1. everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. the universe began to exist.
  3. therefore, the universe has a cause.

with some good detail about cosmological and physics evidence of design (beginning with Penrose’s observations about the exceedingly high improbability of a low-entropy condition arising out of the Big Bang - on the order of 1/(10^10^123)). William Lane Craig has done a lot to bring this argument to the fore in recent years.

"We do not simply proceed from the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge, but we go forward from the light of the partial knowledge into a greater knowledge which is so much more profound that it can only be described as the “darkness of unknowing.” Like Socrates we begin to realize how little we understand. We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder. Quoting Psalm 8:1, “O Lord, our Lord, how wonderful is thy name in all the earth”, St. Gregory of Nyssa states: “God’s name is not known; it is wondered at."

— Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, pg. 14 (via hislivingpoetry)

Anonymous is a Selfish Meme

dailymeh:

Ryan Bateman linked to a funny news story. It’s really short, so go read it for yourself, but the gist of it is that a North Korean propaganda twitter account was hacked. The funny part is that the account follows only three people, one of whom is a some American guy who has no idea why North Korea is following him. But that isn’t what caught my attention. It’s this line: “AAP could not immediately verify if Anonymous was behind the attack.

This seems to build on a very big and very common misunderstanding. Let’s review the facts surrounding this account hacking, or act of “cyber warfare”, as the Associated Press chooses to label it. The messages left on the account include phrases associated with Anonymous, as well as a link to the icon and chief symbol of Anonymous, the Guy Fawkes mask. Can there really be any doubt that this is Anonymous?

Yet AP can’t verify that it is. That’s because AP does what traditional media always does, which is treat Anonymous like a group, an underground network, a “cyber-terrorist cell.” Now, something like the hacker group LulzSec, which executed a series of high-profile attacks in the summer of 2011 and then broke up/got caught/went underground, is a group. It consisted of a relatively small, fixed group of members who were in communication with each other, shared an ideology, and collaborated on various political/criminal actions. But Anonymous is not a group. Anonymous is not a network. Anonymous is not a cell, terrorist or otherwise. Anonymous is a meme, or a series of inter-related memes, an abstract entity, a loosely defined complex of ideas and ideology and symbols and modes of operation—and it can be embodied by anyone.

The word “meme” was coined by the biologist Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene. Also in that book, he defends the gene-centric view of evolution. This perspective asserts the primacy of the gene over the individual. It says that genes don’t exist in order to ensure the replication and propagation of individuals, but that individuals exist to ensure the replication and propagation of genes. The selfish meme, as a cultural analog to the selfish gene, uses individuals the same way. Memes and genes are abstract, not sentient beings, and so incapable of forming intentions and carrying them out, but on this view— the gene- or meme-centric view of biological or cultural evolution—they operate as if they had such selfish intentions.

The meme, then, is a self-replicating idea that uses susceptible individuals to further propagate itself. It’s like a virus, another not entirely biological kind of entity that (metaphorically) uses biological entities for its own purposes. And that’s the kind of thing Anonymous is. Anonymous has no social structure, not even a flat, anarchic structure. There is no such thing as membership in Anonymous, not even the kind of tenuous “membership” which defines human social circles. Just like there’s nothing like “membership” in a gene complex. At any given time, an individual either expresses a set of genes or it doesn’t. If the DNA’s there, the genes are there. You confirm the existence of the abstract concept of the “gene” in a particular case by confirming its physical manifestation in that case. In programming parlance, genes are “duck typed.” If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck.

The same thing applies to memes. You confirm the expression of the memes, you confirm that you’ve got an instance of that meme complex. In this case, all the classic Anonymous memes are there—the lowercase anonymity, the Guy Fawkes mask as symbol, the parlance. Therefore, since Anonymous is not a group but an abstract group of self-replicating ideas, this is a clear case of Anonymous. There can be no doubt; there is no need or even possibility of confirming whether “Anonymous is responsible” for this twitter account hack beyond the obvious.

Now suppose that it turns out the attack had actually been planned and executed by members of the actual hacker group LulzSec, employing Anonymous-complex memes to hide their tracks. Would that not mean that Anonymous wasn’t responsible? And if that’s a possibility, wouldn’t that imply that AP was right to insist that they couldn’t confirm whether Anonymous was responsible?

No. That would be analogous to the following case: suppose a new disease breaks out. The disease is caused by mutant gene X. But as it turns out, a secret cabal of government officials have used sinister genetic engineering methods to introduce gene X into the population. On the level of actual intention, the government conspiracy group is responsible. But the gene would still be the material cause and, in the only sense that it makes sense to speak of the “intentions” of genes, the metaphorical sense which Dawkins employs when he speaks of selfish memes, gene X would still be responsible. In the analogous case where LulzSec carried out a hack and “blamed it” on Anonymous, it would still be the case that Anonymous was responsible for the hack, in the same sense that the gene X was responsible for the disease.

Traditional media continues to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of internet movements. Another way to look at Anonymous would be as a kind of loosely defined ideology. On one level, Socialism was responsible for the Russian Revolution. Of course, on quite another, a specific group of people carrying out socialist-inspired actions were responsible. These are two different perspectives on the same event, two different levels of abstraction. But in the case of Anonymous, they’re frequently muddled. On one level, the Russian Revolution was caused by a selfish meme-complex. This meme-complex infected a number of people for the ultimate “purpose” of replicating itself. In that sense, the Russian Revolution of 1917 was a very successful move by the socialist meme complex. A decade or two after the Revolution, socialist memes pervaded all of Russian society, at all levels. What had once been a niche political idea became the dominant social reality. But on a different level, as mentioned, the Russian Revolution was a move executed by concrete individuals in a concrete section of space-time. Traditional media keep looking for the corresponding group of concrete individuals responsible for Anonymous. But this group doesn’t exist.

There is no “Anonymous” as such. Or if there is, and they’re reading this and laughing, it’s so secret that the general population and the mass media have no idea about its existence, and if so, it is not identical with the meme complex also called Anonymous.

Al Qaeda is a terrorist group. Anyone could in principle carry out a terrorist action and claim to be Al Qaeda, but that doesn’t make it so. Unless you’re part of the core group of Al Qaeda, you aren’t Al Qaeda. But anyone can carry out an Anonymous action, employ the usual Anonymous symbols and memes, and that in itself makes the action an Anonymous action.

The internet accelerates the spread of memes to the point where social upheaval on the order of the Russian Revolution can happen with no central leadership, no secret group of conspirators—by a series of individual actions only “organized” on the level of the meme, only intentionally willed in the same sense that a gene “intentionally” wills its own replication. The Arab Spring was the first glimpse of that, although it still contained within it the usual elements of traditional revolutions.

One day, perhaps in the near future, a complex of memes spread on the internet may be solely responsible (on the appropriate level of abstraction) for an actual, real-world social upheaval on the order of a revolution. At that point, the traditional mass media will be caught with their pants down. They won’t see it coming, because as usual, they’re completely clueless when it comes to the nature of new media. At that point, the revolution absolutely will be tweeted, or it will be [verbed] in the latest internet fashion, whatever that happens to be at the time.

"We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest."

— Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (via closertothelost)

(via mordaciouslyyours)

monnikfeed:

A computer program known as Eureqa that was designed to find patterns and meaning in large datasets not only has recapitulated fundamental laws of physics but has also found explanatory equations that no one really understands. And certain mathematical theorems have been proven by computers, and no one person actually understands the complete proofs, though we know that they are correct. As the mathematician Steven Strogatz has argued, these could be harbingers of an “end of insight.” We had a wonderful several-hundred-year run of explanatory insight, beginning with the dawn of the Scientific Revolution, but maybe that period is drawing to a close.

(via humblybumbly)

Epictetus Discovers the Internet

dailymeh:

On trolls: Remember that foul words or blows in themselves are no outrage, but your judgement that they’re so. So when anyone makes you angry, know that it’s your own thought that has angered you. Therefore make it your first endeavour not to let your impressions carry you away. When we’re hindered, or disturbed, or distressed, let’s never lay the blame on others, but on ourselves, that is, on our own judgements. To accuse others for one’s own misfortunes is a sign of want of education; to accuse oneself shows that one’s education has begun; to accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one’s education is complete.

On basement dwellers: By the gods, when the young man feels the first stirrings of philosophy, I’d rather he came to me with his hair sleek than dishevelled and dirty: for that shows a sort of reflection of the beautiful, and a longing for the comely, and where he imagines these to be, there he spends his effort.

On copyright and information sharing: Never say of anything, “I lost it,” but say, “I gave it back.” Has your child died? It was given back. Has your wife died? She was given back. Has your estate been taken from you? Wasn’t this also given back? But you say, “He who took it from me is wicked.” What’s it matter to you through whom the Giver asked it back? As long as He gives it to you, take care of it, but not as your own; treat it as passers-by treat an inn.

On blogging: Lay down for yourself from the first a definite stamp and style of conduct, which you will maintain when you’re alone and also in the society of men. Be silent for the most part, or, if you speak, say only what’s necessary and in a few words. Talk, but rarely, if occasion calls you, but don’t talk of ordinary things—of gladiators, or horse-races, or athletes, or of meats or drinks—these are topics that arise everywhere—but above all don’t talk about men in blame or compliment or comparison.

On alt-tabbing and procrastination: When you relax your attention for a little, don’t imagine that you’ll recover it wherever you wish, but bear this well in mind, that your error of today must necessarily put you in a worse position for other occasions. Does the carpenter by inattention do his work better? Does the helmsman by inattention steer more safely? And is any of the minor duties of life fulfilled better by inattention? Don’t you realize that when you’ve let your mind go wandering once, you lose the power to recall it, to bring it to bear on what’s seemly, self-respecting, and modest: you do anything that occurs to you and follow your inclinations?

On the culture of oversharing: When a man seems to have talked frankly to us about his own affairs, how we’re drawn to communicate our own secrets to him and think this is frankness! First because it seems unfair to have heard our neighbour’s affairs and yet not give him a share of our own in turn: next because we think we won’t give the impression of being frank if we’re silent about our own affairs. Still, though he has confided his affairs to me with security, am I to do the same to the first man I meet? No, I hear and hold my tongue, if I’m that sort of man, but he goes off and tells everyone. “Yes; but I trust you, and you don’t trust me.” In the first place you don’t trust me; you’re only garrulous and therefore can’t keep anything back. For if what you say is true, trust your secrets to me and no one else: instead of which, whenever you see anyone at leisure, you sit down by him and say, “My brother, you are the dearest friend I have; I beg you to listen to my story.” And you do this to those you haven’t known even for a short while. If you really trust me, you trust me, of course, because I’m trustworthy and self-respecting, not because I told you my secrets.

brilliant.

newstatesman:

What We Believe
For our Christmas issue, representatives of three faiths - Mohammed Ansar, Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner and Giles Fraser - discussed the idea of “non-overlapping magisteria” – that science and religion ask different questions and can coexist peacefully. Introduced by our guest editor Robin Ince:

I have been called “a militant atheist” in the past, which seems to mean no more than I am happy to say I’m an atheist if asked. The militant comes with it as a package whether you want it or not. After being involved in the odd debate show and occasional fracas on radio, I increasingly felt that “religious people are at loggerheads with the atheists” – one burning down cathedrals and urinating in fonts, the other thinking that man was made from clay a few years back –was not very representative of the reality I experienced.

Just as atheists get stereotyped as furious suckers of joy wishing everyone to dwell in a valley of existential angst, so the religious can be imagined by some of the godless as nonthinking halfwits, petrified into action only through fear of their deity. Increasingly, I find the common ground is not as clearly delineated as we might think – so I asked representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths where they felt the boundaries between science and religion lay.

Read the article in full on the NS website.

newstatesman:

What We Believe

For our Christmas issue, representatives of three faiths - Mohammed Ansar, Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner and Giles Fraser - discussed the idea of “non-overlapping magisteria” – that science and religion ask different questions and can coexist peacefully. Introduced by our guest editor Robin Ince:

I have been called “a militant atheist” in the past, which seems to mean no more than I am happy to say I’m an atheist if asked. The militant comes with it as a package whether you want it or not. After being involved in the odd debate show and occasional fracas on radio, I increasingly felt that “religious people are at loggerheads with the atheists” – one burning down cathedrals and urinating in fonts, the other thinking that man was made from clay a few years back –was not very representative of the reality I experienced.

Just as atheists get stereotyped as furious suckers of joy wishing everyone to dwell in a valley of existential angst, so the religious can be imagined by some of the godless as nonthinking halfwits, petrified into action only through fear of their deity. Increasingly, I find the common ground is not as clearly delineated as we might think – so I asked representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths where they felt the boundaries between science and religion lay.

Read the article in full on the NS website.

ikenbot:

Are We Living Inside a Computer Simulation?

The popular film trilogy, The Matrix, presented a cyberuniverse where humans live in a simulated reality created by sentient machines.

Now, a philosopher and team of physicists imagine that we might really be living inside a computer-generated universe that you could call The Lattice. What’s more, we may be able to detect it.

In 2003, British philosopher Nick Bostrom published a paper that proposed the universe we live in might in fact really be a numerical computer simulation. To give this a bizarre Twilight Zone twist, he suggested that our far-evolved distant descendants might construct such a program to simulate the past and recreate how their remote ancestors lived.

He felt that such an experiment was inevitable for a supercivilization. If it didn’t happen by now, then in meant that humanity never evolved that far and we’re doomed to a short lifespan as a species, he argued.

To extrapolate further, I’d suggest that artificial intelligent entities descended from us would be curious about looking back in time by simulating the universe of their biological ancestors.

As off-the-wall as this sounds, a team of physicists at the University of Washington (UW) recently announced that there is a potential test to seen if we actually live in The Lattice. Ironically, it would be the first such observation for scientifically hypothesized evidence of intelligent design behind the cosmos.

The UW team too propose that super-intelligent entities, bored with their current universe, do numerical simulations to explore all possibilities in the landscape of the underlying quantum vacuum (from which the big bang percolated) through universe simulations. “This is perhaps the most profound quest that can be undertaken by a sentient being,” write the authors.

Before you dismiss this idea as completely loony, the reality of such a Sim Universe might solve a lot of eerie mysteries about the cosmos. About two-dozen of the universe’s fundamental constants happen to fall within the narrow range thought to be compatible with life. At first glance it seems as unlikely as balancing a pencil on its tip. Jiggle these parameters and life as we know it would have never appeared. Not even stars and galaxies. This is called the Anthropic principle.

ANALYSIS: Building the Universe Inside a Supercomputer

The discovery of dark energy over a decade ago further compounds the universe’s strangeness. This sort of “antigravity” pushing space-time apart is the closest thing there is to nothing and still is something. This energy from the vacuum of space is 60 orders of magnitude weaker that what would be predicted by quantum physics.The eminent cosmologist Michael Turner ranks dark energy as “the most profound mystery in all of science.”

We are also living at a very special time in the universe’s history where it switched gears from decelerating to accelerating under the push of dark energy. This begs the question “why me why now?” (A phrase popularly attributed to Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan in 1994 when she was attacked and crippled by an opponent.)

If dark energy were slightly stronger the universe would have blown apart before stars formed. Any weaker and the universe would have imploded long ago. Its incredibly anemic value has been seen as circumstantial evidence for parallel universes with their own flavor of dark energy that is typically destructive. It’s as if our universe won the lottery and got all the physical parameters just right for us to exist.

Finally, an artificial universe solves the Fermi Paradox (where are all the space aliens?) by implying that we truly are alone in the universe. It was custom made for us by our far-future progeny.

Biblical creationists can no doubt embrace these seeming cosmic coincidences as unequivocal evidence for their “theory” of Intelligent Design (ID). But is our “God” really a computer programmer rather than a bearded old man living in the sky?

Currently, supercomputers using a impressive-sounding technique called lattice quantum chromodynamics, and starting from the fundamental physical laws, can simulate only a very small portion of the universe. The scale is a little larger than the nucleus of an atom, according UW physicist Martin Savage. Mega-computers of the far future could greatly expand the size of the Sim Universe.

ANALYSIS: Artificial Universe Created Inside a Supercomputer

If we are living in such a program, there could be telltale evidence for the underlying lattice used in modeling the space-time continuum, say the researchers. This signature could show up as a limitation in the energy of cosmic rays. They would travel diagonally across the model universe and not interact equally in all directions, as they otherwise would be expected to do according to present cosmology.

If such results were measured, physicists would have to rule out any and all other natural explanations for the anomaly before flirting with the idea of intelligent design. (To avoid confusion with the purely faith-based creationist ID, this would not prove the existence of a biblical God, because you’d have to ask the question “why does God need a lattice?”)

If our universe is a simulation, then those entities controlling it could be running other simulations as well to create other universes parallel to our own. No doubt this would call for, ahem, massive parallel processing.

If all of this isn’t mind-blowing enough, Bostrom imagined “stacked” levels of reality, “we would have to suspect that the post-humans running our simulation are themselves simulated beings; and their creators, in turn, may also be simulated beings. Here may be room for a large number of levels of reality, and the number could be increasing over time.”

To compound this even further, Bostrom imagined a hierarchy of deities, “In some ways, the post-humans running a simulation are like gods. However, all the demigods except those at the fundamental level of reality are subject to sanctions by the more powerful gods living at lower levels.”

If the parallel universes are all running on the same computer platform could we communicate with them? If so, I hope the Matrix’s manic Agent Smith doesn’t materialize one day.

To borrow from the title of Isaac Asimov’s novel I Robot, the human condition might be described as I Subroutine.

(via afro-dominicano)

  • Lucy: This is our last time here, isn't it?
  • Aslan: Yes. You have grown up, my dear one.
  • Lucy: Will you visit us in our world?
  • Aslan: I shall be watching you always.
  • Lucy: How?
  • Aslan: In your world, I have another name. You must learn to know me by it. That was the very reason you were brought to Narnia. That by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.
  • Lucy: Will we meet again?
  • Aslan: Yes, dear one. One day.
"The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid."

G. K. Chesterton