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A Warning From Stephen Hawking On Artificial Intelligence

22/12/2014

Warning From Stephen Hawking

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate.  Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be – wait, no, what am I saying?  Nah, that could never happen.  Forget I even brought it up.  Say, how about them Kardashians, huh?”

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out along the cygnus wall

27/11/2014

cygnuswall_pavelchak_1600

out along the cygnus wall
where great star factories roam
a trillion miles from nowhere
is a place that we call home
and it’s not much to live on
but it’s mighty grand to see
a nice place to think about
but a nicer place to be
you’ll find worlds by the thousands
of every kind and size
kingdoms made of diamonds
bright heavens made of sighs
cold hells made of heartaches
colder hearts made of stone
find anything you want
when you call the wall your home

no one lives forever
yet no one really dies
when your heart’s in the heavens
of the grand cygnus skies

.

.

.

photo © Nick Pavelchak
text © Buzz Dixon
with a tip of the space helmet
to Robert Service
and Rudyard Kipling

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Addendum to “Lauren’s Choice”

30/06/2014

I’ve been asked, “But what about adoption for unwanted children?”

To that I say:

Yes!
Yes!
Yes!
and even more
YES!!!
PLEASE!!!

That is the best, most humane solution to the problem of a woman’s unwanted pregnancy.  It’s a perfect example of “pony up”.  Give that child a stable, loving home.  Raise it to its full potential.  Personally assume that responsibility.

A blessing for the child
A blessing for the parent
A blessing for the society

GO FOR IT!

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Lauren’s Choice

30/06/2014

Cartoonist Lauren Weinstein was told that the child she was carrying had a high (1-in-4) chance of carrying the cystic fibrosis gene to such an extreme degree that it might require a lung transplant before age 5.  Weinstein tells the story of her nerve-wracking three week wait to find out if this would be the case in her story “Carriers” (parts one / two / three / four / five).

Major Spoiler:  
It has a happy ending and
her daughter was born
disease free.

laurenstroy

Many reading her story will rejoice, but say to themselves,
“If it had been me, I would have never even thought of terminating my pregnancy.”

Good for you.

Seriously.

I mean that.

I want you to have a choice.

Just like I want Lauren to have a choice.

Just like I want billions of other women to have a choice.

Because nobody knows what is best for a woman and the pregnancy she is carrying other than that woman herself.

She gets to make her own decisions.

Just as you get to make your own decisions.

She’s certainly entitled to seek medical advice and/or moral support from others, but in the end, she is the one who has to either see it through to a live birth or terminate it.

It is, quite simply and quite literally,

NOBODY
ELSE’S
FUCKING
BUSINESS

And I drop the f-bomb very deliberately & in its sexual context to get the point across:

Not your uterus,
not your problem,
not your responsibility,
most certainly not your business,
not now,
not ever.

If you’re serious about wanting to reduce the number of abortions in the world today, see to it that birth control is reliable, available, and inexpensive (free would be best; we can pay for it with the money we would otherwise spend incarcerating unwanted/abused/neglected children who grow up to be addicts and/or felons).

See to it that sex education is universal, pragmatic, sensible, and easy to understand.  Wishful thinking, no matter how devoutly inspired, does not trump science or the realities of human nature.  Be prepared for and compassionate to people who make messy mistakes; there but for the grace of God…

See to it that no mother ever has to worry about affording a safe place to raise her child, or how she will feed her child, or pay for her child’s health care, or her child’s education (you can slice a fraction off the defense budget for this; we can somehow squeak by with only 999 new jet fighters instead of 1,000).

Pony up…

…or shut up.

.

.

.

thanx to
Tom Spurgeon,
The Comics Reporter,
for the tip off

 

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The Anti-Abortionist Credo

30/06/2014

anti-abortionist credo

I forbid you to have sex without MY permission.

I forbid you to know anything about birth control.

I certainly won’t pay for your sex education.

If you defy ME and have sex anyway,
then I want you to get pregnant / catch the clap (or better yet, AIDS!).

I forbid you to have an abortion.

I will judge you and call you a murderer if you do.

I demand you bring the pregnancy to full term.

I demand you bring the pregnancy to full term
even if the child will be born with a fatal condition.

I demand you bring the pregnancy to full term
even if you already have a house full of children and
you are stretched to the breaking point.

I demand you spend 18 years of
your life (minimum!) taking care of this child.

I will not help you.

I will not offer any financial subsistence.

I will not lift a finger or spend a dime of MY money to help you provide
food / lodging / medical care / education for the child.

I demand you suffer for your sins.

However, you may not judge ME.

Because just by saying I oppose abortion,
just by condemning you for your choices,
I am pure and holy.

(Did I miss anything?
Did I not summarize our
position accurately?)

 

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Did PLANET OF THE APES Revive Creationism?

10/04/2014

Serious question:
Did the original Planet Of The Apes movie revive the fading creationist movement by unintentionally preying on the racial fears of rural and suburban white Christians?

SPLOWW indeed SNSPLOWW!! indeed

Planet Of The Apes was one of four major ground-breaking / trend-setting sci-fi media concepts that landed within an 18-month period of one another in 1967-68.[1]  It was the biggest popular hit of the quartet, launched a successful series of features, a not-so-successful live-action TV series, a somewhat more successful animated series, numerous novel spinoffs, comic books, and a host of imitators and rip offs.

Then as now the film was viewed (at least on one level) as a parable of American racial politics, with the apes implicitly understood to represent the downtrodden finally getting the upper hand over the previously dominant white culture.[2]

Michael Wilson and Rod Serling’s script followed the lead of Pierre Boulle’s original novel to show a satirical (albeit not particularly humorous) view of “normalcy” turned upside down.  In many cases it was done by showing humans used the way we use animals:  For taxidermy, research, and sport.  In others, it was an implicit criticism of dominant white culture with the promise / warning:  “You’ll get what’s coming to you.”

While the apes were presented as antagonists in the first two films of the series[3], African-American audiences tended to sympathize with them more than they did with stalwart Chuck Heston (even before his NRA days).

By the times Escape From… and Conquest Of… rolled around, the identification of African-Americans with the apes was clearly overt (albeit it in a sympathetic and not denigrating manner).  Conquest in particular hammers the apes / slavery issue home with a 12-lb sledge, and it’s pretty hard to whip up any sympathy with (predominantly white) humanity in either of those two films.

Recognizing this, and desiring the success of the series to continue, 20th Century Fox watered down the message in the fifth and final film of the original series, Battle For The Planet Of The Apes, which ends in a bright future where apes, humans, and mutants co-exist peacefully and happily.

That vision of the ape-ocalyptic future flopped miserably at the box office and the films series ended, tho it continued thriving on the small screen and in comics with the original potent message.

It’s hard for modern audiences to understand the impact of these films when first unleashed from 1968-73.  First off, nothing quite like this had ever been seen before.  The closest anyone might have come to it is The Wizard Of Oz with its myriad of bizarre cultures in an even more bizarre world, but that was a fairy tale and not meant to be taken seriously.  With the exception of a few post-apocalypse movies that featured mutants in cheesy make-up, nobody had ever tried to create not one but three entire species of realistic non-human characters for a film, complete with costumes, props, and buildings designed with apes in mind.[4]

And despite the nervousness of the studio, producer Arthur P. Jacobs & co. pulled it off with remarkable aplomb.  There had been serious sci-fi films before Planet Of The Apes, to be sure, but Apes was one of the first that easily crossed over into main stream audiences instead of relying primarily on the (admittedly growing) sci-fi fan base.[5]

But the cinematic / literary / pop culture impact was only a small fragment of what the world of 1968 – especially the United States of America – was going through at that time.

Consider: 
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was only four years old at the time Apes was released.

Had the nation not been in a period of shock and mourning in the aftermath of President Kenney’s assassination, conservative southern politicians would have probably blocked the act until the 1970s.

The nation was only four years away from segregated bathrooms, segregated diners, segregated water fountains.  Loving v Virginia was only one year old!

African-Americans were still pretty much invisible in their native land.  They were starting to make a few token appearances in TV shows and movies[6] but they were far from ubiquitous.

Planet Of The Apes, without directly referring to the apes as analogs for African-Americans, pretty much forced audiences to draw that unavoidable parallel.

And, yeah, there were some who sneered and hooted and derided contemporary blacks by likening them to the monkeys on the silver screen…

…but the inescapable conclusion was that
those damned monkeys were in charge!

…and things were not going to be
so rosy for Mr. Whitey in the future.

This was the first time a lot of white people were forced to realize that the times, they were a’changin’ and what they were changing into was not going to resemble the world they grew up in where everyone knew (and kept) their place.

Planet Of The Apes did not present its topsy-turvy world as one laid down by divine fiat, a wrathful God punishing sinners by letting apes rule over them.

Planet Of the Apes said pretty plainly that humans – white humans in particular – were not fit to survive, and that a more vigorous, more capable breed was going to take over.

That was classic evolution,
and there wasn’t a damned thing
white humanity could do about it.

Creationism was not unheard of or even unargued in the late 1960s, but it was pretty much losing its steam.  Evolution existed; there was no denying genetic changes in various species with common ancestors, and even prehistoric humanity had been guiding evolution along for their domestic plants and animals (“survival of the fittest” in this case meaning those most fit to serve humans).  Creationists were pretty much giving up on the new earth / six literal twenty-four hour days version of creation and instead arguing what is now referred to as Intelligent Design (only with God explicitly in control).

Their basic point was that God had a plan, and that everyone in the world was assigned a place in that plan, and if God ordained one race to be the masters leaders and another to be the slaves servants workers helpers then who are we to argue with God?

Planet Of The Apes pretty much says God is no respecter of species, much less persons, and in fact famously ends with Heston ranting and screaming that God has rightfully damned humanity for being a buncha murderous self-centered pricks.[7]  It was a pretty shocking ending for mainstream audiences at the time[8] and has been lampooned so often and so successfully that contemporary audiences have no idea just how chilling it was to Joe Six-Pack and Mrs. & Mrs. Suburbia.

…especially in light of the ongoing societal change / upheaval and
the rapid advancements in civil rights by African-Americans.

Mind you, the majority of white audiences seeing the film for the first time were not racists in the classic sense of the term:  They burned no crosses, lynched no victims.

But they kinda liked the fact that they got to live over here while those people had to live over there, and while many of them knew and genuinely liked black folks they encountered daily, few of them realized they held a protected and privileged position that was paid for by the sufferings of others.

Apes kinda sunk home the message that there might not be a soft landing for their genteel lifestyle, that rude awakenings and abrupt changes may be the order of the day.

And yeah, Planet Of The Apes is at heart a big budget goofy Hollywood movie, with a whole bunch spectacle & action and a smattering of smarts, not really the sorta thing that can withstand close logical scrutiny for long…

…but that didn’t matter.

The message is what mattered.

And the message was:  Time’s up.  Things are changing.

A lot of people did not like that change.

They rendered lip service to it, but were willing to do so only so long as things didn’t change for them.

Now, when faced with major changes in one’s life, there are two basic approaches one can take:

You acknowledge the change even if you don’t willingly embrace it; life may get rough but at least you’ll be prepared for it and it won’t catch you by surprise.

The other is to double down on the old system, to bet the heart transplant money that the way things are is The Way Things Are Meant To Be, and that if you just hold fast this faddish craze of modernity will pass and things will once again be good and wholesome and sweet with you in the driver’s seat, just like when you were a child and your father was a child and your great-great-great grandfather was a child.

It’s no accident that the big push towards homeschooling – which originally began among hippy-dippy parents looking to raise their children outside the conforming standards of the dominant class public schools – took off among rural and/or white and/or conservative religious fundamentalists in the south and midwest during this period.[9]

And it’s no accident that creationism takes – nay, demands – a centerpiece of that movement.

Because creationism allows the believer in it to deny the humanity of others, to deny their rights, to deny their equality.

Creationism allows the believer to dismiss all claims for justice with a derisive “God doesn’t want that” and never examine the basics of the question.

Creationism, as has been pointed out, is the handmaiden of Mammon, the self-righteous belief that one’s personal enrichment is God’s master plan for the universe, that every sub-atomic particle in every atom in every molecule of every speck of dust and wisp of gas up to and including the hugest of stars exists solely for the purpose of making your life materially easier and more comfortable…

…and maybe the lives of your immediate family as well…

…and perhaps even a few of your closest friends…

…but certainly not the lives of them – and especially if making their lives any easier requires you to give up an hour of TV or some outrageous demand like that.

Planet Of The Apes is downright terrifying
to people with that mind set.[10]

Small wonder so many conservative whites willingly and eagerly embrace a disproven anti-intellectualism that denies the reality of the world around them, because embracing that fantasy makes it possible to deny the change going on around them.[11]

Like little children threatened by a big mean dog, they sincerely believe if they squinch their eyes closed reeeeeeeeal tight that it will go away.

No, one single silly movie does not a religious heresy make, and in a different time it’s doubtful that the film would have had much more impact than as a popcorn muncher (much like the recent remakes and sequels have landed with resounding thuds).

But one thing Planet Of The Apes sure did was to give millions of scared white people a very very frightening glimpse of a future where they would no longer be in charge, when the first would indeed be last, and the low would be risen high.

And rather than embrace that spiritual truth, they flock to a self-serving myth that not only will fail to protect them, but will make the eventual change that much more painful for them.

As for me,
like Mark Twain wrote: 
When it’s steam boat time,
you steam boat.

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.

.

[1]  It isn’t an exaggeration to say the shadows from these projects – both in film, TV, comics, and other media as well as literary and other pop culture influences – is still being cast today.  The other three were the original Star Trek TV series, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Barbarella.  Of the four, Barbarella received the worst response from the public, a critical drubbing, and a commercial flop…and yet each year a loyal cult grew and grew around this film.  Today it’s a fondly remembered classic of the era and has aged better than the other four.  Go figure…

[2]  I may be wrong, but I can’t remember any African-American actors among the primitive humans in the original film, not unless one counts the ill-fated astronaut who ended up lobotomized.

[3]  Tho who wasn’t an antagonist in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes?  It’s the only major studio Hollywood production ever to end with the hero thinking that blowing up the entire planet was A Real Good Idea.

[4]  The world of the final film was much different that the original concept and script.  Jacobs originally wanted a world like the one in Boulle’s novel with full size cities, cars, and helicopters designed for apes.  By scaling the size back to a few isolated middle-sized towns with low grade industrial age technology, the film actually became more convincing than a modern version.  An exact ape parallel to our own world would have only invited laughter, but changing it significantly enough while still leaving it basically recognizable helped sell the idea to audiences.

[5]  And basically, because of all the projects of that era, Planet Of The Apes offered the one concept that every body in the audience, including the dullest witted, got right away:  The five-fingered shoe is now on the other foot.

[6]  And more importantly, cast in commercials as users of the product being sold, not servants making white folks’ lives easier, thus tacitly acknowledging them as part of the American fabric and not just an accessory after the fact.

[7]  …or words to that effect…

[8]  No matter than we fan boys saw it marching down the avenue from the moment the film started talking about archeological digs involving humans.

[9]  No, I am not saying Planet Of The Apes was responsible for that; it was the general societal upheaval of the late 60s and early 70s that scared much of the mostly white religious right into fleeing society with the hopes of one day leading a counter-rebellion against it.

[10]  And mind you, screenwriters Michael Wilson and Rod Serling managed to have their Darwinian cake and theologically eat it as well:  A strong argument could be made for the film as the mene mene tekel uparsin of mainstream American values, a judgment handed down from on high and executed with our own hands around our own throats – but holding to that argument requires denying human supremacy in general and American exceptionalism in particular and recognizing both our personal and national sins and shortcomings and, hey, who wants to believe that becuz America!  Right?  Right?!?!?

[11]  And embracing it not in a little way but going all out:  None of this namby-pamby “God created the universe billions of years ago and guides the natural processes in it” but “Bang! Done!  Full and complete in six twenty-four hour days and you can’t change it – ever!”

 

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Beauty Is Where You Find It

25/02/2014

yuanyang_airglow

Looks nice, doesn’t it?  This long exposure photo was taken by Cui Yongjiang in rural Yunnan Province in southwest China.  Look at the soft glow of the village lights…the way the stars reflect off the terraces of water…

Wanna see what the area looks like in daylight?

Xijiang_Miao_Village_Guizhou_china-Nature_rivers_Landscape_Wallpaper_1200x900

Quite a difference, huh?

So, is beauty an illusion,
an artificial construct of the mind?

Or is it always there, and
we just have to have the wisdom
to know where to look for it and
the patience for it to present itself…

found via Astronomy Picture Of The Day

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Bertrand Russell’s Decalogue

20/02/2014

bertrand russell

Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it. The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

found via brainpickings

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Sunsets, Who Can Explain ‘Em?

6/02/2014

Creationism is one of the last sick remnants of slavery.  In the days before the Civil War, northern Christian abolitionists cited the Golden Rule as reason to do away with slavery.[1]  Southern slave owners funded preachers and teachers who countered with literal readings of the Bible to not merely justify slavery but to denigrate African-Americans as inferior because they were descended from Ham, Noah’s son who was punished for telling his brothers that their father got drunk and was lying naked in his tent. [2]

The result was southern and rural western and midwestern churches (as dispossessed southerners moved out after the Civil War) who held to a false doctrine of Biblical literalism.[3]

Recently the creationist position was brutally sodomized mercilessly gutstomped given a pants down spanking bitch-slapped to a faretheewell demonstrated to be sadly lacking humiliatingly defeated bested in a much publicized debate.

We won’t go into that because others have done it better.

But I do want to touch on part of the fallout, specifically this lady’s question from the creationist side.

sunset enhanced-27109-1391576856-1

The sunset question gets quite fascinating when you start to unpack it.

For starters, you can’t have a “sunset” without an observer:
Planets rotate all the time but unless someone is actually there to observe it there’s no sunset to see.[4]

Further, a sunset is not so much a noun as a verb; it is more of an event than a thing.  Observers on Earth placed a hundred miles apart on an east-west line would not see the same thing:  One could still be in daylight, another in night while the one in the middle enjoyed the view.

Set them up on a north-south axis and while the rotation of the planet may cause the sun to appear to dip behind the horizon, one observer many be in a cloudless area and see nothing spectacular, another much further to the south may be in an overcast area and not even be able to see the sun, while someone between the two might have the optimum blend of light and just the right kind / number of clouds to observe a spectacular show.

Further still, enjoying a sunset is something pretty much limited to people with unimpaired vision:  A terribly nearsighted person might perceive a smudge of color, a color blind person would see only shades of purple and grey, a blind person wouldn’t see anything at all (though they might sense the passing of the warmth of the sun’s rays on their skin).

Even humans with perfect (for our species) 20-20 vision are at a disadvantage.  We see only three colors; our good friend the mantis shrimp sees sixteen!  No human can even imagine what the mantis shrimp’s world must look like because no human is capable of visualizing those colors.[5]

Further further still, only a human could look at a sunset and say “That’s beautiful.”  A camera can record the light and the position of the sun and clouds relative to that vantage point on Earth, but a camera conveys no meaning.  A person with no sense of aesthetics might see colors and details but not be able to put them together as “beauty”, likewise a person under some form of psychological stress might not appreciate the beauty that overawes their companion.

Clearly, the beauty of a sunset has much less to do with the Earth’s atmosphere and sun than it does with the state of consciousness of the observer.

Which, when you think about it,
is a pretty apt metaphor for
the religious experience.

We, and the materialists,
are experiencing the same set of sensory inputs;
we are just processing them differently.

This does not have to be a needless either/or proposition; there is nothing incompatible with faith in a a great metaphysical being/spirit/concept that is responsible for/links together everything in our universe and an understanding of the physical mechanics of that universe.[6]

So, yeah, in a very real sense only God can make a sunset insofar as no religion postulates a theology where human consciousness is not in some fashion intrinsically linked to the divine.

sunset article-2362566-1AC8CA6F000005DC-878_964x954

[1]  On the basis that since nobody wants to be a slave, ergo it must be wrong to own slaves.

[2]  Slave owners plied both sides of the street, citing Darwin as biological proof to justify slavery.

[3]  Personally, I prefer the term “plain text reading” as opposed to “literal” or even worse, “inerrant”. “Inerrant” means the theological teachings are without error, not that every word is literally true, but sloppy usage has confused the two terms in the minds of most people. Using the term “plain text reading” allows one to study the particular passage for its inherent meaning without requiring it to be 100% factual.

[4]  And, technically, our sun never sets; it’s a relative fixed point to the real motion of the Earth, although the Sun itself and the Milky Way galaxy are all traveling through space on their own.  I suppose ala Pitch Black there may be some double or triple star systems where one member actually does move behind another at some point, but that’s another topic for another time…

[5]  Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, and William S. Burroughs excepted.

[6]  The people who do make it incompatible generally tend to have a host of other hoops they require you to jump through for their benefit.

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On The Nye Vs. Ham Creationist Debate…

5/02/2014

BuzzFeed (no relation) asked 22 creationists what they would like to ask people who believed in evolution.

I intended to do a reply, but these ladies were all over the creationists like ugly on an ape.

22 creatuionists

If you come from your parents,
why do you still have parents?
If that sounds like a dumb question,
consider that it’s exactly the same question.

There’s more — much, much more — and the snarkometer goes all the way to eleven.  My hat’s off to Amanda Marcotte and Beth Spencer for administering the much need industrial strength arooga lift; I only wish I had moved faster to get in on the fun.

Ya snooze,
ya lose…

yoda to punch beaten are you

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