The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Saturday, March 26, 2016
Philosophy ... Science ...

In my recent blog essay on “Meaning and the Universe“, I concluded that the ultimate meaning of the Universe and the ultimate reason why it exists is “relationship”. I didn’t elaborate on precisely what I meant by “relationship”, or why I thought that it might be the ultimate and most fundamental character of the Universe. My friend Mary wrote a response asking that I elaborate on this. She said that she generally favors the idea and noted that most scientists don’t seem particularly interested in pondering the nature of relationship within the workings of the physical world. Mary noted perhaps one exception, the 20th Century Jesuit biologist and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Bottom line, Mary asked for “further elaboration of [my] tho’t on this topic”.

OK, Mary, thanks for asking!! I can’t say that I’ve fully thought this out and that I am ready to write and defend a thesis on it. But your question did inspire me to do some more work on what has basically been just a rough, intuitive notion rattling around in the back of my head, something that seems to have developed over time from the various readings and study efforts that I have invested into scientific and philosophic topics. Footnote, I’m going to try to discuss “relationship” without mentioning the word “love”, even though there is a strong and obvious link between the two. Many people equate love and relationship, and “love makes the world go round”, so doesn’t that prove it? Well, maybe it does in one sense, but I’d like to take a more generalized, abstracted and careful look at the notion of relationship and how it relates to “being, in general”. But by the same token, I don’t want to get bogged down in the swamp of relational ontology and Martin Heidegger’s turgid discussions of “being” and “dasein”.

Actually, I can’t pin the “relationship notion” on any one topic or any particular set of facts or ideas from science. Roughly speaking, it seems to be the one thing that survives after applying the acid wash of critical philosophical reasoning and empirical scientific study to the “longings within” that we conscious creatures often have, longings for meaning and purpose in an existential sense. I.e., it seems to me to be the one thing that survives after you apply the standard atheist/positivist toolkit to debunk religious miracles, historical myths regarding  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:47 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, March 20, 2016
Philosophy ... Science ... Spirituality ...

Long, long ago, humans trying to find their meaning in the greater order of things could take comfort in the Church-approved notion that the earth was the center of the cosmos. Copernicus and Galileo finally saw through that bit of wishful thinking, but for a few more centuries, the universe still seemed like a relatively cozy place. Only around 80 or 90 years ago did cosmologists figure out that the universe was vastly larger than anything we had previously imagined. The thousands of stars visible in the night sky turned out to only be a fraction of those in our Milky Way galaxy, and our Milky Way turned out to be but one of over one hundred-billion galaxies. And yet, at the same time, the universe turned out to be incredibly empty. All of the amazing things like stars and planets and galaxies were separated by huge, incomprehensible distances.

Our mythological sense of time turned out to be way off the mark too. The Bible deals in hundreds and thousands of years, but the universe turns out to be around 14 billion years old. Human-kind, and even the most elementary forms of life on earth, have occupied but a tiny fraction of that.

So, does the vastness of the cosmos prove that humans are basically meaningless on a universal scale, and that universe is obviously absent of an involved, intelligent and caring creator?

Many modern cosmologists embrace or are generally sympathetic with this viewpoint. For instance, physicist Steven Weinberg  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:11 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Nature ... Philosophy ... Photo ...

Here is some trailside philosophy that I came across yesterday (Memorial Day) during a hike along the Long Path in Harriman State Park (NY). If I had a marker or a paintbrush, I would have put an addendum below this thought. One word . . . “yet”. Actually, ZXZ’s thought is rather profound . . . i.e., the reality of ourselves is in our stories, in our journeys, in movement. We do not exist as something still, something static, as say a glass of water or a rock can. Without movement, without life, we are just carbon-based flesh with a few other chemicals thrown in. If we really “are”, then we’re here, not there . . . not yet. But like that caterpillar on the tree, we’re moving towards “there”, and in that movement, in that journey, we take on our identities and our reality.

The second pic shows some guys beating the heat yesterday at Lake Skannatati. We do stuff like jumping into lakes on hot afternoons. That’s why we’re here, that’s why we are.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:56 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, February 16, 2015
Philosophy ... Religion ...

I was listening to the local NPR station one evening and they were playing an interview with the author of a children’s book called “Tuck Everlasting”. The author’s name is Natalie Babbitt, and the book tells a story about a family (the Tucks) living way out in the middle of some forest. In their travels, they came across a spring of water one day, and took a few drinks from it. It turned out that this particular springwater has the power to make you immortal. They came across the spring a long, long time ago, and by all rights they should all be dead by the time of the story. But they (and their horse, which also took a few sips) hadn’t aged a day. And it don’t look like they are going to.

In the story, a little girl from a local village decides one day to take a hike in the woods, and happens across the same spring. She’s thirsty and is about to drink up, when someone in the Tuck family comes across her and yells out “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” He runs toward her and leaps and tackles her in slo-mo, just as she raises her cupped hands to her lips. Well, maybe not (this book was written in 1975, before everything had to be a violent action-adventure in the Terminator style); but they still dissuaded her from taking that fateful sip.

There’s a lot more to the plot, but the leitmotif of Tuck Everlasting is about whether anyone should really want to live forever. Babbitt doesn’t think so, and thus  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:33 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
◊  God 2.0
Philosophy ... Religion ... Spirituality ...

I’ve talked here before about the “New Atheism” movement, a rather interesting social development over the past decade or so. Citing progress in particle physics and cosmology in crafting a “theory of everything” (based on vacuum energy, superstring/M-theory, inflationary cosmology, and the resultant multi-verse process), along with continuing scientific and philosophical work on the deep nature of human consciousness, a handful of philosophers and scientists have propounded a new synthesis by which science explains it all; there is no further need to appeal to ideas about “God” or any other mysterious phenomenon or force in the universe. Perhaps the most famous proponents of this movement are philosopher Daniel Dennett and biologist Richard Dawkins. But many people say there are “four horsemen” of this new view: Dennett, Dawkins, the now deceased writer Christopher Hitchens, and neuroscientist Sam Harris. Their overall synthesis boils down to a mix of 1.) physical monist philosophy, in which all things are either known or will eventually be known through empirical science and rational analysis; and 2.) secular humanism, the notion that human beings are capable of being ethical and moral without religion or a God.

I just put the New Atheism’s ideas in a positive fashion, i.e. emphasizing what they appear to be arguing FOR. But they are probably better defined by what they argue AGAINST: i.e., classical theistic, God-based religions. According to Wikipedia, the New Atheists believe that religion should not simply be tolerated as an alternate if inferior point of view, but should be aggressively countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises. The famous biologist E.O. Wilson recently said that “the best thing we could possibly do would be to diminish, to the point of eliminating, religious faiths.”

The New Atheism thus takes the secular humanist agenda to the next level, by asserting that humanity will achieve the highest levels of humanism and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:45 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, January 16, 2015
Philosophy ... Religion ...

I read an interesting article on the RealClearReligion web site entitled “The Decline of Philosophy“. Hmmm, so someone else thinks that philosophy today ain’t what it used to be. I am presently listening to a CD course from the Teaching Company on philosophical metaphysics, and I too have some reservations about what modern philosophy is concerning itself with. The course is taught by Dr. David K. Johnson, a young philosophy professor at Kings College in Pennsylvania. Professor Johnson goes out of his way to make ontology relevant to the masses, and specializes in integrating pop cultural into his lectures, especially movies (he also repeatedly mentions his love for the sweet potato fries at Johnny Rocket’s).

And yet, so much of Dr. Johnson’s discussion and argument just seem irrelevant to me (despite my penchant for “deeper meanings” to things). Johnson’s lectures mostly boil down to a word games and battles between philosophers as to how cleverly they can apply the rules of logic. I get the impression from Johnson that he and his fellow modern philosophers certainly are very clever, but they don’t convey much that gives a better understanding of our selves, our lives and the environment and universe around us. Johnson has a very excitable lecturing style, and his enthusiasm almost bubbles over whenever he leaves us in a tangle of contradictory propositions and unanswerable questions. Ummmm . . . whatever happened to the old Greek philosophical notion that philosophy is to help us understand deeper truths? If Johnson’s course is any indication, philosophers today seem to be saying “there is no truth”.

The RCR article was written by a Catholic priest named Robert Barron (who is President of Mundelein Seminary near Chicago). Fr. Barron hasn’t taken notice of David Johnson, but he does open up his article by zeroing in on Dr. Daniel Dennett, who is one of the more outspoken proponents of “the new Atheism“. Barron believes that Dennett  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:21 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Philosophy ... Science ... Society ...

Back in 2008, I got interested in the idea of “Boltzmann Brains” after reading an article about them in the NY Times. That article explained the concept and examined the philosophic implications, but really didn’t get down to the political nitty-gritty behind it all. Boltzmann Brains turn out to be a battlefield of hubris, a battle between smart people who become really dumb about just how smart they really are. This is something that has gone on since the days of the ancient Greeks, when the first “intellectuals” (as we think of them) came on the scene and fell in love with the exquisite fabric of thought that they wove about themselves and their followers.

I wrote a blog about Boltzmann Brains after reading that article, a compendium of my own rambling thoughts and reflections on the subject. I was trying to find reasons why the idea (and it’s only an idea, there is no evidence whatsoever of even one “Boltzmann Brain” floating out in space) means anything at all. But only recently did I discover why Boltzmanns Brains are truly relevant — and it’s not because of the subtle ontological and epistemological ramifications that Dennis Overbye of the Times and I focused on.

Boltzmanns Brains are something more than an interesting intellectual theory based on the implications of modern science and cosmology; they are “mortar shells” in an ongoing battle  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:16 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, February 1, 2014
Philosophy ... Science ... Spirituality ... Zen ...

 
Despite being distracted by the frustrating computer set-up problems discussed in my last post, I have tried to keep up with science news, especially from the scientists and philosophers who ponder the nature of the universe and the nature of human consciousness. Over the past few years the biggest concept in consciousness studies has been Gulio Tononi’s “highly cross-integrated information” theory of consciousness; but now a new theory seems to be emerging, one that possibly builds on Tononi’s insights. The latest buzz revolves around cosmologist Max Tegmark and his “state of matter” theory of consciousness. I.e., that the brain hosting consciousness is in a unique and identifiable “state” , comparable in some ways to the various states of water, i.e. steam, liquid and ice. (Recall that over the past 60 or 70 years, quantum physics researchers have found that matter is not bound to the classic three states of gas, liquid and solid; a whole range of exotic matter states have been discovered, even though most of them exist only under extreme conditions for short periods; so why not a unique “conscious state” for brain neurons and the chemicals and electrical charges that zap around in them.)

As with Tononi, this is more of a way to view things, a means of approaching the problem, and not a mathematically formalized theorem; although it could lead to equations and formal notions that help describe and distinguish the brain when in a conscious state. And thus keep researchers and PhD candidates busy with experiments and doctoral theses, as has happened with Tononi’s theories.

Despite these clever scientific paradigms, which help specify what the characteristics are of a brain that is hosting a conscious self-awareness, they still don’t pin down just what the actual experience of  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:12 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Philosophy ... Religion ... Science ...

Physics is really pushing the boundaries these days, regarding how we understand what reality is “really like”. It seems increasingly possible that reality is not entirely like what we think it is, from our day-to-day experiences as human animals roaming the planet earth. First, there’s the quantum world and all its Alice in Wonderland weirdness. Then there is Einstein’s relativity, with all its time-space distortions and gravity warps. Today there is even more weirdness in the offing, questioning the existence of space and time itself. Perhaps what we thought were the minute and fundamental building blocks of our world aren’t really real at all. Relativity and quantum theory made time, space and sub-atomic particles fuzzy or rubbery, and new ideas melt them even further.

E.g., a recent experiment hints that time, space, and the motion of things within them may just be an “internal illusion”. Quantum entanglement may be responsible for a holographic process that is grounded in pure information. From the outside of this entangled system, the overall bundle would appear to be unchanging; no time, no motion through space, nothing changing, everything still. From the inside, when you are entangled in the system, the hologram of space, time, particles and motion becomes real, and you experience a world of things moving, and space and time for them to move in. Pretty weird. It’s the holographic relationship between all the information that is real (or “realer”) than electrons, quarks, photons, etc.

And as to the origins of everything, many physicists are now speculating way beyond the big bang. They say that there are “multiverses“, such that entirely new  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:39 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Philosophy ... Photo ...

Yes, the mighty have fallen. Mighty trees, that is. I took a little stroll recently thru the local county nature reservation, and began to ponder all the trees that got blown over by “superstorm” (semi-hurricane) Sandy, almost a year ago to this date. Some of the trees here were fairly old; you can see all the yearly rings on one of the cut cross-sections. I guess-timated over 100 rings / years for some of these trees. So over a century went by and life went on quite successfully for these strong living objects. Then one day, quite unexpectedly, a “superstorm” came along, and nothing was the same again.

Yes, that is something to ponder. No matter how well things seem to be going, no matter how abundantly one is blessed with success, no matter how much a person “just seems to have the knack” . . . in a moment, it can all come crashing down. We do need to heed the lesson of humility that nature is offering here.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:27 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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