Wednesday, March 22, 2006

alright, it's time

this isn't a joke, or another manic episode. it is the end of an era (really, era? come on...)

i'm moving my blog to the following location:

please go there for all future readings.


Friday, March 10, 2006

various sundries

  • i'm giving a talk at harvard tomorrow, at the psychology department's music/mind symposium. under other circumstances (like, a few years ago), this would be exciting to me. but as of now, i could care less, except that i get to now put it on my CV.
  • i'd like to start posting more on what i really believe. like the fact that my belief in the afterlife has become less and less important to me over the past year. i'm often not sure if i understand or believe in heaven. i'm often not sure if i understand the significance of this.
  • white russian martinis are good. really good.
  • so is unibroue's don de dieu.
  • my sister-in-law and a friend are coming to stay with us tomorrow. for seven days. in our 600 sq. ft. apartment. we had to store all our liquor at our friends' house today, so we could pass unscathed through the inquisition. i'm so looking forward to this...
  • i'm applying for a job. that means i'm thinking about leaving school. i'm also serious. the job would possibly be in california. i get happy when i think about that.
  • it's been two weeks since i submitted my CV to my inside connection at the possible place of employment. i haven't heard anything, even from my said connection. i guess these things take time.
  • i've started seeing a shrink. seriously. i'm no trying to brag. i just wanted to say shrink...makes me feel like i'm in a movie.
  • i'm also slowly coming back to a fuller understanding of the significance of prayer and faith in the life of a believing person. it's a powerful combination, and one that i feel very few people combine successfully, at least from the (lack of) role models i've seen in my life. what i mean, is that very few people really believe the things they pray about/for. most of us pray like we're throwing up hail mary's. few of us seem to believe in the power of God.
  • life is good. and when stuff in your life starts to take control to the point that you lose sight of life's goodness, then it's time to change something or move on. you can only be free when you choose to leave those things which are damaging to you.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

the scientific believer

since coming to MIT, my mind has been stretched in many ways. combined with a general distancing from my SBC childhood heritage, i've spent the last few years deconstructing and reconstrcuting much of my philosophy on life. this has been a difficult process, made more so because i've often felt like i'm doing it alone.

recently, however, i feel that i've really started to come back to a more wholistic view, incorporating much of the scientific approach i've learned at MIT, while still being able to account for the wondrous nature of a lot of christian thought. this process has brought me to a place where i feel like i can communicate with most christians who believe in the 'other' supernatural world (the kind of belief that most MIT people would scoff at), while internally i interpret what they're saying into a more scientific understanding. this has meant that when i'm in a conversation, i take what the other person is saying, and internally interpret it into words that (most often) the other person would find reprehensible, while it all makes sense to me. this sort of dichotomy has, in my opinion, given me some insight to the rift that exists between spiritualists and naturalists, and so i've lately been wanting to create some writings that would highlight this apparent tension.

so today, i offer up this mock-conversation between a non-believer and a believer, on the subject of whether or not God exists. such a conversation is fairly representative of what's been going on in my mind for the past year. it's not quite fight club, but hopefully you'll find it somewhat interesting.

the non-believer says:
    there is no god. god is an invention, a figment, of the human mind, created to help humans account for their lack of knowledge in the universe. god is the catch-all used by humans to explain everything they don't know, or can't explain. this concept of god has been fairly useful for humans, for otherwise they might go crazy attempting to explain all that they can't account for. fortunately, science is slowly etching away at this vast unknown, and one day humanity's efforts will be able to explain much of what is unaccounted for today.

    life's course is determined by two things: chance and human will power. there is no such thing as the "hand of god" guiding you. all that's guiding you is your own desires. when those desires work out, you attribute it to god. when they don't, you create another ficticious character, the devil, to account for your bad decisions. in the end, the course of each person's life is dependent on the choices that that person makes, not on some unseen, 'divine' power.

the believer says:
    you say there's no god, and that's fine. i can't force you to believe in a god. i can, however, compell you to look at the track record of the existence of life. look at your own life, and look at how you've been successful. you obviously had to conduct your life in such a manner as to get to this point. how do you account for this positive growth? can chance alone beget order? in my mind, i understand your point about being able to explain away life in terms of probabilities. however, the fact is that there are certain rules and laws in this world (which science has discovered), that if followed result in growth and life. while chance seems to be key in determining direction of an individual's life, chance still cannon trump these rules. yes, the world does seem to be determined by chance, but it's determined by chance within the confines of a universe that has unforgiveable rules. these rules determine what survives and what dies.

    now, go look at the history of religion, and see how religion, although most of the time has resulted in great evil, has also resulted in the adoption of many of these rules for the betterment of humanity. and look at how these rules have benefited mankind. the fact that these rules exist, and that they result in the survival of adherents, indicates to me some sense of direction. it is this sense of direction that i believe points towards something greater than ourselves. this sense of direction points towards life, towards order, towards harmony. this sense of direction is what points us towards "God". if God doesn't exist, then how does order triumph over chance?

    i won't argue that believing in something else, like God, isn't difficult. it's very difficult. however, at then end of the day, when i step away from looking at the 'data', i see a pattern. and it is the existence of this pattern, this direction towards survival and life, that leads me to believe that there is an order in the universe. i readily admit that it is my choice to attribute this order to some greater force. but i will also point out that this choice has worked for ages, and continues to work, even in the face of opposing views. if the choice to believe in a God makes life easier, then why is this such a bad thing? could it not be that such belief gives a person a better sense of direction? could it not be that belief in God spurs one on towards actions that result in the proliferation of life? and if this process actually works, then how can you say God doesn't exist? the very fact that this process works is all the proof you need.

i'm not sure if any of this even makes sense to someone else outside of my mind. however, this is what's been going on inside for quite some time, so i offer it up and would be interested to hear what you have to say.

blog maps

i've been playing around with the Google Maps API lately, and created a blogmap showing the locations of blogs and friends i'm connected to. the list isn't complete, so don't get offended if you're not on there. however, since i pretty much know who reads this blog, i don't foresee that happening. if you want anything or anyone added, just let me know and i'll be happy to. also, be sure to check out how accurate the locations are. you might be surprised...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

the magical universe

amidst all that's been going on in my life, i realized i haven't posted anything that thought-provoking lately. i thought that meaning of would turn some heads, but i guess not.

one of the things i've realized lately is that getting good conversation started on the internet is an artform in itself. and since i thrive on good conversation about stimulating topics, i guess it's one i need to refine (at least if i'm going to be a critic). i originally started blogging again because of a post on fletch's blog. he tended to ask questions on his blog, and i've realized that this is one of the best ways to start a good conversation.

so, here's a conversation starter: IS THE WORLD MAGICAL?

being at MIT for the past few years, where naturalism seems to reign supreme, i've slowly been swayed to believe that the world contains no special "magic", but instead is composed of only what our senses tell us is there. while this is a valid argument for describing what humans can actually perceive, i believe that such a view is faulty in many regards.

the primary problem i have with such a view is that it assumes that the human being perceives everything. it is this assumption that i believe to be the achilles' heel of modern naturalism. we humans do have five senses, and it appears to us that we are the supreme beings in the universes, insofar as we can tell. but, we overstep our boundaries when we start to assume that we perceive everything that is. put another way (in the form of a question), how can we know that when we look at something, we are seeing everything that is there?

there's a constant pattern throughout the course of human history whereby humans assume one thing about the physical world, only to be shown later, with the revelation of new evidence, that the previous conclusion was false. take for example a flat earth, or a geocentric universe. over time, human beings, through the tool of scientific analysis, have provided us with additional information informing us of what actually does exist, and many times these new findings conflict, or rather destroy, old notions we have about the universe.

so, back to my original question, is it possible to believe in a "magical" world, where things happen that we can't provide explanations for, and still have this view fully supported by modern science? i argue YES. and my primary supportive point is that we still don't know everything that exists. years ago, we thought that the atom was the basic unit of physical reality. now, we know that it's not. i wonder how many more layers of physical reality we'll know about in 200 years.

if we don't know everything that exists, then how can we conclude that miracles are not possible? how can we conclude that prayer is something that is completely contained inside one's own head, and that there isn't really a communication with some other form or being? to operate one's life in such a manner that we assume that we know everything is very dangerous, for it places us on a pedastal of infallibility. many people, both naturalistic scientists and fundamentalist Christians, have placed themselves in this posture, and there continuance in that manner only causes them further damage.

we have to learn to live with an openness to the fact that we don't know everything. furthermore, we have to admit that it's quite possible we (humans) won't ever know everything, because as we discover more, we'll realize that there's still even more to discover. of course, this doesn't give us excuse to dismiss knowledge that we have discovered. even though we don't know everything, it is still our responsibility to do the best with what we DO know.

so, with regards to my original question, i guess i want to ask those who are reading:

do you believe that the world is magical?

do you believe prayer works, even though you don't see any "communication lines" between yourselves and God? do you believe that miracles actually happen, or at least CAN happen? for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, do we REALLY believe that the world can support all the things that the Bible accounts for Jesus doing? do we still believe that the world is like this? i admit that i DO believe in this aspect of the world, although this belief for me is relatively young. i have a full faith that the world is magical, and i'll be happy to field any questions from doubters who might think otherwise.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

the wonders of global capitalism

my good friend jon, a.k.a. "da biggest nation", who lives in abilene, tx, presented me with a wonderful present today. i'm sure you will find it an equally inspiring piece of fine musical art: mp3 link (4.4MB)

if you want to sing ( will!), lyrics can be found here

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

for those of you who are intrigued by interesting conversations about the meaning of life, then i highly encourage taking a stroll over to they have a bunch of recorded conversations with some of the world's preeminent thinkers of science, religion and spirituality. i've only listened to a few of these conversations, so i'd love to hear what you guys have to say about other conversations there. currently, i'm listening to daniel dennett's conversation on consciousness.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

here's a simple task:

name something that doesn't evolve. name something that doesn't change with time, something that is static.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

there's just something about CNN and their subtle, sometimes dark, sense of humor. tonight's headline:

Narcs nab drug-smuggling puppies

yes, PUPPIES! i'm not sure whether to gasp, cry, or start talking in baby-voice.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

for those of you who enjoy new music...

you have to check out the following site:

if you have a favorite station you create, please share it with us.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

i was impressed with the state of the union speech tonight. for the most part, bush has just been an idiot during his presidency. but there have been a few moments where i think he could make a great president. if he keeps up with what he started tonight, the history books might actual tell a story that isn't so focused on iraq. here are some highlights:

  • forming a commission to assess baby-boomer impact on social security, medicaid and medicare.

  • medical liability reform

  • "move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make dependence on middle eastern oil a thing of the past"

  • increasing funds for science and technology. research and development tax credit.

it seems like this is the first time he's acted like a compassionate conservative. i think the country could really use more.

Monday, January 30, 2006

hatred in the name of homosexuality

rick brought to my attention another recent online skirmish over the homosexuality issue. you can follow his blog for the details, but the basics are that brian mclaren DIDN'T condemn homosexuality, and therefore invited loads of bible-beating in the name of "truth".

i've been perusing the blogosphere over the past few years, and have come across some truly aweful forms of attack that are all cast in a christian skin. from anonymous comments on blogs, to other embodiments of poison such as emergentno. all of this behavior, to which i have not abstained at times, is very hard to reconcile with Jesus telling us to love one another. it saddens me, and further comfirms my own tendency to not look to the christian church for spiritual leadership. it really breaks my heart to see people treating each other like this, all in the name of Jesus. and this vitriolic attitude exists on both sides of the issues. until we learn to respond in love, we will not only get nowhere, but will continue making the situation worse.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

towards reconciliation on all fronts

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:34-35

i've been known to react quite loudly to acts by others that i find ridiculous, especially when they are committed in the name of Jesus and are made to speak for the Church. however, i've lately felt a consistent, gentle strain within me to find reconciliation with those that i differ so much with, who also share the identity of "follower of Jesus".

a lot of us have been burned by either fundamentalist or very sectarian ways of thinking in the churches we grew up in. and for many, the process of deconstructing and discarding those harmful ways of life is still continuing. however, as much as i've grown tired of churches in general, the fact is that the only way back towards following Jesus together is for us to start finding common ground with all those on the road. initially, this seems like a difficult, if not impossible proposition. as we've been discussing in an earlier post, the way in which we treat Scripture seems to drastically affect our faith, and so how can we begin to find common ground when there's so much disagreement on those fundamental issues? the solution, as least as far as i can see in my limited view, is to do as best we can, and not give in to legalities.

behind every theological argument we have with another person, there still exists a very human, emotional connection. the quality of this connection is largely lost in the blogosphere, so i'm really talking about personal interactions here. this connection we share with other humans is very real, and exists despite whatever intellectual differences you hold with someone else. when we find ourselves in these situations, or even in "milder" situations where the talk isn't so heated, but the tension still exists (even if it's just in your own mind), we have to make concerted efforts to overcome the emotional control that these things hold on us, and always remember to treat our brothers and sisters with the utmost love, compassion and humility. this can be very, very hard, especially if this means they get the last word, or you look bad. but i am convinced that, given Jesus' ultimate example in the giving of his life, it is the only option if we are to really follow Jesus and walk as he did.

now, the simple fact is that when i say something like that, it's quickly going to come to mind an instance where this might not be right. but i can't account for those, and neither does any theology. following is a way of life, not a set of rules; it's more important to foster a way of being, rather than an intellectual toolkit. when we give ourselves over to disputes, i think we're giving part of ourselves away that we don't need to. it becomes a distraction, while not being relevant to our relationship with God. this happens on all sides of the spectrum (the right & abortion, the left and social justice, the middle and their gripes about the right and left not getting it right). the fact is, as gentry alluded to, it seems much better to talk about what's right with us, rather than what's wrong. not that there's not a place for working through our issues. it's just that our issues usually get worked out, and it's the working out that sticks with us forever (kinda like darwin). the things we learn to do right are the things that make the biggest difference in the world.

so, as we continue to deal with others of the same name, but different cultures, may the peace of Christ rest on our hearts, that we may stop yelling at each other...

one for the calvinists

here's an interesting article on how our perception of "free will" is really just an illusion of our minds that we experience as we live. i haven't finished the whole article yet, but so far it's made for an interesting read. they don't give any data to back up their claims, so if you don't agree, don't's just a "theory".

link to PDF

Monday, January 16, 2006

things that annoy me

1. restuarant personnel singing their company's "outrageous" birthday song for patrons. i always feel guilty when i don't chime in.

2. "pre-game" shows for any type of arts award show (acamedy, grammy, emmy, etc.). case-in-point: the golden globe awards pre-show is on right now. what does it matter, and how is it beneficial, that we know what these other human beings are wearing?!? really, this is a waste of human life and resource. i'll read the standings in the morning and use my free time to do something useful.

please, please feel free to add your own.


i don't know if my questions will be as good of a discussion starter as fletch's, but i'll try it any way.

why is it that both Jews and Christians, who have the same creation story, have such different takes on the literal-ness of Genesis? why is it that the whole debate over intelligent design is waged by conservative evangelical Christians, but not Jews? the Jews still have the same creation story, so why don't they care? do Jews' faith not rest on the creation story? why is it that Christians are so caught up in defeating evolution? does faith in God and in Jesus as the Messiah rest largely on the creation story? can one believe in evolution, and still believe that Jesus is the Messiah?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

artificial intelligence

for those who are interested, here is a little model that i coded up this week. it's a very simple example of primitive (one neuron) aritificial intelligence in an extremely simple world. you'll need flash to view it:

the basic premise of the model is as follows:

the yellow object in the middle is a sun, and the white objects are artificial
organisms. each organism is modeled as a two-cell system, one cell for a light-receptive neuron (sensor), and the other cell for a muscle (actuator). the neuron only fires a signal to the muscle when the sunlight-dependent voltage inside the neuron reaches a value above threshold. at this point, the neuron takes a random step to one of the 8 surrounding squares, and the value of the voltage is decremented (to account for the firing). then the voltage has to charge up again before it will fire. the light from the sun decreases relative to the square of the distance of each organism from the sun. therefore, organisms closer to the sun accumulate more voltage quickly, and thus fire more often, resulting in more movement, than those further away. if you watch for a while, you might even see one of the organisms get too close to the sun, go berserk for a few seconds, and then settle down when it gets further away.

there's nothing really remarkable about this model so far, except that all the movement, and any pattern that emerges (like the frequency of movement as related to distance from the sun) is completely derived from the physics of this little pseudo-world. the organisms aren't really doing any independent thinking; they're just reacting probabilistically. given that, i think it's pretty interesting how closely this resembles gnats flying around a light bulb.

Friday, January 13, 2006

as i've been thinking about the nature of human cognition and consciousness lately, one of my prevailing threads of thinking has concerned the relationship between the human brain and our interpretations of reality. unexpectedly, however, i've come to the conclusion that joyce meyer might be right, in the sense that the mind really is a battefield. however, i think that her perspective on the issue is so encased in western patriarchal dominator culture that the actions she takes to interpret her main theory tend to take on a characteristic that is antithetical to some of the main characteristics of Jesus' life (at least from my reading of the gospels).

jumping off from there, this also makes me think of the value in finding the truth in the messages of those you disagree with. it seems that all people are driven by their own perception of the "truth" of reality, and that this perception is what drives them to various actions, whether it be fundamentalist evangelism, or terrorist attacks. if we are to really live like Jesus in this world, then one of the fundamental actions we must take in dealing with people who are different from us is to find and understand (learn) how they see the truth, and realize that they perceive reality in a much different way from you. maybe then some positive constructive work can come. however, as long as we only attack each other, nothing positive will come. energy is only created when two separate entities enter into resonance with one another.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

you can always count on...

my crazy aunt-in-law, "auntie ann" (i kid you not), to forward me the hottest christianese emails. the latest i received today. somewhere between Deep Thoughts by jack handy and the sphinx from Mystery Men, lies the interview with God (go ahead, click on "view presentation"). the pictures are quite nice, but i feel like each statement is a riddle of some sorts.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

complex systems

i'm pretty excited about a week-long intensive course i'll be taking next week. the course will cover the topic of complex systems, and will be taught by the New England Complex Systems Institute. here's a link to the syllabus(PDF) for the course.
i started a fairly interesting forum discussion about penal substitution here.

Friday, January 06, 2006

given the fact that none of my friends took me off their blogroll, i figured maybe it meant they actually enjoyed reading my blog and were anticipating my return. OR. they're just too lazy to remove me from their blogroll. whatever.

anyway, i think things in my life are finally starting to turn around. this is primarily due to me slightly shifting my research topic to something more cognitive, as well as finally deciding that we won't be moving to minneapolis. this whole chain of events brings more uncertainty into our life, but what does it matter? the fact is that faith is something that works against uncertainty, all the while staring it in the face. and i believe that this is the right thing to do. you could call it "God's will", but that might be pushing it a little too far.

things that haven't changed? it's 1:18am. i wonder if this is ever going to change. probably not. unless i ever graduate and get a real job. and the chances of that happening?

i realized over this christmas break, when we were home visiting family and friends, that a lot of life boils down to how you react. shit is always going to happen; it's inevitable. however, the manner in which we react to life, in all its forms, largely determines the atmosphere, and thus attitude and character, of who we develop into. if we see life as a cynic, then we will become hard. if we see life as a pessimist, then we will become defeated. but if we choose to see life as opportunistic, and we realize our choices determine the outcome of those opportunities, then the sky will begin to open up, and we will begin to see heaven.