Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Holographic Universe Theory


One interpretation of the Holographic Universe Theory states that there is no external objective reality, and that the physical reality we observe is actually just a subjective illusion derived from our consciousness. I'm immediately drawn to two questions regarding this theory: What did physical reality consist of before conscious life evolved if reality is a product of consciousness?  And, is it possible that physical reality came into being at the moment consciousness arose and did not exist prior? If the latter is so, how could consciousness arise before there was a physical reality? Can consciousness exist immaterially?

Neuroscientists have discovered that when we make a conscious decision to do something, like say reach for a glass of water, or choose one object over another, neural imaging technology can know you are going to make that conscious decision up to 6 seconds prior. That means that someone else can consciously know what you're about to consciously do, even before you're conscious of it.

"The 'Higher Self' conceives; the physical brain receives; the personality mind perceives. That's all it does", so says "Bashar" who is said to be a "multi-dimensional extra-terrestrial being who speaks through channel Darryl Anka from what we perceive as the future." Right. I don't want to get into the realm of pseudoscience with concepts of consciousness, but there is enough mystery about it that all possibilities should be considered, even supernatural ones.

People tend to be more critical towards ideas that contradict their worldviews. That's why theists tend to be highly skeptical towards a lot of biology and physics whenever it steps on their theology, but they'll grant the existence of talking snakes, flying horses and miraculous healing without a shred of evidence. I myself tend to believe that there is an objective external reality that exists outside our subjective minds. The Holographic Universe Theory however punches holes in that by saying all of reality is subjective and that your reality is different from mine. Whether or not your reality and mine can be causally related I'm not sure.

Below is an interesting video discussing the Holographic Universe Theory on consciousness. It makes the case that the "Higher Self" is determining the thoughts and desires of the brain, which then receives these signals or "downloads" them, which then the personality makes sense of. It's similar to how a radio receives invisible radio waves and then interprets them into music that we can make sense of. The radio is the physical brain, the radio waves are the Higher Self, and the personality mind is what makes the music that we can understand.



In this view of consciousness, we are all simply like physical machines that receive and react to what information our brains are receiving. The Higher Self in this case is like an external force, like the wave that the surfer rides: he doesn't create the wave, he perceives the wave. This gives a very satisfying argument for the determinist who believes that we're all causally determined in our thoughts and actions by external forces. The Holographic Universe Theory also states that our perception of the Higher Self creates the holographic universe that we perceive as our external physical reality, but is a subjective illusion.

It's true that as we discover more and more about the nature of reality, the more and more unrealistic it seems to become. The idea that our reality is a subjective hologram is not something most people digest easily, even for me, although it could be correct for all I know. So while neurology confirms that our thoughts develop inside our brains by factors we are not consciously aware of, I'm not yet ready to believe that these thoughts also create the physical world we see around us.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Few Thoughts On Steven Brill's Bitter Pill Article In Time Magazine


You shouldn't have to be a genius or a healthcare expert to understand that you shouldn't have to go bankrupt in a country like the United States because you slipped and fell or had chest pains and needed a hospital visit. I'm reading about this in Steven Brill's exposé Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us of our current medical system on why hospitals charge exorbitant prices for routine medical equipment and tests. It's enough to make you sick (ha!).

Hospitals across the country use a machine called the chargemaster that calculates the prices that hospitals charge patients for medical screening tests and procedures, treatments, medication and even the doctor's surgery gown. It can even charge several hundred dollars to a patient just for the doctor to look at the test results. The line item analysis done in Brill's article is shocking: $7 for a cotton ball to sterilize the skin before an injection; $200 blood tests that should cost no more than $15; $32 for the use of a reusable blanket to keep a patient warm during surgery; $39 for the gown worn by the doctor during the surgery when 30 can be bought online for $180; and $49,237 for the use of a Medtronic stimulator, a device which costs just $19,000 to buy wholesale.

The list goes on and on showing hospitals price gouging as much as 21 times the wholesale costs of their equipment. Why should a trip to the hospital that involves some routine tests cost someone $87,000? Brill says hospitals want to over test patients to prevent themselves from getting sued. OK, but why such high prices? Not-for-profit hospitals are really being run like for-profit enterprises argues Brill, with their presidents making upwards of several million dollars a year. The mysterious chargemaster machine determines the prices based on location and other factors that are not well known.

Medicare significantly lowers these costs to seniors but often healthcare can only negotiate 35 to 50% lower rates that are still high because of the initially high costs. What needs to be done is get these prices down. Some countries enforce price limits to prevent this kind of gouging but critics of that here say it's socialism - and we can't have that in America. So I guess then we'll have to keep this hospital industrial complex running, which will only lead to these costs going up, and more and more Americans getting stuck with the bill.

It is my contention that healthcare and hospitals should not be a for-profit industry. The necessity of the health business should give us the impetus to enact reasonable moral guidelines that prevent so called "not-for-profit" hospitals from turning into the kind of greedy corporations that run Wall Street.

This has also gotten my worried about potentially having medically related financial woes in the future. I've been eating much more healthy in recent years and have increased my fruit and vegetable intake significantly. I still occasionally binge on garbage but I'm much more conscious of it now mostly because I'm older and I know my body will begin breaking down. The fear of a potential $87,000 medical bill motivates me too.

My advice to anyone reading this, especially if you're young, is that healthcare starts with you. You can't treat your body like crap forever, you need to consciously take the initiative to become a healthier person and this will help you for the rest of your life. The sooner you do this the better. Two reasonable steps for the lazy:

  • You don't have to become a health fanatic, per se, but if you eat fast food and other forms of edible garbage, eat at least as much healthy food with it so there's a balance. 
  • And if you're a partier and like to drink and smoke and do drugs, at least exercise a few days a week to balance it all out. 
Maintaining a reasonable exercise routine and balanced diet goes a long way.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Does God Intentionally Deceive Us?: Theistic Evolution And The Problems Of Faith


It has only really been since Darwin discovered the evolutionary process that the atheist or agnostic position has even been tenable. Before Darwin, you find very few atheists, and the default position for skeptics of supernatural claims was pretty much deism. Evolution changed all that by showing that an unguided natural process could bring about all the existent species of life. Physicists and astronomers like Newton, Laplace and Einstein, further demonstrated how natural processes were guiding the stars, planets and matter. The wondrous triumph of science over the centuries is that is has continually removed any need to invoke supernaturalism in order to explain phenomenon, for everything that we can explain today has a natural explanation.

Science has forced theists to take one of four positions on evolution: Evolution is either a natural process that was started by god in the beginning; evolution is partly natural process that god occasionally interacts with and guides; evolution is a process that is completely guided by god at every step; or, evolution is false and doesn't happen. The naturalist position of course is that evolution is a totally unguided process that never needs supernatural intervention. But since a growing number of theists accept evolution today, incorporating evolution into theology opens up copious amounts of new problems concerning faith and doubt. Consider this scenario:

Imagine that you must take a history exam that determines whether you go to heaven or hell. To prepare you for the exam, the exam administrators have given you no less than 10 different text books that each tell a slightly different version of history, and many of them contradict each other. You have been given a random and indeterminable amount of time in order to study the given material and without your knowledge the exam administrator will call you up in order to take the exam. Each question on the exam will be in a multiple choice format with each option being one of the versions of history in the exam books. You must choose the right answer every time or else you fail. You have only one chance to pass it; fail and it's an eternity of torture. 

How is this exam process really any different than what god supposedly does to all of us? In order for you to adequately have been given preparation to pass a test, you shouldn't be given contradictory, ambiguous and misleading information. The ability to know the correct answers should be apparent, clear and obvious, and shouldn't require chance or a leap of faith. If you're a progressive theist who accepts evolution and the naturalistic processes that guide matter and also believe god had morally sufficient reasons for doing it all that way, then you'd have to accept the possibility that god is purposely trying to deceive us. It's like god has laid down a breadcrumb trial leading to him, but he makes it diverge into two paths, and then three, and then four, and sometimes the breadcrumbs suddenly disappear and you have to find the next ones on your own on faith. That's like trying to use a text book for an exam, and finding missing pages all over and contradictory information. That's not fair, nor is it "holy" and "loving".

With all the work done by theists to try to use science and logic to prove god's existence, it still ultimately requires leap of faith in the end to believe. And if god wanted us to know he existed, why hide the evidence for it in such a way that it took us all the way until the twentieth century to find it? And why bring creation about using a long natural process, or a process that appeared natural, if it wasn't to intentionally deceive people in order to test their faith? These are the kinds of things you have to consider if you do not take the fundamentalist (i.e. creationist) position on religion and I find it deeply disturbing, because I'm told god is loving and good and doesn't deceive, and yet it's obvious to me under the progressive theist worldview that god would have to be purposely misleading us in order to require faith.

Non-Religious Theism


I wouldn't really have a huge issue with the idea of deism being true to be honest with you. It's only the idea of a deity that cares about what foods I eat, what liquids I drink, what clothes I can wear, what I can and cannot do to my own body, and is deeply intrigued with what I do when I'm naked, that I deplore. Likewise, I don't necessarily care about whether or not other people believe in a deity, but it's the kind of deity they believe in and how their beliefs make them behave that concerns me the most.

For example, I've known many people and have had many friends over the years who were theists, but they didn't really act like it. There wasn't a religious element about them at all. I was actually the one talking about god and religion more than they were. These kinds of people I call non-religious theists. They're people who just believe in god or some supernatural deistic force or entity who may have intervened with the world a long time ago but is not anymore, and they're not religious about it. They don't worship, pray, attend church or any kind of social religious services, and they conduct their lives in an almost indistinguishable manner from your average secular atheist. These are the kind of theists that I can get along with, with very little conflict because they're almost like deists.

I suppose one can make an argument that a militant atheist is more "religious" in a sense, than someone who is a non-religious theist. I do find myself talking about religion and god more often than a lot of people who actually believe in god. For me religion is a fascinating topic. I mean, I can talk about a whole lot of things when I'm around people - music, science, culture, history, politics and philosophy of course. But it seems that when I like to get deep, I tend to gravitate towards religion and the metaphysics that religious belief asserts.

I like to say that, I care more about how people behave than merely what they believe. As long as people respect the separation of religion and government, they can believe whatever supernatural nonsense they want. I'd prefer at least that they be educated on science so that their worldview isn't totally absurd, but their ultimate belief in a deity, especially if their politics coincides with mine, I don't have a huge issue with.

So there is a kind of theism that I think is compatible with atheism at least in allowing those two kinds of people to get along without major conflict. But one could say that militant atheism ruins the balance, because it's just as fundamental as some brands of theism. I think this is true, and I like to be reminded that there is a time and a place for militant atheism, but it's not something atheists should wear on our sleeves, all day, everyday.

Jesus Was A Mortal


Premise One: All men are mortals

Premise Two: Jesus was a man

Conclusion: Therefore, Jesus was a mortal


Deductive logic at its finest! Christians would of course object to the use of logic this way, because they believe Jesus was a man and god at the same time, kind of like how water can be ice and a liquid. I've always thought the central myth at the core to Christianity made little sense. When god for example "sacrificed" his only son Jesus, not only did he sacrifice himself to himself, but since god can do anything, he knew he'd get Jesus right back, and so from god's perspective sacrificing Jesus would be like sacrificing the end of your finger nail - three days later it grows right back. Some sacrifice.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Local Atheist Meetup Group...


I'm not sure if I ever wrote about this story here but it's kinda funny and ironic...

I like to stay active in my local atheist meetup groups and enjoy getting together with like minded individuals. Last summer, on a beautiful August day, there was an atheist meetup happening just about a 10-15 minute walk from where I live. So as I was walking over, I see these two young women approaching me on the sidewalk. They each looked about 20 years old or so, and from a distance, kind of like hipsters.

I expected them just to pass me by but when I got close to them they suddenly asked if they could talk to me for a few moments. Being slightly late for the meeting, I hesitated, but then decided to entertain their idea. One of them handed me a small card and then with great enthusiasm said, "We'd like to talk to you about Mormonism. It's amazing, it's absolutely changed my life." I should've seen this coming. There is a Mormon missionary center just a mile away from me where they send kids from Utah and other extremely red republican areas of the country over to spread the "good news".

Then the other girl asks me, "What have you heard about Mormons?" Wow! Being asked this question is like every atheist's dream! So I told them exactly what I heard about Mormons. "You were an officially racist organization that thinks black people are inferior", I said. Both of the girls were shocked, their bulging eyes giving it away. I could clearly tell they were not expecting that answer.

After a second or two of awkward silence, one of them says, "Well we don't believe that stuff anymore. You probably think we're polygamists right?" This attempt to change the subject didn't go unnoticed. I pressed further on the race issue and one of them said, "Well I'm not a racist, and nether is she." So I respond, "I'm glad that we're all not racists and everything but your religion officially was."

At this point I can see both of them are beginning to lose confidence in me. They realize I'm not ignorant about their religion as they had hoped I was. So I said, "Look, I'm sure your experience with Mormonism is wonderful and all but it's just not for me. But I'll take your card and look into it. OK?" They seemed relieved in not having to deal with me and we part ways.

Looking at the card it has a picture of a Hispanic woman on it, I suppose in an attempt to appeal to the immigrant community where I live. Mormons actually think Native Americans were a tribe of Israelites who sailed from Israel through the Mediterranean Sea and across the entire Atlantic Ocean to the New World sometime around 600 BC (an event not upheld by any scientific, archaeological or historical evidence).

All in all, I had a funny ironic story to tell my fellow atheists at the meeting and we all had a big laugh passing around the card. Looking back, in a way I felt a little bad for being so harsh on the two girls because they were just so wholesome and sweet, in that goody-two-shoes Mormon kind of way. But then I'm reminded of the lies and nonsense they're spreading and it goes away.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Fine Tuning Argument


On my blog here I've written several times responding to the Cosmological Argument for god's existence and the various moral arguments, but I've only once written about the Fine Tuning Argument head on. I want to take some time expounding on some of its implications and the problems I think it has in a bit more detail than I previously did.

The Fine Tuning Argument, another staple of my favorite punching bag Dr. Craig, generally states like this:

1. The fine tuning of the universe is either due to physical necessity, chance or design.
2. Fine tuning is not due to either physical necessity or chance.
3. Therefore, it is due to design.

The Fine Tuning Argument poses what seems to be another tough obstacle for the atheist. The probability that all the elements in the universe would be as meticulously fine tuned to unfathomable levels that would allow life as we know it, are incomprehensibly small. But as scientists tell us, events that are extremely improbable happen all the time.

1. First I always like to use the probability of me being born as an example of chance. What is the probability that I would've been born? Well first my father and mother had to meet, that took some chance. I then had to have been conceived from one particular sperm cell and egg. The chances of that are extremely rare when considering that every time a man ejaculates, as much as 100 million sperm cells are thrust outward and only one will fertilize the woman's egg - and that's if fertilization even happens at all. The chances of me being conceived just considering that one specific time when my parents tried to conceive a child, and not even considering all their other attempts, is about 1 in 100 million. When you factor in all the other attempts at conceiving a child, combined with the probability of the circumstances that lead up to their decision and attempt to conceive a child, already the mathematical odds are stupendous. 

Then you have to multiply this to the chances of each of my parents being conceived and the circumstances that lead up to that event, and then do the same to their parents, and their parents, all the way back literally to the very first form of life some 4 billion years ago. The odds of this happening are unfathomable. Everyone alive today is the product of an unbroken chain of births, billions of generations in the making. The chances that any one of my distant relatives would have had a different offspring that wouldn't have been one of my ancestors, would have always been much more probable. And yet of course if this had happened, I wouldn't have ever been born, and yet I exist and I'm real. What are the chances of that?

So events that are extremely odd can happen all the time even when the odds against them are much more probable. But even this answer doesn't satisfy all the critics, so let me give a few others.

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