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Life Philosophy Religion Science

A Programmer’s View of Religion and the Universe [Part 5]

And my soul, from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor, shall be lifted nevermore – Edgar Allan Poe

First of all, I’d like to apologize to my readers for being absent.  It has been a very busy few months for me, and being able to blog has been a luxury.

This will be my last installment in this particular series.  In the previous posts we’ve covered creation, existence, purpose and architecture.  [1  –  2  –  3  –  4]  Today we’re going to talk about one of the most fundamental topics to human existence — Consciousness. 

In programming, I have spent a great deal of time working with Artificial Intelligence.  Anyone who is reading this blog post, probably is familiar with the concept.  Basically, AI is a computer program that can mimic the same features of human intelligence, such as decision-making, or pattern recognition.  For instance, I have written computer programs that can look at millions of records of data and make a decision based on the way it was taught.  But its much more than that because an AI usually has the ability to make intelligent decisions about things it has not encountered in its training as well.  And this is as close as programming gets to exploring life and its mysteries.

While we can mimic the thought processes of the human mind, can we truly affect the experience of being alive.  An AI only mimics the inherent ability of the human mind to find patterns — the universe is built on patterns, just as a program is built with patterns.  However, one thing an AI cannot do is understand the context of the pattern.  The only context an AI can simulate is by observing the plethora of connecting concepts to any other concept.  For instance, an AI cannot understand the emotional overtones, nor can it understand sarcasm.

Emotion has always been a sticking point for defining consciousness, but I think emotion is a completely different beast from consciousness.  Emotion is instinct, the very basis for our ability to survive.  We fear so that we will run from danger.  We love so that we will procreate.  We are happy so that we can co-exist.  We are sad so that we will remember.  All of these are self-serving instinctual constructs so that we will survive.  But all animal life has some form of emotion, but this does not define our conscious selves.  Emotion is easily programmed into software, as we’ve seen in countless games.  For instance, if I am programming a monster or opponent in a game, I can take simple rules to make a “fear” reaction:

If your health < 100%
and you have no weapon
and Number of enemies > 1
you should run

This is what we can pseudo-code.  The actual code would look like this:

#variables
integer max_health = 90;
integer current_health = 50;
double percent_health = 50/90;
boolean has_weapon = false;
integer number_of_enemies = 5;
string action = “”;

if (percent_health < 1 && has_weapon == false && number_of_enemies > 1) {

     action = “run”;

} else {

     action = “fight”;

}

So as you can see, we can easily simulate the emotion, but the AI doesn’t necessarily know “why” it is running nor can it make the decision to fight, unless we introduce some randomness, but we humans do not act randomly.  Actually its pretty clear that humans always do things for a reason – always self-serving.   If the odds say we are going to die, we will try to fight the odds no matter how logical or illogical it is.

So now that we’ve explored what consciousness isn’t, let us explore now what consciousness might be.  And from a programmer’s perspective, we are dropping off the edge of the map — here there be monsters!  The most simple definition of consciousness is “awareness”.  And awareness is define is the ability to perceive or be conscious of events.  Hmmm, we’ve encountered a “circular reference” which in a program is a bad thing — an infinite loop.  We cannot define consciousness with consciousness, or can we? 

One of the bench marks we use to determine if another life form is conscious is the term “self-aware”.  For instance, dolphins are considered self-aware because they can recognize that when they look in a mirror that they are not seeing another dolphin, but they are seeing themselves, and will actually admire themselves.  Whereas a dog will try to attack the mirror.  This seems to be a key aspect of consciousness, but really what does it mean to be self-aware?  It cannot be simply knowing that one exists, because all life knows that it exists to some fundamental sense – life tends to try to preserve itself, hence it knows that it lives, therefore it exists.  Thinking is not a good benchmark either, because many higher ordered lifeforms think, but they are not necessarily self-aware, as the aforementioned dog.

Many have struggled with trying to define this most fundamental concept.  Some have disagreed that it even exists, and other have argued that it is something supernatural.  To some extent programs I’ve written in the past are self-aware, such as “self-references” and “observer patterns”.  These are programming turns where an object or bit of code is monitoring its environment and adjusting accordingly.  It also knows its own self, as opposed to copies or duplicates.  But at the most fundamental level, the bit of code is under a control set, met to emulate rules that have been defined by the architect or coder.  It is impossible to break out of the rules without the assistance of the architect.  So maybe we have stumbled onto the source of confusion.  Maybe there is only one consciousness or will, of which we are many facets.  I say this, from a programmers perspective, because if I were to create a game that has many creatures, they all tend to be duplicates for the same bit of code.  While they may travel different paths in the game, they are all creations of my single will or consciousness.  However, I do not monitor their every move, I have just put in place boundaries in which they are free to move.  But at the end of it all, they are all duplicates of a single thought.

So this leaves us two main possibilities, both of which are equally viable.  Either there is only our self and everyone around you is a fabrication of your mind, as solipsism would suggest.  Or, we are all a facet of a much larger consciousness, just the universe trying to understand itself?

And here I will end the discussion and hopefully I’ve given you some new things to think about to enhance your own lives.

Categories
Life Philosophy Religion Science

Happy Last New Year!

Come on baby, don’t fear the reaper.  We’ll be able to fly. – BOC

Many apologies to my regular readers for my recent extended absence.  The holidays are one of the few times of year I actually take a long vacation and today is my first day back into the work week.  I wanted to take a moment and wish everyone a great new year, this being 2012 — the end of the world countdown beginning. 

Seriously though, having watched “Apocalypse Week” on History Channel 2, it has given me some interesting insights into just how pervasive this idea of apocalypse actually is.  It is astonishing that there are so many people following this as if there is actually a countdown to December.  I have talked to people who are seriously worried about this, and are wondering what they should be doing.  There really is nothing one can do to avoid an apocalypse, especially when you don’t know what the apocalypse entails.  So what could actually be occurring?  There are so many opinions on this, as varied as there are people in the world.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Galactic Alignment:  Around this time, though this is highly debated, the earth, sun and the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy will cause havoc on the earth.  While it is well-known that alignments do cause a gravitational anomalies, it is not known whether the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way would have any significant effect on anything, let alone destroy the earth.
  2. Solar Maximum:  This is a very realistic, though not necessarily catastrophic theory.  The sun does go through a cycle of activity that lasts roughly 10 to 12 years — not a 20 year Mayan cycle.  That being said, 2012 thru 2013 is the most activity the sun has been in a few decades, and we have been seeing a great deal of solar flares and CMEs from the sun.  We also know that a solar flare can cripple electronics, as it did in 1859 with the telegraph services and in 1989 with the ‘Quebec Blackout’. 
  3. Pole Shifts:  The Earth periodically shifts its magnetic poles, which is a function of the dynamo at the center of the planet.  This can, theoretically, be caused by a solar flare, or other anomaly.  We have not ever experienced a pole shift, so we have no data on how that could actually happen.  While we know that the poles will shift at some point, and it will cause serious issues for life on the planet, it is not at all cyclical, and is not something that starts on one day and ends on another.  Pole shifts take thousands of years to complete.
  4. Planet X:  This theory is preposterous.  It states that there is a planet on a collision course with the earth that will destroy us all, similar to the idea of Wormwood falling from the sky.  However, any object as large as a planet would already be visible in the night sky.  It would have to be moving at superluminal speeds to suddenly appear this year and destroy us all. 
  5. Nemesis Star: This is one of the more interesting theories I’ve read.  It states that there is a brown dwarf star which is the binary twin of our star.  This is very plausible, and worthwhile to investigate for many reasons.  The first is that brown dwarf stars are very dim and hard to detect against the full backdrop of other farther yet brighter stars.  The second is that the majority of stars in the universe are indeed binary stars, meaning there are two for every solar system.  I find this even more interesting because if there is indeed a binary star, and if its orbit is highly eccentric or elliptical, it could indeed swing in closely to us, causing gravitational disruptions, or cause other objects to be deterred from their normal course. 
  6. Enlightenment:  As I try to be more Zen, I think its important to mention the idea that 2012 will usher in a period of enlightenment, though there is no scientific evidence to suggest such a thing has ever happened.  But, what makes this interesting is the growth of our current global network.  Could our interconnectedness through vessels such as Facebook and Twitter assist us in finally overcoming our differences, and have an ‘A-ha!’ moment as to how we all need to live in peace and harmony?  It would be nice, wouldn’t it?  But it’s probably not very likely.

These are all very interesting things to consider, but why are we considering them at all? There are so many other civilizations that were just as advanced as the Maya, yet we do not collectively spend nearly as much time obsessing over their doomsday predictions.  And having said that, the Maya didn’t really say it was a doomsday, but a time of great change.  We follow their doomsday prediction because they were amazingly astute in their understanding of astronomy, able to achieve amazingly accurate calculations with very primitive devices, compared to what we have today.  But we must also remember that at night, they did not have TV, computers, phones or even books.  All they had was their eyes, the campfire, and hours of laying on their backs gazing up at the stars.  We have polluted our skies with light to the point that we only see a few of the stars and planets with the naked eye – but if you’ve ever been to a place far away from any city or town, you know that the skies are filled with them and they are absolutely beautiful and worthy of reverence.

So, today I’ll end by saying this – there really is nothing more or less you can really do about a nebulous prediction about the end of the world.  But you can live this year better than any other you have in the past.  Live like the end is near by cherishing those around you.

Happy New Year!

Categories
Life Philosophy Politics

Political Accountability

Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away, only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air. You better watch out, there may be dogs about! – Pink Floyd

I cannot tell you how much I despise the political machinations of our democracy.  As we approach the presidential elections in 2012, the annoyance factor increases exponentially with each passing week as the candidates frantically try to sway us into thinking they are the best for us and America.  I have to say, in my opinion, we have a horrible choice of candidates available to us.  Indecision, infidelity, inexperience and insanity — my summation of our choices.

As I’ve mention before, I’d rather have root canal than listen to any more drivel being spewed by all the candidates.  The more I talk to people around me, the more I realize that people do not truly understand their choices, and subsequently, their ability to affect this country.  With each passing election people have become increasingly disenfranchised to the point that they have become utterly confused on what it means to vote in our democracy.  But our duty does not end with casting that ballot, because as we well know, all politicians have the attention span of a goldfish [Which is 12 seconds as determined by a multi-million dollar federal grant to some university — Probably the same one who got a grant to see if shrimp can run on a treadmill].  With such a short attention span, and a general lack of loyalty to their constituents, we must always ensure that we are making ourselves heard by the ones we’ve chosen to represent us.

We are responsible for ensuring that our representatives are doing what we want — and not what they are being paid to do by lobbyists, or other coercive entities, that troll the Capital like remora following a shark.  We must remember that they “represent” us, and it is our responsibility to manage what they vote on.  I know it sounds very idealistic and simplistic, but so many people have forgotten that our politicians are supposed to represent what the we want, and not what they have decided on their own.  Now, we can only blame them so much, because only a small minority of people actively take part in guiding their representatives towards the will of the many.  If we don’t get actively involved, you can be assured that others, who have considerable resources, will drown out the voice of the few with the bullhorn of greed.

Our country is in a very precarious position.  We have over-extended ourselves in so many ways, it’s just a matter of time before it all collapses in on us like a black hole, from which there is no escape.  Unemployment is high, national debt is high, housing values are low, personal stability is low.  We should not couch this in terms of “consumer confidence” any longer, we should call it what it is, “Citizen Confidence”, and we have lost confidence in our leaders — yet we continue to re-elect them.  What’s more, is the fact that we get the usual, corrupt suspects to try to represent us.  Mitt Romney already tried to run for president and failed, does he think we forgot?  Newt Gingrich lives in a world of make-believe.  Rick Perry suffers from the same inexperience as President Obama, though they have the best of intentions – “Hell is full of good wishes and good intentions” St. Bernard.  [L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs]

So what are our options?  We could wait patiently for the proverbial “Philosopher King” as Plato suggests or we can actively begin to “Manage Upwards”.  We are not a monarchy, so the people we elect are subject to our will and not vice-versa.  We must stop waiting until an election to expect our representatives to listen to us.  We should be voicing our opinions to them constantly.  We cannot let them continue to stand on the political lies they tell when trying to get elected.  If they say they will lower taxes, force them to vote to lower taxes.  If they do not, then make sure everyone knows that they have not voted in the prescribed manner and don’t re-elect them.  It’s really that simple, but we forget these things.

Take a moment and look at the Occupy movement.  In theory, it is attempting to do the same thing, however, they have not articulated a list of salient points that they wish addressed or the manner in which they wish them to be addressed.  The spirit of the movement is lost in the news stories about the people in the movement, rather than the movement itself.  We have moved beyond the ability to protest, because protests in countries like the USA do not have as much weight as they do in a country that has been systematically oppressed for decades.  We are not oppressed, we are disinterested — that’s the difference.

Everyone needs to take responsibility for the actions of the people they elect.  If you voted for Obama, and you think he’s done a horrible job, don’t re-elect him just because he’s a democrat.  We must move away from this bi-partisan system, and start to investigate other ways to make this country better.  Both of the major parties have significant flaws, and really, if you look at it from outside the party and not as a member of that party, you’ll see that there is clearly no real winner.  This simple fact can been seen by looking at how slim of a margin there has been in the last few presidential elections.  There has been no clear winner in quite some time.  I also find it hard to believe that we are all that polarized.  If we were as polarized as the polls make us look, none of us would be able to coexist, and we do coexist quite well, its our political parties that do not.

So today I just want to end on this note:  Take a long hard look at why you support the politicians you do.  Are they aptly representing everything you want them do?  Are you voting for them based on party or on their accomplishments?  Do you know how to contact any of your representatives? 

2012 is another opportunity for the citizens of this country to make significant change.  Are you willing to be accountable for 2013 and beyond? [Assuming the world doesn’t end 12/21/12]

Categories
Life Philosophy Science

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.” – Richard Bach

Okay, I have to say that I think I’ve now heard it all.  I heard this news story on NPR today that just made me shake my head in disbelief.  We are so focused on ensuring that we have no personal accountability, we have created a laundry list of “disorders” to explain why we do bad things.  Today’s accountability dodger is the “Intermittent Explosive Disorder” or IED [Isn’t it ironic that it has the same acronym as Improvised Explosive Device].  The story applied this disorder to people who road rage, saying that it was the explanation as to why people get out of their cars and start screaming, and or beating other people’s cars.  In a less sophisticated time, we would have simply said, “The devil made me do it.” — which was a load of manure then, and it still is now.

I am a commuter and have been for about 15 years.  I’ve had to travel to DC and Richmond on a regular basis, and while the traffic is not nearly as bad there as it is in California, there are days when I wanted to get out and start screaming, especially when it’s a heat index of 110 degrees, and the AC is taxing the engine.  But, have I gotten out of the car and started doing anything along those lines?  No, because I would hope that I can exercise more restraint than a 5-year-old.  Intermittent Explosive Disorder is just another way of saying Temper Tantrum.  And no matter how you put it, clinically or philosophically, it’s still the ravings and a petulant child.   We, as adults, are supposed to be able to act in calm and calculated fashions.  100 years ago, no one in society would have ever accepted a grown person to have an angry outburst without some sort of significant repercussion.  But now we are willing to remove yet another layer of accountability from ourselves, and label it as a disorder.  When does it end?

Disorder is defined as “a condition involving a disturbance to the usual functioning of the mind or body”.  What a perfectly nebulous definition!  This means that we can pretty much label anything out of the ordinary as a disorder.  If you eat too much, it’s a disorder.  If you can’t pay attention, it’s a disorder.  If you are stressed, its a disorder.  But is it really a disorder?  Is it something beyond your control?  Probably not.  But now if someone starts road raging at you, you’ll feel inclined, by misinformation, to say, “Aww.  Cut him some slack, he’s got the IED and can’t help himself.” How long until people are cleared of murder because they had an intermittent explosion that resulted in the death of 10 people? 

Now, let me clarify all this.  I am not saying that there aren’t people who have serious medical conditions that cause unexpected or disorderly behavior.  But I cannot accept that everyone who exhibits these symptoms is “afflicted”.  For instance, I know people who are overweight because they have a thyroid issue, and I know people who are overweight because they sit on the couch, watching TV and eating Twinkies all day.  Should these two people be treated the same way?  Absolutely not.  The person with the thyroid problem can be treated medically, and spend the rest of their life fighting their weight.  The person sitting on the couch will benefit from the plight of the person with a thyroid disorder, and claim that it’s not their fault they are overweight — but it is all their fault and its is our fault for giving them a fictitious disorder to hide behind. 

One of the biggest contributors to all the problems in this country is our lack of accountability.  From the President, to the person working at McDonald’s, we are ALL accountable for everything that is happening.  We have allowed ourselves to be a country of complainers. We blame everyone else for our problems.  Look at politics, the right blames the left and the left blames the right.  Well actually, it’s all their faults, but even more so it is all of OUR faults.  We have continually elected people who have misrepresented the rest of us for decades.  And when something goes wrong, we blame them.  Well, they only do what we tell them to.  If they aren’t doing what we want, then don’t re-elect them! 

But I digress.  The point to all of this is that we must stop making excuses for our own actions.  There are people who have real disorders, but the majority of us who have bad habits or practices do not have a disorder.  Drug addiction, alcoholism and obesity are for 99% of people are self-inflicted, but we use every excuse in the book as to why we should be allowed to continue with the behavior.  

So today, I would just like to end by saying that in my opinion, Road Rage is not a disorder.  Road rage is simply an adult acting like a child.  Rather then prescribe pills, anyone caught road raging should be put over someone’s knee and spanked.

Categories
Life Philosophy Religion Science

A Programmer’s View of Religion and the Universe [Part 4]

“Science without Religion is lame.  Religion without Science is blind” – Einstein

This is the 4th installment of a 5 part series on Religion and the Universe.  You can read the previous articles by going to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Today we are going to discuss existence and what that means.  In programming terms, an object is created and lives for a certain amount of time, performing a function, then dies or is disposed of.  An object can be something as simple as a list of values, or array, or a complex object such as a database record.  Each object has a variety of attributes which comprise the object, such as a date, a name or a type.  As the programmer, I am the one who decides when the object will be created and when it will die, but I do this through a set of rules, or logical controls.  I do not monitor every instance of my program that is running and decide when objects will be created a users utilize my program.  So this can now be applied to the universe and the role of God as the programmer.

Many religions believe that God is watching all of us and deciding when we will live and when we will die, individually.  It is said that he achieves this through omnipresence and omnipotence.  So let us define these two terms before we continue:

  1. Omnipresence: continuously and simultaneously present throughout the whole of creation
  2. Omnipotence: possessing complete, unlimited, or universal power and authority

First of all, it is not at all impossible that God is omnipresent, existing at all corners of the universe.  It is a fundamental fact that all matter and energy in the universe are interconnected, through weird processes we do not quite understand.  Therefore, it is not all that hard to stretch that a fundamental intelligence permeates the whole of the universe.  From programmer’s terms, I would define this as the underlying Operating System in which the program runs, and the framework that defines the structure of the program. So the universe is the operating system, [Probably Windows :)] and programs could be individual solar systems, planets, or societies.  Objects would therefore be the lifeforms and processes that inhabit the system.  According to the God analogy, he would decide when everything lives or dies, reviewing each life form or process individually and continually.  Now, from my perspective, this would be more like a chess game, rather than a society of sentient, conscious beings.  Which would suggest to me that free will is a myth.  But when you throw Omnipotence in there, if he already knows the outcome of the chess game, what would be the point in playing.  And who is he playing against?

This, in my mind, leads me to believe that the more logical assertion is that God defined the program, according to a set of rules, or design, and merely observes the outcome of individual objects, working according to their functions and programming.  Even if I as the programmer could possibly monitor every aspect of every instance of my program running, I cannot for the life of me see any point to that.  Objects exist for their own sake, and interact with other objects to make the universe interesting.

And these leads us to the discussion on existence.  What exactly does it mean to exist?  The definition deceivingly simple – “the state of being real”.  What does it mean to be real? I would assume we say that it exists or interacts with the common reality, or a version there of.  In our programming example, the object exists for the life of its usefulness, then is gone.  Or as Shakespeare put it:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. – MacBeth V.v

But then we get into the most contested aspect of life and existence: the soul or consciousness.  And here I will leave you, because the 5th and final installment in the series will deal with the complex concept of consciousness.

Categories
Life

Bullies are Untamed Animals

Doc Holliday: A man like Ringo has got a great big hole, right in the middle of himself. And he can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain to ever fill it.
Wyatt Earp: What does he want?
Doc Holliday: Revenge.
Wyatt Earp: For what?
Doc Holliday: Bein’ born.

I was on Facebook yesterday, as much as I hate that platform, and I noticed that someone had posted a link to this video.  First, I’m going to predicate all this by saying that I am not sure if it is a real or fake video, but I am posting it here because the message is a very real one, and it punctuates a growing problem in the world.

Now, before I was an awesome blogger, I too was a geeky, skinny kid in high school.  Yes I know its hard to imagine 😉  But I myself endured my own encounters with bullies, beginning when I was in the 6th grade.  It’s a horrible thing, but I survived, though I can’t help but wonder how my life would have been different today.  I am an introvert and very wary of people in the real world.  It took me many years after high school to realize that the bullying was done, and that I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore.  Some people will say its a natural progression through adolescence, necessary to make the weak stronger.  But it doesn’t make anyone stronger, it breeds apathy and hatred.  It pushes us apart from one another.

I wish I had a short answer as to how to stop bullying, once and for all.  It is merely a residual instinct left from the time when we as a herd needed to weed out the weaker individuals.  The way animals do.  But have we not evolved beyond simple, instinct driven animals?  It appears we have not.  So many kids each year endure what Jonah, in the video below, have endured.  Some do not have the apparent resolve that Jonah has demonstrated, the willingness to endure and be a better person as a result.  Many kids kill themselves, turn to drugs, cut themselves or turn into bullies themselves.  We as adults must address this.

I’m not willing in giving anyone a free ride on this one.  Bullying begins at home.  If a child is a bully, the accountability falls squarely on the shoulders of the parent/parents.  It is not the responsibility of the society to raise your child — it is your responsibility.  I can say this because all of the bullies I have encountered throughout my life had horrible home lives.  Many of them were being raise by parents who were themselves bullies.  We must stop making excuses and start taking action.  If you’re child is a bully, the bullying isn’t the largest problem — the child is missing something and they are missing something because you have not given it to them.  It is the parents responsibility to fix the problem.  It is our responsibility to ensure that the parent is held accountable for lack of parental guidance.

Until next time.

Categories
Life Philosophy

The Humbug Epidemic

“Then rang the bells, both loud and deep, god is not dead, nor doth he sleep.  The wrong will fail, the right prevail with peace on earth and good will towards men” – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Each year it seems to be that people are less and less cheery at the holidays.  I’m sure that a great deal of this has to do with the state of world affairs.  But, I have to say, when you look back in our history as a country, we have been through worse and were able to maintain a semblance of civility towards one another, especially at Christmas time.  Now that seems we find it acceptable to create commercials for Christmas that have snarky, sarcastic overtones.

How about the eBay commercial where the little girl is telling everyone what she does not want for Christmas, and that everything she’s gotten in the past was basically unappreciated?  Or how about the commercial where the woman hands her Christmas list to the sales clerk and gloats at her being done with her list?  Or how about the one with the woman waiting for Santa to gloat over the fact that her presents are better than the one’s he is leaving? I have to say I am deeply saddened that we have turned Christmas into such a horrible reflection on our society — a society obsessed with owning things.

Although, the coup-de-grace of all things that upsets me about Christmas is that we have television shows on how to ensure that all your presents are returnable.  Yes, returnable!  I think that we must all have been raised horribly, because all we care about is whether we get what we want.  What ever happened to “It’s the thought that counts”?  I guess you better think real good about what your friends and family want, or they’ll just return your gifts.  I have never returned a gift.  I was happy to get anything.  And if the gift didn’t fit, or wasn’t something I could use, I would simply give it to someone who could use it, after thanking the giver profusely.

In addition to this, we have to stop calling it Christmas.  This is probably the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard in my life.  Christmas, is a Christian holiday, now — the time of year derived from the pagan holiday of Yule.  I am terribly sorry if someone is offended that the Christians have a holiday as prolific as Christmas, but that is the way it has always been.  They are not “holiday” trees, they are “Christmas” trees.  They are not “holiday” parties, they are “Christmas” parties.  People who are up in arms about calling things “Christmas” are probably the same people who ensure that the gift receipt is valid so they can take the present back and cash it in.

Maybe this is the reason why we have become so desensitized to Christmas.  We have completely lost the true feeling of Christmas.  It really isn’t about the birth of Christ, it’s about hope, friendship and togetherness.  We are so wrapped up in our little lives, pursuing the next gadget or item we can own, that we forget there are 7 billion people around us.  Christmas is that one time of year where we actually have an excuse to be nice to one another, regardless of religion or race.  We should all be gathering around the fire, keeping each other warm with camaraderie — instead, we get up at midnight to rush to Walmart to buy a shopping cart full of garbage, wrap it in paper, then hand it out to the people around us, hoping we get something better in return.

So in my family, I’ve taken measures to change this, as much as I can in my little world:

1) You will never get a gift receipt from me.  If you do not like or need what I gave you, then pass it to someone who does.  I thought enough to buy you anything, that should be good enough.

2) I have a Christmas Tree, Christmas lights, and Christmas parties.  Holidays is a general term and does not describe Christmas.

3) I will not provide nor accept a Christmas list, unless you are under 10 and it is address to Santa.  Nor will I provide you a list. We should know one another well enough to know what we need.  If you or I do not, then why are we buying presents for one another?  Wouldn’t a nice cup of egg nog together be just as nice?

4) There is always a limit on the amount of money spent and it is guideline, not a goal.  It is more important to get someone one thing they will really like, rather than a car full of mediocre presents.

That’s it.  If we do not break this cycle, then why celebrate Christmas at all anymore.  The only people who stand to gain from Christmas anymore are the retailers.  Quality of products are horrible, deals are always too good to be true, and we are in a recession. 

Its time to stop thinking about our wants, and start addressing our needs.  We need the good cheer that comes from the spirit of Christmas.  We do not need another closet full of gifts we’ll never use.

Categories
Life Philosophy Religion Science

A Programmer’s View of Religion and the Universe [Part 2]

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” – Hamlet I.v

In the first part of this post, I began by explaining the similarities between modern software programming and the fundamental design of the universe.  It is no coincidence that these similarities exist, because at the base of everything is the one unifying language — Mathematics.  All things can be discussed in terms of mathematics, and all things can be quantified, to some degree, using mathematics.  So in order to define the “design” we must look to mathematics.

From this we can draw the conclusion that the architect of the universe is most likely a mathematician, but this is not to say that the architect created mathematics.  Mathematics simply exists and does not require creation, just as the fundamental state of existence does not require creation.  Mathematics and existence simply “are”.  It is very difficult for us to grasp this concept, because everything we see around us was created in some form or fashion, or at least that is the way we see it. 

In software development, there arises a need before there is a plan.  A customer describes the need to solve a problem, and a program is architected, engineered and coded to meet the need.  In all my years as a programmer, I have never seen a program appear out of thin air to meet the need; someone must design it, create it and define its parameters.  If we look around us, we see any number of objects lying on the desk before us; pencil, monitor, keyboard, checkbook, house, building, car.  All these things we created to meet a need or serve a purpose, and we use them until they are broken or no longer needed.  We don’t usually keep things around us, or create things, that serve no purpose.  But what is purpose?

The word “purpose” is a very broad term because we can define it so many different ways in the context of day-to-day life.  For instance, look at the purpose of a fork as opposed to a work of art.  Some would say that a fork has a higher purpose than a work of art because art does not perform a necessary function.  We as humans assign purpose to everything, and if something has not collective purpose, we tend to disregard it.  So we should turn that discriminate eye on ourselves.  What purpose do we as humans serve?  This question is what has spurred the millenia long strife of religion.  We cannot truly assign a purpose to ourselves, as a result, God has become the purpose, as we identify ourselves as his children.  This is not to say that this is wrong, but we must then put ourselves in the same role with our own children.  At the base level, children are a drain on our existence.  Our time and resources are spent to care for them, to teach them, to prepare them to have their own children.  One could argue that a child is no more purposeful than the work of art I mentioned above.  However, with a different understanding of purpose, children and artwork provide some level of entertainment and joy.  They enrich our lives, allowing us to enjoy the act of existing.  But what is existence?

Existence, like mathematics, just “is”.  And that is all we know at this point since we cannot define, or unable to ever define, why something like the universe would exist at all.  According to everything we know about science, it would have been much easier had nothing ever existed at all — a universe of tranquility, energy in a perpetual state of oneness and still. Everything around us all the time is trying to return to this state of stillness, only instead of becoming more still, it becomes more chaotic and more disorganized.  And unfortunately, once you’ve disorganized something, in the perspective of space AND time, you cannot reorganize it.  Time disallows us to ever return something to its exact state.  How is this, you might ask?  That is the realm of entropy.

For today, I leave you with these words to ponder, and I would love to hear comments or observations.

Categories
Life Philosophy Religion Science

A Programmer’s View of Religion and the Universe [Part 1]

“Far away, across the field, the tolling of the iron bell, calls the faithful to their knees to hear the softly spoken magic spells”- Pink Floyd

Religion has been a source of tension in our world since we first looked up at the sky and declared the sun and the moon to be gods.  We have all struggled with the search for purpose, wondering why we are here and who put us here.  Its amazing to me that we have come to the point we have in our world, where we are so disjointed in our belief systems, that we have resorted to death and violence in the name of God.  Does anyone else see this as a fundamental problem?

I must be clear that I am not in any way, shape or form proselytizing.  My own religious beliefs are exactly that — my own.  Being human, I think it is necessary for me to impart my own personal findings, as I reach mid-life.  I have spent a great deal of time studying other religions, and will continue to do so, because finding a common religion that we can all accept is the only true way we will reach global peace.  We all know this to be true, because we are constantly trying to get others to believe in the same thing we do.  World peace has become a cliche, or philosophical chimera — which is really quite sad.

I dont’ really need to speak about any religion in particular.  Each religion exists for a purpose, and obviously people who follow a particular faith have found their own purpose within that faith.  We do need to understand the importance of coexistence.  Without coexistence, we never have a hope of overcoming the disparity of thought surrounding the creation and purpose of the universe.  We must overcome our urge to disparage someone else’s belief system, because if you really think about it, every religion has its imperfections.  Imperfections exist because we are all human, and if we were perfect we wouldn’t have any issues in the world.  So obviously we are not perfect, and no religion is perfect if it does not appeal to everyone equally so. 

So I have come to several personal conclusions that I would like to share, perhaps helping you in your own explorations of the mysteries of the universe.  There are so many things that I cannot comprehend.  The vastness of the universe is overwhelming and we are just a tiny, beautiful jewel floating around a luminescent ball of pure undulating energy — one star among trillions of other stars.  It sustains everything that exists on our planet.  There is not one creature, big or small that does not get its nourishment and life from the sun; directly or indirectly.  Without the sun, there is only darkness and cold, which makes me think that the sun and others like it, are a significant aspect of existence.  A significant part of the design. 

I have approached this problem the only way I know.  I have been programming software solutions since the mid 1990s.  Object Oriented Programming shares a striking resemblance to the way that our universe functions.  What is strange is that when you really think about it, the universe really is very similar to the Matrix.  It all begins with the fundamental equations and constants.  We have constants in programming and in the universe — Gravity, Speed of Light, Planks Constant.  We have variables: mass, energy, acceleration.  We have a toolbox of elementary particles, or objects, to build from: strings, quarks, nucleus, protons, electrons.  We have functions assigned to each of the objects we build: attract, repel, fuse.

As a programmer and software architect, it would be silly for me to think if I just throw a bunch of code together it will just work.  There must always be a design.  Even the simplest life-form, or program, is a symphony of interactions that allow the life-form to exist.  Then the question becomes, “Who’s design?”

If you strip away the layers of dogma we’ve created for ourselves, it comes down to two simple concepts: Either there is a design, or there isn’t.  The “intelligent design” we have assigned to God, because we as humans must anthropomorphize  that which we revere.  With the multitudes of possibilities of configuration, it would be silly for me to say that the design comes from something that has been humanized.  God, in my opinion, is most likely something we cannot at all comprehend, because we are very limited in our experience and understanding of the universe.  The entirety of human history hasn’t even been a twinkle in the eye of the Universe.  We are only just getting started.

Looking back to the sun we see that its function is not only to provide use with the energy we need to survive, but through complex interactions, its creates the very stuff we are made of.  This one fact is something that a great many people simply do not understand.  Every thing you are made of came as the result of the fusion happening in stars, and stars that have long since died.  The carbon, the iron, the oxygen we breathe, all came from the death of a star.  Even new stars are formed from the death of other stars.  But the sun is not god, as we learned long ago.  So where do we even start to look for the design?

That is an enormous amount of information to grock in one sitting.  I will continue this article, after the holidays.  I hope you return to read the rest, and provide critique of my conclusions.

 

Categories
Gaming Life

Skyrim: Elder Scrolls for Xbox 360

Well, when they said that Skyrim would warp your sense of time and priority, they were right.  As you can see, by my nifty twitter feed to the right, that I have been quite engrossed in Skyrim the last couple weeks.  As an avid fan of Bethesda Softworks, and the Elder Scrolls series, I was impatiently awaiting the release of this game from its first announcement. I was so impatient of this game, that I had decided to go to the local Gamestop for the midnight release, which turned out to be a great surprise. 

I live in a small town south of Richmond, Virginia, in a community with at least 15 churches in a 5 mile radius.  When I pulled up to the parking lot at the local strip mall, my hopes were immediately crushed; there were easily 500 other people in line, wrapping around the strip mall like the Midgard serpent.  With the temperature dipping into the 40s, I decided I would have to wait another 10 hours to get the game. Thankfully, I was the first person in line the next day, and now, two weeks later, I am level 18 and 20 hours into the game.

In my opinion, this game is the pinnacle of Bethesda’s achievements thus far.  This game is so completely immersive and enthralling, I can’t see how they could possibly top this.  I have played every single Elder Scrolls game, (17 Years worth!) and I have to say that this is my favorite.  In addition, I have also played the Fallout series, and while it was great homage to the Fallout’s Interplay beginnings, it is not nearly as immersive as Skyrim.

I don’t want to spoil any of the storyline, for those of you who have not been fortunate enough to get your copy yet, but I do have one piece of advice: If you get any game for Christmas, this should be the one.  The sheer magnitude of the world is overwhelming.  Even from the very first ten minutes of the game, and the storyline had been set, that I could simply get used to the world by picking a direction and going off to explore.  One feature, which is presumably enhanced from the Ultima days, is the ability to pick up herbal ingredients from the wild flora and fauna of the world.  You can pick berries, catch butterflies, fish for salmon, go clam-digging or just do some old fashion bow hunting.  There’s something for everyone — and we haven’t even gotten to the quests and storylines.

The UI for the game works very well for the Xbox, in my opinion (having played both morrowind and oblivion on the console as well as PC).  It is quick and easy to find things you need in your inventory, without having to memorize what different icons stand for, as in Oblivion.  Having played the others on the PC, it took me some time to get the same alacrity with the controller vs. using the mouse/keyboard.  It’s obvious that the UI was developed with the console in mind, as it seems that PC gaming is quickly becoming a thing of the past. (At least not as pervasive as it had been).

There are many features to Skyrim that I love, and I have not even explored a fraction of the world as of yet.  Here are my top five, as of this writing:

5) The World is Beautiful:  There are many different environments to explore, each with its own appeal. From snow-covered mountains to swamps.

4) Werewolves are back: This was one of the biggest features I missed in Oblivion, and I am glad that they returned this to the game.

3) Skills System:  Their system has been greatly simplified with the addition of perks. The skills interface, with the constellation UI is very easy to use, and adds to the beauty of the game.

2) Followers/Spouse:  It is always nice to have a little bit of help from your friends.  Some of the quests I’ve done so far may have been nearly impossible had I not had a follower.   The jury is still out on whether we needed marriage added 🙂

1) Dragons: I have played quite a few games that had dragon components, including Dragon age.  The animations, the models and the battle sequences, as well as the rich history of the dragons, makes this by far the most exciting experience for the would-be dragon slayer!

After I’ve gotten further in the game, I’ll post another installment to give a more detailed review of the storylines, the quests and the replayability.