Archive for November, 2011

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Does God Exist?

November 16, 2011
bubble universes

Bubble Universes visualized in journalofcosmology.com

I’ve been doing some interesting research for a novel I’m writing.  (More on that, maybe, in another post.) It concerns quantum physics and even smaller things – string theory, branes, theories of 10- or 11-dimensional space-time, multiple universes – all sorts of what can be considered either cutting-edge physics and cosmology or crazy crap.

I confess I came to the whole quantum physics stuff late. In high school we got “classical” physics, down to the electron, proton and neutron. I didn’t take a college science class (Yea music degree!) so I didn’t get anything there. Most of what I got was from science fiction I read, and the science fact articles I’ve absorbed through the years from Analog or other magazines.

Parallel to this I was a kid growing up in small-town Ohio in the Sixties in a German-Lutheran environment, religiously speaking. The Lutheran Church there had not yet been changed by the inclusion of Scandinavian influences. I’ve always thought that the Church I grew up in was closer to old-school Roman Catholicism that the Catholic Church was in the Sixties. Minus that transubstantiation stuff, of course.

These two viewpoints always kind of fought in my head. Is there a God? Is He a personal God? If I pray to Him, does He hear me? Does he answer prayers? How do I reconcile my religious upbringing with, not Darwinism, but cosmology, which was trying to determine how the whole universe started.

What was here before there was a here? If the universe was created from a Big Bang, how did that happen? And why? I’ve always felt that the intense study of the Big Bang and what happened immediately after it, while extremely valuable, ignored the more basic question: what was there before it occurred?

Now there are scientists who are saying that maybe our universe has collided with others. (Also see here.) Some believe that branes have collided, or that gravity, weak in our 4-dimensional view, could be very strong in another dimension or set of dimensions. Others are seeking to understand why the universe seems to be perfectly set up for life to exist.

None of these, nor superstring theory or it’s successors using branes, really refers to why things are the way they are. They just seek to describe what they are. If strings exist at the Planck length (or less) it may be impossible to ever detect them directly. God may just not want us to look that far “behind the curtain.”

The more we know about the very small, the more we can determine about the very large. The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is supposed to whack protons together so hard as to produce energies never before seen on Earth. There was an unfounded concern it would create a black hole that would ultimately eat the Earth. The smaller you want to observe, the greater the energy required. That may put a limit on what we can detect.

Instead of looking at this from the “blind watchmaker” angle, let’s look at it from the point of view that there is some kind of intelligence that is extra-universal. It exists outside of our universe but can perceive what happens in our universe. Perhaps it influences how our universe began. Is this the vengeful Yahweh of the Hebrews? Is this a being that cares about us at all as individual solar systems, as planets, let alone as individual people?

I don’t know. In an infinite set of universes, being created and collapsing, eventually there will be one that will have exactly the physical characteristics necessary for life to evolve. (If you wait long enough, those million monkeys will eventually type all of Shakespeare.)

I was going to say, “Are we lucky enough to be the only ones who live in that universe?” What popped into my head was, “Are we the only ones blessed with living in that universe?”

I have to confess that God nowadays seems a bit close-mouthed about things. Back a few thousand years ago he would talk to people, or smite somebody, and demonstrate he was there. Now we look for anything that might be somehow made to fit into our beliefs. I’ve got a couple of incidents myself (which I will not relate here). Is it just our evolved predator brains, looking for patterns where there are none?

I just can’t believe that. If there is some kind of intelligence outside of our universe that tweaked the parameters of our universe so that suns and planets could form, so that water and carbon and other elements could exist and combine in certain ways, and so that ultimately life, sentient life, could come to be – I’m calling it God. Does He listen to my prayers? If He can design a universe, why not? If He went to all the trouble to make the universe balance so we could exist, why wouldn’t He take an interest in His creations?

What happens outside of our universe? Are there more universes? How many more? An infinite number? At what point does the multiverse become self-aware? 

I think the problem with atheism is that it is thinking too small. “I can’t see it, or smell it, or touch it, so it can’t exist.” I think the ideas of what is outside of our universe, how our universe began and how it might end, and how it is built at its fundamental level all tell me it was designed for us. God did want companionship. Perhaps trillions of trillions of companions. Perhaps the multiverse is self-aware and is looking after its component parts, which it labored long and hard to build in a certain way.

Now: let’s say the multiverse idea is correct. What’s outside of the multiverse?

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!” 

— Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

"It's turtles, all the way down!"

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Some gorgeous fantasy aircraft and spacecraft art

November 13, 2011

X-wing repaint for the Navy

An artist going by the name of Clave has done twelve pages – over a hundred individual images – of beautiful profiles of aircraft and spacecraft, repainted in livery that they would never historically have, like an F-22 of the Soviet Air Force, etc. The majority are aircraft, mainly WWI and current jet aircraft, but some are TV/film spacecraft like the Gerry Anderson Thunderbirds ships and the Battlestar Galactica Viper. I hope he doesn’t mind me posting this one example. Go to these pages to find the others. Even if you are not a fan of aircraft, science fiction, or alternate history, you will enjoy the sheer artistry in his work. He is an incredible craftsman. Rarely have I seen so much beautiful, exacting imagery of such high quality and with such interesting ideas!

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Garmin GPS…isn’t this thing supposed to help you find your way?

November 13, 2011

I bought a Garmin 1450 GPS from Amazon last week because it was a great deal. I used to have a Tom Tom device, years ago, and passed it to my daughter when I started using the Navigon software for the iPhone. The iPhone is just too small a screen for all the information available. Navigon was really slow on the iPhone 3G, but works much better on the iPhone 4.

So the Garmin 1450 has a 5 inch screen and a very nice display. We used it going from home in the western Chicago suburbs to Indianapolis and back to my daughter’s house in the northwest Chicago suburbs this weekend. Most of the time it was fine. I bought the Yoda voice and he got annoying after a while because he pops in with a comment every 10 miles or so. That would be good to keep me awake when driving alone, but you can’t turn it off and the number of fortune cookie-like comments he has is extremely limited. Otherwise, Yodaspeak is good for navigation: he tells you the direction first, and that’s helpful.

The problem is  I think even though I downloaded the most recent update before we left it has some serious problems. I-80/90 east of Chicago is perennially under construction, and a major rebuild of I-70 west of I-465 outside of Indy is just about finished. We got some odd choices in those places. We knew better and went through, but if we were really using it in unfamiliar territory we would have been in trouble around the I-65 and I-90 junction at Gary, Indiana. The roads listed weren’t there anymore! The first route it gave use took us off I-65 onto a surface street for a few miles, then back on to I-90…they connect beautifully and pretty much always have, except when the ramp was rebuilt. The update must be from that time. That was at least six months ago and it’s a very heavily-traveled road; I would expect it would be a pretty high priority for update.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy one. I like the interface on the Navigon better, and I could try it on the iPad, but the iPad is hard to position so you can read it while driving. I thought a dedicated unit would be better. We’ll see. I’m not convinced this thing is as useful as it should be, unfortunately.

Oh, and it has “lifetime traffic reports.” Nope. It has “ad-based traffic reports.” Little popup ads show up on the screen to pay for your use of the traffic service. It’s not really annoying yet, but we drove the Chicago on I-90 (all the way through and out to the Roselle Road exit) on a Saturday night, so traffic congestion was minimal. In real traffic the traffic data may be helpful enough that I don’t care about the popups. Right now I don’t like ’em.

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The ole’ nail in the coffin…

November 10, 2011

I have to tell you, when Rick Perry got into the Presidential race I thought we had something there. He seemed to have a good record, looked Presidential in a Texas central-casting sort of way, and he was initially getting a lot of traction with conservatives and “mainstream” Republicans alike.

From there on it was a sad spiral. He doesn’t do debates well, and we all know there is a whole lot more to being President, but Richard Nixon found out in 1960 that TV can make or break your campaign. (OK, that and Chicago backroom politics, but we have that to contend with here, too.)

I didn’t watch the debate last night. I find that kind of gotcha politics really annoying. Still, I guess Perry had a really bad senior moment and couldn’t recall the third Federal agency he would cut. (I have a dozen, by the way, that I would cut if I were a Presidential candidate. Which I’m not, as I’m sure you’re glad.)

Usually one moment like this wouldn’t be enough to deep-six a candidacy, but he has been dropping so fast that this is could be it. Money may not be enough to turn it around.

On the other hand, the guy I think more and more people will begin to consider seriously is Newt Gingrich. The economic turmoil in Europe shows us where we’re going if we don’t change our ways, and since Italy seems to be melting down right now it looks far more serious than when it was only Greece, which has a much smaller economy. There’s talk that the whole European Union may collapse. The Germans can only go so far in bailing out other nations, and I’ll bet they have the political will to say “nein” to their free-spending neighbors.

Newt is the only candidate to have well-thought-out, serious ideas for a wide range of issues. I doubt there is an issue you could bring up that he hasn’t given thought to. Maybe it’s time that people will decide they don’t need a candidate with charisma or a square jaw as much as someone who really knows what to do to get us out of the the fix we are in.

You can disagree with him, but at least there are positions and plans there to disagree with. I’m not sold on him a hundred percent either, but I think it’s time for me to look into him a little bit more. Maybe we all should.

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If you can’t say somethin’ nice…

November 8, 2011

Presidents and Vice Presidents have been caught with an accidentally-live mic many times over the years. My favorite isn’t the Dick Cheney/George W. Bush 2000 campaign blunder, but instead the famous Reagan joke about declaring the Soviet Union illegal and that the bombing starts in five minutes.

However, the Sarkozy/Obama exchange last week at the G20 summit may beat them all. At least the others were light-hearted. These two supposed  world leaders should have better sense than to discuss their feelings about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu where there could be a live mic.

What this tells us, besides, are a couple of things I have suspected for a long time – first, that Obama is a petty little man. He should have better than to talk to another world leader in such a way at all, in public or not. I’ve never thought of those two as soul mates. They don’t seem to have the kind of bond that Bush 43 and Tony Blair did after 9/11. Instead, he showed himself to just basically not handle himself very well on the world stage – again.

Besides, it shows us where the US position with Israel really is, and it should show Netanyahu as well. Besides Thumper’s Dad’s warning – “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say anything at all,” both of these “statesmen” would do well to remember another basic rule:

“It’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”