February 28, 2013

A Universe Not Made For Us — Carl Sagan

Our ancestors understood origins by extrapolating from their own experience; how else could they have done it! So the universe was hatched from a cosmic egg or conceived in the sexual congress of a mother god and a father god or was a kind of product of the creator’s workshop; perhaps the latest of many flawed attempts. The universe was not much bigger than what we see and not much older than our written or oral records; and nowhere very different from places that we know. We tended in our cosmologies to make thing familiar. Despite all our best efforts, we have not been very inventive. In the West, heaven is placid and fluffy; and hell is like the inside of a volcano. In many stories, both realms are governed by dominance hierarchies headed by gods or devils. Monotheists talked about the king of kings. In every culture, we imagined something like our own political system running the universe; few found the similarity suspicious.
Then science came along and taught us that we are not the measure of all things; that there are wonders unimagined; that the universe is not obliged to conform to what was considered comfortable  or plausible. And again if we are not important,  not central, not the apple of god’s eye, what is implied for our theologically-based moral codes? The discovery of our true bearings in the Cosmos was resisted for so long to such a degree that many traces of the debate remain; sometimes with the motives of the geocentrists laid bare.
So what do we really want from philosophy and religion? Palliatives? Therapy? Comfort? Do we want reassuring fables or an understanding of our actual circumstances? Dismay that the universe does not conform to our preferences seems childish; you might think that grownups would be ashamed to put such disappointments into print; the fashionable way of doing this is not to blame the universe which seems truly pointless but rather to blame the means by which we know the universe, namely, science. Science has taught us that because we have a talent for deceiving ourselves, subjectivity may not freely rein. Its conclusions derive from the interrogation of nature and are not in all cases pre-designed to satisfy our wants.

February 15, 2013

Fresh Reading Material

The annual question from Edge.org: what should we be worried about?

A remarkable essay by Eugene Wigner on the The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.

A look back at Aaron Schwartz's life in The New Yorker.

Here's the detailed story of the discovery of the Higgs boson in The New York Times by the renowned science writer Dennis Overbye.

You can't miss this Esquire interview with the Navy SEAL who actually shot bin Laden.

This is a fascinating article about the future by Bill Joy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems.

Articles about the Iraq war in the New Yorker.

Engines of our Ingenuity —  a radio program that tells the story of how our culture is formed by human creativity.

Jonah Lehrer articles from the New Yorker.

Jonah Lehrer article about memory in Wired.

An article about the human urge for exploration from the National Geographic.

Are you living in a computer simulation?

February 14, 2013

Mordechai Vanunu

The extraordinary tale of Israel's nuclear whistleblower perhaps remains less highlighted than it should be. Here's a documentary about him.

February 09, 2013

If Heaven is Real ...

Then, perhaps the world is going to hell.

I wonder how all those authors who have written NYT bestsellers would be feeling ... Tom Friedman wrote The World is Flat which went to the top of the list.

I wonder if any of Richard Dawkins' books ever reached no. 1 or not. Same for Christopher Hitchens' books. And so many of the world's real talented, professional writers.

I could tell them: so you've written an NYT bestseller? Well, so what! No big deal! So has 11-year-old, Mr. Heaven-returned young man.

I would tell all those NASA astronauts: so what if you guys have got PhDs from CalTech and MIT and wherever! Can you write like an 11-year-old?

I find the gullibility of Americans to be really scary. Perhaps the Europeans are not so gullible.

February 05, 2013

India 2030

The recent census has shown that India's population grew from 1,030 million to 1,200 million (growth of 16 percent) in the last decade. China's population increased from 1,240 million to 1,340 million (growth of 8 percent) in the same period.

Assuming a growth rate of 15 percent, India's population will be 1,380 million by 2021. China's population meanwhile will reach a figure of somewhere between 1,450 million and 1,500 million.

How can anyone get one's head around these enormous numbers? How many people can anyone connect with at a personal level? How many people can a human brain remember?

I don't know about others but I can speak about myself.

I probably have 200 relatives. Strangely enough, I've very few friends from my school or college days. Probably 20. During those bygone days, there were social networks and the passage of time makes memories fade. I can probably remember about 100 colleagues that I've worked with over the past five years. I am a bit of a news junkie. So, how many authors and historical and current personalities do I remember? I am not sure but it can't possibly be greater than one thousand.

So the total tally comes to around 1,500 at the most. That probably makes sense.

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