Thursday, August 7, 2008
The whole idea of having politicians make decisions about how to spend tax money is ridiculous!
What we need is a mechanism where ad-hoc groups of highly educated specialists get together when there is an issue that needs to be addressed.
These groups will always have the expressed purpose of creating 3-5 good ways to deal with the specific scenario in an intelligent manner and the exact cost of each will be laid out as a dollar amount per person and a total sum to the general public. The general public will then vote on these plans, or they can vote to choose to reject the plans and tell them to go back to the drawing board.
The ad-hoc groups will consist of volunteers in the academic field having a degree in a related field, and have no corporate ties, they will also be required to not profit past 1 standard deviation of what the average population profits. If for some reason a plan is presented that is just really good but it unfairly benefits any individual in the scenario creating ad-hoc group past 1 standard deviation of the benefit the general population recieves from the decision (measured in money, value of possessions) Individual will be forced to forgo the profit past the standard deviation and it will be distributed by the public. Similarly if an individual in the scenario creating group benefits less than 1 standard deviation of the average benefit, they will be compensated up to 1 standard deviation.
Issues that need to be addressed will all need to be generated by grassroots campaigns. This means we will only discuss issues that the public actually wants to discuss and not what the people who rule us think up!
The public will decided how much time the ad-hoc groups are allowed to come up with scenarios for particular situations. Some situations will require quick action, some will need lengthy long thought out actions.
This system of government will rule over no more than 10 million people. Groups of 10 million people can use these rules to determine how to correspond with other groups.
Voting would work over a specific closed loop internet where a near future quantum computer could provide physically unbreakable encryption and therefore security.
Every single person in these ad-hoc groups will be televised 24/7 throughout the duration of the meetings so that the public can make sure there is nothing going on behind the curtain.
This society would need 1 rule in order to be free of corruption, and that would be making schooling throughout all levels of education free for the public. This way, anyone could be a decision maker and have an informed opinion about dealing with issues regarding them.
Totally Transparent Government is what I call it. It is not a political ideal, it is about dealing with situations intelligently and the way the people actually want to deal with situations.
Why just 10 million people?
I don't think any body of decision makers no matter how intelligent or transparent can satisfy everybody perfectly in a world where there are so many issues for viewpoints to differ. However it is fairly clear that the smaller the community the more likely people within that community will have similar viewpoints on issues. 10 people plucked from 10 random geographic areas from the US will be unlikely to hold a lot of very similar view points. Narrow it down and pick 10 people from a single state and these people will have much more similar views. Narrow it down even further to a large city, 10 people in a large city are much more likely to share similar views than people separated vastly geographically. Theoretically 1 million people would represent the community even better, but too little diversity can be bad too. When people are in too much agreement strong views and hatefulness of "others" outside the community can run rampant without any checks.
If trying to rule over too large of a group, people will naturally aggregate into smaller groups that have similar views. This is why we have mostly red states and blue states but few purple states. Opinions and ideas tend to spread out geographically and dissipate at a certain distance from specific geographic locales where certain ideas and opinions are very strong.
A system of politics where one ruling body is supposed to accurately represent the views and opinions of 100's of millions of people is absolutely ludicrous!
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Think of how much the Internet has already changed our lives. When we have questions, they can now be answered with a modest amount of research that requires little more than a few key strokes. In the past, if you or someone you knew had a question that was out of the field of expertise of people around you, it would require a trip to the library, sifting through hundreds of pages of books looking for an answer. Now most questions can be answered in a matter of minutes, and deeper questions can be answered in a few hours.
Having the Internet in your home is the equivalent of owning your own personal multi billion dollar library. The bulk of all human knowledge has already been uploaded onto the Internet, and soon all human knowledge will be published directly onto the Internet.
Internet speeds are becoming exponentially faster, fiber optics have been developed that can transfer 40Gb's/sec on a single fiber. The ability to transfer such large amounts of data will certainly bring down the cost of individual household bandwidth. A cheaper and faster Internet is upon us, but what does this mean for the world?
The rise of the Internet means the end of ignorance. Sure the Internet has a lot of unreliable resources on it, but it also has the largest collection of reliable resources on it, much larger than any library in known existence. The only knowledge one needs in order to end their ignorance with the Internet, is the ability to do good research. This means checking the credentials of the people whose documents you are using as a source, incorporating multiple credible sources in order to back up an idea, and the ability to use search engines properly. With this basic knowledge, those with Internet access can free themselves of any ignorance they would like.
If a person has a question, it can be answered quickly, and reliably with the Internet.
We have more information at our fingertips than anybody in the past ever dreamed of. Just one generation ago, this sort of access to information was hardly even dreamed of, and now it is a reality.
Information will allow humans to make intelligent decisions in any situation that is desired.
The Internet provides a means for racists, homophobes, and the religious to observe other peoples idea's on the world in a non-threatening manner. Ignorant people can simply read what others have to say without feeling immediately defensive. The mere fact that ignorant people can read other opinions without feeling threatened will help open up their minds. I am absolutely convinced that humans are rational by nature, and the only reason we act irrationally is because we are separated from knowledge.
Cheers for the end of ignorance
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The part of you that feels, is the same in each individual on this planet. Although you may feel different things, it is the ability to "feel" that we share with each other. We must recognize this if we are to ever achieve world peace and prosperity.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Assumption: Neural Patterns stimulated more regularly will become stronger and more easily stimulated
Certain mental diseases could be treated and avoided by non-drug therapy, or brain stimulation techniques. A mental disease could start off as a seed neural pathway in the brain that has an unusually high entropy value, or unusually low resistance. These pathways because of their high entropy/low resistance would be stimulated easily, and the more they are stimulated the more likely the neurons involved in the pathway will become linked to other neurons, auxiliary to the pathway, but linked to the experience, additionally the more the low entropy state becomes activated, the more strongly the neurons in the pathway become linked, a cancerous feedback loop of thought. For instance, if you are eating breakfast when a certain pathway is stimulated, the smell, taste, visual data, or even other things on your mind could become linked to the neural pathway being stimulated. This could in turn cause this high entropy neural pattern to become stimulated when eating breakfast, associations like these could in theory branch out, so that almost everything in your life, every experience activates this high entropy pathway.
So if a person has a latent high entropy pathway that simply has not yet been stimulated they will not experience the particular mental illness that results from this pathway.
Intellectual athletes, those who are constantly trying to expand the powers of their mind may be prone to mental illness by activating pathways in novel ways. An intellectual athlete is more than just an explorer of the mind, activating many many pathways, but creates links between pathways possibly creating an infectious low entropy pathway. This could also explain why psychedelic drugs have been linked to mental illness in those with a family history of illness. Certain people have latent high entropy neural pathways that have yet to be activated, psychedelic drugs activate pathways in the brain in very different manner than the brain is normally activated. Therefore a psychedelic drug could simply stimulate one of these high entropy pathways, and thus start the feedback loop of cancerous thought, precipitating the illness.
If this theory explains certain mental illness, this would provide for enhanced treatment options over the traditional prescription and therapy treatment.
One would simply need to have real-time brain imaging machine with a certain amount of resolution that allowed pathways to be distinguished from one another rapidly. A therapist and patient would need to experiment to find which pathway the disease state occupies, and the auxiliary pathways that activate the disease state. Through neurobio-feedback the patient could learn to avoid activating the disease state. This would be an ongoing process, that would be very intensive during the beginning weeks/months of neurobio feedback, with neurobio-feedback sessions tapering off as the disease state becomes activated less and less. It may even be possible for the patient to break apart the high entropy system through neurobio-feedback.
Monday, March 17, 2008
It is impossible to prove that unicorns do not exist, yet nobody seriously believes that they exist. To acknowledge that it is impossible to know, one would say they are agnostic about the existence of unicorns, but they also know there is no reason to believe that unicorns exist, thus one is also atheistic in regards to the existence of unicorns.
Although it is possible to be agnostic without being an atheist, any intelligent atheist (most are) is also agnostic. Anybody who claims to know with absolute certainty that there is no god is a fool, this however does not make god any more real than a unicorn, or for that matter a unicorn-leprechaun hybrid.
Atheists as far as I know are skeptics. Being an atheist in the USA is not something one does flippantly, very few are born into atheism. Unlike most religious people, an atheist at some point makes a conscious choice that they do not believe in religion.
Imagine, if you will, a prototypical balance, a plank of wood balanced on a wedge. Yet this is not an ordinary balance, this is a conceptual balance of evidence. This conceptual evidence balance is what rational people use in order to judge the accuracy of idea's and theories. Much of the time it is difficult to determine immediately which side of the balance is heavier, that is, which idea or theory has more evidence to it, however after research and a good amount of skepticism it becomes clear which side is heavier.
It must be noted that this sort of decision making is based on the assumption that it is rational to believe idea's with the most evidence for them, essentially the assumption is, it is rational to believe idea's that describe reality most accurately rather than ideas that describe reality less accurately.
People who use this sort of system to judge rationality are given the labels, rational, rationalist, or skeptics. Being a skeptic is synonymous with rationalist.
Now, getting back on subject, I have heard it said that atheists are just as close minded as theists. This is a gigantic lie.
Atheists, as mentioned above are mainly composed of skeptics, or rationalists who weigh evidence in order to make a decision about belief. These peoples beliefs are not set in stone, and change according to evidence. The fact of the matter is, there is overwhelming amounts of evidence that contradict the idea of a god in any sort of religious sense what-so-ever, and absolutely 0 evidence in favor of there being a god.
However every atheist I know would convert to any particular religion if there were more evidence of it being correct than of it not being correct.
There are exactly 0 theists that would do the same, simply because, any theist, if they used a rational system to evaluate evidence would come to the same conclusion as anybody who has ever looked objectively upon religion, and would realize it was all a scam.
The only reason a person would say an atheist is close minded is simply out of frustration that a skeptic cannot be swayed by stories like "I was personally touched by god" or any of that anecdotal evidence. These sorts of things are called spiritual experiences, and everybody, regardless of religion (or lack there of) have them. Atheists who do not believe in soul or "free will" have these sorts of profound experiences too.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
1. Do your best on everything you do
My grandfather once told me, "If a job is not worth doing right, it is not worth doing at all." I believe that this statement is true. Many of us do not put 100% into many projects in fear of failing and coming to the realization that we are genuinely not good at something, but this is absolutely rubbish. If you are genuinely not good at something, it is beneficial to know this so that you do not take tasks you are not good at. In addition to this, giving 100% often produces results far better than your own expectations of yourself, boosting your confidence. Also, if you put 100% into everything you do, you cannot blame yourself if you do poorly because it simply is not possible to do better than your best effort.
2. Do not bite off more than you can chew
This goes along with number 1, if you have too much on your plate that you cannot put your best effort into everything, you need to realize your limitations (you are human) and cut out tasks that are lower on the priority scale so that you can invest your best effort into those things that are most important to you.
Every individual needs to come to an understanding of what life is all about, what is the purpose, what is morality, what things do you believe or not believe. Religion is a horrible thing to center your life around. It is much easier to dismiss morality given to you by somebody else, than to dismiss your own conclusions about morality. One must really think about morality, what it is, what it means to you, and then stick to your own idea's about morality. Regardless of what religion teaches, humans are very capable of coming up with their own morality which is generally more reliable, and dare I say, more moral than morality handed down from thousands of years ago. This can be seen by prison statistics, Christians make up approximately 83% of the prison population, they also make up about 83% of the general population, while atheists make up around 8% of the general population and only about 0.2% the prison population.
In addition to morality, questions about life, happiness, and meaning can only be found through personal insight, although there are many good books on the subject, in order for any answers to these questions to be true for an individual, one must discover these insights for themselves.
4. Forget the past, live for the moment, but plan for the future.
Many of us worry about the decisions we have made in the past, some of us even live in regret. Although it is important to reflect on the past, to shape our decisions for the future, regret is a horrible situation to be in and does not help anybody. If you have made a bad decision in the past, confront the issue by realizing it was a poor decision, and try your best to avoid decisions like that in the future. Forgive yourself because there is nothing you can do to change the past, learn from your mistake and move on.
In addition to this, do not worry excessively about the future. The future is going to happen whether you want it to or not, there are endless possibilities of things that could possibly go wrong, so there is no need to worry about things that are out of your control. The sun could explode in 10 minutes and wipe out all of humanity, but this should not make you live in fear because you have no way of controlling this. Try to structure your life today so that you minimize failure in the future, but do not obsess about the future, because you do not live in the future. You live in the here and now. You do not live in the past, or in the future. If you are constantly thinking about things other than the here and now, you will miss out on what is happening, you miss out on real reality. All you have is this moment, take advantage of it.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Disregard for the Environment:
We are polluting this planet like never before and as such we are facing very large problems. Global warming is happening, this is bad news, not just for us, but the biodiversity of our planet. If Global warming were the only problem facing the environment, life would evolve to fit within this new warmer environment, but this is not the only issue. We are constantly manipulating the environment and changing the rules of selection on organisms faster than natural selection can keep up. This is why we are going through the greatest mass extinction on the history of the planet.
In the united states we are currently under control of one of the most manipulative and pure evil governments that has come to power. It is clear now that our own government either planned and executed the attacks on 9/11 or they knowingly let it happen. There is plenty of evidence for this, but I think that the most telling is that the official report on the 9/11 attacks concludes that it is not important that we know who funded these attacks. Of course it is important to know who funded the attacks on the US, the only reason they would say it is not important would be if they had some sort of involvement.
We live in the most technologically advanced period that we have ever lived in, yet we are still just as stupid as ever. Many people think war is unavoidable, yet it is. All we have to do is say "we aren't going to kill." Yes, this would only work if the entire planet came to this realization, but is it really that hard? Honestly what does murder solve? Nothing. There is nothing wrong with people disagreeing with each other, but we do not need to kill over it. Can't people just get along? War would not happen if the entire planet was educated.
Corruption and corporations
People often take advantage of others for personal gain. A corporation is considered by law to be a legal person. They have all the rights of a person. They can own land, other companies, sue and be sued, etc etc. The problem is the company is a legal person, when this legal person commits heinous acts nobody is held responsible because you cannot send a corporation to jail. This is how it is possible for corporations like Nike to travel from country to country and pay people less than slaveholders paid for the upkeep of their slaves. As soon as an area starts demanding more money, they pick up shop leaving the area destitute, completely crumbling the society that existed before they were there in the first place, and sets up in another area where they can exploit the natives. This is all technically legal, but is it right? No. This is just a very vague example of the horrors that can come about when the bottom line is profit.
People in this world are stupid. Really, really stupid. This needs to be fixed with education. People need to learn critical thinking for themselves. The majority of people in this world have their minds made up about everything and no amount of reason can change their minds. This is the leading reason that we allow ourselves to become slaves to the machine, we believe what we are taught to believe from our parents, from our school, from our media. And no matter how logical an argument is people will not believe it if it interferes with what they already believe.
The point of this post is not to convince anyone that the world is fucked up, if that were the reason I would go through each of my assertions and provide a source for the evidence, and perhaps that is something I will do at a later day. But for right now, the point is simply for me to vent. Others out there that feel the same way will recognize what I have written and empathize with me.
What should we do?
What should we do about the global injustice? Why can't we be truly free? Why does money have to motivate people? Why cannot we be motivated to work for the common good? Why must greed run the economy? Why can't we work together, we can achieve such greatness if we tried, our world could be in peace and harmony if we wanted. There doesn't need to be starvation, or homelessness. Utopia is possible if everybody wanted that, why do people not want utopia?
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
For those of you unaware, Expelled is a movie set for release sometime this spring. It's premise, that there is a conspiracy within a small group of "elitist scientists" that do not allow any discussion of the intelligent design idea. That intelligent design can cure cancer and that there is nothing wrong with publishing articles in a scientific journal that declare that there is a designer in the universe. So far from what I've seen Ben Steins' arguments against evolution rely on the slandering of evolutionary biologists, and not so much the theory itself. This is not a threat to science students, nor is it a threat to science overall. That being said, this movie could propel even more Americans to distrust science and lead the way to stifling more and more research. The scientific climate in the US could be injured by the influence of a major motion picture like this, and pave the way for more media to be made against science.
Overall, this movie will not hurt science. In fact it may even help weed out students studying science who really aren't smart enough to grasp the concepts, maybe it will persuade those students to become business or communication majors.
My biggest concern is that it may hurt science education, and a decrease in government finance in scientific research, in the US. In the developed world science is a booming field, and it has been seeing breakthroughs at an ever increasing rate. The cures for nearly all diseases are nearly within our grasp. We finally have the tools necessary to understand subtle biochemical processes, it is only a matter of time until we understand enough to be able to cure disease, and possibly death.
If the idiots that comprise the majority of the population in the US want to throw science out the window, go ahead, but expect to pay high prices to import cures for diseases from other countries.
It is a good thing that I am not in a position of power. If I were to have the power to, I would not allow people who discredit the scientific process to be able to benefit from it. No cars, no planes, no computers, no surgery, no MRI, no medicine. None of this and more would be possible without the scientific process.
A person who doesn't understand the power of the scientific process and benefiting from it, would be like an Atheist expecting a god to answer their prayers.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Imagine being on a cross-country road trip from New York to southern California. On the third day of the trip you cross over into the “bible belt” of the USA. At first, everything seems normal but as you pass by the centers of the cities you see strange decorations, piles of stones, and red paint splattered near the rock piles. Eventually you pass through a lively town center one night and watch the horror as you realize that the town centers around here are not filled with decorations as you thought, but instead is the stage where weekly stoneings are take. The decorations are the mark of christianity, a crucifix, and signs proclaiming certain lines from the bible. This town in particular is observing Leviticus 20:13 “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. in this town only the homosexuals are being murdered, but in other towns people of other faiths are murdered, and still in others people are sold into slavery. This is the world of christian fundamentalism and it must be stopped before it starts again. In the following paragraphs I will explain in the best detail I know, the process of my realization that religion is completely false, reasons that I enjoy debunking it, my own subjectivities on the issue, finally some questions I have and where I stand as an insider or outsider.
I was not formally introduced to religion until about age five My grandfather had passed away and I was very upset over it. I stayed up late one night asking my mother all sorts of questions about death. I would ask, “What happens when a person dies?” “Does everybody die?” and naïve questions of this sort. To this I was answered that, yes indeed everybody dies, and that when you die you are re-united with god. These answers undoubtedly led to a more rigorous line of questioning. I asked “What is god?” and I received a vague, “god is who created everything that exists.” I continued asking questions and continued to get vague responses until I began to think, “Perhaps I am just too young to understand these concepts; my mom is smart so I will trust her.” Thankfully my parents were never very religious so I didn't have to deal with these questions often, maybe once a year when we would go to church. Other than that religion and the concept of god occupied only the smallest of places in my mind.
As I entered high school I started to become aware of the religiosity of my peers. Many of them went to a thing called “youth group” which raised my curiosity. Terms were being thrown around that seemed like jargon to me, so much so that I truthfully did not know the difference between a catholic and a christian. Eventually I confronted my parents on this issue and declared that I wanted to start going to church, to learn about my supposed “faith.” For about six months we went weekly to a lutheran church in Ann Arbor. I wanted to know what christianity was all about, I tried to immerse myself in it. I even went so far as to have myself baptized at the age of thirteen hoping that this ritual would bring me closer to answers about the divine. Sadly it did not bring me any, but the confidence of my peers and parents in this religion was unwavering so I assumed the right questions were not being asked. For a twelve week period every Sunday after church my mother and I would meet with our pastor for bible study. The pastor would pick out a few verses every week to help explain the meaning and truth of christianity. This only brought up more questions. I would ask the pastor my questions, but he would just refer me to an event called “alpha.” Alpha is a group that meets for new christians every week at the church. At the beginning of the meeting a short film was shown about happiness, god, and how to achieve happiness by pleasing god, etc. This was followed by a group discussion. I decided to attend this group so that hopefully my questions could be answered. After watching the video with four adults, who were at least three times my age, I started asking questions. This time I had very precise questions, and the answering these questions was of dire importance. I asked about gods love. I asked, “If god loves all of us, why do many children starve to death in other countries?” The adults responded that it is because “god cannot do everything at once, he focuses on bigger things that are more important in the long run.” This answer was not satisfactory, however I was willing to let it go until a woman in the group (who agreed with that answer) informed me that god is also very personal, and that he personally helps her pick out her shoes in the morning. The rest of the group also agreed with that statement, and complimented her on her intimate relationship with god. It was at this moment I realized it was all a sham. Apparently god is too busy to feed starving children but has plenty of time to help plump middle class women pick out their shoes.
Although I was only fourteen at the time I realized the grave contradictions being made. I realized that it was not my problem that I did not understand religion, it was the fact that it truly did not make a bit of sense. Nobody could answer my innocent questions: not the pastor, not my parents, not my peers, not my church mates, and especially not the archaic text of the bible. At first I became open to all the religions of the world, perhaps one of them was true. After some searching I realized all the religions had this deeply rooted irrationality to them. I pronounced myself as an atheist. I had come to this realization, not only all by myself, but in spite of all of the major social influences in my life: my parents, my friends, and more broadly, my entire school. I thought that if I had come to this conclusion in spite of all the influences around me, certainly with a little bit of logical influence anybody would see the inherent irrationality of religion. I was wrong, dead wrong.
Since the dawn of publicly available high-speed Internet, the faithful have found a hard time making their views look anything but foolish. The free exchange of ideas and the anonymity of the Internet provides a strong backbone to the individual with less popular ideas. On the Internet, it is the ideas who compete for prosperity, not people. There is not a single rational argument in defense of religion. Without the influence of social pressure or charisma, the idea of jesus christ being some sort of deity is laughable.
I enjoy partaking in the debunking of religion because I find it amusing that humans, who have a capacity for great intelligence and reasoning, will throw it all away when the subject of religion approaches. It is as if the subject of religion is exempt from rational inquiry. This probably stems from the fact that a “faithful” person is taught that even considering the idea that god or jesus is not real is one of the greatest sins against god, and those who are skeptical are in cahoots with the devil. Some of these people will still try to debate, always failing. Consider the contradiction of omnipotence, omniscience and free will. Supposedly, god is all powerful and all knowing, and supposedly humans have free will. To be all knowing, it means to know all past, present, and future. To be all powerful, it means to have the power to do anything desired. So god created us knowing exactly how we would turn out. He is incapable of doing something without knowing all the past, present, and future outcomes of his creation. He knows before you were even born whether or not you are going to hell or to heaven. Clearly, there is no free will. Some clever debaters might say, “being all powerful means he can do whatever he wants, and so there can be free will in spite of this.” This is false. Consider the paradox; can an omnipotent being create a rock that is so heavy that he himself cannot lift it? If he can’t, he isn’t omnipotent. If he can, he isn’t omnipotent. There is no such thing as omnipotence. This is just one example of the sorts of debates I like to engage in. Essentially my initial motive for debunking religion was because I thought human foolishness was humorous, but now I have a slightly more altruistic motive. I can clearly see that religion is a destructive force in all of human civilization. It is important that these religious ideas are publicly questioned and debated. For the longest time atheists just kept quiet because our ideas were considered offensive, but this silence resulted in the accumulation of religious ideas being spread around unchecked, like a disease.
Clearly anyone who has an opinion has subjectivities, and I am no different. It is subjective of me to say that religion is a disease. It is subjective of me to say that religion should be phased out, and it is subjective for me to say religion is a destructive force. However, it is objective that religion is inherently irrational. This stems from the logical contradictions of religious texts. It is objective to say that millions have been killed over religion. It is objective to say that the god of the bible endorses slavery, murder, rape, and genocide. Simply my subjectivities about religion stem from my subjective morality. I do not think murder, rape, slavery or genocide are good things, therefore I think that a religion that endorses these things is bad. It becomes destructive when these sorts of religions have a large influence on a culture. From the crusades to to the attacks on the world trade center, religion has been behind many of the most evil acts human civilization has ever inflicted on itself.
As far as being on the inside or on the outside of this “idea,” I am on both sides. I am on the inside when we are talking about atheism, but I am on the outside in most social situations in the USA. Because the amount of religious people in this country outnumber
s the non-religious, I would say that overall, I am on the outside. But when compared to the average industrial nation, I am on the inside, as all industrial nations are far less religious than the USA. I have a few questions about this topic, mostly, why is it that the most religious people are typically the least educated? Why do so many people think that religion is necessary for morality, when the most atheistic nations in the world have the lowest crime and violence? What causes a person to believe something so much that no amount of evidence will sway your belief?
The scenario of driving through the bible belt to find people being stoned to death is an exaggeration. However this is common practice in area's where religious fundamentalism is accepted. With the growing levels of fundamentalism in the united states, it will not be long before things like this are a regular occurrence. Fundamentalism in the middle east is causing major problems in the world today, and the growing amount of fundamentalism in the US is only going to worsen this issue. I have learned a lot since that fateful day when I was five and I asked my mother about death. I have come to find that all religion is false, religion is destructive, and I enjoy debunking it not only because I find human foolishness humorous but also because it is important that these irrational ideas not be left unchecked.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Personally, I am tired of subjectivities playing such a large role in the ethics of research. Certainly carefully examining the ethical questions surrounding research is of vital importance. However in cases like these where ethics is almost purely derived from personal subjectivities, it can be incredibly harmful to the research process.
Many see the creation and destruction of embryo's as "playing god." However one must pose the question whether we are "playing god" whenever we choose to not clone a human. Potentially we could be cloning individuals everyday, but we choose not to. All of those lives that could have been are now never going to see the light of day because of the decision that we make to not continually clone.
A human embryo is no more "human" than a seed of an oak tree. At the early stages of embryo it can be more easily compared to a collection of organic molecules being manipulated by a genetic code.
I have recently just finished devouring "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins. The insights put forth by Dawkins in this book are breathtaking. The central theme introduced is that the basic unit upon which natural selection acts is not on the organism, but primarily on the individual gene acting in a selfish behavior.
The book is now in its 30th anniversary edition, or 3rd edition filled with 13 chapters and 234 pages packed with insight into natural selection and the manner in which it operates. It is written at a level almost anyone can read, and I would highly recommend that it be read. Chapter by chapter Richard Dawkins thoroughly examines and re-examines the idea's he puts forth, and elegantly explains using real world examples how selfish behavior in genes can give rise to seemingly "altruistic behavior" in organisms. The main line of reasoning behind the idea of the gene being the basic unit of selection rather than the organism is because the gene is the basic unit of replication. In the beginning it was just self-replicating molecules, whom eventually became what we know as genes. Hence forth genes have been differentiating and competing for resources, and the bodies that these genes occupy are nothing more than gigantic robots that have been the consequence of individual genes acting in ways that promoted their own replication.
It is in the eleventh chapter of this book that the concept of "memes" is developed. For those who have never heard of a meme or memes, it is the insight that ideas and concepts themselves have the ability to replicate, and as such are subject to natural selection. The biggest difference between genes and memes is merely the fact that memes have the ability to replicate much faster, and therefore evolve much faster. The idea of memes has been gaining in popularity at a rather steady pace since the original publishing in 1976, although it seems that there has been a spurt of attention paid to it in the past several years.
The last chapter of this book titled "The Long Reach of the Gene" was actually one of my favorites. He introduces the final insight of the book which he dubbed "the extended phenotype" (also the title of his 1982 book on the same concept.) In which Dawkins explains clearly how the effect a gene has on its own survival is not always clearly direct, and that the phenotype of any given gene includes all of the consequences on its environment, and not just the immediate ones of protein expression. Explaining the strange relationships between parasites and hosts. Why some parasites participate in mutualistic behavior whereas others are purely selfish. Presented in a clearly understandable train of logic it is demonstrated that this difference arises whether the two share the same vehicle for reproduction or not.
This book although over thirty years old is still extremely relevant to the biological sciences, and offers a philosophical framework in which students and others interested can use to help understand exactly how it is natural selection works. It helps students gain their own insight and develop more specific questions into how exactly various genes rise to dominance. This book will entertain you with its real life examples, and it will make you re-think the entire concept of "organism." I would rate this book a 9 out of 10, as the only criticism I have of it, is that there was a point that it seemed just a tad bit repetitive, but I suppose it was necessary in order to really drive the points home. The book presented many clear rational insights into the nature of natural selection and I encourage it to be read by anyone interested in evolution or the biological sciences.