I have hesitated to delve deeply into quantum physics (QP) in the ISAS Forum before because it is complex and paradoxical, and because the field is quite confused. Two recent articles, one in Nautilus magazine and one posted in BQO have changed this – new ideas being offered to explain the paradox of QP will change our understanding of the very nature of time and causation. The metaphysical implications are staggering – physicists are talking about the possible necessity of universal consciousness and universal purpose – and beginning to mention God.
Recently I happened across two very different pieces about infinity. The first was a blog post by Mario Livio, and the second a short video by Curtis Childs on Infinity. In his post, Livio poses the question as to whether there are any infinities in nature or whether they are just mathematical concepts. (more…)
This month’s Big Questions Online projects features a commentary by Dr. Robert Emmonds (guru of gratitude) on What Must We Overcome as a Culture or as Individuals For Gratitude to Flourish? Dr. Emmonds points out that while we live in a world dedicated to the pursuit of happiness, this pursuit seems to have morphed into self-entitlement. When material things come to us so easily, we begin to believe that that is what we deserve and we lose the ability to be grateful. But research consistently shows that feeling gratitude is essential for happiness.
We all have tendencies to self-preoccupation or even narcissism. Emmonds uses the example of the story (Luke 17:16-18) of the ten lepers healed by Jesus, only one of which returned to give thanks, as a reminder of how common ingratitude is. He also stresses that gratitude requires humility. Humility allows us to recognize “that everything good in life is ultimately a gift.
The comment section is worth reviewing as well as the essay. In Emmonds reply to my comment, he noted that he was introduced by a co-author to Swedenborg: “She shared with me Swedenborg’s insights that those who feel love toward the neighbor and a blessedness toward God are in a grateful sphere or heavenly state, and are thus in heaven. Also that it is through gratitude we have the ability to live in a joyful, peaceful state; in its paradoxical, elusive way, gratitude is the door to many heavenly gifts. But the door is low, and Swedenborg reminds us that we must humble ourselves to enter.” Well said.
As the digital age has matured, new technologies have emerged that change the way we do things. Some of these changes have been hyped as vastly more powerful and more efficient than the old-fashioned way of doing things. Three prominent examples: multi-tasking, reading digital books, and social networking have been touted as superior – as the way of the future. In all three cases, I found my own capabilities limited, leading me to conclude that as child of the pre-digital age I would inevitably be left behind in the great transformation. Recent scientific studies, however, have shown that the hype is off the mark and the myths are untrue. Human bodies, brains and social behaviors are incredibly complex and interdependent and they do not always fit with the technological infrastructure we are creating. Instead of blindly accepting these myths, we need to make informed choices about our use of technology – or we risk losing the very best of what makes us human. (more…)
Justified True Belief is the Holy Grail (to borrow a religious allegory) of epistemology – “knowing” is to believe something, on the basis of rational evidence and thought, that is in fact true. While this concept has taken a beating over the past forty years, starting with some paradoxical thought experiments by Edmund Gettier, it generally describes the model for knowledge that philosophers have applied for more than 2,000 years. But is it helpful? Is there a better way to define “knowing”? (more…)
Dr. Jonathon Schooler has authored a discussion Does Belief in Free Will Make Us Better People? (in the Big Questions Online series sponsored by the Templeton Foundation) that succinctly summarizes the current state of knowledge and disagreement on this key metaphysical question. Dr. Schooler’s opening article notes that the lack of consensus leaves us on the position of having to make a choice – “each one of us is faced with deciding for ourselves where we stand on an issue that may have important consequences for how we lead our lives.” Increasingly, the evidence suggests that a belief in free will promotes pro-social behaviors and increases our sense of personal control and our general well-being. His conclusion is that a belief in free will, which is entirely consistent with our subjective intuition, is the better choice.
The comments in response to the article provide a thorough and expert overview of the three dominant perspectives on free will – determinism, compatibilism and libertarianism – and an exploration of the problems with definitions, uncertainties and unknowns that frustrate the search for consensus. The threads lead into issues the ISAS Forum has dealt with previously, including experimental philosophy, neuroscience and causation. Dr. Schooler in his closing words concludes that “people can have very different perspectives on the issue of free will, and that is as it should be at this time”, implying that more empirical data may clarify which answer is the right one. My own conclusion is that free will, as explained in Miracles, is a paradox where we are forced to make a choice (using, of course, our capacity for freely willing).
It’s hard to imagine a more rationally stimulating area of science than the study of the brain. Yet the remarkable field of Neuroscience seems determined to deny itself. Recent research points to the influence on our decisions of a vast array of innate, genetic, experiential and motivational factors of which we are unaware. The conclusion – the “rational” mind does not make decisions – it is merely rationalizing our pre-determined choices. So much for free will – and for a directing influence of rational consciousness in our pursuit of good choices and deep questions (such as the nature of mind and brain). (more…)
There is a prevalent misconception that our choices are directed by our thoughts. In fact, our choices are driven by our motivations – the things that we love. Often, our very rational mind is hijacked in support of that which we want to believe, as I noted in the essay on Cognitive Bias.
If our choices are driven by our motivations, then we should spend some time trying to understand those motivations and the reasons why we do them. As inscribed on the ancient Temple of Apollo at Delphi, “Know Thyself” is an important and useful goal. At the same time, how can we organize this self-reflection in a way that is most helpful in improving our choices and improving our lives? There are entire libraries of philosophy, psychology and theology devoted to this subject, but sometimes it is helpful to keep things simple.
Curtis Child’s video “Universal Categories of Love“, from his “Off the Left Eye” series on youtube, provides a clear and simple analysis of the motivational categories or loves which drive our choices – and which determine our behaviors, our morals and our ultimate happiness.
Today I read two articles in the online journal Nautilus: Michael Tuts’ “Discovering the Expected”, which discusses the process physicists have used to validate the discovery of the Higgs Boson, and Amir D. Aczel’s “Chasing Coincidences”, which highlights our tendency to remember the unexpected. The first article highlights the need to throw out the data that does not suit our purpose, and the second highlights how our unconscious attention throws out experience that does not contain meaning. In each case, it is the patterns and relationships that are important. But uncertainty is also significant from a metaphysical perspective.
This troublesome question sits at the heart of the theist / atheist divide. For atheists, the lack of scientific proof of the interventions of an omnipotent God relegates all religious claims to the category of ignorance and superstition. For theists, the mysteries of transcendent experiences that cannot be explained open the doors to faith in the divine God. Why is this simple question so difficult? To that question there is an answer. (more…)
The common scientific explanation of causation follows the reductionist view that states that the interactions of the smallest structures cause the macro effects we actually see: Causation is a “bottom-up” process. But there are significant flaws in this model of causation that scientists (and theologians) have been struggling to address. A new model sees causation working top-down in multiple generative levels. This model may seem more complex, but it does a far better job at explaining the way the world works. And, however difficult it may seem, it is a model that is intuitively understood by children. (more…)
Entropy, the measurement of disorder in a physical system, is one of the most profound puzzles in physics. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, formulated in the 19th century, states that entropy always increases as physical systems naturally progress from order to disorder. However, modern physics has never been able to explain why the universe has this directionality. While we intuitively understand the “arrow of time,” it is absent in the formulations of classical and quantum physics. In recent decades, the concept of entropy and its related mathematics has also found applications in information theory. A recent study has linked entropy with the emergence of intelligence. Why is there such an unusual connection? (more…)
Two great scientific minds spoke at the plenary session of the Templeton Foundation’s 2012 Science and Religion Dialogue (science-religion-dialogue) at Heidelberg University on October 25, 2012: Martin Nowak and John Polkinghorne. Both offered a hopeful and encouraging view of the cooperative possibilities between science and theology. (more…)
April 11, 2013: We recently had dinner with a friend who mentioned that he had met a child of Professor Charles Townes. Professor Townes is now in his nineties. Remarkably, he is the only scientist to receive both a Nobel Prize (Physics-1964) and the Templeton Prize (2005), although Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn have also been graced with dual awards. While Professor Townes may not be well known, his public comments in the early ‘60’s that “science and religion are not unrelated, and should be honestly and openly interacting” generated considerable interest as well as antagonism. His views are as valuable today as they were then. “While science and religion may seem different, they have many similarities, and should interact and enlighten each other… Science tries to understand what our universe is like and how it works, including us humans. Religion is aimed at understanding the purpose and meaning of our universe, including our own lives. If the universe has a purpose or meaning, this must be reflected in its structure and functioning, and hence in science. In addition, to best understand either science or religion, we must use all of our human resources – logic, evidence (observations or experiment), carefully chosen assumptions, intuition, and faith.” (from his Templeton Prize acceptance speech).
March 22, 2013: I recently had the privilege of hearing Dr. Eben Alexander speak about his experiences, which he recounts in his NYTimes Best Seller, Proof of Heaven. I was profoundly moved. He spoke humbly, but emphatically from the heart about how his near death experience changed his life. As an eminent Boston neuroscientist and physician he had been convinced that consciousness arose in the brain and that God did not exist. But his visits to the heavenly realm in a period when his brain was shut down has given him a direct knowledge and conviction, beyond doubt, that there is a Divine Creator imbued with infinite love. Human consciousness does not arise from the brain but is itself part of the Creator’s eternal realm. We inhabit our brains and bodies for a time on our journey to be fully integrated with the Creator’s infinite love.
The Social Conquest of Earth (2012) by preeminent entomologist Edward O. Wilson is a marvelous and deep work by a master scientist and storyteller that documents the evolution and advancement of humankind through the intertwined processes of individual and group selection. However, for me the work is marred by a dogmatic anti-religious bias that belies Wilson’s own commitment to dispassionate inquiry. Wilson moreover fails to acknowledge the hard limits to scientific knowledge and understanding – limits that can only be crossed by transcendent forms of understanding which empirical study cannot provide. (more…)
A simple problem – what is the shortest route for visiting a number of different cities – is extraordinarily difficult and may become impossible as the number of cities rises. If you can show that any “NP Complete” problem can be solved in a reasonable amount of time (“P”) you can win $1Million, as this is one of the seven “Millennium Problems” in mathematics that the Clay Foundation has offered a cash prize for solving. Personally, I doubt the NP Complete problems can be solved in P time – and I believe that their intractability demonstrates a hard stop to what we can “figure out”. (more…)
Mario Livio’s book “Is God a Mathematician?” (2009) provides a delightful history of mathematics and its many heroes, but fails to answer the question posed in the title. Dr. Livio does address directly the slightly different question of whether mathematics is a human creation, or a human discovery. In other words, is mathematics absolute, and therefore potentially a “creation of God”, or is it invented, a kind of technology resulting from human endeavor. While mathematics and the physical world are very different things, I think it’s clear they are both a “creation of God.” (more…)
Explaining the Puzzles of Physics – a response to Michael Shermer (Scientific American, May 2012, p.86)
The field of Physics has been confounded for nearly a century with intractable puzzles. It is also rife with contention between religious and atheist points of view, with both sides claiming proofs, or more precisely, un-proofs, for their points of view. A recent example is Michael Shermer’s “Skeptic” column in the May 2012 Scientific American, titled “Much Ado about Nothing”. Mr. Shermer borrows his title from Shakespeare’s romantic farce, a remarkably apt context for his article, but he is apparently oblivious to the irony. (more…)
I heard an interesting interview on the podcast “EconTalk” recently. Russ Robert’s guest was David Rose, author of a new book on The Moral Foundation of Economic Behavior. Both are self-described skeptics of religion. Dr. Rose’s key finding is that efficient and effective markets require specific foundational moral principles that promote and reinforce trust, without which markets will fail. His principles, which he claims to have derived from research and insights on the functioning of markets, sound remarkably similar to the Ten Commandments.