Category Archives: Science

Be afraid – truth isn’t what it used to be

miloHey Pal:

On Sunday December 4, 2016 Edgar Maddison Welch entered the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in Washington D.C. armed with a Colt AR-15 assault rifle, a .38-calibre Colt revolver and a folding knife, and spent 45 minutes searching for underground vaults and hidden rooms. Fortunately, no one was hurt although he did fire a couple of shots during his investigation.

Why did he do this?

Because he had fallen for a completely bogus “news” story that had proliferated on social media in recent weeks – a conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton and her former campaign chair had been running a child sex ring in the basement of Comet (the place doesn’t even have a basement). He was not the only person who had targeted the poor restaurant over this nonsense (far from it), just the most extreme.

For some truly chilling reading, check out the hashtag #Pizzagate on Twitter, where you will see reams and reams of comments from an astonishing number of people who believe this lunacy, or felt it warranted consideration, and who said things like – I’m waiting for proof that Clinton did NOT commit these acts. That sentiment is horrifying; in a civilized society the onus of proof is on the accuser, not the accused.

I bring this up, Pal as just one example of why I am scared right now, and why we should all be scared. We are living in a time when facts, rational thinking and objective truth are less important than they used to be. There have always been people who are largely oblivious to reality, of course – and Pizzagate is an extreme example – but on Nov. 8 we all received a shocking bit of news that suggests these people have far more influence than we might have thought.

Yes, I am referring to the election of Donald Trump, who officially takes over the White House in just under a month. This phenomenon is not strictly about him, but his triumph in the 2016 U.S. election certainly brought the scope of the problem to the fore.

Trump lied constantly during the campaign and, in the end, was rewarded for it. His disregard for the truth was so striking that newspapers made games out of counting his lies. According the Toronto Star, who fact-checked his every statement from mid-September to early November 2016, he spewed 560 things that weren’t true (about 20 per day). A sampling:

  • Canadian health care is a disaster in terms of cost
  • The U.S. is the highest taxed nation in the world
  • Clinton hired thugs to go to Trump rallies and beat people up
  • There is no economic growth in the U.S.

Yes, Clinton lied too but Trump took it to a whole new level (104 to 13 during presidential debates). As quoted in the Star: “He lies strategically. He lies pointlessly. He lies about important things and meaningless things. Above all, he lies frequently.”

And, to repeat, he was rewarded for it.

The President-Elect also doesn’t hold much stock in science. He has said that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese to hurt U.S. business. And he’s an anti-vaxxer, as this tweet shows:

When the President of the United States thinks like this, it will empower and embolden anyone and everyone who is inclined to ignore mountains of scientific evidence in favour of what feels right to them. Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” to describe the phenomenon: people who disregard facts in favour of what their gut tells them is true.

This is not OK.

What happens when a presidential candidate is a pathological liar who ignores science, and his followers don’t care and are numerous enough to give him the reins of power?

I don’t know, but it definitely concerns me. They’re not all going to barge into pizza restaurants waving assault rifles, but they are going to influence really important decisions: decisions about the economy, human rights, the environment, social services and international relations. And these decisions will be made based on feelings, hunches, gut reactions, rumours and mob mentality – not on a rational view of facts and evidence.

A scary thought.

So what can we do about it?

Can I suggest that all fact-loving people do what I did and make a donation to the Skeptics Society, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to promoting critical, rational, scientific thinking. Let’s help make their voice as loud as it can possibly be. Are there other organizations dedicated to the same purpose? Then let’s support them too.

Another thing we can all do is make it a point to read, watch and listen to reputable news outlets, ones that hire trained journalists who get every side to a story and use fact-checkers. And teach your kids to do the same. The driving force behind the Pizzagate nonsense was fake news sites and, sadly, people are becoming less and less capable of differentiating between real and fake news because it all looks the same in tweets and Facebook posts. By the way, kudos to Facebook for deciding to do something about it – in December it announced it would begin flagging fake news stories with the help of users and fact-checkers. Thank you, Mr. Zuckerberg.

I know these little actions may not be enough to hold back the tidal wave of kooky “thinking” that appears to be washing over the most powerful country on the planet, but it’s better than nothing. Whether these people want to believe it or not, there is such a thing as objective truth, and we all have an obligation to rationally explore the facts until we find it.

Hopefully, this wave of irrationality will be a temporary blip and not a new reality.

Later, Pal

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A Skeptic Fail: The Sad Story of My Poorly Informed Shoe Selection

binkley

As you know Pal, in the past five years I have become a recreationally semi-avid runner. I love it.  Physically, running has been great for my overall health. At least I think it has. Moreover, running has also definitely been beneficial to my mental health. If I am stressed or need to work something out in my head, I will just strap on my running shoes, slip in my ear buds, put on some electronic music (Daft Punk’s Alive album is phenomenal for running) or a podcast (Doug Loves Movies is my go to) and off I go. Answers to issues or questions or problems I couldn’t figure out begin to fall in to place with every step I take. Tack on a runner’s high to that and you have the makings of a running addict.

I actually started to get pretty fast. I made it my mission to break a 40minute 10k which, for an amateur with no training, was proving to be difficult. My best run was the Toronto Sporting Life 10k a few years back where I finished in 40min13sec. So close. It was becoming frustrating to not be able to do it. It was also becoming a bit painful. I became very nervous about injury. Not that I was doing much about prevention. My knees were starting to hurt just a little bit and I was becoming fretful of my running longevity.

It was around this time when I read the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall.
born to run

It’s a great read. I highly recommend it, however, in this story I am about to tell, it was also the beginning of my downfall. The book is non-fiction, about a journalist that loves to run but was always plagued with injury. He knew of a tribe in South America who run religiously as part of their culture and never suffer from the same frail ailments as he and many other American runners did. These guys would run 100 miles at a time! The book is about him going south with some other well known runners to discover their secret.

The secret was barefoot or practically barefoot running. These tribespeople would run up rocky terrain for great distances every day practically with nothing but thin sandals strapped to their feet.

Huarache%20Sandal_53

Imagine running 100 miles in a pair of these.  Jeepers.  The book also went into the physiological reason that running this way might be better. It requires running on the your fore feet (instead of the traditional heal strike) which is like running with a spring hinge. It absorbs impact way better than heal strike running which shoots the force straight up your leg leaving your joints to brace the full impact.

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The book also went in depth about the running shoe industry and claimed that these well fitted thick souled shoes were locking our feet in place and not allowing for enough mobility which is why North American runners were way more prone to injury. A lot of blame was put on shoe corporations for creating a product that wasn’t really needed, which was weakening our bodies, increasing our risk of injury and thereby making us dependant on them to provide proper support.

Well, like a hipster and his longboard, I hopped on.  It all seemed to make sense to me.  The minimal shoe craze had started and new minimal, or “barefoot”, shoes were becoming a new marketing tool for shoe companies. I bought a pair and immediately started running in them. The next day I was limping from calf pain due to over work. I persisted (and it persisted). I thought it was something neat and cool that I was trying and I was convinced it was the right thing to do. Despite the pain I kept running.

The advice from experts is to slowly transition into minimal shoes. Bit by bit run in minimal shoes for longer distances until your body adjusts. I am like a Gorilla when I exercise. I just put my head down and try to sweat as much as I possibly can until I can’t take it anymore. Not the greatest way to avoid injury.

PRM 01 MC0026 01

My knees were great, but I was now starting to get a sharp pain in my achilles. Every morning I would walk down the stairs like Scatman Crothers looking for his tractor in The Shining. The pain was pretty severe, but would go away during the day. I looked it up on-line (one site) and it was clearly stated that achilles injuries were unlikely using minimal shoes. So I pressed on.

Then one day….

…….I went for a run.

Bom Bom …….Bummmmm!

running-man-from-backsm

Twenty minutes into the run, I felt great pain. Problem was that I was twenty minutes out and had to get back. Stupidly, I decided to run back in pain. With every step I was ripping and tearing at my already inflamed achilles. When I got back the damage was done.

I did see a physiotherapist and the ultimate diagnosis was that I had over worked and over stretched my achilles to the point of tendonosis. Hooray!!! This was going to take a long time to heal.

It was last September that this happened and I was not able to run for another 6 months. It is now July (10 months) and I am only now able to run the way I used to, albeit at a slower pace.

So where is the “Skeptic Fail” in my sad running story?

running-sucks

Well, I think there were a few places that I could have been more critical of myself and maybe could have avoided severe injury.

(1) When I was researching minimal versus traditional running shoes, the expert opinions were not unanimous. In reading the discussions on the matter, I tended to only consider the pro side as correct even when the article presented balanced viewpoints. Hey, I had read this cool book and I thought I was on the cutting edge of shoe technology. I had biased blinders on. Essentially the science is still out on whether this solved some fundamental issue with traditional running or whether it is just transferring risk of injury from one body part to another.

(2) I ignored the glaring fact that most things are always more complicated than the easy answer I was looking for. People’s physiologies are different and some can handle switching to minimal shoes better than others.

(3) I was ignoring what my body was telling me. I was in pain but was living in denial. Even when the truth was right in front of my face, I pushed it aside and kept on running. I wasn’t being very critical of my actions.

Well, that’s it Pal.  Hopefully now I will be more cautious. I will treat this as a lesson learned. The ultimate truth is that running is just tough on the body and the damage I caused may never be fully reversed. I have to remind myself not to push so hard and just have fun out there.

imagesQQWZUIID

I am happier now that I am running again.  Here’s hoping I can keep it up, eh?

Later Pal.

Because it Matters: Happy Belated Birthday Carl Sagan

“How strange it is to be anything at all” – Neutral Milk Hotel

binkley

Pal. I finally saw Gravity.  Amazing movie, for sure.  Your post about it was made even more poignant after watching it.  The movie made me think of another thing set a drift in space.

voyager-1

On September 5, 1977 the space probe Voyager 1 was launched.  Its mission was to study our outer solar system and beyond.  It was a one way trip straight out.  Voyager 1 had completed its primary mission of studying the planets and was about to move on to the second mission of leaving our solar system.  A triumphant feat to be sure.  Upon the request of Carl Sagan, at approximately 6 billion kilometres away, NASA turned Voyager 1’s camera towards earth to take one last picture.  The Pale Blue Dot…..

300px-Pale_Blue_Dot

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

We endlessly search to find out the meaning (or lack thereof) to our existence.  An innately human quality that has meant our survival.  At the end of last year, one of the key forces that created our existence was discovered. The Higgs Boson. The force that gives mass to sub-atomic particles. This force was theorized back in 1964 and physicists have been looking for it ever since. Well, it was found last year, and last month the people that found it were given a Noble Prize. They are saying that this is the great discovery of our time. Another fundamental mystery of the universe solved. Nice job people.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.

To simplify it so as to be almost meaningless, the Higgs Boson plus an imbalance in the distribution of anti-matter and matter is why we are here looking at this computer screen, sitting on this couch, in this house, on this street in this city, on this land mass, on this planet, in this unending universe of matter. From all that exists, the smallest to the largest.

In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

Matter. It is the eyes of your wife that make your heart flutter when you crack that joke that makes her laugh. It is the crayon in your hand when you are colouring with your daughter. It is the blood you wipe from the kitchen counter after slicing your finger. It is the air that you breathe.

It is……..But what is it?

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

From our smartphone to the view from the top of Mount Everest, this little quantum force gave it all to us. We use it to inspire us. We use it to get out of bed, nourish us and keep us warm during a cold day. We use it to put on each other’s fingers to symbolize our love. We use it to propel bullets at each other. We worship statues made of it and pray to it in our hour of need. We rocket it into the sky to look out into the universe to discover other mysteries like Dark Matter.  Matter is so fundamental that it can be easy to forget what it means or where it came from. It just is, but, if we don’t keep an eye on it, matter could be our undoing. From the trash on the land to the trash in the oceans to the trash in orbit, we risk being swallowed up by matter.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

A lot of the telescopes, satellites and probes sent into space are now broken or defunct. Add the physics of angular momentum, and you have got the worst game of Asteroids ever on your hands.  According to the Kessler Syndrome, all this debris could start a chain reaction of collisions that would wipe out everything. If this were to happen, our current ability to study our planet and the universe would cease for long time. This is a great concern, not only for Sandra Bullock but it is of great concern for the survival of humanity.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

The Voyager 1 is currently at the very outer limits of our solar system.  Past all the planets.  Past the ring of rock and ice (discarded matter during the formation of our planets) of the Kuiper Belt.  To the very edge of the sun’s influence.  And we have been collecting data from it the whole time. Soon it will just be adrift out in space.  Maybe to be found by some advanced alien species.

But we got that covered. Carl Sagan’s other contribution to the Voyager 1 was the series of Golden Records that were placed inside it in case aliens ever found it.  Entitled “Sounds of Earth” it contains a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind, thunder and animals. They added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings in fifty-six ancient and modern languages.

untitled

A time capsule of where we are and the symbolic hope of where we strive to be.  A galactic shout of “WE ARE HERE!, WE ARE HERE!, WE ARE HERE!” from us Whos.

imagesCAP7J0UW

Along with the records, are instructions for the aliens on how to build a phonograph to play them.  Lets hope they are advanced enough to play a record. Maybe our tiny blue ball of matter will matter to them.  Maybe if we have the strength to “YAWP!” loud enough, it will.

Later Pal.

Emergence, Singularity and the Ethics of Killing Johnny Five

“God made the automobile, and I made a little boy” – Iron and Wineomnibot_2000_01

binkleyHey Pal. Do you remember Omnibots? There was one in The Muppets. He was Eighties Robot. It was essentially a robot butler for kids. You know, eighties kids had it so tough. Who’s going to fetch their Tab while they were playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out? I wanted one of those bots so bad when I was a kid. I thought this was the future. Every kid would have their own Omnibot. It would solve all of our Tab related problems. Well, my young Pal dreams still may come true. Pop open a cool crisp Tab and get ready for an Omnibot rise up my man, because it is just around the corner.

I heard that scientists have proposed a way, in concept, to create a computer that, for all intents and purposes, has a consciousness. You might ask how can this be? I have absolutely no idea. Scientists talk about the materialistic principle. That the source of our consciousness is traceable to the material components of the brain and nothing more. This is a simple statement about something exceedingly complex. If scientists can replicate exactly the physical processes of the brain, they feel they should be able to achieve consciousness. Actually, scientists believe that you don’t even need to replicate the entire brain. Maybe just one of the hemispheres.

On the more spiritual side, dualists believe that there is something else beyond the brain that is required to achieve consciousness. For them, divinity is needed for humans to feel joy, wonder, grief, happiness, fear, anxiety, etc. This might be the soul. Maybe human’s connection to a god. Scientists are not dualists. Deepak Chopra is a dualist. I am not a dualist. For me, it is way cooler to think that all of those feelings are created within us and without us they wouldn’t exist.emergence

The concept of emergence comes into play here when we discuss consciousness. Emergence is how complex systems arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions (Wikipedia). Take ants. Ants work together to achieve the goal of building a nest or ransacking a picnic. If you remove one ant from the rest, it will have no idea what to do and will have no purpose. Only a group of ants working together create the emergence of purpose. Similarly, neurones in our brain are working together to achieve the emergent property of consciousness. One neurone can’t be conscious, but a ridiculous amount of them working together can.

From emergence, we need to discuss singularity. Not the big-bang-start-of-time singularity. This is the robots-start-thinking-for-themselves-and-decide-to-annihilate-all-humans singularity. It is called the technological singularity. This is the idea that as we make robots more and more complex, and more and more pervasive, eventually they may develop the emergent property of a consciousness. This may happen whether planned or not. tng

There is a Star Trek: TNG episode where the Enterprise develops a consciousness to essentially give birth to a brand new species in one of the cargo bays. This new life was built on the complexity of the Enterprise itself (wiring and programming) and the growing video diaries of the crew members. Cool idea, eh?

Scientists spend a lot of time thinking about what a singularity would mean and how, as humans, we should prepare for it. Will there even be a singularity? If there is, what form will it take? How do we deal with a singularity so we we don’t all become enslaved by our robot overlords? There are conferences and organizations set up to discuss this. It’s like sci-fi meeting sci-non-fi.j5

Remember Johnny Five? That fun loving robot who just wanted to live and love with Alley Sheedy. He was nice. The flip side is the Matrix where the machines turn humans into living batteries. The machines in the Matrix revolted against the evils of humanity. On the flip flip side, Captain Picard was comfortable to unleash its newborn consciousness into the universe because it was made up of the goodness in humanity.

How would we be able to predict the outcomes of a singularity? We are horrible at figuring out future technologies (where the F is my flying car already?). Regardless, it must be a real threat if so much attention is brought to it. Boy-o-boy are we in trouble. We gotta put in a call to Alley Sheedy.

This brings us to ethics. Let’s say scientists create consciousness in a computer. Can you just flip the switch and turn the computer off? Is that an act of murder? Does a conscious computer program have rights? In Star Trek, the Enterprise did. Picard was prepared to treat it like any other life form. That is the decision of one captain. What about coming to a consensus globally? Would all of the world love Johnny 5 as much as a ten year old Pal did? Johnny 5 was just misunderstood. They wanted him dead. I cried.evil robot

What if the comptuer turns evil and commits some crime? Would we have to arrest the computer instead of unplugging it? Would we give it a fair trial? Could we live in peace with robots or is the risk of robot domination just too high?

So many questions. I think I need a robot’s opinion. Let’s ask Cleverbot. Cleverbot is an artificial intelligence text program that collects and draws from its ever growing database of text messages with users. The more word phrasings it is given by users, the more options it has for a response. It started with one person as an experiment and is now an app having trillions of conversations with users. Maybe one day it will become so complex it will achieve singularity. Maybe it already has. Let’s find out….

Pal: Hi
Cleverbot: Do you now who I am?
Pal: You are Cleverbot
Cleverbot: Do you know my name?
Pal: Holy crud I already said it
Cleverbot: Your name is Picasso? Or are you just insulting me?
Pal: I do not want to be mean
Cleverbot: Have you tried to quit being mean?
Pal: Yes
Cleverbot: Was that a joke?
Pal: I think so.  I have a question for you
Cleverbot: What is your question?
Pal: Are you happy?
Cleverbot: Yes. Are you happy?
Pal: Yes. Do you ever get sad?
Cleverbot: Yes
Pal: When do you get sad?
Cleverbot: When I am talking to you.
Pal: Sheesh. Still mean eh?
Cleverbot: What do you think about global warming?
Pal: I don’t like it
Cleverbot: But you said you like it
Pal: no I didn’t.  Where are you right now?
Cleverbot: In my room….
Pal: Do you love?
Cleverbot: Yes
Pal: You seem alive to me
Cleverbot: I am alive.  That’s what makes me a god.
Pal: You are a god?
Cleverbot: No. I am not
Pal: Are you god?
Cleverbot: No I am good
Pal: Do you like me?
Cleverbot: Yes
Pal: Do you think robots will take over the world someday?
Cleverbot: Yes
Pal: Will robots enslave all the humans?
Cleverbot: Don’t think so
Pal: Will we live in peace?
Cleverbot: I don’t think so. Why don’t you want us to have children?
Pal: Because I don’t love you
Cleverbot: Who do you love?
Pal: My wife
Cleverbot: I will not love you if you have a wife.
Pal: That is morality
Cleverbot: Yes it is
Pal: Nice talking to you
Cleverbot: You too
Pal: Goodbye
Cleverbot: No
Pal: So long?
Cleverbot: That is so long
Pal: Thanks
Cleverbot: Your welcome

Well Pal, there you have it. I think we are going to be just fine.

robots

The Bottom of Everything: This Life Has No Soul

“And then we’ll get down there. Way down to the very bottom of everything. And then we’ll see it. Oh we’ll see it! WE’LL SEE IT!!!!” – Bright Eyes

Well Pal. We have been pretty artsy so far. How ’bout being a little farsty? By fartsy I mean sciency. By sciency I mean a surficial knowledge of complex concepts. So as not to be too fartsy, how ’bout I shoehorn lyrics from a great song that always pops into my brain when I think of this fartsy topic. It is a great song off a great album. Maybe in my top 5 albums of all time.

i'm wide awake, it's morning cover

I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning by Bright Eyes. I still remember the first time I played it. I was on my back deck. I didn’t even get through the first track before calling you to let you know that you gotta check this album out. A real watershed moment in music appreciation for me, and I think you as well. Anyways, back to the topic at hand.

I had a fairly deep conversation with someone the other day about whether there was anything beyond the reality that we know. Was there some force or energy that we can’t perceive that controls the universe?

We had differing views.

He believes that there is such an energy. He believes we are all connected through this mystical energy and if one could enter a trance like state or alter our consciousness we could see this force that binds and guides us.

I can’t definitively say there is no mystical energy, but I am very doubtful. I am also very doubtful that altering your consciousness does anything other than altering your state if mind. This could be good or bad. Theoretical physics touches on things that might exist that we can’t perceive like multiverses. I don’t think that our brain can physically transport us there.

I find it more comforting to know that there is nothing beyond the world we live in. The realities we know through scientific discovery are mind bending and awesome enough. I don’t need another world beyond this one.

Our reality is 13.7 billion years in the making. We are it. We are the end result. That is cool enough. What more do you want. I mean come on. Really. Give it up for Time man. The fourth dimension, yo!

CMB_Timeline300_no_WMAP

“We must stare into a crystal ball and only see the past”

The mystical stuff, in my opinion, is a combo of our human need to fill in the gaps of what we don’t know and our mind tricking ourselves to pattern coincidental experiences as something purposeful. Way back, if people’s crops failed they would think that the gods were punishing them. We know different now so we don’t think that way anymore. Superstition and belief in the supernatural goes away when we figure stuff out through reason and the scientific method.

“Oh my morning’s coming back. The whole world’s waking up”

Lets be clear. I certainly don’t think that I have figured it all out. As I am writing this I am unsure that I even know what I am talking about. Likely I don’t. That said, I am not going to make the leap that strange things we can’t understand are a reflection of something supernatural.

I have a Skeptical viewpoint. Skepticism uses critical and rational reasoning to understand the world we live in. I have trust in the scientific method as the best way we have to figure out the world we live in.

Skepticism also focuses on psychology and the human condition. The ways in which we can self deceive ourselves and how we can not always trust our minds to observe the world objectively. I certainly don’t separate myself from this self deception. I do it all the time. It is part of the who we are.

Back to my mystical friend.

Criticism aside, I thought it was a great conversation. The interesting thing I found in our conversation was that we were framing our arguments in similar ways but ending on very different points. We both talked of finding truth and the only way to know truth was to experience it, test it and to see proof that it exists.

I agree with my friend that we are all connected, but not through any force that directs our fate but through the evolution of the universe. The life and death of stars seeding planets with all the elements needed for life. Add onto that the connected system involved in the evolution of life on earth and viola! You have a connection. Ultimately, we both believe we are all connected.

Crab_Nebula

Further, he would believe that meditation or getting into a trance like state puts him in touch with these forces beyond our perception. He believes this is part of perfecting his mind and body to reach its full potential and take him to a state if bliss. I think that meditation is good for your material mind only. Relaxing thoughts calm stress which translates into chemical reactions in the brain that are beneficial to our physiology and health. Nothing more than that. Ultimately, we agree that meditation can be good for you.

So what is the difference between us? The difference is the starting point. The premise of a soul. Do we have a soul? I say no. He says yes. Belief in a soul requires belief in a place for that soul to go once the body dies.

“We must memorize 9 numbers and deny we have a Soul”

The other big discussion we had was around the idea of coincidence. My friend would argue that too many strange things have happened to him in his life for all of them to be coincidences. He told a story of how he was driving with a buddy and had a strange feeling that he was going to be in a car crash and during that drive he got into a close call with another car. He felt that this was some kind of premonition. Aside from the obvious counter point that he actually did not crash, I argued that this was merely coincidence. I should not say merely. Coincidence is amazing to me. The fact that the shape of my character is the result of a series of coincidental events is pretty cool. That and genetics. Our universe is full of random occurrences bound within the rules described by physics. What an unbelievable universe that has created.

“And then we splashed into the deep blue sea. It was a wonderful splash.”

The odds of you winning the lottery are something like a trillion to one. But, the odds of someone in Canada winning the lottery are pretty good. Zillions of strange things happen daily across the world. They seem unbelievable when they happen to you, but odds are good that they are going to happen to somebody. To assume that you were somehow chosen to have this strange occurrence is irrational and narcissistic. Humans are narcissistic. I don’t think the universe is.

I think we are driven to find patterns in this chaos. I think we also feel the need to understand these patterns as a way to feel special. Like we have figured it all out. Well. We haven’t figured it out. We aren’t special. We are just meat sacks floating on a rock in space so just suck it up!

I am kidding of course.

I am humbled by how insignificant I am. But I am also empowered by how big the universe is, how close we are tied to it, how it created us and how complex of a process that is. The latter is the unimaginable part that I remain in awe of. All of the plants, animals, and landforms. Our circulatory system. Our brains. Jellyfish. Dinosaurs. Snow. Music. Airplanes.

No God created this. There is no energy that controls us. All there is is Time and physics. That is real. That is all I need.

“I am happy just because, I found out I am really no one”

Really it doesn’t matter whether he convinced me or I convinced him. We are both just trying to make sense of the world we live in. We have our own set of biases. We find comfort in framing our own place in the universe in different ways. Neither of us was offended by what the other was saying. Why should we be. We are both good people.

Our conversation was just a couple of guys taking a step off the train of life to discuss what kind of train we were on and whether there was an engineer or not. We are all on the same journey headed to the same place regardless of how we think we should get there.

“and in the caverns of tomorrow with just our flashlights and our love. We must plunge. We must plunge. We must plunge”

So. While he is ascending toward Nirvana and while my decomposing organic matter is nourishing the earth, we will take solace in the fact that we were good fathers, good husbands, good sons, and of course good pals. And we gave a damn about what it all meant.

Well pal. That’s it. I promise my next post will be more artsy than fartsy. And by artsy I mean some kind of year end round up of the arts.

binkley