Stuff That Works and Stuff That Doesn’t Work

You may have noticed a difference, then again maybe you haven’t noticed a difference.

In what? In who? What’s the difference?

How do you measure difference? How do you know when someone or something is different?

“It’s supposed to be automatic, but actually you have to push this button.”


– John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar

How do you know when you’re different?

Do you use a calculator, a ruler, a machine, an app, or your eyes?

How do you know if those are reliable? What’s their point of reference for deciding and then concluding whatever it is that they decide and then conclude?

Is it the mind, the brain? Are the mind and the brain the same thing? How can we measure that and then decide if they’re different or not?

“It doesn’t stop being magic just because you know how it works.”

– Terry Pratchet, The Wee Free Men

While I was thinking about dreaming, I remembered a theory which a modern scientist made.

[which I read about in this article on an online magazine The Atlantic: The Case Against Reality – A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.]

The basics of the theory are that nothing we see (or hear, touch, smell, taste, feel) is real, it’s our brains interpreting what our eyes (or the other bits) are seeing (or the other things the other bits do).

It’s not that different from dreaming only we’re doing it while awake. Why do we think that what we see when we’re awake is what is real? Maybe what we see in our dreams is what is real.

Who is telling us what to believe?

“Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all.”

– Arthur C. Clarke

Which brings me to the inspiration for this post:

Fandango’s Provocative Question #6: Is technological advancement a net positive or a net negative?

Fandango introduced this week’s question with the following:

This week’s provocative question came up when I read an article that talked about how the extent that Russia used social media to influence the 2016 presidential election in the United States and the Brexit vote in Great Britain was more extensive than what was originally thought and that such disinformation and misinformation on social media sites continues almost unabated to this day.

Fandango’s Provocative Question #6

Keeping in mind what provoked Fandango to ask his provocative question… how do we know any of that? How do we know that Russia is using social media to influence votes? How do we know that the news in that article is not disinformation and misinformation?

Maybe Russia is being framed by another nation. Maybe it’s China. Or what about North Korea. Or maybe it’s the US government pointing a finger elsewhere to explain the fine mess it’s gotten itself into.

It could be the UK, but over here we’ve pretty much agreed that Brexit is due to no one taking it seriously until it became a serious issue. Or maybe it’s all the fault of the Monster Raving Looney Party… although these days all political parties seem to be raving lunatics.

Maybe it’s not a country behind all of this but just one someone out there (who perhaps is a big fan of the film WarGames).

WarGames – A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

A genius hacker who likes to wear a black hoodie, talks to his dead father, and did a little something with some friends, and a crazy sister he didn’t remember was his sister, which caused a huge something to happen… oops.

Or maybe it’s the work of the Cult of Kosmos, or the Cabal, or it’s the Greys, or the Lizard people, or a Bond villain.

Does it makes us feel better to think there’s an order orchestrating the chaos?

That these interesting times are all because of a gypsy curse – should have bought that lavender!

That this has nothing to do with us, but it’s all someone else somewhere else who did this to us because they’re an a-hole.

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

– Richard Feynman

I have a friend who is a staunch believer in atheism as the means to save the world and all the people in it if only they’d just believe in what he believes.

He gets very irate when people refuse to believe in his non-god, and spends a great deal of time and effort telling everyone who believes in god that they are wrong. He’s allowed to do that because he’s right and righteous in his rightness.

They, however, are not allowed to tell him that they think he’s wrong to tell them that they are wrong. They don’t mind if he doesn’t believe in god but they do mind that he’s telling them they’re not allowed to believe in what they believe.

He worships science, although he’s not really interested in science-science, he just likes popular science, the kind which is propagated by TV scientists and TV science buffs. It’s carefully packaged into bite-sized portions, and is easy to repeat and make you sound like you know all about science.

He does most of this on the internet, online, on social media because he can do it anonymously and if it all gets to be too much, if he comes up against too much opposition, anyone who has a better argument, someone who has done in-depth research and thinking… he can log out, or delete that account and start another one.

“The real problem is that through our scientific genius we’ve made of the world a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual genius we’ve failed to make of it a brotherhood.”

– Martin Luther King Jr., Rediscovering Lost Values

As far as my friend is concerned, the big baddie who is behind all the chaos in this world is god. If we kill god, all the versions of god which exist and which people believe in, the world will be magically and miraculously transformed into a place of peace and love.

He also spends a great deal of time and effort ranting about a certain world leader. When I met my friend it was a different world leader who was his target. It’s reached obsession levels, and his solution is the same – get rid of the big poobah of pain and suffering and we’ll all be alright.

Oh, and subjects like astrology have to go too. Because it’s bullshit which people believe in and people must stop believing in bullshit. It’s the only way to ensure safety and sanity.

Now my friend knows that I like astrology, it’s pretty much the only thing he knows about me beyond the basics (name, face, gender, marital status, location on planet Earth), and he’s tried to get me to stop believing in it to save me from my stupidity. He really doesn’t know me.

He’s found it frustrating because I don’t seem to care to argue about it. I’m apparently supposed to defend something which he considers to be my belief against his non-belief belief so that he can then prove to me that I’m wrong and he’s right, and once that happens I’ll be enlightened, no longer living in the Dark Ages, and grateful for it.

“Technology… the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.”

– Max Frisch, Homo Faber

Most of his proof to prove the rightness of his side of the argument doesn’t come from him. It comes from other people, mostly his heroes of the moment – pop culture pundits having their 15 minutes.

His words are usually not his own words, he repeats what others have said in quotes shared online, in sound bites taken from an interview on a podcast or a too long to read properly article. He cherry picks the things he thinks sound cool, right, righteous, which say what he needs for him to confirm to himself that he’s right, on the right side, and everyone else who isn’t on his side is wrong.

So much of what he says begins with – This is stupid, this is wrong, this is why we can’t have nice things. And then there’s this long list of what and who is stupid, wrong, and causing all of us grief. It concludes with the solution to all problems – get rid of all of this, that and those people and we’ll all be hunky dunky.

At the rate that he’s going, he may end up alone on this planet, and while that might actually a peaceful experience, I don’t get the impression he’d like that.

Who is he going to argue with if he’s alone, who is he going to blame for the fact that nothing works anymore, the power grid is offline and he can’t get any reception on his phone, all the food in the supermarkets has gone bad, everything is turning into garbage which reeks and there’s no one to take it away, the toilet doesn’t flush with clean water, he’s not feeling well, it’s freezing cold…

Who is he?

Who is he without others?

Who is he without all those things he uses to define himself?

“Lacking positive myths to guide him, many a sensitive contemporary man finds only the model of the machine beckoning him from every side to make himself over into its image.”

– Rollo May, Psychology and the Human Dilemma

When I met my friend… it was on social media. I was new to it and he had been on it for a long time. He was very friendly, funny, fun.

He was political in his tweets but it wasn’t obsessive, wasn’t angry, wasn’t as it is now. He was an atheist but wasn’t on a vendetta against god, and didn’t mind if people believed in god. He was… different.

We chatted, and eventually became friends. It was really lovely being his friend and having him as my friend. He shared his other Twitter accounts with me. He shared his private blog with me… I think he did it to test me, to see how I would react, if I would still be friends with him. It wasn’t as shocking as he thought it was, it wasn’t shocking at all. He shared his real name and real face, and invited me to his real life wedding.

He was happy, sure he had his share of human unhappiness too, but it wasn’t as prominent or prevalent as it has now become. It didn’t dominate him.

When did he change? When did he become different? When did I notice that he had become different?

Was it some time after that happy event in his life that he seemed to become unhappier, grouchier, more focused on everything and everyone he hated about the world.

“You live in a deranged age – more deranged than usual, because despite great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.”

– Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book

Life has a way of rattling all of our cages, and sometimes the things which disrupt our flow, disturb our calm the most, are those which should bring more calm and less disruption.

Being blessed with happiness can trigger a deep seated fear of losing what has brought us happiness.

Suddenly we see all the dangers which we’d ignored before, or had shrugged at because we weren’t that happy so it didn’t matter. We had nothing to lose, we didn’t have anything worth hanging onto, we were comfortably cynical, skeptical, fatalistic. It all ends, and we kind of looked forward to it ending.

But then it happened.

And it made us different.

We care about our life, about the lives of others. We have something worth hanging onto, something or someone we don’t want to lose… and everything and everyone appears to us to want to take it from us.

We’re under attack, our beloved is being threatened, and we need to fight back, protect what we love by hating what we think wants to destroy our love, us.

“At the very moment that humans discovered the scale of the universe and found that their most unconstrained fancies were in fact dwarfed by the true dimensions of even the Milky Way Galaxy, they took steps that ensured that their descendants would be unable to see the stars at all.

For a million years humans had grown up with a personal daily knowledge of the vault of heaven.

In the last few thousand years they began building and emigrating to the cities.

In the last few decades, a major fraction of the human population has abandoned a rustic way of life.

As technology developed and the cities were polluted, the nights became starless.

New generations grew to maturity wholly ignorant of the sky that had transfixed their ancestors and that had stimulated the modern age of science and technology. Without even noticing, just as astronomy entered a golden age most people cut themselves off from the sky, a cosmic isolationism that ended only with the dawn of space exploration.”

– Carl Sagan, Contact

Today is the official Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the darkest point of the year. CNN says it’s extra special this year because tomorrow evening there’s also going to be a Full Moon, known as a Cold Moon, and a meteor shower.

But none of that means anything, does it?

It’s just another night and another day, measured by the silent ticking of the human clock.

Time as we know it… wasn’t always time as we know it. We apparently only synchronised our watches when train travel started to become more popular and different towns having different times was confusing.

[History: November 1883 – Railroads create the first time zones]

We used to measure time using the Sun, and now we don’t need that shit anymore… we don’t need the Sun to get a tan either because natural tanning is bad for you.

They may begin taxing sunshine like they want to tax sugar and salt because it’s all bad for us and we’re too stupid to stop using what is deemed to be bad for us by the powers that be who are making stuff up using science (paid for by the powers that be) to back their claims up.

“Nature might be a great experimentalist, but one who would never pass muster with an ethics review board – contravening the Helsinki Declaration and every norm of moral decency, left, right, and center.”

– Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies

And we’ll all probably agree that sugar, salt and sunshine should be taxed to stop us from indulging in all those natural things which are bad for us.

Science says it’s bad for us so it must be true because look at all that proof written down in scientific language which we can’t read because it’s too long and boring, but which thankfully the news will dumb down for us into reality fact bites – SALT KILLS! SUGAR KILLS! SUNSHINE KILLS!

OMG… oops… OMSCIENCE or is it omniscience?… We’re all going to die!!!

We don’t want to die because we love being alive in this wonderful world which we think is working beautifully for us, and we want to be here for all the marvelous magic which is just around the next corner, over the hurdle and hump, bound to happen soon.

Maybe science can figure out how to stop us all from dying (including all those people we hate and who are wrong) and live forever happily ever after.

So…

FPQ: Is technological advancement a net positive or a net negative?

I don’t know yet, I’m waiting for Google to give me the answer. Holy Prometheus why is my internet connections so slow!

Hmmm…

I wonder if I have time to have a bath but I had one last month, maybe I’ll just have a cup of hot rainwater, I wish they’d hurry up and discover coffee, better go and start the fire, where did I put my Flintstones, first I need to chop some wood, which means I need to make an axe…

I may be a while Google, you’ll just have to wait for me.

“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?”

– Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

12 thoughts on “Stuff That Works and Stuff That Doesn’t Work

Add yours

  1. I am late to comment but during my drive, the moon was seriously spectacular. It lit part of our drive through the Rockies – it was amazing to see.

    I am a sort of atheist, which means that I am an agnostic, but not a serious one. I like to think I’m open. 😉 There’s so much that we don’t know, and so much more that we don’t know we don’t know. As Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory said, we’re puny insects. 😉

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  2. I think lots of atheists, like people who follow a religion, go through a ‘fundamentalist’ phase, where they become as evangelical and self-righteous as any other fundamentalist. I know my son did, but he was only 15 so it wasn’t too bad. He’s grown out of it now, although he still thinks I am sadly deluded in oh so many ways 🙂

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    1. That’s a good point, thank you for sharing, Glitterfluff 🙂

      When we’re in our teens, everything is extreme and deadly serious. The world feels hostile and we grab onto what we can to stay afloat. I got into existentialism in my teens.

      Most atheists and non-atheists are just doing what feels right for them, don’t feel the need to preach, just want to live and let live, and my friend used to be like that. The extremism came much later in his life as an atheist. He’s very afraid of the world as it is and has been for the last decade-ish. Perhaps it’s because he’s afraid of losing what is very precious to him now which he didn’t have before. Or it could be because he now has an influence in his life which he didn’t have before and that influence isn’t laid back at all.

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  3. Excellent debate on the topic. Lots of fodder for my own response. I despise people with that all or nothing attitude like your atheist . My way is the only way. I mean really? You have your way, I have my way, as for the “right” way, it doesn’t exist. Great answers all. Now, I’m going to go ponder the provocative question, the fate of the universe, and possibly dance naked under the full solstice moon! 😉

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  4. Love Wargames!!! “Shall we play a game?” Tried to get into Mr. Robot and it went by so sllloooowww in season 2, I gave up😥
    Atheists like your friend, I tend to stay away from because I don’t like confrontation but also because don’t get mad that I believe in God. I’m not mad at you, so why are you mad at me?!

    Who knows who’s putting all the propaganda out there, it’s up to us to stay vigilant and do alot of reading for self edification because then we’ll end up like your friend- angry, confused, irrate.

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    1. Great film! 😀

      I watched Mr. Robot in the way that I watch a lot of series. I go and do the dishes (or some other random housework which I don’t have to do but suddenly get the itch to do) when it gets boring. Then I miss all sorts of stuff and don’t know what’s going on so it makes it more interesting. It was a good show. It was sloooooow. I think it was deliberately very slow and then suddenly hectic, and then really slow again, and then bam! Because that’s kind of like life.

      I think it’s wise to avoid people who are spoiling for an argument, because it’s all about arguing for them not about anything else like understanding. They’ll find a reason to argue with you because that’s what they want to do, but it’s no fun if you don’t argue back. The big issues tend to get other people to argue back, so they latch onto those – politics, religion, belief, what matters to you and what you won’t let slide if someone pokes and prods you there.

      Also very wise to stay vigilant and check things out. Sometimes the best move in the game is to not play the game 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “Maybe it’s China. Or what about North Korea. Or maybe it’s the US government pointing a finger elsewhere to explain the fine mess it’s gotten itself into.” Or maybe, as our president has surmised, it’s some 400 pound guy sitting on his bed in his mother’s basement in New Jersey.

    Your unhappy, cynical, militant atheist friend is giving all of us laidback, “whatever floats your boat” atheists a bad name.

    Hmm. I never thought of Googling my provocative question before posting it. Damn, all of this technological advancement should have reminded me to do so. What good is it if it can’t do what I need when I need it? Why does it even go to the bother of existing? Why do any of us? Hmm, next week’s provocative question, maybe?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha! It’s definitely that guy in his mother’s basement, he was fine until he went down there to fix the boiler for her and accidentally knocked over one of those boxes of her stuff which she kept stored there. It was an old box, a bit moldy, battered corners, the sticky tape no longer stuck, stuff spilled out. His eyes couldn’t unsee what they’d seen and his mind couldn’t make sense of it. He could never leave that basement alive… but he didn’t want to die either. The misinformation he’s spreading through his only lifeline to the world beyond the basement, the triple W, is actually an encrypted cry for help.

      My friend used to be like most atheists, all laidback, pass-the-spliff mate… he must have tried to fix a boiler.

      Always Google first even if all you’re doing is asking the wife to make a sandwich 😉

      Look forward to your next FPQ, they’re great and I love it when you give them personal context otherwise they’re just floaters in cyberspace (should I have said that? Ah, no one can hear you in cyberspace).

      Liked by 1 person

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