What Can You See That I Can’t?

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, May 25, 2016

I just read “This man had no idea his mind is ‘blind’ until last week” by Helen Thomson at the BBC Future. The story is about a 42-year-old man who can’t see mental images, a condition called aphantasia. WTF? I don’t see clear mental images when I close my eyes. Do you? I sometimes see dark, fleeting shadows, that are sometimes shaped like something.

Close your eyes and visualise the face of the person you love the most. The colour of their eyes, the texture of their hair, the detail of their skin. Can you imagine it? Philip can’t.

Although Philip, a 42-year old photographer from Toronto, is happily married, he can’t conjure up his wife’s face because he has no images of any kind in his mind’s eye. When he thinks about a face, it comes to him as an idea, as an intellectual concept, rather than a mental picture.

swiss-mountain

Like Philip, I do see imagery in dreams. When I was a kid and smoked pot, I used to have visuals. And sometimes, out of the blue, I’m startled by very vivid mental pictures. But that has lessened since I’ve gotten older. I think I must have aphantasia. I found, “Can’t Visualize? You May Have Aphantasia” which offers a series of test questions. They go on to say,

Intriguingly, while they can’t summon mental imagery on demand, Zeman insists that aphantasia is a condition and not a disorder. “Most of them knew what it was like to visualise as they experienced imagery in dreams, or as they dropped off to sleep,” he said.

This was confirmed by two World of Lucid Dreaming readers with aphantasia.

One said: “Dreaming and seeing imagery on psychedelics aren’t a problem at all, sometimes I think I’d be overwhelmed if I could visualise imagery.”

Another explained: “I definitely CANNOT visualize in my mind’s eye whatsoever. Never ever. I’ve even taken courses on meditation in order to get better at this visualization – with zero success! I always thought people who can visualize volentarily were actually in the minority and I was in the majority.” He added: “However I have caught myself visualizing when I’m close to the dreamstate… I can say that I am a natural lucid dreamer”.

This suggests that hypnagogic imagery and visualization close to the dreamstate draws on a different mechanism to daydreaming and visualizing during full wakefulness.

Also on the positive side, Zeman notes, “their capacity for abstract thought was well developed” and that “an inability to visualise does not imply an inability to imagine: imagination is a much richer, more complex capacity than the specifically visual ability lost in aphantasia.”

These people sound like me. How much do you see what you close your eyes?

I wonder what I missing? It might explain why I love photos.

I’ve always known I’m missing various mental abilities. I can’t remember tunes – neither the melodies or lyrics. My wife practically can’t forget them. I’m terrible at languages. But I have mechanical, spatial, directional, mathematical skills that some of my friends lack.

Articles about aphantasia are popping up on the net. Here’s a long one, “Aphantasia: How It Feels To Be Blind In Your Mind.”

If it was April 1st, I’d think this was some kind of joke.

JWH

Our Window On Reality

By James Wallace Harris, Saturday, October 18, 2014

Humans have five senses, but we experience them as a gestalt.  I call that sensation of perceiving everything around us as our window on reality.  A mouse or cockroach would have a much smaller window on reality.  I doubt a bacteria or virus have a window, but if they did, it would be incredible tiny. Humans naturally think they have the largest window on reality because of our egocentric belief we are the crown of creation. We’re not.

And can you imagine the window on reality that God has, if such a being existed? For all our glory we are limited beings, neither angels nor devils, but just a creature of random evolution, one among an unknown many, that use self-awareness to view reality out the window of their limited senses.

Humans that are deaf or blind, or have lost their sense of smell or taste do have smaller windows, and if you close your eyes, you can shut your window to a fraction of perception, but not completely. When you are asleep or unconscious, your window does shut to your conscious mind, but your unconscious mind still peeps out. Only when the brain dies does your window shut completely.

milky-way

The astounding thing about reality is it’s indifferent to the self-aware beings that view it. Reality existed before we were born, and will continue to exist after we die. Our life is merely a short time span when we wake up and look out our window on reality and then we die, and our windows closes forever. Human brains have a tendency to explain what they see out their window by making up stories. Because most of these stories have no relationship with the truth of reality, this tendency is called the narrative fallacy. The human mind has evolved through three stages so far: faith, reason and science. Faith and reason only created delusions about what we see out our windows. Our collaborative efforts at science gives us the hope that we’re all measuring the same reality.

Our window on reality distorts our perception to the size of reality. We assume we’re seeing 100% but we don’t. The visual spectrum is a tiny fragment of the electro-magnetic spectrum. Our range of hearing is also a tiny fragment of sound frequencies. We’ve all heard stories about the fantastic senses of various animals and imagined what that would be like. And then there’s the matter of perspective. The window on reality an eagle peers from at thousands of feet above Earth is much different from ours as we walk along the sidewalk.  And imagine how reality would appear if we had three eyes spaced equally distant around our head giving us a 360 degree view.

If you are familiar with cosmology you’ll know our view on reality is extremely microscopic compared to the true size of reality. Imagine being an atom and how much you’d know about the Earth from your tiny viewpoint of reality.  Compared to the known universe, you’d be smaller than an atom. The same logic holds true for the sub-atomic worlds that are invisible to us, because the ultra small can be truly large from the right perspective.

animals-ants-head-insects-microscopic-1018944-3000x2121

What would our window on reality feel like if we had eyes that could focus from what a scanning electron microscope can see to what the Hubble telescope can take in? We’re building robot bodies now that will eventually have artificial minds. We could give them all kind of powerful senses we don’t have. Their window on reality will make ours feel like a peephole.

We expand our window on reality using our imagination to give us virtual windows on reality. If you look up at the night sky you can imagine what you can’t see with your knowledge of astronomy. When we walk through forests, or along tidal bays, we can annotate what we see from knowledge of biology, botany, chemistry and geology.

It is tragic that our narrative fallacies have distorted what we see out our window on reality. We kill each other over disagreements about what we think we see. To kill someone is to close their window forever. That doesn’t change reality. Nor does it confirm your narrative fallacy. We can believe anything, but only science, with consistent observations, reveal what we might be seeing.

JWH

More Science, Less Fiction

As a lifelong science fiction reader I’ve always had an on again, off again relationship with science, but now that I’m retired I’m thinking about a deeper commitment.  Science fiction inspires a kind of love for science that’s not very realistic.  Science fiction is a marijuana high of smoking science, and is about as scientific as two dopers discussing theories of reality.  Science fiction is a good gateway drug to science, but sooner or later you have to move on to the harder stuff – physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics.

Most folks today have little knowledge of science, and most of those who do, have a Newtonian model of reality in their heads.  The hard to intuit relativity of space-time, and the bizarre quantum world is beyond all but a few to incorporate into their seeing of how things work.  We truly live in a science fictional world, where a little bit of science creates a lot of fiction. 

Back in the 1950s and 1960s when I was growing up, science fiction was about the future, but our lives in the 21st century present are very science fictional.  We live in times described by Arthur C. Clarke’s third law, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  Growing up reading science fiction gave me a view of the future that’s turned out to be wrong.  Before I die, I’d like to assemble another view of the future, to imagine what things will be like after I die.  But this time, hopefully, I want to install a more realistic science.  We can’t predict the future, but we can shoot down a lot of crap ideas.  I’d like to die with a reasonable idea of what my brief visit to reality was all about.

I read about 52 books a year, or on average, one a week.  I’d like to be more systematic about reading science books, but I don’t want to give up reading other kinds of books.  Actually, I don’t want to create any rigid rules to live by at all – anything I feel obligated to do, I won’t.  But lately, I’ve been reading a lot of great popular science books and I realize to better understand what I’m reading will require some applied effort.

For example, I’m currently listening to Time Reborn by Lee Smolin, and he mentions reading Einstein’s original papers from 1905 as a young student.  Smolin says they are quite easy to understand, far better than most science papers, and they set the standard for science papers in their clarity of thought.  I’ve always assumed they could only be read by genius level scientists.  It just so happens I have a copy of Einstein’s Miraculous Year:  Five Papers That Changed the Face of Physics.  Now, I’m torn.  Should I stop reading Time Reborn and read Einstein?

Einstein 

Smolin makes it sound like reading Einstein’s original work is the foundation of all his scientific thinking.  This makes me think instead of reading the latest popular science books I should instead be reading older ones.  I’ve always dismissed science books older than a few years as being past their expiration date.  Maybe this is a false assumption. 

When I bought Our Mathematical Universe, I read an interesting reader review at Amazon where Michael Birman said:

Years of reading science books have produced a personal pantheon of the finest I’ve ever come across. There are several aspects of Tegmark’s book that have placed it amongst the three finest popular science books I’ve ever read. The other two books are Albert Einstein and Leopold Infield’s The Evolution of Physics and Kip Thorne’s Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy (Commonwealth Fund Book Program). The first book, The Evolution of Physics, is still the clearest exposition of classical and (relatively) modern physics ever written, despite its age. It remains the most authoritative, concise and profound discussion of the source of Einstein’s world-shattering ideas, and has never been surpassed as a book written by a great scientist for a popular audience. Kip Thorne’s book combines personal reminiscence and scientific exposition with an elegance and depth that makes it my choice as the finest modern popularized science book. Thorne proved that you can write about science in an engaging manner without sacrificing either intelligence or necessary relevant technical detail.

You guessed it, I ordered those two books too.  So just starting two new books has gotten me to buy three old books.  The trouble with reading current physics books is they are often so ethereal that I don’t know if I’m learning science or reading science fiction.  For the last many years, I’ve been constantly drawn back to the 19th century in literature and history, so I’m thinking I might need to return to that century to study science.  I need to learn the physics that led up to Einstein.

books_evolution 

Then there’s the whole gnarly issue of math.  My math abilities are slight.  How far can I really understand science without math?  I’ve bought a bunch of math history books, and a Great Course on the history of mathematics.  Part of my retirement benefits is getting to take two free courses a semester, and there are many online math courses.  If I wanted to, I could study math again.  And I might.  Although I wonder at making such an effort in my retirement years when I seem to be forgetting faster than I’m remembering.

Reading Einstein (I’ve already started) does make you think about the physical world differently.  To understand time in the way Smolin is talking about it in Time Reborn will take a lot of contemplation.  More and more I realize the value of Einstein’s thought experiments.

In the modern world we’re easily fooled by pre-digested knowledge we get from television.  The new Cosmos might look dazzling, but to understand it requires ignoring the frenetic CGI dazzle and returning to a slow Amish like simplicity of thought.  Just doing the math to model 13.8 billion years on a generic 365 day calendar is enlightening. 

I’ve read lately, but I’ve forgotten where, that if the most complex science can’t be explained to the average person without mathematics then that science isn’t really understood by the scientists either.  I’d like to believe that.  I’d like to believe I can understand science even if I can’t prove it mathematically.  But I shouldn’t give up on studying math either.  What I need to do is go back to the beginning and learn math historically, and progress forward through time.  Start with the Babylonians, and then the Greeks, and see if learning math in the order it was discovered will help me see a mathematical reality.

Growing up in a gee-whiz era of science and technology makes it hard to tell science from fiction.  Even the science books I read, and the science documentaries I watch, are full of fiction, even though they are factual in intent.  If I don’t comprehend what they say correctly, then I create mental fictions to explain what I think I see.  Science fiction novels that I’ve always loved to read, took science concepts and intentionally made wild fiction out of science.  Such hopeful expectations from science fiction has corrupted my mind about science.  I now need to rethink both science and science fiction.

I’ve been a life-long atheist, and been skeptical of religion, mysticism, the metaphysical and paranormal, thinking instead that science is the only valid course to understanding reality.  But the more I study science, the more I feel the need to be skeptical of my own knowledge of science.  It’s very easy to fool oneself.  Eye witnesses are notorious unreliable, and we tend to feel that other people can be tricked and not us – that what we see is real.  But isn’t that another fiction?

How much do you know could you prove?  Can you really prove the Earth orbits the Sun?  Humanity has discovered a lot of scientific knowledge in the last four hundred years, but how much could you prove yourself?  Being told something is true doesn’t mean you understand why its true.

Even if science fiction didn’t exist, we still live in a science fictional world, not because of rocketships and robots, but because we fictionalize science, we fictionalize what we’re told is true, we fictionalize everything we don’t know, and even the things we do.

JWH 3/14/14  

A Bacterium, Ant, Cockroach, Mouse, Cat, Extraterrestrial and Robot Walked into My Kitchen

Infinity is a very large number.  Larger than you can ever imagine.  But let’s try.

Until recently we lived in a universe – billions of galaxies, with billions of stars each.  Big numbers, but nothing compared to infinity.  Then scientists began to speculate about a multiverse – an infinity of universes.  How many is that?  Enough that your life could be randomly recreated over and over again, for an infinity of times somewhere out there in an infinity of universes.  Some of your lives, an infinity, will only be roughly like yours, but some of them, another infinity, will be exactly like your life now, and another infinity of them will be only slightly different, by just one little thing.  And so on.  For infinity.

The number of monkeys and the amount of time it takes to randomly recreate all the works of Shakespeare by banging on old typewriters are very small numbers compared to infinity, but still much larger than what we can imagine.

Get the idea how big infinity is?  No, I don’t think so, not yet, it’s still bigger than you can imagine.

This morning after my routine breakfast of scrambled eggs and potatoes, I was sitting on the porcelain throne in the smallest room of my house, reading a copy of Civilization by Niall Ferguson, when an alien from Gliese 687 broke into my house and examined my kitchen without me noticing.  So how could I know this?  Well, this morning I was reading The Hidden Reality by Brian Green while sitting on the porcelain throne in the smallest room of my house, just after my breakfast of eggs and potatoes and I had this thought:  What if while I was taking my morning dump, an alien from Gliese lands in my backyard, jimmies open my back door with with a dazzling alien lock pick, lets itself in, along with a yellow cat hanging out by the back door, to poke around my kitchen, for a bit, only to leave before I finish my reading to return to the kitchen to do the dishes?

If we live in a reality of infinity that has happened.  Maybe it happened to me today.  Let’s make infinity even bigger.  Let’s imagine that alien is also being followed around by a robot from another universe that is billions of years old, and it is collecting information on the life forms of this universe.  Hey, it could happen, we have infinity to work with.

My kitchen is a rather small place, at least compared to all of reality.  To me it appears to be empty of life except when I fixing myself something to eat.  My wife works out of town Monday through Friday, so I live mostly alone.  On the weekends my kitchen is very busy with Susan and my coming and goings, but for the most part, from my frame of reference, my kitchen only exists when I’m in it.

My awareness of reality is equal to my ability to comprehend the physical reality outside of my body.  I have five senses that collects data that my brain processes into a view of reality.  It’s not a direct view.  I also am able to analyze this data and theorize about aspects of reality I can’t perceive directly – like time, space and infinity.  We might only have five senses but we have many more cognitive tools to perceive reality, like mathematics, logic, imagination, science, etc.

This is a tale of perspective.  A lesson in how we explore reality.  How big is reality.  How much can we perceive?

Like the famous fable about the blind men examining an elephant and all reporting something different, this story is about different creatures exploring my kitchen and reporting what they saw.

kitchen

I use the world reality instead of universe because scientists are now hypothesizing that our universe is one of but many, probably an infinity of them.  So I use the word reality to point to the whole shebang of everything.  My kitchen is but one infinitely small aspect of one infinitely large reality.  Any creature standing in my kitchen will feel they are in the century of reality.  If we expand outward from my kitchen by powers of ten, we’ll eventually surpass the size of the known universe at ten to the 26.  More than likely, reality extends upwards well beyond that, probably for infinity.  If we explore downward by decreasing powers of ten, at 10 to the minus 18 we’d reach the smallest particles we know about today, but again, there’s probably plenty more small to explore, maybe an infinite amount.

My kitchen is so small compared to the rest of reality as to be non-existent.  But then, compare to the smallest of things, my kitchen is as large as the universe is to us today.

The Tale of the Bacterium

bacteria

Okay, the bacterium didn’t walk in, it floated in with a few billion friends.  They wafted in unnoted by all.  Bacteria don’t have sense organs, so their concept of my kitchen was rather limited.  Maybe as much as you or I would know about the Moon if a bit of moonlight flickered on us through a window one night when we weren’t paying attention. 

Bacteria are tiny, but common, and essential to life on Earth, and for most places in our universe, the common form of life.  Some scientists have even pessimistically suggested that our kind of self-aware life might be so uncommon that we might be the only example in this universe.  Others theorize our kind of intelligent life might be common enough to have many concurrent examples per galaxy.  A bacteria might have as much as a terabyte of information stored chemically in it’s structure.  How many universes have to evolve before we have one universe where bacteria were randomly produced out of simpler non-living elements?  If it takes that many to make the smallest of life forms, how many universes have to form to create the scenario I’m giving here?

Bacteria have chemical receptors.  There was a wet spot on the extraterrestrial’s respirator exit value and they landed on it.  They died when she/he returned to their ship in my back yard moments after leaving my kitchen.  They never knew anything about my kitchen or the ET, but then bacteria have never known much about anything, let alone conceived that we all live in the same reality.

The Ant’s Story

Ant

The ant came into the kitchen from under the house, via a loose space between the flooring and the water pipes.  The ant is a giant compared to the bacterium, a magnificent creature, with useful sense organs and a little teeny tiny brain.  To the ant, a creature who perceives the world mostly in two dimensions, my kitchen is a vast affair, but not impossibly large, probably no bigger than you and I walking through a large neighborhood.  The ant was prowling through the cabinet under my sink while the alien was examining the island counter of my kitchen, while I was in the bathroom sitting on the pot reading Civilization by Niall Ferguson, and the robot was discreetly observing the alien.

The alien never noticed the ant.  The robot recorded the ants activities with it’s powerful sensors.  The ant felt the vibrations of the alien moving around the room, but never sensed the robot.  The ant never even met the dying cockroach.

Imagine if life on Earth had never evolved past the ant.  What if the perception of this Earth, our Earth, had never been perceived by nothing greater than an ant’s brain?  We humans think reality is all about us, but it’s not.  We humans come and go, even in all of infinity.  And compared to everything else in infinity, in all of reality, humans would make up such a small percentage of each universe, that our total impact would be near zero.  Compared to all of reality, we are as close to be nothing as nothing.  Isn’t it hilarious that we each think we’re everything?

I often wonder what the world will be like when mankind becomes extinct and the most advanced being on the planet will be the dolphin or chimpanzee.  Will they remember us?

What the Roach Saw

dying-roach

Unfortunately, the roach had entered my kitchen yesterday and had already partaken of the poison I had set out for roachkind.  It wasn’t quite dead.  It’s hairy legs occasionally stretched and retracted.  The roach didn’t know it was dying.  Nor did it notice when the alien reached down and carefully picked it up and put it in a small specimen container.  The roach would finally die in orbit around the Earth.  The roach had liked my kitchen in it’s own little way.  It was warm and not perfectly clean.  It had possibilities for a future colony.  Lucky for me, but sad for the roach, it never got to lay its eggs.  Those eggs were an interesting surprise to the ET from Gleise 687.  To the roach, my kitchen was a much smaller place than what the ant found, but to a roach, reality isn’t very big at all.  There is no infinite numbers in a roach’s brain.

The roach had perceived my presence several times during its short visit.  It had no understanding that I was a fellow creature living in a large reality, it only sensed me by vibration and changes in light patterns on its primitive receptors.  Evolution had programmed it to always run.  However, the roach had no program to warn it of the chemical appeal of the bait I had left for it.  Sorry little guy.

Mouse in the House

mouse

Last night, unnoticed by me, a little mouse crawled into the pantry from a passageway of tunnels in the wall.  My kitchen was a far richer place to little Mickey than what the ant and cockroach found.  My kitchen had wonderful possibilities, a very rich environment it.   It was aware of my every movement in the house and knew when to hide and when to scamper.  The kitchen was a three dimension maze of sights and smells, and when I left for the bathroom, the cute little mouse had come out of hiding and ran across the kitchen floor hoping to find something good to eat.  It froze when the alien picked the lock of my back door, momentary letting in a  chill breeze.  The mouse sensed the cat immediately and was below the house before the cat reached the kitchen.

The little mouse could not count.  It never knew that billions upon billions of bacteria lived inside it’s little body.  It was no Carl Sagan of mice.

The Kitty Kat

OrangeTabby

The scruffy old cat was looking for a warm spot when it ran into the house.  The being that let it in did not scare it like the human that lived there.  The cat was leery of all humans and lived out of doors on its own.  It was always drawn to the warmth that leaked out of houses, but never liked people, and especially hated dogs.  It always kept other animals at a distance, except the ones it wanted to eat.  As soon as the yellow cat walked into the kitchen it could smell the mouse.

In terms of certain kinds of numbers, cats and humans are very close.  We know of each other’s existence.  The difference is we can conceptually know much further than our senses can show us, whereas a cat is a creature that lives very well within it’s perceptual reach.  This makes some humans sad, and others happy.

Alien from Gliese 687 (cloaked)

kitchen 

The alien was hundreds of years old because of enhancements to her/his biology.  Aliens from Gliese 687 traveled between stars at one third of the speed of life.  They have been observing Earth for millions of years.  That’s the thing about intelligence, about the only thing to do in this universe is to observe how it works.  Observers seldom let themselves be observed because of ethical reasons.  It’s not much fun for a species to discover it’s not the crown of creation.  If humans suddenly realized it was the mouse or cockroach of this reality, or even the bacterium, it would be hard on our collective ego.

She/he had let in a yellow cat that was hanging around the back door.  The alien was completely silent, but then she/he was unaware of being followed by a robot from another universe.

The Robot from Another Universe (cloaked)

kitchen

The carefully cloaked robot had been following the alien for over two hundred of our years.   The robot found the alien the most interesting creature it has discovered in the last 787,623 years.  When you can live for billions of years across multiple universes finding something interesting to do with your time is a challenge.

The robot was like a machine, but calling it a machine would be insulting.  Eons ago it had been created by intelligent machines closer in shape to what we call machines.  There are limits to intelligence, consciousness, awareness and lifespan, and this robot was at the outer limit, at least for all the universes it was aware of, but then there was much it wasn’t aware of.  There’s always more.  Infinity is like that.

Me, James Wallace Harris

me

This version of me is a lot like most of the others like me.  I mostly know about this house, and what exists around it for a few miles.  Conceptually I know about a lot more, but most of my awareness is focused on a tiny piece of reality, in a tiny fragment of time.  Reality has existed for an infinite time before me, and will exist for an infinite time after me.  Reality is infinitely bigger than I can imagine.  I miss a lot, like the visit from the bacterium, ant, cockroach, mouse, cat, alien and robot.  That’s how it always is, we miss a lot.  We miss most of everything.  We miss an infinity of everything.  But that’s okay, because we have a finite mind that enjoys a finite time and place.  Small numbers do have their charm.

None of my visitors stayed long, and by the time I finished my after breakfast read and returned to clean up the kitchen they had gone.  I went off to my computer room to write this until lunch time.  Which is now.

JWH 12/11/13

Two Species of Human Beings

One of my all time favorite experiments dealt with visual perception.  I’m recalling this from memory of a book I read long ago, but maybe someone can let me know the original source.  In this experiment scientists raised two batches of kittens in different controlled environments.   Half the kittens were raised in a room with no vertical lines and the other half brought up in a place with no horizontal lines.  After six months they let the kittens out into the normal world.  The kittens who were raised without horizontal lines would not jump up onto a flat chair seat or shelves, and kittens raised without vertical lines would walk into chair legs.

When I read this I wondered what was missing from my vision because of my limited upbringing.  This current election makes me think of that experiment, because the Republicans are shouting at the Democrats, “Hey, Liberals, can’t you see the vertical lines, they’re right in front of your face!”  And the Democrats are yelling back, “Dudes, can’t you see those horizontal surfaces, they’re right there!”

Global warming deniers are making me wonder if there’s two different species of human beings living side by side.  Their absolute refusal to see the problem is so adamant that I have to wonder if it’s a matter of failed perception.  I don’t know what to say to them.  They clutch their false out-of-date data like it was handed down from God on stone tablets and they refuse to look at any new data because they think it’s from false prophets.  No matter how much information I’m willing to provide, they deny that it’s valid or that it really exists.  They are like the kittens raised without vertical lines that can’t see chair legs.

But the implications are far greater than this.  The division of the two species divide other issues like politics and religion.  How can we as a nation solve our problems, especially big problems, if we’re always polarized?  I wonder if the deniers have an innate sense of the cat in the quantum box, knowing at an unconscious level that as long as they don’t look inside the box the cat will be okay?  Will a global warming denier even understand what I just said?

To me the issue has gone beyond global warming.  I’m starting to worry that there is an even more dangerous problem than climate change, and that’s this division of perception that polarizes the population.  Is it like a law-of-nature barrier that keeps anything from going faster than light.  What if the average intelligence of the human race limits how far we can progress as a species?  We’re seeing more and more big problems that will require us to work cooperatively if civilization is to survive, but we’ve reach a total impasse on communication, refusing to do anything because we can’t agree.

Let’s avoid the global warming issue for the moment since it’s such a touchy issue.  Many of the climate change deniers scoff at climate predictions because various scientists have made predictions in the past that have apparently turned out not to be true.  Or appeared that way for awhile.  Two books, The Population Bomb (1968) and The Limits of Growth (1972) are often used as examples of failed predictions.  The trouble is, these deniers didn’t wait long enough to give the forecasts time to unfold.

Forty years later, many people think the world is just fine with 6.7 billion people and figure we can grow much larger, and they don’t think our rich lifestyles show any limits.   Perception is everything, but we’re on a roller coaster that’s climbing to the peak of the Kingka Ka, because we haven’t started the blazing ride down yet.  Now that China and India have taken up our American consumer habits, and resources are starting to be fought over, and hundreds of little stories tell me that The Limits of Growth is about to come online,  I’m getting the feeling that we’ll arrive at the peak of the climb soon.  Hold on for the ride down.

The people with rose colored corneas, obviously don’t watch a lot of documentaries, or keep up with diverse science magazines.  Conservative news shows tend to focus on the same old tired issues while ignoring the little stories that shows a whole lot of different barometers are all falling.  It’s funny that millions welcome the Christian apocalypse, but can’t see the world possibly ending in some other way.  The trouble is, the world doesn’t end, we just end up in a big mess that we’ve got to clean up.

It worries me that so many people enjoy the end-of-days stories that are so popular.  Why is it so easy to believe that an imaginary superior being will destroy us, but so hard to believe that we can destroy ourselves through pursuing those same old seven deadly sins that that same superior being warned us against?  You can not drive a SUV through the eye of a needle to get to your destination.

Maybe it’s a matter of language, and science is not the language to use to communicate across the gap that divides us.  I’ve been listening to the Bible this past year, on my iPod.  I know it’s an odd thing for an atheist to do, but I consider it learning a language.  I find it fascinating that all the things that the New Testament teaches are the things we need to do to change ourselves to avoid problems like global warming, over population and dwindling resources.

I have been thinking for days on how to reply to global warming deniers, and it is now occurring to me that I can’t recommend studying science.  That isn’t their language.  My reply to them is to buy an iPod and get a good audio edition of the Bible and really listen to it.  Listening is far superior to reading, and start at the beginning.   Pay attention to what’s happening chapter by chapter.  I know you conservatives don’t like the word “evolution” but the Bible shows an evolution of spirit.  Pay particular attention to the transition between the Old and New Testament.  Fundamental thinking is based in Old Testament philosophy.  It teaches about nation building.  The New Testament teaches about soul building.  For the people of the Earth to survive climate change will require a lot of soul building.

It is my belief that climate change deniers are worried that changing the world requires changing themselves, and they just don’t want to change.

JWH 9/22/8