Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Review: Mr g by Alan Lightman

I should say first off that I’m a big fan of Alan Lightman. I read his clever little book, Einstein’s Dreams, years ago when I was teaching physics at Maine East High. I used to buy a copy for each of my AP seniors as a graduation present. That said I recently saw Mr g sitting on the featured table at the neighborhood bookstore (Borders is gone but the mom and pop shops live on!) and just bought it without another thought.

As you may have already guessed, Mr g is a all seeing, all knowing, immortal, omnipotent being that lives in the ‘void’. He is accompanied there by his aunt and uncle - a literary or philosophical gizmo that has escaped me so far. Mr. g, after waking up from a nap decides to create a universe. He goes through may prototypes experimenting with what the initial conditions need to be to have it not blow up in 2 seconds and so forth. With zillions of his prototypes zinging around the void he settles on a favorite and gives it a name that involves the 10,000th prime number.

Lightman being an MIT physicist and professor of humanities gently works in good physics about time, the big bang, and evolution. Mr g is tempted to cause the creation of sentient beings and is surprised to find that with matter, energy and his initial boundary conditions it happens spontaneously all over the billions of galaxies in his favorite universe.

By Mr. g’s inherent ‘goodness’ the creation of a universe caused to be created his opposite - Baalial. He goes by various names but he is the cynic to Mr. g’s optimism. They have many interesting discussions about goodness, free will and more.

A thought provoking book, a quick read, and Mr. g never reveals himself to the sentient beings of the universe he created. . . .or does he?

Link to the book below. . . I notice that the reader reviews on Amazon are all over the place. I'd be interested to know what my fellow atheists think of the book.

Mr g by Alan Lightman

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Joe Pa

Just read an obit of Joe Pa - the Penn State football coach. Nice guy, too bad the way it ended. But to the point of this blog here's a quote from the piece I read by Jack McCallum at SI.

But when the end came, it came with such breathtaking suddenness that even non-believers must pause for moment to wonder if it wasn't part of some cosmic script.

I guess this is just a writer trying to make a deadline or trying to a little more than a sports guy but what kind of a sentence is that? I'm a non-believer and I don't see any cosmic script here. Things happened as reported and all explainable by the vagaries of human behavior.

It's this kind of 'cosmic glasses' that a huge number of people enjoy looking through to help support their world view. This is not evil. This is just what people do. When there is a particularly beautiful sunrise some tend to think that some super being made is special just for them. Perhaps some cannot separate beauty from that beauty being connected to someone or some super-being creating it.

To me the oceans, the sky, a sailboat, a summer day . . . all of that is particularly beautiful. My thinking stops there and I just enjoy it as is.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why I Care

Uh oh. . .here comes a presidential election year. I'm of two minds. Part of me wants to chuck the TV out the window (nice splash from the 12th floor!), disconnect from the internet, go for runs and walks until November. I can't stand all the stupid sound bites, the back biting, non-answers to simple questions, the posturing, and so forth.

But then there's this Mitt guy and I think of Martin Luther King: "To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it". So let's see what fight do I want to fight. . .

As a scientist, I want to focus my attention on the candidates and their stand on science and rationalism. Mitt seems to be a guy who will say ANYTHING while understanding NOTHING in a run at the white house. Sadly this is probably a good strategy in the under-educated America in which we live.

So, what do I care what the president thinks? Well, I do because of his influence at the bully pulpit. I would like a leader who lets the conclusions of numerous experiments direct policy. That's not how it works however. What dictates policy is what can generate votes and sadly, stupid people's votes count just the same as intelligent people's.

For example, the Creationists want schools to teach the 'controversy' between evolution and creationism. . .BUT THEY CREATED THE PRETEND CONTROVERSY! There is NO controversy in the scientific community.

So then that's a conspiracy, right?

Sigh. . .


(That was the TV hitting the sidewalk.)

Sorry about the dog.

Seriously, I want a president who says something to the effect of, "Let the scientists teach science based on our current knowledge and their training as scientists and let the preacher teach his moral lessons." Nobody attending any university is being taught creationism. BECAUSE IT'S NOT SCIENCE!

Let's teach what we KNOW and preach what we BELIEVE.

No candidate is going to say that, right? Not Obama either who is pretty religious.

But, I taught at a catholic school (by the way the pope acknowledged evolution as the way the world works back in 1950) and I'm sure there was no up-ightness about what was being taught in the biology classroom. Why? Because they got their shot in the religion classroom! So, if you're uptight about evolution just take your kid to church (some protestant one I would think) and let them teach your kid too. Then, let the kid THINK for him or her self.


HOLY CRAP! What if they pick 'wrong'.

I don't think Mitt has any clue about any real science. Real science says evolution is real and proveable and has for about a hundred years but he won't be able to cop to that. Hundreds of separate experiments and investigations show that the earth is warming up and that is our doing but he won't be able to cop to that either.

In this day and age it takes a big government to do big, important science for the sake of society as a whole. The days of a single scientist working late at night in his lab and inventing the light bulb are long past. Fundamental research requires huge labs and huge budgets. A guy who clearly doesn't understand it or chooses to ignore simple facts is a danger to society. Mitt is not the guy we need in the white house but I suspect 'the guy' doesn't exist and if he did he wouldn't be electable.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Guns make us safe

Think of the things you cannot advertise on TV.

cigarettes (they kill people)
people actually drinking liquor or beer
outright prostitution (political speeches get an exemption).
heroine (etc)
baby seal clubbing
kitten torture
selling babies

I would even imagine a hefty dose of outrage if one even showed a kid riding a tiny 2 wheeler with training wheels WITHOUT a helmet (on the child not the wheels). We’re nothing if not extremely safety conscious in this country. Oh yeah. I bought a pair of binoculars recently (true story!) and one of the items on the 2 page SAFTEY information sheet was to not swing them around by the strap. See? We’re extra safe in this country.

But it turns out you can and we do advertise guns on TV. Not up north here so much but in places like Indianapolis (hillbilly capital), Kentucky, etc. they definitely do.

And while it’s true enough that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, I’m puzzled by, on one hand our crazy, over-zealous safety consciousness played against our affection for about the most dangerous item around, the hand gun.

I’ve never bought a hand gun so maybe they come with a super duper safety sheet:

1. Do not aim at your head
2. Do not aim at your brother’s head
3. Etc.
4. Only shoot some bitch ho who dissed you.
5. Try to use that as a defense.
6. Do not look down the barrel to see if it is clean.
7. Do not look down the barrel for a laugh in a bar.
8. 9. Do not put gun near fundamental particle detectors as the steel will alter the magnetic field
9. Do NOT run out of bullets.
10. Do not swing around by the holster.

Whoops! Atheist blog. . . uh, YEAH, there's no God.


Monday, January 02, 2012

the Sabbath

From a silly CNN article about 'faith-based predictions for 2012'.

Sabbath becomes trendy! Fourth Commandment makes a comeback! Sabbath named Time’s person of the year! A new movement sweeps the country. They call themselves 24/6. Worn out by being tethered to the grid 24/7, sick of being accessible all hours of the day, inundated by updates, upgrades, and breaking news, Americans finally rebel, demanding, “We need a day off.” People all over the country go offline for 24 hours every week. The simple break from the frenetic pace results in lowered cholesterol rates, fewer speeding tickets, and a reduction in marital strife. Peace, tranquility and contentment spread like wildfire.
–Jamie Korngold, rabbi and author of "The God Upgrade"

I gotta tell you, I'm FOR this. When we lived in the Caribbean just about everything is CLOSED on Sunday. Sure sometimes when you need a part or are out of rum this can be annoying but it does force you to take a day off. The towns are quiet. Fewer cars about and it makes for a nice break. I don't think there is any way to go back to a time when most businesses were closed on Sunday (or any day really) but it would make for a nice break.