The Eternal Now and Time Travel

This morning while taking a shower I began thinking about now.  Here I was, a naked 62 year old male, in a 1950s pink tile room, wondering what was going on concurrently in the rest of reality as I soaped up.  My wife would be just getting to work in her office in Birmingham.   1.3 light seconds away, events are happening on the Moon, several light minutes away Mars and the Sun are doing their thing, stuff is also happening around Alpha Centauri, four and half light years away, then 2,538,000 light years away the Andromeda galaxy is speeding towards our galaxy, and who knows how many billions of light years is the edge or the universe, or what’s beyond and how far it extends. 

Everywhere there is something happening, as I take my shower.  We’re all in an eternal now.

I try to imagine Einstein’s space-time concept and how it might affect things.  But to me, it seems logical to think there is a universal now that happens everywhere, even into adjacent universes in the multiverse, or even adjacent multiverses.  Could there ever be two nows?  Or multiple nows?  Isn’t death just losing touch with the now?  And didn’t the eternal now exist even before I existed?  Isn’t consciousness tuning into the now?

As as science fiction fan I love the concept of time travel, but isn’t time travel the attempt to go to another now?  If there is only one eternal now, then that will be impossible.  We see artifacts of the past, and anticipate the future, so we assume both places exist – but do they?  When we see the Andromeda galaxy in the sky, we’re seeing what it looked like 2,538,000 years ago.  It’s actually much closer.

Recently scientists created a computer simulation of the universe.  I wonder if it’s how it looks in the eternal now, or how we see through timed artifacts?  Everything we perceive about reality is time delayed.  We aren’t looking out our eyes, but at reprocessed information, so there’s a slight delay.  If I talk to my friend Connell in Miami, a thousand miles away, there’s a slight delay in the phone signals.  The eternal now is everywhere, but we experience it inside our heads, and all that input about reality is delayed.  The visual field I see in front of me as I type is a tiny fraction of a second late from the eternal now.

The theory of an all powerful, all knowing God is quite interesting to think about regarding the eternal now.  If God is not limited by the speed of light, God would see everything at once in the eternal now.  But would this deity also see the past and future all at once too?  Or does God inhabit the moment like everyone and everything else?  It’s hard for me to believe in God knowing how big reality is, especially if the eternal now has always existed, and will always continue to exist.  Infinity is such a mind-bashing number.

We often ask when did time start, and when does it end.  And we often imagine the beginning of space and matter.  But do we ever wonder about the origin of the eternal now?  If there was only one Big Bang moment, then that was the beginning of time, space and now, but it’s starting to look like there wasn’t just one Big Bang.  No matter how many universes there might be, won’t there only be just one eternal now?  Isn’t it the same now here as it is fifty-five universes over from ours?

I think we’re hung up on birth and death, beginnings and endings, because we have one of each, but maybe reality and the eternal now doesn’t.  As a kid I wondered who made God like other kids, and why wasn’t there nothing.  How could existence start at all.  My conclusion?  That non-existence nothing can’t exist.  That it’s impossible.  If it could, it would have, but since it didn’t, it can’t.  It hurts our heads to comprehend why non-existence isn’t so.  Logic tells us there should have been an origin.  Our minds can’t get beyond cause and effect.  We know nothing lasts forever, but maybe one thing does, the eternal now.

We spend our lives pursuing religion, philosophy and science trying to understand the origins of existence, but in the end the answer is always beyond our small brains to comprehend.  And even if we built an AI Mind the size of Jupiter, would it be large enough to know?  Even if God existed, would God know?  Would not a being that could comprehend all of reality have to ask:  Where did I come from?  How did I get here?  Doesn’t any being asking the ultimate ontological question end up with “It’s turtles all the way down!”

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The Hindu tell us to “Be Here Now” – but where else could we go?

JWH – 5/9/14

The Two Faces of Science Fiction

Science fiction has always had two different faces that confounds efforts to define it in a distinct manner.  Science fiction first evolved as a literary branch of philosophical speculation which produced stories, often crudely told, about possible inventions, speculation about distant worlds and their inhabitants, and extrapolation about the future.  Speculative science fiction is pretty much based on “What if?”  Writers could imagine the impact of change, or wonder about unexplored areas of reality.  Eventually, some of this speculative science fiction produced concepts that became popular, generating global memes, and then other writers wrote adventure science fiction using these concepts as if they were religious icons.  Often adventure science fiction based on original speculative ideas have no new speculation on their own.  A spaceship is just a spaceship, and alien is just an alien.

Think of H. G. Wells two most famous stories, The Time Machine, and War of the Worlds.  In the late Victorian age they were both highly philosophical speculations.  Then Edgar Rice Burroughs comes along and turns Mars into a romantic adventure destination that had no relation to reality.  A modern comparison is to The War of the Worlds and the film Independence Day, which has little or no speculation.  It’s all adventurous fun.

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area51-independence-day-attack

Another good example is Star Trek and Star Wars.  All fiction needs some action, so Star Trek was given a wagon train to the stars framework, but many episodes were built around various kinds of speculation.  Star Wars on the other hand plays homage to the galactic empire of The Foundation series, while cherishing the fun of Saturday afternoon serials inspired by Planet Stories types of adventures.  As hard as I try, I can’t think of one bit of speculative science fiction in all of Star Wars.  That’s not a criticism, but a way of defining Star Wars as the ultimate example of adventure science fiction.

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C3P0

Think of how many episodes of ST:TNG where the plot was written around speculation about Data’s body, mind and abilities.  In Star Wars, C-3P0 is a very interesting character, with lots of personality traits, but there’s no speculation about his scientific origins – he’s just a colorful character in an adventure story.  Star Wars offers no lessons in artificial intelligence.  For the most part, Data is mainly used as a stock character for adventures too, but sometimes Star Trek did speculate.  In Isaac Asimov’s early robot stories he spent more time speculating, in his later ones, especially the novels, he spent more time using robots as characters having adventures.

Modern science fiction tends to be mostly adventure based.  When H. G. Wells started writing, few writers had explored many science fictional concepts, so Wells appeared to be a genius inventing science fictional idea after another.  Up until the 1960s, science fiction writers churned out speculative science fiction because there was plenty of undiscovered ideas to imagine.  Now that’s getting harder.  Since the 1960s, science has become an extremely popular entertainment genre, so most writers just take old SF memes, give them a new paint job, maybe even go all Baroque in styling, and create adventure science fiction.

We still get new speculative science fiction, in both books and movies.  My two favorite recent examples are The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi and the film Gattaca.  Life on Earth is always evolving and changing, so there’s always new content to speculate about, plus science is always advancing, giving new ideas for extrapolation.

Science fiction has always suffered from a schizophrenic approach to reality though.  Why are post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories so popular with kids today?  They present horrible worlds where the characters have big adventures.  Isn’t that odd?  In the 19th and early 20th century, such novels were warnings about the future and fears about paths society might take.  Now such scenarios are escapist fun!  WTF!?  Science fiction is often like the comedy-tragedy masks, or the Janus god head.  No kid would daydream of living in the world of Nineteen Eight-Four, but I bet a lot of kids picture themselves inside the world of The Hunger Games.

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Serious speculative science fiction tends to illustrate worlds that few would fantasize about living in.  Who would want to live inside The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.  But what about Dune by Frank Herbert or Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein, or even Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card?  Yet, how many adventure books have been written that take worlds similar to the ones these books describe and make them into fun adventure stories?  Like the contrast between education and entertainment, some writers aim for edutainment, but most just give us escapism.

Heinlein was speculating about serious ideas, but most military SF since then have been theme park rides.

Here’s the dilemma for writers.  True speculative science fiction isn’t escapist fun, whereas adventure science fiction is.  So if you want to sell lots of books, and maybe get your story made into a blockbuster movie, you’ll aim for adventure science fiction – but if you want literary recognition, and the chance of creating a classic the survives, you’re better off writing speculative science fiction.  They teach Frankenstein, Brave New World, and Nineteen Eighty-Four in schools, but not adventure science fiction.  Which sold more movie tickets, Spiderman 2 or Transcendence?

When I go to the bookstore, or flip through Locus Magazine, or read about new books at SF Signal, I’m enticed by myriads of thrilling stories, ones that promise epic adventures, with colorful sexy characters, involved in addictive complicated plots, the kind of books that are escapist fun to the hilt.  And I’m not against reading these kinds of books.  But what I miss, are the speculative science fiction books.  They seem few and far between nowadays.  Is that because they don’t sell, or are a bummer to write, or what few people want to read?  To me, speculative science fiction is the real science fiction, and all the other stuff is fantasy fun.

I’m working on a new edition of The Classics of Science Fiction and I’ve always used a statistical method to create the list before.  But this time, I’m thinking about creating it as a history of speculative science fiction.  Yesterday I discovered  Radium Age Science Fiction at HiLo Books, and essays on Pre-Golden Age Science Fiction by Joshua Glenn at io9.com.  Most of these books are now forgotten, but they were at the time, attempts to write serious speculative science fiction.  I wonder if I can create a Classics of Speculative Science Fiction in chronological order starting with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, or even earlier books if I can discover ones that fit my concept, and then move towards the present showing an evolution of speculative science fiction?

Instead of creating another list of the most popular books of science fiction, I want to create one that showcases books that introduced the best science fictional ideas.  I think as kids, when we first discover science fiction, we’re hooked on the far out ideas, but later on, we become addicted to the escapism.  When we’re thinking about ideas, we’re exploring reality.  We want to know how reality works, and how we can adapt it to our own needs and desire.  Later on, we read science fiction to escape reality, because we’re disappointed with its limitations.

This provides two faces of our own psychology.  Now that I’m old, I wonder if I sold out sometime in the last fifty years.  That I sold my sense of wonder for a sense of illusion.

JWH – 5/6/14

Are Our Brains Being Fucked Over by Fantastic Tales?

While watching the previews of the new Spiderman movie I wondered how could Spiderman do all that swinging from building to building?  I don’t read comics, but is there some kind of theory as to why he can leap from location to location?  What propels him?  How does he have the strength to survive the G-forces pulling on his arms, or impacting on his legs?  What generates his webbing?  I know all of this is just for fun, but thinking about how it could ever be real hurts my brain.  It’s just so fucking unbelievable that I have to wonder about its psychological allure.

Why are we so entertained by fantastic tales?  Aren’t superhero movies just fairytales for adults?  And aren’t they getting out of hand?  Action movies are moving further and further from reality.  Is this good for our brains?  There’s a saying by old programmers, “Garbage in, garbage out.”  It meant if you input bad data into the computer, the machine will spit out bad data.  Couldn’t that also be true for our bio-computers?

Why do we so badly want to believe in magic?  From the earliest days as toddlers, we are told fantastic tales.  We watch TV that’s full of bullshit concepts.  We read comic books and real books based on fantastic concepts.  We teach our kids about the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, angels, witches, vampires, gods and God.  As children grow their fantasy inputs becomes more sophisticated, switching to Harry Potter, Star Wars and Spiderman.  They will tell you its not real, but what do they feel in their heart of hearts?

We let them watch old TV shows like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched where a crossing of the arms or a twitch of the nose can alter space and time.  Does anyone ever wonder what is the science behind the God of Genesis ability to create?  Is it a magic staff like Moses, or does he twitch his nose like Samantha?  We subtly embed the meme that magic exists, while saying it doesn’t.  Is it any wonder that some kids have a frail grasp on reality?

I’ve spent a lifetime reading science fiction, and bought into all kinds of crap that’s not supported by real science, or I did.  I’ve now become an atheist to my own religion – science fiction.  Once you question one bullshit theory, you question them all.

I know it’s supposed to be in fun, but how many people secretly wish for the fantastic?  Deep down, how many people wish their lives were like the movies?

And haven’t action movies gotten a little embarrassing?  Aren’t they really power porn?  Sex porn is the dream of unlimited sex.  Isn’t action movies and superhero movies just a desire to gorge on unlimited power?  To be able to kill you enemies with enormous force and ability?  Most people would never watch sex porn in public, but why aren’t people embarrassed to watch huge quantities of power porn in large groups?  And isn’t it hilarious that both sex porn and power porn are about carrying different kinds of big sticks?  Talk about your AK-47 envy.  Isn’t this all just power fantasy?

What is the underlying need for binge TV watching?  Is it any different from binge video gaming?

Isn’t it all about escaping reality – becoming one with fantasy?

What’s the exposure limit to fantasy before it becomes harmful?

JWH – 5/2/14

A Choice of Two Creation Stories: Cosmos v. The Book of Genesis

Although the new documentary series Cosmos is a science show, it can also be seen as a creation myth.  It tells how the universe was created and how people came about.  This puts it in direct competition with all other creation myths, such as The Book of GenesisCosmos represents the creation myth of 2014.  Trying to find a date for when the Book of Genesis was written is very hard.  We don’t know when or who wrote it, but there is great speculation, both by scholars and the faithful.  Unfortunately the faithful have come up with endless theories to when The Book of Genesis was written and by who.  Some of them are very creative, but they are all self-serving, in that they are meant to validate a particular view of religion.  Let’s just say The Book of Genesis was orally created thousands of years ago, before written language, before history, before science, before philosophy, before most every kind of systematic form of learning that we know today.

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My point here, is we’re constantly creating stories to explain reality and our origins.  Three thousand years from now, the science of Cosmos will seem quaint – maybe as quaint as The Book of Genesis seems to most educated people today.  And maybe there will be a small segment of the population that clings to the ideas of Cosmos 2014 because it rationalizes some idea we treasure now but is rejected in the future.

Young Earth Creationism is the idea that reality has only existed for about 6,000 years and any suggestion that anything is older is a challenge to their theory.  Basically, these believers do everything possible to rationalize that The Book of Genesis is literally true, even though its full of internal inconsistencies.  They believe Moses wrote the first five books of The Bible around 1445 BC, even though Moses is a character that comes generations later.  They’ve even come up with an idea of how Moses could have done this, The Tablet Theory.

Cosmos is based on science, and science claims to be based on directly studying reality.  Because science is logical to most people, people with opposing creation myths like the young Earth creationists, now attempted to be scientific.  Sadly, their pseudo science is pathetic.  Both sides will reject the myth label, and insist their story is the actual explanation of how reality works.  That puts them into direct competition for the hearts and minds of citizens of the Earth.

Trying to understand how many Americans believe young Earth creationism is hard, but here is one study, “How many Americans actually believe the earth is only 6,000 years old?”  Tony Ortega estimates this is around 31 million.

The new Cosmos will be seen in 170 countries in 45 languages, but how many people will accept it as the best possible current creation story is hard to calculate.   Neil deGrasse Tyson is the new Moses of science, and he claims the universe is 13.8 billion years old, and instead of structuring his story around 6 days, uses an analogy of the 365 day calendar to picture how 13.8 billion years would unfold.  The image is our modern world since the Renaissance would fit into the very last second of that imaginary year is just bind blowing!  One year has  31,536,000 seconds, so this creation myth is quite complex. 

The Book of Genesis, a single chapter in one book, and is merely a few thousand words.  To understand those 13.8 billion years Cosmos covers you’ll need to read hundreds of books just to get the basic ideas how how things works, and thousands of books to get a fairly accurate picture.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t at least one scholarly book for each of those 31,536,000 representational seconds.  Maybe the faithful prefer The Bible for their explanation of reality because it’s requires reading only one book.

For most people, watching the whole series of Cosmos will only be educational in the vaguest sense.  Fundamentally, it will just be another creation story to accept or reject unless they study more science books to dig into the details.  I’ve often wondered just how many science books an average person had to read before they could claim they have a decent sense of scientific understanding.  To get some idea of the variety of science books available, read Gary’s Book Reviews at Audible.com.

Fans of the new Cosmos after finishing the series could read ten of the best popular science books on cosmology and still not understand much.  It’s a shame that K-12 schooling isn’t structured so children end up recreating the classic experiments of science.  Educating a scientific mind might be beyond reading books – it might require a series of AH HAH! moments of doing actual experiments.

Cosmos is a magnificent television show, but it’s only a beginning.  I’m sure the producers only expect it to inspire rather than teach.  It is Glenda telling Dorothy that the Yellow Brick Road exists, and viewers need to follow it to discover the real meaning of science.

The Great Books of Science

Encyclopedia Britannica has Great Books of the Western World – 60 volumes of the most influential writing in history.  This set was inspired by the 1909 idea of Harvard University and their Harvard Classics.  Which is also imagined in Harold Bloom’s Western Canon.  What we need now is The Great Books of Science series.  It doesn’t have to be an actual publication, but a constantly updated list of the best 100 books to read to understand science.  Science books get dated quickly, so the list needs to be constantly monitored and revised.  The editorial board needs to be scientists, or at least popular science writers of great experience.  Here are some attempts of coming up with such a list of science books.

As you can see, I didn’t find that many lists, so it’s a great project waiting to happen.  There’s many more lists of great science fiction books than science books, which is sad.  I love science fiction, but shouldn’t real science be more popular?

JWH – 3/13/14

Can 20th Century Dogs Ever Learn 21st Century Tricks?

We moldy holdovers from the 20th century must admit now that it’s 2014, that the 21st century is much different from how things used to be in our Leave it to Beaver days.  Young people born in the 1990s will have a hard time even understanding our old ways.  And why should they?  As a writer I should spend less time focusing on the past because more and more of my potential audience will have no understanding or connection to it.

On the other hand, I don’t think I can ever become a post post-modern, or whatever we should call a 21st century individual.  I just can’t move my head into the Twitterverse, and have a hard time even using Facebook, which evidently is becoming passé with the younger generations because they’ve already moved on to newer technologies that I don’t even know the names of.  Even more, I really can’t imagine myself wearing Google glasses, or modern fashions.

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But I have changed a lot.  Is that even interesting to the 21st century citizen, that a 20th century person is adapting?  If I live to be 100, I’ll have spent roughly half a century in two different centuries.  How long will it take to become a completely 21st century person?  Is it even possible to catch up?  Will 20th century folk always be on the trailing edge of 21st century living?

In history and literature, the term modern means early 20th century, and by the time I was born I was growing up in a post-modern era.  That kind of talk is completely alien to a true 21st century mind.  What do they call their post post-modern lives?

In the world of science fiction, we talk about post-human cultures, and post-humans and trans-humans.  We expected genetics and other cyber technologies to transform humanity into something new.  However, we thought they’d be physically different, but what if that’s not true?  What if merely growing up in a high tech culture makes that generation significantly different?  Hell, us baby boomers growing up in the 1960s thought we were significantly different from our parents who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s.

Would it be possible for a 20th century person to catch up and even surpass a child of the 21st century?  I have 50 years of wisdom and knowledge they don’t – won’t that count for something?  I also have 50 years of reading science fiction and thinking about the future that should give me some kind of edge.  But is thinking about the future of equal value to growing up in the future?  I don’t know.

When I sat down to write this essay I intended to write a completely different essay.  It was originally called “How New Technology Changed My Old Lifestyle.”  But as I wrote the first few sentences I realized the more interesting question is:  Can my older mind catch up with newer thinking?  And if I’m having a hard time, how do the Gen X and Millennials feel?  If must be confusing for a Millennial (Generation Y) to think of themselves as the cutting edge generation and realized they’ve already been surpassed by the latest crop of youngsters, which some people are calling the New Silent Generation or Generation Z.  Hey, it’s a bitch getting old, get used to it.

And even though modern teens walk the tech walk, and talk the tech talk, do they even have a clue as to what the fuck is going on?  Is living in virtual worlds almost 24×7 of any real value other than hiding out from the real world?  Did rock music and dope confer anything special on us baby boomers that made us more savvy about reality?  Is being hip a real survival trait?  Can you transform the world into a better place with just smartphone smarts and social media savvy? 

I think the real trans-human mind will think with scientific clarity that requires seeing with statistics and math.  The real power minds of the 21st century won’t be Twitterers, but data miners.  Talking in 140 characters only leads to snippy gossiping skills, if you want to conquer the world you’ll need to be able to digest petabytes of data at a gulp, and convert it into  graphics that show visual insights that transcends text.  In other words, if you’re only nibbling at tech, you won’t get far.  It’s the super-geeks that will inherit the Earth.

To answer my title question, yes, it’s possible for baby boomers to excel in the 21st century but only if you ignore the glitter of tech glamour, and go deeper.  In every generation it’s the folk that can tell shit from Shinola that succeed.  Technology is transforming how we live, but I’m not sure it’s transforming us in how we think.  People still think the same stupid stuff, but just say it in 140 characters or less.

Probably the real 21st century citizens have yet to emerge.  And all the tech we’re seeing is a kind of churning of digital conversions, transforming culture more than people.  Does it really matter that you watch TV shows via broadcast TV, cable TV, or Netflix TV?  19th century people would feel superior to me because I’m not smart enough to hitch up a team of horses.  I’m thinking the difference between old humans and post humans are whether or not they can comprehend what David Deutsch writes about in The Beginning of Infinity, which is the ability to effectively evaluate knowledge.  Sadly, I’m just as far from understand that as I am at understanding the Twitterverse.

JWH – 1/8/14

Reality is Not About Us–Philosophy in a Photograph

Sometimes I get very philosophically excited by a picture, but I find it very hard to put my reaction to it into words.  The whole picture is equal to a thousand words kind of thing, but for me, some pictures could generate a hundred thousand words, or even millions. 

Here’s a photo I found and sent to several of my friends.  It’s a dragonfly covered in dew.  Philosophically, I’m fascinated by the idea this reality wasn’t meant just for humans, and reality is experienced by an infinity of minds perceiving it in infinite ways.  This is one of the many reasons why I don’t believe in God.  God is too small of a concept to encompass all of reality.  God is too anthropomorphic, to human self-centered, to be a meaningful hypothesis when you study all of reality.  The reason why I embrace science is because science is a better tool for understanding the truth about reality, even though I know that even science is too puny to do the job completely.  Science just handles big numbers far better than theology.

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Our human senses are so limited when it comes to looking at reality.  For example, look at this second photograph of the same image, taken from the photographer’s web site.  This is from Martin Amm Photography, and is color corrected differently.  The first picture had been color saturated to make it more intense.

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Now don’t get the idea that the second photograph is the way the dragonfly really looked at the moment the camera snapped the picture.  First off everyone sees things differently, and everyone’s monitor color calibrates differently.  But even back in the reality from which the photo was taken the photographer saw the dragonfly differently from what he photographed, and the birds nearby waiting to eat the dragonfly saw it differently too.  And the insects on the same branch saw the dragonfly completely different too.  There is one huge reality, but all the beings in it see it differently, in an infinite number of ways.

To begin to understand how complex seeing is, and I mean beyond just the tiny window of visual light that humans use, we have to study the electromagnet spectrum.  On a recent PBS NOVA, “Earth From Space” they had a scientist report that if the electromagnet spectrum was measured from New York to Los Angeles, then the part the human eye sees with would be the size of a dime.

Size matters.  Our view of reality is distorted by our size and the size of our senses.  When humans invented the concept of God, our awareness of reality was much smaller, and we pictured God as being the biggest thing we could imagine.  All our cherished concepts, God, heaven, hell, love, hate, justice, good, evil are measured by human scale senses.  As human minds progressed beyond theology into philosophy and then into science, we saw the reality around us expand further and further.  At one time God was the biggest thing we could imagine, and then science gave us the universe, an object whose size is beyond our best imaginations to fathom, but it can be measured.

I use the word “reality” to label everything rather than the word “universe” because scientists are now speculating that our universe might only be one of an infinite number of universes.  When I say “reality” I mean the whole she-bang, and not just the big bang.  When I say the word “God” isn’t a big enough concept to convey reality I’m  not just being an atheist, but I’m making a philosophical statement about numbers, size and reality.

Humans generate ideas constantly, but most of our concepts don’t hold up against reality.  Take the concept of heaven.  Many people believe when they die they will go somewhere else, somewhere beyond reality.  Where is heaven?  How big is it?  How far do we have to go to get there?  How many people are there?  How many animals?  What about plants and insects?  What about intelligent beings from other worlds?  Does the dragonfly above deserve everlasting life too?  Reality is huge, but how big must heaven be?  If everything in this reality gets to live again, how big must heaven be?

By one estimate, over 107 billion people have lived on Earth, and that doesn’t count Neanderthals and earlier forms of hominids.   Is heaven and hell crowded now with all those people?  What about their favorite pets? What about all the billions to come?  Just how big is heaven?  Heaven is described in The Book of Revelation and even given with measurements.  Depending on we interpret the ancient measure, heaven could a large shopping mall about the size of Australia.  Did you know the Bible describes heaven as a building, and living in heaven would be indoors?

See what I mean when I say our concepts about reality are too puny to be realistic.  People who study Zen Buddhism are taught to look at reality without using all their bullshit concepts.  If they say something stupid they are caned about the head and shoulders.  If we had a Zen master walking behind us all day, we’d get whacked in the head constantly.  We’re always bullshitting ourselves.

It’s very hard to use words precisely.  We have so many bogus words.  We have too many words that distort our view of reality because of their anthropomorphism.   I find it helpful to stare at photographs and try to forget the words.  Or just stare at reality and try not to explain what I’m seeing.  But that’s a failure too.  You see, we do have a sixth sense, one that the dragonfly doesn’t have, and that’s language.  We see with words.  Learning to use the correct words, without distorted concepts, is a way to focus our inner sight on reality.  We can see reality, in our limited fashion, but we must wash the bullshit off our eyes first.

Does this begin to show you why I got excited by seeing the photograph of the dragonfly?  I’ve written about a thousand words now.  Tomorrow I could write a different thousand words on meditating on the same photograph.

JWH – 6/27/13

Is Dieting a Test of Free Will?

Ever since I read The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker I’ve been obsessed with the concept of free will.  I’ve read enough books on brain studies in recent years to doubt the existence of free will.  Now I’m not saying we’re all robots, but I question whether or not we’re making decisions on our own, as if we were independent souls sitting in our heads driving our bodies around, and making impartial decisions based on weighing all the evidence and facts.

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I remember a freshman philosophy course I took in 1969 and my professor challenging us to come up with an example of free will.  That class inspired many arguments between me and my friends.  Free will is a philosophical concept that few people think about in normal life – mostly because it feels like we do make our own decisions so why even ask about free will.

When Neo makes his choice between the red and blue pill in the film The Matrix, is that an act of free will?  If he’s the One, wouldn’t that make him born to take the red pill?

Everyone assumes they have free will and they are acting on their own volition, but the older I get the more I assume that’s just an illusion.  So I’ve been wondering if I can come up with a test for free will.  I think I’ve found one with dieting.  Our bodies and hunger represent the power of nature and the hardwired programming of genes.  The need to diet comes from our environment, where we constantly learn that fat is sexual unattractive, unhealthy, and like Pavlov’s dog, we’re constantly conditioned that being fat is bad.  Without that nurturing my nature would run wild.

If we have free will we should be able to evaluate all the outside data and decide to diet and lose weight because of its own philosophical merits.  Then why do so many people have trouble dieting?  Is it because our bodies, genes and physiological wiring program us to eat and free will can’t overcome that?

I started a diet today and at this very moment my body is already nagging at me to eat something fun.   “What a puss,” my mind tells my body.  I say no, it says yes.  If I can keep saying no, is that proof of free will?

Now there are two factors here:  free will and will power.   Scientists are throwing water on the concept of will power too.  And what’s the difference between free will and will power?  Deciding to diet might be an act of free will, but failing to diet might be a lack of will power.  And if I succeed in losing weight is it really because I have free will, or has outside stimuli overcame my genetic programming and reprogrammed my eating habits?  Where is the me in all of this activity?

Or is it a case of “I diet, therefore I am.”  (I wish I knew the Latin equivalent to cogito ergo sum that includes the word diet.)  Is thought good enough to prove the existence of free will?  Without thought I’d just eat anything I wanted and never think to lose weight.  However, all those thoughts about losing weight come from the outside world.  If I really had free will, wouldn’t it have been my idea to lose weight? 

But who comes up with original ideas???!!!  Einstein and the theory of relativity comes immediately to mind.   Imagining the concept of space-time had to be an act of free will.  Do we discount the billions of years of cosmological and biological evolution that produced Einstein as not part of the equation, or is Einstein’s discovery of space-time really the universe’s act of free will?  Einstein couldn’t have made his discovery without a long history of other scientists and thinkers.

When I choose to diet, is it my decision, or society’s?  Like Neil Armstrong’s “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  Can we ever separate our will from the world’s?  The urge to eat is genetic.  How much I want to eat is probably genetic too.  Choosing to eat between steak and veggie burgers would seem like a free will choice, but is it?  If I had never read about vegetarianism would I ever considered the choice?

That’s the weird thing about asking ourselves if we have free will.  Genetics might be our hardwiring, but the environment seems to be doing all the software programming, so where is there room for free will?  Would that be self programming?  Even if I could write my own personality programming, wouldn’t the “free will” writing the programming been created by outside programming or genetics?

If I really had free wouldn’t even the urge to eat be my choice?  Is thwarting the urge to eat free will, even thought he idea didn’t originate with me?  Is free will the ability to choose among the various outside impulses we get from society?  Society tells me not to eat, but advertising on TV is doing a major brainwashing job to get me to eat.  Every time I see a Sonic commercial I want one of their shakes.

Dieting is a test of will power and maybe even an example of free will.  It’s a shame I always flunk it.

JWH – 12/15/12