Are Republicans the Party of Darwin?

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, May 7, 2017

As a lifelong atheist, I find most of my political convictions comes from the words printed in red in The New Testament. Shouldn’t unbelievers use Charles Darwin’s scientific insights to model how society should be governed? Yet, as I study Republicans, the party I oppose, I wonder why they act the way the do. I can only conclude they base their philosophy on the survival of the fittest.

Darwin-Jesus

I hate Republicans for not carrying about suffering, whether it’s the suffering of people, animals, plants, or the biosphere. If you study Darwin’s observations you realize that nature ignores suffering too. The Republicans work with all their might to create a political system that helps the strong while ignoring the weak. In fact, Republicans are the strong feeding off the weak. Yet, publically Republicans claim to be Christians. Shouldn’t a Christian political party promote the way of life Jesus taught? And wouldn’t that be anti-Darwinian?

If you study the Sermon on the Mount, you know it’s impossible for a Christian to own an AR-15. The meek will not be carrying Glocks when they inherited the Earth. Darwin’s red tooth and claw philosophy would embrace such weapons. Darwin would be pro-gun, but not Jesus. Yet, typically Republicans express a hatred for Darwin and a love of Christ.

The Democratic party which wants to feed the poor and heal the sick is labeled the Godless party. However, if the beliefs in The New Testament were converted into a political system it would be socialistic, and look much like the political goals of the DNC.

Is it possible to create a political system that reduces suffering while still encouraging all its citizens to become stronger? If Republicans were honest they’d admit they believe far more in Darwin than Christ. Yes, helping people can make them weak, but ignoring their suffering also makes you heartless.

Isn’t there some kind of compromise we could make? Can’t we start the competition for survival on an equal playing ground? Wealth inequality shows the competition isn’t equal like what Darwin saw in nature. Human intelligence allows us to multiply and horde our strengths, which is why we’re destroying all the other species, and why those humans on the receiving end of wealth inequality can so easily destroy those on the losing end.

Republicans appear to totally embrace Darwinism, including ignoring suffering. Democrats want to create a political system that eliminates some sufferings. I would think any political system that ethically allows for some members to become billionaires should allow for universal healthcare. How can any system that allows for some players to have everything and others nothing be Christian?

Isn’t Christianity about compassion? I can understand why conservatives embrace Darwinian actions. Republican ideals are very close to nature. And don’t Christian beliefs defy the natural? Isn’t The New Testament all about protecting the weak?

JWH

Explaining Reality With More Than One Book

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What are the minimum number of books you’d have to read to get a good overview of reality? Would they all be science books, or would we need philosophy, history, mathematics or even religious texts to go beyond what experimental results can’t cover?

There are billions of people on this planet who explain existence with the help of just one book. These sacred works have been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years, well before science and scholarship. It’s quite understandable to want just one manual, but is this world explainable in words? Science experiments offers an alternate explanation to ontological questions, but requires reading a library of books to understand. That might be why billions stick to their single volume guides.

On the Origin of Species

Is there a single science book that can compete with The Bible, Quran, Tanakh, Tao Te Ching, Rig Veda, Diamond Sutra, etc.? Does science even try to give one book believers what they want? A book on cosmology or biology explains aspects of reality but without telling people how to live. People who live by just one book, read for guidance, not explanations. They want the world to be easily explained, fair and just. The trouble is science splendidly explains how reality works in tremendous detail, but offers no guidance how to live. We followers of science are left to find our own purpose, because science clearly shows everything in this reality is a product of impartial statistical events.

Do people choose one book solutions because reality is overwhelming, preferring simple myths instead?

How many science books would a person of faith have to read before they could understand the existential nature of their lives? Because believers are taught from an early age to believe in their single books, their non-scientific views are deeply ingrained in their minds, and hard to reprogram. Apparently, anything we learn as children sticks with us, and is very hard to erase. If children were taught Darwin at an early age, and their one book was On the Origin of Species, would the world be psychologically different?

Few scientists understand the actual science of things beyond their narrow specialty. If everyone had to read the original research of all the discoveries of science, we wouldn’t have much time for anything else. Most supporters of science understand reality through popular science, which is only an approximation of real science. Our knowledge about reality is collective knowledge. People who argue against evolution are really arguing against millions of books and research papers.

I once bought On the Shoulders of Giants by Stephen Hawking, which reprints the original scientific writings of Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein, but I could not read it—at least for long. If I devoted my life to it, I could probably understand this book after a few decades of trying.

What would happen if schools showed documentaries that recreated all the great science, mathematics and engineering experiments of history, so that little kids saw how people discovered details of reality for the first time? Would seeing be better than reading?

I’ve read hundreds of nonfiction books and seen just as many documentaries, but I’d be hard press to point to a selection and claim they are the basis of my beliefs. Of course I have a confusing, muddled view of science and mathematics, and couldn’t actually teach what I know either. However, because there are endless views of The Bible or Quran, I tend to think even having just one book to master doesn’t lend itself to consistent explanations.

Despite all the books I’ve read about Einstein, and all the documentaries I’ve seen that explain his work, I still can’t comprehend relativity. Evolution makes sense to me, but I couldn’t teach it. I can understand why other people might not comprehend evolution.

Maybe we should ignore books altogether. Maybe we should strive to teach kids the basic concepts of science by having them recreate the experiments themselves. I’m getting sort of old, but I wonder if there are any experiments I could learn to do, that would allow me to see how a basic aspect of reality works. For example, I’ve been taught the sun is a big ball of hydrogen. Is there anyway I could prove that for myself?

For 2016, I plan to read On The Origin of Species. I wonder how close I can get to seeing the science behind it, and how much will remain just a story, a myth, a generalization? And after that, I want to find another science book that will take me closer to understanding real science rather than popularization. Einstein discovered relativity with thought experiments. I don’t think there will be many books I can comprehend actual science without mathematics and experimental apparatus, but there might be a few. I’m sure it’s more than one.

I ask my friends who believe in The Bible to distrust what it says, but am I not a creature of faith by my acceptance of science from popular sources? Who knows, maybe one book guides are one too many. Maybe we shouldn’t believe anything unless we can recreate the experimental proof ourselves.

JWH

Redefining the Word ‘Soul’ for Atheists

By James Wallace Harris, Sunday, March 15, 2015

The concept of the soul is quite ancient, preceding monotheism, polytheism, pantheism and goes back to animistic times. I don’t know why ancient people thought animals, plants and even inanimate objects had souls, but I guess they believed everything had a part to play in reality. Modern religious believers see the soul as the immortal aspect of their being. Early Christians thought their bodies would be resurrected, and would become immortal too, but I think most modern believers think the soul is the immortal kernel of who they are, and the body belongs to this physical world.

window_to_the_soul_by_artofnightsky-cropped

[ArtofNightSky]

Atheists generally do not believe in souls. They believe when we die, everything disappears, including our consciousness. However, I like the word soul, and want to keep using it. Religion has a long history of repurposing words, so why shouldn’t atheists do the same thing? The concept of the soul is very useful when we think of it as the center of our being. We can lose our senses or parts of our body, and still exist. Sometimes our souls can disappear but our bodies keep living.

Of course, atheists believe self-awareness is directly tied to the physical body and feel religious terms are tainted. I accept the soul is mortal, and even corruptible by the physical world. Our souls can be changed by lack of air, disease or brain damage. But it’s still nice to have a single word to use for our essential essence.

Why do we need the word soul when we have the words mind and brain? The brain is the physical seat of the mind and soul, so how do those two concepts differ? I like to think of the soul as the inner most core of the mind. The mind is bigger and more complex, with conscious and unconscious systems. I think of the soul as that nexus where we view reality through the filter of our mind. When we become unconscious, either through sleep, inattention, drugs, disease or trauma, the soul shuts off.

I think of the soul flashing into being when everything is just right with our physical body and mind, like a fusion power plant when atoms begin to fuse. If the particle beams are shut off, the fusion stops, and so does the soul, when our mind and body stops working.

From self-observation, I feel I view reality from a unique perspective that I want to call my soul. You know how old people will say they feel no different than when they were nineteen? I think that’s the soul. I’m not sure if the soul is merely an observing conscious self-awareness, or if it has other attributes. Does prejudice lie in the mind or the soul? Just like disease and drugs can influence the body, I think ideas can influence the mind. For example, is racism part of the soul? What do racists do if there’s a heaven and no bodies? Or is racism a defect of the soul? So a racist soul sees everything, no matter what the data the mind presents, with prejudice consciousness?

I’d like to believe our souls are purely observers, and what we see is tinted by the mind. The mind, body and soul are actually one system, each influencing the other. I think the mind and body can exist without a soul, but a soul can’t exist without a mind and body. That’s why I’m an atheist. Theists believe souls are descended from a higher being. Evolutionists belief everything ascends from nothing.

Do souls learn? Do they evolve? Do they grow? Or do they only observe? Do dogs and cats have souls? By my atheistic definition, yes. They just don’t have language of mind like we do to communicate what they observe. Are dogs and cats self-aware? I don’t know. That’s why I believe souls evolve. A tree has a soul without self-awareness. That’s why I also believe some people have more evolved souls than other people because they see beyond hate. War and violence comes from our animal natures. This suggests that some souls can escape the bioprogramming of the body.

I want atheists to hijack the word soul and embrace it for our own, because even without God I want us to have spiritual growth.

JWH

What Happens When Humans Aren’t the Smartest Beings on Earth?

What if people weren’t the crown of creation?  What if we had to play second banana to Humans 2.0, AI machines, visiting aliens, cyborgs or other potentially smarter beings?  I think our fear is they would treat us like we have treated chimpanzees.  What if intelligent machines emerge, homo sapiens superior evolve and we make SETI contact, and suddenly we’re number four on the totem pole of intelligence?

gattaca

Unless we destroy the planet and make ourselves extinct, sooner or later we’re going to be replaced at the top of the smart chart.   How will that effect us personally, our society, and how we think about our future?  Most primitive cultures when contacted by modern humans haven’t fared well.  Science fiction has been preparing us for centuries, but I’m not sure if science fiction has done a good enough job covering all the possibilities.

Possible Replacements

It doesn’t take a lot of time to think up possible replacements who could claim our throne as being the smartest beings on the planet.

  • Genetically enhanced humans
  • Naturally evolved humans
  • Artificial beings
  • Cyborgs
  • Uploaded humans
  • AI super computers
  • Robots
  • Androids
  • Alien visitors
  • SETI contact

I’m not sure if we’re not already seeing a natural selection in our species.  Our severely polarized society, divided between liberals and conservatives, between the scientific and the religious, between the secular and the sacred, might already be moving us towards separate species.  The conservative fraction that clings to the past is becoming anti-intellectual and anti-education.  If the scientific minded only breed with the scientific, won’t they produce a line of smarter humans?  Of course natural selection doesn’t always produce successful adaptations.  Some people have suggested the rise of autism comes from overly smart people mating with other overly smart people.  It might turn out that intelligence isn’t an important trait, or one vital for survival.

Then there is genetic engineering.  Think of the movie Gattaca, the old classic Brave New World, or Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress.  We’re getting very close to making customized homo sapiens sapiens.  In just a few generations we could have a new species that make us look outdated.  Gattaca was a salute to the natural human, but was it realistic?  We loved Vincent for competing and winning, but can humans really compete with super humans?  Again, we’re assuming that intelligence is trait that wants to win out.

We might even be doing something now that will lead to a more naturally evolved humans.  As more women select Caesarian sections for childbirth, we’re changing an important factor that might lead to change.  Our brain size has always been limited to the size of the birth canal – now its not.  Over time we might see new adaptations.  Read Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio.

Work with our genome has shown that DNA is an erector set for building biological machines.  How soon before we start creating new recipes?  Whole new artificial beings could be created, or animals could be uplifted to human intelligence and beyond.  Think about the science fiction of Cordwainer Smith and H. G. Wells The Island of Dr. Moreau?

Google Glass might be our first step toward becoming cyborgs with auxiliary brain power.  Wearable computers, artificial limbs and senses could lead to supercharged brains and all those science fiction scenarios where people jacked into machines.

I’m not a big believer in uploading brains into computers, but a lot of people are.  Now that my body is getting old and failing, the idea is becoming more appealing.  People like Ray Kurzweil hope to find immortality this way, and such ideas have been the theme of many SF stories.  Sometimes those stories are wished for fantasies, and sometimes they are feared nightmares.

What I’m waiting for is the technological singularity.  AI super computers should be just around the corner if I can live long enough.  Many people fear AI minds with stories ranging from “Press Enter _” by John Varley to the latest movie Transcendence, but I’m hoping machine minds will be benign, or even indifferent to humans and animal life.

Who Do You Want To Do Your Brain Surgery?

If after we get bump down the intelligence list, how is that going to change society?  If you need brain surgery would you want a human or post-human holding the scalpel?  Or would you prefer an AI mind that is 16 times smarter than a person?  If a human and a robot were running for President, who would you vote for?  Liberals like smart dudes, but conservatives don’t.  They like old friendly duffers like Ronald Reagan.  But what if the robot had the combined intelligence of all of Congress, the Supreme Court and every CEO in America?

We’re already designing smart cars to drive us because it will be safer, and we already have planes with automatic pilots, how long before we have machines doing everything else for us?  Will we just sit around and eat bon-bons?

If we share Earth with beings more intelligent than us, won’t we ultimately let them run things?  What if they were smart enough to tell us how to handle global warming so we suffered the least, paid the least, but got the maximum benefits from changing our lives, thus making the Earth’s biosphere more stable?  What if they gave us wealth and security, and protected all the other species on the planet as well?  Would we say, hell no!  Would we say we prefer to take our chances with failure just so we could make our own decisions?

Democracy v. Plutocracy v. Oligarchy  v. Cyberocracy

We like to think we currently rule ourselves through collective decision making, but more than likely, we could already be an oligarchy or plutocracy, ruled by a limited number of rich people.  What if we could create powerful super computers that ruled us politically and ran the economy?  Would you prefer to be ruled by a handful of rich people, or a handful of smart machines?  Remember who flies your 787 now.  This idea scares the hell out of most people, but just how smart was George Bush at running the country, or how much better is Barack Obama, who most people would say is brainer?   What if decisions about taxes weren’t made by people filled with emotions?  What if we told the machines to maximize freedom, minimize taxation, maximize security, health and wealth, minimize pollution and environmental impact, and so on, and then just let them figure out the best way.

What If Post-Humans and Robots Are Atheists?

How will ordinary humans feel if their replacements reject God?  What if massive AI brains see nothing in reality to validate religion?  What if SETI aliens, say “What is a God?”  One of the common traits of western civilization impacting newly discovered primitive people is their demoralization of losing their gods.  Look what Europeans did to the Native Americans.  How are we going to feel when we’re invaded by post-humans and intelligent machines?  Will they make us move onto reservations?

The Art and Science We Can’t Imagine

What if our minds cannot feel the art and understand the science of our intellectual descendants?  We can look back over thousands of years, to what our ancestors have imagined, built and perfected, and understand what they created.  We know them because we’re an extension of who they were.  When greater minds come after us, they will understand us, but will we know them?  At what point will we no longer be able to follow in their footsteps?  Whether we like it our not, our brains have limits. We’ve always been used to exploring at the edge of reality, so what happens when we become aborigines to beings who see us as the first beings, and they are the later ones?  The ones who leave us behind.

Getting a PhD

Of course, being a scientist might not be as much fun if you had to compete with Human 2.0 folk, or AI minds.  Vincent in Gattaca pushed himself to inhuman efforts to compete against gene enhanced humans, but I’m not sure most people would do that.  AI minds could do a literature search for a PhD and distill the results in no time.  They would probably inherently know how to create and test a hypothesis, set up the experiments and research, and since they’d have math coprocessors in their brains, instantly do all the statistics.  Could any Human 2.0 or 3.0 individual compete with AI minds that are 16 or 64 times as smart as a Human 1.0 is now?

pug in lap

Life as a Lap Dog

If we couldn’t be the top dog, would we want to be a lap dog?  Or would we want to live like the Amish and exclude ourselves from the future modern world?  Can you imagine a mixed society of Humans 1.0, Humans 2.0, AI minds, robots, cyborgs, androids, uplifted animals and artificial beings all coexisting happily, or even roughly happy?  We don’t get along well with each other now, and we haven’t been too kind to our fellow animal citizens on this planet.  But then, maybe we’re the problem.

I already know I’m not the smartest geek in the group now.  I know I’m well down on the list of GRE scores.  I’m not a boss or a leader.  I’m not on the cutting edge of anything.  And most people are like me.  I putter around in my small land, ignoring most of the world.  Maybe that’s why I’m not scared of being replaced at the top, because I’m nowhere near the top.

You know, here’s a funny thing.  If an AI robot walked up to you at a party, one that has the brain power of 64 humans, what would you ask it?  What are you dying to know?  Is there anything the robot could tell you that would drastically change your life?  I’d probably say to it, “You read any good books lately?”

JWH – 4/23/14