Monday, November 18, 2013


"We Humans had Entered the Realm of Myth and Legend..." C. Sagan

                                                THE TRUE GIFT OF APOLLO  
Here's my thoughts on the Moon landings, and an allusion to why our species should venture to Mars.

For me the Apollo Missions to the Moon are the most remarkable achievement our species has ever accomplished. For all but the last few decades of our species 200 000 year history, we gazed up at the night sky, and would see the Moon.

Often the Moon was a God. It was after all in the heavens, forever out of our mere human reach. We could no more go to the Moon than grow wings and fly there. If one were to suggest, back then, that we sail a ship, land on the Moon and then walk about on the Lunar surface, before safely flying home - You would be looked on as foolish, crazy or even as heretical. One could no more send a man to the Moon than climb there on a ladder, it was an absurd idea, it was literally unbelievable. The proposition was not possible. The Moon belonged in the realm of legend, myth and Gods. It was forever out of reach, distantly drifting across the heavens above Earth.

On July 1969, We did achieve the impossible. We humans, by journeying to another world, finally entered the realm of the Gods, the realm of legend. In our complacency we take Apollo for granted, we forget that we went to the Moon a decade after entering space. Next time you see the Moon just remember "If we humans can go to the Moon, as so many have asked, what else are we capable of?"

The picture in below, taken by Apollo 8, is one of the most important pictures we have. It showed, for the first time our home planet as a small blue and white ball, it seemed surreal. The Earth viewed from the Moon is a delicate world, surrounded by an immense cosmic darkness. A picture like this, from a new vantage point, had never been seen by anyone in history. We gained a new perspective on Earth. You see no crude national borders, you cannot observe humanity's delusions of cosmic importance. You only see a fragile oasis. How can someone, after gaining this new perspective, ever see the Earth in the same myopic way again? To find our true cosmic place, in time and space, it was necessary to go to the Moon. In a profound and literal way we discovered the Earth by journeying to the Moon.

Apollo enlightened our species, at last we were no longer glued to the oceans and the land. We were now awake after 200 000 years of ignorant slumber. We have no need for the God Apollo anymore. It is we that would appear as Gods to the worshipers of Apollo, if they knew about our voyages to the Moon. History would be different if we all knew about our Pale Blue Dot as it is, not as we wish it to be. We all need to learn from the gift of Apollo: which came in the form of a new frame of reference.

This is the true gift of Apollo:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Book Review: Space Chronicles, by Neil Degrasse Tyson.

Finished reading Space Chronicles by Degrasse Tyson. Amazing book. Makes me sad we have not left earth orbit since 1972! Makes going to mars seem like a distant dream unless we go to war again. The main reason we went to the moon was to beat the Soviet Union in the space race during the cold war. What an ignoble thing it is that war between super-powers is one of the greatest drivers of discovery. 8/10 

Not his best novel, but this is only because his other works are so greatEasily readable as Neil takes us on a wonderful journey; taking the ultimate frontier of space back down to earth. This is more a collection of essays on the space race and the future of space than a novel, this it is not all that noticeable as the general story unwinds with ease. The style seems to work and each section is both informative and interesting. The contrast between the brutal reality of space exploration and what really drives and motivates this industry is tragic.

Space is expensive and we went to the Moon, he explains, due to the Space Race - a battle to the death between the two cold war superpowers. America won, they got to the Moon and the cold war ended and funding dried up. Yet the Moon landings are historic and Tyson must be aware of how important it is to educate people on our true coordinates in the cosmos. Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot is what Space Chronicles could have lived up to. Tyson has Sagan's ability to be truly profound. The book is full of his powerfully cosmic perspectives and vivacious enthusiasm which makes one want to keep turning the pages. His love of the cosmos is evident, yet his disappointment about the state of Space Exploration was obvious to me - He wanted to call this book Failure to Launch (one can't blame him).

Space Chronicles is worth reading for anyone who has read his other works and enjoyed them. Or for anyone looking for a gripping Sagan-like voyage. He is not Sagan, nor does he do a cheap imitation. Tyson gives us his own, usually enthralling stories about the space frontier. Will it be breached again by humans? Perhaps.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Delusion of an Illusion - free choice and free will...?

Is free will an illusion?
You do get to witness your own actions like you are the conscious author of these "free" choices. You are lucky you can watch the awe inspiring natural world or the jaw dropping wonders of the cosmos, but you have no say in its outcome or any real control over these external events, so what about ones own decisions. New convincing neurological and other scientific evidence supports total determinism other sources leave a small possibility that a small part is your choice - freewill is being unraveled at the level of the brain.

If you think you call the shots in your life, you do, in that it feels this way. You have no say in random external influences, or in your genetic makeup or in your unconscious mind. Which all play an autonomous role in deciding what you will think of next. So if you don't consciously know what your brains going to bring from your unconscious mind to your conscious mind, and the thoughts it can bring into conscious awareness are random events that happened prior in your life and then add the X factor of your genes (that you did not choose): there's very little room for you to freely choose. Is Freewill dead? - It may be too early to say.

Christopher Hitchens was once asked if he believed in free will, he quipped "Do I have a choice?". A line which perhaps will always carry weight. So knowing you are on autopilot, may seem scary to some - i want to reasure you that it is not to be feared. The truth about freewill - whatever that may be should not frighten us. So relax as whether we are free agents or not your actions and beliefs still matter and have real effects.

As a short addendum, I should add that I had NO say in writing this piece, I had no choice - but it didn't feel that way.

Morality in the 21st Century

I think a 21st century conversation about moral truth, on what's truly right and wrong should happen. For centuries our moral flourishing has been restricted by dogmatic 'dusty' pre-scientific books written by men, but allegedly published by god (he's an author btw, not the best writer/editor in my view if I am honest) So Gods commanding what's right and what's wrong to pseudo-historical illiterate peasants and we must take their word that this is as good as morality gets!
 Its true murder and theft are immoral, in my view, but these texts claim its immoral to say 'gods a cruel idea' -perpetrators must be punished by death and often can have no appeal. Stoning naughty children, that's ok too morally speaking, slavery, well, that's not immoral, but there are limits to owning slaves, and what one can do with them. The moral line is drawn in beating them to death, as God does have his moral standards too. If any modern morality can be found in these ancient texts, morality that is still relevant today. I submit it is possible to discover these without recourse to cruel, counterintuitive morally hypocritical scribbling's.
 Any modern literate person knows god was wrong on the slavery issue, but he got thou shalt do no murder right so that's ok? Well no its not OK, God fails to condemn torture, rape, child abuse, animal cruelty etc the list is enormous. God does give ten rock solid commandments that any educated 10 year old today could improve in 10 minutes. How about instead of forbidding graven images, why not make slavery or genocide immoral? With all the knowledge now known- (that the human authors of these texts didn't know-and it shows) and the fact our 'moral' holy books often are guides on how to commit atrocities and acts of sadism. Then these pre/iron age morals forged in the name of ignorance with a sprinkling of thou shalt not kill doesn't redeem the grotesque acts they condone, one human sacrifice doesn't make anything right or better, not then, certainly not now, probably not ever. 
So amongst all this depravity and the deplorable immoral depths to which old books on morality plunge, it is not recommended to base a 21st century moral system on them, rather we should outgrow them for humanity's sake. Humanism as a science of morality is the future, if our species is ever to live up to half its full potential.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Dogma is Humanities Worst Illness.

"Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion" Steven Weinberg.

 "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." Voltare.

 Its been hundreds of years since the enlightenment and since these similar quotes were made, it's time our species decides. I'm choosing science, evidence, reason, scepticism and critical thinking. Science has taken humanity out of our superstitious ignorant origins, and given us the best version of truth by requiring evidence - if the overwhelming evidence contradicts a theory, then the theory is obsolete! Just as Chemistry replaces alchemy, astronomy supersedes astrology and medicine displaces witchcraft there seems to be a strong correlation between science replacing its primitive origins in superstition. The success of the scientific enterprise (Including technologies, like your computers) at understanding the universe seems to demonstrate a stark contrast with superstitious methods of understanding the world. These are two different ways of knowing the world, two different epistemologies. Only one of which is consistently reliable.

 Faith and dogmatic ideologies are scary, not because there is no good reason to follow one, but because they are not based on demonstrable, repeatable evidence and falsifiable hypothesis. Faith often claims absolute truths, (even more troubling is that these absolute claims don't go away once disproved) this is a failure of reason and is the main irreconcilable difference between science and dogma. Science progresses because there are no absolutes, just closer approximations of reality. Dogma stagnates due to absolute claims that once disproved must be an apologist's nightmare to clean up -and can lead to further embarrassing attempts to prove themselves correct despite all evidence to the contrary. Creationism being the classic straw man example - as it contradicts archaeology, geology, chemistry, physics, biology, history etc. But then creationism mutated into intelligent design. Thereby digging the delusional ditch of self deception deeper by abusing the scientific method, which by doing makes its hypothesis less probable. Scientists are flawed, but science is self correcting towards reality.

 What's true is true, regardless of whether people believe in it. Over the last 400 years science has answered many deep questions and despite never dis-proving the thousands of gods that once were believed to cause everything from, life, lightning, cancer, and even the movement of the stars. 400 years hence, evolution, electricity, medicine and physics have explained these phenomena without the need to presuppose some silly 'hand of god' or dogmatic shenanigans. So to paraphrase Bertrand Russel, science cannot disprove a teapot that orbits near Mars, but being agnostic about it is as absurd as believing in it.

 I'm not trying to offend anyone, believe in what you will, but at least understand what science is before dismissing its data. I am simply against any closed dogmatic belief system. Evidence is the only good reason to believe anything and dogmatic ideologies, lacking solid evidence, rely on other persuasion methods (All of which are unscientific), Authority, Holy Scripture, Tradition, Peer pressure, Private Revelations, Faith, Apocryphal stories and pure ignorance.

 "True wisdom is only attained when you realize how ignorant you are" Socrates.

 "Everyone is an atheist, some people just don't know it" Christopher Hitchens

True freedom can only be obtained if one breaks the enslaving shackles of believing that an all powerful cosmic dictator or temporal earthly dogmatic leader, who is always right, exists.  Most Gods and Dictators answer nothing and have no use in modern societies, if we are to break the shackles of dogma we need to start somewhere.

See you in this life, and with our eyes open. The universe is the way it is whether we believe it or not. Science objectively brings us close to the truth, dogma intrinsically stamps out any embers of truth over time. As with all myopic selfish delusions, its possible to become the better ape (homo sapiens) with a healthy dose of skepticism, reason and scientific methodology. Spread the news so we can all lose our delusions and be free (ill touch on free will next time)