30 May 2007

it's 3am


25 May 2007

Pirates ARRRRRRR!!!!!!!

All jokes aside, Pirates of the Caribbean is very nearly a secular religion. In much the same way Apple Computers is. Except with more pillaging and plundering the weaselly black hearts of its followers out. Very few (if any) fans of Pirates are actually criminals. One hopes.

But morality aside, sitting in a packed theater at midnight with a couple hundred other people, many of them in costume, can be looked at (though I don't know if it's strictly advisable in real life) through the lens of religion. The close community, the oneness of vision and purpose, the spontaneous cheering and "awww"-ing and disgusted groans (those for the Bratz movie trailer --- what a waste of brain!! aaauuggh!!).

It also sort of brings Rasta to mind, and not just because Tia Dalma is so hard to understand. I think smoking pot and reading a holy book can be very similar to staying up all night and watching a movie opening. If you see Pirates as parallel to the Bible (not that it is.. the thought is almost disgusting, if you took me seriously), pot and sleep deprivation both produce altered mental states. And if it's good enough for Bob Marley, it's good enough for me.

Oh man, Pirates!! The new one is way better than the second one.

17 May 2007


In times of crisis, people fall back on their "highest" ideology. For a large number of people, this is their religion. In class we discussed, then, how atheists might see their beliefs as religion, or not, and spent some time (but not long enough) thinking about what might be a person's ultimate reference frame, if it's not religion. We mentioned a couple of things like nationalism, but I don't think that's properly ultimate, for a worthwile existence.

In the context of the country at war with itself that united over football, I don't think that's quite the same situation. They were in a crisis state the whole time, and I think the unification through nationalism came because people were sick of fighting and just wanted something else to pay attention to. It's not like they were like "OMG fighting suxorz! lets do futbol." The religions persisted.

Anyhow, I have a few other ideas for what a "lowercase" atheist might have as their ultimate reference frame, though of course I'm far from the authority on this sort of thing. To my mind, these things (for most people) would have to be some sort of something that involved morality, since that's what underlies most of human behavior and existence. What would fit, then, is some sort of secular religion. Ones that come to mind are environmentalism, capitalism, communism, socialism, secular humanism, classical morality, MMORPGs, etc. Just some ideas. I'd like to hear from some lowercase or Uppercase atheists about how they feel about that.

Also, I feel like people who are "half-assed religious" can share that ultimate frame with one of these other secular things. I'm pretty sure I do, but I don't know which one, or the ratio. I've never thought about it before.


If anyone is offended by sarcasm and angry ranting, go ahead and point your browser someplace else. Gone? OK.

Everyone else, I'm going to use lots of science words. Some I have linked to Wikipedia. The rest you can look up yourself.

This post is spurred by our long discussion on Wednesday (that drove me crazy), specifically people's contention that science is not fact, but belief. This is just false, and I'm sorry if you feel that way. Now, I don't have anything against people who don't know anything about science, that's OK. But please don't form such strong opinions about things you don't understand and then go around insisting that you're right. Science can't explain everything, and I don't claim that it can. Most scientists are with me on that. But it prove (or at least provide amazingly strong evidence for) a remarkable number of things. And once it's been proven, it is a fact. Let's not go to the place where we debate whether or not we can actually know facts, that's not the point and this isn't philosophy.

Science is, ultimately, a way of proving what is true. For this, we use the scientific method, which you can look up on Wikipedia if you're unfamiliar with it. Hypothesis, experiment, observation, verification. As an example, I'd like to use the Big Bang (what an awesome name!). This theory (yes, technically it's a theory, but so is Newtonian gravitation) states that the universe expanded from a single point, and that created everything that there is. Including spacetime itself.

Now, once upon a time, somebody had this idea of a big bang. They thought it was pretty cool, but you can't test it. Shit. That's a bit of a monkey wrench. But nonetheless, cosmology carried on, and people talked and did math about what that would mean. Eventually they came to the conclusion that, if the universe began out of a single point, everything would be getting farther apart. And it is. We've observed this. It's not testable, of course, because who has a universe sitting around in their lab? Yeah. But it's been observed in the redshift of distant galaxies. We've known about that for a long time.

Also, if the universe had a hot beginning, there would be radiation that we could observe, and it would be (essentially) evenly distributed through the whole sky. And guess what? We discovered it in 1964. (Wikipedia says they "believed in" the B.B. theory because at the time, the other situation was equally reasonable.) With further advances in observational technology, we measured it more accurately, and THE DATA FITS THE PREDICTION. The error bars in this picture are so small, they're obscured by the data points. This is absolutely one of the best examples of observation confirming theory in the history of astronomy, and indeed all of science. This is a Big Deal. These observations (and others) essentially prove the Big Bang. The only reason it's still technically a theory is that we can't exactly observe it directly, and I suppose there could be another explanation that no one has thought of. But for my purposes, the Big Bang is a fact.

Now, the way I see it, something is only a belief if there are other equally-reasonable alternatives. Believing in God is a genuine belief, because it's equally reasonable to believe that there is no God. Neither has much observational confirmation, so it's up to your personal preference. But nobody reasonable "believes" the world is flat. The conquerors in their nice big ships disproved that. Genetics is true. The Big Bang is (most likely) true, until we find something that fits the data better. Which is gonna be tough. For my purposes, that's truth. It may not be beautiful, but facts are facts.

If you really want to argue, I could concede that "believing" in science can be reduced to accepting that the scientific method is valid. And I can see how someone could have reservations, if they've never done science. But once you've even had PHYS 120, or some bio or chem, it's hard to deny. Predict, experiment, verify. But doubting the validity of that is doubting logic itself! Maybe some people can live in a world where 2+2 maybe equals 4, but I can't. I believe that the universe is rational and we can understand it by using logic. But that's really the only place where belief has anything to do with accepting scientific facts.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think that science can explain everything. I know for a fact that there are many interesting things we will probably never explain, but that doesn't stop us from trying. For me, the pursuit of knowledge is its own reward. That's why I'm an astronomer.

And to clarify, I don't think that science can say anything about the existence of God. Those are totally separate. Also, keep in mind that it's entirely possible (I do it every day) to accept things like the Big Bang and evolution as fact and still believe that we are God's children and are here to be His force of good in the world. Just sayin' that it's a lot grayer that a lot of people want you to think.

I'm sorry if I happened to drop a few things along the way in this, it's long and my head has hurtys. Blarg.

Go ahead and drop me an orange if you have anything to say about this.

15 May 2007

the lawrence bubble

Annemarie's recent post made me giggle a little bit, but it's quite true.

When students come to college, they essentially sequester themselves for four years in pursuit of higher education. I also feel that this is especially true at Lawrence --- she mentions The Bubble, and even within departments there is some sequestering. I bring up the Physics department because I'm familiar with it, but I think physicists' high level of sequestering may be unique here. As an example, we (physicists) essentially take for granted that Fall term, Sophomore year (Computational Mechanics) is when the class comes together as a community. Why? Because we close ourselves into a windowless room for hours on end in the pursuit of higher learning. (On a side note... I wonder how the class will change after Professor Cook retires...) And then after that, it's not uncommon to spend entire nights in the locked building doing problem sets.

Of course, this isn't quite the same thing as being in the Lawrence Bubble for four years and then entering the real world --- my example is so specific, it's not really useful in a "general knowledge of the world" sense. But for as an analogy, it still works. In order to gain understanding of the world at large, you have to take time --- usually alone --- to really focus on it. Like a Quaker meeting, this requires periods of silence --- you can't understand complex things just by being told, you need time to work it out in your own mind.

10 May 2007

meditation and hypnosis

When I was in a psych class in high school, we had a (certified, of course) hypnotherapist come in and give us a demonstration of hypnosis, which is, in my experience, a lot like meditation, but with more focusing. It's really much different than what most people think it's like.

Hypnosis, as I was introduced to it, first involves concentrating as hard as possible on a single thing and convincing your mind that it is true --- in my class, we imagined a million balloons tied to our wrists. If you are suggestible enough, your arms will begin to rise on their own --- THIS IS VERY COOL WHEN IT WORKS!! Swinging a pocket watch is really ridiculous and old-fashioned, not to mention not terribly effective. This is nothing like that.

Also, it's not like you fall asleep --- you mostly feel kind of strange and drowsy and hazy, but at the same time still aware of your surroundings (unless you're suggested otherwise!). Additionally, you will probably not do things that you don't want to, because you are still in control (to a degree), and you will remember things! Hypnosis is an altered state in that you experience things differently, not in that you become some mindless slave to the hypnotist.

But my personal favorite part of hypnotism is that when you come out, you feel like you just woke up from a nap! It leaves you feeling relaxed and clear-headed (after you get over any grogginess). You could almost equate it to a state of transcendental meditation, and it may even be the same brain processes going on (I don't know). It certainly is a unique experience, but one that takes a bit of effort (for most people) since you have to focus so carefully.

08 May 2007

review subjectttt??????? noooo ways!

Yes ways! Verily I say, I have chosen the victim for my wobsite review. And the poor sucker is.... apple.com! Yes, the very one. My reasons are several, and shall be enumerated forthwith.

  • What first brought Apple to my attention was my boyfriend's discovery (he's a Mac user) of a mysterious green icon on the website, which led to this press release about how Apple is and is planning to become more eco-friendly. We all know (if we went to the talk) that environmentalism is essentially a secular religion, so there's some crossover I can talk about. Also I prefer green apples over red. Just sayin'.
  • Obviously, Apple is a cult. Don't even try to deny it, because you know how rabid Mac users are. I'll be a bit less flippant and degrading in my actual review, I promise. Srsly.
  • Also on the homepage: WWDC looks a lot like WWJD if you're not paying attention. Also what it actually is seems a lot like a pilgrimage.
  • Steve Jobs as Jesus? I think that's a (sort of weird, but whatever) parallel worth exploring.
  • It also reaches out to you individually, based on your personality.
  • It also strives to connect not only the Mac community, but the world!
  • And it saves you from the Devil. (I have to admit I did a little happy dance inside when I scrolled down that page and saw the words "open source UNIX heritage." OMG yay UNIX!
  • Also, I hate Windows.

01 May 2007

a little life & loss

Those of you who know me well (or are somewhat familiar with my photos) know about my family's dog, Paddi, seen here and here. (click on pics to enlarge) Recently she's been very sick, and we've discovered her kidneys are failing and as a result, her blood chemistry is shot. She's been acting happy recently due to the IV fluids Mom (who's also her vet) gave her last week and the canned food she loves so much, but really, one day without eating and we lose her... she may have days or weeks, maybe a month. It depends on how long the happy holds.

My family lives just outside Milwaukee, which is close enough that a day trip is feasible. Mom might bring Paddi up so I can see her either today or Thursday, because it'll probably be the last time. (Typing is so much easier than talking...)

So yeah. She's not really that old for a smallish dog.. I don't know for sure, but it's probably 8 to 10 years old. She's never been the epitome of health, but it's never been this bad.

So if you believe in a God, I ask you to pray for Paddington Rose Marheine. And if you don't, please keep her in your heart.