Category Archives: & Philosophy

Report from Ice Station Zebra

No, I’m not writing from some geographic location near the North or South Pole. It’s more of a place in time, my own personal Zulu time, as I drift farther and farther away from the equator of human warmth toward the eventual pole of my loneliness.

This is precisely the kind of blog post I don’t like writing. I’ve said it before: a writer should only write what he would like to read if it existed. I don’t like to read blog posts on what people love or hate. How can anyone relate to what someone else loves or hates? There is no rationale to lead one from his current emotional state to someone else’s state of love or hate. There is no justification for love or hate. It’s just someone’s reaction to something else. Idiosyncratic.

Are you still with me here?

Ok, so a few years after I had immigrated to Israel, my new country and I were in the midst of mutual adoption, and I was immersed in the ambience and culture of this modern yet ancient land, I discovered how much I loved what my new-found countrymen loved but I couldn’t hate what they hated. Maybe, if I had been born here and had experienced what they had experienced, I’d have been more like them, I’d have hated what they hate. Imagine the Wild West and the familiar cliché, “the only good Indian is a … Indian” transposed to the Middle East, and you have the environment in which I found myself. That’s not to say that everyone born in this country thinks that way.

What do I love besides the obvious (my wife, kids, grandkids, parents, and dogs)? I love the sunlight and the gentle summers and winters, but I hate the gritty sandstorms that sometimes come in from the deserts.

I love the generosity of spirit, courage, and physical beauty here that some people seem to take for granted, but I hate the lack of empathy of far too many people for others different from them.

I love that we have a democratic government but hate that many of us don’t have a democratic spirit, a spirit which values democracy above winning an election, a spirit that accepts the rule of the majority but also protects the rights of minorities, that codifies those rights in a written constitution for all to see, to know, in which to feel safe.

I love the purity of our arms, our self-defense, not that God is on our side but that we are doing the right thing, but I hate that some soldiers use unnecessary force with noncombatants or combatants who have surrendered their weapons and no longer pose a threat.

I love our genius and the intelligent conversations so common here, but I hate that many intelligent people attempt to hide what they don’t know. What I know is of less value to me than what I don’t know. That’s what impels me forward to carve out new knowledge from this vast block of ignorance. That’s right. Knowledge is created by running head first into what we don’t know.

Most of all, I love love but I hate hate.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Credo Quia Absurdum Est

“Credo quia absurdum est” is a Latin phrase which means “I believe because it is absurd”. Not “in spite of the fact that it is absurd”. Because. It is a paraphrase of a statement from Tertullian’s work De Carne Christi (“The Flesh of Christ”), “… it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd”. Tertullian lived around 155 – 240 AD. This paraphrase has been espoused by Christians as a measure of the strength of one’s unquestioning belief.

Not to be outdone, Orthodox Jews also have their unquestioning beliefs: God created our world and everything in it including us in one week, five thousand seven hundred and seventy six years ago, and everything written in the five books of Moses (the Old Testament) is literally true. We are not to look for the logic or the reason for what is written, but to accept it all because God commanded us to do so, even if He tells us to sacrifice our son or daughter.

While thinking about Immanuel Kant – The Categorical Imperative, I came up with a proof that either God exists but we do not, or we exist but God does not. It goes like this:

  1. The laws of physics apply everywhere in the Universe, consistently throughout it. We may not understand all the laws but they are universally applicable.
  2. Everything in the Universe must obey the laws of physics. We obey the laws of physics.
  3. God doesn’t have to obey the laws of physics. Even if we defined a special case in the laws of physics that applied to God in a consistent manner, God would not have to obey it. God’s existence represents a lawlessness with respect to physics.
  4. Since the Universe cannot be both lawful and lawless with respect to physics, either we exist in this universe but God doesn’t or God exists in this universe but we don’t.

Now I don’t have anything against Muslims. I know of quite a few Muslims who are at least as good and wise as any Christian, Jew, atheist, or other person on this planet. No condescension intended here. That said, I’m certainly glad I’m not a Muslim. The sentence for apostasy, the rejection of one’s belief in God or conversion to another brand of belief, if one is a Muslim, is death in any country ruled by Sharia (Islamic law). See The Punishment for Apostasy from Islam if you have the stomach for it.

The Saudi poet, Ashraf Fayadh, is currently waiting for his death sentence to be carried out because someone accused him of blasphemy and apostasy, which Ashraf denies. See Outrage over Saudi death sentence for poet on blasphemy charges.

There but for the grace of God go I.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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Obsessions on Infinity

Plato had his triangles and his numbers, abstract objects which he called universals or ideals. Such ideals do not exist spatially or temporally, or anywhere else in our physical world. The lines that represent a triangle’s sides are perfectly thin and perfectly straight. They cannot be perceived; only conceived. They existed independently of Plato’s thinking about them. Although a purist might not agree with such a formulation, triangles, numbers, and other ideals existed long before any humans thought about them and will exist long after humans; that is, they’ll exist forever.

Like numbers (yet subtly different) infinity and eternity are also ideals. If you were to throw an open bag of coins up in the air and all the coins were to land on their edges, which would be a most improbable event, but it’s inevitable given an infinite amount of time. The probability of such an occurrence would be much smaller than the probability of my winning the Powerball Lottery, especially considering I don’t purchase lottery tickets; however, given an infinite period of time (an eternity), it’s inevitable that the coins would all land on their edges not only once but an infinite number of times.

The Kardashev Scale measures a civilization’s level of technical advancement. Nikolai Kardashev designated three categories, which he called types I, II, and III. Type I civilizations should be able to use and store the energy reaching their planet from their neighboring star. Type II civilizations should be able all the energy of a star (e.g., a Dyson sphere). Type III civilizations should know everything there is to know about energy and use that knowledge to travel between galaxies. Others have proposed extensions to the basic Kardashev Scale, such as types 0, IV, and V, as well as measurements unrelated to energy. Of course the Kardashev Scale is only hypothetical since we only know about our own civilization. According to Carl Sagan, we’re at about 0.724 (Type 0, possibly attaining Type I within 100 – 200 years).

Thinking about the Kardashev Scale and its variants, I’d like to propose a variant based on intelligence. Type I would be one or more species of life on a planet accidentally acquiring intelligence (consciousness, sense of self, world view, empathy, judgment, will, etc.). Type II would be artificial intelligence programmed by an intelligent species, Type III would be artificial intelligence programmed by artificially intelligent artifacts. Type IV might represent the spread of intelligence like a virus around an entire planet. Type V might represent intelligent stars along with their solar systems. Type VI might represent intelligent galaxies. Type VII might represent an intelligent universe.

These obsessive ramblings may sound far-fetched to the casual bystander but, given all the time in the world, given an eternity, all types are inevitable.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Waiting for the Election Results

I voted. Having invested my political hopes and desires in the narrow slit of a pale blue cardboard box in the classroom of an elementary school near where I live I now wait for the results of our national elections to be announced. There was the moment I voted and there will be the moment the results are announced.

Events are the names we give to moments. We think we live from moment to moment, digitally, to use a metaphor that most high-tech people would relate to. Life, however, is analogue. It’s a continuous function that goes on between those moments, running over those moments in its blind fury and enthusiasm. To take a cue from Allen Saunder’s (not John Lennon’s) quote “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” I would say that life is what happens in between the moments. Maybe it’ll go viral.

When I was a kid I remember climbing into the car in Ohio and being driven down to Florida. There was Ohio. Then there was Florida. Nothing in between. Ohio was boring. Florida was a lot of fun. I almost drowned in the swimming pool at our motel. I remember going around and around underwater, having slipped out of my inner tube without the slightest clue how to get back to the surface. I’ve since learned to swim.

I used to sit in the waiting room with my mother waiting to get a shot. Before I knew I was going to get a shot was ok. Getting the shot was not a lot of fun.

Life is mostly like a waiting room.

I used to do things with my father. Damned if I can remember most of them now. If only I could have paid more attention. If only I could have committed everything we did together to memory. If only all of my life had been visible, tangible, to me. I have so many questions, but it’s too late now.

Oh, they’re announcing the results on tv. And the winner is …

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Just One Damn Thing after Another

Albert Einstein once said, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” I think it would be hard for us to imagine reality without time, but apparently physicists could just as easily describe reality with or without time. Think of an observer sitting on a mountaintop outside of time seeing our meandering along between birth and death as a squiggly line between points A and B.

So much has been written about time, about its being incorporated into the fabric (space-time) upon which are hung the sequins of matter and energy, about the relativity of it, about its being the 4th dimension, about its exploding into existence only after the Big Bang, and about the possibility of traveling forward or backward in it.

But what is time, really? Isn’t it time for a reality check?

Time is just one damn thing happening after another, whether its particles and energy flying out of the Big Bang or a clock ticking away the seconds or our neural synapses firing off in various parts of our brains. Time is not a superhighway you can drive forward or backward on.

Time travel might be theoretically possible, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it to happen. Given our reality checked definition of time, for us to go backwards in time would require someone to reverse the direction, position, and state of every particle and energy wave in the universe, including you and me, back to what they were at the time he or she wanted to return to. The same level of difficulty would be entailed in travelling into the future faster than we normally move from the present into the future. For us to go forward or backward in time even one moment would require all the energy in the universe. Imagine how much energy would be required to go back 13.8 billion years to see the Big Bang happen: more than all the available energy in our current universe. How about travelling back in time to before the Big Bang? End of the road. Run out of time.

The only way you could travel back in time without affecting me, or vice versa, would be for us to live in separate universes.

If time is just one damn thing happening after another, can we know for certain the sequence in which those things happen, what happens before what? Not necessarily. Einstein shows how two observers, one standing and the other moving, could see two things happening and disagree on which happened first. All that implies is that we should be a little more humble about our measurements, because all our measurements are relative. Can we even know that just one thing has happened? Again, not necessarily. Schrödinger explains how, at a certain level (very small), a thing consists of all its possible states, living and dead, like Schrödinger’s Cat, and only becomes a single state, living or dead, when measured or observed. This has something to do with the paradoxical behavior of light when measured as a wave function or as discreet particles, like photons. According to Quantum Mechanics, at the sub-particle level, all matter exists as a wave function. The wave passes through all the possible states of the sub-particle. When we observe or measure the wave we intersect with it. The intersection of a wave is a point, a particular state. The wave existed in all its states up until the point at which it was observed and it continues to exist after being observed. It even exists in all its states while it’s being observed. Quantum Mechanics works so well at the sub-particle level but there’s no reason it shouldn’t work just as well at the macro level (our level).

A great idea for a Hawaiian tee-shirt: “I’m a wave, so surf me”.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Dawn of the New Superheroes

Back when I was taking Philosophy 401 at OSU and Professor Marvin Fox provided an overview of the philosophy from Aristotle to Nietzsche, I remember wondering, given all these philosophers, their philosophies, and the sequence in which they occurred, who would be the next major philosopher to impact our world and what would be his philosophy.

No, I’m not going to bore you with a conjecture on the possible calculus of the trajectory of the philosophical dialectic across our local patch of space-time, but I would like to shift the discussion to my conjecture about the superheroes of the future.

First off, what do our superheroes represent? They are our modern-day myths. Our stories about our superheroes are so compelling that, after our civilization stops dead in its tracks and crumbles into ruins, after all history is forgotten, it will be the superheroes of our mythology who will be sung and remembered.

In a sense, superheroes fulfill our desires to succeed against an enemy or a situation that threatens our very survival, against criminals, against terrorists and those who arm them, or against some global catastrophe. Superheroes protect the little man, the woman, or child, or so we would wish when we face insurmountable odds.

Superheroes also represent a measure of a society, a civilization. A society that values racial purity above all things will create an Übermensch, an Overman, a Superman. Yes, Nietzsche invented the concept of Übermensch, but he meant it only as a metaphor. The metaphor was compelling, so viral, that Hitler and his cohorts took it seriously. A society that values strength above all things will create Superman, Super Girl, Batman and Robin, and Wonder Woman. No enemy can stand up against them and they speak English with an American accent. If only they were real, we wouldn’t have to send people like you and me to keep the peace or to defend our freedom.

The superheroes of the future will not come from our civilization. That is because our civilization has all the attributes it values covered by its chosen superheroes and doesn’t need any new ones to muddy up the waters, thank you just the same. Well, there may be some new superheroes to protect some racial group, culture, religion, or geography, but certainly they will all be strong, immovable, and irresistible.

The superheroes of the future will come from a new civilization that values different attributes besides strength, a civilization higher up Maslow’s hierarchy, possibly at the apex of self-actualization. I would suggest the following panoply of new superheroes:

  • Weakman

Weakman was accidentally exposed to an emission of neutrinos while standing between leptons and decaying hadrons, and affected by the weak nuclear force responsible for nuclear beta decay by the changing flavors of quarks. Weakman is not a threat to anyone, so everyone naturally feels comfortable around him. Thus he is able to diffuse any potentially explosive situation.

  • Vulnerable Woman

The heart of Vulnerable Woman can be pierced by any arrow. She not only loves everyone with whom she comes in contact, she feels their pain and their anguish, which is a great help because it allows others to share their unbearable loads.

  • Poetman

Poetman can see things differently than anyone else; for example, he is able to see beauty where others see only ugliness and ugliness where others see only beauty. Poetman can take someone to distant worlds in no time at all and without needing a spaceship or spacesuit.

  • Quietman

Quietman is so quiet that everyone around him can hear themselves think and can even hear what other people are saying. Not much else can be said about him.

  • Uglygirl

Uglygirl came from another planet in another dimension in which the way she looked was exactly the way she should have looked and people there thought she looked as beautiful on the outside as she did on the inside, because they could actually see how she looked on the inside. On our planet, Earth, in our dimensions, she is still beautiful on the inside but nobody here can see that.

  • Noman

Noman leaves no footprint wherever he walks and therefore does not create any problems for our environment. Wherever he goes, you cannot tell he’s there or that he has been there. He is friends with Quietman but nobody has ever seen them together.

  • Andyorjenny

Andyorjenny is androgynous. That means he/she is both male and female, yin and yang, self-satisfying and independent. He/she doesn’t need anybody or anything. He/she understands the female and the male points of view implicitly. Finally they make sense to each other.

These are my superheroes but don’t hold your breaths until the comics come out.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Three Universes

The way I see it, there are three kinds of universe:
• The universe in which God created everything in it, from the smallest particle to the largest cluster of galaxies, and controls everything that happens in it, whether it’s our lives here and now or the movements of some distant cousin of a cockroach on some distant planet in some distant galaxy. I’m not talking about a vast team of gods divvying up the universe so that each god is only responsible for a small piece of it, but a single God responsible for a humongous number of pieces of it, twenty-four by seven, without ever missing a beat.
• The universe in which God set off the Big Bang fourteen billion years ago, which set into motion space and time itself, and all things we know and don’t know, which are still unfolding and unfolding in ways that nobody could possibly anticipate, things lovely and cruel beyond comprehension, including the apparent miracles of life, consciousness, intelligence, love, literature, poetry, science, philosophy, and an infinite bouquet of miracles that haven’t been born yet.
• The universe in which the Big Bang just occurred for some reason that currently escapes us but, if we work hard enough at it, we just might figure out the reason and, if not us, then someone or something else, or maybe not at all. And it occurred fourteen billion years ago, which set into motion space and time itself, and all things we know and don’t know, which are still unfolding and unfolding in ways that nobody could possibly anticipate, things lovely and cruel beyond comprehension, including the apparent miracles of life, consciousness, intelligence, love, literature, poetry, science, philosophy, and an infinite bouquet of miracles that haven’t been born yet.
Now, although I’d much prefer to live in a universe in which God exists, using the God-given intellectual equipment I was born with, I have never seen or heard any compelling evidence that He exists.
So it is quite obvious I don’t believe in the first universe above. Not only do I not have any evidence that it exists, it doesn’t seem possible to me that such a universe could exist. It would fall apart too quickly. It could not possibly be held together.
Now we come to the second and third universes. The second universe is just like the third universe, except for inserting God into the causal chain as the First Cause. Okay, so who made God? First causes are problematic that way. Also, God is not a sufficient cause. In other words, if you removed God from the second universe, you would have the third universe, which appears to be perfectly viable for the time being.
As for the third universe, I know that religious Creationists scoff at the idea that life could have developed in a primordial soup of organic particles in a pool of water shocked into existence by a random bolt of lightning, and from that soup sprang professors spouting Shakespeare. It seems far less likely than breaking open a sack full of coins, throwing them all into the air, and having them all land on their edges. First off, life from primordial soup doesn’t sound any more far-fetched to me than the first universe. Just for the sake of argument, however, let’s explore the sack-of-coins-landing-on-their-edges example. Consider the number of successes, in which the coins all land on their edges, the number of failures, in which they don’t, and the amount of time. Given an infinite period of time, not only will all the coins land on their edges at least once, they will do so an infinite number of times. Okay, let’s not talk about an infinite period of time. The probability is just a function of the number of coins being tossed, the likelihood of each tossed coin landing on its edge, and the number of times the coins are tossed. Back to our primordial soup: there were probably billions and billions of lightning bolts striking pools of organic molecules during the first billion years of earth’s existence. This sounds much less far-fetched than the first universe to me.
Do I see the unfolding miracles of the third universe with less wonder and appreciation than someone else who believes in the first universe? I think not. The more I know, the more I know there is that I don’t know. There is more humility in a scientist who confronts and wrestles his ignorance every day than in a person who believes all is known and he knows it all.

Mike Stone
Raanana Israel

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