Thursday, December 29, 2011

Don't believe what you read

Research allegedly discovered that most people fear public speaking more than they fear death. Wouldn't you expect a pre public speaking suicide syndrome?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Quotes From the Honest Guru

Even those who do not believe in God, can undergo the religious experience that those who believe in God strive for.

Is there anybody out there?


Isn't it amazing how much more we know now, only ten years after this video was made?

Quotes From the Honest Guru: Truth

We have been evolved to survive, not to seek truth; hence the vogue for self denial and delusion.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why astrology is not scientific, while astronomy is?

This post is a continuation from:  Refuting a scientific theory: the theory of ether

As we have seen in the previous blogs, testability is the heart and soul of any scientific theory. However, as crucial as it might be, it is never sufficient to test a theory against the observations that led to its creation. A scientific theory must predict unknown facts that can only be confirmed by fresh observations.

As a simple example let's assume that after you had tasted sugar, you concluded that white, small-grained powders are sweet. The unscientific way would be to use sugar as a proof for your theory. The scientific way, on the other hand, would be to seek other white, small-grained powders and taste them. If you stayed alive after your experiment, you would have to admit that your theory was wrong. You will have to find another explanation for the sweetness of sugar.

If anything the theory predicts is proven wrong, the theory is incorrect. This potential refutability is a powerful criterion that distinguishes science from pseudoscience. Nowhere it is as clear as in the case of astronomy with astrology.

For thousands of years astrologers had been using the apparent movement of the sun, moon, and the five known extraterrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) to foretell earthly events. Once a sixth planet, Uranus, was discovered in 1781, astrologers added the new planet to their charts and continued with their foretelling as before, without asking whether astrology is still valid with the new planet, or why they had not foretold the existence of the new planet.

Astronomers, on the other hand, were fervidly forecasting the orbit of Uranus. Their calculations, however, based on Newton's theory of gravity, did not match the observed path of planet. There were two potential explanations: either the theory of gravity was wrong, or that the gravity of an unknown heavenly object, farther from Uranus, was responsible for the deviation. Using the same law of gravity, astronomers foretasted where the body that distorts Uranus' orbit should be. And they were right. In 1846, as predicted, they discovered a new planet, Neptune.

Just as discrepancies in the orbit of Uranus had led to the search for Neptune, irregularities in the orbit of Neptune, and to a lesser extent in the orbits of Uranus and Saturn, had led scientists to suspect the existence of a ninth planet. Once more, it was theoretical calculations that led to the discovery of Pluto in 1930. Their calculations were confirmed, and so was the theory of Gravity -- at least until the next observation.
To be continued ...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Unspiritual Yoga

For thousands of years, the moves of martial arts, Yoga, and similar disciplines have been transferred, free of charge, from teacher to student, directly or via scripts. But no more. Bikram, the founder of Bikram Yoga, sues one of his ex-student for $1m for teaching a Bikram yoga sequence without paying royalties.

Farewell Yora spirituality; welcome materiality.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Quotes From the Honest Guru

When the Gods were powerful, virgin births were plenty. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Quotes From the Honest Guru: Double Blind

In the country of the blind, the one-eyed men are stoned to death.

Monday, November 21, 2011

On Knowledge and Wisdom

I have met many knowledgeable stupids, but never a wise one.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Quotes From the Honest Guru: Leadership

A leader is someone who understands people enough to make them do what he wants, but not enough to care what happens to them in the process.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Quotes From the Honest Guru: Manipulation

People will stand up for direct attacks on their values, but will consistently ignore creeping changes. Too often the things you are fighting against, are the very same things you would fight for before changes crept in.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Israel Palestine 1000:1

A great celebration in Gaza is anticipated, as a thousand prisoners are about to be released. Prisoners with many heads on their belts: heads of butchered children, of toddlers, of people who took the wrong turn; prisoners who planted bombs in school busses, or knifed civilians and cut their hearts out.

In return for these prisoners, a single Israeli soldier will be released. And the Arab street is rejoicing. Not only does it celebrate the release of sons and daughters. It celebrates bringing Israeli to its knees. A thousand to one, can there be a bigger victory against the empire of evil?

The world, as well, does not understand. How can a country be so irresponsible? How can it release a thousand, many of whom will, undoubtedly, return to commit more atrocities and murders?

It was, no doubt, a painful decision, which no other government would have taken. But it was a brave one.

For over five years, an entire country cared about the captured soldier, stood by his family, demonstrated day and night for his release. Pain, disagreements and political disputes do not change the fact that a lost son is everyone’s son. This is the very reason that despite the wars and the terrorist attacks, Israel is a lively vibrant culture. When bombs blew up coffee shops and bars, Israel night life remained like no other. When war called people to their military service, and budgets away from the people, Israel has turned itself into a high-tech power house, second only to the Silicon Valley. A place where the daily encounter with death makes it alive. So in times when Arab governments are busy sacrificing thousands of their own people, Israel is sacrificing its own safety to save one. This is a culture that the Arab world could never accept, and has always tried to destroy: a culture where the life of a single person is worth the world.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Quotes From the Honest Guru: War

You need two willing parties for a war, but only one for a genocide.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Quotes From the Honest Guru: Revolution

Every successful revolution has been the result of anger and dissatisfaction, rather than philosophical pursuits.

Quotes From the Honest Guru: War

A single wolf is all that is needed to wipe out an entire herd of well-intending sheep.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Refuting a scientific theory: the theory of ether

This post is a continuation from The Boundaries of Science

To demonstrate how established scientific theories can be refuted, let’s look at the theory of Ether, which was the dominant theory for an entire generation of scientists.

Since Maxwell (1831–1879) formulated the electromagnetic theory in 1865, 19th century scientists had puzzled how electromagnetic waves, such as radio or light, traveled through vacuum and the emptiness of space. Just like waves in water or sound in air, the argument went, electromagnetic waves needed a physical medium to travel through. For this reason alone, a new substance, ether, was proposed. (Although the term ‘ether’ was borrowed from Aristotle, the 19th century’s ether was a different concept altogether.)

According to the theory, ether filled in the entire universe, including vacuum and the inside of material bodies. As such, it had to be a weightless, transparent, frictionless matter that did not take part in any physical or chemical interaction, and was, therefore, impossible to test or verify.

Yet, the theory of ether could predict that light emanating from a moving object in the direction of its movement would travel faster than light emanating from the same object in any other direction. (To illustrate, imagine an item thrown from a moving car. Clearly, if we threw it in the direction of our travel it would travel faster than if we threw it in the opposite direction.)

Michelson and Morley relied on this hypothesis in 1887, when they attempted to determine the speed of earth in space by measuring the difference between the speed of a beam of light traveling in the direction of earth, and that of a beam of light traveling perpendicular to earth’s movement.

Had Michelson and Morley detected the difference they expected, it would have put their names, in a side note, as the first scientists to measure the absolute speed of earth. As it turned out, the experiment failed and no difference was detected. Even though Michelson and Morley could not explain their result, it was sufficient to inflict a death sentence on the theory of ether, and to win Michelson the 1907 Nobel Prize for physics. This experiment subsequently led Einstein to develop the theory of relativity.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Israel - the benevolent guardian

I wonder if it is the right timing for the Palestinian to demand their own independence now, while the Arab Spring is devouring its victims, and the Arab summer is likely to get worse.

After all, the way the Arab are treating their own people (Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, …) as they have always done (Hamas in Gaza, Lebanon Civil War, Algerian Civil War, Jordan 1973, Egypt invading Yemen 1960s, to name a few ) makes Israel look like a benevolent guardian.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Every spring leads to winter; in Egypt it may skip summer altogether

In a typical convoluted Arab political logic, a senior Egyptian source blamed Israel that the raid of the mob on its embassy in Cairo did not yield the desired results.
A senior Egyptian security source said that the room which the mob was able to breach in the embassy's first floor was left unsecured, and the documents that were found there were "worthless."

"This was a trap for those who broke into the room, so Israel could drag Egypt into a diplomatic crisis by claiming that the embassy was compromised," the source maintained.

Many in the west have called it the Arab Spring.

Monday, September 5, 2011

What Double-Dip Recession?

The question is not if we are entering a double-Dip recession, but whether we are existing a double-peak recovery?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Egypt, Israel, and how not to solve problems

The internal problems that infest Egypt are likely to lead the country into a chaos or religious tyranny. Yet, in a typical Middle East fashion, a million people are now called into the streets to protest against the relationship with Israel – the only country in the region that free economic relationship may help Egypt break out of its cycle of illiteracy and poverty.

Israel has nothing to do with the social problems in Egypt, nor with the killings in Libya or the massacre in Syria. But after nearly a century in which the Arab world (with the moral support of many of the western countries) has blamed Israel for all their problems, it’s hard to drop old habits and start taking responsibility. But unless they do, the future they are facing will be graver than the past they fought to leave behind.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Boundaries of Science

This post is a continuation of The Origin of Evolution Theory

As strange as it may sound, modern science is not directly concerned with reality, but rather with models of it. Reality is the realm of philosophy. The essence of science is the scientific theory, whose purpose is to provide coherent explanations to observations; an objective aptly summed up by the physics Nobel laureate, Richard Feynman (1918–1988):

No one has ever seen the inside of a brick. Every time you break the brick, you only see the surface. That the brick has an inside is a simple theory which helps us understand things better. The theory of electrons is analogous … The electron is a theory that we use; it is so useful in understanding the way nature works that we can almost call it real.

Although theory is at the heart of science, not every theory is scientific. For a theory to be scientific it must first be internally consistent, that is, it should lead to no logical or mathematical paradoxes. If, for instance, a theory could lead to a conclusion that an object may simultaneously exist in two different places, the theory would not be consistent and cannot be deemed scientific. (This example is a paradox that contradicts the principle of space and time: a physical object exists separately in space and time in such a way that they are localizable and countable.)

Unlike mathematical models – which being the creation of the human mind require internal consistency only – scientific theories based on these models must be testable: that is, it does not matter how elegant or internally consistent a theory may be, if it does not agree with observations external to the theory, it is wrong. This requirement means that a theory can be considered scientific only after test criteria can be defined. That is, every theory is potentially refutable. Contrary to the common belief, turning an idea into a scientific theory does not necessarily improve it or make it more reliable. In many cases, it will lead, inadvertently, to the refutation of the idea.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Financial Astrology

A decade of one crisis succeeding another, have clearly demonstrated that at time of turmoil the market is a lagging indicator for the economy, and not as postulated by financial theory.

In science when an underlying assumption is negated, a theory has to be recreated. Therefore, if we claim that finance and economics are scientific then it's time to toss away the books and go back to the drawing board. Alternatively, we can simply admit that astrology is as predictive as economics, and we should all go outdoors to watch the stars. At least with astronomy, we have no illusion that we are in control.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Origin of Evolution Theory

This post is a continuation from The Creation of the World

Unlike physics and astronomy, in which unbiased observation directly contradicted religious teachings, for a long time progress in biology did not challenge old wisdom. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries the work of biologist was limited to the classification of all known plants and animals into taxonomic groups. While their highlighted the commonalities living organisms shared, the belief that all living organisms had been created in their current form was so well rooted that no serious alternative had been proposed before 1859. This was the year that Charles Darwin shocked his contemporaries by implying that humans and animals shared a common ancestor.

In 1831, Charles Darwin (1809–1882) joined as a naturalist the survey ship HMS Beagle for an expedition around the world. When he returned home in 1836 with over 2000 pages of notes and thousands of skins, bones and fossils, his work had just begun. It took over 20 years before he finally formalized his findings and observations into a consistent theory which he published in his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

Natural selection theory suggests that adaptation to the environment through the survival of the fittest is the main (though not the only) mechanism of evolution. Random variations continuously occur in species, which are constantly under struggle for resources. When “the surviving one of ten thousand trials” gives an organism an advantage in its environment, it would pass on this favorable change to its offspring. Accumulation of such variations within a population – particularly when major environmental changes occur, and fast adaptation to the new environment is required – could eventually lead to the creation of new species.

It took Darwin many years and many attempts to find a theory that could answer the many questions that perplexed him during his voyage. His theory could explain why fossils of extinct animals carried a close resemblance to existing species. It clarified why each of the Galapagos Islands had its different but very similar species of animals. It also accounted for the existence of creatures that, in Darwin’s view, could never be designed by a benign entity, like the parasitic wasp, which – to Darwin's horror and disgust – stored caterpillars to be eaten alive by its grubs.

Modern evolution theory has evolved considerably since Darwin’s days. However, regardless of the major changes the theory has undergone, the new body of evidence, accumulated from otherwise unrelated fields of science, only strengthen its plausibility. While unlocking the secrets of DNA revealed the engine behind the random variations, microbiology gave empirical evidence that not only do such variations occur regularly, but that they directly impact on human lives, as they are both the cause of new diseases (e.g. aids, bird-flu) and the means for their cure.

Further evidence has been derived by paleontologists and evolutionary molecular biologists, who have been able to fill many of the gaps in the history of species. Evolutionary molecular biology provides the tools to measure the amount of DNA change that differentiates one species from another. This has led to the surprise discovery that the difference in the DNA sequence between human and chimpanzee is no bigger than 2%. Humans were no longer the crown of the creation, but the result of random changes that happened to make them better adapted for survival – Aristotle’s scale of value had lost its meaning.

It is not surprising that evolution theory had evoked such passionate antagonism. This time it was not the Church that rose against it, but the public. Its radical implications were far wider than the populist “we are not monkeys” emotional response that led crowds to the streets. Evolution theory eliminated the need for a designer or a creator, and it undermined what was probably the oldest and most frequently used proof for the existence of God, as first expressed by the ancient Roman Marcus Tullius Cicero (106– 43BC):

When you see a sundial or a water-clock, you see that it tells the time by design and not by chance. How then can you imagine that the universe as a whole is devoid of purpose and intelligence, when it embraces everything, including these artifacts themselves and their artificers?

Those who object to the evolution theory can be broadly classified into two camps: creationists, and the advocates of intelligent design, also known as design theorists. Creationists believe that the literal biblical narration provides a factual account of events, and reject any kind of evolutionary process. Intelligent design, on the other hand, accepts that organisms could evolve from other organisms, but rejects the randomness of the process and suggest that it was preordained and following a blueprint. To use an analogy, when dominoes fall, although each piece falls because it is pushed by its predecessor, the pattern of the fall is predefined by the original setting of the dominoes.

Intelligent design theorists claim that without such a blueprint, biological organs and systems that display irreducible complexity could not have evolved. That is, no random process could account for the development of an organ, like the eye, which is composed of several interacting parts, all required for its functioning. As the evolution anything but the complete, operating organ could not be of any use, it would not have survived the process of natural selection.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

To see a grain in a world of sand

Sand under the microscope

To see a world in a grain of sand, Blake said, but I think he got it all wrong. 
It's the grains in a world of sand that we don't see.

Or maybe we just don't see.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Syria and Israel

Syrian protesters remain along the Israeli border despite the 23 killed there in the last few days. It seems that these days, the Israel border is the safest place for Syrians. Definitely safer than staying in Damascus.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Creation of the World

This post is a continuation from Faith and the First Scientists

The heated debate over the working of the universe, we have discussed so far, had little relevance outside the scientific and theological communities. Whether it was the sun or the earth at the center of the universe, or what laws falling bodies obeyed, it made no difference to people’s faith. The new discoveries diminished neither the splendor of the creation nor the greatness of the creator. For most people, religious teachings were about how one goes to heaven, and not how heaven goes.

This attitude still prevails nowadays, when even the most religious of people do not expect their religious practices to explain nature, and are happy to leave these pondering to science. In all areas, that is, but two: the age of the universe and evolution.

According to Genesis, the world was created in six days, and by counting the generations in the Bible since Adam and Eve, theologists concluded that the creation took place some 6000 years ago. This figure is supported by the Jewish calendar, which is believed to commence from the first day of the creation. Contemporary mainstream scientific theory, on the other hand, draws an entirely different picture. It estimates the age of the earth at about 4.6 billion years, and that of the universe at over 13 billion years. Interestingly 6000 years, roughly coincides with the end of the last ice-age, and the beginning of human civilization, as we know it.

Interpretations of the text in Genesis which aim to address this dichotomy have been around since the 19th century. A common explanation was that the Bible, speaking to the ancients who could not comprehend numbers like a million or a billion, did not speak of a ‘day’ (yom in Hebrew) as a period of 24 hours, but rather in a metaphorical way as an unspecified duration of events which could last thousands, millions or even billions of years. (By the way, such big numbers could not be written, let alone understood, before the introduction of ‘0’, which happened around the 7th century in the Arab world, and 13th century in Europe.) Alternative interpretation suggests that the six-days of Genesis do not represent the time of the creation itself, but a six-day period during which God revealed the truth of the creation to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

Despite the various interpretations, many are still adamant that the literal interpretation of the Bible is correct, and that the problem lies with science. They point out that unlike the previous conflicts mentioned, the age of the universe cannot be found by observation or any other direct method, but is deduced from a combination of complex theories with many underlying assumptions. They claim that as theories change frequently they cannot be trusted, and in the end, scientific theory will discover that the biblical age of the universe is correct.

Regardless of future scientific development, this dispute – just like those mentioned previously – threatens only human interpretation and not faith itself. Six days or 13 billion years, it leaves the magnificence of the creation intact, as it does the need for a creator. This, however, is not the case with the theory of evolution, which threatens not only the role of God, but also Her very existence.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Faith and the First Scientists

This post is a continuation from The inquisition strikes back
Standing upon the shoulders of giants, it was the British physicist Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) who can be considered the true father of modern physics – based on solid mathematical models. Newton work evolved science in four different areas: his work of the nature of light, his laws of motion, his development of Calculus, and the laws of universal gravitation. Each of these works would have been considered a life time achievement and would have suffice to place him as one of the greatest scientists of all time. Newton achieved them all.

His law of universal gravitation and the three laws of motion could explain the motion of bodies on earth and the motion of the planets bodies. This was a blow to the Church's worldview in which the rules that governed the ‘corrupt’ transient earth were different from the laws obeyed by the perfect eternal heavens. According to Newton, the laws of nature were universal, and applied equally to earth and heavens. The Aristotelian model of the universe had to be replaced, and so was the Church's hegemony of knowledge. The workings of the universe became the realm of science.

While the new scientific way of thinking was partially responsible for the decline in the power of the Church, the resultant image of the world neither threatened the fundamentals of faith, nor replaced the need for a creator. For many scientists, revealing the nature of the world was the way to understanding the creation and the glory of God. Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton, were all devout believers who saw their scientific work as a religious undertaking. For example, Kepler wrote in his Harmony of the Worlds:

Geometry provided God with a model for the Creation and was implanted into man, together with God's own likeness. ... It is absolutely necessary that the work of such a Creator be of the greatest beauty.

Although these scientists were aware of the objections their work would provoke, they did not consider the new discoveries to contradict religious teachings. They held the view that the scriptures, written for everyone to understand, were not to be taken literally. Any contradiction between religious teachings and the scientific discoveries was due to human’s mistaken interpretation. They believed that correct knowledge of the cosmos would provide a better insight into the scriptures, and that it was our pious responsibility to reinterpret the texts to match the known facts, as there should be no inconsistency between science and the scriptures when they were rightly understood.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The inquisition strikes back

This posting follows: Copernicus and the Church

By claiming that the sun, and not the earth, was at the center of the universe, Copernicus directly challenged the Church's sacred worldview, based on the Aristotelian model. But while Copernicus was the first one to publicly challenge the Church's view of the world, many followed. What he had started could not be stopped.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a German astronomer, developed the Copernican worldview and turned it into a mathematical model. The three laws of planetary motion he conceived are still in use nowadays. These mathematical laws, based on elliptical motion, accurately explained all planetary observations. However, by suggesting that the planets were moving in elliptical orbits and not in the heavenly perfect circular motion, Kepler deviated even further from the Aristotelian model. He was excommunicated from the Lutheran Church in 1612.

Kepler's contemporary, the Italian scientist and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), in his most renowned experiment dropped two bodies of different weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and demonstrated, once and for all, that all bodies fall at the same speed regardless of their weight. This was the first time that an experiment was used to determine scientific truth, and was an indisputable proof that Aristotle's theory and the Church's dogma were fundamentally mistaken.

But this was not enough for Galileop. Being the first person to apply telescope to the study of the heavenly bodies, Galileo also revolutionized astronomy. His observations led him to discover the moons of Jupiter and the phases of the planet Venus, and convinced him that Copernicus' heliocentric model, with the sun at the center, was the correct one. In 1633, Galileo was brought before the Inquisition for a grave suspicion of heresy. He was forced to formally renounce his beliefs, and was sentenced to life-long house arrest.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Copernicus and the Church

As we saw in a previous posting, Copernicus, who postulated a model in which the sun was at the center of the universe, knew that the clear advantages of his model would not protect him from the hostile reaction of the orthodox authorities and the Inquisition. It was not until 1543 – the year of his death – that he eventually published his complete work On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.

It is clear from the extent of the criticism of his work that Copernicus challenged not only the knowledge of the cosmos, as portrayed by the church, but he challenged knowledge itself: should our impartial experience determine our understanding, or is it our knowledge that the world should conform to?

For example, Tolosani, a contemporary of Copernicus, wrote:

[Copernicus] seems to be unfamiliar with Holy Scripture since he contradicts some of its principles, not without the risk to himself and to the readers of his book of straying from the faith. ... in his imagination he changes the order of God's creatures in his system. ... he seeks to raise the Earth from its lower place to the sphere where everybody by common consent correctly locates the Sun's sphere, and to caste the sphere of the Sun down to the place of the Earth, contravening the rational order and Holy Writ, which declares that heaven is up, while the Earth is down.

It was most likely, therefore, that the Church would have condemned Copernicus and burn his work, had it not been for an introduction inserted by the publisher. The introduction stated that the book merely presented a simpler way to calculate the positions of heavenly bodies, and that the hypotheses contained within made no pretense to truth that, in any case, astronomy was incapable of finding the causes of heavenly phenomena. This unauthorized insertion, although appalled many, ensured that the book was not immediately condemned. In fact, it was publicly available for over 70 years before it was subject to censorship.

Although some were sentenced to death for their support of Copernicus’ heliocentric system (for example, Giordano Bruno was burnt alive in 1600) it was not until 1616 that the Church placed the work on the List of Prohibited Books (Index Librorum Prohibitorum) and decreed that the propositions that the Sun is immobile and at the center of the universe and that the Earth moves around it, judging both to be ‘foolish and absurd in philosophy,’ and the first to be ‘formally heretical’ and the second ‘at least erroneous in faith’ in theology. By then, however, Copernicus’ mathematics had already been widely in use, and although many still viewed it as a hypothetical calculation model, it was unavoidable that questions about the nature of the cosmos as derived from the model would arise.

The scientific revolution had begun.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Quotes From the Honest Guru

Yesterday I had an oyster. It wasn't fresh. It gave me indigestion. A totaly new meaning to "The world is my oyster"

(image credit)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Quotes From the Honest Guru

More than any other quality, the combination of arrogance and closed mind have led people to the path of success.

Quotes From the Honest Guru

Challenge is overrated by those who don't have enough of it