Monday, August 24, 2015


So This Happened

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Pursuit of the Self

Truth be told, we as humans spend a vast preponderance of our time not knowing what we are. At the ultimate level, whether we pound our chest against the notion or not, we're animals. The human machine is a squishy contraption of myriad chemicals and the human mind, like the mind of so many hundreds of our ancestors is focused on the day to day. I'm not trying to figure out who I am. I'm trying to figure out where the power bill is coming from or how I'm going to find the extra few bucks on the side for the hobby budget. I'm trying to figure out the next steps to my education, or the most expedient way to relax, chemically speaking. Should I hang out with my friends and fuzzy the stuff I don't want to think about right now with ethanol or should I stay at home and play the game specifically engineered to keep giving me a dopamine high so that I keep giving the designer their monthly pound of flesh?

Ultimately though, the one question I can never answer effectively is who I am. I mean, I know my name. I know my address. I know my job title, my various screen-names, nicknames, terms of endearment or disenchantment, and all the rest.

But who am I, really? Who are any of us?

I'm a person. I believe that, because any other position seems absurd on the face. It's an assumption, because I don't know what it means to be a person. Certainly, all humans are persons, but are all persons human? What about persons that aren't human? I mean, I have a pretty good handle on the seperation between fiction and reality. I know when things look, and feel, fictional. But that doesn't make good characters like Ender Wiggin or Paul Muad'dib any less people in my eyes. They have emotions, at least in the sense they are given them by their writers - and as a writer, that process seems more natural than you would think. Sometimes, a character's reaction will surprise you, even though you wrote it.

Okay, so I don't know what a person is. But there are billions of other people, and the category you fall into doesn't determine who you are, or so they tell me. What is the essence of my identity? What makes me me?

THese are questions I think most people never answer. Maybe their just the result or focus of the curious interaction of manic-state mentalities and generally anxious behaviour. I can be defined in that way. I'm the mousy guy in the corner who's always worried his lastest mishap ruined the day - and those mishaps are fed by such concern.

But that's not me, at least it's not the essence of me. Characteristic, maybe. Just as momentary outbursts of anger are certainly characteristic, to the point that my nickname around the workplace has become a workplace colloquialism for such moments, regardless of who has them. We're a kitchen. Fires burn hot in our blood.

It's funny to me that I always identify as a cook. Even during my hiatus, I introduced myself to people as a cook first, and whatever I was second. Cooking is the one art form I feel I have genuine room to learn in. I mean, my writing can always improve, but I'm unaware of any new techniques left to explore.

You can't say that about cooking. There's something new under every rock. But that's digressing.

Am I a cook, though? Are we defined by our occupations? Or am I a writer because we are defined by our hobbies?

Most people with mentality, with my constant worrying that I am the subject of the latest vaguely-directed complaint or that in spite of all precaution that driver two cars back has every intention of mounting the curb and running me over, try to avoid labels. I spent a goodly portion of my childhood refusing labels. Eventually, I flatly refused to socialize, except with a very small, very select group of friends. I've never really changed the dynamic. I have small, insular groups of people with whom I feel comfortable, with whom I can show myself.

And yet, that self is always different. Maybe we don't have personalities, or those personalities are multi-faceted. Maybe time can change people faster than you'd think.

I'm not sure I'll ever really know who I am. I'm not sure I'll ever really know anything.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Auditor Time: Dr. Hartnett's 8 Reasons Why Evolution is Foolish

I have a fairly high tolerance for woo. As a matter of fact, I've even been known to peddle woo from time to time - longtime readers of the blog have likely witnessed my personal hybrid of strict-science and creationist cosmologies.

Every now and then, though, I've the unfortunate duty of laying the proverbial smack down when the woo hits a critical level.

Recently my place of business was frequented by such individuals as are Young Earth Creationists. This is not particularly unusual or even a cause for concern. You're allowed to be a creationist. You can even be a creationist aloud.

I don't, however, like being pamphleted, and I was, so today, I'm going to help out the locals by debunking this particular pamphlet. If you're interested in finding a hard copy, they're apparently produced by Creation Ministries International. It is accredited to an author, Dr. John G. Hartnett, who is credited as being a Physicist with his Ph. D. from the University of Western Australia.

I was actually somewhat pleased to find that UWA is actually an accredited university, which gives out actual degrees that are actually useful in judging the rigor of a person's academic instruction! I was not surprised, after reading his points, that his area of expertise has absolutely nothing to do with cosmology, astrophysics, or anything else relevant. His research is focused on the development of highly-stable microwave oscillators, and using such oscillators to test general and special relativity.

Without Further Ado:

 1. Where did the universe come from?

Man puts all his faith in cosmology to answer this fundamental question. But cosmology is not even science, it is just philosophy. This has meant that man has had to invent fudge gactors to make his theories work, such as the totally-just-mad-up stuff called Dark Energy, Dark Matter, and Inflation. There isn't a shred of any real laboratory evidence for any of them. Not any! They also claim the Cosmic Microwave Backround radiation as the afterglow of the Big Bang, thus supposed from coming from all directions. Yet it seems to be associated with the orbital plane of our solar system's planets!
Man doesn't put his faith in cosmology, unless you are implying that creationists are somehow not "mankind". Physical cosmology (as applied to religious cosmology) is an academically-rigorous and, indeed, scientific field of study. Dark Energy, Dark Matter, and Inflation are not fudge-factors. The inflation of the universe is observed and the thus-predicted impacts on particle physics have also been confirmed by experiment. Indeed, inflation as a hypothesis helped to plug up most of the holes in the original versions of the Big Bang Theory, and the fact that inflation is a studied phenomenon suggests that those resolved problems are resolved properly. Dark Matter is necessary as well - it's presence, see-it-with-your-eyes clarity or not - is beyond dispute unless humans are somehow deluded as to the functioning of gravity. While I'll grant you that the n-body problem in orbital mechanics is yet to be solved, the fact that every observation of stellar motion suggests the presence of Dark Matter is (forgive me) the sort of thing you'd have to wilfully ignore. Dark energy is a bit more nebulous, but it's only the most well-supported of a small handful of explanations as to why inflation is subject to acceleration.

As for the absolutely nonsensical statement of the CMB being inherently associated with the orbital plane of our solar system's planets, there's absolutely no reason to suggest that. The only reason I can conceive of for such a statement is the observer's failure to realize that the CMB was measured from the plane of the earth's orbit, and to suggest otherwise is to ignore the reality of the COBE experiment.

2. How did nothing explode?

According to the Big Bang story first there was 'nothing' and it exploded! When I say 'nothing', I mean not even vacuum, not even matter, no energy, no space, no time, not anything. Nothing!
According to Stephen Hawking, the question of the origin of the universe does not even exist. He claims it began in every way imaginable and maybe even some that aren't. He asks, why are we here? He simply says that the Universe selects those histories and lead to these conditions. That is, the Universe made itself - there was no Creator. And that just makes no sense at all.
Okay, there are actually two very difficult concepts here, but the basic gist of the argument is that Nothing can't explode. This would be a major coup de grace, and no scientist would ever have accepted Big Bang as a theory with such an obvious flaw, right? Naturally!

... As you might expect, that's not what Big Bang Theory postulates. If you knew what the Big Bang Theory actually suggested, the question would be "How did everything explode?". That's an interesting problem, and one that's hardly resolved in modern physics. Singularity is not nothing. The entire contents of the universe existing as a single point in space and then expanding to suit is everyting exploding, not nothing exploding. It's often like people seem to believe that the big bang involves someone pushing down on a cartoon plunger to set off the blasting cap.

As to the claims about what Stephen Hawking says, I'm not going to address them, except to say that the citation provided is pulled entirely from the proper context and anyone can read that paper and see that. As far as "no creator" not making any sense goes... that's a personal judgement call, and one I'm not entitled to make. But, in the same way that I don't believe you need a rain god to come along and irrigate your crops, or a volcano god to make the volcano explode, I believe that physics is sufficient to describe the behaviour of the universe on a grand scale as much as the small scale.

3. How did Stars and Galaxies Form?

There is no known law of nature (physics) that allows stars to form originally from clouds of gas, which supposedly came from the Big Bang. Fundamental physics must be violate or one must invent unknown stuff - Dark Matter - with the right properties to get stars to form naturalistically. Without it, it just can't happen.
He adds, in a footnote:
It has been proposed that an exploding star can compress a gas cloud, but that hardly qualifies as an explanation for the origin of stars in the first place.
Wrong! There is a very, very well understood mechanic for stellar formation via the collapse of gas clouds is achieved! The math is as sturdy as the calculations that support Newton's Laws of Motion. The masses required are very easily calculable and the process has been observed from every stage! The entire matter is simply a question of hydrostatic equilibrium - balancing the kinetic energy of the pressure of the gas off of the gravitational energy of the star itself. You don't even need Dark Matter to account for this... and as far as I know, nobody seriously suggests Dark Matter solves this particular problem.

4. How Come All Rocks Dated with Carbon-14 Give Absolute Ages less than 56,000 years?

I'm not going to repeat the individual claims of this section because, for once, the main claim actually is the question and the answer is very simple: that's because Carbon-14 Dating doesn't work for anything that old.

For the un-initiated, Carbon-14 Dating works by measuring the relative proportion of Carbon-14 atoms to other Carbon isotopes in a sample. This can be used as a dating method because of two important details: Carbon-14 is a radioactive isotope with a well-known decay rate; and the natural ambient proportion of Carbon-14 is well-understood.

By comparing how much Carbon-14 is left in a sample, versus how much there should have been, you can arrive at a reasonable approximation of the age of the sample. However, there's an upper bound for this - after a while, you'll no longer be able to measure the amount of Carbon-14 left in a sample because it will be entirely too small, if it's still present at all.

For Carbon-14, the half-life is 5,730 years, plus-or-minus 40. That means to measure a sample of any kind, your resolution is annoyingly broad. Carbon-14 doesn't work on particularly recent or particularly ancient samples. We use other isotope dating measurements for that.

At the stated ages, approximately ten half-lives have emerged. If the original sample had been 100% Carbon-14, which would be remarkable, it is now less than one-twentieth of a percent of Carbon-14. You're getting these unusually low ages because you're reaching the upper bound of ages that Carbon-14 can be used to measure.

5. How do we determine the absolute age of a fossil?

Evolutionary stories tell us that the millions of fossils in the sedimentary layers found all over the EArth give dates in line with microbes evolving into man over the past 3 billion years. But it is impossible to determine the absolute age of any fossil. It must be dated by the sidemnts it is found in. And how are the sedimentary layers dated? By the fossils found in them - circular reasoning! And even when they use radioactive minerals (in associated volcanic material) to date sediments, they must make untestable assumptions. Even so, different methods commonly disagree with each other.

I'll grant you this is fuzzy if you're not an expert in archaeology - I certainly am not. However, this is objectively wrong. Fossil presence can be used to associate sedementary layers and known sedimentary layers can be used as a way to date what's in them, but the radiometric dating you gloss over at the end of the graph is reliable. The measurements disagree with each other... within the limits of statistical allowance, which I'm sure you're familiar with, being as you are involved in the development of high-precision instruments.

At this point, I'm more convinced that the author simply approved the copy, rather than writing it himself.

There are three further points: Why hasn't evolution been observed? (it has), How does specific coded information in DNA arise by chance? (it doesn't), and How did life arise from non-living chemicals by random chance? (Slowly, but other than that your guess is as good as mine.). They aren't even particularly worth addressing because, like the rest of this screed, they are predicated on an inability to look up even basic scientific information, or question what is being told to you by the pretty, shiny paper.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Service, Please!

If I can wax poetic for a moment, there's a voice in my head. It's me, of course - what else would it be doing there? - but not the me-that-is. It's a me-that-was, or a me-that-might-have-been. The version of myself that could comfortably dwell behind a desk, viewing the world through panes of glass for the rest of his life. He doesn't understand me-that-is.

The accountant runs his audits. He dwells on questions of worth, demanding to know where I get the values I ascribe to things. Half-marvelling at the prices I'll pay for the given reward.

He doesn't understand. He can't understand, because he's never lived. A million lives, perhaps. He lives in his own way - vicariously through the voices inhis head, the voices he crafts. Those voices never talk back, never tell harsh truths. He will not grow - except sideways.

I live. Every day I jump headlong into the fire and every day I crawl back out. Some days, I am invigorated. Those days I breathe deep and the fire draws into my lungs. It suffuses me, powers me. The sparks kindle deeper, inner fires. That is the prize. There is nothing tangible. A living may be earned a hundred ways, but there is no drug that can match the burning of kindled passions.

Some days, I crawl back out broken and bruised, my shell cracking under the heat.The fire makes fools of us. It is our workhorse, but also our undoing. Most never learn to breathe it. Those that can simply burn less than others. These days, I come home and let the ash form weak ink at the bottom of my shower and I just hope that soap is salve enough to fill the cracks. Bruised pride heals, maybe. But you don't care if it would, because eventually the burning will outpace the burns and you won't have to answer that question.

But whether I burn or get burned, I live. I walk among the flames and find peace, or don't. It is a strange idea, to turn to the voices outside your head to do your thinking, but in it, there is a certain reward. You pay the price of liberty and earn instead leadership. It's liberating, not to think. To do without thinking contains a certain satori, that zen-high which both of me chase.

That, it turns out, is all we have in common. We have our own prices. Burns and blood and ink-stained fingers.

I, alone, grow. Even the me-that-would-be knows that he had no chance of becoming me-that-is without the fire.

Blisters will callous. Short fuses burn away. Order up.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Human Machine and the Neglect Cycle

My innards look something like this.
When I was writing my earlier inexpert articles on nutrition, I frequently likened the human body to a machine, which isn't entirely inaccurate. While there are some differences, the basic rules of mechanics apply, particularly when it comes to fuel and maintainance.

Humans suffer any of a broad variety of physical and mental breakdowns over time, from acute problems to more chronic ones. Today's bad posture is tonight and tomorrow's back problems, bad shoulders, and overall "age-brokenness". Today's bad diet could very well be tomorrow's Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

I find myself particularly aware of when I am and am not fatigued, partly because the job demands a fairly reliable high-energy, and partly because fatigue can also be a symptom of my own idiosyncratic chemical imbalances.

Recently, I went through changes in my life that dramatically impacted my fatigue level. I reduced my overall activity level from five-times-daily full-hour aerobic activity (not counting for the anerobic exercises of being employed) down to a piteous ten minutes. At the same time, I rather dramatically (and foolishly) reduced my caloric intake by a good 20% and went off of caffine cold-turkey, down from a habit of double-dosing on energy drinks first thing in the morning.

The resultant month-long experiment has been a tremendous burden and I found myself having serious doubts about what I was doing - in all aspects. Being literally too tired to care has its definite disadvantages.

I'm feeling better now. To some degree I think my body has adjusted, but it shouldn't have had to. I consume far less than I should calorically, even at my reduced activity level. The nutrient balance is so far out of whack I often wonder how it's possible I function at all. I became severely ill for about a week, and in one 24-hour stretch I slept for about 18 of them.

I'm more or less back to normal now - mostly because I've let softer forms of caffeine back into my life and consume an unabashed quantity of empty sugar calories - but the continuation of the easy fatigue and the other help problems has inspired me to write about patterns of neglect.

We, that is to say humans who are in a position to be healthy and yet aren't, habitually neglect ourselves.  For me, as with all other behaviours, this is a somewhat cyclic process, though there are certainly some aspects of health I neglect more than others, and on the whole I think the neglect probably wins out over the otherwise. I'm a socially-anxious homebody who prefers the company of books and pixels over the company of other noisy humans (when I'm not the society-starved extrovert who spends and spends and spends just to keep my friends company for a few hours), after all.

Then periodically, something comes along and causes us to give a damn. We take a stab at resetting our diets onto healthy patterns, maybe go for a walk, run, or cycle now and again. Take up a sport. Try freakin' yoga. Whatever.

Then, as our focus wains and we realize superhero training montages are only possible in the movies, we lose our interest in our latest health initiatives and go back to assaulting our bodies with casual neglect.

I think, to change that, you'd need to make a few changes:

  • Bad Diet Habits are Good Diet Habits-in-Waiting. Every craving has a healthier alternative, and the example I usually use for that is that a furious craving for fruity candy is almost always slain by fruits. It's easier mentally to think of diet adjustments less in terms of what you're trying not to do, and more in terms of what you are doing.
  • Ditto for Exercise. You aren't a couch potato. You're training for your sport/activity of choice. I think humans in general and people in my mindset in particular have a fear or aversion to being seen as novices in a particular craft, which is odd, because I've always considered the position of the novice very endearing and the pursuit of expertise a noble effort - one of the most human drives, in fact.
  • Game it. It bears repeating that humans like to win at things. That's why we think of physical activity and sport as synonyms - they often are. So keep score. Chart your times, or your reps, or which targets in your nutritional system of choice you hit. (N.B.: A lot of different nutritional guides have been published by numerous countries that are very interesting in their design. As with everything the truth is in the results, but many of these alternatives are worthy of pursuit if you, like me, can't actually be bothered tracking each individual neutrient). You'll then have a useful tool to gauge your progress toward goals, which is also important.