Sunday, August 8, 2010

Religious Musings: Maybe God Isn't So Ridiculous?

Yesterday I was in my backyard playing fetch with Lucy. We have one of those little UFO shaped grills and it was laying on its side with a few insects buzzing around it. I realized that the insects wouldn't treat it any differently if it was a hollow tree stump. The insects had no idea it was man made and no idea how or why the grill was there. All they knew is that it was a source of shelter and nutrition.

What if there was evidence of higher intelligence around me and I simply could not recognize it? If helium and nitrogen were natural elements but hydrogen and oxygen were artificially created by a higher intelligence how would I know? What sorts of clues could I look for to see what parts of my world might have been shaped by a higher intelligence?

By drawing an analogy to the round, metallic grill I speculated that evidence of complex engineering would be tend to suggest involvement by a higher power. After all, engineering is simply a combination of intelligence and environmental manipulation. Since our entire universe is organized by the law of physics into complex shapes and reactions (including our own biology), I found it interesting that maybe the notion that our universe was created by a higher power wasn't so crazy.

Of course, this isn't to say that the complexity of our universe is proof of a higher intelligence. If that conclusion was a necessary implication, then the intelligence that engineered our universe would have to have been engineered by another intelligence, and so forth into perpetuity. Assuming our universe was engineered by a higher intelligence, this doesn't necessarily prove the existence of a Judeo-Christian God. It would suggest with equal likelihood, for example, that we are part of a Matrix-style Simulation.

Also my speculation that evidence of higher intelligence could/would come in the form of evidence of complex engineering could be incomplete or wrong.

All flaws considered, I thought it was an interesting thought worth sharing nonetheless.

Backwards Copying: Reaching the Singularity

Backwards Copying. That is the label I give people who think my thoughts, wear my clothes, or go to my destination before I do. It's basically my way of venting frustration when I have an original idea that someone has before me.

So earlier this summer I had this great idea. Reach the singularity by applying darwinian principles in a computer environment. Give the computer survival tasks from the bottom-up that require it to acquire sensory intelligence, coordination, problem-solving, and language. Start basic and slowly move up. Start with a simple computer program, assign it a task, and the more successful it is at completely the task the more likely it is to survive and reproduce. When it reproduces, introduce random mutations into its program. Must will be immaterial or harmful, but sometimes a beneficial mutation will result. That beneficial mutation stays in the program and then a new generation is spawned. Great idea, right? I planned to start working on this in a few years in my basement once I had some capital flowing from my anticipated income as a lawyer.

Looks like I've been Backwards Copied. :-(

Philosophical Conflict: Petri Dish Meat and Cloning/GMO

In case you missed it, a bit of a scandal erupted on the other side of the Atlantic this week:
Beef from a second bull bred from a clone has illegally entered the human food chain and has been eaten in the last few months, safety officials have disclosed.
Tampering with genetics ignites the fears and passions of many.  But is this opposition justified?
Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of microbiology at the University of Aberdeen, said meat and milk from cloned cows posed no health risks. "It is perfectly safe," he said. "They are just the same as their parents from the genetic point of view so there's no problem there."
Alright, I concede that one line from one story is hardly enough to conclude that cloned meat is safe. But considering the genetic variation already in our diet -- from non-genetic minerals and vitamins to plants, fungi, and a wide assort of animals -- I do wonder wonder what all the fuss about genetically modified food is about. What's a handful of mutations from cloning or genetic modification really going to hurt? All naturally born life forms come into this world with a few genetic mutations and an entirely unique genome. We're not going to ban the consumption of any individual plant or animal due to the unknown side effects of consuming its unverified genome, right? So why doesn't that principle apply to cloned or modified organisms?

But understandably at least, many people are skeptical, afraid, and hostile. Whatever. So how does this conflict with animal ethics?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Possibly the Saddest Livestock Video Ever

This is a scene from the Earthlings sequel, "Unity."  Earthlings as you may recall is a recent pro-animal documentary narrated by Joaquin Phoenix with music by Moby.

The video does not show blood or gore.  It shows the fear and desperation of an animal awaiting its turn for slaughter...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

This Really Annoys Me About Politics

Anyone who knows me or follows my blog has figured out that I'm a pretty liberal guy. But I'm not a kool-aid drinker. Not only are there plenty of "liberal" issues I'm apathetic about or even oppose, but I'll criticize Democrats for bad politics too.

Well, if you want bad politics:

Okay... so one Republican on some talk show says "exact same agenda" and you're going to repeat that line over and over again as though its an effective attack against Republicans generally?  We don't even get to hear the whole sentence in context, nevermind the broader topic itself.  Look, if there was a memo signed by the heads at the RNC and Congressional Committees then play ball.  But I don't even know who that guy is and I'm an astute political observer.

And while we're at it, can we ban creepy background music from political advertisements?  The music didn't make me want to vote against Republicans -- eight years of Republican mis-management did it for me.  What  f***ing rational purpose does that music serve besides making me afraid that guy is going to break in and rape me in my sleep?  Seriously.  That music belongs on a Lifetime movie, not a political ad.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Apparently It's Amazing

I would definitely buy this pre-French Revolution champagne if I had $70,000: World's Oldest Champagne Found on Baltic Seabed.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Musical Musing

Smashing Pumpkins, Hummer (Siamese Dream 1993).

It's about twenty years late, but I've been obsessed with this song all summer...

TIME Profiles the Animal Rights Movement

This week's issue of TIME has a nice, short profile of the animal rights movement.  It notes recent accomplishments in America, including bans (in a few states) on battery cage eggs, foie gras, and dog-chaining.  
The profile also annoys me in a couple of ways.  Take this quote:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Government Behaving Reasonably

At least that's all I inferred from article at CNN:  Thousands of Sex Offenders Received U.S. Passports.

According to a GAO report (requested by some worthless senators), the State Department issued about 5,000 passports to sex offenders last year even though:
"Federal statutes authorize the Secretary of State to deny issuance of a passport in certain circumstances, such as while an individual is imprisoned or on parole or supervised release for a conviction for international drug trafficking or sex tourism or is in arrearages for child support... However, there is currently no comprehensive program to deny passports to applicants who are registered sex offenders."
Okay, so the Secretary of State does deny passports based on "a conviction for... sex tourism," yet it is report-worthy that passports are issued for other people?  YAWN.  This report is shocking neither in raw numbers (5,000 out of 300,000,000 people in the United States) nor substance.  

Some people might advocate denying passports to all sex offenders, but that seems unduly harsh to me.  Considering the sex-crime-mania that inflicts our criminal justice system already (see here and here), denying passports would be overkill.

The Singularity is Creeping Down Wall Street

The singularity is near.

That's the thought I have at least when I read articles like this from the Wall Street Journal. Key quotes and context below the fold...