Category Archives: Opinion

Our Intuitions

At the beginning of the week, I mentioned I’m reading Our Mathematical Universe (2014), by Max Tegmark. His stance on inflation, and especially on eternal inflation, got me really thinking about it. Then all that thinking turned into a post.

It happened again last night. That strong sense of, “Yeah, but…” With this book, that’s happening a lot. I find something slightly, but fundamentally, off about Tegmark’s arguments. There seems an over-willingness to accept wild conclusions. This may all say much more about me than about Tegmark, which in this case is perfect irony.

Because what set me off this time was his chapter about human intuition.

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Determined Causality

The ideas of free will, causality, and determinism, often factor into discussions about religion, morality, society, consciousness, or life in general. The first and last of these ideas seem at odds; if the world is strictly determined, there can be no free will.

But we are confronted with the appearance of free will — choices we make appear to affect the future. Even choosing not to make choices seems to affect our future. If reality is just a ride on fixed rails, then all that choosing must be a trick our brains play.

These questions are central to lives, but answers have remained elusive, in part from differing views of what the key ideas even mean.

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Local Brews

Since high school, I’ve wondered if the USA is just too big to ever make sense. How is it possible to govern a nation that ranges from Bangor to Baton Rouge and from Richmond to Redmond. Finding a political center to such a diverse group of people seems a daunting task.

As our nation grew, so did business, and now we have businesses “too big to fail” because their failure would wreck us. Our capitalistic approach to business seems based on unchecked obsessive growth. Bigger is always better!

The rise (or perhaps return) of local beer brewing offers an interesting lesson in how it’s possible some things should stay small and local.

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Simple Probabilities

I’ve written before about Drake’s Equation and the Fermi Paradox. The former suggests the possibility of lots of alien life. The latter asks okay, so where the heck are they? Given that the universe just started, it’s possible we’re simply the first. Maybe the crowd comes later. (Maybe we create the crowd!)

Recently, one of my favorite YouTube channels, PBS Space Time, began a series of videos about this. The first one (see below) talks about the Rare Earth Hypothesis, a topic that has long fascinated me.

The synchronicity in this is that I’d just had a thought about basic probability and how it applies to our being here…

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Time and Thermodynamics

There is something about the articles that Ethan Siegel writes for Forbes that don’t grab me. It might be that I’m not in the target demographic — he often writes about stuff I explored long ago. I keep an eye on him, though, because sometimes he comes up with a taste treat for me.

Such as his article today, No, Thermodynamics Does Not Explain Our Perceived Arrow Of Time. I jumped on it because the title declares something I think many have backwards: the idea that time arises from entropy or change. Quite to the contrary, I think entropy and change are consequences of time (plus physics).

Siegel makes an interesting argument I hadn’t considered before.

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Apollo 11 and Us

We dream of soaring…

Sunday night I watched the new Apollo 11 documentary by Todd Miller. At first, I was really into the show. When the Apollo 11 mission happened I was just starting high school and had been a big fan of the space program going back to Project Mercury. Watching a Saturn V lift off has always induced a profound sense of awe in me.

But I was increasingly struck by how white it all was. And male, but really, really white. That diluted the joy I was feeling with some deep regrets about how we act still today over what are basically paint jobs and some minor accessories.

Given where we find ourselves these days, 50 years hasn’t brought as much progress as it should have. We’re still really stupid about paint jobs.

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What is Consciousness?

When it comes to consciousness, one of the top challenges is defining what it is. (Some insist it doesn’t even exist, which makes defining it even more of a challenge.) Part of the problem is that there is no single correct definition. There never really has been.

There is also that there is sentience (essentially the ability to feel pain as pain) and there is sapience (roughly: wisdom). Lots of animals are sentient, but sapience seems to be a property of human consciousness.

Which raises the question: Are humans just a point on a spectrum, or is there some sort of “band gap” between higher and lower forms?

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Consciousness: Final Answer

On the one hand, a main theme here is theories of consciousness. On the other hand, it’s been almost eight years blogging, and I’ve covered my views pretty well in numerous posts and comment threads. Our understanding of consciousness currently seems stuck pending new discoveries, either in answering hard questions, or in providing entirely new paths.

A while back I determined to step away from debates (even blogs) that center on topics with no resolution. Religion is a big one, but theories of mind is another. Your view depends on your axioms. Unless (or until) science provides objective answers, everyone is just guessing.

But it’s been three-and-a-half years, and, well,… I have some notes…

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Idiot Clowns

Nope. Never liked’m.

Watching the Thanksgiving episode of the rebooted Murphy Brown on CBS, where Murphy decides to cook dinner with easily anticipated and well-worn results, it struck me exactly why I don’t find the show very funny. And why I really don’t find any of the CBS comedies since the 1990s very funny: Idiot Clowns.

In general, it’s why I don’t find a lot of comedy very funny. Idiot Clown comedy requires an idiot clown — someone so stupid they are unaware of basic reality, a blindness forced on them to enable a (typically) lame joke. I find it cheap and easy and without much value.

More to the point, I just don’t like idiots or clowns in my entertainment.

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Texting Subtext

Recent politics makes us, perhaps, overly aware of just how differently from us people can see the world. Recent politics also makes us very aware of how fraught it can be interacting with people who see the world differently. (Although it isn’t the differences that divide us so much as our tribalism.)

Setting politics aside for a moment, I recently stumbled over a difference that I found both bemusing and enlightening. It explains something that’s puzzled me (and caused a degree of head-shaking) for quite a while. What’s cool is how it switches my worldview, because now I understand it’s not a mistake or laziness, but a valid choice.

I’m talking about periods and lower case in text messages!

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