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:

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.

Philosophy Politics

Change – Promised Yet Always Undelivered

Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow; Nought may endure but Mutability. – Percy Bysshe Shelley

Back under the frayed quilt of politics we go, listening to the heads bobble and talk.  Every single candidate heralds a change.  Change in taxes, change in jobs, change in our way of life, change in our dealings with other countries.  Words Words Words!  We never change, and it’s because we are resistant to change.  We feel change is unnerving and uncomfortable.  But the reality is, everything else is in a constant state of change.  It is a fundamental principle of the universe. All things change, and fight as we might, we cannot stop it.

I bring all this up because I’d like to start a new movement.  I don’t want to sit in a park and complain about the haves and the have-nots.  I don’t want someone to give me something for nothing.  I don’t want to protest. I don’t want to war.  I just want to commit to bringing about change, for better or worse.  We must change, and when I say “we” I mean every single living being on this planet.  We cannot continue forward in the manner we have been conducting ourselves.  We must find new ways of bringing about a global change, because if we dont the planet will do it for us — as it has countless times before.

A recent study I read, found here, has some extremely interesting and compelling arguments about the current state of the Earth’s Geomagnetic poleshift, which has already begun.  For those of you unfamiliar, a geomagnetic poleshift is the natural process of the magnetic poles, both north and south, moving from their current position to some other position on the planet.  This is caused by the constant churning and spinning of the molten iron that makes up the Earth’s core.  The magnetosphere is the most important aspect of the Earth’s geomagnetic processes because it is greatly responsible for reducing the harmful particles that are constantly stream from the Sun to the Earth.  Think of the solar winds as a very hot hairdryer, and the magnetosphere as a hat.  If you take your hat off, your head will get really hot if pointed at the same spot for too long.  But if you keep the hat on, the hat absorbs a great deal of the heat, allowing your head to get warm, but not too warm. 

The Earth’s magnetosphere becomes very weak when it is in the process of switching.  This means that we will received larger amounts of harmful solar radiation than normal, and this has detrimental affects on the planet, such as increased volcanic activity, bizarre weather patterns, increased earthquake activity and even social impacts as all living things on the planet are attuned to this magnetic field.  There is no question of “if” this will happening, it “is” happening now, and I think if everyone stops for a moment and looks around, you’ll realize that things are changing on the planet, but we are too absorbed in our petty lives and differences to see the forest through the trees.

There are so many other reasons for us to begin entertaining a Movement of Change.  The gaps between the middle class and the upper class are growing at alarming rates.  Wars and discontent breed and fester like a global virus.  We have become lazy.  We have become greedy.  And all the while, we have run ahead foolishly without pay attention to the cliff up ahead. We must begin now, and all of us have a responsibility to get the word out. 

As humans, we crave social acceptance, but also want to remain individuals — there is nothing wrong with that as long as we keep in mind that we need balance. However, we should not only do things for social acceptance, because that is not the “right” mindset.  We should do things that make us feel good about ourselves, yet also improve the world around us.  For instance, one very small thing that we all tend to forget is the simple principle of causality, or cause and effect.  It is at work every single moment of your day.  Everything cause you initiate has some sort of effect.  I have seen this principle at work when I am at my office.  I have seen how one person’s mood, particularly a bad mood, slowly affects everyone’s mood.  One simple word said in anger, can cause a chain reaction that eventually spreads like wildfire from the office, to the gas station, to the restaurant and finally back to one’s home.  Thinking that your mood is your own is a foolish assumption.  Each of us is a ripple in the pond of spacetime.  So one form of change is to be more cognizant of how you treat others daily, and how you are treated.  If someone is in a bad mood, it is always your choice to be affected, or try to reverse the process.

But this is something we should all know, and we do, we just allow other things to keep us from being sucked in.  I have found that when I wake up in the morning and remind myself, “People are going to try to affect you today”, I am able to remain in a good mood all day, despite how people act towards me.  It is so easy to get frustrated.  But also, I have to constantly remind myself of the things that truly matter, and the things that are truly a problem.  When I start to feel myself fall into a melancholy state, I stop and say, “Hmm, is this really a significant problem?”  and more times than not, I find that what I was worrying about was really quite silly.  This is not to say that there are not real problems in the world, and we are all facing difficult times.  The only way we can change the world is to focus on the things that really are a problem.

It’s no surprise that we are so upset all the time.  Just watch ten minutes of the news and you’ll see how we are constantly and relentlessly bombarded by bad news.  Here’s a neat little experiment you can try for yourself — next time you are watching the news, count the number of “negative” stories you hear versus the “positive” stories you hear.  When I tried this, I found that for every 5 or 6 negative stories, there was only 1 or 2 positive stories.  Also, the negative stories were much more emphasized in dramatic, for example one negative story was a triple homicide and the only positive story was a local restaurant opening.  Bad news sells so much better than good news and for the life of me I do not understand why. So it makes me wonder, can we really ever trust any of the stories we hear on the news — is our world really this depressive?  I don’t think so.

So how do we change all this?  First we have to start with ourselves.  From now until November we are going to be bombarded with ads, debates, speeches and road shows centered on the Presidency.  We’re going to hear all sorts of promises that will be broken — yes, they are always broken.  We want to believe, and they know we want to believe, so it all comes down to who is more of a “glad-handed-dandy”.  In the end, it is painfully obvious that the politicians we elect are only interested in one thing — status quo.  So we have to begin by taking a long hard look at ourselves, are we reflected in the mirror of our own politics?  Yes, unfortunately we are.  But the good news here is that we can break that mirror and get us a whole new way of looking at ourselves.    Its time to vote “none of the above”, because we dont’ have any good choices this time around.  Let us stop praying for someone to save us and focus on saving ourselves.

In my opinion, change starts with me and it starts with you.  After you read this, be nice to the next person you see — tell them you value them as a friend, buy them a cup of coffee, tell them a joke or anything you can think of.  I guarantee the rest of your day will feel great because you’ve started an effect, that while fleeting, will travel far and wide.  Its more than “pay it forward”, because you’re not just anonymously doing something nice.  Do something nice because you want the world to be better, not because you’ll get a pat on the back.

We have so many erroneous views of one another as we have been told for a very long time that one person is better than another person for any number of reasons.  No one is better than anyone else.  We all come into the world the same way, and we will all leave the world in the same way.  All of us are scared and worried about things to come, and the uncertainty of the future.  We are all the same at the most fundamental level.  So really, the only thing you need to know to live a good life is to remember – I am you and you are me.

Let’s fix it together.


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.

Life Philosophy Politics

What Rough Beast?

 “Do every act of your life as if it were your last.” – Marcus Aurelius

I am not at all politically inclined — to save my sanity.  I simply do not understand the machinations of the modern political system.  On my 30 minute drive home each day, I listen to NPR, mostly for the Arts value, and rarely for commentary on the state of things.  There have been quite a few pieces about the Occupy Wall Street Protestors, and the people fighting for and against it.  Everyone is making this matter far worse than it has to be.  It is our right, as Americans, to protest injustice in our system.  This is the very thing that our country was built on, the very thing our constitution was written to protect.  We must be allowed to speak, we must be allowed to ask for equality in all things, we must coexist here.  However, we must understand what exactly we are protesting.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is a very important movement because it represents a microscopic look at the macroscopic problem we are faced with, not only in America but in the world as a whole.  Mathematically we would call this “self-similarity” — something exhibited in the structure of fractals.  Recently this has been applied to many things to show that the whole is represented by examining a small part of the entire object or system.

From the global population to each individual household, we can gauge the success of the whole by looking at the part.  When we are looking at the state of America, we can see that individual households are struggling, localities are struggling, on up to state then country.  And then these problems can be propagated down from the world to the individual. So what does this all mean?

The answers to our global problems must begin in each household.  There is no way to sugar coat these issues, or redirect blame to others.  We as citizens must fix ourselves before we can hope to fix the world. 

Protests are important because they shed light on the systemic problems we all face.  And while the Occupy Wall Street protest is focused on the “haves” and the “have-nots” [yes, it really is that simple, no matter how you couch it], it will force us to look at what has caused this chasm between the classes.  Both sides in this, the 1% and the 99% have forgotten that we share a dichotomous relationship.  The 1% cannot exist without the 99%, and the way of life desired by the 99% cannot exist without the 1%.  This means that the 1% are people who provide a service that the rest of us require or want — whether it be a software giant like Microsoft, or a media giant like News Corp, or a bank Giant like AIG.  The 99% create the 1% by needs and wants.  I want an iPhone, so I will give $200 to Apple, and $75  a month to Verizon.   We are not being forced to buy these products.  We want to buy these products. 

The banks failed because we wanted houses bigger than we needed or could afford.  Does a family of three need a 5000 square foot house?  Probably not.  But we live in America where that is possible, but we cannot blame everyone else when we can’t make our house payment.  We have built this empire of wants and needs all on our own.  We need Coach purses, SUVs, LED TVs, Laptops, iPads, Xboxes and Smart Phones.  All these things we think we need, but we really actually just want it.  Blaming the banks for giving us large mortgages we can’t possibly pay is like blaming the bartender for giving you too many drinks that made you sick.  We must have personal accountability. 

I have spent time evaluating my own purchases and how I use them.  I’ve bought things that were fairly costly, only to let them sit in a drawer somewhere, because I “might” need it at some point.  Did I need a smart phone? Not really, I just got it because everyone else had one.  Do I need an SUV? No, I need a compact car for my commute.  But, all these things I bought under my own volition, and as such I have gladly supported the rise of the 1% to suit my own desires.  And this is the rub in it all.  If we feel that the rich are too rich, then we need to stop buying their products that making them richer — otherwise, we need to cherish the things we have and stop complaining.  It’s just that simple.

I understand that people are frustrated that the 1% are so much more well off than the 99%, but we have to accept the fact that we have done all this to ourselves.  We bought the things that made them rich.  We buy these things because we think we need them.  If we want to change this, it has to start with each of us.  Its been said many times before, but we must be accountable for ourselves, and the outcomes of our actions.  We have to evaluate our lives, and only then can we change the world.

Occupy Wall Street has opened my eyes, not only to the perceived injustice, but to the frivolity of my own life.  I want to change the world.  I just thought I would share my opinion, in case you feel the same way.