The Irony Singularity

You’re familiar with the singularity, right? Basically, a point of mass so compact and so massive that it creates a black hole from which not even light can escape. There are other uses for the word singularity, such as the potential technological singularity, but I think the gravitational singularity is perhaps the most well known.

I would like to propose the creation of a new type of singularity: the irony singularity. They are caused when a statement is so ironic that nothing else could ever achieve a greater level of irony; we might say that this statement is infinitely ironic.

Now, research on the existence of irony singularities is still very much in its early stages, seeing as how I only postulated their existence a few minutes ago. Nevertheless, I believe we have a viable candidate that may prove the existence of irony singularities. Further research needs to be done, but take a look at this:

 GOP strategists are trying very hard to remind potential voters in the 2016 presidential election that Hillary Clinton (who hasn’t even decided whether to run yet) will be old when she hypothetically assumes office. Like, really old.

The article goes on to note that Ronald Reagan was a year older when he assumed office than Hillary would be in 2016, John McCain was three years older (although this was something we did criticize him about, to be fair), and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole was four years older when he ran. So, you know; just throwing that out there for your consideration.

So, let’s parse this out: the Republican party, which is the party of old white men,  is trying to point out that a candidate is too old. The Republican party, the conservative party, wants you to know that “voting for Hillary Clinton would be like going back in time,” even though the very definition of conservatism is the promotion of traditional ideas in opposition to progressivism.

If the irony were any more massive, it would already have its own gravitational field. Maybe it does. Further research is required.

I can’t think of a better example that shows how off-kilter conservatism is in this country when they feel it’s politically sound to paint their opponent (notably an opponent who hasn’t even announced an intention to run) as having the same problems and weakness that they themselves have. “Don’t vote for her,” they are saying, “she’s old, just like us and we all know you hate us. So . . . vote for us instead?”

Okay. It all makes perfect sense to me now.
Source: Elf Only Inn

 

Of all the strategies to use to try and turn voters away from a potential candidate, why go with this one? Did you think we wouldn’t notice the median age of your own candidates? Seriously?

The frustrating part is, if you’ll allow me to be serious for a moment, I think it’s really unfortunate that conservatism has run into a reef and is sinking quickly. A revitalized Republican party that catered to a larger demographic than Tea Partiers, old white men, and the religious right might actually have a few good ideas. As it stands right now, though, whatever good ideas their members do have are lost in a sea of noise and reactionary bullshit. I’d like it if that changed, but I don’t think it will. At least, I don’t think it will in time for 2016.

Simulations

Thinking about whether the world might actually be a computer simulation isn’t anything new. We all went through that particular existential crisis after we saw the first Matrix. I have a secret hypothesis that this is why the second and third Matrix films were so lackluster; it was an effort to get everybody to stop thinking about whether or not we’re actually all just brains hooked up to a computer.

To be fair, this is something we’ve been wondering about probably as long as we’ve had the ability to wonder about much of anything. Plato wondered about it. Anybody who has vivid dreams wonders about it. It’s ingrained in the human condition.

Interestingly, there is real scientific research that’s being done on this stuff. I’m not sure if it’s possible to prove a simulation hypothesis, but we certainly have a lot of reasons to infer one, just by the fact that we’re getting better and better at creating simulations ourselves. Considering the fact that consciousness is one of those things we don’t really understand, is it possible that consciousness will arise out of a computer game character? I certainly think it’s possible, albeit unlikely for a long while. But some day? Certainly.

What if we do end up proving that reality is a simulation in a computer?

I’m trying to imagine how that makes me feel. On the one hand, it doesn’t really change anything: all my experiences are going to be the same. Reality as I know it is already so many electrical impulses being transferred between the neurons in my brain. The revelation of a simulation would just mean I wasn’t interacting with those electrical signals in quite the same fashion.

On the one hand, it might even be encouraging to realize that our world is a simulation. Simulations, after all, are built for a reason and while fiction likes to say this reason is to enslave its occupants, that seems like a very expensive way to do what chains and metal bars do already. It seems more likely to me that the reason for the simulation’s existence would be benevolent or at least indifferent to us; certainly not malevolent.

Would that be an improvement, to find out that there really is a power and intelligence behind the reality that we perceive?

There are other benefits to a simulated world. It might mean never having to experience the heat death of the universe and the realization that everything in reality is doomed. It might be a strong reason to believe our consciousness goes somewhere after death.

On the other hand, to find out that everything, absolutely everything, was a simulation would remove a lot of the mystery and wonder out there. Certainly, we’d be able to wonder about the simulation itself, who built it and why, but we’d no longer be drawn to the most distant stars and dream of being the first ones to visit them. The world would become a much smaller place.

There’d probably also be a lot of suicides if it turns out we’re all in a computer simulation. Maybe. I’m not really sure; one thing I try to never underestimate is the resilience of the human spirit.

It’s something that is very interesting to think about, whether or not this is ever proven to be true.

Quantum Black Magic

Because I write against religion a lot, it’s easy to assume that I’m not religious myself. This is not precisely accurate. It’s true that I don’t go to a church and I don’t believe that a supernatural being is watching me live my life. This naturally leads many people, especially believers, to conclude that I don’t really believe in anything. I don’t often help to dissuade this notion; I even wrote a series of posts about not believing.

The problem is: that’s not particularly accurate. Even in the original post, I still wrote about the things that I do believe in. It is very easy to spend too much time talking about the things that I don’t believe in. Because my view tends towards a minority position in this country, it’s far easier to define myself via opposition to the mainstream. If you’re keeping score at home, yes, I just admitted I have hipster tendencies. I hope you’ll forgive me and continue to read my blog.

I’m finishing up Carl Sagan’s book Contact and I’ve been struck by how, well, religious Sagan’s approach to the galaxy is. It’s a fiction novel, of course, but it’s a fiction novel in the tradition of didactic sci-fi that seems out of vogue these days: you have characters and a plot, but it’s all really just a vehicle for the author to express himself. It’s one of those things that is absolutely terrible when done poorly, but quite interesting if successful. Sagan, I think, pulls it off.

Anyway, I’ve started thinking about how little I express my feelings of wonder and awe, which are the feelings I believe are at the heart of the religious experience. The true believer feels wonder when he or she contemplates whatever deity or tradition makes up his or her respective beliefs. I think it’s that feeling of wonder that separates religions from, say, art (which is not to say that there is no religious art, of course, or any other permutation).

With that in mind, let me show you something that I consider to be an inspiration for awe and wonder. Now, I’ll warn you: the visuals and voice work are pretty cheesy. Some of the explanations are “Physics for Dummies” level. But if you’ve never really thought about quantum physics before, I’ve never see a better video to explain just how close the whole thing is to actual magic. Thinking about this stuff is what fills me with wonder and awe. Quantum physics, the vastness of the universe, the nature of the infinite . . . these are things that create experiences for me that I believe are just as comparable to any other religious experience.

Why does the act of observing change the behavior of a particle? How does the electron “know” that it’s being observed? Why does it sometimes act like a particle and other times like a wave? There are so many questions; how can you not think about these things and marvel at just how much we don’t know?

If there is a deity, I am content with his or her apparent decision to sit back and let the universe run itself. It allows us to figure things out on our own. I think it’s a profound loss if we don’t allow ourselves to wonder at the intricate nature of our universe. If we assume we have all the answers, or worse, that the answers don’t matter because “insert-deity-name here” did it, how many opportunities for wonder have we lost?

Here’s the video. If you watch it, let me know what you think.

Thoughts On Cynicism And Idealism

There’s a lot of reasons that this blog could dive headfirst into the “cynical” half of its title and never resurface. There’s the whole “spying on American citizens” thing. There’s the VRA thing. The looming student loan thing. I could go on, but that would merely be unnecessary padding. We all know things suck.

Except that, for today at least, there were a few things in our country that didn’t suck. DOMA is gone. There was Wendy Davis’s epic filibuster in Texas. These are lights in a dark time. These are moments that rekindle that flame of idealism and keep things firmly in balance.

That’s not to say that tomorrow won’t suck; conservatives in Texas are already mustering for round two of the fight. Even the DOMA victory isn’t complete: a complete victory would not have allowed for states to continue to define marriage. A complete victory would be equal rights for citizens of all sexual orientations NOW, end of discussion, if you don’t like it, too fucking bad. That’s still the end goal. You shouldn’t have to go to a specific state to be allowed a right like marriage.

On the other hand, we should be invigorated that something is happening. A woman’s right to make decisions about her body wasn’t abruptly gutted in Texas. Our same-sex marriage seeking friends and family members are one step closer to equality. Most importantly, the message is very different now than it was ten years ago. Ten years ago, we didn’t have a light in the darkness. Ten years ago, we didn’t have much of a reason to be hopeful about anything.

Ten years ago, those fighting for equal marriage rights were doing so largely alone. Allies were few and the general atmosphere was either “don’t talk about it, don’t think about it, pretend it doesn’t exist” or worse “God hates you, you’re an aberrant mutant, stop existing.” We’ve come a long way from that. Granted, we’re still on the road, and no amount of progress will ever make up for the abominable way we’ve treated our fellow men and women just for being themselves. Nothing will ever erase those mistakes we’ve made as a country or recover the lives of those who were destroyed because of prejudice and isolation. We can’t take those things back, no matter how much we wish we could.

All we can do is work to make sure that the damage that’s been done is stopped. All we can do is stand together against prejudice and bigotry. All we can do is prove that, no matter how flawed we are as a species, we are capable of learning from our mistakes and that we’ll never stop trying to make tomorrow better.

And that’s why I think this blog is still worthy of the second half of its name.

Science Is Agnostic When It Comes To Coffee

I understand that reading an article on the Daily Mail means I’m not reading a premier scholarly journal. In fact, I’m prepared to say that I’m probably not even reading facts half the time with this rag. However, I didn’t know it was going to be a Daily Mail article when I clicked the link through Fark and the headline sounded interesting, so I read it anyway. The headline in question is basically that coffee is bad for you and doesn’t really work.

Okay, fine, I understand that it might be bad. Almost everything that’s enjoyable is usually bad for us in some way; life is awesome like that. However, this is why reading an article about health is prone to driving one insane. From the coffee article:

The study, published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, showed that when mice were given high amounts of this compound, the equivalent of drinking five or six cups a day, their bodies struggled to control blood sugar and they developed insulin resistance. They were also less likely to lose weight.

Well, that doesn’t sound good! It sounds like I should stop drinking coffee. But wait. From the same damn article, indeed, the very next paragraph:

However, other research has shown that regular coffee and tea intake reduces the risk of stroke and heart disease, as well as neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.

Indeed, one large study undertaken by Harvard researchers, and published last year in the journal Circulation, suggested that moderate coffee intake (four cups a day) reduced the risk of heart failure.

Well, shit, I don’t want to have a neurodegenerative disease, either! So now I should drink coffee? The article doesn’t tell us and instead merely notes that research is “conflicted.” Which is it? Tell me what I’m supposed to be doing, science!

I guess I’ll see for myself in forty years or so which study was correct. Can’t wait to find that out.

Jurassic Park IV: Hopes & Fears

I feel confident in saying that the shot of the Brachiosaurus in the first Jurassic Park was my generation’s “Star Destroyer” moment. A Star Destroyer moment, for the less nerdy, is the first film that showed you something truly magical through special effects, in this case, the opening shot of Princess Leia’s Rebel ship being overwhelmed by the massive Imperial Star Destroyer. Seeing that Brachiosaurus brought to life through jaw-dropping CGI was a cinematic milestone and an introduction to the worlds of possibility that we can explore through film.

Jurassic Park is an important movie to me and my affection for it remains undiminished despite the rather lackluster sequels (T. rex parents=very cool, T.rex being killed by a freaking Spinosaurus=bullshit). The leaked details about the upcoming Jurassic Park IV have me tentatively excited; cautiously optimistic, if you will.

Reasons for Optimism

  • The description of the plot sounds like a return to what made the first Jurassic Park great. We’re back at the theme park and this time, it’s up and running in full swing. This is something I always wanted to see; how much worse can it get when the dinosaurs break free while the park is filled with tourists, instead of just previewers?
  • The trained dinosaurs also intrigue me. I think it has the potential to carry forward some of Crichton’s core concepts in that humans like to meddle with things we don’t understand. The problem was that the idea that formed the core of the first film was worked to death like a piece of used gum by the third. The idea of trying to “tame” dinosaurs has the potential for a fresh new critique of how humans interact with animals and the dangerous aspect of anthropomorphizing these creatures.
  • The T.rex is back. I love me some T.rexes and all films with T.rexes are better than films that do not have T.rexes.

Reasons for Caution

  • The description of the exhibit for seeing underwater dinosaurs (well, previously extinct marine reptiles, technically) sounds cool, but the description of it being “Sea World-like” immediately made me think of the premise for Jaws 3, which was absolutely terrible.
  • The “main antagonist” dinosaur will be something new, which has the potential to be either awesome or awful. The last time they tried to replace the T.rex as the main antagonist, we were given a Spinosaurus that was supposed to be more dangerous “because it was bigger” even though it was a fish-eater that lacked the power of a rex’s bite.

I’ll go see it either way, of course, and these leaked details have all been unconfirmed. Who knows what will change between now and 2015, assuming any of these details are even accurate to begin with? Either way, I’ll be looking forward to the next movie; it’s nice to see this movie finally get out of development hell.

Dragons In Your Creation Museum? It’s More Likely Than You Think

Well, this clinches it. I thought it couldn’t be done, but it seems that those wily folks over at the Creation Museum have managed to create an exhibit that has convinced me of the inherent superiority of creationism over science. They are going to have a display that will prove what I’ve always longed to believe: dragons are real.

Dragons might also be dinosaurs.

Furthermore, according to an image in the link, it’s more likely that the inverse is true: some dinosaurs are actually dragons.

You can’t argue with this approach. If believing in creationism means that dragons get to be real, then I will absolutely join this movement. I mean, let’s face it; what has science done for us, aside from proving that dragons aren’t real. That sucks. I want dragons to be real. Therefore, I shall believe the museum that says they are and deny the museums that says they are not. Ergo, dragons are real.

I have a minor in philosophy. You can tell because my thinking here is both cogent and sound, with absolutely no flaws.

Of course, the caveat is that dragons have to not only be real, but they also have to be telepathic, friendly, and prone to bonding for life with loyal human riders and then have this kinky, midair sex that also drives their riders to have sex. There’s a lot of sex when it comes to dragons, I guess. I don’t know. I started reading those books when I was ten. It might explain a few of my quirks.

However! If the previous paragraph isn’t proven true by the Creation Museum’s display, I shall recant my support of them and renew my assertion of their tacit villainy.

This tacit villainy is also naked. And likes to have sex in midair.

Don’t judge me.

Thoughts On Walking

My grandfather used to take me  with him on his walks. He lived in a small town in upstate New York, which meant the kind of lace where everybody knew everybody, you could walk from one end of the town to the other and see the whole thing, and everything was very, very green.

There was also, apparently, a lot of things to see. Houses, mostly. At the time, I didn’t understand why this was interesting.

I regret that I wasn’t old enough to understand why these walks were enjoyable. For me, it was the offered bribe of ice cream that made the whole enterprise even remotely palatable. Even then, it was still frustrating. Grandpa liked to look at things. He liked to stop. He didn’t understand that the more time we spent looking, the less time there was for ice cream.

I think the problem is that I didn’t know how to drive yet.

Also, I was seven.

See, it’s my hypothesis that you have to drive for a few years before you can appreciate a good walk. When you drive, you can’t look at things. There’s just the road and all the people trying to kill you via their inattention. Maybe they’re trying to look at things or more likely, they’re looking at their laps and texting.

I came to this understand when I was driving home from work today. I took a different route than usual because I was picking up a suitcase for a friend. I drove through a part of Sahuarita that I’ve never been to before. The entire time I was driving, I was trying to navigate, but I felt frustrated, because I wanted to look out the window. I wanted to see what this part of the town looked like. I wanted to let my mind wander in the semi-intrusive way that it does as I wonder what the lives are like for the people who live in these houses.

What does it feel like to live here? Do they like it? Is there a barking dog that annoys them? Are the trees nice and shady? Would I like it if I lived here? Who would I be if I lived here instead of living where I do now?

You can’t do that when you’re driving. Hence why I like to walk now. I walk every day on my lunch break; it’s a habit I started when I transferred down to Sahuarita and it’s one I’ve kept to almost every single day even though the summer heat has verged on “skull-crushingly brutal.” Despite it, I still walk. I look around. I think. My mind wanders in a way that would be negligently fatal in a car.

It’s unfortunate my grandfather isn’t around anymore. I think I’d enjoy those walks a lot more now. We could wander. We could stop. We could look at things together.

That’d be nice, I think.

And In Other News

I’m related to a lot of people who vote for the GOP. This is something I really, really don’t understand. I don’t understand how we can have the same DNA, the same stuff that programs our brains and such, look at the same actions by Republicans and have completely divergent reactions.

For example, my reaction to  the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is one of abject horror that something this misogynistic passed through the House of Representatives. The fact that it will likely die in the Senate is a cold consolation; what would make me happy is knowing that bullshit like this couldn’t survive long enough to make it to the House at all.

And yet, you don’t have to go far along the family tree to find beings who are almost exactly like me in terms of DNA who likely think that this is a great idea, who would have almost certainly voted for Franks if he was representing our district (he’s actually representing a district in Phoenix, which should come as no surprise to anyone ever).

The only answer that makes sense to me is that I’m a genetic aberration, a mutant who was born with a defective brain bucket that renders me incapable of understanding the wisdom of this action, or anything else that the GOP does. That must be it.

Turning The Rocks Over

I avoid reading the Arizona Daily Star online. I avoid it because of its comments section. I avoid it because whenever, whenever, I click on a story, I can’t help but look at the comments section afterwards. I think I’m compelled to do this for the same reason that people stare at trainwrecks and car accidents.

Much like staring at a horrible accident, I come away from the experience feeling disgusted and questioning the possibility that we live in a kind or just universe.

Imagine my amusement and surprise when I saw this little headline. In just a few weeks, comments on the Daily Star site will need to be linked through your Facebook account. The amount of hand-wringing and whining this announcement has produced is truly legendary. Over 1300 comments the last time I checked!

Of course I read some of them.

To be fair, this won’t stop all the idiots from posting idiotic things. If you’re a bigoted asshole, you probably are Facebook friends with other bigoted assholes or you don’t have any friends in the first place, in which case public shaming won’t really do much. The fact that  your comments will stick to you is nice, although a truly motivated troll can create a fake Facebook pretty easily. Still, it’s a nice gesture.

If nothing else, the fact that it will sweep out the paranoid conservatives will be amusing to watch. The number of “I’m never posting here again!” cries is especially good; these guys are clearly amateur-hour when it comes to understanding forum ecology. Almost anybody who feels betrayed enough to post a “gone forever!” comment is almost certainly going to keep on posting, or lurking, or both. Seriously, guys. We figured this out during the BBS days. You need to catch up.