Thursday, March 10, 2011

Break the Cycle

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that humanity is "endowed by its creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." But even after the countless wars, debates, and an enduring sense of self-pride, are we really free? I am not speaking to any specific freedom quantifiable in most political science discussions. Instead, I wonder of whether the very laws of physics, and therefore our consciousness, are really at liberty to make decisions unhindered by past events if we so choose. This is called Free Will. But if we are not free, if the present is simply the summation of all previous events with no gaps that could be attributed to Free Will, then our Constitution ultimately means nothing, as we do not have the choice to be free or not. This is called Determinism.

Does it really matter?

Yes. It does, because if Determinism is correct, then morality is simply an illusion as well, and all meaning to life ceases, leaving us to be little rubber balls in a cosmic Rube-Goldberg machine. It removes all responsibility from sentient beings for their actions. For example, a convicted gangbanger should not have to pay any price for his actions as a street murderer because he did not choose to pull the trigger, it was the push of the sum of all past events that determined that he would pull the trigger. If one had a complete understanding of physics and all things in the universe, then one could predict the future with 100% accuracy with absolutely no error. Ever.

What are the arguments for Determinism?

According to classical physics and general relativity, anyone who understands the equations can predict perfectly how the moon will orbit the earth, how the earth will orbit the sun, how the sun will orbit the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, which revolves around the center of the Local Group, which orbits (imperceptibly) around the known universe. This seems to suggest that with the right equations and know-how, anyone could predict all events in the universe within the confines of general relativity.

But what about events outside of the scope of Einstein's equations?

While Einstein did publish a paper in 1905 detailing the photoelectric effect, the basis of quantum mechanics, he did not contribute much personally afterwards to the development of the quantum model of all things atom-sized and smaller, leaving other people to develop theories of their own.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is one of the basic elements of quantum theory. It states that any action to determine the velocity (speed and direction) of a subatomic particle would alter the particle's position, and that any action to determine the position of an object alters its velocity. Furthermore, this means that one can only make probabilities as to where the particle will be at any given moment. Essentially, it is unpredictable, implying a state of randomness at the quantum level, which is supported by evidence of randomness in Chaos theory especially during non-linear series analysis with statistics. However, it should be noted that even if this randomness is somehow verified, it does not explain how this randomness results in Free Will, as being slaves to random particle movements is not any better than being a slave to the structured mechanics of the universe.

What does this all mean?

If there is no randomness, then Determinism is totally correct, leaving slaves to the ebbs and flows of the cosmos. But if there is any degree of randomness, even if it does not automatically result in Free Will, it would still theoretically allow one to overcome Determinism. When one begins to think about Determinism and Free Will and philosophically argue with him or her self, he or she is recognizing how the past can affect future outcomes with each tiny, insignificant event. Once one has identified this, quantum randomness might allow him or her to break free of this cycle and ride a split second ahead of the force of determinism and attain Free Will. (I must attribute the idea of the ability to have Free Will through meditation and self-awareness despite an essentially deterministic universe to Grant Patterson, it is not mine)

Will we ever know for sure?

Probably not. As we discover more and more about quantum mechanics and the nature of consciousness, who knows what we may find. We might find hard evidence to support one theory or the other, but more likely we will simply uncover more questions and less answers, forcing us to be even more unsure as to the very nature of the universe. Catch you on the flip side.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Magic Carpet Ride

This is a paper I wrote tonight for Film I about an obsession that we have or would want to have and why:

          I would choose science fiction in general as the apple of my eye, with Stargate, Battlestar Galactica (2003), and Star Trek being the principle triad. While dramas, documentaries, and other mediums more often than not blurt out the dreams, criticisms, and the mildly hallucinogenic aspects of humanity, leaving little room for interpretation and giving a strong urge to punch Gregory House in the gut for his own good, science fiction allows our minds to enter a realm where the truth is more subtle, our imagination runs limitless, and our general hope for human kind is iconified in Zephram Cochrane’s first jump into Warp to the sound of “Magic Carpet Ride”.

     Now, I must admit, I do own a Star Trek communicator badge, every season of Stargate SG-1 and its related movies and spinoffs, and have a strong mental agreement ensuing over free will and divine providence due to Battlestar Galactica, but I have never been to any sort of scifi convention (though I would like to personally get Christopher Judge’s, Edward James Olmos’, and Brent Spiner’s autographs and personal views on their respective characters). My preferred path to geeking out is through Einsteinian thought experiments concerning the shows, reading about the technology and philosophy behind them, and watching re-runs of the shows on TV or DVD (To date I have watched each of all of the roughly 200 episodes of Stargate SG-1, 100 episodes of Stargate Atlantis, and the three current full-length movies at least three times, coming out to a 243 hour investment in my life (10 straight days), not including time spent thinking about Stargate or watching Stargate Universe, which I do not yet own on DVD.

     Anyone with a rational mind and an a penchant for putting down TV addicts would hardly need to ask the question, “Why would you devote so much of your life to silly TV shows instead of reading the paper or actually working?” and any intelligent fan would hardly need to give an answer, but perhaps a quote from Isaac Asimov would work nicely, “Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of the day, but the core of science fiction, its essence, has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all.” This genre, apart from any other, allows the writers, directors, and actors to explore the human condition in ways that would spark controversy in other mediums. Take, for example, abortion. As the fifty-thousand survivors of the holocaust of the Twelve Colonies dwindle and die in BSG, the issue of whether abortion should be outlawed to protect population growth arrives concerning the possibility of asylum for an underage girl from Gemenon (akin to Christian Evangelicals, particularly the strict interpretation of scripture) who is pregnant and wants an abortion. President Roslin eventually makes the decision to outlaw abortion, which sparked debate within the show and would without doubt have prompted hate-rants if a similar incident happened in modern society. But since it is science fiction, we can take the event and learn from it without becoming blinded by philosophical or religious beliefs because, well, it’s just TV, not real life. While many other examples from these shows and others have profound moral implications, allowing the thoughtful viewer to take morality more objectively due to the fictional premise and setting, the simple alarm clock of inspiration stemming from science fiction has also inspired astronauts, engineers, politicians to become what they are today with the promise of a brighter future for humanity, which to many has always seemed to constantly want to swallow a hydrogen bomb and throw away the deactivation codes. Live long, and prosper.                           


Saturday, February 19, 2011


God, I miss the '90s. That is all.


The Spirit of a Celt

When you ask many brainwashed Dallas teenagers in 2011, "What radio station do you listen to most?", by the numbers they are probably going to say 106.1 KISS FM. I have nothing against 106.1. In fact, I oscillate weekday mornings between the Kidd Kraddick in the Morning show and the Russ Martin Show on 97.1 the Eagle (both for the show, not the music). Kidd Kraddick and crew are funny and have great dynamics, but unfortunately the rest of KISS FM is not so great.


Lady GaGa

I am referring specifically to the generally untalented artists and meaningless music that the station airs around the clock. Don't get me wrong, I like pop music and rap. Madonna, Warren G, P!nk, Usher (his R&B music), House of Pain, Mike Shinoda...hell, even Christina Aguilera and Maroon 5 are okay in my book. But most of the pop-rap and half-assed pop dance music out there is total bullshit whose writers don't deserve a fraction of the money and credit that they attain through the composition of unoriginal musical diarrhea. This includes everyone from Lady GaGa (more the fake mannequin persona that she only uses in public and infects her music) to T-Pain, Ludacris, and others. I just wish there were something more fulfilling playing on KISS FM.

But what music would this be?

Well, since there are lots of other stations to play good music from every genre, maybe we should have a popular radio station that plays Celtic (or Celtic-esque) music. Take this song by Bear McCreary for example:

Or classic pub songs like Black Velvet Band:

And Rocky Road to Dublin:

Even this song:

But really, Celtic music on popular radio?


Will Smith

Maybe Irish and Scotian music is a little extreme. But the point is, we need to start listening to radio stations that play music that couldn't be generated in less than 30 minutes. Whether that be alternative rock, heavy metal, R&B, Country, Hip-Hop, Pop, or Baroque, do yourself and American culture a favor and don't waste away the four or more hours you spend driving each week accepting low-skill trash for music. Alaikum Al-Salaam.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Singularity is Here

At lunch today, I walked over to see if one of my friends, Andy, had come to school today. It turns out he was still at home sick but that he was Skyping with two of my other friends, Sean and Dillon, from home to Dillon's laptop.While that experience (I had never actually seen someone Skype before) was definitely entertaining, what happened next was the spark of enlightment. When we arrived in AP Chemistry, we informed Sister Cecilia that Andy was sick, but that he would like to join the class. She didn't understand at first until Dillon pulled out the laptop and called Andy. We put him on a desk in the front row facing the board, and proceeded with class as normal; And that's what excites me.

In the world of Facebook and Skype, being away doesn't mean that you are cut off. Andy took notes from home and now doesn't have to worry about getting someone else's notes or spending additional time learning the material, saving him tremendous time and lessening the stress of missing classwork. People often talk about the Singularity, where computing becomes so fast that it can mimic human brain patterns, allowing us to download into them, but what if we are already there? Is there really a difference between having a Cylon body, augmenting many aspects of your physical existence, and simply using today's technology to accomplish the same thing? If you want super strength, we have it: a robotic exoskeleton (tethered, though) that allows one to lift weights much larger than any human being on his own. Access to computers around the world?: Cloud Computing. Face-time with people who are thousands of miles away?: Skype. Almost every advantage conceivable by forming the Singularity is available now in other forms.

But what does this mean for humanity?

No one really knows. Maybe we will all grow so used to it that everyone will stay at home all day and use Internet Work-Flow Software including Skype to do everything that they have to do, sacrificing the personal human element of life forever. Maybe it will pave way for a demented computer hacker to unleash a virus that latches onto this connectivity and destroys every computer on Earth, bringing us back to the Stone Ages. But hopefully, it means that the exponentially increasing interconnectivity people have with others around the globe will lead to a Pax Terris and a revival of the inclusive, limitless human spirit to break boundaries, to overcome obstacles, and to explore our existence in every way that we can - to go where no one has gone before. Live Long, and Prosper.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Half-Moon Bay

I know that many people don't really like Train's newest album "Save Me San Francisco" as much as older albums like "Drops of Jupiter" or their self-titled debut. To be sure, "Hey Soul Sister" is terrible song that sounds exactly like Jason Mraz. Even the best songs on their album would be hard-pressed to beat "Calling All Angels", "Idaho", "Meet Virginia", or their masterpiece "Drops of Jupiter", but there is something about one particular song off the Golden Gate Edition of "Save Me San Francisco" that really stands out to me. It's by far the best song on the album.

There's something about it that reminds me of the Train of my youth. I remember reading a comment on one of Train's videos once. It said something to the extent of "I used to hear all these great songs when I was little. When I grew up, I realized that they were all by Train." And that's what I feel about this song. It's very unfortunate that it doesn't make radio air time, because "Hey Soul Sister", as the absolute number one played song on Australian radio ever (eck), is an abomination to Train's talent and style. Gute Nacht.

The World is Flat...Oh Shit

Though perhaps one of the most important books of our time, The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman is also one of the singularly most depressing. If you have not read this book, please, go out and buy it. It will make you one the most hopeful people ever...until you get to the chapters on how America has to adapt to the flattening (globalization) of the world. You might say: "Should we really be worried? We've survived depressions, world wars, and myriad scandal, is this really any different? Is this really that big a deal?" Indeed it is. No matter what anyone tells you, we are still far ahead of the Indians and Chinese (not to mention the Brazilians, Kenyans, Poles, Russians, etc.) because of one crucial part of the research and development chain - Imagination. Imagination? What are you talking about? What I mean is that programmers in India can build and program a computer just as fast as Americans can, and they can take ideas from others and build on them, just like Americans can and do. What they don't have is the initial spark, the initial moment of genius that propels technology a decade into the future (maybe that's too dramatic). At the very least, American scientists and engineers of all sorts are significantly better at dreaming up and beginning the implementation of those strokes of genius. But why is that? Why are Americans blessed with the gift of daydreaming? The answer may be deceptively simple. Indian education doesn't place much emphasis at all on college education outside of science/technology and business/accounting. According to Friedman, at the time of publication of the book's third edition, there would be more Americans earning Ph.D's in Sanskrit and related subjects that there would be Indians earning Ph.D's in Sanskrit, despite them having four times the population (If you don't know, Sanskrit is the language of the Upanishads and other Hindu holy books). However in America, college grads are forced to take classes in non-technical fields and foster right-brain, left-brain pathways that allow them to better implement hard technical knowledge in an imaginative and innovative way. For that fact we are safe - for now. 

But in the next ten, twenty, thirty years, eventually they will all catch up, and we are going to get left behind at a rate unbelievable at this time. But why aren't the politicians screaming for education reform when we have to start now? It takes decades to fully train an engineer or scientist from elementary school to graduate school. So why are they cutting funding instead for all classes? In all grades? And giving out ridiculous state exams? Shouldn't that be a bigger issue than R&D for laser-guided grenade launchers, TSA full-body scanners, and congressional hearings for steroid usage in professional sports? Apparently not, leaving us to watch Latin America and the East charge ahead into a bright new future while we limp along, half-heartedly telling ourselves that we are still the strongest and best nation in the world. Just think about it. Au revoir.