Bill Nye and Ken Ham debated the origins of life last night live from the Creationist Museum in Kentucky. The great success of the debate was to inform and raise awareness of how vital science is to our future. Nye made this point many times in the debate. In the end, theism and atheism are both positions of faith and have little to do with science. The only tenable position seems to be the Socratic position of not knowing – which is also (usually) the default position of science.
Three questions came up that really get at how little we know about the universe. The best questions came from the audience.
1. How did all the matter and energy in the universe come into being in a single instant from nothing?
2. How does matter become conscious (e.g. brains)?
3. How did matter come alive (e.g. animals)?
These are the big questions in science and as Nye said, we just don’t know. In fact, they seem downright miraculous. We’ve taken some ground in understanding question 2 and 3 but I believe question 1 will remain on the list of unknowns for very long time. There are some scientists like Lawrence Krauss that are trying to answer it but this really isn’t science as much as thought experiment since there is no way to test these theories.
Personally, I love the mystery.
I first read the phrase “Turtles All the Way Down” in a book by Stephen Hawking. According to the story, a big name scientist was giving a lecture on astronomy.
After the lecture, an elderly lady came up and told the scientist that he had it all wrong. ‘The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist asked “And what is the turtle standing on?”
To which the lady triumphantly replied: “You’re very clever, young man, but it’s no use — it’s turtles all the way down.”
We’re in the biggest economic slump since the Great Depression, and we can’t seem to get out of it. Why? Because, exactly as in the 1920s, so much of the nation’s income and wealth are going to the top, that the vast middle class doesn’t have the purchasing power to keep the economy going.
I’ve spent most of my working life concerned about what’s happening to American workers – their jobs, their wages, their hopes and fears. My father sold clothing to the wives of factory workers in the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. I watched as the factories began to close, and as those families struggled with a new economy. Households kept their living standards by sending those wives and mothers into paid work – a strategy that did the trick for a time. But when it no longer generated enough income, American families went deeper and deeper into debt – and that’s been the vicious cycle most middle class Americans have been in ever since. — Robert Reich
The science delusion is the nature of reality in principle, leaving only the details to be filled in. This is a persistent delusion within science. Many times in the history of science people have thought that our understanding of nature is almost complete.
Today, there are many people who think that science already understands the nature of minds, the nature of evolution, the nature of reality. But what I show in this book is that conventional science is based on a series of dogmas. There are ten dogmas that underlie science. These dogmas are not normally questioned. What I do in the book is to treat the dogmas scientifically but questioning them – turning them into questions, in fact, and showing that many of them, in fact, all of them, have been superseded by the advances of science itself.
When we feel free to go beyond these dogmas, to question them, science opens up in completely new ways. All sorts of new questions become possible. All sorts of new research becomes possible. I think this will help to liberate science from the restrictions that hold it back at the moment. That’s why in England, the subtitle of the book is Freeing the Spirit of Inquiry and in America the title of whole book is Science Set Free.
Panpsychism, the ancient doctrine that consciousness is universal, offers some lessons in how to think about subjective experience today. Unlike classical panpsychism, not all physical objects have a Φ that is different from zero. Only integrated systems do. A bunch of disconnected neurons in a dish, a heap of sand, a galaxy of stars or a black hole—none of them are integrated. They have no consciousness. They do not have mental properties.
For every inside there is an outside, and for every outside there is an inside; though they are different, they go together.
- Alan Watts, Man, Nature, and the Nature of Man
From Science News: Last year it was easy to choose a story to lead our annual Top 25 list. The discovery of the Higgs boson was a watershed moment, ending a decades-long quest by thousands of physicists to fully describe the subatomic realm.
This year, nothing so momentous came to pass. But science isn’t just about dramatic announcements and tremendous technical feats. Anyone who reads Science News regularly appreciates that great new insights often arise from countless little bits and pieces of new knowledge. This year, careful readers may have noticed a steady accumulation of revelations about the bacterial communities that call the human body home. It has long been known that those microbes are essential to processes like extracting nutrients from food and fighting off their less benign brethren. But this year a growing body of research demonstrated that bacteria engage their hosts so vigorously that in some situations, scientists are left wondering which party is the tail and which is the dog.
This is Part 1 of a talk by Sheldrake at the conference Electric Universe 2013: The Tipping Point, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Many scientists like to think that science already understands the ways of the natural world. The fundamental questions are answered, leaving only the details to be filled in. The impressive achievements of science seemed to support this confident attitude. But recent research has revealed unexpected problems at the heart of physics, cosmology, biology, medicine and psychology.
That sleep helps clean our brain. Or in the words of the journal Science, “Observations showed that when mice sleep, channels between neurons in their brains expand, allowing cerebrospinal fluid to flush out detritus, such as proteins that in human beings are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.” (Source)
How truly symbiotic animals we are. “Researchers have found that the trillions of bacteria living inside the human body play vital roles in determining how the body responds to challenges as different as malnutrition and cancer—a realization that Science’s editors named a runner-up for Breakthrough of the Year. To be effective, future personalized medicine treatments will need to take these microbial guests into account.” (source)
Evidence that epigenetics underlies heritable traits and even emotions like fear. Again from Science, “a provocative study presented at an evolutionary biology meeting last month found that heritable changes in plant flowering time and other traits were the result of epigenetics alone, unaided by any sequence changes.” (source here and here and here and here)
In early sixteenth century, Machiavelli asks, “Of cruelty and mercy, and whether it is better to be loved than to be feared or the contrary?”
Here is his answer, from The Prince:
Turning to the other qualities mentioned above, let me say that every prince must desire to be considered merciful and not cruel; nevertheless, he must take care not to use such mercy badly. Cesare Borgia was considered cruel; nonetheless, this cruelty of his brought order to the Romagna, united it, and restored it to peace and loyalty. If we examine this carefully, we shall see that he was more merciful than the Florentine people, who allowed the destruction of Pistoia in order to avoid being considered cruel.
Sea World in San Diego amazed me. I was completely mesmerized by the Killer Whales and watched them swim around the pool for most of the day. Tonight, I watched the documentary Blackfish.
Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity. Along the way, director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite compiles shocking footage and emotional interviews to explore the creature’s extraordinary nature, the species’ cruel treatment in captivity, the lives and losses of the trainers and the pressures brought to bear by the multi-billion dollar sea-park industry.
This emotionally wrenching, tautly structured story challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and reveals how little we humans have learned from these highly intelligent and enormously sentient fellow mammals.