Forget Something?

Along with a health body, a healthy mind is the most precious possession you have, but defining the mind is not so easy, and optimizing the mind’s health is even more difficult to find helpful answers.  The mind is elusive and I’m never quite sure how to describe it fully and accurately.  The mind is not the same as the brain but it resides in and is the sole source of input-output functions of the brain, which makes it pretty darned important to the quality of life.  I do know that of the many functions of my brain, the cognitive mind is the one which provides me with a richly textured collage of sensory information enabling me to observe and interpret the world around me.  As an investigator and writer of science, philosophy, spirituality, paranormal phenomena and theology I would be paralyzed intellectually without my mind working at its highest capacity at all times.

As one ages thoughts of the potential of mental degradation naturally begin to creep into the consciousness, especially those times I forget where I left something or why exactly did I get up and go into the kitchen. People tend to accept these little memory blackouts as the unavoidable and harmless consequences of aging, but I simply cannot accept that.  When I forget the name of someone I’ve known for 25 years, it really ticks me off!  And it concerns me!

I see plenty of sharp-witted old birds out there every day so I know that dementia and the dreaded A-word are not in everyone’s future.  I’ve seen first-hand what Alzheimer’s can do to a person and their family, so I decided to investigate what can one do to prevent this slow death from occurring to themselves.

What I found is a product that is working to keep my mind healthy and as sharp as it ever was and I feel obliged to share this information with anyone that has experienced those “harmless” memory lapses that can easily be precursors to more serious problems.  It’s called MindBoost and it is formulated and manufactured by Simple Smart Science in the USA.

Now I have to be honest with you.  Not all supplements work the same for everyone and there is no way you will know in advance whether MindBoost will work as well for you as it has for me.  The saving grace of the product is that if you are dissatisfied in any way you will be given a full refund if requested within 120 days of when you started the product, which is more than enough time to decide whether it’s a go or no-go.  With me, I knew it was a go within 30 days.  So if you too have been experiencing any of those pesky little memory lapses and want to try to do something about them I invite you to click here which will take you to the MindBoost site so they can tell you the whole story behind their products as well as describe to you the rigorous clinical testing that their products have undergone.

Finally, I have a strong interest in providing beneficial information to my readers so if you decide to try this product please let me know if you like it or not as I do not want to recommend any products that prove to be unsatisfactory.  Thanks and best of luck.

tnp

The Most Important Choice

With the benefit of hindsight clearly in the rear view mirror, I often preach the value of making quality life choices to my children who, oddly enough, still listen to me. As one who has survived the consequences of countless poor choices in life, I feel superbly qualified to speak as an authority on the issue of choosing wisely and have thusly declared myself an expert on the subject.

The Mechanism of Choosing
The mechanism of choice-making is complex as our choices are influenced by many factors. First, there are the countless natural influences of our environment, including our internal environment which ultimately plays the deciding role. Next, there are the educational, nurturing, and mentoring experiences we are exposed to and the degree to which these factors have formed our opinions of the world around us. Finally, there are the values and ethics that each of us internalize over the years and the extent to which these have molded our sense of morality and principles of behavior.

The Role of Free Will
There are those that argue that all human choices are determined by the combination of these three types of influence and our “decisions” are simply the outcome of a stimulus-response computation. I do agree that much of the choosing algorithm is driven by Determinism; however, I have also argued elsewhere that in the case of human choices, a key difference in the choosing process is the uniquely human ability to weigh the moral implications of a choice prior to actually making that choice. I do not believe that any other living organism has the capacity to do that, at least not to the extent and level of detail that humans are capable.

Empathy and Ideas Arise Thru Language
Morality and empathy for others originally arises from familial relationships which many lower animals demonstrate. However, the ability to read, write and speak in complex languages, is the only way in which ethics and morality can be refined, formulated, transmitted, and adopted into formal culture. Humans empathize because they are able to express the concept of empathy in language, which allows us to imprint a value on relationships which each of us can choose to follow, or not.
This is the foundation of free will and the human capacity to choose good or evil or somewhere in between. Language is the key to the choices we make, as it is our single most important tool for the formulation and communication of ideas.
Without language, we cannot form ideas. Without language, we can only receive and react to sensory impressions of the world around us without the ability to evaluate and transmit ideas to others.  In the case of ethics and morality, they exert strong influences over our choices, but they do not determine how we ultimately choose. The ultimate choice is entirely up to the individual, because if it were not, bad choices would be far more difficult to make. In fact, one could argue that if we were totally rational and all relevant information were available to us, bad choices would not even be possible. But we know that is not true. Even with all relevant information available, people are still capable of choosing poorly. The reason is Free Will.

Responsibility for Behavior
Without Free Will, there can be no responsibility possible for one’s actions. Freedom of will entails that we own our actions as well as the consequences for those actions. Without Free Will and responsibility for one’s actions, there would be no such things as anti-social, abnormal, or criminal behavior. The functioning of any society requires that members of that society be responsible for their behavior both as the initial price of admission and for continued membership.

No Excuses
We often hear people make the claim that they had no other choice but to act in a certain way, but closer examination will always reveal that claim to be false. The choice may have been difficult or unpleasant, but there are always options to everything we do in life.  A choice may be buried under the extreme pressure of a particular situation, but it is always there.  The ability to evaluate and make hard decisions is one of the clear discriminators between Homo Sapiens and other animals.

Children need to be taught responsibility for their choices at a young age before they become confused and begin to think that bad behavior will be excused indefinitely by the most insidious lie ever told: “I had no choice”.
Our children need to learn that the most important choice they will ever make is the next choice they make. Our lives are a network of inter-connected actions generated by continual choices. Each choice we make is a step in our life. The next choice you make is always the most important as it either furthers your cause or takes you in another direction. Where exactly do you want to go?

Aristotle was the Man!

“The master’s role is to remind the student of that which he already knows” – Plato circa 366

Aristotle father of Science
Aristotle

Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE) was arguably the most important thinker we have encountered in the history of human development.  As a young student of Plato (“The Master”), Aristotle was generally unremarkable but over his lifetime he blossomed into a prodigious philosopher, and a leader of the scientific community, single-handedly constructing a vast body of work that still serves today as the fundamentals of modern science.  Today, nearly 1,700 years after his death, students of science and philosophy are required to read his major works as their starting point.  Aristotle was a visionary philosopher that is the father of a school of thought and inquiry we call “Natural Philosophy”, the core of which is that nature is explicable and necessary, and which holds the key, albeit illusive, to the purpose of our existence.

Aristotle, Father of Science
Aristotle, Father of Science

Aristotle accomplished all that he did possessed of none of the scientific tools which today are taken for granted and with which many a high school student is experienced with.  No telescope, no microscope, and obviously no particle accelerator or cloud chamber.  So he can be forgiven his numerous errors as the main “tools” he brought to bear were his eyes and his prodigious mind.

Aristotle arguably accomplished more with less than any person in human history.  Undeterred by the physical limitations of his age, he compiled a prodigious library of scientific and philosophical knowledge that stands today as one of the most impressive and durable intellectual compilations of any man who has ever lived.  He easily displaced his teacher, Plato, as the guiding light of scientific inquiry and philosophical thought.

It is most notable that the age of modern science emerged at the exact point in history when the complete works of Aristotle were translated from the original Greek into Italian and French and began to be widely taught in the great universities of Europe.  The immediate effect of this academic entrenchment led to what is known as the “Period of “Enlightenment” wherein scientific thought surged into the forefront of cultural interest, and fueled the impetus of the budding Renaissance period.  Aristotle’s work provided a ready foundation for the scientific method and philosophical inquiry that countless others built upon to propel human knowledge forward, on multiple fronts, into the current era of exponential technological expansion where we find ourselves today.

Because of his worldwide and enduring influence, many religious scholars and theologians, beginning with St. Thomas Aquinas, have studied Aristotle with the purpose of using his words to support the efforts of theology in an ongoing effort to develop evidence for the existence of a transcendent yet immanent “prime mover” (Creator) as the cause of all physical motion.

We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Aristotle for a body of scientific and intellectual work which, when scored for depth, range, and quality is unparalleled in the history of thought.  This website was inspired by and is dedicated to this great thinker.

lgp

Honey, I saw a Ghost!

The other day I was thinking about how many millions of people over recorded history have claimed publicly to see a ghost or spirit, and with all that eye-witness reporting the credibility level of those reports remain in the lower range of believability. Is this because people simply don’t believe that which they don’t personally see or because the notion of ghosts and spirits just seems childish in this age of scientific enlightenment?

I decided to test the explanation with a personal experiment. During dinner with my lovely wife, I broke the question. “Honey, if I ever came to you and told you that I had seen a ghost, would you believe me?”

She looked at me the way wives do when you suggest that it would increase the value of you’re house to turn the family room into a woodworking shop. “Why do you ask, Sweetie? Did you see a ghost lately?”

“No”, I replied, “but if I did, and I told you I did, would you believe me?”

“Well”, she responded, “I suppose first I would have to establish that there was no substance abuse issue or that you hadn’t forgotten to take your medication.”

“Cute! I am trying to be serious here. You don’t think I would simply make something like that up, do you?” Let’s assume I was of sound mind and free will, would you believe me?”

“My husband, the pathological practical joker, fabricating a ghost story? Naaah!” She responded, dripping with sarcasm.

Pressing on, I continued, “What if I told you I saw a ghost when I was dressed in a three piece suit and kneeling on the steps of St. Bart’s? Would you take me seriously then?

Repressing a giggle, she spoke, “Silver-tongued devil speak with forked tongue!”

I could see that my efforts to obtain an impartial opinion from my beloved were going nowhere fast so I changed tactics. “Honey, you do believe in God, don’t you?”

Suppressed mirth quickly morphed to stern suspicion. “Where are you going with this line of interrogation, Mr. Holmes?”

Having finally gotten her full attention, I pushed the advantage. “Well, if you believe in God, which I know you do, then that entails belief in a whole spirit dimension, including ghosts, or the souls of the deceased, right?” She listened without comment for me to continue. “I’m simply saying that many people have claimed to see these entities, indeed, have claimed to have communicated with them. So is it so far-fetched to think that I might at some time in my life also see one? Before you answer, consider that according to a recent CBS News poll it was found that nearly half of all Americans believe in ghosts, and 22 percent say they have seen or felt the presence of a ghost(1). Why then would it be so far-fetched to believe that I could be one of those persons?”

“I’m sorry, Sweetheart. You are so right. Just do me a favor and don’t speak to anyone else we know on this subject, OK?” turning abruptly, she strode triumphantly out of the room presumably to take care of some tangible business.

The Ridicule Deterrent Factor

Ouch! I now understand what people who experience paranormal phenomena feel like when they try to relate their ghost story publicly. Ridicule is the very least one can expect and disinterested acceptance is the best. It is little wonder we have made little progress on this topic. Nobody likes to play the fool so most people will simply keep apparitions and other such amazing things to themselves. Science seems to have little to offer to the answer being noncommittal on the subject due to the inability to apply the scientific method of experimentation and repeatable observable results to the problem.

But that’s OK because sometimes when we are not constrained by the rules of scientific inquiry we that we are free to play outside the box and this in turn sometimes leads to interesting conclusions. Having researched the paranormal and spiritual subjects more than most, I do think there is something to it. Perhaps one of those mysterious extra six dimensions which become necessary in the bizarre world of quantum mechanics can provide an explanation. Or maybe the Akashic  Cosmic Memory Field(2) is really the dark energy for which physicists continue to search. I am not sure, but with all the mysterious stuff going on in the universe, it does not seem very farfetched to think of the spirit world as real.

Onward…

Meanwhile I continue undeterred in my pursuit of a better understanding of the relationship between science, philosophy, theology, spirituality and unexplained (paranormal) events, because something keeps whispering encouragement in my mental ear that everything is related to everything else in some dark and mysterious way. I just may have to travel to another dimension to determine the underlying connections.

(1)  Ghost Stories: The Science behind Sightings, Glenn McDonald, Discovery e-Magazine, March 4, 2016.

(2) The Akashic Cosmic Memory Field is a theory that all knowledge and every thought ever thought permanently resides in a cosmic field overlaying and permeating the visible cosmos and which provides an timeless source of a wisdom and guidance for those that have the ability to access it.

 

 

Plato Was Right – Government in America

“The Death of American Democracy” is like an old headline that nobody bothered to read.  The writers of the Constitution are surely spiraling in their mausoleums, as the present day practitioners of the political arts in this country are not, most assuredly, what the founders had in mind as their legacy.  In the off-chance that no one has noticed, the American democracy is broken and has been limping for decades.  It has been broken for so long we simply do not take notice anymore.

As an administrative bureaucracy, our Federal Government is operating at nearly a trillion dollars in debt, most of which is held by foreign governments.  The legislative branch of government spends all its time blocking the initiatives of the opposite party so as a result nothing of any significance ever is passed into law that is not subsequently voted down by the opposing party.  The Judicial branch of government continues to reflect the wind direction based on which political party currently controls the Executive branch.  Instead of striving toward a synthesis of views that would require compromises by some yet would yield satisfaction to most, we watch helplessly as our government skillfully avoids the middle ground where progress is allowed to flourish.  This monotonous and senseless dance polarizes our nation needlessly and fails consistently to achieve good for the many, which is its sole charter of being.

A Little Bit of History

Political philosophers have routinely warned of the inefficiencies and biases characteristic of governments controlled either by the military or by the merchant class.  To this point, the American system of government has taken democratic political science to a new level, boasting proudly of a military-industrial complex so powerful and influential that we are assured that we will always possess the finest weaponry on the planet, and simultaneously ensuring that the American industrialist class will always remain wealthy and connected.  And heaven forbid, even if there are no worthy wars to wage, the powers-that-be will find suitable unworthy wars to fight, thereby ensuring our continued economic and political support for industrial supply and military demand.  American democracy has, by this not-so-subtle coup d’état, been transformed by the US military command and the US merchant elite into what can only be defined as the Elite Ruling Class.  The main problem with this development is that the priorities of the military and of the rich are not the priorities of the people that depend on their government to fulfill the promises made in the American Constitution.  As a result of having a ruling class populated by rich military-industrialists, we the people (~95% of the US population) have only representation in government that has the power and intention of perpetuating the status quo.

The salient point of this ongoing failure of the largest democratic republic system ever is that it was never destined to work in the first place.  We all should have appreciation for the efforts of the founding fathers as they honestly believed that they were doing the right thing in the wake of their own experience with corrupted European aristocracies.  They had every cause to fear a government founded on hereditary aristocracy as it has certainly proven without dispute that political corruption will rise to the intellectual deficiencies of its membership.  If only the American revolutionaries had only taken the time to do their history and had researched the political thoughts of Post-Enlightenment European philosophers who were undoubtedly hereditary aristocracy’s harshest critics, the birth of American government might have gone in a more politically aware direction.

Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Voltaire, Spinoza, all of whom could have made persuasive, cogent arguments for the reshaping of aristocracy, for the kind of aristocracy that the Greek philosopher Plato had first advocated around 380 CE in his timeless classic entitled The Republic.  But of all the voices that carried the strongest hope of political reason forward, Friedrich Nietzsche was the most vocal and compelling,  Unfortunately, he was also the most radical voice of his era and not born until 1844, a century or so too late to be of assistance in the 1770’s when the United States of America was being born.  Softer and less polemic was George Santayana’s astute observations and the recommendation of “Timocracy”, the call for an elite aristocracy echoing Plato, a government by men of skill and integrity, chosen for duty irrespective of their social pedigree.  Such an approach was sadly ignored by America’s midwives, which is truly a pity, as US politics have become the free world’s poster child for upscale corruption and ineptitude.

An American Story

It did not start out that way, nor was it ever intended to regress into such incompetence.  The men who founded this country were borne of aristocracy, but of a different kind of which we speak.  They were a confederacy of exceptional men[1] with visions of a government that would ensure personal freedoms not least of which was the freedom from religious and political oppression by those in power, and for a brief moment in history, it worked.  Driven by their justifiable fear of the corruption of power they had so clearly known in Europe, they instituted prescriptive measures to prevent the entrenched of power, but in doing so also inadvertently prevented the emergence of greatness and assured the dominance of mediocrity.  It seemed intuitive to them as dangerous to allow individuals to remain in positions of power over extended periods lest those individuals permit the impunity of their position to cloud their judgements and come to be influenced by corruptible elements.  Their opinions on this matter had been formed with intensity as they had witnessed first-hand the undesirable effects that bribery, collusion, and other perversions of ethics had produced.

By instituting limited terms of elected office, they believed the opportunities for corruptive influences to advance would be limited, thereby protecting the political system from the individuals charged with its administration by limiting the influence of special interests and the undue will of the wealthy.  The unintended consequences resulting from the limitation of elected terms of office were that the best men for these positons were soon disillusioned and spit back into the private sector only to be replaced by other lesser men.  This is the theory of evolution in reverse.  By forcing elected leaders to be re-elected every few years, it ensured that those who wished to be re-elected would spend far more effort during their term of office planning their re-election than doing anything of worth for the people they were supposed to be representing.  The rules of the game became rigged in such a way that precluded the electorate from obtaining any benefit from those elected.  As a result of a de-humanizing and grueling election process, the best and brightest people soon disappear from the political stage, only to be replaced by people of lesser talent and competency, until the quality of the pipeline is forever compromised by weakness.

Making the democratic election process even more politically debilitating is the process by which elected office holders are to be re-affirmed has dissolved into nothing more than a contest of who can waste the most money by publically insulting their opponents in a non-stop blitzkrieg of negative campaign ads.  Artfully crafted to fall just millimeters shy of the legal threshold for slander and libel, these “mud-slinging” contests are defamation by confusion, escalating dramatically as each election draws nearer to declaring a survivor.  They are designed to discredit opposing candidates by insinuation, shock, and fear:  Insinuation of evils perpetrated, shock by assassination of character, and fear of what will happen to us all should such a soulless Mephistopheles become elected.  But a graver consequence is the injustice foisted on the electorate public, hopelessly inundated with factualized fictions and fictionalized facts, subjected to barrages of criticisms which defy validation, and subjected to information with the coherence and clarity level found in one of those infinite unsuccessful attempts at writing a Shakespearean play by one of those infinite monkeys.

Where did it all go so wrong?

It may be true that people originally enter politics for noble or philanthropic reasons but nobody can survive on altruism alone in this poorly conceived game of thrones.  Given the gloomy state of affairs of US politics today what person of integrity and vision would voluntarily wish to subject themselves to such an unpromising endeavor?  It is no wonder then that the best and brightest are most often to be found in private industry and commerce where vision and integrity are valued commodities and where people advance more often by merit than by transgression.

The grueling circumstances of the political arena beg the question of what type of person is willing and capable of enduring such onerous conditions of employment?  Based on simple observation of office holders, we can make some generalizations, none of which stirs confidence.  The people we see most in positions of political authority seem to fit a type:  Forceful, egotistical, opinionated, proud, vain, loud, devious, self-serving, and unable to form intelligible, straightforward statements or to provide cogent, direct answers to cogent, direct questions.  Every statement of the American politician is crafted toward enhancement of its value in support of election, or re-election.  This is a systemic problem created by the rules of engagement set by the founders of our political system.  When you create a game that encourages bending of the rules and provides a reward system that encourages coloring outside the lines, what you get are individuals that view cheating as an acceptable way to win.  This renders the game treacherous and of distinct advantage to those endeared to corruption, a game that is unacceptable to those of integrity, and one where the best and brightest refuse to play.

No More Elections?

A potential answer to this question is the unlikely synthesis of the insightful logic of Plato and the energetic rantings of Nietzsche.  By combining the fundamentals of the two diverse political philosophies, we would create an Aristocracy of the Elite, to be selected by a strict criteria of intellect, temperament and integrity forming a dynamically evolving body politic enabled to stand the test of time and to become the vehicle by which mankind transcends to the next stage of its development.  The structure of this new aristocracy would be assembled with the brightest and most visionary minds available, educated, and refined by the most learned of our educators and sagest of our political leaders and elders to ensure that each generation of administration and diplomacy becomes progressively sophisticated and wiser in the management of our world.  Each member of the government would be specially trained and educated for a position they would hold until such time as they were ready to advance to a higher position.  Following the Aristotelian model, formal political education would occur beginning with the completion of high school through age 30 when they would begin political apprenticeship until the age of 50 when they would finally be educated and experienced sufficiently to govern with a compensation commensurate with their status.  In all cases, financial security would be guaranteed as the reward for their service to the country and to the world.  And best of all, no more damned elections!  Before anyone objects too loudly or strenuously to this proposal, one should look at the current compensation packages being provided to US Senators and Supreme Court Justices.

Who would not gladly relinquish the “privilege” of voting in exchange for the surety of righteousness and security?  Do we not now vote for the lesser clown to lead us?  Why have we chosen so readily to settle for so much less quality in our leadership than we demand from our automobiles?  Are not decisions on global warming, nuclear proliferation, health care, world hunger and the like of greater consequence than how well our kitchen appliances are manufactured?  Why have our priorities become such irrelevancies?  The only completely truthful answer to that question is that we have become smart enough to realize the hopelessness of the situation but not smart enough to do anything about it.

A Vision for Tomorrow

One glance at the prospects for the next presidential election removes all hope for the future.  America is slowly dying incrementally by election years.  In between elections, we blissfully ignore the horror, hoping upon hope that something meaningful will actually be accomplished, but just when we manage to anesthetize ourselves to the inanity, there it is again being rubbed in our face along with the same hollow message that we, the voters, can make a difference.  The two-party democracy we currently enjoy ensures that as time passes more and more dead weight will be added in futile attempts to fix wide-spread systemic problems that added bureaucracy can only aggravate, and inevitably will become less and less able to provide even the most basic of services to those that foot the bill.  When, at last it will be unable to support its own weight, finally and spectacularly collapsing from a massive shortage of revenue.

Alas, the valiant efforts of the Constitutional Congress would have turned out so differently had we looked to Plato and Nietzsche instead of Washington and Jefferson.

Concluding Comment

The foregoing may seem a radical departure from the political system currently in service but is it really?  Do we not insist that our surgeons achieve and maintain the highest level of skills?  But what type of qualifications to we require of our elected leadership?  What is being suggested here is a much more efficient manner of finding, training and educating our leaders which will systemically guarantee that the highest qualified individuals wind up governing the country.  The only tradeoff to instituting such a process would be avoidance of the evaluation and selection process yourself.  Or do you really believe your vote still counts?

vote-1286584_1280

[1] Full acknowledgement is given that many if not most of the founding fathers were slave owners, but this in no way alters the fact that they were collectively exceptional men with vision.  On the issue of slavery, they were clearly wrong and are responsible for much human suffering as a result.  Subsequent leadership of this country has managed to amend the many iniquities in our Constitution that allowed numerous minorities to suffer from legal constraints of personal freedoms, but unfortunately, the negative heritage of discrimination and bigotry remain.

Can’t Touch This!*

The more I read about the nano-world the more detached from reality I feel.  The world at the sub-atomic level is at once bizarre and magical.  It is often pointed out by the scientific community that our senses deliver to us only approximations of the world that exists beyond the boundary of our skull.  We go through our daily life touching, seeing, hearing, tasting and smelling what we believe is the real world, but, in reality what we are sensing is not reality at all but rather our very own unique personal interpretation of the world.  Because our knowledge of the world external to our brain is subjective and interpreted by our sensory systems we are forced to accept the fact that we will never, ever know for certain the true nature of the reality that exists all around us.  That’s a bit disturbing but there’s more.  In addition to never knowing objectively what is really real we also need to understand that what appears to us to be direct contact with the real world is in fact an illusion.  Allow me to illustrate this bizarre concept.

You’ve invited me to dinner and I arrive at your house and ring the doorbell, and you appear at the door to let me in.  But what really just happened?  I thought I rang the doorbell but in reality I was actually feeling the sensation of a repulsive force in the tip of my finger generated the electro-magnetic fields of the bazillion atoms in my finger as they overlapped with the electro-magnetic field of the bazillion atoms comprising the plastic button of your doorbell.  And I felt like I was standing on your front porch but in reality I was being supported by the electromagnetic fields of the atoms in your porch as the electrons orbiting the nucleus of the bazillion atoms in your porch were producing a negative electromagnetic charge that were resisting the force of my mass being acted upon by gravity through the bottoms of my shoes which were also producing a negative electromagnetic charge.  Recall from science class that opposite charges attract and like charges repel, so what felt like me standing on your porch was actually the atoms in my feet/socks/shoes being repulsed by the atoms in the surface of your porch.  The atoms, or I should say, the components of the atoms in my shoes (electrons, protons & neutrons with all of their associated sub-atomic components) never actually came into physical contact with the atoms (or their components) of the porch as such an event does not occur under normal conditions.  So even though things in the world do in a sense touch each other it is not the physical particles of the atoms doing the actual touching, it is the quantum electron cloud that surrounds each atom.

Forget the popular notion of an atom as a planet-like system neatly orbiting a star.  Reality is not that simple.  Invision instead that all substances are comprised of trillions of atoms which, actually exist as a tiny quantum clouds of uncertainty comprising the atom’s nucleus and where the exact locations of the orbiting electron particles are never known specifically, and whose location can only be predicted within an mathematical range of statistical certainty, which is what physicists think about a lot. These atomic quantum electromagnetic clouds are what actually touch each other, not the atomic particles within.

Atoms "Touching"
Two atoms “touching” by virtue of the proximity of their respective EMFs

What atoms do on the micro level however is come into contact with each other by means of an overlapping of their respective electromagnetic fields which on the macro level provides us with the unmistaken sensation of touching.  The more that electromagnetic fields overlap, the stronger the repulsive forces between them.  This atomic property has enormous implications for the origin and structure of the universe, a discussion to come later.

So there you have it.  The next time you shake hands with someone think about what is really going on and how clever our sensory systems are in their ability to decode all this quantum level nuclear interaction in a way that convinces us that we are all very much in touch with the real world.

As a final note, I do realize that serious students of physics may be horrified at the simplified explanation given but even though it may not be completely in line with modern physics, it still serves as a useful conceptual basis for understanding the problems science faces in bridging the macro world with the micro world in the quest for “reality”.

*Credit to MC Hammer who indirectly inspired this short essay.

Evolution – The Trouble with Charles

A Grand Theory   120px-Sahelanthropus_tchadensis_-_TM_266-01-060-1

In 1865 Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species” and in doing so, made the single most important scientific breakthrough of the nineteenth century which, after over a hundred and fifty years, still stands as the best scientific explanation of the processes that have shaped plant and animal life on our planet.  The modern theory of evolution has provided both a powerful model for species development as well as the groundwork for our search for an explanation for the origin of life itself here on planet Earth. Alas, the trouble with Charles Darwin’s grand theory is found in the same evidence that lends it support.  The devil, they say, is in the details.

Scientific “Truth”   120px-Aipichthys_Minor_Cénomanien_Liban - Copy

While the sciences supporting evolutionary theory have made staggering discoveries over the years that lend validation and credibility to the theory, it must be recognized that there are many important questions that remain unanswered leaving significant gaps in the roadmap to our origins.  While we teach evolution in our public schools and treat it as scientific “truth”, we must also recognize and accept the fact that in science, the truth is considered to be the equivalent to what is currently the best explanation at the current point in time for any given phenomenon.  In science, the best explanation (AKA “scientific truth”) can and will change with discoveries yet to be made.  To be clear here, we are not saying that the truth necessarily changes, rather it is the degree of our knowledge of the truth that changes.  If we step back and take the long view for a moment, we can see that the history of science is one of evolving truth to fit the current knowledge.  600 years ago the prevailing scientific truth was that the earth was flat and held up by an infinite stack of giant tortoises.  500 years ago the prevailing scientific truth was that the earth was the center of the universe.  400 years ago the prevailing scientific truth was that the sun was the center of the universe.  300 years ago the prevailing scientific truth was that the universe was filled with “Aether” that allowed light to propagate.  200 years ago the prevailing scientific truth was Newtonian physics was the ultimate explanation of motion.  100 years ago the prevailing scientific truth became Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity.  Today as we probe the micro-world of quantum mechanics, Einstein’s “truths” are under extreme scrutiny while the next generation of relativity is being conceptualized and formulated. Scientific truth is continuously evolving with the world and the people that inhabit it. Darwin’s theory of Evolution is not exempt from this evolutionary process.

Discovery of the Truth is a Process   120px-Crane_de_Saurolophus - Copy

We have come an enormous distance in our quest for knowledge and the leaps in scientific technology in the relatively recent past make us starry-eyed with grand prospects to be realized in the near future.  Even with the astounding discoveries made in astro-physics, micro-biology and particle physics in recent times, it would however be a mistake to think we are anywhere close to the end of our journey.  With all the new information flooding the reservoir of knowledge, we are now facing a log jam of data, data that generates new questions, questions that continue to challenge our abilities to understand the new realities being discovered.  Science continues to provide us with new knowledge of the universe, while at the same time continues to serve up even newer mysteries, mysteries that drive us deeper and farther into the unknown in our insatiable quest for answers.

The Theory of Evolution is no exception to the rule that truth in science is an ongoing process of discovery as Mother Nature does not give up her secrets easily, nor all at once.  Even Darwin  was wise enough to know that there were many things that his theory could not provide answers for, the origin of life itself being the most notable. Darwin was a devoutly religious man and always feared that his theory would be misinterpreted as an assault on beliefs in a “Creator”.  In his “The Origin of Species” Darwin states clearly that while the mechanism of evolution provides a powerful means to provide advantage by means of adaptation to the local environment and conditions enhancing the survival capabilities of individual species, it does in no way is intended as an explanation of  the purpose of life or of life’s origin.  So, in fact the word “Origins” in the title of his famous treatise is somewhat of a misnomer.

Even before “Origins” was published in 1859, Darwin discussed his hesitancy and concerns with his wife and close friends. Finally ceding to his belief in the soundness of his theory and the importance of furthering the cause of science, Darwin published his work and immediately ignited a fire-storm of controversy that persists to the present day with no signs of abating.

What “Origins” Tells Us   114px-Spinoface - Copy

Based on the most current evolutionary model, life is assumed to have started in the oceans, where single celled life emerged and over millions of years gave rise to a multitude of multi-celled sea-life.  Eventually some members of the sea bound began to explore the world above the water line (amphibians) and many millions of years later developed the necessary physical tools to gain survivability out of water (reptiles). Once firmly established on land, over the course of many millions of years, reptilian life diverged again, where some organisms began to acquire the ability to fly.  It is not difficult to fill in the gaps and postulate a viable scenario under which this logic appears quite valid.  The problem arises when we look more deeply at what specific changes are actually necessary for such changes to have occurred solely as a random outcome of natural selection.

One of the many challenges facing evolutionary biologists is the fact that While the Theory of Evolution today still stands tall as one of the most important scientific discoveries in history, its boundaries, while plainly visible, are seldom acknowledged.  What “Origins” explains is how life-forms develop through incremental changes in their DNA due to mutations of the individual proteins that comprise the DNA molecule. Mutations are generally the result of errors in the DNA duplication process that occurs during cell division.  If the mutation results in a trait that improves survivability, the life-form will likely survive at a greater rate than life-forms that do not have that particular mutation.  But the converse is also true.  If the mutation causes the life-form to have lower survivability, then over time the non-mutant gene will survive at a greater rate causing that life-form to have a higher rate of survival. Mutations over time will occur and depending on whether they provide advantage or disadvantage, the life-form they support will necessarily be subject to a higher or lower probability of survival.  Darwin called this process “natural selection”. The argument goes that over millions of years this very slow and random process of natural selection will result in significant changes not only in the morphology of a life-form, but in the functionality of major body parts as well.

Yes, But…   220px-Bohol_Tarsier

But is the process natural selection sufficient to account for the incalculable inventory of living organisms now present on the planet?  And more specifically, has there even been enough time since the origin of the first life-form for all of the life we are surrounded by today to have evolved by a process driven solely by the random mutation of individual genes?

The biological mechanism of change through mutation is not as simple to understand as it sometimes is presented and it is also a random and time-intensive process.  Genetic errors in the replication of cells are random events and can be either advantageous or disadvantageous to the organism’s survivability.  In those cases where a mutation is beneficial to survival, and subsequently distributed throughout the gene pool through successive generations, eventually that entire species will accrue benefit from the mutation.  But if mutations are purely random then wouldn’t good, bad and neutral mutations statistically tend to cancel each other out instead of favoring survival advantage to the organism?  The fact that 99% of the species once living on the planet have become extinct might be evidence of this statistical neutrality.  Even if the statistics are in favor of survival, it is easy to see that individual changes in the physical configuration of a species are necessarily long and random processes taking many generations to manifest even a small change.

Many important question arises from the time-intensive character of the evolutionary process.  One such question is, “Can the evolutionary process alone sufficiently account for the incredible diversity and complexity of life on earth?”

We can also point to examples of complex and unique organisms that simply defy explanation by natural selection.  A single example from many is provided here for the reader’s consideration.

Respiration in Birds vs Reptiles   Carolina WrensWP_000130

The cardio-vascular system found in the family of birds is unique among living organisms.  Respiration in birds requires two respiratory cycles (inspiration/expiration/inspiration/expiration) to move air through the entire respiratory system while in reptiles only one respiratory cycle (inspiration/expiration) is required.  Other specific differences are:

  • Birds have lungs, but they also have air sacs. Depending upon the species, the bird has seven or nine air sacs.
  • The air sacs of birds extend into the humerus (the bone between the shoulder and elbow), the femur (the thigh bone), the vertebrae and even the skull.
  • Birds do not have a diaphragm; instead, air is moved in and out of the respiratory system through pressure changes in the air sacs. Muscles in the chest cause the sternum to be pushed outward. This creates a negative pressure in the air sacs, causing air to enter the respiratory system. Expiration is not passive, but requires certain muscles to contract to increase the pressure on the air sacs and push the air out.
  • Because birds have air sacs that reach into the bones, and have no diaphragm, respiratory infections can spread to the abdominal cavity and bones.
  • Bird lungs do not expand or contract like the lungs of mammals. In mammalian lungs, the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs in microscopic sacs in the lungs, called ‘alveoli.’ In the avian lung, the gas exchange occurs in the walls of microscopic tubules, called ‘air capillaries.
  • The respiratory system of birds is more efficient than that of mammals and reptiles, transferring more oxygen per body weight with each breath.
  • Respiration in birds requires two respiratory cycles (inspiration, expiration, inspiration, expiration) to move the air through the entire respiratory system. In reptiles and mammals, only one respiratory cycle is necessary.

The avian respiratory system is structurally and functionally far more complex than that of mammal or reptiles, the assumed evolutionary successor to birds.  This poses a problem for the evolutionary process as it has been thus far unable to conceive of a way that these two distinct respiratory systems could have ever evolved over time from one into the other.  At the risk of oversimplifying a densely complicated subject, it would be comparable to seamlessly creating a four-cycle gasoline engine from a two-cycle gasoline engine, while it was running.  So far science does not have a viable answer to this problem, nor has anyone proposed even a theoretical model of how such a change could have possibly occurred.

Nevertheless, as was pointed out at the beginning of this essay, the Theory of Evolution remains our best educated explanation of what we see, it simply doesn’t explain everything we see.

Expect more of this story to emerge…someday.

Timeline of Life on Earth

If you have ever wondered about the timeline of how live evolved on our planet you are not alone.  Science has made good headway in the mapping of the time frame of life-forms development progress but we remain in the dark by life’s mysterious origin.  While we still do not know how life arose in the first place at least we can see the trend of how lower life-forms seemed to evolve into more complex species as shown on the chart below.

800px-Darica_Dinasour_02228220px-Bohol_Tarsier

Life on Earth Timeline

In its 4.6 billion years circling the Sun, the Earth has harbored an increasing diversity of life forms:

Periodic extinctions have temporarily reduced diversity, eliminating:

120px-Crane_de_Saurolophus - Copy 114px-Spinoface - Copy 120px-Aipichthys_Minor_Cénomanien_Liban - Copy 120px-Sahelanthropus_tchadensis_-_TM_266-01-060-1

The Only Thing Certain is Uncertainty

In this hi-tech fast-paced world the only thing for certain is the absolute uncertainty of just about everything.  Science acknowledges that everything we perceive are approximations of reality which we can only really know subjectively through our own personal lens of consciousness.  Randomness is the law of the universe.  The total predictability of any single event or choice is not possible due to the incalculable random influences affecting any human action.  We can only predict within a statistical framework the probability of an event happening in the future based on the law of large numbers inclusive of the numerous relevant human elements.  This unpredictability is predictably demonstrated by the outcome of any non-theoretical event as being only predictable within some estimated band of error.

mathematics-1233876__180Change is the Law.  Stability is an illusion.  Stability is often mistaken for “shifting baseline syndrome” where the status quo changes with each generation so that the long term investigative trend is obfuscated or ignored by the continual re-establishment of ground-zero.  This then results in the loss of historical data and re-starting from scratch repeatedly, not recognizing a shifting baseline has erased the true starting point of an investigation.

Scientific “truth” is a model.  Truth is what we believe at the moment, but which can, and likely will, be proven false at some point in the future.  In order for us to make sense of anything, we need models of the truth, and we need to understand the transient nature of these models and the purpose they serve.  Without them we would be adrift in a sea of uncertainty.  Truth models provide dry land to the wayfarer, even if only temporarily.  The history of science shows repeated instances of the current state-of-the-art theory being unceremoniously and often painfully obliterated by a new, improved product, one that fits better, explains more, is more elegant, and more compelling.  Each theory takes its place in the sun and survives only as long as the sun shines.  It is the way we gather knowledge, try it on for size, get used to it, and use it for as long as it proves useful and beneficial.  Then one day, another theory comes to town claiming to be better, faster, smarter, and with less baggage.  When the smoke clears, only one theory remains, the survivor of an intellectual and sometimes political gunfight, and with a new sheriff pulling the strings.

And one final note is not to underestimate the power of entropy.  Entropy is described in the Second Law of Thermodynamics where the prevailing trend in nature is described as
the process of change from an ordered state to a chaotic one, seldom the reverse and never for very long.  Entropy governs everything from the shuffle of a deck of cards to nuclear physics and is the irresistible dynamic behind why things don’t last.  Don’t understand entropy?  The next time you pass a landfill take a good look.  What you’ll see is countless shreds of metal, cloth, paper and plastic that used to be products designed and engineered for the purpose to serve us.  Take a picture and caption it “Entropy Wins Again”.

Missing The Miracle

My wife and I are fortunate to live on the edge of a green belt running WP_20150711_21_17_54_Prothrough our small city that is home to a great number of animals and birds that are, in my humble opinion, the best neighbors one could have. On a daily basis we enjoy a splendid view of the forest and the abundance of life that inhabits it. The weather seems to matters little as the life of the forest marches forward undaunted, and on any given day, at any given moment one can sense the essence of a million individual lives thriving within our local ecosystem, mostly unseen, but alive and thriving all around us.

All of these life-forms are the everyday miracles happening around us
20140702_173322every second of everyday, in a perpetual cycle of life that emerges and thrives with absolutely no help from mankind. In fact we barely pay attention to any life that is not our own or that of our own species, a fact that means most of us miss out entirely on the millions of miracles that happen right under our noses, but we are too busy to notice.
Many people believe that modern science has answered all the important questions and that the mystery of life has been solved along with the Big Bang theory and the discovery of the Higgs Boson. The truth actually is that science is unable to explain life and its ability to arise from inorganic material. The smartest humans on the planet have tried tirelessly throughout history to create life from non-living materials in the laboratory and have been unsuccessful. The scientific fact is that currently are we are unable to create life from lifeless matter, nor can we make it spontaneously arise from some chemical cocktail simulating primordial ooze.20140716_185728

Now in true scientific fashion, I must admit that it is possible that someday I may be proven wrong about the origin of life, but for now my position is based on the currently known facts in chemistry, physics, and biology. We may have mapped the genome and seen the edge of the universe, but for now, we cannot explain the origins of life. This current state of affairs is certainly not from a lack of trying as efforts from the scientific community to unravel the mystery of life continue undaunted. Consider for a moment what such a discovery would mean. Simply stated, scientifically determining how living entities arise from non-living matter would be the greatest scientific discovery ever made would result in a certain Nobel Prize and other prestigious accolades, as well as immortality (metaphorically) in the history of not WP_20150811_19_03_40_Proonly science, but the history of mankind. The person or persons that discover what causes life to occur from a collection of otherwise lifeless atoms will certainly become almost instantly richer than Bill Gates multiplied by Warren Buffett and the world will claim that the human race has at last achieved its ultimate potential. And the, with the secret of life in our pocket, the next stop is our actual physical immortality.

Will this ever happen? I say not. I fully expect that we will never be able to create life from inorganic materials but science will continue to try even as many professional careers disintegrate in the effort. We actually know what the secret to life is but we are simply too stubborn to believe it, and too timid to say such an outrageous thing out loud. The secret to life has been understood by many since the very beginnings of human thought and has been widely taught, but has never been adequate for the scientific world where demonstrable proof is the universal standard for what can be accepted as knowledge.

What we need to realize and accept first is that not everything can be proven via the scientific method. In fact, there are many things that will likely never be proven at all. This is because we live in two distinct worlds, one world providing knowledge via provable solutions, and an entirely other world providing understanding through intuition, feelings and psychic pathways that provide guidance from within us, without prior knowledge. We must learn to become receptive to and take advantage of the acquisition of knowledge through alternate routes in order to fully understand implement what are referred to as first principles, ultimate causes, or first movers. Put simply, what moves us is not always accessible to science, so we must use all the sources of input available to us to build a representative model of our world. We need to let science bring what knowledge it can to the table but understand its limitations and weaknesses. It is here we need to combine scientific knowledge with other resources including theology, philosophy, and what is (unfortunately) referred to as para-normal phenomena to form an arsenal of intellectual inquiry, discounting no possibilities in the process.

Recall if you will, it was only a hundred years back or so that alchemists finally stopped trying to turn lead into gold. Modern chemistry in all its current sophistication and extensive influence on the world’s technology is the distant consequence of those somewhat embarrassing initial efforts of alchemy. We would be as foolish as our predecessors should we fail to heed the footsteps in which we tread today and neglect to treat all efforts to obtain knowledge as having value relative to how the facts fit. As to the question of life, the first question to answer is that perhaps science is incapable of solving this mystery by itself. Leaving the rhetorical unanswered for the moment, let us bring some other resources to bear and broaden the investigation.

One thing we ought not to forget is the intellectual history associated with the origin of life issue. Humans have been debating this issue for millennia and may have value to add to the current discussion. While the idea of a life-force dates back to much prior to the ancient Greeks, they were the ones that best stated and recorded their thoughts on the subject. Socrates, for instance, (as recorded by his student Plato) believed in a life-force within each human, animal, plant and insect that provided the motion of life to the body. He referred, as did others, to this life-force as the “soul”. It was already apparent to the Greeks of Athens that a living thing, be it plant or animal, must possess something in addition to its bodily components in order to sustain the motion of living. They were acutely aware that the body was made up of lifeless atoms so the essence of life must of necessity derive from a force additional to the body which accounted for both bodily and mental functioning. Further, when a living entity dies, its body decays into dust but the life-force or soul within was though not to die with the body but to leave the body permanently and travel away into another dimension, one which we have not adapted to see.

For the purpose of our discussion here it is unimportant what happens next, as most of the world’s religions as well as the Greeks themselves were divided on that issue. What is important is that the concept of a life-force, separate from the body, has been surmised since the beginning of metaphysical thought and was for a very long time believed in some version by nearly everyone in the civilized world. Finally Aristotle, the most erudite and prolific of the Greek philosophers of the Socratic Age, contributed among many other pre-scientific expositions several in-depth discussions on the soul and its relation to the body and mind and its existence as a separate life-giving entity. In his own words he states, “The soul is that which gives the body life and motion”. The highly renowned 13th century theologian St. Thomas Aquinas, generally considered to be the Catholic Church’s most important proponent of Christian philosophy, studied Aristotle’s works at length and used them to demonstrate that Catholic dogma was in line with the early body of Greek philosophy which would position the Church to better persuade converts of its primacy regarding Christian theology. As a result, Catholic doctrine originated by St. Thomas bears remarkable similarity to Aristotelian philosophy. From that point forward the position of the Church regarding the soul strongly correlates to the Greek model developed by Aristotle, the model that is widely looked to today.

It is important to stipulate at this point that this is a philosophical discussion and not a theological one. It is nevertheless of significant interest that the Christ-Era theology follows directly from the Before-Christ-Era philosophers of Greece. There is an unbroken connection from modern day Church teachings to the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean that provides important clues and thought in support of our search for the key to our mystery.

The point of this line of discussion is to demonstrate the long-standing human acceptance of a life-force, separate from the body, and that because of our self-awareness and ability for abstract thought, provides us with a level of cognition that enables us humans, unlike other life-forms, to contemplate our own existence and our lives as unique from all that surrounds us. This has lead us to think of ourselves in both physical and spiritual terms, a singular ability which inevitably causes individual confusion when cognition is turned inward and we encounter the natural conflict that arises between our views of our self simultaneously as both subject and as object.

This line of discussion has at least opened the door to a non-scientific explanation of life. It is an important question that we all should ponder and keep an open mind to. Not all we see is real and not all that is real do we see.

To be continued….