Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Christopher Voigt, of UC San Francisco, and Christina Smolke, of Caltech, are in the early stages of designing microbes that would circulate through the human bloodstream, seeking out cancerous tumors anywhere in the body. The microbes might be equipped with a biodevice that detects the low oxygen levels characteristic of a tumor, another that invades the cancer cells, a third that generates a toxin to kill the cells and a fourth that hangs around afterward in case the cancer comes back. All this would happen without the patient's even knowing. Eventually, circulating cellular sentries could monitor and adjust blood levels of critical substances including glucose and cholesterol.
Now that's Cool!
Our intuitive psychology also contributes to resistance to science. One significant bias is that children naturally see the world in terms of design and purpose. For instance, four year-olds insist that everything has a purpose, including lions ("to go in the zoo") and clouds ("for raining"), a propensity that Deborah Kelemen has dubbed "promiscuous teleology." Additionally, when asked about the origin of animals and people, children spontaneously tend to provide and to prefer creationist explanations.
Just as children's intuitions about the physical world make it difficult for them to accept that the Earth is a sphere, their psychological intuitions about agency and design make it difficult for them to accept the processes of evolution.
So....if, as children, we assign purpose to each object (Clouds are for Rain, Kittens are for Cuddling, etc...) and find it easier to accept, at this age, "created" explanations for the origins of things, then perhaps those adults who cling to "creationist theory" have simply not developed (or over-developed) the brain structure or thought patterns that govern acceptance of new ideas and new information?
Some culture-specific information is not associated with any particular source. It is "common knowledge." As such, learning of this type of information generally bypasses critical analysis. A prototypical example is that of word meanings. Everyone uses the word "dog" to refer to dogs, so children easily learn that this is what they are called. Other examples include belief in germs and electricity. Their existence is generally assumed in day-to-day conversation and is not marked as uncertain; nobody says that they "believe in electricity." Hence even children and adults with little scientific background believe that these invisible entities really exist, a topic explored in detail by Paul Harris and his colleagues.
So children raised in a family/society where skepticism is the norm, or where critical analysis of scientific and/or philisophical thought is the norm may adopt such practices in the same unquestioning fashion?
But in some domains, including much of science, direct evaluation is difficult or impossible. Few of us are qualified to assess claims about the merits of string theory, the role in mercury in the etiology of autism, or the existence of repressed memories. So rather than evaluating the asserted claim itself, we instead evaluate the claim's source. If the source is deemed trustworthy, people will believe the claim, often without really understanding it.
Aha! So children raised in a family/society where science is dubbed to be untrustworthy will accept that science and the scientific method is not to be taken at face value in the same unquestioning fashion that they adopt unquestioned social mythology from parents, adults and trusted elders.
This deference to authority isn't limited to science; the same process holds for certain religious, moral, and political beliefs as well. In an illustrative recent study, subjects were asked their opinion about a social welfare policy, which was described as being endorsed either by Democrats or by Republicans. Although the subjects sincerely believed that their responses were based on the objective merits of the policy, the major determinant of what they thought of the policy was in fact whether or not their favored political party was said to endorse it. More generally, many of the specific moral intuitions held by members of a society appear to be the consequence, not of personal moral contemplation, but of deference to the views of the community.
And there we have it. There is no divine source for morality, but rather impressionable people seeking a like minded tribe to associate with, selects morality based on the consensus of said tribe. Which goes a long way to explain the shifting zeitgeist of the 21 century away from scripturally mandated moral directives to more forgiving culture driven morality. We've all but ended slavery, and sexism (*nod*...there are holdouts, granted) and are working on eliminating prejudicial discrimination based on sex and sexuality.
Given the role of trust in social learning, it is particularly worrying that national surveys reflect a general decline in the extent to which people trust scientists. To end on a practical note, then, one way to combat resistance to science is to persuade children and adults that the institute of science is, for the most part, worthy of trust.
It appears that the trend in Christian Fundamentalist circles is to erode the public trust in science, playing out creationism and ID illusions as alternatives. If successful, these programs may inadvertently lead to the dumbing-down of populations of C.F.'s through their widespread skepticism of the Scientific Community and subsequent lack of aptitudes for the Hard Sciences - and perhaps increasing aptitudes for the Junk Sciences. I tend to agree that promotion of trust in the Scientific Method and encouraging children to experience the varied disciplines of science with an open and childlike sense of wonder and discovery is not only healthy, but essential.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
A Canadian-led team of scientists has discovered what they say is the oldest indisputable evidence of life on Earth -- the fossilized trackways of slithering microbes in a 3.35-billion-year-old rock from Australia.
The team, led by University of Western Ontario geologist Neil Banerjee and including three scientists from the University of Alberta, claims to have completed the first "direct dating" of a biomarker from the planet's earliest epoch. Previous studies -- including one led by Banerjee in 2004 that fixed a 3.5-billion-year-old age to fossilized microbe trails found in South Africa -- have been criticized for relying on techniques that dated surrounding rock rather than the "ichnofossil" tracks themselves.
Banerjee said Monday the dating of the Australian fossils is "quite unique" because the researchers used a state-of-the-art, laser-plasma mass spectrometer at the U of A to precisely target tiny minerals and organic residues captured inside the microbes' primordial burrows.
"One of the criticisms of our earlier work was based on the analogy that just because the London Underground was dug into million-year-old rock, that doesn't make the Underground a million years old," said Banerjee. "This time, we dated the fossil itself. To our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has directly dated an archean microfossil."Coolness!!!
Monday, May 28, 2007
Thursday, May 24, 2007
To inform his readers of the correct plan of attack, Chuck details the Evil Atheist Conspiracy's™ 5-year plan (procured, no doubt, from the freshly slain corpse of one of our operatives). This includes:
1. by causing a goof-up at the mint, resulting in "In God We Trust" being accidentally left off some new dollar coins.
2. by joining the Freedom From Religion Foundation and ensuring that the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution is correctly applied.
3. by discovering the existence of a nonbelieving Congressman.
4. by forcing Congress to pass a hate-crime bill.
1. by daring to raise them without religion.
2. by offering a non-religious summer camp for freethinking kids.
3. by providing an online forum to allow teenagers to question faith.
4. by offering unholy Richard Dawkins link buttons for MySpace pages.
1. by purchasing Richard Dawkins' "atheist bible."
2. by allowing Sam Harris to write letters.
3. by ignoring the science that proves God.
*little does he know that we're now in Year 7 of the program......
|You scored as Scientific Atheist, These guys rule. I'm not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.|
What kind of atheist are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
NOAA PREDICTS ABOVE NORMAL 2007 ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON
13 to 17 Named Storms Predicted
Experts at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center are projecting a 75 percent chance that the Atlantic Hurricane Season will be above normal this year—showing the ongoing active hurricane era remains strong.
Another Katrina? I hope not - for the sake of any innocents that may be harmed by a strong hurricane season.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
It never ceases to amaze me the lengths people will go to to convince themselves of something.This Creation Museum in Cincinnati is a testament to the story telling power and credulity of some people.
I'm going to watch their online gift shop and see if I can order a novelty souvenir of this special institution.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
PASADENA, Calif. — Sometimes a particular piece of plastic is just what you need. You have lost the battery cover to your cellphone, perhaps. Or your daughter needs to have the golden princess doll she saw on television. Now.
In a few years, it will be possible to make these items yourself. You will be able to download three-dimensional plans online, then push Print. Hours later, a solid object will be ready to remove from your printer.
It’s not quite the transporter of “Star Trek,” but it is a step closer.
Three-dimensional printers have been seen in industrial design shops for about a decade. They are used to test part designs for cars, airplanes and other products before they are sent to manufacturing. Once well over $100,000 each, such machines can now be had for $15,000. In the next two years, prices are expected to fall further, putting the printers in reach of small offices and even corner copy stores.
The next frontier will be the home. One company that wants to be the first to deliver a 3-D printer for consumers is Desktop Factory, started by IdeaLab, a technology incubator here. The company will start selling its first printer for $4,995 this year.
Round 1: Hitchens -
Some salient points, and pointed questions that discuss the relative lack of merit of christianity.
Responder: Wilson -
Seque's off to some other non-related discussion points, dismissing Hitchens' openers and forging ahead in new directions.
Quote - Wilson -
"we must receive the gift of forgiveness and the resultant ability to live more in conformity to a standard we already knew"
- If we already knew the 'standards' why then is there so much disagreement over their nature? And who gets to ARBITRARILY decide which standard is which?
Monday, May 7, 2007
After taking the test below, I find I'm most like Buddha.
I wonder if the creators of this test saw a photo of me once.
"I am....Smiling Buddha" ;-)
The test: http://www.gotoquiz.com/which_god_or_goddess_are_you_like
Now there's an interesting thought. How important is authenticity when the guise of 'quality' is paired with belief. If a mental map of a belief system 'appears' to be of high quality, or engenders feelings of happiness, harmony, health or other spiritual well-being, is it important that the belief structures be genuine?
Below, we examined the parallels between the mythical figures of Yeshuah, Krishna, Horus, Mithras and Buddha. There are similarities to be found in all 5 mythologies - and as Pantokraterix states in the Blog Entry "The Mythology of Chrisitanity. Who Cares?" wisdom should be considered wisdom, even if the source is questionable/borrowed or simply a stew from the melting pot of human mythology.
But then we must acknowledge that as we dish out this stew of ideas, with the wisdom comes the...unwise? I hesitate here, because my first instinct was to say "foolish", but that is an inciteful term. True some of the precepts of scripture may be distasteful to a reasoned person, but there may have been an original wisdom when taken contextually. It may seem extreme to stone someone to death for eating shellfish (in the 21 century), but in year zero O.T. times, there were probably very good bacteriological reasons to not eat shellfish.
That being said, humanity seems to want to find ideals to cling to, or to derive support from, or to base a moral ethic around. But do we NEED to make it so complicated? Do we need to derive wisdom from lengthy, poorly written, self conflicting instruction manuals that self-correct themselves and brook no evolution to suit the surrounding culture or time frame? Why does humanity overcomplicate the simple question of whether we should just all be nice to each other, or whether we should engage in infinite varieties of tribalism? Are we struggling between an instinctive need to "protect the tribe" and a social need to "better the species"?
A Prince of Pulp, Legit at Last Warner Independent Pictures Filmmakers have drawn heavily on the Philip K. Dick catalog of work for inspiration, including “A Scanner Darkly” last year.
By CHARLES McGRATH
Published: May 6, 2007 - New York Times
ALL his life the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick yearned for what he called the mainstream. He wanted to be a serious literary writer, not a sci-fi hack whose audience consisted, he once said, of “trolls and wackos.” But Mr. Dick, who popped as many as 1,000 amphetamine pills a week, was also more than a little paranoid. In the early ’70s, when he had finally achieved some standing among academic critics and literary theorists — most notably the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem — he narced on them all, writing a letter to the F.B.I. in which he claimed they were K.G.B. agents trying to take over American science fiction.
So it’s hard to know what Mr. Dick, who died in 1982 at the age of 53, would have made of the fact that this month he has arrived at the pinnacle of literary respectability. Four of his novels from the 1960s — “The Man in the High Castle,” “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,” “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” and “Ubik” — are being reissued by the Library of America in that now-classic Hall of Fame format: full cloth binding, tasseled bookmark, acid-free, Bible-thin paper. He might be pleased, or he might demand to know why his 40-odd other books weren’t so honored. And what about the “Exegesis,” an 8,000-page journal that derived a sort of Gnostic theology from a series of religious visions he experienced during a couple of months in 1974? A wary, hard-core Dickian might argue that the Library of America volume is just a diversion, an attempt to turn a deeply subversive writer into another canonical brand name.
Another thing that would probably amuse and annoy Mr. Dick in about equal measure are the exceptional number of movies that have been made from his work, starting with “Blade Runner” (adapted from “Do Androids Dream”), 25 years old this year and available in the fall on a special “final cut” DVD. The newest, “Next,” taken from a short story, “The Golden Man,” starring Nicolas Cage as a magician able to see into the future and Julianne Moore as an F.B.I. agent eager to enlist his help, opened just last month. In the works is a biopic starring Paul Giamatti, who bears more than a passing physical resemblance to the author, who by the end of his life had the doughy look of a guy who didn’t spend a lot of time in the daylight.
Mr. Dick died while “Blade Runner” was still in production, already unhappy about the shape the script was taking, though not the kind of money he hoped to realize. “Blade Runner” is probably the best of the Dick movies, if not the most faithful. (That honor probably belongs to “A Scanner Darkly,” released last year, in which Richard Linklater’s semi-animated technique suggests some of the feel of a graphic novel.)
There’s no reason to think Mr. Dick would have approved any more of the others, especially “Total Recall,” in which Quail, the nerdish hero of Mr. Dick’s story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” turns into Quaid, a buffed-up Arnold Schwarzenegger character. Meanwhile, as several critics have noted, movies like the “Matrix” series, “The Truman Show” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” though not based on Dick material, still seem to contain his spark, and dramatize more vividly than some of the official Dick projects his essential notion that reality is just a construct or, as he liked to say, a forgery. It’s as if his imaginative DNA had spread like a virus.
Part of why Mr. Dick’s work appeals so much to moviemakers is his pulpish sensibility. He grew up in California reading magazines like Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories and Fantastic Universe, and then, after dropping out of the University of California, Berkeley, began writing for them, often in manic 20-hour sessions fueled by booze and speed. He could type 120 words a minute, and told his third wife (third of five, and there were countless girlfriends: Mr. Dick loved women but was hell to live with), “The words come out of my hands, not my brain, I write with my hands.”
His early novels, written in two weeks or less, were published in double-decker Ace paperbacks that included two books in one, with a lurid cover for each. “If the Holy Bible was printed as an Ace Double,” an editor once remarked, “it would be cut down to two 20,000-word halves with the Old Testament retitled as ‘Master of Chaos’ and the New Testament as ‘The Thing With Three Souls.’ ”
So for the most part you don’t read Mr. Dick for his prose. (The main exception is “The Man in the High Castle,” his most sustained and most assured attempt at mainstream respectability, and it’s barely a sci-fi book at all but, rather, what we would now call a “counterfactual”; its premise is that the Allies lost World War II and the United States is ruled by the Japanese in the west and the Nazis in the east.) Nor do you read him for the science, the way you do, say, Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlein.
Mr. Dick was relatively uninterested in the futuristic, predictive side of science fiction and embraced the genre simply because it gave him liberty to turn his imagination loose. Except for the odd hovercar or rocket ship, there aren’t many gizmos in his fiction, and many of his details are satiric, like the household appliances in “Ubik” that demand to be fed with coins all the time, or put-ons, like the bizarre clownwear that is apparently standard office garb in the same book (which is set in 1992, by the way; so much for Dick the prophet): “natty birch-bark pantaloons, hemp-rope belt, peekaboo see-through top, and train engineer’s tall hat.”
To a considerable extent Mr. Dick’s future is a lot like our present, except a little grungier. Everything is always running down or turning into what one of the characters in “Do Androids Dream” calls “kipple”: junk like match folders and gum wrappers that doubles itself overnight and fills abandoned apartments. This sense of entropy and decline is what Ridley Scott evokes so well in “Blade Runner,” with its seedy, rainy streetscapes, and what Steven Spielberg misses in his slightly schizoid “Minority Report,” in which Tom Cruise waves his hands at that glass console, as if it were a room-size Wii system.
The theme of “Minority Report” — pre-cognition, or the idea that certain people, “precogs,” can foresee the future, with not always happy results — was an idea that Mr. Dick began exploring in the mid-’50s, along with themes of altered or repressed memory, which became the subject of “Total Recall,” “Impostor” and, more recently, John Woo’s “Paycheck.” Most of the Dick-inspired movies come from short stories of this period — several of them, including “The Golden Man,” written in the space of just a few months.
In the ’60s Mr. Dick turned his energies to novel writing, and with the exception of “Do Androids Dream” (considerably dumbed down in “Blade Runner”) and “A Scanner Darkly” (published in 1977 and, incidentally, the first book Dick wrote without the assistance of drugs) the novels don’t lend themselves so readily to the Hollywood imagination.
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That’s because they’re much harder to reduce to a single concept or plot line. Three of the novels collected in the Library of America volume — “Do Androids Dream,” “The Three Stigmata” and “Ubik — are arguably Mr. Dick’s best. (Some diehards hold out for “VALIS,” his last major work, but that’s really his “Finnegans Wake” — a book more fun to talk about than to read.) All three are less gimmicky than the stories and are preoccupied with two big questions that became his obsession: How do we know what is real, and how do we know what is human? For all I know, you could be a robot, or maybe I am, merely preprogrammed to think of myself as a person, and this thing we call reality might be just a collective hallucination.
This kind of speculation — the stuff of so many hazy, bong-fed dorm-room bull sessions — takes on genuine interest in Mr. Dick’s writing because he means it and because he invests the outcome with longing. His characters, like Rick Deckard, the android-chasing bounty hunter in “Do Androids Dream,” desperately want something authentic to believe in, and the books suggest that the quality of belief may be more important than the degree of authenticity.
“The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” and “Ubik,” written five years apart, are in many ways two versions of the same story, one tragic and one mostly comic. The title character of “The Three Stigmata” (1964) is not much to look at — his stigmata are steel teeth, a robotic arm and replacement eyes — but he still possesses Godlike, or perhaps Satanic, powers, and is able, with the help of a drug called Chew-Z, to enmesh people in webs of hallucination, one within another, so slippery and perplexing that even the reader feels a little discombobulated. The book is a horror story of the imagination gone amok.
“Ubik” (1969) is more redemptive. The godlike figure here is an entrepreneur named Glen Runciter, who runs what’s called a “prudence organization”: for a fee, he will debug your company and rid it of “teeps,” or secret-stealing telepaths. He manages to communicate with some of his former employees even when they’re dead and supplies them with a salvific aerosol spray, called Ubik, that appears to at least temporarily resist the tendency of everything to regress backwards to the way it was in 1939. Mr. Dick describes Depression-era artifacts — Philco radios, Curtis Wright biplanes — with great affection, however, and in this book death turns out not to be so bad; it isn’t eternal extinction, but a kind of half-life partly imagined by a restless young man (also dead) named Jory.
Jory is a bit of menace, but Mr. Dick has a soft spot for him as a dreamer and fantasist, as he does in “The Three Stigmata” for the colonists on Mars who, bored silly, like to get stoned and play with their Perky Pat layouts, elaborate Ken and Barbie sets that let them make up nostalgic stories about life on Earth. He also likes to embed in his books still other books, emblems of imaginative possibility, like the novel in “The Man in the High Castle” that postulates an Allied victory.
There is doubtless an autobiographical element to Mr. Dick’s novels; they read like the work of someone who knows from experience what it’s like to hallucinate. Lawrence Sutin, who has written the definitive biography of Mr. Dick, says that he took LSD only a couple of times, and didn’t particularly like it. On the other hand his regular regimen of uppers and downers, gobbled by the handful, was surely sufficient to play tricks with his head, and Mr. Dick worried more than once that he might be turning schizophrenic.
The books aren’t just trippy, though. The best of them are visionary or surreal in a way that American literature, so rooted in reality and observation, seldom is. Critics have often compared Mr. Dick to Borges, Kafka, Calvino. To come up with an American analogue you have to think of someone like Emerson, but nobody would ever dream of looking to him for movie ideas. Emerson was all brain, no pulp.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Lawyer's Price For Missing Pants: $65 Million
By Marc FisherThursday, April 26, 2007; Page B01
When the neighborhood dry cleaner misplaced Roy Pearson's pants, he took action. He complained. He demanded compensation. And then he sued. Man, did he sue.
Two years, thousands of pages of legal documents and many hundreds of hours of investigative work later, Pearson is seeking to make Custom Cleaners pay -- would you believe more than the payroll of the entire Washington Nationals roster?
He says he deserves millions for the damages he suffered by not getting his pants back, for his litigation costs, for "mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort," for the value of the time he has spent on the lawsuit, for leasing a car every weekend for 10 years and for a replacement suit, according to court papers.
Pearson is demanding $65,462,500. The original alteration work on the pants cost $10.50.
By the way, Pearson is a lawyer. Okay, you probably figured that. But get this: He's a judge, too -- an administrative law judge for the District of Columbia.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
"Yes, God allowed slavery - allowed people to live in the presence of what they had created. But in the grand scheme of things that is akin to getting a skinned knee as a child.(boggle!) I fully realize that this may offend you. But for a moment imagine eternity - forever in the presence of the absolute God. Look at it from God's perspective. We endure "light affliction" now, but in the process we learn the consequences of our actions, and more importantly, learn to trust, commune with, and obey God (whose commands are not grievous). Even the horrors of the Holocaust (light affliction!?!?) would fade from memory in the eternal presence of God. Our own questioning of his goodness will seem ridiculous. Before you get offended at this thought, just use the powers of imagination that your creator gave you and consider eternity with an infinitely wise, powerful and good God."
So, a "benevolent omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being" (BOOOB) allowed (and through divinely inspired biblical behavioural instruction, endorsed) slavery. We're talking generationally inherited "property-status" for living, breathing, thinking, caring people, (yup - the complete removal of personal autonomy) with instructions that beating them near unto death (but not to death - Exodus 20:21) is a-ok with the big-kahuna in the clouds.
Lets take this fellow at his word. Lets pretend for a moment that spending eternity (a difficult concept) at the side of the BOOOB will make all suffering trivial in comparison. How does this change the ethical and moral implications that the BOOOB turned a blind-eye to the suffering of uncountable people? How can any sane person create a plausible justification for this social personal cruelty contained within the OT?
(With an intellectual nod that this "justified" conceptualization all falls apart if the veracity of the BOOOB is not reasonably demonstrated.)
Further, if the BOOOB is simply a construct, then there is absolutely no ethical or moral justification for slavery - whether it have biblical endorsement or not.
Does this "justification" function as a compartment into which the aforementioned suffering (Slavery, Holocaust - quoted above) gets shoved into a shoebox in the back of the mind's closet and forgotten until rapture(tm)?