connects emotionally to science. More precisely, I connect emotionally to nature and natural law. The encompassing power and beauty of natural law is stunning to me.

Let’s get back to Feynman. As one of the leading physicists of his day, he had to root out how nature behaves at a very fundamental level. Feynman won his Nobel Prize for the development of the first quantum field theory, which is a law of nature that includes the electromagnetic force (electricity and magnetism). This was a major achievement, because such theories had to explain exotic concepts such as the “wave-particle duality” and the “equivalence of mass and energy” (relativity theory). The “explanation” was fully quantitative, and  produced precise numbers that agreed with laboratory measurements for specific experiments. This quantitative aspect is most impressive, and requires the use of mathematical concepts that are quite advanced and beyond the grasp of us “mere mortals”.

Feynman created models in his head of how the math and the physical concepts worked together to create natural law. His abilities in this regard were genius. In the end, though, he could not explain what he developed. This is not to his detriment. Such explanation is beyond the realm of science, because we have no measurements that tell us why nature is as it is. Without data, the scientific method has no application.

Back to emotion. It is not surprising that what is beyond our grasp is less popular than what we understand. Artists create feelings in us, which becomes our connection to the artist. Scientists tend to create feelings in only a few of us: other scientists. Non-scientists might be amazed, or perhaps repulsed, by what scientists create. The direct emotional connection is lacking, so scientists are naturally less popular than artists.

I urge you to go beyond the science and contemplate natural law directly. Contemplate your place in a physical universe that defines who you are (physically), how long you can live, and what you must do to survive. Contemplate the regularity and predictability of nature and what the means to you. Contemplate the universal nature of physical law: it is the same here, as it is across the street, as it is across the universe. It is so for all time.

How do you feel when you contemplate the majesty of physical law?

The Math of God

This post is inspired by “The Character of Physical Law” by Feynman. It is also generally inspired by the “spirit” of Feynman, who always inspired me.

One can now view his lecture “The Character of Physical Law” on YouTube. He eloquently expresses the importance of mathematics to modern science. This makes science impenetrable to many, since mathematical skill is reserved for the few. Suppose one tried to express physical law without mathematics. Would it appear as religious reasoning?

Feynman makes the excellent point that we are talking about a certain level of abstract mathematics here. The math used by physicists is not a variant of simple arithmetic. I admit this is a point I may have missed in my book. In the book, I declare that mathematics is a form of logic, and leave it at that. Feynman makes the correct point that, if math is a form of logic, it is of a very special kind. To do the math that physics requires, you really need to write down different kinds of symbols than are required by logic. Math that physicists use has to “look mathematical” to work.

If physical law (nature) is so closely tied to mathematical reasoning, and math “unlocks” many secrets of nature, what are the implications for those trying to understand nature before math was invented? Isn’t it possible that the search to understand God was essentially an attempt to understand nature, but without the math? Without math, nature cannot be described as effectively as we do it today. I use the word describe advisedly. With math, we can describe how nature behaves, but we cannot say why. (Feynman makes this point also in his lecture).

Is it possible then that religion is a branch of science? Both are concerned with the “almighty”. In one case the almighty is natural law, in the other, something more poorly defined. I am not sure how to define God “in general”. Am I suggesting that religion + math = science? Perhaps, at least in a certain sense.

Why abstract math is so important to understanding nature is a mystery, even to scientists. Back to my mistake in the book: math is a form of logic, so all we need is logic to understand nature. Logic is, at least in theory, something that everyone understands.

Feynman pointed out my error. Math, particularly advanced math, is really quite different than logic, although logic is an important element. Perhaps I am most convinced by the following: the importance of i. Not i as in “me” (but lowercase). i as in the “square root of -1”. Most of you have heard of i, but it does not matter if you have not. I will explain a little.

is a number that, multiplied by itself, gives -1. Try using simple arithmetic to multiply a number by itself and get a negative number. It cannot be done. That’s because, using simple arithmetic, two negative numbers multiplied by each other always yield a positive number. Since simple arithmetic really is a form of logic, it would seem that if “logic rules nature”, then nature ought to follow the rules of arithmetic. That means nature should avoid i.  And so it seemed to until the 1920s, when quantum mechanics (QM) was invented.

Although before QM, scientists sometimes used i as a mathematical convenience, it did not have a fundamental role. One could express the laws of nature strictly in terms of “real” numbers, that is, numbers that do not contain i. Thus, it appeared that nature was logical, mathematics was logical, and the reason math was useful for describing nature is that math was logical. The “reality” of the world was logic, not math.

Feynman set me straight. The reason is that, with the advent of QM, i was no longer a convenient mathematical trick, but it entered into the fundamental physics equations themselves. Before QM was known, using i was unnecessary (although I am sure there were clever theorists who could jam it in there. But it was not really needed). With the advent of QM, i became indispensable. We know of no way to write the fundamental laws without i. It appears that i itself is fundamental.

Since nature and logic are so closely related, one would expect that such a number as i, although possible to invent mathematically, would have very little to do with nature. Nature is supremely logical, but would have no use for a crazy mathematical construct such as i. Yet, we appear stuck with it. What does this mean?

To me, it means that nature is not as logical as I once thought. Nature is more mathematical than logical. Whereas logic is staid and solid, mathematics can be weird indeed. For example, mathematicians have learned to do arithmetic with infinity. They have defined shapes that are smooth, but have no slope. And they have defined shapes that always have a well-defined slope, but are very “jaggy” and jumpy. Mathematicians define worlds with infinite dimensions, and with fractional dimensions, none of which can be visualized or really grasped in an ordinary way.

Certainly, mathematical constructs, even the weird ones, must embody logic. These weird things that mathematicians invent have an underlying logical structure. But they are so much more than that, and so different than the logic that underlies the simple numbers.

Which gets me back to God. Understanding nature requires much more than using logic. It requires inventing weird objects such as i. Without this invention, we would have no way to describe how nature behaves. Nature is supremely logical, but it is also supremely weird. This is something physicists have understood for some time now. These days, the search for new physics is really the search for a new kind of math. I don’t know why that must be.

I believe nature is like a supreme being. It rules all. How nature rules seems to be impenetrable to us, despite all the scientific progress we’ve made. Thus, our understanding of science today, that leads us to reject religion as “foolish” and “arbitrary”, is somehow at a crossroads. The closer nature is to being impenetrable, the closer science is to religion. I am not suggesting that science and religion are the same, but that they become closer to each other as scientific understanding becomes ever more abstract and mathematically weird.

Such may be the math of God.

What is “God”?

I recently heard an interesting talk by a survivor of the Holocaust. After the talk, the obvious question was raised: do you still believe in God? How has this horrible experience affected your faith?

The speaker side-stepped the question, but did provide the impression that his faith is gone. Although still active in Jewish life and in his synagogue, he no longer believes in God. I have heard others express a similar sentiment. “I believed in God until a such-and-such horrible thing happened to me, and then I could no longer believe.”

I find this attitude to be short-sighted.

We can all agree that horrible things happen to people. Why did you believe in God until the horrible thing happened to you? Were you not aware that horrible things have been happening for the past thousands of years?

If God has been around forever, then clearly God has allowed horrible things to happen to people. You can either stop believing in God, or change your understanding of God. If God only allows good things to happen to people, then clearly there is no God. Maybe God does allow that.

Bad things happen to good people. Assuming there is a God, then God allows bad things to happen to good people. How can this be? I don’t claim to have the answer.

If God allows bad things to happen to good people, and God allows evil in the world, why believe in God? In particular, since the natural world is explained by science far better than it is by religion, why believe in God?

The answer is that science has nothing to say regarding life’s purpose and meaning. Science cannot provide the information to help you form a world-view that makes you feel complete.

You need to feel complete. You need to feel you have worth and value, and that your life has meaning. You cannot escape this need, even if you never think about it.

Even if you don’t believe in God, you need to act as if you believe in something. Is that “something” God-like? In many ways, natural law (the laws of physics) are “God-like”, except that they don’t have a personal character to them. Natural law is not “jealous” or righteous, this is true. Natural law is not “loving”.

God as a concept is handed down to us from the time we are children, and we tend to form a naive view of what God must be. As we grow up, we learn things that contradict our childish views. Perhaps God is less personal than what we thought as children. An impersonal God, a God that resembles natural law, is not a God at all. It is too different from God to suggest that natural law is “God-like”.

I conclude with this declaration: worship natural law.

This declaration is not a scientific statement. Neither is it false.

amannucci

The Wall and Me

Scientists deal with the eternal “object”. The “thing” that does not care about you or know you exist. The Law that is ever present and everlasting, permeating everything.

I think of the material world as an infinite wall: static, impermeable, impossible to avoid or go around. It is always there, yet always ignorant of me. Yet, I study it with great intensity.

Why do I do this? To seek the approval of my peers? Am I trying to impress someone? Do I do this for the money (hardly!)?

The reason is fascination, awe, and a feeling of connecting to something larger. These are all feelings. Doing science is a passion.

I just wanted to say that.

Thought Generator

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.

Whereof Creationism

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:

http://www.dailynebraskan.com/opinion/bergstrom-us-needs-to-accept-evolution-once-and-for-all-1.2760164?pagereq=2#.UFBKKhjr_Qo

“BERGSTROM: US needs to accept evolution once and for all By Brett Bergstrom”

The Molecular Basis of God

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?