Monday, November 7, 2016
Monday, April 4, 2016
I think there’s an overall trend to the way people come to an atheist conclusion here in the West. From my own experiences and those I’ve talked about the subject with in detail , it seems that there are almost distinct stages people go through in their philosophical evolution toward the belief that there is no god.
Let’s face it, many of us were raised in Christian (or at least nominally Christian) households. We may not have spoken about it much, but when Census rolled around, we knew our parents would tick the little box that said ‘Catholic’, or ‘Protestant’ or ‘Church of England’ or a variation thereof. Some of us might even have been dragged to church on the two days per year our family thought it best to attend, Christmas and Easter.
I grew up in an environment that was a little more focused on religion, the Mormon religion to be exact. Weekly church going was strongly encouraged and the indoctrination was powerful. Despite, or maybe because of this, I found myself doubting the entire existence of god by the age of seven. It was a little later that I came to the definite conclusion that the world was without a god, this delay mostly due to the fact that we were taught in Sunday school that any doubts were the devil looking over our shoulder and planting evil seeds into our minds.
But anyway, below is a rough guide to what I feel are some distinct stages in the evolution of our non belief in god. Take them or leave them, just my thoughts.
The unthinking (or Following Mummy and Daddy) stage – this occurs when our thoughts and identity are yet to fully coalesce, we may not have formed any opinion religious or philosophical at all at this stage, or we might mimic those opinions held by our elders. There has been no questioning, no delving into the details. Needless to say we are quite young at this time.
The doubting stage - So how is this god everywhere at once, and how did he create us all and just how was he ALWAYS here? How does he know who to punish for eternity and who to let into heaven, and why? We start to question what we have held as written in stone, often we have feelings of guilt that accompany this doubt, as if we are doing something wrong, which we may believe is true.
The realisation – this is often a short stage in between doubting and rebellion. We often keep our realisation a secret, maybe we think we’ll get into all kinds of trouble with our family. Maybe if we say it out loud we feel we’ll be damned to the hell the child part of us till half believes in. This phase can often be liberating, or it can be terrifying.
The rebellion – This is where we openly start to broadcast our views. Many new atheists will tell anyone they get the chance to that they do not believe in a god, they’ll confront their parents, refuse to go to church or do any religious activities (which might include Christmas). This is where their own personal philosophy starts to develop. It’s built upon by their thoughts on the subject, what they read about it and who they talk to. Leaving the ‘philosophical nest’ so to speak is often a very complicated and emotional undertaking. There are most likely still feelings toward the old set of thinking, conscious or unconscious, and a backlash often occurs against the religion they have left behind. We see it here in the west as the ‘anti christian’ mindset, which makes sense as the dominant religion currently is Christianity. It's important to keep in mind the culture the individual is coming from.
Many people who reach this stage are young teenagers at a vulnerable time in their lives and still dependent financially and emotionally on their parents. There can be harsh ramifications for such an ideological rebellion. In some parts of the world, admitting atheism to friends and family can have serious ramifications including social ostracism, being forced out of the family home and even death. There are fierce debates over whether a teen's newfound beliefs should be made public in environments such as a strictly religious family or community.
Residual Christian backlash – At this stage we are more comfortable in our thoughts and beliefs now, and less likely to want to continually confront people with them. Yet many of us retain our anti-past backlash to this stage, often lasting for years, maybe decades.
Belief security and acceptance of other ways of thinking - I think this stage is where we truly become secure in our own beliefs. We have thought deep and long about the god subject and have come to terms with the religious structure of our upbringing, our culture, or both. We understand that the world is in a state of cultural evolution and our past is mired heavily in religion.
I think also that this is where we let go of the last of our negative feelings toward religion that are soley based on our experiences in our formative years. We can acknowledge that, although we are now atheists, religion has most likely had a profound effect on the way we have developed through direct family contact or through our society’s structure, regulations and beliefs. We can discuss freely our own beliefs with the understanding that for some, a religious belief holds practical and fundamental value in staving off the fear of oblivion, providing a platform for contemplating the deeper meaning and philosophy of life and giving some humans a deeper connection to each other and the universe.
We should continue the questioning of long held traditions, especially those that harm or restrict others for no logical reason. The world will always need humans who will question and never blindly accept. We must also understand that in some cases, such as religion, we may never know who is 'right' and who is 'wrong'. There is no mathematical proof for or against the existence of a divine creator and there probably never will be.
We need to look at our actions and beliefs through the prism of societal evolution. What is best for humans as a whole?
Our belief that this existence is all there is makes it all the more poignant and valuable. We can quite easily cultivate an understanding of how this might create fear in the average individual. Can we also cultivate an understanding and acceptance of the comfort a religious belief might bring?
For now, our civilisation contains many individuals who hold religion as a comfort. I do not believe this will be so in the future. We must look toward that future with compassion for the past and the humans stuck in the wave of change in between.
Saturday, March 19, 2016
We are born, we learn and evolve into adult humans til around the age of 18-20, then we have approximately 40-50 years before age starts to make its claim on us. We often spend the last decade or so of our lives in less than ideal physical and mental conditions, before finally succumbing to the inevitable mortality suffered by all known living creatures.
To me this lifespan seems like such an inadequate amount of time for something so complex as the human mind to exist and evolve to its potential in. I'd hazard a guess and say it's probably the reason behind some of our shortcomings as individuals and as a species. What could motivate a human individual in terms of hundreds or even thousands of years if our lifespans are measured in mere decades? Could you imagine the difference it would make to our stewardship of the planet if those that made the decisions regarding long term projects were around to reap the consequences of them? Would we evolve into more thoughtful, compassionate beings if, after decades of cramming as much personal experience into our first 50-100 years of our adulthood, we calmed down and 'grew up' so to speak?
I've thought long and hard about this topic, it saddens me that I will most likely not get to do all the things I want to do in life, considering some projects are decades long, or outside our current technological capacity.
Given that a mere 50-70 years of fully functioning adulthood is inadequate, how much time would be enough? 200 years? 500? A thousand? Just how far has the evolution of our brains out paced our bodies?
I hypothesise that most humans would not want to go on living for an infinite number of years and would, at some point, choose to terminate their life experience. Would there be a predictable point in a lifespan at which most people would reach this stage, with a few outliers rounding out the bell curve either side of this age? How would a mind that evolved with a short terminal lifespan deal with the concept and the reality of a hugely elongated and possibly indefinite span of existence?
There is a science fiction trilogy close to my heart that deals with this very topic. It's called The Mars Trilogy, written by Kim Stanley Robinson. The story spans three novels (and a compilation of short stories set in the same universe) and includes the same characters over a thousand year time span. It's a captivating take on how we humans would adapt to an existence spanning millennia rather than decades. I was fascinated by the interplay between the main characters of 'The 100', the first explorers and the first generation to experience the extended lifespan. How would our close relationships hold up and evolve over such a time frame? How would interactions between generations differ? I highly recommend the Mars Trilogy to anyone interested in exploring possible scenarios involved in living longer, and also because it a fantastic read.
With so many new technologies seemingly on the cusp of making a tangible difference in how long we live, discussion on this issue begins to take on a practical leaning. Who will be the first 'immortal' generation?
Another (non fiction) book that captured my imagination on this very topic was a book by Damien Broderick called The Last Mortal Generation: How Science Will Alter Our Lives in the 21st Century. Published in 2000, life extending technology has come a long way since then, however it still captures the spirit of the many issues we will be facing, some exciting, some daunting. What amazing possibilities the future holds for us!
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Should you risk looking like a twat and employing 'big words' within everyday context? This was something I was regularly accused of doing in my high school days in the country. I regret nothing.
If such thought transfer were possible, we could do away with the clumsy art of verbalisation, but right now this sort of communication is relegated to science fiction stories and the distant future. For the foreseeable future we are saddled with our inefficient, linear and snail paced wind-bagging, and although we might be tempted to slump into a despairing heap, or fall back to grunting and clubbing each other with branches, we can at least pack more of a meaningful verbal punch with every word we utter. This is where increasing our working vocabulary comes into play.
Weltschmerz (German) - the anguish experienced by someone who knows that physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind.
Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan) - a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other will offer something they both desire but are unwilling to suggest or offer themselves.
Mencolek (Indonesian) - when someone taps someone else on the opposite shoulder to fool them.
Wab-sabi (Japanese) - a world view which finds the beauty in imperfection, impermanence and incompleteness.
Language defines us to a large extent, when Professor Henry Higgins took Eliza Doolittle under his wing in a project to pass her off as a duchess for a bet in Pygmalion (or My Fair Lady for the musical lovers), he was not to realise that more than just Eliza's vocabulary was to change. In expanding her vocabulary, he allowed her to both understand more of her own mind and the minds of others, and to express herself far better in her communication. Eliza was fundamentally altered with this simple feedback between the changed individual, her environment and those she interacts with.
We can become our own Henry Higgins and develop a larger arsenal of words to employ in order to tackle and convey the immense complexity located within our own minds.
Image creator: Unknonwn.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Every geek interested in technological evolution knows about it. The singularity is the point where technological innovation progresses at such lightening speed we see the appearance of artificial intelligence that has surpassed the level of human intelligence. This point heralds a time when there’s no longer any chance of predicting the future with any degree of accuracy, and while I’m interested in the vast array of changes that may come about due to this wild evolution, one particular point fascinates me and takes up a lot of my thinking time... the very emergence of these sentient machines and programs.
Thursday, January 30, 2014
'Knowledge is power...'
Thursday, January 23, 2014
The Voyage of Voyager: Our Machines Out There In Space
At certain moments I find myself contemplating Voyager 1's lonely flight out from the safe cradle of our solar system and into the unknown of interstellar space. Voyager 1 is currently the furtherest human made object from our home planet, rocketing at an astounding speed of over 60,000 kilometres per hour toward the stars. Also astoundingly, we are still receiving meaningful communication from it, though the vast distances of space and our current methods of communication make for a very slow conversation. It is conceivable that one day, travellers of non-terrestrial origin will pick up its inert form, haul it into their space ship and and inspect this piece of human space exploration history.
Back in the late 1970s when the voyager spacecrafts were being assembled, a record made of gold containing information on our planet and our species was placed into both Voyagers for just such an occasion. It comforts me that in the cold, mechanical process of space exploration, we as humans took the time to place such objects, a telling action on our part, and revealing of the romantic and aspiring notions we have of the greatest frontier we have ever encountered. How long and how far Voyager will hurtle into this frontier we cannot know, but space is the ultimate preserver of machines and its journey could be longer than our own.
So what about the machines we have left on celestial bodies in our solar system, those lost and lonely machines stranded on alien worlds? How long will they stand alone? Will they survive long enough to become historical monuments once we leave our earthly cradle and begin to explore the heavens?
The Apollo landings left a host of objects that could be considered of historical significance. The first (and still so far the only) landings of humans on another celestial body means that not only are there objects such as flags, buggies, and scientific equipment, there are also footprints. The moon has no atmosphere, is geologically dead, and is only rarely impacted by anything of notable size. The moon is the perfect museum for preserving space exploration artefacts. Something as fragile as Neil Armstrong's first footprints in the fine Lunar regolith could last for thousands of years.
Up next in the historical timeline of space exploration is the Russian Venera series spacecraft, baking away on the surface of Venus. The first photos the craft (Venera 9 in 1975) took of itself and the Venusian landscape captured the imagination of the public and were the first photos from the surface of an actual planet other than Earth.
Considering the average temperature of Venus is over 450 degrees Celsius, the atmospheric pressure is a crushing 92 times that of Earth and the landscape is regularly renewed by volcanic activity, it's likely the Venera space crafts are no longer with us, eroded away or buried and melted under lava flows in this hellish landscape.
One of the darlings of the planetary family, Mars has had a succession of mechanical explorers sent to its surface to discover its secrets. In regards to long term preservation, human machines on Mars have in their favour the relatively thin Martian atmosphere, slower rate of oxidisation, and low temperatures. Against them they have the wild and abrasive Martian dust storms, with winds reaching speeds of almost 500 km per hour in some regions. And while Mars is relatively cold, the temperature differentials would contribute to metal fatigue and cracking. If at the end of its working life a robotic explorer rested in a relatively sheltered area, it may escape the worst ravages of the storms and be preserved for hundreds of years. In any case, it would definitely be faring better than its poor Venusian counterparts.
The largest moon of Saturn, Titan has long held the fascination of exobiologists with the enticing possibility of life on its cold but active and chemically rich surface. In 2005 the Huygens probe landed on Titan, snapping pictures of a surface covered in rocks and pebbles made of water ice and layered in hydrocarbon snow. Once again cool temperatures would contribute to the longevity of this probe against the ravages of time, but the hydrocarbon rich atmosphere and weather activity would mean that erosion, both chemical physical, would be a factor. Still better than Venus...
That's it for the current list of our industrious little machines that have beavered (or are still beavering) away on our behalf on the surface of our fellow terrestrial bodies. But while we are on the subject of humankind's interesting space junk, whatever happened to Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite which was launched by the Russians in 1957, scaring the bejesus out of honest, god fearing westerners with its ominous commie beeping, and starting the whole space race that brought us to where we are now? Turns out it lasted about three months in orbit before re-entering the Earth's atmosphere and burning to a total crisp. So much for the grandaddy of all of the space machines being preserved for posterity.