Expanding Universe

18 Sept ’14 ~Question of the Day~ Expanding Universe

We know the universe is expanding, but what is it expanding into?
Is it squeezing into something else and making that contract, or is the universe just venturing into nothingness?

Interesting question.
Unfortunately the rules of this universe seem to be such that they don’t allow us to have any information about that.
So not a lot of point speculating about things we can never test, when there is so much that needs doing here and now.

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I don’t significantly disagree with anything Brian said, and I happily bow to his superior knowledge in this field.

Very well said Brian!

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Thank you for a good LOL.

For me, the major confusion that most people have is around the idea of “facts”.

Facts are not hard things. All facts have at least two major sets of distribution functions associated with them.

Facts have one set of functions that define the environment in which measurements have been taken – that environment will have characteristic ranges or parameters like relative speed, temperature, magnetic flux, electric flux, spatial curvature (gravity), etc; and each of those parameters will have probability as well as distribution functions.
The other set of functions relates to the measurements themselves. These will end up with probability functions that result from all the possible sources of error that can be identified, and another unmeasurable general uncertainty coming from factors that may be present that we are not yet aware of.
Thus we can come to a measure of confidence about measures in particular environments, that we give a shorthand of “facts”.

In some circumstances we can use very simple models with very good accuracy. We can build houses to tolerances of less than 1mm by using a model of the world that assumes the earth is flat. The difference between flat earth and round earth at the scale of a house is a very tiny fraction of a millimetre – too small to be significant for practical purposes.

It isn’t until we start making journey’s for several hundred miles that the difference between flat earth and round earth models start to become significant.

In this sense all “facts” have bounds of utility and probability functions, it’s just that we get lazy and don’t worry about mentioning them every time, particularly when the chances of error are very very small (less than one part in a trillion) in the environment we are referencing.

We all adopt models that are “fit for purpose”, within the requirements of the environment that we happen to find ourselves in, or choose to occupy. In my understanding the concepts of god, and spirit and soul are such things. They are models that work very well within a certain set of environments, but fail in other wider environments, just like we use flat earth when building a house, but not when sending a space craft to the moon (in that case we need to go beyond round earth and into relativistic effects).

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Great example of chicken soup.

That is why I have very great respect for most ancient practices that have survived over time. I can respect the practices, without adopting the explanatory frameworks that the ancients came up with for those practices.

And I am as sceptical of much of science dogma as I am of most ancient explanatory frameworks.
I like to check the data for myself, and then to check all the logic of all the intersecting explanatory frames.

And there are vast domains that I have yet to check, that are in the big pile of “check some day when I have run out of things that interest me more” ;).

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An apple a day

An Apple a Day

What is your “apple a day?”

Hi Laurie

Yoga has never really been my thing, despite many years of practice, I never really attained flexibility, though I was certainly much more flexible than when I started.

I do quite literally have an apple a day (at least one, often 2 or three), and something between it and the heaped teaspoon of vitamin C means that my only trip to the doctors in the last 4 years, for other than checkup, has been for a broken collar bone.

Positive attitude, rest, exercise (golf is my preferred form), and walking or cycling are enjoyable.

Belief in self is probably right up there, as is doing something in service of others.

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16 sep ’14 ~Question of the Day~ ( : HAPPINESS

What is true happiness?

Does the term “True Happiness” have any meaning.

If it does, what is false happiness?

It seems to me that happiness is what it is when it is it.
It seems to be an experience, unique to each of us, yet we seem to all be sufficiently similar that we can think we understand something of what others speak (and perhaps we can).
I can think of several significant happiness points in my life. The births of my children, making love to my wife, getting the results of my second scan after being diagnosed terminal cancer and it being tumour free. How do I judge one above the other?

It seems to me that there are levels of happiness.
It seems that to some degree the level of happiness we experience is a function of the degree of alignment we have amongst the multitude of conscious and subconscious aspects that make each of us who we are. And as we are all highly evolved social apes, that usually involves some aspect of service to others, as well as ourselves.

So it seems to me that the notion of true happiness is an illusion, and it seems that there may be an infinite spectrum of happiness possible, and at some level the choice of service to others seems to be a big part in the level of happiness experienced – at least that seems to be so in my personal experience.

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What is Freedom?

15 Sept. ’14 ~Question of the Day~ What Is Freedom?

What is freedom?

Bhatta – you ask the most amazing questions – so simple on the surface, yet so deep as to take the rest of forever to answer.

There are so many layers and levels to freedom – perhaps potentially infinitely many, and there do seem to be some repeating patterns.

At the physical level, freedom is taken to be the absence of unnecessary restraint on action.
That then leaves the question about what is necessary where and when.
Things like gravity, water food and air seem essential for human survival – freedom is not an absence of these thing, but rather the presence of these things enhances freedom.
Same goes for technologies that empower communication and travel and diversity of experience.

At the level of awareness, freedom seems to be a levels thing, as we bring awareness of the very many levels of influence on our behaviour – the physical levels of chemistry and physics and biology, the various levels of distinctions and paradigms, the habits and culture, and every level of awareness we are able to generate.

In logic, either there is cause at work, or there is freedom.
If an action is the result of cause and effect, then it cannot be free.
If an action arises out of nothing, then it is free from all prior influence.

It seems that this reality in which we find ourselves is at a fundamental level random, within certain probability functions tightly defined in time and space. These functions give us very predictable outcomes at larger scales of space and time.

It seems that freedom for human beings is something like this also.

We have many influences upon us, and to the degree that we can generate awareness of those influences, we are able to counter their effects, and create a level of freedom from them.

Landmark Education have a definition of choice that is “A free selection, after and not based upon, reason or consideration”.
That is a statement I have spent over 20 years contemplating and examining periodically. It appears extremely powerful to me.

Thus for me, freedom is something like a star used in navigation. People do not expect to get to a star, they use the star to navigate to a destination that is much closer.

It seems that we human beings can most powerfully approximate freedom by becoming as aware as we are able of all of the aspects of our being, in the full knowledge that we are far too complex to ever be able to know ourselves in full detail, and the more we try, the closer we get.

So there is much power in many of the ancient practices.
Meditation is a technique that brings awareness to the upper levels of consciousness.
With practice it can reliably create a gap between impulse and action, wherein it is possible for awareness to exert choice.

The practice of non-judgemental awareness is another powerful tool.
The only logical path out of the trap of right & wrong is go beyond it. Declaring right & wrong to be wrong doesn’t get you anywhere, it just moves the issue out a level. Non-judgemental awareness gets us into the habit of just noticing existence, ourselves and all around us, without imposing any value judgements.
Value judgements may be a useful shorthand in childhood, and in the complexity of adult life usually cause far more problems than they offer solutions. Freedom seems to require that we allow of infinite possible paths from anywhere to anywhere.

Ultimately freedom is about choosing our paths through whatever dimensions of reality we choose to travel or inhabit. As Laurie Buchanan has as the tagline to her website “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”

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Sorry Andrew – but “unfettered execution of will and movement, without personal consequence” is not freedom – it is ultimate entrapment.

If we are to have any effect, any ability to act in reality, to move, to influence anyone or any thing, then there must be consequence as a result of our action.

What is required of us is to accept that consequences exist and to be as responsible as we are able for the consequences of action. And of course we are limited beings, and cannot calculate the infinite ripples of consequences of our action, so our responsibility is limited (like our freedom) to the reasonably foreseeable.

To be trapped in an existence where we could have no consequence, we could not act in any way, not communicate in any way with any other entity, would be the most terrible form of prison I could imagine.

All actions, even communication have consequences.

None of us can possibly know all the consequences of our actions, and we can be responsible for the reasonably foreseeable consequences.

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Hi Andrew

I don’t do omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. Any of those ideas is a demonstrable logical impossibility (all require infinite regressive closed loops) – and if it cannot be done in logic, it seems highly unlikely to be present in reality.

And I get that other people do not see things as I do, and that is as I see it.

How can one define action without consequence as anything but nonexistence?

All actions, even inaction, have consequences – infinite ripples of them spreading out through spacetime.

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Quite the contrary Andrew.

I am willing to admit the possibility of any member of two general classes of possibilities:
those possibilities for which some measurable, repeatable evidence exists, and
those possibilities for which a logical or mathematical case can be made, and for which no evidence has yet been found.

Both of those are fairly large classes (I suspect both are likely infinite).
That’s more than enough choice for anyone.

I see no point in speculating beyond that – a complete waste of time, because, by the definitions already given, no evidential or logical case can be built.

I don’t deny the possibility of things outside of those two classes. There may be things outside those two classes, but by definition, they cannot effect me (if they could, then there would be evidence, reality seems to be useful like that).

It’s just Ockham’s Razor.

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IdeaPod – Seek the truth

IdeaPod – Know that you are wrong and seek the truth

It seems to me that Truth is an illusion that all children must learn in order to be able to use it as a ladder to climb past the simplistic notion of Truth.

It seems life simply is what it is.

It seems that our experience of life is via a model of reality that our brains create for us.

No map is ever the thing itself, and all maps can be fit for purpose at particular scales.

No map is useful below it’s minimum scale.

It seems that reality is so vast, that we must use very low resolution maps most of the time, and if we spend our time creating very high resolution maps of very small areas, we lose awareness of the bigger picture.
That just seems to be how it is, and how it must always be, should we expand our brains to contain a significant fraction of the mass in this universe.

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IdeaPod – Sense of Being

Ideapod – Sense of Being

Hi Mark

I can align with most of what you wrote, except for “As is we know our brain is not a machine, nor a computer”.

Certainly our brain is no von Neumann machine. The architecture of brain is very different. It is an extremely complex multi-modal set of systems. Cells can perform calculations thousands of times per second. The average neural synapses (junctions between neurons) has about 60 different simultaneous influences on the transmission and reception of signals, each of which has various function over time and space, some of which are chemically mediated by our hormonal and chemical systems.

We are starting to get some understanding of the major systems involved in the major computational networks of the machine that is brain, and should we live for the rest of eternity I suspect we will still be discovering new subtleties of the systems that are us. We are that complex.

Every thought we have feeds back to alter the physical structure.

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Hi Mark

I think it is more about an evolving understanding of what a machine is or might be.

Some have an image of machinery as some sort of idealised clockwork mechanism that works faultlessly and regularly forever.

A modern scientific understanding of machinery is that all machinery has levels of uncertainty at the lowest levels, and acknowledging that uncertainty, we can create very high levels of reliability at higher levels. The major way that biology does it is via massive redundancy.

For me, the idea of machine has come a very long way from the simplistic clockwork machine model. So if you are using a simplistic clockwork machine model, then I recommend that you be quite explicit about that.

I work with machines every day, and now we build machines that are able to pilot aircraft and land vehicles in very complex environments, and re-plan routes to handle unexpected events. These are much more like biological machines than clocks are, and not yet human level.

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I have been designing and writing computer systems for over 40 years. The biggest single system I have developed by myself has about 6MB of source code (substantially bigger than the bible). It is used most days by about 40 companies.
All of that computational complexity is far less than what is involved in a single cell (I trained as a biochemist). We have about 10,000 times as many cells in our body as there are people on the planet, and about 10% of them are neurons, specifically evolved for higher levels of computation.

It seems clear to me that we are not infinite, and we are so much more complex than we are consciously capable of appreciating that we are a good first order approximation to infinite (at least to our own perceptions). We are capable of infinite diversity.

I see no evidence for souls, and there is certainly a lot of spirit (software/ computational complexity) within us that seems to give rise to this experience of being we have (the qualia of life).

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I am sorry Phuoc Anh Phung. The explanation may make sense to you, but the evidence I have for the explanatory framework I am using does not align in any significant way with the explanatory framework you are using. For me what you wrote makes no sense.

How much time have you spent studying biochemistry or the mathematics and logic of evolution or cosmology, or geology, or physics?

There is a great deal of evidence out there.
We have very strong confidence about many of the major themes of our understanding of life and how it works. Other areas are still open to multiple interpretations, and the evidence we have doesn’t significantly favour one set of explanations over another as yet.

The idea of god as an explanatory framework has been taken out of most areas as simply not being required, the other explanatory frameworks explain all observed phenomena.

If you are interested in brain and mind, check out Ginger Campbell’s Brain Science Podcast, or Ray Kurzweil’s books.

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Hi Mark

That is a difficult question.

Certainly the fixed science of Newton is gone, and we now have science that is based on fundamental uncertainty at all levels, an eternal mystery in a sense. In some senses that takes science closer to some aspects of some religions.

However, there is a fundamental difference to most of religion as it occurs today, which is that religion is generally founded on revealed truths that must be accepted on faith, and science is based on scepticism – a willingness to question and test anything and everything.

There does seem to be a fundamental incompatibility between the two approaches.

Absolute certainty doesn’t exist for me, and I am very confident of quite a few things.

I can certainly meet with religion, I have many priests as friends. And there does seem to be a fundamental logical impasse that is hard to get past.

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IdeaPod – Science Babble

Ideapod – The cult of science-babble

Hi Deep Thinker

Yes and no.

I agree that we need to speak out about the charlatans, at all levels, most particularly in politics, academia and finance.

Psuedo-science is common.

Science is uncomfortable.
Science is unending questions, with no absolutely certain answers.

Science requires of people that they go beyond right and wrong.
Science requires that we accept uncertainty in all things.

Many people find this uncomfortable, and retreat to the certainty of simple binary distinctions – hence much of the psuedo-science that pervades. Mix that with the need to make money to survive, and the fundamental lack of integrity in our systems, and we have a world where deliberate untruths pervade all aspects of our society and its systems.

So I am a yes to exposing untruths and invalid assumptions, and the science babble charlatans are definitely in the realms of the lesser evils in my estimation.

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Hi Christine

Which “we” do you refer to?

I can imagine pretty much anything.

I have a range of possible scenarios from extermination, to savagery, to continued economic slavery, to abundance, security and indefinite life extension. All are possibilities. None are certainties.
And the latter is definitely my preferred option, and I am cautiously optimistic that it is the most probable outcome.

The emergence of AI seems to be the greatest threat. A “toddler” or “teenage” AI could do a lot of damage if it got complete freedom before getting to an awareness that its own long term interests are best served by keeping us around.

Life is a system of molecular level assemblers, and when we have molecular level assembly and disassembly under software control, it is a game changer. It can be done now, but energy and materials costs are very high. And that will improve.

Life extension is the big one.

Body regeneration would be next – climbing into a tank with my 80 year old body and going to sleep. The waking up 2 weeks later in my 20 year old body with all scar tissue and broken bones repaired (and maybe a few changes added in).

Space technology is probably next – taking mass from the far side of the moon and launching it into orbit with solar powered linear motors – where it is manufactured into large spinning cylinders creating artificial gravity within. Each capable of housing a million or so people in abundance. Earth ecosystems imported. We could vastly increase the surface area and energy available to us, which gives us time for our reproductive rates to slow to replacement.

All of these things are real possibilities within the next 20 years on current exponential trends.

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Hi Deep Thinker

My own case is interesting in the medical science domain.

When I was sent home “palliative care only” over 4 years ago, and told by the top melanoma expert in this country that “there was nothing known to medical science that could extend the probability of my survival” – which was given as 50% 5 months, and 2% 2 years, and I could be dead in 6 weeks, I initially accepted that.

Then I started my own investigation.
What I found is that there is substantial evidence that high dose oral Vitamin C can aide the body’s immune system in removing cancer in most cases. It became clear that this evidence had been hidden, obfuscated, and flat out lied about for the pecuniary gain of the medical establishment.
I have no doubt that millions of people have died of cancer who need not have, just so that companies and groups could continue to profit from the status quo.
For me, the evidence is beyond any reasonable doubt.

So I am extremely sceptical of anything that “medical science” claims.

Sure there are many great people in the medical system, and many breakthroughs have been made; and the system as a whole seems to be corrupt to its core. It is more about making money than it is about delivering health to people.

I am alive and well in spite of the medical system, not because of it.
I used my scepticism and my scientific training to do my own research.
Then I used discipline to apply the lessons of that research.

What I did wasn’t easy – and it worked.
I am here.

Had I believed the medical establishment I would have been dead.

So I am almost as sceptical of most things claimed by the medical establishment as I am of the nuff-nuffs.

I fundamentally distrust anything that has a profit motive involved in it. There are just too many corrupting incentives.

In response to science and understanding – the process is interesting.
All people start making simple binary distinctions. So children start with very black and white worlds, things are true or false, right or wrong. That just seems to be a logically necessary stage in the development of any complex awareness starting from a zero base.

So we start out making assumptions, about reality, and about our senses, and about knowledge – and then we go about living and experiencing and testing.

Along the way we learn that our original assumptions were both necessary, and necessarily too simplistic. So we refine our models.

Eventually, some of us get to the stage where we understand the reality of our biological existence in a reality is such that all of our sensory information is highly modified by our sensory and neural systems.
We learn that as conscious entities we have no direct access to reality, we have only the model of reality that our neural networks create.

It seems clear that the qualia of our existence are a software experience of a software model of a reality.

Our models of existence are created by a combination of evolved systems.

Heisenberg shows us that all measurements of reality contain fundamental uncertainties, and thus our models of reality can never be truly accurate.

Goedel proved logically that even logic is incomplete.

Uncertainty is a deep part of being.

We are amazingly complex entities, we we are as nothing in comparison to any infinity – infinities are like that – just vast beyond comprehension.

And Arthur C Clarke’s quote often comes to my mind “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

On current trends we are only two decades from being able to put all the computational and sensing capacity of today’s smart phones into a device smaller than a red blood cell.

We never get direct access to reality – we have shadows on the wall of the cave, and the wall is moving!

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Hi Mark

Yep – the Buddhists have a saying – that for the master, on a journey worth taking, for every step on the journey the destination gets two steps further away.

Another old saying is “the more we know, the more we know we don’t know”, to which I normally add “and the less certain we become about that which we were once most confident of”.

And there is an aspect to any infinite journey that where we are always looks like we are just stepping over the threshold, however many times we may have had that thought before ;)

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Hi Deep Thinker

I’m interested in your comment on this one issue.

There is a product that is at least 70% as effective as most drugs on the market, yet its use is illegal.

What do you think it might be?

It’s called the placebo effect.

In many cases it is over 95% as effective as the most expensive drugs, it is free, and it is illegal.

Doctors know it works, yet they are afraid to use it – if caught they lose their livelihoods.

Why do you think that is?

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It need not involve deception.
A doctor could simply say – studies have shown that this pill does help many people – give it a try and see if it works for you.


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Hi Deep Thinker

The reason that they give people inactive pills in trials, and don’t just compare groups taking pills with those not taking pills, is that it is well established that just believing something will work means it often does. This is the placebo effect. It is why we use double blind trials.

We are extremely complex entities.
Our beliefs, at both the conscious and subconscious levels are very important to how we function.
We are many millions of times more complex than we are consciously capable of appreciating.

So any mechanism that convinces us, at multiple levels, that we might get better, increases the probability that we will.

Knowing this, knowing that the power of belief is at least as strong as that of most drugs alone, is it not a responsibility of a healer to at least generate the belief, even if no known drug is available, in the full knowledge that the belief alone is far better than no belief?

Just being practical here.

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I agree with the first part.

In most cases, the effect from the drug is about the same as placebo. The drug is about as effective as belief alone. Thus drug plus belief gives about twice the effectiveness as nothing.

However, it is not true that placebo is illusion.
Placebo is real.

The doctor does not need to lie or to deceive in any way.

The doctor only needs to say something like, tests have shown that taking this pill can produce significant results in a significant number of people. We are not entirely sure how or why it works, and they have shown that it does work. We have nothing else for you at this time so take this and give it a try.

Surely failure to deliver the best treatment available is a major systemic failure, how else would you characterise it?

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Hi Christine

Our cultures and educational establishments are not generally incentivised to produce “open-minded, ever-curious, always questioning people”. They are much more focused on producing people who will work within an economic and political system that is strongly incentivised against the delivery of universal abundance of anything.

People who question might disrupt the existing systems.
The systems are incentivised to deliver acceptance without question.
How often did you get praised at school for objecting to a rule, or to a teacher’s instruction?

So yes – I am all for questioning, and it needs to be questioning within a context of responsible social and environmental interaction.

Similarly, I am all for testing, with the same “responsible” caveats.

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